TV & Radio
Europe | 10.06.2006
Thousands Rally for Gay March in Warsaw
Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Marchers carry a giant multicolor flag during the parade in Moscow
Several thousand people staged an international rally in Warsaw on Saturday in support of gays in Poland who complain of prejudice, hostility and violence in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.
A police spokesman said around 2,000 people set off on the
"Equality Parade" gay rights march through the centre of the Polish capital. The rally, officially banned for the last two years though thousands defied the 2005 prohibition, was given the go-ahead this year by Warsaw officials.
Organizers of the rally said earlier they expected politicians from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden to take part. Claudia Roth, head of Germany's Green Party, marched at the front of the demonstrators alongside leading Polish homosexual rights activists.
Around 2,000 officers were deployed to survey the parade and march alongside demonstrators in an attempt to prevent attacks by far right groups, the police spokesman added.
A group of around 100 skinheads threw eggs at the marchers but were prevented from approaching them by police.
Climate of fear and hatred
Gay rights organization say homosexuals in Poland live in a climate of hatred and fear that has grown worse since the far-right League of Polish Families (LPR) entered Poland's governing coalition last month.
"We are afraid. The situation is becoming dangerous," said
Robert Biedron, an official from the Campaign Against Homophobia in Poland.
Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, prime of the heavily Catholic country of Poland, has likened homosexuality to a disease whose spread must be stopped.
He contends "homosexuality is not natural. What is natural is the family, and the state is obliged to protect the family."
Biedron insists what he calls the "atmosphere of hate" in which Polish gays live has grown worse since the LPR joined Poland's coalition government last month.
"It reminds me of Germany in the 1920s", said Tomasz Baczkowski, president of the Equality Foundation which is organizing Saturday's "Equality Parade".
In 1928, before it rose to power in Germany, the National Socialist party, or Nazis, castigated homosexuals as a threat to German survival.
Increasing intolerance in Poland
During a state visit to Germany in March, Polish President Lech
Kaczynski -- who as Warsaw mayor banned the 2004 and 2005 gay pride rallies -- shot back at a group of gay rights activists who were heckling him.
"I do not plan to persecute homosexuals or to hinder their careers. But there is no reason to encourage it because it would mean that mankind would slowly die out," he said.
Similar remarks from politicians abound in Poland and elsewhere in the old Eastern bloc.
On Friday, the head of a teacher training school in Poland was sacked for publishing a brochure that the Education Ministry -- led by LPR leader Roman Giertych -- denounced as "encouraging contact with homosexual organizations."
LPR deputy Wojciech Wierzejski was recently quoted by the Warsaw-based Zycie Warszawy daily as saying of Saturday's rally: "If perverts take to demonstrating, they should be hit with sticks... If they're given a few blows with a stick, they won't come back. A gay is a coward by definition."
Wierzejski has denied making the comments.
When gay rights supporters in Poznan defied a ban by the city's conservative authorities to stage a "march for tolerance", they were pelted with eggs by far-right activists and denounced by the Catholic church as going "against natural law".
Crackdown on gay parade in Moscow
Many of formerly communist eastern Europe's anti-gay groups find support for their position in the church, which has regained a strong foothold in society since the demise of communism in the early 1990s.
Last week, ahead of a gay rights march in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, the powerful Orthodox Church and conservative groups slammed homosexuality as immoral and abnormal.
In Russia, a small group of gay activists who defied a ban on a rally in Moscow last month were met by violent counter-protesters. The ensuing scuffles also injured a prominent German politician.
The Moscow gay parade had been banned by the city's mayor, saying homosexuals had no inherent right to promote their "immoral" sexual "deviations".
Repression of gays in Latvia
In the Baltic state of Latvia, a Soviet republic until 1991 and now a member of the EU, a court on Thursday rejected a claim by openly gay Lutheran Reverend Maris Sants that he was not given a job as religious history teacher because of his sexual orientation.
The Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the largest in the Baltic state, excommunicated Sants in 2002 after he admitted his homosexuality.
"The democratization process in Latvia has allowed lesbians and gays to establish organizations and... bars, clubs, stores, libraries, etc. Ufortunately, however, our society has not reached a high level of tolerance, which clearly is a consequence of 50 years of totalitarianism," the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) has said.
In December, the Latvian parliament voted to bar same-sex marriages. And in August last year, Latvian Catholic Cardinal Janis Pujats slammed the first-ever gay parade in the capital, Riga.
"In Soviet times we faced atheism, which oppressed religion; now we have an era of sexual atheism," Pujats said in a homily to mark the feast of the Assumption.
Last year's gay parade in Riga attracted only 50 participants, who were vastly outnumbered by several thousand mostly unsympathetic onlookers and a few violent counter-demonstrators.
"In other countries (gay) pride parades are a festivity, but here one should be afraid of abuse," said Juris Lavrikovs.
DW staff /AFP (sp)
'People think it's a mental illness'
In the Middle East, coming out as a homosexual is often unthinkable. Brian Whitaker talks to young gay and lesbian Arabs about their secret private lives
Tuesday June 13, 2006
Ghaith, a Syrian, was studying fashion design in Damascus when the family crisis happened. "Of course, I had known that I was gay for a long time but I never allowed myself even to think about it," he says. In his final year at college, he developed a crush on one of his male teachers. "I felt this thing for him that I never knew I could feel," Ghaith recalls. "I used to see him and almost pass out.
