Didn’t we almost have it all..? A few thoughts on what gay marriage means for LGBT equality…

I’m going to a New Year’s Eve party next week where the theme is ‘highlights of the year’. I suppose one option is to revive the jubilee theme, but Union Jack bunting was replaced by tinsel some months ago. Another obvious option is to go as an Olympian and dust off my badminton gear and my London 2012 T-shirt. But if not either of those two options, then what else? Gay marriage? Would some kind of bridal theme fit the bill? And would it be right, even, to call that a highlight of the year?

I’m very much torn when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. On the one hand, it seems imperative as a lesbian, as a human, and importantly also as a Christian, to get fully behind the struggle for gay marriage. The implications of gay marriage being overturned, in terms of how this would fuel the anti-gay lobby, seem too detrimental not to. Moreover, as Peter Tatchell has asserted, being a fighter for equality means that whilst I may not necessarily see gay marriage as personally desirable, if this is important to other LGBT people then it is important to show solidarity.

What concerns me however is how some have framed the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage as the final inequality. By implication, this suggests that if/when gay marriage is achieved, we can say ‘job done’ in the LGBT equality struggle. Really? Not only is this line of thinking exceptionally naive, but it is dangerous too. Does this mean that there will be less tolerance for hearing about ongoing inequalities; will such reports be met by the retort, “What do you mean, unequal? You can EVEN get married now?”. Since when did marriage become the gold standard of equality?

I appreciate that marriage is important to many people, and that the exclusion from marriage may be experienced as an undervaluing and lack of recognition of one’s relationship – compounded by the rather bureaucratic, legalistic and unromantic language of ‘civil partnership’ and ‘civil partner’. However, so many other life events need to pass by before one reaches the point of marriage, and in these life events, LGBT people do not experience equality.

From homophobic bullying, heteronormative sex education and the silence surrounding sexuality and gender identity struggles in schools, to the anxieties of coming out, proven in some cases by ostracization from families and communities and a disproportionate rate of youth homelessness, young LGBT people may feel that gay marriage is a very remote issue, with day-to-day survival being a more pressing concern. And of course, the devastating reality is that for some these pressures, fears, anxieties and the oppression of rejection and/or self-hatred are too much to bear, with again a disproportionate number of LGBT young people taking their own lives as a result. Campaigns such as ‘It Gets Better’ are moving and inspirational, but surely, regardless of whether or not we have gay marriage, how equal can we be when we still need to make videos to persuade young LGBT people that their lives are worth living?

As the end of 2012 nears, it looks like we will be seeing the start of legislation for gay marriage in 2013, an outcome which to date has been intertwined with fierce debates regarding religious freedom rather than being celebrated as an outright victory. This itself indicates that the road to LGBT equality is a long and winding one, and that we should not be complacent in thinking that the end is in sight. My hope and prayer for 2013 is that gay marriage euphoria – if and when it kicks in – will not come at the cost of sidelining the struggles of those who continue to bear the brunt of LGBT oppression and inequality daily. Gay marriage may be a small part of this struggle, but protection from violence and harassment; support for LGBT youth; resources for LGBT mental health; equal protection for victims of LGBT domestic violence; respect and equal treatment from police, social workers, medical professionals, managers etc; and a social and cultural shift which overturns the very notion of having to ‘come out’, surely need to come first.

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Survey reveals high incidence of hate crime and self-harm among LGBT youth

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The struggles of LGBT Iraqis

A really important and insightful post from Global Equality Today on the challenges facing LGBT Iraqis – especially in terms of highlighting the double-bind which transgender Iraqis find themselves caught within whereby there is no recognition for one’s gender identity within Iraq (as with many other countries) and yet little chance of being able to leave and receive that vital support and recognition elsewhere…

Global Equality Today

Protection Concerns and Vulnerabilities for LGBT IraqisBlog Posting Written by: Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, July 2012

In March of 2012, U.S. and international media outlets reported a renewed wave of violence against LGBT individuals inside Iraq. Since that time, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) has conducted nearly 50 interviews (and counting) with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis who fear persecution and/or face serious protection concerns inside Iraq because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. About 45 interviewees identify as gay males and two are transgender persons, assigned female but identifying as male.

