The Guardian has an article today about the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in society that is worth a read: Without Prejudice. It’s generally a pretty well worked-through piece, even if it has a tendency to represent things in perhaps too cheerful and happy a way. Here’s one of the more randomly bizarre questions it asks:
But do these advancing levels of acceptance leave us in a position where it is easier to be gay in the UK than it is to be black, or even female?
The answer to which is patently no –on the whole – because (1) there simply isn’t a consistent experience of being gay in the UK (some areas / industries / cultures are gay-tolerant, some gay-positive, some are patently and overtly not), (2) gay teenagers are still some of the most at risk of bullying, homelessness and suicide statistics, and because (3) there is still a massive amount of institutionalised homophobia and stereotyping both from outside and indeed inside the ‘community’.
On the other hand things have got considerably better. When I was at University you could almost feel the tides turning – and turning quickly. But there is another aspect to this rapid change in cultural beliefs regarding homosexuality and gay issues that I think the Guardian has missed. I remember when I first noticed (around ten years ago) that the frequent reference to – and tacit acceptance of – gay issues in TV shows like Friends seemed to be having much more effect on the hearts and minds of people around us than any of the dedicated and necessary campaigning and fighting of the oppressive late eighties. It seems to me that the media won the war for us, and that’s troubling in and of itself.
And it’s not just who won the battles that is alarming (because there’s no guarantee that they won’t start reversing their position – particularly in the increasingly right-wing USA), it’s also the speed in which the battles were won. I think we have to be aware of the fact that political and social life doesn’t just naturally have a tendency towards liberalism and socially inclusive politics. A rapid social swing in that direction (while wonderful in the short-term) makes me concerned about the possibilities for an equally rapid swing towards more repressive and less gay-friendly ideologies. Let’s let these changes bed in a bit before we start saying the war has been won.
In the meantime, The Guardian’s article is a bit of a charter for complacency, because as the man said, “Rights have to be defended all of the time because rights are under attack all of the time”. And looking back on the last twenty years, perhaps the lesson is not that we are naturally destined to be accepted as equals, but that – in the future if not now – the media will be the battleground upon which all ideological conflicts will be won.