Sunday 11 December 2016

Red, White and Blue Brexit bad for Northern Ireland

Here in the land that is base for HBO's Game of Thrones the talk of a Red, White and Blue Brexit as first described by Theresa May and increasingly mentioned by others since is not universally going down well. Let me explain why (in the language that GoT fans will find familiar).

Queen Arlene, First of Her Name surveys her Kingdom of the North from her White Keep (Parliament Buildings, Stormont). She was very much in favour of Brexit and her sigil is St. Edward's Crown on a background of Red, White and Blue. However, outside the gates of the keep the people however are not as much in agreement of Brexit as Arlene and her small (well not so small) council.

Prince Martin is meant to be a co-regent with Queen Arlene. His house's ancient sigil was an armalite and a ballot box on a background of Green, White and Gold, but now it is just the ballot box though some banners still show a shadowy figure of the armalite. He is opposed to Brexit and the mention of it as being Red, White and Blue is not going down well with his bannermen who largely were also opposed to Brexit.

Meanwhile in Kings Landing, Queen Theresa, First of Her Name, Queen of the Four Kingdoms and her small council have largely ignored that the Kingdom of the North has a large border with Europeros with which her four Kingdoms are looking to depart. There are many workers from the southern part of the island that the Kingdom of the North shares with Europeros. There leader King Michael, First of his name, also known by some as the Imp, or Leprechaun because of his diminutive stature and his hand Enda are very much in favour of Europeros are a little offended that Queen Theresa is asking them to control movement of Europeros citizens entering their territory as they have not signed up for Brexit but have signed up for the freedom of movement of Europeros citizens both into and out of their nation.

There has been a peace in the Kingdom of the North for only 3 decades and even then at times it has been tense. Talking up Brexit as being an issue that is Red, White and Blue may stir up some of the sleeping armies of the old days. Continuing to wrap this argument is patriotism based on symbols which still cause dispute in the Kingdom of the North contravenes the treaty that the Kingdom of the North was allowed a degree of autonomy over its own affairs. It is a part of the Four Kingdoms that allows civilians to follow in the Red, White and Blue sigil, or the Green, White and Gold one, or both if they chose too. Fealty is not a black and white matter, nor should it be hyped up in full colour.

Be warned those in Kingslanding (Westminster in this tale) not all the people of the Four Kingdom (United Kingdom) want to hear talk of Red, White and Blue Brexit. Here in the Kingdom of the North (Northern Ireland) some of us have been campaigned for safe and open spaces where everyone can gather. Your painting of Brexit as being a matter of Red, White and Blue while talking to little Englanders, is not so great to the fringes Northern Ireland and indeed Scotland.

Thursday 1 December 2016

My former Teacher hasn't learnt #SammyWilsonMP #WorldAIDSDay

Once upon a time Sammy Wilson and I shared a classroom. One of our Economics teachers started a new job and for the last weeks of our first A'Level year Sammy Wilson stepped in.

Just over 15 months later I was at Kingston Polytechnic (as it then was) studying for my degree in Economics. In those early months I met a young man who was the first person I knew who was living with HIV. This was that dark old days of the 80s and ignorance was still rife about how HIV was transmitted with rumours about shaking hands, or sharing cups or toilet seats.

A couple of years later that young man moved into the house that I was living in. I shared many a chat into the small hours of the morning, listening to his concerns about the stigma he was facing, the life that he would be missing out on and the opportunities he felt he would never be able to fully realise. Those were tough, heart wrenching conversations. With hugs, cups of tea and the rest showing that the stigma was only from those who were ignorant.

Sammy Wilson has said he refuses to support World AIDS Day because "HIV is a result of lifestyle choices". The friend that I learnt my first lessons about HIV and AIDS about would snort at Sammy Wilson for saying that. His lifestyle choice that lead to him contracting HIV wasn't really a choice, he took drugs. Without the drugs he would have died. He was a haemophiliac and he had to take those drugs, it wasn't a choice. Like half of all haemophiliacs at that time he actually acquired HIV not through a lifestyle choice but though a desire to live and not bleed to death.

Of course Sammy Wilson has shown his ignorance of LGBT+ people in the past. He really thinks that the young man who sat in his A'Level class that year was happy with the realisation of his sexual orientation. The fact is that he had contemplated taking his life before Sammy stood before him in a classroom. The reason being that he couldn't chose to ignore the feeling he was having and it didn't fit with his Northern Irish, Presbyterian upbringing. That young man couldn't chose to be other than gay or bisexual. His orientation was there despite his upbringing and culture he grew up in. It was unhappy, full of bullying and a lonely place to be. It was something that back then he didn't speak to others about but he bottled it in.

Of course that young man back then is me. The message then was don't die of ignorance. The message is still the same today, sadly it is the ignorance of some of our politicians here in Northern Ireland that is the greatest risk.

Please Sammy don't let others gay, straight, children or adults die because of your ignorance about HIV.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

When the church turns on its own updated #DavidFord

This evening I looked up the first time I posted about this. It appears to have been 3½ years since the news first broke about David Ford was called by some in Second Donegore Presbyterian Church to step aside as an elder in their Kirk Session.

It appears that the debate over his position has finally reached the highest appeal court within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI). Their findings to many outside the church will make confusing reading. The Templepatrick Presbytery of which 2nd Donegore is one of the congregations have resolved to remove him from congregational duties within the church. Yet he remains an elder of good standing within the church.

The first part of this appears to be because the other ruling elders in the congregation disagree with David's view on seeking to allow civil same sex marriage within Northern Ireland. The second would appear that David's actions have done nothing to bring the church into disrepute with his stance. For the second I am thankful, but for the first I continue to be saddened by the church I grew up in and to some extent appears to continue to lack grace, understanding or a willingness to listen to members of their denomination who are LGBT+.

I have chronicled before my own experiences within the PCI (follow the label) so I'll not go over it here. But I am not the only family member of an elder/elders within the PCI who is LGBT+. Nor for that matter am I the only LGBT+ person who has been hurt by the attitude of the PCI or some of those within it. You notice here that I say some as others are prepared to look more deeply, listen more actively and seek to understand. To those who include David Ford, Stewart Dickson and Naomi Long amongst them I want to say thank you and keep on acting like Christ on these issues.

