Birmingham Marks World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day BirminghamEvents to mark World AIDS Day took a welcome new direction in Birmingham this year. On Monday a free gala concert was held at the Town Hall featuring singers, dancers, comedians, cabaret and theatre from diverse groups across the city. On World Aids Day itself, students from South Birmingham College staged a fashion show in the iconic Selfridges store, which was immediately followed by a red lantern parade.

Despite awful weather, I joined about 100 hardy souls on the parade route from the Bullring up to Birmingham Cathedral, where a short (non-religious) service of remembrance was held.

A “wall of love” was made available for people to light candles and leave messages in rememberance of loved ones lost to HIV/AIDS.

This annual visual act of remembrance is so important to keep up the awareness about HIV and AIDS. As I commented on Lynne Featherstone's excellent blog post, if even just a few of the onlookers went home to google the subject, then it was worthwhile.

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SHOUT – How Was It For You?

SHOUT Festival 2009On Sunday the closing party of the first ever SHOUT Festival took place at Birmingham's Nightingale Club, featuring lesbian comedienne Clare Summerskill and the brilliant talent of singer-songwriter Declan Bennett.

The LGBT cultural festival was the brainchild of the Birmingham LGBT Trust and has been run as a pilot with a view to sustaining a permanent event. I was asked to join the steering committee over a year ago because of my involvement in founding Birmingham Blaze Football Club in 2005 and running the Distraction alternative club night for three years. I was quick to accept as it seemed a great opportunity to help explore an alternative to the commercialised party that Birmingham Pride has become in recent years.

I co-led the sports strand helping to write a successful bid to Sport England, organised a gig night at Eden Bar and advised on the use of social media.

It's been hard work but the year of planning really paid off as the programme of visual arts, performing arts, sports and community events was successfully delivered. Highlights for me included the successful sports taster sessions, the DIVAS night at the Glee Club and Queer Question Time at the Hippodrome.

We'd really like to hear what you thought of the Festival, so please take the time to fill out a short evaluation if you attended one or more of the events.

Roll on SHOUT 2010!

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Queer Question Time – The Verdict

Queer Question Time Birmingham

An all lesbian and gay panel took to the stage in Birmingham last night for Queer Question Time.

Peter Tatchell (Green) - Human rights activist and Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford East
Nikki Sinclaire (UKIP) - MEP for the West Midlands and candidate for her party's leadership
Iain Bowen (Lib Dem) - Birmingham City Councillor for Acocks Green ,
Philippa Roberts (Lab) - Parliamentary Candidate for Hereford
Gareth Compton (Con) - Birmingham City Councillor for Erdington

Chairman Steve Ball kicked off the debate, in the style of BBC's Question Time, in front of a decent crowd of around 150 at the Hippodrome's Patrick Centre. Audience members were asked to submit questions on the way in and as these things often do, the panelists and audience members then veered off into other directions during the debates. Some of the subjects discussed included equalities legislation, tolerance, gay pride events, the BNP, homophobia, education and section 28, the media and the police.

The panelists agreed on a lot of issues but there were some interesting clashes throughout.

Peter Tatchell was the clear winner for me. He barely touched on Green party policy, concentrating more on gay rights in general. He also spent much of his time picking up on the policies of the Labour government, doubtless with one eye on the political situation in Oxford East and Brighton Pavilion. Peter spoke well and was well received by members of the audience from every political hue.

Nikki Sinclaire caused less upset than her last "appearance" at Queer Question Time, but was still controversial. She appeared to defend her UKIP MEP colleague Mike Nattrass when he was accused (by both Gareth Compton and Iain Bowen) of being involved in the controversial New Britain Party (he stood as the "New Britain" candidate in Dudley West in 1994). She also did her best to dodge what specific policies UKIP have on LGBT rights. I found her overall attitude a mix of confrontation and naivety, which for someone with leadership aspirations surprises me.

Iain Bowen spoke well with good local knowledge and personal thoughts, rather than towing the party line, which I always like to see. Although he struggled with one or two questions I felt he put the Liberal Democrat position on equality across well. He was also passionate about the community and the police needing to work closer together, which prompted some heckling from the audience.

Philippa Roberts performed well defending the record of the Labour government on gay rights, for example civil partnerships, provision of goods and services, etc. However, she was uncomfortable when challenged (mainly by Peter Tatchell) on the current Equalities Bill working its way through Parliament.

