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.
Movement for Justice and UEA student, Lotty Clare led a rally outside City Hall Norwich for Aleppo Syria with Tim Hughes of Stop the War Coalition, activist and writer Katy Jon Went, Norwich-based Syrian refugee Anas, and John Cowan. Cllrs Alan Waters and James Wright of Norwich City Council were among the gathered crowd to offer support and hear what could be done. Alan Waters said that the city’s MPs, Chloe Smith and Clive Lewis, would be written to.
One of the hardest things is feeling so powerless in the face of the humanitarian disaster, but there are actions that can be taken:
Writing to MPs
Writing to international embassies about the United Nations Responsibility to Protect to which all member nations signed up in 2005 to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity
Writing to Syria’s embassy as responsible for the wellbeing of its own people and to uphold the 16 UN resolutions regarding atrocities and human rights abuses in Syria
Welcoming Syrian refugees – offering spare rooms. Half of Syria have been forced out of their homes, the biggest refugee and displacement crisis since the Second World War, 11 million people
Keeping yourself informed to maintain international pressure on the parties responsible for perpetuating the situation
Attending rallies to keep Syria in the public and media eye
My own contribution evolved out of a facebook rant I wrote earlier in the day about the escalation of terror and atrocities in the weeks before Christmas, the supposed season of goodwill and peace to all mankind.
Text of my speech
A year ago, as the UK Parliament was considering joining the by then year long US & 13 nation coalition of bombing Syria, I attended a Don’t Bomb Syria rally. A year later and the situation is worse, not only in Syria but also in surrounding nations. 15 years of invasions, interference, and increased radicalisation by bombing the bombers, has not stopped or solved a single middle eastern crisis.
Christmas sees no let up in world chaos and terror, no salam, shalom, peace toward all men…an Advent calendar of death mostly meted out on non-combatants, mother and child, drone strike “collateral damage”, innocent victims of men’s rush to conquer and dominate, or to solve problems with swords rather than ploughshares, bombs rather than words.
On Sunday, IS killed 25, mainly women, in Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral, the same day Boko Haram forced two 7-year-old girls to act as suicide bombers in a Nigerian market. In the first 2 weeks of December alone, IS have executed 100 people, so have Syrian pro-government forces, and suicide bombs have gone off in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Turkey, Yemen.
Meantime the humanitarian disaster that is Syria and Aleppo continues to escalate with over 450,000 killed, and some 4.8 million refugees (along with 6.6m internally displaced, that’s half of Syria’s 22m population forced out of their homes), cities flattened, hospitals destroyed, children killed (up to 50,000). The current raids on Aleppo have been called by the UN this afternoon, in all probability a war crime. If the battle for Aleppo is over, then for Assad the victory is Pyrrhic as the city is demolished and its people dead and devastated.
Great progress world, congratulations on continuing to be a right royal fuck up 2016 years after baby Jesus/Yeshua/Isa was apparently born. Extremist and fundamentalist religious interpretations, repressive political regimes, and “proxy wars” are not on my Xmas card list, Syrian refugees are – an airdrop of aid, peaceful passage out of conflict zones, a welcome in the West, but better still – stop the bombing so they can stay, live and rebuild their land.
Instead, we continue the bombing, and breaking of ceasefires 2 hours after they are put into effect – even bombing the very roads the evacuations were due to take place on. Bombing escalates terror, and is a failed strategy, that even Donald Trump now admits! Indeed, Boris Johnson, against political and Tory party advice, has called a spade a spade, and for an end to proxy wars of geopolitical games carried out by Saudi Arabia, but perhaps also: Iran, Russia, Turkey and the US.
Each religion or political cause can be twisted to apparently justify slaughter, but that comes from man’s inhumanity to man, not faith or ideology per se. Equally, most faiths can be quoted from to encourage love, mercy and kindness. At this time of year, and every day, we need to be encouraging community, compromise and communication, not escalating conflicts creating mass casualties as the collateral toll of other people’s battles.
Speeches delivered at #NorwichStays pro-EU Remain Rally
I was one of 8 great speakers at a peaceful anti-Brexit demo, attended by 1500 people, organised by UEA students Emily Cutler and Tom Johnston on the steps of Norwich City Hall, Thursday 7 July. It followed the result of the EU Referendum on 23 June which saw 48% vote Remain but lose in a campaign that was punctuated by fear and fraud, rather than reasoned evidenced debate. It was a democratic process that has highlighted and polarised division in the country over the UK’s relationship with the European Union. But democracy also means that we can keep pressing for change and reconsideration of Brexit, which is a once-in-a-lifetime retrograde decision.
