Sunday, 30 November 2014


My emotions and behaviours appear to be extremely cyclical. Case in point: the release of the Jurassic World and Star Wars trailers in the same week triggered off my "geeky obsessive" cycle which will eventually peter out to be replaced by a Mormon history or a Scientology obsessive cycle.

A similar thing happens when it comes to my political outlook. I've been quiet on here because, right now, I'm in my disillusioned phase. Our Government is trying to destroy freedom of movement (ironically 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell we're busy trying to put up barriers again) and threatens our relationship with the European Union. UKIP is surging on a wave of anti-immigrant, anti-Westminster, anti-anything sentiment. Labour can't quite decide whether it is still as bad as it used to be or whether it wants to be even worse by becoming UKIP-lite. And the Lib Dems, my beloved Lib Dems, languish at the bottom of the polls (occassionally even overtaken by the Greens) whilst those Lib Dems in elected office have allowed legislation such as this to get passed.

Some bizarre form of feminist, leftie theology is running strong among progressives (who I usually look at pretty benignly) which has turned them into censorious, conservative and aggressive haters against anything that might make a human being smile. Meanwhile much of the right are dribbling over their keyboards typing "EUSSR!". And in Scotland some crazy nationalist creature known as "the 45%" seems determined to tear our country apart despite the outcome of the referendum there.

Where are the good people? The sane people? The nice people?

Where are our leaders? Cameron's current foreign policy is making Britain look stupid in front of the whole world whilst he has failed to stop the gradual removal of our individual freedoms started by Labour. In fact his Government has gone further than Labour dared (not that Labour's complaining).

It is nearly enough to make me resign from the Lib Dems and join the Pirate Party in some sort of last ditch idealistic, but utterly futile, gesture.

I'm British. Get me out of here!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Why I'll Still Vote Liberal Democrat at #GE2015

For idealists like me the last 4 and half years have been deeply unpleasant. Compromise at every turn. Disappointment on so many fronts. Proportional representation deep in the long grass, House of Lords reform stalled, removal of tuition fees scrapped. The list of things I thought (and still think!) are important which failed to come to be is long (and covered in unhappy smileys).

Of course very well-meaning (and mostly correct) Lib Dem loyalists with tell you how the Lib Dems didn't win the 2010 election, had to compromise in Government, made tuition fees less onerous and did lots of amazing things as part of the Coalition. All this is very good, but I've yet to see any unconvinced person who's frown gets turned upside down by those arguments. 

Those arguments are rational. But they don't appeal to me. And despite my gratitude for the income tax changes and for the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act they aren't reasons for me to vote Lib Dem in 2015.

It is what is happening right now that leads me to continue to support the Lib Dems. The Tories and Labour are currently suffering from extreme weakness. Polling shows they are nearly neck and neck once again and they are desperate to gain any extra votes they can. Meanwhile both parties suffered shocks in recent by-elections at the hands of surging UKIP support and, rather than standing up to them, both have let the tail wag the dog by beginning to contemplate policies that will attract UKIP voters. David Cameron is leading the Tories back on an anti-EU campaign whilst Labour have decided to throw away any pretense of being a progressive alternative by hardening their stance on immigration.

How did the Lib Dems react to UKIP? Well MONTHS ago Nick Clegg challenged Nigel Farage to debates on national television. Clegg put forward our case for free movement of peoples and for Britain within the EU. Sure, it didn't have any effect on the subsequent EU elections but at least someone stood up and gave an alternative to UKIP's message.

Whilst Labour and the Tories try to out UKIP each other, the true believers of UKIP aren't going to be convinced. Why would they vote for the two parties who have so utterly failed to do anything about their main concerns? Meanwhile Labour and Tory voters will find themselves with "I can't believe it's not UKIP" after the next election if they aren't careful. Voting for the Lib Dems allows me to say: Not in my name. I don't want any part of an attempt to undermine the freedom of movement of EU citizens nor do I want to see us out of Europe.

Worse... Labour seem to have completely failed to learn the lessons of their 13 years in power and continue to support anti-liberty "surveillance state" initiatives whilst the Tories are eagerly planning to repeal the Human Rights Act (just keep reading that, it only gets worse with each re-read). No, the Lib Dems have not been perfect on the liberty agenda in this current Parliament. But they are streets ahead of the two main parties. They blocked the "Snooper's Charter".

And Labour and the Tories are engaged in self-interested attempts to ensure that any future constitutional arrangement for England, following devo-max in Scotland, falls in their favour. Labour won't support English votes for English laws because it'd mean they'd struggle to maintain a majority on English laws if they were in Government. The Tories oppose regional devolution because of ideological "little Englander" reasons as well as because it doesn't favour them in several regions. The Lib Dems plans for a federal United Kingdom might be wishy-washy at the moment but at least they are trying to be consistent to all constituent parts without self-interest.

So yes, it is the Lib Dems still for me. A party that defends free movement, the EU, human rights and constitutional stability.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julie Scheeres

Julie Scheeres had a shitty childhood. Now you might think you've had a shitty childhood and feel you could hold your own in the Shitty Childhood Championships but, unless you have a particularly harrowing story or were her brother David, it is unlikely to be as shitty as Scheeres. She grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household with parents who she paints as unloving and scary. Her father beat her adopted brothers brutally. Her mother had an intercom system set up so she could monitor conversations anywhere in the house.

She also experienced sexual abuse from her older adoptive brother, Jerome, who made her young life a living hell. Meanwhile her brother David suffered racist abuse on an almost daily basis growing up in "Hicksville" as a black adopted member of a white family.

And what did the two of them get for their troubles? They got sent to Escuela Caribe, a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic, where they were subjected to emotional and physical abuse "for their own good".

Sounds like a depressing book right? But instead Scheeres manages to maintain a balanced look back on her youth weaving in humourous episodes and giving full and balanced perspectives on all involved (rather than the deeply bitter perspective one could reasonably accept from someone who has been through what she went through). But above all else the love she had for her brother David shines through and this book is really a story about how they stuck it out together dreaming of a better life.

This is a story of religious excess, abuse, racism and of family. And it is one I'll admit to shedding a tear over in the final pages. Scheeres really doesn't hold back much detail on what happened to her which gives this book the credibility that many memoirs I've read recently desperately lack.

There's more on the abusive atmosphere at Escuela Caribe here.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julie Scheeres

A Thousand Lives. What an absolutely excellent book. Julie Scheeres has a real talent for bringing history to life. Whilst Reiterman's "Raven" (which I read a couple of months ago) gives a detailed history of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple this book gives us an insight into the people of Jonestown and how they fell in love with the Peoples Temple and how it turned out for them on November 18th 1978.

You follow the lives of people like Hyacinth Thrash who was with Jones from his early days in Indiana all the way through to that last evening when she managed to survive the massacre in her cottage. You see how she changes from true believer to disgruntled resident. Unlike other books you get a real sense of the humanity of the Jonestown residents.

Another person who the narrative follows is Edith Roller. An intelligent, middle class former college professor she truly believed in the project. She also kept an incredibly detailed journal describing life in the colony and honestly discussing some of its drawbacks. She died that tragic November evening.

But the true tear-jerker story is that of teenage rebels Tommy Bogue and Brian Davis. They were desperate to escape the Hell that was their life in Jonestown. They were inseparable. Except on the final day when Bogue finally got his wish and fled with his family. Davis, a minor and unable to leave without his family's permission, was murdered that night. You can read Bogue's moving tribute to his friend here.

If you want a blow-by-blow account of the rise and fall of Jim Jones, go read "Raven". If you, however, want to really understand (as close as anyone so far removed from the events can anyway) what the people of Jonestown went through and how they were led to the slaughter this is the book for you.

Some may just mock the victims of Jones and put it all down to them being crazy cultists. But they were so much more than that and Scheeres really brings home to you that each one of those people who died were individuals. All undeserving of their fate.

Scheeres ends the book with words that have haunted me for days after finishing it. "They believed in a dream, how terribly they were betrayed."

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Ervil LeBaron & The Extremes Of Religious Conviction

I've just finished two books which detail the bloody history of two Mormon sects headed by two very different brothers. The 4 O'Clock Murders gives a very well-written overview of the history of the LeBaron family, their Mormon fundamentalist faith and the events leading up to and following the religious split that would lead to a great deal of misery. Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement by Irene Spencer, a personal memoir of her time as the plural wife of Verlan LeBaron. As a (then) member of the family and someone who was privy to the internal politics of the sects it is an interesting insider account which complements The 4 O'Clock Murders and also contains a few moments of light relief.

The history of the faith journey of the LeBarons is far too convoluted (comprising as it does a few different claims to Mormon prophethood) to go into here. However the short (comparatively) story is that in the 1950s Joel LeBaron founded the Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times claiming to be the "One Mighty and Strong" that the founder of the Latter-day Saint movement Joseph Smith had claimed would arrive to put the affairs of the church and the world in order. Many of Joel's brothers, including Verlan and Ervil, quickly accepted his claims. However Ervil hungered for power and eventually split the church. He and his followers, believing Ervil to be the true "One Might and Strong" founded the Church of the Lamb of God.

