Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Trolls and Suppressive Persons: We're All Scientologists Now

As Dear Constant Readers know, I've an unhealthy obsession with less mainstream religions. Scientology is one which, though not mainstream, a great many people have at least heard of. So some of you may well know what a Suppressive Person (SP) is. For those that don't, here's the Church of Scientology's view:
"the Suppressive Person seeks to upset, continuously undermine, spread bad news about and denigrate betterment activities and groups. Thus the Anti-Social Personality is also against what Scientology is about—helping people become more able and improving conditions in society. As anyone can think of many examples of a Suppressive Person, this concept is not limited to Scientology. However, when such a person is connected to Scientology, for the good of the Church and the individuals in it, such a person is officially labeled a Suppressive Person so that others will know not to associate with them." Source: Scientology page "What does Suppressive Person mean?" 
Tory Christman, an SP but still a wonderful person, has a video of her experiences of getting an "SP Declare".

Basically Scientology use SP Declares to silence opposition, to keep people from interacting with SPs so that they won't hear what they are saying. They do it both to harm the SP and "protect" those still within the Church from hearing any views opposing the Church's own.

Pretty much everyone agrees that this policy is harmful, destructive and authoritarian. What does this have to do with internet trolls?

Wikipedia describes trolls as follows
In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. 
While this sense of the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, media attention in recent years has made such labels subjective, with trolling also used to describe intentionally provocative actions and harassment outside of an online context. For example, mass media has used troll to describe "a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families."
Sound familiar? The current campaign against abuse on Twitter brings up some reasonable concerns about those who threaten other users. But it is also beginning to take on the appearance of a witch hunt where those who disagree with some of the aims of the campaign (like a report abuse button when using the block button or a phone call to the police might be more appropriate depending on the issue) are themselves receiving abuse from supporters! And what are those who disagree called? Trolls.

Quiet Riot Girl has had to deal with this sort of a thing for a long time. The use of the word troll has gone from the descriptive to a way of shaming someone into silence. Instead of perhaps listening to what the other person has to say, or feeling the need to be the better person and rise above non-threatening abuse by ignoring it, people attack. Over the last few days I've been left to wonder if anyone on Twitter has ever heard the phrase "Two wrongs don't make a right".

If you feel you are "the better person", then I implore you to start acting like one. Rather than abusing positions of relative cultural power to insult the less intelligent, the nasty or the rebel, why not ignore or, heaven forbid, engage them and try to show them the error of their ways?! Because otherwise we'll end up building the same sort of horrendously offensive social apparatus as operated by Scientology which is detrimental to free speech, open debate and basic human decency.

As Tory says in her video: "the top two worst cults in the world are the Moonies and Scientology. Why? Because they cut you off from thinking, they stop you from looking. Right away, early on, you can't be talking to these Suppressive People because they're evil, they're horrible, they're bad".

We can do better than that. 

Pope Francis Reminding His Flock That They Actually Have To Follow The Tenets Of Christianity

The media and Twitter exploded in gushing over some quotes from an in-flight press conference by Pope Francis. Among some gay tweeple you'd think we'd had the Second Coming. But the most interesting thing to me was that we should be surprised at all by what the Pope said.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge? The catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalised because of this but that they must be integrated into society." 

Isn't that basically how anybody who follows the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth should act? It is pretty damning that the Catholic Church has moved so far away from those teachings that when the Pope simply reiterates Christian concepts as found in such passages as Matthew 7:1 there is surprise! Surely that is meant to be the Pope's job.

For us atheists there isn't much joy to be had, the Pope is simply restating the same position the Church has held for a while. And he's hardly kind about activism to protect our freedoms (throwing us in with greedy people, politicians and Masons!!).

"The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."
Move along people, nothing to see here.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Last Time Puritans Were In The Ascendant, It Didn't Go Too Well For Us Gays

I thought we'd won. The same-sex marriage debates showed the impotency of the old right-wingers, those stalwarts who opposed every happy thought and every freedom. We were free, free at last!

