Belfast Pride Week Events

belfast pride umbrella

Belfast Pride week is now in full swing with parties, celebration, demonstration, discussion and debates taking place throughout the week. All information about what’s happening can be found at BelfastPride.com, or the full Pride Guide can be downloaded here [pdf]. We will be featuring a number of articles on LGBT Pride by a few guest writers each giving their own opinion on what Pride means to them. We are for full equality and would like to hear your views on the issue of LGBT rights and equality.

Here are a few events of note taking place this week:

Monday 30th July

Amnesty Pride Lecture plus Q&A
The Dangerous World of Gay ‘Cures’
Europa Hotel 7.30pm

In 2010 journalist Patrick Strudwick published “The Ex-Gay Files: The Bizarre World of Gay-to-Straight Conversion” in The Independent, chronicling a year of undercover investigation of therapists claiming to be able to ‘convert’ gays and lesbians to heterosexuality. In some countries, ‘gay conversion therapy’ is used as a form of punishment amounting to torture against gay people.
Strudwick will speak about his investigation into ‘gay conversion therapy’ and how that is used here and across the world as an attempt to negate gay identity and human rights for gay people. Hosted by William Crawley.

Tuesday 31st July

Pride Talks Back 2012
Europa Hotel 6.30pm

Belfast Pride’s Annual debate by the folks on the hill returns to the Europa Hotel. It’s your chance to put your questions to those in power in Northern Ireland.
This year all five of Northern Ireland’s main political parties will be represented in this debate, hosted by William Crawley. Definitely not one to miss!

Wednesday 1st August

GLYNI Presents…
Hymn or Us

Europa Hotel 7pm
The theme of this year’s debate is Faith in Education. The panel of religious leaders and education experts will debate the issues of faith and being gay in the classroom. Hosted by WIlliam Crawley.

Thursday 2nd August

Saving Face film screening
Crescent Arts Centre 7.30 – 10.30pm

The Family Ties Project will be holding a screening of a film – Saving Face. This is the story in which a Chinese-American lesbian and her traditionalist mother are reluctant to go public with secret loves that clash against cultural expectations. Afterwards there will be a question and answer session with members of the Family Ties Group, a group for parents by parents, of lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender people. The Q&A will centre on the themes raised by the film and how families can be supportive of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members.

Unison — Your Rights at Work
Unison, Galway House, York Street 6pm – 7.30pm
A free session with an overview of equality rights for LGBT people. Opportunity for questions and discussion. Refreshments provided.
RSVP to :
Roisin Lavery at the Equality Commission 02890 500611 rolavery@equalityni.org or Fidelma Carolan at UNISON 07796675826 f.carolan@unison.co.uk

Saturday 4th August

Pride Parade & Party in the Square
Leaves Custom House Square at 12 noon
Assemble from 11.30am

Why I’m “Doing” Lent

There is a lot of cynicism around Lent: giving up Lent for Lent, doing it out of tradition, giving up fairy stories, myths and bullshit, deliberately eating and drinking more. Now this is all very well, and very funny, but it’s the very stuff I’ve been saying since I was 15. I never did like being told what to do and when to do it. This year, however, I am in a place where I am willing and able to change something for 46 days. And while I still do not like being told when and how to do things, I am simply being inspired by the cause of Lent to take this time to improve myself.

When I was young I used to attempt to give up chocolate, sugar, TV… I did it religiously. Just like many others. Then there are the people who give up sarcasm, Facebook, swearing, junk food etc. Are these real sacrifices? Lent, like much of the teachings of the Christian church, is based on goodness, humility, kindness, empathy, self-control; being true to yourself and neighbours, fasting, abstinence, discipline, living spiritually, to change the routine for a few weeks: this is what Lent is supposed to be about for Christians. And, like many aspects of Christianity, there is nothing wrong with any of this.

I’m aiming to give up some small things, yet no less difficult: giving up alcohol (which in turn should help me stay off the cigarettes as I’ve done mostly successfully the last 4 months), giving up coffee, eating out and generally live more frugally. These are things I have difficulty doing; unlike giving up heroin. But why? Because I don’t like to take things lightly, and do anything out of “tradition”. I aim to do things deliberately, out of passion and because I want to. I’m far from perfect, and this is just another time in which to perfect myself. By setting myself just another challenge. To discipline myself. For myself. Piggy-bagging of this Catholic/Christian calendar event, if you will.

Like Christmas today, there is very little of Jesus and the bible in many people’s interpretation of Lent: Jane Williams put it very eloquently in the Guardian: “…there is really no point at all in a Lenten discipline that isn’t about re-imagining the world so that it revolves less about our own desires and more about the good of all. When Lent ends, that vision of the world doesn’t.”

lent
The true meaning of Lent?
Curiously, Al Terry received death threats after posting this on Twitter. Where’s the Christianity in that?

