Diving Into a Pool of PC - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Diving Into a Pool of PC
British Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley last May (CBS Mornings/YouTube)

Some people are foolish enough to take their political cues from show-business celebrities like Bette Midler, Rob Reiner, and Cher. Not me. I listen to athletes. So when I heard that 28-year-old British diver Tom Daley had made a documentary about the current status of human rights in certain former British colonies, I sought it out at once.

Just in case you didn’t know, Daley won a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics. He’s also come in first at the Commonwealth Games no fewer than four times. The premise of his documentary, Illegal to Be Me, is that, as this year’s Commonwealth Games approached (they were held in Birmingham between July 28 and Aug. 8), he began to think about the fact that, in 35 of the 56 countries competing in the games, it’s illegal to be gay. In three of those countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.

In some of Nigeria’s northern states, he informs us, the penalty for homosexuality is death by stoning. He doesn’t explain why this is the case in the north but not the south. Want to guess?

Daley says that since he himself is gay — he came out in 2013 — and has competed all over the Commonwealth, these statistics give him a queasy feeling. He’s won medals in some of those 35 anti-gay countries: How, he asks, should he feel about those medals? The anti-gay laws also pique his historical curiosity — where did all this hatred come from? — and make him want to “get the sporting world to try to change things.”

His tentative goal, he tells us at the outset of the documentary — which aired on BBC One on Aug. 9 — is to persuade Commonwealth Games officials to deny countries with anti-gay laws the right to host the Commonwealth Games. But he realizes that this stratagem may be misguided. “I still have so much to learn,” he admits. So he travels to a couple of the anti-gay Commonwealth countries to “meet some queer athletes,” see how they live, and bounce his ideas off them.

First up is Pakistan, which Daley rightly describes as “one of the world’s most dangerous places to be gay.” Under Pakistani law, the punishment for homosexuality is death by stoning, but a lot of gay Pakistanis are tortured and killed by vigilante groups before the authorities can get around to stoning them. (By contrast, as Daley points out, Pakistani law fully protects the rights of transsexuals.)

Why is Pakistan so anti-gay? Some of us already know why. Daley would have us believe he doesn’t. One lesbian Pakistani cricketer, whom he interviews in her kitchen, says something vague about the role of “religion.” Instead of asking her to elaborate, Daley moves on to something else. Later, in a letter read aloud by Daley, a gay male Pakistani athlete who’s too scared to go on camera confides that he often wants to die in order to escape the “trauma” of living in “the Islamic republic.”

It’s one of the documentary’s only two explicit mentions of Islam. The other occurs shortly afterwards in a statement by an openly gay Pakistani pop star, Xulfi, who says that his act, in which he dresses in drag, is viewed in Pakistan as a threat to Islam. Summing up what he’s learned about the reasons for Pakistani prejudices, Daley, rather than repeat the “I” word, says they’re “the result of [Pakistan’s] complex political and religious history.”

After this euphemistic dodge, Daley takes a giant step away from Islam and toward moral equivalency, pronouncing that while “it’s easy to point the finger around the Commonwealth … homosexuality only became fully legal across the whole of the UK in the 1980s.” Whereupon he proceeds to tell us about his own youthful self-hatred, the relatives who rejected him when he came out, and his fear — which proved, thankfully, to be ungrounded — that coming out of the closet would alienate all of his female fans, dry up his sponsorship deals, and even expose him to physical abuse in public.

From there it’s on to Nigeria. In fact, Daley doesn’t actually go to Nigeria — he’s been told it would be far too dangerous. In some of that country’s northern states, he informs us, the penalty for homosexuality is death by stoning. He doesn’t explain why this is the case in the north but not the south. Want to guess? The reason is that the south is overwhelmingly Christian and the north overwhelmingly Muslim, with the states in question governed by sharia law.

On the phone with Daley, a closeted Nigerian athlete tells of a friend who was stabbed to death for being gay. “They are hunting people,” he says. Watching videos of attacks on gays in Nigeria, Daley remarks, “It’s like something out of a horror film.” At a library in Britain, he speaks with a gay Nigerian scholar, Bisi Alimi, who tells him that the Nigerian hatred for gays is rooted in “British Imperial law.” But why, Daley asks, wasn’t the law changed after the British left? Alimi’s answer: Christian evangelicals. Not a word about sharia.

