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Sunday 3 February 2013

We're calling it a day – for now, at least

You've probably noticed a lack of new posts hereabouts for some time now. That's because – and, yes, mea culpa, I should have mentioned it earlier – we have an excellent blog over at Pink  Humanist, which will keep you up to date with the latest in the sometimes bonkers world of religion.

The Pink Triangle Trust – owner of this blog – also has its own website. So why not click over there and take a look?

Thanks for your comments over the past few years. If you link to this blog with an RSS feed, you'll be alerted if anything happens and Pink Triangle decides to do a Lazarus.

'Bye for now.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Beware Romney and Ryan!

For all those Americans thinking about voting for Mitt Romney in the forthcoming US presidential election, please take a few moments to read the following open letter, (which was written by Max von Essen to an old friend of his who had expressed his support for Romney on von Essen's Facebook page):

Hey (    ),

Listen, I know you didn’t mean any harm commenting on this post and I like you, we had some great times growing up. But Romney and Ryan believe that I am less than you. They believe I am a second class citizen and don’t deserve the same rights that you had the privilege of being born into simply by being straight. They want to add a constitutional amendment that will ban gay marriage forever. It will set us back decades and ensure that I never legally have the opportunity to have a family or a partner in my lifetime.

They also believe that being at your partner’s side when he/she is dying is a benefit, not a civil right. They could keep me from my partner dying in a hospital. Could you even imagine something like that in your own life? Being separated from your wife on her death bed? Could you imagine your marriage never being recognized and being told that your family is not a family and you do not deserve any federal rights that comes with marriage. Over 1100 rights.  Did you know that? 1100.

Ryan doesn’t believe in the hate crimes act fought unwaveringly for by Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, murdered for being gay in Wyoming. Murdered for being gay. Could you imagine if I was murdered for being gay? Could you really look my mom in the eye and say ‘oh well, we can not prosecute this crime as a hate crime’?

I know there are important issues involved in this campaign. I know people are suffering and the economy has not improved at a rate we all wish it would. Yes, people are suffering but the gay and lesbian community has been suffering for hundreds of years and I am so tired of it. So tired of feeling that I am less than. So tired of knowing I have friends on here who will vote for someone who will keep me a second class citizen for my entire lifetime. I have already spent half a lifetime hiding, half a lifetime conforming. It is exhausting, demeaning and I am worn out. I want to love myself full out.  I want a president who can look me in the eye and say ‘You are equal!’ ‘You are equal to everyone else in this country and I will fight for your rights. The time is now and it is long overdue.’ Romney and Ryan could not look me in the eye and say that and I feel sorry for every gay and questioning child who might have to listen to a president who believes that he/she is not equal. Children will take their lives. It is the WORST form of trickle down bullying and it absolutely splits my heart in half. When the president says you are less than, it gives permission to every authority figure, every politician, every teacher, every bully on the playground to push you around and bully you and treat you less than. It is dangerous and lives will be lost.

If this is not important to you, please remove me from your friends list. I need people in my life who love me and consider me 100% equal.


Von Essen can currently be seen alongside Ricky Martin, playing Magaldi in Evita on Broadway.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Humanists angry at bullying report

The UK’s only independent gay humanist organisation, the charity the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT – owner of this blog), has expressed its great concern at the findings of the latest Stonewall report on school bullying.

The new report published by the gay campaigning organisation Stonewall has shown “some improvement in the level of homophobic bullying in schools since its previous one published in 2007”, says the PTT. “However the report, entitled ‘The School Report: The experiences of gay young people in Britain's schools in 2012’, has found that the issue remains widespread, and continues to be a greater problem in religious schools than elsewhere.”

The PTT singles out some of the report’s findings: 

– Only half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong; the figure is even lower in religious schools, at 37 per cent.

– About one in four (26 per cent) lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils – and more than one in three gay pupils in religious schools (36 per cent) – say that teachers who hear homophobic language never challenge it.

– Religious schools are still less likely than schools in general to take steps to prevent and respond to homophobic bullying.

– And Stonewall says that, while no gay young people said they experience “bullying” by teachers, 17 per cent say that teachers and other school staff do make homophobic comments. This rises to 22 per cent for pupils in religious schools.

