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Harvey Milk, Brandon, Matthew Shepard, Gwen Araujo...志半ばで暴力の前に命を落としたLGBTの人たちのことを思えば、LGBTの人権獲得の闘いに暴力を用いることなど、絶対にあってはなりません。
Secrets and lies that doomed a radical liberal
Ayaan Hirsi Ali championed the rights of Islamic women and warned of the dangers to Holland from refugees. Now she must leave the country after being accused of lying her way in, writes Jason Burke in Rotterdam
Jason Burke in Rotterdam
Sunday May 21, 2006
Late afternoon and the grubby 1950s glass and concrete alleyways of Rotterdam's centre are full of teenagers. Black, white, dreadlocked, shaved, speaking Dutch, Chinese, or a French-Arabic-Dutch mixture, all of them wear jeans, T-shirts, and cheap leather bomber jackets for boys, sequined belts for the girls. One or two wear headscarves with their make-up and bangles. On a bench is a stack of newspapers, the front page recounting the latest twist in the saga of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. 'The rise, the fall and then the rise again,' comments the seller sourly. 'I hope this time she goes for good.'
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born in Somalia in 1969, raised in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, in Holland since 1992, is to move on, once more a refugee of a sort.
Her spokesman, Ingrid Pouw, yesterday finally put an end to a week of rabid speculation, telling The Observer that the 36-year-old MP will leave her adopted country at the end of August to take up a position at a conservative think-tank in Washington DC. After announcing her retirement from Dutch political life at a press conference last week, Hirsi Ali went straight to a meeting with the US ambassador to arrange for fast-track visas or even US residency documents, Pouw said.
Yesterday the dust was far from settling on the Hirsi Ali affair. A TV programme highlighting lies Hirsi Ali told on her asylum application and the subsequent decision by hardline immigration minister Rita Verdonk to strip her of her Dutch citizenship, has triggered a political crisis in Holland. Elsewhere in Europe, the shockwaves created by the controversy are spreading too, with some claiming that another voice against repression had been silenced by force and others welcoming the end of a campaign seen as provocative and negative.
Once more, Hirsi Ali had succeeded in forcing the most difficult, uncomfortable issues of immigration, integration, religion and culture to the forefront of debate in a fiercely uncompromising way.
Hirsi Ali fled Somalia with her family to Saudi Arabia when her father's political activities brought him into conflict with the Somali government, and then on to Kenya.
In 1992, fleeing an arranged marriage, she arrived in Holland where she worked first as a cleaner and then as a translator at a refugee centre in Rotterdam - an experience that marked her deeply, according to one friend interviewed by The Observer. A victim herself of female circumcision, Hirsi Ali was shocked by the male repression of immigrant women living in one of the most developed and tolerant societies in the world.
She studied political science at Leiden University and found a position in a leftwing think-tank. With such credentials, as well as her striking looks, she was well placed when the attacks of 11 September 2001 focused global attention on Islamic radicalism. Her self-appointed mission was to make the Dutch and Europeans aware of 'the repressive nature of Islam' and of the dangers of mass immigration, which led to an invitation from the Dutch Liberal party to join them and, very rapidly, to a seat in parliament.
Despite the Liberals' right-wing economics and uncompromising anti-immigration stance, Hirsi Ali pronounced the party her political home.
Yet, though increasingly known in Holland, it was only in 2004 that she became an international figure when film-maker Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death by a radical Islamist after he made a film with Hirsi Ali called Submission, using quotes from the Koran projected over a semi-naked woman to highlight domestic violence in Muslim societies. After the murder, Hirsi Ali went into hiding, surrounded by bodyguards.
But though she continued with her public, parliamentary and international engagements, the stress of constant death-threats and increasing criticism of her trenchant statements, began to tell. When, earlier this year, a court decided that she would have to leave her home in The Hague because she was endangering her neighbours, Hirsi Ali, friends said, started thinking about moving overseas. And then a new documentary was broadcast on Dutch TV. It was made by Gus van Dongen, an experienced TV journalist. He travelled to Somalia and Kenya to interview members of Hirsi Ali's family.
