Friday, 29 August 2014

Half a million thank yous for reading

Since I migrated this blog from its old location in 2010-11 (I ran an overlap of posting to both during transition) there has been quite a few people who have visited and read. Indeed this morning I realised just how many:

I have now passed half a million page views on this site, which added with the almost 300,000 on the previous site means there are really 800,000 page views in just over the 9 years that I have been blogging. There have been times of hiatus and others of less activity but I am glad that many of you have still kept with me. After a period of relative inactivity in recent months I have got my mojo back and will continue to blog for the foreseeable future.

So once again than you for reading, commenting and linking/tweeting to what I have to say.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Precious Life but some are more valued than others

Bernadette Smyth the director of Precious Life, an anti-abortion group in Northern Ireland, has finally let her mask slip as to just which lives are precious and which are to be cast aside. In a twist on George Orwell's Animal Farm:

"All life is precious, but some is more precious than others"

How can I say that?

Well in today's Belfast Telegraph she is reported as saying:
"Pregnant women seeking to terminate their pregnancy because they are suicidal should be institutionalised until the baby is born."

In other words, she is seeking to section pregnant woman who for whatever reason feel suicidal during their pregnancy, until they give birth. Mental health professionals will tell you that there is a need to deal with the causes of those suicidal thoughts. The issue arises here in Northern Ireland that an abortion is only allowed to be carried out if the continuation of the pregnancy affects the mother's health either physically or mentally.

Mrs Smyth also talked of a recent case in the Republic where an asylum seeker was denied an abortion after she was raped. She said:

"The right decision was made in this case not to abort the baby. She'll never regret giving birth to her baby, but she would have regretted an abortion."

She had to go through 27 weeks of bearing a reminder of the horrific time she was forcibly  used for sex. Was that regret, the mental anguish of that moment not of consideration? Mrs Smyth has three children, none of whom was conceived through rape, so she cannot understand what levels of regret a woman in that position must be feeling. In fact similar sentiments were expressed in recent years by Jim Wells MLA who is a member of the NI Assembly's All Party Pro-Life Group, who like Mrs Smyth has never had any of his children conceived through rape, but unlike her he has never personally gone through pregnancy, labour and delivery of his children.

The chair of the NI All Party Pro-Life Group despite never being elected to any legislature in Northern Ireland is a Mrs Bernadette Smyth. Yes the 10 male MLAs who form that Group have given the control to an unelected spokesperson from a lobbying group. Kind of surprising that the men who seek to take control of every Northern Irish woman's reproductive rights should give up control of their own group to an outsider and a woman at that. But when you give that right over to the director of the biggest lobby group on one side of the debate on the issue there must surely be a conflict on interests there which in any other part of the UK would be called in question and investigated thoroughly. 

Precious Life is prepared to section women, something that would appear on their medical records and may affect their livelihoods for years to come to protect the life of the unborn child. It should how precious they consider the lives of women who for whatever reason whether rape, poor financial or educational situation find themselves pregnant and suicidal as a result of not knowing what to do or how to cope with going to the point of giving birth to a living child.

But for Mrs Smyth and her Precious Life supporters
"Unborn life is precious, but the life of rape victims and suicidal women are less so."

Thursday, 21 August 2014

What did Peter Hayes say?

Well according to the Daily Telegraph he said:

[Lord Rennard's] media advisor, Peter Hayes, says "I understand that you are writing a piece about angry women." He adds that the police did not press charges and Alistair Webster did not call for a disciplinary hearing.

"The Liberal Democrat Party has now dealt with all the allegations and the matter is closed. We must advise anyone against publishing or broadcasting defamatory remarks. Accusations that were rejected by both the Metropolitan Police and an independent QC would be treated as such." 

For a press adviser is seems like something that wouldn't pass candidates' media training, but what does he mean by this?

Looking at past comments from Lord Rennard legal adviser, it would appear that the reason Peter Hayes is warning against the possibility of legal action. This seems somewhat at odds with Chris Rennard's comments about wanting to uphold the values of the party he joined as a teenager.

What about safeguarding a fair, free and open society?

What about seeking to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community?

What about not enslaving others by poverty, or ignorance, or conformity?

Firstly the above does not lead to an open society, especially not within the Liberal Democrats. Far from being rejected by the independent QC he merely found there was not sufficient substance to take it to a disciplinary hearing. It would be remiss of me, as a Liberal Democrat, to allow anyone to become enslaved to the ignorance that statement outlines.

If it were a fair outcome there would still be four very capable women, who Andrew Webster QC said gave credible statements would all still be members of the party I hold dear. They would be encouraging women to join the party, and stand for election in our name. Yet the statements Alison Goldsworthy, Susan Gaszczak and Bridget Harris have made in the last 48 hours are not like that, and to be honest I too would am wary of being so encouraging as a result.

The liberty, equality and community of my party has been shattered in the recent past. I have seen people celebrating the re-admittance of one person to our party without sparing any thought for the four brave women who have felt forced to leave and the many others who have left, or are considering leaving, as a result of the way they have been treated.

