Dear Theresa May: an open letter

Dear Theresa May

The appalling and shocking news of the treatment of gay men in Chechnya cannot have escaped your attention; there have been reports of LGBT people being rounded up, tortured, beaten and placed in a form of concentration camp. There has been outcry on social media and protests to show solidarity and raise awareness of the situation. At the time of writing this I am concerned that no senior member of government has spoken out about these autrocities. I hope this letter outlines why it is essential for you to publically address this situation and explain how the British government can help put an end to this crisis.

The recent events in Chechnya are a sobering reminder that many LGBT people across the world still live in fear and under threat of persecution. When news such of this reaches us silence is not an option. In Great Britain we are fortunate to be able to live freely and marry whoever we choose; the law protects all of our citizens no matter their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. This freedom has not come easily: individuals and groups of people have fought to be treated equally in this country and recent events remind us that rights can be taken away as well as won. Communities across Britain have come together to protest against events in Chechnya with the aims of showing solidarity with those facing persecution as well as attempting to put pressure on our government to speak out and act.

Russian attitudes towards members of the LGBT community is anything but supportive; there have been numerous stories of people being mistreated in the country whilst it is illegal to discuss homosexuality with people under the age of 18. The last LGBT execution in Russia was in 1996 and, whilst it is currently suspended, the death penalty for homosexuality in still part of the country’s laws. The Kremlin has denied any knowledge of the events in Chechnya and the region’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has said that the reports cannot be true as there are no gay men in Chechnya. Applications for LGBT asylum in Britain are up 40 per cent. My question to you, Mrs May, is: ‘What can you do about this?’.

A group of cross party MEPs have recently written to you requesting that you make a public statement to outline the government’s position and have also asked you to call an immediate meeting with the Russian ambassador. Currently neither of these things have been done. It is appalling that no senior official has made a statement over a week after this news surfaced. At a demonstration in Norwich on Thursday evening, I was proud to hear that our MP for Norwich South, Clive Lewis, has launched an Early Day Motion regarding the mistreatment of gay men in Chechnya. The British government must discuss this issue in Parliament and stand up against this injustice; an inability to do this sends a message of acceptance. What value does Britain place on LGBT rights?

Rights for groups of people around the globe have been hard won and must therefore be hard protected. As the leader of one of the most powerful and influential countries, silence is not an option: stand up for what is right.

Yours sincerely,

The Gutsy Gay

Do we still need gay bars and clubs? 

The answer to this question, and therefore this post, could be very short: yes! However, the reasons behind this are vast and complex. Some people may ask: ‘In a mainly open and accepting society why do we need separate social spaces for the LGBT+ community?’. In this post I hope the be able to explain why these spaces are still essential.

When I decided I wanted to write on this topic I ran a 24 hour Twitter poll with the question ‘Do we still need gay bars and clubs?’ With two simple answers: ‘Hell yes!’ and ‘No, let’s mix!’. The wonderful LGBT+ twitter family kicked in and the poll received 1,948 votes.  The results were overwhelmingly in favour of LGBT+ social spaces, with 83% of people voting for ‘Hell yes!’.  Many people also took the time to comment, outlining the reasons behind their votes. Thank you.

I first started going to gay bars when I started university. As a fresh-faced 18 year old arriving in Norwich, I regularly spent my Saturday night at The Castle or The Loft; my eyes were opened to a world I had not yet been a part of. People were friendly, the music was fabulous and it was a safe space where you could just be you.  Going to these places was an important part of my self-acceptance and really good fun!  One of the main arguments for needing LGBT+ clubs and bars is allowing people to explore their sexual orientation in a safe environment; it is a way of meeting like-minded people and potential partners. People may argue that in the age of online dating apps the need for clubs and bars to meet people is reducing but for many, connecting with people virtually is not enough. Fast forward a few years and my visits to any form of club are far less frequent but I am definitely partial to a night out at Flaunt, Norwich’s newest addition to the gay scene.

