Archive for the ‘ Current Events ’ Category

Hurry up and fucking die, Fred Phelps

Word on the ‘net is that Fred Phelps, of Westboro Baptist Church fame, is on his deathbed, and dear fag-hating God do I hope it’s true.

He’s an awful person. Like, really awful. Like, remember when they picketed Matthew Shephard’s funeral? Awful. He can’t die fast enough for me, personally, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Fortunately for the world, there are pleasanter, more level-headed people out there, most of whom will take the standard “we shouldn’t be celebrating anybody’s death” line. Which is great. I wish everyone would take that line. But I won’t, and here’s why I’d ask that the level-headed among you please refrain from casting your judgment beams all over those of us who are angry.

Fred Phelps is (hopefully soon it will be “was”) a dick. Since the 90s, his church has been running a crusade of bigotry, of  vulgarity, and of straight up ugly hatred. He has made it his life’s work to make life worse for people who are already struggling. He’s not worth his own weight in pus, let alone the precious oxygen he continues to waste. The world will be a measurably better place once he’s no longer in it. One fewer high profile bigot is nothing to be sniffed at. Not while our children are still killing themselves because of scum like Phelps. So yeah, I’m going to be happy when he dies. I’m going to celebrate. I’d love to picket his funeral, if I wasn’t thousands of kilometres away. And I’m not the only one.

Given the hateful legacy Phelps chose to build for himself, it’s no surprise that people are making comments about picketing his funeral. It is these comments that are most likely to draw the inevitable “that’s exactly what the Westboro Baptist Church would do/you’re just lowering yourself to their level”s. But it’s not the same. It’s not even similar, despite the lazy surface similarities. Yes, they are both the picketing of funerals. But Phelps and the WBC picketed the funerals of soldiers and murdered innocents. We judge people by their actions. Fred Phelps and Matthew Shephard are NOT the same, and I won’t pretend they are. Rejoicing in the death of a monster does NOT make you a monster – it just means you’re not an angel.

Of course people will be happy when Phelps finally kicks it. Because, when you get right down to it, this is the only way society can progress – and we ALL know it. Bigots like Phelps don’t change their minds, and we can’t get rid of them, but Time can.

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The Russia problem

What kind of backward-ass place would have laws prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality”? What kind of bigoted society would allow that? (Aside from Britain ten years ago, I mean)

Well, America.

Ok, not ALL of America. Just Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah (yup, all of those states have “no promo homo” laws that are functionally identical to Russia’s). Section 28 in the UK was before my time, but still far too recent for us to be climbing onto our little high-horses. Especially when less than three weeks ago a political figure in the UK made headlines for claiming that God was flooding the UK because of David Cameron’s (comparatively) tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.

The Winter Olympics is finally upon us, and the world’s gaze is fixed on Sochi, Russia. Things in Russia appear to have gone down the tubes pretty quickly over the past couple of years, for LGBT people in particular. Political campaigns like All Out have done an excellent job of raising awareness, and recently the Channel 4 documentary Hunted has received a huge amount of attention for its terrifying depiction of life for LGBT Russians. Local organisations like Bristol Pride and international businesses like Google have added their voices to an increasingly strong chorus, and I personally am thankful for every one. It says beautiful things about our society that people care this deeply about LGBT rights (or, at the very least, it shows that we’re making progress).

I don’t want to discourage anyone from condemning Putin’s homophobia and anti-gay attitudes in Russia. I hope we can add a little nuance to the debate without doing so.

There is some important context that has been left largely unaddressed – America really wants to discredit Russia. You may have seen comments underneath articles about Russia claiming that it is “US propaganda”, which is problematic because it implies that the accusations of Russian homophobia are either inaccurate (which they’re not) or unimportant. I don’t have the best understanding the situation, so the following is based on a bit of research I did specifically for this blog post (DO YOU FEEL SPECIAL).

