Homophobia is a thing of the past, is it not? Think again. In Nigeria, the Senate recently passed a bill outlawing same-sex marriage, as well as banning public displays of affection between homosexual couples.  More chilling is the fact that, as recent as 2010, a Nigerian man was sentenced to the death penalty for engaging in an act of homosexuality.

The west also often encounters instances of homophobia. This year, for instance, presidential candidate, Michelle Bachmann [who does not believe in gay marriage] spoke of her wish to drop the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” campaign which Barack Obama recently repealed. The campaign in question allows gay people to serve openly in the military. Bachmann did not mention the “war on terror” or the economic situation in her campaign video, choosing instead to focus her attention on her anti-“other” stance.

 

It is disturbing that a gesture of blatant non-acceptance should be such a prevalent part of a presidential campaign in 2012. A further presidential candidate, Rick Perry, is of the same belief as Bachmann. Indeed, he is even more explicit in his homophobia, explicitly stating his discomfort at “gays in the army”. He uses the term “gays” as though referring to a separate species. It’s terrifying to think that a significant number of Americans may vote for him.

While there is still overt prejudice towards homosexuality in some cases, society in general appears to be taking on a more inclusive and accepting nature. In popular culture, icons such as Lady Gaga teach their fans the importance of equality and tolerance. For example, in Gaga’s Born This Way, teenagers around the globe learn the lyrics: “no matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian transgendered life, I’m on the right track, baby I was born to survive”.

At the end of 2011, the first gay wedding took place in New York. Celebrations continued into this February when Proposition 8, legislation banning same-sex marriage, was overturned in California.

Despite all the moves towards greater tolerance, however, it appears we are always forced five steps back. For example, closer to home, in a UEA course textbook for literary theory, the subject of homosexuality in children’s literature is raised. In this, “premarital sex, drug abuse [and] homosexuality” appear to be grouped together. The author of the textbook in question argues that the aforementioned issues are “hardly remarkable anymore”. UEA lecturer BJ Epstein states: “the larger point seems to be that it is now acceptable, at least to a certain extent”, to have homosexual characters in children’s literature. However, the very fact that homosexuality is categorised with drug abuse at all can be seen as deeply degrading.

2,500 years ago, Gotama the Buddha said: “hatred ceases not by hate: by love it ceases. This is the ancient law.” His powerful statement should apply now, as it did all those centuries ago. We may pride ourselves on our tolerance but, in 2,500 years, how far have we actually come?