Of course America has a gun violence problem. We always have.

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A man covers a woman during the shooting in Las Vegas on 1 October. Photo: ABC/David Becker/Getty

Another week in America, another mass shooting. This time, at least 59 people have lost their lives following an attack on a country music festival in Las Vegas. The perpetrator was a wealthy, white sexagenarian, the latest in a long line of mostly white males who massacre their fellow Americans. This is, sadly, a regular occurrence here in the United States.

I write for a mostly international audience, and several people on Twitter have asked why this seems to happen in America more frequently than anywhere else in the Western world. I’ve spent much of the past week grappling with this question, trying to figure out a way to summarise exactly what makes America so exceptional when it comes to massacring our own.

The answer, it turns out, is both simple and complex – one that is both born of the present and rooted deep in America’s past.

There’s the obvious: we have the most guns, and the most lax gun laws, of any developed nation. Following the Port Arthur massacre, Australia banned automatic and semiautomatic weapons, instituted a gun buyback scheme, and hasn’t had a mass shooting since, save for the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis which saw 3 people killed and 4 others wounded. That’s small potatoes compared to an average American mass shooting – and certainly compared to Las Vegas, where over 500 people are reportedly injured, many critically.

Of course, Australia doesn’t have a Second Amendment, which enshrines “the right to bear arms.” Leaving aside the semantic and constitutional arguments about whether the Framers ever intended for that to extend outside state militias (the equivalent of which is modern-day state National Guards) or whether they anticipated the advent of modern weapons of mass murder, this law does seem to give Americans an inalienable right to own firearms. And it’s one that many people take very seriously.

To understand why, you have to understand something about the American character. In a 2016 speech, former president Barack Obama said that Americans “are not inherently more prone to violence.”

He was wrong. Americans are more inherently prone to violence. Violence is ingrained in our national DNA.

The United States of America was born in violence. We gained our independence through a bloody revolution in which we waged war to throw off the yoke of British rule. But before that, we were founded on white settler colonialism which saw us enslave Africans to work our plantations and exterminate the Native Americans of the Eastern Seaboard, Southeast, and Midwest in order to “settle” those lands.

This continued when we pushed westward. A cultural narrative of “us-versus-them” sprung up vis-a-vis white settlers and Native Americans. From the Bear River Massacre, where nearly 250 Shoshone Indians were killed to Wounded Knee, where close to 300 Lakota were slain by the US Army, the story of the West is one of violent conquest.

The imperial colonisation of the West also gave rise to the belief in “rugged individualism,” which has permeated the American psyche ever since. At its most basic, “rugged individualism” is almost anarchist in its belief that the state won’t take care of citizens and so citizens must take care of themselves.

In the Old West, this was somewhat true – settlers were often far from the protections of the state and had to fend for themselves against the elements and outlaws, and yes, Native Americans who were trying desperately to protect their homeland against the invading colonists (and make no mistake, that’s what white settlers were). But somehow, as the West was tamed by federal and state law enforcement, Americans never gave up their guns.

This is hardly surprising. Slaveholders in the south needed guns in order to keep enslaved African-Americans in line and avoid slave insurrections. One of the only things that kept slaves – who greatly outnumbered slaveholders – from rebelling en masse was that they did not have firearms whereas the masters did. Then came the Civil War, where the South took up arms against the federal government in order to preserve slavery. After that failed – in what is to date the bloodiest war in American history – they used guns to help enforce Jim Crow laws, which subjugated Black Americans for another century.

There is another lesson to be drawn from the Civil War, though – one that many left-wing Americans won’t accept but that is extremely important to consider. The reason the South was able to so quickly raise an army to fight the federal government was that they had guns. And for many, many Americans – especially white Americans – this is a primary reason for clinging to their guns.

They see firearms as a fail-safe against a potentially tyrannical government which would usurp their liberties. This is certainly how many racist slaveholders saw the election of Lincoln, and it is how many – again, mostly white – Americans view guns today.

After all, as I said, this was a country born in violent revolution. From the Whiskey Rebellion to the Civil War to the Miners War, the right to bear arms has been something the citizenry has used to fight back against what they’ve felt is government tyranny.

Of course, this right has only ever extended to white people. Prior to the 1970s, the National Rifle Association (NRA), America’s gun lobby, had broadly supported gun control measures. This began to change in 1967, when gun control measures supported by then California governor Ronald Reagan (yes, that Ronald Reagan) would have banned Black Panther members from carrying arms.

Opposing the law, members of the Black Panther Party carried their guns into the California capitol demanding their right to bear arms. Reagan commented at the time that “there’s no reason why, on the street today, a citizen should be carrying a loaded weapon.” He changed his tune by the time he ran for president in 1980.

Following the turmoil of the late 1960s, in which urban Blacks – in particular the Black Panther Party – began arming themselves against violent white oppression, the NRA saw an influx of rural members who quickly turned the organisation from a gun training organisation to a strict defender of the Second Amendment – and of gun rights laws.

They didn’t do it because of any desire to support the rights of Black urbanites, though. They actually felt that gun control laws on Black people were unduly affecting them. Over the past four decades, the NRA has routinely failed to protect the Second Amendment rights of Black Americans, most markedly in the case of Philando Castile, a Black Minnesotan who was shot and killed by police when he acknowledged the presence of a legal firearm in his car. The NRA said nothing.

That’s the long way around. But if you want the abstract of this piece, it’s this: America was born in violence, and that violence is as much a part of our national DNA as is a belief in individual liberty. Indeed, they’re inextricably connected for many Americans.

This isn’t just about the War for Independence. The way we settled this continent  was, to be frank, a genocide against the Native population. We did it with the labour of enslaved Africans and their descendants. For 400 years white America has used firearms to defend themselves, yes, but more to the point, to subjugate people of colour in order to conquer the North American continent.

The belief that government is tyrannical is still rife within our populations. This is born from the Calvinists who fled England in the 1600s and continues to this day, with Americans who have an innate distrust for authority. Many Americans still feel that there will be a second American Revolution – just look at the likes of the white nationalists who died at Ruby Ridge, or Timothy McVeigh, who committed the deadliest act of domestic terror in US history when he bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City. Look at the militia movements around the country. Look at the people who elected Donald Trump who were ready for battle if Hillary Clinton won and tried to take their guns (which she never planned to do).

Some have countered that these mass shootings, with “lone wolf” white men killing scores of innocent people don’t fit into this narrative, as there has been no political motive. But the shooters at Columbine and Virginia Tech both left manifestos. The shooter at Pulse seemed to have a motive – whether homophobia, Islamic radicalism, or both – as did Dylann Roof when he killed Black churchgoers in Charleston. Elliott Rodger, who killed six people in the 2014 Isla Vista, California massacre, was motivated by deep misogyny. The Umpqua Community College shooter was described as a “hate filled” white supremacist. And no one can argue Jared Laughner didn’t have a political motive when he shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people in Tuscon, Arizona in 2011.

