Equality

All posts tagged Equality

Ben Summerskill resigns from Stonewall UK, what is the future of LGB and T lobbying and education?

Published January 24, 2014 by Katy J Went

Stonewall diversity champions?After 11 years in the post, Ben Summerskill has stepped down from Stonewall, the UK LGB lobbying and rights group. I say LGB rather than LGBT as over the years it has been infamous in promoting the understanding of gay or LGB rights, as opposed to the whole gamut of LGBT+, not that many bisexual friends felt represented either. There is no doubt that it has done tremendous work, although it was criticised for being slow to support equal marriage.

Ruth Hunt takes over as Active Chief Executive and has promised to speak to trans voices, but also reiterated that Stonewall had “always spoken to trans groups – I have hosted round tables at Stonewall with trans groups, and there are a lot of conversations to be had with a lot of people who have strong opinions”, in an interview with Pink News.  She went on to say that, “The more conversations we have the better, but I wouldn’t predict the outcome of any of those discussions.” – So no change there then.

Stonewall with the T

Just as there now 2 fewer stripes in the rainbow flag, so too are 2 groups, T&I, excluded from Stonewall’s diversity championing

Transgender activist groups have long been debating whether to give up on Stonewall and go it alone. Many have used the slogan “don’t forget the T in S onewall”.  From one such group‘s About section: “Stonewall UK excludes T from the equality index and other leadership training for UK employers.This is a discussion group to help them understand that they need to be fully LGBT inclusive”.

Of course trans groups and activists are difficult to work with, we are angry and we are diverse – I mean we can’t even agree among ourselves! But that’s diversity for you.

Being a member of the trans community and fighting for understanding and representation of trans, intersex and queer, identities and issues, at various tables, committees and forums, I find that Stonewall has lived up to its name, but not its founders. The original Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 saw a subsequently selective history transmitted. One in which the many African-American transvestites and transwomen were ignored from the original explosion in LGB activism, both for their colour and their gender identity. Stonewall became an edited history of white gay male privilege.

Michael Cashman, MEP and former Eastender’s actor – famous for the first gay kiss on British television, is very supportive of trans rights and spoke at a TGEU conference in Berlin that I attended in 2008. Cashman was also one of the founders of Stonewall UK in 1989. Cashman criticised Stonewall in 2010 for its slow and grudging response to equal marriage.

It should be pointed out that Stonewall Scotland is trans inclusive and campaigns for and with transgender groups, from its website: “Stonewall Scotland works for equality and justice for transgender people, as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”

In England and Wales, at least, it seems it would be better to walk our own path and clamour “foul” loudly when Stonewall speak on LGBT or gets LGBT equality funding but only serves LGB ends. I have been fighting for 2 years to get the local police to stop lumping homophobic and transphobic hate crimes into the same statistic when all the other protected diversity characteristics get their own independent stats. I’ve also experienced opposition from LGB activists for trying to get intersex inclusion added to our campaigning and representation, not from the public sector – they were only too happy to follow the European Community’s lead in becoming LGBTI supportive. All this seems reminiscent of LGBT rights history. Anyone who has watched “Milk”, the film about the assassinated first gay in political public office in the US, Harvey Milk, will know what I am talking about. It seems the gay rights movement was reluctant to have lesbian “assistance” and to become LG rights. Even more so were both unwilling to add “fence-sitters”, aka bisexuals, to their campaigns. Finally, they did not want the weird tail to wag the now established, respected and assimilated dog, and let transsexuals be part of their political voice. I’ve been told that to add intersex representation would “confuse issues”.

In 2008 and again in 2010 Stonewall nominated transphobic journalists for journalist of the year awards for promoting equality! One of those same journalists was cited in a 2007 report by Stonewall Scotland for transphobia.

Stonewall has made educational videos raising gay awareness and confidence to come out, and targeting homophobia – but getting it wrong on transgender. One video had a mother hearing her son’s coming out and proclaiming “at least you are not trans”, another gets transgender differences, mixed up, and again, certainly, seen as worse than being gay. There is palpable relief when someone is told “there’s as many ways to be a girl as there are girls”, helping a tomboy realise she need not be trans. The school’s training video also inappropriately explains and uses the word “tranny” for transgender.

In 2012 Paddy Power ran a transphobic advertising campaign including a “spot the tranny” competition on Ladies Day, subsequently banned by the Advertising Standards Authority. This year, Stonewall teamed up with Paddy Power to supply rainbow laces to football teams (largely unsuccessfully) to combat homophobia in the sport. Redemption is all well and good, but when Stonewall’s media manager appeared to endorse the use of transphobic stunts as furthering the issues of homophobia, all was well and good? Apparently, the piece in the Guardian was edited after Stonewall submitted it, but it represents yet another own goal in their dealings with the trans community.