'There was no agenda,' van Dongen said last week. 'She is a politician who had made much of her background, telling one story. We set out to check those facts. That is all.'
The TV programme, broadcast 10 days ago, highlighted the fact that Hirsi Ali had falsified her original asylum application in Holland, saying that she had not come from war-torn Somalia as she claimed, but from Kenya, where she had lived peacefully for 10 years. The fact that she had lied was well-known, retorted Hirsi Ali, making the point that was she was fleeing a forced marriage. Not so, said van Dongen, using testimony from her brother and husband to allege that the marriage was not made under compulsion. Nor van Dongen said, was Hirsi Ali raised in a strict Muslim family.
An old story, said Hirsi Ali.
But not as far as Rita Verdonk, the Dutch 'iron lady' and minister of immigration, was concerned. Though a member of the Liberal party too, she launched an investigation and within days decided that Hirsi Ali should be stripped of her passport. The result was a huge row in parliament, splitting the Liberal party and the rest of the ruling right-wing coalition. This weekend Verdonk has promised to reconsider. But few think she will change her stance.
The affair has attracted international attention - most of it misinformed according to Bas Heijne, a newspaper columnist. 'This is being completely misjudged overseas,' said Heijne. 'It's all about domestic politics. The neo-conservative wave that swept Holland in recent years is running out of steam and turning in on itself. One of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's problems is that she had no real political base, either in immigrant communities or in the native Dutch population.'
But others, in Holland and overseas, see the battle as representative of far deeper issues. Robert Zoellick, number two at the US State Department, welcomed her decision last week - in part a tacit condemnation of 'wishy washy' Europeans who refuse to take a firm stance against radical islam.
Such transatlantic criticism appears increasingly inappropriate. On Thursday last week, the French national assembly passed a hardline package of immigration measures which will have a major impact in coming years. In Holland, stricter laws have resulted in a drop from 43, 500 asylum applications in 2000 to 12,300 last year. 'It's getting much harder for refugees to get into Europe. All the ministers are watching and copying each other,' said Annemiek Bots, of the Dutch Refugee Council.
But the real issue raised by Hirsi Ali is not so much immigration as integration - and free speech. For Gijs van Westelaken, who made Submission with Van Gogh and Ali, the activist has challenged 'the complacency' of a society that would 'do anything' not to address the difficult issue of how to integrate nearly 1.7 million immigrants, one in 10 of the population, of whom around two-thirds are Muslim. 'Theo van Gogh was silenced. Now Hirsi Ali has been silenced too,' he said. Yet there is little chance that she will abandon her campaigning, he said. 'It's a mission, it's what makes her tick.'
In Rotterdam the jury is still out on Hirsi Ali. The port city is one of Holland's most cosmopolitan with more than 30 per cent of electors of foreign origin. Recent elections saw a 25 per cent cut in seats on the city council for the right-wing party linked to the Liberals. In the Rotterdam Immigrants' Association offices, Mohammed Bibi, the director, praised the fact that Hirsi Ali had 'started a discussion'. 'But she did it in a very rude way and she related everything - violence, female circumcision, repression - to religion where actually it is cultural,' he said.
Burak, 25, a taxi driver from Turkey, said the only good Hirsi Ali had done was to stimulate debate. 'Islam is a religion of peace ... People are terrorists not because of their religion but because of their hate,' he said. Burak was unsure, however, if he would stay in the Netherlands. 'It is OK in Holland but is getting bad to be a Muslim now.'
In her own words ...
On immigration: 'I am not against migration. It is pragmatic to restrict migration, while encouraging integration and fighting discrimination.'
On religion: 'I do not believe in God, angels and the hereafter.'
On 9/11: Referring to hijacker Mohammed Atta's letter to his accomplices telling them to pray for martyrdom, she said: 'If I were a male under the same circumstances, I could have been there. It was exactly what I used to believe.'
On Islam: 'When a Life of Brian comes out with Muhammad in the lead role, directed by an Arab equivalent of van Gogh, it will be a huge step.'
