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.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

1820 Blood Overture

Tomorrow it will be 1,820 days since men who have had sex with men (MSM) have been able to give blood in England, Wales and Scotland. Tomorrow is also the first day that the same 12 month deferral period comes into force in Northern Ireland.

After years of me campaigning for an evidence based policy on the risk my blood and that or other people who take every precaution possible with regards to their blood this is the eve of a momentous day.

The 17th August 1998 was the last time I donated blood and on that day I had done so illegally not having checked all the small print about my sexual history. I hope that those who benefited in the shortfall after the effects of the Omagh bombing are not too annoyed with me my last pint. Early next week, I hope to be able to return to the ranks of those who donate blood.

However, while I can return to donating blood next week, it may not last for long. Should I have sex with another man I once again will have to wait twelve longs months of celibacy, even if that one person becomes my life partner to ever be able to give blood again. The fact that I can give blood tells you one thing about my I've not had sex in over 12 months, the fact that in the future I may not will tell you the reverse. No matter how safe, how committed a relationship or how good my blood is unaffected by disease and a good oxygen carrier it may be withdrawn from helping others.

However, while one small part of me is rejoicing to be able to donate my blood once again, another part of me mourns that should I fall in love again once more stigma rather the basis of how we make love will decide if I can donate or not.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Jim Wells to sue BBC over Homophobia claims #TheTruth

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceApparently Jim Wells MLA told the Belfast Telegraph is the sue the BBC over reporting the story about the Lesbian couple he encountered while out campaigning for the 2015 Assembly elections. He claims that the comments were "doctored" and "misrepresented what he said"  He goes on to say that he will "stop at nothing to clear his name".

Well if he is to do that I cannot hold back on some truth that I have promised members of my family that I would not ever disclose. I also am lifting the gentleman's agreement I have with one of the BBC journalists who witnessed one of the events that I am about to unfold.

It is a little know fact that Jim Wells actually invited a leading Northern Irish LGBT+ activist the wedding of one of his daughters. I happen to know this to be true, because it was I who received the invite, you see said daughter's husband is part of my family. I had a quiet conversation with Jim on that occasion he shook my hand, spook to me and looked me in the eye. He was also close enough to smell my cologne and not one of these sensory seemed to be repugnant to Mr Wells.

I can only therefore surmise that later when he said all those who took part in Belfast Pride he found repugnant that the only sense that would cause that reaction would be if he tasted me!

However, this wedding and meeting took part before the first debate on marriage equality at Stormont. On that day I was attending the debate and there was an interlude between the debate and the vote for questions. It was during this time that I encountered Jim Wells as a homophobe for the first time. Homophobia is described as having an irrational fear of homosexuality and/or homosexuals. Which I think describes what actually happened in the the restaurant that day. I was in the queue beside the Rev Chris Hudson and across the way was the BBC journalist. Ahead of me was Jim Wells.

I started with a friendly "Hello Jim" at which he turned around, I was about to ask after the health of Grace his wife and the rest of the family but after a quick look at who I was, I happened to be wearing my rather large I'm Liberal badge with a rainbow Lib Dem bird, he said "Oh you're one of them" and quickly turned heal. Rather an irrational, fearful reaction if you ask me.

Even before that however, I was at a hustings in the Black Box about international development was as I was working in a politically restricted role at the time I couldn't of course at my name to this piece on the Liberal Democrats NI website. Today I feel we have to disclose that this was my first hand account. Jim Wells assistant who at the time was dating a member of family looked straight over at me and mouthed, "You can't possibly blog that".

A number of years later and that assistant actually married that member of my family. His boss was invited to the wedding, as was I. This was a much stranger family gathering Jim was actively seen to be looking in my direction and actively avoiding me at the same time by my mother and others. I even saw this myself from out of the corner of my eyes. I'm not sure what he was expecting if I ever went anywhere near him, but it was yet another example of what I can only describe as the actions of someone who has an irrational fear of something, the fact that that something was me a politically astute campaigner who amongst other things is gay may well indicate that there is homophobia as an undercurrent and not in the glib way which that word is used at times, but a genuine actual fear.

