I often stifle a chuckle when some of my more Europhile friends insist that Europe has banished homophobia into the ether and gays are equal in all aspects of society. It's a bit like the American national myth that all Americans are freer than anyone else -- it makes the adherent feel good, but it's a ridiculous statement.
Unfortunately, homophobia in Europe has been on the rise for a while, fuelled by a combination of anti-gay statements from the Anglican and Catholic hierarchies, the continued rise of Islamic fundamentalist politics, and the general increase of social unrest as Europe continues to heterogenize.
As of late, gay bashing has been a serious issue in Europe, with fatal bashings increasing in intensity and severity. Further, police departments in Europe have been slow to prevent these sorts of crimes, and given that self-defense is essentially illegal in most of Europe, this has resulted in severe danger for gay men in the "wrong" place at the "wrong" time (as Washington Blade editor Chris Crain discovered after being severely bashed
in "gay-friendly" Amsterdam).
In Britain, this means that hate crimes, including bashings, have been soaring. Often, the bashings are around "cruising areas" where closeted gay men often meet others for sex. I'm not familiar with this practice myself, nor am I particularly interested. Neither is my friend Brett Lock, a British-based gay activist who has been in a committed relationship for over a decade now. Nonetheless, he recently participated in a talk show to defend the notion that no, society doesn't really have the right to kill or injure gay men who may (or may not) be hanging around cruising grounds.
Did he get a forceful agreement? Did the ubertolerant London citizenry ring in with a resounding endorsement of the rights of all, including gays, to walk the streets unmolested and without fear?I'm afraid not
. . . the show sparked off an orgy of homophobia. Someone suggested inventing a “poofter-scooper” to clean up the parks. On the scatological theme, another person phoned in to say that what she objected to most was the piles of human shit (she meant this literally, if its any consolation) left behind by cruisers. Apparently, and she explained this very delicately, one has to evacuate one’s bowels before anal sex and men do it in her park. Now I couldn’t believe this.
This is not something I’d ever heard before so I signed on to OutEverywhere (a gay community discussion list) and asked if anyone had ever heard of this. Most said it was preposterous. . .
Certainly, one would expect this sort of chatter on a talk radio station in Alabama, Texas, or Florida. But tolerant, progressive London? Are we really in London, or Alabama? Perhaps the differences are less stark than either jurisdiction would dare contemplate. To deny the fundamental humanity of others, regardless of whether one "thinks they're yucky," inevitably leads to dehumanization, then targeting and suffering. The plight of gay men and women seeking dignity and equality under the law from Tehran to London to Houston bears witness to this today. Without basic dignity for all, even the clandestine married closeted guy who goes off to a park at midnight, how will progress evolve?
And more importantly, how can societies, American or European, which deny dignity and basic expectations of personal security to a proportion of their populations call themselves "civilized?"