CN: queer- & transphobia (including in schools), mention of criminalisation of homosexuality
CUSU LGBT+ hosted Evan Davis, prominent economist and journalist, last Thursday to a healthy crowd at Sidney Sussex College.
Davis claimed that he had ‘no speech prepared’, however his talk covered a variety of issues currently facing the LGBT+ community, with enthusiastic audience participation. He began by advocating for conversation across generations within the community, claiming that this was more common among our non-LGBT+ counterparts. Davis spoke positively regarding the status of homosexuality today compared to when he was growing up, claiming that it is ‘great to be gay today in this country’. His advice on how to successfully tackle the coming out process encouraged an element of casualization. Indeed I would agree that one of the main barriers facing LGBT+ liberation is the degree of attention and scrutiny individuals still receive during the coming out process. We should take it upon ourselves to speak more passively and casually about our experiences, not to delegitimise them in any way, but to normalize our identities within the fabric of society in the hope of greater acceptance. Liberation need not be so demanding for us, and we should not expect to do all the work in educating our heterosexual or cisgender allies about the issues faced by the LGBT+ community.
Perhaps more controversially, Davis spoke of his preferred approach toward problematic individuals, claiming that we need to be ‘uncompromising but forgiving’. We should take pity on those who are homophobic or transphobic, he claimed, rather than allowing ourselves to be filled with anger. He warned of the dangers of appearing too assertive, citing the example of the advertisement campaign from Stonewall on London buses, ‘some people are gay – get over it’. Davis admitted he was in ‘two minds about it’ and did not understand the need to be quite so insulting, claiming that this actually empowered homophobic individuals as they viewed themselves as a force needing to be combatted. I think that there is a certain approach that needs to be taken with regards to liberation campaigns, and striking a balance between raising awareness and showing solidarity is crucial. The Trans Awareness Campaign with the tag-line ‘Make No Assumptions’ with regard to gender pronouns has, I believe, struck a balance between the two very well, by not alienating cisgender and heterosexual people from the conversation nor fuelling divisions as, according to Davis, the Stonewall campaign managed to.
Alluding to this, Davis touched on various issues facing LGBT+ people, in response mainly to audience questioning. He strongly denied the need to silence those who are intolerant, claiming this is ‘not a good look for the community’. Despite initial scepticism regarding the fluidity of sexuality he claimed that it ‘can only be a good thing’ that, according to recent studies, such a high percentage of young people today do not identify as exclusively heterosexual or homosexual, hoping that it would promote greater tolerance of less frequently accepted sexualities and gender identities. Other issues discussed included the perceived obligation of the LGBT+ community in Britain to push for equal rights in other parts of the world. Davis cited his interview with the Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, notably the world’s first black female president, in which he questioned why anti-gay laws were still in place. She asked if he personally would be willing to handle any negative effects that pressurising for equal rights would bring, and indeed in 2012 new legislation was introduced criminalizing same-sex marriages. Davis appeared sceptical of the usefulness of Western pressure in instigating change, claiming that we need to be careful of such potential negative backlashes and the possibility of inciting a ‘culture war’.
One final question of note brought attention to the issue of homophobia in schools, in particular the prevalence with which the word ‘gay’ is used as an insult. Davis again advocated normalizing LGBT+ issues in school, hoping rather passively that homophobia in schools would ‘drop away’ and become less of an issue in the future. However, I don’t agree that such a passive approach should be taken. The values we instil in young people at such an impressionable age are pivotal in securing equal rights for LGBT+ people. We require greater transparency regarding the issues faced by all members of the community, along with a tougher stance toward queer- and transphobia, and both these approaches must begin in schools if their effects are to be sustained.
Hayden Banks (Get Real. contributor)