Saturday 8 February 2014

#Principle6 is for all not just the Olympic Zone

The Sochi Olympics*
*Usual Terms and Conditions may or may not apply

While the Opening Ceremony was underway in Sochi this was the scene in Red Square, Moscow.

Principle 6 of the Olympic charter states:

Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.
This is clear discrimination against people on the ground of otherwise. President Putin says people can be LGBT as long as they don't touch the children. I see no children in this video.

Thomas Bach in his opening speech last night said:

This is the Olympic Message the athletes spread to the host country and to the whole world. Yes, it is possible to strive even for the greatest victory with respect for the dignity of your competitors. Yes, Yes, it is possible - even as competitors - to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.

It was a part of the message that American broadcaster NBC is facing criticism for editing out.

Yes the host nation if it is abusing Principle 6 of the charter in incompatible with being part of the Olympic Movement. This is what was happening last night and it is time that IOC actually specified that otherwise does include sexual orientation and not leave it vague, and then take action.

Friday 7 February 2014

Putin and his non-traditional flame

Vladimir Putin has passed the law that there should be no propaganda of "non-traditional sexual relationships", he says it will affect the youth of Russia. Why is it then that Alina Kabayeva, who is rumoured to be his mistress, should be the last person before those who lit the cauldron to hold the Olympic flame?

The other people who carried the Torch in the stadium were

  • Maria Sharapova, she may only have had one Olympic silver medal, but she was world number 1 in tennis and was actually born in Sochi. 
  • Three time Olympic Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion Aleksander Karelin, he has a career record of 887 wins and only two losses. 
  • Double Olympic pole-vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva. 
  • Three time Olympic champion Ice Hockey goaltender Vladislav Tretiak
  • Irina Rodnina who won three successive pairs gold medals in figure skating.
Kabayeva has one Olympic gold and one bronze in rhythmic gymnastics is one gold and one bronze. She hardly ranks amongst the great Olympians. Indeed but by an unfortunate career-ending injury to Daria Kondakova ahead of London 2012 who had far more world medals in a shorter career she may well have even been second to a local Sochi rhythmic gymnast. But of course there are other gymnasts from Russia who are multiple gold medalists.

Indeed the living Russian woman with the most gold medals is a Winter Olympian is Lidiya Skoblikova has six gold medals in speed skating from the 1960 and 64 Olympics. This is not just the most by a clean Russian woman but a record for her sport. Yes she may be 74 but she has six gold medals in an winter Olympic event.

So yes there are questions as to why it appears that Putin managed to get his alleged mistress to hand the torch over to the lighters of the cauldron. Indeed you can almost imagine that he had wanted her to be one later in the order only to be talked out of it by some official or other.

Moderator-Elect calls for gay Presbyterians to be celibate

I had rather a full day yesterday and was unable to blog about my comments to one of the first public utterances of the Moderator-Elect of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Rev. Dr. Michael Barry. Rather shockingly within a day of his election he focused not on social justice, poverty or mission but appears to have spoken strongly on the issues face LGBT people within his flock. As one of those Presbyterians who has been driven from his family's church because of attitudes, assumptions and failure to listen I feel I have to speak out.

While I didn't blog about this yesterday I did find time to post a comment on the Belfast Telegraph news story.

So the next Moderator can only read as far as the first part of verse 7 of First Corinthians 7. If he reads the rest of the verse he will see that even Paul says that not everyone has the gift. I'm sure that Mrs Berry is evidence that he himself does not have the gift he is saying that all LGBT Presbyterians must possess.

However, I have one question for him. In verse nine after Paul talks about celibacy he goes on to say:

"But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

therefore why is so opposed to gay people finding the right person for them, to be able to love them and not burn with the passion that Paul warns us is actually worse than trying to remain celibate when we don't have the gift? 

Let me explain further.

The Moderator-Elect was quoting the church line from their pastoral guidelines:

"We welcome all people into the Church, but we would have a problem with those who are involved in a gay relationship because we believe the Bible teaches that is against the word of God.
"We would encourage people who are gay to live a celibate life."

Now the only passage of the scripture that talks about celibacy comes in 1 Corinthians 7.

 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Verses 5-9

This is a bit of context of where that call comes from. First it was so that all believers could devote themselves to prayer. But Paul realised that Satan would be able to tempt man from that because of their lack of self control. Somehow the Moderator-Elect, himself a married man with two daughters, clearly lacked the self control to devote himself to prayer in this way.

But next note that Paul called celibacy a gift and something that not everyone would or could possess. Yet the Moderator-Elect not only thinks that gay Presbyterians will have more self control that he himself has to pray, but also will all be granted the gift of celibacy.

There is a warning from Paul at the end of that passage and it is to those that cannot control themselves. That warning is that rather than lose control you should marry rather than burn with passion. So my question to the Dr Barry in my comments above.

