Archive for category Politics

A Question of Sport

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Prime Minister’s reception for the LGBT sports community at Downing Street. The event was held to promote the Government’s charter against homophobia and transphobia in sport and was attended by ‘famous and gay’ athletes such as Billie Jean King and Gareth Thomas, along with a few ‘famous and gay’ non-athletes such as David Furnish and a sprinkling of Hollyoaks actors. In between the champagne and frantic networking, there was a enough time for a quiet moment of reflection; regardless of one’s personal politics, here was an official event crammed full of athletes, charity representatives, artists and politicians who were taking seriously (or at least pretending to) the Prime Minister’s speech emphasising his belief in eradicating homophobia. Had these words been uttered at Downing St twenty years ago they would’ve been greeted with nothing but sneering disdain. We operate in a different political world in 2011 and as a charity, our focus is not on which party holds the reins but on promoting positive dialogue with any group who will engage with us on eliminating discrimination and bullying.

There have been questions raised regarding the current administrations’s focus on sport. Is homophobia on the playing field really as bad as it’s made out to be? Surely people can just get on and play sport together without the need for gay-only teams or international events such as the Gay Games – doesn’t this labelling simply marginalise the LGBT community further? Certainly if there were NO homophobia, and sexual orientation was considered as relevant as hair colour when welcoming somebody onto a team, I would concur. However, for heterosexual men at least, sport involves more bodily contact and post-match nakedness than any other arena provides. Therefore there is an opportunity to enjoy what is quite natural sporting comradery, but without a good deal of self-awareness many men still dutifully prove their heterosexuality by making homophobic jokes, aka ‘boys banter’. This is hardly an environment in which an openly gay man is going to willingly place himself in his spare time; for some, avoidance of personal discussions at work is difficult enough and ‘hey lads, dont drop the soap!’ wears thin a nano-second after its first utterance.

And there are totally different rules at play for women. While there is still homophobia in women’s sport (I recall a male coach jeering at two young players who greeted each other with a hug: ‘that’s illegal in 48 states’), sexism is a far greater problem. Women don’t have the same recognition as men which means they don’t have access to the same financial support, training opportunities, coaching or facilities. A closeted women’s coach once told me that her battle was simply being a woman in a man’s world, fighting for her players’ recognition and enabling them to play their international matches on a quality pitch. She didn’t feel she could possibly be out as she would instantly lose the respect she’d fought so hard to earn. And I understand that. Women’s sport is perceived to be full of lesbians and for cultural and historical reasons, it is indeed a place that many lesbians are drawn to. But it just doesn’t matter. Having a social game of squash, doing your best to remain at the top of the premier division in your chosen sport or doing a fun run with a group of friends – none of these activities should be even remotely relevant to the sex of a team mate’s partner. And if that boring stigma remains about showering with gay people; firstly, I was always too exhausted and frankly disinterested to study the bruised anatomy of others after a match. Secondly, even if you do find a team mate attractive, you make damned sure your eyes are glued to your feet at shower time to avoid looking like a big gay perv!

Our business at DRM lies with eliminating gender and sexuality based bullying from schools. Having a physical education background leads me to believe that sport is an ideal vehicle to transmit a message of acceptance and to discourage bullying. The ‘kick it out‘ campaign is a perfect example of how sport changes attitudes. Students with the most challenging behaviour and highest incidents of bullying were often the boisterous, energetic boys who loved escaping the classroom and having a football dropped at their feet. The same young men respond to the actions and words of their sporting role models, whether they be a Physical Education teacher or a high profile footballer. All it takes is an influx of PE teachers who have been taught how to challenge homophobia and gender based slurs, along with some high profile straight allies such as Ben Cohen, and the road to acceptance will be far shorter. We welcome the opportunity to deliver our workshops though the medium of Physical Education, although our message would be more impactive if national governing bodies of sport followed the lead of rugby league in terms of diversity awareness. Islington Football Development have recently approached us to conduct training with their young coaches around the new government charter and how to respond to casual homophobia when they work in schools. This is exactly how we can use a multi-agency approach to eliminating homophobia from the playgrounds and sports fields our young people frequent. The reception at Number 10 ended with some inspiring words which were a great endorsement for DRM: ‘Role models in sport are also needed to tackle bullying in schools, young people look to the stars they admire and if we don’t have enough positive role models then behaviour won’t change’.

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Padded Bras? Just Say No.

Last month Nadine Dorries had an abstinence bill passed which asks for all 13 -16 year old girls to be given additional sex education on how to ‘say no’. We’ve all been lying awake at night trying to figure out how we can teach only girls to say no to underage sex, when clearly sex involves girls AND boys. Surely Mrs Dorries isn’t suggesting that boys are just pistol-pocketed demons who seek only to de-flower our innocent, rosy-cheeked maidens – mute maidens, who have little or no ability to articulate the word ‘no’?  Can it be possible that in 2011, people are still encouraging the view that sexual desire is owned by men and that poor, sexless women are on a backwards treadmill, trying to avoid their lecherous and uncontrollable advances. That if only teenage girls would say ‘no’ to pressure to put out, learn to dress appropriately and make sure they’re home in their floral nightgowns by 9pm, those nasty boys wouldn’t be able to impregnate them.

