Saturday, 31 July 2010

The Further Advance of Sarah's Law *UPDATED*

Sarah's Law, English law's answer to the US Megan's Law is being further rolled out across England. The London Evening Standard reports that from tomorrow, the scheme will be rolled out to eight other force areas - West Mercia, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Thames Valley, West Midlands, Essex and Suffolk.

It is intended that Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, Sussex, Leicestershire, Wiltshire, Cheshire, Durham, Northumbria, Dorset, Lincolnshire, Surrey and Gloucestershire will all join the scheme in the Autumn.

Put simply, 'Sarah's Law' gives a parent the right to check with police if anyone with regular unsupervised access to their children has a criminal conviction for child sex offences.

I was opposed to the introduction of Sarah's Law. It remains in my view a poor solution to a misdiagnosed problem. It's a tribute to how a moral panic can result in bad law. I continue to fear that this scheme lures parents into a false security about new partners and allows us off the hook as a society in truly resolving our issues around consent in sexual relationships.

Despite this, my worst fears about the law do not appear to have been realised. Current trials in Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Hampshire and Warwickshire have not resulted in lynch mobs on our streets although equally, it's unclear how effective the measures have been in protecting children from abuse.

*UPDATE* The media this morning have obviously been briefed on this story by the Home Office since the Evening Standard piece was produced. Both the BBC and Sky are reporting that 60 children had been protected from abuse during the pilot scheme.

The BBC goes on to state that nearly 600 inquiries to the four forces involved in the pilot led to 315 applications for information and 21 disclosures about registered child sex offenders.

A further 43 cases led to other actions, including referrals to children's social care, and 11 general disclosures were made regarding protection issues linked to violent offending, the Home Office has apparently said.

It also interesting to see from the Sky piece that the NSPCC continue to share my concerns about the scheme. However, I don't see the tide being turned back on this. I hope that the Home Office will at least have the decency to publish the information it has released to the media on its website so that academics and the public can examine the trial data. At the time of this update, it is irritatingly absent from the Home office website.

The BBC also includes an excellent piece exploring Sarah's Law and 'five scenarios'. Well worth a look.

Joe McElderrry Comes Out whilst Balding Goes on the Offensive

So Joe McElderrry has come out. I guess my reaction like many is "well yea, I kinda thought it anyway". That makes it no less brave for McElderry. The Sun (amazingly) breaks the story and does so in a very sensitive way. Read the full story here. Sometimes, our sexuality might be obvious to others but is something that we find more complex and difficult. This seems to be the case with McElderry. Of course, it's worth noting that coming out is often seen as a one off event. It rarely is. In reality, new friends and acquaintances, new social clubs, new employers can all mark the need to come out again. McElderry comes out amidst a different legal landscape to the one I did eleven years ago, but it remains a complex social landscape.

Meanwhile - and interestingly the story that seems to be getting more media coverage - is that BBC Present Clare Balding, an out lesbian, has lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission. The original piece was by AA Gill who wrote:

"Some time ago, I made a cheap and frankly unnecessary joke about Clare Balding looking like a big lesbian. And afterwards somebody tugged my sleeve to point out that she is a big lesbian."

After a mock apology, he continued: "Now back to the dyke on a bike, puffing up the nooks and crannies at the bottom end of the nation."

Yet, I suspect nothing would have come of this but for the response by John Witherow - editor of the Sunday Times - the paper the piece appeared in. He wrote back to balding (who had written, raising concern at the piece) with an astonishingly cack-handed reply:

'In my view some members of the gay community need to stop regarding themselves as having a special victim status and behave like any other sensible group that is accepted by society'.

Balding responded to this remarks by commenting:

"When the day comes that people stop resigning from high office, being disowned by their families, getting beaten up and in some instances committing suicide because of their sexuality, you may have a point.

"This is not about me putting up with having the piss taken out of me, something I have been quite able to withstand, it is about you legitimising name calling. 'Dyke' is not shouted out in school playgrounds (or as I've had it at an airport) as a compliment, believe me."

I have only one thing to add: "go Clare!"

Read the full Balding story in the Guardian here.

