Posts Tagged ‘ LGBT ’

What is Marriage?

Yesterday I gave a speech at York University about the institution of marriage and how it relates to me. Here is the transcript.

In order to examine what marriage is today, its important to see it within its historical and social context. Marriage first became something that fully involved the state when common-law marriage for practical purposes was abolished under the marriage act of 1753. Before then, legal marriage was mainly a practice of the aristocratic and bourgeois classes; its main purpose to secure business relationships between rich families and appropriate property away from women and the working classes.
As the UK moved from mercentilism to industrialism to a neo-liberal, ostensibly capitalist economic system, the way that legal marriage was used in society changed from being something that was used solely to secure business relationships between privileged families and something that was more accessible to some sections of the working classes. This is seen as a sign of liberal progression by some commentators, but I’m not convinced.

Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production within society is privately owned. The ruling class, who are the owners of the means of production, have the most economic power, and therefore more political power within our society. They seek to extend their economic and political power by exploiting those who don’t own the means of production, the working class, by forcing them to labour in order to produce surplus value, so they can extract profit. The ruling class seeks to ensure their continued domination by using a tactic of “divide and conquer”; encouraging racism, homophobia, disablism and other forms of bigotry to take root in communities, so the working classes are fighting amongst themselves as opposed to combating the root cause of their exploitation – capitalism and the ruling class.

You might be wondering what exactly this has to do with marriage. Well, the institution of marriage and the concept of “family” it supports, has evolved into another tool to divide the working class by splitting communities in to atomised nuclear family units. This isolates individuals from their neighbours, and decreases the shared resources within a community, increasing profits for those in power. The concept of the family is then further used to exploit a right wing agenda – one recent example being the attack on the LGBT community in defence of the “family” by members of the conservative party. Its interesting that most political acts which supposedly support the “family” could arguably be seen as attacks on the community, and the working class as a whole.
The notion of the family and the institution of marriage is part of this process of division alongside forces such as racism and misogyny, and in some ways they both depend upon each other for their very existence – division in one area of public life giving rise to another form of division. From 1753 onwards, the state entered our bedrooms in order to police our relationships; granting legal marriages to those that were deemed fit of privilege. Now the state wishes most people to enter into marriages, giving them minor financial incentives in order to further atomise the working classes t the benefit of those in power. Whilst I have no issue with people living together, or publicly showing commitment to each other, buying into the institution of marriage is essentially supporting and aiding your own oppression by the state and the ruling class. Whilst there might be a some rare cases in which the benefits of marriage outweigh the disadvantages, such as marrying an asylum seeker to save them from a greater oppression, in most cases marriage represents a misinformed backing of the state and capitalism*

On the subject of gay marriage, I’m sure others speaking tonight will talk about issues of assimilation and heteronormativity. It is my question to ask, then, is advocating incremental change in fighting for the ability of queers to marry progressive? If we ifght for so-called equality within a framework controlled by heteronormative elite, how are me liberated?Is it better then, instead of arguing for gay marriage, to argue for the abolition of marriage altogether, to take direct action against the root causes of our oppression and move towards a society in which hierarchy and division no longer exist and power is held by the community and not the ruling elite?

* In case some of you don’t know me personally, I am currently married, going through a divorce. I married my best friend to take advantage of a relatively large pot of money that would become available to us through student loans and various bursaries should we show we are “independent” of our parents. Obviously, at the time I thought that action was justified, and it has, and will continue (even after the divorce goes through) to massively improve my standard of living whilst I’m a student, and will be essential to my affording to do a masters after this current degree. Im obviously still campaigning for free education and grants for all students though!

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I recently joined formspring. Feel free to ask me things, and if your question is interesting enough, Ill write a blog about it: http://www.formspring.me/charliethescarf

IDAHO Kiss-in attacked by riot cops and neo-fascists

On Tuesday May 18th, LGBT activists held a kiss in against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Saint-Jeans Place, Lyon, characterised by growing tensions between Kiss-in participants and counter-demonstrators. The Kiss-in was originally planned to take place on Saturday, to mark IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, but the demonstration was deemed illegal by the council in Rhone for “administrative reasons”. Lesbian and Gay Pride of Lyon (LGP Lyon) consequently denounced the “lack of firmness and courage of the Rhone council” considering them to have “yielded to the pressure of the right wing catholic movement”, who organised an intense campaign to ban the “gathering of homosexual extremists” and calling for public funding to LGP Lyon to be halted. Young People for France, the youth wing of the right wing conservative Movement for France party, which forms part of Nicholas Sarkozy’s presidential majority, made up part of the counter-demonstration.

