Robert Hampton

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In the News

15th April 2014

96 – 25
Posted by at 10.07pm | In the News | No responses

There’s been only one thing on the minds of most people in Liverpool today – the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster. The memorial service was, as ever, a profoundly moving event.

At the inquest, “pen portraits” have been read out; moving personal testimonies from relatives of those who died. Click on over to the Liverpool Echo‘s web site to read the accounts from day four, day five, day six, day seven and day eight.

What comes across loud and clear is the sense of loss that is still keenly felt. Families lost brothers, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, sisters amidst chaos and confusion.

With the inquests just getting under way in Warrington, there is a new sense of hope for the families. They are ordinary people who have found themselves in an extraordinary situation, and they have handled it with immense dignity. I don’t know how they do it, but I am willing them to maintain that strength through to the end of the inquests when, hopefully, they will get the closure they have been denied for so long.

20th March 2014

Phelps, I need somebody
Posted by at 8.14pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps dies.

He was, of course, best known for picketing funerals of soldiers killed in action, with his trademark “GOD HATES FAGS” placard. His staunch belief was that any tragedy befalling America, such as 9/11, was “punishment” from on high for America’s tolerance of gay people.

The offence he caused was sufficient for some states to actually introduce laws to keep him and his followers away from funerals, and in 2009 he was banned from the UK. He paid personal costs, too – he was estranged from his son, Nathan, for many years.

Ultimately, most Americans, even those holding anti-gay views themselves, found his actions distasteful. I’m sure many people, who might have been sitting on the fence about the whole gay thing, were actually pushed into the pro-gay camp, simply to avoid being associated with his ideas in any way.

The temptation to gloat about his death must be huge for many people – there is, predictably, already a group on Facebook calling for people to picket his funeral. However, I’m finding hard to muster up much hate. I simply feel a mixture of sadness and pity at this man who wasted his life on such an obsession.

11th March 2014

As The Crow Flies
Posted by at 11.01pm | In the News | No responses

Shocking news today – the leader of the RMT Union, Bob Crow, has died. He was only 52.

Crow was a popular hate figure for commuters, the right-wing press and politicians. In disputes on the London Underground, he locked horns with both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. Arguably, he ran rings around both of them.

Unions are the big bogeymen for the right, what with their insistence on fair pay and conditions for workers and demands for basic human rights. Without their influence, we’d still be sending kids up chimneys. We need more union influence in everyday life, not less – especially now, as the Tories systematically strip away employment rights under the guise of “getting rid of red tape”.

I remember reading a blog comments thread discussing an impending Tube strike. One indignant commenter complained that Underground staff were far better paid than him, and if he didn’t turn up for work he’d get sacked, and it wasn’t fair. The response came from a member of railway staff: maybe if you had a union, you would have better conditions of employment.

It’s been a while since a rail strike inconvenienced me, so maybe I’m being more charitable than some other people would be, but I think, ultimately, Bob Crow was right on most issues. As we saw in the recent Underground ticket office dispute, Crow was never afraid to stand up and fight for what he believed in – a safe railway, run by staff who are treated well. Whoever succeeds him has some big shoes to fill.

18th February 2014

Posted by at 10.09pm | In the News, Liverpool | 1 response

The Liverpool Echo reports on farcical scenes at a meeting to sort out arrangements for the new “super-council” to govern the whole region. The new body will see the individual councils working together to develop the area for their mutual benefit.

However, they have fallen down at the first hurdle: choosing a name. The Liverpool contingent reportedly wanted something along the lines of “Liverpool City Region”, to take advantage of the name of the city famous for giving the world the Beatles, Ken Dodd and Brookside. However, some other members were reportedly not happy about this. Personally, I suspect the Sefton lot – the sort of people who still sniffily give their address as “Southport, Lancashire“.

Anyway, the Government has stepped in to separate the fighting children and come up with an excellent compromise. As the Echo reports:

So because the councils couldn’t all agree, Whitehall chiefs have stepped in and decided on the tongue-twisting title of the Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority.

That’s HKLSHSWCA for short. It rolls right off the tongue. WELL DONE EVERYONE.

This very much reminds me of the first episode of every series of The Apprentice, when the teams both squabble over what name to give themselves. The whole region comes out of this looking terrible – if people can’t agree on a name, what are the chances of them managing to do anything else?

I’m annoyed, because HKLSHSWCA was my wi-fi password (I chose it because it was easy to remember), and now I’ve had to change it. Also, “HKLSHSWCArail” is going to look terrible on the side of the region’s trains.

A plague on all their houses – the councillors from the Areas of Runcorn, Southport, Edge Hill, Otterspool, Litherland, Everton and Stoneycroft should hang their heads in shame.

All IMHO of course. E&OE.

7th February 2014

The Anger Games
Posted by at 1.15pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Tonight the Winter Olympics open in Sochi, Russia, but a lot of the world’s attention is focused on a different kind of “sport” in that country. Channel 4’s Dispatches on Wednesday told the story of the gangs who hunt gay people, trapping them in order to humiliate and torture them, uploading the footage online for all to see. The documentary makers got access to some of the groups – no need for hidden cameras; they were happy to boast on film about what they did. Watch it online (UK only) but be warned: it really is horrific.

