On Tuesday 8 July 2014, the States of Jersey approved an amendment by Senator Ian le Marquand to the proposition to allow same-sex marriage that had been brought by Deputy Sam Mezec. The amendment effectively stalled the progress towards equal marriage in Jersey by making it subject to a consultation by the Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst. Apparently, many of those who voted for the amendment did so because of the immoderate language being used by supporters of the original bill. The words “homophobia” and “homophobic” were used on more than one occasion to describe others with opposing views.
On the very same day, Trans* Jersey received two emails from trans* islanders, independently, reporting that they had been the victims of abuse and assault. In both cases, they were physically at risk of injury. In both cases, the attacks were simply because the victims were trans*. As you can imagine, Tuesday was not a good day for me.
However, the two reports put the States’ debate into perspective and meant that I did not vent my disappointment over the States’ decision by calling-out politicians on Facebook or Twitter as some did. Apart from acknowledging that there might have been any number of reasons why a States’ member voted against same-sex marriage, such as feeling ill-prepared for the debate, there is another reason why all of us should be moderate in our response to setbacks in the struggle for equal marriage.
Nobody in the States’ chamber on Tuesday was homophobic. Those who have been the victims of homophobia, transphobia or biphobia know it when they see it. *Phobia isn’t an off-colour joke or a misuse of a pronoun or a disagreement over equal marriage. It is a deep-seated hatred of LGBT people that makes a person capable of acts of verbal or physical cruelty to the target of his or her hate. Until you have been the victim of a hate crime, you cannot know *phobia. There is something in the eyes, something in the tone of voice, that LGBT people recognise as *phobic. It’s when the adrenalin starts pumping and the body goes into fight or flight mode.
When a white, heterosexual, male calls people who don’t share his political view on same-sex marriage “homophobic”, he needs to be very careful. Overuse and misuse of any word can remove its power. Homophobia, transphobia and biphobia are important words to the LGBT community for they are they only way we have of describing the most heinous of crimes against us. These words must not be cheapened by those who are unlikely ever to be the target of a homophobic, transphobic or biphobic attack.
I would like to say to our allies: thank you for your support, thank you for fighting for equality for us, thank you for being allies, but please be careful of the language that you use when you speak on our behalf.
And then, on Saturday 12 July 2014, this happened. Estimates of the number of people who turned out vary but there were certainly hundreds, possibly 1,000 people there. King Street was filled with love, pride and lots of rainbows for what was Jersey’s first ever LGBTQ rights march or equality rally or pride parade. In the end, nobody was sure what it was and, actually, it didn’t seem to matter. We were there to show that we exist. Every human population has an LGBT community. Visible or forced underground, it is there. Our detractors conveniently forget that fact but, sometimes, we do too and when we do, even an island of 9 miles by 5 miles where “everyone knows everyone”, can seem like a lonely place. Saturday was about reminding ourselves that we aren’t alone, that there are others like us, others who also share our desire for equality.
Rallies often don’t accomplish much but this one felt different. This one felt like a moment of change. Maybe because, during the week, the feelings of anger towards the States for their decision dissipated and were replaced with a feeling of solidarity. I thank the organisers of Saturday’s event for being the catalyst that brought us all together in Liberation Square. Every LGBT person in Jersey now knows, for sure, that there is a community here to which they belong and who will stand up for their beliefs in a fair and equal society.