Equality Street – It is not a Cul-De-Sac   – By James Martin Children are born without bile, hatred or anger. How is it that so many of these ‘innocents’ end up bigots, wishing death and subjugation to those who are different? I watched a TV progr …

Walton Pantland

Equality Street – It is not a Cul-De-Sac


– By James Martin

Children are born without bile, hatred or anger. How is it that so many of these ‘innocents’ end up bigots, wishing death and subjugation to those who are different?

I watched a TV programme recently that not only disturbed me but sent a wintry chill down my spine. The topic: gay conversion therapy. The topic alone should be enough alone to make people cringe. Yet around the world we are seeing worrying trends of religio-fanaticism and far-right resurgence influencing our politics, mainly due to austerity.

In the economy as a whole, most people have a downbeat view. Let’s face it, it’s no surprise to most that when cuts are slashing the wrists of the economy, that the blood of its people begin haemorrhaging out of those slash wounds in the form of unemployment. The media tells us we must have someone to blame for the collapse of our economies, in the UK the coalition Government blames the UK Labour Party for the current global economic depression that continues to stab at its economy. Elsewhere in the world, blame is the name in town.

Media conditioning has encouraged a turn to extreme views in times of desperation – enter UKIP, the Tea Party, Golden Dawn and so on. One area I wish to look at is the blame bestowed on the LGBT community.

Remember those headlines in the US in the wake of Superstorm Sandy by extremist preachers that for ‘upsetting god’ by allowing gay equality, the gay community had brought on widespread destruction, let alone economic collapse? I for one as a gay man had not realised that I had some sort of super power to inflict untold misery upon others (and for the record, if I did, I would never use them) just because I’m gay. With this in mind, over the past two years, I have witnessed a greater increase in the attacks on the LGBT community than I have ever seen in the 10 years since I came out. (As an aside, I hope one day that nobody has to ‘come out’ and that parents and friends will just accept you for who you are without the grim spectacle of self-inflicted perceived humiliation).

In the UK, throughout the previous Tory administration, as opposed to this disgrace of a coalition that we have inherited (Yes, inherited – nobody seems to have voted for it but still we find our daily lives inflicted by it like a bad chest infection), we saw nothing other than racist opportunism, sexist patronisation and LGBT repression. Thatcher, the ultimate mother that nobody would want to ‘come out’ to, was infested by a pale, male and stale elite cabinet that enacted laws such as Section 28, a law that essentially prevented discussion, or as the Tories put it ‘promotion’, of homosexuality within schools.

Enter 2010 and a Tory led coalition, we are now not in too much of a different a position. The flow of equality legislation is frequently slowed and stopped by a patchwork quilt of Blood Group A – the far right of the Tory party and Blood Group B – those power hungry Liberal Democrats, coalescing to form one big blood clot when it comes to equality legislation. Just look at the attack on the disabled (forcing disabled to work to the point of suicide), the elderly (attacks on pensions), the poor (the rejuvenated class war and demonization of ‘benefit scroungers’) women, young people (see the unacceptable rate of youth unemployment) and LGBT people (the somehow active discrimination involved in the legalisation of gay marriage and cuts to support services). Looking at these LGBT attacks, I consistently hear from the Conservative backbench (as opposed to the ‘defender of equalities’ current UK Prime Minister Cameron) a Thatcherite doomsday chorus of people who think the world will end should two men/women love each other and want to commit. Funny – I thought Tories were big on marriage?

With this in mind, you can imagine my sheer anger when one evening I stumble across a BBC3 documentary about gay conversion therapy in the USA. This therapy is supported by mainly religious institution, with some pressing on a bigger religious say in government and the restriction of many of the human rights we take for granted, that being gay isn’t illegal being just one of them. If I were to approach anybody with a ‘Black conversion therapy’ or a ‘vaginal reversal therapy’, I would immediately be dismissed as ridiculous and quite right too. The worrying thing is, and not many people necessarily see it like this, but the UK is a religious state with religious officials having input in the operation of Government (other countries like this, to a much higher degree are Iran and Saudi Arabia) and yet despite the Governments official position on equalities, input from religious legislators and organisations still means that female bishops are illegal and marriage for LGBT couples in the Church of England (at the time of writing) the same. It’s tea with the vicar, served from a very straight teapot. My concern is that such regressive views may serve as a rallying cry for the extreme.

I need to make the following perfectly clear, being gay, is quite simply not a choice. Before you ‘come out’, the anxiety and fear that a majority of gay people go through before making that big decision can be simply unbearable. The fear of rejection for anyone plays a major part of anybody’s life is huge, gay or straight. I remember telling my mum, by email, I couldn’t do it face-to-face, had me cold in fear of simply being different. I was fortunate to have a mum that, in the nicest possible way, couldn’t have given less of a shit. But for many that don’t have my Mum a support network (such as friends, other family members, local charity) or live in a homophobic community, the worry of disappointment, rejection and discrimination can and has lead to ‘an escape’ by anything from conversion therapy to suicide. Conversion therapy essentially tries to change the fundamentals of who you are, the beautiful innocence of you and to embrace a lie, for the most part to try to fit in with conformity. The Westboro Baptist church doesn’t advocate female conversion therapy does it? This, in many communities perpetuates a myth that people are not different in said community – just look at ‘Don’t ask don’t tell’ in the US. This even bleeds through in to our politics and media, the media especially seems to exhale a breath of shock when an openly LGBT person is elected in to office, most LGBT politicos will know who Chris Smith is for example. Don’t get me wrong, things are moving forward in some respects, but when was the last time a straight person came out?

If coming out as gay is horrifying enough, imagine having HIV/AIDS. I know of at least 10 colleagues that have had their careers hampered and have been subject to discrimination because of an illness. We are not in the Dark ages where red marks were placed on the doors of the sick, likewise those red marks in HR files that prevent dignity in the workplace should be removed also. I thought about this when I heard of a shocking report from Greece that chilled me to the core. Conversion is sick enough, but that an area of Athens has; under it’s predominantly Golden Dawn card carrying police force, subjected women to forced blood screenings to test for HIV/AIDS – without consent. Those tested and found to be positive have been imprisoned without charge. From history we should understand that economic crisis can bring out the worst in humanity. Austerity has led to my concern that people are forgetting about our history, the Civil Rights movement, the Suffragettes after all, isn’t the closure of our libraries no more different to burning books?

I write this blog to highlight that in times of forced austerity by the political right, we should be standing together like so many on that March to Washington, not falling back to a position of blame. I don’t want to see a TV programme about Gay conversion therapy again unless it is on the History Channel because I hope it is outlawed across the planet. It’s the 21st century, time for ‘Hindu vs. Muslim’, ‘Black vs. White’, ‘LGBT vs. organised religion’…is it really too much to ask that we think of ourselves as Human Beings with a common purpose of equality and societal improvement, not divided by a line on a map or opinion? I hope so, but for the time being, the concerning thing is, how many reading this knew what was going on in Greece?

“The only real failure is the failure to try and the only real success, is to cope with disappointment as we must. Can we be blamed for feeling we are too old to change? Too scared of disappointment to start again?

It’s also true that the person who wishes nothing – does nothing – has nothing. All we know about the future is that it will be different. But, perhaps what we fear is that it will be the same. Because as someone once said, everything will be all right in the end and if it’s not all right, then trust me – It is not the end.”Ol Parker, writer of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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