Saturday, 30 October 2010

A Very Good Week For Marriage Equality (And Stonewall, who'd have thought it?)

You really don't know how much pleasure it gives me when I see some positive movement towards marriage equality. So after the last couple of weeks of news, I'm smiling from ear to ear (tempered only by my other half's kids heading home today after a lovely week here and a stonking great cold).

A couple of weeks ago Patrick Harvie, a Green MSP, introduced the following "motion" (a completely non-binding instrument used to convey an opinion rather than further a legislative agenda) to the Scottish Parliament:

Equal Marriage, Equal Partnership—That the Parliament welcomes the commitment by Ed Miliband to equalise marriage law for same-sex couples, the recent decision by the Liberal Democrat party conference to back proposals to allow same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnership, the longstanding support of green parties in the UK for this position and the support that has been expressed by a number of SNP and Conservative politicians; believes that this step is necessary not only to ensure equal legal rights irrespective of sexual orientation but also to convey the equal dignity of relationships and the equal respect with which the state recognises relationships; regrets that civil partnership is portrayed by some in society as a lesser level of commitment or recognition, and calls on the Scottish Government to investigate the practical steps necessary to allow legislation in the next session of the Scottish Parliament to create equal marriage and partnership in Scotland.
Every mention in official surroundings is music to my ears after years (literally) of complete and total silence on the matter.

Of course we have Stonewall making a rather awesome u-turn on their marriage equality position. Many will shrug their shoulders and say "So what?" but they underestimate the stupidity of our elected representatives who often still think Stonewall speaks for all LGBT people. I will never, ever support Stonewall but I still think it's a major victory to have them on board so they shouldn't (they are very slippery people, and we need to keep our beady eyes on them) undermine other campaigners work on the issue quite as much as they have been previously. Whilst I'm on the subject of Stonewall, I urge you to read this absolutely excellent blog post which says everything I ever wanted to say about Stonewall but does it with far more style and intelligence than I ever could.

And the really big story of the week was Tuesday's launch of the Equal Love campaign. Despite what many will tell you about our recent LGBT history, most advancements in terms of our rights have begun as a court case and this campaign follows in that grand tradition. Opposite sex couples will try to get civil partnerships and same sex couples will try to get marriages. And if/when refused they will begin the process of taking the matter to court. I must say, based both on previous British and EU rulings on the subject, it's very unlikely to succeed but it has already drawn the attention of a great many media outlets. BBC News' most read article on Wednesday was about Tom and Kat, the straight couple who have been campaigning on this for over a year (and from my own experience Tom is a jolly nice man). The idea of heterosexuals wanting civil partnerships is the angle that was needed to start a debate. I've already heard of Scottish newspaper looking for straight couples wanting a civil partnership for a feature article. I've seen a lot of comment on Twitter from straight folk who were either unaware of the ban on opposite sex civil partnerships, or completed flummoxed as to why anyone would want one. This can only be a good thing, even if my never ending quest to educate folks on the differences just got a whole lot harder. You can support the campaign on Facebook here.

So what's the outlook for marriage equality in the near future? Rosy, and getting rosier by the day.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Stonewall Now On The Road To Equality. I Hope.

I desperately want to be nice to Stonewall. They've got rid of Bill Leckie from their award nominations and have now climbed down on their marriage equality position. These are good things.

But I can't help thinking Stonewall hasn't learnt it's lessons. First it continues to crow about it's film "Fit", despite it containing some transphobic elements. And it's new support for marriage equality seems half-hearted. Did they write their press release in a rush?

Stonewall is pleased to be widening its campaigning objectives to include extending the legal form of marriage to gay people. Our policy position on this is as below:

‘We seek to secure marriage for gay people as a civil vehicle on the same basis as heterosexual marriage, available in a registry office but without a mandate on religious organisations to celebrate it. We seek to retain civil partnerships for lesbian and gay people recognising their special and unique status.’

The review of Stonewall’s position followed its biennial supporter survey in October 2010. Stonewall supporter surveys are carried out at the beginning of the charity’s financial year and are part of Stonewall’s commitment to charity best practice.

Last February, Stonewall secured a permissive amendment to the Equality Act 2010 to allow the celebration of civil partnerships in religious premises. We look forward to the government implementing this important next step.
A "civil vehicle"? Civil partnerships have a "special and unique status"? 1) So they don't support religious marriage but do support religious civil partnerships? 2) They don't support civil partnership equality and instead want to stop those dastardly heterosexuals have the same rights as LGBT people?

No apology for their slow uptake on equality either?

