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Moving on the movement

As LGBT History Month begins, offering an opportunity to reflect on the LGBT movement, one student gives his perspective and questions the reality of “gay equality” in modern Britain.

Weeks before he was brutally murdered, a Ugandan tabloid identified David Kato as a homosexual and called for his execution. Photo: www.boxturtlebulletin.com

 

As 2011 rolls out and February rolls in, along comes another LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans) History Month – “claiming our history, celebrating our present and creating our future”. Going on for six years, it means something different to each of us. To me, it’s an opportunity to refine the form of the struggle of the LGBT movement and take a fresh look at the problems facing LGBT people today. I’m writing this to describe what I perceive them to be. 

Naturally, LGBT History Month is to be heralded by various clubnights in Brighton, just like every other major occasion on the LGBT calendar, be it Gay Pride, World Aids Day, or this. The lure of the ‘Pink Pound’ is seemingly too hard to resist, as if the best way to remember the history of LGBT people is to wipe out an evening of our own individual memories.  

Thankfully, a great deal of History Month seems to be concerned with commemorating the long and arduous road to equality; celebrating where we are now. And you only have to look at Uganda to see just how fortunate we are to be here. 

Less than a week before History Month started, Ugandan human rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death in his home after a Ugandan tabloid newspaper called for his execution as a homosexual, publishing his name, address and photograph along with those of 99 other individuals.  

Kato was a founding member of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a human rights campaign group pushing for the protection of Ugandans falling under the LGBT umbrella. Much of SMUG’s activism has been sparked by the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, setting to introduce the death penalty for “repeat offenders”, people who are HIV-positive and those that engage in same-sex acts with people aged under 18. It also includes provisions to punish individuals, non-governmental organisations, companies and media groups supportive of LGBT rights. 
Although homosexuality in Uganda is already illegal and punishable by imprisonment, moves to broaden its criminalisation is thought to have been inspired by a group of American evangelical Christians who asserted that homosexuality is a direct threat to the cohesion of African families during a conference in March 2009 in Kampala, the country’s capital. While the bill was initially set to be railroaded through Uganda’s Parliament, intense international criticism has seemingly stalled the plans and as of January, amid proposals to withdraw the bill, the matter remained under discussion.  

Yet here in the UK, LGBT people are more equally regarded than ever. We can marry, adopt and join the army if we like. In 2005, we saw the back of Section 28, which prevented schools and local authorities from “promoting homosexuality”. Not only that, with equality being high on the political agenda nowadays and Parties of all persuasions asserting their commitment to tackling homophobia within schools particularly, Government-backed initiatives to raise awareness of LGBT issues within the classrooms were set to launch at the beginning of February to coincide with History Month. Just five years ago, this would have been unthinkable.  

Aside from legislative recognition, society itself is far more tolerant than ever before. Homophobic attacks, physical or verbal, provide scope for a national outcry – look at the reaction to Jan Moir’s homophobic rant over Stephen Gateley’s untimely death – and nowadays, bigotry is very much on the fringes. And survey after survey cites progressive attitudes: this many people think gay people should be allowed to marry; this proportion of the population says gay people make as good a parent as heterosexual ones; this percentage believes that homophobia is wrong. I could go on.  

So you could be forgiven for thinking that this is what equality looks like. Yet, while everyone was preoccupied with harping about “equality”, reducing it to little more than the latest buzz-word, nobody really explained what it is – or why it’s so important anyway. 

Is equality any more valuable than a society tolerating its deviants or outcasts, and allowing them to have the same rights as everybody else – the ‘normal’ majority?  

This is why I’ve never been convinced that tolerance quite cuts deep enough. To suggest that society ought to tolerate LGBT people implies that it has the right to evaluate whether we are acceptable and decide whether to tolerate us or otherwise. Tolerance implies a power relationship. While that power relationship exists, gay people can never be equal. A capitalist society needs an underdog; under capitalism, LGBT people will always be oppressed and marginalised, even if for the time being they are ‘tolerated’. 

I think a problem with any perceived state of equality is the complacency that invariably accompanies it. Honestly, how many people will be sparing a thought for David Kato between mouthfuls of cider during this summer’s Gay Pride festivities? Will anyone raise a glass-of-double-vodka-and-coke to his memory? Or consider LGBT people and activists who risk their safety and sometimes even their lives to partake in Gay Pride marches in places like Lithuania, where a ban on a Gay Pride event was lifted just hours before it was scheduled to take place last year? I doubt it.  