The truth is, contrary to what Barack Obama said, America is more inherently violent than other Western countries. Our nation, perhaps uniquely amongst the Western democracies, was forged in violence – both against the colonial motherland and against the indigenous and enslaved populations.

America has never reckoned with its violent character and utter distrust of government, and until it does, gun violence will continue to be a problem we cannot avoid – one that will continue to claim countless innocent lives this country is ready to sacrifice on the altar of the Second Amendment.

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Everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask about British politics

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Over the weekend, I asked Facebook friends to send me their questions on what’s happening in aftermath of the UK election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Below are some of their questions and a few I added to clarify a few things. Hope this helps my American readers understand British politics a bit more:

  1. Does the Prime Minister always get to decide when to call special elections? Has this situation ever happened before?

Yes and no. Before 2010, the Prime Minister had almost sole discretion on when an election would be called. One had to be held at least every five years, but when that happened was largely down to the whims of the government of the day (led by the Prime Minister). As you may expect, this led to a lot of elections called when the government felt it was advantageous for it (such as when they’re leading in the polls) or not called unless absolutely necessary if the party in power was suffering the polls. This was the case in 1997, when the Conservatives lost power to Labour after 18 years in government.

The Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2010 was meant to change this. Brought in by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, it was meant to ensure stability during the 2010-2015 Coalition Government (more on this later). It set out a fixed date for the next election, which was held in May 2015. The next subsequent election was not due until May 2020. However, there was a provision in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act which allowed for the dissolution of Parliament – necessary for the calling of another election – if there was a vote of no confidence in the government of the day  or if the Prime Minister requested dissolution.

Theresa May requested a dissolution of Parliament in April, setting the date for the next election as 8 June. As she was not the leader of the Conservative Party in 2015 (that was David Cameron, who resigned last year following the Brexit vote), some argued she was seeking a mandate of her own. She wanted to increase her majority to strengthen her hand when negotiating Brexit. It didn’t quite work out as well as she’d have liked though, as the Conservatives lost their majority. No one party has a majority of Members of Parliament now, which means Mrs May must seek coalition or a minority government.

  1. What does it mean to “form a government?”

    There are 650 Members of Parliament (MPs), so to have a majority a party must win at least 326 seats. There are two main parties – the Conservatives and Labour – and only they have formed a government since 1922. In the simplest of times, forming a government just means the largest party appoints people to the cabinet (as the leader of the party would be Prime Minister) and puts forward its agenda in a Queen’s Speech (we’ll get to her role later). But these are not simple times.

    In 2010, like now, no one party had a majority of seats – a scenario known as a “hung parliament.” David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), sought coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who held 57 seats. The Lib Dems accepted, and a coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government ran things until 2015, when the Conservatives secured a majority of seats and governed on their own.

 Mrs May has squandered that majority, losing 13 seats and taking her party’s total to 318. The Lib Dems have ruled out another coalition – they suffered greatly for their role in the last one, losing 49 seats in 2015 – which means Mrs May needs to find another minor party to bolster her numbers. She looks set to do that with the Democratic Unionist Party out of Northern Ireland, which has 10 seats.

This is where it gets tricky, though, as the DUP really can’t join the government due to the peace agreement in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics, but that’s another story for another day. Right now it looks like the DUP will prop up Mrs May’s government but not join it, meaning she’ll form a minority government with the understanding that she can depend on the DUP to support her agenda in most cases.

  1. I read that Prime Minister May was going to propose something to the Queen. What is the monarchy’s involvement with the elected government (and vice versa)?

The role of the monarchy is entirely symbolic in practice yet vast in theory. Theoretically, the sovereign is an absolute monarch – all power is vested in the crown. However, the doctrine of crown-in-parliament means that whilst Her Majesty technically holds these powers, in practice and custom they are exercised by Parliament and the government (which consists of MPs – even the Prime Minister is an MP). This goes back hundreds of years in a system that has largely haphazardly developed. Britain has no written constitution, like the United States, so its democracy functions largely on customs and a body of separate laws collectively referred to as “the constitution.”

Because these powers are technically the Queen’s, she must invite someone to form a government in her name. She does this to whoever wins the most seats. Mrs May won the most seats (even if she didn’t secure a majority), so by custom she has the first shot to form a government. She went to see the Queen to be invited to form a government. If Mrs May can’t form a government (that is, get enough support to get through her agenda, laid out in a Queen’s Speech), then the second-place Labour Party could try to form a minority government and get enough votes to pass its Queen’s Speech. If no party can get their Queen’s Speech passed, another election will be held.

  1. What is a Queen’s Speech?

The Queen’s Speech is essentially the ruling party’s agenda. It is a set of proposed laws the new government hopes to pass. During the state opening of Parliament, the Queen travels to the Palace of Westminster (where the House of Commons and House of Lords both convene) and, from the House of Lords, delivers a speech written by the party seeking to form a government. She has no political input (though could have some stylistic critiques, since she’s the one who has to say the damn thing). Why does the Queen, and not the Prime Minister, give this speech? Because the powers are actually the Queen’s, even if they are exercised by the Prime Minister and Parliament, so she’s telling the Lords, the Commons, and the country what she is instructing her government to do – even though it’s the government telling the queen what to tell them to do.

The state opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech is surrounded by a lot of really complicated pomp and circumstance. C-SPAN typically airs it live, and I encourage you all to watch it, because it really is a sight to behold. We have nothing like it in the United States.

  1. Could the Queen step in and stop the nonsense or deny any requests?

No she could not. Okay, technically she could – all these powers are hers in theory – but if she did you can bet that parliament and the people would vote to abolish the monarchy. Her Majesty is actually quite committed to democracy and the constitution, so the thought of intervening in the business of parliament would appall her.

The best example of this happening is actually not in Britain, but in Australia, where Elizabeth II is also the Queen (represented by a Governor General, since she lives in London and not Canberra). In 1975 the Governor General dismissed the Australian Prime Minister because of political instability in the House of Representatives and Senate (think Commons and Lords in Britain). This was the greatest constitutional crisis in Australian history, and Her Majesty refused to be drawn into it.

  1. What are the main belief systems of each party (and dot he ones with similar sounding names have similar beliefs/policies – ie is the UK Conservative Party similar to an American conservative)?

There are two main parties in the UK: the Conservatives (aka the Tories) and Labour. The Conservatives are capitalists, whilst Labour consists of varying shades of socialism (from democratic socialism akin to Bernie Sanders to some out-and-out Trotskyites). In the middle of this is the Liberal Democrats, which formed from the merger the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, which had broken off from the Labour Party. It is more of a centrist party.