On the lessons she learned from an Iranian-trained Shia fundamentalist: 'I had never seen an Israeli, but we hated them because it was "Muslim" to hate them.'
On herself: 'I have no real social life. It's like having a body with no bottom [a Somali expression]... who on earth can I saddle with a relationship? It's not off limits, and technically it can all happen. But is it, as we say in Dutch, verstandig? Sensible? It doesn't seem sensible now.'
A Critic of Islam in Trouble - TIME Europe
Ayaan Hirsi Ali during an interview in The Hague
Sunday May 21, 2006
Web Exclusive | Europe
A Critic of Islam in Trouble
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born refugee who has spoken out for Islamic women, could lose her Dutch citizenship
By JOOST VAN EGMOND / Amsterdam
Netherlands: The Limits of Tolerance
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has never been a stranger to controversy. The Somali-born refugee and member of the Dutch parliament made a name for herself with her vocal criticism of conservative Islam, calling the Prophet Mohammed "a tyrant and pervert by our Western standards." She also wrote the script for the short movie Submission, an attack on the treatment of women in the Islamic world, for which director Theo van Gogh was slain by an Islamist militant in Amsterdam two years ago. In 2005 TIME chose her as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
But the chaotic scene after she announced she was giving up her parliamentary seat and moving to the U.S. to join the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, left even Hirsi Ali herself stunned. Right after the announcement she got a phone call from Rita Verdonk, the Minister for Immigration and a fellow member of the liberal VVD party, who informed her that her Dutch citizenship would be revoked because she lied to the authorities upon entering the country in 1992 — allegations made in a Dutch TV documentary that aired over the weekend.
Hirsi Ali has long acknowledged that she changed her surname, date of birth and former country of residence for her asylum application. "I was frightened that if I simply said I was fleeing a forced marriage, I would be sent back to my family," she said during an emotional press conference in the Hague today. "And I was frightened that if I gave my real name, my clan would hunt me down and find me." She did not, however, address some of the other allegations in the documentary, including the claim that she already had refugee status in Kenya before fleeing to Europe. In any event, Verdonk moved fast to conclude that her Dutch citizenship is to be regarded as "not granted." Hirsi Ali called this sanction out of proportion, and announced that she will appeal it. Revocation of her Dutch citizenship may have consequences for her planned residence in the U.S.
The affair has more than a whiff of political fratricide about it. Verdonk is currently standing for election as party leader of the liberal VVD party, and her tough line on immigration is the central plank of her campaign. Many believe her parting shot at Hirsi Ali — the only liberal politician more controversial than Verdonk herself — was a bid to show just how tough she’s willing to be on the issue.
Hirsi Ali's decision to leave the Netherlands was expected. Security measures to protect her from the numerous death threats she has received over the years were becoming an unbearable strain, she said. Last month, a judge ordered her out of her house in The Hague by the end of August because neighbors regarded her presence as too much of a risk to themselves. Faced with the prospect of moving to an undisclosed location again, she chose the U.S. as a refuge. As she told the Volkskrant newspaper, in the U.S. only two bodyguards should suffice; the Dutch government has accorded her six.
From the Magazine
A Wanted Woman
The Somali-born refugee and Dutch MP faces expulsion from the Netherlands, over allegations that she lied in order to gain entry to the country. America is her next stop
By JAMES GRAFF
Sunday, May. 21, 2006
Is the U.S. ready for Ayaan Hirsi Ali? If this slight and elegant woman's arrival in Washington sets off even half the clamor her departure from Dutch politics did, the capital better start girding itself. Last week, the Somali-born Member of the Dutch Parliament, an outspoken critic of the Muslim religion she was born into, announced her resignation to take up a fellowship at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (aei).
But what a send-off: Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, a member of same liberal vvd party as Hirsi Ali, announced that because Hirsi Ali had given a false name and age when she applied for Dutch asylum in 1992, her citizenship was officially rendered "not granted." Threats from intolerant Muslims are at the root of Hirsi Ali's departure — she's been under police protection for more than three years and last month a court ruled that because her presence endangered her neighbors, she'd have to move house by the end of August.
