Stephen Hawking, a fellow alumnus of my adolescent alma mater, St Albans School, has just died, over 50-years after he was forecast to by doctors upon his diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease. Stubborn and resilient to the last, he also added humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges.
“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” – Stephen Hawking
“Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humour.”
Even in his older years he still regarded himself as a “child, who has never grown up”, maintaining his curiosity till the end. Best known for A Brief History of Time – on many people’s shelves but less often read, we were lucky to have had his challenging mind and courageous heart on this planet and in this universe for so long.
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
Hawking was a profound thinker who found women more complex than the universe, questioned religious and scientific views alike, but for all his deep wisdom and intelligent theories, I like his saying that –
“It matters if you just don’t give up.”
At school, apart from traditional studies, he messed around manufacturing fireworks and building computers, the latter inspired and aided by his British-Armenian Maths teacher Dikran Tahta, of whom Hawking said:
“…behind every exceptional person, there is an exceptional teacher”.
Although intelligent, Hawking was initially not very hardworking nor academically successful and used risky tactics in both his studies and when coxing an Oxford University boat crew resulting in a few scrapes and crashes. Too busy “enjoying himself” rather than working, he spent an average of just an hour-a-day on his degree.
“I was never top of the class at school, but my classmates must have seen potential in me, because my nickname was ‘Einstein.'”
He described himself as essentially an introvert yet needing the stimulation of others. Speaking on Desert Island Discs, Stephen Hawking said:
“I need discussion with other people to stimulate me. I find it a great help in my work to describe my ideas to others. Even if they don’t offer any suggestions, the mere fact of having to organise my thoughts so that I can explain them to others often shows me a new way forward.”
He did not see progress as inevitably leading to utopian improvement, instead, he cautioned that greater inequality could result.
“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.” – Hawking on Reddit
Given that the announcement of his death came on the same day as the reigniting of Cold War tit-for-tat expulsions between Britain and Russia, and sitting alongside the incendiary dialogue between North Korea and the US, one hopes that Hawking was wrong that:
“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.”
To most people, it is Stephen Hawking’s mind that inspires or his positive attitude in overcoming disability. To me, it was his attitude to life and his mental health that encourages me.
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
His changing health being the biggest adaptation he had to choose to deal with. He recognised that you could not be angry with the world and be a part of educating it.
“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.”
Focus on the good, on what you have, be a glass-half-full person:
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”
Not only intelligent but wise Stephen Hawking used humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges, his legacy is his spirit as much as his mind. He chose Je ne regrette rien, on Desert Island Discs, and that is as inspirational an attitude as all his writing.
Just how representative of the UK population as a whole were prospective parliamentary candidates and elected MPs in terms of gender, sexuality, disability, religion and colour/race/ethnicity? 97 new MPs joined the house, and Ken Clarke MP was re-elected as its oldest member and Father of the House. It is well known that, hitherto, the UK had the most LGB ‘out’ Parliament in the world, but not the most gender balanced, how has that changed after Theresa May‘s snap general election?
2017 sees 208 female Members of Parliament, up from 191 in 2015 (196 after by-elections). There were many seats where both the main candidates standing were female. 29% of candidates were women, 32% of those elected were – both records for the UK but not the world.
We were 46th in the world tables, we are now 39th. Guess who is first? Rwanda with 61% women, second is Bolivia with 53%. All others are less than 50%. Sweden (#6), Finland (#9), and Norway (#12=) are the top European nations, all Scandinavian. The first Western European nation is Spain at 14th and Belgium at 19th. Germany is 22nd but France 63rd! At this rate, 2062 would see gender balance in the UK Parliament.
Labourfielded 40% women, the Green Party 35% (statistically, of course, 100% of their MPs are female!), UKIP had 13%. Of those elected, there is wide variation among the political parties. Labour have 45% (119) and their leader in Scotland but never England (except as caretaker). Meanwhile, there are just 21% (67) among Conservative MPs despite a history of two Prime Ministers and their leader in Scotland.
