Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Petition for the Universal Decriminalisation of Homosexuality

The organisers of the 3rd International Day Against Homophobia (which will take place on 17th May 2007) are trying to get the United Nations to make a Resolution for the Decriminalisation of Homosexuality. Hundreds of national and international organisations, well-known cultural, political, and intellectual figures have endorsed the campaign since it was launched in November last year. You can sign the petition attached to the compaign here.

In addition, to support the effort in the UK, the following petition has been submitted to Tony Blair, on the Number 10 website:

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/IDAHO-Petition/

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Campaign to the UN for a UN Resolution for Decriminalisation of Homosexuality.

On the 17th May 2007, an International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), will again be campaigning for Governments across the World to petition the UN to bring forward a UN Resolution for Decriminalisation of Homosexuality. In this day and age there are nearly 80 countries in the world where it is a criminal offence to be homosexual. A resolution is proposed by Louis Georges Tin, the President of the IDAHO Committee for the UN to have a Universal Decriminalisation of Homosexuality to protect individuals' human rights.

We ask the United Nations to request a universal abolition of the so-called "crime of homosexuality", of all "sodomy laws", and laws against so-called "unnatural acts" in all the countries where they still exist.

We ask Tony Blair, to support the resolution, and ask him to bring the resolution to the United Nations next year as a supportive country."
Please show your support for this UN Resolution and sign the petition.

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/IDAHO-Petition/

Via GLITA.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

A Visit to The New BFI

I am just back from paying a visit to the reopened British Film Institute. The space neighbouring the National Film Theatre under Waterloo Bridge which used to house the Museum of the Moving Image which closed in 1999. Ever since the space had remained unusued. Until last week that is, when it reopened, having been revamped. The space now houses the Foyer of the NFT together with a bookshop, a cafe (with free wifi), a gallery and a Mediatheque.

The last area is where I wandered not really sure what I would find there. I booked 15 minutes with a screen, a mouse and a keyboard in one of the small booths dotting the space. A nice assistant gave me a number and I logged in and started trawling around the list of films on offer.

I watched a few seconds of an episode of Little Brittain and a short silent film shot arround Old Street in the 1920's and showing a pub called the London Apprentice which apparently became one of the most famous gay pubs of the capital. However, I quickly found and switched to The London Nobody Knows. A 1967 wander around uncongruous parts of London, guided by James Mason. We go from the derilict Bedford Theatre in Camden Town to several markets or a cottage (public toilet) in Holborn. We stop for a bit at one of the Manze's restaurants before heading for some unknown cemetery before having tea with destitute people in a Salvation Army hostel. There is also an interview with two buskers and a scene in riverside egg cracking factory. People seem to think this scene rather wierd but I actually found it really funny if rather out of tone with the rest of the film which is based on a book of the same title by Geoffrey Fletcher. I have spotted a similar "programme" with Kenneth Williams, which should be interesting.

By then I had had to go and ask the assistant for another session. You can book between 15min to 2 hours at a time. This time I asked for 2 hours.

THe nest short film, I viewed was Finisterre; a 2003 film inspired by The London Nobody Knows and produced as a substitute to video clips for St Etienne's latest album: Finisterre. This is a more arty love letter to London but I found myself well up at several point (particularly during the segment on rain in the city).

I then watched a 10 min film called The Elephant Will Never Forget and shot during the last week in which Tram were in circulation between Westminster and New Cross via the Elephant and Castle. The last tram was retired (and presumably burnt, like the others!) on 5 July 1953.

Finally, after watching a 1935 short, called Colours on the Thames (yes, it was in colour), I watched Borderline, a 4 min 2005 film collage of bits of London buildings, creating a new but recognisable landscape, and a few seconds of the rush hour on Blackfriars' Bridge in the 1890's...

Reading this, one may think that only short films are available but they also have feature films at hand.

I have to say that I am not particularly impressed by the interface used to view the films. It is rather slow to respond (particularly when you ask it to pause or move forward or backward) and it doesn't tell you how far you have gone in whatever you are viewing. The search engine could also be better. The space of the mediatheque itself is ok but could have been designed better, I think. More isolation between each booths and certainly more confortable seating would be an improvement. It would also be good to be able to find online or some sort of catalogue what material is available, before a visit.

The experience however is free and the wealth of information and films available (presumably to be extended as time goes by) means that I will certainly be back.

Monday, 26 March 2007

The Lessons of Slavery for the Christians

This week-end (tomorrow) marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by the British Parliament. Something which, of course everyone should rejoice in, even though 200 years on there is evidence that slavery still exists in the world albeit in different forms to what one may normally think about when thinking about slavery.

Many institutions and organisations have been keen to rejoice in and mark the anniversary. This afternoon in London, the Church of England, had organised a "Walk of Witness" which was led by the archbishops of Canterbury and York.

200 years ago, there was a strong debate within the Church of England to decide whether William Wilberforce was right to say that Christians should oppose salvery. Last year the Church made a formal apology for its role in slavery. The Church held slaves on plantations in the Caribbean.An amendment "recognising the damage done" to those enslaved was backed overwhelmingly by the General Synod in February 2006.

The Roman Catholic Church seem to have been a little more precaucious in rejecting slavery, with Pope Eugene IV condeming it in his bull Sicut Dudum as early as 1435. As late as 1866, the Holy Office of the Vatican was however still issuing statements in support of slavery and it seems to have waited until 1917 to official condemn it (some say this did not happen until as late as the Vatican II Council, in 1965).

Still, right up until abolition, the Bible was used to justify slavery. Leviticus was a particularly useful tool in the respect but there several passages of the Bible can be used to support this practice. At the time when the different books constituted the Bible, slavery was something perfectly normal and socially accepted, just like other customs which have since then been discarded.

The Bible was also used in the State quite recently to forbid mixed race marriages. It has been used to forbid many things, indeed.

Today, the archbishop of Canterbury invited the people attending to join him into "humbly" preparing themselves to "ask forgiveness for [...] our part in disfiguring the face of the Church, making Christ unrecognisable in the world."

I would like to hope that it will not take 200 years for all religious leaders and their followers to do what they did over slavery; to move away from their holy texts which are so obviously steeped in the traditions of the time at which they were written and to stop "making Christ unrecognisable in the world" by recognising that homosexuality is not the "abomination" they currently want to believe it to be. IF they can change their minds on such a pervasive biblical tradition as slavery, they can do it for other, less prominent, things.

The events of the past few months, and of last week particularly, in which Dr Sentamu (the archbishop of York) was himself rather ignominiously involved, do not lead me to optimism.

See Also:
* Christianity and slavery on Wikipedia.
* Christian View of Slavery Same As Homosexuality by Liberated Christians.
* The Final Abolition of Slavery In Christian Lands on Religious Tolerance.org
* Two Classes of Church Citizenship? - Advert in the Church Times by the Lesbian Gay Christian Movement. More details here.

First published on Saturday 24 March at 19:55. Updated on Monday 26 March

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Friendless but with Friends


Seen today in a tiny alley called Church Entry near Blackfriars Station.

Even friendless churches have friends, it seems...


Thursday, 22 March 2007

Sexual Orientation Regulations - Lords Vote

Yesterday marked the last stage of a very long process by which, on 30 April, gay, lesbian and bisexual people will receive equal protection to that other members of the community enjoy in the provision of goods and services.

As might have been expected, from the different incidents that peppered the troubled route of the Sexual Orientation Regulations since they were proposed, yesterday was a climactic day. There had been a build up in the past few days as the regulations were approved by MPs. The first salvo of the day took place during Prime Minister Question Time in the House of Commons, when the Tory MP William Cash put a question to Tony Blair regarding the ethos of the Regulations and the procedure leading to their approval.

