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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.

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.

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)

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)

I’m using the same structure as I did last time. But, there is a slight difference. Unlike Livingstone and Johnson, Paddick has not created a set of key policies. I read his manifesto and summarised what I thought the key policies were. But, that makes this more opinion than the first two were.

 Brian Paddick says[1] he will…

 -Make people convicted of crimes work in the community to repay their debt to society (while learning new skills so they’re less likely to reoffend)

-Improve policing – better stop and search policy – retraining police officers on dealing with cases of rape and sexual violence

-Create a new independent public commissioner for standards to enforce good policing

– Introduce new tube discounts – an “Early Bird” discount, a one hour bus ticket, and a part-timers’ travel card.

-Pay everyone working for the GLA (Greater London Authority – the people who work for the London Assembly and the Mayor) a London Living Wage. Make all companies doing work for the GLA pay a London Living Wage. Name and shame large employers who don’t pay the London Living Wage.

 -Create Youth Hubs across London, open 7days/week, where young people can socialise, and receive advice or support.

 Establish a London Green Investment Bank and a London Transport Bond. (Safe places for people’s savings, investment for transport and the environment.)

 -Create an extra 40,000 homes and bring 50,000 empty homes back into use. Create an on-line portal where good landlords are registered so people can find them.

 

OK, according to the structure I’ve used so far, next you get some information on what the candidate’s done in the past. He hasn’t had a political position before; he’s worked in the Metropolitan Police for over 30 years.

Policies he’s supported, and things he’s done…

Resigned as Deputy Assistant Police Commissioner after a well-publicised clash with the Commissioner over the police shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.[2]

Told police that people found with cannabis should be given warnings and have the drugs confiscated, instead of being arrested, as police should be dealing with serious issues (heroin, cocaine, street robbery and burglary…)[3]

Communicated directly with local people via the internet about crime and policing.[4][5][6] (First two links are the forums he was using, third is the BBC reporting on something he said on one of them)


Overall (yup, my own opinion again)

I believe that Brian Paddick’s policies are very positive for young people, in everything from crime and policing, to education and jobs, to youth-work, he’s saying positive things. I know people, however, who regret voting for Liberal Democrat candidates, as they feel the party and its members haven’t lived up to their promises. Brian Paddick has a history, in the police force, of doing and saying what he thinks is right, though, so he might be more reliable.

 

 

I’m doing Ken Livingstone for Labour today. The same rules apply – I’ll try to be clear what’s fact, I’ll add plenty of links to my sources and other people’s opinions.

Click through for more information on Labour’s Ken Livingstone.

Read More »

The London Mayoral Elections are happening on the 3rd of May. I’ve been asked, by friends and family, for information about candidates. It made me think that maybe other young people want this information too. So, over the next couple of weeks I’ll do a series of posts on all of the major candidates.

What people want is unbiased information. I can’t give you that, I don’t think anyone can. Whatever I write, even if it’s just facts, gets affected by how I think. But I’ll try to make it clear what’s fact and what’s not, add links to other people’s opinions, and links to where I get my information from.

Click through for information on Conservative Boris Johnson

Read More »

I don’t want to write about Grace’s video myself. Not from a political point, anyway. Musically, it’s seriously impressive, and I really liked it. But, when it comes to child soldiers, especially in light of what happened with Kony2012, I don’t feel I know enough to write a useful post. So, instead, try these links if you’re interested.

http://childvoiceintl.org/ ChildVoice International, the charity Grace was working with when she shot her video

http://racialicious.tumblr.com/post/19211899526/rosabellkagumireonstopkonynarrative#notes     Rosabell Kagumire, a Ugandan journalist, talking about StopKony

http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2012/03/08/unpacking-kony-2012/ Ethan Zuckerman analysis of Kony 2012

http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html Invisible Children (producers of the StopKony video)

http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/post/18954353409/not-alone Visible Children’s links page, a good source for more information and debate

By this point, I’m sure anyone who wants to see the StopKony video has seen it, so I won’t bother with a link.

This Friday a group of British Youth Council volunteers joined other young people at an Equality 4U event in Stafford. The event’s purpose was to explore four key human rights campaigns. For more information about the event itself please see its website, or see the article going up on the British Youth Council’s website about the event. Of course, a single day isn’t nearly enough time to discuss any of these topics. It was an eye-opener. A starting point for conversations, and ideas.

We split up into four distinct work-shops, one for disability rights, one for BME[1] rights, one for women’s rights, and one for LGBT[2] rights. It’s a reasonably good way of dividing the conversations for a one day course. But in real life, people aren’t that simple. Many, maybe even most, people could identify as more than one of those things. How about a Black, gay man, who faces racism from some elements of the LGBT community, homophobia from some members of the Black community, and both from some other people? Or a women with disabilities, at greater risk of domestic violence than a woman without disabilities[3], but not able to access many rape crisis centres and women’s spaces?

There are already groups who are working on issues of equality that affect people with different identities. One of these is PISSAR, or People in Search of Safe and Accessible Restrooms, which was started by students at the Universityof California, to improve bathroom accessibility. The group is largely made up of people who don’t conform to gender norms, people with disabilities, and people who care for small children. They also recognise how important access to toilets is for street homeless people, but don’t have any plans to help solve that yet. A copy of the PISSAR checklist is up online here. Briefly, it includes whether the toilet is in an isolated space, whether it is fully accessible (grab rails, height of soap and pad/tampon dispensers, width of doors, etc), whether there are gender-neutral toilets, and whether there is a changing table. By refusing to ignore issues that are awkward or embarrassing, or to see these issues as trivial, they are tackling problems that are too often sidelined or overlooked.

For a lot of people, it’s easy to assume that any bathroom we use will fit our needs. But for some of the members of this group, that’s not the case.

From my experience, issues of inequality and oppression can often work like this, affecting things most of us are never even aware of. Why would you notice the width of stalls, or height of soap dispensers, if you don’t use a wheelchair, and haven’t helped a friend or family member who uses a wheelchair to cope with public toilets? If no one you know is gender non-conforming, and is hassled in single gender spaces because their gender is confusing or hard to read, gender specific toilets would never seem problematic to you. And if you’ve never been a single dad, would it occur to you to worry if there are only changing tables in women’s toilets? Maybe this all seems a bit over-the-top too you, or petty, or just not as serious as real politics. But all of these issues are stupidly important to people’s ability to get on with their normal lives.

If we can find all of these issues in something as mundane as toilets, how many other invisible issues must there be? I want to shine a light on those problems. I want to talk about them. And, maybe more importantly, I want to listen, and learn to notice the world around me more. Because if we don’t even see the inequality in the world we live in, and the things we do every day, how can we begin to tackle these issues?


[1] BME stands for Black and Minority Ethnic. It was the term used by the event. I’ve been told that some people find the wording problematic, preferring to use Black as an umbrella term, or marginalised peoples, or People of Colour. But I’m not confident enough of that to re-phrase it, especially as I wouldn’t be sure what to change it to.

[2] LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. It has been adapted and extended into a variety of acronyms, including LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) and the more memorable and pronounceable QUILTBAG (Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay)

[3] According to Scapegoat by Katharine Quarmby