Movie Friday: Billy Connolly

Today’s movie Friday features someone who can literally claim credentials to the title of greatest stand-up comedian of all time. I can’t say he’s my favourite, but I am not the grand arbiter of all things funny. Billy Connolly is a Scottish comedian who may be most recognizable for those of us not into stand-up as “Il Duce” from the dynamite movie Boondock Saints. When he’s not instructing his sons on methods of death-dealing, he’s a wildly funny comedian and actor.

This whole week’s been about race, so I figure I’m okay to let Billy beat up on religion a bit:

The thing about 53 virgins is spot-on. I’ve been with virgins – they’re much less fun than someone who knows what she (or he) knows what she’s doing and is into it big time.

And while we’re at it, let’s rip on “alternative medicine” too:

Interestingly, Billy was in a movie called The Man Who Sued God which is a great indictment of the role that religious superstition plays in secular society. Well, it is until about 4/5th of the way in, at which point it becomes weak dithering pablum. Despite its lackluster ending, I liked the movie and think it’s worth watching. Anyway, enjoy the videos!

Re-Update: Courtenay BC men found guilty of assault

I’m a big fan of being wrong. It’s incredibly reassuring to me when I make predictions and they turn out to be incorrect, or when someone can demonstrate to me a flaw or incompleteness in my reasoning. It helps me to know two things: 1) that I still have lots more to learn, and 2) that I am at least partly shielded from accusations of arrogance and closed-mindedness.

Back on the 13th of July, I predicted that the 3 men who viciously attacked a black man in Courtenay, BC while screaming racial slurs at him would walk free. Their lawyer was arguing that he (the victim of the assault) consented to it and that it was his own fault. Racism that strong doesn’t usually happen in isolation, and I feared that the community would use that explanation as a scapegoat to free the attackers.

Once again, and I say this with as much enthusiasm as I can muster… I WAS WRONG!

Judge Peter Doherty delivered a guilty verdict Thursday against all three men accused of assaulting a lone man last July in Courtenay. The judge ruled in Supreme Court in Courtenay that David Samuel White, 19, Adam David Huber and Robert William Rogers, both 25, were each guilty of assault, although Doherty declined to add additional racially motivated penalties.

I couldn’t have asked for a better ruling. The three men were found guilty of the crime they committed, and the waters weren’t muddied by adding race-based penalties. I realize that this second part might seem counter-intuitive to what one would expect a black man in BC to be happy about, but I’ll try to explain my reasoning.

A crime is a crime. If you do harm to someone, you should be punished. However, to say that some crimes are special because they are perpetrated against groups we like, and that additional punishment is merited in certain circumstances is philosophically dicey ground. The same reasoning was used by lynch mobs in the southern United States, when black men were hanged for raping (which in many cases was simply the act of holding hands with, or looking at) a white woman. Should this event be recorded as a hate crime? Absolutely. It was, by definition, a hate crime, and calling it what it is highlights an underlying problem in the community. I can’t sit comfortably, however, with the idea that special punishment should be merited for acts by a specific group against a ‘favoured’ group. Counselling and community service may be appropriate remedial actions to take for perpetrators of hate crimes (which is different from punishment because it ostensibly lowers the likelihood of repeat attacks), but not longer prison sentences.

From a pragmatic standpoint, I’m also glad because it gives the defense fewer options for an appeal to reduce the sentence.

Anyway, I am happy with the ruling, and I hope that Jay Phillips is too. This story is not over, but at least this part of it has reached a satisfying conclusion.

One step forward, two steps back

Sadly, there is very little Paula Abdul in this post.

