Tag Archives: gay marriage

Aggressive homosexuals vs aggressive heterosexuals

This morning I created an image and posted it to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Here’s the tweet:

For context: the phrase “aggressive homosexuals” comes from a speech yesterday in the House of Commons by Sir Gerald Howarth MP (Conservative, Aldershot) during the Report stage debate of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. Sir Gerald is the current chairman of Conservative Way Forward and was Minister for International Security Strategy in the coalition government until September 2012 (according to his page on Wikipedia). Here’s where the phrase appeared in the speech:

“There are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this [same-sex marriage] is as but a stepping stone to something even further.” (Hansard — no idea how persistent that link will be though.)

Sir Gerald doesn’t elaborate on exactly who the aggressive homosexual community are, or where he thinks the big gay stepping stone leads. As Hansard shows, a number of MPs tried to intervene at that point — perhaps to press him on this issue — but he declined to give way, as is his right.

It is difficult not to conclude that Sir Gerald sees pinks under the beds. He’s worked himself up into a froth about The Gays and believes that we, or at least a significant and influential slice thereof, subscribe to some kind of Gay Agenda to… I don’t know. Insinuate our way into marriage, and then what: use it to destroy the established church? I think the church is doing a perfectly good job of that itself over both gay people and women. Perhaps, looking at the context of the speech, he thinks our goal is to turn children to homosexuality by ensuring its mention in classrooms during discussions about marriage. Just as, presumably, teaching them about different religions converts them to all of those religions, or teaching them about contour lines turns them into a hill.

Back to the image.

The response has been fascinating. A steady stream of retweets throughout the day — perhaps not surprising, as it makes a strong statement on a topical, politically charged subject — and a few responses. Here are the negative replies so far:

“You do realise that despite your intentions, you’re labelling people with stereotypes.”

“That is way more offensive and way less clever than you think.”

“No. Aggressive homophobes.”

“What’s the intended goal of this? This seems to just further divide people (and straw-man the ‘other side’).”

“This is heterophobia.”

“Yeah a bit discriminatory. Ronnie Kray was a violent homosexual as was Richard the Lionheart. And let us not forget Dennis Nilsen. Violent people are of both persuasions.  Nothing to do with their sexuality.”

“Please be careful with that big stereotyping brush of yours eh?”

I haven’t replied to anyone, at least not yet. I probably won’t — it’s impossible to have meaningful debates in 140 characters. Perhaps some of them were unaware of Sir Gerald’s speech. Of course I’m stereotyping: so was Sir Gerald. Of course sexuality doesn’t determine whether you’re violent or not (but if you have to go back eight centuries for a counterexample — when sexuality was viewed very differently to today, incidentally — then you’re already on shaky ground).

The image is deliberately exaggerated, deliberately stereotypical. But it’s also showing an incontrovertible truth. You don’t, as a rule, see gay people demonstrating against straight people — Pride marches are positive in tone, not negative — but there are demonstrations by straight people against gay people, trying to deny us the rights they enjoy. There was a demonstration against equal marriage outside Parliament during the debate yesterday. And people like those shown in the image are beaten for no other reason than their sexuality. One of the men pictured was attacked last weekend with his boyfriend. Even 45 years after homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales it is still not safe for two men, breaking no law, to show affection wherever they wish in the way that a man and a woman can.

This is why the phrase aggressive homosexual community is so offensive. Gay people have suffered at the hands of the aggressive heterosexual community, indeed often through state-sponsored aggression, for several hundred years. We suffer still: religious leaders preach hate, political leaders deny us equality, and in some countries being open about our sexuality means a death sentence. And this is why I make no apology for the image, stereotypes and all.

But Sir Gerald Howarth is right on one point: we in the aggressive homosexual community do want equal marriage to be a stepping stone to something. We want it to be a stepping stone to the end of discrimination. To universal acceptance. To normality.


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Design and message

Last night, while wired on a trace of caffeine, I saw an infographic created and shared on Facebook by the Out4Marriage organisation. Views on gay marriage range from Of course, this is the twenty-first century to I’m the MP for Wellingborough, but leaving that issue aside, the graphic disturbed me somewhat. In fact, as a fully paid-up member of the Tufte club, I gurgled something lacking in both grammar and grace.

Here’s the graphic:


I shan’t BEGIN RANT here. Suffice it to say that all those pixels have been wasted on twelve numbers, two of which are zero. And you can’t read the labels. And the colours are inconsistent between pie charts. And they’re pie charts. And they’re 3D pie charts. And pie charts with zero-sized slices don’t make any sense. And there’s a typo “Liberal Democrate”. Here’s where I would END RANT, were I ranting, which of course I’m not.

I posted a short comment against the graphic. Here’s a screenshot with the subsequent two responses:


What particularly intrigues about Out4Marriage’s response is how it reminds me of the shields up ultra-defensive reply you sometimes receive from developers — especially of open source software — when you have the impertinence to report a bug in their code. The source is there — if you don’t like it, fix it yourself. And it made me wonder whether all voluntary organisations are inherently like that to some extent: deflecting any criticism by inviting you inside the tent to piss out.

Of course, whoever wrote that message also had a point. The people working on the campaign had had a long and tiring day and could be excused a typo, and tedious grammar pedants on the internet are the most tedious tedious grammar pedants since the Microsoft Word paperclip first interrupted us to insist we were writing a letter.

The subsequent comment, though, raised a caffeinated eyebrow. “If someone took the time to make it, we can take the time to read it,” this commenter says. I fundamentally disagree with that statement. It lets the creator of the graphic entirely off the hook. It says, effectively, design doesn’t matter to understanding. It says, effectively, user interface complexity doesn’t matter.

