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How Can Conservatives Object to Protecting Gay Kids?

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I am exhausted. I have spent all week trying to brainwash small children into being gay, by relentlessly inserting homosexuality into their math, geography and science lessons. Their little eyes widened when the gay algebra lesson started, but it worked: Their concept of "normal sexual behavior" has been successfully destroyed. It's all part of the program brilliantly coordinated by the Homintern to imposed The Gay Agenda on Every Aspect of Life.

That, at least, is what you would believe if you had read some of Britain's bestselling newspapers this week, or listened to some of our most prominent Conservative politicians. The headlines were filled with fury. The Conservative Member of Parliament Richard Drax said gays were trying to impose "questionable sexual standards" on kids, while a right-wing newspaper said we were mounting a massive "abuse of childhood."

Here's what is actually happening -- with plenty of lessons for the U.S. A detailed study by the Schools Health Education Unit found that in Britain today, 70 percent of gay children get bullied, 41 percent get beaten up, and 17 percent get told at some point in their childhood that they are going to be killed. The evidence suggests the situation in the U.S. is just as bad.

I'll tell you the story of just one of them. Jonathan Reynolds was a 15-year-old boy from Bridgend in South Wales who was accused -- accurately or not, we'll never know -- of being gay. He was yelled at for being a "faggot" and a "poof." So one day, he sat a GSCE exam -- later graded as an A -- and went to the train tracks near his school and lay on them. He texted his sister:

Tell everyone that this is for anybody who eva said anything bad about me, see I do have feelings too. Blame the people who were horrible and injust to me, see I do have feeling too. Blame the people who were horrible and injust to me. This is because of them, I am human just like them. None of you blame yourself, mum, dad, Sam and the rest of the family. This is not because of you.

And then the train killed him.

I guess nobody told Jonathan Reynolds that, as the conservative columnist Melanie Phillips put it, "just about everything in Britain is now run according to the gay agenda." The great Gay Conquest didn't make it from her imagination to his playground, or any playground. Gay kids are six times more likely to commit suicide than their straight siblings. Every week, I get emails from despairing gay kids who describe being thrown against lockers, scorned by their teachers if they complain, and -- in some religious schools -- told they will burn in Hell. Every day they have to brave playgrounds where the worst insult you can apply is to call something "gay." They feel totally lost. This could have been your child, or my child, or Melanie Phillips' child.

Is it "political correctness" and "McCarthyism" to try to ensure these kids can feel safe in their own schools -- or is it basic decency? A few very mild proposals were made this week for how to change the attitudes behind this. They came from an excellent organization called Schools Out, which is run with a small grant from the British taxpayer. They gave out a voluntary information pack in which they suggested that, to mark LGBT History Month, teachers acknowledge the existence of gay people in their lessons. They could teach in history about how Alan Turing played a vital role in saving the world from the Nazis and paved the way for the invention of the computer, only to be hounded to death for being gay. They could learn in science that homosexuality occurs in hundreds of species of animals. They could -- yes! -- maybe even look in math lessons at the census data, figuring out how prevalent gay people are.

We know that these lessons work in making gay kids much safer. The Schools Health Education Unit found that homophobic violence was dramatically lower in schools that taught about homosexuality. Good schools like Stoke Newington Secondary that followed this program were assessed to have "virtually eliminated homophobic bullying." That has a very powerful educational purpose: When gay kids feel safe, they can learn.

Yet these pragmatic policies to make kids safe were presented as a wicked plot to endanger children. The same thing happens in the U.S.: Attempts to prevent this cruelty are met with hysterical conservative opposition and even claims that they are a way of persecuting Christians. We can't stop the endemic intimidation and violence if every time there is a policy to do it, it is grossly distorted and demonized in this way. The critics even whispered that gays want to "impose" sexuality on kids -- with hints of the ugliest and oldest lie about gay men, that they are pedophiles.

