Robert Hampton

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8th January 2014

Greatest Hitz
Posted by at 8.37pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

The English Premier League almost got an openly gay footballer today. Unfortunately, newly out of the closet Thomas Hitzlsperger – who has played for Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton, as well as representing the German national team – retired from the game in August 2013.

Still, Hitzlsperger’s announcement, in the German newspaper Die Zeit, was a welcome surprise. He said he wants to “advance the discussion about pro athletes being gay”:

He said homosexuality was mostly “simply ignored” in professional football, as many players refused to talk about the topic. Certainly, no other German footballer of his caliber has ever spoken so openly about being gay.

The comments have predictably caused a minor frenzy in the press, with tabloids and broadsheets alike leaping to cover the story, as well as the Liverpool Echo and TV outlets like the BBC, CNN and Sky Sports News. As with Tom Daley last month, a sportsman coming out is still big news, but the time will come when it genuinely is a non-issue. Personally, I’m more fascinated by the fact, revealed on his Wikipedia page, that he speaks English with “an unusual Brummie-German hybrid accent”.

The footballing world still doesn’t seem to quite know how to deal with the gay footballers issue. The FA, never particularly brilliant on diversity issues at the best of times, recently managed to appoint a man who thinks homosexuality is “detestable” to their equality board. Meanwhile, we are all looking forward to the 2022 World Cup, to be held in a country where Hitzlsperger (and Anton Hysén, and Robbie Rogers, and me) would face up to three years in jail. Hopefully, Hitzlsperger’s announcement will help to focus minds on the issue.

Generally, however, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with the great and the good and Joey Barton of the footballing world taking to Twitter to express their support.

Saying something nice on Twitter is totally different from the bantz-filled dressing room, but I hope other closeted footballers (we know they’re out there) will be encouraged by the response.

I do have one regret over this whole thing; one which my friend Scott shares:

But that’s a minor quibble. Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Herr Hitzlsperger!

5th January 2014

2013 was a big year for…

Matt Jarvis on the cover of AttitudeGAYS! West Ham footballer Matt Jarvis graced the cover of Attitude in just his pants, because homophobia or something. The usually soppy liberal Observer newspaper got itself embroiled in a transphobia row after a Julie Burchill column caused a Twitter storm.

The big news story of the year was, of course, the UK’s same-sex marriage bill. My old Religious Studies teacher (now MP for Southport) declared that he was voting against it. Despite massive controversy and attempts by rebel MPs to derail it, the bill received Royal Assent in July. I like to think it was my vlog on the subject that swung it.

The UK was behind the curve in many ways, as progress was being made around the world. New Zealand legalised gay marriage in April, an event celebrated by an impromptu outbreak of singing. America, as usual, was slow on the uptake, but a big Supreme Court decision in July was a landmark moment, paving the way for future victories.

Elsewhere, however, gay rights were being rolled back. In Russia, a wrestling coach blamed the lack of wrestling at the Olympics on a gay conspiracy. That was amusing to western ears; less funny was the law against “gay propaganda”, which was enacted amidst a wave of anti-gay violence.

On a more positive note, the events in Russia spurred Wentworth Miller into coming out. In fact, it was a notable year for coming out events: Young Apprentice candidate Harry Hitchens came out via YouTube video. Ben Whishaw confirmed tabloid rumours that he was in a civil partnership. And then there was Tom Daley.

Alan Turing was pardoned for his homosexuality convictions, but where was the sympathy for the thousands of other men who were similarly persecuted?

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2nd December 2013

Posted by at 8.33pm | Gay, In the News | 2 responses

A few years ago, when I was finally inching out of the closet, I thought about making an announcement in video form. A short, three minute video. I got as far as writing the script (no, I’m not letting you see it) before I had second thoughts. I concluded – correctly, as it turned out – that my sexuality was No Big Deal to my family and friends, and making a video would have added a whole other level of unnecessary drama.

