Last week, the UK Supreme Court was reviewing the appeals of two gay asylum seekers against Home Office decisions to repatriate them despite the persecution they face, in Iran and Cameroon respectively, for their sexuality.
The refusal rate for applications for asylum by homosexuals is 98%, against the general rate of 75%; this is a shocking indictment of the latent homophobia in British attitudes, and makes a mockery of our claims to liberalism and tolerance.
The UK asylum policy, which says that homosexuals can be refused sanctuary because they should be able to act with ‘discretion’ at home and thus avoid persecution, is part of the tenacious myth that pertains in society that sexuality is a matter of choice, an indulgence.
There is nothing more frustrating and belittling for a gay person than to have our identity dismissed as a middle class luxury, or worse, a bid for attention.
It is probably true that homosexuality finds greater expression in a middle class demographic, but that is not to say it is an artifice borne of bourgeois sexual decadence, as some have claimed, or a luxury facilitated by a robust Western economy; rather, it is only natural that a liberal, educated society should be more accepting of diversity.
Coming to terms with one’s sexuality is in fact often an extremely difficult and alienating process, and one which is consequently avoided by many.
It takes admirable bravery for a citizen of Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, to openly express his sexuality, and as a country claiming to stand for freedom and fairness, we are sadly remiss if we trivialise this.
It is true that homosexuals enjoy legal equality with heterosexuals in the UK – and it would be a disservice to understate the progress made in the past decade by Labour, who repealed Section 28, lowered the age of consent for homosexuals to match that of heterosexuals, and introduced civil partnerships, allowing same-sex couples equal housing, inheritance, tax and hospital visiting rights as heterosexuals.
These measures are a salutary reminder of the best aspects of the left-wing tradition in Britain. But the fact is that equality remains nominal, and the attitudes of many people lag behind the progressive policies passed at the top end.
It is still normal for the media to characterise homosexuality as something of a quirk: in soap operas, a storyline with a gay person coming out or (more often) making a pass at their best friend is one of the generic taboos hoisted up the flagpole of popular morality, to be waved about garishly for a week or two before retreating flaccidly into the fringes alongside the drug-taking, abortions, affairs and questioned paternities.
The latest episode of Desperate Housewives indicates the development of a titillating storyline involving a lesbian stripper and a jilted ‘housewife’ disillusioned with dating men.
I can predict with near certainty how this plotline will develop: Katherine Mayfair, the ‘housewife’ in question, will embark on a frivolous relationship with the stripper and will be discovered by a neighbour, who will react either with outrage or sassy dismissal.
The gossip will spread around the community, and a depressing compromise will be met whereby the ‘housewives’ en masse agree to laissez-faire acceptance, whilst retaining their inherent repulsion at the anti-suburbanness of the lipstick lesbian in their midst.
Eventually, Katherine will realise she was dating another woman as a way of coping with her rejection by the burly plumber next door, and will fall into the arms of a macho suitor, having exorcised her demons with a timely dose of Sapphic capering.
For all its advantages, the metrosexual trend of the past decade or two has served to represent homosexuality in the popular perception as something of a commercial branding; the homosexuality identity is, to many, just an extreme example of conspicuous consumption.
It is not uncommon for teenagers to ‘experiment’ with homosexuality, often as a rite of passage which, like smoking or wearing provocative clothing, is an expression of image rather than actual preference.
The explosion of the online pornography market has exacerbated this reductive attitude regarding lesbianism. The target audience of much ‘lesbian’ pornography – itself created in the context of a patriarchal economy – is overwhelmingly heterosexual and male, which means that sexuality is viewed in an overtly sexual way.
What is arguably more offensive than outright scorn is the demeaning objectification of same-sex relationships with the expectation that lesbianism exists for external sexual gratification.
The fact is that despite surface changes to attitudes towards homosexuality in this country, there is still much ground to be gained, and this is expressly the case when it comes to the sincerity with which sexuality is taken.
The fact that political and religious refugees can gain asylum where homosexual refugees cannot is an explicit example of this institutionalised bigotry.
Until such time as same-sex relationships are no longer rendered comical, sexual, or frivolous by media and (implicitly) law and policy, the pernicious belief that sexuality is a choice or something that can be modified or concealed will persist.
This will condemn untold numbers of homosexuals to lives of suppression and unhappiness as they fail to find love and feel compelled to conform to a gender model that is far more entrenched than surface changes in law would suggest.
And let us not forget: as well as freedom of speech and assembly, a democratic society is characterised fundamentally by freedom of expression.