Apparently it’s complicated. Like, way more complicated than I can properly explain. But (and I’m aware that I’m completely butchering this explanation – politics/history buffs may wish to look away now) the claim is that Russia has links with countries like Syria, Iran, and China that complicate America’s plans for world domination or whatever. I don’t fucking know. And don’t ask me how anti-Russian propaganda will help America, because it’s always seemed to me that governments pretty much do whatever they want regardless of the popular opinion of their citizens. But I digress. My point is that there are other factors. Feel free to clarify them for me in the comments.

There’s also the substantial issue of homophobia everywhere else in the fucking world. I’m not saying that people in bigoted houses shouldn’t be accusing others of homophobia, because that’s not true. Bigotry can and should be challenged by anybody. I would just like it if we could use this movement that’s arisen in response to the situation in Russia to make things better everywhere.

Generally, I’ve been very impressed by the world’s response. Channel 4 produced this amazing advert, which I think is pretty perfect, and the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion produced another, which would be funnier it wasn’t using gay sex as a punchline, but hey-ho.

OMG HAHA PUTIN IS GAY AND WEARING MAKEUP WHAT AN INSULT HOW EMBARRASSING FOR HIM BEING GAY IS A BAD THING HAHAHA PUTIN IS GAY

OMG HAHA PUTIN IS GAY AND WEARING MAKEUP WHAT AN INSULT HOW EMBARRASSING FOR HIM BEING GAY IS A BAD THING HAHAHA PUTIN IS GAY

It makes sense, in a way, that people would want to mock Russia and Putin. Stephen Colbert, who I’m assured is a very funny man, seems to find the situation hilarious. Journalists in Sochi have been using the hashtag #SochiProblems to draw attention to the various shortcomings in their accommodations. But as amusing as missing doorknobs and too-many-lightbulbs are, hardly a mention has been made of the living conditions of the actual residents of the city itself. And after the Olympic spotlight has been turned off, it’s likely that things are going to get worse for the residents of Sochi – the gay and straight alike. This is a problem because shitty times beget shitty attitudes – history has shown us that when times get harder, bigotry flourishes. Not so funny now, huh?

So laugh if you want. Cry if you need to. Boycott and campaign and I’ll be standing right beside you. But don’t be deluded into believing that an anti-Russian attitude absolves you of the need to challenge homophobia at home.

Why being “sexuality blind” does not make you an ally

*** Just to be clear – I’m not bashing anyone. This is just an explanation of my feels ***

Hooray! Tom Daley is one of us!

One of who?

Well, one of the gays, right?

Nope, he was pretty clear that he likes girls.

Bisexual, then?

Let’s just leave that for him to decide, mmkay? All he’s done is tell us he’s going out with another guy. There’s already been plenty written about the media’s unnecessary and incorrect mislabelling, all of it far more sensible and coherent than I could have managed. Go check it out.

I’m here for another reason.

Let me just start by saying that I’m so happy for Tom, and that I’m really grateful to him for having the courage to share that part of himself with us. For those of you who haven’t experienced it personally – telling the world you like guys is pretty fucking hard, and for someone with a profile as high as Tom’s he is literally telling the world. Fair play.

Now, onto the meat of the subject. Over the past few hours I’ve seen a great deal of “who cares? It’s his business/sexuality shouldn’t be a big deal”, which is perfect in theory but falls spectacularly short in practice. It’s a problem because “why is this news?” is only a half-step away from “the media are shoving homosexuality down our throats”.

I agree with you 100%, sexuality SHOULDN’T be important; but the undeniable fact of the matter is that it IS. You might think you’re being enlightened by looking over your glasses at people excited by the news and telling them that it doesn’t matter to you, but you’re actually being kind of a jerk. Here’s why:

Sexuality matters. Yeah, it shouldn’t – you’re preaching to the fucking choir. Telling gays that sexuality isn’t important is like telling starving kids that you don’t want to hear about it because everyone should have enough to eat. It’s kind of insulting. See here for a better explanation.

