On Gay Pride I experienced a very interesting case of homophobia. I was in a spa with my boy friend. We snuck in for a coffee, a potter round the spa and a peek at the goings on in Trafalgar Square, the main rally of Gay Pride.
Whilst acting like teenagers in the thermal pool - swirling around and giggling - the duty manager came up to ask us to be careful of our proximity to each other. She stated that it might 'disturb' some of the more 'conservative' of spa visitors. It transpired that actually a 'conservative' visitor had complained. There were only three people in the place. My conversation went like this with the manager:
"Are there rules stating you cannot hug in the spa?"
"Was what myself and my boyfriend were doing overtly sexual or inappropriate?"
"Has someone complained?"
"A conservative man perhaps?"
"Why did you act on it?"
"I made a mistake."
I am have learned to be proud and confident as a gay man. I feel in this country the climate is one of acceptance, not tolerance, acceptance that there are different people with different sexual persuasions. I do not act inappropriately to the best of my ability. In a crowded pool or hotel you wont find me overtly canoodling and stroking my other half. I just am not like that. So what I am saying is this whiffed not of offensive, selfish sexual flouncing from my end rather than blatant discomfort and homophobia from the other. This dish of homophobia was served, piping hot, through the actions of the manager straight to my door.
The manager, may I stress, isn't homophobic but simply aided this unknown person's wishes and also may I stress I have cleared up this with said establishment. There is a definite toxic feel to prejudice as anyone who has experienced it will know. It feels, jarring, not quite right, not quite adding up or making sense. Luckily I have been extremely fortunate to never have experienced this before. I've had out and out chants and taunts but not low level insipid homophobia. A snake that slithers its way towards me. I am amazed by how I still feel some anger, sadness but mostly shame. I feel that I am the wrong one. I am the one doing something that is disgusting and bad. This is what prejudice does, it disguises itself through blame and shame.
Shame is an insipid creature, that lurks and festers and can eat you up. I have had first hand experience of this and learnt to befriend it. Well, at least be on civil terms! So I am amazed how this incident turned the tables on me. By a manager getting it wrong I was left questioning myself, questioning my actions and questioning whether the man was actually right and that I should really watch myself being affectionate and playful with another man in public.
A bout of M.I.A. at Glastonbury and Brazil v Chile and my shame is alleviating, the taste still lingers. It lingers as a reminder that whilst I was pondering the relevance of Gay Pride that day, it is indeed more relevant than ever.
Gay Pride has changed largely due to the context it now operates in. Gay rights have evolved so much it is just wonderful to be a part of a country that celebrates difference. There are still prejudices to overcome. Young gay people can still not feel comfortable at school. With the word 'dyke' being used 1000 times a day on Twitter, 'faggot' 4,500 times a day. With 26% of young gay people attempting suicide and 52% self harming and the word 'gay' banded around as a pejorative description of something defunct and wrong, Gay Pride's message should be about sustaining what we have and looking to improve the lives of young gay people. To protect them through education and allow our young people to see that difference isn't bad, it is something to be celebrated.
Let us not forget also the 72 countries in the world where it is still ILLEGAL to be gay. With the imminence of the Commonwealth Games, 80% of these countries criminalise LGBTs.
London Gay Pride needs to grow into becoming a new type of rally and celebration. A rejoicing of the battles that have been won, a staunch rallying of all who support freedom to love, express, be different and adjoin through our differences and finally to show the world hope. To shine a beacon of light for those people without freedom. Those who are oppressed, beaten down and made to feel evil and wrong, unable to find their true authentic selves. This is about basic human rights. I believe this can be done through music. Gay Pride, I hope can become a globally recognised event in our yearly calendar which culminates in a huge pop concert, attended by musicians and audience members alike who want to stand up and be proud to show their support for a liberal global society. Celebrate the UK and light the path for people who are less fortunate in being able to express their individuality. It should become televised and a day that is a time out to just remind ourselves that we can all be whoever we want to be.
I like that... It could all take place in a thermal pool.