Tag Archives: Stonewall

Anti-Gay Theist Marches Into Counselling!

It may seem hard to believe – it sure is for me, having spent some time in the 90s training as a counsellor, but a Christian counsellor for Relate is suing his employers for requiring him to counsel gay people:

Gary McFarlane says the publicly-funded national counselling service failed to accommodate his faith or allow him to try to overcome his reservations.

Mr McFarlane worked for Relate in Avon and is also a solicitor and a part-time tutor on relationships at Trinity Theological College in Bristol.

He said that he has “overcome” his prejudices against same-sex couples since he began working as a Relate counsellor in 2003, but now that he is training to be a psychosexual therapist, he feels he cannot deal with gay and lesbian people.

Fortunately though he was suspended and then sacked. And now he’s decided that his employers have discriminated against him by ‘failing to accommodate his faith’. Excuse me? Did he not have a job description since the start (which applied equally to everyone else) requiring him not to discriminate in the provision of the (public) service? Is Relate not bound by the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation Regulations) 2007 to provide a service free from anti-gay discrimination? Why should he get special dispensation? Oh yes, he’s a theist. Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall said:

“It does seem extraordinary that someone who is involved in providing a mediation service should say he cannot do it becase he has unmovable views.

“Given that Relate, since the time he joined it, has always worked with gay couples, he does not even have the Lillian Ladele defence that it crept up on him.

“Relate receive public money and it is perfectly right that they should provide a service equally to the members of the general public who pay their wages.”

I couldn’t put it better myself. But for those of you who aren’t sure though if McFarlane is just a well-meaning Christian, bullied by militant gay secularists (the subject of my next post), here’s a clue:

“If I was a Muslim this would not happen,” he said. “They would find a way to make the system work. But Christians seem to have fewer and fewer rights. Relate needs to be forced to work through stuff like this.”

Christians don’t have ‘fewer and fewer rights’, unless of course you mean their right to discriminate freely against people they don’t like has been removed from them. If so that’s a good thing, and a service like Relate shouldn’t be used as a plaything for selfish theists who think the world should still revolve around them.

It’s an interesting new case, given Lilian Ladele’s counter-intuitive win (which will soon be appealed) against Islington Council in a similar scenario. Ladele’s win set a disturbing precedent, sending out the message that anti-religious discrimination legislation could be used to discriminate against gay people. For the sake of us all, this tribunal must prove that her case was an aberration.


The Murder of Michael Causer

On July 25th Michael ‘Mikey’ Causer was attacked at a party and then had his head literally beaten in in the street outside. He suffered terrible head injuries merely for being gay and on August 2nd he died of them. Of course the mainstream media has barely noticed – after all it’s safe and easy being gay these days. We have gay marriage in all but name, we have gay equality legislation covering the provision of goods and services, gay adoption, in short near-full equality before the law, so this must just be an exception, right? Pride marches in London have become mere spectacles for straight tourists, and marketing opportunities rather than political statements that we are defiantly gay, reminding those who still hate us that we are everywhere, that we look like them, work with them and are related to them. Yet in a neighbourhood famous for the murder of Anthony Walker, also different from the local white, straight, working class norm, Mikey was 18 and gay, out and proud of it. Iris Robinson would have seen him as an abomination and offered him therapy, yet surely the only abominations here were homophobia and murder?

And where does such hatred come from? Well these people may offer a clue:

Lord Tebbit, a leading right winger in the 1980s who has been an outspoken opponent of equality, told the Daily Mail:

“Every statistic shows that children grow up more likely to do well in school, stay out of trouble, and have a happier life if they have both a male and female role model.

“Too often we look at these things from the point of view of the adult rather than the child. I think that adoption by homosexual couples is unsatisfactory for the child.

“What homosexual people choose to do under their duvets is up to them, but the example they set to children is of interest to society as a whole.”

