Social Media Activism

There’s no simple answer to this quandry: does liking or sharing a status or image on Facebook do anything for the cause?

It’s nothing like Kony 2012, the viral campaign published in March 2012 by American charity ‘Invisible Children’, but how many people believe they are making a difference by sharing a video online?

Yesterday the Human Rights Campaign shared an image which quickly went viral on Facebook and Twitter:

The image, which is in support of marriage equality, has been spread through Facebook shares, and by people and organisations making it — and variations — their profile picture/avatar.

While it’s important to support causes, it is unlikely that such ‘online activism’ will scare governments into taking any action one way or another.

We at Belfast Skeptics support LGBT rights and marriage equality — we don’t need to change our avatar for a day to show that. We support many issues and causes. What about all the other important issues?

However, Solidarity is important. Knowing that friends, people you respect — even brands — support a cause is important.

While marriage equality is going to be rolled out in England, Wales and Scotland in the next few months, it is unlikely to happen in Northern Ireland any time soon. We’ll be trailing behind as usual. And so much more needs to be done than simply ‘armchair slacktivism.’

Raising awareness is great.
But let’s do more than simply change our avatar for a day.

Happy Pride

The Belfast Pride Parade takes place today!

The parade happens for a number of reason, many of which are listed in the guest posts featured on the blog this week. I can barely choose one or two to single out, though I will say that pride is about visibility. About showing that LGBT people are all around and not to be ignored, but accepted as people who should never be discriminated against. And whilst it is not illegal to be gay in this part of the world, homophobia is still a large problem. We also parade for those people in other parts of the world who can not be open about their sexuality, and who face punishment for being who they are: imprisonment and even death, whether legal or not.

So come out. Celebrate and demonstrate. Wear bright colours. Be happy. Be gay. Or straight.

Details:

Pride Breakfast
Northern Whig 10am
Just around the corner from the parade starting point, there will be food and early morning fun!

The Parade
Begins at 12noon from Custom House Square.
The Belfast Pride parade is the largest cross community carnival parade in Belfast and definitely one of the most talked about. The starting point for the parade is Custom House Square. The community, family & retail area at the Lagan Lookout will be open from 11am with the parade starting off at 12 noon SHARP!

A group of gay (and gay friendly) Christians, under the banner of Faith and Pride, will be supporting the parade along its route. They will be gathered outside St Georges Church, High Street from 10.30am.

Party in the Square
Custom House Square opens at 11am.
Have a drink, mingle, eat, and have fun.
Music and entertainment on stage.

Families in the Square
Beside the Lagan Lookout/Big Fish there will be a quieter alcohol-free area for families/kids and generally chilling out. Also this is where you can get all the info on the community and political groups who do stuff to help improve the rights and general equality of all people, including those who are in the LGBT community.
There will also be wifi hotspots and electrical goods charging points!

Bottom line: Have fun and don’t be a dick.

‘Pride Comes Before Social Change’ by Fidelma Carolan

fidelma coralanFidelma Carolan is a Regional Officer with UNISON whose primary focus is on lifelong learning. A former President of the University of Ulster Student’s Union, she has over 15 years experience working with the women’s and youth sectors in a variety of managerial and consultancy roles. She has been an active advocate for lesbian, gay, bi and trans rights over many years and is co-author of the ‘Shout – The Needs of Young LGBT People in Northern Ireland’ report.

For me Pride is an opportunity to be visible within wider society, highlight the diversity within our community and enable friends and families to show their support. I was involved in the Pride committee in the mid 90s and there are now more stewards walking than we had in the entire parade. We ducked the odd bottle and suffered verbal abuse from people on the sidelines and saw so many LGB&T people watching, perhaps wishing they could be part of it, perhaps wishing we wouldn’t draw attention to us and to them.

