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October 11 2011

South Africa: 4 Convicted for the Murder of Zoliswa Nkonyana

The case of the murder of South African lesbian has come to an end: “Finally after five years of postponements 4 men were convicted of the murder of Zoliswa Nkonyana. 3 others were acquitted of the original 9 arrested. This is the first case in South Africa to recognise sexual orientation and lesbians as a motive for murder and violent crimes.”

October 09 2011

Croatia: Court Forbids Homophobic Priest From Blogging

Serbia Insajd, a Hungarian blog about South-Eastern Europe, reports [hu] that the Rijeka Court has banned Franjo Jurčević, a Kastav-based Catholic priest, from writing homophobic blog posts [Jurčević's blog, hr:]. The court has also ordered Jurčević to publish the court decision in two national dailies at his own expense.

October 06 2011

Indonesia: Q! Film Festival

Q! Film Festival is a festival showcasing LGBT, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights films in Indonesia.

October 02 2011

Serbia: Belgrade's Gay Pride Parade Banned

“Gay pride parade planned for tomorrow has been banned by Serbian autorities because the police said they can’t protect the participants,” reports, adding: “It’s 2011 and it feels that the progress Serbia is that of a snail on a reversed treadmill. By progress I do not mean progress in human rights or some similar empty slogan that means everything and nothing at the same time. I am talking about a complete lack of compassion between citizens.”

October 01 2011

The Balkans: Homophobia

Alan Jakšić of Balkan Anarchist writes about LGBT and homophobia in Serbia, Croatia and elsewhere in the Balkans.

September 29 2011

Cuba: A Tireless Defender of Gay Rights

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz is a Cuban journalist and activist who for over a year has maintained a controversial blog [es] committed to advancing the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Cuba. This is a community that has experienced a difficult history of discrimination on the island. Paquito, as he is commonly known on the web, does not only address issues of sexual diversity and gay rights in his blog. He has also been writing of his own personal experience, for the past five years, of battling HIV and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

“Those who have the privilege to access Internet from Cuba should aim always at improving something in the country, not only deal with external hostilities. Perhaps then we would develop much faster,” he says.

In a previous interview last year, with Tele Sur, Paquito was asked about his blog and said, “At first, some people said it was impossible for someone with my characteristics to exist in Cuba: HIV-positive, communist, gay, father, journalist.” But Paquito, with all his multiple dimensions and complexity, really does exist.

Here is the video of the Tele Sur interview (in Spanish):

Francisco Rodríguez, journalist and blogger

Francisco Rodríguez, journalist and blogger at "Paquito el de Cuba."

Paquito is a member of Hombres por la diversidad (Men for Diversity), a social network of the state-run program National Centre for Sex Education, but he has also supported civil society and independent associations, and the recently founded, Rainbow Project, which aims to participate in debate on public policies and raise awareness of institutional homophobia. They advocate changes to Cuban law that eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender.

On December 2, 2010 Paquito was received by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, at the ministry's headquarters, along with other representatives of civil society in Cuba [es] who questioned Cuba's support for an amendment to remove reference to sexual orientation from a United Nations resolution condemning summary executions (executions without trial). During this meeting, the foreign minister said there would be no changes in Cuba's policy to oppose any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender.

After this unusual dialogue, Paquito suggested to the authorities in March 2011 that they should support an international UN declaration to eliminate “criminal penalties and other human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” And they did, in June.

Meanwhile, Paquito continued denouncing irregularities committed by Cuban police, who repeatedly fined visitors to a gay spot in central Habana.

Gerardo Arreola, a journalist from La Jornada in Mexico, wrote about his efforts:

Su activismo ha tenido giros tan insólitos como el que lo puso frente a la policía, primero como infractor, luego como demandante y finalmente como interlocutor.

His activism has had twists so unusual, as to make him run in with the police, first as an offender, then as a plaintiff, and finally as an equal.

Paquito is now fighting his latest battle. He has run, literally, after the Cuban Minister of Justice, María Esther Reus, to ask her what happened to the updated draft of the Family Code, a law that would approve, along with a number of important benefits for all Cubans, legal marriage for couples of the same sex. The minister replied that she has until 2013 to submit the law for parliamentary consideration. Paquito does not give up: “There will always have to be someone to ask the questions that will prevent people from forgetting,” he says.

September 25 2011

Cuba: Historic Wedding

Paquito el de Cuba celebrates and narrates the historic wedding [es] in Havana between a man and a transgender woman: Ignacio and Wendy.

September 22 2011

September 21 2011

Sri Lanka: Yellow Journalism Threatens LGBT Community

Hans Billmoria reports how a local newspaper published their alleged exposé on “condoms and lubricating gels being distributed to men who have sex with men”, and published the addresses of the community based organizations involved in the process. This has put the gay community in the country in fear and insecurity.

Uganda: LGBTI Human Rights Defender Receives Kennedy Award

Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) human rights defender has been selected for the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. He has been commended for his work in the LGBTI community especially in Uganda. Mugisha is the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella organisation that protects and recognises LGBTI people in the country.

Ugandan LGBTI activist, Frank Mugisha. Image taken from Twitter (@frankmugisha).

Ugandan LGBTI activist, Frank Mugisha. Image taken from Twitter (@frankmugisha).

Frank Mugisha, a prominent young advocate for the rights of sexual minorities in Uganda, has been chosen to receive the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Mr. Mugisha is the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a leading organization of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) movement in the East African country.In Uganda, LGBTI organizations operate in a dangerously hostile climate, and Mr. Mugisha is one of the few openly gay LGBTI activists. As a spokesperson for the movement, he amplifies the voice of one of the most vulnerable groups in the country.

