“Belfast. What a place to find your liberation, eh? Bloody Belfast!” said Englishman Kevin in True North’s brilliant documentary, Out of the Shadows, this week.
He was talking about his experience as part of group of gay men who were instrumental in getting homosexuality decriminalised here in 1982 (15 years after England and Wales). This was gorgeous piece of film-making. About hiddenness, of course. In a highly conservative religious society. About the internal damage that judgement and shame can wreak. About being “criminals”. About how it feels to never hold the hand of the person you love in public.
But it was also about the rage and solidarity and love and bravery of a small group of men (criminalisation only applied to men, which is why there were no women in the doc) who stuck their necks out for the rest of us. Who risked everything – jobs, safety, relationships – in their refusal to shut up and live a hidden life.
It’s currently on the BBC iplayer. You may enjoy the 70s wallpaper and the flares. And you may have to blink back tears. And then regroup, help shape the next chapter, for all the shadows haven’t gone away you know.
The Blindboy Podcast live at Belfast’s Duncairn Arts Centre, Jockey’s Porridge, is another thing altogether. It will make you spit your tea out laughing. My love of the Rubberbandits is no secret. Blindboy Boatclub’s surreal, acerbic, tender radicalism never fails to make me feel better about the world.
This episode (a few weeks old now – my bad) is incredible. The very definition of black humour. Donzo, aka Paul Donnelly of Dead Centre Tours was the guest. A down-to-earth, left-wing Prod. Answering awkward, hilarious questions from a vaping Limerick man with a Spar bag on his head. To a mainly Catholic audience. With DJ Willie O’Dea squeaking in the background. Sounds weird? Maybe. But to these ears, this is THE most sensible discussion I’ve heard about politics here in a long time. The usual warnings apply. If you don’t like swearing, this is not one for you. If your mind is open, go enjoy having it awkwardly exploded.
Blindboy’s next podcast recording in Belfast is Friday 4th May at the Limelight.
My Slugger highlight this week was William Ennis’ tribute to Laura Lee. William is an east Belfast loyalist and member of the Progressive Unionist Party. Laura, who tragically died last month, was an Irish sex worker, activist and rights campaigner.
William’s article is a beautiful tribute to Laura. It highlighted a neglected issue, women’s safety and sex workers’ rights. It shows how our northern reflex is still to lean into morality and criminalisation, rather than finding humane, pragmatic policy approaches.
It is also an example of the important, organic intersections in our current politics. People are yelling on Nolan, yes. And on here too. But so much more is going on beneath the surface.
When I think of the future of this place, these are the conversations I want to be hearing. These are the connections we are already making as human beings. I keep saying it, and I’m not going to stop. One day soon our politics will catch up.
Claire Mitchell is a freelance writer, and community editor at Slugger O’Toole. Formerly senior lecturer in Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast. She is a member of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, but all views are her own. More at www.clairemitchell.net