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Words that inspire the killer deeds
Homophobic politicians, singers and journalists share the blame

Gareth McLean / Wednesday November 3, 2004
www.guardian.co.uk/gayrights/story/0,12592,1342149,00.html

By Rocco Buttiglione's logic, David Morley got what he deserved. The once-aspiring EU commissioner believes homosexuality is a sin. The wages of sin, at least according to the book on which the Italian minister bases his morality, is death. Morley, a gay man who survived the bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub, was beaten up and left to die on London's South Bank on Saturday. Ergo, the world is a better place today than it was last Wednesday.

You might think such an assessment crude, a reductionist cut-and-shunt of two separate circumstances related only by their timing. But the expression of bigotries such as Buttiglione's creates an atmosphere in which hate crime, like that perpetrated against Morley and other gay men and women, flourishes. By labelling gay men and women sinners, Buttiglione degrades and dehumanises them, encouraging their abuse and assault. And he's not the only one.

The row over gay clergy in the Church of England has resulted in an outpouring of intolerance and loathing: in statements made by the more evangelical of the Anglican flock, accusing Rowan Williams of prostituting the Christian ministry, the homophobia is palpable. In the US, gay marriage - specifically, the affront to the Almighty it represents - has become a rallying call for rabid Republicans, and a gauntlet laid down to John Kerry who could only fudge the issue.

The furore over the aggressively homophobic lyrics contained in dancehall music continues, with yet another Jamaican star being investigated by the police on the grounds that his songs incite murder. Sizzla, who arrives in the country later this week, will offer his audiences charming turns of phrase including "Kill dem battyboys" and "I kill sodomites and queers, they bring Aids and disease pon people".

At a time when recorded hate crime against gay men and women in the capital has risen by 10%, the impact of such proclamations of hatred should not be underestimated. Of course, no one is suggesting that, upon hearing of Morley's death, Buttiglione cracked open a panettone and barbecued a couple of heretics to celebrate. Nevertheless, the link between homophobic words and homophobic deeds remains.

Social deprivation is the fertile ground on to which the seeds of bigotry are broadcast. We all know how powerful music is: at the best of times, it's a lightning rod for emotions, singers articulating our finest feelings. At the worst, it similarly conducts, giving direction and meaning to otherwise indiscriminate anger. The language of Buttiglione, Sizzla, these words of the religious and of the right, inspire the violence of the broken bottle and the baseball bat.

More worrying, though, is the way this homophobia is dealt with by the media, as the treatment of Buttiglione and his comments demonstrates. While it's been mildly entertaining to watch the tabloids get in a muddle over which of their prejudices take precedence - gays or Europe - overall it's been a depressing spectacle. Buttiglione has been portrayed as one of those "crazy Europeans", the likes of whom we simply wouldn't tolerate in the sensible UK. And his rejection has been portrayed as another example of "political correctness gone mad" rather than as the repudiation of a man with abhorrent personal views.

The net result of this has been to trivialise such bigotry, as if homophobia isn't really that bad in the overall scheme of things, and to distance us from it - both geographically (it being a problem in Jamaica or America or Europe) and spiritually (what direct relevance does a schism in a dying church have to the rest of us anyway?).

Unfortunately, to believe in either, or both, of these illusions involves selective amnesia. It would mean conveniently forgetting David Blunkett's abstentions in the votes to equalise the age of consent in 1998 and again in 2000 - hardly the sign of a home secretary committed to equality for all. And it would mean developing a blind spot the size of Mars to avoid the homophobia, insidious and blatant, that the likes of the Sun and the Mail continue to spew forth.

The murder of David Morley - as well as all the other homophobic murders, and hate crimes, that don't make the headlines - should leave no one in doubt that homophobia is as brutal, and as serious a problem in UK culture, as racism. Every column penned by Fleet Street's resident homophobes, every article that panders to bigotry, is nothing less than incitement to violence towards gay men and women, adding to the homophobic hatred hanging in the air.

They'd maintain they simply report the news, but when it's the story of a man having his teeth smashed in, his nose broken and his skull fractured, the blood is on their hands.

Times 2 - features Reportage: That blood on the road is mine
M
artin Stevens/November 03, 2004
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,172-1341045_2,00.html

A gay barman was beaten to death on Friday night. Our correspondent tells how he was the victim of another homophobic attack half a mile away.

And I've never, or very rarely, felt physically uncomfortable in London. I'm not a tiny, waif-like homosexual. And I don't look outwardly very gay. I dress badly and cheaply, by way of disguise. So I 've never felt like a target. I've been blithely unconcerned about my safety, no matter where I've been or what time of night I've been there. Perhaps that's a terrifically stupid attitude. But I've always had the vague notion that a nervous bearing invites trouble. If you behave as if you're not entitled to be somewhere, someone will sense it. If you anticipate bad things, bad things will happen. So blithe disregard has been my general strategy - and had done OK for me until Saturday.

So what are my feelings now? The more I think about what happened, the better I feel about it. And the horrible attack on David Morley has put it into a sharper perspective. Of course, I got away lightly. I can't know what happened on the South Bank that night. And I know that I came out of hospital with some staples in my head but basically fine. David Morley didn't, and that horrified me. That also made me angry. Did he get the chance to walk away?

So what if I had done the sensible thing? The homophobic gentleman might have had a knife. And he wasn't alone - I'd unwisely forgotten this when I lost my temper with him. Though luckily for me, his friends seemed weirdly indifferent. Either they were slightly terrified of me, or they just didn't like him enough to come to his aid. So the fight was just me and him.

If I had walked away after the first bottle hit me, I probably wouldn't have ended up having another bottle smashed over my head. And a little bit of irrational public loathing wasn't going to hurt me, was it? But I tend to think that if I can't live in a public space without a modicum of respect then that does more violence to me than a bottle on the back of my head. Easily said now that I've walked out of A&E, but it's true.

This is what the purveyors of sensible advice don't take into account: the psychological cost of trying to buck your self-defence. "Don't get involved, look straight ahead, pretend you didn't hear, avoid their gaze."

What's the difference between big-city paranoia and abject cowardice? Is it possible to maintain your self-respect if you think like this? Standing your ground, landing a few futile defensive punches - that will defend your self even if it doesn't defend your body. The body repairs; self-respect is more fragile and infinitely more important. If the price of my self-respect was a gash in the back of my head, then I'm glad I paid it.