But the forces of conservatism come in many guises and whilst we were defeating the elderly conservative contingent, the right-on feminist contingent snuck in the back door and started agitating with "Down With This Sort Of Thing" placards.

David Cameron, that "liberal conservative" Stonewall were swooning over the other week, has reiterated his support for a "porn filter" which will filter more than just porn and should be better know as the Great Firewall of Cameron. Meanwhile Labour MPs and liberal journalists have spearheaded a campaign to get a "Report Abuse" button added to Twitter (which shall itself become a form of abuse in no time at all). And the Lose The Lad's Mags campaign has convinced the Co-Op to demand lad's mags self-censor or be dumped.

What does this have to do with an adult homosexual who isn't abusive on Twitter? Well I see such moves as preliminary movements in a general anti-sex and anti-freedom campaign. Real problems, such as rape, are being used to frown upon modern sexual freedom in general. Missing from that article were "Girls please don't drink, it leads to sin" and "Girls, stay away from parties and wait until you are married". But they pretty much went without saying.

The Nationwide Festival of Light was organised by known homophobes, such as Mary Whitehouse, as an ultimately unsuccessful campaign against "sexploitation" and violence in the media. Whitehouse later went on to sue the Gay News for publishing The Love That Dares to Speak its Name (she won). Her legacy waned with the poor leadership of Christian organisations but is renewed under new "liberal" leadership.

I'm not the only one to link Mary Whitehouse to modern campaigns.
"And, although the political assumptions underlying their quickness to take offence might be very different (the individual foot soldiers of this latter-day green biro brigade would certainly be alarmed to look in the mirror and see those familiar horn-rimmed glasses staring back at them), are the mobs of angry Tweeters who patrol our cultural landscape in search of a word said or written out of turn really anything other than Whitehouse’s digital inheritors?"
So I look with concern at any moves backwards towards a time when women had to cover up and everyone had to watch what they said. Gay men didn't fair too well under such regimes.

Not only was our poetry found unsuitable, but our book shops were raided and the number of men we had sex with at any one time was policed. Do you think "magazine shields" won't be used against depictions of gay relationships? Don't you remember how past internet filters had a bias against LGBT websites (naughty or nice!)?

It is time to prepare ourselves for the puritan's next steps. We won't be too far down the list, although our old allies like the trans folk and sex workers will probably still get it in the neck well before we do. Then it'll be our turn. Our Tumblr posts, our tweets, our magazines, our sexual habits. They'll be demanding we all wait until marriage for sex (now the same-sex marriage bill has passed), and give us disapproving looks if we lust after hotties. It is already happening, talk of eating disorders caused by representations of muscular men and the like.

Sigh. There I was planning for the rest of the decade and suddenly I'm right back in the 80s. Damn it!


Are Women Unable To Be Trusted To Make The Right Decisions?

I've been brought up by my Nan and my Mum to believe women are my equals. I work in an overwealmingly female workplace (and industry). The people I know personally who I most admire are all women. But the messages I've been getting from feminists over the last weekend seem to be completely at odds with my beliefs.

What do I mean? Well it seems "young girls" (for which read 18 year old women) aren't capable of making decisions about what to do for work until they are 21. Doesn't anyone think this infantalises women somewhat? Are you really saying that a 20 year old man doesn't have the ability to choose whether to get photographed naked (as Chris Mears, not a model, did recently)? Because you must think that is unacceptable if a 20 year old woman couldn't choose the same thing.

Some feminists are saying women don't actually have the capacity to choose because of their socialisation and the fact that an individuals right to choose is trumped by society.

 • But what if it’s a woman’s choice to be glamour models or lap dancers?  

