The last few nights have seen protests in London at the Russian Embassy and around the country because of the 100 detainees. Norwich held its protest with around 50-60 attendees last night on the City Hall steps. The supporters were addressed by Norwich Pride’s Nick O’Brien, Labour MP Clive Lewis, Green’s Lesley Grahame, Katy Jon Went, Julie Bremner, Andy Futter, and Di Cunningham. (Gallery here)
We can keep the victims in the media eye, gain diplomatic and human rights traction by our voices, standing up for those who’ve lost their liberty because of their sexuality. This is poignant coming, as it does, on the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.
Sadly, over 70 nations worldwide still criminalise homosexuality and male on male sex which includes bisexuality, so let’s not forget that those imprisoned and beaten, even killed, may include gay and bi men, and trans – anyone who is an affront to the macho traditional image of Mother Russia and the two major religions in its regions, the Russian Orthodox Church and Islam.
Chechnya: Men detained for being perceived to be gay must be immediately released & their abuse/persecution ended https://t.co/DbbnIVQbSf
One victim described how Interior Ministry SOBR police officers:
“stripped me naked. One filmed me on his telephone. Three of them beat me. They kicked me, broke my jaw. They said that this is a gay and that there shouldn’t be defects like this in Chechnya.”
Rounding up the “defects”, the “abnormal”, speaks of sexuality eugenics and group genocide.
These are not just rumours, the Guardian spoke to two victims who were “subjected to torture on a daily basis” and activists report this is happening in multiple towns across the region. Helplines have been set up to help LGBT people leave the country and journalists who have reported on it are also fearing for their lives after threats and considering that the rare independent voice of Novaya Gazeta has had several of its staff murdered.
We have no Gays!
Denial that is happening is part and parcel of how this kind of abuse works. Spokesman, Alvi Karimov, for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov described the Novaya Gazeta report as “absolute lies and disinformation”, saying also that there were no gay people in Chechnya:
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic. If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
According to the Guardian, Chechen television is reporting that thousands gathered at Grozny’s central mosque to pass a resolution against the “lies and libel” in the Novaya Gazeta stories – “chiefly for suggesting there are gay men in Chechnya”!
“The centuries-old traditions of Chechen society, the dignity of Chechen men, and our faith have all been insulted, and we promise that those behind it will face reprisals, whoever they are and wherever they are.” – Chechen Resolution
Why forget and erase the history of your own great LGBT+ persons?
From Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, probably Stravinsky, the son of Rimsky Korsakov, Gogol, numerous artists, dancers like Nijinsky and Nureyev, to Ivan the Terrible with 7 straight marriages but a preference for cross-dressed men. Not to mention dozens of counts and princes of Russia’s past who were bisexual, open or closeted gay Russians.
Legal Prohibition of Homosexuality
Apart from religious condemnation of homosexuality in orthodox Christianity and Islam, I’ve encountered a secular Russian traditionalism that also condemns being LGBT on the basis that it destroys the family, the national image, and is just plain “abnormal”.
In June 2013, Russia brought in a law banning the “propaganda of homosexuality among minors”, not unlike the UK’s Section 28, but given the street-based homophobia much more dangerous. Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act stated that councils should not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”.
Homosexuality “in private” was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, but plenty of discrimination and prejudice remains. Actually, it was decriminalised in 1917 but re-criminalised in 1933. That’s a stark reminder that equality rights won can be lost again, just look at India and Uganda too. Russia is at least 25 years behind the UK on LGBT rights.
The law banning spreading “non-traditional” sexual propaganda to minors is so loosely worded that almost anything could be seen as illegal. Locals say they fear even holding hands or kissing in public for the risk of attracting a £100 fine or worse. Prides in Moscow (2006-2011) have been beset by homophobic violence and since 2012 banned for 100 years by Moscow courts.
Russia’s second-largest and hitherto most open city, St Petersburg, has seen a deterioration with city council members since 2012 pushing Putin to harder lines on LGBT freedoms. Marked homophobia and transphobia worsened in 2016 with LGBT persons and their supporters being hounded out of their jobs, attacked in the street, and denied civil freedoms.
Vladimir Putin, himself, has linked homosexuality to paedophilia and stated strongly that Russia needs to “cleanse” itself of gays if it wants to increase its birth rate. The tagging of population growth on the end of that statement in no way minimises the echoes of a homosexual holocaust that was part of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ in “cleansing” 1930s Nazi Germany of Jews, homosexuals, the disabled, and non-conformists, alike.
Chechen Laws and Attitudes
Chechnya, in 1997, implemented Article 148 of the Criminal Code punishing “anal sexual intercourse between a man and a woman or a man and a man”. The punishment was caning but upon a third conviction, the death penalty by shooting, stoning or beheading. Since 1996 and repeatedly reaffirmed, Russia under pressure from the Council of Europe has had a moratorium on the death penalty despite a persistent majority of the population wanting its reinstatement. The death penalty thus remains on the books but not enacted since 1996.
In 2011, the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, is quoted as saying:
“I have the right to criticise my wife. She doesn’t. With us [in Chechen society], a wife is a housewife. A woman should know her place. A woman should give her love to us [men]… She would be [man’s] property. And the man is the owner. Here, if a woman does not behave properly, her husband, father, and brother are responsible. According to our tradition, if a woman fools around, her family members kill her… That’s how it happens, a brother kills his sister or a husband kills his wife… As a president, I cannot allow for them to kill. So, let women not wear shorts…”
With these kinds of archaic gender stereotype attitudes is it any wonder that LGBT people are ostracised, given up, locked up, with little internal national complaint?
Freedom House included Chechnya in the “Worst of the Worst” list (2009) of most repressive societies in the world, together with Burma, North Korea, Tibet.
Toxic intolerance of Homosexuality
From the Russian Orthodox Church to Conservative Islam and extremist Islamism, religion, tradition and ideology are involved in the toxic intolerance of homosexuality in Russia and Chechnya.
We must support open-minded inclusive faith and practice, but not the closed-minded homophobia of secular and religious pronouncements and laws.
Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series uses this line in The Blood of Olympus. He goes on, “If you don’t use it, you’re halfway to Asphodel (Hell) already.” I have friends who’ve been scared to transition so as not to lose their voice or desperate via hormones or surgery to change their. I made the opposite decision, to keep my voice, but not other things. I had several partners who actually voiced their nonchalance with regard to my genitals, but said, “keep your voice, it’s part of who you are”. And so I did.
“Your Voice is Your Identity”
I guess I’m renowned for talking, ad nauseum sometimes. I blame being born briefly silent for 7 minutes, making up for lost time since, and my mother, from whom I inherited an insatiable desire to both read, engage, and talk, much to my father and her husband’s chagrin. Yet, he too, has a lovely voice, as an actor and when doing poetry readings.
I remember in the Christian Union at UCL, long distant left behind days, that three-quarters of the members were women, and three-quarter of them were speech therapists. I went to innumerable post-college weddings, was even the photographer, best man and groom at some, but also one funeral, of a young Uni friend – a speech therapist.
Speech therapy is available to some MTF/AMAB trans women, others augment with vocal chord tightening and Adam’s Apple shaves.
I’ve continued to go to demos, deliver speeches and interviews, or appear on the Radio – can one appear? Surely, one announces and is heard but not seen.
There lies my dilemma, I did a lot of Radio work and still do but as Katy Jon, as that saved the explanation of why Katy had a deep voice – because she/they was also Jon, but at the same time. I still get the shocked apologies when Radio presenters introduce me and are not sure of the gender to go with the voice or name.
People say it’s all about the breasts or the beard, the skirts or the trousers, the long hair and makeup or shaved hair and stubble. It is, until you open your mouth.
On aeroplane flights I’m frequently offered a “drink, madam” as they approach from behind, only for me to request a Whisky or red wine with a deep voice and them to say, “so sorry, I meant, ‘Sir'” and I reply, “No, you were right the first time”. They’re more embarrassed than me.
What irked me about the speech therapy for trans was training you to talk like a female cast member of Neighbours, allegedly, “because women’s voices go up at the end of a sentence”.
Women with deep voices
Some, maybe, but I googled singers and “actresses with deep voices” and realised there were plenty from black jazz singers to husky female actors appearing in everything from the African Queen (Katharine Hepburn) to Star Trek: Voyager (Kate Mulgrew). In fact, google that same thing now and one of the top entries is a feminisation secrets blog page about the “Top Ten Women with Deep Voices“. Maybe Google knows I’m trans.
