Robert Hampton

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24th March 2013

Ecce Homo

Rainbow flag fluttering in sunlightGay rights and gay issues have always interested me, and you’ll find reference to them throughout my blog, right back to the earliest days. Nowadays, the reasons are obvious. However, for the first seven years of the blog’s life, I was hamstrung by the fact that I was out to almost no-one.

I thought I was being quite clever, carefully wording my posts in such a way that I could demonstrate I was a champion of gay rights without actually coming out and saying that I was gay myself. However, when I was finally brave enough to start coming out to people, a response I got more than once was, “I know, I read your blog.”

Waiting until the age of 27 to come out is not ideal, and it’s something I regret bitterly (especially as a lot of my friends and family already knew, or at least suspected). There are many reasons that I left it so late, but discussion of those reasons is something more appropriate for a revealing therapy session, rather than the blog. So, on with the flashback!

Just a couple of months after I started the blog, I was already getting upset about the Daily Mail’s attitude to gay people. There’s no link, so I have no idea what it was that had annoyed me. All I do know is that, ten years later, that particular paper is not even slightly more sympathetic to the LGBT community.

A few months later, I mentioned the abolition of Section 28, the hated law which banned “promotion” of homosexuality. Of course, I couldn’t go into too much detail, because that might have tipped someone off. Oh well…

There was a really unsubtle hint on New Year’s Day 2006, when I declared that one of my resolutions was to “stop playing the pronoun game” – a simple search on Wikipedia would reveal my secret. A little bit further on I mentioned going to see Brokeback Mountain, and crying “like a little girl” at the end.

By the time Summer 2007 rolled around, I was posting idle fantasies about the members of McFly having sex with each other. Surely, by now, the cat was well and truly out of the bag and coughing up hairballs on the rug.

Photo of the assembling marchers for Pride 2010All of the above preamble meant that my “official” coming out, in August 2010 after Liverpool Pride, came as a surprise to few people.

Accepting my sexual orientation has been a long and difficult road of turbulent emotions and long phases of denial and self-loathing. Until very recently, I was out to hardly anyone. Truth be told, I felt like a bit of a fraud for even thinking of taking part in a Pride march, because for a very long time, my feelings were of shame, not pride.

The days of hiding who I am are gone. Here’s to a happy fulfilling future, living life in the open at last.

That was a good day.

With that burden lifted, the way was open to talk about gay issues without having to censor myself. Oh, and post lots of pictures of shirtless men.

Game Over Berlin GMF leaflet

Yes, it’s true – I rapidly turned into one of those gays who rams it down your throat.

As we rolled into 2011, three celebrities of varying profiles came out. Zachary Quinto, the star of Heroes and the rebooted Star Trek films, came out in February 2011, as did an England cricketer:

Here’s a good news story to start the week, as England cricketer Steven Davies reveals that he – ahem – bats for the other team.

Anton Hysén and friend in the changing roomAlso coming out in 2011 was Swedish footballer Anton Hysén, whom I’ve mentioned already. However, I’ll mention him again so I can insert another picture.

Young gay people can have an especially difficult time. I was pleased to see two separate campaigns come to prominence in 2011. One was run by The Albert Kennedy Trust, which helps LGBT youth who have been left homeless or suffered domestic violence. They released an amazing video featuring several gay celebrities, showing how their lives could have been very different, had they not had the support they needed:

The other was the It Gets Better campaign, a project to reach out to gay kids around the world, and simply to tell them that they are not alone. Thousands of videos have been made, although it is the celebrity ones which get the attention (sometimes undeservedly in my view). Google used the project as fodder to advertise their Chrome browser, but even if it was selling a product, it was still great to see LGBT issues aired in a TV commercial.