Councillor Alan Waters, “this is our moment to shape the future of this city”, Leader of Norwich City Council with a background in education and the arts
Emily Cutler, UEA Economics student and co-organiser
“I can’t believe how many people are standing in front of me. When I was organising this I was expecting a couple of hundred people. I can’t believe how many people have come out to support our future.” – Emily Cutler
As the number of speakers grew so inevitably our speeches had to be reduced, so I’ve put below my full-length text, actual text, deletions and ad libs in different colours, so you can compare the planned and final version speech (annoying for many of you, no doubt, but interesting for speech writers!) – if you want a clean actual speech only version click here.
I’m a democrat, a liberal, a socialist, and an economist and statistician, and have previously run a business that enjoyed the freedom to trade across the EU. Fifteen years ago I would have voted Leave. A fortnight ago I voted Remain with all my heart, having spent the month before it writing and debating daily for a reformed EU, not a disUnited Kingdom.
Let me say from the outset that I believe in hope not hate, unity not division, and am totally opposed to all forms of xenophobia and racism, but and this is where you might not like me so much I’m also against tarnishing all Leavers with the same brush. Whilst the majority of racists it has been said voted Leave, the majority of Leavers are not racists. Nor are they all elderly, nor are they all uneducated, nor are they all unemployed, nor of a different class to some people who may be gathered here. Yes, there are demographics that voted more one way than another, but descending into generalisations and personal attacks without factual qualification is part of the very issue that brought such disrepute to the campaigns of both Leave and Remain.
That said, the result of the vote which falls on everybodyas muchit falls on all voters, asit falls on non-voters, it falls on the media and politicians and everyone who got us where we got two weeks ago which is not the end we can still change that but there have been alike, has been that a majority of people of colour, folk from different countries and cultures, even legally British but ethnically diverse people who have been here for years, my partner is Dutch and has been here 17 years but couldn’t vote. Some of these people now feel less welcome, less safe, and along with a majority of young people under 35, are now worrying about a more insecure future with fewer educational, scientific, cultural and employment opportunities.
At the same time though we have to accept that a majority of unemployed or low-paid working class people also lacked hope and voted ‘Out’ because of their own fears about the future, exacerbated by unfounded beliefs that immigration was a threat to them personally or that the alleged benefits of the EU had passed them by and had not been felt or recognised by them. Our failure was in not getting across that message. We need an inclusive internationalism that leaves no communities and no or classes behind. Being part of the 48 per cent, if we shift that to 52 or 54, or 55% we still end up in a divided country if we can’t make that 65, 75 or 95% in favour of staying in Europe, and that means engaging with the 52 per cent, rationally, fairly and humanely.
We need to unite against prejudice, against discrimination, xenophobia and hate. I believe that the EU has actually helped that over the years with its motto of “Unity in diversity”, not just of nations and disparate peoples, but also of workers and employers, ofwomen and women, LGBT and other minority communities. The Friday just before the Referendum, it was a Herculean task but they got all 28 nations of the EU to agreed common cause on promoting LGBTI rights across Europe, being part of the EU has helped people like me as a trans person because the EU actually trumped the UK in various courts so that laws were actually, yes, imposed upon the UK by Europe, but they were laws to do with human rights that needed imposing on us! But the EU having these kind of rights to do with human rights and LGBT rights and all the other things, they will actually mean that they can demanded improvement from countries that want to join the EU, from accession countries, countries like Turkey, with its poorerthat has an abysmal human rights record. If they want to join the EU then they’re going to have to join the unanimity of the countries that have already promoted human rights in Europe.
The very worst thing that has come out of Brekfist (oops tongue tied and hungry!) Brexit, to me, has been the rise in hate crime – already we saw last year in the UK a rise inon the up, particularly Islamophobia in 2015. But even here in Norwich on a single day just days after the Referendum I heard of 3 local hate incidents, by the end of the weekend nearly a dozen I’d heard of, and those were just those I was connected to via social media here in Norwich. There were a hundred more elsewhere over Brexit weekend, and over 500 since, over a week it was 500% up according to the police, 66/day in London, 200+/day across the country, according to Tell Mama, over 800 per cent rise in Islamic phobic hate crime. Most go still unreported, so the situation is probably worse, many are now living in fear. Now, I don’t mean to shock you with this but one of the worst statements of what was actually casual racism as it’s called, as if there’s such a thingI sawwas online, and it was locally was, and someone said: “don’t worry about the rise in racism, it will be offset by the fall in murders and rapes murderers and rapists“.
