Friday 16 May 2014

IDAHOT Day 2014

May 17 is IDAHOT Day. Tonight, here in Australia, Brisbane’s Storey Bridge will be bathed in the light of rainbow colours, as a way the city burghers have offered to help in the fight against homophobia. If you are a regular reader of the BGBC Blog, you will know already that I have written two previous pieces on IDAHOT Day, the first in 2012, where I define homophobia and give an explanation as to what I believe underpins it. The second piece was a year later in 2013 where I offered two ways of seeing how homophobia manifests itself. 

Brisbane's Storey Bridge 17 May 2014

In 2014, I would just like to bring a few thoughts together from general LGBTI issues and say something that is pertinent to IDAHOT Day.

Not A Disappointment

Being gay is often seen as a disappointment. Our parents and families can be supportive but their friends can silently tut tut to themselves with, “how disappointing it must be for Mike and Janice with young Tom” or “they must be so disappointed”. This perpetuates the myth that being gay is an inferior way to live life. It is not. And homophobia feeds on this sort of thing and is emboldened by it. “Well if it’s inferior,” says the homophobe, “why can’t I call him a faggot or beat him up”?

Getty Image - Huff Post
Being gay is not a disappointment. It is not a second best way to live life, it is not the bronze medal in the life stakes. In fact, quite the contrary. Being gay is a wonderful way to live life, the equal of being straight. Gay people are able to flourish and thrive as much as straight people. We could probably do it a whole lot easier if the world had less homophobia and heterosexism in it, but the statement stands. Human life in the Western world is remarkably similar for all people, straight or gay. I am not for a moment saying that equality of opportunity is the same for everyone. Poverty, lack of education, lack of decent health care and prejudice of all kinds all still exist. But those inequalities notwithstanding, people live, work, get educated, bond with others, laugh, play, cry, mate, and do remarkably similar things. Despite cultural and regional differences, growing up in North America, Australia or Europe in the way people engage with life is relatively similar. Being gay does not preclude us from living that ‘every person’ life. We gay people can still live wonderful lives; not the slightest bit disappointing. Until parents, families, friends, colleagues and society itself can purge this disappointment notion right away, there will never be true equality. There is no need for any straight person, be they known to us or unknown, to look at us and feel sorry for us for being gay. We are not a disappointment.

Not Offensive

One of the most hurtful things that homophobia does is to declare that gay people are offensive. Some of these people use religious grounds (and I have dealt with that thoroughly in other posts), while others don’t use religious language but are just as deeply offended. 

Perhaps nothing has galvanised the Americans or the world of sport in general than ‘the great kiss’ as I think it should be called (he says facetiously) between Michael Sam and his boyfriend.

Michael Sam as will most people know is an openly gay black football player in the United States. Some months ago he publicly came out and there was much consternation and debate as to whether this disclosure would injure his career by stopping him from being drafted into the big time – the NFL. Well, as the world knows now, during the draft, he was at his home, like other players would have been, with his boyfriend and family, waiting for the phone-call to see if he made it into the League. Someone had a camera of some sort on him to record the moment. It was going to be huge if it happened at all. It was going to be historic. An openly gay man being drafted in front of all of America into the NFL for the first time. He was intensely emotional. He wept. The commentators can be heard to say such weeping is common at this time among players, such is the “raw emotion” of the moment. When the call came in and he was drafted a place in the St Louis Rams, Sam took the call, physically bent over and answered the caller through tears. When he straightened up, almost delirious with happiness and the moment, he hugged and kissed his boyfriend a few times and was embraced and patted by friends and family. Even for a non-sports fan like me, it was truly a wonderful moment. That was then.

Over the ensuing days, homophobic America went into meltdown.
  • “That kiss was offensive”.
  • “Why is he shoving it in our faces”?
  • “I’m not anti-gay, but he doesn’t have to do that in front of everyone”.
  • “That should not be allowed to be broadcast – there are children watching”.
  • “That’s disgusting”.
  • “We don’t need filthy faggotts doing this on television”.
  • “Sick and disgusting I hope they crack him straight when he gets in the game”.
  • “Those who throw around that term 'homophobic' ought to recognize the principle of what goes around comes around. Shall we label male homosexuals 'women-phobic' and 'vagina-phobic' and lesbians 'men-phobic' and 'penis-phobic.'?"

Now, in any reasonable person’s mind, this kiss was a moment of extreme happiness, one of those moments where we actually cry with tears of joy. They are rare in life and are very special. Michael Sam was being held by his partner as he listened to the phone-call and he hugged and kissed him in exquisite relief and joyful celebration; just like all the straight athletes in their homes did with their families, friends, girl-friends or wives. Is it so far a stretch that we cannot even see this for what it is; a deeply profound human moment? What it is not is offensive. 