When asked about conversion courses, like the one recently held in Ballynahinch Baptist Church he said:

"Personally, I am not convinced that that is possible.

"I think the whole origin of where gayness comes from is still up for debate and I would be a bit concerned at being dogmatic one way or the other.

"Certainly we'd want to help people who are having difficulties with their sexuality to live in such a way that is honouring to God."

Now apart from some of the language of the above such as "origin of where gayness comes from" this is a wishy washy non-statement. Personally I no longer have any difficulty with my sexuality, the problems I had were when the church, the Presbyterian Church, told me in my youth that what I felt was wrong. However, when I accepted that "I was wonderfully made" just like any Christian, and in the verses above that I realised that if I lacked self control I should find someone to settle down with. I want to live within my sexuality in a way that is honouring to God, just the way I see that happening differs from the hierarchy of the Church I was raised in.

Also there seems to be a lack of acceptance that a gay person actually may be celibate when they come towards the church. My personal experience was that it was assumed that I was sexually active at the time that I sought to rejoin after returning from Scotland. This was not the case, I was an advocate for equal marriage, but I didn't want that forced upon a faith group that didn't want to carry them out. Of course that doesn't mean that I don't ask questions of the PCI, I'm allowed to, while they may have driven me out I still consider it somewhat my church.

I do have one final comment to make about Dr Barry's comments. It actually comes from section 3.6 of the Pastoral Guidelines mentioned above:

When we condemn homosexual practice in isolation or single it out as somehow worse than other sexual practices outside of heterosexual marriage then we demonstrate homophobic attitudes.

Sadly on his first utterances as Moderator-Elect he appears to have singled out homosexual practice in isolation. Has he therefore demonstrated homophobic attitudes?

The document listed a need to change:

11.1 Within our church there is the need for both repentance and greater understanding. This calls for education, careful listening and discussion. 
11.2 Likewise there is the need for those who have same sex attractions to grasp that it is not easy for those who wish to be genuinely caring yet maintain Biblical integrity without giving the impression that in doing so they are rejecting the person. 
11.3 In every way it is easier to stand at the side of the road, or in the pulpit, or 'on air' and shout condemnation. But it does not win hearts or minds. And it certainly does not show the pastoral care of Jesus Christ.It may be uncomfortable for some, but it is better to sit down and talk - but listen first.
I have yet to hear of any such process taking place within the PCI. Nor have I yet heard of any of the seven recommendations that came out of those Pastoral Guidelines being implemented. 

What I would do is call upon Dr Barry to carry out such a listening exercise, I would be happy to be involved in such an enterprise. It has been seven years since the Pastoral Guidelines were published and I for one (and I know of others from within) who feel that the PCI are not listening.

Team LGB at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

Some of my LGBT friends have been calling for a boycott of the Games that got underway yesterday with some qualification competitions, but I have said we should always let the athletes go. The main reason is that without the athletes from accepting nations being there the Russia media would not tell the truth to their own nationals about why such nations were absent.

Brack Obama made a point of selected three LGB athletes to the delegation that is going to the the 2014 Games while he is staying away. But there are a small number of active athletes who will be taking part and some of them have come out recently as a show of defiance to the anti-propaganda laws in Russia.

So who are the out LGB athletes who are going to Sochi.

Ireen Wüst - Netherlands

The Dutch speed skater is going to her third Winter Olympics looking to add to the two golds and bronze she won in Turin and Vancouver. Yes, this bisexual sports woman, who does not fit Russia's idea of "traditional sexual relations", has reached the top of her sport. She won gold in the 3,000m in 2006 in Turin in the long track version of the sport, adding the bronze that year in the 1,500m. That year at a mere 19 she became her nation's youngest ever Winter Olympic Champion. Last time she took the gold in the 1,500m in Vancouver.

She will be taking part in five events in Sochi, the women's 1,000m, 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m and as part of the Dutch team in the women's pursuit. In October of 2009 a Dutch magazine she casually stated that she had been in a relationship with her girlfriend since May of that year.

Sanne van Kerkhof - Netherlands

Still with the Dutch there is another speed skating veteren. Although Sanne does her skating on the short track. She just missed out on a medal in Vancouver in 2010 when the women's 3,000m pursuit team came in 4th for the Dutch ladies.

She also happened to be the girlfriend that Wüst was referring to before those Games in Vancouver. They have since split up but are both looking forward to their second Games as out athletes.

She will again be taking part in the women's pursuit looking to step unto the podium.

Cheryl Maas - Netherlands

The Dutch provide yet another of our openly out athletes and this time we head off the ice and unto snow. Cherly missed out on the 2010 Games, but had been in the 2006 half pipe competition.

