Gay UK News & Reports 2008 Oct-Dec

1 Gay rights advocate to replace Mandelson in Brussels 10/08

2 Baron Mandelson under pressure not to take Brussels ‘golden goodbye’ 10/08

3 GMFA launches ‘Know your HIV status’ campaign 10/08

4 I won’t do it again, promises ‘gay wedding’ vicar 10/08

5 Gay MP injured in daytime attack by teen thugs 10/08

6 THT increases democratic base with free membership scheme 10/08

7 Boris "thrilled" as London wins right to host World Pride in 2012 10/08

8 Ian McKellen to support gay teen runaways at charity event 11/08

9 Outcast heroes: the story of gay Muslims 11/08

10 Defending human rights: Peter Tatchell interviewed 11/08

11 London University Establishes Free Law Surgery for LGBT Community 11/08

11a Edward Carpenter: A life of liberty and love 11/08

12 Asylum for a Gay Man from Russia: Immigration Equality 11/08

13 Pride London wins tourism award for cultural diversity 12/08

14 Charity for gay homeless teens rebrands to reach new generation 12/08

15 Men sought by police in connection with homophobic chanting at game 12/08

16 Top gay venue Astoria to hold ‘last ever party’ 12/08

October 3, 2008 – PinkNews

Gay rights advocate to replace Mandelson in Brussels

by Tony Grew
Baroness Ashton is to leave the Cabinet and replace Peter Mandelson as an EU Commissioner. As Leader of the House of Lords, Cathy Ashton has been a vocal supporter of gay rights and has guided some key pieces of legislation through the upper chamber. Just last week she appeared on the panel at an LGBT Labour fringe meeting at the party’s conference.
Stonewall today paid tribute to her work for gay and lesbian people.

"She has been an absolutely fantastic champion of equality, particularly since she became Leader of the House of Lords," said Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall. "It’s been a privilege to work with Cathy on a range of issues and if she is as successful at building alliances in Brussels as she has been in London then she will do a very good job indeed." Baroness Ashton’s appointment as an EU Commissioner means that the Prime Minister has avoided a by-election that would have resulted if he had appointed an MP.

Cathy Ashton joined Gordon Brown’s first Cabinet in June 2007. From 1983-89 she was Director of Business in the Community working with business to tackle inequality, and established the Employers’ Forum on Disability, Opportunity Now, and the Windsor Fellowship. In 1999 she was made a life peer and in 2004 she was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

She became an Education Minister in 2001. In 2005 she was voted House Magazine Minister of the Year and Channel 4 Peer of the Year. In 2006, she was voted Stonewall Politician of the Year.

October 14, 2008 – PinkNews

Baron Mandelson under pressure not to take Brussels ‘golden goodbye’

by Tony Grew
Peter Mandelson took his seat in the House of Lords yesterday. He becomes one of three openly gay peers, all men, in a House of 741. The new Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is under pressure from opponents about a financial package he is eligible for as a former EU Commissioner.
The Conservatives have called on him to reject the generous transitionary payments of £78,000 per year from the EU that he is entitled to for the next three years. In addition to his salary as a Cabinet minister he will be earning close to the £182,500 he received as a Commissioner.

Lord Mandelson is also eligible for a £15,000 relocation grant. "Not only did Gordon Brown recall Peter Mandelson to shore up his own position, but it adds insult to injury to know taxpayers will have to pay extra for the privilege," said Tory spokesman on Europe Mark Francois. Baron Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham took his seat in the Lords yesterday.

Wearing ermine robes, he was supported by the ex-Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton and Baroness Jay, former Labour Leader of the House of Lords. He will be known as Lord Mandelson. Since his appointment as Business Secretary and shock return from Brussels less than two weeks ago, he has been in the headlines constantly.

The press have highlighted his stay on a yacht near Corfu owned by Oleg Deripaska, head of the world’s largest aluminium company, and questioned whether that was compatible with his role as EU Trade Commissioner. There are also reports that the peer wants security gates erected in the Regents Park street where he lives, to the annoyance of residents. Today it was announced that a former Downing St business adviser, Geoffrey Norris, will serve as Lord Mandelson’s special adviser.

October 15, 2008 – PinkNews

GMFA launches ‘Know your HIV status’ campaign

by Rachel Charman
Gay men’s health charity GMFA have launched a new campaign highlighting the benefits of knowing you HIV status following new figures released by the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH). New BASHH guidelines recommend that gay men take an HIV test every year, after news has emerged that almost half HIV positive men are unaware of their condition. In 2005, the Gay Men’s Health Survey showed that 40% of gay men had never had an HIV test at all.
GMFA’s new campaign outlines the benefits of being aware of your HIV status, including avoiding transmitting the virus to others, and better health and longer life for HIV positive men.

Matthew Hodson, Head of Programmes for GMFA, said: "What makes this campaign special is that it was developed by a group of volunteers most of whom are HIV positive themselves. Getting a positive diagnosis is still really tough, but these volunteers are able to talk honestly about the benefits of knowing your status from their personal experience. If you don’t get tested it won’t make you HIV negative. Even if you don’t test it’s likely you’ll find out eventually but it may not be until you get ill, when your immune system has been severely damaged. It’s better to take control of when you find out so that you are able to access the best medical attention and advice. We want men to understand if you take an HIV test it helps put you in control of your health, your life and your relationships."

Director of the Health Protection Agency’s (HPA) Centre for Infections, Professor Peter Borriello, said: "The control of HIV transmission is a major public health challenge and testing for HIV, and for all sexually transmitted infections in the UK, needs to be increased still further. If you care, get tested."

Research carried out by the HPA in 2005 showed that 22% of gay men were diagnosed with HIV too late when health problems could arise, and 7% had already progressed to clinically defined AIDS. Late HIV diagnosis in gay men has also been shown to increase the chances of death within a year by more than ten times.

