ISSUE 2, VOLUME 1 MARCH 2012
Published quarterly by the Pink Triangle Trust – a registered UK charity
An LGBT magazine for Atheists, Humanists, Sceptics and Freethinkers
Godly quacks persist in promoting harmful and discredited ‘gay cure’ therapies – see page 8 Illustration: Achim Prill Also in this issue: No Mincing Words, p2 • Albania takes a leap into the 21st century, p3 • Things are looking up on the Isle of Man, p6 • Death is still big – it’s religion that got small, p12
No Mincing Words!
pinkhumanist editor BARRY DUKE
he news last summer that a man from Virginia had topped himself by … erm … untopping himself caused me to exclaim: “Bloody hell! That’s just gotta be a first.” Surprisingly, no! A quick Google revealed that, thanks to the invention of the chainsaw, several people over the past few years have succeeded in messily shortening themselves by 12 inches or so. But, in the Virginia case, the man did not use a chainsaw. Instead he secured one end of a cable to his neck and the other to a tree after a row with his ex. His head was ripped from his shoulders when he took off at high speed in his sports utility vehicle. In 2008, Englishman David Phyall, 50, used string to tie his Black & Decker chainsaw to a leg of a snooker table in his sitting room. He attached a timer to the appliance, then lay face up under the table and laid the chainsaw against his neck. Earlier, in November 2007, a 19-year old living in the Upper Austrian town of Laakirchen, close to Austria’s famous tourist destination Gmunden, decapitated himself with a chainsaw because he was thought to have had problems at his workplace; and in May 2007 a man in the German city of Cologne cut off his head with a chainsaw after stabbing his 70-year-old father to death. Oddly, when I attended a suicide workshop in Brighton in 2009, no mention was made power tools. Drugs, yes – Nembutol in particular – and helium and plastic bags, but Poulans, Stihls or Husquavarnas never made it to the menu. At this point you must be wondering why in the name of sweet sanity would I want to attend a workshop of this nature. Two reasons: first I am an ardent supporter of free speech, and I was appalled that three venues in Sussex got cold feet and cancelled Australian Dr Philip Nitschke’s workshop at the last moment. Shame on them! I was so outraged by the ban that, in a letter published in the Brighton Argus, I wrote: “Just as people have every right to make informed choices about how to live their lives, they should also be allowed to arm themselves with the knowledge of how to end them efficiently. Far too many suicides fail, or are messy, or impinge
Dr Philip Nitschke pictured at an assisted suicide workshop in the UK in 2009. Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images Europe) negatively on others when people throw themselves under trains, or off motorway bridges, or high buildings. If workshops such as ones led by Dr Nitschke help to make suicide a less haphazard venture, then they are to be applauded and allowed to proceed without interference. And if there are doubts as to their legality, these could quickly be removed by changing any laws that prohibit the dissemination of effective suicide or euthanasia information.” Ironically, a religious centre in Brighton came to the rescue, and it was in a United Reform Church hall that I got to meet the man the gutter press had dubbed “Dr Death”. He was delightful. My pragmatic nature was the second reason for my being there. There may well come a time when I decide to end my life with dignity. Dr Nitschke’s methods are clean and effective, and his workshop was one of the most empowering and – dare I say it – amusing experiences of my life. Empowering, because it helped people realise that no individuals, governments or religious organisations should have the right to stand in the way of life or death choices. If we choose suicide, for whatever reason, we should have
the information that will prevent a botched job. Dr Nitschke’s workshops do just that. The workshop was highly amusing because Dr Nitschke, who has legally assisted a number of people to end their lives, applies a brilliantly light touch to his presentations, and many in the audience – people mainly in their 50s and over, found themselves chortling throughout the workshop – and even laughed out loud when a short video was shown called DIY with Betty. The 50s-styled video – a censored version of which you can watch on YouTube – shows retired nurse Betty demonstrating how to make a suicide bag, used to induce hypoxia with the aid of a gas such as helium. Betty suggests that “you might like to get your hair done” before putting the bag over your head and bidding farewell to the world. Despite my being completely bald (by choice), this method appeals to me, not least because I am absolutely rubbish with power tools. So a Makita or a Black & Decker is simply not an option. Also I am cognizant of the fact that many people are squeamish, and I’d hate to be found so gruesomely dead as to cause someone to lose their lunch. That would just be rude.
PTT Contact details Pink Triangle Trust Secretary is George Broadhead, who can be contacted on: +44 1926 858450 (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) Contact The Pink Humanist Magazine by emailing either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Views expressed in The Pink Humanist are not necessarily those of the publishers.
Albania takes a leap into the 21st century Life for the LGBT community is showing great signs of improvement in Albania. Albania? A Muslim-majority Balkan country? Yes, really! In this piece, an Albanian gay activist provides a fascinating overview of the country
or those who know nothing about Althe decriminalisation of homosexuality by the bania, or have only heard about it ocAlbanian parliament in 1995 as a prerequisite casionally in the news during the Euro for the country admittance as a full member qualifiers (we never passed that stage), of the Council of Europe. or have seen and heard our sometimes tacky Ironically, an MP of the time told the media Eurovision songs, Albania is a small country that “Europe wants us to be gay”. located in the South-Eastern corner of EuIn the early 1990s, life was quite chaotic in rope. It is in the so-called Western-Balkans Albania, and the gay community continued to region, right in the down-south part of it, live closeted lives. An observation of a friend sandwiched between Greece and a chunk of of ours from Holland about Albania back in smaller ex-Yugoslavian countries. 2001 is quite sad. Among other things, he told Perhaps the most artsy or literary of English us how Albanian homosexuals where even people might know a thing or two about it through the poems of Lord Byron. You should see how proud Albanians are to point out the Albanian traditional costume the poet is wearing in one his portraits. To some Albanians, the fact that the man wearing it was gay seems to be of no importance. My country, Albania, however is not just a small gem of the Mediterranean to be discovered once people grow tired of Croatia and Montenegro. Not that they should, considering how amazingly handsome guys from there seem to be, but it is also a place where LGBT people live in a new-found climate of freedom, openness and change. Part of this change was brought about In 2009, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha by a generation of gays living under Alannounced plans to legalise same-sex unions bania’s then communist regime. With utmost discretion for the most part, they lived out their gay lives. Nevertheless, the afraid to walk together in the street – even power of the secret services was so strong though nobody ever gave them a strange that, word has it, you couldn’t trust your own look; how uncomfortable they were to speak wife, let alone a stranger. of their sexuality; how scared and afraid they But overall, being homosexual, or different were. in any other way in communist Albania was The new millennium, however, brought not easy. People could be sentenced to up to about some good changes in Albania. For 15 years in prison for homosexual acts As a all sorts of reasons more became more; more matter of fact, Albanians were so detached or food, more imports, more exports, more unaware of homosexuality that, when the first news, more schools, more partying, more gays “appeared” in the early 1990s, some were moving… just more, more, and more. Yet, so shocked that they are still having a hard the Albanian public still seemed quite unaware time recovering. That is not a joke. of the gays in their midst, except through a Legally speaking, however, the first improvefew negative articles in newspapers, which dement for homosexual Albanians started with scribed gay men as perverts, and degenerates.
