Grace Dent on TV: Out There, BBC2

Take that, homophobia. Stephen Fry is looking for a fight
  • @gracedent

For the good of one's sanity, the most sensible thing to do with a roaring, tedious homophobe, usually, is to ignore them. I enjoy wine far too much to waste throwing it in the face of some blithering nimwit telling me, in 2013, that my friends are part of a covert homo plot to rile God, take over Earth, and then violently bum it. No, life's too short to hug a homophobe. Stephen Fry's sanity is widely documented to be at times firm, masterful and epic, then at other times vulnerable; thus, his decision to allot valuable life-hours to chasing some of the world's most vile, vocal and harmful gay, lesbian and trans haters around Uganda, Russia, Brazil and India was a remarkable one.

Fry sat with the mother of a young gay Brazilian boy who'd been abducted by homophobes and strangled. He met Stosh, a Ugandan lesbian who'd been raped “correctively”, leaving her pregnant and HIV-positive. He debated with anal sex-obsessed Pastors; he visited American therapists who can apparently cure gayness with a bit of positive thought and a big cheque book; and he tried to tackle Hollywood's tendency to keep its biggest stars in the closet. It was fascinating and utterly infuriating stuff.

If one is determined to corner the world's biggest bigots, one can't really complain when they transpire to be gibbering ill-informed oafs. But bearing in mind the fact that many of these men hold positions of power, it was well worth Fry documenting their views. Even if only so we can reflect on them in a few hundred years time, when mankind has hopefully evolved away from such sickening nonsense.

In Russia, Fry found the source of that sour stench encircling Sochi 2014's Olympic spirit. Because there is no togetherness, optimism or understanding for you in Russia if you weren't born heterosexual. In fact, the only speed-skating you're probably doing is the 500m panicked dash back to your security-shuttered flat chased by neo-Nazi knuckle-draggers. Fry visited the Russian law-maker Vitaly Milonov, who recently introduced a law banning the “promotion of homosexuality”, which he told Fry prevents gay men “invading kindergartens”. Fry, who was clearly working with some of his last non-shredded nerves at this point, told Milonov of a young Russian lesbian he'd met the day before who'd fought off a rapist planning to “cure her”, and was then palmed off sniffily by the police who didn't investigate her sort of lesbian nonsense. Milonov, a squirrely individual in need of a good multi-vitamin, sat behind his very important desk, tutting at Fry's anecdote. “Look, it's a fairy tale,” he says. “Gay people … most of them, are lying about their problems.”

“Wow,” gasped Fry, because what words do you conjure when someone in a position of vast power tells you that everybody you've met in the past 48 hours, all of the sad eyes you've stared into, the rape victims and the lesbian mothers barricaded into their flats, well that all of them are lying?

“They like to be favoured! And famous!” continued Milonov, “Like they are victims of Russian medieval behaviour!” Milonov then began wittering about his anti-gay values having roots in the most “talented angel falling from God”, which appeared to be a wonky interpretation of Genesis, from a Bible that I can only assume had all of the pages about the Christian tenets of compassion, love, neighbourliness and understanding omitted.

“There are people who are so rabidly homophobic, and I just find that fascinating. I find homophobes fascinating. It's as if you met someone who spent all their life trying to get rid of red telephones,” said Fry at the beginning of the documentary. Except the red telephone analogy doesn't quite work as they are relatively rare and gays and lesbians and trans people are everywhere. Being homophobic is actually like spending a whole day in London becoming furious each time you see a black taxi, and imagining that if you shout enough it might become a Mini Cooper.

But if Fry's analogy doesn't seem wholly cogent, it's probably as strong as I could have come up with under pressure when faced with Brazilian law-makers telling me that the reason a young gay person is murdered every 36 hours is not to do with homophobia, it's because they're all involved with drug-dealing. Fry had visited the home of Angelica Ivo in Rio and been invited into her dead son's room as she sniffed his T-shirts. Her 14-year-old son was a handsome boy who loved ballroom dancing and hanging out with his mum and sister, and was kidnapped on his way home from spending time with some gay friends. He was tortured for two hours and eventually strangled with his own T-shirt. “”

I heard criticism from some after the documentary aired that Fry, who wept in the bedroom as the mother wept, and then wept a few more times during Out There, had “got too close to the subject”. He absolutely did. He was right in the subject's face, shouting and pleading and sobbing. But I'm thankful for it. Because, no, it didn't change anything, but it is important for civil people to know what is really, truly “out there”.