A letter was published in this paper last week in which a spokesperson for a Christian Public Morals committee was expressing his revulsion at the Belfast Pride Carnival.
Reading it brought back memories of my own of tap-dancing nuns and drag queens.
I was brought up in a strict Catholic environment.
I was taught by nuns at a convent and, apart from my three brothers and the occasional cousin (whom all had similar and equally strict Catholic educations), had no contact with the opposite sex until I was in my mid-teens.
I was never taught about sexuality or even the basic birds and the bees stuff (I found all that out over time by trial and error...).
However, one thing that was drummed into us by the nuns and priests who taught us from such a tender age was that homosexuality was wrong.
God is good. God loves us all. However, even God has his objections and at the very top of his list are gays.
In fact, they wouldn’t even say the word ‘gay’, so distasteful was its connotations.
Our school’s Reverend Mother (ie top nun) forbade the very use of the word.
One day she had walked in our common room unannounced and her beady eyes spotted a record called Glad to be Gay by the Tom Robinson Band next to the record player.
‘Oh God here we go again’, I thought as she cleared her throat and pulled over a coffee table in preparation for another impromptu table-top rant. Brandishing the disc above her head as she wobbled precariously from side to side she began:
“I remember when the word ‘gay’ meant ‘lovely’ and ‘happy’!
“These people — these people! — have taken a lovely and happy word and ruined it forever, giving it a new definition which means the very opposite — sinful, sad and wrong!”
She tapped her foot to emphasise her words and we all stifled giggles, imagining that she was about to start |tap dancing. It was hardly a great speech — neither Martin Luther King nor Winston Churchill — but it has stayed in my mind ever since.
In fact, it echoes and reverberates every time I see or read or hear about a homophobic incidence.
Although I was very young and very naïve at the time, it struck me even then as being oddly incongruous with the whole Christian ethos.
If God made us and God loves us and God knows everything, then why would he make a person who is pre-destined by nature to be sinful?
It just didn’t seem right. It didn’t add up.
But it took another experience to convince me once and for all that the church had completely got it all wrong.
After finishing my A-Levels and leaving the confines of the convent, I went on to Manchester Polytechnic to do a degree in Fashion Design.
To say that it was a ‘baptism of fire’ was an understatement on par with saying that Krakatoa was a bit warm in places.
Overnight I had gone from the institutionalised homestead of homophobia to the very pinnacle of permissive society, where gender-benders ruled the roost and drag queens were the toast of the town.
Manchester in the early 80s was, in fact, like Belfast Pride Festival 365 days a year.
And almost every man I ever met through fashion circles was gay.
Fellow students, machinists, make-up artists and hairdressers, even the tutors and heads of department were all — to a man — as ‘camp as a row of tents’.
And guess what?
There was nothing evil about any of them.
They were the most creative, sensitive, free-spirited, charismatic, passionate, exciting, sometimes even brilliant group of people that I have ever known.
To imagine that they were all destined to be damned forever for being that way was unthinkable.
I suggest to the placard-waving bible bashers and the Public Morals Chief homophobes that instead of condemning an entire section of our community in one fell swoop — supposedly on behalf of God — that they embrace and rejoice the diversity that is finally, at long last, starting to appear with pride on our streets.