so we did the event (as mentioned in previous post), and it was : hopeful, inspiring, moving, affirming. I was hugely glad to be there. I spent all of yesterday working out what I was going to say, how I was going to introduce the speakers (friends Paul Burston & Adjoa Andoh, local council politicians Steve Reed and Rachel Heywood, local MP & Minister Tessa Jowell). While I’ve always been political, come from a politicised family, this was much more of a nailing-my-colours-to-the-party-mast event.
It wasn’t a ra-ra-Labour event, there was no glossing over the fact that many of us speaking had sincere and deep unhappiness over things like the war (with an awareness of course that the Tories would have taken us there too, and no doubt sooner and with a lot less heart-searching), but it was an event with a real awareness of what has changed – and how much more there is to do. And who’s best to do it. From my perspective, that’s the Labour Party. Not least because I heard Tessa Jowell use the word ‘progressive’ three times last night! And Darren McCombe, the national treasurer of LGBT Labour talked about socialism!
Progressive and socialism. For many of us those words have been missing for a while – or perhaps they haven’t been spoken aloud often enough recently.
Adjoa Andoh spoke of her daughter Daisy’s birth on the 1st of May 1997 and what she wanted for her daughters – and how things were very different before 1997, how proud she is that, because of Labour’s work, her daughters are now growing up in a more equal society. She spoke of loving well and kindly. She spoke of filming in South Africa and seeing the 80% turnout there and the pride people show about having voted. It was really moving and very honest. (I knew it would be, Adj is a great speaker and an impassioned woman.)
Paul Burston shared a moving and inspiring speech he gave to the Liberty event last week. I reproduce it here (below) with his permission. It’s best you read it whole.
Rachel Heywood talked of her work in the local area, on a very local basis, but also about how that had been inspired by a friend she met at a young and unformed political time in her life. It was a joy to hear the personal side of passionate politics instead of the usual speechifying.
Steve Reed reminded us of how much there is still to do and he also spoke – as he does on his own site – passionately about diversity, his pride in our astonishing local diversity. It was a joy to hear the subject of diversity (race, age, gender, sexuality, faith) spoken about not as a problem to be dealt with – but as a bonus, something to be celebrated and cherished.
I did a short version of my usual (and strongly felt!!) “It’s not fixed yet” speech – ie, there is so much more to do, our lives ARE better (as LGBT people, now protected under law) than they were before 1997, but these are rights easily taken away, that don’t exist at all in many many countries of the world, and that need us not only to keep on protecting them, but also to keep on pushing for more. (Marriage for all, instead of marriage for some and CPs for others for eg!)
Tessa Jowell spoke really well. I didn’t know what to expect, and I suppose I expected a rousing bit of political rhetoric from someone who must know how to work a room, or she wouldn’t have got this far in her career. It was rousing. It wasn’t rhetoric. She spoke personally, and clearly from the heart, about gay friends and their child. About not everything being done yet, about there being much more to do, about changes that have been made – the Equality Bill finally getting through for eg – and about much more work to do. Quietly spoken but easily heard (nice mics Ritzy, thank you!), clean and clear with one or two notes but no big scripted speech, informed but not merely information – it was (as well as being about the thing and sincere and great she was there) also a nice object lesson in how to give a speech on something you care about. Talk directly to the people, be honest, say it plainly. (directorial notes anyone could benefit from!!)
I’m attaching here what I said, and also Paul’s speech. If I can squeeze Adjoa’s words from her too, I’ll add them here. (She spoke without notes, of course!)
It was great to be at a political LGBT event. Great that the trans and bi were spoken out and not just part of the acronyms. Great that it wasn’t all white, all male, all middle class as all too many LGBT events are.
Proud of that. Glad we did it. Thankful for the support of such good friends (and good wife!) both on stage and off. Now I have a Buddhist Open Space event to prepare for. (oh yeah, and a book to write, obv.)
Article 12: You Have The Right To Marry And Raise A Family
by Paul Burston
In the 80s Jenny lived with Eric and Martin and they passed a law against it. An innocent picture book about a little girl who was raised by two gay men, ‘Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin’ so enraged the Tory government that they created a law banning the ‘promotion of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. That law became known as Section 28, and although it was repealed in 2003, its effects are still felt today, especially in schools where homophobia is rife and young gay men are woefully misinformed about safer sex.
Today, Charlotte lives with Jenny and Emma, and Gordon visits as often as possible. Gordon is Charlotte’s gay dad. Jenny and Emma are her two lesbian mums. This isn’t the same Jenny who was the subject of that book. We don’t know what happened to her. Did she grow up to become a lesbian? Is she heterosexual and part of a traditional nuclear family? We don’t know. Why would we? It was only a picture book. But it was a book deemed so dangerous that someone went to the trouble of passing a law against it.
What the Tories failed to understand is that there is nothing pretended about gay family relationships. Gay men and women have always been part of the family – even in the days before people spoke openly of such things. We have always been sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. And increasingly these days, we are mothers and fathers too. Many of us are in stable loving relationships and believe that we should have the right to get married and raise families of our own. It might not be the right choice for everyone, and there are many lesbians and gay men out there who have no desire to get married or have children. But the question of choice is meaningless unless you first have the right to choose.
I chose to get married two and half years ago. The registrar was a lovely woman called Marcia who was obliged by law to use the words ‘civil partnership’. But everyone else referred to it as our wedding. We had a wedding photographer and a wedding reception. My mother bought herself a new hat. Today, our wedding photo hangs on her living room wall next to those of my two sisters, who both happen to be heterosexual. Of course I believe that there should be no distinction between heterosexual marriages and gay civil partnerships. But until the law catches up with us, it would be foolish to deny ourselves the legal protections currently available.
