Monday, 1 February 2010

And Another Thing...

A column, published by Venue Magazine (Issue 887, September 25 2009) about local gay politics

A few weeks ago Bristol-based charity EACH (Educational Action Challenging Homophobia) was awarded nearly £400,000 by the Big Lottery Fund which, over the next five years, they will use to fund their ground-breaking project REACH, helping young gay, lesbian or bisexual people develop a sense of pride in their identity while challenging homophobic bullying.

EACH has an impressive track record working with schools around the country, and anyone with a brain cell would agree that £80,000 a year is a tiny amount to donate towards eradicating the blight of homophobic bullying. According to an NSPCC survey, 31% of children experience bullying by their peers. Bullying has a terrible effect, causing permanent damage and ruining lives but no-one knows exactly how many kids are affected by homophobic bullying, as many never report it. But if this award means a handful of young lives are spared the pain and humiliation it has to be money well spent, surely?

Yet the leader of Bristol’s Tories, Councillor Richard Eddy, called the award “a mistaken and misguided, outrageous waste of money,” going on to say that “it seems to be further confirmation that the Big Lottery seems obliged to dole out punters' money to a raft of politically correct lobbies which clearly sit within the Labour Government's priority.” Suicide statistics show that in the UK at least 16 children kill themselves each year because they are being bullied at school: judging from the Bunterish buffoon’s comments, that’s perfectly okay though.

It’s no surprise that the Evening Post chose Eddy to comment on the EACH story, rather than a politician who might be sympathetic: he’s their candidate of choice every time there’s a remotely contentious story they can misrepresent. It’s no surprise either that a Facebook group immediately sprang up to demand Eddy’s resignation. The group’s organiser, Darren Lewis, tells me: “It got me angry. It concerns me that the leader of the opposition in Bristol is happy to laugh about homophobia. It feels like political point scoring and unless you challenge people when they say things like this they’ll just carry on.”

The boorish councillor, happy to be photographed grinning like an idiot whilst waving a gollywog at press cameras – an incendiary act which caused him to be removed from the council’s Tory group back in 2001 - really is ridiculous. Mavericks and mischief-makers are always welcome in politics, but the man branded “hugely embarrassing…stupid and moronic” by the chairman of Bristol West Conservatives has completely lost touch. Says Councillor Mark Bradshaw: “Eddy’s negative comments show how backward looking he and some of his Conservative colleagues really are. Young gay people are up to six times more likely to commit suicide than others in their age group. Bullying can be a contributor to a young person deciding to end his or her own life.

“This is the man who year after year wants to cut funding for all equalities work in our city, further marginalising the disadvantaged, the disabled, and those who do not fit his 19th century vision for Bristol.” Darren Lewis adds: “The party took action relatively quickly over the gollywog incident. How is this any less important or less offensive?”

I contacted every member of the council’s Tory group, including Cllr Eddy, to ask if they intended to take any action against him or if he felt he should make an apology to people angered by his comments. Not one of them bothered to reply. At a recent full council meeting Darren Lewis asked the chamber (including dozens of protesters gathered in the public gallery) to stand against homophobic bullying. Eddy grudgingly rose to his feet. Half of the Tories (including my own ward councillor, Alex Pearce) refused to.

If Gordon Brown seems hell-bent on handing the Tory party the next election on a plate, Bristol’s own Tory Boy seems determined that the city will never see a Conservative majority on the council.

© 2009 Darryl W Bullock/Venue Magazine

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