Sunday, February 10, 2013

A brilliant, articulate, moving, well said open letter to Andrew Turner MP

Obviously I am not referring to anything I wrote.

Last week the House of Commons voted on whether or not to legalise same sex marriage.  They said yes.  About bloody time.  I felt very mixed during the whole run up to this.  On the one hand I wasn't too worried about the Commons voting against it because I was thinking it's 2013, who on earth can possibly still be against gay people getting married?  After all I thought, there's some opposition but that's from old stuck in their ways dinosaurs with no relevance and no real influence.  And anyway, there's only a few of them.

Then I was reading the live tweets about the Parliamentary debate and my blood was boiling.  Turns out there are a lot of ignorant, bigoted, hateful fucks in the Commons who were spewing some right awful bile.  The result was 400 for same sex marriage and 175 against.

175 of our elected officials view people wanting to commit to a same sex marriage (I won't say gay couple because that excludes same sex bisexual couples) as somehow second class.  As worth less.  As not allowed the same dignity, rights and privileges as opposite sex couples.

I am privileged to live in Norwich.  It is an open minded progressive city and I see very little homophobia.   What biphobia I see is unintentional from people who think they are paying you a compliment.  Maybe there are problems with homophobia here, but I don't see it as I am privileged to have a male partner.  Although I would argue that being bisexual and having a long term partner of the opposite sex isn't all glory and kittens, at least not when you are attempting to assert your bisexual identity.

I was genuinely shocked at the shit being spilled from our MPs mouths.  Then I got angry.  The news that the vote came in for same sex marriage made my night and made the day after much better.

Which is where this open letter comes in.  It's written by Howard Hardiman, creator of The Lengths and The Peckham House for Invalids.  I think Howard is about my age and everything he writes (apart from experiencing homophobic violence) applies to me.  Swap the bits about male gay role models for female gay role models and that was my life too.  I will re-blog it in it's entirety because it's important.

The Dangermouse art that goes with this post is also by Howard, and you can contact him if you would like something similar.


Dear Andrew Turner,

In light of the vote yesterday to afford equal marriage rights to all, I thought it might be a good moment to reflect on the social changes that have happened during my lifetime.

When I was growing up, the only representations of gay men I’d encountered were on Are You Being Served (I was a little too late to catch Round the Horne). Gay men were seen as either weakly inoffensive or paedophiles. Growing up as a young man aware that I wasn’t heterosexual, this was quite confusing as I knew I was neither. I came out the same year as the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign and immediately was confronted by prejudice that said people like me deserved to die of a horrific wasting disease. 

Moreover, many of the partners of those dying from AIDS were not allowed to visit them at the bedside because they “weren’t family”. It was a cruel, frightening and depressing time. Surrounded by a hostile rhetoric that said I was pathetic, immoral or deserved to die, I became depressed to the point of being suicidal. That’s the lesson that young people were being taught at the time. If you’re not heterosexual you deserve to suffer and have so little place in society that many would be happier rid of you.

I was not taught about relationships in school in a way that was at all meaningful to me, even though some teachers were kind enough to try to talk to me about being gay, even if it could have cost them their jobs. It built a conspiracy of fear and danger around something as simple and normal as love.
You’ve consistently supported Section 28.

The age of consent was lowered, first from 21 to 18, then eventually down to 16. I became eighteen shortly before the law was changed. Where other boys my age were able to have relationships, if I slept with someone around my own age, I was a paedophile in the eyes of the law, and if I slept with someone over the age of consent, then I was a de facto victim of child abuse, even though I was old enough to vote. It’s not a situation that exactly encouraged the formation of healthy relationships. This was the age where I should have been able to learn about relationships and to be able to talk about my experiences with other people to be able to understand them. Instead, if I dated a young woman (which I’ve done on and off), it was socially acceptable and seen as normal, if I dated a young man, I was a criminal. Equalising the age of consent was a powerful message to people my age that perhaps I deserved the same chance at a decent life as others.

You voted against this.

Still frightened by early relationships, and caught up in the need to stamp one’s identity on the world, I took all of the hatred and turned it into a game. I was a little rebel, a young man who’d defend himself by provoking people who were scared of my sexuality. I got called names on the street, I was spat at, a few times I was physically threatened by strangers. I felt the gulf between me and the rest of society at a time when other men my age are learning their places within it. I was reaching an age where my school-friends were starting families, but I was not allowed to even consider being a father because of the enduring stigma that gay men are paedophiles. Were I in a relationship with a woman, suddenly I’d be allowed to adopt. In 2002, Parliament finally voted to allow people like me to adopt. Once I was able to adopt, I still could not formalise a relationship with someone. The Civil Partnership Act changed that and meant that should I die, a male partner would not lose the home we lived in and should I be ill, he would be able to make decisions about my care.