October 24, 2008 – PinkNews

I won’t do it again, promises ‘gay wedding’ vicar

by Tony Grew
A Church of England priest who blessed the same-sex partnership of two of his fellow clergy in a church ceremony has expressed regret for his actions. Reverend Peter Cowell and Reverend David Lord exchanged vows in a "blessing ceremony" at St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London in May. When news of the service broke, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, ordered an investigation into the cleric who officiated, Rev Dr Martin Dudley. The Archdeacon of London carried out the investigation with Chancellor of the Diocese.

"This has involved a series of frank discussions with the Rector," a diocesan statement issued yesterday said. "As a consequence, the Rector has made expressly clear his regret over what happened at St Bartholomew the Great and accepted the service should not have taken place. Bishop Richard considered the matter and has decided to accept the Rector’s apology in full. The matter is therefore now closed."

It is reported that the Bishop put pressure on Rev Dudley to allow his letter to be made public. A civil partnership ceremony cannot legally take place in a religious institution. In this instance a full Church of England ceremony had taken place. Under House of Bishops guidelines, clerics are allowed to enter into a civil partnership as long as they are not engaging in sexual relations but "clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.

"Clergy who are approached by people asking for prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership are reminded to respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circumstances of each case, having regard to the teaching of the church on sexual morality, celibacy, and the positive value of committed friendships in the Christian tradition."

Rev Dudley said in a statement released by the diocese that he will abide by the Anglican Church’s position on gay issues but warned that the rules are being "widely disregarded." "I can now appreciate that the service held at St Bartholomew the Great on 31 May 2008 was inconsistent with the terms of the Pastoral Statement from the House of Bishops issued in 2005," he said.

"Whilst the precise status of this pastoral document within the Church of England generally and the Diocese of London in particular may be a matter of differing interpretations, I ought to have afforded it far greater weight. I regret the embarrassment caused to you by this event and by its subsequent portrayal in the media. I now recognise that I should not have responded positively to the request for this service, even though it was made by another incumbent of your Diocese, who is a colleague, neighbour and friend of us both, nor should I have adopted uncritically the Order of Service prepared by him and his partner.

"I had not appreciated that the event would have been attended by so many nor that it would have attracted the publicity and notoriety which it did. I share your abhorrence of homophobia in all its forms. I am profoundly uneasy with much of the content of the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement which anecdotal evidence suggests is being widely, though discreetly, disregarded in this Diocese and elsewhere. Nonetheless, I am willing to abide by its content in the future, until such time as it is rescinded or amended, and I undertake not to provide any form of blessing for same sex couples registering civil partnerships."

October 27, 2008 – PinkNews

Gay MP injured in daytime attack by teen thugs

by Staff Writer,
A Plaid Cymru MP has been attacked in Worcester. Four youths attacked Adam Price and a friend, who were on their way to a party in a restaurant.
"A gang of youths set upon him randomly," a paty spokeswoman told The Independent. "They had no idea who he was. It was an unprovoked attack. He is a bit battered and bruised and has a black eye, but no broken bones."

Mr Price, the MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, is one of two out MPs from a Welsh constituency. He was named as one of the 50 most powerful LGBT people in the UK by last year. Mr Price’s spokeswoman, Heledd Fychan, said he received facial cuts during the assault, just after 5pm on Saturday, and was unable to attend the party, which celebrated his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. A police spokesman said: "Mr Price and his friend were taken to hospital for treatment. Four male suspects were arrested."

October 30, 2008 – PinkNews

THT increases democratic base with free membership scheme

by Tony Grew
A leading sexual health charity is encouraging people to join its free membership scheme.
Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) members will be kept up to date on the latest HIV and sexual health news and will get three e-newsletters a year, keeping them informed on sexual health issues, THT’s work, campaigns and fundraising activities. Members can vote in THT’s trustee elections.

In an interview with earlier this year THT’s Lisa Power explained that mass membership should help the gay community get more involved with the charity. "We are the big kids on the block, we provide more services to more people around a lot of issues and there will be a percentage of people who don’t get what they want out of us," she said.

"What do we do to engage the communities that we work with, and how do we go about trying to keep improving ourselves, which is one of the reasons why we are now going into proper mass membership. We have always had membership at THT but we haven’t ever advertised it, frankly we haven’t been doing anything to promote it for the last few years. We want anyone who cares about HIV and sexual health to become a member, it’s going to be free, we would be letting people take part in surveys, giving us feedback about what they think of the organisation. THT has a democratic base, but it’s only as democratic as the people we get into the membership, so we are going for mass membership, and one thing that the membership would do is elect our board."

Yeba Forbang, Membership and Campaigns Officer at THT, said: “Becoming a member of THT is quick and easy. The level of your involvement is up to you but just by signing up you’ll add your name to thousands of others who care about HIV and sexual health in the UK. If you’re interested, please join and help us to make a difference.”

Membership is open to everyone – visit to register.

October 31, 2008 – PinkNews

Boris "thrilled" as London wins right to host World Pride in 2012

by Staff Writer,
Pride London has won the right to hold World Pride during the summer of 2012, just ahead of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
"I’m absolutely thrilled that London has won," said Mayor Boris Johnson. "London has one of the largest and most diverse LGBT communities on the planet and it is a fantastic opportunity to inspire cities across the globe. In an Olympic year, the eyes of the world will already be on London and the city will give an enormous welcome to LGBT people, their friends and families, for what we want to be the most colourful and exciting World Pride festival yet."

Organised by InterPride, World Pride promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues on an international level through parades, festivals and other cultural activities. A video produced to support the winning bid can be viewed at London’s World Pride in 2012 is expected to attract more than one million visitors. The two week festivities will most likely take place from 23 June to 8 July 2012, with the main parade held on 7 July.

Chair of Pride London, Paul Birrell said: "We are delighted that London was successful in its bid for World Pride. This is a great achievement for London and coming in 2012, it will be a glorious year for our city. Pride London has grown over the years to be one of the UK’s largest cultural events and this is a tremendous achievement for the LGBT community."