The first TV debate about homosexuality took place back in 2003 on Top Channel, probably the biggest privately owned channel in Albania and today one of the most important, successful and technologically innovative broadcasters in the Balkans. The show was a shock from the beginning. Differently from the other days, when there were no seats available, this show attracted only a couple of elderly ladies, two straight young men and a transgender woman, the first person to have gone through sex change in Albania; Nikoleta, a dear friend of ours. On the panel there was the host, a foreign diplomat, a young homosexual man and behind curtains there was a girl, with her face hidden and her voice altered… a lesbian. Nobody remembers how long was this show discussed among those who saw it, but the sad part is that the young gay man who participated in it received so many threats after the show that he had to get help from the Dutch Embassy and move to the Netherlands. But the story gets better, I promise. Years passed without much happening – until the late part of the 2000s with the formation of some small LGBT groups who had grown tired of their invisibility, and of the lack of legal protection against discrimination. Within these groupings were some notable individuals who helped draft an anti-discrimination bill It was around this time that groups like PINK Embassy and Aleanca kundwr Diskriminimit LGBT began their activism. During the last three to four years, a true LGBT movement has taken root in Albania. The organisation I represent, PINK Embassy, has worked on a solid and realistic programme which aims to lobby and advocate LGBT rights in Albania, raise awareness in society and empower the community. We are also very proud of the support and extraordinary help we receive from COC Netherlands and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
(Continued on page 11)
• thepinkhumanist • march 2012 •03 •
After homophobia, what next? Veteran gay activist and human rights campaigner PETER TATCHELL, who turned 60 in January, poses the question
n most parts of the world, homophobia is in decline. The global trend is for the repeal of anti-gay laws and for greater public understanding and acceptance of sexual difference. Overall, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are gradually gaining respect and rights – not losing them. There are, of course, frightening examples of intensified homophobic repression in parts of Africa and the Middle East. But taking the long view, in world historical terms, anti-gay attitudes and laws are on the wane. A post-homophobic society may not be achieved in the West for another 50 years – and world-wide not for centuries. But it will happen in the end. Just like the slave trade, one day homophobia will be history. This begs the question: As homophobia diminishes and as future societies eventually embrace a post-homophobic culture, how will this transition to equality, dignity, understanding and acceptance affect the expression of sexuality? If human civilisation evolves into a state of sexual enlightenment, where the differences between hetero and homo no longer matter, what would this mean for the future of same-sex desire and same-sex identity? We already know, thanks to a host of sex surveys, that bisexuality is a fact of life and that even in narrow-minded, homophobic cultures, many people have a sexuality that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction. It is also apparent that same-sex relations flourish, albeit often temporarily, in singlesex institutions like schools, prisons and the armed forces – which suggests that sexuality might be more flexible than many people assume.
Research by Dr Alfred Kinsey in the USA during the 1940s was the first major statistical evidence that gay and straight are not watertight, irreconcilable and mutually exclusive sexual orientations. He found that human sexuality is, in fact, a continuum of desires and behaviours, ranging from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. A substantial proportion of the population shares an amalgam of same-sex and opposite-sex feelings – even if they do not act on them.
In a future non-homophobic society, as the taboos concerning same-sex relations recede, more people are likely to have gay sex – even if only experimentally or for a few years. In Sexual Behaviour In The Human Male (1948), Kinsey recorded that 13 percent of the men he surveyed were either mostly or exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55. Twenty-five percent had more than incidental gay reactions or experience, amounting to clear and continuing same-sex desires. Altogether, 37 percent of the men Kinsey questioned had experienced sex with other males to the point of orgasm, and half had experienced mental attraction or erotic arousal towards other men (often transient and not physically expressed). Kinsey’s statistics on same-sex behaviour
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have since been criticised as out-of-date, exaggerated and unrepresentative. However, his idea of a spectrum of human sexuality has tended to be reinforced by subsequent surveys which have shown that a significant proportion of the population have had sexual relations with both men and women. A British sex survey, conducted by ICM for the Observer newspaper in 2008, found that 16 percent of women reported sexual contact with a woman, and 10 percent of men said they’d had sexual contact with another man. The survey revealed a trend to greater sexual experimentation, with 23 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds indicating that they had a same-sex experience. All these figures are much higher than the number of people who are exclusively gay or lesbian and who define themselves as such. The possibility that individuals can share a capacity for both hetero and homo behaviour is an idea that was researched and documented by the anthropologists Clellan Ford and Frank Beach. In Patterns of Sexual Behaviour (1965), they noted that certain forms of homosexuality were considered normal and acceptable in 49 (nearly two-thirds) of 76 tribal societies surveyed from the 1920s to the 1950s. They also recorded that in some aboriginal cultures, such as the Keraki and Sambia peoples of Papua New Guinea, all young men entered into a same-sex relationship with an unmarried male warrior, sometimes lasting several years, as part of their rites of passage to manhood. Once completed, they ceased all homosexual contact and assumed sexual desires for women. If sexual orientation was totally biologically pre-programmed at birth, these men would have never been able to switch to homosexuality and then to hetero-
Peter Tatchell, fourth left, pictured at a celebration to mark the 40th anniversary of the Gay Liberation front in the UK in October, 2010, with a number of original GLF activists. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. sexuality with such apparent ease. This led Ford and Beach to deduce that homosexuality is fundamental to the human species, and that its practice is substantially influenced by social mores and cultural expectations. The evidence from these two research disciplines – sociology and anthropology – is that the incidence and form of heterosexuality and homosexuality is not fixed and universal, and that the two sexual orientations are not mutually exclusive. There is a good deal of fluidity and overlap. What’s more, although scientific evidence shows that human sexuality is significantly affected by biological predispositions – such as genes and hormones – other influences appear to be cultural, including social expectations, peer pressure and the availability and opportunity for sexual release. These influences channel erotic impulses in certain directions and not others. An individual’s sexual orientation is thus influenced culturally, as well as biologically. As culture changes, perhaps manifestations of sexuality can also change? The evidence of considerable cross-over between gay and straight relations comes from research that records consciously recognised and admitted desires. At the level of unconscious feelings – where passions are often repressed, displaced, sublimated, projected and transferred – it seems probable that very few people are 100 percent straight or gay. Most are a mixture, even if they never mentally acknowledge or physically express both sides of the sexual equation. This picture of human sexuality is much more complex, diverse and blurred than the traditional simplistic binary image of hetero
and homo, so loved by straight moralists and – equally significantly – by many lesbians and gay men. If sexual orientation has a culturally-influenced element of indeterminacy and flexibility, then the present forms of homosexuality and heterosexuality are conditional. They
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s tyrannical, Catholic leader, is among many high-profile homophobes targeted by the Melbourne, Australia-born Tatchell over the years. The activist, an atheist for most of his life, TWICE tried to carry out a citizen’s arrest of Mugabe in London in 1999 and Brussels in 2001
are unlikely to remain the same in perpetuity. As culture changes, so will expressions of sexuality. In a future non-homophobic society, as the taboos concerning same-sex relations recede, more people are likely to have gay sex – even if only experimentally or for a few years. Interestingly, the demise of homophobia is likely to make redundant the need to assert and affirm gayness. Gay and lesbian identities are largely the product of homophobic prejudice and repression. They are a self-defence mechanism against homophobia. Faced with persecution for having same-sex relations, the right to have those relationships has to be defended – hence gay identity and the gay rights movement. But if one sexuality is not privileged over another, defining oneself as gay (or straight) will cease to be necessary and have no social relevance or significance. The need to maintain sexual differences, boundaries and identities disappears with the demise of straight supremacism. As we evolve into a sexually enlightened and accepting society, homosexuality and heterosexuality will begin to fade as separate, exclusive orientations and identities. The vast majority of people will be open to the possibility of both opposite-sex and same-sex desires, regardless of whether they act upon them. They won’t feel the need to label themselves (or others) as gay or straight because, in a future non-homophobic civilisation, no one will care who loves who. Love will transcend sexual orientation. * For more information about Peter Tatchell’s human rights and social justice campaigns, and to make a donation please visit www.petertatchell.net.
• thepinkhumanist • march 2012 • 05 •
THERE’S MORE TO THE ISLE OF MAN THAN A BIZARRE INCINERATOR
STUART HARTHILL reveals that life is getting a lot better for the gay community on this small British dependency EVEN tabloid journalists used to agree that the Isle of Man – a small British dependency sitting in the Irish Sea midway between the UK and Ireland – was the worst place in the British Isles to live if you happened to be gay or lesbian. But even in a community where Methodism is a bigger social menace than Methedrone things are getting better. I still didn’t believe my wife though when, during IDAHO 2011, she said there was a rainbow flag flying over the local cop shop. As it happened, there was one flying over every police station on the island. And it got better than that. When the usual parties complained, the Chief Constable was quickly on local radio to say that he was proud to finally have a police force fit to serve all sections of the population, and that it now included openly gay and lesbian police officers. It must be said though, this has all changed at the sedate pace Manx tradition demands of everything. Way back in 2005 the Manx General Registry announced a 10 week public consultation on Civil Partnerships. Ignoring press warnings of ‘controversial’ proposals for ‘gay marriage’, those who followed the links to the registry website discovered a well balanced background briefing, and a handy format for framing responses around six key questions. But conveniently, Tynwald’s Hansard editor also produced the Manx Anglican diocesan newspaper. He immediately gave the faithful full contact details for making a submission – minus all that troublesome objective background information.