Homophobe Norman Tebbit, once Margaret Thatcher’s right hand man, speaking perhaps with more coded hate, but still making it clear his belief that being gay is unacceptable and somehow (without showing how) dangerous for children to be exposed to. He’s wrong of course – every statistic and piece of research shows the exact opposite – that it’s the quality of the parenting, be it a heterosexual or gay couple or single person, which determines a child’s success. He may be as much a raving loon as ever, but (as he his acutely aware) he still speaks for many and legitimises their bigotry. Then there’s the Archbishop of Canterbury, resolutely punishing gay Christians for the homophobia of their fellows:

Rowan Williams said practices in certain US and Canadian dioceses were threatening the unity of the Anglican communion.

“If North American churches do not accept the need for a moratoria [on same sex blessings and the consecration of gay clergy] we are no further forward. We continue to be in grave peril,” he said.

Williams has tried to cover himself in recent days, by revealing that as an individual he remains extremely liberal, and indeed supportive of gay people and gay partnerships. Yet as Archbishop of Canterbury he’s now completely ignoring Bishop Gene Robinson and siding with gay haters like Archbishop Peter Akinola. Which position do you think sends out the louder message?

What about the Vatican?

Quoting from a key document on Anglican and Catholic relations he (Walter Cardinal Kasper) said: “Homosexuality is a disordered behaviour. The activity must be condemned; the traditional approach to homosexuality is comprehensive … A clear declaration about this theme must come from the Anglican Communion.”

It’s accepted by the mainstream of society that homosexuality is not a disordered behaviour. Every major psychological organisation has accepted this for decades now, and although politics in the West is a more recent convert, most Western politicians (many increasingly gay themselves) now agree too and are including gay people under the banner of diversity and equality. Yet as Gene Robinson said the other week, it is the Church which remains most effective at determining hearts and minds, and the Vatican desperately wants all Christians to believe that being gay makes you not quite human. Well that belief has consequences.

Not all politicians are supporters of the diversity agenda however, and there remain exceptions who consider their religion trumps their secular commitment to equality. Iris Robinson, MP & MLP, keen ‘defender’ of the faith, is stidently keen to make sure that we know that gay people are worse than murderers and child abusers. She too may come across as a complete loon to most, but in her position of responsibility (after all she’s an elected representative) she’s also representing and legitimising the beliefs of a significant minority. She hasn’t been removed as chair of Stormont’s Health Committee and hasn’t been censured by her boss (and husband) Peter, a failure which sends out a message at least the equal of hers.

Anti-gay hate doesn’t come from nowhere – it’s transmitted. Outrage! and the Queer Youth Network issued a joint press release, offering perhaps a deeper analysis of the origins of the hate which killed Michael (and Anthony):

“Anthony Walker and Michael Causer and their families were not only victims of Racism and Homophobia, they had their lives destroyed by something that is ravaging every aspect of our society. Sadly the events in Huyton over the past few days is proof that young people from our poorest, most marginalised sections of society are the victims regardless of the cause. It’s also to remember that the perpetrators themselves along with their families.”

“I understand there a number of high profile campaigns such as Stonewall’s much publicised ‘Education for All’ that receive a great deal of public and private sector funding as well as income generated from delivering training to tackle the issue of homophobic bullying, but are they working?” their impact is still limited to a handful schools and tend to be dominated by London based organisations and politicians who have jumped on the Homophobic Bullying ‘Bandwagon’ for their own gain.” (Pauline Ellis) concluded.

“I would like to see Sir Ian McKellen other high profile campaigners who opened people’s eyes to intolerance in the past such as Michael Cashman, Angela Eagle and Lord Waheed Ali to reach out to working class communities and talk to young people in the street.” “In the 1990’s they bravely fought against the biggest concern facing LGBT Youth at the time – Section 28, a threat written on paper. People began to think twice about attacking us. Today’s threat is written very clearly, in blood. Fighting violence carried out in the name of homophobia is now a matter of life or death.”

Whilst it would be a mistake to say that murderous homophobia and racism only breed in poor and deprived communities, there’s no denying that the area itself has terrible social problems, of which the Walker and Causer killings are a symptom.