Then you have several smaller parties. The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales), and the Green Party all have MPs and are all centre-left to varying degrees. If Labour were to form a minority government, they would rely on these three parties.

There are only two parties with seats from Northern Ireland: Sinn Fien and the before-mentioned DUP. Sinn Fien is a left wing Irish nationalist party, mostly identified with Catholics in Northern Ireland. The DUP is a far-right unionist party backed by Northern Irish protestants.

If you want to get into who analogous parties, the Conservatives are probably closer to moderate Democrats than they are Republicans. Labour is probably closer to Bernie Sanders or the US Green Party, though current leader Jeremy Corbyn is far to the left of either of these parties. The Liberal Democrats are probably more like Barack Obama, though some Obama advisors have also advised the Conservative Party.

  1. Who believes in LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, racial equality?

    All of the main parties would tell you yes, they support a broadly socially progressive agenda. The Conservatives haven’t always been great on LGBT equality, initially opposing it and passing some of the most homophobic laws in modern British history. However, over the past decade – particularly under the leadership of David Cameron – they became much more progressive, supporting the Labour government’s bringing in civil partnerships in the mid-2000s and later introducing marriage equality under Cameron. However, the majority of Conservative backbenchers (that is, Members of Parliament not in government) voted against equal marriage, so whilst the Conservative-led coalition government introduced the bill, it passed only because of support from the other parties.

    Most Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voters favour the Labour Party, though there is growing support from BME voters for the Tories. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, was critical of racial profiling in policing, even as her own government was accused of Islamophobia through its anti-terror Prevent programme.

    The fact is that race doesn’t really play as large a role in UK politics as it does in the US, though many BME people think it should. This is down to the relatively recent influx of a significant number of BME people (from the mid-20th century to now) and the entrenched class system. British politics is getting more intersectional, but it has a long way to go.

    None of the main parties oppose abortion access, though Labour would be more likely to relax abortion law than the Tories. Labour has introduced all-women shortlists for parliamentary candidates, which the Tories haven’t, yet the Tories have produced both female Prime Ministers. On economic issues that effect women, such as childcare and pay equality, the Tories have faced a lot of criticism from feminist activists, but Labour has also been accused of having a sexist culture in its far-left reaches.

    Now let’s talk about the DUP – who register as important since Mrs May is looking to rely on them to govern. They are anti-gay marriage, anti-choice, refuse to meet or work on Sundays, believe in creationism and deny climate change. So it’s kind of like if the state of Alabama became a political party. There are lots of people, including the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party (who is an out lesbian), expressing serious reservations about any deal – yet it looks to be the only way Mrs May can hang on.

  2. Does ideology split parties there?

As discussed, the Conservatives are capitalists and the Labour party are socialists. So ideology has a much starker impact on the parties in the UK than it does in the US, where both major parties are capitalist.

  1. This all seems really convoluted. Isn’t our system simpler?

Those in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones. A minority of voters elected Donald Trump because of our Electoral College, which to British voters seems just as maddening as the parliamentary system seems to many Americans. And when you look at how gerrymandered many of our districts are, it becomes difficult to argue that the American system as it currently exists  is more democratic.

  1. What happens next?

Right now no one knows. Theresa May met with her backbenchers earlier today, and she’s still trying to finalise any deal with the DUP. It does look likely that Theresa May will form the next government and continue on with a minority government, but her position looks increasingly untenable. She may well be gone by Christmas, with another top Tory politician taking her place as Prime Minister.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments below and perhaps I’ll do another blog.

Skylar Baker-Jordan writes the blog The Curious American. A contributing editor at The GayUK Magazine, Skylar writes about British and American politics and society for an array of publications, including the Independent and Huff Post UK. He is based in Chicago but makes frequent trips to London, where he hopes to relocate soon.

Five things we learned from the 2017 General Election

What a night. Theresa May, who became the longest serving Home Secretary in a century now looks to be the shortest serving Prime Minister in 300 years. After failing to win a majority in an election that by all measures she should have won, her position looks untenable as prominent Conservative MPs – such as Anna Soubry – have called on her to “consider her position” (a polite euphemism for step down) on national television. There’s every possibility that the Democratic Unionist Party – Northern Ireland’s far-right, homophobic party – could prop up a minority Tory government, but even if so, May looks unlikely to be leading it.

This is the third British general election I’ve covered as a journalist and it is, without a doubt, the most shocking of my life. Few, including myself, saw this coming. Yet here we are, and whilst it’s still incredibly early, there are six things we can take away from Thursday’s vote:

 

  1. This is a very bad result for Brexit

Let’s start with the obvious: it’s clear that Brexit negotiations must be put on hold, or Article 50 temporarily rescinded altogether. Negotiations were due to start on 19 June, but that seems all but impossible now. May is likely to step down, which means we’re going to have a Tory leadership contest. That will take weeks, at least. No matter who fills her kitten heels, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll immediately be ready to go to Brussels. Even the Sun is reporting – quite uncritically – that EU officials are already suggesting they may put the brakes on any negotiations. It’s untelling when they may go forward.

Beyond that though, Theresa May’s loss is a blow to a Tory hard Brexit. The Prime Minister called this election to “strengthen her hand” in the Brexit negotiations. The Daily Mail famously called on her to “crush the saboteurs” on its front page, but the saboteurs ended up crushing her. The British people have made it clear that a hard Brexit is not what they voted for. Britain is likely to remain in the single market, and the entire Tory Brexit plan will have to be scrapped and rewritten. Labour’s Brexit plan resonated, and soft-Brexit Tories must certainly feel emboldened to take on their more Eurosceptic colleagues.

  1. This is a very good result for Corbyn

Nobody saw this coming, not even – I’m told – the Labour leader himself. Yet Jeremy Corbyn has achieved the greatest political upset in modern British history, even though he technically lost the election. Literally everyone, including his own party officials, had all but accepted a massive defeat was in the cards. This morning, though, Labour MPs who were expected to lose their seats – like moderate Wes Streeting – have actually increased their majority. This is the best result for Labour since 2010. I cannot stress how incredible this is. When everyone – including me – had written Corbyn off as a loser, he’s proven is he, well, a loser, but not quite as big a one as any of us thought he was.

Normally a Labour leader in his position would be called on to step down. But there are a few things working in Corbyn’s favour here. For starters, expectations were so low that this loss actually looks very good. Beyond that, though, he was bolstered by the people he brought into the party and, crucially, the youth vote. Corbyn has emboldened Millennials and Gen Z in a way no other politician on either side of the Atlantic has. Labour won’t want to lose that momentum going into future elections. He also had little time to prepare for this snap election – six weeks or so – and faced an unbelievably hostile media.

