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You know how I almost started this post? With a standard disclaimer – “Although I found some of Paris Brown’s comments offensive…”, “Although I do not condone racism or homophobia…” – something like that. Because, yes, some of what she said was blatantly prejudiced and offensive. Words have power. When she casually uses the word “pikey”[1] to mean cheap, dirty, or criminal, it is another piece of hurtful rubbish being hurled at travellers, an already marginalised community[2]. When she uses the word gay as an insult and calls people “fags”[3], around peers who might or might not be gay, bi, or trans, she might be contributing to the shockingly high figures for mental health problems, self-harm and suicide in LGBT young people[4]. Not that one teenage girl could ever be held responsible for issues that large; not that any one person, regardless of age or gender, could ever be held responsible for issues that large.

And here’s where I start having problems. Paris’s comments upset me far less than, say, some of David Starkey’s speeches. A respected historian and political commentator, Starkey has written multiple books on the Tudors, appears regularly on BBC programs Question Time and The Moral Maze, and has written articles for the Telegraph. Shortly after the London Riots he claimed on Newsnight that white young people were becoming black, causing them to behave violently and anti-socially[5]. But no one has forced him to give up his job. And it hasn’t occurred to anyone to suggest that no middle aged white men should hold positions of power because of his actions. Similarly, Boris Johnson’s racist comments in the past (his description of the Queen being welcomed in commonwealth countries by “flag waving piccaninnies” or his suggestion when Tony Blair considered a trip to the Congo that “the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief”[6]) have not stopped him from holding political office.

I wonder, if Paris was older, wealthier, a respected politician, whether we would be having these conversations. Because right now, it feels like she lost her job for being a teenage girl, rather than because we do not allow people who make unacceptable comments to have jobs in politics, media, or policing for the rest of their lives. Young people can have a voice, but only at the discretion of the adult authorities, and only as long as they make no mistakes, is the message that I’m hearing at the moment, and I don’t like it.

But didn’t I want her to take responsibility for her actions? Do I really want the writer of those tweets officially representing young people? Yes, I did. I wanted an apology of some kind. I wanted a sign that she really had learnt better since then – that she understands why her language was a problem, and is working on whatever prejudices she still has. We’re all imperfect, we’re all prejudiced, we all make mistakes, learn new things. If she’d written them while holding her position, I might feel differently, but those tweets were written up to three years ago, when she was fourteen[7]. I’m not saying fourteen year olds don’t know better. I’m saying people’s opinions and attitudes change with time, and maybe we should allow for that.

You might have noticed, if this is a story you’ve followed in detail, that I haven’t mentioned her posts about drugs and alcohol. These things are completely different. Racism and homophobia; going out drinking, trying weed or ecstasy a few times. I don’t want racism and homophobia being fed into the police as “what young people believe”. But, a normal teenage experience does include some amount of experimentation with alcohol, and, yes, illegal drugs. Not everyone does it (strangely enough, teenagers are individuals who behave in different ways!). But a large number do. I don’t, genuinely don’t, think that makes her worse at advising the police on young people’s issues. In fact, it might make her better informed on, say, how illegal drug use among young people could be reduced without alienating teenagers from the police. It makes me hugely angry that a large amount of the reporting on this conflates the two, both inflating the importance of her having been drunk, stoned or high, and trivialising the racism and homophobia.

Paris has resigned. I wonder how hard it will be for her, now, to get a job in politics, media, policing, the third sector or public sector. I wonder if she gave up educational opportunities to take on that job, which will make it harder for her to find work for the rest of her life. But as much as one more young person joining the unemployment queue fills me with sympathy, it’s not the only thing that worries me. It is not yet clear whether another teenager will be recruited for the youth police commissioner role, or whether that entire scheme will now be scrapped. I doubt we’ll ever know what impact it has on wider issues; lowering the voting age to sixteen, anyone taking the UK Youth Parliament seriously ever again, opportunities for young people to voice their opinions in charities, schools, and local government over the next few months and years. That’s what this is about, really, as far as I’m concerned. Our voices being threatened, again.

What we say, what we do, has impacts. Sometimes beyond what we expected, going on to change people’s lives in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of, would never have dared to suggest. Because we are powerful.

But our efforts don’t always have the results we want. Does that make them meaningless? No, I don’t think so. Which is why, like thousands of others, I protested against the cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), and the rise in university tuition fees. I remember telling people, afterwards – Ok, so we didn’t win this one. But we’ve learnt some things, built some coalitions, shared some ideas. Next time, we’ll do better, change is a slow process.

