Finally, the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster intends to legislate on two important issues affecting Northern Ireland – marriage equality and abortion – to ensure fairness and equity for everyone. And about but time too. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which does not recognise same-sex marriage and it’s also where the law on terminations is the most repressive. Generally, such social issues are a matter for the devolved legislatures in each of the four countries of the UK, but tribal bickering and pig-headed intransigence have meant that the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont hasn’t sat for over two years, depriving Northern Ireland of a functioning government. As a result, these and many other key issues have been stuck in limbo. No doubt, though, the members are still drawing their salaries.
Despite overwhelming evidence of popular support for marriage equality and abortion reform, the joyless old dinosaurs of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are implacably opposed to both on puritanical moral grounds but, unless the Stormont Assembly reconvenes by the 21st October (like that’s gonna happen), the Westminster Parliament will likely legislate. While some of the more reactionary fire and brimstone elements of the DUP will be foaming at the mouth, I suspect many others will just be relieved, with a handy ‘wasn’t me, guv’ alibi to keep the faith.
Pride season is in full swing with processions and celebrations large and small up and down the realm and around the globe. It’s a time to revel in the diversity of our rainbow world and a welcome antidote to the pollution of rising populism. We’ve been regulars at Norwich Pride but, sadly, we’ll miss it this year. So, instead, we chucked ourselves into the pride event in Great Yarmouth, a kiss-me-quick bucket and spade seaside town and port on the east coast. As a child, Liam spent many a happy holiday flying his kite along Yarmouth’s golden sands. The resort has long been down on its uppers – the advent of cheap package holidays to sunnier foreign climes saw to that. But, of late, the town been given a shot in the arm by staycationers avoiding Brexit and the construction of enormous wind farms in the North Sea.
Although understandably modest by Norwich standards (not to mention the mega parties in London and Brighton) the pride march along Marine Parade was no less joyful, camp or colourful. Even the Norfolk Fire Service got in on the act by bringing up the rear. No jokes about the fireman’s hose please.
One lesbian is murdered by a cowardly nationalist sniper while another becomes the Democratic Unionist Party’s first ever openly gay councillor. Journalist and tireless LGBT campaigner, Lyra McKee, was shot dead during rioting in Derry/Londonderry. The response was universal revulsion from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland. Alison Bennington was elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council as a member of the shamelessly anti-gay DUP. Her election met with horror by some party bigots. Could it be that these two events – just weeks apart – will bring real change? God, I really hope so.
The word according to Holy Joe, the former Pope Benedict XVI, is that social change in the sixties created the cancer of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The ex-Vicar of Christ cites, among other things, “the clothing of that time” leading to “mental collapse” and “violence”. So there it is. The Church’s undoing is all down to miniskirts and loon pants – not the secrecy, the silence, the denials, the collusion or the arrogant belief that the Holy See is above the law. No, Joe, priestly kiddie fiddling and other clerical abuses were rife long before the sixties. It’s just that in a more enlightened, less deferential age, people aren’t willing to put up with it. The Catholic Church is not uniquely guilty of these sins, but it is guilty nonetheless. And that’s why the pews are empty come Sunday.
Holy Joe went on to preach that “the death of God in a society” means “the end of freedom”. The end of whose freedom, I wonder? Certainly not mine. It’s not religion per se that bothers me. I’ve no beef with faith as long as it’s not used to demonise others. No, it’s the corrosive stench of hypocrisy that hangs over it that I find offensive. God save us all from the bigots in the pulpit. And don’t get me started on the hangers, floggers and stoners out there.
Sir Ian Mckellen, star of stage, screen and gay bar, turns 80 this year. To celebrate this remarkable milestone, he’s trolling round the country on a nationwide tour of theatres big and small, illustrious and humble. The boards don’t come more illustrious than the Old Vic in London or more humble than the 300-seater Maddermarket Theatre here in old Norwich Town. It was to the Maddermarket we trolled to catch his one-man show.