Through the 90s I volunteered with the AIDS helpline, was on committees about lesbian health and setting up an LGB&T centre, graffitied ‘lesbians are lovely’ around Belfast, learned how to eat fire with the lesbian avengers, delivered anti-homophobia training to the RUC, responded to over one hundred Section 75 equality schemes and danced a lot at the Duke of York. HIV+ is now a condition you live with, not die from, the Public Health Agency included lesbians and bisexual women in their most recent screening booklet, there are LGB&T Centres in Belfast, Newry and Strabane, the Policing Board launched their thematic LGB&T action plan, Section 75 has forced public authorities to respond to our existence, lesbians are still lovely and I still dance.

In 2003, I co-authored the Shout report with Sharon Redmond, which looked at the needs of young LGB&T people in Northern Ireland. It was the largest sample size at the time and even I was shocked at the statistics which highlighted significant levels of self harm and having been medicated for depression linked directly to their experience of growing up in a society which told them they were deviant, perverse and not normal. The stories which participants shared about the isolation and bullying they endured in school, often with tacit and sometimes overt consent from those charged with their care, was heartbreaking.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are still generally invisible in workplaces, within families, in sport, in politics, in the media, in schools, in business and in the public sector. This makes it easy for us to be pigeon holed, it is easy for critics to focus on what we do in bed and they don’t mean sleep, read the papers and occasional breakfasts. We are defined by sexual practices, not the holistic nature of our lives. I am lucky, I have always worked for organisations where I felt it was safe to be out, perhaps I chose that career pathway for that reason. It is essential for me to be able to talk about what myself and my partner Eileen did at the weekend, about the puppy we fostered who is now a permanent feature, about what our nieces said and about concerns for elderly parents. Though as well as being important for me, it is also an incredibly effective way of challenging people’s ideas of who we are and how we live. Try having a conversation in work about rows over housework if you want to get people on your side. Recently on twitter I started a series of tweets about conversations between myself and my wife to demonstrate the banality of lesbian life.

But still too many people censor themselves and the impact on someone’s wellbeing cannot be underestimated. The Rainbow Project’s research indicated that around one quarter of people were not out at work, some smaller scale research within the health service here found that 52% of staff were not completely out in the workplace. Surely with the leaps in legislative change where we are now have civil partnerships and protection in employment, training, goods and services, this is startling? Perhaps not when this year the Equality Commission’s research exposed that 27% of people didn’t want an LGB person living beside them rising to 40% if you are transgender. This increased again in the question about having a LGB person as an in-law where 42% would be unhappy and 53% if their in-law was transgender. I contended on the Stephen Nolan show that it was likely that many of those who responded negatively had certainly never met a trans person and had limited real life exposure to lesbian, gay or bisexual people. Lord Maginnis who was also on the Show albeit by phone, commented that gay people were dangerous to children. The only danger I would be to a child is if they ate something I cooked.
This is why visibility is so important. We need more role models, we need those in senior positions in business and public sector to be out, so people don’t pick the organisation where they will be safe, but the job which they can contribute to most, we need sports people, so aspiring competitors don’t live in fear of being outed, we need teachers and youth leaders to be able to be themselves because of the influence they can have on the environment young people grow up in and we need more people in a range of media roles so they can reach entire populations.

Pride is an important part of that visibility, it may be just once a year but it is not just one day, it is an entire programme of political, educational, social and cultural activities. It stimulates debate within our own community and provides an interface to engage with others. While the media photos will probably be of the effervescent drag queens, who as always bring fabulous colour and feathers to every parade, there will lesbian and gay couples walking with their children, sports groups, faith organisations, staff from the Health & Social Care, trade unions, Amnesty International supporters, in fact people walking from every facet of life. Many will be walking for those who can’t. I walk for that young person who feels isolated, different and alone, for the person in a workplace who feels forced to lie about who they are, for the transgender person who doesn’t feel part of our community and for those who are no longer with us.

“Pride makes us long for a solution to things – a solution, a purpose, a final cause; but the better telescopes become, the more stars appear.” — Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

Fidelma Carolan is a Regional Organiser with UNISON and an Equality Commissioner. You can follow her on twitter @fid1dec.

