Friday, 8 March 2019

Opting Out Of Oxbow Lakes

Many readers will have noticed the story in the media about "LGBT lessons" in a Birmingham school and how lots of people who have somehow been entrusted with the care of small children want them protected from being told about how two men can marry nowadays, because if the teacher doesn't mention it no-one will ever find out that Suzie has three mums cos it'll never come up in the playground, and if it does there won't be any bullying because groups of children never stigmatise something they don't understand.

You can't help think these are people who have not contemplated how a vengeful gay son choosing the quality of their care home thirty years hence might behave. 

It seems to vary depending which sources you read whether a these 'grown ups' have succeeded in ending these lessons, or whether the school is continuing them after the Easter break, but it has all got very heated as a clique of parents insist that children are property, not people. Following on from the leafleting we've seen recently equating trans people with paedophiles and rapists, Birmingham has started to have equivalent pamphlets circulating demanding that a section 28 style law is brought in so as to protect kids from not self-harming.  The neon-nazi playbook of targets follows a predictable path.

It is hideous, but it in this story it also leads to a peculiar demand.

Some of the parents are quoted as saying that the curriculum has been updated and it is unfair because they were not consulted.

Now first I have to note that teaching about the existence of something does not inherently make children want to do it. At school, I learned about the existence of things like hockey and rugby, and remained utterly uninterested. Other people might like that sort of thing and all jolly nice for them, but for me, we invented the indoors for a reason, and it's a bit of my cultural heritage I have a lot of time for. Similarly I was taught about oxbow lakes with such diligence that it is one of only two things I remember from five whole years of geography lessons. At no point did I decide I wanted to be one when I grew up. Didn't even have a lake-curious phase as a teen where I wondered about being fed from a river (and no, my regular and committed drinking of neat vodka between the ages of 18 and 21 doesn't count).

So what's interesting about this is that the dangers-to-their-own-kids parents at the heart of this story want control over RSE but don't expect to decide the rest of the curriculum.  How dare they.  If you are going to dictate what children should know about relationships from their schooling as if you had some sort of educational expertise, you should have to do the rest of the curriculum too.

So henceforth a bit of the typical Brummie school day can go like this:

Teacher: ...So that is how U-shaped and V-shaped valleys are formed and the difference between them.  Except for Mattie and Dave - so far as you are concerned, they just happen and, just you two, write this in your books, "no-one knows why, what do you mean they are shapes, and why are you asking me all this shit about valleys what are we Welsh my children don't need to know about that?" 
That's enough Geography for now 4C, so you can put your Geography notebooks away and take out your English Lesson books as we move on to Spelling And Grammer, a word which ends in an 'er' after a poll of your parents.  Today we are going to learn about the correct use of apostrophe'ses', and believe me this is going to be one of your goodest lesson's ever.  Oh wait, Mx Jenkins from class 2A is at the door, they must need to have a quick word with me about something - what's that?  No, Katie, I cannot tell you what the title Mx means nor how to spell it, not without half the class getting to go for morning break early. Nice try though."

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

A fine debate in the Lords

Bi Community News reports on the second reading of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths Bill in the House of Lords last week.

