Inclusive rugby team providing opportunities for LGBTQ+ players

Scotland’s first all-LGBTQ+ rugby team’s bid to host the world’s only gay rugby tournament has been backed by officials.

The Caledonian Thebans, who are based in Edinburgh, have received support from rugby associations, including the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU), to host the Bingham Cup for the first time.

The team have maintained a strong relationship with the SRU throughout their campaign, which led to them backing the bid for the competition to be hosted by Edinburgh in 2022.

Munro Stevenson, player and chairman for the club, said: “I never thought that I could be ‘out’ and play rugby.

“Those worlds couldn’t coincide in my head,” he exclusively told EN4 News, “There was a lot of homophobia at school and gender stereotypes were strictly enforced.

“There is a definite lack of LGBT representation in professional sport, particularly in men’s sport. There are only a handful of ‘out’ professional men across all sports and most of them come out publicly when they have retired.”

The club has received strong backing from the SRU (Credit: Keith MacLeod)

The team was founded in 2002, and have since played in tournaments around the world including Dublin, Nashville and Sydney.

The Caledonian Thebans are a small part of a much larger association, the International Gay Rugby Federation (IGR), which consists of 85 members and 22 affiliated bodies in 16 different countries.

Stevenson believes that the association was formed in a time of need for the LGBTQ+ community.

“The International Gay Rugby federation got set around about the turn the millennium when there was a definite need in the 90s for safe and inclusive places to go play rugby initially.”

The IGR is also a representative body of rugby on world LGBTQ+ issues.

In 2015, the IGR came together with USA Rugby (USAR) to sign the ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with the aim to tackle homophobia in rugby.

Lewis Clarke, the club’s sponsorship officer, spoke about how the club has allowed him to be a lot more open with himself and others.

“With the club being inclusive, it’s offered me a context in which I can be my truest self. With that authenticity being accepted by strangers who are now friends, I take my authenticity into other new situations,” he said.

With Thebans now leading the way, Scottish Rugby is becoming more inclusive than ever.

Elderly Edinburgh woman, 83, living with dementia, climbs to No. 8 in the charts

Margaret Mackie (right) records her single with Jamie Lee Morley (Credit: Jamie Lee Morley)

An Edinburgh pensioner has made headlines after her cover of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ broke into the iTunes chart, so far peaking at No. 8.

Margaret Mackie, originally from Linlithgow, suffers from dementia and often struggles to remember one day to the next. However, during the Christmas party at Northcare Suites Care Home, Margaret sang a rousing rendition of‘My Way’ without forgetting one single word.

A video of the 83-year-old singing with Jamie Lee Morley, the Butler at Northcare went viral on Facebook and was shared thousands of times.

Six weeks on, Margaret and Jamie recorded their cover of Sinatra’s hit and officially released the song as a charity single on January 15.

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‘My Way’ hits number 8 on iTunes Top 40 UK Pop Songs (Credit: iTunes)

With all royalties going to Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK, the single has been steadily climbing the charts and is currently at placed at number 7 on the iTunes chart.

Speaking to EN4 News, Jamie Lee Morley discussed the single’s recent success and his relationship with Margaret.

“I’ve got such a connection with her, I think it’s because we both love music as well, the minute she moved into the care home in October she used to go around the corridor singing and I’d go up to her and start singing with her,” he said.

“I would hold her hand with her and sing with her when I could see that she was getting a bit distressed or flustered. I just absolutely adore her, she melts my heart.

“There is a stigma around dementia and Alzheimer’s where people seem to think that once you’ve got this diagnosis your life is over and that’s not the case. Margaret has been living proof that she’s having the best time of her life right now with publicitiy and press and singles being in the charts.”

The single is available to buy and stream now on iTunes, Google, Spotify and Amazon.

Billie Eilish shakes (and stirs) Bond fans

Billie Eilish has been recruited as the voice of the latest Bond film. Could this be to ensure the film franchise will exceed box office figures for its 25thanniversary?

On Tuesday, Billie Eilish announced on her social media that she is the latest talent to sing the 007 theme song, this time entitled No Time To Die.

The James Bond film series holds a target audience of men aged 12-40. Whilst this is a wide audience, it does not run parallel to the teenage girl demographic that Eilish appeals to, making her a contrasting choice for the latest instalment.

