Saturday, January 14, 2006

GALHA vice-president in the forefront of the fight against Catholic-inspired homophobia

GALHA's energetic vice-president Michael Cashman is in the forefront of the fight against the homophobia which still exists in some European states - notably ultra-Catholic Lithuania and Poland:

MEPs demand EU clampdown on homophobia
Friday, 13 January 2006

The European Parliament is calling for tough action against EU member states that fail to uphold the human rights of homosexuals.

MEPs from all the main political groups have tabled resolutions condemning moves by several EU countries, including Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, which they believe stigmatise gays and lesbians.

"We need to fight across Europe for similar equality but worryingly many European countries are not nearly at this stage," said Michael Cashman, the British Labour MEP.

"Gay pride marches are still being banned, political and religious leaders are using the language of hate and menace and police are failing to protect peaceful demonstrations and break up violent unrest by homophobic groups."

Polish president Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz last year claimed that homosexuality is "unnatural" and several gay pride marchers were arrested for attending "illegal demonstrations".
Marcinkiewicz also called for the abolition of a Polish organisation fighting discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Meanwhile, Latvia and Lithuania have both proposed legislation banning same-sex marriages.

MEPs have ordered the European Commission to explain what sanctions will be taken against countries that persistently breach the principle of respect for human rights.

"Where EU countries breach the human rights of gay and lesbian people, the council of ministers must consider action to suspend member states' membership of the EU," said Cashman."We need the commission to tell us how many EU governments are failing to adhere to anti-discrimination legislation and what they intend to do about those who are ignoring it."

Vice-President Franco Frattini is expected to be in Strasbourg on Monday to reiterate the commission's determination to stamp out homophobia. But he is likely to stop short of an outright condemnation of Warsaw's actions. The Italian was only appointed commissioner for justice and freedom in November 2004 after his compatriot, Rocco Buttiglione, was forced out the post by MEPs for his own outspoken views. Parliament was so incensed by Buttiglione's claims that homosexuality was "a sin" that it refused to endorse the entire 'college' of 25 commissioners until he was replaced. Buttiglione refused to apologise for his beliefs, and it is the same militant Catholicism that appears to motivate the political leaders in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. But any political moves to ban, marginalise or criminalise homosexuality are likely to be met by fierce opposition both at home as well as in Brussels. Courts in Poland have already refused to begin criminal proceedings against the protestors arrested in November, arguing that they had not acted illegally.

Friday, January 13, 2006

LGBT university teachers invite a GALHA speaker

GALHA has received an invitation from the Association of University Teachers to address its annual meeting for lgbt members to be held in London on 16 March 2006.

The AUT Policy officer - equal opportunities, Charlotte Church, said that the lgbt members see the meeting as the opportunity to meet to exchange views, discuss current issues, debate policy and set priorities for the coming year. In particular they have expressed interest in having a discussion this year about the challenges raised by forthcoming legislation on religious discrimination, hatred, etc.

GALHA's speaker will be Andrew Copson, a committee member who has recently been appointed Education and Public Affairs Officer for the British Humanist Association.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Gay Humanists welcome support from brave human rights activist

GALHA News Release
8 January 2006

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Assocation (GALHA) is pleased to announce that the author, feminist, physician, human rights activist and Humanist, Taslima Nasreen, has demonstrated her support for the group by joining its panel of vice-presidents.

Like her fellow author Salman Rushdie, Ms Nasreen fell foul of Islamic extremists. After the publication of her novel Ljja (Shame) in 1993, she received death threats and was forced to flee her native Bangladesh. Since then she has lived in exile in Sweden, but travelled extensively giving lectures in many different countries and taking part in demonstrations.

Among the awards she has received are the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thoughts from the European Parliament, a Human Rights Award from the French Government, the UNESCO Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence, and a Distinguished Humanist Award from the International Humanist & Ethical Union.

GALHA members were delighted when she showed her support for lesbian and gay rights by attending a dinner which the group arranged at the Congress of the International Humanist & Ethical Union held in the Netherlands in 1996.

GALHA's secretary, George Broadhead, said: "We are very grateful to have the endorsement of this brave, internationally recognised human rights campaigner and it is a great boost to our morale. It is gratifying to receive a message of welcome for her support from Michael Cashman MEP who is already on our VP panel."

