Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The Children Want to Know

the Hall at the Royal Courts of Justice being readied for the event

Last night, I attended the pre-launch event of LGBT History Month 2008. This was the fourth event of this kind and I am pleased and proud to say that I have attended all of them. In 2004, the first ever pre-launch event took place at Tate Modern, the following year, we were at the Met Police's Empress State Building. Last year, the TUC welcomed us at Congress House and this year, we were in the grand surroundings of the hall at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. This was also the event with the most guests, several hundred, I would say.

After a few nibbles and drinks, people moved towards the end of the hall to take a seat and listen to the various speakers. After a quick word of welcome by the co-chairs of the Month, Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick, the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC took the stage for a speech where she retraced the legal history of gay rights since 1967, highlighting the work done by Labour in fighting discrimination (read more here).

The next speaker was Dru Sharpling, Chief Crown Prosecutor London who chairs the London Criminal Justice. She highlighted the work of her organisation on prosecuting homophobic hate crime. She then received from Peter Burton (TUC) the silver plate which is passed on each year to the hosts of the pre-launch event. The list of the different hosts is engraved on the plate.

left to right: Patricia Scotland, Dru Sharpling, Barbara Follett, Richard Kirker and Stephen Whittle.left to right: Patricia Scotland, Dru Sharpling, Barbara Follett, Richard Kirker and Stephen Whittle.

It was then the turn of Barbara Follett to take to the lectern. She is the MP for Stevenage and the Minister for Equality and for the East of England. Although a politician herself, her speech felt much less formal than the two preceding ones and she felt more sincere in the way she expressed herself, highlighting issues of discrimination and pledging her commitment to fight against those.

By then, the hall was getting a bit cold and some people were starting to leave, probably to catch a train to get home but also perhaps because on the whole the speakers were not as inspirational as they could have been.

The night was also sponsored by Channel 4 who sent two cameramen and provided footage of Quentin Crisp alternative message from the Queen which was shown at this point of the evening.

The next speakers were the Reverend Richard Kirker, chair of the Lesbian Gay Christian Movement and Professor Stephen Whittle, founder and vice-president of Press for Change.

The next speaker was playwright, director, actor, singer songwriter, Rikki Beadle-Blair. He explained his work tackling homophobia in schools through his plays, drawing the conclusion that "the children want to know". Something he also found held true in his encounter with grown men when he went to Jamaica for Radio 4 a few years ago to investigate homophobia there or for himself as a growing child. He explained that homophobia comes mostly from ignorance and that most people are ready to change their mind if someone comes and talks to them. "The children need to know", he added, praising the effects of LGBT History Month.

photomontage of Elly Barnes and Rikki Beadle-BlairElly Barnes and Rikki Beadle-Blair

This was very clearly examplified by what the next speaker had to say. Elly Barnes is a music teacher in the London Borough of Hackney who decided that LGBT History Month would be celebrated in her school with very positive and impressive results. She was a great speaker and an obviously inspirational teacher. Her work has been noticed it seems and will now be taken to other schools in the borough. An article about her work is available in the Socialist Worker of 17 March 2007.

To close the event, the Diversity Choir sang a song by gay composer Leonard Bernstein and another one by lesbian suffragette and musician Ethel Smythe.

It feels like that History Month has passed an important landmark after last night's event, a little like it has come of age. The audience was by far the biggest so far and the speakers also provided acknowledgment of the Month's work from the highest levels of society. It was I think a slight shame that the historical side of things had been a little lost. In previous editions of the event, there had been historians or witnesses at hand to provide us with some insights in particular episodes of the LGBT past experience. What the event had gained in gravitas and prestige, it probably lost in fun and human interest. Still last night represents an incredible achievement we should be proud of.

part of the audience and the stage
A selection of my pictures of the event can be viewed here.
Slightly posted some of his pictures on his blog.
The official report of the event can be read here.
The full text the Attorney General's speech is available here.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Accentuate the Positive

Accentuate the Positive poster

The London Gay Men's Chorus debut at the London Palladium on Sunday December the 16th 2007 with a stunning concert raising funds for the Terrence Higgins Trust.

Featuring a celebrity host and special guests including West End star Alison Jiear, the evening will be an upbeat and poignant celebration of how people's experience of living with HIV and AIDS has changed.

Including songs such as House Of Fun, One Night Only, Je Ne Regrette Rien and Being Alive, the evening will uphold the London Gay Men's Chorus' tradition of entertaining, informing and uplifting.

Marking 25 years of the Terrence Higgins Trust, this will be a night to remember. Bring your lovers, families, friends and memories and join us in marking a quarter of a century of support, education, love, loss and life.

Accentuate the Positive
The London Palladium
Argyll Street, London W1
7:30pm Sunday 16th December
Box Office: 0870 890 0144
Tickets from £20
Performance will be BSL Interpreted

Friday, 16 November 2007


Imagine your are the managing team of a big company and that you find yourself will a little spare dosh. You look around for what you can do with it and suddenly realise that, Richard Branson, the owner of your company is keen to get rid of it because, like its competitors, it is in trouble and is losing money.

So you decide to buy Virgin Megastore.