Commenting on the findings the PTT’s secretary, George Broadhead, said: “This is a deplorable situation and the fact that the problem is greater in religious schools is not at all surprising. Hardly a day goes by without some report in the media about religious hostility to LGBT relationships and rights, and some of it, like that from the Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, is sustained and downright vicious. All this is bound to have a bad influence on both teachers and pupils in the ever increasing number of religious schools.”

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Gay humanists rubbish attack on same-sex marriage

Britain’s only independent gay humanist organisation, the charity the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT) – owner of this blog – has rubbished the latest attack on same-sex marriage by the Church of England in its submission to the government’s consultation on this issue.

Commenting on this, PTT secretary George Broadhead said: “This is part and parcel of the Church’s long-standing Bible-based hostility to gay rights. It is fatuous to claim that the Church or its places of worship will be badly affected by this progressive legislation since it concerns only civil marriages in register offices. Moreover, as the courts are well aware of the distinction between civil and religious institutions, it is equally fatuous to claim that these marriages will result in legal challenges that will force any church to marry same-sex couples.

“As usual, the Church is out of touch with public opinion which, as polls show, is overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage. No wonder the Church’s members are deserting the pews in droves.”

I think I agree, mostly, with George. However, there may, just may, be a successful challenge in the European courts, but that would just put the Church where other employers are at the moment, and we know that, for instance, a registrar lost her case, as did a marriage-guidance counsellor, because each refused to treat gay people the same as heterosexuals. One has to ask: why won’t it be the same with a minister of religion, carrying out part of the duties for which he receives a stipend and for which he is, in this case, licensed by the state to carry out marriage, as is a registrar?
So I can see that the Church may be worried, although I suspect much of its “concern” is born out of bigotry. If you want to win an argument, you reach for all kinds of things to bolster it.

If it does go to a European court, it will be an interesting case to follow.

And one of the issues the Church has raised is consummation of a marriage. On the BBC News website, the Beeb’s religion guy, Robert Pigott, writes: “For the Church, a marriage – with its focus on procreation and the need to be consummated – is something that is simply not available to gay couples. By creating different understandings of marriage, it insists, the whole institution will be weakened – something the nation should not be allowed to sleep-walk towards.

Er, how does an opposite-sex relationship differ from a same-sex one in this respect? My Concise Oxford defines consummation simply as “make (a marriage or relationship) complete by having sexual intercourse”. Don’t gays do nookie? Sorry, I thought they did. I must be missing something.

As for the focus on procreation, well clearly the Church doesn’t say a marriage is null and void if procreation doesn’t happen, because there are all kinds of reasons why it might not: family planning, a woman’s infertility, husband firing blanks. But the Church presumably doesn’t believe that childless marriage has any less worth than one that irresponsibly produces six or seven sprogs.

And, unlike the Catholic Church, the C of E doesn’t get uppity about people who want to use condoms and other forms of contraception, so, by implication, it’s cool about people who actually choose not to have kids.

So, as usual, the argument of the religionists doesn’t stack up.

Monday 4 June 2012

Pink Humanist now online – and meet Bishop Perseus Flange

The latest Pink Humanist has just gone live.

This quarter, the new(ish) electronic magazine – put out by the Pink Triangle Trust (see panel on right) – looks at gay marriage and asks if it really is a Nazi plot to destroy the Church.

It also looks at the scandal of Turkey’s “pink certificates”: you have to prove you’re gay in the most humiliating ways if that’s your way of staying out of the armed forces.

Editor Barry Duke doesn’t mince words in his column called, well, “No Mincing Words”. Always amusing.

And there are the twin evils of fascism and Christianity in the Ukraine.

But that’s not all: it carries an address by Britain’s first out lesbian MP and an article that asks: “Christianity was once far more tolerant of gay unions than at present. Truth or fiction?”

In the blog in which you’ll find the magazine posted, there’s also Andrew John’s “Hear Me Out”, in which he has another little spat with his uncle, the Rt Rev. Dr Perseus Flange, Bishop of Little Piddlebed (see "Hear Me Out" up top). This time their encounter comes straight from the jaws of hell – well, the idyllic Parish Church of St Darren, anyway.