A couple of Twitter comments made a very important point about gay bars and clubs serving as a reminder of how far we have come in terms of equality.  Some people may suggest that in a more open and accepting society the need for separate LGBT+ social spaces is reduced. Conversely, it can be argued that these places stand as historical affirmination of, and a tribute to, the progress society has made.  The LGBT+ community is no stranger to violence; police raids at the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969, a fire sweeping through the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973, a bomb exploding at the Otherside in Atlanta in 1997, the 2016 shootings at the Orlando nightclub to name just a few. These examples all demonstrate why LGBT+ friendly spaces are still relevant and necessary. Gay bars and clubs across the world stand as monuments to previous and ongoing struggles, creating a sense of community, acceptance and belonging.

All groups within society crave their own space where they can connect with like-minded people: religious groups have places of worship; readers have book clubs; singers have choirs. Why should the LGBT+ community be any different? Flaunt in Norwich is packed every Saturday night and attracts a diverse crowd of people drawn together by their acceptance of varying gender identities and sexual orientations. Worryingly, one of the comments I received from a transgender woman suggested she has felt uncomfortable in gay bars due to incidents of transphobia.  Stories like this make me angry. We should be one, large community that is supportive of all its members; gay bars must be inclusive for all. This got me thinking: by referring to them as ‘gay bars’ are we inadvertently excluding members of our family? Would LGBT+ clubs be a better phrase?

Lastly, they are just good fun! So many of the comments I received highlighted that nights out at LGBT+ social spaces are entertaining, exciting and enjoyable. Bars and clubs are quite often at the heart of any LGBT+ community and it is essential that we continue to give these places our custom.

‘Film has a gay character’: big news.

There has been much media coverage recently about mainstream blockbusters having gay characters. Whilst it is important to acknowledge the introduction of gay characters and scenes in films, I really wish we were in an age where it didn’t have to be big news.

If you have a news app or listen to the radio, you can’t have missed the recent stories about two blockbuster films including gay characters. A Disney film has its first ‘gay moment’ in the remake of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and yellow Power Ranger, Trini, has girlfriend problems in the new Power Rangers movie. In ‘Beauty and the Beast’, LeFou is said to be confused about his sexual orientation and is seen winking at Gaston before later dancing with another man.  This brief moment in the film has caused a great amount of media attention and Disney has been metaphorically patted on the back for this step forward.

The inclusion of these characters is better than nothing but it is a far cry from where we should be.  We deserve more than fleeting glances and comments in minor sub plots.  LGBT characters in mainstream films should be more than just an after thought: moments are not enough.  A minor gay character in a Disney film should not be a revelation in 2017: characters that represent all members of our communities should be the norm.  I wish that the plots of LeFou and Trini weren’t newsworthy but they are a step forward.  Here is the hoping that we see a gay prince or princess in a Disney film soon.  Imagine the media circus that will accompany that!

The cost of becoming a parent

Many people dream of becoming a parent; there is no more important job in the world than raising a child.  Unfortunately many people struggle to conceive and have difficult decisions to make about fertility treatment.  For members of the LGBT community the quest to become a parent is a minefield.

My wife and I have always wanted to be parents and, in August 2016, we entered the process with a visit to our GP.  We knew that my wife would carry our first child; a referral to a fertility clinic, followed by blood tests and scans, showed that my wife should have no problems conceiving.  It was then that we were told that we would need to pay for our treatment.  The implication was that my wife could fall pregnant ‘naturally’ therefore it was at this point that NHS support ended and we entered into the world of private fertility treatment.

Our next appointment at the clinic ended with us taking home a range of forms and a price list which indicated what we would need to pay for different aspects of our treatment.  The NHS requires heterosexual couples to be trying for two years before they could be considered for fertility treatment; obviously same sex couples are unable to do this.  The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) have produced guidance which aims to create a comparable situation. They suggest that female same-sex couples try to conceive six times using artificial insemination, funded by themselves, before they would be considered for NHS-funded fertility treatment.

