Category Archives: LGBT

Glasgow Pride? Yes, but for some LGBT people, get a grip on your drinking behaviours!

I went to my first ever  Glasgow LGBT Pride event on Saturday, rather proud and excited that this city,  for so long riven by sectarianism and daily violence, had changed so much while I was away that it could – safely – host such an event.  I’ve written before about my ambivalence towards this city. Many LGBT people, like myself, had been driven away from the city in our youth, in large part to escape the prejudice and fear that growing up there, or in my case, in one of its feeder towns, Coatbridge, caused us. Nonetheless, I have always remained proud of my West Coast, working-class heritage, which in many ways has helped to define me as much as my sexuality has.

I took my partner along and was explaining to him on the way to Glasgow Green what an enormous shift had taken place in a very short period of time. So far, so good.

When I got to Glasgow Green I was surprised that there was a tent selling alcohol which was cordoned off from the rest of the festival. This meant that, rather than as I had experienced at festivals elsewhere, there weren’t families and groups having picnics, including wine, watching the free concert.  The few people who were drinking outside the cordon were being stopped and warned by the police, a result of a local bye-law to try to prevent alcohol-related disorder. This meant that those who were drinking alcohol legally were fenced uncomfortably, like pigs in a pen. “How ridiculous”, I said to my partner. Surely at an event like this, people could be allowed to celebrate, to let their hair down for one day in the year, to celebrate the huge achievements our community has made. Isn’t it insulting to them to assume that they need to be policed to ensure they behave? How wrong I now realise I was.

In my professional capacity, now working on alcohol policy, I have myself been accused on TV very recently of being a public health kill-joy who wants to restrict the rights of the sensible majority because of the behaviours of a small minority, policing people’s health behaviours with regulations that interfere with their individual choices in an unwarranted fashion. Of course, that’s not the case. However, alcohol is a regulated commodity and a drug and people will differ on what is appropriate. We must all be open to changing our positions based on the evidence that is available to us.

The connection between alcohol and violence has been well-documented by many researchers. They often differ on the causality of the relationship but there is consensus that where violent behaviours occur, alcohol is often somewhere around. In my current PhD research, many young people have described to me how, rather than places of festivity, alcohol often turns their parties into violent occasions. One young man expressed it thus:

“Ye get people that just go out, get full ae drink and just, somebody’ll look at them, somebody’ll just look at ye and that’ll be it. “What are ye looking at?””

Easy for me as a middle-aged man to think that that only happens at young people’s parties. However, at various times in Glasgow on Saturday (and not late at night – I’d made my exit long before that), I saw drunken women fighting with each other, men and women throwing up in the streets, women falling down. Finally, to top it all off, I was personally whacked in the face by a six foot six man’s shoulder as he flew towards me, having been punched in the face and knocked off his feet in an argument he was having with another man in a city centre gay pub. I didn’t know them. Just wrong place, wrong time.

Loic Wacquant’s research in French banlieues and US ‘ghettos’ unearthed experiences of what he calls an “extraordinary prevalence of physical danger and…acute sense of insecurity” (Wacquant 2008,p.54). He contextualises the daily experience of young people in these areas within what he calls “violence ‘from above’” (2008, p. 24). His thesis is that poor urban young people are constantly abused by the impacts of macro—level socio-economic change including, mass unemployment, relegation to decaying neighbourhoods and a heightened stigmatisation in their daily lives. Violent responses to this, though often self-destructive for individuals and communities, are easily comprehensible. 

I am disappointed by what I experienced this week in Glasgow. Is it possible that the Glasgow experiences of social disadvantage, combined with continuing prejudice against LGBT people from establishment figures, including a not-long-departed-in-disgrace Cardinal, influences some of them, instead of celebrating their diversity in a festival of celebration, to ape the worst behaviours of macho, boorish, prejudiced, drunken (mainly) men?

I wasn’t feeling very proud of the LGBT community in Glasgow on Saturday evening. I was proud though of the very considerate and kind bar staff who gave me ice to put on my cheek. Proud also that working-class people in places like Glasgow are standing up for equality. Proud that many people had dressed up and had fun.

I’m very grateful to so many LGBT activists who give so much  time and effort to celebrate our community and to champion equal rights in marriage, employment, immigration and a host of other areas.

To the others, in local parlance, I’d say, “Get a grip!” We can discuss appropriate health behaviours but violence? Really?

 I missed Heather Small who closed the Pride festival on the Green. The words of her song “Proud” may be a little trite but still pertinent:

“What have you done today to make you feel proud?
It’s never too late to try
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
You could be so many people
If you make that break for freedom
What have you done today to make you feel proud?”

Wacquant, L. (2008) Urban Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press.

 

Equality is never given. It is often taken away.

I saw ”The Iron Lady” last week. Aside from being a moving and appropriate portrayal of Alzheimer’s, it reminds you how remarkable Thatcher was. In 1981 she argued:

 “Equality and opportunity cannot exist alongside each other. What is opportunity if your only opportunity is to be equal?”

Typical of the woman but what a pity. She could truly have been remarkable if her own personal experiences hadn’t made her so blinkeredly individualistic. And mental illness is a great leveller.

Muriel Spark had an idea that babies are born knowing everything that goes on in the world but that from the moment they are born the socialisation process constricts them, narrowing their knowledge so that they can be social beings. The end point is where we are deemed to be successful, whether as academics or managers or parents or citizens. But actually we only demonstrate how successfully we have been robbed of our primal knowledge, so that we can conform with expected social behaviours.