Duke is also editor of the ancient and feisty Freethinker, and makes reference to Perseus Flange in a piece on the magazine’s website.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Gay humanists welcome ‘gay cure’ therapist decision

The UK’s only independent gay humanist organisation, the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT), owner of this blog, says it’s highly satisfied that a Christian therapist who appeared to claim she could “cure” gays has lost her appeal against malpractice.

Lesley Pilkington, a psychotherapist who was found guilty of “professional malpractice” for using the techniques of “conversion therapy” (a “bogus form of treatment which is supposed to make gay people become straight”, says the PTT), has lost her appeal against the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

In a statement today, the PTT says:

Mrs Pilkington was found guilty of malpractice last year after trying to convert a gay client to heterosexuality, with the BACP describing her practice as “negligent”, “dogmatic” and “unprofessional”.

The complaint against Mrs Pilkington which started this case was made by the award-winning journalist Patrick Strudwick, who was investigating therapists who claim to be able to “treat” homosexuality.  Mr Strudwick, who is gay, received two counselling sessions from Mrs Pilkington in 2009, in which she used the techniques of “conversion therapy” (also known as “reparative therapy”) in an attempt to make him become heterosexual. The treatment, which also involved praying to God to make Mr Strudwick straight, failed.

The BACP said that “the appeal panel is unanimous that Mrs Pilkington failed to exercise reasonable care and skill and was thus negligent”.  The panel also said it was “entirely wrong” for Mrs Pilkington to suggest that Mr Strudwick had been sexually abused as a child, and that this “falls below the standard to be expected of a reasonably competent practitioner”.

The BACP have suspended Mrs Pilkington’s accreditation, and have ordered her to submit a report between 4 and 12 months from now, in which she will have to demonstrate that she has changed her practice to meet the BACP’s requirements.  Mr Strudwick said, “I’m delighted that the BACP has upheld their original decision. Mrs Pilkington’s therapeutic practices have been held up to scrutiny and found to be fundamentally flawed.”  He also said that “this case sets a vital precedent.  I urge anyone involved in this harmful practice to take note of this case and desist.  Love needs no cure”.

The PTT’s secretary, George Broadhead, commented: “This is a very important verdict. Treatments that attempt to ‘cure’ homosexuality are morally objectionable because they imply that homosexuality is a disease. They have no scientific foundation and have been condemned by the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, as well as in the recent judgement by the BACP.

“Therapies that claim to be able to ‘cure’ homosexuality are completely discredited,” he added. “Nevertheless, to their shame, they have been supported by prominent religious figures such as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, the former Bishop of Rochester, Rt Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, as well as the lobby group Christian Concern, all of whom supported Lesley Pilkington.”

Thursday 24 May 2012

Tangled webs and gay marriage

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive. At least I think that’s how it goes. It certainly applies to John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, who’s been caught telling porkies.

“There is joy in heaven when a sinner repents, so they say,” intones the Guardian. “But the archbishop seems quite unrepentant. He might have graciously said: We were wrong about civil partnerships. Now we see the error of our ways and would like to celebrate the honourable estate of civil partnership. Rather, he makes a claim that is not only false, but whose falsehood is quite easily checked in Hansard.

It seems – and you can read the full story there – that he said bishops in the House of Lords, where 26 of them have an automatic right to sit, just because they’re bishops, were in favour of civil partnerships, but their voting record says otherwise.

Naughty, naughty, naughty! Or it could be that he was mistaken. It happens. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he’ll recognise his error as perhaps a “senior moment”.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Strange bedfellows

What a bunch of strange bedfellows!

Rabid right-wing Christians, a rabid right-wing Tory and yer actual “militant atheists” (or whatever the favoured term is for secularists these days) have joined together in the name of freedom of speech.

Yesterday saw the launch of the Reform Section 5 campaign, which aims to increase the pressure on the UK’s Home Secretary, Theresa May, to amend the 1986 Public Order Act.

Section 5 of the Act outlaws “insulting words or behaviour”, whatever “insulting” means, since it can be interpreted in as many ways as there are adjectives. The human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell – not known for his love of religion – says in a press release: “Civil liberties campaigners, faith groups and secular organisations have joined forces to have the word ‘insulting’ removed from the legislation on the grounds that it restricts free speech and penalises campaigners, protesters and even preachers.