‘How much will it cost?’ I hear you ask.  Here is a complete breakdown of our costs:

Blood tests – £700 (a one off cost at the start of treatment)

Sperm reservation fee £1000 (this reserves us five vials of our donor sperm)

Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI) package – £850 (per round of treatment)

Sperm preparation – £600 (per round of treatment)

IUI drugs package – £300 (per round of treatment)

It we have to have all six round of IUI treatment that will be a minimum spend of £12,200 before we are even considered for NHS support.

My wife and I are in the fortunate position where we are able to afford to take on the debt that could be associated with this.  However, this does not lessen the blow of the financial and emotional burden.  Any couple who decides to try for a child will go through a range of emotions during the process.  Adding a financial complication into that is extremely difficult.  A considerable amount of money rides on each go, coupled with the potential emotional strain and disappointment.  It seems unfair that many lesbian couples will have their chances of becoming parents determined by financial constraints.  For gay male couples it would be a far more difficult process.  Many same sex couples, who will make excellent parents, are having to make difficult decisions, forgo becoming a parent or undertake huge financial costs.

A note to my 16 year old self

Dear GG,

So, sort of strange, but this is your future self writing.  You are actually 29 now which may seem old to you, but it is a pretty cool age to be.  At 29 you are married, own your own home, have two cats and teach history in a high school.  I have referred to you as ‘GG’ as you have actually just started writing a blog called ‘The Gutsy Gay’.  This is an anonymous blog primarily about gender and LGBT issues that you share on a social media platform called ‘Twitter’.  Actually social media is a pretty big thing in 2017; it’s a bit more advanced than the MSN conversations you have.  Anyway, I have digressed.

I haven’t written to tell you too much about the future, I actually want to give you some advice about your present.  Sixteen is a pretty important age; you are about to sit your GCSE exams, choose your A-level subjects and I think you have just started your first part time job.  However important these things are I want to support you through the feelings you are having.  At around this time you are beginning to question who you are attracted to; those conversations your friends have about boys don’t feel quite right to you.  You haven’t put your finger on it yet but you have started to look at girls differently.  I know you feel different because I remember those song lyrics that you have plastered over your revision folder; am I right in saying that Avril Lavigne features quite regularly?

Over the next couple of years you have many things that you need to figure out but I want to tell you it will be okay.  I know that one of your biggest worries will be your family and how they may react.  This is probably what most people questioning their sexuality or gender identify will worry about the most: you are not alone.  Let me reassure you that, whilst things won’t be plain sailing, it will work out in the end.  At 27 you got married to an intelligent, kind and feisty woman; that’s right you have a wife!  Your grandparents, parents and extended family were all at the wedding; they love you both dearly.  There will be some ups and downs over the next few years but stay true to yourself and do not deny who you are.  Be honest with people.  However hard the conversation is or however much you think they don’t want to hear what you have to say, honesty is better than lying or hiding from the truth.

You are starting to build a bit of a following on ‘Twitter’ and you asked some people for nuggets of advice they would give their 16 year old self.  I think some of their advice will help you.  Firstly, never be ashamed of who you are.  Being gay is something to celebrate and be proud of: don’t hide.  Secondly, follow your heart.  Be bold and tell people how you feel; if there is a girl you like then tell her.  Never internalise your feelings.  Lastly, be heard, not silent.  There are many injustices in this world that need to be put right.  Always stand up for what your believe in and use your voice to share your opinions with others.

You are about to embark on the greatest journey of self discovery: enjoy.

Love from your 29 year old self.

Fighting homophobia in football

A recent report from the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has further highlighted the problem of homophobia in sport and has made suggestions on how governing bodies can take a zero tolerance approach.

The news that, in some areas of sport, there is an issue with homophobia is not a revelation and, whilst steps are being taken to alleviate the problem, there is a long way to go to eradicate homophobia from the sports we love. The recent report highlighted football as having bigger obstacles to overcome than other sports and discusses how many attitudes are out of step with wider society.

