Thursday, 30 September 2010

Stonewall *insert rage here*

Back in May, when the newly formed Coalition Government announced a consultation for next year on transgender rights, part of me smiled and part of me sighed.

The part that smiled was obviously the part that feels transgender equality has progressed far too slowly. The part that sighed, however, knew that considering the rights of transgendered people separately from LGB rights would lead to opportunities for people and organizations to interfere. And I don’t mean that our transgendered friends would try to screw over the LGB population. In fact for too long LGB folks have spent far too much time fighting for their own rights and have left our transgendered fellow travelers in the lurch.

No, what I suspected would happen was that someone, such as Stonewall, would come along and see an opportunity to screw over the LGB community (and probably the transgender community to boot) by enforcing bit part solutions rather than common sense gender neutral amendments to gender specific laws.

Let me paint a picture:

One of the major arguments in favour of marriage equality is the awful situation our current separate but equal system leaves those who change their gender whilst in a marriage or civil partnership. Now imagine if you can “solve” that problem by writing into the relevant legislation that a marriage automatically becomes a civil partnership, and vice versa, the moment someone legally changes their gender. It still wouldn’t be equality but it sure helps shore up the failing arguments of those who wish to deny equality to everyone be they straight or gay, cis or transgendered.

But I thought I was being far too cynical, and only alluded to my paranoid concerns on this blog. But now we discover that Stonewall, an organization that DOES NOT REPRESENT TRANSGENDERED PEOPLE, has been advising the Government to pursue exactly this route. Stonewall aren’t just avoiding the subject of marriage equality, they are actively pursuing a very strange agenda to undermine it. It’s despicable.

Stonewall don’t stand up for equality. Their record on transgender rights is appalling. So what makes them think they have ANY authority to even DISCUSS transgender rights on a Governmental level??

I didn’t think it was possible but Stonewall has left me even more disgusted and depressed at their position.

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

Friday, 24 September 2010

Marriage Equality: Strangely Welcome Days Are These

In marriage equality news here in the UK:

Well the last week has been “fun” hasn’t it? First up we had the Stonewall fringe event at the Liberal Democrat conference where Ben Summerskill (of Stonewall fame, and of particular infamy here for many blog posts past) may have said he didn’t support marriage equality and civil partnership equality because of the cost and because of some incredibly ridiculous “feminist” arguments about the evils of marriage. I love it when men use feminist arguments to deny choice to men and… WOMEN! I’m always amazed that these people stand up and declare marriage to be an evil institution whilst insisting heterosexuals should not have access to civil partnerships and doing absolutely nothing to advance the cause of marriage reform or privitisation. It’s not just sad, it’s a blatant lack of consistency within their beliefs.

But in happier news Lib Dems, such as Stephen Gilbert MP and Lynne Featherstone (Minister for Equalities), stood up and defended marriage equality in no uncertain terms.

Then on Tuesday the marriage equality debate occurred at the conference itself which resulted in some strong arguments from the podium, followed by a near unanimous vote in favour of adopting marriage equality as party policy. This makes the Liberal Democrats the first party of the big three parties to adopt this position. Good times!

Brian Paddick illuminated an issue I had hitherto been unaware of. Many private pension companies have been treating civil partnerships as worth less than marriage with regards to pension arrangements for spouses after one has died. This is unacceptable and yet another clear sign marriage equality needs to be implemented to ensure no loopholes are available for companies to treat same sex relationships as second class.

In upcoming events:

On Monday there is another Stonewall fringe event at the Labour party conference. I’ve already received word that several members of the Rag Tag marriage equality pressure group (unofficial) will be there to try to get some clarification from Summerskill of his views (which I think he’s made quite clear in the past but that’s just because I’ve been paying closer attention for a longer period of time). I await the results of their enquiries eagerly (whilst I’d love to continue hating on Stonewall, realistically I think it’d be better if they admitted their mistakes and joined the crusade)

And LGBT Labour are currently trying to get a marriage equality debate on to the agenda at their conference, I hope that they can manage it as it would be quite the achievement to convert two parties to the marriage equality cause in the space of two weeks.

