50 years later: laws change, people don’t

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LGBT flag raised at the front of Glasgow University

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Liam Dowd

Liam Dowd
Social Media Editor

50 years on from the decriminalisation of homosexuality, what’s really changed?

The end of 2017 marked 50 years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was approved, decriminalising homosexual acts between men over 21 years of age in England and Wales. Scotland would not legalise homosexuality for another 13 years (1980) – though not taking effect until February 1981, a mere 36 years ago.

50 years is within my parents’ generation. Although a lot of change has occurred in the last 50 years, it would be ludicrous to ignore the fact that homophobia still exists in Scotland. Progress does not mean full equality; progress is just another step towards equality. Campaigning cannot stop until we reach a point where everyone feels comfortable to express who they are.

I write this from a place of personal experience. I write this as an LGBTQ+ person in 2018 Scotland who does not feel comfortable holding my boyfriend’s hand in public, or showing any form of public affection for fear of being ridiculed, attacked, or penalised. Some may say that because the law has given LGBTQ+ people equal rights, then we are equal in society. However, if even one person is feeling that they cannot show their love in public, then that indicates otherwise. Nobody should live in fear of expressing themselves.

50 years ago, my expression of love was not just frowned upon, it was illegal. Viewed as a disease, as something curable. Homosexuality was even regarded as perverted, on the same level as paedophiles who prey on young children. But my love is not a disease.

50 years later and “gay” is still being used an insult in the playground, instilling in the minds of young people that there is something wrong with who they are.

50 years later and people are still being attacked or bullied for being who they are.

50 years later and there are still countries in the world where there are no laws to protect LGBTQ+ people; where LGBTQ+ people are killed for the crime of merely existing.

50 years later and Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door and give me leaflets condemning homosexuality and comparing it to murder – but I find myself too afraid to tell them to go away.

50 years later and the Catholic Church and some of its followers try to convert us and protest at our Pride events. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Church, as well as many priests and ministers, are molesting and abusing children – but that goes largely ignored by the followers of the Church.

50 years later and people are having to campaign and fight for young LGBTQ+ people to receive equal sex education in schools.

We have come a long way for LGBTQ+ equality and are still progressing, but I do believe that people forget that there is still work to be done. Luckily, in Glasgow, progress is happening fast. Equal marriage was legalised in 2014, with civil partnerships being allowed about a decade before that. Same sex couples have been able to adopt since 2009, and laws have been put into place to stop discrimination against LGBTQ+ people since 2005. But, sadly, there is more to be achieved. Laws can only protect people to a certain extent; they cannot change people’s minds.

The law surrounding gay men donating blood in Scotland remains prejudiced. Gay men are now allowed to donate blood given that they have abstained from sex for 3 months (opposed to one year as was previously the case). This is a step in the right direction, but not far enough. For me, this proves the last century’s prejudice surrounding AIDS continues to haunt the lives of modern gay men.

In relation to politics, last year the Conservatives made a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Irish party whose beliefs are often based on religion and, thus, condemn things like abortion and homosexuality. Theresa May making a deal with the DUP inherently shows that she does not condemn their homophobic and misogynistic views – or at least will ignore their bigotry to strengthen her own position of power. Even though so much progress has been made in the way of LGBTQ+ rights, this partnership sets us back by 50 years and ensures that hateful people remain in power.

Many people seem ignorant of their own homophobia, claiming: “I don’t mind gay people – as long as they don’t shove it down our throats.” The idea that people shouldn’t “act gay” or “shove it in everyone’s faces” has an insidious agenda. We will not censor or modify our behaviour to make you feel more comfortable. Society is saturated with heteronormative images and, from a young age, LGBTQ+ people are force-fed the notion that heterosexual life is the only option. Heterosexual couples are not attacked, abused, or threatened for showing their love in public. These views make me feel uncomfortable being myself and unable to express myself. By policing our actions, you try to control us, rather than understand. If LGBTQ+ people do not feel comfortable expressing themselves in the same way that heterosexual people do, then there is still a big problem. Your comfort does not need to be prioritised.

To heterosexual people, I ask that you appreciate how fortunate you are that your love is not stigmatised, criminalised, or seen as a curable disease. There is no cure for love, but there is a cure for ignorance and hate. Hateful behaviour is learned, and people need to unlearn that hatred and let compassion into their hearts. The only way to fight bigotry is to show compassion, because love always wins. We need to eradicate hate with love and we cannot stop campaigning until total equality, worldwide, is achieved.