Pacemaker Press 6/11/2014 Daniel and Amy McArthur with their Baby Girl Elia, Daniel from Ashers Baking Company refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. The Equality Commission are now going to take civil action against a Christian-owned bakery firm. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
BY JOANNE SWEENEY – 24 MARCH 2015
The commission has brought a civil case against Ashers Baking Company after it refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. The two-day hearing is due in the High Court later this week.
The DUP leader said: “When you consider that they have set aside the potential of spending £33,000 on this court case where they are seeking damages of £500 against Ashers, there is a better use that could be put to that money, particularly in the tight fiscal situation the Executive faces.” Ashers is facing the action after it refused to supply a pro-gay marriage cake on grounds of the owners’ religious views.
A new poll released yesterday found that more than 70% of people believe it is wrong for a Christian bakery to be taken to court over its refusal to make a cake supporting gay marriage. As the case approaches, the debate has intensifed between Christian-based groups, including church leaders, and pro-gay groups.
Professor Steven Greer has suggested that busin esses can print a disclaimer on invoices, websites, and other business documents, to say that compliance with statutory requirements does not constitute approval of the activities in question. In a commentary piece, the Bristol University professor argues that the courts need to strike a balance between competing rights and interests.
Mr Greer believes that a ‘conscience clause’ bill proposed to the Assembly by the DUP’s Paul Givan has little chance of ever being introduced as it would be repealed by Westminster and legally challenged in Strasbourg.
He suggests: “Those providing goods and services in Northern Ireland who do not approve of gay relationships, could and should simply issue a disclaimer on their invoices, websites, and other business documents to the effect that compliance with relevant statutory requirements does not necessarily constitute approval of the activities in question.”
Churches across Northern Ireland have been encouraged by the Christian Institute to highlight a support meeting to their members tonight at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall while pro-gay rights rallies have been held in various towns.
There could be a way round the difficulties thrown up by the Ashers case, writes Prof Steven Greer:
This Thursday, the District Judges Court in Belfast will begin hearing a case, brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on behalf of gay activist Mr Gareth Lee, against Ashers Baking Company for alleged breach of statutory duty not to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods or services.
There seems little doubt that Ashers will lose the litigation, and that Mr Lee will be modestly compensated, because the legislation in question, the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006, does not provide an exemption on any ground, including religious faith.
Possibly anticipating this outcome, DUP Assembly member, Paul Givan, is seeking to provide one by way of a Private Members Bill supported by his party and the Catholic Church amongst others. Mr Givan’s amendment would not legalise all refusals to supply goods and services to gays in Northern Ireland.
It would, instead, provide a ‘conscience clause’ permitting those with strongly held religious views to avoid ‘endorsing, promoting or facilitating behaviour or beliefs’ which conflict with these convictions. Some have claimed that the current position in Northern Ireland is ‘Christianophobic’ — intolerant of and discriminatory towards Christians. And, according to First Minister Peter Robinson, the Equality Commission’s case amounts simply to ‘bullying’.
For these and others, the proposed amendment would, merely provide an appropriate, measured solution to a genuine conflict between the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, on the one hand, and the right not to be discriminated against due to sexual preference on the other. By contrast, others regard it as an attempt to legalise homophobia.
The right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual preference is clear in international human rights law with, for example, the decriminalization of private, consensual, adult, gay sex mandatory throughout the 47-member Council of Europe, no matter how strong national or regional opposition. And for good reason.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have long suffered, not just discrimination, but often savage mistreatment merely for claiming identities or engaging in private, consensual, adult sexual activities, of which others disapprove. The scope of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is, however, less clear.
Since it unquestionably includes the right not to be compelled to believe against conscience, religious conservatives are well within their rights to regard gay sex as inherently wrong because God forbids it.
But the permissibility of the expression of religious belief, in commercial and other spheres, hinges fundamentally upon its consequences, including and especially how others are affected.
Were Mr Givan’s amendment to be passed, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland could, for example, be lawfully denied a table at a restaurant, a room in a hotel, or a mortgage, on the grounds that this would otherwise endorse or facilitate same-sex unions.
But, apart from a sense of discomfort, distaste or outrage, it is not at all clear what loss or damage is suffered by those who feel that being required to provide gays with customised goods and services compels them to act contrary to their core religious beliefs.
Such a ‘loss’, if a loss it is at all, pales into insignificance compared with the tangible and potentially substantial damage which could be sustained by gay couples in such circumstances.
