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.

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

‘Discussion: The Right to Gay Marriage’

Reverend Chris Hudson

Eamon Gilmore TD, Leader of the Labour Party in Ireland, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade, said at the beginning of the month that “the right of gay couples to marry is, quite simply, the civil rights issue of this generation,” and it may be difficult to see it as anything other than that, or at least up there in the top 5, for the sake of argument.

Today, as part of Belfast Pride, All Souls Church hosted a discussion on why “gay marriage”, or quite simply “marriage equality” should be legislated in the UK and Ireland, led by Rev. Chris Hudson.

Rev. Hudson began with a small bit on his own background, stating that he has 20 years’ experience as a trade union official, working for workers rights, and specifically the rights of women in the workplace. He also worked as the head of the South African anti-apartheid movement in Ireland. Chris also works closely with Changing Attitude Ireland, an organisation seeking “full acceptance and welcome for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons in the Churches in Ireland.” He is clearly an advocate for the rights of people and works hard to do just that, and, as stated this afternoon, this paper marks the beginning of his personal campaign for marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

“It is an incorrect position that all Christians are against marriage equality.”

It is essential to contextualise this debate with other sociological problems. Until 1967 not every state in the USA was it legal for interracial marriage to take place. However, this still takes place within some Baptist churches in the United States, as recently as last week.

While changes were made so that “coloured” people were allowed to sit in the middle of the bus, so the comparison can be drawn to the introduction of civil partnerships: it’s the middle of the bus. Not fully equal. Marriage equality, Hudson stated, is about extending the current legislation on marriage, “not about creating another institution for gay people, as in the case of civil partnerships.”

Another example raised by Rev. Hudson is St Paul’s writings on women, how they are to be subordinate to men, the are allowed to read, but not to teach and other statements which today are taken as completely sexist and not acceptable anywhere. We do not live today by the standards and cultural norms of two millennia.

1 Corinthians 14*
33: …As in all the churches of the saints, 34: the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. 35: If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Or in 1 Tim. 2: 11-15
I give no permission for a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. A woman ought to be quiet, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin. Nevertheless, she will be saved by child-bearing, provided she lives a sensible life and is constant in faith and love and holiness.

Rev. Hudson’s campaign is “deliberately religious”, as he states that LGBT people of faith will be denied the same rights as those without faith if the “secular” campaign continues its campaign to separate the religious blessing and civil/legal marriage. This denies those same-sex couples of faith who wish to be married in a church. Part of Chris’ campaign is to allow for legislation of marriages within churches, for those who wish to authorise this ceremony. Currently, within Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland it is illegal for churches to perform same-sex civil partnerships, leaving some to conduct a prayer at the reception, or a blessing at another time from the civil ceremony, as Chris Hudson has done himself in the past (I was present for one myself).

“The Catholic Church is obsessed with the male genitals… Is Christianity not about God’s love? Style over substance. Some churches still have issue of women in the church simply because they don’t have the right genital make-up to be a priest.”

Hudson made the point that governments “should legislate to suit all denominations: one law for all.”

“If debating with people who take a literalist view on the bible, it may be an hour you won’t get back”.

I have only stated a small selection of Chris Hudson’s words as he said them today, and are written up here . He is just one voice fighting for Equal Marriage in Northern Ireland, and one among many within the religious community. As he, and others, have stated often: there is not one homogeneous religious view in society, and it is false to claim that there is “one religious view, or indeed one Christian Church which holds the truth.”

Tesco Online Internet Security Flaw

Tesco have failed at making their system secure and up to the standards of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard by sending users passwords in plain-text format over email. This is a huge security issue for a a company of its size, and with all the person information stored by users.

Testing procedure:
Obtain and examine documentation about the system used to protect the PAN, including the vendor, type of system/process, and the encryption algorithms (if applicable). Verify that the PAN is rendered unreadable using any of the following methods:

  • One-way hashes based on strong cryptography
  • Truncation
  • Index tokens and pads, with the pads being securely stored
  • Strong cryptography, with associated key-management processes and procedures

The very same issue regarding Tesco’s huge security issue was raised way back in 2007 by a blogger, Jemjabella and still nothing has been done about it. Will Tesco get their act together and resolve the issue this time? In the mean time, change your password!

