Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Generations

A few weeks ago a lady came into our school to talk about LGBT issues, she herself being a lesbian. As you probably all know, this is an area of deep interest to me. Apart from being inspired by her story and thoroughly impressed with how maturely she, and my school mates, handled what can be quite a delicate topic, I also took away three things that I have since reflected on.

1. She asked us whether we though homosexuality was immoral. Only one boy put his hand up and explained his feelings with “God made man and woman to be together”. Now I know that other people in the hall felt a similar way but didn’t say it, but there is a comfort to be found in that, in a hall of 120 students, 1 was actively homophobic (if you’re against gay people, you are homophobic, don’t skirt the issue). 1 in 120. Less than 1%. Yes, there were those who didn’t speak, so perhaps that percentage should be a little higher. But 1%, even 5%, is an inspiring number. Imagine if such a question had been asked 50 years ago? We’d be attributing the 5% to those who said no, not those who said yes. Which brings me to my next point, in a rather neat way that is rarely seen on this blog.

2. I spoke to her afterwards. There were a couple of specific things I was enquiring about, but for the most part it was just a casual conversation. And in that conversation came up the comment “You guys handled this very maturely. I’ve done this same presentation to adults, and been heckled and booed.” Or words to that effect; it’s been almost a month and, as any student of psychology could tell you, that is more than enough time for the details to become slightly twisted. But the overall point remains the same. A hall full of 16-17 year old boys, being confronted with the issue of homosexuality and not heckling this lesbian lady on stage, not booing her, not calling her a dike (not to her, anyway, I’m rather sure I heard it muttered once), not claiming she was going to hell. Yet crank up the age, and that does happen.
This, again, is oddly inspiring. Because we are the next generation. The old generation will die, as the generation before did. And as they do, old prejudices will die too. This woman has seen it in action, simply from going from one age demographic to another. I bring your attention back to that 1%. When he said his words, there was a general feeling of antagonism that met them. People did not like what he had to say, did not change their minds at his words. Rather, a hall of people (quietly) rallied against him. We did not heckle him either; did not shout him down; call him names. Just disagreed, and let that be known as politely as possible. Yet a hall of adults rallied against the woman.
We ARE a generation of better, more accepting people, regardless of what the newspapers tell you. No, we are not perfect. There is still prejudice; I know I am prejudiced against certain things, despite knowing I shouldn’t be (it’s difficult to be accepting of people who want to kill all gay people, yet at the same time believe homosexuality is perfectly fine), and there are still harrowing tales of teenagers turning on people for their race, for their sexuality, for anything. But it is less, diluted, confined to a minority, whereas just 20 years ago it was more common, and 50 years ago was the norm.

3. This is perhaps the strangest point I’ll make. After the talk, and after my conversation with the lady, I spoke to one of my friends about it. He accused her of seeking sympathy, and for bringing attention to an issue that no longer exists. He was, in short, ignorant of the truth. I hate to say that about a friend, but it is a simple truth. Homophobia exists, although as I just said, less so now than before.
But I find a strange inspiration in his ignorance. The friend in question is educated, is intelligent, and yet for some reason doesn’t think it’s an issue. Why? Because it has become diluted enough for him to think it’s not there at all. Now, simply because something is not knocking on your door and breaking your windows doesn’t mean it’s not there, but before homophobia WAS doing the equivalent of that. Ignorance is dangerous, but you can take some solitude in knowing that the issue has become diluted enough that some people can view it as a total non-issue. It’s not a great solution, I know, but it gives us hope for a future when people won’t be judged by their sexuality, and my friend’s ignorant statement will become an educated truth.

Now that last point is a point of contention even for me, but I thought I’d write it. But in all, that speech, that day, inspired me. We are not perfectly accepting; far from it. We have issues in the way; religion, blind prejudice, products of an out dated education system (I know of some schools in America that showed anti-gay videos, back in the 60s/70s). But as generations pass these objects in the way of acceptance will be removed or circumnavigated. One boy in a hall, will become one boy in a whole town, will become one boy in a whole country.

Blindly optimistic? Perhaps. There will always be hardcore elements who hold on to beliefs even when the rest of the world moves on, and these are invariably the most dangerous. And my experience is based on one school in a well educated area, filled with well educated students, in what I believe to be one of the most progressive countries in the world (after Holland and Denmark, maybe Australia). I can tell you know, that is a very specific demographic. But there is evidence that, as time progresses, and by the time we get to our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, there will be no halls of bigoted adults left to heckle a lesbian woman for her sexual orientation.

Apart from the fact that the UN has removed sexual orientation as a human right. That kind of points in the opposite direction.

1 comment:

  1. If you're interested, there was a section a couple of months back on the sociology program Thinking Allowed about "Softer Masculinities", including school pupils' attitudes towards homosexuality. Can download it here.
    I think I would have been surprised by what you wrote had I not heard that first.

    I think I shared the assumed homophobia at my school until around the age of 12/13. How seriously that was actually held, I don't know. I don't remember being presented with any actual homosexuality, it was just a protection of masculinity thing. Somewhere in the next two or three years, I lost that prejudice.
    I have no idea how many people would have said homosexuality was immoral at my secondary school though (I wonder how many people would have said it was if the question hadn't been asked by a lesbian?).

    It seems to me that a rapid generational shift has happened, if there's such a noticeable difference since I was at school. I suppose it's comparable to changes in gender attitudes towards (straight) men and women - look back a bit further and I expect you'll see a similarly rapid change.

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