At a recent LGBT History Month event, Jeremy Corbyn said that “Our defence of you is a defence of all of humanity and the right of people to practise the life they want to practise, rather than be criminalised, brutalised and murdered, simply because they chose to be gay, they chose to be lesbian, they were LGBT in any form.”
News outlets described this as a “gaffe” with some getting up in arms about the idea of homosexuality being a “choice” rather than something people are born with. There is not enough scientific evidence either way regarding whether being homosexuality is something we are born with, although some geneticists suggest that we may soon discover a “gay gene” or something like it. Certainly homosexuality is not limited to humans and exists in a range of interesting and surprising forms among animals.
Critics have said that saying people “choose” to be gay or lesbian plays into the hands of the peddlers of “conversion therapies”. Surely, though, this only works if conversion therapy, and therefore straightness, is seen as something desirable and preferable to being LGB+.
Zak Thomas writes in the Independent online, “Trying to promote some one-size-fits-all reasoning for our existence so straight people can understand it reinforces the idea that we have to socially manage ourselves to be accepted”. By criticising the idea that sexual orientation might be a choice, “we imply that if given the option, we would choose to be straight”. Unlike Milo Yiannopoulos, the Trump-supporting, self-proclaimed “dangerous faggot”, I do not wish I were straight, or see it as “aberrant” and I don’t think my fellow homos should “get back in the closet”. But the liberal “born this way”, “love wins” rhetoric is also dangerous and ironically exclusionary of the “wrong type” of gays.
It’s great for those who want to lead a relatively conventional married or monogamous life, but not so much for gay men who cottage, HIV positive people in our community, LGBT sex workers, self-identifying queer or questioning people: roughly speaking, anyone whose existence lies outside that of what can be easily defined and measured according to straight standards.
In his speech, Corbyn also recounted how he had, as a councillor in the 1970s, worked with others to physically defend a Gay Centre from National Front fascists. His voting record on LGBT rights, unlike that of many MPs including Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, speaks for itself.
I have no doubt that Corbyn “misspoke” when he said people “choose” to be gay or lesbian. But so what if we did? It may be a mix of nature, nurture and even (gasp!) choice, but that doesn’t make it illegitimate, it doesn’t mean LGBT people can’t be understood, accepted and equal to cisgendered straights. If being a lesbian was a choice for me, or if I was influenced by those around me, then I still would’ve chosen it. I don’t want to be straight. And perhaps that kind of talk is what Corbyn’s critics are really afraid of.