Mary Makinde is a Lecturer in Forensic Investigation and the University’s BAME Strategic Lead for the Closing Our Gap Strategy group which aims to eradicate the BAME attainment gap. In this expert comment Mary explains the work that is taking place within the University to close our gap and tackle issues around race.
Dr Leonardo J Raznovich explains why the decision by the UK government not to block a Bill by Bermuda to repeal same-sex marriage is a disregard for the Rule of Law and makes them complicit in breach of LGBTI rights.
Dr Leonardo Raznovich explains how Brexit could help to secure human rights for LGBTI people in UK territories of the Caribbean.
Dr Sofia Graca, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, Criminal Justice and Computing, reflects on the Government’s plans to create a new law on domestic abuse.
Theresa May announced a few days ago that she would be ‘personally overseeing’ the creation of a new law on domestic abuse. This would be the Domestic Violence and Abuse Act, which would consolidate existing legislation, address inconsistencies in the support provided to victims, increase convictions, address the lack of clarity in the current provision and raise public awareness of the problems associated with domestic violence. The initiative was welcomed by a number of statutory and voluntary organisations, who see it as an opportunity to take stock and make improvements to the way in which victims are supported by the system.
The desire for a new law is consistent with the Home Office’s Policy on Violence Against Women and Girls, but, although Theresa May seems to continue demonstrating as Prime Minister the same active interest on issues of domestic violence as she did as Home Secretary, there is still room for improvement. The criminalisation of controlling and coercive behaviour, the introduction of Domestic Homicide Reviews, and Domestic Violence Protection Orders and Notices certainly sent a strong message to offenders about the acceptability of their behaviour and helped raise awareness. However, only recently the Ministry of Justice revealed the long wait that victims of domestic violence have to endure to receive compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Moreover, despite a pledge of £80 million to tackle domestic violence, services have been under continued financial strain for years, forcing some to close or significantly reducing their capacity to support victims.
The need to consolidate and clarify the current legal provision is a pressing one, particularly as a victim of domestic violence may see herself dealing with civil, criminal, family and property law to receive the full support that she requires. This can offer an extremely confusing and exasperating experience for someone who is already in a vulnerable position. The complex and sometimes contradictory nature of legal provisions, the competing aims of providers and underfunding of services all come together to make it much more difficult for victims to receive the support they need. Consolidating and clarifying the law is a welcome step forward in addressing this problem. However, it will only have the desired outcome of, in the words of the Prime Minister, ‘transforming the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse’ if set in a holistic framework of that is effectively capable of providing victims with the support they deserve.
For an in-depth analysis of the issues Dr Graça has explored, read her recently published an article on the difficulties of current domestic violence provision to support vulnerable women: http://webjcli.org/article/view/531.
Professor Bee Scherer, Director of the Intersectional Centre for Inclusion and Social Justice (INCISE), comments on the recent fall from grace of controversial agent provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and the hypocrisy of some populist ‘unqualified freedom of speech’ warriors.
How the mighty(-ish) have fallen!
Controversial Breitbart editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, has been dropped by the Conservative Political Action Conference. The gay agent provocateur subsequently also lost his book contract with Simon & Schuster. Now colleagues from Breitbart apparently threaten to quit if he is not fired.
Yiannopoulos had been recorded making remarks which appear to make light of sexual abuse, question the age of consent, and endorse intergenerational intimate relationships between men and boys. His remarks opened Milo to accusations of endorsing paedophilia and the predictable moral panics ensued. While Milo was keen to contextualise, modify, and explain his recorded statements, it seems he had already done irreparable damage to his celebrity status among the alt-right.
Few topics provoke such strong reactions of disgust and moral righteousness than the discussion of sexual activity with minors – without differentiating paedophilia or paedosexuality (attraction to / sex with prepubescent children) from hebephilia (sexual attraction to underage young adolescents, usually 11-14yrs) and ephebophilia (sexual attraction to adolescents, usually of, or close to, a legal age of consent, 15-18yrs). Emotive reactions notwithstanding there is room for discussion – academic and societal – about contentious topics involving sexual activities of children and the age of consent. Both adolescents’ sexual rights & agency and the pain of survivors of sexual abuse in paedo-, hebe-, and ephebosexual contexts need to play the central part of such a discussion, no matter if the abuse was directly coercive or statuary coercive in nature.
Milo came out as a survivor of clerical (hebe-)sexual abuse; indeed, part of survival psychology can be the development of resilience through humour and, sometimes, retrospect claims to agency. Milo clarified that he thought the age of consent was ‘about right’ (and I and many would completely agree with that).
