Category Archives: sexuality

Prove your sexuality – the impossible ask of asylum seekers in the UK

Today’s Independent reported on the case of Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian in the UK who is claiming asylum on the grounds of her sexuality. It reports:

‘The Home Secretary’s barrister, Andrew Bird, argued that Ms Apata was “not part of the social group known as lesbians” but had “indulged in same-sex activity”. He continued: “You can’t be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day. Just as you can’t change your race.”’

2015 in case you are wondering.

Yep, it is 2015 and we still have a government department putting on record statements like this.

As if this wasn’t enough Mr Brid is quoted referencing her well documented mental health issues (including post-traumatic stress and an attempted suicide) as saying:

if she is suicidal and depressed she is making a jolly good show of it’.

By jolly good god.

This was so ludicrously absurd that I had to double check that this wasn’t a liberal baiting spoof! As far as I can tell it isn’t. These are the actual words of a man paid to represent the Home Office.

Mr Bird’s argument is based on a legal idea that goes something like this…just because an asylum seeker self-identifies as a lesbian, and indeed sleeps with other women, she is not actually a lesbian.

Want to know the logic? Read on…

In short, Mr Bird’s argument is based on the idea that because she has not always self-identified as a lesbian, she has, by ‘coming out’, shown her sexuality is changeable. Which conveniently fits her into some mad legal category which is outside of the ‘particular social group’ definition in the Refugee Convention.

Ever feel like law sits outside of common sense?

Well don’t be so quick to judge. A counter argument sitting much more closely within the humanitarian bounds of sanity was presented in this case (and many before). Our blogging friends over at the Justice Gap summarizes it well:

‘What Mr Bird’s case fails to take into account… is the stream of case law which shows that the real test is whether a characteristic is in the control of the individual to change (and so ‘mutable’) or whether it is a part of themselves that they cannot at this time be expected or able to change (and so ‘immutable’). So for example a child seeking asylum cannot force themselves to be older so they are not at risk on return and likewise a lesbian asylum seeker cannot simply choose to change their sexuality. This is notwithstanding that a child will eventually grow up and that there may have been a time in her past where a lesbian woman had not identified herself as a lesbian.’

The stakes in this game of pedantic legal back and forth are high however. Homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison in Nigeria (thanks to recent laws) and there has been a spike in violence against gay people within the country (related to international pressure?).

There are very real human consequences to this decision.

The judge is yet to make a final call – Hynd’s Blog waits with a virtual weight in its stomach for the verdict.

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Filed under Human rights, sexuality

Arsenal back campaign to kick homophobia out of football

There are few things I like more than Arsenal FC and there few things I like less than discrimination.

Because of this, I rather appreciated Arsenal’s latest campaigns video in support of the #RainbowLaces campaign to ‘kick homophobia out of football’.

Stewart Selby, co-ordinator and founder of the GayGooners commented on the Arsenal press release that: “Arsenal’s participation in the advert and the campaign means so much to Arsenal’s LGBT fans and the community. The campaign sends the message that attitudes should and can change.”

A pair of rainbow laces will be distributed to professional players across the UK for them to where on the weekend of Saturday September 13th to create a visual display that homophobia is not accepted in the modern game.

Writing this from Uganda, one wonders though how the millions of devote Arsenal fans here will react to the campaign!

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Breaking: Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law null and void after Constitutional Court ruling

Breaking news: Uganda’s Constitutional Court has decided that the anti-homosexuality law is ‘null and void’.

The Constitutional Court found that the speaker of parliament acted illegally by moving ahead with a vote on the law despite at least three lawmakers objecting to a lack of quorum.

Despite this ruling, homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda as it does it most other African countries. Section 145 of Uganda’s Penal Code, which remains in force, continues to criminalize “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”. The harsher penalties that were introduced under the 2014 legislation though such as life-imprisonment for ‘repeat offences’ no longer apply.

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Filed under Politics, sexuality, Uganda

New Equalities Minister voted against same sex marriage

Our virtual Prime Minister tweeted to tell us the new Education Secretary will continue as Minister for Women and Equalities.

Ignoring the slightly confusing fact that Cameron is wrong as she didn’t use to hold the equalities bit of the post he refers to (that was reserved the Sajid Javid), this does confirm that we now have someone who voted against same-sex marriage as the minister responsible for equalities.

Talking to her local paper Morgan said of the issue:

“There have been plenty of little changes down the years but what’s never been changed is that the fact that marriage is between a man and a woman. I think that was one of the issues people, especially those who asked me to vote against, found hardest to accept and it also tied in with my own Christian faith too.” 

Cameron’s government….fighting for equal rights, unless you are gay!

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Shocking acid attack on Green MEP at Austrian gay pride event

Green MEP
Green Party MEP Ulrike Lunacek has been attacked with acid during Vienna’s pride parade.

Austria’s first openly gay MEP and leader of the Austrian Green delegation to the European Parliament was reportedly sprayed with butyric acid at the recent ‘Vienna Rainbow Parade’.

Speaking to The Local after the attack Lunacek said:

“These kinds of isolated cases showed that the fight for tolerance, acceptance and respect in Austria was not over. People who spread fear and hate needed to be opposed.”

This attack is unusual because of the public profile of the victim. However, we know that LGBT residents all over the EU suffer a disproportionate likelihood in being victims of violent attacks. As Stonewall’s ‘Gay Crime Survey’ in the UK commented:

“[There is] a picture of lesbian, gay and bisexual people suffering wide-ranging abuse, from physical assaults and threats of violence through to harassment, verbal insults and damage to their property. Hate crimes and incidents affect gay people of all ages living in all regions of the country”

The same survey found that “One in six lesbian, gay and bisexual people have experienced a homophobic hate crime or incident over the last three years” alone.