There is, in any case, a simpler solution to these difficulties. Instead of an exemption from the 2006 regulations, those providing goods and services in Northern Ireland who do not approve of gay relationships, could and should simply issue a disclaimer on their invoices, websites, and other business documents to the effect that compliance with relevant statutory requirements does not necessarily constitute approval of the activities in question.
Steven Greer was born and raised in Belfast and is currently Professor of Human Rights at the University of Bristol Law School
On Saturday October 26 the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association held a Tenth Anniversary Victory Celebration in the Unemployed Resource Centre, in Central Belfast. The tenth anniversary in question was that of Jeff Dudgeon and NIGRA in Strasbourg over the government of the United Kingdom; the actual date was being October 22nd. Happenstantially, it was the actual third anniversary of David Norris’s victory, although we did not know that at the time.
The other guest was Stephen Jeffrey-Poulter the author of Peers, Queers and Commons, a book recounting the past forty years of gay liberation politics in the UK. Stephen was amazed at the turnout in Belfast, which was roughly fifty gay women and men and some non-curvaceous persons. He had spoken to a grand total of three people in Edinburgh the day before.
Admittedly, there was food and drink on offer, which consisted of lots of dead beasts wrapped in various artistic forms. There were also a lot of cocktail sausages, or “pig’s dicks” as they were called by someone, who did not come into the meeting room – I couldn’t help noticing that the pig’s dicks had diminished by about three quarters when we emerged from the actual talkfest.
[You meet a nicer class of person at NIGRA functions].
“Talkfest” is an appropriate word as the celebratory air affected even by Mr Jeffrey-Poulter, who had a rather sombre tale to tell. The whole thing was introduced by PA MagLochlainn, with Jeff Dudgeon speaking first. He said he’d been loitering about Westminster in 1967, when “the Act” was being discussed. Judging from Stephen’s book, practically all the others in the Strangers Gallery during that time were Gay.
Heaven knows how they kept their faces straight while listening to some of the nonsense talked, but that was the way of the world the way of the world then. Gay people were, generally speaking, closeted and ashamed.
About t=his own assault on the UK government, he said that he “knew politics” and “how to organise” and that saw him through. His parents also were supportive and his mother opined that “…even a black beetle’s mother loves it…”, one got a general sense that the audience were discommoded at this but decided to laugh. Jeff demanded a drastic change in the law in effect equality for Gay women and men.
Soldiers are we?
David Norris spoke next and abused the Soldiers of Destiny quite strongly, (flicking through David Alvey’s book Irish Education – The Case for Secular Reform, – earlier in the day – one could not help but noticed that the Soldiers of Destiny [Fianna Fail] have been most active in reforming education in Eire. David described himself as a “retired homosexual” and made use of the libidinousness of the likes of Family Solidarity and various judges making use his allegedly energetic sex life and trying to humiliate him by describing homo-sex (which is, of course, invariably anal sex). This was used by the Save Ulster from Sodomy people, and as David said they are never subjected to the same treatment. “How would Donal Barrington like to have his sexual dealings with his shrivelled up old stick of a wife made public?”
David took a quick gallop through the history of homosexual law in Ireland. Under the old Brehon law it was not illegal, but it could be used as grounds for divorce by a wife if her husband slept with a boy “when it was not strictly necessary”.
The monks were, of course, very put out about this and wrote about people’s sexual misbehaviour at great length. In 1533 Henry VIII of England [it became Britain in 1536 with the Act of Union between England Wales] stole the monasteries and their lands. Thereby, the ecclesiastical courts were absorbed into the state’s statues, and the “abominable act of buggery” became a law oppressing the general population, and not just men who had chosen life-long celibacy.
This was not extended to Ireland, David says this was an accident, but the Poynings Law which made the Irish parliament a vassal of Westminster was not two-way. Laws passed by Dublin had to be approved by the Imperial Parliament as it took to styling itself, but Dublin was not obliged to pass every law passed in Westminster.
In 1631, the Earl of Castlehaven was snitched on by his own son, he [the Earl] was having a relationship with his groom. Condemned by his Peers he was executed. A bishop, Atherton of Lismore, started a campaign to make sodomy illegal in Ireland. . This became law, a hanging offence, on November 1634.The first victim, by a nice irony, was the self-same bishop, who was having a similar relationship to the Earl with his own groom. This man, David said ran alongside the tumbril in tears until he was driven off with a whip.
