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Equal Benefits for Equal Work: In Support of Domestic Partner Benefits at Western Kentucky University

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Last semester, I was walking up Normal Drive from Mass Media and Technology Hall. A pickup truck full of young men—presumably students—drove by and yelled “faggot” as they passed. I felt humiliated, I felt scared, I felt hurt. But most of all, I felt angry. Homophobia, I’d always been told, had no place on the Hill. This incident proved otherwise.

Last week, the Benefits Committee again showed an ugly homophobia is alive on campus. While they didn’t call us fags to our faces, they did tell gay and lesbian employees and students that we are not seen as equal to our heterosexual colleagues. In a vote of eight to six, the Benefits Committee refused to offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples.

“But Skylar,” you might say, “if it applies to both gay and straight people, it isn’t homophobic!” This is nothing more than a convenient argument used over and over against offering domestic partner benefits. Lesbian and gay employees can’t be married in Kentucky, so they are unfairly left out of any opportunity to ever have benefits. Besides, even if you don’t think the decision was homophobic, the decision is clearly unfair, as not all employees are granted equal benefits for equal work.

That phrase, “equal benefits for equal work,” is one I used when I first took up this cause last year. In the spring of 2009, as student body vice president, I authored a piece of legislation encouraging WKU to offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples. I did this out of a desire to achieve a more fair and just university, and the Student Senate agreed—the resolution passed with overwhelming support. Not long after, University Senate passed a similar resolution with similar zeal.

Yet here we are, a year later, and nothing has changed. Not all employees have the same benefits as their colleagues. Unmarried employees who happen to be in long-term relationships but, because either they choose not to or cannot, be married are ineligible to receive the same benefits. This is blatant discrimination and is totally unfair.

And it’s not only unfair to the employees who can’t cover their families. It’s unfair to the university as a whole, including the student body. Not only does it send a message to the world that Hilltoppers are content to discriminate against other Hilltoppers, including students, but it severely hinders our ability to recruit the best and brightest in the respective disciplines. Why would an enlightened genius want to come work at a university that can’t even grasp the kindergarten concept of playing fairly?

Study after study has shown that offering domestic partner benefits is beneficial to recruiting the best employees possible while costing very little to implement. Private sector employers, including a whopping 83% of Fortune 100 companies, offer domestic partner benefits, many of which have offered them since the 1990s or early 2000s. Closer to home, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have found ways to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees, despite Kentucky’s repugnant constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (or any recognition of gay couples at all). In the interest of keeping up with the Jones’, we ought to adopt domestic partner benefits, if only to thumb our noses at the other schools.

But if fairness and superiority aren’t reason enough, let’s pull in another controversial issue: health care. No matter which side of the debate you’re on, I hope you’ll agree every American deserves access to health insurance. While many Americans are covered by their spouse’s employer, unmarried partners of Western employees aren’t eligible. According to a study by UCLA’s Williams Institute, “[p]eople with same-sex or different-sex unmarried partners are two to three times more likely to be uninsured than married people, even after controlling for factors influencing coverage.”

The number of uninsured Americans is outrageous, and employers offering domestic partner benefits is one way to drastically drop the number of uninsured. (This should also make you Tea Partiers out there happy, as the federal government is not involved in the least. See, equality can be a conservative issue, too!)

Furthermore, the cost of actually extending benefits at Western would be small, especially when compared to the cost of, say, Chauncey the Bunny or the big red “key” perched on Centennial Mall. According to the Williams Institute, employers offering domestic partner benefits can expect to see a 1.4% to 2.1% increase in employees signing up, which is nary an increase in the number we’re insuring or the cost of insuring them. Those who say cost is a factor are blatantly lying at worst and patently wrong at best.

Whether they’re lying to hide their homophobia or just ignorant to the facts, I can’t be sure. But it is my hope that the eight people on the Benefits Committee will start thinking progressively, or at least contemporarily. This is an issue of fairness, plain and simple. Other universities in Kentucky are already ahead of us on this, and it is time for Western to catch up with the rest of the crowd.

Better that crowd than the crowd that called me a faggot. Western shouldn’t want to be associated with homophobia. When those guys yelled that slur at me, I felt a lot of things, but the Benefits Committee has made me feel something entirely different: ashamed. I’m ashamed that a committee I’ve supported doesn’t support me. I’m ashamed that ignorance and fear have been allowed to prevail. I’m ashamed that inequality and discrimination are rife on this campus.

But most of all, and I never thought this would happen, I am ashamed to be a Hilltopper.

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Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2009

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It’s Christmas Eve, which means one thing for my loyal readers: it’s time for Skylar’s annual Christmas presents! Last year, instead of giving presents, I created a naughty and nice list. People responded so well to it that I’ve decided to once again list my naughty and nice in 2009. So despite the fact that it’s not even noon, I’ve got a cocktail in hand and carols playing in the background. And while Santa has made his list and is currently checking it twice, I’m going to let you know just what you naughty and nice buggers have meant to me this year.

