Monday, 30 November 2015

Synagogues and requiems

What a roller coaster of a day! I headed into Soho at 3pm to eat at the iconic Stock Pot cafe for one final time before it closes forever, swept aside by the unstoppable bulldozers of commercialism. This really does mark the death of Soho. Long may the district live in our memories. I'm sure the chi-chi cafe which replaces it will be popular with hen dos from Guildford, but I genuinely wonder where the theatre crowd will be able to afford to eat when it's gone. I've eaten there regularly for the best part of twenty years. 

The place was packed with well-wishers looking sad, hugging the waitresses and taking photographs of some of the beloved pictures on the walls. Leaving the place was a real wrench. 

I returned from New York to catch up on some very bleak news. Comedian Iain Lee has been sacked from his radio show on the BBC's Three Counties Radio for calling a Christian woman a bigot after she suggested that gay people would go to hell. I've listened to the interview in full. Lee was perhaps a little aggressive with the woman and didn't give her much of a chance to speak. Had she spoken more, she would have undoubtedly hung herself with her own rope, but nothing of what was said by Lee seemed a sackable offence to me. It would appear, yet again, as was the case with the gay marriage cake row in Northern Ireland, that we are forced to pussy-foot around fragile Christians, who think they can sling mud at everyone without any legal repercussions. As Lee rightly pointed out, "we don't accept hate preaching from someone with brown skin" but when it comes from the mouth of a smiling white Christian who's shimmering with self-righteousness, we instantly leap to their defence.

The bottom line in all of this is that my decision to marry the man I love has not had a negative effect on anyone else on this planet. Nor has my genetically-based proclivity to love men. This kind of irresponsible and old-fashioned scare-mongering preaching, however, is responsible for scores of young Christians feeling ashamed or terrified. It's responsible for hideous bullying and ultimately for the deaths of scores of LGBT people across the world. Lee was preaching love and tolerance and was sacked for losing his calm exterior in the face of ludicrous bigotry.

Lee was a much-needed straight ambassador for gay rights. Earlier on in the year, he walked through the streets of Luton holding another man's hand to prove that homophobia still existed. He was told what he was doing was "disgusting." He has fought on our behalves and needs respect, not unemployment. 

As I see it, like it or not, homosexuality is tangible - a real thing - and I refuse to understand why the rights of LGBT people should be valued below the opinions of people who believe in something which, at best, is nebulous.  That is the message the BBC is sending out to my community. 

Huff it out...

On a more positive note, I want you all to look at this

This is a little piece of joy and shows people of all ages and sizes coming together to perform a Kate Bush dance routine. If anyone reading this is worried that community is dead or that the bad guys are winning, I would urge you to see it. It made me genuinely weep with happiness. 

It's five minutes long. Grab yourself a cuppa and a hanky, put your feet up and press play. 

The day ended in Marble Arch, where we went, with Matt, to a world AIDS day service at the West London Synagogue, followed by a rip-roaring concert by the London Gay Men's Chorus in the same space. There is so much good to say about what we saw. The choir sang wonderfully and ended the concert with a hugely moving and suspension-filled a capella version of ABBA's The Way Old Friends Do. I think they're such brilliant ambassadors for our community. I always feel proud when watching them because they remind me that gay people come in every shape, religion, age, colour and creed. 

I think you's struggle to find another religious sect who would actively welcome a gay men's chorus into their building of worship. And I never got the impression that anyone in the space was merely putting up with their presence. The Rabbis talked about partnerships with the choir and one is on their board. The high pulpit was draped with an AIDS quilt. I can't actually get my brain to put all the good I witnessed tonight into coherent sentences. Everything was done with compassion, kindness and beauty. One of the rabbis was moved to tears on several occasions by the things that were being said and sung. I felt at home (and protected) from the moment I walked into the building, in a way that I have never felt entering a Christian church. The religious music was deeply moving: all of the stuff that I love. 

Reform Judaism, I should point out, has accepted and embraced gay marriage in a way that only the Quakers can rival. We were never asked to pray for souls or made to feel our lifestyles were unacceptable. We were encouraged to give thanks to scientists for bringing antiretrovital drugs into the world and then asked to remember and honour those who had died of AIDS, vowing to look after those who were suffering. Everything came from a place of positivity, which is the one thing I think many modern religions have lost. 

Of course the difficult thing to stomach was the sheer amount of security on the door of the synagogue. For some ungodly reason, Jewish people are mistrusted by Christians and Muslims alike, despite the fact that it's the only major religion which doesn't recruit. By and large, you're Jewish or you're not, which means it's a religion which is effectively dying as more and more Jewish men procreate out of the faith. So what's the threat? 

It's the first advent today, so here's a picture of the advent crown we made yesterday... with the first candle lit. 

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