For the majority of tolerant Brits and other European citizens it is hard to imagine that such attacks exists at all yet alone with such regularity and severity. But it is incredibly important to remember that this hate filled and often violent reaction to people’s sexuality still impacts on thousands of people’s lives all over the world but significantly also in our own European back yard.

One of the most important things we can all do to combat this is to read more around the issue. As such, I hope this more information is of use.

More information:

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Filed under EU politics, sexuality

WATCH: Inspiring video from Stonewall ‘thanking’ MPs and MSPs

To often when I write about LGBTI rights I write about the negative violations of these rights.

Today of all days it would be too easy to write another article condemning another set back for the global struggle for equality.

Instead I wanted to write about a good news story. This good news story comes from my home country, the UK.

From 29 March 2014 same sex couples will be able to marry in England and Wales. This represents one of the final few steps in the marathon to fight for equal rights in the UK.

This makes me proud to have been born in the UK and to call this part of ‘my culture’.

And, just as I too often talk about LGBTI rights in the negative I am aware the same can too often be true when I write about politicians.

It is because of this that I wanted to share with you this video from the organisation Stonewall thanking MPs and MSPs for speaking out in favour of equal marriage. 

It is inspiring to look back at where we have come from in such a short space of time. Please do share this video with friends and family.

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Filed under Politics, sexuality

The smokescreen of science. Homosexuality in Uganda.

President Museveni of Uganda has agreed to sign the now notorious ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ which could impose a lifetime jail sentence on anyone who commits homosexual acts.

What is curious about this latest crackdown though is the justification that the President has adopted to justify the signing of the bill.

A State House statement released last Sunday quoted Museveni as saying that ‘there is no scientific proof yet that people are homosexuals by genetics’

It goes onto to quote Museveni further saying that ‘It is on the strength of that I am going to sign the bill. I know we are going to have a big battle with the outside groups about this, but I will tell them what our scientists have to say.’

For a lack of a better word, curious…

The scientific committee, which included respected health professionals and scientists, set up to advise the President on this, concluded with 6 points:

The following are summaries of their observations;

  1. There is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality.
  2. Homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behavior which may be learned through experiences in life.
  3. In every society, there is a small number of people with homosexuality tendencies.
  4. Homosexuality can be influenced by environmental factors e.g. culture, religion and peer pressure among others.
  5. The practice needs regulation like any other human behavior especially to protect the vulnerable.
  6. There is need for further studies to address sexuality in the African context.

The Executive Director of the Uganda Media Centre and Spokesperson for the Government of Uganda, Ofwono Opondo, summarised the report findings saying:

These conclusions represent some spurious claims intermixed with a sprinkling of loose language and half-truths that allow for differing interpretations to emerge from this ‘science’.

Take point one for example, ‘There is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality’. A negative statement that may well be true. But in this context it has been used by the government to justify the positive opposite ‘that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle choice’ – a statement which flies in the face of the majority of available scientific studies on the matter.

The BBC for example yesterday published an article looking at how a genetic tendency to homosexuality sits with Darwinian concepts of evolution. In this article it starts by asserting that the idea homosexuality has biological origins has become the ‘scientific orthodoxy’. The article goes onto say that whilst there is no ‘definitive gene’ that determines sexuality, it is thought that there are alleles – or groups of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation.

The same BBC article quotes Qazi Rahman who offers a reasonable summary saying, ‘it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. Genetically speaking, Rahman believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover.’

Although the exact nature of the biological determinants of sexuality remain unknown, it is widely accepted that sexual orientation is determined, at least in part, by your pre-existing biology. Something that the report fails to mention.

The same pattern can be drawn from the other five conclusions. Loose language and scientific half-truths being interpreted for ideological and political purposes. Point 2 for example – if you take the word abnormal without moral judgement (scientifically) to literally mean, differing from the norm, then of course homosexuality can be considered abnormal (in the same way fishing could be considered an ‘abnormal activity’). But, in the context of this debate it is understood, and intentionally conflated with, other ‘abnormal’ practices that hold near universal condemnation such as rape and paedophilia ensuring that it is interpreted with a pre-existing moral framework (very unscientific).

Indeed, it should be noted that whilst Museveni’s interest in the science behind homosexuality is quite new, his eagerness to condemn and discriminate against homosexuals though is far from it. To give just one example, it was clear he needed no science to back up his popular, if insulting and simply wrong, statement that ‘women become lesbians because of “sexual starvation” when they failed to marry’.

In short, though the science behind sexuality in Uganda is simply being used as a smokescreen here to further a populist political and ideological agenda.

Indeed, it seems hard to disagree with Edwin Sesange’s summary: ‘The strange thing about the scientists’ report from Uganda’s Ministry of Health about the origin of homosexuality, is that much of it was right. But what was left out, the way the words were twisted, the flaws in the scientists’ conclusions, make it false…In fact, the report…is little more than science providing political cover for Museveni. It allows him to sign the bill, gain political popularity at home, dismiss criticism from the international community and blame it all on the scientists if his decision is wrong’.

Of course, there is one way for this scientific report to hold credibility. Publish it!

If it were to be published in a scientific journal and face a peer-review process then it might hold some weight. Until that happens we can assume that the science remains a smokescreen for a wider political and ideological move against the LGBT community in Uganda.

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Filed under Human rights, sexuality, Uganda

Google pins its rainbow colours to the mast

googleOver a billion people visit Google every day. Today they will be met by Google’s protest over the violations of gay rights in Russia as the Winter Olympics get underway.

In case the rainbow doodle left you in any doubt, Google then quote the Olympic Charter underneath that states that “every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport without discrimination of any kind”.

Left Foot Forward today have given us ‘5 good reasons why LGBT activists are protesting against Russia‘ – many of which result in the Olympic Charter being little more than an aspiration for an openly gay athletes in Russia.

