Robert Hampton

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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.

24th March 2013

Ecce Homo

Rainbow flag fluttering in sunlightGay rights and gay issues have always interested me, and you’ll find reference to them throughout my blog, right back to the earliest days. Nowadays, the reasons are obvious. However, for the first seven years of the blog’s life, I was hamstrung by the fact that I was out to almost no-one.

I thought I was being quite clever, carefully wording my posts in such a way that I could demonstrate I was a champion of gay rights without actually coming out and saying that I was gay myself. However, when I was finally brave enough to start coming out to people, a response I got more than once was, “I know, I read your blog.”

Waiting until the age of 27 to come out is not ideal, and it’s something I regret bitterly (especially as a lot of my friends and family already knew, or at least suspected). There are many reasons that I left it so late, but discussion of those reasons is something more appropriate for a revealing therapy session, rather than the blog. So, on with the flashback!

Read the rest of this post »

4th February 2013

Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew
Posted by at 8.23pm | Gay, Politics | No responses

One of the few enjoyable moments at my alma mater was the Religious Studies lessons taught by John Pugh. What could have been a dull topic (especially to a young proto-gay leaning towards atheism) was livened up no end by his sense of humour which permeated every lesson. He once set an end-of-year exam consisting of multiple-choice questions, every one of which had a “gag” answer alongside three more serious possibilities (I can’t remember the question, but one of the answers was “Unshaven villains are impersonating priests!”). It’s the only time I’ve ever chuckled during an exam.

Since then, he’s left the world of teaching behind and is now the Liberal Democrat MP for Southport. By all accounts he’s done a decent job (although back in 2004 he said silly things about trains). So, it’s very disappointing to see that he is going to vote against the same-sex marriage bill tomorrow.

He has set out a very detailed argument explaining his opposition. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, he appears to have fallen for many of the talking points that gay marriage opponents have used to try and derail this change in the law.

He states: “The gain made by referring to a legally committed gay relationship as a ‘marriage’ rather than a ‘civil partnership’ strikes me as negligible.” There speaks a married heterosexual who has never had the legitimacy of his relationship questioned by anyone. Full marriage rights, rather than separate-but-not-quite-equal civil partnerships, send out the message that same-sex relationships are valued in exactly the same way as opposite-sex ones. That “negligible” gain will, in fact, be a big step towards full equality.

He thinks marriage should be reserved for “procreation”. Sorry childless couples, you have to get divorced!

He thinks it is a “threat to religious liberty”, despite the existence of protections in the bill (in a letter to the Times, three leading QCs are of the view that the so-called “quadruple lock” cannot be challenged in court).

Worst of all, he trots out the tired argument that it will inevitably lead to polygamous marriage being legalised in the future, similar to what happened in… nowhere.

Pugh concludes by stating that he is “tortured by the thought that I might be on the wrong side of history.” Him and about 142 others, at last count.

12th May 2012

If you love Obama so much, why don’t you marry him?
Posted by at 7.53pm | Gay | No responses

Obama on a UnicornThis week has been a rollercoaster ride for gay rights advocates in America. On Tuesday, an unpleasant and discriminatory anti-marriage law was approved by voters in a referendum in North Carolina. Less than 24 hours later, President Obama, presumably tired of the splinters he’d been getting from sitting on the fence, finally confirmed what almost everybody suspected: he supports marriage for same-sex couples.

This was big news in the States. The ABC network, which conducted the interview, went to extreme lengths to safeguard their exclusive, and then interrupted their normal schedule to carry the newsflash.

It’s a largely symbolic announcement: the issue of who can or cannot get married is largely decided by the individual states, and an intervention by the federal government would be difficult for many different reasons. Even so, for Obama to make a statement now is a brave move. Few issues arouse more passion than LGBT rights, and same-sex marriage in particular is guaranteed to get people riled up. The numbers are moving in the right direction, though: Gallup’s figures show that 50% of Americans support same-sex marriage – down slightly from 53% last year, but a significant increase from the 27% who were in favour the first time the question was asked in 1996. That is a massive shift in just 16 years.

Just before Obama’s announcement, the Guardian crunched some numbers and concluded that the President’s re-election campaign has nothing to fear from his announcement. That’s not a view shared by other pundits, but whatever the numbers say, there’s little doubt that Obama is on the right side of history. As gay people leave the closet behind forever to live openly and proudly in society, the question of equal marriage rights is a matter of “when”, not “if”.

