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First Painted Umbrellas of Love!

Image - Common_Wealth_Gaymes.jpg

I want to highlight homophobia in the Commonwealth during the forthcoming Commonwealth Gaymes in Glasgow, July 23 - 3 August, 2014, so I've invented Umbrellas of Love!

There are 53 countries in the Commonwealth, and in 41 it is illegal to be lesbian, bisexual, or gay. In 7 Commonwealth countries I could be imprisoned for life for being myself, and in 2 countries - in parts of Nigeria and parts of Pakistan under Sharia law - I could be executed because of who I love and who loves me. I decided to paint the names of the 41 countries in blood red on white umbrellas and get them seen during the Commonwealth Gaymes. Because I'm a penniless poet, I appealed for donations to create Umbrellas of Love! and soon got enough to do all 86 countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal. I chose umbrellas because they are light and easy to carry, and because the Commonwealth is like a giant umbrella, only some people aren't allowed to step under its protection.

Each umbrella will have a giant letter on it, so collectively we can spell out LOVE IS A HUMAN RIGHT, NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL, WE ALL BLEED RED, LOVE AND LET LOVE, and COMMON WEALTH GAYMES, among other things!

I'm currently painting the umbrellas at my rural Norfolk home. Once painted, the Umbrellas of Love! will be sent to Glasgow, where Amy McLachlan Sayer will organise a photo-opportunity or two, probably at Glasgow Pride, and during the Commonwealth Gaymes - get in touch with Amy if you'd like to be involved in Glasgow or can help make something happen.

After Glasgow, the Umbrellas of Love will appear in the Norwich Pride Parade on Saturday 26 July - get in touch with Vince if you'd like be involved at Norwich Pride, or for any other info.

Thanks to everyone who has helped. Over 30 people chipped in and raised over £500 to make Umbrellas of Love happen, I'm very proud of that.

Please contact me via http://vincelaws.com to get involved.

Here's what Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation wrote about the Commonwealth recently:

The Commonwealth Games take place in Glasgow this summer. However, a report by the international LGBTI lobby group, the Kaleidoscope Trust, reveals shocking levels of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic persecution in four out of five countries belonging to the Commonwealth association of nations.

This persecution casts an ugly shadow over what will otherwise be a joyous sporting celebration. It makes a mockery of the Commonwealth Charter’s commitment to universal human rights.

The Kaleidoscope Trust report is titled: Speaking Out: The rights of LGBTI citizens from across the Commonwealth.

Of the 53 member nations of the Commonwealth, 41criminalise consensual same-sex behaviour between adults. They make up over half the countries in the world that have a total prohibition on homosexuality. Seven of these Commonwealth states stipulate life imprisonment. Two have Sharia law in certain regions - Pakistan and Nigeria - where the maximum penalty is execution.

Homophobic criminalisation, prejudice, discrimination and violence is routine - and occurs with impunity - in 80% of Commonwealth countries. Governments of these nations reject dialogue with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) organisations. 

The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is no better. It refuses to even discuss the widespread violation of LGBTI human rights by its member states.

It is only since 2011 that a Commonwealth Secretary-General has, for the first time ever, declared against homophobia.

This was in response to pressure from LGBTI groups, including my stinging public rebuke of decades of Commonwealth silence and inaction.

Although this declaration was a pioneering, positive turning point, we’ve also experienced a fair degree of subsequent disappointment.

Despite the recriminalisation of homosexuality in India, the homophobic witch-hunts in Cameroon, gay-bashing attacks in Jamaica and the draconian new anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, has been mostly muted or totally silent.

The Kaleidoscope Trust explains in its report why and how he should be challenging these human rights abuses.

Compiled with input from LGBTI people in many Commonwealth countries, it presents shocking, graphic evidence of the immense oppression they suffer. Indeed, one of the most powerful aspects of this report is the first-hand testimony from the victims of homophobia and transphobia:

“I have lost two teeth, had my family property invaded and car damaged by two masked men...I have had stones thrown at me, experienced simulated gun shots, insults and physical harm on public transportation.” Caleb Orozco, Belize.

“A mob had gathered there saying they wanted to kill gays. I was getting into a public minibus and the conductor started to beat me. Then everyone started beating me.” Anonymous, Tanzania.

 “I was attacked beaten and paraded naked on the street of Dakwo village, Abuja in July 2013 on the allegation that I am gay. People brought several video camera and mobile phone to record my nakedness. This inhuman degrading treatment has ruined my life and I have been banished from Dakwo village.” KC, Nigeria.