There was a jump of several hundred years and we came to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 which was a reforming act, replacing hanging with threat of life imprisonment and the Labouchiere Amendment of 1885. The latter criminalised “gross indecency” between males. The disparity in treatment of Gay men and lesbians in this matter was brought up in David’s own case – and the judges decided that while women might be able to behave indecently they could not be grossly indecent – “perhaps it is unladylike”.
A big problem facing David’s case was the de Valera Constitution of 1937 with its provisions on the family. Mary Robinson, David’s barrister discovered [invented?] “unenumerated rights” in Bunreacht na hEireann, and used these to bring about the right to contraception in the Republic.
The absurdity of the same judges putting their names to ajudgement claiming that anti-homsexual laws had to remain on the Statue book because Gays had to be terrorised into marriage and then handing down annulments because of a spouse’s homosexuality was touched on. So was a particular case from the ‘70s where two men had been spotted by a cop emerging from the closet in a public toilet. They were foolish enough to own up to the fact that they had been having sex. In court the younger man claimed that he had “proof” that he could be “cured” and could get married. The other man who was held [more] responsible had his wiefe in cort as a character witness.
David and Mary Robinson (other lawyers wer mentioned, Garret Sheehan especially) had wanted a “political show trial” in Dublin to expose the conspiracy of silence on the topic.
The State had tried to discredit each of the witnesses. They decided that one of the expert witnesses was Gay. One of them was – they choose the wrong man: a Dr Speigl who had got the American Psychological Association to remove homosexuality from its list of diseases – “…instantly hundreds of millions of people throughout the world wer cured – wouldn’t it be nice if flu, or the common clold could be cured with a show of hands!”
Despite all this David said that the Republic is a more comlex state and society tan many people think, “We elected the first woman MP. Had the first woman Cabinet Minister. Have a woman President. I was the first openly Gay man to be elcted to a national legislature. There are sexual orientation clauses written into a number of laws and this may become a common practice.” [The Soldiers of Destiny may well be led by a woman, Mary O Rourke quite soon].
Stephen [Jeffrey-Pulter] felt rather as if he were the stick to David’s carrot, he had been in six cities in as many days and asked forgiveness if he became somewhat confused. He launched into the 1967 Act immediately describing it, despite its mere six pages, as a “vicious little number”. It actually increased terms of imprisonment for some acts and excluses Service personnel and merchant seamen, there is also a procuring clause in it under which a person introducing two other parties to each other could b eimprisoned themselves.
[In case some people are confused by all this, it should be said that the period between the Wolfenden Report 1957 and the enactment of “the Act” in ’67 brought about an unprecedented level of discussion of homosexuality. Most of this was carried on at a vastly higher level than people are used to today. Even the popular press took a reasonable and usually sympathetic attitude towards the matter. The Act was supported by nearly all of Fleet Street.
It was this atmosphere that encouraged the Homosexual Law Reform Society to become the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). The law itself was not a great victory but the situation created by (mostly) closeted Gay women and men was of great benefit].
Unfortunately this cannot be said of the position today. The popular press is full of full of foul-mouthed abuse of gay people, and the AIDS crisis has spurred them on to even greater spleen. This led to the enactment of Clause 28 in 1988, “a complicated political cocktail” which made explicit what was implicit in the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, to give it its full title – homosexuality is inferior.
Stephen sprinted through gay history, in 1969 there was the Stonewall riot, where (as Norris said) it was “silly little queens, despised in the scene itself who did the fighting” – of New York’s finest [big butch Irishmen, with their biggest muscle in their brain cavity]. This led to the setting-up of GLF (Gay Liberation Front) in London in 1970 and – gasp! – in Belfast in ’71. Stephen obviously regards this as the Golden Age of Gay Liberation.
But the CHE (Campaing for Homosexual Equality – organised in England and Wales because the Act was not extended to Scotland or Northern Ireland) organised conferences which were attended by thousands of people. These included GLF activists who were also members of CHE, it had something called “national membership”.
This is why the differences between Stonewall, with its allegedly “respectable” approach and OutRage and ActUp are not quite the same as the differences between GLF and CHE, Firstly NIGRA and SMG (the Scottish Minorities Group) – later SHRG) had very strong GLF connections. Secondly, Stonewall and OUtRge are very small and by and large London-bound.
CHE went down the tubes after it moved from Manchester to London.