Us gays, we need this. 99% of school children have heard the word “gay” used as an insult. Statistics vary, but young gay people are between three and ten times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. The world still hates us, and it still fucks us up.

Having idols like Tom helps. I can’t even begin to put into words how glad I am that teenagers will have in him a role model who is successful, athletic, and loved. It makes a difference, even if just to let you know that you’re not alone. On this, I’m speaking from experience.

So all you open-minded hetero types, thank you for not judging people by their orientation. Thank you, really, and I wish everyone was like you. For future reference, though, when someone does something as brave as come out (on YouTube, no less) the correct response isn’t “who cares?”, it’s “good for you”.

Good for you, Tom.

Why marriage equality matters to me

I have a confession to make. I haven’t written to my MP, Mr Julian Brazier, about the government’s equal marriage proposals. It wouldn’t, of course, have made the slightest difference if I had (not least of all because Mr Brazier has other constituents to represent, many of whom are backward and bigoted); but I should have done it anyway. I should have done it because marriage equality is important.

I don’t have a sob story. I had a happy childhood – I wasn’t bullied at school (more than any other weedy geek, anyway), I had great friends who loved me for who I was, and when I came out to my family I wasn’t assaulted or even disowned.

Marriage equality matters because there are thousands of other children who aren’t as lucky as I was. Thousands of children (I can’t stress that enough – children) face verbal and physical abuse from their parents and peers just for being who they are – and it takes a horrific toll. A 2008 research report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that young gay people are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.

It’s tragic, but it’s not surprising. As they grow up, gay young people discover that (legally) they are not equal. The playground bullying is legitimised, particularly when it is tacitly endorsed by authority figures.

The angry queen inside me blames a lot of people for every gay teen suicide. Everyone from the people who bullied the kid directly to people on the other side of the world who use the word “gay” as an insult, to mean “rubbish”. We’ve all contributed, and we pay for it every time another child takes their own life.

Playground bullying and homophobia in society will probably be around for a long time, but homophobia in British law doesn’t have to be. We have an amazing chance here to change the experiences of young people for generations to come – young people who will grow up knowing that they are equal, no matter who they are or who they fall in love with.

That’s why marriage equality matters to me. Maybe someday I’ll fall in love and settle down, and then it’ll matter to me for a whole bunch of other reasons, but this is enough.

Legal highs

The front page of yesterday’s Kentish Gazette is a story about a new shop that’s just opened in Canterbury. The shop’s called UK Skunkworks, and apparently sells legal recreational drugs and related drug paraphernalia. The story made the front page because recently, tragically, two local young men died after taking methoxetamine; a drug that was at the time legal but has now been banned under new government powers. The tone of the article is generally negative, and features our dear MP Mr Julian Brazier explaining his objection to the shop’s existence.

I’m troubled by this for several reasons.

Firstly, although the drug has been implicated in several deaths, as of the 23rd of March 2012 no deaths have positively been linked to methoxetamine use. The government and the media consistently misrepresent drug harms, as we saw in 2009/2010 with mephedrone and the late 90s with Ecstasy and the death of Leah Betts. That being said, methoxetamine has a whole heap of nasty effects and people have been hospitalised as a direct result of the drug.

Secondly, when it comes to drug use I believe that people should be able to make their own decisions. Why should any action be illegal if it doesn’t cause anyone else any harm? I’m not saying that we should just wash our hands of those who, through desire or ignorance, are going to hurt themselves; I’m saying that if a person has made an informed decision about what they want then I would rather support than condemn them.

Condemning and punishing a person for drug use doesn’t do any good. Recreational drugs such as ketamine and cannabis are still produced and distributed in the UK, despite the fact that they’re illegal. If they were legal they could be subjected to regulations and quality control, increasing safety. Making something illegal doesn’t mean people will stop doing it, it just means that they’ll be less safe when they do. Not to mention, of course, the fact that money raised by the drug trade is a motivator for violent crime and encourages organised crime. Just like in America during the prohibition.

