Friday, 30 April 2010

Immigration policy is no joke

Heard the one about the migrant workers who stole our jobs? Thought not – it’s a lie, says Ceri Dingle

The belief that immigrants are taking our jobs, housing, services and resources, making UK citizens worse off is a very old idea dating back to the end of the 19th century and first enshrined in law with the 1905 aliens act which blamed Jewish migrants for shortages. This idea has informed punitive immigration laws ever since. Even the popular forms of this idea are not born of any direct experience: of a foreigner kicking you out of your home; forcing you into an NHS waiting room; sacking you from your job or cutting your pay. Our reduced living standards, lack of services, housing, jobs and decent pay have always been the direct responsibility of employers and government. They make the decisions. Immigrants have less say than anyone in fact, unless they are the tiny minority of very rich ones who are employers and own homes and who are not being moaned about. In fact how well off we are or how poor we are has never been determined by numbers of people anywhere. Some of the most crowded countries in the world, take Belgium, are some of the richest and some of the least densely populated take Namibia are extremely poor. How well off a country is, hinges on levels of investment and wealth creating industries not numbers. We can also be poor in a rich country if we are not prepared to fight for more and better. The real problem is politicians have consistently allowed immigrants to take the blame for what is their fault. They may not point the finger directly at immigrants today as they have in the past but they are not going to turn round and take the blame for people being badly off or ill provided for. They will not say sorry it’s our fault we haven’t built the homes you want, invested in infrastructure or industry to create jobs and new wealth. Employers who cut pay do not say I need to screw you more to increase my profit they’ll say its ‘market’ pressure, the ‘rate for the job’ or we need to ‘share the pain’. Their default position is to happily let the public blame immigrants and to jump on that band wagon openly when it suits them. Gordon Brown has done this by introducing a new visa points system, increasing deportations weekly and enforcing a draconian borders agency to do the government’s dirty work. The government are very effective bigots in fact but happily point the finger at the public as nasty xenophobes. Immigration controls of course make non UK citizens legally second class it is hardly any wonder then that they are seen as such, treated as such and blamed for everything. In fact even East Europeans who are legally here are predominantly in the poorest housing and lowest paid jobs. Of course at street level lots of people will say they know someone who got a flat when they didn’t and so on, which while it isn’t true, it is understandable, but the real point is where are the flats we need? We would all be better off lining up with migrants and demanding the pay, jobs and services we need and not letting the government off the hook. Opening the borders would make things very clear and allow a flow of people from across the globe to challenge the status quo with us and improve our lot. After all migrants are people who refuse to be the victims of circumstance. But that takes believing in our potential, our ability to create more and not fixating on where you came out of the womb or the blob of land you were born on.

Ceri Dingle is the Director of the charity, WORLDwrite

WORLDwrite regularly provides free film training for volunteers interested in supporting and promoting Open Borders and is now recruiting runners and walkers to take part in the women’s 5k mini-marathon which takes place in Hyde Park on September 5th under the banner “The More the Merrier – Freedom of movement for all”. For full details email

Monday, 26 April 2010

What will the new Equality Act will do for you?

The Equality Act and its aspirations for the LGBT Community

The Equality Bill was approved by the House of Commons on 6 April 2010 and is expected to receive Royal assent within the next week. The new Equality Act is expected to start to come into force from October 2010. Its development has been five years in the making and its progress through parliament something of a political ‘hot potato’, as Pope Benedict XVI’s comments earlier this year encouraging Catholic Bishops in England and Wales to fight the UK’s Equality Bill with “missionary zeal” emphasised. Whilst there have been different views on what the new law will achieve, it’s overarching purpose has been to simplify existing discrimination laws by putting them together in a single place, and having greater consistency between the protections. The new Equality Act will replace almost all existing discrimination laws, it also aims to strengthen the law further to protect the LGBT community.

Some of the changes include the following:

  • All public bodies will be required to consider equality issues when exercising their functions as a public body. In particular, public body policies should aim to:
    • Eliminate discrimination and harassment on the grounds of a person’s actual or perceived sexuality;
    • Advance equal opportunities between gay, bisexual and straight persons;
    • Foster good relations between gay, bisexual and straight persons.

