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Friday, 30 January 2009

Peter Tatchell and Human Rights

I went along this week to support a fundraiser for Peter Tatchell and his Human Rights Fund. The event was packed and I met Green councillor Mike Keogh from Lewisham there as well as a host of other people who are big fans of Peter and the amazing work he does for human rights both in the UK and worldwide.

We were entertained by a range of radical LGBT performers, including Q Boy, a gay hip hop artist who peforms in many schools as part of the 'Schools Out' project teaching young people about LGBTI issues and combating a lot of the homophobia and anti-gay violence in the school system. There was also a dance peformance from 'Bearlesque' a group of gay men who perform regularly at the Vauxhall Tavern cabaret evenings (one of the best centres for alternative cabaret in London) and the final act was the peformer who now calls himself David Hoyle but who, like Prince, was the artist formerly known as The Divine David. He can be very sharp in his comments and dispatches hecklers with vicious comments about their socio-economic background, dress, views etc. He is one of the only artists on the LGBT cabaret scene who is totally political and has a very sharply defined idea of what sexuality is and its interface with economic, social and political ideas. He is wondefully and hilariously anachic and shows up the pretensions of those who consider themselves 'respectable' or 'superior'.

David Hoyle introduced Peter on to the stage as "a secular saint" and that is indeed a very good description of what he is. For years he has carried out virtually a one man crusade against many different forms of oppression, winning supporters along the way, sometimes from the most unusual sources such as the rightwing press. Peter, of course, joined the Green Party and is now the parliamentary candidate for Oxford East. I always wonder at his energy and sheer chutzpah, not to mention his willingness to put himself forward as a spokesman for many campaigns which others would ignore.

Peter explained at the end of the evening how busy he was and the importance of his fund. He receives on average 600 emails per day requesting his help and assistance from all over the world. One of the amazing facts that Peter told us is that Stonewall, the main LGBT rights organisation in this country, and which has strong links with New Labour, refuses to deal with any individual cases. This to me is astonishing as they have a fairly large income and regularly pass themselves off as the main campaigning organisation for LGBT rights.

Peter is currently fighting on issues to do with civil liberties and is very concerned about the destruction of civil rights in this country. He believes that more rights have been lost in this country over the last ten years than in the preceding 100 and he is right. He is currently involved in a court case where two left wing supporters of human rights in Buluchistan (currently a part of Pakistan) are being deliberately framed for being terrorists by the UK government. The defence team was able to demonstrate this week, according to Peter, that photos shown of the men with Al Quaida were doctored.

The other issue he is has been fighting about is the Met Police and the Home Office allowing rap artists who perform 'murder music', i.e. songs with deliberate homophobic lyrics calling for the murder of gay men, to perform public concerts in this country and particularly in London. Peter has in fact issues a statement about the new Commissioner of the Met Police and I have included it here below. He is worried that the Commissioner is not a friend of the LGBTI community, and I share his concerns.

If anyone wants to contribute to Peter's foundation the contact address is info@tatchellrightsfund.org or www.tatchellrightsfund.org and for post it is PTHRF,PO Box 35253, London E1 4YF.

With LGBT History Month starting next week (February 1st) it's important to remember the work which pioneering LGBT activists like Peter have done. I played my own part in that pioneering work but more of than another day.

Peter's press release:

New Met Chief soft on homophobia

Sir Paul Stephenson approved murder music singer

London, UK - 29 January 2009

"The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, has a sometimes poor record when it comes to tackling homophobia and supporting the LGBT community. Only last November, he approved and facilitated a London concert by Jamaican murder music singer, Bounty Killer. The Met Police does not allow racist singers to perform in London. Why the double standards?" queried Peter Tatchell of the LGBT human rights group OutRage!

"The Commissioner is hypocritical on hate crimes. He permits homophobic singers to perform in London, but not racist ones. Racist artists are banned on the grounds that they are a threat to public order and good community relations. This same principle should be applied in the case of homophobic singers. It isn't.

"Sir Paul is part of the problem. He gave Bounty Killer the green light to perform, even though the singer was on record as inciting the murder of lesbian and gay people.

"OutRage! is urging people to protest to the new Met Commissioner, urging him to in future adopt a zero tolerance policy towards singers who advocate homophobic violence and murder, on the grounds that allowing them to perform threatens public order and community cohesion. You can email Sir Paul Stephenson:
commissioner@met.police.uk

"Please stress that the issue is not offensive homophobic language, but incitement to murder LGBT people, which is a criminal offence,"
said Mr Tatchell.

