It seems we’re not allowed to call homophobia for what it is, or else we might get sued, or called fascists, says Brian Finnegan.
There’s been so much written about Rory O’Neill’s appearance on RTÉ’s The Saturday Night Show on January 11, by myself included, it seems there might be nothing more to say about the controversy surrounding his use of the word ‘homophobia’ in relation to the Iona Institute and newspaper columnists, Breda O’Brien and John Waters. But I still feel uneasy about the whole situation and that’s not just the solicitor’s letters sent to O’Neill by members of the Iona Institute in the days following the broadcast.
In the same week those Iona letters were sent, a new ‘Jail the Gays’ bill was signed into law in Nigeria. Authorities there immediately went on the rampage, arresting dozens of men. Current prisoners denounced many others as homosexual, allegedly under torture, while plain-clothes police posing as gay entrapped others. As I write, arrests are continuing and many Nigerians are living in grave fear.
In the same week, President Vladimir Putin said to approximately 25,000 volunteers for the Sochi Winter Olympics: “There is no ban for homosexual relations in Russia, yet propaganda of homosexuality among minors – and paedophilia in particular – are prohibited.”
His message to LGBT competitors in the Winter Olympics was: “So you can feel calm and relaxed – but leave the children alone, please.”
During the same week, LGBT people in Uganda were waiting to see if their President, who has described gays as “abnormal” and “sick people in need of help”, would sign into law a Bill passed unanimously by the country’s government, which would allow people to be jailed for life for “aggravated homosexuality”.
Under international pressure, President Museveni did not sign the bill into law, but he said in his letter to Ugandan parliamentarians: “Even with legislation, they will simply go underground and continue practicing [sic] homosexuality or lesbianism for mercenary reasons.”
During the same week, a tweet went out from an RTÉ Radio 1 show called The God Slot, asking: ‘Can gays be cured of being gay?’ Although RTÉ subsequently issued an apology, the person managing The God Slot’s twitter account responded to one critic, with: “Can questions not be posed in this age of fascism masquerading as liberalism?”
Isn’t it ironic? The truth is that gay people are being abused, murdered, imprisoned, tortured, silenced, demeaned, ostracised, isolated and driven to taking their own lives in many parts of the world. In many places, lesbian and gay people are scapegoated to distract from all sorts of societal ills and governmental corruption. Yet if lesbian and gay people object to intrinsically disordered, deeply offensive questions on the Internet, like, ‘Can gays be cured of being gay?’ we’re accused of being the fascists.
It seems like we’re not allowed to speak the truth at all.
While the members of the Iona Institute may believe that their dogged fight against gay marriage (and let’s not forget, they were against civil partnerships too on the basis of both its effects on family policy and freedom of conscience and religion) is not homophobic, I recall comments by Dr John Murray of the Iona Institute on Today FM’s Last Word with Matt Cooper in July 2012. During an interview about An Tánaiste’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, Murray said that marriage was now “being used as a way to socially engineer a change in public opinion with regard to homosexuality and homosexual acts”.
Can I call this a homophobic statement without risk of being sued for defamation? Am I allowed to say that this is what’s at the core of all homophobia – disgust with the homosexual act? Am I allowed to say that this disgust is central to any belief that a same-sex couple should not be allowed parity with an opposite-sex couple? Am I allowed to say that this disgust is also central to the idea that same-sex couples are somehow lesser as parents than opposite-sex couples?
Am I allowed to say that what’s happening in Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, and many other countries, is the exploitation of this disgust for political gain?
While Ireland’s record on gay rights is miles better than those countries, we can’t deny that a history of homophobia underpins the fact that LGBT citizens of this country still do not have equal rights. We can’t deny that homophobia underpins the lack of conscience or decency of people who say that gay people do not deserve to be treated equally.
On the day GCN went to press this month, Midwest Radio presenter Tommy Marren read out a message from a member of the public, saying that ‘we’ must remind people of the bizarre sexual lifestyle of gays and that the children of gay couples were at risk of contracting Aids. Marren thanked the listener, Jo, for her contribution and did not think to question this statement.
Am I allowed to say Jo is homophobic? Am I allowed to say that I believe the reading out of her message is an endorsement of homophobia? Would an overtly racist message be read out on an Irish radio station? Would the presenter, or the producers, be worried about the effects of an overtly racist message on individuals, never mind their own radio station’s reputation?
In the same week that solicitors for members of the Iona Institute sent those letters to Rory O’Neill for calling them homophobic, in Cameroon a 34-year-old man called Roger Jean-Claude Mbede died in prison, one month after his family stopped his hospital treatment for a hernia, which he developed while under lock and key. His lawyer Alice Nkom told the press: “His family said he was a curse for them and that we should let him die.”
Roger was given a three-year prison sentence in March 2011. His ‘crime’ was sending a text message to another man saying: “I am very much in love with you”.
Homophobia is real and present and it is being exploited for political gain. I believe that the end result of homophobia is human suffering. I would ask those people who seek to block the evolution of equality of LGBT people in our society to think of Roger, and how he was beaten and tortured in prison, and how he died alone, rejected by his family and society.
I think we should all be seeking a better world than that.
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