On the other hand, when British sporting hero and all round good egg Tom Daley makes a coming out video, it is a very big deal:

It’s a remarkably honest and straightforward video; I just hope that Daley made it because he wanted to, rather than his hand being forced by some shitty tabloid about to break the story.

Within minutes of the news breaking, Twitter was awash with people declaring that they knew all along, it was so obvious, etc. I was disappointed at some of the catty comments, many of which came from other gay people. Even if “everyone knows”, to acknowledge it publicly is a big, brave step to take. Bravo to him.

George Alagiah, on the Six O’Clock News, asked, “is it a big deal?” Well, if you’re asking the question on the BBC’s main national newscast, I’m going to guess that yes, it is a big deal. I agree with Owen Jones, who believes the day will come when sexuality is a non-issue, but until then any public figure coming out is always going to be newsworthy, even if Daily Telegraph commenters disagree.

There’s a lot of news articles using the word ‘bisexual’. Daley himself is careful to avoid any labels – he simply states, matter of factly, that he’s in a relationship with a man, but also that he still fancies girls. The lack of a definitive identity is probably going to disappoint some people, but give the guy a break – he’s 19, and a lot of people are still figuring things out at that age. For every gay guy who confidently pronounces that he knew he was gay when he was 5 years old, there are others, like me, who didn’t work things out until their early twenties. Certainly, when I was Daley’s age, I didn’t have any words – except, maybe, ‘confused’ – with which to label myself. As Jake Basford of So So Gay points out, nobody but Daley himself can choose which category – gay, bi, straight, other – he falls into.

Ideally, Daley would be left alone to work out these things for himself in the fullness of time. Unfortunately, he will probably find himself under intense media scrutiny. He was already on a pedestal thanks to his diving prowess, but now he is now being lined up as the latest role model for LGBT people in sport. There’s probably already a queue of journalists waiting to ask him what he thinks about Sochi 2014.

Daley will be under a lot of pressure, but this is a guy who competed in the Olympics at the age of 13. If he can cope with that, I’m sure he’ll cope with this. If the above video is any indication, he has the maturity and strength to handle whatever gets thrown at him. Well done that man.

23rd August 2013

Miller Time
Posted by at 7.44pm | Gay | No responses

Wentworth Miller, star of Prison Break, is the latest public figure to declare that he’s gay. Rumours and gossip had swirled about for ages, heightened by paparazzi photos of him “hanging out” with a fellow actor. Speculation was so rife that in 2007 Miller issued a public denial that he was gay. It’s a shame that he felt the need to do that, but his belated U-turn is welcome.

His decision to open up about his sexuality was motivated, at least in part, by the current situation in Russia. He outed himself in an open letter to an invitation from the organisers of the St Petersburg Film Festival:-

Thank you for your kind invitation. As someone who has enjoyed visiting Russia in the past and can also claim a degree of Russian ancestry, it would make me happy to say yes.

However, as a gay man, I must decline.

I am deeply troubled by the current attitude toward and treatment of gay men and women by the Russian government. The situation is in no way acceptable, and I cannot in good conscience participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly.

Perhaps, when and if circumstances improve, I’ll be free to make a different choice.

It would be deliciously ironic if Russia’s anti-gay policies resulted in more people coming out publicly like this.

Miller’s announcement comes just a few weeks after another actor, Ben “Should have been the 12th Doctor” Whishaw, confirmed that he is gay (and in a civil partnership!). It’s great that an increasing number of high profile celebrities feel secure enough to live their lives openly.

4th August 2013

That time of year again
Posted by at 1.08pm | Gay, Liverpool | No responses

Liverpool Pride screenI have to admit I was worried about Liverpool Pride this year. First there was the announcement of a new security policy, whereby the festival site would be fenced off, with guards posted at the entrances to ensure no alcoholic drinks were taken in. It all sounded a bit draconian.

Then my usual partners in crime – Scott, Dave and Andrew – all backed out of attending for one reason or another.