Peter Tatchell wrote to Sir Paul last November, when he was Acting Commissioner, appealing to him to block Bounty Killer's concert. He refused

This is the text of Peter Tatchell's letter to Sir Paul Stephenson:

"In view of the unacceptable levels of gang violence and gun and knife crime, which has tragically claimed the lives of so many young people in London, the LGBT human rights group OutRage! urges you to take prompt, effective action against singers, such as Bounty Killer, who contribute to the acceptability of gang culture and violence by encouraging, glorifying and celebrating the killing of LGBT human beings.

We respectfully request that you prohibit him from performing in the UK on the following grounds:

1) Bounty Killer has not signed the Reggae Compassionate Act, whereby artists promise to halt inciting hatred and violence - indeed he was asked to sign the RCA and he refused to do so.

Read a sample of the Reggae Compassionate Act here:
http://www.petertatchell.net/popmusic/reggaecompassionateact-bujubanton.htm

2) Bounty Killer has incited murder, which is a serious criminal offence and a threat to public order.

See examples of his "burn and drown" gays lyrics here:
http://www.petertatchell.net/popmusic/Dancehall-Dossier-FINAL.pdf

Watch this video of a Bounty Killer concert (uploaded to YouTube on 24 August 2008), where he openly boasts and incites the crowd: "Faggot, I kill everyone of them":
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=wTIXAToY3f8

All eight singers in this Dancehall Dossier should be prohibited from entering the UK, as they have all incited the murder of LGBT people.
Some singers, such as Buju Banton, have signed the RCA, but have since denounced and violated it. Prohibiting Bounty Killer would be a good start to tackling these proponents of homophobic murder.

3) Bounty Killer has specifically incited the murder of LGBT people, which is a threat to community cohesion and good community relations.

4) Bounty Killer has been associated with repeated concert violence and anti-gay hatred and abuse. Caribbean World News reported in April
2008 that the government of Guyana has banned Bounty Killer on the grounds of violence, disorder and his torrent of homophobic abuse at his concert that month.

5) The Home Office and the Metropolitan Police ban foreign racists and those who incite racist violence from entering the UK and performing in public, so you should adopt the same policy towards foreign homophobes and those who incite homophobic violence: no entry, no concert. LGBT people are entitled to the same protection from murderous incitements as black people – no more, no less.

6) Bounty Killer's incitements of violence are not confined to overseas. His songs advocating the killing of gay people are played on some radio stations and sold by some records stores in the UK. Bounty Killer is therefore inciting violence and murder within the UK.

We do not accept the Met Police excuse that Bounty Killer will not be permitted to perform songs that incite homophobic violence at his concert on Sunday. This does not make his performance acceptable.

A white racist singer who advocated killing black people would not be allowed to perform in London, even if he agreed to not incite the killing of black people at his concert. The Met Police would argue that any stage performance by a white racist singer would risk public disorder and damage community cohesion. They would ban him, full stop.
They have adopted this zero tolerance policy towards white racist bands.

Yet when it comes to straight homophobic singers who urge the murder of gay people, the Met Police take a softer stance. It has agreed to let the Bounty Killer concert go ahead on Sunday, despite the Met Police's professed commitment to oppose homophobic hate crimes.

We believe you should liaise with the Home Secretary to stop Bounty Killer from entering the UK. He has committed the criminal offence of incitement to murder. If a white singer advocated the killing of black people he would not be allowed into the country. You would rightly insist on his exclusion; and urge the Home Office to deny him a visa and work permit. Why should there be double standards?

It is unacceptable to say that racism is worse than homophobia and that different standards should apply.

Allowing Bounty Killer to enter the UK is particularly difficult to justify, given the exclusion from Britain of the American Black Muslim leader, Louis Farrakhan, of the Nation of Islam. I don't agree with Mr Farrakhan's politics or religion, but he has not urged his followers to kill anyone. So, if he is banned from the UK, singers like Bounty Killer who incite the murder of LGBT people should definitely also be banned.

I hope this information will prompt swift action by you to block Bounty Killer's entry into the UK and his performance this Sunday.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Peter Tatchell
OutRage!

End of Peter Tatchell's letter to Sir Paul Stephenson.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Convention of the Left

I returned last night from the recall meeting of the Convention of the Left in Manchester on Saturday, followed by a Green Left meeting yesterday, so a busy weekend.

