Emile Ratelband stands in Arnhem, Netherlands (ROLAND HEITINK/AFP/Getty) A 69-year-old Dutch media personality is trying to legally reduce his age by 20 years, comparing his campaign to the struggle for transgender rights .
Emile Ratelband, 69, wants to change his birth date from March 1949 to March 1969 to improve his prospects on dating app Tinder and match what prosecutors are calling his “emotional age,” according to Dutch news outlet Algemeen Dagblad .
The author, public speaker and media personality told the court in Arnhem: “We live in a time when you can change your name and change your gender . Why can’t I decide my own age?” according to BBC News . Emile Ratelband wants to be 49 (Emile Ratelband/facebook) He told the court that his legal battle was “really a question of free will.”
Ratelband said that he “suffers” because of his age, especially in terms of work prospects and on Tinder . “It is really a question of free will.”
“When I’m 69, I am limited,” said Ratelband. “If I’m 49, then I can buy a new house, drive a different car. I can take up more work.
“When I’m on Tinder and it says I’m 69, I don’t get an answer. When I’m 49, with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.” Emile Ratelband: “When I’m 49, with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position” (ROLAND HEITINK/AFP/Getty) According to his biography on the Ratelband Research Institute website , he is in “a steady relationship with the woman of his dreams.”
The site also states that Ratelband’s “age focus is to turn at least 94 years old and to then leave this world healthy and with pleasure.”
The court heard that Ratelband, who also voiced villain Vladimir Trunkov in the Dutch language edition of Pixar’s Cars 2 , would give up his pension if he won the case because it “makes me feel like I’m finished.”
The author, who described himself to the court as a “young god” and said a doctor had told him he had the body of a 45 year old, was asked by the judge about his childhood. Emile Ratelband said he is like a “young god” (Emile Ratelband/facebook) “Who were your parents looking after then? Who was that little boy?” asked the judge during the 45-minute court session.
In response, Ratelband said that as his parents were dead, they would not be offended by his change of birth year.
He is expected to receive a verdict in the next four weeks. Has there ever been a case like this?
Ratelband’s legal challenge is similar in some ways to the lawsuits brought by prolific anti-LGBT activist Chris Sevier, who has repeatedly failed to marry his laptop. Chris Sevier has repeatedly tried to marry his laptop (Pexels) Sevier filed a challenge to Utah’s marriage laws after he was denied the right to marry his MacBook, claiming there was no impediment to him doing so after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage in 2015.
The US District Court for the District of Utah ruled against him in March after the state filed a defence pointing out that his laptop was under the legal age of consent for marriage in Utah, which is 15.
An Islamic extremist from Channel 4’s The State and a scene from a gay porn film. (Channel 4/ sakura01love/YouTube) Islamist extremist hackers are “primarily” motivated by using gay porn and sending images of their penises, according to one technology expert.
Robert Graham, a consultant at Errata Security, wrote on his blog on November 2 explaining why a “cyber 9/11” hadn’t taken place following the 2001 terrorist attacks in America.
In his post, Graham said that cyber terrorism did not pose a real threat to the West and criticised “fear mongering experts.” Islamic State fighters in Syria. (VICE News/YouTube) The security analyst went on to suggest that some Islamist extremist hackers were closeted gay or bisexual men, who developed their computer skills so as to bypass censorship technologies used in their homophobic countries. Initiated by gay porn
According to Graham, these extremists are often required to post images of their genitalia as part of their initiation process.
“I’ve explored the cyber Islamic dark web and come to a couple conclusions about it,” Graham wrote.
“The primary motivation of these hackers is gay porn.
“A frequent initiation rite to gain access to these forums is to post pictures of your, well, equipment.”
He continued: “Such things are repressed in their native countries and societies, so hacking becomes a necessary skill in order to get it.”
Graham explained that it was difficult to understand why gay Islamic extremists would engage with terrorist ideology that advocates against the western world and LGBT+ rights. “It’s hard for us to understand their motivations,” Graham added. Sure, they want gay sex and intimate relationships with men, but they also want a subservient wife who manages the household.
