Each year over one hundred homosexuals seek asylum in America, Canada, the UK, and other parts of Europe. These are men and women who flee from their countries because they face death for being homosexual. Leaving behind all they know, sometimes for their own safety and sometimes for the safety of those they love, they come to places like the UK and America because we are seen as being lands of ‘hope’ and of ‘freedom’. We are countries ‘filled with progress’ in these peoples eyes. But are we really?
If any of you have seen the ground breaking film documentary A Jihad for Love then you would undoubtedly count yourself very lucky to live in the West. If you haven’t seen this film then I urge you to do so. The film maker Parvez Sharma spent years building the trust of many gay men and women whose leaders, and whose religion, say they should be killed for their sexuality.
He documented their situations, some of them fled because they believed their families would be killed. Some knew their families would kill them. Indeed, Parvez himself has received death threats and abuse simply for making the documentary itself. You only have to Google the words ‘stoning gay men’ and you will see ‘eighteen men in Nigeria face death by stoning’, ‘stoning of three Jamaican gay men’ or ‘Iran to kill two gay men by throwing them off cliffs’. In some cases the legal system decides this; in other cases the public take it upon themselves. None of this makes headline news in the UK. You have to ask why that is.
However, if you had come to the UK within the last few weeks, and seen the news about Anjem Choudary and how he believes that ‘all homosexuals should be stoned to death’, would you be so sure you had come to such a free country? You can say this man is a fanatic and he should be ignored, but he is an educated fanatic that is indeed being followed. Some people are actually listening to this man and agreeing with what he says. In spite of his background as a hard-drinking, drug-taking student (which of course the tabloids loved, until then the story wasn’t really a high priority for them) they will still listen to his words. It’s also fine that he lives on benefits that of course come from taxes paid by working gay people, but then maybe that doesn’t count either, we probably deserve that too.
It’s not just in the UK that this happens of course. Last year in Philadelphia at their Equality Forum I came face to face with people with banners and megaphones, and while they weren’t telling us we should be murdered they were saying we would ‘burn in the eternal fires of hell’, which made for an interesting and ice-breaking topic of conversation once we were all inside. With a free society comes freedom of speech but when does this go too far and why has Anjem Choudary not been prosecuted for incitement? I remember once being told that ‘people should be allowed to say what they like and if you take it personally then that’s you not them’. I have always thought that to be a load of old cobblers. If that theory were correct then it would be fine for me to go skipping down the high street shouting abuse at everyone I passed be it homophobic, racist, or indeed any form of prejudice. Thankfully it is not ok for me or anyone to do that, unless of course they are a religious leader and then the police seem to not take so much notice.
I shouldn’t moan, as a gay man in Britain today I am very lucky. I have rights, I can have a civil partnership, can adopt children, and I can hold my same-sex partner’s hand in public … Well, I can in London, but take me back to the Derbyshire Dales and it’s quite a different story. People up North are lovely; I am from there so I know it’s true. And whilst most of the ladies at my Gran’s Tai Chi and Book Groups make a complete fuss over “the lovely gays” when we go to visit, holding hands along the High Street would definitely get looks and quite possibly such verbal delights as ‘poofs’ or ‘queers’ thrown in our direction. Compare that to being stoned to death, imprisoned for life, or being hanged or beheaded for the same thing, and I sound like a proper moaning Minnie. My point is that none of these reactions to two men or women holding hands in public is justifiable and that we still have a way to go.
Yes, the world is changing and evolving for the better. In America they have their first Black president, and almost their first female president, which really is changing the guard. In Iceland they have their first openly out Lesbian Prime Minister, which didn’t get as much press as it should have. However there is still need for improvement. On the same day Barack Obama became President Elect, Proposition 8 was passed, which banned the rights for gay couples to marry in California. We also still have homophobic stabbings in cities across the UK which don’t make the news unless of course, like last year, it’s one gay man stabbing another. The guard is changing. It is those that it guards who need to start changing, too.
Simon is a writer and freelance journalist living in London. His blog is The Daily Savidge.