Tag Archives: Homophobia

Arsenal back campaign to kick homophobia out of football

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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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On Thomas Hitzlsperger, the FA and homophobia in football

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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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Rick Perry, would you want him as the next US President?

This article was originally published on Out Bristol Issue 12

I am struggling to think of a politician who ideologically sits further away from my political view point than Rick Perry. Perry has recently entered the race to become the Republican Presidential Candidate. I focus specifically on Perry, opposed to any other candidate as he is riding a wave of support that has tipped him to win the chance to go head to head with Obama in 2012 and possibly become the next President of the United States of America. Perry is a man who not only holds deeply unpleasant political views but someone who justifies them through a contradictory ideology.

Perry is vehemently anti state intervention. He has developed into perhaps the ultimate neo-liberal (in the classical British sense of the word opposed to the American understanding of a [lefty] ‘liberal’). Yet, if we look at some of his key policy areas we can see a Grand Canyon size contradiction. In his 10 years as Governor of Texas he consistently slashed state funding, supported the use of the death penalty, and strongly opposed civil partnerships for same sex couples.

In one light Perry backs the American dream. Your chance to succeed, whoever you are, and the state’s responsibility is simply not to get in your way. He notoriously described a bill to ban texting whilst driving as, “a government effort to micromanage the behaviour of adults”. This ideological drive to avoid state intervention resulted in the state budget in Texas to tumble during his oversight. Yet on the flip side of this apparent obsession with avoiding state intervention he appears to back the State when it takes away someone’s life, stops two people from marrying or denies a child’s access to sufficient sex education. For me, that’s a pretty big infringement of someone’s rights by the State.

The American dreams rests on the concept of a meritocracy – the idea that if you have talent and you work hard you will succeed. As soon you mix a potent dash of discrimination into this formula you end up with entire sections of the population being hampered, either by the state or through individual prejudice. Perry appears to actively support the state in discriminating and is oblivious to the reality of individuals holding discriminatory views.

This level of tacit homophobia is not surprising, in 2010 Rick Perry’s fellow Texas Republicans voted on a party platform about LGBT Americans, saying: “We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases…Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable, alternative lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples.”

Across the pond they are laying the foundations for how the most powerful country in the world is going to be governed for the next 4 years. Be under no illusion that if Perry is at the helm, the fight for LGBT rights, equality and diversity will face an uphill struggle.

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Tackling homophobic Christians through comedy

I was reading about Christianity and homophobia in Vanessa Baird’s book, “Sex, Love & Homophobia” and I came across a comedy letter.  It highlights what can happen if you chose to read the bible out of context. The letter was written in reaction to Dr Laura Schlesinger (a US broadcaster who quoted Leviticus 18:22 on her show to justify why she thought homosexuality was a sin). Thought you might enjoy.

The letter reads:

Dear Dr Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

     a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

     b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

     c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

     d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

     e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

     f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

     g) Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

     h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

     i) I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

     j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev.24:10-16)? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?

     I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging. Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

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[part of] The Sporting World unites to tackle homophobia

The Lawn Tennis Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Rugby Football League, the Rugby Football Union, the Olympics organising committee and the Football Association have signed a government charter for gay rights.

The charter calls on sport’s governing body to work to stamp out homophobia and transphobia and ensure everyone is welcome at sporting events.

This is yet another positive step forward in tackling homophobia in sport. 

Upon announcing this initiative however, Lynn Featherstone commented that she was urging all other sporting bodies to come aboard and support gay rights.  She commented, “Sport should be about what you can do, not who you are. But too many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people feel that the sports field is not somewhere they can be themselves, and that prejudice and discrimination will mean their sexuality is always talked about more than their ability with a ball, bat or racket.

“Homophobia and transphobia has no place in sport and I’m delighted that so many sporting bodies are backing our campaign to stamp it out at all levels, from local parks to Olympic stadiums.”

With high-profile stars such as Gareth Thomas and Steven Davies publically gay, it does look like the tides are turning for perhaps the last taboo in British sporting discrimination.

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Extreme homophobia in modern reggae music

This article was published in Out Bristol issue 13

Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Buju Banton, Capleton, Sizzla, TOK, Elephant Man and Vybz Kartel are all examples of modern reggae artists who have over stepped the mark.  They are overtly homophobic.  They have the right to speak out against “homosexuals”, however unpalatable that it.  They do not however, have the right to incite violence.  There music does exactly that!