Google were joined by Channel 4 who also turned their logo rainbow for the day. The TV channel stated that they wanted to wish good luck to all athletes competing at the Games – gay or straight.

Channel 4 rainbow logo for Sochi Winter Olympics
Hynd’s Blog tips its metaphorical hat to Google, Channel 4 and the transformative power of sport.

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On Thomas Hitzlsperger, the FA and homophobia in football

Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former Germany International and Everton footballer has today announced that he is homosexual in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit.

I have written before, most recently with diver Tom Daley as the case in point, about the importance of having men and women in the public eye being open and honest about their sexuality. I won’t rehash that article again here.

The point here is an additional one – the impact that Hitzlsperger’s decision may have on his former colleagues -including those in the FA.

In his interview Hitzlsperger stated that part of his reasoning of coming out was “to further the debate about homosexuality among sports professionals”. An admirable aim and a decision that I am sure will impact on players who are considering also coming out.

It is in this light that his decision will have immeasurable ripples – imagine if a current player no longer feels so isolated and decides to come out. Who knows how much of a game changer his decision might turn out to be.

The Premier League is watched and loved by millions all around the world, but it is still bereft of any openly gay footballer. To reiterate this – out of the 25 players in the 20 teams that play in the Premier League, not a single player is openly gay. 0 out of 500 players. This has held true (with varying squad sizes) for the entire history of top-flight football in the UK.

This then begs the question – why? Why has no playing professional ever been able to be open about their sexuality?

Hitzlsperger described the long “difficult process” of coming out. Something which the openly gay sports journalist Musa Okwonga talks more about here.

This process, even when surrounded by support, can be a challenging one. When surrounded by vitriol and hatred, the likes of which can too often be found in the stands, changing rooms and board rooms of British football, this process can transform into a goliath challenge.

It is interesting that Hitzlsperger specifically mentions in the interview that it is “it was not always easy to sit on a table with 20 young men and listen to jokes about gays”. A comment which hopefully all players will take on board.

But this homophobic banter is not just found in the dressing rooms.

One the hardest hitting sections from Graeme Le Saux’s autobiography was not the childish homophobic taunts Robbie Fowler through at him, the crowds obsessive jeering or even the referee’s despicable reaction of booking Le Saux for time wasting, but the FA’s inability to spot the real issue in the situation – institutionalised homophobia.

It is with a touch of irony then that Hitzlsperger’s announcement comes in the aftermath of the FA’s latest embarrassment – their equality adviser, who on national TV called gays ‘detestable’, resigning from his role.

Michael Johnson, the former Birmingham city defender was appointed to his role, one assumes, because of his stellar track record of tackling racism. It is a damning indictment that no one in the FA looked into his views on other pressing equality issues such as homophobia.

John Amaechi, the first former NBA player to come out in public in 2007, hit the nail on the head when he commented:

“the reason that homophobia, antisemitism, racism and other misogyny continue to blight football is that the FA does not understand how to tackle it. You don’t put one person to handle racism and a gay person for homophobia, you pick people who understand that all bigotry is the same monster.”

Today, hopefully, Hitzlsperger will have highlighted to the FA the need to act and to stop letting homophobia be what he referred to as “an ignored issue” in football.

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Filed under Football, sexuality, Sport

Olympic diver Tom Daley is bisexual – so what?

“So fucking what” is the chime of millions of people around the UK responding to news that Tom Daley is ‘in a relationship with a man’.

Within this ‘so fucking what’ camp of thinkers are the casual homophobes, those who see sex and love as private affairs and those who just don’t care very much about someone who can be involved with a programme as bad as Splash.

But of course it does matter. It shouldn’t, but it does.

On the fickle surface of it all you could argue that it matters because millions of people will watch his youtube video, because tomorrow’s papers will be filled with this story or because it will somehow help to break down lingering prejudice against a huge minority of people that don’t fit into the UK’s institutionalised heteronormative culture.

This is of course true, but more importantly than any of this is something probability suggests is currently taking place…

Somewhere in UK there is a young girl or boy that has been struggling with their own sexuality. What they feel comes from inside them, their heart, and they’re increasingly coming to realise that this is part of them for better or for worse. It both excites them but also strikes a note of fear through them.

At the same time, they live their lives surrounded by systematic tacit vitriol. Every day they go to school and hear homophobic banter that teachers fail to pick up on let alone punish. A few mates, who were brave enough to come out still experience bullying and harassment. Although it has died down in recent months, they still overhear comments about the “batty boy” and “stupid dyke”.

In the church they are told this feeling resting in their hearts is a sin, at the football ground they’re told it’s disgusting and in the papers it is at best, gossip.

The reality of their own internal feelings seem to be at odds to their surroundings.

But, in the midst of this, a widely loved sports personality manages to be open and honest about his sexuality. Despite the torrent of abuse that flows on twitter as inevitably as the coming of the seasons, Tom Daley has the love and support of his family, friends and literally millions of people all around the world.

The prospect of a life that allows for honesty, happiness and passion is illustrated before their eyes. If Tom’s loving father responded with the words, “As long as you’re happy, I’m happy” then the possibility of their own father responding with such warmth somehow feels more real.

A positive future, despite everything, is painted in front of them. For the first time in their lives they have, not so much a role model, as an illustration that it’s possible…to love someone of the same gender and be happy.

The simple fact is this, when you are raised surrounded by such vitriol, the faintest glimpses of such happiness can make the world of difference. Today Tom Daley has offered a gigantic wave of hope to millions.

And that is, at least in part, why it matters. Because in the words of Graeme Archer writing in the Telegraph, Tom “just did a beautiful thing


Filed under sexuality, Sport

Leaving the Greens to join Labour

Stephen Wood, a high profile Green Party activist has today announced that he is leaving The Green Party and joining ‘Ed Miliband’s Labour’.

