After three years of writing for Midlands Zone, Stephen Spinks bids farewell...
I’m feeling nostalgic. It’s hard not to after all this time. Yet someone once said, get out while the going is good - and the going is indeed good. So after three thoroughly enjoyable years of writing my column, I’ve decided it’s time to hang up my pen and pass the baton to some other person who might, as I was, be itching to commit their thoughts to print. The timing feels right.
A CHANCE TO SHARE MY THOUGHTS
I never expected to contribute to Zone, yet by pure chance the opportunity came along to write for it. The editor’s call for fledging writers was something I just knew I had to answer. I felt I had so much to say, and say it I did. From the attack at the Pulse nightclub in America, raising sexual health awareness, adding a voice to chemsex and talking through my own journey with PrEP, to gay marriage, the celluloid screen, copious volumes of LGBTQ literature, gays & religion and much more besides, I hope in some small way that I’ve shared my world, my thoughts and my calls to action with each of you.
My message, repeated time and again, has ultimately been a simple one: that we should love one another rather more for our shared differences - because in our differences, as much as in our commonality, is our true unity, which at times we fail to see.
The LGBTQ community can be a divided place. Old or young, fat or thin, masc or femme, by seeing beyond our self-given titles, we have the inherent right to invent our own rulebook. It’s one of our abiding strengths, and when we remember that and come together, our community achieves the most wonderful things. Love, after all, is love, and if we take the time to love one another and unite together, we are unstoppable. Martha P Johnson and many others at the Stonewall Inn proved that very thing some 50 years ago. Their legacy lives on in all of us. But have we each grasped the baton yet?
WE NEED TO UNITE
The need to unite is now more pressing than ever. Equality is threatened by a counter-revolution. The horrific attack on Melania Geymont and Chris on the N31 bus to Camden a few weeks ago made headlines around the world. It was perpetrated by a group of homophobic youths who felt empowered to taunt, ridicule and physically abuse two women on their way home from a date who did nothing more than refuse to kiss one another for them. As international condemnation of the attack rolled in - a sign of changing times in some quarters at least - both women were inadvertently outed in their native countries as a result of the media coverage. Chris herself still prefers to keep her surname out of the press, to mitigate the damage. It’s a sad story indeed.
THE UGLY TRUTH
As we celebrated Pride month, the newspapers were awash with worrying stats to back up an ugly truth; instances of homophobic attacks are increasing at an alarming rate, both here and in cities around the globe.
The world too is in danger of falling on its arse. Politicians of every political colour have abandoned their sense of reason, choosing party politics over national interest, and Brexit has deeply divided our nation - and seemingly given some people the false belief that they can exercise their opinions, however extreme, in any unrestrained way they see fit, irrespective of the emotional or physical consequences.
Sat on the number 50 bus only yesterday in the middle of the day, I witnessed a man in his 30s verbally and physically abusing anyone who believed in Allah. It was unprovoked, uneducated and unbridled, and unsettled everyone on board, all of whom, until then, had been quietly going about their own business, existing harmoniously within the richly diverse and vibrant city culture that we should and do celebrate here in Birmingham.
LGBTQ PEOPLE ARE STILL AT RISK
Our LGBTQ community remains under fire, and things are set to get worse. If it wasn’t for recent international pressure, LGBTQ people in Brunei would now be faced with being stoned to death by the so-called legitimate rule of law. Yet although this law has been rescinded, LGBTQ people within that country remain far from safe, their lives continuing to be at risk.
The basic human rights of those in many developing countries around the globe remain dangerously absent, with individuals reduced to living their lives in constant fear. Even in places like Russia, members of our community are at risk every day of being beaten, imprisoned or cast out, simply because of who they happen to love.
While we in the mainland UK have won many of our basic human rights, we need to remember that even in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, LGBTQ people do not yet have the right to marry. The politics of hate is still winning the day there.
GAY VILLAGE UNDER THREAT
On our very own doorstep in Birmingham, the gay village itself is under threat from developers and local and city councillors who are set on the regeneration of the city, seemingly at any cost. The motto of Birmingham is ‘Forward’, and over the years, as the city has undergone a multi-million pound facelift, rising like a phoenix out of the ashes, some of that regeneration has come at great cost to culture and heritage.
Gentrification and economic investment often go hand in hand, with those who had previously occupied these brown sites being forced out through higher rents and changes to local licensing, both of which have the effect of limiting a previously vibrant night culture. Yet with the right social conscience and a desire by all parties to find compromise, areas can grow and adapt and people can live together - but this takes time, and tact from all sides. Big city investors, motivated by profit, make this difficult to achieve. Now more than ever, the gay village needs the LGBTQ community and its allies to rally together to protect its historical and cultural value. Otherwise, in a few years’ time, it may well be lost altogether.
And then there’s the ongoing and decidedly ugly drama of protesters attempting to deny children their right to be taught about the basics of all types of family life, including the same-sex family. Once more we are called upon to defend our right simply ‘to be’.
LOVE IS LOVE
So having just celebrated Pride month, and with Pride events being held all across the globe this summer, I will leave you with a final thought. Take a moment to pause if you stand in a position of privilege, and think about how you, your family and your friends can help those now in need of support. Like the champions of the Stonewall Riots, we each have a duty to those who live alongside us, who came before us and who will come after us, no matter what our inherent differences may be. Our community is a colourful one, so let’s celebrate that and do what we can to hold back the re-rising tide of homophobia.
Love is love, and together we are all the stronger because of it.
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