Some try and defend lyrics such as  “you know we need no promo to rub out dem homo” from Bounty Killer (aka Rodney Pryce), and “I’m a dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays” by the charming Beenie Man.  I say that these lyrics are indefensible.

It is important to point out that there is little “Jamaican” or “African” about homophobia.  There is plenty of evidence to suggest homophobia was forced onto Jamaican culture by Christian fundamentalist in the 19th century.  Indeed, the opposite can be argued to be true, that “African culture” which so many of these homophobes purport to be representing , actually saw homosexuality as quite a normal act and indeed, at times common place (This is especially true of West Africa where the majority of men were taken from in the slave trade).  These practices maintained a high level of prominence within “slave communities” in Jamaica. See Suzzane LaFont’s paper “Very Straight Sex: The development of sexual mores in Jamaica“.

Essentially, we shouldn’t tolerate this sort of hate filled music. We should certainly not listen to music that incites violence and murder against someone because of their sexuality. And finally, we shouldn’t accept their defence that it is somehow OK because of their “Jamaican” cultural heritage!

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Do not use Christianity to justify your own homophobic prejudices

The King James Bible, does it tell us more about Jesus or King James?

The theological argument around Christianity and homosexuality has been a point of contention for generations now (especially in the US but also in Anglicanism). At best, in my opinion, the Bible is unclear about homosexuality. If anything the comments relating to homosexuality in the bible are more a reflection of specific moments in history when scripts have been translated than any original understandings of homosexuality. The gay Christians who interpret the Bible as being pro-homosexuality (other than in a broad equality sense) are as guilty of this as those who wish to exclude homosexuals from the Christian faith altogether.

As the argument claiming homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity is the most prominent, this blog will predominantly focus on these arguments. There are two passages in the Bible as well as the often stated story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) that people commonly quote in relation to homosexuality. Corinthians 6:9 and Timothy 1:10 have both been taken to mean that ‘homosexuals’ have no place in the Kingdom of God. Both stories can be better understood as an issue lost in translation. The words interpreted as ‘homosexual’ are much more likely to translate to something closer to ‘loose’ or ‘wanting self-control’, possibly ‘unrestrained’ than they are as “homosexual”. The modern inclusion of the word “homosexual” is much more likely to be a reflection of sexual norms at different periods of modern history.  To interpret these stories as referring to homosexuals is dubious to say the least. These passages though, have been interpreted by many to deny homosexuals any role within Christianity.

The most over quoted passage in relation to homosexuality remains Genesis 19 which deserves a slightly closer look as it is based less around translation issues and more around interpretive understandings of morality. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah was a story that aimed to highlight the morality around hospitality; the sexual undertones are minor, if there at all. The argument goes that Lot was giving hospitality to an unknown stranger, and the men of the city gathered to ‘know’ who this stranger was. The argument that this can be understood in term of homosexual relations is weak; to imply that God destroyed Sodom for this reason is weaker still. This story is also later referred to by Jesus (Matthew 10:14 15) where he implies the story has more to do with hospitality that homosexuality. He said “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town”.  It is worth thinking thought the cultural legacy hundreds of years on how we still use the term “sodomy”.

The status of hospitality over sexual morality is highlighted by the fact that when Jericho was destroyed by the Lord, the one person spared was a prostitute, despite prostitution being prohibited in Leviticus 19:29, because she offered hospitality. It would suggest therefore that the homosexual understanding of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has more to do with modern and post-modernist understandings of sexual morality than it does with the story itself, which is based predominantly around hospitality. If we did choose to understand it in relation to sexual morality we have trouble explaining the climax of the story with Lot being seduced by his two daughters.

This does not stop homophobic politicians using the “teachings” of Christ to justify prejudice legislation. Indeed, despite the focus on America, it is clear that the UK introduced a series of homophobic measures that were justified in a traditional Christian moral basis. While homophobic legislation spread in pre-Clinton America it gained considerable support through the Thatcher premiership. Throughout the 1987 election campaign the Conservative party campaigned on a heavily homophobic stance with electioneering posters holding titles such as ‘Young, Gay and Proud…labour’s idea for good education for your children’. It was only in the early 1990’s that sodomy was legalised in the UK

Whilst the official discourse in the West is moving towards an acknowledgement of gay rights, the public opinion is struggling to keep up. This is resulting in an official acknowledgment of homosexuality, combined with a common disregard for it being there. It is worth considering when looking to further gay rights that we are moving from a very recent history of extreme homophobia, a lot of which is based in modern Christian moral rationale.

