The Proper Gander Column from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Reggie Yates’ Extreme UK: Gay And Under Attack (BBC3)
Reggie Yates has carved out a career taking us on insightful journeys into niche cultures, like a more chummy and relaxed version of Louis Theroux. His latest documentary, Reggie Yates’ Extreme UK: Gay And Under Attack (BBC3) is part of a series examining ‘the extreme edge of modern British masculinity’, also featuring obsessive body builders and anti-feminists. In this episode, Yates investigates why for some people in black and Asian communities, being gay or transgender is taboo or considered wrong. These attitudes still persist in the wider community, but seem more prevalent in groups which, ironically, have themselves experienced prejudice and discrimination.
Yates meets gay and transgender people of west African and Pakistani descent who have experienced more rejection than acceptance from family members and their peers. Max was thrown out of the family home when he came out, while Sahil’s mother said she could accept him if he was a murderer, but not as a homosexual. Although Tallulah’s relatives have been largely accepting of her being transgender, she risks abuse from others every time she leaves the house. Many black and Asian LGBQT people, more so than their white counterparts, face intimidation and violence from their communities, and consequently are less open about their identities. Yates suggests that some non-white people feel that they would have ‘too much to lose, too much to fear’ if they attended Pride events.
The issue isn’t really about ethnicity, but about culture and religion. Our attitudes are first formed by our upbringing and environment, rather than our skin colour. Yates cites lyrics in some Jamaican dancehall songs which normalise and trivialise homophobia, reinforcing the belief that homosexuality is ‘the white man’s disease’, which is wrong on at least three levels. These attitudes tend to originate from traditional, literal interpretations of Islam and Christianity which have indoctrinated people for centuries. Strict forms of Islam say that people become gay as a punishment from god for committing evil, and they deserve to be killed. And in the documentary, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor says that joining his church means accepting a particular lifestyle which doesn’t include homosexuality. Having a religious outlook tends to go hand-in-hand with stubbornly sticking to reactionary views, however brutal. A god’s job description doesn’t include adapting its principles to fit in with society’s changing attitudes. The views in the Bible and Koran reflect the elites which first enforced them, so they’re bound to be out of step now, despite their continuing influence.
Prejudice against gay and transgender people is part of a mindset which holds us back from working together to make a better world. Even though society is becoming more accepting overall, we won’t completely rid ourselves of prejudice without confronting the institutions which create it.