Nobody gives equality but more powerful people can take it away from less powerful people.

The current debates in the UK about LGBT marriage are not about a wider, benevolent society granting equality to LGBT people who want to be married; rather, they’re a marker that LGBT people are reclaiming what was taken away from us. I was legally married to my partner Paulo in Brussels but returned to the UK to find that our marriage had been relegated in UK law to the status of ‘civil partners’. And the ignorance and conceit of some people is breathtaking. The Tories in particular have clearly been dragged into the 21st century by the weight of public opinion but they expect us gays to be grateful for their tolerance.  Take for example, the response that I received from David McCletchey MSP when I asked him to support gay marriage:

“I welcome the establishment of civil partnerships in Scotland which means that civil partners now have the same legal rights and responsibilities as married couples in terms of their relationship with one another.  Accordingly I do not see the need for further change.”

 Either he’s been forced to accept the step towards equality – civil partnerships – that he really doesn’t agree with. And he is convinced of his own benevolence in embracing diversity in this way. And LGBT people should be grateful. Sorry but this one isn’t.

In Thursday’s ‘Guardian’ Susanne Moore criticised the attitude of Louise Mensch, the conservative pseudo-feminist MP whom she typifies as “pulling away from victim and drab feminism in favour of being chic and individually entrepreneurial”.  As Susanne points out, contrary to the individualistic and neo-liberal Mensch, all women do not have the same opportunities. Class is still important and women are more likely to be victims of physical and mental abuse, workplace discrimination and patronising and chauvinistic attitudes, even in places where you’d least expect it. I’ve come across this recently in my work as a member of the European Union’s Civil Society Forum on Drugs where not one women was elected to its “managerial” board. I raised the issue of the importance of having women’s representation but I seemed to be one of the only people  that thought it was really important. Presumably in this, as in so many other contexts, women’s voices will be sought by men on issues which the latter deign to consider pertinent.

 But it’s my contention that all issues are women’s issues and it’s not for men to decide where and when and how they should be represented.  Men don’t give women a voice and power but they can take it away. Straight people don’t give gay people equal rights. White people didn’t give slaves their freedom. They took it away.

LGBT Pride and Prejudice

I greatly respect and usually agree with Evan Harris and I know that he has actively championed measures to make LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people less unequal.  However, I’m afraid that he (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/political-science/2011/jan/25/political-science-evan-harris-advisory-committees)  and other “liberal” commentators are wrong when they take issue with the appointment of Hans-Christian Raabe to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) on the basis of his not being clinically qualified (which I find odd, as a practising GP he must bring useful perspectives), but don’t consider that his and his colleagues’ odious and highly unscientific views about LGBT people are relevant.

Evan and others are colluding with a position where it is acceptable to hold and express repellent views about the LGBT minority which they would find unacceptable, were they to be expressed about other groups, such as women (even at Sky, ask Andy Gray) or black people (ask any non-Daily Mail reader).

Previously, when discussing drug classification, the ACMD considered at length its role in giving out public signals, especially to young people, about harms of different drugs and usually concluded that it was important to take this into consideration. Well, with this appointment and many of the arguments being voiced about it LGBT young people and others are being sent a clear signal. Imagine, if you can, an argument being made that it didn’t matter whether a fellow committee member had linked black people with paedophiles, it’s the committee member’s professional experience that counts, anything else is irrelevant. It simply wouldn’t happen if suggested links with paedophilia had informed prejudiced public discourses about black people, as they have done for many years in relation to gay men.

Of course, Melanie Phillips has waded in to express her concern about the ‘demonised’ Christian community, echoing previously voiced concerns by Dr. Raabe himself (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1349951/Gayness-mandatory-schools-Gay-victims-prejudice-new-McCarthyites.html).  This woman has the uncanny ability to articulate the polar opposite of what I usually believe, despite her alleged concern about many of the same issues which worry me, issues that affect young people and communities, including drugs and alcohol, violence, bullying, anti-social behaviour, community engagement and responsibility.

Many of my family and friends would consider themselves to be Christians but they would hold no truck with the homophobic bigots who have colonised Christian public discourse. Melanie, however, trades on being extreme and controversial; it sells papers. But promotion of such views also damages people’s lives and leads to bullying and in still too many cases, depression, self harm and suicide.  However, though unacceptable, in a way it’s easier to deal with than the acceptance and normalisation by usually unprejudiced people of the bigoted positions of others.

I was in a seminar last week where someone was sounding off about what she perceived as the unacceptability of discussion of religion in social situations nowadays. Without any irony, she suggested that religion had become “The love that dare not speak its name”. I wish Oscar Wilde were here to respond to such rubbish. Every day LGBT people and women are treated to bigoted argumentations based on asserted religious beliefs about how we should conduct our lives and what rights we should or shouldn’t have.

And to get back to the ACMD, ideally, it should be a committee with the best representation of scientists, researchers and professionals for it to give good advice about drugs, with a public health focus. Dr Raabe has co-authored a vile paper that asserted:  

“Any attempts to legalise gay marriage should be aware of the link between homosexuality and paedophilia. While the majority of homosexuals are not involved in paedophilia, it is of grave concern that there is a disproportionately greater number of homosexuals among paedophiles and an overlap between the gay movement and the movement to  make paedophilia acceptable.” http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/homosexuality/ho0095.html

Being a member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is an important public office. It should not be acceptable to hold such an office and to express and publish offensive statements against LGBT people or any other minority group.