If a gay man kissing his boyfriend in such a circumstance is offensive then so is the straight man kissing his girlfriend. Let’s not have a double standard and let’s call it out wherever we see it. Human sexuality just is. None of us decide to be straight or gay, and even if we did, there would still be no excuse for a double standard; always the test for the presence of prejudice.

The short clip below from a Dallas talk show shows the level of ignorance, homophobia and heterosexism that still exists. The two middle women are offended by Sam’s kiss, the one on the left because she doesn’t want children to see, that it was acted out as ‘news’ (she uses air quotes) as opposed to a real moment of humanity, and that she doesn’t want it shoved in our faces. The woman on the right earlier and not in this clip (it is in the longer 6 minute version which is easily found) is upset at the kiss because it is not American and she is offended.

When you read or view homophobic comments attached to this type of story, they almost always point to the so-called abnormality of gay sexuality. “Gays are not normal. That’s why I don’t want my kids seeing that”. Until society understands what we all understand: that being gay is normal, that it is not a sickness, a disease, an abnormality or a sign of psychopathology, we will continue to struggle against homophobic and heterosexist attitudes that will condemn us and harm young people. So we just need to gird up our loins and keep on keeping on with educating people and spreading the message that we’re okay and it’s okay to be gay.

Be gay but Don’t BE gay

There is another interesting side to this story. Many Americans are quite supportive of Michael Sam being drafted, but are at the same time, uncomfortable with the television network showing him kiss his boyfriend. Here the homophobia and heterosexism is more insidious. It is covert homophobia.

“I can accept that you are gay, that’s fine, but please don’t talk about it. Please don’t demonstrate in any way that you’re gay, like bringing a same sex partner to a party or wedding. Don’t wear anything that would suggest you are gay when you are with me. Don’t stick your head up above the parapet in any way like social activism. Don’t act gay. Don’t kiss your boyfriend even when you’re really happy and you’ve just achieved something historic and wonderful”.

This is the homophobia of shame. It can handle that gay sexuality exists conceptually, but it cannot handle the reality. “I feel shame when I see such displays. I feel very uncomfortable. But don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely fine with you being gay”.

Gay people have rightly shed this shame. The whole gay pride movement grew out of the acknowledgment that we had to not be ashamed of being who we were. It is sometimes hard. But we need to persevere while ever there is shame attached to being a LGBT person. We must reject it in ourselves and in we must reject it in others.

The Unaware Homophobe

One of the most hurtful of homophobic activity is when people say and declare things that are incredibly hurtful to LGBT people but they have no idea just how offensive they are being. It happens most often I think by fundamentalist religious folk who quote chapter and verse of either their Bibles or their worldview about gay people, whom they always call ‘homosexuals’ and their ‘homosexual lifestyle’ completely obvlivious to the insensitivity of thier language. When you point out that what they are saying is hurtful, they will often come back and say that they must speak their truth and that it would be wrong and even unloving if they did not. They cannot see at all that they are being hurtful or offensive.

What kind of a topsy turvy world do we have when a so-called follower of Christ can say to me, “Stuart, you will burn in hell for your faggotty ways. Your love for your partner is not love. It is just lust. And God will judge you for turning your back on the only way to him thought Jesus Christ who has shown us the only way to live our lives, which you have rejected”? See how there is some love theology mixed in with the rest of it which is just hate-speech. It is truly warped and you can find it on any fundamentalist website that discusses LGBT issues including marriage equality. What person in their right mind would change their life and follow such a person and accept that person’s values? Homophobia and heterosexism are alive and well in some quarters of the Christian Church. Such behaviour is as un-Christ-like as I can possibly think.


Today in the world, we see a certain kick back against LGBT people; a reactionary movement to the gains that LGBT activism has made over the last two decades. It is happening predominantly not in the West, although there is some, but more in Africa and countries like Haiti and Brunei. There are still 77 countries I understand where gay sexuality is illegal and some of them where it is punishable by imprisonment and even execution. We are lucky and blessed in the West. We must never rest on our laurels while such injustice, ignorance and bigotry remains.

Click on the link below for a wonderful interactive website that allows you to analyse all the countries and regions of the world as to where they stand on LGBT issues and how LGBT people are treated. It is well worth a look to keep yourself apprised of the state of the world as it is now.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Around the World

In so many places in the West, we have come so far. Times have certainly changed and have done so rapidly; so rapidly for some that thier homophobia has been ramped up in reaction. Let us once again this IDAHOT Day remember that those of us who are open and free about our sexuality stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us to win us these freedoms. Likewise, we must continue to move in that same direction: to have all people treated equally, to remove historic discriminations against LGBT people, to advocate for social change like marriage equality so that we do not have to be categorised as second-class citizens, to speak against overt and covert homophobia wherever we encounter it, to speak against nations and movements that would punish LGBT people and harm them, and to wear with pride, yes gay pride, our difference and our lack of shame at being who we are as we live our lives authentically.

Happy IDAHOT Day one and all.

Pax et Amor - Stuart