It’s Not Good Enough: Response to Avon & Somerset Police - 20th November 2017

I have joined with my colleagues at Brigstowe to condemn the way in which Avon & Somerset Police have used the risk of the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C in saliva to justify officers using spit guards from January 2018. Here is the response.

On Saturday 18th November, it came to our attention that Avon and Somerset Police were using incorrect information regarding HIV transmission as justification of the introduction of spit guards for use by frontline staff.

Whilst Brigstowe understands that being spat at can be distressing and supports the protection of police officers working on frontlines, it must be understood that HIV and Hepatitis C cannot be transmitted through spitting. Suggestions to the contrary are not only incorrect, but are hugely damaging as they reinforce existing stigma and misconceptions that surround both viruses.

Such falsehoods also cause unnecessary alarm to police staff. Given the significant challenges faced by police officers in the line of duty, causing them to fear they have been put at risk when they have not places an undue burden upon them, and must not go unchallenged. While the debate around the use of spit hoods is an important one for the police, policy-makers and the public, hepatitis C and HIV are of no relevance to it and should not be used as justification for their use.

The largest challenges people living with HIV face are stigma, discrimination and misinformation about their condition which can often leave someone living with HIV feeling isolated and at worst can result in hate crime and violence.

We are deeply concerned that a trusted source such as Avon and Somerset Police are publically using such damaging falsehoods and about the negative affect that this will have on people living with HIV. We ask Avon and Somerset to make a public apology for using incorrect information to justify the use of spit guards. We also ask Avon and Somerset Police to update any publicity surrounding the introduction of spit guards, omitting any justification of the use of this equipment due to risk of HIV or Hepatitis C infection.

Lastly, we invite Avon and Somerset Police to meet with Brigstowe and those from the HIV positive community so as to better understand the needs of people living with HIV and why misinformation like this can be so damaging.

Further to this, we call for the Bristol Post who reported this story to print a prominent article to correct the mistakes and ensure that the general public understand that HIV and Hepatitis C cannot be transmitted by spitting.

This statement is endorsed by Berkeley Wilde Director of the Diversity Trust and the National AIDS Trust.

Exerts for this statement were taken from the Hep C Trust Blog.

Avon & Somerset Police have since written the following statement.

I was working with a group of HIV positive people in Taunton on Saturday and they raised their concerns with me about this story which had appeared in the press on Friday. You can read the story in The Guardian here

Avon & Somerset Police now need to issue a statement countering the misinformation about the transmission of the HIV and Hep C virus through saliva. It is not good enough to say sorry and not acknowledge what the apology is about. People with HIV are a vulnerable and often marginalised community and need to be treated with dignity and respect and not have misinformation used in campaigns to falsely justify actions.

**Updated on 21st November 2017 following Avon & Somerset Police renewed statement.

STATEMENT:

We would like to reiterate our unreserved apology of yesterday. We did not mean to cause any offence to people living with HIV or Hepatitis B / C and we are very sorry if this has been the case. It was never our intention to reinforce stigma for people living with these conditions. Every day we work to reduce stigma and discrimination experienced by communities and individuals who are victims of hate crime in all its guises.

 

Spit guards are being rolled out next year to our frontline officers to protect them from assault involving spitting and biting. These assaults – which often target an officer’s face - are degrading and can be psychologically damaging.

 

We understand that opinion about spit guards is divided however we have a duty to protect our officers. Our aim has never been to focus attention on people living with health conditions, but to target people who use spit as a weapon. Our training will make that clear. 

Published: 20 November 2017

Word count: 855 words

Listen, Believe, and Respect Victims of Crime – 24th October 2017

My partner and I were the victim of a hate crime, on an evening out in Cambridge in August, after we had just announced our engagement. This really did put a downer on the evening but we didn't let it affect our time together. I reported the incident to the police the following day and I have to say the response was brilliant from both Cambridge and Avon and Somerset Police. They took the verbal attack very seriously. Unfortunately, as the attack had been directed at us from a moving vehicle and we didn't get the licence plate number, there was also no CCTV footage, there was no further action taken. The officer who took my statement told me that it was important to report, even if there was no further action taken, as this could lead to further reports building a profile of the perpetrators.