We have to stand up against those who blindly quote the bible to justify their own beliefs.

Do not use Christianity to justify your own homophobic prejudices!

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Rugby League looks to tackle homophobia

 

Greg Mulholland fighting homophobia in Rugby

 

The Rugby Football League (RFL) has launched its campaign to make its sport more “gay friendly”.  Part of this campaign is to make sure that homophobia has no place on or off the pitch.  This will cumulate in February with the Sheffield Eagles wearing a shirt with the slogan “Homophobia Tackle it!”

The event was hosted by Greg Mulholland MP, but was attended by a number of other MP’s.  It also has the support of openly gay rugby legend Gareth Thomas who commented:

“All sports have a significant role to play in challenging homophobia and I am delighted to show my support to Rugby League and the RFL which has made such strong commitments to taking important issues like this seriously and is leading the way in terms of inclusivity”

If this campaign, can create an environment where players and fans can enjoy the sport regardless of their sexuality then it has to be supported.  It appears however, that Rugby (both League and Union) are light years ahead of football in its efforts to tackle homophobia.  Maybe the FA could learn from the RFL’s example.

 

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We are football fans, let us introduce ourselves

There is an out-dated self-fulfilling stereotype that is blighting the beautiful game.  It is the sort of stereotype that is so damaging that in other walks of life it would have been tagged “discriminatory” and yet is accepted for football fans.  This stereotype is that football fans are racist, homophobic, violent and irrational.  Take a step back and think about just how short-sighted this is.

Let’s be clear, some football fans are disproportionately racist, homophobic and violent in relation to the wider British population; although this is a dying phenomenon.  Some football fans still do cause violence, shout abuse at each other and vandalise their surroundings. This is very different however, from saying that football fans are these things.  This prejudice materialises in a number of ways.  For example it is not just an internal prejudice that people hold, it affects our everyday lives.  If you are wearing football colours it is common to be banned from pubs.  Banned! Literally not allowed to enter because you support a game! Let’s now make a massively controversial and yet interesting comparison.

Black men, are disproportionately responsible for violent crime (two-thirds of shooting, over half of armed robberies) and yet, no civilised human being would still think that Black people are violent.  There is no bar manager who would deny a Black man entry to a bar purely because of what he looks like. Sadly, I believe that people still hold irrational fears based on inbuilt racism, but it has become socially unacceptable for anyone to express these prejudices. This public consciousness is not so apparent when it comes to football fans. Not only do people believe football fans are all these things but it is OK to be openly prejudice against them.

Football fans in the UK are a very different phenomenon to the firm violence of the 1980’s and 1990’s.  There is still football hooliganism.  The difference is that they no longer hold wide-spread support amongst football supporters.  The violence is no longer seen as a source of pride.  If you hear racist abuse in the stands today it is looked down on.  Indeed, this is slowly becoming true around homophobic chanting as well.  The sad thing here, is that football followed society rather than led it.

I find it really disappointing when supporter groups like the Bristol City Supporters Trust have to put out video’s like the one at the start of this blog to point out the obvious.  Football supporters are cross generational, cross class, cross ethnicity and overwhelmingly peaceful.  There is only a minority that are interested in violence. 

When a football club proposes to build a stadium on your doorstep, you are right to be worried.  It will strain your transport infrastructure every other Saturday, noise levels will rise for a couple of hours a every other Saturday and you might (if you are unlucky) experience football related to violence.  These problems however are often over stated, and the benefits football can bring to the community, local business and to individuals are often underplayed. 

To mention a few potential benefits (the list is too long for this post but please do read this report by “Supporters Direct”):

  • Community outreach – Clubs nearly always have staff and money to invest into local schools and community centres.
  • Community cohesion – when you are on a football pitch or in the stand, normal societal divisions loose their significance (as I said football is cross class, cross ethnicity and cross culture).
  • Facilities – Often the facilities of clubs can be used by local teams, the rooms for evening education classes or the restaurant bar area for events.
  • Business opportunities – having a successful football club acts as an economic magnet for further investment in the area, from restaurants and pubs through to schools and transport.
  • “Soft benefits” – these are ones you cannot quantify, the friendships, the civic pride, the social cohesion that football can have. 