For those who continue to ignore the PCI's own pastoral guidelines for people with "same-sex attraction" (their term obviously not mine. I challenge you to show me in the Hebrew or Greek the verses that back up your position. I don't want you to stand behind the English translation of multiple complex words into the one catch all. After all I didn't think we made our ministers study Greek and Hebrew at Theological College so they would not be able to discern the true meanings of words not life in ignorance and from that be intolerant.

Wednesday 31 August 2016

1820 Blood Overture

Tomorrow it will be 1,820 days since men who have had sex with men (MSM) have been able to give blood in England, Wales and Scotland. Tomorrow is also the first day that the same 12 month deferral period comes into force in Northern Ireland.

After years of me campaigning for an evidence based policy on the risk my blood and that or other people who take every precaution possible with regards to their blood this is the eve of a momentous day.

The 17th August 1998 was the last time I donated blood and on that day I had done so illegally not having checked all the small print about my sexual history. I hope that those who benefited in the shortfall after the effects of the Omagh bombing are not too annoyed with me my last pint. Early next week, I hope to be able to return to the ranks of those who donate blood.

However, while I can return to donating blood next week, it may not last for long. Should I have sex with another man I once again will have to wait twelve longs months of celibacy, even if that one person becomes my life partner to ever be able to give blood again. The fact that I can give blood tells you one thing about my I've not had sex in over 12 months, the fact that in the future I may not will tell you the reverse. No matter how safe, how committed a relationship or how good my blood is unaffected by disease and a good oxygen carrier it may be withdrawn from helping others.

However, while one small part of me is rejoicing to be able to donate my blood once again, another part of me mourns that should I fall in love again once more stigma rather the basis of how we make love will decide if I can donate or not.

Friday 29 July 2016

Jim Wells to sue BBC over Homophobia claims #TheTruth

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceApparently Jim Wells MLA told the Belfast Telegraph is the sue the BBC over reporting the story about the Lesbian couple he encountered while out campaigning for the 2015 Assembly elections. He claims that the comments were "doctored" and "misrepresented what he said"  He goes on to say that he will "stop at nothing to clear his name".

Well if he is to do that I cannot hold back on some truth that I have promised members of my family that I would not ever disclose. I also am lifting the gentleman's agreement I have with one of the BBC journalists who witnessed one of the events that I am about to unfold.

It is a little know fact that Jim Wells actually invited a leading Northern Irish LGBT+ activist the wedding of one of his daughters. I happen to know this to be true, because it was I who received the invite, you see said daughter's husband is part of my family. I had a quiet conversation with Jim on that occasion he shook my hand, spook to me and looked me in the eye. He was also close enough to smell my cologne and not one of these sensory seemed to be repugnant to Mr Wells.

I can only therefore surmise that later when he said all those who took part in Belfast Pride he found repugnant that the only sense that would cause that reaction would be if he tasted me!

However, this wedding and meeting took part before the first debate on marriage equality at Stormont. On that day I was attending the debate and there was an interlude between the debate and the vote for questions. It was during this time that I encountered Jim Wells as a homophobe for the first time. Homophobia is described as having an irrational fear of homosexuality and/or homosexuals. Which I think describes what actually happened in the the restaurant that day. I was in the queue beside the Rev Chris Hudson and across the way was the BBC journalist. Ahead of me was Jim Wells.

I started with a friendly "Hello Jim" at which he turned around, I was about to ask after the health of Grace his wife and the rest of the family but after a quick look at who I was, I happened to be wearing my rather large I'm Liberal badge with a rainbow Lib Dem bird, he said "Oh you're one of them" and quickly turned heal. Rather an irrational, fearful reaction if you ask me.

Even before that however, I was at a hustings in the Black Box about international development was as I was working in a politically restricted role at the time I couldn't of course at my name to this piece on the Liberal Democrats NI website. Today I feel we have to disclose that this was my first hand account. Jim Wells assistant who at the time was dating a member of family looked straight over at me and mouthed, "You can't possibly blog that".

A number of years later and that assistant actually married that member of my family. His boss was invited to the wedding, as was I. This was a much stranger family gathering Jim was actively seen to be looking in my direction and actively avoiding me at the same time by my mother and others. I even saw this myself from out of the corner of my eyes. I'm not sure what he was expecting if I ever went anywhere near him, but it was yet another example of what I can only describe as the actions of someone who has an irrational fear of something, the fact that that something was me a politically astute campaigner who amongst other things is gay may well indicate that there is homophobia as an undercurrent and not in the glib way which that word is used at times, but a genuine actual fear.

I feel sorry for Jim that he suffers from such fear. But if he wants the truth to come out I am more than happy to help in that happening.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Dear all, An Apology - My part in Brexit - ALLEGEDY

Dear all,

According to Charles Moore (in yesterday's Daily Fail)  the UK would not have voted for Brexit if David Cameron had not forced through Same Sex Marriage. So of course this would not have happened if Lynne Featherstone had not raised the issue even though it was not in the coalition agreement.

But Lynne wouldn't have been able to raise it in cabinet had it not been Liberal Democrat policy after it adoption at Liberal Democrat conference in Autumn 2010. However, it also might not have been Federal Policy had not the Scottish party passed it as policy at their spring conference that Spring. It is for that first ripple that today I issue my apology and my part in our nation's downfall.

When Kieran Leach and I were researching the issues surrounding Same Sex marriage ahead of drafting the motion to conference an exit from the EU did not seem to have been an issue. At that time Belgium, (since 2000), Netherlands (2001), Spain (2005) nor Sweden (2009) had shown any inclination of leaving the EU as the result of their passing Equal Marriage legislation. It was also not an issue that the couple of speakers against the motion at that Spring Conference in Perth failed to raise as a consequence of what we were proposing. If we have missed out on some great piece of research that Charles Moore is privy to which states a correlation between Same Sex Marriage and exiting the EU we can only apologise.