This was followed by another hate incident I experienced whilst I was working about six weeks later. I was working in a secure mental health unit for young people and I received a tirade of death threats aimed at me by one of the young people. This was made worse as the young person remained in the corridor, outside where I was working, and on several occasions banged on the door to get my attention and continued to direct threats at me through the window in the door. The unit, where the young person is being held, have been very good and I am hoping for some restorative justice as a result of the incident. At the very least I hope the unit will adopt an anti-hate crime policy. The incident has been reported to the local authority and the young person was sanctioned, having all their privileges removed, for 24 hours after the incident. It wasn't a pleasant experience, and whilst I totally understand the vulnerability of young people being held in secure units, I also think as a victim of a hate incident my mental health and wellbeing is a factor.

As we draw towards the close of the year I wanted to reflect on some of my achievements this year, the things that have made me most proud about my work. I am still revelling in winning an award for making an outstanding contribution in tackling domestic violence and abuse. As a survivor of same-sex partner abuse I feel it is important to speak out about abuse within same-sex relationships and that victims and survivors should be listened to, believed and respected. I am also really proud to have influenced Avon & Somerset Police to take on gender as a new hate crime category. I met with SARI, and Bristol Zero Tolerance, who led the campaign, to get gender based hate crime recognised as a hate crime category. I spoke at Police Headquarters about the need to tackle sexist and misogynist hate crime. I got BZT invited to the force-wide hate crime strategy group and I am pleased to say that gender now joins the other five hate crime categories including: race, religion, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation across Avon & Somerset.

I am also struck by the response to the #MeToo campaign. Whilst the campaign has rightly been led by women, by victims of rape and sexual harassment, talking about their experiences. It has also been a call to action for allies, and to men generally, to become part of the solution in ending gender based violence. And in particular gender based sexual harassment and violence. I have written on social media about my own experience of sexual assault, which had horrible consequences for me and my partners at the time, and I acknowledge the importance of having a gendered perspective. We must all, victims, survivors and allies, come forward and together we can end sexual harassment and sexual violence.

I am going to be the keynote speaker at the Victim Support regional conference in Bristol next month. I will be talking about my own experiences, as a victim and survivor. I will also be championing the quiet, and often silenced voices from my community, in relation to crime and as victims of crime.

Published: 24 October 2017

Word count: 704 words

Working with Alphabets LGBTQ Youth Group - 30 May 2017

One thing that strikes me is the amount of challenges young people are going through about coming out and their mental health. One young person, a young gay man, isn't out to his parents as they have strongly held religious beliefs. He manages this by being closeted and having to pretend one of the other group members is his girlfriend. Another young person shared their frustrations about ongoing referrals into CAMHS. She see's the value in attending, but she does get frustrated by some of the questions she gets asked. Another young person is traumatised by a relationship ending, he is really struggling with his family, and talked openly about his own mental health, self-harm and suicidal feelings. And another young person who came out as bisexual and then went back into the closet after his peers negative reactions. It's good that we are able to be there, and provide support and a space for young people, but what about the other young people who are managing their own thoughts and feelings in isolation.

I've personally been involved with LGBTQ youth work since setting up Freedom Youth in Bristol in 1995. After I relocated to Brighton in 2002 I worked with the Allsorts Youth Project running mental health and wellbeing groups with LGBTQ young people. In the last couple of years, having returned to the West Country, I've been working to establish Alphabets LGBTQ youth group in Yate in South Gloucestershire.

I'm so proud of the Alphabets youth group, and all the work they've done. They've been on local radio, on the front page of the local newspaper, presented their case on the need for the group to South Gloucestershire Council. They've been to Bristol Pride with Merlin Housing, they've helped to make films for health and education services. They've recently supported me to run several assemblies in local schools in the area, including one in Gloucester.

