Blowing up the Red Road Flats – a poor image of the city

It has been announced that some of the Red Road Flats will be blown up during the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games.

I think it is in pretty poor taste. Notwithstanding the fact that people like to watch the spectacle of tower blocks being brought down there is something about making this the focus of a big entertainment production that makes me feel uneasy.

Maybe I just have a sense of humour deficit today but it seems to me that blowing up people’s former homes is always going to be an act that has somewhat mixed feelings attached to it. As well as that, there is the news that one block will be left standing because it is still used for housing for asylum seekers who will have to evacuate that block on the day. They won’t be invited to Opening Ceremony itself but invited to watch from “safe” locations.

Making asylum seekers shelter leave their homes to shelter from explosions is not an image of Glasgow that I think is particularly entertaining and not one that should be beamed around the world.

I’m a supporter of urban regeneration. I’m also one of those who thinks that that Glasgow has gone from being a city which has a fabulous architectural heritage to one whose current architectural aspirations are dull and commonplace. Many of the high towers in Glasgow failed and should be pulled down. I’m far from sure they should be pulled down as entertainment at the Commonwealth Games and sure that there should be an architectural vision for the city which is just as ambitious as that which saw those towers being raised in the first place.

Blowing up people’s former homes and making asylum seekers shelter from explosions is not entertainment. This proposal is in poor taste.

The Equality Network Gets it Wrong

There’s so much that the Equality Network gets right but to be honest, I’m of the view that they got it wrong this weekend. An article appeared in the Scotsman giving a few glimpses of what the Equality Network is planning during the Commonwealth Games. Apparently there is to be a Pride House which will highlight work done for LGBT rights in different commonwealth countries. Well, so far so good, what’s not to like?

Indeed, the idea of highlighting the work of LGBT rights organisations across the Commonwealth is a very good one indeed and I wish it every success.

What concerned me greatly was this comment from a staff member at the Equality Network:

What we won’t be doing is outwardly criticising Commonwealth countries because the last thing I think that is useful for LGBT people in those countries is for the former colonial power to be saying this is how we do it and we do it right and you are wrong when in fact the majority of the homophobic laws in these countries were put in place by the former colonial power.

Now, that just doesn’t seem right to me.

The Equality Network has been quite up front about criticising Russia in the last few months. Why on earth would we tone it down when we are talking about Commonwealth Countries with which we have much stronger ties and much greater influence? Yes, it is indeed true that we must be sensitive to where homophobic laws in Commonwealth countries came from. That hardly means that we have no right to speak out about government actions today.

To put it bluntly, if the President of Uganda signs the bill which is before him which will bring in life sentences for gay people in that country and prison sentences for anyone who knows about someone being gay and who does not report it then I expect to have something to say about it. Not only that, I expect the Equality Network to have something to say about it and to do so loudly during the Commonwealth Games if necessary. If the President of Uganda signs that bill I expect Alex Salmond to refuse to shake the hand that signed it and those of any other government ministers from that country who turn up in Glasgow.

I saw on twitter last night that it wasn’t just me who thought the emphasis in this article was misguided. There were other voices too and some of us have been the Equality Network’s greatest supporters in recent months. Rather surprisingly, we were not listened to but argued with.

I think the Equality Network has got it wrong on this. There is very likely to need  to be very direct protests about governments whose officials will be showing up in Scotland with the rest of the Commonwealth this summer.

It simply isn’t good enough to say that we must represent the views of LGBT networks in those countries. They, like the Equality Network, are in hugely privileged positions. We can’t possibly know what gay folk on the ground think in many countries simply because they are left almost entirely voiceless by forces of oppression and homophobia.

If they can’t protest the actions of their governments others can. Indeed, that’s how decent people who care about the world behave.

The Equality Network need to continue their brilliant plan for a Pride House at the Commonwealth Games and make sure they are robustly prepared to use it as a platform to speak out clearly and stridently against cruelty, oppression and hatred whether it comes from individuals or from government ministers. If it comes from the latter, the Equality Network is well placed to whisper in the ears of Scottish Ministers and make sure that they behave equally appropriately and robustly.

As a gay member of Scottish society who has done my bit for the Equality Network, I expect no less. The gay kid in Kampala who is unrepresented by anyone because he is terrified and can speak to no-one should expect no less either.

Of course we must directly criticise homophobic Commonwealth governments. How could we do anything else?