Naughty

5.  Kevin Smiley
Running on a platform of breathing new life into SGA and eliminating the good-ole-boy system, you–in not so many words–blasted Kayla Shelton and myself for corruption and lack of vision.  Upon taking office you appoint your brother as your chief-of-staff, showing the buddy system is stronger than ever, and you proceed to make appointments based on personal friendships and political alliances rather than qualifications.  You were good to me when I resigned, for which I give you credit, and you’ve done some good work, but your lack of judgment in your appointments has earned your position on this list.

4.  Jack Tweed and Jackiey Budden
Your wife and daughter, respectively, passed away and not long after the two of you descended into petty behavior and viscous attacks on one another. Jade loved you both—why, I’ll never know—and instead of honoring her memory you took to the press to publicly eviscerate one another. While we all agree that death was Jade’s finest hour, for the two of you, it was your lowest point.

3.  Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo
Proving that you are still the king of screwing up, you cursed Governor Beshear for not supporting you and, seemingly at every turn, opposed the governor on coal and any other issue you could.  It’s funny, because all you’ve done is ruin your own career.  You began 2009 as the apparent Democratic nominee the US Senate seat being vacated by Senator Bunning, but you end 2009 a disgraced man who will not only lose your bid for Senate but has been replaced as Lt. Governor on the next go-round.  Way to go, Dr. Dan.

2.  Senator Joe Lieberman
Dude, seriously?  Where do I even begin?  You started the year on my shit list and you end it as the political equivalent of Satan in my book.  You’ve done everything you can to oppose President Obama and his agenda–from endorsing McCain in last year’s election to single-handedly holding true health care reform hostage–and you’ve done it all with that arrogant smirk of an entitled buffoon.  It is my sincerest hope that, in 2012, the people of Connecticut will have had enough of your smug ego and do what they should have done in 2006–rid themselves and the rest of us of your presence in the Senate.  For good.

1.  Every single Member of Parliament.
One of the good things of being a transatlantic sort is that you are fluent in two cultures: American and British.  The expenses scandal that rocked Westminster and the whole of the UK back in May took everybody by surprise, and I found myself confused.  This was behavior I had come to expect from politicians on the western side of the Atlantic.  But not in Britain.  If anything, this served as a wakeup call to me (and to scores of others) that Westminster was not as incorruptible as perhaps we’d have naively liked to believe.  No party was left unscathed, and even those who didn’t use taxpayer money to clean their moats or claim a second, third, fourth and fifth home undoubtedly knew something was rotton and said nothing.  Disgusting.

Nice

5.  Dan Choi

You sacrificed your career in order to stand up for equality.  In doing that you became a gay rights icon and a leader of our movement.  Having two siblings in the US army, I know the sacrifices you have made and still make, and I appreciate everything you’ve done so much.  You are a true American hero, and you represent what I love about this country.  Thank you for everything you’re doing on behalf of my equality–and the equality of all LGBT Americans.

4.  Meghan McCain
Sure, we don’t agree on everything, but in 2009 you have shown not only a new side to the Republican party but why we Millennials are so amazing and epic.  Meghan, you are an inspiration to millions of twentysomethings around the country who aspire to be as poised, dignified, and informed as you are.  You have stood up for equality, which as a gay man I am eternally grateful for, and you have been a voice of moderation and reason in a party that to many of us seems to be a party of extremism.  You subscribe to the conservatism of Goldwater and  live-and-let-live philosophy of small government and low taxes which anybody can respect.  I look forward to seeing what you do in 2010 and the ensuing decade, and I have a feeling I may one day be voting for you to be my president.  (A boy can hope, anyway.)

3.  Matthew Sephton
Who would have known the boy I started chatting with on Facebook all that time back would go on to be the Tory PPC to challenge Hazel Blears!  I am so intensely proud of you.  You have shown poise and dignity with everything going on in your campaign, and as the head of LGBTory you have managed to raise the stature and presence of the organisation and really set it on course for success.  You are one of the most intelligent and friendly people I know, and the people of Salford and Eccles would be truly blessed to be represented in parliament by someone like you.  Wishing you the best for 2010!

2.   Rachel Maddow
You have been the ONLY voice in the MSM here in the states to consistently bring up progressive points and counter reactionary arguments.  Your coverage of “The Family,” including their role in the Uganda “Kill the Gays” bill, was invaluable and you have helped to raise the status and stature of progressive journalism.  As an out lesbian you have also helped to raise the banner of equality in the way other LGBT people in the public eye (i.e. Ellen and Adam Lambert) have shied away from.  Your keen insight and analysis and synthesis of the day’s events have allowed a progressive voice to be heard, for which I am enternally grateful.