“From our western perspective, we’d think gay young men would be on our side, motivated to fight against their own governments in defense of gay rights, in order to achieve marriage equality. None of them want that, as far as I can tell.
“Their goal is to get married and have children. Sure, they want gay sex and intimate relationships with men, but they also want a subservient wife who manages the household, and the deep family ties that come with spawning progeny.”
Elsewhere in the gay porn world , a Delta flight attendant, who had sex with a gay porn star on one of the company’s planes, was recently suspended after the video was posted online.
The man in his 20s could be fired after being filmed with Austin Wolf — an adult film actor with hundreds of thousands of online followers — in a plane bathroom while wearing a Delta uniform, the Daily Mail reported. One expert has claimed that Islamic extremist hackers are using gay porn. (Creative Commons) Wolf, 35, allegedly posted the video, which has since been deleted from Twitter but is still available online, without the attendant’s permission.
The suspended employee, who was reportedly not on duty at the time and did not want to be named, said: “I just want to be left alone please.
“I’m just trying to get my life back on track.” No compatible source was found for this media.
Diversity Role Models runs LGBT-inclusive workshops in schools. (Diversity Role Models) Scotland will become the first country in the world to teach about LGBT+ issues in schools, Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced on Thursday.
The government has accepted all 33 recommendations included in a report by the LGBTI Inclusive Education working group, which encompasses several education-focused bodies and LGBT+ rights organisations, commissioned with the aim of addressing anti-LGBT bullying in schools and creating a more LGBT-friendly educational curriculum and social environment.
The recommendations included the addition of LGBT+ topics across various subjects, a free training programme aimed at teachers, and establishing a series of LGBT-themed outcomes in statutory guidance to public schools. Pupils at a school in Scotland, where LGBT-inclusive classes will soon become a reality. (Jeff J Mitchell) The themes will include LGBT+ terminology and identities, tackling homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and prejudice in relation to the LGBT+ community, and promoting awareness of the history of LGBTI equalities and movements. Scotland leads Push for LGBT+ Inclusive education
A number of countries, including Wales and the Republic of Ireland , have recently been looking into integrating LGBT+ issues into school lessons. In the UK, where the government is currently looking into updating the sex education curriculum to make it inclusive of LGBT+ issues and relationships, some schools are already offering LGBT-inclusive classes.
Swinney said that the adoption of the working group’s recommendations will make Scotland “the first country in the world” to have LGBT+ inclusive education embedded within its curriculum. These proposals will change lives for the better.
The deputy first minister added: “Our education system must support everyone to reach their full potential. That is why it is vital the curriculum is as diverse as the young people who learn in our schools.
“The recommendations I have accepted will not only improve the learning experience of our LGBTI young people, they will also support all learners to celebrate their differences, promote understanding and encourage inclusion.” The Scottish government, led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney, has approved all the recommendation from the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group. (Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty) LGBT+ campaigners welcome “much needed” decision
LGBT+ education campaigners have welcomed the Scottish government’s decision.
“The implementation of LGBTI inclusive education across all state schools is a world first, and in a time of global uncertainty, this sends a strong and clear message to LGBTI young people that they are valued here in Scotland,” Jordan Daly, Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign co-founder, said in a statement.
“Education is one of the most vital tools we have to tackle bullying, prejudice and discrimination—and it shapes the fabric of our society. We now look forward to continuing our work with the Scottish Government as we progress towards full implementation,” Daly added.
Stonewall Scotland director Colin Macfarlane said: ‘’Today’s announcement is a testament to the hard work of young people, teachers, parents and campaigners from across Scotland’s LGBT organisations who have been calling for these much needed proposals for years. These proposals will change lives for the better.’’
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty) The President of Sri Lanka is under fire from the country’s LGBT+ community, after he made remarks that have been deemed homophobic.
Sri Lanka leader Maithripala Sirisena has come under fire for the comments he made at a rally on Monday (November 5).
Sirisena, who recently led a plot to oust the country’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, attacked the PM in a speech. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena (Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty) The president accused Wickremesinghe of rejecting national values for a “butterfly life,” and claimed that his decisions were led by a “butterfly caucus.”
