Friday, 20 July 2007

Doomed To Repeat It

I know I hold gay people to higher standards than heterosexuals but one article in GT this month has really upset me.

As it's now the 40th anniversary of the legalisation of homosexuality, GT is running several articles to celebrate the occasion. One of the articles involved a panel of young and mature gay guys (Terry Sanderson, yay! His columns are awesome) who were born before and after this historic event.

I'll quote the opening remarks from two of the younger people....

Terry Bryan (born 1980): I only found out a few days ago that it used to be illegal for people like us to be what we wanted to be. From what I gather, the law changed in 1967 and homosexuality was legalised.

Julian Gregory (born 1984): I didn't realise it was so recent.

I felt ill at that point and kept having to stop reading out of sheer disbelief.

The younger guys then blame the education system for their lack of knowledge (I'm going to be polite and not use words that might offend, much as I want to) and the mature guys back them up. Turns out the Government is to blame for these guys not knowing their own history.

I was born in 1983. I've known I was gay all my life but I finally accepted it in 1998. At which point I went out of my way to find out every fascinating fact about homosexuality from its sociology to its history to its current legal status. I followed with interest gay news stories, and read newspapers such as the Guardian to keep informed. Why? Because if I was going to be something, going to accept that I was a gay man, then I wanted to know everything there was to know about it. By the age of 16 I was acutely aware of the unequal age of consent and Section 28 plus the history of the Stonewall Riots and 1967. And here's the thing: I'm not some bloody genius child. I did badly at school. Yet I still know about this.

It wasn't hard to find this stuff. I didn't need to go to the library or search the net. Just reading a daily newspaper and watching the daily news taught me most of the easy stuff. GT informed about the missing bits. By the time of the internet I just needed to get everything into a sensible order.

We even had textbooks at school (even though it was a far from tolerant boys school) which mentioned the law change in 1967 and it's ethical and moral ramifications (including my favourite ever speech by Archbishop Tutu).

So I don't think it's the Government's fault. In fact I think these people are just uninterested in their past and that scares me.

I remember Pride 2003 and I was with Ben and we saw something about Section 28 and he asked me "What's that?". I'd never even contemplated the idea that a gay guy wouldn't know what Section 28 was. I just felt scared a little bit at that moment. But I quickly decided he was just a one off.

And now 4 years later I realise he isn't just a one off. Most young gay guys don't know their history because they don't want to know. And that bloody terrifies me, because history has shown us great steps forward (such as under the Weimar Republic) can be brutely and swiftly crushed. We must be ever vigilant, ever careful to defend our freedoms, ever watchful of the current political climate.

And, basically, to forget what those who went before us suffered in our name is disrespectful. We have a duty to remember the bad times so that we can enjoy these good times even more.


James said...

Terry Bryan (born 1980): I only found out a few days ago that it used to be illegal for people like us to be what we wanted to be.

I would much prefer he said 'are' rather than 'wanted to be', wouldn't you? 'Wanted to be' makes it sound like a lifestyle choice or a fashion.

Jae said...

Yeah I completely agree, but if he didn't even realise it used to be illegal to be gay I doubt he'd understand the difference.

Graham said...

Dear Jae
I have found what you say so interesting. The fact is that most people are not interested in history right across the board. It is one of the first subjects dropped at school at the age of 14.

Like you I think this is a terrible mistake. It is only by understanding where we have come from that we can work forward to an even better future. We can learn the mistakes of the past. As you say in your article it is important for our future.

I do not have an answer for this, but I do join in with you in your concern. I was born in 1945 and grew up in that period of change.

Jae said...

I have to say I can't think of a subject which interests me more than history. As a recent student I can say that the focus is completely on World War 2, over and over again. This can lead to sense of monotony and boredom... just look at this article at the BBC

Sadly I have no answer for it either, except perhaps making sure a larger range of basic historical subjects are covered to enable a higher chance of capturing a kids interest.