With a prestigious forward by the former Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Shridath Ramphal, and a damning critical introduction from the ex-head of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit, Dr Purna Sen, the report is an authoritative, illuminating call to action. 

Dr Sen notes that criminalisation and hate crime are not the only persecutions suffered by Commonwealth LGBTI citizens. There is also widespread discrimination: the denial of “equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare.” These abuses happen in defiance of the human rights obligations enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter.

Based on the evidence amassed, the report urges all Commonwealth governments to repeal legislation criminalising same-sex behaviour and, in the meantime, to agree a moratorium on the enforcement of any such existing laws.

It also calls on member states to engage in dialogue with their LGBTI communities and to approve the formation of a Commonwealth-wide LGBTI association with formal consultative status.

The biggest, most challenging demand is the discussion of LGBTI equal rights at the next CHOGM. We live in hope and, if there is any justice, this commendable, excoriating report will prompt the Commonwealth to ensure that it happens.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 1 July 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 2 July 2014

Umbrellas of Love!

I want to highlight homophobia in the Commonwealth during the forthcoming Commonwealth Gaymes in Glasgow, July 23 - 3 August, 2014, so I've invented Umbrellas of Love!

There are 53 countries in the Commonwealth, and in 41 it is illegal to be lesbian, bisexual, or gay. In 7 Commonwealth countries I could be imprisoned for life for being myself, and in 2 countries - in parts of Nigeria and parts of Pakistan under Sharia law - I could be executed because of who I love and who loves me.

I decided to paint the names of the 41 countries in blood red on white umbrellas and get them seen during the Commonwealth Gaymes. Because I'm a penniless poet, I appealed for donations to create Umbrellas of Love! and soon got enough to do all 86 countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal.

I chose umbrellas because they are light and easy to carry, lots of people can get involveduseful if it rains or gets too hot, and because the Commonwealth is like a giant umbrella, only some people aren't allowed to step under its protection. Each umbrella will have a giant letter on it, so collectively we can spell out: LOVE IS A HUMAN RIGHT, NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL, WE ALL BLEED RED, LOVE AND LET LOVE, and COMMONWEALTH GAYMES, among other things!

I'm currently designing and painting the umbrellas at my rural Norfolk home. Once painted, the Umbrellas of Love! will be sent to Glasgow, where Amy McLachlan Sayer will organise a photo-opportunity or two, probably at Glasgow Pride, and during the Commonwealth Gaymes - get in touch with Amy if you'd like to be involved in Glasgow.

After Glasgow, the Umbrellas of Love will appear in the Norwich Pride Parade on Saturday 26 July - get in touch with Vince if you'd like be involved at Norwich Pride, or for any other info.

Thanks to everyone who has helped. Over 30 people chipped in and raised over £500 to make Umbrellas of Love happen, I'm very proud of that.

Contacts:
Glasgow contact: amymclachlansayer[at]gmail.com
Artist: vincelaws[at]gmail.com
 

 

 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 27 June 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 27 June 2014

DANDIFEST!

flyer showing four of the Norwich Dandies dressed up in their glad rags

Art collective extraordinaire, The Norwich Dandies, are planning Dandifest! a two week happening, launching on Monday 28 April 2014, running through the May Bank Holiday, and ending on Saturday 10 May 2014. The Norwich Dandies, established in 2010, have worked separately on a vast array of projects, but always have the most fun when they work together. An impressive line-up of Guest Artists will be announced in the run-up to the launch.

Feedback from Helen Jones, after MindOut’s Wellbeing Day in Brighton. “The Norwich Dandies were a delight… They artfully created a corner of creative inspiration and got everyone involved… whatever their level of skill… they were generous, gentle, gorgeous and we can’t wait for them to come back...!”

Current Norwich Dandies are:
Eloise O'Hare, artist and campaigner, currently co-organising the Norwich Rising event, Drum For Justice, an international One Billion and Rising event on Vanentine's Day, highlighting violence against women. Eloise also works for Hospital arts and is a leading campaigner in stopping junk mail to save trees.

Chrissy Sabberton, artist, performance artist, and campaigner, explores the way women are portrayed in the media, and wears a lot of pink.

Dugald Ferguson, artist and actor, is currently working in Berlin. His multi-media show Torrents of Rapture, received Arts Council England funding, and has been seen in London, Madrid, and Brighton, where it touched the hearts of millions.

Ann Nichols, photographer, photojournalist, and campaigner, regularly photographs protests, campaigns, and celebrations. Her work often features in the media.