As there is now a clear causal influence of being unable to remain within the EU and the passing of equal marriage or same-sex marriage legislation Kieran and myself can only apologise to the people of Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg, France and Denmark for their impending exits from the EU family. We would also ask Finland to carefully reconsider their agreement to introduce same-sex marriages on 1 March 2017 if they want to remain.

We just did not that the flapping of this butterflies wings could be so catastrophic.

Stephen Glenn
Chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats
Exec Member of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Committee

PS Please take all of the above with tongue firmly in cheek.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Taking Control of What?

This morning Nigel Farage declared the 24th June our Independence Day. But what does that mean?

All though the campaign and indeed for the last 25 years against rising Euroscepticism I have said we need to be in the EU not outside it Now that we have stepped outside it may be sometime before some realise what is missing so here is some things that I have been pondering today.

1. Our EU deal won't be gold standard. The United Kingdom are about to become the first nation to use the Lisbon Treaty to walk away from the EU. Do we really think that a majority of the other 27 are going to want to see that repeated? Not bloody likely.

Indeed all through the campaign the Brexiteers have told us that leaving will have no affect on our ability to live, study, work or retire in Europe. It won't lead to increase costs and tariffs on our trade with the EU etc But there is no way the 27 remaining members of the EU are going to give us all the benefits that come with membership having walked away. If they did it would encourage other nations to walk away with a good deal and there would be no point of being in the EU at all. Farage said he wanted to bring down the EU, now the EU have the power in their hands to bring down the UK.

2. There is a sharp divide in components. The Kingdom in no longer United in Scotland every single local authority voted remain. Nicola Sturgeon had already said that a new Independence Referendum is on the table and Scotland had been assured by the No team that being part of the EU was only guaranteed if they voted against Independence in 2014. Being taken out of the EU "against their will" has changed the constitution question in Scotland and many who voted No may now feel that leaving the UK and negotiating to enter the EU before Brexit is final is now more attractive.

Then in Northern all of the areas next to our European land border, plus three of the four areas in Belfast and North Down all voted the remain In most of the others which are Unionist strongholds it wasn't a clear vote leave. The Northern Ireland Act itself is so enshrined in being part of the EU and its constitutions that it will need to be redrafted, and then reapproved by referendum. For many the easier option may be to ask a different question. To remain under those European protections by reuniting a nation state for the second time in EU history following on from German reunification.

Martin McGuinness the Deputy First Minister has said "The British government now has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the North in any future negotiations with the European Union and I do believe that there is a democratic imperative for a 'border poll' to be held."

3. London may lose its financial clout. The other region with a good vote Remain by a margin of 60-40 of course this is the financial centre, but a lot of the banks operate across borders and London is not just the UK financial centre but also a European one. Already some financial institutions had been relocation divisions within their organisation ahead of the poll to hedge against the result that came to be in the early hours. Others have intimated in the lead up to the poll that they will consider their position once the vote was known, so Nigel Farage's nice friends in banking may well be deserting him to head to Europe.

We have also already seen in the hours since the result became clear the pound fall to the worse level since 1985. I bigger single day drop in share prices that even Black Wednesday, which has a knock on effect to pension funds. Government bonds rating go from secure to negative. And a run on dollars and Euros, plus a upsurge in the price of gold (never a good sign as this is deemed security).

4. The EU want us out.... quickly. Within hours of David Cameron setting his own timetable for the separation to start in October the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has said, "Britons decided yesterday that they want to leave the European Union, so it doesn't make any sense to wait until October to try to negotiate the terms of their departure - I would like to get started immediately."

The leaders of the 27 nations are going ahead with a planned meeting on Tuesday, David Cameron was initially meant to be there to discuss the way forward, we are already outside of the room as far as decisions about our future are concerned.

So in conclusion. We have no control over the decision, may not have full control over all our united kingdoms, have lost control of our financial strength and now have lost control of the speed of divorce proceedings. And the first result is barely 24 hours old.

Monday 13 June 2016

What Mark Longhurst and Sky News didn't realise about Pulse attack

Last night during the Sky News paper review at 10:30 (it wasn't repeated at 11:30) Owen Jones, who is someone I admittedly don't always agree with tried to make the point that the attack on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando was a direct homophobic attack. In a heated exchange in which Mark Longhurst the host and Julia Hartley-Brewer tried to down play the homophobic element of the attack Longhurst said "you don't have ownership of this horror cause you're gay."

I for one, and reading social media late last night, must of the LGBT+ community were outraged by such a reaction. We saw that comment for what it was a white, straight, cis-gendered, male not understanding that an attack on a minority grouping is not merely an attack on freedom, or an attack on humans having fun. This WAS and attack on the LGBT+ community. It was the realisation of many in the LGBT+ communities' worse fears.

If ISIS are throwing people some as young as nine off buildings in the areas they control for believing them to be gay, and they are carrying out attacks in the west, who might they attack here? Well of course one of the worse fears is that someone would claim to attack a gay venue or event in the name of IS. This is what happened in the early hours of Sunday morning and it is now the worse mass shooting in American history. So yeah the LGBT+ community can see that Owen Jones was right this was an attack on LGBT+ people. It was the realisation of our worst nightmare write large of the situation in our world today.

Julia Hartley-Brewer dismissed the attacked as "mad and bad" or as a "lunatic" bit for whatever reason he drove 90 miles and had premeditated to carry out this atrocity. The use of such words do not reflect what happened. This was someone with a seriously different world view to the established liberal, western mentality, even more so that the small c conservative mentality. But there are other people with a similar mind set out there who may well be planning something similar: a similar act to instil terror in the LGBT+ individuals.

In other words an Act of Terrorism against the LGBT+ communities.

Yet Sky News chose to mock the use of those words from someone who identifies as a gay man, someone in tune with the fear that is flowing out there amongst LGBT+ viewers. They negated the sense of terror that many LGBT+ people had heightened as a result of this attack, the mocked it in a way which is in itself homophobic in nature by ignoring the real concerns of all those individuals and merely seeing this in their own eyes.

It is therefore not surprising that I see that the segment which even Sky had deemed that they could not repeat has gone viral for all the wrong reasons.