Interesting that the DUP, the Conservatives in Scotland, and the Tories in England and Wales are all led by right-wing women, one of whom is anti-gay, another is gay, and another shifted to same-sex equality (through persuasion by a female LibDem MP) after a prior voting and campaigning record against it. Being a woman, it seems, is little impediment to political power in the UK. Indeed, add in Plaid Cymru, SNP, and for two weeks, even UKIP, only Labour (England and Wales) and LibDems haven’t been led by a woman.
Being female is no guarantee that one will hold pro-equality, pro-LGBT views. We now have a triumvirate of female-led parties forming a “confidence and supply” alliance to keep the Tories in power that may be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.
LGBTIQ Sexuality & Gender Identity
With 45 openly LGB MPs (19 Tory, 19 Labour, 7 SNP) that’s also a record and 6 up from 2015 – at 6.9% that’s close to the supposed 6% openly LGB numbers in the population (much higher among young people, of course). None among the 12 LibDems, though their female MPs balance at 4 out of 12 is somewhat restored.
Seven Trans and two Non-Binary candidates stood (just 4 in 2015, so, more than doubling) but none were elected, several have stood in council elections before. Eddie Izzard continues to hint that he may stand as an MP.
UK LGB MPs are the highest proportion anywhere in the world. We have the most rainbow Parliament – quite an affront to the homophobic DUP with whom 19 LGB Tory MPs may now have to do electoral business with.
Since 4.5% of the people standing for election (147/3304) were openly LGBTQ, it means that LGB candidates are up to 1.5x more likely to win. Tories and Labour had 7% LGBT candidates, SNP 17% and 20% of their elected MPs, despite reduced numbers. Surprisingly, only 2% of Greens (same as UKIP!) and 4% of LibDems were. White gay men outweigh any other LGBTQ demographic 5x and are the most likely to be elected. Curiously almost zero LGBT candidates stood in Greater East Anglia! There’s an opening for me yet 😉
Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic MPs
Of the 147 LGBTQ candidates, just one was BME, in 2015 that was two – both shamefully low, though we don’t know the number of non-out candidates. However, 51 BME MPs were elected on 8 June – an increase of 10. At 7.8% this is just over half of the 14% general population representation.
Britain also elected its first MP of Palestinian heritage as Layla Moran for the LibDems “overturned a Conservative majority of almost 10,000 votes to win the Oxford West and Abingdon. Moran won the closely contested election by only 816, gaining 26,252 votes.”
Just four openly physically disabled MPs were elected, 0.6% of Parliament, compared with 16% of the UK. Mental health is so stigmatised, one wonders if it were possible for someone to be ‘out’ with a diagnosed long term condition and an MP, other than depression and anxiety that affect 1-in-4 of us, and undoubtedly affect MPs similarly. It would be great to see a bipolar MP, to show it is possible to manage a bipolar life.
The new Parliament sees the UK’s first female Sikh MP, Preet Gill and its first turbaned male Sikh, Tanmanjeet Dhesi. Both are Labour MPs. In the past we’ve had 5 Sikh MPs in the last 15 years but never wearing a turban in the House of Commons.
In the wake of the Manchester concert bombing, it is perhaps significant that the city elected its first Muslim MP, Afzal Khan – who was also ten years ago their youngest and first British Pakistani and Muslim, Mayor of Manchester.
It shouldn’t matter, but it is interesting nonetheless with accusations that the Tories were run by the Eton and Bullingdon Club set, and even many who stood as Labour leader being Oxbridge educated.
The Sutton Trust believes that 51% of MPs were educated in comprehensive schools, and just 29% at public schools (ie privately educated). It is still disproportionately biased to private education, therefore.