References for Research
Matthew McDermott, Rainbow Project (2011) ‘Through Our Eyes – Experiences of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People in the Workplace.
Equality Commission (2012) Do You Mean Me?
There is no published report from the staff survey carried out by the Public Health Agency on LGB&T people’s experience working in Trusts and regional health organisation, it was used to inform a response to issues raised by Trade Unions. However, as a consequence, there is now a forum for staff who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. You can join the confidential email list by sending details to lgbtstaff@hscni.net or follow them on twitter @LGBT_StaffForum

What Pride Means to Me by Laura McKee

laura mckeeLaura McKee is a 29 year old single mum to four year old Abbie. Working full time and studying part time keeps her busy, but she also has a deep passion for LGBT rights and supporting Belfast Pride.

Pride Parades and Festivals around the world began to happen in the wake of the Stonewall Riots in New York, 1969. For whatever reason, during that period, gay men and women decided enough was enough of being forced underground and bullied by the police, and fought back during a raid on the Stonewall Inn. Pride Parades are held in commemoration of this and also to continue the fight for full inclusiveness and equal rights.

For many, Pride is seen as an excuse to go out and party, and whilst it is a fun time, for me and many others it means a little more. It makes me angry when members of the non-LGBT community say things like “why do you have to parade about it?” or “we don’t have a ‘straight’ pride?” There will always be a need! Even if full equality is reached in every corner of the earth, the need to celebrate and remember those who fought for it will still be there. What annoys me more is when people that are LGBT, say they don’t support Pride, for without it, and the people that are the real backbone of this community, they wouldn’t have the relative freedom that we enjoy here today.

I first began fundraising for Belfast Pride in 2011 with a 12 hour sponsored silence. The idea began as a bit of a joke given that I never shut up. However, for me it had a serious undertone; highlighting the forced silence of many LGBT people around the world. There are still countries where homosexuality is “punishable” by death or imprisonment. Whilst we are not just as horrific as that in Northern Ireland, unfortunately homophobia is alive and well. With politicians being free to go on television commenting on my right to marry, and likening my personal relationship to that of having sex with an animal there is a greater need than ever to march on the streets of Belfast every summer.

Volunteering for Belfast Pride has been great for me on a personal level. I had come out of a long term abusive relationship and needed to repair my confidence and meet new people. The sense of community with my new friends and acquaintances was astounding and just the right medicine. I soon became a bit of a “scene queen” and the fundraising helps me feel like I’m giving something back. This year I have raised almost £2000 from a ‘solo silent disco’ and relentlessly pounding the dance floors in the clubs: not socialising but selling glowsticks to the revellers.

Above all, nothing can describe the feeling I get on parade day. Last year I cried with emotion the whole route, and more recently did the same when joining with our friends on the Dublin Parade. Seeing the smiling faces, and hearing the applause of support as the parade progresses, is just beautiful. Yes there are still protests, and there is still progress to be made, but in comparison to the thousands of people that take to the streets in support I guess we aren’t going anywhere. In fact this year is set to be bigger and better than ever, I will probably still cry and the fight for equality will still rage on long after the last tear has dried and the hangover clears.

Got Pride? by Stephen Donnan

Stephen donnan

Stephen Donnan is a youth worker, community worker, Alliance Party activist and LGBT /civil rights campaigner based out of Belfast, Northern Ireland. He spends his time between East Belfast, North Down and Lurgan. He has have worked in the voluntary sector for some time now, having done work with Cara-Friend, The Rainbow Project, Belfast YMCA, the HIV Support Centre, Parkinson’s UK, Make-A-Wish and PIPS.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Northern Pride in Newcastle-Upon Tyne. I was shown around the town by a friend, the sun was blazing and the cider was ice cold, so we decided to take part in the parade. As we joined the throngs of revellers waving rainbow flags alongside drag queens and carnival creations I couldn’t help but notice that one thing was lacking from the parade route: protesters.

Yes that’s right, I couldn’t get my head round why this parade was going so smoothly, why were there no pickets along the street? Beside city hall? Outside the churches we passed? I looked several times and couldn’t see them, concluding that I must have missed them. I asked my friend if there had been protesters ever before and she looked at me as though I was nuts. I guess coming from Belfast you tend to expect certain things that other places consider bizarre, such as Christians protesting an LGBT Pride march.