Soapbox: Nadine’s Big Strop

Last week, an attempt by Nadine Dorries MP to remove counselling services from abortion providers and giving it to what were referred to as ‘independent’ providers was stopped by a vote of 368 to 118 in Westminster.

Of the Northern Irish MPs in attendance at the vote, every single one voted in favour of Dorries’ amendment. This includes SDLP MPs and Alliance’s sole MP, Naomi Long.

The argument was that it is wrong to give bodies that receive public money for carrying out abortions the task of also providing counselling on the subject, as they would have a “vested interest” in making sure abortion levels stayed the same or grew. That is to say, that current providers Marie Stopes and bpas would seek to profit out of providing abortion services.

One of the major groups that would become responsible for providing this counselling however, CareConfidential, was found by a Newsnight investigation to hold hardline Christian views.

The group, which has over 130 affiliated centres across the UK, making it the largest independent crisis pregnancy body in the UK, was found to issue the following religious statements within its training manual:

  • “Abortion is undoubtedly a wickedness that grieves God’s heart. As we study the Bible we see that life begins within the womb when the human egg is fertilised and then implanted.”
  • “The deliberate destruction of the developing child at any stage from this point is to deny the life of the human being – a most grievous sin in the eyes of God…”
  • “Because abortion involves the taking of a human life, a life that God created, it is very much a spiritual issue. It is important therefore that this work of post-abortion counselling is ‘church-based’”.

Speaking to Newsnight, former Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris said;

“There already is an existing, unbiased, professional service which is regulated and inspected by the department of health itself, which on its website warns against going to the so-called independent abortion providers who have been shown time and again through mystery shopping exercises to give distorted advice, incorrect advice and try and shame women into not seeking abortion when that’s in their interests and what they want”.

The argument for the change was that it would increase choice for women, but what has subsequently emerged is that this was merely a smokescreen for radical changes from a group of people which, seemingly, take issue with abortion.

Campaigners, for example, claimed that the scheme would reduce the number of abortions each year by 60,000 – a striking talking point rooted in the notion that people having abortions is a problem.

Further, in the House of Commons, Nadine Dorries claimed that during her meetings with David Cameron, the Prime Minister was enthusiastic of the plan and instructed Dorries to use the word ‘independent’ in describing the replacement bodies.

Given the highly religious findings from the Newsnight investigation, the group is certainly not independent, leaving Cameron’s advice as smart misdirection inferring fault with the current system and, subsequently, the need for reform.

Finally, during the debate, Dorries stood in Parliament and stated, “Like 73 per cent of the country I am Church of England, I do have Christian beliefs, but I am not sure when that became a crime”.

If we are being kind, we would say that Dorries felt persecuted for her Christianity when trying to implement a change she believed in, detached from her religion. This is a woman, after all, who has declared, “I am pro-choice. Abortion is here to stay.”

In light, however, of the replacement provider, the talking point about reducing the number of abortions, the fact that the plans would lengthen the abortion process closer toward the limit and the clear spin top Tory brass placed on the amendment, it does put her Christianity in new light, casting doubt on her true intentions and posing the question of whether her idea was founded in fact or religion.

There is growing concern amongst some Christians that they are in some way being outlawed. In reality, the issue is that these same Christians are seeking to impose their beliefs on an entire society. In doing so, they circumvent logic, morality and decency.

Regardless of what the Bible says, it would be abhorrent to give Government money to an abortion counselling service which referred to one woman’s 6 week pregnancy as a ‘baby’ and described her situation as ‘God giving her another chance’.

Further, it is outrageous that some churches deny same-sex ceremonies on the grounds that they would seek to ‘rewrite nature’ when, in reality, it is their unverified, ungrounded beliefs which discriminate against groups due to innate aspects as irrelevant and incidental as race or eye colour. Coincidentally, these aspects are not beliefs but scientific fact.

These people are ignoring fact. Let us be clear; what these people are doing is akin to denying the sky is blue, the grass green or the existence of gravity.

The argument of ‘independence’ suggests that a compromise between fact and fiction is beneficial. The UK Prime Minister was in favour of this amendment and, indeed, suggested the ‘independence’ line. If this government is going to be so adverse to fact, why don’t they just make everyone rub cats on their foreheads to reduce the deficit and have done with it? For our MPs to vote in favour of this shambles is embarrassing, shameful and depressingly predictable.

Finally, in the words of Dorries herself in an article she wrote for the Mail, “I would like to say that we have reason on our side but then, in politics, when the issue of abortion is raised, all reason seems to fly out of the whips’ office window”. Oh irony of ironies.

