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

Save

Save

Save

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

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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

Save

Save

Save

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 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

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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

Should I get GAY stamped on my forehead and hand out free hugs?

Today I shared a video in the Let Us Eat Cake group on Facebook that came up in my newsfeed, titled, ‘What if we talked to straight couples the ridiculous way we talk to gay couples’. It reminded me of the numerous times I’ve been approached in pubs and bars in NI by complete strangers and told, ‘I love you guys. You’re so cute together. You make such a lovely couple. I have a gay best friend, you know, and he’s lovely.’ Normally, they go in for a hug, insist I add them on Facebook and keep in touch, and then they ask for a dance. Because, you know, all the gays throw moves like a ‘dancing queen’ and have the DNA trait to perform the ‘nobody puts baby in a corner’ dance ensemble from Dirty Dancing. I feel like saying, ‘Sorry, love, but I believe in personal space. I limit my friends on Facebook enough without having to wake up to posts from a complete stranger who changes their profile picture with her ten cats daily. And I couldn’t dance if you paid me, nor would I have the muscle strength to table lift a small child, never mind a fully grown woman!’ Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh and perhaps I’m over-reacting. But surely I’m not the only one who thinks this is odd. I feel awkward approaching a stranger to ask where the toilets are, let alone to begin delving into their sexuality and proclaiming my love for them.

This actually happened to me at a charity do, just after one of our first Let Us Eat Cake meetings. But, to be fair, she was lovely about it. And then it happened again a few weeks later with a group of ladies in a small quiet pub in Enniskillen. I know it’s not a big deal and it is nice that if I hug or kiss with my boyfriend in public then people support us. But it does make me feel like I don’t want the fuss though. Perhaps if I just stamped ‘gay but grumpy’ on my forehead it wouldn’t happen…

– Chris

Some food for thought… other than cake

I watched a programme on tele tonight called ’50 Shades of Gay’. I think it’s part of a wider BBC series on the theme of gay decriminalisation and gay history in the UK. The presenter, Rupert Everett, visited different gay people around the UK and chatted to older people about their experiences. Jeez, it opened my eyes to how gay people were treated and gay culture. I wish there were more programmes like this and more openly gay actors from the UK, more openly gay people in the entertainment industry full stop. More roles models for gay kids!

The first thing that struck me was how often he used the word ‘bent’. Not sure if this came up during our Let Us Eat Cake conversation maps, if not then it definitely has to go on there because I’ve heard this a lot in the past. When he used the word it made me uncomfortable. And thinking more about it, I thought about the definition. So I googled it. Obviously the simplest reason for using the word is because it’s the opposite of ‘straight’ in the sense of heterosexual. It was the synonyms of the adjective for bent that I found interesting.

Some of them – like ‘twisted’, ‘crooked’, ‘deformed’, ‘irregular’ etc. – have been used to insult gay people in the past to hurt them. This idea that we are not ‘fit-for-purpose’, ‘a round peg’, ‘a mistake of nature’, ‘deformed’ or ‘unnatural’… Like our parents should go back to God and ask for a new child using the Sale and Supply of Goods Act!

The second definition that popped out was the British informal use of the word to mean dishonest or corrupt, like ‘a bent cop’. With synonyms like ‘corruptible’, ‘fraudulent’, ‘criminal’, ‘lawless’, ‘villainous’ etc., this reminded me of some of the stuff we chatted about during our meetings. How language is important, how we can reclaim it, how it can be used, but how it can also be abused. I’m thinking I could use the word for my Gay Blood staged photo theme….. Would a caption like ‘Bent Blood’ be offensive??

One last thing that a gent on the programme said made me think too;

‘Is it better now that those people in society who are truly homophobic feel they can’t express themselves in public or they would come under fire… or was it better back then when they would shout and call you a faggot from across the street? At least back then you knew who to avoid’.

He makes an interesting point.

– Chris

March for Marriage Equality: the public, the people & the protesters

What a fantastic day for Northern Ireland! So much love in one place, you could almost taste it in the air. It’s was such a positive feeling being with so many people with common purpose, knowing you’re all there together united for a reason that’s good and meaningful, free from hate and filled with love. Arguably, it’s the most beneficial and wonderful feeling all us homos-apians can experience.

The streets were lined with people from all cultures, ages, backgrounds, faiths and identities, and of course some who happened to stumble across the rally and after realising its purpose happily joined in. I love those guys in particular. It’s great to welcome them and let them see what we see, let them hear what we have to say, engage with them and chat. To show them we don’t bother traveling from the other end of the country and beyond just for a sassy glittery unicorn rainbow party… although that does sound amazing 🙂

Perhaps if some of our politicians did the same, and came and engaged with us, they’d be more open to changing their minds.

