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February 25 2014

February 24 2014

February 18 2014

February 17 2014

February 07 2014

Caribbean: Discrimination is Discrimination

Groundation Grenada has partnered with Trinidad-based artist Joshua Lu “to create a visual campaign to draw analogies between sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination and other forms of discrimination.” Check out the first few installations in the campaign, here.

Brazilian TV Comes Out of the Closet With Highly Anticipated Gay Kiss

[All links lead to Portuguese-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

Cena do beijo entre Felix e Niko.

Kissing scene between Felix and Niko in the last episode of the soap opera “Amor à Vida” (Love of Life)

Millions of Brazilians stayed home to watch the end of the soap opera “Amor à Vida” (Love of Life) from the major media outlet Rede Globo on Friday night, 31 January 2014. Even many who usually don't watch soap operas ended up waiting, anxious, for its last chapter. The reason? The so-called first gay kiss of the Brazilian television drama.

The kiss was the result of a massive campaign on social networks asking the author of the soap opera, Walcyr Carrasco, for the gay couple Felix (Mateus Solano) and Niko (Thiago Fragoso) to finally lock lips on camera. Tension [en] was palpable in the streets and on social networks, and despite the surreal scenes, the unrealistic plot and abrupt changes in script, the whole country waited with bated breath for the scene.

Undoubtedly, the kissing scene will not change the reality of Brazil, an openly homophobic country that has been considered number one in LGBT killings in the world, but it is a breakthrough in the struggle, a small victory after all the pressure exerted by the LGBT movement and its supporters. It is necessary to get us out of our comfort zone and face reality, show the world that gay people exist, and not only that, but that they are normal people who love like any other and have the same rights.

Every kiss is a political act, and as Professor Tulio Vianna commented:

Estou feliz por meus amigos e amigas LGBTs, mas estou feliz sobretudo por nós heterossexuais que nos tornamos um pouquinho menos opressores, com a violência simbólica que exercemos a todo dia para obrigar a todos a terem a mesma orientação sexual que a nossa. Este é um avanço não só para os LGBTs, mas para a laicidade e para toda a democracia.

I'm happy for my LGBT friends, but I'm especially happy for us heterosexuals who have become a little less oppressive, with the symbolic violence that we exercise every day to force everyone to have the same sexual orientation as ours. This is a breakthrough, not only for LGBT people, but for secularism and for all democracy.

The only openly gay congressman in the Brazilian parliament, Jean Wyllys, was one of the instigators of the campaign #BeijaFelix (#KissFelix). He commented:

Foi um passo adiante e positivo na representação dos modos de vida homossexuais e da homoafetividade. Tem um efeito pedagógico para as próximas gerações e obriga as atuais a ao menos repensarem seus preconceitos. Foi um acréscimo de autoestima na vida dos gays e lésbicas, na medida quem valorizou nossa forma de amar e nossos arranjos familiares

It was a positive step forward in the representation of the homosexual way of life and homo-affectivity. It will have an educational effect for generations to come and forces the current one to at least rethink their prejudices. It was an increase of self-esteem in the lives of gays and lesbians, in so far as who appreciated our love and our family arrangements.
An Argentine activist living in Brazil, Bruno Bimbi, wrote on his blog [es] about the meaning of the kiss to the Brazilian public:

Es difícil entender el peso simbólico de ese beso sin ser brasileño. Inclusive para quien, como el autor de esta columna, vive hace varios años en Río de Janeiro y nunca antes se había sentido tan extranjero, en el sentido más alienígena de la palabra, tratando de comprender la polémica y todas las emociones, presiones, miedos y esperanzas que corrían atrás del final feliz que finalmente ocurrió hace unas horas. La novela de las nueve de la TV Globo es un poderoso productor de sentidos y formador de subjetividades que, cada noche, reúne a viejos y jóvenes, hombres y mujeres, negros y blancos, héteros y gays de todas las clases sociales. Es la compañía de millones de hogares durante la cena. Es de lo que hablarán mañana el portero de mi edificio, mis profesoras del doctorado, mis compañeros de trabajo y militancia, la vecina de al lado y el mozo del bar de la esquina [...] En sus cuentas de Twitter, aún sin palabras, mientras tantos festejaban, los pastores del odio se llamaron a silencio.

It is difficult to understand the symbolic meaning of that kiss without being Brazilian. Even for those who, like the author of this column, have lived for several years in Rio de Janeiro and never before had felt so strange in the most alien sense of the word, trying to understand the controversy and all the emotions, pressures, fears and hopes chasing a happy ending that finally happened a few hours ago. The nine o'clock soap opera of TV Globo is a powerful producer of personal meaning and reality that every night brings together young and old, men and women, blacks and whites, gays and heterosexuals of all social classes. It is the company of millions of homes during dinner. It's what the doorman of my building will talk about tomorrow, of what my doctoral professors, my colleagues and fellow militants, the neighbour and the barman on the corner [will talk about] [...] On their Twitter accounts, even without words, while many celebrated, the shepherds of hate kept silent.

More discrete kisses in the past

This was not the first gay kiss on Brazilian TV, but no doubt it was the most important because of the popularity of Rede Globo's soap operas and the fact that this network is the largest in the country. The first gay kiss on Brazilian TV, according to economist Renata Lins writing on Facebook, was seen 24 years ago in 1990 in the miniseries “Mãe de Santo” [the title, literally Mother of Saint, refers to the priestesses of some Afro-Brazilian religions] on the defunct Manchete TV i between a white man and a black man.

On May 12, 2011 occurred what many considered the first lesbian gay kiss on Brazilian TV, on channel SBT during the soap opera “Amor e Revolução” (Love and Revolution) written by Tiago Santiago. There, Marcela (Luciana Vendramini) and Marina (Giselle Tigre) kissed passionately, but because it is a smaller TV network which only has recent tradition in the production of national soap operas, the fact was considered of minor importance at the time.

Cena de beijo na novela

Kissing scene in the soap opera “Amor e Revolução”

In 2010, though, the PSOL – Socialism and Freedom Party – aired a gay kiss during the election campaign, widely reported at the time.

It's a goal!

“The expectation at the gay kiss in the soap opera was much higher than the cheer for any football team,” reported Professor Eduardo Sterzi. Many netizens commented about the celebrations that were heard across the country, with people screaming at their windows as if their team had scored a goal.

Cries of “Chupa Feliciano” (Suck it Feliciano) could be heard in reference to the evangelical minister and notoriously homophobic congressman Marco Feliciano, on which Global Voices reported [en] in March 2013 when he was elected deputy chairman of Human and Minority Rights Commission of the House of Representatives. On Twitter, there were several humorous reactions to the gay kiss and in repudiation of Marco Feliciano.

Tuíte do ator Thiago Fragoso agradecendo aos fãs

“Very happy! Thank you for the messages thank you for everything…” Tweet by actor Thiago Fragoso thanking his fans

On Facebook, academic Fabio Malini warned politicians of the dangers of posturing against minority rights and reminded them of the demands of mass protests that took place in the country in June 2013, whose effects are still very visible:

Há várias interpretações possíveis para o que ocorre na sociedade brasileira. Mas eu queria salientar que a afirmação dos direitos das minorias foi amplamente reivindicada nos protestos de junho. Foi algo radical nas ruas. E a Globo se viu pressionada por um lado pelo fãs do casal da novela; e, por outro, pelo imaginário do “O Povo Não é Bobo” recuperado pelos “vândalos” de junho. Não havia outra solução para a emissora, senão Liberar. Que o fato vire um recado político das urnas em 2014: no lugar de ceder à base religiosa conservadora, as forças políticas de esquerda (se elas ainda existirem) afirmem todos os direitos possíveis das minorias. Do contrário, virarão ainda mais reféns de uma minoria política que só anda para atrás.

