When I was a comprehensive school student, a teacher of mine I greatly admired took to the stage in an assembly to speak about Alan Turing. He taught IT and was discussing Turing’s contributions to computer science, including the pivotal role he played in cracking encrypted German messages. He also mentioned, at the end of his address, how Turing was a gay man. After the war, he was arrested and prosecuted under anti-gay laws. He was sentenced to be chemically castrated and died just over two weeks shy of his 42nd birthday from cyanide poisoning. Whether his death was a suicide remains a point of contention.
This was important to me, sitting in that assembly as a young gay boy who was coming to terms with his identity, hearing from a person of authority whom I respected not only that homophobia exists, but that it is wrong. In recent days, we are reminded of the homophobia which continues to exist in our society. I am glad, and I am grateful, that same-sex marriage is legal in my country among other things. But I still live in a country where homophobic slurs are yelled at me from moving vehicles; where any public display of same-sex affection has to be thought about in advance, as it could lead to a verbal or physical lashing. I know many LGBT persons who have been dealt similar, and worse, hands.
The horrific attack on a homosexual couple in London was an example of this. The attack itself was cowardly, bigoted, wrong and condemned by many. What was encouraging was the response of the women involved. 29-year-old Chris said afterwards:
“I am not scared about being visibly queer. If anything, you should do it more. There are a lot of people’s rights at risk and people’s basic safety is at risk. I want people to take away that they should stand up for themselves.”
This is a beautiful message. It is also one which should pour cold water on those who think celebrations of LGBTQ+ pride are simply an opportunity for cisgender, heterosexual people to be made to feel ashamed of their own sexual identities. That is far from the point.
In no country on Earth is it illegal to be heterosexual. In no country on Earth has this ever been the case. Still today the death penalty is enforced to punish homosexuality in some countries. Others prescribe life imprisonment. Even in the west, we read disgusting testimonials from gay “conversion camps”. In my own country, we have politicians protesting LGBTQ+ education in schools or suggesting that homosexuality can be cured — not to mention that my government knowingly and callously deports LGBTQ+ people to their persecution and their deaths.
Despite this, in comments sections beneath articles, tweets have said the attack was earned; that it is the just deserts of LGBTQ+ people who could spare themselves if they just stayed in the closet; that they are proud to be heterosexual, as if the whole idea of LGBTQ+ acceptance is to make cisgender, heterosexual people feel ashamed. Just days following the attack, Toby Young took to The Spectator to complain about the so-called demonisation of cis/het men.
It is right that all people should be proud of and accept their sexual identities and gender identities. But that is a message that those outside of the LGBTQ+ community rarely, if ever, need to hear: they are seldom told otherwise.
I did not go to Gay Pride until last year. Fear motivated me. A certain level of shame too. I have made a conscious decision to not be ashamed of my sexual identity anymore. Inspired by those I have come to know and the fearlessness with which they embrace their own sexualities and gender identities, I recognise that I belong to one of the most diverse communities on Earth and I have a lot to learn: from people who face disadvantages I never will have to, who can educate me on how to be a better ally, and grow accordingly.
That is what Gay Pride has given to me, and that is why it is important to me. It is not an opportunity to shame straight people: it never has been about that. It’s been about asserting our right as a community — all of us — that we have the right to exist and be happy. Gay Pride is not about making anyone ashamed: it is about making sure everyone knows they can be happy and proud.