That is something we need to oppose vehemently, and that’s root and branch, and that doesn’t just mean “Oh I condemn it ” and politicians saying “I condemn it, and we’ll do more about it”, it means getting to the grassroots of culture in our country to change people’s attitude. London was a place that voted predominantly to Remain and yet has the highest immigration and has had it for the longest it is more integrated. I lived there in the 80s when it was less integrated. Places like Boston, yes they have high immigration now but it isn’t fully integrated yet and they haven’t got used to it. Some of these things take time but leaving Europe means we haven’t don’t have that time. There are things that we need to do now.
The UK was actually part of a liberal bloc in the EU, and that is actually weakened by our leaving, we’re abandoning the liberal and reforming movements within Europe by leaving them without what would become a 35 per cent blocking minority on less-liberal proposals from further far right groups factions within Europe the EU.
Absolute sovereignty and security – sovereignty was the biggest issue, even above immigration, in the EU campaign but absolute sovereignty and security in a global world is a myth. Geography continues to be redrawn on maps, and online daily – it doesn’t really exist at all. Instead, according to a leading British professor of EU law it’s about control and power, and they’re not even true. After Brexit we will have more apparent control but less actually less power and less influence in the world, and none at the EU table, and losing a market and community of states, that’s twice the size of America, and nearly half of our global trade. And even if we leave we will remain in the European Courts of Human Rights, we will remain in the Council of Europe, we remain in NATO, WTO, G7, G20, various international laws, human rights, maritime, and environment agreements. This is the 21st century not the 19th! We cannot peddle backwards.
Democracy though is imperfect and not always right – especially, when I don’t get my own way. Ha, no! Yes, the Referendum was democracy in action, but democracy in a factless vacuum and a fatuous vacuum does not work – Hitler rose to power on democracy and then abused and crushed it in the name of national unity and self-interest.
Democracy also fails when there’s evident electoral bias. My South Norfolk Polling Station had two Brexit tabloids on display next to the voting slips, if you ask me that invalidates that vote and that wasn’t Norwich I live just South – still under investigation by the Electoral Commission and local counting officer, despite reporting it halfway through voting day.
Democracy doesn’t work when we are lied to by, both sides, leading to a situation where 22 per cent of people admitted they didn’t understand the facts well and yet still voted, some of those same people googled after the polls closed, “what is the EU?” 47 per cent believed the Leave campaign’s openly acknowledged “mistake” and withdrawn promise, the that of the false £350m a week EU contributions blatantly false and proven to be so. That was and electoral bribe that was withdrawn immediately. That invalidates their entire campaignit would now be spent on the NHS. The Health Service will not be getting £350m more. Furthermore, the vote will make little difference to immigration. Net budget payments to the EU will probably cost us almost the same to get some kind of Norway or Swiss deal. If the Pound remains low, inflation will already add 5-10% to food and petrol prices, affecting everyone and especially the working classes, especially the poor, especially the people who voted ‘Out’. If we ever want to rejoin, you can be assured we will never get the rebates, reforms and exemptions we got before. We actually have one of the best deals in Europe at the moment and we’re about to trash it.
One of my biggest issues, is that people were not informed of the economic, social and legal facts and consequences, without falsehood or media and party bias, in order for the Vote to fairly consent to the Referendum choices, how can they consent when what they heard was not fair or true. In the mostmore blatant cases they were lied to by again both campaigns. Exaggeration that was what theChilcot Reportcriticised Blair’s campaign to go to war over, blatant exaggeration. Fear won. It was a campaign of fear. Democracy based upon lies and fear is not democracy but deception and manipulation.That is how the National Socialists rose to power in the 1930s.
My first degree was in Economics and Statistics so I know very well how to lie! The UK was 5th in the world economic tables, and was about to overtake Germany, because of the Pound’ssince Brexit’s 12% currency devaluation the last two weeks, (18% off its 12 month peak) we’ve already dropped a placeslipped to 6th instead, behindbelow France. And we will keep slipping if we do not reform Europe and the UK’s position in it. The FTSE 250 remains 8% down.
