Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Update on Unionist Homophobia

I've just discovered the transcript of the proceedings in the Transitional Assembly yesterday, when members debated over the new Sexual Orientation Regulations, designed to protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination in the provision of goods and services.

All thirty-nine opponents to the regulations were either from the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP. Those in favour included Sinn Fein, Alliance and SDLP. David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party was the only unionist to vote in support of the regulations.

The unionist argument was couched in Christian rhetoric. Caitriona Ruane of Sinn Fein noted the DUP's history of homophobia and accused the party of using homophobia for political gain.

Alex Maskey of Sinn Fein referred to Ian Paisley's various campaigns against gay rights: "For many of us, the history of the DUP — and perhaps, even more so, that of the Free Presbyterian Church — will lead many of us to believe that a strong homophobic strain runs through that strand of our society. Many of us believe that, and our belief is based on the experience of seeing many years of strong campaigns that were headed by the leader of the DUP, who is sitting on the Benches opposite."

Patricia Lewsley of the SDLP referred to the DUP as the "Discriminating as Usual Party."

Paul Berry, former-DUP golden boy, who last year was alleged to have engaged in a sex act with another male in a Belfast hotel, remained silent throughout the debate but voted with his former party-colleagues in opposing the introduction of the regulations.

This is an update of this post.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bad Art - Michael Stone

In the wake of Michael Stone's recent attack on Stormont, many of the news reports noted that Stone was an artist, although none mentioned how amateurish his artworks actually are.

The pictures I've seen display no understanding of technique, composition or ability.

Two of his dreadful paintings appeared on eBay in the last week. One, entitled ‘Kneeling Nude on a Red Background’ had a ‘buy-it-now’ price of £9,995. It wasn’t met and the item mysteriously vanished from eBay before the auction closed.

A second, untitled, nude came with a signed photo of Stone posing by its “sister painting” which is entitled ‘Coeruleum Sunrise’. The bidding started at £4,000 and the auction closed this afternoon without any interest.

These works are really bad. The reds and blacks which act as a background to the nudes, coupled with the clumsy graphic style, suggest a boy's bedroom from the 1980s. The female nudes look as if they've been badly copied from a pornographic magazine.

Bizarrely, the listings noted that a percentage of the sales would be donated to Relatives for Justice, a Northern Irish victims charity with offices on the Falls Road and an interest in uncovering British Army and RUC collusion in murder.

However, Stone's artistic nadir has to be a sculpture, currently on eBay with a starting price of £3,500. Behold the red hand, cast from a Glaswegian loyalist as it arises from a piece of bog oak, slate and a cog wheel.

I'm not quite sure what this piece is trying to convey. Perhaps, in his delusiory state, Stone thought that the presence of the bog oak provided him with some kind of artistic credibility. Alternatively, Stone may have recently become aware that his art was rubbish and decided to go back to the day job.

We all know what an exhibition that turned out to be.

Bad Art - Republican Sinn Fein

Today, the Belfast Telegraph printed a news story about Republican Sinn Fein’s Christmas card, complete with a picture (which I reproduce here). As you can see, the image is of Santa wielding an AK-47 rifle and uttering ‘Up the Republic’ in Irish.

As expected, hands were flung up in horror and words of condemnation were issued from the usual quarters.

However, none of the reports have mentioned that the artwork is truly awful. Isn’t there anyone in Republican Sinn Fein’s marketing department with an appreciation of art?

Illustrated cards of this standard are excusable if produced by a children’s charity. By releasing this inept and unsophisticated image, Republican Sinn Fein announces it isn’t a political organisation that should be taken seriously.

United Colours of Homophobia

Today, the DUP and friends turned their attention to gay-baiting in an attempt to frustrate the progress of the new Sexual Orientation Regulations, which are designed to stop businesses discriminating against lesbian and gay people in the provision of goods and services.

Thirty-nine Assembly Members voted in favour of a motion condemning the British Government's plans to introduce the regulations. Thirty-nine voted against and the motion was rejected. The regulations will take effect from 1st January 2007.

Although Jeffrey Donaldson and George Dawson of the DUP led the charge against the Sexual Orientation Regulations, one can be comfortably assume that the vast majority, if not all of the other thirty-seven supporters of the motion were from within the Unionist bloc.

Unionist homophobic loathing was well illustrated during the introduction of civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 2005. The issue of whether or not to allow gay couples to use Lisburn City Council's wedding room threw unionism into such a tizzy that more than £20,000 of rate-payers' money was squandered seeking legal advice on dealing with the issue, only to find that any actions to block gays from the wedding room would be illegal.

At the time, Councillor Edwin Poots of the DUP likened homosexuality to alcoholism and drug addiction while the Ulster Unionist Ronnie Crawford said he was disgusted by gay websites that he had happened across in researching civil partnerships. How one happens across disgusting websites while researching government policy remains unclear. Perhaps, Mr Crawford strayed from the path to explore some of his own interests.

The comments by Jack McKee of the DUP demonstrate the influence of religious fundamentalism on political decision-making: "I believe that God made Adam from the dust of the ground and that he made woman from the rib of Adam and he made her as a helpmate for him. This is my personal belief and I believe it with all my life. I do not believe man came from monkeys, and all that."

DUP Councillor, Maurice Mills went a hilarious step further when he decreed that Hurricane Katrina was sent by God to punish the New Orleans' gay community since it arrived just days before the annual gay mardi gras. He's also an expert on the AIDS epidemic in Africa, noting that the "abominable and filthy practice of sodomy has resulted in the great continent of Africa being riddled with AIDS, all at great cost to the nations and innocent children." Quite.

This is what he said about the 2004 tsunami, which savaged parts of Asia: "These disasters are no coincidence, as God only honours those who honour him. I would ask why we don't see disasters like these taking place in Europe. Scripture says righteousness exalts nations. Asia is not a Christian continent."

In 2004, the DUP's Newtownabbey councillor, Arthur Templeton, was convicted of harassing a gay candidate during local government elections. Following the court case, he said he believed homosexuality was "Against God's teaching."

Examples of Templeton's behaviour are childish in the extreme. He apparently bent over in front of the man he was harassing, patted his backside and said, "Here you are, John." He also called him "queer" and offered to hold his hand while crossing the road.

Christian religious fundamentalism is so embedded within the Unionist political psyche that it's hard to see how any enlightened or progressive thinking can emerge from within it. Instead, we're transported to some weird, sepia-tinted parallel universe where everything revolves around the gospel hall and swings are padlocked on Sundays.

I'm reminded of the world conjured up by the BBC adaptation of Jeanette Winterson's 'Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit' where the reaction of evangelicals to discovering homosexuality in their midst is both chilling and comic.

Paul Berry must know something of this attitude. The former-DUP member and ardent gospel-singer, was suspended from the party in 2005 and then forced to resign after allegations surfaced that he had a sexual encounter with another man in a Belfast hotel. It transpired that Mr Berry's alleged sexual partner had arranged the whole affair as an elaborate trap in order to make a statement on DUP hypocrisy.

I wonder how Mr Berry voted today.