Consultations had to be in by 30th June, and the Chief Registrar said in a newspaper report: ‘We have had a reasonable number of responses. The views expressed are fairly balanced in numbers, it is not all one-sided. A wide range of views has been expressed, which CoMin ( Council of Ministers – equivalent to the UK Cabinet) will consider.’
Thankfully, things have moved on a long way. These days, in addition to gay and lesbian lawyers and business leaders, we even have openly gay and lesbian police. That same month a public consultation on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill was also announced. The ‘official’ intent of this Bill was to allow better international cooperation against ‘internet grooming’ of children, and also to create an offence of ‘abusing a position of trust’ of teenagers in care. Squeezed ‘coincidentally’ into the latter end of the Bill was a clause equalising the age of heterosexual and homosexual consent. The
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options were to reduce the gay age of consent to 16 or raise the heterosexual age and set both at 17 or 18. Public response to this was also good, and thanks to a local advocate’s last minute efforts, the response deadline was extended to get public opinion on dropping Section 38 of the Act – the Manx equivalent of England’s notorious Section 28. Due to a general election in November 2005, the government delayed considering public views on either issue. But in February 2006 the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill passed - complete with repeal of Section 38 and not even discussion of the equalising of age of consent at 16. It was also the end of the line for the island’s then Education Minister, a lay evangelist, pro-lifer and CARE supporter, and almost the only voice against change. Coincidentally, the diocesan newspaper also collapsed. Insiders say because the traditionalist editor clashed with the then Bishop of Sodor and Mann, a highly ambitious cleric savvy enough to see opposing change might harm his chances of the cushy job at St. Paul’s, London, which he then ‘regretfully’ accepted. But the whole issue of Civil Partnerships was then sidelined, and it was not until early 2010 that the long promised Bill got a reading. In the last week of May 2010, discussion of the Clauses ended, with only our two worst knuckledraggers voting against and some muttering about the implications of gay couples being able to adopt kids. With the worst hurdle cleared, it was not long before the final stages were complete and the Bill passsed into law - albeit half a decade
after most of the British Isles. Much of the credit for this should go to Allan Bell, MHK (Member of the House of Keys), the politician who presented the Bill, and who had battled against homophobia since the late 1980’s. As our Treasury Minister (equivalent to the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer), he was for years the only Manx politician taken seriously by major governments elsewhere, so it is astonishing he only became Chief Minister in 2011. Or perhaps not, as he is neither married nor a disciple of any of the island’s belligerent churches. In his pleas to the House, Mr Bell mentioned the dark days of the early 1990’s, when the island finally partially decriminalised homosexuality in response to UK government pressure, in turn motivated by European pressure to meet basic human rights criteria. Vacuous responses from some Manx politicans at that time made the island the butt of international ridicule, which continues to this
day. Locally, gays became increased targets of violence, and there was a recordable rise in teenage suicide. But even this was not the worst period in Manx gay history. Until the first move towards UK decriminalisation in the 1960’s I’m told the situation on the Isle of Man was little different to the UK or Ireland. We then fell further and further behind, reaching the worst point by 1990 - just before one fair minded Manx politician (old enough not to worry about re-election) raised the topic of a Bill legalising same sex relationships in private between those aged at least 21. But in my experience the rot set in during the early 1980’s, when an evangelical protégé of the notorious Manchester Chief Constable James Anderton was appointed to head the Manx police force. Tactics seen in Manchester were adopted over here, while largely abandoned everywhere else. For example, a former police officer of that era tells me he spent nights staking out public toilets. I’ve
also heard it suggested that, as in Manchester, acts of suicide in the mid to late 1980’s may have been connected to the possibility of prosecution and inevitable naming and shaming in local papers. Thankfully, things have moved on a long way. These days, in addition to gay and lesbian lawyers and business leaders, we even have openly gay and lesbian police. The latter, it must be noted, actually encouraged as part of a determined effort by the last two Chief Constables (in the face of opposition by a Department of Home Affairs dominated by traditionalist Christians and other bigots) to bury the legacy of Anderton’s apprentice and create a police force fit to respond to the needs of all the Manx public. So, while I can never imagine the Isle of Man emulating Brighton as a seaside hangout for happy campers, at least now gay life here is finally more comparable to gay life in, say, Ireland than in Iran.
Turing: Unburying the Evidence BRETT HUMPHREYS was in the process of coming out when he learned of Alan Turing’s homosexuality. The revelation, he writes, was ‘electrifying’.
first became aware of Alan Turing’s sexuality during the academic ing on to spend two years of meticulous full-time research on it between year 1973/74 when I was a student of computer science at the 1978 and 1980. The time was right. The secrecy shrouding wartime inUniversity of Warwick. I already knew of Turing as a pioneer of telligence activities had begun to lift during the years leading up to the the mathematical logic underlying the publication in 1979 of the first volume of theory of computation, his name immortalHarry Hinsley’s official history British Intelised in the phrase “Turing machine”, but one ligence in the Second World War. At the same day the professor spoke in personal terms of time, homosexuality had become thoroughly the great man, whom he had once observed mentionable in a way that was unthinkable sitting characteristically inconspicuously in twenty years earlier. And yet most of Alan the audience at a lecture: Alan Turing was Turing’s close associates were still around homosexual; his life had been tragically cut to give their account of events, although a short by suicide. For me, then just in the growing number, including his mother, were process of coming out, the revelation was already dead. electrifying. In piecing together the jigsaw of evidence, Later, in the university library, I discovAndrew Hodges constructed a consistent, ered Alan Turing’s biography, written by his if inevitably incomplete, picture in which mother, Sara Turing, and published in 1959. Alan Turing’s personality emerges through It was a sad disappointment. Not only was the interaction of a number of traits: his there no acknowledgment of either homoexceptional intelligence; his sexuality; his insexuality or suicide, but it seemed as if Alan dependence of mind and disregard for the Turing hardly had any personality at all. mist of social conventions and shared beliefs Some time during the next few years I that envelops most people; his openness and acquired a copy of a gay liberation booklet honesty; his untidiness; his lack of coordientitled With Downcast Gays: Aspects of Homonation of mind and body, epitomised by his Portrait of Alan Turing by Daniel Rogers erratic speech and sometimes barely legible sexual Self-Oppression, by Andrew Hodges and © Daniel Rogers David Hutter – memorable for its castigation handwriting. of E M Forster for not coming out during his Alan Turing’s exceptional intelligence was lifetime – but it was only with the publication of Alan Turing: the Enigma evident to those around him. He would astound people by instantly in 1983 that a link between Andrew Hodges and Alan Turing became seeing the solution to a problem that others had been grappling with for apparent. (In one of those odd coincidences that Hodges so delights in, days. It was this type of insight that led him in 1936, at the age of 23, it also turns out that Alan Turing’s first lover, James Atkins, later became to produce his magnum opus, On computable numbers with an application to David Hutter’s long-term partner.) the Entscheidungsproblem. In it he set out his theory of computability, and In fact, Andrew Hodges conceived this remarkable book in 1977, go(Continued on p16)
• thepinkhumanist • march 2011• 07 •
Crazy cures, dubious disorders and the prancing politician
Ann Widdecombe pictured on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing website
Several stories have emerged since our last issue concerning the so-called gay ‘cure’. But is there such a thing? Is it immoral even to attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation? And why not cure the faithful of their dubious beliefs? ANDY ARMITAGE has been pondering these questions and finds a common thread: RELIGION.