His performance tonight proves Labour is trending in the right direction and that his vision resonates with voters in a way Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband never did. They may grumble privately, but expect Labour moderates to fall in line over the next several months.

  1. Lynton Crosby has lost his magic touch

The Tory Svengali who won David Cameron two elections should never have been brought in to run Theresa May’s campaign. Not only do reports from CCHQ indicate that he never really “got” her or what to do with her, but he had also lost a campaign the Tories expected to win just last year – the London mayoral campaign. That campaign should have shown that Crosby’s unique blend of fearmongering and soundbites no longer worked. The Tories made the fatal mistake of thinking London was one thing but the country another. It became apparent that Crosby’s reluctance to send May out into the field and his attacks on Corbyn as a terrorist sympathiser never resonated with the British public. This is possibly because there were two attacks on May’s watch at the height of the campaign, but it’s more likely that the British people have wised up to his tricks.

  1. The tide of right wing nationalism seems to be waning

After Brexit and Donald Trump, a lot of us were bracing for the nasty re-emergence of a right-wing nationalism the West hadn’t seen since the 1930s. But with the defeat of Le Pen and Britain’s rejection of a hard Brexit this week, it seems that the tides are turning. By voting so overwhelmingly for internationalist, left-of-centre parties (Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the Greens), Britain has rejected an inward looking, isolationist, xenophobic worldview and shown it is still open and accepting and ready to act on the global stage. It’s hard to see how any reactionary populist wins going forward, which will be a massive relief to fair-minded people in Britain and beyond. (And, you must imagine, to the Democrats who must campaign in the US midterms in 2018.)

  1. The future is more uncertain than ever

As I type this the Tories are currently tearing themselves apart (privately, of course) over whether Mrs May can remain on as Prime Minister. Meanwhile, John McDonnell is calling on the SNP, the Lib Dems, the Greens, and other parties to help Labour form a minority government. It’s more likely the Conservatives will be joined, or at least bolstered, by the DUP to form a right-leaning coalition or minority government, but anyone who tells you they know is lying. Assuming someone does form a coalition or minority government, though, there’s no telling how long it might last. Many are predicting an autumn election (please don’t tell Brenda from Bristol), but others are saying the Tories – should they succeed – will cling on until 2022, when they Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2010 mandates the next election happen. The truth is, we simply don’t know what will happen. This level of uncertainty is not only bad for Brexit, but bad for the markets – which, though as I type is early in London and the middle of the night in New York – have already reacted with volatility throughout Asia.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. No one does. But whatever happens, we can all be assured we have witnessed one of the most galling political upsets in British history – and that the country may never be the same again.

The gay community must do more to protect young gay boys from sexual exploitation

 

Earlier this month, news broke that Ralph Shortey, a Republican Oklahoma state senator and prominent Donald Trump supporter was charged with engaging in child prostitution for soliciting sex from an underage boy on Instagram and Kik, social media apps popular with teenagers. Shortey was found with the boy (whose name is withheld for privacy) in a motel.

There are plenty of cases in Britain of boys being sexually exploited.. 2014 murder of Breck Bednar, a 14-year-old boy from Essex who was groomed by a 19-year-old man before being killed in a “sadistic and sexual” act of violence stunned the nation.  British boys as young as 10 were the victims of a prolific Canadian paedophile who used the internet to prey on boys around the world. And earlier this year, Colin Gregg – the heir to the Greggs bakery fortune – was alleged to have molested four boys over the period of three decades.

These cases are not isolated incidents. A 2014 study funded by the Nuffield Foundation and conducted by NatCen and the University College London found that 1 in 3 exploited children supported by the children’s charity Barnardo’s is a young man, a startling statistic that shows boys and young men are far more vulnerable to exploitation than many would think. “Society is miserably and unacceptably failing sexually exploited boys and young men,” Javed Khan, the chief executive of Barnardo’s, told the BBC at the time. “The telltale signs are being missed because of a lack of awareness and stereotypes about the nature of this form of abuse.”

We don’t frequently think of boys as being sexually exploited, in part because girls are viewed as so much more vulnerable and in part because boys are often so reluctant to come forward, fearing that doing so will make them appear weak or emasculated. Yet boys and young men, particularly young gay and bisexual men, are often the targets of sexual predation. SaferKids, an app which notifies parents if their children download one of thousands of apps where they could fall victim to sexual predators, over a dozen examples of children being sexually exploited by men they met on Grindr alone.

This isn’t to say that this is solely an issue effecting gay and bisexual boys and young men, nor is it to imply that perpetrators are often gay and bisexual men. All boys and young men, regardless of sexual orientation, are vulnerable – and sexual orientation does not a predator make. A 2014 report by the West Sussex County Council actually shows that the majority of the boys who sought help from Yorkshire MESMAC’s BLAST programme identified as straight. (Yorkshire MESMAC  is “one of the oldest and largest sexual health organisations “in the UK, and their BLAST programme works specifically with boys who are victims of or vulnerable to sexual exploitation.)

“It’s not someone’s sexual orientation that puts them at risk,” the report reads. “It’s their circumstances, the situation they’re in and their beliefs.” A teenage boy who seeks a boyfriend his own age is much less likely to be exploited than a boy who seeks an older woman for sex. But, the report adds, “gay and bisexual young people and those questioning their sexual orientation may be particularly vulnerable to being sexually exploited if parents do not support them, and if schools do not provide adequate information and support that is relevant to them.”

We can’t even get LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship educated mandated in British schools, and LGBT young people represent up to 24% of the British homeless population – a startlingly disproportionate share when compared to the overall demographics, and evidence that many kids still face rejection at home. Homeless boys are more likely to be exploited for sex or prostitution, but even those kids who aren’t kicked out of their homes are likely to turn to apps such as Grindr, Scruff, and Recon to connect with other gay men.

This is normal and fine. When I was a gay teen coming of age in a small Kentucky town, chat rooms were my only opportunity to talk with other gay people. The problem with Grindr, Scruff, and Recon is that they are apps tailored specifically to hook gay men up with sex – a perfectly acceptable purpose but not one that should include minor children.

Grindr was sued because of the lack of age verification, but a court found that it wasn’t liable. Likewise, Tinder also has no real age verification. This means that the onus is on individual users to verify the age of any potential sexual partners – and that doesn’t always stop the sexual exploitation of boys and young men, regardless of sexual orientation.

While there are no easy answers to end the exploitation of boys and young men, there are a few things that can be done to help prevent children from being victimised. Schools need to include LGBT people in sexual and relationship education, but they also need to do a better job of teaching boys about the dangers of grooming (particularly online) and that they, too, can be sexually exploited. We need to eliminate the stigma around being a male victim, which includes combatting the notions that sleeping with someone older is “cool” and that being abused is emasculating or in any way the victim’s fault.

