A while ago I was asked to speak at an LGBT event. I called the presentation WHO SAYS I CAN’T BE, DO, OR HAVE? and spoke about our progress for equality and the ignorance and misconceptions we’ve had to overcome.
For centuries society told gay and lesbian people not only what they can and can’t do but who they can be. Heterosexuality has been considered ‘normal’ and homosexuality abnormal. This prevailing attitude has been the source of injustice, hatred, violence, discrimination, murder, execution and kept many gay and lesbian people locked in prisons of fear and shame.
Heterosexism is a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favour of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It presumes that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the norm and therefore superior. Heterosexism treats gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people as second-class citizens with regard to various legal and civil rights, economic opportunities, social equality. Although heterosexism is defined in some dictionaries as anti-gay discrimination and/or prejudice “by heterosexual people” and “by heterosexuals”, people of any sexual orientation can hold such attitudes and bias.
So it isn’t just them who can be the problem it can be us.
You can’t exist we will remove you from society by imprisonment or execution.
Since the introduction of the sodomy laws in 1533 during the reign of King Henry VIII, if two men were found having sex together they were imprisoned and executed. This continued to 1861 when the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.
When Britain established a colony in Australia it was established under the same British law. Records show that the very last hanging for sodomy in the British Empire was actually here in Australia in 1867.
Left over’s from colonialism, these laws still exist in many parts of the world. They are particularly enforced in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Through the meddling of some American Evangelicals, what has been named ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, has been introduced in Uganda. If this bill, is passed it will reintroduce the death penalty for some instances of male to male sex. Even if you know someone is homosexual and don’t dob them in you can be imprisoned.
You can’t be healthy mentally unless you become heterosexual
Up until 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders, gay and lesbian people were considered perverts and dysfunctional. The two options were cure or incarcerate. For decades mental health professionals electrocuted us, injected us with vomit inducing drugs and stuck needles in our brains believing this would cure us.
The 1973 change was brought about by many factors but a major influence was the work of Dr Evelyn Hooker. In Dr Hooker’s ground breaking research in 1957 “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual” she gave psychological tests to groups of self-identified homosexuals and heterosexuals. After this she asked 3 experts to select the homosexual people from the profiles. The three evaluators agreed that in terms of adjustment, there were no differences between the members of each group that enabled them to choose which were homosexual. The experiment, which other researchers subsequently repeated, demonstrates that most self-identified homosexuals are no different in social adjustment than the general population.
You can’t be proud of being gay or lesbian you should feel ashamed
All around the world there are PRIDE celebrations, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras being one of them. Whilst these celebrations have critics both within our community and outside they do serve many purposes. I see the Mardi Gras Parade in a very different light to people like Fred Nile who calls it blasphemous and debauched. I see it as a profound spiritual experience. Each year I tell those who are marching with Freedom2b for the first time “The person you will be at the end of the parade will be very different to the person you were at the beginning. When you walk into Oxford St and you hear the roar of 100,000’s of people cheering and affirming you will feel something like electricity run through you and you will be delivered from the very last demons of shame residing in the inner recesses of your mind.”
Heterosexual people can never really understand Gay Pride because they have never has to live with gay shame. DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T BE PROUD.
You can’t be normal like heterosexuals
Heterosexuality is not normal it is just more common. Normal is a cycle on your washing machine.
When Mel White, founder of Soulforce was on Larry King Live, a caller asked what Mel and his partner did in bed. Larry King hung up on the caller for being rude, but Mel White answered anyway, “What do we do in bed? We’ve been together for 24 years—we sleep.”
Larry replied. “Yes when these religious people realise that you are just as boring as the rest of us then the debate is over”
A letter to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald 09.06.06.
On Monday morning my partner and I went to work, then met some friends to see a movie, ate Thai takeaway while watching Enough Rope, then went to bed. On Tuesday we went to work, met some other friends for dinner, drank a bit too much red wine, then went to bed. On Wednesday morning, work again and tonight we’ll probably just watch a bit of television.
In those three days George Bush, John Howard, Philip Ruddock and the Vatican all announced that recognition of our relationship was a threat to heterosexual marriage and the family itself. And here we were thinking we were just living ordinary lives.
Apologies to those whose marriages and families that were destroyed as a result of our actions. We will try to be more careful in the future.
Scott McKinnon Balmain
You can’t maintain long term relationships
This is something I was told for many years amongst other fallacies about being gay and the gay community. I actually believed those lies because I didn’t know any gay or lesbian couples. There are some people in our community who still believe this lie and are cynical about relationships. If you mix in the tip of the iceberg, in a culture of instant pleasure and one night stands, as opposed to the LGBT community, I can understand how one might get that impression. But there are those of us who live other lives.
I still remember when I met my first gay couple who told they had been together for 20 years. I looked at them in disbelief. And when I asked if they were monogamous they said yes you could have knocked me over with a feather. Of course since then I have met so many gay and lesbian couples that have been together for not only 20 but 30, 40 and even met a lovely couple who have been together for 50 years.
And when our relationships do fall apart…..they probably fall for the same reasons heterosexual relationships fall apart.