an you be cured of something that isn’t an illness? Some people think you can, even though the “illness” in question does no harm. But at least two questions arise: (1) Why would you want to do it?; (2) What if the “cure” causes more harm than perceived good? I speak, of course, of the matter of being gay. And, if being gay can be cured, how about being religious? More specifically, how about being Catholic? I’ll dwell more later on why I choose that particular denomination, but it concerns a certain former politician and clumsy Strictly Come Dancing contestant whom many gay people (and no doubt others) love to hate. Stories are perennial when it comes to a gay “cure” or a perceived ability to change orientation. So let’s look at a handful of recent ones. There’s the case of Chaim Levin, who took part in a Jewish scheme to try to “turn” himself straight. It didn’t work. The fuller story is told in Pink News, but, briefly, Levin was born into a traditional Jewish family in
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York, but was thrown out of the yeshiva (Jewish religious school) after he told a friend he was attracted to men. He dreamed of being “normal”, of marrying a girl and living a life that would be acceptable to his family and his circle. Was he born gay? he asks himself. He can’t say for sure. “I don’t know and I am not sure how important that is,” he says. “What is important is that it certainly is not something that I chose or had anything to do with. And I felt immense pressure to somehow change who I was.” It was not, let us repeat, something he “chose”. It was not something he “had anything to do with”. He went on a course of reparative therapy. “I spent two years attending every group meeting, weekend, and individual life coaching sessions they offered,” he says. “My parents and I paid thousands of dollars. Every day, every session, I was working and waiting to feel a shift in my desires or experience authentic change. “That moment never came. I didn’t change, I never developed any sexual de-
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sire for women and never stopped being attracted to men. Instead, I only felt more and more helpless because I wasn’t changing. The organisation and its staff taught us that change only comes to those who truly want it and are willing to put in the work. So, if I wasn’t changing, I was seen as someone who either really didn’t sincerely want it, or would not put in the necessary work. In other words, there was no one to blame but myself.” If Levin is speaking the truth about feeling so desperate and helpless, we must conclude that he did want to change. If he did want to change and did everything the organisation said was necessary to change, then the “therapy” was of no use. Either that or change is impossible – or it’s a combination of the two. Pink News ran this important article after the state-funded Jews’ Free School in north London was accused by the Jewish Chronicle of “showing students the logo and central message of JONAH [Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality], a so-called “gay cure” group, and implicitly
portrayed it as something they should explore if they thought they might be gay”. The school denied this, saying material in one lesson about homosexuality had been used for years and it was not intended to promote any particular organisation. Nonetheless, it succeeded in raising fears that some factions – usually religious – are pushing an agenda for “curing” people of their homosexuality. If we take the school’s claim at face value, we are still in a world where such fears are prominent and easily evoked. Another tale – also considering Judaism – came from Amsterdam, where the Chief Rabbi was suspended after signing a document stating that homosexuality could be “modified and healed”. He was subsequently reinstated. He signed up to something called the Torah Declaration, which, among other things, says: “A propaganda blitz has been sweeping the world using political tactics to persuade the public about the legitimacy of homosexuality.” It adds: “The Torah makes a clear statement that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle or a genuine identity by severely prohibiting its conduct […] The concept that G-d1 created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable. G-d is loving and merciful. Struggles, and yes, difficult struggles, along with healing and personal growth are part and parcel of this world. Impossible, life[-]long, Torah[-] prohibited situations with no achievable solutions are not.” It’s no wonder the writers cannot believe that their god would create “a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition”. Why would a loving deity do that? Why do you put a person in a position where it’s easy to throw stones at them? What’s the point? Once you consider that the Torah has “undergone multiple revisions by different editors [over] the successive centuries, sometimes resulting in the use of additional material”, you can see where this dichotomy probably originated: no one could know what God was supposed to have said because everything has since been buggered about with and what we have today has been cobbled together – no doubt by people with agendas to satisfy who would not wish their preferred version of events to come under too much scrutiny by later enquirers. Before we move to the terpsichorean ex-
politician, let me give you something from a primary source: The Pink Humanist’s editor, Barry Duke. Duke – who was born and raised in South Africa before moving to the UK and more recently to Spain – has his own tale to tell about an attempted “cure”. “In 1966, when I was 19, I was ‘outed’ to my parents by a girl I was having a platonic relationship with,” he tells me. “Simultaneously, I was having a torrid sexual relationship with a very handsome German man aged 40. After discovering us in bed together, Alessanda threw a wobbly and contacted my mother, telling her that she believed I could be cured of my homosexuality if psychiatric help were to be enlisted.” So, to keep the peace, he agreed to see Mr Woolf, a psychiatrist his mother had chosen, who turned out to be “one of the most unattractive human beings I had ever clapped eyes on”. Duke continues: “A small man, with a beard and a pronounced limp (he had one leg shorter than other, possibly the result of polio as a child), Woolf spent about 20 minutes questioning me about my attraction to men, how long I was aware of that attraction, and whether I had had any sexual encounters with a female. I replied: ‘Yes, once.’ When I told him that it had been a disastrous encounter, with an ‘eeew’ factor that flew clear off the scale, he sat back in his chair and said: ‘I know what you mean. My first wife disgusted me in the same way!’ “He then declared: ‘You are one of the best-balanced homosexuals I have ever met. Go away and enjoy your life.’ I was gobsmacked. ‘But what do I tell my mum?’ I exclaimed. ‘Tell her to come and see me and I will cure her of her fears about homosexuality. After all, she’s the one with a problem.’” Woolf ’s suggestion is worth dwelling on. Why are we told it’s the homosexual who should be “cured” of their gay orientation and not the irrational (in my view, at least) person who – with or without honest motives – seeks to demonise homosexuality? If the objection to someone’s sexual orientation is on religious grounds, and given that belief in this or that deity along with all the scripture and dogma that go with it is not hard-wired, could we not ask whether we’re aiming at the wrong “patient”? Duke says his mother never bothered to consult Woolf in person after that uplifting verdict, resorting instead to a long telephone conversation with him, and she “instantly became totally accepting of my homosexuality – and of Renee, my German lover, with whom she formed an irritatingly
close relationship. He spent hours doing her hair, and accompanied her shopping. More embarrassing, he shared her love of knitting, and the two would spend hours drinking tea and clicking needles, leaving me feeling like a spare wheel. “When I finally dumped Renee, Mom was furious, and asked where on earth I would find another man like him. ‘Not even going to try,’ I retorted. “I was lucky. Damned lucky. In that era it was normal for any gay man who fell into the hands of the psychiatry profession in South Africa, and elsewhere, to be subjected to quite horrible aversion-therapy techniques.” Duke gave me a URL to a report that tells the story of a South African who moved to Canada and allegedly sexually assaulted a male patient. But it emerged that he’d used electric-shock treatments in apartheid-era South Africa to try to “cure” gay soldiers. In March 2010, the Guardian carried a story with the tabloidesque headline “‘Doctor Shock’ charged with sexually abusing male patient”. Another story Duke was keen to share can be seen in a report way back in 1996 in Britain’s Independent. It tells the story of Peter Price, “one of the entertainment world’s more flamboyant characters”, who, in 1964, was “admitted to the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Chester. The treatment he was to undergo was intended to ‘cure’ him of his homosexuality. Within a day of his arrival, Price was confined to one room, pumped full of nausea-inducing drugs, kept in a bed smeared with his own vomit and faeces. His fear tipped into paranoia.” Duke’s own story continues: “After leaving Renee, I was aggressively pursued by a fellow journalist, a guy of my own age. We were both 21. After a few enjoyable dates, we wound up in bed together. The sex was just awful. Phillip, I then learned, had been subjected to aggressive aversion therapy, and simply could not perform. “I liked him – a lot – and thought we could forge a life together if only he could get over the damage done to him by his psychiatrist. It never happened. He became alcoholic and violent, and, after eight years I simply gave up, but we remained in touch. He is now a recovering alcoholic, and has not touched a drink in almost 30 years. But he has never been able to form any gay relationships, or have satisfactory sex as a result of the psychiatric abuse he suffered.” Ann Widdecombe, a Conservative former UK government minister and shadow Home Secretary, is known latterly for her
(Continued on p10)
• thepinkhumanist • march 2012 • 09
