We need to stand up for all LGBT people, especially those in countries where horrors are still endured
While LGBT lives are finally being acknowledged by the media, harsher struggles are being ignored
Participants in the fifth annual LGBT Noise March for Marriage march through Dublin city centre to the Department of Justice on St Stephen’s Green yesterday. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire
There is a gay bias in the dastardly liberal media. But it’s not the one you think. It’s hard to pick up a smart publication these days without some topic along the LGBT rights spectrum being referenced. In most happy-clappy societies, gayness is at a convoluted crossroads. Behind us, for the most part, are years of violent oppression. Ahead, a spaghetti junction of complex issues.
Within the LGBT community there is a debate about what is being given up in return for being subsumed into what is bluntly called “mainstream society”. It’s a privileged position to be in: arguing over the semantics of queerness and gay identity being embraced – though not without spiteful opposition – from its fringe underground to the village fete. Will queer culture be diluted? Are heteronormative structures something to strive for?
Every social movement is fraught and fractured, but has to project a consensus so the diversity of debate within doesn’t slow down its overall progress.
The media’s documentation of this process is not its bias. The real bias is a refusal to take the rough with the smooth. What the mainstream media wants is polite progress. Straight, liberal, Irish society wants jokes about how gay men’s wedding lists could save the economy, happy stories about lesbians in matching wedding dresses, and colourful photos of same-sex couples kissing at Pride. That’s fantastic. Visibility is vital to eroding ignorance. But it is also a bias. While LGBT lives are finally being acknowledged by the media, harsher struggles are ignored. We need to tell those stories.
Recently in Dublin, the Gaze LGBT International Film Festival, of which I am a board member, screened a documentary about LGBT lives in Cameroon called Born This Way. A fortnight before the screening, Cameroonian LGBT activist Eric Lembembe, who the director of the film described as “a pillar of the LGBT community”, was tortured and murdered. Before his killing, the headquarters of an NGO providing HIV services was burned down. Human rights lawyers representing gays and lesbians are threatened with death. And Cameroon rarely brought prosecutions against gay people until 2005.
In South Africa in 2008, Eudy Simelane, a lesbian who played football for the national team, was raped and murdered, stabbed 25 times and dumped in a stream. She was training to be a referee for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Three years later, another woman, Noxolo Nogwaza, was spotted with a female friend at a bar. That night, she was raped, murdered, her eyes torn from their sockets.
By the end of this week, and by the end of every week, 10 South African lesbians will be victims of gang rape or so-called “corrective rape”, the term for the use of rape as a hate crime because of the perceived sexual orientation of the victim.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin is attempting to suppress the entire LGBT sector of society. The “gay propaganda” ban (ie any discussion of homosexuality) has been signed into law. Gay people are threatened, beaten, tortured and killed. Patriarch Kirill I, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, called same-sex marriage rights a sign of an impending apocalypse.
Anton Krasovsky, a Russian TV anchor who came out live on air in January, was immediately fired. In May, a 23-year-old gay man in Volgograd was sodomised with beer bottles before being beaten to death, his skull smashed with a rock. In Iran over the past decade, young men have been publicly executed for being gay.
Homosexuality is illegal in 76 countries, where the repercussions range from imprisonment to death by stoning. This matters if you care at all about people. It also matters when Irish LGBT people are travelling and doing business in places where their lives and security are compromised because of their sexuality.
Torture and murder
Yet countries where gay people are tortured and murdered are rewarded. Sochi, in Russia, will host the Winter Olympics next year. Moscow hosts the World Cup in 2018. Qatar, where homosexual acts between men are illegal, will host it in 2022. So if we want to embrace the mainstreaming of LGBT people, we’re also going to have to embrace the horrors they are still subjected to in the slightly less comfy parts of the world.
The positive depiction of gay lives in our media is a heartening sign of progress, empathy, maturity and tolerance. But the triumph of the “acceptable gays” belies the unacceptable conditions LGBT people endure. The LGBT rights movement is perhaps the most civil of civil rights movements – polite and reasoned in the face of despicable, hysterical opposition.
As a society, we have come so far, but any comfort is misplaced. Enough is enough. If we want to stand up for LGBT people, we must stand up for all of them, all of us, everyone.