You can’t be parents or raise well balanced children
When the gay rights push began in the late 60’s and early 70’s it was probably inconceivable that there would be a day when we would take our place in society as parents. Through the wonders of reproductive technologies, many lesbians and gay men have chosen to be parents. And what wonderful parents they make because their children are not the product of some romantic evening when he forgot the condom or she forgot to take her pill, but gay and lesbian parents have thought long and hard to come to the decision. Not only have they thought about the responsibility it brings into their lives but it has often come at a high financial price as well.
Far from a same sex couples being poor parents or the child lacking because they are missing out on a Mummy or a Daddy, research has shown that these children frequently are better adjusted emotionally and psychologically than their opposite sex parent counterparts.
It makes my blood boil when I hear Christian activists pontificating on TV about how damaging gay parenting is and using terms such as ‘trophy’ children. When you know these families as I do it is highly offensive. Considering how many Mums, Dads, Grandparents etc these kids have, it is easy to see why they are so well adjusted. They are loved and adored by more people than the average child.
You can’t be a person of faith or serve in the church
There has not been any other organisation that has maintained such entrenched ignorance about sexual orientation than the Christian Church. Some might remember a time when a person of faith either had to hide their true identity or leave. I wonder if you know when the gay Christian movement commenced? After the tragic suicide of a number of his friends, Troy Perry gathered 12 people in his lounge room back in 1968 (a year before the Stonewall riots) and had the first meeting of the Metropolitan Community Church. It seems, Troy was the first person who dared to belief that there was no conflict between his sexual orientation and Christian faith. This was the birth not of a denomination but of a movement…actually a revolution. Since then the number of voices have grown to many, many 1000’s (Google ‘Gay Christian’). There are a growing number of gay independent churches and the number of mainstream churches and denominations who welcome and affirm LGBT people has grown exponentially over the last three decades and expanded to eighty six different denominations across forty six countries.
You can’t be successful if you are open about your sexuality
For years people have hidden who they are for fear of losing jobs or missing out on promotion. We have taken pretend girlfriends and boyfriends to work functions, made up stories about who we were with and what we did on the weekends. We creatively got ourselves out of awkward conversations and monitored our dress and behaviours. In some cases we have done nothing more than lied. Fear kept us from telling the truth. Some people have chosen not to disclose saying I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality. Honey I’ve got news for you. We are all being defined by our sexuality. It’s unavoidable. The problem is by remaining in the closet you are creating a definition of you which is false. Then of course there are some politicians, celebrities and sportspeople who have gone to enormous lengths to deny who they are. What I find amusing about this is that behind their protests and denials everyone knows or don’t believe them. People don’t respect you for lying and denying. You get respect from people by being honest.
Homophobia and the closet are allies. Like an unhealthy co-dependent relationship they need each other to survive. One plays the victim living in fear and shame while the other plays the persecutor policing what is ‘normal’.
I have a theory. It’s this. In the western world homophobia could be totally destroyed in one single day. How you ask? Imagine if, on a particular pre-determined day, every single gay man and lesbian came out. Imagine the impact when, on that day, people suddenly discovered ………the people they loved and respected……their bosses, mums, dads, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, doctors, neighbours, colleagues, politicians, their favourite actors, celebrities and sports heroes were indeed gay.
All stereotypes would immediately be broken…..just by the same single act of millions of people…..and at last there would no longer be need for secrecy. The closet instantly becomes the lounge room, the dining table or the board room.
You can’t get married
Who wants to….. some say in our community? It’s a heterosexual institution. Well or course it’s a heterosexual institution. They have told us for centuries what we can be, do our have. And that’s why when one partner is not allowed in the Intensive Care Unit on life support and the hospital staff says we cannot let you in because you are not the next of kin. Or when a gay man or has lost his partner of 20 years to AIDS and the family walk into the house and take everything that they have build together. The family never accepted that their son was gay and hated the partner never inviting him to any family events. Now they have the ultimate revenge. They take everything. Why because they were never married.
Lesbian U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, speaking from the stage of the Millennium March on Washington 2000.
“If you dream of a world in which you can put your partner’s picture on your desk at work, then put their picture on your desk and you will live in such a world. And if you dream of a world in which you can walk down the street holding your partner’s hand, then hold their hand and you will live in such a world. We are half of the equation. There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now OK to express ourselves publicly. We must make that day ourselves, by speaking out publicly –first in small numbers, then in greater numbers, until it’s simply the way things are and no one thinks twice.”
- DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T EXIST……. BECAUSE I DO
- DON’T TELL ME I’M SICK BECAUSE I’M GAY
- DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T BE PROUD AND MARCH UP A STREET DEMONSTRATING I NO LONGER LIVE IN FEAR AND SHAME …….BECAUSE I WILL
- DON’T TELL ME WHAT LIFESTYLE I HAVE TO LIVE BECAUSE I’M GAY I WILL CHOOSE THAT MYSELF.
- DON’T TELL ME GAY AND LESBIAN RELATIONSHIPS ARE INFERIOR
- DON’T TELL ME I’LL BE A POOR PARENT!
- DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T BELIEVE …..BECAUSE I DO!
- DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T LIVE OPENLY AND BE SUCCESSFUL…..BECAUSE I DO AND I AM.
- DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T MAKE A LIFE TIME COMMITMENT OF EXCLUSIVITY TO THE PERSON I LOVE…..BECAUSE ACCORDING TO EVERY POLL AND SURVEY I WILL!
© Anthony Venn-Brown