“Frank Mugisha's unbending advocacy for gay rights in Uganda in the face of deep-rooted homophobia is a testament to the indomitability of the human spirit,” said RFK Human Rights Award Judge Dean Makau Mutua, Professor of Law and Dean of the University at Buffalo Law School (SUNY).

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights established the Award in 1984 to recognise activists and support authors and journalists working for the advancement of human rights:

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award was established in 1984 to honor courageous and innovative individuals striving for social justice throughout the world. Each year, the RFK Center awards an individual whose courageous activism is at the heart of the human rights movement and in the spirit of Robert Kennedy.

Frank Mugisha has significantly contributed to advancing gay rights in Uganda, a country which earlier this year has seen the proposal of the controversial anti-gay bill and the assault and murder of the late David Kato, another famous gay activist.

Mugisha runs Sexual Minority Uganda (SMUG), a gay center in capital Kampala comprised of two member organisations: Integrity Uganda, which tackles the crucial integration of identity and religion amongst LGBTI Ugandans, and Icebreakers Uganda, which focuses more on research and youth issues.

Our Vision: A liberated LGBTI people of Uganda.
Our mission: is to oversee and support member organizations to achieve their objectives aimed at LGBTI liberation.
As a coalition, we focus on advocacy and coordination of efforts by local and international bodies.

Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy and Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will present Frank Mugisha with his award in Washington, D.C., on November 10.

September 19 2011

Video: Homeless but not Voiceless

From Colombia, Canada, UK and the US we have different initiatives that aim to bring to the foreground the plight of those who are twice forgotten: the children, indigenous people, immigrants and the transgender community.

Homele$$ by Bob With CCBy

Colombian videographer José Alejandro González has been documenting and sharing the lives of the homeless people of Colombia for years, and last year with The Insider Project many of these video documentaries came together in a couple of longer films: The Truth and The House.

The Truth follows several homeless in Bogota who speak about their lives, touching on political, social and economical aspects of homelessness. One of those interviewed is a 15 year old who tells of his estrangement from his family, his drug addiction, his forays into the most dangerous parts of towns to get drugs and his wish to be able to be “fine” and go home to spend Christmas with his family on the other side of the city.

The House takes us inside the “home” of a homeless person: underneath a manhole cover and into an underground wiring station beneath the streets of downtown Bogota. There, Darío Acosta has his bed, books, radio, battery powered light and his imaginary dog.

Mark used to be homeless in the 90's, living on Hollywood Blvd, addicted to drugs and selling pictures of his iguana to tourists. Today, he heads the Invisible People project, where he goes around the US and Canada asking homeless to tell their stories and advocating for their rights. In his visit to Canada, he noticed the connection between the First People and homelessness and he then tried not only to get their stories and show the unique situation faced by them while maintaining cultural sensitivity but also, hopefully, to change their situation:

The following interview is with Dave Ward, director of aboriginal relations at Homeward Trust Edmonton. This is an important conversation. David talks about aboriginal culture and solutions to ending homelessness. Too me, I think the biggest is listening. We need to listen to their culture and include aboriginal people in the process of finding and implementing solutions.

One of the striking interviews is the one featuring Alma. She's a homeless grandmother in Winnipeg who is putting herself through college in the hope that having an education will empower her and increase her chances of getting back her granddaughter from child protective services as she becomes able to give her a better life:

There are many other videos in the Invisible People YouTube channel, and you can also follow Mark on twitter as user @invisiblepeople.

In Bradford, England, Hope Housing provides opportunities for homeless people who don't classify for benefits, most of them because they are immigrants who no longer have their documents, are unemployed and have to turn to squatting or living on the streets to survive. In their video The Not So Promised Land, they focus on the problems faced by economic migrants, those who came from the Eastern European countries in search of work opportunities in the UK, only to find that it was going to be harder than they thought. Hope Housing gives them a hand so they don't need to stay on the streets and help so they can find what they went to the UK to seek: work.

Diamond Stylz describes herself as a a proud transgendered woman of color from Indianapolis, Indiana but currently living in Houston, Texas. In her YouTube channel she discusses many topics regarding gender, race and sexuality. In this video she goes back to her experience in homelessness and how she discovered that as a Non HIV positive transgender woman she wouldn't be accepted in shelters for women, men or HIV positive trans people, so had she not had someone to give her a hand and get on her feet, the system would've basically turned its back on her.

September 07 2011

Jamaica: Love & Language

Does it seem impossible for there to be a connection between “a group of rather ‘unchristian’ Christian pastors [coming] out against an advertisement that was promoting love” in Jamaica, racism and riots in the UK and a baby learning to use language in the US? Under the Saltire Flag finds the link.

China: Sex, Censorship and the Rise of ‘People's Porn'

Much of the discussion surrounding Chinese Internet culture has centered on the rise of online human rights activism, but the emergence of an online erotic culture that openly describes individuals' personal sexual activities has also been evident in recent years.

Associate Professor Katrien Jacobs‘ research at The Chinese University of Hong Kong on “People's Pornography” has investigated the culture of ‘Do It Yourself' amateur porn on the Chinese Internet, as well as the interplay between pornography producers and consumers within the state's censorship mechanism.

Below is a transcript of an interview conducted by Ronald Yick and Oiwan Lam about the upcoming publication of Professor Jacobs' new book, People's Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet.

Professor Jacobs' new book, 'People's Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet'

Professor Jacobs' new book, 'People's Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet'

Global Voices (GV): Can you explain what you mean by “People's Pornography” in your book?

