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The Isle of Wight Needs Pride, Not Homophobia

12/12/2016 12:21

You'd think, six months on from the Pulse nightclub massacre in Florida, that even the most ignorant person would have a greater awareness of the hatred still faced by the LGBT+ community. Sadly, a columnist on a British regional newspaper has disproved that theory with a vengeance.

In a thinly veiled jibe at the organisers of the first Isle of Wight Pride, columnist Charlotte Hofton wrote in the Isle of Wight County Press that 'You can't open a paper or tune into Women's Hour these days without somebody feeling constrained to tell the world that he is now a she, or they're gay or bi or have discovered the joy of tantric sex with a lamppost'. Elsewhere she railed against the 'terrible minefield' of sexual liberation, and people telling her 'more than [she] wishes to know' about their private life. The only surprise was that she didn't ask the question that most bigots can't wait to use, and ask "when is Straight Pride taking place?".

Hofton was clearly born with a body that matched her gender and has never doubted or questioned her romantic or sexual identity. Bully for her, because recent figures from the Office for National Statistics reported that 49% of 18-24 year olds describe themselves as something other than 'straight'. So imagine being a young person, whether lesbian, bi, gay, queer, trans or questioning (sorry, Charlotte, yes 'questioning' is a thing), living on the Isle of Wight, thumbing through your local newspaper and finding that someone thought worthy enough to have a column in that newspaper thinks you're open game for attack.

You'd be at least disheartened, and whether or not you were 'out of the closet', you'd probably feel that closet door closing a little more securely, and that the Isle of Wight isn't for people like you. Hofton's piece might pay lip service to advances in recent years, but that counts for nought when the rest of the piece lays into you and people like you.

The Isle of Wight, with a population of more than 140,000, is one of the largest population centres in the UK that doesn't already have an LGBT+ Pride event or any mainstream LGBT+ venue. But there is hope: in 2017 the Isle of Wight will join with Harrogate, Flintshire, Fife, Eastbourne, Herefordshire, Worcester, and Bridgwater in having its first Pride, bringing the total around the UK to almost three figures.

Despite the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, Hofton's diatribe has actually done the organisers of Isle of Wight Pride a favour. She's reminded her readers why Pride is still important, relevant and necessary. There isn't a Straight Pride because no-one has ever been refused service, sacked, physically or sexually abused or even killed for being straight. Indeed, Hofton's own paper reported that there have been 49 recorded homophobic, biphobic or transphobic hate crimes reported to police on the Isle of Wight in the last twelve months, and the new Police and Crime Commissioner has said he will make tackling hate crime a priority.

I know that friends and colleagues from Pride events close to the island - Portsmouth Pride, Southampton Pride, and Bourne Free in Bournemouth - will be supporting Isle of Wight Pride's organisers, and I'm sure some of us will come from farther afield. But the event needs the support of everyone on the island, including its Conservative MP, local authority, councillors, head teachers, doctors, business owners, and, yes, its journalists and columnists.

On Sunday I tweeted that the Isle of Wight County Press should be ashamed of publishing a column of such hatred, and a reporter on the paper replied to say that Hofton 'often divides opinion'. Whilst undoubtedly well intentioned, that comment demonstrates the problem: that it's seen as acceptable to 'have an opinion' on the existence of the LGBT+ community. It's really not.

You'd have to accept being called a racist if you were to question the validity of the black civil rights movement, and so you should accept being called homophobic, biphobic and transphobic if you question the LGBT+ community's right to existence and to celebrate freedom and diversity as it does at Pride and as it will, in force, in Ryde on 15th July next year.

But in the end, there's an easy answer for Charlotte: if you want to avoid the 'terrible minefields' at Pride, don't go. You'll probably not be missed.

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