Friday, 25 January 2019

#SecondReferendum or: A Project Manager's Perspective on Requirements Gathering for #Brexit

Most people know me as a poet, or as an organiser of poetry events. Some also know me as a bit of a nerd when it comes to spreadsheets (darlings, you’ve no idea…). What not many people know is that my other (and somewhat more lucrative) day job is as a project manager and business change manager for a large organisation in Cambridge.

There’s a distinct difference between the two, but it makes a lot of sense to combine the two roles, as part of any project that involves widespread cultural change in a body of people.

A project manager steers; advises; oversees; and communicates about and between the project, the people it will affect, and the people affecting (and effecting) its progress. A project manager ensures that the thing stays on budget (time and money and other resources) and lives up, as much as possible, to the initial goals laid out by the stakeholders (ideally: the people who asked for this project and those who’ll be most affected). A project is defined as “an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim” (thanks, Google). It has a specific lifespan, and stops when either the goal has been achieved, or those concerned have decided that it’s not possible to achieve that goal. Stop (or: do nothing when considering options at the beginning) should always be an option considered by competent project managers. The new functionality goes on to be managed by other people as “Business As Usual”, and the aforementioned competent project manager follows up a few months later with stakeholders on how the changes are functioning/ bedding in. Or not.

Two main project approaches are used in my business: Waterfall and Agile (while Lean Six Sigma is starting to make itself felt in the more manufacturing-equivalent areas of the organisation). A quick overview (of my understanding) of the first two can be found in the Appendix of this post.

Main point is: you have to gather your requirements well, no matter which delivery method you choose. And what most project managers (or business analysts if it’s a big project and you want an expert in gathering complex requirements) do is first get a broad brush statement of what’s needed, then drill down in successive stages, narrowing in on what those objectives mean in detail. In other words: you ask the same question several times, seeking more detail, gathering stakeholders’ priorities as an integral part of the process.

In addition: you need to test out the implementation, and be prepared to either send it back for corrections (there are always corrections to be made), decide which defects you’ll live with for an agreed meantime, or call full-stop and kill the project (something too few projects actually consider, let alone do); and risks and issues must be recorded and planned for rigorously throughout the lifecycle of the project. Again: the risks and issues recorded should also give you the option to full-stop, or at least pause while more resources are gathered.

Business Change Management is different from Project Management in that it talks about how to manage the shift in day-to-day working practices that will come about, usually as a result of a project (if you’ve managed this right!). It requires an insight into how people cope with change (usually badly – change (all change – positive or negative) is stressful to some degree; you can no longer rely on habit to carry you through, until you’ve learned the new way of things), and means applying techniques that will allow people to experience as little stress as possible during the transition and onward.

Without getting wildly technical, this requires good application of practical group psychology, including a few well-worn techniques that help people manage change:
1. Engage those who’ll be most affected by (and effective in delivering) the change in early considerations of the requirements. This helps them feel a sense of control and investment, and they are far more likely to actually put effort into helping the change to bed in smoothly. Bring in a mix of enthusiastic and cynical people – they’ll bring different – but vital – elements to the mix.

2. Decide whether you’re going for a top-down or fully democratic approach. This is important. The top-down approach involves having a strong vision of the end goal and communicating it clearly to everyone, letting them know what their role is in the change and how they will be affected by it. Fully democratic means seeking people’s opinions on outcome, means, etc., giving them the autonomy to effect those changes, and being willing to change your mind as these new things come up.

Different changes require different approaches
, but two important takeaways from this are: a) you need experts, no matter which approach you follow, b) the worst thing you can do is tiffle away in the middle somewhere, telling people it’s up to them but at the same time ignoring their requirements/ fears/ suggestions/ expertise and blocking their innovations.

3. Understand that all psychological adaptation to change follows the same pattern (along a timescale of anything from minutes to decades, even centuries) as that of grieving



and then a fun one for change which is Exploration of your new world. (In case you’re not aware, this is based on the Kübler-Ross Model of grief and loss.)

The important takeaways from this are that a) you need to allow people to grieve and celebrate the old way (no matter how shitty… people just got used to doing things that way, and they will literally have to change their minds in the form of rewiring brain synapses to alter habits and pick up new skills, no matter how small) in their own way and time, and b) you need to give them tools to get through those five stages smoothly and effectively. Keep telling most people they’re wrong to feel a certain way, for example, and they’re just going to dig their heels in deeper/ surrender to despair.

