Sunday, 28 December 2008

Gay care home residents have a right to express their memories too

Posted on Independent Minds, 28 December 2008

There’s an article in the Mail on Sunday today which does everything I detest about the Mail newspapers. It makes up an issue out of nothing, manipulates headlines in order to generate as much outrage as possible, and treats gay people as less than human. The headline to the piece is Home for retired missionaries loses grant - because it won't ask residents if they are lesbians.

What happened was this: Brighton & Hove has reduced funding to a Christian care home for the elderly, because it wouldn’t demonstrate that it was an inclusive community. Residents were not forced to declare their adherence, or otherwise, to the charms of lesbianism.

I can imagine how a council officer could turn a genuinely important enquiry - does this care home, which is a recipient of public money, meet the needs of all of Brighton’s residents? - into an exercise in officious form-filling. But that’s not the point. Brighton & Hove council didn’t demand that residents announce their orientation against their will, and nor, pace the Mail’s hysteria, did it force an enquiry into their current or previous sexual histories. The points are these:

  • Gay people are as likely to be residents of care homes, per capita, as anyone else.
  • All of us fund care homes through the fees paid by Councils.
Some of ‘all of us’, at least, are gay, and have a vested interest in learning whether or not our money is being spent appropriately. Appropriately, in this situation (for the benefit of MoS readers) means according gay residents the same amount of dignity as would be accorded anyone else. Any care home which refuses to contemplate the very existence of homosexual residents is clearly not meeting this appropriate requirement and should forfeit its claim to taxpayers’ money.

If you think I’m over-reacting, read this:

[Phil Wainwright, director of human resources for Pilgrim Homes] said: ‘We have every reason to believe that we have given places to gay Christians, and no questions were ever asked.’

I read this to mean: we tolerate homosexuals living here, so long as they shut up about their love lives prior to their arrival. They’ll be expected to keep their mouths shut when other people talk about their marriages, and not disgrace our Christian ethos by correctly labelling their relationship with anyone who comes to visit them.

Not a penny of my money, thank you, to fund an organisation which believes that asking ‘no questions’ of the people in its care is an adequate discharge of its Christian ethos.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine

Posted on CentreRight on 23 December 2008

The Pope has said that saving people from homosexuality is as important as saving the rainforests ... something like that was the first thing I heard this morning, weaving my way back to consciousness, to the headlines on Today. I look at Keith. He looks at me. Is the tea ready?

Yes, this is going to be personal, but I don't think that matters, in fact it might be important. Some Christian leaders say these things, I think,  because - unlike the wholly wonderful Archbishop of Canterbury - they think that a focus on the bigger picture is more important than consideration of individuals. When the leading Vatican official in October described homosexuality as a deviation, an irregularity, a wound I imagine he was thinking of the bigger picture, and not about all the individuals he must know who are physical manifestations of this deviation, this irregularity, this wound.
The bigger picture goes something like this: God determined that we would have two genders, and that only single couples formed from one of each of those genders would sexually couple, and then only for the reason of reproduction. Therefore, any deviation from this pattern is a sin, is sinful, and ... this is where it breaks down a bit ... homosexuality is particularly wrong, almost uniquely so in the universe of pathology, probably because it mimics a bit too closely for comfort the ideal model. I've written elsewhere that we make too big a fetish of our biological variability, and that such a fetish leads to the growth of Identity Politics (one thing the Pope and I can agree upon).

OK but let's give the Pope's ideas a go. Let's do a thought experiment. Turn left. Rewind the clock. Let's start the day again, but without the homosexuality:

The Pope has said that saving people from homosexuality is as important as saving the rainforests ... something like that was the first thing I heard this morning, weaving my way back to consciousness, to the headlines on Today. I look at Keith. He looks at me. What are you doing in my bed?

Err, I dunno, sorry, some sort of an irregularity. Won't happen again. He leaves for work. He leaves for good, of course. The path of this good man's life, which is spent in acts of duty and care to others, leads to ... nothing. An empty bed and a solitary grave. None I think do there embrace. At least he's free of being a wound, an irregularity or a deviation.

I find an article I once wrote, about waking from a nightmare, with the sweat of the dread on my brow. I'm sure it once ended: It's OK. Not alone. Not alone. Now it ends: Alone. Leafing through the photo albums I find all these blank spaces, where holidays didn't happen, families weren't visited, children weren't loved, weddings didn't happen, connections weren't made. Only disconnect. 

Fast forward a few years, and the stability which my psychology requires having vanished, my life goes off the rails. I catch my last glimpse of Keith while I'm waiting in the GP surgery to have my blood pressure checked. I see his large frame pass by the window, taking his dog to the park. The affection of dogs for humans, and vice versa, mercifully left uncontaminated by doctrinal urging.

This experiment has to end now, sorry. Not alone. Not alone.


There is no bigger picture. You, and how you interact with the people who are close to you, are all that matters in this world. All you can change is all you can know and all you can touch. I think this is part of what Dr Williams was saying in his wonderful article earlier in the week. The Pope can wish the love I have for Keith out of existence if he wishes: if he could do it, if he could wipe the world free of my deviation, my irregularity, my wound, the only outcome would be a reduction in the amount of love on the Earth. Is that the church's message to the planet?

You probably know that the title of this piece comes from the work of a certain lady, whose humanity and complex thinking about human beings had such an impact on my early life. The picture on the right is the portrait by Tom Phillips, which you can see at the National Portrait Gallery, if it's still hanging. One of her sentences occurs to me every day, because I believe it to be very true. It's my credo, if you like. In the end, all our failures are failures of love. I am very imperfect, and my life is filled with many such failures, but my love for the good man who shares his life with me is not one of them.

Merry Christmas everybody.