“The Reform Section 5 campaign is headlining with the slogan: ‘Feel free to insult me’, and asks the vital question: ‘Who should decide whether words, posters or ideas are insulting?’

“The campaign points out that the law rightly protects the public against discrimination, harassment, threats and violence – but that it has no legitimate role protecting us from having our feelings hurt.”

Couldn’t agree more. And I know that both Tatchell and Your Humble Blogger have said on many occasions that, once we start down the road of banning what people can say about us, we turn that on ourselves, and suddenly we find we can’t say things about them. That’s why it’s in all our interests to fight for the freedom to say what we like (usual caveats, of course, about shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre when there isn’t one; about genuine defamation, which has to be decided in a court of law; and about deliberate incitement to violence).

So who is in the line-up?

Peter Tatchell. Doesn’t need much introduction: Aussie-born Britain-based longstanding campaigner for gay rights and human rights in general. Has got into some hairy scrapes on occasion, even getting beaten up by Robert Mugabe’s thugs, doing permanent damage to an eye.

Keith Wood is director of the National Secular Society, of which his civil partner Terry Sanderson is president.

There’s David Davis, a Tory with a few good points, who (and this isn’t one of them) called in 2003 for the return of the death penalty in the UK for the most serious murder cases.

However, in 2008 he forced a by-election in his constituency by resigning, because he wanted then to recontest the seat on a platform of widening the debate about the erosion of civil liberties by the then Labour government. (He got back in, unopposed, as it happened.)

In a sort of pre-echo of this current situation, Davis shared a platform with another unlikely bedfellow, the left-wing veteran former Labour MP Tony Benn, when the two took part in the launch of Big Brother Watch in 2010

There’s a rabidly Christian Tory of the right-wing persuasion called Edward Leigh, who’s a Catholic, and we know that, in any other circumstances, he might not actually say the likes of Tatchell and Wood should be silenced (well, he wouldn’t dare), but I suspect he would wish they were. Catholics, especially right-wing ones, don’t like the idea of gay marriage, for instance. And, if he follows the ideas of Herr Ratzinger, his fascistic leader, he will see all gay relationships as an intrinsic evil or whatever highfalutin, nonsensical twaddle the old twat spouted.

Leigh was a great Thatcher supporter, which speaks volumes. And he once got into a scrape because he relied on flawed Department for Transport stats to attack motorcyclists for tax evasion.

He’s also president of the ultra-conservative, antigay, pro-family” Cornerstone Group within the Tory Party (the right wing within the right wing, you might say), with the motto “Faith, Flag and Family”. That says it all.

Now it has been known for left-wingers to refuse to share a platform with people they disagree with. Instance Ken Livingstone, failed London mayor hopeful this (and once London mayor himself), who pulled out of a BBC mayoral debate because the British National Party was involved.

I wonder if Livingstone would say Tatchell shouldn’t be involved with Leigh and his  “family values” cronies.

Just a thought, and mentioned because, on occasions (although I’m not accusing Tatchell and Wood of this), lefties have refused to get into bed with righties or those perceived to be racist or homophobic – when it suits them.

However, moving on . . .

Last, there’s Simon Calvert, who represents the Christian Institute, which has had some nutty things to say about gay matters in the past, including questions about freedom of speech, accusing gays of wanting to shut down freedom of speech when the opposite was the case.

This is what Tatchell’s press release quotes him as saying:
Despite my well-known disagreements with David Davis and the Christian Institute, in defence of free speech and the right to protest, we’ve sunk our differences and are working together to reform Section 5. Freedom of expression is so important. It transcends party politics and ideology.

It is commendable that David Davis and the Christian Institute are prepared to work with a gay left-wing Green atheist and secularist like me. We’re all putting the right to free speech before our personal politics and beliefs.

I have been a victim of Section 5. In 1994, I organised a small peaceful protest against the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, some of whose members had endorsed the killing of Jews, homosexuals, apostates and women who have sex outside of marriage. I displayed placards that factually documented the persecution of gay people by Islamist fanatics. I was arrested and charged under Section 5 with behaviour that was deemed insulting and likely to cause distress. I fought the charges and eventually won, but not before spending many hours in police cells and standing trial.