Ervil couldn't believe that many had failed to accept his claims and had stayed loyal to Joel. Hungry for power and desperate to take over Joel's church Ervil had Joel murdered by his followers. When this act failed to bring many converts (with the Firstborn members being quite understandably rather terrified by the events and scared of Ervil) he ordered an attack on Los Molinos, a Mexican colony of the Firstborn church. Drawing a crowd to fight a fire they had lit, Ervil's followers (hoping to catch Verlan, the new Firstborn leader) opened fire killing 2 and injuring dozens. Growing dissent and "disobedience" within his own church lead Ervil to order the murders of others including his own daughter.

Ervil's downfall came when he planned once more to ensnare Verlan. He decided the only way to draw an understandably paranoid and elusive Verlan into the open was a major funeral he couldn't fail to attend. Rulon Allred, then leader of one of the largest Mormon fundamentalist groups in the USA, was the target. Two women, one Ervil's plural wife Rena, murdered Allred at his place of work but a large police presence at his funeral meant the attempt on Verlan's life was aborted. Rena was acquited of the crime but later admitted it in an autobiography.

Ervil, however, finally faced justice for orchestrating the murder of Rulon Allred and died in prison in 1981. Unfortunately that was not the end of the horrors. Ervil left a list of people (mainly followers who abandoned his church in the aftermath of Allred murder trial) who he wanted "blood atoned" (murdered). And he also left over 50 children among whom a number were willing to carry out his orders. Many have died since (including 4 people all at once in the "4 O'Clock Murders) and some of his children and followers remain on the loose even today.

What on Earth possessed ordinary Americans and Mexicans to turn into cold-blooded killers? A mixture of unquestioning faith and tribalism allowed them to follow the orders of a crazy man preaching discarded Mormon principles. Both books give different insights into what drove Ervil (power, money and attention mainly) and how his followers were completely unable to see that (or, in some cases, embraced it). The events are a warning of where extreme belief can lead us.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Anti-#EqualMarriage Minister Gets Stonewall Staffer As Special Advisor

Imagine... A Stonewall head of education working for an anti-marriage equality Tory Minister.Who'd of thought it? Everyone? Oh.

But Jae, I hear you say. The debate is over. We've got equal marriage. Let's move on and work together. It is about helping end bullying (well if its homophobic anyway, otherwise the kids are on their own). Blah blah blah. Won't somebody think of the children? Etc.

Well it isn't over. And it isn't right. We still have plenty of work to go before we achieve actual marriage equality. And the idea that Luke Tryl, who probably had a fair bit of input into this piece of sex-shaming, will somehow make Morgan's positions more acceptable is laughable.

I'm no radical queer here. You guys often tell me off for holding things politicians did 30 years ago against them today (because being anti-LGBT youth turns out to have an "unacceptability" expiry date). But this is something she did last year! We haven't even got marriage equality yet, and instead of opposing such an incredibly awful choice for equality minister people at the very top of the "leading" LGB charity in this country are choosing to help her (though I hasten to add Tryl has left his position at Stonewall to go and aid Morgan).

Does nobody else find this infuriating? Am I the only person just aghast at this whole rubbish chain of events? I don't really agree with much of what Peter Tatchell believes but I'm thinking I need to increase my £5.00 monthly donation to him just to bring back some balance.

"Them: Adventures with Extremists" by Jon Ronson

A bit of an oldie now but, given the increasing rise in profiles of extremists of all ilks, "Them" provides a really interesting insight into the odd mentality of holders of some of the weirder political outlooks in the Western world.

From Omar Bakri to Alex Jones we see the odd dissonance (something I see in most "believers") between living ordinary lives with ordinary problems whilst holding onto beliefs that seem to oppose the very concept of living ordinary lives. If I truly believed in the New World Order I'd either try and keep my head down or give up my ordinary life and become a die-hard opponent. This "Having our cake and eating it" malarkey seems to fly in the face of their own beliefs, with their ability to live a normal life seemingly unimpeded by the evil NWO.

You also get to see a human side to these people that helps you remember that they aren't madmen or geniuses but just flawed people like the rest of us. They live "exciting" lives full of paranoia and faux intrigue, playing out fantasies like tricked out role players.

Oddly, given my line of work is fairly mundane, I speak to similarly paranoid people all the time. I spend a lot of time trying to convince them I'm not out to get them before they'll finally let me help them. And I regularly encounter people with extremely odd beliefs regarding conspiracies, aliens etc. I've come to believe these "extremists" are little more than just the tip of a large iceberg. Humans, in general, easily and readily give themselves over to crazy beliefs, easy (if elaborate) explanations for what are really rather mundane events and to a blinkered worldview that defends their viewpoints regardless of any counter evidence.

Skepticism has a long way to go in changing human behaviours for the better.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Straight Men Are Not Our Enemy

Maybe it is a hold over from bullying at school, or maybe it is just some sort of collective myth, but some gay men seem to have a rather disturbing fear of straight guys.

Straight men, especially white ones, are the current Big Bad for every "progressive" (self-described, I'd call them backward and divisive shadows of true progressive and inclusive movements). But this focus on smearing people based on their colour, gender and sexuality just doesn't sit right with me (an evil white man myself, so I suppose it figures). We are meant to be above this sort of thing but, almost at every turn, LGBT people happily try to insult straight men and even use underhand tactics to hurt them.

Take, for example, the recent approval for a "straight" lap dancing club in a "gay" district in Liverpool. Ignoring the fact that bisexuals are a part of LGBT politics, LGBT "leaders" opposed this new business based on fears it might bring an increase in homophobic violence. Why? Because straight men would be about. Some, in comments I've seen, have also used feminist arguments to oppose this "degrading" enterprise.

This is little different to the opposition to gay bars, clubs and other facilities which focus on all sorts of scare stories involving children, drugs and crime. It is little different to those who think gay bars are a "wretched hive of scum and villainy". At a time when a new rave of anti-sex puritans from both the left and right are fighting to undermine freedoms fought for by LGBT people for the last few decades, some LGBT folk seem unwilling to spot the connections between heterosexual sexual freedom and our own. LGBT "leaders" should be providing a refuge for those businesses ostracised elsewhere not joining in with the Christians and feminists.

And then we have this odd obsession with opposing anyone, regardless of whether they are truly nasty or just a bit eccentric, who even discusses a "straight pride" event. As if a straight pride event must automatically be oppositional to gay pride.  See this recent story. An all age event where everyone is welcome? Sounds just awful. Perhaps it'd be more acceptable to the LGBT glitterati if it had corporate sponsorship, some lacklustre and often insultingly awful campaigning organisations marching and some truly directionless political messages? Or should we just leave that to pretty much every gay pride march in the Western Anglosphere? They do seem to have it down to a fine art now.

Straight men aren't our enemy. They are our fathers, brothers, friends and colleagues. They are mostly decent people. We simply must stop tarring them with the same brush (the one we created with our teenage traumas, leftie political leanings and dodgy alliances with people who actually hate us). We need to start dealing individuals and not making wildly outrageous claims about entire groups. You know doing what we've been asking people to do for us for the last 100 years.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People

Tim Reiterman's "Raven" is one of the most compelling and complete histories of a New Religious Movement that I've ever read (up there with Atack's Scientology history "A Piece of Blue Sky"). His book follows Jim Jones' life from his birth to his death and captures the parallel track of the life and death of his Peoples Temple.

This odd man, who seemed to move from sincere Christian belief to atheism and back in his early years, evolved into an atheistic con man who lead over 1000 people on a journey from Pentecostal worship at his faith healing meetings in Indianapolis to communal "socialist" living in Guyana.

He, and his close aides, conspired to deceive his followers, critics and neutral observers at every turn. Fake attempted assassinations, claims of hate crimes, imaginary miracles and over-egged promises of a paradise in Jonestown are just a few of the lies he put out (and it was the fear of those lies being exposed to ultimately lead to the exodus to Jonestown and the ultimate end for over 900 people).

He was a utopian who seemed to believe the ends justified the means. Though it is an age old story, he was just one of many such men who left the 20th century littered with bodies in their wake. He raped women and men, he instigated "catharsis" sessions where members of the Temple were forced to confess to sins and take abuse (sometimes physical) from other members (a similarity with Scientology's Int Base antics) and ran fake suicide drills.

Reiterman had the misfortune to be in Jonestown on its last two days and was among those shot as Congressman Ryan's party tried to shepherd to safety those Temple members who wished to escape the growing madness of Jonestown . His narrative of the end days, however, remains as neutral as possible and with interviews with the handful of survivors and members not in Jonestown that weekend he manages to paint a near complete description of the horror that unfolded as Jones directed his people to die (some of whom did not go willingly).

