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Sunday, 1 November 2009


This blog has talked about censorship and free speech a few times (yes, yes, it’s one of our favourite subjects!).

You don’t expect kindred organisations to censor you, but it happens from time to time. None other than the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) has refused to allow what has been a regular post to its discussion forum, announcing that the latest issue of the free, nonprofit and kindred Gay & Lesbian Humanist magazine is now available online.

One of GALHA’s censors, Adam Knowles, believes that, because it contains a paragraph referring to the Gaytheist discussion group, it is urging people to leave the GALHA group and join Gaytheist. It is not doing anything of the sort, of course, since it doesn’t suggest that anyone should leave the GALHA forum. Indeed, both forums have some members in common, and Mr Knowles is guilty of being rather economical with the facts.

My colleague Dean Braithwaite challenged Mr Knowles in an email, saying:

Thanks for your response. Actually, the email I posted doesn’t do anything of the sort. It simply states the fact that a new forum has been set up. We must be reading two different emails because nowhere does it recommend people leave the GALHA list for another one, as you claim.

Mr Knowles’s startlingly illogical response was to say in an email, “I’m afraid I disagree” – as one might disagree with gravity or the existence of air. Braithwaite’s assertion can be proven, of course.

Gaytheist came about as a result of GALHA’s censorship, as you can see from the background article below, and the link to a previous post here on Pink Triangle. Braithwaite, a fellow Pink Triangle contributor and member of the GALHA forum, tried to post the magazine’s usual news release to it, detailing all that was in the latest issue, but was told he could not.

So some people who see themselves as freethinkers would seem to be nothing of the sort. Anyway, here is the background article.

Freedom to censor

You may remember when we introduced the Gaytheist discussion group (see sidebar and join-the-group graphic below), and we hinted at the time that it had come about as a result of censorship on another group.

The actual wording was:

Unlike some groups in the atheist/humanist/LGBT community – and I’m thinking of one in particular – Gaytheist does not believe in censoring your posts. What it does do is respect you as a mature person who will be responsible in your posts, and one who will not break the law by libelling other people, or will not be gratuitously offensive.

We didn’t name that group then, but have done so now.

The setting up of Gaytheist came about as a direct result of the refusal of the GALHA Net Nannies to allow a post – one from yours truly, as it happened – that had the word “Muzzies” in it. Indeed, in an email to me, one of the GALHA people, Keith Angus, said it was akin to the use of the words “nigger” and “Paki”. That was an accusation of racism.

I posted that fact to the GALHA group, and the email was allowed. Since the word “Muzzies” was now being discussed as a word, that, too, was allowed. It would have been rather silly to do otherwise. (It was rather daft to block it in the first place, and someone could always have responded within the forum by saying that it was not a nice word, if they felt strongly about it; that’s what happens when you have freedom of speech and allow open debate. And there’s been no apology for the charge of racism against me.)

Now you may not like the word “Muzzies”, but racist it’s not. Islam is an ideology, and in many respects – especially as it relates to gay people – not a very nice one. We also use words such as “fundies”. So do other atheist/rationalist blogs that are equally well thought of. It’s whimsical, and echoes the fact that anyone using it does not hold much respect for Islam as an ideology (or fundamentalist Christianity in the case of the other term).

The use of “Muzzies” was actually discussed on the Gaytheist list, and some constructive debate was had by mature people. Some were neutral about its use; others didn’t particularly like it. But the latter would not have censored it had they been moderating a forum.

However, now we come to GALHA’s latest act of suppression: our sister publication, Gay & Lesbian Humanist (G&LH), has effectively been censored, in that the usual post that my colleague Dean Braithwaite sends to the GALHA group to say the latest issue is out (and available free by clicking here, by the way), has been blocked by one of the GALHA committee, Adam Knowles, who says the message was received but won’t be allowed onto the discussion list because a post that “recommends people leave the GALHA mailing list for another one is not in the best interests of the list”.

