The Day the Rot Set In

The Day the Rot Set In

On this day fifty years ago, the Sexual Offences Act received Royal Assent. The act partially decriminalised male homosexual acts. I say partially because the repeal only applied to rumpy bumpy between men 21 and over in England and Wales. It excluded the rest of the UK and those bastions of red-blooded machismo, the Merchant Navy and the Armed Forces. The ripe phrase ‘rum, bum and the Navy’ must have seemed even more ironic to randy sailors on a long and lonely tour of duty. By contrast, girl on girl action has never been illegal, perhaps because the (almost exclusively male) elite were rather titillated by the thought of it (well, those who weren’t fiddling with the altar boys or servicing the groom, that is). Reform-wise, the Scots didn’t join the party until 1980 and the Northern Irish brought up the rear in 1982. This may explain the over-representation of ginger queens on the pink streets of London during the seventies and eighties.

If the holier-than-thou pulpiteers, tight-arsed little Englanders, mighty-mouths down the pub or queer bashers on the streets thought the 1967 act was the one and only concession to be made, they were in a for a nasty surprise. It was a call to arms. The eighties and nineties brought the darkest days of AIDS and many hoped we’d all sashay back into our closets and die. No such luck. Despite the violence, the ridicule, the outraged press and pushy coppers in rubber gloves, a growing band of brave souls kept the rainbow flag flying higher than ever. Direct action and the outing of mitred hypocrites became rather fashionable. And it worked. One day, the walls came tumbling down and what followed was a bonfire of the prejudices.

The age of consent was reduced (first to 18 then to 16), the armed forces ban was lifted, the offence of gross indecency was repealed, Section 28* was abolished, gender re-assignment was recognised, fostering and adoption laws were liberalised, employment protection secured, civil partnerships were introduced and, by 2014, full marriage equality was realised across Britain. Then came the royal pardon for past deeds no longer illegal and, in time, so too will come the official apology.

On equal marriage, only Northern Ireland is still holding out, with some dour old dinosaurs desperately trying to hold back the tide, Canute-like. Their days in the sun are numbered, despite their last hurrah propping up Chairman May.

Rainbow Copper

The gestation of the 1967 Act was a long one. It was the Wolfenden Report of 1957 that recommended the decriminalisation of certain homosexual offences and concluded:

“…unless a deliberate attempt be made by society through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private that is in brief, not the law’s business.”

Some still get hot under the collar in matters sex and sin, stoked up by bigots from across the religious divide. The issue even hit the headlines during the recent general election. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats and a devout Christian, was repeatedly harangued about whether he thinks gay sex is sinful. The poor man squirmed and wriggled presumably because in his heart of hearts, he probably does. After the election, he resigned because of it. I don’t normally feel sorry for politicians but even I thought it was all too much. I’m well-acquainted with oppression by the majority and it smacked of bullying. And I don’t like bullies whatever their persuasion – left, right or centre. Mr Farron’s personal religious beliefs are his own business and, to paraphrase the Virgin Queen, I have no desire to make a window into anyone’s soul. Mr Farron can think whatever he likes as long as he doesn’t move to impose those beliefs on others. And as far as I know, unlike the orange relics and meddlesome priests of the Emerald Isle, he never has.

So I celebrate the day the rot started to set in. It eventually brought the whole edifice of hypocrisy crashing down. Now we can live happily ever after. Or can we? For some in our sceptre’d isle, life is still a little bit shit – bigotry can lurk just beneath the surface and the pendulum never stops swinging. And what of rainbow life beyond our shores? You only have to look around to see how really grim things are for many – the recent roundup and torture of young men in Chechnya is a case in point. And Allah only knows which way the wind will blow now Turks have foolishly voted sweeping presidential powers to an autocrat with a messianic streak. As for Saudi Arabia and Iran, the sword and the noose are kept on standby just case anyone dares poke a toe out of the closet.

