For this week’s photo challenge the prompt is the word “enveloped”. I understand it to mean totally surrounded or covered, and as such I could only choose one photo as illustration. I did not take the photo, the copyright belongs to the Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, but I was given permission to use it for this blog. The photo shows the entire doughnut-shaped building, which is near my home, surrounded and lit up in the colours of the rainbow. This occurred last weekend (17th May 2015) on Sunday evening from 9pm as the sun set. It was to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. It was amazing in many respects. Firstly, that GCHQ would make such a public gesture of solidarity with these misunderstood minority communities; and secondly, that a large crowd of people, including myself, drove, walked, and waited there to see it late on a Sunday evening. I know parents who kept young children up specially to see it and then took the opportunity to discuss the reason for the event.
Not so long ago it was illegal in this country for men and women to be practising homosexuals. And it would have been unthinkable to get a job with the security and intelligence services while openly gay. But of course many people did work in these fields while keeping their sexuality hidden. One such man was the mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing. He worked at Bletchley Park, which was the forerunner to GCHQ. There he and a brilliant young team helped crack Germany’s Enigma Code, which certainly shortened the second world war by a couple of years thereby saving millions of lives. But when his sexual orientation was discovered, Turing lost his security clearance and was convicted for gross indecency. His life was ruined by this conviction and his reputation was destroyed. He was subjected to ‘corrective’ hormonal treatment until, two years later it is believed, he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning. In 2013 he was granted a posthumous pardon by the Queen and honoured for his work.
In 2014 the film The Imitation Game was made about Turing and his work. The film is so good that it won an Oscar as well as 51 other awards. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, the acting is outstanding. The truth may be stretched a little for dramatic effect, but the film is gripping from beginning to end.
My opposition to any form of discrimination and prejudice stems from my years in teaching when I observed the misery it caused to children. During my 30+ years working in the field of education, I taught over a thousand primary school pupils in state schools. It is reasonable to assume that they were a fairly representative sample of children raised during the second half of the 20th century. The majority were from stable, loving and supportive families with parents who worked hard and were able to provide good homes, experiences and opportunities for their children. But over the years I also worked with many children who were not so lucky. Lots of families suffered from the negative effects of poverty through no fault of their own. But in some cases families were dysfunctional due to addictions-to gambling, alcohol or illegal drugs. There was also a criminal element including a small minority of parents who were actually dangerously antisocial. Whatever the cause, the children suffered most.
In all those years I only encountered one child with what I would call a ‘wicked’ nature. He took pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering on other children, animals and even his own family. Every available agency tried to help him, his parents, and the school, manage and change his behaviour, to no avail. In those years too I met many confused and unhappy children who had a poor self-image and little confidence. There were as many reasons as children for this; inadequate parenting, poverty, social, emotional or physical issues, learning difficulties, and sometimes gender issues.
Someone once explained to me that the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us is crucial to our self-esteem. School age children are social creatures. They need to be accepted and respected by their peer group. They are not born with low self-esteem. It is an acquired condition. If, for whatever reason, they do not ‘fit in’ to their group, their self-esteem suffers. And they may become victims of bullying. This is enormously important because research has shown that low self-esteem leads to unhappiness, ill health, and a less rewarding and successful life. In extreme cases it can lead to suicide.
This brings me to the tragic case of a 15 year old boy who took his own life because he was being taunted at school for behaviour which ignorant bullies called ‘gay’. The effect of this on his family and true friends was so traumatic that some months later his father took his own life and then one of his friends did the same.
This is why I am so proud of GCHQ for lighting up the ‘doughnut’ building in rainbow colours at the weekend. In this country, and in many others I am sure, the past has been marred by intolerance bred of ignorance and fear. People have been judged because of the colour of their skin; their accent, age, gender, beliefs, finances, job, clothes, or sexuality rather than their humanity. There is no place in a civilised society for such prejudices. Critics have denounced the gesture online as a political gimmick, but if it draws crowds of ordinary families who then discuss these issues with their children then it was a very worthwhile one in my opinion.
Read about a previous creative gesture by GCHQ in my blogpost Living Poppy in a Doughnut
Fragile and different
Defeated by the bullies
He jumped to his death
Remnants of ribbons
And fading flowers weep, where she
Fell to her death
The death of his son
Drove him to despair. Destroyed,
His life he ended.
Lawned garden of grief
Compassion carved into stone
Too late to show love