These benefits are not a given.  Not all clubs benefit their communities as much as others.  The Supporters direct report makes recommendations on how to bring about the best practice to increase the “social benefit” of football clubs.  A case lesson to learn is that it needs community involvement.  That means me and you going along and getting involved!

I still maintain that there is no force in the world more powerful than football to bring about change.  If we marginalise football (we don’t want a stadium near us), if we give only bad press, and if we continue to paint fans in out-dated firm colours then we will continue to leave this force to be moulded by regressive social movements.  It appears that the BNP understand the significance, but sadly other political movements seem to shy away from engaging.  It is up to us, as citizens to engage with our local clubs to bring about the sort of relationship we want to see.

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Homophobia still blights a modern EU

People take to the Streets across the world to show thier commitment to equal rights

Homophobia is still rife across the EU.  Not just through individual attitudes, but through governmental action.  A court in Lithuania initially banned this years gay pride event in Vilnius before this decision was overturned.  The event however, was limited to about 500 participants as over 1000 would be marchers were forcibly held away by riot police who fired tear gas at them.  Police with dogs and horseback ringed the entire event.

Surveys show that about 66% of Lithuania’s population still oppose the gay pride event.  The country has struggled with continued criticism since joining the EU in 2004 for its intolerance toward homosexuality.  This comment is taken from an Associated Press article about this years event:

A Catholic Mass at the nearby national cathedral was held to pray for homosexuals.  “Sweden has already wiped out traditional families. Now they came over here to tell us how to live, how to think and who to sleep with. Lithuania will not allow such perversions,” said Jonas Kempinskas, who walked from the Cathedral to the protest holding a huge cross.

The Swedish Minister for European Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson attended the march.  She was the highest profile foreign attendee but 5 members of the European Parliament also attended it.  A handful of British diplomats made an appearance.  At the time of writing at least 12 people have been arrested. I do not hold out much hope for them being treated well in custody.

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Young, Gay and Conservative?

Boris at last years Gay Pride March.

A recent survey has found that young gay voters are most likely to vote Conservative in the coming General Election. 45% of those under the age of 23 (first time voters) said that they would vote Conservative.  The Greens came 4th picking up just 19% of the surveyed vote.  Does anyone else find this a little surprising?

This is a like a Muslim saying that they would vote BNP, or (perhaps less sensationalist) a Trade Unionist voting Tory. 

The Conservative Party overwhelmingly voted against lowering the age of consent to bring it in-line with heterosexuals. The Conservative Party overwhelmingly voted against sexuality being included in the Equalities Act.  This is before we even get started on all their tripe about the nuclear family and marriage being the cornerstone of life.

Why then would this be the case.  Specifically why would first time voters, be wooed by the Cameron Conservative Crew (CCC)? Firstly, they are not old enough to remember the joys of living under a Conservative government, which forced section 28 on the UK (The piece of legislation that effectively banned the promotion of homosexuality).  Secondly, they are faced with a constant Conservative PR stream painting the Tories as the Cameron cuddles. The Tories (quite successfully in the short term) have succeeded in painting themselves as the gay friendly vote.  Just look at Boris’ big gay face. This is quite a remarkable achievement considering the reality of this situation.

The Conservatives have become cuddlier.  Cuddly with people that MacMillan Scott (Former Tory, MEP) described as “homophobic and racist”.  The extreme right that they sit with in the European Parliament oppose all concepts of “gay rights”.  As one of the ECR groups political advisors said to me recently, working on LGBT rights was “out of the question”. This is without the harder to prove grumblings within their own party.  At best, I could find no mention of LGBT issues on the Conservative Party web site.  A cynic might say that’s because they have nothing positive to say.

Lets not just pick on the Tories though. My own Labour MP David Drew has consistently voted against lowering the age of consent to 16 and against the rights of same sex partners to adopt.  Entrenched homophobia (whether it be from a “Christian Democrat” position (Drew) or a Tory one) is still rife within politics.  Even our beacons of change the Lib Dems make no mention of LGBT issues in their pocket policy guide.

The concepts of ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ are central to me. I have a progressive minded MP who I believe is trying to work towards equality.  David Drew’s understanding of equality however, appears to be one that excludes members of the LGBT community.  For me, this is unacceptable.  Equally, the Conservatives not only ignore many LGBT issues, but also actively work to further ignorant bigots by forming political alliances with them.  For me this is unacceptable. 

