Censorship in drag is still censorship

Read spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on the homophobia-phobics who banned reggae singer Buju Banton.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

When I was an angry young man living in Manchester in the early Eighties, the police were fond of raiding gay pubs and banning punk bands, using flimsy excuses about preserving public order and decency. This week Greater Manchester Police banned a concert by the Jamaican reggae singer Buju Banton, on the ground that his homophobic lyrics were likely to provoke public disorder and hatred. The police might have changed their tune on gay rights. But it still sounds like censorship to me, and it is still reactionary, even if it is done in drag.

Then, the Chief Constable of Manchester was James Anderton, a born-again, big-bearded Christian. Mr Anderton famously accused those suffering from Aids of ‘swirling around in a human cesspit of their own making’, declared that male buggery should be a crime and advocated flogging some criminals. These days he would be thrown out of the force for saying that, if not arrested and flogged.

Explaining the ban on Buju Banton, a police spokesman summed up the new official attitude of intolerant tolerance. ‘Greater Manchester Police accepts the right to public freedom of expression,’ he said, ‘but does not encourage anything which could cause possible hate or dissension within any community.’

‘Hate or dissension’? It is bad enough that they want to make hating something a crime. So long as we are talking about thoughts and words rather than violent deeds, I’m afraid that in a civilised society we should be free to hate whomever or whatever we choose, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexuality. Now, however, it seems that the Manchester police also want to outlaw ‘dissension’ – which my dictionary defines as ‘difference of opinion’. Perhaps they should ban all future United v City games.

Fronted by the gay rights group OutRage!, the campaign against reggae singers whose lyrics endorse violence against homosexuals has become big news. There have been lengthy investigations by police and the Crown Prosecution Service, concerts have been banned, a major festival cancelled and awards ceremonies disrupted. Why have some barely decipherable words sung by morons whom most people have never heard of become such an issue?

The argument about causing public disorder is specious. It rests on the assumption that those listening are sleeping psychopaths, ready to be incited to riot and worse by the merest mention of ‘batty boys’ (patois insult for gays). This is a bad case of what we might call homophobia-phobia – an irrational and exaggerated fear that other people are a mob of ignorant bigots.

Just in case the homophobia-phobics have not noticed, Britain today is not Jamaica. Ours is the age of Queen Graham Norton, when even the Tory party feels obliged to stage a gay summit, and the two men in front of me on the London Underground this morning could kiss goodbye without commuters batting a sleepy eyelid. Nothing has altered more dramatically over the past 20 years than public attitudes towards homosexuals. And, as it happens, nowhere demonstrates that more than Manchester.

When my Mancunian wife and her sisters were young, they might be taken to watch children in Communion dresses stroll through the streets on the Whit Walks. Last month my two young but unfazed daughters were taken by their aunties to watch Manchester’s biggest party, the Pride parade, where thousands of lesbians and gay men danced through the streets, many near-naked or in drag, led by gay police officers and RAF personnel in uniform. It seems unlikely that Banton’s boorish lyrics could spark off a homophobic pogrom around Piccadilly Gardens today.

Indeed it is the weakness of old-fashioned bigotry rather than its strength that helps to explain why the authorities have seized on the homophobia issue. Like anti-racism, being opposed to homophobia has become one of the few modern ‘values’ on which they feel able to base a sort of non-religious morality in our almost-anything-goes society. So homophobia is now treated as a secular sin, and dissension as blasphemy.

It seems perverse that gay activist groups should have become evangelists for this new moral conformism. After all, the fight for freedom of expression was always a big issue for the lesbian and gay liberation movement. If I remember my Tom Robinson lyrics correctly, they wanted the freedom not just to be gay, but to sing about it too.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

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Topics Politics


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