The Sinhala-language phrase used by the leader, “samanala rela,” was described by Sri Lankan LGBT+ group Equal Ground as a “derogatory term alluding to minority sexual orientations.”
LGBT+ campaigners staged a protest in Colombo in the wake of the comments embracing the pejorative label, carrying signs that read “butterfly power” and “butterfly votes count.” “The world can be changed, not by violence, but by the sound of a thousand butterfly wings rising for peace, justice and respect.” Rosanna Flamer-Caldera of Equal Ground has described the leader as “pathetic,” and hit out at the president’s “insidious references degrading the LGBTIQ community.”
LGBT+ groups in the region joined together to issue a statement as the “Butterflies for Democracy” coalition. Sri Lanka LGBT rights activists protested the President (Butterflies for Democracy) It states: “The ‘First Citizen’ of our country has resorted to using the term ‘Butterfly’, a derogatory term alluding to minority sexual orientations.
“He has done [that] to hurt, shame and insult his political opponents and the LGBTIQ+ community as a whole, in order to protect his waning popularity and to justify his anti-democratic acts. We stand here today in protest to the aforesaid act and in support of the continued protest by civil society to the ongoing attack on our democracy.” Sri Lanka LGBT rights activists carried signs saying ‘Butterfly Power’ (Butterflies for Democracy) The group added: “We, as the ‘Butterfly’ community, vehemently condemn this ongoing conspiracy which is anti-democratic and power-hungry.
“We believe that human rights are protected in a democratic society. We ‘the butterflies’ will keep on fighting to protect it.
“The world can be changed, not by violence, but by the sound of a thousand butterfly wings rising for peace, justice and respect. Therefore, we shall be the Butterflies for Democracy. Every single insult and attack against us is an encouragement for us to continue our struggle.” ‘Butterfly’ community hits back at Sri Lanka leader Maithripala Sirisena
More than 200 LGBT+ people have also signed an open letter published in the Colombo Telegraph newspaper on Tuesday (November 6) accusing the president of “openly promoting homophobia.”
The letter read: “This statement makes it clear that President Sirisena has absolutely no notion or commitment whatsoever for the fundamental rights and human dignity of all Sri Lankans.
“It is particularly disappointing coming from a president elected on the votes of many members of the Sri Lankan LGBTQI+ community who saw his candidacy as a respite from the rampant homophobia of the preceding Rajapaksa presidency.” The letter notes the dire situation for LGBT+ people in the country, where homosexuality is still technically illegal under a Colonial-era penal code. Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena (Frank Augstein – WPA Pool/Getty ) “Had the UNF actually been led by an LGBTQI+ agenda, Sections 365 and 365A of the Sri Lankan Penal Code would by now be repealed, and equality irrespective of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Expression and/or Sex Characteristics would have been enshrined in the Constitution,” the document read.
It concluded with a condemnation and an appeal: “We condemn his use of homophobia to amuse his political gallery. By trivialising homophobia in this fashion, President Sirisena should be held responsible for any homophobic incidents that Sri Lankan citizens may experience in the coming days.
“We call upon all Sri Lankans who respect the fundamental rights of each and every Sri Lankan for equality, justice and dignity to join with us in categorically condemning President Sirisena’s homophobia and public incitement of homophobic hatred.”
Following the letter’s publication, a government spokesperson has claimed the president’s remarks were “not against any community,” according to local news outlet The Morning . Gay sex is still a crime in Sri Lanka
In November 2017, the government confirmed that it planned to decriminalise homosexuality, which was illegal under Article 365 of the Sri Lankan Penal Code.
Deputy Solicitor General Nerin Pulle assured the UN’s Human Rights Council that the government was committed to reforming Sri Lanka’s penal code to ensure that it meets international human rights standards.
Pulle said: “Despite social, political and cultural challenges that remain with respect to reforming law, Sri Lanka remains committed to law reform and guaranteeing non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has previously concluded that the penal code provision banning gay sex should not be enforced, writing that “consensual sex between adults should not be policed by the state nor should it be grounds for criminalisation.”
Chris Pine and Michael Fassbender are both huge talents (Gareth Cattermole/Getty and JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty) Chris Pine has said that he can “certainly match” Michael Fassbender’s penis after he appeared naked in new film Outlaw King .