We need more support services for boys and young men who come forward as victims, and we need the police to actually follow up when parents lodge a complaint that their child is being groomed. The parents of Breck Bednar received a payout from the Surrey Police because they “lacked knowledge of dealing with grooming concerns.” Had they known what to do, Breck might still be alive.

In the meantime, the rest of us need to stay vigilant. These are our children, and we have a responsibility to protect them from sexual exploitation. We can no longer fail to spot vulnerable boys on an app for grown men. They don’t belong there.

These boys are our boys. It’s time we protect them.

Milo, Laurie Penny, the Lost Boys, and Toxic Masculinity

 

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Milo Yiannopoulos lost a book deal, a plum speaking gig, and his job this week. Photo: Flickr

I’ve spent a lot of the last three months calling Trump supporters and the alt-right monsters. I did so on this blog. I did so in The Independent.

But there is something missing from my analysis, and it’s something Laurie Penny touched on in a much praised and much derided piece for the Pacific Standard. Before I get into what Penny did and didn’t say, though, let me tell you a story.

When I was 22, I met a young 18-year-old straight boy. We’ll call him Jacob. Jacob was white, blonde, heterosexual, and totally lost in this world. Beyond anything, he was impressionable. Jacob only wanted to be liked. To belong somewhere. Gangly, bumbling, and painfully awkward, Jacob and I met through student government. I took an instant liking to him. He was sweet, goofy, and though intellectually inelegant (as 18-year-olds are apt to be), clearly intelligent.

Jacob looked to me as a mentor, and I to him as a kid I could help. I nurtured him and invited him to hang out with friends and go to parties. Eventually he pledged the fraternity I always hung out with (but didn’t belong to). I didn’t think this a good idea – Jacob was too sensitive, too vulnerable, and frankly too cerebral to really fit in with this hard-drinking, fast-fucking crew. I’ve written about my own college years drinking and fucking my way up and down fraternity row, and I was afraid that blend of toxic masculinity (which at the time I got a high off of) would kill poor Jacob.

Fast forward eight or so years, and he probably disagrees. I still don’t. Jacob was relentlessly picked on, though I must stress not hazed, by the guys in the fraternity. Most of it was the good-natured banter that twenty-something men tend toward. Some of it was a lot crueller. All of it proved too much for Jacob, who began drinking heavily and was prone to becoming violent when intoxicated. It got him banned from some fraternity parties and even, for a time, my house – unless he stayed sober.

Around this time, Jacob took a women’s studies class at my behest, and even began dating a lovely feminist woman. It seemed that he would sort himself out. But a year after I moved to Chicago, I got a call from him saying they’d broken up, and that he was in a very dark place. No stranger to dark places myself, I took a Megabus to see him. He rebounded, and I left.

As friends who live hundreds of miles away from one another often do, we drifted apart. It wasn’t really until last year when I drunkenly called him to catch up that I realised the boy I’d met who entered this world of toxic masculinity grew up into a misogynistic man and Trump supporter. We’ve not talked a lot since.

I’m from Kentucky, so the fact that people I know and even considered friends voted for Donald Trump isn’t all that surprising. But reading Penny’s piece, I thought specifically of Jacob and the strange, drunken, and desperate course he travelled from a dorky college kid to a self-identified feminist to the type of guy who, had he been born a few years later, could’ve been in that car with Penny and Yiannopoulos, evacuating UC-Berkeley.

I’m going to quote at length from Laurie’s piece here, because I think she makes two important points – one clumsily and one cogently. First, this:

It is vital that we talk about who gets to be treated like a child, and what that means. All of the people on Yiannopoulos’ tour are over 18 and legally responsible for their actions. They are also young, terribly young, young in a way that only privileged young men really get to be young in America, where your race, sex, and class determine whether and if you ever get to be a stupid kid, or a kid at all. Mike Brown was also 18, the same age as the Yiannopoulos posse, when he was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014; newspaper reports described him as an adult, and insisted that the teenager was “no angel,” as if that justified what was done to him. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. The boys following Yiannopoulos are playing with a toy dictator, and they have faced no consequences as yet, even though it turns out that their plastic play-fascism is, in fact, fully loaded and ready for murder.

This is the bit that seems to have gotten Penny the most flack, and to be fair, I get it. Writer Mikki Kendall summed it up best in a Twitter thread, in which she points out that Penny building her argument on the bodies of dead Black martyrs is callous and insensitive. I take that point. (I’m posting the first tweet in the thread below; please read and consider it.)

Still, engaging with who gets to be seen as a child, or an innocent, or have their behaviour excused because of youth is a worthwhile intellectual exercise, because in our culture not everybody gets to have youthful indiscretions. That is, in fact, almost exclusively the purview of straight cis white men.

So while perhaps Penny’s word choice was unfortunate, I don’t think her point was far from the mark. And yes, impact matters more than intent, but I have always believed that intent should be considered when thinking of how we respond, because it does still matter.

I say this not only as a defence of Penny’s own work and intentions, but because it plays right into the next very important point she makes. While, as she writes, “these are little boys playing games with the lives of others,” she also points out that Yiannopoulos

exploits vulnerable young men. Not in a sexual way. Not in an illegal way. Yiannopoulos exploits vulnerable young men in the same way that every wing-nut right-wing shock-jock from the president down has been exploiting them for years: by whipping up the fear and frustration of angry young men and boys who would rather burn down the world than learn to live in it like adults, by directing that affectless rage in service to their own fame and power. This is the sort of exploitation the entire conservative sphere is entirely comfortable with. What happens to these kids now that the game has changed?

If you think that centring white male Trump supporters is the antithesis of everything you stand for and the very thing both Penny and I have dedicated our careers to not doing, well, you’re right. So let me say before we go any further that I will absolutely side with any marginalised community over angry, privileged, adultalescent men – whether 17 or 70 – who leverage their power and privilege to harm the most vulnerable. As I’ve said many times, to many friends, and on many panels, I say now for the first time in print:

Explanations are not excuses

There is absolutely no excusing the behaviour of Yiannopoulos, his fanboys, President Trump, or any of the enablers, gatekeepers, or even voters who propelled them all to where they are today. None. But I do think the left, the resistance, and for that matter American culture generally could benefit from asking ourselves what brought them to this point.

If you read Penny’s piece, it’s clear that it wasn’t economic anxiety. If you look at the polling data on who voted for Trump, it’s clear too. But I think Penny hit the nail squarely on the head when she labelled these groupies “the lost boys.” Because I know a boy like them. I know Jacob.