Every year the Sandown Presbyterian Church sends a delegation to hold placards reading slogans about Sodom and Gomorrah, telling us that we are all going to Hell, that we are an abomination. These people aren’t alone, for their views are shared by many, including our very own First Minister.


Stephen at Northern Pride

As part of the UK, Northern Ireland has a track record for being the worst country in the British Isles for LGBT rights, being the last nation in the Union to lift the ban on homosexuality in 1982. Direct Rule brought us protection against workplace discrimination based on who we love, equal access to IVF treatment, the right to change legal gender, the ability to serve openly in the military, legal protection from hate crime, rights of access to goods and services and the first Civil Partnerships took place in Belfast in 2004. But this myriad of equality legislation stopped as soon as the Northern Ireland Assembly was re-established in 2007.

Our Health Minister, Mr. Edwin Poots MLA and member of the DUP, has recently refused to lift the ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood, despite his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and England replacing the ban with a 12 month deferral period. Due to the nature of legislation in place, same-sex couples in a Civil Partnership are forbidden to adopt children and raise a family and future Health Minister Jim Wells MLA described those taking part in Belfast Pride as ‘repugnant’, and the issue of same-sex marriage has drawn a line in the sand for political parties in NI as Scotland, England and Wales all have plans to legislate in favour of such a measure.

With Belfast Pride less than a week away, can we really call it Belfast ‘Pride’? For what does NI have to be proud of when it comes to the LGBT community? Our Assembly hasn’t passed a single piece of legislation in its five years that enshrines the rights of the LGBT community in law. The Grand Master of the Loyal Orders (which also forbids Catholics from joining) recently declared that they are opposed to equal marriage as it will do ‘untold damage to civilization as we know it.’

US President Obama: First President to endorse same-sex marriage

Though things are changing slowly but surely. More Governments than ever are moving to legalise same-sex marriage, such as Scotland, New Zealand and even Vietnam. The USA has seen a massive swing in support for the issue, as President Barack Obama told the world earlier in the year that he was in favour of marriage equality, and his party (The Democratic Party) are set to officially endorse the move. Our neighbours, the Irish Republic, look set to legalise same-sex marriage some time in the next five years as all major political parties have adopted positions in favour of the measure.

The NI Executive recently launched ‘Our Time, Our Place’ as a means of celebrating all of the events taking place in NI this year, such as the Titanic commemoration, the Irish Open or the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant. With the world changing around it, Northern Ireland will have to move with the times or face the prospect of losing its modern image of peace, inclusiveness and equality. While things right now aren’t as good as they should be, progress can be frustrating or unprecedented in its speed, however, progress is progress and it should be welcomed. Both Belfast City Council and Omagh Council have both passed motions declaring their support for same-sex marriage. The Department of Employment and Learning is now funding a project aimed at raising awareness of the difficulties LGB people face in the workplace and Belfast Pride remains the largest LGBT festival in Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the EU, and I believe it also only a matter of time before the European Court of Human Rights recognises the right of marriage between same-sex couples, and Northern Ireland’s homophobic political parties and organisations will have to realise that they can no longer stand in the way of equality and progress.

Things aren’t as good as they could be, but they are better than ever before.

Pride Talks Back 2012

pride talks back
From left: Gavin Robinson (DUP), Martina Anderson (Sinn Fein), Anna Lo (Alliance), Steven Agnew (Green Party), Conall McDevitt (SDLP) and Michael Copeland (UUP)

On Wednesday evening Belfast Pride hosted its annual Pride Talks Back debate with local politicians. The main story from the event is not so much in its content, but simply the fact that a small bit of history was made in the presence of a DUP representative, Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson, who chose to take part. Not to dismiss the bravery of Gavin Robinson to turn up and give his opposing, “alternative”, view on LGBT issues, it should also be noted that DUP should not have taken so long to take part in such debate as it is their job to represent the public. The other members of the panel were Martina Anderson (Sinn Fein), Anna Lo (Alliance), Steven Agnew (Green Party), Conall McDevitt (SDLP) and Michael Copeland (UUP).

