Tag Archives: London

Pride London 2009

I can still remember my first Pride in 1994. Stonewall‘s Michael Cashman said ‘we are everywhere’ – I’d never been so inspired in my life. Nowadays Pride is only faintly political, although there were political interests on display in the parade – largely basing themselves on Stonewall’s campaign against homophobic bullying in schools – but we really did show we were everywhere. Gay Christians, Muslims, Hindus, soldiers, nurses, teachers, you name it – being gay was very clearly mainstream in ways it wasn’t in 1994.

I have my own reservations about the event being apolitical, much of which I’ll explore in my next post, but Tom suggested a very good point about it yesterday: that isn’t the way forward anymore. The haters really aren’t going to be swayed by Pride marches or gay visibility – not the true ones anyway. That’s down to better policing and better community organising, and of course the more the police for example are integrated into gay community events like Pride the better. So the awful standard of stewarding ultimately didn’t matter that much – it was not just a party but a great event, further mainstreaming gay visibility in areas of public life previously unthinkable. The usual Christianist haters were there, but barely noticeable this time, and clearly ever more out of step with the public mood. Being out is a good thing.

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London Iranian Embassy Protest (14/6/09)

Police and the G20

A man died last night during the G20 protests in central London as a day that began peacefully ended with police saying bottles were thrown at police medics trying to help him.

The man had collapsed within a police cordon set up to contain the crowds who had assembled in central London and the City to protest over the G20 summit. There were 63 arrests on the day.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission was being notified last night. Scotland Yard said the alarm had been raised by a member of the public who spoke to a police officer on a cordon at the junction of Birchin Lane and Cornhill in the City.

He sent two medics through the cordon line and into nearby St Michael’s Alley where they found a man who had stopped breathing. They called for ambulance support at about 7.30pm and moved him back behind the cordon where they gave him cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

“The officers took the decision to move him as during this time a number of missiles – believed to be bottles – were being thrown at them”, said a police statement. The ambulance service took the man to hospital where he died.

(source)

George Monbiot reports:

The way officers tooled themselves up in riot gear and waded into a peaceful crowd this afternoon makes it look almost as if they were trying to ensure that their predictions came true. Their bosses appear to have failed either to read or to heed the report by the parliamentary committee on human rights last week, about the misuse of police powers against protesters. “Whilst we recognise police officers should not be placed at risk of serious injury,” the report said, “the deployment of riot police can unnecessarily raise the temperature at protests.”

G20 Riots? Get A Grip!

There remains a lot of chatter online about the prospect of riots this week during the G20 summit in London. And I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. We have the case of a university professor who’s suspended from his job for reacting to the police’s own threat of violence. This includes the threat of using Tasers:

The centrepiece of the security plan will be hundreds of officers from the Metropolitan police territorial support group, who are routinely armed with speedcuffs, extended batons and CS gas spray.

The Met confirmed yesterday that they will be supported by officers equipped with Tasers on stand-by should trouble break out.

“There will be an armed response vehicle element to this operation and [those officers] will be carrying Tasers,” said a spokeswoman.

Hang on. TSG officers, encouraged to use weapons? Look what TSG officers actually do when they’re wound up. So far I see a police force, increasingly behaving like a law unto itself, threatening extreme violence on protesters. I see freedom of speech curbed through a hysterical overreaction to a man whose job is to encourage students to think for themselves and to challenge the status quo. I also see a media giddy at the prospect of violence on the streets:

The majority of protest groups have promised to demonstrate peacefully, but there are fears anarchist and hardcore anti-capitalists from Britain and abroad will try to fight police in pitched battles reminiscent of the anarchist riots of the late 1990s which caused millions of pounds of damage.

Senior officers at Scotland Yard say they are aware of several groups which plan to converge on the City of London financial district to cause blockades, and attempt to get inside major banks including the Bank of England.

One organiser is believed to be a senior lecturer at the University of East London. Some groups are said to be considering filling roads with sand and then sending children to play in it, making it impossible for police officers to forcibly remove them.

(The Independent)

The evidence for ‘pitched battles’ comes from where exactly? And may I remind you of the way in which ‘anti-capitalists from Britain and abroad’ fought police in Genoa in 2001? The violent bastards!

The April protest has captured the imagination of anarchists. Some are plotting further demonstrations against the G20 on the day of the summit on 2 April.

One protester said the example of Athens, where young Greeks have been rioting for several months since police shot dead a teenager, could provide further inspiration.