The principle of commensurate effort applies, naturally: you’ll put in the effort if the reward is good enough. You’ll master the incoherent hodgepodge of levers and sticks and buttons and dials and spinny things in a car’s user interface because you receive a huge benefit from doing so.

But an infographic like this has no great reward for deep study. It must communicate its messages simply and coherently and compellingly. Don’t Make Me Think!

For this graphic in particular you want to immediately convey the information that more Tory MPs voted against same-sex marriage than for it; that the other main parties are hugely in favour; and that a significant fraction of MPs failed to make a choice either way, and either abstained (technically, voting both for and against) or didn’t vote at all.

Three 3D pie charts with inconsistent colouring (with red/blue/green colours matching traditional party affiliations but not used as such) and labels too small for most to read even at full size absolutely do not convey that information. The message is lost in chartjunk.

And also: who is this chart for? If I were part of Out4Marriage I’d want a chart that supporters could share on their timelines for non-supporters to see and easily grasp. It’s the non-supporters — the ones who simply will not stop and squint and interpret a complex chart from an organisation they disagree with — you need to design for.

“Feel free to volunteer,” said Out4Marriage in its reply to my comment. So I did. Here’s what I created, minus the headlines and logos that you’d need to add:


Since only one party included abstainers — the Tories — I combined them with the absentees, and so twelve numbers is reduced to nine. Three stacked bar charts with consistent colours and large labels are easy to see and understand even when shrunk into a Facebook timeline. The ‘for’ colour is taken from the Out4Marriage brand. The ‘against’ colour is contrasting, pretty much, and deliberately sickly. The ‘absent/abstain’ colour is less of a highlight but still prominent. None of the colours are associated with political parties.

Much better, I think.

(While I was creating that chart, Out4Marriage posted a newer chart that used consistent colours and included a clear legend. It still had three 3D pie charts.)

I posted another comment to the original chart, pointing to my timeline for my version and apologising if anyone was offended by my earlier comment. I hope they see it, and take notice.

Everything an organisation publishes under its name sends a message. The opponents of Out4Marriage are well-funded, sending out millions of leaflets designed and worded to convince readers to lobby their MP to vote against equal marriage. You can bet they are now redoubling their efforts, selecting data that favours their cause, even after a 400-175 vote defeat at second reading, and presenting it as if they’re on course to defeat the bill.

Design sends a message. Everyone must know what your message is. Especially you.


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The Gove-Santorum axis of immorality

Michael Gove is the antichrist, isn’t he? Surely? Or is it Rick Santorum? It’s got to be one of them. Maybe it’s both? Maybe they’re two halves of the antichrist, two snap-together segments. The Lego antichrist. And in the nightmare scenario, the antichrist-enabler Cameron is toppled by Gove’s satanic helpers (prop. R. Murdoch) — who then install their dark lord as PM and scoot across to the US to engage in a holy fiddle to rig the election for Santorum.

Then at their first meeting, the first Gove-Santorum swivel-in, the two shake damp hands and a spark and a purple flash herald the apocalypse. Jagged cracks bubble with lava, flying monkeys with little matching purple hats flock and swoop and snatch up children and animals, and the Daily Express worries about the effect on house prices, blames the BBC, and pins its hopes on a large photograph of Princess Diana.

I mean, how is it conceivable in the modern world, with all its facts and actual knowledge and stuff, that these two dangerous idiots aren’t simply guffawed off the stage?

It is said that a mere touch from the former Senator from Pennsylvania audibly and visibly leeches the intelligence from your bones; and that cameras watching him pass through a crowd are steered away to avoid spotting the desiccated husks crumbling into neat piles of dust in his wake.

And Gove, poor Gove, his grey face never far from confused over-tired tears, is busily thrusting Britain’s education system forward into the 1950s, ensuring institutionalised faith-based homophobia, and sucking up to his once and future boss Murdoch like the Tories of Thatcher.

I despair.

You know, I thought you were supposed to get more conservative as you age: shifting from denim to the elasticated waistbands of M&S and all the comforts of traditional bigotry such as the Daily Mail. Instead I find I’m becoming more militant: I am intolerant of intolerance, of ignorance, of idiocy, of demagoguery. I might be a Grumpy Not-So-Old Man. Or, more likely, one of those militant homosexual atheists everyone is allegedly so afraid of. I fear I am in grave danger of buying a pair of co-op hemp dungarees and selling Socialist Worker on street corners, and muttering fascist under my breath at anyone with a newer iPhone than me.

The irony, I suppose, is that what jiggles my frosting about Gove and Santorum and, in fact, most politicians, is their sheer immorality.

Gove, supposedly working for us as Education Secretary, but meeting every five minutes with Murdoch — who, coincidentally, wants to make lots of money out of education. And good lord: the first “free school” to sign a funding agreement with Gove was co-founded by Toby Young, who is now a political columnist with Murdoch’s Sun on Sunday and whose first column tipped Gove as a future prime minister.

Santorum, misty-eyed wobbly-lipped defender of the Constitution of the United States of God Bless America, who says “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute” and that such a separation was “not the founders’ vision”. OK, let’s hear from Thomas Jefferson, actual founding father and actual principal author of the actual Declaration of Independence. On New Year’s Day 1802, when he was actual US President, he wrote: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”


Like giving your corporate chums free labour and calling it voluntary work experience while threatening to withhold benefits from the slaves if they don’t comply. That’s immorality.

Like insisting that your right to marry is determined not by your character or your devotion or your behaviour, but by your chromosomes. That’s immorality.

There surely comes a time at which the immorality of those in and around power — which includes politicians, the journalists that cravenly support them, and the corrupt police — finally turns upon itself. This immoral triangle of power, rusting and crumbling. That day might be closer than we think.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy some dungarees and possibly a small cave in the Lake District.


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