There were some excellent contributions all round, though Lib Dem peer Baroness Barker gave for my money the best contribution to the debate, with lots of depth in the subjects at hand as well as warm understanding of the rest of humanity. Also it reminded me of chatting over breakfast with the Baroness and comparing notes on our recent engagements:
“My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, for the way in which she introduced this Bill, which deals with matters of enormous importance and sensitivity to a very small number of people. I am delighted to speak today not least because my father married a lot of people. He was a nonconformist minister, and I must tell your Lordships that the day on which the Church of England took a more enlightened view towards the remarriage of divorced people was a cause of great sadness in our household.
“Turning to Clause 1, in 2016, I was absolutely delighted to get married in a beautiful chapel—it was medieval and deconsecrated, I have to say—but it was none the less a wonderful day. During the preparations, my wife and I had to see the registrar, and we all concluded that the fact that we had to tell the registrar who our fathers were but not our mothers was simply and utterly anachronistic.
“I am also indebted to my dad for reasons why we should accept the Bill today. Many years ago, my father was officiating at a wedding in Glasgow University Chapel. In fact, it was the wedding of some family friends. When he took the couple out to sign the register, they turned to the groom’s mother, who was in fact a professional registrar—and she had forgotten the certificate. So my father and mother had to disappear from the reception to go and get it so they could be married. Until today, few people knew that the pictures of the happy couple are in fact of them signing a bit of blotting paper for the purpose. So it is high time that we leap forward with tech and make the changes to the schedules outlined in Clause 1.
“Turning to Clause 2 and civil partnerships, there has been a huge debate about why, given that gay people are now allowed to be married and we have civil marriage, we need equal civil partnership. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, not least because my dad often married people in church and had to think carefully about whether that was the most appropriate thing to do. He had the right to refuse to marry people—it was a right that he exercised sparingly, but he did think about it. Back in those days, he thought that there were times when it was not appropriate for people have their ceremonies in church.
“On the question of civil partnership, I am greatly indebted to friends of mine. I am thinking in particular of one person who at a very young age was party to a violent and traumatic marriage. She managed to escape from that and subsequently spent more than 30 years with another man whom she loved deeply, but the idea of entering into something called marriage was absolutely not right. That is no reflection on the value of their relationship, and for her, a civil partnership would have been highly appropriate. I am indebted to her for getting in touch with me last night. When I told her that we were going to be discussing this, she said, “Look, there is a point in this. People who talk about marriage frequently talk about it being a union of two people. I do not disagree with that at all, but for me, the fact we are talking about a civil partnership—a partnership of two people who are interdependent rather than dependent on each other—is extremely important”. She, other friends of mine and others who are a part of the campaign for equal civil partnership have often talked about that point.
“I too want to talk about this in the context of the role of religions. I have spent a lifetime observing and wandering around the religious sensibilities of other people. Through all the arguments we had about civil partnership and same-sex marriage, time and again opponents were quick to throw at us the accusation that somehow this was undermining marriage as it is understood by the religious bodies in this country.
“No one ever recognised the fact that sometimes, a person falls in love with someone who is not of the faith into which they were born, and part of the process of managing their relationship with their family is that they do not get married. Until now, if those people are heterosexual, there has been no way to enter into a legal commitment with their partner while at the same time juggling sensitivities with their family. This is therefore an important step forward.
“Later, we will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, why we should extend civil partnerships to people who are from the same family, because of the issue of tenancies and property. It is not news to him that I oppose that. I believe it is wholly wrong to take a body of legislation designed to apply to adults who, of their own volition, come together to form a family unit and apply it to relationships which are consanguineous and cannot be broken. I agree with him that there is an anomaly in our fiscal law that needs to be sorted, but our fiscal law already makes allowances for children. Those who have children’s best interests at heart should go down that route and desist from this campaign, founded and funded by evangelical Christians, to have a go at civil partnerships and same-sex marriage. We are talking about two completely different things.”
 As a novel-thumping atheist it's easy for me to forget about the complexities of life that having gods can bring, and I particularly welcomed being reminded about intermarriage between people who were raised in or came to the worship of different gods than their partner.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The way ahead

So Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn's coalition of chaos has hit the buffer of a massive 432-202 defeat in the Commons.

What happens next?  Well, the EU needs to come up with an alternative we can support, parps Boris, Britain's highest-paid armchair general.

After two and a half years of bending over backwards to enable our whacky demands that replace the previous combination of opt-outs and special-cases they had allowed us since the 1970s perhaps the EU will have had enough and go for the only fix they can deliver:

By next Tuesday all 27 nations can have ratified a short bill renouncing EU membership and joining EU2, formally inheriting all the currency, political and social institutions of the EU bar "anything that refers to the United Kingdom".

"There you go" Tusk tells us. "It's your EU now, do what you bloody well want with it. No longer our problem so we can get on with reforming the union and protecting ourselves from the huge, systemically corrupt and heavily armed failed state to our East. Catch you later."

We then only have to negotiate with ourselves, which with the skill of the average Brexit secretary should mean we wind up only down about £59bn on the deal.

Except Ireland wouldn't be able to sign up because of the Good Friday Agreement. Bugger. Ah well, there is no solution to the puzzle. We'll have to stay.

Monday, 31 December 2018

2018 in Bisexual

Something I wrote for the BCN website wrapping up loads of bi news from the past twelve months...

So, 2018 has been and gone. Here are our bi-lights of the year past.

