So here we are, slapping ourselves on the back about how Ireland has joined Scotland, England, and Wales in legalising gay marriage. Look at us, telling ourselves that we’re all so progressive and forward looking. But LGBTI people still have to face many challenges and many hurdles. Homophobia is still a big problem. Bigotry is still putting shackles on personal self-determination, it’s still a nasty illness of the body politic. Homophobia is a hatred that remains a stain on our society. It hasn’t gone away. It still blights lives.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by someone (whose anonymity I will protect) asking me for advice about coming out as gay to his Catholic family. He was worried that his parents and his brother would reject him. He reads this blog and I am the only openly gay person he felt able to contact. It was an honour and a privilege to be approached by him for advice even though I am no therapist or counsellor, and I worry that my advice to him may not have been the best. His story illustrates that sadly homophobia is still an issue in this country. It’s still an issue for the independence movement.
Homophobia is not a specifically Catholic issue, or even a religious one. Bigots will always find some justification for their fear and hatred. We may have legal gay marriage, homophobia may be defined as a hate crime, but there is no room for complacency. There are no laurels to rest upon.
The only way we can achieve true equality for all is to remain eternally vigilant, to challenge homophobia whenever or wherever it occurs. But the victims of homophobia are precisely those who are unable to challenge it, who lack the resources to speak out, who suffer the consequences of the narrow mindedness of others. That makes it all the more vital that those of us who can speak out do so.
All I can do is speak of my own experience. Here is the reply I sent to the request for advice.
My own parents are pretty devout Mass going Catholics too, I came out to them way back in the late 1980s, and they didn’t take it well. My dad didn’t speak to me for seven years. My mum went through a long period of denial – claiming on the one hand that she accepted it and had no problem with it but on the other she didn’t want to know anything about anyone I got involved with – and claiming it was me who had the problem not her. That went on for a couple of years.
It’s all water under the bridge now. But it took a long time. They didn’t really learn to accept the fact I am gay until I had been living with my late partner for a couple of years and they realised that I was happy and contented and holding down a well paying job. My dad only really came round several years after that when I donated sperm for lesbian friends and he realised that unless he got it together he was never going to have a relationship with his granddaughters.
There’s no easy answer or solution here. Partly it depends on how old you are and what your circumstances are – do you still live at home with your parents or have you long since moved out and grown up? If you’re young and still living at home it might be better not to tell them until you’ve got your own place and are no longer dependent on them financially or otherwise. If you are a teenager then you might have to deal with them being convinced it’s a phase that you’re going through – which is a form of denial on their part.
If you’re older it’s easier in the sense that you’re not risking losing the roof over your head if it all goes wrong – and even if it goes well there’s going to be an uncomfortable period of adjustment. Even then you might not want to tell them until such time as you’re involved in a serious relationship. That’s why I finally told my parents – after I met Andy.
Do you have adult siblings? It might be easier to tell a sister (who are generally more sympathetic than brothers) first and elicit her support before tackling your parents. Alternatively if might help to speak to a supportive aunt or uncle first. Ask them to be with you when you tell your parents. It can help to defuse the situation.
However – whatever age you are you need to ensure that you have a good network of supportive friends/relatives before telling people who are important to you, but whom you know are not going to take the news well. That way when or if you do tell your parents, you won’t feel alone and isolated.
Anyway, I hope things work out for you.
all the best
I got a short reply saying that he was going to sound out his friends and family for people who wouldn’t have a problem with him being gay. He said my advice was helpful, and I was glad that in some small way I might have helped.
And that was that, until Sunday evening. I received the following message from the same email account. I’ve copied it verbatim, spelling mistakes and all.
I was gonna post this on youre shitey blog so the world could know what you did to my brother but I don’t wanna give a fag like you my email address so you can creep on me. Luckily [name removed] is too stupid to close his emails.
I just want to tell you that, like all homos who pretend to support independence you need to take a long, hard look at yourself. Your way of life is one that was brought into our country by the paedos at Watemonster, and protected by Tories and Red Tories like they protected all middle class wankers.