Friday, 30 July 2010

From MUNI to Bareback

I picked up on the story via the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Facebook page. They're linking to a story on SFist website (a San Francisco focused website). Apparently, a series of adverts have started popping up at MUNI (public transport) stops for LAN Airways -a 'gay friendly' airline according to SFist. They note that LAN Airways were the official airline for Pride 2010 and their latest poster (pictured right) raises questions about whether they understand the term 'bareback'. Is the advert or is it aiming a message to the gay male community: "fly with us and trade in riding these hard MUNI seats for riding a hard raw cock in Brazil"? I don't think you can reach a conclusion based on this in isolation. I want to know if this campaign is appearing beyond the Bay Area. Any US readers know? Read the full story here.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Peter Tatchell and the Salford Human Rights Conference

A few of my colleagues at Sunderland were fortunate to attend a recent conference on human rights held at and organised by Salford University. Sadly I couldn't make it as I needed to be somewhere else but if like me you couldn't make, it you can now see some some of what you missed on YouTube. Peter Tatchell presented a keynote lecture on LGBT human rights at the two day event and his presentation can be viewed below. It's an excellent comprehensive overview and exploration of the law and homosexuality and makes a great intro for students new to this area, and his critique of civil partnerships will be of interest to those familiar with this area and activists alike.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Bareback Porn, Treasure Island Media and Freedom in a Puritan Age

I mentioned a while back on Twitter that I was writing a short webzine piece. It's now up on the Freedom in a Puritan Age (FIPA) site. It's called 'The Bareback Porn Renegades' and you can check it out here. The zine is relatively new but you can check out a really great piece from Peter Tatchell on the age of consent here and an excellent piece by Jane Fae considers (much needed) sexual offences law reform. Check her article out here.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Australian Sex Party Launches Election Campaign

New Australian Labor Party leader, Julia Gillard seemed to learn from the mistakes of Gordon Brown in first of all booting Rudd out of power and then rapidly calling a General election. The election also means it's an opportunity for Australia's Sex Party (ASP) to shine. Today saw the aprty launch their campaign. Melbourne Community Voice reports that the ASP is lobbying for a revised national classification scheme for adult material, national sex education in schools and equal rights for GLBTIQ Australians.

All sensible stuff - and although small - they are only fielding two candidates, they are important in addressing the sex agenda.

They have a great website but I wish they'd set up a gift shop to further share their great slogans on mugs/t-shirts etc. Pictured right/above, you can see a fantastic sticker slogan which forms part of a campaign to print, and stick them on your luggage (following new laws on importing porn to Australia). I wish them every success in the coming campaign.

Homophobia and Academic Freedom

Ahhh academic freedom. The old chestnut of academic discourse. I've long cherished the principle - that academics are free to say whatever they want - as an important aspect not only of effective scholarship, but for an effective society.

Yet, not everyone shares this view and even I find myself re-evaluating this principles every now and then. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a case at the University of Illinois in which an Adjunt professor (that's the equivalent of a visiting lecturer in UK speak) finds himself at the heart of a debate of what appears prima facie to be about academic freedom verses homophobia.

The story originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune and the full story reveals this to be slightly more complex than a typical academic freedom story. The academic at the heart of this, Kenneth Howell, taught "Introduction to Catholicism" and "Modern Catholic Thought" in university classrooms, but served on the payroll of the St. John's Catholic Newman Center funded by the diocese of Peoria.

The story makes clear that: 'the church has maintained control over how Catholic theory was taught, selecting the instructors and paying their salaries. Although the university has amended the agreement over the years to exercise more control, the arrangement has left the Catholic component of the school's otherwise secular religious studies curriculum susceptible to church influence'.

Here, an academic could not be independent - he was paid to be the voice of the Catholic Church. The difficulty in denying him the defence of academic freedom is the growing pressure on universities - particularly in England and Wales at the moment - to draw upon more private funds. If a company funds a lectureship are they bound to promote that companies views/agenda? If so, should they be denied academic freedom?