The fact that many women fear that their own party may no longer be a safe space for them, that many men within the party are being called misogynists by remaining by association, means that the values of our party are being drowned out. I hate looking at my twitter feed. It shows what many people outside the Westminster bubble think of what has happened in this case.

One man does not make a party, no matter how important he thinks he is. But one man is more than capable of doing it irreparable damage. Sadly when a number of those in the Lords, or the Commons or in power in other ways fail to see this damage and continue to try and play up to that one person, giving him a glimmer of hope that he may be useful it does mean that all of us are getting tarred with the same brush.

As for threatening to sue those who "publish or broadcast" information regarding the accusations, some will be the big papers, others will be those who speak on Twitter, Facebook or through blogs. The latter groups are generally younger, less well off, but know what is inappropriate behaviour up with which they will not put. So if you go after them in courts you take away their liberty and enslave them to poverty.

So I have a question does Peter Hayes want to uphold the principles of the party that Chris Rennard loves so much, or does he just want to uphold the stature of Rennard and bugger the party?

Update 21:36
To understand the man look no further than his Facebook profile




 

We'll always have Stroke City

Today I awoke to the news that Northern Ireland lost one of our greatest broadcasters. Hot on the heels of the tragic loss of Robin Williams, our own radio presenter who, had the same sharp wit which was part of who we all wear.

As someone whose father, was only two years older, but from the same working class roots in Derry/Londonderry I grew up with that North West sense of humour. Of course with a time slot starting at 10:30am I didn't get to listen to Gerry every morning, nor did I get to listen to his handover from Stephen Nolan regularly. However, when I did or when he had his appearances in TV they would almost always lighten up the morning, especially if I'd been screaming at some caller on the Stephen Nolan show.

It was only Gerry, who broadcast from the BBC Radio Foyle studio, that could come up with the solution to the Derry or Londonderry dilemma. After a while of calling it Derry Stroke Londonderry he shortened it to Stroke City. Those of us in the know knew it had a double meaning to the general health of the populous but was also a comedic answer to the political correctness of what to call the City of his birth (that of my fore fathers).

He tried to make it on Radio 4 but without success, but his humour was always at home in Northern Ireland and we got where he was at. But he did win the Gold Sony Award for best regional radio presenter in 1990 and Royal Television Society Regional Presenter of the Year in 2004.

He hadn't been on the air since November 2012 as the illness that finally claimed him took hold (he'd been a regular part of the Radio Foyle/Radio Ulster schedule since 1985). Our airwaves have been the lacking as a result. But there was always the hope that he would some day return, this morning that hope was taking away.

Bout ye Gerry/Londongerry, rest well puppet chin. We'll always have Stroke City.

Gerry Anderson 28 October 1944 - 21 August 2014

A few years back there was an animated series using real clips from Gerry's shows so I thought I would share a few of them here.





Wednesday, 20 August 2014

So Chris Rennard is back...so where for me?

Last night I wrote a letter on my laptop. But I wasn't prepared to send it straight away. I know that there are times when you are angry about something you need to write it down, but think about it before pressing send, publish or sticking it into a envelope. (If you don't believe me you should see some of the drafts on this blog that never made it to the interwebs)

Well yesterday the suspension of Lord Rennard's membership was lifted by Liberal Democrat HQ. So the letter I drafted was one that tendered my resignation for the Liberal Democrats, I didn't send it...yet. It is still there waiting for me to come to a final conclusion.

However, this August is an important one for Lib Dems, coming up is one of those biennial events where we get to elect our Federal Committees. I am a conference representative for my local party and therefore I along with many others have a vote. The lifting of the suspension of Lord Rennard in time for nominations means that he will be able to stand for whatever committee he wants. Depending which one he goes for he could have access to all manner of meetings.

There were four women, many of them friends of mine, who the enquiry called credible witnesses, but just said there was not sufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that improprieties took place. I've heard stories down the years, I've seen female friends shy away or move towards others for security. I'm not prepared to leave others feel vulnerable in certain settings within the normal business of our party. But I feel that by letting him back in that is the situation that the party is finding itself in.

I love my friend Jennie's approach on this to basically not share a room with Rennard. However, what if he enters the conference hall just before a crucial debate and vote on party procedures regarding abuse of power, or sexual impropriety, if we all walked out when he walked in who would speak up for the victims?

Many of us talk about how the Liberal Democrats are one big family. Well that family pulled through, my Facebook chats lit up like crazy, starting with the man who won the last selection I went for. Many others told me how much I was needed and would be missed by the party. At times being over here in Northern Ireland once again I can at times feel isolated, but such comments touched my heart.

There were other comments I read last night that only seemed to recognise one person in this whole debacle. It didn't recognise that we have lost some of our best women as a result of whatever happened. They didn't seem to realise that many of us are not sure or comfortable that we can remain within the same party as Rennard and those who are his apologists.

So as for the question in the title "Where for me?" I'm still thinking, I'm still deliberating whether I should send the letter, but also when I should send it. I may wait until after I have voted and seen the results of internal elections before coming to a final decision.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Evangelical Alliance's Response to Vicky Beeching

You may have seen the news that Christian rock singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching came out the other day.

