Taking Pride in what we have

TWO excellent recent British films are a sharp reminder of how far society has moved in 60 years and how lucky we are to live in a country that has (generally) liberal, tolerant attitudes.

Praise has rightly been heaped on The Imitation Game, and on Benedict Cumberbatch’s central  performance as Alan Turing, the complex genius whose obstinate determination to pursue his vision of a machine that could crack the Nazis’ Enigma code shortened the length of the Second World War and undoubtedly saved millions of lives. It is a bitter irony, well-illustrated in this powerful film, that a man who should have been as much a decorated war hero as any soldier, sailor or airman, was driven to suicide by cruel laws.

Pride is lighter in tone, but still serious in intention, depicting a time when to be homosexual was no longer a crime, but when prejudice still dominated social attitudes. This is the story of a group of gay and lesbian activists, centred on the famous London bookshop Gay’s The Word, who decide to support the miners during their year-long strike, under the Thatcher government. Initially the National Union of Miners was hostile to the offer of support (and cash) fearing the bad publicity of taking money from a bunch of queers. Go and see this delightful, funny and genuinely heart-warming film to find out what happened …

The BBC’s popular Call The Midwife series reached its season finale last Sunday with a typically emotional roller-coaster that included a terrible accident to the girl-friend of one of the nurses. Desperate to find out how her friend is, she rings the hospital, but she is not immediate family and they will not tell her anything.

Sensible changes in the law mean that those who are not conventionally married – gay or straight – are now generally treated with proper compassion and respect and the most recent change, which enabled gay couples to marry, has taken away the last vestiges of “legal” discrimination.

Nowadays the (perhaps over-used) phrase “national treasure” is as likely to apply to somebody who is openly gay as to a pillar of the establishment (or a thorn in the corporate side) – Clare Balding, Stephen Fry and Alan Bennett are as loved and indeed treasured as Dame Maggie Smith, Julie Walter or the late Tony Benn.

But we cannot afford to be complacent and we surely should not take these things for granted because many  in other parts of the world are not so fortunate – homosexuals are thrown from buildings by the barbarians of ISIS and are persecuted, tortured and killed in other countries, including Uganda.

Discrimination and prejudice are not just problems for gay people – nor are these problems that afflict only those in third world countries or under the rule of fanatics. The USA, in many ways a beacon of freedom and hope for so many for centuries, still harbours old attitudes of bigotry and bias. A leading black lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, told Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs how he had been challenged by a judge for sitting in the defence attorney’s seat in a court. When he had pointed out that he WAS the defence attorney, the judge laughed. So did the prosecutor. So did Mr Stevenson, wisely gauging the delicate balance in a courtroom situation. Perhaps we (and he) should be grateful that the judge did not apparently call him “boy,” the offensive term that was commonly used by whites in a position of superiority in the segregated South.

As an election approaches, and the parties draw up behind their battle lines on such important issues as the NHS, tax evasion, immigration, membership of the EU, defence expenditure, climate change and renewable energy, we should perhaps at least be proud of our parliamentary system in which both major parties have enabled these changes, supported by politicians from all sides.

Fanny Charles