4. Communicating regularly, proactively, and positively-but-realistically about progress and how that is leading us to the good place we all want to be in at the end of the process.

How does this all tie into Brexit? I hear you ask… Well, let’s spell it out more explicitly, since I’m pretty sure that the people concerned have not engaged any experts in business change or, for that matter, project management.

Firstly, in my opinion and experience, there should have been an intense period of working out the options for what Brexit actually means; maybe six months or so, before asking for another referendum, which laid out those options. Arguably that should have come first, but there’s rarely real harm in asking a broad brush question first, as long as you all know that you’re going to follow it up with at least a second round of questions. By “laid out those options” I also mean that there should have been clear advice from experts on the likely outcome of those options, in order for people to better understand them, where possible. This should always have been on the cards – they should have worked out that a Brexit majority was possible and laid down what the next stage was going to look like, so that no-one could claim it was people trying to weasel out of it. Among the options of the more granular set of questions should also have been “Do nothing/ remain in the EU”. As I said earlier: any competent project manager should be putting that on the table for their stakeholders, even if the answer is a resounding: any change is better.

(At this stage, it should also have been possible to drill down even deeper into a more granular understanding of people’s needs, given the majority answer to the second round of questions, but maybe that would have been better handled by experts. It depends on the outcome, obviously.)

Only then, in my opinion, should Article 50 have been triggered, if the overwhelming majority still said Brexit, and on which terms.

Secondly, again in my opinion and experience, there should have been a plan to either devolve the responsibility for carrying out the changes to people at regional levels, carrying on the process of making this a fully democratic process, or there should have been a very clear vision of the desired outcome and means to get to that laid out for people to follow.

(Personally, I tend to favour the democratic approach, but sometimes you’ve just got to say: sod it, this is the best way forward, and here it is. People trust authority, on the whole – that’s what it’s there for: stability and clarity of purpose, and removing the need for people to think for themselves (a discussion for another time, perhaps).)

However, yes, you’ve guessed it – in my opinion those in charge did that tiffling about in the middle thing instead. Combining the phrases “The Will Of The People” and “Brexit Means Brexit” is the very definition of treading the shitty middle ground between two solid and effective positions.

Thirdly, there was little or no provision or capacity for allowing people (48% of those who voted is no mean number of disappointed, shocked, unhappy people in an entire country) to pass through those stages of mourning – no patience, no protection, little effective reassurance (and significant amounts of that turning out to be false latterly – see Windrush generation issues, just for starters). Faced with a combination of impatient Brexiteers and devastated Remainers, they have managed to keep nobody feeling reassured over the last couple of years, let alone actually happy (except, curiously, those whose investments overseas keep them secure no matter what).

Cards on the table, in case you haven’t already guessed/ didn’t already know: I’m a Remainer. I consider myself, for a variety of reasons, European. That’s unlikely to change. But there are so many better ways this could have gone and us still be on track to exit the EU in a stable, strong, well-managed, actually democratic/ benevolently autocratic fashion where the majority of people were, if not happy, then at least assured that our Government was doing the best it could for the least worst reasons.

As for whether a Second Referendum would work now… my skeptic brain is fairly sure that this is too late. The time to gather more granular requirements is at the beginning of a project, during the initiation and planning stages. At this point, in my opinion, you’re looking at full steam ahead with a great deal of heavy duty risk and issue management lined up, or a full stop (at the very least a hiatus of about a year during which more planning, issue solving, and risk mitigation, etc. can occur). I guess that’s what any second referendum at this stage could ask: Full Steam Ahead, Full Stop, Pause for a year. (Obviously all of those are dependent on what will be agreed upon by the EU.)

Final note: there’s a technique that competent project managers should employ, which is called “Lessons Learned”. You bring as many representative stakeholders together as possible after the project is deemed a success/ officially been called to a full stop, and gather from them the following information:

What Went Well (there’s always something, and it allows people to celebrate successes)

What Could Have Gone Better (there’s always something, but the important thing is not to assign blame as such, while ensuring that it’s recorded in a clear manner that helps people not repeat the same issue, if at all possible)

Things To Do Differently Next Time (the future’s bright, what optimism shall we bring to this to ensure that anything of a similar nature goes even better?)

