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December 12 2013

Romantic Love vs. Gender Equality: An Interview with Coral Herrera

Coral

Coral Herrera

This post is part of our series on Gender and Sexuality in Latin America in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles. 

Reading Coral Herrera is like blowing a blast of fresh air and optimism into the struggle for the respect of diversity. Her blog  [es], her articles, her books [es] and her ideas go right to the heart of what is considered obvious and normal. Coral is mainly interested in gender equality, and in the effect of romantic imaginaries on the way men and women relate to each other and see themselves. 

Coral Herrera is also part of a new generation of activists who start with gender equality but refuse to stay there. Her writings analyse structural problems in Western societies, and identify the discomfort that has expanded in the intimate lives of men and women. The idea is to conduct a deconstructive and honest critique of the causes and consequences of concepts that are perpetuated, and the imaginaries that we defend without even knowing why.

Coral Herrera is a great enthusiast of new media, where she shares a large part of her work. But in addition to being a blogger, Coral has a PhD in Humanities and Audiovisual Communication. Born in Spain, she moved to Costa Rica a few years ago, and has worked as a teacher and consultant for UNESCO, the United Nations Latin American Institute for Crime Prevention and Treatment of Delinquents (ILANUD), and the Spanish International Development Agency (AECID), at the Paris-Sorbonne University and in Madrid’s Universidad Carlos III.

Her main specialisation is in gender and her point of departure, romantic love. Thus much of the work that Coral Herrera has published online is focused on the defence of diverse loves  [es], myths  [es] and the political and collective dimension of how we understand love. In Los mitos románticos  [es] (Romantic Myths), for example, she looks to the origins of the images that we have about love, and hits the nail directly on the head:

Through romantic love, inoculating foreign desires, patriarchy also controls our bodies in order to hetero-direct our eroticism, and make us assume the limits of femininity and dream about the arrival of The Saviour (Jesus, Prince Charming…) who will choose us as good wives and offer us the throne of marriage.

Regarding the cultural structures within which this phenomenon occurs, she explains:

In our Western culture, love is constrained, at least in the hegemonic cultural discourse. Homophobia is cultural, transphobia is cultural, racism and speciesism are cultural. Culture is where the fear of the other, of the different, grows; it is in culture where myths, goals, prohibitions, prejudices and social obligations are created.

The author also highlights the importance of the stories we tell ourselves. Part of Herrera’s work is to help us realise the ways in which certain imaginaries, ideals, and goals are passed down from generation to generation, through narratives that are also supported by dominant circles. However, according to many social movements, what is constructed in one direction can take another direction:

The logical thing should be to transform the stories and tell new ones, change the idealised models that have become obsolete, construct flesh-and-blood heroes and heroines, create new myths that help us construct societies that are more just, egalitarian, environmentalist, cultured, and pacifist. Direct our efforts towards the common good, work to propose other realities, fight to construct new ones, instead of fleeing from emotional paradises and individual promises of salvation.

The books are readily available on her blog, where Coral also shares her press articles and her YouTube channel, where you can see some of her conferences and academic talks. Her last book  Bodas diversas y amores queer  [es] (Diverse Weddings and Queer Loves) is “a book that lies halfway between an essay and a story, in which theoretical reflections are mixed with personal anecdotes, life stories and quite a few analyses of alternative romantic nuptial rituals.”

Why do people get married on such a massive scale? Why are there some people who only get married once, while others get married seven times? (…) Why does everyone ask about a baby but it’s frowned upon if the bride is pregnant? Why do we make romantic videos of our weddings and torture our relatives for months? Why do women invest so many resources in finding a partner? (…) Why can’t three people who love each other live together and get married? Why do we get excited when we are offered marriage? Why do we want this so much? Why do people endure conjugal hell for so many years? Why are there people who never get married? What are weddings like in other cultures? What comes after weddings?..

To offer a more thorough reflection on the struggle for gender equality on the internet, we will present Coral Herrera’s work in two parts. We will close this installment with the first part of an on-line discussion we had with Coral, in which we talked about the role of new media in the struggle for gender equality.

Global Voices: How can new media challenge old media regarding the construction of romantic myths? / How can new media fall into the same role as traditional media?

Coral Herrera: Traditional media is still stuck in traditional patterns and in a worldview that is completely patriarchal and capitalist, they still sell us hegemonic ideology in the form of entertainment. Advertising and mass culture transmit values that are totally selfish, individualistic, based on fear and on the permanent dissatisfaction of this age of consumption.

That’s why I think that the internet is one of the best things that has happened to us in recent years.

What is not so clear is whether we can live from this, because we have become accustomed to everything being free. I myself can’t support the people I read due to my precarious situation in Spain, first of all, and secondly, as an immigrant in Costa Rica, though I pay the phone company so that I can be connected and access content.

And although I think that we still haven’t found the way to earn an income (though there are some cases of people living from this), I think the crises we are facing are making us more conscious of what we consume, where it comes from, and under what conditions it was produced. The consumption of culture is now (and will be more and more) a political act, a demonstration of support for artists and thinkers who offer us stories in as many formats as possible.

The internet has been beneficial for culture in general because now we have access to choreographies, sculptures, films, news reports, video creations, songs, novels, essays, stories, short films, academic articles, photos… We as creators have more freedom to innovate and offer other models, other heroines, other situations, other forms of relating. I definitely believe we are breaking away from the old narrative structures that reduced us to simplified conflicts.

GV: What do these new technologies mean for the fight for gender equality?

CH: Thanks to the internet, we are all transmitting content. [This makes us] less vulnerable to the construction of reality to the one imposed on us, because we can refute their affirmations, because we can make visible all those things that are kept hidden so that everything can stay the way it is.

It’s true that we have to assume that privacy is non-existent, that we are being watched, our data is being sold, and we are being censored, but even so I think that we have to be online.

GV: What advantages do you see in the use of new technologies for conversations about gender (especially in Latin America)?

CH: Well I’m very optimistic. In spite of the digital divide that separates us, I think we are creating very important transnational networks of information and collective reflection. These networks allow us to support each other, to make problems visible, to gather signatures and have political impact, to organise actions in the real world that will have an echo in the virtual world. We can create synergies, lend each other ideas, copy models that work in other countries and adapt them to our local realities, we can teach each other, we can contribute to the construction of collective knowledge, and we can modify political agendas thanks to the echo that actions have in social media.

In the next part, which will be published next week, we will discuss with Coral the evolution of the fight for gender equality. In the meantime, we recommend having a look at the Haika editorial project [es], managed by the author, where much of her work can be downloaded.

December 11 2013

Gay Sex is Once Again Illegal, India's Supreme Court Rules

Hundreds gathered in central Delhi to protest against the Supreme Court decision toverturn a 2009 High Court ruling and instead, ruled in favour of 'Section 377,' a colonial era law which renders same sex relationships in India an illegal offense. Image by Louise Dowse. Copyright Demotix (11/12/2013)

Hundreds gathered in central Delhi to protest against the Supreme Court decision to overturn a 2009 High Court ruling, and instead rule in favour of ‘Section 377,’ a colonial era law which renders same sex relationships in India an illegal offense. Image by Louise Dowse. Copyright Demotix (11/12/2013)

In a shocking ruling, the Supreme Court of India reversed a Delhi High Court judgment and reinstated a British-era draconian law that not only criminalizes consensual gay sex, but also equates homosexuals with zoophiles and pedophiles. This verdict is seen as a major blow to gay rights in the country and also deprives Indians their rights of equality, no discrimination and personal liberty enshrined in the constitution.

However, religious parities and organizations welcomed the decision taken by the highest court of India. In 2009, Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality. But this new verdict by the Supreme Court says that it is up to the parliament to legislate on this issue.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is a 153-year old colonial-era law. According to this law, same-sex relationships are an “unnatural offense” and punishable by a ten-year prison sentence. Aam Janata blog satirically listed what exactly is allowed and what not according to the Supreme Court guidelines for natural sex.

Writer Kamayani Bali Mahabal at Krativist criticized the decision:

Today, by criminalising homosexuality, the Supreme Court has taken India back, not to 2008, but way back to the 19th century. It has betrayed the trust of the millions who came out and proudly shared their sexual orientation with friends, families, employers and the society. It has whitewashed the efforts of thousands of activists who, in the four years after the 2009 verdict, strived to make public spaces like hospitals LGBT-friendly. It has whitewashed the efforts of all those who have worked with MSM groups with full support of the government and international agencies to bring down HIV cases. It has given the likes of Baba Ramdev the audacity to call 30 million people of the LGBT community “addicts” and invite them to his yoga ashram to get cured.

Blogger and activist Rita Banerji questioned whether the verdict has more of a political tone rather than ethical. Shuvajit at First Post mentioned that the ruling 377 turns an office environment into a nightmare for members of the LGBT community in a country where homosexuality is seen as a sin:

After this Supreme Court verdict, I know that personally, I would think ten times before being ‘out’ in my work place where I have to lead a team. In a professional role which demands leadership qualities and command over a team, admitting that you're gay has always been a huge drawback, irrespective of your talents or professional expertise. The Supreme Court verdict just legitimized the cause of that agony.

Aditya Nigam at Kafila blog posted a protest announcement against the SC ruling.

Shocking! Shameful!! Disgusting!!!

The Supreme Court has struck down the Delhi High Court decision decriminalizing gay sex in what might go down as the most retrograde judgement in India’s history. While the details of the Court’s reasoning are still not available, we can perhaps easily imagine what they might be. This is time of civil disobedience. Time for protest.

Assemble at Jantar Mantar at 4.30 pm, today 11 December to announce to the world that ‘We Are All Queer’. To announce that this is not a struggle of just the ‘gay-lesbian community’ but a struggle for our most fundamental rights and cherished values.

Blank Noise blog shared the press conference of gay rights advocate Gautam Bhan, who commented that “the social relevance has not been decided, its legal relevance has”:

Visvak Sen at News Laundry explained the government's position on this:

They haven’t entirely made up their minds yet. The Home Ministry thinks gay sex is immoral and a reflection of a perverse mind and that its decriminalisation would lead to moral degradation. The Health Ministry disagrees and considers Section 377 a major barrier to their efforts to prevent the spread of AIDS.

