Is it judgement or preference? – Being gay with a disability

“Turn your wounds into wisdom”

Oprah Winfrey

Getting myself out of bed some mornings can be a real challenge. Not only can it take an extraordinarily long time but I’m very often left utterly exhausted before the day has even begun and my feet touch the floor. Chronic pain is an unforgiving bastard and makes absolutely no bones about throwing your life out of kilter and bringing you to the absolute brink of despair. Having a range of conditions including chronic pain arising from nerve damage, fibromyalgia, M.E, chronic pancreatic dysfunction and Crohn’s disease to name but a few; I feel as though I could throw a dart at the alphabet and rhyme off one of my diagnoses or medication I’m on or have taken recently.

These days I am very open about the fact I’m gay and over the years have moved markedly away from my ‘If they don’t ask, I won’t tell’ rule. For years it was something I struggled with, not in terms of my own identity but with the way people viewed it or acted when they found out. Things have moved on significantly since then but the way ‘the community’ themselves view disability and chronic ill-health can still be very troublesome.

We’ve all heard of the enduring stereotypes of gay men being designer-clothes bedecked gym bunnies with six packs and an insatiable appetite for random sex, and lesbians being painted as having a penchant for short hair and plaid shirts and falling into a butch or feminine role. These stereotypes are clearly hackneyed, nonsensical and oversimplified and thankfully most right-thinking people reject them out of hand.

I know we all have our own crosses to bear but something I’ve struggled with for most of my adult life is where I fit in within the ‘gay community’. Personal tastes are as wide and varied as the colours of the good old rainbow flag, but in saying that, I’ve yet to walk into a gay bar or club on a night out and feel welcome. While a lot of this will undoubtedly come down to my own hang-ups and insecurities I am not imagining the stares. Let me explain this. Due to the nerve damage in my spine and lower back, I have chronic pain which can be accompanied by muscle stiffness and cramps and I walk with a stick (or sticks) and an altered and exaggerated gait. I’ve always felt I stuck out like a sore thumb and going into an environment which, by its very nature, is highly sexually charged (if you have ever been in a gay club then you’ll know exactly what I am talking about!) I always felt people staring and as the drinks flowed I’ve had my sticks commandeered for a laugh and used as makeshift golf clubs, I’ve had the usual ‘What’s wrong with you?’, I’ve been given the moniker ‘hop-a-long’, I’ve been told I couldn’t come into the bar or club as the stick ‘could be used as a weapon’ or I’d be a fire hazard and wouldn’t be able to safely get out in the event of an emergency.  In the case of Glasgow, only a tiny number of gay orientated clubs and bars have accessible entrances and even fewer have accessible bathroom facilities, but that’s another story for another day!

I know we have our own tastes and preferences and I am by no means suggesting that anyone dating should be inclined to seek out dates with people they aren’t attracted to. My bone of contention is the judgement levelled at someone due to their being different… In a ‘community’ which has struggled (and in many ways still does) to find and establish safe spaces where we can be ourselves. It reminds me of the experience some friends of colour have experienced when dating ‘on the scene’ or on certain ‘dating’ apps. ‘No black, Asian etc’ – If you’ve ever used Grindr then you know exactly the type of bio I’m talking about.

When I went on a date with my partner Ryan (who I’ve been steadily dating now for nearly five years) I went to great lengths to explain the fact that I walk differently, that I wear weird weighted shoes and that I walk with sticks and an altered gait. He was perplexed as to why I felt I had to tell him, why I had offered him a ‘get out of jail’ option of cancelling the date because of this and why I thought it would bother him in the first place.

I have a number of LGBT+ friends who are disabled or live with long-term ill-health and my own experiences are all too often echoed by them. I am embarrassed enough ‘walking’ down the street with sticks or wheeling down the street if I’m in the chair. I used to be a  ballsy person who couldn’t give a monkeys if someone didn’t like me or decided they’d like to stare or tell their child to get out of the way of the ‘man with the gammy leg’, but it gets tiring, it gets challenging and sometimes it gets very personal.

I don’t have a problem with someone asking about my difficulties, the sticks, the chair etc but I do struggle immensely with being body-swerved or talked down to. Anyone who uses a chair (regularly or intermittently) will know only too well how frustrating it is when people look right over your head and talk to the person accompanying you, or when someone uses ‘that voice’.

Have you experienced this before? Do you agree/disagree? Join in the conversation below.

The Scot Tories are every bit as cruel as their extreme Westminister counterparts and this week confirms that

This week has seen Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour withdraw an amendment he had tabled to the Social Security Bill within which he called for terminally ill patients to have their benefit entitlement reassessed if they survived for over three years. The Lothian MSP has faced significant criticism by politicians across the spectrum including Labour, SNP, Greens and Liberal Democrats who question his judgment in laying the amendment in the first place.

Balfour’s amendment sought to force Scottish ministers to revisit benefit entitlement for those patients who were diagnosed with a condition or disease which doctors believe will claim their lives within a short period of time. The amendment read: “At the end of a period of three years beginning with the day on which the individual applied for such assistance, the individual is still living, the Scottish ministers must review the individual’s entitlement to assistance.”  (Page 24, Point 69 on 1st Marshalled List of Amendments for Stage 2 – https://rebrand.ly/8c25)

Kezia Dugdale the former leader of Scottish Labour branded Balfour’s amendment ‘disgusting’ in a piece she wrote for the Daily Record and called on Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson to state if she backs Jeremy Balfour. In the article, Kezia said: “Terminally-ill people deserve support and care – not cruel assessments to check if they are still dying.”

It’ll come as no shock or surprise to anyone that many disabled and chronically ill people (and those who support them) feel worn down and are in a state of perpetual fear and alarm over the many years of unrelenting cruel, degrading and punishing benefit applications, medicals, reassessments and appeals all to secure financial assistance in order to meet the additional expenditure resulting from their condition(s). This is but the latest chapter in the Tory playbook aimed at steadily chipping away at the moral fabric of our communities.

A recent story in the Independent highlighted that the public has made over 300,000 benefit fraud tip-offs over the past two years and over 87% were closed after little or no evidence of fraud was found. In 2016 it was reported by the Guardian that out of a million fraud tips made by the public, over 890,000 (that’s over 85%) were closed by the DWP due to no fraud has taken place. It is clear that the ‘benefit scrounger’ and ‘workshy malingerer’ narratives regurgitated by the Tories are having a negative impact on society. The Tories are pitching communities against each other and empowering and encouraging neighbours to ‘do their bit’ by spying on each other and reporting any anomalies to HQ.

In Scotland, we have a unique opportunity with the planned transfer of powers to Holyrood over PIP, carers allowance and a number of other social security benefits and programmes. We have an opportunity to design a new social security system within a rights-based framework which will put the recipient and their needs at its core. The Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman has been working from the off to include as many agencies, carers and welfare recipients in the design of the new regime as possible. We have all been encouraged to feed-in to the research and work being carried out and I myself have joined one of the experience panels which is concerned with designing this new system to be fit for purpose, fair and transparent and a system which delivers real and measured support to chronically ill and disabled people and those who care for or look after us. You can read more about the work of the experience panels at http://allequal.xyz/socpanels.

Ruth Davidson the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party (to give it its full name) goes to great lengths to try to convince the Scottish electorate that the party she leads is a unique and distinct party which responds to the needs and wants of Scottish society. Despite claims that she is a proud conservative on a mission to reignite conservative values in Scotland, during elections in Scotland her own party campaign materials were markedly light on the use of the words ‘conservative party’. We were told that the new contingent of Scottish Tory MP’s would stand up for Scotland but to date, we’ve seen the exact opposite.

I can say with a great degree of certainty that majority of us would welcome the fact that our terminally ill loved one was able to spend longer with us than initially expected and this type of move by the Tories to strip benefits from people at the very time they are in most need is cruel and dehumanising and has absolutely no place in a modern and vibrant Scotland. I am glad that Balfour has withdrawn his amendment but feel incredibly concerned that he felt it was appropriate to table it in the first place!

What do you think about this amendment and the fact that the Tory spokesperson on Social Security and Disability tabled it in the first place? Share your thoughts below.

Statement: Spanish Violence in Catalonia

The violent scenes from across Catalonia this morning show that Madrid is more concerned with putting down the vote and the aspirations of the Catalan people than maintaining the veneer of Spanish democracy.

We hear continually from Madrid about their efforts in safeguarding democracy yet we see peaceful voters shot in the head and body with rubber projectiles, we see stun grenades being thrown into crowds and we see police officers smashing their way into polling stations and dragging old and young alike across streets and to their injury.

This is a dark day for European democracy.

Rob McDowall

Member of the Equality Council

Equality and Human Rights Advocate

@robmcd85

What is happening in Catalonia is a travesty for democracy

Democrats across the globe are rightly baulking at Madrid’s continual escalation of tensions over an impending vote on Catalan Independence on 1st October.

This week has seen an unacceptable move towards suppression of democracy fuelled by the desire of Madrid to suppress the ability for Catalans to register their support (or otherwise) for Catalonian independence at any cost.

Having declared the referendum unlawful and unconstitutional, Madrid has seized ballot boxes, ballot papers, accreditation cards, mobilised tens of thousands of extra police officers, closed and sealed off just over half of Catalonia’s school buildings where the referendum was to be held, blocked access to over 160 websites containing information and support for the referendum and have today raided the telecommunications HQ of the Catalonian Government to cut-off its access to email and communication resources that Madrid fear could be used to coordinate the referendum.

SNP Spokesperson on Justice and Home Affairs and MP Joanna Cherry QC has joined a delegation of referendum observers which includes 33 parliamentarians from 17 countries. The delegation includes MP’s and MEP’s including Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson, Mick Barry TD of Irish Solidarity–People Before Profit and Hywel Williams a Welsh MP from Plaid Cymru. The delegation have been invited by Diplocat – The Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (which tweets in English at www.twitter.com/ThisIsCatalonia and in Catalan at www.twitter.com/diplocat) and a full list of parliamentarians making up the delegation is available here.

Regardless of where you stand on the substantive issue of Catalonian independence, I implore you to amplify social media posts which highlight the underhand and altogether undemocratic tactics being used by the Spanish Government to silence Catalans. This isn’t about unionists in Spain rubbishing or weakening the merits of the independence argument but rather a coordinated campaign of suppression and censorship designed to halt the independence debate all together while intimidating Catalonia and smothering the aspirations of her people. The ballot box should be a safe and courageous space for the electorate to register their assessment of their respective parliamentarians and parties; using undemocratic means to silence the people will undoubtedly conjure memories of the Movimiento.

The people of Catalonia should be free to be architects of their own future. Self determination is a fundamental right and regardless of where you stand on Catalonian independence; we all must strongly condemn these deplorable escalating actions by Madrid. The world is watching and we must all amplify calls for the wishes of the people of Catalonia to be respected.
Rob McDowall, Equality Council
Equality and Human Rights Advocate
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I’ve tweeted this story on Twitter. Please RT to your own followers.

 

Listen: On The Radio Talking About Scottish Independence, The General Election And What It Means To Be Scottish

On the 18th April 2017 I was on Voice of Islam Radio talking about Scottish Independence, the snap general election and what it means to be Scottish. You can listen to the whole call here – which includes a number of fantastic contributions including my favourite call by far from Ya’akov Sloman.

Morag Fulton – My Inspirational Person of the Month

Morag Fulton is an inspirational, dedicated and truly outstanding disability and equality advocate and SNP council candidate for Stirling West. The great people of Stirling West need have no reservations; Morag’s immense dedication to social justice is matched only by her integrity and desire to empower and stand up for each and every person within her ward. My only sadness is that I don’t live in Stirling West.

Like Morag’s page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/moragfultonstirling or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/moragfulton

Theresa May And The Tories Are Playing A Dangerous Game In Scotland

The major problem with the Scottish Tories is that they are very clearly misreading the political situation in Scotland. 

The Holyrood elections did not see Scotland uncharacteristicly run to embrace Conservatism but rather traditional Scottish Labour voters sought a refuge as their party was in the midst of dying a death. 
Scottish Labour voters saw a party so impotent and so inept that any meaningful vote cast for them would be wasted in the expected sea of yellow. It was with realisation that Scottish Labour voters crossed the floor and voted for a brash pretender with gall and effrontery and a desire to hold the First Minister to account. 

Ruth et al need to stop proclaiming that they’ve somehow turned Scotland blue; it is absolutely untrue and is being used to muddy the waters surrounding talks of a mandate and support for Conservatism and Unionism in Scotland. This, by extension, is being used to somehow paint the Prime Minister as some demigod who’s broken through in Scotland. 

She hasn’t and she’ll come to learn that Conservatism is not suddenly being embraced the length and breadth of Scotland. Labour died and the Tories picked up opposition votes from those determined to make a SNP government answer to a strong opposition.  

What do you think? Are the Tories playing a dangerous game?

Wullie Rennie And The Policing Bill That Never Was

In late 2014 The Daily Record, the Morning Star and the Herald all reported that the Liberal Democrats owed Police Scotland £800,000 for providing policing at its 2013 conference. This unpaid bill was (and still is) regularly banded around on social media but it simply isn’t true.

While Police Scotland does provide policing at large-scale public events in order to maintain public order and prevent breaches of the peace, there was no £800,000 policing bill sent to the Lib Dems and no request for them to pay any such amount was made.

Police Scotland confirmed this in a Freedom of Information request via the WhatDoTheyKnow website and the original reply can be viewed online at –https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/236796/response/588113/attach/3/2014%202277%20final%20response.pdf – I share this as I have seen a few people I know sharing this and when we are debating about Scotland’s future, it is important that we are accurate.