I did not manage to make it to the original Convention meeting last September which lasted for four days and included many prominent speakers, including John Mc Donnell of the Labour Party and Derek Wall of the Green Party and Green Left. The recall meeting was much shorter, only one day and, of course, this meant that time was much more constrained. However, there was a good turnout ranging from left Labour members (Labour Representation Campaign) to Greens, Respect, Socialist Party, Permanent Revolution and some local grassroots campaigners.

The convention began with a general plenary session where we were given some really shocking statistics by an economist from the Left Economics Foundation about the scale of the economic collapse and the expected increase in unemployment. He put it in historical terms to show that the inflated balloon which had lasted since the post war period was set free from its moorings during the Thatcher period and had now finally burst. This was followed by a contribution from a senior union official in the Communication Workers Union who asked for support in the campaign against privatisation of the Post Office, recently announced by the Prince of Darkness - Peter Mandelson.

Later we broke up into workshops on a series of themes - Palestine, Planet, Peace and Public Services. Most of the Greens went to the Planet session but I attended the Peace session, as I am our party's delegate on the Steering Group of Stop the War Coalition and am very concerned about developments around Trident, NATO and the general drift towards war in Europe, not to mention the two wars which the UK is already involved in. We had very good contributions by speakers from CND and local peace activists, who pointed out the connection between the starving of health and social care budgets and the vast amounts being spent on conducting the current wars, along with the proposed Trident programme. The amounts being spent on the latter are truly shocking. An earlier speaker at the convention had said that we must us Chomsky's idea of 'linkage', i.e. demonstrating how policy decisions in one field have an impact on decisions in another.

Finally, we had an open plenary where the issue of working with other progressive groupings and parties was raised. The Chair of Respect in the North West region stated that her party would not contest the European parliamentary elections in her region so that the Green Party candidate, Peter Cranie, could offer a clear challenge to the BNP. It is in this region that the BNP is considered to have a real possibility of winning a seat in the European Parliament - which would be a real disaster for all progressive minded people in this country and would cause immeasurable damage to racial equality. I told the Convention that the Green Party wanted not to be sectarian and that we were prepared to support John Mc Donnell's election campaign in West London, as long as he did not stand as a Labour candidate. I stated, and I believe this firmly, that Labour is "the party of war and reaction". There are good Labour MPs, although they are few in number. But at the end of the day they will be used to prop up a government and a leadership which is both economically and morally bankrupt. I did say that I would encourage the Greens not to stand against progressive non-Labour left candidates, where that could be agreed. I firmly believe that those on the left in British politics need to stand together and challenge the ruling system.

The Green Left meeting on Sunday was informative and inspiring and discussed issues around poverty and unemployment, with the involvement of the party's Spokesperson on Disability. As someone who has worked in the disability field for the last few years as director of a voluntary sector organisation, I am more than aware of the marginalisation and increasing poverty of older and disabled people. Labour's current plans on welfare reform will plunge thousands of them into penury, and I intend to oppose it with all my strength.

I returned from Manchester feeling that we face a really difficult period but inspired by meeting so many people who are fighting for a better future.

Green Party Councillor Proposes Living Wage For Lambeth

At a full Lambeth Council Meeting on Wed 28 Jan at 7 pm, Cllr Becca Thackeray, Lambeth's Green Party Councillor, is proposing a motion to make Lambeth Council a "Living Wage" employer. Currently through national pay bargaining rules, every direct employee is paid a Living Wage, but the hundreds of staff who work for the Council via contractors are often not and forced to endure poverty pay.

The motion commits the Council to paying all staff, including sub-contracted staff, the London Living Wage and to use local strategic partnerships and other private sector engagements to promote the living wage more widely.

In November, Green Councillor Jenny Jones successfully passed a motion to make Southwark Council a Living Wage employer. Southwark was only the second Borough to adopt official policy backing a Living Wage, with Lewisham being the other where there are 6 Green Party Councillors.

The Living Wage is the real minimum rate of pay that enables a worker to provide a decent standard of living for themselves and their family. In London, the Living Wage currently stands at £7.45 per hour. The background to this figure can be found in the document, A Fairer London: The Living Wage in London (GLA 2008). Many service sector workers - including cleaners, security guards and catering staff - experience low pay and difficult, sometimes exploitative working conditions. It is estimated that in London alone 400,000 people fall into this working poverty trap.

It remains to be seen if the New Labour Council will support the resolution in Lambeth. The Living Wage is supported by trade unions across London. Whilst New Labour Councillors cross picket lines and force more job cuts, the Green Party continues to campaign in the interests of Lambeth's workers.