There were strong reactions on Twitter to the Supreme Court decision.

Milind Deora, the country's Minister of State, Communications, IT and Shipping, tweeted:

Karan Johar, a film director and host of Koffee with Karan, wrote:

Shabana Azmi, an activist and film actress, called it undemocratic and against human rights:

Image from the fifth annual Delhi Queer Pride Parade 2012 in central New Delhi, India. The future of this parade is uncertain after this Supreme Court Verdict. Image by  Jiti Chadha. Copyright demotix (25/11/2012)

Image from the fifth annual Delhi Queer Pride Parade 2012 in central New Delhi, India. The future of this parade is uncertain after this Supreme Court Verdict. Image by Jiti Chadha. Copyright demotix (25/11/2012)

Journalist Bukrha Dutt tweeted her conversation with leading author Vikram Seth:

Shivam Vij, Indian correspondent for CSM and co-editor of Kafila, mentioned:

Prasant Naidu at Lighthouse Insights has more reactions on Twitter.

December 03 2013

‘Proyecto Arcoiris’ Advocates for Coloring Cuba with the Rainbow of the LGBT Community

This post is part of our series on Gender and Sexuality in Latin America in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles. 

[All links lead to pages in Spanish.]

cropped-BANNER-ARCOIRIS6

The Origin

In July of 2011, Project Arcoiris (“The Rainbow Project”) was born. This was a new program designed to fight for the rights of people of non-heteronormative sexual orientations and gender identities.

It all began when activist Yasmin Silvia Portales shared her dissatisfaction with the absence, at the time, of spaces for meeting the social demands of sexually diverse persons and for advocating for sexual and reproductive rights.

Mientras, ¿qué hacemos las personas LGBTI a las cuales la filiación política llevó a distintos grupos de la izquierda libertaria y anticapitalista? Nos corresponde ampliar los marcos ideológicos desde los cuales se debate el asunto de la discriminación por orientación sexual e identidad de género, introducir nuestras propias exigencias, aportar nuestras fuerzas, proponer otros caminos. Esto es política, ¿a quién le da miedo decirlo?

Meanwhile, what can we do as LGBT people when political affiliation has led us to different left-wing libertarian and anticapitalist groups? It's our responsibility to broaden the ideological framework for debating the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, present our own demands, join forces, and propose alternative solutions. This is politics. Why are we afraid to say so?

This call to arms, which Portales sent out to a group of friends and e-mail contacts, received a quick response. In my blog, Negra Cubana Tenía Que Ser, I wrote the following on the project in July of 2011:

Lo cierto es que en la Cuba de hoy seguimos asidos a una moral que concibe el matrimonio entre hombres y mujeres y los hijos e hijas para los heterosexuales. Como tampoco me adscribo ninguno de los (pocos) grupos existentes en el país, ni desde el activismo, mucho menos desde la teoría, vislumbro al Proyecto Arcoiris como el ejercicio ciudadano que nos permitirá, a lo sumo, apresurar la ratificación del nuevo Código de Familia, cuya aprobación, por la Asamblea Nacional, se ha retrasado por más de 16 años.

The truth is that in Cuba today we are tied to a moral fabric that conceives of families only as married heterosexual men and women along with their sons and daughters. Since I'm not attached to any of the (few) existing groups in this country, either as an activist, and much less as a theorist, I view Project Arcoiris as a civic responsibility that will allow us, in the end, to expedite the ratification of the new Family Code, whose passage by the National Assembly has been delayed for more than 16 years.

After the group held its first meeting, activist Isbel Díaz Torres from the Critical Observatory Network (“Red del Observatorio Crítico” in Spanish) expressed the following in his column in the Havana Times:

Me pareció captar entre los que asistimos, el deseo de dialogar sin asimetrías con todas las partes. Sería funesto que nos posicionáramos en un estrato superior para acceder al público LGBTI cubano para conocer sus intereses. Tampoco parece factible colocarnos por debajo en nuestras demandas a las instituciones estatales con quienes necesariamente interactuaremos.

In my view, it seemed to instill a desire, in all of us in attendance, to dialog with all parties in a balanced way. It would be fatal for us to position ourselves as superior in order to access the Cuban LGBTI community and better understand their issues. Nor does it seem feasible for us to position ourselves, in our demands, as underdogs to the state institutions with whom we must necessarily interact.

In September of 2012, Project Arcoiris created its blog, in which it immediately published its core concerns, which include the following:

El Proyecto Arcoiris cree que es necesario luchar, porque todavía hoy, en Cuba, es difícil salir a la calle cada día y vivir como personas no heterosexuales. Defendemos el derechos de negarnos a mentir a nuestras familias, comunidades, colectivos de trabajo, amistades; defendemos también el respeto a aquellas personas heterosexuales que nos apoyan contra la homofobia cotidiana.

Project Arcoiris believes that it's necessary to fight, because in Cuba today, it's still difficult to walk around in the streets every day and live as non-heterosexual persons. We uphold our right to refuse to lie to our families, our communities, our employers, and our friends; we also demand respect for those heterosexual persons who support us in our struggle against the homophobia we experience on a day-to-day basis.

And further on, we read:

Queremos para Cuba libertad y autodeterminación, queremos toda la riqueza que podamos producir honestamente, y queremos la prohibición legal de todas las formas de discriminación por sexo, edad, origen étnico o geográfico, religión, orientación sexual o identidad de género.

We desire liberty and self-determination for Cuba; we desire as much wealth as we can produce honestly, and we seek the legal prohibition of all forms of discrimination due to sex, age, ethnicity or geographical origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

In the blog it is also possible to access issues of the digital newsletter Ahí Te Va, created by Arcoiris, which is also sent via e-mail.

Kiss-In for Diversity

Of all the activities carried out by Project Arcoiris, the “Kiss-In for Diversity” has, without a doubt, had the greatest impact on both a national and an international level. Its objective was to commemorate Gay Pride on the island on June 26th; this is a celebration which up to that time had never taken place in Cuba.

The Kiss-In was convened using information and communication technologies, something unprecedented in Cuba, which Portales referred to in a recent interview:

Creo que […] hicimos un punto de inflexión con el uso coordinado de diversos recursos comunicativos electrónicos –teléfonos fijos o móviles y redes sociales con base en Internet.

Varias entidades comerciales habían estado haciendo publicidad a través de los celulares en Cuba, pero Arcoiris ha inaugurado el uso de los móviles para convocatorias de perfil político y emancipatorio explícito, ¡y sin el apoyo del Estado!

I believe that [...] we created a turning point with our coordinated use of several electronic communications resources – telephones and mobile phones and Internet social media.

Although several business entities had been doing cellular advertising in Cuba, Arcoiris has inaugurated the use of mobile phones for explicit emancipatory political profile calling, and without State support!

The impact of the preparations for the Kiss-In, and of the event itself, was immeasurable: Martinoticias, Cubanet, IPS, EFE, and Global Voices, along with other media, published articles about this event.

Kiss-In for Diversity and Equality in Havana, Cuba. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Luis Baños.)

Kiss-In for Diversity and Equality in Havana, Cuba. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Luis Baños.)

The declaration read by Portales just before the Kiss-In began, which takes articles 42, 53, and 54 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba as its preamble, notes in one of its paragraphs that:

Por eso estamos aquí, ocupando el espacio público que la Revolución de 1959 conquistó para todas las personas de la nación sin distinciones, porque la Revolución será feminista, o no será, será antirracista, o no será, será abierta a las críticas de toda la ciudadanía, o no será, será antihomofóbica, o no será. Será, en fin, una lucha absoluta contra todas las discriminaciones, o no será verdaderamente socialista y las vidas de quienes murieron por implantar la dignidad plena del hombre y la mujer en esta tierra carecerán de sentido.

That is why we're here, occupying the public space that the Revolution of 1959 conquered fo all citizens of our nation without distinction, because this Revolution will either be feminist or it won't, it will either be anti-racist or it won't, it will either be open to the scrutiny of all citizens or it won't, it will either be anti-homophobic or it won't. At the end of the day, this will either be an absolute struggle against all discrimination, or it will not be truly socialist, and the lives of those who died to establish full dignity for all men and women in this land will be rendered meaningless.

The Present Moment

Because we were interested in knowing what Project Arcoiris is currently focusing on, we interviewed its founder, blogger Yasmin Silvia Portales, and blogger Luis Rondón Paz, who works specifically with updating the project's blog.

Regarding the activities the project is involved with now, Yasmin Silvia commented:

Ahora concentramos esfuerzos en la organización de una delegación cubana a los Gay Games, que serán en agosto de 2014 en Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Cuba nunca ha estado en los Gay Games, y consideramos que es una idea excelente para el proceso de construcción de la comunidad LGBTQ de acá. Por supuesto, que es un proyecto enorme, en cuanto a gente involucrada y recursos. El CENESEX nos ha reconocido como interlocutores y nos prestaron asesoría en los primeros pasos organizativos.

Right now we're concentrating our efforts on organizing a Cuban delegation to the Gay Games, which will take place in August of 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Cuba has never been involved in the Gay Games, so we consider this to be an excellent idea for the process of building up the LGBTQ community here. This is, of course, an enormous undertaking when you consider the number of people and resources involved. CENESEX [the Cuban National Center for Sex Education] has recognized us as partners and has advised us on the first steps to take in organization.

The Project has recently created a blog with the same name and content on the CubaVa platform. The blogger commented on the new opportunities that this space is creating:

Clonar el blog en Cubava.cu es un paso muy importante para acercarnos a Cuba, para socializar las acciones del grupo y generar un espacio de memoria del activismo LGBT. Es pertinente aclarar que el acceso a internet en Cuba tiene carácter limitado (31% de la población) y segregado, pues la mayor parte de estas personas en realidad solo pueden navegar la “intranet”: sitios web dentro del dominio “.cu”. Ahora Proyecto Arcoíris tiene un espacio de activismo LGBT y diálogo potencial dentro de la red nacional, accesible desde cualquier lugar de Cuba. Esperamos entonces que más gente se entere de lo que hacemos y opine, critique –de modo respetuoso– y hasta inicie sus propias acciones en otras zonas de la isla.