The UK Independence Party (or the anti Europe head bangers as I affectionately think of them) regularly has a go at Jean Monnet professorships as promoting an EU agenda in universities across European universities (there are currently 775 according to the European Commission). They are presumably not lecturing that the European Union is a bad thing. Would it be all that different to have a Christian or Muslim charity fund professorships that included a homophobic agenda? What of new private universities promoting particular agendas? These are institutions the new Coalition government is seeking to encourage so it's not that wild a question.

The debate might be taking place in gatherings at the University of Illinois today but academics on this side of the pond also need to start thinking about whether they would defend homophobic speech in our universities when practised by those who are paid to do precisely that. The current debate about funding isn't just about money, it's about what universities teach, how they teach it; it's about the debates and ideas that our society grapples with and seeks to understand. It's about whether homophobia is a price we are willing to pay.

Bad News in California Same-Sex Marriage Poll

The San Francisco Chronicle carries a really interesting piece this morning that exposes the lamentable failure of the same-sex marriage campaigns in California in the wake of Proposition 8. perry may yet give cause for brief celebration -although everyone expects the case to be appealed whatever the outcome - but the lack of an effective on the ground campaign is now evidenced by a pathetic 51% support for same-sex marriage. The story notes that: 'as in May 2008, 51 percent of voters say they support same-sex marriage, with 42 percent opposed and 7 percent having no opinion.

Yet when given a third option of allowing same-sex civil unions but not marriage, about one-third of survey participants - 34 percent - said they prefer this alternative, dropping the numbers of those who support same-sex marriage to 44 percent and that favor no legal recognition of same-sex couples to 19 percent. Three percent had no opinion.

The poll, conducted June 22 to July 5, was based on a telephone survey of 1,390 registered California voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Read the full story here.

Buggering the Law, Canada Style

A truly odd case continues in Canada according to Xtra. One of the lasting legacies of the British Empire is our export of homophobic laws across the globe. Many of the laws in Asia, Africa and North America that gay rights activists trial to repeal today owe much of their existence one way or another to dear old blighty. What a bang up job we did.

Anyhow, this latest story involved Canada's old buggery laws being used against Roger Brazin - a retired army chaplain - for allegedly committing offences against minors decades ago. According to Xtra, since sexual assault has no statute of limitation, Bazin was charged with buggery even though it is no longer considered a crime in Canada. The story goes on to say that 'there isn’t a simple yes or no answer as to whether the buggery charges are retroactive, says Bruce MacGregor, DND’s director of military justice and policy'.

it's not clear why they even sought to charge him with such an old (and now repealed) law. It's a real mess, as Xtra goes on to explain. This one will be proving a headache for constitutional lawyers!

Treasure Island Media and Poz Models

Sorry for yet another post on Treasure Island Media (TIM) but a really interesting post on the Treasure Island Media blog has appeared from Chris Cunningham. It responds to a post by (NSFW) that I suspect some of you were familiar with. rawTOP is also a major tweet via @rawTOP and a tweet/post about TIM seems to have mildly pissed them off - although they still regard rawTOp as a 'cool guy'.

Cunningham states on the TIM blog:
While perusing a bunch of bareback blogs as I often do (keeping up with the community) I decided to check out He’s a fan of ours a cool guy and his blog is always interesting.

I noticed that he’d written a post called “Slutty Jock Bottom Gets Worked Over by 3 Poz Tops @”. Needless to say it caught my attention. We never give out the HIV status of our models. Let me repeat that: We NEVER give out or discuss the HIV status of our models–or any of their personal info.

But here was RawTop conjecturing about the HIV status of these men. And he went quite a bit further and said they were “not-so-healthy” looking. WTF. Seriously WTF.

Here’s his entire blurb “”Healthy” looking jock (JD) gets his ass raped by 3 not-so-healthy looking poz tops…”. Now I understand that bug-chasing/gift-giving is Raw Top’s passion. Fine. But that’s not what was happening in this scene. What’s happening is that four healthy hardy men are fucking like crazed animals.

Paul is working on a video that’s going to feature nothing but poz men. But this wasn’t it. Whether any or all of these men are poz neg martian or whatever is their business and their business only. And for the record whether you’re poz or neg you can be perfectly healthy and happy or a total fucked-up wreck. It ain’t the bug anymore.