November 6, 2008 – PinkNews

Ian McKellen to support gay teen runaways at Village Drinks charity event

by Staff Writer,
Sir Ian McKellen is to share an exclusive evening with members of Village Drinks, the UK’s leading community group for gay professionals, organisers have confirmed. The event is to be hosted at the Century Members’ Club on Sunday 14th December and is being organised as a charitable venture in aide of the gay homeless charity, the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT). It will follow the group’s annual Christmas Party being held at the Café de Paris on December 8th.

Sir Ian, who is best known for his starring roles in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, will be taking questions, mixing with the crowd and bringing along some very special guests of this own to meet members of the influential and popular network. He will also give a talk about his life and career.

"I am delighted to be lending my support to this special festive evening organised by Village Drinks, whose wide network of influential members can only help to spread the word about AKT and the work it does," Sir Ian said. "Raising money and highlighting the issues faced by these young homeless people is a constant challenge."

Neil Spring, the founder of Village Drinks, said: "We want to use our network to promote the best causes that we possibly can. The Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) is a cause to which everyone at Village Drinks feels very close, indeed. Its tireless work to help homeless young people never ceases to amaze us." Village Drinks now has a membership base of 10,000 people, with events running in London, Bristol and Brighton. All ticket monies for this event will be donated to the AKT. Tickets are available now at:

The Albert Kennedy Trust was set up in 1989, after 16 year old Albert Kennedy fell to his death from the top of a car park in Manchester whilst trying to escape a car load of queerbashers. Albert was a runaway from a children’s home in Salford and was depressed. His short tragic life had been filled with rejection and abuse from society. Manchester’s gay community was moved into action by the Trust’s founder patron Cath Hall, a heterosexual foster carer who admitted she could not meet the full range of needs of gay & lesbian kids coming through her care.

As a result AKT was formed, and in 1990 became a Trust. AKT’s Mission is to ensure that all lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans young people are able to live in accepting, supportive and caring homes, by providing a range of services to meet the individual needs of those who would otherwise be homeless or living in a hostile environment. The Trust provides appropriate homes through supported lodgings, fostering and other specialist housing schemes and enables young people to manage independent living successfully.

Outcast heroes: the story of gay Muslims: From Britain to Egypt, gay men are stigmatised and attacked. But some are starting to fight back.

Ali Orhan is laughing. We’re sitting in the caff in the Docklands Asda – no expenses spared here at Attitude! – and he is chuckling the most terrible, melancholic chuckle I have ever heard. He is describing a day eighteen years ago when he picked up his parents at Heathrow airport. He was 21 years old, and they were returning from their annual holiday to Turkey. Ali knew he was gay – he had always known – but his sexuality wasn’t flickering across his mind that that summer day, as he stood waiting in the arrivals lounge. He saw them waddling towards him with their suitcases and a strange woman. He waved. He had bought his mother a bunch of flowers. His parents had brought something for him too: a wife.

"Within five days, we were married," he says now, his dark laughter melted away. "It had always been there as I was growing up, I suppose, this knowledge that marriage was compulsory, and that you only had sex within marriage. It was like going through puberty or growing a beard, something that just happened to you. But I was in denial. And then it happened, so suddenly, and I couldn’t see any way out."

Growing up in Britain’s Turkish community in the 1970s, Islam was more a cultural presence than a deep religious commitment. "Religion wasn’t a huge thing in our family. My younger brothers don’t even believe. The only time we discussed faith was when my parents wanted to end an argument: it’s in the Koran. You can’t argue with it. It’s the word of God." And the word of God, it seemed to Ali then, was that Turkish boys marry the girls their parents select for them. "We stayed married for ten months. I never tried to kid myself. She was very attractive, articulate, and a lovely person, but there was no way I was ever going to be attracted to her physically. I knew I was never going to fulfil her or be the husband she deserved, and the guilt was eating me. She had given up everything in Turkey – her whole life – for me, and I had nothing to offer her."

"The one thing I did that I’m proud of in that whole terrible part of my life is that I never consummated the marriage," he continues, in a soft, measured voice. "We shared a bed for ten months but we never had sex. I knew that once we had slept together, she would be seen a ruined goods and she would never be able to marry again. She obviously couldn’t understand my attitude, and began to think there was something wrong with her. She even tried coming on to me, which for a Muslim woman is an incredibly humiliating thing." Ali was so afraid of telling his parents about his sexuality that he tried to make his wife leave him. He got male friends to put lipstick on his collar so she would think he had another woman. He would stay out late without any explanation. Nothing worked.

"Then one night I came home and finally told her I couldn’t ever love her," he says. "There was a phenomenal amount of family and community pressure for us to not get divorced. Getting permission took another three months. Finally my parents gave in, but on one condition: that I take her back to her parents in Turkey and explain why." It was potentially a death-wish: go to a very conservative part of Turkey, and tell a group of religious men that you are divorcing their daughter because you’re gay. Ali went. "My one saving grace in their eyes was that I hadn’t ‘defiled’ her. Because of that, I survived." He lived – but the day he returned, his parents explained that he was no longer their son. They told him bluntly that they never wanted to see him again, not even on their deathbeds.

Nearly two decades later, there is still complete silence from all of his relatives. I ask if he is angry with them. "No," he says, almost surprised by the question. "I had tarnished the whole family’s character: their eldest son wasn’t a man, he hadn’t slept with his wife. I don’t blame them for what they did. It was damage limitation for them within the community. That was their whole world, and if they had stood by me, that world would have come crashing down. They would have been outcasts. What right have I got to ask them to do that? They had to choose between their son or their world."

There is a family eating their dinner two tables away from us. I wish they would leave; I wish Ali never had to see another family again. After such a terrible experience, it would seem natural for Ali to renounce Islam, the religion that seemed to wreck his life. But he explains, "If anything, I’ve become more religious since leaving home. I have a much stronger understanding of my faith now. In times of crisis, it’s my faith I turn to. At my lowest point, when I was first expelled from my world, it was Islam that kept me from the edge. I would have committed suicide without my faith."