"This is fantastic and very well made. So grateful for all your support, I know I feel very reassured since being able to tap into your knowledge that we can better support our fantastic young people." Liz Jones, Lakers School


“I couldn't be more proud of what you have achieved. Positive, engaging and thought provoking. Well done to you all! Merlin are better as an organisation for having you involved with us.” Cam Kinsella, Merlin Housing

Watch the film we have made for schools (YouTube) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o1hthhfUPM

Watch the film we have made for health services (YouTube) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD9MSNuhg0E&t=8s

My struggle in writing this blog post is how far we may have come in legal change, when I helped set up Freedom Youth in the 90's there was still a lot of legal inequality, yet social change still has a long way to go. We need to work really hard to enable all LGBTQ young people to achieve a full and active part in society without fear of discrimination, harassment and stigma. This really valuable work with LGBTQ young people continues.

Alphabets LGBTQ website is coming soon https://lgbtqyouth.co.uk

Published: 30 May 2017

Word count: 494

Winner of The Ann Wood Award For An Outstanding Contribution to Tackling Domestic Abuse - 22 May 2017

I found out tonight that I had won the Ann Wood Award for making an Outstanding Contribution to tackling domestic abuse in South Gloucestershire. I am both delighted and humbled to have received the award. Thank you to South Gloucestershire Council, for giving me the award, and thank you to Survive DV for nominating me. The award was given to me for my work in the area on improving access to domestic abuse services for LGBT+ and same-sex survivors and victims of partner and domestic violence and abuse. I was a victim of domestic violence and abuse myself in the late 1990's, and it took me many years to be able to fully understand the abuse. In the last few years I have been working with local authorities and domestic abuse agencies to raise awareness of domestic abuse for LGBT+ people and in particular those in same-sex relationships.

The award says: “Berkeley has worked tirelessly throughout South Gloucestershire ensuring that LGBT+ individuals who experience domestic violence are able to access specialist support. Berkeley is committed to partnership working and is an ambassador in the field for ensuring  that agencies look internally at their organisations and ensure that they can meet the needs of individuals experiencing abuse within a same sex relationship. Berkeley’s specialist knowledge has enabled him to be an expert panellist on domestic homicide reviews ensuring that victim’s voices are heard and lessons learnt. Berkeley has also been involved in South West and National network meetings regarding domestic abuse and LGBT+ so that best practice across the Country can be replicated in our local areas. Berkeley is a pleasure to work with. His commitment and passion to domestic abuse is incredibly valued by Survive and other specialist domestic abuse services. He is a very humble person and wouldn't fully appreciate or recognise the impact he has made in the field. He has delivered training, produced needs assessments and maintains vital support groups in South Gloucestershire for the LGBT+ community. In 2016 Berkeley worked in partnership with a range of academic and specialist agencies to produce the research report ‘Improving access to domestic abuse services across Avon and Somerset’. This pioneering research explored experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans victims of domestic abuse and their thoughts and ideas on how we can improve their access to specialist services.”

Thank you to Professor Mark Pietroni, Director of Public Health South Gloucestershire, and the Chair of the South Gloucestershire Partnership Against Domestic Abuse, and to Sarah Telford, Chief Executive of Survive DV. Special thanks also to my colleagues Emily Moreton and Lesley Welch at the Diversity Trust for all their support and input and to Pommy Harmar at Next Link.

You can read the research report, on improving access to domestic abuse services, by clicking here.

Word Count: 465

Published: 22 May 2017

About Blogging, a week spent in Devon, and life for LGBTI people in Chechnya - 24 April 2017

I attended a creative writing workshop recently and I learnt really useful things about writing and blogging. The first thing I learnt is that I am telling you, the reader, a story. The second is that the story has an arc, with a beginning, a middle and an end. That I am the protagonist, that you are reading what I have written, and that you are interested in what I have to say. To engage with you emotionally as a reader I need to tell my story in a way that you can empathise with. So a lot like Harry’s advice, below, not only am I creating a cultural artefact and telling the story from my perspective, but also, I am writing this blog for myself. Like keeping a diary or a journal, and publishing for all the world to read. 

