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London. 2011. The world’s most multicultural and cosmopolitan city.

Gay Pride – Saturday 2nd July.

Surely gays and lesbians don’t need to parade their existence down Oxford Street anymore…we’re sorted in this city, right? What is Gay Pride anyway?

Is Pride about going to the gym every day the week before and getting your haircut just right, or perhaps volunteering to help one of the many organisations that need help on the day and truly feeling part of a community?

Come Pride, will you be with those ‘shiny new people’ you now interact with on Facebook, or spending time with actual friends who have invested genuine energy into your friendship and given a crap about you?

I remember seeing the London Gay Pride marches on television news, growing up in school, itching to one day be able to go, as a proud adult fighting homophobia with other homofriendly adults. My first pride in the 90s didn’t disappoint! It was a sensory feast. A sea of movement, walking with purpose. Cheering, friendly people, hot guys and hot gals, music, everyone happy – it was most definitely a powerful, ‘we’re here, we’re queer and we (don’t!) drink beer’ moment. Feeling suppression being defeated. Feeling part of a community. And then the glorious Trafalgar Square rally. Beautiful!

Fast forward to 2011. Millions descending onto the streets of London, marching, whistling, partying. Dancing in Leicester and Soho Squares. Who but a boring party-pooper would not be excited by all the revelry?!

But, we can do this every weekend. What’s so special about one day?

The difference? The march. The first march for gay rights in the UK was in 1970, when 150 gay men protested through Highbury Fields in north London, The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was in 1972. Since then the march has grown in number and importance, originating from the 1969 Stonewall riots, through to Section 28, age of consent and equality for all.

Huge issues that had / have serious consequences on our well-being. The only reason we can still celebrate today is because of the march and the ongoing fight for gay rights.

London Gay Pride March - 1972

Which is why the march and rally are always important. Having fun with loved ones too. But inbetween all the ogling at half-naked torsos, perhaps drinking and drugs, and general carefree merriment, it’s important to remember why we can be free in the first place, and why other places unfortunately can’t.

Iran, Uganda, Malawi, Russia, Latvia, Serbia…just some of the countries where our LGBT community are struggling to have the same rights we take for granted, sometimes even just being alive. We must march for them.

But in London we still have battles. Homophobia still exists in sport. Hate is still being preached by bigots in the name or religion, be it a minority of youths flyering Tower Hamlets ‘supposedly’ they claim in the name of Allah, or Christian leaders who think Jesus would equate homosexuality with paedophilia. Or atheists who will never treat an LGBT person as an equal.

For some, the march may be redundant. ‘Who cares? I don’t need to fight for anything anymore’. For me? Marching as a British Muslim who is gay and out has impassioned me. Obviously some people may not be able to relate to that.

But there is a growing divide between gays whose families are secular and their perception of what’s left in the gay struggle, and those gays whose families are from minority groups, e.g. blacks, Muslims etc. The first time I saw a group of gay Muslims marching together was a lightning-bolt moment, my eyes nearly popped out, I felt fired up. Years later, I spoke on stage at the 2007 Pride Rally at Trafalgar Square, as a trustee on behalf of Imaan (LGBT Muslim support group). The square was as packed as ever, but it was the day after police arrested a few individuals outside Tiger Tiger club in Piccadilly for an alleged terrorist bomb plot. I expected animosity and jeering, but was overjoyed that the whole crowd rallied together, cheering with full gusto at fighting homophobia, Islamophobia, all prejudice, and celebrating our diverse community, both it’s similarities and differences.

London Gay Pride 2006 - Me and other LGBT Muslim supporters

Speaking personally, as a double minority it is much easier in the short-term to bury your head in the sand, to not confront the issue, and this is also true for secular gays and religious straights. Showing the world you’re gay and Muslim can be twice as hard than being a secular gay. And shunning people who associate with religion / gays is cowardice, whether you’re gay or straight. But for me the greater good, forcing Muslims to accept the existence of gays and forcing gays to accept the existence of other minorities, is vital to escape the ‘dark ages’. If I/we don’t do it, than who will? We can’t depend on others or the next generation to do the hard work for us, as much as it would be a much more peaceful life for us! A journey not without heartache, but hopefully one that avoids future heartache for many.