Katrien Jacobs (KJ): First of all, the term “People's Pornography” covers the meaning of DIY pornography, which reclaims pornography by amateurs. But it also refers to pornography made in China. It sounds satirical because officially there is no Chinese pornography, it is officially banned, even though everybody knows that there are many porn sites, including amateur porn, in China.

GV: Since you are an expert in the research of DIY pornography in western societies, can you compare the culture in China and in the West?

KJ: In the developed western society, alternative culture is strong and you can see artists or members of weird communities making websites to promote their own kinds of pornography in different ways. Sites like Beautiful agony, which only depicts orgasm as seen from people’s faces, is a kind of critique of commercial pornography, which is too much focused on genitals. That’s the background I came out of. I’ve met people who are interested in or actually making those sites. Of course this culture has very soon been commercialized. So you also have a DIY porn movement that is not really for people, by people, it’s just promoting girl next-door look, a kind of amateur look. So in the West, there are two competing movements, i.e. the real amateurs and the commercial forces.

In China and in Hong Kong, you do have people who upload their own videos and photographs. Sometimes on designated sites like the Pornotube, which is the Youtube for pornography. These sites are open to all people in the world. Of course, people from mainland China cannot get access to these sites and it is still much more uncommon for people to participate in DIY porn movement. But we've noticed that younger people have started makig their sex videos in secret places or hidden places, like empty classrooms, medical rooms, elevators, or just corridors. This kind of porn is definitely being made in China right now and being uploaded, because I found lots of videos compiled or archived on various websites. For sure the movement is very scattered and people say it’s quite juvenile. But I think it is a sign of change.

GV: You've used the term “erotic liberation” in your book - what do you mean by that?

KJ: First of all, I see liberation in the fact that people can have access to pornography and the second point is that, people can express their cultural and sexual identities through pornography. So in these young people’s videos, it’s powerful for them to have sex somewhere and film it and upload it and share it, despite the fact that this is totally forbidden and officially banned in China. But nevertheless it’s happening. We shouldn’t think it so seriously, in terms of political liberation because after all these people are just having fun. But they are breaking law by being naughty in two different ways, by doing sexually what they want, and by uploading it. Their excitement comes from that double kind of breaking the rule.

GV: Are they aware of being subversive in spreading their pornography?

KJ: The interviews I did in mainland were netizens, but not necessarily those netizens that are uploading. I did also interview netizens in universities. It’s really interesting, they are completely aware of the Chinese war of pornography, that the Chinese government bans pornography, controls pornography, or uses pornography towards controlling the Internet. However they can find what they’re looking for by jumping over the Great Firewall and share their secret websites with each other.

But sexual minorities are more vulnerable as they are still having a hard time being recognized in China. And for them to launch a porn movement would be probably out of the question.

GV: In recent years, more and more amateur porn has been uploaded online. Chinese netizens like to uncover the identity of those performing in sex videos, in particular when they involve corrupt government officials. What's your view on that? Do you think it is related to gender and power relations in China?

KJ: Yes, of course. If they can catch the corrupt government official, they may have indeed challenged the power relations and exhibited their own power. But it is problematic, because in terms of sexuality, so often they will also try to just go for people’s hidden sex lives. I really don’t think that we can do that because even if this person is a party official, with too much power, I still think we cannot judge his or her sex life. I would prefer people complain more about the lack of sexuality.

I think Han Han's comment about propaganda of impotence is very interesting. What has been promoted in the mainstream society it that we should not have pornography, maybe we can have sex, but we cannot have pornography. We should not document our joy, our orgasm. His idea challenges China’s history of asexuality. To attack the officials for having illicit sex affairs can hardly change the corrupted system.

GV: What is the relationship between the anti-censorship battle and sex activism in China?

KJ: In China, netizens seem to be aware of the pornography war, the fights of pornography, the fights of filtering software. In fact, the Grass Mud Horse, a symbol for fighting against the filtering software in 2009, is a sex related expression. The rapid spread of Grass Mud Horse was a powerful moment in the netizens’ fight for civil liberty, or freedom of expression. In China, more than in other countries, the fight of sexually explicit media is at the heart of netizens’ struggle.

Of course, for people who are very into political dialogue, they do not want to deal with pornography questions, or even with sexuality questions. So to some extent, I think the discourses are marginalized, but if you look at it closely, you can find it’s actually in the middle of whole debate and the female bloggers are at the heart of it. For example, bloggers like Muzi Mei and Liumangyan (sex workers activist) are two very good examples of what females and feminist bloggers who are doing around sexuality and they wouldn’t try to separate political activism from sex activism.

I think there is male tradition of political activism that separates the sexual questions from the political questions and there is the tradition of female bloggers, more exhibitionistic and more down-to-earth, and so I think they are from different angles. When I was writing my chapter on bloggers, I just noticed this kind of gap between the male tradition and female tradition, and I couldn’t really deny that it was there.

GV: In your other interviews you mentioned that you were surprised by the Chinese male fantasy of having sex with underage females. Where does such a fantasy stem from?

KJ: I think it comes from Japan, because Japanese pornography is so dominant here and they really promote the image of young innocent submissive female, and they appear to be underage. I interviewed a lot of guys who say that, yes, this is my primary fantasy. I want to see this submissive girl. What does it mean? I think it means that it gives the guy the sense of empowerment. They can handle the submissive girl. So in this fantasy world, they can deal with this kind of girl, but it doesn’t mean that they have this girl in real life but the fact that they have to probably deal with the quite powerful women around them. In Japan there are studies explaining that this fantasy is a reversal, a sense of weakness and incompetence that Japanese male was like spoiled by mothers also. In China it’s a little bit similar.