Throughout the afternoon, while the House and the rest of the world was concerned with the big parliamentary and political event of the day, a demonstration (and possibly even two) was taking place outside the Palace of Westminster (Ekklesia and PinkNews have reports on this).

Later in the day, as the House of Lords was getting ready to vote on the regulations, a "prayer vigil" organised by the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship gathered to ask god for a miracle. Andrea Minichiello Williams, the organisation's Public Policy Director and Rev. George Hargreaves (who had appeared in an orange boiler suit at the January demonstration) were both in attendance.

Neither demonstration were very well attended. I have no information about the possible third one. The call to attend it was link to a truly disgusting video which had been posted on YouTube two days ago but has now been removed.

The House of Lords' vote was preceeded by an intervention by Baroness Andrews, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government who summed up the process which had been followed by the Regulations since their introductions, before responding to the major arguments which have been levied agains the Regulations.

I have indexed an edited version of her speech for easier reference below:
Religious Freedom
Schools and Education
Adoptions
jump to the rest of the post

The case for new protections on grounds of sexual orientation and the process by which those protections would be brought into force was agreed upon in this House during the passage of the Equality Bill in 2006. The reason why this House decided on the inclusion of a regulation-making power, rather than including provisions on the face of the Equality Act, was to acknowledge the depth and range of sensitivities evoked, and precisely to allow time for extensive consultation on the scope and shape of the new protections.

We were right to do so. Our consultation has been extensive. We launched Getting Equal last March, to which there were 3,000 responses. We were right to take extra time to consider those responses and the range of opinion that they reflected; but we also committed ourselves on 19 October to bringing the regulations into force this April, alongside similar provisions on grounds of religion or belief.

The sensitivity of the issues raised by this legislation, particularly the nature of the debate on the role of faith-based adoption societies, meantthat 7 March was the earliest possible date for the introduction of the regulations. We published our response to the consultative document on the same date. The regulations were subsequently re-laid to take on board the technical drafting comments from counsel to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, but there was no impact on the policy or substance of the regulations.

The JCSI has now completed its scrutiny of the regulations and has approved them. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has reviewed the principles on which the Northern Ireland regulations were constructed—principles which are identical to the GB regulations—and endorsed the approach in its report. Those regulations were extensively debated and carried in this House on 9 January.

In terms of the parliamentary process, therewas a debate on the voluntary adoption sector on21 February in the other place in Westminster Hall, and the decision that the regulations should be taken appropriately in Committee was also agreed between the three main parties. Perhaps I may suggest that few regulations have been subject to more intense or inclusive public scrutiny, while observing due parliamentary process.

[...] It is gratifying that the principle of legislating inthis area was supported by almost 97 per cent of responses to the consultation.[...]

Equally, many of the representations received have confirmed the need for a religious organisation exemption to provide people with the necessary space and freedom to act in accordance with the basic doctrines of their faith. Of course that must be so. Of course we agree. It is for that reason that the Government have provided an exemption for religion or belief organisations, and those acting under their auspices, where that is necessary to avoid conflicting either with the doctrine of the organisation or the strongly held beliefs of a significant number of a religion’s followers.

But where religious organisations choose to step into the public realm and provide services to the community, either on a commercial basis or on behalf of and under contract with a public authority, that surely brings with it a widersocial responsibility to provide those services for the public as they are, in all their diversity, and not to pick and choose who will benefit or who will be served.

The principles on which this approach is constructed are the same as those that underpin the Northern Ireland regulations, which have received the positive endorsement of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Perhaps I may quote from that report. It states:
“Nobody is required by the Regulations not to have beliefs about the morality of different sexual orientations, or its compatibility with the tenets of one's religion, or punished or subjected to any other disadvantage for having such beliefs. In our view, the prohibitions on discrimination in the Regulations limit the manifestation of those religious beliefs and that limitation is justifiable in a democratic society for the protection of the right of gay people not to be discriminated against in the provision of goods, facilities and services”.
Religious Freedom

Let me be clear about a number of points around the application of the regulations, particularly with regard to their impact on religious liberty and try to lay to rest, I hope, some of the worries that were raised in the Northern Ireland debate and were rooted in misunderstandings. The freedom of a person to observe the teachings of their religion is not impaired, nor is their religious liberty compromised as a result of these regulations.

The regulations will not make it unlawful for a church, a mosque or a temple to refuse membership of its congregation to a lesbian, gay or bisexual in accordance with its religious doctrine. Regulations will not force a priest to bless a same-sex couple. A minister of religion will not be open to litigation should he explain to a lesbian, gay or bisexual person, in the appropriate terms, why he cannot admit a practising homosexual to his congregation. It is untrue, despite what the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship has suggested, that the regulations adopt the approach in law that the right to a homosexual lifestyle should take precedence over the right tolive a Christian lifestyle. Our regulations uphold the rights of all. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to remind the House that parallel protections on grounds of religion and belief will be brought into force on 30 April. Nor will providers have to tailor their services to appeal to lesbian, gay or bisexual people. All the regulations require is equality of access to existing services with regards to sexual orientation.

The regulations do not affect fundamental freedoms. They maintain the longstanding liberty enjoyed by all faiths to observe and practise their faith. They do not provide special treatment for any group in society, but they provide protection from discrimination for individuals when accessing basic goods and services—something which the rest of us can take for granted.

Schools and Education

The issues of religious liberty have been conflated also with issues of educational freedom. Thenoble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, argues that the regulations will result in litigation over the content of classroom teaching. I have to disagree with her. I make it clear that the regulations will not impact on the subject matter that is taught in schools. The curriculum is a matter for the Department for Education and Skills. In the most extreme parody of the reality, it has been argued that the regulationswill require schools to promote gay rights or homosexuality to children. I thought that we had got rid of that debate when we removed Section 38.

It has been suggested that the regulations will expose schools to legal challenge if they do not use specific books to teach pupils about issues related to sexual orientation. That simply is not, and could not, be the case. Faith groups are content with the current arrangements for how the curriculum is formulated. The regulations will have no impact upon that. Rather, they will apply to what happens in the classroom and will therefore reinforce the principles that are reflected in the existing statutory and non-statutory guidelines. There is no ambiguity. As now, a teacher in any school will still be able to express their personal religious or ethical views on sexual orientation, provided that it is done, as the guidance would express it, in an appropriate manner and within a suitable context. For instance, a teacher will be able to say, “As a Christian, I believe that homosexual practice is wrong” or “The Koran teaches...”

What is unacceptable, however, and caught by these regulations is for a teacher to turn a blind eye to homophobic bullying, to single out a lesbian, gay or bisexual pupil for criticism on the grounds of their sexual orientation, to make a child feel that the school is not a place for them or that they will not succeed because they are being judged unfairly. That is the detriment to which Regulation 7(4) refers. The regulations will therefore impact upon how education is delivered to ensure that a classroom becomes a place where learning and not prejudice can flourish.

The fundamental point is that all schools should already be complying with these guidelines, which govern the curriculum and require that teaching in this area must be delivered in an appropriate way, bearing in mind that schools should promote respect between pupils by safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all of them. The sex and relationship guidelines state that children must be taught in such a way as to be helped,
“to understand difference and respect themselves and others and for the purpose of preventing and removing prejudice”.
I make it clear that schools will not be vulnerable to legal challenge if they simply continue to comply with the existing guidelines. The regulations should make no material difference to classroom teaching. That is why we do not believe that vexatious litigation will result from them. We do not believe that a sustainable case for litigation could be made on the grounds that a school promotes marriage in accordance with its religious ethos and does not actively promote civil partnership.

Adoptions

As this House knows, specific concerns were raised during the consultation period about the impact of the regulations on the work of faith-based adoption and fostering societies. Adoption law is different in Northern Ireland from that in England and Wales, where, since 2002, with the passage of adoption Act, same-sex couples in enduring relationships have been able to adopt children jointly.

