The following blog post by Anna Llewellyn was originally posted on Lesbilicious. Anna works at the School of Education, Durham University. She is responsible for equality and diversity on Initial Teacher Training courses and as such runs workshops on ‘tackling and preventing homophobic bullying’ in schools.
Stonewall’s annual awards celebrate the LGBT community’s heroes and villains. But is the category ‘Bigot of the Year’ just unhelpful name-calling?
In early November, Stonewall announced that Scotland’s Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, had been awarded the “Bigot of the Year” award thanks to his persistent and vicious homophobia.
Lesbilicious writer Carrie Lyell applauded the decision, saying “Sometimes, you have to call a spade a spade, and other times you have to call a Cardinal a bigot”, and tweeted “Bigotgate. @StonewallUK vs the Catholic Church. Which side are you on?” It is difficult to be nuanced in 140 characters, but ‘which side are you on’ immediately sets up an opposition between the church and a leading LGBT action group. Of course, Cardinal Keith O’Brien does not speak for all Catholics, which was rightly pointed out in the comments from readers.
However, for some people, it can be difficult to identify as both LGBTQ and religious, given that they are often positioned as mutually exclusive and in conflict. This applies to established gay folk finding their religious identity as well as lifelong religious people finding their sexual identity. This positioning is discriminatory and it is also unhelpful, as it stops us moving forward and maintains a division.
Cardinal O’Brien may be pushing this conflict, but does that mean that Stonewall or the gay community have to follow suit? Is it fair, and morally just, to call someone behaving like a bigot a bigot? Is it fair and morally just to give them an award for such a thing? Moreover, is it helpful and does it advance equality? No, it isn’t and it doesn’t.
In the first instance, the name ‘bigot of the year’ is directly aimed at a person not at a person’s actions. But even if they changed it to ‘bigoted act of the year’ I still wouldn’t advocate it. Since when do you fight name calling with name calling, especially if you want to live in an equitable and caring society.
I guess the more serious point is that Stonewall are making a stand against bigotry, raising awareness, and asking some serious questions about human rights. They have got a lot of publicity from the award (eg here, here, here and here), which of course is an aim of an activist charity like Stonewall, but is this really the best way to do it?
I’m afraid I can’t see one positive reason for the award. If we position people, and/or groups, as bigots and publicly shame them, where is the space for redemption? Where is the space for conversation and for forward movement? Where is the space for sharing similarities and finding common ground? You might think I’m being naïve here, as Cardinal Keith O’Brien clearly thinks people like me are beyond redemption, but I am not going to lower myself to his level, and I will stand proud as a gay person who has no wish to vilify others, no matter what their opinions of me.
Heckling and jeering in a room full of celebrities is nothing better than bullying, and I for one cannot condone this. Thus, I suggest that it is time for Stonewall to cut the small minded negativity, to forget the ‘bigot of the year’, and to lead the way for a more caring and equitable society.