For some women, smoking and even the menopause and the resulting decrease of Oestrogen can lower one’s voice. For others, it’s a record of their life. I remember the before and after versions of Marianne Faithful’s voice, I actually liked the latter “whisky soaked” version.
“The rough, cracked, even scarred instrument that Faithfull possesses is as responsible for her legendary status as is her sordid past. Her voice is testament to that past, a lifetime of self-destructive behavior that included years of drug abuse and heroin addiction. The smoky rasp Faithfull now wields is hardly recognizable from the gentle, lilting teenage soprano that first put her on the charts in 1964, at age 17, with her rendition of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ ‘As Tears Go By.'” – abc news
As a teen, suffering from an endocrine condition that meant a delayed puberty I was teased and bullied for my high pitched voice. I was still paranoid about it in my 20s, so I practised deepening it, and slowly grew a goatee beard to pass better as a man. I noticed deeper older voices got listened to, got treated with respect. Indeed, studies show this to be true.
The irony was that I didn’t feel what I was pretending to be, certainly not the stereotyped version of manhood. Nor would I end up its polar opposite either. So, I am both “my voice” and “not my voice”.
My decision to keep my voice, as an unchanged part of my identity, is mine alone, and not a comment on those who transform theirs. My reflection, on this, in fact, came about because of seeing a YouTube video of a trans guy Charlie Peck who recorded their voice before and after 9 months (apt, the period of pregnancy and giving birth) of Testosterone.
I cried at this, twice, three times, ok I’m still crying.
Contrary to this video, other parts of me changed, but I get the coming “Home” to oneself, and being both different and yet the same. This is something non-trans people may never get, but transitioning for most of us is like coming home, finding ourselves, doing what we have to do to accept ourselves, be ourselves.
“This video is a true ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. I am singing a duet with myself where one voice is recorded my first day on testosterone treatment (16th of May 2016) and the second voice 9 months later (16th of February 2017). The song is a tribute to the trans* community, but also to myself. It is a reminder that things actually do get better.”
Here’s another beautiful singer’s pre and post-T voice comparison, Nikolas Lima:
Voice has [no] Gender
The Greek musical composer Yiannis Chryssomallis, aka Yanni, said, that:
“There is no gender to my music. There’s no male or female voice, no trite lyrics or poetry. It’s much more abstract, so it lives with you longer.”
And yet, also:
“the human voice too can be the most expressive instrument known to man. There is power to it.”
“the voice is the netherworld, the darkness, where there’s nothing to hang onto. The voice comes from a part of you that just knows and expresses and is.” – Jeff Buckley
A Voice for the voiceless
I prefer to ignore the gender in my or other voices, I know trans men who haven’t taken a drop of T yet, meanwhile, I’ve never seen or heard them as anything other than male, and often their voices match that perception even without the aid of hormones. The same goes for many trans women, I don’t notice the pitch of their voice, rather I concentrate on what they have to say. That should be true for all of us.
In addition, the most powerful thing we can do with our voices is to speak up for those without one. Don’t be silent, don’t be afraid of your power, whether yours is a voice of creation or assent, let it be for good, whatever its pitch.
On this day, each year, I usually write about current social issues worldwide that affect women disproportionately. I often quote my sheroes – Audre Lorde, Simone de Beauvoir, Malala Yousafzai, Muzoon Almellehan, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and so many more. Alternatively, I’d be railing against Islamic State (ISIL), Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, extreme sharia or tribal law sex-based violence used to oppress. Instead, it’s the voice of BBC Woman’s Hour, Dame Jenni Murray that is still ringing in my ears.
Jenni Murray defining Women
On Sunday, Murray decided to wade into the “are trans women real women debate?” She prefaced her article in The Sunday Times with “I’m not a transphobe but…” along with “I’m not a radical feminist” either.
“I am not transphobic or anti-trans. Not a Terf in other words. That’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist, to use one of the often-confusing expressions that have entered the language in this age of gender revolution. I’ll admit to feminist, but radical or separatist? No…” – Jenni Murray
The article was doomed from then, as that is how so many of the “I’m not a racist but…”, or “I’m not anti-gay but…” arguments begin. I bit my lip and pressed on, trying to remain open to rational argument. On the one hand, I actually agree with her – trans women do not experience life the same as “women born women” – or rather raised as girls and sometimes, as feminism argues, oppressed as women by the so-called patriarchy – some MRAs have challenged me to look at that term again, in the 21st century West, anyway. Perhaps it is now better seen as a kyriarchy, in the UK at least with its several queens and two female prime ministers.
On the other hand, neither do any two women have the same experiences. Birth, school, puberty, bullying, sexuality are near-universal human experiences and we all experience them differently.
“if womanhood is defined as the sum of everything that has ever happened to a woman because of her gender, then logically nobody born with male organs can ever quite attain it. It’s tantamount to saying that you can only be a woman if you’ve always been treated as one.” – Gaby Hinsliff,Guardian
Not all women experience oppression equally – wealth, class, and education, come into play as much as gender. To define ‘real’ women as only those who have experienced sexism or assault is ludicrous.
“Although a person’s sex as male or female stands as a biological fact that is identical in any culture, what that specific sex means in reference to a person’s gender role as a woman or a man in society varies cross culturally according to what things are considered to be masculine or feminine.” – Wikipedia definition
It is not automatic that a trans woman experiences life with “male privilege” before feeling gender dysphoria, bullying, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and internalised oppression – that, to date, psychological therapies have failed to cure, to the point where most psych associations now regard any attempt to as unethical.
If anything, it is the language of the article that is the problem. As soon as one starts defining a “real” woman, one has to question what characteristics make up that definition?
“Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.” – WHO definition
Clearly, the answer is not someone resembling the impossibly proportioned Barbie or Sindy, but I’m not going to get into thin-waist, hourglass figure shaming – a shame cisgender girls and transfeminine teens alike will find nigh on impossible to emulate.
The debate about “real” women runs dangerously close to policing sex/gender and a form of CisAryanism as Jane Fae notes:
Not “am I a real woman?”, but “am I a pure one?” – Jane Fae
Sex and gender spectra -whether biological or psychological (still part of the body-mind/neurology entity, I’m not a Cartesian dualist) defy the possibility of a single archetype of default woman, and as soon as one does it creates the possibility of discrimination and judgement upon anyone not conforming, passing, meriting, having perfect reproductive systems, or preferring same-sex or childless relationships.
Indeed, as Jane Fae draws attention to, Jenni Murray seems to define herself as a non-TERF by pointing out her marriage to a man and raising of “two fine sons” as if that explains her moderate feminism and typical womanhood. On the other hand, Julie Bindel said in response to what does being a woman mean:
“I have no idea what it feels like to be a woman. I don’t do gender. It is harmful and a total social construct that serves to reinforce patriarchy and women’s subordination to men. I wish to eradicate gender – that is the feminist goal…” – Julie Bindel,New Statesman
“trans women are not just women. They are female. This is a hang-up on the part of many feminists who are still stuck in some world where biology is destiny (oh, the irony!). Because if ‘woman’ is a social construct, and deBeauvoir was right, we become women by living as women in the world, by facing oppression based on gender. For some women, that social conditioning starts with birth, because of a vagina and a doctor’s declaration. For others, it starts at 15, or 45, or 75.” – Helen Boyd, author My Husband Betty
Some have argued that Murray would have been better writing about “natal” or “natural” women. On the former, I might quote, out of context but not without relevance, Simone de Beauvoir, from The Second Sex, introduction (1949):
“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.”
Or so many more of de Beauvoir’s thoughts:
One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should…”
“It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination?”
“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him.”
“She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.”
Othering Trans Women
The irony that the argument of feminism and women’s liberation that women should not be defined as ‘other’ in relation to men, but should be equal in their own right, seems lost.
Now, however, trans women are defined as “other”, as the “third sex”, as women and LGB people were before them. Then there are those whose bodies are ‘other’ yet forcibly conformed to binary male or female. Dividing the human race into very strict boxes of men and women and who can be in them is erasing of intersex people, third gender folk from dozens of cultures and traditions around the world.
Denying trans women membership of the cisterhood, only perpetuates what had previously been done to women by men in power of old – or not so long ago.
I’ve no personal problem with being othered, or with not belonging, I’ve accepted that in life, but I shouldn’t need to and will fight my feminist sisters for their inclusion and my trans sisters to show some respect and learn some history. Both groups have very different forms of privilege, since much privilege is relative, and we need to look inside ourselves and our experiences to recognise that.
I agree with @whjm that many trans women need to study feminism 101 but many old school feminists also need updated inclusive feminism 202
“extremely damaging consequences, especially for women at work and in public spaces, forcing them to accept non‑native women in their midst.