Thursday 2 June 2016

Bloody looking forward to 1 September #bloodban

The last time I donated blood was on Monday 17th August 1998, I did so illegally because as a man who'd had sex with a man I wasn't totally truthful on the form. But it was two days after the Omagh bombing and blood stocks were low.

However, 18 years and 2 weeks on I will be able to give blood again and this time fully legally providing I don't have any sex with another man in the meantime. This is because today Northern Ireland's new health Minister Michelle O'Neill announced that science and not stigma would be the guide by which those making blood donations would be tested.

It is the end, within the UK, of a campaign I have been involved with for much of the 18 years since I last donated. It is one of the steps for LGBT+ equality that are needed for me as a Northern Irish gay man to have a civil worth that equates to the self worth that I took many years to come to terms with myself. There are still many more fights to be won but this a welcome one and one we haven't had to reach through the courts (although there were court cases pending on this issue).

So roll on 1 September, I look forward to digging out my 28 year old donation booklet to add new confirmations of donation.

Thursday 14 April 2016

UUP manifesto contains an LGB&T section, but silence on marriage #ae16

You can almost knock me over with a feather as for the first time in history one of the two main unionist parties in Northern Ireland has launched a manifesto that has a very strong section on LGBT+ issues.

This is an extract from the UUP manifesto:

We want to build a Northern Ireland that is inclusive and safe for all our people, and that includes the LGB&T community.  Our society should have no cold spots for anyone because of their sexual or gender identity. 
In the next mandate we want to see zero tolerance of hate-crime, tackle the high levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal feelings and self-harm and stamp out homophobic and transphobic bullying in the classroom.
We would: 
  • Bring forward the long awaited Sexual Orientation Strategy;
  • Equip our teachers to effectively deal with homophobic and transphobic bullying in our schools; 
  •  Support the toughening of sentences for aggravated crime;  
  • Support the introduction of a Gender Neutral HPV vaccine;  
  •  Work with local agencies to tackle poor levels of mental health and wellbeing in the LGB&T community;  
  •  Bring restrictions on the donation of MSM blood in line with the rest of the United Kingdom; 
  •  Support age-appropriate sex and relationship education.
The only missing component is obviously the issue that has haunted the last mandate of the NI Assembly the issue of equal marriage. It is clear that the UUP are leaving this as a matter of conscience for its elected M:LAs which means that while it has a largely LGBT+ friendly manifesto, voters would be advised to ask their individual candidates where they stand on that matter before considering their preferences.

I have asked the three in North Down:

  • Chris Eisenstadt is in favour and would vote for equal marriage.
  • Alan Chambers considers civil partnerships are far enough, not realising that the fact these are marriage leaving some of the friends and associates he assumes are LGBT+ open to direct and indirect discrimination by certain portions of our community. But then as he never seems to enquire he probably hasn't heard about those incidents.
  • Carl McClean responded positively but failed to address marriage directly telling me to await the manifesto (I have given him a further chance to answer that specifically).

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Eight "Labour" Candidates does this mean the time for NI Lib Dems to stand? #ae16

Firstly I must say I am writing this in a personal capacity and not in my role as Chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats, that it why it is being blogged her and not on the NI Lib Dems website. The reason for this is that there are differing opinions with the NI Lib Dems and the Federal Constitution does stipulate that until the local party decides otherwise and brings a constitutional amendment before conference we cannot stand candidates.

One thing that strikes me about the list of candidates for the NI Assembly elections for 2016 is that 8 of the 18 constituencies have a Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee member standing. There are also 10 constituencies where you can vote for the Conservatives.

While the latter are recognised by the national party, I understand that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was actually out canvassing with my local Conservative Candidate this afternoon. The former of course were recently not formally allowed to stand by the national executive of the Labour party, they appear to have done so anyway.

Political anoraks may be aware that the name Labour Representation Committee was the names used from 1900 until after the 1906 election by a group of candidates and activists that have since become the Labour Party. As far back as late 2010-11 when I was running the referendum campaign I became aware of the fact that Labour Party Members in Northern Ireland were looking at standing candidates for the Assembly elections and that they aimed to do this by 2016. I would appear that in eight seats they have managed to achieve this.

I have also noted that in his first speech as Deputy Prime Minister to a Liberal Democrat Conference in Autumn 2010 that Nick Clegg he intended for the party to stand in every seat in the Westminster election in 2015. Of course we didn't do that we didn't stand in any of the 18 Northern Ireland seats nor did we oppose the speaker seeking re-election.

Now I know that there are many in the Alliance who would consider themselves to be Liberal Democrats, some indeed would tend to vote that way if they life in the rest of the UK, some of course are dual members. There are others, most famously Naomi Long who after the 2010 election said she was not a Liberal Democrat and would not be taking the Lib Dem whip through that parliament, who would not.

I also know there are members within the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats who do see the need to stand for elections in Northern, who think we should continue to throw our all behind the Alliance. Others raise issues about how we would be able to fund it, would be have enough supporters to run it etc.

As for the fact of raising the level of membership and funding I have watched with interest the increase in activity of the Northern Ireland Labour Party over the last 5 years. They have expressed their desire to seek election, to stand up for a normalisation of politics and not stand on sectarian lines, something that some of their members see support of the SDLP and maintaining.

I have also for a number of years watch the Alliance fudge issues that would for a liberal be a matter of principle. But when one of the tenets of your existence is merely to be non-sectarian some of the Liberalism that the Northern Ireland Liberal party once stood  for, before the return of Direct Rule and formation of Alliance in the 1970s, is not in main reason for being.

People have often asked me why I don't stand here in Northern Ireland for the Alliance Party. The reason you most often here is "I am too liberal for them". Many of the Alliance representatives will tell you that I challenge them a lot on what I see as logical liberal steps long before they have come to a party position on them. Reading twitter in light of the recent abortion debate I think there is a large section of Northern Irish society that is now too liberal for most of the Northern Irish parties as well. It looks like I am not alone, it looks like there is a liberal heartland out there that has survived and is starting to rear its head as the Northern Irish parties continue to get bogged down with the politics of division so much that they fail to deal with everyday issues. Or one side or the other will attempt to block them despite it not being a sectarian matter.