This is a big book, and it is very thorough going over every detail of the rise and fall of this man and his movement. The people, good and bad, who rose and fell with him get their stories told as fairly as possible. If you want to understand where religious and political ideologies can go wrong and how normal people can be lead to their deaths by a con man, this book gives you plenty to ponder. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

One Bloody Afternoon and 102 Minutes

Sometimes you have to wonder about people. They do surprisingly silly, horrific and weird things every single day. And then sometimes you just have to admit to yourself that, given past examples, you really shouldn't be wondering about the little oddities of humanity anymore when we have plenty of examples of humans doing truly evil things with a depressing regularity.

I'm back on the book wagon and in the last few weeks I've devoured my way through two horrific accounts of human brutality and suffering.

One Bloody Afternoon tells the story of the Hungerford massacre. Michael Ryan, after a failed rape turned to murder and his attempt at escape foiled by a broken down car, terrorised the residents of Hungerford as he murdered and injured his mother, neighbours and even an ambulance crew and police officer sent to the scene. People going about their everyday business, tending their gardens, washing their car or walking their dog, lost their lives so suddenly and needlessly that it is difficult not to shed at least a few tears when reading this book.

And yet among these sorry tales there are stories of bravery, the off-duty soldier who followed in Ryan's wake tending the wounded is one of the stand out moments. But, in typically British style, it is the brief one line mentioning one of Ryan's elderly neighbours berating him before being hastily dragged inside a house that really brings home how this massacre wasn't some Hollywood production and how truly, frighteningly real it was.

102 Minutes is the story of what happened inside the Twin Towers from the moment the first plane hit on September 11th 2001 to the moment the North Tower collapsed. Like the Hungerford massacre, this event occurred on just another ordinary day to ordinary people going about their business. Attending meetings, taking telephone calls and just generally settling down for another day at work, thousands of people's lives were destroyed in such a short space of time. And again for no reason whatsoever.

The sliced bodies, the trapped, the burning and the jumpers are proof positive that humans can be the most awful of creatures. And yet again, among the tragedy stand stories of sacrifice and bravery that almost redeems our species. The colleagues who stayed with those with disabilities (even when they were just acquaintances), the Port Authority employees in the North Tower who spent the entire time rescuing those in the area where the plane hit and who didn't make it out, the people who went running in when others were running out.

Humanity is just one confusing mess of virtue and horror. Right now my reading of "Raven", the story of the Peoples Temple, is not helping me find much of the virtue unfortunately.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Youngest Bishop In England: Beneath The Surface Of Mormonism

Robert Bridgstock's book is in part a memoir of his religious life and in part a polemic against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bridgstock's anger, and far be it from me to suggest it isn't justified, is a running thread throughout the narrative as he attempts to explain how he came to believe the LDS church was a fraud and how it came to find it completely unforgiving of any sort of independent thought.

The parts where he delves into the problems with church history and theology will be no surprise to any seasoned watchers of the LDS church but he still does a very good job of making some complicated topics easily digestible even to the uninitiated. Bridgstock manages to avoid getting too bogged down in the minutiae and his real strength is getting across his anger, upset and despair at his treatment by a church he gave many years of his life too. 

He is still a believer in some sort of God, but even there he didn't manage to lose this die-hard atheist because he is extremely clear that he might be wrong. A very refreshing change from your usual supernatural believer. 

He certainly finds polygamy far more repugnant than I do (I see it as a very grey area with much pain in some scenarios but joy in others) but overall I found him to be an extremely engaging and honest writer. He is extremely open about some very painful personal episodes in his life, especially towards the end of the book, and this makes him very easy to empathise with. 

One of the better personal narratives written about leaving the LDS church I've read, and I've read way too many. I'd recommend it for anyone wanting to understand a little more about the church and the current apostasy problems which are causing it quite a lot of difficulty right now. 

Monday, 2 June 2014

Roger Helmer Finally Says Something Pretty Clear On LGBT Stuff

Roger Helmer, a candidate for a party with the silliest policy on same-sex marriage, has finally stopped muddying the water on LGBT issues after the tweet below came back to haunt him...
3 and a bit years later, he has finally decided that (instead of asking silly unclear questions) to be a bit clearer about his position after an interview with the Mail on Sunday went a bit wrong.  His response to that interview is, I will admit, the very first thing I've EVER seen from Ukip that actually 1) appears to be a libertarian position and 2) sets out clearly that he doesn't seek to intrude on people's personal lives. He's on the same page as me on this one.

Now that he's articulated a libertarian position on ex-gay therapy, perhaps he might want to help David Coburn come up with a libertarian response to the equal marriage debate rather than the codswallop that is currently masquerading as Ukip party policy.

And then he can move on to perhaps suggesting to his fellow Ukippers about respecting actual religious and individual liberty.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Ukip, David Coburn Is Not The Gay Man You Were Looking For

There have actually been people suggesting that, because David Coburn was elected as a MEP for Ukip in Scotland, Ukip can't possibly be a homophobic party. If you can remember David Coburn is a gay London-based member of Ukip who was instrumental in their opposition to same-sex marriage.

His fact-free attacks on it (suggesting it is some sort of unnecessary victory roll despite there being some very real need for marriage equality) have been looked at before on this blog.

And, just as he struggled to think of one example of EU interference in Scottish business today (audio here:, he has always struggled to point out how banning religions and individuals from performing legally recognised marriages protects their religious and individual freedom.

He likes to claim to be a libertarian but he is dead set against individual and religious freedom on LGBT issues. He is not a libertarian, and quite clearly Ukip is no libertarian party. The fact he is gay in no way makes him any better on LGBT liberty than equally wonderful and kind-hearted people as Roger Helmer.

You can never convince me, of all people, that just having a gay person in your organisation makes you any better on LGBT rights. Just look at Andrew Pierce at the Daily Mail, Nigel Evans in the Conservative party and those wastes of spaces who work for Stonewall.

Ukip represent a fundamental danger to liberty and freedom of LGBT people in this country. They oppose same-sex marriage, they have candidates who support the efficacy of ex-gay therapy (as opposed to supporting just the freedom to seek it), they have candidates who support criminalising LGBT people. The general moral climate that their victories create is oppositional to sexual freedom and individual liberty.

So no, don't try convincing me that having a man who engages in painful circular arguments in order to harm the freedom of others is somehow a get out of homophobia free card.


We Should Stand With Nick Clegg... And Not Stab Him In The Back

The last 4 years have been pretty tough ones for the Lib Dems (and the years immediately preceding them and following Charles Kennedy's departure weren't exactly awesome times if you take out the two months of Cleggmania).

We are not liked. Hated by the left, mocked by the centrists and, as ever, despised by the right. Nick Clegg acted as the lightening rod for appreciation during the 2010 general election and continued his lightening rod role into far less fun times when he experienced hanging in effigy and cruel (and daily) personal attacks. His ancestry, his choice of life partner and just about anything else have been criticised and sneered at by the usual hard-nosed unhappy folk who stand in opposition to liberal values and general nice things.

Anyone surprised by the party's repeated defeats following the tuition fees fiasco really needs to check their ability to understand what attracted a large number of people to our party. We presented ourselves as something different and ended up being just the same as all the other disappointing compromisers. Compromise is often a good thing but you don't get many people who think it is desirable or attractive.

But that doesn't mean we stop and change course. We got ourselves into this mess and we need to get ourselves out of it. And I'm very pleased to see that Nick Clegg, the man who lead us to great heights and through some very dark times for the party (though hardly the worst given our historically low number of MPs over the last century), is not deserting us when things have gotten difficult.

We need to stand with him. He has put up with a lot of abuse and heartache whilst trying to do what he thinks is right. We don't all need to agree with every decision he has made (though I've become convinced what happened over tuition fees was hardly the greatest betrayal in history as it has been played by the left, it was still foreseeably politically disastrous especially so early into the Coalition). I also believe he has allowed the Tories to play us like fools and they've done it very easily too. But he isn't what is wrong with the party. The party has lost its way. Obsessed with its accomplishments within this Parliament (ones which the Tories are getting all the credit for, alas) it is failing now to paint a picture of what a Lib Dem future looks like and why it is radically different to the bleak visions of the Tories and Labour. That is what we must focus on and not be distracted by some pointless and damaging leadership contest.

Nick Clegg needs a stable party in order to fix the things that have gone wrong. And we need a stable leadership to allow us any hope of securing our strongholds for the bitter storm that will be the 2015 general election.

If you believe in liberty, in fairness and in Europe join the Lib Dems. I'm going to renew my membership next month (10 years in the party now I think) and I'm going to contact my new local party and see what I might offer in aid. The fight against the clearly defined vision of Ukip must begin now, to secure our freedoms and our country from their nasty plans.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

In Temperament and History, We Are A Christian Nation. Cameron's Still Annoying Though.