An anarchist wrote in an online ‘blog’: ‘The combination of the recession, the inspiration of the Greek anarchists and the G20 summit being in london on 2 April gives us the opportunity to mobilise far larger than usual numbers on to the streets… Seize the time.’

(Daily (Hate) Mail)

Well let’s look at the example of Athens. First off I fail to see the link between people rioting because of the police murdering a teenager and the G20 summit. It’s hardly as if Britons riot when the police do commit murder – I doubt most people care about Jean Charles de Menezes, whose name is never invoked at any protests. And look how the police responded to the protests which did happen in response to the police murdering that boy in Greece. Chilling. Can someone substantiate the likelihood of ‘riots’ when all I see is police threats and a history of violent repression of lawful protest?

God Hates Fags…in London!

Interesting timing for Fred Phelps’ bunch of loonies to be trying a second time to export their particular brand of abuse to the UK:

Preachers from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church have said they plan to picket a London primary school which ran lessons about gay relationships.

The fundamentalist Phelps family, best known for their chants of ‘God Hates Fags’ became notorious after a Louis Theroux BBC documentary about them.

They picket the funerals of US soldiers, claiming that the military are servants of a government that permits homosexuality.

A picket schedule on their website announces they will be at the George Tomlinson School in Leytonstone next Friday at 2pm.

Around 30 parents took their children out of the school in February to protest over a week of special lessons to commemorate LGBT History Month.

The group states: “God hates the UK and the Tomlinson School fag tyranny, where conscientious parents face religious persecution for withdrawing their children on lying fag so-called history.

“This is yet another warning to the UK to repent of their manifold sins of the flesh, or perish.”

Lunacy, sheer lunacy, and there isn’t a rational argument to be had with the truly insane. As queasy as I am about people being banned from this country merely for thinking unpalatable thoughts, let’s hope the Home Office at least remains consistent with the Phelps clan (not so easy, considering how many of them there are) and stops them from entering Britain in the first place. But where do you draw the line with free speech? Rowan Atkinson would have you believe there needn’t be one as far as the law goes:

Comedian Rowan Atkinson has criticised hate speech legislation, saying that the House of Lords must vote against a government attempt to remove a free speech clause in a homophobic hatred offence.

The Blackadder actor, addressing a meeting of Lords on Tuesday, warned of creating a culture of “censoriousness” by removing free speech.

He said: “Do I think that I would risk prosecution because of jokes or drama about sexual orientation with which I might be involved if we don’t have the free speech clause?

“Not really – but I dread something almost as bad – a culture of censoriousness, a questioning, negative and leaden attitude that is encouraged by legislation of this nature but is considerably and meaningfully alleviated by the free speech clause.”

“I do not believe that legislation of such a censorious nature as that of hate speech, carrying as it does the risk of a seven-year jail sentence for saying the wrong thing in the wrong way, can ever by justified merely by the desire to ‘send the right message’.”

He cited Christian groups as being “particularly concerned” the law will be used against them, adding that “heavy-handed police intervention” had been used before in instances of groups condemning gays and lesbians.

I think his position has one key strength and one key weakness. The weakness is in the final sentence – there hasn’t been ‘heavy-handed’ police action against homophobic Christians – far from it. He goes on to say that free speech should be restricted when people attack qualities in another which are intrinsic – attacking someone for the colour of their skin is ridiculous and should be inhibited, when religion is merely a chosen belief. Well sexual orientation is intrinsic – should incitement to homophobic hatred then not be legislated against?

Except the strong point he makes is very strong. New Labour likes to legislate compulsively to enable what it likes and prevent what it doesn’t, which sends out the message that communities are not able to make these decisions for themselves. Issues such as these didn’t used to be codified, nor did they need to be to be understood to be wrong. The government shouldn’t always interfere in how communities come to manage bad behaviour, because it robs them of the ability to self-manage. It’s a problem which is adding to the atomisation of society and is neutering our culture. What to do then with the Phelps clan? Waltham Forest Council says:

“Waltham Forest council wants to promote tolerance in our schools by teaching children everyone in our society is of equal value. This is a core part of the national curriculum for all schools in the country.

“We are supporting teachers and schools in taking positive and innovative steps to develop children’s ability to respect people’s differences.”

So we essentially have a clash between diversity and free speech. The question is then whether the restriction of free speech is successful in promoting diversity, or if Atkinson is right and ends up doing the opposite. He himself says:

“The freedom to criticise ideas, any ideas – even if they are sincerely held beliefs – is one of the fundamental freedoms of society.”

Indeed, and it should be, but criticising someone (be it an individual or a group) for who they are is manifestly wrong. Whatever legislation gets passed must be written in such a way as to allow police and courts discretion in deciding what is hate speech and what is not. Comedy and satire for example are obviously not the same thing as incitement to hatred, and legislation should make this clear. Atkinson should for instance be allowed to make gay jokes – to lampoon, to satirise, but the moment he crosses the line Iris Robinson flouted last year (and why on earth is she not facing charges for it?) and incites hatred he should be stopped. As should the Phelps’.

Metropolitan Police Continue Harassment of Journalists

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Whatever else they’d like you to think, the Metropolitan Police are still continuing to abuse and harass accredited journalists. This incident was filmed outside the Greek Embassy on the 8th December, when the media was covering a demonstration at the Greek Embassy, in response to ongoing demonstrations and unrest in that country. The officer in question clearly assaults photographer Marc Vallée, and tries to prevent cameraman Jason Parkinson from filming his interference in Vallée’s entirely lawful, professional conduct.

Since the filming the Met have apologised and said:

“The officer featured in this clip will be investigated regarding his conduct with a member of the media,” a spokesman from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) said, in a statement seen by Journalism.co.uk.

Who thinks anything’ll come from the ‘investigation’? The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) reminds us:

“Even where a protest is itself illegal, the media have a right to report on events and the police should not be taking action with the intention of obstructing journalists in their work,” he added.

Theatre Review: Blowing Whistles

Nigel is 37, Jamie is 32. They’ve been together for ten years and are passing themselves off as 30 and 27 on Gaydar for the odd threesome. They mutually agreed to play together, with a whole rulebook and everything to protect their relationship, but when they hit their tenth anniversary Nigel invites a 17 year old he found on Gaydar to share their bed. The boy is indifferent to their rulebook and exposes and exploits not just the huge chasm which has grown between the two men, but the sham which their ‘rulebook’ has become. Jamie had bought into the agreement to open their relationship up, but realises through the intrusion of Mark into the relationship that his needs have changed. What to do with a 10 year relationship? To compromise, change or leave?

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It’s a very knowing comedy – a gay social commentary for the 21st century, with a biting insight into issues affecting all relationships, not just gay ones. Nigel tries to recapture his youth by having sex with one, fooling himself all the while that in the Gaydar age of sexual deregulation he can have unrestricted sex without consequences. Most telling though is the ‘rulebook’ the couple has, and Mark’s indifference to it – in an era where we judge other gay men by their profiles and their potential sexual usefulness to us, is it ever credible to ignore or fair to avoid feelings or their implications? The play suggests that the couple’s use of ‘cumboy17’ is ultimately misguided – the hunt for sex is so universal and presented as the solution to all needs, that real and more pressing needs like friendship, companionship, support and guidance are getting lost.

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Paul Keating is downright fantastic as Jamie, caught between twin desires of a long-term love whose desire for him has waned, and a new lover, who validates him in all the ways he’s lost, but without the stability Jamie needs. I saw the actor last in ‘Closer to Heaven’ seven years ago, and he’s equally as good here, making compelling viewing as a nice guy caught up in an impossible situation, partly of his own making. It would be easy but wrong to overlook Stuart Laing as Nigel, pompous yet equally vulnerable, unaware of the mistakes he’s making whilst trying to satisfy his desires, and of the gulf his belief in ‘consequence-free’ play is creating. Daniel Finn is an excellent foil for them both; jaw droppingly beautiful (particularly when full-frontal naked), yet equally vulnerable, and all-too-familiarly manipulative. His balanced portrayal of ‘cumboy17’ is part of what makes this staging such a success.

That such characters and such a volatile scenario should be so funny – this is a comedy – is testament to Matthew Todd’s razor-sharp script and insightful direction by Pete Nettell. I would, as other reviewers have remarked, preferred more focus on all the issues driving the protagonists – particularly Nigel’s difficulty in accepting his aging – but they’re all well-identified and the actors are clearly aware of them. I laughed, I very nearly cried, and as with the first gay play I saw – ‘Beautiful Thing’ – learned not just a great deal about where I was in my gay world, but much about where I needed to be, seeing far too much of myself in all three characters. Far too much of Nigel and Jamie’s relationship was my relationship, albeit divided haphazardly between both characters. Gaydar and sexual freedom – the means of our liberation or the means of our self-destruction? It’s a cautionary tale, which draws you in to laugh at its familiarity, before clobbering you over the head with the complex reality.