In conclusion, our LGB representation continues to be the highest in the world, across the three largest parties – but not elsewhere, and close to the assumed proportion of the general population. Several Trans, Non-Binary and similar, stood but at 9 out of 3300, they are about 10x underrepresented in standing, and to date unelectable; are they being stood as no-risk candidates in unelectable areas, that’s an analysis I’ve not done yet. On gender, we are getting there slowly, but ranking 39th in the world is a poor result, albeit an improved one. Realistically with parenting issues, 45% of Parliament would be a good showing for women, rather than the 32% we have. BME and disability remain woefully underrepresented. How a Tory deal with the DUP, who are anti-diversity on just about every count, can be squared with Parliament and the electorate’s ever-progressive diversity, remains to be seen.
Can business behemoths end bigoted prejudice in conservative cultures? Can this assist people power movements, or is corporate collaboration selling out?
We all like to blame big business and banks especially for the financial crisis and resulting austerity, not to mention bonus culture and tax avoidance, but can they be a force for good too? Are they big enough to effect change and shift cultures in otherwise more conservative or religious societies that may discriminate against LGBTI+ people or women, not only in employment, but in life? By being openly supportive of LGBTI+ and other minority employees, creating safe spaces for them at work, helping stem existing employment prejudices, can change happen?
Goldman Sachs has a strong track record on diversity with positive employee networks such as their Disability Interest Forum, Women’s Network, and LGBT Network.
Alongside Goldman Sachs are similar stances by JP Morgan, Google, Barclays and BP. Barclays Bank were not my favourite bank in 1970s/80s student politics with their pro-Apartheid trading, the University Union I was then at, UCL, refused to take Barclays payment cards in protest. In 1977 after UN embargoes on South Africa, Barclays pledged support for Botha’s racist regime. Yet now, here in Norwich, Barclays boasts several gay bank managers and proudly marches with Norwich LGBT Pride. The University of London Union, the biggest in Europe with 120,000 members now acts on issues such as Palestine.
We acknowledge people power, indeed we have the power to change bad corporate practice, worker exploitation, tax avoidance, for example by boycotting their products, be they Starbucks, Vodafone, Amazon, Apple etc, but do we? UK Uncut, the Occupy movement, showed the power we have as consumers – if we follow through. To paraphrase Plato’s “The price of apathy toward public affairs is to be ruled by evil men” our hypocritical inaction as consumers going for cheap over ethical, image over substance, is to be ruled over by Tescos and High Street coffee shop clones.
Capitalism is not inherently evil for it carries with it the power of its own demise or change. Consumer choice, people power, stockholder revolts, pay package rejection, the freedom to form unions. When the banks failed us in 2008-9 we failed ourselves by rescuing them, indeed it was a so-called Socialist, well ‘new’ Labour government that here in the UK aided their rescue. Unbridled free market capitalism would have effected change by allowing them to fail and something new and better form and take their place. But we, and I include myself here, are all hypocrites, still selecting the cheapest deal, not investigating their ethics and practices. When we buy from Amazon we destroy smaller, local businesses, we lose our bookshops. It is evolution, but of business, and as consumers we are partly responsible.
So can corporations be beneficial too? Certainly, with all their power they have some degree of moral responsibility and diversity in the workplace is an economic benefit, aiding creativity and bringing alternative perspectives, rethinking outside the box.
Goldman Sachs’ positive employment policy in Singapore and support of the emerging LGBTI rights movements there such as Pink Dot are a powerful force for freedom. Technically, homosexuality is still illegal in Singapore but Pink Dot and its inclusive promotion of “freedom to love, regardless of sexual orientation” has seen its inaugural gathering in 2009 grow tenfold in just 4 years, with the next Pink Dot, now jokingly called the Pink Whale – due to aerial views of its event growth, due to be held 28 June.
Google, for all their domination of Internet search, privacy questions and more, also have profoundly positive employment policies and with subtle changes of their logo doodle each day can send messages to billions. They’ve even done special rainbow styling on LGBT and equal marriage searches during big votes on the issue.