But the spectacle of Verdonk also hounding Hirsi Ali provoked outrage. "This is ludicrous," says Ahmed Aboutaleb, an Amsterdam alderman who has often been at odds with Hirsi Ali over integration issues. "This woman risked her life for her opinions. You can't abandon her like this." U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick called her "a very courageous and impressive woman" and said she'd be welcome in the U.S. The outcry has probably improved Hirsi Ali's chances of retaining her Dutch citizenship after a six-week appeal period — but she's leaving anyway.
The row has boosted Hirsi Ali's visibility — not that the aei is complaining. "Controversy isn't something we avoid; we're not a timorous institution," says its president, Christopher DeMuth. Hirsi Ali's studies into the confrontation of Islam with "the post-Enlightenment world" are a good fit with the aei, DeMuth says. But one of Hirsi Ali's most prominent Dutch collaborators, University of Amsterdam sociologist Paul Scheffer, says some of her new fans in the U.S. might be in for a surprise. "They'll discover that she's an atheist who is very critical about the role of Christianity in politics, too."
民主、男女共同参画に本腰 男性議員らが家事体験も (共同 2006/05/21)
Women drawn to men loving men
YAOI | The comic book genre draws on gay love with a heterosexual twist. By Patrick Evans
May 21, 2006. 01:00 AM
Forget gay men as you know them. Imagine how they'd look, and act, if they walked straight out of a woman's sexual fantasy.
In the 1970s, Japanese women explored this fantasy and put it down on paper, giving birth to Yaoi — a comic book genre that's seduced women around the world with sexually explicit, gay male love stories. Created by women for women, Yaoi is male homosexuality retooled for female pleasure.
And it's not just a Japanese movement, as local fans intend to prove next weekend with Yaoi North, an exhibit at Anime North 2006, a Toronto convention that celebrates Asian-style animation.
The word Yaoi is an anagram of the Japanese phrases, "Yama nashi, Ochi nashi, Imi nashi," which mean "no climax, no point, no meaning." In other words, these stories are about sex and not much else.
The translation comes courtesy of sociologist Dr. Mark McLelland, at the University of Wollongong, Australia, who discovered Yaoi while researching his book Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan.
"It's no surprise to anybody that men enjoy a fantasy of lesbian sex," he says. "But people are very surprised to think women would enjoy male-on-male sex. A curious double-standard."
McLelland says Yaoi's origins lie in a Japanese literary tradition called "boy love" — a centuries-old, boy-meets-samurai love story formula that fell into disrepute in the 20th century. "It was no longer socially acceptable for men to be in love with men in modern Japan. So Japanese women picked up the subject and breathed new life into it."
In the 1970s, he says, Japanese women started drawing comics that featured popular heterosexual male comic book characters falling in love with each other. But soon they were producing completely original material, too. And as Yaoi started filling shelves in Japanese comic shops, gay men were bewildered. The homosexuals in Yaoi were pretty enough to be girls. What happened to all the bikers, Marines, construction workers and firefighters?
"There's no masculinity (in Yaoi), and it's masculinity that turns gay men on," says McLelland. The gay men of Yaoi "make love in a very aesthetic, romantically beautiful environment. It's a way of (women) crafting male sexuality into an image that they find delightful."
Japanese comics for gay men had peak print runs of about 40,000 in the late 1990s, McLelland says. Meanwhile women's comics with Yaoi content have had runs of about 500,000 copies.
And then, with the Internet, Yaoi spread its seed around the world, including Toronto.
Lisa Lau, co-organizer of the Yaoi exhibit at the upcoming convention, says 2005 was the first time Anime North featured a Yaoi enclave. She says about 500 people visited the exhibit to check out gay-male lovin' from a woman's perspective.
Sublunary is a mature-readers online comic, co-created by Toronto Yaoi devotees Sarah Terry and Reena Smith. It takes place in the future where a plague is killing people and a cute guy scientist thinks he's found a cure. Add to that mix a totalitarian government, randy rebels and a population-control program that markets gay sex as a perfectly acceptable alternative to heavily taxed heterosexual romps.