If I appear to defend Milo here, let me be clear that I find many of his rants, which he hides under the ‘freedom of speech’ label, absolutely disgusting – whether his statements meet the UK standards for hate speech in the criminal sense or not. Milo has been banned from Twitter for hate speech, and he has been called out by the press and concerned members of public and the academia.
In the now published recordings, Milo further perpetuates dangerous stereotypes about gay men by linking homosexuality with ephebophilia (often misunderstood as paedophilia). Research shows that ephebophilic attraction is wide-spread disregarding of sexual orientation: heterosexuals are just as likely to be enthralled by Lolita as homosexuals by Tadzio (if in any doubt read Nabokov and Thomas Mann). Milo clearly does a great disservice to the LGBT community.
But the issue is not Milo and how distasteful he is; the issue is the hypocrisy of the right wing self-stylised freedom-of-speech advocates who needed Milo to cross this particular red line to the public Moral Panic topic No1 to finally non-platform him. Ned Ryan from the CPAC board tweeted ‘While I’m all for free speech, there is such a thing as vile, hateful speech that does not deserve a platform’. I completely agree with Ned. However, I wonder how Milo’s statement that transwomen are attention-seeking, mentally ill gay men, does not fulfil the criterion of unacceptable hateful speech but that him declaring that he, when a teenager, enjoyed a blow-job from a priest, does.
Freedom of speech has been paraded around as an absolute right, leading to absurd statements as made by BBC Radio 4’s Claire Fox at a recent debate at CCCU (26 January 2017), that ‘words never hurt anyone’ (there is tons of research demonstrating otherwise).
But even under the first amendment freedom of speech is not an absolute, less so under UK law. And, most poignantly, freedom of speech does not mean that you have the right to be platformed, to be given space, forum and attention. It does not mean that boycott and protest is inappropriate or equals censorship. Be as offensive as you must but you have no right to expect that people invite you and expose others, including those you offend, to the foulness of your thoughts.
Dr Sofia Graca explores the implications of a recent change in law in Russia on domestic violence.
Professor Bee Scherer, Director of the Intersectional Centre for Inclusion and Social Justice (INCISE) looks ahead to the Church of England’s General Synod on Wednesday.
It has not been a good week for the Church of England (CoE). The allegations of the horrific physical abuse endured by elite evangelical Anglican youths at the hand of the former head of the Iwerne Trust, John Smyth QC, shine a long overdue light on a culture of thinly tinted sadism which was allowed to flourish (or fester) within a charismatic Christian personality cult in the context of a sexually repressed, ‘violent and punitive Theology’ as the Rt. Rvd. Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, recently pointed out (Christian Today, 4 February). On top of that, as the two year CoE consultation process on same-sex marriage draws to its close this Wednesday with a debate in the General Synod, the Church is rocked by an unprecedented rebellion of fourteen retired bishops who, in an open letter dated 10 February, condemn the church’s failure to listen to the lived experiences of LGBT Christians.
Bishop Alan is right to ask “Why can’t the Church of England talk in a grown-up way about sex?” A recent OASIS foundation study on the link between church teaching and mental health detriment among Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Christians exemplifies the struggle of stigmatised community members seen as falling short of the moral black and white. Further, the revelation of widespread psycho-sexually tinted physical abuse provides yet another example of the detrimental treatment of vulnerable young by those branches of exclusivist Christianity which exert strict regimes of regulatory powers and bio-politics through the extension of absolute truth claims to repressive moral codes. The dualistic true-false absolutisms of closed forms of religious belongings expresses itself regularly in religious violence – be that centripetally in abuse or centrifugally in religious state violence and terrorism. Conversely, in the media, only one religion is regularly linked with terror – while abounding forms of ‘Christian terrorism’ as recently in Quebec are framed in other terms, for instance as ‘right-wing’ or ‘white supremacism’.
We need to challenge popular myths about Christianity/-ies and more broadly ‘religion’ as ‘good’ per se and as the foundation of superior values for ‘enlightened’ societies. Throughout history, Christianity, as any routinized religion, has manifested itself to be as much a force for harm as a force for good. Religions function as forms of vestigial governmentalities and continue to wield undue powers over the mental and physical health and integrity of both followers and opponents. It is, therefore, opportune to question the rationale of the continued privileged protection of ‘religion’ under, for instance, the Equalities Act 2010. We may want to acknowledge that the contested category ‘religion’ points to value-neutral and morally protean cultural traditions which should not claim any a priori position in the hierarchy of Human Rights. As I have argued elsewhere, moving on from the dubious reliance on absolute truth claims and their derived moral regimes, the pragmatic principle of ‘mental-physical integrity’ should be adduced as the leading principle of legal and ethical scrutiny for the forming of societal values and consensus. Society needs to protect itself from closed worldviews resulting in regulatory regimes of mental and physical oppression.