On 29 January, after a thorough and inclusive discussion with leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, gay rights groups and Jack McConnell, who represented the Scottish perspective, the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made it clear that the Government could offer no specific exemption for faith-based adoption and fostering agencies offering publicly funded services. At the same time, it was also recognised that placing a child for adoption is a uniquely serious undertaking. Adoption is a service for children. The best interests of children must be paramount. No one has the right to adopt; it is a long and rigorous process. We have to be sure that it is the right course for each child and for each adoptive and prospective parent. The decision was therefore absolutely right.

However, the Government were deeply aware also of the value and experience of the faith-based adoption agencies, particularly in placing children who are hard to place. On the grounds of principle and pragmatism, we sought to achieve a way forward which maintains the focus on the needs of the child and prevents any disruption to services currently being provided to adoptive parents and children, while requiring, as we must, those publicly funded agencies to operate within the law. It was therefore agreed that a transition period of 20 months wouldbe granted to faith-based adoption and fostering agencies until the end of 2008 to enable them, with help, to plan for and achieve the best possible outcome, whether that might come from partnership arrangements or from using their expertise in other ways.

In the interim, any faith-based adoption or fostering agency wishing to take advantage of the transition period will have to refer same-sex couples to other agencies which they believe are able to assist. We know that this is challenging, which is why, to assist the process, the Prime Minister announced that he would commission an ongoing, independent assessment of the issues that agencies would need to address in the transition period. We want those services to continue. They are much valued, and we want them to be retained and developed as best they can.

The assessment process will be conducted by an independent adoption expert, supported by a panel with expertise in child welfare and adoption. The team will be asked to monitor, support and report on progress towards adapting to the new regulatory regime in the context of wider reforms to adoption services that are already under discussion.

It is heartening that the British Association for Adoption & Fostering has stated that,
“we are pleased the government has carefully considered the intricacies of this sensitive issue... and believe this package should lead to a sensible solution”.
We recognise that this is a complex debate, which exposes the deepest feelings, but, at all times, we have regarded the interests of the child as paramount. In this, we have the recognition of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who noted and welcomed,
“the Government’s expressed desire that the experience and excellent work of our agencies is not lost, especially for the benefit of needy children”.
This was followed by a speech by Baronness O’Cathain who had tabled an amendment that would have effectively killed the Regulations. She didn't seem to have listen much to what had just been said. Several other speakers followed the majority of which were against the Regulations but some were in favour.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland said:
My Lords, I speak without a prepared speech but with a heavy heart. As a Christian woman, I find this an extraordinarily difficult and distressing debate. It is distressing because we are not really prepared to face the fundamental issue. I have listened to speeches in which noble Lords have said, “We respect gay people, but...”. The issue is not about rights; if it were, we would not be having this debate. It is about whether noble Lords accept gay people as equal human beings.

Two hundred years ago, William Wilberforce made a speech in Parliament that freed black people to be equal human beings. I hope that this evening your Lordships will vote for these regulations.
Lord Alli's invention was also very much to the point.

Just before ten o'clock the Minister spoke again in response to what had been said. Then, at 10.09 pm, "on question, whether the said amendment shall be agreed to, their Lordships divided: Contents, 122; Not-Contents, 168. Details of the vote can be seen here.

You can read reactions to the vote here.


To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

What the Christian Right Doesn't Want You to See Anymore

The offensive What The Government Doesn't Want You To Know YouTube video I referred to in this post yesterday, has now been "removed by the user".

I thankfully had thought about downloading it yesterday (using a nifty little Firefox add-on), so I now have a copy for future reference. Was it only intended as a teaser for the demonstration it advertised to be taken down as soon as the demo had passed or has there been some (internal) pressure? We will never know.

As friend of mine, who has seen the thing, expressed the following thoughts by email:
Appalling and dangerous, but can anyone other than enshrined bigots really take such propaganda seriously? Like you I worry about such things but think (hope) they only really reach the small number of warped individuals that common sense and decency never will.

However.... I follow American gay issues and have noted in recent months an upsurge in right wing campaigns against any sex and equality discussions in schools and colleges. In state after state battles are underway and it seems a growing form of 'gaybashing'.


I have to say I unfortunately don't share his optimism. Having been to the demo in January, I am aware that the majority of the people attending did not have a clue as to why they were there. Certianly they were quite happy to believe what they had been told about the SOR without checking for themselves. I also know that the YouTube video had had over 18000 hits.

This could potentially do a lot of damage considering how emotive people can be when children are involved. The very reason, I would imagine, why the fundies are, now that nothing else seem to be working, concentrating on schools for their homophobic scaremongering...

Yesterday's defeat must have enraged them to an even higher point of irrationality. I think we must prepare ourselves for new vicious attacks. Unfortunately


Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Anti-Sexual Orientation Regulations Vigil Outside Parliament - Report

I am just back from the "Prayer Vigil" outside Parliament organised by right wings Christians to protest against the Sexual Orientation Regulations. Inside the Palace of Westminster, the Lords was preparing to vote to approve or reject the regulations.

The organisers of the demonstration tonight must have hoped that it would be repeat of what happened on 09 January this year. But it wasn't at all.

The Christian crowd

The picture above is a view of the crowd just after the start of the vigil at seven. About 200 people huddled together in the cold singing hymns. The space between the group and where I was standing when taking the picture was full of people in January.

To be fair, our side didn't fair much better. At our peak, there were three of us. I spent most of the time I stayed there on my own (as far as I could tell) with a specially bought rainbow flag draped over my backpack. I think this was due to the fact that much less publicity had been given to this event than to the previous one. Particularly, I don't think the BBC published the details of it on its website this time round.

the new bikeThe composition of the crowd was also quite different from last time. While in January there was a strong minority ethnic presence and many children, this time, the audience was definitely older and white. A few speakers arranged the singers at some point but I had been asked by some nice policemen to move to the side and I could not hear what was being said. Probably some more misinformation or perhaps they were simply introducing the "prayer points" listed on the song sheet that was handed out to everyone (view thumbnail on the side).

Today I found footages of the January demonstration on YouTube. The description of the video by its author shows that he, like the majority of the poeple who attended, and as I was able to acertain this at the time by talking with the "ennemy", had no idea as to why he was there. I didn't get to talk to anyone this time, but I am pretty sure that people weren't any better informed this time round.

After just over an hour, utterly frozen, I packed up my rainbow flag and made my way home, the crowds still singing and now swollen by another 100 people or so to reach the grand figure of about 400.

Ekklesia and PinkNews have reports on the demonstration which took place this afternoon in the same location.

It seems that the miracle requested by those outside the Palace did not happen. The amendment to the Regulations tabled by Baroness O’Cathain was rejected and the regulations were approved by 168 votes against 122. (thanks Craig for the text-messages). The apparently intense lobbying from the fundamentalists has obviously been effective if not sufficient (figures for January's vote were 199 in favour for 68 against).

I'll post more about the debate tomorrow I expect, when the transcript becomes available. In the meantime, have a look here and here.

You can view all my pictures from both demonstrations here.

To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.


Who Are The Perverts Here?

During the whole controversy around the Sexual Orientation Regulations, right wing Christians have never hesitated to distort the truth to try and forward their hateful rhetoric. That started last year with that advert in the Times, which is still being investigated by the Advertising Standards Agency, following 48 complaints. Then we had all the high profile attacks and lies from various religious leaders.

And now this piece of vile rubbish:


There are also several videos on YouTube featuring various interventions by "bishop" Michael Reid. He seems to be an independent "bishop" with his own church and he is the one who brought Ian Paisley at the demonstration outside Parliament on 09 January this year. In those videos, he keeps citing figures (how many of gay people there are, how many of us are in couples) from a study by one Welcome Foundation. Strangely enough, I could not find a trace of that Foundation on google or even on the "bishop"'s website, let alone anything about the study.