Stephen was Secretary of the local Brighton party when Caroline Lucas became Britain’s first Green MP and has previously Chaired the LGBTIQ Greens. You can read his reasons for leaving in full here.

I post this message here because, despite disagreeing with his decision, I can see why he would be tempted with this move. I have met Stephen a handful of times and I have admired the pragmatism within his radical progressive politics.

At the very least I hope this acts as a wee wake up call for those active within The Green Party. A simple message can be taken from Stephen’s article that I would fully endorse. Strengthen internal structures to ensure the party remains fully democratic in both its decision making and decision implementation.

Also, no-one likes petty party politics. I know other parties don’t exactly hold out olive branches to Greens, but Green Party activists must try to rise above this. Stephen’s point about the strain of thought within the Greens that “arrogantly presumes that the Greens have the monopoly on progressive ideals” is an important one. Almost this exact phrase has been said to me by both people within the Labour Party and without.

Even if Greens don’t think it’s true, it is something that must be acknowledged to be a common perception.

It is also worth highlighting the cross-party nature of many of these problems (poor internal democratic structures, putting party before principle, power corrupting etc). Hopefully those reading this from all political persuasions will take note.

Lastly, a note of good luck to Stephen. I genuinely hope his progressive voice is heard within the Labour Party.


For balance: Natalie Bennett, the Leader of The Green Party, has just tweeted this blog in response. It is the story of Pauline Ward and why she left Labour to join The Green Party. Enjoy!

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The whispered words of Musa Okwonga

Part of what I do at Hynd’s blog is to try and draw to people’s attention the people, poetry and issues that are important to me.

I am fully aware how limited this platform, Hynd’s Blog, is. But still, I keep adding to this platform because if you do not dare to whisper out loud the things that are important to you, they will never be heard.

Someone who whispers with more wisdom and wit than I could ever imagine mustering is the poet and journalist, Musa Okwonga. Musa has unwittingly been on-going source of inspiration to me over the last few years.

He has a turn of phrase unmatched and yet, inexplicably, he is yet to become a household name.

Let me give you a few examples of why I think he deserves to be huge:

I spend a lot of my time trying to articulate the blight of racism in football. I struggle though, constantly, to put into words the human stories that football projects without losing the impact and influence the game holds.

In response to Roberto Carlos’ decision to walk off a pitch after a banana was thrown at him; Musa articulated these imagined thoughts of Roberto in the first person:

I am a man first, and a footballer second.  I am a grown man, not an animal, and I am not a creature on display for your entertainment.  You have come to a stadium, to watch human beings play football.  This is my place of work, and if you will treat it like a zoo, I will show that this pitch is not a cage, and I will leave it.”

And thus he treads that fine line that I so often miss.

A second example: Whenever I dare to whisper out loud about something personal to me such as my family or my partner I instantly clam up with dread. Exposing yourself on the internet’s oh so very social platforms, is something that I think people under-estimate. Just as standing on a stage to perform takes admirable courage, so I also think, writing about personal issues online does.

Musa, in an ever self-effacing way, manages to both perform and write about the most personal of issues with a confidence and coherence I cannot help but to admire. Here I would urge you to watch his performance of his poem, ‘Passport’.

But, it is when he integrates this personal with the overtly political does he really come into his own.

At this point, I would urge you to watch his performance of his poem, ‘Love versus Homophobia’. It is an articulate outpouring of anger at the ambivalence, arrogance and anger that some people hold for his understanding of love.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the Vatican will be playing this on loop. Nor do I think the US or UK government’s will be listening to his latest poem, ‘Monotony’.  But I leave you with this because, he has dared to whisper these words out loud not knowing who will hear them. All I can do is echo them and ask you to do the same.

This is our monotony:
They bring the most hateful of rainfalls,
And don’t make apologies:
They send storms from the jaws of a drone
To slay those who’d take the USA off its throne –
So each day, we’re preparing for rain;
For these drops not of water
But rage;
Wait –
All you’ll hear is the hum as they’re closing
A teenaged male isn’t safe in the open –
So we’ve taught them to run,
Our daughters and sons –
Taught them something most terrible:
That here in Yemen, it is never wise
To gaze up and daydream into our own skies:
This is –
The only way, we are told;
That’s not so bad as it goes:
Shattered bone,
Shattered hope,
Shattered homes,
We all raise our eyes at the drones –
And so:
In many decades, our youth will explain
Why, when about town, they still walk with necks craned

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Filed under sexuality, Social comment, Spoken Word

Politics, passion and underground protest music

Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music…whether it’s metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values”John Harris

Harris expresses a sentiment many of us feel – in our hearts of hearts, we know that there is something missing in modern music – a politics, a passion, a sense of protest.

The music mainstream is characterised by ‘soulless music, artless lyrics, goalless movements and heartless gimmicks’ and yet under our feet a revolution brews from the stages of music venues across the country.

This revolution has no base other than music’s third world, the underground.

I refer to the underground, as the ‘third world’ to reflect the Peruvian American rap artist Immortal Technique’s observations…that the underground has all the natural resources, the talent, the man power and the passion, but has none of the access to the music markets that remain so manipulated and dominated by the powerful few.

Just like the third world though, the underground also spawns creativity, protest and resistance.

While the mainstream stays eerily quiet, the pulse of popular resistance beats on. Musicians are coming together to articulate what many of us feel but are unable to express. These musicians are uncaring of the marketability of their work.

They offer the discerning listener a raw, passionate and articulate response to the injustices we see and feel.

While traditional structures teach us that the love between two men is immoral the music of the underground gives us the poetry to resist this prejudice.

