Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Feed the troll (to the goats)

In case you've been away from the internet for a while, this happened:
  • Melanie Phillips (never a good name to have in the first twenty words of a post) wrote an article claiming that children were to be "bombarded with homosexual references" in lessons on all kinds of subjects. Tabloid Watch has a good run-down on how the story evolved to that hysterical point.
  • Partly due to her use of the term "normal sexual behaviour", partly because of her clear disregard for the very serious and widespread issue of homophobic bullying in schools, and - I guess - largely because she so frequently writes 'kick me' on her own back, lots of people got very angry about what she wrote.
  • Johann Hari wrote a very good, detailed explanation of how the 'gay agenda' extends no further than trying to reduce discrimination and bullying, and how no amount of references (or avoidance of references) to the existence of homosexuality will change the sexuality of children.
  • Melanie Phillips wrote a follow-up article about how the reaction to her piece proves her point - gays and their liberal supporters want to smother free speech, Johann Hari has missed the point of her article (he really, really hadn't) and, hold the front page, threats against her person had been transmitted via email and Twitter.
What reassures me about this whole kerfuffle is that even though such an outdated, divisive and inaccurate piece was printed in a national newspaper, so many people had a problem with it. This is very definitely progress from a few decades ago. What is less reassuring is the form that this outrage has apparently taken. Even discounting the alleged death threats, most of it wasn't at all productive. On the day the article was printed, my Twitter feed was full of people informing the world, with differing levels of eloquence, wit and strong language, that Melanie Phillips is homophobic, and a bad person. This I knew.

What I didn't learn until I read her article and went looking for the Schools Out website, was what exactly it was that she had portrayed as an "abuse of childhood". It looks like an excellent project. It also looks like it would benefit from some positive public attention, and the cooperation of more teachers and politicians. It would have been nice if, instead of stringing swear-words together and venting against one person's homophobia (which is unlikely to change, no matter how many people offer to beat it out of her) more people had publicised what it is that Schools Out is doing, and why Phillips' representation of this was false.

So here's the project. They have a donate button. If we use it as a Mad Mel-Induced Swear Box, it might bring something positive out of a needlessly negative couple of weeks.

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