The Conservative stepped up in the 1980s, Labour are stepping up in 2016, is it time as Liberal Democrats to consider standing up for the liberals that do exist in Northern Ireland and give them a real liberal voice for the future?

Reminder this article though written by the current chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats is written in a personal capacity and does not reflect the opinion of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats or the Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Incomplete measuring of diversity #LibDems

I'm in the process of completing a diversity survey of the Liberal Democrats approved candidates, I trust that by being asked to complete this I have been retained (although I have yet to have official confirmation of my post election review).

My first gripe was the first question, where it asked for DOB in the format mm/dd/yyyy when like me you have a repeating number (nine) you have rattled this off from an early age. To have to think when answering a UK based survey before you start, to transpose into American format is not a good first impression and people born in the first 12 days of a month may not have realised their error.

However, I see there are some areas that allow a true measure of diversity but when it came to ethnic background I hit a stumbling block as it failed to allow me to fill in my legislated right to identify as I want. I could choose White/British or White/Irish, but unlike what the Belfast Act allows I cannot identify as both White/British and White/Irish. So I shall have to fill in with other. Update Thank you Jennie Rigg who pointed out the other box, I have met my legislative right to identify as both.

The last section is work that you do and it assumes that all candidates are actually in work. It does not allow for candidates to be unemployed, students, retired, or indeed stay at home parents/ grandparents.

I know for ethnic background it may only affect me. But the working background homogenises all our approved candidates as being in work, which isn't necessarily so.

Update Apparently it you answer "No" to do you have a Religious belief the survey ends. While this would not be a problem with the DUP and potentially the Conservative it has repercussions for the Liberal Democrats with a high number of non-religious folks in our ranks.

Friday 1 April 2016

Philatelic Friday 1: WWI Centenary Gibraltar Part 1

I've decided to start a new series on this blog which will delve into my stamp collection on a weekly basis. And to start it all off I'm looking into the part of my collection that has really grabbed by attention recently and which is going to grow over the next few years as various nations and stamp issuing territories honour their part in World War I.

The decision of course is which location to kick off. I decided that this set from Gibraltar is a good place to kick off.

Designed by Westminster collection this set of 6 stamps was issued on 19th February 2014. The stamps are all 42.58mm x 28.45mm and while largely using black and white photography are printing in four colours (mainly to account for the poppy)

The 12p stamp in the famous Lord Kitchener "Your Country Needs You" recruitment poster. Of course the fact that Kitchener was killed of West Coast of the Orkney Islands on board HMS Hampshire may have some draw as to why I chose this first stamp in the collection to focus on with my political connections to both locations coming in the year before the celebration of WWI started.

The 40p stamp shows a scene that was repeated around the Empire of Army and Navy recruitment stations where young men flocked to sign up for the "great adventure" fully expecting to be home by Christmas. The soldier with the record player is probably either playing speeches from the leaders or patriotic music.

On the 50p stamp we see a scene of one young man fully kitted up saying goodbye to his family. This was a scene that was witnessed all across the land. From researching my own family history and especially with the friends brigades it would often be a scene that would be repeated up and down the streets in the same area at many doors as all the young men headed to the same camp in the same location at the same time. It is highly likely that my Grandfather's cousin James McGonigle Glenn who in 1911 was on the Census Barracked in Aldershot would be one of the first from the Fountain area of Londonderry to have had a weekends leave before heading to the front, long before the new recruits followed behind.

The 64p stamp shows the Quartermaster measuring up the new recruits so that they could look as smart as the professional soldiers who had years of training and preparation before them. All of them of course would soon enough be undistinguishable from each other side by side in the trenches.

On the 68p stamp we see the few short weeks of training that these new recruits were to receive at home before being dispatched to the front line. It was enough to learn discipline, use of weapons and basic tactics.

Finally on the £1 stamp we see smiling faces as the men are finally on their way. Heading by train to a coastal port from where they will sail to continental Europe and the front.

Off course these stamps appear on a first day cover which shows the cancellation that the Gibraltar Post Office is using for their WWI Centenary collection. At the centre is a poppy surrounded by the words "Centenary of World War I 1914-1918". On the left of the cover is an image of the men in the trenches, with the mud and the smiles no longer visible. Below is a red band which features a coloured version of the poppy used on the cancellation.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Dear NUS, from a former Rep who happens to be a gay man

Dear NUS,

I happen to be a former rep for my former University/Polytechnic. I also happen to be a gay man who is from Northern Ireland and currently residing in Northern Ireland. I also happen to be cis and the mover of the Transgender part of the Scottish Liberal Democrat motion on equal marriage which has since become law in Scotland and needs work in England and Wales, but not though any misogyny or transphobia or biphobia on my part.

The point of NUS LGBT+ campaign must surely exist for represent all parts of the spectrum to stand up against oppression not within the LGBT+ community but within the student community. While the vote at the NUS LGBT+ annual conference  this week seems to free up the LB&T sections from being under represented the omission of a specific spot for gay men may have repercussions that the current myopic stance may lead to an LGBT+ society in some Universities having an executive without any input from a gay man.

Of course biphobia is not merely an issue that occurs within the gay men of the LGBT+ community. I also have encountered a number of Lesbians who are radically oppressive to all gay men, but the NUS LGBT+ campaign is not excluding a position for Lesbian specific position because of certain of that group's misandry. Many gay men do feel sick when TERF's attack and deny those who identify as Transgender their identity. And as we have seen from some Transgender people, such as Caitlyn Jenner and Kellie Maloney, that not all those who are Trans are sympathetic to the LGB sectors.

I for one will acknowledge that in some instances the LGBT+ spectrum is far from ideal as there are differing agendas for the different parts at play at different stages. But as a former NUS rep, who happens to be a gay man I find the fact that this motion grouped all of one section of the LGBT+ spectrum with universal negativity as a reason to potentially exclude them in certain instances from having a voice on LGBT+ matters as counter productive.

