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Archive: Dec 2016

#LGBTQProgress in 2016

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12th June 2016 is one of those ‘I know where I was’ days: in the kitchen, making my morning coffee and watching the headlines. As soon as Ben the newsreader said ‘shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando’, I felt a new awful that grew for the rest of that long day.

Pulse, Orlando

49 young people were murdered and 53 injured at Pulse Nightclub, turning an otherwise ordinary Saturday Latino night into America’s largest mass shooting. While the questions of gun control could only be answered in America (where of course they weren’t), the collective grief, trauma and vulnerability was shared by the global LGBTQ community and their allies. The idea of a fully safe space, of gay bars being sanctuaries, was shot apart.

Yet we stood. The following evening, in an incredible feat of organisation as well as solidarity and love, around 7,000 people gathered in Soho, first in silence, then evolving into an unofficial opening party for Pride season. I saw old school friends, met new crushes who swiftly friend-zoned me and was hungover on a Tuesday.

Our silence and prayers didn’t reduce the tragedy, or end homophobic deaths in 2016. There’s also been sickening reports from Syria and Iraq and a 13 year old child who died from suicide in Australia. But undoubtedly the response to Pulse Orlando (including millions in international fundraising) brought LGBTQ people together. There’s always power in community.

 

Media representation and misrepresentation

At the end of that long Sunday, Owen Jones happened to be on Sky News for their nightly paper review. Emotional and frustrated by a total lack of coverage on some front pages, and then a presenter describing the shooting not as a homophobic attack but one on ‘all people having fun’, he walked off live TV. ‘I just heard this voice saying, you know you can’t stay here, don’t you,’ Owen told Winq magazine for their Men of the Year issue.

The celebration alongside silencing of LGBTQ identities continued throughout 2016. The Metro had a full front page photo of the Soho vigil, Loose Women welcomed its first transgender panellist and Saara Alto, an engaged Finnish lesbian came 2nd in The X Factor. Elsewhere, the Daily Mail dedicated its front page to attack PrEP as a ‘gay lifestyle drug’, Loose Women described gay men as ‘the new must have accessory’ and The Sunday Times tried to out the Bishop of Grantham.

And surreal stereotyping was on full display in October when menswear retailer Jacamo, who sells manbags but not footballs, tweeted a campaign ad claiming ‘real men have balls, not man bags’. They apologised for ‘any offence caused’ but still aren’t sorry enough to delete the tweet. As I started writing this review, Richard Hammond’s ice cream comments were added to the same toxic masculinity file. Why do these cheap slurs matter? Doesn’t BBC One adding a same-sex kiss to its landmark Christmas ad show there’s enough acceptance? Matthew Todd and Jack Urwin show the cumulative effect of hateful headlines and so-called jokes in their books both released this year. And one viral Twitter thread about a young Supergirl fan going to a comic book store reminded us that positive media representation is life-saving.

 

PrEP and HIV/Aids

December always starts with World AIDS Day, and UK campaigners had great news to celebrate throughout the month. NHS England finally announced it will trial PrEP, a drug for those at high risk of HIV which can cut infection by 99%. Soon after, 56 Dean Street and other sexual health clinics in London announced 40-50% reductions in HIV diagnoses compared to 2015. Matthew Hodson from NAM said that innovative services and a combination approach to tackle HIV is working.

The campaigns to get behind for 2017 are making PrEP widely available across the UK, #SRENow to add compulsory sex and relationship education to the school curriculum, and creating a National HIV/Aids Memorial in London.

 

Politics and LGBTQ rights

When Pink News named David Cameron ‘Ally of The Year’ at their annual awards in October, no one seemed to agree with them. Benjamin Cohen explained that his leadership in bringing same-sex marriage to Britain deserved recognition. Yet this year the mental health charity PACE closed due to lack of funding and government cuts in January, and the current Conservative justice minister stalled the SNP’s Turning Bill in an act of petty partisan politics.

I went to my first and second same-sex weddings this year, and I’m grateful for our political leaders who used their power to make it happen. But the passionate response to a mis-named award highlighted the same fractures of politics seen across 2016. What good is the right to marry in Britain (not Northern Ireland) or hopefully soon for all gay and bisexual men to donate blood, when Brexit seems to have legitimised hate crime for some and the police failed to protect gay lives from a serial killer?

When the UK does leave EU, there’s little risk of LGBTQ rights changing and perhaps a chance to shift our diplomatic energy back to the Commonwealth, where homosexuality remains illegal in 40 of the 52 nations. Earlier this month Chad became the 73rd nation globally to criminalise homosexuality, and a second vote at the UN tried to get rid of the new LGBTI rights advisor Vital Muntharborn before he started the job. The creation of the role and vocal defence from many nations is a political highlight of 2016, along with Randy Boissonault MP becoming Canada’s first LGBTQ2 special advisor, and Justine Greening MP becoming the UK’s first out Equalities Minister.