The Current Situation on the Ground for Gay Iraqi Men:

Protection concerns and vulnerabilities vary within the gay Iraqi community depending on whether the man is able to, or chooses to, hide any outward manifestation of his sexual orientation. Those that suppress any outward manifestation of their sexuality do not face immediate physical danger. Most are able to maintain…

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When is hate not hate??

I was appalled to hear about the gay woman in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA who on Sunday faced the terror of having three masked men enter her home, physically attack her, most notably carving ‘dyke’ and other homophobic terms into her skin, and then set her home alight (see article on Pink News). Thankfully, she managed to escape from her home and we can only imagine how she is coming to terms with her ordeal…my thoughts are with her, and it’s amazing that so many people have shown their support by holding a candlelit vigil for her. I hope that this act has brought some comfort to her. However, according to the Pink News article cited above, it appears that the police investigation is yet to label this crime as a homophobic attack. The evidence, which the victim/survivor may possibly wear on her skin forever, appears comprehensive. It is true that there are occasions when it is not possible immediately to know whether someone was targetted by an offender on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity or whether this crime would have occurred regardless of these factors, but where there is compelling evidence, I think that we should be clear that this is hate and that this changes the nature of the offence. An attack of this nature would have been horrendous for anyone, of course, but labelling it as a hate crime qualitatively changes the nature of the crime, I would suggest. In the UK, the legal position is that a crime motivated by hate (be that on the basis of race, religion, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation) carries a higher sentencing tariff than an offence which does not have such motivations. Some might question why this is so? – after all, if someone has been physically beaten, then the physical impacts could be the same, regardless of one victim being gay and another being heterosexual, etc. Yet whilst we may all experience varying degrees of fear about the randomness of certain crimes and our incalculable vulnerability as a result (we only need consider the horrific shooting at the Batman premiere in Aurora last week…), what is different about hate crime is that is precisely that it is not random – its victims are chosen because who they fundamentally are is not acceptable to others – and leads another human being to decide that they are not worthy of respect or freedom from harm. Huge harm is caused to the victim/survivor, physically, psychologically and often materially/economically also. However, the reverberations of hate crimes are such that the wider group targetted feels vulnerable, threatened and, in cases where hate crimes are not dealt with appropriately at whatever stage of the criminal justice system, unprotected by, not worthy of protection from, and distrusting of the police and courts. It is because of this that it is imperative to treat hate with all of the contempt which it deserves – and to send out clear signals that it is not to be tolerated.

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LGBT violence on the agenda…let’s keep it there!

When it comes to considering LGBT violence in global contexts, it often doesn’t feel like there is much to celebrate, but over the last week or so I have felt heartened to see that LGBT violence is appearing on important agendas globally, and sharing these examples can hopefully give people hope and encouragement that change can and does happen!

Firstly, on 5th July, the European Parliament adopted a resolution regarding violence against lesbians and the protection of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) human rights in Africa. This move towards exposing and campaigning against LGBT human rights violations in Africa is fundamentally important. Nothing will change immediately of course, but it is surely important in terms of showing solidarity towards LGBTI people who are facing or fearing persecution or violence because of their sexuality or gender identity, and will hopefully also promote awareness of human rights violations and urge action on them. Homosexuality continues to be illegal in many African countries, with violence often seen as justifiable, with the murder of Ugandan activist David Kato in January 2011 being one appalling example. Earlier this year, it was reported by ILGA and other LGBT rights organisations that ten women in Cameroon had been arrested and detained for the offence of being a lesbian, an offence which could result in up to five years in prison, no doubt under incredibly oppressive conditions. In South Africa, a conflicting picture emerges: South Africa is one of the first countries not only in Africa, but in the world, to enshrine protection for LGBT people within the national constitution, in turn making South Africa one of few countries globally to offer same-sex marriage. Yet such incredible achievements in LGBT equality are juxtaposed with shocking reports of homophobic violence, with ‘corrective rape’ – the practice of raping women known or believed to be lesbians to supposedly turn them straight – being amongst the most brutal and horrific. Many victims are severely beaten during these attacks and according to a report in the Guardian last year, 31 women have been killed in such attacks over the last ten years, with an estimated ten lesbians a week raped in Cape Town alone. The victims last year included a 13 year old girl. It’s difficult to read (and write) about such things, but these are realities which have to be confronted. It is therefore a huge step in the right direction for the European Parliament to take these issues on board, even if the journey ahead is likely to be long and treacherous.