AIDS has also brought bisexuality to the fore and bisexuals find no place for themselves in Gay groups. What is needed is something like what Jeff had asked for, an Equal Opportunities Act not just within the UK but for all of Europe. Most European states have more rational laws than the UK; 18 year old men who in Denmark can have a perfectly legal association with the same footing as marriage, could be put in prison if they decided to settle in the UK.
Stephen ended by quoting from the GLF Manifesto.
The Dog that didn’t bark
The treatment of the local newspapers of the above celebration – which is quite important, what other element within civil society in the North has changed a law for the good in the past twenty years? – was a case of “the dog that didn’t bark”. Not a word was printed about the event, not even in their What’s On columns. Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence had interviews with “Gerard” and with David Norris, but not with Stephen Jeffrey-Poulter or, surprisingly, with Jeff Dudgeon. Radio Ulster gave a lot of time to the first Gay Pride festivities.
I went out in the middle of the meet around the corner to the Sunday News office but the journos who had expressed interest were out in the pub. I have been told that “we weren’t that far away”. Fair enough, but there ae half a dozen pubs they could have been using, and anyway, why should the makers of the news have to search the streets for the reporters of the news?
Fr Pat Buckley, gave the whole of his column in the following week’s Sunday News to the implications of the celebration. The Irish News carried an article on Monday October 28 on a groups set up by NI AIDS Helpline for carers of PWAs. Generally, the Irish News does not handle Gay stories, but it has taken to reporting sleazy stories about cottaging and so forth. Its television critic chose to whinge about having the word “gay” stolen as well as “out” when discussing the eight hours of Gay programming on BBC 2 television. Most of what he wrote was about one of the homophobes, Auberon Waugh – should the Beeb not have a number of Gay women and men on every night telling the viewers why they dislike the socio-sexual goings-on? The Belfast Telegraph also takes a high and mighty attitude to Gay people. This did not prevent one of its pompous columnists, one Laurence White, from sneering about Gay people wanting representation on the St Patrick’s Day Parade.
Sunday Life, the companion paper to the BT has decided to get right down into the gutter and attack gay men in particular, there was a slighting story about the Gay Pride march, there was a full page on Hazelbank on the northern shore of Belfast Lough which apparently is hiving with predatory homosexuals. The same edition carried an editorial condemning homosexuals in the same breath as drunken hooligans and drug [ab]users.
In the cross-channel press, as Radio Ulster rather coyly describes it, the Independent and the Guardian are pro-Gay. The Independent regularly, unfortunately, carries obituaries of lesbians and homosexual men, the latest one being Tom of Finland.
Scotland on Sunday and so far as one can tell the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman (the companion paper to SonS) have good policies on Gay mattes.
In Northern Ireland we have no friends among the press except Sunday News, which may be dragged down with the News Letter, but this seems to rather little effect, on The Stand on BBC1 NI, a sixth form student asked the chief executive of Amnesty International about the organisation’s attitude to homosexuality..
Further Reading: Stephen Jeffrey-Poulter
Roger Casement: Controversies in Script and Image
by Jeffrey Dudgeon
QUB School of Creative Arts, Room 101, 12 University Square, Monday 22 April 2013
Jeff Dudgeon is known through his work within the LGBT Community, his courtcase against the British Government resulting in the law in Northern Ireland being brought in line with the rest of Great Britain, and this has been recognised by the award of an MBE from the Queen for his services.
He is also an author, and his book on Roger Casement has been quoted as being ‘a comprehensive view of the texts, with explanations for many of the cast of characters’
USI PINK TRAINING
QUB Peter Froggatt centre
Friday 22 November 2013, 7pm
OPENING SPEECH BY JEFFREY DUDGEON MBE
My thanks go to the Union of Students in Ireland for inviting me to open their Pink Training Event tonight and to Laura Harmon (and Ben Archibald) for organising it.
Your numbers here tonight, in the hundreds, (c. 300) and your enthusiasm are seriously impressive.
Pink Training has been happening almost as long as Belfast Gay Pride which is quite something for the student world, where corporate memory is necessarily brief.
My student days in Dublin were gay enough but not in organisational terms. I was at the university of life, with too many evenings spent in the famous, indeed unequalled, Dublin gay bar, Bartley Dunne’s, in the late 1960s.