After watching, I feel grateful to live in a country that (at least during my adult life) has become more and more accepting of gay people. Anti-gay violence still happens, of course, but any British politician attacking LGBT people can expect to be condemned and mocked (q.v. David “gays cause floods” Silvester and the resulting UKIP Shipping Forecast). Not so in Russia, where homosexuality and paedophilia are conflated, and politicians eagerly use gay people, under the guise of “protecting children” to distract from other issues. The LGBT community can’t even fight back, thanks to the “no promo homo” law passed last year.

The Games will not be boycotted, but numerous countries and organisations have hinted at their displeasure. The USA took a deliberate decision to include gay athletes in their Olympic delegation, while Germany designed rainbow-coloured uniforms for their team. Great Britain responded by, er… well, David Cameron sent a Tweet to Stephen Fry.

Google has unveiled a new doodle, complete with a quote from the Olympic charter. Channel 4 (who have the rights to the Winter Paralympics) have gone one step further, producing this elaborate trailer which will air across all their channels.

The danger is that after the Games, when the world’s media is no longer watching, the anti-gay attitudes will be ratcheted up even further. Gay rights organisations around the world are working to support Russia’s LGBT community. Stonewall’s page on Russia is a good starting point for more information and advice on how to help.

4th February 2014

Friends with benefits
Posted by at 9.54pm | In the News | No responses

I was out with friends last night, so was fortunate enough to miss Channel 5’s contribution to the benefits “debate”. Given that the show featured Katie Hopkins prominently, and was actually called The Big Benefits Row, I can’t imagine that the conversation was very constructive.

24 hours later, I almost feel like I’ve watched it by proxy, thanks to the amount of online comment. Fleet Street Fox‘s backstage gossip is well worth a read, but it’s this angry, passionate blog from Jack Monroe that really hits home.

As with so many issues, I’d love for there to be a grown-up debate on the topic. Sadly, we’re not going to get it, especially as it suits the current Government to demonise benefits recipients as scroungers.

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?

Read the rest of this post »

24th December 2013

Turing Blessed
Posted by at 5.50pm | In the News | 1 response

Alan Turing, the brilliant computer scientist who was instrumental in cracking enemy codes during World War II, and played a crucial role in the development of early computers during the 40s and 50s, has received a royal pardon for his historic conviction of “gross indecency”.

Turing’s treatment, from today’s perspective, seems appalling. He fell in love with and had consensual sex with another man, a serious crime in those times. Turing was convicted in March 1952 and forced, as part of his punishment, to accept oestrogen injections to reduce his libido. The “treatment” left Turing, a former track and field athlete, a shadow of his former self. He died just over two years later after eating a cyanide-laced apple (the coroner ruled it a suicide, although Turing’s mother disagreed with the verdict, believing it to be an accident).

On the face of it, Turing’s pardon should be a welcome gesture, a signal from the Government of changing attitudes. I do, however, have a problem with one man receiving a pardon for his conviction under an unjust law, while 50,000 other people (according to Peter Tatchell’s estimate) will not be pardoned. Some of these people are still alive – a pardon would be more than a symbolic gesture for them.

Turing should not be singled out because of his contribution to science and the war effort, great though it was. It seems that you can just about get away with being gay, as long as you are a national hero as well.

20th December 2013

Net: A Filter

BT and Sky have joined TalkTalk in installing nanny-state filters on their broadband connections, under the guise of protecting children from porn (in other words, doing what should be a parent’s job).

Worryingly, a Newsnight investigation revealed that, while some porn sites were not caught by the filter, legitimate sites offering information on sexual health, relationships and other issues important to teens were being censored.

BT even offer a tool to increase the level of filtering, allowing over-zealous parents to censor all sex education sites, even age-appropriate ones. One of the blocked web site categories is “respect for a partner” – because why would kids need access to information about that?

This is not a hypothetical situation for me. Back in 1999 or thereabouts, when I was first becoming aware of, and struggling to come to terms with, my sexuality, the web sites available on the nascent web were vital for me. Had they been filtered, there’s no way I would have felt able to go to my parents to ask for permission to unblock them.

The filters do seem to be disproportionately affecting gay and lesbian web sites, including the LGBT Liberal Democrats and London Friend, one of the capital’s oldest LGBT charities providing support services. The whole thing smacks of anti-gay prejudice from the people who drew up the filter list – children, apparently, must be protected from anything LGBT-related, even when it is completely non-sexual in nature.

I could have told the powers-that-be that this would happen (in fact, I did, six months ago). I can speak from experience at the office where I work. We tried to put in a filter which would only allow work-related sites to be accessed. For months we tweaked it so that it would not block sites that people needed for work purposes. Almost every day, without fail, we would have to add another load of sites to the whitelist. Eventually, we gave up and turned the filters off. Not sure how our workplace survived with unfettered access to the internet, but somehow… we managed.

So, in summary, we’re preventing vulnerable children and teenagers from accessing vital information they might need while giving parents a false sense of security? Nice one, Cameron: you’ve probably broken the Internet for ever. Twat. (filter that!)

For more on this you might want to check out the Open Rights Group blog on the subject of over-blocking.