Jacob graduated university in 2013 and moved to a mid-sized southern metropolis in search of the elusive American dream. He found dead end after dead end, working a sales job he didn’t like which (if I recall) he was eventually fired or laid off from. He found dating hard, impossible even. Women just didn’t seem interested in him.

At some point between 2014 and 2016 he moved back to his parents’ house in a small southern city and resumed working at the fast food restaurant he worked at while in high school. Last I talked to him, which was probably last spring, he was the manager. He was still living at home. He was still single. And he was noticeably and perhaps understandably angry about it.

It was at that time he told me that he thought, like Yiannopoulos, that feminism was a cancer on Western society. It had damaged the natural order of men on top and women subservient. All the social progress we made wasn’t working for him, so it obviously wasn’t working for anyone. Best to go back to 1956.

This is of course absurd. It is also straight up sexism.

Yet – consider one of the young men in Yiannopoulos’ posse, who told Penny that “I think a lot of people in this crew wouldn’t be part of the popular crowd without the Trump movement. I think that some of us are outcasts, some of us are kind of weird. It’s a motley crew.”

This quote gave me pause, and I reread it probably four times before going on, particularly the phrase “popular crowd,” which is one most often heard in high school cafeterias, not political discourse. That phrase in and of itself conjures up adolescence, immaturity, and a childlike longing to be recognised as part of the crème-de-la-crème of your social unit. That is not the phrase a well-adjusted adult uses unironically.

I have often times thanked God that I’m gay, because I think it saved me from going down this darkly bigoted path. Being openly gay in Kentucky from 2001 – 2011 did for me what it clearly never did for Yiannopoulos: it made me empathetic to other minorities. But if you read the essay I wrote for Salon about trying so desperately to belong to Greek life at my alma mater, you’ll see that I tried desperately to fit in with the oppressive class:

But from under them I could still obtain a certain level of social cachet. My reputation as someone who would fuck but didn’t talk grew, and with that, came a certain level of trust. “Put a cock in his mouth and he’ll shut up,” one of my buddies once joked. Suddenly, I was invited to the premier parties, not just from the fraternity I was hanging out with, but others. And I went, because it felt good. Being invited signaled acceptance, even if it was only on their terms. I might not be one of them, but I could hang with them, and that meant something.

I was a women’s studies minor. I knew better. Yet I still fell for the trappings of white heteropatriarchy, which as I said in that essay, is one helluva drug – especially to a working class gay kid who had never found any semblance of social acceptance anywhere else.

The sociologist Paul Kivel has a theory he calls the “act-like-a-man box,” which explains the pressures men feel to achieve, to provide, to dominate women, and to suppress their emotions and how these things can negatively impact not only their mental health but their politics. It’s basically a handy diagram to explain the theory of toxic masculinity, and square in the middle of it can be found Jacob and the Milo Yiannopoulos fan club.

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Paul Kivel’s “act-like-a-man box”

Yiannopoulos first came to American prominence through GamerGate, which was a sexist backlash against women playing video games masquerading as being about journalistic ethics. He built his cult following of basement dwelling, Red Bull chugging nerdy men by tearing down the women who many of them felt were invading a space where they could live out their misogynistic, violent fantasies without retribution or critique. Games were all they had, because for many of these men, they were social rejects. (I can say this with some certainty, as the gamers I know who are well-adjusted adult humans reject GamerGate, Yiannopoulos, and Trump without hesitation.)

Yet these are men who were, for a variety of reasons – whether because they were nerdy, or more effeminate, or overweight, or socially awkward – emasculated by the patriarchal norms described in the act-like-a-man box. Instead of burning the box and liberating themselves, they retreated further into it, where they found Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos waiting to exploit their anxieties and insecurities for profit and for power.

Jacob wasn’t a gamer, but he was in the act-like-a-man box too, and Trump and Yiannopoulos found and converted him too. These Lost Boys, as Penny calls them, were lost because they – for whatever reason, or for many reasons – couldn’t live up to the pressures of socially constructed toxic masculinity. So they turned to people who could help redefine that.

This is probably key to why Milo Yiannopoulos so appealed to these young men. Sure, as Penny points out, they weren’t gay, but Yiannopoulos simultaneously defied the norms of masculinity – camping it up, wearing his pearls, openly talking of sucking dick – while being embraced by the patriarchy. If he could do it, they likely thought, so could they. It actually makes perfect sense that Yiannopoulos was the standard bearer of these Lost Boys. He accessed the social currency they desperately want to possess.

Of course key to all of this is how they viewed what it means to be a man. The toxicity isn’t only what it does to them, but what it does to others. That to them being a man meant dominance, violence, and sexual control of women is exactly what enables rape culture to thrive and domestic violence rates to stay abysmally high. It’s patriarchal, white supremacist bullshit that keeps women, racial minorities, LGBT people, and other marginalised groups oppressed. But – and this is a fact many leftists don’t want to grapple with – it also hurts white cis straight men who are denied agency unless they fit these narrow parameters of what it means to be a man.

It has been pointed out numerous times that Yiannopoulos was brought down not by his bigotry but the bigotry of others, whose homophobia was so triggered by what he said about the pederastic paradigm (and I do believe that’s what he was trying to say) that they exiled him from Trumpland. Whether his Lost Boys continue to follow him remains to be seen. Judging from the comments on his Facebook page, I think many will. I also think, as someone who has followed Yiannopoulos’ career since 2009 (which is around the time Penny and I first followed one another on Twitter), that we’ve not seen the last of him. His career has at least six lives left. What the next one manifests as, though, is anyone’s guess.

If Yiannopoulos can’t rehabilitate his image in the alt-right and even mainstream conservatism, someone will surely rise to take his place. As Penny’s article shows, there are plenty of Lost Boys waiting to play Peter Pan. One of them will assume the mantle in due course.

When they do, though, I hope we have a better understanding of who they are and what they’re all about. Because I think understanding the toxic masculinity – and the denial of it – that gave rise to Yiannopoulos and his cult following is important. Besides the obvious “know thy enemy” trope, if we’re ever to successfully deconstruct white heteropatriarchy, we have to know how it harms men too, and also what it can propel them towards. I chose feminism, socialism, and queer theory, opting to burn this shit to the ground. Yiannopoulos, Jacob, and others chose instead to find alternative means of accessing the power and privilege they felt they were denied. That is the more pernicious and dangerous path, one which has undoubtedly led us to where we are today – an era where the progress we’ve collectively made over the past 50 years is in its greatest peril.

We need to think about how we can reach, maybe not these men who are already lost causes, but other boys and men who could become them. And to do that, we need to grapple with toxic masculinity. We need to include it in our analyses and activism.