It’s not normal to get on with everyone and like everyone, it’s human nature for people to have things in common with some, and have not much in common with others. But there can be a danger of the gay scene becoming ‘ghettoised’. Unnecessary factions. For example, it would be bad if gay Muslims just stuck to each other and didn’t socialise with others. I am heavily against the new trend of some minority groups, such as some Muslims, being completely segregated. My grandparents came to London in the 1960s and wouldn’t have bothered coming if they did not happily integrate as proud British Muslims.

It works both ways. Everyone’s heard the paradigm of it being a ‘straight, white male world’, a comment on the least oppressed, people on top of the ‘dog eat dog’ world. Anyone who is ‘missing’ at least one of these characteristics will have experienced the pain of oppression, and would have fought to assert their rights, e.g. gay white males, straight white females, straight black males. Those who are oppressed usually become more accepting overall of other minorities, not just their own, as they understand the shared struggle for universal human rights. But worryingly, there seems to be a trend where those that were once oppressed have forgotten. My theory is that, just for example let’s say some gay whites, you get to the ‘top of the tree’, you’re in the big city smoke and finally feel accepted, and you can do what you want and no longer feel oppressed. And for some, that might mean that at best you’re not bothered about socialising with other minority groups and at worst you ‘ghettoise’ yourself from them, maybe because for some, finally being at the ‘top of the tree’ really is important (e.g. taken to extreme, the fact that some gay people join far-right political organisations). I will defend an atheist’s right to question my or anyone’s religion, but that’s a completely different thing from being anti-Muslim / anti-whatever religion / anti-minority, which is just as bad as being homophobic.

But like I said, it works both ways.

More than being LGBT which is one strand of our being, we are people; a false sense of elitism achieves nothing.

Pride is about having self-pride. Respect, love and honesty for yourself and others. Be with positive people. Help those in need. Maximise time with those who appreciate you and minimise time with those who don’t. Remembering your real friends and family.

AND…Pride also means not feeling you HAVE to go out on the day, fearing you’re missing out; it is OK not to go sometimes, have a quiet one in solitude or with loved ones.

As long as homophobia exists in this country or indeed any other, and as long as people aren’t inclusive of all gay people, religious to atheist, black to white, young to old, fat to skinny, as long as people aren’t accepting of the rainbow of diversity that the LGBT community is and instead want to create divisions in soulless cliques…

…then yes, parading is important to show we are united…and a damn site more fun and sexier than the haters too. 😉

So whether you’re parting hard and celebrating, or having a quiet reflective one, solo or with loved ones either here or in memory of those who’ve passed, Happy Pride.

Love Fiez X

Bit random to include Gaga and no this isn’t a plug for her, as much as she’s fabulous! But this advert came on while blogging and I like the happy sentiment.

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I think a life without art would be a life less lived. Music’s my passion, but I would love to be able to paint a masterpiece.

I’m lucky enough to know a few friends who, when putting brush to canvas, or even pencil to paper, create beauty. I’m totally in awe of them!

I’m not a painting aficionado, but I think I can appreciate talent. And I reckon anyone who sees Lorna Wadsworth’s pieces would no doubt say the same.

Throughout school and university, she has honed her unique skills in capturing the human form in charcoal or oil paint. She has a natural eye for capturing detail to photographic-like quality. And her technical skills match her artistic flair, by employing a vast array of painstaking methods to create work taking hold of your senses.

Most of her recent work is big and covered in gold leaf, and therefore expensive. To make her Art available to anyone who might want to start a collection she had the idea of launching a ‘Diffusion Line’, almost like D&G to Dolce and Gabbana, as a way of making art affordable to all.

100 PICTURES, 100 POUNDS!

Called ‘100 Pictures, 100 Pounds!’ the idea is as simple and brilliant as it sounds. You can have a look at her pop up website http://www.100pictures100pounds.com, although I’m not sure how longer the project will be live, so get clicking fast!