Attitude March 2012 coverGay kids still have issues with bullying in school, not helped by teachers who can be unsympathetic or uncomfortable around this issue. Attitude magazine did a special issue on the topic in 2012, which coincided neatly with some monumentally stupid decisions from Michael Gove, who said that faith schools would be able to follow their religious doctrine on issues such as homosexuality. Back then, I wrote:

Therefore, any gay school pupils unlucky enough to be at a faith school don’t just have to contend with taunts from their fellow students. They could potentially have teachers standing up and telling him that they are disordered individuals. By allowing this material under the guise of “religious freedom”, the Tories are now actively promoting discrimination and enabling bullies. It’s disgusting.

It’s not all doom and gloom for gay teens, however. Earlier this year I linked to two very sweet YouTube videos from opposite sides of the Atlantic, showing the positive experiences that gay kids can have these days.

One organisation which does welcome gay kids is the Scouts – in the UK at least, other countries’ scouting organisations (including the USA) still ban “homosexuals”. I praised them for their supportive and inclusive policies, while simultaneously restraining myself from doing a woggle joke. Bizarrely, while welcoming gay kids, they still ban atheists!

I’ve always tried to avoid portraying the gay rights issues as “Gays v Religion” – there are a lot of religious people who are supportive and loving of gay people, even when their church leaders try to insist otherwise. The fact of the matter is, though, that an awful lot of anti-gay prejudice is directly inspired by religion; there are a lot of cases of Christians who profess to “love” and “respect” gay people, while simultaneously trying to “cure” us or condeming our “sin”. Example One: Peter Forster, the Bishop of Chester, who, in November 2003, said that gay people should see a psychiatrist. I was unimpressed:

So this is yet another example of love, tolerance and mutual respect from our highly-regarded, intelligent Christian leadership. I suspect Peter Forster’s opinion is the real view of the church: we’ll put up with gay people, but we’d prefer it if they went away completely.

Another person who attracted a lot of ire for his opposition to gay rights was Stagecoach chairman Brian Souter, who used his personal wealth to fund anti-gay campaigns. The decision to award him a knighthood attracted some opprobrium, including from me:

Of course, Souter is entitled to his view, just as we are entitled to shun him and his business ventures because of it.

Stagecoach Bus in Queen Square Bus Station, LiverpoolUnfortunately, with Stagecoach being such a big player in the Liverpool bus market (not to mention a 49% stake in Virgin Trains), I’m often unable to avoid patronising his services (unless I want a long walk).

Buses and gays came up in another way, too, as a “gay cure” organisation tried to get exposure on the sides of London buses. Boris stepped in to save the day and Transport for London banned the ad campaign. There were howls of protest from the usual quarters about free speech, but I explained why those arguments were bogus:

Firstly, the ads are arguably misleading. The campaign cites a study on changing sexual orientation which, as the Guardian reports, is dubious at best. The general opinion of respected psychological organisations the world over is that sexual orientation cannot be changed.

Secondly, the ads could be harmful to people. While the great strides forward over the past decade or so have helped LGBT people to live happier and more fulfilled lives, there are still plenty who suffer prejudice and discrimination; from society, from religion, even their own families. They often experience mental health and other problems as a result.

The solution to that issue, however, is not a promise of a “cure” that won’t work.

The Labour government took a progressive view of gay rights throughout much of their term in office, and legislation to introduce civil partnerships appeared in late 2003.

This is not, as the scaremongering right-wing press would like people to think, about a “gay rights” crusade, it is a common-sense measure to ensure fairness and justice for all. No-one with a sane mind could possibly be opposed to this plan, and as if to prove it, Norman Tebbit is opposed to this plan.

Tebbit’s rant about “toy-boy lovers” demonstrated that the bigots were alive and kicking amongst the Conservatives. That wasn’t the last time he had an unhinged rant against gay rights. In January 2007 he complained that new anti-discrimination laws would require “a bed and breakfast establishment proprietor to facilitate the act of sodomy.” Sadly he was far from the only member of the “Nasty Party” to make offensive comments over these matters.

(Lord Tebbit’s prediction about bed and breakfasts turned out to be correct, as a hotel owner was taken to court for refusing a bed to a gay couple – and quite rightly so, too)

The first civil partnership ceremonies took place in December 2005. It’s incredible to think that, just eight years ago, there was no provision at all for same-sex couples to have their relationships recognised, while in 2013 we are looking towards full same-sex marriage.