The only party that I can find that will stand up and support these basic concepts of fairness and equality that are so central to me are The Green Party. The Greens would:

1) Open up civil marriages and civil partnerships, without discrimination, to both same-sex and opposite sex couples.

(2) Require all police forces to have LGBT Liaison Officers with paid time allocated within their work schedules to tackle homophobic and transphobic hate crime.

(3) End the blanket, lifetime ban on gay and bisexual blood donors.

(4) Amend the Equality Bill/Act to provide explicit protection against harassment to LGBT people.

(5) Refuse visas and work permits to “murder music” singers and others who incite homophobic and transphobic violence.

(6) Ensure safe haven and refugee status for LGBT people fleeing persecution in violently homophobic and transphobic countries.

 Only the Greens hold an all-encompassing understanding of equality.  For an equal and fair society, you need to look after all your citizens.  I do not believe that any of the three major political parties are in the position to be able to stand up for the rights of the LGBT community here or abroad! That’s why I would urge anyone concerned with LGBT issues to vote Green!

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The only gay in the premiership

Gareth Thomas, the Rugby Union legend, has possibly taken the bravest step of his career.  He has “come out” that he is gay.  So what I hear people sigh!

This is a big issue for a number of reasons.

Gareth Thomas (Munster Vs Cardiff Blues) - Thanks to Clare Courier (flickr)

Firstly, Gareth is Wales most capped player, and perhaps more importantly he is still playing professional Rugby (for the Cardiff Blues). It is unprecedented for a Rugby Union star to come out whilst still a playing professional.  For a player of Gareth’s stature to come out it is incredible.  Players often shy away from this issue for fear of fans reactions, loss of sponsorship and lack of support from their clubs! For Gareth to face all this down and come out should be supported and acknowledged to be a truly brave act.  How the public reacts is incredibly important as it will set a precedent for all other gay sport stars who are thinking about coming out (at the moment in Rugby Union there is an openly gay referee but no player that I am aware of). 

Secondly, this is not just important for Rugby but sets a precedent for all other major sports.  At the moment, out of the 500 professional footballers in the UK, there are no openly gay footballers.  It is highly unlikely that this reflects the reality of footballer’s actual sexuality.  Footballers are role models for millions of people around the world.  To show that sexuality has nothing to do with your professional capabilities (or your ability to lead an ordinary life) would be incredibly positive.  Whether we like it or not, footballers are elevated onto pedestals by fans.  The only problem is they know more than anyone how easy it is to fall off that pedestal. Footballing history has not been kind to those who have not followed the script.

Justin Fashanu, the first million pound black footballer, came out and was hounded by fans and the public to such an extent that the coroner said it contributed to him committing suicide. We all remember the taunts that Grahame Le Saux received …all these chants seemed to be based on nothing other than the fact he read the Guardian and has a university education.  Le Saux was married…but he did collect Antiques!  Sadly, it was not just fans who taunted Le Saux, do you remember Robbie Fowlers taunts? http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/premier_league/article2419068.ece

Then there was the whole incident that involved heterosexual left back Ashley Cole.  The News of the World, wrongly, accused a premiership footballer of taking part in a Gay orgy.  This was not the interesting bit of the story.  What was interesting for me was despite not being named in the story; Cole went to extraordinary lengths to dispute the accusations even taking the paper to court.  Check out – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-378786/Cole-sue-gay-footballer-orgy-claims.html

I have said before and I will say again.  There is no social force in this world more powerful than football.  If you want to change anything in this world, start with football.  Sadly, for improving the lives of millions of people around the world affected by homophobia this looks like a slow process.  The Football Association (FA) has introduced a ruling that puts homophobic chanting on a similar scale to racist chanting.  There has been scattered reinforcement of this ruling (especially at the Seagulls ground who suffer disproportionate abuse).  To say that the FA is a slow moving conservative body would be an understatement.  This ruling however, at least sets a target to aim. 

Hopefully, footballers will follow in Gareth’s brave example.  Having openly gay footballers will be one of the biggest steps towards a more equal society that we could take.  All secretly gay sports stars though will be looking on with great interest to see how fans, sponsors and club treat Gareth.  Let’s hope it is with respect.

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