Let Us Eat Cake is baked and ready to eat

So the day finally came for our work to be revealed to the public and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved. It’s been such an eye-opening and inspiring experience working with such a lovely group of people. Each person has brought their own experiences and hopes for the future to light in their Collaborative Self-Portrait and I think they look great!

It was nice to see people moving around and looking at the exhibition. I enjoyed hearing people chatting to their friends and strangers about the photographs and the work that went on behind the making of the images. It’s still hard for me to believe that so much time has passed and we’re finally finished. It has flown by! I hope everyone who looks at Let Us Eat Cake comes across at least one photograph that resonates with them. If they don’t, then I hope they at least understand why we decided responded to the themes and why they are important to us. I hope they feel challenged and take time to think. Just take a few seconds to step into our shoes.

Now that the exhibition is up I’ve been in a more reflective mood. Taking part in Let Us Eat Cake has allowed me to explore so much about what it means to be a LGBTQ+ person in Northern Ireland. I’ve had the chance to reflect on the past, all those LGBTQ+ people who have been so terribly treated, and my own history. I’ve also had the chance to think about the present, my place in the world, the things that are important to me, and what’s happening around the world to others. And I’ve had the chance to think about the future, to consider: What kind of society would I like to live in? What sort of things would I like to have in my life? Where do I want to be?

I’m not going to lie, it’s been an internal roller coaster for me at times. One of my downfalls is letting my mind run away with me too much. In my defense, there is so much to digest when it comes to really delving deep down into society’s views, traditions, perceptions, faiths, and the many other things that came up in our conversations that have made me even more aware of current affairs related to LGBTQ+ rights, histories and conflicts.

But it’s been really worth it. I used to think I’d be happier moving away to an island somewhere away from the media, politics, all the division, hate and negativity which always seems to try to weigh us down. But now I’m really looking forward to keeping my feet firmly on ground in Northern Ireland. I’ve come to learn that people from here are some of the most resilient, brave, honest, caring, and stubborn people on the planet. Northern Ireland WILL always be my big crazy and fabulous home.

– Chris

Self-Exposure

As part of Let Us Eat Cake, each participant worked with Anthony to photograph a Collaborative Self-Portrait. To pre-empt any snags, the mise-en-scène of each portrait was discussed and planned well in advance. After much thought, I decided on the theme of the positive contributions which individuals make to society, the role of the LGBTQ+ workforce within this, and how LGBTQ+ people take on many roles, playing just as an important contribution as any other non-LGBTQ+ person does in making our communities better, safer places in which to live. To reflect this, I decided that it may be a good idea if we were to capture an image of me in various uniformed guises. Which, although I was excited about at first, I quickly decided against as I was concerned about looking too much like a bad parody of ‘YMCA’. In the end, sense prevailed, when this idea evolved into one of a metaphoric image of me surrounded by various uniforms for sale in a retail store.

All went to plan on the day of the shoot. The owner and staff of the ‘Wear to Work’ store were very helpful and accommodating. We borrowed uniforms for nurses, chefs, mechanics, and other various professions from all over the store, and arranged them in the staged scene. Once we were happy with our display we set up the lighting, placed me in the frame, adjusted the focus, and I used the cable shutter release to take photographs. I was surprised to find that the most difficult thing about the whole process was trying to hold my expression for the camera. This felt very unnatural and counter-intuitive, as usually when you know you are going to be photographed you wear a smile in anticipation.

Near to the end of the shoot a wee Belfast woman shopping in the store asked if we would like to take her picture. Once she introduced herself I explained to Anthony who her son, Carl Frampton, was. It made me think how the world would be a much better place if all mothers (and fathers) were to show even a tiny bit of the pride about their children that this mother openly displayed for all the world to see about her world champion son’s work.

– Paul

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Families, parenthood and being gay

On the 9th of September I created my Collaborative Self-Portrait with Anthony. We took photos of me hanging baby clothes out on my washing line to make it look like I am a gay father in the 21st century doing the kind of normal activity a mother or father would carry out in their daily lives.

Family is so important to me. I am a family orientated person and I dream of having one of my own one day. But being a gay man, I’m not too sure if that will happen. Meeting someone, having the chance to get married, and for us to have our own children would be a dream come true. I would ideally love to have my own child through surrogacy but that can come at a costly price and I will never rule out the option of adoption. Giving a baby or child a life they deserve would be brilliant for me and especially for them.