GV: Does your book touch upon race and sexual relations in the Chinese Internet?

KJ: Actually I have a chapter that I interviewed people in Internet sex sites about their sexual fantasies in terms of who they want to date. There is common coupling zeal between a Caucasian male and Chinese female. Even though there is also more and more Chinese males interested in foreign women. I interviewed Chinese guys who were interested in dating me and they did pour out a lot of frustration onto me, about their inability to date or just seduce local Chinese women. From that research into dating mechanisms in Hong Kong, I realize that in the heterosexual world, there is a real disconnect between men and women. I found a lot of Chinese men and Chinese women have different aspirations…so does it have anything to do with the fact that they create the fantasy of easy submissive girl. Maybe it’s related. It’s a kind of reversal, that they can dream about submissive girl, but in reality, those Chinese men are rejected so badly by Chinese women, for instance on dating sites. The Chinese women are very demanding, and they publicize their requirements. And the Chinese men feel quite bad in a way. So I can see that Hong Kong and China is patriarchic. And I know that in reality, in the workplace, and at home, men have a lot of power. But that’s also just one way of investigating the reality. There’s also other realities where women have a lot of power as well.

Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei

Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei

GV: A final question, when the Chinese authorities detained prominent artist activist Ai Weiwei, one of the excuses was his nude pictures. Why do you think Ai's naked pictures have become a threat to the Chinese government?

KJ: I know when he was detained, one of the many accusations against him was that he was spreading pornography. I think he is powerful and threatening to the authorities because he has a very good sense of humor and he made these witty photographs of himself jumping around with naked grass mud horses. He’s such a big emblem of in the fight of freedom of speech and sexuality is part of it. If you’re free person, you’re artistic and free person, you have an eccentric personality, then you can do these things, you can jump around naked sometimes. He represents this kind of sense of humor and freedom that is totally dangerous in China.

September 01 2011

Jamaica: Bloggers Discuss the Block on Pro-Tolerance PSA

The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) recently produced a public service announcement aimed at encouraging Jamaicans to unconditionally accept members of their families who are homosexual. The organisation hoped to have had the spot broadcast on national television in August - but as a new month begins, the Jamaican media still appear to be firm in its stance that it will not air the advertisement, which features former Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe Christine Straw and her gay brother, Matthew, sharing their personal story. Public service announcements are typically aired free of cost in Jamaica, but in discussions, media heads have apparently said that even if it were a paid ad they still would not broadcast it because they reserve the right to decide on content.

The issue has sparked controversy in Jamaica, a country that is widely perceived as being homophobic, thanks in part to this and this. Much of the debate appears to be taking place through mainstream media - either via the comments section of online newspapers, letters to the editor and talk shows. There has been some discussion on Twitter, and a few bloggers have commented on the issue, making sure to upload the video of the PSA to their blogs.

To examine the controversy more closely, I asked Annie Paul, who lives in Jamaica, and two diaspora bloggers, Kathy Stanley (whose cousin, a prominent gay rights activist in Jamaica, was murdered in June 2004) and Kei Miller (who has written extensively on homophobia in Jamaica), to share their thoughts. Annie is the Publications Officer at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus and a founding editor of the journal Small Axe. Kei is an author and educator whose collection of short stories exploring the issue of Jamaican homophobia was shortlisted in 2007 for a Commonwealth Writer's Prize. He currently teaches Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Kathy is a writer and poet who is also passionate about environmental preservation. She is about to begin her Master's Degree.

Global Voices: To what extent has the media influenced public attitudes toward the PSA (although the spot is available for viewing online) by characterising it as “pro-gay” rather than “pro-tolerance”?

Annie Paul: It’s been on YouTube so the digitally connected have seen it for the most part. There’s such an anti-gay sentiment generally that I don’t think the media would need to do much to further prejudice public opinion.

Kei Miller: I have to confess I can’t speak with any absolute conviction about what happened in Jamaica and how it happened since I’ve actually been in Scotland while this whole thing has been played out. Strangely enough, Scotland is where Matthew (who is at the centre of this controversial ad) lives, and I’ve invited him to dinner to hear his side, but we haven’t met yet. To speak quite frankly, the Observer recently hasn’t seemed to me to be most responsible paper and this kind of sloppy journalism that isn’t interested in nuance but in the most controversial headlines that might stir up trouble and attract a wider and more incensed readership is typical. But in all fairness, I also can’t imagine that subtlety would matter much in Jamaica – ‘pro-gay’ rather than ‘pro-tolerance’. You see, once it got out that there was an ad addressing the topic of homosexuality, and that the ad was not hitting out against it, it was going to be characterized as a pro-gay ad. That seems to me an inevitability.

GV: I understand that one of the dailies has published a pro-gay-rights editorial. Do you think that some segments of the Jamaican media are more progressive on this topic than others?

AP: Oh yes! It’s not a universal response by any means. Nationwide Radio stayed on the subject for two or three days playing the audio from the PSA and trying to find out what the objections were. Dionne Jackson-Miller who works for RJR also focused on it though her own station didn’t allow her to play any part of the PSA. On Double Standards, which is a Newstalk 93 radio programme hosted by Yvette Rowe and myself, we’ve recorded an edition which will air next month where we discussed reactions to the PSA with the executive director of JFLAG for an hour. Interestingly he told us that one of the two main TV stations, CVM, had told JFLAG that they wouldn’t be averse to playing it if TVJ agree to air it.