I told people, we’ve done something worthwhile, just by explaining the problems with the new system. Telling people that expecting students to pay £9,000 per year for their education is unfair, that leaving us with debts of over £30,000 is going to impact our lives forever, that we need to find a different way of doing this.

Recently, I’ve spent time talking to young people about their futures. Teenagers I used to mentor, or teach, younger friends who are still at school. Some of them aren’t sure they can afford to go to university. I talk them through how it works, what they have to pay and when, but I’m not sure they believe me.

The numbers are huge, and scary. I know that. But, my family’s well off. In my experience, debt has more often been a mortgage, paid off over time, leaving you in a better position. Not payday loans, interest eating up cash so the debts pile up, and you’re worse off than you were before.  If it’s scary for me, with my past, and my experience, it’s worse for other people.

Our campaign, it did have an effect. It shocked and scared people – just not the people we wanted to reach. We are powerful, and we should remember that. I’m not writing this to say that we were wrong, or careless.  I’m not even necessarily saying we shouldn’t have said all the things we said – because, they did need saying, and I stand by that. It would be arrogant to assume that this was only our fault, as if people can’t think for themselves, and nothing else had an impact. Just, what we say, what we do, makes ripples, and we need to pay attention, or we can end up hurting some of the people we set out to help.

 

I haven’t written on the US presidential election yet. The concept of Romney – openly homophobic, opposed to sex education, opposed to any form of government funded health care – actually winning this election terrified me so much that writing about it rationally and objectively is incredibly difficult. But, I do think it is important that we talk about it here. Obama won the election because of the single women’s vote, African Americans’ vote, Hispanic vote, Native American vote, and many other groups. This has been broadcast by every pundit – some claiming it as a victory, a broad mandate, others protesting that few white men voted for Obama.

What people haven’t been talking about, is the youth vote. Both last week, and four years ago, young Americans voted overwhelmingly for Obama. In that election, there was a surprisingly high number of first time voters, people who were inspired to vote, and care about formal politics, for the first time.

Maybe you don’t have, have never had, a candidate like Obama to vote for. But, I don’t want to wait for the politicians to come to me. I know, they should be wooing your votes, our votes, but if they aren’t, all that proves is that we need to force them to listen. Some of you have the right to vote for your police commissioners this Thursday. That’s real, that’s important. Do you complain about being stopped and searched? About being scared to walk through the streets at night, alone? About not being taken seriously, as a young person, when you go to report a crime? This is your chance to tell people what you think about that.

In the 2005 UK general elections, only 37% of the 18-24 year olds who were registered to vote actually showed up on election day[1]. Not counting anyone who simply wasn’t registered to vote. Out of over 7 million people in that age-range, over 4 ½ million young people didn’t manage to vote[2]. Polling data suggests that labour won that election with 40% of the vote, compared to the Conservatives 32%[3]. That election wasn’t even particularly close, and the youth vote could have swung it. Are you hearing me? If we actually voted, we could decide elections.

So, please, guys. Vote this Thursday, make your voices heard.

Information about candidates – http://www.choosemypcc.org.uk/

How to vote – http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/how_do_i_vote.aspx

I finished my official placement with the youth council at the end of June. I’m going to try to keep posting here unless the British Youth Council objects or finds another young person to take it over– because people are reading it, and I think it’s worth doing. Unfortunately, I’m now doing this under my own steam in my free time, so the posts might be a bit sporadic.

OK. This was written in response to a request from the charity Young Minds for writing on young people and mental health, but I think it’s relevant here too. Like some of my other posts, this is only tangentially related to youth politics. It’s very personal, much more so than anything else I’ve posted here. I want to post it for multiple reasons.

Firstly, and most simply, young people’s mental health is important, and one of the youth council’s manifesto points (“Recognise that our minds matter”: BYC manifesto 2010-12). Beyond that, there is a stigma attached to mental health problems, that we can begin to break down by discussing them openly. And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, because there’s a chance that one of the people who sees this will be a young person with similar issues to mine who might get something out of reading it.

Warning: This post includes discussion of self-harm and a reference to eating disorders. Read More »

I’ve been posting a lot of stuff about my campaign recently. I am still working on other stuff with the youth council – you will get posts on my other work, and my college’s campaigns, over the next couple of weeks.

But, for now, the petition for my sex ed campaign has just gone live. You can sign it here – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/35070

It asks the government to make three more things a part of statutory sex and relationships education. Information about rape/sexual assault and consent, information about abuse / domestic violence, and information on safe-sex for same-sex couples. Statutory topics are ones that schools have to teach about – parents will still have the right to withdraw their children from these lessons.