After she qualified once again she was critical of the IOC offering the Game to a nation with a Human Rights record such as Russia's and when asked about whether she would boycott the Games. She said:

"If you do that, everyone must participate, it is because human rights. This goes beyond homosexuality. If only gay people engage in a boycott, it does not help."

She is married to Norwegian former Olympic snowboarder Stine Brun Kjeldaas who won the silver medal in the women's half pipe at the 1998 Games and was part of the BBC commentary team in 2010.

Barbara Jezeršek - Slovenia

Finally we get to an athlete from a nation other than the Netherlands and we add another sport to the pantheon.
Slovenia's cross county skier Barbara Jezeršek is probably not expected to feature in the medals unlike those Dutch competitors. Her best individual performance having been 34th while as part of a Slovenian relay team she has been 9th.

She has been out since 2008 and will be the only out athlete from the former Eastern Bloc countries in Sochi.

Next we have the two athletes who came out publicly as a result of the new law in Russia.

Anastasia Bucsis - Canada

The 24 year old skater made her Olympic debut at her home Games in Vancouver four years ago, although she wasn't part of the Canadian gold rush.

She took part in the women's 500m long track speed skating as her only event four years ago recording the 34th best time. The following year she game out to her friends and family but it was last year at Calgary Pride that she made a public stance about her sexuality.  She said:
"I could never promote that message of concealing who you are with all of this going on in Russia. I’m kind of happy that I did it on my own terms."
Again she will just be taking part in the  shortest and fastest of the disciples in the long track speed skating as her only event.

Belle Brockhoff - Australia

The youngest of the LGB athletes taking part in Sochi 2014 will be the Australian snowboard cross athlete. Like Bucsis she came out publicly last summer as a result of the new law being introduced in Russia.

Speaking at the time the twenty year old said:
"I have a feeling that I would have to kinda go back into the closet a little bit because I don't want to risk my, like, you know, safety, being arrested or deported. I want to be able to compete and live my dream and become an Olympian. That's always what I've wanted to do. ... I honestly find it a little bit disrespectul and a little bit sad not only to me but to other athletes and it's my dream, and I want to be able to be who I am, I want to be proud of who I am and be proud of all the work I've done to get into the Olympics and not have to deal with this kind of law." 
However, speaking last month she said:

"The Australian Olympic Committee has been really supportive and they want me to be safe. They don't recommend me waving a [rainbow] flag around which I won't do.

"The most I'll do is hold up six fingers to represent Principle Six. Possibly I'll do it on camera here or there, and maybe after the heats of my event." 

I know Belle won't be allowed to wear her Principle 6 T-Shirt anywhere near the Games, however, I along with many other will be wearing mine tonight while I watch the Opening Ceremony and I'll be watching out on Sunday 16th to see if she does use six fingers.

From the list there are sadly no openly gay men at the Sochi Games as sadly New Zealand Short-Track Speed Skater Blake Skjellerup who missed out by one spot on qualifying. However, last November while he was competing in Russia he did meet some LGBT activists secretly.

About that meeting he said:

"It was emotional to hear what they were going through. They were afraid on so many levels. The law is very discriminative and oppressive and it's leading to greater violence against LGBT people. At the weekend two gunmen opened fire at a gay club in Moscow and such acts are not uncommon. For many the only choice is to go undergound."
There are also a number of openly LGBT broadcasters, commentators and analysts attending these Games from our own Clare Balding to self-confessed Russia-phile and former USA Ice Skater Johnny Weir.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Why Putin Leaving Kids Alone is Detrimental to LGBT Youth

We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control.

Hey Olympians, leave the kids alone!

Seems to be the cry that is repeated today by Russia's deputy prime minister.

However, with the anti-propagation law to minors in Russia and therefore actually leaving kids alone to come to terms with their own sexuality is a dangerous thing. Despite what Putin would have you believe kids under the age of consent are quite capable of coming to their own conclusions about who they are attracted to. Indeed I don't hear Russian authorities crying out about underage sex between people of the opposite sex but I'm sure like in every other nation this takes place.

But what is most worrying about the message to leave the kids alone is that during the teenage years before it is legal to have sex young people the world over pair up. They have boyfriends and girlfriends, that is part of a normal adolescence. But what if your boyfriend or girlfriend has the same gender as you, or what if the person you feel attracted to and want to ask out is of that same gender.

There is a problem you face under the new law. You can't seek advice about these feeling the adult giving that advise would be "promoting non-traditional sexual values". Now can you act upon those feelings and ask the other person, if they reject you they or their parents may report you for "promoting non-traditional sexual values" to a minor. You can't even be open about your sexual, as to be open in who you are and who you fancy is in itself a promotion.

By leaving such kids allow to wallow in aloneness while around them there is nobody they can turn to for advise, while their feelings are being condemned from on high as being non-traditional and non-Russian even leaves them in a vulnerable position.

