Tag Archives: northern ireland

What a coalition featuring the DUP might mean for LGBT Britons

Photo courtesy of the Open University.

Photo courtesy of the Open University.

Tonight, BBC News broadcast the Northern Ireland leaders’ debate from Belfast, the last of the general election debates ahead of Thursday’s vote. Though mostly ignored in the national campaigns — in large part because none of the major parties have a heavy presence there — Northern Ireland could yet play a deciding factor in who will soon occupy Number 10.

Northern Ireland is unique in the United Kingdom. Marked by years of sectarian violence between unionists who wished to remain in the UK and nationalists who wished to join the Republic of Ireland, it is still a country struggling to reconcile its past with its future. But what really struck my interest was the fact that, perhaps for the first time in the entire election, LGBT rights took centre stage.

Equal marriage arrived in England and Wales early last year; it followed in Scotland shortly thereafter. Even the Republic looks like it may vote for equal marriage later this month. But Northern Ireland, deeply traditional and conservative, has held out. In April, the Northern Ireland Assembly rejected equal marriage for a fourth time. This follows the controversy surrounding the Ashers Bakery, which is currently in court fighting charges it discriminated against an LGBT group by refusing to bake a cake supporting gay marriage. And just last week the DUP’s health minister resigned after saying that gay parents were more likely to abuse and neglect their children than straight parents.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the largest Northern Irish party in the Westminster parliament. As the right-wing website Brietbart UK reported, it is likely to have 9 seats in the next parliament which could prove deeply important to a possible Tory minority government. It is an extremely socially conservative party, though with a strong contingent of pro-labour sentiment. Sinn Féin — the Irish nationalist party — tends to be more left-wing, but has long refused to take the seats they are elected to, believing the Westminster government to be illegitimate in Northern Ireland. The other party supportive of equal marriage, the Alliance Party, has one MP who may well lose her seat on Thursday.

This is all idle speculation, and there is no guarantee that the DUP will even play a significant, or indeed any, role in any coalition. To my knowledge, none of the major party leaders have publicly entertained the idea. Plus, as the Christian Science Monitor put it, “Northern Ireland may simply be too distant from Westminster thinking for either Labour or the Tories to find common ground” with the party. But in an election that’s been defined by the rising profiles of a right-wing populist party (the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP) and of nationalist parties such as the Scottish National Party and Wales’ Plaid Cymru, it’s also easy to imagine the appeal to Miliband and especially Cameron of aligning with a populist, pro-union contingent from outside England.

So if Northern Ireland is to play kingmaker, it’s likely to be the result of MPs antagonistic, or at least antipathetic, to LGBT rights. It’s not a stretch, given the tensions over the issue in Belfast, that one of the DUP’s “red lines” (as the press has taken to calling non-negotiable policy positions in potential coalition negotiations) might be no further advances in LGBT equality. That could mean up to and including halting any efforts to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. This has been a pet project of the Tories’ education secretary, Nicky Morgan who, it’s worth noting, voted against equal marriage. UKIP, with its reputation and record, are unlikely to cringe at the DUP’s positions. And the majority of Tory backbenchers did vote against equal marriage. In that context, a grand coalition of the right including the DUP, and their anti-gay policies, becomes more imaginable.

What that might mean for people remains to be seen. But judging by what’s happening in Northern Ireland, if the DUP is allowed to hold any of the balance of power in Westminster, it won’t be good for the LGBT community. It’s something few have entertained, but in an election where anything is possible, it’s one activists, and indeed the country, should consider as they tick that box on Thursday.

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I don’t know why I love Britain. But don’t call me an Anglophile.

anglophile

The most frequent question I’m posed, bar none, is “why Britain?” I get asked by British acquaintances who don’t understand why I love their country so much, and I get asked by Americans who can’t understand why I don’t love ours more. Britain’s broken, so I’m told, and who would want to leave the sunny states? They have a queen, I’m reminded, and bad teeth and even worse food. (Hey, I never said Americans were kind, or fair, or informed.)

Of course, I recognise the problems facing Britain. And of course I see great things in America. I’ve written about both. But the fact is I could never work for the CIA because I’m on record as saying “she is my Queen, and I’d gladly die for her.” More than once. On the same 4th of July.

To those of my friends stateside, this is my defining quirk. I’m the man who draped himself in the St George’s cross when England faced the USA in the 2010 World Cup. In university, I gave a speech defending the position of the Crown and decrying the Declaration of Independence as a treasonous document. I couldn’t sing past the second verse of “America, the Beautiful,” but by God I’ll sing through my sobs when “I Vow to Thee, My Country” plays.

For me, which country that is has always been clear. I can offer, at random, a litany of things I admire about the Brits-fair play, sturdy resolve, Jack Wills. But I have no explanation or understanding of how I developed a fascination with the UK as a child, or when that grew into a passion which has long since evolved into a full-blown obsession. Moving to Britain is, frankly, the only thing I care about, and I can’t even tell you why.

I’m not alone. There are countless Americans who, like myself, love the history, the culture and the landscapes of the British isles. We watch British telly, listen to British music, and read British books. We’re called Anglophiles, and we’re aplenty.

I’ve always found that term problematic, though, and have never felt it aptly described me. To begin with, it’s hopelessly restrictive. Anglo means English, but it leaves out the rest of the United Kingdom, which I love with just as much ferocity (except during the Six Nations Championship). And it’s not a pretty word. Anglophile. Ang-lo-file. It sounds like a tool my granddad would use to whittle away at a statue of Charles Townshend. The abstract noun, Anglophilia, is even worse, suggesting we somehow get our jollies from a phone box or Nigel Farage.