– Chris Cunningham
rawTOp has responded writing on his blog writing: 'So what do you guys think? Did I go to far in saying guys were "not-so-healthy" looking poz guys? Or was I just stating the obvious? If you read my full blog post you'll see I was saying there is a definite erotic aspect to the whole scene... It was hardly my intention to trash them...'

The not-so-healthy thing is something that gets banded discussion groups and other online spaces. I've never felt able to make a 'not healthy' judgment and as TIM notes, healthy people look unhealthy and unhealthy people can look healthy.

The more important aspect of this is the way that TIM has intervened to say that they don't give out the personal info of their models and tackle the assertion that models look 'unhealthy'. They also explicitly seek to counter the fantasy that this was a 'pozzing up' scene, not by saying the HIV status assumptions about the models is wrong, but that they are operating in a different discourse - one that celebrates slutty bareback fucking rather than bug chasing. It's a really important statement and a nuanced construction of the pornographers identity.

TIM didn't allow the fantasy to sit in cyberspace- they decided to intervene. This marks a major shift in approach and opens the door to questions about other interventions. There are various spaces on the web in which bugsharing is discussed and celebrated. Many make reference to TIM- will TIM now pro-actively seek to to intervene, correcting any fantasies that might be falsely based? My guess is no, but then again, I didn't see this intervention coming. Similarly, once the openly HIV positive line of porn gets off the ground, will there be a greater diversification between TIM 'mainstream' and TIM poz porn? Interesting times.

Yuvraj Joshi on Same-Sex Marriage

Yuvraj Joshi offers some interesting reflections on same-sex marriage in the Guardian. He explores, and wrestles with some of the conflicts and issues within the gay marriage debate that I find myself struggling with. On the one hand, he notes: 'it is difficult to see how a legal system that claims to take equality before the law seriously can deny marriage equality'; on the other, 'same-sex marriage may actually allow an ancient institution to progress into modern times'. it's a really thoughtful piece that also seeks to consider same-sex marriage within the wider context of debates about the nature of modern gay identity. he observes that 'the debate about same-sex marriage exists in a context where spaces for sexual experimentation are being replaced with more socially "respectable" forms of gay visibility'. Absolutely! This a theme in all my work whether it is considering public sex, male for male sex work or barebacking and I believe it is going to be the next 'big debate'.

Joshi wisely concludes that 'gay marriage is hardly the final frontier for gay politics, and may well prove an easier political victory than garnering support for broader sexual diversity'. Read the full piece here.

Journal Alert: LES Online

A new edition of Les Online is now available. The journal says it 'aims to contribute to the study of lesbian issues and to promote actions that improve lesbian equal opportunities and civil rights'. Papers can be presented in Portuguese, Spanish, English or French. The table for contents for the latest edition are reproduced below. The journal can be accessed here.

Vol. 2, No 1 (2010): (In)Visibilidade Lésbica | Lesbian (In)Visibility

Visibilidade lésbica - (in)visibilidades e discriminações nas diferentes áreas da vida

Lesbian Visibility – (in)visibilities and discrimination in different areas of life


Artigos | Articles

Editorial (português)
Equipa Editorial 1-3
Editorial (english)
Editorial Team 1-3

Le cyberespace comme le tiers-espace des lesbiennes de «culture musulmane» dans le monde? | Cyberspace as the third-space of "Muslim culture" lesbians in the world?
Salima Amari 4-12

No arco-íris também há roxo: Violência conjugal nas relações lésbicas | Rainbow also has purple: Marital Violence in lesbian relationships
Helena Topa 13-21

A saúde é um direito de tod@s | Health is a right for all
Maria José Alves 22-24

To the 80's and back: Que visibilidade lésbica afinal? | To the 80's and back: What lesbian visibility after all?
Anabela Rocha 25-32

Feminismos e lesbianismo: Derrubando o mito da Lavender Menace | Feminism and lesbianism: Toppling the myth of Lavender Menace
Maria José Magalhães 33-46

Recensões | Book reviews

As estórias que estavam por ter uma história que fosse sua
António Fernando Cascais 47-49

