The Whole Spectrum of LGBT Issues

February 5, 2014 in Blog, information, main by Ellen MacAskill

What a great week for Scotland.

Even though it has been imminent been for some time now I cannot but be relieved, excited and proud that the last barrier has been broken. One of society’s most treasured institutions is becoming egalitarian. Finally. And with a record of 108 to 18 voting in favour, the decision was easy, without the MSPs being dictated by party whips. Scotland is the 17th country globally to fully legislate same-sex marriage, following England and Wales last year.

Also exciting is the amendment made to the first draft of the bill concerning trans couples. Last semester we had guest speaker Nathan Gale visit us from the Scottish Transgender Alliance. He spoke about how the proposed ‘spousal veto’ would stop people from having their gender confirmed off their own backs as a partner would have to confirm it for them. This breach of our basic autonomy was removed from the bill, making the bill fairer for the Ts as well as the LGBs.

You may also have noticed that the university are flying the rainbow flag on campus for the UK LGBT History Month. On Saturday GU LGBTQ+ celebrate this wonderful use for February with Queerfest. Check out their Facebook page for finalised details of the event and the afterparty.

Over in Russia, the future does not look so bright. The Sochi Winter Olympics kick off on Friday and activists and campaigners are being dealt with unfairly so Putin can avoid a scene. Pavel Lebedev was detained during the Olympic Torch relay for waving a rainbow flag. He is one of many who will be victimised for taking a stand. Last year legislation was passed which makes the promotion of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations amongst minors’ punishable by law (Is that what they call it these days?). Homophobia is being further institutionalised when the opposite should have happened years ago.

A certain tension is hanging around the Winter Olympics as both sides of the ethical dispute wait to see what will unfold. We can only hope that Putin’s attitude can be recognised as an example of how not to use power.

coke-petition

Speaking of power: the internet. Isn’t it great sometimes? We love a petition here at Amnesty so naturally, we have jumped aboard the Change.org band-wagon. Following Coca Cola’s refusal to withdraw sponsorship from the Sochi games, despite much lobbying and deliberation, Dom conceived an idea for a petition to encourage them to symbolically repent. His brainchild asks Coca Cola to put a rainbow on their cans to represent the global LGBT community which they have ignored in their alliance with the Games.

The ‘Put a Rainbow On It’ petition has been a success, gaining more than 8000 signatures in a week. At the time of writing, the figure stands at 8,284. If your signature is not already on it, please add it and help us to reach 10,000. Below is a link (warning: refreshing the screen to watch the number grow can become addictive).

http://www.change.org/CokeRainbowFlag  

We take one step forward and Russia takes two steps back. If we keep up the good work they will catch up one day.

Syria: A Humanitarian Crisis Three Years On

January 30, 2014 in Blog, main by Ellen MacAskill

Syria has been in the headlines this week. It has been in the headlines for three years now. And the humanitarian crisis in a country wreaked by civil war only continues to get worse.

Why has more not been done? Why does the conflict persist? What can we do to help?

After a screening in Tuesday’s meeting of BBC Panorama’s ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, I think I speak for us all when I say we were left harrowed, speechless, and asking these questions.

On the following day the UK government announced plans to take in 500 of the most vulnerable refugees – with Nick Clegg insisting that this was an exhibition of our “open-hearted” nature – and the Glasgow University Coalition for Syrian Refugees hosted a panel discussion. The title:

‘Syria: I Can Still See Hope’

The CSR is a collaboration of societies on campus, including Amnesty International, put together to raise funds and awareness for Syria’s plight. Five speakers on Wednesday gathered to inform an audience of students and answer their questions.

First to speak was Kurt Mills, a senior lecturer in social sciences and representative of the Glasgow Human Rights Network. He tackled the day’s headlines straight away: 9.3 million Syrians need assistance and the few hundred that the UK are willing to help is a mere 0.0008% of our own population. Mills said that we should demand more than this “cynical ploy” and stop relying on the £600 million that we have donated in aid. Monetary aid is helpful, yes, but it ultimately keeps Syrians “bottled up” in an unsafe country.

Three speakers from charities stood up to describe the challenges of the situation and emphasise the good work that is already being done. Tristan Jones from Medicine Sans Frontiers outlined the struggle to deliver medical care in a warzone where hospitals themselves have been targeted. A dwindling number of doctors and resources tackling a huge number of casualties means that basic needs are often not met. MSR have been sending doctors to hidden locations, and giving vaccinations to children and antenatal care to women.

From British Red Cross, Patrick MacIntyre told us about the work of the charity in conjunction with Syrian Arab Red Crescent. They work under the principles of “impartiality and neutrality” to provide aid such as medicine, food and hygiene. An Emergency Appeal for Syria was first launched in 2012 and has been extended since.

Amby Karamchedu, president of GU UNICEF, focussed on the work being done to help children in refugee camps, such as Zaatari in Jordan, and in Syria itself. Crossing the border does not guarantee security for Syria’s 6 million affected children. UNICEF’s current aim is to “winterise” the camps so that refugees can deal with the extreme climate. Education is often neglected in Syria and the surrounding refugee camps, despite its benefits for the future of the country. Amby mentioned that campaigner Malala Yousafzai travelled to New York to urge UNICEF executives to increase focus on basic education.

The most moving speech of the night came from a courageous man who cannot be named. From the ancient city of Damascus, he fled Syria when he became endangered by the state. Many of his family and friends have met their fate since the uprisings of 2011. Recounting his story, he was overcome with emotion to the point of nearly breaking down. He urged us to recognise the “Syrian holocaust of the 21st century”.

His words silenced the room. The reaction was unanimous. No matter how many statistics we can reel off and pounds we can donate and articles we can read – nothing compares to the scale of personal tragedy that the Syrian conflict has inflicted.

The Q and A session proved interesting, with Mills pointing out that sending aid becomes more futile the longer the political situation goes un-addressed. We were urged to take individual action by donating what we can, informing ourselves and writing to MPs and newspapers.

When the question turned to the uncertain future of the country, the refugee concluded that he “can see hope as a Syrian”. The end of the conflict may not be imminent or quick, but we must continue to do all we can to give hope to Syria and its people.

If you missed the panel discussion but are interested in the Coalition for Syrian Refugees, look them up on Facebook for information and get involved at two fundraisers this Saturday the 1st, the Challenge and the Ceilidh.

 

P.S. Hello, I’m Ellen, GUAI’s new and first Press Officer! I’ll be updating the site weekly with blog posts and all the Amnesty chat you could ever need and more. See you Tuesday!