Many took to Twitter to criticise the choice…

Despite this, she has proven popular in the world of music and has won numerous awards, including one at the Apple Music Awards 2019. Eilish has also been nominated for the 2020 Grammy awards under six categories.

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Billie Eilish performing at Pukkelpop Festival 2019

And some fans were even excited at the prospect of Eilish doing the next single.

Susan Jolly, 35-year-old James Bond fan puts Billie on the same level as the talented artists that have sung previous Bond theme songs.

“I watch films very often and I quite enjoy James Bond. They usually have quite a high-profile person doing the songs, like Adele or Sam Smith, and Billie Eilish is quite a big name. She’s had a fast rise to fame, so I think it’s good for her to do the song.”

By picking Eilish, the director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, has also taken the bold decision to move away from the usual sound designated to the James Bond theme tune.

24-year-old film enthusiast, Gregor Thomson, thinks Joji Fukunaga is taking a step in the right direction: “I think it’s good they’re using younger people now and they’re also changing their genre from their more classical, really good voice to more centric voice.”

The Bond films have reached varying box office totals over the past fifteen years, hitting 1.109 billion US dollars in 2012 with Skyfall and then plummeting to a total of 880.7 million US dollars in 2015 with Spectre.

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Daniel Craig at the 2015 premier of Spectre

Joji Fukunaga has also cast Rami Malek, 2019 Academy Award winner for Best Actor, in the latest instalment of the film franchise. With a talented pool of actors and Billie Eilish bringing in a brand new audience, it is possible to see No Time To Die exceeding Spectre’s box office totals.

No Time To Die will be released on 3rd of April 2020 in the United Kingdom. Watch the trailer below.

ALWAYS TO CHANGE PACKAGING IN BID TO CREATE AN ALL-INCLUSIVE SANITARY PRODUCT

With the growing awareness that sanitary products are not just used by women, leading manufacturer ALWAYS have announced that they will be launching their redesigned gender-neutral packaging in February 2020.

The UK’s leading sanitary towels brand is removing the Venus symbol from their product in attempt to be more inclusive and not isolate any communities.

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The Venus symbol traditionally used to represent the female gender

Young campaigner Ben Saunders was one of many calling for sanitary products to remove the female symbol from their design. He contacted ALWAYS in June 2019 and explained that by having the Venus symbol on the packaging, it was discriminatory to the transgender community.

Saunders, a young filmmaker and the 2019 winner of the Liverpool CR Pride’s Young Person of the Year award, documented the experiences of seven trans and non-binary people in the north west of England in a short film released this year to raise awareness of the negative experiences many young trans people deal with in schools. Ben became a campaigner for the transgender community after having suffered a difficult experience when attending an all-girls school as a transgender man.

Saunders says that for transgender men, menstruation is an already upsetting time and the existence of gender specific sanitary packaging can make the experience worse.

“For a trans person, seeing the ‘female’ symbol on packaging is just another unnecessary reminder of the dysphoria they’re often already feeling around this time,” Saunders says.

Some female customers of ALWAYS sanitary products have responded negatively to the removal of the female symbol and have complained that by removing the gendered packaging, it ‘erases’ the users.

However, ALWAYS have stated they are committed to diversity and inclusion and are attempting to make the packaging less discriminatory rather than cut off a large part of their customer demographic.

With this response it is clear that it may take a while for it to be widely accepted that ‘people experience periods’ rather than just one gender.

ALWAYS is the first UK sanitary product brand to create gender neutral packaging. Pressure will now be put on other companies to follow suit to stop the risk of the transgender and non-binary community feeling dysphoric and discriminated against.

Sometimes a person’s genetically assigned sex does not match their gender identity. Gender is a social construct, therefore, a person’s physical anatomy may not associate with the sex the person identifies as.

Click here to read more on the difference between sex and gender.

 

 

 

YOUNG CAMPAIGNER’S SHORT FILM HIGHLIGHTS THE NEGATIVE TREATMENT OF TRANSGENDER PEOPLE AT SCHOOL

In April this year, young campaigner Ben Saunders created a short film titled Transgender Experiences in School after having suffered a difficult experience when attending an all-girls school as a transgender man.