Are we not feeding the monster by continuing to tell young women, worse still, telling young men, that this is the case? Shouldn’t we be trying to break these stereotypes down and show a little more respect for teenagers’ sexuality? Boys feel pressure to have sex too. They are continuously fed a media stream (and at times, blokey comments from Dads) which perpetuate the idea that they are the hunters and women are there to be gathered. Teenage boys have admitted that they lie about their conquests to prove their manhood. And under pressure to actually score that notch on their belt, many of them probably do pester girls to have sex before either of them are ready. But failing to address the issues that boys face and leaving the decisions in the girls’ court, simply applies double the pressure to young women and renders young men as nothing more than grunting neanderthals, incapable of responsibility.

Even worse, on Channel 5’s Vanessa show, Nadine Dorries uttered these clangers:

“If a stronger ‘just say no’ message was given to children in school then there might be an impact on sex abuse … if we imbued this message in school we’d probably have less sex abuse.”

This is one of the most dangerous sentiments I have heard espoused by a person with a political platform. The idea that a child should take some responsibility for the sexual invasion of an adult is just plain vulgar. I feel for the victims of abuse out there who may still be battling with their inner child on this issue; people spend many years in therapy trying to come to terms with this fallacy. And what message does it give the abuser who happened to be listening in that day? A total denial of responsibility.

While ‘sexualisation’ and ‘padded bras’ are the words of the week after the Bailey Review was published, we are still not discussing the real issues. While I agree that padded bras (to enhance cleavage) for 11 year olds are an obscenity  and I wouldn’t want my child watching inappropriately sexual music videos, simply removing them from the shelves/television does not stop young people from, for example, finding misogynistic pornography on the internet. A group of 13 year old boys told me that while they had received no sex education at school, they knew everything they needed to about sex because they watched porn. This scares me. And to further prove that we need to alter our approach to dealing with young people’s sexuality, a study just published in the States shows that LGBT youth are far more likely to indulge in risky behaviour or consider suicide. No surprises there. By all means, let’s make adult images and products less accessible to children but let’s also do the other half of the job. We need to talk to them; discuss sexuality, respect for one’s self and others, the benefits of delaying sexual relationships, gender stereotypes and the fact that shops sell padded bras for girls, but not padded jocks for boys. Young people have critical, developing minds. Nadine Dorries wants to empower young women by teaching them to say no. Let’s empower our girls and boys with facts, relationship skills and the ability to say no, or yes, when they are ready.

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No gays in Tennessee. Really?

So Tennessee have just passed their ridiculous and archaic ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill (http://nydn.us/mdYLIC), which bans the mention of anything other than heterosexuality in schools. Teachers are only allowed to talk about ‘natural human reproduction science’. The senate argue that homosexuality should be introduced by parents when they are ready to talk about it. Yeah right. My parents did pretty well to cover the basics of heterosexuality without any of us melting into a puddle of embarrassment on the floor, but homosexuality barely warranted a mention. They didn’t expect to have a gay child. Most parents don’t. And only the most liberal and comfortable will talk about LGBT issues with their children. Even they get a shock if one of their kids actually turns out to be one. I have a suspicion that Tennessee, as a state, hasn’t produced a generation of parents that will introduce the topic in a gentle and accepting manner.

Fifteen years ago, only 25% of Americans supported the right to marry for gays and lesbians. Just this month, latest statistics from CNN show that 53% are now ok with it (although that popular left wing response springs to mind; if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married). Tennessee, unsurprisingly, are the 6th least supportive state on a score of 31%. Even so, in amongst a backlash against some high profile LGBT youth suicides in the United States, the Tennessee senate still find it more important to preserve the delicate heterosexual sensibilities of their young, than to provide safety and education for those who are most at risk. This makes sense though, as Tennessee are the same state who, after a flurry of school shootings a couple of years ago, relaxed their laws to allow people to take their guns to the pub. You read that correctly, to the pub. Perhaps there is something we have yet to learn about the Tennessee government; maybe back in the day when the politicos were all fooling about at Politician School, doing lines (not written ones…) with George Dubya, the school board conspired to send the bottom 5th percentile to Tennessee. Apologies to any respectable politicians from this state, but I would suggest you get the hell out of there before they tar and feather you for using words like ‘progress’ and ‘social accountability’ in public.

Talking about the presence of LGBT people in society doesn’t stop us from existing. If this were the case, we would have been extinct centuries ago as it was the love that ‘dare not speak its name’. I’m not a big fan of cancer, but I reckon if we ban the word, it’s not going to slink off into the seedy underworld of disease with rejection in its eyes. Gay people have been around through all cultures and in all time; we ain’t goin’ nowhere. All that happens when you legislate against a natural characteristic, is a fallout that costs the state a lot of money; all this self harm,  inability-to-learn-at-school-due-to-bullying, homelessness, mental health issues – they cost money. Taxpayers’ money. So bottom 5th percentile, consider this, if you guide your communities towards being socially intelligent (probably an oxymoron for people who take their .38s down the boozer), empathetic and above all, respectful of human life, you might see a less aggressive society and save a couple of bucks while you’re at it.

And to Senator Stacey Campfield who pushed the bill through with such passion, congratulations Sir, your six year fight has paid off. The flip side, of course, is that pretty much the entire world is now wondering whether there is something slightly ‘latent’ about your passion. Never mind though, you’ve done your job. I’m pretty sure there will be no gays in Tennessee once the House passes it. Maybe we could ban the word ‘tax’ next?

If anyone wants to drop Senator Campfield a line to commend him on his foresight in clearing the state of tiresome gays, here is his email address:

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