It’s also a question I’ve wondered for some time – can a political lobbying organisation, already hugely successful in changing the law, succeed in changing attitudes as well? Stonewall has come across at a distance and up close, as a middle class organisation, staffed by professional middle class people, without a huge incentive (or ability) to reach out across the social classes and races. It was why Ian McKellen’s appearances with Bishop Gene Robinson a few weeks ago came across as so important – each framed their respective roles in an overall strategy for changing laws and minds (it was notably Robinson who could change minds). Well they too have to put their money where their mouth is and turn this nascent alliance into something which can bring about results.

The police have now added:

“Michael and those charged with the offences against him and those currently on bail were known to each other and had been together in a house in Biglands Drive, Huyton during the course of Thursday evening and Friday morning.

“The initial assault upon Michael took place within this house.

“The incident was reported to police and ambulance at 11am on Friday 25 July 2008 when Michael was admitted to Whiston Hospital with serious head injuries.

“Contrary to speculation, I can confirm that this was not a random attack of a young gay man walking in Knowsley.”

While the minority rights organisations celebrate their marketing successes, whilst singly failing to change attitudes where it counts, and the Churches wring their hands about homosexuality in their own institutions, young people are being murdered. Apathy made Mikey Causer’s murder happen and I don’t see anyone lifting a finger to change it – politicians, Churches, lobbyists and community organisations need to start working together – the DNA database, CCTV, 42 days’ detention without charge, RIPA legislation and prohibitions on the ordination of out gay clergy are political smokescreens, while genuinely vulnerable people like Mikey get no real protection from the real threats at all.

Three men remain mystifyingly free on bail, in a country whose national media remains resolutely disinterested, and whose gay community remains unaware. Pauline Ellis reminds us all:

“It’s very easy for the increasingly comfortable and apathetic gay community to blame working class youths for this latest attack, but having partnership rights and a few extra equality laws is not an excuse to abandon the ongoing fight for gay liberation.”

Homophobic Church Leaders vs. Their Flock

It’s interesting, that at a time when Stonewall has released a report which suggests that Church leaders are significantly more homophobic than their flock, it’s curious to see that the Rt Rev Daniel Deng – Archbishop of Sudan – has demanded at the Lambeth Conference that Bishop Gene Robinson resign for the sake of the Anglican Church:

“The people who consecrated him should confess to the conference because they created an outcry in the whole Anglican world. God is not making a mistake creating Adam and Eve – he would have created two Adams if he wanted. If he was a real Christian he would resign.”

If you’re reading this and gay, this argument will likely be one you’ve had thrown at you at least once before. A variation on Adam and Steve, eh? Such a tedious stereotype, which you’d expect of a child, or a young person, without any experience of self-reflection, not a so-called man of God. He’s actually demanding that Robinson collude in the bigotry of others – the arrogance is breathtaking. However:

Ben Summerskill, the Stonewall chief executive, said: “Witnessing the tragic divisions in the Church of England demonstrated at this week’s Lambeth Conference, it’s telling that so many people of faith say they actually live, work and socialise with lesbian and gay people, and that significantly reduces negative ideas about difference.”

Proof, albeit not necessarily definitive, that people are not as stupid as their representatives, either political or those of faith. In this country at least, it suggests that equality legislation has proven Gene Robinson’s approach right, in demonstrating to his ‘moveable middle’ of the religious community, that with full civil rights for us the world doesn’t come to an end – plagues don’t come down, social order doesn’t break down. Nutters like Deng can’t speak for them, because Stonewall’s side of social change is having an effect, in increasing our visibility through normalising everyone’s treatment before the law. The same approach is needed within the established Church, and Gene Robinson must stay put at all conceivable costs. In a society governed by the rule of law, to exclude religion from the need for equality really must be out of the question, partly on humane grounds, partly on those of diversity – just look how much better society operates when we all are free to take part equally within it!

I can’t help but be reminded by this of the fight in 2004 over same-sex marriage in the US (which of course persists). The persistent argument was that same-sex marriage on equal terms to heterosexuals would undermine heterosexual marriage – somehow if we were granted equal rights, it would be at the expense of those who already had them. It was homophobic nonsense when articulated by George W Bush, it is homophobic nonsense uttered now by Archbishop Deng.

Perhaps most alarmingly from the Archbishop:

Deng said there are no gay or lesbian people in Sudan.

