Monday, 11 November 2013

From celeb heaven to Russian reality

I attended two gay rights-themed events last week, and needless to say they could not have been more different if they tried.

On Thursday evening, Tanya (my colleague in the Islington Council LGBT Staff Forum) and I went along to the extravagant Stonewall Awards, in the sumptuous surroundings of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). I have been twice before and it is always a joy, with gallons of free champers and a mix of well-dressed supporters, minor celebs and political heavyweights, all there to applaud the winners of the annual accolades from the UK's premier LGB lobbyists.

Antony Cotton, Jonathan Harvey and assorted chums I didn't recognise

It was certainly an impressive "do". We really enjoyed ourselves as we meandered through the crowd, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Skin from Skunk Anansie, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, TV stylist Gok Wan, TV chef Allegra McEvedy, Dan Gillespie-Sells of The Feeling, the ebullient Jonathan Harvey, Commander Bernard Hogan-Howe (chief of the London Metropolitan Police), playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell (of The Pride, currently playing in the West End), dear Neil McKenna, Jodie Harsh, James Wharton, various politicians and TV (especially soap) stars, and...

...the gorgeous Layton Williams (from house fave TV series Beautiful People), who was somewhat more conservatively dressed on this occasion (dammit!).

Stonewall CEO Ben Summerskill and co-host Susan Calman

And, so, to the awards themselves...
Nearly 500 people, including celebrities, sports stars, politicians and writers, joined host Susan Calman at the ceremony to honour those who’ve made a positive contribution to the lives of Britain’s 3.7 million gay people.

Thousands of Stonewall supporters voted to name Lord Alli and the Russian LGBT Network as joint Hero of the Year, supported by Gender Gap. Lord Alli has been a tireless advocate for equality since he became the first openly gay member of the House of Lords 15 years ago. He was instrumental in successfully navigating equal marriage through the House of Lords this year.

The Russian LGBT Network was recognised for its courageous work to support gay people in Russia despite gay ‘propaganda’ bans and ever increasing hostility. In a statement the Russian LGBT Network said that Britain’s "journey from Section 28 to marriage equality inspires us as we campaign against those who seek to deny us our fundamental human rights".

Waheed Alli

The Quaker LGBT Fellowship was named Community Group of the Year by Stonewall supporters for their long-standing commitment to equality. The group was presented with a cheque for £5,000 – kindly provided by The Inclusive Foundation and supported by Square Peg Media – to continue their work to promote equality and religious freedom.

Stonewall supporters overwhelmingly voted US TV evangelist Pat Robertson as 2013’s Bigot of the Year – the award reserved for an individual who has gratuitously caused hurt and offence to gay people around the world. Robertson – a long standing and vocal opponent of equality – hit headlines in August by saying that gay men viciously spread HIV when shaking hands by using ‘special rings’.

Metro was named Publication of the Year for its frequent and incidental coverage of gay issues. Judges praised the newspaper, a must-read for millions of commuters across Britain, for its balanced and extensive coverage of important issues such as equal marriage and homophobia in football.

CBBC’s Marrying Mum & Dad became the first children’s show to be named Broadcast of the Year in recognition of the shows sensitive and moving portrayal of children planning the civil partnership of their proud parents.

Baroness Stowell

Antony Cotton
In a landmark year for equality Baroness Stowell was named as Stonewall’s Politician of the Year for her unstinting work to secure marriage for same-sex couples. The Conservative Peer was applauded for her deft handling of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Lords.

Coronation Street’s Antony Cotton was voted Entertainer of the Year. The soap favourite was commended for his decade of walking the nation’s favourite cobbled street as a proud gay role model.

Scottish writer Damian Barr took home the prize for Writer of the Year for his biography Maggie and Me which was praised for its honest and compelling narrative of growing up gay.

Wales’ only gay-friendly rugby club, the Cardiff Lions, beat tough competition to take home the Stonewall Sports Award of the Year, supported by Paddy Power, in recognition of their grass-roots work supporting gay people in sport and defying stereotypes.

The Independent’s Grace Dent was named Journalist of the Year for her unflinching support of equal marriage in the mainstream media. The columnist, author, TV critic and restaurant reviewer was applauded for her humorous and honest coverage of gay issues throughout the year.

Mamas & Papas scooped the first ever Stonewall Award for Advert of the Year for its campaign featuring same-sex parents. The brand proudly declared ‘This is how we roll’ with its commitment to support different families.

Grace Dent and Damien Barr

It was a very good selection of winners - and the entire thing was uncontroversial, for a change this year. Even the "Bigot of the Year" was a fairly unequivocal choice - for who could disagree with labelling Pat Robertson, the man who still calls for gay people to be stoned to death, and blames us for the terrorist atrocity of "9/11", a bigot?

Stonewall itself is largely perceived these days, however, as a bit of an "establishment" institution, probably more so for its hosting of glittering events like this than its "in-yer-face" campaigns such as "Some People Are Gay - Get Over It!". And some of its antagonists and critics do have a point...

Such a critic is the tireless human rights and gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, whose "annual address" LGBT Rights at Home and Abroad Alex Hopkins and I went to on Friday evening (hosted by those lovely people of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) at the twee Conway Hall in Holborn).

Mr Tatchell tackled head-on the dreadful situation in Russia, and explained how much hard work and support is needed if the Russian LGBT Network are going to win back the briefly-held rights and tolerance for gay people in Russia that they received between the fall of Communism and the rise of Putin's fascist regime, which has condoned the current wave of oppression.

He laid into the Commonwealth, an organisation whose membership includes of a quarter of the countries in the world in which varying degrees of homophobic oppressive legislation are still in place - notably Malawi, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, Malaysia and Jamaica, and whose next conference will be hosted by the murderous regime in Sri Lanka.

He of course highlighted the problems that still remain with religious intolerance towards LGBT people - here at home, in the USA, in the Islamic world and in the evangelist-influenced countries of the third world including in Africa and South America.

And he tackled Stonewall's own intransigence when it comes to its support for the flawed "Equal Marriage Bill", which Peter pointed out was not even close to "equal" in five discrete ways:
  • The Church of England and the Church in Wales are explicitly banned from performing religious same-sex marriages, even if they decide they want to.
  • The special requirements and costs of registering premises for the conduct of religious same-sex marriages are much harsher than for opposite-sex marriages in religious premises. In the case of shared premises, all other sharing faith organisations have to give their permission for the conduct of marriages involving LGBT people. In effect, they have a veto.
  • Pension inheritance rights are fewer on death of a same-sex marriage spouse. The surviving partner is not entitled to inherit the full value of their pension if it was begun prior to 1988 (only the value of contributions since 1988 can be inherited). There is no such sweeping limitation on pension inheritance in the case of opposite-sex marriages.
  • There is no restoration of the marriages of trans people that were annulled as a precondition for them securing a gender recognition certificate. The spouse of a transgender person must consent to the marriage continuing after the issue of a gender recognition certificate.
  • The legislation does not repeal the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. Straight couples continue to be banned from having a civil partnership, even though the government’s own public consultation on equal marriage found that 61% of respondents supported the right of heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership if they desire one. Only 24% disagreed.
Mr Tatchell is a one-man battalion in his long and hard-fought campaigns for our rights, and likely one who will never be seen sucking-up to the politicians, the "great and the good" of the establishment - and, as he gives them such a constant drubbing, would never be seen dead at the V&A Stonewall bash.

More power to his elbow, I'd say!

In all, a good - if contrasting - pair of events in the LGBT rights calendar.


Peter Tatchell Foundation

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