We are a Christian nation. Many years before Scotland or England existed (and thus many more years before the United Kingdom as is appeared), Christian Kings ruled on these isles. And even before them we were briefly under the influence of the Roman empire, whose Christian beliefs were late to appear but quickly spread. Visited by soon-to-be saints, and an important part of Christian medieval Europe (and Christian medieval empires), we really can't pretend our little islands aren't steeped in Christianity.

Our villages and towns are adorned with elaborate churches, crucifix gravestones and pubs named after saints, Bishops and monks. Important local and national history is often set against important moments involving religion: Thomas à Becket, the Reformation, the Armada, the Glorious Revolution, the Jacobites and even Catholic emancipation come together to form the tapestry of our national narrative.

When one visits a new town or city as a tourist you will almost always find yourself in the ruins of a monastery, in a cathedral or being regalled by tales of some saint or pilgrimage that visited the spot you are standing on.

Just as Buddhism and Spiritism are intrinsic to Thailand's way of life, and Hinduism influences so much in India, our very cultural outlook and morality is based on Christianity (though we rarely even aspire to live up to things I see as great virtures, such as turning the other cheek). And, above all else, our head of state is also head of an established Christian church which, unlike any country other than Iran, has seats in our legislature put aside for its clergy.

So when David Cameron barks on about us being a Christian nation he isn't completely wrong. To pretend otherwise is delusional.

But let us not pretend that this is the only narrative. We have, for many years, had a proud history of non-conformism within the Christian faith which has lead to an openness towards other faiths and non-belief that marks us out as one of the most tolerant countries on Earth. Our people are diverse and faith is a complicated, and currently waning, theme in modern Britain. To describe ourselves as a Christian nation without a whole list of caveats is to greatly misrepresent our country and insult a large number of citizens.

And that is where David Cameron just goes too far. He doesn't just want us to acknowledge the fact that yes Christianity has been a foundation on which this United Kingdom has been built, he also insists we ponder the benefits to us it has brought. And Christianity has brought us benefits (I'd much rather live here, in a western nation, than pretty much any other I could name). But to ponder its benefits without considering its problems is a fundamentally flawed and misty-eyed approach.

Christianity brought us divisive tribal politics (and wars) whose affects we still feel to this day (especially in places like Northern Ireland and Glasgow). It brought us morality laws that greatly reduced individual liberty and free thought. It allowed, and allows, unelected agents of a minority religious organisation to influence our laws. It has caused deaths through war, murder and execution in such numbers that every citizen of this nation should be ashamed.

So yes we are a Christian nation. This gives us a fascinating history, some pretty buildings, a few decent cultural traits but also a whole heap of trouble that probably outweighs the benefits. So let's try and move forward and do things better so that we live in a country with greater religious freedom, less murder and happier people.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

It Is Time To Move To Somewhere Isolated (I Vote Yukon)

I'm a non-violent person. I abhor violence in all its forms. I think guns are scary (and I grew up around them so I'm not just some liberal sort with no real-life experience). But I've started to sympathise with the sort of loony survivalist that frequent the mountains of Idaho with a stockpile of arms and a deep suspicion of anyone telling them how to live their lives.

I'm worried, literally worried, that people, who are supposed to be vastly more intelligent than I am, think there's a connection between Zac Efron going shirtless at the MTV awards and Cyril Smith's supposed (I'm being careful here as I'm not really paying attention to the never ending abusegate stuff) rape of children.

Further to this, in a similarly slap-dash, throw any sense to the wind manner,  Queerty yesterday had an article stating that because Bryan Singer and other prominent gay men held drug-fuelled parties with men naked in the pool he must be guilty of rape. Oh and he's a paedophile because it was a 17 year old too (not sure they get the concept of paedophilia). The easy damning of someone because they like sex parties and that any age difference in a sexual partnership is just WRONG is the sort of thing I'm getting used to from the LGBT media. 

There is repugnant inability to hold two thoughts in one's head at the same time. Let me show you how it is done:

"Sex is fun. Rape is wrong." 

"Shirtless men are hot. Rapists are evil." 

"All things have consequences. Finding someone attractive does not always lead to rape." 

Look at that. The world's a complicated place and nothing exists in a vacuum. But breezily dismissing sexual expression, human attraction and freedom as "inane" and then linking these things to some of the most heinous crimes imaginable is just too stupid for words. 

And then we have the dark possibility that the "let's out-do the Tory party for puritanism and sexual prudery" party will form the next Government. Bring me a gun, a log cabin and acres of forest between my sexuality and these "liberal" intellectual busy-bodies.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mea Culpa: I Was Wrong On #EqualMarriage

I'm not a "radical queer". Oh I had pretensions in my youth but, ultimately, I'm too lazy to be a radical queer. And, let's face it, I've been in a monogamous relationship with the man I love for 10 years, living in domestic bliss with a dog, a bearded dragon and plans for a wedding. I'm about as radical as the man who chooses to repaint his house in a slightly different colour of beige.

I didn't choose to make marriage equality "my thing". I didn't go looking for an issue to get a bee in my bonnet over. Marriage equality sort of just fell into my lap. Unwanted but insistent. There I was, a happy 21 year old working weekdays and trolling down Old Compton Street on the weekends, and suddenly people started getting all excited about civil partnerships. I couldn't understand it. That's not equality you dimwits, my less than tactful inner monologue said, that's just crumbs to keep you quiet. I couldn't comprehend the fact no one else, other than folks like Peter Tatchell, could see what was happening. All my gay mates were beside themselves with glee and the media was lapping it all up, and I was sitting grumpily in a corner wondering if everyone had lost their mind. I was naive.

I was naive to one think that LGBT politicians would stand up for what was right rather than do deals behind the scenes. I was also naive to believe that most LGBT people had the ability to see things more clearly than most other people. I stupidly had this odd notion LGBT had more common sense than Joe Public. Which probably in itself proves we don't.

At the same time I fell deeply in love. My connections with the gay scene dwindled as my other half and I disappeared into our own little romance. Safely out of touch with the general lack of excitement of LGBT people for it, I started to argue for marriage equality.

There was a genuine injustice to be corrected. Civil partnerships were not equality, though they served a purpose, and I was not going to just allow that to be forgotten. I came up against a brick wall when it came to LGBT politicians and organisations who seemed to think I was completely mad. Marriage? Why ever would we need that? Labour, in particular, seemed unable to grasp the concept that their beloved civil partnerships may not have been perfect. And that just spurred me on. I'd always, in my younger days, been open to radical queer theory, but when I encountered arguments from that perspective against marriage equality (that it would serve to neuter our sexual expression, for conformity on to us etc.) I dismissed them as just more lefty incomprehension of the injustice I saw.

I admit I never really wanted marriage equality. I had bigger dreams. But the rejection I got from all I brought up the subject with (a lot of people!) turned my belief in equal marriage from a principle into an obsession. And soon I found others who actually did share my views and eventually they reached the right people and here we are 9 years later with same-sex marriage.

And now the chance to rest and see if what we have created is good. And I do not think it is. Partly that is because it isn't equal marriage. Same-sex marriage is yet another messy compromise and, in the same way as happened with civil partnerships, most people refuse to acknowledge that fact. We failed here in England and Wales to get marriage equality.

Mostly though, now I feel the fight has reached a stalemate (I doubt the changes we need to fix same-sex marriage will come about any time soon), I look upon what has been created and shake my head with shame.

This was meant to be a liberation. Same-sex couples could marry and enjoy the same benefits as opposite-sex ones. We could choose our futures and live our lives as we wished, whether that was through a marriage or by fucking our brains out with a different guy every night. Suddenly we'd have the right not to have to conform to any one culture. Conservative gays and radical gays and all those in between finally had the right to be themselves. How stupid was I hey?

Instead a new conformity seems to be forming around a conservative homosexuality (trans folks need not apply), I realise this was happening before 2014 but I was too single-mindedly obsessing over equal marriage to notice. Through chats with others about my opposition to many of Stonewall's latest prudish initiatives and my issues with how gay couples have gone from pariahs to Disney-fied paragons of virtue on TV I realise same-sex marriage has helped shore up the more conservative outlook of some LGBT people. It plays into the hands of those who wish to demean sexually active teenagers, who wish to prudishly oppose even partial nudity and who wish to close bathhouses and "clean up" the gay scene. Now I know those people weren't in this fight from the beginning. I know many of these folks didn't even think about marriage equality until the bandwagon was practically over the finish line. They were the very people, in some cases literally, who dismissed my questions and arguments about marriage equality pre-2010.  But... now I've supported giving them a weapon with which to craft a new narrative of clean-cut, prudish homosexuality. I've supported giving them a new rod with which they can beat those who don't conform. I should have seen what they'd do with even this slight amount of freedom. And I didn't.