1.  All of my Tweeps, especially Joe (@joemcd), Will (@willswearsprada), Billy (@wchardin), Colin (@icolin), Ashley (@veganindigo), Jason (@jaekay), Pete (@PeteyBennett) Lawrence (@LawrenceMills) and Patrik-Ian Polk (@patrikianpolk)
2009 was the year I began Tweeting, and thank God I did.  You all have made 2009 bearable for me.  Knowing I could come online and rant and rave to you all was such a comfort during the hard times, and you never failed to entertain me.  I’ve connected with so many amazing Tweeps, and I love you all to death.  Joe, you were probably my first Tweep, and I can’t tell you how much your Twitter-friendship has meant to me.  You are the scarecrow to my Dorothy in the Twitterverse, and I really hope we do get to meet in person soon.  Will, you manage to crack me up whenever I’m down, and I won’t soon forget how you cheered me up when I was especially down.  I hope we get to meet soon, too, cos I think we’d have a proper laugh in between sarcastic banter and putdowns.  Billy, you and I bonded over being from Kentucky, being Hilltoppers and being Anglophiles and in you I found a kindred spirit.  I will be meeting you soon and I cannot wait!  Colin, you let me confide a secret in you and I thank you for that.  You, too, make me smile more than you probably know.  Can’t wait to meet you next week, too!  Ashley, it was so great to meet another intellectual and activist.  You have brightened my life more than you can possibly know.  Jae, buddy, I love tweeting with you and I wish we talked more than we do.  You are absolutely brilliant and our banter makes my day.  Pete, I remember watching you on Big Brother 7 and thinking how much I would love to be your friend.  Following you on Twitter is one of the best decisions I made, cos you always crack me up and bring a smile to my face.  You following me back and a tweeting with you from time to time has been a highlight of 2009 for me.  You’re amazing, perfect Pete!  Lawrence, we’ve only just started getting to know one another, but chatting with you brings me so much pleasure.  You’re such a ray of sunshine.  And Patrik-Ian, you have been such an inspiration to me and your support has meant the world to me.   Thank you for everything you’ve done and all the encouragement you’ve given me.  I love you all!

So there you have it: my naughty and nice list for 2009.  There are tons of people who deserve to be on both lists, so coming up with five for each was difficult.

I hope you all have a blessed, joyous Christmas and a wonderful New Year.  Thank you for your continued support and love.  Each of you have meant the world to me.

Merry Christmas.

x. Skylar

50 songs that defined the noughties (2000s)

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Back in September, the Telegraph published its list of the 100 songs that defined the noughties. Reading through it, I found myself nodding in agreement at times and throwing my arms up in shock and disapproval at others.

A few days ago I tweeted the story to my followers, asking them for the songs that had defined their decade. After a few days work, I’ve come up with 50 of the songs that have defined my decade. These are the songs that, in my opinion, tell the story of the noughties—from 2000 to 2009—and will be remembered for years to come, whether because of their artistry, their controversy, or their relevance.

A few things to remember about my list:

  • I grew up with music from both the US and UK, so the list will reflect that fact.  This means you may not have heard of some of these songs.  If not, I highly suggest you listen to them.
  • This list is by no means authoritative or complete.  Choosing 50 songs of that define a decade is nearly impossible, as everybody’s songs are colored by their own experiences.  I’m no music critic–just a fan–so keep that in mind.
  • The songs are grouped by years, but that’s it; there is no ranking, no rhyme or reason why songs are ordered the way they are.
  • The annotations are accurate, as I have done my research.
  • Not all songs on here are songs I necessarily enjoy, but may be songs that have simply impacted pop culture in general.
  • I tried to only pick one song from an artist–the exception being Justin Timberlake, who appears on the list as a member of *NSync and later as a solo artist.  If I hadn’t, for example, Leona Lewis’s cover of Run would have made the list, as would have Everytime by Britney Spears
  • I tried to keep it to five songs per year, but as you’ll see, this didn’t completely work.
  • I highly encourage you to debate my choices, comment with your own, and compile your own list.  The more music we can remember, the better off all our playlists will be!

With that, I give you my top 50 songs of the 2000s.

2000
“Bye, Bye, Bye” by *Nsync

A catchy song about breaking loose of a no good lover, it garnered the boyband a Grammy nod for Record of the Year and is arguably their most memorable song.

“Wonderful” by Everclear
“Please don’t tell me everything is wonderful now…” sings a boy to his emotionally absent parents. This song got me through the darkest hours of my life.

Britney Spears in her iconic music video for "Oops!... I Did it Again"

“Oops!… I Did it Again” by Britney Spears
The lead single from Britney’s sophomore album, it remains one of the most infectious pop songs of the past 30 years.

“I Hope You Dance” by Leann Womack
Still Womack’s only number one hit, “I Hope You Dance” was—and still is—played at high school graduations across America.

 

2001
“Island in the Sun” by Weezer

Though it never cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and only charted at 31 in the UK, “Island in the Sun” proved that Weezer was still “hip, hip” and provided some musical escapism in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)?” by Alan Jackson
It’s impossible to discuss 2001 in music with out mentioning Alan Jackson’s moving tribute to the 9/11 attacks. Eight years later, it is still the most poignant song to be written about that day.

“Fallin’” by Alicia Keys
Establishing Keys as the preeminent songwriter of our generation, “Fallin’” captured the 19 year old the Grammy for Song of the Year.

“Ms. Jackson” by OutKast
Not their biggest hit, but for a generation of high school students, “Ms. Jackson” provided a sick beat and a warning about the risks of teenage pregnancy. It also foreshadowed the great work OutKast would produce later in the decade.