Revisitando emancipadas e invertidas – a propósito de "Homossexuais no Estado Novo" de São José Almeida
Graça Abranches 50-61

"Homossexuais no Estado Novo": Apresentação
Ana Luísa Amaral 62-68

Monday, 19 July 2010

Operation Aqua and the Coalition Against Cruising

I'm indebted to @JimGilroy for flagging this story up in today's Messenger (a Manchester paper). It reports on a partnership between Trafford Council’s Community Safety Patrol Team, the police, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, NHS Trafford, Mersey Valley Wardens and local business in the area who have 'joined forces 'with Trafford Council’s Anti-Social Behaviour Unit to patrol a well known cruising area - Sale Water Park - as part of what has been dubbed 'Operation Aqua'. The story makes reference to 'unlawful sexual activity' and Sale Water Park is a very well known cruising site. The most adventurous thing I've done there is have a meal with relatives in the waterside restaurant - I know how you appreciate these random tit-bits.

Anyway, back to this story. It's interesting to see it's a genuine coalition of groups - something I've advocated previously but depressing for it still apparently being an anti public sex move. LGF's involvement - yet again, a gay group seemingly positioning itself as 'anti-cruising' is also noteworthy.

Also of interest is the penalties. The story only refers to anti-social behaviour powers which makes sense given the range of behaviour they are talking about but it will be interesting if they are indeed applying them to public sex activities.

Read the full story here.

Female Ejaculation, 'Buttman' and the Obscenity Trial

Well, that title got your attention didn't it? Just think of those lucky lucky lucky lucky jurors in a DC obscenity trial who found themselves watching porn of female ejaculation this week. You can read a description of what they viewed here. it even includes a bit of dialogue - my favourite bit is: “Have you seen a girl squirt before?” Again, no. One thing leads to another. “I want to use you as target practice,”. I'm still chuckling as I type. Porn makers - why do you inflict such bad dialogue on us? I think it was taken from the film Storm Squirters 2: Target Practice, one of the films at the heart of the trial.

Anyway, back to this trial. The Washington Post reported on the collapse of the trial writing: 'A federal judge dismissed the first obscenity prosecution brought in the nation's capital in a quarter-century on technical grounds Friday, tossing out charges against John A. Stagliano'. Stagliano also curiously goes by the nickname 'Buttman'. I spoil you with the details, I really do. Check out the full Washington post report here.

Sting Operations, Homophobia and Lessons for the Police

It's not just the police in England and Wales who could do with a bit more training. The San Francisco Chronicle carried a really interesting piece following up on some reports in the Bay Area Reporter last month. It considers policing in Palm Springs and highlights some of the recent sting operations that are simply a disgrace. Read the full story here.

Hate Crime, Public Sex and a Failure of Policing

Sometimes the police are like a schizophrenic lover. One minute, they want to chop up your trousers and throw you out the house and the next minute they want to jump your bones. At least that's how it seems when it comes to public sex environments.

Different police forces take different approaches to public sex but even then, they can send out mixed signals. On the one hand, public sex can be treated as a bad thing with the police recording license plates, stopping and asking questions of cruisers and sometimes even arrests. On the other hand, all police forces seem to talk of their concern at homophobic crime. Hate crime is bad. The police are there to protect you. The trouble is when you have hate crime in a public sex environment it all gets a bit, well, to want for a better phrase, it all gets a bit fucked up. The police find themselves protecting people they are simultaniously trying to stop, maybe even arrest for another crime. It cuts to the heart of the difficulty of policing PSEs and the police understanding their role and explaining it clearly to cruisers.

So, when, as the Pink Paper reports, a series of hate crimes appear to be taking place in a public sex environment, the apparent inaction of the police ( because the attacks have not been formally reported) is a result of years of failed policing and bad law. Read about these developments in Kent here.

Just for Fun: Chow Time at the Roman Orgy

This will be appearing in the Guardian's education supplement tomorrow but it's already online (I do find this a bit irritating as I'm one of the few who still buy a newspaper). Anyway, enough of my crankiness, it's about a US anthropology professor's work around food - in this case the food to be served at a Roman Orgy. The intersection of food and sex is always an interesting topic of discussion. Tim Dean notes with humour the presence of nuts (and their discarded shells) as one aspect of the San Francisco sex club, Blow Buddies. Anyway, I'm drifting off the point, check out the orgy piece here.

