Pride without prejudice

When someone claims the right to hold (and peddle) beliefs that are homophobic, they must also take responsibility for the repercussions

In 2014, the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAH) marks its 10th anniversary. Over the past decade, much has changed regarding societal attitudes towards homosexuality, mostly for the better. But festering examples of bigotry and hatred still persist, like Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's current anti-gay propaganda.

The IDAH website says; "Homophobia is an insidious process that channels its effects through subtle, usually transparent ways." It's this subtlety and transparency that allows it to flourish. How can you fight something when you can stare right through it?

In developed, western societies like Australia, most homophobia falls within one of two categories – cultural or institutional.

Cultural homophobia is largely born out of ignorance. Negative ideas and stereotypes about gays and lesbians are allowed to flourish in the absence of the truth that will correct them. This kind of homophobia is often held by ordinary people who simply don't know any better.

The antidote here is visibility. The more visible homosexuality becomes, the more everyone else realises there's nothing to fear.

The other major form of homophobia is institutional. This is mostly religious organisations like churches. It's much trickier to combat.

When broaching the subject of religious homophobia, people tend to tiptoe around the issue, afraid of offending "The Church" (whichever one it may be). They practically fall over themselves in their eagerness to point out that religious beliefs should be respected.

But respect is a dual-carriageway. The demand for respect for beliefs that are themselves disrespectful towards certain people only ends up cancelling itself out.

It's also dangerous. This sense of entitlement creates the idea of permission, where no permission rightfully exists. And this is what lies beneath a lot of the institutionalised homophobia in our society. Hatred is hatred. No matter how you try to dress it up.

In a free and supposedly democratic society, people surely have the right to hold whatever beliefs they choose. But with rights come responsibilities. And when someone claims the right to hold (and peddle) beliefs that are homophobic, they must also take responsibility for the repercussions.

This all may paint a gloomy picture. But the world is changing. Everywhere you look now, there's evidence of a broad, slow-moving rejection of homophobia in our society.

A good barometer of societal attitudes is how gays and lesbians are depicted in movies and on TV. A promising pattern emerges when taking a broad view. From complete invisibility in the 1950s, to some visibility in the 60s and 70s (but only as serial killers, lonely outcasts or limp-wristed fairies), to even more visibility in the 80s and 90s as regular, even likable people (but with tragic endings such as insanity, death or loneliness), to the mostly well-rounded people in everyday situations we see on our screens today.

The other handy barometer of societal attitudes is the issue of same sex marriage, surely the last frontier of homophobia. This issue has cut right to the very heart of what marriage actually is. It's held a mirror up to the institution, asking the question: is it about love or gender? Those who say ‘love' generally support same sex marriage. Those who say ‘gender' oppose it.

Since the world's first legal same sex marriage ceremony took place in The Netherlands on 1 April 2001, many other countries have followed suit, including some of Australia's closest friends such as New Zealand and Britain. There are now 17 nations with legal same sex marriage and many others with various forms of civil partnerships. This is progress. But it still leaves a lot of other countries in the dust. Including Australia.

Like a lot of mature and modern organisations, TAFE NSW has a proud policy of acceptance, diversity and inclusion for everyone. Because ultimately, the peddling of any kind of hatred diminishes all of us and weakens us as a society.

The IDAH website puts it succinctly; "An International Day Against Homophobia belongs to no one individual. It's about people hoping for a prejudice-free world that can provide a place at the table for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation."