9 Sep 2017

Sikh celebrations in London open to all

126,000 followers of Sikhism live in London and have a visible impact on the city. Outside the capital, this vibrant faith hailing from Northern India may be comparatively unknown but Londoners often have either a colleague, neighbour or friend spotting a turban that reveals their faith.

Southall in West London is known as THE destination for Indian culture, particularly Punjabi and Sikh culture with several Gurdwara (houses of workship), community organisations, restaurants and even a radio station, I attended the festival of "Nagar Kirtan" for the second time in 2016 and was so amazed by it that I created a humble short documentary about it on my YouTube channel with the help of a Sikh friend. The aim is to explain the festival to non-Sikhs and encourage them to learn more about their neighbours.

In the area of Southall you not only have the largest Sikh concentration of the UK but also have many Muslims, Hindus, East Europeans and other nationalities sharing this part of town. I often hear comments that reveal ignorance or misunderstanding about Sikh practises that I am keen to clarify, not least with this video.

P.S.: If you speak another language, like this video and want to help, I would appreciate your contribution here.

17 Jan 2017

Actors of first major black gay Hollywood movie use offensive term

American actor Trevante Rhodes isn't gay but in an interview with People.com, he acknowledged the following:
‘Being a black man in America is relatively difficult right now, being a gay man in America is incredibly difficult. And so being a black, gay man … can be perceived as the worst possible thing right now."
Rhodes was giving an interview about a protagonist embodying this double identity that he part-played in the 2016 movie "Moonlight" (premiering in February 2017 in the UK). It seems that this is the first major, black-directed and black-cast movie that addresses issues with growing up gay. Benjamin Lee rightly said in The Guardian that
 "Stories of LGBT people of colour have been largely ignored in film or at least relegated to the sidelines".

This being 2017, one would be forgiven to think that a movie like this would have been long overdue. As a (white) gay man in the UK, issues with my sexuality seem to be a thing of the past decade or two. Bullying, awkward coming outs and even just overhearing hurtful comments seem long behind me and I feel that 90% of the general population would treat me respectfully as a gay individual.

However, is this the same experience for black gay people in America today? I am left wondering even just after watching two interviews by the two other actors that played the same character at different lifestages: In the following two interviews, Ashton Sanders and Andre Holland both struck me as a little insensitive or even ignorant when talking about the gay character they played:

I came across the interviews randomly in excitement reading up on the film I was about to watch. However, I was suddenly struck with a certain "oh!"-moment when both actors used the terms "homosexuality".

This term, although neutrally defined in dictionaries for what it technically describes, is culturally a little insensitive. So much that when people use it, I automatically assume them to be either very ignorant about gay people or at worst outright homophobic. The term comes across overtly medical as it was mostly used at a time when people talked about homosexuality in clinical terms, something of an illness that needs addressing or even curing. GLAAD, in a media guidance publication describes the term "homosexuality" as a "term to avoid" and "offensive". 

In my experience, people that genuinly know gay people wouldn't really use this term nowadays because they would have never heard their friends say things like "I went to this homosexual bar last night" or even "I finally mentioned my homosexuality to my boss". Instead, we use "gay" or "lesbian" and maybe "same-sex" when becoming poltical. But never "homosexual". 

I wish that these two actors, who both through various interviews suggested the movie was a great source for insight, reflection and emotional maturing, would have learnt to be a bit more insightful about the various cultural overtones used to describe someone's sexuality.

So not just measured by the numeric value of the release year, but also th evident insensitivity shown by the very actors watering within it, the movie is indeed long overdue . I hope it will start more conversations about an identity that has perhaps for too long conveniently been dismissed as a "white" thing.

22 Oct 2015

Navratri - The best kept cultural secret in the UK?

What is Navratri?
Navratri is a popular nine-night Hindu festival honouring the mother Goddess as Durga and other forms. British Hindus celebrate this festival in their homes, community halls and temples throughout the country every year in autumn. Gujaratis, the 3rd biggest ethnic group in the UK flog to rented sports halls for nine nights in glittering garments and celebrate with prayers and dancing.

Hidden communities
I first witnessed this four years ago in 2011 when I was taken by a Mauritian friend of mine, himself also being a guest to the community event in Leyton. I use the word community because these celebrations are organised by cast or village origin and can be quite close-knit, i.e. everyone will somehow be related, share the same surname of come from the same village in Gujarat, a north-eastern state of now 62 million people (i.e. roughly the size of Britain). This insight would surprise any native Brit as other than small families, there isn't often much community with people from the place you live or are from, certainly not once having moved away.

This year I went all nine nights and last year, in 2014, I managed to go for eight nights. I went to different communities in Harrow, Kingsbury, Stanmore, Northolt, Leyton and Croydon. Often was I the only non-Asian there. This often perplexed me as many of attendees were British-born Asians, fully integrated into the British society with jobs, neighbours and friends. Yet here was a festival so stunning that British tourists would otherwise have to pay high airfares and expensive tour guides to see in India. Yet this is right here all over London and the UK. Are outsiders not welcome? And if they are, is this the best kept cultural experience that nobody knows about?

The Caste System in Britain
The Indian caste system lives on till this day in Britain. While the West may have focus on its negative implications such as discrimination, I saw that it's being used to hold people together, like in by party association, church groups, alumni of a university or followers of long-gone pop legends. Ask any Hindu friend of yours and they will probably be able to tell you the name of their community or sub-caste.

So if communities can be this close-knit, are outsiders welcome?

Outsider welcome?
As I was often the only non-Indian attending, people started recognising me. This year I attended the Navratri celebration of the Brahmin Society of North London held in the Jewish Free School (JFS) in Kingsbury. I went with a friend of mine who himself was part of the community. Recognising me  for attending the previous year and eagerly following the cultural and religious programme, I was offered a one-year membership with which I would pay a reduced daily attendance fee, just like other community members. This felt very validating as I had been very serious about learning about Hindusim since I started following teachings around 5 years ago but had never associated myself to any particular temple, community or family. Many Asians that perhaps are part of other communities or even religions (mostly Jain or Sikh) dropped in to some evenings but paid full price.

In 2015, more than half of the events I attended during Navratri had non-Indians attending, albeit usually just 2-3. These would be neighbours or partners (see the video below).

YouTube-ing my visits
Feeling that outsiders seem indeed welcome yet being rare, I started to document each night with a short video clip posted to my personal Facebook and to my public YouTube channel. I quickly gathered a following with people recognising me and greeting me at the actual events.
Also, I encouraged any of my friends to join me, many of whom enjoyed it a lot albeit not having heard of it before (for example Andrew in the video below)

I had numerous community members, young or old come up to me and congratulate me for my videos or dancing. I felt extremly welcome and also felt that these people felt very proud of their culture and that it was appreciated by outsiders.

By publishing my experiences on YouTube I hope to encourage others to join in with their neighbours with the celebration. Religious, cultural or even as a sport, it can be enjoyed on so many levels. Overall, I always believe that exploring other cultures, particular these that co-exist within a country is so important for peace and elimination of prejudices. I will continue to show people that overcoming initial hesitation and shyness can be so rewarding when it comes to part-taking in other people's cultural events that are just waiting to be discovered all throughout the capital and Britain.

21 Mar 2014

Fred Phelps dies

Fred Phelps, founder and leader of the Westboro Baptist cult Church in the US has died. He was the one of most notorious homophobes whose distorted worldview was exposed in mainstream media and attracted worldwide ridicule and laughter. Homophobia has become a lot less attractive thanks to him as he made people realise that nut-jobs in his ranks are only worthy of our ridicule and pity. While he thus inadvertently did the gay movement a favour, he also tainted the image of Christianity, perverting its message of love and preaching pure hatred instead. Today, on the day of his death, he will get to know the truth at last, realise his idiocy and be judged for his sins. 
May his not be repeated all too often anymore. May we have compassion with those who misjudge us and aid their path to a better understanding of the truth.

4 Dec 2010

Analysing anti-Black racism in modern China (Essay)

Studying in Beijing for the second year of my BA Chinese studies, I did a research project on racism in China. Before that, I thought that any foreigner like me would be adored by the Chinese who are desperate to get their hands on anything foreign. The truth is, what Chinese people adore are white people and their perceived superior looks and 'status'. If you are of dark complexion, you will not enjoy the same treatment as white people in China and don't even think of getting a job as an English teacher (even if your mother tongue is English, they will prefer the broken English of any blond Russian girl). The racist world image of China is that whites are superior to anyone and only Asians come close to them. One would think that nowadays, with so much exposure and exchange with the outer world (Beijing Olympics, Shanghai Expo, MTV, internet...) that Chinese would understand that a black person is just the same as any other human, but the majority is far from that. See below one chapter of my essay followed by a link to the complete work:

In his work “Anti-Black Racism in Post-Mao China” Berry Sautman provides a detailed historical account of Africans coming to the People’s Republic. I will not reproduce every incident that yet successfully brings the vile attitudes of contempt towards Blacks to the light, but try to highlight details that might help to look for reasons for the racial contempt of the Chinese at that time.

While these cultural exchange-students in the 1960s were unhappy with China, it was dissatisfaction with living standards, rather than racism, that the students from mostly elite-backgrounds complained about. At that time, Maoist China was supportive off third-world nations and sought to find diplomatic allies particularly in Africa. The first major race riots start only a few years after Mao’s death.

The pattern of the 1979 race riot in Shanghai was to be repeated in the decades after: Either African or Chinese students complained about each other’s behaviour, Africans would become angry about the lack of help or even mistreatment from authorities and confrontations would end violently. While reading the account of these confrontations, it seems unusual to me that police reportedly would not intervene in some cases, stand by attacks or come hours after the assaults started.

“Africans were stoned and the foreign student hall of residence besieged by Chinese hurling bricks. African students called the police, but officers did not arrive for several hours and failed to intervene as fighting continued throughout the day.”

From my experience it takes second nowadays for the police to vigorously respond to any minor scuffle.

In the 1980s, African students (sometimes along with Arabs and South Asians) staged several protests over the mistreatment and continuous racial taunting: 1980 in Nanjing, 1983, 1985 and 1987 in Beijing and 1986 in Tianjin along with minor incidents in Nanjing, Shenyang and Xi’an that year, 1988 in Hangzhou and Wuhan.

A factor in some universities was that Chinese complained Africans would “pollute Chinese society by having relations with Chinese women”. Africans were also accused of being AIDS-carriers.

From analysing historical backgrounds, a change in attitudes towards Africa is evident. During the Mao era and national emphasis on belonging to the oppressed people, racial stereotypes played minor factors that Africans experienced in China. After the reform era in the late 1970s, morality changed and no longer was the third-world propagandised as the main friend, but the European and American lifestyle as the better, richer, more promising and sophisticated example that is to be striven for.

Bookmark and Share

13 May 2010

UK: Pessimism as anti-gay MP becomes Equality Minister

Theresa May has been chosen to act as Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality by the new Cameron-led government in Great Britain. Her suitability for the position has been questioned by people who highlighted her voting record (see below for details): Except for the Civil Partnership Act, she has constantly either voted against bills that made LGBTs more equal and been (purposely?) absent from parliament when many of them were discussed. Pinknews quotes David Henry of gay rights group OutRage! saying: “Mrs May is the wrong person for the job", “She's always been against gay rights since I can remember. I'm pretty sure she's opposed almost every gay rights measure”.

Commentator called her “a notorious homophobe”,  “an insane appointment”,  and opined: “She voted against equal age of consent. She voted against adoption equality. She wanted to maintain the fascist section 28. There are no ifs and no buts about it. Theresa May is a homophobe”. Another commentator said “May is my MP and I've actually met her. (…) The woman rejects anything that doesn't fit in her narrow-minded view of the world.”

Many asked for her to be interviewed by the gay media about her commitment to equality and if there has been a change of mind since the last few years. If one wants to take the initiative, she can be reached at mayt@parliament.uk or via her website’s contact form

Her voting record (source):

1998: Reduce age of consent for homosexual acts to 16 (equalise with straight sex): NO

1999: Reduce legal age for anal intercourse (straight or gay): NO (twice that year)

2000: Prohibit promotion of homosexuality in schools: YES

2001: Allow same-sex couples to adopt: NO (again in 2002)

2002: Allow unmarried gay or straight couples to adopt: NO

2008: Fertility treatment for same-sex couples: NO (twice)

12 May 2010

Cameron gives a damn about gay Britons

Campaigners gather for 'David Cameron's coming out party' David Cameron has been elected the new Prime Minister for Britain.  What that means for LGBT people is anything but certain. During the election campaign, it felt like Cameron had a hard job trying to woo some gay voters since nowadays, no major party can afford not to be somewhat for gay rights. His attempts, however, surfaced hypocrisies.

He pledged to “consider” allowing  gay marriage in interviews with pink papers, then later said on TV that he is “not planning” on renaming civil partnerships. http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2010/05/04/david-cameron-not-planning-to-legalise-gay-marriage/

Let’s face it, we do not live in a fairy tale world. Of course we know that there are homophobes out there. One of them is Conservative candidate Philippa Stroud, who founded a church that seeks to ‘heal’ gays and ‘free them’ from demons. After the press got to wind of that, Cameron was quick to defend her as “not homophobic” and said “she believes in gay equality”. How idiotic is he? Does Cameron think we are that stupid? Maybe she believes in equality for gays as long as they turn straight, ex-gay equality.

The following incident, however, shows most obviously how Cameron firstly, FEIGNS support to gays, thirdly HAS NO IDEA about gay concerns and thirdly, DOESN’T REALLY CARE EITHER. During the following interview when questioned about gay rights, he seemed clueless until he finally asked the camera to be switched off!

Watch the video “David Cameron stumbles through interview on gay rights” on guardian.co.uk.

David Cameron’s voting record shows he voted to restrict marriage and adoption to straight couples (2002) and voted against repealing Section 28 which forbade “promotion of homosexuality” (2003). he now suddenly believes in the right to adopt for same-sex couples.

23 Apr 2010

Would protecting sexual minorities hinder integration of Muslims?

Germany’s constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex & gender, race, mother tongue, country or culture of origin, disability, religion and religious or political opinion. Since a few years, activist tried to add “sexual identity” to the list to further combat discrimination of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in Germany. After several high-ranking politicians and even a few states supported the measure, the parliament took up the debate and asked nine experts to present their findings on possible implications of the proposed law.

The voiced concerns were altogether opposing and are furthermore nothing short of the ridiculousness we are used to hear from right-wing conservatives in the US:

Winfried Kluth from the University Halle-Wittenberg argued that protecting LGBTs “would prevent Muslim immigrants from accepting our constitution”. Neutralising involved declaring that one believes in the German constitution. Mr Kluths argument implies demanding the acceptance of gender equality from German Muslims is ok, but to not discriminate gays would be too much to ask for. It would be more important to make it easy for new German citizens to identify with the constitution than promoting acceptance of LGBTs.

Professor Bernd Grzeszick form the University of Heidelberg said the proposed addition to the constitution would lead to the legalisation of polygamy because protecting “bisexuality and other forms of multiple-partner unions” could imply the legalisation of bigamy in the least.

In the parliamentary hearing, several of the appointed experts seemed to warn of the dangers of paedophilia approaching Germany. Klaus Gärditz of University of Bonn argued that “paedophilia, sodomy and sadomasochism” could be interpreted as one of these sexual identities.

The measure was proposed by the socialist party (SPD), the Greens and Leftist Coalition (Linkspartei). Germany’s most outspoken gay politician, Volker Beck (Greens) said: “The current government wants to continue to discriminate and treat LGBTs as second-class citizens. Our constitution protects minorities from arbitrary decisions of a majority and gays and lesbians should have this protection as well.”

At the current situation it seems unlikely that the change will happen. Both coalition parties, Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Liberal Democrats (FDP) that make up the current government reject the measure. A two-third majority is needed in the parliament to change the constitution.

The Liberals usually claim to be gay-friendly, but are known to put their business-emphasis first as they opposed many regulations, including non-discrimination acts, to be “forced upon the economy”. Although Germany’s current foreign minister Guido Westerwelle is confidently out gay (See Germany: New government, new hope?), his party is yet to prove their true commitment to gay rights.