The Vatican issued a revised set of church guidelines Thursday to respond to the clerical sex abuse scandal, targeting priests who molest the mentally disabled as well as children, and defining child pornography as a canonical crime, but making few substantive changes to existing practice. (Full story here)

The Church is, let’s say, 1500 years old. Charitably, we could forget about the first 1000 years. We’ll chalk that stuff up to youthful exuberance. For past 500 years, the church has existed in its more-or-less present form – intimately involved in political power, having to deal with an increasingly-secular world. It took them 500 years to recognize that child pornography and the abuse of children and the mentally disabled are crimes. This only after condemnation from pretty much the entire world. Here’s a hint: when the world has to come together and bully you into passing rules against the abuse of children and the mentally disabled, you’re probably on the bad side of good.

But hey, they did it eventually, right? So bravo, we can finally all get off their back.

The Vatican’s sex crimes prosecutor… defended the lack of any mention of the need to report abuse to police, saying all Christians were required to obey civil laws that would already demand sex crimes be reported.

This is exactly like the non-apology from a few weeks ago. If you pass rules that don’t do anything to solve the problem, you’ve done exactly nothing to help. You might as well have not passed the laws. If the Church was interested in even appearing to make amends, it would pass rules with some teeth, and bring about rigorous enforcement. Instead, they have elected to continue to hold themselves above secular authority, as though they have some legitimate Earthly power (which, incidentally, is the only type of power there is).

So they’ve passed a law, but the law is useless. So we’re no further ahead, but no big deal, right?

The new Vatican document also listed the attempted ordination of a woman as a “grave crime” to be handled by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, just as sex abuse is.

There cannot be any more proof in my mind that the Catholic Church does not understand why the world is upset. It doesn’t get that its claims to supernatural authority are meaningless, and increasingly rejected by the world at large. They can’t comprehend the fact that it’s not the simple matter of abuse that is making the world so angry – it’s the repeated attempts to cover it up and defy secular authority. They don’t get it, and it looks like they never will.

New elements in the text include treating priests who sexually abuse the mentally disabled — or an adult who “habitually lacks the use of reason” (emphasis mine) — with the same set of sanctions as those who abuse minors.

Surely that describes anyone who believes a thing these people say.

Online anonymity – a free speech issue?

Can you force free speech on people? That is, is speech still ‘free’ when you have to speak? Certainly denying the rights of people to speak when they want to is wrong, but is it equally wrong to force someone to speak up? It’s a bizarre question, to be sure, but one that seems to be cropping up over and over.

I’ve spoken before about China’s tempestuous relationship with free speech; or maybe I should call it an abusive relationship, since it regularly treads on the speech rights of its citizens. However, there’s something happening right now in China that is making me sit up and take notice:

A leading Chinese internet regulator has vowed to reduce anonymity online, calling for rules to require people to use their real names when buying a mobile phone or going online, according to a human rights group.

The move would have two major implications. The first is that the days of internet trolling and flaming would be pretty much done. You’re going to be a lot less likely to call someone a ‘fagtard fuckstick’ if they can find out who you really are. The second is a bit more chilling though, since the government would also have access to your personal information. Given China’s record for cracking down on dissent of any kind, and the stated policy that “indicate a growing uneasiness toward the multitude of opinions found online.” I’m not so sure this information should be available, even given the problems China is having with its own regulation.

But that’s China’s problem, right? Over here in North America we don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff! Well, that’s not exactly the case:

The maker of the hugely popular World of Warcraft video game has reversed a previous plan that would have required users of its game forums to post under their real names.

I don’t play WoW, but I do have friends who do, and I am familiar with the kinds of abuse that happen on internet sites. I’m also acutely aware that many of the users are young people, for whom that kind of abuse can be truly scarring. In an effort to civilize the forums, Activision/Blizzard announced it would bring in measures to remove anonymity from its forums. The backlash was immediate, with users raising concerns (some legitimate) that publishing that information would make people targets of abuse. Many female gamers use the anonymity to avoid being sexually harassed, and the removal of that layer of protection would likely dissuade them from participation. Ditto for members of minority groups (with them ‘ethnic-sounding’ furriner names). Activision/Blizzard pulled the plug, but something tells me the issue hasn’t gone away. And it’s not just me who thinks so:

Two-thirds of 895 technology experts and stakeholders surveyed about the future of the internet believe the millennial generation, born mainly in the 1980s and 1990s, will make online sharing a lifelong habit, suggests a Pew Research Center and Elon University study released Friday.