Vince Laws, founder of the Norwich Dandies, is a poet, artist, and campaigner. Channel 4 News broadcast live from Vince's last happening - a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin on the eve of the Winter Olympics. He was Arts Council England funded for the B.Right.On Festival last year.

Dandifest! will centre on St Margaret's Church of Art on St Benedict's Street, Norwich, with art, poetry, politics, live events, workshops, photography, and whatever else turns up between now and then.

If you want to get involved, get in touch. Volunteer Dandies are always welcome. Contact The Norwich Dandies via vincelaws[at]gmail.com

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 25 February 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 1 March 2014

Vince Laws welcomes you to 'Incite'

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I’m performing at this event: ‘INCITE’ @ THE  PHOENIX ARTISTS’ CLUB The West End’s Phoenix Theatre is opening the doors of its exclusive members club for a free evening of LGBT poetry and in-house jazz.

This monthly event, hosted by Trudy Howson, is an opportunity to experience the very best LGBT poets, and performance artists. With well-known guest performers and open mike later for budding and flowering poets who want to have a go.

Stay afterwards and enjoy this unique, theatrical club’s facilities. Phoenix Artists Club. 1 Phoenix St. WC2. Wednesday 8th May 7pm.

I’ll be bringing THIS POPE IS PANTS, MENTAL HELMET, and QUEEN NEVER plaques.

You were warned! Please share with London people, thanks.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 29 April 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 29 April 2013

The B.Right.On Festival – February 2013

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So here’s how it happened. I went into a cafe in Brighton where I used to clean the floors and asked for an art exhibition. The owner liked my work but said it was too political for his business. A friend knew someone who knew someone at the Jubilee Library – I got offered an exhibition there next February. I’m going to paint BANNED across the main window in dripping blood. In the foyer exhibition space there’ll be some of my visual poems, and giant speech bubbles from the OUT140 project, telling coming-out stories in 140 characters: ‘Mother said I’d rather you were a prostitute than a lesbian’ or ‘I told my parents I was bisexual when I was 16. They said "go to your room."

Then someone said do you want to see round the Town Hall – some lovely Old Police Cells, and a basement fitted with shelves, both ripe for exhibitions, performances, just saying – and I ended up saying “Yes!” to the Atrium, the perfect place to hang the Hankie Quilt, a memorial to those we’ve lost and those living with HIV. I’ll be representing the 482 HIV+ people who have died in Brighton since 1982 with drops of red blood, and the 1,895 people living with HIV in Brighton today with fresh lime leaves. Please update these figures if you know better. A quarter of the people living with HIV don’t know it yet – early diagnosis = longer life.

So then I asked if anyone else wanted to help celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans History Month in Brighton next February. First, National Co-Chairs Sue Sanders and Tony Fenwick said yes, and then Gscene magazine said yes, and Brighton Council LGBT Worker’s Forum said yes, and the Jubilee Library said yes, and Bear Patrol said yes, and Emmaus said yes, and Lunch Positive said yes, and artists said yes, and poets said yes, and choirs sang yes, and Disability Arts Online said yes, and Barefoot Wine said yes, and I Am A Poem turned into we are The B.Right.On Festival - now with added Arts Council England support! Thank you all for your enthusiasm! Needless to say, I’ve thanked the café owner for saying no.

So far we’ve got Launches, Adopt-A-Pansy, Trouser Wearing Characters, Make Them Eat Cake, a Queer Brighton Tour, a Human Library, The Small Frayed Knot, The ‘L’ Word, and How Gay is Your Pet? We could do with more wall space for art and photography. If you’ve got other stuff planned, let me know and we’ll put it in the programme and let as many people know as possible. Think what you can bring to the party, not what you can take.

I’m calling it a celebration of Queer History Month – I don’t care what your sexuality is, or your preferred gender - I just insist you’re not straight, white, and able-bodied. Only kidding. It’s a celebration for everyone who realises everyone is worth celebrating. As Oscar Wilde said, “You don’t have to bat for us to admire our balls!”

Get in touch if you want to get involved.

Vince Laws
www.iamapoem.com

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 5 December 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 5 December 2012

I Am A Poem: Folkestone

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Poet, artist and campaigner Vince Laws takes over Georges House Gallery, The Old High Street, Folkestone, from February 3-15. Expect visual poetry, text art, protest art, performances, events, and the chance to get involved.

I send greetings and solidarity to Folkstone LGBT History Month. It’s important to reclaim our hidden history and celebrate the huge contribution that LGBT people have made to human culture and civilisation. Knowing our history is crucial to understand who we are and to feel pride in our identity and community. This sense of self-worth is vital for our mental and emotional well-being.

