On Orlando and homophobia

Today’s carnage in a gay club in Orlando has left me shaken. Obviously, I was safe and sound here in London, nowhere near to the scene of the massacre. It’s just served to remind me of the prevalence of homophobia and it’s roots in deeply illogical thought.

Let me put it another way: your hatred of gay people makes no sense.

If I’m gay (which I am) and you’re not, I represent no kind of threat to you. Indeed, as we’ve seen time and time again, the inverse is true. My ‘gayness’ is not contagious, I won’t ‘turn’ you or your family gay and I certainly won’t try to change laws to make my sexual orientation mandatory. As if.

Homophobia is often couched in pseudo-logical arguments about the ‘natural order’ or ‘morals’. More often than not, the homophobia I see and hear is based on religious beliefs. The key word there is beliefs. A choice. A choice to believe that someone, somewhere is responsible for the creation of the entire universe, but also has the time to both create and despise gay people.

People aren’t born Christian. They’re not born Muslim. They’re brought into these belief systems by their families. And they can leave them – though I acknowledge that departure from religions can have terrible consequences and often even fatal ones. But still, it is possible.

I can’t flick a switch to change my sexual orientation (and it would be more like turning a dial anyway, based on what we know about human sexuality) no more than I can decide to grow another four inches in height.

Your beliefs will never trump my human right to exist and be who I am. Your beliefs, no matter how complex, ancient and ritualised, cannot be respected more than a human being. I frankly don’t care what you believe – what origin story you adhere to, what you think is acceptable and unacceptable. Just don’t expect me to agree. Don’t expect me to change my life to fit in with your deeply illogical, contradictory and flawed belief system.

And I won’t expect you to be gay.

I won’t come into your place of worship and disrupt your ceremonies. Then again, I’ll expect you to stay away from places where I feel safe, where I feel I can be the person I am. Protest, campaign, tell me I’m wrong. Debate. Argue. I have answers to your questions and responses to all of your stale arguments.

Don’t resort to violence – it demonstrates the futility and weakness of your beliefs if you have to kill to be heard.

A weekend in Barcelona and Sitges

I’ve just arrived back from a fabulous weekend in Spain. Even though I travel to Barcelona for work monthly, I don’t really know the place. I fly in, do my work and fly straight back out again. After a lot of prompting from clients, I finally booked a weekend in Sitges to follow on from a business trip – and it turned out to be the best travel decision I’ve made this year!

I flew in to Barcelona on Thursday afternoon and worked until about 5pm on the Friday. I got a taxi back out to the airport, where I picked up @FrankDJS and our hire car and a little over an hour later, we were checked into our hotel. It was the first time I’d been to Sitges and I’d imagined it a little bit like Soho-on-Sea. It has a reputation for being a gay resort, but it’s so much more than that.

Continue reading “A weekend in Barcelona and Sitges”

Don’t bring your bigotry with you

An appalling story reported by Attitude – refugees from the Middle East who have ended up in Amsterdam have been threatened and attacked… by other refugees.

Just because they’re gay.

After being spat on, threatened and attacked by others in their refugee centre, Dutch News reports five gay men – three from Syria, one from Iran and one from Iraq have been moved to a property owned by housing corporation Rochdale.

A spokesperson from the Salvation Army, which manages refugee accommodation across the Dutch capital, said the safety of the five men could not be guaranteed if they were to remain in their former lodgings.

This weekend sees another four refugees moved to separate housing in Rotterdam under the supervision of Safe Haven, an organisation that offers guidance to gay people with a multicultural background.

Back in October, two asylum seekers were relocated following issues at a refugee centre in the Zuidoost district.

From next year, gay refugees are to have their own wing in the Groenhof Refugee Centre in a former care home close to the city centre.

Having to separate refugees to continue to protect them from the bigotry they’re fleeing – even when they reach a ‘safe’ country – is terribly depressing. Obviously the people that attacked them feel it’s appropriate to bring their own special brand of hatred and intolerance with them. I’d argue it’s not.

I hope the Dutch authorities take this seriously. Housing gay refugees separately is a depressing step, but sounds necessary in the short-term.

What’s to stop the people who attacked them attacking non-refugee locals (no worse a crime) once they’re walking the streets? The Netherlands has taken them in – it’s time they acted like guests and not ambassadors for the hatred they feel entitled to act on.