Incoming American Vice-President Pence was named Homophobe of the Year by All Out supporters amid very real fears of a rollback of LGBT rights including same-sex marriage under Trump’s administration. In North Carolina, the transphobic bathroom law HB2 contributed to Governor McCrocy’s defeat. Despite a new Democrat Governor and boycotts from Paypal, Bruce Springsteen and NBA causing very clear economic damage to the state, our foe petty partisan politics has blocked the law from being repealed. Expect more state-by-state battles over LGBTQ rights in 2017 without an ally in the White House.

 

Taking inspiration into 2017

And this year we’ve mourned and celebrated the lives of countless artists and performers. Especially poignant musical loses to the LGBTQ community were David Bowie, Prince and George Michael, each unapologetic in breaking and bending gender norms. Going into 2017 when everything feels uncertain and up for fight before the year has even begun, we must hold on to these role models: the artists, survivors, campaigners whose stories or stardom speak to us. There’s a rich LGBTQ history of liberation and creativity that is helping us write what comes next. Learn and celebrate it (reminder: LGBT History Month is in February). Act on the obituaries you read. Dance, be openly gay and eat ice cream.

Follow me on Twitter @JoeyKnock for more #LGBTQProgress stories throughout the week. I’ll keep blogging a round up every fortnight in 2017.

What were the important LGBTQ stories and moments for you in 2016? What have I missed from this review?Comment below

My Gay Agenda: After Orlando

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‘They’re not dead, the names we keep saying and keep calling out. They’re not dead.’

The Vaults, in the arches of Waterloo station with trains rumbling above every ten minutes is the right theatre space to grieve, ask questions, think. After Orlando, performed by Chaskis Theatre did just that on Monday, six months to the day of the horrific event.

A collection of over 60 short monologues and scenes by different playwrights, After Orlando has been performed across the world this Autumn and Winter. Monday night showcased 22 of those readings with an 11-strong ensemble cast, and they were all strong. It’s impossible to place the talent of one cast member above the others.

A range of characters took to the stage. The older man reminded of the roll call of honour for Aids victims in New York as a young Latino man reads out the 49 victim names. The tired but determined mother, travelling the world with her shopping trolley on a one-woman gun amnesty. The gay son asking ‘would my mother claim my dead body?’ as his boyfriend tries to give him a blowjob.

These five minute scenes mostly only gave time to hear one-dimensional voices, yet together the narratives of gun control, discrimination and populist discourses came through. Two scenes in particular saw characters trying to piece together the complexities of it all. There was the christian Chick-Fil-A worker who asks ‘don’t we need more than just prayer? as she struggles, like us all, to reconcile the unlimited joy of a night out with the terror that happened. And a visiting tourist on holiday wondered what ‘one narrative to stick to’: Islamic terrorism, mental health, masculinity or gun control?

There was humour alongside the anger and disbelief. That’s the narrative of 2016 isn’t it? There’s so much despair, we have to laugh at it just to get through. Everybody Gets A Stick stood out as a parent/teacher meeting reduced the ridiculousness of gun control to every child on the playground having sticks to hit each other with. And one biting line stayed with me in the immediate hazy reaction to the shooting. A drag queen hides in the toilets, but finds lawmakers blocking her way:

Can we have your blood? We need to write a policy and we don’t have a pen.’

22 scenes was a lot to pack in, and I could dissect each one if only I could remember them, or get my hands on the full script (I’d be first in line to buy the full collection). Half that number in one act would have been enough. Every scene was read faultlessly and fluidly, with some sensitive acoustic songs including a slowed down version of Dancing On My Own, which I did not hate. (For any doubters, the curtain call was to Robyn and the only recorded version of that song in existence.

The Orlando Pulse Shooting on Sunday 12th June was a moment. Pivotal, watershed, historical? None of those descriptions seems right but the event, media reporting and non-reporting, outpouring of grief and vigils around the world instantly showed it to be a moment; perhaps ‘the biggest for us and that’s really important’, as one character noted while watching the rolling news. After Orlando was a powerful reminder of that through anger and hope. The issues at its core are still there and largely unchanged, now with a (Republican) elephant in the room. I left asking, what’s my place now, after Orlando? Because we all have one, and I sure don’t want to waste it.

Next week, of course I’ll be doing an end of year review and 2017 preview.

#LGBTQProgress (Sunday 11th December)

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I didn’t really enjoy Hairspray Live this week, but listening to Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande lead the cast in the end credit song Come So Far (Got so Far To Go). gives me as much hope and joy as the winter sunshine outside my window right now. Stick this on for some Sunday celebration and read my review of the bigger LGBTQ stories so far this month.

NHS England will fund a PrEP trial

Last Sunday, NHS England announced a trial of PrEP for 10,000 people in Spring 2017, the drug that can reduce the chance of contracting HIV by 96-99%. This is a huge victory for the National AIDS Trust and other organisations that supported its court case to make the drug available, which NHS England appealed against and lost. There’s a lot in the story to get your head around and questions to keep asking, so thanks to Buzzfeed and NAM for summarising and explaining it far better than I could. Let’s hope PrEP becomes freely available in England and all the home nations (there’s already action in Scotland) and across the world to those at high risk of HIV (read New Internationalist for that global perspective).