Seen On Screen

We had more bis on TV than ever including shows with bisexual leads The Bi Life, Sally4Ever and The Bisexual, as well as bis in shows like Riverdale, The Good Place, Jeremy Thorpe drama A Very English Scandal, bi poly life in the 1940s with Professor Marston & The Wonder Women, and the Freddie Mercury film Bohemian Rhapsody.


Research showed bisexuals are far more closeted than gay and lesbian people – and more likely to experience violence and abuse. So much for the ‘best of both worlds’. The BiReCon (bisexuality research conference) events that have happened each even-numbered year since 2008 took a break but there was a day-long event in a similar vein in Manchester.

The government published the findings of the biggest LGBT survey ever conducted in the UK – and pulled out the bi findings where they were interesting, and often sadly reflected how bi people face additional challenges compared to gay and straight people. Among the resulting work programme they promised to ban ‘conversion therapy’ – the discredited practice of trying to persuade people into being straight or gay rather than gay or bi.


Political life in the UK is in a bit of turmoil, but in some parts of the union more than others. While the Conservative-DUP not-a-coalition struggles on in Westminster, and the Sinn Fein-DUP deadlock sees nothing happening in Stormont, there’s a working coalition in Cardiff Bay, and a minority government in Holyrood similarly getting on with its own agenda.

And so Scotland and Wales both announced improvements in sex and relationship education in schools – thanks in part to SNP education minister John Swinney and Lib Dem education minister Kirsty Williams but importantly thanks to long lobbying campaigns by individuals and campaign groups like TIE. Working for change takes time but the changes set for classrooms in Wales and Scotland will make all the toil of recent years feel worth it. England and Northern Ireland may be waiting a bit longer for equivalent improvements. We got our fifth equality minister at Westminster in the space of two years: I suppose they last longer than Brexit secretaries.

Referendums continued to be a poor way to decide human rights: while Ireland voted the right way on abortion, giving people rights over their own bodies rather than over one anothers, Taiwan rejected same-sex marriage, and Romania debated redefining the word ‘family’ to exclude same-sex couples.
Meanwhile in the US midterms the voters put Kyrsten Sinema in the Senate alongside other LGBT winners in other races while the Republicans’ most prominent out bisexual defected to the Democrats. The Danish minister for Education came out as bisexual, and Colombia got its first out-bi Senator.

Looking Back

Many events for LGBT History Month in 2017 had focused on 50 years since a bisexual MP (Home Secretary and later SDP leader Roy Jenkins) had enabled the partial decriminalisation of sex between men.  This year we had other key anniversaries with round numbers involved – 40 years since the Rainbow Flag, 30 years since Section 28, and 20 years of the bisexual flag.

Proud Allies

There were bi stalls at more LGBT Prides than ever (we reckon) with BiPrideUK’s campaign of publicity stalls reaching much of the smattering of prides that local groups like Bothways, BiPhoria and BiCymru don’t reach in an average year.

It was a summer where a small clique of transphobic people disrupted Pride in London and inspired many other Prides to show their rejection of transphobia.

Bi events

BiCon came to Salford for the first time – and went rather well. Next time it’s in Lancaster. Smaller BiFest events were successes in Birmingham, Swansea, London and Stirling.

Bi Visibility Day (and that does seem to be gaining ground as the name used for it worldwide now rather than just in the UK) was huge once again – with its children, BiWeek and BiMonth growing in usage as well.  Twitter joined in with a special BiWeek emoji. and BiVisibilityDay trended hard in the UK on September 23rd.

Big Bi Fun Day‘s future was left in doubt with no-one coming forward to run it in 2019.


And there were of course six fabulous issues of BCN magazine. Subscribe to get the next six now.

The future

It turned out there will be a sexuality question in the census in 2021, along with a trans question – but they’ll be optional and people will still have a blunt “are you male or female” question, so there is still more work to do. Making it optional implies a degree of shame about the answer, if you ask us.

And so to 2019, whose anniversaries include 50 years since the Stonewall riot in the USA, 30 years since the UK’s LG(BT) lobbying group named after it was launched, and 25 years since BiPhoria formed – the UK’s oldest extant bi group.

