The Gay Divide

The Gay Divide

Originally published on economist.com

There was a teenager in Arizona in the 1970s who “could no more imagine longing to touch a woman than longing to touch a toaster”. But he convinced himself that he was not gay. Longing to be “normal”, he blamed his obsession with muscular men on envy of their good looks. It was not until he was 25 that he admitted the truth to himself—let alone other people. In 1996, he wrote a cover leader for The Economist in favour of same-sex marriage. He never thought it would happen during his lifetime. Yet now he is married to the man he loves and living in a Virginia suburb where few think this odd.

The change in attitudes to homosexuality in many countries—not just the West but also Latin America, China and other places—is one of the wonders of the world. Recently, America’s Supreme Court gave gay marriage another big boost, by rejecting several challenges to it; most Americans already live in states where gays can wed. But five countries still execute gay people: Iran hangs them; Saudi Arabia stones them. Gay sex is illegal in 78 countries, and a few have recently passed laws that make gay life even grimmer. The gay divide is one of the world’s widest. What caused it? And will tolerance eventually spread?

Two Steps Forward And One Back

The leap forward has been startlingly quick. In the 1950s, gay sex was illegal nearly everywhere. In Britain, on the orders of a home secretary who vowed to “eradicate” it, undercover police were sent out to loiter in bars, entrap gay men and put them in jail. In China in the 1980s, homosexuals were rounded up and sent to labour camps without trial. All around the world, gay people lived furtively and in fear. Laws banning “sodomy” remained in some American states until 2003.

Today, gay sex is legal in at least 113 countries. Gay marriages or civil unions are recognised in three dozen and parts of others. In most of the West, it is no longer socially acceptable to be homophobic. Gay life in China is now both legal and, in cities, undisguised. Latin America is even more gay-friendly: 74% of Argentines and 60% of Brazilians believe that society should accept homosexuality. Thais are more relaxed about transgender people than Westerners are. South Africa’s constitution is remarkably pro-gay. The young have tended to lead the way: although only 16% of South Koreans over 50 think that homosexuality should be accepted, 71% of 18-to 29-year-olds do.

Yet there are still parts of the world where it is not safe to be homosexual. Extra-judicial beatings and murders are depressingly common in much of Africa and in some Muslim countries. African gangs subject lesbians to “corrective rape”. In some countries, persecution has intensified. Chad is poised to ban gay sex. Nigeria and Uganda have passed draconian anti-gay laws (though a court recently struck Uganda’s down). Russia and a few other countries have barred the “promotion” of homosexuality.

This is partly a reaction to the spread of gay rights in the West. Thanks to globalization, people who live in places where everyone agrees that homosexuality is an abomination can now see pictures of gay-pride parades in Sydney or men marrying men in Massachusetts. They find this shocking. Meanwhile some homophobic Western preachers have gone to fire up anti-gay audiences in Africa, and American conservatives offer advice to countries thinking of drafting anti-gay laws.

Revulsion against homosexuals is ancient, deep and, in its way, sincere, even if some of the politicians leading the backlash do so for cynical reasons. By taking up arms against an imaginary Western plot to spread perversion, Vladimir Putin and Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan doubtless hope to distract attention from the corruption and incompetence of their own regimes. But they have picked their scapegoats shrewdly: 74% of Russians and 98% of Nigerians disapprove of homosexuality. In places like Indonesia, Senegal, Uganda and Malaysia, the young are no more tolerant than the old—sometimes less so.

Nonetheless, there are reasons for optimism, at least in the long term. Urbanization helps. It is easier to find a niche in a big, anonymous city than in a village where everyone knows your business. Gay life in the Indian countryside is still awful; in Mumbai or Delhi it is much easier, despite being illegal. In rural South Africa, to be openly gay is to court death; yet half of South Africans now say that their neighbourhood is a good place to be gay. As people move to cities, old traditions lose their grip; and by 2050, mankind is expected to be 66% urban, up from 54% today.

Emerging countries in Asia and Latin America have generally grown kinder to gay people as they have grown richer, more open and more democratic. The hope is that as Africa and the Arab world catch up, they will follow suit. Although religion is a barrier to tolerance—the more pious a society, by and large, the less enthusiastic it is about gay rights—it is not an insuperable one: plenty of devout nations, such as the Philippines and the United States, are friendly to gays these days.