There are several possible interpretations for what occurs in Brazilian society. But I wanted to point out that the assertion of minority rights was widely claimed in the June protests. It was something radical in the streets. And Globo TV found itself pressed on one hand by the fans of the soap opera couple, and secondly by the imagination of “The People Are No Fool” [chant sung during the protests] recovered by the “thugs” [derogatory way that the media called the protesters] in June. There was no other solution for the broadcaster but equality. The fact becomes a political message of the polls in 2014: instead of yielding to the conservative religious base, the political forces of the left (if they still exist) must assert all possible rights of minorities. Otherwise, they will become even more hostage to the political minority which only walks backwards.

Journalist Leonardo Sakamoto celebrated the kiss, but noted that “Globo has its million of defects, but it is not stupid”, and that “ended up creating a historical fact that makes one forget their own unwillingness to address the issue.”

In other words, the kiss “could have appeared in any of the episodes of the last month,” but Globo chose to create anticipation, attract audiences and even measure the popularity of a gay kiss with the public at a time when the TV station is trying to reach the evangelical conservative public. It also faces conservative positions even from the federal government, whose top representative, President Dilma Rousseff, had already declared in previous years it would not make “sexual option propaganda” when asked about pro-LGBT policies in her government and the cancellation of a program to combat homophobia in schools.

Imagem do instagram de @ane_molina com a notificação de que sua foto foi deletada por infringir regras da rede social

Image from Instragram by @ane_molina of a notification that her photo is being analysed due to a violation of the rules of the social network (nudity or pornography)

Others, such as the diplomat Hugo Neto Lorenzetti, criticized the delay for the kiss to happen and warned of an important fact: There is still much to fight. A gay kiss on TV is not the end of the fight, but only a small victory.

Actor Matthew Solano, who plays Felix, one half of the gay couple, commented in an interview about the kiss:

É um pequeno passo na dramaturgia, mas um grande passo na sociedade

It is a small step for dramaturgy, but a big step for society
On the other hand, some activists and journalists have not joined the celebrations. Felipe Chagas on his Facebook commented:
A realidade, gente, é que nós estamos aqui, e o que vimos ontem nas telinhas (sic) foi apenas uma realidade retratada de forma mais que atrasada a partir do ponto de vista da burguesia (com seu núcleo familiar patriarcal, heterossexual e com prole) sobre a nossa existência. É tão vergonhoso as LGBTs se arrastarem por várias novelas para conseguirem um único beijo gay no principal canal de televisão no “horário nobre”, que me sinto revoltado. Sinto-me revoltado porque é humilhante saber que depois de tantos anos, com uma audiência exorbitante causado pelo principal personagem dessa obra ficcional (que é um ex-vilão gay que virou mocinho), que o tão esperado beijo foi um selinho que durou 4 segundos (ou menos que isso), na penúltima cena da novela depois das 23h duma sexta-feira. Patético, apenas.

The reality, folks, is that we're here, and what we saw yesterday on the small screens was just a reality portrayed in a more than overdue way from the point of view of the bourgeoisie (with its patriarchal, heterosexual, nuclear family with a child) about our existence. It's so embarrassing that the LGBT are creeping ahead by several soap operas to get a single gay kiss on the main TV channel in “primetime”, that I feel disgusted. I feel angry because it is humiliating to know that after so many years, with an exorbitant audience due to the main character of this fictional work (who is a gay ex-villain turned good guy), that the long-awaited kiss was a peck that lasted 4 sec (or less than that), in the penultimate scene of the soap after 23:00 of a Friday. Just pathetic.

Fernando Pardal added that Globo would present “a gay couple who behaves exactly like a bourgeois heterosexual couple” with the “purpose [of] trying to make this historical moment of acceptance of different sexualities [...] done as ‘quietly’ as possible (for the bourgeoisie and the family)”:

E quem comemora acriticamente este beijo como um “progresso” da Globo está ajudando nesta falsificação.

And those who uncritically celebrate this kiss as “progress” by Globo is helping this forgery.

There was enough room left for that homophobia to be preached freely through social networks by users like Nathanael Martins (@Dc_Natanael) who held that the Globo's “advocacy of homosexuality” was “a slap in the face of Christians”, or Coxa® (@Marcio1914) who said that “people are applauding two gays kissing, it will not take long for being a faggot to be a mandatory requirement, I wanna die first.”
 
With humor, activist Karla Joyce responded to the homophobia:
Ninguém morreu. Não doeu. Ninguém virou gay. Nenhuma autoridade não veio em pronunciamento à nação falar que agora haverá uma cartilha gay ou que entramos no regime da “”"Ditadura Gay”"”. Ninguém foi obrigado a consumar um casamento homoafeitvo. Não foi um “agora vão se comer no meio da rua”. Os cavaleiros do apocalipse não chegaram. A meteorologia não indica que esteja chovendo enxofre ou meteoros no Brasil.
Nobody died. It did not hurt. Nobody turned gay. No authority came in with a speech to the nation saying that there will now be a gay booklet or that we enter the regime of the “Gay Dictatorship”. Nobody was forced to consummate a gay marriage. It wasn't a “now go fuck each other on the street.” The knights of apocalypse did not arrive. The weather does not indicate it's raining sulfur or meteors in Brazil.
 
Activist Jarid Arraes wrote movingly on her Facebook:
Um amigo viu meu último post, falando da importância política do beijo na novela, e ligou chorando, muito feliz, dizendo que graças a cena final entre Félix e o Pai, o seu próprio pai bateu na porta do quarto dele as 4 da manhã.O pai, que chorava de soluçar, pediu perdão ao filho por toda discriminação e palavras de ódio. Disse que a partir daquele dia ele se arrependia e o aceitava. E que podia inclusive levar o namorado para almoçar no domingo com a família inteira.Só quem já passou por isso sabe…
A friend saw my last post, talking about the political significance of the kiss in the soap opera, and called me crying, very happy, saying that because of the final scene between Felix and his Father, his own father knocked on the door of his room at 4 a.m. His father, who sobbed, apologized to his son for all discrimination and hate speech. He said that from that day on he repented and accepted him. And he could even take his boyfriend to lunch on Sunday with the whole family. Only someone who has been there knows…
Finally, a blogger specializing in TV, Gustavo Baena, expressed the feelings of many:

Imagine o que significou o gesto dos personagens de Solano e Thiago para que milhares de jovens homossexuais possam elevar sua autoestima e conquistar espaço para o diálogo, a aceitação e o respeito dentro das próprias famílias, inclusive.

Imagine what the gesture of the characters of Solano and Thiago meant for the thousands of young gay people who can raise their self-esteem and gain space for dialogue, acceptance and respect including within their own families.

This post was written in collaboration with Marcela Canavarro and Luis Henrique

February 04 2014

Blog Carnival Shows the Caribbean Some Love

The online feminist collective CODE RED hosted a month-long blog carnival called e-Mas, under the theme “To the Caribbean, With Love.”  The series featured contributions from writers all over the Caribbean. According to the organizers:

Still confused about what a blog carnival is? Think of all the usual ingredients of a Caribbean carnival and try to replicate those with words, images and/or sound.  The theme is broad enough that you can guh to town pun it!

This led to a wide variety of posts being published – essays, poems, photography, even vidblogs – touching on a broad spectrum of topics, all united by the Twitter hashtag #DearCaribbean.

Carla Moore presented a vidblog in which she discusses why some people choose to stay at home in the Caribbean even when they can leave:

Moore inspired Klieon Cavon to do his own vidblog entitled “Basseterre Woman”:

Akeema-Zane preferred to write about her experience: 

For the first time you will eat swordfish from Oistins and cry out loud in the clear blue waters of Pebbles Beach, praising the universe and all of creation for the now, the yesteryears and the tomorrows and acknowledging in that present moment that you deserve every rainbow, every sun-kissing sky, every laugh and smile. You will hug yourself tightly because you dared to feel the enormity of your existence-that you are real and not imagined; that you are highest form of beauty personified. You will love yourself so strongly, so deeply, that you will be moved to the highest gratitude of thanks. For everything known and unknown and everyone who allowed you to be!

