Chocolate Jesus, Kamikazes and pants to my opponent

My sweet lord, the depths we can sink to when at war and a spot of good old fashioned politics...

Dear Marina,

I was taking a run on the treadmill while watching the morning news when, low and behold, a six-foot, anatomically correct chocolate Jesus appeared on the screen. Now, with Easter weekend approaching, I expect to digest my fair share of chocolate bunnies and cream eggs, but I don't know about the thought of a chocolate messiah! Then I heard that chocolate Jesus was the star of the “My Sweet Lord” exhibit in New York, which had been shut down due to public uproar. I began to ponder whether the exhibit really did go too far, or if cancelling it violated the rights of the artist who created the sweet sculpture.

Your thoughts?

An Easter Bunny, London.

My housemate Tyrone nailed it when he asked: "Would it have been different if they’d made him out of white chocolate?"

How about concrete (concrete production is a huge producer of green house gases)? Is that acceptable? Or blood? Marble? Hard wood ravaged out of a rain forest? Or perhaps two cornflake boxes and a yoghurt carton. Even plastic with a battery powered glowing heart.

What struck me about Cosimo Cavallaro’s six foot sculpture, crafted from 90kgs of milk chocolate was the perfection of the Messiah’s appendage, which did, I confess, inspire me to fall to my knees begging my Adonis for communion: “Sweet Jesus I could eat you!” At that moment this immaculate confection could have converted me to anything - until I realised my salvation would mean the sacrifice of a truly beautiful piece of art. Bad girl!

Given Catholics eat the body of Christ on a regular basis, I’d have thought a change in flavour would be welcome. But there’s no accounting for habitual guilt. It makes people crazy.

If you’re in the UK for the Passover/equinox/Easter season, check out George Heslop’s Chocolate exhibition at Ale and Porter Arts, Bradford-on-Avon from 8th April to 6th May. He too exhibits a full-size chocolate Jesus. But hurry before the Catholics catch on. Honestly why can’t they focus on the important issues such as why Christian society tolerates the notion of an Easter bunny? Happy global chocolate day everyone.

Dear Marina,

I am completely horrified. According to the Sun, British pilots now might be asked to go on Kamikaze missions, crashing their planes into terrorist targets as a last-ditch effort to destroy them. Our young pilots deliberately sacrificing themselves for the war on terror? That sounds far too much like the suicide bombers we are trying to stop! I am all for loyalty to your country, but suicide? In an age where we have rockets capable of reaching within feet of targets, what do you think is the purpose and justification behind using humans as ammo?

Air cadet, Oxford

The trouble with war is you either think it okay or you don’t. Once you cross over the line into acceptance, all humane bets are off. What does it matter whether you use cannon balls or humans beings as ammo once you accept that life is no longer sacrosanct? Indeed one could argue, given the mounting global over-population, that human beings are a greater sustainable resource – and much cheaper - than base metals. As the enemy has already calculated.

We meanwhile are happy to wander in the fog of moral obfuscation, stopping short of absolutes, appointing a sliding scale of values to different races instead. As in: its okay to bomb the shit out of Iraqi civilians but it’s not okay for our boys in blue to lay down their lives to kill those who would retaliate. Although if the RAF manages to blow those foreign bodies to smithereens with a bomb, that’s okay too.

All war is evil. Invading Iraq on false pretences was a crime against humanity. It was wrong in 2003 and it is just as wrong now.

What did we ever hope to gain and what have we lost? Our leaders have failed everyone.

This kamikaze suggestion from the air force is calibrated to wear us down, to lead us into ownership of the idea that a common enemy is out to get us and we must stop at nothing to win. That includes handing over our human rights and personal right to life.

After all, if we can tolerate state-sanctioned suicide bombing why wouldn’t we tolerate war in Iran, ID cards, a terminal NHS, stealth taxes, failing education, the growing poverty gap, increasing low-level crime, pollution, inaction on climate change and all the other failures this government would have us believe are GOOD THINGS!

Die for this government? I wouldn’t piss on it if it was on fire.

Dear Marina

As you know I am standing for election to Telscombe Town Council. I really want to win. What are the key messages we should be telling people? I only ask because I know there are important issues, but when I knock on peoples’ doors they just want to talk about you not wearing knickers. Did I miss something in the Focus leaflets?

Tyrone Harewood, East Saltdean

It is always gratifying when a candidate uses their initiative to maximise media exposure in the run up to the election. Well done Tyrone. I promise, if we win on 3rd May you’ll be let off delivering the Rapunzel round. Why people have to have more stairs than a Take That comeback video leading to their front doors is beyond me. I’d lose the will to pop out for milk.

Our three core messages, Tyrone, are our three core strengths. Only local Liberal Democrats have reduced crime, addressed the difficult issues of Climate Change and delivered power back to the people.

It is a credit to our local party (aided by opposition dirty tricks) that my underwear status has become the focus on the doorstep. Proof positive, surely, that there’s not much to moan about in these parts.

“I wear no underwear beneath my short cotton skirt” is the opening line to an article on climate change, published in the Viva Lewes Handbook (check out www.vivalewes.com). The main thrust of the piece is that while there are seemingly positive aspects to climate change – such as roses in winter, warmer temperatures and exposing our saucy bits - this is no excuse for doing nothing about global warming.

The column ends with a quote from the great revolutionary Tom Paine writing about Edmund Burke in The Rights of Man. Paine said: “[Burke] is not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.”

Proclaiming trumped up moral opinions over my right to express myself with naked honesty as a writer, a campaigner and yes even as a politician, makes Burkes of us all. Now’s the time to be a Paine. Take the bird in hand and focus on revolution. Vote Liberal Democrat this time.

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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