I am loath to write into this because of the inevitable kickback. Though, I think, the growing number of voices objecting to the ideology that is pushed by certain key organisations gives me some hope. But I am nonetheless writing this because it is going on. For last week was Manchester Pride and, later this month, we will see our very own Oldham Pride event. We have gone from holding a single Pride march on one particular day to now holding an entire Pride month with parade after parade occurring all over the country.
Now, let me be clear about the things with which I have no problem whatsoever and, in my view, what no Christian should have any problem with either. Indeed, it should be a matter that we understand only too well. We should have absolutely no problem with LGBT+ people having a march or parade in town. If the freedom of belief and expression means anything at all, it means supporting the right of people to parade and process on the grounds of whatever belief they will whether we agree with it or not. If LGBT+ people want a parade, none of us should have any issue with that.
I say we should understand this well because, historically, it has been dissenting churches who have been at the forefront of defending this right. Admittedly, at the forefront defending it because we were on the receiving end of the problems that ensure when it doesn’t exist for everyone. It was the Independents who understood the need to defend freedom of religion – even for other non-Christian religions – because they had felt the full force of the Anglican ascendency, and at other times Presbyterian hegemony, such that they were not allowed to operate. The Presbyterians only understood the vital importance of the position once they, too, suffered at the hands of the Anglicans.
It wasn’t until the late 19th Century that non-conformists were even permitted to go to university because of these things and only a few years earlier in the century when they barred much further involvement in public life. It was under such circumstances that the freedoms of religion, speech and other such things were developed. Dissenting churches know better than most the importance of defending such rights because, those of us who know our history, are only too aware of the sharp end we once faced because there were no such rights. On that ground, we should fully support the rights of any group – no matter whether we agree with them or not – to assemble, protest, march and say, and argue for whatever such things they will. Which is to say, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with LGBT+ people having a march to affirm their views about sex and sexuality.
Of course, unlike the Independents before them, such affirmations of belief are no longer forged in the fires of cultural persecution. The overwhelming majority of people in the UK – including most Christians, I think – affirm the right of LGBT+ people to live and let live. Whilst we may have a disagreement about where morality comes from, who gets to determine what is and isn’t morally right, how we determine such things and whether this march is a display of moral rectitude or not should be neither here nor there. For the essential point is that all agree everybody should have the right to live in a manner they see fit, and be given the freedom to live in a manner of their own choosing, without fear of persecution. Whilst I have no doubt there are nutbars out there, I do not know of any Christian who does not believe LGBT+ people should have the right to live as LGBT+ people if they want.
Such marches used to effectively be for such rights. And, in that sense, they have been remarkably successful. The argument used to be, leave us alone and let us live how we please without bothering anyone else. Such as that was the position, we have near total cultural agreement from almost every sector of society – even those who would be considered hostile to their movement – that such is reasonable and such has, indeed, been granted.
But the argument long since moved on. We’re here so let us be got replaced with we’re here and you must now affirm us. That particular argument enjoys less support. Still, many people are happy to do so. But there are a significant number of people who do not wish to affirm and celebrate. They are happy to live and let live. You do you, so to speak. But the argument has morphed from let us do us (if that is a thing) to you must now affirm us too. You do you, apparently, only goes in one direction. This is the point of contention.
As far as the march itself goes, very few people are bothered about a march. You do you, reigns supreme as far as a normal march goes. But the movement toward insisting everyone must affirm every aspect of what we believe means that matters do not stop at allowing you to do you. Rather, very public and lurid displays of sexual behaviour of the most vulgar and crass kind are exhibited for the purposes of insisting everybody must celebrate. The argument that what a person gets up to in their own bedroom is a private matter is dead. Now, what a person gets up to in their own bedroom must be seen by the world and affirmed by everyone as they march along public highways with little ability to avoid it.
Most people would have a problem with such lewd behaviour being exhibited in public by heterosexual people. Licensed clubs existed for the display of such things. But with a Stonewall badge and Pride organisation behind it, public displays of LGBT+ sexualised behaviour is deemed acceptable. Many people have concerns about this. If these marches truly are about equality, it is concerning that the public decency laws that would be applied (quite rightly and properly) to such behaviour among heterosexuals doesn’t seem to apply when it happens under the protection of a rainbow flag.