The endorsement of the most powerful man on earth is also a welcome boost to the gay rights issue elsewhere in the world. The timing is very apt for us in the UK, where reports are circulating that the coalition government’s same-sex marriage plans are in turmoil and could be postponed. I have some more thoughts on the pro-marriage campaign here in the UK, but I will save them for a future post. In the meantime, you might want to check out the new campaign (Out4Marriage) which has been set up to complement the existing C4EM petition.

11th February 2012

Christians Cross
Posted by at 7.03pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

The Daily Mail claims that Christianity is under attack because of two recent court rulings.

In the first case, the Christian owners of a guest house in Cornwall lost an appeal against a fine for discriminating against a gay couple who were refused a double bed. The hotel owners claimed that they did not allow any unmarried couple to share a bed and therefore the discrimination was not on the grounds of sexual orientation, but the Court was not convinced by this argument.

I’m pleased that the original ruling has been upheld. It is not fair or right that a gay couple going on holiday should have to phone ahead and check whether the hotel owners approve of their sex life. The law reflects this, stating that no service provider can discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Incidentally, there are also protections for religious belief. Can you imagine the outcry if the situation described above was reversed and a gay couple turned a Christian away from their hotel? That would not be acceptable either, and there are laws in place for that reason.

The second case involved Bideford town council, who are at the centre of a row over the prayers held before council meetings. An atheist councillor, with the support of the National Secular Society, launched a court action, claiming that forcing councillors to attend prayers was a breach of human rights. Earlier this week the Court ruled that prayers are unlawful.

There was an outcry from Church leaders, and Eric Pickles took time out from lunch to condemn the ruling.

Again, I can see no problem with this outcome. Prayers now cannot form part of the formal council proceedings, but there is nothing to stop prayers being held before official council business begins. Surely this is a reasonable compromise – unless, of course, the Christian members of Bideford council feel the need to force their faith on everyone else, like it or not?

Leaving aside the issues of the above two cases, it is hyperbolic in the extreme to claim that Christianity is “under attack”. Last time I checked, there were churches in villages, towns and cities across the land, and Christians of any denomination could travel to any of them without impediment, to worship as they wished. Meanwhile, Wikipedia has a long list of countries where Christianity is banned entirely or subject to severe restrictions. For the Daily Mail to claim British Christianity is under attack is an insult to those Christians worldwide who live in fear of government-sanctioned persecution or even death because of their faith.

5th November 2011

Posted by at 5.09pm | Gay | 1 response

Photo of Cover of Gay Times Issue 400 with Matthew MitchamGay Times celebrates its 400th issue this month; the premier magazine for men of a homosexual bent first appeared in 1974. Like most things gay back then, it was a slightly underground affair, appearing under the coy title HIM Exclusive.

A celebratory article in the current issue lists “Defining Moments” that have taken place between then and now, running the gamut from Harvey Milk to Grindr. It’s hard to boil down 37 years of gay history to five pages, but they’ve had a good try anyway.

Looking through the pages highlights what a long and sometimes difficult journey it’s been. In 1974 homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the American Psychological Association. Sex between men had been legalised in England and Wales, but was still illegal in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A lot of the inequalities were ironed out only very recently. It’s sobering to realise that when I was sixteen years old, it was illegal for me to have sex, in contrast to my heterosexual peers (the age of consent for gay sex was only equalised in January 2001). Although, to be fair, there were a hundred other reasons why sex wasn’t on the cards for me at age 16.

Protections for gay people in the workplace were only introduced in 2003. And it was only in 2007 that protection from discrimination in goods and service provision came into effect, alarming B&B owners all over the country.

Fast forward to today, and it looks almost certain that full same-sex marriage will be legal by 2015.

Life isn’t perfect – preachers are still saying we’re going to hell, holding hands in the street risks getting a kicking, gay kids are still getting thrown out of their homes. But it’s a lot better than it was in the early days of GT.

Whatever hatever the daily tribulations gay men faced in 1974, from the evidence to hand, we can safely say they were… warm.

Photo of Hairy Man on Cover of Him Exclusive Magazine Issue 1

26th June 2011

New York, Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made, Oh
Posted by at 8.00pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Congratulations to New York, which is the sixth US state to legalise same-sex marriage. Because New York is so populous, the change in the law should double the number of gay couples who can legally wed. Unlike many US states, New York does not require a couple to be resident in the state for a marriage to take place there, meaning that people from other parts of America can take advantage of the law.