(Of course, if you record the lessons of history but fail to learn from and change your actions accordingly, there’s nothing much can be done.)

I’m not an economic or geopolitical expert. I’m not even a qualified group psychology expert (though I am a qualified project manager and business change manager). I can’t say with any certainty what the outcome of Brexit/ Remain (if that is still considered an option) will be on those fronts, but there are experts, and they need to be consulted, for risk and issue management at the very least.

However, I am considered an expert in my organisation on delivering good and constructive Lessons Learned sessions, and my rates are very reasonable…


Waterfall approach means, simply: gather and agree on requirements and end state goal, give those over to the experts who can deliver this (in my job, that’s usually web application developers), they develop the whole thing, then present it for testing by some end state experts (preferably those stakeholders who use the system most closely and can apply real life scenarios to the new build), then make changes based on what the tests come back with. If it’s not up to scratch, start again – quality is the key driver, with an aim to get all requirements in place no matter how long it takes. Advantages: traditional and well-established/ -understood; stakeholders generally get everything they asked for; allows developers to really get to grips with the thing before any interference from the stakeholders; gives stakeholders a bit of a break while the developing is going on. Disadvantages: the black box of the development means that a lot of mistakes might occur without reference to the stakeholders; it might end up perfectly functional but not what the stakeholders actually wanted; you’re potentially more likely to go over your time limit.

Agile approach means, simply: gather the requirements and group them into modules that can produce small results as part of the whole. The whole thing is driven by resource (usually time), so that you aim to answer as many of the requirements as possible within a limited budget as possible. Prototypes are produced to allow for better agreement on requirements. Actual working solutions of parts of the whole are produced regularly and frequently so that stakeholders can view and feed back on the development. Testing is still done on the whole by stakeholders towards the end of development, but some projects also have user-led testing throughout, after each “sprint” is done. It’s particularly important here to prioritise requirements so that they can be grouped for these “timeboxes” in terms of criticality/ desirability and function. Advantages: proactive as well as reactive; engaging stakeholders throughout ensures better quality; you’re much more likely to hit your time target. Disadvantages: lots of people don’t understand what Agile actually means (they think it means: go fast, stripping away safety precautions); you’re potentially less likely to get everything you asked for; people can get a bit weary having to constantly test and feed back on developments.

Back to the main text

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Prevailing Wind (or: a cyclist's view of intersectional privilege)

I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to privilege recently. Specifically, I’ve been trying to come up with ways of explaining privilege to those who have not examined theirs, who have never felt the need to.

This particular image has occurred to me multiple times over the last couple of years, but this morning, toiling into work along the (mostly) flat roads of North and Central Cambridge, it started expanding in my head.

(Before we start properly: I realise that, as a metaphor, this makes certain assumptions about shared experience and is bound to be flawed, but this is what I’ve got so far...)

For the most part, when I cycle between home and work, the prevalent wind is in my face every morning, and behind me in the evening. When I cycle into work, I feel embattled; when I cycle home, I feel a little smug. Not always, but most of the time. Watching the faces of other people moving in the opposite direction each way, I formed the following model:

Simple Privilege

Imagine a substantial bike journey. You have to cycle from one place to another along roads shared with other users. People moving in the direction you’re moving in have the wind against them - headwind; people moving in the opposite direction have the wind behind them - tailwind.

You’re all heading for the same destination but from different directions. You cannot control the wind. You are either fighting it or boosted by it.

You arrive, dishevelled, sweaty, later than your colleague, despite setting off at the same time from the same distance away. “Terribly windy today!” you pant.

They, cool, well-groomed, look at you curiously: “I didn’t feel anything...”

You never feel the wind at your back, only in your face. And it’s nothing you did better or worse - the direction of the wind and where you live relative to the goal was decided long ago. You’ll need to leave home earlier, work harder, or both, to get there at the same time as, or earlier than, your colleague.

And the impact of that historical chance is that your colleague gets to work earlier than you, is regarded as a better worker, more reliable, and a lot less untidy to look at.