I hope so much will change in the future with equal rights for LGBTQ+ people. Why are there restrictions, bans and no equality? No-one can stop who they fall in love with, regardless of gender, race, nationality or religion. This is why society should move on and accept that there should be marriage equality, and gay parents, in Northern Ireland. In five years time I’ll be turning 31 and by then I hope to be in long-term relationship, thinking about marriage, and having babies. Will this happen? I’m not sure. But as people say, all things happen for a reason!

– Ciaran

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Marriage equality and me

The issue of marriage equality for LGBTQ+ people is something that has been very prevalent in my life lately. I feel passionately that my partner and I deserve access to the same marital rights as any other couple. We are at the two year stage in our relationship and we feel like marriage is the next step for us for legal and personal reasons. We plan to have children soon and marriage would provide an extra legal protection for our family. Emotionally, we have both always wanted a traditional white wedding. We have religious families and we would like to have our relationship recognised like any other couple, free of the limitations that exist legally within a civil partnership.

In deciding to address the theme of marriage equality for my Collaborative Self-Portrait, I felt it was only right to consider having my partner in the photograph. On the day we took the pictures I had rings readily available. I thought it would be a good idea to have these in the photograph as a motif. I placed the rings just within reach to reiterate Northern Ireland’s regression in comparison to the rest of the UK on the subject of marriage equality for LGBTQ+ people.

We decided the staging of the image should be intimate but also domestic, in reference to my thoughts on the importance of showing the day-to-day, average lives of LGBTQ+ people. To create cohesiveness with the rest of the photographs in the series we used a soft lighting and I faced the camera directly. I was actually having so much fun I found it quite difficult to stop smiling when taking the photographs. However, I wanted to show that marriage equality for LGBTQ+ people is a serious issue and I didn’t want the photograph to give the impression that we are happy with the current situation in Northern Ireland.

Overall, I am very happy with how my Collaborative Self-Portrait has turned out. I think the colour scheme works really well with the lighting and the rings are a nice touch. I love the intimacy of the photograph and I believe it puts a relatable face to the issue of marriage equality for LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland.

– Natalie

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Gay men and blood donation

When discussing different ideas for our Collaborative Self-Portraits there were a few themes that grabbed my attention. Marriage equality for LGBTQ+ people has always been a top priority for me, and equal rights for gay couples adopting children is also something important for me as I’d love to have children some day. But the one theme I really wanted to focus on is the issue of restrictions on gay men donating blood. This has a particular personal resonance for me.

Recently there have been good steps forward with the lift of the permanent blood ban on gay men donating, but it’s a small step. There’s still a way to go in my eyes. With modern blood screening methods, improved clinical testing, and access to sexual health services, I can’t see any reason why the lift can’t be extended in full to allow gay men to donate if they are healthy. It’s insulting to think that any heterosexual Joe Blogs can donate blood freely and I can’t. To be made to feel that the life giving stuff which flows through your veins is in someway dirty, inadequate, or unsafe, is simply wrong. And what sane man can go without sex for a year if they are in committed, loving and HEALTHY relationships. I’d be more worried about someone who was in a loving relationship who didn’t make love.

From the outset, I always envisaged my Collaborative Self-Portrait being set in a clinical environment. Getting a location to shoot the photo in was tricky and hats off to Anthony for securing the perfect place for me – a small medical consultation suite in the Welcome Organisation in Belfast. This room was perfect. Setting up to create a photograph that portrays a scene of blood donation didn’t take too long. The only spanner in the works was making a decision about whether to take down or keep up a poster on a small display board behind the bed. If it remained it would be clearly visible in the photo. We took a few test shoots, and yep, it could clearly be read. Ironically, the poster was about sexual health testing with the caption, ‘What’s in your blood?’ written large. After some thought we decided to take it down. We didn’t want the wrong message portrayed in the photo and taking it down freed up some space in the background of the picture where later I will add my writing about the theme.