I will continue to fight for equality for all and fight oppression wherever I see it occurring and will not be prejudging any group based on the behaviour of a few, now negated their point of view based on those prejudices. If I ever do, you can send me a DUP or heaven forbid a UKIP membership form.

Sunday 13 March 2016

The silenced minority #ldconf #lgbt

I have just listened to most of the Liberal Democrat motion on increasing diversity of our MPs. While there were women (the main beneficiaries of the motion), disabled, BME and Trans speakers on this motion. One of the minority groups that is not represented in our MP gay men was not represented, indeed through most of the speeches LGBT+ rights was barely mentioned.

In fact the most mention of LGBT+ candidates came in the request for a reference back. This is a way to ask for the motion to be looked at in more depth and brought back to a later conference. The call for the reference back mentioned LGB and non-binary inclusion to be considered. This was not even voted to be debated. So it appears that Liberal Democrat Conference didn't even want to listen to the concerns of LGBT+ representatives on this issue.

Between the lack of those called, the lack of consideration from most speakers and the failure to even listen to the reference back, it appears that Liberal Democrat Conference does not care about the impact of have no LGBT+ representation and the fact that the chance of having any gay male MPs after the 2020 election appears almost non-existent.

As as gay man who has stood in three election cycles I will be almost 51 at the 2020 election, but almost 56 at the 2025 election. I have spoken on issues affecting women, disability and BME people at conference in the past. I'm not someone who only speaks at conference for people like me, but today I'm sorry that conference seemed to have a debate covering a wide range of boxes, but each of those from a box or boxes addressed "mostly" only those within their box and little outside that box.

It has therefore as a result of the debate this morning that this candidate sees no way to advance as a candidate. There is a lot I can offer to the party going forward, but the party this morning has just shut the door on the potential for me as a Westminster Candidate.

Sunday 28 February 2016

I'll nae be hasting back to Scotland

Eight days after the 2010 General Election I took the momentous decision to no longer solely seek election in Linlithgow and threw my hat into the ring for a winnable seat for the 2011 Scottish elections.

In the end within weeks of the General Election then I was back on doorsteps of party members seeking their nomination for the seat of Edinburgh Central. Although I didn't win that selection losing out to the excellent Alex Cole-Hamilton I put the experience down as a learning one for the next time I contested a winnable seat.

Of course life between then and 2015 didn't go as intended and I had every intention of not even seeking selection for 2015 until I was approached to stand in a seat that had yet to select a candidate in the early part of last year.My experience as a candidate and running the referendum campaign was utilised through various media to try, in vain, to stem the tsunami that overcame us.

In the hours after the 2015 as I travelled back to Northern Ireland I wrote I would be looking to secure a full time job in either England, Scotland or Wales, to be part of the Lib Dem Fightback. Little did I envision that within a year as I was starting to look elsewhere for a move into a new full time job that I might as well remove Scotland where I have spent the majority of this millennium out of the reckoning.

The reason of course is that Scottish conference decided at the weekend that the chance of them returning their first gay man as an MP was considerably reduced when they voted that the top five target seats would be selected using All Women Short Lists (AWS)I hope that at least one of those five selects an LGT or BAME or disabled candidate as those minorities at least have a higher chance of selection. But if the Scottish Liberal Democrats can only manage to get to 50% of the 2010 number of MPs the chances of any gay man like myself getting elected if low and we would have to compete against men, women and everyone else for the lesser mortals.

Don't get me wrong when I said I was prepared to get back into the fray I meant all the hard work of going around the constituency week in week out. I did plenty of that, mainly on my own, in Linlithgow and East Falkirk between 2005 and 2010 enough that many still thought I was the candidate not only ahead of 2011 but also 2015. But it is making it harder for me to contemplate what may well be a two election cycle to get one of the targets from 6 down into a winning position.

I know that only AWS or all disability lists are legal, but to make all five of the most winnable AWS does not bring about equality of the situation if successful it brings a different imbalance that would have to be addressed against incumbency factors for 2025 and beyond.

I'll be watching to see what is decided by Federal Conference decide in York next month and then how the regions decide to implement those proposed powers to see if it is worth me even considering seeking work to try and work a seat. However, if too many of them do follow the lead of Scotland and make their top five targets AWS it may well be that instead of looking beyond my result in Sedgefield, I bow out of standing for election.

It is a pity that it may come to that, it is not what I envisioned after 40 hours without sleep from polling day morning, to mulling over the aftermath in May.

Monday 15 February 2016

LGBT+ equality in the world today

Apparently I should no longer campaign for LGBT+ equality elsewhere in the world. Apparently somebody who I have considered a friend for years considers that me using my white privilege to campaign for LGBT+ rights in Africa, or the Caribbean, or India and Pakistan is silencing BME LGBT+ voices.

Now I know there are occasions when it seems strange for white people to stand up for BME people, times it looks like they are doing it for point scoring, but rarely have I heard that argument aimed towards LGBT+ activists. Some of us myself included have lived though the time when it became legal for us to act upon our sexuality. The "colonial" laws that still exist in places like India, Uganda or Zimbabwe and others were still in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, despite being lifted in England and Wales in the 1967.

My privilege includes the bullying and beatings I got through my school career, when teachers were unable to do anything to stop it. Those beatings were homophobic in nature. My privilege involves having church people jump to conclusions and consider me unclean. My privilege includes the largest party in Northern Ireland spouting all sorts of unfounded claims against LGBT+ people and many on Radio and TV talk shows in Northern Ireland allowed to call us perverts, abominations and such like on a weekly basis.

Without straight allies there would not have been the progress on LGBT+ rights in this nation as we are a minority. The same goes for the abolition of slavery without some of those privileged white people realising that their privilege wasn't the best way forward and the same applies to the end of colonialism.

Now I do recognise that there is still a lot to be done in the area of racial diversity, just as there is in sexual orientation diversity. I fully support calls for those campaigning for intersectionality to be at the heart of activism. But if you stifle any activism because it fails to be fully representative of that intersectionality you will fail to do anything, achieve any goals or raise any concerns with the powers that be wherever they are.

