Vilification? Vindication?

27 October 2009

A couple of things have been causing a fuss this last week, there’s been a lot of fuss about the BNP’s appearance on Question Time and ongoing debate about Jan Moir’s article in particular.

Earlier this week I was convinced that Question Time was the wrong format if you thought it was going to show the BNP up. Well, was I wrong? I think it’s fair to say that the normal Question Time format was abandoned. People agreed it was a five against one kicking of Nick Griffin with Dimbleby and the four panelists directing their views very clearly. Even Griffin agrees. The questions chosen were challenging Griffin – there was nothing on the Postal Strike, for example, which would have clearly appeared at any normal Question Time. I’d agree that a low key grilling on Newsnight would have been better and less sensational. People, though, seemed to agree he performed badly, even his adjacent pannelist said he was creepy.

Which, incidentally, is what Griffin called gay people. Or at least, he said most people (particularly christians) find the sight of two grown men kissing “…really creepy”. Now this was in response to a question about whether the Daily Mail should have printed Jan Moir’s article (which I have posted about here and here). Moir, of course, ‘clarified’ her story on Friday. Apparently. Not only did she only actually apologise to Gately’s family for the timing of what she wrote, not the content, there are many people who think she’s trying to rewrite history, not clarify what she meant.

And when she says her “observation that there was a ‘happy ever after myth’ surrounding such unions was that they can be just as problematic as heterosexual marriages” I’d have to question who actually promulgated this myth about civil partnerships all ending happily ever after? As a Twitter follower of mine said “No-one. The myth itself is a myth”.

So what of these two stories? There’s something as worrying about the acceptance of public pronouncement of such views – whether they’re racist or homophobic – as there would be if they were silenced. The debate about whether the BBC or Daily Mail should have allowed publicising of such views is as worrying as the fact that they did. Because there’s freedom of the press, but there’s also a need to think about the way you say things. Whether it’s the way you question a BNP member on TV, or the way you express uncertainties about a death, there’s a responsibility. I’ve already posted on the implications of publicising ‘hate’ – the increase in homophobic attacks and hate crimes and implication of acceptibility by what people write, or the BNP appearance on Question time being “the trigger that turns into an attack”. And sometimes maybe you have to question whether it’s actually the right thing to do, to use the right you have. Or whether, for the benefit of your business, your medium, the public at large (people have been vocal in saying the BBC should take it’s share of blame for any increase in racist attacks, and there’s been concern that BNP membership will increase), you should think twice about whether you use the right you have to say what you want. Or whether you should think twice before you make a decision – whether you think about the implications before you say it. Because the responsibility is in your hands. Will your actions be vilification or vindication for people’s actions? And, frankly, is it really worth it?


A comment on hate crimes

21 October 2009

Last week I posted about about an Daily Mail comment piece by Jan Moir with an undercurrent of homophobia and thoughtless premise. This week the BBC are reporting that homophobic crime in London has risen by nearly a fifth, according to the latest figures on incidents reported to the Metropolitan Police.

The article says that while it’s believed that more people are reporting homophobic crime that’s most probably not the only reason for the increase. The increase is real. And it’s happening. “I don’t know why it’s happening but homophobic crime is definitely increasing,” says Kate, manager of gay pub George and Dragon in Hackney Road – reports the BBC. Just last week Ian Baynham died after a homophobic attack in front of many people in Trafalgar Square, right in the heart of London. Patrick Strudwick, writing on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free pages today also argues that the increase in hate crime is real, and not just a product of greater degree of reporting and measure of Police success.

It’s not that long ago that David Morely was killed on London’s South Bank and just ten years since the Soho pub bombing.

It’s important not to be complacent about hate crimes and homophobia. Jan Moir’s article and dismissal of gay relationships, and the others that still appear, does nothing but continue to undercurrent of homophobia – it does nothing to fight hate crimes and arguably fosters them. Hate Crimes need to be fought against and clearly unacceptable. People who take a laissez-faire attitude to homophobia need to consider what impact this can have on people who feel that hate crimes are justified, are OK.


Oh well, that’s alright then

19 October 2008

Since my last post, Homophobia, the City, the Church and why it’s wrong, I saw that Reverend Peter Mullen published a column saying “Why I was wrong”. He says

“I much regret making some off-colour jokes about homosexuals on my website and I have offered a full public apology. I made those remarks and they are the responsibility of no one but myself. I repeat, I’m sorry I wrote what I did.”

I’m pleased to hear he apologises for his remarks – saying “Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS. In addition the obscene “gay pride” parades and carnivals should be banned for they give rise to passive corruption, comparable to passive smoking”, and “There ought to be teaching films shown in sex education classes in all our schools. These would portray acts of sodomy and the soundtrack would reinforce the message that it is a filthy practice”.

