Mann: Chief Minister ‘Draws a Line’ Under Dark Days of Gay Prejudice

NEWS FROM THE CELTIC LEAGUE

Gay rights if they needed a fillip in the Isle of Man certainly got it this week.

The Chief Minister, Allan Bell, started the week by saying same sex marriage legislation would be brought forward in this legislative session and went on in an interview with the Guardian in the UK to ‘come out’!

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/05/isle-of-man-legalise-gay-marriage

The fact that Allan Bell is gay is probably the least well kept secret in the Isle of Man but Bell explained away his decision not to publicly acknowledge the fact by saying:

“People know that I’m gay. I’ve never made a secret of it, but no one has ever asked me,”

Well that’s not strictly correct and the reason perhaps that the Chief Minister is so ‘diplomatic’ about it becomes apparent as you read the article in which whilst trying to show that the Island has taken a quantum leap forward from the dark days of bigotry two and half decades ago he touches on the attitudes that prevailed then.

The Chief Minister talks of how it felt to be on the receiving end of ant-gay bigotry in the House of Keys saying of one debate:

“It was disgusting. I felt dirty at the end of it. I felt for a period ashamed to be Manx because of the debate that was going around. You can read the Hansard now but you won’t be able to feel the emotion of being on the receiving end of those words in a parliamentary setting.”

In that debate one MHK (now dead) continually hissed at Bell ‘declare yourself’ the same individual likened gay people to little better than farm yard animals.

Its hard to appreciate now how isolated the gay community must have felt but I recall some of the pressures because gay people at that time came to Transport House which as well as being the HQ of the TGWU was also the base for the Manx Council for Civil Liberties of which I was a member.

When gay rights activist Alan Shea organised a meeting with a speaker from UK campaign group Stonewall I chaired it, not as first choice I hasten to add but, because it was difficult for them to find someone prepared to do it.

There were also the personal stories like the man hounded by police after being arrested in a public lavatory – not a jot of evidence that he was up to anything untoward but ‘they had their suspicions’. Yes! two and a half decades ago our singularly inept police force devoted a fair amount of its time to persecuting gay people.

Attitudes did not change overnight as is clear from Alan Shea’s story of being unable to find work for many years after the campaign to reform the law was successful. He had been the very vocal spokesman for a community living in fear so he continued to suffer.

Shea was able to publicise the issue but the media enthusiasm for reporting on gay issues was not exactly ‘crusading’, although to his credit David Callister (later an MLC) who at that time hosted the daily Manx Radio Mannin Line verbally demolished quite a few bigoted callers. The now deceased and forgotten satirist, John Herdman, also ‘eviscerated’ the bigots, including the late MHK mentioned above, in his Manx Independent cartoon strip christening the latter ‘Billy the bigot’.

I’ve known the Chief Minister, Allan Bell, since he was a nationalist in Mec Vannin nearly forty years ago he is a pragmatist. It is typical of him to use the Guardian interview as an opportunity to try to ‘draw a line’ under those dark days a quarter of a century ago but we would be foolish not to remember the wickedness exhibited towards gay people at that time.

I referred above to the gay ‘community’ they were however part of this community and we let them down for to long.

The antagonism towards gay people still exists and not just via the carefully measured opposition of the church to gay marriage. The same demons that were here not long ago are still around. They are less vocal mainly surfacing occasionally with snide remarks on the internet or bar room ‘banter’ but with us just the same!

BERNARD MOFFATT

Issued by: The Celtic News

06/10/15

THE CELTIC LEAGUE INFORMATION SERVICE

The Celtic League established in 1961 has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It promotes cooperation between the countries and campaigns on a range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, military activity and socio-economic issues

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