Tag Archives: LGBTIQ

Protests continue at Chechnya Homophobia, Gay-Bisexual Torture & Killing

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.

Clive Lewis MP speaking at Norwich LGBT Chechnya protest
Clive Lewis MP speaking at Norwich LGBT Chechnya protest

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)

Decriminalisation of homosexuality

Norwich City Hall LGBT Chechnya protest
Norwich City Hall LGBT Chechnya protest

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.

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

Chechen Republic, Chechnya FlagChechnya, 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.

LGBT Concentration Camps Chechnya protest
LGBT Concentration Camps Chechnya protes

Church of England’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy on LGBT sexuality

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.

Whether it’s the Issues in Human Sexuality (1991), Pilling Report (2013) or the current statement (2017) it seems the Church of England is firmly rooted in the Christian tradition – of the past.

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”.

 

We are all migrants – Norwich Solidarity Rally with International Immigrants

Norwich Migrants Solidarity Rally

Rebecca Tamás organised a rally of over 400 people on 12 July outside Norwich City Hall, with a dozen speakers across cultures and continents, writers, politicians, faiths, artists, academics and activists, as well as the daughter of the Eastern European village shop on Magdalen St that was arson attacked on 8 July. The purpose of the gathering was to affirm the city’s welcome of migrants, refugees and all its international communities. Norwich is a city of refuge and literature to everyone with a story, a safe place for future chapters to unfold, even if there are isolated incidents of hate or racism, Norwich remains a fine city where the community responds to hate with love, to darkness with light.

Rebecca Tamás organiser and speaker at Migrants Rally, 12 July 2016
Rebecca Tamás organiser and speaker at Migrants Rally, 12 July 2016 – more event photos here

Hungarian-British UEA PhD student and organiser of the rally
Rebecca Tamás described the event as:

“a testament to the power of love and inclusion” – UEA Concrete, interview

In the same post-rally interview I said that:

“Nobody can say there’s even such a thing as ‘English’, let alone ‘British’ or anything else: we are already a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds, bloodlines and everything. But it’s about, even more than ever, despite that background, recognising that we are part of a global village. And it is this bigger picture we often miss: the fact that we are all human beings whose duty it is to always watch out for our fellow humans… at the end of the day, it is about stories, we have personal stories and people have community and country stories, but it’s having the freedom to have your own story, the freedom to then tell that story to others, to be heard and to be recognised.” – UEA Concrete, interview

We are all migrants. We are all story-tellers. We are all humans. We deserve the same opportunities, the same love, and the same respect. And, at the end of the day, it really is as simple as that.

Hate is taught and caught, not born with, children begin life accepting everyone until we teach them otherwise, it is good for, particularly young people, to be out demonstrating a positive response to diversity and difference, rather than the rise in xenophobia and hate crime witnessed post-Brexit vote.

Event Speakers

  • Katy Jon Went, writer & diversity activist (full transcript below)
  • Marcia X, UEA
  • George Szirtes
  • Samantha Rajasingham
  • Dr Becky Taylor, UEA
  • Pa Musa Jobarteh of BridgePlus
  • Fern Richards, UEA
  • Mohammed Ameen from Chapelfield Mosque
  • Annie Henrique from Norwich Liberal Synagogue
  • Tim Hughes from Stand up to Racism.
  • Rebecca Tamás, UEA
  • Cllr Alan Waters, Leader of Norwich City Council
  • Clive Lewis MP for Norwich South – by message

An excellent summary of each speaker’s main points can be found on Tony Allen’s blog.

Text of my opening speech

Speech download as PDF

Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Solidarity With Migrants Rally, 12 July 2016
Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Solidarity With Migrants Rally, 12 July 2016 – more event photos here

The UK and, indeed, East Anglia have long traditions of immigration. We currently have some 8 million foreign-born people in the UK, about 1-in-8 of us. But, more than that, many of us, if not recent migrants, have Roman, Viking, Norman, Saxon, Dutch, African, Caribbean or Indian ancestors.

Ironically, Brexit Boris Johnson has Turkish and Franco-German ancestry and was born in the USA so is included in that 8 million figure! Unless you want to class bombastic British Boris as foreign, the actual number is nearer to 5 million, or about 1-in-12 people.

Whatever the figures, though, the important thing to recognise is that we live in a global community, locally expressed.

It is community cohesion and communication we need to build to counter fear, hate, and prejudice.

My partner is Dutch and my family name has Dutch emigrant roots. In the 16th century Norwich welcomed Dutch and Flemish ‘Strangers’ till they made up a third of our population, bringing new skills that enhanced our then status as England’s second most prosperous and prestigious city.

Before that, back in the 12th century, Norwich was 7% Jewish but after the killing of a teenager, posthumously to become St William, that was falsely blamed on the local Jews, and so began the Blood Libel. A persecution and killing of Jews that spread across East Anglia and to Europe, from our fine city of Norwich. By the end of the 13th century all remaining Jews had been expelled from Britain.

In addition, slavery, empire, and commonwealth’s, often coerced, contributions to wars, trade, and labour, mean that Britain’s success owes a moral debt to people from around the world. Economically we have, and continue to thrive on, migrant people’s hardworking and entrepreneurial spirit. Economic studies show that immigration is a net benefit, that immigrant people are more likely to be in work or starting their own trades, paying tax, and not claiming benefits, than people of longstanding British heritage.

