It is a sad fact, but nonetheless…a fact. Many British journalists and news producers in journalism see gay rights as a niche story.
In fact, more than that, a good number seem to have an unspoken feeling that a gay man talking about gay rights is exaggerating, whining, bleating or self-indulging.
Like an exasperated long-suffering mother who is tired of the demands of her needy child, they show a faint, jaded smile as we tug at her skirts and grizzle that gay people are still being brutalised.
I know this because, in my 15 years as a journalist at the BBC and beyond, I had countless conversations with fellow journalists, producers and editors who simply didn’t take stories about gay people seriously.
Last week, we heard the news that men in Chechnya are being hunted and rounded up like vermin and then imprisoned, beaten, electrocuted, forced to sit on bottles and – in at least three cases we are told – murdered. The latest reports imply that hundreds of men have been abducted after being betrayed by their own families and communities. According to a fresh interview with a former abductee who escaped the so-called gay ‘concentration camp’ near Grozny, prisoners are being forced through torture to implicate former friends and lovers.
Frightened and disgusted, I messaged some of my old contacts. Yet, though the story had been running for a few days and in spite of the fact that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had made a very robust statement corroborating and condemning the reports, most of the journalists I knew hadn’t heard of the story. Most depressingly, one said ‘It’s not really news to be honest.’ Not really news. That isn’t honesty it’s arrogant, blinkered, foolish disregard.
I must say a couple of them, both in online journalism incidentally, were instantly able to see the true implications of the story, not only for gay people in the Caucuses but for anyone who can hear the low growl of a new worldwide disaster.
Donald Trump is enjoying his monstrous new toys, Putin is quietly watching his poison spread, China is strengthening its military ready to claim new territories, North Korea is becoming increasingly rabid and the Middle East is riven with confusion, crossed-loyalties and religious conflict. Europe is divided and hoping a polite telephone call to the council will quiet its noisy neighbours.
And amidst this volatility, a top UK news editor says reports of a seeming extermination of gay people is ‘Not really news.’
When we are entering a moment in history that bears witness to an increasingly belligerent and hysterical American president lumbering into the net of the patient hunter, Putin and countless millions of lives are shifting ever closer to the pyre of a somewhat overdue world war, should we not consider the blasé beginnings of a potential genocide as a significant chime in the opening sonata to a worldwide symphony of destruction?
The abduction and imprisonment of gay men in Chechnya has, inevitably, been likened to Nazi death camps, where many gay people were experimented on, castrated, enslaved, raped and killed. We might also liken it to one hundred other contemporary acts of barbarity against gay people and other religious and ethnic minority groups in parts of Africa, India, Myanmar and the Middle East. This is the immolation of a very vulnerable minority and it is symptomatic not of embittered, self-indulgent gay lefties, but of a growing will on the part of quasi-‘civilised’ countries, to oppress and bully people and propagate their power through division and terror. The bully always begins with the weakest victims.
To some of my former newsroom colleagues I may seem hysterical but – as someone who has read about human history and our habitual slide into genocidal war – I cannot help but feel that the largely white, middle, class, straight people deciding the news agenda today are complacently disregarding this quiet swell of cruelty. If I am hysterical then I call them arrogant and foolish.
The weakest in society, with their faces forced to the ground, will drown first when a flood comes whilst the comfortable masses disregard wet feet. Only once they’ve lifted themselves in vain onto the bodies of the drowned and stretched their necks to find air will they wonder why they didn’t act sooner to avoid catastrophe. By then it will be too late.
Make no mistake. Though we are still waiting for the full horror of these reports from Chechnya to be revealed and corroborated and while our media is right to be circumspect and considered in its treatment of such emotive stories, we can be in no doubt that gay people in that region are being treated as animals. And that should matter. We are talking here about the ongoing extermination of people who are already suffering extraordinary prejudice in a fascistic, Islamic society that already treats gay people like rats.
In Britain, where recent generations have fought on battlefields, at summits and in parliament to win freedom and dignity for vulnerable people at home and beyond our shores, we need to tell our politicians and our news editors and producers – to the very top – that this story matters, that we want them to uncover the truth and help those poor men. To say, with as loud a voice as we can muster, this is news.