Unfortunately many football fans will regularly hear casual homophobia on the terraces. Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT charity, report that 72% of fan have heard homophobic abuse at games. Football is also lagging behind other sports as there are no openly gay players in the Premiership and, according to FA Chairman Greg Clarke, this is unlikely to happen any time soon as a player would receive ‘significant abuse’ if they were to come out.

A survey of 4,000 fans by BBC Five Live found that 82% of those polled would be comfortable with a gay player at their club but, rather alarmingly, 7% said they would no longer watch their team if they fielded a gay player. With a proportion of fans still holding such archaic views it is not surprising that a high profile player has not had the courage to come out.

Over the past few years there have been a number of initiatives to tackle the issue of homophobia within football. Stonewall launched its ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign which was supported by clubs from a grass routes level all the way up to Premier League teams.

Charities such as ‘Football v Homophobia’ have been established with one of their main drives being to encourage high profile clubs to dedicate a game each season to raising awareness of the issues of homophobia within the footballing community.

In order to tackle the issues highlighted in the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee report we need the footballing community to unite. For this to happen the FA must take a leading role. However, as the recent vote of ‘no confidence’ in the FA from the House of Commons has demonstrated, the organisation is outdated. The FA LGBT action plan will only come to fruition if there is greater diversity in the rule making structure. Homophobia in football is an issue that needs to be tackled; clubs needs to do more to educate fans and ostracise those found guilty of homophobic behaviour.

P**s off Trump

This morning I woke to devastating news from America regarding transgender rights.  President Trump has made the decision to revoke guidance to US public schools that allowed transgender students to use toilets that matched their gender identify.  The Trump administration sent a letter to all schools outlining the changes, stating that the previous measures had caused confusion.  President Obama’s ‘Bathroom Bill’ was contested in some communities, with protesters saying it threatened the privacy and safety of other students.

The last 24 hours has seen a backlash against President Trump, who has previously said he would uphold the changes made by his predecessor.  The transgender community and their allies have taken to social media and the streets to protest this appalling injustice. Young people who are questioning their gender identity or who already identify as transgender require support, compassion and love rather than being made to feel ostracised from society.  I have no idea how Obama’s changes caused confusion. To me it was crystal clear: transgender students could use the toilet that matched their gender identity ensuring that they felt safe and secure in their schools.  Rescinding the transgender bathroom rules will cause confusion and, most importantly, will make transgender youth feel isolated and unsafe in a place where they should feel included and protected.

These changes will not only harm transgender students for the four years that President Trump is in office, it will harm them for many years to come.  What message does this send to the youth of America and, indeed, across the whole world?  The message from President Trump is loud and clear: if you are transgender you are not offered the same rights as everyone else.  Trump has vowed to be a President for all Americans; today that promise is further from the truth than ever.

 

‘Miss, are you gay?’ Part two

As stated in the prequel to this post I did not deal with this question well in the early stages of my career.  Actually, I dealt with it appallingly.  I denied my sexuality and set a precedent for how I may tackle similar questions in the future.

Fast forward a few years and at no other time has a student asked me explicitly about my sexual orientation.  However, there have been circumstances where I have been able to discuss my partner with students, both past and present.  The most notable time was on last year’s ski trip in Italy.  Another teacher and I were talking one night with two students.  My colleague was talking about her boyfriend and one of the students said to me ‘Miss, are you with anybody?’.  I was able to confidently say, “Yes, well actually I am married”.  The conversation continued and I disclosed that I was married to a woman.  It was as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders; it felt great to talk about my sexuality.  It was exactly how I wanted it to happen: natural and met with complete acceptance, as I should have assumed it would have been.

I wouldn’t say I am openly out with students; it isn’t something I feel the need to declare.  It is not something I feel the need to talk about freely, in the same way I wouldn’t expect any professional teacher to talk openly about their private life.   I have been questioning the need that people in the LGBT community have to come out and tell people about their sexuality, especially since watching the film ‘Jenny’s Wedding’ that I have previously blogged about.  In a truly equal society there should be no greater need for me to announce my sexuality anymore than my heterosexual neighbour.