It takes about 30secs maximum to sign an e-petition. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/35070

If you’ve got a bit more time, or energy, you could share it with friends or family, or on your social networks. The more signatures we get, the more we can do with this.

Thank you.

Sex and relationships education – young people’s views

 

Introduction

I conducted an on-line survey to find out what young people are being taught in sex and relationships education, and what they want to be taught in sex and relationships education.

Brief summary

Almost everyone said schools should teach young people about relationships.

Most people said they had learnt about contraception and protection.
Some people said they had learnt about the responsibilities of becoming a parent.
Only a few people said they had learnt about rape or domestic violence.
Very, very few people said they had learnt about safe-sex for same-sex couples.

Almost everyone wanted to learn about all the topics listed
The topics that most people wanted to learn about were rape, domestic violence, and safe-sex for same-sex couples.
Fewer people wanted to learn about the responsibilities of becoming a parent and how to talk to their partner.

People also said that they should be taught about LGBT+ issues and consent.

Read More »

In my last post, I talked about the survey I’d put out on sex and relationships education, and my plan to build a campaign out of it. In my last paragraph, I said that if people made their own suggestions on the survey, I’d be thrilled, and would try to include them in the campaign.

First off, thank you to everyone that filled it in, you’ve made a difference to this campaign. I’ve not finished analysing the results and writing them up yet. But, I wanted to discuss properly the suggestions that people wrote in. I gave you all the option to think up your own ideas, but I hadn’t really expected people to take it. I was wrong. 36% of the people who answered the survey, that’s 50 people, gave me their own thoughts and ideas. At the very least, I want to meet people half-way, and talk about what you said.

Nineteen of you wanted LGBT issues to be part of the curriculum. Some of you wanted more than that. I had people asking for asexuality[1] and polyamoury[2] awareness in schools. I had people asking for visibility for non-binary trans people (people who don’t identify as male or female). I’m unfortunately not going to change my plans on this, so I want to explain why.

I’m already asking schools to teach safe-sex for same-sex couples. I hope, and expect, that will mean they have to acknowledge that lesbian, gay, and bi people exist, that some of their students might be lesbian, gay, or bi, and that that’s OK. Transgender issues need addressing, definitely. I’m not entirely certain that sex and relationships education is the best place to do that, though. If anyone has any thoughts or ideas for how trans issues could be taught in schools, I’d be interested, so please, let me know.

Asexuality and polyamory are issues that I feel strongly about, and that are clearly related to sex and relationships education. My life would have been made significantly easier if I’d had a word for my feelings while I was a teenager. I’ve heard poly people say the same. However there’s a lot of education we still have to do before we can launch a realistic campaign to get this included in the curriculum. I’m sorry. I feel awful, and unreasonable, telling people that their issues have to take a backseat to what’s possible, that if I bring up their existence I might wreck my nice neat campaign. But, that’s what I’m saying for now.  I finish working for the British Youth Council at the beginning of July – if anyone wants to talk about asexual and polyamorous visibility after that, I’d definitely be interested.

And then there was the request I was most conflicted about. In some drafts of my survey “Rape, sexual assault and the law” was a separate topic to “Consent, negotiation, setting and keeping boundaries”. For me, there is a difference between “This is what the law says rape is. Don’t do it. If someone does it to you, that’s unacceptable, here’s how you can get help”. And “Here are some ways you could talk to your partner about sex and other sexual activity. If you aren’t sure what they want, it’s always ok to ask. You can use safe-words, if you want, here’s how that might work. Etc., etc.” But, too many of the people I trialled my survey on weren’t sure what I meant by that, so I cut it.

Fourteen of my respondents asked for discussions of enthusiastic consent[3], consent outside or beyond the law, withdrawing consent, and so on. I’m nervous about including it in my campaign though. I’m worried that these lessons would end up condoning rape-culture [4] I’m also nervous that teaching this stuff badly might be worse than not teaching it at all, and could actually lead to shaming rape survivors or putting people off reporting. How consent works is complex, personal and emotional, which means it’s much harder to teach than concrete things like what rape is, what abuse is, or what safe-sex methods are.

So, I’m not going to add LGBT+ issues, or extra consent, to this petition. I will ask the government to require schools to teach safe-sex for same-sex couples, information about rape and sexual assault, information about abuse and domestic violence. Simple, uncontroversial things, that we might actually get.

I know that this isn’t perfect, that it isn’t good enough. But it’s an improvement. And if we keep working, keep taking the tiny steps that aren’t good enough, eventually, things will get better.


