Thursday 24 October 2013

lgBt and Europe

Another press release lands in my in-box from the European Parliament's LGBT Intergroup. This one's on tackling hate speech. It mentions homophobia and transphobia...

This is far from the only time they've left that yawning gap. The LGBT Intergroup defines itself as "LGBT" and yet so very often I find it only talks about homophobia and transphobia.

If the "B" is meant to be in there, why doesn't the Intergroup also talk about biphobia? Sometimes things are specific to homophobia or transphobia or both, specific to lesbians and gay men, specific to trans people.  I don't expect B to be in there on every occasion - though equally I do expect there to be times when an LGBT organisation will have things to say that are just about the B. Time and again the LGBT Intergroup publishes findings, calls to action, and suchlike that give the impression they think "LGBT" just has the B in there as a cheap substitute for an ampersand.

Try the results for these searches on their website:

Two produce pages of results. One draws a blank.

And naturally, they had nothing to say about Bi Visibility Day last month.

I've dropped them a line and will report back on how that goes...

Thursday 10 October 2013

Homo Hero Lesson 3: Revealing Antonyms

Antonyms. Remember them in school? Synonyms and antonyms. Opposite-words.

One of the lessons of spending an evening at the Homo Heroes Awards was that cis remains a word too far, for far too many LGBT activist brains. With award winners, presenters and hosts representing a wide range of notionally LGBT or LGBT-community-engaged organisations, talking about their varied work with LGBT and non-LGBT alike, I don't think it passed the lips of a single person given a platform at the awards.

It wasn't a fluke. So many people in notionally-LGBT activism and volunteering still think 'heterosexual' is the antonym to 'LGBT'.  But when we talk of something as being the opposite to LGBT, or want a collective term for people who are non-LGBT, the word we need has to be more than just non-gay.  It's non-trans. Straight isn't the antonym, because loads and loads of trans people are straight.  People who aren't trans are cis, and you need to say that qualifier out loud too.

Strictly, it's not just trans fail.  While straight or heterosexual may work well as the antonym to gay and lesbian, either term is only the antonym to LGB in the sense that we are socially deemed heterosexual until found to be bisexual or gay.  There's a fair case to be made that the antonym to LGB is SA, for straight and asexual, but therein lie a series of nuances about biromantic, homoromantic and heteroromantic asexuals, so I'm prepared to take the "straight is the opposite of LGB" on the chin as being where our collective discourse on sexuality has got to.

This lack of thinking through and understanding is a reflection not just of my experience of Manchester's notoriously LGbt culture but of the level of wider LGBT debate outside of bi and trans circles. It reflects how sadly stuck in the 80s so much of 'LGBT' is wherever the B&T have not been able to break through and rise up the queer power pyramid in significant numbers.

When you hear comments like "everyone - LGBT or straight" you have to wonder if you're listening to someone who has 'got' the LG part of the equation, and merely trained themselves to tack some extra letters on when they speak. It's a bit like saying that there are disabled people and normal people, gay people and normal people, immigrants and normal people. 'Normal' believes it doesn't need a word to define itself: but as Derek Jarman pointed out so sharply twentysome years ago, there's a subtle difference between normal and common.

Homo Hero Lesson 2: Do we need a "challenging biphobia" award?

I have a longer blog about a wider issue around this coming shortly but a quick, more focused blog question first.

One of the awards at the Homo Heroes, the Alan Turing Memorial Award, was introduced as being co-sponsored by Manchester City Council and the Lesbian & Gay Foundation, given to "an individual or organisation that has worked to challenge homophobia in our city".

Media coverage of the award this year and in 2012 confirms this was not just a slip of the tongue by the presenter. It's definitely about fighting homophobia.

If you are, to come up with a few implausible real-life examples of people who might be put forward for their work challenging homophobia*, a councillor who leads on LGBT issues for your council group, and who when asked about bi people's needs shrugs it off with a dismissive claim that no-one really knows about bisexuals - you could still be winner of the Alan Turing Memorial Award. If you opine that bisexuality is "the grey area of the rainbow flag", it won't count against you in this one. Go on the record that bisexuals are "not part of LGBT" because they don't experience any discrimination? Heck, welcome to the shortlist, and don't worry, we won't ask what you think the B in that acronym stands for.

As I'm one of the BiBloggers, you can perhaps guess where this is going.  Do the Homo Heroes - as at least notionally LGB awards - need a parallel award for challenging biphobia?  Maybe they do.

Probably best if it is not co-sponsored by Manchester City Council though, an organisation whose record on bisexuality has made it (literally) a textbook example of how councils have failed on the bisexual strand of LGB / LGBT.

* that I couldn't possibly have encountered from reasonably prominent politicians locally in the past year. Ahem.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

UK Government Minister backs Bi Visibility Day

It was all a bit too hectic here for me to blog about it at the time, but let's have a belated cheer for the Women & Equality Minister Jo Swinson MP (Lib Dem, East Dunbartonshire), who was the first government figure in the UK to give their support to Bi Visibility Day. 