There is also a rather moving response to the above video from Davidlyme


There is a follow up video here, where davidlyme reads an email he sent to the author of the first video on this post.

Now tell me who are the hateful abominations here?

See this post for an update on this.

To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

Murphy-O'Connor on Today

It was interresting, if rather sad, to hear Murphy O'Connor blubbering about gay adoption and the Sexual Orientation Regulations on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, this morning. It was just as sad to see how little Carolyn Quinn, the interviewer, challenged him on the half-baked arguments he produced.

First he did not reply to the question about his earlier accusation against the government supposedly attacking democracy. This was simply a headline grabbing outburst since all the procedures have been respected in Parliament for the approval of the Regulations. This had the support of all 3 major front bench.

Then we heard that old chestnut about the fact that giving rights to gay people and couples undermines marriage. This was not, as it never is, followed by an explanation of how this works. The only way to undermine marriage would be something that would change it's structure or purport. Not what is happening, by any means. Anyway, straight couples do a very good job themselves at undermining marriage just by the mess they make of so many of them.

While the Cardinal delights in the public service provided by his adoption agencies, he forgot to acknowledge that this agencies recieve public money for this service. This means that they must absolutely abide by the rules set by their employers, the government! They may possibly have more of a case to do what they want if they were independant.

As Murphy-O'Connor acknowledged the law allows LGB couples to adopt. He claims that they are not proventing those couples to adopt by refusing to consider them for adoption. Can some explain to me this contradiction? Who does the Catholic Church thing it is to think it can go against the law of a country? In a democracry, no one should be above the law; not even religious organisations.

What is even stranger is that those catholic adoptions agencies are quite happy to let single LGB people adopt. Surely having a two people united in a loving couple to raise a child is better than just one person?

What this all boils down to (and I have developped those argument in previous posts) is the fear from the Catholic Church to loose what little influence they still have. They know that the LGB community is one of the last minorities which can, unfortunately, still be attack publicly with little chance of a major public backlash. The issue is also certain to capture people's interest. Murphy-O'connor is simply trying to capitalise on this to gain access to the public sphere.

He admit himself in a previous outburst his fears of the government trying to impose a new moral order on the country. Read: a moral order on which he has no control himself and which undermines his and his church's hitherto monopoly in the matter. Why should ethics and morals have to be underpined by religion to be legitimate?

You can listen to the interview here.


To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Fundamentalist Vigil Outside Parliament on Wednesday

Wednesday sees the last stage (hopefully) of the legislative process before the introduction of the Sexual Orientation Regulations at the end of April. A vote for approval will be taking place in the House of Lords.

A group of Christian lawyers (The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship) are planning a "prayer vigil" outside Parliament on the same night (between 7 and 9pm at Old Palace yard (the square opposite the St Stephen’s entrance to the House of Lords)), presumably trying to re-enact the demonstration which took place there on 09 January this year, against the Nothern Irish version of the Regulations.

Here is what they are (perhaps not surprisingly) yelling (the online convention is that a text in capitals is being yelled) about the vigil (taken from their website, which I won't link to):

WE PRAY FOR A MIRACLE NEXT WEDNESDAY. HOWEVER, WHATEVER THE OUTCOME IT IS VITAL THAT HISTORY RECORDS CHRISTIANS STANDING FOR TRUTH TO THE VERY END OF THE PARLIAMENTARY PROCESS.

THIS DEBATE NEXT WEDNESDAY IS THE CRUCIAL DEBATE. I BELIEVE IT IS STILL POSSIBLE TO PERSUADE PEERS OF THE LACK OF DEMOCRATIC PROCESS IN BRINGING IN THE SORS AND TO PERSUADE THEM OF GENUINE CONCERNS REGARDING THE CLASH OF FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN FREEDOMS.
At least, they recognise that LGBT rights to be treated fairly are a "fundamental human freedom". Or is it only bad syntax?

In the meantime, members of the laity have written a letter to all Anglican bishops asking them to attend Wednesday's session of the Lords and vote agains the Regulations.

There is obviously no time to get the necessary authorisation for counter-demonstration but there wasn't last time either and a few of us simply turned up in silence protest. Wouldn't it be great if the same thing happened that day?


To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

Massage

Today my back is aching and the rest of my body feels... well... there. I am also rather dehydrated and I generally feel like curling up back into bed.

This blissful state was brought up by another of those new experiences London offers me from time to time. Yesterday I was given my first ever real massage. Before that, like most people, I had had my shoulders squeezed for a few minutes by a friend, and once and guy in a sauna had showed me hand and feet massage but that was about it.

I met PMC, the masseur, online some weeks ago and we seem on the way to friendship. He is a musician but on Sunday we started chatting about his other professional talents. Somehow he ended up offering me to come over and have a massage. Because I can not afford to pay for the service, we agreed that I would provide something in exchange. I am to design a webpage for him to advertise his services.

When I got to PMC's place in north London, started with a nice relaxed chat about his future webpage over a cup of nettle tea. Another first in my obviously sheltered life; I had never had nettle tea before (I think I'll buy some, it was nice). Then PMC set up his table, asked me to choose some music, closed the drapes, made me strip and lie on the table, and started to work on my back.

Having heard people rave about how good it feels, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The 90 minutes the session lasted went very quickly indeed and some work was obviously needed on certain muscle groups (shoulders and calves particularly). Unfortunately, as is all too often the case, my brain went on overdrive for most of the session, which, I think, prevented my from enjoying the physical experience fully. Not the first time I have that sort of problem.

Once we were finished, it was time to go to rehearsal with the Chorus. That meant resisting the impulse to go to sleep, dress up and go off in the cold, windy evening. Melted snow was falling. By the time I got to the rehearsal place, just on time, I was cold and flustered. Probably not the best way to capitalise on my earlier experience.

After a good night's sleep, I woke up feeling like I had been battered; like one would feel after an unusual work out. I seem to have a little more energy than usual though. PMC is worried that he might have been a little too forceful for a first-timer. He tells me that today's aches are a sign of how needed the massage was and that I would need another session to put things right. Instead, I will simply go back to daily bad positioning in front of this computer and sleeping on an old futton. I will probably try to start using pillows again, though.

I think I'll go and do a bit of stretching...


Sexual Orientation Regulations Approved by MPs (Again)

Last Night, a group of conservative MPs, lead by Ann Widdecombe, managed to force a vote on the House of Commons to again approve the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 which had already been approved in Committee on Thursday.

The MPs were quite heavily defeated in their attempt to scupper the Regulations. The House divided: Ayes 310, Noes 100.

Reading the transcript (here and here) of the debates one gets the feeling that the move by those MPs was more as a question of principal against the fact that they felt they had not been given time to air their views on the subject. They were forgetting in the process of complaining that the Tory front bench had themselves agreed to the procedures used in this instance.
Some supporters of the Regulations agreed to the fact that a debate was needed, however.

Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con), who voted against the Regulations, asked that the Speaker "ensure that time is made available on the Easter Adjournment to debate the matter, notwithstanding the fact that the regulations will have gone through". We may expect a resurection of the controversy at that time.

A defeat is apparently expected in the Lords on Wednesday evening where it will be their Lordships' turn to vote to approve the Regulations. There is apparently a strong lobbying compaign from religious people and it seems to be working to an extend as a sross party working group of MPs has apparently been formed last night to try and find a compromise between the government and Catholic adoption agencies.

This is of course not right but I am at a loss as to what can been done to try and stop this. Suggestions on a postcard, please.

More information on last night's events here.


To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Sexual Orientation Regulations - Related Documents

Craig Nelson, in his LGBT Blog, has a post bringing together all the major documents related to the Sexual Orientation Regulations; from the draft Regulations to consultation responses via assessments and committee reports.