One needn’t look much further than Facebook and Twitter (or even FourSquare, which makes even my millennial eyebrows raise in concern) to realize that privacy as it was known previously is on the way out. One also needn’t look much further than those sites to realize that there is huge potential for abuse, with employers firing or refusing to hire people based on their Facebook exploits. Canada’s privacy commissioner has been going round after round with Facebook to get better privacy measures installed. How long before those are a memory, and our whole lives are online? Let’s hope that we have at least a little while longer:

The owner of XY Magazine and its associated website – which catered for young homosexual boys – filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. XY’s creditors have applied for the firm’s one remaining valuable asset: its database of one million users.

This is the privacy nightmare. Not the loss of a job because you posted a drunk picture of you riding a pig, but you getting assaulted by a pig over information that you were told would be kept anonymous. There are many people who are privately gay and who are not prepared to come out in public. Being forced out would be traumatic enough, but to have that information up for sale to whoever wanted it would be disastrous.

So it seems the balance is, at least for now, that privacy does more good than harm. We don’t yet live in a society with sufficient privacy protections that would allow people to be themselves online. Why is this a problem for me? Because the same protections that gay kids and Chinese dissidents and female gamers get are extended to race bigots, Holocaust deniers, and religious zealots. If we have a code of rights to protect privacy, then it also covers the privacy of people whose opinions we don’t like. The goal of free speech is to have ideas out in the open, not cowering behind a shield of anonymity. Activision/Blizzard recognized that, but had to reverse its decision. This seems to be another downside to living in a free society – even assholes are granted freedom.

iVaya Argentina!

Once again, a bit of unexpected good news:

Senators in Argentina are set to vote Wednesday on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, but the bill is facing stiff opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and other groups.

Okay, that part isn’t the good news. If you had asked me at the time I first read this story if I thought it would go through, I would have said ‘not a chance’. Argentina, like the majority of Latin America, is prime country for the Catholic Church. The Church is extremely anti-gay (despite what some morons would have you believe), and they are deeply embedded in both the history and political landscape of the entire region. As we saw over proposition 8 in California, whenever religious groups are brought to bear in a population of believers, human rights often get trampled in the name of ‘religious freedom’ (which is, by the way, not at all what that phrase means).

This is particularly true when you have human rights crusaders like Bishop Antonio Marino leading the way:

“In the name of modernizing human rights, what this bill actually does is produce a major step backwards for humanity. If you want to talk about progress, the only progress this brings is towards decadence.”

Getting past the obvious sideswipe about the hypocrisy present in the Church taking a stance against decadence…

… the stance being struck by the church as an advocate of human rights and decency is completely fraudulent. This isn’t about preserving human rights, this is about hating gay people, and teaching that hate from the pulpit.

I have never been so happy to say this: I was WRONG

Argentina legalized same-sex marriage Thursday, becoming the first country in Latin America to declare that gays and lesbians have all the legal rights, responsibilities and protections that marriage brings to heterosexual couples. After a marathon debate in Argentina’s senate, 33 lawmakers voted in favor, 27 against and three abstained in a vote that ended after 4 a.m. local time.

There are two parts of this that are the best part. First, the obvious fact that the damn thing passed. It sends a strong and unequivocal message to the rest of the world, and the rest of the Latin world, that human rights are universal. It states unequivocally that, at least on this issue, Argentinians won’t be pushed around by small-minded religious bigotry when making its decisions. The second is that much of the support for the move came from other civil rights groups, particularly women’s rights groups. I’ve maintained all along that human rights issues are the concern of all people, even those who (like myself) are not necessarily gay, or female. Dr. King put it much better than I could: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I was clearly very wrong about the amount of control the Catholic Church has in Latin America, especially in light of another story I read, in which Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez  ordered a major review of the amount of influence the Vatican has in policy. This is not done out of the goodness of his heart, but as a backlash against the Church’s involvement in the political opposition. I’m not a fan of shutting down the opposition as a rule, but I am similarly not a fan of religious groups wielding political power.