And I was wrong not to see this. Foolish. Naive. I'm angry now to know that, in years to come, pain will be caused to those who don't conform because of something I supported. Angry that now emboldened elements will up their fight to desexualise, normalise and "sanitise" others.

This isn't what I hoped for. This isn't the freedom I signed up to. And I just don't know how it can be made right.

I still think fighting for equal marriage was right in principle. But the consequences... I should've seen them coming.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Not To Rain On Anyone's Same-Sex Marriage Parade But...

Way back in 2009 and 2010 when I was discussing marriage equality with some left-wingers (such as members of LGBT Labour), their reluctance to listen to any mention of marriage stemmed quite strongly from their belief that I was "undermining" civil partnerships. My attempts to point out civil partnerships were not perfect and did not grant legal equality (on issues I laid out here) were seen as an attack on their current, or future, relationship.

They'd taken civil partnerships to their heart and any criticism of the legal issues was seen as a criticism of their own personal choices. So, as I am about to embark on yet another adventure in being the only miserable one at the gay pride party, I want to make it clear from the start here: I do not begrudge anyone who is going to enter into a marriage under the newly introduced law. I plan to take advantage of the opportunity, partner willing of course, to enter a blessed state of matrimony (blessed by the arms of Thor in case you were wondering ;) ). I wish those getting married every happiness and success. Enjoy yourselves!

However... same-sex marriage is not what I was arguing for back in 2009. As I said here, what we are getting solves only a small percentage of the issues that created the need for something better than civil partnerships in the first place.

Our Government has done marriage equality on the cheap. Stonewall, after they got over the opposition of 10% of their members drowning out the other 90%, have been next to useless in doing anything useful other than cheering from the sidelines. I don't think even today they've realised how rubbish the legislation really is, and it'll probably be another 10 years before they even get around to declaring their opposition to any correction of the failings.

We must continue to fight for a correction to the errors made over the last couple of years and make the same-sex marriage act into something even better. I'm not sure I have the heart for that fight. But I'm principled enough to point out that we are not yet there...

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Feminist Theory Continues To Undermine LGBT Rights

“Those are people, quite often for example lesbians, who feel very strongly that marriage is a 2,000-year-old vehicle for the subjugation of women, and they don’t like it at all. And I think what we have succeeded in doing, certainly with Stonewall stakeholders and our support has continued to rise throughout that period, is to persuade them that even if they don’t want to get married, other people should be able to.”
So said Ben Summerskill, former head of the charity Stonewall, in the recent radio retrospective of LGB rights in the UK "Gay Rights: Tying The Knot?". He was defending that organisations "caution" over same-sex marriage (for which note: not only were the words he used in 2010 less cautious and more "oppositional" but even their behind-the-scenes attempts to convince the Government same-sex marriage wasn't needed to fix issues affecting trans folk were anything but "cautious"). What his statements seem to imply is that in 2010 the freedoms of LGBT people were dependent upon what feminist theory says about the institution of marriage. Yes, Stonewall really did take seriously the idea that a marriage between two women might cause them to subjugate each other and let us not even get started on the evil subjugation of women that might result from two men marrying each other. Thank you Stonewall for persuading feminists to agree to my right to marry, getting their stamp of approval for the Government treating us as citizens worthy of similar rights and protections to other citizens was important to many of us.

I'm very concerned that feminist theory (rather than a genuine concern for the liberty of men, women and intersex people) continues, even 40 years after the first criticisms of its negative influence on LGBT liberty, to subjugate LGBT people's rights to the agenda of a minority of radical feminists.

Further examples of feminist influence on Stonewall, and the way they deal with LGBT rights in the light of this influence, can be found in the post-Summerskill document "Staying Safe Online". Ruth Hunt, the current acting head of Stonewall, starts the document off with this:

Unfortunately, as we’re increasingly aware, the internet has a darker side. Young people are encouraged to develop an overly sexualised view of relationships as a result of the widespread prevalence of pornography and many young people are creating sexual images of themselves.
The document attacks pornography further with the usual attempt to conflate porn with images of child abuse.
Pornography exposes young people to unhealthy, sexualised portrayals of relationships and often portrays unsafe or underage sex 
Attacks on pornography and a sex negative polemics are signs of either fundamentalist religion or feminism. Stonewall has either found God or remains dangerously mislead by an agenda that is opposed to LGBT liberty.

 The debates over the effects of pornography on those who view it and on the possibility of over "sexualisation" of children are not over. Evidence points in both directions and there is a genuine concern that in our attempts to "protect" children we are in danger of undermining their freedom and the freedom of adults to engage in harmless activities (see here)

The rights of women to liberty do not conflict with LGBT rights. Women's liberation is something we should all be fighting for (along with liberation for everyone else too!). But feminism, with its worryingly puritanical and militant outlook on the world, DOES conflict with LGBT people's ability to live the life they want to live. We must oppose sex-negativism and authoritarianism within the LGBT movement before our real opponents get wise and join forces with folks like Stonewall to interfere with our freedom.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Phags For Phelps

Many moons ago I listened to a rather interesting Feast of Fun podcast (haven't listened to them in a long time, I really should give them another go) which featured a discussion between Shirley Phelps-Roper and an OUT magazine journalist who argued she, her family and the Westboro Baptist Church were one of the greatest things to happen to LGBT rights in the USA. Ever.

The argument has become a fairly common one, but no less compelling for that. Fred Phelps' church had become such an extreme caricature of religious hate and had pissed off a wide enough demographic that they'd managed to actually force people to confront their own beliefs and, in some cases, change. 

Just watch one of the two Louis Theroux "documentaries" on the WBC and you'll see their protests receive real anger from passers-by, even those who say things like "I don't agree with the lifestyle either BUT..." 

So with the news of Fred Phelps passing, and further recent news that Shirley Phelps-Roper has been deposed as chief spokesperson, I feel I should pay tribute to the work the Westboro Baptist Church has done in moving hatred of homosexuals away from the "acceptable behaviour" region and to the "batshit crazy" arena.

Thank you Fred, I know that you will never know how much you've helped. But thank you all the same. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Queer As Folk - 15 Years On (The "Oh God, I'm Old" Edition)

I suspect I read about the upcoming first episode of Queer as Folk in the Guardian's "Guide" supplement. At 15 I took its recommendations deeply seriously. So that was how I found myself that evening 15 years ago today watching Channel 4 with the sound turned right down and one eye on the door.

Queer as Folk was just as spectacularly naughty as I'd hoped. 15 year old Nathan Maloney was living my dream, being an arrogant, insufferable idiot (not that I thought of him that way back then). Though Queer as Folk was an over the top gay soap opera, it was still grounded enough to make 15 year old me feel that being gay wasn't as abnormal as I feared. Turned out LGBT people were just like everyone else (well like everyone else in a soap opera...).

I couldn't wait for the second episode, which started with one of my most favourite scenes of all time, and lapped up the rest of the series. Sure the acting was often over the top but it was so fantastically entertaining that you could overlook its flaws.

Today I decided to pretend I'm not moving in just one month and have packing to do and rewatched series one. Despite the 15 years between me and that rather over-excitable 15 year old boy, it is still excellent stuff. Eminently quotable and now tinged with a little bit of nostalgia for my youth.

And along comes a little political point-scoring to make it all the more delicious. Earlier today I joked that Stonewall would oppose Queer as Folk. Well that just goes to show how naive I am and how willing to give them credit for past actions I remain, even now. Because in 1999 Stonewall DID oppose Queer as Folk. Absolutely beyond parody. But it did make watching the last few episodes that little bit sweeter.

It all seems a little surreal now looking back on it, not knowing then it'd spawn an even better American remake AND that its creator, Russell T Davies, would go on to resurrect my beloved Doctor Who. 'Nowt as queer as folk!

Something Happened On The Way To The Bathhouse: The Rise Of LGBT Sex-Shaming

Something has gone very wrong on the road to LGBT freedom. This month is not only LGBT History Month but it is also marks my 16th "gayaversary" since I embraced my sexuality, which probably means it is as good a point as any to look back on my personal views on where LGBT rights are going.

When I came out to myself (10.25am, 26th February 1998 outside room 12 at the Harvey Grammar School, I've always been a stickler for being precise about such things...) LGBT rights were in a bit of a funny place.

On the one hand the fights over Section 28 and an equal age of consent were still raging. Fighting over adoption and civil partnerships had barely even begun and the idea of same-sex marriage would have been ludicrous to all but the most optimistic. Even a couple of years later the atmosphere was tense enough for my then boyfriend and I to have stones thrown at us in the streets of Folkestone for daring to hold hands.

And then on the other hand there was a thriving scene. The gay bars and clubs were always heaving in Canterbury and Pink Cadillacs, hidden away in the countryside outside Ashford, was bustling. Cruising was still very much a thing. 10 years ago you could still pull off into a lay-by near Detling at any time of the day and be assured of seeing some rather naughty things in seconds. Right there by a busy road. In the day time. In 1999 there would be some serious controversy over a TV series named Queer as Folk but it was allowed to show some pretty exciting gay sex scenes regardless.