"The only thing I have left that identifies me with my family, with my community, with my life before I was disowned, is my religion," he continues. "Nobody can take that away from me. It’s the last shred of the person I used to be." He considers himself today to be a devout Muslim – indeed, more devout than many of the people who cast him out. "It’s not like the Muslim community isn’t aware that there are gay Muslims. But as long as they stay married and only have gay sex on the side, they’re tolerated. I think that’s disgusting, and I wasn’t going to play that game. If I had been a hypocrite, if I had cheated on my wife and actually been a much worse Muslim, then I would still be with my family and my community."

Yet he believes that the Koran does clearly condemn homosexuality. "If there was any pro-gay interpretation, I would have seized on it. The only ammunition I have is that the Koran makes it clear that no Muslim has the right to judge another Muslim. Only Allah has that right." Ten years ago, the words ‘gay’ and ‘Muslim’ seemed like polar opposites, and an out gay Muslim seemed as probable as a black member of the Ku Klux Klan. All of the seven countries that treat homosexuality as a crime punishable by death are Muslim. Of the 82 countries where being gay is a crime, 36 are predominantly Muslim. Even in democratic societies, Islam remains overwhelmingly anti-gay. Dr Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of North America, says "homosexuality is a moral disease, a sin, a corruption… No person is born homosexual, just as nobody is born a thief, a liar or a murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education."

Sheikh Sharkhawy, a cleric at the prestigious London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, compares homosexuality to a "cancer tumour." He argues "we must burn all gays to prevent paedophilia and the spread of AIDS," and says gay people "have no hope of a spiritual life." The Muslim Educational Trust hands out educational material to Muslim teachers – intended for children! – advocating the death penalty for gay people, and advising Muslim pupils to stay away from gay classmates and teachers.

But some gay people like Ali have begun to contest this reading of Islam. There have been a small number of groups for gay Muslims over the past twenty years, and their history is not encouraging. A San Francisco-based group called the Lavender Crescent Society sent five members to Iran in 1979 after the Islamic revolution there to spur an Iranian gay movement. They were taken straight from the airport to a remote spot and shot dead. Gay Iranians went underground straight after. Even in the West, a Toronto-based group called Min-Alaq was formed in the early 1990s but closed down after fundamentalists threatened to murder all its members.

And then came Al-Fatiha. With seven branches across the United States and offices in London, Johannesburg and Toronto, these gay Muslims ain’t going to shut up or scuttle away. They are here and they are fighting. The group – whose name is taken from a Koranic term meaning ‘the beginning’ or ‘the opening’ – was set up in 1997 by Faisal Alam. Faisal, now 27, arrived in Connecticut from Pakistan when he was 10 years old. In an unfamiliar rural area with "more cows than people", he explains, he found his faith a source of comfort and inspiration. He became very active in the local mosque and a leader in his Muslim youth group. Yet when he was sixteen he began to realise something was wrong – "something I didn’t have a word for."

He started a relationship with an older male convert to Islam, but it fizzled out and – in the classic gay Muslim pattern – he became engaged to a very religious woman. Fortunately, she broke it off after a year because "she had a feeling in her heart that something was deeply wrong." When he started college, Faisal embarked on a dual existence: the good Muslim boy by day and the gay boy by night. His parents found out about his sexuality when someone copied some of his internet messages to a gay chat-line and distributed them at his family’s mosque. "My mom’s first reaction was to say, ‘You can’t be a Muslim any more,’" he explains.

Nineteen and desolate, he sent out an e-mail that started an avalanche. "Is anyone out there a gay Muslim?" he asked in a discussion list linking Muslim student societies across the US. Most of the responses were filled with revulsion – "There is no such thing as a gay Muslim!" they howled. But there was a trickle saying, "I though I was the only one." As a network for those people – and for gay Muslims across the globe – he established al Fatiha. "The Muslim community as a whole is in complete and utter denial about homosexuality," he explains. "The conversation hasn’t even begun. We are about 200 years behind Christianity in terms of progress on gay issues. Homosexuality is still seen as a Western disease that infiltrates Muslim minds and societies."

He admits that al Fatiha is dealing with troubled, torn people. "For each of us, it’s a struggle. Probably 90 to 99 percent of gay Muslims who have accepted their sexuality leave the faith. They don’t see the chance for a reconciliation. They are two identities of your life that are exclusive." One gay man – who asked not to be named – summarised this belief that the two poles of his identity could never meet: "It’s a choice between praying and sucking cock," he said. "You can’t do both."

Yet Faisal is trying to articulate a pro-gay Islam. He believes that the homophobia of most contemporary Muslims is based not on their faith but on their culture, and there is a surprising amount of scholarly research to back him up. The punishment for almost all crimes is laid out very clearly in the Koran – 100 lashes for fornication, for example – but there is no punishment mentioned for homosexuality anywhere. There is one passage that is often interpreted as legally forbidding homosexuality, but it is comparatively mild: "And as for the two of you who are guilty thereof, punish them both. And if they repent and improve, then let them be. Lo! Allah is merciful."

There are seven references in the Koran to the "people of Lut" – named ‘Lot’ in the Christian and Jewish holy texts – which is a town destroyed for the immorality of its men. But the conventional interpretation – that this ‘immorality’ took the form of gay sex – is increasingly being contested. Mushin Hendriks, an American Muslim scholar and a gay man, claims that the story of Lut "sees God destroying men because of male rape, sodomy and promiscuity. But there is a difference between sodomy and homosexuality, between rape and love. The story says nothing about homosexual love."

During the Prophet Mohammed’s lifetime, there was not a single recorded case of a punishment or execution for homosexuality. It is only two generations after Mohammed, under the third Caliph, Omar, that a gay man was burned alive for his ‘crime’. Even then, it was fiercely debated, and many scholars argued that this was contrary to the traditions of the Prophet.

Several scholars and historians have proven that homosexuality was fairly common at the time of the Prophet. They have also shown that at certain points in history gay people were much more tolerated – and indeed, sometimes celebrated – in Muslim societies than in Europe. Before the twentieth century, the regions of the world with the most prominent and diverse gay behaviours on display were in northern Africa and southwestern Asia – Muslim lands. The current gay-hating, homo-cidal climate in Muslim countries is a fairly recent invention.