300 participants of the Kiss-in gathered around Saint-Jeans Place, but were blocked by riot cops barring access to the square, apparently to avid a confrontation between the Kiss-in and the hundred young catholic extremists and fascists who had taken the right hand side of the square. The two groups held banners and placards, chanting slogans at each other, “Enough of this gang who don’t respect transpeople, dykes and fags!” and “Enough of catholic-phobia” (They don’t translate well from French). The president of the LGP Lyon said “Our demonstration is authorised, not theirs. I don’t see why it should be shocking for us to embrace in public. And we shall be back again next year, especially if Cardinal Barbarin (The archbishop of Lyon) does not condemn the actions of the counter-demonstrators”.

Some kisses between participants could be exchanged before the police issued an evacuation order at 21.30. Demonstrators were forcibly evicted from the square with tear-gas, and two catholic extremists were arrested. The Kiss-in participants left quickly, but the catholic extremists resisted the order.

LGBT Associations have said that they are pleased with the amount of people who mobilised for the Kiss-in, but question the management of the demonstration by the council of Rhone, calling it “calamitous”. A joint press-release signed by various LGBT, human rights and anti-fascist organisations was published asking ”Why wasn’t the right to demonstrate peacefully for gay rights not respected? Why were the extremists, gathering illegally in Saint-Jeans Place, allowed to spread their hate? Why were the demonstrators for human rights, acting non-violently, violently evicted by the police without reason?”

Videos and the original report from the event (in French) can be found here. Apologies if I messed up the translation! :)

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Fuck the Police! or, Fuck the Police?

This is going to be an attempt at a blog post that attempts to deal with my personal life. Big steps. Scary, I know.

The other day, I happened to come across a certain gentleman’s profile on fitlads, as you do. I decided he was pretty enough to have a go at striking up conversation with, and so I made a flippant remark about something he had put in his profile. We got chatting, and over the next few days we found we had a fair bit in common. The boy (lets call him Paul, because actually I don’t know his real name and “Paul” is nice enough) is a bit of a geek, likes going out on the odd occassion and talks about cleaning just enough to make it clear that he would tidy up after me if we ever got married and went all Stepford Gay. Perfect. Until the conversation moves round to what we do with our time. I tell him I’m a layabout student, and he tells me… wait for it… that he works for the filth.

“PSCO’s main duties include dealing with anti-social behaviour, minor crimes, and being the highly-visable, ever present eyes of the State on the streets.

He’s a PSCO. A Police Community Support Officer. All I really knew about PCSO’s were that they are the fake police that get sent out to annoy teenagers in the city centre and help old ladies cross the road. So I did a bit of research. There is a fair few of them, about 13500, and they dont have any powers of arrest beyond your average citizens arrest. Their main duties include dealing with anti-social behaviour, minor crimes and being the highly-visable, ever present eyes of the State on the streets.


So, not as bad as you average, truncheon wielding riot cop, but still something that I have reservations about persuing. Why? Well, for me the police service exist to fulfil the state’s wishes; to be the mechanism of ‘legitimate’ state violence and to enforce what are, in the most part unjust laws. Whilst some duties they perform are valuable, the police as an institution are racist and homophobic, and constitute a weapon that the state uses to control the working class through fear of imprisonment. The police are the enforcers of a criminal justice system where black people are 7 times more likely to be imprisoned, but actually less likely to commit the crime in the first place, where queer people and people with learning difficulties and disabilities are over-represented in prison through the un/conscious bigotryof the police, judges, lawyers and juries working within that system. Paul, even though he is just a PCSO,is complicit within that system and so, even though he is gay, actively promotes the homophobia, racism and bigotry that system represents.

“Whilst some duties they perform are valuable, the police as an institution are racist and homophobic, and constitute a weapon that the state uses to control the working class through fear of imprisonment.”

