Monday, 6 February 2017

Jim Shannon needs to learn the facts of LGBT life in Northern Ireland

All over the weekend the people of Derry/Londonderry have be scouring the banks of the Foyle searching for the body of Jack Glenn the Grandson of one of my dad's cousins. Today also marks the tenth anniversary of my father's death. About this time 31 years ago I very nearly did what Jack Glenn did and end my own life by jumping into freezing cold water. While the reasons 31 years on are different the depth of the individual's despair is something that resonates on.

Seeing the love extended to and the grief experienced by members of my expanding family makes me glad I didn't become another statistic in some data base to some. But a deeply regretted loss to those nearest and dearest to me then, and the new ones who have joined our family since.

Today in the House of Commons the MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon said:

"We must also allow teachers who are uncomfortable discussing and promoting British moral values that might undermine their own dearly held personal faith to withdraw from teaching those values, with no penalty and no fear of losing their job. We have many examples of that. 
"There is the example of Ashers in Northern Ireland. We have the case of the bed and breakfast owners and that of the Christian registrar. It is not enough for our Prime Minister to talk about freedom to live one’s faith; we must now have the support of the law to do that. Any legislation must protect the right of teachers to withdraw from promoting values that undermine their faith."

Sure Mr Shannon you want those who are Christian teachers to not tell children than being gay is OK. Well those 31 years ago I was a student at the largest secondary school in your constituency. I was coming to terms with being gay but did not know who I could talk to about it. You see the thing is like so many other LGBT+ teenagers in Northern Ireland through the years I came from a Christian family. I didn't know where to turn to and at the time I didn't know that there were other people struggling the same struggle as me.

If only someone had been able to tell me at that point that it was ok to be gay. I wouldn't have been suicidal, looking for a way out of a conflict that was going on inside me. Indeed you know what was worse. It wasn't that long before that time that the DUP were telling me they wanted to safe Ulster from Sodomy. Some of them even said that we should lock up people for being gay. I was still a virgin and feared for my freedom, my ability to find love.

So Jim Shannon is quite prepared to defend the jobs of Christian teachers, but isn't let those same teachers express Christ-like love that is needed to make people feel accepted and possibly not consider suicide as an option. Is there not a moral code about loving everyone, about trying to stop people from killing themselves, showing them love, understanding and even sitting and eating bread with them.

WWJD, doesn't stand for "what would Jim do?" it stands for what would Jesus do and I know it was him who turned me around from staring into that abyss where I contemplated taking my own live and then showed me that he still loved me. I believe that Jesus wants the Christians of Northern Ireland to get alongside the LGBT+ young people and show them love, not judgement. Show them compassion not condemnation.

Northern Ireland needs inclusive age appropriate sex education. We can't leave it to families who may be as anti-LGBT+ as the DUP are, as they make the entire church out to be. If we do many other will take their own life.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Identity - my choice, my right, my decision

Yesterday I posted a tweet in light of the Article 50 vote in the House of Commons.

As I live and was born in Northern Ireland I have the right under the Northern Ireland Act to identify as British, Irish or both. On legal form for the last 19 years (including the last 2 Census forms) I have identified as British and Irish, sometimes having to fill in other when the option was not open to me in the non-Northern Irish forms to choose that option.

Well last night the assistant editor of Conservative Home Henry Hill took exception to this.

As you see from my first response I took exception to this. But it soon escalated.

Mr Hill soon declared that I had disowned Britain, ironically he had claimed it was an over-the-top smear. Strange when all I had done what chosen how to identify as was my Westminster given right as a subject/citizen in Northern Ireland.

He then went on to claim that I was trying to break up the United Kingdom. Claiming I was anti-Lib Dem in not being pro-UK. I responded by referring him to part of the preamble to the Liberal Democratic constitution.

We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and commit ourselves to the promotion of a democratic federal framework within which as much power as feasible is exercised by the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. We similarly commit ourselves to the promotion of a flourishing system of democratic local government in which decisions are taken and services delivered at the most local level which is viable.
But he insisted that I should ignore the fact that in the debate James Brokenshire the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has promised there would be no special status for Northern Ireland. Or that he and Theresa May have ignored evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that their fiction of a frictionless, custom free border with Republic of Ireland cannot exist as out side the EU and any part of it there are things like outside EU taxes and duty that have to be considered. Trust me the fall in the price of Sterling affected my monthly underwear delivery yesterday from Australia add £11.58 to a £17.60 order!!

The ones who are breaking up the UK are the ones who have ignored the reasons that many voted to Remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland many voted to remain in the UK only because of uncertainty over whether an independent Scotland would be able to benefit from EU membership, with that gone they may now vote for Independence, The majority in Northern Ireland probably along with London are two of the most entwined areas of the UK with the EU. They knew the complexities that faced them personally and those around them. They knew how enmeshed a lot of what happened in their areas is with the EU and to untangle it would be a never ending puzzle and certainly not something that can be done successfully within 2 years.