It’s not all good news of course: anti-gay groups are certain to try and get this decision reversed, as happened in California. The Defence of Marriage Act means that the marriages are not recognised by America at a federal level, which affects issues such as tax benefits and immigration rights. But this is a huge step forward for a country which is generally very slow to recognise gay equality.

Never forget that this decision affects real people – here are some of those people, celebrating outside the Stonewall Inn, generally considered to be the birthplace of America’s modern gay rights movement.

3rd May 2011

Hate Kills
Posted by at 7.07pm | Gay | No responses

I pre-scheduled this post before I left for Tallinn on 3rd May!

Homophobic attacks are on the rise, a development which the Guardian describes as “shocking”. Personally I’m not that shocked – as gay visibility continues to increase, a backlash was sure to happen. That backlash can manifest itself in many ways, and sheer senseless violence is at one end of that spectrum.

According to the report linked above, the statistics for London show that – although anti-gay crime has dropped by 3% in the capital as a whole – in the West End it has increased by 20%. This is worrying, as the area continues to be the home of most of London’s gay bars and clubs. If gay people are not safe there, where are we safe?

I’d be interested to see the statistics for homophobic crime in the rest of the UK. Liverpool is often cited as a homophobic city on the basis of some high-profile attacks on gay people which took place over the past few years. I’d like to see what the facts and figures say.

17th April 2011

A kiss is just a kiss
Posted by at 6.02pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

I’m out of date – whenever I hear the initials “PDA” I instantly think of a Palm Pilot, but apparently it also stands for Public Display of Affection. That subject has been in the news this week, because two men were kicked out of a Soho pub on Wednesday night after another customer complained about their lip-locking.

It’s probably stating the obvious to point out that, if you find same-sex affection offensive, Soho is probably not the best place to go for an evening out.

James Bull and Jonathan Williams, the pair at the centre of the storm, claim that they have been discriminated against. The drinker who complained told BBC Five Live they were “over the top”. Whatever the facts, the important consideration is whether the same standards apply to both homosexual and heterosexual couples. Would a man and a woman be asked to leave? Would anyone have complained in the first place? There are lots of questions which need answering.

The pub’s management haven’t helped their case by not issuing any comment whatsoever. When Guardian reporter Adam Gabbatt contacted the pub, he was told, “stop calling this number please, or we’ll have you done for harassment.”

Some may say that they should have gone to a gay pub to do their canoodling. But it’s 2011 and we should be well beyond the times when gay people had to hide themselves away for fear of upsetting people.

The story also serves as another illustration of the power of social media. One half of the couple took to Twitter to complain about his treatment. He was retweeted around the world and a Facebook group had been set up even before the story was picked up by the media – first by gay web site Pink News, then the Guardian, who not only put it on the front page, but launched a live blog. The blog is slightly tongue-in-cheek, which is how the problem started in the first place.

Two days later and, through the power of the Internet, a mass protest had been organised in the form of a “kiss-in”. It was attended by such luminaries as Peter Tatchell and both the BBC and Sky News gave it coverage.

James and Jonathan have apparently agreed to go on a second date, which will hopefully be less eventful than the first. More power to them, I say. I’m not a big participant in public displays myself (partly due to the lack of anyone to do it with). However, if two people sitting at the next table to me want to kiss – sure, go ahead! I’m quite liberal on matters of affection and sex. Anything short of Bonobo-style penis fencing is fine by me.

12th April 2011

Hobbit Forming
Posted by at 1.14pm | Gay, In the News | 1 response

Sir Ian McKellen is touring schools in an attempt to educate teenagers on gay issues and combat prejudice.

Schools, with their social cliques and pressure to fit in, are frequently a bastion of homophobic bullying, so it’s great that a prominent figure like Sir Ian is taking the time to do something kike this. The lovely idea is made even better when anecdotes like this come up:

“Do you know any gay people?” asks Sir Ian McKellen asks. Silence. Heads shake. “Well, you do now. I’m gay.” It’s my turn to speak up. “You know two now. I used to go to this school – and I’m gay,” I offer. “You know three now,” a sixth-former chips in. The other pupils don’t look too surprised, and he seems admirably comfortable in his sexuality. Silence. Then: “Erm. Well. You know four now.” Heads shoot around to see a uniformed boy, leaning close to McKellen. Mouths fall slightly open – including mine – but nobody speaks. Then McKellen says, in that mellifluous voice of his, “Well. How about that? It turns out we all know quite a few more gay people than we thought we did.”

As is usual with online newspaper articles, it’s best to ignore the comments.