Irritatingly O2

One of the things that annoys me no end about life in Britain is the feeling of being treated like a number. Obviously we’re all numbers in one way or another, we all feature in countless anonymous lists in databases held by our bank, our GP, our supermarket, our hairdresser, we’re all insignificant rows of data stuck in endless spreadsheets stored on computers around the globe, but where Britain excels is in taking our insignificance from a matter of practical and anonymous treatment of data to the cold and impersonal treatment of human beings.

This country has lost it’s personal touch. You are reminded of this every time an emotionless voice calls out ‘next’ from the other side of a counter (if it’s not a machine telling you which counter to go to) or your GP talks to you like she’s never seen you before even though you’ve been going there for years. You seek into her eyes for a lapse of recognition but all you find is the same personal touch you would expect a factory worker to dedicate to every identical piece in an assembly line.

We’re all moving through life as though on a conveyor belt where we are not talked to but merely dealt with.

No one makes you more aware of this than large corporations. The last one to remind me of this was O2, my network operator.

It is with some embarrassment that i must admit to being one of those people who were standing in line outside O2 stores around the country a couple of days ago to buy the new iPhone 4. I will not defend this decision: if you want to judge me for it, go right ahead.

But the day after this painful queuing experience I had another reminder of the conveyor belt under my feet when I was contacted for a customer satisfaction survey. By a computer.

Ok, maybe it’s not that shocking, but it is at least ironic. I’m sitting at my desk having a text conversation with a computer to tell it how happy I was with my impersonal experience at the O2 store.

Here’s how it went:

O2: Hi it’s O2. Thanks for shopping with us. We’d like to ask you 4 quick questions to help us improve. Your texts back to us are free.
Q1 of 4: How likely are you to recommend the O2 store? Rate on a scale of 1-5 where 1 is ‘not at all likely’ and 5 is ‘very likely’. (Just text one number)

Overall it wasn’t a positive experience, the woman that eventually helped me gave me wrong information and kept me longer than necessary through making a series of errors in the procedure. Considering I was the 50th customer that morning going through the same process and she’s been around at least since she sold me my old phone about 2 years ago, I wasn’t impressed by her competence and thought I wasn’t likely to advise people to go to the O2 store.

Me: 2

O2: Thanks. Q2 of 4: How much did you trust our assistant’s advice? Rate on a scale of 1-5 where 1 is ‘not at all’ and 5 is ‘fully trusted’. (Just text one number.)

See above…

Me: 1

O2: Thanks again. Q3 of 4: During your visit were you greeted or acknowledged within a reasonable amount of time? (Text 1 for no and 2 for yes)

This didn’t fully apply but considering that initially the O2 guy that came out of the shop only spoke to people at the front of the queue and shrugged when people further down the line shouted to him that they couldn’t hear him, I thought this might amount to not acknowledging us within a reasonable amount of time.

Me: 1

O2: Thanks again. Q4 of 4: How well did they understand your needs? Rate on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is ‘very poor’ and 5 is ‘excellent’ (Just text one number)

I needed to buy an iPhone like the other 100 people there. The staff discerningly understood our need: we needed to buy an iPhone. However perceptive that was, I was still not impressed.

Me: 3

O2: Finally, what could we do to improve your visit to the O2 store? Please text your comments. And thanks again for your time.

Here I thought for a minute: they’re actually making an effort to find out what they can do to improve their service. I was positively impressed and decided to give them proper feedback.

Me: Train your staff better. Enable pre-ordering of new iPhone models to not keep people queuing for hours on end or at least organise better queuing systems and prepare to look after users who, after queuing for hours, will not have managed to secure a new phone. Staff had to be persuaded by queuing customers to collect names and emails to notify of new deliveries of phone. Staff’s first suggestion was to simply turn up randomly any hour of any day to see if there had been a delivery. Try to show you care about your customers’ satisfaction.

What was their answer?

O2: Sorry, responses are no longer being accepted for this survey.

Computer says no. You’ve been T5’ed!

Note: In case someone is wondering, I did reply right away. It only took me the time it takes to type that response.


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Love thy religious neighbour

I’m getting more and more intolerant of people who hide an agenda of hate and discrimination behind their religion. If you’re a bigot, I think you should own up to it instead of hiding behind your religion.

I’m always hearing of religious people who don’t want to register civil partnerships, don’t want to deal with gay people or even have them sleep in their B&B and hide behind what their religion tells them to do. In fact the media focus so much on these people that, as a consequence, the LGBT community direct their opposition at the religion itself when religions are rarely evil. It’s all about how people interpret them.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that I’m choosing to defend religion today. I am not a religious person. I like to respect people’s right to a spiritual life but as far as I’m concerned it’s not at all a dimension that I have. In fact, I think I’m spiritually challenged. I don’t get how people can believe that stuff about god but I think it’s cool if you do.