Saieed I. Khalil examined what the Caribbean integration movement can learn from the mass protests in Ukraine:

But who among us will participate in the uprising to galvanize policymakers to act? In Ukraine, some estimates put the portion of youths under 30 participating in the protests at 90%! Many of them are students and wield degrees. This leads us to the second lesson of the Maidan protests: a mass of young, educated people who are sufficiently mobilized can lead the strike for regional integration. Why them, and not older folks?

Diaspora Dash shared her discovery about the cultural impact of the migration from the Anglophone/Francophone Caribbean into Venezuela, while Jermain Ostiana wrote a poem entitled Trujillonomics:

Little kids drawing veves
with anti-capitalist
black angel dust.
Yeah pah I love you
even if you been god-awfully indoctrinated by the Dutch.
While you suited up
in a cold temperatured office
helping the corporate to connive.
The kids be in classes without airco and iPads, school teachers struggling to inspire.
And this kingdom s’posed to be heaven?

Maureen St. Clair admitted that she did not really learn to love her own body until she moved to the Caribbean:

 I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them.  It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.

Lina Free wrote “a love letter to the Caribbean”:

Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

Gabrielle Hosein wrote about the challenges of being an Indo-Caribbean feminist:

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

Vidyaratha Kissoon, who inspired the blogging mas, also wrote about being Indian and from the Caribbean:

But is funny, when I lef dis part uh de world.. how ah does push de Caribbean ting. ( i was tellin’ a fren is Burnham jumbie in me.. an’ I laff when I remembah how dem people in Englan’ used to tell me dat i soun ‘black’ an’ how i join up wid de African and Caribbean Students Society instead of de Asian Students because I feel like I had more in common wid black ‘Caribbean’ people. Anodda time ah had to laff because a drunk India coolie computer man.. we bin at a conference party.. tell me dat is a good ting we ancestors lef India because at least we could dance.

The Contessa wrote about appropriating the Baby Doll ole mas character as a way to challenge conventional notions of sexuality:

The Baby doll conventionally provides commentary on teen-pregnancy and responsible fathering and can easily be extended to other related issues such as breast feeding and child rights. At the competition level, baby dolls tend to use current social and political events, making their speeches relevant, witty and sometimes controversial.  This however did not prevent the looks of slight shock and discomfort I received back stage after telling two of the other “dolls” that I would be looking for my child mother and not father this time around. I guess some things remain taboo despite our Carnival’s history. 

Take a look at all the submissions, here.

Mozambique's LGBT Community: Tell Your Story

Lambda, the Mozambican Association for the Defense of Sexual Minorities, invites [pt] adult members of the LGBT community to participate in a short documentary. ”Your story in the first person” is the title of this film project which aims at “documenting our trajectories of self-acceptance, our battles and conquests as LGBT people in Mozambique.” More information on how to take part is available in the LambdaMozi Facebook page. The deadline is February 21, 2014.

January 27 2014

Prominent Kenyan Writer Binyavanga Wainaina Comes Out as Gay

Binyavanga Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. Photo released by Wikipedia user  Binyavanga Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. under Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0).

Binyavanga Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. Photo released by Wikipedia user Binyavanga Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. CC BY 3.0

Kenyan novelist and short story writer Binyavanga Wainaina has released a chapter that was left out from his 2011 memoir “One Day I Will Write About This Place” titled “I am homosexual, mum“. Wainaina, who is the founding editor of the East African leading literary magazine Kwani?, is an award-winning author whose memoir made the reading list of Oprah's book club in 2011.

Wainaina recounts events prior to his mother's death and his struggle to reveal his sexual orientation to the people he cares about. In what he calls a lost chapter from “One Day I Will Write About This Place”, he revealed:

I, Binyavanga Wainaina, quite honestly swear I have known I am a homosexual since I was five. I have never touched a man sexually. I have slept with three women in my life. One woman, successfully. Only once with her. It was amazing. But the next day, I was not able to.

It will take me five years after my mother’s death to find a man who will give me a massage and some brief, paid-for love. In Earl’s Court, London. And I will be freed, and tell my best friend, who will surprise me by understanding, without understanding. I will tell him what I did, but not tell him I am gay. I cannot say the word gay until I am thirty nine, four years after that brief massage encounter. Today, it is 18 January 2013, and I am forty three.

The revelation came shortly after Uganda's parliament passed legislation that would jail homosexuals and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria approved a new law that criminalises homosexual relationships and imposes prison terms of up of to 14 years.

Wainaina is quoted by Kenyan newspaper The Star saying that the anti-gay law in Nigeria was one of the things that made him decide to come out.

He has also released a six-part YouTube video titled “We Must Free Our Imagination” discussing his decision to come out, homosexuality in Africa, the church and anti-sodomy laws on the continent. Below is the first part of his video series:

Following his public declaration of his sexual orientation, Cal Advocacy blog asked, “Where are the voices of African lesbians?”:

Can lesbian women publicly and proudly raise their voices without fear of reprisals from conservative, patriarchal systems of silencing and oppression? And if we can- then why aren’t we? What systems of oppression still keep us muffled and quiet? When homosexuality is spoken about in Africa, the voice, rhetoric and overall emphasis on either affirming or disputing the rights of non-heteronormative people is more often than not the voice of gay men. Binyavanga is a gay man and he has ‘come out’ and publicly said so. But what does this mean for bisexual, trans and lesbian women? Does Binyavanga’s coming out also give us a voice and a space to claim our rights to exist in spaces that are hostile to our otherness? Can a lesbian woman in Africa copy-paste and edit his letter as a telling of her own story? Has he, in essence, spoken for us all? Women’s sexuality as a whole is a completely side-lined and unacknowledged part of womanhood, where societies, cultures, traditions and religions refuse to recognize women’s sexual rights and bodily autonomy. In this light, lesbian women struggle for legitimacy in a phallocentric world, where the absence of the penis means the absence of sex and sexuality. It can even be argued that colonial laws never took lesbian relationships to account because the very thought that two women, or women alone, could have sexually gratifying relationships was seen as ludicrous, and therefore unaffected by any kind of laws.

The post continued by praising the writer and pointing the way forward for African lesbians:

Binyavanga has helped push an already happening conversation into a public, heterosexual space. The energy around unapologetically and honestly stating our sexuality should not lose momentum. And the voice he uses in planting, firmly, his homosexual identity, is admirable. He makes no apologies, and offers no explanations. And neither should we. We need more lesbian voices, and the voices of gender non-conforming women, asserting ourselves and owning our place on the continent. It doesn’t have to be a coming out story, and you don’t have to be a literary giant. It just has to be your truth as a lesbian, bisexual or transgendered woman, but it has to be spoken out loud, because like Audre Lorde said-your silence will not save you.

On Twitter, many people praised his courage, while a few voices condemned him for his choice:

January 26 2014

Bangladesh Gets Its First LGBT Magazine, ‘Roopbaan’

A group of volunteers have launched Bangladesh's first magazine aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues hoping to promote greater acceptance of the community, who face widespread discrimination in the the Muslim-majority country.

The 56-page magazine is named after the Bengali folk character Roopbaan, who symbolizes the power of love. The quarterly magazine, whose publishers wish to remain anonymous, will not be available on street newsstands, for fear of inflaming tensions and sparking a backlash against the gay community.

Cover of  Roopbaan, Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine.

Cover of Roopbaan, Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine. Used with permission.

Many online users have welcomed the launch, though some have received adverse reaction to their positive comments. Nowmee Shehab commented on the newspaper The Daily Star's Facebook page:

wow feeling so proud and such a sense of community through this. I am very encouraged by the brave people who put the magazine together. For those who are making religious comments- leave the judgement to God, because God is all about love and acceptance towards people who are different from you. Hopefully we can move towards a secular world where all religions are accepted and no one religion is privileged over another.

Diaspora Bangladeshi Twitter user Traveller 23 (@Traveller_23) was happy to see that the magazine's arrival has picked up media coverage:

Robert W. Gibson, the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh (@HCRobertGibson), was present at the launch. He was pleased to support this initiative:

Feminist writer Taslima Nasrin (@taslimanasreen) congratulated the initiative:

Emas Jubaer added:

Great, news! Finally Bangladesh is prospering. I had to leave Bangladesh for being gay, now I feel like going back and do[ing] something there. People who are arguing on this topic have no idea what is being a GAY like. They even don't know what is the word GAY means.

