DID YOU KNOW that July is becoming known as ‘Heterosexual Awareness Month’? Now that the month has passed, are you more aware of your own, or other people’s, heterosexuality?
I’m guessing the answer is no – and I’m guessing that most of you probably don’t feel the need for a particular time to be proud of who you are and who you love, because our families and society are usually affirming and supportive, reinforcing heterosexuality without a second thought all the time. In choosing this headline I have assumed, as our society does all the time, that everyone is (or should be) heterosexual.
But some people have felt challenged by LGBT communities speaking up for their experience, so much so that they have created this theme for July to affirm their heterosexuality and belief in traditional marriage.
No harm in that, you might say, and I would agree if it were done with respect and tolerance. But these are qualities that seem sadly lacking from this campaign.
The month of July was chosen following the designation of June as LGBT Pride Month in the USA to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. As a result, many pride events in the USA and around the world are held during this month to recognize the impact LGBT people have had in the world.
The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York. They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the LGBT rights movement in the USA and around the world. The first Pride march took place in New York in June 1970 on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
As there is no ‘heterosexual rights’ movement, the ‘Heterosexual Awareness Month’ campaign and similar ‘Straight Pride’ slogans have emerged as a conservative backlash to greater visibility and acceptance of LGBT people and their rights.
I first became aware of the campaign through their Facebook page, which contains barely disguised homophobia and transphobia, sometimes blatant incitement to hatred and violence. Here is one of the less offensive examples:
To claim that homophobia does not exist is a privilege of the oppressor to deny the voice of experience of the one being oppressed.
I reported their page to Facebook earlier this year and was informed that ‘it doesn’t violate our Community Standards‘ although these clearly state that:
Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.
I shared my dissatisfaction with this on the pro-marriage equality blog Purple Unions, following Facebook’s censorship of a post by the producer of the US version of the gay-themed drama Queer As Folk in response to same sex marriage becoming law in Pennsylvania. I shared one of the statuses I had reported that Facebook did not deem as hate speech:
‘Homophobia is not real. Heterosexuals do not fear you. Your behavior just makes us vomit in our mouths.’
About a month later, Facebook emailed me to say it had revised its decision on the posts I had reported, because the account is no longer on Facebook:
Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. The account that posted this is no longer on Facebook, and so we can’t review it for violation of our Community Standards. If the account is restored, this post might reappear. If this happens, please report it again.
However, like a bad smell that lingers, Heterosexual Awareness Month has popped up with several other pages to continue spreading misinformation and prejudice.
Homophobia is real, alive and unwell, and this campaign is an unpleasant expression of it. As I write, my home city of Liverpool prepares for its fifth annual Pride festival tomorrow, on a date chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Michael Causer, an 18 year old hairdresser who was attacked at a house party and beaten unconscious while he slept after a photo of Michael and his boyfriend was found on his phone while he slept. Witnesses reported hearing homophobic abuse shouted at him while the attack took place. His body was dumped in the street by his attackers, who informed police that they had found the body, and attended the hospital pretending to be concerned friends to cover their tracks. Although the case was investigated and tried as a homophobic hate crime, the judge did not accept this as a motive for the attack, and the ringleader is serving a lesser sentence as a result. Liverpool Pride is not just a party – it remains a protest, a march not a parade, against this injustice and others that occur daily in our city, our country, and around the world against people because of ignorance, fear and prejudice against those of different sexual orientations and gender identities.
The Liverpool Pride march is led by representatives of Michael Causer’s family and the Foundation they set up in his name to support vulnerable LGBT young people.
As leader of the UK’s longest running LGBT youth group, I have the privilege of leading around 50 young people aged 13-25 through the streets of our city to experience a display of affirmation, diversity and acceptance which is exhilarating and empowering for them, as they can often feel isolated, judged and threatened because they are not who others expect them to be.
There is nothing wrong with anyone being proud of their heterosexuality – in fact our society generally affirms it. The problem is when people feel they have to defend their own rights and privileges by denying them to others, dehumanising them and justifying injustice in the process.
So remember, Pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being LGBT. It evolved out of our struggle as human beings to break free of oppression and to exist without being criminalized, pathologized or persecuted for being who we are.