In an Instagram post promoting his film, Ben described the school as being “extremely unaccepting of anyone who identifies as transgender”. This led to his decision to focus his campaign on the negative experiences of transgender people in school.

The film includes interviews with seven trans and non-binary young people from across north west England. The project opens a discussion on the lack of understanding surrounding trans identities in school and how it leads to a negative effect on their mental health and education.

Ben produced the film as part of his campaign for the Stonewall Young Campaigners Programme – the programme entailed creating a campaign aimed at promoting LGBTQ+ rights and equality – and Ben was later named Stonewall’s Young Campaigner of the Year.

Click the link below to watch Transgender Experiences in Schools. 

Will Instagram’s ban on self-harm images be enough to protect vulnerable users?

Earlier this week, Instagram announced that they were extending the ban of self-harm content to drawing and cartoons.

This follows their pledge in February to remove all graphic self-harm images from the website. This pledge was on the back of Instagram reviewing how safe they have kept their site for the community of vulnerable users.

Only a month before, the suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell came to light. After Molly took her own life in 2017, her parents found she had viewed self-harm and suicide related content on her Instagram account. This could suggest her death was potentially influenced by viewing this content.

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Has Molly’s story changed social media? Find out tonight at 10pm on BBC news and online

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Poor mental health among young people is incredibly high. In a survey conducted by National Statistics UK in 2018, suicide in young males aged between 10-24 years old had risen to 9 deaths per 100,000 males in 2018. Moreover 3.3 young females per 100,000 lost their lives in 2018.

Also, according to MentalHealth.org, 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year. In further statistics, 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14; with 75% established by age 24.

In July 2019 it was recorded that, 37.2% of Instagram users were aged 13-24 years old. This means there is a large community of Instagram users can be considered vulnerable and at risk.

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Molly has not been the only person potentially influenced by self-harm content on Instagram. In January this year, 16-year-old Libby spoke to the BBC about being ‘hooked’ on ‘viewing’ and ‘posting’ self-harm content on Instagram when she was 12-years-old. She recalled sharing “pictures of her fresh cuts” to an audience of 8,000 followers.

Her dad Ian recalled comments underneath Libby’s posts saying: “You shouldn’t have done it this way, you should have done it like that. Don’t do it here, do it there because there’s more blood.”

It is frightening to think that other Instagram users, who are potentially in a vulnerable position themselves, were encouraging Libby to self-harm and put herself at risk.

What’s more frightening is that when the family attempted to report the posts, Instagram responded that the pictures did not breach the community standards.

“The standard reply of such content not infringing the platforms’ community guidelines is still too often received when complaints are made.”

Ian Russell, the father of Molly, founded the ‘Molly Rose Foundation’ after her death. The foundation’s aim is suicide prevention with a focus on young people under the age of 25. They seek to help those suffering from mental illness by giving advice and connecting them with help.

Ian Russell believes a short-term solution is for social media websites to put more focus in reviewing reported content: “I think it is vital for platforms to respond more effectively to their customers’ requests to remove any harmful content found as the standard reply of such content not infringing the platforms’ community guidelines is still too often received when complaints are made.”

Nine months on, Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, announced how they will implement the removal of harmful drawings and memes: “We will no longer allow fictional depictions of self-harm or suicide on Instagram, such as drawings or memes or content from films or comics that use graphic imagery.”

“Accounts sharing this type of content will also not be recommended in search or in our discovery surfaces, like ‘Explore’.

However, from searching the Facebook owned app this week, it is clear there is still self-harm related content all over Instagram When searching the #selfharm tag and filtering the search to ‘accounts’ a number of accounts with triggering content pops up.

Whilst the pledge is a step in the right direction, Ian Russell is sceptical whether Instagram will follow through: “I think this is an important step forward and sets a lead that other platforms, who up until now have remained almost silent on this issue, to follow. However, it is very hard, from outside the tech corporations, to judge just how committed to the removal of harmful content Instagram really is.”

The biggest step Instagram has taken so far, is hiding posts that are categorized under the ‘#suicide’ tag. When you search the Instagram tag, it appears there are 8.4 million posts, but the results are concealed and instead, a ‘Get Support’ option appears.