Philosopher and activist Rainer Ebert sent a video celebrating the launch of Roopbaan:

Bangladesh is the country with the second largest Muslim population, and homosexuality is considered to be a sin. The colonial era British anti-sodomy law punishes gay sex with fines and ten years to life in jail. Abdullah Al Galib criticized this publication:

homosexuality is a mental disease which one creates within himself. in the name of freedom they are destroying our society. well am not recognizing them for sure.

More information on the magazine can be found on its Facebook page.

January 23 2014

The Online Presence of Puerto Rican Women: Gender, Creativity, and Equality

In 2013, the Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres (Women's Broad Movement) painted a mural with the intention of creating awareness of gender-based violence. In 2010, the municipal government of San Juan, then under the administration of Jorge Santini, ordered the work to be stopped and imposed fines on some of the women. With the recent change in administration, the municipal government has accepted that the prohibition was unconstitutional, thereby permitting the completion of the mural. Image taken from the blog Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres.

In 2013, the Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres (Women's Broad Movement) painted a mural with the intention of creating awareness of gender-based violence. In 2010, the municipal government of San Juan, then under the administration of mayor Jorge Santini, ordered the work to be stopped and imposed fines on some of the women. With the recent change in administration, the municipal government has accepted that the prohibition was unconstitutional, thereby permitting the completion of the mural. Image taken from the blog Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres.

All links lead to Spanish language pages unless otherwise specified.

Many people today still don't understand why it is necessary to talk about women's (hi)stories. The short answer is that only by studying, acknowledging, and valuing women's experiences and contributions to society in all of their diversity can we really talk about the history of humankind. This is why the focus of this post will be on some of the online spaces Puerto Rican women have created to express ideas, creativity, exchange information, or provide resources that further education on women's issues and equality.

Culture and History

The history of the women of Puerto Rico is long and complex, making it impossible to get into here with detail, suffice it to say that it is full of many hard-won conquests that continue to be contested in a still patriarchal society such as Puerto Rico. The following video offers the views of different women about gender-based violence, labor rights, and health in an electoral context.

To learn more, one can check out the online compilation of articles that focus on women found in the social sciences journal Homines, published by the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, which contains many excellent pieces about women in Puerto Rico. Feminist scholar and journalist Norma Valle Ferrer also published a brief history of women in Puerto Rico “Las mujeres en Puerto Rico” that offers a wealth of information. 

Puerto Rican women have a rich legacy in many fields, but we will focus on the arts, particularly literature. From the poet Julia de Burgos (whose 100th anniversary is celebrated this year) to authors working today such as Mayra Santos-Febres and Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, to authors in the diaspora such as poet María Teresa Hernández, better known by her artistic name, Mariposa [en], women have made an enormous contribution to Puerto Rican letters that been studied in depth mostly since the advent of the feminist movement.

</p> <p>In order to encourage more women to find their voices as writers, the blog <a href="http://www.ovariosdeacero.com/">Ovarios de Acero</a> (Steel Ovaries) was set up to provide a place where women could publish their poems, short stories and essays in a safe and supportive environment. They also have a very active <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ovariosdeacero">Facebook page</a>. The <a href="http://www.ovariosdeacero.com/p/por-que-ovarios-de-acero.html">about section</a> of the blog states:</p> <blockquote> <p>Es un espacio que no juzga o requiere que seas una escritora profesional, solo debes ser mujer y tener el genuino deseo de crear y compartir. El concepto del blog, mayormente recoge una sola voz, pero Ovarios de Acero propone recoger todas las voces posibles. De esta forma creamos una antolog&#237;a de lecturas maravillosas y una diversidad sin l&#237;mites.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote class="translation"><p>It is a space that doesn't judge or requires that you be a professional writer, only that you be a woman and have the genuine desire to create and share. The concept of the blog mainly deals with just one voice, but Ovarios de Acero proposes to gather as many voices as possible. This way we create an anthology of wonderful readings and limitless diversity.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Empowering Women</strong></p> <p>The blog&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mujeresenpuertorico.com/">Mujeres en Puerto Rico</a> (Women in Puerto Rico), by VeronicaRT (<a href="https://twitter.com/MujeresenPR">@MujeresenPR</a>), offers news, commentary, and links to other content on the web that create awareness about feminism and to empower women. It also has a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/MujeresenPR/feed">YouTube channel</a> with content that complements what is posted on the blog.&nbsp;In a similar vein, the blog <a href="http://podercuerpoygenero.com/">Poder, Cuerpo y G&#233;nero</a> (Power, Body, and Gender) by Nahomi Galindo also offers news, commentary, and content from around the web. The blog of the feminist coalition <a href="http://movimientoampliodemujeres.blogspot.com/">Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres</a> is also an important online resource.&nbsp;</p> <p>An important effort that has greatly contributed to the empowerment of women is <a href="http://proyectomatria.org/">Proyecto Matria</a>, which seeks to help women survivors of gender-based violence and women who are the head of a family with very little income become financially independent and self-sufficient individuals. This non-profit organization operates an array of services in Puerto Rico that include psychosocial services, assistance in starting a microenterprise, and help in getting an education, among others. Its innovative approach transcends the still prevalent notion of casting women as passive victims that receive charity, focusing instead on helping women become not just successful entrepreneurs, but fully accomplished human beings.</p> <p></p> <p><strong>Stoping Gender-Based Violence</strong></p> <p>Gender-based violence is still, sadly, something that costs many women their emotional and psychic wellbeing, and their lives every year. That is why Ada M. &#193;lvarez Conde decided to start an organization that would help educate teenagers and college-age women and men about dating violence, something rarely discussed in Puerto Rico. The <a href="http://www.loquenodije.com/Home_Page.html">Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio</a> (Stop Silence Foundation) organizes group talks in schools all over Puerto Rico to create awareness and gathers resources from around the web on its webpage, <a href="http://loquenodije.lacoctelera.net/">blog</a>, and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/FundacionAltoAlSilencio">Facebook page</a>&nbsp;that not only provide information on the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship and how to get help, but also statistics, news, and a training program for other people interested in getting involved. &#193;lvarez Conde <a href="http://www.loquenodije.com/Home_Page.html">shares</a>&nbsp;how the Foundation started:</p> <blockquote> <p>Comenz&#243; la inauguraci&#243;n de la fundaci&#243;n con un entrenamiento a m&#225;s de 150 personas en la Convenci&#243;n Anual de la Coalici&#243;n Nacional en Contra de la Violencia Dom&#233;stica, en donde hay personas de los 50 estados que trabajan con v&#237;ctimas y est&#225;n encargados de los refugios a mujeres entre otros programas comunitarios. Alto al Silencio es la primera organizaci&#243;n dedicada a tratar el tema de la violencia en el noviazgo (se&#241;ales, relaciones saludables, autoestima, organizaci&#243;n comunitaria) &nbsp;en espa&#241;ol y para la comunidad latina como enfoque principal.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote class="translation"><p>The foundation got its start with over 150 people getting trained at the Annual Convention of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, where there are people from all 50 states [of the U. S.] that work with victims and are in charge of shelters, among other community programs. Alto al Silencio is the first organization that deals with dating violence (signs, healthy relationships, self-esteem, community organization) in Spanish and with the Latino community as its primary focus.</p></blockquote> <div id="attachment_451407" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=234063466747517&amp;set=pb.151874638299734.-2207520000.1389637559.&amp;type=3&amp;src=https%3A%2F%2Ffbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net%2Fhphotos-ak-ash3%2F1235295_234063466747517_500446761_n.jpg&amp;size=640%2C357"><img width="640" class=" wp-image-451407 " height="357" alt="One of the talks offered by Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, to 200 students. Image taken from Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio's Facebook page." src="http://globalvoicesonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Charla-Alto-al-Silencio-Cabo-Rojo.jpg" /></a><p class="wp-caption-text">One of the talks offered by Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, to 200 students. Image taken from Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio's <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=234063466747517&amp;set=pb.151874638299734.-2207520000.1389637559.&amp;type=3&amp;src=https%3A%2F%2Ffbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net%2Fhphotos-ak-ash3%2F1235295_234063466747517_500446761_n.jpg&amp;size=640%2C357">Facebook page</a>.</p></div> <p><strong>Some Parting Words on Feminism</strong></p> <p>Though the women of Puerto Rico share a rich and fascinating history, full of many contributions and victories in the endeavor to forge a more equitable society, much work still needs to be done. More men and boys need to take responsibility and understand that they are necessary components in these efforts and to feel that they, too, can also be considered part of the feminist movement. Because ultimately, feminism is not just about liberating women, but also about creating the awareness that men must also work against patriarchy and sexism. Human rights activist Am&#225;rilis Pag&#225;n, <a href="http://www.brujasyrebeldes.blogspot.com/2013/11/el-lobo-feroz.html">in one of the posts</a>&nbsp;from her blog Brujas y Rebeldes (Witches and Rebels), says:</p> <blockquote><p>Cuando las mujeres que trabajamos por derechos humanos hablamos del machismo, lo hacemos con plena conciencia de qu&#233; implica el t&#233;rmino y qui&#233;nes son los que mueven la rueda de la violencia. &nbsp;Reconocemos, inclusive, c&#243;mo el machismo tambi&#233;n oprime a los hombres al castrar su capacidad de sentir emociones, de amar libremente, de elegir qu&#233; hacer con su vida sin ser estigmatizados por renunciar a los privilegios que su sexo les otorga al nacer. Tambi&#233;n reconocemos las implicaciones econ&#243;micas del pensamiento machista y c&#243;mo esa rueda de violencia tritura a hombres y mujeres que viven en pobreza, en desigualdad racial y de orientaci&#243;n e identidad sexual. &nbsp;Por eso seguimos apostando a la educaci&#243;n, al activismo, pero muy en especial al amor que nos sostiene en tiempos de p&#233;rdida o cuando se recrudece la violencia institucional y social hacia nuestros grupos m&#225;s vulnerables.</p></blockquote> <blockquote class="translation"><p>When we the women who work on behalf of human rights talk about machismo, we do it fully conscious of what the term implies and who are the ones that move the wheel of violence. We acknowledge, in fact, how machismo also oppresses men by castrating their capacity to feel emotions, to love freely, to choose what to do with their lives without being stigmatized for renouncing the privileges given by their sex at birth. We also acknowledge the economic implications of male chauvinist thought and how that wheel of violence crushes the men and women who live in poverty, in racial and sexual identity inequality. This is why we keep our hopes in education, activism, but most especially in the love that sustains us in times of loss or when institutional and social violence flare up towards our most vulnerable groups.</p></blockquote> <p class="gv-rss-footer"><span class="credit-text"><span class="contributor">Written by <a href="https://globalvoicesonline.org/author/angel-carrion/" title="View all posts by &#193;ngel Carri&#243;n">&#193;ngel Carri&#243;n</a></span></span> &middot; <span class="commentcount"><a href="https://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/01/23/the-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality/#comments" title="comments">comments (0) </a></span><br /><a href="https://globalvoicesonline.org/donate/" title="read Donate">Donate</a> &middot; <span class="share-links-text"><span class="share-links-label">Share: </span> <a id="gv-st_facebook" href="http://www.facebook.com/share.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F" title="facebook" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">facebook</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_twitter" href="http://twitter.com/share?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F&#038;text=The+Online+Presence+of+Puerto+Rican+Women%3A+Gender%2C+Creativity%2C+and+Equality&#038;via=globalvoices" title="twitter" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">twitter</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_googleplus" href="https://plus.google.com/share?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F" title="googleplus" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">googleplus</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_reddit" href="http://reddit.com/submit?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F&#038;title=The+Online+Presence+of+Puerto+Rican+Women%3A+Gender%2C+Creativity%2C+and+Equality" title="reddit" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">reddit</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_stumbleupon" href="http://www.stumbleupon.com/submit?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F&#038;title=The+Online+Presence+of+Puerto+Rican+Women%3A+Gender%2C+Creativity%2C+and+Equality" title="StumbleUpon" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">StumbleUpon</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_delicious" href="http://del.icio.us/post?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F&#038;title=The+Online+Presence+of+Puerto+Rican+Women%3A+Gender%2C+Creativity%2C+and+Equality" title="delicious" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">delicious</span></a></span> </p>