Celebrating LGBT history starts local and goes global. Thank you for helping make it happen in Folkstone.
Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner

Celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Trans History Month at 12 noon in the gallery, on Friday 3 February. Those attending include The Mayor, Deputy Divisional Commander of Police Tim Smith, and Folkestone MP Damian Collins who will cut the pink ribbon.

“I think it is important that people are allowed to be themselves in a safe and secure community and I am very proud that this event is taking place at Georges House Gallery in Folkestone to highlight and celebrate LGBT History Month.”
Town Mayor, Councillor Sue Wallace

The Artistic Launch, 7-9pm the same day, will be opened by Tate Modern curator Marcus Dickey Horley, and will feature performance poetry and song from Vince Laws and guests. There will also be a site-specific text installation using coming-out stories and messages of support.

“This is truly a wonderful response to LGBT History Month, we are proud that the month calls forth such creativity and support. We can only hope that such work eradicates homophobia and transphobia and enables everyone to learn and celebrate the wealth of talent and diversity of our community.”
Sue Sanders Co Chair of LGBT History Month

On Saturday 4 February, from 1-4pm there’s a Human Library in the gallery, designed to combat prejudice, come and borrow a human ‘book’ and chat together for 20 minutes. Previous book titles have included HIV+, Blind, Bipolar, Wicca Priestess, Gay Christian, etc.

On Thursday 9 February, from 6.30pm there’s an invitation only performance of Vince’s poetry play The Small Frayed Knot.

On Saturday 11 from 12 noon there’s Pop-Up Pride, everyone welcome, poetry, song, speeches, and who knows what else. Queer calypsos guaranteed.

Finally, on Tuesday 14, there’s the St Valentine’s Day Poetry Massacre, details from the gallery.

All this, plus Adopt a Pansy, the Marcel Duchamp chess challenge, and Badger the dog, who will be exhibiting his homage to Tracey Emin!

All events are open to everyone. As Oscar Wilde said, “You don’t have to bat for us to admire our balls.” Open Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm, (later for special events) all events are free.
www.iamapoem.com

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 17 January 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 January 2012

Vince Laws organises a candlelit vigil in support of the 'No to Hate Crime' campaign

No one should have to suffer physical or verbal abuse for being who they are, regardless of their race, sexuality, faith, disability, whatever. On Saturday 23 October there will be Candlelit Vigils organised by the No To Hate Crime Campaign in Toronto, London, Brighton, and Norwich. The Vigils began as a response to the nail bomb attacks in London some years ago, and are an opportunity for the silent majority to show their support for the vulnerable, and their opposition to the bigots. 

I had every intention of joining the vigil in Norwich, but I’ve been invited to perform poetry in Sheringham, Norfolk, at the launch of the Coast Festival, and so, long story short, I’m organising a vigil of my own.

I’m a member of the newly formed North Norfolk Pride and at a meeting, two school leavers told us about the homophobic bullying they had endured while at school in Sheringham.

The recent review ‘How Fair is Britain’ published by the Equality & Human Rights Commission states that two-thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender secondary students report that they have been victims of often severe bullying (17% of those bullied reported having received death threats).  

At first I worried that no one else would turn up, but as my friend Trudy rightly said, “If it’s just you and me and a candle, so what? It’s still worth it.”

In actual fact the response has been very positive. People have helped decide the best place to hold the vigil, and offered shelter if wet, flyers have been designed, invitations sent out to various networks, and the Chief Executive of North Norfolk District Council, Philip Burton, has agreed to attend and explain the council’s view on Hate Crime.

I’m not suggesting that North Norfolk is a Hate Crime hot spot, far from it. However it has to be much better to be visible, let potential victims know there is support in the area, and let potential bigots know they will not be tolerated.

Vince Laws is organising a Candlelit Vigil Against Hate Crime on Lifeboat Plain in Sheringham on Saturday 23 October, from 7.30pm, with 2 minutes silence at 8pm, to coincide with vigils in Toronto, London, Brighton, and Norwich. Bring a jam jar and a candle and show your support. Meet in Oddfellows Hall if wet.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 18 October 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 October 2010

Vince Laws takes up the OUT140 challenge to tell a coming-out story in 140 characters

I told my parents I was bisexual when I was 16. They said "go to your room."
I’m involved in a project on Twitter called OUT140, which has collected coming-out stories from the LGBT community, their friends and families, told in 140 characters or less (i.e. a tweet on Twitter). Some participants then made their stories into 12-second films, which were shown on the giant Fusion screen in Norwich, Europe’s biggest public access screen, for 2 weeks in January 2010.