This directs you to Instagram’s ‘Can We Help’ section of the website that gives you the opportunity to talk to someone or access information that other people have found supportive.

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Instagram claims that they have removed 834,000 pieces of content between April and June, with 77% being unreported by users. However, there are 95 million photos and videos shared on Instagram per day. Therefore, over the three-month period, Instagram only discovered an average of just over 9000 posts with dangerous content per day. This leaves room for millions of self-harm content being undiscovered by Instagram.

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 The only way that Instagram can find the dangerous content is through the posts being reported or the images being tagged with suicide related terms. Therefore, it is likely a lot of harmful content is being missed.

Ian Russell feels that Instagram’s current algorithm will not allow much improvement in protecting vulnerable users: “It is likely that sizeable improvements will only be made if the platforms’ algorithms are adapted to provide better protection and stop the dangerous spread of harmful content, it would be more beneficial if any development in this area is freely shared to ensure as widespread benefit as possible.”

 The risk to the wider body of users, including those who are vulnerable, should be balanced against any benefit this content may bring to other communities.”

Instagram says it will not remove all content relating to suicide due to some being recovery stories which can be a form of support for some users. However, what might count as support to some, might trigger other vulnerable users.

Whilst Ian Russell thinks all users should be considered, he feels that vulnerable users should have the focus to ensure they are protected: “The risk to the wider body of users, including those who are vulnerable, should be balanced against any benefit this content may bring to other communities.”

Ian Russell believes a synergy between tech companies, academics and charities will be the best solution to helping vulnerable users: “I think the tech companies should more openly work together with academics and charities in this field, to ensure as much as possible is being done and it is co-ordinated across the whole industry.”

With Instagram making a conscious effort to protect vulnerable users, there is hope that other social media platforms will follow in form and create a safe community for young people at risk.

Read more from lifestyle here: 

The scariest thing about Halloween is the waste!

Scottish islands among the happiest places to live in the UK

What will YOU go as for Halloween?!

Halloween is fast approaching and with only one week to go, it is time to predict what the most popular costumes will be this spooky season!

With some ghoulish returns and some ghastly new faces, here are what I think will be the top 15 costume ideas of 2019.

  1. THE PLASTICS

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2. THE JOKER

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3. MALEFICENT

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4. HARLEY QUINN

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5. BORIS JOHNSON

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6. ELEVEN FROM STRANGER THINGS

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7. ALADDIN AND PRINCESS JASMINE

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8. THE TETHERED FROM US 

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9. THE ADDAMS FAMILY

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10. THE AVENGERS

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11. SPIDERMAN

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12. CAPTAIN MARVEL

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13. AQUAMAN 

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14. PENNYWISE

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15. ANNA AND ELSA 

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Celebrating The Freedom of Same-Sex Marriage & Abortion In Northern Ireland

As the clock struck one minute past midnight on the 22nd of October 2019, abortion and same sex marriage was legalised in Northern Ireland.

This arguably was the result of a long fought battle between grass roots activism and the DUP. The main factor behind the laws finally being passed in Northern Ireland is due to the collapse of their government in early 2017. This collapse meant the DUP could not veto decriminalisation as they’ve done before. With the affairs of Northern Ireland being shared with Conservatives as part of the coalition, these laws were passed.

Along with this, there was a high amount of political pressure placed on the government due to the Repeal the 8th movement which led to the Republic of Ireland legalising abortion in May 2018.

 

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Let today be the beginning of better #thenorthisnow ❤️💙💛💚💜

A post shared by Saoirse-Monica Jackson (@saoirsemonicajackson) on

However, the driving force behind the affairs being brought to Westminster was due to the overwhelming involvement of grassroots activism.  ‘Alliance for Choice’ and ‘Love Equality’ were among the organisations that fought heavily for the decriminalisation of abortion and same sex marriage. One notable protest took place on September 28th, 2019 by Alliance for Choice to mark International Safe Abortion Day. 21 women dragged suitcases through Belfast’s streets to represent the number of women who were forced to leave Northern Ireland weekly to access reproductive healthcare. Moreover, Love Equality organised a marriage equality march on the 18th.of May 2019 which was attended by roughly seven to eight thousand people.

