Friday, 31 July 2009

Open Letter to Rev James Tallach

Since Reverend Tallach of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, on the Isle of Lewis, can not be reached by email (the two addresses for him, I could find online bounced), I will post this email on my blog, hoping that God will guide the Reverend to it (see this article on PinkNews for details of Rev. Tallach's comments).

Dear Reverend Tallach,

I was very interested to read in the press about your pronouncement that a recent tornado over the Isle of Lewis was the result of God's Righteous Wrath for allowing civil partnerships. It is indeed quite wonderful to be able to find God's work in nature everywhere.

I couldn't help thinking myself recently that the forest fires and earth tremours that plagued California at the end of last year and the beginning of this, and so reminiscent of the Biblical fire and brimstone, were indeed God's way of telling the inhabitants of the golden state that they should not have voted for Proposition 8 which made gay marriages illegal. After all, God is love, Jesus has told us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves and neither of them can be very pleased when one part of the population gangs up on another one simply to try and re-ascertain its ebbing power and influence.

I trust that God will guide your thoughts towards matters more worthy of your energy and abilities such as perhaps charitable work in aid of those who are in need.



The short email exchanged that eventually followed this can be viewed in this post.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Gay Icons - A review

The National Portrait Gallery has gone a bit queer this summer. Beyond the perennial portraits of gay, lesbian, bi or trans (LGBT) people that the initiated can spot around the gallery, there is a selection of colourful portraits of George Melly by his friend Maggi Hambling on offer. The pièce de résistance however is only a few butch strides down the corridor.

The soft-lit, aubergine confines of the Gay Icons exhibition huddle together a selection by 10 prominent LGB figures of 60 photographic portraits they personally deem significant...

Read my full review of the exhibition on Londonist here.

Images - left to right: Joe Dallesandro by Paul Morrissey 1968, k.d.lang by Jill Furmanovsky 1992 & Joe Orton by Lewis Morley 1965 all courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Rotherhithe Picture Research Library

One of the many pleasures offered by London is that of discovering quirky places no one seem to know about and seemingly held in some quaint timewarp.

The Sands Films Studios in Rotherhithe are just one such place. Housed in some unprepossessing Grade II listed former granary, Sands Films Studios were founded in the 1970's and offer film production facilities as you may expect but also a cinema club (free) and a renowned costume-making workshop.

You will have seen their creations in such films as Little Dorrit (1988), Vanity Fair (2004), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Pride and Prejudice (2005) or Fingersmith (2005) and many others.

The quaintest and most interesting part of the complex however is without a doubt the adjacent Picture Research Library.

Library 2

Neatly tucked on the ground floor of the oldest part of the building, its ceiling supported by 18th century reclaimed ships' timbers, imagine a giant scrapbook of thousands of images, photographs and other magazine clippings brought together in a serendipitously haphazard way and covering subjects as varied and far apart as advertising and packaging to costumes, via domestic utensils, nature, transport or war.

Add to that a collection about local history and you may get a picture (!) of this visual cornucopia used by researchers, stage and fashion designers as well as local school kids.

The staff there (probably volunteers for the most part) is incredibly friendly, welcoming and passionate, and, although what looks a caf in actually a staff canteen, Neil, a propah cockney (although his mum is apparently from Norwich) who seems to be the manager there, will probably let you have a bite if you ask nicely and will later come and sit with you with a nice cuppa and have a good old chinwag.

Library 3 Files 2

Neil assures us that the best time for a visit is on Tuesdays, when Olivier, the enthusiast in charge, is at hand and able to guide you through his treasures.

Whether it is a Tuesday or not however, if you find yourself near Rotherhithe, do drop by and have a look at this hidden London gem.

The library is open every week days from 10.30 till 4.00. Access is free.
for more information visit:

More pictures are available on my flickr account here.

An edited version of this article has appeared on Londonist here.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Splat the Dog!

Splat the Dog!

This picture was used by Londonist to illustrate an article about "dog crimes" in Camden Town.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Sue Sanders

Sue Sanders

A cropped version of this picture was used to illustrate several articles about the event is depicts (Sue Sanders receiving an award for her work from the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) on 10 July 2009). First on the LGBT History Month blog here and then in PinkNews here.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Catholic Inconsistencies over Epidemics

Last month the Diocese of Plymouth (southern England) sent out letters to its priests advising them to stop offering wine at communion in a bid to help fight the swine flu epidemic.

The Plymouth Diocese has 93 parishes stretching from Penzance and the Isles of Scilly in the west to parts of Bournemouth in the Dorset.

The step was apparently taken in response to the World Health Organisation upgrading the seriousness of the epidemic risk. According to the BBC, at the time, there were no cases of the flu in the area covered by the Diocese and only 18 cases have been diagnosed since then (source).

This morning, the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that, at present, swine flu appears to be less severe than previous pandemics and "broadly similar" to seasonal flu - which kills between 5,000 and 7,000 each year. There have so far been 17 swine flu-related deaths in the UK.

All information both at the time of the Diocese's letter and now points towards a need for calm. There appears to be no need to panic.

In the meantime the Catholic Church seems to be much less in a hurry to do something about another pandemic which has proved its ferociousness over the past two decades.

The Vatican's official policy, despite every evidence and in total negation of human nature which it prides itself of knowing so well, is to forbid the use of condoms, which could help fight AIDS. Further than that, they have even claimed (again, despite all evidence) that condoms do not work against HIV.

