Sunday, 5 January 2014

Setting things straight: 2014's homophobic hangover

Setting things straight: 
2014's homophobic hangover

'It's the mark of a narrow world that it mistrusts the undefined.' 
Joseph Roth

It's hard to go into the New Year without remembering some of the shortcomings of the year just past. Amidst the positive thinking for the year ahead, January is also annual hangover time. 

The end of 2013 saw some devastating blows to the global gay community. In the same month of December, India declared same-sex sexual intercourse illegal with section 377 and Australia overturned their same-sex marriage legislation, invalidating twenty-seven marriages.

I don't identify as gay myself, or straight for that matter, but I'm happy to share that my own sexual experience with a girl last year was an important experience like any other: it helped me grow and learn more about myself and my body. It's frustrating and saddening to think that governments across the world publicly deny people that deeply personal freedom to be who they are, or to at least find out who they'd like to be. There is solidarity though, as Buzzfeed shows with it's 95 Incredible Images Of The World Raging Against India’s Ban On Same-Sex Intercourse.

Here's mine.

Love is love. Udaipur, India. 2008.

Same-sex marriage will be possible in the UK this March, adding to the sixteen other countries allowing this union across the world.

With thanks to for making this map

It took a while to get there, but the Brits made it. In early 2012 I started writing a short story called The Marriage Inspector in response to some of the UK's religious leaders' feeling that changing the law to allow same-sex couples to marry would be "dangerous". It was an interesting and cathartic exercise to set down my thoughts on the subject as a piece of fiction. Quite spookily, three days after I'd finished the story at the end of May 2013, the Anglican church officially dropped their opposition to the new law. I'll try to post The Marriage Inspector here on Opening Lines later this month. You can read Stephen Fry's excellent appeal on the subject here: 260 animals have gay tendencies but only humans are homophobic.

I understood that a lot of the resistance to the change in the laws came from a fear that quickly drafted legislation can set a dangerous precedent for fast-tracked policy making. This is an understandable fear, but religious leaders saying that allowing people who love their god, a god who believes in equality, a chance to marry under the same law as their fellow Christians could be "dangerous" made me sad. Two of my best friends are gay and their relationship is not only a source of joy for me, but an inspiration; like any healthy relationship, they make each other stronger, happier people. 

Beach Love. Positano, Italy. 2013.

But to return to quickly drafted legislation. An Australian friend of mine posted her shame on Facebook about December's change to Australian marriage laws, only to be reassured by a friend's partner that it was simply a legislative blip. She wondered if he had completely missed the point of her shame as an Australian: twenty seven couples had been told their marriages were invalid. Correcting a law is one thing: granting a person a liberty then taking it away is another. Another Australian friend told me that this legislation had been so badly created in the first place that it was destined to fail. 

In his novel, No Longer At Ease, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe writes that

“The impatient idealist says: 'Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth.' But such a place does not exist. We all have to stand on the earth itself and go with her at her pace.”

Surely the world is turning in one direction, though, not going back on itself? When I think of Achebe's words, I think that we'd be foolish to start shouting from one spot and expect things to change as we'd like them to. The world is always changing, and we're changing too. Perhaps we should walk with the earth as it turns, take a gentle approach, take each every conversation as it comes. Sometimes we do find a place to stand though, if only because there's absolutely nowhere else to stand.

So I'd just like to write these things down, even if you already know them to be true:

Intolerance is not okay. 

Bigotry is not okay. 

Homophobia is not okay.

All of the above are wrong and they hurt people.

Voltaire once said 
‘I disapprove of what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it.’ Wise words, Voltaire, but I do think that sometimes it’s easier to shout at someone or something when their values don’t match our own than to sit down and really think about why that is so. It's one less conversation we have to have with ourselves about why we might be intolerant regarding the issue at hand. We all think, value, feel differently, and our species have been exchanging ideas since the dawn of time. We’re a toxic mix, humans - infused with value systems and laws and traditions that span our enormous planet. Diplomacy must be a headache, governing countries and trying to take that all into consideration whilst keeping up with a political agenda. Some countries do it better than others, though.

Fingers crossed for a more hopeful 2014 for the global LGBT community. 

Thanks for reading, and if you're interested, watch this space for The Marriage Inspector.


  1. An import post Helen! Thanks for this. Let's hope 2014 is a more tolerant year.

  2. Voltaire once said ‘I disapprove of what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it.’

    I do not like the idea of homosexuality

  3. Thanks, Rick, I hope so too.

    And to Anonymous commentor, thanks for sharing your opinion, it's yours to defend. Obviously I'm sorry you feel that way (for reasons stated above), but if it's how you feel, it's how you feel. . .

  4. Yes, a really important post, Helen, thank you. Also, as one of the privileged few who have read 'The Marriage Inspector', I very much look forward to you sharing it here. :)

  5. Can't wait to read 'The Marriage Inspector'