100 Pictures, 100 Pounds!

While most world-renowned artists are all highly talented, it seems luck seems to play a big part. ‘Hyping-up’ of artists, creating a ‘buzz’ around a particular exhibition, and a few well-placed media stories can create a seemingly exponential projection of the chosen few into the media stratosphere. But becoming the word on everyone’s lips doesn’t seem all that fair when such methods serve to not only grossly inflate art prices, but also deny many artists at least as talented the chance to succeed. Often all it takes is circumstance, a lucky shot.

Lorna’s experiences as an artist have led her to some exhilarating and unique encounters, from capturing scenes in the urban jungle, painting random men who take her fancy, being commissioned to recreate The Last Supper for a church, to portraits of well-known figures, with Margaret Thatcher, Derek Jacobi and Rolf Harris to name a few.

But the art world can be difficult to crack. Studio prices are high, and spaces for exhibitions are also expensive and oversubscribed, and can take hours of multi-tasking to put together.

Lorna’s well due her big break, so I wanted to help by doing a little blog!

BEAUTIFUL BOYS

Beautiful Boys, 11th to 23rd Oct '07 - Empire Gallery, 30 Vyner Street, London E2 9DQ E2

I first met Lorna when I went to her exhibition called Beautiful Boys in October 2007. She wanted to get a strong female’s perspective on the male form, challenging and matching the centuries-old notion of male painter’s gaze and female muse. The boys featured were either people she knew or random passers-by in the street, whom she ran upto and told them of her project! As well as paintings on display there were charcoal sketches, some of which she did live before our eyes. It was amazing to see how quickly yet accurately she could take the likeness of someone and transfer it to paper, and after (much too kindly!) sketching me it was eery to see ‘me’ in her drawing.

A LAST SUPPER

After irregular contact our paths crossed again a year or so later. Having contacted me to ask for my help in a portrait, I hadn’t heard back after replying, until a few months later in early 2009 when I tried again. Apparently she never received a reply, and was nearly finished, but desperately needed my help still! So we arranged a time when we were both free, and I was to meet her over the course of a few weekends in a studio in Hackney. I was very intrigued to say the least!

We met, and making our way to a dilapidated building, she introduced me to her makeshift studio; paints, fabrics and clutter all around, but it was a space she was able to paint with. It might be taken for granted, but I realised how hard it was for artists to have somewhere to store and create and not be charged extortionately for it, especially in London. And then she told me about the project.

A LAST SUPPER, 4th March to 4th April 2010 - St. Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square

‘A Last Supper’ – a modern interpretation of The Last Supper – was to be painted as an altarpiece for St. George’s Church, Nailsworth, Gloucester. A late parishoner, Alan Denman, who left a sum of money as a bequest, had a vision of this story to be on show at his church. Following her Beautiful Boys exhibition, Lorna thought it would be a great progression to get some of the guys from this together for it, on the condition that the commission was expenses only but she had complete artistic control. So she set about creating her masterpiece, with Jesus as a striking black figure, and the various disciples surrounding him all with their unique features. There was one left to paint, and I was humbled to help…particularly as embarrassingly all the other guys were models and I was anything but in comparison! I was to be St. Peter! And a gay Muslim at that! (OK, neither point actually matters, but I couldn’t help smile 😉 ).

Ta-daa! ;-D

So over 3 weekends, I helped her. Amazingly, she painted the piece completely from life; all the people who contributed she painted in person over the course of a few months. And all thirteen people could not come together simultaneously. So she set about painting each figure, one by one, adding slowly to her masterpiece. Remembering the positions of the ones before, along with the shadows cast, the looks exchanged, all at a particular time of day so the sunlight could be recreated.