This comes just over a week after the Telegraph reported new Dutch Government processes for the integration of refugees into Dutch society:

All non-EU newcomers to the Netherlands will now be forced to sign a declaration saying they will uphold Dutch values, or pay a fine of up to €1250 and have their residency revoked.
These values include upholding people’s freedoms, being a good neighbour and participating in society – for example, speaking Dutch. The measures are part of a harder line on immigration in the Netherlands, which Lodewijk Asscher, social affairs minister, described as the “warm heart and cool head” approach.
He wrote in a letter to Dutch MPs on Friday that the government was “committed to reducing the number of refugees” and acknowledged concerns about threats to jobs and houses, and about “which culture they bring along with them”.
How awful must it be to escape these countries, only to find yourself surrounded and attacked by the same kind of people who made your life a misery in the first place.

London Pride 2015 – sunshine, drag and uniforms!

Yesterday was London Pride 2015 and the weather gods smiled upon us all – sunshine and warm weather al day long. It couldn’t have been any better! (So much for the gays causing floods and other natural disasters…)

We watched the parade on Regent Street and it was great to see such a diversity of marchers. From voluntary groups, the armed forces, police and fire-fighters, through to civil servants, LGBT family groups and various drags acts. I’m still impressed at how they managed to walk that distance in those insanely high heels…

It was all very good natured and upbeat. The marchers from the emergency services and armed forces got a lot of applause and support from where I was watching, along with marchers from countries where it’s still illegal (and possibly fatal) to be openly gay. A reminder that events like Pride are still relevant and necessary in 2015.

We then wandered down to Trafalgar Square where the main rally was taking place. Various musical acts and speeches reminded us how lucky we were compared to other parts of the world, while also recognising the recent fantastic news from both Ireland and the US. Big cheers from the crowd each time these countries got a mention – made me feel (once again) really proud to be Irish!

The back up to Soho to meet some friends for a few drinks in the sunshine. The people-watching was excellent, with every shade, size and type of person represented. The atmosphere was hugely positive and fun, though the streets were jammed with people and it seemed to take several weeks to get served at any of the bars.

I didn’t make it a late one, as I’d flown home from Singapore overnight on Friday, arriving 5am Saturday. So I was flagging by the time 7pm came around. There was a time when Pride would’ve ended for me some time on the Sunday morning…I fear those days are over! But from where I was standing, it looked like everyone else was going to party for some time to come.

A pretty standard night in South Beach

So….we spent last week in South Beach and had a pretty chilled-out time. Lots of beach laziness, eating and drinking. But then, on the Tuesday night, we stumbled upon South Beach’s best gay bar – The Palace – and left feeling sore from laughing.

Three hilarious and smutty acts later, we were full of cocktails, excellent food and a new selection of dirty jokes. Seriously. They serve the cocktails in little buckets. Good food and gay bars don’t generally go together (amIright?). I’m happy to report that the Palace serves up the best bacon cheeseburger in all of South Beach.

A big “thank you” to the team at the Palace who kept us fed and watered and ensured my Facebook album of meal-related photos was seriously spiced up with some of the below.

If you find yourself anywhere near Miami in the near future, get yourself to Ocean Drive and bag a seat outside the Palace before 7pm. And prepare to laugh yourself into a frenzy.

No big deal

So Ireland’s Minister for Health came out on the radio this morning.

The government didn’t collapse. The country didn’t sink into the Atlantic and the people didn’t take to the streets with pitchforks. Leo Varadkar is gay, end of story.

While I occasionally comment on the sexual orientation of people in the public eye, I don’t dwell on it. But in this case, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that even a few years ago, this would spell the end of an Irish Government Minister’s career.

But it’s 2015 and, hopefully, things have moved on. Many people will see this as interesting, some will see it as a positive move and some others will inevitably see it as “intrinsically disordered“. The latter are hopefully an ever-decreasing minority, though.

I think Minister Varadkar’s move signals that there are gay people in all walks of life in Ireland, that it’s possible to survive – and thrive – in the challenging arena of Irish politics and that he’s not in any way apologetic for who he is.

His approach to this was refreshing and positive:

“I am a gay man, it’s not a secret, but not something that everyone would necessarily know but isn’t something I’ve spoken publicly about before,” he told Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio.