From The King’s Will’s ‘Love Against Homophobia’:

To some people 
My love is somewhat alien;
When he comes up, they start subject-changing, and
In some states he’s seen as some contagion –
In those zones, he stays subterranean;
Some love my love; they run parades for him:
Liberal citizens lead the way for him:
Same time as some countries embracing him,
Whole faiths and nations seem ashamed of him:
They’ve tried banning him,
God-damning him,
Toe-tagging him,
Prayed that he stayed in the cabinet,
But my love kicked in the panelling, ran for it –
He’s my love! Can’t be trapping him in labyrinths! –
Maverick, my love is; he thwarts challenges;
The cleverest geneticists can’t fathom him,
Priests can’t defeat him with venomous rhetoric;
They’d better quit; my love’s too competitive:
He’s still here, despite the Taliban, the Vatican,
And rap, ragga in their anger and arrogance,
Who call on my love with lit matches and paraffin –
Despite the fistfights and midnight batterings –
My love’s still here and fiercely battling,
My love’s still here and fiercely battling,

In this underground world, lyrics carry the sentiment of a generation growing up surrounded by violence and prejudice that we are unable to articulate a response to.

The underground does not demand protest but offers a fertile space for resistance to grow.

The underground crosses causes, continents and musical genres. Just as under the streets of Harlem you will find the dirty beats of subversive hip-hop, so under the soil of Middle-England you find the subversive chords of new-folk…and no, I’m talking about Mudford and fucking Sons.

Chris T-T for example expresses the concerns of the rural working classes as he takes on The Countryside Alliances’ (we’ll call them ‘the cunts’ for short) hypocrisy when he sings:

You loved the fucking poll tax, you propped up Margaret Thatcher
And you didn’t give a fuck about Tony Blair
‘Til he threw your hobby back at ya

Of course, a world-wide underground does not escape attention. Immortal Technique comments on this in his track ‘Open your eyes’ when he says, “When they [The  Record Companies] need new assets, new artists to prostitute…, when they needed new concepts… they came to the underground”

Often music that pushes moral, social and musical boundaries becomes the pre-fix to new trends – new marketable trends. Subversive characters are marketable – think of John Lydon and his butter adverts.

So how should we, as consumers, respond to artists who rise up from the streets and onto the record company’s balance sheets?

Should we walk away from the likes of Frank Turner who sing of liberty and freedom whilst playing at the G4S/ATOS sponsored Olympics? No, of course not.

There is nothing inherent about protest being distinct from populism, and certainly nothing inherent about poverty and protest. Billy Bragg stands as a testimony as someone who has ridden a wave of popularity and prosperity and remained, relatively speaking, true to his values.

When Turner is quoted in The Guardian saying that “Rock n Roll will save us all” and that “anyone can take the stage” – The Guardian ‘raises an eyebrow’. For the rest of us it offers a signpost to resistance that surfaces in the mainstream.

When protest music such as Bragg, Turner or even Dylan rise up on to the airwaves and newspaper sheets of the masses, we should be pleased but we should never lose sight of where it came from.

The Underground.

Only in here will you find the raw passion, politics and protest that we are missing in most of our modern music.


Filed under Music, sexuality, Social comment

Transgender is not an illness

In 1990 the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Inexplicably, it left being being Transgender on this list.

Considering ‘Gender dysphoria’ (as it is officially called) as a mental illness is a hangover from a historical prejudice. I am deeply shocked that the WHO has not proactively worked to rectify this situation in the last 22 years.

Please sign this petition and make your voice heard loud and clear.

Transgender is not a mental illness.

Thanks to Peter Tatchell for raising this to my attention:

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Filed under EU politics, Health, sexuality

The Green Party’s internal democracy has let the party down

Today, the Green Party of England and Wales announced that the former Guardian journalist Natalie Bennett has been elected as their leader.

Upon her election Natalie commented, “[I am] pleased to take on the responsibility of helping us all to move towards promoting our vision of a radical new economic and environmental vision for Britain”. Natalie’s election has already been met in the press to wide-spread support.

The Green Party uses the Single Transferable Vote system to elect its leader – a form of proportional representation. In many ways the Green Party has a model form of democracy – leading by example. It is worrying then that it maintains an unpopular gender rule that many feel is letting the party down.

Gender balance

The Green Party’s election rules stipulate that the deputy leader has to be the opposite sex of the person who is elected leader. As such, with election of Natalie, the two highly competent female contenders for the deputy leadership were automatically out of the race.

Rupert Read, a high profile activist in the party tweeted soon after the results were announced saying:

Never again should the candidate who members voted for a top leadership post (#GPEW Deputy Leader) be prevented from taking up the job“.

He left no confusion to what he meant when he later tweeted:

@WillduckworthGP is elected Deputy Leader of Green Party (after female candidates are eliminated by our back firing gender balance rules)”

Natalie welcomed Will Duckworth’s election in her victory speech saying, “I look forward to working with Cllr Will Duckworth, who has been elected as deputy leader”. I am sure though that Will and the party membership though will remember her response on LBC radio when she was asked if she supported the gender rule and said, “it is the system we have so we have to live with it…I would support a change”.

Three questions remain for the Green Party then as they head to their party conference in Bristol. Firstly, is it right that two popular and competent deputy leadership candidates missed out just because of their gender? Secondly, does Will Duckworth hold a democratic mandate? Lastly, how does the Green Party’s policy on ‘gender balance’ sit with their pioneering and progressive adoption of issues around intersex (imagine if one of the candidates self identified as intersex what would happen then)?

For a party with such a strong internal democracy it seems bizarre that they would prevent a candidate’s election because of their gender. Do I feel an emergency motion coming on for conference…?

UPDATE (13:58 03/09/2012) – Peter Crainie, the leadership candidate who narrowly missed out on election has announced, “This election has identified several improvements we need to make ahead of the next set of leadership elections in 2014, beginning with an end to the gender balance rule that prevents two women from forming the leadership team in our party. I intend to co-sign any motion put forward by Natalie in this regard”.