Look, for example, at the homoerotic poetry that flourished in Spain after the Muslim conquest in 711. This is stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in the porn section of Clonezone: "I gave him what he asked for, made him my master/ My tears streamed out over the beauty of his cheeks" and so on. Or how about the ninth century Caliph of Baghdad, who "gave himself over entirely to dissipated pleasure in the company of his eunuchs and refused to take a wife"?

These pockets of gay freedom persisted in some areas right up to the early twentieth century, when Victorian colonial influence started to erode their tolerance away. For example, the oasis town of Siwa, located in the Libyan desert of Western Egypt, sounds like something from a Bel Ami movie. The anthropologist Walter Cline described it in the 1930s: "All normal Muslim Siwan men and boys practice sodomy. Among themselves the natives are not ashamed of this; they talk about it as openly as they talk about love of women and many, if not most, of their fights arise from homosexual competition."

Another visitor, the archaeologist Count Bryron de Prorock reported "an enthusiasm that could not have been approached even in Sodom. Homosexuality was not only rampant, it was raging." Men would marry each other with great ceremony, and this was only stamped out – by non-Muslims – in the 1930s.

Al Fatiha is not as mad a project, then, as it might initially seem. Along with the homophobic strands, there have been strands in Muslim thought for a very long time encouraging tolerance of gay people; they have simply died away. Today, there are some groups who are prepared to kill in order to prevent a pro-gay Islam from being revived. In 2001, Al Mujharoun – a fanatical British-based fundamentalist group who believe in establishing "the Muslim Republic of Great Britain" – issued a fatwa against Al Fatiha. They said any member of Al-Fatiha is an apostate (traitor to the Muslim faith), and the punishment for apostasy is death.

Faisal refuses to be intimidated. "We’re challenging 1,400 years of dogma. There’s bound to be a battle," he explains. Ali has had death threats too. A group of black-clad men even turned up at his flat one night "to make it very clear that if I wanted a quiet life I should shut up about being gay." I asked if he considered being quiet. "No, I moved," he laughs.

Despite the threat of violence, at least in democratic societies gay Muslims can wrestle with their dual identity. For most of the 50 million gay Muslims in the world, this isn’t an option. They are more likely to be worried about avoiding imprisonment or even execution. For example, when 52 gay men were recently arrested and jailed for attending an unofficial gay club in Egypt, even the Egypt Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) refused to condemn their prison sentences. EOHR’s Secretary-General, Hafez Abu Saada, said, "Personally, I don’t like the subject of homosexuality, and I don’t want to defend them."

In Lebanon, one of the more free countries in the Middle East, a popular weekly TV programme – Al Shater Yahki – discusses sexuality and includes gay voices. Even there, every gay person speaks from behind a mask, or they would risk being killed.

Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, the oldest and largest gay Catholic organisation, explains, "In many ways, Al-Fatiha and the first wave of gay Muslims exactly parallel where gay Catholics were 25 to 30 years ago. Our first five years were just about putting the words ‘gay’ and ‘Catholic’ in the same sentence. I pray they have a very deep faith." And even now, the Catholic Church is hardly a model of tolerance. The Pope describes gay marriage as "evil", calls on gay people to be celibate, and has acted at the United Nations to block protection of the human rights of gay people. But things are far better than they were for gay Christians. Gay Jews have made incredible progress, with the largest group of rabbis in America openly endorsing gay marriage.

Yes, the fight for tolerance within Islam is going to be very long and very painful. There will be many more casualties. But one day the beheading of gay men in the Middle East and the internal exile of men like Ali will be remembered the way we remember the burning of witches today. When that day comes, men like Ali Orhan and Faisal Alam will be seen as heroes.

Autumn 2008 – Green World

Defending human rights: Peter Tatchell interviewed

Peter Tatchell has been a prominent human rights activist for over forty years. He campaigned for aboriginal rights and against the war in Vietnam in his native Australia before moving to the UK and becoming involved in the movement for Gay rights and railing against countless other injustices. He has outed bishops, attempted to charge Henry Kissinger and has recently forced a debate about homophobia in national football. He has even had a theme tune written for him. He joined the Green Party in 2004 and is currently running a strong campaign as Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford East. Green World went to talk to him about the past, present and future of the fight for civil rights.

When did you first get involved in politics?
In 1967, in my home town of Melbourne, Australia. Ronald Ryan was hanged for a murder he probably did not commit. His execution undermined my trust in police, judges and politicians; prompting my first protest (at age 15) and provoking a life-long scepticism of authority.

Who is your political hero?
I don’t believe in hero worship, but there are three political figures that I draw inspiration from: Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst and Martin Luther King. They helped achieve great social reforms via direct action protest: Indian independence, votes for women and racial desegregation. In my campaigns for human rights, I’ve adapted some of their methods and invented a few of my own.

You attempted a citizen’s arrest of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, which resulted in you being beaten unconscious by his bodyguards. What can be done to put tyrants like Mugabe on trial?
As well as my two attempted citizen’s arrests of Mugabe – in London 1999 and Brussels 2001 – I also applied for an international arrest warrant at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2004, under Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which incorporates the UN Convention Against Torture 1984 into UK domestic law. Judge Timothy Workman ruled that President Mugabe, as a serving Head of State, has "absolute immunity" from arrest and prosecution. This judgement gives Mugabe, and all other Heads of State, a free hand to torture with impunity. It denies justice to the victims. What is the point of having laws against torture if the main abusers – Heads of State like Mugabe – are exempt from prosecution? We may as well tear up the Convention Against Torture and throw it in the bin. It offers no protection or redress to people who are tortured at the behest of Heads of State. International human rights law needs to be reformed, to end immunity for Heads of State and senior government officials. In the case of crimes against humanity, they should be subject to the same laws as everyone else.