KM: Yes I do think so. The Gleaner at least seems to me to invite a more open discussion on the topic. Their editorials, their columnists and some of the letters to the editor that have been published have really dared to challenge Jamaica’s homophobia. Other newspapers (including the Gleaner’s own sister paper, The Star!) seem interested in titillation more than discussion. Sometimes this easy urge to stir up controversy and outrage and hatred seems irresponsible to me. The topic of gayness is always a sure fire way to get Jamaicans talking without listening, and incensed.

GV: What do you gather is the principal reason for the stations’ refusal to air the ad? Are broadcasters afraid of retaliation somehow, either unlawful (homophobes who may take extreme action) or “lawful” (the government or corporate Jamaica pulling advertising or viewers boycotting the station)?

AP: Kay Osborne, head of TVJ, indicated in a Sunday Observer article that the reason behind TVJ's decision not to broadcast the PSA was that “the culture of “good, moral and ethical Jamaicans, does not support homosexuality at this time.” At the same time she called on Jamaicans to be more open to dialogue on such matters which seemed more than a little contradictory. But yes, it seems to be an irrational fear of advertising dollars being pulled and the generally risk-averse nature of the media here.

KM: Cowardice. Ms Osbourne’s comment seemed to me a strange attempt to have her cake and eat it – condemning the discrimination of the Jamaican public while affirming the station’s position to play into that discrimination.

GV: You see this stance by the Jamaican media as just another example of their spinelessness. Can you elaborate?

AP: Yes, I do find Jamaican media too willing to ‘plead the fifth’ (to use an Americanism) rather than expose the truth in too many instances. This is especially true when dealing with those who have wealth - and hence power - in this society. I’m dismayed at how quick Jamaican media are to use the admittedly Draconian libel laws here to gag themselves, in the same way that they were only too willing to use the excuse of the buggery laws to keep from airing what is clearly an unpopular message.

Look at how long the media refrained from naming the suspect in the X6 killing recently, on the grounds that the police hadn’t released his name! In the UK the police didn’t release News of the World Editor Rebekah Brooks’s name when they arrested her, referring to her instead as a ‘44-year old female’. Did this prevent the media there from splashing her name all over their front pages? No! Because any media house worth its salt has the investigative capacity to uncover the truth and publish it without benefit of a PR announcement from the police.

But this would never have happened in Jamaica. Brooks’s identity would still have been shrouded in secrecy to this day had her arrest happened in Jamaica. On the other hand, those without power or money are treated outrageously—Dog Paw’s name and image were flashed all over the media with assertions that he had ordered various killings and the case hasn’t yet come to trial.

Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul

GV: It appears as if certain religious groups have been very outspoken about the issue. In the words of the Observer article, why would “the reactions of pastors” be considered such a significant part of public opinion and have such an impact upon whether or not to air the spot?

AP: Oh you don’t know Jamaica! This is a vociferously ‘Christian’ society with Churches of various denomination holding an inordinate amount of influence. On the other hand Pastors, Priests and Clerics railed and ranted about the nude weddings at Hedonism years ago and about the nude couple who make up the Emancipation Monument but didn’t gain much traction. Their protests were pretty much ignored and there was no significant fallout so it’s not clear why in this case their opinion seems to count for more.

KM: Pastor Reaction would be considered a significant part of public opinion because it really is. I’ve been writing about this recently in a more academic context, about how the public sphere in Jamaica is constructed. And religion is a huge part of that space. It would be a mistake to think of fundamentalist religious opinion as something separate from the public sphere and that only a small subsection of society buys into that discourse. But of course the public sphere is always a space for discussion and contestation and what we must object to is this feeling that some ideas can’t even be discussed, challenged or debated.

Diaspora blogger Kathy Stanley

Diaspora blogger Kathy Stanley had a slightly different take:
KS: It is incomprehensible to me why pastors, who are unfortunately very lacking in real knowledge about homosexuality, are held up as wise men to be consulted for their reactions. Sadly, they tout ridiculous beliefs that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice.” And that if you accept gays then it means they will take over society. These views are almost laughable if it wasn't so deadly serious and if it didn't cause people to get killed. Homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice. That is a widely known fact. To say otherwise is to prove your ignorance in this issue. These types of backward and uninformed opinions are partly the reason that there is still so much serious misinformation and so much intolerance…unfortunately the pastors do have influence. As do the appalling musicians who tout anti-gay lyrics in their music. There is a systemic lack of information driving the intolerance.

GV: Is it a losing battle to be fighting for equal rights for homosexuals in the Jamaican context, or do you think these are the opinions of the vocal few?
AP: It’s going to be a long, uphill struggle, JFLAG would be fooling itself if it thought otherwise but things ARE slowly changing. When we interviewed Dane Lewis, Executive Director of JFLAG, on Double Standards he acknowledged that 10 years ago radio stations wouldn’t even have agreed to air any discussion on the matter in the way that they have today. The Observer has devoted quite a lot of column space to these debates even carrying stories that highlight the plight of homeless homosexual men.

KM: No I don’t think it’s the vocal few at all. You know – sometimes you think things aren’t so bad in Jamaica. It matters where in the country you are – what circles you move in. If you are part of some university circles for instance it’s easy to think that Jamaica’s attitudes are changing and becoming more nuanced, but it takes a situation like this to remember what the overwhelming and prevailing feeling is, the lack of thought that is out there, and why there is still need for activism.

KS: I think that regardless of the battle, one must always stand up for human rights. Because that is what this fight is for. It's a human rights issue. We don't give up on other battles for human rights.

GV: It seems as if people are confusing homosexuality and buggery, homosexuality and paedophilia, homosexuality and criminality. Thoughts?

