Tell Theresa May: Brenda Namigadde must stay

The Ugandan lesbian faces imprisonment and even death if repatriated today. Sign the petition urgently!

There are only twelve hours left. Following the tragic murder this week of the Ugandan openly gay activist, David Kato, who had fought long and hard for gay rights in Uganda for over a decade -- and had just won a court victory against Rolling Stone, the Ugandan newspaper that had called for him to be hanged -- the world's attention is now turned urgently to Brenda Namigadde, the Ugandan lesbian whose future hangs agonisingly in the balance.

Brenda is currently interned in the Yarl's Wood detention centre in the UK, having fled to Britain in 2003, but faces deportation back to Uganda in the next 12 hours, despite this new government's promise to put an end to the repatriation of homosexuals if their lives would be endangered following a court ruling last July. At the time, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said:

I welcome the ruling of the Supreme Court, which vindicates the position of the coalition Government. We have already promised to stop the removal of asylum-seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution. I do not believe it is acceptable to send people home and expect them to hide their sexuality to avoid persecution.

If Brenda is repatriated there, she will be arrested as soon as her plane touches down, and there is every likelihood she will be tortured and murdered. The reason for her deportation? Apparently, despite her relationship with a woman -- the Canadian Janet Hoffman with whom she lived in Uganda but has not seen since they both fled in 2003 following persecution -- a judge has deemed her not to be gay. "She has been found not to have a right to remain here," Matthew Coats, head of immigration at the UK Border Agency said. "An immigration judge found on the evidence before him that Ms Namigadde was not homosexual."

Although Brenda doubtless is gay -- and the fact she has to prove this seems horribly offensive in itself -- at this critical stage the ins and out, ifs and maybes of her sexuality are largely irrelevant, and the baying, homophobic mob in Uganda are hardly ones for nuance. The facts remain: if Brenda Namigadde is sent back to Uganda, a country with one of the most hostile and punishing climates on earth for LGBT people, her life will be in danger. The New Statesman urges you to sign the petition now to prevent this.

Thomas Calvocoressi is Chief Sub (Digital) at the New Statesman and writes about visual arts for the magazine.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.