Shortly after our wedding I published a novel about a gay man planning his own civil partnership. On the day of publication I was interviewed by a radio presenter who put it to me that gay marriage was an attack on the family. I asked him to define family and he floundered. ‘Maybe you should ask my mother?’ I said. ‘Or my step father? Or my sisters? Or my nephew and niece? Or if you call long distance you could talk to my new mother and father-in-law in Rio. They’re all family, and they didn’t see our wedding as an attack on them. They saw it as the joining together of two families and were very happy for us’.
Some people weren’t happy for us. One sister-in-law stayed away on religious grounds (though when I look through my Bible I find as many celebrations of love between men as I do condemnations of homosexuality. I guess she never stopped to ask herself why Jesus himself never said a word on the subject). Another sister-in-law wasn’t invited on the grounds that she is openly homophobic. You can’t choose your relations, but you can choose how you relate to them. And if someone makes it abundantly clear that they don’t accept you for you are, then I think you’re entitled not to invite them to your wedding. She came anyway, insisting that it was her right as part of the family. Our feelings didn’t come into it.
Sadly, some other family members sided with her. After the honeymoon, my partner received an email from his brother, informing him that we were no longer permitted to spend time with his young children. Gay men and children – old prejudices die hard.
When I talked to my gay friend Gordon about this, he shared a similar story of homophobia and family values. His parents had requested that he bring their new grand daughter over to Ireland to meet them. But there was just one catch. They wanted one of Charlotte’s mums to come along and pretend to be his wife, and the other mum to stay at home. I don’t think this is quite what the Tories had in mind when they coined the phrase ‘pretended family relationship’. But Gordon wasn’t willing to pretend. Why should he? His mother insisted that his sister and her husband didn’t want their children exposed to his lifestyle. He replied that he didn’t want his child exposed to their homophobia. Old prejudices die hard, but family values can cut both ways.
It’s an interesting word, “lifestyle”. Especially when it’s applied to gay men and women in the context of what most people would call “family relationships”. I dare say that Gordon’s “lifestyle” isn’t so different to his brother-in-law’s. He works hard and he has a child to support. My “lifestyle” isn’t so different to that of my brother-in-law in Brazil, the one whose children need protecting from men like me. Granted, I don’t have any children of my own to support. But I sleep, wake, work, eat and watch television just like he does. The only real difference is that when I go to bed, I share my bed with the man I married.
But that’s not my “lifestyle”. That’s my life. That’s my family. And that’s my right.
And this is what I said :
Lambeth’s LGBT Labour : Monday April 12th 2010
Thank you for being here, to celebrate what’s been done in the past 13 years – we can be proud of Labour’s achievements for the LGBT community from Civil Partnerships to the Equality Bill to lesbian couples able to legally have both women in the couple recognised as parents of a child they conceive in a relationship together – but we’re also here to say we need to keep going, to press for more. Because it isn’t fixed yet.
Jody Dobrowski is murdered in our own borough and countless other homophobic assaults occur, many of them unreported because the victims are too scared to speak up.
Young gay and bisexual men are fourteen times more likely to self-harm than men in the general population. Sixty five percent of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people report experiencing homophobic bullying in our schools. Sixty four percent of young trans men and forty-four percent of young trans women experience harassment or bullying at school.
A man is beaten to death in Trafalgar Square because he dared to stand up to homophobic bullying.
There are people who complain rightly and loudly about the use of racist terms to ridicule, yet have no problem at all with ‘gay’ as a term of abuse. It’s not fixed yet.
Gay men are attacked in the East End and in Liverpool and it receives barely a mention in our national press.
According to Age Concern’s data, there are currently no care homes specifically aimed at meeting the needs of older LGBT people. And not all of us would request that, but for some people it would be nice to have a choice. The Afro-Caribbean community, the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities all have options to care for their elders in specific minority-identified housing, we haven’t yet created that for ourselves. We know many older people often find it harder to come out, and so – in a society that de-sexualises older people anyway – they can be even more alienated in a care home or sheltered environment, unless the staff and all those around them make extra efforts to up their game. Age Concern’s booklets on this issue have both heartbreaking – and some very positive stories – but there’s clearly a long way to go.
Yes, we happen to have been born in a time where it’s not entirely easy being gay. Fine. Let’s fix it. Let’s do it for the fourteen year olds coming behind us, the young people who desperately need more role models, not just the one or two on the telly, but the many of us, in our multiplicity, white, black, asian, able, disabled, tall, short, fat, round, skinny, lovely, ugly, gloriously different. Let’s do it too, for the older people now who need our help speaking up for them where it is very difficult to speak up for themselves. And if that’s too distant, then let’s do it for the older people we are going to be. Because none of us will be young or even middle aged forever, and if we want a system that is aware of our needs as older LGBT people, then we need to start pressing for change and awareness and action now.
We are all indebted to the people, gay, bi, trans, and straight, who won for us the freedoms and rights that we – in the West at least – so often take for granted.
It really is up to us to keep leading, keep making change, keep making it better, not just for ourselves, but for the many across the world who live dangerous and hidden lives as LGBT people, who need us to remember them, and to campaign for them by being standard-bearers here. We have come such a long way, yet we all know only too well there’s so much more to be done.