Though, are companies like Goldman Sachs meddling with local culture by being brazenly equality-minded? Is it a throwback to Western colonialist imposition or patronisingly paternalist interference? Certainly, we haven’t got equality right in our own countries yet. Gay British footballers don’t feel safe to come out yet. Lord Browne, the former chair of BP, never felt it acceptable to be ‘out’ at work, indeed he only did so after resigning when he was about to be ‘outed’ by an ex-lover.
Again, it works both ways, we as consumers and as corporates have the power to effect change. Mozilla’s CEO was forced out, no not in that sense, he wasn’t gay, he lost his job for supporting an anti-gay marriage campaign in the US. Boycotts of their browser by LGBT campaigners and staff forced him to quit. In reaction, conservative groups in America boycotted the Firefox browser for its support of equal marriage.
Corporate sponsorship is not evil of itself and can help people recognise inclusive employers that are safe to work for. In some societies where equality is still an emerging issue, it can be a risky stance to take, but globalisation can bring equality benefits to all countries where companies have representation. Check out the statements of the likes of Google, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and BP on Pink Dot’s website.
Egyptian Wael Ghonim, just 33 years of age, has worked for Google in Egypt and UAE since 2008, though took time out in 2011 during the Egyptian Revolution as part of the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East. He was detained and interrogated by Police for 11 days during the pro-democracy rallies having been a prime mover behind some of the social media, Facebook and Twitter, harnessing of people power.
Ghonim was interviewed on CBS’ 60 Minutes saying:
“Our revolution is like Wikipedia, okay? Everyone is contributing content, [but] you don’t know the names of the people contributing the content. This is exactly what happened. Revolution 2.0 in Egypt was exactly the same. Everyone contributing small pieces, bits and pieces. We drew this whole picture of a revolution. And no one is the hero in that picture.”
Ghonim was Time magazine’s no#1 on their annual world’s 100 most influential people in 2011. In the same year he was awarded the Press Freedom prize on World Press Freedom Day.
“Revolution 2.0 – The power of the people is greater than the people in power”, is also the title of Ghonim’s 2012 book, described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a gripping chronicle of how a fear-frozen society finally topples its oppressors with the help of social media”.
Philanthropic capitalists have also searched for Capitalism 2.0, a “creative capitalism” that sacrifices profits for public welfare, as Bill Gates said in 2008. The 400+ billionaires of the Giving Pledge who have volunteered to give away more than half their wealth, some as much as 95% of it, are definitely have the power to change things. Milton Friedman might have argued that profit was the only motivation in business, but green businesses, community interest companies and the realisation that good PR, ethics and equality, can actually raise profits, are changing that.
London, 27 May 2014, saw a conference on so-called “Inclusive Capitalism“. Focused on renewing trust, one could easily dismiss the initiative given the likes of Rothschild and Bill Clinton’s involvement. Indeed, Dr Nafeez Ahmed, writing in the Guardian, called it PR spin and a “Trojan Horse” to quell a coming global revolt. So is corporate inclusivity to be trusted?
Rarely, too, are situations simplistic. take Starbucks, they have used legal methods to avoid tax liabilities and yet have also paid Ethiopian coffee farmers a 75% premium over market prices as corporate welfare. Fair Trade schemes may appear to benefit third world producers but in some countries they are not the most beneficial or ethical system and stringent label certification can lock out smaller producers and increase inequality.
South Africa is the largest producer of Fairtrade wine in the world and yet, even there, concerns about traditional FairTrade labelling and its insufficient benefits to workers have led to rival schemes such as Fair for Life and others that go further, offering housing, healthcare and education to employees. Stellar Organics is one such winery where it is 26% owned by the workforce and Fair for life certified.
It is both complex and simple, we can use social media to produce “The People 2.0”, informatise and organise, communitise and unionise, we have the power… make corporates recognise that, and society and governments can and will change.