“It’s not something that defines me,” he said. “I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am, it doesn’t define me, it is part of my character I suppose”.

Given last year’s furore over Panti Bliss and RTE’s pathetic response to the right wing, I hope this can signal a more positive step towards a more equal society.

Onwards, to this year’s marriage equality referendum.

Review: The Imitation Game

I was looking forward to seeing this for quite some time – and it didn’t disappoint. The Imitation Game was utterly fantastic.

It was engaging, moving, engrossing and thrilling all in one beautifully-filmed package. Yes, there was a lot of detail skipped over – but to be fair, they were taking in Turing’s life from his childhood right through to his post-WWII arrest and prosecution.

Benedict Cumberbatch was stellar as Alan Turing, inventor of the modern computer and decoder of Nazi cyphers. The actor who played him as a child (Alex Lawther) deserves an award, particularly for the heart-wrenching scene in the headmaster’s office. I think I held my breath for the entire time.

Both actors shone in their portrayal of a man who simply doesn’t understand the niceties of social discourse and feels out of the loop both at work and in his personal life.

The highs and lows of the film ultimately end on a bitter note – I’ll leave you to experience that for yourselves. Turing’s contribution to the war effort and to computer science are immeasurable. But all the same, it’s estimated that he shortened the duration of the Second World War by two years and obviously saved millions of lives.

It’s so sad that he had to wait until last year for him to receive a posthumous pardon from the Queen for his “crime” of being gay.

5/5

One in the Eye for the Haters

Austria’s win at last night’s Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen was basically assured as soon as their act walked off the stage. Conchita Wurst delivered a confident, assured and spectacular performance of “Rise like a Phoenix” and votes came pouring in from across Europe as a result.

Conchita won due to a great song and a professional performance. A stunning performance. Conchita didn’t win because there’s a crazy liberal conspiracy to “undermine society” and “promote alternative lifestyles” as the right wing would have it.

Eurovision has always been – and will always be – immensely camp. Conchita is just one more example of this tradition. But rather than being some sort of gimmick, what we had was a talented artist with a beard delivering a powerful song with gusto – while just happening to wear a dress and heels.

What struck me most about Conchita’s performance was how effortless it seemed. This is not someone who is all about the wigs and dresses. This is a talented singer (who also looks great in wigs and dresses!).

I’d hate for people to be left with the impression that Conchita got “sympathy” or “joke” votes last night. All three of the top songs last night were great – and I’d have happily seen the Netherlands of Sweden win. Each were lovely songs in their own way.

But Conchita’s “Rise Like a Phoenix” was head and shoulders above them, both in content and delivery. She truly deserved to win. And did so with votes from across Europe, not just relying on the “West”.

Russian and Belarussian appeals to have Conchita barred from the contest due to her “unnatural” status fell on deaf ears. The rest of Europe has moved on, while Russia seems determined to move backwards and wallow in aggressive dictatorship. This spectacular win is one in the eye for the haters that tried to prevent this success.

 

Well done Conchita, well done Europe. And here’s to next year in Vienna!

The wiener takes it all

Now that title has to be my pun of the week.

This week saw me travel through six airports, visit three Scandinavian cities and enjoy two Eurovision Song Contest semi-final shows. All of this is leading up to tomorrow’s Eurovision final at 8pm (UK time).

Now it you’ve never encountered the Eurovision before (which particular rock have you been living under?) or weren’t aware there have already been two semi-finals, let me bring you bang up to date.

There is only one thing you need to know about tomorrow’s show:

Conchita.

Conchita Wurst, to be precise.

In Conchita, Austria may well have their first Eurovision winner since 1867 (or thereabouts), as well as a win which represents an enthusiastic two-fingered salute to Europe’s less salubrious right wing tossers.

Putting sexual politics to one side, Conchita is an amazing performer and the song is stonking. A big, bold and brassy Bond theme deserving of all the points.

All of them.

So if you’re watching tomorrow night (and even if you’re not) please consider sending your vote Austria’s direction.

Here’s a preview of the performance – Conchita was totes amazeballs live on stage last night and will hopefully blow the socks off Europe tomorrow night.

 

Altogether now, “Riiiiiiiiise like a phoenix!”