Dame Jenni Murray is right to draw attention to the privileged claim of ‘trans women’, who are socialised lifelong men, not women.
The change is not wanted by the 50 per cent of the human race called women, and it is an ‘equalities law”’ too far.”
To me, Winfield and Murray’s arguments are summed up in their attempting to speak for all women, without a referendum!
Biological Essentialism & Determinism
Furthermore, they define women just as men used to do, by the presence of a womb, ovaries, ability to conceive, or by the experience of puberty, menstruation, menopause – the very biological essentialism and reproductive value that women’s liberation and feminism sought to overcome. Now, some feminists are resorting to those self-same arguments to define themselves in opposition to trans women (men in their eyes).
I’ll reiterate Simone de Beauvoir here because I think Winfield and Murray need to read it again themselves:
“every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries?”
They speak unelected for all women, and stereotype all trans women as men in frocks, persisting in male criminality, wanting to forcibly invade women’s spaces etc. In their over-egged gender essentialist simplicity they ignore non-binary, assigned female at birth (AFAB) trans men, intersex people and folk like me who don’t give a fuck about labels and access to women’s spaces, unless I’m invited.
To paraphrase de Beauvoir,
“not every male human being is necessarily a man.”
I’m with Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw, who upon transitioning declared she was “no longer a man, but not entirely female.” Like her, I identify as non-binary, recognise my male past (despite a brief designation of female at birth and an endocrine puberty disorder), but don’t wholly identify with being a woman, but many trans women do.
What Is this, the 1950s?
Their binary defensiveness is a going backwards, when we should be going forwards together as so many younger inclusive feminists are. That said, some trans women need a Feminism 101 history lesson to avoid their gender presentation and attitudes being interpreted as wanting to be subjugated women in twin sets and pearls, tied to the kitchen sink, actually enjoying ironing.
“presenting womanhood as being about little more than cute outfits and chasing boys” – Meghan Murphy,Feminist Current
Young trans people are now diversifying the range of trans and non-binary gender presentations, so that old accusations of female parody and imitation are no longer true.
Some of the comments on news articles about this feel like Daily Mail readers are now reading all the other papers too. In the year that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and we are back to determining which LGBTIQA+ people have rights, and it is some of the older Lesbians and Gays, as well as straight traditionalists who are opposing rights for trans and genderqueer people.
“the Trojan horse of transvestite men’s “rights” to steal biological women’s rights” – Comment onIndependent article
In addition, I’ve had “gay eugenics” thrown up this week, the idea that trans people are erasing gays and lesbians, the erroneous idea that easily obtainable without medical ethics puberty blockers and hormones are forced upon teenagers to prevent them discovering their sexuality! Somewhat similar to the “butch erasure” touted by some lesbian feminists such as Sheila Jeffries, Julie Bindel et al, not respecting the feminist rights of their “assigned sisters at birth” who want to express their gender identity as male psyche and body now. Some have even created the term ftMysognist to describe those leaving the lesbian fold because of transition.
No Two Women…are the same
It’s not that trans women are the same as natal women, it’s that no two women are the same either. Then there are intersex variations, for example, from 1-in-1000 to as many as 1-in-100 births can be gender indeterminate at first sight during birth, many are then conformed by non-consensual (on the part of the child) surgery to a pseudo-sex binary. There are natal ‘girls’ raised as female who turn out to have XY chromosomes as part of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) or 5α-Reductase deficiency (5-ARD) and whose sex and gender identity is more often identified as young adults. See Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body or Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World for more on intersex prevalence and sex diversity.
“Man A: I have an XXY chromosome set with Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, so that’s two elements of intersex in one body. I have one ovary, a uterus, and a vagina (via vaginaplasty and labiaplasty) behind my scrotum, but I also have a functional penis and one testicle. I have no body hair, female skeleton, and I menstruate. In the old days, they used to call people like me a “true hermaphrodite,” but that is not the modern term. So I play the role of male, knowing that I am biologically neither male nor female.” – Cosmopolitan
This person would confuse Jenni Murray’s simple categories of man, trans woman and real woman.
Natal, natural, nature, whatever you want to call it all create ‘real’ variations in human bodies and brains, in-utero and post-utero. Just read Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People by evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden.
“To acknowledge different experiences is to start to move towards more fluid – and therefore more honest and true to the real world – conceptions of gender.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Trans are a small minority, why bother?
The number of comments on Jenni Murray’s and response articles suggesting that trans are a minority and therefore should not be accommodated reeks of “the tyranny of the majority”.
“Trying to fully accommodate and integrate the relatively very few transgender people into a society constructed around 2 distinct sexes is I think, almost impossible.” – Comment onThe Times article
Actually, the number of trans, non-binary, and/or intersex people (these categories can overlap) exceeds the number of wheelchair users, yet we rightly make adjustments for them. Indeed, gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in equality law, whatever anyone’s personal beliefs and reasonable adjustment, gender recognition, and the avoidance of discrimination are legal requirements. Are we not stronger together, even if we are different?
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde
Again, I actually have no problem with Jenni Murray having the discussion, although many do, I’m into respectful, fair and free speech, and debate not no-platforming (unless inciting hate and violence). As a result, I will challenge her argument (essentially that ovaries and oppression make a woman) and not attack her person as some have done, deplorably. This debate about who is a woman still raises heckles on all sides, that it does, shows we are not there yet. Roll back 50 or 150 years and people were questioning race, colour and sexuality, as not equal to white western heterosexual man. Let’s thrash this out but without attacking individuals. Science and society have moved on from these out of date views but airing them still shows how retrograde they are.
It was National Chocolate Cake Day on Friday and the Church of England celebrated it by issuing a fudge of a report on LGBTI acceptance in the Anglican Church. The 15-page report published today called for “a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people” – well, so long as you are celibate and don’t want to get married.
Bishop Graham James of Norwich led the CofE report into LGBTI people in the Church and concluded that there should be no change, some repentance, maximum freedom within existing prejudice – I mean doctrine, and called for more reports to conclude that there should be no future change either.
Okay, that last bit was me being cynical and pessimistic, but whilst history has seen the addition and change of women in not only leadership but the episcopacy, I find it hard to imagine ecclesiastical change on the position of gay and lesbian Christians any time soon, not to mention the very binary gendered position on marriage when even the Bible acknowledges the existence of people outside of binary male and female.
I was defriended by evangelical Christian friends and told by my Prayer Book church that it was easier for them to believe that I’d committed adultery (I hadn’t) than for them to understand my being transgender. Upon being asked to leave, and I used to deliver sermons there during an interregnum, I was offered the sickly salve of “I can put you in touch with more affirming churches”.
The current of society is flowing forward faster than the Church can even tread water mid-stream. As a result, it is like dead wood somehow anchored and stuck by a pseudo-theological/traditional snag whilst open-minded thinkers float on by. If the truth will set us free, then the Church needs to wake up to the risk of its own demise, ageing population and irrelevance to this generation. I was once a young person in a church, going on to become a missionary and theologian until my identity was rejected by the Church. It seems the Church is not interested in the truth of authenticity, something that has truly set me free.
The Church is not adaptable
Bishop James said that the church should not:
“adapt its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time…I don’t think that if the church adapted its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time, that would mean it would be expressing the historic faith.” – Bishop James
The bishop and the report also used language such as “culture of our times” and “lifestyle” questions, inadvertently suggesting that LGBT lives were temporary cultural lifestyle choices that would perhaps go out of fashion whilst the Church’s doctrine remained written in stone, essentially.
Any student of ecclesiology and patristics well knows how Christian theology and church practice have been hammered out at councils, and been at the whim of political and personal beliefs of the time.
Not to mention, the dubious concept of biblical marriage given how many types of marriage there were in the Bible, only one of which is between “one man and one woman”. Two women or hundreds more were also options, as were sisters, slaves, prostitutes, and eunuchs. Sexual relations often began before marriage – even defined it, sometimes.
Clergy & Laity Double Standards
It was concluded that there was no double standard in denying gay clergy active sexual relationships and yet allowing homosexual lay people to express their love physically since canonical law demanded “an exemplary position of the clergy”. Yet, the double standard is that the same celibacy is not required of heterosexual clergy except in the Roman Catholic Church.
“some bishops who would like to see the sinfulness of any
sexually active relationship outside heterosexual marriage more consistently upheld.”
So, going forward, heterosexual clergy may be asked similar questions or homosexual clergy not asked and “trusted”, so as to bring in an equality of ordinand interrogation. Bishop James said this is “Not Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in any shape or form.” Sounds like it to me and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and Changing Attitudeopen letter today now terms it “official policy”.
