Combine a world-famous sporting event and former European Capital of Culture and you’re always going to get some pleasant surprises. When that city is Glasgow, you know it will be memorable too.
But when Scottish-American actor, singer and entertainer John Barrowman kissed a male dancer (sorry, we don’t know his name) during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, most of us didn’t think anything of it.
You might have been letting out a little chortle at the dancer’s swooning dance move, or been simply too disturbed by the garish costumes and so-called “songs”, but for many UK viewers it was easy to forget that in some parts of the world, two men kissing is something that is just not seen, ever.
In this country, we’re used to seeing plenty of gay people on our television screens (some would argue not enough and not always in the right ways, but that’s another discussion). However, other countries are not.
The UK certainly isn’t perfect – a quick look at the nasty homophobic bile on Twitter will demonstrate that – but we are light-years ahead of many of our Commonwealth pals on gay rights, and that’s the reason an innocuous kiss was so important.
According to equal rights charity Stonewall, it’s illegal to be gay in a shocking 42 of the 53 Commonwealth countries. In many of them things are improving.
But in others, such as Cameroon and Nigeria, gay rights are actually getting worse. Gay people are being beaten, tortured and murdered and can be sent to prison on the basis of someone else’s suspicions.
In Uganda, politicians are seeking to introduce the death penalty for being gay, with those who do not report someone they suspect as gay becoming punishable too.
Let’s not forget, the Commonwealth used to be known as the British Commonwealth, and came out of the British Empire. It might now be a force for good, helping with trade negotiations and encouraging women’s leadership, for example, but there was a point where Britain went round the world erasing bits of other cultures and replacing them with its own. The uncomfortable truth is homophobia in some countries is a legacy of the same British Empire that also created the Commonwealth.
This is why, while it might not seem a big deal to us, the kiss in the opening ceremony was a stroke of genius. It’s important to show the world that discrimination doesn’t have to be part of society, and inclusion and tolerance are worth being celebrated.
Glasgow, never change.
Side note – this tweet alone probably explains why Barrowman looks so amazing at 47.
I’m Scottish and u can never take that away no matter what your politics are. Bitterness makes u ugly and old very fast:) happy jb
— John Barrowman News (@Team_Barrowman) July 23, 2014
N.B. Here’s a definition if you’re not familiar with the term “Glasgow kiss”.
What do you think? Tweet me @robynvinter