I’m going to throw quotes from two different senators out here, and you can tell me which side you’d rather be on:

“What defines us is our humanity, and what runs against humanity is intolerance.”

or

“Marriage between a man and a woman has existed for centuries, and is essential for the perpetuation of the species.”

I’m happy with my decision.

P.S. – the human species is much older than centuries. Idiot.

What is “black”? – Part 3: my working definition

This is part 3 of my 6-part discussion of race and race issues that was originally written in February, 2010 for Black History Month. This post originally appeared on Facebook on Friday, February 5th, 2010.

Hopefully, if I have been persuasive enough, you agree with my premise that “blackness” is not merely a description of someone’s skin colour or heritage; nor is it simply the group with which someone identifies most strongly. Neither one of these methods is completely up to the task of encompassing and describing the phenomenon of blackness that, at first brush, seems almost simplistic in its… well… simplicity.

As a side note: if you’re confused right now about what it is to be black, congratulations. You’re now one step closer to knowing how it feels like to be black.

So we’ve got two methods, both of them wrong. Is the truth somewhere in the middle? Is there some sort of interaction between these two factors that, when properly looked at, produces “black”? The short answer to this question is both yes and no (you can start beating your head against the wall now. I’ll wait). Yes, blackness can be seen as a combination of how others see you and how you see yourself; however, no this is not a sufficient or reasonable end-point.

Let’s start with the good news. In my Chris Matthews post (author’s note: this was a short essay I wrote about my reaction to Chris Matthew’s moronic comments during Obama’s first State of the Union) I tried to provide a quick one-sentence definition of what “black” means. I said something along the lines of it being a sociological pattern that is ascribed to black people, which is about as circular a definition as you’ll find outside of theology. This is because it can’t be fully discussed until we are in this head-bangingly frustrating position of having rejected both “defined by others” and “defined by self” as plausible definitions. So the good news is that we can finally start fleshing out this definition a bit, to a place where it is at least workable.

“Black”, in my mind, is an externally-attributed label. It is what happens when someone looks at your skin and your features and pronounces you something. Obviously this is not a formal proclamation or even an overt statement of fact, it’s merely a reflection of the accumulated views of other people in a racial context. As my dad said to me when I was very young “you can talk about half-this and half-that as much as you want – doesn’t change the fact that when they look at you, they see a black person.” “Black” carries with it a whole host of associated stigma, which is a topic for a subsequent post, but it is definitely a label that is applied to someone, based mostly on the colour of their skin and heritage.

The second feature of this definition is that at some point a black person must self-identify as such. There must be, in many cases, a deliberate reach for (perhaps “connect with” is a better approximation) blackness. The further removed you are from the black community (in my case, in my friend’s case, in countless others), the more difficult this reach becomes. Some people, like Tiger Woods, deny this reach and instead self-identify somewhere else. This is where their self-identity comes up against their identity as prescribed by society; they are told that they aren’t what they think they are, and that the decision has already been made for them. It’s undeniably cruel and un-enlightened, but it’s really just like any other form of self-identity. Even though the idea of “true self” would maintain that the only thing that matters one’s own definition of who he is, the more pragmatic approach recognizes that it is influenced by his interactions with society. Racial identity is no different.