It must be true, I read it in the Mail

In the short history of this website, we haven’t taken aim, really, at the media. Thanks to the Daily Mail on Saturday, however, that’s about to change. You see, the Daily Mail offered a corker of an example of how the media ignore all common sense, logic and reason and draw on pre-established narratives to appeal to their readers. Like all good dealers of addictive schlock, they keep hitting the same buttons they know will send a thrill through their audience to keep them coming back for more.

As I’m sure you all know, it would strongly appear as though Daily Mail hates the BBC. That’s their narrative and the Daily Mail’s ‘middle England’ readers lap it up. So it came as no surprise, then, when I came across a story on their site called “The price of beauty: BBC to spend £100,000 of licence fee payer’s money on make-up artists for news presenters”. Now, let’s keep in mind the fact that BBC News has 24 hour coverage, 7 days a week featuring no less than 30 people, anchors, journalists and contributors, (and probably tens more) which appear in the studio and need make up. Let’s keep in mind the fact, then, that for £100,000 the BBC is employing make-up people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week which could easily be the salaries of four people. Let’s also remember the fact that neither you nor I wish to see a melting George Alagiah or a Fiona Bruce with a forehead not too dissimilar to Niagara falls. And let’s remember that TV news programmes, be it ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 or Sky, all use makeup on their talent and contributors and that, due to studio lights, it’s nice when people’s faces don’t reflect every stage light into camera.

 

The Daily Mail have, however, ignored all that in Rebecca Twomey’s article, favouring instead emotive phrases like “the staggering amount of licence fee payer’s money”, “pricey measures” and “an expensive affair”. Knowledge is what allows us to hold bodies and politicians to account. Why, then, is this naked ideological agenda permitted and tolerated? This type of propaganda only serves the purposes of newspaper and its owners. Knowledge is vital to a healthy democracy and has a profound effect on the electorate.

 

On the same day, serial BBC hater Liz Thomas wrote an article called “A glass act: Fiona Bruce wears specs and no make-up to read the news after catching eye infection”. In this article, Thomas uses three Tweets (I kid you not) to show how her glasses sparked a “flurry of debate” about her glasses. So, after hammering the BBC for spending money on makeup artists and, ultimately, vanity, the Mail is now hammering one of the BBC’s newsreaders for not having makeup on and wearing glasses. Hypocrisy aside, it’s obvious the Mail uses articles like this to rile people up and drive traffic to their site. In the links here, however, you won’t be giving them any traffic. Win-win.

 

It’s a real illustration, however, of the role the media plays in the dumbification of the public. If it’s written in the papers, it has some legitimacy in it. That’s the perception. This is exactly why bullshit like homeopathy, psychics and the like float unchecked into the public’s consciousness, and how religion dictates, directly or otherwise, public policy. It might not seem like it matters, but homeopaths have been travelling to disaster zones handing out their glorified Skittles to people in need of real medication. Why do we accept this kind of stuff? Because it’s true, of course. I read it in the papers.

Wednesday Soapbox: Ideology and Skepticism

This is the second in a series of weekly opinion pieces by various members of the Belfast Skeptics. If you have an opinion to share or just want to rant about something, email us and we’ll have a chat.

Certain things are easy to be skeptical about – bogus health claims, UFO’s, psychics etc. But when it comes to personal politics, we are all under the impression that our own views are the most rational and reasoned approach to any given topic. After a brief flirtation with the Liberal Democrats in my late teens, I went to university and became your typical lefty student involved with the Anti Nazi League, Anti Poll Tax, Animal Rights and Environmental movements. I’m still broadly left wing but hope that my beliefs are more driven by reason than hippy idealism. To look at me as a student, the word “hippy” wouldn’t have been far from your lips but I’ve never really liked the hippy label.

I think it really only applies to a specific time at the end of the 60’s and start of the 70’s when people were really motivated by radical social upheaval – the backdrop of Vietnam and the emergence of a distinctly new type of youth culture providing the impetus for genuine change. But as the hippies grew up and went on to create multi-national ice cream companies, they left behind this legacy of a vague group of wishy washy individuals trying to meld some deeply held revolutionary convictions with a pick and mix eastern mysticism. Maybe I’m being too harsh, as they have also left us a legacy of sexual liberation and a wider acceptance of alternative lifestyles which many of us benefit from today.

But it’s the emphasis on “spirituality” in the environmental movement that I want to focus on here, and I’m afraid the hippies must take some of the blame. The environmental movement has some important messages to get across and I don’t think it does itself any favours by aligning itself with the shamans and mystics. Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of clear-thinking rational people in the environmental movement -particularly working in the area of climate science but this seems to me slightly at odds with the “Mother Earth” approach.

A couple of years ago The Guardian ran an article bemoaning the decline of spirituality in the environmental movement. Here are a couple of quotes:

The hippies were fond of speaking of Gaia, Mother Earth, as a living organism. But as the environmental debate eventually reached the ears of politicians and scientists, it moved away from talk of spirituality and began to concentrate solely on a rational, scientific analysis of the effects of climate change.

