Porchester doesn’t have quite the cultural significance for the LGBT community as the bright lights of say, Brighton or San Francisco. It lacks the fashionably furnished bars with their impeccably dressed clientele, the long history of Pride Marches and Riots over equal rights and the exclusive boutiques which other locations are famous for. Regardless, one might hope that a suburb in one of the largest metropolitan areas of the United Kingdom would be an accepting place for a group of gay men.
Picture the scene: a cold, windy, and generally grey Friday evening in February. Alone in Cosham after a failed attempt to visit Playzone, my friends and I found ourselves in one of the group’s local pub – the Red Lion in Porchester. Having retreated down the road, we’d figured that making an evening out of the trip, a mere staggering distance from the train station would numb the pain of not being able to run round like lunatics on children’s play equipment for the evening.
To put it lightly, as soon as we entered the pub, we stuck out like a sore thumb. While none of my social circle really has a penchant for dressing up like the village people, we were a noticeably loud and exuberant bunch of gay and bisexual men. The bar staff loved us – they were extremely chatty, friendly and couldn’t have been nicer. They told us that we’d ordered the first cocktails in that pub for a very long time, and that we’d brought a lot of fun into their evening. The regulars, on the other hand, were a different story. One of our number went to the toilet, and whilst hidden in the cubicle overheard a couple of the other patrons complaining about the ‘f*****g queers’ in the corner playing cards.
Now I may be overanalysing the situation, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the gambling they had an issue with. Ultimately, this is a tale of homophobia. This story may also seem very anecdotal, and perhaps not a particularly serious incident. The fact is though, that my friends and I were only trying to have a drink in a pub, and did nothing to deserve that kind of language, in public or the privacy of a toilet.
You may be wondering why I chose to bring this story out now. The International day against Homophobia and Transphobia (shortened to the snappier acronym IDAHO) falls on the 17th of May. We have all most likely experienced or at least seen homophobia or transphobia at some point in our lives, and it’s a problem we should all be aware of and try to change.
From a cursory glance of the headlines, it’s apparent that serious homophobia and transphobia is still a regular occurrence around the world. In Russia, on the 10th May, a gay man was found dead after being subjected to a brutal and horrifying attack, including being sexually assaulted with beer bottles. Police in Ohio have recently arrested a man after Cemia Dove, a trans woman, was stabbed to death before having her body dumped in a pond. There are numerous other incidents of transgendered men and woman being murdered in transphobic attacks.
Homophobia or transphobia doesn’t always have to come in the form of physical violence. The teacher Lucy Meadows found herself at the centre of a media circus begun by the Daily Mail after her school sent a letter home at the start of the Christmas holidays informing parents that she was transitioning and would now be known as Miss Meadows. At Christmas she sought help from the IPCC regarding harassment by journalists. Miss Meadows was found dead in her home in March, in a suspected suicide. Suicide rates have been found to be substantially higher in LGBT teens than those who are not, an indication of just how difficult struggling with an LGBT identity can be without support. In America, approximately 25 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual students and university employees have been harassed due to their sexual orientation, as well as a third of those who identify as transgender, according to a study reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education. This is indicative of the kind of prejudice that still exists, even amongst today’s young people.
These aren’t just isolated incidents, and these aren’t just horrifying stories being told by the news. These are real people, with real families, whose lives are being torn apart, a world away from a few narrow minded residents of Porchester. IDAHO is also a day for people to stand up and fight for what is right, and to not allow their lives to have been lost in vain. There are small steps that can be taken at home, too. Perhaps raising awareness, trying to not use terms for gay or lesbian in an offensive manner, could be enough to prevent LGBT people feeling uncomfortable or threatened again. It is worth remembering while phrases like ‘f******g queers’ may seem perfectly harmless, when heard against a context of repeated violence against the LGBT community the words suddenly seem a lot more frightening.
Homophobia is costing lives. It’s a plague that feeds off ignorance and prejudice. And it’s about time we put a stop to it. For good.
There are numerous ways to get involved in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Their website details a number of things you can do to raise awareness of this fantastic cause: http://dayagainsthomophobia.org/take-action/ . More locally, there is a fundraiser taking place at the London Hotel pub (down by the NOC) on Friday evening, a great way to contribute to this very important occasion. More details can be found here: http://www.the-london.co.uk/events.php