And because you have been working there for a while and you obviously know what a bad brand it is, that people don't like and don't recognise very well, you decide to rebrand the chain of shops with a new snazzy name that you are sure will work wonderfully: Zavvi...

I am speechless!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

That Amused Me

Salut Zefrog,

I came across your blog and wondered if you'd be interested in a
website I've set up called MenuLover.co.uk. I'm collecting menus for
local takeaway restaurants and posting them on the site so that local
people can easily find different sorts of takeaways.

If you have a moment to take a look, and if the thought of takeaway
food is not anathema to your French sensibilities, I'd really
appreciate any comments you have. (The website's just a beta version,
but hopefully it gives you a rough idea.)

Also, in case you're trying to promote your blog, feel free to list it
on Localmouth.com. It's (another) site I've set up which I hope will
help people get more involved in their local communities. There are a
few South London blogs there already, but I'm pretty sure yours would
be the first gay(?) French one ;-)

All the best.



Monday, 12 November 2007

Dog Walking

Today, I planned I attended an all day event organised by the Southwark Alliance. Or so I thought. The event was billed as their November conference.

In fact it turned out to be a consultation exercise on the future of Burgess Park. The vast majority of the 60-odd people attending had no direct involvement with the Park and it seems to me it would have been more efficient to consult users of the Park and local residents.

After people had been divided into groups, we were taken for a site visit of an area of the park with the instruction to put ourselves in the boots of a type of user. We walked around the area, we took pictures and registered our impressions of the park. Back to our base, we had to find words to describe the experience. Later on, we had to make a collage with pictures cut out from magazines showing our vision for the Park in 2025.

That was more or less what the event was about. Because of our lack of knowledge about the park and the ares, the points we made were and had to be quite general and obvious. I can't see what help it would be to the members of the Trust about to be created to take ownership of the Park.

No chance to discuss community cohesion at strategic level as I had expected. No chance to make the points I alluded to in my previous post. I suppose the positive point is that the poofs had been invited for once.

I was in the dog walkers group...

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Unequal Equalities

I am just back from a meeting of the Southwark Anti-Homophobic Forum and I am feeling elated and disappointed at the same time.

The meeting was great. Good company and good food were the least of its positive points. Yes, Columba Blango, Executive member for citizenship, equalities and communities (Lib. Dem.), had left mid-meeting during a presentation on domestic violence in the LGBT community but the whole meeting was very positive and in many ways empowering.

Simon Hughes, the local MP, had suddenly remembered his (in more ways than one) communihttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifty (I have never seen him at any of our events) and was present at the meeting (although not for long), talking about working with us on several local issues and asking for advice on the current Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and the government's proposals to introduce a new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

This was followed by an intervention by members of the equalities team of the Borough who are in the process of updating the Council's equality scheme and policies. They asked us about what we thought were the important points the council should look out for, which part of our community are most in need of support and attention. We particularly asked that the council worked more with the community and realise that LGBT people are part of all other communities. It felt great to be consulted for once and it really felt that they were listening to us. I caught myself dreaming that this little meeting with all the good points that were raised would actually make a difference.

And then it was time to leave the building. On the reception desk, I saw a glossy brochure entitled Celebrating Southwark - Community Cohesion in Southwark. I picked it up. It is actually a folder holding three leaflets, all produced by the Southwark Alliance (whose website doesn't even seem to work properly). The first leaflet is called A Sense of Belonging and is mostly about ethnic minorities and the hot issue of Britishness. the second one, the thicker one is about faith (A Mark of Faith) and the last one, "How to... build community cohesion in Southwark" gathers a series of case studies.

I looked and looked. There is obviously much about race and faith. There is a little about gender and even less about age and disability. And guess what, there is nothing about sexual orientation. Nothing at all.

Interestingly enough, this is probably representative of the order of importance the different strands of diversity have in people's and organisations' minds. Race is the big one, sometimes the only one. Faith and religion has been propelled to the foreground by the combined actions of fundamentalist Islamists and the media. Gender (women) can sometimes make their voices heard but not often and the same goes with older people and disabled people. Almost nobody outside the community seem to give a damn about LGBT people. This probably sounds bitter and cynical but isn't too far from reality I think.

I happen to be attending an event organised by the Southwark Alliance on Monday (which happens to be described as "an opportunity for various forums in Southwark to get together (faith, disabilities, older, Muslim etc etc)."!!!). I shall certainly raise the issue of our absence in their literature.

Watch this space....

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Bonfire night


Slightly dragged me to Blackheath last night to watch the fireworks. Rather than joining the crowds gathering near where the fireworks were taking place, we decided to stand back a bit and stayed about halfway in the middle of the heath. The view was good. We apparently missed the music though.

As for the fireworks, I might be getting blaze but I don't seem to have enjoyed the last few I have seen. Last night's were rather boring. This was mostly due, in my view to a lack of rhythm. There were long periods with little happening and all in all the event was a bit too long.

After that we went nearby to the place of one of Slightly's friends who was having drinks. That was quite nice.

I got home very late after a bus driver waving at us rather than stopping! and a punch up with police involvement on the bus I finally managed to board. Ah! Deptford!