“Look at what realists have done for us. They have led us to war and climate change, poverty on an unimaginable scale, and wholesale ecological destruction. Half of humanity goes to bed hungry because of all the realistic leaders in the world. I tell people who call me ‘unrealistic’ to show me what their realism has done. Realism is an outdated, overplayed and wholly exaggerated concept.”

– Satish Kumar

“Realists” seems to be a very broad category of people to blame for all the worlds ills. Anyway, this was my response:

The implication here seems to be that if you aren’t “spiritual” then you don’t truly understand the needs of the planet.

I’m more of a rationalist, and at the same time as understanding the need for respecting the planet and moving towards a less consumer based society, I would also be sceptical of this wishy washy spiritualism that supposedly gives certain “enlightened” people a direct line to the earth’s “energies”.

Your spirituality may give you a sense of personal fulfilment and motivate you as a steward for the planet, but that doesn’t mean that the non-spiritual are any less capable.

I acknowledge that some spiritual leaders have some wise things to say about the planet, but I don’t get this reverence for spiritual wisdom above reason and evidence.

Some writers such as Alastair Mcintosh make important points about the relationship between small communities and large corporations but then go and spoil it with references to pagan Christianity. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe these are the kinds of ideas that people feel they can invest in. Maybe the “Mother Earth” idea is a necessary narrative device to get people to take an interest in the planet and it’s survival. But in my experience it’s the preachy “mother earth” types that put people off environmentalism. I still get portrayed as a bit of an “eco-warrior” at work, just because I cycle in and do the recycling.

If I started to tell my colleagues that they needed to be at one with the planet I’d be laughed out of the office, but start talking about the top speed and range of the new generation of electric cars and their ears prick up. In reality change is only going to come with innovation and development in eco technology combined with a move away from an oil based economy which will be driven by cheaper alternatives becoming more readily available. Even though I am convinced by the ethical arguments for reducing our carbon foot print now – most people are only going to change their habits when it saves them money.

One final word on Climate “skeptics”. They have taken our word and soiled it. We need to take it back, and the only way we can do that is by proving the validity of our claims and by re-imagining the earth mother narrative in a secular context.

Wednesday Soapbox: Exercise is Evil

This is the first in a series of weekly opinion pieces by various members of the Belfast Skeptics. If you have an opinion to share or just want to rant about something, email us and we’ll have a chat.

I’ll be honest with you; I don’t do ‘exercise’. Frankly, I barely do ‘movement’ at all. Still thin, but only because this comically lankly cadaver (my body) offers bountiful room to savour roasts gone by.

Now, I know this kind of lifestyle is bad. I do! Like most people, however, the mere notion of going to a gym, a place where your muscles go to work and your brain goes to die, gives me hives, headaches and heartburn. Possibly incontinence. Who knows, I’m knocking on a bit.

Little did I know, however, that you can achieve all those ailments (and many, many more!) by actually going to one of the bloody places. And that includes incontinence! Yes, dear reader, word on the street is (or, at least, in the personal universe of writers at The Sun) the gym is a place of terrible hardship beyond just making your muscles ache.

10 reasons to avoid the gym” is a fascinating article which asks that, although the gym may get you fit, “do you ever think how much you could save by staying on the couch?” Glad to see the Health section of The Sun and I are on the same page.

Along with headaches, heartburn, hives and incontinence, other lurking threats include chronic farting, runny noses and, wait for it, the dreaded EAR POPPING. Let’s kick this off with PT inside CRC 028something; most of the ‘threats’ in the gym come from that most lethal of all activities known as ‘living’. Let’s take farting. Apparently, “each time you contract the muscles around your internal organs you risk letting one loose”. This, then, doubles as a reason of why you should avoid doing anything, anywhere, ever. WHAT a tragedy.

They say moving after having dairy will make your nose gush Niagara style. So before you crack open a white chocolate Magnum, you’d better be sat down with nothing to do for a while.

Hives is a fun one, too. Apparently, some people ARE allergic to exercise. It’s a good job kids don’t read newspapers, because that’d be the FIRST reason I’d give to avoid cross-country, I can tell you.

Another problem with the gym, allegedly, is the time it takes to get there. They therefore suggest you “Go for a run outdoors, instead”. Well hang on, now, Mr. The Sun Health section. According to you lot, if I go for a run outdoors, I’ll end up exposing unwitting members of the general public to a farting, nose running, weeing machine.

ALL those ‘problems’ with the gym and they ignore the biggest one of all; that the gym is unrelentingly boring. Despite that, the only conclusion I can draw about what I should do, exercise-wise, is to continue doing absolutely nothing. A victory well earned, I feel.