The other day he wrote that he made his first arrest on his own. He had caught a guy trying to steal a crate of beer from a supermarket (with multi-million pound profit margins which could stand to loose a few quid). For a minor crime such as this, the poor guy would probably have some form of fine, and now has a criminal record. For someone who can’t afford a crate of beer, getting stuck with a fine is probably not the most helpful thing in the world… and lets face it, if someone is desperate enough to risk their freedom for a beer they probably deserve a pint or twenty. Wasn’t Paul just doing his job? Well, yes, its not as if Paul makes the laws or has much say in the strategy of how they are enforced. He did, however, choose to take on that job, as well as make the personal choice to enforce this particular law in this particular case. After all, a crime isnt a crime unless your caught.

Arguably the catalyst of the queer rights movement, the Stonewall Riots were a series of clashes with the police as cops raided the Stonewall Inn, and were resisted by a group of radical queers, transvestites and street kids who had had enough. A year later, to mark the anniversary of the riots, the Pride parade was born. Explicitly political, it demanded action on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and expressed solidarity with other oppressed groups. Over coming years, pride started to become less political as it became more about parties and the pink pound. An important moment in the evolution of pride was when the Gay Police Association starting marching in the parade, causing a schism between the commercial and political elements of Pride, the political elements boycotting the parade.

“The police, by their very nature, cannot be members of our community because they are agents of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and so represent a threat, even if the indivivual police officer is gay, bi or trans themselves.

The reason the queer community exists is not simply because we share non-comformist sexualities and gender identities, but through self defense. We are safer standing together against the endemic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia we face in wider society than standing alone. The police, by their very nature, cannot be members of our community because they are agents of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and so represent a threat, even if the indivivual police officer is gay, bi or trans themselves.

So, what does this mean for poor old Paul? Your’e not going to sleep with him just because of his job? Yup. Just as I wouldnt buy Coca Cola because their company murders trade unionists in Columbia, I wouldnt sleep with a policeman because his job entails the systematic harrassment of political activists, the locking up of working class people and the supporting of a homophobic, racist and otherwise discriminatory status quo. If he didnt have the uniform, and was doing the same, most people would shun him. What exactly is it about the uniform that makes Pauls actions OK?
So, sorry Paul, I’m not going to be sleeping with you any time soon. If you feel like changing your occupation, give me a call :)

*remember most of our laws are about private property, and a significant amount of people in prison are non-violent drug offenders, these people shouldnt be there.

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NUS LGBT Conference Report

I was lucky enough to be sent to the NUS LGBT conference this year. The NUS LGBT conference is the decision making body of the NUS LGBT campaign, and has policy making, workshops, parties and whole lot of bitching, factional in-fighting, backstabbing and more. Just what you expect when you put 300 political gays in the same room as each-other, really.

The first zone of discussion we got to was policy on Welfare and Student Rights, in which I had a few motions. We first reaffirmed our position as an anti-fascist campaign, and re-affiliated to Unite Against Fascism. Some misinformed person spoke against affiliation, saying that UAF are too confrontational and violent, whereas in reality they are not confrontational enough; often organising counter-protests far away from fascist mobilisations and discouraging antifascists from actively breaking up fascist demos.

We then supported a motion to fight public spending cuts and affiliate to the Right to Work campaign. Next came a motion that resolved to fight anti-religious sentiments within the LGBT community. I spontaneously decided the speak against this motion. I feel that any progressive campaign must take a stance on materialism, and that a political criticism of religion is necessary within the movement. Unfortunately I didn’t really have time to get my thoughts in order before making the speech and it came across as anti-religious.

We then voted on campaigning against cuts to sexual health services, to support LGBT workers, and for more work on trans issues with Further Education colleges.

Next was the Liberate Prisons Now! motion which argued to support LGBT prisoners and to adopt a position of wanting prison reform. I submitted an amendment to support the work of the Bent Bars project, which was successful. I then took parts on some of the main motion which were poorly written and could be taken as something entirely different to what the main submitter had intended. We voted on the parts, and they remained, with one vote in it. There were other parts discussed, but I think the whole motion made it into policy, if I’m not mistaken. For more info on LGBT prisoners,  see my previous note.