Lawrence Hill, author of a few novels on race including, most famously, The Book of Negroes illustrates this very well in his book Black Berry, Sweet Juice. In it, he talks about the role of “minority” in places that are not white-dominated. Briefly, he argues that in places like Nairobi, Kenya – or indeed any circumstance in which there are few white people around – people don’t self-identify as “black”. They are merely “people”, or, more precisely, they self-identify in ways that do not include a black/white distinction. Basically, there are almost no “black” people in rural Africa. One becomes a member of a racial grouping only when defined in contrast to another, just as (for the most part) you and I don’t self-identify as “mammals” except in the context of comparison to non-mammalian species.

Most of you should have, by now, recognized that this is the shittiest definition of anything ever. It’s full of circular arguments, unsupported assertions, and so many exceptions as to make the rule virtually moot. For example, what if a person who is 1/8th black is raised as a black person, though to all appearances he is white? Technically speaking this person has just as great a claim to blackness as anyone else once he has established his pedigree. This isn’t just a hypothetical – Sean Daley, better known by the rap alias “Slug” is half of the hip-hop group Atmosphere, and is exactly as described. How does the definition apply to someone like him, especially since he engages in a “stereotypically black” pursuit?

The reason why the best definition I can think of is such a terrible one is because “race”, as we know it, is not a scientific entity. There’s no more rigour to racial studies than there is to old-style taxonomy – classifying things based on what they look like, rather than their genetic heritage. Sure, it might apply 80-or-so percent of the time, but when it becomes necessary to apply it systematically, it quickly falls apart. Think of it like the sky. The sky is not a real thing. There’s no point at which you fly upwards and encounter the part of the atmosphere that is “the sky”. It’s simply a colloquial phrase used to describe a visual phenomenon that is, by and large, useful for crude description. Race isn’t based on anything we’d call science, it’s simply a carry-over from a time when we lacked the sophistication and enlightened ideals we try to apply today.

I want to point out at this point that this does not mean “race isn’t real”. Race is “real” just like the wind is “real”. Sure, it’s just a descriptive phrase used to crudely describe an underlying phenomenon, but tell that to the guy that just lost his house in a hurricane. Race, while not a scientific concept, is nonetheless experienced by people on both sides of an act of racism – for them it is very “real”.

So when we try to apply a systematic technique to the question “what is blackness” we come up woefully, and predictably, short. Blackness is defined simultaneously externally and internally. This may prompt us to ask “wherefore, then, black history?” If “black people” aren’t a homogeneous group, isn’t the classification of “black” history completely arbitrary? Predictably, perhaps, the answer is “yes and no”. Black people in North America (and indeed, most parts of the world) have a partially-shared cultural heritage insofar as we are all treated as “black people”. We face similar struggles, we rise and fall similarly with each other’s successes and failures, even when there is no familial or social connection between us. For the moment it can be useful to think of, focus on, and learn about our shared history and identity until such time as we have, as society, been able to resolve what it means to be anything.

Movie Friday: The Real Jim Carrey

This would be funny if it wasn’t serious:

I am going to try taking this step-by-step.

0:30 – “I understood how thought was just an illusory thing”

Undoubtedly true for Mr. Carrey, who clearly has not thought one bit about the nonsense he’s about to spew out of his face-hole.

0:47 – “Thought is responsible for, if not all, most of the suffering we experience”

This means either one of two things. Either a) Jim Carrey is speaking of the ‘we’ in the room – rich, privileged people who don’t really suffer in any meaningful way; or b) he is completely ignorant of the multitude of people who suffer horribly every day because of lack of thought (and the resulting lack of food, or safety, or education, or human rights…). As someone who works as a thinker and a solver of problems, this is probably the most insulting thing to me personally in this video.

1:05 - “Who is it that is aware that I am thinking?”

Here you go, Jim. I hope this link is helpful.

1:29 - “I was suddenly aware… that I was bigger than what I do, I was bigger than my body…”

Subjective, personal experiences like this can be valuable. Everyone experiences them from time to time, particularly those who are being deeply introspective (or who are using LSD).

2:15 – “… and I want to take as many people with me as I possibly can, because the feeling is amazing.”

Is this the real Jim Carrey or the real Jim Jones?

