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Mike Llewin

June 1997

[CUNNINGHAM, a literary intellectual in his forties, is having tea with the Fourth Year after his lecture]

CUNNINGHAM: One remembers so well how dark and dreary adolescence is. Confusion of mind worse confounded by utter confusion of body. Even one's voice suddenly betrays one. And one's passions are so random and unreliable -- cricket scores one minute, Swinburne the next. I don't suppose any of you read Swinburne?

BENNETT: I'm afraid not, Sir.

MENZIES: Not a set book!

CUNNINGHAM: Well, nor do I now. But when I was your age -- [putting on a tremendous poetry voice]

Could you hurt me, sweet lips, though I hurt you?
Men touch them and change in a trice
The lilies and languors of virtue
For the raptures and roses of vice.

BENNETT: Wow!

CUNNINGHAM: Well, that's rather what we thought at the time. Of course we were sensationally innocent. The very word 'vice' was enough to make us blush. Now I suppose you say 'fuck' and 'bugger' the whole time.

* * *

The above is an extract from "Another Country" by Julian Mitchell, the play which regulars will know I'm directing in the Christmas term. As you can see Cunningham is quite a frank kind of person. Anyone think I should cut his part?

What I'd like to talk about this column is what it's like being LGBT in Great Britain, compared to America. And I'd like to start with Jamie Nabozny. For those of you that haven't heard about his case, Jamie was subjected to four years of brutal anti-gay abuse as a high school student, and suffered both physical and mental torment, until he was forced by the abuse to drop out. He took the case to court and won a $900,000 out-of-court settlement, punctuating the message that there's a high price to pay for ignoring anti-gay abuse.

The question I ask is: would this happen in the UK? There are two sides to the question. The first is, would anti-gay abuse of this scale (Jamie ended up in hospital) ever occur in British schools? My immediate answer to this is: no. At Lancaster School, I have witnessed very little physical abuse of any kind over the last few years, and that which I have witnessed has been racial rather than sexual. Certainly in the age-group I'm in (16-17 years) there are surprisingly low levels of homophobia. Let me give you an example: yesterday some kids in the IT centre discovered my homepage (took their time!). The response was surprising. Although people talked (a lot!!) and many people said I'd gone too far declaring my sexuality on my homepage, I received no negative comments directed at me personally. Nobody has shouted at me, nobody has called me gay, and certainly nobody has beaten me up. Now, believe me, I don't want to tempt fate but I think it does make the point that people just aren't very homophobic by the time they reach Sixth Form age.

The curious thing is, there is some verbal abuse against people who are surprisingly straight. I have some friends in the Upper Sixth (17-18) who are continually being shouted down for being 'gay'. Yet what it comes down to is that in general terms the word 'gay' has lost its sexual connotations and has become another way of expressing hatred. Just as a piece of homework might be 'gay' so might someone you didn't like. Because when it comes down to it nobody's really afraid of a gay guy, especially if he doesn't fit the normal, 'scary' stereotype.

The second part of the question is, of course, would almost $1M be exchanged if such a case were to come to the courts in England? Well we all know America's fascination with suing people -- things like that just don't happen over here. Now what I could see is the whole kabuzle turning into a massive political fight between the major political parties. But I could not see schools taking massive notice of the case and what they could be doing to stop something like that happening again -- which is something I think I see American schools doing moreso nowadays.

This all leads on to the debate whether America is further down the line of gay rights than Britain. I suppose the problem with America is that people are much more polarized in their views. In England, there are few groups of Christian radicals, who believe in the family, or the wanton destruction of homosexual acts. Yet in America, we read of assemblies of religious groups discussing how to fight for 'pro-family' laws, trying to find the best ways to make gay acts felonies, or even (in one extreme case) making the giving of gay-themed books to youngsters illegal. What is going on? Maybe it's just that in England these views are always there, just never expressed, because the British are known to be conservative, not in their views, but with their views.

All I can say is that for me, coming out at school has been very, very easy, and rewarding, at least in terms of my own inner resolution. Of course I haven't found true love, nor have I persuaded anybody else to come out in a chain-reaction, but I can now be myself and not have to worry about it. I wonder how this compares to a similar situation in a privately-owned school in the States? I'd be interested to know how people have got on.

England, of course, has its own problems and drawbacks. I don't think there are many (any?) schools in England which have formed gay-straight alliances, or 'clubs'. Here the difficulty seems to be very much that headmasters and headmistresses don't want to upset parents with meetings that might seem to be nothing more than dating agencies. Of course, everyone who's researched the issue knows that gay-straight alliances are there to promote equality and eliminate homophobia, and whilst of course some falling in love must occur, generally it does not. How long will it be before a school like Lancaster School has such an alliance? It could be a while methinks -- well, as least as long as it takes for the governing board to be replenished with 'fresh stock'.

You're probably wondering how things are getting on down here. I'll start with the love triangle which I was involved in at a party I held last weekend! OK. A friend of mine, let's call her Alice, has been getting off with another friend of mine, let's call him Ben. They were getting off at the party. I was quite drunk (admittedly!) and I started to get off with Alice. So Alice had me and Ben hanging off her -- so I thought, well, why not a threesome? So I kissed Ben. Mistake!! Ben didn't like that. He didn't hit me but came close. Alice and Ben are going out now but I don't know how long it'll last because Ben has spent more time with Susan, another friend, than Alice, by a factor of about twenty!

I've been auditioning for Another Country like crazy this last week, which has caused disruptions in my revision programme for the internal exams next week. Out of the nine boy parts I'm only sure of about two so far, but the others are beginning to fall into place. The guy I want to play Bennett, the homosexual, is a little wary of the idea of playing a gay bloke at the moment -- he thinks everyone will label him gay! In fact if he hadn't mentioned it to people nobody would have dreamt of it, but now that he has, it's the in joke to call him gay (in a friendly kind of way). Guess it'll pass. I sure hope he accepts the part. He was bloody brilliant.

Well I'll be off then. I've got to revise my Chemistry and my Biology, work out parts for Another Country, and attend umpteen rehearsals for Lord of The Flies, which is being performed next week. Somehow I managed to get myself the job of sound man!! Hehe. Should be fun. Of course those of you who have seen the film will know all about it.

Until next month, thanks for reading, keep cool and come out.


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