When we go independent and the real voice of the Scottish working class rules supreme, people like you will pay for what you have done. I’m only sorry that you’ve made it so my brother has to suffer for it as well.
I’m still struggling to comprehend what I “did to” his brother, but what I understand all too clearly is that somewhere in Scotland a young man is being abused and possibly threatened because he’s gay and because he approached me for advice. The abuse and threats are coming from a close relative who is supposed to love him unconditionally, who is supposed to love and support him. That’s the reality of life for LGBTI people right here, right now in 2015. The message of a modern tolerant and inclusive Scotland hasn’t reached everyone yet. The monsters of the 1980s are still alive and well.
I thought long and hard about whether to publish this piece. I have not named and shamed the homophobe in order to protect his brother’s anonymity. I don’t want to make things any worse for the guy who contacted me for advice. But on the other hand people who spout bigotry and hatred need to learn that their attitudes are not acceptable in Scotland – irrespective of whether Scotland becomes independent or remains a part of the Union.
I thought about those who will rub their hands with glee at this exposure of bigotry from within the pro-independence camp. But homophobia is no preserve of one side or the other in Scotland’s constitutional debate, and by saying nothing I would be complicit in homophobia myself. The painful truth is that there are still neanderthals who want independence so they can take Scotland back to a mythical past that never existed, people who believe that freedom means the freedom to abuse and to exclude. People who believe that LGBTI Scots are alien intruders, a foreign infection. People whose saor Alba means poor Alba.
Such people do not represent the vast majority of independence supporters. As a movement we have to challenge those offensive and outdated attitudes, we have a duty to speak out and to condemn them. They have no place in Scotland, not now, not in the future, not ever. We stand for freedom, inclusion and equality for all or we stand for nothing. That’s our Scotland.
As I was writing this piece, I received another unpleasant reminder of the realities of discrimination. I got a phone call from the Metropolitan Police Pension Agency, demanding repayment of £870. My late partner Andy was a retired policeman who died on September 3rd last year, and I contacted the Pensions Agency on the 5th to inform them of his death. However it turns out that they had paid his pension for September on the 4th, the day after he died, and now they want me to repay the entire sum.
The rules for Metropolitan police pensions state that a spouse only inherits the pension if they married or had a civil partnership with the police officer while the officer was serving in the police. Although Andy and I had been together for many decades, by the time civil partnerships were introduced, he had long since retired. So I don’t get to inherit his pension. I accept that, even though I had to give up work to care for him in his last years, and when he died I was left without an income, without a job and without any money. That £870 went towards paying the costs of Andy’s funeral.
But what sticks in my craw is that if we had been a married heterosexual couple who had been together the same length of time that Andy and I had been a couple, the Met Police Pensions Agency would currently be paying me a police widowers pension, instead they are pursuing me for money. So even now, all these years later, homophobia and discrimination still affects me.
I am not going to make it easy for them, but I will have to repay the money eventually – the rules are very clear and legally I don’t have a leg to stand on. Morally however, I stand strong, and I’ll continue to resist and challenge homophobia whatever its source.
What makes it easier is that I know I am not alone.
Support and advice:
The LGBT Helpline Scotland, call 0300 123 2523
Open every Tuesday and Wednesday between 12 – 9pm
We provide information and emotional support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families, friends and supporters across Scotland. We are also here to support those questioning or wanting to discuss their sexuality or gender identity.
Equality Network is Scotland’s national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality and human rights charity.
Parents Enquiry Scotland
Parents Enquiry Scotland is a voluntary organization which provides information and support for parents whose sons or daughters have come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It has been in existence for over 30 years. We offer a range of information leaflets and booklets in addition to our helplines.
LGBT Youth Scotland
LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Scotland. The charity’s mission is to:
“empower lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people and the wider LGBT community so that they are embraced as full members of the Scottish family at home, school and in every community.”
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