The Star Trek actor, who has been widely—and thirstily—praised for his nude scene in the film about Scottish fourteenth century rebel Robert the Bruce, talked to BBC Radio 1 about the scene, saying: “A lot has been made about me being nude.
“And quite honestly, I’m only naked for—it’s no Fassbender situation,” he said, referring to Michael Fassbender’s Golden Globe nomination-earning performance in Steve McQueen’s Shame . Chris Pine: “I mean, I certainly match him” (CHRIS DELMAS/AFP/Getty) “I mean, I certainly match him,” added Pine about the actors’ respective penises.
The 38-year-old American star explained that he wanted to be naked in the film, penis and all, to expose the inherent vulnerabilities of every person in power. “Man is born a snivelling, snotting, sh**ting, puking, mewling baby, and then he becomes Donald Trump” – Chris Pine “Man is born a snivelling, snotting, sh**ting, puking, mewling baby, and then he becomes Donald Trump,” said Pine. Michael Fassbender got naked in Shame (Carlos Alvarez/Getty) “And underneath the emperor’s clothes, he’s a naked person. And I thought: ‘I want to see the animal and I want to see the king.
“I want to see the person who’s born looking like an animal and ends up in a position of high power. And that’s what it was at the end,” Pine added, before explaining how this helped him to write his character’s final, inspirational speech to his troops.
“It was like, I can give you all sorts of mumbo-jumbo to fight for, I can say this is for me, or for God, or for country, but here’s the situation: those guys are gonna run at you and try to behead you,” said Pine. How does Chris Pine feel about LGBT+ rights?
Pine has been a long-time LGBT+ ally, speaking out in 2013 to praise his Star Trek co-star Zachary Quinto for coming out two years beforehand.
“I thought it was rad,” said Pine. “It was really, really cool. He did it on his own time, on his own schedule.”
In 2014, the star called Russia’s anti-LGBT propaganda law “clearly awful, archaic, hostile nonsense” before urging the US to do more to fight the law. Chris Pine is in the new Outlaw King film (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty) And when it was revealed in 2016 that TV show Star Trek: Discovery was going to feature a gay couple, Pine said it was “about f**king time.
“The fact that there’s still a conversation about it means that there’s still room to go in terms of it being normalised.”
He added: “If there’s one kid in middle America who feels any amount of self-loathing because he feels different, or is being bullied because he feels different or looks different or sounds different, if our film can give him solace and make him or her feel less alone, then abso-effin-loutely we should do it all the time, every day of the week.”
The BBC’s Jonathan Blake on Dominic Raab’s comments Dominic Raab has come under fire for saying he "hadn’t quite understood" how reliant UK trade in goods is on the Dover-Calais crossing.
The Brexit Secretary’s remarks came at a technology conference as he discussed the "bespoke arrangement" the UK sought with the EU after it leaves the bloc.
Shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman suggested Mr Raab "doesn’t even understand the very basics of Brexit".
Conservative pro-Remain MP Nicky Morgan tweeted: "Gulp."
According to the Institute for Government , Dover is "a key artery for UK trade heading to continental Europe" with more than 2.5m heavy goods vehicles passing through the port every year.
Its report says goods worth £119bn passed through the port in 2015, "representing around 17% of the UK’s entire trade in goods by value". Davis: May will probably lose Brexit vote
UK and France ‘still friends’ after Brexit
Fox: UK must be able to end backstop
Reality Check: How much of the UK’s trade is with the EU?
Mr Raab told a technology conference on Wednesday: "We want a bespoke arrangement in goods which recognises the peculiar, frankly, geographic, economic entity that is the United Kingdom.
"We are, and I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but if you look at the UK and if you look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.
"And that’s one of the reasons why, and there’s been a lot of controversy about this, but one of the reasons why we wanted to make sure that we have a very specific and very proximate relationship with the EU to ensure frictionless trade at the border, particularly for just-in-time manufacturing goods whether it’s pharmaceutical goods or perishable goods like food."