The first question presented to the panel was: ‘Do you support change in the law to introduce equal marriage?’ It was only the DUP representative who responded with a definitive “no”. Michael Copeland stated that his “…party view is that we believe in equality…”, Steven Agnew said, “We pro-actively support the right to same-sex couples to marry.” Martina Anderson: “Sinn Fein are driving the change and motion to councils.” Anna Lo: “The party sees it as an important issue.” She also stated that party leader, David Ford, does support marriage equality, and that the issue is due to be discussed at a forthcoming party meeting on 1st September.

Gavin Robinson jokingly stated:
“This isn’t an issue that the DUP try to take ownership over.” In answer to the question: “No, neither personally, nor as a party.” He added that he has set himself up to engage with “every aspect of our society and all people.” yet he did make it clear that “we won’t always agree.” He then proceeded to repeat the religious rhetoric that he believes in “marriage as a foundation,” that he “believes in the biblical definition of marriage: between a man and a woman, that it has a “scriptural basis.” On civil partnerships he said that “they are there, and are the law. We didn’t agree at the time and we still don’t.” In response to someone from the floor Gavin said, “No matter how passionately you express your opinion… it doesn’t dilute the definition of marriage.”

Throughout the event Michael Copeland was a voice for equality:

“Why do we make things complicated which are so very simple: Every person is equal. I would never associate myself with a group who says ‘you are different’.
“In the past people were persecuted because of religion, political affiliation, gender, race etc.”

Gavin responded to this by saying that, “Michael’s note has been the least helpful,” reiterating that he doesn’t believe that anyone here is “less than” him, “if I thought anyone in this room was less than me, I wouldn’t be here.”

For the most part of the evening Gavin sat emotionless. Often with his arms folded, looking down at the table, away from the other panel members, or towards his empty water glass. He rarely smiled, and didn’t applaud any comments made by the panel or members of the audience.

William Crawley, who did a great job as always in chairing the event. Not afraid to ask difficult questions, repeat or clarify the points made by the panel, and bring his own wealth of knowledge to the debate. He asked of Gavin, “Should the bible be implemented in law: a theocracy?” To which his response was simply to repeat that he believes “marriage to be between a man and a woman.”

When asked whether he agrees with colleagues that homosexuality is comparable to “bestiality” and “pedophilia”, as well as those who have described it as “sodomy” and an “abomination” Gavin stated, “I believe in freedom of speech, providing it doesn’t lead to hate crime. I don’t think that it is crossing the line…”

The thing is, this is not simply “freedom of speech” as it is damaging and by not condemning this language it does lead to hate crimes against people who take it on board. As Fidelma Carolan of Unison stated, “Words have a great impact. People agree with them… Families may talk about it over dinner… these words can lead to children self-harming…”

On the issue of the recent continued ban on donations of blood by gay people by Health Minister Edwin Poots, Steven Agnew stated that he believes the “decision is based on religious views”, while Gavin Robinson responded that it is “based only on scientific consideration,” however full scientific evidence of this is yet to be brought forward by the health minister. Anna Lo brought up the point that we need more blood in Northern Ireland.

This debate was necessary, and the presence of the DUP shows a certain amount of progress. It isn’t long ago that a DUP member would not have sat beside a Sinn Fein member, let alone discussing LGBT issues. The very fact that there was opposition in the room, bringing to the debate an “alternative” view, is progress, and such opposition appearing at debates should always take place, without fear. However, there is a lot more discussion that needs to take place within the DUP, and in Stormont as a whole. Education is a huge issue, and, as Duane Farrell, chair of The Rainbow Project, said “homophobia in schools is a bigger issue than equal marriage, as it has bigger impact.”

Hopefully this is the start of a much larger debate which the DUP will engage in. We must remind ourselves that they are the the largest party in Northern Ireland and represent the largest number of people, of all backgrounds, and that they must do their job to represent every member of our society. Using biblical text, taken out of context, and where there is little consistency, is not how any democratic government should be run.

