That this house believes the gay community perpetuates a negative stereotype
On Wednesday 28 October, I gave the first opposition speech to this motion in The Hist. I didn’t get to engage with some of the points made later on, so my speech was a little disconnected from the rest of the debate. In my speech, I looked how things have changed over recent decades. Up to the 1980s, what was the gay community did keep itself apart from the rest of society, and was happy to emphasize this difference, to reject many of the notions of the society which had made them feel like outcasts. It was ultimately the AIDS virus that made people, both gay and in general, change in their attitudes, something I didn’t mention when speaking. Now the main claims of gay activists is simply that the state should not privilege the love between a man and a woman over any two people in general, a conservative claim for stability and a traditional institution.
I said that what people see as the gay community is really what people choose to care about. For me, that ends up meaning politics, so I listed prominent gay politicians, such as Peter Mandelson, possibly the most powerful politician in the British cabinet, Barney Frank, Chairman of the US House Financial Services Committee, or Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland. I said of the new German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, that it really mattered far more to me that he was the leader of the liberal FDP, but it was still nice to see a gay person in that position. We can choose to think only of drag queens and worry about the image they portray, or realize how much has changed.
Afterwards, someone mentioned to me that he was well read on British politics, had read Alistair Campbell’s diaries, but didn’t know till that night that Mandelson was gay. I actually think this is common knowledge in Britain, but he had a point in that Mandelson never puts himself out as gay in the way some do at pride parades, so it’s not surprising that people in general think first of those who make it clear that they are gay. It’s equally true of myself in ways, it is quite possible that he didn’t know till that night that I am also gay, as like Mandelson, it’s not something that I’d have raised out of context. But I wouldn’t have avoided speaking, as it made perfect sense in the context of the debate while others were also making their positions clear. Equally here, it makes no sense to shy away from writing on this issue which means a lot to me, or as someone active in party politics.
The best speech of the evening was from a girl who made the case that it is not anyone’s responsibility to act in any particular way for the sake of anyone else. Someone in Dublin should not have to consider the proverbial person in the closet in Leitrim who is less likely to come out if they are more flamboyant. Someone in drag is not more justified in doing so because they also perform charity work. It was a reminder to those there that gay people are simply a collection of individuals, who should act as they see best for themselves.
There were a few points on the proposition that I think worth mentioning, to give a brief answer to. I had anticipated the objection to gay bars in my speech, and my answer to the feeling that they are a form of self-imposed segregation is really that if many people go out to nightclubs hoping to score someone, we are really asking too much of gay people that they would not do the same. And as people would like to have statistics in their favour, and know that they fall into someone’s broad categorical type, it is not surprising that there are gay bars.
And there was the suggestion that it is evidence that gay stereotypes are harmful that it was news that Dónal Óg Cusack is gay, where it wouldn’t be news if a hairdresser came out. This is in large part the fault of sporting bodies worldwide, but I think there could well be some truth to this stereotype. I have as little interest in sport as fashion, but I think it likely that a greater proportion of male hairdressers are gay than of male sports players. Stereotypes are based on generalizations, and not all of them are groundless.
It turned out to be quite a good debate, more so than I had expected. We were reminded from some of the speakers of how pride parades began, and what a step that was, while many others wished to simply get on with their lives, finding gay-specific environments restricting. The atmosphere of the debate showed that, thankfully, things have changed since years gone by.
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