`When do I see two hot 21-year-old boys making out in my commercials for mascara?'
From there, things get a little weird.
Except when they're naked, most of Sublunary's gay men look like women, with broad hips, long hair and Cotton Ginny-style leisure wear. But look closer. "They're all male unless you see giant breasts," says Terry.
She offers a theory to explain why Yaoi's gay men are always so androgynous. "I find girls who are into Yaoi like their men as pretty as their women."
As pretty as their women?
It's plot-twist time. The fantasy gay-male sex in Yaoi is leading to a lot of actual sex between women.
Terry and Smith aren't just comic collaborators, they're also lovers. "A lot of the Yaoi community is bisexual," Terry says. "What I found — me included — is that they like living out these Yaoi fantasies together."
Terry says that's because straight men generally aren't willing to dress up as androgynous homosexuals to turn on their girlfriends. Gay men, meanwhile, are too busy with each other. If Yaoi women want to act out their fantasies, they're on their own.
"It allows them to play out a fantasy that is really unattainable," Terry says.
For some perspective on gender and sexuality from outside the Yaoi community, the Star turned to Chanelle Gallant. She's Chatelaine magazine's sex columnist and manager of Good For Her, a Toronto women's store that offers sex courses like "Flirtation 101" and "Bigger, Better Multiples."
"Women are attracted to femininity in their lovers. It's hot," says Gallant, who in the 1980s screamed for the guys in Duran Duran. "There's something special, kind of magical about androgyny and gender-bending," she says, noting that Brokeback Mountain had her writhing in the theatre.
And just like Yaoi women, she'd like to see more male homosexuality catered to female tastes. "There's so much lesbian eroticism built into popular culture. When do I see two hot 21-year-old boys making out in my commercials for mascara?"
Anybody who hocked their Duran Duran LPs in 1989, but is back in the gender-bending mood, can learn more about the Yaoi exhibit at http://www.yaoinorth.com.
The Anime North 2006 convention runs May 26-28, Toronto Congress Centre, 650 Dixon Rd., and Doubletree International Plaza, 655 Dixon Rd.
Web posted at: 18:10 JST
Kenya's First Lady decries use of condoms
19 May 2006 13:47:28 GMT
NAIROBI, May 19 (Reuters) - Kenyan first lady Lucy Kibaki risked the wrath of anti-AIDS campaigners by advising young people against using condoms, saying they should practice abstinence instead.
"Those still in school and colleges have no business having access to condoms," Lucy Kibaki said in a speech carried on the government's Web site on Friday.
"I am not in favour of condoms."
Kenya has seen a decline in the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the past decade. In the late 1990s, 10 percent of the population was infected but by 2003, that number had dropped to 7 percent.
Many AIDS experts attribute such success in part to wider use of condoms.
But some staunch Christians, as well as prominent Africans including Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni, have promoted abstinence over condom use as the best way to fight AIDS.
"Sex is not for the youth," Kibaki was quoted as saying by a local newspaper in its report on the speech given on Thursday night at a girls' school.
Many activists working to combat the disease's deadly impact across Africa, where millions have died from the pandemic, say views like those of Kibaki and Museveni ignore the reality that most people will not stop having sex.
Kibaki, who is a member of the African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS, has courted controversy throughout her husband's tenure since 2002.
In 2005, she stormed into a newsroom and accused reporters of telling lies about her, while last month she tore into one of her husband's political foes for his "persistent and unwarranted" attacks on the president.
Even Deep in Dixie, Gays Sense Acceptance
By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer
Sunday, May 21, 2006
It's a Bible Belt state, almost certain to toughen its prohibition of gay marriage next month. A major candidate for governor has called homosexuality evil, and a national gay magazine branded Alabama the worst state for gays and lesbians. So why does Howard Bayless want to stay? Well, his roots are here, he says. So are his friends. He's partial to the congenial neighborhood in Birmingham that he and other gays helped rescue from decline.