Crazy cures, dubious disorders ... media appearances, including the 2010 season of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. In spite of low marks from the judges, she was immensely popular. But it’s a bit like hearing the headteacher tell a joke: it’s not the joke you find funny but the fact that he or she is actually telling one. Widdecombe, with her rather shrill, two-tone vocal delivery, has on occasion been rather like that austere headmistress, lecturing us on morals from her Catholic standpoint. Whether Ann, the wannabe twinkletoes, was trying to boost her public image by whatever embarrassing means possible after she resigned from Parliament at the 2010 general election I can’t say, but she’s certainly grabbed headlines in the pink press from time to time by presenting her conservative views on homosexuality: it’s wrong, of course, plain wrong. And, in a recent Daily Express piece, she questions why, if people can get psychotherapeutic help when they wish to change sex or, being infertile, want to have children, gay people should not seek similar help if they want to “become heterosexual”. In her article, she talks about a guy called Patrick Strudwick who, as an agent provocateur, deliberately approached a counsellor called Lesley Pilkington, asking her to help him to become straight. “Unbeknown to her,” Widdecombe writes, “it was a bogus request designed to entrap her, or, as he would put it, to discredit counselling which tries to help an individual change sexuality.” The pros and cons of entrapment are for another debate. But Widdecombe clearly thinks it’s possible to become straight, and, if you do believe that Strudwick’s approach to Pilkington was unfair, Widdecombe’s remarks may seem on the surface to be justifiable. But what if you went into a pharmacy and asked for a drug for a questionable “problem”, and they gave you something that was not only dubious in its claims of efficacy – in that it purported to “cure” something that didn’t exist as an illness as such –
but could do you harm? Would you decide not to blame the pharmacy, purely because it was you who approached them. Then there’s the question of changing the other way. If Widdecombe believes homosexuality can be changed, she probably thinks it’s a result of nurture rather than nature. So could a straight who wants to become gay be converted – “cured” of their heterosexuality? But the likes of Widdecombe would not think that appropriate, of course, because being straight is right and proper and being gay is not. And being gay, moreover, is against biblical teaching. So let’s examine another conversion, one that ought to be possible, if difficult in some circumstances: curing someone of their Catholicism. The nurture–nature debate helps here. Not only was Widdecombe not born a Catholic in 1947, but she didn’t become one till 1993 – some 46 years later. It should be easy to cure her of her Catholicism, shouldn’t it? I mean, if a gay person can be cured, because homosexuality isn’t (she presumably believes) hardwired into them, curing a Catholic convert – as opposed to someone born into a Catholic family and having the doctrine inculcated into them from the word go – should be a piece of cake. But I suspect Widdecombe would not consider that a valid question. She comes at everything now from the viewpoint of an evangelical Catholic convert. On the Strudwick–Pilkington situation, she says: “The really significant factor in all this is that Lesley Pilkington is a Christian and the homosexual lobby has turned all its fire in that direction” (my emphasis). But we read day after day of how the Christian lobby has turned all its fire – or very much of it – in the direction of gay people. (It’s worth pondering, incidentally, on what our Ann thinks of all the out gay men she’s no doubt met and performed with or among while she’s been dancing in the Strictly sense of the word, and how many she has come across in other areas of her life as a public
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person. Has she lectured them on not giving vent to their desires?) That attempts at a gay “cure” can do harm seems open these days to little doubt. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its glossary of mental disorders in 1973. In 1992, so did the World Health Organisation in its International Classification of Diseases. The chief British organisation, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says: “This unfortunate history demonstrates how marginalisation of a group of people who have a particular personality feature (in this case homosexuality) can lead to harmful medical practice and a basis for discrimination in society.” Not only is homosexuality not seen as an illness any more, but it’s regarded widely – by health professionals, the public and even some religionists – as compatible with normal, positive mental health, as evidenced in a report by the American Psychological Association Task Force called Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. One observation on Page 87, though, is significant to those of us who see religion as a major stumbling block to a healthy mind: “Many religious sexual minorities experience significant psychological distress and conflict due to the divergence between their sexual orientation and religious beliefs.” Encouraging an acceptance that some people are gay and some are religious and some are both, and there’s no getting away from it, the report comments: “To support clients who have these concerns LMHP [licensed mentalhealth providers] can provide psychological acceptance, support, and recognition of the importance of faith to individuals and communities while recognizing the science of sexual orientation. “LMHP working with religious individuals and families can incorporate research from the psychology of religion into the clientcentered multicultural framework […] The goal of treatment is for the client to explore possible life paths that address the reality of
their sexual orientation while considering the possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life. Such psychotherapy can enhance clients’ search for meaning, significance, and a relationship with the sacred in their lives.” You may think that’s a fudge. Many more hardline atheists would probably say therapists should aim to crush the religious side of
a client’s personality and promote the positive side of being gay. I’m not going to try to persuade you one way or the other, merely to say that halting the mess that religion makes of the lives of gay people is not going to be easy, and there may well be several equally effective approaches to lessening the damage done to individuals, even if it can’t be eliminated. It will be a long time before religion is truly
relegated to the realms of barmy fantasy in most people’s minds – up there with the fairies, Superman and TARDIS-enabled time travel – but there are signs that it’s losing its grip on the notion that it’s bad to be gay. Let’s hope the trend continues. 1. Many Jews write the words God and Lord as G-d and L-rd to avoid using the full name of the deity.
A good read: Dare to stand alone DIESEL BALAAM reviews Bryan Niblett’s biography of Charles Bradlaugh THROUGHOUT his life, Charles Bradlaugh demonstrated the virtue of thinking for oneself, championing reason and social justice – a man who stood alone in an era of privilege and vested interests, many of them shored up by religion, or even enshrined within it. Bryan Niblett’s biography, Dare to Stand Alone: The history of Charles Bradlaugh, atheist and republican (Kramedart Press), is a timely and relevant record of his life and works, because while Bradlaugh never achieved all he set out to achieve (he was a fervent anti-monarchist, for example), he was driven by an unshakeable belief in freedom – of the individual, of enquiry, of expression, and for humanity as a whole. From a poor background, Bradlaugh, though staunchly opposed to socialism - he remained a sturdy exponent of individualism and once said “Revolution breaks yesterday, but does not build today” - never forgot his humble origins or what he had seen during his military service in Ireland, becoming a champion of reforms to benefit the very poorest in society, as well as the causes of Home Rule in Ireland and Indian independence. Bryan Niblett brings considerable legalknowledge to his detailed account of Bradlaugh’s struggle, once he had succeeded in being elected as a Liberal MP for Northampton, to take his seat in Parliament. In this he was fiercely opposed by the Conservatives and Home Rulers alike, both factions opposing, first his right to affirm (rather than swear on the Bible), then his attempt to swear the oath and kiss the Bible in order to take his seat, on the grounds that as a declared atheist he would not be bound by the oath. Very few of his Liberal colleagues actively defended Bradlaugh, a few were actively hostile, while most, like Gladstone, prevaricated. He was, indeed, alone. This struggle was protracted and in some respects, pantomimic, leading ultimately to his violent ejection from Parliament, yet with the advent of the new Parliament in 1885, he was eventually able to swear the oath at the appropriate moment and permitted to take his seat by the Speaker (ironically, also a Conservative). During his time in Parliament, either side of the bar, he gained much respect
and eventually even his staunchest opponent, Randolph Churchill, became a reconciled admirer of Bradlaugh’s painstaking Parliamentary skills and integrity. Niblett’s account is detailed and gripping and anything but dry, even if it does come at the expense of focusing on Bradlaugh’s own prolific writing during this period, principally for the National Reformer, which he edited, but also numerous pamphlets and articles placed elsewhere. Whether in Parliament, or in the Halls of Science or other venues, Bradlaugh combined physical presence – he was a tall, well-built man of military bearing – with the utmost clarity, method and sense of purpose. In this, he was ably assisted by his long-time friend and confidante, Annie Besant, who faced many challenges alongside him, including their near imprisonment for publishing the “lewd and obscene” birth control book, The Fruits of Philosophy. Bradlaugh was clearly not always likeable. His style was authoritarian and he lacked wit. He could also be cold and contemptuous of
human failings in others, not least his wife Susannah’s alcoholism (he was also hostile toward homosexuals, although Niblett does not allude to that in this book). But like many a trail-blazing visionary who is constantly attacked and undermined, as well as occasionally let down and betrayed by friends and colleagues, his single-mindedness was a price that had inevitably to be paid, perhaps, for keeping his Parliamentary career, publishing ventures and presidency of the National Secular Society firmly on the rails. Niblett’s account proves that the onslaught from sly religionists and the Establishment of the day was relentless. There were even underhanded attempts to bankrupt him. The author’s enthusiasm for his heroic subject shines through this book, which must be a cornerstone of any modern-day freethinker’s library. As Bryan Niblett skilfully conveys, Bradlaugh’s independence of mind, conviction and courage are truly inspiring as we face contemporary challenges from old religious adversaries and new.