 

2002
“I’m With You” by Avil Lavigne
Lavigne’s work leaves much to be desired, but there’s no denying the emotions behind her lyrics and vocals in this piece, which may epitomize the year between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.

“Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera
Released on Christmas Eve, “Beautiful” is arguably Aguilera’s most artistic moment—and the video doubtlessly her most daring. A song that inspired all those “othered” by society.

“Clocks” by Coldplay
It captured the Record of the Year Grammy for Coldplay. More importantly, it was heard in practically every film trailer and television show for the next two years, and it has one of the most memorable melodies of any song this decade.

“Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” by Toby Keith

If Alan Jackson penned a moving tribute to 9/11, Toby Keith penned a shameful rallying cry for revenge against… well, he never really figured that part out. Still, even to this day, something about this song compels me to listen.

“Unchained Melody” by Gareth Gates
Admittedly more of a personal choice than anything, for a great number of Millennials (especially those from the UK), Gareth Gates is inexplicably connected with their adolescence.

 

2003
“Miss Independent” by Kelly Clarkson

The song that established Clarkson—the first
American Idol—as more than a one-hit wonder, she showed the world that she would be around for years to come.

“Hurt” by Johnny Cash
Daring to cross genres and defy stereotypes, “Hurt” introduced Cash—and his amazing collection of songs—to a new generation of fans. It’s also one of the most moving songs of the decade, made all the more jarring because of the parallels with Cash’s own booze-soaked life.

“Mad World” by Gary Jules
Surprising everyone by taking the Christmas number one on the British charts, Jules’ version is arguably the most moving rendition of this song—including the original.

“American Life” by Madonna
Released on the heels of the invasion of Iraq, Madonna coupled it with a video so controversial even she decided to reshoot it. No song defines the Bush years better, proving even in a new century, Madge is still relevant.

“Leave Right Now” by Will Young
The first Idol ever—anywhere—produced one of the most emotional farewell songs in years.

 

2004
“What Became of the Likely Lads” by the Libertines

As Pete Doherty’s life spun out of control, he penned this lament about a friendship lost. (In this case, with fellow Libertine Carl Barat.) Fittingly, though sadly, it was the group’s last single.

“She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5
Not Maroon 5’s biggest hit, though possibly their most memorable, “She Will Be Loved” defined my first year of college.

“Redneck Woman” Gretchen Wilson
Say what you will about Gretchen Wilson, but “Redneck Woman” introduced Nashville to the Musik Mafia and brought about a renaissance in country music.

Brandon Flowers of The Killers from their video for "Mr. Brightside," one of the biggest hits of 2004

“Mr. Brightside” by the Killers
Las Vegas’ best resurrects glam rock. Enough said. Though not the first single from the Killers, “Mr. Brightside” is the song that cemented their place in the pantheon of noughties rockers.

“If Heartaches Had Wings” by Rhonda Vincent
You’ve probably never heard of this song, about a woman full of regrets, and that’s okay. Still, it is the best bluegrass song of the decade. Plus, the video stars Miley Cyrus before she was Miley Cyrus.

 

2005
“Gold Digger” by Kanye West
Kanye is one of the most controversial artists of the decade (to put it mildly), but “Gold Digger” was one of the biggest songs of the year. And rightly so, as it’s just as catchy as the rest of West’s work.

“Baby Girl” by Sugarland
Though released in 2004, Sugarland’s debut single didn’t climb the charts until early 2005, inaugurating lead vocalist Jennifer Nettles as the newest diva in the country music pantheon. On a personal note, the lyrics to this song was the first text message my grandparents ever received; I sent it to them requesting money.

“I’m ‘n Luv (Wit a Stripper)” by T-Pain ft Mike Jones
Admit it—you were singing along with the rest of us.

“Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day
A song about the death of Billy Joe Armstrong’s father, the video was yet another slap in the face of the Bush administration by the preeminent rockers of the day. The song struck a nerve with a nation growing weary of war.

“You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt
Blunt’s debut single may have made it hard to believe he is a former soldier, but it introduced him as one of the sappiest crooners of the decade.

2006
“SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake
We didn’t even know sexy had left until Timberlake told us so. With that voice and those beats, though, we believed him.

“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol
One of the most romantic songs of the decade, this was the track that finally propelled Snow Patrol to mainstream American success.

“Rehab” by Amy Winehouse
Besides resurrecting 1960s soul, Winehouse’s salute to alcoholism and broken hearts established her as one of the most talented—and tragic—stars of the decade.

“I’m Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks
After being shunned—and threatened—by country music fans for speaking out against the Iraq War in 2003, Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks came back with a vengeance, speaking for disgruntled progressives everywhere and nabbing five Grammys in the process.

“Last Request” by Paolo Nutini
The first single released from Nutini’s inaugural effort, this aching plea for one last night with a lover broke hearts across Britain. Though he’s struggled to find mainstream success in the US, “Last Request” has still managed to win over countless Yanks.

 

2007
“Rule the World” by Take That
A perfect song to accompany acclaimed fantasy film Stardust, “Rule the World” helped reestablish Take That as a premier British band—and is the song I will dance to at my wedding.

“Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis
The biggest thing to come out of a television talent show on either side of the Atlantic, Leona Lewis scored a massive hit with her debut single, penned by Ryan Tedder and Jesse McCartney. Arguably the most memorable song of the decade, “Bleeding Love” established Lewis as the definitive diva of her generation, thrusting her into the same league as Whitney, Celine, and Mariah. (Note: Yes, it didn’t come out in the US until 2008, but it was a massive hit in the UK in the autumn of 2007—which is when I first heard it.)

“Umbrella” by Rhianna

Rhianna's "Umbrella" was the defining song of summer 2007

An annoying but catchy tribute to unyielding friendship, with this song Rhianna told the world she wasn’t going anywhere. Plus, as the Telegraph pointed out, it provided the perfect soundtrack for a rain-soaked summer.

“Grace Kelly” by Mika
You can’t be faulted if, upon first listen, you thought someone had resurrected Freddie Mercury. With “Grace Kelly,” Mika helped usher in the era of wonky pop.

“With Every Heartbeat” by Robyn
Heartbreaking and infectious, Robyn proved that the Scandinavians are still better at making quality pop records than we are.

“Flourescent Adolescent” by the Arctic Monkeys
Not their biggest hit, and perhaps not even their best song, but “Flourescent Adolescent” still managed to define 2007 for those who rebelled against the previous five songs. Plus, with lyrics like “everything’s in order in a black hole/nothing seems as pretty as the past though/That Bloody Mary’s lacking in Tabasco/Remember when you used to be a rascal?” it was the perfect accompaniment to the onset of the Great Recession.

 

2008
“Love Story” by Taylor Swift
Swift’s biggest single up to that point, “Love Story” helped propel her out of Nashville and introduce her to an international audience. It also proved Swift as one helluva songwriter.

“No Air” by Jordin Sparks ft Chris Brown
The best duet of the decade, hands down. Though Chris Brown is now more infamous for domestic violence than famous for his music, the blended vocals of Sparks and Brown illustrate why they’re both young stars on the rise.

“I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry
Offensive to the gay community or an innocent anthem for bicuriosity? Either way, “I Kissed a Girl” was the song of summer 2008 and propelled Perry to stardom.

“My President” by Young Jeezy
Never a huge hit, but there is something special in remembering the election of America’s first black president—a defining moment not just of the noughties, but of modern history. This song is the celebration of a milestone preceded by centuries of struggle.

“Paper Planes” by MIA
No song better describes Britain’s and America’s irrational fear of brown people than does this anthem for immigrants and oppressed minorities everywhere. The gunshots and ringing cash registers only serve to make the song all the more memorable—and relevant.

Beyonce's video for "Single Ladies" is one of the most iconic of the decade. Just as Kanye West.

“Single Ladies” by Beyonce
God, this song is annoying, but Kanye was right—Beyonce
did have one of the best videos of all time. Besides, you have to admit, it’s catchy as hell.


2009
“Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus

If the noughties defined Miley Cyrus, Miley Cyrus defined the noughties. Surprising, well, everybody, Cyrus managed to actually produce a quality pop record that, probably unintentionally, embodied the optimism of youth in the Obama era.

“TikTok” by Ke$ha
If you haven’t heard this song yet, go listen. I don’t know what the future has in store for Ke$ha, but this is one of the best night-out-on-the-town songs to come along in years.

“Never Forget You” by the Noisettes
Sure, Duffy’s throwback to 60’s soul is more successful, but nobody, except maybe Winehouse, can touch the artistry of Shingai Shoniwa.

“Just Dance” by Lady GaGa
When I heard this song on the radio in January, I told my best friend it was the first song that made me feel like it was 2009. Turns out, 2009 was the year of GaGa. If the forecast “Just Dance” provides is any indication, the teens will be dominated by Lady GaGa.

“Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum
An understated, underappreciated single from an underrated group, Lady Antebellum proves they are the future of country music with “Need You Now.” An aching song about longing for an old flame, it’s the best song Nashville has had to offer in 2009.

Freedom of religion is a right; freedom to discriminate is not

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The Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the Lillian Ladele case before Christmas.  Ladele, 47, filed a complaint against the Islington Council, where she worked as a registrar, claiming she was harassed and treated unfairly, ultimately threatened with termination, because her conservative Christian beliefs prevented her from officiating over same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.  Ladele claims such unions are “contrary to God’s law.”

Lillian Ladele, a registrar for the Islington Council and an orthodox Christian, claims to have been discriminated against because her religious views prevented her from performing same-sex civil partnerships

This comes on the heels of Norwich grandmother Pauline Howe’s investigation by local police after writing a letter to her local authority complaining about a gay pride parade, in which she referred to homosexuals as “sodomites.”  And less than a month since a record number of complaints were filed with the Press Complaints Commission against Jan Moir for her now-infamous column questioning whether Stephen Gately died from homosexuality.  And the day after the Government failed to overturn an amendment to a clause in the Coroners and Justice Bill protecting freedom of speech for those who criticise homosexuality based on religious or moral objections.