For example, local authorities should consider creating and promoting services to benefit the LGBT community specifically in order to assist integration and foster good societal relations.

  • The prohibition on civil partnerships taking place in religious premises has been removed – this amendment was made recently to the Bill during the House of Lords report stage. The government has made it clear however that this will place no obligation on any faith or denomination to do so if it does not wish to
  • Employers will be allowed to take “positive action” in recruiting candidates where one candidate is from an under-represented group. For example, where an employer interviews A and B, and both are as qualified as each other and A is female, the employer might decide to recruit A instead of B because women are under-represented in that workplace. This is likely to be harder to implement in situations involving gay people given that sexuality is frequently an invisible issue.
  • At present, if an employee brings a claim for sexual orientation discrimination against an employer, a Tribunal can only make recommendations regarding improvements in the workplace in limited circumstances. In most cases, employees will only bring a claim against an employer once they have left employment and recommendations cannot be made in such cases. Extending the power of employment tribunals will mean that Tribunals can make recommendations that benefit the whole workforce and not just the individual who brought the claim, even if the successful claimant has left the organisation. For example, if a lesbian is bullied at work because of her sexual orientation, the tribunal could recommend that her employer conducts some focussed awareness training to ensure homophobic bullying is dealt with specifically. A failure to follow tribunal recommendations could form important evidence in future tribunal claims.
  • The Equality Act also protects against “dual discrimination”. This is where an individual considers that discrimination has occurred on a combination of grounds – an example might be a lesbian couple refused IVF treatment on the basis that they are not trying “naturally” to conceive. This is unlikely to affect gay men, and so it would be hard to show that the treatment was on grounds of sexual orientation alone, when in reality it is based on a combination of discrimination due to sexuality and gender. However, the new dual discrimination protection applies only to two (and no more than two characteristics).
  • The Equality Act will also eliminate homophobic discrimination based on a perception of someone’s sexuality (even if they are not of that sexual orientation) or if they are associated with someone of a particular sexuality. For example, a child who is teased at school for having gay parents might be able to challenge the way the school implements its anti-bullying policy if the policy does not tackle associative discrimination.
  • The Bill will make it unlawful for private members’ clubs, and other member associations, to discriminate against gay members or guests of members. This means that a gay person invited to a private club could not be refused a drink, for example. However, it does not mean that the private club would have to allow a gay person to become a member even if the reason for the refusal is on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Having said all of the above, the new law does still leave some holes in anti-discrimination legislation: one area that is specifically excluded from the Bill is protection against harassment on the grounds of sexuality by goods, facilities and service providers. In other words, a lesbian cannot be refused a room in a hotel because of her sexual orientation, but if she was subjected to harassment by an employee at the hotel, she could not claim for harassment. In this example, however, she might still be entitled to bring a claim for discrimination. Gay people are also not currently protected against harassment on grounds of sexual orientation in the context of education in schools. During the consultation period prior to the drafting of the new laws, good evidence was produced to justify extending protection to gay people outside of the employment sphere, in particular to tackle homophobic bullying in schools, but no such provision is actually contained in the Act.

Overall however, although in some aspects it represents missed opportunities, the Equality Act is welcomed and is a positive step towards a more integrative and equal society.

Kiran Daurka, Solicitor at Russell Jones & Walker

Friday, 16 April 2010

Clegg for PM?

Surely the unthinkable couldn’t happen…Liberal Democrats to lead the country? Last night Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib-Dems ‘won’ the first ever televised leader debate and is proving popular amongst the instant polls.

Our online results see over 50% of you swaying towards the Lib-Dems in what could see a shocking outcome in the General Election in May.

In our recent ‘sex’ edition, we interviewed each of the leaders on their LGBT policies and obviously Clegg hit all the right buttons.

Speaking about the issue of civil partnerships, Clegg said: “ I don’t quite understand why we don’t just all grow up and call civil partnerships marriage.”

Great news you might think. However, on 14 April, when the Lib-Dems released their manifesto this detail was left out, leaving the LGBT community out in the cold.

