For the first in our series of interviews celebrating LGBT History Month, Lucas Scherdel spoke to the Editor of the UK’s largest gay publication about the equal marriage bill, religion and homophobia.
On 5 February, the day that MPs are to vote on the equal marriage bill, I arrive at Attitude’s office in Old Street, London, to meet with ‘one of the loudest gay voices in the press’. Matthew Todd, the editor of the UK’s Largest Gay Publication, Attitude, stands up to shake my hand and offers me a cup of tea. I place my bag down next to a seven-foot copy of the magazine’s cover which features McFly completely nude and take a seat opposite Todd in the board room.
I can’t help but think that he’s no stranger to interviews: his own journalistic conquests have included Madonna, Daniel Radcliffe, Sir Ian McKellen and Steven Fry. He’s known to frequent Downing Street and as a result of his influence in the media sits firmly and proudly at the front line of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) frontier. In 2011, Todd won the award for Best Men’s Magazine Editor from the British Society of Magazine Editors. Later that day parliament would vote to decide the future of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples and I’m itching to hear what he has to say.
Although he is glad to see progress, Todd has reservations about saying that the vote necessarily heralds complete equality for LGBT people: “I don’t think that it represents true equality because there is still a lot of inequality but legally, I think it’s great.
“I know that Peter Tatchell and some people argue that straight people should have the option of having civil partnerships but I’m not sure if I agree with that. I don’t think that there’s a call for it from anybody.” How about same-sex couples who aren’t interested in getting hitched? “People don’t have to have a same sex marriage if they don’t want. Couples don’t have to get married if they don’t want to so I think it’s worth the option.”
“Lots of people didn’t want or feel that they needed to have a civil partnership but actually I think the change has been far bigger than people expected. I think it will be the same with marriage. It’s the cultural resonance of it. You’ll be able to marry someone and I think that’s amazing really.”
By the time I return to Leeds on Tuesday evening, MPs have voted and the equal marriage bill has been passed. It was the second reading of three in a five-stage process which will see it passed to the House of Lords. It was to decide whether or not same-sex couples will be afforded the same legal rights as those wishing to partake in traditional heterosexual matrimony. It has also been proposed that the bill would implicate the legal recognition of couples where one (or both) choose to transition from one sex to another. When I spoke to Todd, polls were predicting a strong lean towards YES, with support from the Conservatives wavering somewhere around the 50 percent mark. I asked Todd what he thought the next frontier for LGBT people would be, assuming the bill went through.
“I think that we’ve got all these legal changes but we need to look at the way lots of people aren’t having a great time of it.” This, it transpires, is a huge understatement. It quickly becomes apparent that far more radical change will be needed in order to bring about a shift in attitudes towards same-sex marriage and homosexuality, as Todd describes how some of the people he knows have been affected by negative experiences.
“The amount of people that I know that have had serious drug problems or have booze problems or have killed themselves – when I sit back and make a list of all those people that I’ve known, it’s quite shocking. Statistics show that we do have quite high levels of addiction, anxiety and depression.
“It flies in the face of a lot of the messages about gay liberation that suggest that being gay is great, it’s amazing. Of course you can be happy and have a great successful life. If you’re gay it doesn’t stop you. But I think there are problems with the way we grow up in the closet and with religious leaders, as you can see with the marriage debate.
“Telling us that we’re evil damages people when they’re growing up. I think a lot of us really internalise that and unless you dig it out and deal with it, it can have a cumulative effect.”
In 2011, Todd published a 10 page feature in Attitude magazine entitled ‘How to be Gay and Happy’. It addressed the previously poorly publicised subject of gay men and mental health. In it, Todd suggested that the high levels of depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts amongst gay men (as reported by Stonewall, the UK’s largest LGB charity) was due to the overwhelming shaming of homosexuals during childhood. Its publication sparked such a huge response from readers that Todd was asked to speak about the subject at the Home Office. “They called me in to speak at their annual conference which was good and I’ve been to Downing Street. I think there will be more of that.”
Religious conservatism, believes Todd, is largely to blame for many of the problems that gay people face. When I ask him about his previous attacks on religion for the way it has treated LGBT people, Todd didn’t hold back.
“I think organised religion is just responsible for so many of the problems in the world and the way they treat gay people is disgusting, disgraceful and shameful. They’ve driven generations of gay people to suicide, to live unhappy, unfulfilled lives. The idea that the Church is now saying that you must be celibate is just completely ridiculous. It’s horrible. The Catholic Church, moving paedophile priests around and not going to the police about them, whilst at the same time condemning gay people, is hypocrisy.”
When asked if he could envision a way for conservative religion to reconcile with homosexuality, Todd said, “There are a lot of people working on these mainstream religions to try and change things but it’s going to be hard.”
At 7pm on 5 February 2013, a vote of 400 AYEs, 175 NOs, 35 no-votes and five abstentions was cast on the proposal. The information supplied to all Members of Parliament contained a paper explaining that the current system of civil partnerships contradicts the 1998 Human Rights Act which ensures compliance with the European Convention. The paper contained consultations with Stonewall and the Church of England. It also included an excerpt from David Cameron’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference in 2011, which Cameron ended by saying “I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative; I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
When I called Todd to see how he felt about the result, he said that it was great news. He felt that such opposition by the right would serve to inform another generation of voters that the Conservative Party is homophobic. He also echoed many MPs in his awareness of the importance of an influential young body of voters ‘under 50 years old’ which is greatly influencing what’s happening in parliament.