The moral panic over homophobia

Once, there were moral panics over homosexuality. Now there’s a moral panic over homophobia. Consider the way in which the grotesque attack on a lesbian couple on a London bus has been used to promote the idea that LGBT people live in a state of existential danger. It comes straight from the moral-panic and crime-panic playbook: one nasty, shocking crime is used to depict society as a hotbed of rough, unenlightened beasts whose backward attitudes – in this case on homosexuality – threaten to tear apart the social fabric itself. A horrible incident carried out by five people becomes elevated into a symbol of evil that society as a whole must organise itself against. This is not a good way to treat any crime, including this one.

Everyone was horrified by the assault on Melania Geymonat and her partner Chris on a bus travelling towards Camden Town. It took place last month but was only publicised last week. The photo of the two victims, their faces bloodied and bruised, caused revulsion around the world. The crime made international headlines. That’s understandable. What’s less understandable, or rather less justifiable, is the swiftness with which the assault was turned into an advert for gay vulnerability. There is something nauseating about the way in which gay-rights groups and political observers held up this crime as typical, as an ordinary event in a society like ours that is apparently riddled with homophobia. As one campaigner said, ‘there wasn’t any element of surprise’ in relation to this attack. In short, anti-gay brutalism happens all the time.

But this isn’t true. And it’s important to say that it isn’t true.

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