Yet many Anglophiles do fetishise the UK. Having read Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters as children, they fell in love with yesteryear. They see cobblestone streets and high tea and bowler hats. Don’t get me wrong, these are lovely aspects of British life, but they all emphasise the myth of Merry England, a utopian fantasy that never existed.

For the vast majority of them, their love stops there. They don’t recognise that the country gentry in Emma wouldn’t have associated with their sort, even if they did talk to Harriet. They don’t see that the class stratification presented in Downton Abbey is still very much a live and quite visible at the Lord Mayor’s banquet. They’ve never heard of Enoch Powell or Nick Griffin. To them, Stephen Lawrence is an adorable child star, not a murdered teen.

They long for a stereotype or a fiction, and while that means they fail to see the bad, it also means that they erase the reality of the millions of workaday Britons. Its these people whom I most admire, and whom enrich my love for their country.

This is why I’ve always shirked the label. Britain isn’t a fairytale, and British people don’t all live happily ever after. Sure, it’s glamorous; nobody does pomp and circumstance better than the Brits. But it’s also gritty and grimy, complex and diverse. Its history is proud, and I believe its future is bright, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been moral failings, and that there aren’t any now. As the advert for the BBC 2 comedy says, Hebburn is a place on earth. Heaven, however, isn’t.

Still, I am unseemly patriotic, especially considering my only claim to “Britishness” is a smattering of ancestors buried in the United States before there was a United States. I’ve dedicated my life to writing about Britain, extolling its strengths and promise while critiquing its shortcomings. I do this because I love that country, because I want to see it prosper and grow. I do it because I want, more than anything, to contribute to its success. It’s why I get up in the morning, and it’s what I dream of at night.

I certainly don’t expect anyone else to understand when I myself am at a loss. But if I were forced to give an answer, to reach into the deepest part of my soul and tell you why I love Britain, I imagine that answer would be simple and clichéd.

Why Britain? Because it’s great.

Give Thanks and Pass the Pimms: 5 things I’m thankful Britain gave the world

firstthanksgiving

We all know the story. The Pilgrims, with their funny hats and boring names, set sail on the Mayflower towards the New World in search of religious freedom. What nobody ever tells you is that they went to the Netherlands for a bit, or that they didn’t really want to come, or that loads of them got dysentery and died before reaching Plymouth Rock.

We know that Squanto fed them corn, and that the three remaining Pilgrims came together with their kind Native benefactors in thanks giving for the great harvest which kept them from becoming Roanoke version 2.0. We stop there, because the mass slaughter of the native population isn’t exactly “happily ever after” unless you’re Mike Huckabee and think the heathens had it coming and turkey is best deep fried.

So that’s the first Thanksgiving.

Nobody tells you that the Pilgrims were essentially seventeenth century England’s Westboro Baptist Church, but this may explain why Britain is more evolved on issues of religion in the public sphere. They sent their crazy right wing Christians here, and their descendants went on to found Jesusland. I mean Texas. Still, whilst the British may have given us Sarah Palin’s colonial antecedents, they’ve given us loads of good stuff too. So, quickly, here are five things I’m thankful for Britain giving the world:

1. Liberty: Okay, Americans like to pretend we invented this in 1776, but we didn’t. In fact the Declaration of Independence was, outside of being a treasonous document, simply a restatement of English principles dating back to Magna Carta in 1215. Trial by jury, habeus corpus, a free press, and the right to petition were all exported by Britain to its colonies. These weren’t homespun in Boston or handcrafted in Philadelphia. The Brits gave them to us, and their legacy lives on in our Constitution.

2. Newspapers: I hesitate to put this on here, because the British government has borrowed Miley’s wrecking ball to destroy what’s left of press freedom whilst Hugh Grant  watches, twerking and sticking his tongue out in glee. But the British press is a site to behold, a beast unto itself which simply has no American equivalent. The broadsheets are still celebrated as national treasures, even while being regularly ridiculed, and magazines like Private Eye and the venerated but defunct Punch prove that satire is the best defence of democracy. Even the tabloids serve a purpose, for I am keenly interested in everything Chantelle Houghton has to say about Alex Reid’s cross dressing. As I know you are, too.

3. Understatement: “It’s drizzling,” a British friend once said to me as the hurricane hit. The Brits really know how to undercut a moment. Win an Oscar? “I got a trophy.” Elected to Parliament? “It’s a job.” Shag a royal? “His hairline’s receding.” And the great thing is THEY’RE NOT HUMBLE BRAGGING! They really do mean it. You’d think that as an American this penchant for restrained dryness would annoy me, but I actually appreciate it. I think that Americans are too prone to hyperbole, and that dry sense of humour has made me reign in my otherwise outrageous personality.

4. Lucozade: There is no better cure for a hangover than this fizzy, refreshing, hydrating miracle water. I can hardly find it in the US, but I will trek across the city if I hear a store has it stocked. Seriously, I swear by the stuff.

5. Chris Ramsey: Because this.

chris ramsey

So there’s five wonderful things that the UK gave the world, and I’m grateful for all of them. As you may have noticed, this trails off at number four, and by number five, I’ve completely given up. That’s not because I couldn’t think of anything else; there’s so much about Britain I’m thankful for. But there’s turkey on the table and wine in my glass, so I’m off to gorge myself on enough tryptophan and starches that I sleep right through Black Friday and wake up on the other side of consumerism.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

(PS: For the record, I’m very thankful for each and every one of you who read this. I have some great supporters out there, and I am very blessed! I leave you with this video.)