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The owl and the puddytat

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Sex on the road?

I saw a road sign today that said: No road studs for 2 miles.

I am old enough to remember when we called them ‘navvies’.

Freedom of Speech?

Nick Griffin, of the BNP, appeared on BBC’s flagship Question Time, last Thursday. Listening to the public outcry, one might be forgiven that the sky had fallen around our ears. Probably one of the most vocal was Peter Hain, Welsh Secretary and a long time anti apartheid campaigner, who recently appeared on the BBC trying to explain why he thought it was a bad idea. It seemed to me that his basic tenet, and the source of his, was that the BBC should not be allowing Mr Griffin to appear because he, Peter Hain, thought it was wrong. He felt that the Nick Griffin’s appearance could give the BNP a boost. In his statement he makes reference to other parties being democratically elected, yet conveniently overlooks that one million people voted for the BNP and that, in particular, Nick Griffin is a properly elected MEP. His claim that the BNP is an illegal party was spurious. It is a legal party with a constitution that is allegedly illegal, in that it does not admit non-whites.

Some of the arguments for banning Mr Griffin from Question Time have troubled me. Again, the basic tenet seems to be that he should not get a hearing because people didn’t want to give him a hearing. This is a version of free speech that I have seen before and will probably see again, but it does make me think about what free speech means to others. For me, free speech is an equality issue and equality is not something that one can give to just some people…unless it is equality for all, then it is not equality at all. Some people find this a hard position to take when faced with views that are a complete anathema to them. Suddenly, they chuck out all their dearly held beliefs because it is not convenient to their immediate objective of gagging, in this instance, Nick Griffin. These are the very same people that I may have heard to use the “equality is for all” expression. How thin is the veneer of ethical behaviour?

And there was the protest outside the BBC. A protest is a quite legitimate form of expressing opposition to something, but when three police officers are reported as injured in the protest, I feel move to ask the question: when is violence justified? Clearly some of the protesters felt that their cause was good, but again I see an equality issue here. The message seems to be that violence for a cause that you support is absolutely fine, but it is condemned if you don’t happen to support the protest. I wonder if it is a case of applying double standards or whether some people just enjoy a good ruck.

Inside the studio, the flexible ethics were again on show. The audience seemed to have a higher proportion of visible minority groups than one would normally find. It made my heart sink as I watched and anticipated a put-up job. Question Time is a current affairs panel program, but the format for Nick Griffin’s debut was grossly distorted by the fact that his appearance on the show was dominating current affairs. Whether the BBC should, ethically, have compensated for this distortion is probably up for debate, but they were also experiencing a conflict of interest. On the one hand, they were claiming that Nick Griffin should, in the interest of equality, appear on the show, while on the other they had a vested interest in allowing the baying hounds to dominate, turning the whole programmed into the Nick Griffin Show and achieving a 30 year viewing record of eight million.

Most of the of the show was dedicated to stereotypical Griffin-related issues and we never did find out what he thought about the recession or the postal strike or the war in Afghanistan, which I think is a shame.

In the public debriefing room, I have been listening to all sorts of comments, like Mr Griffin made a complete fool of himself or he was sweating like a pig or that he was evading questions or lying – these were some of the more moderate comments. And I agree with all of them, even the less moderate ones.

But here’s the thing. Lying and evading questions is something that many of our darling politicians seem to be prone to do. Jack Straw promised immunity from prosecution within the EU, something that I very much doubt he has the power to do. Baroness Warsi was distinctly evasive on the issue of gay marriage. And have we so quickly forgotten the weapons of mass destruction or MPs fiddling expenses or a government populated by non-elected members or the mantra that Britain is well place to weather the recession as we head for our seventh successive quarter when other countries are recovering? I mean, really, when did we start believing that our MPs were paragons of virtue and integrity? Far from being criticisms of Mr Griffin, I would offer that his performance was very much in line with the political norm.

The BNP may well gain support from Nick Griffin’s appearance, but it won’t be the BBC’s fault for having him appear. It will be the BBC’s fault for allowing the audience to be stacked against the BNP. It will be the fault of the audience and the protesters outside who would prefer to see him gagged. It will be the fault of the people’s government for not listening to the people.

Increasingly, the political arena in the UK is becoming more like a school playground than a mature adult debate.

Make no mistake, I detest the BNP as much as most people and, as a bisexual trans woman, have reason to fear them coming to power. I think that their policies are vile and repulsive. But I don’t think that my disgust is sufficient reason to throw basic equality issues out of the door, because as soon as we do that, we lose the moral high ground.

Equality? Really?