The workshop took place whilst I was in Devon with a great group of people. The main focus of the week was getting together to drum, I play the African drum called a Djembe. We learnt some new rhythms, some of us have been playing together for almost 20 years. We ate, drank, sat around the camp fire and enjoyed much malarkey!

I spent some time walking, through the woods, around the lanes, across the fields and up to the local village at Morchard Bishop. If you are ever in the Morchard Bishop area do check out the Church Street Stores, a fantastic store stocking great organic, locally sourced, foods and they make great coffee!

Photo Credit: Church Street Stores

At the time of writing this blog post the President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has declared that all gay people will have been removed from his country by the start of Ramadan on 26th May 2017. A friend sent me the link to his Instagram account and to be honest, there is an odd homoeroticism going on all through his posts. Is it just me or is this repressed homosexuality? How terrible, and tragic, that someone could, in fact, be so full of self-loathing that they could act out this self-hatred on their country’s population. Another friend suggest he is basically just a fundamentalist, which is also possibly true, but actually I think he can be both.

Photo Credit: logotv.com

During my week away in Devon there were many protests across the UK against what is happening in Chechnya. We wanted to mark this and so we focussed our intention on giving energy to the activists, and others working on the ground in the country, to either support LGBTI people living there or those trying to flee. Ironically, given the position of Vladimir Putin on LGBTI people, many Chechnyan LGBTI people are seeking sanctuary in Russia.

I had a really interesting week away, writing, drumming, some political activism and much reflection. The most important lesson I think I am drawing from blogging is just to write and to publish. Happy blogging!

Word count: 497

Published 24 April 2017

Volunteering at the local food bank - 12 April 2017

My lovely friend Gillian Alexander took me for dinner this week at Excalibur Cafe in Glastonbury. Whilst we were there I told her about volunteering at the local food bank. She was really interested in the work and was fascinated by the fact that food banks are needed. I suggested seeing the film I, Daniel Blake. If you haven't seen it do check it out.

I started volunteering at the local food bank because I was so frustrated by how little I could do after the last General Election result. I just wanted to do something to combat the devastating affects austerity is having on people and our local communities.

In a statement this week the charity that runs the food bank says:

"The food bank has been hit hard by the rollout of universal credit in the area and is at risk of not being able to supply the high demand. For several years the requests for support averaged 3-4 food parcels a week varying from weeks with no demand to the occasional week with 8 calls. Since last November there have only been three weeks when the demand has been less than 8 which has wiped out the stocks donated in the harvest and Christmas period that have in previous years lasted until mid year. The charity has recruited a number of new volunteers to help deliver the food parcels and without their help the number of parcels sent out would have been beyond capacity."

"Several times in recent weeks the shelves have emptied of most foods and urgent appeals to the charity's support base have kept the supply at a level to just meet the demand. Last week a point was reached where not only were the shelves empty but the pre-packed food parcels were also depleted."

I enjoy the work, getting to meet people, and I feel like I can contribute and make a difference. Sometimes the reaction I get when delivering to a client can be truly humbling. I've been moved to tears on a number of occasions. To see people be so desperate and so grateful.

If you want to get involved, or support your local food bank, contact your local CAB to find out ways in which you can. Many supermarkets and churches take donations for their local food banks and if they don't already encourage them to do so. Food banks should not be needed in modern Britain but they are. I'm looking forward to being able to cast my vote at the next election to bring an end to the ideology of austerity.

Published: 12 April 2017

Word count: 438

Coffee with Harry - good advice on the use of social media - 5 April 2017

I had an informal meet-up with a social media consultant today. Harry said two really useful things to me about social media. He said "always remember you are telling a story" and therefore it's ok to post a photo on the way to an event, during an event and then a follow up. So do keep on posting.

His second piece of advice, which I really liked, is that I am "building a cultural artefact for the future". I have reflected on this for two reasons. One, when I have in the past, contributed to other people's publications on historical work (from the 90's) I've felt a little bit let down as I've felt the whole story is missing sometimes.

Two, if we are gradually slipping into a more right-wing and fascistic culture (post Brexit and post Trump) then we need to publish our work, and our contributions, online so that WE are telling the story and that the story isn't lost for the future. Such amazing wisdom. Thank you Harry!