Similarly, such public displays are not only performed in front of children, but the organisers insist the whole event is ‘family friendly’. Again, it would be deemed (quite rightly) abusive for a parent to bring their child to such sexualised displays of heterosexual behaviour. Yet that same impulse to protect children from being sexualised long before they are able to fully comprehend such things is set aside in the name of an equality and inclusivity that is both entirely inappropriate whoever is doing it and not in any way reciprocated or deemed acceptable if it were coming from heterosexual sources. Many LGBT people themselves recognise this disconnect and actively encourage families to stay away because there is nothing family friendly about it. Yet, there is a subset of Pride that has a concerning interest in the sexualisation of children and actively including them in the public performance of what can only be described as niche fetishism.
Again, let me be clear. If LGBT+ people want to have a march concerning anything to do with LGBT+ issues, I firmly believe they should be allowed to do so. There is no credible or reasonable grounds to stop them freely assembling and making whatever ideological or personal statement they wish. Our commitment to free speech and free assembly matter and they are only as good as our willingness to let anybody utilise such things. If the purpose of the marches was to seek equality and the ability to be left alone, it seems to me that job has well and truly been done and won. Nevertheless, should folks still wish to march in celebration of such a victory, again, there is no reason for them not to be allowed to do that. The fact that every corporate sponsor under the sun is now involved tells you just how widely accepted and affirmed such things are.
The problem is that we have gone beyond a willingness to see everybody live freely according to their particular beliefs and moved to enforcing affirmation of those beliefs. In the name of affirmation, we have moved beyond mere marches (which are perfectly acceptable whoever wants to do them) and into the realms of public displays of sexuality (which would be lewd whoever is doing them). Such sexuality is performative, not merely as a means of celebration, but as a means of insisting everybody else must celebrate and affirm as well. It is not an attempt to reason with somebody with words to persuade them of a different point of view – which would be acceptable whoever is doing it and whatever the view is – but an indecent public display that is hard to avoid. Such a display minimally ought to come with age-appropriate warnings, but instead such warnings are not only absent but the very youngest and most impressionable are encouraged to be there in order to affirm what no 6 or 7 year old ought to be seeing at all, no matter who is doing it to anyone else.
The point here is not that LGBT+ people should not have a march. Nor ought we to stand against LGBT+ equality. If we really believe in people being free, we ought to stand with them in supporting their freedom to live as they see fit. It is no different that we, as Christians, would support the right of Muslims to worship freely – and actively stand shoulder to shoulder with them in defending that right – despite believing worship of Allah to be a matter of sin. It doesn’t stop us defending their rights nor loving them truly nor being genuine friends with them. Me and my imam friend believe each other to be in sin because of our respective modes of worship and whom we worship, yet we still like each other and are friends with each other. Sin doesn’t stop us being friends with people otherwise we would have no friends nor tolerate ourselves given all of us sin. The rights we enjoy as people, if they are truly human rights, extend to all people regardless of who they are. As much is true of our LGBT+ friends too.
The point here is that the same matters of public decency and not enforcing affirmation of things other people do not affirm is at stake. We rightly recognise that we shouldn’t and wouldn’t force an atheist to affirm the Christian faith, we neither win hearts nor minds by doing so. We simply enforce outward conformity and impose totalitarian restrictions on people. In the same way, if equality truly is what matters, Pride ought not to attempt to enforce affirmation of its ideology anymore than Christians shouldn’t enforce such things either. Similarly, the same standards of public decency that apply to any person ought not to be waived in the name of celebrating something that are not for others – and particularly children – to be celebrating with you.
I’m not always on board with Brendan O’Neil, but I think he makes a fair point here:
Fundamentally, waving the Pride flag is an oath of allegiance to the new ideologies of the ruling class. Raising this flag at your workplace, your school, your bank or your business lets the world know that you harbour no heretical thought. That you accept, fully and faithfully, the neoliberal creeds of identitarianism, genderfluidity and recognition, and that you too welcome the cancellation of anyone who raises so much as a whisper of doubt about these ideas.
He goes on:
People’s discomfort with the trans ideology – or with the identitarian ideology more broadly – counts for nought in the eyes of the new elites. And in this sense, the Pride flag really has become a hostile flag. It is an elite-designed flag that is hostile to us and our apparently old-fashioned preference for sex over gender, science over feeling, and solidarity over the Balkanising dynamic of identity politics. This is why traversing London under the watchful glare of this arrogant new standard feels so discomfiting – because I just know, as many others also know, that this omnipresent flag really represents the new ruling class throwing its political weight around and reprimanding the ignorant hordes.