Like Iran eh? Uganda? Nigeria? This claim, if not countered, is the most dangerous of all because it doesn’t allow for a difference of opinion, for shades of grey, or any scrutiny at all. He could say Robinson should resign because it’s politically necessary at this time in the Church’s history. My opinion in response would be to disagree – the opposite is politically necessary – but instead he’s playing up to homophobic superstitions, no doubt shoring up a cheap power base, which only encourages those who would dehumanise us. In Iran Ahmadinejad’s identical claim legitimises the torture and execution of gay people; for a man of God to offer the same argument is beyond shameful.

For the Bible Tells Me So

On Monday I went to the Queen Elizabeth Hall to attend the British premiere of ‘For the Bible Tells Me So’, a film detailing the painful relationship in the US between Christianity and homosexuality, which was followed by a question and answer session with the man who was the main focus of the film – Bishop Gene Robinson. Robinson was for some of the time interviewed by Sir Ian McKellen, co-founder of Stonewall, and it was a remarkable experience, being in the presence of two men who have transformed society around them. Whilst it was fascinating listening to Robinson on his own, having McKellen as a counter-point made it particularly inspiring. Witnessing their joint claim that society could only progress through their joint work – the atheist McKellen lobbying to change laws, directly affecting civil rights, with the religious Robinson working to change hearts and minds, felt like a sea-change in social campaigning was occurring in front of me. It’s a position you never hear organised religion or the non-religious taking – that both sides working together should be fundamentally essential for social change to work. Robinson had a lot more to say (the supporting quotes are from this Guardian article), which that night and in other interviews throughout his stay pretty much concentrated on using the Church as a tool for human rights. Given much of the Church’s current obsession with exclusion, intrusion where it isn’t needed, and its lack of attention to crime and inequality of opportunity in this country, that argument couldn’t have been more timely.

It was time to take back the Bible, he said, from those who used it as a weapon with which to bludgeon the most vulnerable in society.

And now, by the leading of that same Spirit, we are beginning to welcome those who have heretofore been marginalised or excluded altogether: people of colour, women, the physically challenged, and God’s children who happen to be gay.

God and the Church were not the same thing, he reminded us – as humans we get it wrong. He also didn’t think we’d see the day when homophobia was eradicated. He was ultimately comfortable with that however, because (as he put it) those who followed on from us would need our shoulders to stand on for their battles. He was going to Canterbury to remind the Lambeth Conference that ‘we’re here too’, and to remind them of their vows to serve all of their flock and not just some of them.

He thought it crazy that an established Church should be allowed to discriminate in any way at all. That it could meant we should ‘separate civil rights from religious rites’ – ie. distinguish the civil from the religious sphere. In the case of marriage, he advocated its restoration as a universal civil right, which could then be celebrated and blessed within and by the religious community, and not be identified as a religious institution which could then (in this country) be discriminated against (yes, they were in part talking about Lillian Ladele). When the religious people who reject us see that civil rights don’t mean the end of the world, he believed they would likely then follow an extension of the equality agenda of civil rights within their own, religious community.

If the African communion didn’t remain part of the worldwide Anglican communion, we wouldn’t be able to see the consequences of colonialism, racism and Bush’s adventurism. The world needed a model like that, he maintained, particularly with the world getting smaller, and the Anglican communion could offer this model. He wanted opponents like Archbishop Peter Akinola to stay within the Anglican communion for that reason, but also because they were both part of the same Church, Robinson would present for Akinola (and homophobes like him) the possibility by example of changing his worldview. (following quote from the video – transcript here)

We need each other. We need the voices from Africa and Asia and South America to tell those of us in the so called first world the ramifications of our racism, our colonialism and so on. We need each other really for our mutual salvation.

In describing what for him is an interactive God whom he worships, he wanted to make it clear to the audience that he understood Christianity to be something not uniquely locked up in a one-time, immovable, exclusive book of scripture, and used an example from the Bible to illustrate his point. In John’s Gospel Jesus said there was more to learn, but the people of the time couldn’t handle it (as opposed to now).