To be clear I've never wanted to see the UK break up. But I'm living in the reality of the situation. My UK passport has lapsed and I'm not minded to renew it at this point anyway as it will need to be renewed again after Brexit, so I am down to one passport my Irish one. This also allows be greater freedom to travel within Europe and in a few years time I'll be one getting the coffees in at the other side of customs while I wait for my fellow Brits to join me.

Of course Mr. Hill can spout his alternative facts about me. But those who have known me, know I'm proud of all aspects of my heritage and have done all I can to keep them all together. But yesterday as Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was a turning point in British history, sadly I don't see it in the glorious terms in which he wants to frame it.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Tam Dalyell 1932 - 2017

In the dedication of his autobiography The Importance of Being Awkward Tam Dalyell wrote:

"To the men and women of West Lothian – Labour, SNP, Conservative, Liberal, Communist – who, whatever their political opinions, were kind to me in all sorts of ways over 43 years as their representative in the House of Commons."

As one of those Liberals in West Lothian who in the latter years would have been included in that tribute I can know why the people of all political persuasions were kind to him. It was because he was always kind to them. In today's politics where pro-Independence and RemaIN Scots are at loggerheads and Brexiteers and Remainers similarly it says something that the MP for one area for 43 years was so universally respected.

That respect went well beyond just Tam and indeed before the recent rise of the SNP in the last decade and the call for independence it was still thus in West Lothian politics. Sometimes you would see three poster teams all at the same location and the ladders would stay put when the climbers moved between them. At counts and hustings there would be a camaraderie between all of those who were involved in politics of whatever hue.

Tam and I would have disagreed on a number of policy issues. But we both agreed on the importance of scientific evidence and factual evidence to base our policy on, even if the end results were different. It was something that I did write in a letter that I had in my pocket at my first Westminster count in 2005, the election that would for the first time in over 4 decades not see Tam Dalyell on the ballot. I wrote that while we disagreed on policy in a number of way I respected the way he had represented the people of West Lothian for all those years. I added that whoever filled his shoes would have a hard task, but if they put the people first as he had done they would earn the same respect that he himself had done.

His handwritten response (once I deciphered his scrawl) is still one of my greatest possessions. He wrote that he thought I had a bright future in politics, something that has been echoed by other Labour representatives in that area. But there are other comments in that that show why the people of West Lothian of all political hues respected him. He respected them, put them first and stood up for them whoever they may be, whoever they had voted for.

By all accounts he enjoyed his decade away from the daily hustle and bustle of Westminster of politics. The former Guardsman, hereditary Baronet with a famous ancestor of the same name, was first and foremost always just Tam to everyone whose life he impacted on.

Rest in Peace Tam.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Trump's Presidential Oath

News is coming from the head of Donald Trump's hacking de facto transition team that the Presidential Oath will be slightly different from those of past Presidents. Here is the exact wording:

Перед тем, как войти в исполнении его канцелярии, он должен принять следующую присягу или торжественное обещание: - "Я торжественно клянусь, что буду добросовестно исполнять должность президента Соединенных Штатов, и воли к лучшей из моей способности, сохранять, охранять и защищать Конституцию России

Melania will be holding this bible for the oath taking ceremony.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Red, White and Blue Brexit bad for Northern Ireland

Here in the land that is base for HBO's Game of Thrones the talk of a Red, White and Blue Brexit as first described by Theresa May and increasingly mentioned by others since is not universally going down well. Let me explain why (in the language that GoT fans will find familiar).

Queen Arlene, First of Her Name surveys her Kingdom of the North from her White Keep (Parliament Buildings, Stormont). She was very much in favour of Brexit and her sigil is St. Edward's Crown on a background of Red, White and Blue. However, outside the gates of the keep the people however are not as much in agreement of Brexit as Arlene and her small (well not so small) council.

Prince Martin is meant to be a co-regent with Queen Arlene. His house's ancient sigil was an armalite and a ballot box on a background of Green, White and Gold, but now it is just the ballot box though some banners still show a shadowy figure of the armalite. He is opposed to Brexit and the mention of it as being Red, White and Blue is not going down well with his bannermen who largely were also opposed to Brexit.

Meanwhile in Kings Landing, Queen Theresa, First of Her Name, Queen of the Four Kingdoms and her small council have largely ignored that the Kingdom of the North has a large border with Europeros with which her four Kingdoms are looking to depart. There are many workers from the southern part of the island that the Kingdom of the North shares with Europeros. There leader King Michael, First of his name, also known by some as the Imp, or Leprechaun because of his diminutive stature and his hand Enda are very much in favour of Europeros are a little offended that Queen Theresa is asking them to control movement of Europeros citizens entering their territory as they have not signed up for Brexit but have signed up for the freedom of movement of Europeros citizens both into and out of their nation.