There is also a quick summary of the differences between the British and Northern Irish versions of the Regulations, and a list of the different exemptions included in the draft, whether on religious grounds or not.
Have a look.


To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Sexual Orientation Regulations - What Next?

There seems to be some confusion as to what will be happening next in respect of the Sexual Orientation Regulations. The BBC's report on the Committee meeting which took place on Thursday morning seem to imply that the Regulations are now only waiting for implementation barring the risk of a forced vote in the House of Commons.

The order of business for the House of Lords at the date of Wednesday 21 seems to imply that there is at least one last hurddle:
Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 Baroness Andrews to move that the draft Regulations laid before the House on 13 March be approved. 12th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 14th Report from the Merits Committee (Dinner break business)

Baroness O’Cathain to move, as an amendment to the above motion, to leave out all the words after “that” and insert “this House, having regard to the widespread concerns that the draft Regulations compromise religious liberty and will result in litigation over the content of classroom teaching, and having regard to the legality of the equivalent regulations for Northern Ireland, declines to approve the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.”
From what I have been able to acertain, the fact that the debate took place in Committee rather than on the floor of the House of Commons is due to procedure and how the regulations were included to the Equalities Act, of which they will form a part. The regulations were in fact an amendment added to the bill during its third reading, in the House of Lords.

As far as I know, Wednesday's vote in the Lords is not binding but might mean that the House of Commons have to vote on the regulations once more should the result be negative in the Lords. Thankully, there seems to be a board cross-bench support for the regulations and the result of the vote is likely to be positive.

Update - 19 March
An anonynous comment was left today on this post. The comment reads as follows and provides some clarification, I think:
"The Equality Act 2006 gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations relating to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation - so the rgeulations are made under, and are not part of, the Equality Act. But,so that the executive's power is subject to some form of control by the legislature, the minister is not able to make them unless a draft has been approved by both the Commons and the Lords."
For me, this means that Thursday's meeting was the Commons approval and the Lords will take place on Wednesday. Although there has also been an amendment tabled by a tory baroness to try and stop things.

More info on this complicated situation there.


To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

The Tory Position on the Sexual Orientation Regulations

As I reported last night, the Sexual Orientations Regulations were considered by a Committee of 16 MPs on Thursday. Only two of these (both conservative) voted against the Regulations (David Burrowes and Jeremy Wright). During the 90 minutes debate, Megg Munn, the Minister for Equality outlined the content of the regulations before the Front-Bench spokeswomen for both opposition parties were allowed to speak. Eleanor Laing, the Shadow Equality Minister, was speaking for the Conservatives here are extracts of what she said:
[...] I have said that many times, as the Minister knows. It follows from that that we believe that discrimination on any grounds should be prohibited. We in the Conservative party truly believe in the freedom of the individual and in freedom of conscience. We are addressing matters of individual belief and of conscience, so although I support the introduction of the regulations and, if a Division is called, I shall vote for them, I do not require my hon.
Friends to do likewise. I shall, of course, encourage them to vote with me, but I respect their honestly held points of view and they are free to vote as they wish. That is the very essence of the matter; we are discussing tolerance in our society. I would argue that the mark of a civilised society—and, indeed, of a respected religion—is that it tolerates those whom it does not like as well as those whom it likes.

[...] There have been many months of ill-informed debate in the media about what the regulations contain, what they mean and what their consequences will be. In fact, once one has the opportunity to read them properly and to analyse them, one finds that they are pretty reasonable. It is a classic case of fear of the unknown, and it is unfortunate that so much of this morning's debate has been taken up with that fear.

Now that we know what is in the regulations, it is not difficult to support them. However, because there has been so much misinformation, I must ask the Minister to help with a few more points in addition to those that she has already clarified. For example, surely there is no intention—nor should it be a consequence of the regulations—that a minister of religion should be required to perform a civil partnership ceremony.

To save time, the Minister indicates that the answer is no, of course that will not be required. Likewise, surely there is no intention, and nor should it be a consequence of the regulations, that a school teacher should be required to give his or her pupils books about homosexuality.

Again, the Minister has indicated that the answer is that there is no such intention. I simply want to illustrate the fact that there has been much misinformation. Let us get that out of the way and talk about what the regulations actually mean.

There are many intricate points that I should like to discuss, but in order to allow others to make proper speeches rather than interventions, I shall not take up much more of the Committee's time. The Minister has already confirmed that matters relating to insurance will be time-limited. Will she now confirm by what means that time limit will be enforced, and how we can monitor it? Likewise, there is enormous concern about the position of adoption agencies, particularly Catholic adoption agencies, which do such excellent and important work.

[...] People might be misled into thinking that these regulations are about adoption. They are not. The position of Catholic adoption agencies is a very small element of the debate, and I want to concentrate on the other 99 per cent. of what the regulations will mean to people throughout the United Kingdom. There is great concern about adoption agencies. I want the transition period, which the Government have introduced by means of the regulations, and the duty to refer, to work.

Will the Minister undertake to report to the House on how the exemption and the duty to refer are working, so that adoption agencies can continue their good work, but there is no discrimination?

As to the essence of the balance we are discussing, I have been approached by many groups who are concerned about this measure and every one has a valid point; but it has made me think about how we can balance the honest right of someone who holds a particular religious viewpoint with those of other groups in society. How will we achieve peace and harmony in our society if we do not say to people, "Live and let live, and respect those who are different from you"?

I have thought about my own brand of Christianity. It is a simple, Church of Scotland brand based on what I believe, which is what my grandmother taught me: "You should do unto others as you would have them do unto you". It is a very simple outlook on life and there is no place in it for discrimination. However, I hope that all sides of the argument will be heard this morning.

[...]

Marriage is perhaps the best way, but it does not mean that there are not other ways of bringing up a child that are equally valid and give a child an equally good start in life. That is the point of this proposal; it is about balance, not about extremes. It is not about taking an entrenched point of view; it is about recognising that in our society today people live in all sorts of different ways. Instead of trying to discriminate against people who are different from us, we should be embracing everyone in our society and living peacefully together.

[...]

I recognise that there is potentially a clash of opinion between one group of people and another, each of whom argues that the law should protect them and allow them freely to practise on one hand their sexual orientation, and on the other hand their religious belief. It is for Parliament to balance the rights and responsibilities of one group of people with those of another, and that is the difficult task before us. The legislation is not perfect. It could have been better, but on balance I shall choose the lesser of two evils and support it.

In an article from 24 January about such issues, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning.”

He is of course absolutely right. However, the legislation—now that we know what is in it—does not do what the archbishop feared that it might do. That is the important point that we must reflect on when considering whether to pass the regulations. No one will be required to change or relinquish their conscience or beliefs as a result of the regulations; but each of us will be required to moderate our actions and behaviour in order to accommodate those who are different from ourselves. That is a good principle on which to make legislation and I hope that most hon. Members will support the regulations.
This was reinforced by John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con), who said:
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe [Clive Betts (Lab)] very reasonably challenged Conservative Members to say where they stood on this matter. If there is any doubt, I would like to take the opportunity. I put it to the hon. Member for Solihull [Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD)] that as a result of widespread discrimination, too many gay, lesbian and bisexual people in this country have suffered too much for too long and with too little done about it. I put it to her that in human terms—that is the most important point in this debate—the regulations will be welcomed by millions of gay, lesbian and bisexual people as a force for liberation and a recognition that in a modern civilised society they should enjoy equality before the law.

A transcript of the discussion can be found here and a recording of it here (90min).

To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Sexual Orientation Regulations Approved by MPs

Yesterday morning, the draft Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 was approved by the Twelfth Delegated Legislation Committee of the House of Commons. Room 11 of the Palace of Westminster (Interestingly, this is the meeting room next door to the one in which a delegation of us was received 2 years ago for LGBT History Month) apparently proved too small for the number of MPs (about 60) attending the meeting, which had been convened at the last minute for some unknown reason.