"I don’t think it’s a question so much of the risk of major shortages but I think probably the average consumer might not be aware of the full extent to which the choice of goods that we have in the stores are dependent on one or two very specific trade routes." Reality Check: How important is Dover?
Dover is indeed an important port for the UK. It is by far the biggest UK destination for roll-on roll-off ferries, handling 2.9 million lorries last year . Of the 120,000 cargo-carrying vessels that arrived in the UK in 2016, 13% of them came into Dover, writes Anthony Reuben.
But that doesn’t make Dover the biggest freight-handling port. In fact last year it was only the ninth biggest by tonnage, handling 26.2 million tonnes, which is about 6% of the total amount of freight handled at UK ports. Those specialising in containers and other forms of bulk freight such as Grimsby & Immingham, London, Southampton and Liverpool handled considerably greater tonnage.
Dover is vital for trade with Europe though, particularly for time-critical items. Its freight also tends to be high value, handling 17% of the UK trade in goods .
Among critics seizing on the remarks, Will Straw – who was executive director of the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign during the 2016 referendum – suggested Mr Raab should have "done your homework before backing Leave".
The Freight Transport Association’s Pauline Bastidon said the group was "relieved to learn that the secretary of state for exiting the EU has finally recognised the importance of the Dover strait and frictionless trade for the UK economy".
She added: "While looking at all potential contingencies is right, no other route provides the same frequency of crossing or is able to handle the same volumes as Dover-Calais, Dover-Dunkirk & Eurotunnel put together. The government now needs to make good on its pledge of frictionless trade."
More than half of LGBT people in the UK have experienced depression in the past year, according to a LGBT charity.
Stonewall says 52% of the 5,000 lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people it surveyed said they’d struggled with it.
That’s higher than average – mental health charity Mind says the national average is 25%.
"The results are alarming but sadly they’re not surprising," says NHS clinical psychologist Chris Wilson.
"They do reflect what we see in clinical practice." ‘I was always called names’
Bree says she was worried her love for playing football at school would make her a target Bree, who’s 19 and lives in London, says she’s struggled with her mental health because of her experiences as a young gay teen.
"When I was at school, I was always the butt of the gay jokes and it made me feel ill," she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.
"I guess you’d say I’m your stereotypical lesbian. So at school I was always called names at every opportunity they had."
When she realised she was gay at 13, Bree says she was "terrified" her friends would find out because of their homophobia towards LGBT people.
"It’s really depressing to realise that everyone around you thinks that you’re disgusting and you can’t actually do anything to change it."
Bree says she’s now "comfortable" with herself and her sexuality, but even now says she suffers from anxiety when she is in public with her girlfriend.
"On the depression side of things, things are a lot better now, but you still do get that anxiety when you go out and you feel like you could be outed," she says. ‘It was a tough place to be inside my head’
Charlie, not pictured, struggled with alcohol addiction for 10 years Charlie, not his real name, 29, says the mental health problems he experienced as a teen later led to alcohol problems.
He’s only recently been able to deal with them.
"It was a tough place to be inside my head," the 29-year-old says.
"There was no education on mental health and no education on LGBT issues – or even the existence of LGBT people in a normal, functioning role in society."
Charlie says he began using alcohol in his late teens to feel more confident and "forget about all the stuff that was inside my head".
"From the age of eight to at least 16 or 17 I had to hide what I was feeling.
"As those emotions got harder to deal with, it was harder to hide them and that caused a lot of strain on my brain, which led me to develop anxiety and depression throughout my teenage years."
Charlie is now in rehabilitation for alcohol addiction, but says he’s sad to think of what he’s "missed out on" during his life due to his mental health issues.
He urges young LGBT people to speak to someone they trust if they are experiencing mental health issues.
For more information or support on mental health and sexuality, visit the Radio 1 advice pages.
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Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 every weekday on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra – if you miss us you can listen back here .
m-imagephotography via Getty Images The no platforming of far-right white supremacist hate site Gab.ai last week reignited social media’s favourite debate topic of free speech v hate speech.
Gab was taken offline after it was shown that the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh shooting was using the site as a platform to share his anti-Semitic views and to gain validation for his hate from the echo chamber of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim prejudice that Gab had become notorious for. Shooter Robert Bowers even used the platform to announce his attack only minutes before opening fire inside a Synagogue.
The reactions of fellow ‘Gab’ members in the immediate aftermath of the shooting made for desperate reading. The celebratory posts and the gleeful support for this atrocity were indicative of the climate of hate on Gab that I had been monitoring for several months.
Gab was set up by founder Andrew Torba as a supposed haven for free speech. The motto of the site is ‘speak freely’. The site attracted individuals and groups who had been banned for offensive speech across other social media platforms, including high profile figures like Twitter suspended Milo Yiannopolous and convicted fraudster Stephen Yaxley Lennon . Gab was marketed as an environment where speech would not be censored and, in particular, as a place where right wing and conservative views would not be silenced (the far right erroneously believe that mainstream media and established social media sites like Facebook and Twitter intentionally censor conservative voices.)
The site quickly degenerated into a cesspit of trolling, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Racism and anti LGBT prejudice. It was the site on which Jonathan Jennings (recently jailed for 16 months) posted his death threats toward Jeremy Corbyn, Gina Miller, myself and others. High profile events were reported with bias and lies – I documented this racist response (unmoderated by the platform) to the Royal Wedding.
The exposure of the extremism on Gab led to support for it being pulled by payment providers PayPal and Stripe, domain owner Go Daddy and Server Host Joyent. This effectively closed down the site. Andrew Torba vowed the site would be up and running again and it has since found a new host Epik. But Torba has perhaps failed to comprehend that every law enforcement agency in the world will now be watching it. Gab if not yet actually dead is certainly in its death throes.
There has been a backlash on social media relating to the shutdown of Gab with many complaints that deplatforming a social media site is in violation of the American constitution, namely the first amendment – the right to the freedom of speech.
It is my view that hate speech does not constitute free speech. I do not believe that the freedom to speak should involve the right to abuse other people, to post their private information and to call for violence and mass genocide against them.
To put this in terms that the far right will understand. I detest Donald Trump. I believe I have the right to express my opinions of his politics on any platform of my choice. I have the right both on American and British soil to criticise the man, the decisions he makes and the impact he is having on both his own country and the world.
I do not have the right to assume that every Christian holds the same beliefs as Trump and I do not have the right to demonise the faith by seeking to use one individual as a representative of it.
I do not have the right to find private information and pictures of Republicans who support Trump and post them over the internet with calls for people who agree with my politics rather than theirs to commit violence against them.
I do not have the right to accuse Republicans with whom I disagree as being ‘paedophiles’ and circulate their pictures with this accusation in public forums.
I do not have the right to call for Trump supporters to be harmed, abused, violated or killed.
Simply put, expressing my views is free speech, abusing others is hate speech.
All of these examples I have provided are genuine illustrations of how the members of Gab.ai have conducted themselves in the past, using the guise of free speech to excuse themselves from posting threats, abuse and hatred that create an environment where the weak minded are radicalised into far-right extremism. Their supporters will tell you ‘ it is only words’ but these words created the conditions that led to Robert Bowers massacring innocent people at worship in a Synagogue.
Death and violence are the real life consequences that result from hate speech.
Gab supporters are missing the point. Nobody is trying to silence free speech. If they wish to express their opinion in a way that does not contravene the boundaries of human decency then they are welcome to do so. They are welcome to converse, to express, to debate and to discuss. What they are not welcome to do is abuse, demonise and vilify others in the process.
The belief that the ‘big tech’ of the internet is looking to silence conservative voices is a fantasy borne from far right paranoia. The aim is the eradication of hate speech, not conservative speech. Though the question the right leaning supporters of Gab should be asking themselves is why so many self-proclaimed conservative voices cannot see the difference between the two. After Pittsburgh, It Is High Time We Held Social Media Companies Accountable For Online Hate
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FluxFactory via Getty Images Dear Harry and Meghan,
You are expecting a baby! Oh, the dreams and hopes and joy of it all. Congratulations from one British-American family to another. Each of us wants a bright future for our children, no matter how many ‘u-s’ we have in our words or ‘zeds’ that fall by the wayside.