All in all, exciting times for marriage equality. Some are dragging their feet (Attitude magazine’s latest article seems to completely miss that Civil Partnerships are different to marriage in real legal and human ways) and this is, in some instances, getting it more attention (such as in the case of Stonewall). But I really think the movement towards marriage equality is growing and this bodes well for future political action.

I just have to say I no longer feel like a lone voice in the dark shouting and hollering about this issue. In fact the momentum has been taken up by far more articulate and awesome people than I and I can now rest assured the issue is being dealt with by some very competent campaigners.
If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Friday, 17 September 2010

Connecting Atheism And Nazism: Pope Irony?

During the Holocaust thousands of LGBT people were tortured, persecuted and killed. The Nazi's views of family life and focus on procreation rendered those with different sexualities to suffer a great deal (along with many other groups of untouchables be they Jews, Communists, democrats, Jehovah Witnesses, Roma, the disabled, the list goes on).

So it was ironic to hear Pope Benedict XVI criticise atheism and link it to Nazism despite atheisms modern form. His hatred of LGBT folk, his focus on the family and on procreation (which leads to higher STD levels in countries who take his demand they do not use protection seriously), is concerning.

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

Some atheists, like me, actually believe in REAL religious freedom. As I said in my last post, I'm prepared to stand up for even the most bigoted person's freedoms. I don't want anyone to be killed, I have no great idealistic dream of nationalism (in fact I despise nationalism), and I don't believe in Social Darwinism.

So who is more like the Nazis? The Pope who seeks to control LGBT people by supporting retrograde laws to keep us in a repressed role in society. Or me, an atheist, who believes people should be free to believe what they like, to practice their religion how they like, and to moan about upstart heads of major religions whenever they like?

Personally the world I hope for, one free from intolerance and stupidity, is a world away from the dark dreams of the Pope for a world where everyone agrees with him.

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

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Final Insult

Not only do we have to fund the State visit of Pope Benedict XVI, but now his Cardinals get to fling insults at our country whilst our Government must maintain a welcoming diplomatic front so as not to upset the Pope!!

One of the Pope's senior advisers has pulled out of the papal visit to Britain, after reportedly saying the UK is a "Third World country" marked by "a new and aggressive atheism".

Cardinal Walter Kasper, 77, made the remarks in a German magazine interview.

The Vatican said the cardinal had not intended "any kind of slight", and was referring to the UK's multicultural society.

It added that he had simply pulled out of the Pope's visit due to illness.

The German-born cardinal was quoted as saying to the country's Focus magazine that "when you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country".

He also was reported to have criticised British Airways, saying that when you wear a cross on the airline "you are discriminated against".

Vatican sources said Cardinal Kasper was suffering from gout and had been advised by his doctors not to travel to the UK.

The Pope is spending four days in Scotland and England, starting on Thursday.

The BBC's correspondent in Rome, David Willey, said the cardinal's reported comments were "a slightly clumsy thing to have done on the eve of the visit".

However, he added that he did not think it would have much effect on the Pope's trip to the UK.

Would somebody please inform Her Majesty that she has a great deal of backing if she wanted to "forget" he was coming to visit and spend a relaxing, long weekend in Balmoral. Really, we wouldn't mind, Ma'am!

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

Supporting Free Speech Hurts, That's Sort Of The Point

When I was growing up it was illegal (or at least everyone thought it was) for my school to teach me about homosexual relationships, illegal for me to join the Armed Forces, there was no possibility of partnership rights (and still no legal ability to get married), even when I turned 16 it was illegal for me to have sex! I can only thank those involved in the fight (individuals, political parties, and charities) who helped secure the freedoms I and many other gay men and women enjoy today.

This is why I am very keen to fight for others freedoms. Be it the struggle for marriage equality, transgender rights, or even the rights of religious bigots, I will be there. I have always taken Niemoller's famous quote (or perhaps misquote) to heart:

First, they came for the Jews. But I was not a Jew, so I did not speak up.
Then they came for the communists.
But I was not a communist, so I did not speak up.
Then they came for the trade unionists.
But I was not a trade unionist, so I did not speak up.
And when they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me.
This is why I've always seen it as deeply important to stand up for people's freedoms to speak and do as they please. If I'm not prepared to stand up for others liberty, I do not deserve my own.

