Sunday, 31 October 2010

Bisexuality for Colonels: a Telegraph Guide

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I have a low opinion of the alleged British 'newspaper' The Daily Telegraph. Aside from a peculiar blip when it, inexplicably, was the paper which broke the MPs' expenses scandal early in 2009, the 'Torygraph', as people call it, is usually derided as 'the paper for retired Colonels', constantly serving up a diet of misinformation and right-wing vitriol.

When we last encountered the Torygraph in this blog, they were engaged in whipping up ill-informed hatred against the Trade Unions, with a biased report on the cost of 'facility time' which  just happened to coincide with David Cameron announcing plans to cut the public sector. This week, as Cameron plans to fill Margaret Thatcher's shoes and excite certain old guard Tories by 'getting tough with Europe', his loyal supporters at the upper-class chip-wrapper of choice have clearly decided they need a good old 'Brussells gravy train' story to get their teeth into, to show how Those Bureaucrats At The EU are Wasting Your Hard-Earned Tax Money.

And what are they wasting it on? Those damned queers, of course! You can practically hear the Colonels spluttering into their kedgeree (got a taste for it in India, don'tchaknow, last days of the Raj, MEEEEEEHHHH) at the thought that the European Commission has spent a whopping one-hundred-and-twenty-four thousand pounds on a 'gay activists conference'. How dare they! Did we fight Hitler so that gay people could live their lives free of hatred and intolerance? The very idea!

Like all the best right-wing scare stories, this one starts unravelling almost from the first paragraph. First of all, as we learn early in the article, this is not just a 'gay activists conference', it's for bisexual, trans and intersex activists too. This is important because the Telegraph has already shown its hand, and the degree to which it is ignorant of LGBTIQ communities, by subsuming all these disparate identities under the 'gay' label.

Recently at work I took a survey which had the usual 'diversity' section tagged on the end. This section didn't have a category for gender identity, but instead stuck 'transgender' in as a single option tacked onto the end of a question about...sexual orientation. This pretty much gave the game away about the surveyors' real commitment to diversity: they were sort of aware that trans people existed, and they had an idea that they would have to include a trans box for people to tick...but they hadn't gone to the trouble of educating themselves - because if they had, I dunno, looked for five minutes at the wikipedia article on trans gender identities, they would have seen in the second paragraph that trans is not a discrete sexual orientation of its own, but that trans people can be gay, straight, poly, pan, bi or asexual. But they couldn't be bothered to educate themselves. 'Stick a 'transgender' box on the end of the question about poofters, Ron,' says the lazy survey maker, 'I know we're both normal an' that, but we gotta do stuff like this to keep the bloody politically correct brigade happy.'

It's the same deal with the Torygraph and their headline writers. If you've been following the recent furore over Stonewall, you'll be aware that the LGBTIQ community is one in which there are divisions and issues of controversy. But none of this matters to the Torygraph. They subsume the entire range of LGBTIQ identities into the catch-all 'gay' category. Remember: these are people who call themselves journalists. Their job is to convey information about the world to their reading public. So when they indulge themselves in a little sloppy thinking about LGBTIQ people, that ignorance and arrogance gets passed on to their readership. But the Telegraph isn't really that bothered about this, because the Telegraph doesn't really care about gay, bi or trans people. It just wants to use them as cannon fodder in its assault on the EU.

If they don't care a lot about gay, bi or trans people, they care about intersex people even less. You can tell that by their disgusting use of scare quotes around the word 'intersex' itself. With those deceitful little punctuation marks, the Telegraph is telling its readers that all this 'intersex' business is just made-up nonsense. A little over a year after intersex issues exploded into the mainstream media because of the IOC's disgraceful treatment of Caster Semenya, the Telegraph is implying to its readers that intersex people don't exist. I can't imagine how it must feel to be an intersex person reading a paragraph like that. Not only do you have to deal with being marginalised since birth, now a major UK newspaper is denying the validity of your experiences - of your existence - and saying that a conference that attempts to deal with your experience (along with those of other marginalised groups) is a waste of money on 'politically correct twaddle'.

It isn't the paper saying this, you understand: they're just summarising the words of critics like Philip Davies MP. Who he, you ask, dear reader? Well, from what I can gather, Philip Davies is a time-wasting little creep who, rather than representing his constituents in Shipley, prefers to spend his time harassing Trevor Philips with meaningless letterstelling Muslims to 'fuck off', and acting as a rent-a-gob for a whole host of right-wing pressure groups like the Taxpayers Aliance, and the Campaign Against Political Correctness. Wee Phil - a man so odious that fellow Tory John Bercow referred to him as a 'troglodyte' over his opposition to equality legislation, and who also allegedly likes to let rich men steal food from the mouths of babies in the third world - turns out to be the son of Peter Davies, who gave us all so much amusement when he was comprehensively schooled by a local radio DJ about how ill-thought-out his plans to shut down Doncaster Pride were. Clearly, all Davies fils yearns to do with his right-wing demagoguery is impress daddy dearest. How pathetic.

And how much more pathetic of the Torygraph to wheel out this kind of rent-a-quote to comment on this story in the first place. Again, their reliance on him as a source shows their intent to distort the story from the start. By flagging up Davies' position as an MP - and not informing the reader of his past ridiculous, obsessive behaviour - they present him as a figure of authority expressing a view, rather than the odd and rather odious little man he is.

Perhaps the biggest sign of how biased and twisted the article is, however, is its pearl-clutching horror at the lavishness of spending a whopping £124k on a conference. £124,000! What an unthinkable figure! Except it's not, really. From speaking to people I know involved with Trade Unions, and contacts on Twitter, the general feeling is that paying only £124k to organise a conference actually represents tremendous value - especially given that 200 delegates will be attending, and it lasts five days. Despite what the Torygraph are trying to imply, this is a lot more than just a big nosh-up and a few workshops.I talked to someone attending a one-day conference for a local organisation where hotel costs alone will come to £15000 in total for a hundred delegates. Multiply that by five days and the cost becomes £75000. Double that to allow for 200 delegates and you get £150K - which is £26,000 more than the ILGA conference, and remember this is just for accommodation - the real costs would be far higher. Frankly, £124k for a conference is a bargain. But again, the Torygraph don't want to set the costs in context - they want to scare their readers with a big, huge, expensive-sounding number which is being wasted, frittered away I tell you, on a conference for a bunch of pinko commie sexual deviants.

Now, £124k is a big number. But I'm pretty sure - and I can't be sure of this, I only got a B at GCSE maths - that SIX BILLION POUNDS is a much bigger number. This number, of course, was the amount of the tax bill that HMRC recently let mobile phone company Vodafone off without paying, leading to protests around the UK yesterday. Protests which - along with the original story - I can find no mention of on the Telegraph website. Funny that.

So the Torygraph is ignoring a real story about broad-based opposition to the unfairness of Coalition cuts, and instead trying to foment manufactured anger about a conference in Europe which actually won't cost a great deal of money in order to placate the Europhobic wing of the Conservative party. But that isn't all they're doing. The effect of their article is to reinforce the bigotry and prejudice which says that LGBTIQ people don't deserve even this relatively small sum of money to be spent on our concerns. That we shouldn't have our voices heard, or our views taken into account. That we don't matter - and, in the case of intersex people, don't exist.

This is a vile, inhuman, twisted piece of propaganda which doesn't deserve to be dignified with the label of journalism. To my mind, it isn't far removed from hate-speech. The Telegraph should be ashamed of themselves for printing it - but I doubt they will be. Privilege, after all, means never having to say you're sorry - even when you bloody well should be.

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