The next motion to be discussed on the order paper was my motion to affiliate to Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), of which I am the Education Officer, to run education sessions on drug use in the LGBT community and to write to the Home Office calling for an evidence based drug policy and an impact assessment that the current drug policy has on LGBT people. The main submitter of the Prisons motion put in a procedural motion to have this motion moved to the bottom of the agenda (where it may not be discussed) which I took to be a petty retaliation to my taking parts on her motion, and perhaps a cynical attempt to make people vote against the motion. Fortunately, the Daf Adley, one of the NUS LGBT officers, spoke against the procedural motion and it was not adopted. Lev gave a good speech in favour of the motion, and Wes Streeting, the president of the NUS gave a speech against, in which he made it clear to the entire of conference that he had no idea what SSDP was. I took the final speech on the motion and it passed with a good majority. If you want to find out more about SSDP, please contact education[at]ssdp.org.uk

We then passed fabulous policy on supporting Queer Homeless Youth, policy against service restrictions to students who owe their Universities money, to support LGBT carers, and tackling homophobia in schools.

The next zone we discussed was Education where the most controversial motion was on Free Education. The NUS President Elect, Aaron Porter, spoke against the motion, demonstrating the NUS leaderships usual tendency to capitulate to government in return for a career in parliament. Fortunately, we passed the Free Education motion with a good majority. We also passed motions defending EMA, condemning education cuts, and pushing for better equality and diversity in the FE curriculum.

We then discussed was the Society and Citizenship section. Here were reaffirmed our stance against the commercialisation of Pride and that pride should be political, as well as showing solidarity with Pride’s in the Baltic countries which are often banned, broken up or attacked by fascists. We supported a motion to continue to support LGBT asylum seekers and the Love Without Borders campaign. We then discussed a fantastic No Borders motion to campaign for an end to the border regime and to affiliate to the no borders network. It passed… making me very happy.

Next came up two amendments, which I think should be discussed here together. One was to support LGBT liberation in Palestine and condemn the illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the other was to support LGBT liberation in Iran and to condemn any future occupation or invasion by anglo-american powers. The Palestine one came first, and people argued that we should not take a stance on the occupation because it is an “international issue” or irrelevant to LGBT issues, and the all the parts referring to condemning the occupation or campaigning for an end to the arms trade to Israel were removed. The Iran motion, which was equally international, and possibly less relevant than the Palestine amendment (it was condemning a future occupation that may not happen, whilst the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is very real) was passed without any parts being taken on it. This is ridiculous and can only represent racism against the Palestinian people on conference floor by those who voted to remove those parts.

We then discussed a motion to campaign against military presence on our campuses, against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to scrap Trident and to instead funnel that huge pot of money to LGBT healthcare. Someone made the speech against saying that the military does useful stuff on campuses. It is my personal views that the members of the military are complicit in murder, and they should get the fuck off our campuses. There were a lot of parts taken on the motion, I’m not sure what happened to them.

We then passed policy on continuing the Donation not Discrimination campaign, supporting Votes for Students (I spoke against), and campaigning for Votes at 16. Next came motions to campaign for the government to recognise non-binary gender identities, a rather amusingly titled motion – “Buggery: we wont take this lying down” from our delegation, and motion calling for the media to be more trans-aware and to condemn the pope on his recent homophobia.

We then discussed the reform section, which dealt with changes to the structure of the campaign. The only thing that I think was dodgy was the decision to create a gay men’s caucus. I was somewhat conflicted on this issue. I’m not a gay man, and felt slightly uncomfortable having a say in whether they should be allowed an official caucus. However, as any groups are allowed to self organise in fringe meetings, and in the 3 years I have been going to these conferences, I have never seen a gay mans meeting, it seemed to me that they didn’t really need one. Also, caucuses are there to let minority voices within the campaign self organise, and gay men are a majority in the campaign. The fact they have a caucus makes it seem they experience a similar level of oppression as black or disabled lgbt students (who are oppressed once because they are LGBT, and again because they are black/disabled), whereas gay men are simply oppressed because they are gay, they are not oppressed because they are men.

We then moved onto the Strong and Active Unions zone, where we voted to condemn the recent changes to the way which delegates are chosen to NUS annual conference, which arguably makes it harder for minority groups to get involved. We confirmed our commitment to being a feminist campaign, and then passed a few motions about activist training and ensuring that committee members can be held to account. We then passed policy on supporting FE colleges with LGBT work, telling unions to organise queer-friendly clubnights, and one to improve the website.

The next motion discussed was one on polyamory that I had written. Ive been supporting poly motions for the last 3 years, so I was very happy that this one finally got discussed. I had a rough night the night before so decided to give my speeches to Sky Yarlett, who did amazingly. The motion was to put out education materials on polyamory, and to change our current material so nothing assumes that people are in monogamous relationships. Some misinformed people spoke against the motion, equating polyamory with promiscuity, which is exactly why we need to educate people on the matter. Someone also said that producing material on polyamory might give homophobes some ammunition to use against us, which is just plain absurd. We shouldn’t not do something to appease a reactionary group! I was very happy when the motion passed with a good majority.