The case of Paul Shaw (warning this link goes to Christian Voice's website. Please wear applicable safety equipment) is yet another example of an over reaction by those who don't care for free speech and by the police who should know better.

What he said was pretty odious and obnoxious:

I believe for example that homosexual and lesbian acts are immoral and that the law should reflect that; by making them unlawful as they once were; and so acting as a deterrent to such behaviour.

The concept of homophobia is nonsense and a play on words; it is not and has never been a phobia! A phobia is an un-natural fear; whereas a rejection of perverse behaviour; is a righteous godly fear; that fears to do wrong because it knows that there are consequences and punishment otherwise! This is the most pronounced example of a nation that has lost its way ..
I doubt he has any redeeming virtues and suspect he is a poor excuse for a decent human being. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have the right to voice his weird, batshit crazy opinions. Why on Earth did anyone think to themselves "I need to report this to the police"? It wouldn't even cross my mind. I read far harsher stuff every single day online on a great many different issues. I've never even considered contacting the police about it. Instead I write up my own responses to them. That is how things should be done in a society which holds individual freedom up as something to aspire to.

No wonder the fight for LGBT liberation is so lacklustre at the moment. Has our community decided that instead of fighting prejudice and bigotry in the press, in the streets and in peoples homes they will simply use the police as proxies to silence and make martyrs of our opponents?

We need to find our fighting spirit again to hold people like Paul Shaw to account, not hide behind stupid laws and hope the bad people will just shut up. It's not going to happen. We need to win hearts and minds, and we need to stand up for Paul Shaw's right to be an offensive git. If we don't, how can we take the moral high ground? What defence will we have if the shoe ever gets back on the other foot?

We need to be better people than these religious fundamentalists. Becoming the new fundamentalists is not the way to do it.

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

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

John Amaechi and The Crunch Bar

John Amaechi, a tall, handsome former NBA player, has been refused entry to the Crunch Bar on Manchester's Canal Street because he was "big, black and could be trouble".

Racist and discriminatory? Yes. As someone who is about the same height as Amaechi (6'9", 6'10") but white I too have had similar issues at gay bars. Either I've been denied entry as they thought I might be a straight troublemaker (only ever solved when one of my more "acceptably gay" mates would come out and rescue me), or given conspiratorial whispers by the door staff who'd ask me things like "Mate, you know this is a bar full of queers right?".

John Amaechi (a man whose autobiography shows to be one of the sweetest, soft natured people around) should not have been denied entry to a gay bar. I'd hope the LGBT population of Manchester show him some solidarity and stop patronising the Crunch bar. Hit them where it hurts and frequent places with less racist, heightist door staff.

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

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The "Priority" Agenda

One of the anti-marriage equality types favourite "throw a spanner in the works" moves is to point out, rightly, there are more important things to be fighting for. No we're not talking jobs, peace and helping those in need (all of which I would personally state are more important) but we're talking on an LGBT rights front.

What about homophobic bullying?, they cry. Don't you think overturning the blood donation ban is more important?, some do indeed scream. We need to get our priorities straight, they lament.

Of course I think this is all ridiculous, for various reasons.

1) Many of the issues that are brought up, such as tackling homophobic bullying, are already on the Government's agenda. We are no longer in a situation of fighting for them, but are now in a position of keeping an eye on the implementation of these policies.
2) These issues don't exist in a vacuum. We are not in a position where we can pick and choose what rights we want. There is no apprenticeship for freedom. The issues are all related, and all about how society at large views LGBT people. We don't have an option of choosing to fight homophobic bullying now and then fight for marriage equality next. Both are intrinsically linked. We cannot change the hearts and minds of children in the playground if they can see adults are not treated equally.
3) We can fight for more than one thing at a time! Did we say "Well let's not worry about gays in the military until we've got the age of consent equalised?" in the '90s?? No we did not. The fight was fought on many fronts. We won those battles.
4) Prioritising one issue over another serves only to alienate those who have different personal agendas. It is an unnecessary hindrance to a cohesive message of equality.