While I was growing up in Northern Ireland while there was Section 28 in place and homosexuality had only recently been decriminalised there was no outright ban on talking to a young person about such things. It just could not be done in a school context. But when you don't grow up in the big city getting access to such services would have been awkward for a teenager. So like the fate of Russian teens I had to wallow alone, with religious and political leaders telling me that what I was feeling was wrong.

By leaving that kid more or less alone I contemplated taking my own live.

Leaving the kids alone, uneducated about human sexuality that is not across genders, and unable to seek advise about their feelings or even if they did being unable to receive it, Russia authorities are endangering those young people.

Article Three of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child states:

"In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions,courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."

Leaving children alone unable to seek guidance on feelings that they have is a thought control of an adverse type. It creates problems, fear, loneliness, paranoia and suicide. Not to mention the homophobia that others feel able to dish out against LGBT people as seen in The Hunted last night.

Saturday 1 February 2014

When an Attorney General fails to understand the law

The Northern Ireland Attorney General has come forth yet again with what seems a ridiculous position for any law officer that is meant to be upholding the law of the land, not the law of Judea.

Speaking at a Presbyterian Church in Ireland conference on Thursday he said:

Christians – and I think particularly in the period after Christmas – are, or should be, sensitive to the plight of persons who cannot find accommodation. It is one thing, I suppose, to find that there is no room at the inn. But disappointing as that may be, it is another to find that there is no room at the inn for you because of some characteristic that you possess.

In November of last year the UK Supreme Court held that Mr & Mrs Bull, a Christian couple who ran a small hotel, unlawfully discriminated against Mr Preddy and Mr Hall – a homosexual couple who’d booked overnight accommodation in the hotel – on the grounds of the sexual orientation of Mr Preddy and Mr Hall. It was held by the Supreme Court that the right of Mr & Mrs Bull to practice their Christian faith did not permit them to reserve double-bedded accommodation to married couples.

Bull & Hall is an immensely important case, and it is a very strong example of the clash of rights. The claim on one hand by Mr Preddy and Mr Hall founded in domestic law not to be discriminated against on the ground of their sexual orientation and on the other hand the right of Mr & Mrs Bull under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Section 6 of The Human Rights Act to manifest their religious beliefs in practice and observance …

Now I am rather shocked that a law officer should come to such a sweeping generalisation without fully checking the facts. For example did every mixed-sex couple that turned up to stay at Mr and Mrs Bull's Bed & Breakfast have to had over a marriage certificate (to each other) before they were allowed the luxury of not being turned away from the booking that they made?

Also the defense that Mr and Mrs Bull was to claim that it wasn't an hotel, but a business run from the house in which their lived. Legally that is guest house or bed and breakfast and not an hotel. Indeed as far as HMRC are concerned:

Accommodation for staff also qualifies for allowances as part of the hotel, even if it is in a separate building. The proprietor's domestic accommodation and accommodation for the proprietor's family is not included and, if accommodation like that is in the hotel building, is treated as a non qualifying part.

So the whole defense being based that this was taking place by people they were allowing into their home, would have falling at the first legal step if they claimed to be a hotel.

But he then went on to say:

I don’t know if Mr & Mrs Bull serve meals in their establishment. But if they did so, and if they were to refuse to serve food for example to Mr Preddy and Mr [Hall] on the grounds of their sexual orientation that would be not only unlawful I think – it’s a matter of domestic law – but also incapable I think of moral justification.

On the other hand, a Christian who wishes to adhere to traditional Christian moral principles cannot without committing serious sin make available premises to facilitate a purpose which that Christian believes to be gravely sinful. To do so, a Christian believes, is to be complicit in the sin that one thereby facilitates. 
Mr and Mrs Bull ran a B&B so there was complicit in the acceptance of provision of the service to Messrs Preddy and Hall that food was to be available. Not just a bed when they turned up as arranged. The Attorney General is ignoring the fact that the Bulls ran a business and had no disclaimer in their advertising that certain groups would not be allowed to stay there. There was was no code of ethics to sign up to that you can only share a double bed in this guest house if you are an opposite sex couple, married to each other. Or indeed how thoroughly they actually checked that all the couples that they put up actually complied to their traditional Christian moral principles.

Now there are 84 Hotels, Guesthouses of B&B in Marazion, Cornwall where the Bulls had their B&B, so there may well have been other room at other inns that night that Messrs Preddy and Hall could have availed themselves of, but that is not always the case when you turn up at some resorts in the height of the season. Or if there is a conference or other event on in the area.

But surely the Bible tells us about the inn keeper who welcomes in the unmarried pregnant woman about to go full term, and the the good Samaritan who helps the person who is his mortal enemy. The only case I see of any people turning people away or not welcoming them they end up getting punished for it, indeed that is the true sin of Sodom for which the people were punished, something that most "traditional Christians" seem to overlook.