I had never before bore witness to an artist in the throws of their creation; it was fascinating to see what goes into it all. Following a mainly academic route myself career-wise, I really respected her dedication to her work. Hearing about her previous works, it was evident she is not only talented but also highly-skilled with a variety of technical know-how. And this piece was a complete labour of love. From getting up early, to painting long hours, trying different styles, to revisiting different parts of the growing masterpiece. So holding statuesque still, half-robed, gesturing and maintaining a particular facial expression all at the same time was the least I could do to help her create St. Peter as painlessly as possible, even though it was agony at times!

It was great bonding experience too. We shared a lot. She told me about what she’s been upto, heartache, successes, ups and downs. She was going through a particularly difficult time when we met and I could see how such emotions can be reflected in or even influenced by painting. Although Lorna tells me she doesn’t strive to recreate what the camera sees, which flattens colours and simplifies form, and has only one focal point. She paints from life as she believes painting can capture what photos can’t, and her Last Supper pulstates with life and energy as though the figures were all about to start moving and turning towards you. And I think the end result was positive and cathartic for her.

Me by Lorna! (Better than the real thing I think!).

And the experience became important for me to. It was the first time we had seen each other since we first met that October 2007 – and that day was forever etched in my mind, because I was on the way home to see my Mum and family. And that was the first time I saw just how ill my Mum had become. Mentally, she had been under too much pressure, and I saw the beginnings of her unravelling before us. It was heart-wrenching. Nothing could prepare us for her untimely death a couple of months later. But I remember on that day, I told her about where I had been…that this random lady had done a life-like drawing of me! Like all Mums, she was thrilled and was looking forward to seeing a copy that Lorna said she would give, but of course, she sadly passed-away.

So it was quite an experience to meet Lorna again, having not seen her since my Mum was alive, and sharing stories about my family, about changes in relationships that I had, and career since then too. On the last day, after I had helped all I could and Lorna had pretty much wrapped up that aspect of the painting, I was surprised to see she had brought me something. And it was the original charcoal sketch when we met that day, plus different sized copies. I’m no oil-painting I know! But for an artist to give her original work was really nice. And it was because it signified an important association with my Mum on that day that she gave it. It’s quite a bittersweet possession for me, and I thought it was really sweet of her.

SACRED OR PROFANE

SACRED OR PROFANE, 4th March to 4th April 2010 - St. Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square

At Trafalgar Square, Lorna also had another exhibition. ‘Sacred or Profane’ is a modern interpretation of Zurburan’s shadowy robed monks, recast as the modern-day ‘hoody’, including St. Francis of Assisi’s infamous kneeling image. From her website: ‘Reinterpreting great themes of art of the past for the post religious modern world, Wadsworth’s paintings address the aching spirituality still endemic to the modern world’.

Lorna’s currently been working on a whole new collection of paintings, and is trying to get an exhibition sorted, and as usual is still working hard, especially when getting an exhibition together can be such an ordeal.

100 Pictures, 100 Pounds!

So make sure you check out her works of art on sale in the link above and at the top. And if you like them, make sure you grab them, they’re going fast!

And after that, check out her website below. Lorna May Wadsworth – a great talent!

Lorna May Wadsworth

ALL PAINTING IMAGES COPYRIGHT OF LORNA MAY WADSWORTH.

This Saturday 23 Oct 2010, from 7pm – 9pm, sees the 2nd annual candlelit vigil at Trafalgar Square to mark International Day against Hate Crime. Speakers include Peter Tatchell, Rikki Beadle-Blair and Stuart Milk, nephew of the trail-blazing Harvey Milk. The vigil is a chance to galvanise all in uniting against prejudice, driving out hatred and celebrating our differences as equals, globally.

Last year’s vigil was highlighted by a string of homophobic killings, the most high-profile being Ian Baynham, 62, who after retaliating to homophobic verbal abuse, was punched and kicked to death by 3 teenagers in Trafalgar Square.

No doubt you’ve all heard of the tragic number of suicides reported in America, of those tormented, desperate children driven to taken their lives, because they just couldn’t take it any more.

But the sad truth is, the media often report on similar stories in a ‘cluster-like’ fashion; I know suicides such as these have been going on around the world for years, and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. Here’s a link to a great project for all those in despair, urging them to know, it will get better: It Gets Better.