There was then a discussion on a motion to hold committee meetings in the devolved nations, Scotland and Wales, and an amendment to hold one in Northern Ireland. The argument for was that the committee neglect the devolved nations, and it was a step in the right direction in making reparations. A delegate from Northern Ireland made the compelling point that this was simple tokenism, and that if we were going to spend money on shipping committee around the UK, they should be going to meet grassroots activists and not for a meeting that could essentially happen anywhere.

We then passed policy on getting trans involvement in unions and (fantastically) opposing trustee boards of unions that have the power to make political decisions. Its great that we chose to keep our unions student lead! That same motion pushed to encourage a block election system like they have at Liverpool Guild of Students, where everyone runs for president, and the people who come second, third, etc. become vice-presidents with certain portfolios. The motion argued that such a system was more accessible to candidates from the liberation groups, but thankfully people on conference floor pointed out that such as system made it impossible to have a Womens Officer and often made it harder for liberation groups to get elected. Parts were taken, and they were removed. The last few motions of that zone were sent to committee to decide on as we had run out of time.

Next came the Emergency Motions, which most of them weren’t contentious. There was a big debate over the motion to support the Black Students Officer, Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, who was recently censured at National Conference. Both Bell and Daf, one of the LGBT Officers, sent a letter to Durham University Union condemning them for inviting the fascist BNP MEP Andrew Brons to speak on campus, and promising a demo against the event. They also said that should any students be harmed by the invitation to have a fascist speak on campus (as stats show that violence on campus increases when fascists are let on), that the blame would firmly be on Durham unions shoulders. Durham Union was a bit pissed off and threatened to disaffiliate from the NUS. Wes Streeting, the NUS President was quoted as saying that he would sack Daf and Bell if he could and voted to censure them at national conference. At NUS national conference, two similar motions were put forward to censure Daf and Bell, the one against Bell passed, the one against Daf fell. It shows that a degree of racism was present on conference floor. At NUS LGBT, we voted to censure Wes Streeting as he had interfered in the autonomy of the LGBT and Black Students’ campaign as our officers were acting as mandate to do so by their autonomous conferences. This I enjoyed immensely.

The conference as a whole was a success. Most of the discussion went the way I wanted it to, and we elected a good, left wing committee and officers. My only hope is that the more radical elements to committee stay that way and don’t become beaurocrats, as is usually the case with this sort of thing.

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LGBT, Q? A queer case against the Q

In recent years, a radical political movement has grown to threaten both mainstream capitalist gay culture and heteronormativity* alike. The queer movement grew out of a militant gay rights movement that had been radicalised by mainstream societies’ lack of compassion during the HIV/Aids outbreak in the 80’s.

Social and political theorists started to draw on the movements confrontational anarchist tactics and propaganda to produce academic works highly influenced by third wave feminism, social constructionism and the radical left. They argued that gender and sexuality based oppression should be seen within a context of global capitalism, class, and other power structures such as race and disAbility.

The concept of ‘identity’ was critiqued, and the way that people are coerced into adopting identities based upon seemingly arbitrary factors such as sexual behaviour so they can be easily categorised into and recognised as being either ‘normative’ or ‘deviant’ exposed, the ability to justify oppression against those who happen to fall outside of the normative category challenged. As such, “Queer” is not an identity, but an anti-identity, more of a political ideology than something a person can ‘define into’.

In more recent years, the term ‘queer’ has been adopted by people who feel they aren’t straight/cisgendered, but don’t necessarily fit into the narrowly defined roles of L, G, B and T. This new ‘queer’ is effectively a grouping of lesser known identities such as pansexual and agendered which don’t receive as much attention as other identities.

What this represents is a de-politicisation of the word ‘queer’ and the appropriation of the term as an identity (or even as a group of identities) rather than as an explicitly political ideology, something which is often encouraged by some of the more assimilationist members of the LGBT community who may feel that their identity (or perhaps their reactionary politics) are challenged by the Queer movement.

This is further compounded by the current popularity of the term ‘LGBTQ’, used to group Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer together. By placing ‘queer’ in a list of identities, it essentially reduces it to become one.

