Conversations and online content about sexuality are pretty hard to avoid in the online world, be it ever-moving news stories or TikTok revelations; new viewpoints and discussions are always being held about sexuality and gender. In the western world, we’re lucky to have come so far in embedding progressive views on sexuality and gender after years of fighting and campaigning from all parts of the lgbtq+ community. I wonder how much of a role our changing media landscape has influenced society’s views on sexuality as social media has grown to become a fundamental part of our lives, and whether we are headed past a point of wider acceptance to one of division and polarisation.
Before the age of social media, and with a much more religious population, we struggled to move away from backward beliefs of homosexuality being a sin. With the aids pandemic in the 1980s, queer people were marginalized and the stigma around sexuality increased dramatically, gay men were the main demographic initially affected by the disease and it took years for the government to publicly acknowledge it, still then not giving helpful information for the gay community to help keep themselves safe. With Thatcher as prime minister, the 1980s were a period of intensified homophobia with family values at the heart of social campaigns, in 1988 the local government act introduced a new clause, section 28, which made it illegal for local authorities to “promote” homosexuality or the teaching that homosexuality can be an acceptable form of family relationship. But against the divisive politics of the Thatcher era the lgbtq+ community continued to grow in voice and momentum. The 1988 London pride march had 30,000 marchers, double the year before and organizations like act up London and Stonewall were founded. The loud voices of the queer community wanting to be heard and accepted for who they were took time to get to where we are now, but after years of campaigning in 2003 homosexuality was finally decriminalized and other anti lgbt legislation was scrapped.
A changing media landscape helped to bring about this development with changes in technology and with more people having access to news, information, radio, and television that helped them realize that there is nothing morally wrong with the love that members of the community share. Throughout history, LGBTQ+ literature was censored, but in a changing world where openly gay music stars graced people's television screens, these acts of censorship were ever more inefficient. More people were given a voice to express themselves publicly and make themselves seen. As society has become more accepting of the queer community, we’ve seen more queer stories told on our tv and cinema screens helping to show people who are in those communities that what they feel, and who they love is okay and perfectly normal. This is something that queer people growing up in the past wouldn’t have had and all they would have felt is the shame they were taught to feel from the anti-gay education and propaganda that was prevalent in the world.
Social media has helped to accelerate this so much more than a couple of queer films popping up since the 1980s. I remember so many videos being the buzz of the internet as young youtube stars broke down in tears to confess to the world their coming out story. The first types of these coming-out videos were incredibly brave, I remember that even in the early 2010s people could still receive so much hate for their sexuality. Being a queer person myself, school was a turbulent experience regarding my sexuality, but I found that as I moved from secondary to sixth form, people's attitudes began to change. Personally, this just has to come from social media, from every single queer person being able to have their voice and share their own stories and share their unique interests. Movie stars being transgender, films showing the most beautiful love stories but most importantly everyone feeling that they can have their voice and for everyone to share, discuss and realize that there is nothing wrong in being an LGBTQ+ individual and that the community is all around them.
But this acceptance isn’t universal and the polarisation of the 1980s feels like it still has a chance of backtracking us on some of our progress. The government intends to investigate the sex education that students receive in schools as 50 MPs wrote to the pm as they believe “children are being indoctrinated with radical and unevidenced ideologies about sex and gender” and in America lawmakers are scrambling to outlaw drag shows in an attempt to protect their children. These moves feel like an attempt, by conservative and right-wing politicians, to halt the education of children with progressive and accepting views and to restart a society where polarisation is at its heart, stirring up hatred for LGBTQ+ individuals. But with young people having so much access to the internet, being able to share stories and news with friends, it seems unlikely that these things will be able to change our society greatly as we’re already on a path towards a much more diverse and accepting society