Whether people come to Britain fleeing war, terrorism, homophobia, transphobia, or poverty, they are all fleeing a threat to life, liberty, or livelihood. Even poverty is a slow death and until #Brexit we were the 5th most wealthy economy in the world after Germany which has twice the percentage of migrant background population. We are fully able to sponsor and support asylum seekers, refugees and even so-called economic migrants.

What we have to do is engage with British communities that bear the greatest new influxes so that integration is successful. London with over a third foreign national origin people is a successful example after more than 60 years of immigration, Boston and Great Yarmouth, among others, need time to adapt.

That means that grants and benefits need to fall upon domestic as well as international communities in those areas. It means increased spending on schools, the NHS, and community services, not austerity which falls hardest upon the poor. Doing this will reduce societal division, fear, hatred, jealousy and suspicion.

Solidarity With Migrants, Norwich, 12 July 2016 #SafetyPin
Solidarity With Migrants, Norwich, 12 July 2016 #SafetyPin – more photos here

Hate crimes have surged by 42% in England and Wales since the Brexit result, over 200 a day, the worst rise on record. Three race hate crimes an hour is three too many, especially when nine more per hour go unreported.

The UK needs to be at the forefront of offering opportunity and safety to all. Freedom of belief, expression, identity and speech, alongside freedom from poverty, persecution, FGM, homophobia, forced marriage, racism, and torture, these are the very foundations of a truly forward thinking country and culture.

Our Home Secretary will become our Prime Minister tomorrow, unopposed. She herself, though, has opposed immigration and despite after much petitioning reviewing asylum seeker processes continues to preside over conditions and interrogations of refugees that demand they prove their sexuality and threats at home in invasive ways.

Theresa May may have Tory ‘Maymentum’, and Momentum may have a meeting tonight amidst Labour’s leadership woes, but we here in Norwich have migrant momentum, maintaining Norwich’s place as a growing city of cultural and international diversity, safety, and welcome. Here’s what the City Council have to say:

Solidarity With Migrants, Norwich, City Hall, 12 July 2016
Solidarity With Migrants, Norwich, City Hall, 12 July 2016 – more photos here

“we, as people of Norwich, should be reminded and encouraged to take pride in our ethnic and cultural diversity and rejoice in what we can share with and learn from others. Above all, we should be on our guard against anything or anyone who sets out to destroy it. As an institution (Norwich City Council), which is an integral part of city life, we once more declare our abhorrence and utter rejection of any form of injustice and pledge ourselves anew to celebrating cultural diversity and to ensuring that all members of our city feel nurtured and embraced.” – NCC statement

Safe Alcohol guidelines from Nanny State unlikely to change my Wine intake

New Safer Alcohol Guidelines

New “safe” alcohol guidelines from Nanny State have been drawn up, where “safe” means none, like a nun, more abstinence than absinthe. Beer takes a battering and wine is to be watered down. Livers up and down the country are leaping for joy!

Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse and Grill
Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse, as opposed to rarely drinking

I’ve always been a wine-drinker, but with food at the dinner table from an early age. It created a responsible drinking habit – again with the nun references!

I did try teetotalism for three months at University and pigged out on pizza instead. My partner is more into total-tea-ism.

I actually, never get drunk, well extremely rarely and unintentionally. I drink for pleasure and only with food, never to get drunk. I prefer to stay in control and able to appreciate the taste.

Tongue in Cheek Comment

Actually, all of this is tongue in cheek, wine sloshed around the palate stuff – I just hate being told what to do. Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer recommends a cup of tea instead of a glass of wine so expect a tax on tea sometime soon. Tea duty! Perhaps we should have a Boston Wine Party or a new political movement like the American Tea Party movement, the British Wine Party movement!

It all seems to be part of the austerity cuts and equalities agenda. Men’s drinking has been cut to the levels of women as it turns out male livers and female livers were not gendered at all and after several female livers took the UK Government to the European Court of Humourous Rights the Government out of spite decided to reduce men’s limits rather than raise female limits to an equal level.

Furthermore, the hypocrisy continues as Parliament is choosing to keep its bars open to serve more than the daily drinking allowance to MPs drunk on their own power.

It’s all clearly an anti-LGBT ploy (or conceivably out of concern for our health and wellbeing – which is an anagram of “binge well”) since it turns out LGBT people are nearly twice as likely to binge drink compared to the more sober hetero/cis population!

A History of Safe Drinking Limits

1984 was a positive drinking utopia compared to now. That year saw the first guidance on gendered drinking produced in a pamphlet called That’s the Limit. Safe limits were defined as 18 “standard drinks” a week for men and 9 for women. At least we now have drinking equality! One standard drink was defined as one alcohol unit – a concept that would be introduced in the next edition. The pamphlet also defined “too much” alcohol as 56 standard drinks a week for men and 35 for women. 1987 saw these limits revised down to familiar 21 units a week for men and 14 for women, with “too much” defined as 36 units for men and 22 for women. That is until today where it has been revised down to zero units for safe drinking and 14 as a recommended maximum should you still feel the need.

