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Stamp out homophobia with the Cannabis movement!

For those of you who don’t know, Peter Reynolds is the leader of CLEAR (Cannabis Law Reform), a single issue political party which seeks the legalisation of cannabis. I’ve always been wary of single issue parties, because someone may be good on a single issue but be awful on the rest. Peter Reynolds is such a man. Recently a blog post from him blaming the size zero phenomena on the “gay culture which infects [the] … fashion industry” from 2 years ago has been doing the rounds and causing a bit of controversy is something I find incredibly problematic on a number of levels.

Tagged with “perverted”, his blog-post explains how:

The uncomfortable truth is that all these designers are either homosexual or entirely submerged in the “gay” culture that infects their industry.  They aren’t interested in designing for beautiful women.  They want pretty boys.

The vast majority of us have a healthy interest in beautiful women in beautiful clothes.  These trivial but talented individuals are out of step, out of time and out of any more excuses.  They are responsible for too much misery and suffering.  The modern prevalence of anorexia and bulimia is almost entirely down to these brightly coloured, beautifully tailored, perverted fools.

It is time that wiser minds with far better taste prevailed.  Do what you want to do in the privacy of your own homes but leave our young women’s minds alone and turn your talent in a positive direction.”

His original blog post is problematic on a number of levels:

  1. The lack of understanding of gay culture. Gay culture is not homogenous entity wishing for “pretty boys” ( a sentiment which brushes dangerous close to the old “gay men are paedophiles chestnut), but a diverse culture which celebrates a variety of body shapes and sizes. Look up “bears”, if you don’t believe me!
  2. Peter misses the point *entirely*. The size zero phenomena is the more extreme edge of a culture of patriarchy which ensures that womens bodies are objects for men and as such women should strive to attractive for men. What a society sees as a desirable body shape is based on class – the body types of the rich have always been “in vogue”. In the past when food was scarce and rich people didn’t go outside, portly pale bodies were attractive and people used to paint their faces white to chase after that ideal. Nowadays, personal trainers and holidays to exotic realms are symbols of a privileged life and so thin, tanned bodies are attractive.
  3. Alongside the written text, he provides two images, one  of a rather thin fashion model captioned “poor, pitiful girl”, and another Anne Hathaway (I think…?) captioned with “A Real Woman”. Its nice that you can tell us what the standard for “real woman” is Peter, thanks. Its just a shame that Anne Hathway (or whoever it was) is no larger than a Size 4, which is a UK Size 8, and entirely conceivable that she is medically underweight.
  4. Setting a standard of the “real woman” at a Size 8 is part of the problem and can only serve to make the situation worse, considering that the average UK dress size is 14 or 16, depending on where you shop. There are quite a lot of women falling outside your standard of a “real woman”.

Since the original blog post was flagged up as problematic by cannabis activists, Peter has added some text dealing with the criticisms:

“Recently I have been subject to a vicious hate campaign in which this post has been circulated around the internet to support the false allegation that I am homophobic…

I have carefully reviewed every word.I stand by it 100%.  It says very clearly “Do what you want to do in the privacy of your own homes” and that is precisely my position.  I would defend the rights of all consenting adults to whatever sexual activity they want to indulge in with other consenting adults. I can understand that the phrases “culture that infects” and “perverted fools” may upset some but this article was not written to be politically correct.  It was written to be provocative and to highlight the abuse that some gay men in positions of power are inflicting on vulnerable young women.  Homesexuality is a perversion from the norm and gay culture has been allowed virtually to extinguish heterosexual influence in the fashion industry. That anyone should choose to twist and distort my words in support of their vile allegations must say a lot about their motives and integrity.  I believe that their conduct is in fact far worse than that which they falsely accuse me of.  They are liars and dishonest, scheming perpetrators of a hate crime.  They seek to pervert the cause of gay rights for their own selfish ends. The principle instigator behind this abuse is in fact a major cannabis dealer who, though he promotes himself as pro-cannabis, actually seeks to sabotage the increasing success of my efforts as leader of Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR).  His income depends on cannabis remaining prohibited and his record shows that over many years he has been responsible for fermenting conflict and division in the cannabis campaign..”

This response is also problematic, for a number of reasons.

  1. Your original post is deeply homophobic, regardless of whether you support the “right to do what you want in the privacy of your own homes”. The fact that you seem to be making an (misplaced) attack on gay people which seeks to remove access to public life is homophobic.
  2. You talk about “heterosexual influence” on the fashion industry as something that is preferable than “gay influence”, which is homophobic. Regardless, your original analysis of the “influences” at play is incorrect.
  3. You seek to appropriate the term “hate crime”, a term used traditionally as a way to reference crimes based on prejudice (i.e. racially motivated, homophobic, etc.) as a tool to attack your critics with. It is not a “hate crime” to oppose homophobia. Nor is it a “hate crime” to attack a political opponent for reasons not relating to their membership of a minority group. Homophobia, however, is a hate crime, and one I would wager you stand guilty of.