We might even see progress on making Civil Partnerships more equal. And, of course, there’s Brexit

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Paddy Ashdown

My first proper Paddy Ashdown memory was in the 1992 election. Paxman was giving him a manifesto grilling about whether the voters of Yeovil were crying out for the abolition of section 28 and equalisation of the age of consent.

At a time when it was far from popular - the ink was still wet from Section 28 coming into law remember - Paddy put him back in his box as "we don't campaign for these things based on whether they are popular but because they are the right thing to do".

I already knew I was too left wing for Labour and the Tories, but it helped nail down which way to vote a couple of weeks later.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Yellow Peril

France has protests about fuel prices.  The "yellow vests" are out in force across the country, bullying and attacking not just their enemies but their friends in a delusional, blinkered rage against the world.

Except, like the ones we had here circa 2000, they really aren't the spontaneous grassroots types they have been spinning themselves as to the media. To a great degree, they're puppets whipped up into entitlement by profiteering forces we saw then too - big oil, terrified of its own future and trying to prevent the actions needed to keep most of the planet liveable in an era of man-made climate change.

This time though there's another force at work - one that wasn't clearly a part of the UKanian fuel protests. Russia hates that they failed in their efforts to control the French presidential election - they were hit by a double whammy as the Macron campaign knew they were coming for them and took appropriate measures, and Putin's choice of President was unappetising to too many French people.

Militant capitalism on one side. A failed state on the other.

It suits both the traditional christian-democrat and social-democrat groups for Macron to come a cropper - will they happily be Putin's puppets or stand up against the 'gilets' and their demand for a shittier planet and subservient Europe in the interests of financially and politically motivated outside forces?

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

International Action

Pink News reports that in North American trade negotiations, Liberal Party leader and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau is standing alone to defend the rights of pregnant US citizens.

They say that:
the draft text of the deal includes a pledge to enact “policies that protect workers against employment discrimination on the basis of sex, including with regard to pregnancy, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, gender identity.”

The Republicans are up in arms about this of course. How dare there be protection in the workplace against being groped by a predatory tosser, eh Donald?

Though of course that kind of gutting of employment rights is just what Theresa and her personal sidekick Jeremy are working tirelessly to deliver for the people of Britain. And our trades unions have already carefully expunged the Liberals from UK politics almost completely so there won't be a powerful Trudeau-like figure here to intervene. Aren't we lucky? Thanks Unite, thanks Unison, thanks Call-Me-Dave.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The 20th Bi Visibility Day is here!

...well, Bi Visibility Weekend then. I'm going to be rather busy the rest of the weekend so I thought I better get my blogpost in early: the Big Day is tomorrow.

It’s the 20th annual Bi Visibility Day this Sunday, September 23rd.

The date highlights bisexuality and the challenges posed by biphobia and bisexual erasure, as well as celebrating the work of a growing number of local, national and international organisations around the world which champion bisexual visibility and equality.

Last year there were around 130 events marking the date, from exhibitions, talks and film screenings to picnics and socials in bi-friendly bars. A host of public buildings around the world flew the pink, purple and blue bisexual flag. So far this year that tally has already hit 160.

Since 2001 I've been running as a listings website, and I try to note everything happening to mark the date around the world. We usually get some 'late arriving' listings to add that we didn't get to hear about in advance so that 160 will most likely rise further.  They are spread across 31 countries, with some welcome new additions - I always love uploading a new flag to the website.

It's not just a numbers game though. I’ve been organising events marking Bi Visibility Day since the start in 1999 and the transformation in that time is huge. We are more talked about and more heard as bi people than ever before; yet also the challenges and particular needs of bisexuals have been thrown into sharper relief over that time.

Back then, bi was often seen as a kind of ‘gay lite’ with bis experiencing less impact from social homophobia, but research increasingly shows bi people have greater mental and physical health challenges than gay or straight people. We’re more likely to experience domestic violence from our partners, too. And just as there's a 'pay gap' between men and women, bi people on average earn less than their gay and straight friends.

So, far from the ‘best of both worlds’ cliche, the challenge of either persistently reasserting your bisexuality or having part of your life erased proves wearing for many bi people. Where lesbians and gay men have one closet to escape, many bi people find that leaving the one closet leads to being put in another.

Greater bisexual visibility is the best solution to that problem, so in the many many forms that this year's Bi Visibility Day events take I hope they will all be helping more bis find a space where they are neither in the ‘straight closet’ nor the gay one.