Coming Out and Public Life

The Guardian carried a really interesting piece on Saturday reflecting on former BP head honcho Lord Browne's remarks on Friday. The piece links to his remarks. See them both here.

The Secret Life of a Pornstar

I've been quite interested in the idea of the private life of the porn star for some time - or to be more precise, the projection of the private as part of their commodatised identitity. The way that blogs/twitter etc are used as a way to construct identity. Others have written on this area and I suspect I'll be a few more months working on my stuff. Anyhow, as The Sword (NSFW) has revealed, Brent Corrigan (all round busy bee) has now started vlogging. Take a look below. Corrigan is a major player in the gay porn industry, with an already established high profile as the ultimate porn 'good gay'. Personally, if he wasn't so hot, I'd find him very very irritating. Then again, I do have a weakness for the whole cheeky chappy thing he's got going on.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Fetish Week London

Today sees the start of Fetish Week London. An electronic programme of events can be viewed here. Well done to Recon who seem to be the drivers of this, the first Fetish Week London. The official website can be viewed here. According to the site, 'there is something for everyone at Fetish Week London' and the event is targeted at we 'guys with a fetish for: leather, rubber, punks, skinheads, uniform and army gear, leather muscle, bondage, sports gear plus any other kind of fetish gear that you can think of!'

Whilst an obvious commercial endeavour, it will be interesting to see how it further secures fetish identities. They have become much more visible in the last decade or so, and to engage in some form of kink behaviour is more acceptable (e.g handcuffs) but other forms of fetish seem a long way off mainstream social acceptability (e.g puppy play, piss play etc). The recent violent porn ban is a reminder of how the law continues to problemtise kink and fetish identities.

I'd be really interested in hearing feedback from anyone who does go along to any of the events.

Obama, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the Role of Law

The White House published a new HIV/AIDS National Strategy yesterday. The gay media seem to have broadly welcomed the proposals as a campaign pledge follow through. My first glance at the report led me to think that this was a report that was not focusing upon the role of law in restricting HIV transmission. Then I looked a bit more at the detail. Page 15 of the report has an interesting paragraph on preventing HIV infection among 'gay, bisexual and transgender individuals', it states:

'Congress and State legislatures should consider the implementation of laws that promote public health practice and underscore the existing best evidence in HIV prevention for sexual minorities'.

Say what? What could these laws be? The sentence is as loose as can be. First off 'consider'. Well that is hardly a firm direction. Then we have the substance - as vague as can possibly be. It seems to both support states attempts to criminalise HIV transmission and at the same time appear to sit on the fence. Such were the hopes of the Obama Presidency that any lack of clear direction leaves the administration open to attacks from all directions.

It's therefore interesting to see the administration shuffle off the fence as the report progresses. The strategy makes reference to law as a positive force to ensure access to AIDS treatment and it also refers to the Affordable Care Act in the context of equality of access to treatment. On page 36 of the report, it talks of the importance of law in 'establishing an environment where people will feel safe in getting tested and seeking treatment'. That must surely mean a rejection of criminalising HIV transmission but we have that troubling paragraph on page 15. Later on page 36 we have a breakthrough section. It notes that at least 32 states have HIV related laws that criminalise HIV transmission but goes on to state that:

'Some laws criminalize consensual sexual activity between adults on the basis that one of the individuals is a person with HIV who failed to disclose their status to their partner. CDC data and other studies, however, tell us that intentional HIV transmission is atypical and uncommon.155 A recent research study also found that HIV-specific laws do not influence the behavior of people living with HIV in those states where these laws exist.156 While we understand the intent behind such laws, they may not have the desired effect and they may make people less willing to disclose their status by making people feel at even greater risk of discrimination. In some cases, it may be appropriate for legislators to reconsider whether existing laws continue to further the public interest and public health. In many instances, the continued existence and enforcement of these types of laws run counter to scientific evidence about routes of HIV transmission and may undermine the public health goals of promoting HIV screening and treatment'.