It was only after gay liberation that our anger and indeed rage was channelled into groups and meetings, by which time I was back living in Belfast. QUB was very much in the vanguard having hosted a Gay Liberation Society from about 1972. One of the founders was the theatre director Andy Hinds from Derry. It was a curious mixture of town and gown that worked. relationships were intense too.
Indeed GLS, by 1975, had a grant and offices in an unused building round the corner in 4 University Street. Best of all we organised and ran discos in the Queen’s Students Union which became famous in the worst of times in this city, for fun and dancing. We were so popular gays were in danger of being outnumbered by straights.
Then we knuckled down to thirty years of equality campaigning not least by means of my successful Strasbourg case, funded in part by those very same discos.
The Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association (NIGRA) was born, and Cara-Friend (CF), the befriending and information organisation. Both exist to this day.
Our twilight existence where we were getting funding and support – despite being criminals, indeed part of a conspiracy, came to an abrupt end in the great police round-up of 1976. All male NIGRA and CF committee members were arrested although none – after months of waiting – were ever charged.
The consequent case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg took six long grinding years before we won in 1981. A year later the government was forced to decriminalise in a law put through the House of Commons late at night against the wishes of all NI political parties (and shamefully even gay Unionist MPs I later discovered).
This was a European first and laid the groundwork for a host of later successes at the Court, not least in the south of Ireland where we eased the path for David Norris and for Alexander Modinos in Cyprus. And it was even quoted in the recent US Supreme Court Texas sodomy case.
My lawyer antagonists at the Court prospered. The UK’s lead barrister against me, in time, became the President of the Strasbourg Court, while Sir Brian Kerr was to become the NI Lord Chief Justice and now sits on the UK Supreme Court.
But we won. We beat them. A successful group effort in Belfast and beyond made the difference.
It remains unquestionable and remarkable – and maybe it tells you something – that the two best-known, and most written about, gay characters in the last 100 years were both Irish, and both went to jail, although only one to the scaffold.
Roger Casement, whose biography I have written, was brought up partly in Antrim, going to school in Ballymena. He became an Irish separatist and helped found and arm the Irish Volunteers (Óglaigh na hÉireann), the forerunner of the IRA, exactly a century ago. His landing of arms from Germany in 1916 led to a charge of treason and the death penalty exacted by an inevitably anti-gay government.
It matters that Casement was gay, not least because it is unlikely, otherwise, he would have been such a rebel. (I reprinted those diaries in my book, including the never-before-or-since published 1911 diary which is the most seriously sexual.)
One of the complaints of those argue that the Casement Black Diaries are forged – and there are still a number who say so – is that homosexuals are trying to turn Casement into a gay icon.
This assertion infers that gay men are, as a class, historically minded, which has more than a grain of truth. The notion however that Casement has a cult following like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe is laughable.
He is no gay icon, as he did not address the matter in his career but he lived the life extensively, wrote it up more so and that is interesting. He did however become something of a religious icon because of his saintly looks.
Up close, everyone is human so it is unwise to admire too much – Oscar Wilde, WH Auden, Christopher Isherwood, James Baldwin, Harvey Milk, Peter Tatchell might be or become gay icons. But they are, or were, like us all, flawed, and sometimes less than attractive.
My personal icon would be the 1950s law reformer and Ulster Unionist MP, Harford Montgomery Hyde. He was also author of The Other Love, a History of Homosexuality in Britain and Ireland, which is still a book to consult although overtaken, where Ireland is concerned, by Brian Lacey’s 2008 work Terrible Queer Creatures – Homosexuality in Irish History.
Montgomery Hyde did more for us than most, and paid the price in career terms by being deselected for his North Belfast seat in 1959. This was as a result of being the most prominent MP in the House of Commons pressing for decriminalisation.
One of his opponents then was a young preacher, Ian Paisley, who came to prominence as leader of the Save Ulster From Sodomy campaign in the 1970s. His sidekick was Peter Robinson now our First Minister. We had our work cut out dealing with their disturbing and at times intimidating and extensive operation.
Being anti-gay or trying to keep us criminal rarely blighted political and legal careers. But we won. They didn’t. It is they who have changed, if grudgingly.
One becomes history after two generations, even if still alive. I know. I am just that. History.
But I still have a life in politics to a large degree, and to a smaller degree now in gay matters particularly in relation to policing and law reform. Others, in a range of organisations, do the bulk of the work.
We have continued to achieve significant victories around equality. One example is the election to councils of the first out lesbians and gays. These are people selected as candidates by their parties in full knowledge of their sexuality and then voted in by the electorate.