I also think that god is really a side issue when it comes to religion. What it’s really about is a system of beliefs: a philosophy of life. The fact that it centres around the existence of a divine being is incidental.

Personally, I grew up in Italy and was raised Catholic and although my family was never one to attend mass with great frequency and I don’t think anyone ever used the word ‘sin’, I had my Catholic education as a kid like all other kids my age.

Now, maybe I wasn’t paying too much attention — that’s very possible, I always had a tendency to get distracted easily — but the message I got out of it was really not that negative. It was really all about love, love thy neighbour, love those who are different, don’t judge others (that business about looking at the splinter in your brother’s eye when you have a beam in your own… I never got how you could even see your brother, surely when you turn around to look at him you’re going to knock him clear off his feet with that big beam sticking out of your eye which, by the way, must be really uncomfortable).

I’ll even add that I had a lovely priest who was really warm and intelligent and never did that thing that today we think all priests do.

I mean, the man himself, Mr J Christ, hung out with whores and diseased folks. Hardly the cool kids. He was all about going against the mainstream. Not a football jock, more a glee club kind of guy. With this background, I think we all have to stop and recognise the effort it must have gone into turning this message into what we hear spewing from the mouths of those rich bureaucrats who run the vatican machine. They have made this religion so mainstream that they’ve forgotten all about its original inclusiveness of those who were not.

So all I’m saying to you secular folks out there is not to hate the religion itself or think that all religious people are evil bigots. I think going down this path is taking us to an overly polarised society where we can’t live with each other any more.

I’ll finish telling you about my lovely nonagenarian grandma who’s very religious, goes to church every sunday and has never once uttered a non-supportive comment about my homosexuality, even before it became cool to be pro-gay. In fact she was the first person I came out to in my family. One Christmas eve many years ago, aged 16, I told her about the boy who wouldn’t love me back and, in turn, she told me the story of how she was desperately in love with Greta Garbo when she was a young woman.

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The unsurprising news

The next general election was announced today in the UK. The media are all over the news as if we weren’t expecting it.

Something else which has been widely reported and is unlikely to surprise anyone if it does come about is a possible win by David Cameron and the Conservative party.

David CameronFrom my own perspective, I see Cameron has been going out of his way to persuade the LGBT community that he’s a friend of the gays but I find him so unconvincing, so fake. The prospect of having him as the next Prime Minister scares me. I don’t think he would undo all the good work done by Labour in the last 13 years but certainly the drive towards equality will be blunter.

One senior member of the shadow government, Mr Chris Grayling, has already been in the news over the last few days for speaking out in support of some businesses’ right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in clear violation of the laws of the land (passed under the still current Labour government).

It is unclear whether Mr Grayling thinks the same businesses should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, religion and sex, or just sexual orientation. What is clear is that Cameron has not commented on the issue, let alone reprimanded Mr Grayling.

I’m not saying Labour are perfect, but it’s undeniable that what they’ve done for LGBT rights no other British government had done before and I doubt the Tories have similar groundbreaking reforms in store for us.

I wish I could live to see a LibDem government in this country. They are by far the most deserving people for the job and I’m sure they would be able to radically change this country for the better.

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Another lost court battle for Lilian Ladele

Lilian Ladele

Lillian Ladele

The Lilian Ladele saga continues with a new appeal resulting in another defeat for her and the Christian Institute who are supporting her fight to have the right to pick and choose the parts of her job she is happy to perform.

If anyone doesn’t know the full story, Ms Ladele is a lady who was working as a registrar for Islington Council but wasn’t happy to register same-sex civil partnerships because of her religion. Islington Council, being a tax-funded institution, refused to allow her to discriminate between its residents and, when she was relieved of her duties for refusing to perform her job, she sued for religious discrimination, winning the first time with an employment tribunal, but then losing at the second and, now, the third appeal.

The hypocrisy of the whole law suit borders on the comical. I won’t go into the fact that the unmarried, sin-hating, bible-wielding woman has a child out of wedlock as that’s her personal business but she’s chosen a carrier which in itself is contrary to religious teachings. She officiates civil marriages which are themselves sinful and not recognised by her church so anyone she does deign to marry into a civil institution is actually living in sin. Not only that but she will happily marry a bunch of sinners like divorcees, atheists, non-christians, etc.

Marriage is between one man and one woman, she says. But the same-sex unions that she was paid to register were not even marriages because in this country same-sex marriage is not allowed yet. They are called civil partnerships.