What we need is activism and voices, yes ideally those voices should be as reflective as possible. But if people from any group say that the activism of another group does not reflect them even if the issue they raise is relevant to them we stifle progress. Without that activism, however imperfect, we sometimes find that the voices we want to come forward don't feel secure, don't feel support and don't feel heard in the wider picture.

Recently we lost a great Liberal Eric, Lord Avebury. He stood up for LGBT rights while happily married to women, breast feeding rights while not being a woman, was recognised by secularists and Muslims despite being a Buddhist. He inherited an hereditary title but stood up for the common man.  His voice achieved things for minorities he was not part of, because he spoke up, because of his activism.

Sunday 14 February 2016

Since last Valentine's Day

Well it is Valentine's Day once more, it takes me back to a thought I had back during the 2015 General Election. In the run up or aftermath of the 2005 and 2010 elections a long term relationship I had enjoyed came to an end because of my incessant campaigning, that wasn't the case leading up to 2015. The reason was because for the first election cycle in a while (especially when I was a candidate) there was no long term relationship.

Of course as many people are aware since 2010 I have been working hard on letting everybody marry their Valentine, that is especially true here in Northern Ireland. Since last Valentine's Day we have actually had a vote in the Assembly where a majority supported that right, only for the DUP to bring it to nothing with a petition of concern.

Now I'm not saying that the DUP are denying me the chance to find love over the last five years, indeed there have been three possibilities who really could have be the other half of a serious relationship. But for one reason or another none of those worked out. But one thing I have been working on consistently since the General election is to ensure that marriage equality exists across the whole of the UK. I always knew that the last hurdle would be here in the part that I was born. There is still work to be done to ensure that the change that the public and now the majority of our law makers are behind comes to fruition. However, the light has started to appear at the end of that tunnel and we feel we will soon be able to reach out and grasp what many thought was impossible.

So I hope that by Valentines Day next year it will be possible for same sex couples in Northern Ireland to at least start to plan their marriages not somewhere else in the UK, or somewhere elsewhere else in Ireland but here at home.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

When the DUP quote Peter Thatchell...

Peter Thatchell[s comment piece in the Guardian has suddenly started to appear in DUP politicians time lines. When this starts to happen you know that something is seriously wrong with what he has said.

It is not so much the fact that he has changed his opinion on the Ashers case. Nor that his comments on that case are based on a lack of knowledge the various laws that the judge made judgement on and indeed gloss over the depths of the evidence that were cited in the judicial review.

No what the DUP are picking up on is the points that Thatchell is making about political discrimination and freedom of expression. They are turning these into the appearance that their views are the victim of political discrimination and that they are facing a limit on their freedom of expression. Both issues that negate the fact that only their MLAs have to step forward together to prevent political movement of any kind and indeed was used to block the last vote on marriage equality when a majority were in favour.

What Peter Thatchell fails toe recognise in his comment piece about Northern Ireland is the level of comments that LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland can be the equivalent to what the rest of the UK heard in the mid 80s. These comments are almost repeated daily on our radios, certainly regularly within our hearing, and often from people who are family friends or even members of our families (nuclear or extended).

Some of the ideas that some people in Northern Ireland have about LGBT+ people should be unlawful, the fact that some of those ideas have oil heaped on their flames by the party that is now quoting Thatchell should be worrying. They are jumping on the fact that a gay rights campaigner thinks they should be allowed to espouse their ideas, to ignore the ideas of those seeking equality. That they will use his comments to protect people against discrimination as as means to allow homophobes to be able to avoid promoting ideas with which they disagree. In so doing he has given a rally cry for the DUP's call to bring in a conscience clause to protect businesses. I know this was not his intention but less than 24 hours in that is what is happening.

So in conclusion I'd like to thank Peter Thatchell for putting LGBT+ equality in Northern back a little this week by not thinking of the implication that stating those views in the way that he did will have to the fight for equality in Northern Ireland.

Sunday 31 January 2016

Sir Terry and me

Wake up to Wogan news this morning. I'm not sure what his other listener will be doing to mark the sad passing of the great raconteur but my thoughts are with the current Lady Wogan and the rest of the family.

Sir Terry may well have been doing the Radio 2 Breakfast show for longer than even I could remember. I must apologise for in my rebellious youth listening to those young upstarts on Radio 1 or even Virgin (although that voice sounds awfully familiar with my Radio 2 wake up no).

When I was driving into Edinburgh for a decade of work it was always Sir Terry who accompanied me, up until the morning that he bade us, both me and the other listener, that emotional farewell. But of course he also twice a year formed two televisual highlights of the year.

The first of course was accompanied by a six foot teddy bear with a spotty bandana over his bad eye. The millions of pounds he raised as part of Children in Need over 35 years is his greatest legacy, so much so that when he reached the limit for years he could serve as a Trustee of the charity he was made a life President so he could still be involved in the board.

The second was the running commentary (as the wine flowed) of Eurovision and more and more proposterous voting led to a result that more often than not didn't reflect well on Royaume-Uni. Indeed so much was Terry an essential part of Eurovision that on the one year that my partner was in Berlin on the evening with me in Scotland we spent the whole show on the phone, just so that Terry's commentary could be shared.

He was also of course part of the revamp of the mid 80s BBC evening schedule hosting his chat show Wogan three days a week in the slot he shared with a certain little show called Eastenders, I wonder whatever became of that show. Also for a while Sir Terry held a sporting record for the longest televised putt in golf when he holed a whopper at Gleneagles on Pro Celebrity Golf.

This is it then. The day we've been dreading. When we will no longer be able to wake up to the knowledge that Sir Terry Wogan is in our world and will at some point make us smile again. Wogan Towers will be a little lot quieter in the future with his passing.

Sir Terry Wogan 3 Aug 1938 - 31 Jan 2016

Saturday 30 January 2016

Equal Ever After and the missing Scottish footnote

This morning I received my copy of Equal Ever After  by Lynne Featherstone. As one of campaigners from the LGBT+ community from one of the political parties that pooled resources to achieve great things in the arena of same sex marriage I wasn't going to hang around to get reading this book.

