When I was nine years old, I used to fall asleep every night with the terrified thought that if I let even one toe out of the cover, something would grab my foot and kidnap me. I would go to bed every night, taking extra care to look inside my wardrobe, under the bed (obvious monster hiding place) and even in my bedside drawers…you never know.
As time passed and I’d managed to sleep soundly without any monster disturbance I began to think that maybe my fears were unfounded. Being only nine after all I quite often look back on those years and think; if my biggest fear was the fake monster hiding under my bed, I probably did ok.
Recently however, I’ve felt those terrified thoughts returning. It appears that nowadays, according to such upstanding sources as the Daily Mail, there is a darker, more sinister lurking evil that we should all be afraid of. It doesn’t come in the form of the Boogeyman, or the Loch Ness Monster or Dracula…it’s …HOMOSEXUALITY!
Yes: lock your doors, check your children are safe in bed, and by all means keep a baseball bat handy. Homosexuality is like a creeping disease; it will infect your life, taking your usually well thought out decisions and make you always choose pink instead.
It’s the Ricky Martin on that compilation cd you got free with the newspaper; it’s the unwanted glitter in your face cream. It’s everywhere, and we must do anything we can to stop it before there is a big, fat, gay pandemic!!…
Oops…I get a bit carried away with myself sometimes, and I should apologise for being so flippant about such a serious topic, but in this instance I find it hard not to resort to mockery. I often find peoples unimaginable ignorance on such topics a source of hilarity.
However, the joke became a lot less funny recently when Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin signed a bill in June this year banning “Homosexual propaganda” – making it illegal to give anyone under the age of 18, information about homosexuality.
This follows a ban on same sex adoption, which his far right government passed through the Duma in April. It also follows an ultra conservative MP in Siberia, Alexander Mikhailov calling for a new law allowing Cossack paratroopers to publicly flog anyone believed to be gay or lesbian. Thankfully this archaic law was never passed.
Welcome to the 21st Century folks.
The repercussions of this move are so damaging for several reasons; firstly, Putin is not a political extremist, but the leader of one of the world’s super powers. He is aware that his words and actions influence his huge electorate, as well as the wider world. Secondly, what Putin has done is give sanction to the sort of cruel persecution usually dished out by radicals.
Critic’s say the law is intentionally vaguely worded and part of a broader crackdown on gay rights in Russia.
Anyone wearing a rainbow flag (a well recognized symbol for LGBT rights) or writing about gay relationships on Facebook for instance could be accused of propagandizing.
The West has also scrutinized the Russian police as they allow groups such as “Occupy-Pedafilyay” to operate with impunity.
This is one of the Neo-Nazi groups responsible for the recent outbreak of attacks on young vulnerable Russian men. Their method is to approach young boys in online forums only to lure them to a public place to be taunted and tortured.
Videos online show boys as young as 12 being urinated on, humiliated and beaten. These hate crimes have escalated since the new laws were passed as these groups are clearly emboldened by Russia’s move.
Sadly, this is not a problem specific to Russia. In the UK, we were victim to similar draconian laws when Thatcher took government during the 80’s and imposed the section 28 laws, which banned the dissemination of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation” towards under-18s and imposed fines on anyone convicted.
Thankfully the law was over turned when New Labour took office, but recently concerns have been raised that many independent Academies in Britain have returned to a teaching policy similar to that of section 28 as they are left to create their own sex education curriculum.
Stephen Williams, a Liberal Democrat MP said;
“We need to get a grip on this to ensure schools aren’t breaking the guidelines that are in place to combat homophobic bullying”
Britain’s PM David Cameron has been asked to respond on both his actions at home and also his responsibility for those abroad.
The debate was further publicized when actor and comedian Stephen Fry shared his open letter to Cameron, asking for a boycott of the 2014 winter Olympics due to take place in Moscow.
In the letter he suggests Cameron make a political stand, withdrawing the British support of the games due to the infringement on human rights.
Fry appropriately quotes Edmund Burke in his letter, pleading that inaction suggests we condone Putin’s actions.
“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”
Fry draws comparisons between the forthcoming Olympics in Moscow and the 1936 Olympic games held in Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic Germany. As Hitler courted the world stage, he had already begun his process of ‘racial cleansing’, which had not yet reached its horrifying peak.
Of course Fry has been supported but also publicly lambasted, and Cameron has all but ignored his plea. I’m sure even Stephen Fry himself is aware of how bold it is to broach such an emotionally charged topic. Very few people are willing to draw modern day comparisons to the holocaust, and quite rightly so. What I think Fry’s biggest critics are failing to grasp however is his emphasis on our social responsibility as a nation. His examples may be extreme and potentially insensitive to some, but his sentiment is exactly right.
I applaud him for his outspoken sense of injustice while others would rather stay silent. There comes a time when silence itself is the ultimate betrayal.
It would be foolish to believe that if Vladimir Putin’s government is allowed to progress without reprisal that this will be the last of such reforms.
So what happens now?
Conservative MP Mike Weatherly spoke out asking for David Cameron to criticize Russia’s anti-homosexuality legislation. He told the PM that Britain “has a duty not to stay silent”.
This duty to speak out applies not only to David Cameron but also any one of us who claims to defend the human rights of every individual, whether LGBT or otherwise. As we struggle to find our voice, members of the LGBT community find themselves a victim of prejudice, discrimination, assault and death. Researchers have found that suicide among LGBT teens and young adults is comparatively higher than among the general population. This is further compounded by homophobic attitudes both institutionalized and personal.
So what can we do?
I do not consider myself a wise enough source to be dishing out patronising advice, but I will say this: that it needs to begin from the most basic of levels.
Never remain quiet in the company of prejudice, whether that comes in the form of conservative family members or ill informed friends.
The damaging thing about ignorance is, it usually comes dressed up as faux tolerance as soon as we can recognize this in ourselves and in others we can begin to reform what is socially acceptable.
Write letters, attend protests, sign petitions like this one; http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/52656
Never stop talking about the subject to anyone who will listen and especially those who won’t. Do not become complacent; do not believe that the world is going to change without you. Educate yourself… http://www.stonewall.org.uk/what_we_do/7976.asp#russia
Of course the sad irony about passing laws such as section 28 or the anti- gay law in Russia is that the children who they are supposedly protecting are the most unbiased of all. They view everything with a beautiful simplicity. No child is born homophobic, or racist or bigoted.
We infect them with our small-minded views.
To those who still fail to grasp even the most basic understanding of a persons sexuality;
You cannot ‘make’ someone gay. It is not an illness that can be passed on from one person to another or cured with a dose of anti-biotics. You cannot teach a person to be gay, but you can teach them to be tolerant.
To recall one of my favourite quotes by Martin Luther King Jnr
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Now is not the time for silence but a time to find our voice.