“But it’s not as simple as that!” you might say. “Some people coming from the same direction, going the same distance, go faster than you anyway, so it’s nothing to do with the direction of the wind!”

Well, yes, and this is something I tell myself every time anyone overtakes me, because that matters if the thing rewarded is moving faster, if we continue to tell everyone that the person who moves faster is better than the person moving slower. Maybe the faster person is carrying fewer things, maybe they’re fitter or stronger than me, maybe their bike is more aerodynamic (I do have big saddlebags, after all), maybe they could afford a better bike (see? I’ve done it myself! Okay then: a bike better suited to moving quickly). So the model expands:

Intersectional Privilege

But if we talk about that, we also need to talk about the other cyclists who are moving slower than you as all of you battle into the same wind. They may be less fit than you, they may be carrying more things, they may have an older bike or one less suited to cycling against the wind. They may even have decided to cycle slower, because it’s less stressful. Everything is relative, after all, and being able to overtake them doesn’t make you a better person than they are.

“Well,” say the motorists. Hold on; motorists?! We were talking about cycling... “The thing is: you don’t have to deal with traffic jams, do you? You have your own special lanes.”

“Actually,” you start to say, “you definitely get traffic jams in cycle lanes, or at the side of the roads that don’t have cycle lanes...”

“It’s not fair,” say the motorists, “for you to get special extras like bike lanes. After all, you don’t have to pay for fuel!”

“Technically,” you try to explain, “most cycle lanes, where they actually exist, are generally pretty narrow and don’t actually impact on your use of the road, and besides - very few of them actually have anything other than psychological levels of protection for us - we’d definitely come off worse in any impact between you and us.”

“Whatever,” say the motorists, and stop abruptly to park in the cycle lane so that they can be conveniently close to where they want to be, saying, as they get out: “if you paid road tax, you’d be more equal to us, and you’d get to have a say.”

“No such thing as road tax in the UK!” you call after them, but they’re long gone and you have to swerve around their vehicle into the path of a motorist who suggests that you use the pavement if your way is blocked.

“But pedestrians are even more fragile than us, and there’s...”

“There’s plenty of room!”

“There’s plenty of room on the road - why can’t you share that?”

But they’re long gone. “Bloody motorists!”

“Hold on a second,” says another motorist, coming up over your shoulder, “not all motorists are like that. I never drive or park in bike lanes, and I always give way to cyclists and I even leave plenty of room on the inside of roads with no bike lanes. Some of my family are cyclists. I sometimes cycle myself, actually.”


“You shouldn’t be attacking people who are on your side.”

“I can’t tell which type of motorist you are until we’ve finished an interaction. In order to stay safe, I have to assume that you might be the dangerous type of motorist who resents me taking up space, or just doesn’t see me. I have to be vigilant and proactive and assume that dangerous things could happen to me - you have a lot more power than me, and you can hurt me just by not noticing me. Besides, your exhaust fumes are just as...”

“But I do notice you. I’m a very careful driver. You can’t say all that about all motorists.”

“I didn’t say all motorists and, look, this is distracting - I need to focus on the road.”

“I was only trying to have a conversation.”

“You’re freaking me out!”

“Wow, why are you so sensitive?”

“Er, because several tons of fast-moving metal and glass (I’ve seen the instructional videos, you know!) is paying a LOT of attention to me and asking me to pay attention to them when I need to pay attention to the whole road and my pedalling and breathing and...”

But they’re long gone.

The next stretch of road has official signs telling you that you need to move onto the pavement in order to retain the protection of the bike lane. It’s that or move out into the middle of the road to avoid the parked cars. You try staying in the road, but it gets a bit daunting, so you move onto the pavement for a stretch. The surface of the pavement is rough and there are big lumps where tree roots are pushing up the concrete. You start to lose speed and the whole thing is very uncomfortable. This place is not designed for bikes.

Ahead, some pedestrians are walking across the whole width of the pavement. You ring your bell in plenty of time to let them know you’re coming.

“You don’t belong here,” they say, faces twisting.

“I know, but there’s no room in the road.”

“We don’t like moving out of your way.”

“I don’t like moving you out of my way.”

“That bell is very passive-aggressive.”

“Well, it’s the standard signal that’s universally understood.”

“I don’t like it.”

“Would you prefer me to shout?” You pass them.