That is why I had tears in my eyes when I read the news that at an important function abroad you gave an official toast with water. The announcement that you both are going alcohol-free throughout this pregnancy literally stopped me in my tracks. I suspect my grin could have been seen from outer space that day.
Parenthood changes us. We protect our kids and to do the best we can for them. With one simple choice you both have shown leadership of the kind that can transform lives, change tomorrows. I wanted to share my deep respect and appreciation.
You see, I know what it’s like to parent a child who was exposed to alcohol in utero. I have seen a young toddler unable to process the sights and sounds of daily life, looked into the eyes of a distressed young one whose brain can’t handle too much input without kicking into the fight and flight mode. I have literally held with a mamma-bear hug a dysregulated child who was lashing out in distress – while neither he nor I could understand why. I’ve been in the schools, working with teachers who were frustrated that he couldn’t focus, sit still, remember. I’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of hours in waiting rooms, doctors’ offices, talking with therapists, trying to understand why he has trouble eating, why some bones are fused together, why he can’t grasp abstract concepts. Gathering diagnosis after diagnosis until at the age of 10 we finally learned our adopted child has a Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
I will never forget that moment when it hit me. This sweet, musically talented and physically precocious young child has organic brain damage. “He will need support for the rest of his life,” the doctor said to us that day. We are older parents. Those words struck us with fear.
I wish you could know the sweet sounds of my son’s laughter, watch him dance with abandon and flip on trampolines with great skill, see how his smile lights up a room. We all want the world to see our children shine. But I won’t sugar-coat it. There is great pain and frustration in his world. It’s better now that we have the diagnosis and we have been able to access appropriate schools and therapies, but he is vulnerable in a world that does not understand him, no matter how hard he tries. So we are using these teenage years to help him have the words and strategies he will need. Fingers crossed, so far he is one of the ‘lucky’ ones. The post-code lottery has worked in his favour.
Too many people with FASD end up with secondary mental health problems – an area I know you care deeply about. Without diagnosis, appropriate support, alternative parenting strategies and the full weight of the resources this amazing NHS and educational system can provide, these young people fall through the cracks, families strain and sometimes break under pressures and the brilliant sparkle in our loved ones’ eyes becomes dull. Adults and young adults with FASD can end up homeless, addicted, in prison, sexually vulnerable, straining the resources of a system that could have been ahead of things sooner in their lives.
But your actions, your leadership – oh, how transformative and welcome they are.
It’s like FASD awareness has hit the stratosphere in recent weeks. The Deputy Chief Medical Officer Gina Radford convened the first ever government-led meeting with FASD stakeholders as part of an ongoing effort to see what Government can do. EastEnders featured a story line for its 7 million viewers about alcohol, pregnancy and the risk of FASD. The Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi, MP met with adopters and carers and discussed how FASD disproportionately affects children in those communities. There are people with lived experience, leading medical experts, FASD groups and MPs and peers who have been pushing these issues for years but perhaps now, maybe now this is a threshold moment for greater change. We hope you might help by encouraging joined-up thinking about how to tackle this public health crisis. Perhaps it’s time for an FASD summit. We’ll be there, supporting progress in ways big and small.
Statistically there are more people out there with FASD than autism. It’s a ‘hidden epidemic’. Because of stigma, lack of professional training and old-school thinking, most of them will be undiagnosed and will struggle unless our leaders change things.
FASD is the missing piece of the puzzle that anyone who cares about child mental health and the success of special educational needs and disabilities reforms in our schools should be examining. FASD needs to be recognised as the neurodevelopmental disorder it is in order to open doors for access to services.
By announcing both of you are abstaining from alcohol, you hit the mark perfectly. Partners play a huge role in supporting alcohol-free pregnancies. No alcohol, no risk. #049. Please consider taking this to the next level and help people understand why you have made this choice. You know the power that comes from recognising the courage of those fighting battles that others do not see. As you have done for others with disabilities and mental health challenges, you have validated and honoured our son’s struggles. Thank you.
The entire FASD community is wishing you a healthy and happy pregnancy. Cheers!