Published: 5 April 2017

Word count: 171

Making Respectful Men? I’d like to Enable Respectful People - 29 March 2017

I went to an event last week, organised by Bristol Zero Tolerance and A Call To Men, it was a really good event and very well organised. I had some trepidation on going along to the event, as I was concerned it might have been focussed on men as perpetrators and women as victims, therefore reinforcing the gender binary, actually there was a lot of room for discussion and debate. There were presentations on domestic violence and abuse, one from Journeyman UK on young men’s rites of passage and associated rituals, one on sexual violence and abuse and the importance of safeguarding, and Integrate UK sharing their experience as young Muslim men educating each other and others other about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I thought the best speaker of the day was Dr Finn Mackay, from the University of the West of England, who is really inspiring and I think we would have a lot to agree on!

It was a lovely venue, really accessible, and there was even a wonderful vegan friendly meze style lunch! The venue (The Station) has gender neutral toilets which whilst controversial, not least because of the toilet ban against Trans people in North Carolina (USA), but also generally as I have in the past been in some heated discussions about the argument for and against gender neutral loos! But also the issue of people identifying as non-binary and the challenge the Trans tipping point is presenting, and long may that challenge continue to develop and evolve!

I got to sit with the lovely Mike Steven from Avon and Somerset Police. Mike leads on supporting male victims in the force and in particular raising awareness of the issue of male rape and sexual violence. I have been working with Mike over the last year to raise awareness of the experiences of LGBT+ victims of domestic violence and abuse. You can read our research report here. Mike is a great guy and I encourage you to follow him on Twitter @ASPMikeSteven

The event took place two days after the tragic events outside the Palace of Westminster and I was reflecting throughout the day on the links between societal terrorism, like the case of Khalid Masood, and intimate terrorism, in the context of domestic violence and abuse. The Guardian has also run an article about the links.

As the event ended, and Charlotte asked if there were any more comments or questions from the floor, I had literally just read a tweet about a person in Oregon being defined as not having a legal gender so I was able to share this with the room and what a fitting way to end the event! We were asked to make pledges at the end of the event and one of mine was to write this blog post. Job done!

Published: 29 March 2017

Word count: 460

Walking along Frome Valley Walkway - 13 March 2017

I am currently staying in a lovely Airbnb place north of Bristol at Hambrook. I am here to run a week of assemblies at the nearby Brimsham Green School. The youth project I manage, called Alphabets LGBTQ, are presenting assemblies each day this week on being LGBTQ at school, coming out and telling the students and teachers at the school all about the project. We will get to speak to 2000 young people over the course of the week. Alphabets are a great group of young people and we also have support from my good friend Sue Allen who runs FFLAG the parents support group.

I have enjoyed settling in to my temporary home here at Hambrook and I have been enjoying walking around the area and in particular the walk along the Frome Valley Walkway, which runs alongside the River Frome.

On my walk I met a lovely woman called Hannah, and her pooch out for a dog walk, who has just moved to the area. We compared notes on footwear, I was wearing walking boots, she was in a pair of bright white trainers!

I am looking forward to the rest of the week, getting to explore the area, and getting to work with a great group of young people. Hopefully we will be able to make a real impact at the school.

Published: 13 March 2017

The Aled Richards Trust Years – 1995 to 2002

I began working at Aled Richards Trust in 1995. ART merged to become part of Terrence Higgins Trust in 2000, as THT West. I loved my time working at the Trust. I started out in the Gay Men’s Team with my colleague Nigel Burbidge, Paul Martin joined us a year later and the three of us worked full-time on gay men’s health. The funding for our project came from what was Avon Health Authority and our commissioner, Sue Bandcroft, was very supportive of the work, at a time when there was still a lot of discrimination directed against gay and bisexual men and the issues of HIV and safer sex were both controversial and vitally important. Even the Conservative Government at the time, with the Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell, invested significantly in HIV prevention work with gay and bisexual men and our colleague Paul joined the team as part of the Community HIV and AIDS Prevention Strategy (known as CHAPS) through national funding from the Department of Health.