4 Mar 2010

UK: The fear of gay weddings

The difference
Some would think Britain is one of the most progressive countries when it comes to civil rights. Yet, gays and lesbians were until now not able to get hitched in a church or religious building and any religious language or even music was banned from the civil registry office where these strictly “civil partnerships” are made.
Fortunately, this ban is now as good as lifted with the House of Lords agreeing on an amendment to the Equality Bill which would make it possible for religious organisations to host civil partnership ceremonies. Among these that are ready to do that are Unitarians, Quakers (See “Quakers welcome debate on equality”), Metropolitan Community Churches, Liberal Jewish synagogues and some Anglican churches might follow in near future.

Why no marriage?
In my understanding, this is a good step, but a better step would have been allowing same-sex marriage altogether. Yet this is exactly what some forces fight against and are scared of in the United Kingdom.

It’s not the same!
The Bishop of Bradford warned that the change risked equating civil partnerships with marriage:
"The fundamental difficulty (…) is that we (…) have been quite clear ever since civil partnerships were introduced that they are not the same as marriage.”
Thanks you for proving us a point, Mr Bishop, in the debate of why the government should change the unequal and discriminatory  institution of civil partnerships. (See also: “Marriage Equality for the UK”)

So far, opponents of this have argued that civil partnerships are adequate enough and marriage should be preserved for union between a  man and a women only.

Homophobes are scared
Christian Today had a headline entitles “Fears for churches and status of marriage

The Religion Correspondent of The Times, Ms Gledhill wrote a comment entitled “Bishop of Winchester slams gay marriage in church ‘fudge’” and quotes someone saying:

“I believe it does further fudge the line between civil partnerships and marriage. That is shown by some newspapers which simply speak of gay marriages in church.”

Face the reality!
So newspapers already speak of "gay marriages"? Oh my!
Yes, Ms Gledhill or whoever made that comment, here is a bit of a reality dose for you:  Do you really think people in civil partnerships refer to their love as "civil partner" among their colleagues? Do you think they tell people that they are "civilly partnered"? Do you think their personal banker, the call-agent from BT or anyone makes a fuss to refer them as "civil partners"?
No! It's a formality being upheld only in the books to not upset religious nuts like you. The majority of the population (61% support gay marriage) has long understood that there is no difference between gay or straight relationships and the apartheid system of civil partnerships is a farce and a mockery of civil rights that is hopefully soon to end.

Several newspaper articles today again showed that so many religious leaders are simply all through homophobic in the sense that they literally FEAR gays and lesbians and they want to fight for their right to discriminate. Hopefully, this injustice will end soon. May God help them to learn to love all of his children.

19 Feb 2010

Ugandan gay man flees to the UK


bosco John Bosco told his story at the LGBT Rights in Africa event at SOAS. He realised he is “gay” by the age of 18. He only knew what “gay” meant from the taunts of fellow pupils. He didn’t come out in fear of arrest, but he couldn’t control the feelings that he felt.

“Nobody wants to be gay in Uganda but you are what you are.”

A gay bar he visited was raided in 2001. He escaped police, yet people tracked his home down where his brother was taken and questioned about John, who wasn’t there. His brother didn’t know of his whereabouts and was beaten and ultimately killed.

Bosco then sought asylum in the UK in September that year and went through immigration hell in inhumane detention centres. Freed later, he had to report to the police daily. After his asylum appeal was rejected several times over the next years he returned to a detention centre and was then forcefully put on a flight back to Uganda in 2008. He told the immigration officers that he would be killed but they said “We told the Ugandan officials nothing”, suggesting that if he keeps quiet, he will be fine. 

Yet nothing was fine as the police in Uganda was aware of his identify from the bar raid seven years ago. Since being gay is illegal, he had to bribe his way to freedom coming out of the airport with 500£. People said, he would want to be gay so he could come to the UK and this shows how homosexuality is perceived as something foreign that doesn’t naturally happen in Africa.
He flew back to the UK and but was held in the detention centre again until finally his asylum was granted in May 2009.

Bosco said even the Home Office in Britain treats you differently as a gay. He was asked for example to prove that he would be gay while applying for asylum. He was told if they allowed him in, “all gays from Uganda would come”. “Many solicitors on top are also reluctant to take up cases of gay refugees”, he said.

More on John’s case on Gays Without Borders