That the amendment was included in the Coroners and Justice Bill is a good thing, as it protects freedom of speech, that most basic of democratic liberties.  Jan Moir, though utterly offensive and wrong, had every right to express her views, and The Daily Mail had every right to publish her column.  And yes, Pauline Howe has a right to stand on a street corner calling homosexuals “sodomites” and blaming them for every problem Britain faces from a stagnant economy to Jedward.  Both Moir and Howe are well within their rights.

Which is more than I can say for Lillian Ladele. Ladele was not told she could be disciplined or fired because of her beliefs, which she has every right to hold and express. Rather, Ladele was told her employment could be terminated because she allowed those beliefs to interfere with her job. Ladele isn’t complaining that she was discriminated against based on her beliefs—she’s complaining that she isn’t allowed to discriminate against others based on those beliefs.

Everybody has their biases. We are all prejudiced against one group or another. However, this does not make it okay to discriminate against said group. The law should—and does—protect Lillian Ladele’s right to say, feel, think, and profess whatever she wants. Nobody is telling Lillian Ladele that she can’t be a Christian, or that she cannot work for the Islington Council because of her beliefs. What the Islington Council is maintaining—and rightly so—is that she cannot use her beliefs to deny equal access to government services, or to shirk her job responsibilities.

Ladele’s refusal to marry same-sex partners brings to mind another case that made headlines here in the States recently. An interracial Louisiana couple was refused a marriage license by a justice of the peace because he did not personally condone such marriages. He was allowed to keep his job (though Louisiana did look into ways to remove him), but resigned under pressure in the end. And rightly so; his personal views prevented him from doing his job, for which he earned a salary paid by taxpayers of all races.

Imagine, if you will, a gay registrar refusing to marry a heterosexual Christian couple because he disagrees with their beliefs. He finds their religion to be fundamentally flawed and the greatest of human evils. Should he be allowed to discriminate against them because of his beliefs? Nobody would argue he cannot hold said belief, but to allow him to deny a marriage license to any couple because of those beliefs would invoke the ire of the Christian Institute and every other right-wing organisation in Britain.

Lillian Ladele works a job that requires her to uphold the law, regardless of whether she agrees with it or not. She isn’t fighting for her freedom of religion but for her freedom to discriminate. Ms Ladele has every right to hold whatever views she will about homosexuality, but when those views lead to discrimination in public services a line must be drawn. Lillian Leades has every right to her opinion, and she ought never to fear the repercussions of speaking it publicly. But when those opinions lead to direct discrimination against other Britons, she has crossed the line.
It is not discrimination if you are fired for discrimination.

David Cameron supports Stonewall anti-bullying campaign

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In a statement to PinkNews.co.uk, David Cameron gave his support to Stonewall’s anti-bullying campaign, saying:

I’m pleased to support Stonewall’s Education for All campaign. November’s anti-bullying week gives us the opportunity to highlight the prevalence of homophobic bullying in our schools and the impact it has on young people’s lives.

More needs to be done to tackle bullying in all its forms and I fully support Stonewall’s campaigning to combat the problem.

He joins Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London, in supporting the campaign, whose slogan is simply “Some people are gay.  Get over it!”

On top of this, the Tories just ran an out-lesbian in the Glasgow North East   by-election, and in July David Cameron apologised for the Tory role in passing and maintaining Section 28.  And true, not a single Tory voted to eliminate the House of Lords amendment to Clause 61 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, which read

For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conductor practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

But, as a gay  man, I am proud the Tories stood up–not against gay people, but for freedom of speech.

The fact is, the Tories have changed.  They’re no longer the party they were 20, 10, or even 5 years ago.  LGBT Britons concerned with the economy, crime, Afghanistan, and corruption in Westminster should seriously consider voting Conservative at the next election.  Don’t buy into the old adage that Tories are homophobic.  This isn’t 1988.

Free speech, sodomites, and you

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I live in the American south, the land of bigotry, bumpkins, bourbon and yes, Bibles.  Hailing from such a conservative area, “queer” and “faggot” are words I’m deeply acquainted with.  Being told I’m responsible for the decline and fall of Western civilization is as much a part of my daily routine as putting the kettle on or having a shower.  I don’t particularly enjoy any of this, but I recognize the fact that, living in a democracy, the bigots I encounter have every right to express their views.  When possible, I engage said bigots in a constructive dialogue about homosexuality.  Other times I simply stick up a middle finger and continue walking, my head held high.  Living in a democracy, that is my right.

This is the responsibility and burden of democratic societies.  Even odious, hateful opinions can be freely expressed without hesitation and without fear of persecution.  All citizens, regardless of ideology, have a right to speak their minds.

That is, unless Labour has its way. The government is fervently attempting to pass a law which would ban incitement of homophobic hatred, which is odd, considering Parliament passed the same law last year.  In fact, what Labour is attempting to do is delete a protection in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 which reads:

the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

Labour MPs are attempting to eliminate such language–and with it, any guarantee of religious freedoms–from the Coroners and Justice Bill.  This is a complete violation of the civil liberties of evangelical Christians and conservative Muslims and should outrage all Britons, regardless of sexual orientation.