Christianity and all religions can manifest as strong allies to basic Human Rights principles; when not, they should not be able to hide behind the label of ‘religion’ as an – absurdly – protected characteristic.
Professor Bee Scherer, Director of the Intersectional Centre for Inclusion and Social Justice (INCISE), explores Trans-Remembrance, Equality and Higher Education following the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
On 20 November, like every year since 1998, community groups around the UK and worldwide held Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). TDoR remembers the victims of transphobic murders during the preceding year. In 2016, The Transrespect Project lists 295 names.
Less empathic readers might ask about the significance of the number – at the end of the day, a horrible number of people get murdered for various reasons, right? Why commemorate murdered trans people? Well, because the number testifies to more than the horrific individual murders of trans people, many of which trans persons of colour and sex workers; the number reflects only reported murders with a verified, direct transphobic motive. A meta-analysis of surveys about trans health demonstrates the astonishing amount of systemic social injustice which the trans populace is facing. The haunting evidence regarding violence experienced, suicide and severe mental distress, and direct and indirect day-by-day experience of discrimination reminds us that TDoR remembers more than the lives lost.
If we do not want TDoR to become another day when we wear a symbol as to forget our failures and to make us feel better (as seems to be the case with the ubiquitous poppies), we need address the system behind transphobia: the oppressive creation of a normative centre (white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, healthy, classy, good-looking, well-off, young-ish etc.).
In this context, the rise of Equality professionals in Higher Education, and elsewhere, is not necessarily a positive thing. Rather, equality politics can become tick-box tokenism in service of preserving the status quo, only reluctantly yielding some greater permeability and access to the privileged centre. During 20 years in Higher Education, I have experienced astonishing acts of equality sabotage by those who claim to work for equality – including self-righteous cis-plaining by privileged heterosexuals to Machiavellian backstabbing by ambitious homonormative gays posing as professional victims. This, and Feminist scholar’s Sara Ahmed’s resignation from her post at Goldsmith’s, reminds us that queer-feminist research and equality activism can be used successfully and cynically by neoliberal academia to obstruct true equality progress.
Resisting the discourse and dictatorship of privileged normalcy, we need to radically change the system that creates a centre and margins by celebrating variable human embodiment and experience equally. Remembering the lost lives only becomes meaningful when we fight every day against the temptation to claim identity by means of the exclusion of others.
PinkNews held its annual awards ceremony last night and people have taken to social media to discuss the winners. Director of the Intersectional Centre for Inclusion and Social Justice (INCISE), Professor Bee Scherer, gives their views on the choices of winners by the news site.
Last night, PinkNews awarded ex-PM David Cameron with its ‘Ally of the Year’ award. Nobody would want to belittle Cameron’s determination to see equal marriage through against an avalanche of bigotry.
But whose ally is Cameron, really? He argued for ‘gay marriage’ famously because of marriage being a conservative concept, playing into the hands of those privileged members of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) community who now can more successfully ‘pass’ within the oppressive societal script of nuclear family and monogamy (heteronormativity) – complete with property ownership and 1.3 children.
Trans people who were slapped with a ‘spousal veto’, intersex people still subject to medical mutilations in infancy, and LGBTIQ+ people on the very margins produced by the divisive and elitist tinkering of Tory and New Labour social politics, will see Cameron much less as an ally than those ‘homonormative’ LGBs who have now been admitted into the societal centre and can complacently relax and congratulate themselves for their ‘progressive’ activism.
Meanwhile, in the wake of Brexit xenophobia and increasingly neofascist yellow press rhetorics, many marginalised LGBTIQ+s including homeless, mental health service users, victims of intimate partner violence, and migrants and asylum seekers – are carrying the brand of Cameron’s ally-ship. Congratulations.
Professor Bee Scherer is the Director of the Intersectional Centre for Inclusion and Social Justice (INCISE) at Canterbury Christ Church University and queer activist responsible for the Queering Paradigms conference mentioned by the Bishop of Buckingham during the PinkNews awards.