The setting was simple but really effective. Normal donation areas wouldn’t  look like something out of ER or Casuality. We explored the idea of using props to mimic an intravenous needle or blood bag, to help clarify what the photo was about, We decided that these things would be unnecessary for the picture, as in reality I wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near these things – my blood wouldn’t be taken and I’d be sent home. I think this is a real shame. In NI  we’ve got a shortage of blood and hospitals are crying out for the stuff.

Actually taking the photos was trickier than I thought it would be. First of all there was the lighting, which seemed to work best by bouncing light against the opposite wall. Then there was the pose. What way would someone be sat or laid down to give blood? What facial expression would I put across to show my frustration about the over-arching theme? What should the photo say to someone when they look at it?

After some test shots it was clear that laying down with my ‘donating’ arm extended was best. Then it was onto actually getting the photo into focus. Anthony showed me how to adjust the camera settings, how to switch between auto and manual focus, and how to use various features in the composition, such as the placement of the subject, objects and background, to sharpen the image and draw out things like clarity of the eyes and colour. Eventually I was ready to move around and experiment with the placement of my arms, legs and body, to get comfortable and to work on my facial expression. I wanted to be expressionless but focused. Putting across a message of stubborn frustration wasn’t an easy thing for me. But after I snapped away for long enough, I think we finally got the perfect pic. I think it turned out great from the test shots Anthony sent me. I’m looking forward to working on the finished piece for the exhibition.

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Pride without prejudice

I count myself fortunate, having had the opportunity and the freedom to attend Pride marches and gatherings in Belfast, London, Brighton, and other cities, over the past 30 years. Undoubtedly, the kaleidoscopic visibility of Pride festivals held annually around the globe helps in creating colourful positive vibes around all things LGBTQ+ whilst, simultaneously, promoting an increased sense of inclusivity for all those living under the rainbow.

London Pride 2010 with my sister Briege.

For politicised reasons, equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community In Northern Ireland have largely lagged behind those of our counterparts residing in the rest of the UK. Regrettably, not all LGBTQ+ lives are coloured equally. However little or far we think we may have come, it could be a million miles from the LGBTQ+ lives of others around the world, where homosexuality itself or Pride may be outlawed. Geographically, we do not have to travel too far to set foot in in lands where LGBTQ+ people are at best shunned and ostracised, or at worst, in some cases, can result in death. Every individual or couple should be able to enjoy their lives in peace and be free from persecution regardless of race, religion, sexuality or gender. Every person should be able to freely express their identity without fear of persecution or violence.

Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England form part of the Commonwealth along with 53 other countries; which spans all six inhabited continents, and around 20% of the world’s land area, with 3.28 billion people, or one third of the world’s population. Although member states have no legal obligation to one another, it is the association’s values which unite its members: democracy, freedom, peace, the rule of law and opportunity for all. These values were agreed and set down by all Commonwealth Heads of Government. It is hard to believe that 37 of those 54 Commonwealth member states continue to criminalise consensual same sex activity, largely as a legacy of laws imposed during Britain’s colonial past.

To counter inequality and end discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the Commonwealth, The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN) was established in 2013. TCEN is a diverse network of 38 civil society organisations in 39 countries. It was not until June 2017 that TCEN became the first and only LGBTQ+ focused organisation to be officially accredited by the Commonwealth. The accreditation means that TCEN activists will benefit from increased access to, participation in, and information about Commonwealth matters, sending a strong signal that ‘the voices and needs of LGBTI people are legitimate and LGBTI activists have a vital role in civil society’.

While we once again celebrate Pride, it is good to remember those who, through no fault of their own, lead less fortunate lives due to outdated inhumane laws and attitudes. To find out more and/or show your support please visit https://antigaylaws.org/ where you will find a wealth of knowledge and links to resources that can be used in educating and raising awareness about those who may be at a stage where we once were. Maybe one day they too will be able to openly celebrate their lives with Pride without prejudice.

– Paul

Belfast Pride 2017 – bigger and better than ever!

Marching at Pride.

It’s now the Monday after what has been yet another fantastic Pride parade in Belfast. This is the third annual pride I’ve been to and the second in which I’ve joined the march. The weather was fantastic, a welcome break from the torrential downpours we’ve been having recently. So much for Gay Pride causing hurricane Katrina!