“No Change” – the way forward is backward thinking
Whilst canonical interpretations were described as “a latitude with boundaries” it seems the Church has butted up against those boundaries and finds little room for present or future movement.
“what they’ve announced is the most incredibly painful policy which offers zero change after 6 years of false reassurance and asking us to be patient and wait and see. We waited, some of us very unwillingly and they’ve dished out a load of shit.” – Rev Colin Coward
A painful policy indeed, exacerbated by the dangled signs of hope, now effectively withdrawn. Another priest drew attention to the bishops’ asking for sympathy for their plight:
“The report is at pains to emphasise just how difficult and painful all this has been – FOR THE BISHOPS! – and begs us to sympathise with them.” – Rev Miranda Threlfall-Holmes
Whilst Bishop James says it’s not the “last word on this subject”, it sounds like it is the last nail in the coffin for LGCM & Changing Attitude members who are “not prepared any longer to wait for the bishops to act collectively in this matter”. Their grace and patience have been stretched too far.
Whether it’s the Issues in Human Sexuality (1991), Pilling Report (2013) or the current statement (2017) it seems the Church of England is firmly rooted in the Christian tradition – of the past.
2016 is racing to lay claim to as many great names as possible, Zsa Zsa Gabor, who died yesterday, had a great 99-year 9-marriage innings, and Rabbi Lionel Blue at 86 has just downed his pen and mic. He fell in love with Judaism, Marxism and even Christianity, but will be remembered for his love of life and for being the first British rabbi to admit to his love of men. The grandson of Jewish Russian immigrants he grew up in the East End of London during the racism and hatred of Oswald Mosley and Adolf Hitler.
One of his several autobiographical books was titled “Hitchhiking to Heaven” and with grace and good humour he’s finally arrived there, if and wherever that is. A question he himself asked having explored doubt and faiths extensively in life. Another book of his was entitled “My Affair with Christianity“. It was not his only flirtation with other beliefs and ideologies, and his home testified to many stops along the journey in Hinduism, Islam and more.
“I began to discover that heaven was my true home and also that it was here and now, woven into this life.”
Judaism and Homosexuality
When he came out as gay, people were more interested in the affairs of his heart, not his soul. He’d been open about his homosexuality since the late 1960s and many knew about his private life through the 1970s, but it was in 1980 that he officially confirmed it, so becoming the UK’s first openly gay rabbi. He did so partly out of shame at not having supported a troubled gay contact of the manager of the sauna he frequented, nor having attended her funeral, for fear of a spilling over between his spiritual and sexual, sacred and secular, separated lives.
Of Judaism’s attitude to homosexuality, Rabbi Blue said in a 2004 interview:
”Well, the Orthodox Jewish tradition used to regard homosexuality as a terrible sin, but now it’s looked on as a sickness. Progressive Jews, though, accept it as a reality in varying degrees and most try to find a blessing ceremony for couples which is inclusive.”
So, has he never been threatened with excommunication? ”No. But for 15 years I ran the religious court for the Synagogues of Great Britain which meant that I would have to be part of any excommunication machinery, and I’ve never been so masochistic as to excommunicate myself.” – Sunday Herald, 2004
As a student at Oxford, his hidden homosexuality had led to loneliness, depression, and a suicide attempt. Possible refuge in Christianity had led to his mother threatening to do the same!
“‘Lionel, you’re doing this to spite us. I’ll kill myself and your father will kill himself too.’ I realised that I wasn’t quite up for murdering my mother and father, so I backed out.” – Independent
Later, he’d visited Amsterdam and found sexual freedom there, but it was his third faithful relationship with Jim, a former undertaker, that became his longest lasting of over 30 years until his death in 2014.
He combined the sacred and the secular, with a pan-spiritual, homosexually inclusive, here-and-now society, syncretic faith that in a way, he once said, was his own made up religion. Indeed, he irreverently addressed his God or guardian angel as “Fred”.
Thought for the Day
Described by Radio 4’s presenters and book reviewers alike as “engagingly meandering”, Blue was down to earth in his search for heaven and happiness. On the introduction of same-sex marriage debate in 2012 the leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, described it as “grotesque” and immoral on Radio 4, even akin to slavery. Rabbi Blue had the ‘Thought for the Day’ slot not long after and used it to poke gentle fun at heterosexual marriage as “mixed marriage”! On Twitter, he was regarded as having disarmed the Cardinal’s comments and having countered “bigotry with a gentle dignity that you just can’t beat”.
On another ‘Thought for the Day’ he spoke to students about success and failure, stress and faith:
“I remember asking a God I didn’t quite believe in to turn my failure into goodness. To my surprise my worldly failure opened a spiritual door in me. It’s when you lose your footing in life and your false pride goes down the drain that you learn mercy and compassion and what it’s like at the wrong end of the stick. My advice to my students and you dear listeners is Make friends with your failures – they may be the best teachers you’ve got.”
“I had the mother of breakdowns in my second year. Being gay was criminal so I rejected my body, and as a Marxist I no longer believed in my soul. So my mind had to bear life’s burden alone and it cracked. I even toyed with religion, asking a friendly prior what I needed to become a monk and forsake the world. A low sex drive he said frankly and another fantasy hit the dust.” – BBC Radio 4, Thought for the Day, 6 June 2011
Fears for the Future
Despite growing up in the 1930s and witnessing anti-Semitism, he remained hopeful, and yet “frightened”, of what he saw as recent echoes of those times now.
“I see the same signs that accompanied the end of the Weimar republic and the rise of the dictators. Currencies in trouble. Swastikas at football matches. Massacre at Srebrenica. The search for scapegoats, the rise of media demagoguery. Loving ourselves but not our neighbours as ourselves. The endemic problems of European tribalism, economic and spiritual. Heaven and hell are very close, and the devil is in the detail.” – BBC Radio 4, ‘Thought for the Day’, 10 June 2012
He finished that particular ‘Thought for the Day’ with a joke and a “foody spiritual note” with a misquoted saying from Lao Tzu:
“Govern a state as you would make an omelette, with care.”
The Chinese Taoist philosopher actually referenced a “small fish“, but the point is well made, and perhaps enhanced by Blue’s updated version.
Humour and Scripture
Having once taught classes on humour in the Hebrew Bible I know full well how much satire, sarcasm, innuendo, and punning, there is in Jewish scripture. Blue saw humour as a way to counter economic and personal depression. In a 2010 interview he told the Jewish Chronicle:
“Humour is the unofficial scripture of Jewish life. It takes away the anger and bitterness and replaces it with kindness and charity. That was the scripture my audience could accept”
He joked about death as brushes with mortality, and he had a fair number of those from suicide, to two cancers, and a couple of heart attacks. He described himself in old age as “crumbling nicely”.
“God comes closest to me in the comedy and tragedy of human life.” – Independent
He will be best remembered for his gentle honesty and genial humour.
Every 29 hours a trans person is murdered in the world, 295 were reported up to this year’s annual 20 November Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Most, some 85%, were in the Americas, but even in Europe, 5 were killed in each of Italy and Turkey. In Asia at least 11 across India and Pakistan. North America had 23 reported murders of transgender people, but Brazil had 123, ten times as many per capita. Honduras is, in fact, the most dangerous place per head of population, twice as bad as Brazil, with 89 people killed over 8 years of reporting. Over the last 8 years, some 52 trans people have been stoned to death – and not by ISIS, one just 3 weeks ago in Brazil; 630 were killed in the street, many as sex workers, but it begs the question about bystanders and communities not noticing or standing up as allies; one victim in Pakistan was refused medical treatment because she was trans, speeding her death.
These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg as statistics are based upon scouring news reports and some people may only be listed as a sex worker and/or their trans status not mentioned. Some may not have been killed because they were trans, but many were. Also, the numbers do not include the 33-50% of trans people who also try to take their own lives through suicide.
2264 Trans Lives lost Violently
Over 2008-2016 since the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) TvT Project has been running, 2264 have been killed. By far the largest, 541 were sex workers, but 99 hairdressers and beauticians, 34 artists, and 25 activists were counted among the dead as well as 9 religious leaders.
Trans Awareness Week/Month
As an antidote, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in several talks and discussions during Trans Awareness Week, or even a full month being celebrated by some. UEA, my local university, was particularly busy with events on each day, in conjunction with other societies such as FemSoc and Pride. Events covered non-binary questions, trans student politics, Ava Rollason sharing her colourful life and journey, and the growth of diversity and even dissent within and towards trans* identities.
