This joke sends the message that being gay is something to be ashamed of, with horrible effects for actual queer people, says transgender writer Lee Hurley
With both eyes closed and one hand gently caressing the face of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump leans in for a passionate kiss with the object of his obsessive affections. Its a hilarious image, right? Two men who imperil the lives of queer people on a daily basis would hate to be seen as gay. Its their biggest fear, so its funny to pretend they are gay to annoy them. Genius. It cant be homophobic to imply that Putin and Trump are gay for each other, were told, because the people making the joke are woke lefties who simply adore us queers. Heck, they even have some of us round for tapas in the summer. This is an ally action weve got your back, Jack.
Can I just say: if this is how youre going to go about it, its better that you didnt.
Whichever way you spin it, the result is the same: homophobia. The joke only works if being a member of the queer community is regarded as inferior or less than even if thats supposed to reflect the view of the butt of said joke. If you dont make that assumption, its pretty pointless. Like depicting them as brothers.
Trump and Putin, like so many others, may fear being gay but every time you joke that they are, you reinforce the validity of that fear, not only to them, but to the rest of society. Yes, you say, being gay is something to be ashamed of. If it wasnt, why would so many use it to make fun of people they hate so much?
Its too easy to say, its a just a joke. In one online debate, I saw a seemingly intelligent person argue that theyd rather worry about people dying than hurt feelings, as if homophobia had never killed a single person. Whats even worse is that queer people are saying its offensive yet are being told we just dont get it, as if were new to homophobia. Words matter and when youve grown up fearing abuse every day of your life, its hard to see what there is to chuckle about here. If you havent, it can be a struggle to grasp that concept.
As societies around the world roll back queer protections, it is more important than ever to ensure we dont reinforce the view that homosexuality (or any part of the rainbow) is something shameful. Stop making it acceptable to laugh at queer people, no matter who they are.
Trump and Putin arent damaged by this mockery, but real queer people are. The young queer person sitting at home watching the news, wondering how they are going to tell their religious parents that they are that way. The homeless LGBTQ person walking down a street in New York seeing a depiction of Putin or Trump as gay and hating themselves a little more because of it. Thats who youre hurting, not two world leaders who dont care what you put on your posters.
Stonewall reports that the percentage of LGBT people experiencing hate crimes because of their sexual orientation rose from 9% in 2013 to 16% in 2017. It believes four out of five attacks go unreported. Its not just direct abuse that affects the lives of queer people. Casual homophobia in our society means one in 10 have been discriminated against when looking for somewhere to live, one in six when going out for meal or a drink, one in three when trying to worship and one in 10 at a sporting event.
Everywhere queer people go, they face the very real consequences of a society that treats being queer as the punchline to a joke. To you its funny. To us its our lives.
Lee Hurley is a transgender writer from Belfast
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