“The term ‘queer’ is deliberately provocative and confrontational, in abbreviating it to ‘Q’, this is quality is lost”

Queer theorists have long discussed the importance of language and linguistics in the way that we refer to queer issues, an area of study called ‘lavender linguistics’. Indeed, the term “Queer” itself is deliberately provocative and confrontational; reflecting the radical nature of anarchist queer activism and theorist’s preoccupation with deviancy and normality. In abbreviating ‘queer’ to ‘Q’, this implication is lost, and ‘Q’ could easily be mistaken as meaning ‘questioning’, another term often used by LGBT(Q) youth groups and organisations.

It is important that we see the de-politicisation of Queer in a context of capitalism and the way it seeks to appropriate radical movements and sell them back to us; turning campaigners into consumers and activists into beaurocrats. As queer activists and theorists, we should resist those who wish to engage in this process, those who use queer rhetoric to gain our support but use their platform to push assimilationist ideas. Lets keep queer political, and our movement radical.

*heteronormativity – the assumption that being straight/cisgendered is normal/good and everything else is weird/bad.

Cisgendered – not trans

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Hate Crime Legislation: Why it doesn’t protect us

Scotland has recently enacted a new hate crime law dealing with crimes motivated by disablism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Whilst some community groups are praising this move as progressive, I’m not so sure.

First of all, let us look at what hate crime legislation actually does. If a crime is seen to be motivated by prejudice, the perpetrator of that crime gets a tougher sentence than if the crime is not judged to be motivated by a named phobia or prejudice. This effectively is criminalising not the action in itself, which would be criminalised anyway, but the perpetrator for what they were thinking at the time. This is essentially thoughtcrime. It shouldn’t make a difference what a killer is thinking at the time of a murder, it is still murder.

I think it is necessary to discuss why exactly ‘hate crime’ happens. Interpersonal violence happens, not because there aren’t enough laws, but because prejudice and bigotry is endemic in our society. Tackling discrimination is something that needs to be proactive, not reactive, if it has any chance of succeeding. At the moment, however, our government is doing precious little to proactively challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, whilst actively discriminating against these groups. Hate crime legislation such as this is rarely something useful, but rather a cynical attempt to appear to be ‘doing something’ on the issue of discrimination.

The state is setting itself up to be seen as the only protector of our communities and the only mechanism in which justice can be achieved; when in effect it is actually one of our biggest oppressors. The institutional discrimination our communities face in prison, in the lack of provision for victims of domestic abuse and same sex rape or even with the NHS ban on gay and bi men giving blood is the real face of our the states attitude towards our community. If the state set itself up as the instrument of justice in our communities, it can justify smashing any autonomous groups organising their own attempt at community justice.

Furthermore, due to the institutional bigotry in our policing, marginalised groups like LGBT, BME and disabled people are over-represented in prisons, and often face institutional discrimination whilst in prison. Putting people convicted of hate crimes in prison for longer than they otherwise would be, where they can continue to target the same groups in a harsh environment is not a positive thing. It is not in our interest as a community to entrust our protection to the state.

It is sad that well meaning liberals support legislation such as this, which is fundamentally disempowering to our communities. It is sad that we are trusting an institution to oppress us when that institution is our biggest oppressor.

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Is Free Education a Queer Issue?

Free Education is an issue that has mainly been forgotten. The National Union of Students has abandoned the fight, and is instead pushing a ‘graduate tax’ which in the long run leaves students paying up to double the amount we pay now under the ‘top-up fees’ model, selling out students in the process of cosying up to the government.

As much as the fight for Free Education has been forgotten, the effects of this education tax are felt acutely in the here and now. People are having to quit university because they cannot afford to pay tuition fees. Numbers of students going into sex work in order to pay for their degree has increased by at least 50% in the last 10 years.* The average student will be saddled with a debt of £26,000^.

Our movement needs to show its strength by fighting back against the marketisation of our education

Of course, the spiralling cost of education is an issue that effects us all, but, disproportionately effects students from oppressed groups; the working class, BME, disable, and LGBT. Indeed, LGBT students are more likely to be estranged from their parents; and so often do not have the Bank of Mum and Dad to fall back on. Not only that, but due to the overly strict rules that the ultimately inept Student Loans Company have towards “proving” one was estranged, many students don’t receive the bursaries that they should be entitled to otherwise, simply because they cant prove their estrangement, but cant provide documentation of parental income either.