Life improves for Albanian gays So, where are we at today? There is no easy answer to that, and whoever tried to give you one would be making a fool of him or herself. But we can confidently say that homosexuality is no longer taboo in Albania. People now know it exists and they know that some Albanians are homosexuals, bisexuals and/or transsexuals. The media speaks so frequently about it that even we are sometimes surprised. LGBT people are now more open, freer and indeed are proud of their sexual orientation. We as an organisation are now at that stage where things need to be taken to another level. We need the LGBT community to be more aware and more responsible; we need the institutions to act properly in the interests of LGBT rights; we need the media to make a greater contribution and be more ethical; we need schools to be less homophobic and we need teachers to teach their pupils that homosexuality is not a perversion, an infection or a disease. We need moreAlbanian parents to be accepting of their children’s sexual orientation. What makes us optimistic is the fact that we can now speak about these issues, address these problems and give voice to the community. We will try our best to do so during the upcoming IDAHO event, which we will try to organise in the form of a Diversity Festival where people from civil society, the community, media, institutions, organisations and families will gather to offer their support. Of course what is needed is for the community to be out there and voice these needs on its own, but there is nothing to worry about; we are working every day to enable for LGBT individuals to be out there and fight for their rights.
• thepinkhumanist • march 2012 • 11•
DEATH IS STILL BIG: IT’S RELIGION THAT GOT SMALL
Photo: Ryan Amos
DIESEL BALAAM explains how gays have helped secularise ritual mourning
t the end of 1996, I remember going to see the film Evita, starring Madonna, and contemplating the scenes of public mourning that greeted the death of President Peron’s wife in 1952, a woman who had somehow connected with and engaged the loyalty and affections of the ordinary people of Argentina. What event, I wondered, might cause a similar public outpouring of grief among my own disparate and apparently indifferent fellow countrymen, here in Britain? Just eight months later, that question was unequivocally answered, when the former Princess of Wales, Diana, met an untimely end in the Pont d’Alma road tunnel in Paris. Death is something many people have long felt ill at ease discussing, or acknowledging. Themes of ageing, illness, loss, tragedy, distress and disorientation, do not, on the face of it, sit easily with our shallow culture of youth-obsessed, transient success, materialism and spectacle, in which such things are widely seen as embarrassing failings, to be swept under the carpet. We jibber-jabber endlessly about every sexual proclivity under the sun, but if you mention that your mother, or partner, has just passed away, everyone looks at their shoes and feels embarrassed. In this regard, we have done a 180 degree turn since Victorian times, when no middle class Sunday afternoon was com-
plete without a family sight-seeing tour of the local cemetery. Yet there is also a rich seam of lugubriousness and sentimentality surrounding mortality in our culture, which, like all cultures, still has a deep-seated need to connect with death and process meaning from it when it happens. We may no longer build pyramids, or spend our Sunday afternoons parading around cemeteries in top hats and crinolines, but when people are confronted with the inevitabilities of loss and tragedy, we can observe how they grope their way forward, trying to mark the deceased’s passing in a way that is dignified, meaningful, and therefore, comforting. For those from a strongly religious background, this need for dignity, meaning and comfort, has often already been “contracted out” to faith professionals as soon as they are born. The trouble with this option, easy though it may be, is that it may not be sufficient for those mourners with no faith, or perhaps a compromised faith. Moreover, it is wholly inappropriate in those cases where the deceased abandoned their faith during the course of their life, embracing atheism or agnosticism. Worse still, is when clerics ignore the fact that the deceased was gay, or when their surviving gay partner is marginalised, or written out of the script altogether. Gay or straight, many of us feel cheated at religious funerals, because the life of the deceased is
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often summarised in just a few words, then elbowed aside by the usual mumbo-jumbo about Jesus. In October 2009 there was a Mail news story in which Father Ed Tomlinson of Tunbridge Wells launched a scathing attack on secular funerals, saying “The best our secular friends can hope for is a poem from Nan combined with a saccharine message from a popstar before being popped in the oven with no hope of resurrection”. Even at his own church funerals he felt “spiritually unwanted”, saying that many families he conducted funerals for had “no desire for any Christian content”. Mourners no longer had the competence to sing hymns at funerals, often supplanting them altogether with recorded pop music. Of course, part of what Father Ed was really complaining about was people’s lack of sophistication and he was right, insofar as it is a bit naff and inappropriate for one’s coffin to arrive to the strains of Tina Turner caterwauling Simply The Best, or Whitney Houston’s emotionally incontinent rendition of I Will Always Love Yoo-oo-ooooooou. But what this really tells us, is that in a society where only a tiny percentage of people attend church services on a regular basis, The Lord’s My Shepherd no longer cuts the mourning mustard and people are looking elsewhere to process meaning and comfort from death. At their best, secular
to working with “nice charities”). Sympathy funerals improve immeasurably on religious thing of note on the football field, belonged also played a part, as we witnessed the shabby services, being far more dignified, relevant to an almost folkloric era, long past. John way she was treated by the Royal Family and and meaningful, with the ability to embrace Lennon’s death, at the hands of a disilluan ex-husband, who, as the journalist Julie those with a faith, as well as those without. sioned gun-toting fan in 1980, had perhaps Burchill famously put it, was “stiff – in all the Yet non-believers are still often unprepared provided a foretaste of the kind of seismic wrong places.” The first truly modern Royal for death and dying and I always feel sad shock of a cultural icon cut down unexpectfor the emerging internet age, people felt that when I see atheist and agnostic friends buredly, but in England, at that time, popular they were stakeholders in her humanitarian ied or cremated with Christian paraphernalia music didn’t mean that much to the generaaspirations and personal dramas, made all I know they would not have chosen, because tion that had its hands on the control levers the more human and compelling through her no one had the wit or foresight to arrange an of our national media, so without the imflaws and struggles that were a reflection of appropriate secular alternative. And secular mediacy of the internet and real-time sateltheir own lives. However illusory, however alternatives do exist. The best funerals I have lite link-ups, the tragedy was filtered down to much of a media construct, people felt that been to have been humanist ones, simply us mainly via newspapers still suspicious of they knew Diana and related to her life in because the deceased individual is the focus rock-’n’-roll and the BBC – still in full blown some way. of the event, rather than Jesus Christ who “Auntie” mode in those days – so it wasn’t What was truly interesting, though, was the would otherwise muscle-in on the departed’s really possible to “own” the tragedy of Lenemergence, or re-emergence, of ritualised gig. Recorded, or live music, readings, poetry, non’s death, or participate in it. communal mourning in an increasingly pripersonal reminiscences and a celebration of In the immediate wake of Diana’s death, vatised and fragmented society. On the day the departed’s life are not just more fitting the British media were ill-prepared for the of Diana’s funeral, I went down to Kensingand meaningful, they seem much more inclutsunami of public grief and shock that swept ton Palace Gardens and experienced that rare sive and comforting to those left behind. the British Isles and beyond. We had no real thing in London – a feeling of togetherness, As British society has become secularprecedent for it, certainly not with the imremarkable for both its diversity and civilised, there has been a disconnect between mediate global reach of the newly emerging ity. The Metropolitan Police were unusually the mourning rituals on offer from most media technologies. Churchill’s funeral was friendly and helpful, people gave up churches, which can seem remote their seats on the bus to people less It is not the prayers at Diana’s and irrelevant, and the general popuable to stand than themselves. Polite lation which is inventing new ways to funeral that people remember, nor conversations were struck up, effortcelebrate a life, remember a unique lessly crossing lines of age, race and loved one and mark their passing. Lynne Dawson’s excellent class. It was a proud moment for In making the life of the deceased rendition of Verdi’s Requiem, nor Londoners, showing us how, somemeaningful, they make the life of the deceased matter. Secular humanist even the pithy speech given by her times, good things can proceed from bad. This reflective good humour funerals are uniquely empowering in brother, Earl Spencer, but Elton was also reprised, in 2002, during the this way (although Quaker funerals