January 21 2014

Gender-Based Violence Epidemic Hits Sex Workers in Honduras

Despite the fact that sex work is legal in Honduras, many groups and individuals view their actions as immoral. Those who murder sex workers believe they can literally treat these human beings as garbage to be disposed of. Such violence takes place against the broader backdrop of widespread gender- and sexuality-based violence that imperils women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) persons all through Honduras.

At least 9 sex workers were killed in San Pedro Sula in less than a month, according to a report by Amnesty International. The organization has released an Urgent Action calling for “exhaustive investigations into these attacks.”

January 20 2014

Dr. House Hits Sore Spot with Russians

“Everybody lies”: everything Hugh Laurie is wearing and using is captioned with random Russian companies and factories as a riff on his joke that Russia produces nothing for export. Anonymous image distributed online.

British actor Hugh Laurie (Gregory House, Bertie Wooster) caused quite a stir on the RuNet this weekend, when he reacted vehemently to a Guardian article [ru] describing Vladimir Putin's views on homosexuality and the Olympics. Laurie tweeted (and was retweeted over 4,000 times):

He followed up the joke a few minutes later, after some users gave vodka as an example of Russian exports:

Twelve hours later Laurie softened his statement:

Laurie's tweets were quickly translated [ru] into Russian, and fell on fertile ground — incensing various patriots, nationalists, and other Russians who may not enjoy outside criticism. Popular photo-blogger Ilya Varlamov tweeted, for instance:

With this tweet I want to officially tell Hugh Laurie to go f*ck himself, together with his opinions of our goods and his plans to boycott them

The hilariously nutty municipal deputy Ernest Makarenko ranted, confusing Laurie and his onscreen persona Dr. House:

How dares this puny doctor Hugh Laurie insult the country which gave birth to Pushkin, Suvorov, Putin, Gagarin, Nevsky, Stolypin, Lobachevsky?!

Makarenko later tweeted [ru] calling to ban Laurie from entering Russia, in order to keep out the “sodomite lobby.” Generally, some homophobic Russians [ru] took Laurie's statements defending Russia's gays to mean that he is gay himself. Lena Miro, a popular fitness blogger, even wrote a long post [ru] arguing that because Laurie has an “ugly” wife, that means he is a closeted homosexual.

Others were happy to point out what they saw as hypocrisies — one blogger noted [ru] that Laurie became well known for playing Bertie Wooster in the BBC productions of P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster novels. The same Wodehouse, huffed the blogger, cooperated with Nazis when he was a captive during WWII! Others pointed out [ru] that the UK buys Russian gas and oil, so perhaps Laurie could boycott driving and heating his house.

Still others were more incensed by Laurie's attacks on Russian vodka, than Russia itself. Young journalist and blogger Lolita Gruzdeva wrote a long letter to Laurie [ru], wondering why he is attacking the Russian national drink, and inviting him to visit her in Moscow so she can show him “real” Russia. The spoof twitter account of Vladislav Surkov also tweeted, jokingly:

Hugh Laurie is killing me with his love of Polish vodka, not his russophobia… Russophobia is simply severe delirium, but love of Polish vodka – that's a fatal diagnosis.

This pill from Laurie was perhaps especially hard to swallow because just a few months ago, while on tour in Russia, he said that he “loved” Russian vodka in an interview [ru].

Meanwhile, other netizens engaged in a little soul searching, wondering if Russia does indeed produce anything for export that is worth boycotting. One blogger thought [ru] that Laurie is unlikely to boycott Russian military exports, but that Kaspersky Antivirus is one product that Russians can be proud of. His readers had trouble coming up with more examples.

