The Sultan of Brunei has announced that under new laws, acts of homosexuality will now be punishable by death. Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei and could land you a 10-year stint in prison, or 40 strokes of a cane. Brunei still has the death penalty though there hasn’t been an execution since 1957. Still, fears a running high, since Brunei’s ruling suggests a rekindling of the desire to start executing people again. The Sultan of Brunei justified this by saying, “I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger,” in a pathetic attempt to scapegoat an entire religion for his homophobic beliefs.
In response to this ruling, politicians have been asked for their thoughts on the matter. Mark Field, Conservative MP, claimed the Sultan of Brunei’s actions were a result of him getting “a little bit more devout as he got older.” He might as well have said, “boys will be boys,” with an ineffective shrug. Theresa May has also unsurprisingly failed to condemn the Sultan’s ruling, despite her moral obligation as the Prime Minister of a country that’s home to millions of gay people. No one seems to care. Could this have anything, anything at all, to do with the UK selling weapons to Brunei? And Brunei being a luxury holiday destination for the rich?
The work has now been left to celebrities like Ellen, Elton John, and straight allies like Geroge Clooney who have publicly called for a boycott of all the Sultan’s hotels and other properties. As brilliant as this show of solidarity is, it can’t just be left on celebrities to act. People’s lives are at stake, here, and the government are acting like holidays for the rich and arms trade are worth more.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced he’d be scrapping all the adverts for Brunei from London’s transport network. That’s great, but is this enough? Yes, it is something, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. The roots go far deeper than adverts for hotels most of us can’t afford to spend a night in, never mind be regular enough customers for a boycott to be effective.
Not long ago BBC’s Question Time hosted a debate centred around if it was ‘moral’ or not to teach kids about LGBT+ issues. Consider also that over the past few years, there’s been a surge in debates about whether it’s okay for a bakery to not sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples if the seller opposes same-sex marriage. It wasn’t long after states in the US were granted the right to not sell cakes to gay couples before estate agents started laying their claim to not sell houses to same-sex couples.
It’s easy to think that because these debates are so insane and ridiculous, that they’re inconsequential. Yet these debates act like a drip feeding into a wider pool of ignorance. And with the way cookies work on the internet, if you click on one anti-LGBT video, the next thing you know you’re down a Piers Morgan sized rabbit hole.
By allowing these debates so much air time, we’re validating the arguments whose undertones suggest that gay people maybe aren’t even human beings. Every time a homophobe is on GMB ‘debating’ against a gay person, we’re validating homophobia as if it’s an acceptable stance. It’s not hard to see the connection, here.
I’m not suggesting that we ban all homophobes from speaking, but they certainly shouldn’t be given an equal platform with the people who are victims of their violent and harmful rhetoric. Homophobia has consequences beyond the obvious, and we need to start recognising them before they reach Bruneian levels of brutality.
Despite how many steps forward we’ve made over the past few decades, Brunei’s ruling feels like a colossal step backwards for the LGBT+ community worldwide. Amongst political divides and “friendly” debates, We keep talking about protecting innocent children from gay people, as if by virtue of gay people existing they’re already guilty of something. As if being gay is a moral stain on humanity. We keep acting like it’s gay people our children need shielding from, and not homophobic, violent rhetoric, that strives to see human beings persecuted for no reason.
The problem is, even I’m guilty of sometimes believing their message. On my weaker days, I think maybe they’re right after all since so many people seem to agree. So many people – millions in fact – seem to genuinely believe that gay people shouldn’t exist. And then I remind myself how insane that is. Being anywhere on the sexuality spectrum from 100% gay to 100% straight is perfectly fine and morally neutral.
It’s absurd to me that even now in the 21st century, I sometimes have to remind myself that my existence and my community’s existence is not a problem. It’s malignant beliefs predicated on an irrational fear that are the problem. And whilst the Sultan of Brunei might use Islam as a scapegoat for his beliefs, we all know that it’s all just smoke and mirrors. There’s a huge difference between culture and faith and homophobia is a cultural problem.
It’s difficult to comprehend how the LGBT+ community in Brunei must be feeling right now. A gay Bruneian man told the Guardian, “The implementation [of the new laws] gives a lot of conservative people who are very homophobic a lot of power. It is more dangerous for people like me to go out now.” Another said, “It’s not the Brunei I know … The future isn’t bright, but it isn’t bleak either. We just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
You can’t kill an idea or stone it out of existence. Gay people exist and that’s that. You can’t just make being gay illegal. Gay people will and always have existed. The gay people of Brunei will simply be forced further underground than they were before. We have a moral obligation to bear witness to these happenings; if not only so we can learn from them and equip ourselves appropriately so we can work for the collective good. Despite the forces around the world trying to stop such a beautiful community from existing, we have to remind ourselves that love still wins.
Written by Rochelle Asquith