I’m a gay man, and I’ll be the first to admit that being called a godless sodomite is downright hurtful and utterly offensive.  However, there is no inalienable right (to borrow a phrase from my American heritage) against being offended.  If anything, the inalienable human right is the freedom of expression, to pronounce your views, no matter how atrocious and deplorable, without the fear of persecution.

It’s this right that Pauline Howe, a 67-year-old grandmother, thought she was exercising when she wrote to her local authority, the Norwich Council, complaining about a gay pride parade on the grounds that the “perverted sexual practises” of “sodomites” are responsible for “the downfall of every empire.”  I admit, if I saw Mrs Howe, I would tell her exactly what I think about her opinion and where she can put that Bible.

Because that’s my right, the same as it is Mrs Howe’s right to express her odious views.  Freedom of speech doesn’t just protect those you agree with.  More importantly, it protects the rights of those you disagree with.  The freedom to speak your mind about any deeply held convictions you have, regardless of how offensive they are, is the hallmark of a liberal democracy.  As a human being, you possess an innate right to express yourself.

Any society which begins to legislate thoughts and feelings–no matter how disgusting–is a society dangerously on the verge of losing its liberties.  We look back on the trial of Oscar Wilde, who was prosecuted for “gross indecency” and who had to defend his works against accusations of “perversion” with a level of disgust rightly deserved by such fascist laws restricting one’s ability to love and express the truth within you.  Yet here we are, in 2009, with the shoe on the other foot, doing the same thing.  Only this time, instead of legislating against gays, we’re legislating against Christians, Muslims, and any pious citizen who dares be publicly critical of homosexuality.

Ed West put it brilliantly in his 28 October blog at the Telegraph:

Hating cannot [be] a crime, because it’s an emotion, not an action, and those who wish to make emotions and thoughts criminal are the enemies of freedom and liberal democracy. They are the ones creating a form of theocracy, in which we are punished for thoughts, rather than actions.

Those actions are what we need to be worried about.  As I reported following the assault of James Parkes, the 22 year old trainee cop who was brutally attacked in Liverpool in what police are calling a homophobic hate crime, violence against the LGBT community is on the rise.  Rather than focus on curbing this disturbing trend, Labour is intent on criminalizing speech.  Lord Dear, the crossbench peer and respected former chief constable, wrote in The House Magazine this past July that the judgment of police officers will be severely restricted, should the new law pass:

An officer is bound to record and fully investigate the incident, even if he is pretty sure it will never lead to a conviction.  Such is the wooden, automatic response demanded of our police  officers, who are already dogged by targets and discouraged from thinking for themselves.

What this essentially amounts to is a “boy who cried wolf” syndrome, where the police are busy investigating ever claim made by any offended gay or lesbian person, even if no true hate crime has been committed.  More importantly, it diminishes the effects of true homophobia–the assault on James Parkes, the murder of Michael Causer–which hinders any progress gay and lesbian Britons hope to make.  It is impossible to achieve social equality at the expense of our opponents’ legal equality.    All this does is foster resentment, winning us few allies in the process.

Homophobia is a real issue in Britain.  In a poll published last year in the Observer, 24% of Britons said they would recriminialise homosexual sex.  However, by prohibiting this 24% from speaking their minds, this government is only worsening the situation by ramping up the animosity they feel toward LGBT people.  Not only that, but if they can no longer publicly speak their minds, the gay and lesbian community loses a valuable chance at having a constructive exchange with homophobes and heterosexists, making it that much harder to win the hearts and minds of these people.  Instead, we drive their homophobia underground, where it can pass undetected, festering like an open wound on society.

Currently, in the United States, there is a movement away from pretending we are “color blind” and engaging in a frank, honest discussion about race and racism.  The same can–and should–be done regarding homosexuality and homophobia, but laws such as this make it that much difficult to truly engage in any meaningful conversation.  Without such a conversation, homophobia will continue to flourish.

Perhaps, more importantly, though is the fundamental right all Britons possess.  It wasn’t but a few decades ago that gay and lesbian people were the ones being silenced and oppressed.  Now, Labour is guilty of doing the same thing to those who disagree with homosexuality.  Whatever their reasons, these people feel as strongly in their position as I do in mine, and they should have the freedom to express it openly.  Turnabout is fair play; as I have every right to criticize their religion, they ought to have every right to criticize my sexual orientation.

Restrictions on freedom of speech should concern all free-thinking democrats, as any infringement upon the liberties of our neighbors is a potential infringement upon the liberties we ourselves enjoy.  LGBT Britons know what it is like to be intimidated to speak your most personal truths, and I should hope nobody would inflict such fear on another human being, no matter how vehemently we disagree with them.

I’ll throw Labour a bone and say their intentions are noble, but misguided.  Instead of focusing on criminalizing the words being spoken, we ought to focus on changing the minds being lost.  After all, it was the virtues of democracy, including freedom of speech, that advanced the cause of LGBT rights.

