Britain, unlike most European countries, continues to deny gay men and women full legal equality. Why does the British political establishment refuse to accept equal rights for homosexuals? Equally important are the community and individual reactions to this refusal.
We can stand up against this refusal and lend our voice to campaigns and actions or shrug our shoulders and think what is the point? I have a nice life here in my large gay community in the big city, I can go clubbing, I can go to a sauna, I can read Oasis on the net, I can read Gay magazines, I'm alright, why worry about rocking the boat? Admittedly I too find gay life in larger cities easier than else where as you can just be one of the crowd, no one asks your opinion, you do not stand out, you can just coast along and no one bothers you unless you want them to. Being in this situation is enviable and is also, sadly, in my experience rare. Your choices are not questioned or disapproved of, however not all of us can be so fortunate or lucky to be living in a gay tolerant community.
Spare a thought for those who live in rural communities, live with heterosexual indoctrination, go to a school where teachers have identified the need for progressive sex education but have their hands tied by local legislation. "But what can I do for them?" I hear you cry. You can do everything that you can to make sure that the wider community, the media and politicians all know that we will not stand for inequality, discrimination and homophobia any more. And if things do not change quickly we will not back down like the good little homosexuals society wants us and portrays us to be. We will use everything within our power and our situation to alter the current socio-political climate of our nation.
Am I just evangelising to thin air, Will you read this and think, crazy activist type- why can't he be reasonable like everyone else? I'll tell you why I will not be reasonable. For the past twenty years or so I have had society treat me unreasonably, I have faced homophobia, discrimination and I do not want a new generation to have to go through the same things I have.
Campaigns have brought out people to mildly protest against outdated reactionary piece of homophobic legislation and inequality. Where I live, in the West Midlands of England (half a world away from the streets of America), I organised a candle light vigil against a piece of legislation called Section 28. I knew that there would not be many people attending or that it would cause an immediate change. Why did I bother? It would have been easier just to send an e-mail to my Member of Parliament or lobby from home rather than dragging myself onto the cold and dark streets of Dudley to light a candle. My lighting a candle did not change the world overnight but it showed my support homosexual equality. Every candle represented a voice that shouts out a loud and sustained "No!" to inequality. Remaining in silence against this sort of thing allows you to be labeled as the 'Silent Majority' who is supporting homophobia and inequality. I know that I did not want to be tarred with the same brush as the people who killed Matthew Shepard or are responsible for homophobia, I did it because I wanted to be part of something bigger- a lasting struggle for equal gay rights. There may have only been four of us, and there may have only been one gay person in attendance (me) but we all felt as if we were part of the larger campaign. We were lighting our candles against the ever-closing darkness of homophobia in a nation that pays lip service to being European and modern.
Whilst I'm on the subject of vigils; watching the television pictures after the savage killing of Matthew Shepard last year moved me because there was a sense of everyone uniting against this brutal attack on an innocent person. But then the fight seemed to drift out the support and everyone went back to his or her comfort zones. His death scared me because there were people out there who wanted people like me dead, just because of who I sleep with. Now that they are behind bars that does not mean that the threat to us is gone forever, one only has to look to the Christian fundamentalists to see that extreme homophobia is still rife and there are people who have that kind of anger about homosexuals. Like a mythical hydra, when you remove one head one grows back, but it seems in this trying time whilst we try to attain equality more and more heads grown back.
People have always done illegal things in the name of civil rights. People have willingly given their lives, been killed, they have sat down, set fire to things, defaced statues and other actions to get what they want. And eventually these groups have won their rights with persistence and convincing arguments. My mother has always taught me that the "squeakiest wheel gets the oil". Other minority groups have led the way and shown us ways of getting the equality we need. We do not want to give in when faced by a hurdle or opposition; we do not want to have to wait till someone we like gets into office.
Sadly we still have to overcome apathy, if someone does not have a day to day struggle with homophobia or with restrictions due to who they happen to sleep with then the realities of fighting for civil rights seem to be as close to them as the moon. But others apathy is not an excuse for our own apathy- "well if he or she won't do it, someone else will, so I won't get involved". Everyone's contribution however small builds the momentum behind a campaign. The slogan from the 70's applies here with great force- "If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem".
There are two campaigns towards winning the battle against inequality, firstly storming the battlements and the second way is through infiltration. There is a place for all out action, gathering in a group, banging a drum and stopping traffic. This raises the profile with the media; it gives us the front page to make our points clearly. No one is saying that this sort of campaign is easy or that it will solve things over night. In doing this we have to take ourselves out of our comfort zone and put ourselves on the front line for the benefit of others. After putting ourselves in the firing line of homophobes and bigots who seek to belittle our campaign we need to follow this up with continued pressure on the government and enlist the help of other groups with our campaign. Campaigning for total equality means we cannot be accused of bleating for special favours from the government and society, and also helps the fight of other minority groups. We emphasise the need for unity, action and a good rapport with government and media. The muscle work we put in today will benefit other oppressed minorities in the future.
How many gay people have to die or commit suicide before we notice that something is rotten in the world? Will world leaders accept the blood of every teen suicide on their hands whilst inequality is rife? Will they look a young person in the eye after being beaten up and explain why the teachers at their school were unable or unwilling to help them? Many countries still have legislated homophobia and this is your wake up call from the voice of equality and justice.
Ben is a 20 year old happy homosexual, studying drama with a hope to becoming a great teacher. He currently lives in the Midlands of England where he studies. He fights homophobia on a daily basis and looks forward to a day when he and his boyfriend can legally marry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org