There has been a peace in the Kingdom of the North for only 3 decades and even then at times it has been tense. Talking up Brexit as being an issue that is Red, White and Blue may stir up some of the sleeping armies of the old days. Continuing to wrap this argument is patriotism based on symbols which still cause dispute in the Kingdom of the North contravenes the treaty that the Kingdom of the North was allowed a degree of autonomy over its own affairs. It is a part of the Four Kingdoms that allows civilians to follow in the Red, White and Blue sigil, or the Green, White and Gold one, or both if they chose too. Fealty is not a black and white matter, nor should it be hyped up in full colour.

Be warned those in Kingslanding (Westminster in this tale) not all the people of the Four Kingdom (United Kingdom) want to hear talk of Red, White and Blue Brexit. Here in the Kingdom of the North (Northern Ireland) some of us have been campaigned for safe and open spaces where everyone can gather. Your painting of Brexit as being a matter of Red, White and Blue while talking to little Englanders, is not so great to the fringes Northern Ireland and indeed Scotland.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

My former Teacher hasn't learnt #SammyWilsonMP #WorldAIDSDay

Once upon a time Sammy Wilson and I shared a classroom. One of our Economics teachers started a new job and for the last weeks of our first A'Level year Sammy Wilson stepped in.

Just over 15 months later I was at Kingston Polytechnic (as it then was) studying for my degree in Economics. In those early months I met a young man who was the first person I knew who was living with HIV. This was that dark old days of the 80s and ignorance was still rife about how HIV was transmitted with rumours about shaking hands, or sharing cups or toilet seats.

A couple of years later that young man moved into the house that I was living in. I shared many a chat into the small hours of the morning, listening to his concerns about the stigma he was facing, the life that he would be missing out on and the opportunities he felt he would never be able to fully realise. Those were tough, heart wrenching conversations. With hugs, cups of tea and the rest showing that the stigma was only from those who were ignorant.

Sammy Wilson has said he refuses to support World AIDS Day because "HIV is a result of lifestyle choices". The friend that I learnt my first lessons about HIV and AIDS about would snort at Sammy Wilson for saying that. His lifestyle choice that lead to him contracting HIV wasn't really a choice, he took drugs. Without the drugs he would have died. He was a haemophiliac and he had to take those drugs, it wasn't a choice. Like half of all haemophiliacs at that time he actually acquired HIV not through a lifestyle choice but though a desire to live and not bleed to death.

Of course Sammy Wilson has shown his ignorance of LGBT+ people in the past. He really thinks that the young man who sat in his A'Level class that year was happy with the realisation of his sexual orientation. The fact is that he had contemplated taking his life before Sammy stood before him in a classroom. The reason being that he couldn't chose to ignore the feeling he was having and it didn't fit with his Northern Irish, Presbyterian upbringing. That young man couldn't chose to be other than gay or bisexual. His orientation was there despite his upbringing and culture he grew up in. It was unhappy, full of bullying and a lonely place to be. It was something that back then he didn't speak to others about but he bottled it in.

Of course that young man back then is me. The message then was don't die of ignorance. The message is still the same today, sadly it is the ignorance of some of our politicians here in Northern Ireland that is the greatest risk.

Please Sammy don't let others gay, straight, children or adults die because of your ignorance about HIV.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

When the church turns on its own updated #DavidFord

This evening I looked up the first time I posted about this. It appears to have been 3½ years since the news first broke about David Ford was called by some in Second Donegore Presbyterian Church to step aside as an elder in their Kirk Session.

It appears that the debate over his position has finally reached the highest appeal court within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI). Their findings to many outside the church will make confusing reading. The Templepatrick Presbytery of which 2nd Donegore is one of the congregations have resolved to remove him from congregational duties within the church. Yet he remains an elder of good standing within the church.

The first part of this appears to be because the other ruling elders in the congregation disagree with David's view on seeking to allow civil same sex marriage within Northern Ireland. The second would appear that David's actions have done nothing to bring the church into disrepute with his stance. For the second I am thankful, but for the first I continue to be saddened by the church I grew up in and to some extent appears to continue to lack grace, understanding or a willingness to listen to members of their denomination who are LGBT+.

I have chronicled before my own experiences within the PCI (follow the label) so I'll not go over it here. But I am not the only family member of an elder/elders within the PCI who is LGBT+. Nor for that matter am I the only LGBT+ person who has been hurt by the attitude of the PCI or some of those within it. You notice here that I say some as others are prepared to look more deeply, listen more actively and seek to understand. To those who include David Ford, Stewart Dickson and Naomi Long amongst them I want to say thank you and keep on acting like Christ on these issues.

For those who continue to ignore the PCI's own pastoral guidelines for people with "same-sex attraction" (their term obviously not mine. I challenge you to show me in the Hebrew or Greek the verses that back up your position. I don't want you to stand behind the English translation of multiple complex words into the one catch all. After all I didn't think we made our ministers study Greek and Hebrew at Theological College so they would not be able to discern the true meanings of words not life in ignorance and from that be intolerant.