AP: Yes, that is routine here. The problem is that because of the buggery laws, anyone who is an acknowledged homosexual is viewed as a lawbreaker. And unfortunately, in most societies the rape of a young boy is considered far worse than the rape of a young girl—it’s a double standard. Then again, Jamaican society is quite tolerant of rampant criminality, so again, it's not clear why people here feel so strongly about consensual anal sex between adults—even if it’s a crime on the books—when they love Buju Banton, Jah Cure, Dudus and others who have been found guilty of or charged with far more serious crimes.

KS: Lack of knowledge is pervasive. Yes, they are confusing homosexuality with criminality. But Jamaica's buggery laws and government have not helped. The Prime Minister famously said that he would not have gay people in his government. How does he know who is gay and who is not? The Government of Jamaica and its own intolerance and unwillingness to deal with the antiquated and backward laws is part of the problem here.

GV: Annie said in this post that “the status and well-being of its homosexual citizens continues to evolve in a one step forward-two steps backward manner.” The issue of homosexuality in the Jamaican context is so interesting and complex: How does an organisation like J-FLAG advance? How do gay Jamaicans function within this oppressive and complicated structure?

KM: Oh I don’t know about J-FLAG and I would actually really like to meet some of the activists there to get a better sense of their history, and their past and present fights, and if they have a sense of moving forward or backward. Gay Jamaicans function within the society in the way that I imagine all oppressed groups function – by subterfuge, by inventing their own language, by finding those miraculous ways of being simultaneously visible and invisible, flamboyant and camouflaged, loud and silent. So sometimes you see it in the oddest of places – in the church choir, or in parts of folk culture like Jonkanoo, and you think how incredible.

AP: I actually think that Jamaica’s bark is far worse than its bite. IF you examine the actual number of people killed here JUST because they were gay or different, the numbers wouldn’t add up, especially in relation to the general murder rate. At the same time, it is unnerving to live with a dog that is constantly showing its teeth, growling and barking even if it only occasionally actually bites anyone.

For anyone interested in more nuanced readings of Jamaica’s much vaunted homophobia I recommend Kei Miller’s blog Under the Saltire Flag and posts such as Contradictory Instructions: Elephant Man’s 2001 hit ‘Log On’ or On Effeminacy.

I also highly recommend his latest book of poetry A Light Song of Light, and in particular, the prose poem A Smaller Song, which directly addresses the way gay Jamaicans not only get by here but also enjoy their lives.

There is also Fiyu Pikni, who runs the blog Gay Jamaicans United. He has written several illuminating pieces on the subject.

GV: Can Jamaica’s big problems (in this case, homophobia) really be solved without the media as a responsible partner? And what role does social media have to play?

AP: No, I don’t think without the media’s help we will make much headway. Jamaican TV stations’ reluctance to support what is indisputably a worthy cause makes a hard task that much more difficult. You don’t kowtow to iniquitous, outdated laws and inhumane customs in the name of some dubious public morality or local tradition–if changing a situation requires that you break an absurd law whose expiry date passed over a hundred years ago, then you follow the example of the legion of great women and men throughout history who have shown us how to do that–Rosa Parks; Marcus Garvey; Mahatma Gandhi; Nelson Mandela to name merely a handful–they all went against the culture of their times, and rebelled against what was considered “good, moral and ethical” in systems we consider unethical and inhumane today.

The funny thing is that many of the talking heads on TV and radio, in the print media even, ARE gay but they dare not admit it. I also don’t think anything can really change until powerful homosexuals take their courage in their hands and step out of the closet. Right now, it is poor young homosexuals who refuse to remain covert who are subjected to abuse. That’s not fair.

Social media provides excellent opportunities for launching educational campaigns and clever advertorials, but I’m not sure these are being fully utilized.

KS: I think social media does have a vital role to play. The comments I have seen on Twitter have all been disparaging towards TVJ for not airing the ad and have been supportive of gay people. Citizen journalism is very important here and moves the culture and public opinion forward even while the mainstream media fails. We see this in issues of human rights across the globe.

Author and blogger Kei Miller

GV: Something that’s striking is the idea, explicit or implied, that “outsiders” don't have the right to express an opinion or take any action when it comes to homophobia in Jamaica. It often gets compared to neocolonialism. What’s your take on this?

AP: Well, I do think that some outsiders have been insensitive to the realities on the ground here and insufficiently attentive to the particularities of Jamaica. There is a tendency to self-righteousness, and an arrogant assumption that they know the right way in the same way that missionaries two hundred years ago felt so certain about their ‘rescue missions’ in relation to various so-called ‘heathen’ populations. Kei captured the problem superbly on his blog recently.

KM: I have a complicated take on this. I mostly agree with ‘outsider’s’ take on it, but I don’t generally find it helpful. I’ve written about this before, and it’s about attitude. I think too often the attitude of outsiders comes across as a kind of self-righteousness – as a validation of their own morality and I guess the savagery or backwardness of Jamaicans. And when Jamaicans pick up on that contempt we react in a really unfortunate way. We affirm our right to homophobia and so I think it ends up fortifying our hatred rather than challenging it in a helpful way.