 

Many Northern Irish citizens have moved on from traditional and old-fashioned mindsets which has helped with the legislation being passed. An opinion poll created by Amnesty International showed that almost 60% of Northern Ireland agreed abortion should be decriminalised. Moreover in 2018, a Sky Data poll recorded 76% of Northern Irish citizens were in support of same sex marriage.

Elly Makem, a conceptual illustrator now living in England, grew up in Northern Ireland with beliefs formed by school teachings. She shared the mindset that many others had that abortion was ‘black and white’ and homosexuality was ‘abnormal’. It was only after she left school at 18 that she managed to begin internally undoing their impact.

 “I didn’t think I would have sex until I was married, and it didn’t even come into my head that I could be gay, as our education was quite religious and very heteronormative.”

Elly agrees that Northern Ireland has moved on from traditional mindsets and that the country has seen a cultural shift in the past decade: “I think the societal revolution that’s happening in the western world at the minute with more ‘woke’ attitudes, has spoken to our more disadvantaged groups. Millennial culture is wholly more secular anyway, which has given us this opportunity to challenge the fundamentalism that exists in Northern Ireland in all of our communities.”

“Even though I went to two catholic schools, my understanding at the time was very similar to what the -mostly Protestant- DUP espouse now.”

School education can influence a person’s beliefs early on. Elly felt her teachers heavily influenced her mindset growing up: “I didn’t pay attention to politics much as a teenager, because I felt pretty disillusioned with the whole thing, however I completely took in what my teachers said. I didn’t think I would have sex until I was married, and it didn’t even come into my head that I could be gay, as our education was quite religious and very heteronormative. I also remember thinking abortion was a very black and white issue that was mostly caused by promiscuous women.”

She felt her beliefs were very close minded due to growing up in this incredibly polarized environment: “I think when you grow up in a place that’s so polarised, like Northern Ireland, you become a lot less flexible with your beliefs. Even though I went to two catholic schools, my understanding at the time was very similar to what the -mostly Protestant- DUP espouse now.”

Although Elly came out when she was 19, she had romantic feelings for women for around 7 years before that but felt she had to ‘stay in the closet’: “It didn’t come into my head that my feelings were homosexual because my idea of homosexuality was that it was a very strange thing that didn’t apply to me, so I forced myself into trying to be straight.” 

“I don’t know one gay person my age from back home who didn’t struggle with their mental health as a teenager”

Due to the lack of LGBT+ resources in school and non-accepting cultural attitudes. this incredibly impacted the mental health of LGBT+ people growing up in Northern Ireland. A number of people Elly knew growing up, experienced this impact: “I don’t know one gay person my age from back home who didn’t struggle with their mental health as a teenager, and I think that’s totally down to the restrictive and shaming attitudes we have towards queerness. If I was told how common homosexuality is and that it’s fine, then I don’t think I would have struggled so much.”

Elly Makem runs a conceptual art business. She created a design in the light of the decriminalisation of abortion and same sex marriage and after many requests, she made the design into prints, tote bags and t-shirts. She felt this particular design was close to her heart: “I’ve made posters and t shirt designs before, however when I was finalising this one, I definitely felt more passionate about it than any of those projects. I think it was only when I was writing to describe the image did I realise how important it felt to me.”

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Art by Elly Makem

A portion of the profits made from the products will be going to ‘The Rainbow Project’, a charity very important to her: “I chose to donate to this charity as for me, the individual needs for queer people often need to be tackled in a holistic way. I don’t think legislative reform is the end of our struggle, and TRP does a fantastic job at helping people in more personal ways that really should be offered by our schools.”

Despite the legalisation of same sex marriage being a big win for the LGBT+ community, Elly feels the fight isn’t over yet: “In regard to law-making I am over the moon about this result, however I feel education and exposure can do so much for young queer people even more so. Education reform is something we should continue to campaign for.”

There is already evidence of the new abortion law in Northern Ireland creating a safer and better future. Belfast’s Crown court has recently dropped charges against a mother who bought abortion pills for her daughter. A new framework providing safe and lawful access to abortion services in Northern Ireland will be in place by 31st March 2020.

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