Friday, 8 April 2011

Bieber and the Benders

The Justin Bieber lesbian look-a-like brigade needn’t search any further. New YouTube sensation Dani Shay is the real dead-ringer.

Just as YouTube spewed out the fresh-faced ‘tween Justin Bieber way back when, it’s propelled the 22-year-old Dani Shay to little short of stardom. Her cover of ‘Love The Way You Lie’ on YouTube suddenly went viral in the space of 24 hours, and newspapers from the Telegraph to the Metro are reporting quite seriously on the uncanny resemblance. Newsworthy stuff indeed.

Most appalling about this whole debacle is that nearly every commenter on the YouTube video—and news article—feels it necessary to comment on the gender or speculated sexuality of Dani Shay.

Despite many articles bluntly claiming that Dani is a lesbian, I could find no proof of this anywhere on the internet. Although she may very well be a lesbian, making this presumption because her doppelganger happens to be a 17-year-old boy is not just stupid, but bigoted.

The comment threat on YouTube is a treasure trove of patriarchy, gender stereotypes, homophobia and just sheer ignorance. Gems like “Are you a boyish kind of girl?” or “ohhh so she’s a girl… a lesbi [sic]?” demonstrate just how entrenched gender stereotypes still are. Even the more offensive “A LESBIAN. EWWWW” is not only homophobic but also patriarchal. The idea that a girl needs to look and act a certain way in order to be recognised as both a girl and heterosexual is simply outrageous. When will people learn that gender is fluid? And why oh why can’t people understand that gender and sexuality are two different things?

The irony is that the confused fascination around Dani’s gender and sexuality kind of proves my point. One comment reads, “have never been this sexually confused in my life,” while another says “cutie, are you a woman? Sure?”

If you identify as a lesbian, does that mean you’re not allowed to fancy Justin Bieber, but Dani Shay is fair game? What are you basing this on? The genitalia you imagine that person to have?

The latent subtext of all this speculation around Dani’s gender and sexuality appears to come down to the question of ‘Am I allowed to fancy her?’ – I find myself reveling in other people’s sexual confusion. Confusion is the first step to questioning or preconceived notions of what a girl/boy/lesbian/heterosexual should be, and ultimately breaking free of our prejudices.

That, and it’s just so much fun to see a straight girl squirm when she realises she fancies another girl…

Dani, we love you not because you look like Justin Bieber, but because you’re challenging stereotypes. So bring on the gender benders – we can all benefit from a spot of sexual confusion now and then.

Words: Iman Qureshi

Friday, 18 March 2011

Defending diversity: teaching LGBT awareness in schools

When Toby Young, founder of one of the new "free schools", launched an attack on the "loony" excesses of state schools, he chose to focus on LGBT awareness activities at one east London comprehensive. Parents and teachers spoke to Hsiao-Hung Pai:
It’s not easy to be a minority in Britain these days – and I don’t only mean ethnically. Within the context of the current attacks on diversity, even raising awareness about rights of a minority (be it ethnic or sexual) has been condemned as “political correctness gone mad” or “loony left”, in the words of Toby Young, the wealthy Tory columnist and the founder of West London free school.

Toby Young singled out one of the most ethnically diverse comprehensives in Hackney, Stoke Newington School, for its “crazy excesses of contemporary state education”, that is, the school’s LGBT awareness-raising activities – the year 8 students creating banners and displaying their messages around a local park; (They said, “No matter who we are, we are all human”. “Some people are gay. Get over it.”) A Year 7 student explaining how they had been working on Alan Turing, who was arrested for being gay in 1952, forced to take hormone tablets and committed suicide in 1954; The Head of PE presenting six members of the girls’ Rugby team and talking about how the school’s first LGBT week had led him to challenge stereotypes in sport.

Local Schools Network comments that this was a local community school at its absolute best. “It was a call to support all our students for who they are, and for all of us to be proud of who we are.” But it was all too much for Young, who compares the role of the PE teacher to that of a Chinese intellectual during the Cultural Revolution “who confessed in order to avoid being carted off to re-education camps”.

The fact that Toby Young was able to make such a caricature (in the right-wing press: and of all those involved in promoting diversity at Stoke Newington School, without actually ever visiting the school, experienced the curricular and extra-curricular activities of LGBT, spoken to staff or students, is the evidence of how the privileged who are able to form public opinions and shape policies are actually totally out of touch. They do so with experience completely detached from the tradition of diversity in our working-class communities.