A transcript of the discussion can be found here and a recording of it here (90min).

Conservative MPs, who attended en force, tried to have the meeting cancelled claiming that a matter of such importance should be discussed by the House rather than an otherwise small and obscure committee. They felt they could not properly represent the views and concerns of the Catholic Church. It turned out, however that the committee procedure had been agreed by Conservative big whigs.

Megg Munn MP, the Minister for Equality, who is responsible for the bill, despite being constantly interrupted, outlined why the regulations are necessary, mentioning how gay couples can still be asked to leave a restaurant for holding hands, how some schools still ignore homophobic bullying or how young homeless people can be asked to leave sheltered accomodation if they come out.

Senior Conservative MP Edward Leigh accused the government of trying to impose "its own moral code on a religious organisation", asking for a compromise for Catholic adoption agencies. The Shadow Equality Minister, Eleanor Laing, however, spoke in favour of the Regulations. She explained that she believed that her "own brand of Christianity", which is Church of Scotland, was based on a principal which was taught to her by her grandmother: one should do unto others as one would have them do unto one.

The Shadow Attorney General (and Lawyer), Dominic Grieve thought that the anti-discrimination measures were and sensible enough and too complex to be dealt with by the committee. He raised the hypothetical case of a web designer with Christian principals being asked to design a website "promoting gay sexual relations", saying that, the way the Regulations are drafted, the designer would be breaking the law should he try to refuse the job.

Later in the Commons, Ian Duncan-Smith raised the matter with the Commons' leader, Jack Straw arguing that MPs "should have an opportunity to properly debate these issues", and adding that MPs could "be in favour of the principal but worry about the impact and still have no answer to many of the issues surrounding adoption and education legislation." Jack Straw said that it would have been difficult to find time for debate in the Chamber.

The draft Regulations, having been approved, will now go the Commons to be rubber stamped. Implementation is planned for 30 April. There is, however, still the possibility of a full vote from the House being forced on the government, should many MPs object to the committee procedure.

Thanks to Today In Parliament for the information.

And here is Ben Summerskill's impression of the meeting just send out in a Stonewall Bulletin (his emphasis):

John Redwood. Iain Duncan Smith. Edward Leigh. Gerald Howarth. Red-faced and furious, they shouted and harrumphed and claimed, improbably, that they hadn't had sufficient opportunity to debate the regulations. Veteran europhobe Bill Cash was so desperate to oppose them that he even claimed they were in breach of the European Communities Act he detests so much.

What was heartwarming, however, was that the regulations were supported solidly by the front benches of all the three main parties. That would have been unthinkable even five years ago.

Those on the political fringes are having to recognise that times are changing. People who believe they've had a centuries-old licence to hate are now having to recognise the dignity and right to fair treatment of other communities that, until now, they've held in near-contempt.

Before we're home and dry we still have one more critical vote, next Wednesday evening in the House of Lords. That means just 120 hours left in which to lobby peers.

To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

Should Religion and Politics Mix?

This is in response to this (slightly confused) article on Pink News.

Being myself strongly opposed to organised religions and their interference in public life, I can see exactly what the author means, when he suggest that Politics and Religion should remain separate. Being French, this is also a major part of my republican education.

However, things are not that simple and I would contend that such a separation is nigh on impossible. People's political views are underpinned by their ethics and morals, whether they be religious or secular (and it is worth remembering that some liberal/secular views can sometimes take on the intencity of religious extremism). It would be impossible to ask someone to forget about the teachings of their religion, which presumably also underpin their outlook on life, before allowing them to contribute to social life.

Similarly, the obvious solution to the problem, the banning of religious people from public life, would be an unacceptable attack on democracy and freedom of speech. Yes, extremist religious people are the very ones who often go against those very principals. Exluding them seems the easy way. But this would mean behaving like them and in a way conceeding them victory. We, the LGBT community do and must rely so much on those democratic principals for acceptance that we must defend and uphold them at all cost, even that of allowing free speech to the very ennemies of those principals. An interesting conundrum, if ever there was one.

Religious groups and people are part of our society and as such must be allowed to participate in social life. Our only weapon against the more zealous fundamentalists among them is to remain vigilant and to put our points across more eloquently and more rationally than they do. Not a highly satisfactory solution but the only one offered to us if we really hold our own principals to be true.



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Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Kudos to Kudos and to Me

Following this morning's post, I found myself this afternoon, quite uncharacteristically, in a bar. I haven't been to Kudos for a couple of years now I think. It certainly feels like it anyway. The clientele seems more or less the same (older men, east asian guys, blick guys mostly)but the decor has changed.

After sometimes spent upstairs, my companion and I moved to the basement area. The last time I was there, the basement looked like a noisy miniature club, with a dance floor and a large screen showing video clips in a loop. This space has now been turned into a classy lounge, with sofas, cushions, leather and candles. There is even a piano with a cute waiter playing it at the time when I was there. When he stopped, the music that replaced him was jazzy and low. They have some sort of crooner performing later tonight.

The most important thing however: it is a non smoking area.

Having spent sometimes upstairs, I still reek fo smoke but being down there was O so nice... I think I might even be back!

In other news, I have just been hired (part-time) as the webmaster for the LGBT History Month website. You won't seen any difference for a while yet but be prepared for some changes... I am quite excited by this, I must say. I get paid (not too much) to do something I like and to support something I feel is very important indeed. What else could I ask for.


Today is... Non Smoking Day

Poster for Non Smoking Day

If you look hard enough, you will probably find that every day in the calendar has been taken over by some good cause or other. Most of the time, very few people hear of it and almost as often, this is just as well, because very few people care about that particular cause.

Today's day, Non Smoking Day 2007 (the day is in its 24th year) has perhaps more resonance than most. 12 million adults in the UK smoke cigarettes - 26% of men and 23% of women. The day is also particularly relevant for the LGBT community since 53% of gay men smoke. That a much higher rate than for the general population.

Every year, around 114,000 smokers in the UK die as a result of their addiction. This means that smoking kills around six times more people in the UK than road traffic accidents (3,439), other accidents (8,579), poisoning and overdose (881), alcoholic liver disease (5,121), murder and manslaughter (513), suicide (4,066), and HIV infection (234) all put together (22,833 in total - 2002 figures). This also has repercutions of the National Health Service and its operating costs, which means that we are all paying for the consequences of other people's self-destructive behaviour.

I am not even going to start on the general rudeness and lack of consideration displayed by smokers towards non-smokers. I have ranted about this before on these pages.

This year's edition of the day takes on a particular value too as a smoking ban in public place will be implemented from July in England. Today could therefore be since as some sort of dress rehearsal for the big blissful day.

Everybody get stubbing!

The No Smoking Day charity is funded by a coalition of government and voluntary sectors organisations.

Read my other posts on the subject here.



Sunday, 11 March 2007

Well Hung

Today I added another item to the ever growing list or strange and marvellous things I have had the opportunity to do since I moved to London. Things that I would probably never have done or could expect to ever do, had I stayed in France. This list includes: appearing in Court... as the prosecution, meeting or see a number of c'lebs, appearing in 2 films (no, not porn, thanks very much!), singing in prestigious international concert venues as well as on national and local radios, be elected Rear Of The Year 2003, and a few other things I can't think of at the moment...

Today started quite normally with a bus trip for the Weekly-Cultural-Outing-To-Tesco as I call it. I then got home, ate me lunch and got ready for this month's meeting of my reading group. One of people attended the meeting, SH, who does not come very often, is a vague aquaintance of mine (he is always jetting around the world for his work and spends little time in London). One of the first people I met in London. This guys' boyfriend, Peter Faulkner, whom I have met once some months back, is a painter and sculptor and he is having an exhibition of his work next week in a gallery near Goodge Street tube station. His first solo exhibition. SH had already told me about this a while back sending me an invite to the vernissage which takes place on Tuesday.