"This is where I've carved out a niche for myself," says Bayless, who has spent most of his 40 years in Alabama. "We've created our community here, and I don't want to leave. I'd rather do the extra work of making my neighbors realize who and what I am."
Leader of Equality Alabama, a statewide gay-rights group, Bayless is one of many with the same conviction. In Mobile, Tuscaloosa and elsewhere, Alabama's gays and lesbians — like their counterparts throughout the U.S. heartland — are slowly, steadily gaining more confidence and finding more acceptance.
That doesn't mean relations between gays and other Americans are settled. Gay rights causes still endure their share of setbacks — amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman have passed in 19 states and Alabama is poised to become No. 20 by an overwhelming vote on June 6.
But in the long view, there has been slow, powerful momentum building in the other direction: the quashing of anti-sodomy laws; the extension of anti-bias codes to cover gays; the adoption of domestic-partner policies by countless companies. Recent polls suggest opposition to gay marriage has peaked, and a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning it is expected to fall far short of the required two-thirds support when the Senate votes on it in early June.
"What Americans see increasingly is there's no negative impact on their own lives to have gays and lesbians living out in the open," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "They go from an abstract idea to a real person with a real name and a real story. That makes all the difference."
Kim McKeand and Cari Searcy experience that phenomenon daily in Mobile, where they live openly as a lesbian couple raising a son, Khaya, whom McKeand gave birth to in September.
"We're out to everybody," said Searcy, 30. "We know all the neighbors. Everyone else on our street is straight. They say 'Hey.' They all wanted to come over and see the baby."
The couple met at college in Texas and moved to Mobile five years ago with $1,000 between them and no jobs, but their careers have blossomed. Searcy works for a video production company, McKeand for a broadcaster that provides domestic partner health benefits covering them both.
"I know we have a long way to go, but we've come a long way already," Searcy said.
The couple loves Mobile — but might consider leaving if Searcy's application to become Khaya's adoptive parent is rejected in the courts.
"How can they say that we're not a family?" Searcy asked as she cradled Khaya in her arms.
The courts weren't accommodating to social worker Jill Bates, who lives in Birmingham with her lesbian partner. She lost custody of her daughter, now 16, to her ex-husband after a legal battle in which her sexual orientation was held against her.
Yet Bates remains undaunted.
"One thing that gives me hope is seeing all my daughter's friends, even some who go to a fundamentalist church," Bates said. "To them, it's just so not a big deal."
There are other signs of acceptance. An openly lesbian candidate, Patricia Todd, has a strong chance of winning a seat in Alabama's legislature this year — that would be a first. Mobile's recent Pride Parade drew upbeat local news coverage and only a handful of protesters. Gay-straight alliances are active at most universities; in the cities, if not the suburbs and small towns, gay-friendly churches are proliferating.
Those trends hearten gays and their allies, but concern Alabamians who support the same-sex marriage ban and believe homosexuality is sinful.
They are dismayed that same-sex partnerships are recognized in three New England states, they've resented the empathic portrayals of gays on "Will & Grace" and in "Brokeback Mountain" — and they wonder if states like Alabama can resist what Rev. Tom Benz calls "the erosion of traditional values."
"We're here in the Bible Belt, but all these things that happen around us affect us," said Benz, who combines mission work in Ukraine with presidency of the conservative Alabama Clergy Council. "There's a feeling here of, 'I want my country back.'"
Benz lives in Millbrook, a suburb of Montgomery, the capital. One of his political allies, from the nearby town of Eclectic, is Donna Goodwin, a school board employee who disputes the theory that familiarity with gays leads to support of gay rights.
"I have a lesbian cousin — I can continue to love her without approving of the way she leads her life," Goodwin said. "We see each other three or four times a year. We hug. We find out how each other is doing — but I don't ask her about her girlfriend."
Gay activists can readily list recent cases of anti-gay violence and harassment — incidents which contributed to Alabama's ranking as the least gay-friendly state in Out magazine. But Goodwin says most Alabamians, however conservative, strive for civility.