Jesus says a remarkable thing to his disciples at his last supper with them: “There is more that I would teach you, but you cannot bear it right now. So I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth.” Could it be that God revealed in Jesus Christ everything possible in a first-century Palestine setting to a ragtag band of fishermen and working men? Could it have been God’s plan all along to reveal more and more of himself and his will as the church grew and matured?

We have intellects, and should use them to make reasonable interpretations (about the Bible), he maintained.

This is the God I know in my life – who loves me, interacts with me, teaches and summons me closer and closer to God’s truth. This God is alive and well and active in the church – not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, having said everything that needed to be said, but rather still interacting with us, calling us to love one another as he loves us. It is the brilliance of Anglicanism that we first and foremost read scripture, and then interpret it in light of church tradition and human reason.

It was possible, he believed, to reach people in the ‘moveable middle’ – those who weren’t rejecting of gay people but who weren’t fully accepting, and this pretty much summarised why he’s here. The Anglican Church is fracturing because traditionalists can’t abide the inclusion of women and out gay people, and modernists similarly won’t concede to the rigidity of traditionalists. Just the other day the General Synod backed the appointment of female bishops, flying in the face of traditionalists such as the aforementioned Akinola and their Gafcon. The position towards Robinson however remains acrimonious on both sides. He was barred from the Lambeth Conference, and he says:

“I think a mistake was made in not including me in those conversations. I was the only openly gay voice that might have been at the table. But I will do all I can from the fringe. Miracles happen when people who are divided by something get to know one another.”

McKellen though went deeper:

Just looking at it from the outside, the church thinks it’s got a particular problem with some articles, perhaps not of faith but of, written in the Bible that they refer to. And I can remember the armed forces not that long ago saying they had a particular problem – it was all to do with discipline. Well it’s just been discovered there is no discipline problems when you let gay people into the military. And schools too. Well we’ve got a particular problem.The particular problem they’ve all got and share is homophobia. And having it they root around in the Bible to discover the very few passages that seem to be relevant. But people like the Bishop, like the Quakers, like many people I marched with in Gay Pride last week, gay Christians, gay Jews, gay Muslims are at ease with their faith and their position in society.

Both of them really are looking at the identical issue from completely different angles. It’ll be fascinating to see what happens to them next, both singly and together. I must confess that when Ian said he was so moved by Robinson that he’d nearly converted him to Christianity there and then, I shared a similar feeling. Gene Robinson is an unquestionably great man; at a time when Chuch attendance is at an all time low, Lambeth Palace risks damaging itself yet further by excluding him.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “For the Bible Tells Me So“, posted with vodpod

Pride 2008

I’ve gone to London’s Pride since 1994 – the year I came out. And in that time it’s gone from a popular but fringe event, with violence to navigate in Brixton, to a mainstream event in central London, co-funded and supported by City Hall and all the main political parties. This year’s was a particular success, led from the front by Mayor Boris Johnson, participated in by the Metropolitan Police and all the armed forces, and supported by the biggest crowd to date. Regulars like Stonewall‘s co-founder Sir Ian McKellen, Peter Tatchell (amusing everyone with a particularly and aptly cruel insult to Iranian President Ahmadinejad) and numerous community organisations and ordinary people enjoyed the sun and unprecedented support from hundreds of thousands of tourists and Londoners alike, which made this the best Pride in my recollection. It’s no mean feat with religious zealots and the far right nipping at our heels, but even the former were smaller in number than ever before. It was a good reminder that (whatever certain tabloids would have you believe), we really are everywhere and are supported in being who we are by a majority which is more at ease with itself than in living memory.

The photos are of course mine, and you can see them full-size at your leisure on my Flickr photostream. Comments there (as here) are welcome.

Heinz and Homosexuality

Heinz on Friday decided to withdraw this ad, after about 200 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. Of course considering this was a man acting the character of a woman, it begs the question as to why there were so many complaints about the kiss. More important however is why Heinz decided to pull it at all.

The Heinz Deli Mayo was pulled after less than a week on air after viewers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that it was “offensive” and “inappropriate to see two men kissing”.

