Grantland and the Dr Vanderbilt Story

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Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons has apologised on behalf of himself and the staff of Grantland for the insensitive, poorly thought out and crass piece published on the site last week, written by Caleb Hannan. The original piece can be found here, for those who don’t know what I am talking about. I would also ask everyone to read the fantastic response piece from ESPN writer and GLAAD board member Christina Kahrl (linked here).

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Gay footballers: fan attitudes limit progress

Congratulations to Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former German international footballer who came out as gay yesterday. I’m happy that he feels comfortable enough to go public about his sexuality, can act as a role model for those who want to be professional athletes, and has received widespread positive responses to his announcement.

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Letter To The Foreign Secretary: The Response

A few weeks ago, I sent a letter to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, raising concerns over the Russian anti-LGBTQ laws, and how they would affect those traveling to the Olympics, among others. The text of that letter can be found here. I also forwarded my letter to my MP, Tessa Jowell, who promised to raise the issue with the appropriate people, and pass any responses on to me.

This morning I got a letter from Dame Tessa Jowell which included a letter sent to her by the Minister for Europe, Rt Hon. David Lidington MP. I’ve written up the text below:

Dear Tessa,

Thank you for your letter of 9 August, to the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of your constituent [me, but I’m not posting my address] about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Russia. I am replying as Minister responsible for Russia.

The new Russian law which prohibits the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” could in effect prevent LGBT people from fully enjoying the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

We have repeatedly raised our concerns about the growing restrictions on LGBTQ freedoms in Russia, including at the 2013 UK-Russia Human Rights dialogue in May. We also raise concerns with the Russian government at political level. The Prime Minister most recently outlined our human rights concerns with President Putin in June, and I regularly raise cases of concern in my dialogue with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister.

We want to see an open and inclusive games at the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 but do not support a boycott. We have a better chance of influencing Russia by speaking to them and challenging prejudices as we attend, rather than through a boycott.

Our government is working with the International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association to ensure that the games take place in the spirit of the Olympic Charter and remain free of discrimination.

We have updated our travel advice on Russia to inform British nationals of the new law. We review this advice regularly and will update further as necessary.

It would be a crime in Russian law if any unlawful activities were carried out on an individual and we would expect the Russian authorities to fully investigate any such incidents.

Human rights form an important part of the UK-Russia relationship and we will continue to pay close attention to developments in this area, and take further opportunities to urge Russian to demonstrate that it is governed by the rule of law and respects human rights.

The Rt Hon David Lidington MP

Pretty much the response I was expecting. But it is at least a start. I’m considering sending Mr Lidington a further response, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Russian Anti-LGBTQ Laws: Letter Sent to Foreign Secretary

Dear Mr Hague,
In your role as Foreign Secretary, I am sure that you are aware of the current human rights violations that are going on in Russia, and the brutal and systematic assault on the rights of LGBTQ individuals, purely because of their sexuality or gender identity. In case you have somehow missed it, here are a couple of reminders of what has been going on: first from Business Insider, from Buzzfeed and finally from the New York Times (I’ve put the full length links at the bottom of this letter in case there is an issue with linking through the FCO email system).

I would like to know why the UK government has drawn little attention to what is happening, and how come there has not been international condemnation of the actions of the Russian government, and calls for President Putin to revoke laws which will not only criminalise being a gay Russian, but will also make it possible for the Russian police to arrest anyone, of any nationality, they suspect of being LGBTQ. Why has the UK government said nothing? Would you keep similarly silent were this a law making it illegal to be Jewish or Black, or is it just because the victims of these hateful, bigoted, narrow-minded laws are LGBTQ that it is less of a hate crime?

Or, as I suspect, is it that the UK, as much of Europe does, relies on gas and oil from Russia, and the government will give the Russian government carte-blanche to abuse the human rights of their citizens, just as long as they don’t turn off the taps?

Furthermore, what is the government’s advice with regards to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi?Is advice being given that LGBTQ people ought not to travel, so that the consular section in Moscow doesn’t have to deal with people being arrested purely because of their sexuality? Again, if these laws had a different focus, would you be advising black people not to attend, “for their own safety”?

Finally, I am appalled at the “joint UK-Russia Year of Culture in 2014.” How is it that this government can be comfortable saying that we wish to celebrate our joint culture with a country that has begun such a brutal crackdown on the rights and safety of LGBTQ people? This is an embarrassment to the UK, and I strongly urge you to reconsider this partnership.

The double standard that is being expressed simply by your silence on the matter is chilling, and it is disturbing to think that the UK would stand by while people are beaten, brutalised and murdered because of their sexuality.

Given that the UK recently legalised same-sex marriages (despite the efforts of some of your own back benchers to portray gay people as child molesters and on a par with people who have sex with animals) I would have expected you, as Foreign Secretary, to represent this country properly in terms of standing up for LGBTQ people both in the UK and abroad.

I hope to hear back from you on this issue, and I hope that the government will take proper and appropriate action against human rights abuses against LGBTQ people in Russia.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Sheppard.

