Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Gay persecution rife, and 'liberal' UK not immune

Vladimir Putin (above) is a repressed homosexual if I ever saw one. I know it sounds contradictory to claim to be able to spot a gay person, repressed or otherwise, merely by looking. But you sometimes have to acknowledge the exception which proves the rule.

All that macho posing, wiggly dancing and preening bare-back and topless while riding a stallion. It's a wonder none of his close protection unit – all male, now that I think on it – advises him not to be so blatant.

There's a rake of wretches in Ireland, north and south, of whom the same could be said, but we won't say it. Not after that brouhaha over the alluring sexpot Panti Bliss saying too much on an RTE programme and RTE paying out too much as result.

The oppression of LGBT people in Putin's Russia was on sickening display in Liz McKean's Dispatches report on Channel 4 last week. "Sickening" in this instance can be taken literally.

Vicious gangs of homophobes hunting (their word) and trapping gays to batter them senseless, rape them with bottles, mutilate their genitals, hold pistols to their heads as they sob with fear amid cackling laughter, all routinely videoed and posted online.

None of it as shocking as the defence of homophobic terrorism by the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church and senior politicians. Anatoly Pakhomove, mayor of Winter Olympics venue Sochi, told the BBC's Panorama that gay people were not oppressed in his town: how could they be when, "We don't have them here" – an echo of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's assurance to the UN general assembly three years ago that, "There are no homosexuals in Iran".

There's none in Uganda, either, where Christian fundamentalists preach a level of hatred they wouldn't get away with back home in America. President Museveni is this week considering whether to veto a bill laying down life imprisonment for those who "advocate or support" gay rights. The Russian parliament, the Duma, has passed a similar law to "protect" young people, 436-0 with one abstention.

It's true we don't have these sorts of ugly attitudes expressed in law in Britain, or Ireland, any more. But, as Panti Bliss (Rory O'Neill) argued in his magnificent, mesmeric speech at the Abbey Theatre, while there may be a huge degree of difference, it remains just that: a matter of degree.

Meanwhile, across in New York, the US Ancient Order Of Homophobes won't allow Irish gays to parade themselves openly on Paddy's Day. They have no problem with gays marching in mufti. But contingents in rainbow T-shirts suggesting that true Gaels might indulge in such abominable behaviour? Not on.

New York mayor Bill de Brasio says he won't march with the homophobes. So does one Dublin minister. Any northerners going to follow suit? We shall see.

Here, fear of Westminster direct-ruling on gay equality, or women's right to choose, was a significant factor in the DUP's decision to accept devolution and enter government with Sinn Fein.

In enlightened Britain, as it likes to think, the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group has listed dozens of examples of immigration officers' prurient attitude to sexually-based asylum claims, including: "What is it about men's backsides which attracts you?"

One appeal judge accurately described this approach as "borderline pornographic". The chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz, was "astounded".

The questions are listed in a Home Office document distributed to immigration officers as a guide for questioning asylum seekers citing oppression on ground of sexual orientation.

I suspect that none of the immigration interrogators would admit to being homophobic: merely trying to establish the basis of the asylum claim. Russian supporters of thuggery take a parallel line: no problem with homosexuals, just protecting children.

Ugandan preachers and political leaders offer the same defence: it's not gay people we want to suppress, but acts which go against the law of God. In the north, Dupers maintain that they do not hate homosexuals: it's just homosexual acts they find repulsive.

It's tempting to imagine that we can put the past behind us, now that Derry, Belfast, Dublin and hundreds of other cities around the world come out in carnival celebration of Gay Pride every year. But that would be a dangerous misreading of the reality. The war against hatred is far from won.

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