Brown, New Labour fail as homophobic hate crimes increase dramatically

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A month or so ago, I announced my next research project would be on the role Section 28 played in reigniting the gay rights movement in the late 80s. To my chagrin, I was met by two responses from LGBT Britons: a collective yawn coupled with a resounding scoff. I was told Section 28 hadn’t effected anything, wasn’t worth researching, and that there was now no homophobia in the UK. One follower of mine on Twitter went so far as to say the only problems a gay Briton has are ones brought upon himself.

However, for those paying attention this year, the notion that gay Britons are immune to homophobia and violence has been utterly shattered. Last August, 18 year old Michael Causer, of Liverpool, died following a homophobic attack in late July. In November of last year, David Cooper, 28, was beaten to death at his flat in Woolwich after a night of drinking in Soho. Back in March, 59 year old Gerry Edwards and his partner were the victims of a hate crime at their own flat; Edwards died as a result of stab wounds. In July, Edward Highwood, 79, was murdered at his home in Greenwich in what neighbors fear was a gay hate crime. And two weeks ago, 62 year old Ian Baynham was beaten to death in Trafalgar Square after a woman shouted homophobic slurs at him.

Now, in a hospital in Liverpool, trainee cop James Parkes, 22, fights for his life after being beaten by a gang of youths on Stanley Street, the heart of the city’s unofficial gay district. He had been enjoying a night out on the town with his partner and friends.  Police suspect the attack on Parkes, too, is a hate crime.

james parkes

James Parkes, 22, was attacked after a night out with his partner and friends. Police suspect the attack on Parkes, too, is a hate crime.

This disturbing trend in homophobic assaults and murders is something the British public can ill afford to ignore. I fail to understand the absence of a collective outrage. When Jan Moir’s infamous column regarding Stephen Gately’s death appeared in the Daily Mail, Britain erupted in a firestorm of controversy. But though her words were odious and offensive, Jan Moir didn’t actually kill Stephen Gately. Instead, as Janet Street Porter pointed out in her own column in the Mail, being gay did kill a man the week Mr Gately died, but it wasn’t Mr Gately: it was Mr Baynham.

Now, it looks as though we are yet again prepared to turn a blind eye to the blatant homophobia LGBT Britons face. This is a serious national issue which must be addressed. Britain must face the ugliness of its own reflection in order to make change.

For it is not simply hate crimes against gay men which is the problem; indeed, such crimes are only a symptom of a wider issue facing the country. Mr Causer was killed by two teenage men. Mr Cooper was murdered by a 19 year old Algerian asylum seeker. Mr. Baynham was attacked by two female teenagers. And now Mr Parkes fights for his life because of a violent pack of unforgiving youths. All this in addition to 2008’s horrendous epidemic of knife crime, perpetrated largely by teenagers.

Cases like these, as well as those of knife crime victims Rob Knox, Ben Kinsella, and Jimmy Mizen, amongst dozens of others, underscore two paramount needs. First, we must endeavor to understand what about our culture has led youths to see violence—regardless of whether the crime is a homophobic beating or a youth-on-youth stabbing—as socially acceptable. Then we must strengthen laws designed to combat such violence so as they serve not only as a vehicle to punish such offenses, but as a deterrent to their ever being committed.

Ben Kinsella

Sixteen year old Ben Kinsella was stabbed to death last year

 

On both these counts, Gordon Brown and the Labour government have failed miserably. Since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, instances of both homophobic hate crimes and knife crime have risen substantially. Though Jack Straw and his ilk insist that Labour is “tough on crime,” every time you open a newspaper you’re hearing of another violent attack perpetrated by a British youth.

Let us not kid ourselves—the policies of this government have a major correlation to the epidemic of violence facing the nation today. If we are completely honest, we will acknowledge that a good portion of these crimes result from the lack of assimilation of immigrants, who often come from impoverished, war-torn areas where violence ins the norm.  Consequently, they live in urban ghettos and find themselves in squalor and poverty. Poverty breeds gangs which breed crime. In attempting to remain politically correct and embrace a multicultural society, this government has neglected the needs of immigrants and created a new class of poor and working poor people, condemning them to live in impoverished slums instead of providing them with the tools necessary to become successful, productive British citizens.

We must then look at why British youths—regardless of race or national origin—are embracing a culture of violence. To this question there are no easy answers. The Labour Government has provided far too lenient of sentences for perpetrators, and its policies of “education” (by showing perpetrators victims of knife crimes in hospital, for example) are a miserable failure. Indeed, many offenders receive little more than a fine after being caught carrying a knife, which hardly bolsters Labour’s claim to be “tough on crime.”

We must also be sure to teach our children to respect differences. In cases like Michael Causer and now James Parkes, homophobia has reared its ugly head. Just as we must accept that the policies of this government have failed, we must also accept that society has failed itself. For too long homophobic slurs have been socially acceptable, and for too long violent images have been allowed to permeate television, films, and video games. Parents must take responsibility for what they allow their children to be exposed to, as well as emphasizing the value of every human life.

Until Britain can honestly address the issues it faces, and until a government is elected that is equipped and ready to handle the problem, the country cannot begin to counter the staggering and alarming increase in violent crime.