2:28 – “It’s our intention, our intention is everything. Nothing happens on this planet without it; not one single thing has ever been accomplished without intention”

Ever fallen down? Ever been in a car accident? Neglect happens without intention, Jim. Suffering (the same kind of suffering that you think is caused by thinking) happens without intention, Jim. 5 billion years of life on the planet happened without intention, Jim. Channeling Deepak Chopra, are we Jim?

4:22 – “I’m so lucky to be part of this community, and to be doing something of value.”

Debatable. You at least gave me an excuse to scream at my computer screen, and enough fodder to write a blog post.

The world is a rough place, especially for those of us who will never read this blog post because they don’t have a computer, or electricity, or food. Improvements have been made and can be made by putting concentrated thought and effort into coming up with real, practicable solutions to problems. No problem has ever been solved by sitting around and waxing poetic about how suffering is caused by thought, and how we need to “be the universe”. That’s simply a load of arch-liberal hippie bullshit. I’m all for being aware of the individual’s membership in a larger entity. I’m all for the value of subjective experiences that take you outside your narrow ego-centric view. None of that is going to help anyone except you. It’s what you do in the world that matters, not the spiritual revelations you have in a semi-conscious state. If those revelations help you understand something about the world, then I applaud you, but magical thinking doesn’t solve problems. Action does.

Damn this video pisses me off…

Here’s something to make us all feel better: a marmot eating a cracker

Join me in protest this Saturday!

If you’re as outraged by today’s story as I am, come show your support and protest along with the international community this Saturday. Those of you who are in Vancouver can join me in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The rally starts at 5 pm. There are also rallies in Toronto, and Ottawa:

CANADA

Ottawa
24 July 2010
Time: 12:00 noon to 15:00
Place: In front of Parliament Hill

Toronto
25 July 2010
Time: 14:00 to 16:00
Place: In front of CBC News, 250 Front St. West of Spadina Ave.

Vancouver
24 July 2010
Time: Information Table from 14:00pm; rally at 17:00pm
Place: In front of Art Gallery on Robson Street
Contact: 604 727 8986

More details are available here.

Everybody must get stoned!

Aaaaand we’re back to Iran:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother of two, faces imminent death by stoning after her appeals for clemency were denied. Ms Ashtiani had already been punished with flogging for what a court called an “illicit relationship”, when she was then charged with committing adultery.

The death penalty under any form is bad enough, but stoning? As if living in a theocracy wasn’t bad enough, if you step out of line you might get bludgeoned to death with stones for having a boyfriend after your husband dies – or at least being accused of doing so. There is a debate in many cases like this (particularly with ‘honour killings’ and homophobia laws) that what we’re talking about is a secular issue dressed up in religious clothing. We can put such debate aside in this case:

Under Iran’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, sex before marriage is punishable by 100 lashes, but married offenders are sentenced to death by stoning. The stones used must be large enough to cause the condemned pain, but not sufficient to kill immediately (emphasis mine).

(Gotta love religious rules. Not only do they specify the way in which a person must be executed, but they ensure the maximum amount of suffering possible. It takes a certain license for unabashed cruelty to write something like that into law, and only religious justification allows such license.)

That should be the first clue that your society is morally bankrupt: you must find a way to kill people for having sex, and in such a way as to cause them the maximum possible discomfort before they die. This is the reason the West cringes when Iran announces it intends to develop nuclear weapons. It’s not simple arrogance on behalf of the imperial powers, as many of my arch-liberal brethren like to claim. It’s not just that we want to keep ‘the club’ small or that Iran is a threat to American dominance – this is a country of people who murder people with stones for the crime of having sex. They’ve already demonstrated that they have the desire – what happens when they have the means to punish the entire world for its “sins”?