… which leads me to my next point – something that always winds me up. Alcohol and tobacco, two of the most harmful drugs, are not only legal (though subject to age restrictions) but people are legally encouraged to try them (through adverts/common use on television and in film). In my opinion, the restrictions on alcohol and tobacco should the same as the restrictions on any other drug. This would mean that either all drugs would be legal (with restrictions) or all drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) would be illegal, to varying degrees. Personally, I’d prefer either of those scenarios to our current situation.

Neither scenario is perfect, of course. I can imagine that problems would occur if big companies were allowed to push other drugs the way they push alcohol and tobacco.

Look, I’m not a drug taking person. I drink alcohol every so often, and I once took a few puffs of a mate’s cigarette. I just can’t understand why a personal decision that doesn’t harm anyone else should be illegal. The opinion of the moral majority shouldn’t be law. I guess if it was up to me, I’d legalise it all but place heavier restrictions on advertising. I’d like to see people having to earn a license to buy drugs, the same way people have to earn a license to drive a car, by taking lessons on drug safety and proving they know how to access help if they need it.

Maybe if this were the case, if drugs were subject to quality controls and if people who chose to use them had the knowledge to use them responsibly, fewer young people would die drug related deaths. Moreover, I don’t think it’s fair to use stories about people who’ve died after taking a drug to push for harsher drug laws. It doesn’t seem like it’s what they would have wanted.

Whatever, I don’t have all the answers. These have just been some ramblings that were too long and complicated for twitter, and too boring for facebook. Leave a comment to tell me whether you agree with me or not and why. I look forward to hearing your feedback 🙂

BREAKING NEWS: Jeremy Clarkson “a twat”

So, you think strikers should be shot (in front of their families)? Apparently so. To be fair, though, I think it’d be quite funny if you were run over by an electric car. We’re none of us perfect, eh?

Yup, that’s right, this week Jeremy Clarkson took time out from his busy schedule of homophobia, racism, and misogyny, to remind us that underneath it all, he’s really just an arsehole.

I know this is like two days late, but screw it. I’ve been busy with like a buttload of uni stuff. I was up until 2am last night finishing the draft of a plan of a blog for one of my favourite modules. It’s pretty awesome that I’m writing a blog as a piece of coursework, but I also have to write about all the theoretical aspects of blogging. That’s not much of a downside though, really, because it’s really quite interesting! I’m going to publish the finished blog here, and I might even talk about the theory stuff too! Wouldn’t that be a treat?

In other news, today is World AIDS Day. I don’t really know what to say about that; HIV/AIDS is a massive problem costing too many lives, and words can’t really sum it up.

There have been some really interesting cases lately, though, reminding me that hope is always on the horizon.

My brain is frazzled lately, like, for reals, so I apologise for the lack of posts and the shoddiness of the posted posts. Love x

#nov9 – my protest diary

I write this without any particular political affiliation, but solely as a student who believes that education should be free. This is intended as an account of the mundanities of the day, and as a way for anyone who wasn’t there (but is interested) to put a face to the phenomenon and a personal spin on a story involving thousands.

The demonstration today was organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, and was attended by a huge number of students (I’ve heard estimates of up to 10,000). It focused on the recent rise in tuition fees, as well as the scrapping of the EMA, and the various other cuts to education and public services.