Trans Visibility without the Violence
Trans people have indeed reached a “tipping point” and yet that has not diminished their risk of harm – self, and assailant-based. With shockingly high suicide risks, 80% consider it, and 33-50% act on it, trans people are especially vulnerable, and now, especially visible.
With around 0.75 to 2.5% or more people identifying as transgender and/or non-binary, one interesting visualisation is that there could be on average around 250-1000 trans* people at each UK premiership football match.
Visibility without risk of violence is what trans people are seeking, although many would no doubt prefer a form of passing invisibility as opposed to a discriminatory erasure or prejudicial ignorance.
Many have called 2015 the year of transgender visibility, after 2014’s “transgender tipping point” but what does that make 2016? One hopes that whilst deaths and murders are on the rise, that also, acceptance, diversity, and rights, are also increasing, and the killings are a temporary peak and will subside as countries make healthcare and transition access easier and more affordable, reducing the risks of sex work as a means of paying for surgeries. It should be noted that the primary victims of trans violence are trans people of colour, and that Trans Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter should be trending side by side, particularly as they were at the forefront of the emergence of trans rights in the USA. This month we remember the dead, celebrate the living, and offer hope to transgender people all over the world, and stand against the hate that takes so many of our lives.
The West London Mental Health Trust (WLMHT) has issued a statement and then after mass trans patient panic (well a few of us!) has clarified it. The Gender Identity Clinic at Charing Cross Hospital (CX GIC) is not to close but to seek new NHS England oversight, preferably not under the auspices of mental health care. This is both unnerving for existing patients on the long waiting lists and potentially radical.
We are committed to running the Gender Identity Clinic until @NHSEngland find a new provider for the service. It will not close.
The Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic is, in their own words, “the largest and oldest clinic of its kind dating back to 1966”. The same year that Harry Benjamin published “The Transsexual Phenomenon“.
UPDATE: It has been confirmed that from April 2017 the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust will take over the management and funding of the Charing Cross GIC, without its location changing. The T&P NHS FT also run Tavistock GIDS, London (child and adolescent service).
NHS Hospital Cuts
All this comes the same day the NHS has announced further cuts in a spiralling financial crisis – the biggest in its history, requiring the euphemistically named “sustainability and transformation” plans, in other words, “cuts”.
“We are seeing more and more pressures on staff trying to run harder and harder. We are reaching breaking point.” – Chris Hopson,Chief Executive ofNHS Providers
West London Mental Health Trust statement
The Gender Identity Clinic at Charing Cross plays a leading role nationally and internationally in helping people experiencing gender dysphoria to feel more comfortable in their own bodies.
West London Mental Health Trust (WLMHT) is incredibly proud to have been at the forefront of developing gender identity services during a period in which societal attitudes and understanding of this issue has improved so vastly, and that the Charing Cross GIC and its staff have, since 1966, helped nearly 7500 people to lead happier, healthier lives.
Demand for gender identity services has risen sharply in recent years as society has grown more understanding and awareness of NHS services has developed. This has been challenging for the clinic and resulted in waiting times that are longer than we would like. However, the clinic’s staff have continued to invest huge amounts of energy and, working with NHS England, have made great strides in bringing these waiting times down while still providing a service which is rated highly by patients.
However, as WLMHT moves forward it is necessary to refocus the services that we provide. The Board has made a decision that the medium-term strategic focus for the Trust will be to develop mental health services, physical care and integration between the two.
As a result, the Trust has come to the conclusion that patients requiring gender identity services would be better served in the long term by another provider, and has therefore served notice on our contract to NHS England.
We know that many of the patients we see at the GIC are at difficult times in their lives and that this announcement may cause alarm; we would therefore like to offer the following reassurances:
This does not mean services are stopping now – we will continue to provide services as normal until such time as a new provider is able to take over; this is likely to be at least six months.
Patients from London and the South East will not be left without services or have to travel much further – NHS England as the commissioner for gender identity services will find a suitable alternative provider as quickly as possible.
Patients will not have to start their treatment all over again – continuity of care for our patients is the number one priority for clinic staff. GIC staff will work closely with NHS England and a new provider to ensure disruption to treatment is kept to an absolute minimum.
This does not mean we will let services deteriorate – WLMHT and the GIC will continue to deliver on plans we have developed with NHS England to improve access to and quality of services while it continues as the provider.
We will not reduce staffing levels – while we remain the provider of this service we have an obligation to ensure there are sufficient qualified staff to maintain and continue improvements in access and quality.
We will ensure a smooth handover to the new provider, working closely with our colleagues at the GIC and NHS England
Dr James Barrett, Lead Consultant at the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC), on behalf of GIC clinicians, later clarified:
“The gender identity clinic is not closing. To clarify, we clinicians have long felt that West London Mental Health Trust is not a good fit for the unique and specific service we provide (the vast majority of those we see are not mentally ill).
“Increasingly, we feel our patients would be better served by us if we worked somewhere better able to support and develop a more tailored approach to gender.
“There are a number of options in terms of alternative providers. We would not make any move unless confident that patient care would be markedly improved.
“Until that point, current arrangements will still apply. Our aim is for any change to be a positive one, and any transition to be as seamless as possible.”
CX GIC psychiatrist, Dr Stuart Lorimer, sought to reassure people:
Okay, so Charing Cross GIC is *not* closing. It’s about the gender clinic preferring to be hosted by a non mental health provider.
Waiting times for first appointments at the Charing Cross GIC are currently around 12 months from the initial referral but can often take 3-7 years in total, when you include surgery which only takes place after two psychiatric approvals and a pre-surgical assessment.
Referral times are not only a postcode lottery but constantly change – both up and down, according to staffing, and ever-increasing transgender service user demand. Norwich, alone, refers 50-60 adults a year not including the dozens of trans teens not yet in the adult system. It recently shifted its gender dysphoric population from Charing Cross to Nottingham GIC, having also, in the past, used Dr Richard Curtis’ TransHealth in London.
UK Trans Info has an excellent resource offering waiting times and estimated trans population surveys of all the GICs every three months. Last year Leeds were quoting 4 years for first appointments and Sheffield over 18 months! Nottingham’s 8 months has risen to 12 and now 18-19 months.
“Nottingham’s GIC saw the most marked growth, with a 2800% increase from 30 referrals in 2008 to 850 in 2015. More than 1000 are expected this year.” – Pink News
UK Trans Gender Identity Clinics
There are 7 adult and 1 adolescent-teen GICs in England, serving England and Wales – Wales has none of its own and London’s Charing Cross GIC also serves them. The Tavistock and Portman is the sole young person clinic in England, based in London, but with clinics in Exeter and Leeds.
Scotland has 4 adult and 1 adolescent clinic. Belfast Health and Social Care Trust runs an adult and separate “Knowing Our Identity” (KOI) service for children and teens.
For a full list and contact details see GenderAgenda’s UK GICs page.
Hidden under the surface of an apparently everyday, even mundane at times, police procedural whodunnit, by new author Alex Clare, lie a handful of neat twists. The cleverest twist, encountered on its front cover, is the book title itself. The intentional double meaning of “He’s Gone” describes both the disappearance of a young kidnapped or killed boy, and the gender dysphoria and real life experience of a transitioning male-to-female lead detective.
“The double meaning in the title is quite deliberate. It’s meant to show that Robyn is here to stay.” – Alex Clare
Robyn was Detective Inspector Roger Bailley, that is, until the day they return to work as Robyn. Then, on their first day back at work, facing every trans person’s “Real Life Experience” (it used to be called a test) nightmare, they are launched into a missing persons case and on day two, a body is found. Now, that is not every trans person’s typical transition at work scenario. These two clashing worlds, Roger/Robyn’s inner one and the outer reality of a serious crime, are blended together well in this debut novel by, sometime corporate commuter, Alex Clare.
The focus on day-to-day details of police procedures, internal force politics, in-tray and waste bin descriptions, and fears of your boss and Professional Standards constantly checking your progress on both the crime(s) and your own transition at work, rooted Robyn in reality, not fantasy.
At times, that reality, as someone all too familiar with being transgender, was painfully raw and depressing. Being one of the first books to tackle this subject in fictional form with sensitivity, rather than exploitation as crossdressing serial killer or exotic sex object, makes it groundbreaking. Although there have been others such as Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge (1968) and Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto (1998), among a few more, they have tended to concentrate more on sexuality and the erotic rather than the practical dilemmas of transition itself.
The daily facing of colleagues, public, family, and the media, are treated well, and resonated as closer to fact than fiction. The constant sniping, media intrusion, initial family rejection, even the workplace bullying and transphobic vandalism, none of these are sensationalised but instead rather realistically realised.