Perhaps, then it is time to realise that LGB and T/I need to go it alone – politically, at least, to reinforce the idea that sexuality and sex/gender are two different things. Although I personally believe there are huge areas of overlap, in identity, sexuality, hormones and gender.

Driving mullahs mad and Saudi Women towards Equality … slowly

Published October 1, 2013 by Katy J Went

Why tune in to comedy when you can tune in to a fundamentalist preacher (christian, muslim or cult)?

Sheikh al-Luhaydan sabq

Sheikh al-Luhaydan on SABQ.org

Saudi Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan, a judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association, has proclaimed on the sabq.org news site that:

“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards. That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees.”

This is no more illogical and unscientific than the Saudi religious Shura Council in 2011 being warned in a pseudo-scientific report that letting women drive would “provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce” and that would, in turn, result in there being “no more virgins”, presumably reducing the availability of reward for suicide bombing – I mean “freedom fighters”. In the last few days hundreds have died from these kind of immoral-by-anyone’s-standards attacks on freedom. In the last ten days over 130 people have died in terrorist attacks on a church, bus and market, in just one city – Peshawar, Pakistan. Over 60 were killed last week in the Kenyan shopping mall massacre, and on Sunday 44 students were massacred in Nigeria by the extreme Islamist group Boko Haram, whose name tellingly means “Western education is forbidden/sinful”.

Women2Drive campaign logo

Women2Drive campaign logo

Women in Saudi Arabia are being encouraged via a 12,500+ twitter campaign to flout the Saudi kingdom’s driving ban – strictly speaking a religious fatwa, though not based in either Sharia or criminal law – and drive en masse on 26 October. Defying the ban, the only country in the world that imposes it, is an attempt to raise awareness of all rights denied women there, although since 2011 they have been promised the vote by 2015. Punishment is normally by arrest and a fine, rather than more serious repercussions although imprisonment and lashings have not been unknown.

Access to the website oct26driving.com within Saudi has reportedly been blocked. Hashtags #women2drive, #Women_driving_affects_ovaries_and_pelvises and facebook pages such as Saudi-Women-To-Drive and Women2Drive have gone viral gathering thousands of likes but so too have ones advocating the beating of women that drive.

I don't have a car - I have a camel graffiti

I don’t have a car – I have a camel

Social media has at least safely enfranchised a Saudi woman’s right to protest, often and necessarily anonymously. One has even taken to graffiti art on the streets of Riyadh. The anonymous 23 year-old woman has been stenciling an image of a camel with the words “I Don’t Have A Car, I Have A Camel” and the hashtag #women2drive.

1990 and 2011 both saw attempts to ignore the restriction and demand equal rights, well progress at least, for Saudi women. Back in 1990 47 women were punished and many lost their jobs. In 2011, one of 100+ to take to streets and drive, Manal al-Sharif was accused of “besmirching the kingdom’s reputation abroad and stirring up public opinion”, only her capitulation and promise not to drive again led to her eventual release. She had risked using her own face, voice and real name, to stand up for all women. Several others ended up in court, that year, and one, named Shema was sentenced to 10 lashes. Manal says, “I measure the impact I make by how harsh the attacks are, the harsher the attacks were the greater the impact.”

Al-Sharif, a former Islamic fundamentalist herself, questioned her beliefs after 9/11 and listening, aged 21 – against the advice that it was satanic, to the Backstreet Boys’ “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely“. She began to challenge both terrorism, tradition and patriarchy. She was given an award in 2012 by the Oslo Freedom Forum for “Creative Dissent” and gave a brave and inspiring talk.

In 2005, Saudi’s King Abdullah was interviewed by ABC News’ Barbara Walters:

ABDULLAH: I believe strongly in the rights of women … my mother is a woman, my sister is a woman, my daughter is a woman, my wife is a woman. I believe the day will come when women drive. In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive The issue will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible.

WALTERS: But there are so many restrictions against women. Do you see this changing?

ABDULLAH: Yes, I believe we can. But it will require a little bit of time … Our people are just now beginning to open up to the world, and I believe that with the passing of days in the future everything is possible.

WALTERS: Why do you think Saudi Arabia is becoming fertile ground for al Qaeda?

ABDULLAH: Madness. … Madness and evil, it is the work of the devil. … Such acts cannot be perpetrated by any individual who has a sense of decency or humanity or justice or faith.
http://abcnews.go.com/2020/International/story?id=1214706&page=1&singlePage=true

Al-Sharif is a part of starting the My Right to Dignity campaign for full Saudi women’s citizenship and what has become known as the Saudi Women’s Spring after the uprisings of the Arab Spring. She says, “the child cannot be free if his mother is not free … society is nothing if the women are nothing.”

In Saudi Arabia women cannot work or leave the house to shop, without the permission of their husband or male guardian, they cannot even have certain medical surgeries without that say-so and hence do not even have rights over their own bodies.