Montage of Pink Dot Singapore photos 2009-2014 http://pinkdotmtl.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/2009-2011-Size-Matters.jpg
http://teryndriver.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/the-power-of-the-people-3/ unattributed image with Wael Ghonim quote added by myself
Historical NUS/University of London Union Boycott Barclays student union poster http://africanactivist.msu.edu/image.php?objectid=32-131-2B3
IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
May 17, each year, is IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, since 2009 called IDAHOT to fully incorporate Trans people. I’ve always prefered the longer IDAHOBIT to include Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia, not to mention the little people with hairy feet from Middle Earth!
May 17 was the day that homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1990. IDAHO day first took place in 2005 with activities taking place around the world including the first ever LGBT events to take place in the Congo, China, and Bulgaria.
In 2009 Transphobia was added to the day’s remembrance and activism although, unlike homosexuality, trans activists are still campaigning to have Gender Dysphoria removed from the various mental health classifications (ICD10/11, DSM-IV/V), though France was the first country to do so that same year. In May 2012 Argentina passed a radical groundbreaking Gender Identity Law depathologising trans and providing medical access for all without psychiatric hoop-jumping. Argentina should be watched and observed to see if its model becomes one that could be followed by other nations and allow for the safe and full depathologisation of transsexuality.
ILGA LGBTI Report
Times have changed and things improved since the removal of the criminal threat and mental health stigma from homosexuality, at least. If a recent ILGA LGTBI report is to be believed, Britain is the best place to live if one is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex.
Launched to mark IDAHOT day, the ILGA Rainbow Europe Map “reviews the standing of European countries against essential legal benchmarks for LGBTI equality, while the Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of LGBTI People in Europe 2014 provides an analysis of trends and an overview of key political and social developments country-by-country.”
For many there were improvements, such as same-sex marriage (although not in Northern Ireland) and for some to the East of Europe, such as Russia, a deteriorating situation of LGBTI freedoms and protections.
Apparently, the UK has the best laws (the 2010 Equality Act was pretty groundbreaking), rights and freedoms, even better than the Netherlands, Spain, or Scandinavia. This is partly down to some nations being gay and lesbian positive but then failing on trans and/or intersex, and usually totally ignoring and hence erasing bisexuals.
Homophobic & Transphobic Hate Crime
Here in the UK, homophobic and transphobic crime seems to be on the rise, although this may just be perception and/or data inflation, since increased numbers may just be better victim reporting and police recording, rather than increased incidence of hate crimes or incidents. We’ve been tackling racism for decades and it doesn’t go away over night. Just ponder the upcoming European elections and the 30% vote share that UKIP the party of xenophobia are likely to gain. Fear of difference is still endemic everywhere.
A recent NUS report into the experience of gay and trans students demonstrates that schools and colleges are still not safe places for LGBTI people. Only 20% of trans students feel safe or accepted in higher education. 20% of LGB+ students and 33% of trans respondents experienced at least one form of bullying or harassment on their campus, making them 2-3 times more likely to drop out of education, affecting future job prospects, and mental health and wellbeing.
Trans students are 2.5 times more likely to have a disability in addition to being transgender. They are, furthermore, the group at the greatest risk of suicide with 34% attempting it and up to 80% considering it. Thankfully, the UK is better than many other places and these figures are greatly increased elsewhere, e.g., the USA, Eastern Europe, etc.
Other Rights Still Not Equal
The right to bodily integrity of people with Intersex conditions (people with differences of sexual development, sometimes unhelpfully termed “disorders”, DSD) is an issue still being fought for. Just because gay rights are seemingly “in the bag”, same-sex weddings won, does not mean trans or intersex people have the same or equal benefits, nor does it mean that any LGBTI person is free from bullying, hate crime or prejudice in the workplace.
Equality itself is not yet equal, either between different strands of the diversity umbrella of protected characteristics nor across different countries in the EU, Commonwealth, or world. Some 80 nations have laws that still criminalise homosexuality, some with the death penalty. Just because a civil rights battle is part-won in one country does not mean that is everyone’s experience, either at home or abroad. So days like IDAHOBIT, regional and national LGBTIQ Prides, are still needed to remind us of how far we have come, and… how far we still have to go to achieve equality, acceptance and freedom for all.