More information about Taslima Nasreen can be found on herwebsite

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Busted – another homophobic evangelical frock lifted

According to the US gay weekly, the Washington Blade, an executive committee member of the Southern Baptist Convention was arrested on a lewdness charge for propositioning a plainclothes policeman outside a hotel.

Lonnie Latham, senior pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church who has denounced homosexuality in the past was arrested after asking a plain-clothed policeman to accompany him to a hotel room for oral sex. It is not clear from the story whether he felt it better to give than to receive a blow-job.

Now, obviously, one cannot support these “pretty policeman” entrapment measures, and whether prostitution ought to be illegal is a subject up for debate, but one can’t help indulging in a little schadenfreude when these bible-thumping fundamentalists out themselves by seeking some of the fruit they try to forbid to others.

Lathan was an opponent of civil rights for lesbian and gay people and – oh irony – an enthusiastic proponent of the “ex-gay” movement.

Let’s just hope that he’s had a road to Damascus experience where he expected to find heaven and mends his ways. He can start by being honest to himself, and then gradually, others.

He could try lying – like the hapless idiot John Paulk did – but like he himself now inadvertently has, the truth will also eventually come out.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Muslim Council head says gays are sick

“[Homosexuality] is something which is not acceptable in Islam the sameway it is not acceptable under Christianity or Judaism or other divinereligions,” says Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain.

“Our religion, our faith is very, very clear. This is harmful,” he continued.

Sacranie made these remarks during an interview on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme yesterday at around 5:20 pm.

The BBC News website reported on other remarks he made, which included describing civil partnerships as “harmful” to society, and these comments:

"It does not augur well in building the very foundations of society - stability, family relationships. And it is something we would certainly not, in any form, encourage the community to be involved in."

"Each of our faiths tells us that it is harmful and I think, if you look into the scientific evidence that has been available in terms of the forms of various other illnesses and diseases that are there, surely it points out that where homosexuality is practised there is a greater concern in that area."

The Times led with his other remarks, which included claiming that gay people were immoral and spread disease. He also said that same-sex relationships risked damaging the foundations of society, and scientific evidence showed that homosexuality carried high health risks.

The Times also reports that there has been cross-party condemnation of Sacranie’s comments…

  • Alan Duncan, the most prominent openly gay Conservative MP, said: “This is an absurd medieval view. One should separate the religious from the secular. Such general condemnation is no longer acceptable in a civilised modern world.”
  • Stephen Pound, the Labour MP for Ealing North, said: “It’s a cruel and vicious blow to strike against people who are born the way they are. We are living in 21st-century northern Europe, not 7th-century Arabia. It may come as a shock to Mr Sacranie, but I know many gay Muslims who are living perfectly normal, decent lives.”
  • Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on human rights, said: “To imply that homosexuality itself was unacceptable is a form of intolerance that’s deplorable.”

… but it also notes that some Catholic and Church of England leaders agree with him.

In their 2002/3 Annual Report, the Muslim Council of Britain boast about their joint lobbying work with other fundamentalist groups like The Christian Institute to counter gay rights legislation.

In another document, they claim that homosexuality causes AIDS.

There is more and more evidence emerging that religious groups – regardless of creed or denomination – are ganging up to oppose gay rights. The MCB put out a statement after the death of Pope JPII that it was also “a sad day for Muslims” since, with the Catholic Church, they’d jointly campaigned against (amongst other things) “homosexuality and lesbianism”.

Some will claim that Sacranie speaks for himself and not for thw MCB, but the MCB has a history of hostility towards gays and lesbians. It opposed the repeal of Section 28 saying that “This would mean that councils would be free to spend public money on homosexual youth groups, homosexual youth workers, and homosexual festivals. Ordinary people do not want to see councils spending public funds in this way”; and the equalisation of the age of consent, noting that their opposition was "based on a clear injunction given in the Holy Qu'ran and in the Hadith of the Holy Prophet” .

In addition to campaigning against allowing gay people to adopt and, of course, civil partnerships, they have lobbied against gay rights consistently. In fact, there hasn’t been a single piece of legislation granting civil or human rights to lesbian and gay people that they haven’t fought against.

They described the government’s efforts to address antigay discrimination as a “misguided” attempt to ‘to prove that both heterosexual and homosexual orientations are equal”.

However, describing gay people as being afflicted with a condition that leads to “other illnesses and diseases” is a new low.