Our coach left Bristol at 7.30 in the morning, with around twenty UWE students on board. We arrived in London shortly after 11.00, and were dropped off outside the Tate Britain. After a brief discussion about where the central meeting point was and how we should get there, we began moving. We had only been walking for about fifteen minutes when we reached what appeared to be a police checkpoint (here). We were separated and questioned individually, before being told that we were going to be searched. Fortunately I didn’t have anything of note in my bag (although I did have a lighter, safety pins, and a screwdriver…) and so I was released fairly quickly. I discovered, though, that another member of our group was having less luck. They were, in the end, arrested for possession of an article deemed somehow inappropriate – a pen. Unfortunately, not a joke. Here‘s a pic I took 🙂

Spirits somewhat dampened, we continued towards the meeting point. Since we were running late I contacted the NUS LGBT representative who had given their details in a prior facebook message, and asked whether the demonstration had begun yet. I received a rapid and very helpful response, for which I’m grateful, and within minutes we had reached the head of the march. As it began, we attached ourselves to its front.

Progress was slow. The police line at the front of the march set the pace, and we continued in this fashion for a little while. As we passed Trafalgar Square, people began deviating from the proposed route and entering the square itself. We followed, and by the time we reached the base of Nelson’s Column tents had already been set up and protesters surrounded the area. Shortly after this, though, the main body of the march had been redirected away from the square. We waited in the area for half an hour or so, until the march had completely passed by. Nothing else seemed to be happening in the Trafalgar Square area, so we decided to move on. Before we headed after the rest of the demonstration, though, we had a look round. The police had blocked all rounds into and out of the Southern half of the square; using officers, horses, and vans. Having satisfied our curiosity, we continued after the rest of the march.

It didn’t take us long to catch up, but when we did we found that the dynamic had shifted considerably. The police had broken the demonstration up into smaller groups, each with mounted police at the front and riot police at the back. We spent a significant portion of time travelling in this manner. There were lines of police blocking every side road, standing behind railings and riot shields. The police wore helmets and balaclavas, which was honestly just a bit rude considering that they’d told us repeatedly that they’d be making full use of Section 60 to remove any masks and facial coverings worn by protesters.

Kettles began forming, but fortunately we were slightly ahead of our group and weren’t caught inside. Further waiting ensued, whilst we tried to discern if the group was being allowed to move. After a while we tried to move round to another side of the kettle, but the police lines there were just as strong. Instead, we decided to try and rejoin the main bulk of the protest.

When we rediscovered the main group, around Moorgate, I was unsurprised to find that they had been completely kettled. We spoke to some other stragglers outside the kettle and discovered that the march had been prevented from passing St. Pauls, despite the fact that it was clearly part of the agreed route. Unwilling to simply wait at the back, outside the kettle, we decided to head round to see if we could find the front of the demonstration again. We did, but it seemed that the crowd’s energy was pretty low.

It was getting late, so we began to head back to the coach. On the way, we stopped at St. Pauls to see the occupation. It was smaller than I’d imagined, but the crowd there was lively and interesting. We headed to Trafalgar Square before the coach as well, and saw the taxi drivers. They had also planned an action for today, and were blocking all of the roads towards the square. This action was unrelated to the students protests, and was in fact to do with a problem they had been having involving the council’s refusal to deal a legal dispute of their own. This was also the first time I’d ever seen a police lorry. I didn’t even know they existed.

We got back to the coach just in time, and managed a safe and speedy journey back to Bristol. All in all, I’d have to say that I’m glad I was there. The tone of the protest was very different to that of the protests I’d attended last year, most likely due to the sheer number of police. The entire route had been lined with police officers, often standing behind barricades. In many ways it wasn’t a march at all, but more of a moving kettle. The mounted police officers were nothing new, but the dog unit (pics here and here) was a bit of a shock, as was the checkpoint we encountered at the beginning of our day.

As is becoming common practice, we were treated rudely and roughly (and for what, daring to exercise our freedom?). The entire atmosphere generated by the police before and during the demonstration was one of intimidation, from the threats we received about the authorisation of the use of rubber bullets, and the letters sent to the people’s homes warning them away from the protest and threatening them with arrest if they were caught attending, to the indiscriminate arrests and disproportionate police presence. A legitimate protest became an exercise in crowd control.

It is during times like these, however, that the preservation of the right to protest seems to become the most important. Bring on November 30th!