I wasn’t going to blog today. I REALLY don’t have time to blog today. But …
A friend said on Facebook this morning that she thinks Stonewall‘s “Some people are gay … get over it” campaign (posters, billboards, sides of buses!) is ‘entirely the wrong message’.
She said :
“Shouldn’t we calm the fires, rather than pouring more fuel onto them? Not by staying quiet, no, but with messages that help people understand, rather than piss them off.”
And I do understand that she is coming from a place that says dialogue is better than fighting (agreed), that upsetting people is unlikely to bring them on side (agreed), and that we will make more progress when we’re all working together (hell yes, agreed agreed).
And yet …
Slavery didn’t stop because the slavers one day woke up and thought they ought to be a bit nicer to their fellow man.
The Civil Rights campaigners in the US in the 1960s didn’t sit back and politely explain how nice they thought it would be if they were given the vote.
The women who got women the vote didn’t sit back and ask to be given the vote.
The countless men and women who lost their lives fighting fascism in WW2 didn’t sit back and ask if the nasty Nazis might just stop killing Jews, gays, disabled, socialists in their millions.
And on and on.
So why, when LGBT people are still being beaten to death in British streets, when our children are being bullied in school playgrounds, when more than 200 million gay people worldwide live under regimes where homosexuality is illegal (and in six of those countries the penalty is death)*, when lesbians are subjected to forced marriage and ‘corrective rape’, when young men are hanged for their sexuality, when people are deported for their sexuality, when (oh little enough, I know, I know, but still) when I still can’t marry the woman who has been my partner for 21 and a half years – why am I asked to be careful? To make sure that I don’t offend people? Why does one of the contributors to my friend’s facebook discussion say ‘Gay politics needs to move out of adolescence and into adulthood’, comparing the campaign to children ‘throwing tantrums’?
Why am I asked to talk softly to those with power?
Why do I need to be gentle with the feelings of those who never consider my feelings? Of those who would deny me the same rights they have, rights they so often take for granted?
Why is it my job to help the haters understand? Why ask people of colour to fix racism, when it’s a white problem? (And yes, I know we do, all too often, doesn’t make it right.)
My Buddhist practice teaches dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, and I really believe in it. I agree with that teaching. I strive to practice it. (Hell, I’m the one who agreed with the women from the Coalition For Marriage – ie, the anti-Equal-Marriage lady, with me on Newsnight, that she and I would far rather have had a conversation than a set-up and badly-managed ‘debate’. We even hugged as we parted.) But my practice also teaches that taking a stand is needed at times. That standing up for what we believe in makes a difference. That speaking out against injustice is vital.
So no, I don’t mind if someone finds the ‘get over it’ part of the campaign a little hard to take. Because I’d far rather the suicidal gay 14-year-old knew they weren’t alone than be scared of speaking truth to power.
You know the phrase ‘speak softly, carry a big stick’? Well I don’t carry a stick. Nor do I intend to. There is no-one I want to hit. But I fully reserve the right to raise my voice and be heard, sometimes in a provocative manner**, especially in a world where so many are forced by fear, danger, repression and violence to be silent.
(and I don’t even like this picture!)
* from Ben Summerskill’s introduction to the Stonewall fundraising dinner 2012
** though I don’t think ‘get over it’ is remotely provocative language. I can think of FAR more provocative language than that!!