I think this is a start. But I don't think it even begins to go far enough. I don't think Stonewall have learnt anything and are instead trying desperately to dig themselves out of a very large public relations hole and trying to appease it's less observant supporters and make them think Stonewall's now "down with the kids".

Personally, I think Stonewall is beyond saving but I live in hope that I am wrong.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

It Get's Better (Spirit Day)

When I was 14 I saw a boy who changed my life. He was a beautiful 18 year old sixth former at school and the moment I laid eyes upon him was the moment I finally admitted to myself that I was gay. There’d been a suspicion in my heart for a long time, but as a newly committed Christian (mainly in rebellion at my family’s rather long history of non-belief) I’d denied it for as long as I could. But it’s hard work hiding something from yourself and finally admitting that I was gay, just to myself, was a liberating experience that I still remember vividly to this day.

It’s not easy. The fear of the repercussions of coming out to others rendered me depressed and suicidal. At the age of 18 I attempted suicide (thankfully in a typically cackhanded and very unsuccessful fashion that resulted in no more than 24 hours of medical drama). But it does get better. It really, really does.

When you’re young you worry too much about what other people think of you (or what you think they will think of you) and think the whole world will judge you forever. Here’s the secret: once you are out of school you’ll find most people don’t care and, even better, it doesn’t really matter what people think of you. You’ll find even if your parents are judgmental it won’t really matter once you’re older; you’ll appreciate that parents aren’t the all-knowing Gods they appear when you are young but are just as flawed as anyone else.

Things do get better. I would not change my sexuality for anything. Not only has it brought me personal joy, but being “different” to the majority gives you an interesting and useful perspective on life. I found it gave me patience and compassion for others who are not like me.

If you’re depressed, if you think the world is against you, if you think no one cares… you are very wrong. Too many young people have taken their lives this year. We don’t want any more. There is hope, and there will always be someone there to talk to. In America there’s the Trevor Project. In Britain there is the Samaritans and the LGBT Switchboard. Contact them if you even think of ending your life. They can help you. There are people who give a damn.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Friday, 15 October 2010

Stonewall - Another Fine Mess

I’m thinking of taking some anger management classes. You know how I always say “I didn’t think Stonewall could make me any more angry, but they just managed it”? Well… it’s that time of the week again!

Let’s look at the latest Stonewall car crash (this week not involving marriage equality, I can hear your hip-hip-hooray’s from here!):

The Stonewall Awards are to be held on the 4th of November at the Victoria and Albert museum. In the running are various individuals such as Joe McElderry, a young X Factor winner, who is nominated for “Hero of the Year” for being… famous and gay? I don’t know if that quite qualifies as being a “hero”, but perhaps I’m being unfairly cynical. Also in the running is one Bill Leckie, who was once criticized for transphobia by Stonewall Scotland (see full story here), for “Journalist of the Year”. If this wasn’t clearly enough to irk me greatly, Stonewall then released one of their hilariously bad press releases. Basically it seems to state that if you’re nice about a celebrity (in this case Gareth Thomas) who comes out as gay, it absolves you from being transphobic in the past without any need to show evidence of no longer being transphobic! No apology or change of heart required for forgiveness for bullying from Stonewall. My own personal anger-based doomsday clock was moved to one minute to midnight after reading that sycophantic article by the Pink Paper.

This whole situation makes a nonsense of Stonewall’s claims to be focusing on anti-bullying! They award bullies, whilst they ignore the pain of entire groups of people. And this is not an isolated case. Two years ago they nominated Julie Bindel for an award, someone who had written transphobic articles. To all those who criticize me for being nasty to Stonewall when they are doing such “good work” in tackling homophobic bullying, I present to you “Exhibit T”. I trust you’ll join me in condemning Stonewall’s backing of bullies, and in calling for them to start leading by example… or get out of the way.

Recently I’ve also been attacked for extolling “middle class gay values” (turns out a belief in actual equality is “middle class”, I need to believe in the repression of LGBT people to be properly proletariat it would seem). Plus someone accused me of believing in the commercialization of LGBT people (with no evidence at all) because I supported marriage equality and didn’t support Stonewall. So I was amused to see that last night Stonewall held a seminar on how to advertise to “LGB” people. Talk about the commercialization of “LGB” people, and talk about middle class values!!! It’s good that Stonewall can find the time and resources to help businesses make money out of the “LGB community” but can’t find the time to simply say “We support the principle of marriage equality” or “We renounce transphobia in all it’s forms”.