And one of those councillors, Andrew Muir, is currently the Mayor of North Down. He is from the Alliance Party, interestingly elected in part by his DUP colleagues.
And unnoticed, indeed unremarked, a gay member of the Ulster Unionist Party is one of its two representatives at the talks chaired by Dr Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O’Sullivan of the New York Council on Foreign Relations.
I – for it is me – have just come from two meetings and four hours with the American pair, tasked to try and find a way forward, with the five executive political parties, on the dividing issues of Flags, Parades and The Past. Hence my photo-opportunity suit and imperial purple tie.
To be an active Unionist does not mean you are an ex-gay, something some seem to believe.
Finally, coming up to date on campaigning, what are the current issues being addressed by local activists?
In truth, we are heading towards becoming a protected species and need fear little or no hostility from officialdom. This may not hold for ever, I would caution.
However the perennial issue of violence against LGBT people remains, as can be seen from the recent trial of the murderers of Andrew Lorimer in Lurgan and of Shaun Fitzpatrick in Dungannon. In Andrew’s case the sentences were pitiful and it is to be hoped that they are reviewed by the PPS. Indeed it would be of assistance if you were to consider writing to Barra McGrory (the head of the Public Prosecution Service) accordingly.
The fact remains that über-violence is meted out in these horrendous attacks. That will take decades to reduce as it involves one of the baser instincts in many males – fear of women. And of homosexuals – homophobia in the strictest sense of the word against gay men and lesbians. And Transphobia especially so, a greater treason, as can be seen from their casualty count world-wide.
Otherwise gay or equal marriage, the blood donation ban and changing of the adoption laws are the issues of today.
Each of these reforms can and will be advanced in the courts. Our local Assembly for complicated reasons can’t or won’t do the needful. It came into being and is, to a degree, supported by those who want to avoid changing such laws.
So be it. We can get round them but it is producing the same anger and rage as we felt in the 1970s. And the same productive resistance.
So far the Minster of Health has lost cases on adoption and blood donation. How he proceeds, if he does at all, remains a matter of concern.
Gay marriage which will soon be uniquely absent in these islands is a harder nut to crack. Reform will be a matter of trench warfare in the local courts while ultimate victory, in a successful Strasbourg case, may be a decade away.
So welcome to Belfast. Do enjoy your days and nights here, and the pleasures of the city, take care in relation to illegal pills being peddled which have caused ten deaths here in recent months, and thank you for your kind reception.
To conclude, I open this USI weekend of Pink Training.
Jeff Dudgeon (NIGRA Treasurer)
The prisoners’ uniforms were marked with a coloured cloth triangle to denote their offence or origin.
Yellow for Jews, black for anti-socials, red for politicalise, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, green for criminals, blue for emigrants, pink for homosexuals, brown for gypsies.
The pink triangle, however, was about 2 or 3 centimetres larger that the others, so that we could be clearly recognised from a distance. (from The Men with the Pink Triangle)
A wreath in the shape of a pink triangle was laid at the Cenotaph by Jeff Dudgeon and Andrew Smyth and we stood together in silence to remember those that suffered at the hands of the Nazis and all who have suffered persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle – SDGLN Contributor
August 9th, 2013
The Rev. Mervyn Kingston The Rev. Mervyn Kingston
Mervyn Kingston was born with many challenges. He grew up in Ireland where it was illegal to be LGBT for half of his life. He grew up in an evangelical Anglican church in Belfast at the height of the sectarian violence and although the evangelical world condemned him for being gay, he ended up his own reconciliation project with Richard O’Leary, who was a Roman Catholic from the Republic of Ireland.
They were a transformative couple over their 24 years together and entered into civil partnership in 2005. He was to all outward appearances a “nerd” and his life as a Church of Ireland clergyman for 34 years was not exactly about setting the world on fire, but behind these appearances was a remarkable man the world is missing already.
RGOD2: Fearless love in a gentle soul
RGOD2: Fearless love in a gentle soul
Fifty years in the making
I knew Meryvn since I was 11 years old and we had a lot in common, though we didn’t know that until relatively recently. We attended the same grammar school, “Grosvenor High” in Belfast, and I remember him as a Prefect in the Sixth Form … about five years ahead of me. He was most memorable for a very pronounced stammer and it was butt-clenchingly painful to listen to Mervyn read from Scriptures at morning chapel when it came his turn. Sniggers and pure discomfort were all around and there was a kind of “please Lord – help him just get through this” kind of prayer some of us offered to the Almighty.