Because of its limited scope (Catholic church goers in the South West), the Diocese of Plymouth's initiative will have very little impact on the swine flu epidemic. However, a change of the policy which to be fair several Catholic bishops seem to be ignoring, from the Vatican would go a long way..

It doesn't even have to be a full endorsement of the use of condom. The Church could easily stick to its dogma of abstinence as the best way to fight the epidemic. It could simply repeat its message and include the caveat that if people can really not stop themselves from having sex outside of marriage, then they should use a condom.

This would not in any way undermine the doctrine but would show a much deeper and compassionate knowledge of the human psyche and would help the Catholic Church stop probably being indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundred of thousand of people, mostly in Africa.

Unlike with the Plymouth story, we are however talking about sex and sexual morality here which is and has always been one of the main tools used by the church to assert its power over people. A change of tone and a show of responsibility by the Vatican is therefore sadly less than likely.

With thanks to @RichieInLondon for the tip off.
This article was published in PinkNews on 15 July 2009.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Selfridges and CK don't get Pride

This year, like last year, I spent the parade at Pride on the open top of a bus. As it passed in front of Selfridges on Oxford Street, a friend remarked that, unlike last year where they had some half-naked guy or other handing out stuff, nothing seemed to be happening there to mark Pride. We didn't think about it much at the time.

When I got home however and started checking out the pictures of Pride uploaded to Flickr (here), I quickly found out the reason for this change.

Selfridges had teamed up with Calvin Klein to hire a bunch of skimpily-clad models to take part in the parade itself, carrying a banner and handing out flyers, as can be seen in the picture above (courtesy of RealMen).

Selfridges and CK are obviously not the first non-gay commercial organisations to take part in Pride (British Airways or BT come to mind). And it is obviously a great thing that parts of the wider community should want to reach out and support the LGBT community. That they should decide that, contrary to a still fairly widely held belief, this visible support will not have adverse consequences for them and their business.

These organisations should indeed by praised for their progressive thinking but ,generally, those companies are represented by members of their LGBT staff network. They are not, as Selfridges was all too clearly doing on Saturday, engaging in clumsy and crass commercial opportunism.

Whoever in Selfridges' marketing department had the idea of this stunt clearly has no clue of what Pride is about. At a time when so many think it is not political enough, it should certainly not be used as an opportunity to sell your stuff and try and profit on the mythical pink pound.

Pride, and this should be all the more obvious on the year marking the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, is an affirmation. A declaration to the world that the LGBT community is alive and well and not ready to be kept in a closet. Pride is, and should remain, first and foremost a protest.

The vacuous theme of "come out and play" chosen this year by the organisers, certainly couldn't have helped to rectify our hapless marketeer's erroneous perceptions.

Furthermore, using a group of half-naked, muscly, tanned and waxed pretty-boys (most of whom are probably not even gay), seems to me to be incredibly patronising and subtly insulting coming from a organisation that is not actually part of the community.

It seems to say that the LGBT community is very shallow indeed, that its attention can only be attracted by appealing to its basest instincts. This is, at the very least, an easy, cheap and unoriginal way to proceed, not to mention that many people in the community are not actually attracted by the "body beautiful". Even I, who is rather partial to this sort of physique found this bunch strangely unattractive.

And, of course, this stunt also completely negates the existence of lesbians!

This sort of unfortunate, inconsiderate, tokenistic and ultimately prejudiced way of trying to engage with any community (gay, black, older, disabled, ...) can be more damaging than anything else to a brand.

My suggestion to Selfridges and CK for next year is to save their money in hiring all those models and to instead send a group of their LGBT staff. Thus showing that they truly value diversity and don't only see it as a marketing gimmick.

Better still, they could team up with community groups or small charities, sponsor their float and support their actions beyond this involvement for Pride.

This goes, of course for any other non-gay business thinking about join in the fun.

On the night of the march, I sent Selfridges a tweet to that effect. Sadly noone deemed it worth a reply. Today, I sent a reminder, asking for a reply. Let's see what happens.

This article appeared in PinkNews on 7 July 2009

Update - 08/07/09:
Selfridges have tweeted back (here):
Dear @zefrog Thank you for your thoughts and feedback. We'll bear it all in mind for future Pride events. See you soon in Selfridges!
Not exactly overwhelming but let's hope they do think about it...

Sunday, 5 July 2009


Today marks nine years since I moved to London. How time flies!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Like a Sore Thumb

last week I was waiting for someone at a corner on Old Compton Street when I was approached by a young man and took my picture.

Before your overworked imaginations start going on overdrive, I must add that he was a "journalist" working for Boyz magazine (one of the free scene rags in London).

He explained that the National Portrait Gallery was about to have a new exhibition (now open) called Gay Icons, gathering 60 pictures showing what 10 prominent member of the LGBT community view as their icons.

Boys was doing a voxpop to see who people would nominate. It seems that the editor of Boyz felt that the icons featured in the exhibition were not quite current enough.

And so I was asked to nominate my own gay icon and to say why. Well, Boyz, the results are in and as usual I stick out like a sort thumb. A look at the scan of the incriminating page of Boyz No 931, below, should be ample proof.

Pride London 2009


And that's another one done! My (not very good) pics of the event can be found on flickr here. The flickr photo pool for Pride 09 is here.

One of my pics was used by Londonist (along with a selected few) to illustrate the event. View it here.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Pride is a Protest

Pride is a Protest

My newly-finished placard to take on the opentop bus of the Southwark LGBT Network at Pride London on Saturday.