Thursday, January 24, 2008

British Social Attitudes Survey (2)

What I was about to mention from the British Social Attitudes Survey yesterday, when I was rudely interrupted by my own digressive rant, was changes in attitudes to homosexuality.
How you regard the Survey depends on your disposition. The Guardian always presents its results in a positive light. The onward march of tolerance, etc. It's the Whig view of history: a single direction of travel towards greater liberalism and enlightenment. "This is Nirvana. This train terminates here. Please make sure you leave any reactionary baggage behind. Thank you for travelling with the forces of progress."

The Survey results over the years do indeed show increasing acceptance of homosexuality and greater liberalism on many other issues. But I don't take quite such a sanguine view as The Guardian and much depends on the semantics of the questions asked and how you interpret and present the answers.
32% of people think homosexuality is always or mostly wrong. That's down from 75% in 1987.
Twice as many people say same sex couples can be as committed to each other as a man and a woman (63%).

Is there an inconsistency there? Not necessarily. For what some people are saying is: yes, same sex couples can be in love and committed to each other but it's still always or mostly wrong. Hmm. Sounds like that could be the Christians. They seldom deny the fact of homosexuality and many don't deny that love can be involved but anything physical and eternal hellfire awaits.
But going back to the first statistic, it's a chastening thought for a gay person that almost a third of your fellow citizens think your sexuality is always or mostly wrong. It proves what I have always argued: that although social attitudes have changed, they still lag behind the legal changes of recent years. And that the metropolitan middle classes have an exaggerated idea of levels of acceptance nationally.

The key word there is 'metropolitan'. This isn't really a class issue. It cuts across class divisions. Some of the people I've met who were most accepting of homosexuality have been working class, happily letting their sons bring boyfriends home for the night. Some of the people I've met who were most intolerant of homosexuality have also been working class, kicking their sons out on to the street. No doubt you would find the same wide range of attitudes within the middle classes.

The mystery in the Survey (and I haven't read the full report, only The Guardian summary) is this curious distinction between 'always' and 'mostly' wrong. Apparently only one in five people think homosexuality is 'always' wrong. But if you add in those who think it is 'mostly' wrong, you reach that figure of 32%.
One longs to ask those people who think it is 'mostly' wrong, in what small number of cases it is 'right'. Is it OK if you're a famous celebrity like Elton John or a TV presenter like Graham Norton but not OK if you're Tom and Bill holding hands in the local pub or your kid's schoolteacher or your GP?

There's a parallel here with racism which is still more deeply entrenched than most of us care to acknowledge. An elderly neighbour said to me recently: "We're the wrong colour, you and I". I was tempted to quote Chris Rock's comment to an audience: "there's not one white person in this room who would want to swap places with me.......and I'm rich."
The survey reveals that 36% of people think measures to promote equal opportunities for black and asian people have gone too far (my italics).
Not 'preferential treatment' or 'greater opportunities than white people' but 'equal opportunities'.

Let's put it the other way round, for this is what's being said: 'black and asian people should not have equal opportunities with white people; they should have less oportunities.'
They should go to the back of the queue, you might say. Which isn't a million miles from the back of the bus.
Of course, today they'll often be driving the bus. But that's because there's such a shortage of bus drivers that some bus companies are shipping in eastern Europeans as drivers. But that's all right. They're white. So most people think they qualify for equal treatment. Some of them may well be gay. Many gay Poles have fled the current, oppressive Polish regime.
Maybe the next survey could ask: Is it always or mostly wrong for your bus to be driven by a gay Pole?
Hang on.
What's that on the digital display board?
The no 69 service to racial and sexual equality is running approximately 30 years behind schedule. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.


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