here’s no going back

By Charles Flores
Malta Independent

The gay community and its sympathisers all over the world are up in arms following Pope Benedict XVI’s less than kind reference to their cause at a time when they thought they had breached the bastions of utter contempt and obvious prejudice in civilised society. As with other trends and social commotions, the issue has also had its repercussions among us, living as we undoubtedly are in a horrific haven of conservatism.

The fact that there have been exponents of the local gay scene who have had the courage of their convictions, and publicly declared their disgust at the attitude of the Catholic Church, can perhaps be described as an isolated pot shot on behalf of those, gay or not, who genuinely believe there can be no going back to when society could, at will, victimise innocent, law-abiding and tax-paying people whose only “crime” was their different sexual orientation.

The Pope’s recent utterance sent shivers down the spines of liberal people everywhere. It also, perhaps all too quickly and perhaps it was rather far-fetched, re-ignited fears from well over half a century ago about the fate of gay people even in the 21st century. The horrors committed in Nazi Germany against gay people form a substantial part of the whole concentration camp human tragedy best projected in the media and Hollywood films by its millions of Jewish victims, but which also included socialists, communists, trade-unionists and other progressive social players at that shameful moment in time in world history.

Suffice to say that even at the end of World War II in Europe, when the Allies finally reached the concentration camps and frantically tried to bring back some sanity to those poor people’s lives. However, the gays imprisoned in those horrible places of torture and death were not released as were the rest of the thousands of other skeletal inmates. And why? Because gays were still considered taboo then and “a danger to society”, even by the democratic forces of the time. While the Jews and the Left wing progressive elements of those camps were freed and underwent a personal rehabilitation programme, gays were sent directly to prisons in their respective countries. Freedom was won, but not for everyone.

Justice has never been an accessible realm for them, alas. The refreshing changes that occurred during the Sixties had their obvious effect on the gay scene. People suddenly were no longer afraid to reveal their sexual orientation, no doubt a welcome offshoot of the generally happy and peaceful scene that nurtured the back-to-nature trends of the period, the flower-in-your-hair mentality, the anti-war movement and the awesome realisation that society’s rules could after all be changed for the better. They were, which is why the first openly gay media, mostly newspapers and magazines, came to be, and then gaining strength and recognition all through the Seventies and Eighties.

The backlash, however, was inevitable. Society’s forces of darkness have since been waiting for the chance to hit back. The Sixties and Sixties people were never forgiven. Even on the local front there have been politicians, one or two of them still active in the public domain, who openly insisted that the liberal wave of the Sixties had been a “negative” event and therefore needed to be reversed. It is a view held by conservatives and the Right everywhere, including the European Union where we have also had the minority of Nationalist MEPs voting very strangely on gay issues, stuck as they are within the primitive groove of the so-called popular party set-up.

At a time when gays were finally feeling safe in the knowledge that the world no longer sees them as criminals or dangerous human beings, even in ultra-conservative Malta that is still without a divorce law, let alone same-sex marriage, out comes the head of the universal Catholic Church to abruptly drive them back into persecution mode.

As it has done over so many centuries, during which the wrongs of the time – from the relation of earth to the sun and the importance of Church-State separation – were soon found to be right, the Catholic Church continues to resist life’s progressive needs, which include a change in mentality with regard to people of a different sexual orientation. While tactics have changed from utter arrogance to obvious soft-soaping, the message remains the same: the Church is against, the Church dictates, the Church does not want change, the Church refuses to move forward, the Church is not open to everyone, the Church prefers to live in the past.

A former member of Hitler Youth, Pope Benedict XVI chose to use words that hurt those who have been hoping for so long that they can one day feel they belong to the Catholic Church. To be made to feel excluded, as openly as gay people were in Nazi Germany (there were many closet ones within the Fuhrer arm’s reach!), gays today are rightly angered. They have won and continue to win many a civil battle, but on the religious front they seem caught in a downward spiral, which not only reverses the clock, but also creates a new danger: conservative governments and conservative politicians.

When politicians need the psychological assistance of church and churchmen, they are only too willing to stop the movement for social change and so stay within the happy and warm embrace of those who can assure them of votes and power. If the leader of an important world religion chooses to “halt the wave”, obliging politicians are expected to toe the line and join in the race back to the prejudice and injustice of many decades past.

Maltese society at large has changed, as we have seen from decisions taken in our Law Courts where such cases as sex-reassignment procedures are concerned and the attitude to gays in general in the villages and towns, but there is still so much to be done. As expected, the Bishops have come out repeating and amplifying the Pope’s recent stance, soft-soap and all. But there’s no going back. I honestly believe Malta has gone past the stage where people can be made to do and believe things that are contrary to their nature. All that was lost in the Sixties when the progressive forces on the island were ready to forfeit power until society was mature enough to accept their ideas and proposals for a fairer, more positive secular life. They were vindicated in the early Seventies when this nation finally leaped into what was still then the 20th century.

To even think of taking us back to where we were at that time would be an insult and I am sure the vast majority of people do not think it can be done. Hopefully, it is the same all over the world. Spain has shown it has the resolve to resist, the Scandinavians do not even worry about it, the British remain steadfast in their own special ways and the Americans, well, they have overwhelmingly voted Barack Obama in. So it’s not all bleak, after all.

I am sure gays and believers in human rights everywhere hope the Church too has its own Obama ready and willing and who will one day guide it back into humane ways.

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