People lined the streets in an array of rainbow colours, all different races and religious backgrounds. It’s estimated there were thousands and I’d definitely believe it. It looked like a sea of colour and smiling faces. Everyone was so happy just dancing, hugging, and embracing each other. Parents with their kids, friends with their pals, partners together holding hands and looking into each other’s sparkling eyes, showing how thankful they are to have found each other. I just wish I could bottle up the atmosphere and give our haters a sip, if they only knew how magical these times are.

Unicorn at Pride Village.

The biggest thing that struck me this year was how many young people were there to support the parade, especially the teenagers. From Castle Court car park to the Big Fish you couldn’t take more than a few steps before bumping into a group of kids adorned in rainbow flags, glitter and face paint. It’s lovely to think that society has made big enough steps now that our younger generation can be more open with each other at a young age, that they can support each other and are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder in order to challenge views and attitudes. There seems to be movement in the right direction for young LGBTQ+ people. It’s just a pity that there is little to no queer sex education in schools.

There’s been lots of great media coverage of Pride this year. Record numbers of marchers and supporting public. I absolutely love the fact that the police and Gardai joined in, despite some opposition from politicians (I’ll not name names… we all know who they are!). I think it’s such a positive message to send out to people that the police are there to support you whoever you are and that hate crime should be reported (especially with hate crime increasing drastically since last year). Unfortunately some politicians can’t see past their own prejudices and misinterpreted view of what Pride means.
The Irish Taoiseach came to visit NI during Pride. Great to see some cross-border support and a gay man in a position of power who can really make a difference in his country. I can’t wait for the day we have the same in NI. It does annoy me a bit that a lot of the media was surrounding his visit rather than the work that so many people on the ground put in. But hey, any news is good news when it comes to LGBTQ+ people.

I thought I’d share some of the comments online I saw when reading news about Pride. Although it’s great to see how much NI has moved forward, there are clearly still some sections of society who hold strong homophobic views;

‘How long until it degrades into paedophilia and people dancing around naked on streets in front of children like in the USA. Disgusting.’

‘Perverts. Their idea of pride is going around with their weenie in front of decent people and children.’

‘A truly sick world we live in!’

‘Keep your perversion behind closed doors you freaks.’

Anti-Pride protest by a Christian group at Belfast Pride 2017.

I remember reading a comment a few years back about how there is no need for Pride anymore; ‘sure we’ve got so much equality nowadays’. People like this so often comment on how they don’t feel the need for a ‘STRAIGHT pride’ or to ‘promote their heterosexuality’. Well, it is comments like the ones above that are the reason WHY. Until we keep challenging people like this then we won’t stop!

– Chris

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Belfast Pride 2017

The night before Pride I was working until 3am. Being so busy with work, and with a lot of other things happening through the week, I didn’t get the chance to feel the excitement I felt the previous year before my first Pride

Getting up for 9am to get the train for our 10am meeting time at the centre was hard.  Eventually I made it by about 10.20am. Seeing the selection for breakfast after such a rushed morning, I wasn’t sure if it was a bacon roll or a sausage roll that I wanted, so I opted for cereal instead. And then after sitting down to talk to one of the other volunteers, I was greeted by Nuala and Michael. Not knowing what my job in the parade was going to be, they asked if I wanted to be a balloon man. Not knowing what this was, I was hesitant at first, but then I  said, ‘Why not?’ I knew all would soon be revealed. I was to have to have Pride coloured balloons attached to my back!

Talking to the other men while walking to the starting point was exciting. Their comments were funny and they made me feel part of the group. With a few hick ups we got there in the end. Closer to gay parade time and enjoying our day!

Waiting at the starting point of the parade was quite intense. Lots of people panicking, but lots of people, including me, just taking it all in, loving the amount of people out and all the work people had put in for this day.

With the parade starting and getting into full swing, this was our time to shine. Seeing all of the people out on this fabulous sunny day in August to support their friends, families, and whoever else, was overwhelming, and I’ve heard it was the biggest crowd Belfast city has had in the history of Pride. From where I was there was no hate or abuse There was nothing but CHEERING and people shouting with pride and happiness.