In a statement last month on September 23rd she said,
“Absolutely no-one should face prejudice and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The UK is leading the way in LGB&T equality and we can be proud of the real progress that has been made in recent years. But we know there is more to do which is why this autumn we will launch a new Call for Evidence, to explore what the next steps need to be to improve the lives of LGB&T people.
“I welcome Bi Visibility Day which helps to raise awareness of the issues that bisexual people can face and provides an opportunity to celebrate diversity and focus on the B in LGB&T.”
We've been waiting a long time for that from a minister of any stripe.

On the same day, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport also gave a supporting tweet from its departmental account, linking to the international Bi Visibility Day listings website.

Monday 7 October 2013

Homo Hero Lesson 1: Don't Eat At The Radisson Blu!

There are a few things to be said about the 2013 Homo Hero Awards ceremony, so I'll be scribbing a couple more blog posts over the next howeverlong.  But let us start with the easy one: the catering was awful. It would seem to be a problem with the venue rather than the organisers.

This year the awards were hosted at the Manchester Radisson Blu, the former Free Trade Hall building that is now a well-polished hotel.  Partway through the presentation of awards there was an intermission for a buffet, so we got to find out what their catering is like.

Rule one of running a decent buffet: label your food. This is x, it has y in it. These sandwiches have been ruined by mayonnaise. The amount of cocoa solids in this cake may trigger headaches. Labelling food is such a basic access issue that it drives me to despair how often I see it fail to happen. The pinnacle of fail at last night's event was a selection of sandwiches marked "various". Really. Yes, we can see they have an assortment of different fillings: perhaps you could sort them as you make them and label them so people who feel queasy after eating beef or get ill from eating cheese know which ones to dodge without having a plateful of sandwiches they have nibbled and abandoned?  I'm no posh-nosher nor one of those tastebudless "foodies", but even I know that in polite company, peeling open sarnies at the buffet to see what abomination a misanthropic chef has planted between two triangles of bread tends to be frowned on.

Rule two of running a decent buffet is that whatever your labelled or unlabelled food might be, make it a pleasure to eat.  The last mystery buffet I dined on did at least pull off being tasty grub, but the Radisson failed on that too.  If it had just been me I'd put it down to personal taste but around me were a smattering of disappointed faces shuddering at what had been made from sometimes-promising ingredients. All told, grim food in a darkened room that made you happy to have your plate collected.

As you might guess, I'll not be dining at the Radisson again any time soon. They can't cater for toffee.

Thursday 3 October 2013

"That same voter has never cast another vote..."

Tonight is the third annual Homo Hero Awards. Once something's been going three years it's definitely Annual.

To my genuine surprise and some delight I was shortlisted in the category Homo Hero: Role Model. The delight was all about what being shortlisted involved finding out people had said about me without being prompted; a lot of activist work you put out there into the world and never really see or hear what people made of it beyond the grumbles.

Role Model is a three cornered contest between - so far as I can gather from their online profiles - a cis gay guy, a cis lesbian, and me. So I'll be flying the flag for the second half of the acronym, and even without differential voting, it's odds-on that the hero will be a homo. Moreso given one of the other shortlistees is from sporting circles, which I think involves a big block-vote kind of momentum.

Last time I was on a Homo Hero shortlist - 2011 - there was a flurry of bis on shortlists, with Natalya Dell, Marcus Morgan and BCN magazine also in the running for other categories. We all came away empty-handed but it made for a fun evening and a good excuse to all be together in one place.  This time I'm the only bi shortlistee, but some lovely people I know will be along either as my guests or as representatives from other LGBT community groups, so I'm looking forward to a happy night out for the awards, probably followed by a slap-up meal in Chinatown. And perhaps a chorus of "Losing Deposits" on the way from one to the other...

Wednesday 2 October 2013

12p an hour more

Today the national minimum wage for adults increases by 12p an hour to £6.31.

It's one of those little victories for the left side of the left/right coalition running the UK at the moment; in power on their own the Conservatives wanted to at best freeze the minimum wage for the duration of the parliament.  The huge recession has been a big squeeze on many businesses' ability to pay increased wages but on the other side of that equation, inflation at about 4% for several years has eaten into the worth of pay packets and pushing the minimum wage up a little each year helps to mitigate that a little.  It's still a world away from the £1.66 an hour of my first job back in the early 1990s - £3 in today's money - though recall I got a lovely tan from the four mile walk each way between home and work in that blazing summer!

In turn it reminds me of a job I had in the 90s which employed me for 10 hours a week. The way the benefits system worked, after the cost of travel to work I was 2p an hour better off. You have to have quite a work ethic to work for tuppence an hour: I worked out that every couple of months I could afford a whole jar of coffee as reward for being a worker.  Another 90s part-time job was harder to get to on public transport - three buses each way - and so cost me a fiver a week compared to staying on the dole, for the privilege of working in a tensely homophobic and transphobic environment.

We need a better tax and benefits system than that. Neither Labour nor the Tories will give it to us, though in principle the much-derided (by those with a vested interest in its failure) Universal Credit project that IDS is letting his political reputation burn in piloting should have been a step in the right direction. I really should write about UC some time, it seems to be hated for all the best things about it by people who would probably praise those same things if Labour were implementing them.