Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Shimna an Example of True Integration

Shimna Integrated College (via NICIE)
When integrated education was first muted for Northern Ireland some people had the audacity to ask "What's the point?". The obvious response was that this was the way that we would grow a future population that will have a shared future.

That is why when I heard the news that there is a school in Northern Ireland setting up a gay-straight alliance, I suspected it would be one of the integrated secondary schools. I'm proud of the fact that the pupils at Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle are taking integration to the next stage. The integration of Northern Irish society is needed so that we can get beyond managing sectarianism and looking to the bigger picture, looking to the wider issues.

Gay-straight alliances in schools are big in the USA, they are designed to welcome all pupils irrespective of sexuality and seek to end homophobic bullying and the feeling of otherness and not belonging that many LGBT teens can feel*. To end homophobia, not just in school, but in society as a whole we need our non-LGBT friends to support us. We don't and can't live in an LGBT ghetto especially as the recent Rainbow Project report shows that there is still some work to be done to make our workplaces LGB friendly (never mind the T) in Northern Ireland.

Kevin Lambe, the  principal of Shimna has hit the nail on the head when he says:

"Most bullying, most racism has been publicly gotten rid of. Words that you are called because of your religion, because of your skin colour, most of that has disappeared.

"But homophobic bullying I'm sorry to say is quite common. As the form of bullying which most induces young people to harm themselves or even kill themselves, surely we can't turn away from that and say 'oh that's a delicate type of bullying, we can't really deal with that'."

The other great news about the setting up of the alliance at the college is that there hasn't been a single complaint from a parent. Whilst the young generation are often most tolerant about the various diversities we have in our communities sometimes those a little older still hold some form of prejudice. But the parents there see this as a natural progression a way for the pupils of Shimna to have a shared present in their education. I hope to hear of other schools across Northern Ireland following suit.

* Myself included at that age.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Sad Loss to Party of Hugh Voice of Common Sense

When I last saw High O'Donnell at the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference earlier this month, he did hint that he was going to take the fight about the way the party was going to the next stage. I told him I'd be taking that fight to Sheffield and the Federal Conference the following week and beyond, but what he hinted at to me then was something more.

Therefore I'm not that surprised to hear of his resignation today, but I am saddened by it. In my opinion the heart and soul of the party has not changed, that was clear from my weekend in Sheffield. Some of those in the heart and soul are determined to fight to maintain that identity of the party they have spent many years working for and fighting to get into the fore of politics. I do think that sometimes our parties leaders at the moment are forgetting that the members speak for the party and not them. I think that the party is trying to speak to the leaders about a number of issues, especially the NHS over recent weeks, yet some of the leaders are choosing the ignore the depth of feeling from there.

As for Hugh, when I first stood for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, he, over a quiet drink, gave me some useful advise about the parts of the constituency that were outwith West Lothian Council but within his region. We through the years have had some serious discussions about the direction of the party and I would have placed us in the same section of the party. Voices like his in elected positions were what we needed from time to time. His was often the voice of common sense, of the common people that needs to resonate within our party. It still needs to resonate through our party some of the rest of us will have to step up and be that voice.

Update Writing in Sunday's Mail on Sunday Hugh said:

"Instead of fighting for the causes so many of us believe in, [the party leadership] devote their energy to quashing dissenting voices, views, people and policies."

In regards to the coalition at Westminster he added:

"Since that fateful day, I have watched helplessly from the sidelines as this government at Westminster has attacked every vulnerable group in Scotland, from carers to disabled students to migrants, with some of the most draconian policies I have ever seen in the name of cuts.

"Not a word of criticism from the party leadership in Scotland has been uttered - even though the contempt shown for Scotland and, indeed, the federal structure of the party knows no bounds."

He was also critical of the way the party was asked to vote at times in Holyrood, in his words being asked to vote tactically instead of on principle. He added:

"This is not the same party I joined, full of enthusiasm, all those years ago.

"I can no longer be party to the control freakery, the 'image is everything' attitude, and the dictatorial style of doing things.

"It is a party I no longer want to be part of and neither should other principled Liberals."

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Today I was in the Cathedral City of Armagh where the Roman Catholic Primate of All Ireland and the Anglican Archbishop both have their Bishop's thrones. The reason I was there was for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. I also was not able to imbibe in the Black Nectar that is famous across the Emerald Isle (and yes we don't dye it green just for the day that is Americans for you) because I was driving.

I'll put more of the day up later but here are some interesting clips about St. Patrick and his Saint's day (some of it may well be wildly apocryphal).

And finally as this is a Christian celebration the Hymn I Bind Unto Myself Today sung to the tune known as St. Patrick's Breast Plate. Surprisingly YouTube didn't give me a great selection of choral renditions.

But here's a modern adaptation of it from someone who'll soon be a part of the family. Andrew featured in this and my friends Andrew and Ruth Garvey-Williams was giving out a CD which included this up in my ancient familial homeland of Donegal today to mark today.

Tá míle beannacht do Lá Fhéile Pádraig (A thousand blessings for Saint Patrick's Day)

Monday, 14 March 2011

Tackling Homo and Transphobia in Sport

Are there LGBT people involved in sport?

I look at my trophy collection and say that yes there are.

Are there LGBT people involved in elite sport?

Looking at the list of sportsmen and women who have are known to be out* they are there, even if the number is still surprisingly small. So what is holding them back?

For some it is the attitude of managers, some of whom have openly said a LGBT person has no place in my team, and won't get selected. This is enough to keep many sportspeople who are involved in a team sport in the closet. They want to compete on the highest stage and if that way is barred because of institutional bigotry they will play the game.

For others it is the team mates. That moment in the showers or changing rooms when there is the awkwardness. Or that banter between team mates about sex lives which they feel will be uncomfortable. Well there is a lesson for straight men, we don't find all of you attractive and we don't want to bed every one of you, and yes we can be naked around you and not get aroused, just as you can and maybe might.

As for the banter I have mentioned this before, when I came out to the guys I played bowls with, the banter didn't stop, they just changed the gender for me. But if the any of the opposition took it the wrong way and too far there were 15 guys ready to jump to my defence.

The other thing of course is the spectators. When the first black footballers started to play in the top leagues they had bananas thrown at them and monkey noises made by not just the opposition but some of their own fans. Yes there are chants from the terrace, I've heard them, when I was supporting Livingston I could pretty much end them with a look at someone in the general direction, or taken a radical move that shocked my fellow supporter. You see there are gay supporters in the crowds at most grounds, maybe we have to help police our fellow supporters to end the homophobic chanting.

However, whilst there are gay fans like me prepared to take a stand, we need gay players (and we know there are some) to do likewise. Let us the fans, the stewards, the clubs and authorities mind your backs, but give us something to mind. Eventually a top flight sportsperson coming out shouldn't be groundbreaking news, they shouldn't have to hide their same-sex partner (although we'll need a better acronym than Husbands and Boyfriends HABs).

Today the Equalities Minster Lynne Featherstone launched the Charter for Action along with backing from, amongst others, the Football Association, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Rugby Football League saying.

"Sport is still seen by many as an institution where there are barriers we have yet to tear down, because there are so few openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who feel comfortable on the field.
"Professional sports have the ability to change attitudes, on the field as well as in society. That is why it is important we break through this last remaining taboo and tackle it head on so that LGBT people feel welcome in all sports.
"The Liberal Democrats have long pledged to tackle prejudice everywhere and today's launch of the Charter for Action is an important step in ensuring in sport homophobic prejudices become a thing of the past."
Let's break down that barrier we'll need some brave souls to lead the way on the field. But then we can help you and help others like you.

* Only 77 listed on Wikipedia.