This morning I created an image and posted it to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Here’s the tweet:
For context: the phrase “aggressive homosexuals” comes from a speech yesterday in the House of Commons by Sir Gerald Howarth MP (Conservative, Aldershot) during the Report stage debate of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. Sir Gerald is the current chairman of Conservative Way Forward and was Minister for International Security Strategy in the coalition government until September 2012 (according to his page on Wikipedia). Here’s where the phrase appeared in the speech:
“There are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this [same-sex marriage] is as but a stepping stone to something even further.” (Hansard — no idea how persistent that link will be though.)
Sir Gerald doesn’t elaborate on exactly who the aggressive homosexual community are, or where he thinks the big gay stepping stone leads. As Hansard shows, a number of MPs tried to intervene at that point — perhaps to press him on this issue — but he declined to give way, as is his right.
It is difficult not to conclude that Sir Gerald sees pinks under the beds. He’s worked himself up into a froth about The Gays and believes that we, or at least a significant and influential slice thereof, subscribe to some kind of Gay Agenda to… I don’t know. Insinuate our way into marriage, and then what: use it to destroy the established church? I think the church is doing a perfectly good job of that itself over both gay people and women. Perhaps, looking at the context of the speech, he thinks our goal is to turn children to homosexuality by ensuring its mention in classrooms during discussions about marriage. Just as, presumably, teaching them about different religions converts them to all of those religions, or teaching them about contour lines turns them into a hill.
Back to the image.
The response has been fascinating. A steady stream of retweets throughout the day — perhaps not surprising, as it makes a strong statement on a topical, politically charged subject — and a few responses. Here are the negative replies so far:
“You do realise that despite your intentions, you’re labelling people with stereotypes.”
“That is way more offensive and way less clever than you think.”
“No. Aggressive homophobes.”
“What’s the intended goal of this? This seems to just further divide people (and straw-man the ‘other side’).”
“This is heterophobia.”
“Yeah a bit discriminatory. Ronnie Kray was a violent homosexual as was Richard the Lionheart. And let us not forget Dennis Nilsen. Violent people are of both persuasions. Nothing to do with their sexuality.”
“Please be careful with that big stereotyping brush of yours eh?”
I haven’t replied to anyone, at least not yet. I probably won’t — it’s impossible to have meaningful debates in 140 characters. Perhaps some of them were unaware of Sir Gerald’s speech. Of course I’m stereotyping: so was Sir Gerald. Of course sexuality doesn’t determine whether you’re violent or not (but if you have to go back eight centuries for a counterexample — when sexuality was viewed very differently to today, incidentally — then you’re already on shaky ground).
The image is deliberately exaggerated, deliberately stereotypical. But it’s also showing an incontrovertible truth. You don’t, as a rule, see gay people demonstrating against straight people — Pride marches are positive in tone, not negative — but there are demonstrations by straight people against gay people, trying to deny us the rights they enjoy. There was a demonstration against equal marriage outside Parliament during the debate yesterday. And people like those shown in the image are beaten for no other reason than their sexuality. One of the men pictured was attacked last weekend with his boyfriend. Even 45 years after homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales it is still not safe for two men, breaking no law, to show affection wherever they wish in the way that a man and a woman can.
This is why the phrase aggressive homosexual community is so offensive. Gay people have suffered at the hands of the aggressive heterosexual community, indeed often through state-sponsored aggression, for several hundred years. We suffer still: religious leaders preach hate, political leaders deny us equality, and in some countries being open about our sexuality means a death sentence. And this is why I make no apology for the image, stereotypes and all.
But Sir Gerald Howarth is right on one point: we in the aggressive homosexual community do want equal marriage to be a stepping stone to something. We want it to be a stepping stone to the end of discrimination. To universal acceptance. To normality.