BBC Booze Nationality Calculator

The BBC website has devoted public money to shaming us further with their online booze nationality calculator which clearly makes no allowance for sexuality as a factor.

French wine drinker - new alcohol guidelines
French wine drinker – new alcohol guidelines

You drink like you’re from France, which is the joint 18th heaviest-drinking country in the world…You are on course to drink about 20.7 litres of pure alcohol over the year, which is 25% more than the average for men in the United Kingdom, and 200% more than the average for women.”

It turns out either I’m French or a bisexual/lesbian British woman but not a gay man.

A Choice between Risk and Pleasure

Drinking more than 14 units *may* increase your risk of dying from an alcohol-related condition by about 1%. That compares to more risky behaviour like a bacon sandwich or watching television for an hour!

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge, said:

“These guidelines define ‘low-risk’ drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition. So should we feel OK about risks of this level? An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week, is more dangerous to your long-term health. In contrast, an average driver faces much less than this lifetime risk from a car accident. It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking.”

Another tempting pleasure might be the latest research from Harvard and the UEA  suggesting that a high intake of blackcurrants and a few glasses of red wine could be “sexual superfoods“.

Drinking and Cancer

If wine is so bad for you, presumably most of Europe is dying of cancer, as opposed to stress and anxiety and other smoking and eating habits contributing to poor health outcomes. Other studies into the flavonoids, resveratrol and polyphenols in red grapes have shown wine’s heart protective benefits.

Actually, the Danes and French (big smokers) do unenviously top the cancer league however Portugal (36th) and Spain (34th) who drink more than Britain (23rd) come lower down the table. My plan is to drink more Malbec as the Argentinians come 49th. Clearly, other lifestyle factors are at work.

For women breast cancer risk from all factors but including increased drinking does rise from 10.9% to 12.6% (up to 14 units/week) to 15.3% (14-35 units). Similarly, bowel cancer rises for men and women by around 30% to 7-8% risk once 14 units are exceeded.

Allegedly, there are still health benefits if you are a woman over 55, I’ve never looked forward to ageing so much before! New #alcoholguidelines suck! I need a drink!

Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt
Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt

IDAHOT & IDAHOBIT take over from IDAHO in awareness of Bi/Trans/Homophobia

International Day Against Homophobia

The annual, since 2005, IDAHO Day celebrates the 1990 removal of homosexuality from the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). That it took 17 years from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) initial tentative removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) demonstrates how long change in these areas can take.

Whilst IDAHO initially concentrated on homophobia and lesbophobia – though rarely naming the latter, gay rights have moved on. Over time they have become Lesbian and Gay, LGB, more recently LGBT, with even Stonewall England & Wales now Trans inclusive. The debate over that may be over,  but the inclusion of I for Intersex, Q for Queer, and a panoply of other letters including Pansexual, Asexual, Non-Binary and more, still rages.

Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBiT)

The addition of ‘T’ for Transphobia, turning the acronym from a US state into the less likely to be confused IDAHOT, happened in 2009 but for many has still not taken root. Bisexual erasure is sadly commonplace and the explicit inclusion of Biphobia is more recent still, creating the more fun acronym IDAHOBiT, that sounds like a type of Middle Earth hobbit! Will adding yet more letters create an even more mythical sounding alphabetical chimera?

What about including Intersex?

Do intersex people even suffer interphobia? Yes of course they do. It can, however, appear as any of the other phobias as cases of mistaken or misunderstood identity. Nor is it really an identity, it is not a sexuality or gender, but a sex that may not be fully male or female or varying degreed of combination of the two.

Interphobia may exist in cases of law, sport, services or facilities, which may be defined only in male/female terms, excluding and discriminating against those whose nature may not wholly fit into one of those narrowly defined sex categories. Thus, interphobia is a form of sexism – which itself is often binary-sex defined. The worst case of interphobia is still that exhibited by medical clinicians and some parents who often try to shoehorn intersex children into one bodily sex category or another via non-consensual surgeries (on the part of the child).

Some LGBTI and LGBTIQ/LGBTQI groups have taken to including intersex as the ‘I’ of HOBIT, erasing the original purpose as the ‘i’ of Bi. It is, furthermore, doubtful whether intersex advocacy organisations were even asked whether they wanted to be part of HOBIT, or indeed HOBiTI. “Nothing About Us Without Us” was the appropriate battle-cry of disability activists, which might be co-opted here – with respect. That said, few would turn down the opportunity for increased understanding and awareness, so long as the education is accurate and publicity helpful, which it is not always. Misplaced good intentions and misappropriations can do more harm than good.

OII UK, the UK arm of the leading international intersex organisation, has praised the United Nations Human Rights commissioner for drawing attention this IDAHO Day to the plight of not only LGBT youth but also intersex youth stating that:

“intersex children and young people may be subjected to medically unnecessary, irreversible surgery and treatment without their free and informed consent. These interventions can result in severe, long-term physical and psychological suffering, affecting children’s rights to physical integrity, to health, privacy and autonomy and may constitute torture or ill-treatment. States should prohibit such interventions.” –  Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

What about the Others?

