On the Popemobile and selling WKD to lesbians

the pope's car with glass back

Article for G3 Magazine on gay political apathy.

On 18 September 2010 the Pope pootled into London in his white Perspex chariot. Thousands were planning to march from Hyde Park to Whitehall to protest against the Vatican’s views on, amongst other things, abortion, gay rights and the cover up of paedophile priests. My flatmate mentioned he was going ‘to see what the fuss was about’ as I boiled a morning brew.

As my spoon rattled in the mug similar emotions were stirring inside of me. Yes, I certainly disagreed with the Pope’s views on LBGT rights; finally I could take action, do something about it and glimpse the Popemobile at the same time. I rushed upstairs to put some clothes on, instead I went straight back to bed. Ten years ago I’d have been up the front of the march brandishing a homemade banner. When did I get so (a)pathetic?

If we take the assertion that people are more likely to get political when it affects them directly you could assume that here in the UK, I have nothing to complain about when it comes to being gay. Not so. Sure I can hold my girlfriend’s hand in public without being clapped in irons, but not without occasionally being filmed by drunk businessmen or lambasted by urchins singing “I want to take you to the gay bar”. But what was the Pope going to do about that, ask God for earplugs and a plague on every cameraphone?

Kasia Gogolek, 27, used to take part in pro-gay rights campaigns, feminist marches and attended meetings of LGBT organisations when living in her native Poland. But has is suffering from a similar inaction affliction since she’s moved to the UK. She explains “Poland was too conservative. In England I don’t have to be political, I can be whoever I am. I still vote but I don’t have to protest against anything. In Poland gay prides are still political, because of the system, because it’s still taboo, but here, they’re about selling WKD to lesbians.”

Tamsin Omond, 25, is an environmental activist and LBGT rights campaigner who’s politically active in a very literal sense: she’s scaled the roof of the House of Commons and organised a ‘rush’ on parliament to bring climate change to the foreground. She reasons that much apathy is due to not knowing what to fight for amidst a heap of worthy causes and an overwhelming feeling that fighting for anything is futile. In regards to gay apathy she says “I think the LBGT community was told, time and again, that we had achieved equal rights and I guess we began to believe it. Any time we complained that maybe our rights weren’t quite equal we were branded as ‘loud gays, never happy with what they’ve got.’”

Until that cacophy of children burst my Irn Bru flavoured bubble I was happily throwing shapes in safe Shoreditch sweatboxes; lapping up the alcohopops and the ladies. I was comfortably asleep. Kasia continues “It’s easy to become politically lazy when you’re not officially discriminated against. There’s still a lot of sexism and homophobia around though, and people forget about it easily”. We’ve repealed Section 28, been allowed civil partnership and gained ground in reproductive rights, but changing social attitudes, that’s the ongoing struggle, and the Pope can certainly have a massive impact in that arena.

It might feel like we’ve won the gay rights battle here in the UK and that we just have to put up with the remaining inconveniences – like being haunted by novelty songs from 2003 – as it’s difficult to believe we have the power to make change happen. Reassuringly Tamsin quotes influential anthropologist Margaret Mead who said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I think that’s definitely worth getting out of bed for.

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