Cloning our blog on CubaVa.cu was a very important step in moving closer to Cuba, to socialize the group's actions and creating memory space for LGBT activism. It's relevant to clarify that Internet access in Cuba is limited (31% of the population) and segregated, because most of these people can only surf the “intranet:” websites within the “.cu” domain. Project Arcoiris now has a space for LGBT activism and the potential for dialog within the national network, accessible from anywhere in Cuba. So we hope that more people will find out about what we're doing and offer their comments and criticisms – in a respectful way – and even initiate their own actions in other regions of the island.

Speaking on the same topic, Luis Rondón Paz, founder of the Project, points out:

Pienso que su promoción [del Proyecto Arcoiris] en la naciente plataforma blog al interior de la isla cubana aportaría un granito de arena para la construcción de esa cultura de debate que tanto necesita la futura sociedad socialista diversa, inclusiva, democrática y justa que entre todas y todos deseamos tener.

I think [Project Arcoiris's] promotional efforts to the emerging blog platform inside Cuba could add another grain of sand to the construction of a culture of debate which the coming diverse and equitable socialist, even democratic, society needs, and that we all wish to have.

One very current issue on the Cuban docket is the preliminary draft law of the new Labor Code. Regarding rights protection for sexually diverse persons within the Labor Code, Yasmin Silvia specifies:

Creo que el nuevo Código del Trabajo es un proyecto neoliberal, muy enfocado en facilitar la explotación de la clase obrera cubana en el proceso de reconstrucción del capitalismo. Como tal, esta Ley no tiene una base emancipadora, menos aún de reconocimiento de los problemas específicos de los diversos grupos identitarios que integran la nación.

Fíjate que todo el lenguaje es sexista, y las mujeres solo son mencionadas como madres, y se hace una vaga referencia a la discriminación por color de la piel, pero con el término “raza”. Respecto al Código actual, los mecanismos para la reclamación de justicia laboral han sido limitados, y no se incorporan fenómenos ampliamente reconocidos como problemáticos en el ámbito laboral, como el acoso sexual o moral.

I believe the new Labor Code is a neoliberal project, very focused on facilitating the exploitation of the Cuban working class in the process of reconstructing capitalism. As such, this Law does not have an emancipatory base, and much less a recognition of the specific problems faced by diverse identity groups that make up the nation.

If you think about it, all of the language is sexist, and women are only mentioned as mothers, and a vague reference is made to discrimination by skin color, but utilizing the term “race.” With respect to the Code as it currently stands, the mechanisms for claiming worker justice have been restricted, and issues that are widely recognized as problematic in the work environment, such as sexual and psychological harassment, have not been addressed.

For his part, Rondón states:

Lo triste del Código de Trabajo es que hoy si a un jefe le da el deseo de decir que no trabajas porque eres “flojito” o muy “macho” no tienes a donde acudir, porque en la ley no existe respaldo alguno ante discriminaciones de este tipo [...]

The sad thing about the Labor Code is that right now, if a boss feels like telling you that you can't work because you're “lazy” or “too manly,” you have nowhere to turn, because in the law there's no protection at all against that kind of discrimination [...] [...]

Project Arcoiris also has a page on Facebook which, like the blog, is monitored by several members of the group, with the intention of minimizing the adverse effects that go hand-in-hand with blogging from an island with poor connectivity and extremely slow connections.

November 20 2013

LGBT-Friendly Coloring Books for Russians

Activists from the LGBT equality T-shirt company FCKH8.com are planning to send 10,000 copies of a pro-gay coloring book titled “Misha and His Two Mothers” to families with children in Moscow and Sochi, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics. The book's core message, captured by the catchphrase “Gay Is Okay!” (Гей – окей!), is to let children know that being gay is not criminal. Writing in the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Angelina Galanina condemned [ru] the coloring book as “propaganda.” RuNet reactions have ranged from the vitriolic to the measured [ru]. LiveJournal user kolyaka [ru] quipped: 

Так примерно во времена железного занавеса к нам проникала запретная литература, тлетворная музыка и даже библии в СССР забрасывали. Как относиться к подобной раскраске? Не знаю.

This is roughly how banned literature, dangerous music, and even the Bible reached us in the days of the Iron Curtain and flooded the USSR. What to make of such a coloring book? I don't know.

fckh8.com's new Russian-English coloring book. T-shirt reads, “Gay is okay!”

November 18 2013

NACLA-Global Voices Partnership Tackles Gender & Sexuality in Latin America & the Caribbean

Women of Latin America and the Caribbean took to the Streets of Bogota on the the 12th International Feminist Meeting in 2011 to demand an end to violence against women and girls. Photo from Flickr user Say NO - UNiTE  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Women of Latin America and the Caribbean took to the Streets of Bogota during the 12th International Feminist Meeting in 2011 to demand an end to violence against women and girls. Photo from Flickr user Say NO – UNiTE, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

As part of the partnership between Global Voices and NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America), a team of five Global Voices authors from Latin America and the Caribbean will contribute weekly articles for a series about women, gender, and LGBT issues. We draw from failures and successes in Latin America and the Caribbean with an eye toward equality, advancement, and resistance for and by women and LGBT people across all borders.

We asked these five authors to tell us why they think that covering these themes in the region is important. We also asked them to share some of the online projects that they’ve discovered while covering LGBT and gender issues.

Sandra

Sandra Abd'Allah-Alvarez Ramírez [es] is Cuban. She describes herself as “a bisexual woman who loves another woman with whom she is formally married.”

“I’m Cuban, and that’s the main reason why I insistently tackle non-heteronormative sexuality, because in Cuba we have much to accomplish in that regard,” she explains. Sandra, who had to move to Germany to marry her partner, is part of Proyecto Arcoiris [es], a group of activists who are fighting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Cuba.

Sandra pointed us to Pikara Magazine [es], a website where she often contributes [es] articles and interviews. Pikara Magazine covers news with a gender perspective, featuring people and stories that rarely appear in the media.

She also recommends visiting the blog Feminist Network Project, which seeks to “connect feminist activists around the world.”

Sandra blogs at Negra cubana tenía que ser [es] and tweets at @negracubana [es].

Ángel

“I am the son of a wonderful single mother. [She is] a person with an indomitable character, an independent spirit, and has an enviable strength. That’s why I'm interested in issues of gender equity,” Ángel Carrión [es], a Puerto Rican musician and blogger, explains.

Ángel says he has always been interested in stories about people who are marginalized by society. He thinks that valuable knowledge and perspectives are lost when people are excluded. Furthermore, Ángel feels he has a duty to draw attention to “the invisible,” and to help educate and change mentalities about LGBT and gender issues.

He recommends several projects from Puerto Rico, like Proyecto Matria [es], an organization that seeks to help victims of domestic and sexual violence on the island. He also mentions the Committee Against Homophobia and Discrimination [es], a group that started at the University of Puerto Rico, and the LGBTT Community Center of Puerto Rico [es], which offers a variety of services (legal and psychological) for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, and Transgender community.

You can follow Ángel on Twitter @angel15amc [es] and read his blog Diálogo Libre [es].

2013 pride and equality march in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Felipe Longoni, uploaded to Flickr by Movilh Chile under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

2013 pride and equality march in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Felipe Longoni, uploaded to Flickr by Movilh Chile under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Laura

Laura Vidal is a Venezuelan researcher exploring societies, their culture, and their stories. She currently lives in France.

In her opinion, “gender equality and the portrayal of movements defending the freedom of LGBT communities are fraught with misunderstandings—many intentional.” She adds that in Latin America, “the concept of gender is fiercely attacked by conservative ideas that have changed little over the years.”

Laura thinks that the debate about gender and LGBT issues in the region needs to improve, and that it is troubling to see how different parts of society dehumanize women and the LGBT community.

When asked about projects dealing with these issues, Laura mentioned the work of Coral Herrera Gómez [es], a Spanish scholar focusing on gender theory who Laura is interviewing for this series. She also mentioned the NGO Aliadas en Cadena, which organizes workshops for women affected by poverty in Venezuela.

Laura tweets at @lenguaraz.

Pamela

Pamela Martínez Achecar [es], a Dominican economist and researcher, recognizes that although Latin America and Caribbean countries have advanced rapidly in economic development and in legislation to expand freedoms for its citizens, women and the LGBT community continue to struggle to receive the same treatment their male, often straight, peers receive.

She thinks that “it is therefore vital to guide the focus of public attention to these struggles, many waged in silence, to raise awareness and to highlight the great efforts of many who are fighting against inequality.”

Pamela recommends following the Center for Gender Studies [es] from the Santo Domingo Institute of Technology, a center “devoted to higher education, research, and advocacy on public policies from a gender perspective.” She also pointed us to the Dominican feminist organization Colectiva Mujer y Salud [es] (Women and Health Collective).

Pamela blogs at Pensando a contracorriente [es] and tweets at @LlamenmePam [es].

Andrea

For Mexican journalist Andrea Arzaba, “gender equality doesn’t exist in Latin America, especially in rural communities.”

Andrea has met women from Southern Mexico who are not allowed to study beyond secondary school, “simply because they were born as women.” She has also witnessed cases of women who endure physical and psychological abuse because they are economically dependent on a man. “These are some of the cases that have inspired me to write about gender equality and to bring these issues to the online discussion.”

Andrea follows the work of World Pulse, a nonprofit social media enterprise that’s using digital media to give women from around the world a space where they can connect to each other and speak out about their issues. She also recommends following the blog Mujeres Viajeras [es] (Traveling women).

Andrea started The Sunflower Post, a blog covering news from around the world with a gender perspective, and is currently writing for several websites like Future ChallengesAnimal Político [es] and IJNET. You can read her personal blog at One Lucky Life and follow her on Twitter at @andrea_arzaba.