Pansexuals can be accused of not being real or be erased, somewhat ironically, by bisexuals – usually the chief victms of erasure. Non-binary and agender folk can experience something similar. Asexuals can often be misconstrued and misunderstood. A Facebook post by the 1.5-million-followers popular Lizzy the Lezzy page ran a comical post on asexual attitudes to sex which had some 2000 shares and hundreds of illuminating comments, many spot on, but some exhibiting the abusive assumptions that “sexuals” may have, that “having sex” should be an entitlement within a relationship.

lol! asexuals, is this true?

Posted by Lizzy the Lezzy on Saturday, 16 May 2015

Inclusion and Acronymitis

Diversity and equality should mean full and equal inclusion for all, It can, though, become unwieldy over time, as the tail becomes longer than the original dog, and those at the head of “gay rights” begin to resent being wagged by the ever-lengthening tail, which few may understand except those in MOGAI, AVEN, Alt and Fetlife communities. In the same way, in the UK, Race Equality, Sex Discrimination and Disability provisions were eventually combined with anti-homophobia initiatives to create the 2010 Equality Act. At some point IDAHO Day will need to become the International Day Against Hate and Discrimination Based Upon Sex, Orientation, or Identity. Quite a mouthful but shorter than IDAHOBiTIQA…XYZ. In short, human rights and respect – something in the 21st century we should all be moving towards, if not arrived at. “LGBT rights are human rights” as the recent Council of Europe report reminds us. Until that day, IDAHO/Bi/T reminds us that we are not there yet, but still undeniably a work in progress.

Suicides of Three US Trans Teens during February recalls Leelah Alcorn’s cry to “fix society”

More LGBT Lives Lost

Here in the UK, February was a month of LGBT History celebration and education but instead of lives remembered the US is memoralising more trans teen lives lost – not to mention the “eight trans women [who] have been murdered in the US so far this year“.

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I’ve seen reports of yet more trans suicides in America, not dissimilar to Leelah Alcorn who took her life at the end of 2014. That at least three trans teens took their lives, in the US alone, during February, is a measure of how far LGBT education still has to go.

Another 13 year old trans boy, Damien Strum, ended up in a psych ward after also trying to take his life. Although the facts surrounding this particular teen are somewhat hard to confirm and any privacy should be respected.

Zander Mahaffey | Melonie Rose | Ash Haffner

Better Gender Education

On Instagram, Damien had shared, like Leelah Alcorn had, about wanting schools to provide better gender education “of all the other genders”. Leelah has said, Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better.

A blog post entitled “Let Him Dance” is subtitled “Protecting Gender Expansive Youth” and encourages us that:

“We need to stop viewing gender as a binary, because some young people don’t have those easy answers, and they deserve to feel safe and confident in themselves and the people around them. No matter what. Gender is a spectrum. It’s not black and white. There is no ‘opposite’ gender; the binary concept fails to capture the rich variation that exists within gender identity…Every single young person who is fighting to define themselves — trans kids, queer kids, gender fluid kids — need to be protected. They need to belong.”

Over LGBT History Month I had several opportunities to speak in schools, a university and elsewhere educating and raising awareness of LGBTIQ experiences. I especially drew attention to young people’s LGBTQ identities, often asexual, bisexual, genderfluid and outside the binary or with newer MOGAI (Minority Orientations Genders and Intersex) labels that many older gay, lesbian and trans people might struggle to recognise – indeed, I had to research many of them myself.

“I need to know that I am loved and accepted and believed in, and that life has a point and I will find it someday. That’s just getting harder and harder to believe.” — A gender-expansive youth documented by Human Rights Campaign

Zander Nicholas Mahaffey, 15, Georgia

Trans teen Zander Mahaffey via Twitter
Trans teen Zander Mahaffey via Twitter

Zander, born Sandra, by his own admission, was a young trans teen, male identified, so a boy. He was just 5’2″ in height and that bothered him. As with many young queer tumblr generation teens he was clued up on his self-identified labels, describing himself as “panromantic-asexual”:

“my name’s zander. I’m trans and here to win. 15|He/Him|GA|♓”

Tumblr Suicide Note

If you’re still reading this it’s probably too late for a trigger warning about suicide (not to mention sexual assault). Having attempted to take my own life on more than one occasion I’ve no problem reading about this, and see writing and talking about it as essential, not something to avoid, but I understand that it can be triggering for some, more often than not the siblings and families left behind.

That said, what follows is some parts of Zander’s suicide note, that like Leelah Alcorn’s was timed for a delayed tumblr release:

“I don’t know why I’m writing this now, it just feels like a good time. I’ve kept holding off from doing this since it’s probably gonna be long. It’s surreal right? And if I publish this (or don’t delete it from my queue, I should say) then that means I’m dead.”

“Dad, I’m sorry but your “little girl” isn’t a little girl. I’m a boy, in my heart. And no, that doesn’t mean I want to play football.”

Apart from gender dysphoria, a lot of Zander’s pain seems to stem from a known person sexual assault and family psychological abuse that he describes.

He left behind several messages for friends and romantic partners, telling them they weren’t to blame. In amongst one such note, he wrote:

“I’m weak, I’m battered and bruised and I’m tired of fighting.”

I know that feeling. Sometimes suicide is not about the sum total of life to date, but the last straw, the exhaustion of struggling to survive another day, with no let up in both internal feelings and external circumstances. Often, it is no single thing, but a combination of factors, and a feeling of powerlessness to change them and the solitude of facing them alone.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough, that I gave up. But I just couldn’t, I couldn’t take it anymore. I am a hypocrite, I’ve talked many of people out of suicide before but yet here I am. Or, here I was.

I’m not noble, I’m not really trying to make this mean something huge. I’m just a coward who wanted to cut my strings and be free from my troubles. Here marks the end of Zander, a meme enthusiast and, friend? I guess.

I can’t say I’m not a little bit afraid of dying, but we all are. It’s the fear of the unknown. Perhaps there is another world waiting for me, perhaps I will be reborn into something, or maybe I’ll just stop existing. Maybe I would be a ghost that would be cool don’t you think? I have no clue, like with everything else in my life I’ll just wing it.

So this is the end? I’m over 3,000 words now. Time will go on, hopefully no one will be too bothered from me for too long. Just continue as you normally would be, that is what I want.

I’m selfish, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry that I only think about myself in this situation. I know there’s going to be people hurt and devastated by this. And I’m so, so, sorry about that. I don’t know what else to say. I’m just so tired, I’m so tired and I just want to go to sleep.”

I recognise so many of those feelings, as much as suicide helplines exist, empathic Samaritans, even closest friends are out there, the darkness of dysphoric depression, ache of social anxieties, are best understood by those that have been there.  Family and domestic and sexual violence issues are something more broadly faced and understood. But nobody can be there for you 24/7 – and if anybody is, it would probably be your family, not much help if they are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

The American Institute for Suicide Prevention found that 46% of trans men and 42% of trans women have attempted to take their own lives. Furthermore, 57% of transgender people were found to have been denied and excluded by family members. 50-54% experienced bullying in school.

In the UK 48% of trans people under 26 attempt suicide (2014) and some 43% in Canada (2012).

Misgendered Memorial

Whilst Leelah Alcorn found herself misgendered in death by close family, the funeral service, school and some news media outlets, a more aware Zander had probably learned from her situation and thus writes to two friends, Gabby and Katie:

“I want to ask of you both (especially you, Gabby) is to make sure if there are any memorials for me I want you both to make sure my right name and pronouns are used.”

Sadly, but not unsurprisingly, the family chose to use birth names and pronouns in the funeral and tombstone arrangements, as confirmed by a teenage friend present at the funeral. It seems supportive families of trans children are still the exception not the rule.

In response thousands took to twitter with the hashtag campaign #HisNameWasZander. Friends and supporters also put together a memorial blog on tumblr.

Melonie Rose, 19, Maryland

Trans teen Melonie Rose via Twitter
Trans teen Melonie Rose via Twitter

Also last month, Melonie Rose, aged 19, a transwoman of colour, took her own life.  Rather than rewrite what someone has written so well already, check out Dominick Evans’s report here. Dominick is a trans man and friend of Hunter, another trans man friend of Melonie’s, from whom much of the information about her life, death and misgendered memorial are drawn. #HerNameWasMelonie

Ash Haffner, 16, North Carolina

Trans teen Ash Haffner via Twitter
Trans teen Ash Haffner via Twitter

After years of bullying, particularly after cutting his hair short and changing his name legally to that of his male gender identity, 16-year-old Ash Haffner stepped into traffic, like Leelah Alcorn, and ended his life on 26 February.

Ash’s mother told WSOC-TV that “Ash started enduring the most bullying when she cut her hair short.”

Whilst his mother was supportive of his transition she admitted to struggling with pronouns and still called him ‘she’ but did refer to him as Ash rather than by his birth name of Ashlyn.

Ash left a final note on his iPad saying:

“Please be WHO YOU ARE… Do it for yourself. Do it for your happiness. That’s what matters in YOUR life. You don’t need approval on who you are. Don’t let people or society change who you are just because they’re not satisfied with your image.”

Suicide Contagion

Trans teen Leelah Alcorn
Trans teen Leelah Alcorn via Twitter

Some people have warned of the risk of copycat suicides and suicide clusters but more worrying is the similarity of lived experiences of transphobia and family struggles to accept – conquering these, “fixing society” as Leelah Alcorn called for, would bypass any likelihood of contagious exit strategies.

Research on the possible factors leading to multiple suicide events has concluded that it is not media coverage in general but certain specific elements, which the Washington Post has reported on here, although calling it a suicide epidemic is unnecessarily alarmist.

The focus should be on creating supportive environments at home, school and in society, not creating a blame culture on social media – the very place that is often the only place some trans teens can go to for support – although it can often be a place of online bullying too.

Supportive Families

It has been clearly demonstrated that parental attitudes have a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of transgender youth  and according to a 2012 Canadian report, can lead to a:

93% reduction in reported suicide attempts for youth who indicated their parents were strongly supportive of their gender identity and expression”

Without that support, some 57% of young trans people attempted suicide, even higher than the averaged-out figure for trans of all ages and domestic backgrounds.

“Ross” is a short video telling of the trials of being an FTM teen in a school and family environment.

Gender identity can be a matter of life and death, not an academic gender critical ideology, but a real lived – and sometimes died, gender dysphoria. #TransLivesMatter

Helplines in the USA

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

No more His and Hers as Selfridges trials Agender/Gender Neutral ranges

Century-old Oxford Street department store Selfridges, second only to Harrods in size, and bought by Sears in 1965, has made history again. In 1911 it was the biggest bookshop in the world. In 2013 ITV dramatised its early story in the TV series “Mr Selfridge”, currently on its third series. 
 
Only now, 106 years after it was founded, Mr Selfridge is becoming Mx Selfridge. Gender neutral, agender and non-binary is the way at least 3 floors of the store are going in 2015 to include 5 unisex brands and other individual agendered clothing items drawn from dozens of other makers. One wonders whether they will additionally introduce unisex toilets? 
 
This will affect not only clothing but beauty products as well. Clothing ranges are also said to be going mannequin free. Selfridges contains the world’s largest shoe department, will it now be sporting size 10 stilettos and size 3 Oxfords and Brogues? 
 
Selfridges was a supporter of universal women’s suffrage and ran adverts in the movement’s magazine “Votes for Women”. The early feminist radicals repaid that patronage by both shopping at Selfridges and sometimes organising from there. 
 
The irony of increased freedom alongside commercial consumerism has not been lost on some, and yet,
 
“there was a healthy emancipatory element in the empowered shopper’s gift of choice… Because for good or bad choice and freedom are fundamentally connected. The greater choice women gained the more power they also had over how they were able to live their lives… What those early feminists realised was that popular culture could be subversive.” – Network Norwich opinion
In the 1930s Selfridges was ahead of the times, again, with an all-female Gun Club on its roof, something copied by others later in the decade. 
 
In 1966 Selfridges launched Miss Selfridge as a youthful spin-off brand, which was subsequently acquired from Sears by Philip Green and the Arcadia Group in 1999. Initially, their mannequins were modeled on 1960s fashion icon Twiggy. As a result of its independent ownership and brand Miss Selfridge remains gendered. 
 
A Selfridges statement, as reported in The Times, said:
 
“We want to take our customers on a journey where they can shop and dress without limitations or stereotypes… A space where clothing is no longer imbued with directive gender values, enabling fashion to exist as a purer expression of ‘self.”’ 
The phrase “the customer is always right” originated with Selfridges, and gender neutral shopping, where clothes can be clothes, has been requested by many a feminist and/or LGBTI shopper. 
 
I well remember buying a pair of Levi’s in the 1980s from the “wrong” gender display because the ones that fitted were 29″ waisted in a fit for the ‘the other’ gender label – as was politely pointed out to me at the till. Not only that, but they were also £5 cheaper for exactly the same style. To buy the pair meant for my then gender meant paying more and suffering from a baggy waist as they didn’t even begin until a size larger than I actually was. 
 
Gender neutral shopping and clothing will aid many LGBTI, non-binary, and genderqueer, youth explore and express themselves with less fear and embarrassment.
 
Harry Gordon Selfridge’s mottos were “Everyone is welcome” and “Develop imagination, throw away routine”.  
 
Routine gender is thus being thrown away. Whether this is a cultural or commercial experiment, or both, one hopes it will inspire other stores to become less gendered. That doesn’t mean no more gender, but rather more genders and none, since those happy with his and her are not being replaced but supplemented by hes and hir, xe and ze etc. This is a welcome addition, not a total replacement. I don’t want to see gender disappear like some Star Trek jumpsuit identity, but I do want people to see that identities outside or across the so-called binary do exist, and options for those people, an increasingly visual and vocal section of society, be made. 

Liberation theology for Vicky Beeching, evangelical, Christian music star, theologian, as she comes out as lesbian

“It’s taken all my courage, and all these years, for me to finally do this interview, tweeted Vicky Beeching, “a theologian who spends holy days with the Archbishop, whose God-fearing lyrics are sung by millions in America’s Bible Belt, [on her] coming out as a lesbian”.

Katharine Welby-Roberts, the daughter of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted her support calling her brave, brilliant and beautiful.

“She will be liberated. She may well, through her commentating work, become a key figure in the liberalisation of Anglicanism. And she will be crucified”, writes Patrick Strudwick in the Independent.

A fraught ‘coming out’ journey

She began to speak out in support of same-sex marriage, a year ago, and since then her loving Christian American Bible belt fan base has been delivering abuse at her, saying she is deceived by the devil. Well the devil does have all the best tunes!

Vicky Beeching Twitter Profile picShe’s also taken flack from some anti-religious members of the gay community, from reading the comments (not always an advisable thing to do) on the Pink News report of her coming out.

At 12 she was attracted to other girls and at 13 sought forgiveness, as an older teenager she experienced deliverance of the “demon of homosexuality”.

I had a similar path, a clandestine same-sex relationship at 15, repentance and forgiveness, vice-President of the University Christian Union, where we were very definitely anti-abortion and anti-gay, deliverance at 22 of my own demons of “a gender mix up in the womb”, years working for a church, as a missionary, then a theologian in a Bible School. The views I held at college I’ve had to repent of and apologise for, but it has made me more openminded and gracious towards those for whom homophobia has often been a cover up of something internalised before they themselves come out. I do believe in redemption and change, just not sure God, if he exists, is always the agent. Be the change.

In all my study of theology, Hebrew and Greek, I never really got why , until I came out, I felt such a disconnect from the God of the Church and the practice of evangelical Christianity versus the all-loving, minority accepting, class and division challenging Jesus of the Gospels. The Old Testament passage that has always stuck with me is, from of all books, Leviticus: “Love thy neighbour as yourself”, that’s the same book that appears on a surface reading to condemn same-sex practices. But the Hebrew and the history are more complex, interesting and liberating.

Beeching, herself, ended up in America, first Nashville, Tennessee then California mid-Prop 8 anti-equal marriage rallies, at which she performed her music, whilst knowing inside she didn’t agree with the message. She had record contracts with EMI’s Christian sub-division which included a “morality clause” which would have precluded her from speaking out had she been ready to at the time. This was 2008.

Then she was hit by a life-changing illness that included extensive chemotherapy. Many fundamentalists would no doubt point to this being a judgement from God, not my kind of God. However, the doctors did say it could have been triggered by trauma – Vicky felt this to be the stress of her hidden sexuality.

She’d not met an ‘out’ gay or lesbian till the age of 30. When I came out at 40, I’d never met another trans person, to my knowledge, but by then a couple of friends from university Christian Union days had come out as gay. With my own revelation, which resulted in divorce and a mid-life crisis, I soon made contact with what transpired to be more than a couple of old CU friends, who had come out as lesbian, bisexual or gay. We’d all repressed it for decades. Some, to my knowledge, still are. Some are ‘out’ but still trying to “rid themselves” of homosexuality through reparative therapy.

Beeching began to explore the possibility of coming out and met with Ruth Hunt, the now new chief executive of Stonewall, who suggested she met with some other ‘out’ lesbians including BBC newsreader Jane Hill, sports presenter Clare Balding and her former Radio 4 newsreader wife, Alice Arnold. “They said, ‘Be yourself and everything will follow.'”

But being yourself is very hard with evangelical baggage and a lifetime of repression. Coming out is hard enough when school and society can be so homophobic and transphobic, but it is doubly hard when you have faith, and belong to a denomination that sees your sexuality or gender identity as sin. The pressure to conform can lead to mental health problems and deny you your free existence for years.

She has been called “the bravest” to come out, because of her conservative evangelical Christian background, by Alice Arnold in the Telegraph, but can now look “forward to writing music again, for the first time in her life with no secrets to hide.”

LGBT Theology

Those following Beeching’s blog may have seen the signs before this week’s coming out. She has been writing since April on LGBT Theology with thousands of views and hundreds of comments online.  The responses to her support of LGBT issues were to call her a “disgrace” and boycott her music, to tell her she was “no longer welcome”, how Christian! How unlike Jesus.

She recommends numerous books on her blog including Sex and the Single Savior by Dale B Martin which I’ve also read. “Martin concludes that our contemporary obsession with marriage–and the whole search for the ‘right’ sexual relationships–is antithetical to the message of the gospel.”

She also lists for reading:

  • Bible, Gender and Sexuality by James Brownson
  • God And The Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
  • Torn/Unconditional by Justin Lee
  • Permanent, Faithful, Stable – Christian Same-Sex Marriages by Jeffrey John
  • Sexuality and the Christian Body by Eugene F Rogers
  • Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin

Beeching, Channel 4 news & Scott Lively

Beeching bravely appeared on the 7pm Channel 4 news on Thursday and was set up against the infamous Scott Lively, the US Christian activist who has called for the criminalisation of “the public advocacy of homosexuality” and has allegedly done much to stir up the anti-gay debate and homophobic criminal justice bill in Uganda.

On C4 News, Lively said that lesbianism is something to overcome, “I’m very sorry she has given into the lie that she is a homosexual” and suggested she could be cured still, has Beeching not already tried that and acknowledged that it “fractured” her and “really messed” her up.

Lively says that all sex outside of Genesis’ “one flesh paradigm” of man and woman is “illicit”. He’s obviously  not read Genesis too well and its half-dozen sexual and relationship paradigms. “There is no such thing as a gay person, it’s an identity you adopt”, he says.

Agree to disagree on theology & sexuality but still love you?

In response the the C4 news broadcast a UK police chaplain, in Brighton of all places, has called her sexuality a choice, disagreed with her theology, and subtly dissed her via Twitter by saying that he was “Leaving [the] conversation to pray for really (italics mine) courageous people” referring to the Christians in Iraq, as opposed to her courage in coming out as a lesbian Christian. Sitting on two police equalities boards, I cannot understand how this guy can be active as a police chaplain with his biblically homophobic mindset.

In Beeching’s raw and honest interview she says that “her parents have agreed to disagree on the theology around homosexuality”, but have supported her lovingly nonetheless. My own were the same, my father at least still struggles with my so-called choices and lifestyle – of course I don’t see it as that. But over time, my mother has come round as a full-on supporter and advocate and reads everything on trans and gender in the papers, often sliding it under my father’s eyes to move him forward slowly.

Only last week I had to come out to another old college and church friend and they admitted that whilst being sympathetic to my struggle and journey they could not agree with my stance of homosexuality and transsexuality. Churches have so much to learn and it is sad that in many if not most cases they are behind the times, in terms of equality and diversity, something that centuries ago they might have once led on.

Christianity out of step with social equalities evolution

Certainly, at times, Christianity has been groundbreaking in its attitudes to and liberation of women and slaves, removing and equalising barriers of class and race. Yet on sexuality it is as if it is still stuck in the dark ages and is Christianity’s last great taboo and the cause of an exodus from the church as it is seen by the young as irrelevant and just plain wrong on LGBTIQ issues.

It has led to my agnosticism now, but I can’t let go of the radicalness of Jesus’ love and inclusion 2000 years ago. Beeching has written a foreword to the book on “The Liberating Truth: How Jesus Empowers Women” – Jesus may do, but the Church does not. The Church of England has finally agreed to women bishops nearly a century after women got the vote! Catch-up for G*d’s sake, Jesus was a feminist, don’t you know?

If only the Church were more like Jesus. Beeching, remains committed to the Church and “rather than abandon it and say it’s broken, I want to be part of the change”, she says.

I’m off to Greenbelt, next week, the only Christian festival that I know of that embraces doubters, atheists, LGBTI people, it even welcomes evangelicals! It is inclusive of a diversity of people and opinion. Vicky will be speaking there and chairing a panel on equal marriage. Sinead O’Connor, who came out as a lesbian back in 2000 and is now more label-free, will be performing too.  For one of the most recent interviews with Sinead see PrideSource. At least Vicky has now found her own “liberating truth”, freedom at last.

[This post first appeared on Bubblews]

Let them Eat Cake unless it’s a Gay Cake as Christian Bakery refuses to bake Bert and Ernie Equal Marriage Cake for Belfast’s QueerSpace

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.

[UPDATE: Bakery loses appeal against conviction for discrimination based upon the grounds of sexuality]

Queerspace logoIt 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.”

QueerSpace Belfast Support Gay Marriage cakeThe 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.

IDAHO(T) Day

The International Day Against Homophobia is celebrated each year on 17 May to combat homophobia and transphobia.

Sesame Street

Sesame Street Bert and Ernie LoveDescribed 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.”

Sesame Street Bert and Ernie FriendsIn a 2011 statement it was reiterated that they “do not have a sexual orientation”.

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”.

Equality Commission NI Logo

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]

Image Credits

QueerSpace Belfast Support Gay Marriage public facebook photo
Equality Commission NI logo

 

Google goes gay, Twitter flags up rainbows, Search terms for LGBT Pride

This year’s “Google goes gay” search style for Pride Month and the Stonewall Inn riots anniversary was a tessellated rainbow background strip to their website menu bar. This is the 7th year running Google has demonstrated its diversity and made the none too subtle statement of support worldwide.

Google rainbow search terms Pride Month 2014

Enter terms like “Gay Pride”, “Stonewall riots”, “Pride month”, “London Pride”, “Same-sex marriage” and the strip would visibly transform before your eyes and produce tens of millions of results. Curiously and sadly “Gay Pride” dominated and “LGBT Pride” was ignored. Searches for LGBT, GLBT or LGBTQ were rainbow styled but not the more inclusive LGBTI or LGBTIQ/LGBTQIA, excluding Intersex people from the gender and sexuality spectrum terminology despite inclusive advances elsewhere, such as in Europe, with the shift to LGBTI/Q.

Google same-sex marriage search 2013

Google has gone “gay” before, last year same-sex marriage was highlighted during Pride Month because of the US Supreme Court Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Prop 8 rulings. Outside of LGBT calendar events Google has also been political in support of LGBT gay rights. It has created 2000+ Google doodles over the years and for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it added a far from subtle LGBT activism to its logo doodle by using the 6-banded rainbow flag colours behind various sports events images. The search box would also come up with the Olympic Charter words highlighting inclusivity in sport as an obvious dig at Putin’s anti-gay education laws: Google Winter Oympics, Sochi Russia, LGBT Doodle

“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” – Olympic Charter www.google.ru/#q=olympic+Charter

This year, someone has also discovered an “Easter Egg” or hidden coding within Google Docs Sheet (similar to Excel) that turns the entire spreadsheet’s column background colours rainbow hues simply by typing P in Cell A1, R in Cell A2, I in Cell A 3, D in Cell A4 and E in Cell A5, spelling out “PRIDE” across the first row columns.

Google Docs PRIDE Rainbow colors SpreadSheet

Microsoft’s older Excel versions have long had hidden Easter Egg programs buried within, several were full blown racing or Doom style games. #Pride hashtag on Twitter 2014Twitter #Pride hashtag flagMeanwhile, during this year’s Pride weekend, Twitter has interpolated a mini rainbow flag  image anytime the hashtag #Pride was used.

Search Engine Land monitors Google’s annual LGBT activist and temporary re-branding of search results. Personally, I think it’s great, but it’s also clearly far from neutral, or non-partisan. It shows the world’s largest search engine is on side, but also political which makes one worry in what other ways it manipulates results and opinion. Read more about this year’s Pride parades and Stonewall Inn riot anniversary. [An earlier version of this article first appeared here]