The second notable achievement is that the president of Chile has within the last week signed in approved a gay hate crime law following national outrage in response to the homophobic murder of Daniel Zamudio earlier this year in a vile Neo-Nazi inspired attack which marked Mr Zamudio’s body with swastikas. It is tragic that this young man had to lose his life so viciously in order for this legislation to be pushed through, but it is incredibly important that this legislation will be brought in, and with such huge public support. Apparently this bill has taken seven years to come about though, reminiscent of the eleven years of tussle which it took to get anti-gay hate crime legislation approved in the USA following the similarly brutal and appalling murder of teenager Matthew Shepard. What does it say about our societies if they are so reluctant to legislate against violence borne out of hate? We can only hope that the struggles which have gone before will pave the way for other countries to see the importance and necessity of bringing in similar protections for all of their citizens and residents, regardless of sexuality, gender, or any other aspect of their identity.

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Illegal to be you – Kaleidoscope Trust – #illegaltobeyou

Hard-hitting video from the Kaleidoscope Trust…quite literally😦

GoodOleWoody's Blog and Website

“What if it were illegal for you to be you? Imagine if it were illegal to have blue eyes or be under 5ft 10ins and if breaking this law meant you could go to prison or face attack or even death.

In many countries around the world, gay people don’t have to imagine it. They already face the very real prospect of being criminalised for their sexuality. In no fewer than 78 countries around the world homosexual acts are still illegal. In five of them the maximum penalty is death.

Kaleidoscope Trust will campaign until equality is respected everywhere and there is universal acceptance of human rights for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

It should never be a crime to be gay.”

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LGBT activism alive and kicking at Marxism 2012

20120707-195611.jpgAs promised, here is my event report from Marxism 2012! I had a really good day in London yesterday. It was my first visit to this annual event, organised by the Socialist Worker Party which some of my friends belong to. I decided to go because there would be a number of sessions on LGBT oppression and activism which sounded really fascinating, and they were.

The first session which I went to was presented by Pura Ariza, and she led a session titled ‘How our sexuality is shaped: the roots of LGBT oppression’. She made some important points which often get lost in our tendency to be too ahistoric at times; namely, that LGBT oppression has not been constant through history; that not only ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transgender’ and ‘queer’, but also ‘homosexuality’ (which sounds rather dated and pathologizing now), are really very modern terms; and that the introduction of these terms into language (whilst recognising that some may reject any label for describing their sexuality) reflects a shift in emphasis from certain sexual practices to a more encompassing identity. Pura also talked a lot about the construction of the family and the shift (within Western contexts, that is) from the family being a self-contained economic unit, to industrial capitalism driving a rift between family/home and work, and thus changing the functions of the family to one where reproduction of workers (not only in the procreative sense, but in terms of socialisation into the ‘correct’ qualities to be a compliant worker) was key. Homosexual behaviour was then perceived as a threat to the goal of ensuring that everyone played their part in continuing the heteronormative family tradition and hierarchy. Thus, from a socialist perspective, the key to LGBT liberation is not purely wrapped up in LGBT equality and struggle, but is connected to wider socialist demands for a revolution which overthrows capitalism. I think there a number of questions which remain though with regard to exactly what kind of revolution would obliterate deep-seated homophobic views, which at present appear to exist in such a wide variety of economic and political structures globally?

I went to a number of other sessions, including a book launch session for Professor Danny Dorling’s latest book, The No-Nonsense Guide to Equality – he’s a fantastic speaker. I went to another session which I thought would be an introduction to some key Marxist concepts too, but sadly much of that went straight over my head. I think I kind of admitted defeat on hearing the passing remark, “I’m sure that you’ll all be familiar with Feuerbach’s 11th thesis…”. Nope, sorry…nor the ten which came before that one. Ironically the session was on alienation, and so it felt a bit like I’d had first-hand experience of that by the end of it!!

The highlight though was the evening session, ‘The Struggle for LGBT Liberation in the Middle East’, with speakers Hannan Maikey, co-founder and director of Palestinian LGBTQ organisation Alqaws and Hanif Leylabi, postgraduate student and activist. Both were great speakers. Hanif went over some of the same ground as the morning presentation had in terms of tracing the variety of views towards diverse sexual and gender practices globally and identifying that, in relation to Islamic states within the Middle East, there are examples of legal rulings from a thousand years ago which did not see same-sex sexual practices as deserving such horrific punishments as are often now issued. He identified the need for minority groups to share in each other’s struggles and fight for each other’s liberation, giving interesting examples of links forged between LGBT communities and mining communities during the 1980s’ miners’ strikes in the UK. I hadn’t been aware of any of that history – very interesting and unexpected.