“I just don’t like that bell! Bloody cyclists!”

But you’re long gone.

“Make up your mind!” says a motorist as you hit the road again. “Are you a vehicle or a pedestrian?”


Somewhere up ahead, you know, your colleagues have already arrived at their destination, well-groomed and full of energy.

Sometimes they ask why you are so tired. Sometimes they decry that you seem to be so angry all the time. “I’m fighting the wind,” you say.

“What wind?”

Monday, 16 November 2015


If people think of me in terms of a nationality narrower than British, they usually think of me as Welsh. I’m known at The Welsh Whisperer in some poetry circles, and my immediate family still makes a home there. It’s the country I support most viscerally in rugby, it’s the language I occasionally dream in (despite it being only my second, and no-one else in my family knowing more than a few words).  You can tell by the way I pronounce “tooth” and hear it when I get tired, drunk, or particularly emotional (“where to is that?” “tidy” “I’ll just get my daps on").

Some people know that I have Scottish family.  My mother was born there; the majority of my surviving blood relatives are based in central Scotland, after all, and the accent (and some of the dialect) comes pretty easily to me; some words are permanently Scottish in my pronunciation, unless I concentrate (“decided” sounds like “decideed”, I call things “wee”, I use “uh huh” in a way that confuses people here).

But not many people know that I was born in Belfast, in the mid-70s.  This isn’t a conscious hiding on my part, it’s just something that no longer really comes up now I no longer have language lessons (ges i ngheni yng nGogledd Iwerddon, je suis né en Irlande du Nord, natus sum in septemtrionis Hibernia, etc.).

But it’s still something that I think about, especially in weeks like these, because it’s something that formed who I am now.

Eight weeks after I was born, my folks fled - first to the Continent (Holland), then to South Wales, so that my brother could be born in the UK.  They moved quickly on both occasions, seeking some control over decisions other people would have imposed on them based on notions of borders. We were never meant to be this Welsh (i.e. more than genetically, on my father’s side), my brother and I - it just turned out that way, a legacy of other people’s fears.

My mother told us very few stories of the handful of years running up to us leaving Belfast... at least, not until we were in our late teens and early twenties.  I never quite understood why she was so jumpy, viewing with a particular type of scorn her exaggerated responses to explosions on television, backfiring cars, the way - now I come to think of it - she would walk around her own vehicle before getting in. I only learned when she did, almost too late, that PTSD might have informed the extent of her OCD, her inability to say goodbye simply and quickly, her skittishness, her agoraphobia. My mother was an adventurer, until adventure came to her, and until children gave her even more cause for obsessive fears.  Who knows if my mother’s fear and my father’s rage would have manifested themselves so strongly if it hadn’t been for those years?

My parents survived car bombs and bomb threats at work, facing down barricaders in the dark, learning which words to say and not say where, when to back down or face up, and when to whistle, mimicking blissful ignorance.

And through it all these two nominal Protestants continued to treat people as people.  My mother persisted in hiring folk regardless (“But, Mrs. Roberts, she’s - you know -” a sly gesture, a flick of the left wrist... “However, she’s the best person for the job.”), and my father in treating folk regardless (labour pains don’t take much consideration of religious history).  Maybe the pressure to draw lines was what pushed them out, as soon as I was big enough to shift (that and the sniper fire that lunchtime my mother had just sent off to discover if she was actually pregnant with me, etc.).

And that was something they explicitly passed on to me along with the accidental phrases that still pepper my sentences (“catch yourself on!” “what all do you do?”), peculiar pronunciations when I’m exasperated (“C’mawn noy!”), and a tendency to speak softly. My father taught me, aged 5, that all terrorists are idiots; violent, hidebound idiots - he didn’t care which side they were on: they were all wasteful, stupid, misanthropic bastards. My mother told me that - IRA or UDF - they were both making the same mistakes, perpetuating the same tired old arguments. Nominally Orange, we had more in common with Catholics who had buried old hatchets than stubborn drummers shouting “Fenian scum!”  The Glorious Twelfth my arse.