"We believe in hospitality — being kind to people whether you approve of their lifestyle or not," she said. "But the homosexual community is trying to force us into accepting something that's immoral. If they try to do that, we're going to consolidate and do something about it at the ballot box. We can say, 'This far and no farther.'"
One development that worries her is the increased visibility of gay rights causes at Alabama's colleges, including the University of Alabama, which her son attended.
"The university breaks down the moral values of children," she said. "It's like an open door to whatever is popular at the time — a hang-loose, do-your-own-thing attitude. It's asking for trouble."
At the campus in Tuscaloosa, political science department chairman David Lanoue doesn't see the kind of sweeping, pro-gay culture some may fear. But he does see young Alabamians — even those from conservative rural areas — getting messages they might not get at their local high schools and churches.
For example, he said, numerous faculty members display rainbow symbols at their offices, signaling they would provide an empathetic ear to any troubled gay or lesbian student.
"Young people have a more liberal attitude toward sexual preference than their elders," Lanoue said. "Through the national media, they've been brought up on the message that gays and lesbians are part of our society."
Ashley Gilbert, a sophomore at Birmingham-Southern College, knew by age 15 that she was a lesbian, but waited until reaching college to let her family in Montgomery know.
"My brother's still in the high school I went to — he's on the football team, but there's been no hassle from his teammates," she said. "He's very supportive. He wants to know when I'll get married and have kids so he can be an uncle."
At college, Gilbert is president of the gay-straight alliance and proud that more than half its members are straight.
"Everything that sticks out since I came out has been really positive," she said.
Not all young Alabamians find coming out so comfortable.
Patty Rudolph, wife of a doctor in the affluent Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook, said her son knew by age 12 that he was gay, told his family when he was 14, and by 16 choose to go to school in the Northeast because he felt — despite his family's support — that Alabama was too inhospitable.
The son is now 18 and returns home periodically, reconnecting with friends and family.
"He loves to see us, but after a couple of days he says, 'I need to get out of here,'" Rudolph said. "There's no overt ugliness. But he has a sense it isn't as open and welcoming a place as he wants it to be."
Since her son left, Rudolph has plunged into a new world of activism, doing what she can to make Alabama a state he would one day want to stay in. She speaks at forums and heads the Birmingham chapter of a national support group, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
"By telling my family's story, it has a ripple effect. It humanizes the issue," she said.
Rudolph describes herself as impatient but hopeful — buoyed by support from even the most conservative of her close friends, and by encounters such as one with a young bank officer who casually asked Rudolph about her advocacy group, scanned a pamphlet, then told her, "This is wonderful, what you're doing."
It's moments like that which make Rudolph believe that the push for gay rights can't be held back. "I think the train has left the station," she said. "It's not moving fast enough for me — but it's happening. I'm seeing it change."
Suzanne Cleveland, office manager for a Mobile law firm, has followed a similar path since her son came out a decade ago.
"It was hard for me at first — I wanted to get over the knot in my stomach — but now I make a point of telling people my son is gay," she said. "I have not lived the life I thought I would, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's been wonderful."
Among Cleveland's many gay friends is Charles Smoke, community development director for the Mobile Arts Council and a resident of the port city since 1970.
"I've never made a secret of my orientation and I've never encountered in all this time any kind of hostility," he said. "We're not that far behind. It makes me feel it's not so bleak, that we're not living in a monstrous place."
Activists say the sternest anti-gay rhetoric comes mainly from evangelical pastors and politicians. Among them is Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore, who was ousted as state chief justice after refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument he had placed in the judicial building.
Moore has many fans and many critics, including Birmingham city councilor Valerie Abbott. After the judge wrote in a court ruling that homosexual conduct is "abhorrent, immoral, detestable," Abbott persuaded the council to condemn those assertions.
"I expected to get hate mail from the crazies — it didn't happen," she said.
Her district includes Howard Bayless' neighborhood, the formerly rundown Crestwood area. "Gay people came in and took to that area and made it a wonderful place," Abbott said.
Like Bayless, she firmly believes gay rights will come to Alabama, albeit slowly and with minimal help from the statehouse.