My connection with him grew initially from these painful encounters because I too had a stammer and I knew how incredibly difficult it was for Mervyn to stand up in front of an audience of about 1,000 people knowing he was going to stutter on every fifth word! So I was a secret admirer of his courage and shared his wound.
A form of self-sabotage
There are many theories about stammering and some would claim it is a kind of self-sabotage. It is a way of limiting our ability to communicate and between anger and self-knowledge, it was a kind of social disguise of not being too articulate for one’s own good.
People around you could hurt you if you really spoke your mind in this Irish working class and violently homophobic culture of the 1970s. So, like the nerdy, churchy costume that Mervyn wore, I too was influenced by these kinds of survival skills. “The King’s Speech” has wonderfully portrayed the issue of stammering that has been an unexplored taboo for most of my life and there is often a misinformed parallel drawn between stammering and having a learning disability. It is socially and professionally debilitating when a stammer chats and robs you of public speaking skills or simple conversational aptitude. People who stammer don’t when they sing and so Mervyn was a big part of the school’s music program.
Our paths would cross many times and most significantly during the ordination process. I was ordained before he was, even though he was older and I reckon my speech impediment issues were not as much as a concern for the authorities as his were. I worked very hard at overcoming my stammer and what began as my “thorn in the flesh” forced me to develop my communication skills. I love public speaking and preaching and with God’s help, the journey to this place has not been easy, but here we are. We are witnesses of the miraculous in many simple ways and sometimes it is purely about practice and honing skills that others take for granted.
Impediments to ordination to the priesthood
What Mervyn and I did not know about each other was that we were both struggling with issues of sexual identity and its relationship to us becoming priests at a time when being gay was illegal.
In many ways, my stammer was much more a serious practical impediment to my ordination that my sexual orientation given the amount of public speaking and social intercourse required by the work. Yet, I knew God loved me and if God could call a couple of Irish stammers into the priesthood, then he could probably handle my sexual orientation and the men who came into my life over the past 50 years. They too shaped this imperfect priest and God was present in these deep relationships. God always calls the most unlikely people into ministry and leadership and the pattern usually follows that we feel totally inadequate for the task, yet with God’s help and the beloved community around us, we find a way to move shuffle forward.
Moses had a similar speech problem which rabbis claim was most likely a stammer and he is reluctant to take on God’s task of liberating the Egyptian Jewish slaves because he feels he just cannot speak properly. So God provides Aaron to do his public speaking and the reluctant stammerer Moses –reluctantly leads.
Mervyn was a relatively rare and early ecumenist in the sectarian violent Northern Ireland society of the 1970s and 1980s. At his ordination in east Belfast in 1973 he invited a Roman Catholic priest to prominently attend, ecumenical actions he repeated in the 1980s when he was serving in the parish of Glencairn in exclusively Protestant loyalist west Belfast. In sharp contrast his next appointment was as rector to the group of parishes which included overwhelming Catholic and republican south Armagh. Mervyn quickly established fruitful relationships with his Catholic neighbors. Mervyn saw his ministry and social outreach as one for all the people – Protestant and Catholic, loyalist and republican.
A pioneer of LGBT pastoral care and rights in a difficult global context
When I was fired from my work in a parish in the Republic of Ireland in 1980, Mervyn and many clergy friends were sympathetic but the church was a bastion of homophobia and no dissention or discussion on these issues was allowed.
I can understand the religious climate in Russia or Africa where Archbishops still rule with impunity. In Russia today, any LGBT sympathetic clergy are simply excommunicated. It is not that long ago when we clearly had the same experience in Ireland both within Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. I had to leave Ireland and Mervyn and others like him stayed to do the difficult work of transformation. He met Richard O’Leary, a delightfully sweet and self-effacing academic who later taught at Queens University in Belfast, and they began to work really intentionally at bringing Ireland into the 21st century around LGBT rights and faith. His obituary reads:
“The Revd Kingston was a pioneer of the gay Christian movement in Ireland since the early 1980s as well as a member of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association (NIGRA). He was a serving clergyman in the Church of Ireland for over 30 years until he retired in 2003 on health grounds as rector of the Creggan and Ballymascanlon group of parishes which straddled the Irish border. In that same year he co-founded Changing Attitude Ireland (CAI) as a group of Christians, gay and straight, lay and ordained persons, which has campaigned for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the churches.”