Other complaints include that the ad was “unsuitable to be seen by children” and that it raised the difficult problem of parents having to discuss the issue of same-sex relationships with younger viewers.”

It is our policy to listen to consumers. We recognise that some consumers raised concerns over the content of the ad and this prompted our decision to withdraw it,” said Nigel Dickie, director of corporate affairs for Heinz UK.

Sorry but that’s just not good enough. What on earth was offensive? What was inappropriate? Did people just not get the ad? And why is it their policy just to listen to the goddamn stupid consumers? What about the rest of us?

Ben Summerskill quite rightly points out that:

Heinz’s decision to withdraw the ad might be seen by them as an easy way to palm off 200 fundamentalist Christian complainants, (but) it seems to have been made under the quaint impression that it will cause no offence to Britain’s 3.6 million lesbian and gay consumers. Or any of their friends. Or families. Or colleagues.

And don’t forget that the product itself is so unhealthy that it wasn’t even allowed to be advertised around children’s programming, which should surely have invalidated a whole swathe of the ‘complaints’. But Heinz thought it was just plain easier to offend their gay consumers instead. Summerskill is advocating a boycott of Heinz in retaliation (and I agree).

If you want to complain directly to the company however, their customer careline is 0800 528 5757.

Jacqui Smith is a Killer

It should surprise noone, given her track record as Home Secretary, but today Jacqui Smith proved once and for all just how ruthless she can be. Having received limited kudos for her finally granting asylum to Mehdi Kazemi, the question remained – would she institute a moratorium on deportations of gay asylum seekers to Iran and similar Middle Eastern (and other) countries, where to be gay is to court the probability of death? After all the Netherlands proved they could do it. The answer was ‘no’:

“With particular regard to Iran, current case law handed down by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal concludes that the evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.”

Sorry but she’s fucking retarded. I’ve tried to use more temperate language about this woman until now, but this is just ridiculous. Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive quite rightly pointed out her stupidity:

“You only have to listen to people who were terrorised by the Metropolitan Police in the 1950s and 1960s to know that telling gay people to live discreetly is quixotic.”

It’s a cavalier and inhuman means of avoiding living up to the human rights obligations she’s tied into, as well as the European Commission’s ruling in January that:

“Member States cannot expel or refuse refugee status to homosexual persons without taking into account their sexual preferences, the information relevant to the situation in their country of origin, including the laws and ways in which they are applied.”

And why would she refuse a moratorium (other than to prove her political brutality, lining up behind her boss, having proven his ‘strength’ with his pyhrric victory on 42 days)? Does she believe there’ll be some sort of ‘flood’ of asylum seekers, to ‘swamp’ the notoriously bad UK Border Agency? Paul Canning of Gayasylumuk points out:

“The Dutch experience shows that a proven, tested model exists of how to operate a humane asylum policy for gays and lesbians – and they haven’t had a ‘flood’.”

“Similar policy and practice exists in the United States, Canada and Sweden – why is the UK alone in being inhumane and disregarding international law?”

Opposition parties have lined up to condemn the Home Secretary. Stephen Crabb, the Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission said:

“Asking minorities to live their lives discreetly is to give in to the tyrants and bullies who sustain their positions through fear and coerced conformity.

“It demonstrates both an unelevated view of the importance of human rights and cowardice in championing our own system of values.”

Whilst Phelim Mac Cafferty, media spokesperson for LGBT Greens said:

“Her claim that as long as people are “discreet” a regime notorious for its treatment of LGBT people will somehow stop persecuting them is misled at best and homicidal at worst.

“Instead of this macho posturing from the Home Office on keeping asylum figures down, we desperately need a Home Secretary prepared to look the Iranian regime in the eyes and stand up for what’s right for LGBT people.”

And this is what it’s all about. It’s why Peter Tatchell’s claim about the treatment of gay asylum seekers is more salient than ever. The New Labour government has been attacking the 1951 Geneva Convention since 2003 and they’ll do whatever they can to keep it that way. It’s an outrage essentially to blame gay people for their own persecution and it deserves the most thorough condemnation. This is what Iran does to gay people, a fact which the Home Office denies.