Could you imagine men cavorting on the side of the road as openly as they did in Detling now? Sure cruising still happens, and in lay-bys, but the sort of daytime unashamed cruising seen in the late 1990s/early 2000s is a thing of the past. The controversy in 1999 over Queer as Folk was just that it showed gay sex. Nowadays the Guardian's Comment is Free would be filled with articles complaining about its depiction of an adult male and underage boy having sex. I'd expect the Stonewall Chief Executive of the day would be calling for a follow up episode where the adult male is arrested and jailed lest such a depiction may corrupt our youth (or in Stonewall parlance they are "overly sexualised").

Now we have won many victories both legally and culturally. Coming out, as an adult at least, is a lot easier (if not always easy). We have won legal victory after legal victory. Our opponents, such as the recently formed and increasingly powerless Coalition for Marriage, have changed from being the "voice of the majority" (as they once claimed) to being defenders of an under attack Christian minority (with just enough truth to be more believable than their previous claims). But as things have become ever more easy, and as we approach attacking important issues like bullying, the opposition to LGBT liberty has come more from our own "LGBT rights organisations" than from anyone else. This is not without historical precedent, of course.

The Mattachine Society spun out of the far-left in the United States in the early 1950s. It sought to "Educate homosexuals and heterosexuals toward an ethical homosexual culture paralleling the cultures of the Negro, Mexican and Jewish peoples". It was opposed to "subversive elements" and attempted to portray homosexuality as ordinary, non-offensive and American. Though it did help lay the groundwork for what was to come, its slow, prudish pace and its alienation of those who didn't fit its apple pie image lead to it being swept away following the Stonewall riots by a more inclusive radical LGBT movement who made huge strides towards freedom in the pre-AIDS era and ultimately leading in those last few, in hindsight, blissful years before the epidemic to the elevation of people like Harvey Milk.

In the early years of the "gay cancer" "scare" a new conservative brand of homosexual rose as the free sex culture was ravaged by the illness. They called for less sex not from prudery but out of a sense of survival. Ultimately they failed to "rescue" many from the evil that had set itself among the LGBT population because they ignored human nature, focussed too much on closing bathhouses rather than safe sex and thus never won the hearts and minds of gay men.

By the time safer sex education began to make itself more assertive and brought AIDS to the level it is now at, LGBT rights groups were back on the track of fighting for more conservative aims such as, ultimately, marriage equality. Post-civil partnerships here in the UK, Stonewall adopted the same tactics as the Mattachine Society of presenting gay people (ignoring bisexuals and trying to pretend transgender folk don't exist) as thoroughly respectable members of society. Through education, and through their growing corporate links with Government bodies and the police, they have begun to work on neutering the sexuality of LGBT people.

You may think that last sentence is the stuff of conspiracy nuttery. You may think I've finally jumped off the deep end. But one read of Stonewall's latest efforts (supported by, of all folks, O2 and happily shared on Twitter by several police forces) to "protect" LGBT young people online reveals their disdain for any sexuality that doesn't involve some sort of long-term relationship and "love". Ruth Hunt's opening words reveal much about their attitude:

Unfortunately, as we’re increasingly aware, the internet has a darker side. Young people are encouraged to develop an overly sexualised view of relationships as a result of the widespread prevalence of pornography and many young people are creating sexual images of themselves.
I'm not sure how much LGBT history Ruth Hunt has read but "overly sexualised" is one way to describe most out, and quite a few closeted, young and old gay men pre-AIDS. Harvey Milk wasn't some angelic being who lived with one man all his life. He cruised from an early age and even in those final years as a San Francisco supervisor he still played the field. And she relies on some dubious logic widely subscribed to by conservatives and feminists that 1) pornography is demonstrably bad (some studies suggest it may even have positive effects and help reduce violent crime) and 2) that young people are needing special protection from the evils of sex (another issue very much disputed).

As you can imagine, if their document starts off from this premise things can only get worse. I'll let you read the whole thing yourselves but here are two particularly telling parts which I find indicate a disturbing dislike of teenagers exploring their sexuality.
"There is a 14 year old lad who has managed to download Grindr (a ‘social media’ app – let’s be more honest – it’s an app for men who have sex with men to meet and hook up for sex). Well this 14 year old has been nipping out of his bedroom window, sideling over to the local park at midnight and made himself available to all and sundry after agreeing to meet them on Grindr. Clearly he has put himself at a huge risk of HIV and all the other STIs and of course statutory rape." MSM (Men who have sex with men) Communities worker (South East)
Sharing this piece of sex-shaming really gets to the heart of Stonewall's fundamental beliefs. Grindr is a source of great evil, and 14 year olds shouldn't be enjoying sex. There are risks to sex, absolutely, and kids should be made aware of them so they can make their own choices about their life and have the means to protect themselves. BUT the language used here to illustrate Stonewall's dislike of "inappropriate" unsafe sex is deeply concerning and would, I'd imagine, frighten any exploited teen away from seeking help if their sexuality is going to be discussed in such a matter. It should be a moment of great shame for Stonewall to endorse such horrific views.

Worse though was this one paragraph which, when thought through, opens up a world of terror for young gay people.

Report sexting and online abuse to the police or CEOP. If your child has come across illegal content, report this to the Internet Watch Foundation. You can help your child feel as safe and supported as possible by asking if they need extra support to deal with what has happened. They may want to talk things through with a gay support group or confidential counselling service like ChildLine.
Report sexting to the police is a piece of advice suggested a couple of times in the document, I've taken here the least concerning use of it. Imagine the scenario. You are a 15 year old closeted gay teen. You have been sharing pictures of yourself with your current boyfriend (who is also 15) for a few weeks. One of your parents finds pictures of you and him on your phone. Following Stonewall's advice they contact the police. Your first experience of discussing your sexuality with your parents comes with a police escort. The teenager would certainly need support and the assistance of ChildLine after that particularly scarring experience, of that I have no doubt. His boyfriend will need that support too! The problem for Stonewall is that their links with the Government and police are now so strong that they are unable to offer even a minimum of common sense advice to parents such as "discuss this with your teen and discover whether this is exploitative or damaging". They can't do this because that is not the legal advice they have received. Instead they side with criminalising our youth, risking them getting prosecuted in some cases, over supporting LGBT youth and their families with really useful advice on staying safe whilst maintaining a healthy sexuality.

The slow creep of a leftie conservatism into the LGBT movement has left us at the stage where Pink News expresses surprise that lots of gay men prefer sex without a condom. Well of course they do! That doesn't mean they are then going to be unsafe, if they are told the possible consequences and given the means to take personal responsibility for their bodies. It is just an expression of fact, not some salacious, indecent belief.

The strength of Grindr, taking over where Gaydar left off, and other sex apps underlines that the LGBT rights leadership in the western world is out of step with the real lives of many gay men and women. We have still not gotten to the stage where we accept LGBT people all have different moralities and lifestyles, and our "leaders" still try to force a conformity on us that does not fit.

I take great pride, and a deep personal satisfaction, in my 10 year monogamous relationship with the man I have been blessed to spend the last decade with. But I take no less pride, nor less personal satisfaction, in my early years as a 14 - 21 year old screwing around, cruising, dating and having fun. Some people are monogamous, some people are not. Get over it. And start supporting them with whatever choice they make!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Stonewall Shames, And Seeks To Help Criminalise, Young Gay People

I've no doubt you've got used to my overly dramatic style of headlines on certain articles. But in this case I really don't think I'm going over the top.

In a joint initiative with O2, Stonewall has decided to seek to shame, berate and, I kid you not, criminalise the sexuality of young gay people (I say gay rather than LGBT because we are talking about S'onewall here). 

They've released a document entitled "Staying Safe Online" which is really a deeply conservative and sex negative piece of corporate "advice" to parents and teachers on how to control teenager's sexuality. 

Ruth Hunt's opening words seek to blame pornography for over-sexualising young gay people (when young gay people have had no problem in being over-sexualised since the year dot). Full disclosure: I lost my virginity at 14 to a boy my age and never, ever looked back. Whilst most of my teenage life was shit, I can safely say that sexually it was a fantastic time. The idea that sexualisation is a bad thing in itself (rather than discussing specific problems such as STDs, consent etc.) is a piece of conservative feminist propaganda put out to shame everyone into following a strictly defined sexuality as laid down by others rather than exploring and defining their own sexual needs, wants and preferences. 