I feel sorry for Jim that he suffers from such fear. But if he wants the truth to come out I am more than happy to help in that happening.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Dear all, An Apology - My part in Brexit - ALLEGEDY

Dear all,

According to Charles Moore (in yesterday's Daily Fail)  the UK would not have voted for Brexit if David Cameron had not forced through Same Sex Marriage. So of course this would not have happened if Lynne Featherstone had not raised the issue even though it was not in the coalition agreement.

But Lynne wouldn't have been able to raise it in cabinet had it not been Liberal Democrat policy after it adoption at Liberal Democrat conference in Autumn 2010. However, it also might not have been Federal Policy had not the Scottish party passed it as policy at their spring conference that Spring. It is for that first ripple that today I issue my apology and my part in our nation's downfall.

When Kieran Leach and I were researching the issues surrounding Same Sex marriage ahead of drafting the motion to conference an exit from the EU did not seem to have been an issue. At that time Belgium, (since 2000), Netherlands (2001), Spain (2005) nor Sweden (2009) had shown any inclination of leaving the EU as the result of their passing Equal Marriage legislation. It was also not an issue that the couple of speakers against the motion at that Spring Conference in Perth failed to raise as a consequence of what we were proposing. If we have missed out on some great piece of research that Charles Moore is privy to which states a correlation between Same Sex Marriage and exiting the EU we can only apologise.

As there is now a clear causal influence of being unable to remain within the EU and the passing of equal marriage or same-sex marriage legislation Kieran and myself can only apologise to the people of Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg, France and Denmark for their impending exits from the EU family. We would also ask Finland to carefully reconsider their agreement to introduce same-sex marriages on 1 March 2017 if they want to remain.

We just did not that the flapping of this butterflies wings could be so catastrophic.

Stephen Glenn
Chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats
Exec Member of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Committee

PS Please take all of the above with tongue firmly in cheek.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Taking Control of What?

This morning Nigel Farage declared the 24th June our Independence Day. But what does that mean?

All though the campaign and indeed for the last 25 years against rising Euroscepticism I have said we need to be in the EU not outside it Now that we have stepped outside it may be sometime before some realise what is missing so here is some things that I have been pondering today.

1. Our EU deal won't be gold standard. The United Kingdom are about to become the first nation to use the Lisbon Treaty to walk away from the EU. Do we really think that a majority of the other 27 are going to want to see that repeated? Not bloody likely.

Indeed all through the campaign the Brexiteers have told us that leaving will have no affect on our ability to live, study, work or retire in Europe. It won't lead to increase costs and tariffs on our trade with the EU etc But there is no way the 27 remaining members of the EU are going to give us all the benefits that come with membership having walked away. If they did it would encourage other nations to walk away with a good deal and there would be no point of being in the EU at all. Farage said he wanted to bring down the EU, now the EU have the power in their hands to bring down the UK.

2. There is a sharp divide in components. The Kingdom in no longer United in Scotland every single local authority voted remain. Nicola Sturgeon had already said that a new Independence Referendum is on the table and Scotland had been assured by the No team that being part of the EU was only guaranteed if they voted against Independence in 2014. Being taken out of the EU "against their will" has changed the constitution question in Scotland and many who voted No may now feel that leaving the UK and negotiating to enter the EU before Brexit is final is now more attractive.

Then in Northern all of the areas next to our European land border, plus three of the four areas in Belfast and North Down all voted the remain In most of the others which are Unionist strongholds it wasn't a clear vote leave. The Northern Ireland Act itself is so enshrined in being part of the EU and its constitutions that it will need to be redrafted, and then reapproved by referendum. For many the easier option may be to ask a different question. To remain under those European protections by reuniting a nation state for the second time in EU history following on from German reunification.