*

Global Voices’ mission is to shed light on stories that remain untold in the mainstream media. Women, gender, and LGBT issues are generally either invisible or distorted in public discourse around the world. This invisibilization is one of the reasons we have made the coverage of these important topics one of our priorities, and a part of our partnership with NACLA.

Stay tuned to read Sandra, Angel, Laura, Pamela, and Andrea’s posts during the following weeks!

Firuzeh Shokooh Valle contributed to this post.

November 15 2013

Polish Right-Wing Nationalists Hijack Country's Independence Day

Nationalists at Rozdroze Square, picture posted on Twitter by @PolandTalks

Nationalists at Rozdroze Square; image posted by @PolandTalks, used with permission

Poland's National Independence Day, traditionally celebrated on November 11, ended in violence this year. Young right-wing Poles torched cars, threw stones at police and even attacked and set fire to the Russian Embassy in Warsaw during a march organized by a nationalist movement. Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades, then detained around a dozen individuals from a group of a few hundred mostly masked men who began the march.

Over the last few years, Warsaw's inhabitants anticipate Independence Day with mixed feelings of fear and disgust. Usually a festive day that is supposed to unite Polish citizens in a joyful celebration of independence regained in 1918 after more than 100 years of foreign rule, this one turned out to be quite the opposite. Political discourse over the issue of patriotism and ways of expressing one's national pride was dominated by the definitions and viewpoints of right-wing nationalist and neo-fascist groups.

Twitter user @p_ministra tweeted a comment from her grandmother that perfectly depicted the day:

My grandma called me today (with a teary voice): Anuszka, how did you survive this independence yesterday?!

- p_ministra (@p_ministra), November 12, 2013

This tendency has recently been highly supported by the media, which have been looking for controversial content to improve their ratings. It has become clear that only the few “true Poles” will be defining what it actually means to be a patriot. It has also become obvious that the definitions of patriotism provided by these few are tremendously narrow and based on the drastic exclusion of many groups identified as “alien elements”.

And so the spiral began towards the violent events of November 11, 2013 during a ring-wing march organized by All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska) in Warsaw. During this march, a group of masked men attacked two squats in downtown of Warsaw and set fire to artistic installation [pl, photos] “The Rainbow” – a representation supporting LGBT rights, located in the most popular nightlife area of the city – then proceeded to attack the Russian Embassy. Poland Talks, a blog that follows social struggles in Poland, tweeted:

Poland seems to be painfully helpless in this matter, not for lack of trying to find a solution though. In the past few years, some attempts to block marches like this one were quite successful, but many now believe that they just escalated the violence instead of reducing it. So a decision was made this year to, instead of banning their march, organize an alternative march on a different day for those who refuse to support the exclusive definition of belonging by these ring-wing groups and believe in a broader one. 

The meme says:

The meme says: “Poland / USA – why are we able to copy Haloween, but a shared national party – not really? picture posted on demotywatory.pl

This alternative march was organised on November 9, 2013 by a coalition of organisations dubbed Together Against Nationalism, and it had a significant turnout.

A statement by coalition organisers said:

We turn to you on the 75th anniversary Kristallnacht in Germany when hordes of Nazis, with the support of the state apparatus, intensified the persecution of the Jewish minority. Europe today is reminiscent of the times of the Great Depression. As a result of social exclusion there is increased support for the violence embedded in nationalist, racist and fascist ideas.[...]

The most effective way to combat these sick ideas is with social self-organisation. In Poland local groups of antifascists have brought about the cancellation of many events organised by the nationalists. We have also blocked the attempt by the National Movement to make inroads into the academic world. We will allow neither the tragic events of the past nor the present incidents to pass unnoticed.

Immediately after the riots started, many questioned why the city's authorities were not prepared for the expected violence. Since authorities were never very fond of the squats, it is suspected by some that the police were somehow instructed to do nothing during the attack and let the hooligans do the job that the city isn't allowed to. A statement published by the inhabitants of Squat Syrena [pl] said:

Today, on Independence Day, the police maintained constant patrol over the streets Skorupki and Wilcza where the autonomous spaces Syrena and Przychodnia are located.

About 3:30 PM, the nationalist March of Independence moved through the city center. The police troops standing guard near Skorupki street dispersed and disappeared.

Simultaneously, a several dozen-strong group of neo-Nazi demonstrators arrived. They broke the chains at the gate and entered the site. Armed with machetes, bottles, and clubs, they proceded to attack the people inside. At the moment, Syrena’s quarters held eight children aged 3 to 14, among other persons.

The greatest damage was done to Przychodnia – with cars burned and destroyed, people injured, and windowpanes knocked out. For about thirty minutes – due to the police forces’ retreating – we were forced to defend ourselves on our own. Had it not been for our firm response, the scene would have ended in tragedy: the neo-Nazi attackers were ready to kill.

This is what your ‘patriotism’ looks like today. Every single person taking part in the Independence March shares the responsibility for the attacks on homes of evicted families, of the elderly, of people with disabilities and all those who cannot afford neither their rent nor a 30-year bank loan.

This is reality in Warsaw today – those in power evict, the fascists strike.

We will endure both.

Rainbow - an artistic instalation by Julita Wójcik, built in the centre of Warsaw as a symbol of tolerance, was burnt. Picture Posted by @PolandTalks

Rainbow – an artistic installation by Julita Wójcik, built in the centre of Warsaw as a symbol of tolerance, was burnt. Photo posted by @PolandTalks

The following day, many Warsaw citizens showed their solidarity with the values under attack by decorating the burnt rainbow and creating Facebook groups demanding that the guilty parties rebuild it themselves.

Picture posted by @</a><a href=czapskipawel, drawn by a famous blogging cartoonist AndrzejRysuje.pl. The girl says " class="size-medium wp-image-442190" height="400" src="http://globalvoicesonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/BY87-reCEAA5lby.jpg-large-332x400.jpeg" width="332" />

Cartoon posted by @czapskipawel, drawn by famed cartoonist AndrzejRysuje.pl. The girl says “People are decorating the burnt rainbow with flowers, on Friday there is a flash mob organised – people will be kissing under the burnt rainbow and the nationalists are supposed to pay for its reconstruction…”

“Rainbow in Poland” – satirical picture posted by @p_ministra

There were many, who highlighted the right of citizens to march under any circumstances, blaming organisational skills of the march leaders rather than the general attitude of it's participants:

It's true – the Independence March was not perfect. But it was better than a year ago. And Poland with this March is better then on without it!

- Krzysztof Bosak (@krzysztofbosak), 12 November 2013

Hanna Kozłowska, a Polish blogger writing for Foreign Policy Blog highlighted the influence of the change in political moods over the last years on the events of November 11, 2013:

While the nationalist hooligans make up a fringe group, their actions reflect a larger shift in Polish society. With the once vigorous economic growth falling from 4.5 percent in 2011 to 1.8 in 2012, the unemployment rate high at 13%, Poles are increasingly dissatisfied with their government, the European Union and their lives. Polls indicate that the main conservative party, Law and Justice which has been out of power since 2007, is now gaining support over the centrist, pro-European Civic Platform, idle and incompetent in the eyes of many.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

November 13 2013

Bangladesh’s Hijras Win Official Recognition as Separate Gender

Hijras, a South Asian feminine gender identity that some people who are born male or intersex adopt, will now be considered as a separate gender in Bangladesh, allowing them to identify themselves as hijra on official documents such as passports.

The country's prime minister announced the government's decision on 11 November, 2013, on the heels of Germany's announcement that it will begin to offer a third gender option on birth certificates.

There are currently at least 10,000 hijras living in the country. The decision is a victory for hijras, a type of third gender who identify as neither male nor female, throughout the country. These individuals experience abuse of their rights from family and society at large, such as being forced to live together in secluded communities. Hijra organizations have demanded official recognition as a third gender.

Hijras in beauty contest. Photo taken by Mohammad asad. Copywright: Demotix (18/11/2011)

Hijras in a beauty contest. Photo by Mohammad asad. Copywright: Demotix (18/11/2011)

Several netizens applauded the move. 

Hazrat Binoy Bhodroe (@hazratb9bhodroe) pointed out on Twitter that the government's decision is a big step:

Hijras gets state recognition. It’s huge achievement. Go ahead Bangladesh 

Sabrina Haque (@sab918) hoped that it will be the end of gender discrimination:

Smita Gaith (@smitagaith) tweeted:

Blaque Mamba (@Snoozfest) mentioned:

ireen sultana (@ireen_sl) praised the change:

Congratulation to the government for this decision at the very last moment (of their tenure).

November 10 2013

Hong Kong Pride Parade 2013

Here is a video uploaded by Ares Ng from Youtube showing the empowering and happy rally scene of Hong Kong Pride Parade 2013 which has taken place in Hong Kong during the weekend on November 9, 2013.

November 07 2013

Cuban Government Agency Investigates Incident of Homophobic Violence First Reported Online

Afromodernidades[All links lead to Spanish language pages.]

The Cuban intellectual Alberto Abreu Arcia reported in his blog Afromodernidades about an incident of physical violence against a group of homosexual men in the city of Cardenas, in the western province of Matanzas, on October 4. The National State Center for Sex Education (CENESEX in Spanish) then started an investigation.

This is yet another example of how events in Cuban society which are first reported on social networks and digital spaces ultimately find resonance in official institutions. 

La madrugada de hoy jueves estos actos de agresividad adquirieron connotaciones más violentas cuando varios hombres en un coche se presentaron en el Rápido ubicado en la esquina de Ruíz y Coronel Verdugo, frente a la Plaza Malacof, justo al doblar de mi casa, donde acostumbran a reunirse muchos de ellos y comenzaron a agredirlos verbal y físicamente, recibiendo uno de ellos, en la espalda, varios planazos machete.

This morning at dawn these aggressive acts became more violent when several men in a car came to Rapido located on the corner of Ruiz and Coronel Verdugo, in front of the Malacof Plaza, just before turning towards my house, where many of them began to verbally and physically attack them, getting one of them on the back, and several fell face down after being attacked with a machete.