 

Links as mentioned above:

1. Business Insider Article: http://www.businessinsider.com/horrific-russia-gay-bullying-video-goes-viral-2013-7

2. Buzzfeed Article: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/this-is-what-happens-when-you-write-about-homophobia-in-russ

3. NY Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/opinion/russias-anti-gay-crackdown.html

Sometimes being a football fan is hard

Guardian interview with Robbie Rogers

In the same week that the Guardian ran the linked interview with Robbie Rogers, who retired from professional football because of his sexuality, Sunderland have appointed Paolo Di Canio as their manager.

For those who don’t know, Di Canio is a former West Ham, Charlton and Lazio player, and has previously managed Swindon. He is also a Mussolini supporter and self-confessed fascist. David Milliband, the outgoing MP for South Shields has resigned from the Sunderland board because of Di Canio’s political views.

It is hard to enjoy a sport where being openly homosexual is career ending, while being openly fascist is perfectly acceptable. And how good are The FA, UEFA and FIFA really getting at fighting discrimination when fascists are able to be high profile managers but being gay means you won’t be able to play?
This sport is broken. Can we please start trying to fix it now?

Intolerance in Football: Fashanu, Terry, Suarez and UEFA

Intolerance in football is a problem. I don’t think you will be able to find many people who will disagree with that statement. Whether it is Luis Suarez and John Terry or the fact that there is only 1 professional football player who is openly gay, not in England, but in the entire game (for those of you interested, it is Anton Hysen of Utsiktens BK in Sweden). He is, for those who don’t know, only the second gay professional footballer ever, after Justin Fashanu. Out of the around 3,000 professional football players in England, there is not a single one who is able to be open about their sexuality. Not just for the sport, but for society, that is an embarrassment. But as John Amaechi pointed out recently, is this really a surprise when the board of the FA, who run the game in this country, have only just got their first female board member.

Some numbers:

3,000: approximate number of professional footballers in England

0: Openly gay professional footballers

£6,000: fine for former Leicester City player Michael Ball for tweeting homophobic comments

16: Number of professional clubs (out of 92) who are willing to openly back The Justin Campaign’s Football v Homophobia initiative.

These make for pretty depressing reading. The FA needs to do better – for a start by stepping up efforts to stamp out intolerance in any form (including anti-Semitism against Tottenham fans and players) by making the punishments for offences actually mean something. Suarez ought to have had a much stronger penalty – if fans are banned from grounds for racist chanting, why does a player only receive an 8 game ban? The fines for the likes of Michael Ball must be so steep that it is actually a disincentive to not display such bigotry. If clubs are made responsible for the actions of their players, then that would offer a real reason for them to police their own dressing rooms. For example, if Terry is found guilty, how about a points deduction. Similarly for Liverpool and Luis Suarez. If a player’s actions hurt not only him but his teammates, club and fans, do you think that might have an impact?

It is not just the FA who need to step up to the plate though – UEFA also need to make it known to clubs and fans that homophobia, racism and other abuse will not be tolerated. If fans at a match in Spain are making monkey chants, for example, then don’t fine the club €30,000 and say you are tackling the problem. That will make no difference to anyone. Games played behind closed doors, point deductions and exclusion from European competitions might. You did it for hooliganism, time to do likewise for bigotry. Make people think twice before they decide to hurl abuse at someone for the colour of their skin, their religion or their sexual preference.

Do I think that these things will happen? Given the record of UEFA and the FA, no.


On Luis Suarez: He has been found guilty. His punishment ought to have been much harsher. Kenny Dalglish, those supporting shirts and the actions of some of their fans should make everyone involved or supporting of Liverpool football club look at what their club has been condoning, and they should feel disappointed at the action of some of their people. I will boo Suarez for the rest of his career in England.

On John Terry: He has not been found guilty of anything yet. As things stand, I support Terry as a Chelsea player and club captain. If he is found guilty, then he deserves to be neither of these things. The club dispensed with the services of Adrian Mutu when he was found to be using drugs, (a decision I supported), and I believe that a similar stance must be taken with racism and intolerance. Leicester fired Ball after his homophobic comments, which was exactly the right decision. We must, as a club, make the same stand with Terry. There can be no excuse, and although I have sung songs in support of Terry for a decade, the club and its responsibility to the community must come first. Innocent until proven guilty. If guilty, then he must be punished.


I am a Chelsea fan, and East Stand season ticket holder. I am disappointed every time elements of our fans chant about Hillsborough, Munich or sing anti-Semitic songs at Tottenham fans, and I did not boo Anton or Rio Ferdinand for their stance on John Terry. I do not do any of these things, and a lot of the people who sit near me in the East Stand upper also don’t. It is important to know that not all football fans who go to games week in, week out sing such offensive things. But until everyone in the ground chooses not to allow songs about the deaths of fellow fans, or a players race or sexuality, we need to keep pushing for better education, more pro-active administration and harsher penalties for those who persistently display such intolerance, bigotry and hatred.