And this has carried on my whole life - applying this model across borders and colours and creeds. Catholics aren’t terrorists. Muslims aren’t terrorists. Cultists aren’t terrorists. Atheists aren’t terrorists. Socialists aren’t terrorists. Capitalists aren’t terrorists. Syrians aren’t terrorists. Iraqis aren’t terrorists. The Irish aren’t terrorists. Kyrgyzstanians aren’t terrorists. Vegans aren’t terrorists. Meat-eaters aren’t terrorists. Straight people aren’t terrorists. Gay people aren’t terrorists. White people aren’t terrorists. People of colour aren’t terrorists. Women aren’t terrorists. Men aren’t terrorists.  And yet terrorists have come from all those groups and more.

Terrorists want us to fear. The clue’s in the name - another thing my father discussed with me. They feed off chaos and confusion and the breakdown of general, societal trust (yep - they wanted this understanding instilled in me from a young age, in retrospect). The extremist, violent people on both sides of any conflict have more in common with each other than they do with the rest of those they claim to represent - they want the violence to continue; the rest of us don’t. The rest of us, on a hourly, daily, weekly, whatever basis, do not give a monkeys about the religion, culture, first language, sexuality, gender expression, ethnicity, nationality, ancestral origins, or any such demographics of the people around us. We care whether they will treat us well. Are they foe or neutral? Are they going to give us what we need, ignore us, or beat us around the head? While some of the former demographics may affect our assumptions about the likelihood of the latter actions/ character traits, we honestly don’t care, as long as people treat us well or leave us alone.  Left to ourselves, we seem to just get on with things, and get on with people.

But some folk just love borders, just love to ramp up the otherness factor of those on the “other side” of them. And my parents got some things wrong: they were still passing on the myth of the stereotypical Englishman (posh or common, they were all greedy, thoughtless thugs); they were frankly a bit racist (ethnic discrimination was a terrible thing in theory until their daughter started dating a person of colour); and they could be a bit condescending about people with disabilities, or people of a lower educational status than them, or unemployed people. I had to re-educate myself rapidly as my life changed and I started meeting people from, well, every walk of life, but I was helped in that constant adjustment by that template of “everyone’s the same, really, and all terrorists and hate-mongers are fighting for the same side” which persisted with me.

You know that when angry imams slam the whole West as corrupt and sinful that it’s ridiculous. You know that when scornful aristocrats dismiss everyone of a “lower” socioeconomic status as them as “proles”/ “scum” that it’s meaningless. You know that when the Daily Mail declaim, well, pretty much anything that it’s ludicrous. So think about it - the people vehemently generalising in the opposite direction, away from you - are they any more accurate?

I’ve not known what to say about the events in Paris. They were awful - yes - and far too many people’s lives have been snuffed out or permanently altered by the fear-driven, anger-driven, appetite-for-chaos-driven actions of a handful of people.  Each and every life lost or altered is its own tragedy, and is no bigger or smaller than any other across the globe. And people across the globe have been suffering as a result of those who kill and maim in the name of control and the strengthening of borders. To me, the outcome in Paris is no different from those in Beirut last week, or Belfast last millennium, New York in this one, London last decade, Boston in this one. It’s closer, yes, but it’s exactly the same. It’s always exactly the same.  And each crisis has exactly the same solution: compassion, understanding, dialogue, reaching out, an abandonment of weapons, a recognition that we all need the same things: food, water, shelter, security, love, a place in society, fulfilment. And that compromises can be reached, and that we can all, actually, inhabit the planet (and any others we might like to aim for) together.

And that’s difficult. It takes overcoming the angers and scorns and fears embedded in us by our fathers and mothers, our teachers and politicians, and all those who pass on hate like an heirloom; it takes relearning - ourselves and others - and deliberately forgetting the prejudices that prevent us from just getting on with things, and with people, reaching out.  Start small and do it today and teach at least two other people how to do it. It’ll be worth it - I promise.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Rainbow-coloured confusion

Have you seen this?  Type "gay" or "LGBT" or "bisexual" or "lesbian" or "transgender" (there are probably a bunch more than this) into Google and see what you get.

[Go do it, come back, read the rest of this.]

Pretty, huh?

A (queer activist) friend posted this on Facebook, so I tried it and said words to the effect of: "aww... good old Google..."