UPDATE (14:47 03/09/2012) – The now Deputy Leader of The Green Party, Will Duckworth, was elected despite not getting “the quota required”. An internal communication explains:

“3,127 ballot papers were returned (a turnout of 25.1%).

In line with the election rules set out in the Green Party constitution, the Deputy Leader cannot be of the same gender as the Leader and so Caroline Allen and Alexandra Phillips are eliminated and their first preference votes will be redistributed to the highest expressed preference for an eligible candidate.

There were 353 spoilt papers (including papers expressing a preference only for a female candidate or candidates), giving a total valid vote of 2774 and the quota required for election is therefore 1,387.1

First preference votes were distributed as follows:

Allen – not eligible
Duckworth – 1,329
Mallender – 1,245
Phillips – not eligible
RON – 200

No candidate achieved quota, but Green Party rules require that RON not be eliminated, so the candidate with the highest vote is elected”


Filed under Politics, sexuality

Richard Howitt MEP “Whatever Cameron claims, Tory views on LGBT issues are neanderthal and we saw that in yesterday’s vote”

Spot the contentious comment:

The European Parliament “welcomes the reintroduction by the UN General Assembly of sexual orientation as grounds for protection from extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution, and welcomes the EU’s efforts to this end


The European Parliament “calls on the Commission to advocate the withdrawal of gender identity from the list of mental and behavioural disorders in the negotiations on the 11th version of the International Classification of Diseases and to seek a non-pathologising reclassification


The European Parliament “reiterates its request that the Commission produce a comprehensive roadmap against homophobia, transphobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, also addressing human rights violations

Spotted anything contentious?

Apparently the 266 MEPs who voted against this amendment to the EU’s human rights report did. This included many UK Conservative, UKIP and BNP MEPs.

Richard Howitt MEP

As a result, the Labour MEP who tabled the amendment, Richard Howitt, commented, “Whatever Cameron claims, Tory views on LGBT issues are neanderthal and we saw that in yesterday’s vote”.

Daniel Hannan, one of the Tory MEPs who voted against the amendment however had another view. He succinctly responded to Howitt’s comments saying, “sexual orientation is none of the EU’s bloody business”.

I have strong reason to believe that some MEPs, such as the inglorious Roger Helmer, who voted against this amendment could be described as homophobic, or at best, ignorant.

Hannan however who represents a slightly more complex consideration which is worth quickly looking at.

Hannan (in his own words) was “virtually the only Conservative, not just to back the scrapping of Section 28 in 2000, but to oppose its introduction in 1988. I supported the equalisation of the age of consent in 1994. I backed civil unions in 2004, and am quite relaxed about upgrading them to marriages”.

A gay rights campaigner? Not quite.

At best you could describe Hannan as indifferent towards issues of sexuality. Hannan in the past has said, “On balance, I suppose I mildly favour the idea [of gay marriage]”. Not excactly a Peter Tatchell.

So why did Hannan vote against this amendment?

He responded to Howitt commenting, “sexual orientation is none of the EU’s bloody business…[I] can be in favour of gay equality while none the less believing that moral questions ought to be decided by each nation through its own democratic mechanisms and procedures”.

Daniel Hannan MEP

The conclusion here is telling. I don’t believe he voted down this motion because he is a homophobe, but simply because he has an alarming placement of priorities.

Hannan believes these sorts of ‘moral issues’ “ought to be decided by each nation”. I disagree with this statement but that’s fine. The problem comes when he decides to vote against an amendment aimed at (among other things) offering protection to LGBT asylum seekers, a life and death issue for many, because of this belief about doing things at a nation state level.

The EU might not be perfect Mr Hannan but you have an obligation as an MEP to use it the best you can. On this occasion you have put politics above people’s safety. That is not OK.

It is important however to not lose sight of the 265 other MEPs (including Mr Farage, Griffin amongst others) who voted against this motion. I cannot, for all that I have tried, find one good reason why any MEP opposed this amendment.

The full text of the amendment reads:

“108a. Commends the Council, the EEAS, the VP/HR, the Commission and the Member States on the reengagement in favour of LGBT people’s human rights in bilateral relations with third countries, in multilateral forums, and through the EIDHR; welcomes there introduction by the UN General Assembly of sexual orientation as grounds for protection from extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution, and welcomes the EU’s efforts to this end; calls on the Commission to advocate the withdrawal of gender identity from the list of mental and behavioural disorders in the negotiations on the 11th version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) and to seek a non-pathologising reclassification; reasserts that the principle of non-discrimination, also embracing grounds of sex and sexual orientation, must not be compromised in the ACP-EU partnership; reiterates its request that the Commission produce a comprehensive road map against homophobia, transphobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, also addressing human rights violations on these grounds in the world; calls on the Member States to grant asylum to people fleeing persecution in countries where LGBT people are criminalised, taking into consideration applicants’ well founded fears of persecution, and relying on their self-identification as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender;”

Did your MEP vote against the amendment? Maybe you would like to write to him/her and ask why? I would love to hear their response!

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Filed under EU politics, Far-right politics, Human rights, Politics, sexuality

If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it: Another asylum seeker told to go home and be discreet

This article was written by Carrie Lyell for the wonderful Lesbilicious magazine. Re-posted here on request.

Another day, another headline about a failed asylum bid. This time, it’s Angeline Pirara Mwafulirwa and her three children who are currently in a family detention centre in Scotland and will be forcibly removed from the UK this weekend.

Angeline Pirara Mwafulirwa and her children were forcibly removed from their home in Glasgow

Angeline is claiming asylum on the grounds of her sexuality, like many other lesbian and bisexual women who flee their homes in hope of refuge in the UK from a myriad of discrimination and danger they may encounter at home. And yet our government send them home, time and time again, with the message: Be Discreet.

