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Is American intolerance coming to Britain?

In what appears to be a huge step backwards for LGBTQ equality in the USA, on Monday the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a Colorado bakery whose Christian owner had refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, overturning a previous decision by the Colorado judiciary.

Now – let’s be clear. Every law suit has its own unique features, so this decision does not necessarily bind future courts to uphold discrimination in cases where a business withholds goods or services from a customer because they are LGBT. But we cannot ignore the fact that Trump’s America appears to be edging towards state sanctioned homophobia, racism and misogyny. What next? Gilead?

Let us not fall into the trap of assuming events in the US will necessarily have a similar impact in the UK. Despite a more or less common language and much cultural crossover, we remain very different places. Ironically, the ancient island kingdom, where the Head of State is also the Head of the established Church, does fairly well at keeping religion out of politics, while the young democracy, not yet 250 years old and with a constitution which specifically separates Church and State, finds its politicians and lawmakers frequently in hock to the religious, Christian right. Weird that.

Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Church of England and Head of State

So, should we be concerned? To a degree, yes. In the first instance, we should worry for our brothers and sisters in America, home of Marsha P Johnson, Harvey Milk and, for the benefit of my colleagues at DIVA, Ellen DeGeneres. The United States has a proud and noble tradition of pushing the LGBT envelope, and we do not want The Donald to feed that envelope into the shredder.

Secondly, we need to be aware that we do sometimes import American intolerance, as is evidenced by the increasing number of demonstrations outside British abortion clinics by groups of people with nothing better to do, often driven by religious dogma, who think it’s up to them to decide what a woman should do with her body. Today’s ‘pro-lifers’, with their badly scrawled placards outside Marie Stopes, could well evolve into tomorrow’s Westboro’-style homophobes.

Two men demonstrate their compassion towards potential rape victims by carrying placards outside a clinic

Thirdly, in a historical context, America under Trump reminds us that social progress cannot be taken for granted. We tend to think of the liberalisation of social norms as a constant, upward trajectory. History tells us that we’re wrong, and that hard-won freedoms can be easily lost.

So, here in Brexitland, we need to be mindful that the safety net of EU equality legislation is soon to be removed, while at the same time seeking solace in the fact that most human rights legislation, from Magna Carta in 1215 up to the Equality Act 2010 has been enacted on a national rather than a pan-EU level. Actually, we were enacting progressive legislation when much of Europe was either living under an absolute monarch (Bill of Rights 1689) or a variety of ghastly totalitarian dictatorships (Nazism, Communism, Fascism etc.).

But for all that, we still got landed with Section 28, and we still have to tolerate walking self-parody Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose ideas on women’s rights, abortion, and LGBT liberation first saw the light of day in the 50s… the 1350s.

So right now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We are not America, our politics are not dominated by gun-toting religious nutters, and most bakers are more than happy to make a cake for any occasion.

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