What is the most significant book of the last 50 years?
It’s hard to pick one book, but probably Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. It expands our moral horizons beyond our own species and is thus a major evolution in ethics.

Why did you join the Green Party?
I was previously a member of the Labour Party, from 1978 to 2000, and was the Labour parliamentary candidate in the notorious 1983 Bermondsey by-election. I resigned in protest at Labour’s rightward drift and the destruction of internal party democracy. Ordinary members now have no say. Labour has become a top-down, democratic centralist party controlled by the Prime Minister and his acolytes in Downing Street. The annual conference is a stage-managed PR exercise, with no meaningful debate or power. Labour has become a pro-war, pro-business party. Thankfully, there is an alternative. The Greens now occupy the radical, visionary political space that has been vacated by Labour. We are the only party with a serious commitment to public services, civil liberties, social justice and to saving the planet from ecological meltdown. And we’re democratic. Our party is controlled by the grassroots members – not by a party elite, PR gurus and spin doctors.

How do you think we can enhance the electoral appeal of the Green Party?
I’d like to see us develop six unique, innovative, eye-catching policies and concentrate on promoting and popularising them. We need a few simple, imaginative, practical policies to distinguish us clearly from the other parties – to give voters a sense that we are different and that we have positive, constructive solutions. There’s too much doom-saying. We sometimes seem to focus overly on what we are against, rather than what we are for. Green politics needs to be more strongly associated with optimism about the human capacity to solve big problems like global warming and our need for green, safe, affordable energy.

How would you sum up your politics?
Green, red, feminist, libertarian, anti-militarist, republican and humanist. But all these political ideals are an expression of one core value: love. I love people and loathe injustice. The only liberation struggle worth fighting is a struggle inspired by love. Love is the beginning, middle and end of liberation. Without love, there can be no liberation worthy of the name.

What is your assessment of the government’s record?
Labour has done some good things like devolution and the minimum wage. But Blair and Brown have also out-Thatchered Thatcher. Not even Mad Margaret dared push through the current creeping privatisation of health and education. Under Labour, 120,000 cancer patients die prematurely in the UK every year because the NHS refuses them drugs that could extend their lives. My cousin died in 2005 after being refused an MRI scan which would have detected her brain tumour. Millions can no longer find or afford a NHS dentist. The huge hike in fees is deterring people from getting dental treatment. Labour founded the NHS and now it is destroying it. It’s also pursuing disastrous policies like the war in Iraq, renewal of Trident and plans for new coal and nuclear power stations. Kier Hardie must be weeping in his grave.

Is the "war on terror" working?
The war on terror is becoming a war on liberty. The government is restricting freedom in the name of defending it. Cherished, hard-won liberties are under attack, with the attempt to introduce 42-day detention without charge, and the authorisation of indefinite house arrest and electronic tagging for terror suspects. There’s also government interception of our phone calls and emails, restrictions on the right to protest, the development of a DNA data-base, expanded CCTV and plans for ID cards that will enable the government and police to monitor every significant aspect of our lives. We are witnessing the biggest assault on civil liberties in peacetime since the Napoleonic era. Labour is creating a surveillance state, where Big Brother is watching you, me and all of us. In the hands of a non-benign government, these mechanisms of surveillance and control are the tools of a police state.

If you could introduce one law, what would it be?
Replace the existing uneven patchwork of equality legislation with a uniform, comprehensive, all-inclusive Equal Rights Act, to guarantee universal equal treatment and protection against discrimination; backed up with a government Department for Equal Rights to monitor, promote and enforce equal opportunities for everyone.

What international agreement would you most like to see?
A United Nations Convention Against Global Poverty, where all the nations of the world agree to cut military spending by 10% and put the money saved into a UN fund to combat poverty. Such a deal would raise $US100,000 million a year. This money should not go to governments but to proven, effective, non-corrupt NGOs such as Oxfam, WaterAid, Sightsavers International, Practical Action and their local partner organisations in developing countries. In a mere three decades, this funding would be enough to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, illiteracy, preventable diseases and homelessness worldwide.

MPs have voted for an elected House of Lords. Would that reform help revitalise politics?
A fairer voting system for the House of Commons – based on the Scottish election model – would reinvigorate politics and making parliament more representative. House of Lords reform would also help. I’d like to see it replaced by a fully elected Senate. The system of election should be different from the House of Commons. This would ensure that the Senate’s composition doesn’t replicate the composition of the Commons and instead offers a fresh forum for political decision-making.

I’d suggest these three innovations:
First, election to the Senate via regional party lists, to reflect the regional strengths and weaknesses of particular parties. These regions could be the existing Euro-constituencies, with enough seats per constituency (around 40) to allow for the election of candidates from parties that win 5% or more of the vote. This would ensure representation for smaller parties like the Greens. It would give us an electoral breakthrough – and make parliament more reflective of the whole spectrum of political opinion.
Second, open party lists, where electors can vote for their preferred candidates from a particular party’s list, or can vote for a mix of candidates from different parties.
Third, to redress the gender imbalance and secure 50% women’s representation, electors could be required to vote for an equal number of men and women candidates. In each region, there would be two lists of candidates – a male list and a female list. If a regional Senate constituency elects 40 members, for example, electors would be able to vote for up to 20 men from the male list and up to 20 women from the female list. The top 20 candidates from each list would be elected.

If you could go back in time, to what year would you go and why?
Berlin, 22 January 1933, to assassinate Hitler as he arrived at von Ribbentrop’s house for dinner. This would have stopped him becoming Chancellor and might have prevented the Holocaust and the Second World War. In all normal circumstances I am against violence, but since the murder of Hitler might have prevented the mass carnage of WW2, it would have been the lesser of two evils.

What’s your most memorable time in politics?
Gay Liberation Front, London, 1971-73. We created a revolution in queer consciousness and changed forever both gay and straight attitudes towards homosexuality, turning the homophobia of centuries on its head. It was the first time in British history that large numbers of lesbian and gay people were out, proud and defiant. We demanded more than mere equality. Our goal was the transformation of society to end straight supremacism, misogyny, homophobia and all sexual repression.