Today however was hanging day and SH invited me to tag along for a "pre-preview" as he called it. When we arrived at the gallery after the reading group's meeting, the gallery was still empty and the artist on his way with his work. Somehow, I ended up volunteering to help putting things together: onloading the van, finding a place for the painting, preparing hooks and cables for the hanging of the paintings and the hanging itself. About 4 hours laters, the empty gallery had taken life in a splash of colours and I had hung my first exhibition. Not of my own work though. Unfortunately.

You can see part of the results of our work below.

The Gallery Alien Thinkers Paintings

To be honest, I am not sure what to think of the artworks I handled today. Peter is a very nice guy and he is obviously technically talented but I can't help but thinking that the figures he has used in those pieces are somewhat clicheed and not very original. It doesn't seem that the pieces are saying much either: the nazi ballerina (middle of the trid pic above) for example is a bit of a puzzle to me.

At the same time, I rather like the painting of the fountain in Piccadilly Circus (although I am not sure why Eros had to be changed into a dancer) and the small one next to it of the abstract sunset (third picture too). The triptic (middle picture) is quite a beautiful view of Canary Wharf; the reflection of the light on the building is indeed lovely. Why there is this big thinker-like figure sitting on one of its tower, is, again, not clear to me. I think having Canary Wharf (the business district of London) as the subject of a tripic (traditionaly used for religious subject) without the figure would have turned the piece into an interesting social comment on the power and fascination of money in our culture.

He is the artist, however... who am I to critice?

This afternoon's activities were quite good fun though and I wish Peter the very best of luck... Feel free to come and see his work yourself if you can.

You can view the flyer for the exhibition here.


Saturday, 10 March 2007

Out and About in Colchester

I am just back from Colchester. Not the obvious destination for a trip on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early spring, one might think. And one might very well be right; however, master Slightly, in his increasingly worrying mania for all things cycling (he and his man apparently plan on dedicated a room in their future home to their bikes! And, yes, I know, I intend to have a room for my books (a library or bibliotheque, I think they are called), so why not one for bikes (a cyclotheque?)...), has bought himself a bike off ebay (for a fraction of its value) and I had been invited to tag along with him as he was collecting it: in Colchester.

the new bikeIn Slightly's defense I must add however that it is not any old bike. This is an early 1960's racing team bike. That alone would probably make it quite special. What is even more of interest is that this particular bike (and its wheels) was handmade by Barry Witcomb, in Deptford. Witcomb Cycles, who have been going since 1949, are one of the last traditional independent frame builders in the country and are renowned in the cycling world for the quality of their products. What makes me (otherwise an ignorant in respect to cycling) so knowledgeable about this particular company is that Witcomb will be hand-making (and buy that I don't mean, like others, "assembling ready-made parts" but really, actually "building") the bikes Slightly and myself are going to be selling in our new commercial venture (soon to be properly launched) LIVE.PLAY.RIDE..

As you may be able to make out on the grainy, cameraphone, through-the-windscreen picture of the exchange, above, the bike is painted pink. Sorry: "Witcomb Lilac"...

Pink!

This is, as far as we are aware, the only known example of the colour specially created for the Witcomb team, which will be invaluable when we start working on a merchandising range for Witcomb, later this year.

Slightly, who is all excited, tells me that the bike and its accessories are completely original and that only a few things which undergo normal wear and tear need to be replaced. From what the seller told him, the bike was rescued by him from a skip where it had been through after the death of its aging owner. The seller, who is apparently an amateur cyclist recognised the quality of the bike when lifting it (it is incredibly light!), even though he did not know about the Witcomb brand. He asked whether he could have the bike and was told that it had been hanging in its last owner's living room. Was that as a trophee of this man's past glory, him being a member of the team? We don't know but this was a luck rescue. It should be interesting to be a mouse, next week, when Barry Witcomb, the maker, is reunited with his creation.

The OuthouseAs we were in the area, and to take full benefit of all the carbon dioxide generated by the 3 hours return trip, we had decided to look up JG, a friend of ours, non-singing member of the Chorus, who lives in their. JG is also the editor of The Journal, the Colchester Gay Switchboard's newsletter. Since he was going to the theatre that afternoon, rather than meeting at his place, we had decided to meet at the Outhouse (picture). This is the home of the switchboard and also works as a gay and lesbian center for the area. When we got there, we found a dozen gay men comfortably seated on sofas, happily chatting away in a welcoming, well provided and accessible space. Something that not even London can boast!

JG gave us a cup of tea and a quick tour of the place: the lounge and kitchen area, the library and the small office. We then left to go and get lunch at the cafe of Firstsite, Colchester's contemporary art gallery. This is currently house in an building but a multimillion pound new gallery is being built at the back of the one (see website for "pictures"). This is apparently proving a little controversial in the area due to its cost.

On the way, JG explained to us that when he first moved to Colchester, the Outhouse was much more busy then it is now. We agreed that this was probably due to the greater visibility and acceptance that the LGBT community is currently enjoying. Places like this, however, still play a very important role, as JG reminded us when telling us of some new comer to the town who after having met him at the Outhouse, had one evening rung JG for help in quite a desparate state of mind. JG was able to help.

I could not help thinking of London at the point and the fact that while there used to be in the 1980's a Gay and Lesbian Center (in the Farringdon area), the city has currently no facilities of the sort. We often think that, as gay people, we are at the end of the tunnel in London, but I was told, only last wednesday how a Chorus member had been beaten up twice in a bus for no other reason than having his arm around his friend's shoulders. I have heard of several other such incidents in the past few years and, of course, there has been two deaths too. A Center could probably not help prevent such attacks but it could certainly help the myriad newcomers to the city and also the members of ethnic minorities who can hope for very little support in their own environments.

JG also has a passion for the Theatre and its history; after lunch he took us for a whistle tour of some of Colchester's theatres. One has been converted into a spectacular pub by Wetherspoon (who are the biggest theatres owners in the country, despite not putting on any shows) while the other is apparently currently a club. We also saw the high street, the lanes with their market stalls, the Town Hall, some lovely old houses (lots of which are painted either pink, blue or yellow, for some regional idiosyncrasy I am not fully au fait with) and, of course, the 12th century castle.

Soon, it was time, for JG to leave us to go and see his show and after a little more exploring, we got back in the car and drove back to our beloved London; Slightly quite impatient to play with his new toy.

As we were almost at Slightly's place, I spotted Graham Norton. He was, with his dog (which I had already seen, with it's hunky walker at the Royal Albert Hall, in June) in the back seat, in deepest Deptford (he lives there apparently), in his black Lexus coupé (no idea which one), stopped on the side of the road talking in his phone. The possibly fitting conclusion to a fairly gay day in England.

More pictures of my visit here.

This post also appeared in a slightly edited version in the spring issue of The Journal, the newsletter of the Colchester Gay Switchboard. The cover of the same edition featured a picture taken by myself at the LSE when representatives of the Switchboard presented the Hall Carpenter archives with a set of copies of The Journal.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Cursed Civil Partnerships

male grooms

There used to be a time when seeing straight friends getting married, having children and going in off in the sunset to live in their own little exclusive bubble of domestic bliss, I could find some comfort in the fact that at least my gay friends would not let me down in the same way and remain as miserable as me.

Since the introduction of Civil Partnerships over a year ago, it seems that everyone is now getting itched. First it was the girls, then it was Adam and Ian, then Slightly, my business partner, and now it is czechOUT's turn. And of course, they are going to take the best ones.

All this gut-churning "lurving" and house-playing is simply revolting for my poor bitter, envious and twisted heart of disconsolate, hardened spinster. Hopefully some of them will remember to save me one of the furry things they will no doubt soon start to produce. If not, I'm just really going to have to get a cat and take up knitting.