But our rights of representation include the right to protest the results of any electoral or parliamentary decision, that’s what democracy is, it doesn’t mean just once every 5 years or once every 50 years which is what the EU Referendum was about. The rights to representation means we can keep complaining, it’s not sour grapes, it’s not just get on with it and accept it, or e-x-c-e-p-t it as a lot of people have been spelling over Facebook! I do agree with ‘excepting’ that decision the other spelling!But as millions have done since austerity under the Tories, or even under the war that Tony Blair took us into. People took to the streets and called forgeneral elections, called for referenda, called to bring down governments, that is our democratic right, not to accept the decision and to keep campaigning, but to keep persuading as well, to keep proving that a majority are moving in favour of staying.
Agitation to peacefully bring down a government, petition for change, is a very British revolutionary right way of doing revolution in these days. The parties are already stabbing themselves in the back. BrexitIt has already brought down severalseen two party leaders go and most of the Brexit pretenders. Nigel Farage himself, as you’ve already heard, says admitted that he too would have called for a second referendum had the margin 52-48% been the same in Remain’s favour. So it’s schadenfreude and hypocrisy to say that we shouldn’t be calling for it too.
In the 5 days since the Referendum, Parliament received over 5,000 petitions, nearly 50 times their normal democratic load. The most famous is the call for a second Referendum if there was a narrow margin of victory. It was actually a Leaver’s petition hijacked by Remainers! It has over 4 million signatures even after removing the fraudulent ones, the fastest and largest ever in the UK.
That is a demonstration of democracy, that is a demonstration of people power and a demonstration of political engagement but it is still not enough. If 80% of young people wanted to stay in and yet 80% didn’t vote, then there’s still a lack of political engagement, that’s what we’ve got to change.
People power can bring down governments and/or prevent Article 50 if we can prove the electorate has changed its mind or was lied to as with the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War.
We can continue to call for compromise and delay, and a fresh democratic mandate to ratify or reject any Exit deal, once the facts are known. This has been suggested by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, despite being ruled out by all the Tory leadership candidates. There are legal reasons why a referendum based upon lies can be disregarded, indeed Parliament is only morally obliged to follow a referendum’s verdict, not legally.
The regret vote, according to polls, is now already shifting 7-14% away from Leave, (oddly enough 3% of Remainers have shifted to Leave!). But the point is the gap has shifted in our favour. Wales is now polling as majority Remain – probably because of the football!People on Guido Fawkes website are already planning street demos and riots should there be a second referendum or non-Brexit.But it is the extremes of traditional Left-Right politics behind Brexit, nationalistic and anti-establishment views, not the centre ground of engagement with Europe. Politics is changing and it’s calling. It calls for a new politics, athe rainbow coalition and progressive alliances to defeat an insular nationalism. A majority of those under 45 voted Remain, but a majority of those under 35 didn’t vote.We need to re-engage with not only politics but voting and that engagement and education so that people’s futures are enfranchised. I think it was one of the Swiss guys this week who said that where we have failed is by abandoning investment in education over the last 2 decades. I mean with people like Gove at the helm – that is why!
If Article 50 is delayed and a Referendum or General Election called before any final EU withdrawal attempt, by then hundreds of thousands more younger people will have gained the vote and those that didn’t vote can be mobilised.
The UK and its universities receive more funding from the European Research Council than any other country and 50% more than Germany, allowing UK universities to fund more than 10% of project-based research from EU contributions.
The EU has contributed to 50 years of peace and harmony in Europe, prosperity has been dented not because of the EU but because of austerity and the world economic crash of 2008, because of the banks, because of bailing them out and not bailing the poor out.
Being in Europe but not a part of the Euro, has actually served British interests very well.
The EU does not want us to leave, nor do Scotland, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, London, Norwich and elsewhere, not to mention Wales and Cornwall beginning to shift. I want to remain and if we have to leave, to revote once the facts of the deal are knows, or to petition to rejoin, as soon as possible.
It is not a loser’s tantrum, it’s my democratic right and yours to keep saying that I want to stay in the EU, even in opposition, but significantly it is and my moral responsibility to stand up for those in the UK who don’t have no electoral rights, no voice, like the millions of EU and other immigrant peoples who cannot vote, and the people under 18 whose futures we are gamblingdeciding now but the reality of which will not kick in until a time when they would have had their owna say.
With 7-14% of Leavers regretting their votes and 100s of thousands being enfranchised by the time an EU deal is negotiated, we would almost certainly vote Remain at another more honest fact-driven Referendum prior to debating deals or launching any Article 50, next year – according to Theresa May.
We are entirely within our rights to keep making those voices heard, as we are today. Thank you.
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.