Gareth Compton began very well but faded towards the end as he got drawn into bickering with Nikki Sinclaire. On more than one ocassion he made the verbal assumption that the next Government would be a Conservative one, which did not sit well with the audience. He also made the mistake of heckling Nikki Sinclaire for UKIP's European partners, not sensible considering the company the Tories keep.

For me the most interesting question was whether "gay pride" had replaced "gay politics". A lot of the battles have been won and therefore politics has fallen down the ladder when it comes to Pride events. But Birmingham Pride this year was far more party political than I remember it being for a long time. I helped to organise the Liberal Democrat presence, LGBT Labour also ran a stall and some Green party activists were in attendance too. In addition to this no less than THREE candidates in the upcoming European elections were there, Liz Lynne (Lib Dem), Nikki Sinclaire (UKIP) and Neena Gill (Lab).


Queer Question Time Announced

Peter Tatchell and controversial UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire are two of the panellists invited to participate in an LGBT discussion event as part of the SHOUT festival in Birmingham.

Queer Question Time takes place on Wednesday 11 November at the Patrick Centre, part of the Hippodrome Theatre complex in Birmingham.

All eyes will be on Nikki Sinclaire who was arrested the last time this event took place, prior to the 2005 general election. Her outburst during her election at this May’s Euro count, accusing all members of the “Lib-Lab-Con” of being fascists (and then cheered off by the BNP), angered many activists in the LGBT community, so many are expecting another fiery evening.

Other invited guests include Birmingham city councillors Iain Bowen (Lib Dem), Gareth Compton (Con), with the Labour candidate yet to be announced.

200 tickets are available and these are expected to sell out fast. You can buy yours now for just £5 by clicking here.

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Get Ready to SHOUT!

SHOUT logo

I've just heard today that the inaugral SHOUT Festival has been awarded a grant from Sport England through their Small Grants programme. This adds to the grant already received from the Arts Council.

SHOUT is the first of its kind in Birmingham, a cultural festival celebrating and showcasing the growing, vibrant LGBT community. The first festival, to be held during November 2009, features visual arts, performance arts, sports and community events. I was invited by the organisers, the Birmingham LGBT Community Trust, to head up the sports strand following my previous experience in founding and developing Birmingham Blaze FC.

The Sport England grant will enable us to showcase the various opportunities available for LGBT people to get involved with sport, with the ultimate aim of increasing participation within the LGBT community. Birmingham Blaze FC, Moseley Shoals swimming group, Moseley ladies rugby club and a badminton group are all signed up and will offer taster sessions throughout November. The showpiece of the month will be our "Urban Sports Day" to be held on Hurst Street itself, proving there is life beyond the bars and clubs.

There'll be loads more information coming soon, watch this space!

In the meantime, you can join the Facebook group or mailing list, or follow the festival on Twitter.


Birmingham Blaze FC AGM

Birmingham Blaze FC logoYesterday I had the honour of being one of the returning officers for the committee elections at the Birmingham Blaze FC AGM.

I founded the club in 2005 with a kickabout on the site of the proposed Aquatics Centre by the Nelson School in Ladywood. From those tentative beginnings great things have happened. This season the club, chaired ably by Michael McCulley and managed by Fiona Washington, finished second in the GNL.

The club was founded on the basis of inclusiveness with a “football for all” ethos. In the early days this ethos worked well, but following success comes the inevitable divisions. There was a lively debate on this issue at the AGM and as a result of this there will be a wide ranging review of the club’s future.

As returning officer I had to remain silent, but now the elections are over I feel I can comment.

The club finished second in the national league, yet this was seen as failure by some. Take a step back folks – this was nothing short of an incredible achievement and each and every one of you should be brimming with pride. The club is exactly that, a club, not a team. For new players there needs to be opportunity or they will disappear and the club’s growth will stall. There is merit in the idea of two teams but this would need to be managed very carefully to avoid a huge division within the club. The Midlands Unity League idea should be investigated further and I would be happy to help facilitate any discussions. I also think entering a 5-a-side league is an easy way to increase the playing options.

I’m confident the membership has chosen a strong committee and it will be interesting to see what the change of manager (welcome Ian Thomas) brings to the club.

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