The third and last country that Daley covers is Jamaica, where the level of gay-hatred is (at least for a non-Muslim country) off the charts. It’s been called “the most homophobic place on earth.” Some Caribbean nations have repealed their anti-gay laws, but not Jamaica. While visiting the island, Daley meets another academic, who blames its virulent homophobia on the slave trade. But how to reconcile this thesis with the fact that other countries in the Western hemisphere that once imported slaves — among them the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Chile — now have same-sex marriage? Needless to say, the question never comes up.

That ends Daley’s travels — and his quest for an explanation of homo-hatred in the British Commonwealth. He now has his answer: It’s all the fault of the West — in particular, the British Empire. “It honestly makes me sick to be British,” he confesses.

And how to put a dent in all that hatred? Daley’s been convinced that it wouldn’t help to deny anti-gay countries the right to host the Commonwealth Games — their governments simply wouldn’t care. Instead, he has other ideas, one of which the Commonwealth Games officials allow him to put into practice during the opening ceremonies of the Birmingham games: After the various national teams have entered the stadium under their respective flags, Daley leads a contingent of six gay athletes from countries where homosexuality is illegal, with each of them bearing a rainbow flag. According to Daley, this year’s Commonwealth Games were “the first major sporting event” to feature the rainbow flag so prominently.

One ticklish detail: All six flag-bearers are, as they say, “people of color.” The sight of them being led by Daley, who is white, made me wonder how long it will be before some professor presents this spectacle to his or her students as an example of the dreaded phenomenon known as “white saviorism.” You see, by leading his dark-skinned fellow athletes into a British stadium — where, thanks to grandstands full of supportive Brits, they’re safe from abuse at the hands of their countrymen — Daley, who’s been blaming anti-gay attitudes around the world on the British Empire, is doing something not unlike what the British Empire did when it banned the Hindu practice of suttee, whereby widows were tossed alive onto the funeral pyres of their husbands.

Any sane person, of course, would say that prohibiting suttee was unquestionably a good move. But in the eyes of postcolonial scholars like Gayatri Spivak of Columbia University — whose views on the matter are almost certainly shared by the academics Daley met in his documentary — Britain’s abolition of suttee was no act of virtue but, rather, the manifestation of the Western oppressors’ misguided belief that they were civilized and that their colonial subjects were barbaric. In Spivak’s famous formulation, the British were white men who, by presuming to “save brown women from brown men,” were in fact carrying out the ultimate act of civilizational destruction. In Daley’s own twist on this act, it’s the white gay saving the brown gay from the brown straight — a move that Spivak and her ilk would almost certainly deplore.

A major omission in Daley’s documentary is his failure to examine any of the non-Muslim African countries that form a majority of the anti-gay Commonwealth members. In those societies, a toxic hatred for homosexuality exists alongside such centuries-old cultural practices as child labor, the systematic mutilation and killing of albinos (whose body parts are believed to transmit magical powers), and, yes, in the 21st century, chattel slavery. It would be interesting to see a BBC documentary try to blame these phenomena on Britain.

Daley’s documentary was conceived and written by James Phillips and directed and produced by Luke Korzun Martin, a BBC stalwart. But I wonder about the possible influence of another person whose name doesn’t appear in the credits. In 2017, Daley married the American writer Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Milk, the 2008 film about the San Francisco gay activist Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn). Wishing to depict Milk as a martyred gay saint, Black, who’s identified on his Wikipedia page not only as a writer but also as an “LGBT rights activist,” deep-sixed certain uncomfortable facts about his hero — for example, the fact that he was a booster of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple and that he was a pederast who exploited underage runaways.

Watching Illegal to Be Me, a film that all but totally whitewashes the role of backward native cultures and a certain backward religion in shaping the anti-gay laws and attitudes of British Commonwealth countries, one can’t help wondering how much input Black had. In his Hollywood circles, after all, it’s de rigueur to blame everything that’s screwed up about the “developing world” on the civilized West. Then again, the same goes for the BBC.

Sign up to receive our latest updates! Register

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: The American Spectator, 122 S Royal Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314, http://spectator.org. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Be a Free Market Loving Patriot. Subscribe Today!