The inspiration came, in 2013, from the author’s watching of the UK Parliament debating the Equal Marriage Act and the intensity of feeling it created. She, therefore, invented a fictional literary world to explore some of the issues and attitudes:
“Some of the opinions horrified me, people being defined and condemned by a single aspect of their life. The character of Robyn Bailley formed quickly in my mind and I’ve really enjoyed telling her story and what she has to face to live a normal life.” – Alex Clare, author of He’s Gone
The dilemma, for me as a very much non-conforming non-binary trans person, was that at times it plays into the hands of stereotyped trans tropes – the obsession with time spent in front of the mirror, makeup, clothing, voice, tucking, pronouns, name and ID documents. These are less criticisms than my personal preference for a gender non-conforming trans role model, even a fictional one, as some comic books have done. It is understandable, however, why these features have been described, and, on the whole, embedded without taking over from the book’s plot.
I did wonder at a few things including why her police warrant card had not been updated speedily by the police as part of her transition at work plan, and similarly that her Gender Identity counsellor “insisted on skirts” and make-up to “demonstrate she was living as a woman” (p.80). Advice that seemed about 3-4 years out of date. Such is the pace of NHS GIC improvement that sourcing reference material and other trans people’s experiences may already be dated, however much “some of the scenarios, … comments people make … and their reactions are taken from real life.”
“There is an active trans community on Twitter and I have read there about real-life experiences and the discrimination suffered. I’ve tried to reflect these in the book, like the example where Robyn is asked for ID before buying alcohol and doesn’t have anything that gives her new name.” – Alex Clare, Interview in OmniMystery News
Other minor details, on the other hand, were eerily and sometimes humorously accurate, such as forgetting that women’s clothes tend to fasten and button the other way, or that their suits tend to lack pockets. These were gentle insights that I remember well. I’ve since made a point of buying women’s clothes with decent pockets as smartphones do not fit inside your bra these days!
I imagine, for many readers, it may feel as though turning the pages of this book gives insights into the lives and emotional discomfort of many trans people, and it does – but there’s not just one type of trans person, and there are, indeed, many trans police officers, as well as trans prison officers, fire and rescue officers, and perhaps up to 1% of people in all walks of life who experience some form of gender dysphoria that may lead to hormonal and/or surgical transition.
I would love to see Robyn’s character develop, for her to touch base with trans support groups and find peer advice. I certainly went through a phase of obsessing over hyper-feminine stereotyped presentation myself, fortunately for me it lasted barely six weeks before I discovered Dr Martens and comfortable clothes! Robyn’s own transitioning at work journey is just 10 days old by the end of the book so I am being somewhat hyper-critical in expecting much evolution of trans personal awareness or feminism 101 in that short timeframe.
The first plot twist, with respect to the crime itself, I didn’t see coming, but the second I guessed straight away, but then watching it play out and come up with the proof was interesting. I found the mid-book anti-climax like a reboot, and the second half more interesting than the first from a crime fiction point of view, and by which time characters were more fully developed. I particularly liked the allusions to a cultish religious group and its holier than thou attitudes to difference and morality. Having once been a part of such beliefs and then been on the receiving end of them, they resonated, painfully.
“How do you find a missing child when his mother doesn’t believe you have the right to even exist?” – He’s Gone, back cover
It was great to see a preponderance of female leads as victims, suspects, investigators, family members and secondary characters. It also made a change not to have a heterosexual partners sub-plot, whether as cop-buddies or romantic liaison constantly making it about sexual friction and frisson. Instead, it was about Robyn internal relationship with her trans self and her external dealings with fellow police officers and colleagues, not to mention the rather awful mother of the missing child whom you end up thinking doesn’t deserve to have her son back. As another reviewer described her, “singularly one of the most deeply unpleasant individuals that one could encounter”.
As a character, I felt Robyn needed an ally, someone to confide in and talk to about her feelings and struggles. The dialogue, advice, emotions and humour that that might provide would supply some relief from her inner torture and the laboured process of the Police investigation. Her relationship with her daughter, though, was well portrayed as she struggled slowly to accept her father’s transition. Perhaps, she might become an ally in future books, along with a work colleague? I look forward to reading their future character arcs and seeing how DI Robyn Bailley develops.
Monday evening, just as the heavy rains stopped, 200 people – LGBT and allies, gathered on the steps of Norwich City Hall, to stand with the 100 fallen, killed or maimed in a hail of hate and bullets at Pulse, Orlando. The Vigil against hate was organised by Norwich Pride and featured speakers: Katy Jon Went, Julie Inns for Norfolk Police and the Chair of Norwich Pride, Andy Futter.
Norwich again shows its support for diversity and freedom of expression, as it did with its Charlie Hebdo vigil, demonstrations against the EDL and many more political but peaceful assemblies. The Norwich vigil was marked by a minute’s silence and the lighting of candles on the steps of City Hall. [See below for the texts of the speeches or photos of the event]
Norfolk local and LGBT poet laureate, Trudy Howson, at the Soho event, told Sky News:
“It is very important to show solidarity … we’re all part of the same community and it’s very important that we show love and solidarity. We’ve all been victims at some point of homophobia – we need to stand up to hate and evil and fight for respect.”
One woman held up a sign that said Every Life Matters: “Queer, Black, Muslim, Latino.” Next to me in the crowd a white man in his forties held a sign that said “I’m Gay And Religious – Get Over It.” Squeezed in beside him was a young man in a taqiyah, standing with a girl. “My friend is Muslim,” said the girl.
The London event took place outside the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street, Soho, where three people were killed and many injured in a nail bomb attack in 1999, just showing that homophobic terrorism need not be of religious origin. The perpetrator, David Copeland, was a far right BNP neo-Nazi extremist who targeted diverse communities in Black, Bangladeshi and gay areas of London in three bomb attacks. He was known to have mental health conditions including paranoid schizophrenia but insufficient, perhaps due to the public outcry, to warrant diminished responsibility as a defence plea.
Orlando Massacre explanations aplenty
As family, media, and commentators explore the reasons for Omar Mateen‘s mass killing spree, families and lovers mourn their dead, who no amount of analysis can bring back. It has been said that Mateen was bipolar, was a wife-beater, had joined several Islamist extremist groups including ISIS (at the last minute). His father says that Omar had recently witnessed two men kissing and had been disgusted by it.
The most recent reports suggest that he’s actually patronised the club and been drinking there – hardly very devout Muslim behaviour, indeed many said he was barely religious at all. Apparently, he’d also been seen on gay dating sites, so the possibility of internalised homophobia, self-hate, and sexuality identity repression seem very strong motives, with the tacking on of Islamic State, more of an afterthought seeking some kind of redemption and forgiveness in the afterlife for his, considered sinful by his faith background, sexuality.
Muslims, Gun Control and the Blame Game
Scapegoating and stereotyping have hit the headlines, making it all about IS or immigrants, religion or lack of gun laws. Some on social media have perpetuated the hate and homophobia by rejoicing in the slaying of sinners – sick! Yes, the US right to bear arms and easy access to not just a pistol or shooting rifle but an automatic weapon are accountable – but not solely responsible, for the extent of the massacre. Getting off 24 shots in 9 seconds was facilitated by the type of gun that was readily available. It was not purchased for self-defence, unless one was expecting a war. The AR-15 style assault rifle – the Sig Sauer MCX, is described by its maker as a “battle-proven weapon system”.
US Presidential candidate Donald Trump has adopted an “I told you so” type of approach, taking credit for seeing this coming and calling for an immediate suspension of Muslim immigration. Some are happy to label it terrorism, others a hate crime, yet more that it is a gun control or immigration issue. Not so many, focus on the fact that this was a very real attack on an LGBT safe space, a gay bar, some have even gone to great lengths to condemn Muslims and avoid reference to LGBT, how else can right wing nationalists stir up Islamophobia whilst avoiding any reference to their own homophobia? The crime does not fall into a neat explanatory box. Journalist, Owen Jones, walked out of a Murdoch-owned Sky News discussion because it failed to acknowledge it as a specific attack on the LGBT community.
FBI Report in US Mass Shooting Incidents
Between 2000 and 2013, 486 people were shot dead, and even more wounded in mass shooting attacks in America. The frequency of incidents has only got worse, more than doubling in the last 7 years of the analysed period, to more than 16 incidents a year. The Orlando attack was the worst mass shooting in peacetime American history.