It goes on to equate pornography to a host of real problems:

"Sadly, going online can also expose young people to risks, from the increasing prevalence of online pornography to cyberbullying, grooming and exploitation"

Let me make this clear: shaming someone over their use of pornography is the sort of tactic one finds in the Latter-day Saints or in the Jehovah's Witnesses. It is not healthy. There you are as young gay person wondering how it all works and getting bugger all of use at school (because school is about safe sex and relationships and not about what turns you on, for good reason too) and you are now unable to even view porn because of internet filters (supported by Stonewall except for their website, strangely) and because you're told it is something truly awful that might be equivalent to sexual grooming!

When I was a teenager I thought "bumming" involved two men rubbing their bums together, and didn't really find that at all appealing. Turns out porn was pretty good at showing what it really was. Thanks porn. I'm pretty sure porn has served to be quite useful in giving some basic examples of what sex between men (and perhaps even between women though I'm sure those representations are a little less educational given their context) is like.

And in supporting filters that block relatively safe (as compared to the cruising and cottaging there was in "my day", I'm getting old) ways to meet other gay folk for chats and perhaps more Stonewall is almost forcing kids to go out, just as I did (though I had nothing untoward occur to me that I hadn't explicitly decided I wanted), to bars, clubs and cruising areas to meet others. The idea gay kids are going to be lucky enough to just wander into another gay kid and hit it off and explore their sexuality in some sort of sanitised "safe" environment is just not one that is going to get off the ground in most cases. Do Stonewall have some Americanised image of gay kids meeting at school, holding hands on dates and waiting until they get married to have sex? Probably not given their reluctance to support marriage but I think the rest probably does hold true.

And what about this for basically shaming gay kids and implying their are sluts?

Grindr is a gay dating app for over 18s and matches users up by location. Although designed for dating, the app also attracts gay men looking to meet other people for casual sex. Many underage gay young people sign up with fake details, sometimes leading to inappropriate conversations, unsafe sex and exploitative relationships. 

"There is a 14 year old lad who has managed to download Grindr (a ‘social media’ app – let’s be more honest – it’s an app for men who have sex with men to meet and hook up for sex). Well this 14 year old has been nipping out of his bedroom window, sideling over to the local park at midnight and made himself available to all and sundry after agreeing to meet them on Grindr. Clearly he has put himself at a huge risk of HIV and all the other STIs and of course statutory rape. MSM (Men who have sex with men) Communities worker (South East)"

Inappropriate conversations? Oh HEAVENS! Making himself available to all and sundry? THE SHAME! When I was 14 I was putting personal ads up on gay sex newsgroups (I told you I'm old) and having an awesomely fun time. But obviously I was a victim of the evil internet and must feel deeply shamed about how risky I was being. 

What is this? The 1950s? Was he "clearly" putting himself at risk of STIs or was he being safe? Did he need more safe sex education or are we now operating an abstinence only policy for gay kids? And "statutory rape" was not a risk, it was something that was happening. Because that is how the law works. 

And then it goes into discussing the evils of sexting and how any cases an adult finds of a young gay person sending a picture of themselves to someone else (regardless of whether it was, for example, their long term boyfriend) should be reported to the police! Because criminalising young people for expressing themselves sexually is certainly the appropriate response in all instances. 

So what do we learn from Stonewall? Naked pictures are evil. The internet is bad unless you are on the Stonewall website. And sex is something only for grown-ups and kids should bloody stop having fun and get back to being abused in the playground where it is far safer. 

Ok. There is some over the top rhetoric here. But read the report yourself and try not to come away with the feeling that Stonewall is writing moralising nonsense about the evils of sex. If you manage it, well done!

Monday, 10 February 2014

The One Where I Don't Find Brendan O'Neill Completely Repellent

Something just doesn't sit right with me about all the talk over the Sochi Olympics. There's many issues surrounding it (the clearances, the corruption, the treatment of workers) and the debate that followed Russia's legislating to ban "LGBT propaganda" is one of those important issues. The treatment of LGBT people in Russia is a concern, as it is in many countries around the world, and taking action to investigate such abuses makes absolute sense.

However what doesn't sit right with me is the ridiculousness of the Western response. And hidden within Brendan O'Neill's latest clickbait article are some real truths about how feeble and stupid some of the reaction has been.

This Will and Gracing of the modern political sphere can be seen in the Guardian’s and New Statesman’s gay-themed refashioning of their mastheads for Sochi, in the furious spread around the internet of a meme showing Putin wearing lipstick (like a gay person!), in a hipster British brewer’s release of a ‘queer beer’ called ‘Hello, my name is Vladimir’, in Toronto City Hall’s raising of the gay flag for the duration of Sochi, in the United Nations’ decree that everyone in the West should ‘raise their voices’ for the gay community, and – get this – in Jon Snow’s decision to wear a gay flag-coloured tie on Channel 4 News during Sochi. If that doesn’t topple Putin, I don’t know what will.
And, because I've not been paying much attention to such silly gestures (and I'm instead wondering what can actually be done to help LGBT Russians, which is probably something well above my pay grade) I missed some of the insidiously homophobic comments that have been being made by the ever homophobic liberal sorts (who, it should be remembered, often tend to accuse homophobes of being gay) such as:

The Queer Eye vibe of the Sochi protests can be seen in the now incredibly popular pastime of Western journalists complaining about their hotels in Sochi, which has given rise to the exact same joke on every Twitterfeed in Christendom: ‘If you scare off gays, interior design goes to hell.’ Geddit?! Because gays are really good at interior design and Putin has gotten rid of all gays! This sort of shallow global posturing doesn’t only vastly exaggerate what Putin has done to Russia’s homosexuals – no, Stephen Fry, they do not face Nazi-style extermination – but it is also incredibly patronising to homosexuals. They wear lipstick, they dance about in hotpants, they are brilliant at decorating living rooms, and Russia will be really, really drab until it embraces them – that is the message of much of the gay-friendly uprising of Westerners against Putin.
Where I differ with Brendan O'Neill is the idea that criticising violence and hatred is somehow "imperialistic". And I think something, again above my pay grade, really does need to be done to help secure individual freedom worldwide.

But for once, he wasn't completely wrong. This is unlikely to happen again.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Coming Out As An Ally For Men's Rights Activists

Last year, when I wrote the "Why I Am Not A Feminist" post, I was planning to write a "Why I Am Also Not An MRA". I've often found BTL comments on MRA posts pretty depressing and filled with a similar amount of bitterness, creepiness and opposite gender hating to most BTL comments on feminist sites (except perhaps for, which is unfortunately a real website). Though I've followed a few MRA blogs for a while, and worshipped at the fountain of Youtube awesomeness that is girlwriteswhat, I have kept my distance from them for fear of being tainted by association. 

But really I need to be honest and stop sitting on the fence... it is time I stated openly that (with several serious provisos) I broadly support the aims of most MRAs. When you get rubbish like this published by a serious news magazine, one does have to wonder what is going on. When did a male asylum seeker (who, by the very nature of seeking asylum, are likely to have been on the receiving end of one form of nastiness or another) become worth less than a female asylum seeker (who, quite obviously, have also had their unfair share of knocks on the way to our shores)? Several of the replies on that piece to "What about the menz?" comments were basically saying "Well you're free to support male asylum seekers too..." I've decided to follow that advice on a way bigger personal scale. 

There is one nearly insurmountable issue with defending men's rights. Men love women. They'll tend to be quite happy to sacrifice their own needs and rights (women and children first!) for women. The "White Knight" syndrome is endemic. Well I love men. I think that they are generally fantastic. And I hate seeing them screwed over, time and again. So if most of them don't give a tosh about the way they get treated and forgotten, about the fact they live shorter lives and face a higher risk of suicide and that young boys and men have to fear violence whenever they walk out the door well I do. 

I want a world where men and women are treated equally. Where individuals are free to do as they please as long as it doesn't harm others. A world where violence is unnecessary and is not tolerated. These things won't come by focusing on one gender's rights at the expense of another. So I'm not an MRA as such. I'm still the same individualist I ever was. But I share MRAs critiques of feminism and I share their desire to improve the lives and well-being of men. I've set up some regular donations to a few MRA blogs I enjoy and find interesting and I'll be a bit less concerned about whether other people think that's an awful thing to admit in decent society than I used to be.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Shoplifters Excused By Technophobic Media

A couple of media outlets have today excused shoplifting on the basis that self-service checkout tills are "faulty"; see this article in the Daily Mail for example. Dressing up shoplifting as some justifiable technophobic rebellion truly is a low point in the rather low-brow publishing history of everyone's least favourite paper.

They don't really elaborate on "faulty" beyond people finding them difficult to use. Sure, sometimes they can be a little frustrating. But I use them at least once a day (I live next door to Sainsbury's) and I experience very few problems and when I do the staff are usually there within seconds to help. On occasion I've had to wait for the staff to show up but never did it cross my mind to think of walking out the door without paying. When I go through a manned checkout, an experience I avoid due to their tediously slow nature, I don't walk off in frustration with my goods when the person at the checkout goes a bit too slow for my liking!