Queen Mother’s lying in state, and those of some other progressive John’s re-worked Candle In The Wind late when many thousands of us queued churches and synagogues, also come for hours in unseasonably cold Eastclose, to be fair). Increasingly, peo– schmaltzy and lyrically clumsy, er weather to pay our respects. ple will no longer tolerate the lives Diana’s funeral, of course, was of their deceased loved ones being though it was. What was meaningful, necessarily religious and she was a “stolen” and transmuted by remote for most people, was the most woman of gentle Anglican faith. religious authorities, simply in order secular contribution, delivered by However, her legacy, particularly in to provide grist to the ecclesiastical way she had helped de-stigmatise mill. the world’s most famous gay man. the AIDS & HIV, effectively dismantling So what has led people to feel so all the “AIDS is divine punishment” twaddle, empowered, so able to challenge the religious a dim and distant memory and he died after uncritically peddled by many religionists durappropriation of our deaths, which only a living a full life, in any case. Things are rather ing the 1980s, meant that a religious service few decades ago would have seemed imposdifferent in America, of course, where Elvis alone could not encompass her achievements, sible, or even in poor taste? Part of this, is no Presley’s premature death in 1977 and the asor what she had come to represent in the doubt because the generation that is planning sassinations of the Kennedys were truly morealm of the symbolic. It is not the prayers its funerals now, is more sophisticated, more mentous events, sutured into the very fabric at Diana’s funeral that people remember, individual and less deferential than their parof American life. By the time of Michael nor Lynne Dawson’s excellent rendition of ents’ generation. Consequently, they are less Jackson’s death, of course, there was a tried Verdi’s Requiem, nor even the pithy speech likely to specify the “default” one-size-fits-all and tested media formula for such events, a given by her brother, Earl Spencer, but ceremony followed by most churches, and formula shaped by President Kennedy’s asElton John’s re-worked Candle In The Wind – more likely to stage an individually tailored, sassination in 1963, Elvis Presley’s death in schmaltzy and lyrically clumsy, though it was. celebratory ceremony – without any of the 1977, but mainly Princess Diana’s death in What was meaningful, for most people, was usual religious trappings. I believe this has 1997 and the Freddie Mercury tribute conthe most secular contribution, delivered by come about through a shift in patterns of cert five years earlier. the world’s most famous gay man. public grieving and respect, one in which gay In the last couple of years before her death, The challenge for secular and non-religious people have played a significant part. But Diana had won almost universal admiration people, though, is how we respond to this refirst, let us return for a moment, to Princess and respect for the pioneering humanitarian emergence of public mourning in the “inforDiana’s funeral. work she undertook, particularly against land mation age” of global communications. If Back in 1997, public displays of anything, mines and on behalf of people with HIV & you doubt that this re-emergence of public beyond the beery disappointment of the AIDS (to the evident irritation of the Queen, Continued on p14 England cup squad failing to achieve anywho asked why Diana couldn’t limit herself
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Death is still big ... mourning and remembrance is happening, just consider how the death of eight young Manchester United footballers – the so-called “Busby Babes” – in the Munich plane crash of 1958, was actually marked by more people on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 2008, than it was at the time, thanks to the recent globalisation of both the media, the internet and the legendary “brand” of Manchester United Football Club Plc. In recent years, many of our war memorials have been restored after decades of neglect, with renewed appreciation of the sacrifices made in the Great War and WW2 (the recent spate of metal plaque thefts from war memorials has outraged local communities in a way inconceivable just twenty years ago). Posthumous honouring of the dead has become fashionable again, resulting in pardons for Great War soldiers executed for cowardice and desertion at the front almost a century ago, as well as a so far unsuccessful campaign to have Alan Turing, the war-time codebreaker and father of modern computing, posthumously pardoned for the gross indecency conviction that ultimately led to his chemical castration and probable suicide in 1954. The initial public indifference to our soldier heroes fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, has latterly been overtaken by genuine appreciation for their efforts, most notably, via the spontaneous turn-outs to applaud dead war heroes flown back and repatriated via Wootton Bassett, now elevated to Royal Wootton Bassett, in recognition of the village’s role in appreciating our contemporary war dead. Everyone, from branches of the W. I. to motorcycle clubs have turned out in force to pay tribute to these military corteges (disappointingly, the National Secular Society (NSS) and British Humanist Association (BHA) never have – nor have they seen fit to include an online donation button to the Help for Heroes charity on their websites, in spite of British soldiers having fallen whilst fighting Muslim insurgents). In an increasingly de facto secular society, such as ours, what is remarkable is the way that so many people, particularly young people, feel the need to participate in these public grieving rituals, not least, for those of their peers in the Armed Forces, or who die in boy-racer car crashes, or fall prey to knife
Princess Diana crime. This cuts right across the prevailing trends of rampant individualism and the kind of “privatisation” epitomised by drinking at home, rather than at the pub, online shopping and dating, or watching films on your home cinema system, rather than at the local Odeon (if, indeed, your local Odeon still exists). In addition to the inevitable Facebook pages, vigils, remembrance marches and those sad little road-side “shrines” are more popular than ever, with charities set up in the names of the dearly departed, charity CD singles and downloads hastily released, and wakes organised to collectively celebrate the deceased’s life. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us, that during a time of emotional pain and disorientation, people need to reach out and connect with other people to find meaning and comfort and even renewed purpose in their own lives. This was central to the idea of “community” until relatively recently, but as society has turned inward and atomised, it seems that people do still need public expressions of grief, solidarity and respect following the death of a loved one. What may be more surprising, is the way that these expressions are often spontaneous, as was the case in Wootton Bassett, or outside Liverpool Football Club following the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, and the way that they circumvent the official religious channels – at least initially. Death remains a big part of all our lives – it’s the religion that got small. Organised religion seems no longer able to process death, sufficiently, for large swathes of the population. The role of gay people in changing modern attitudes and approaches to death and mourning, within the secular movement and
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beyond, has been central because of our experiences of AIDS and HIV. Like many others, I am of the generation which “came out” one minute, only to face the fast-forward button on our own mortality and that of our friends, the next. Some friends did not survive, others thankfully do, with combination drug therapies. International AIDS Day on December 1st each year, with the iconic red ribbon motif, has not only become globally established as a way of raising awareness, funding and political action, but has provided the template for other, similar causes, like breast cancer awareness. The Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in 1992, pushed gay popstars and gay icons like Liz Taylor centre stage once more, transforming the rather sad and closeted circumstances of Mercury’s death into a beacon of public awareness about the need to tackle AIDS stigma and the homophobia and racism underlying much of it. This was a powerful, secular, global statement - only momentarily marred by David Bowie crashing to his knees on stage to recite the Lord’s Prayer. The AIDS crisis – and it was a crisis back in the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s – meant that a generation of gay men had to grow up fast and deal with fundamental issues, not just of sexual health and dying, but ancillary issues like the lack of kinship rights. In the days before civil partnerships, inheriting your partner’s property, or share in your jointlyowned home or rented council house, was by no means straight forward. Even visiting a sick partner in hospital was fraught with the possibility that access could, in theory, be denied – although it usually wasn’t, in practice. The family of the deceased could, if they wanted, exclude the surviving partner from participation in the funeral and sometimes did so. The fear that AIDS brought in its wake also led to widespread latent homophobia becoming manifest. On a positive note, the AIDS crisis galvanised the LGBT community into action, both practical, in terms of care, and political, in terms of action. The creativity and wit, for which - at its best - the gay community is known, brought some much needed humanity and inspiration to the proceedings.