Of course I have great praise for Lynne and the role she had in making same-sex marriage happen in England and Wales, but her telling of the tale omits one very important part of the tale both of her party's and the nation's move towards that goal. The fact that before the May 2010 election Liberal Democrats in at least one part of the country were able to answer to answer questions on this that is was party policy where they were standing and they hoped that if elected they would pursue it across the UK. Two of those the candidate for Falkirk and his agent, who also happened to be the candidate next door in Linlithgow and East Falkirk,  were even able to talk about the role they had played on creating that policy.

Sadly the fact that the Scottish Liberal Democrats had debated, voted and passed a policy on equal marriage and equal civil partnership in the run up to the 2010 election does not appear to warrant a mention, not even as a footnote to history of Lynne's history of the fight for same-sex marriage. \It is one significant footnote in our party's fight for LGBT+ equality, as well as footnote in the history of LGBT+ equality in our nation that is missing.

Obviously as somebody who was there on that platform helping to propose that Scottish policy motion to conference who now finds himself back home in Northern trying to close the circle in that "corner of our United Kingdom" that has "set its face against marriage equality" my fight goes on, waiting for us all to be equal ever after.

Why Northern Ireland is incompatible with woman's rights #abortion

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
When the High Court in Belfast ruled last month that Northern Ireland's abortion legislation was "incompatible" with human rights law, I expected there to be some objections. However, with both the Attorney General and Justice Minister lodging appeals against that decision.

Now the Justice Minister unlike the Attorney General admits that some change does need to be made to Northern Ireland's abortion laws, his words show a certain bias none the less. David Ford has said:

"The judgement from the High Court does not fully clarify the law and potentially leaves open the possibility there could be abortion on demand in Northern Ireland on an even wider basis than is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom."

Firstly the use of the phrase abortion of demand ignores the fact that many Northern Irish women already access abortion within the confines of the law in the rest of the UK. The way to stop there being legal challenges as to the compatibility with human rights law is to act in a positive direction to relax the restrictions not challenge a ruling that says you need to act.

What they need most is support prior and post the terminations which do happen. We need that support on demand! Hoiwever, with the current archaic laws in Northern Ireland they fear being arrested for taking whatever means they have done to terminate a pregnancy. The fact that future gynecological issues may arise because of earlier terminations, but such women in Northern Ireland may fear seeking assistance for these because of their secret, taboo, history.

I do not think any makes a decision for termination lightly. It is an emotive subject with heated arguments on both sides of the debates. But the people for who it is the most emotive are not the protesters outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, not are they the feminists who stand up loudly against just such protesters. Not the people for whom this is most emotive are of course the women carrying the foetus/unborn child (depending on your viewpoint) and those who care for them secondly.

So while we continue to fail to move any distance on abortion here in Northern Ireland we are incompatible with human rights law and that is we are enslaving many women to a live of fear of authorities finding out what they may have done in their past, or might have to consider in the future.

Personally I want to see the 1967 Act extended to Northern Ireland but I certainly believe we need to go some distance further than even the limited position that the Department of Justice has said it is prepared to move.

Sunday 24 January 2016

New Year New Role

I know it isn't quite the start of the year but hey it is still the first month.

Yesterday I had to give my apologies for the AGM of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats, this also meant that I had to send in my report on behalf of LGBT+ Lib Dems Northern Ireland to be read out in my absence. But of course the other order of the day of any AGM is the appointment of the officers.

Therefore it is pleasure to know that the members of my party graciously elected me* the new chair for the coming year.

It is honour to have been elected to this position at the first AGM into the Lib Dem Fightback and even though the Northern Ireland party do not contest elections if not mean that I will be sitting idly by and not being involved in that Fightback. As regular readers will know I was already up for the fight even as I waS travelling back to Northern Ireland after the disappointment of election night.

Being chair here in Northern Ireland is a challenge that I will look to embrace especially as the General population are more liberal than many in the Assembly would care to acknowledge. There are a number of issues that I feel it is important that a Liberal Democrat voice is heard, you can be sure that I will be doing all I can for that voice to be heard loud and clear. Fellow Liberal Democrats will have heard me joke often in the past that I am too liberal for politics here in Northern Ireland, thankfully many people here are catching up to my point of view. You can be sure I want to bring that viewpoint to the fore amongst all the closed, narrow minded and self preservationist views that dominate opinion here, showing people that there is a hope for a better way forward.

* Don't worry this wasn't an abuse of my absence I had previously given consent to being nominated.

Thursday 14 January 2016

Extra Night Accomodation - The Lib Dem Conference debacle

So it appears that some people (probably based in the south) have considered that having a full day Saturday and ending Autumn Conference on a Tuesday is going to safe people money on accommodation. As someone who many times has travelled from the northern reaches to the southern coast I beg to disagree.

Travelling from Scotland or locations up north the later start on the Saturday often allowed people the option of travelling on the first train or plane in the morning on the Saturday and if they wanted to getting to those consultative or training sessions that take place on Saturday ahead of the conference rally. Also depending on when our transport could be booked we either left before the leader's speech to head for trains north on the Wednesday or immediately afterwards.

If you are going to make a full day Saturday and a full day Tuesday people coming from further afield are going to have to come down a day early and stay overnight on the Friday and probably are still going to need somewhere to stay on the Tuesday night after a full day thus meaning an EXTRA nights accommodation at GREATER COST. This could actually result in having to take an EXTRA DAY OFF work for those wanting to get to conference from any distance.

Travel on a Friday is often dear than on a Saturday and harder to come by as weekly commuters also are looking for travel option at this time especially in the evening, which is the time that most from the North will probably be hitting London looking to get to those south coast resorts that hold the majority of our Autumn conferences. Of course Northern Liberal Democrats could break their journey here and like the London and southern based Liberal Democrats travel down on Saturday morning when fares are cheaper. But we'd have to find more expensive accommodation for one night in the capital.

Yes the proposals are clearly not to make conference cheaper for delegates outside the London commuter belt, in fact they are bound to make it more expensive for those in the North and Scotland to attend Federal conference and are merely a way to make it cheaper to host but will make it more Southern Centric and less democratic as an upshot.