Annie Gammon, Headteacher of Stoke Newington School said: “I am proud that the students and staff and parents and governors at Stoke Newington School are standing up for diversity…Morally, every member of society has a responsibility to tackle unfair discrimination: the students at Stoke Newington are learning to do exactly that. They are learning, alongside and through all the National Curriculum subjects, why discrimination is wrong and how to tackle it.”

“One way in which we tackle prejudice is to celebrate achievements of people from groups who have faced discrimination and misjudgements in the past. At Stoke Newington School we do this for several groups including women, black, Turkish, disabled and LGBT groups.”

The school organises several creative days each year – this year these include a maths and science day, a black history and art and textiles day, a media day and our LGBT/art day. Gail Bristow, a parent, said that it’s been the school policy for years to raise awareness of diversity. “This is very much what we’re used to in Hackney. Toby Young lives in a different community. I wonder why he hasn’t moved on from his “how to lose friends and alienate people” ethos...Our community in Hackney is an ethnically and sexually diverse community. Our children don’t grow up bigoted…My seven-year-old has many gay friends.”

Another parent, Caroline Millar, said: “It’s great that the children are learning to recognise and appreciate differences. It is fantastic that my teenage daughters are being taught in a place that values diversity. I’m in favour having some themed teaching…and awareness-raising integrated into the curriculum…Children need to be made aware of diversity, including sexual differences and need to learn to respect these differences. How can you really understand what you are studying if you can’t discuss the fact that an artist is gay or a musician is Chinese?”

Allan Beavis, a parent, said: “The day of the LGBT learning was spent informing children of experiences, personalities and ideas directly relevant to the understanding of those subjects Toby singles out – French, English Literature, History. The work is integrated into lessons…As a parent of a child at Stoke Newington School, I am confident that our children will not be excluded because of their class, race, sexuality and ability.”

“The school has therefore encouraged children’s minds to the possibilities and diversities of life outside the confines of their parents’ or carers’ examples and expectations… State schools are helping to raise a generation of kids to become broadminded and less accepting of any type of prejudice…”

Toby Young’s offensive comments mean that “his suitability to be involved at the highest level in the education of children has to be called into question”, say the parents. Beavis said: “None of this would be particularly important if he were just a media whore or a poster boy for the Tory Party but he is someone who is leading the mission to set up a school and, as such, will have moral and legal responsibilities towards children.”

“One therefore wonders how safe LGBT children or staff can possibly feel at his West London Free School now that he has gone on record with these opinions and distortions… It is worrying because this founder of West London Free School ridiculed the purpose of LGBT at Stoke Newington School, seemingly unaware that, by law, schools (including his own) must ensure that they deliver a rounded and varied education including not just the academic curriculum but the PSHCE topics such as LGBT awareness.”

Despite the attacks, the tradition of diversity will carry on. Henry Stewart, the Chair of Governors at Stoke Newington School, said: “The LGBT awareness-raising has contributed to challenging prejudices and stopping bullying at schools. I have read that as many as 98% of children in this country use the word ‘gay’ as an insult. My kids tell me it doesn’t happen at Stoke Newington School. It’s also important to recognise the legal responsibilities of a school and I don’t know if Toby Young has thought that through yet.”

--- Hsiao-Hung Pai works as a freelance journalist, writing for the Guardian and the British-Chinese press. She has also written for Feminist Review and Open Democracy, among others.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The liberal bigot: when racism and gay pride collide

The recently cancelled East End Gay Pride’s links with the EDL is no surprise – the marriage of gay rights and racism is a dangerous trend

“Paki-bashing” and “queer-bashing” are shameful facts of British history. So shameful that you’d hardly believe the two could be capable of bashing each other. Shockingly, this isn’t as outlandish as it may seem.

You may remember Judith Butler taking to a stage during Berlin Pride 2010 only to refuse their prestigious Civil Courage Award. Rendering Pride organisers shame-faced and blubbering, Butler explained that her refusal was to protest against the racism that occasionally comes hand in hand with queer movements:

“Some of the organisers explicitly made racist statements or did not dissociate themselves from them. The host organisations refuse to understand antiracist politics as an essential part of their work. Having said this, I must distance myself from this complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism.”

In doing so, Butler drew public attention to a grave and often overlooked problem.