"Our legislature is like no other place on earth — it's stuck back in the dark ages," she said. "But Alabama is changing, like the rest of the country is changing. Like every new idea, it takes a while to absorb."
Rev. Jim Evans, a Baptist minister in Auburn, received numerous thank-you notes from gay-rights supporters after he wrote a newspaper column criticizing the ban-gay-marriage ballot item as an unnecessary and cynical attempt to frighten voters.
Evans hasn't endorsed gay marriage, and he knows opposition to it is deep-seated. But he also sees change coming as Alabamians such as Bayless, Cari Searcy and Patty Randolph expand the conversation about gays' place in the state.
"In the South, where we don't talk about unpleasant things, that trend has forced us to talk about it more," Evans said. "Once you begin to talk about a prejudice, it begins to die."
Mauritius sees first gay rights march By Nita Bhalla
Sat May 20, 2:20 PM ET
ROSE HILL, Mauritius (Reuters) - Hundreds of gays and lesbians staged the first gay rights march on the largely conservative Indian Ocean island on Saturday, shocking afternoon shoppers in the bustling town of Rose Hill.
Mauritius, located off the southeast coast of Africa, has a population of 1.2 million made up of Hindus, Catholics and Muslims.
The gay community, which activists say makes up about 10 percent of the population, is mostly underground as many face persecution and discrimination.
Wearing wigs and in full make-up, men dressed in sequined dresses, feather boas and high heels led a march down the busy high street of Rose Hill.
"The point of today is visibility," said Thierry De Ravel, president of the Collective Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow Coalition), a gay rights group which organized the march.
"We want to show Mauritius that there is a gay community, that we want to be out in the open. We want to be respected and we want equal rights for all," he added.
Gay rights activists say those who are open about their sexual orientation are often refused jobs or promotions in the workplace and some even face death threats.
Carrying hundreds of brightly colored balloons and waving banners saying "Viva sexual freedom!" and "To be gay is not a crime," the marchers danced, waved and handed out leaflets to bemused onlookers.
"I must say that I am very surprised to see this," said a local shop owner. "I've never in my life seen such a thing in Mauritius, but I think it's good because we need to be more open and like the rest of the world."
Other onlookers shook their head in disgust, saying that homosexuality was wrong and should not be allowed.
Organizers said the event was a victory for gays because permission was granted by local authorities, who have previously stopped such marches from taking place.
Rama Valyden, the attorney-general and minister for human rights and justice, said it was a new beginning for gays in Mauritius.
"I believe that every one is equal and that no one is superior or inferior to each other," he said. "Today we have a turned to a new page in the history of Mauritius and that is the page of freedom."
Valyden is planning to introduce an equal opportunities act in parliament, which will make discrimination against sexual orientation a crime.
Pope urges traditional family life over other forms of partnership
Sat May 20, 5:07 PM ET
Children have the right to the benefits of traditional family life rather than being brought up in other forms of partnership, Pope Benedict XVI said in a veiled criticism of gay marriage.
The pope spoke of "the right to be born into, develop and live in a family without this being supplanted or diminished by other forms or institutions."
Speaking at a reception for the new Spanish ambassador to the Vatican, the pontiff also reiterated the Church's opposition to abortion.
"The Church proclaims without reservation the primordial right to life, from its conception to its natural end," he said, speaking in Spanish.
Pope Benedict is scheduled in July to visit Spain where gay marriage was legalized last year.
He said his attendance at a World Family Meeting in Valencia would be an opportunity for him to "celebrate the beauty and fertility of the family founded on marriage, its very great significance and its eternal social value."
The pope spoke earlier this month against civil unions in the wake of the Italian election victory of a centre-left coalition led by Romano Prodi.
Some coalition parties are in favour of legalising civil unions, including gay unions, on the lines of France's civil solidarity pact.
Prodi, an Italian former prime minister and head of the European Union Commission, is himself a practising Roman Catholic who opposes gay marriage.
But his coalition programme includes legal acknowledgement "of the rights of those in a de facto union," in which neither the sex of the partners nor their sexual orientation would be an obstacle.