[1] Asexuals are people who don’t feel sexual attraction http://www.asexuality.org/home/

[2] Polyamory is having or wanting romantic or sexual relationships with more than one person http://www.polyamory.org.uk/

[4] Some links of rape culture http://www.marshall.edu/wpmu/wcenter/sexual-assault/rape-culture/ (bullet point explanation) http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/07/23/this-is-what-rape-culture-looks-like/ (Real-life description of the impact of rape culture) http://storify.com/londonfeminist/rape-culture-in-up-to-140-characters (Ched Evans case reactions and rape culture)

I’ve written a survey on sex and relationships education. https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/L3CKG67. It takes maybe three or four minutes to fill out. If you’ve got the time, give it a try? Your voice gets heard, I get a more credible survey, we all win.

I’m running a campaign on sex and relationships education with the British Youth Council. The exact focus of the campaign will depend on what the people who fill in the survey say they want. What I want to work on is making more aspects of sex and relationships education statutory, so that schools have to teach them.

Right now, all the law says schools have to teach about is puberty (at primary school) and STIs and HIV/AIDs (at secondary school). I’ve suggested some things that schools might be required to teach

-          Different types of contraception and protection

-          Safe-sex for same-sex couples

-          Warning signs of an abusive or violent relationship and how to get help

-          What the law says about rape and sexual assault – how to report to the police or get other help

-          Building a relationship and communicating with your partner

-          The responsibilities of becoming a parent.

I don’t know which of these I’ll be campaigning for, but whichever it is, I’ll be wired. And if the people who fill in this survey all come up with some other idea, and it’s popular without me suggesting it? Then I’ll look at campaigning for that, too. I almost want that to happen, I like grass-roots campaigning, I like letting people have a real voice in what happens.

So, thank you for your time, if you’ve filled out the survey. If not, please give it a try?

I’ll be posting the results, and details of the campaign, up here as soon as I have them.

When I decided to post this, a couple of people who asked me why I’d post a free-running video on a youth politics website.

It feels right to me. So. Reasons…

a)      Free running is active, it’s healthy, and it’s free. Of course youth organisations should be promoting it.

b)      This is about youth voice, and expression. Free-running isn’t just sport, it’s creative. Especially if you include the process of recording and editing it.

c)       This is about celebrating young people’s talents and achievements. I don’t know that that is a part of our mission, but it feels reasonable to me.

So, the election is the day after tomorrow, Thursday the 3rd of May. I was originally going to give you all some information on Jenny Jones and Siobhan Benita in this post. But, I’m out of time. Sorry. Jenny Jones’s website is here and Siobhan Benita’s is here.

Who to vote for…

If you’re still not sure who to vote for, I’d recommend http://www.votematch.org.uk/
You answer some questions about what you believe, and what is important to you (it takes about 5mins). Then it will tell you which candidates you agree with most.

How to vote…

You should have had a “polling card” by post already. This tells you where to go to vote. If you haven’t had one, you might not be registered. Or, you might have forgotten about it, or someone else might have opened and binned or moved it. You can contact your local electoral office here to find out if you’re registered. You do not need your polling card to vote.

Polling stations (the place where you go to vote) will be open from 7am – 10pm, so you can go before or after work, school, or college. You go in to the polling station. You go up to the desk, and give them your name and address. They’ll check you’re registered, then give you your ballot papers (the pieces of paper you vote with). All polling stations should be accessible, and have ballot papers available for blind and partially sighted voters. If you need any help on the day, you can ask at the polling station – it’s their job to help.

For the London Mayoral Elections, you will be voting for three different things

1)      You’ll be voting for the Mayor. You do this on the pink ballot paper. You can cast two votes. In the first column, you put an X next to your 1st choice. In the 2nd column you put an X next to your 2nd choice.
First they’ll count everyone’s first choices. If someone has more than half of the vote, they’ve won. If not, everyone except the two people with most votes (Probably Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone) will be taken out. If you voted for a candidate who’s now out of the election, your second choice is given your vote. Whichever candidate now has most votes wins.

2)      You’ll be voting for your local London Assembly Member. You do this on the yellow ballot paper. The London Assembly represents you to the mayor. Your Local London Assembly Member is a bit like your MP. You put an X next to candidate you want.

3)      You’ll be voting for the London-wide Members of the London Assembly. You do this with the orange ballot paper. You put an X next to the party you want to win. The parties who win more than 5% of the vote share the eleven places depending on how many votes they get. (So if the Conservatives get 40% of the London-wide assembly votes, they’ll get four out of the eleven London-wide places)

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