Hurrah - common sense. No fence - sitting. A firm, clear statement. So why the wishy-washy sentence early on? I think it goes as far as we could expect/hope the administration to do. It will be interesting to see how states respond and whether this aspect of the report will get picked up more. An interesting absence from the strategy was the subject of pornography and the representation of condom only butt-fucking. Again, this suggests a possible change in direction.

The full strategy can be read here.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Blog Catch Up: Onscenity, Gay Asylum, DOMA, HIV Vaccine and The Pansy Project

This will come as great news to those wanting to ban those in the public sector from tweeting and 'self promotion', but for the rest of you -apologies - I've not updated the blog for a bit and we've had some major stories. I've been desperately trying to get ahead with various writing projects and I'm finally making some progress.

This is therefore a quick 'catch up'. First off, last Monday I was down at the Onscenity Research network launch. Jane Fae wrote a great piece for The Register on the network launch which you can read here. The network has a website with more info about it here.

Two big legal developments occurred over the last week. Here, the Supreme Court made a sensible and over-due decision on asylum (that was then irritatingly miss-reported in many of our newspapers) and over in the US, a key decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) took place.

The case before our Supreme Court concerned asylum seeks from Iran and the Cameroon seeking to rely on the European Convention on Human Rights. You can see a clip from Lord Hope's judgment with the BBC report on the case here. The full judgment of the case can be viewed here and the Supreme Court press release accompanying the decision can be viewed here. The really interesting aspect of the case was the question of 'discretion' whether you could live somewhere and not be prosecuted if you were 'discrete', and the Supreme Court in this unanimous decision really squashed a previous decision of the Court of Appeal that sought to suggest that homosexuals could hide their identity. This is a terrific and historic judgment.

Speaking of terrific judgments - and possibly historic (we shall see), a federal judge in Boston has ruled in two separate cases that a critical portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Read more here. The case has already sparked an interesting debate surrounding states powers and constitutional law. Read more about that in a New York Times piece here.

A minor story with potentially big consequences that you might not have picked up concerns further progress on a possible HIV vaccine. According to the story, three antibodies have been discovered that neutralize 91% of HIV strains. Read the full story here. I've come to the view that the only way HIV will ever be effectively tackled is through a vaccine rather than through safer-sex campaigning so this is for me, a particularly welcome development.

Finally, I want to mention once again the wonderful Pansy Project. They have a website here and a blog here. I say 'they', I mean Paul Harfleet - an artist who seeks to plant a pansy at sights of homophobic abuse. It is a simple but touching project which also put in appearance at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this year - winning a gold medal and Best Conceptual garden 2010. Well done to Paul - I'm so chuffed for him.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The University Challenge

Stonewall have launched a new online guide on their site ''. Check out the site here. The 'University Guide' is, according to Stonewall 'aimed at lesbian, gay and bisexual 16 and 17 year olds who are choosing which university to study at'.

Luke Tryl, Stonewall’s Education Officer, said: ‘With the introduction of tuition fees, students are increasingly consumers and as such expect universities to cater to their needs. For the first time, students can now compare how gay-friendly every UK university is by browsing this groundbreaking new guide.’

Stonewall claims that the site measures how gay-friendly each university is based on a range of factors, including whether there is a student LGB Society, if LGB specific careers advice is offered, membership of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme, policies and practices that counter homophobic bullying and specific events for LGB students.

You can pull up institutions by region or A-Z but there's no 'league table' as such. You simply have info on each institution reduced to a tick or cross. I've reproduced the criteria in full below - including the explanations (which do not appear on the institutions bit). I think it's a useful worthy guide. I do have some concerns though. Institutions are increasingly focusing on meeting this criteria (I know my own is) but this can be a mixed blessing. It means you can get more support for somethings but it also means the institution becomes focused on ticking the boxes. It's no good having all of this if staff are homophobic which on the basis of this criteria can still happen.

