Recently I visited the Homotopia exhibition in Liverpool city centre, titled Wake Up Together. Located by the Docks, I originally intended to go on a chilled walk by the river and soak in the first UV rays after the surprisingly snowy (yet unsurprisingly freezing) winter. Yet, as with any young person in the U.K., when I saw the free entry sign I was whizzed into this exhibition room, with no idea what was currently being showcased.
My positivity created by the complimentary entry still didn’t dwindle when I picked up the leaflet informing me the exhibition was about the LGBT+ community. Perhaps naivety in my part. I glanced around the room and noticed there were portraits on the wall. I expected the room to be exhibiting artistic self expression. I wasn’t wrong, but I was.
This exhibition that ran through February (Homotopia is a yearly festival based in Liverpool) was set up by a photographer who found lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from countries where their identity is illegal. He then allowed these people he found to express themselves how they wanted in the photographs he took of them. Accompanying these photographs were letters they had written, explaining their stories or expressing how they feel.
At first, the photos looked beautiful. But once you read the letters pairing them, you’d glance back at the portraits and just see them as sadness. There were awful reads. People being abandoned by their families, even their governments. A few changed their names and covered their faces for the project in case it somehow got back to their home countries.
Reflecting on the exhibition I thought about how accepting, tolerating, open minded Britain seemed in comparison when it comes to this community. Then I thought again. I remembered hearing someone in a clothes shop saying no, their son can’t wear that because people will ask questions. What questions? I remembered seeing some girl’s Facebook status containing a photo of them kissing a girl with the caption don’t worry, I’m not gay! Don’t worry? I remembered all the insults and slurs I’ve heard at football matches being aimed predominantly at foreign long haired players. What makes one call a Spaniard with long hair falling over a faggot but makes the same person react to an English man with short hair falling over by simply just groaning oh get up? Homophobia is what explains all these things I’ve watched happen.
Expressing homosexuality (and bisexuality, and being transgender) is illegal in all the home countries of the people who participated in the project on exhibit. But just because it is all legal in the U.K. it doesn’t mean minority U.K. citizens aren’t still living in a dystopia. Having their identity debated on television etc. Many people in countries where it is illegal, aim to move to European countries where they will be safe. Of course, they will be so much safer in Europe than in an African or Middle Eastern country where expression of their sexuality is illegal and punishable by death. But in most of Europe, their lives still would not be lived to the fullest due to prejudices still existing here. This needs to change. Everything needs to change.
Below is a list of countries where same sex relationships are illegal, and two translated letters from the exhibition that I felt the most powerful. All comments welcome.