Obama on a UnicornOther countries got to gay marriage first – the Netherlands legalised it as far back as 2001. Much attention in recent times has been focused on America, where progress has been painfully slow. This is for two reasons: marriage laws are decided by each individual state; and the presence of a powerful religious right which has fought a long and bitter battle against any form of gay rights. Nevertheless, marriage has progressed recently, and New York became the sixth state to legalise same-sex marriage in 2011. This was followed in 2012 by Barack Obama’s historic declaration of support for gay marriage.

I thought that Britain was above the level of petty bigotry that we had seen in America. By March 2012, however, I had realised that I had been far too optimistic:

I will admit that – while I wasn’t surprised by the reaction of certain religious leaders – I was surprised that their views were allowed to dominate the debate, especially on TV and radio (that politically correct liberal media at work again, I guess). I was also surprised – shocked, in fact – at how vicious some of the anti-marriage commentary has been. Some comments have been reminiscent of the nonsense that comes out of the mouths of the religious right in America. I naively hoped that Britain would be above this kind of thing.

Not a chance. A massive anti-gay marriage petition racked up 500,000 signatures and united religious leaders of all faiths and denominations in support. At Christmas, a time when you would expect goodwill and kindness to be foremost in people’s hearts, several prominent Church leaders gave sermons attacking gay people.

One prominent critic of gay rights was Cardinal Keith O’Brien, then leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland. At the time I was angry, but ultimately his offensive statements made his subsequent exposure as a massive hypocrite all the more delicious.

It didn’t help that people such as Ben Bradshaw MP, whom you would expect to be in full support, said that we “never needed” the word marriage – a statement which was jumped upon by anti-gay forces (he subsequently claimed that he was misquoted and supported the marriage bill in the Commons).

The Government’s response to the consultation was published in December 2012, and it was confirmed that marriage legislation would be introduced in the House of Commons during 2013. Despite believing that there were some minor flaws in the legislation, I welcomed the news, and was confident (and still am) that the legislation would become law:

And that is why the pro-equality voices will win, because we have love and commitment and humanity on our side. Meanwhile, all the anti-gay side has is emotional (hysterical?) claims about the “sanctity of marriage” and a continuing obsession with anal sex.

The Marriage bill cleared its first Parliamentary hurdle with a massive majority despite most Tories voting against (the Nasty Party again). I was also disappointed with my old Religious Studies teacher, Mr Pugh (now MP for Southport), who voted against the legislation, even while acknowledging that he was probably “on the wrong side of history”.

There is still much work to do, and a fierce war of words will ensue when the Bill reaches the House of Lords. As I said in January 2012, “there is apparently no more pressing social issue in the world today than two men kissing.”

It would be remiss, of course, not to mention my video-based contribution to the debate:

The gay marriage debate saw many ill-informed and bigoted views raised. The people who made those comments then got a bit touchy about being (accurately) labelled as bigots. Barclays Bank, who sponsored Stonewall’s awards where the “Bigot of the Year” presentation was made, got jumpy.

The banks are unhappy about the inclusion of a Bigot of the Year award category. This year’s nominees include Cardinal O’Brien, who called same sex marriage a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”, and former councillor Alan Craig, who likened gay rights campaigners to Nazis.

Given the above, it seems a bit odd that Barclays’ diversity chief Mark McLane is upset at Stonewall for labelling people “subjectively and pejoratively”.

Looking back over the last ten years, the progress made by the UK’s gay community is amazing. My own progress has been amazingly slow, but now I’m out and proud and couldn’t be happier. Thanks to a decade of gay rights progress, I can now enjoy discrimination protection, and soon, get married (if any sexy men are interested in marrying me, please leave a comment).

And let’s face it, if I were still in the closet, what are the chances that this would have happened?

Photo of Robert alongside three models representing Seen magazine at Liverpool Pride 2010

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