Gay Pride in this country is so far detached from its original purpose that it is completely redundant. With middle-aged men prancing around in glittery stilettos and donning spangled thongs, it’s little more than a big, gay-themed party. But what’s worse than this is that nowadays, only a minority of Gay Pride events are free. This year, Brighton and Hove is set to charge for entry for the first time. So, it seems, you have to pay to be proud in the UK today. And many people are more than happy to go along with that notion, their biggest source of loss stemming from the hole burnt in their pocket. This time, it definitely is the money and not the principle. 

But what is more alarming than  the widespread apathy, is the advent of self-appointed critics of the ‘gay community’, the most renowned of these being Simon Fanshawe, one of the founding members of Stonewall.  In his 2006 BBC documentary, “The Trouble with… Gay Men”, Fanshawe espoused the view that despite legal and social equality in contemporary Britain, gay men of all ages behave like hedonistic teenagers, perpetually obsessed with drugs, drink, sex and beauty. Fanshawe’s status makes his viewpoint all the more influential and therefore all the more regrettable because it gives these views some kind of veneer of legitimacy and respectability. I would call them sweeping generalisations but I don’t really think that would quite cover my alarm, frankly.  

There are, of course, several objections I could raise. Perhaps Fanshawe could have instead highlighted the problem of the way in which LGBT people are allowing Gay Pride to become a corporate event, or the lack of compassion for LGBT people who aren’t lucky enough to live in a country like the UK which provides them with basic human rights? Instead, he attributed the issues of promiscuity, binge drinking, drug-taking and worship of the young beautiful – which are endemic to youth culture generally – specifically to gay men. I wouldn’t deny that these issues are present amongst gay people to a certain extent, but you can’t apply the actions of a minority of gay men who happen to be more visible than the majority to the rest of the population so flippantly, as if they bear some kind of responsibility for it. 

If LGBT History Month in part is about celebrating equality and battling homophobia, shouldn’t this kind of perception be challenged? At this rate, Fanshawe risks becoming the ‘enemy from within’. What we can be certain of is that the dissemination of this kind of bigotry – there’s no other word for it – doesn’t do anyone any favours. Simon Fanshawe and his ilk are for gay liberation what Katie Hopkins (who appeared on Question Time recently opining that women do not want equality and many “couldn’t handle it if they got it”) is for feminism.  

I often wonder if we’d have L, G or B if we didn’t have homophobia. What people often forget is that the struggle against discrimination is essentially why they came together as a movement in the first place. And what we can be certain of is that homophobia and the systematic oppression of gay people is very much a product of the modern age. What we now recognise as homosexual behaviour, however, has probably existed for as long as human beings have walked the earth. In many ancient societies, homosexual behaviour was successfully integrated into their cultures – the most famous example being that of Ancient Greece.  

This has led left-wing gay historians argue that homosexuality – as in, the distinguishing traits of homosexuals – were not considered a unified set of acts and most certainly not a set of qualities defining a particular person in pre-capitalist societies. According to this theory, what we now understand as identifiable categories of people – that is, ‘homosexuals’ and ‘heterosexuals’ – are instead social roles and attitudes pertaining to a certain culture: modern capitalism. Modern capitalism’s preference for the nuclear family – surreally depicted in numerous breakfast cereal commercials over the decades – as individual units of production leaves little room for ‘sexual deviance’. Instead it represses various kinds of behaviour and pigeonholes people into restrictive categories, like ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. But there are more than two kinds of people in the world; sexuality is fluid, not fixed, with gay sexuality existing along a continuum.  

Not, of course, to paint LGBT people as perpetual victims, but perhaps people like Simon Fanshawe could look to this systematic marginalisation and oppression before assuming a moral high-ground over what he sees as a debauched lifestyle. It’s all good and well to despair, as Fanshawe did, that when presented with equality, gay men hedonistically “drink and drug and whore their way up the gay pleasure food chain in search of the ultimate high”. But LGBT people don’t need equality, they need liberation. 

So please take note: when you’re knocking back the Blue WKDs and the Foster’s while boogying away to Lady GaGa during History Month’s ‘Gender Blender’-themed Scene Tour on February 14 at Revenge, don’t be so sure that’s what you’re getting – trust me, you’re getting the opposite.