What does Pride Mean To Me? By Simon Rea

Simon returned to Northern Ireland six years ago with his partner. He wandered along as a Steward in the parade that year and then expressed a lot of opinions about what the organisers were doing wrong and how they should improve it, they wisely called his bluff and now, as Secretary to Belfast Pride, Simon organises large chunks of the festival and receives daily feedback on where he is going wrong and what he needs to do to improve it. All views are his own as he is at pains to point out — no one speaks for Pride it’s far to disparate for that.

A question often asked, that you would think is easy to answer, I have been going to Pride festivals for well over 20 years and have been instrumental in making them happen here in Belfast for the last six years (to varying degrees).

Let me start by saying that the meaning and motivation behind Pride participation is a personal one, I volunteer with a team of nine people who work all year round to make the Belfast festival happen, we all have different motivations for being there, we all had different triggers that made us step up to the plate and we all chose to focus on different aspects of the festival and place a different emphasis on it. We care about each other dearly, but fight like siblings for much of the year.

Since the first trail blazers, in the Stonewall bar in 1969 decided enough was enough Pride has been about rebellion; it’s been about drawing a line in the sand, it’s about saying “I’m Here”. Beyond that people’s personal perspectives vary widely. So the first point in LGBT festivals and Pride marches is visibility.

Being seen, putting a face to homosexuality (or LGBT identity). It makes it far harder for people to be unpleasant, disparaging, bullying or dismissive when they have to face us, this visibility for many is deeply empowering, from my first Pride as a teenager in England I can remember how good it felt to walk the streets hand in hand with a same sex friend. I have never been a huge fan of public displays of affection, but being able to do it and feel “normal” or “safe” was amazing.

Many people I talk to today still tell me of coming to watch the parade for a year or two before plucking up the courage to walk in the parade. For others just visiting the festival and meeting other LGBT people is the important bit. The sheer size of the festival and the number of non LGBT people attending now gives camouflage to some who for years have been terrified of being associated with their peers.

Some of my colleagues focus on Arts and Entertainment — Pride has always had a sense of humour — knocking aside critics and abuse with wit and a song, for others it’s about a struggle for rights, this may become more complicated and nuanced over the years as we gradually take back more and more rights in law and move towards a cultural equality. For others it’s a celebration of difference, for me often the most difficult to embody — to accept a widely diverse set of behaviours, styles, opinions and taste without judgement and with celebration. A concept I believe in, but one often difficult to live as a value.

Stereotypes exist and there is nothing wrong with that, but helping straight people to see beyond the stereotypes whilst accepting them is often frustrating, If a man wants to dress in drag, that is perfectly acceptable but if the media turns the image of the 1% who do participate in sequins and killer heels into an image of us all that is frustrating. It is also not something I choose to fight too loudly about because I absolutely do not want to criticise any person who uses said art form to express their identity.

People often say to me, “Why do we still need Pride? We have goods and services protection, we have employment protection, we have civil partnerships.” The answer is simple — while we have to rely on law to protect our basic rights in a way that non LGBT people do not, there is a need for Pride. When I meet our friends colleagues from the many different LGBT support and lobbying organisations and hear tales of how people are marginalised, victimised and discriminated against each day I find I am motivated to keep providing a platform for them to raise issues and stimulate discussion and dialogue.

Pride will always be synonymous with rebellion, campaigning, humour and political activism, but its strength comes from its diversity, we may all be political but we don’t all agree: there is no “LGBT ideology”, we don’t all speak with one voice on rights/health/style/culture/faith we don’t all vote the same way, nor should we.

What I have discovered in recent years is causing offence for the sake of it gets us nowhere. Smashing, obstructing, screaming and shouting achieve little, loving your neighbour, opening the hand of friendship and looking for dialogue with all your detractors gets results. Allowing your critics space to hold their opinions and space to change their opinions is truly empowering, the economic benefits of the festival for our city have opened far more doors for me than a protest ever has.

I will be at Pride again this year, adding my perspective to a very, very, diverse collective (sounds more like the Borg than a civil rights movement). I hope you join me, whether it’s to fight the good fight, be visible, or simply to have some fun.