Abreu, who, in addition to being an activist is a renowned cultural studies scholar, later writes about about the implications of homosexuals simply exercising their citizen rights, and the responsibility of state institutions:

La actitud de este grupo de gays viene a recordar aquello, de que los derechos y los espacios no se mendigan, sino que se conquistan. (…) Y allí pienso estar, al lado de ellos, porque lo cierto es que a pesar del machete, los planazos, los fustazos, el coche, los cocheros y otros atributos de un entorno pre, uno se cansa. Si las leyes y las instituciones llamadas a ampararnos llegan: perfecto, sino ya da igual. Los maricones tan bien tenemos sangre en las venas, y vamos descubriendo otras formas de empoderarnos, quizás no tan civilizadas (contenidas, disciplinadas), pero son las armas, el otro saber: el saber de gente, que vamos encontrando noche a noche, para el vivir, pensar y enfrentar la calle.

The attitude of this group of gays reminds the issue of of rights and spaces not being begged for, but conquered (…) And I plan to be there, next to them, because truthfully in spite of the machete, falling face down, the whippings, the car, the drivers and other characteristics of a beautiful setting, it gets tiring. If the laws and institutions called to shield us arrive, then that's perfect, but it's not enough. We faggots also have blood in our veins, and we're figuring out other ways to empower ourselves, perhaps not so civil ones (neither contained nor disciplined), but they are our weapons, the other way of knowing: the way of knowing about others, that we are finding out night after night, to live, to think and confront the street.

On the bog, messages supporting the post were received continuously from other digital spaces:

Todavía hoy continúan llegando correos de solidaridad por el texto Cocheros homofóbicos agreden a grupo gays en Cárdenas, firmados por diferentes blogueros, activistas y luchadores contra la homofobia entre los que se encuentran el Proyecto Arcoiris y el sitio Afrocubaweb.

Even to this day, letters of solidarity still continue to arrive [...] signed by different bloggers, activists, and fighters against homophobia; among them the Rainbow Project and the Afrocubaweb site.

Additionally, the reprinting of the initial post signed by Abreu was uploaded onto the Rainbow Project and replicated from @bitacorasdecuba's account:

 bitcub

On October 8, the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), which is under the Ministry of Public Health, posted a note on their official site where they recognized the information: “For several days, information about supposed protests of violence against homosexual people in the Matancera city of Cardenas has been circulating online and through alerts received by LGBT activists (..)”. 

Later, the Center specified its intention to investigate this matter:

Por lo que esto representa para la población LGBTHI cubana, y por su repercusión en materia de respeto a los derechos sexuales como derechos humanos mismos, el Servicio de Orientación Jurídica del Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (CENESEX), desde que tuvo conocimiento del asunto desarrolla un proceso de indagación sobre los mencionados acontecimientos, el cual permitirá determinar su veracidad, darle seguimiento, y en próximos días publicar en este sitio nuestra versión de lo ocurrido.

Because of what this represents for the Cuban LGBT population, and its impact on sexual rights as being equal to human rights, the Service for Legal Advice of the National Center for Sex Education has developed a process of inquiry about the events since we have known about this matter, which will allow us to determine the veracity, monitor it, and in the coming days, to publish our version of what occurred on our site.

So specialists from the institution moved to the place where the facts were, as Abreu reports from his blog, in the post published on October 22:

De igual forma el pasado miércoles 16 de octubre un grupo de CENESEX visitó la ciudad de Cárdenas y realizó una minuciosa investigación sobre los sucesos descriptos en mi texto. Los resultados de la misma, según me comentaron, serán publicados en su sitio web.

In the same way, on Wednesday, October 16, a group from CENESEX visited Cardenas city and conducted a thorough investigation of the incidents described in my text. The results will be published on their website, according to what they told me.

Abreu is currently waiting for the conclusions of the investigation.

October 25 2013

Hong Kong: Rainbow Color on a Landmark Building

HSBC building, a financial landmark in the center of Hong Kong changed its lighting scheme to rainbow colors to publicly show support for their LGBT workers.

HSBC building, a financial landmark in the center of Hong Kong changed its lighting scheme to rainbow colors to publicly show support for their LGBT workers. Story via Hong Wrong

October 02 2013

“Lesbianism” and “War Games”: Russian Internet Censorship Continues

E-textbook

E-textbook “Lesbianism for Children.” An art piece hosted by counter-culture website Looo.ch. Screenshot.

Two months ago the Russian government activated a new weapon in its war on Internet freedom — a broadly framed anti-piracy law [Global Voices report] that makes it extremely easy to shut down any online resource on claims of copyright infringement. For now, this law has been exclusively used by copyright owners [ru] to target Russian torrent websites and filesharing forums [Global Voices report], making it harder for Russians to watch Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Other websites, however, can still run afoul of proper censorship from Roskomnadzor, the agency that runs Russia's Internet blacklist registry.

Looo.ch [ru, NSFW], a counter-culture art blog and media platform with niche content and readership (its front page features male genitalia wrapped in a string of pearls and a young girl aiming a gun at her mouth) is the most recent victim of a Russian law banning the propaganda of homosexuality. It was presumably blocked for hosting an art project: two multimedia “textbooks” [ru, NSFW] titled “Homosexuality for Children” and “Lesbianism for Children,” which are meant to be a “satire of Russian homophobia” and contain erotic photos and texts explaining why homosexuality is “great.” Looo.ch itself says [ru] on their Facebook page that they received no reason for being included in the “forbidden websites” registry on September 19, 2013, and called on their users to access the website through TOR. Being on the blacklist means that Russian ISPs are obligated to block access to the website in question.

While the blocking of Looo.ch itself could have gone largely unnoticed, Roskomnadzor was hoisted by their own petard, cutting off internet access to SquareSpace [ru], a hosting platform similar to WordPress that hosts Looo.ch. Confusion over IP addresses of hosters and websites is a constant issue with the blacklist — Roskomnadzor has previously blocked entire websites over a single infringing page. Because of the latest blanket block thousands of websites (26,439 according to looo.ch) were cut off from the Russian market until the issue was resolved. Looo.ch and its “homosexuality propaganda” only gained in notoriety as a result, thinks [ru] nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin:

был сайт для леворадикальной интеллигенции с дневной посещаемостью в районе 3000 человек, такое развлечение для узкого круга. Теперь же пресловутый “Учебник гомосексуализма” висит на главной Хабрахабра (и тысяч новостных сайтов и блогов с аудиторией в миллионы посетителей), а 26 000 добропорядочных площадок, включая чисто коммерческие, блокированы в России, при этом файл с “Учебником” гуглится за секунду. 

there was a website for radical-leftist intelligentsia with daily visits of around 3,000 people, a diversion for a narrow audience. Now the above mentioned “Homosexuality Textbook” is on the front page of [Russian tech blog] Habrahabr (and a thousand other news websites and blogs with an audience of millions), and 26,000 law-abiding websites [hosted by SquareSpace], including purely commercial ones, are blocked in Russia. At the same time the “Textbook” file can be instantaneously found through Google.

Increasing instances of down-times like this are prompting some websites to take pro-active measures. In mid-September users of the popular free internet depository of pirated books (real books this time, not kinky art-pieces), Flibusta.net (see this Global Voices report for more on Russian pirate libraries), found that they couldn't read or download any books through a regular web-browser. Instead they were taken to a sparse webpage [ru] that said “War games in progress” at the top.

What readers of flibusta.net saw when trying to download a book. Screenshot.

What readers of flibusta.net saw when trying to download a book. Screenshot.

The page explained:

Уже принятые и еще запланированные законы против интернета в России так или иначе касаются каждого пользователя. И каждый должен уметь обходить цензуру и блокировки. Наряду с обычным интернетом существуют распределенные анонимные сети I2P и TOR. Их не так просто поставить под контроль. Самое время научиться ими пользоваться.

Anti-Internet laws already passed or in the planning stages in Russia in some ways affect all users. Every person should know how to counter censorship and blocks. Along with the regular Internet there are the anonymous webs of I2P and TOR. They aren't as easily controlled [by the government]. It's high time to learn how to use them.

The page, which remained in effect for several weeks, gave I2P and TOR addresses for Flibusta, as well as links to FAQs [ru] on how to install, configure and use the programs. Essentially, Flibusta has made the attempt to train their audience to become internet-savvy, an educated and sophisticated force of rule-breakers. Of course, people complained about the added bother — not the least because the TOR network was slow at the time [ru] on account of a bot-net problem.

There are plenty of online libraries to choose from, and because of that Flibusta probably lost users who preferred to take the easy way out. Since the new anti-piracy law only targets distribution of pirated video, Russian book pirates are safe from censorship for the moment, unlike artists creating avant-garde art. However, Flibusta's militaristic metaphor is apt — as the steady encroachment on Russian Internet freedoms continues, more people are going to feel like they are at war with the government. In the future they will probably react more positively when a grizzled Internet-wars veteran hands them a shovel and says: “This is as far as they come. Help me dig this trench, son.”

October 01 2013

Breaking Taboos: Tunisians Speak Up Against Homophobia

Many Tunisians took to their keyboards to lash out against homophobia after the country hosted its first conference on homosexuality. The conference was held on Friday (September 27, 2013), at the Ministry of Human Rights in the capital Tunis. It was led by psychology experts and leading Tunisian sexologist, Haithem Sherif. On Twitter, the hashtag #TnGay was trending. It ranked fifth, two spots behind Justin Bieber. Close call.

A screenshot of Twitter trending topics on Sunday, 28th.

A screenshot of Twitter trending topics on Saturday (Sept 28).

Not to be confused, the role of the conference was to study “family perspectives with regards to early-age homosexuality.” The conference organizers asserted the event was not to diss homosexuality, but rather to open debate. The experts wanted to navigate with the attendees whether families play an active role in shaping the sexual orientation of their young children. Unfortunately, the Facebook page, set up for the event and which was quickly populated with comments and posts about the topic, was deleted a few hours after the end of the conference.