Still, I decided to go anyway, and it turned out absolutely fine. Rather than take part in the march, as I have done in previous years, I picked a vantage point in Queen Square and let the march go past me. When I arrived at the main festival site at the Pier Head, the security personnel were friendly and easygoing. Well, they were for me, at least – I did see someone being summarily ejected from the area, presumably because he was causing trouble.

Northern Rail penI gave the Stanley Street area a miss – I had memories of previous years when I have been squished into The Lisbon with barely enough space to breathe, let alone reach the bar. Also, it was a lovely sunny day, so better to stay outdoors where it was warm and there was plenty of space.

The atmosphere was friendly and jolly. I saw people of all ages, gay and straight, all mingling together happily. There were some frankly amazing costumes on display as well.

The performances on the main stage at the Pier Head were quite good, with enjoyable sets from the cast of Rent in Concert, Kameelion and Sam Callahan. I didn’t stick around for what must surely have been the highlight of the day – Black Lace – in fact I found myself heading home at around 5pm because I am old and feeble and felt tired.

It was an enjoyable day all round, and best of all, I got a free pen from the Northern Rail stand. Result!

More pictures from the march below. As usual it was led by the Michael Causer Foundation, with participants from unions, student groups, political parties, gay organisations and… er, Nando’s.

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28th July 2013

From Russia Without Love
Posted by at 11.14pm | Gay, In the News | 1 response

The Russian Parliament has recently passed a law banning gay ‘propaganda’. Think of it as their version of Section 28, if Section 28 were terrifying. Recently, some Dutch filmmakers were among the first to fall foul of the law – they were jailed for 14 days and deported.

Terrible reports have emerged of gay teenagers being tortured in videos posted online by anti-gay groups. Scary stuff.

The Winter Olympics will be held in Russia next year. There have been calls to boycott the Games (including an ePetition on the UK Government website). There’s no need to worry, however – The International Olympic Committee has taken care of it:-

In a statement, the IOC said: “The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.

So that’s OK then.

Some gay rights groups are also trying to organise a boycott of Russian vodka. It remains to be seen how effective this will be.

It’s a sad reminder that, while the LGBT community here is celebrating equal marriage becoming law, life for gay people elsewhere is often far from rosy.

18th July 2013

La Reyne le veult
Posted by at 11.27pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Rainbow flag fluttering in sunlight50 years ago, homosexuality was illegal. In an amazing turnaround, by the middle of next year, gay relationships will be on an (almost) equal footing to heterosexual ones, as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 is now the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, after Royal Assent was received on Wednesday afternoon.

I’ll be honest – there were times when I didn’t think it would happen. From the minute the plans were announced back in 2011, a formidable campaign against same-sex marriage was launched, unleashing old-school attitudes and opinions that I naively thought had disappeared from public discourse. Certain sections of society are not nearly as tolerant and accepting as we thought they were.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland (or, as he is now known, the disgraced former leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland), Cardinal Keith O’Brien, launched an astonishing diatribe, describing same-sex marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. The Telegraph and the Daily Mail were vociferous in their opposition.

The Coalition for Marriage – which described itself as a “grass roots” campaign despite being launched by luminaries such as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and reality TV star Anne Widdecombe – set up a petition which, at the time of writing, has a rather pleasing 666,493 signatures. The Government’s own consultation ignored the organised petitions and form letter campaigns, but still revealed widespread opposition.

The cynical view was that this bill was David Cameron’s attempt to “modernise” the Tory party image. If that was his goal, it failed – more Conservative MPs voted against the bill than for it, and Tory MPs have been the most vociferous in their criticism of the bill. Political commentators talked of divisions in the Tory party and rumours swirled of leadership challenges to the Prime Minister. The very real lives and loves of LGBT people were rather lost amongst all the punditry.

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12th July 2013

Gay (meaning happy)
Posted by at 10.39pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Amazing scenes in America recently, as the Supreme Court handed down two great pro-gay rulings. Not only did it strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited legally married gay couples from accessing federal marriage benefits, it also overturned Proposition 8, a nasty piece of legislation which banned same-sex marriage in California.