The government did a quick back-pedal after overwhelming condemnation from the international community (gotta love peer pressure) and said that the woman would not be stoned to death, but refused to specify whether or not her death sentence had been commuted. To be fair, apparently stoning is a rare punishment meted out to only the most deserving. Clearly, a woman who tried to move on after her husband died, was arrested, whipped and tortured into confessing crimes she now denies is an exemplar of those most deserving.

The tiiiiiimes they are a-changin’!

The 20th century, which saw some of the worst atrocities in the history of the world, also saw some of the greatest social victories. India accomplished its independence from Britain after a long and bloody struggle. A world was spurred to action to halt a racist and homicidal military political machine. Here in North America we saw the women’s suffrage movement finally force the establishment to officially recognize the fact that women are people, not property. Similarly, we saw many major battles won for black civil rights in North America, particularly in the United States, but also right here at home.

The latest battle seems to be the fight for gay rights. As LGBT people struggle to establish equal treatments and protections, the social zeitgeist seems to be moving in their favour. For example, this was front page news a couple weeks ago:

Vancouver Police announced charges Thursday against four men in two separate attacks on gays in Vancouver’s downtown core in recent weeks. Both attacks are being investigated as possible hate crimes, Const. Jana McGuinness said.

The fact that Vancouver has hate crimes is not exactly news, but the part that amazed me is not only that the arrests made front-page news, but how the police were able to apprehend the suspects so quickly:

In the Holtzman-Regier case, McGuinness said police got many tips from the public, especially after video footage of the suspects was released June 18. “It is so important that people get on the phone immediately and report these crimes to police,” she said. “The arrests are coming because we are getting the support and help of the public and we have victims who are willing to report these crimes.”

It seems that the days of victims of assault actually being victims is numbered. So too are the days when the public is willing to tolerate hate-motivated crimes against homosexuals. People are not content to perpetuate the status quo of systemic prejudice against this group of people (and, I hope, any group of people).

The part that I’m not wild about is the fact that the homophobic comments the attackers made can be admitted into court as aggravating factors, possibly netting a longer sentence. Similar to hate speech, I worry about hate crime legislation. I can almost understand the need to provide additional protection to groups that are particularly vulnerable to attack, but I am not a fan of legislating peoples’ feelings. If someone can show me data that hate crime legislation acts as an effective deterrent against assault, I’ll happily sign on; however, if they’re just a feel-good way to give longer prison terms to people whose views we don’t like then I have a big problem with that.

But yes, the social landscape appears to be becoming more equal. At least, if the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court is to be believed:

Two gay men who said they faced persecution in their home countries have the right to asylum in the UK, the Supreme Court has ruled. The panel of judges said it had agreed “unanimously” to allow the appeals from the men, from Cameroon and Iran.

The two men had to appeal their initial decision to the Supreme Court, because the initial ruling they received was that they wouldn’t face persecution if only they’d stop being so gay. Like, seriously guys. Why can’t you just hide your gayness in some kind of… enclosed space? Maybe like a bedroom? No, bedrooms are too big, and they have windows so people might be able to see. Maybe something smaller… with no windows… what could that be?

To my pleased shock and amazement, the presiding judge wrote a decision that I think will become a landmark in the gay rights struggle in the same way that Brown v. Board of Education is for the black civil rights movement:

Lord Hope, who read out the judgement, said: “To compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is. Homosexuals are as much entitled to freedom of association with others who are of the same sexual orientation as people who are straight.”

That’s what equal rights means. Sadly, the government of Cameroon doesn’t seem to get that. If two straight people are allowed to walk down the street holding hands, or smooch on a sidewalk, or any number of things that couples like to do, then passing a set of laws forbidding gay people from doing those same behaviours is persecution. Saying that it’s only okay as long as you don’t get caught is ludicrous hypocrisy – akin to those people here in North America who complain about a gay agenda to ‘turn kids all queermosexual’, and that if they just stopped being so… well so gay all the time then they’d be safe from persecution. The problem isn’t with gay couples, the problem is with anyone who thinks that the rest of the world must conform to private bigotry.