If you feel Stonewall need to support marriage equality, stop being transphobic and become more honest and accountable (and employ better PR people) then please come join the protest planned outside the Stonewall Awards ceremony on the 4th of November. It’s time to make a stand for what is right.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Thursday, 14 October 2010

On Easy Terms: Bright House Comes To Folkestone

Some have suggested the opening of a new shop in the old Dixon’s store on Folkestone High Street is a much needed boost to the local jobs market and the struggling High Street. Sadly, I think this might be far too optimistic an assessment because that new store is Bright House, a company that most certainly giveth but also, even more certainly, taketh away.

Bright House sells various household items (be they white goods, furniture or computer game consoles) and was opened with loud music and costumed mascots who welcomed crowds of people through the doors. Excitable people were sat all around the store, on their comfy display sofas, signing up for easy credit and weekly payment plans.

Like most stores, you can buy their goods outright with cash, but the sale price is very high. You’d be better off buying from one of the other shops in town or, better yet for those on a tight budget, buying online. But of course, they don’t expect anyone to buy products from them like that, that price just helps inflate their profit margin that little bit more. What they are really about is offering credit. You can buy your sofa or your kids Christmas present and spread the payments over three years. The interest helps increases the already over-the-top price by another 30% and, if you include their Service Cover, that price increases to almost double.

I’m sure they’d argue that they are offering those who cannot afford to buy things up front, and who have credit difficulties, an easy and convenient way of getting white goods, furniture and the nicest electronic goods. That’s a worthy aim, but is this method really the best one? And can that really be justified given the extortionate pricing policies?

Credit is debt. Debt is not something we should be encouraging those on low incomes (or no income) to take on. We have a town which has hit hard times. Our jobs market is limited and our population poor. We need to be helping those in need to help themselves. We need not for profit Christmas savings schemes, more accessible credit unions, and companies encouraged to set up here who have a more secure job structure. We need to offer ways of enabling people to save and encouraging them to understand the retail sector to allow them to find the best deals out there.

We now have a Money Shop, a Bright House and a brand new pawnbrokers in the town centre. These companies thrive on destitution and help create and continue the debt cycle in the lives of the most desperate and helpless. They will exploit our consumerist lifestyles to line their pockets without compunction, and we need to fight them every step of the way.

Folkestone deserves a better class of capitalist.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Marriage Equality Debate: It's The Little Things That Annoy Me

The Stonewall debacle has done one good thing. It’s finally propelled the marriage equality debate into the consciousness of a larger group of people than previously. Suddenly I’m seeing disinterested parties sitting up and asking, “Why the hell haven’t we got marriage equality and why is Stonewall not supporting it?”.

However, as with all things, I’m still slightly perplexed by the media coverage of marriage equality in the United Kingdom. Be it in Attitude’s latest edition or today’s article in the Independent, the stories seem to lack actual facts and any real journalistic critic of press releases and interviews from those pro or anti equality.

1) Hardly any article even mentions the REAL differences between civil partnerships and marriage. They take as fact the idea that civil partnerships are equality and all the marriage equality proponents are after is a “rebranding”. This is fundamentally false, although I suspect it’s more from ignorance than through deceit. From international recognition, through transgender rights and into the murky world of private pension provision, civil partnerships do not offer the same protections as marriage does. The message civil partnerships are the same as marriage is one that must be challenged every step of the way.

2) They accept Stonewall’s version of events without discussing evidence to the contrary. Ben Summerskill has a long record of making negative statements about marriage equality. Stonewall have been actively consulting with the Government over amending the Gender Recognition Act to solve transgender rights issues arising from marriage inequality, which undermines the fight for marriage equality for all. If that’s not actively opposing marriage equality I don’t know what is! And that’s not even mentioning the fact Stonewall, who’ve made clear they want nothing to do with transgender rights, don’t even have a moral right to be part of any consultation on the future of the GRA. Instead the press parrot Stonewall’s badly thought through press releases that they aren’t opposing marriage equality but “consulting” on it.

3) The acceptance of the “there are more important things” argument without comment is absolutely abhorrent. LGBT rights can’t be a “pick’n’mix” set of rights, chosen by which is politically convenient. They are all interrelated. How can we give LGBT youth hope for a better future if they are depressed or being bullied when they can see that their future is going to be very different to their peers. We must confront bullying head on, and the recent suicides in the USA show why, but we must also work tirelessly on fighting for a world that is fit for our children whoever they grow up to be and whoever they grow up to love. Work on one side of that equation to the detriment of the other will destroy the results of both!

4) Citing Boris Johnson as a marriage equality supporter. When he was confronted he thought civil partnerships were marriage, as the Mayor of London’s office clarified the day after Pride. He is not on record as supporting actual marriage equality (if he does or not, I cannot say). I wish they’d research their “facts” before printing them.

I might be petty, I might be hoping for too much, but God this stuff drives me to distraction.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist