The 20th century, which saw some of the worst atrocities in the history of the world, also saw some of the greatest social victories. India accomplished its independence from Britain after a long and bloody struggle. A world was spurred to action to halt a racist and homicidal military political machine. Here in North America we saw the women’s suffrage movement finally force the establishment to officially recognize the fact that women are people, not property. Similarly, we saw many major battles won for black civil rights in North America, particularly in the United States, but also right here at home.
The latest battle seems to be the fight for gay rights. As LGBT people struggle to establish equal treatments and protections, the social zeitgeist seems to be moving in their favour. For example, this was front page news a couple weeks ago:
Vancouver Police announced charges Thursday against four men in two separate attacks on gays in Vancouver’s downtown core in recent weeks. Both attacks are being investigated as possible hate crimes, Const. Jana McGuinness said.
The fact that Vancouver has hate crimes is not exactly news, but the part that amazed me is not only that the arrests made front-page news, but how the police were able to apprehend the suspects so quickly:
In the Holtzman-Regier case, McGuinness said police got many tips from the public, especially after video footage of the suspects was released June 18. “It is so important that people get on the phone immediately and report these crimes to police,” she said. “The arrests are coming because we are getting the support and help of the public and we have victims who are willing to report these crimes.”
It seems that the days of victims of assault actually being victims is numbered. So too are the days when the public is willing to tolerate hate-motivated crimes against homosexuals. People are not content to perpetuate the status quo of systemic prejudice against this group of people (and, I hope, any group of people).
The part that I’m not wild about is the fact that the homophobic comments the attackers made can be admitted into court as aggravating factors, possibly netting a longer sentence. Similar to hate speech, I worry about hate crime legislation. I can almost understand the need to provide additional protection to groups that are particularly vulnerable to attack, but I am not a fan of legislating peoples’ feelings. If someone can show me data that hate crime legislation acts as an effective deterrent against assault, I’ll happily sign on; however, if they’re just a feel-good way to give longer prison terms to people whose views we don’t like then I have a big problem with that.
But yes, the social landscape appears to be becoming more equal. At least, if the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court is to be believed:
Two gay men who said they faced persecution in their home countries have the right to asylum in the UK, the Supreme Court has ruled. The panel of judges said it had agreed “unanimously” to allow the appeals from the men, from Cameroon and Iran.
The two men had to appeal their initial decision to the Supreme Court, because the initial ruling they received was that they wouldn’t face persecution if only they’d stop being so gay. Like, seriously guys. Why can’t you just hide your gayness in some kind of… enclosed space? Maybe like a bedroom? No, bedrooms are too big, and they have windows so people might be able to see. Maybe something smaller… with no windows… what could that be?
To my pleased shock and amazement, the presiding judge wrote a decision that I think will become a landmark in the gay rights struggle in the same way that Brown v. Board of Education is for the black civil rights movement:
Lord Hope, who read out the judgement, said: “To compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is. Homosexuals are as much entitled to freedom of association with others who are of the same sexual orientation as people who are straight.”
That’s what equal rights means. Sadly, the government of Cameroon doesn’t seem to get that. If two straight people are allowed to walk down the street holding hands, or smooch on a sidewalk, or any number of things that couples like to do, then passing a set of laws forbidding gay people from doing those same behaviours is persecution. Saying that it’s only okay as long as you don’t get caught is ludicrous hypocrisy – akin to those people here in North America who complain about a gay agenda to ‘turn kids all queermosexual’, and that if they just stopped being so… well so gay all the time then they’d be safe from persecution. The problem isn’t with gay couples, the problem is with anyone who thinks that the rest of the world must conform to private bigotry.