UPDATE: For more on this story, see Ruth Gledhill's blog at The Times.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

GALHA members tie the knot

Ben Duncan proposed to Dick Chapman in the summer of 1952 but he still remembers the occasion vividly. He'd chosen the perfect place, the perfect time of day: Oxford's Christ Church meadow at sunset. In the distance, punts floated by on the River Cherwell. 'What I had wanted all my life was to find one other person, and I knew I had found him,' he recalls. 'We went for a walk and sat on the benches under the walls of Merton College to look at the wonderful view. I thought to myself, this is the right moment to ask. After a suitably dramatic pause, I turned to him and suggested we spend the rest of our lives together.' Ben was over six foot tall, a romantic and impulsive American from Alabama, bewitched by England: 'It was the country of my dreams. I had built up a unrealistic idea of it based on literature but I had stepped into a dream, and Dick was part of that dream.' As for Dick, he was handsome and practical, the son of high-achieving Cambridge academics. 'There are moments in your life you remember absolutely, for ever after,' he says, taking up their story. 'And Ben's proposal was one of them. I thought it was wonderful but I also thought how could this possibly be? Ben had no rights to stay in England, no visible means of support, no family.'Furthermore, Ben was suggesting they live as a couple - two men in the kind of relationship that could land them in prison if discovered by the authorities; the kind that would remain illegal for another 15 years.

Over half a century later, at 9.30am on 21 December 2005 in a brightly lit office in Cambridge, Ben and Dick were one of the first couples in the country to register as civil partners. There was little fuss, no lavish reception or meandering speeches. At their request, no family members were present. Instead, a younger gay couple acted as their witnesses, and Ben and Dick were theirs. Afterwards, all four returned home for lunch and the chance to talk about what the day had meant to them all. 'I never imagined this moment would come,' says Ben, 78. 'I suppose during the early years of the gay movement the idea was floating around, and I thought "Wouldn't it be wonderful?", but I never really believed I would live to see it happen.' Dick, 75, agrees: 'I can still hardly believe it,' he says.

Judging by the media coverage the following day, one might have imagined the only ones to walk up the aisle on 'Pink Wednesday' were Elton John and David Furnish (not forgetting their black and white spaniel Arthur, nipping at their polished heels). However, almost 700 other same-sex couples across Britain also took advantage of the historic new legislation. Over the last month I've followed three of them: Ben and Dick, Mark and Shaun Johnson from Liverpool and Karen Carter and Joanne Ellerington, who live in Blackpool. On a purely practical level, all have spent their first Christmas together secure in the knowledge that they can now automatically inherit from each other without a will, benefit from their partner's national insurance contributions and pension, be exempt from inheritance tax and treated as a couple for immigration purposes. Nine other European countries already have similar legislation but for the first time in British history privileges which have been the right of any married couple - most poignantly, the right to register a loved one's death and to be automatically consulted about hospital treatment - are now enshrined in law for gay partners, too. In the event that any of them should decide to divorce, they won't be able to until 2007. As with any doomed marriage, they must give the relationship a go for at least a year and expect the same division of assets if it does go wrong.

But talking to these newly hitched couples, it's clear the legislation is as much to do with love and romance as any of the legal small print. 'Civil partnership' might be one of the least sentimental phrases ever concocted, and filling in a form might not readily inspire kisses, champagne toasts and embarrassing bouts of retro dancing, but the ceremonies that took place on 21 December were weddings by any other name. The day symbolised public recognition for hitherto private love stories. There were bonds nurtured despite periods of secrecy, mutually supportive relationships maintained the hard way, without much celebration or acceptance.

Until now.Despite their very different backgrounds, Ben and Dick have lived together for so long that when you speak to them on the phone it is impossible to tell their voices apart. Unconsciously they echo each other's choice of language. Neither is given to overstatement or melodrama. Ben is not exaggerating when he says: 'We have often asked each other what would have happened if we hadn't met? We now believe - no, we know - that neither of us would have survived without the other.'

When they met one icy New Year's Eve in 1951, the attraction was instant, physically and intellectually. Dick: 'We were both reading English, we both liked the same kind of literature, we both had the same leftish politics. We discovered only the other day that neither of us had any idea of where the college sports ground was!' Did he like the look of Ben, too? 'Oh, I thought he was marvellous!' he smiles.' You have to remember that Americans were rarer in Britain then. He seemed terribly glamorous and exotic.'

