Stop in the Name of Love

Dear Mr. Anthony Ozimic, Communications Manager of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC),

I am writing to you having watched the debate on breakfast TV this week about whether or not equal marriage should be taught in schools, in which you made some very interesting points about the validity of a “gay lifestyle” and on the validity of homosexuality in general.

Being a gay man with a strong interest in fairness and equality, I tend to follow developments in the debate about equal marriage quite closely.  And, from time to time, I blog about them here, often in the form of satirical, somewhat sarcastic, letters, which are designed to highlight what I feel are the holes in certain people’s arguments.  I like to think they’re mildly amusing and that people enjoy reading them.  I always send them to the person in question and like to think that they even consider briefly the possibility of reading them, although I’m sure most don’t.  The Archbishop of York, to his credit, did read his and got an aide to send an interesting response.  In your case, however, I think you stopped reading at the third word of this paragraph and that I am now currently talking to myself.  But I’m going to carry on regardless, in the hope that the sense of decency that is innate in all good Christians will encourage you to listen patiently and reflectively to someone with a different opinion from your own and to someone with a lot of experience of how your stated opinions are damaging the lives of countless young people in this country today.

To begin my letter, I want you to join me on a journey.  It’s 1994  I’m 15 and I’m beginning to realise for the first time that I am looking at boys more than I am at girls.  (I’m beginning to realise also that the luminous purple shell suit I like to wear is maybe not quite my colour, but that is less important).  My self-esteem is chronically low (and not just because I own a luminous purple shell suit).  I have convinced myself that I am looking at boys only because I am ugly and I wish I looked like them, not because I am attracted to them.  But attracted to them I most certainly am.  I have a loving family, but the idea of being gay is not something that is ever talked about.  Why would it be?  We don’t know any gay people.  We don’t live in a city that has a gay scene.  It’s not something we come up against…ever.  I am a member of an Anglican church that, in principle, is opposed to homosexuality, but I never hear a sermon preached on the subject and the idea that homosexuality is ‘wrong’ is never shoved down my throat.  All in all, I am a young teenager living in suburbia who’s gay and doesn’t know it.  And it’s tough.  Really, really tough.  Not because I have a family who don’t love me for who I am (far from it; they’re amazing), and not because I face harassment and bullying at every turn, but simply because I know I’m different and I can’t quite work out why.

Now join me on another journey, if you will.  It’s 2013.  I’m still 15 but I’ve just been transplanted from the shell-suit-and-psychedelic-Bermuda-short-loving nineties to the present day.  I’ve just begun to realise for the first time that I am looking at boys more than I am at girls.  My self esteem is chronically low and I have convinced myself that I am looking at boys only because I am ugly and I wish I looked like them, not because I am attracted to them.  But attracted to them I most certainly am.  And one morning, whilst sitting pondering why I am the only person in the world who seems to wear highly flammable purple leisurewear, I turn on the television.  And up on the cinema-sized screen pops a silver-haired Philip Schofield, not in a broom cupboard with a furry glove puppet for a companion, but in a bright studio with a beautiful blonde by his side, who I assume is not being operated via a hand up her derrière.  Leaning forward with interest, I see that next to the two of them is another lady and a man called Anthony Ozimic from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.  They begin to debate and I look around nervously as they mention the word “gay”, not sure if I should be watching it or not.  It’s the first time I’ve heard the word used so often, and not as an insult.  I’m intrigued.  And then I hear Mr Ozimic agree with Philip’s question that if he had a son who told him he was gay he would try and lead him away from the gay path and explain to him the “truth and meaning of human sexuality which is ordered towards child-bearing”.  I hear him go on to say that homosexuality is not innate and that people choose to be gay because “something may have gone wrong in [their] development”, and that the “heterosexual model is the correct model for the human race”.  I sit glued to the screen, agog.  At one and the same time I am amazed to have found a word and a sexuality that describes the feelings I’ve been confused about for so long, but also horrified to have discovered that those feelings, according to some people, are unnatural and wrong.  The words sink deep into my mind.  Am I really unnatural and abnormal?  Are the feelings I’m experiencing really wrong?  I’m confused and I’m scared.  My heart is so full of the real me it could burst.

What happens next?

Well, I guess it depends how much more of the debate I watch and how many more of Anthony Ozimic’s anti-gay statements I listen to.  If I continue listening, my opinion of myself is certain to plummet.  But, to be honest, even if I turn the television off and walk away, I’ll come across many more Anthony Ozimics very soon, on television, on the internet and in the papers.  You see, 2013 is very different from 1994 in many ways.  I don’t see shell suits hanging up in Topman anymore for one.  And I don’t have to type up my essays on a BBC computer and print them out on a dot-matrix anymore either.  But, far more importantly, in 2013 I see and hear anti-gay rhetoric all of the time.  It is so much more prevalent now than in 1994, and, for that reason, is so much more damaging.  The anti-gay lobby has seen anti-gay legislation crumble and fall time and again over the last 15 years or so and, as we gays inch ever closer to near total parity in life in every respect with our straight counterparts, the anti-gay lobby clutches at straws to prevent what it sees as one of the last bastions of heterosexual “normality” from evolving to include all people.  And so it tells gay people as loudly and as often as it can that they are wrong and that they are sinful.

You, sir, are part of that anti-gay lobby.  And you, sir, whether you want to believe it or not, are damaging the lives of countless vulnerable young people across the country.  If I was now, in 2013, the 15 year old boy I used to be in 1994, and I watched your debate on This Morning, and read and watched the homophobic propaganda of the rest of the anti-gay lobby, I would have been damaged even more than I was by the Bible I grew up being told to love and cherish.

Growing up being told, directly or indirectly, insidiously or straightforwardly, that your very being is an aberration damages you.  It’s as simple as that.  You, Anthony, did not grow up with that message.  Straight people do not grow up being told that they are innately wrong as human beings.  Gay people do.  Some things are better for gay people now in 2013 than they were in 1994.  There is so much more support available, for example.  And gay people have so many rights they never used to have.  But sadly the message in 2013 is still loud and clear, if not louder and clearer, that gay people are wrong as human beings.

Please stop.  For the sake of any young gay teen who is confused and conflicted after growing up with messages of criticism and hate.  Please stop.  To prevent just one more confused teen from committing suicide because of their sexuality.  Please stop.  

Stop telling them they are wrong.  They are not.  Stop telling them that they should change.  They shouldn’t and they can’t.  Stop telling them that are less worthy of love than other people.  They are more worthy than I fear you will ever know.

I doubt you’ve made it this far, but if you have, please think hard about the following question: Is it a good man or a bad man who damages the life of another human being?

Thanks for reading.