I confess, accustomed though I thought I had become to our wonderful new world, that I was a little taken aback to read that the National Trust had instructed all its volunteer guides at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk to wear badges indicating their support for the Gay Pride movement. That bizarre decision followed swiftly on the news that the Trust had made a film about the late Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, who gave the Hall to the Trust, “outing” him as a homosexual. The film caused widespread consternation amongst those who knew Mr Ketton-Cremer, a man who apparently was “intensely private” and who would never have dreamt of discussing his sexuality. I have no idea who is responsible for the National Trust’s PR in Norfolk, but whoever it is can be congratulated on successfully bringing Felbrigg Hall to national attention.
The Trust’s strange antics in Norfolk are part of a national season which has been given the title “Prejudice and Pride”. It is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Act which took the first steps towards the de-criminalising of male homosexual acts. Its anniversary is certainly one which is worth celebrating, although quite what it has to do with the National Trust’s purpose in life is a little obscure. Even as a fifteen-year-old schoolboy, thoroughly imbued with all the prejudices of the age, I was delighted that, at last, Parliament had removed, if only partially at the time, an appalling injustice. What is more, if there are some National Trust properties whose previous owners were in any way involved with the efforts made over many decades before 1967 to reform the law, I would think it perfectly appropriate for the Trust to mark the anniversary with a season of “Prejudice and Pride” in those properties.
But forcing volunteers to wear badges proclaiming their support for Gay Pride? How could that possibly be defended?
It may be that I am a little odd. I admit that I have never gone in for wearing badges designed to express my opinions on political, social or any other issues. Actually, that is not entirely true. When telling for the Conservative Party at polling stations I do wear a blue rosette, but that is only to warn unsuspecting voters that I am partisan, that I am not an election official of some sort. Anyway, were I a National Trust Guide, I would be appalled at being told that I was required to wear a badge indicating my support for anything (other than the Trust itself).
I accept it is true that Gay Pride in Great Britain no longer mounts political campaigns, for the obvious reason that all has, at last, been achieved. Those who approve of the National Trust’s insistence that its guides should support, and advertise their support for, Gay Pride will say there is nothing controversial in doing that. All decent people, they will say, are bound to think Gay Pride the best thing since sliced bread. But, actually, they are wrong in saying that.
I say nothing about those who, for religious reasons, still have doubts about gay marriage. We will push them aside as being “out of touch” or simply deranged, people whose opinions are worthless. But there are many gays who are not happy about Gay Pride, for various reasons. Some object to its being too commercial. Some find it too triumphalist. More, at least on my reading of what they say, are unhappy that it gives the impression that all members of the LGBTQ “community” are defined by their sexuality, that they cannot be allowed, now they have achieved equal rights, just to get on with life in the same way heterosexual people can without endlessly proclaiming their sexuality.
It is not my purpose to decry Gay Pride. To be absolutely frank, I have no particular opinion on it one way or the other. As far as I can see, it provides harmless fun for people who like jolly marches and festivals. I admit that, were there to be Straight Pride marches and festivals, I would never dream of going near them. The thought of boasting about my sexuality, something I just happen to have been born with, is rather disagreeable to me. But I think it quite a good thing to be tolerant of others, and if others want to wear funny clothes on marches in order to tell the world of their sexuality, that’s absolutely fine by me. And also, of course, the changes in the law which Gay Pride celebrates are fairly recent. It is entirely reasonable to celebrate them.
But why does the National Trust think failure to support Gay Pride should be a sacking offence? That doesn’t strike one as being a particularly tolerant approach to things.
I decided to investigate. What I discovered was that the National Trust is rather like those crusty old retired colonels one used to come across in saloon bars in the late 1960s (I am sure they were there for decades before that but I wasn’t old enough to be with them then). You know the sort of thing they said: “never trust an arty man, queers, the lot of them”; “goes to the ballet, must be a fairy”; “I heard him reciting poetry once, say no more”. The theory was that anyone with an artistic bent was, well, bent.
The colonels assumed that their own lack of any interest in the arts was due to their sexuality. They would have been thoroughly perplexed to be told that history was packed with red-blooded heterosexuals who adored art, literature, drama, poetry and music (other than military bands). It was plain from my reading of the National Trust’s Prejudice and Pride advertising that it agrees with the colonels. At least to this extent: it has concluded that anyone who created a wonderful collection of art, who built or preserved a beautiful house and who happened to be homosexual must have done what he or she did because of his or her sexuality. They were all defined by their sexuality, nothing else mattered.
The National Trust’s approach to homosexuality does seem to me to be very old-fashioned. The simple theory that our sexuality is responsible for all we do and think strikes me as being horribly outdated (though I concede that some of the more militant Gay Pride folk might go along with it). Human beings are much more complex creatures than the Trust believes. How else does the Trust explain the masses of stately home and art collection owners who were heterosexual?
Perhaps there is still a campaign to be fought. We should take to the streets, march on Parliament, wear badges. We need to demand that people stop thinking our sexuality makes us different. We should all be equal.