That doesn’t mean we stop centring women, people of colour, LGBT folks, disabled folks, immigrants, or any other marginalised group. We can’t. That work is too important – more important – and frankly more pressing. Lives are at stake. When you’re in the middle of a war you don’t ask the soldiers to think about how they’ll rehabilitate the enemy after victory. But for those of us who have the currency to spare, we should start examining these questions and considering how to raise principled and purposeful boys into feminist men.

None of this is to excuse any behaviour. “I was just following orders” wasn’t an excuse at Nuremburg, and it isn’t an excuse here. These assholes need to be held to account, full stop. And they cannot be let off the hook. Again, explanations are not excuses. But to not examine how they became who they are is to risk raising the next Milo Yiannopoulos.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a journalist and essayist based in Chicago. He writes about British and American politics and pop culture. His work has appeared at The Independent, The Huffington Post UK, The Daily Dot, and Salon. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan.

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2016

2016-naughty-and-nice

Santa’s not the only one who makes a naughty and nice list. So while you all are celebrating Christmas Eve Eve, I’ve been making my list, checking it twice, and drinking some bourbon on ice. While the naughty list  has certainly outpaced the nice list, I was still able to wrangle up five nice people, and narrow it down to five of the naughtiest motherfuckers of the year.

Folks, a holiday tradition continues. Here are my naughty and nice lists for 2016.

naughty

5. Robby Mook

This should have been the year that made Robby Mook. The first openly gay person to run a presidential campaign, it looked like his candidate, Hillary Clinton, had the 2016 election in the bag. But a series of fatal body blows (Russian interference, the FBI – more on that later) proved too much to overcome. Even so, the Bernie Sanders’ staffers were warning the Clinton campaign that the Blue Wall of the Rust Belt was about to be breached, and instead of doubling down in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, he sent operatives to Georgia, Arizona, and Iowa. The campaign called me in September asking me to go to the latter, even though I insisted I was of better use in Wisconsin or Ohio. They didn’t think so, and insisted I go to Iowa. This loss wasn’t all Mook’s fault, but the low margin of victory for Trump in the crucial states we lost shows that just a little more effort and a little less arrogance could have prevented the greatest political emergency since the Civil War. And the buck stops with Mook, who should’ve fucking known better.

4. Nigel Farage

I blame Nigel Farage for literally every bad thing that happened this year. I’m not kidding: I got a hangnail today and blamed the bastard for it. It’s no secret that Nigel hates immigrants, isn’t particularly fond of gay people, and thinks Marine Le Pen is the Thatcher to his Reagan (though I hesitate to use that analogy cos Thatcher and Reagan don’t deserve to be so besmirched). But his Leave.EU campaign, which wasn’t even the official campaign, was on another level of racist trolling. His infamous “Breaking Point” poster had to be reported to the police for stoking racial animus, and earlier this week he made the most despicable comment about Brendan Cox, the widower of MP Jo Cox, who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist many believe was inspired by Farage’s campaign. After the tragic terrorist attack in Berlin, Farage blamed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the deaths of 12 victims. Brendan Cox tweeted at him that blaming politicians for terrorism is a “slippery slope,” to which Farage gallingly replied on LBC that Brendan would know more about extremism than he did. It was a tasteless, low blow against a grieving husband, but it summarises everything vile about Nigel Farage. While Jo is in Heaven, there’s a special place in Hell for this unimaginable bastard.

3. The Trump Kids (Donald Trump, Jr.; Ivanka Trump; Jared Kushner; Eric Trump; Tiffany Trump)

How Donald Trump, Jr loves his father is beyond me. A story that circulated in the press earlier this year told of how his father once smacked him in front of his entire college dorm because he was wearing a baseball jersey, and not a suit, to a baseball game. The Trump kids all look like vampires with Stockholm syndrome, but the fact that they smiled and nodded as their father talked about banning Muslims and deporting the parents of American citizens was beyond the pale – and being beyond the pale is no mean feat for these pasty ass White Walkers. I hope every gay man in America gets a chance to scream at Ivanka over the next four years. I eagerly await my turn.

2. The Trump Minions: Stephen Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Paul Manafort, Cory Lewendowski

Let’s just get it out of the way: Kellyanne Conway looks like a Stepford Wife and talks like one, too. Corey Lewandowski is a real life Lex Luthor who you just know punched that journalist. Paul Manafort is Putin’s butt buddy; he’s licked so much Russian ass that he’s basically starred in a scat porn. And Steve Bannon is the personification of human trash, literal garbage who should’ve been thrown out in 1965 along with his white supremacist ideology. These twats – and I’m sorry, there’s really no other word for it – got Trump to where he is now. In doing so, they’ve legitimised hate and brought America to the cusp of authoritarian klepocracy, meaning that whilst they get to line their pockets over the next four years, the rest of us are going to have to “bow down” to President Trump, as Conway once said. Seriously fuck them and everyone who loves them. Assuming we don’t all perish in a nuclear holocaust, I look forward to popping champagne when each of these asshats dies.

1. James Comey

Fuck James Comey. I will go to my grave cursing his name. In the most blatantly political move an FBI director has made since J Edgar Hoover tapped Martin Luther King, Jr’s phones, Comey sent a letter to Congress days before the election saying he had new e-mails that were of interest in the Clinton e-mail investigation (they weren’t; he lied) but told the White House not to mention Russian hacking to “avoid looking partisan.” This from the son-of-a-bitch who didn’t even bother having the FBI investigate it when known Russian hackers were in the process of hacking the DNC, instead calling their front desk like it was some goddamn courtesy call and not an attack on American democracy. This man wanted Trump to be president, or maybe he just didn’t want Clinton, I don’t know. But he used his position to undermine the American election and, as far as I’m concerned, is a goddamn traitor to his country. BURN. IN. HELL. Seriously, if you didn’t already have plenty of reasons to hate and distrust the FBI, now you do. James Comey is the devil. (James, I’m sure this will make a good addition to my file.)

Dishonourable mentions: Jill Stein; Pat McCrory; Vladimir Putin

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5. Ana Navarro

I don’t think there has been a more vocal, or more effective, #NeverTrump voice than Republican strategist Ana Navarro – who crossed party lines to vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a patriotic American and decent fucking person. Throughout the year, she has read for filth and dragged Trump supporters for their unabashed infatuation with a misogynistic, racist, demagogue. Never was this better displayed than when she told CNN Contributor and Trump acolyte Scottie Nell Hughes (whom Saturday Night Live correctly identified as a “full blown nut job”) that she would say pussy if she damn well pleased since the candidate Hughes loved so much was allowed to say it. Ana Navarro was a badass all year, and she had remained a staunch critic of that vile man. Her voice will be one of the most important in the resistance, and she is sure to continue speaking her mind and inspiring those of us who still love this country and all it stands for.