In the end, after Laurie's “retraction,” the media storm went as quickly as it came, with this joke as a last hurrah:

So, as I understand, this Hugh Laurie doesn't want to boycott depression. What a great f*cking comedian.

January 17 2014

Being Gay in Nigeria Now Means Arrest, Prison

Nigeria has arrested dozens of gay men under the country's new anti-gay law, signed by President Goodluck Jonathan on January 7, 2014. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act criminalises homosexual relationships, bans gay marriage, gay organisations, societies, clubs and events, and imposes prison terms of up of to 14 years.

The bill was passed by Nigeria's Senate in November 2011, the same Senate that approved child marriage in July 2013

Pew's Global Attitudes Project shows that Nigeria is the least tolerant country in the world when it comes to homosexuality.

A map showing penalties targeting gays and lesbians in Africa. Image source: http://ilga.org/

Homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries and it can be punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria. The parliament of Uganda passed a controversial anti-homosexuality bill on December 20, 2013 that would punish gays and lesbians with life in prison in some cases as well as jail anyone who did not report gay people to authorities.

The Nigerian government has started arresting gay men since the president signed the bill into law.

Nigerian blogger Ayo Sogunro reacted to the news by explaining why Nigerians should be worried about the anti-gay law. He countered most common arguments put forward by anti-gay groups in Nigeria. One of the arguments is that homosexuality is not part of “our culture”:

A common argument in support of the prejudicial legislation—and one infamously and misguidedly utilized by Mr. David Mark, the Senate President, states that homosexuality is not part of our “culture”. Let us ignore the obvious fact that Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups with diversified cultures out of which at least one involves a woman “marrying” another woman, another involves a husband “gifting” his wife to a male guest, another approves raiding a neighboring nomadic camp to kidnap a wife, and several involve a brother or son taking the surviving wives of a deceased as inheritance—let’s ignore all of these disparate sexual and marital cultural phenomena and focus instead on the nature of culture. What we call “our culture” is not a set of fixed, written rules handed down by our forefathers in a leather bound book. Instead, “our culture”, like any other culture, is an interwoven set of constantly changing practices. Culture, a student of sociology will tell you, is constantly in a state of flux: it grows new ideas, it borrows from other cultures, it ceases some long-held beliefs, and it is forever changing. You see, the only permanent culture is a dead culture. Jackets and fast cars are not the African culture, but I am yet to see a black man going to jail for perfectly stringing a Windsor knot.

He concluded by saying:

And now, here’s the worst part: if this law is allowed to sail through, it could be your affairs that will be considered criminal tomorrow. You use your left hand to write? Criminal. You squeeze your paste from the bottom of the tube? Criminal. You wear your wristwatch on the right hand. You criminal! The facts may be different, but the principle is the same. This law is a test by the legislature, a measurement of how much nonsense can be dumped on the public. Of course, it is general public opinion that there is a number of clowns seated in the legislature—some whom attained their claim to lawmaking solely by affiliation with their political party and not through a personal resume—and there is a tendency to just ignore them. However, when clowns begin to create dangerous precedents, then it is time for the audience to get serious and put them in place.

Ayo's post has attracted over 100 comments. Reader Uju, who admits being extremely homophobic, said the law is harsh, stupid and wicked:

though i’m extremely homophobic, I can’t help but reason with your article. Criminalizing homosexuality is very harsh. However, I just don’t wish for time when two men will be publicly displaying their affection. I can’t also help but feel like a hypocrite since I know I have my sins but in my defence, it’s my private sin. My point is most of us may never come to term with homosexuals being born that way but we will try not to cast our hypocritical stones at the born that ways as long as they keep their ‘born that wayness’ in private. That being said, I vehemently believe that making homosexuality a criminal act is sheer stupidity and wickedness.

Despite being a Christian who considers homosexuality a sin, Osemhen thought it is not up to the state to decide on a moral issue:

[...]I’m Christian, and I consider homosexuality a sin. I think it’s absolute nonsense to hurt someone because they’re gay. I think it’s outside the jurisdiction of the state to decide on what is so obviously a moral matter, and not a legal one.
I’m not sure of the origin of this bill but I think it started with someone wanting to legalize gay marriage. Talk about back-firing. This is what happens when you invite the government into your bedroom.

Another reader, spacyzuma, observed that:

[...]Homosexuals didn’t delay my civil service salary; the oga employer at the top of my employee organization did. He also reduced my salary; homosexuals didn’t. Homosexuals didn’t raise fuel prices; aren’t the ones who keep crippling our power, educational, agricultural, petroleum, transport sectors. [...] These legislators who wanna pass this anti-gay law will never support a bill that says looting our Treasury should be punishable by public flogging or decades of years in jail. They will completely ignore a bill that requires adulterers and fornicators to be jailed and punished.

Ashiwel wondered why there are lots of pending bills demanding urgent attention:

It worries me that there are a lot of pending bills before the Legislature, some since 2005– like the bill to deal with cybercrime– which demand the urgent attention of Nigeria’s lawmakers; and yet they choose to focus time and resources on criminalizing sexual orientations.

Should we take that to mean they lack the intellectual capacity to focus on and deal legislatively with these issues?

And if both religions claim to preach and practice love, peace and tolerance, where did the storied tolerance go?

American blogger David Mixner wrote a post explaining the reason behind the signing of the bill into law:

With all the dramatic problems facing Nigeria (including an insurgency that threatens its very existence as a nation state) why would President Jonathan be using political capital to pass and sign such legislation? It is exactly because of the Boko Haram insurgency that the President has signed the law. With his signature, he distracts his Christian followers from his failure to stop Boko Haram in the Islamic northern provinces.

He warned:

Ironically, the anti-gay law only deepens the division in this frail nation state and in the end won't make a damn bit of difference in the direction of the emerging civil war. Don't be surprise to see political opponents arrested for ‘homosexual conduct'.

Below is a sample of reactions on Twitter:

Not all tweeps are against the new law:

January 15 2014

Russia's Foreign Ministry Opines on “Queers”

The Russian Government's never-ending conflict with gay rights. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The Russian Government's never-ending conflict with gay rights. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

On January 14, 2014, for the second year in a row, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its report [ru] on human rights in the European Union. The initiative was most likely started as a symmetrical reply to similar (often critical) reports on human rights in Russia that the European Union has published over the years. Entitled “Report on the Human Rights Situation in the European Union”, the report was made available as a Word document on the Ministry's website, in both Russian and in an “unofficial translation” into English. 

The majority of the report dealt with cases of police brutality, refusals of asylum and discrimination on racial and gender grounds. In what was most likely a barbed reply to sustained western criticism of Russia's “gay propaganda” law, the report criticised the European Union for:

Attempts […] to enforce on other countries an alien view of homosexuality and same-sex marriages as a norm of life and some kind of a natural social phenomenon that deserves support at the state level.

The Russian version of the report continued and noted:

Подобный подход встречает сопротивление не только в странах, придерживающихся традиционных ценностей, но и там, где всегда существовало либеральное отношение к людям с нетрадиционной ориентацией.

A similar approach encounters resistance not only in countries maintaining traditional values, but also in those, where there has always existed a liberal attitude to people with non-traditional orientations

The English translation of the report, however, was phrased somewhat differently.

Screenshot taken from report

Screenshot taken from report by Daniel Kennedy on January 15, 2004

While the translation is labelled as “unofficial”, Russia watchers were somewhat taken aback that a homophobic slur could end up on a government website. Author Oliver Bullough commented:

The gaffe seems likely to overshadow the contents of the report, which contains detailed information on alleged human rights abuses in each EU member state. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet commented on the matter.

January 08 2014

Prominent Russian Actor Asks Putin to Recriminalize Sodomy

Ivan Okhlobystin, interview from June 2013, screenshot from YouTube.

Ivan Okhlobystin, interview from June 2013, screenshot from YouTube.

A prominent Russian actor, Ivan Okhlobystin, is making headlines for his latest homophobic act: a public letter [ru] addressed to Vladimir Putin, asking the President to recriminalize sodomy in Russia. Okhlobystin, whose resume includes acting, directing, writing, and even a decade served as an Orthodox priest, is notorious [ru] for making shocking, often anti-gay, public declarations. For instance, just last month, in December 2013, Okhlobystin told a crowd in Novosibirsk that he advocates burning gay people in ovens [ru], along with the Moscow press corps, whom he accused of sympathizing “unprofessionally” with gays.

Okhlobystin has also called [ru] for the banning of surrogate motherhood (comparing it to prostitution), likened [ru] gay marriage to necrophilia and zoophilia, and promised to murder any of his daughters if they ever fell in love with an African man. (While he’s never apologized for any of his anti-gay remarks, Okhlobystin did attempt to clarify [ru] his racism in a blog post for Snob.ru, which he later quit, blaming [ru] chief editor Masha Gessen for “propagandizing homosexuality and lesbian love.”)

While Okhlobystin’s bigotry may seem so extreme as to be a performance, many on the RuNet are expressing concerns [ru] that the actor is genuinely dangerous. In a Facebook post [ru] that’s attracted over 500 “likes,” theater producer Eduard Boyakov wrote that he’s stopped considering Okhlobystin a “fool” and a “jester,” and grown to see him instead as a true fascist. Likewise, journalist Ksenia Larina echoed this sentiment in a different Facebook post [ru], attracting almost 400 likes.

Others online have been content to joke about Okhlobystin’s letter to Putin. Comparing it to the Novosibirsk comments, Aleksandr Zaborovsky quipped:

Okhlobystin has asked Putin to restore criminal punishment for sodomy. But just a month ago, Ivan suggested burning gays in ovens. He’s gone soft.

Okhlobystin (center) and the cast of

Okhlobystin (center) and the cast of “Interns,” the hospital comedy television show that's made Okhlobystin a household name in Russia. Screenshot from YouTube.

For all his outlandishness, Okhlobystin remains an ordained Orthodox priest, albeit on indefinite hiatus, following a decision [ru] by Patriarch Kirill in February 2010, when the Church’s leader granted Okhlobystin’s request to return to the entertainment world. While he is no longer permitted to hold services or wear a cassock and other priestly vestments, Okhlobystin is welcome to reenter the clergy when he wishes.

In September 2011, he demonstrated his enduring commitment to the Church when he suddenly abandoned a presidential campaign [ru], following an announcement [ru] by the Church’s Press Secretary that clergy are banned from serving in political bodies. (The prohibition, in fact, is almost 14 years old, codified in the Church’s “Social Concept Foundations” in 2000.)

Outside the Church, Okhlobystin has other friends in high places. Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Oblast government, Andrei Ilnitsky, tweeted in support of the letter to Putin, writing:

Okhlobystin said openly what the majority of people have long been thinking, but for some reason are afraid to say.

Additionally, Okhlobystin’s call to “push gays into ovens” bears a striking resemblance to Dmitry Kiselyov’s April 2012 speech on television, where he argued that the hearts of gays who die in car accidents should be burned or buried in the road. Days before Okhlobystin’s remarks in Novosibirsk, Vladimir Putin named Kisleyov head of an entirely new media organization charged with improving Russia’s image abroad.

The ongoing assault against homosexuals in Russia hasn’t done the country’s foreign reputation any favors, however. On January 5, 2014, for example (still three days before Okhlobystin called for the re-criminalization of sodomy), twenty different LGBT rights groups published their own open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, urging the corporation that invented the iPhone to reconsider its collaboration with the Russian retailer Euroset, where Okhlobystin serves as creative director.

December 29 2013

9 Things the Russian Government Says Are “Gay Propaganda”

Gay rights activists kiss as they are detained by police officers during a gay rights protest in St. Petersburg, Russia, 12 October 2013, photo by Jordi Bernabeu Farrús, CC 2.0.

Gay rights activists kiss as they are detained by police officers during a gay rights protest in St. Petersburg, Russia, 12 October 2013, photo by Jordi Bernabeu Farrús, CC 2.0.

Though it seems to have appeared on the Internet no later than December 2, 2013, Russian bloggers have suddenly discovered [ru] government censors’ revised criteria [ru] for recognizing information online that supposedly endangers minors. Russians can thank Roskomnadzor, the federal agency responsible for overseeing the media, for the new reading material, which spans roughly two thousand pages and twenty different sections. Many, however, are limiting their attention to Section 6 [ru] of the document, awkwardly titled “Criteria of Internet Content Harmful for Children’s Health and Development.”

Even the report’s authors confess that the subject is quite “heterogeneous,” making it difficult to determine “unambiguous criteria” for identifying offending material. To resolve problems with definitions, Roskomnadzor adopts broad parameters, designating anything published online as “systematically disseminated” information. To qualify as propaganda, the agency concludes, the content must also contain “false information” and have been produced with the intent of influencing public opinion:

Обычно под пропагандой понимают систематическое распространение фактов, аргументов, слухов и других сведений, в том числе заведомо ложных, для воздействия на общественное мнение. Таким образом, чтобы квалифицировать информацию, как пропаганду, необходимо зафиксировать: желание автора информации повлиять на общественное мнение, систематический характер распространения информации, наличие ложных сведений в распространяемой информации. Все эти критерии являются субъективными, что, безусловно, затрудняет процедуру экспертизы. Вместе с этим, следует отметить, что характер распространения информации в сети Интернет позволяет рассматривать еѐ как систематическую.

Usually, propaganda is understood as the systematic dissemination of facts, arguments, rumors, and other information (including deliberately misleading information) for influencing public opinion. Thus, to qualify information as propaganda, it is necessary to establish that the author of the information wishes to influence public opinion, that the dissemination of the information is of a systematic nature, and that the disseminated information contains false information. That all these criteria are subjective certainly complicates the expert review process. At the same time, it should be noted that the nature of information disseminated on the Internet allows us to regard it [by default] as systematic.

According to Roskomnadzor, information on the Internet can transform the family values of children and teenagers in the following ways:

  1. Manipulating facts and statistical data to discredit the traditional family model, propagating alternative models of domestic relations, and presenting them as permissible under certain circumstances.
  2. Using vivid images to provoke “intense emotional reactions” that discredit the traditional family model and propagate alternative models of domestic relations.
  3. Selectively depicting alternative models of behavior, “hiding all the negative aspects of these models, and showing only the positives.”
  4. Influencing the self-conception and self-identity of teenagers, “exploiting their interest in sex,” and luring them into homosexuality with “colorful previews.”

9 Things the Russian Government Says Are “Gay Propaganda”

In addition to these ground rules, Roskomnadzor offers some colorful examples of its own to help state censors identify information on the Internet that is “harmful to minors.” The following is a list of what the government considers “gay propaganda.”

1) Arguing that traditional families don’t meet the needs of modern society or the modern individual. (This includes propagating the idea that the traditional family model has “lost many of its functions and become an obstacle to the free development of individuals.”)

2) Information (contained in either images or prose) that justifies and (or) otherwise vindicates the acceptability of “alternative family relations.” (This includes websites that publish “out-of-context” statistics about children adopted by gay and straight couples, which could lead children and teens to believe that gay couples are “no worse than straight couples at coping with parental responsibilities.”)

3) Using “intense emotional images” to discredit traditional family models and propagate alternative family models. (This seems to include virtually any attempt to portray heterosexual relationships negatively and homosexual relationships favorably.)

4) Information that contains “images of behavior associated with the denial of the traditional family model” that promotes gay relationships. (This includes all “graphic demonstrations, in the form of pictures, photographs, or videos, of non-traditional sexual relations,” possibly encompassing even gay pornography.)

5) Instructions on how to experiment with gay sex.

6) Sharing the stories of minors who have “rejected traditional family values, entered into gay relationships, and shown disrespect to their parents and (or) other relatives.” (This might include the “It Gets Better” project.)

7) Information that “influences the formation of adolescents’ self-identity” by “exploiting their interest in sex.” (This includes “false allegations” about the prevalence of homosexual relationships among teenagers in modern society.)

8) Depicting gay people as role models. (This includes publishing lists of famous living and deceased gay individuals.)