Opponents of Free Education will talk about just how much education provision costs, they’ll bring along the bogey-man recession to make it seem like an impossible prospect. They may even try and argue that free education isn’t something you deserve. All this is utter rubbish, when it comes down to it, it’s not about finding the funds, they are already there. They are just being spent on something else – ID cards, nuclear weapons, or imperialist wars in the Middle East. Its time we stop spending our money on this nonsense, and start investing it in education.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/student/news/article665019.ece

http://www.onlyfinance.com/Debt/Student-debt-and-their-fantasy-world.aspx

Queering the Bible, Pt6 – Trans

“For some are Eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have made themselves Eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” – Matthew 19: 12

In the Bible, the closest thing to being trans was being a Eunuch. Of course, back in antiquity, gender reassignment surgery and post-modernist, feminist concepts of being genderqueer did not exist. The term ‘eunuch’ was the only way to describe someone living between genders, as well as describing intersexuality. The above passage in Matthew 19 tells us that Jesus accepts trans and intersex people as equal. The term, ‘if they were born that way’, is particularly interesting to trans people who believe they were trans from birth, and can be seen as an OK for transexuality.

Isaiah 56:3-5 also may be of interest: “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant- to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”

The only passage in the Bible that could be seen to be anti-trans is Deuteronomy 23:1 -”No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.” This can be seen in the same context as the Holiness Code (see above), to create a distinct national identity away from pagan Gentiles who used to crush men’s testicles in deference to pagan gods.

Indeed there are many references to Eunuchs in the Bible; all of them (besides Deuteronomy 23) can be seen in a positive or neutral light. The neutral, historical accounts include 2 Kings 20:18, Jeremiah 29.2 ;34.19;41.1625.52. The positive accounts include 2 Kings 9:32-33 where 2 eunuchs throw Jezebel down at Juhu’s command, Jeremiah 38.7-13, where Ebedmelech (a eunuch) saves Jeremiah from imprisonment, Daniel 1 shows Daniels love for Eunuchs in the court of Nebuchadnezzar and how the eunuchs help Daniel stay ritually clean.Acts 8:26-39 shows Phillip baptising an Ethiopean Eunuch, and bringing them into the church.

The words of Genesis 1:27 - “So G-d created man in his own image, in the image of G-d he created them; male and female he created them.” are often perceived to be anti-trans. Let’s take a look at what the scripture really says here. Firstly, it tells us that G-d is androgynous, the image of G-d being both male and female. It tells us G-d made us in his image; it tells us G-d made us both male and female, though not necessarily one or the other. If G-d *him*self is androgynous, how can he condemn a human for being do too?

The term ‘eunuch’ is often misleading in translation. The original Hebrew/Greek may have a similar meaning to what we understand as the Indian concept of ‘third gender’, a group that comprises of gender variant people, including gays, bisexuals and lesbians.

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Life on the inside: queer prisoners

Life in prison is hard. Separated from family and friends, prisoners spend a lot of time doing nothing but staring at the walls of their cell for a potentially long time, in harsh conditions. Most people I know can’t really imagine being incarcerated. Yet, the government itself thinks at least 33% of our population to deserve incarceration*, so it is very much a potential reality for a lot of people. But what is life like inside for LGBT prisoners?

Prisons are traditionally seen as a place to put the ‘bad people’; however practically speaking, prisons are a tool of the government to place people with difficult social problems (problematic drug users, etc.) out of sight, and thus out of mind, so the government doesn’t have to make any effort in sorting out the root causes of these problems. As a result, prisons are often places where racism, homophobia, sexism and other social ills abound, as social groups hit out at each other as a way of working through their dissatisfaction with their situation. For this reason, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are endemic in prisons.

This homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is perpetuated by the Home Office and the managers of prisons themselves. The Offender Policy and Rights Unit, the group which sets policy for ‘good practice’ in prisons, ignores this blatant discrimination within the system and has yet to produce any guidance on LGBT issues within prisons, or any guidance on how best to deal with the needs of LGBT prisoners. This is evident in some of the policies of UK prisons, where most trans prisoners are placed not by their current gender identity, but by their birth gender, and where LGBT prisoners are often placed in Vulnerable Prisoner Units (VPU’s) as a matter of course. VPU’s are a place where prisoners deemed vulnerable from attack in normal prisons, such as ex-gang members, or paedophiles, are usually kept to keep them separate from those who may do them harm. The existence of Vulnerable Prisoner units often doesn’t ameliorate the discrimination prisoners experience and their existence definitely should not provide a meaningful excuse for tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within the wider prison.