KS: Sometimes it takes a light being shone on an issue from the outside for some change to come. Was it neocolonialism when the Allies took it upon themselves to rescue Jews and Europe from Nazism? Is it neocolonialism for Western writers and human rights organizations to speak out and advocate on behalf of prisoners of torture, Chinese dissidents, Tibetan people who are occupied? Was it neocolonialism when the West spoke out against apartheid in South Africa? Is it neocolonialism for human rights advocates to be speaking out against corporations like Shell who are large polluters in Africa? All around the world, people speak out for others who are disadvantaged, disenfranchised and persecuted. We are all human beings and our hearts open to those who are suffering. Jamaicans can take all the time they want, debating it and fussing about what to do or what not to do, but the world has left them on this issue. It is a human rights issue. As a Jamaican and someone who lost a dear family member due to this hatred and intolerance, I am proud of JFLAG and other Jamaicans who are taking a stand.

GV: Finally, when it comes to the ad itself, do you think the ethnicity of the Straws (mixed race but clearly light-skinned) has anything to do with the way people have reacted, given the line of rhetoric in some parts of the Caribbean that portrays homosexuality as a “foreign” thing or a perversion of the upper classes?

AP: Of course that is also playing into all this. But matters of race and colour are taboo in the Jamaican public sphere so no one has so much as mentioned it, but of course in private these must be bones of contention as well.

In relation to the view that there has been an ‘invasion’ of the Jamaican body politic by ‘foreign’ interests, there is a way in which the ravages of globalization are mapped onto the body of the homosexual. There is much talk of ‘the gay agenda’ that supposedly underlies initiatives such as the PSA we’re discussing. This comes from the fact that relations with the ‘developed world’, on whom countries such as Jamaica depend for aid and other kinds of assistance, are now contingent on accepting a hegemonic human rights discourse that is viewed as being antithetical to Jamaican culture. The cultural changes that forces of globalization engender sometimes provoke intense resentment and anxiety, and ironically are perhaps perceived as a violation as traumatic as being buggered–I don’t know, this is just a theory—maybe this is why the unfortunate connection is made to male homosexuality? I don’t know, I do know that until that reflex association with the evils of globalization is broken it will be hard for homosexuals in Jamaica to find this a hospitable place to be. This is why this is a battle that has to be fought here–on home ground–by Jamaicans, for Jamaicans, without any overt external pressures or interference.

Images used with the permission of the subjects.

August 23 2011

Video: Women Transforming Communities

Voices of Women Worldwide brings together people from all over the world interested in promoting the voices of voiceless women, young girls and children using all the different media they have available: blog posts, audio, video and visual journalism.

A search on the video selection uploaded by members brought up several fascinating projects that focus on the power of women to transform communities and improve them.

mother holding infant son's hand on a black background

Due mani by dino_olivieri CCBY

The town of Poso in Sulawesi, Indonesia has been the focus of inter-religious violence for more than a decade. A woman from Poso decided to start a Peace Academy for women so they can be catalysts for change. The next video clip is a trailer for a documentary telling the story of how Christian and Muslim women are coming together to forge a peaceful future for themselves and their community:

An extraordinary grassroots school is being held on a womans front porch in the post-conflict zone of Poso, Indonesia. Lian Gogali is teaching female survivors of nearly a decade of communal violence how to transform themselves into agents of peace for their families and communities. The Peace Agency is an emotionally powerful and thought-provoking film, documenting the difficulties women face and the triumphs they can achieve in Indonesia. It captures the blunt realities of living on the margins of a country still struggling to embrace the concept of womens rights and inter-communal harmony.


The Peace Agency Feature Documentary Trailer from Spotted Frog Productions.

In San Francisco, USA, Latino mothers are coming together to learn about how LGBTQ children and their families can find safety and love in a community that accepts them, while sharing their hopes and fears. Somos Familia presents their organization's views through this next video [es] with English subtitles:

Somos Familia has also produced other videos called “Drops of Water” where latina mothers of LGBTQ youth share their “coming out” stories:

In Kenya, a group of women dared to dream of a future where they could earn enough money to send their children to school and secure their futures. Pooling together their meager resources they helped one another start small businesses and through their trial and error they started discovering that they could do much more than they had thought. Through crowdsourcing online, donations came and they were able to buy 3 cows and have materials to start their dairy farm, a group goal they had dreamed about. The ongoing story is told in this blog post and this video [en] tells their tale:

This is a true story from the African Journal about how choices do create futures. It is a story of 20 single Kenyan mothers creating lives of meaning and purpose from virtually nothing. It is a story of a group of people from around the world choosing to give enough to “jump start” a dream and then to stepping back to watch it grow. It is the story of people helping people to create something special out of nothing. It is a story to remind everyone to that our choices well create who we will be and our future.

More of these inspiring videos and stories can be found on the Voices of Women Worldwide website.

August 22 2011

China: the first gay wedding in Shenzhen

DongXia He from China Hush translated a report from Southern Metropolis Daily on the wedding of a gay couple in Shenzhen. It is the first gay wedding made public in the city.

August 17 2011

Cuba: First Transsexual Marriage Preceded “Gay” Wedding

Gaspar, El Lugareño [ES] claims that last Saturday's “gay” wedding was actually not Cuba's first: “La primera boda de una persona transexual ocurrió a fines de la década de los 80's…”

“The first marriage of a transsexual person happened in the late 80s…”

August 15 2011

Cuba: First “Gay” Marriage

The wedding invitation, posted online by blogger Yoani Sanchez on August 11, 2011, was as untraditional as the wedding itself:

The wedding of Wendy and Ignacio will be this coming Saturday, August [1]3, 2011, at 3:00 PM in the Vibora neighborhood Wedding Palace at Maia Rodríguez and Patrocinio streets, telephone +537-640-7004.

