For the last two years on and off, Stephen Fry has been making a documentary for the BBC about the experiences of gay people around the world. The experiences making the film, particularly his visit to Russia, were a large part of what prompted him to call for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
This week, the two Out There films were broadcast in the UK. There are harrowing moments, such as the Ugandan lesbian girl “correctively raped” and left pregnant and HIV+, or the plight of the Indian trans Hijra community. There are also many promising and uplifting moments, such as the non-reaction to Hollywood leading man Neil Patrick Harris’ coming out, or the optimistic green shoots of the emergent gay community in Dehli.
But the most impressive parts are Fry’s encounters with some of the world’s most notorious and powerful homophobes. Their demented rantings may be repellent, but Fry’s calm and measured dealings with them are mainly inspirational. Here are the best bits.
2. The churchman who just can’t stop thinking or talking about anal sex.
Since 2009, the Ugandan government has been considering a law that would impose a death penalty on homosexuals, and the debate has ignited a wave of anti-gay feeling. Fry appears on a radio debate with Pastor Solomon Male of the Arising For Christ Ministries, who believes Ugandan independence has led to the country losing its values, and proposes a radical return to traditional values. But all he seems to want to talk about, graphically, is anal sex.
He repeatedly repeats testimony of people coming to his church with “urinary tract infections” and damaged bladders, and proffers a newspaper headline; “How Bumshafting Shattered My Whopper!” At one point he accuses Fry’s penis of terrorism. He refuses to accept that the majority of such activity happens between straight couples, and is genuinely shocked when Fry tells him he has never done it himself, he and his partner preferring “fellatio and mutual masturbation and intercrural sex such as the Greeks did,”
4. The guy who thinks the same and is the law.
Despite rising HIV rates, the proposed legislation in Uganda has meant many LGBT people are becoming afraid to seek treatment. A support group called Ice Breakers has stepped into the breach, but Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo is onto them. Somehow thinking the bill is already law, he is threatening to close them down if they are found to be promoting “a culture which does not conform to the morals of our country.”
He is also threatening to jail people who do not report homosexuals. When he meets Fry, his grave concern is that he and his kind are trying to “recruit people to your very unfortunate status.” He is convinced of a recruitment conspiracy, and like Pastor Male, is overly fixated with physical acts, concerned over “breaking the backs of your poor brothers.”
7. The “reparative therapist” who does an aggressive flick of the wrist at the slightest query on his masculinity.
Joseph Nicolosi a founder of NARTH, America’s National for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. A “reparative therapist”, he is one of the leading figures in the so-called “ex-gay” movement, he claims homosexuality is a result of a childhood trauma. The young boy (no mention of lesbians) fails to disassociate with the mother and fails to bond with the father, and this dysfunction manifests itself sexually.
60% of his clients, he claims are adolescents, whose parents bring them in when they find their child looking at gay porn. His treatments involve taking the subject back to a point when the seeds of the homosexuality were first planted. He claims a 30% total and 30% partial success rate in his treatments, but is unable to provide any examples for Fry to interview. But then Fry mentions this.
We are saying absolutely nothing about his reaction.
10. The lunatic.
Despite hosting the world’s biggest Pride march, there is a homophobic murder every 36 hours. Plans to introduce a law protecting citizens from homophobic behaviour would allow these killings to be investigated as hate crimes. There are also proposals for an education programme. One of the most vehement opponents is Rio congressman Jair Bolsonaro.
“I went into battle with the gays because the government proposes anti-homophobia classes in children from six years old,” the former soldier tells Fry. “They want to reach our children in order to turn the children into gay adults to satisfy their sexuality in the future. These are the fundamentalist homosexual groups that are trying to take over society.”
16. The wannabe priest from the Russian government.
Trainee priest Vitaly Milonov is also the lawmaker from St Petersburg’s legislative assembly who was the architect of Russia’s new laws banning homosexual propoganda. On meeting with Fry, he explains the legislation is needed because of the risk of “inadequate individuals invading kindergarten.” He knows this is dangerous, he says, because there are definitely more gays now then when Fry was young, because of “science, published by scientists.”
Remember, sometimes the best way to treat prejudice is simply to laugh at it. Stephen Fry: Out There is available to watch in the UK on BBC iPlayer until October 24.