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50 Years On, The Gay Community Is Yet To Make It Into The National Heart

31/07/2017 13:40

As a gay, brown British man I thought I had made it to the sunlit uplands. With a Fedora fixed at a jaunty angle and a gin in hand, I was ready for an endless summer of liberalism, enlightenment and social acceptance where the Tanqueray never ended and the hangover never came.

Last week we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. The British gay community has achieved so much in the last half century. Perhaps the most effective equal rights movement in recent times, we have fought for and won legal equality, marriage rights, adoption rights, specific named protection against hate-crimes and discrimination, public-sector representation and high office. We have undoubtedly been accepted by the national mind, but has the national heart fully embraced us?

The answer, sadly, is no. The recent general election showed us that we are part of the national consciousness but not its conscience.

For the purposes of power, the Conservatives went into an alliance with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party. A party with elected officials in its ranks whose homophobia is public, real and unabashed. One of its senior MP's, Ian Paisley Jr, has been quoted as calling homosexual relationships: "immoral, offensive and obnoxious". He claimed to be "repulsed" by homosexuality. The party once championed a campaign entitled, 'Save ulster from Sodomy'. It is the DUP who is the major roadblock preventing equal marriage in Northern Ireland - the only nation of the United Kingdom yet to allow it.

I get politics. I get that if needed, parties would trade their own limbs for power if they felt they had the chance. My expectations are low. It's not the deal that shocks me, or the potential for equality legislation to slow. What makes me shiver a little is the public reaction - or lack of - to the union.

We are about six weeks in, and after an initial public grumble, all is settled. The disgust is over, the horror is abated and people have gone about their lives: watching the gaggle of fame hunters on the latest reality show, and wondering if Prince Harry will ever marry Meghan Markle.

I wonder what the public reaction would have been, and how long the protest would have lasted, if the Conservatives had done a power-pact with a party who were repulsed by people of a different race. Our national conscience would have been deeply wounded and we would not have let it pass. The streets would have seen protests and the media would not have let it go. And quite rightly so.

The apathy shows how far we have yet to go.

But what can we do to force the nation's embrace? The reality is nothing. And nor should we - force never works. We can't contrive empathy. It will take time, but as with all social change, as generation yields to generation, the acceptance deepens. The most damaging thing the gay community can do it ghettoise - or to slow its deconstruction from within of the once needed barricades which kept us safe from a hostile society. That hostility - in the main - has gone, of that there is no doubt. It is our dream to be on the heartbeat of the nation, and for that, we have to absorb ourselves into the nation.

The last year of populism has shaken my belief in all that I held to be permanent. Hate crimes soared in the days after Brexit. Eastern European immigrants, and others, were abused in the streets. It was temporary and not representative of the nation. But we in the gay community should learn from this spike of intolerance. Nothing is as strong as it seems. My inner drama queen is tempted to throw back its head, cover its sullen brow and wail 'and so it begins!' But I'd be wrong to. The DUP deal, and the national shoulder-shrug which followed shows, however, just how fledgling our position is. There is a lot of ground to cover before we make it to the sunlit uplands and into the heart of Britain.

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