Apr 132012

There has been a lot of ranting back and forth on both sides over the banner ads that Anglican Mainstream (religious right) and Core Issues Trust (an ex-gay organisation) wanted to put on London buses. It read:

This was in response to Stonewall’s campaign, as seen on Sir Ian Mckellen’s T-shirt: Some people are gay. Get over it! There has been a predictable outcry; equally predictably, the political response was to block the campaign from running. The word “banned” has been chucked around. Free speech advocates are up in arms. One even – jokingly, of course – suggested that the slogan should have been banned for its misuse of the exclamation mark rather than its message. Others compared it to the controversial Atheist campaign aimed at getting people to declare themselves as atheist in the census, which had to be watered down from ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so’ to ‘Not religious? In this year’s census say so!’ after the Committee of Advertising Practice advised that it had the potential to cause ‘widespread’ and ‘serious’ offence.

Same thing, right? After all, we’re all entitled to our opinions and gays are just being sooo picky and over-sensitive when they object. They should man up and take it, even if the religious fundies who objected to the Atheists’ low-key and humorous campaign clearly have a far lower butthurt threshold.


I’ll explain why the slogan is mendacious, then I’ll explain why it can do rather more than cause offence.

Not gay? Not true!

The implication, given the organisations behind the campaign, is clearly that the person is no longer gay. This doesn’t happen. While we still don’t know exactly what causes a person to be attracted by the same sex, we do know that it is something the person has absolutely no control over. Once gay, always gay. Some people go through ex-gay therapy and lead what they claim to be happy, heterosexual lives ever after. If that’s so, I’m glad for them. Not because they think they’ve changed their sexual orientation, but because they’re happy. I don’t think these people were gay, though. I think they’re bisexual and always were.

Many more suffer through the ordeal of being told they can cure their “immoral urges” – usually through prayer, although an organisation in Ecuador preferred straight torture. Perhaps some do manage to fool themselves for a while that it worked, or that they can at least “control their satanic urges”. However the ex-gay movement has precious few poster boys to show off, and sooner or later their much-trumpeted success stories end up turning around and admitting that they are, in fact, still gay.

You might just as well talk about being ex-black or ex-tall.

More than offence

There is something both callous and ignorant about comparing the ex-gay campaign to the Atheists’, and not just because one is based on rationalism while the other is based on religious dogma. While religious rightwingers may be mocked and occasionally insulted for their views, as may atheists, they are only being called out on their views. They are not being attacked for an accident of birth. Teaching that being gay is a mental illness that can be cured by prayer is dangerous quackery. It has no scientific basis whatsoever and encourages the stigmatisation of mental health (the lethal ‘snap-out-of-it’ approach)  while simultaneously promoting homophobia.

Homophobia arises when people are taught that homosexuality is abnormal, predatory, depraved, disgusting, immoral, unnatural and a choice – all descriptions used by the ex-gay and anti-gay activists, by the way.

Homophobia kills: in addition to the beatings and murders of LGBT people, the suicide rates among victims of homophobic bullying are much higher than average. The victims may not even be gay: they have simply been perceived as such. I have a number of gay friends. One has been so badly bullied since he was a teenager that he literally has a panic attack if he hears the word “queer”. Another recently left hospital after being severely beaten up by a neighbour for the heinous crime of living with another man. The list goes on. When we haven’t heard from a gay friend for a while, we worry.

The effects of homophobia: isolation, shame, silence. Once that has been achieved, the human being has been irremediably damaged. It’s the same psychological effect that keeps women in abusive relationships, stops victims speaking out about sexual assault, prevented survivors of the Holocaust from talking about what happened.

The irony is, of course, that studies have shown that up to 80% of homophobes are in fact gay, venting their own self-hate on somebody else. The more restrictive the homophobe’s upbringing, the worse this dichotomy is. In essence, these people are seeking company for their own self-loathing by infecting others with it.

So Boris Johnson and Transport for London were right to stop an advertising campaign that should never have been accepted in the first place. Not because of possible offence, though FSM knows it’s pretty offensive, but because it’s mendacious (promotes quackery for an imagined illness) and, by promoting a false and derogatory view of homosexuality, may directly cause great mental distress up to and including attempted suicide.

Just in case anyone thought Anglican Mainstream represent the majority of Anglican Christians: they don’t. They are close to extreme evangelical and/or ex-gay organisations such as:

  • Care
  • Core Issues
  • Desert Stream Ministries
  • Exodus International
  • Living Waters
  • Family Research Council
  • Focus on the Family

They’re so far from mainstream that you could probably get them under the Trade Descriptions Act. Obsessed with gay sex? You betcha. Oh myyyyyyy. What is it they say about homophobes again?

According to The Independent, TfL refused the adverts because they were judged “clearly not tolerant, but distasteful and divisive.” If that is true, I think they did the right thing, for the right reason.

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Jay H

LGBT activist. I despise bigots, especially those who use their religion as an excuse for their hate-filled speech.
Jay H has written 32 posts on this blog.