Clegg’s party did however promise lots of things to the community. Included in the manifesto were the assurances of more LGBT MPs in Parliament, broadening the rights of transgendered people, getting tough on hate crime and ending deportation of LGBT people to countries where they will face discrimination.

Bullying in schools is high on the agenda for Clegg who said to DIVA: “I think there needs to be a statutory obligation on all schools to have anti-homophobic bullying policies in place. That’s where I would place the biggest priority – by a long way.”

The potential leaders battled it out on issues including immigration, crime, national debt, the NHS and education on television last night.

It seems as though Clegg is promising good things to all as he consistently came out on top in instant polls by Channel 4, YouGov and ITV. Things are looking glum for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose results were decidedly lacklustre.

Speaking to DIVA magazine, Brown said: “I’ve always made absolutely clear my support for the repeal of section 28 and my support for civil partnership.”

Brown does sit fairly well the LGBT community, however our online results see him getting just 30% of the vote, just over half that of the Lib-Dems.

Conservative leader David Cameron, who asked to ‘stop for a second’ during his interview with DIVA, has a meagre 5% of the votes as his policies on LGBT issues are way behind those of his competition.

“The Conservatives are on a journey,” said Cameron, who is continually um-ing and err-ing on all gay issues. Speaking about IVF treatment [his party voted for the requirement of a father figure], the Tory leader said: “It was not voting against IVF or lesbians…we haven’t got any plans to change it”

Cameron needs to do a lot more if he is to win the vote of the LGBT community.

Personally, I’m pleased that Clegg has made this more of a three horse race. It’s always good to see the underdog come through and perhaps, with a little luck on his way; we’ll see Prime Minister Nick Clegg come May.

By Rosie Blackwell-Sutton

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Prom: A Lesbian's Point of View

It’s Thursday evening, my friends and I are getting dolled-up; high heels, big dresses and excessive make-up. It’s prom night. There’s a buzz of excitement and anticipation in the room. Tonight will be remembered for the rest of our lives.

Sadly, American teenager Constance McMillen never got to experience prom. Why you ask? Because she wanted to dress in a tux and take her girlfriend as a date. On a similar note, Ceara Sturgis, a student from Mississippi had her yearbook picture removed after wearing a tuxedo in the photo.

This shouldn’t be happening in the 21st century where lesbians are ‘allowed’ to get married, have children and celebrate their rights at Pride festivals worldwide.

Although there hasn’t been a case like McMillen’s and Sturgis’s in the UK (hopefully there never will be!), It seems to me as though we’re going backwards.

I wasn’t out when I went to prom, however if I had dressed in a tux, a girl on my arm, I’m pretty sure I’d have got some funny looks from my classmates. Surely this shouldn’t be the case.

I know prom is an age-old tradition, treasured far more in the US than here, but so is marriage yet we’re ‘allowed’ to do that. So what steps can we take to ensure Constance’s situation isn’t repeated?

Channel 4 had a go with their programme ‘My Big Gay Prom’ highlighting the separation between straight and homosexual counterparts in the world of school dances. And in San Francisco there’s an annual ‘lesbian prom’ that Constance and Ceara have been invited to along with an expected 2,000 others.

However, unquestionably, there shouldn’t be a need for a ‘lesbian prom’ or a separation between gay and straight dances. I don’t mean to sound like a ‘why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along’ type but why can’t we?

Thinking ahead to a time when two girls going to an integrated school dance together would be normality, I have come up with some suggestions on how to enjoy your ‘gay’ prom.

1. Ask the right girl! Don’t get stuck with someone who doesn’t want to be seen with you.
2. Dress well. Dress it down with a tailored suit jacket and t-shirt or a classy LBD.
3. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry about holding hands or kissing your date, everyone’s seen it before.
4. Steady on the alcohol. Don’t make a fool of yourself before the dancing’s started!

Were we to try these things now I’m not sure what would happen, hopefully in the UK not much – stares and giggles, maybe. But in America, especially the South, who’s to say?

Constance’s case was a big step in changing things, putting pressure on all learning centres to accept the sexuality of their students and incorporate their beliefs in to plans for proms and other events.

And media wise, lesbians are becoming more mainstream with big TV shows like Greys Anatomy and Skins running popular gay storylines, perhaps having a lasting effect on how the gay community is perceived.

So hopefully, the powers that be will get a grip and realise there’s nothing to be worried about and, fingers-crossed, those of you who want to take your girlfriend to prom will be able to, and be proud when you do.

Oh, and by the way, we want the real deal: limousines, corsages and tuxes. Who knows maybe we’ll even get a Prom Queen and Queen!

By Rosie Blackwell-Sutton

I’m the Drag King of the Castle and you’re the Dirty Rascal

It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve never heard of the Drag King outbreak that is becoming hugely popular on the underground lesbian scene as, until a few days ago, nor had I.

Keeping a pretty low profile in comparison to their
more flamboyant friends (Drag Queens), Lenna Cumberbatch, founder of and organiser of King of the Castle, is making sure they’re on everyone’s radar.

Thanks to Lenna’s annual drag competition in London, Kings are now getting their chance to shine after a small revival in the 1990s that saw an influx of popularity, featuring in Sarah Waters’ novel Tipping the Velvet (‘Nan’ Astley) and of course Ivan on the L Word.

But that’s not where it all began. Way back in the early 1900s, British music hall performer Vesta Tilley said: “I felt that I could express myself better if I were d
ressed as a boy” and went on to impersonate men along with Ella Shields and Hetty King, to adoring crowds.

With a nod towards these popular music hall performers we spoke to Lenna (a.k.a Leon DaLuva and Uncle Lenny), about why she set up the King of the Castle event: “I was Dragging in the states where there’s quite a big Drag King community. When I came over to the UK, there wasn’t m
uch going on and I really missed the environment of it.”

Now in its third year, King of the Castle is making a name for itself. With three Kings in its first
year, and four in its second, popularity in the competition is always rising. Contestants must compete in three events; Evening/Club wear, Sleep/Swim wear and Performance, which are judged by the always welcoming, and consistently sell-out audience.

The audience also has the chance to win an award, the crown for ‘Dirty Rascal’, which, as Lenna fondly remembers, saw 20 people run on stage the first time round.

As the name would suggest, Elvis is a popular choice for Kings to impersonate, though past competitions have seen Otis Blue and Stevie Wonderful take to the stage. However, performers don’t just do impersonations. Singing, dancing, comedy routines and lip-synching are all common amongst the competitors.

Wonderful was a big hit having won the 2008 event and will be returning to host this year’s competition at the Oak Bar, London, in May (see our online listings). After winning the event Stevie, real name Fiona King, went on to perform at UK Black Pride and York Lesbian Arts Festival.

If you reach these levels of success, Ingo from has a warning for you: “you will get a lot of fans and groupies, so you might need help in keeping them at a distance…I recommend bodyguards.”

Fiona was a first time Drag King when she belted out ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’ to take the crown so who exactly can be a Drag King? Surely its not as simple as pulling on a suit and pencilling in some facial hair? “Really anyone can be a King, it’s simple” said Lenna: “It tends to be women and lesbians but some men who identify as women do it as well – it’s just something completely different.”

As well as Lenna’s ventures there’s Bar Wotever, that often has Kings on stage, and Transfabulous, two London-based social groups that are making a name for the ever-growing community.

So has there been a change in attitude towards Drag Kings over the past years? “There’s definitely been a lot more interest, especially since our article in the Metro. I’m just really enjoying the visibility we’re getting,” said Lenna.

With the scene growing bigger by the minute, we’ve asked Lenna and the people from Wotever and Transfabulous to give us their top tips for you budding Kings, and who knows, maybe some of you will even be crowned King of the Castle in future years.



1. Have a reason for going up on stage and performing.

2. Think about the way gender is represented. Really study men, all the little details are important.

3. For being a King, facial hair is good, but swagger is better!

4. Attitude - you can do it!

5. A sense of humour always helps. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
thanks to Cleo Lang and AbsolutQueer for the photos

In order to compete in or watch King of the Castle, visit:

Other trans-friendly websites:

By Rosie Blackwell-Sutton

Monday, 12 April 2010


With Drew Barrymoore’s first feature film Whip It recently released, it’s high time the roller derby revolution got itself noticed, writes Rosie Blackwell-Sutton.

Many of you are probably unaware of this relatively new sport, in the UK anyway, until today that is. Roller derby is an all-girl, heavy-contact sport played on roller skates. Two teams of five go round in bouts with the aim to skate past the other team as fast as they can, knocking them over as they go.

Unless you’ve had your eyes closed for the past few months, you’ve probably seen Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore, padded up to the high heavens and covered in bruises, not because they’ve been in a scuffle but because, in new film Whip It (out now), they play Babe Ruthless and Smashley Simpson two roller derby girls in Austin, Texas.

The film sees the rise of Bliss Cavendar (Ellen ‘Juno’ Page) as a roller derby hero as she fights to gain respect from her pageant-loving mother and football-obsessed father.

This coming-of-age film is cliché-ridden yet still thoroughly enjoyable, with great characters. Juliette Lewis and Drew Barrymore are hilarious throughout, immersing themselves in their snarky, take-no-prisoners roller-girl roles whilst Marcia Gay Harden is fantastic as Bliss’s uptight mother.

What we learn from the film is that roller derby is a long-standing tradition in the US. Having started in the 1920s and reaching its peak of popularity in the 70s, it underwent a reincarnation in the early 2000s, when young women began to set up DIY clubs all over America. The sport grew and before long, a club launched in the UK, the London Roller Girls (LRG) (

Since 2006 the LRG have grown and grown as the sport has become more popular. There are several teams in London – the Suffra Jets, Steam Rollers, Ultraviolent Femmes – along with many new leagues and squads all over the country, such as Cambridge’s Romsey Town Rollerbillies (, Edinburgh’s Auld Reekie Roller Girls ( and the Tri County Rollers (, based in Staffordshire.

Anyone can be a roller girl as 36-year-old Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis in Whip It) proves. So what exactly is so attractive about derby? Surely the beaten-up look isn’t exactly a good one? Shaolynn Scarlett of the LRG told us exactly why she began skating: ‘It’s a uniquely exhilarating sport, you have to challenge yourself mentally and physically to get to the top of your game, and do it all on eight wheels. It's unlike anything else, although you have to push yourself it's incredibly fun.’

Fun it may be, but those injuries look a killer. Having read about one girl who broke her leg whilst training, I’m not sure how I’d fair in a real bout. However, according to Shaolynn, the injuries aren’t THAT bad: ‘Injuries are part and parcel of the game, but they're not as frequent as many people assume. As long as you play by the rules and keep fit and strong, you can avoid a lot of injuries that would normally come out of contact on skates.’

Hmm… I’m still not convinced. However, I do like the names the skaters take on, be it as an alias, or alter-ego. Some favourites are Missyle Elliott, Misha Naccomplished and Rose Misconduct. But what impact do these witty names have? ‘It's a way to prepare yourself for an aggressive bout, and something you can leave on the track when you go for drinks with the other team afterwards. Your skate name is really just a by-product of the sport – it shows the personality of the sport,’ says Shaolynn.

There’s a big social side to the roller derby. Drinks with teammates and other teams are common and food fights also are also featured, if Whip It is anything to go by. It seems like an excellent way to make friends and be part of a well-established community. At the end of the day, however, it’s all about skating as Shaolynn puts it: 'We're all there to play dery, and play hard.'

If after reading all the gory details, you want to play hard then get involved. Roller derby is getting bigger by the minute and teams are always recruiting so find your local team and get in touch.

Alternatively you can take the easy option and watch roller derby instead. The Suffra Jets play the Steam Rollers on Sat 22 May, Tottenham Green Leisure Centre, Phillip Lane, London, £10. Book in advance at Admission includes free after-party for ticket-holders!

Or take the even easier option and watch Whip It at cinemas everywhere… at least there’s no chance of getting a bloody nose there!

Thanks to Lustmaikamra and Steve Newton for the photos.