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322 views

Exhibition Focus: Pre-Raphaelite Sisters

gracesowerby - December 10, 2019

One hundred and seventy years after the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood first exhibited their paintings, London’s National Portrait Gallery are celebrating the divine feminine muses of this historic art…

My Top 10 Albums Of 2019
Arts
672 views
Arts
672 views

My Top 10 Albums Of 2019

leo2r - December 9, 2019

It's been a great year for music, with many new artists releasing strong debut albums and promises of a prosperous career. We're only a few weeks away…

Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
Arts
369 views
Arts
369 views

Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

leo2r - December 8, 2019

Words by Rosanna Weber On October 4th, Nick Cave released his latest album Ghosteen, a double album, his first since Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus in 2004. Unlike…

Live Review: Temples @ Komedia
Arts
437 views
Arts
437 views

Live Review: Temples @ Komedia

leo2r - December 8, 2019

Words by Luke Edison   This Monday 2nd December, Komedia’s doors opened to Temples, a psychedelic rock band originating from Kettering, Northamptonshire. Having heard about their mesmerizing…

Sussex Ranger Takeover
Culture
318 views
Culture
318 views

Sussex Ranger Takeover

Rory Hinshelwood - December 5, 2019

By Rory Hinshelwood, Rosie Bettis, Zoe Taylor, and Max Morris-Edwards This week the team behind new-blog-on-the-block, Sussex Ranger hijack foodies focus to introduce their guide to student…

Should some reality TV shows be banned?
Comment
394 views
Comment
394 views

Should some reality TV shows be banned?

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

The Big Debate is a regular Badger feature which brings the spirit of competitive debating to the printed page. Two writers tackle a contentious topic, representing polarised…

Elitist campus accommodation
Comment
630 views
Comment
630 views

Elitist campus accommodation

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

By Eric Barrell With my tutors going on strike over casualisation and unequal pay, and my own struggles in cheap halls with near constant maintenance issues, I…

Let’s vote for manifestos, not idols
Comment
406 views
Comment
406 views

Let’s vote for manifestos, not idols

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

By Issy Anthony - Comment Sub-Editor I want us to question how we look at politicians, and more specifically, political leaders. This is the first election I…

Monitoring our monitors
Comment
522 views
Comment
522 views

Monitoring our monitors

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

Ruth Walters discusses the work of Sussex Sweatshop Free and their involvement with tech workers’ rights Sussex Sweatshop Free is a student-led campaign group working to raise…

Less work, more play: the 4 day week
Comment
385 views
Comment
385 views

Less work, more play: the 4 day week

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

By Will Day With Labour’s proposal to implement a four-day working week, the concept of working less for the same pay has been thrust into the public…

The knife crime crisis
Comment
253 views
Comment
253 views

The knife crime crisis

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

Joe Pearce discusses the ethical debate around ‘stop and searches’ Knife-crime is a sensitive topic, one often dividing opinion nationally. To combat gang-wars and possible intent to…

Bloodshed and tyranny in Colombia
Comment
489 views
Comment
489 views

Bloodshed and tyranny in Colombia

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

By Laura Lucia Rodríguez Peña Colombia has a long history of war and conflict. Nevertheless, in 2016 the National Government signed a peace agreement with the biggest armed…

Authentic cities and towns in Japan
Culture
8764 views
Culture
8764 views

Authentic cities and towns in Japan

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Vanessa Hung Always popular with travellers, Japan is a country with world-class cities, stunning landscape, spectacular natural scenery. Whether you have been to Japan before; or…

The evolution of iPod
Culture
193 views
Culture
193 views

The evolution of iPod

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Josh Talbot In the modern age of streaming technology, it is hard to imagine a time where there wasn’t an exhaustive library of songs literally at…

Brighton international eats
Culture
1210 views
Culture
1210 views

Brighton international eats

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Maaya Takata From vegetarian or vegan restaurants to cosy cafes for afternoon tea, from casual brunch to fine dining, Brighton offers various types of places to…

What’s going on with Falmer Moat?
Culture
150 views
Culture
150 views

What’s going on with Falmer Moat?

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Alana Harris  As the observant amongst us will have seen, the previously empty moat surrounding Falmer square has been filled with water. Many may be intrigued…

Christmas in Brighton
Culture
120 views
Culture
120 views

Christmas in Brighton

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Cloe Grampa Christmas is just around the corner and it seems that everywhere is getting into the festive spirit, but if the fairy lights around town…

Campus under Siege: Hong Kong Universities become battlegrounds
Culture
521 views
Culture
521 views

Campus under Siege: Hong Kong Universities become battlegrounds

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Charlotte Brill Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests are showing no sign of fatigue. Over the past few weeks, University campuses across the region have become the flashpoints…

The Largest Maternity Scandal in NHS History
News
176 views
News
176 views

The Largest Maternity Scandal in NHS History

Becca Bashford - December 2, 2019

  By Angel Woo, Staff Writer. An internal report leaked by The Independent has revealed that at least 42 babies and three mothers died at Shrewsbury and…