Be discreet? Seriously? I don’t know about you, but my sexuality is much more than just the sex of the person I am attracted to. It influences everything I do. My politics, the television I watch, the newspapers I read, even the shoes on my feet. Discretion does not mean do not hold your girlfriend’s hand in public, it means do not be yourself.

I remember those few years between realising I was gay and telling my family and friends as incredibly isolating and lonely. I was slamming doors and crying myself to sleep, and no one knew why. I was in love with my best friend and I was confused. I couldn’t quite admit it to myself, let alone anyone else. I can’t even comprehend a situation where I wouldn’t be allowed to tell anyone else, for fear of imprisonment, violence or even death. An all too familiar situation for lesbian and bisexual women like Angeline who have been refused asylum in this country and others like it.

Lord Hope said in a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that: “to compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress his behavior by which to manifest himself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is” and still, we don’t talk about protecting the rights of asylum seekers. We don’t talk about immigration at all, as if it’s a dirty word, infecting our mouths with some kind of liberal disease. The mainstream political parties cower to the will of public opinion, refusing to speak positively about immigration issues incase it loses them votes. Incase it alienates their core support. Well you know what? If your core support refuse a safe haven for a woman and her children who are danger because she is attracted to other women, then that’s a core support I don’t want.

Oh yes, that’s right. They come over here, they steal our women, our jobs and our flat screen televisions. I forgot. Instead of talking about the danger that these ‘criminals’ pose to us, why don’t we talk about the danger that these people are fleeing from? With the summer and Pride season almost upon us, whilst you’re dusting off your rainbow flags or planning your Civil Partnership, the sobering reality is this: homosexuality remains illegal in over 80 countries worldwide and is punishable by death in countries like Sudan, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. Not to mention all the places where the law might have changed, but social attitudes haven’t. Discrimination goes well beyond prosecution. We’re talking humiliation, violence and inequality not only by state officials, but in communities. In families. So many people who have no one to stand up for them or laws to protect them. We don’t know how lucky we are.

The Home Secretary promised two years ago to stop the removal of people whose sexual orientation or gender identity put them at ‘proven’ risk of imprisonment, torture or execution. There have been several high profile cases that have highlighted the problems that people like Angeline face in Malawi, including imprisonment, police violence and exclusion from housing and health services. Angeline fears her children will be taken away by her ex-husband and says she’s scared they are in danger of female genital mutilation at the hands of his family. That’s clearly not enough proof for Teresa May and the Home Office.

Of course, there will be people like May who don’t believe Angeline’s story. A comment under one article said: “’LGBT” – she’s having a laugh – three kids and she’s now claiming LGBT (lol)’” and others who think that she and Waverley Care—an HIV charity that she volunteers for—are lying in a bid to defame Malawi.

For me, it’s not about whether or not Angeline is telling the truth. What is far more important, in my eyes, is our unwillingness to help. All she wants is a safe place to raise her children and the freedom to be who she is without fear of persecution. I feel so lucky to live in a place where my rights are protected, where I can have my relationship recognised by law, where I could serve in the army and adopt a child, if I wanted to. And I want those things for Angeline and her family, and all of those women who are in the same situation but aren’t fortunate enough to have their stories believed. Of the 19,804 applications made for asylum in 2011, more than half were refused. I don’t think even the most hardened cynic could believe they were all lying.

I’ve no doubt that Malawi and countries like it will soon realise that, as Hilary Clinton put it, gay rights are human rights, but until then, we have a responsibility to take care of people like Angeline and her family. It’s not long now until London plays host to World Pride 2012, an event that aims to draw attention to countries where being gay is still illegal and give those who can’t march safely at home an opportunity to do that on our streets. Let’s hope that sentiment lasts a little longer than the British Summer.


Filed under Human rights, Politics, sexuality, Social comment, War

Spending the pink pound in Israel

This is a feature piece written for OUT magazine.

Sat in the evening sun Shaun shifts closer to Paul as the temperature drops in the fading light. I meet the couple sat on a beach in Tel Aviv, Israel. The two men in their mid thirties are on a couple of weeks vacation from their home in south London. I ask them if it is OK to talk to them about the gay scene in Israel and they happily suggest going for beer in the bar a hundred meters away on the beach front.

Sweet smelling smoke fills the air inside the bar as hookah pipes are shared between friends. We are sat with panoramic views of the now silhouetted beach front.  Passing the hookah pipe across the table to where the two men are sat side by side I start the interview by asking them why they chose Tel Aviv for their holiday. Paul exhales a plume of smoke, takes a sip from his beer and jokes, “cheap easy jet flights”. Shaun laughs and adds, “I just love the rub down at the [Ben Gurion] airport” (referring to the notoriously inhospitable welcoming foreigners receive at the airport).

With a smile I try a less subtle approach and asked if it had anything to do with the internationally renowned LGBT scene in Tel Aviv. Paul does not hesitate this time and comments, “We want to holiday somewhere that we feel relaxed and welcome. A friend of mine told me about Tel Aviv and so we thought we would check it out”. As an afterthought, as if recalling a distant memory, he adds, “everything is set up for us here”.

Tel Aviv is a well known destination for ‘gay tourism’. Last year Tel Aviv launched a $90 million campaign to present itself as, “an international gay vacation destination.” Leon Avigad, owner of the gay-friendly Brown hotel, explains the city’s popularity, “We are cosmopolitan, we’re very Western, European and American but on the other hand we’re very much into the Middle Eastern warmth and welcoming, and this combination attracts”.

Our visit to Tel Aviv coincide with the holiday of Pesach (Passover), the celebration of the story in Exodus where the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. As such it is very difficult to buy certain things such as beers and certain breads. I ask Shaun if this has been a problem and he responds with more depth than I was perhaps expecting. “I think it is beautiful that this society can hold onto its traditions and religious celebrations and still be so open minded”. I wondered how much Shaun had ventured much beyond the city since being here.