Of course – in his apology – he goes on to say he supported the decriminalisation of homosexuality, but that gay people should stop there. He implies his main point is about Gay Pride similar parades (although it only appear to be ‘in addition’ in his original comments). He says that he opposes “the corrupting influence of the promotional parades of homosexuality by such as Gay Pride demonstrations”.

The Reverend is making the same snide assertions that are damaging as Section 28 did in the 1980s. He implies that homosexuality is promoted (as if people will become gay through watching and enjoying a pride parade) and thereby implies gay people should not be allowed to seek equality. He ignores the destructive way that being made to be, not just feel like, an outsider is damaging.

The Reverend himself talks about the suicide of Shaun Dykes in an earlier column, but ignores the fact that comments like those he makes can have a damaging effect, as I very clearly set out in my last column:

This is one week after Shaun Dykes, a gay teenager in Derby, was goaded and jeered by a crowd – filming him on mobile phones and shouting “jump you [followed by a stream of expletives]” – into killing himself (a story which made very little press) and another similar suicide in Manchester. It is also the same week as a United Nations committee has called on the UK to take “urgent measures” to fight intolerance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans young people.

Thank you, Reverend, for your apology but – whether you meant it or not – you should know better and realise what damage you do. As I said last time, your comments are nothing but damaging.


Homophobia, the City, the Church and why it’s wrong

10 October 2008

It’s ironic that, in the midst of a Credit Crunch – at least partially caused by loose-lipped City bankers talking down stocks – a loose lipped City cleric can cause damage of a different kind. The Rev. Peter Mullen, chaplain to London’s Stock Exchange, said:

Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS. In addition the obscene “gay pride” parades and carnivals should be banned for they give rise to passive corruption, comparable to passive smoking.

I’m not sure what I can say about this. Apparently a “joke“, the reverend used the immortal line some of my best friends are gay – or at least the slightly more caged “many of my dear friends have been and are of that persuasion” (note the have been). Like our Tory friend, but in a rather different way, he is wrong on so many levels.

Google’s cache of his blog shows us he believes that “We disapprove of homosexuality because it is clearly unnatural, a perversion and corruption of natural instincts and affections, and because it is a cause of fatal disease”. He is right that some sexual behaviours are riskier than others. But HIV is not a gay disease. Of course he doesn’t let that get in the way of promoting modern day branding torture for gay man.

It’s also ironic he is chaplain to the London Stock Exchange. As I have previously posted the number of prospective City employees open about their sexuality has plummeted recently.

Disturbingly, the Reverend suggests that:

There ought to be teaching films shown in sex education classes in all our schools. These would portray acts of sodomy and the soundtrack would reinforce the message that it is a filthy practice ending with the admonition: “We do, after all, know the importance of washing our hands after going to the lavatory.”

This is one week after Shaun Dykes, a gay teenager in Derby, was goaded and jeered by a crowd – filming him on mobile phones and shouting “jump you [followed by a stream of expletives]” – into killing himself (a story which made very little press) and another similar suicide in Manchester. It is also the same week as a United Nations committee has called on the UK to take “urgent measures” to fight intolerance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans young people.

Rev. Peter Millen’s comments are nothing but damaging. Whatever his opinions – I’m not going to delve into debates about the bible and homosexuality – he has a responsibility not to make sick ‘jokes’ which add to the latent homophobia that still needs to be tackled in this country.


Matthew Mitcham and Out Sports

27 August 2008

Following my earlier post about Matthew Mitcham, the only openly gay male in the Beijing Olympics, he won, much to my delight, Gold in a suitably impressive way. I knew little about diving until two weeks ago when the media-overhyped and pressurised British 14 year old was diving. But as time went on my interest grew, for obvious reasons, and because I realised what a technical and impressive sport it is. Matthew Mitcham’s incredible last dive was unprecedentedly impressive, according the the BBC commentary (although their follow-up news articles focused much more on the Tom Daley’s seventh position) – not bad to be seventh in the world though eh?)

In my mind, and responding to some of the comments on my last post, Matthew Mitcham’s sexuality shouldn’t matter in his sport (unlike sexuality in diving did ten years ago). But what having an out gay man at the Olympics does – especially one that wins gold – is it empowers others. It’s not just high profile life which benefits from such openness. It gives hope to the other gay boys at school, for example, who feel like their sexuality’s a barrier to them playing sport.

Only ten of this years Olympians were openly gay, yet it’s likely many more were open about their sexuality to other athletes. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if other gay athletes from countries where opinions on sexuality are more liberated could come out and inspire those who may not feel able to do so. What better means than through an international event where performance matters more than who you’re attracted to?

Matthew Mitcham shouldn’t be known as ‘that gay diver’. He says…

“I just want to be known as the Australian diver who did really well at the Olympics… It’s everyone else who thinks it’s special when homosexuality and elite sport go together”.

…but he should be known as an incredible diver, and someone whose bravery and athletic performance inspire others – regardless of sexuality.

Interestingly, this comes at a time when the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Cup is on in London. Although this is unlikely to be seen as ‘elite sport’, the tournament has great aims behind it:

We are dedicated to providing a world class event which will show that London can provide a safe and welcoming environment, which pushes the boundaries of tolerance and acceptance and which encourages gay men and women to promote themselves in a positive and healthy manner.

We firmly believe that football should be enjoyable for all, free from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and accessible to people of all backgrounds and all sporting abilities.

So congratulations to Matthew Mitcham, and the IGLFA, for helping to remind us that whatever our sexual preferences we can play sport. It’s an inspiration to me that sport – something which, for many, is a euphemism for the closet can be inclusive. In a world where homophobia’s not dead and buried, where, in the papers today, prospective City employees, for example, feel unable to their sexuality, it’s good to know there are role models and people to look up to even whether or not sport’s your game…

…which reminds me, I should really go to the gym…


Olympians Out in China

14 August 2008

It was with interest, and by accident, this morning I stumbled upon Matthew Mitcham. Not literally, but by noticing a number of facebook friends had become ‘fans’ of his. It wasn’t until I started looking into it I realised that it’s not just because he’s a good looking diver, like the others I’ve mentioned. He’s also gay and came out publicly in Australia this year.

Interesting reading how struggling with issues in his life has made him stronger. The Sydney Morning Herald said:

Mitcham thinks he would not be going to the Olympics if not for the hardship he endured.

He said: “I probably wouldn’t have as much of a fighting spirit. The more you have experienced, the more you have to draw off. I look at the last 20 years as a long, winding path of lessons and some hardship. I hope the rest of my life isn’t straight because that could be boring. I hope it continues to wind, but maybe not so tumultuous. I hope I do have a long and winding path and more lessons to learn. I look forward to that.”

He’s not the only gay olympian this year. It’s good to see out athletes who can compete alongside other athletes at the games. It’s great for sport, and it’s great for gay people growing up who may feel alienated, as I did, from sport.

And surely, it can’t be a bad thing for China where gay people in some ways feel the same in society as gay people around the world in sport can: that you have to hide who you are.

One of China’s gay campaigners says: “Many Chinese gays – burdened with ignorance, discrimination and fear – are unable to comprehend their homosexual yearnings and close themselves off from society, tormented by self-hate. After the age of 30, more than 90 percent of gays get married – because social pressure makes them believe they have no choice”. Intimidated by society and the police gay people in china tend to live secret lives. (more)

How great it is for gay olympians to be competing in China. It’s a wonderful way to show China and the world that gay people can be part of a diverse group of people. I wish them good luck and hope that young gay people all around the world realise that they can achieve what they want to and that sexuality should not be a barrier.


Biggotry tastes better when smothered in mayonaise

25 June 2008

In update to yesterday’s post on the Heinz advertising complaints I am becoming more convinced that I should be angered by the decision to pull it off air.

And I am, and have signed this petition. I was number 1,737 to sign. I guess that beats the 200 or so original complaints.

Two comment pieces sum up nicely:

Pushing the boundary:

What makes this all even more bizarre is that if you watch the advert, it’s pretty clear that this advert is no more about an actual same-sex relationship than the Bounty kitchen paper ads are about accurately portraying a pair of cohabiting pre-op transsexuals.

If you’re looking for things to get upset by in this ad, how about the casually sexist stereotyping inherent in wheeling out the cliché of ‘mum’ preparing meals for kids, nagging them and so forth, and ‘dad’ going out to work? Or the fact that a product banned from kids’ TV due to its unhealthiness is prominently advertised being given to kids for lunch.

And a Zoe Williams:

Why don’t lefties complain more? First, we assume watchdog bodies such as the ASA will be on the side of a very old-fashioned respectability, despite all evidence that mainstream culture is more evolved than that. Second, we are lazy bleeders. When an ad featuring men kissing is one of the most complained about, that matters: not as a reflection on the nation’s scattered homophobes breathing their last gasp, but as a sign that the rest of us don’t complain anything like enough.

How can removal be justified on such narrow grounds for complaint? Is the ‘peck’ any different to the husban kissing a large jamacan woman on an advert for jerk seasoning? Would that result in a racist response? Would parents have to explain mixed-race marriages to their kids? The decision of Heinz proves them to believe homophbia is one of the last remaining areas where discrimination is acceptable.

So sign up to the petition now!

Oh and PS, it may be more expensive but Sainsbury’s organic mayo tastes far better and is made from organic free range eggs, unlike heinz.


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