If all the inmates in prisons were as pretty as these, I would probably be more enthusiastic about committing crimes

Life inside for LGBT prisoners can be tough, with LGBT prisoners often being the targets of verbal, physical and sexual assaults. Indeed, Human Rights Watch report that “sex slavery is common in prisons”, and LGBT people are more likely to be targeted – their non-normative sexuality or gender identity being presumed as ‘consent’ by their perpetrators. HIV rates on the inside are 15 times that of the outside world, and Hepatitis 20 times greater. Prison management often do not provide condoms to prisons; some prisons have a limited supply of condoms/dams that would effectively require a prisoner to ‘come out’ to staff to access. As such, all prisoners engaging in sexual activities, consensual or not, are put at risk.

When you look at it, it seems surprising that Stonewall, the LGB Equality Lobby, would award the HM Prisons service an award for equality and diversity, but, they did do just that. GALIPS, the LGBT Prison staff association won an award in 2008 and is on Stonewalls ‘Diversity Champions’ list.** This underpins the blind-sightedness of lobbying groups such as Stonewall, who clamour to praise an organisation for their LGBT rights record when that same organisation is at worst actively oppressing some of the vulnerable LGBT people, or at best deeply complicit in their oppression.

Jokes about "dropping the soap" may be funny, but represent a reality for some queer prisoners

However, its not all bad for LGBT prisoners, there are some organisations doing work to try and improve their situation. The most notable and progressive being the Bent Bars Project, an active but under-resourced collective of activists who aim to campaign and show solidarity with LGBTQ prisoners by  sharing resources, providing mutual support and drawing public attention to the struggles of queer and trans people behind bars. They also have a really amazing pen-pal scheme, which currently has about 600 people waiting to be fixed up with a pen pal on the outside. They are desperately in need of your support. Find out more about how to get involved here:

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Queering the Bible, Pt5 – homophobic translations

The fifth part to my mega essay on LGBT issues in the Bible. This one deals with issues of translation – effectively where people had a choice to translate words as *anything* but chose homosexuality to be the big sin.

“Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.” -  1 Timothy 9-10

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of G-d? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders” - 1 Corinthians 6:9

These passages are an issue of translation. If in either passage you see the word ‘homosexual’ than you can tell your Bible had been written after 1946, such as the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible, quoted in the footnotes.

Prior to 1946 Edition of the Revised Standard Version, words that were used in place of ‘homosexual’ included; boy prostitutes, effeminate, those who make women of themselves, sissies, the self-indulgent, sodomites, lewd persons, male prostitutes, and the unchaste. All those words were assumed to be translations of the Greek malakoi and arsenokoitai, which until the 16th century was thought to mean ‘masturbators’. Indeed, when early Greek-speaking Christians such as John Chrysostom and Clement of Alexandra the words malakoi and arsenkoitai were never used, nor was the passages in 1 Corinthians 6 or 1 Timothy 1 mentioned.

The problem with translating the word arsenokoitai is that it has not been located in any other material before Pauls use of the word, or at a similar time to Paul’s writings. The only instances of use of arsenokoitai are recorded to be after Pauls use, and dependant on Paul’s usage of the word. About 500 years after Paul’s death, Jerome translates arsenokoitai to be ‘male concubine’, with no distinction to whether the concubines were involved in hetero- or homo-eroticism. There were many common Greek words at the time of Paul, however that more accurately and distinctly references homosexuality, and yet he chooses not to use them.

Malakoi however has more recorded use before and after Paul uses it. Jesus is recorded to use the word Malakoi to describe soft clothes in Matthew 11:8 Traditionally, church tradition has referred to Malakoi as a term to describe moral weakness, in ancient Greek culture it was used to describe effeminacy, and occasionally as a descriptive word for eromenos (the passive partner in a pederastic relationship). It was, however, more often used in a broader sense to describe men who bathed often, presented himself as effeminate to attract women, wore aftershave, shaved, or ate too much.

Because of the complete ambiguity of the words Malakoi and arsenokoitai, it is inaccurate and misleading to translate the terms as meaning as homosexuality.

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