Lez Miserable: "I want a gigantic, champagne-drenched, public celebration of same-sex love"

The instinctive urge to get married is a hard one to rationalise, finds Eleanor Margolis, but she could do without being judged by other members of the gay community.

It’s not often that I’m moved by Muppets. I can appreciate that Kermit has a hard time being green and Oscar the Grouch is a depressive who lives in a dustbin. That’s some reasonably high quality pathos, but it doesn’t quite reduce me to tears. Seeing Bert and Ernie, outed as a gay couple, on the other hand, snuggled up on the sofa on last week’s DOMA-bashing New Yorker cover got me genuinely choked up (the happy sort). And, frankly, I don’t know who I am any more. The controversial cover is not only exceptionally twee, but arguably irreverent towards the bitterly-fought battle for gay rights that has a rainbow coloured trail of carnage leading right back to the Stonewall riots of the 60s. Yet I found myself looking at two of my favourite childhood characters in a state of gay domestic bliss and thinking, “I want that.”

So there we have it, last week, a pair of fuzzy-faced humanoids made me want to get married and spawn 2.4 biblically-named children. I haven’t been this easily influenced by the Muppets since Sesame Street gave me the low-down on the letter D when I was a toddler. OK – this feeling isn’t entirely new. I’ve always had a thing for monogamy. And cake. Sentimentality? Not so much. Weddings I can take or leave. The “take” part is mostly free booze-driven. So why the hell would I want to get married?

There’s a small but loud voice within the LGBT community that throws scorn on the idea of queers aping a heteronormative institution. I can see where this rowdy lot are coming from – what’s the point in marriage in the first place? But I just can’t bring myself to join them. Every time I see gays slating gay marriage, I feel this weird pang of sadness. Weddings may well be these bizarrely ritualistic and mawkish conformity-fests, but there’s no reason why the entire institution of marriage should be hetero-owned. If gays want to appropriate a slightly fusty, traditionally straight practice, who gives a white, frilly frock? Rejecting a right that’s been so ferociously fought for is one thing, but labelling those who embrace it as traitors to the queer cause is hateful.

Plus, what’s going to hurt the homophobes more: bile-flecked in-fighting about the intricacies of queer politics or a gigantic, bacchanalian, champagne-drenched, public celebration of same-sex love? Bitterly judging members of our own community for “selling out” is a pretty poor approach to making the world less shitty for LGBT people. Why not, instead, take our gigantic hard-ons for one another and rub them in the haters’ faces?

I’ve tried to work out exactly what it is that makes me want to get married and I can’t. It’s almost an instinctive urge though, so I’m willing to accept that I’ve been socially conditioned. A part of me definitely sees gay weddings as a big middle finger to the conservatives and religious nutjobs who think they own marriage. There’s no doubt that I want to play a part in that middle finger brandishing. But saying a loud, “fuck you”, to society seems like a dysfunctional reason to celebrate your love for someone. Maybe a part of me (my inner child?) just wants to wear a pretty dress and throw a party for all the people I love. But what about the spending the rest of my life with one person part? Maybe that should scare me, but it doesn’t. Being single, I’m a long way off that kind of commitment and I’m still not averse to having fun. But I imagine that if I were having more casual sex, I’d be starting to get bored with it.

Whatever my reasons for wanting to get married may be, I feel it’s my right not to be judged by members of my own community. Hey – fellow gays - let’s leave the judging to Norman Tebbit, yeah? With the UK’s brand new equal marriage legislation, I’m looking  forward to getting my first gay wedding invitations from my friends in relationships. No pressure, guys.

Now find out whether same-sex marriage could threaten traditional gender roles (clue: only if it magically turned everyone gay).

 

A same-sex marriage supporter outside the Supreme Court in the US. Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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