Two nights ago Stonewall co-founder Sir Ian McKellen gave a speech at the organisation’s annual Equality Dinner, highlighting where gay rights in the UK have come from and where they’re headed. You can read the body of the speech via the link, but this for me was the crux of what we need to look at:
But what about social equality? Don’t they have it? Isn’t it established?
Well no, it isn’t, he’s right. It’s not just the abuse still meted out by DJs, or even the religious zealots. I don’t think that Jodi Dobrowski was murdered because of them, nor did David Copeland bomb the Admiral Duncan simply because he might have been bullied at school. It’s the inbuilt presumptions in society which persist through progressive legal changes like civil partnerships, because they’re subtle. It’s the nasty homophobic presumptions which persist in the Metropolitan Police, because the current Mayor thinks they’re worth trading off in favour of easier goals like higher police numbers, or because ‘maintaining security’ is more important than treating people with basic decency. If you don’t challenge it you legitimise it. Rowan Williams legitimises the African Anglicans’ attack on Gene Robinson and gay rights worldwide despite the example of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, because he fears being the Archbishop of Canterbury who led the Church to schism. Rights issues are always enmeshed in other issues – that’s what makes human rights accountability so very difficult, but a line has to be drawn; laws are not enough.
And Stonewall isn’t the organisation which has to lead this fight, as was thought in the 90s, with the professionalisation of protest. They may be the continent’s foremost gay rights lobbying organisation, but Mehdi Kazemi would have been off their radar had he been deported. His current future seems likely to be assured by the intervention of campaigning individuals like Peter Tatchell, internet campaigners and oddly the press, whose storms of protest have together for the moment backed Home Secretary Jacqui Smith into a corner.
To get gay rights in immigration and asylum in practice to basic legislative norms, to address basic rights for gay people destroyed by the judicial and penal systems, to get gay visibility on the football pitch as accepted as it now is on television, it’s down to all of us. Stonewall can change laws, but a lobbying group is far less adept at changing attitudes. The politicians don’t have it on their agenda, the right wing media have a bias against it, and people’s lives are still being destroyed not because gay rights aren’t being addressed, but because we’re not looking at them through the prism of human rights yet. Address the flagrant breaches in human rights which Britain’s institutions, public services and government regularly flaunt, and you see the real future for gay rights.