I despise those who have "priorities" when it comes to equal rights for all citizens. As if THEY know what is more important to each and every person. Just because I focus on marriage equality as my "cause celebre", it does not mean I think it is more important than a great many unresolved LGBT issues.

Not only do I support solving the issues the Coalition have highlighted in their "Working for LGBT Equality" paper, but I also support campaigns to overturn the British blood donation ban, to overturn Labour's transphobic elements in the Equality Act, and to repeal Labour's homophobic Amendment 70. And then there are transgender rights which are, still, sadly maligned and given little support.

What really irks me about those who prioritise rights is that they don't really seem to believe it. In a majority of cases it's just because they are opposed, for ideological reasons, to marriage equality. They hate marriage and don't want anything to do with it... even if it means stopping other LGBT people from getting it too. It drives me mad!!

When marriage equality becomes a reality I shan't be happy. Because other rights remain to be fought for, other homophobic laws remain to be overturned, and other issues more important than any of those (like homelessness, poverty, crime) remain to be fought against. My priority is a better world, one I'll never stop hoping and fighting for.

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

Friday, 10 September 2010

Chris Bryant Is A Bit Dim On “Equality”

A while back Chris Bryant called me a numbskull for daring to question his record on marriage equality. So, despite sharing his feelings with regards to a certain Sky News presenter, I find myself feeling a little sympathy for Kay Burley after Mr. Bryant’s comments. And there's still reason to be very skeptical over his support of marriage equality.

This month’s edition of GT (the Gay Times to the rest of us) contains a debate on whether the LGBT population of Britain should support the Coalition. Mr Bryant, unsurprisingly, adopts the negative position. He defends this by rolling out the well used, and not without merit, “It’s the Tories! They hate LGBT rights!!” method of trying to scare people into supporting the Labour party. I’ve used the same arguments before (especially during the most recent election), and I can’t criticize him for stating the obvious.

But then he goes on to criticize the Coalition on their religious civil partnerships consultation and thinks they should just introduce marriage equality. You’d think, as a vocal critic of this consultation myself, I’d be prepared, in the interest of a shared cause, to celebrate this. However I can’t let this criticism pass without comment. I think he’s right to now, belatedly, call for marriage equality. But it’s disturbingly partisan to conveniently forget his party’s (and his own) part in this situation.

The religious civil partnerships consultation is a reaction to recent legislation and is based around working on implementation. The legislation making this consultation necessary was the Equality Act 2010, which was introduced and passed under the last Labour government (of which Mr Bryant was a Minister). It is disengenious of him to criticize the Coalition for introducing a consultation on the implementation of the legislation he voted for!! Did he call for marriage equality? No he did not. Why? “Because he was a Minister”. That was his excuse to me when I criticized him (again conveniently forgetting that he wasn’t a Minister during the Civil Partnerships debates when he quite clearly stated marriage was not what he was after). In effect it’s the old “I was just following orders” excuse.

I do not want same-sex relationships to ape marriage in any sense—several people have used the offensive phrase—because they are different. Although the two share similar elements, they do not have to be identical, so the legal provisions should be distinct. - Chris Bryant 
His criticism of the Government for not introducing marriage equality is also RIDICULOUS.

1) Because the Government that he was part of failed to even discuss it (beyond Brown saying he didn’t support it even after he expressed sadness at Prop 8 passing in California, which seems bizarrely conflicting) in 13 years of power and

2) give them a chance, it’s only been 3 months. The Government introduced this consultation, and has now started to hear calls for marriage equality (calls ignored during the last 13 years thanks to Labour’s reliance on Stonewall). I will step up my criticism IF, after the consultation finishes, they refuse to heed those calls. Until then perhaps members of the last administration might seek to call for marriage equality more respectfully given their own APPALLING records on it. How can we blame the Coalition for not including marriage equality in their agreement when, like Labour, it was not in either party’s policy at the time, and when NOBODY had spent any time making the case for it in the House of Commons? Even I, just a few months ago, was unsure that there was enough of a call for marriage equality (although that didn’t stop me jumping up and down about it ;) ).

I find his sudden support for marriage equality indicative not of a real change of heart but a cold, calculated move based on a feel for the changing political situation. It gets the job done but is not worthy of any great acclaim.