Familiarity Breeds Tolerance

What could help spread tolerance? If the past half-century is any guide, the prime movers will be gay people themselves. The more visible they are, the more normal they will seem. These days 75% of Americans say they have gay friends or colleagues, up from only 24% in 1985. But it is hard to be the first to come out in a country where that means prison or worse.

Some Westerners would like to use aid budgets as leverage. That may have helped in Uganda, but attaching conditions to aid usually fails, and cutting it off may hurt the poor more than it helps gay people. It would be better to offer financial support to local gay-rights groups, to be generous when those persecuted for their sexual orientation seek asylum, to shame Western conservatives who encourage bigotry abroad and to buttress tolerance at home.

For those who cling to the notion of progress, it is hard to believe that tolerance will not spread. After all, gay people are not demanding special treatment, just the same freedoms that everyone else takes for granted: to love whom they please and to marry whom they love.

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35 Comments

  1. gad
    October 27, 05:53 Reply

    98% of Nigerians disapproves of homosexual relationships? Chai. That’s shameful but wait a minute, how honest is this survey? Who carried it out? Who are the respondents? Others can accept this shameful result but for me, no way, until we conduct a poll (secret ballot)among people selected from different spheres of faith,age etc ,I will remain indifferent. A time is coming in Nigeria,very soon too,when no one will be judged based on his sexual orientation but the strength of his character

    • Dennis Macauley
      October 27, 06:05 Reply

      Nigerians are hypocrites! So even gay people will still respond in that survey that they hate gay people.

      Very recently I had this guy on twitter who followed me and after asking and asking I gave him my pin, but I let his know about the other Mr Macaulay and I clearly drew the lines.

      I never met him, but every so often he will send a BC of bible verses which he reads. After two days I told him I dont want them, he should send to people who want them and he was like “some day God will touch your heart”! I was like??? Dude? Seriously?

      After the third day, he sends them again and I deleted him. This homophobic homosexual (apologies to Sheifunmi) believes that being gay is a “side attraction” and not the “main course” and that somehow god will eventually save him from it.

      So if there was a poll about homosexuality, this confused prick will still vote against it!

      • daniel
        October 27, 06:43 Reply

        Dennis God bless u with a power sperm that will cause Mrs Macauley to be with child..

        I said this sometime ago on this blog and someone almost weeded out my pubic hair with his words.
        Nigerians r hypocrites and I hate to admit I am a Nigerian..

        A full blown gay guy will write in a survey that he hates gay people…
        That’s the hard part of everything..
        The change we so seek in our country but begin with us.

    • pinkpanthertb
      October 27, 06:43 Reply

      *shaking my head* who us this ‘we’ that will conduct this poll? How do you know this statistics was not properly polled? Is it because you were not involved? Some things you say sometimes gad can be quite ludicrous, Aswear. You should listen to your opinions sometimes before you spout them

      • gad
        October 27, 08:38 Reply

        have heard severally about this survey from one source; your enemy(the church). I only asked questions to get more informations. Even if the survey was true I still stand by my word that it’s shameful.My further comments was a mere hint to possible bias and hypocrisy of the conductor of the survey and his respondents resp

      • gad
        October 27, 09:08 Reply

        May I further request that you discipline yourself. You are free to attack people’s opinions and not their persons. A little bit of civility in our comments and this place will be so beautiful that one will always desire a visit

  2. Dennis Macauley
    October 27, 05:58 Reply

    After all, gay people are not demanding special treatment, just the same freedoms that everyone else takes for granted: to love whom they please and to marry whom they love.

    This is the summary of it all!

    Recently I went to another blog and dropped a comment with my name as Dennis Macaulay, and some one said “you can be gay, I don’t have a problem with it, just keep it out of my face”.

    My first thot was to say something equally vitriolic back to her, but then I realized she was ignorant and high on opium so I let it slide.

    That sentence would have been the best response to her and other religidiots (apologies to Khaleesi)

    • pinkpanthertb
      October 27, 06:46 Reply

      Just keep it out of my face…

      What does that even mean? If I decide to carry on my life as a gay man and you happen to notice, how is that me keeping it in your face?

    • Khaleesi
      October 27, 10:20 Reply

      Apologies gini? Plz fire@the religidiots and religitards!!

  3. daniel
    October 27, 06:03 Reply

    I was about to throw shades but u just took the burden off my shoulders.. Phewwwww. *grabs soda and pop corn* it’s gonna be a long day.. *ons generator and charges bb*

  4. Paul
    October 27, 06:27 Reply

    I agree wit Dennis perfectly
    Over d weekend consecutively on a blog 2 young guys age 27 and 21 sent in stories abt themselves as being homophiles and dt dey needed sincere help as to how to come out of it
    (Like its a hut u enter and come out of)
    U needed to read d comments
    I was too pissed to continue
    Bt in d midst of it U could c a few pple who had reasonable tins to say and it came from dia personal xperiences from close relatives or frends.
    It jst gave an idea of d shallow spectrum of views Nigerians had.
    Sad part is dis isn’t going to change much any soon.

    • Dennis Macauley
      October 27, 06:32 Reply

      @Paul a hut you enter and come out of

      LOL

      You are evil for this!

      But then again it is a round well shaped hut that you do ENTER and CUM out of sometimes!

      • king
        October 27, 06:52 Reply

        Dennis a very lovely part of hell fire is reserved for you coz of this your comment ooooo..lol!!!

    • chestnut
      October 27, 06:55 Reply

      @ paul: I may be reaching here, but I just feel the 27 year old guy that told his story first is that “Easah was here” dude; I’ve been suspecting that guy…and notice how he didn’t drop any comment on that post?unlike him! #MessyMe.com… hehehe

      • Paul
        October 27, 18:20 Reply

        Stella Dimoko korkus
        Biko if I missd d name dnt blame a broda na coiled tongue dey worry me.

  5. daniel
    October 27, 06:35 Reply

    I thought I was the only person that thought change wasn’t coming soon… I mean, who wouldn’t want it, but let’s be realistic, in this country? *sighs*

  6. king
    October 27, 06:50 Reply

    Ofcoz Dennis is right! And can you blame us??? In a society where each individual is a vital and public representation of not just his household but his extended family, village, town and even sector if the country one coming out will be seen as the BLACK HOLE or something worse of the family! So Gad you don’t even have to verify whether the polls are accurate or not you would still feel like it’s 98% from every nook and cranny in naija (well except in KD i.e.)….so yes I agree we do have a loooooooong way to go.

    • gad
      October 27, 09:04 Reply

      I don’t know why I’m very optimistic that we will soon get there.

  7. Peak
    October 27, 06:59 Reply

    Am 100% with dennis on this one, the average nigerian live in a world built of religious/traditional delusion, we rather hide behind something than own up, face our fears or take responsibility. You even have gay people who look down or tear others down just to make them feel better themselves. A change will come? Yes! But I don’t see it anytime soon.

    • Max
      October 27, 07:28 Reply

      “a world built of religious/traditional delusion”…

      I like that..

  8. Brian Collins
    October 27, 07:59 Reply

    As much as i hate to, i have to disagree with Dennis on this one *love you Dennis* but not all nigerians are hypocrites. I have seen it for myself. In the past, if i had been part of the survey, i may have been part of that 98% but not now that i know what i stand for and believe me many people straight and gay now know what they stand for.
    To buttress this, after a lot of my straight friends watched the video of ‘same love’, a very homophobic one stated that he hated macklemore cos of that song and he got rebuffed by another who didn’t see anything wrong. Then the discussions started and a poll was taken, ‘what would you do if you had a gay relative?’ and i was shocked at how many of then were tolerant. Then another asked ‘what if one of us is gay, what then’? The first answer gave me hope, he said, ‘i love all of you guys like my brother, if anyone decided that he is going to be gay i wouldn’t love him less’, i knew then that if i was going to come out to them he would be the first to know.
    I believe strongly that there are a lot of enlightened people like this out there.

    • king
      October 27, 08:12 Reply

      Yes Brian I believe but hmmm baby steps dear baby steps….

      • Brian Collins
        October 27, 09:04 Reply

        I know king, but babies become toddlers and then teenagers and then adults. They grow up.

    • gad
      October 27, 13:17 Reply

      Hopefully we are getting there. We sure will

  9. s_sensei
    October 27, 10:51 Reply

    according to statistics, nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world. Nigeria also happens to be one of the most corrupt. Again, Nigeria is one of the most homophobic. You can either doubt the statistics or just go ahead and see the obvious. Religion can coexist with corruption. We are the proof. Religion and homophobia can also coexist. Hatred is a core element of homophobia. Therefore a religion of “love” can coexist with an ideology that is based on hatred.
    Christianity should make a person TOLERANT but in Nigeria it makes us INTOLERANT.
    This demonstrates beyond doubt that Christianity as far as Nigeria is concerned is a FAILURE. For by their FRUITS you shall know them. In our country honesty and tolerance are inversely related to religion. This should make people who claim to be christians WORRIED. But no! They chose to live in denial. Don’t only questions statistics when it goes contrary to your beliefs. That’s called BIAS. These statistics are quoted in reputable sources globally. Some countries are thought to be tolerant and you don’t question it. But when they say you are intolerant you at that point conveniently remember to question the source. Biko, get real!

    • Khaleesi
      October 27, 11:06 Reply

      God!! Sensei, your brains give me the type of major orgasm that not even the hottest man with the largest d**k can … you took the words right out of my mouth! Religion is doing much more harm than good to our society. A lot of Nigerians feel like they can be as wicked and cruel and corrupt and bigoted as they wish after all, on friday or sunday they flock to the churches or mosques and ‘confess’ their sins and the slate is wiped clean. They can begin the cycle all over again in a vicious never ending hypocritic cycle …which is why when you look at it closely, the clergy is in bed having a wild orgy with the political class while they plunder the country. .. which is why a lot of my friends hate me for my vocal condemnation of the hypocricy of religion – not like I care! ***flips new weave***

    • pinkpanthertb
      October 27, 11:12 Reply

      Something about your comment strikes me. Christianity, which is supposed to make one tolerant, makes Nigerians intolerant. The irony there is something else. As is in when you consider how religion, which is supposed to make a people better, has failed to do right by us as a nation.
      This country is one big irony, aswear.

  10. Khaleesi
    October 27, 10:55 Reply

    The following portions caught my attention:
    1. In most of the West, it is no longer socially acceptable to be homophobic. True that! In decades to come, these homophobic Nigerians will bury their head (led by their hypocritic homophobic clergy) when they remember how homophobic and narrow-minded they were in the past … mark my words!

    2. Although religion is a barrier to tolerance—the more pious a society, by and large, the less enthusiastic it is about gay rights—it is not an insuperable one: plenty of devout nations, such as the Philippines and the United States, are friendly to gays these days. This explodes the idiotic theory being bandied about in Nigeria that gays bring evil and destruction to society. Furthermore, Italy (home to the holy roman catholic church) upholds and protects gay rights, in Britain (our former colonial master/mistress from whom we derived our Christianity), is a global champion for gay rights, indeed many of our oppressed gays have found refuge there, Isreal (where the holy bible was scripted and cast) does mot yet permit gays to marry, but gay rights as well as gay civil partnerships are protected by their laws. Abeg who is fooling who?

    What could help spread tolerance? If the past half-century is any guide, the prime movers will be gay people themselves. The more visible they are, the more normal they will seem. These days 75% of Americans say they have gay friends or colleagues, up from only 24% in 1985. But it is hard to be the first to come out in a country where that means prison or worse.
    We all know that there are now more gays than ever before in Nigeria, but in my opinion, gays are their own worst problem. A lot of gays have deeply internalized homophobia and ignorance to an alarming degree. They would be thr first to condemn and criticize any gay who attempts to think about coming out. Nevertheless, mo westerner is going to come here and do it for us, the change must be home grown!!! But I also acknowledge that the homophobic hate and bigotry are too colossal to surmount … so pack your bags and flee!! The change you wish for is at least 70 – 100 years away … you certainly dont want to be old and wrinkled by the time you can hold your boyfriend’s hand in the streets of lagos or abuja as you both lurch on arthritic knees leaning heavily on walking sticks …

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