With the eighth annual UK Black Pride festival taking place on 29 June 2013, Director for Public Affairs, Pav Akhtar, reflects on how the equality deficit in the realm of public debate can be addressed through Pride events that confront bigotry with irrepressible compassion and legislation…
It is 12 years since the Netherlands first legalised gay marriage. The passage of similar legislation in Britain and France has reignited deep vitriol and homophobic sentiments in the public arena. The tone of the debate now is reminiscent of the late 1980s when the Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher, introduced the deeply damaging and homophobic Section 28 legislation. This pernicious policy prevented schools from teaching youngsters that homosexual relationships could lead to people forming an ‘acceptable…family’. It led to a generational ignorance about the value of same sex love and relationships, all the while undermining many LGBT peoples’ self-esteem in relation to crystallising their personal identities with confidence.
With the hard work of grass-roots equality campaigners and progressive movements like the trade unions, attitudes and practices have evolved since those wretched days. Public opinion is increasingly cognisant and sensitised to the plurality of human love. Opinion polls increasingly show larger sections of the populous supporting the right of people to self-determine the nature and substance of their personal relations, from civil partnerships to marriage, and LGBT people have developed an increased visibility, voice and self confidence in asserting that their human rights cannot be traded like market goods.
Despite this progress the challenge of securing a world in which everyone can love without borders continues to be characterised by a spike in pro- and anti- LGBT equality actions. Of course, homo-, bi- and transphobia exist everywhere and will almost certainly, though regrettably, continue to do so. What campaigners and communities have learned from struggles against racism and gender inequality – which can be viewed as holding greater political and public support as irreversible human rights issues – is that they still fail to curb life-destroying discrimination when strong legislation is not in place, when policy is not effectively implemented, and when education is not reinforced.
In his seminal essay, The Education of a British-Protected Child, the Nigerian author and academic, Chinua Achebe writes that to answer oppression with appropriate resistance requires knowledge of two types: in the first place, self-knowledge by the victim, which is to say that one must be aware that oppression exists, and secondly that the victim must know who the enemy is – the oppressor’s real name. Not an alias, pseudonym, or nom de plume. Therefore, it is useful to distinguish some of the causes of homophobic bigotry. Some of it is certainly based on a lack of knowledge and ignorance; some of it is based on fear, however irrational; but other currents of homophobia are squarely rooted in hatred of LGBT people and our right to be ourselves.
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