Politics…what are your hates and loves?
I loathe the point-scoring, sectarianism, dishonesty, opportunism, back-stabbing and personal attacks. But what I love, and what keeps me going, is the potential of politics to change people’s lives for the better. That’s why I’m in the Green Party.

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November 13, 2008 – Posted by Daily Queer News

London University Establishes Free Law Surgery for LGBT Community

by Pink News
Queen Mary, University of London, is launching a specialist legal advice centre for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people later this week. The Pink Law Legal Advice Centre, the first of its kind in higher education, opens on Friday. It has been established in partnership with three top City law firms and will offer free and impartial legal advice on issue such as employment discrimination, civil partnerships and cohabitation.

From 6pm to 8.30pm, on the last Wednesday of every month, students from the Department of Law will advise clients – under the supervision of volunteer lawyers from the affiliated firms – to provide the LGBT community with a confidential, welcoming and professional service.

Read more

November 24, 2008 – Book Review

Edward Carpenter: A life of liberty and love–a pioneer of the LGBT rights movement in England

Review by Sheila Rowbotham,
This is one of the best political biographies for many years. As well as being a book about a little-known icon of past history; it is bursting with ideas that are still relevant to the future of humanity – for LGBT and straight people. Author Shelia Rowbotham, the much-loved socialist feminist historian, has written an incredibly moving, inspiring account of the personal and political life of the prophetic gay English author, poet, philosopher and humanitarian, Edward Carpenter, 1844-1929. Arguably the true pioneer of the LGBT rights movement in England, he lived openly and defiantly with his life-long partner George Merrill.

In the nineteenth century, he wrote some the earliest essays and pamphlets advocating homosexual law reform and spoke out enthusiastically for women’s rights. Unlike many others, he understood the connection between sexism and heterosexism: that the struggle for women’s rights and gay rights are closely tied together (a view that was resurrected by the Gay Liberation Front in the early 1970s and by OutRage! in the 1990s). Decades ahead of his time on many social issues, Carpenter advocated green socialism, women’s suffrage, contraception, curbs on pollution, sex education in schools, pacifism, animal rights, recycling, prison reform, worker’s control, self-sufficiency, vegetarianism, homosexual equality, naturism and free love.

His socialism was libertarian, decentralised, self-governing, cooperative and environmentalist, with a strong streak of anarchism, individualism and (non-religious) spiritualism. He argued that socialism was as much about the way we live our personal lives as about changing the economic, political, social and cultural systems. We need to change our hearts and minds before we can overturn the iniquities of capitalism, he observed. Otherwise, we might end up replacing one tyranny with another. Echoing the left-wing arts and crafts movement, which was often derided by the Marxists of the Social Democratic Federation, Carpenter’s vision of socialism included a cultural renaissance to promote access to the arts for everyone, not just the rich. He saw things of beauty as a way to uplift the human spirit.

Carpenter himself was not without fault; occasionally expressing anti-Semitic sentiments, which were standard and rife (but not therefore excusable) in the late 1800s. For someone who distanced himself from the mainstream and the mob on most issues, these lapses are surprising and lamentable. Initially a member of the Social Democratic Federation (a forerunner of the Communist Party), disagreements with the SDF’s advocacy of violence prompted Carpenter to leave the SDF in the 1880s and help found the Socialist League, where he worked closely with Eleanor Marx, William Morris and Edward Aveling.

In 1893, he joined with Kier Hardie, George Bernard Shaw and Ben Tillett to form the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He stuck with the left, despite the shameful homophobia of some left-wingers, including Frederick Engels and later George Orwell. I recall meeting Fenner Brockway, the legendary ILP leader (1888-1988), in 1983, when he was 93 years old. He enthused about Carpenter’s trail-blazing ideas; praising him as one of the greatest thinkers of the last 100 years. Probably he was. This book is a fascinating, engaging insight into the life of a truly remarkable man. Read it.

Published by Verso Books
London and New York, November 2008

November 26, 2008 – Daily Queer News

Asylum for a Gay Man from Russia: Immigration Equality

Pro bono attorneys at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP won asylum for 22-year-old “Nikolay,” a gay man who feared abuse and mistreatment in Russia. From an early age, Nikolay was harassed because he was perceived as effeminate. As he got older, classmates regularly attacked him because they assumed that he was gay. In the summer of 2005, Nikolay and two gay friends were arrested by police, specifically targeted because they were seen as too effeminate. Shortly thereafter, Nikolay fled to New York through a study-abroad program. After a fellow Russian student outed him to his friends and family, Nikolay knew he could never return home. Nikolay was also terrified of being forced into his pending mandatory military service in the Russian army, as recruits are notorious for attacking and even murdering gay soldiers.

In July 2008, Nikolay found Immigration Equality, and we placed his case with pro bono attorneys at Milbank. According to lead attorney Sofia Khan, Nikolay “had already been harassed, beaten and arrested in Russia because he was gay. When I met him, he just wanted to live a free and happy life with his boyfriend . . . It was such a great feeling to be able to help [him] start his life here in the United States, not having to hide who he is and live in fear.” Immigration Equality is thankful to Sofia and all of the Milbank staff who worked on Nikolay’s case. Thanks to their efforts, Nikolay no longer has to live in fear of abuse.

Help make asylum possible for more LGBT and HIV-positive people by making a donation today

December 1, 2008 – PinkNews

Pride London wins tourism award for cultural diversity

by Staff Writer,
The UK’s largest LGBT event has topped off a year of triumphs with an accolade from London’s official tourist organisation. Pride London won the Gold Award for Best Celebration of Cultural Diversity at the Visit London Awards 2008. A Silver went to the Discover Storymaking Centre and a bronze award to The Mayor’s Thames Festival.

Accepting the Visit London award at an Albert Hall ceremony last week Paul Birrell, Director of Pride London, said: "We always knew that Pride London is popular – over three-quarters of a million people turned up for last years event so it is fantastic that this award recognises that popularity and significant tourist income for the London economy which we generate."