#TwitterJokeTrial Win for Paul Chambers and Freedom of Speech

Today Paul Chambers received a very positive win on the so-called #TwitterJokeTrial case which was based around a tweet sent in frustration: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” The, now very well known tweet, was written in January 2010 after Paul discovered the Robin Hood airport was closed due to snow before he was due to visit his then-girlfriend, now fiancée, in Northern Ireland.

It was always a joke, albeit a bad one, however, Paul Chambers had never once seriously considered blowing up an airport, similarly, you nor I would never kill anyone despite our rage and or perhaps uttering the worlds “I could kill…” These words are not to be taken seriously, nor are they meant in a serious way. A lot of the English language is figurative, the fact that it took so long for the English court system to see that is sad, though in the end they did and this case referred to as the case that showed that common sense does prevail.

On 10th May 2010 Paul was prosecuted under section 127(1) of the Communications Act 2003, which prohibits sending “by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.


The Crown Prosecution Service stated in 2010: “Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 was considered to be the correct charge in the particular circumstances of the case. Under 127(1) an offense is committed where suspect sends by means of a public electronic telecommunications system a message or other matter that is “grossly offensive, or of an indecent obscene or menacing character”. A message can be any of these (rather than having to be all of them) and the message in this case was clearly of a menacing character.”

As stated in a detailed article in TheLawyer.com by Paul’s Lawyer, David Allen Green:

It seemed to me to be the wrong offence in a prosecution which could not be in the public interest. It also seemed to me to be a huge leap to take section 127(1) from its application to telephone calls to a Twitter posting just because of the technological contingency of the internet being an aspect of a public telecommunications service.

So I asked the CPS why this prosecution was seen to be in the public interest. Their response was:
“While Mr Chambers may have meant this as a joke, the airport could not risk treating it as such. The threat had to be taken seriously by the airport authorities, who contacted the police. It caused unnecessary disruption because of a menacing communication.”

While neither police nor the airport considered the tweet to be a serious threat, the judge stated that it was “menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed.” The judge in this case could see that it was not funny, yet did not understand that it was not meant literally. At the time, this brought out discussion on what constitutes a funny joke.

The point was made in the Heresy Corner blog that this was “an offence against the deepest principle of Englishness. And I don’t mean justice, fair-play or common sense. I mean humour.”

The action against Paul Chambers has rightly been dubbed the “Twitter Joke Trial”. Not just because it was a joke of a trial – though certainly not a funny one – or because it centres on what everyone involved acknowledges to have been a joke. What has been on trial is the possibility of humour itself, the right of a freeborn Englishman to be facetious as and when he feels like it, about any subject whatsoever. Against that age-old national instinct to make light of adverse circumstances – the spirit that got us through the Blitz – we now find a new and alien notion that there are some things that are beyond joking, that even an obvious joke must be treated seriously. Because it’s no laughing matter. Because you can’t be too careful. Because any imagined threat, however patently absurd, must be ritually investigated. And the person making the joke must bear the responsibility for the time-consuming and costly process of investigation, even though the possibility of such an investigation never crossed his mind, just to drive the message home that You Cannot Make Jokes About Terrorism.

The case proved to be a serious blow to freedom of speech and simple common sense. With over 10 million people on Twitter, this had an affect on the freedom of speech of each one of them, not just Paul.

Today, however, the judge stated: “The appeal against conviction will be allowed on the basis that this ‘tweet’ did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character; we cannot usefully take this aspect of the appeal further.”

According to the Guardian, John Cooper QC, who represented Chambers, said: “It’s an important decision for social networks. It means that in future not only does a message have to be of a truly menacing character but the person who sends it has to intend it to be menacing.
Head Of Legal has a short interview with Paul Chambers’ legal team.

Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers

In summary, it is unfortunate that Paul Chambers was targeted for posting a simple, facetious tweet, having since lost two jobs and “dragged out of obscurity and forced to be a public celebrity of a kind.”