Let's take one example. Universities employ vast amounts of overseas staff in their academic ranks. many of whom still subscribe to very different cultural values. The challenge for universities is to address these. Universities are pretty good these days at providing spaces for worship (less good at broader spirituality) but what happens when those values clash with sexuality? Should a university confront a devout Christian and tell them they are wrong to hold homophobic attitudes? My view is "absolutely" but an institution that runs away from these issues could stills core very highly on Stonewalls system.

It's an important starting point - more than that actually, it's an important framework and Stonewall have taken an impressive lead on this issue, but Universities must come under pressure to do more, and make addressing issues of sexuality a deep policy, not just a box ticking exercise.

Here's the Stonewall criteria:

• A policy that protects lesbian, gay and bisexual students from bullying: Does the university have a harassment policy which makes explicit reference to homophobia? Does it indicate that there are appropriate sanctions for those who are homophobic? Is there protection for those who are victims of such bullying?

• Compulsory staff training on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues: Does the university train its teaching and support staff on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues as part of their diversity training? Is this training mandatory?

• Lesbian, gay and bisexual staff network: Is there a network group for lesbian, gay and bisexual staff which is supported by the university? Is this publicised so prospective students will know about it?

• Student lesbian, gay and bisexual society: Is there a specific student society for lesbian, gay and bisexual students which is active and provides a meeting point for lesbian, gay and bisexual students?

• Info for students on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues: Does the university or the student union provide specific information for LGB students, for instance in the form of a handbook or a DVD?

• Events for lesbian, gay and bisexual students: Does the university run specific events for lesbian, gay and bisexual students, for instance events during history month or social events for students?

• Explicit Welfare Provision for lesbian, gay and bisexual students: Does the university or the Student Union offer specific welfare support for lesbian, gay and bisexual students. This may be in the form of counsellors who are specifically trained in lesbian, gay and bisexual issues or in the form of LGBT society welfare reps.

• Consultation with lesbian, gay and bisexual students: Does the University ensure that it talks to lesbian, gay and bisexual students about their needs and include them in the decision making process within the University.

• Specific Career Advice for lesbian, gay and bisexual students: Does the University actively promote lesbian, gay and bisexual recruitment guides such as Stonewalls Starting Out? Or does it offer specific career advice for lesbian, gay and bisexual students either on their websites or through promotional events?

Judicial Culture and LGB Lawyers

I mentioned the other week that I was down in London for a Stonewall event at the Law Society looking at sexuality and the judiciary/legal profession. I'm really pleased to see it was picked up by the Guardian yesterday and you can read a great piece that flags up the work Les Moran and Interlaw have been doing. Read the story here.

Caster Semenya free to compete

Thanks to Sean for alerting me to this story. It seems the Caster Semenya saga has been resolved with a ruling allowing the athlete to compete once again. Full story here. Given how little information seems to have been released, how this decision was reached and how similar circumstances will be addressed in the future appear unclear which seems undesirable for all concerned.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Law Commission Review and Your Freedom

I previously mentioned the Law Commission proposals around outraging public decency. You can now view my response to the Law Commission below. Of course, I would like to repeal all laws regarding public sex - that's not to say I think people openly bonking outside a school or in the high street is a good thing - I just don't think it's likely to happen and if it does it can be dealt with by other offences.

However, such radicalism is unlikely to be embraced by many. The response to the Law Commission is therefore an attempt to create 'better' law in the area of public sex and balance the concerns of the 'public' with the freedoms of other groups. We'll see if they take the comments on board.

The Government has also launched the Your Freedom website today which aims to sweep away un-necessary laws. I'm proposing the repeal of S71 of the Sexual offences Act 2003 and would love it for you to vote for the proposal and add comments in favour.

Again, this isn't perfect. The site is badly designed and slow (so maybe try tomorrow rather than tonight) and appears to have attracted the mad and the bad (you can decide which category I belong in) but this is an opportunity to make some sensible proposals that could well make it into the final bill. You can view my proposal/add your comments here. please encourage others to vote/comment.

Your Freedom - the Reliant Robin of Websites

Serious blog post to follow in a mo but I am wondering if the man who designed the new (and slow/useless) UK Government Your Freedom website was the same guy who invented the Reliant Robin and thought speeding around corners was a good idea...

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