(This post also appeared on FASDLearningWithHope.wordpress.com )
santypan via Getty Images It’s late on a Tuesday night and I’ve just gotten off the phone to a close friend. He’s been feeling consistently low for a couple of weeks now, so we’ve been chatting late at night to get his mind off things. As I tuck myself into bed, I glance at my messages. One friend is texting me about how she feels her social anxiety is ruining all her relationships. Another is de-briefing me on his latest therapy session. As I tuck myself into bed, I’m reminded that only last week I was having a beer with a group of friends when one of them found out her friend had taken their own life. And as I lay there, trying so desperately to hold it together for my friends – all brilliant, inspiring queer people – I begin to cry. Because the truth is, this is not new.
Growing up gay and mixed-race, I was no stranger to bullying. In a predominantly white school, when confronted with racial abuse, I’d go home and seek solace in my father, who knew all too well what it was like to be ridiculed for simply being who he was. But being bullied for being effeminate was a different beast – because I had no-one to turn to. To speak to my parents would mean to reveal to them that I was gay, the mere thought of which would trigger a wave of crippling shame. To speak to my friends, many of whom liberally used the word “gay” as a slur, didn’t seem like an option either. So I suffered alone, and in silence. And as I grew older, I began to think of gayness and loneliness almost as twins – mirroring each other, inextricably and profoundly intertwined.
Eventually the loneliness became to much to bear. At 19, I attempted suicide. My father found me and saved my life, sparking a chain of events that led to therapy, medication and the eventual proud proclamation of my sexuality to the world. But I’m still a work-in-progress. I, along with so many of my LGBT friends, am still chipping away at the residual shame that’s come from the damaging experience of hiding an integral part of my identity for so long. I – we – are still struggling.
In a recent report on the state of LGBT health in the UK, Stonewall revealed that 52% of LGBT people have experienced depression in the past year. When it comes to anxiety, this number rises to 61%. This compares to one in six adults in England who faced a common mental health problem, according to Mind. For many people, these numbers will come as a shock, but for the queer community, these statistics simply reflect our lived experience. Despite being a community which suffers disproportionately from mental health problems, no special provisions are made for LGBT people when seeking support. My friend debriefing me on his therapy sessions? He pays for these out of pocket, on a credit card, in order to have access to a therapist who won’t be openly hostile to his identity. My other friend struggling with her social anxiety? She gave up on her NHS therapist after they consistently downplayed her gender dysphoria.
The reality is that not all LGBT people are able to afford to seek help privately, nor is private healthcare accessible to everyone in the country. So what does, for example, a gay teenager in rural Wales do when experiencing chronically low mood, or suffering from an addiction disorder? They rely on the NHS. But state-funded mental health services are not always LGBT-friendly. According to Stonewall’s report, when accessing government healthcare services, 23% of LGBT people have witnessed negative remarks from staff in reference to their sexuality or gender identity. Distressingly, 14% they have avoided treatment for fear of being on the receiving end of discrimination.
For a community so in need of mental healthcare support, this simply isn’t good enough. The government has made significant strides in ensuring that LGBT people are accommodated through a £1million fund to improve health and social care in England and the promise of a national adviser for LGBT healthcare. But still when assessing the availability of healthcare services for one of the communities most vulnerable to mental illness, it is clear that more work needs to be done. A full review of the mental healthcare services provided by the government, working intersectionally to take into account the needs of the communities most at-risk, is a necessity in a diverse society such as the UK.
Being lesbian, gay, bi or trans shouldn’t mean you’re automatically at higher risk of experiencing poorer mental health. But the reality is that the world we live in and the discrimination our community faces, makes it so. That means it’s even more important that our healthcare services are equipped and ready to respond to the needs of LGBT people to build a happier, healthier world for everyone – no exceptions.
Alexander Leon is programme coordinator at the Kaleidoscope Trust, an LGBT rights charity
Useful websites and helplines: London Lesbian & Gay switchboard (LLGS) is a free confidential support & information helpline for LGBT communities throughout the UK | 0300 330 0630
Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard is a free support, information and referral service for the Manchester and North-West area | 0161 235 8000
Stonewall for more information on other LGBT services and helplines | 08000 502020