And what a show he put on – from Gandalf to Shakespeare via Gerard Manley Hopkins and TS Eliot, all sprinkled with intimate memoir and gossipy anecdotes – like spending the evening with your favourite uncle, the one with a racy past and funny tales to tell. Wise, witty and utterly charming, Sir Ian (or Serena as he’s affectionately known to the brethren) doesn’t hide his light or sexuality under a bushel. He’s very matter of fact about both – modest about his immense talent and a ‘so what?’ attitude about his love life. How he can drop into character, instantly recalling long, complex soliloquies from the Bard is beyond me. His campy, high-pitched Juliet was pure joy.
There are many wonderful stories about Serena but perhaps my favourite is the time he arrived in Singapore to roll out his King Lear. Man-on-man hanky-panky was (and still is) illegal in the city state where the punishment is the cane and up to two years in Sing Sing. He was being interviewed on breakfast TV and asked the host where he might find a gay bar. I suspect one or two viewers choked on their muesli.
Norwich Pride has come of age with a huge rainbow flourish as sparkling as the weather. A marcher held up a placard that read ‘The First Pride was a Riot’ – a nod to the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York. This year’s march was led by the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, the pride organisers, coppers sporting rainbow epaulettes and the Lord Mayor waving a rainbow flag. We’ve come a long way.
A lone dissenter held up a large cross and urged the crowd to repent. Onward Christian soldiers smiled at him benignly as they passed by.
Young and old marched together. An older guy caught my eye. He was riding a mobility scooter emblazoned with pride motifs and sipping a glass of white wine. Now that’s the way to travel. The loud and proud procession took about an hour to pass and was brought up the rear by an enormous rainbow ‘river’ held aloft by revellers.
Pride in the park was packed with a rainbow of people of every gender, size, age, persuasion, ability and garb. We roamed about soaking up the merriment and watched a few of the acts doing their thing on the main stage. When the youthful crowd started singing along to a cover version of S Club 7’s ‘Reach’, my heart melted. A young lady emerged from the audience and asked us if we were gay. She couldn’t have been more than 16. “Yes”, we replied. “I’m so proud of you,” she said. “I’ve just come out”. We hugged and wished her well.
Yesterday, Norwich Pride reached the grand old age of 10 and the streets of the city throbbed to the fabulous in their multi-coloured glory. We came, we saw, we partied along with the mums, dads, kids and grandparents. Summer is Pride season and rainbow flags have been flying across the realm. Sadiq Khan, London’s Muslim Mayor, danced across a giant flag during London Pride and even the sleepy Suffolk town of Beccles flew one from the Town Hall. It’s about inclusion, right?
Not in Russia it’s not. In Russia the rainbow flag is subversive gay propaganda opening the floodgates to kiddie-fiddlers, making ladies of the lads, lads of the ladies and bringing Mother Russia to her knees. Waving it can land you in the clink, or worse. The term ‘Russian bear’ doesn’t refer to a hairy mary bopping round a bum-bag to Abba’s Dancing Queen, and it takes a brave soul to be out and proud. And so a band of rainbow comrades employed a little cunning to get their point across at the recent World Cup. Big respect to Norwich’s very own Di Cunningham, chair of Pride in Football, who rolled out the Three Lions Pride flag at England games. I’ve read Di and her team got a bit of low-level hassle from the authorities, but as the flag was endorsed by the English Football Association and supported by the UK Government, the Ruskies let it go. No one was going to provoke an international incident at Putin’s big showcase.
Ambassador Laurie Bristow & Deputy Ambassador Lindsay Skoll welcome England fans Di Cunningham @di_ceee & @JoeyWh1te from @3LionsPride to Moscow ahead of this evening’s big match. Football is for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. pic.twitter.com/rrIWH66lIo
More subtle was a group of activists from Spain, The Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia who roamed the streets, squares and subways of Moscow wearing their national kits which just happened to make up – you guessed it – the rainbow flag. Now that’s what I call a result.