Monday, October 28, 2013

Pride and prejudice

Listen up, Britain: gripping, vital TV doesn't always feature a competitive element or a panel of judges, you know. Just one case in point: Stephen Fry: Out There, an extraordinary two-part series in which he explored the treatment of gay people around the world.

In the UK Fry noted there was much to celebrate - we've come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and indeed gay marriage was legalised during the course of making the series - but he nevertheless made clear that the significant progress shouldn't be taken for granted.

The first programme saw him then travel to Africa and the US. The superstitious, ill-informed, religious-based prejudice he encountered in Uganda (personified by a fire-and-brimstone pastor convinced that homosexual sex between men results in all kinds of ludicrous injuries and illnesses) was alarming though not entirely unexpected. More shocking was the fact that in the US, a supposedly educated and developed country, psychiatric programmes exist purporting to cure patients of their homosexual urges, practised by academics who hold positions within respectable universities.

In the second programme he looked to the planet's future, visiting three of the countries on the brink of becoming superpowers. Brazil initially gave cause for celebration, as the home of the largest Gay Pride event in the world, but Fry soon uncovered evidence of a backlash against the cultural liberalisation. Even more disturbing was Russia's regression from being a tolerant country to one in which the "promotion" of homosexuality (whatever that means) has been outlawed - hence All Out's current campaign concerning the forthcoming Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi. India, however, offered more hope, with a relatively progressive and relaxed attitude.

Throughout, Fry courageously had the nerve to take on the bigots directly, challenging prejudice face-to-face and, by attempting to elicit their arguments, giving them more than enough rope to hang themselves by. The harrowing accounts of persecution suffered by gay people, many of them teenagers, in the various countries (assault, murder, the "corrective rape" of lesbians) served as a stark warning of the unimaginable harm and misery that public pronouncements and policy can wreak. So much for "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me".

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