This did not stop Tunisians from expressing their opinion on the topic. Many turned to Twitter to vent off. Blogger Emna El Hammi tweets in disbelief [fr]:

A homophobic conference at the ministry of human rights. We have seen it all in this country.

The “normal” is to feel good about oneself and live in a balanced, tolerant society.

Another Tunisian twitter user has different views

You're going way too far here. This is a MUSLIM country.

The conference featured a video about early-age homosexuality, featuring Tunisia's Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice Samir Dilou. Monia Ben Hamadi quotes Dilou as saying:

Dilou: In an Arab country whose religion is Islam, family is a man, a woman and their children.

Dilou reiterated his views about homosexuality. Early in 2012 and only a few months after he was sworn in as minister, he referred to homosexuality, on a Tunisian talk show, as “psychological perverseness that ought to be treated.” Those statements have stirred outrage from LGBT groups in Tunisia at the time.

Other Twitter users lashed out on Islamist leaders, and their stance on homosexuality. Morsi Chaari tweets [fr]:

The human rights of Islamists is the right to pity, clemency, understanding, non-violence….a medical treatment.

The conference also helped some LGBT rights advocacy Twitter users rise to prominence. @TNLGBT who was also present at the conference did not miss out the opportunity to react with those who were curious about the conference or had different opinions. These Twitter users still withhold their anonymity due to public pressure and state harassment of homosexual practices.

It is hard to recapture the overall reaction over social media regarding such a topic, which is still taboo in Tunisia. Global Voices Online spoke to Tunisia Live journalist Farah Samti, who attended the conference, and who writes frequently about the topic. We asked her if the conference was successful in stirring any kind of meaningful debate around the topic. She did not think so.

“I think the purpose behind holding such a conference was probably to try to show that the topic is being addressed and that it's no longer a taboo. But it wasn't particularly efficient or useful. It was one-sided and the speakers did not answer questions of those who opposed their views,” she replied on Facebook.

Is the topic being addressed enough, one might wonders. Can social media be effective platforms for such debate?

“Absolutely not. People are still scared, obviously. And that's why it's hard to speak for the LGBTQ community itself. And, that's why social media is the main way to speak their minds,” asserts Samti.

September 27 2013

Kyrgyzstan: “It is Impossible to Propagandize Homosexuality”

Prominent Kyrgyzstani blogger Bektour Iskander reflects [ru] on on the recent law banning gay ‘propaganda’ in Russia and speculations that some Kyrgyz human-rights NGOs are engaged in such propaganda:

It is impossible to propagandize homosexuality. Because a heterosexual cannot turn into a gay, even if she/he communicates with hundreds of gays every day…

A sexual orientation cannot be imposed or implanted onto people. Because it is not a political leaning or a musical preference. Because a person is born with it.

September 25 2013

Two Women Jailed After Kissing at Religious Rally in Brazil

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

Two young women were jailed by order of Brazilian congressman Pastor Marco Feliciano after kissing during the evangelical event Glorifica Litoral in the city of São Sebastião in the north of São Paulo on Sunday, September 15, 2013.

Beijo que provocou a prisão de duas jovens. Foto: Reprodução You Tube

The kiss which resulted in the arrest of the two young women. Photo: YouTube

Feliciano, who is also a congressman and president of the House Commission for Human Rights and Minorities [en], stopped his presentation during the gospel festival, which bills itself as an “evangelical social-cultural week”, to request the municipal guards and military police officers present arrest the two young women.

“Those two girls have to leave here handcuffed. No use trying to run, guards are headed there now. This here isn't palace where anything goes, It’s the house of God,” he said into the microphone.

According to reports from those present at the event, while the women were being removed, the pastor continued to incite the crowd of 70,000 people against them.

The two young women, Yunka Mihura, 20, and Joana Palhares, 18, were taken by agents of the Municipal Civil Guard to the First District Police Station of São Sebastião, where the police chief filed the incident for investigation. The women alleged other heterosexual couples were also exchanging kisses during the event, and that they were physically assaulted by the police.

In the blog iGay, they stated that they had already kissed a few times during the event and that nobody seemed to mind.  Yunka stated:

O evento era público, pago com o nossos impostos. Aquele palco, aquele microfone, tudo tinha dinheiro público. Também era um espaço aberto, na Rua da praia. Estar ali era direito nosso.

The event was public, paid for with our taxes. That stage, that microphone, everything was with public money. It was also an open space, on Beach Street. It was our right to be there.

According to the lawyer for the two women, Daniel Galani, there was a conflict of rights during the event:

A comunidade

The online community “Moça, você é machista” (Girl, you are a chauvinist) published an image questioning the act which lead to the arrest of the two young women. (Text reads: What's that?? A lesbian kiss is religious intolerance???)Photo: Facebook

A gente vê que foi uma situação que fugiu completamente ao controle. A gente sabe que existiam dois direitos em conflito: um é a liberdade de expressão e o outro a liberdade do ato religioso. Os dois direitos são constitucionais e estão previstos para que as pessoas possam fazê-los.

We see it as a situation that got completely out of control. We know there are two rights in conflict: one is the freedom of expression and the other the freedom of religious practice. The two rights are constitutional and are prescribed so that people can make use of them.

In statements to magazine Revista Fórum, the director of the Commission for Human Rights of the Brazilian Order of Lawyers (known by its acronym OAB – Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil) in São Paulo, Martim de Almeida Sampaio, considered the detention “illegal” and added the young women “could have called for the pastor's arrest for abuse of authority,” had they known about the Penal Code.

Without giving interviews to the press, Feliciano used his Twitter account to talk about the episode, citing the Brazilian Penal Code to justify his actions:

1) Article 208 of the Brazilian Penal Code states: to mock someone publicly for reason of belief or religious function;
— Marco Feliciano (@marcofeliciano) September 16, 2013

2) to impede or disturb a ceremony or practice of religious worship; publicly vilify acts or objects of religious worship:
— Marco Feliciano (@marcofeliciano) September 16, 2013

3) Punishment detention, 1 month to 1 year or fine. P.U. If violence is used, the punishment increases by ⅓, without prejudice to the correspondent violence
— Marco Feliciano (@marcofeliciano) September 16, 2013

The social network was also used against the pastor by opponents of his attitude. Marcelo Gerald, an LGBT rights activist, associated the incident with religious fanaticism:

The right of religious fanatics is surpassing all acceptable limits
— Marcelo Gerald (@mkGerald) September 17, 2013

And he stressed:

Regarding Feliciano I can only say he needs to be punished, NOTHING justifies violence used against the lesbians in a PUBLIC space,
— Marcelo Gerald (@mkGerald) September 17, 2013

Congressman Jean Wyllys, an advocate for LGBT rights and one of the main opponents of Feliciano in the House and on the Human Rights Commission, was attacked on his account by various users. He considered the arrest of the two young women to be an arbitrary act and stated:

These police don’t investigate charlatanism and the commercial exploitation of faith! RT “@camilo_aggio: Have you seen this, Jean? http://t.co/4z1iZoO0Kl

— Jean Wyllys (@jeanwyllys_real) September 17, 2013

During the week, video production company WAPTV Comunicação, contracted by the organization Glorifica Litoral, released a video defending the pastor. The company has among its clients the pastors Marco Feliciano and Silas Malafaia – noted by Forbes [en] as one of the richest pastors in Brazil.

The video claims to reveal the truth about the imprisonment of the two girls by stating that the event took place in a “closed space” and that it got its support from evangelical churches on the north coast of Sao Paulo state, not from public money like activists have said. Then it shows pastor Feliciano repeating the same legal arguments that are quoted above:

After becoming known thanks to racist and controversial statements, Feliciano is opposed by a good portion of the Brazilian political class since the beginning of his mandate as president of the Human Rights Commission. At the beginning of the month, the Brazilian Order of Lawyers announced that it will request, together with more than 20 entities linked with human rights, the expulsion of Feliciano as well as Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, for inciting hate crimes.

According to the municipal government of São Sebastião, the case against the two women will be investigated by the inspectors office of the Municipal Civil Guard.

September 24 2013

No Longer Silent: “Queer Pakistan”

“Please tell me, is there any doctor who can help me become straight?” This is one of the questions on the forum of the newly launched Queer Pakistan (@QueerPK) website that aims to provide support to Pakistan’s LGBT communities, and start a discussion about topics that are otherwise taboo in a society in which homosexuality is religiously and legally condemned.

One of the website's founders has spoken anonymously to Global Voices about its goals.

The initiative is introduced in a post called “Hello world! Let me present Queer Pakistan”:

How many times do you hear the word Pakistani gay? Or Pakistani queer? Probably you’re more aware of the derogatory terms that are locally used for the LGBTQ community in Pakistan. … And you probably laughed it up! Did you ever think what goes on in the life of a Pakistani queer person? What they have to go through? Or you were too busy denying it’s something ‘western’ and doesn’t exist in Pakistan? Well NOT ANYMORE! We’re here! And we’re here to show our existence.

Screenshot of the Queer Pakistan website.

Screenshot of the Queer Pakistan website.

Another post addresses coming out in Pakistan:

For a regular Pakistani youngster the internet is the major source of all kinds of knowledge and happenings around the world. Same goes when a young gay Pakistani approaches the internet with his major life problem about being a homosexual. As the internet is dominated by content from western countries almost all the websites about being gay encourage you to ‘come out of the closet’ and tell the whole world you are gay and be yourself. This is great advice but only if you are living in a free country where laws and legislation are strict and there aren’t any religious fanatics going around running their own rule. In Pakistan things are different. We are not going to be appreciated even by the most educated people if we are who we are in public. Moreover we also run a great risk of being harmed. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl. The risk is almost the same.

The post concludes:

We don’t advocate coming out and being openly gay in a society like Pakistan, however we do emphasize the importance of coming out to yourself. It’s extremely important that you come to terms to your sexuality and know who you really are.

One of Queer Pakistan's founders has spoken anonymously to Global Voices about the website's aims and focus.

Global Voices (GV): What is Queer Pakistan aiming to do?