So what’s her problem — you might ask? Well, no one has been able to figure that out yet. Basically she wants to be allowed to discriminate against gay people in the provision of a service that she’s paid for, legally bound to provide and isn’t even an actual marriage.

Are we surprised she keeps losing one appeal after the other?

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Gay on trial

An excellent and refreshingly in-depth look at the implications of the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, the current federal lawsuit brought by Boies and Olson in the U.S. against Prop 8.

The article can be read here.

The American Prospect cover

The American Prospect

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The straight-looking gay man

Peter Tatchell

Echoing something which has recently happened in the Italian LGBT media, Peter Tatchell has gone on record criticising broadcasters here in the UK for portraying homosexuality as exclusively camp. He’s mentioned such flamboyant characters as Graham Norton and Alan Carr to get his point across.

In a similar Italian case recently in the media, the director of an LGBT online media publication has openly criticised the producers of the Italian version of Big Brother for never having included a “next-door type” gay character in the programme’s 10-year history, his implication being that the flamboyant, openly gay character in the current series is too camp and should be considered a transgender.  Mr De Giorgi stated that “Maicol doesn’t represent us” and his letter was echoed by a number of groups that have popped up all over Facebook to the same tune. The very camp twentysomething-year-old has indeed once mentioned feeling like a woman in a man’s body but he’s never stated his intention to transition and has always defined himself as gay.

In the UK Tatchell declared: “I am not saying Graham Norton and Alan Carr should be taken off TV. I am just fed up with the way this camp, cliched stereotype is mostly the only one that gets broadcast”.

Alan Carr

He may have a point on this. Mainstream media have often loved portraying gay men as ubercamp funny characters as this seems to be the model that tends to please and entertain straight audiences the most. It is the model that doesn’t challenge the assumption that real men should be manly: “me Tarzan — you (better be) woman”. So if a gay man is camp, he’s not really a man, and proper manly men can continue acting the real man’s stereotype and have a civilised, modern good time enjoying a tolerant laugh at or with these other varieties of male humans: the homosexuals.

The fact that this way of thinking is behind our current gay comedy genre is, in my opinion, a given. Whether TV producers are entirely to blame for this is a different story altogether. Entertainers like Norton and Carr are hugely successful and, I would assume, not being forced to act camp. I for one thoroughly enjoy following both and would define Graham Norton as bitchy rather than camp but that’s beside the point. The issue here is that it is absurd to blame those who are camp for campness being comforting to heteronormative society. There is nothing inherently wrong with being camp or feminine and we should only ask ourselves the reason why non-camp gay men don’t appear more frequently on TV. Or do they?

Derren Brown

Well, I could never have told you this myself because I must admit I don’t know much about TV personalities but others have pointed out in online forums that the list of non-camp TV celebrities is indeed quite long. I won’t mention them all here because it seems rather silly to list names of people, simply because I’m being told that they are gay but I will mention the name of one I do know very well of: Derren Brown.

I’ve seen Derren on TV many times and I know he’s gay. Yet, when I heard what Tatchell said I didn’t think of him at all, in the same way Peter probably didn’t think of him when he said what he did, the illusionist’s sexuality being something that’s hardly relevant to what he’s known for.

So I must wonder: when Peter Tatchell zeroes in on camp characters judgmentally using them as demonstration of society’s lack of non-camp gay models but fails to mention the many non-camp celebrities whose non-obvious sexual orientation seems irrelevant, isn’t he actually himself demonstrating to us what the real problem is? Gay people are only taken as such when they act the gay out. The positive non-camp gay role models inhabiting our ideal world might actually already be here but regrettably, in an unfortunate catch-22 scenario, they’re just not acting camp enough for us to take any notice of them.


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The charitable right

Over the last few days I’ve read of a series of episodes in the U.S. that really show how low conservative and religious people will scoop to ostracise equality for gay citizens.

In Washington D.C., where gay marriages performed out of district are already legally recognised, the city is about to pass legislation to allow those marriages to be celebrated within the District of Columbia. In attempt to put pressure on the district’s authorities, those charitable folks who run the Catholic Church have declared that if the law is passed they’ll shut down their social services operations currently offering support to about 64,000 people in the area. We should add that these operations are already using public funds…

Meanwhile in the state of Rhode Island, Republican senator Don Carcieri has vetoed legislation aimed at allowing the surviving party in a civil union to make arrangements for their deceased partner’s funeral service.

You really have to wonder how these people can sleep at night. The Church uses destitute people as pawns in its political games while a senator will step in to stop people from making funeral arrangements for their deceased partners. This is what the right has come to in the U.S.

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