We shouldn’t wait another 50 years for true tolerance

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Gay pride: But things haven’t moved on enough, and the word ‘gay’ is still used as a slur
Gay pride: But things haven’t moved on enough, and the word ‘gay’ is still used as a slur
14 August 2017 2:03PM

This year marks the the 50th anniversary of gay decriminalisation.

The 1967 Sexual Offences Act meant it was no longer a crime for two men, over the age of 21, to be prosecuted for “homosexual acts”. Then, you would only need to be attracted to, flirt with or seem, as someone said, “just a bit gay” to find yourself in prison.

The act wasn’t perfect. It hoped homosexuals wouldn’t take advantage of the law by “flaunting” their behaviour, but it was a step forward in a repressed world that is hard now to imagine.

I grew up in the 1980s and can remember discussing with my friends back then whether you could get AIDS from kissing or from sharing a can of Coke.

This seems ridiculous now, but without the internet to explore, your information only came from the media.

Bigotry was everywhere. From headlines differentiating between those who contracted AIDS through blood transfusions (“innocent victims”) to those who, it was implied, had brought it on themselves by having gay sex.

In America, there were also calls for those who were diagnosed with AIDS to be tattooed.

One of the most moving documentaries I have ever seen covered the history of the AIDS epidemic. It explained how the fear and ignorance would lead young men to lie isolated in hospital wards as no-one dared go near them.

A volunteer who worked in the hospital during the 1980s, who helped take care of those dying of AIDS, told the story of how these mainly young men would lie waiting to die, shunned by their families.

One set of parents eventually visited their son. On leaving the ward, the volunteer overheard the father say to his wife: “Better a dead son than a gay son.” The volunteer had never forgotten the words, and neither could I. It was a shocking reminder where prejudice and hatred leads; things had to change.

No-one has the right to live in a society where people’s freedoms to love someone of the same sex are secondary to those who are “uncomfortable” seeing two men kissing. (I once sat behind a straight middle-aged couple, on a boat trip across Windermere, who snogged most of the way. I was both uncomfortable and annoyed, and it took all of my energy not to say: “Get a grip, no-one wants to see this.” This was, however, my own problem.)

Those who were there when the ground-breaking 1967 legislation happened may not have envisaged that decades down the line gay couples would eventually be able to marry.

Same-sex couples have talked of being unable to hold hands in public or never being able to show affection for fear of being attacked or prosecuted.

Now they hold public wedding ceremonies every day.

Things haven’t moved on enough though and the word “gay” is still used as a slur, and young people still struggle to come out.

Society can not wait for another 50 years for people to become more tolerant.

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