In 2002 Mervyn was diagnosed with cancer and retired early at 60 in 2007. He claimed his church pension and sought to establish Richard’s entitlement to a survivor’s pension as his civil partner. He then had to fight the Church of Ireland to ensure his FULL pension rights could be transferred to his legal partner and when I spent two years back in Ireland in 2007, Richard and Mervyn were in the throes of this important battle. Eventually, Richard was given the same right of access to pension that other married clergy are entitled to and the pension policy was changed for other civil partnered couples.
Although Archbishop Alan Harper was pastorally supportive of him, Mervyn’s own bishop refused to license him to preach or celebrate the eucharist in his local parish church. (Ironically, a memorial service was held there this week). The Bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Miller, is a contemporary of mine and like Mervyn comes from evangelical roots, but this “good cop- bad cop” strategy by our church leaders is a far cry from the ministry of Jesus. I don’t know what version of the Bible these guys read.
I remember often visiting them and walking on the beach near their seaside home and listening to the exhausting effects of a church that simply could not deal with the realities of having to engage fully with a gay person (or clergyperson), even when they had dedicated most of their life to its mission, as Mervyn had done. The courage and the tenacity, the sense of justice was palpable. These were holy men who were engaged in their own process of grief and loss with Mervyn’s terminal illness, while they were vicariously fighting for the rights and dignity of others. It was another remarkable witness behind all the apparent conservative exterior, there was a lion, a tower of strength, a prophet crying in the wilderness. Fearless love in a gentle soul.
Comrades in the global battle for LGBT equality
We continued to communicate when I returned home to the U.S. and worked together on a video and some publications. Mervyn was the editor of “Share Your Story: Gay and Lesbian Experiences of Church” (2010, CAI) and the author of “Church Needs To Listen To Its Gay Clergy” (in “Moving Forward Together: Homosexuality and the Church of Ireland” 2011, CAI). They supported the work of our St. Paul’s Foundation and hosted Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo once in Ireland.
I always considered Mervyn and Richard were bravely dealing with as difficult a religious context as any African country because they remained totally excluded from the life of the mainstream church and were treated as a kind of pariah by many of their contemporaries (especially almost all of the bishops). If these bishops had only approached this situation differently, their legacy and their common humanity might have been more compassionate. These bishops remain on the wrong side of justice and have failed to offer any significant contribution to the public debate, which has now passed them by.
The Church of England mirrors much of this similar response. History will judge these acts of cowardice disguised as a concern for church orthodoxy. Not to permit a dying priest permission to celebrate the eucharist or share the Word of God through preaching just because he is in a legal partnership with another man is simply another form of clergy abuse by Bishop Harold Miller.
Mervyn died on Aug. 2 and was buried in Downpatrick on Tuesday. My love goes out to Richard, who remained at his side even during these tough years when the institutional church failed them.
A tribute to our heroes
So it has been a difficult week for me with the burialof two LGBT heroes, Eric Lembembe in Cameroon and the Rev. Mervyn Kingston in Ireland. In tribute to both of them and representing the LGBT diaspora, I share one of my favorite poems written by an early LGBT theorist from the late 19th century and Anglican clergyman, Edward Carpenter. These men lived and loved deeply and have shaped who we are and what we are becoming. They rest in the earth’s womb which brought them forth and inspired them to do the kingdom work that we are all invited to participate in doing. Unlikely leaders, yes. But what wounded and challenged them became their strength and shaped their legacies. They shaped us.
”The Lake of Beauty”
Let your mind be quiet, realizing the beauty of the world, and the immense the boundless treasures that it holds in store.
All that you have within you, all that your heart desires, all that your Nature so specially fits for you- that or the counterpart of it waits for you embedded in the great Whole, for you. It will surely come to you.
Yet equally surely not one moment before its appointed time will it come. All your crying and fever and reaching out of hands will make no difference.
Therefore do not begin that game at all.
Do not recklessly spill the waters of your mind in this direction and in that, lest you become like a spring lost and dissipated in the desert.
But draw them together into a little compass, and hold them still, so still.
And let them become clear, so clear- so limpid, so mirror-like;
At last the mountains and the sky shall glass themselves in peaceful beauty.
And the antelope shall descend to drink, and to gaze at his reflected image, and the lion to quench his thirst,
And Love himself shall come and bend over, and catch his own likeness in you.
RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.
Further information links: