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“Lesbian sperm banks”: When the media reports good news as bad news

There is a peculiar phenomenon of good news being reported as bad news. When you’re L, G, B or T, you notice this quite a lot. 

Christmas has come early for British lesbians. Well, for all three of them who read the front page of last weekend’s Mail on Sunday, for anything other than aggravation. Those who didn’t, did you know that the NHS is pouring funding into a sperm bank just for us? I’m already imagining a ribbon-cutting ceremony in which Claire Balding wields a giant pair of scissors and the whole of Twitter bursts into a chorus of, “Ha. Scissoring. #LesbianSpermBank”.

The last time I used the NHS was when I went in for a smear test earlier this year. Thanks to the Mail, I now know that it was a lesbian smear test. Ta for the heads-up, DM. Now I understand why the speculum was shaped like two of Cara Delevingne’s fingers.

But the Lesbian Sperm Bank, of course, is actually just one of those boring old non-lesbiasn sperm banks – albeit one that lesbians are welcome to patronise. So, unfortunately, there won’t be any cushiony rooms where broody dykes can sit listening to Enya and emotionally recovering from being in the proximity of semen. Well, that’s the NHS off my Christmas card list.

I can’t remember the last time lesbians made the front page of the Mail. The more trite of us humans often say, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” So maybe we should simply be happy about the word “lesbian” sprawled, spreadeagled and fat, across the front page of a national newspaper. In fact, if I was the PR for lesbianism, I’d probably make quite a hoo-hah about it: “Lesbian story makes the front page of the Mail on Sunday. It was totally homophobic, but still, Negronis for everyone!”

Enough of that though, no one wants to read yet another attack on the nation’s most oafish newspaper. It’s far too easy a target, and that would be boring. What I will do though is look into the peculiar phenomenon of good news being reported as bad news. When you’re L, G, B or T, you notice this quite a lot.

You only have to skim right-wing publications to find out that, in the opinion of some orangutans who were taught to write, gay parents are a disaster, same-sex marriage is an abomination, taxpayers are (against their will) funding gender reassignment surgery and the infamous “gay agenda” is turning the government into a feckless quagmire of political correctness (I bet you anything that exact phrase has been used before).

When I saw the Mail on Sunday headline, “NHS to fund sperm banks for lesbians,” my immediate reaction was, “well, wouldn’t that be fantastic if it were true?” It’s isolating to realise that, for many people, that’s the kind of news that makes them choke on their cornflakes, then thrash out an incoherent and entirely grammar-free Facebook post. The only logical explanation for this is that, even in mainstream culture, many people are still determined for anyone who doesn’t fit their definition of “normal” to be unhappy. To see your good news (even if it does happen to be factually inaccurate) reported, in a national newspaper, as bad news is difficult to shrug off.

I’ve been very lucky in life so far, to have been on the receiving end of very little direct homophobia. In many ways, I live in a protective bubble. Safe in my friendship group of London queers and hetero buddies o’gays, and with a mum who insists on coming to Pride with me, I can’t even remember the last time I came face-to-face with someone who holds my sexuality against me. But every time I see how much the advancement of my rights and the progress of the LGBT movement upsets swathes of the population, I’m reminded that it isn’t all proud parents and sticky nights out in Bethnal Green’s gaytopia.

Meanwhile, femininity’s self-proclaimed instruction manual, Cosmopolitan, recently extended its famously shitty sex tips to lesbians. The lesser of two evils, I suppose. 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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