A Mother Jones investigation going back 33 years shows 670 killed and 650 injured in 80 incidents, with mental health a factor in between 60% and 80% of cases.
The vast majority took place at commercial workplaces or schools, by disgruntled employees or students, or over things as irrationally minor as arguments over a CD player or driving ability. By far the majority were carried out by white males, not foreign immigrants or Muslim extremists. Out of 160 incidents, barely 2% could be described as Muslim perpetrators, a couple were clearly anti-semitic.
“You are no more likely to be shot by a Muslim than by a Christian or an atheist in America.”
If killing 50 LGBT people, and maiming as many, is your response to witnessing a kiss, an expression of love, between two people of the same sex, then you need help not hate, to get open minded not offended, and a change of religious interpretation. I can’t help but think there might have been some internalised homophobia going on besides mental health, anger and other issues already raked up by media, before this individual jumped on the ISIS bandwagon to tag his heinous act.
We forget that London, Brighton and elsewhere have had their own homophobic atrocities, that were not done in the name of ISIS, that Los Angeles Pride just had another violent attack on it averted, nothing to do with alleged Islamic extremism, that Prides in Israel have seen LGBT people attacked and killed by Jewish Orthodox extremism. There is no place for ill-informed Islamophobia now – people of all faiths and none, Communists and Fascists in recent history, have all targeted LGBT people.
Anger is no less a legitimate response than many others at this time. Forgiveness, albeit a healing one, can never be asked or expected of anyone unless freely given and only by the victims and their loved ones. Understanding, love, mercy, and worldwide calls for an end to homophobic judgement and violence are needed, people to challenge bad religious interpretation and attitudes, and show better alternatives. I’m pleased that many faith groups march with Pride, and historically just one small one, against it, here in Norwich.
Religious groups are all over themselves with prayers at the moment but no recognition of the hypocrisy that their slowness to accept LGBT people counts towards the fear and hate that drives confused and conflicted people to carry out these acts. The victims don’t need prayer they need acceptance, the only justice would be churches, mosques and temples overturning their hitherto homophobic attitudes, policies and doctrines. This may sound offensive but so was Jesus. Prayer without doctrinal change and better practice right now is like blessing the homeless with words but not with a blanket and some food. People of faith need to offer more than prayers right now.
I’ll put my hand up in the air, 30 years ago I was a fundamentalist Christian, opposed gay rights etc, years later several members of my University Christian Union, that I’d helped found, came out as gay or lesbian. My views changed, when I had my own coming out and Damascene conversion to LGBT acceptance. Others can too.
Will we see the same international condemnation and responses as in Paris? I doubt it, as the victims were LGBT.
Amidst the EU referendum debate, US presidential campaign and escalating immigration and Islamophobia issues, we don’t need blanket condemnations but change. People in the US and UK have hijacked Orlando as an excuse to condemn migrants, religion etc, but not to call it homophobia.
Hate and fear need naming but the responses need to be love and, ‘out and proud’ confidence.
As Martin Luther King said:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Julie Inns, Norfolk Police
Good evening everyone it’s so wonderful to see so many people supporting this event tonight. I’m immensely proud to be standing here tonight; I stand here on behalf of Simon Bailey, Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary and Lorne Green our new Police and Crime Commissioner who unfortunately at short notice were not able to be here tonight, although they send their best wishes for a successful event.
I am very privileged to be standing in front of you tonight with so many familiar faces some of who I know quite well and some who will be new to me, supporting this Norwich Stands with Orlando Vigil to support our LGBT brothers and sisters across the pond who have suffered this weekend and for which there are no words to describe what went on in Orlando this weekend. I just can’t think of the words to describe it. But from the Constabulary and Police and Crime Commissioners Office our thoughts do go out to the family and friends of those effected but this atrocity.
Now we all know that Norwich is statistically a safe place to live, it’s a safe county and we encourage people to come here to live, to work or come on holiday and visit and we say to you, you can come and you can bring your religion, your sexuality, you can eat your food and wear your traditional clothes and come one come all and we are really accepting of that. However we must be mindful that unfortunately in this day and age that terror can strike anywhere.
But for this to happen to them during their PRIDE celebrations in a club where they should have felt free, welcomed and happy to be who they wanted to be, I don’t know about you guys but I find that even more heart-breaking and gut-wrenchingly awful that I have no words to explain it.
So I’d like to think that we would be lucky enough in Norfolk never to have to experience anything like what happened in Orlando over the weekend and our county will never see such an atrocity. But we have to remember that it does go on and we all have a part to play in keeping all our citizen’s safe. So with that in mind let’s not blame the actions of a small minority of the people who commit these acts on the majority. And when we talk about what happened in Orlando and bandy the word hate crime around it doesn’t quiet cut it for me, it just seems to be a bit beyond that. But I want to be really really clear on this and this is important for me. Norfolk Constabulary is absolutely committed to the LGBT community in Norfolk that we will keep you safe and we will shield you from harm wherever possible. But in order for us to do this, people have to come and talk to us and sometimes that can be difficult. But we want you to be who you are, to be authentic at work and out in the community and to be safe while you are doing that, but for us to do that if there is a problem you need to come and tell us about it and I know for some of you that is going to be difficult so I’ll be here afterwards if you would like to come and talk to me or take my contact details so we can talk in private, that would be really great.
The one thing I would like to reassure you on is that when anyone reports incidents of hate to us whether it be about your sexuality, your race, which religion you follow or if you live with a disability, whatever the issue is I can assure you now, we will believe you, we do take it seriously and with your help do whatever is possible to pursue the perpetrators through the criminal justice system until we get a conviction and that is my personal promise to you on behalf of Simon Bailey and Lorne Green. So I’d like to say that Norfolk Constabulary and the Police and Crime Commissioner wholeheartedly support this vigil tonight and say no to hate. But not just no to hate, No to hate in our county, No to hate in our fine city, No to hate across the world and finally we believe in hashtag #loveislove.
Andy Futter, Chair of Norwich Pride
In the early hours of yesterday morning, at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a 29-year-old man carrying an assault rifle and a handgun and began shooting and murdering individuals before taking hostages.
Once the horrific event had played out, fifty people lay dead and a further fifty-three were hospitalised.
These people were a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. They were enjoying a weekend night out with their friends at a venue in which they should have been safe.
I ask those of you who do not have to experience this particular brand of hate to understand that – despite it being 2016 – the LGBT+ community – my community – still needs these spaces.
They are our sanctuary.
And if you can’t understand the concept of a bar or nightclub being a sanctuary, then be grateful. It means you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public. It means you’ve probably never been afraid to tell people that you met someone new – simply because of the gender of that new partner. It means you’ve probably never been afraid to leave your house for fear of being mistaken for another gender and the violence that so often goes hand in hand with that ignorance.
I mean that utterly sincerely. Be grateful if you have experienced none of those things. But try to reflect on the experiences of those who have and understand that we need those safe spaces – just like the Pulse nightclub.
That should have been a safe space. But yesterday, that peace; that sanctuary, was shattered in the most brutal way.
Those individuals were no longer safe. They were targeted for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered; or for being a friend of the LGBT+ community.
Being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered is not a choice. Getting out of bed and deciding to walk into a bar to target those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered is most definitely a choice. But so is being an ally.
So for those of you here tonight who are not L,G,B or T, I thank you for your support.
Our community is strong and across the world right now and the coming days, you will see how just strong this worldwide family is; but we are all the stronger for having you on our side.
We are all the stronger for you understanding that despite huge legal steps forward – lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people still face hate on a daily basis, for simply loving the people we love and expressing our true selves.
We are all the stronger for you understanding that, so I would ask you to understand something further. Yes – every life matters; every act of terror and murder should be condemned; but make no mistake: this was an attack directed squarely at the LGBT+ community.
Right now we are scared.
But we are also empowered by our love and solidarity.
Right now we are vulnerable.
But we are also strong in ways which may surprise many – including ourselves – and we will not be beaten.
Right now we are upset.
Right now we are angry.
So when you reach out to your LGBT friends, loved ones, brothers, sisters, colleagues: hold us closer and hug us tighter than before.
Right now, we need it.
Every one of us here tonight owes it to every one of those who died at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando to stand taller. Be prouder.
We will not hide in the shadows.
We will not quietly clamber back into the closet. We will not stop living our lives.
So for all of those who died on Sunday in Orlando; to those who still lie bleeding in hospital; to those who have had loved ones ripped mercilessly from their lives, I say this: the people of this fine city stand with you.
