Remembrance, Solidarity, Celebration

Red RibbonToday is a day of remembrance. HIV has killed so many people, from the famous like John Boswell and Freddie Mercury, to those who were known only to their friends and family. Every life lost to HIV is a tragedy. I wear a red ribbon so that those who have died with HIV are not forgotten

Today is also a day of solidarity. HIV is still with us and it still affects millions of lives across the globe, in every sector of society. It can be hard to live with HIV, and I wear a red ribbon so that those who are living with HIV are not forgotten.

But most importantly, today is a day of celebration. I celebrate that the virus is being fought, and that fight is going well. Throughout the world HIV is being fought in laboratories. Throughout the world, HIV is being fought in doctors surgeries. And, throughout the world, HIV is being fought, no less significantly, in homes and in families. This is my seventh World AIDS Day in a serodiscordant relationship. I wear the red ribbon to celebrate this fight, and the happiness that it has brought to me and my husband, and to millions of others worldwide. I wear the red ribbon so that those who are newly diagnosed and scared may know the fight is worth it.

Diversity and Equality

Diversity and equality are two things that we hear about a lot today. Both are terms that most of us probably understand, but they are curiously hard terms to define. An organisation can be said to be diverse if it has a wide range of different viewpoints on a particular issue represented among its members, or it can be diverse if it has a wide range of people who are members. For example, an organisation could be politically diverse if some of its members were politically right-wing, some were politically left-wing, and some were politically middle-of-the-road. An organisation could be racially diverse if it contained people who came from a wide range of different races.

An organisation can be said to have equality on a particular issue if an individual’s beliefs or attributes on that issue do not affect the individual’s standing within the organisation. An organisation has political equality if an individual’s political views do not affect their standing within the organisation, and it has racial equality if an individual’s race does not affect their standing within the organisation.

It would, of course, be foolish for all organisations to be diverse and equal on all issues. A few years ago I had abdominal surgery. The hospital where I had surgery did not have educational diversity when it came to surgeons. All of their surgeons had been to medical school, for which I was profoundly grateful. However, in general, diversity and equality are things that should be strived for.

Diversity and equality are good things, but they are different things, and that means that sometimes they have competing needs. Consider a hypothetical company, Widget Co. Widget Co has a diversity policy that says all political viewpoints are tolerated within the company. They also have an equality policy that says all staff members are treated equally, regardless of sex.

One day, Widget Co’s head of HR has a problem. One member of staff, Bob, has flat-out refused to work with another member, Alice. Bob’s political views have changed, and he now thinks that due to high levels of unemployment, women shouldn’t be allowed to work when there are unemployed men who could do the job.1 If he works with Alice he feels his political views are not respected.

What should HR do?

The answer is pretty obvious. Bob is in the wrong. The competing rights of diversity and equality have clashed, and equality has won.

Why has equality won? Equality has won because the only reason for having diversity is because diversity is one of the things that leads to equality. People being treated equally is far more important than having a diverse range of views.

Think about my examples above. If an organisation has a great range of ethnicities but only people of one ethnicity can reach senior levels then the organisation has diversity but not equality, and I think we can see that it is racist. On the other hand, if an organisation has members of only one ethnicity, but would treat any new member the same regardless of ethnicity, then it lacks diversity but it has equality. It may want to ask why the members are from only one ethnicity, but an organisation that is fundamentally equal can easily accommodate diversity.

A few years ago, when I was still living in Belfast, I used to go to the weekday lunchtime services at St George’s. Sometimes there were a lot of people there, other times there was just a handful. There was equality: everybody was welcome, regardless of sex, gender, denomination, race, and a host of other criteria. On one memorable occasion there were only about six of us, and we were all white men. On that occasion, there was no diversity, but there was still equality. Diversity without equality is quite a different beast. The services would have been quite different if the congregation had been a mix of races and sexes but only white men were allowed to lead.

When, as a Christian, I think about equality my thoughts always come back to Galatians 3:26-28. I also think about Acts 10:34 and 35:

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (NIV)

Equality is a fundamental Christian virtue. That is one of the reasons why it is so important to me as a Christian. Diversity is merely the servant of equality, and when they compete, it is always equality than must win.


1 This might seem like a contrived example, but a female relative once had a colleague who expressed such a view.

Graded Objectives in Modern Equality

Back in the early 1990s, I was studying for my GCSEs. The year before I sat my GCSE French exams, I sat another set of exams in French: a NISEAC Graded Objective in Modern Languages. The Graded Objective in French was essentially a GCSE-lite qualification. It was a subset of what GCSE French covered. After completing my GCSE in French, I never again used my Graded Objective qualification. It had been superseded.

In 2011, I formed a civil partnership with my now-husband. In 2016, I married him. Although the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage are much smaller than the differences between a Graded Objective and a GCSE, the situation is similar. The marriage supersedes the civil partnership.

Has my relationship with my husband changed? No, but the legal recognition of that relationship has changed. The differences between marriage and civil partnership depend on which jurisdiction you are talking about (here are some examples for Ireland, and here are some for England and Wales). For us, the key issue is that we are no longer “separate but equal”; we are now equal. In the eyes of the law, our relationship has exactly the same standing as the relationship between my best friend, Rob, and his wife, Emma. That equality in the eyes of the law is both driven by and a driving force for being seen as equal in the eyes of society.

