Being gay is, was and will remain an act of rebellion – the act of breaching a fundamental social norm may have the law almost fully codified now to set up equality under the law, but people are far behind. The Stonewall ‘Serves You Right’ survey shows an expectation of disadvantage in key public services, particularly the police and criminal justice system, which is frequently borne out.
One in five lesbian and gay people expect to be treated worse by police than a heterosexual if they report a crime, while a quarter think they would be treated worse than other victims of crime if they reported a homophobic hate crime.
More than a third of lesbian and gay people, including half of those over the age of 50, think they would be treated worse than a heterosexual if they were suspected of committing a crime. Nearly a third think they would be more likely than heterosexuals to be asked for their identity cards, should these be introduced, if police suspected they were gay.
One in six think they would be treated worse by a magistrate for a minor offence because they are lesbian or gay, while three fifths think they would face barriers to becoming a magistrate because of their sexual orientation.
The Sexual Orientation Regulations, age of consent equalisation, repeal of Section 28, and diversity agendas in certain police forces and private firms are all supposed to prevent negative outcomes for gay people. But the act of coming out is still taboo – people just don’t admit it. In order to get that far, out gay people must challenge and reject all sorts of conformist thinking and behaviour. And no matter that Graham Norton is the BBC’s Saturday night host or that the Royal Navy parades at London Pride, that remains frowned upon by the majority, who need predictability, an absence of challenge and change in order to manage their lives. I’m sorry I really don’t want to lead a ‘straight’ life – understanding and living the nuances of this world is far more meaningful.
Former Prime Ministers who bleat their support for gay rights make their beds with religious organisations, who insist their right to discriminate (based only on belief) trumps basic human rights. The sporting community doesn’t dare allow what must be many prominent gay footballers to come out for fear of violence, loss of income, transfer fees and status. Justin Fashanu anyone? His own brother John condemned him (although later apologised), as did his manager Brian Clough – have either of them been looked down on since? To this day Justin Fashanu is the only professional footballer in the world ever to have come out.
The Home Office doesn’t acknowledge systematic persecution of gay men in Iran and other Middle Eastern Islamic countries, provides inadequate training on LGBT issues at the very least to its asylum staff, doesn’t stamp out homophobia within asylum detention centres, and even the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police admits institutional homophobia holds it back. Despite his own wish in this area, his dogged defence and colllusion in the cover-up of the Met’s murder of Jean Charles de Menezes has meant the force hasn’t been so distracted as to make no notable progress since 2005. The Gay Police Association acknowledges the inexorable rise of homophobia merely within the force, let alone against the public (which includes not just the people they are supposed to protect from harm, but also people they arrest). Laws can change quickly, but attitudes and cultures don’t just change at a different pace, they’re affected by all sorts of other social factors and priorities.
It was presumed some years ago that as Stonewall’s legislative successes became almost total, that there would be a need not just to wind the organisation up, but that old fashioned direct-action campaigners such as Peter Tatchell had had their day. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that professional lobbying by people prepared to be ‘insiders’ is needed to make change happen. But Tatchell and others realise quite rightly that the act of coming out will likely always make us outsiders when it comes to the crunch, and that the disadvantage which will always be thrown in our direction (maybe not overtly anymore) must be stood up to. Will Stonewall’s campaign to stop anti-gay bullying in schools be a watershed or just preach to the converted? As schools struggle with budgets and other priorities enforced from a target-driven government, it remains to be seen.