You voted against all of this.

I faced discrimination at work and continued abuse in public should I dare to hold hands with a partner or to not be ashamed of what I am. The introduction of the Human Rights Act offered a ray of hope to many people that we would secure further civil liberties and be safe from discrimination.

You voted against this.

I had to be selective about where I chose to work, knowing I had no protection against discrimination. I eventually became a freelancer in part because I could not feel secure in a workplace where I could lose my job with no protection on the grounds of whether my partner was male or female at the time. Were I to be in a Civil Partnership, I was required to out myself on every encounter with a form which asked marital status. There was no protection against someone refusing me employment when they saw that. I did not enter a civil partnership because it felt like capitulating with a system that enforced the idea that some relationships were worth less than others. In 2007, finally, this was no longer the case, as the Sexual Orientation Regulations came into force.

You voted against this.

People could still legally slander gay people with impunity until the following year, when the government introduced laws to protect me from incitement to hatred.

You voted against this.

Still, I was separate but equal, as David Lammy described it yesterday and you repeated today. I was not normal in the eyes of the law, I would still remain short-changed in the social contract that exists between an individual and the state. Yesterday, an overwhelming majority of MPs moved to end that distinction and ensure that young men growing up and realising now that they are not heterosexual should not feel in any way lesser to their peers. It calls for an end to mandatory disclosure of sexual orientation in official paperwork. It calls for all loving, committed relationships to be treated as not just equitable or equivalent but equal in the eyes of the law. It marks a point where it’s closing the last few wounds inflicted on a group who in the last century have faced genocide at the hands of Nazis, would be hounded to death or prison should they not hide their romances, who were denied access to healthcare during a plague, who were subject to ridicule and, as Mr Lammy inferred yesterday, apartheid when it came to basic rights like family or privacy.

You voted against this.

I’m absolutely delighted that you have been consistently overturned on this. No thanks to you, young men, women and transgendered people will no longer grow up being denied education, healthcare, employment rights, freedom from discrimination or the right to family. No thanks to you, that inflicted shame will slowly fade away to the point where differentiation on the grounds of sexuality seems as irrational as denying women the right to vote does now. No thanks to you, LGBT people’s lives have been saved by this sequence of advances towards a fairer society.

Britain should be very proud of what happened in parliament yesterday. I’m just deeply saddened that no islander can say that they had a hand in it.

I will not vote for you, because you think I am worth less as a person than you. No-one who believes I am as entitled to civil rights as anyone else will vote for you. Yesterday was not an attack on religious freedom, but a doorway to it for so many people who’ve been denied a full spiritual and civil engagement in society. If your vote yesterday were a matter of conscience, I suggest you consider the lives you have wished on young LGBT people under your care, because they are so much better off today than when I was growing up and you’ve done everything in your power, which is the power entrusted to you by the people of the island, to oppose that.

I’m proud to be British, but your words have made many ashamed of being Islanders.
Yours sincerely,
Howard Hardiman


I know it's wrong but when I hear speech and viewpoints like those spoken by Andrew Turner I just wish the person concerned would fuck off and die.  I am not proud of myself for saying or feeling this.  Viewpoints like his, actions like his, made it very difficult for me growing up, as a young bisexual woman trying to work out what she was.  Laws that he voted for, or against, contributed to an atmosphere where I was fucking terrified to tell any of my friends I liked women.  Where I internalised a fear and a worry that I could never truly be truthful to those closest to me.  Hopefully in 15 years time bisexual and gay teenagers will have the confidence, self assurance and pride in themselves to be able to come out to their families, friends and workplaces without fear of reprisal.

I have never formally come out to work colleagues, present or past (of course some may be reading this...) and I have always hated that continual checking of myself, making sure I don't let anything slip.  I am slightly more talkative now about mental health issues, but even then I do not talk freely.  I think it is fair to say that my mental health issues and my sexuality are linked.  Not because being bisexual makes me crazy, or is a symptom or cause of being crazy, but because it's really fucking difficult to live in the closet, whether it's by choice or by being put in there.  We wouldn't need a fucking closet if our leaders and politicians and fellow citizens weren't such huge bastards and didn't treat us so badly.


SallyP said...

Very well said indeed. And incidentally, I loved the Danger Mouse picture.

I thought for some reason that only the U.S. was so benighted in their attitudes. But I am delighted that the U.K. seems to be getting over their devotion to old worn out prejudices.

Saranga said...

Nah loads of countries are behind the times.
According this website only 14 countries have legalised same sex marriage. And quite a few of those have only legalised it in set states (like America).