I was most excited about seeing my family who had come to see me in the parade. Getting to the part of the route where I knew they would be, I looked around for my sister and my brother and his girlfriend. I was thinking, ‘Where are they?’, and then I heard my name being called and I saw them all. This was the icing on the cake! I always knew that my family accepted me being gay but this really made my day. I have to say, my family are the reason I am who I am today. Their support has brought me to where I am in life. They are my inspiration – even though I inspire a lot of people too… LOL!!!

The youth of today bring the future forward. To see how different society is now, it’s brilliant to know there will be change!

BE HAPPY! LIVE! LAUGH! LOVE!

2017… EQUALITY??

We have four more months of the year left, can’t we put our differences aside and vote equality in marriage and a lot more for Northern Ireland? C’MON GUYS. No more marches. Make it happen and soon!

– Ciaran

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Christians at Pride Belfast 2017

Every year there are a handful of fanatics who give Christians a bad name at Pride and it is something that has annoyed me for a long time. Being a Christian and supporting LGBTQ+ people are definitely not mutually exclusive.

 

Things are changing. If you’re a Christian, be vocal in your support, call people out when they’re intolerant – just be kind to each other!

#ChristiansAtPride

– Rachael

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Move in the right direction

In 2017 Northern Ireland still doesn’t have marriage equality. Seeing how many countries have succeeded in making this happen for families and individuals in their communities all over their regions, I wonder why we are one of the few that can’t make this happen. There are too many haters and small minorities who oppose marriage equality that are holding the rest of the world back from moving in the right direction. If there was a more mature and respectable discussion between the different groups and leaders, there will be a lot more progression and a brighter future for our younger siblings growing up in the the 21st century.

I know myself it was hard growing up knowing I was gay and being afraid to tell the people I am close to. The reason being that I thought if I told my mates I was GAY I would lose them and the friendships we had built. Thinking back now, this happened anyway, not because I told them I was gay but because we all left secondary school and made different decisions. I still class them as my friends and I know that our paths will cross again. And for sure, this happened recently when I was out one night and ran into old friends from primary school.

If I could say anything to someone coming out, I’d say;

‘Believe and you shall succeed. Dreaming makes them dreams come true. Your positivity will take you to the places you want to go to. Live your life to the full!

Remember always to do things to suit you. Think about who’s number one…

YOU ARE!

AND YOU ALWAYS WILL BE!’

– Ciaran

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Cloudy with a chance of rainbows

Recently Anthony reminded me (ever so subtly, cheers Anthony) that I’m the daddy of the group (so to speak), prompting me into a contemplative frame of mind and catapulting me back in time.

I was born in 1966 when homosexuality was illegal in the U.K., with over a thousand men imprisoned that year just for being gay. When I was one year old, the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexual acts between men over 21 years of age in private in England and Wales. Subsequently it was not until 1982 that the Homosexual Offences Order made it legal in Northern Ireland for men over the age of 21, in lust or in love, to have sex without fear of prosecution or imprisonment.

By this time, I had turned 16 having grown up in central Belfast in a climate where murder, bombs, fear, segregation, mistrust, inequality, and tit for tat reprisals were a normal part of everyday life.

Throughout all my schooling, being gay was not only illegal, but to some, it was considered worse than being from the other side of the religious divide. I can remember Roman Catholic and Protestant mixed marriages from then. However, I do not ever recall meeting, speaking to, or hearing mention of a living and breathing real life queer person. That is unless they were to be, like I was, ridiculed, mocked, and set upon and beaten.

The mere notion that I or anyone else was a ‘fruit, queer, poof, homo or bent’ would send the red-blooded school population’s thoughts of outrage and reprisal into overdrive. I have always believed in what is true for me and lived according to that truth. The result being that I, and others like me were fair game. I was a lawbreaker, with no protection under it. As far as my peers were concerned it was completely normal and acceptable to pick upon and queerbash someone at any given opportunity.

There were no gay celebrity role models, or gay role models of any type. Elton was still lost in his vast warehouse of a closet, and Liberace was…well, he just was.  Unlike today the portrayal of LGBTQ+ people in all forms of the media was stereotypically very camp and one dimensional – from John Inman’s portrayal of Mr Humphries with his characteristic limp-wristed mincing walk and high pitched ‘I’m Free’. To Larry Grayson’s hand on hip ‘What a gay day!’. Although it cannot be denied that they were wonderfully funny performers, they were not the type of role model anyone would want to aspire to or admit to idolising. They were purely an act, used to represent gay men during peak audiences on one of the 3 television channels available at that time.  During family conversations, any words that may have described a gay person were never spoken, instead they were whispered, or the gay person under suspicion was described as having ‘looked sideways’ at them.