On cue, they ask me what I am doing in Tel Aviv and I tell them all about EAPPI and they seem genuinely interested. I ask them if they have ever been to the occupied Palestinian territories. Paul responds with a degree of defensiveness in his voice that he assumed he wasn’t allowed, “I thought there was a war there”. I explain to them, the best I can, the problems caused by the occupation and what I have experienced since living there. I elaborate my point about why I think it is bad for both Israelis and Palestinians. There is a more than awkward silence and I begin to worry that I might have pushed the conversation both metaphorically and literally too far from Tel Aviv.

As if reading my mind Paul comments, “all of that seems a long way from here”. I take this opportunity to try and relate what is happening in the conflict to their experiences here in Tel Aviv and ask if either of them have ever heard of the phrase, “pinkwash”. They respond in unison, “no”. I try my best to offer a definition of Pinkwash – the idea that Israel has created a deliberate strategy to conceal their continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity, illustrated through the booming  gay scene. Both men looked troubled at the idea, clearly concerned that “their community” and “their choices” could somehow be linked to the troubles I had just described about the military occupation.

I try to reassure my two new friends and joke with them that they are not responsible for Israel’s occupation. For Paul however this was not enough. Playing with the beer mat in front of him he almost apologetically comments, “I guess we have only seen a part of life here”. I smile and again try to reassure them both that they are meant to be on holiday relaxing, not peacekeeping. They sheepishly smile back.

For many in the LGBT community it is an ethical dilemma whether or not to boycott Israel as a holiday destination. On one hand it is a beacon of LGBT rights in an otherwise very hostile environment. Some Palestinian activists have tried to persuade me that there is a growing gay rights movement in Palestine. If there is I have yet to stumble across it. Netanyahu told Congress last May that the Middle East was “a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, and Christians are persecuted.” Sadly, this rhetoric may be alarmist but has also an element of truth in it.

On the other hand however Israel is accused by Amnesty International of “ill-treatment and torture of detainees, excessive use of force, the detention of conscientious objectors, and forced evictions and home demolitions” as well as having a “disregard for international law”. For anyone within the LGBT community who is concerned about equal rights and equality there are some clear moral concerns here.

As an LGBT activist who fundamentally believes in an equality of rights, I cannot settle on Israel having a progressive attitude towards LGBT rights whilst routinely violating other rights through the conflict and occupation.  As Haneen Maikay, the director of Al Qaws (a Palestinian gay rights group) recently said in the New York Times, “When you go through a checkpoint it does not matter what the sexuality of the soldier is”. The LGBT community are not separate from the rest of society who suffer from the occupation.

We are now three beers into the conversation and Shaun’s tongue as well as his sense of moral outrage has been loosened, “So what can we do to highlight all this. It’s f***ed up that people can come here and are not told about any of this s***”. Partly through tiredness I decide to avoid the minefield of BDS (boycott disinvestment and sanctions) and instead simply comment that I think it is important to make sure that everyone who comes to Tel Aviv is aware of what is happening just 20 kilometres to the east.

Paul however looks concerned. I have been talking for the last ten minutes and Paul has not spoken. “I don’t know” he says between regular slugs of beer. “there are so many f***ed up countries in the world where you can get hung for just glancing at another guy. It doesn’t feel right to be criticising a country who are opening their arms and welcoming us”. This concern reflects a very real issue within the LGBT community. To criticise Israel is to break an unspoken pact where those working on LGBT issues stand united in their struggle.

The answer to this dilemma presented itself to me in Yad Veshem, the Israeli holocaust museum. Here they have on the wall in large letters the poignant words of Martin Niemöller “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me”.

If the 20th century taught us anything it is that silence can allow terrible things to happen. The LGBT community cannot stay silent while Israel uses its progressive attitude towards LGBT tourism to deflect attention from the continual violations of basic human rights standards in the occupied territories. Equally however, I believe we have to welcome Israel’s pioneering approach towards LGBT tourism, and encourage these attitudes to spread to less hospitable parts of Israeli society.

Stood outside the bar, the air is now cold and so our good-byes are short. As the two men turn to leave Paul says to me that “next time we come, I think we should spend a few nights somewhere in the West Bank”. I smile and say that they definitely should. Parts of Israeli society may be a beacon for LGBT rights in the middle east, but it is also an occupier of another land. To understand Israel, I think you have to visit that other land.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, Religion, sexuality, War

Sex – why our kids need to know about it

Recently some (notably the BNP and our beloved Jacob Rees-Mogg) have joined the moral outcry – ‘why are we teaching our children about sex’. It ‘corrupts them and leaves ‘lasting damage’ claims Mr Ress-Mogg. It ‘borders on pedophilia’ claimed the BNP. I cannot stress enough that this is simply not true.

Review after review of international research into the subject show that when combined with access to contraception promiscuous behaviour does not increase but pregnancy rates and STIs do decrease.

This is simple fact – not the outdated opinion of the extreme right.

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A victory for religious liberty

Friends Meeting House

Today’s announcement removes the assumption that religion and homosexuality are incompatible. In 5 weeks time, religious settings will be free, if they so chose, to host civil partnerships. It is shameful that in 2011 we still had a ban on religious organisations from hosting civil partnerships.

It should be reiterated that no religious group will be forced to host a civil partnership registration. For those religions that wish to host these ceremonies however this is an important step forward.

When those inevitable shrill voices pierce the media screaming of secular views being forced onto discriminated Christians, it should be made clear that this move holds no obligations. It is a form of deregulation if anything, the removal of barriers. A faith, such as the Quakers who have already decided to host civil partnerships will now be free to do so without the risk of facing persecution.

This is a victory for religious liberty that should be celebrated. The state has no place to interfere in these circumstances. A religion should be free, if it so chooses, to host civil partnerships. This is a step closer to the liberal society that I strive for whilst also breaking down some outdated discrimination.

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