In her interview with Patrick Strudwick in The Independent you can see the harrowing measures that Vicky went to to pray away the gay, get rid of her attraction to people of the same-sex and even though , as she says, it wasn't something that was directly taught, it was something that somehow as a Christian she felt she had to be ashamed of and hid away. There is even the harrowing tale of the meeting where she feels the need to go forward for prayer and have those feelings prayed away. That is an experience that I can fully empathise with as I went through the same sort of experience one time at the end of a meeting that I was leading worship at.

Today the Evangelical Alliance has responded, as an ex member of the Evangelical Alliance it is the sort of response I was expecting. Instead of listening to the concerns of Vicky and the many others of us who have struggled and been vocal about those struggles, they immediately strike back with someone who claims to only have had positive experiences. Like Vicky many of those that struggle come to the point where we realise that the way to stop our struggles is not to be ashamed of failing to do away with our feelings, but to realise that we are made and loved by God.

I'm not doubting that Pastor Ed Shaw, who the EA are using as their frontman, on this issue has had a lot of positive experience, but I do doubt that universally "rather than looking down on [him] they've looked up to [him] –wanting to benefit from [his] perspective." Now I know some of my evangelical friends do have that reaction, but that is the people who have known me well, but even that is not 100% inclusive.

There are others some who do not know me at all, some who know me reasonably well, who say just because I speak up for LGBT members of our churches that I have no right to say the things I say. I should just keep schtum. Rather than wanting to learn from my perspective or even listen to it they want to silence me and the others that I know of, and speak for who are not prepared to have their voices heard.

My own church the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said 7 years ago that is would listen to people with "same-sex attraction" (their phrase) and give them a safe place in which to address their issues, amongst other recommendations. But I have yet to seen evidence that this has been done. In the meantime of course when I felt that the anti same-sex marriage campaign had over 2 months of publicity in the vestibule of the church (using some very un-Christian language against Lynne Featherstone) making me feel uncomfortable being there. That instead of understanding, an apology or listening there was censor in the one ministry I was providing, a lecture and failure to address the issues at hand.

The latter is sadly more likely to be the response within Evangelical Church leaderships. It may not be the case among evangelical friends many of whom give me unconditional support, but that was based on years of me being able to fit in under the radar and not being fully open about myself. It ignores that fact that I struggled through my teenage years and 20s with thoughts of suicide or running away from it all. Not knowing who to turn to, bottling everything in. Many I know have been unable to bottle it in long enough to be confident in their own relation with God, and that is the problem.

Vicky like myself has come through many struggles. She even had the added pressure of losing her livelihood potentially as a result so kept it in during those Californian concerts ahead of Proposition 8.

Rather than automatically jump to preach mode I wish that the EA, churches and others actually do listen, and also look at the texts they keep quoting with an open eye, not the way their have been translated and mistranslated down the years.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

O Captain! My Captain! RIP Robin Williams

It may be late in the night here in the UK but the breaking news of the death of Robin Williams at the age of 63 takes me back to the cinema in Richmond where along with a group of friends from Kingston University Polytechnic we watched Dead Poets Society.

I sat there in the dark and really recognised with the character of Neil Perry (played by Robert Sean Leonard). For those who have seen the film but can't place him, he was the artistic one who wanted to be an actor and on the night of his Puck in A Midsummer's Night Dream took out his father's revolver and took his own life. He stood out, he was different from those around him, he was considered a sensitive sort, all of which I had been at school. But then I also knew that there was something more about me, I knew even back then that I was gay, but I was just not open about it then (that would come a few years later).

But it was William's portrayal of John Keating the English master urging his class to Carpe Deum, Seize the Day that was the inspiration. Back in 1989 of course it was pre-blogger, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter but I wrote my own review of the films I had watched and put them on index cards. I looked out those cards just now. I gave the film 5 stars but as well as the review I wrote at the end "Carpe Deum, Seize the Day, Be Yourself!" cryptic enough for me to know what that meant, but also coded enough not to let anything out of the bag.

You see it was partly from Robin Williams and the young men including Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles as well as Leonard that I started to become the person that I now am. Able to stand out proud of who I am. Able to seize the day everyday.

Like Neil Perry from the film, and as it turns out Robin Williams himself though I have also fought depression, I have also though of killing myself, but unlike both of them I know I want to seize more days ahead and haven't followed through. Of course there were other films that showed both his comic genius and ability to play it straight, but in the immediate aftermath and in light of the way he died this is a poignant recollection for me just now.

Mental health is a serious issue and can affect even the brightest and most intelligent and brilliant of those amongst us. So if you are affected by it you should know that you are not alone, but don't go through it alone if you life here in the UK and feel suicidal reach out speak to a friend, or if there is nobody else call the Samaritans on 08457 909090, someone is always there to listen to you.

Also from that film his character said:

"No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world"

The words and ideas from that film certainly had some part in changing my world and for that I will always be grateful.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;


Robin Williams 21 July 1951 - 11 August 2014