Mother said i wud rather you were a prostitute than a lesbian. 
Next, community filmmaker, Shelly Telly, who devised OUT140, adapted it to be shown on 2 old tellys during the Norwich Dandies exhibition in May 2010. We collected more stories and currently have over 200.

When I told my cousin my daughter is gay she asked, "Do Lesbians have wombs?"
Now OUT140 is being shown on a giant plasma screen at the Norwich Arts Centre, while 39 of the coming-out stories have been blown up and stuck on the walls. I chose one story to turn into a piece of text art, a found poem, which hangs in the bar. It reads: Grandma asked Mum if I had a boyfriend. Mum said I was gay. Grandma said has she got a girlfriend then?

I like Grandma’s immediate acceptance and the fact that this short story contains 3 generations of women. I collected used greetings cards from members of the LGBT community and cut them into individual letters. Greetings cards are the invisible threads that join us to our friends and family. I stapled the cards to hanging threads, and hung the piece about a foot from the wall so you can read the shadows. 

Rejection, everywhere. Church sed: possessed by demons. Hell. Threw my jeans & LPs away. Wore dresses for Jesus. Kept away from friends.
It’s easy to think that LGBT people have it easy now, everything is legal, society has moved on, but actually coming-out is a very individual experience. Only recently I chatted to a 40 year old gay man who lives at home and cares for his homophobic mother and as a result has never had a partner, never allowed himself the chance to be in love, and won’t do so until she dies. 

The difficult part was coming out to me. Being gay made me feel filthy, unworthy. Then meeting Him I realised there is nothing wrong with me
OUT140 is at the Norwich Arts Centre until August 31. 

You can read and add to the OUT140 stories on Twitter
You can watch some of the OUT140 films on 12seconds.tv

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 9 August 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 November 2010

Vince Laws on the importance of Disability Pride

I was telling a disabled woman I know, let’s call her Tina, that I was about to perform at Disability Pride.

“I don’t get it,” she said, with a frown. “What have we got to be proud of?”

I was a bit taken aback. Maybe it’s easier for me to understand as a gay man because I’ve grown up with Gay Pride events. These events have given the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community visibility, strength in numbers, a chance to educate the wider world, and yes, a chance to party.

There are still people out there who think it’s acceptable to hurl abuse at queers. Only last week I heard about a man being homophobically abused on a bus in Norwich because he got out his knitting. It would funny if it wasn’t so tragic; that man is now worried about travelling on public transport.

“Oh well I understand that,” said Tina. “I get people following me and doing my limp, like it’s a big joke.”

So why is Pride important?
Let me tell you why.

The bird that lives life in a cage,
Lives no life at all.
The bird that never sees the sky,
Never feels the sun -
Is like the caged canary
That only knows one song.

Imagine! Setting that bird free
Letting it be the best canary it could ever be.

That’s why Pride’s important
And it belongs to everyone,
Because we all deserve to be our best
To see the sky, the sun.

Norwich, once you were canaries,
But now that you have Pride
I can see your eagles soar
Across a rainbow sky.
 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 14 June 2010

Last modified by Dave Lupton, 16 June 2010

Vince Laws gets out of a spot of bother with the BBC

No Complaints So Far…

I do like firsts, don’t you? Last week was Refugee Week and the giant Fusion screen at The Forum in Norwich screened a whole series of short films made by the participants around the theme of ‘Identity’.

In some ways it’s easier for a poet. I turned up at the BBC Open Studio with my script - the poem Human, something I’d already worked on for a considerable time, honing and crafting - and two volunteers filmed me on the streets of Norwich. Back in the studio, I recorded the poem in one take, and now just had to edit the film to fit the beat of the poem. By mid-afternoon, I was finished.

“Oh you won’t be finished yet,” said the lovely Wendy, ‘you’ll want music and effects.” She put the headphones on and watched Human once and there was a tear in her eye. Powerful poetry needs little adornment. “Let’s see what Gary thinks?”

Gary liked it too, adding only two transitions, so the pictures melted more smoothly one into another. “Pity about the swearing,” he said. “We’ll never be able to show it.”

And there it is, on a 26-foot wide public access screen in Norwich, without a bleep. A small sign at the entrance warns visitors the screening contains some adult language. “It’s all about context,” said Richard, the Fusion manager. “We’ve had no complaints so far.”

You can watch my poetry, film Human on youtube above - but you have been warned…

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 13 June 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 13 June 2010