Mainstream media outlets glamorise the ‘porn star’ life. For example even though much research shows that prostitution is overwhelming abusive and exploitative, the media friendly story is still one of the ‘Belle du Jour’ fantasy of a successful and glamorous call girl. Instead of showing the realities of lap dancing, page 3 or prostitution, the media focuses on discussions on women’s choice to participate in the sex industry. 
Actually, the issue of choice is complex. We have to look at all the factors which influence our choices, including the way that the media and popular culture glamorises the sex industry. Even if we could establish that it truly was a genuine and empowering choice of a woman to go into one of these industries, the harmful impact that their normalisation has on society makes the issue much bigger than one of individual choice.
The pro-life activists out there just nodded in agreement.

Homosexuality and male objectification really throw a spanner in the works of these arguments. To accept that women are unable to make a conscious, fully aware decision to work in the sex industry, porn or as a glamour model, one must hold that either:

1) People such as Zeb Atlas are also unable to make this decision. He's a straight man who does gay porn. If men and women are equal and sex work is always (or mostly) exploitative, he must be a victim too.


2) Men and women are inherently unequal and that men can choose this for themselves but women (for some unknown reason) do not have the ability to do so. 

Perhaps there are other options, rendering this a false narrative, but I really cannot accept either one of the above proposals. Men are quite capable of choosing to flaunt their bodies for the pleasure of others as a job without being victims (which is not saying some aren't, nothing is so black and white). And, I believe, women are equal to men and thus also quite capable of making informed choices about their lives (whilst some may well be exploited). 

I've spoken before about the lad's mags issue but it has reared its head again with the Co-op threatening to drop them unless they "cover up" in some sort of magazine burqa. Why not Attitude and Gay Times? Do they consider heterosexuality more "dangerous"? Or do they just think women should be covered up but men can flaunt their body all they like? I'd go as far to suggest that by treating male homosexuality as "safe" in comparison they are being somewhat homophobic. I know that seems a bit topsy turvy ("Oppress me please!") but sometimes I find some "right on" people think us gays are all safe and cuddly and desexualised. Really we are just as sexual as any other man. 

I'm never, ever going to stop fighting for the individual. The right to choose how you live your life is paramount. I believe women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies. More importantly, I believe women have the capacity to choose what to do with their bodies. Can we please stop acting as if women are delicate little flowers who don't know what is good for them? It is extremely patronising and if you think men get the wrong messages from porn, can you imagine what messages boys are picking up from some of the arguments I've pointed out above? 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

UK Sleepwalking Into Censorship? More Like Running Into It At Full Pelt

We do not live in a free country. We all know that. Our libel laws are ridiculous. Our freedom of speech is curtailed should we be "offensive". We live under the gaze of corporate and Government officials. Even some websites are blocked. But we can at least try to hold on to some of the freedom we do have; we aren't Saudi Arabia or China after all.

But won't somebody think of the children? Every debate seems to revolve around those special transient state human beings under the age of 16. Marriage equality was bad because "children need a mother and a father" (we all saw what happened to Lot's daughters after their Mum died after all). And an open internet is bad because children might see things they shouldn't. And when we say "see things they shouldn't" we don't necessarily mean "what their parents or their future informed selves wouldn't want them to look at" but rather we mean "what the Government and ISPs have decided they shouldn't look at".

And we aren't talking about just porn here. Much has been said about how David Cameron's anti-porn filters will not work (and that the case that porn is harmful is still not firmly made). But more needs to be said about how these are not just porn filters. These opt-out filters will almost certainly default filter things from websites about suicide and self-harm through to "extremist material". Who will decide what constitutes extremist material? I find a book that discusses incest, murder, genocide, praises family breakdowns and proscribes execution for the smallest of crimes very distasteful and extremist. But are ISPs really going to block the Bible? Will Scientology websites be blocked? Or Greenpeace? Will the Rapture Ready forums be off limits? Or Queerty? Where will the line be draw and will it be fixed or ever changing?