More than 820,000 people were on the streets of the capital for Pride London in July, the biggest turnout for any gay event in British history. The Visit London Awards "celebrate the richness and diversity of our unique city, and to give recognition to people, places and experiences that make London such an outstanding destination." As London prepares to host the Olympic Games in 2012, Pride London announced last month they had won the right to host World Pride in the city that same summer.

Organised by InterPride, World Pride promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues on an international level through parades, festivals and other cultural activities. A video produced to support the winning bid can be viewed here. London’s World Pride in 2012 is expected to attract more than one million visitors. The two week festivities will most likely take place from 23 June to 8 July 2012, with the main parade held on 7 July.

"I’m absolutely thrilled that London has won," said Mayor Boris Johnson. "London has one of the largest and most diverse LGBT communities on the planet and it is a fantastic opportunity to inspire cities across the globe. In an Olympic year, the eyes of the world will already be on London and the city will give an enormous welcome to LGBT people, their friends and families, for what we want to be the most colourful and exciting World Pride festival yet."

December 3, 2008 – PinkNews

Charity for gay homeless teens rebrands to reach new generation of kids in need

by Tony Grew
The Albert Kennedy Trust has unveiled its new corporate identity and logo. The charity, founded in Manchester in 1989, works with young lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people whose families have rejected them or are unable to care for them. Ahead of its 20th anniversary AKT has rebranded, incorporating a new ‘urban’ logo. Their website will also be extensively redesigned. The charity helped more than 1,400 young people in 2007.

Albert Kennedy Trust

AKT’s mission is to ensure that all lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans young people are able to live inaccepting, supportive and caring homes, by providing a range of services to meet the individual needs of those who would otherwise be homeless or living in a hostile environment. The Trust provides appropriate homes through supported lodgings, fostering and other specialist housing schemes and enables young people to manage independent living successfully.

"Rejection and ejection from home are the harsh reality for many vulnerable LGBT teens," said AKT chief executive Tim Sigsworth. "Demand for our services is growing year on year. At present we cannot meet demand for carer homes and our service is bursting at the seams – we need money, volunteers and support to build the capacity we need to help all those young people who turn to us."

AKT also offers support and information for young people and plans for 2009 include the creation of a quality mark scheme for mainstream housing providers. The rebranding was planned and overseen for by marketing professional Mark Hardy with assistance from creative agency GR/DD on a pro bono basis. Later this month Sir Ian McKellen, actor, film star and patron of AKT, will be the guest of honour at a special fundraising event organised by Village Drinks.

The Albert Kennedy Trust was set up in 1989, after 16 year old Albert Kennedy fell to his death from the top of a car park in Manchester while trying to escape a car load of queerbashers. Albert was a runaway from a children’s home in Salford and was depressed. His short tragic life had been filled with rejection and abuse from society. Manchester’s gay community was moved into action by the Trust’s founder patron Cath Hall, a heterosexual foster carer who admitted she could not meet the full range of needs of gay & lesbian kids coming through her care. As a result AKT was formed, and in 1990 became a Trust.

Click here for more information.

December 10, 2008 – PinkNews

Men sought by police in connection with homophobic chanting at Portsmouth game

by Staff Writer,
Police in Portsmouth have released photos of sixteen people they want to trace in connection with racist and homophobic chanting at a football match.
Portsmouth FC’s Sol Campbell, a former England defender, was subject to abusive taunts from the crowd during a Premiership game against Tottenham Hotspur on September 28th.

Tottenham fans reportedly dislike Mr Campbell due to his transfer from Tottenham to rival team Arsenal in 2001. Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying the sixteen people pictured. The images were captured during the match by a police officer. Homophobic abuse is against the rules at every Premier League and Football League club. The Football Association’s decision to amend the ground regulations was approved in 2007 after consultation with the leagues.

In May a campaign was launched to help stamp out homophobia in British football. It aims to "vindicate the memory of Justin Fashanu, the world’s first openly gay professional footballer." A 2006 survey found out that 57% of footballers think that football is homophobic. The aim of the Justin Campaign is to get the FA to observe Saturday 2nd May 2009 as Justin Fashanu Day.

Hampshire Constabulary had previously said that the scale of the abuse meant at the Portsmouth game meant that arrests could not be made, but a spokeswoman said that the incident will be fully investigated. Anyone with further information should contact Operation Decorum on 0845 045 45 45 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. In July two Preston North End fans were banned from the club’s ground for a year and fined by magistrates.

They were convicted of public order offences after chanting homophobic slogans during a game in Blackpool in March and banned from Blackpool FC’s ground. Nine Blackpool fans were banned from their home ground for shouting homophobic and racist abuse during the same match against Preston.

December 31, 2008 – PinkNews

Top gay venue Astoria to hold ‘last ever party’

by Rachel Charman
The London Astoria is one of the capital’s most iconic venues and following the decision earlier this year to close demolish the Astoria to make way for the new Crossrail project, the venue’s has announced that Manumission will host its closing nights. Having held performances from worldwide stars such as Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears, the Astoria has always been a part of London’s thriving gay scene. January 15th will see Ibiza’s Manumission club return to the UK for the first time in 15 years at the Astoria.
The night will mark the beginning of Manumission’s world tour of clubs.

A complete line-up for the night, dubbed “Manumission Comes to London” has yet to be announced, but organisers describe the event as featuring “a fusion of rock and dance acts.” The Astoria was opened in 1927 as a cinema and was converted into a theatre in 1976. The plans to demolish the Astoria was met with protests from famous musicians and petitions signed by tens of thousands of people. Much sadness was expressed by gay clubbers when popular club G-A-Y left the Astoria.

Promoter Jeremy Joseph said in May that had made the decision to leave the Astoria after fifteen years "after a lot of thought and consideration. "So what is the future for G-A-Y? Well priority goes to G-A-Y Bar and Late, and you will be seeing changes there including G-A-Y Late doubling in size," he said.