Yet in one strange way, the current backlash is reassuring. When I was a kid in the 1980s, these sentiments were so widespread that a law -- Section 28 -- was passed to ban "the promotion of homosexuality," and the cowed critics were derided as "the loony left." Today, the opinion polls show 80 percent of British people support gay marriage, and the people offering these views are regarded as the loons. It's worth pausing and saying to all the people who have been open to persuasion and have changed their minds on this question: Thank you. It's incredibly moving to see how many heterosexual people have rallied to the defense of gay people, and it's a reminder that we will never go back now.

But this anti-equality shouting still has an effect. It stops many schools from pursuing sensible policies that would save kids like Jonathan Reynolds, for fear of being accused of "political correctness gone mad" -- so it's important to answer the arguments now.

These critics don't appear to understand what homosexuality actually is. In every human society that has ever existed, and ever will, some 3 to 10 percent of the population has wanted to have sex with their own gender. This is a fixed and unchangeable reality. The only choice is whether you are pointlessly cruel to them, or accept their harmless difference. Homosexuality is "normal sexual behavior": it occurs wherever human societies exist. It is not engaged in by a majority, but using that logic, Jews and Muslims are "abnormal" too -- an ugly and foolish claim.

Informing children about these facts can't make them gay. Nothing can. You can no more teach a child homosexuality than you can teach them left-handedness. Oddly, the homophobes seem to understand this about their own sexuality, but not about other people's. I once asked Michael Howard, the architect of Section 28, if he would be gay now if he had been taught to be as a child. He moved very anxiously in his seat and mumbled something incoherent.

In order to justify their desire to discriminate against gay people, the few remaining homophobes have concocted a scenario where they are The Real Victims. They can say what they want, set up churches or mosques that preach what they want, and turn away gay people from their homes every day of the week if they so desire -- and I would defend every one of those rights to the last ditch. There is only one thing they can't do. They can't choose to offer a service to the general public, and then turn people away on the basis of race or sexuality. They can't put up de facto signs saying "No blacks, no Irish, no gays." This isn't a form of prejudice -- it is a way of preventing prejudice. Services for the general public have to be available without contamination by bigotry. It's a simple principle. Don't demand the right to spit in the face of gay people and claim you're being picked on when you're asked to stop.

Yes, I know your religious texts mandate bigotry against gay people. They also mandate slavery and stoning adulterers, and they laud a God who feeds small children to bears (see 2 Kings 2:23-24). As secular morality has evolved, you have managed to overcome those beliefs. Here's another that has to catch up. If you were to defend Biblical literalism, you'll end up as Stephen Green, head of the tiny Christian Voice sect, who argues for the execution of gay people and the legalization of rape by husbands. He supported the death penalty for homosexuality in Uganda -- where the incredibly brave campaigner for gay equality David Kato was just lynched as part of the hate-wave.

When people say that a "deeply held religious conviction" should enable you to break anti-discrimination laws and treat gay people as second-class citizens, I reply -- what about the Mormons? Until 1975, they believed black people did not have souls. (They only changed their minds when the Supreme Court ruled it illegal, and God conveniently appeared to say they did have souls after all.) Should they have been allowed to run adoption agencies that refused to give babies to black people, because of their "deeply held religious conviction"?

But there is an even lower point in the homophobes' rhetorical arsenal. Being subjected to bullying and violence as children and teenagers makes gay people unusually vulnerable to depression and despair. The homophobes then use that depression and despair to claim that homosexuality is inherently a miserable state -- and we shouldn't do anything that might "encourage" it. They create misery, and then use it as a pretext to create even more misery.

Yet Melanie Phillips, Richard Drax and the last raging band of homophobes are right about one thing. There is a "Gay Agenda." They are only wrong about its contents. It has one item on the list, and one item only: to ensure that gay people are treated exactly the same as everybody else. That's it. That's all. That's the sum total of our ambitions. To get there we may -- yes-- have to mention the existence of gay people in schools. It is the only way to save kids like Jonathan Reynolds, and make sure everyone knows -- as he said in his final text, before the train hit -- "I am human just like them."

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here or here. You can email him at j.hari [at] independent.co.uk