*A shameful and largely symbolic law banning the alleged ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, as if sexuality were a choice.

Pride 2016

Pride 2016

The marching season is in full mince and after the slaughter in an Orlando gay club, Pride has a special resonance this year. Cutting through the noise, it now seems the carnage was the work of a closet case whose religious beliefs fried his brain. He happened to be a fundamentalist Muslim with shameful stirrings but could just as easily have been a fundamentalist Christian with the same sense of self-loathing. That’s the trouble with blind faith, those who fall from grace sometimes lose the plot. Ironically, some from the religious right don’t know who to condemn more, the man or his victims. And, the Second Amendment is a godsend to the trigger happy. Jesus wept.

My beautiful picture

On this side of the pond, London Pride was heralded by a flypast from the RAF’s Red Arrows and a rainbow flag flew over Parliament. It’s hard to imagine that happening in many capitals around the world.

Predictably, Istanbul Pride was banned again this year. To avoid the brutal oppression of 2015 when everyone was swept from the streets by tear gas and water cannon, Istanbul’s Governor gave plenty of notice. Last year, the holy month of Ramadan was the excuse. This year it was the threat from ultra-nationalist groups. Or maybe the powers that be just didn’t like it. Come the day, a few brave souls turned up anyway and were met by riot police and…well, you can guess the rest. And that was followed a couple of weeks later by an attempted military coup to ‘protect’ human rights and ‘preserve’ Turkish democracy. Since when was democracy ever preserved by soldiers in tanks? Was the coup real or not? Conspiracy theories abound but it was real enough for those who died as a result. Whatever the truth, you can bet your bottom lira life will start getting tougher and rougher for those who won’t or can’t toe the party line. Get thee to a mosque and to Hell with human rights.

Norwich Pride is on the 30th July and the only aggro expected is from a few nutters whispering hell and damnation from the wings. Even the zealous are painfully polite in these parts (as befits the ‘second kindest’ place in the kingdom, according to YouGov research). We’ll be there to wave our rainbow flags accompanied by a couple of old reprobates from the Smoke. We’re praying for a bit of sun – minus the fire and brimstone. I hear we’re to have a beer tent this year, thank the Lord: a first for Norwich Pride and a major step forward in my humble opinion. Cheers!

A happy pride season to one and all, whoever you get down on your knees for.

Photo courtesy of UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

One Equal World

Flag and TulipsI’m always chuffed when I’m asked to write a few words about the bees in my bonnet.  One Equal World publishes thoughtful and thought-provoking articles about equalities issues and they asked me about our experiences of Turkey.  This was my two-penneth…

I have often been asked why we chose an Islamic country as a place to step off the treadmill for a while and rest our work-weary bones. It’s not quite that simple; too often, the casual observer will lump all Muslims together. In truth, the Islamic world is no more homogenous than the West. There’s little to distinguish a grandma on a donkey in Christian Greece or Bulgaria from one trotting through a Turkish village. More…

Turkey: Who Will Blink First?

Turkey: Who Will Blink First?
Image Courtesy of the Financial Times
Image Courtesy of the Financial Times

As a rainbow of protesters re-occupies Taksim Square after it was once again cleared with tear gas and water cannon by the Turkish police, how will it all end? I hope for the best but fear the worst. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s increasingly paranoid nonsense about foreign devils and domestic subversives attempting to wreck the Turkish economy may play well to the party faithful but global capitalism has no morals and abhors instability. As foreign investment takes flight to safer climes, he may be forced to eat his words as the crisis starts to hit his big business cronies where it most hurts – in their pockets.

In the meantime, some people may be put off by what they’ve seen and heard and are rethinking their travel plans. Please don’t be. Despite the troubles, Turkey remains one of the safest holiday destinations around. Tourism in free fall will hit the livelihoods of countless small family-run businesses that rely on the summer rush to see them through the whole year. It will cause genuine hardship and won’t make one iota of difference to the shiny suits in Ankara. If Liam and I weren’t already booked for sunny Spain, we would be parachuting in to Bodrum to show our support.