Queer Pakistan (QP): Queer Pakistan is aiming to start building an open discussion about issues which are otherwise regarded as unspeakable. We intend to use the power of social media for community building because currently there is no support available to a huge number of the LGBT population in the country. Other than providing an awareness-based and educational resource to the community, we also intend to initiate LGBT advocacy and resistance alongside providing what we call “virtual support” to the community. There have been all sorts of attacks in the mainstream media on LGBTQIA communities and they are rarely defended so we figured it's time to take matters in our own hands and at least start to speak.

GV: Are there other websites focused specifically on the Pakistani LGBTQ community?

QP: There are a couple of them in my knowledge. There are also a few “secret” groups on Facebook that deal with the issues but they have a different approach which is to reach and support the community silently. While I appreciate their efforts, I don't think that's enough because there's a sizeable community that is not connected to even virtual support and their only solution is to look for an online resource. We are trying to be that resource.

GV: How does this resource work?

QP: We provide a space for discussion through our blogs section, support page and Facebook page where people can initiate or participate in discussions. The blog section welcomes guest posts and we have also enabled the comment section where every comment is allowed as long as it doesn't involve harassment or incites violence. On the support page, anyone can send us questions anonymously and are answered by a team including two practising doctors along with people who have been through almost anything society can throw at them. This section is overseen by a queer-affirmative psychological expert to ensure the advice given is appropriate.

GV: Your website is primarily in English; does that limit who it will reach?

QP: We are trying to make it a bilingual platform. While English is spoken and understood by most Pakistani internet users, we understand that there's a sizeable population that has difficulty understanding it. That's the reason we put the content that is of utmost importance in Urdu as well. Our online video portal works with foreign content partners to produce Urdu-subtitled videos. In future we want to make all of our content available in both languages.

September 13 2013

Labour Code Promotes Debate on Sexuality and Racism in Cuba

[All links lead to Spanish language websites.]

The draft of the Cuban Labour Code is being discussed as much in workplaces as in digital spaces based on the island. The law proposal, approved by the National Assembly of People's Power on December 2012, was launched on 10th July, creating debate in every workplace in the country.

blogpaquitoSince the publication of the regulations in Cuban official media, the document has also drawn the attention of various bloggers residing on the island. Journalist Francisco Rodríguez produced two responses to the aforementioned draft in his blog PaquitoeldeCuba.

In the first of them, Rodríguez, besides making specific proposals about amendments to the wording of the law, also encourages the sex diverse community to participate in the debate:

El reconocimiento del derecho al trabajo con independencia de la orientación sexual o la identidad de género de las personas podría incluirse en una nueva ley, si todos los trabajadores y las trabajadoras que somos homosexuales, bisexuales o trans proponemos en nuestras secciones sindicales una adición al anteproyecto de Código de Trabajo que actualmente se discute en Cuba mediante consulta popular.

The recognition of the right to employment regardless of the person's sexual orientation or gender identity could be included in a new law, if all us workers who are homosexual, bisexual or transsexual propose an addition to the Labour Code draft in our union sections, which is currently being discussed by way of referendum.

Cruz's main preoccupation, exposed in his second post, is the need for political will in the voices of the decision-makers of the country, so that those and other suggestions on the inclusion of homosexuals, the transgendered, etc. are taken into account in the mentioned law.

Los expertos que redactaron la propuesta de ley no solo obviaron cualquier mención explícita a la discriminación por orientación sexual e identidad de género en el entorno laboral, sino que tampoco pusieron en blanco y negro el derecho al trabajo para las personas discapacitadas y seropositivas, aunque en este último caso sí se mantiene una protección salarial cuando asistan a las consultas médicas programadas.

Not only did the experts who wrote the law proposal avoid any explicit mention of discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender in the working environment, but they also did not establish explicitly the right to employmentfor those disabled and HIV-positive, although in the latter's case, there is indeed a wage protection for when they attend scheduled medical consultations.

Meanwhile, on 10th August the doctor Alberto Roque published an open letter to the president of the National Assembly, Esteban Lazo, in his blog, in which he leaves “evidence of the discriminatory acts that persist in our country's work environment.”

blogroqueFurthermore, in the missive, Roque reveals that discriminatory concepts are used in the text, some of them surmounted in the social sciences, such as that of race, while demanding the inclusion of workplace harassment within the mentioned law to be assessed:

Considero necesario incluir en el Anteproyecto un artículo específico que defina el acoso moral en el trabajo, su identificación, así como hacer mención a las obligaciones de la administración y del Sindicato de crear espacios y ambientes seguros para los trabajadores víctimas de mobbing.

I consider it necessary to include a specific article in the draft that defines psychological harassment at work, its identification, and mention the obligations of the administration and of the union to create safe spaces and atmospheres for workers who become victims of mobbing.

The new Labour Code has also provoked analysis on how it contradicts other already-existing laws in the country, in particular the Constitution of the Republic. In the post Solavaya con este código, Rogelio Manuel Díaz Moreno, member of the Observatorio Crítico [Critical Observatory], admits that “the draft violates the secular state and discriminates among religions, given that one enjoys two days of holiday and the rest, not one.”

More recently, the lawyer Deyni Abreu, founder of the project Alianza Unidad Racial [Racial Unity Alliance], has been circulating her notes about the Labour Code through the web, some of which are more general while others are specifically related to racism and discrimination in Cuba. With respect to the latter, she thinks:

Un inconveniente puntual en los centros de trabajo se observa en la inexistencia de herramientas legales que protejan al trabajador, si el empleador lo humilla o comete maltrato, irrespeto, desde su jerarquía, proveyéndose de acepciones racistas o si otro trabajador origina un conflicto desde el imperativo del color de piel.

A punctual disadvantage in workplaces is observed in the lack of legal tools that protect the worker if the employer humiliates, mistreats or disrespects him, from their hierarchical position, using racist terms, or if another worker causes a conflict stemming from the skin colour.

Abreu considers the Cuban Criminal Code's plans with regard to racial discrimination to be insufficient, and recognises the need for the present law project to strongly include this matter. Likewise, she believes that all possible discrimination of an explicit nature needs to be named.

On 15th October, the discussion period for the Labour Code Draft in Cuba closes, a debate that has been organised jointly by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Cuban Workers’ Union, the only organisation of its type in the country.

August 31 2013

VIDEO: A Portrait of Equal Marriage in Brazil

Liberdade na Rede blog shares [pt] a short documentary by Brazilian journalist Alicia Peres on equal marriage, called Meninas (Girls). The documentary portrays moments in the lives of Priscila and Juliana:

São menos de cinco minutos, com a música de Hermeto Pascoal e imagens que registram esta forma de amar e ser feliz, ainda considerada “diferente“.

It's less than five minutes, with music by Hermeto Pascoal and images that document this way of loving and being happy, still seen as “different“.

Watch it below, with English subtitles:

August 27 2013

It Started With a Kiss: Footballer Causes Homophobia Debate in Brazil

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

One week after Russian athletes Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova kissed in celebration at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow as well as three-time pole vaulting champion Yelena Isinbayeva spoke out in favour of an anti-gay law in Russia that she later backtracked, it was Brazil’s time to debate homophobia through sport.

Footballer Emerson Sheik [en], who plays for Brazilian club Corinthians [en], published a photo online that caused controversy on Brazilian social networks. In the picture, the Corinthians number 10 celebrates his team’s recent victory by giving a male friend a kiss.

Imagem partilhada no instagram com 9.985 likes no momento de publicação deste artigo.

Picture shared on Instagram. At the time of publication of this article, it has received 9,985 likes. 

Alongside the picture, Sheik wrote:

Tem que ser muito valente, para celebrar a amizade sem medo do que os preconceituosos vão dizer. Tem que ser muito livre para comemorar uma vitória assim, de cara limpa, com um amigo que te apóia sempre.

You’ve got to be very brave to celebrate friendship and not be scared of what prejudiced people will say. You’ve got to be very free to celebrate a victory like this, openly, with a friend who is always there for you.

One kiss was enough for football – a notoriously macho environment – to become a place for debating homophobia.

Critics of Sheik were not slow to appear online nor to voice their opinion on the streets. One group of members of the fans’ organisation Camisa 12 protested outside the Corinthians training ground, demanding both an apology and a retraction by the player. The group carried banners with the slogans “No fags allowed” and “This is a man’s place”.

On their official Twitter page, Camisa 12 (@Camisa12oficial) wrote:

We reject isolated attitides that tarnish the image of Corinthians and its supporters. We demand respect for the Ultras! This is Corinthians!

However, as Wilson Gomes reminds us, in environments such as football, the use of terms referring to homosexuality have always been a way of belittling and devaluing the opposition. He wrote:

Aliás, faço logo uma distinção: não importa “o caso do selinho de Sheik”; o que é interessante é o “o caso da escandalização por causa do selinho de Sheik”. Tenho cá comigo uma regra de antropologia social de que não abro mão: pode-se conhecer, e muito, uma dada cultura pela lista dos fatos com que ela fica escandalizada.

Anyway, I’m going to make a distinction: Sheik’s kiss isn’t what is important; what is interesting is the scandal caused by the kiss. I have here with me a dictum from social anthropology that I guard closely: you learn a lot about any culture by the list of things that it is shocked by.

Artists launch protest by kissing and the campaign #SheikTamoJunto.

Artists launch protest by kissing for the campaign #SheikTamoJunto.

On the other hand, the Internet has been full of messages of support for the player.

It was not long before a remake of the “kissathon” [en], that took place during the campaign against homophobia in the Brazilian Comission for Human Rights [en], started to circulate online in support of Sheik.

The movement began with a photo (on the right) posted by brothers Fernando and Gustavo Anitelli, who are also members of O Teatro Mágico (The Magic Theatre).

Later the idea was featured on Blog do Rovai, causing it to go viral under the hashtags #Sheiktamojunto (Sheik we are one) and #vaicurintia (go corinthian).