Isn't it optional though? Yes of course it is. For people like me it'll be optional. Sure we'll then appear on some list at an ISP somewhere and the police will occasionally check whether a "person of interest" has his/her filters on or off as a way of deciding whether to investigate further (because it'll be a sign they are up to no good of course!). But it is optional. Will it be optional for women with controlling husbands? Or for men with overbearing wives? Will it be optional for kids in a religious household? Will it be optional in web cafes? Will it be optional in houseshares or when you are renting a room which comes with wi-fi? "Oh could you remove the filters for me?" will be regarded as "I wish to do something very naughty online". Who is going to ask it in anything other than the most open relationships and friendships? The Governments continued conflation of child abuse pictures, simulated rape imagery and porn does nothing but shame those who just want the Government to leave our internet alone and hardly promotes an honest conversation in the home.

I said 3 years ago when this was first proposed that porn was the litmus test of freedom. Sadly I didn't have the foresight to see that the Government wouldn't be satisfied with just porn. This isn't even a slippery slope argument... these extra options will go live with the porn filters.

As a Lib Dem I'm very, very ashamed that these proposals have come from a Government containing members of the party. And I'm equally saddened to see so many social conservatives who've spent the last year moaning about their freedom of speech suddenly so enthusiastic about censorship. Well when I say "saddened" I mean "unsurprised and slightly amused". They are predictable buggers.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Boot Is On The Other Foot As Opponents Cry "Mercy!", So Let Us Be Gracious

It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile,

Be yourself no matter what they say

For the last couple of hundred years (i.e. the period where identifiably LGBT people have existed) there has been little let up in the persecution of our predecessors. They suffered executions, chemical castrations, electroshock therapy, imprisonment and public shaming. It is with great relief that I can look back on my life and know that the worst that ever happened to me was a few stones thrown at my boyfriend and I when we dared hold hands in public. Our community, however, was forged through that odd mixture of passion and terror.

It is thus rather easy, even for those of us not personally touched by the persecution of the past, to look at opponents as they lose battle after battle and laugh when they claim to be persecuted themselves. These are people who get rather upset if you even just refer to them as a bigot when they refer to your relationship as "grotesque" or "disordered". So yes, it is easy to mock them.

We must, however, be cautious. On occasion on this blog I warned our opponents that they should think carefully about their actions for they may not like it when their influence is on the wane. But I also have the same warning for those I very much agree with. We must be the better people, the good people, the ones who (should our influence itself wane) will be able to say "We weren't like you".

I remember the first time I walked down the street in London and heard some man screaming into a megaphone about how evil gay people were. It hurt. There's no pretending it didn't. It made me feel deeply angry. But I understood that he had the right to speak freely. So it is sad to see people making complaints to the police about nasty people like Tony Miano. It only helps to stroke Christians already intense persecution complex. So please... stop it. What would have been better would have been to set up a rival speaker right next to him talking of the evils of religion, the hate that is spewed in its name, the harm it does to free thought and free speech the world over. And also point out that cowardice=/="woman".

But saying that it is possible that our opponents may experience injustice does not mean we should accept all their outrageous comments. Orson Scott Card, a US writer and infamous Mormon hater of homosexuals, said recently about the Supreme Court decision on DOMA:

“It will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them.”
If I'd been reading that over my breakfast there'd have been cornflakes everywhere as I splutter in disbelief.

Or check out this disingenuous article Can Gay Couples, Too, Live and Let Live?

Our opponents EXPECT us to be better than them. As if they have a right to expect it. I cannot begin to express how infuriating, yet insightful, these reactions are. Those who insult us, attempt to oppress us at every opportunity and who would have us back in the closet in seconds if it was their choice demand that we treat them with the respect they so failed to give us.

BUT. There is always a but. We must meet their expectations. Even exceed them. We must bite our lips, avoid the temptation to enact (quite justified) revenge. We must be the example that Christians and other religious types so failed to be.

As they flail wildly for attention, as their membership dwindles, as their hate becomes manifest we have the luxury of being gracious. If we are to believe we have the right to liberty, then we must protect their rights to it too.

