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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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

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

Mapping conversations

Cairan mapping a conversation about ‘queer’.

 

Ciaran mapping a conversation about ‘insults’.

 

Ciaran and Anthony mapping a conversation about Let Us Eat Cake.

 

Rachel mapping a conversation about ideas for the staged portraits.

 

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