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Date Posted: 20:13:49 06/07/03 Sat
Author: E.J.
Subject: Busting the apathy myth by Ben Summerskill
In reply to: E.J. 's message, "Just a bit of news" on 19:31:54 06/07/03 Sat

Busting the apathy myth
Ben Summerskill
5 June, 2003

"Gay people just aren't that interested in serious things," I was told solemnly by a -- very well known -- journalist two months ago. He'd heard that I had been appointed chief executive of Stonewall. He seemed to imagine that I would soon be spending the whole of my week sitting in the galleries of the Palace of Westminster on behalf of an apathetic community that thinks that the battle for fair treatment is already won.

How wrong can you be? Of course I've spent afternoons in parliament since I started my new job at the end of May. They can be utterly intense. Every sub-clause of every Bill is treated with as much forensic attention as a Midsomer Murder scene.

But the idea that our community is apathetic, or that they think the battle for equality is already won, is belied by my experience since arriving at Stonewall.

We're in touch with hundreds of people every day. They use our information services, are part of community groups that we support, or just phone us up. They all know how much Stonewall has achieved in the past. But they're also well aware of the fact that our status as citizens remains second-class. We may soon win repeal of the disgraceful Section 28 and then fair treatment at work. We might win partnership legislation so that people don't lose their homes to inheritance tax when a partner dies.

But we await fair pensions. And even now it's still legal to turn gay men, lesbians and bisexuals away from a restaurant. Sandi Toksvig, a veteran and generous Stonewall supporter, told us the other day that she had been refused a double room with her girlfriend when she booked into a hotel in Glasgow.

That makes me angry. It's a damning commentary on a 'modern' country. But I'm clearly not the only one. At the moment, Stonewall staff are working intensively on the current campaign to see the end of Section 28 in England and Wales, which insultingly pretends that you can 'promote' homosexuality.

One part of our activity both inside and outside parliament has been our "Nail Section 28" cards. Twenty-five thousand of these have been signed by people up and down the country.

That hardly suggests that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are complacent about equality. And it's a stark reminder to politicians, who count votes carefully, that there is a constituency of voters who care about these issues.

But Stonewall has devoted particular effort over the past few months to promoting the "Nail Section 28" initiative in gay pubs and clubs. We wanted to test the often-repeated claim that young gay men in particular were not engaged by, or angry about, political issues.

It turns out from meeting thousands of them that they do feel strongly, very strongly indeed, about the way that so many of us are relegated to inferior status in so many areas of our lives.

More than 12,000 gay clubbers have signed our cards. Time and again, instead of rushing straight to the dancefloor or to the bar - the cliché of the gay clubber - they have wanted to stop and talk and share their fury at the way that we're all still treated.

More than that, hundreds of them have kept in touch and become Friends of Stonewall, now giving us financial support of £5 or £10 a month. They may be 19, 20 and 21. And determined to go clubbing, But they're just as determined to help build a better world -- not just for their generation, but for the ones that come afterwards.

It makes me proud to be gay.

Ben Summerskill is Chief Executive of Stonewall.

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  • Busting the apathy myth by Ben Summerskill -- E.J., 20:14:30 06/07/03 Sat

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