Friday, March 11, 2011

Gay Rights: Why Straight People Should Care

This is a re-post of a note I put up on my Facebook. Please feel free to link it about, or send a copy to your local politician. See also my Open Letter to Wendy Francis.

I'm sure plenty of people have noticed that I sometimes harp on about gay rights. You might wonder why; after all, I'm not gay. Why should I jump on THIS particular issue?

One of the great heroes of the twentieth century was gay. Among other achievements, he was awarded the OBE for his wartime service, he introduced or expanded a number of important mathematical concepts, he made important contributions to the fields of biology and cryptography, and he became widely known as the father of modern computing. Time Magazine ranked him among the hundred most important people of the 20th century. He is, of course, Alan Turing.

His government prosecuted him for being gay; he was chemically castrated, and ultimately committed suicide.

One of the great minds of the 20th century was hounded to death because of his sexuality. Alan Turing had decades worth of valuable contributions still to make. What might kids like Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Ryan Halligan, Asher Brown, or Seth Walsh have contributed? Was our next Einstein bullied to death in a playground at junior high? Did we lose out on a modern Leonardo da Vinci because of the lunacy that says it's ok to attack people because of who they love?

I'm sure that there are gay people who made it through school without too many problems. There are schools where it's ok to be out. Some people have parents who will be supportive of their sexuality. The other extreme exists as well, though. 'Gay-bashing' was a term I heard more than once during my school years. Among some groups of my peers, it was almost seen as a sport (though I don't remember any instance of it actually happening.) I didn't know anyone who was out at high school. I'm sure we had gay boys in our classes; the statistics make an all-straight cohort of 240 boys beyond improbable. It was almost taboo to call someone gay: an insult above. My experience of school was of a place profoundly unfriendly to a gay teenager. It's not just at school that this happens either; the history of LGBT youth is filled with teenagers thrown out of home by their parents. The stories aren't all bad, but some of them are simply heart-breaking.

In spite of that, it's not really so bad, here in Australia. There are still places in the world where homosexuality it punishable by DEATH.

You know what? Sexual orientation is crucial to the human experience. You can't hide it, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' style. Our relationships with others are a vital part of who we are, and no relationship is more important to us than the falling-in-love type. But in many parts of the world, simply to stay alive, people have to hide that part of who they are, ever fearful of exposure. Even where no criminal penalty exists, coming out can, variously, mean facing abandonment by your family, being ostracised by your friends, facing unemployment or difficulty in renting accommodation, being turned away by businesses, being unable to adopt a child or access some types of medical treatments, and not having your romantic relationships acknowledged as equal to straight ones. Here in Australia we like to think we're fairly 'modern' and 'tolerant', but several of those apply here.

I respect gay people who are out. Some of them, of course, have had it fairly easy; others stood up and claimed their rights in the face of untold violence and vitriol. Every one, however, who can stand up and be counted helps the rest of us hear the important message: "We're here, and we're normal people, just like you". Much of what I heard about gay people while I was growing up was fearful stuff. The picture that elements in the media, some of my peers, and various authority figures painted to me was (sometimes) that they were sad, broken people; or, that they were hateful predators; that they were disgusting, or vile, or even just not quite right. It wasn't a pretty picture. Of course, once I started to meet gay people (or find out that people whom I'd known for years were gay,) it didn't take long for me to realise that it was all hateful propaganda, further from the truth than I could have imagined. If I didn't know these openly gay people, though, what would I think now? How could I have realised how wrong I was?

So, here's why I harp on about gay rights: it's because homophobia is a terrible blight on our society, and we are less than we could be because of it; because people, from OBE war-heroes to unknown teenagers, die rather than face the hate; because every time I hear something like the recent story of a lesbian being deported from Britain to Uganda, where she may face the death penalty simply because of who she falls in love with, I feel a little more ashamed of human-kind. It's because there's this ATTITUDE that I see, where people say things like "it's all well and good, each to their own; but thank GOD none of MY kids are gay". It's what lets people say things like (and I've been guilty, in years gone by) "Love the sinner, hate the sin", as if we can condemn the love of someone's life for being wrong, but paint smiley-faces around our tolerant, loving attitude. We, as a society, pretend to be tolerant and accepting, but if you look in the wrong place, you'll find the same bigotry, only dressed up to be more presentable. So long as there's this attitude around, this wrongness masked with pretty words, people will feel like they have an excuse to see gay people as somehow less; they will feel it is ok to tease someone, or to bully them, or to hit or demean or ostracise them, simply because they're gay.

I'm passionate about gay rights because I think we should be ashamed that the term even needs to exist. We're HUMANS; we've been to our own moon, and we're on the brink of going further. We've sent probes out past Pluto. We're at the stage where we can imagine, with all seriousness, becoming an inter-stellar species. It's simply EMBARRASSING that we still behave like this.