Actually, that is a lie. What it does say, in a reference to an article within the magazine about Gaytheist, and amid a full rundown of the contents of the magazine, is this:

Following a protracted row between subscribers of the online Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) discussion list and its controllers over censorship, the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT) (publishers of G&LH) have launched a new forum, Gaytheist, an uncensored discussion group for gay and gay-friendly straight atheists, agnostics and freethinkers. Gaytheist encourages free debate on all subjects loosely related to being gay and/or being a nonbeliever. Find out more about Gaytheist and how to join in our “Gaytheist” article.

And nowhere does it recommend that people leave one group for another, as if membership of one barred one from membership of another. As I say above, there is a small crossover of membership.

My colleague Dean Braithwaite challenged Knowles on this, saying:

Thanks for your response. Actually, the email I posted doesn't do anything of the sort. It simply states the fact that a new forum has been set up. We must be reading two different emails because nowhere does it recommend people leave the GALHA list for another one, as you claim.

Adam Knowles responded with the kind of sidestep one would expect from a NuLabour politician. He said, with not a thought for the facts, “I’m afraid I disagree.” The facts were laid before him. Not an opinion, but documentary evidence of what had been sent to the forum, but he disagreed with it. This is rather astounding, since you would normally disagree with something that is a matter of opinion, not something that is there before your eyes. But that is what he said.

Mike Foxwell, the editor of G&LH and the person responsible for the Gaytheist reference quoted above, had this to say:

These guys really don’t understand irony: they’ve banned publicity about a new freethinkers’ discussion list, which was only set up because of criticisms of censorship of postings on their list! It could make you weep; you really couldn’t make it up.

Why am I hanging out this dirty linen in public? Well, it shows that not all humanists and those who like to think of themselves as freethinkers are really freethinkers at all. In fact, the naïveté of Mr Knowles and his fellow Net Nannies beggars belief.

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Diesel B said...

I think the trouble with GALHA is that the people running it these days have fallen into the trap of taking Islam - and themselves - rather too seriously.
Censoring the word "Muzzies" (but not "fundies") is a case in point. GALHA still subscribes to the kind of po-faced, humourless multiculturalism that took hold in the 1980s and found its expression in the now discredited "rainbow alliance" politics of New Labour.
Far from being "racist" (for the reasons Andy outlines), the term "Muzzies" displays a refreshing whimsical irreverance for Muslims and their barmy ideas.
Indeed, in its refusal to take Islam seriously, or be cowed by the ever-present threat of violence from some Islamic quarters, the term "Muzzies" is almost affectionate in its dismissiveness.
GALHA was never a freethought organisation, let alone an irreverent or libertarian one. It exists solely to promote a dull and earnest "secular Methodism" in line with the New Labour orthodoxy.
GALHA's "Net nannies" still believe they know what's best for us and we're all jolly well going to treat those Muslims and their esteemed religion with unconditional respect!
Sadly, no one with an independent mind, let alone a freethinker, can take GALHA seriously now.

Anonymous said...

My own experience of Galha confirms that philosophical enquiry into questions concerning Humanism are met with a demand for kow-towing to an orthodoxy which suits some of its leading members.

To paraphrase you: Sadly, no one with an independent mind, let alone a freethinker, can feel welcome in GALHA.

This is a great pity, as an organisation of this nature has potentially tremendous value in society.

Roy Saich said...

I always try to answer questions not covered or clear on the Humanists web site. Any questions about the Humanist outlook can be sent to me

George Broadhead said...

I find the comment from Anonymous intriguing, but would like he/she to elaborate a bit.

I'm not at all clear what he/she means by "an orthodoxy".

I was closely involved with GALHA until my resignation as long-serving secretary and committee member in 2007 and I can't help wondering if the comment refers to the way things have always been or have changed for the worse more recently.

Dean Braithwaite said...

It's certainly the case that the way GALHA has been run in the last few years would put the Vatican to shame. It's "leaders" claim to be democratic and to stand up for freethought and free speech when, at the same time, they do all in their power to silence those who disagree with their doctrine.