Much has been written about the events as they have unfolded but none has made more sense to me than an article in the Guardian by Şafak Pavey called ‘Why the Turkish protests matter to the west.’

Turkey Troubles

Our former foster home is covered in a veil of tear gas. What began as a peaceful campaign against the destruction of a city centre park to make way for yet another shopping centre has spread to a wider national protest against the creeping authoritarianism of the current Turkish Government led by the charmless bruiser Erdoğan. Watch out, my Turkish friends, he’s not exactly noted for his listening skills. Is the ruling AK Party determined to implement Islamism by stealth? I don’t know. But telling women how many babies to have, branding all drinkers as alcoholics and demanding that the Dutch Government removes a baby from a lesbian couple (because “homosexuality is contrary to the culture of Islam.”) isn’t liberalism either. Erdoğan is the most popular leader in recent Turkish history, freely elected. Democracy may be a flawed political system but it’s probably the best we have. A word of warning, though. Be careful who you vote for. It might not be quite what you had in mind. This image says it all:

Image courtesy of Occupy Gezi on Facebook.
Image courtesy of Occupy Gezi on Facebook.

The Times, Are They A-Changing?

I came across an article in Gaystarnews that reported that a Turkish journalist, Serdar Arseven,  and the newspaper, Yeni Akit (now called Vakit), have been fined by Turkey’s High Court for insulting the LGBT community. The case arose because the newspaper ran an Arseven-penned piece called ‘Üskül prefers perverts,’ when, Zafer Üskül, then head of the Turkish Parliamentary Human Rights Commission, attended a meeting with KAOS GL, a leading LGBT organisation. Üskül sued both the hack and the rag. The case went all the way to the High Court. The court decided that,

“The freedom of the press does not encompass the freedom to insult the personal freedoms of individuals.”

Generally, I’m not in favour of prosecuting anyone because of an insult. It seems to me that the freedom to insult (though not to incite – a very fine line, I know) is a fundamental component of free speech. Just because I’m offended by what someone says, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to say it. However, in this case, I’m happy with the outcome because the liberal traditions that I cherish have such shallow roots in Turkey that a line must be drawn somewhere. Despite the token fine (about £1,500 for the paper and £400 for the journalist), this huge leap in the right direction should not be underestimated in a Muslim-majority country where LGBT people are, at best, invisible and at worse, well I’m sure you can guess.

Where Have All the Women Gone?

Liam’s back from Blighty, exhausted and in need of a little TLC. Naughty Nancy picked him up from Bodrum Airport while I warmed the house with candles, decanted the red and prepared a homecoming meal. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my culinary skills leave a great deal to be desired, but there is one simple dish I can cook without causing an international incident. It’s a one pot number of chicken thighs, tomatoes, peppers, red onions, and spices brewed in red wine. I just bung it all in and hope for the best – a winter warmer on a chilly night.

A winter warmer was needed. Liam brought the dodgy weather back with him – cold, wind and rain. As we sat down to chomp on my juicy thighs, we reminisced about our first winter in Yalıkavak. When we first rambled into the little town on one of those sunny midwinter days, things felt foreign, in more ways than one. ‘Jesus, where are all the women?’ I remember Liam asking. He was right. The scarcity of women in public was a complete shock to the system and a standard feature of Turkish life that we would never fully come to terms with. Okay, during high season, the female population was augmented by foreign bikini babes with their jugs out for the boys, and by the occasional painted lady of the night looking to make a quick rouble. Out of season though, things were a different affair entirely. Yalıkavak became a man’s world. It took us a while to acclimatise. Eventually, we uncovered the fairer sex hidden away in the fields, ringing the tills at supermarkets, dishing out the dosh in Turkish banks or playing happy families on a Sunday stroll. It was a real culture shift for the boys from the Smoke.

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Perking the Pansies – Jack and Liam move to Turkey