Patrick Strudwick

The new backlash against gays

You’re a bully. You’re violent and threatening. You want to silence your opponents and stamp out freedom of speech.

Your demands are excessive, grossly unfair, and threaten the good of society. Recognise yourself? Or any gay person you know? Does this description even sound like any gay rights activist you know of? No? Are you absolutely sure? Because this is precisely how gay people today are being portrayed. This is the new backlash.

As Britain reaches the finishing line of gay legal equality, the fear this provokes in those who believe we should remain second class citizens is turning to hysteria, paranoia and frenzied attacks.

Their weapon is the media. Their tactic is simple but explosive: paint gay people as bullies. Like the word “paedophile”, “bully” is so effective in provoking immediate contempt as to bypass analysis or questioning. Brand someone a child abuser, a rapist, or a bully and you’ve won the PR war. This isn’t mud sticking; it’s anthrax.

And the queen of this dirty campaign? Melanie Phillips. The Daily Mail columnist recently described gay people who believe in equal rights not just as “bullies” but as “totalitarian” “McCarthyites” who subject their opponents to “victimisation” rendering them “petrified” and who are guilty of “bigotry in reverse”.

But here’s the real reverse bigotry: in one of Phillips’ wild tirades, she lashed out at the government’s plans to allow gay people to be married in places of worship. The key word in that sentence is “allow”. Whereas the proposals seek to give religious institutions choice and freedom, Phillips and several fundamentalist organisations seek to prevent that choice. That is totalitarian. That is the forceful imposition of an ideology – the very accusation slung at us.

The bully label is being slapped on us from much closer to home than just newspapers though. In December, the Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey equated being asked about his sexuality to the bullying that leads gay teenagers to suicide: “I feel I have just as many rights not to be bullied as they do.” So, just to be clear, gay people who dare to ask Spacey whom he’s attracted to aren’t just bullies but are as monstrous as those who cause people to kill themselves?

And if we dare to complain about being bullied ourselves? The right wing press kicks us again. Last year, John Witherow, the editor of the Sunday Times, responded to Clare Balding’s complaint against AA Gill for calling her a “dyke” thus: “Some members of the gay community need to stop regarding themselves as having a special victim status… a person’s sexuality should not give them a protected status.” You see? The truth – that we simply want equal rights – is distorted into a pernicious lie: that we want extra rights; that we’re brats making outrageous demands.

Certain fringe religious factions aren’t content with calling us bullies or brats in their version of the backlash; they write fanciful horror stories about what a future of equal rights would look like. Andrea Williams, head of Christian Concern, said about the aforementioned marriage proposals: “We may well see churchmen… being dragged through the courts for refusing to marry homosexuals and sanction their behaviour.” The government has categorically stated that the law won’t force anyone to do anything. By why let the truth get in the way of muck-spreading?

Williams also recently described gay people who campaign against therapists attempting to “cure” gay people as “militant”. It’s an oft-used description of gay rights activists, but it is another defamation. The word means that someone is prepared to use violence. I campaign against so-called conversion therapy and am a pacifist, yet these fundamentalists brand me – and anyone who agrees with me – militant.

But this is all homophobes have left: lies and smears. It’s the final paroxysm of a desperate, discredited group. Their prejudices have been held up to scrutiny, and with daylight shining through, everyone with even a vague grasp of logic can see the inherent illogic – that their objections aren’t based on fact but fear.

What’s so astonishing is that Phillips et al don’t for a moment recognise that their beliefs are merely the manifestation of an irrational fear of homosexuality. But everyone else knows this because opponents of gay equality, like children in the dark, imagine what isn’t there: gay monsters who want to take over the world and destroy it.

I suspect that deep down our haters know that everyone deserves equal rights, but their angry, loathing minds, riddled with selective verses from the Old Testament, rail against this. They continue to fire word missiles because they’re conflicted. All we can do is repeat again and again the simple truth: that we want to be as free and protected – no more, no less – as everyone else.

In the meantime homophobes’ inner turmoil continues to burn. As the psychiatrist Dr Max Pemberton said to me recently, “Homosexuality is not a pathology, but homophobia, given that it’s a phobic condition, is.” Those who wish to tarnish us with slander and slurs, therefore, urgently need psychological help.

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