There has been lots of debate about the merits of the decisions, but ultimately this is about simple human rights. Same-sex relationships are just as valid – just as loving and tender and imperfect and tumultuous – as heterosexual ones, and should be recognised as such.

It’s about people’s happiness, and so I think the video below says it all perfectly.

This is far from the end of the road for marriage equality in the US. Same-sex marriage is only legal in 13 states, while many more have placed laws on the statute books explicity banning it. However, the momentum is now definitely with the pro-gay side, with a majority of people now in favour.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, legislation to enact same-sex marriages across England and Wales is tantalisingly close to becoming reality. Despite the best attempts of opponents to derail it, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will reach its third and final reading in the House of Lords on Monday, the penultimate stage on the long road to Royal Assent.

Progress of Marriage Bill

Similar legislation is about to be introduced in Scotland. This beautiful video from Scotland’s Equality Network shows that It’s Time:

17th April 2013

Woo! Zealand
Posted by at 8.13pm | Gay | No responses

Amazing scenes in New Zealand’s Parliament, which voted to legalise same-sex marriage today, with marriages becoming legal within the next four months. New Zealand is the 13th country to legalise same-sex marriage.

Maurice Williamson, an MP for the centre-right National Party, gave a brilliant, humorous speech in support of marriage equality:

The truly amazing scene though, came after the result of the vote was announced:

They started SINGING.

30th March 2013

Couldn’t Carey Less
Posted by at 11.47am | Gay, Politics | No responses

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, a Christian festival, and the law says that all shops over 280 square metres must close or face fines. When kids return to school after the Easter holiday, most will sit through a regular act of collective worship, which the school is obliged to provide under the law. In the House of Lords sit 26 “Lords Spiritual” – Church of England bishops who can take part in debates and vote, simply by virtue of being a Church leader. Last year, when a court ruled that a council could not hold prayers before meetings, Eric Pickles rushed through legislation to reverse that decision.

Given all the above, it’s a bit surprising to hear the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, whining about an agenda of ‘aggressive secularisation’ that the coalition government is supposedly pursuing. He says that Christians are ‘persecuted’ and ‘marginalised’.

Yes, Christian viewpoints are marginalised. That’s why Lord Carey’s opinion piece only appeared on the front page of the Daily Mail, and was obediently picked up by the BBC who had it as the second headline on their web site and radio news bulletins all morning.

It’s not even the first time the Archbishop has said this; he made very similar comments just over a year ago. But what is it that’s got him all fired up this time? You’ll never guess… (Daily Mail link)

As David Cameron knows, I am very suspicious that behind the plans to change the nature of marriage, which come before the House of Lords soon, there lurks an aggressive secularist and relativist approach towards an institution that has glued society together for time immemorial.

By dividing marriage into religious and civil the Government threatens the church and state link which they purport to support. But they also threaten to empty marriage of its fundamental religious and civic meaning as an institution orientated towards the upbringing of children.

Yep, it’s the gays and their insidious plan to get married and be happy, which will RUIN every single heterosexual marriage that has ever existed.

It’s amazing that Lord Carey can cite same-sex marriage as evidence of the Government’s secularist agenda. The same-sex marriage bill contains numerous, well-documented contrivances to “protect” the Church of England from those nasty godless gays. The Church of England (and other religious organisations) are not forced to conduct marriages, not forced to approve of them, not forced to participate in them in any way.

Yet again, the Church is banging on about gay rights while other areas, which you would think would be more of a target for Christian love, are completely ignored. Polly Toynbee in Thursday’s Guardian wrote about the savage benefit cuts which start to be phased in from Easter Monday. They will leave many of the most vulnerable people in society much worse off and force a significant chunk of the population into a downward spiral of poverty and misery. Why is the Church not speaking out about that?

If the Church of England is marginalised, it is not because of any aggressive secular agenda, but simply because the Church, its leaders and spokesmen, are completely out of touch with modern life.