The BBC is attempting to navigate an independent stance on fact-checking the statements by the ‘Brexit‘ Vote Leave and the Remain campaigns in the EU referendum June 23 Vote. This leaves most of my practical work on economics and statistics (my undergrad background) redundant and instead makes me ponder what are the emotional, personal and psychological reasons why people are in such entrenched positions, when, to me at least, the balance of economic and equality facts favour Remain.
Labour say they cannot understand why any worker would not want to Remain for enhanced workers rights. LGBT groups say something similar regarding LGBTI equalities. Yet I know left and right wing LGBT people who have vehemently opposed opinions on this. The vote will be decided on the waverers as neither campaign reaches 50% without the 10-20% undecideds, mostly women, so please research and reflect before voting. This is more important than any 5-year election, this is a 50-year, once in a lifetime decision. Don’t stay at home on June 23.
Economic Facts and that £350m a week
Both sides have accused the other of false figures, but the use of the £350m/week claim which arrived via Leave leaflet through my door again this morning leaves most to be challenged. Admittedly, in their small print they acknowledge we get some back, but they say “less than half”, the IFS and others disagree, arguing it is considerably more than half, as do BBC and Channel 4 Fact Checks.
The reality is that we pay less than £85m/week not £55m/day after rebates and other incomings. This is still a net donation to the EU, but why shouldn’t we, as the economically healthiest nation emerging from austerity, help our neighbours? That is a global obligation in this modern world, on a broader stage than our own isle, every socialist would surely agree with a redistribution of wealth to poorer nations?
“the cost of EU membership to the UK to around £60 (€75) per person (per year)”
What do we get for our net £60?
Freedom of travel across Europe, a last-resort court for human, worker and equality rights issues, reciprocal health treatment, ease of settlement and benefits receipt should we retire or relocate in the EU as 1.4m-2.2m Brits have done. Inward investment, education, and scientific research might all suffer from our withdrawal.
Environmentalists argue that the EU has brought us reduced pollution and pesticide use, as well as species and habitat protection.
Whilst, not a direct comparison, non-EU Norway contributes a gross £135/person to the EU for its access to EU markets via the European Economic Area (EEA).
Norway and Switzerland Options
Aside from the Norwegian model of EEA membership and EU budget contributions – actually more than the UK’s there is the Swiss option. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) but has to negotiate numerous bilateral agreements and has still ended up having to agree to freedom of movement, one of the biggest Brexit issues.
“A senior Swiss official said last month that Switzerland can expect no progress in talks with the EU over migrant caps until after Britain’s referendum on EU membership in June.”
In other words, the Swiss model already costs Switzerland and they are hoping a Brexit would empower them to renegotiate a better deal on migrant numbers.
Trade & Business Costs & Benefits
Whilst EU rules and red tape are the most-cited complaints about the EU, nonetheless, a majority of SME businesses (67-78%) said the EU was a net benefit and they would vote to remain. Access to a half-billion person world’s biggest single market far outweighs any 0.4% GDP cost. Open Europe describes an admittedly worst-case “Brexit” scenario with the UK economy losing 2.2% GDP by 2030 and only gaining 1.6% if we deregulated radically and achieved better terms by far than either Norway or Switzerland. Indeed, we buy far more from the EU than we export, but that balance of trade would likely worsen with Brexit, and to keep the status quo would cost us an EU budget contribution and probably sign-up to freedom of labour movement.
Around half of our exports go to EU countries (44-50%), tariff-free, with trade laws that we help to draw up and at least have a say on. Even if we left, to export to the EU British products would still have to comply with EU health & safety standards.
British dairy exports might attract the 55-200% tariffs on imports to the EU. British farmers stand to lose £2.7 billion in EU subsidies.
Equality, Consumer & Workplace Laws
We may berate the EU courts and laws, but they have been a significant factor in tightening workers rights and hours, consumer protection, and especially for protected characteristic groups, champions of equality legislation. Many rights for LGBTI persons have emerged from or been challenged but upheld by European courts.
“Now is the time to be backing Europe and giving back that sense of empowerment to countries in the European Union that are still very backward in this regard. If I were to look at ‘in’ or ‘out’ from that point of view, there’s only one point, which is to stay. If you’re a gay person, you’re an internationalist. I don’t want us to retract.”
Since 1999 same-sex discrimination has been banned in Europe and any joining nations like Turkey would have to abide by them, the EU can raise the rights of people in nations with poorer human rights records. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in all EU states and discrimination in employment has been banned since 2000. European Court of Justice case law has often come down against the UK Gov in the past in favour of trans people’s rights since it interprets discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ as also extending to ‘gender reassignment’. Thus, all EU sex discrimination law applies to transgender people. In 2002, the 1976 equal treatment directive was revised to include discrimination based on gender identity. Whilst not all nations have same-sex marriage yet, EU directives mean that a same-sex marriage agreed in one EU country must be respected in all others.
Nonetheless, whilst 63% of Pink News readers would vote Remain, a surprising 37% would not. Even Boris Johnson has tried to ride the pink bus for Brexit and an ‘Out and Proud‘ group has formed to favour Leave. Admittedly, countries like the Netherlands, Spain and the UK have been ahead of the EU game on many LGBT rights, but the EU has encouraged other nations to follow the trend for greater LGBT equality.
Reasons to Leave the EU?
The three issues of security, sovereignty, and immigration, are the most oft-cited Leave issues. In addition, there is the fear-competition factor of EU access to British jobs.
Migrants and Immigration
Immigration regularly raises its ugly head during elections and its control is considered the holy grail of pandering to electorate fears. The ONS says there are 942,000 eastern European working in the UK, along with 791,000 western Europeans. A combined figure roughly equivalent to the number of Brits living in Europe. A fair trade? A further 2.93m workers originate from outside the EU with China and India being the biggest source of foreign workers in the UK. In other words we have a bigger issue with the numbers we can control than the ones we can’t. It has also been suggested for years that over 3 million British jobs may depend upon EU membership and trade.
Furthermore, there is a demographic timebomb approaching, in that, even with high net migration of up to 300,000 people a year, a small city’s worth, in a decade with an aging population we would need them to fulfil available jobs. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates across Europe at around 5% compared to an EU average of 9.6%, only Czech Republic and Germany are lower and yet the latter has taken in huge numbers of migrants. A strong economy can absorb and afford migants, if not actually requires them. In addition, migrants tend to do the jobs Brits don’t want to. Long-houred agricultural, care or service sector, restaurant potwashing, jobs are invariably filled by foreign-born workers not British ‘shirkers’. Admittedly, a derogatory phrase but even in-work Brits are less productive than many foreign counterparts. France and Germany are 30% more productive per person-hour worked.
Security, Borders & Foreign Criminals
It is disingenuous to argue that the EU prevents us deporting foreign criminals. In only a handful of cases do EU courts block deportation on human rights grounds. One gain from membership is participation in the European Arrest Warrant which assists the bringing to justice of criminals across the EU. In addition, seeking to deport released foreign prisoners on the argument that they remain dangerous, suggests their sentences were too lenient in the first place, and prison reform and probation are the area of failure. Also, justice means that after a served-sentence, a prisoner is considered to have done the crime, done the time, and should be given a second chance, albeit with probation monitoring and social assistance at reintegration into society.
Iain Duncan Smith says our “open border” from staying in the EU is leaving the “door open” to terrorist attacks. Yet, recent attacks in France have meant a redoubled effort to share intelligence and prevent attacks. Security is illusory, as terrorism by its nature, usually circumvents most checks, although the British Government has already prevented and prosecuted many such attacks, all the while being in the EU. Many leading military figures say that the EU is an “increasingly important pillar of our security”.
As to preserving our UK borders and sovereignty, leaving the EU is almost certain to trigger a second Scottish referendum at which they would most likely leave the UK and commence negotiations to join the EU. Sovereignty is a false-idol and catch-22 if it leads to the break of the UK and creation of a future border with Scotland. In Ireland the border with Northern Ireland would have to close again.
Whilst we might regain control over fishing rights around our shorelines and for miles beyond, we don’t have sufficient a fishing industry any more to exploit that gain, or vessels to police incursion by other EU fishing boats.
Brexit is a big unknown, better the devil you know – and can influence and negotiate with, than an outside-EU limbo of uncertainty.
“The most likely outcome would be that Britain would find itself as a scratchy outsider with somewhat limited access to the single market, almost no influence and few friends. And one certainty: that having once departed, it would be all but impossible to get back in again.” – The Economist
Voting matters, your vote counts, but read between the campaign soundbites, slanging matches, economic promises and fears. Instead, think about the bigger picture, future development and not just apparent personal gain, which may include so much more loss, if we were to vote leave.