Every single day I see people who turn up at the machine and pay no attention to what they are doing. They, inevitably, experience difficulties as they forget to put an item they've scanned down before trying to scan the next one. Today the lady next to me stormed off in a huff ("Oh for God's sake!") when the machine asked her, for the first time, to put the item she'd scan into the bagging area. She continued to clutch the magazine completely ignorant to the concept of how the machine itself worked as she attempted to use the next machine along.

My favourite example was of a middle-aged couple coming the self check-out next to me and staring, dumb-founded, as I scanned and bagged my shopping in a relaxed (as relaxed as I get) manner. When their experience did not go according to plan (they were doing things at cross purposes) they seemed to get jealous (literally the man got more upset with each successful scan I did) of my ability to continue bagging my shopping and threw their shopping down on the floor (literally) and stormed off screaming bloody murder about infernal machines. (By the way I'm not particularly nosey about other people's business it is just some people are so loud or intrusively curious, as with this couple, as to be unavoidably noticeable)

Some people just aren't cut out for self-service machines. There is no shame in that. We're all different and some people are technologically challenged. But let's not blame an inability to operate machines, or to cope with a couple of minutes wait if it does do something silly, for someone shoplifting!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Ukip Has An Anti-LGBT Freedom Problem, And It Is Far Deeper Than Just Religious Belief.

Ukip want to be presented as the freedom-loving party. They try desperately to pretend, for it is not true, to be "libertarian". But when it comes to Ukippers themselves and how they deal with others personal lives, you truly come to see the "real" Ukip. And the real Ukip has a major issue with LGBT people and their freedom.

Any reader of this blog will know I occasionally mention their odd candidates and their even odder views on homosexuality. There was Mike Mendoza who believed 1) gay people don't like football, 2) people who don't like football are more likely to be paedophiles and then 3) put those two thoughts into one paragraph. There was David Nixon whose leaflet was used to "smear" Ukip. Winston McKenzie said same-sex couples adopting was akin to child abuse, ironically not long after a council had tried to remove kids from a Ukip supporting family! And then there was Julia Gasper who was suspended from her position in the party many, many months after she first aired her dislike for LGBT folk.

When you follow those stories through you find Ukip, as a party, really doesn't know how to handle these people. The current example is a case in point. David Silvester, an ex-Tory Ukip councillor in Hendon, wrote a letter to his local paper criticising David Cameron and same-sex marriage and, in the strange style we've come to expect from US based evangelicals, blamed the recent flooding around the country on the passing of the same-sex marriage bill. A small Twitterstorm broke out and gradually the story found its way on to large news service's headlines.

Nigel Farage and the party spokesperson defended his right to express his religious beliefs, even if unorthodox. This would be more acceptable if Ukip hadn't sacked Olly Neville over his support of same-sex marriage! The concept of liberty is an important one, but if it doesn't apply to all then it is not liberty.

Today David Silvester, being admirably if catastrophically consistent, did an interview with BBC Oxford radio where he called homosexuality a disease. The story continued to spread and on a day when Ukip should've been shouting from the rooftops after a fantastic opinion poll (for them if not for those of us who believe weather and climate are based on a little more than who has sex with who) they were instead being made to look terribly stupid.

Realising the game was up, Ukip reversed course and suspended him this afternoon. Unfortunately for them not only does this mean they'll have to weasel their way out of yesterday's statements (blaming it, I suspect, on Silvester not following party procedure or some such thing) but they will also have to deal with the social media fall out of their supporters getting very cross over the suspension and saying even more ridiculous things.

The problem for Ukip is that, to the vast majority of sensible people (even those who oppose much of the LGBT rights agenda), their candidates are often seen as being a bit out of touch and very offensive. But if they sack them or punish them in anyway they risk alienating their core support who quite obviously agree with them!

This is evident in Ukip's very poorly articulated policy on same-sex marriage. It wants to be all things to all people, but manages only to be an absolute mess. See here and here.

They are stuck between a rock and a hard place and unfortunately the rock keeps bashing against them. Just see this latest story reporting a Ukipper's dislike of "gays, Catholics and Communists" in Glasgow.

They've hitched their tent on religious freedom. There is no dishonour in that. But they forgot to set their own beliefs clearly enough to avoid being tarnished by every nasty comment uttered by one of their members. This was a rookie error, and I wonder just how many other Ukip policies are as ill-thought out and ill-considered as this.

Worryingly nearly 2 people in every 10 currently state they'll vote for them. Then again far more believe in ghosts and UFOs in this country so perhaps that sort of number was inevitable.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

LGBT Ugandans Don't Need Giles Fraser Labeling Them As Homophobes

There is no doubt some truth to the closeted homophobe meme. We need only look at Nigel Evans, Cardinal O'Brien or, possibly, Aaron Schock to see this and need not even look at the studies pointing out the links between an extremely closeted life and projections of anti-LGBT sentiment.

But the gusto with which some have adopted it to explain every case of homophobia concerns me for a number of reasons.

Giles Fraser today implies, rather than looking with true curiousity at the fact Uganda is at once a country recently infamous for anti-LGBT legislation but also the one with the 3rd for search requests on Google for "man fucking man", that Ugandans looking at gay porn might well be homophobes. Perhaps LGBT Ugandans have plenty else to be worrying about without some Westerner labelling them closested homophobes on top of that.

I can think, just off the top of my head of a couple of possible reasons Uganda is so high on the listing.

1) They aren't all that high in reality for searching for gay porn or similar search terms. "Man fucking man" is hardly likely to feature highly on most Western English-speaking countries lists (where gay is currently the near universally accepted descriptive for such liasons) nor in many non-English speaking countries so the list is dominated by Commonwealth (or former Commonwealth) countries where English is spoken but which are not overly Westernised. The very basis for Fraser's assumptions is flawed. I'd like to see some real evidence LGBT Ugandans are uniquely incredibly drawn to gay porn before we start calling them homophobes!

2) Perhaps Uganda is so high up in search results for "man fucking man" because anti-LGBT feeling in their country makes engaging in such sex for real rather risky? Surely this would have some affect on porn consumption among sexual minorities?

Fraser falls into the trap of victim blaming in order to insult opponents. And it is a typical liberal-leftie move to insult opponents by calling them gay. "Eww... that homophobe is a GAY!"

Yes homophobic homosexuals are hypocrites. All readers of this blog know that I find them abhorrent and never waste a moment in bringing up their names (NIGEL EVANS) to remind the world to avoid them at all costs. But not all homophobes are homosexual, I suspect not even a majority are. And them being homosexual isn't the problem... their homophobia is!

No matter whether the people behind "Kill the Gays" are LGBT or not (I suspect a big "Not" on that one), the bill itself was fundamentally wrong and what has come after it remains so.

We need to stop casting aspersions on whole groups of people just because it fits into our neat pseudo-psychological political aims. LGBT Ugandans need our sympathy and our support. Not ridiculous accusations.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Cardinal O'Brien Isn't Going To Help Any Closeted Priests

I said last month that, were it not for the actions that led up to it, Cardinal O'Brien's very public fall from grace would've been the highlight of 2013 for me. What actions was it that made me a little more reluctant to gloat? Was it the fact he'd hurt so many people with his aggressive and hurtful language in opposition to LGBT freedom? Nope, though he did. 

My concerns with Cardinal O'Brien stem not from his textbook example of how to be a homophobic closet-case, but from the fact he hurt several men he was responsible for. From a position of power he made inappropriate sexual advances on men who clearly did not want them. I know how the media love a good "former homophobe comes out and makes good" story and I know I'm no fan of such narratives (see my distaste for people like Nigel Evans). But this is not even one of those stories. 

Cardinal O'Brien is a man we should be glad to have got rid of, a man whose story serves only as an example of how not to live your life. So why am I bringing him up again? Because Mary McAleese, former President of the Republic of Ireland, thinks Cardinal O'Brien telling his life story would some how assist priests struggling with their sexuality. 

I'm afraid Cardinal O'Brien has done enough damage as it is, unhelpfully feeding the homophobic stereotype of gay men as sexual predators. And when it comes to a group such as priests they didn't need any more bad press of that sort. It is, I've no doubt, far harder for a Catholic priest to come out post-O'Brien's downfall that it was before. 

And what would his story say? Would it paint him as the victim of his sexual desires? Is a man who takes out an internal conflict by making unwanted sexual advances against others really a man who has anything useful to tell us about overcoming fears of coming out? 

I cannot imagine a worst example. Though an example of how not to do things can be useful, the risk of making him some sympathetic character and of him overshadowing his victims (once again) is one I think is best avoided. 

Keep O'Brien away. Give the Catholic church a chance to make good on the pain he, and others like him, have caused to others. And offer real support to struggling priests with LGBT outreach and avoid tarring them with any connection to such an unworthy man as Cardinal Keith O'Brien. Give them hope, not hate.