Back in the 1970s I used to host dinners for students of English as a foreign language, to give them some conversation practice, and expose them to some British culture. I thought Richard would be a perfect example. A retired senior army officer in his sixties, slim, straight-backed, always immaculate in regimental blazer with a tasteful cravat and a mane of silver hair, like Jon Pertwee’s Dr Who. Wealthy, charming, erudite, a good war record – and openly gay.
We assembled at a good restaurant, to be followed by a trip to the theatre – after all, the students were all wealthy, and I wasn’t – a diverse crew, including statuesque Alexandra from Greece, the diffident young German oil-broker Anton, a couple of Norwegian bankers (man and wife) and a charming Japanese boy called Manus.
Conversation over dinner was lively, dominated by Alexandra with her loud voice and dramatic gestures. In gold sandals, long white dress and hair piled high, she might have been auditioning for the role of Aphrodite. By contrast, Manus, in his conservative business suit, had to be coaxed into saying anything at all.
Richard was, as expected, superb value. He exerted himself to entertain and engage, deflecting Alexandra’s more outrageous statements, encouraging the shy Manus. I thought the dinner had gone well.
Until he suddenly stood up, announcing that he was feeling unwell, and with a gracious apology, abruptly left.
The following day I dropped by to check on him.
“I’m fine,” he said, “and I hope I didn’t ruin the evening.”
He hesitated, like a man about to dive off a cliff, and then plunged into his explanation.
“You weren’t to know, of course,” he went on, “but ever since Burma, I can’t stand to be around Japs.
“Y’see – I know it’s nothing to do with that poor boy last night, and I hope he didn’t notice anything – but they made me watch as they crucified a rather special chum of mine and beheaded the Jap boy who’d seduced him.
“Ever since then I have a hard time being in the same room with one of them.”
Fast forward to the present day. I am now the silver-haired out gay man in his sixties. I may not have faced the prospect of execution, but in my lifetime I have known people like me who’ve been given electric shocks to ‘cure’ them of being homosexual, being given drugs to make them vomit at the sight of a naked man.
I’ve seen friends lose careers. Some have been blackmailed, imprisoned, or committed to mental institutions. Some have killed themselves because they just couldn’t cope with the hatred and disdain surrounding them – some because they were abused by their priests, and then denied justice by their churches.
One of my good friends and business partners was murdered, his skull smashed with one of those heavy soda-syphons that used to stand on bars. All for being gay.
I lost more friends to AIDS, some treated appallingly by self-righteous medical staff – I remember one cross-wearing nurse at the bedside of a dying friend saying, “Well, what do you want now? We also have the sick to treat, y’know.”
So I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive me if I have a hard time being in the same room with these self-styled ‘Christians’, let alone ‘respecting’ them.
I won’t stand idly by while people like Jim Wallace, Margaret Court, Kevin Andrews and George Pell try and stuff me into a closet or a coffin; call my love for my partner of 20 years an abomination; tell perfectly normal kids growing up gay, or lesbian, or trans they can be ‘cured’, when they aren’t sick to begin with. And then make the sickening hypocritical claim they do it out of ‘love’.
(If you want to know what it’s like on the receiving end of Christian ‘love’ listen to this)
I’m sorry if wearing a little rainbow ribbon, or flying a little rainbow flag, or asking for a level playing field annoys people, but I’m trying to stop lives being ruined. And if that makes me a ‘rainbow fascist’, well, pass me the pink jackboots.