Hearing from Hannan about her work and experiences in Palestine was a huge inspiration. She spoke about the different constructs of sexuality and identity in Palestine and the need to be cautious about straightforwardly transferring terms such as LGBT across to a different context where this may not be something that people relate to. In relation to this, she also challenged the idea that their is global LGBT struggle whereby we are all seeking the same things, because different countries are in such different places. This makes complete sense: whilst a huge goal in one context may be to host the first Pride march and develop positive imagery and visibility, in other contexts this may seem irrelevant, or much further down on the list of priorities. Clearly, where Palestine is concerned, there are more fundamental issues of safety and survival against the backdrop of so many huge injustices. Thus, Haneen argued that it was unhelpful, unwantedand indeed culturally imperialist for international LGBT organisations, whilst well-intentioned, to sweep in and lay down their own agenda, without having a full understanding of the cultural context and how individuals make sense of their sexuality and their needs in that context. She also spoke of media represntations of Palestinian LGBTQs as presenting a very narrow narrative of the oppressed and tortured victim, and the need to produce self-representations which go beyond such stereotypes which, she argued, fuel Islamaophobia and feed into what she described as an Israeli campaign of pink-washing, whereby Israeli boasts of their record on gay rights are used to justify their actions against Palestinians and deflect attention from their far from impressive record where other human rights issues are concerned.

All in all then it was a really interesting day with lots of rousing speakers and calls to challenge inequalities and oppression in their many manfiestations – but also with cautions about trying to define other people’s struggles for them when you’re looking into their context as an outsider. I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts about any aspect of this..?

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The week so far…

As ever there is plenty to talk about regarding LGBT human rights this week. One of the biggest concerns of the week though is the imminent consideration of a proposed new law in Ukraine, Law 8711, which would potentially obliterate any LGBT presence in public life: no visibility in the media, no publically available information, no activism – with fines or even imprisonment for those who resist. Click here to sign an All Out petition and spread the word…the crucial vote for what would be appalling and stifling legislation takes place this Friday!

Meanwhile, in the UK, it’s going to be a busy week in the UK with London WorldPride taking place this weekend. In the run up to that, there will be a conference in London examining issues related to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Commonwealth nations. I would have loved to attend, but unfortunately I found out about it too late. In the (rare?!) event that anyone who’s going reads this, do post an event report!

I will however be attending Marxism 2012 for the first time where there will be a great line-up of speakers on LGBT rights internationally to coincide with WorldPride…I’m particularly looking forward to hearing from Haneen Maikey from Palestinian LGBTQ organisation Alqaws. I shall report back afterwards!

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Welcome to stopLGBTviolence

This blog seeks to challenge the continuing silence surrounding violence and abuse in intimate relationships, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relationships, with the aim of connecting globally with activists, academics, practitioners, survivors and anyone with an interest in these issues. I hope to create a space to draw attention to LGBT equality and human rights issues: a space to celebrate the vital achievements; to share my anger and dismay on hearing about the unending violations of LGBT people’s freedom, safety and dignity; and to channel these feelings into a constructive response. I particularly want to bring domestic violence into this arena. There are some brilliant organisations which do crucial campaigning and awareness-raising work regarding LGBT human rights, but LGBT domestic violence doesn’t fit neatly into human rights discussions. I think that it needs to though: domestic violence is extremely damaging, physically and/or psychologically, but it isn’t only the abusive partner causing the harm. A more substantial issue is the wider social and cultural context which in most countries, albeit to different extents, doesn’t acknowledge same-sex relationships; doesn’t value lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans individuals; doesn’t see them as deserving victims; and creates legal or cultural barriers which prevent the reporting of abuse and access to support. LGBT domestic violence is absolutely a human rights issue, but it’s a more complex one, since it requires us to make sense of the unpleasant and perhaps unexpected realities of how partners are hurting each other in some same-sex and transgender relationships.

Thanks for dropping by – I hope that this post will be the first of many, and that you will find the information and discussions posted useful and interesting. Do say hello and do get in touch to share ideas, experiences, challenges and so on.

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