Anyone who would like to go is invited: friends, acquaintances, curious neighbors, stigmatizers and discriminators of all kinds, official paparazzi, self-employed photographers, bloggers, independent journalists, CENESEX workers — Mariela Castro included — foreign and national press, homosexuals, gays, lesbians, transsexuals and heterosexuals. The doors will also open to people who think that now is the time for Cuba to open itself to modernity and modernity to open itself to Cuba.

Against all odds, it happened: a gay man, Ignacio Estrada, and a trans-sexual woman, got married. In Cuba. On the same day that Fidel Castro turned 85. This was a landmark event, because, according to Havana Times:

While same-sex marriage is not legal in Cuba, the bride, Wendy Iriepa, a transsexual, now has her ID card listing her as a woman.

The ceremony therefore proceeded with no obstruction and was deemed perfectly legal. Havana Times explains:

Wendy had a sex change operation four years ago thanks to CENESEX, the Sex Education Center led by President Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, an advocate of LGBT rights.

CENESEX is trying to convince the Cuban parliament to legalize same sex marriage.

As the day approached, bloggers could feel the excitement. Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo posted this update:

The people in Cuba are ever more supportive…

A sea of people tell me they are going to the wedding…

It doesn’t matter to anyone about having an official invitation or not…

All of Havana fits inside the Maya Rodriguez Marriage Palace…It will be a true gayvolution…!!!

All you need is love!

According to Yoani Sanchez's tweets describing the scene at la Plaza de la Revolucion [ES], it seems as if that “sea of people” did in fact show up to witness the nuptials - and Havana Times has the photos to prove it.

The fact that Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, acted as best man and matron of honour at the wedding, has caused other bloggers to focus the spotlight on possible hidden agendas behind the high-profile wedding. The Cuban Triangle says:

Yoani Sanchez was maid of honor, some of the Damas de Blanco attended, and some U.S. diplomats were reportedly in attendance.

All that, plus the fact that the Obama Administration is dedicating some of its Cuba democracy funding to Cuba’s gay community, led Mariela Castro to say the blessed event was a U.S. show, or was hijacked to make it so.

It is reasonable to raise that question, and in fairness one has to say that if the U.S. government paid for the car, the dress, the hair, the nails, the tux, the drinks, and a roast pig and sides, then more was accomplished than with the Alan Gross operation, which cost more than $600,000 and put one guy in jail and lots of nice equipment in the hands of the Ministry of Interior. Algo es algo.

The blogger also noted that:

Paris-based writer Zoe Valdes viewed the entire event as a show of a different kind, one mounted to distract from human rights abuses by the Cuban government. “Pure propaganda of Raulismo light and Cenesex,” she calls it.

Valdes posts a photo of the couple in their convertible, right in the middle of the Plaza de la Revolucion, asking where was the police deployment that Yoani described.

Sanchez, in a post published the day after the wedding, explains her decision to be involved, tracing it back to her memories of Cusio, a gay childhood friend to whom “[she] owe[s] [her] predisposition to consider it a normal thing that two men would decide to love each other, or that two women would join their lives as a couple”:

He came strongly to mind when I accepted the unusual, irreverent and surprising proposal to be the matron of honor at the first wedding in Cuba between a transsexual and a gay man.

Wendy and Ignacio – the couple to whom I now have the pleasure of being the matron of honor — who reflect much of the suffering I knew in Cusio, a part of the torment he had to carry. To be a witness to this union between a girl who once had the name of a boy, and the HIV positive young man crushed both by homophobia and political intolerance, constitutes my personal way of honoring the boy who taught me to respect differences.

The post goes on to document Ignacio's going to jail “very young for handing out proclamations with the Declaration of Human Rights” and Wendy's alleged victimisation at the hands of the Center for the Study of Sexuality (CENESEX), (which is headed by Mariela Castro), before acknowledging what a milestone it is in the life of the country:

Before leaving CENESEX, Wendy Iriepa had managed to have the surgery that aligned her mind with her body. She also achieved the dream of many Cuban transsexuals, having an identity card with a female name.

Thus, they slipped through the gap left by the law, in a country where gay marriage is not allowed. But preventing them from validating their relationship in the eyes of the law, would have gone against Mariela Castro herself, who had given the order to issue Wendy an ID card as a woman. Although the National Assembly has not yet approved — or even discussed — the legalization of marriage between same-sex couples, Ignacio and Wendy managed to get ahead of the bureaucracy.

To me it was left only to support them in their decision, to watch them rise to the occasion before each new obstacle, to witness their happy smiles and to know they were already a couple. But they have faced it all, overcoming the mockery of many, the pressure of the political police who saw the wedding as a provocation, the discomfort of Mariela Castro whose absence at the Wedding Palace showed her disapproval*. We could celebrate thanks to the strength of their love that allowed them to ignore the anti-gay jokes, the insults, the testosterone-filled official discourse and the aggressive stance of the troublemakers common to every neighborhood.

*The Cuban Triangle's post maintains that “Ms. Castro nonetheless congratulated the happy couple.”

Perceived political agendas aside, what happened on Saturday was a first for Cuba, a milestone which Generation Y hopes has “set an important precedent, one that has given us a lesson, a jolt, a burst of energy…[and] for one afternoon, for one brief afternoon, [has] placed our country into the third millennium, into the desired time of ‘now.'”

The thumbnail image used in this post, “Gay Pride Flag” is by sigmaration, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Creative Commons License. Visit sigmaration's flickr photostream.

Mexico City's 1000th Gay Wedding

“Mexican national José Carlos Gómez and the Dutch Tjarda Olaf Helias became the 1000th gay couple to legally wed in Mexico City”, writes Aguachile, and adds: “I don't know about yours, but neither one of those thousand has made my own marriage feel threatened in the slightest.”

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