It’s interesting the way this survey was reported as showing that homophobia was ‘rife’ in the UK. In actuality it doesn’t even begin to demonstrate that – instead it shows that the expectation of homophobia is present with many gay (the report uses ‘gay’ interchangeably with ‘gay, lesbian and bisexual’) people. This being Stonewall, the expectations of trans people were obviously absent.
Their entire existence rests on cosying up to power, pointedly avoiding radicalism but flattering the perverse blend of exceptionalism, victimisation and self-entitlement of a largely-privileged group of (mostly) metropolitan white gay men.
Clearly a survey showing that gay people still feel discriminated against is manna from heaven for Stonewall. Indeed, they need a new cause given that Ben Summerskill claims in his introduction that “one strand of Stonewall’s domestic focus – legislative equality – is effectively complete.” Quite remarkable that he appears to be claiming credit for gay marriage when he had ‘no view’ on it in 2010 but thought it would be very expensive and would make no “real, practical difference to people’s lives”. And of course the ‘T’ part of LGBT would have something to say about having achieved ‘legislative equality’ but again, it’s Stonewall so we can’t expect too much there. Summerskill presents the survey as showing that gay people “continue to face disadvantages in many walks of life”. Yet how can we possibly know that’s what it shows? It looks at expectations and nothing else. It’s well-documented that surveys of the public find the fear of crime to vastly outweigh the actual risk and much is written looking at why this is so. Indeed, it’s noted that “both risk of crime and fear of it are higher in areas of poverty, unemployment and deprivation”, a finding which raises issues of class and how it affects your reality. Such issues are entirely absent from the Stonewall survey as is any discussion of the possibility that the expectation of homophobia may be exaggerated or even unfounded in some circumstances. For example, the survey finds that “More than six in ten (63 per cent) gay and bisexual men and four in ten (38 per cent) lesbians and bisexual women would expect to experience homophobia if they took part in team sport and were open about their sexual orientation.” Which team sport?! The pull quote is from Matt Jarvis, the West Ham player who posed for Attitude, so it seems clear that we’re pretty much talking about football here rather than, say, water polo. This clearly carries very tradionally male, macho connotations which perhaps explain why far less gay women seem to be worried about it. There are so many questions and challenges here yet the analysis is entirely absent and instead we’re presented with instance after instance of presumed homophobia. Instances which can’t help but sometimes seem absurd – does anyone really have an opinion on whether Sky One portrays gay people ‘realistically’ or if Channel 5 would tackle a complaint about homophobia worse than the BBC?! The fact that over twice as many respondents believe Channel 5 would indeed be worse at this (with ITV and Sky also doing badly in that regard) doesn’t seem to be down to anything other than perceptions of the channels – perceptions which can’t help but seem tied up with class.
Issues of class loom large over the survey. The hypothetical situations asked about carry strong class connotations – becoming a school governor, adoption and fostering, running for political office. The sweeping heading of ‘Equal Legal Treatment’ covers only gay marriage and “tackling homophobic abuse around the world”, the two causes célèbres of Stonewall’s constituency. The ‘Police and the Criminal Justice System’ section does cover expectations when suspected of committing a crime but it’s so bereft of context that it’s almost laughable. There are a myriad of reasons why people may experience the law differently – one big one is touched on with reference to how gay people from “black and minority ethnic backgrounds” expect worse treatment from the police etc but this is bizarrely glazed over. In fact there are a few references to how people of colour have worse expectations than their white counterparts yet there are zero mentions of ‘racism’ in the survey and Stonewall’s ‘recommendations’ make absolutely no reference to these findings. This underlines one of the main flaws of the survey, namely that people have a myriad of reasons why they may ‘expect’ discrimination, whether justified or not, and it’s an incredibly difficult task to even begin to unpick them all. Would a 40 year old wealthy white gay lawyer expect to be more discriminated against when, say, dealing with the police than a 20 year old black male from Hackney? What are we comparing here? The words ‘poverty’, ‘homeless’ and ‘unemployed’ appear nowhere, with the only references to welfare being in the context of seeking advice at the Citizens Advice Bureau and a mention of “applying for social housing” (there is a page on “public services” but it’s not explained what this refers to, given that we have separate sections for criminal justice and schools.) The sole mention of class (‘social group’) is in a paragraph looking at which ‘occupational groups’ are more likely to be out at work; three short paragraphs later and we’re being told that ‘gay consumers’ are more likely to spend their money on organisations which they think are nice to gays. The survey presents some mythical world where sexuality is the sole determinant of how we interact with and experience society.
The class connotations are nowhere clearer than in Stonewall’s own presentation of the report which leads with an explicit link between paying tax and experiencing discrimination when using public services. An implicit positioning worthy of the Daily Mail, instantly linking the right to be free of discrimination to the ability to financially contribute. You’ll struggle to find this observation anywhere in the media, which instead as we’ve seen has focused on the ‘rampant homophobia’ angle. We’ve seen before how expectations of homophobia can run far away from the reality and can be manipulated to divisive and damaging ends. Half-baked surveys like this and their hysterical coverage seem certain only to make that situation worse.