Almost makes a girl want to shout: "Ian Paisley for new leader of Labour!"

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Sexual Orientation (Goods and Services) Regulations 2007 Published

After many delays due to the level of interest and controversy generated, the Sexual Orientation (Goods and Services) Regulations 2007 were published yesterday by the government. The regulations as they now stand are almost similar to those already in place in Northern Ireland since January and do not allow for further discriminations from religious organisations than the expected and acceptable doctrinal exemption.

Faith-based adoption agencies are given until the end of 2008 to comply with the new regulations following the vocal protest from the Catholic Church on this respect. Insurance companies and National Blood Service have also been granted limited opt-outs.

Right until last week, there were fears that the Regulations in England, wales and particularly Scotland might be compromised but this did not turn out to be the case. This is obviously very good news; showing the govermnent's committment to true equality.

While religious groups are being placated with the measures described above, the gay community however find itself obliged to open up its commercial venues to straight people. I personally do really see how this could be a problem. It is obviously quite difficult to prove on a bar or club's doorstep that someone is not gay so a ban of straight people if such thing has ever happened seems to me fairly illusory. More to the point perhaps, we have not yet attained such a level of acceptance that straight people will come out (!) in droves to attend gay clubs and bars. And even is that happened, "de-ghayttoisation" can only be a positive things.

A few days ago, in another set back for religious based discrimination, 62-year-old Andrew McClintock lost the legal action he had brought in an employment tribunal against the Lord Chancellor. He claimed that his Bible-influenced opinions mean that he should be allowed to pick and choose which adoption cases he would hear as a magistrate.

The text of the regulations still has to go through a vote in Parliament before its planned implementation on 30th April but the word on the gay grapevine is that problems are unlikely. MPs and Lords apparently feel very good about the stance they took during a previous vote against the possible annulment of the Northern Irish version of the SOR, in January. Political commentators at the time, remarked on how MPs and some cabinet ministers seem to take this as an opportunity to challenge Tony Blair's waning authority.

This is all very positive but until, the regulations have actually been implemented, there is still a danger that things go awry. Already Catholic organisations are complaining (wrongly it seems) that, as per a report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights published last week, the "new regulations may limit moral teaching in British schools [in that] [...] religious schools [will] be required to modify their religious instruction to comply with the government-approved doctrine of "non-discrimination."":

The report says the regulations will not "prevent pupils from being taught as part of their religious education the fact that certain religions view homosexuality as sinful," but they may not teach "a particular religion's doctrinal beliefs as if they were objectively true.” Published February 26, the report says, "We do not consider that the right to freedom of conscience and religion requires the school curriculum to be exempted from the scope of the sexual orientation regulations."
In the meantime, a Judicial Review mounted by the right wing Christian Institute against the Northern Irish regulation has received support from the Catholic Church. As a result, the date of the hearing, orignially set for the current week, has been moved to 4th June.
The High Court in Belfast has given the Roman Catholic Church the right to submit substantial evidence against the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) in Northern Ireland.[...]

The Roman Catholic Church is not a co-applicant in the case but their initiative demonstrates that the regulations have upset both communities in the Province.
[...]

Due to the weight of evidence submitted against the Government the judge has extended the time set aside for the court case from two to three days and set a new date for the hearing of 4 June.
I am of course no lawyer, but it seems to me that this challenge is simply a waste of time and money (which could both be used more effectively for a worthwhile cause). Even if the Judge finds that indeed the consultation was not done properly, this will have nothing to do with the content of the Regulations which can probably therefore remain in place.

So, we can be fairly certain that the SOR will be implemented at the end of April and with them another defining step towards full equality will be made. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which replaced the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 and partially legalised homosexual acts between men and it is 50 years since the process that led to the act was started with the publication of the Wolfenden Report.

This has been a long and arduous struggle undertaking by many anonymous, every day heros but possibly nothing as difficult as what is now facing us: not changing the law but changing and winning hearts and minds. Bring individuals to recognise that we are not that different from them, are not a threat to who they are and can therefore be accepted, at last.

To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

I AM Alone in This

Dear(, dear) M.,

Although you know about this blog, I am pretty sure that you will not visit and read this. I guess I have made sure of that myself. But to be honest (and that is the point of this exercise after all), I am even hoping that you will and I am writing this for myself to try and put this to bed and lay it to rest. Admire the choice of words!

When I finally left a "footprint" on your profile and then contacted you on Saturday, I wasn't expecting what has been happening since. As I mentioned during our good humoured initial banter, I have been aware of your profile for months. The way you look; that combination of boyishness and manliness, your bookish good looks and that natural-looking yet obviously cared-for (muscular) body, have intrigued me for some time now. Discovering that you were an artist and a book collector only increased my interest.

Our subsequent meeting, later that day and what happened there, truly sealed the deal for me. You were so kind, relaxed and welcoming; so trustful too, falling asleep in my arms for a short while. I found myself once back on the bus after 30 minutes of a short uneasy conversation and a just-as-short, uninspired, unsatifying, disconnected congress; spending more time travelling than with the guy I was visiting.

Ironically perhaps, I had a message from that same guy when I came back home on Satruday night. He doesn't seem aware of how unfulfilling our encounter had been. Just like you seem unaware of how ours was for me, after five hours spent with you, happily chatting and, I felt, building some connection. While this is probably a fairly standard experience for you, it was so completely out of the ordinary for me and resembling so closely what my current lonelyness makes me yearn for that I had to be moved.

Yes, we have exchanged a few message since then but I can tell that your heart is not really in it. You were only sending one message when I was sending about three. Aware that I was probably coming across a little strongly, with those numerous messages, although they were only about helping you with your website and getting a professional contact to perhaps help your career, I even tried to aleviate what I imagined were your doubts. I wrote:
I am not a stalker or anything, more like a young pup, if anything... sometimes a bit too enthusiastic and not very gifted socially. Not having any obvious talent myself, I am pleased to be of help to people who have some if I can. That means I am not completely useless...

I also have to admit that, even after the little time we have spent together, I like you, you are clearly a nice guy and it is not often that I feel I click with someone or can say that of them... And I realise you may not think we have particularly clicked or that it is something special for you.... am just wierd like that... don't mind me too much
You very tactfully ingored this and kept to the subject of your website and other such things. It is very clear to me that you are keeping me at arms' length to the point that I am wondering if you are not simply milking all the information you think can help you out of me before stopping contact altogether. From your point of view, this is probably the sensible thing to do in this situation anyway.

Yesterday, once you had read (and ingored) my last two messages, I realised that these would be the last. That unless you contact me again, which I doubt you will, I should not and would not contact you again myself. I know when I am not wanted and have both the politeness and the self-respect not to impose my presence on people who don't want it.

This is not the first time that I found myself in this sort of turmoil, and considering who I am, it can not be the last, either. Am I being melodramatic here? Probably, but meeting a man who truly interests me is such a rare thing for me, that the event gets blown out of proportion. Which is probably also my downfall, as we have just seen.

I think what this unfortunate episode has showed me is how I will probably behave if and when I ever fall in love for good with someone. In the way I have behaved with you, I can see a hint of the fierce protectiveness and the mothering instinct displayed by my mother. While these can, I supposed, be good things, they are also things I tried to flee myself and I have to be aware of how smothering (such an interesting word: "smothering") and overpowering this can be. This has also provided me with a most tentalising glimpse of what I now realise I want and need, even if I am (obviously) not ready for it.

Of course, I am still hoping you will contact me, that I have misinterpreted everything and that you feel what I am feeling. Despite all the signs pointing to a different direction.

In anycase, I want to wish you the very best of luck both with your art and your life and I want to thank you for helping me grow and for what you have given me.

With love,

Zefrog

The Consequences of Falling