9) The final “gay propaganda” criterion is perhaps the broadest, including anything that either “approves or encourages” gay people in their homosexuality.

December 21 2013

Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill Would Jail Gays and Lesbians for Life

The parliament of Uganda overwhelmingly passed a controversial anti-homosexuality bill on December 20, 2013 that would punish gays and lesbians with life in prison in some cases as well as jail anyone who did not report gay people to authorities.

The bill was passed shortly after the socially conservative country's parliament approved an anti-pornography bill that would criminalize clothing that shows a woman's thighs, like mini-skirts. 

Help Stop Uganda anti-gay bill. Image source: www.humanrightsfirst.org/

Campaigners tried to stop the anti-homosexuality bill from passing. Image source: www.humanrightsfirst.org/

Ugandan member of parliament, David Bahati, who proposed the anti-homosexuality bill back in 2009, re-tabled the bill after removing clauses seeking the death penalty following intense public and international pressure. 

During the parliamentary debate, there was exchange of words between Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, after the prime minister argued that the parliament did not meet the minimum number of members present to hold the vote. 

The law is now awaiting president's signature. The president has less than two months to sign the bill into the law, or to send it back to the floor of parliament for amendment.

Below is a short roundup of reactions online:

Frank Mugisha, the leader of Sexual Minorities Uganda, an organisation that fights for gay rights, tweeted:

Ugandan BBC radio journalist, Alan Kasujja, was optimistic:

LGBT activist Pepe Julian Onziema pointed out a situation in which the bill can be passed without the president's signature:

Amaka Okechukwu was disheartened by the bill:

@EJS noted:

However, James Howlett‏ celebrated after hearing the news:

A reader on the Daily Monitor website, EJS, commented:

Ridiculous! Ban on homosexuality and mini-skirts. NO WONDER THIS IS ONE OF THE WORLD'S LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES!!! Lol (MPs; get a real job and stop stealing tax payers money!)

Another reader, John Buluma, said that there are more serious issues that should be focused on, like corruption, rather than homosexuality:

This just confirms that Uganda is the worst place to be gay on earth. Why focus on none [sic] issues when they country is decaying with corruption?

December 18 2013

“We Are More Alive Than Ever:” Coral Herrera and the Struggle for Gender Equality

Portada del libro

Coral Herrera's “Diverse Weddings and Queer Love” book cover

This post is part of our series on gender and sexuality in Latin America and the Caribbean, in collaboration with NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America). This is the continuation of a conversation with Coral Herrera Gómez, published in two parts, the first of which can be read here.

In the first part of our dialog about the work of artist, blogger, and scholar Coral Herrera, we discussed the opportunities presented by new technology for gender equality and the social struggle for the rights of women and LGBT persons. This time we will enter into a discussion about the struggle for gender equality in Latin America.

We asked Coral to give us her impressions of the evolution of these struggles, both online and off, and we also talked about the road we have traveled and the one that remains before us.

Global Voices: What have you discovered about the pro-gender equality movements thanks to new media?

Coral Herrera: I am amazed by social networks because they have opened doors and windows for me to the entire world, they have broaden my horizons on all levels of my life: at the intellectual, personal, and professional levels. Before connecting to the world, I felt very alone with my books and my research, but now I sense that there are a lot of people who are also writing and sharing, with whom I can debate, build up, and deconstruct collectively.

When I got connected to these networks, I entered into contact with a diverse group of women who fascinated me because they allowed me to meet other realities beyond what I had known in Spain. I'm amazed at the struggle of peasant women, Afro-descendant woman, indigenous women, migrant women, victims of trafficking, factory workers, domestic workers, disabled women, and being able to come into contact with them has allowed me to grow beyond the Euro-centric feminism in which I was living.

Besides meeting with activists, it was fascinating to connect with feminist writers who were not only still living, but were also very active on social networks. Being able to follow them on a daily basis and to get to know them so “up close” allowed me to connect with feminist organizations and online publications from all over Latin America, and that was how I began to expand my networks and make contact with the groups of egalitarian men and LGBT activists, and with the queer groups that are slowly emerging.

GV: What are the most pressing conversations that you're finding in the area of gender in Latin America?

CH: Above all, I think it's necessary to continue to highlight the struggles of women for access to land and water, and the work being carried out in fighting against genetically modified crops and for obtaining food sovereignty.

We also have to open up the debate within the feminisms in order to engage in self-criticism; it worries me that young people aren't identifying with feminist values and that our struggles are stereotyped in such a negative way.

I believe it's a problem in communication: we feminists are the object of ridicule, jokes, insults, and pejorative comments; we are called ugly, witches, man-haters, sexually frustrated, etc. This is what's going on in Europe; in other parts of the world you can be murdered for being a feminist, as has happened in Mexico with human rights activists, for example.

Within the feminisms, I think we have to create networks that are more horizontal and more inclusive. As in all social and political movements, within the feminisms there are still hierarchies, relationships of power, patriarchal power structures that we have to eliminate in order to be able to transform the world we live in. It's necessary to expand our sisterhood not only to those who are our equals, but also to humanity as a whole. [...] Diversity is an asset we have to take advantage of in order for, say, post-modern women to identify with the struggles of indigenous women, cissexual women with the demands of transexual women, women entrepreneurs with working-class women, Catholic women who struggle to depatriarchalize their religion with Islamic feminist women, etc.

GV: What subjects related to gender equality in Latin America still need to be discussed? In what areas are we stagnating?

CH: I don't feel as though we're stagnating; I believe we're more alive then ever.

But from what I see on the Internet, as the number of collaborating organizations and collectives increases, so the feminist networks become more extensive, they're multiplying every day. I believe we're capitalizing on the potential these networks offer for sharing information and for creating solidarity teams and mutual support.

I think that within the feminisms we cannot fight only for equality between men and women, but we must also open up to the struggles of our trans and lesbian sisters, of our environmentalist or Islamic sisters, of our egalitarian partners, or to the struggles of pacifist groups, social movements, etc. We must embrace diversity to incorporate our struggle against any hierarchy or label that oppresses us, because in partial struggles we are minorities.

It's true that we have many ideological differences, but without a doubt we all want a world that is more balanced, more just, more equitable and peaceful. I believe that without solidarity, improving our reality will be slow and difficult; that's why I liked the “Somos el 99%” ["We are the 99%"] campaign so much, because it created a sense of unity against the privileged castes of the world, which represent only a very small group of people.

GV: What successes can we celebrate?

CH: This year we can celebrate, for example, the approval of marriage equality in several countries, but without losing sight of what is happening in Russia. We can celebrate the decriminalization of abortion in Uruguay and the zero death rate of women due to abortion in that country, but without forgetting that in countries like Spain, a woman's right to decide has been done away with in the face of the power of the most ultraconservative sectors of the Catholic church. We can celebrate the growth of male feminist groups who are working to eliminate the trafficking of sex slaves and femicide, and we can celebrate the existence of female leaders governing countries in Latin America, but without ceasing to object to the way in which they exercise power or whether their governance is truly contributing to the improvement of living conditions for women.

GV: And what victories remain for us to win?

CH: The main challenges we have before us continue to be the same: eliminating networks of sexual slavery, eliminating femicide and gender violence, promoting equality in the workplace for female wage-earners, supporting the fight of women to own the land they work on, and the fight all women share for the right to make decisions about our own bodies and our own lives, and to report and put and end to the homophobic and transphobic killings that are taking place on a daily basis across the continent….

To continue the dialog on these topics, we recommend Coral's conferences on the Sociocultural Construct of Desire and Eroticism [es] and her participation in the 5th Annual Feminist Meeting in Paraguay [es].

December 15 2013

Why homosexuality should be encouraged in India

Amit at Mashed Musings thinks that the decriminalization of homosexuality would have turned Indians into better humans over the coming decades and would solve a lot of problems like overpopulation, lesser dowry deaths, fewer female foeticide, etc. The Indian Supreme court recently reversed a Delhi High Court judgment and reinstated a British-era draconian law that criminalizes homosexuality.

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