As one commenter has said: “Will the duty manager who reported it to the police be arrested for a) wasting police and everyone elses time b) being a self righteous jobsworth?”

The full judgement is online for your reading pleasure [pdf].

Evolution to Blame For Aurora Atrocity?

Mega-church pastor, Rick Warren, chose to tweet on Friday, shortly after the massacre at Aurora, Colorado, that the blame is to be placed on evolution and a lack of God in society. There are many reasons why such responses should be ignored, not namely due to the fact that someone feels the need to respond to such a tragedy in political point-scoring and attacking science is nothing less than ignorant and pathetic.

Allow me to state the obvious for a minute: humans are animals. Can Mr Warren not see that evolution has brought us as humans to a state of being unique among animals? Not many other animals use guns to kill each other needlessly. Yet we are like other animals: based on the same genetic code.

A quote from Paul Braterman on as pointed out by James F. McGrath states:

United States is weaker on the teaching of evolution, both in terms of the number of people who deny it and the number of biology teachers who skip it to avoid controversy, than any other major industrialized nation. We are, on the other hand, the leaders when it comes to the number of shooting deaths and mass murders that take place each year. There may be no actual connection between science education and shooting sprees, but if there were, it would presumably have to be due to our relative failure to teach evolution, rather than with our teaching it.

Rick Warren has responded to comment on this tweet saying:

TWITTER’S limit on words allows no context for statements. A lack of contxt causes misinterpretation. So when you tweet what’s on your mind, people preassume (incorrectly) that you are talking about what’s on THEIR mind. This is a clear example. My tweet was a brief response to a question to me about SEXUAL PROMISCUITY. It had NOTHING to do with the tragedy in Colorado.! I had received this email from a dad: “Pastor Rick, my daughter told me her teacher said in class “There’s nothing wrong with sex with multiple partners! Sex is a natural, inate drive, and any attempt to limit it to one, single partner is a manmade construct.” THAT is what I was commenting on. Unfortunately, you also incorrectly presumed the context.

While the connection between the shooting at Aurora and this tweet may be coincidence, there still remains much idiocy in such a soundbite. More on this on the Exploring the Matrix blog.

Another crackpot to get on the airwaves with a hit at secularism as the blame for the shooting is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) who spoke on on the radio on Friday:

“You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place,”

“Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important,” he said. “Whether it’s John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people … Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters … We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country.”

While these are the words and thoughts of Christian American Founding Father, John Adams, the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli states that the United States was “not in any sense founded on the Christian religion”. It was written under presidency of George Washington and signed under the presidency of John Adams.

“We’ve threatened high school graduation participation, if they use God’s name, they’re going to be jailed … I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.”

A fellow American founding father, Thomas Paine stated:

“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of… Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and of my own part, I disbelieve them all.” — The Age of Reason, pp. 89.

As per the Examiner piece, the First Amendment prevents government led prayer forced onto people, but does not prevent private prayer.

Jerry Newcombe has also blamed the attack on the lack of “fear of God“.

Suffice to say, science is not to blame for a man shooting 71 people in a cinema theatre, anyone who says so is simply exploiting what has happened to sell their ideas and political agenda. Bottom line is that at this point we do not know the shooters motives.

Larry Pratt wants to “Loosen” Gun Laws

larry prattWhile the obvious, and most logical, response to the shooting in Colorado yesterday would be to tighten gun laws in America, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America and a member of the National Rifle Association, said last night on the Stephen Nolan show on Radio5 Live that the laws should in fact be “loosened”.

“It’s very sad that there was a ‘no guns’ policy in that theatre, and that nobody had thought to take a gun with them anyway.

“[The] clear take-away message from what happened is don’t go into gun free zones unless you’re willing to break the law.”

“Self-defence is incidental; the real reason we have guns in America is to keep them trained on the government…” “…That’s the way we have been maintaining our political freedom all along…”

“The idea that you tell people they’ve got to go into a public place without a firearm is setting them up for this kind of disaster. Most of our mass murders have occurred precisely where the criminal knew that he would find unarmed victims and by and large he has been right”

As the guest on the Stephen Nolan show pointed out: “The second amendment declares the right to bare arms but not to have bullets.”