4. Kate McKinnon

I was in Sheffield, England for the election. Being away from friends and family who understood the anguish I felt was difficult. I felt like I was living through a national tragedy by myself, until Kate McKinnon beautifully sang “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton. Watching it, I broke down in tears at a pub as I watched McKinnon-as-Clinton sing the mournful melody in her white pantsuit. Throughout the year, the out lesbian has proven an inspiration to young women and young LGBT people and has delivered some of the most memorable comedy in a generation. She deserved her Emmy, but her post-election cold open will be what she is forever remembered for.

3. Anna Soubry

Like the American Ana on my list, Anna Soubry has been battling the forces of bigotry for the soul of her party all year. A vocal Remainer, Soubry hasn’t backed down since the referendum, trying to temper the far-right voices within her own ranks, calling out the racism and bigotry being espoused by so many, and championing the cause of liberal democracy at a European level. She has had Nigel Farage’s Leave.EU criticise her appearance, had threads of assassination, and seen her attempts to make sure Britain doesn’t fuck itself over with a Hard Brexit all but rebuffed by the Prime Minister, Theresa May. I’m no Tory, but I have nothing but respect for Anna Soubry and the fact that she’s stuck by her principles and championed a more enlightened, internationalist approach.

2. Michelle Obama

Jesus Christ, will I miss our First Lady when she’s off the public stage. For eight years she has personified grace, classiness, and humility. No First Lady in American history has been as simultaneously glamourous and accessible as Michelle Obama. This year, her barnstorming speeches in favour of Hillary Clinton, whether her speech at the Democratic convention where she coined the most memorable phrase of the year (“when they go low, we go high”) to her amazing speech against the misogyny of Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump were the most important and memorable of the election cycle. Michelle Obama has come out swinging as a champion for girls and women, and while she has said she’ll never run for office, I am sure her advocacy will continue. She spoke for millions of Americans when she told Oprah that this is how it feels to live without hope, and it’s a shame that just when we need her most she’s losing her biggest platform. But I do have a little hope: that Michelle Obama will emerge as a sane, logical voice of the American resistance.

1. Jo Cox and Lily Jayne Summers

Where to start? The Labour Party lost two of its brightest rising stars this year. Jo Cox, who famously believed we have more in common than we do that separates us, was brutally assassinated leaving a surgery in June, just days before the EU referendum. Her death caused me to exclaim “Jesus, no!” in the middle of our Chicago office. It was a blow to decency in politics, and a blow to her two precious children and her lovely husband, Brendan. Lily, who passed away earlier this month, was one of my dearest friends and the founder of Britain Elects, the preeminent British poll aggregator. Both Jo and Lily represented what’s best about Labour: a stalwart desire to help not just those at home in Britain, or those with whom they agreed, but everybody everywhere. Both of them had spirits which touched the world and changed the lives of those who knew them. Lily told me, after the election, that I shouldn’t give up on America because working class people need me. Jo believed that no gulf was too big to bridge and that no bridge, whether between Brexiters and Remainers (and I’m sure that would extend to Trump and Hillary) was too difficult to build. As we finish this year, I take the lessons both of them taught us to heart and try to internalise the love and goodwill the spread everywhere they went. Jo and Lily will be sorely missed for the rest of our days. We were blessed to have them with us. And I, at least, was blessed to know one of them personally.

Honourable mentions: Joy Reid; Khizr and Ghazala Khan; Katy Tur

Whatever list you find yourself on, I hope you have a very Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year.

In memory of Lily Jayne Summers

 


My friend died.

Though I’ve said these words aloud many times in my 30 years on this earth, it never gets easier. So when Alex told me that Lily had passed away, and Pink News confirmed my worst fears, I went numb.

Lily Jayne Summers was an incredible human being. If you knew her, you knew warmth, compassion, and humour. If you didn’t, gee, did you miss out on knowing someone amazing. Lily was the kindest, most decent person I knew. The outpouring of grief on British political Twitter, regardless of party, speaks volumes. Lily was a young woman who judged people based on their personalities, not politics. She sought not to languish over our divisions, but to find commonality. A stalwart Labour activist and prospective council candidate in Swansea, she was still willing to not only work with, but befriend and love, people from across the political spectrum.

Lily first came into my life over three years ago. She, and her dear friend Ben, were running an upstart political commentary site called The Columnist. I asked if I could contribute, and she agreed. Lily was still a teenager; I was a recently-made-redundant 27-year-old looking to start a new career. I didn’t believe in myself, but this teenage girl gave me a chance because she saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. It was Lily that encouraged me, promoted my work, and has led me to where I am today. Without her, I would not have a career.

Beyond that, though, Lily was a friend. In the early part of 2014, when I was too depressed to get off the couch and spent months on end in my apartment, Lily talked to me, counselled me, and never judged me. She understood. She routinely checked up on me, making sure I was eating, I wasn’t drinking too much, and that I was looking for jobs. Lily, the teenager, saved this adult’s life.

As time went on, Lily committed herself to her studies and to Labour activism. But we never lost touch, and she never lost the compassion she is renowned for. After Trump won, Lily messaged me to make sure I was okay and to encourage me not to give up on my home country. Working class people, she said, needed me. She was that way: she always saw good in people who didn’t necessarily see good in us as LGBT people. She always believed that humans are, at their core, decent. And she sought to bridge divides that many of us thought too broad to broach.

This was no mean feat. Lily faced transphobia almost everyday of her life. She dealt with transphobic trolls in person and online. Yet she still kept faith that people were, on the whole, good and kind. Maybe they lacked understanding, she thought, but they didn’t lack compassion.

Lily Jayne Summers was unlike anyone I’ve ever known, and I can unequivocally say unlike anyone I’ll ever know again. While our epic Facebook chats will forever remain dear, and private, to me, below are some of my favourite exchanges on Twitter with her.

The start of a beautiful friendship:

 

When I realised she understood my sense of humour:

And then later served as tech support:

Our first massive disagreement:

 

And then our second:

When she low-key shaded our friend Ben Pelc:

 

Our third massive disagreement:

 

We were soon back on the same page though

Oh and there was that time she totally draaaaged Robyn for her Bieber fever

 

Still, she understood thirst:

And held us accountable:

Without lowering standards:

I mean this was not a woman who suffered fools gladly:

 

Lily was not a woman who was afraid to set the record straight:

Though never say she didn’t cross party lines:

Always a good friend:

Even if she was a hashtag opportunist:

Though she was always there to lend a helping hand:

While smacking me with truth:

Yet still speaking truth to power:

Something we can’t forget about Lily is how anti-Corbyn but pro-Labour she was:

She never lost her charm, though:

Until she supported Sanders, haha:

I wish she had, Lily. 😦

Back to her principles:

Let Mitt Romney never forget how she felt about him:

And never forget her last tweet to me, and to America:

I love you, Lily.