Turns out, though, that a mutual friend of ours (one who I know far better than the OP, to be honest), had posted some comments on the OP's post that, on the surface, for people who knew him, were mostly fine, and it's good to question rather than assume you know what something means but, well, some people took exception to what he was saying, probably partly because they didn't know him, but, well, it got me thinking.

For some context, he said, among other things: "I think google easter eggs are brilliant, and this one for an especially worthy cause, which I support wholeheartedly. Just pointing out that the rainbow thing is more to do with Pride than colour wheels or Noah, and the Pride movement will have reached the zenith of its achievements when people google LGBT and nobody thinks it any more remarkable than if they'd googled 'person'. We are the labels we choose to wear, if we choose to wear them."

And then followed it up with: "I'm not having a go at gays or anything..."

Someone accused him of "internalised homophobia", and it all started getting sticky.  I waded in, coz, well, mouthing off about the fight for equality is something I'm known for (I hope), and something I need to do more.  This is the blog version of my response to him.

To someone who didn't know him, some of the language he used above there could come across as privileged and ignorant.  Especially the phrase "I'm not having a go at gays or anything..." as that sounds perilously close to that old "I'm not racist but..." prefix.  Never mind the fact that he's a clever guy and may well have meant it to be ironic - that wasn't going to help a crowd of internet strangers who didn't know him warm to the sentiments. It's really easy to slip and sound - at best - patronising, when coming from a position of privilege, when all you're trying to do is ask the right questions/ show that you're a good guy.  God knows I've done it often enough myself (about class, race, educational background, trans* issues, etc.).

It also had me thinking about and finally articulate an issue I've experienced for quite some time when talking to educated, articulate straight or male (for example) allies: it can be quite frustrating when someone who is well-meaning but privileged in that they are not [insert gay/ trans*/ black/ disabled/ whatever "minority" under discussion here] seems to be saying: "Oh, but surely all this 'pride' thing is just silly - we're all people after all!"  This is all very well and good and laudable, and yes - we all want that long-term, of course we do (unless we don't, in which case [insert epithet of choice here]), but it rarely - if ever - makes the [insert straight/ cis/ white/ able-bodied/ able-minded/ whatever "majority" counts here] person come across like an ally. Particularly if they've never had to live it, it has them come across more like someone who hasn't realised that right now we're still within living memory of e.g.:
  • employment laws that didn't protect gay people (that protection only came in during 2004);
  • the laws in the US about mixed-race marriages (yep, only in the last third of the 20th Century was that repealed);
  • unequal age of consent for gay men (and complete lack of acknowledgement of it for gay women); and
  • lack of specialised support for the independence of people with disabilities (Disability Living Allowance only came in during 1992, and the Disability Discrimination Act only came in 1995, and was rolled out achingly slowly).

Then there's the stuff that's still going on, e.g.:
  • the statistics (or even anecdotal evidence - perception is still important) about how black men are more likely to be stopped by the police in the UK than white men;
  • the statistics (or even anecdotal evidence - perception is still important) about the inequality of pay between men and women;
  • the negative stereotyping and unequal representation in the media and everyday conversation (when was the last time you described someone as "able-bodied" or "white" when asked to describe them to someone else?);
  • the thing where rape is still seen as a "women's issue";
  • the inequality of statutory parental leave after childbirth;
  • LET ALONE the fact that in many countries of the world it's not only less tolerated but actually illegal to be actively self-defining as non-heterosexual, on pain of incarceration and threat of death.

There's a LOT of work to be done to gain full equality, and people seeming to tell us that we should be over it already feels like a bit of a slap in the face, if I'm honest.

Because the scales are still tipped way over, we still need to be putting extra effort into a) educating [insert straight/ cis/ white/ able-bodied/ able-minded/ whatever "majority" counts here] people about what it means to be otherwise; and b) instilling a sense of pride and happiness in [insert gay/ trans*/ black/ disabled/ whatever "minority" under discussion here] about their identities, because it's all too easy to feel the shame and the horrible pressure to hide, conform, doubt yourself in those circumstances.

TL;DR: when about to open your mouth/ keyboard on something you haven't experienced/ are not involved in to a certain degree, you may need to "check your privilege", and reconsider how your words would come across to someone who a) didn't know you, b) inhabited the minority you're talking about in what may seem such a casual manner.

That's my first ramble out of the way. There'll be more.