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What does equality mean for you? I will guess that you are thinking in terms of equal pay for women and the ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents women from achieving positions on boards of directors. People talk about equality as being a ‘right’, but the more I read about how it is handled, the more that I think that it is more of a privilege than a right. And I don’t think that equality exists in Nature, either.

The recent case of Caster Semenya highlighted the issue for me. Miss Semenya recently became the women’s world champion at 800m, but her entitlement to the title was called into question amid accusations that she was man. Part of me can understand this – her physical appearance leaned towards what most people would regard as the male stereotype and she was reported to have a masculine voice. And it wouldn’t be the first time that the issue has arisen in sport. In the early 1960’s, Tamara Press competed in the Women’s shot put for Russia and rumours abounded concerning her gender, which have never been fully explained.

Miss Semenya was forced to undergo tests to determine her sex and which showed abnormally high levels of testosterone (for a woman) in her system. The whole thing was badly mismanaged and Caster was reported to be suffering severe stress and depression, as a result. It is hardly surprising, in the circumstances. For the first time in her 18 years, she was having to address issues of her identity and, unless you have experienced this, the chances are that you will have no idea just how profound an experience this can be.

All this happened in the name of “Equality”. People were asking if Caster had an ‘unfair’ advantage over her fellow female competitors because of the testosterone levels in her blood. I didn’t hear anyone ask the other question – if she had been running in the men’s race, would the other competitors have been challenged for having higher testosterone levels than Caster?

I haven’t seen anything in the public arena that confirms her condition, and that is as it should be, it is after all, private and very personal. But there is wide speculation that she may be intersexed. Intersex is a term used to describe a very wide range of conditions which are at odds with binary sex system that most people regard as absolute. Intersex is a very large and immensely complex topic, which is outside the scope of this piece.

I know many people who have an intersex condition. Two would have been professional sportspersons, except that they would fail the sex tests. That is, they would have been neither provably male nor female.

So let’s look at this notion of ‘equality’ again. It seems inherently unfair to me to bar people like this from all competition. The message would appear to be: ”You are not female. You are not male. Are you even human?” It is a stark example of how cultural values of a binary gender system have fallen behind the science of gender.

Another area where equality is a big issue is in connection with gay marriages. History teaches us that being a homosexual man was a sin, an illness to be cured and illegal, to boot. However, although homosexuality has been neither illegal nor an illness for many years, in the UK it is still not possible for a man to marry another man. Ah, I hear you cry, gays have Civil Partnerships. Is this equality? I think not. If a civil partnership was the same as marriage, it wouldn’t need a different name and its own act of parliament. Gay people still cannot marry and, interestingly, straight people cannot enter into a civil partnership. Being married tells the world you are straight. Being in a civil partnership tells the world you are gay. No one has been able to explain to me what business it is of the world to know my sexual orientation. To me, the Civil Partnership Act did not bring equality – it was offered as a sop to the gay community.

And this brings me to my point. If equality is a right, why do we spend so much time trying to decide who is entitled to it? Instead of saying gays can marry, new and controversial legislation was introduced ratify the legal status of same sex partnerships. In the Single Equality Bill, another piece of forthcoming controversial legislation, transvestites are explicitly excluded from certain protections. Why? Why spend forty words excluding a group of people from protection from harassment, when those same words could have been used to be inclusive. The implication of the decision is that, actually, it is perfectly all right to discriminate against crossdressers. It is a clear statement that transvestites are less equal than other classes of people – I can hear echoes of Animal Farm. One reason given for their exclusion is that there is no evidence of need of protection. What a perfectly peculiar thing to say. Firstly, I cannot see any line of logic that takes you from ‘not needing protection’ to ‘explicitly excluding them from protection’. Secondly, the absence of ‘evidence’of something is not a proof that is does not exist. I can state quite categorically, that transvestites are discriminated against on a daily basis, but it appears that no one has yet bothered to look for the evidence.

This concept of equality is really most odd. Legislative bodies use immense resources in deciding who is ‘entitled’ to it, even to the extent of explicitly excluding entire groups from protection. Equality decided like this is not really a right at all. The fact that a decision has to be taken in order to determine entitlement mean that it is a privilege granted from on high.

Here is a notion. How would it be if we could turn our thinking around and start from a position that stated that everyone is equal? From this position, we might then lend our minds to who we believe is not entitled to equal treatment. I think that this might focus our thoughts marvellously. We would have serious discussions about why we thought that, say, child abusers, should have their rights curtailed and in the absence of specific legislation proclaiming otherwise, the catch all would then truly be a right to equality.
But politics is the art of the possible and it has been suggested to me that any campaign to reverse how we think about the issue of human rights would be doomed to failure because that is not how government works.

But, if no one ever questions how things are done, nothing would ever change.