This experience convinced me that Section 5 is open to abuse by over-zealous police and prosecutors. That’s why I am supporting the Reform Section 5 campaign. The campaign brings together an unlikely alliance of people who would otherwise be political foes. Both my own Peter Tatchell Foundation and the National Secular Society have been traditionally at loggerheads with the Christian Institute over its opposition to gay equality and its defence of religious privilege. But on this issue we agree.

The Section 5 ban on insults is a menace to liberty. It has been abused to variously arrest or threaten with arrest people protesting non-violently against abortion and for gay equality and animal welfare. Other victims include Christian street preachers, critics of Scientology and even students making jokes.

In 2008, a teenager was given a court summons for holding a placard that denounced Scientology as a dangerous cult. Three years earlier, an Oxford student was arrested for jokingly suggesting that a police horse was gay. In both cases, even though the charges were later dropped, the victims had their freedom of expression infringed and they suffered public humiliation by the police.

Section 5 has been also used unjustly against Christian street preachers who have merely condemned homosexuality, without being abusive or threatening. Although what they said was homophobic and should be challenged, they should not have been criminalised. Dale McAlpine was arrested in 2010 for saying that gay sex is sinful. In my view, Dale is a homophobe but he should not have been prosecuted. On free speech grounds, I offered to testify in his defence.

Under Section 5, is it an offence for a person to use “insulting words or behaviour” in a way that is “likely” to cause “harassment, alarm or distress.” There is no requirement to prove that anyone has been harassed, alarmed or distressed. The mere likelihood is sufficient to secure a conviction. Moreover, an offence is committed regardless of the person’s intention. Innocently intended words, behaviours or signs can result in a criminal record. The police and the courts can decide if you or someone else might feel insulted.

When does an insult cease to be a legitimate (if bad mannered) expression of opinion and become a matter for arrest and prosecution? Much satirical comedy and many polemical critiques of religion are deemed insults by some people.

What constitutes an insult is a subjective judgement, open to widely different interpretations. For some ultra-sensitive people, what others regard as valid criticisms may cause them to feel insulted and distressed. Indeed, any controversial or dissenting viewpoint has the potential to upset someone and result in them – or the police – deciding that they feel insulted and distressed.

If we accept that insults resulting in likely alarm or distress should be a crime, we risk limiting free and open debate and criminalising dissenting opinions and alternative lifestyles that some people may find offensive and upsetting. The right to mock, ridicule and satirise ideas, opinions and institutions is put in jeopardy. Section 5 can, in theory, be used to criminalise almost any words, actions or images, if even just one person is likely to be alarmed or distressed by them.

There is no right to be not distressed or offended. Some of the most important ideas in history – such as those of Galileo Galilei and Charles Darwin – caused great offence and distress in their time.

Do we really need the police and the courts to criminalise insults? Should we not just accept that the risk of insult is a fair price to pay for living in a society which respects free speech?
The law rightly protects us against discrimination, harassment and incitement to violence. It should not be used to protect us from mere insults. It’s time to reform Section 5.

Well, I hope this unlikely coalition is successful in thwarting any attempt to erode our freedoms of speech and expression. But, as for their having “sunk our differences”, we know this is not the case: they’ve decided not to shout about them within the context of this campaign. That hardly amounts to sinking them.

No way have the likes of Leigh and the Christian Institute “sunk [their] differences” when it comes to gay marriage and other aspects of same-sex relationships. But it’s good PR to say they’ve sunk their differences, as long as we realise they’ll be back fighting against civil liberties once the Section 5 campaign is over.

Sunday 13 May 2012

How the Bible can be right and wrong at the same time

One of America’s most prominent black theologians has made an interesting point, although I suppose it’s been said before: the black churches are using literal interpretations of biblical scripture in their opposition to same-sex marriage, just as the oppressors of their ancestors did in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“The literal approach to scripture was used to enslave black people,” says James Cone. “I’ve said many times in black churches that the black church is on the wrong side of history on this. It’s so sad because they were on the right side of history in their own struggle.”

The CNN source linked to above goes on to say: “Call it historical irony: Black church leaders arguing against same-sex marriage are making some of the same arguments that supporters of slavery made in the 18th and 19th centuries, some historians say. Both groups adopted a literal reading of the Bible to justify withholding basic rights from a particular group.”