Thought for the Day - 10/01/2014 - Rev Dr Giles Fraser
On the 3rd May 1998, in a deserted lock-up garage in London’s East End, the professional footballer Justin Fashanu tragically took his own life. The years of abuse he had received for being gay had eventually taken their toll and had become too much for him to live with. If only the attitudes that had led to Fashanu’s suicide were a thing of the past - but unfortunately they are not. Which is why the coming out of former Aston Villa midfielder, Thomas Hitzlsperger, is such a big deal. No other professional footballer currently playing in this country has had the courage to do the same. Hitzlsperger explains why: “the players concerned have not dared to declare their inclinations because the world of football still sees itself … as a macho environment.”
Of course, it’s not just football that has a problem with homophobia. If anything, it’s more difficult with religion where this attitude towards homosexuality can commonly be presented as having some moral or theological justification. But despite the widespread perception that faith is uniformly hostile to homosexuality, there are a significant number of people of faith who want to offer a minority report that insists being gay is no sort of moral issue – indeed, that the ways in which two adults express their love for each other physically ought to be celebrated as something precious, as something publically to affirm. What makes homophobia so especially wicked is that is traps people into a miserable life of clandestine relationships, continually fearful that they might one day be discovered and exposed for who they really are. Which is why having the guts to make such a public declaration of being gay, thus risking insults and name-calling – and in some countries considerably worse - is such a powerful witness to the truth.
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay” wrote Charles Wesley in a famous hymn about his religious conversion. “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” He then goes on “No condemnation now I dread”. It was not, of course, a hymn about coming out of the closet, but about discovering and being able to speak the truth about oneself - and how liberating such truth-telling can be.
Nonetheless, these experiences are remarkably similar. “I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses” wrote Gloria Gaynor in a rather different sort of anthem. And St John put it even more pithily: “The truth will set you free.”
And yet, for many, the truth may not necessarily set them free, but might even end up landing them in jail. In Uganda, for instance, a law is about to be enacted in which consensual gay sex can lead to a 14 year term of imprisonment. Indeed, it’s going to be a criminal offense if one fails to report gay people to the authorities. Whereas St John spoke of truth as leading to freedom and release, for others, however, the truth can lead to prison.