Wednesday, 12 November 2008

In the closet

Gays may now be well accepted in many big cities but here in Belfast - and Northern Ireland generally - they still struggle against engrained prejudice.

It's extremely rare for anyone to be openly gay, while gay-bashing of one sort or another is still alarmingly common - physical violence, arson attacks, hostile politicians.

I don't know of a single 'out' public figure, although there are constant rumours about a number of them. And nobody dares dress in an overtly gay manner, though you can sometimes guess from a person's behaviour or way of speaking.

The Cathedral Quarter is Belfast's established gay district but outside that gays keep a very low profile. The annual Gay Pride festival is mainly enjoyed by gays, and doesn't attract the huge numbers of heterosexuals who take part in other cities.

Religious belief is still very strong here, and many people see homosexuality in very fundamentalist terms as an 'abomination' and an unnatural practice. The obvious counter-arguments - if God made the world, then surely he also made homosexuals? - are flatly ignored.

Supposedly we have some of the strongest equal opportunities laws in the world, but they have little influence against deep-rooted homophobic dogma, often endorsed by the very politicians who should be backing the legal guidelines.

So gays are still very wary of disclosure when so many people might rush to 'turn them in' and jeopardise their jobs, their homes and their partners. They are forced to blend in, pass as straight and watch what they say. In the year 2008, this country's still stuck in the strait-laced sexual culture of fifty years ago.

PS: Definition of homophobia - insecurity about being heterosexual (thanks to Gooner on Gaelick)


  1. I forget how different it is in other places. Gay Pride in Amsterdam is a real family event with everyone coming by, young and old, to look at the canal parade.

  2. It' weird Sydney has a huge gay community but we still don't allow gay marriage. Water off a duck's back here. Even the presidend of the Australian Medical Associatin is gay! You're fine here, unless you live in Bankstown! I don't give a rat's arse what people do in the bedroom and it's really ANNOYING to me that people are judged by their sexuality. I'm straight but single and wear sensible shoes! does that make me a Lesbian? Get over it people. Because it doesn't matter, it's as old as Aristotle (yep in his day gay's were acceptable). Old as the Pharoes . . .Nobody judges me by my sexuality, so why judge others. *slipping off soapbox now*

  3. @Connor, we have the second largest Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras her in the world in February. It brings millions of dollars of tourist revenue and straights and gays alike flock to see the parade but it's still hard for many. So our largest gay community live in Darlinghurs, Paddington and Surrey Hills where they can enjoy life without harrassment. Sorry . . close to my heart and I hate sexual vilification!

  4. Conor - It sure is different here, as was very evident when I watched the massive Gay Pride procession in Toronto. It seemed like the whole population was there, having a fabulous day out.

    Baino - Exactly, why on earth are people judged by their sexuality? What has it got to do with anyone else, and why do people get so worked up about it? As if heterosexuals were pillars of rectitude....

  5. Yep I'm with Baino, I don't give a toss (should I re phrase?!)about anyones sexuality.

  6. Suburbia - Me neither. So why are all these anti-gay types so obsessed with sex?

  7. I seem to recall Ian Paisley Jr getting into a bit of a mess when dealing with this. Did he resign in the end?

  8. Dotterel - He resigned as a junior minister, but that was because of his dubious links with a property developer. He's still an MLA (Member of NI Assembly) and has never been sanctioned for his anti-gay outbursts. Likewise no sanctions for MLA Iris Robinson who has made similar outbursts.

  9. I'm with your other commentators, Nick.
    To me it is insane in this day and age that this lunatic element of society is still obsessed with where people are putting their naughty bits.
    Just recently there was an attack outside a Toronto school by a male parent on a lesbian couple who were dropping off their children.
    What in Maude's name was he afraid of?
    My head hurts with this stuff. My heart bleeds for my gay friends and my gay child who have to suffer these ongoing attacks, slights and pure hate.
    Why is it anybody's business?

  10. www - Why on earth would someone want to attack a lesbian couple? What is his problem? Is he annoyed that they aren't available for male consumption? Incredible. Why don't people take issue with the really important things like poverty and war?

  11. Very much in the closet here even though the 90% catholic population is not really that religious. I strange because sex on tv is much more raunchy than UK, USA but not "that" kind of sex

  12. Quicky - That's curious that all the raunchy sex still avoids homosexuality. Presumably still a rather macho culture that sees all-male sex as undermining masculinity?

  13. Nick, I think you're being a (little) bit pessimistic. I didn't see this year's Pride march in Belfast, but my wife and I saw last year's, and there were certainly hundreds of people or more - old, young and families - lined along both sides of Royal Avenue and Donegall Place watching the parade. Now maybe they were just trying to get across the road, but they seemed entertained and happy enough about it! Also the parade took a good 20 minutes or more to pass, in comparison with ten years ago when it was two floats and a handful of followers.

    "And nobody dares dress in an overtly gay manner, though you can sometimes guess from a person's behaviour or way of speaking."

    Now Nick, isn't this comment in itself a form of stereotyping which we would denounce if it came from the religious right? By dressing in a 'gay' manner, I take it you mean in a camp manner, which isn't the same thing. I have quite a few gay friends and only one or two of them are camp, and I don't think this is because they feel too repressed to express themselves. On the other hand there are men who are camp but straight, such as my hairdresser. I think to assume that (a) someone who's camp is gay, and (b) someone who's gay but not camp is holding back for fear of homophobia, is presumptuous to say the least!

  14. John, I take your point that the pride parade is growing in popularity, which is encouraging, though still not on the level you would expect from a major European city.

    I wondered when someone would pick me up on the stereotyping issue! It was hard to explain what I meant in a short space, but I guess I was thinking of London where any number of gays were immediately identifiable by their clothing and manner (keys, cropped hair, tight jeans etc). In fact there were endless jokes about "gay clones" coming off assembly lines.

    But I take your point also that one can be deceived by appearances - someone who looks 100% straight might be the exact opposite and vice versa. It's easy to fall into stereotyped assumptions.

    I'd like to think I'm being too pessimistic, but from where I'm standing there still seems to be an awful lot of prejudice out there. I sincerely hope it'll gradually disappear.

  15. Although some places lag behind, at least some parts of the world are starting to recognize that gays and lesbians are people, too. It's about time!

  16. Rhea - Exactly, gays are just human beings like everyone else. Why can't they be seen as such and not as some sort of threatening deviants?