No Offence at the Ashmolean

The Ashmolean museum in Oxford is hosting an exhibition as part of a series of events around the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act. It is a display of items that are on loan from the British museum, but which are not usually on show. I went to visit this free display.
One thing that I found surprising was the amount of material that was faith related. There was a print of the Hindu goddess Bahucharaji. There are myths about her own gender fluidity and her ability to change the gender of mortals. These stories link her to the Hijra community. Hijras are officially recognised as third gender in some South Asian countries. They are considered neither completely male not completely female.
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In many African cultures, gender and gender roles are culturally fixed and reproduced through rituals, including initiation ceremonies. On display was a mask from the N’domo ceremony, used by the Bamana people in Mali. The initiation ceremony uses masks and there are male, female and androgynous (ungendered) masks. The gender of the mask is represented by the number of horns. The mask on show at the Ashmolean shows a female mask, as it has six horns. The mask for androgyny has seven horns.

 

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Among some tribes in North America ‘Winter Counts’ were kept as historical records. Each year had a memorable event represented by an image on these records. The exhibition had an example of a Sioux count from 1891 which includes an image representing the suicide of a winkte. In the Dakota language, winkte means ‘wants to be a woman’.
Among many Native American tribes, winkte individuals were considered to be endowed with special spiritual powers because they bridged gender differences. After the arrival of Anglo-Americans, this practice was suppressed.

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The exhibit that I found most moving was the AIDS quilt.
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This was a reproduction of a memorial quilt made for the Native American AIDS project in San Francisco. It was inspired by the traditional robed used to immortalise warriors’ actions, representing the bravery of those who succumbed to the disease. Applique beadwork creates a looped red ribbon, combined with a Native American medicine wheel, a protective symbol of the interconnectedness of creation.
An exhibition of LGBT+ themed artwork would not be complete without a depiction of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian.

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The British Museum publishes a book about its LGBTQ+ collection. This book is called A Little Gay History

a little gay history

 

Available to buy here amazon.co.uk

The exhibition runs until December 2nd. Further information can be found at ashmolean.org/event/no-offence
There are also a series of events, tours and talks being held in association with the exhibition. Further details can be found at ashmolean.org/event

Having our cake and eating it

Cake

 

The full Supreme Court judgement in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd [2018] UKSC 49 can be found at  supremecourt.

This is one of several cases that have come before courts in this country and abroad, where bakery companies have been asked to bake cakes for particular occasions or with particular messages. The legal situation is not always the same in different countries because of different anti-discrimination legislation. This particular case had been decided in Northern Ireland and the judgement was appealed to the Supreme court.

The reaction to the findings of the court has been mixed, some agreeing with the verdict, some seeing it as declaring open season on service providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The legal situation in Northern Ireland is different from the legal situation in the rest of the UK, so the findings are not binding on Scotland, Wales or England but they may be persuasive for future judgements.

I think the judgement was right, that Mr Lee was not discriminated against for being gay. He has bought cakes from the same company before and they had been happy to fulfil previous orders. What was different this time was the particular message – ‘support gay marriage’ – he wanted on the cake. It was also accepted that anyone else who had come in to the shop and wanted that message would have been refused. I agree that it was not about the person, but about the message.

It is not legal in Northern Ireland to discriminate against someone on the basis of their political or religious views. If the message was a political one then, provided it was not hate speech, the bakers should have treated all political messages equally. As a political message, the bakers should have accepted the order, in the same way they would have for any other political campaign.

If religion had not come into it, things would be simple – he wasn’t discriminated against and they would have done the cake the way he wanted. However, religion did come into it and legislation about freedom of religion. While I have some sympathy with this, I think on this point that the court should have ruled differently. The message was sufficiently mild that, even though they may have disagreed with it, it does not compromise the fundamentals of their religion.