Alex Massie

The Guardian gets it wrong! Surprise!

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Homophobia Rife In British Society, Landmark Equality Survey Finds screams the Guardian's headline. Really? Well, up to a point:

Britain's 3.6 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people see themselves confronted by huge barriers of prejudice at every level of society, according to the first authoritative poll of their views.

The poll, commissioned by the equality charity Stonewall, which said some public bodies were too "smug" about their record on discrimination, indicates that the schoolyard is the most entrenched bastion of prejudice.

The YouGov poll of 1,658 gay adults found homophobic bullying in schools is more prevalent now than in previous decades. Around 30% of lesbian and gay people expect to encounter discrimination if they were to try to enrol a child at primary or secondary school, and 80% believe they would have difficulty if they were to apply to become a school governor.

The NHS, police and courts are doing better than the education system in combating discrimination. However, a significant minority of gay people expect to be treated less well at a GP surgery or during an emergency admission to hospital.

One in four think they will be treated less fairly by police if they become a victim of hate crime, while one in five expect to find it harder than a heterosexual person to get social housing, and nine in 10 expect barriers to becoming a foster parent.

The poll also suggested prejudice is endemic in political life, with most lesbian and gay people expecting discrimination if they seek selection by a party to run for parliament. Nearly nine in 10 think they would face such barriers from the Conservative party, 61% from the Labour party and 47% from the Liberal Democrats.

I neither doubt nor dismiss the idea that prejudice exists. But this is actually an area in which it might be more profitable to note how far British society has come. Assuming that the survey's data is accurate and representative, 80% of gays don't believe they'll be treated any less fairly by the police, 75% foresee no housing problems etc etc. Since homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1963 the wonder is less that discrimination persists but that it should be at such a relatively low level so soon. Not perfect by any means, but not a tale of woe either.

And of course the Guardian's headline is comically wrong anyway, the survey does not "find" that homophobia is rife it reveals that gays and lesbians expect to encounter discrimination based upon their sexual-orientation. Which is not the same thing at all.

Consider this too:

Of those polled, two-thirds of lesbian and gay people under 19 said they were bullied at school on grounds of sexuality, compared with half of those aged 35-44 and only a quarter of those over 55.

This is not, despite what you're supposed to believe a terrible thing. Setting aside how many teenagers can have been polled in a survey of 1,658 people across the country, it's pretty obvious that this statistic has nothing to do with teenage prejudice or bullying but much more with teenagers greater willingness - and ability - to come out as gay compared to their parents' or grandparents' generations. Of course few 60 year old gay men were bullied as teenagers since few of them will have been likely to reveal their sexual preferences. Despite the scary figures then this "increase" in bullying is actually a sign of progress and increased tolerance rather than an (improbable) indication that British teenagers are keener on gay-bashing now than their counterparts were 50 years ago.

But that wouldn't be as dramatic a story...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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