Martin McGuinness the Deputy First Minister has said "The British government now has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the North in any future negotiations with the European Union and I do believe that there is a democratic imperative for a 'border poll' to be held."

3. London may lose its financial clout. The other region with a good vote Remain by a margin of 60-40 of course this is the financial centre, but a lot of the banks operate across borders and London is not just the UK financial centre but also a European one. Already some financial institutions had been relocation divisions within their organisation ahead of the poll to hedge against the result that came to be in the early hours. Others have intimated in the lead up to the poll that they will consider their position once the vote was known, so Nigel Farage's nice friends in banking may well be deserting him to head to Europe.

We have also already seen in the hours since the result became clear the pound fall to the worse level since 1985. I bigger single day drop in share prices that even Black Wednesday, which has a knock on effect to pension funds. Government bonds rating go from secure to negative. And a run on dollars and Euros, plus a upsurge in the price of gold (never a good sign as this is deemed security).

4. The EU want us out.... quickly. Within hours of David Cameron setting his own timetable for the separation to start in October the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has said, "Britons decided yesterday that they want to leave the European Union, so it doesn't make any sense to wait until October to try to negotiate the terms of their departure - I would like to get started immediately."

The leaders of the 27 nations are going ahead with a planned meeting on Tuesday, David Cameron was initially meant to be there to discuss the way forward, we are already outside of the room as far as decisions about our future are concerned.

So in conclusion. We have no control over the decision, may not have full control over all our united kingdoms, have lost control of our financial strength and now have lost control of the speed of divorce proceedings. And the first result is barely 24 hours old.

Monday, 13 June 2016

What Mark Longhurst and Sky News didn't realise about Pulse attack

Last night during the Sky News paper review at 10:30 (it wasn't repeated at 11:30) Owen Jones, who is someone I admittedly don't always agree with tried to make the point that the attack on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando was a direct homophobic attack. In a heated exchange in which Mark Longhurst the host and Julia Hartley-Brewer tried to down play the homophobic element of the attack Longhurst said "you don't have ownership of this horror cause you're gay."

I for one, and reading social media late last night, must of the LGBT+ community were outraged by such a reaction. We saw that comment for what it was a white, straight, cis-gendered, male not understanding that an attack on a minority grouping is not merely an attack on freedom, or an attack on humans having fun. This WAS and attack on the LGBT+ community. It was the realisation of many in the LGBT+ communities' worse fears.

If ISIS are throwing people some as young as nine off buildings in the areas they control for believing them to be gay, and they are carrying out attacks in the west, who might they attack here? Well of course one of the worse fears is that someone would claim to attack a gay venue or event in the name of IS. This is what happened in the early hours of Sunday morning and it is now the worse mass shooting in American history. So yeah the LGBT+ community can see that Owen Jones was right this was an attack on LGBT+ people. It was the realisation of our worst nightmare write large of the situation in our world today.

Julia Hartley-Brewer dismissed the attacked as "mad and bad" or as a "lunatic" bit for whatever reason he drove 90 miles and had premeditated to carry out this atrocity. The use of such words do not reflect what happened. This was someone with a seriously different world view to the established liberal, western mentality, even more so that the small c conservative mentality. But there are other people with a similar mind set out there who may well be planning something similar: a similar act to instil terror in the LGBT+ individuals.

In other words an Act of Terrorism against the LGBT+ communities.

Yet Sky News chose to mock the use of those words from someone who identifies as a gay man, someone in tune with the fear that is flowing out there amongst LGBT+ viewers. They negated the sense of terror that many LGBT+ people had heightened as a result of this attack, the mocked it in a way which is in itself homophobic in nature by ignoring the real concerns of all those individuals and merely seeing this in their own eyes.

It is therefore not surprising that I see that the segment which even Sky had deemed that they could not repeat has gone viral for all the wrong reasons.