Out and about the LGBT web
This little clip from Jodie Savitz’s documentary Girl on Girl caught my eye this week. The part that grabbed my attention was the question: can you name three lesbians in the public eye? I know I’m all over this topic but I really thought we were further down the line with visibility than the respondents seem to indicate. Ellen, Portia, and um… Really? That’s the best you’ve got?
So, are things better in the UK? Nope, seems not. In response to the results of the latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles published this week and a debate organised by Diva Magazine and Women in Journalism called Lesbophobia in the Media, the Guardian posted two articles. In the first, Amelia Abraham argues that there is a lack of young lesbian role models in the media and, in the second, Gabriella Jozwiak reports that the debate found that lesbians on TV and in newspapers are shown as heavily sexualised, wacky, or asexual – depressing. In both pieces, the argument is that this is unrepresentative especially since nearly 20 per cent of UK women younger than 35 say they’ve had a lesbian experience (as the survey revealed).
Maybe the question that Girl on Girl should therefore have asked is not do you know any lesbian celebrities, who aren’t kept in the closet by their management, but: do you have any friends/family members who are lesbians or have had lesbian experiences? That might have provoked a long list of names from the respondents!
I am rather inclined to agree with both the Guardian pieces and the comments of Anthony Watson, member of the board at GLAAD, and Managing Director and CIO at Barclays, who marked the 35th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s assassination by reflecting on the passage of equal marriage in a speech this week. His view is that of Churchill’s after Monty turned back Rommel’s forces at El Alamein: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
We have had a very rapid period of expansion of LGBT civil rights in the UK since 2000 when the Labour government started the ball rolling with the repeal of Section 28 (the law stated that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”). Since then, we’ve had the removal of the ban on homosexual service in the military, same-sex adoption, civil partnerships, the equality act to stop discrimination against gays and lesbians by the providers of goods and services, legitimisation of children of same-sex partnerships conceived by artificial means and, finally, gay marriage. Thirteen years of change that is enough to make your head spin!
It is not surprising that some people are having a hard time adjusting to this brave new world. The owners of a B&B in Devon are a case in point… we’ll come to them in a minute. Suffice to say, that those who oppose equality for LGBT people already suspect dirty political deals, a homosexual mafia and a government keen to win the “gay vote”; all of which they neatly call “the homosexual agenda”. It doesn’t matter how many times anyone says that there is no agenda except equality, those who are opposed will stick to their conspiracy theories because it gives them comfort that they weren’t on the losing side; instead, they was robbed by a dodgy system.
This feeling that they have been cheated makes them dangerous. If history tells us anything, it is that there will be a reckoning before this is all over. Early Hollywood movie makers that turned out lush, epic films featuring orgies of all persuasions were told to clean up their act from 1934 onwards by the Hayes Code; 1930s Berlin, a liberated playground for the whole of Europe that produced some of the most enduring art, was cleaned up with ruthless efficiency by the Nazis; and the sexually revolutionary London of the Sixties and Seventies was cleaned up by the Thatcher government of the 1980s. Anthony Watson is right, but I would add that we need to prepare for a conservative backlash, too.
It has been a bad week for the B&B guest house owners who discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to let them stay at the guest house in 2008. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the guesthouse owners, saying the owners had discriminated against the gay couple. The owners sold the guest house in September due to lack of business and to pay their legal fees. Read more about the case here.
This is absolutely the right decision but one that religious groups fail, time and again, to understand. Maintaining any stance, religious or otherwise, that interferes with someone else’s civil rights is against the law in Britain. But, they argue, by insisting on staying in the guest house, those gay people were interfering with the owners’ civil right to hold the religious belief that sex outside marriage is sinful. No, they weren’t.
Let’s be clear about this: your right to hold a religious belief and have that belief protected by law extends to the organisation where you worship. The religious organisation to which you adhere may perform any number of civil rights violations in the name of their religious doctrine, and you are free to be a part of that or not as you choose. This is why, for example, the Church of England can still freely discriminate against women in the workplace, but the rest of the UK cannot. However, outside of that organisation, you are not permitted to use religious beliefs to justify civil rights infringements. It is that simple.
I feel very sorry for the owners of the B&B. They are obviously simple (I use the word advisedly) people who have lost their home and business because of their lack of ability to think things through. Before any of this got to court, someone needed to explain to them what being a Christian means and then someone needed to explain the law of the land to them. The only winners here were, as always, the lawyers.
While we are on the subject of Christian beliefs and gay couplings, there appears to be some movement from the Church of England on the issue this week. In the most unlikely of partnerships, the C of E have teamed up with Stonewall to combat homophobic bullying. Read more here. The campaign’s slogan is: “Gay. Let’s get over it.” Which appears to be what the Church is doing with an apparent U-turn on gay marriage.
The announcement this week is that a working party has been set up to consider allowing C of E priests to bless committed same-sex partnerships. In reality, this is not that revolutionary and is simply rubber-stamping what many liberal vicars have been doing for years. While not giving the green light to same-sex marriage services in church, it is a step in the right direction and will make many gay couples of faith very happy that their relationship is finally considered worthy of receiving a blessing from the church they support.
With a notoriously slow-to-change organisation like the Church of England acknowledging they are lagging behind the country in their acceptance of homosexuals and taking steps like these to rectify the situation, maybe the backlash won’t be as bad as in the past and maybe if you were to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to name three lesbians he might just be able to summon up: Sue Perkins, Clare Balding, and um…
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