And then Mr Bryant goes on to boo-hoo about the POSSIBILITY the Coalition might not honour the Equality Act (based on no actual evidence). Well, Mr Bryant, not only did this “Equality” Act ignore basic equality by not introducing marriage equality but it contains some incredibly transphobic parts. So rather than holding up this Act as some holy cow, perhaps he might suggest it can be improved on as he’s already clearly unhappy about it’s arrangements for civil partnerships (strange he failed to bring that up when it was going through the House).

Let’s be clear. I’ve be unreasonable about Labour’s record on LGBT rights in the past. Very unreasonable. But that partly stems from comments and articles such as this one in today’s GT. Marriage equality supporters need to start working ACROSS party lines in order to achieve our goals. Sadly I see little hope for that when some use it as a rod to beat other parties with. Yes, I realize this might seem hypocritical given my comments in the past. But I admit I was wrong, I was speaking out of turn because I was angry at how silent many in the Labour party were on marriage equality (for what I perceived, and still believe, were political reasons). That’s changed (although it wasn’t easy, as anyone following my dealings with the Labour leadership contenders will know!), and I’m thus prepared to change my position.

I’ve admitted I was wrong to be unduly harsh to Labour. Will Chris Bryant admit he was wrong to not stand up for marriage equality when he had the chance? And will he state that he is wrong to criticize the Coalition for not doing something he so singularly failed to promote when he had the chance? Doubtful.

Diane Abbott has led the way, and said publicly that she feels civil partnerships were a mistake. Perhaps Chris Bryant might want to follow in her footsteps?

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

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Marriage Equality: Maybe, Just Maybe, I Was Wrong

Yes, I confidently (if reluctantly) predicted marriage equality was a distant dream and that whilst the fight would go on, results would be slow in coming.

Well, in recent months, I think things have started to pick up and the dialogue has changed from people saying "civil partnerships are enough" to people such as Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott saying:

"Firstly, it was a mistake of us to only offer civil partnerships to same-sex partners, when full marriage equality was what was needed."

That is progress. Thanks to Ben Cohen and his Pink News, Sunny Hundal on Liberal Conspiracy, and many individuals writing letters and leaving comments, the message that marriage equality is the next big step legislatively (but that there are also other pressing issues such as homophobic bullying and the blood donation ban) is finally getting through.

We have MPs such as Ed Miliband and Stephen Gilbert acknowledging the time has come. We have LabourList stating marriage equality is the next step for Labour's equality agenda. We have the Liberal Democrats upcoming conference where marriage equality might just become policy of one of the big three parties.We have all but one of the groups and individuals called to the Government's ongoing religious civil partnership consultation stating that marriage equality is the gold standard and is what they want. And even Stonewall, the reluctant party who didn't, is under increasing pressure to change their position.

So... it might not happen soon. But the dialogue has changed. The shrill "we don't want marriage equality" types from both sides are on the run. It might still not happen any time soon. But I'm confident that the ball has begun to roll. We just need to keep it rolling, and on course, so it reaches it's destination.

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

Monday, 6 September 2010

Official Response To My Letter To Lynne Featherstone On Marriage Equality

An official response to my letter to Lynne Featherstone has, finally, been received.

Dear Mr Kay,

Thank you for your email of 4th July to Lynne Featherstone MP concerning equal marriage and civil partnerships. Your letter has been passed to the Government Equalities Office, and I have been asked to reply.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 expressly prohibited couples entering into a civil partnership on religious premises. Civil marriages are also entirely secular in nature and as such cannot be registered in religious premises or contain religious language or symbols. A back-bench amendment made to the Equality Act 2010 makes it possible to remove the express prohibition on civil partnership registrations taking place on religious premises, to allow religious organisations to host civil partnership registrations on their premises, if they wish to do so.

The Government is talking to those with a key interest in this issue about what the next stage should be for civil partnerships. This includes representatives of churches and faith groups as well as groups representing lesbian, gay and bisexual people. I’m grateful to you for sending in your thoughts on the issue of equal marriage and these comments will be considered alongside the views collated during the listening exercise before a decision is made on the next steps.

Yours sincerely,

Emma Reed

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