It’s funny for me to think of an LGBTQ+ community, as to be part of a community you must be accepted into it. During my adolescence and early adulthood that was never allowed to happen. Even today the so-called LGBTQ+ community in Belfast is geared around a handful of, not always pleasant, bars and clubs aimed at taking as many pink pounds from the younger generation as they possibly can. Although LGBTQ+ rights have changed society here for the better, I believe we are begrudgingly tolerated rather than accepted. This is I put down to education and beliefs. For as long as we have a ruling political party that considers the LGBTQ+ community to be ‘abominations’ or regarded in the same way as pedophiles, things will remain inequitable. The laws may change, but inbred intolerance and hate will remain if factions of the political and religious landscape continue spewing their bitter bile towards those they regard as inferior human beings.  I would love to be around in another 50 years to see how things have changed, but hopefully bigotry and intolerance will have long since been banished into the realms of history, along with the remaining anti-gay laws that hamper and harm gay people’s lives today.

– Paul

Queer on the BBC

It’s great to see the BBC broadcast ‘Against the Law’, a factual drama about the persecution of Edward Montagu and Peter Wildeblood. Their trial and the subsequent backlash of public opinion led to the Wolfenden Committee in 1957. Whilst Parliament took ten years to act on the recommendations of the report, with the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 Northern Ireland took another 15 years to pass the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order in 1982. This was only adopted as a result of a European Court of Human Rights case. Hopefully BBC Northern Ireland will be as supportive in broadcasting LGBTQ+ issues within the Province in 15 year’s time.

– Raymond

Dreaming leads to believing and achieving bigger and better

Being part of a large family and growing up in a small town, I now look back and realise what a loving and supportive childhood we all had. I love where I grew up.  Our neighbours and friends were always close, and everyone helped each other out no matter what.

Coming into my teenage years I knew there was something different about me from my male friends and family members. Not knowing for sure exactly what that was at the age of 13, I can say now ten years after realising I was gay and keeping it to myself for so long, I don’t know why I was so scared to tell my family.

I will always remember the date I came out to my family: 4/9/15. This day was a big turning point in my life. Telling my family was the hardest thing I have achieved in all my 23 years.

Two years later, I now volunteer for The Rainbow Project in Belfast and I live here with my best friend too. I have met so many inspirational people through the project, and I’ve learnt a lot through their training programmes and by  volunteering. I have to say, I meet so many funny people on the nights when we volunteer. I get messages from lads, saying, ‘you gave me condoms last night’. I always feel like replying, ‘Durex loves safesex!’ 😂

I’ve found that no matter what hurdles you face in life you should always look to the positive side of things and aim high for what you want. You make your life what you want it to be, no-one else does this for you. Yes, we meet old and new friends along the way, but I believe you should always enjoy what you have, as everything happens for a reason.

The moral of this story is seek and you shall find. Be positive in everything you do and with everyone you meet. Being happy and proud in life always helps you succeed.

I’ve found making your own decisions in life gets you to where you want to be. Being gay is not shameful, nor should you be embarrassed about it.

Gay is the new way… LOL!

– Ciaran

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UK steps forward, NI left behind… again

It’s great to see changes in gay blood donation in the UK announced by the government. However, as always NI is behind the times, this only applies to a relaxing of rules in England and Scotland. Yet another, ‘devolved matter’, that will more than likely take years to bring in in NI due to the mess of the political situation here.

After the positive steps taken in NI in June 2016 with the life-time ban been lifted on gay men donating blood  supported by overwhelming evidence, it just seems like one step forward… but a much smaller step than we should be taking. It’s annoying that this will probably be because of politicians who, ironically, strive to keep our union together and strong. I hope I’m wrong, but with direct rule looming and a stale-mate between the two big parties I’ll be surprised if anything gets resolved anytime soon. Another LGBTQ+ matter which will disappear into their in-trays to be forgotten about again.

– Chris