Because they are almost prisoners in their own homes Saudi women have the world’s highest incidence of diabetes, 70% obesity rates and only last year was Physical Education added to the education curriculum and their women partially allowed to compete in the Olympic Games.

For her, “Freedom starts within. ..the struggle is not about driving a car. It is about being in the driver’s seat of our destiny. It is to be free, not only to dream but also to live.”

More on this story on the bbc news site, on alarabiya.net  and the excellent saudiwomendriving blog.

Liberty, Equality … Essence and Existence

Published May 22, 2013 by Katy J Went

All very Samson and the Philistines, except one wonders who the philistines are in this case. Award-winning military historian Dominique Venner, a far-right activist, Islamaphobe and anti-“gay” marriage campaigner in France shot himself dead beside Notre-Dame’s altar in front of 1500 people yesterday (21 May 2013). Although a note was found beside him, police have not revealed its contents. The only clue was left on his blog, criticising the twin evils of same-sex marriage and Islam:

Il faudra certainement des geste nouveaux, spectaculaires et symboliques pour ébranler les somnolences, secouer les consciences anesthésiées et réveiller la mémoire de nos origines. Nous entrons dans un temps où les paroles doivent être authentifiées par des actes.

“It certainly will require new, spectacular and symbolic gestures to shake the somnolent sleepiness, stir anesthetized consciousness/consciences and wake up the memory of our origins. We are entering a time where words must be authenticated by acts.”

He saw himself as a modern day western Samurai – the theme of his next book. In the 60s he had fought to oppose Algerian independence as a member of the Secret Army Organisation (OAS) which had then attempted to kill President Charles de Gaulle.

He scaremongered about Islam quoting an Algerian blog that predicted Islamic rule in France within 15 years, which would paradoxically overthrow the new French law on same-sex marriage, signed this month.

25 years ago at university I remember the same predictions being made about several of Britain’s cities: Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester, Luton. Extremism of all hues and colours is the problem. But it is Venner’s, not that of laid back liberal lesbians and gays, trans, intersex and gender and sexuality queering. The “aggressive homosexual community”, to quote Sir Gerald Howarth MP, is a myth, certainly no danger to life or liberty, when we want liberty for all not less.How does equal marriage reduce straight liberty? If you are that worried by it, “stop having gay children”, to quote a viral internet slogan – the problem is, that one day some extreme heterosexists might do just that, all very Brave New World, if a gay gene could be eradicated as a disability in the womb.There is no contradiction here between giving religious conscience equal freedom with those whose “lifestyle” offends them, for it is not religion that sets one free, even Jesus condemned religion that bound, laws that multiplied, whilst justice and mercy were forgotten – no, it is the truth that sets one free. And truth evolves, or rather unravels. Indeed, this week the Church of Scotland voted to allow active gay ministers, the Church of England may lag behind but will surely follow. The BBC ran an interesting piece on how religions justify changing their mind, in the light of the dogmatic “unchanging” word of God/guru/saint/prophet.
Venner’s final paragraph was typical of French existentialism, yet mentioning the far right German philosopher Heidegger’s 1927 work Sein und Zeit, “Being and Time”, who influenced Sartre:

C’est ici et maintenant que se joue notre destin jusqu’à la dernière seconde. Et cette seconde ultime a autant d’importance que le reste d’une vie.

“It is here and now that our destiny is played out to the last second. And this final second has as much importance as the rest of life.”

Heidegger argued that how we question defines who we are, and that the being we seek should not be lost sight of in the philosophic questioning. He also wrote that the essence of being lies in its existence which Sartre interpreted to mean that existence precedes essence. Far from it, I would argue, humanity’s essence is free, we must question and campaign until our existence and laws (paradoxically and anarchically – why do we need laws to be free?) match our essence. Liberté, égalité, fraternité … ou la mort! I guess Venner chose la mort, “death”.

Rather than end on a morbid note, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that over 2 centuries ago, in the closing decade of the 18th century, the French were fighting for equal rights. Well fighting anyway!

The 1789 French Revolution adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It asserted and assured that all men “are born and remain free and equal in rights” and that these rights were universal. The Declaration became and is a key human rights statement. It condemned discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of gender, race, class or religion. Protestants and Jews were for the first time given close-to equal rights with Catholics, thereby reducing the power of the Church. The new republic failed to extend those rights to women (LGBT rights was barely a public concern then). Nicolas de Condorcet said, “he who votes against the right of another, whatever the religion, color, or sex of that other, has henceforth adjured his own.” The lack of female equality led playwright Olympe de Gouges to publish her own Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen instead in 1791, highlighting the failure of the extension of equal rights across genders. So, liberté, égalité,.. but only for the fraternité!

We no longer debate slavery, at least in the West – except economic slavery, so why are racial and religious disharmony still prevalent, albeit we no longer condemn mixed race or religion marriages? Why are gender and sexual equality still being questioned over 200 years later? Why is our essence and existence not yet free, for all? If one is not free then we all are not free.