One recurring complaint, in the early days, pressing their feelings. Even if they eschewed displayed in full at the same location in 1996. was that funeral directors and religious officiactual hymns, prayers and religious leaders, Epic, yet intimate; dignified, yet celebratory; ants seemed to want to dispose of the bodthere were the inevitable candle-lit vigils, individual yet all-inclusive, it has real power ies of deceased gay men with indecent haste, one-minute silences, cruciform floral wreaths to engage and move you. although this might just have been an early and so on. Diana, herself, was at serious risk Since 1985, AIDS quilts have been started realisation that, regardless of who is in the of beatification. All of this sits uncomfortin 40 different countries and the quilt idea coffin, religious ceremonies have little to do ably with anyone who is a casual atheist, let has also been appropriated by those rememwith the deceased, once the clerics have got alone a committed one. bering soldier heroes who lost their lives in their hands on them. For public remembrances and mournIraq, as well as the victims of those who died In response, gay funerals started to became ing, which all too often get hijacked by the in the Islamist attacks of 9/11. The quilts tailored to reflect the deceased’s personality religious and quasi-religious, the gay comcelebrate humanity; its diversity, its tragedy and aspirations; stylish, poignant, witty, even munity’s response to AIDS pointed the way and its desire to heal with love. This imagiflamboyant, with secular music, readings and forward for secular, non-religious people. native response to the short-comings of rehumorous reminiscences taking centre stage. The AIDS quilt was a stroke of genius. A ligion and the corporate funeral industry is Humanist funeral ceremonies provided the quilt is not a religious symbol, yet it is ubiqsomething the gay community can genuinely perfect template and a natural forum for this, uitous and individual at the same time. Many be proud of. Alas, such imagination isn’t albut these have had a knock-on effect, helpof those who succumbed to AIDS will have ways so much in evidence. ing to change the character of many religious contracted the virus in bed, beneath a quilt, In July 2005, shortly after the July 7th ceremonies too - to the evident annoyance and ended their lives in bed, beneath another bombings, I found myself in Kings Cross of Father Ed Tomlinson and his dour Judgequilt, perhaps even the same quilt. Each quilt, and took a walk around the makeshift pubment Day ilk. decorated with pictures and words unique to lic memorial garden that had sprung up outThis gay achievement is subtly acknowlthe individual remembered, then sewn into a side the station. Inevitably, this had taken the edged in the funeral scene in the 1994 film single giant patchwork quilt, makes the many form of numerous “shrines” with all manner Four Weddings and a Funeral, now the blueAIDS quilts now in existence very moving, of religious sentiment and paraphernalia, as print for many a gay funeral, when Matthew eloquent and above all, secular public memopeople from all backgrounds, wanting to pay (John Hannah), the surviving partner their respects, groped for something For public remembrances and mourning, of Gareth (Simon Callow), reads W with enough meaning and resonance H Auden’s poem Funeral Blues. In to express how they felt. Hence the which all too often get hijacked by the a less elevated way, it is also recogusual religious clutter bearing imnised in the 1999 TV drama, Queer ages of Jesus, the Pope, Ganesh and religious and quasi-religious, the gay as Folk, when Vince (Craig Kelly), Buddha, as well as candles, crucifixgiving the valedictory address for community’s response to AIDS pointed the es, prayer beads, New Age crystals his friend Phil (Jason Merrells), who and so on. dies after snorting heroin mistaking way forward for secular, non-religious people The curse of multiculturalism it for cocaine, uses the seemingly was also much in evidence, with throw-away lyrics from the Ottowan dance rials, in which all can participate, including one Union Flag emblazoned with the words record D.I.S.C.O. to ironically illuminate the those with a religious faith. “Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jew – London deceased’s character: D – she’s delirious, I – she’s The idea for the NAMES Project MemoUnited” (what, no Atheists?). Evidently, the incredible, S – she’s superficial, C – she’s crazy-crazy, rial Quilt was conceived in 1985 by AIDS irony that it was religion that had caused four O - Oh!-Oh! Oh!-Oh! activist Cleve Jones during the candlelight Muslim hot-heads to detonate their chapatiIn a process that cultural critics call brimarch, in remembrance of the 1978 assasbombs on three Tube trains and the Number colage, gay men have always appropriated sinations of San Francisco Supervisor Har30 bus in Tavistock Square, was completely media texts in this way, rearranging them vey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. For lost on these well-meaning, if inept, mournand bringing new meanings to them to find the march, Jones asked people to write the ers. As far as I could see, not a single athehumour in, and make sense of, their marginnames of loved ones that were lost to AIDSist or secular contribution was present. Why alised situation (Hollywood films are perhaps related illnesses on signs that would be taped not? Surely, the NSS or BHA had prepared the richest source of material for this proto the San Francisco Federal Building. All for such an eventuality and could stretch to cess). These creative interpretations and the the signs taped to the building looked like an a wreath? But apparently not. In despair, spirited individualism that underpins them, enormous patchwork quilt and it is this that I bought some card and a marker pen from have increasingly become the modus operandi provided Jones with the inspiration. the station’s WH Smith’s kiosk and wrote for both gay and straight funeral ceremonies. At that time, many people who died of out a few lines from John Lennon’s secular It is, of course, actively encouraged by huAIDS-related illnesses did not receive funer“hymn” that seemed suddenly apposite: Imagmanist celebrants arranging and conducting als, due to both the social stigma of AIDS ine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing funeral ceremonies for their clients – and felt by surviving family members and the to kill or die for. And no religion too. rightly so. outright refusal by many funeral homes Bricolage is alive and well. In spite of Yet, in spite of all this, secular humanists and cemeteries to handle the deceased’s rethe Father Ed Tomlinsons of this world, have been remarkably slow to recognise this mains (for a shocking account of the notolet’s continue to use it, in order to prevent as one of their strongest cards, in terms of rious American funeral home industry, still ourselves becoming grist to the religious introducing our ideas to a wider audience. pertinent today, read Jessica Mitford’s The mill, and instead, bring some genuine dignity, What was striking about the tributes outside American Way of Death). Lacking a memorial thought and meaning to our own demise and of Kensington Palace when Princess Diana service or grave site, the Quilt was often the that of the people we love and care about died, was their creativity, yet in groping their only opportunity survivors had to remember most. way through the shock, upset and sadness, and celebrate their loved ones’ lives. The • For information from the BHA on findpeople were still falling back on religious first showing of the Quilt was in 1987 at the ing a humanist celebrant, click on this symbols and paraphernalia as a means of exNational Mall in Washington DC; it was last link.
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Unburying the evidence (Continued from page 7) the process solved one of the great outstanding questions of mathematics – the so-called Entscheidungsproblem (“decision problem”) posed by the leading German mathematician David Hilbert in 1928. Far less evident to most of Alan Turing’s contemporaries was his sexual orientation, but Andrew Hodges has succeeded in unburying evidence of it in every chapter of his life from his mid-teens onwards. Alan had secretly fallen in love with Christopher Morcom, a fellow pupil at Sherborne School, and was building a friendship with him when Christopher suddenly died at the age of 18 from the latent effects of childhood tuberculosis contracted from infected milk. In Andrew Hodges’ view, the trauma of Christopher’s death was pivotal to Alan’s subsequent development. Over the following years he thought deeply about questions of free will and determinism, body and spirit. On a visit to the Morcom family home, the Clock House at Fockbury in Worcestershire, he wrote a short essay on “The Nature of Spirit” in which it is clear that he still believed in spirits capable of existing independently of bodies. Perhaps he was imbued with the spirit of another notable gay atheist, A E Housman, who had lived for a time in the same house (then known as Fockbury House) over half a century earlier, because by 1936 “He would soon emerge as a forceful exponent of the materialist view and identify himself as an atheist. Christopher Morcom had died a second death and Computable Numbers marked his passing.” Alan Turing’s independence and disdain for social convention did not always work to his advantage. In his post-war work on the ACE computer project at the National Physical Laboratory he was full of vision but frustrated by his inability to manipulate the bureaucratic system to achieve the results he wanted. In the end, it seems that a combination of honesty and social naivety contributed to his downfall. When detectives turned up at his home in Wilmslow one day in February 1952 to question him about having had sex with a friend in the privacy of his own home, honesty was hardly a sensible option in all the circumstances (see Rex Batten’s article A Pest To Society, G&LH, Winter 2003-2004). But he told them everything and suffered the consequences. The connection, if any, between his death in June 1954 and his sexuality remains an enigma. Alan Turing: the Enigma is not merely a de-
A plaque commemorating Turing in Cambridge tailed factual biography, but an interpretation of Alan Turing’s life in the context of the particular society and environment in which he lived. In addition, Andrew Hodges has permitted himself a few liberties: each chapter is headed by an epigraph taken from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and the main text is occasionally interwoven with allegorical strands based on works such as Back to Methuselah, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Wizard of Oz, and above all Through the Looking Glass. Intriguingly, in all this, Alan Turing is cast in the role of the innocent girl: Dorothy, Alice, and ultimately Snow White biting
on the poisoned apple. For some years now, the Alan Turing website has provided what is in effect an online supplement to the book in the form of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook, which now runs to some 30 web pages. More recently, Andrew Hodges has introduced two further sections to the site. One is a series of more formal corrections and updates to the text of the book itself. The other is a selection of edited extracts from the book – currently three of them with an intention to increase the number to 16. Read here about Christopher Morcom, for example.
No pardon for a hero IN THE centenary year of his birth, Alan Turing has been denied a formal pardon by the government of Prime Minister David Cameron for his conviction in 1952 on charges of homosexuality, then a criminal offence in Britain. An e-mail petition for a pardon for Turing, who committed suicide by eating a cyanide-laced apple in 1954, when he was 41, drew worldwide support from scientists and others. But Tom McNally, a Minister of State for Justice, told the House of Lords that the Cameron government stood by the decision of previous governments not to grant a pardon for Turing’s conviction for gross indecency. McNally noted that the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, had issued “an unequivocal a posthumous apology” to Turing in 2009, but he said that Turing “would have known” that he was committing an offence under the law as it stood at the time.
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