What made my day was actually before the rally began. I was busy handing out Love Equality badges and chatting to Raymond and Ciaran, and a woman approached us with her little boy. She was so happy to be given badges and proudly pinned one to her jacket and one on her little lad. He must have been about four or five years old. She chatted away with us for few minutes about her disbelief that equal marriage wasn’t legal, and said many of the same things we say all the time. But the whole time I couldn’t help just look at this little kid, and think I hope things are better for him when he’s my age. And what a wonderful mother who’ll raise him, to be accepting of others and to be accepted himself. And even if this mum is just one in a million – although all mums are the best and are 1 in a gazillion! – there’s hope for the next generation.

I’m sure there may have been a few people there whose passion for marriage equality, and through no fault of their own, felt different today. With their views having been ignored for many years and their own history and experiences as a LGBTQ+ citizen being unfortunately darker than mine. I did see some more – how can I say it – ‘politically directed with colorful language’ banners, indicating that some were taking the opportunity to voice their frustrations. Weirdly, their banner slogans seem more memorable to me, perhaps that’s the point. I’d say I have a lot to thank some of the older marchers for, they were, in some ways, the pioneers and the reason I’ve had an easier time of being gay than they have had.

Who can blame them? Imagine feeling you’re being ignored, with your opinions and voices unheard, being made to feel like a ‘lesser’ version of others in society, being barraged with abuse for simply being who you are. It is no wonder that after so much time being stepped on, called names, picked on, bullied, frowned upon, and being treated unequally, that eventually, just maybe, they might defend themselves, fight back and shout louder. If that seems ‘in your face’ to those who oppose LGBTQ+ people protesting in the streets at today’s march and during Pride, then stuff them!

The Marriage Equality rally today ended with some great speeches that were really inspiring. All the messages were positive. I’m sure they’ll be online. I hope the world sees!

– Chris

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Worlds apart but at home – the power of the Rainbow

Choosing where to go on holiday is hard enough, with costs, accommodation and airlines, but it’s even harder when you have to consider if the host country will accept, or at best, ‘tolerate’ who you are. (I hate the word tolerate. It’s awful to think that someone needs to consciously hold back and behave differently due to their own prejudices, and then feel all proud of themselves for being modern liberal people. Anyways… I digress.)

After searching with Ray, we eventually found a place in Gran Canaria and off we set for ten days in the sun. They have a Gay Tourist Map, which is always a welcome sign. On our first day we headed into a well-known gay area for a cold pint and to explore. As soon as we stepped into the area we could see the beautiful colours of rainbow flag streamers above a bar and I got an immediate feeling of ease. Murals and signage, for drag shows and gay clubs, were all around too. ‘This is fantastic!’, I thought. I felt safe and comfortable like being in the house at home.

It’s weird how powerful a flag can be, how those colors immediately make me feel I can relax and enjoy company with similar people. I’m really glad Raymond is going to be using the theme of flags, demarcation and identity for his staged photo for Let Us Eat Cake because it is so relevant. It’s interesting to think about whether this has more significance for people from NI, where flags and symbolic expressions of identity have such deep-rooted importance for people from all backgrounds in the community.

The streets and bars in the evening where full of same sex couples. They could openly hold hands, kiss, be affectionate and no one batted an eyelid… except me. Gay public displays of affection always immediately attract my attention, probably because it doesn’t happen much in NI through the fear of abuse or being accused of flaunting themselves in public.

It’s just so lovely to see people in love. People who may be at the beginning what could be a lifetime of devotion and adventure. People who may have had to travel across the world to be themselves and to be open.

There were plenty of straight people there too. Everyone loves a cheap cocktail with an umbrella, sparklers and a questionable amount of spirits! There was such a positive and ‘normal’ atmosphere with people going about their everyday business. Wish it was like this at home.

Everyone of them with their own histories and backgrounds. I like to dream and imagine the LGBTQ+ people have loving and accepting families and have had an easy life away from discrimination, but then in reality I’d guess quite a lot of them have had some form of negatively past experiences due their sexuality. Each with their own unique stories.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to think that in future we could travel the whole world and be open all the time? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we didn’t need Gay Maps to find out where it’s ‘okay to be gay’? Where we could show our commitment to our partners, or seek new love and meet people if we are single, without having to target a country where we know people of our ‘type’ would likely be. I’d love to think someday even I wouldn’t notice I’m surrounded by LGBTQ+ people. I would love to not have to be self-conscious and aware when I hold my partner’s hand at home, for us to be romantic and celebrate as a couple, to not look like two male friends until we feel we’re able to ‘announce’ we’re together.

We walked home in the evening holding hands and it was lovely. One of the best parts of the holiday, in fact. It’s something so simple, but we wouldn’t do this at home… unless we’ve had some Dutch-courage!

– Chris

Collaborative Self-Portraits

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Raymond Dunn

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Natalie McFall

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Chris Finlay

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Paul Campbell

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Ciaran Rafferty

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Sarah McMurran

 

Collaborative Self-Portrait of Anthony Luvera

Save

Save

Save