Always remember: Don't be Mary Whitehouse.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Marriage Equality: Taking Stock And Preparing For The Future (AKA It Ain't Over)

Stonewall, yes that lot, have been crowing with victory over the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act. Celebrity friends have been pouring gratitude upon them and fawning over "man of the moment" Ben Summerskill as if he was the Messiah (and not just a very naughty boy). Perhaps we should pin this law wholly upon Stonewall as another mark against them.

During the process of the consultations on religious civil partnership implementation and then same-sex marriage Stonewall moved from "Meh" through supporting only civil marriage to accepting the Government's plans for religious and civil marriages. At no time did they lead the debate, simply following the suggestions of the Government rather than lobbying them for more. But more telling still is that they seemed oblivious to the flaws of the bill as it proceeded through Parliament and were hellbent only on seeing it pass unamended as originally proposed. This sort of uncritical devotion speaks volumes of Stonewall's lack of real emotional investment in the outcomes of the legislation.

I've said it during the debates and I'll say it again: this act is flawed. That doesn't mean I don't celebrate its passing. It is a brave step in the right direction. But, as I'd wished those who introduced civil partnerships had done back in 2004, I can both celebrate the Royal Assent and commiserate over the missed opportunities (and grave injustices).

When I took the time to really consider why I found civil partnerships so deeply unsatisfying, I discovered the terrible consequences the passing of the Civil Partnerships Act had had on the relationships and well-being of trans people. I won't pretend I knew about these all along, but once I did they persuaded me fully of the rightness of fighting for marriage equality. Before I'd just been grumpy, after I was truly enraged. (Christine Burns does a remarkable job of giving us some history here).

However the Act that has now been passed is not only insufficient in remedying the situation but is, in fact, only making things even more intolerable. Sarah Brown has been involved in bringing the problems with the "Spousal Veto" to everyone's attention and summarises the situation here.

As the situation cools and Stonewall loses interest and moves off in search of footballers who can be persuaded to wear one of their t-shirts, we must begin lobbying the Government to fix this issue.

Another inequality remains undecided. Pension equality was a sleeper issue, though well-known among marriage equality enthusiasts for a long time, and didn't really take off in the Parliamentary debates until the very end with people like Mike Fryer MP and Lord Alli championing the matter. They managed to get an amendment through that will ask the Department of Works and Pensions to reconsider the current restrictions. But that doesn't mean we'll get what we need so we must be vigilant and not let this review pass without careful monitoring.

Civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples is often considered somewhat of a joke but to those who want it, and to trans people in civil partnerships awaiting a GRC, it is important. Another review has been proposed and again we must be careful to ensure it happens transparently.

On a "minor" note, I'm still deeply concerned at the language of the bill which fails to create marriage equality in the style of most nations but instead creates a separate institution known as "same-sex marriage".

And we have the humanist wedding consultation ahead of us, an important challenge to the monopoly religion and the Government hold over marriage.

So there is still plenty to campaign on, to fight for and to defend. It is time to prepare ourselves for battles ahead.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Turns Out To Be A Quiet Revolution

Remember how much press was given whenever Cardinal O'Brien used to totter out to declare homosexual relationships as grotesque or some such tomfoolery? When the Church of England issued concerns about the same-sex marriage bill it was given prominent place on almost every news site, including the BBC.

Yet over these last three exciting days barely a whisper can be heard of the good news that same-sex marriage is now legal (if not practicable just yet). In fact Google trends suggest there was more coverage last year, before any of the debates, than there has been of it's successful passing. 

Weird. It is almost as if the media, including our liberal friends at the Guardian, were really only interested in what our opponents had to say and when they discovered no one else was interested in that they just gave up. The smooth, though nerve-wracking, passage of the bill through both Houses shows that all the scaremongering of our opposition were mere lies. We won. We won easily. We won not despite the opposition but partly because of it (our opponents seriously need to take a good hard look at their campaign methods after this debacle). There was no need for all the big scary headlines.