In 1962 Ben wrote an eloquent and poignant memoir, The Same Language. It describes his childhood growing up in children's homes across America's deep south after the death of his parents, his flinty determination to make something of his life and his subsequent struggle with the Home Office to stay in Britain after winning a scholarship to Oxford. Last month an updated version was published in which Ben reveals what he could not in the Sixties for fear of serious reprisal: his homosexuality and his love for Dick. The two stories, in parallel, dramatically show how society has changed.

'It was an absolute joy to write,' says Ben. 'I can't tell you the sense of release. I wanted our lives put on record. I didn't want the moment to pass and be forgotten. I didn't want the bad things that happened to us happen to anyone else.'

He recalls a time characterised by ignorance and fear: when gay men constantly ran the risk of being arrested; when the police ransacked address books looking for incriminating names. If one of their circle was charged, everyone would club together to raise the money for a solicitor. Dick talks about a friend whose mother reacted with hostility when he told her he was homosexual. A few weeks later he committed suicide. Ben: 'It's very difficult for anybody of a younger generation to picture it - the sheer level of hostility. The view was that gay men should go to prison and never be let out again. 'Dick: 'There were no role models. 'Ben: 'There were men who were rumoured to be gay. But certainly at the beginning you would not know for sure.Dick: 'There was such a set way of life then - you got married, you had children. Now people might think, why didn't you protest and make a fuss? But you would have lost your job, your flat, your whole life would have collapsed. We were living in a totally hostile world.'

The Seventies began to bring freedoms they could never have imagined but then in the Eighties they were confronted with Aids. They estimate that they lost more than 40 friends. For the last 30 years they've been quietly active in the campaign for gay rights, setting up a branch of Crusaid in Cambridge and becoming father figures of the gay community in the area. 'I believe passionately in the idea of two against the world,' says Ben. 'Gosh, I do.'They are delighted whenever younger gay friends fall in love, just as they did over 50 years ago. Will legal recognition alter their relationship? 'I don't think it changes anything between Dick and me,' says Ben carefully. 'But I do think it changes the way we deal with the world and how the world deals with us.' By way of illustration he recounts how he opened the front door to a man delivering a celebratory bouquet of flowers on the afternoon of 21 December. 'He was gruff-looking, with an earring and so on. He asked if they were for somebody's birthday, and I wondered, "Am I going to tell him the truth?" When I explained, he looked genuinely delighted. "The world is a lot more open minded now," he said.'

There is something incredibly touching about these two dignified men, now in their retirement, talking about their love for one another. Ben, who has been dogged by ill health over the last few years, had been terrified that something would go wrong on their 'wedding day'. 'But it was wonderful. I have the sense of taking a deep breath and embarking on a different stage in our lives. This is the beginning of something new.'

(This is extracted from an article in The Observer published on Sunday 1 January 2006. Ben and Dick are members of GALHA living in Cambridge. They are also members of Cambridge Humanist Group. You can find GALHA's response to the Civil Partnership legislation at:

Cardinal risks inciting violence against gays

Media Release, 1 January 2006


The Catholic Church is exploiting bigotry and risks inciting further violence against gay and lesbian people with its continuous abusive attacks, a national gay rights group says.

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) was reacting to news that Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, is proposing to use his New Year's Day homily to launch a further attack on the Civil Partnership Act.

GALHA's secretary, George Broadhead, said: "These relentless Vatican-inspired attacks are reaching a level that could lead to an escalation of violence against gay people. The Catholic Church's hierarchy has used increasingly extreme language in its desperate attempts to hold back progress for the gay community. This kind of hate-mongering will be seen as a justification by some people for their already existing prejudices. It might even lead to more violence against a section of the community that is already subject to harassment and discrimination."

Mr Broadhead said that, in fact, the Civil Partnership Act was specifically created to be non-religious. "Civil Partnerships are registered in a register office, which is a secular building. The registration is carried out by a civil servant, not a minister of religion. Indeed, the Act specifically says that there must be no religious element to the registration process. So what is the Cardinal getting so excited about? Despite the fact that the media is presenting it as 'gay marriage', civil partnership registration is not marriage - something that we deplore. The gay community should have been given complete parity with the rest of the population - it should have been given marriage. Instead, the government has created a completely separate system for gay people, which is, in itself, discriminatory."