Nigel led on most of the outreach work the team carried out, working with the gay scene bars, clubs and saunas and in the Public Sex Environments (PSE’s), known in common parlance as ‘cruising areas’. Paul led on the CHAPS work and I led on all of the community development work which included my input into setting up Freedom Youth (now part of Off the Record), Bristol LGB Forum (now LGBT Bristol), Bristol Families and Friends (now part of FFLAG), Number 8 - a group for married gay and bisexual men, the South Gloucestershire LGB Forum (currently being revised), the Avon & Somerset Policing Initiative and so on. My last role at THT West was as Health Promotion Manager and I managed a wide range of projects including work with male sex workers, research project on LGB adults with learning difficulties and our outreach teams. When I left the job to move to a new job in Brighton in 2002, with the Department of Health, I counted 36 current projects, I enjoyed being busy!

Enough of the history, I want to tell you about the closure of the Aled Richards Centre building in Old Market in Bristol after 25 years. It is very sad to see the loss of the building. I know the building meant a lot to very many people and was a real hub for the community, certainly during the years I was directly involved, and I am sure it continued and will do up until it closes. The last time I was in the Drop-In there to visit Freedom Youth a painting my Mum painted for the Trust was still up on the wall being proudly displayed!

One of the comments staff were advised to say to service users when the merger with THT was happening in 2000 was “You will still be able to say I am going down the Trust”. I guess that won’t be the case any more.

There is a news article on the Bristol Post website about the closure, which is going to be a real loss to the community in Bristol. Things will never be the same again. 

Published: 12 March 2017

Word count: 535

The Slightly Reluctant Vegan - 11 March 2017

My partner and I became vegan during February. We decided to try a vegan diet for the month as I had bumped into a guy I knew at the gym a while back and he'd lost a lot of weight. When I asked he told me it was through a combination of going to the gym and being on a vegan diet. My partner and I had both previously been vegetarian, for over 20 years each, and I'd been vegan for part of that time. So it felt easy to try being vegan again. On day three my partner noticed his head was clearer than it had been for many years, the eczema on his hands started to clear, the asthma he had virtually went and he no longer needed to take stomach tablets anymore for his acid stomach. Health issues he'd put up with for many years. He also started to notice his energy levels increasing. That was on day three! He has lost 6 kilos and I have lost about 4 kilos so far and the weight loss appears to be continuing. There is clearly something very powerful in the vegan diet. I thought I'd share this tale in case this might work for other people. My partner has continued being vegan into March. I've been about 80/20 vegan/vegetarian and I'm really enjoying it. It's great to reconnect with food I used to love. We've bought the Vegan Bible, it looks like a really good book. It helps if you have a passion for food and cooking. We've noticed a few other things; our food shopping bills have roughly halved, our time spent in the kitchen has roughly doubled but we share the task and both enjoy cooking. We have also both eaten really well both at home and when eating out. Our observation is the availability of vegan food and vegan cafes and restaurants has significantly increased since I was last vegan in the 1990's and early 00's.


Published: 11 March 2017

International Women's Day 2017 - 8 March 2017

Following the celebration yesterday of International Women's Day (8 March) and my observations of posts about International Men's Day (19 November) I have been reflecting. There are some who question why we need these international days at all. I think they are vitally important because they raise awareness of really important issues such as rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and abuse, suicide, self-harm and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I thought the idea of a women’s strike was a good one, not that women would have necessarily on mass withdrawn their labour, clearly this would lead to a break down of society. It highlights the important role women make in societies throughout the world. My reflection is about why we need the international days. We need them to highlight really important issues, to raise awareness, but that no argument is being made, or shouldn't be made, to take away resources from one issue to give to another. There should be equality in how we campaign around gendered issues, and some issues affect some people more than others and some are single gendered issues. This does get complex when you look at the lens through a non-binary, or gender variant lens. I welcome your thoughts and contributions. Please contact me via my contact page Contact.

Published 9 March 2017