The liberalism of gay rights movements and the right wing politics of racism, anti-immigration and Islamophobia may, at a glance, seem to be the strangest of bedfellows, but a closer look shows that the two aren’t actually that incompatible.

The recent controversy surrounding the East End Gay Pride, which various groups—most notably Imaan—condemned for its ties with the notoriously jingoistic English Defence League (EDL), is a testament to the prevalence of this odd couple.

The East End Pride—spearheaded by Raymond Berry, a self proclaimed proponent and founding member of the EDL—actively refused to liaise with ethnic and religious minorities in the community.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but the EDL’s involvement in the East End Pride—and there are others in addition to Berry— smacks of a concerted effort to rile an already racially fraught community. It is most likely an attempt to gain the liberal vote; by excluding Muslims and other ethnic minorities from Pride, the hope is to pit them as homophobic, thereby promoting the (false) idea that sexual liberalism and multiculturalism are mutually exclusive.

It is all too tempting to campaign against immigrants and ethnic minorities who may themselves hold homophobic attitudes. Just as Butler said in her refusal speech, “many European governments claim that our gay, lesbian and queer rights must be protected and we are made to believe that the new hatred of immigrants is necessary to protect us,” there is a danger of couching Western society’s acceptance and assimilation of gays in terms of white, European progressiveness. In doing so, we exclude cultural, ethnic and religious difference.

Although the dubious Pride has now thankfully been cancelled due to furious campaigning by Imaan and other groups, the racist sentiment is still inevitably present.

But we must remember that it is often ethnic and religious minorities that are in dire need of gay rights. Queer members of these groups are minorities on two accounts and also often face greater levels of homophobia within their community. Butler recognised this and passed on her jilted award to queer groups that work specifically with ethnic minorities.

Instead of excluding them, we must reach out. Ethnic communities should be fully engaged with in order to bring about mutual respect, Not only will it help family and friends of queers to be more sympathetic, but more importantly, in the true spirit of liberalism, they will be welcomed into a diverse multicultural queer community.

Words: Iman Qureshi

Monday, 23 August 2010

Does Manchester Pride make you Proud, asks Jennie O’Hara

In 2006 I attended my first ever Manchester Pride. During the ‘festival’, I parted with over £200 and did some permanent liver damage. I had missed the parade, and although the bands on the stage were recognisable names, I wasn’t wowed by any of them. I do distinctly remember very long toilet queues, and feeling a little bit like a sardine.

In 2008 I helped organise an entry into the parade, where we marched under the banner ‘Pride is a Protest’, chanted ‘we’re here, we’re queer, we can’t afford the beer’, and tried to take on the over-priced commericalisation of our sexualities. I had been radicalised.

Manchester Pride is one of the UK’s biggest Pride events, and consists of a week of fringe events leading up to the ‘Big Weekend’, where the whole of Canal Street and the ‘gay village’ is barriered off and turned into a giant party with bands and singers, alcohol, drugs, dancing, porta-loos and thousands of LGBT people from all over the country. It is a colourful, exciting, busy, big gay mess. And access to all this costs between £10 and £20 pounds (depending on when you buy your wristband).

But Manchester Pride has very little politics, it has almost nothing for children (and certainly nothing on the big weekend), and it excludes lots of LGBT people who simply cannot afford to go. In effect, it makes some people ‘too poor to be gay’.

Welcome Reclaim the Scene, a coalition of LGBT and queer activists (and their friends) who are sick of being excluded from Pride, sick of the lack of politics and sick of being too poor to be gay. The group have three main aims they are striving towards: making pride free, putting LGBT rights at the top of the agenda, and making the ‘village’ accessible, inclusive and welcoming.

LGBT people come from diverse backgrounds, and Manchester Pride should celebrate this, by including the whole rainbow of LGBT and queer people in its celebrations, whether they are homeless, students, parents, gay, bisexual, polyamorous, middle-class, working-class, unemployed or directors. Regardless of whether they are men, women, trans, un-identified, gender-queer, old, young, Muslims, atheists, anti/capitalists, or queer individuals.

Pride should be inclusive because it takes a whole movement to challenge oppression. We still live in a society that oppresses people based on their identities. When statistics show that ‘gay’ is the biggest insult used in schools, and that young trans people have a 50% attempted suicide rate, Pride should be doing something to tackle it. When young LGBT people are made homeless because of their un-accepting parents, or attacked by members of the British National Party or the English Defence League, Pride should be working to make life better for these people. And when the Christian right are stood on the side of the parade with anti-gay placards, condemning all the parade participants to Hell, Pride should not just tell you to “ignore” the homophobic protestors, but should fight back. Ignoring bigotry does not make it go away.

On the 28 August Reclaim the Scene will be hosting our annual post-parade picnic, the (Out of the) Village Fete, a community led afternoon of children’s entertainment, performers, political stalls, alcohol-fuelled spaces and alcohol-free spaces, films, dancing, music, poetry and free food sourced from local community allotments. The event is free, runs from 2-9pm at a location just outside of the village barriers, and inclusive to everyone. Our aim is to show Manchester Pride that it is possible to run a successful, free, inclusive and political Pride event.

My first experience of Manchester Pride didn’t make me proud; it made me disheartened and slightly poorer. Pride should be about empowering LGBT and queer individuals to celebrate our identities, and to fight for a world where we are not oppressed for being who we are. Reclaim the scene because Pride is a protest!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Scout @ Edinburgh highlights/lowlights - Part 4

Scout’s Diary

Friday 13th August 2010 and Saturday 14th August 2010

As sure as toc follows tic the weekend of Friday the 13th bought with it all kinds of bad luck, including lost flyers – essential for promoting the shows, broken musical equipment-- essential for performing the shows, the kind of stellar arguments that threaten to alter the course of friendships altogether, and a night spent drinking with an actor named Rob who, even if he never becomes famous, will remain in our hearts forever. How could we not love a boy who admits 8 hours into a 16 hour drinking binge that he didn’t want to sleep with anyone at all ‘til he was 19, didn’t ‘commit’ to sleeping with women for a couple years after that, and really what he misses the most about his previous relationship is not the sex but his two house bunnies?
Amazing. We actually found someone more mental than Visa Girl.

For those concerned about her welfare, the world’s crappest, and I dare say bitchiest, superhero is now out of the country (unaided, on this occasion by the services by the services of Her Majesty’s UK Border Agency, who fly you home for free if you stay in the country illegally!!) and will spend the next few days terrorising France before hauling her bi-polar, anorexic, possibly drug addicted arse back to New York. Miss you, bitch! Not really.

We also caught a couple of shows, some of which I’d like to recommend:

Lara A King, a guitar playing stand-up who we’ll put a mini-interview up with at some point, is playing at The Counting House, and she’s fab.

Tits Up! Which is playing at CafĂ© Renroc directly before Scout’s show Hi, How Can I Help You? The talented all-girl cast wrote and perform the play about work politics and dreadful bosses to hilarious, and very recognisable, effect.

Thunderer at the VooDoo Rooms is a piss-take of a soap opera set in Victorian England that had us howling. Go see it now before the Radio 4 production starts to be broadcast. You will not regret it.

Killy Dwyer’s anti-cabaret act GirlBallz at Jekyll and Hyde is all sorts of hilarious, offensive fun for last thing at night.

Bob Slayer’s Punk Rock Chat Show at The Hive is a welcome return to alternative comedy, which some of you may remember from the 80’s. We love Bob, a former manager of touring rock bands, and his sidekick Myles Powell, collector of truly dreadful tattoos. Love them.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Why we need Black Pride

When Stonewall publicised Black Gay Pride on their website, the last thing Campbell Ex expected to find was a slew of hostile comments from white gays and lesbians

Saturday 14th August I attended a garden party, it was multi-generational, multi-national and included friends of different sexual orientations all having a great time together.
Last weekend I attended Brighton Pride where heterosexual teenage boys and girls danced and mingled easily in the carnivalesque atmosphere with drag queens, lesbian tomboys and muscle marys.
Yes 21st Century UK is a very tolerant place right? Well my rainbow balloon exploded with a bang when I read the Stonewall thread on Facebook when the organisation put up a post about UK Black Pride. This fairly innocuous announcement received vitriolic and derisory comments about the need for an event celebrating Black LGBTI culture and sexuality. So much so that the moderator had to ask for calm and restraint on the wall.
UK Black Pride is a celebration of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American LGBT people from Britain, Europe and internationally. However the very idea that people of colour could experience identities that are complex and layered and not based solely on sexual orientation was enraging enough to generate responses like:
“What next? Gay UK Nationals Pride? Gay Legal Immigrant Pride? Gay Illegal Immigrant Pride? Gay professional person's Pride? Gay non-professionals Pride? Gay German car owner's Pride....??! ...Since when has skin colour been relevant to sexuality??”
“when's white pride?”
Sadly even though contemporary urban UK is more at ease with it’s multicultural vibe, identities which are complex continue to be contentious. To emphasize one’s Black culture when one identifies as LGBTI disrupts the melting pot ideal of white liberal LGBTI imagination as well as racial minority/religious fundamentalist ideologies.
Many people of colour attend pride events all over the UK regularly and experience a sense of unity and celebration with all LGBTI people and those that support our quest for equality. People do not experience exclusion or racial hostility on the marches or any of the club events later. However this does not change the fact that the power structures and people who organise Pride are overwhelmingly white. 21st century LGBTI people on the whole are open and inclusive in their personal lives, yet the lesbian and gay institutions are still stuck in the 1950’s in terms of racial diversity. This contributes to perpetuating the notion that gay=white and consolidates the myth in the eyes of the straight world and mainstream gay society that to be Black and gay is an oxymoron.
UK Black Pride is important as a high profile public event creating an alternative view of homosexuality. It allows people of colour to be in an environment where they are in the majority. The Black Pride programmers can set the agenda, they decide what acts appear in the line up. The Black performers many of whom are not themselves LGBT by appearing publicly on the stage declare their support and solidarity with show their solidarity with Black LGBTI people.
People of colour who attend know that they will have visible evidence that they are not alone and that the values of their cultures of origin need not be left at the door when they step into Regents College. They also know that that the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the music they enjoy, will not be “ticking some diversity box” but will be an integral part of the whole day. It was a telling moment when Janet Kay, queen of Lovers Rock sang Silly Games, everyone irrespective of age, gender or ethnic origin sang and skanked along with her.
White people who enjoy cultures of a Black origin and celebrate the history of lesbian and gay people of colour, or who are in interracial relationships attend UK Black Pride. This is important as UK Black pride does not have a separatist agenda, but one that is truly inclusive and where the ethos is “we run tings, tings nuh run we”

Europride Warsaw

Hello, haven’t seen much on europride which was in Warsaw this year. Our local gay press said that they didn’t know it was happening! It happened every year and this year it was being run by an inexperienced team with no funding from their government we have just returned and it was amazing! A Brighton resident, Claire ‘Bat’ Denyon received an award at the gala evening that featured Stockholm’s gay men’s choir and the London gay men’s choir. She has recently been featured in the Observers list of influential lesbians in the UK.

The march itself set off in temperatures of 35 and was eventually rerouted and shortened, partly because of the heat but also because of the counter demonstrations – 5 of them. These were a mixture of fundamentalist Catholics and right wing fascists. There was a smoke bomb in front of us and some stone throwing – one of the gay men’s choir of London was hurt. The police, although grim faced and reluctant to be snapped, were very protective and were numerous and visually on full alert for any trouble.

That evening we explored what the delights of our silver club card would bring us and found an amazing collection of bars, each one the size of a small living room and all in shacks just off one of the main shopping streets. There was no big central evening do that we could find and the lack of air con put us off the drag act on ‘Pride House’ one of the main gathering areas but we had a great time.

Having a Polish speaker in our gang of 3 was invaluable and we were able to go to a lot of places that tourists would have shied away from. We also met lots of Polish lesbians and my partner; Maria Jastrzebska did a poetry reading in a library in Warsaw on the Monday after pride. It was well supported and a very interesting gathering who asked searching questions in the Q and A session after the reading.

It was a shame that the event was not better attended, maybe people were worried about the dubious track record of Poland with LGBT issues and it cannot be denied that it is not the easiest place to be gay. However we had am amazing time and really felt like it was important to be there and to have a presence. Hopefully future prides will be enlivened by this year and the Warsaw businesses will see the benefits of the pink pound even if they are not completely championing diversity.

I would urge you to include this report in your magazine along with the numerous pictures and account of Manchester and Brighton prides etc. I live in Brighton and I love the fiesta that is Brighton Pride with its emphasis on families and inclusion. However I really felt that I was making a difference this year by being at Warsaw europride as they are beginning the long journey towards any kind of social or political acceptance and they really need the support of the established gay communities and Prides in the UK.

Deborah Price