World AIDS Day

The PrEP news came just three days after World AIDS Day on 1st December, marked in New York City with the opening of the Aids Memorial. On Wednesday a petition was delivered to City Hall asking for London to follow NYC, Paris and Sydney by having a permanent memorial. You can sign the petition now on 38 Degrees.

No jobs or gay culture in the Church

There is one UK shrine to HIV/Aids, St Andrew’s Chapel in Southwark Cathedral. But as with every week, the discomfort and fatal homophobia of religion proves its not a safe or inclusive space for everyone. Canon Jeremy Pemberton was a Hospital Chaplain, providing some faith and comfort to people in their worst times. But since he married the person he loves in 2014, he’s no longer allowed to do that and this week lost his appeal on unfair dismissal. Meanwhile, over in the Vatican it was declared anyone supporting ‘the gay culture’ can’t be priests. Back in 2013, Pope Francis said ‘Who am I to judge?’ about gay priests. Well he answered this week: still the Pope, still controlling a church more intent on fuelling hatred and homophobia than anything else.

If you want some great gay vicars to follow there’s a lot I can recommend (note to self: create Twitter list). But today I’ll just give you two, Andrew Foreshaw-Cain and Broderick Greer.

 

Send a celebratory rainbow cake to Malta, the first country in Europe to ban gay conversion therapy. And give a huge hug to this comic book store seller and her teenage customer.

 

Changing hearts and nations on same-sex marriage

Here’s three fantastically uplifting stories to end the week with. Andrew Griffiths became the 2nd British MP this year to say he was wrong to vote against same-sex marriage in 2013, calling it his biggest regret. The Cherokee Nation, a self-governing indigenous tribe in America, overturned any assumed ban on same-sex marriage. And in Australia, where the equal marriage debate continues, South Australia changed their state law to recognise same-sex couples. It follows the death of David Bulmer-Rizzi in January, whose death certificate read ‘never married’. Now that is being rewritten. David’s husband Marco told Buzzfeed (and do read the whole story) ‘It’s as close to happiness as I can be – I am the happiest I’ve been in the last 11 months.’

Follow me on Twitter @JoeyKnock for more #LGBTQProgress news throughout the week.

My Gay Agenda: Love Notes To Men Who Don’t Read

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Ways to feel warmer in the British winter #43: read Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read by North Morgan. The story follows Konrad as he moves from a cheating boyfriend in London to the beaches and Masc4Masc jocks of California. His journal-style narration starts with that heartbreak and lingers throughout every page as loneliness and listlessness, illuminating the superficial glow of social media and hook-up apps that is a hot topic for gay men who do read. Morgan uses his third novel as the device to comment on it all with wit, rather than giving us any great plot or deep characterisations.

It’s immensely readable and brought me into the could-be-any-city world of WeHo hook-ups and parties that I’ve never experienced but proscribe to some of the ‘great’ gays I try not lust after on Instagram. Konrad recognises his own internal homophobia and trappings of heteronormativity, his desperate loneliness and belief that at 33 he’s far too old to be on the scene. I was rooting for him to move on. While he leaves the break-up and Facebook stalking behind, he stays trapped in a world he can’t quite love or loathe with no sign of an escape. The final rushed paragraph made me angry and should have been cut altogether, but it’s a solid and consistently funny read that left me asking WTF can we do to change all this.

Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read is published by Limehouse Books

Also this week, Hairspray Live! welcomed everyone to the 60s on Wednesday night in America and shown as live on ITV2 on Friday night. The flawless songs from Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman (who I thought could do no wrong until I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) along with the core message of celebrating diversity made it one of my favourite musicals as soon as it arrived in the UK in 2007, first on film and shortly after on the West End stage.

While Jennifer Hudson, Kristin Chenoweth and Derek Hough stood out as bringing something distinctive to their characters, the whole production felt a bit hit and miss in trying to merge the best of the stage and film versions to make it work on live TV. At brief moments it was authentic, but most scenes felt flat. While every musical number was largely slick, the plot felt lost, not helped by ad breaks every 10 minutes (thank you ITV2 for disrespecting your audience for an overly-long 200 minutes).  I’ll be streaming Jennifer Hudson’s version of I Know Where I’ve Been for the next week, and while much of the casting and original stage choreography was better in this production of course it’s the 2007 film I’ll stick to for repeat viewing.

And on Tuesday, it felt like Christmas watching Muppet Christmas Carol at Leicester Square’s Prince Charles Cinema, complete with a mini mince pie and mulled wine. Watching my VHS favourite on the big screen for the first time was sheer seasonal joy, especially sharing it with my film blogger friend and general inspiration Sarah. Showings of Muppet Christmas Carol and other Christmas classics continue all month long. Also check out PCC’s Unicorn Nights for LGBTIQUA cinema and treat your ears to Megan Hilty covering Tiny Tim’s Bless Us All.

Next week I’m going to After Orlando at The Vaults, Waterloo.