Marriage and religion

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John and Andrew McFarland Campbell. Photo: Rob Moir

In 2011, we formed our civil partnership. The next day, we married in church. We are both Christian, and as such we wanted to get married in church. That ceremony had no legal standing, but it is the one that we regard as being the official start of our married relationship. In Northern Ireland, same-sex marriage is not currently legal, and there is a campaign to make same-sex civil marriage legal. That doesn’t go far enough, as the campaign apparently ignores people in same-sex relationships who want same-sex religious marriage. As well as being an issue of civil rights, marriage equality is an issue of religious freedom. In a country where an opposite-sex couple can choose to get married in a church or other religious venue (if the church or venue wants to marry them) but a same-sex couple can only be married in a civil, secular ceremony, there is still discrimination against same-sex couples, albeit significantly attenuated discrimination.

I believe that one day this discrimination will end completely, but until then we should all be aware that not everyone is allowed to progress beyond a Graded Objective in Modern Language.

Gaudy shirts and ill-fitting jeans: a response to Orlando

13434759_10154946339179535_1962599567814241338_nI’ve had about four hours sleep, and it is largely down to the news from Orlando. On Facebook, I have seen someone comment on PULSE, saying that it was a place where people in “ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts” could have a “good time”. Now, I suspect that I know more than most people about what goes on in gay bars and clubs. What is the “good time” that people in “ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts” can have in places like PULSE?

Imagine that one day all your friends stop talking to you. Suddenly you find that your colleagues are less friendly than they once were, and your work is considerably less satisfactory than it once was. Your family – your family – will no longer have anything to do with you, and unless you are very lucky that actually makes you at risk of homelessness. Your church, your church that you have attended your whole life and that you have served from the moment you were old enough, has cast you out, humiliating you as much as it possibly can. Everything you had that you valued has been taken away from you.

So what do you do?

You put on your ill-fitting jeans and a gaudy shirt and you go out to somewhere like PULSE. You go there for a “good time”, which means that you make new friends, and you find new family. People who don’t reject you because of your “ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts”. People who care about you. Maybe they help you find somewhere to work where you are accepted for who you are. Maybe they can help you find a landlord who will treat you with basic dignity. They may even help you find a new church. The primary “good time” that is provided is a rebuilding of the things you have lost.

To be sure, lots of other things happen as well, because a community of humans has all aspects of human life in it, but anyone who thinks that the world at large isn’t rife with all sorts of bad “good times” is very wrong.

I know of a place in London. It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Everyone who goes gets a warm welcome, no matter how ill-fitting their jeans are, or how gaudy their shirts are. Even on Christmas day, when those people with well-fitting jeans and tasteful shirts are together with their families. There is somewhere similar in Belfast, and I suspect in most large cities.

Think about that. Your family has rejected you because they don’t like your ill-fitting jeans, or your gaudy shirt, but there are doors you can walk through where you are accepted and, dare I say it, loved from the moment you are through.

I know of a man who once owned a bar where ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts were de rigeur. He himself wore shirts so gaudy they can be seen from space. One day, a traveller visited his bar. On his way back to where he was staying the traveller was involved in a bad accident. He ended up in hospital for several months. He was thousands of miles from anyone who knew about him. Yet he wasn’t alone, because the man who owned the bar visited him, every day, until he was safely back with his friends.

That is the sort of “good time” that places like PULSE offer to people in “ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts.”

Gay bars and clubs are not bars and clubs. They are our homes. Our families. Our communities. They are our churches. They are companionship. They are safety. They are everything that society has taken from us for being who we are, and we have rebuilt.

Originally posted on Facebook.

Biscuits

The biscuit was invented, in 1822, by the famed Georgian architect William Henry Jonathan Arthur Blanchard Biscuit. His invention was completely accidental.

In the early 1800s the population was booming, and more houses were needed as a result. Architects everywhere were desperately searching for ways to make the building process faster… Read the rest here.

Christians and the Conscience Clause

Faith and Pride

Christian consciences have been a concern since the days of the New Testament. A long time ago, a wise man called Paul the Apostle gave advice to the Christians in Corinth about how to handle their consciences.

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral … But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral… Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

In Paul’s view, your conscience regarding ‘sexually immoral’ people did not stop you interacting with them as normal. It was only when a fellow Christian was sexually immoral that you were supposed to invoke Paul’s conscience clause: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you…

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Equal marriage in Gibraltar

Faith and Pride

10685496_738278972922937_6941628744041493341_nI have had a letter on equal marriage published in the Gibraltar Chronicle.

Although I have only lived in Gibraltar for a short time, I have been much struck by the diversity and tolerance shown here. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Bahá’í, people of other faiths, and people of no faith all live together in mutual respect. Gibraltar enjoys religious freedom to an extent that most of the world can only dream about.

This freedom does not come freely, and everyone who lives here must protect and promote this freedom that we all share. Supporting religious freedom means that we should support same-sex marriage. People from all parts of the religious spectrum support same-sex marriage, and there are churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples that would gladly perform same-sex weddings.

When we say that the law only recognises opposite-sex marriage, we are saying that the religious views of people like M. Bear (Letters, 21st November 2014) are more…

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