So let me start with a confession. I grew up largely homophobic. It wasn’t uncommon for friends and colleagues to refer to each other as batty men, chi chi man, mama man or any other derogatory Caribbean epithets. Given that we shared baths and showers naked in reflection this seems somewhat surprising. Girls who wouldn’t give a guy attention were called carpet munchers or brawny gals. Nowadays hearing kids refer to something or someone as so gay and not as a compliment brings up awkward memories.
In church, elders and senior men not only talked about the wrongs of homosexuality but even talked about curing it. By and large the community I grew up in, regardless of ethnicity and culture, did not lend itself to support of being gay or lesbian. I make no excuses for such a past and actually look back in embarassment at that part of my history.
Part of my progress moving forward was one of my close friends in school. He was clearly attracted to other males, to use his own words he was “as camp as a row of tents” but yet still he dated girls in school in order to cover as it were his sexual preferences. We both had a love for the performing arts and sharing this allowed me to by and large get past my prejudices and see the person for who he was. I am not going to lie as it took a long while to shake all but it was a start.
As an adult I have spent many years, especially as a youth worker, having to work with young people who are gay or bisexual. Having to remind them that first of all they are human and that there sexual preferences aren’t something to be ashamed of. I am grateful and humbled in many ways that individuals have felt confident enough to come and speak to me about this in safety and confidence.
Two Steps Back
On the weekend I came across an article about a law being proposed in Nigeria. The bill aims to crack down on gay rights, same sex marriages and public displays of affection. Each country has it’s own right to create and pass legislation but I am stunned to find a developing economy willing to hand down a 10-year sentence for “any person who … directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationships”. Yet whilst I wholly disagree at the same time I understand the religious and cultural place this comes from. In fact some of the sharia based regions in Nigeria will issue the death penalty for being homosexual. That along with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Often in the face of seemingly hypocritical approaches to homosexuality. I think it’s wrong but I do understand why some will think like this.
I am one of those people who don’t think that religions should be forced to administer cermonies for gay marriages. It should be discretionary and also taken into consideration that some religions have at the heart of their beliefs a lack of recognition of same sex relationships as acceptable. That said, I conversely don’t believe any religion that has love or peace at its centre, should be allowed to feel that it is ok to kill or maim someone because of their sexual preference. Even moreso a country that upholds this should be challenged both internally and externally, whether through political or economic measures.
I came from a place where all people were treated equal, even though some were treated more equal than others. Something I teach my kids is not to be partial or prejudiced to someone because of their sexual preferences. Every one should be treated equally. It doesn’t mean you cannot detest other people’s behaviour but not based on some prejudice that you have about race, gender or sexual preference. Something I reiterate when I speak in schools too.
It is a shame that individuals are treated less favourably as adults (or youth) because of their same sex preferences. I would love to believe that in my lifetime homophobia will diminish, a sensible dialogue on this issue will continue, just like race and women’s rights, where people will see beyond their myopic views. I am so glad that I am no longer in that space where homophobia and it’s stupid raison d’etre is my default. It took a while to unlearn that negativity and it only kicked in properly in early adulthood. For others it may take longer. One can only hope that globally the attitude will improve. I remain hopeful.