Twitter users then began posting their own photos of support:

Fotos em apoio circularam pelas redes sociais. Foto: Alex Capuano/Facebook

Photos expressing support have circulated on social networks. This one reads “In this family we are all Corinthians fans, but none of us are bigoted!”. Photo: Alex Capuano/Facebook

The blog Impedimento (Obstruction) recalled the era of Corinthians’ Democracy [en] which was lead by a group of politicised Corinthians players and is considered “the most important ideological movement in the history of Brazilian football”:

Protesto mesmo, ato de rebeldia, daqueles que nos remetem ao Corinthians da Democracia, foi o beijo de Sheik, mesmo que ele não tivesse qualquer intenção política no gesto. Não é nada, não é nada, mas nunca tínhamos visto algum jogador brasileiro peitar este “preconceito babaca que existe no futebol”, como Sheik afirmou hoje, após a repercussão do gesto de carinho.

Even if the gesture wasn't politically motivated, Sheik’s kiss was a protest, an act of rebellion, in the spirit of Corinthians’ Democracy. Yes, it isn’t much, but then we've never seen a Brazilian footballer stand up to what the player himself labelled “this stupid prejudice that exists in football,” as Sheik affirmed today following repercussions from his affectionate gesture.

The photo of Emerson Sheik’s kiss has become an act of resistance in the battle against homophobia in a world where 76 countries still classify homosexual relations as a crime [en]. Or better still, as the blogger Fabio Chiorino said, it’s “a small kiss for man, a giant leap for Brazilian football.”

August 25 2013

Chelsea Manning Case Surfaces Issues of Transparency, Security, Journalism, and Sexuality

Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning,* was a soldier in the United States Army who leaked over 700,000 classified documents that revealed U.S. government violations of the Geneva Convention, indiscriminate slaughtering of civilians committed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hundreds of classified U.S. diplomatic cables.

For this, she was sentenced to 35 years of prison, the longest sentenced ever imposed on a leaker of classified information, and longer than the sentence imposed on most convicted terrorists. It is worth noting that the prosecution pushed for a sentence of 60 years, even though it failed to show that the information leaked by Manning resulted in any harm; not a single life of anyone involved in the U.S military or intelligence was lost due to the leaks. The charge that would have exposed her to the death penalty, “aiding the enemy,” was rejected by the judge presiding over the case.

Manning herself understood that her actions were against the law and pleaded guilty to all charges, except aiding the enemy. In her letter to President Obama requesting a pardon she says:

I understand that my actions violated the law; I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

What makes Chelsea Manning's case so important is not only the unprecedented amount of information she revealed of government wrongdoing, but the implications that her treatment by the justice system will have for journalists, bloggers, whistleblowers, leakers, and citizens in general. Her case is the highest profile conviction under the Obama Administration's crackdown on leakers. Indeed, the Obama Administration has charged more leakers than any other administration for disclosing classified information to the public. Josh Stearns (@jcstearns), writing for Boing Boing, sees this case as just the latest one of a disturbing tendency to curb freedom of information:

We should see the Manning verdict in the context of a mounting press freedom crisis that impacts all of us. As Dan Gillmor wrote in the Guardian, “the public needs to awaken to the threat to its own freedoms from the Obama crackdown on leaks and, by extension, journalism and free speech itself.”

We live in a time when anyone may commit an act of journalism. The person who sets up a Facebook page to cover the hurricane hitting her community. The person who uses her smartphone to record police officers killing an unarmed teen on a train platform.The person who live-blogs a court case from start to finish. Each of these people is participating in journalism in ways we should protect and celebrate.

[...]

We should be glad that this military court did not equate Manning’s actions to aiding the enemy, but this case is part of a much bigger debate, and one the public has largely been left out of. That needs to change.

Trevor Timm (@trevortimm), in a post for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, is also worried about the zeal with which the Obama Administration is prosecuting leakers. He says that one of the laws used to convict Manning, the Espionage Act, is being used to equate leakers with traitors:

The Espionage Act, a draconian statute written in 1917 as a way to punish non-violent opponents of World War I, has unfortunately been used in recent years to equate leakers and whistleblowers with spies and traitors. Facilitating that warped view in Manning's trial, the judge ruled early on that the defense was not allowed to put forth evidence of Manning’s sole intent to inform the American public, or evidence showing that none of the information materially harmed national security.

In spite of the official narrative of the Obama Administration that labels Chelsea Manning as a traitor, people everywhere are expressing their support, as evidenced by the chatter currently on the web. Supporters of Chelsea Manning have rallied together to create awareness of how important and necessary her disclosures were. A joint petition by Amnesty International and the Bradley Manning Support Network to request that President Obama grant clemency to Manning is currently making the rounds on the Internet. Many have also expressed their support on Twitter:

In this video, The Young Turks discuss Chelsea Manning's letter to the President asking for a pardon. All four men express their respect and the high regard in which they hold her:

Journalst Norman Solomon (@normansolomon) expresses a deep admiration for Chelsea Manning's actions and integrity in an open letter to President Obama published in the independent digital news journal Nation of Change:

Imagine. After more than three years in prison, undergoing methodical abuse and then the ordeal of a long military trial followed by the pronouncement of a 35-year prison sentence, Bradley Manning has emerged with his solid humanistic voice not only intact, but actually stronger than ever!

Transgender Identity

Imgage of Chelsea Manning with a wig shared extensively on the web. Taken from Wikipedia

Image of Chelsea Manning with a wig shared extensively on the web. Taken from Wikipedia.

On August 21, Manning publicly announced her true identity as a transgender woman, saying that from now on she prefers to be called Chelsea Manning and would like to begin hormone therapy as quickly as possible. Trans activists have praised her decision to come out, granting visibility and a legitimacy greatly needed for transgender people in the ongoing struggle for LGBTT rights. This raises a whole new set of issues for Manning, as she will be taken to a male prison and already the U.S. Army has refused to grant therapy beyond that given by a psychiatrist. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement saying that the denial of hormone therapy to Manning raises worrying constitutional concerns:

[P]ublic statements by military officials that the Army does not provide hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria raise serious constitutional concerns. Gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition in which a person's gender identity does not correspond to his or her assigned sex at birth, and hormone therapy is part of the accepted standards of care for this condition. Without the necessary treatment, gender dysphoria can cause severe psychological distress, including anxiety and suicide. When the government holds individuals in its custody, it must provide them with medically necessary care.

The events of the past few days will undoubtedly have an enduring and far-reaching effect on future whistleblowers and journalism in general —not to mention the trans community. Whether that will translate into a more open society with greater government transparency and accountability or a more secretive one in which citizens's rights to information will not be recognized remains to be seen.

*In this post we use feminine pronouns to refer to Manning, who explicitly and publicly asked to be referred to in this way.

Reposted bywikileaksmr-absentia

August 24 2013

‘No’ to Homosexuality, ‘Yes’ to Child Marriage in Nigeria

A man was beaten by members of the public in Kotodayo community in Ota in western Nigeria, on August 22, 2013, for allegedly being gay. This came in the wake of a bill passed in the Nigeria's House of Representative on May 30, 2013, which criminalises gay marriage, same-sex relationships and membership of a gay rights group.

The man, known only as Sadiq, was whisked from the scene conscious but there is no information on his current condition.

President Goodluck Jonathan must approve the bill before it becomes law. The bill, which was passed by Nigeria's Senate in November 2011, sets prison sentences of up to 14 years for offenders. Ironically, it is the same Senate that approved child marriage in July this year.

Global Attitudes Project by Pew Research Centre shows that Nigeria is the least tolerant country in the world when it comes to homosexuality. A mere rumour of being gay in the country can lead to violence and even imprisonment.

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.

In February 2012, Uganda re-tabled a controversial anti-gay bill proposed by a Ugandan member of parliament, David Bahati, who claimed to to have dropped the death penalty and jailing of family members who fail to report homosexuals to the authorities in the new bill.

In the same month, the former Liberian first lady, Jewel Howard Taylor, introduced a bill making homosexuality liable to a death sentence.

Many African politicians and lawmakers claim that homosexuality is un-natural and un-African. South Africa is an exception with a constitution, which provides the most comprehensive protection of gay rights in the world.

Reacting to the story of mob justice meted out against the suspected gay on Nigeria Eye news site, Mr Speaker made the following observations:

Mare [sic] allegation that someone is gay is enough to expose them to violent attacks in Nigeria what a shame. I don’t think there is any law that will change the sexuality of homosexuals. Human rights for all please.

On PM News Nigeria website, Naubiko wondered why the public should be so concerned with “myopic issues” such as homosexuality:

I don’t [he later made a correction in another comment saying that he meant to use the word "do" instead of "don't"] abhor gay pratice but is this what we should be bothering ourselves with . When we should be making politicians lives a living hell we’re bothered with all sorts of myopic issues .

But Adeyinka was not convinced:

Gay is evil dont support it in any form. Nothing concern politician here.accept jesus christ b4 it is too late for you.

On Twitter, Nigerian writer St.Vince (@vinzPaz) thought mob justice against homosexuals is sadistic even if homosexuality in illegal:

Alexis Okeowo (@alexis_ok), a journalist writing about Africa for international media outlets, wished for a day Nigerians will get angry over anti-gay bills like they do with child marriage legislation:

The Nigerian Senate on July 18, 2013 upheld a clause in the Nigerian Constitution that defined full age to include any woman that is married regardless of her age. Concerned Nigerians and activists opposed the move on Twitter using the hashtag #ChildNotBride created by Ayomidotun Fadeyi (@IAmAyomiDotun), a Nigerian visual storyteller.

In 2010, Ahmad Sani Yerima, senator and former governor of Zamfara State in Northern Nigeria, was accused of marrying a 13-year old Egyptian girl. Yerima reportedly paid the girl's parents 100,000 US dollars in dowry. Senator Sani Ahmed Yerima led the group of senators who opposed changing the definition of legal age of marriage arguing that certain religious traditions allow for marriage under 18.

Tweeting about the same issues of child marriage and homosexuality, Bar Baric (@Bar_Baric) wrote:

Eusebius (@IgbokweEusebius) is sure that Lagos will legalise gay marriage in the future:

Homosexuality is deeply rooted in Nigeria, noted Pizzle Houdini (@thisisphd):

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