Jamie Wake 2014 Independent Candidate for Whitley ward in the Reading Local Elections
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    January 31st, 2012jamiewakerdglgbt

    Today, 1st February, marks the beginning of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans) History month and celebrates the lives and achievements of the LGBT Community.  Whilst the United States observes this period in October to include National Coming Out Day on 11th October, the UK observes it during February to coincide with a major celebration of the 2003 abolition of Section 28 which had the effect of prohibiting schools from discussing LGBT issues or counselling LGBT or confused young people.

    Being LGBT is not something new but the fight for gay rights and equality are often recognised as stemming from the infamous Stonewall riots which took place in New York during the early hours of 28 June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn.

    Not many venues would welcome the LGBT community in those days.  The very few that did were hidden and relied on secret knocks to identify patrons.   The Mafia owned Stonewall Inn was in the liberal area of Greenwich Village and served as a popular venue for those marginalised in their gay community such as drag queens, representatives of the transgender community, effeminate young men, hustlers and homeless youth.  Police raids on gay bars were part of the normal routine and on the night in question, it’s said that a drag queen refused to hand over their id and the police soon lost control of the situation which in turn attracted a crowd that was incited to riot.  Tensions escalated and more riots took place over the next few nights – the gay scene decided to take a stand!  I look back in admiration and respect at that very drag queen and wonder if she knew what wheels were being put in motion?  Today, Drag hate seems to exist from a number of people on the gay scene and I often wonder if they realise how and who it was that laid a pathway for acceptance for them?

    Within 6 months of the stonewall riots, two gay activist organisations were formed in New York to start tackling the inequality and persecution of the LGBT community.  Within just a few years, organisations were being set up worldwide.  On 28th June 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

    Not being born until 8 years later in 1977, I can’t imagine what life must have been like to hide your sexuality.  I’ve always publicly said that it’s me first and gay second but I know firsthand the damage having to hide something such as your sexuality can do to someone for fear of persecution.  I, like many others, still carry those scars.

    Gay History month is not just about the past.  We’re reminded that many people have selflessly fought for LGBT Equality yet we’re still reminded that there is still much to fight for and until we have full equality, that fight cannot end.

    As a gay campaigner, I’ve been called many things but I continue to fight for LGBT Equality with my peers and colleagues to make sure that those young people who are struggling with their sexuality can be confident that if they do choose to ‘come out’ that the world has moved on and that they’ll get the right support should they need it.  This is why I launched the OK 2B Gay Campaign.

    In Reading, we’re starting to get acceptance.  Things have moved quite a way on since the first gay night (One night a week) at the 3B’s under the town hall.  As one of the founders of the Reading Pride Festival and now a Trustee of the Reading Pride Charity, I am committed to making a difference to LGBT people here in Reading. One day we hope that we get full acceptance from Reading Borough Council (and similar grants and/or funding to other organisations such as RCRE and Reading carnival) but in the meantime, we’ll continue to raise awareness, educate and try to eliminate discrimination in our town – unpaid volunteers, all of us.

    Yes the world has moved on but homophobia still exists.  Difficult though it is to believe, it is a documented fact that the British Government did not remove homosexuality from its International Classification of Disease list (the list used by, amongst other things, the Mental Health Services in Britain to determine mental illnesses) until 1994. In other words, until just 18 years ago, the British Government’s official stance on homosexuality was that it was a mental disorder which might have a cure.  Still to this day, transsexualism is on this list and is considered a body dismorphic disorder that requires psychiatric intervention. This needs to change.

    Of course, we’re all aware of the inherent homophobia experienced by LGBT Africans where homosexuality is labelled as un-Christian and un-African. The current UK Government was criticised for making a stance against breaches of human rights and of course the opposition has raised its objections too but I wonder if any of them did a quick YouTube search and watched any of the videos of Gay Africans being burnt alive?  Maybe then, they’d realise that Gay Equality is not and should not be a political ping pong match.  All parties will argue that they’ve done the most for gay rights and pick holes in the other parties’ historic records.  I have news for them all – you’ve all been lousy at championing gay rights and ensuring gay equality.  If you had seen it as human rights, we’d all have equal marriage by now and the blood ban would not have been replaced with another ban under a different name.  Section 28 would never have been brought in and Tory back benchers would not now be shouting out making threats if gay marriage is brought in.

    If I was in charge, I wouldn’t be wasting money on a consultation about gay marriage, it would just become law as it should be.  After all, was I consulted on your marriage?

    Somehow, LGBT Equality always takes me off at a tangent and I’m sure you have better things to do that hear me rant!  Keep an eye out for all of the activities Reading Pride are planning for LGBT History month and keep an eye out for Reading University’s events too.  Whether you’re gay, straight or yet to decide, please support the LGBT Community this month.  I’m not suggesting a Bring a Gay to work Day or anything like that (!) – all that’s needed is a little understanding and all you need do is just learn a little more about how we have got here and what we still have yet to achieve.

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