Article Title:Separate, but equal
Category:True Stories
Author or Credit:Chaz Harris
Published on:18th October 2011 - 09:01 am
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Story ID:10925
Text:When I first saw The Help in previews last month, I found it to be one of the most emotionally stirring movies I’ve ever seen. I went alone to a matinee screening at the Roxy Cinema in Miramar and was unknowingly in a fragile state of mind at the time. Quite unexpectedly, the film pressed all the right buttons in order for me to turn into a weeping mess for two hours. Since then, I’ve dragged my friends to see it in an effort to identify why it had such a powerful impact on me and I think I’ve finally reached a conclusion; I was projecting and relating my own experiences as a gay man onto the film. I’m not trying to equate what it’s like to be judged on skin colour with being gay, but there were some moments in the film that hit dangerously close to home for me. One of these scenes involved a character called Celia Foote stopping by a women’s gathering and knocking on the window, only to realise the other white women inside were obviously hiding to avoid her. Not so many years ago, I was that same person knocking on the window just wanting to be accepted by the popular kids at school and often finding myself humiliated in various ways instead. The villainous and bigoted character of Hilly Holbrook also reminded me of people like US Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann who reportedly owns a clinic that claims to be able to convert homosexuals. The fact that this woman is even being mentioned as a possible person running for President of the USA has disturbed me for a while now, no matter how extreme or irrelevant she appears to be, it still means a large number of people have already voted for her. When questioned on topics like gay marriage, Bachmann has now toned down her views and simply responds with the party line, “I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman”. For me, that response is what really highlights the core problem in the gay marriage debate; what someone believe and what the law should be are two totally different matters. People get angry about corporations controlling the government and changing or controlling laws, but what about the Church having the power to refuse people the same basic human rights as everyone else? Who gave the Church that kind of power and why should that still be the case in the 21st Century? The UK government’s recent move to legalise same-sex marriage is clear evidence of the anger it causes in religious groups, but how does it impact the Church or those who believe in The Bible if none of that is being changed? Marriage under the law is just a word that has come to be synonymous in society with love and commitment, just because that’s what it is called doesn’t mean it downgrades or impacts the value of anyone else’s marriage as they interpret the word in line with their own personal beliefs. Anyone putting their beliefs forward as a defense for not changing the law needs to understand that nobody wants to change or rewrite The Bible. It is, after all, a book that has no power over me or others unless it is believed to be the truth. Homosexuality might be a sin as stated in the scriptures, but so are many many other things that are allowed under the law at present. For example, not going to Church is considered a sin, but is that illegal? The Bible itself contains around 600 sins and I don’t have a problem with anyone who wants to believe in all of them, but their connection or influence on the law is inconsistent and that is a problem that needs changing and/or recognising. Let’s take a step back for a moment though. We have civil unions, right? Why can’t we just leave it at that since they give the same legal rights as marriage? Why bother with pushing for gay marriage at all? Why is it an issue worth bothering about? Why should political leaders still see it as a priority? In the Western world, we are all brought up with the notion and belief through parents, communities, consumerism and the mainstream media that getting married is the ultimate commitment and proclamation of love one person can make to another. If someone wishes to proclaim their love for and commit to someone of the same sex, they are not allowed to get married but they can be granted a civil union. They are still not being treated equally though since by definition a civil union is not called marriage and that sends the message that there is something different about them that doesn’t make the minority deserving of the same as the majority. Yes, on paper the two are being treated equally in some places, but in cultural terms the line in the sand is still very much drawn. LGBT youth are often easy targets for bullying. I spent five years going through it at High School and as such it is an issue very close to my heart. For many years, being called “a queer” and “gay” at school caused me to deny it and only after I had left when I was 16 did I actually realise that words I had been insulted with all those years were actually the truth. It is something that has had a lasting psychological effect on me in my adult life and although I have come to accept I am gay and there is nothing I can do to change that, it’s not something I have yet been able to fully embrace. Those years of my life in High School were the hardest ones to get through, every day I just told myself it was one less day I had to spend going through it all and that one day I would be achieving my filmmaking dreams. My dad would often tell me, “the greatest revenge is success”, a mantra I’ve kept with me throughout my life ever since. Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been had I not had that dream to cling on to though. Even with all that to focus on, I do remember drafting at least two suicide notes during my school years when things got really tough and spent frequent time off school pretending to be sick. Filmmaking was what stopped me from doing anything about it, but the fact that I even ended up in that head space is quite terrifying to me now. As such, whenever I see a story about a bullied LGBT teen in the news who ended their life I frequently find myself thinking, “that could have been me”. Bullying and ultimately the kind of bullying that leads to such tragic suicides come from living in a society or environment that makes a point of differentiating people who do not conform to the sexuality of the masses. If the law in any way treats people differently because of that, it is the first thing that needs to change. Coming back to The Help, because I really did have a point to make by mentioning it, there is a line spoken by Hilly Holbrook that sums up the catalyst for these problems quite succinctly: “Separate, but equal”. The current civil union and marriage laws are just that and act as a contributing factor to bullying and the resulting teen suicides we often see reported in the news. I look forward to a day when that quote can no longer be applied with regard to the rights of any LGBT person. Chaz Harris - 18th October 2011    
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