We've done it. Not completely, there are so many loose ends that need tying up, but we've got enough to pat ourselves on the backs and hopefully look back at where we went right and where we went wrong. Because our opponents aren't going away. They will still be around "defending religious freedom" (but only for their friends). We must be prepared to defend liberalism, secularism and full blooded religious freedom rather than their corrupted version.

The battle is won yet again. The war for freedom and liberty for all remains undecided.

Oh what a joyous week it has been though.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

#EqualMarriage: The Endgame (Sort of) Approaches, Thank You!

I've been moaning about marriage equality for just under 10 years. Over that time I've evolved from "grumpy with the halfway house solution of civil partnerships" through "passionate marriage equality evangelist" to "grumpy that Government proposals don't meet my rather extensive requirements".

And the response I've got has moved with that. In the beginning I was mainly blocked on Twitter for calling out prominent people (mainly LGBT Labour members) who refused to even acknowledge the subject or insulted by (soon to be ex) followers who felt I was belittling their civil partnerships by arguing in favour of full equality. Sometimes I'm sure I did come across as overly aggressive and single-minded. Then something, somewhere, changed. Prop 8 brought the issue to the attention of the less politically minded people in the LGBT community and slowly different groups and individuals started demanding change. Peter Tatchell (although he had been arguing for it for far longer than any of us), Tom French, various prominent Lib Dems (who orchestrated both the vote in favour at Conference and the shaming of Ben Summerskill), and Pink News really helped take the issue into the political arena. Without them, and without politicians like Lynne Featherstone, we'd never even have reached this point.

2010 was the big year, the year when I did more than just tweet and really started gunning for victory. And along came awesome organisations like the Coalition for Equal Marriage, Out4Marriage and Freedom to Marry who helped lobby those in power.

Our opponents have been surprisingly weak. The intellectual arguments were notable by their absence. They were still fighting the Section 28 and same-sex parenting battles, battles they'd already lost and they have singularly failed to mount a sensible, compelling defense of their views on marriage. Unlike in the USA (and France) our opponents have relied solely on silly arguments like "It wasn't in a manifesto" (That isn't how British Parliamentary democracy works plus it sort of was), "Gay marriage will lead to more abortions" or "What next, people marrying dogs?" The far more high-minded arguments, as expounded in such works as "What is marriage?", barely made a mark on our own "traditional marriage supporters". This has been a boon for us given the often lukewarm support of prominent pro-equality politicians like Chris Bryant and Ben Bradshaw and the reluctance of Stonewall to help out.

Now it is hard to believe that after all this it might finally be approaching reality. On Monday the Third Reading of the same-sex marriage bill in the House of Lords is due which will be followed by "Parliamentary ping-pong". Whilst it is not absolutely certain to pass, and there are still risks of wrecking amendments, previous events tend to suggest that our own version of marriage equality will become a reality next week.

It isn't really the end though. We have reviews of opposite-sex civil partnerships and humanist weddings ahead. And probably a review of pension equality too (hurrah). And this bill has done much to hurt transgendered people and is expressly written to treat them in an incredibly unfair way. So come Tuesday next week I still expect that those of us I like to call "marriage equality enthusiasts" will still be moaning away, but I do hope we can all take a moment to smile at how far we've come.

In 2010 I wrote a blog post where I declared that marriage equality was so unlikely we might as well not get our hopes up. I never expected the results of the 2010 election, obviously. I am so pleased to declare that I was wrong. Marriage equality is possible. It will happen. Here, in the United Kingdom. First same-sex marriage will come to England and Wales. Soon it will come to Scotland too. And I'm sure we can convince our Northern Irish relatives that they need to join the club. And soon we shall overcome the failures of this current bill in Westminster. It is a matter of time. I'm not saying it is "inevitable" and I'm not saying "we're on the right side of history". But I can say I'm a glass half full kind of guy these days.

For everyone who has done anything, no matter how small, towards gaining marriage equality: thank you. Thank you so much. You may well know how much it means, but I can barely describe how happy it will make me.

Thank you!