Chechen Gay ‘Concentration Camps’
The Chechen Republic is a Russian autonomous region that is around 95% Muslim. Reports over the last week or so have continued to come in that around 100 men suspected of homosexuality have been sent to a detention facility in Argun, and that allegedly 3 have been killed. Calling them ‘concentration camps‘ may be a reach, but as we don’t know what is going on there it may be appropriate.
— Pride in London (@LondonLGBTPride) April 13, 2017
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)
— Norwich Pride (@NorwichPride) April 13, 2017
Decriminalisation of homosexuality
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
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) April 13, 2017
What is happening in Chechnya?
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
This is similar to during the Sochi Winter Olympics, when “The mayor of Sochi, said there are no gay people in the city.”
Why ban what allegedly doesn’t exist?
Famous Gay or Bi Russians
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.
Keep Chechnya in the public eye, and don’t forget everywhere else we turn a blind eye to, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Uganda and the other 70+ nations that deny human rights to LGBTI people.
CofE Marriage and Same Sex Relationships Report
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 Attitude open letter today now terms it “official policy”.
“No Change” – the way forward is backward thinking
“There is no change in theology, no meaningful change in practice and no change in discipline.” – LGCM & Changing Attitude open letter
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.
A muddled Church lacking in Love
The Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations report opens early with the words:
“If we are heard as lacking in love, our ability to proclaim the God of love as revealed in Jesus Christ is damaged or negated.”
Sadly, that is the way the report is most likely to be heard by LGBTI Christians and LGBT-affirming society as a whole.
Bishop James said this was not the end of the process but left the Church “somewhere in the middle”. I think that is a typo for “muddle”.
Rabbi Lionel Blue, 1930-2016
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.
World AIDS Day, December 1
When World AIDS Day comes around each year, we memorialise those lost to the infectious disease, but also recognise that for many it is no longer a death sentence, certainly not an imminent one. People live longer and fuller lives after diagnosis than ever before. It remains, however, the biggest cause of death for African teens and “the second biggest killer for adolescents around the world” (UNICEF). The theme of World AIDS Day 2015 is: “Getting to zero; End AIDS by 2030.”
In the UK, a Kissing Booth in Soho Square was today spreading the message that “Kissing Doesn’t Spread HIV. Ignorance Does.”
Whilst HIV and AIDS are improving in the UK, and we congratulate ourselves on survival rates, better education, and great use of celebrities, social media, schools etc to combat residual ignorance – meanwhile, it remains Africa’s biggest killer – not terrorism and conflict. Fear and denial of homosexuality or MSM (Men who have sex with men) does not help. LGBT equalities, freedoms and awareness will help end the ignorance, but teaching safe sex and that heterosexual people, men and women, are the biggest at risk populations, is vital.
HIV Facts not Fear
- Around 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK
- Only 1% of those in the UK with HIV died from AIDS
- Only 0.3% in the UK go on to develop AIDS from HIV
- UK people can expect a normal life expectancy with the disease
- Some 34 million worldwide are living with HIV
- Some 33 million worldwide since 1984 have died
- Sub-Saharan Africa has the most serious HIV and AIDS epidemic in the world with 25m people, 5% of all adults
- Over a million deaths annually from HIV in Africa
- Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence of any country worldwide (27.4%)
- South Africa has the largest epidemic of any country with 5.9 million people living with HIV
- More women than men in Sub-Saharan Africa have HIV and each year 10% of women without HIV become infected especially 15-24 year olds
- 26 new HIV infections an hour for African teens aged 15-19 with girls making up 70% of those infected
- It is the biggest killer of young people in Africa, second biggest worldwide
- Poverty is a social determinant for HIV infection across all age groups in South Africa
- 20% of those in the US with HIV are women (84% from heterosexual sex)
- Over 125,000 women with HIV in the US have died since 1984
- Effective treatment makes you non-infectious
- HIV is mostly caught from unprotected sex with anyone (95%)
- It can be developed from intravenous drugs needle sharing (2%)
- It can also be caught in extremely rare unscreened circumstances from infected blood through transfusion, organ transplant, and mother to baby (0.5% chance)
On World Aids Day HIV we are right to remind people that AIDS is no longer a death sentence in the UK. It remains, however, Africa’s biggest killer, not terrorism or conflict. There is a global imbalance in health prospects, life expectancy, sex education, drugs funding, and attitudes to the value of people’s lives of different races and nationalities.
Marriage in Northern Ireland is still “defined as being a union between one man and one woman” says NI Christian bakery company that refused to bake a “gay” Bert and Ernie queer cake and is taking “a stand” according to a trending BBC story.
It seems that the cake request came from a volunteer LGBT activist from Belfast’s QueerSpace, as the cake design was to include their logo. QueerSpace is a “volunteer-led collective which has been serving the LGBT community of Belfast and Northern Ireland since 1998. It does this by raising LGBT visibility, supporting LGBT community activities and facilitating communication.”
The cake was designed for their event to promote the International Day Against Homophobia as can be seen in the alternatively sourced cake that features prominently in several Facebook photos.
The International Day Against Homophobia is celebrated each year on 17 May to combat homophobia and transphobia.
Described by Channel 4 News as “Sesame Street’s most sexually ambiguous couple”, Bert and Ernie have long been considered possibly, if not probably, gay.
The official Sesame Workshop position is that they are just “good friends”. In a 1993 statement they issued, it said:
“Bert and Ernie, who’ve been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans.”
CEO Gary Knell in Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street, was a little more vague, hinting at sexual ambiguity as well as their sexual inability:
“They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets. They don’t exist below the waist.”