In my mind this seems absolutely ridiculous. If more people have guns the more danger other people are to each other. If no one has a gun the danger of such a massacre is surely dramatically reduced. Gun Owners of America has reiterated this point on their website.

“It isn’t just “criminals” who we have to stop from getting guns.” — Ray Hanania

Roger Ebert puts it eloquently in a post titled ‘The Body Count

You know what? The hell with it. I’m tired of repeating the obvious. I know with a dread certainty that I will change nobody’s mind. I will hear conspiracy theories from those who fear the government, I will hear about the need to raise a militia, and I will hear nothing about how 9,484 corpses in a year has helped anything. That is a high price to pay. What depresses me is that half of my fellow countrymen are prepared to pay it.

Equal Marriage NI Survey Shows 75% For Marriage Equality

This afternoon some members of the Equal Marriage NI campaign team carried out a small poll of random people in South Belfast on same-sex marriage. The survey, although small in number, showed overwhelming support for marriage equality in Northern Ireland, which is about giving the right to all people to marry, no matter their race, gender or sexual orientation.

The results were:

220 polled in total between 10:30am and 12:30pm 20th July 2012

164 polled in favour of full marriage equality
70 of those in favour were male
94 of those in favour were female

3 polled as undecided on the issue
2 of those undedicded were male
1 of those undecided were female

53 polled against full marriage equality
20 of those against were male
33 of those against were female

All those polled were randomly selected out on the street or within various coffee shops in the areas of Botanic, Queen’s University Belfast, Stranmillis, Lisburn Road, Sandy Row and the Holylands area.

This data, though small in number, and taken from a very small area of the city, show that a large majority, 74.5% are for, while 24.1% are against same-sex marriage. While only 1% are undecided.

Equal Marriage NI said that the majority of those who are against marriage equality do so on “religious grounds due to the doctrine that a marriage before God is between a Man and Woman.” This reasoning is unexpected, though undoubtedly saddening that it is still such a widely held opinion.

Equal Marriage NI plan to conduct a more comprehensive survey in the future.

Aurora, CO, Massacre; A Dark Night

aurora colorado shooting

It’s one of those stories that just puts everything else on hold.
During the midnight screening of the Dark Knight a man wearing a gas mask threw tear gas in the theatre and sprayed around 50 bullets killing 12 and injuring at least 38, and these numbers are likely to rise.

There has been amateur video on YouTube, thousands of tweets and a comprehensive timeline of events has been compiled on Reddit with links to police video and audio and a detailed run-down of numbers and reports. The shooter’s family have said, their “hearts go out to the victims of this tragedy in Colorado, while Obama said “There are going to be other days for politics.”

This is a terrible atrocity, and to happen just 20 miles from Columbine, which still suffers from the tragic school shooting in 1999.

One of the victims, Jessica Ghawi, who went by Jessica Redfield, was also at the Eaton Center Mall shooting in Toronto in June and was lucky to survive it. She wrote about her experience on her blog. Reading both her blog post and tweets leading up to the movie screening are difficult to do. For this woman to have been involved in two mass shootings were so unlikely and so saddening. More on Buzzfeed.

I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.

There will be many issues raised from this: from violence in movies to, what is surely the biggest issue at hand, gun control in America.

More will be written on this.
However, today, our thoughts go out today to the people of Aurora, Colorado, and to all those affected by this harrowing atrocity. There are no words.

Shooting at Midnight Batman Showing Kills 12, Injures 38[Slate]
Police: 12 dead in Colorado theater shooting [AP]
Comprehensive Timeline of Aurora Massacre [Reddit]
After Aurora, Lessons from Columbine [Time]
Mass shooting at Batman screening in Aurora, Colo.; At least 12 dead, dozens more wounded [CBSNews]
Shooting Victim’s Last Tweets From The Theater [Buzzfeed]