Why Jan Moir brings out the Mill in me
It is appropriate that, in a week that saw Jan Moir roundly condemned for her bizarre coroner-defying reappraisal of the life and death of Stephen Gately, the House of Lords should be debating new rules on what counts as ‘hate speech’ when it comes to a person’s sexual orientation. Now, in the case of Ms Moir, we must accept her forthright denial of homophobia – it would be ungenerous not to – but the responses that her column provoked help to illustrate how unnecessary any further legal protection is.
The Government is attempting to remove the right to ‘discuss and criticise’ sexual behaviour – an exemption that means that a person, whilst prevented from calling for injury or harm to gay men for example, is entitled to disagree with the morality of homosexuality in general. It is, in effect, a civilising piece of law which (in a typically British sort of way) allows one to say hateful things so long as one says them calmly and refrains from calling for some sort of ‘purge’. It passed into law as an amendment, supported by backbenchers from all parties but opposed by the Government, which is now trying to get rid of it entirely.
I’m sure that this is being done for exemplary reasons. As a gay man it is heart-warming to know that my Government would seek to protect me from the undeniable hurt caused by overt criticism of my lifestyle. But, as the backlash against Jan Moir’s comments has shown (the PCC has received 21,000 complaints which, apparently, is a record), the truth is that we can stand up for ourselves. What’s more, the outrage of writers and commentators such as Charlie Brooker points to a populace that recognises hate speech when it sees it.
In an era when gay people are strong and vocal enough to face down contempt we risk undermining hard won freedoms by becoming precious about our lives. The truth is that, in my experience, we are not persistently oppressed or victimised – if we continue to act as if we are, and require the associated protections, then we end up looking like bullies who refuse to let the huddled ranks of our frightened critics speak. Let them, and then we can celebrate the fact that the British public have turned their back on public homophobia for good.