A note: frankly, I couldn’t care less about the wranglings for political power within CLEAR. I don’t know the so-called “major cannabis dealer” who is apparently leading the “vicious hate campaign” against Peter, and I don’t really care to. I do care about homophobia, however, and since drug prohibition disproportionately effects LGBT people, I think the people who are leaders within our movement shouldn’t be homophobes.

My beef with Children In Need

OK. So I dont deny that charities fund some good things. However, I am critical of charities, especially charities such as Children in Need for a number of reasons:

1. People living in this country (and others countries) are not having their needs met so they can fully access society and meaningfully participate within it. In a pre-revolutionary society, the good things that CiN fund should be funded by the government, by raising taxes from the rich, and not be funded by the spare change and hard work of working class people who are already fucked over.

2. CiN give a platform for self-serving celebrities who are sitting on vast amounts of wealth the opportunity to extract money out of significantly less wealthy people watching them on tv. Of particular annoyance this year is the platform given to Gary Barlow, who a few months ago was telling everyone to vote for the tories, the party forcing disabled people into workfare schemes and making cuts to healthcare and welfare and now is asking working people to spare a little change to make up the difference now budgets are being slashed.

3. The charity model of disability is deeply flawed on a number of ways, not least in that it sets disabled people up to be pitied by non-disabled people, as victims of their impairments. The reality is that whilst impairments can be difficult to live with, what really stops people from accessing society is the barriers that society puts up; attutudinal, environmental and institutional. Is a person who cannot walk disabled if society is geared up to meet that persons access needs in a holistic manner? This is the basis of the social model of disability.

4. Lack of Agency – most charities taking on issues around disability are ran by non-disabled people. There is no agency here. The model of disabilty that pretty much everyone in the disabled movement advocate for is the social/rights based model, one which seeks barriers to access to be removed and disability to be seen as an issue of meeting peoples basic human rights and treating people with dignity. An organisation ran by disabled people themselves would be a much better to support. Imagine an anti-racism campaign ran by white people which promoted pitying people of colour and didnt give people of colour a decent role in the strategic direction of the organisation. Same deal.

5. The charity model promotes “disabled issues” as things that most people engage with by giving money once a year, instead of engaging with all year round to fundamentally change the attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that disabled people face. None-disabled people are then free to not engage with issues at other times of the year, or just sent money and not change their attitudes.

6. CiN actually waste fuck tonnes of money – its really not an efficient way of giving money.

7. Many charities actually fund institutions which directly harm disabled people, either through mistreatment or by taking decision power away from disabled people. The charity model largely sees disabled people as victims who should be “looked after” in “special institutions” which separate them from the rest of society, often without actually asking the disabled person how they want to live their lives.

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Mark Bergfeld, the NUS and the “united left slate”

Shiftmag asked me to write a quick response to Mark Bergfeld’s interview about his candidacy for NUS President, the upcoming elections and the student movement as a whole.  My article was originally published here and another perspective here.

After Aaron Porters largely irrelevant reign as NUS President, it’s good that the left are putting up a credible candidate against the faceless Labour bureaucrats who are manoeuvring to succeed him.

As Mark says, the chances of him winning out in his bid for presidency is quite slim; since the 2008 governance review which reduced the delegate entitlements of students unions and the need for cross-campus ballots to elect them, the authority of the national conference has been largely eroded towards greater power for elected officials. Consequently the NUS has increasingly been controlled by Labour party members in its two factions; Labour Students and the ironically-named “Organised Independents”, which jointly dominate local student union politics, with ordinary students and anyone left-of-Labour largely being silenced in the national process.

Mark overplays the role of the SWP in organising the student movement during the protests, as you would expect from a party member, and sidelines the role played by occupations and anti-cuts groups across the country who organise more horizontally. However, the movement is far from leaderless, with traditional left groups like the SWP as well as occupations and anti-cuts groups taking collective leadership at demonstrations and actions, as well as putting in most of the leg-work in terms of organising.

Mark neatly dodges the question about the supposed “united left slate” and its leaving out of the Alliance for Workers Liberty and other groups in its discussions, the most glaring victim of this being AWL’s Jade Baker who, whilst more experienced and probably better suited to the role, was passed over for VP Union Development on the slate in favour of Workers Power candidate Joana Pinto, despite having registered interest in the role a while ago. This prioritisation of factional interests over what might be best for the student movement as a whole, as well as the way in which the slate was hashed out in backroom deals by a handful of leftist groups shows that even leftist interventions into the NUS are usually largely unaccountable to the wider movement.

