We live in a society which is becoming increasingly open-minded as younger generations are brought into a world where people can be openly gay, where multi-cultural communities are commonplace, and where the rights of people are discussed in an open and accessible way. Twenty-first century methods of living certainly help this progression towards a more tolerant and equal society, with people now able to access a raft of information through the internet, and forums for discussion and debate growing on a global scale. Whilst this may sound rosy and pleasant, there is still a long way to go to achieve the sort of utopia that I imagine only exists inside my head.
For the sake of this post, let’s take LGBT* as an example. The Sochi Winter Olympics have catapulted LGBT issues into the spotlight with widespread outrage at Russia’s anti-gay laws. Huge corporations have very publicly wedged their stakes in the ground with enough rainbow marketing to practically transform Sochi into a Pride Parade. Programmes such as Channel 4’s Dispatches: Hunted have shed light on some of the appalling violence that is enacted against gay people on a regular basis, causing those who were before unmoved to sit up and take notice of the clear injustice of this discrimination.
Whilst the situation in Russia may provide a stark contrast to life in the UK, we are in danger of congratulating ourselves too quickly. It may be easy to watch Hunted and be quite sure that something like that would never happen in our beloved country, but the fact of the matter is that it isn’t as simple as that. Just because the UK doesn’t have a law that prohibits anybody from being gay doesn’t mean that we can pat ourselves on the back and relax. We must be incredibly careful not to celebrate ourselves and take selfish pride in our ‘progressiveness’.
Many people go about their everyday lives in the UK without really ever coming across anything at all concerned with LGBT rights. Some folks probably aren’t even aware of what LGBT stands for or, if they are, they are likely to be unfamiliar with the growing number of suffixes that can be added to those four letters. Maybe they aren’t interested, maybe they wouldn’t know where to look for information, or perhaps they deliberately try to distance themselves from anything LGBT. I can’t tell you the number of nonchalant statements I heard around the time of the gay marriage vote in Britain, all from people who just did not have LGBT issues on their radar.
Whilst sitting on the fence about LGBT issues isn’t anywhere near as damaging as directly opposing the equality of gay people, I would argue that it isn’t helpful either. You see, I would much rather somebody go all for or all against because at least that provides basis for discussion and debate; it keeps equality on the table and in the arena (or whatever other cliche you might want to use to that effect). Keeping matters of social equality firmly in the limelight is absolutely vital for the progression of a healthy society. It engenders discussion, it allows exchange of opinions and therefore the possibility of changes in opinion, it allows people to learn, to become aware of issues that they may not have before considered or known to be a concern. Keeping social equality current and relevant prevents it from being beaten down and forgotten about.
Heterosexual people may not think that LGBT rights are any of their concern, in the same way that white people might not think that race equality is their fight, or the way that most males would be unlikely to align with feminism. Of course it’s incredibly easy to feel like that when your group holds all of the privilege and a great deal of the power. However, if you want to truly live in a harmonious and successful society, you should care about all of the people. Not just the people who match or directly align with the groups that you fall into.
Progression is not simply about those who are discriminated against fighting hard enough that they gradually gain something similar to (but not usually the same as) equality experienced by their privileged friends. Progression is about the whole of society taking a look at itself and asking whether it is the best it can be, whether it serves all members of that society in an equal and beneficial way. If the answer is no, then the whole of society should rally together to ensure that progress is made towards that goal. For those who are having a jolly old time enjoying their privilege to be ignorant to, or nonchalant about, the plight of others is completely irresponsible.
In the highly unlikely event that you’re not gay and you don’t have any gay friends and you’ve never really noticed a gay person before, it’s easy for me to understand why it literally doesn’t make any difference to your life whether gay people are allowed to get married or not. That doesn’t make it right though. Being ambivalent about LGBT issues does not automatically position you in the pro-gay rights camp simply because you haven’t expressed a direct opposition; it’s not enough to just ‘not be against gay people’. A good human can see outside of their own privileged existence and realise that those fighting battles might need some help because why should those groups do it all on their own?! Just because LGBT rights predominantly only affect people who align with LGBT identities doesn’t mean they should go it alone. In fact, this principle applies for any group attempting to gain equality for themselves.
We all want to be part of the same society, with the same opportunities and the same rights as anyone else so we should all care about what happens to everyone else who is sharing/trying to share in that society. The fact that you may already have that equality handed to you on a plate simply because your sexuality/race/gender/whatever aligns with the social norm means that you should be directly responsible for making a difference in achieving the same for everyone else.
People will only become equal when equal rights become everyone’s concern.
*I use LGBT as an umbrella term to include all identities that extend beyond this four letter abbreviation as the most commonly written expression of these identities.
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