No doubt this news will have boosted a greater number of people to attend. And for those who can’t make it, there will be a 2 minute silence at 8pm around the world, so even at home you can do your bit and light a candle.

I’m sure (and hope!) those reading this don’t need my encouragement to observe this day.

But just in case anyone was a little ‘meh’ about the whole thing, 2 happenings this week showed me some people should be rounded up and forced to take part.

The first was Saturday evening. At my bus-stop on the way to town. Shortly joined by 3 girls, barely ‘double-figures’ in age, full of the usual self-aware ‘pomp and circumstance’ in their loud chatter that a lot of young girls from Bermondsey possess.

Bless.

As we all know, young ones these days like to be loud. Waiting for my bus, it was impossible to not hear their conversation. Unsurprisingly banal, attention-seeking of course, but inoffensive even if rather annoying. And then they spot a bloke going into the pub opposite, a renowned gay pub.

“What do you think they do there?” “Probably fuck each other up the arse.” “FAGGOT!” “BATTY-BOY!”

Now to be fair, if this infamous pub wasn’t so grotty with a sleazy-reputation, less niche shall we say, and looked more welcoming, you could argue that those comments wouldn’t have arisen.

But the pub’s been there for years, and it troubles no-one. It doesn’t hold loud parties or interfere with anyone else’s business. The punters aren’t raucous or troublesome. They keep themselves to themselves.

And yet, it’s deemed clever and acceptably bullish for some young people to shout abuse at people. And that’s probably the kind of abuse all those kids faced for years before topping themselves. It’s ‘learned’ as acceptable in schools to say this to anyone who’s different.

OK, everyone gets bullied at school. And if you’re ‘different’, you’re going to get a bit of stick. BUT the difference is, apart from LGBT adults particularly since Section 28 was scrapped, who ever sticks up for LGBT youth in schools? Because if teachers, parents, and all adults don’t, then children ‘learn’ it’s OK to put down anyone who is ‘different’, but ‘learn’ it’s not acceptable to be sexist or racist. (Humour aside – as long as it’s on a level playing-field).

Having not acknowledged them thus far, letting their 60-decibel girly-chat get lost in the wind (as one does, of course), at hearing this I couldn’t help but glare. They looked proud, even when our eyes met, although this was mixed with a distinct look of apprehension.

“Aren’t you brave and clever?!”, I confronted.

At that very moment my bus came, and I stepped on before one of the girls did. They didn’t say anything, or at least I didn’t hear. It probably changed nothing in the short-term, but I wonder if in the long-run they’ll question themselves.

To be honest, a lot of kids are horrible like this, maybe some reading this were / are, and they do change…but some don’t. And again, humour aside, it’s not acceptable for some abuse to be ‘allowed’ and other abuse not.

ALL HATE-CRIMES are wrong, and that is what this vigil is about. Which brings me onto my 2nd point.

Disabled people.

There was a well-documented case recently of the tragedy of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francesca, about a mother and her disabled daughter. But on Tuesday on BBC1, there was a harrowing documentary called Tormented Lives, about a whole series of hate-crimes…faced by those with learning disabilities. !!! I actually want to say that those who perpetrate this must be beyond ignorant, just plain stupid, and realise that that sounds inappropriate. :-/ But really…you know what I mean. If you missed it, here’s the link for BBC iPlayer.

I’m against anyone being bullied, for any reason. Race, sexuality, creed, disability, whatever. I don’t need to preach, I know those reading this don’t need me to remind them why this Saturday is important. But those 2 incidents (the first one unfortunately unsurprising, the second one surprising that it was adults) reminded me why all must fight prejudice. Those kids who commit suicide did so in an environment where it’s ‘OK’ to be victimised, and with high-profile people like 50 Cent trivialising such issues, we must fight harder. Too many lives are being lost to murder and suicide.

Oh, by the way, I heard there won’t be any candles this year due to a health and safety rule, but people can bring their own! Time Out link for Candlelit Vigil Against Hate Crime