Whilst the NUS is never going to be a progressive force, it is useful to have leaders in the NUS who pay more than lip-service to the anti-cuts agenda, and use their position and considerable budgets to forward the campaign. For this reason, we should critically support Mark in his bid for presidency.


Online GMs? No Thanks!

The University of Manchester Student’s Union is currently holding a referenda on moving general meetings online, this is some gumph I wrote for StudentDirect arguing against the proposals. I had only been given 300 words, so forgive its shortness.

General meetings are far from perfect, but the proposals that the “Yes” side of the online GM debate are putting forward fail to address the real problems with general meetings and may indeed make things a lot worse. They argue that if we shift the debates from Wednesday afternoon and put them online, that we will see and increase in participation due to the students that are currently locked out from attending on Wednesday afternoons, either from being on placement or by playing sports, turning up. The simple fact is that the thousandsof students who are available to attend GMs on Wednesday afternoons aren’t turning up, and this isn’t because the debates aren’t online,but because the politics of the student union are irrelevant and alienating to the average student. Now don’t get me wrong, the fact that the meetings are at a time that stops students with university commitments from attending is terrible, but solvable by moving the debates to the evening where students can have a genuine choice whether to attend meetings or not.

The idea that we will see an increase in meaningful participation in the union by removing the most distinct and recognisable form of democracy from the union itself is frankly absurd, and backed up by the fact that our voter turnout dropped when we moved the elections for sabbatical officers online a few years back.

Democracy is more about ticking “yes” or “no”, but about getting actively involved. The proposals put forward decrease the quality and quantity of the debate; removing the opportunity for a student to stick their hand up in a meeting and spontaneously contribute to the discussion within the meeting itself, and remove many of the democratic processes that are essential to a balanced debate.

Participation in your union is about more than just ticking a box – vote NO to online general meetings and demand a democratic


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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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Queering the Bible, Pt3 – Exploring Leviticus

The 3rd part of a series on queer issues in the Bible.

The Holiness Code of Leviticus is one of the most often quoted passages to criticise male homosexuality. Firstly, let’s look at the historical context of the Holiness Code.
The Holiness Code concerns itself with recording the laws and culture of Israel. To be a Jew at that time meant belonging to a distinct group of people, being separate from other nations at that time. Leviticus draws a line in the sand, makes a distinction between the Israeli culture and the culture of other nations. Any behaviour of other cultures that is not overtly present in its own culture, Leviticus views negatively, a consequence of viewing the world though the lens of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
When the Jews had been enslaved by Egypt, keeping a sense of national identity was not a problem. It is unlikely that Israeli-Egyptian unions would have taken place, and a shared sense of being oppressed heightened the sense of being separate from other nations. After the exile from Egypt, the Jews would have come in contact on a daily basis with other nationalities, so there was a need to maintain a strong national identity in order for the Jewish culture and nationality to survive. The need for a distinction between Israeli and Gentile nations is apparent in Leviticus 18:3-5 and in Leviticus 20:22-24

Within the Torah, there is only one instance of the forbidding of homosexual acts outside the Holiness Code, found in Deuteronomy 23:18 – “You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both”. Both male and female prostitution is banned from the temple. This is seen to be a result of Gentile nations in contact with the Israeli’s having male and female prostitutes operating from their pagan temples. The prohibition of homosexual acts in Leviticus 18:22 – ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable’ and Leviticus 20:1315 were an attempt to make a greater distinction between the practices of Gentiles and Israeli’s. It is arguably not about homo-erotic behaviour in itself, but about abstaining from behaviours that appear to mirror Canaanite rituals to their pagan gods, and not to the G-d of Israel. Leviticus does not condemn homosexuality in the modern understanding as an orientation, just anal sex by specific people at a specific time. Leviticus does not say anything about other homoerotic acts, such as oral sex or mutual masturbation. In terms of purity, it is more likely that Leviticus condemns unprotected anal sex (leaving both participants ‘unclean’). In a practical sense, the use of a condom stops bodily fluids mixing, and thus keeps the participants ‘clean’.

It is interesting to note that Paul later in Romans 14:14, and to a lesser extent, Romans 14.20 discounts what the Torah says about cleanliness and purity, where true uncleanliness is a representation of oppression and exploitation.

You may find this article on homosexuality and Leviticus, concerning issues of purity, useful.

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This will make your heart melt.

From “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams –

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”