This didn’t stop some Christians complaining that they represented a gay couple. Reverend Joseph Chambers on his radio show, in 1994, said:
“Bert and Ernie are two grown men sharing a house and a bedroom. They share clothes, eat and cook together and have blatantly effeminate characteristics. In one show Bert teaches Ernie how to sew. In another they tend plants together. If this isn’t meant to represent a homosexual union, I can’t imagine what it’s supposed to represent.”
Eric Jacobson, in a 2011 interview for Vanity Fair, said that Bert and Ernie were more “The Odd Couple” than a gay couple, if anything they emulated the close friendship of Jim Henson and Frank Oz.
All these assertions and denials, it makes one wonder, because we all know what hides behind denial, lol! 😉
Ashers Baking Company
Ashers Baking Company and its Christian founders and directors have taken their stand based upon their religious beliefs against a customer’s request to bake a pro-equal marriage cake. Whether the gay rights activist’s order was a test and if the bakery’s Christian views were well known beforehand is not clear. What is clear, is the law. Refusal of goods or services based upon someone’s actual or perceived sexuality is an offence. The Equality Commission wrote to the bakery saying that they had discriminated against the customer on the grounds of his sexual orientation and that they had seven days to recompense and “remedy [their] illegal discrimination” or end up in court.
According to a YouTube statement the company was named after Asher, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, recorded as having “gifted bakers” in it. It runs itself on what it perceives to be Biblical guidelines, not opening on Sundays either.
General Manager, Daniel McArthur, said of the customer order that:
“The directors and myself looked at it and considered it and thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was at odds with what the Bible teaches, and on the following Monday we rang the customer to let him know that we couldn’t take his order.”
It was not the first time the bakery had declined orders, McArthur, said they had also refused to bake cakes containing “pornographic images and offensive vile language”. They made no direct link between gay marriage and pornography but by offering up no other examples their statement makes a less than subtle and unfortunate, if not downright offensive, connection between the morality of pornography and homosexuality to some Christians.
Rev Andy Marshall, a Church of England priest, has written a fabulous piece pointing out Ashers’ biblical failings according to Leviticus and the New Testament. I mean what is a non-bearded man doing selling pork sausage rolls and then condemning dubious Levitical laws allegedly condemning homosexuality? Not to mention not representing the love and acceptance that Jesus showed towards ‘outsiders’, the oppressed and minorities. I can imagine Jesus being more likely to storm angrily into the bakery and upset their dough wielding a “whip of cords“.
Whilst Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to have passed a same-sex marriage law, this particular incident depends entirely on existing legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Northern Ireland and Devolved Equality -The Equality Commission
Unlike Wales and Scotland, anti-discrimination legislation is devolved in Northern Ireland has devolved anti-discrimination legislation, what this means is that whilst Wales and Scotland fully comply with the Equality Act (2010), Northern Ireland implements it incompletely, in its own way. The Northern Ireland Assembly, rather than the Westminster Parliament, is responsible for equalities law. Sections 73, 74 and 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998) established the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and placed public sector bodies under an equivalent though not entirely identical to British Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). Notably, pregnancy and gender identity/reassignement are not explicitly protected characteristics.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has responsibility for enacting and enforcing the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003 and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 acts. It is the latter regulations , which came into force in 2007, which make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of, among other things, “goods, facilities or services”.
Whilst some religious organisations in Northern Ireland are exempt from the regulations, a bakery is a business, Christian-run or not, and as such must comply.
A Defence of Religions and Political Freedoms?
The Christian Institute, which is mounting their defence, disagrees and their director, Colin Hart said:
“All the McArthurs want is to run their bakery according to their Christian beliefs. There won’t be many situations where they need to turn down an order but this is obviously one of them. No one should be forced to use their creative skills to promote a cause which goes against their consciences.”
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph the initial story of which made front page news, Hart described this in apocalyptic terms:
“[It’s] a sign of things to come exactly as we predicted…. Now this nonsense, more usually associated with the public sector, is being applied to the private sector … This means millions of ordinary people who do not agree with gay marriage, face intimidation and the real threat of legal action from the forces of political correctness if they, out of conscience, decline to provide good or services to campaign groups they do not agree with or support. It establishes a dangerous precedent about the power of the state over an individual, or business to force them to go against their deeply held beliefs.”
Their defence will be based upon arguing that an equal marriage cake is a political campaign and that it is not discrimination to refuse to endorse a political position.
The issue has now made it to the UK Parliament with Prime Minister’s Question time (PMQs) raising the issue and David Cameron, knowing little about it, being challenged to defend religious freedom.
Burwell v Hobby Lobby Case
The case has some similarity with the recent SCOTUS (US Supreme Court) judgement on Burwell v Hobby Lobby in which despite a federal mandate to provide employee health coverage, Hobby Lobby’s owners, David and Barbara Green, refused to comply as they felt that 4 out of 20 of the health insurance registered contraceptive drugs were morning-after and week-after life terminating abortion pills, based upon their view of life beginning at conception. SCOTUS upheld their refusal by 5-4 and ruled in their favour with “important implications for over 50 pending lawsuits brought by non-profit religious organizations … also challenging the mandate”.
[An earlier version of this article first appeared here]
QueerSpace Belfast Support Gay Marriage public facebook photo
Equality Commission NI logo
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.
On International Transgender Day of Visibility (31 March) see:
On Bisexual Visibility Day (23 September) see:
On the Intersex day of Awareness (26 October) see:
On the Transgender Day of Remembrance (20 November) see:
FIrst published here.