"One day, I was at his place for a party and I got drunk. My teacher said he had a problem with his back and I offered him a massage. We went into the bedroom. I was massaging him and suddenly I felt so happy. I turned his face towards my face and kissed him. He was like, 'What are you doing? You're not gay.' I said, 'Yes, I am.'
"It was the first time I had actually said that I was gay. After that, I couldn't see anybody or speak for almost a week. I just went to my room and stayed there; I stopped going to school; I stopped eating. I was so upset at myself and I was going, 'No, I'm not gay, I'm not gay.'"
When he finally emerged, a friend suggested that he see a psychiatrist. To reassure him, Ghaith agreed. "I went to this psychiatrist and, before I saw him, I was stupid enough to fill in a form about who I was, with my family's phone number. [The doctor] was very rude and we almost had a fight. He said: 'You're the garbage of the country, you shouldn't be alive and if you want to live, don't live here. Just find a visa and leave Syria and don't ever come back.'
"Before I reached home, he had called my mum, and my mum freaked out. When I arrived home there were all these people in the house. My mum was crying, my sister was crying - I thought somebody had died or something. They put me in the middle and everybody was judging me. I said to them, 'You have to respect who I am; this was not something I chose,' but it was a hopeless case.
"The bad part was that my mum wanted me to leave the college. I said, 'No, I'll do whatever you want.' After that, she started taking me to therapists. I went to at least 25 and they were all really, really bad."
Ghaith was one of the luckier ones. Ali, still in his late teens, comes from a traditional Shia family in Lebanon and, as he says himself, it is obvious that he is gay. Before fleeing his family home, he suffered abuse from relatives that included being hit with a chair so hard that it broke, being imprisoned in the house for five days, being locked in the boot of a car, and being threatened with a gun when he was caught wearing his sister's clothes.
According to Ali, an older brother told him, "I'm not sure you're gay, but if I find out one day that you are gay, you're dead. It's not good for our family and our name."
The threats directed against gay Arabs for besmirching the family's name reflect an old-fashioned concept of "honour" found in the more traditionalist parts of the Middle East. Although it is generally accepted in many areas of the world that sexual orientation is neither a conscious choice nor anything that can be changed voluntarily, this idea has not yet taken hold in Arab countries - with the result that homosexuality tends to be viewed either as wilfully perverse behaviour or as a symptom of psychiatric disturbance, and dealt with accordingly.
"What people know of it, if they know anything, is that it's like some sort of mental illness," says Billy, a doctor's son in his final year at Cairo University. "This is the educated part of society - doctors, teachers, engineers, technocrats. Those from a lesser educational background deal with it differently. They think their son has been seduced or come under bad influences. Many of them get absolutely furious and kick him out until he changes his behaviour."
The stigma attached to homosexuality also makes it difficult for families to seek advice from their friends. Ignorance is the reason most often cited by young gay Arabs when relatives respond badly. The general taboo on discussing sexual matters in public results in a lack of level-headed and scientifically accurate media treatment that might help families to cope better.
In contrast to their perplexed parents, young gays from Egypt's professional class are often well-informed about their sexuality long before it turns into a family crisis. Sometimes their knowledge comes from older or more experienced gay friends but mostly it comes from the internet.
"If it wasn't for the internet, I wouldn't have come to accept my sexuality," Salim says, but he is concerned that much of the information and advice provided by gay websites is addressed to a western audience and may be unsuitable for people living in Arab societies.
Marriage is more or less obligatory in traditional Arab households, and arranged marriages are widespread. Sons and daughters who are not attracted to the opposite sex may contrive to postpone it but the range of plausible excuses for not marrying at all is severely limited. At some point, most have to make an unenviable choice between declaring their sexuality (with all the consequences) or accepting that marriage is inevitable.
Hassan, in his early 20s, comes from a prosperous Palestinian family which has lived in the US for many years but whose values seem largely unaffected by its move to a different culture. The family will expect Hassan to follow his siblings into married life, and so far Hassan has done nothing to ruffle their plans. What none of them knows, however, is that he is an active member of al-Fatiha, the organisation for gay and lesbian Muslims. Hassan has no intention of telling them, and hopes they will never find out.
"Of course, my family can see that I'm not macho like my younger brother," he says. "They know that I'm sensitive and I don't like sport. They accept all that, but I cannot tell them that I'm gay. If I did, my sisters would never be able to marry, because we would not be a respectable family any more."
Hassan knows the time will come and is already working on a compromise solution, as he calls it. When he reaches 30, he will get married - to a lesbian from a respectable Muslim family. He is not sure if they will have same-sex partners outside the marriage, but he hopes they will have children. To outward appearances, at least, they will be a "respectable family".
Lesbian daughters are less likely to prompt a crisis than gay sons, according to Laila, an Egyptian lesbian in her 20s. In a heavily male-orientated society, she says, the hopes of traditional Arab families are pinned on their male offspring; boys come under greater pressure than girls to live up to parental aspirations. The other factor is that, ironically, lesbianism removes some of a family's worries as their daughter passes through her teens and early 20s. The main concern during this period is that she should not "dishonour" the family's name by losing her virginity or getting pregnant before marriage.
Laila's experience was not shared by Sahar, a lesbian from Beirut, however. "My mother found out when I was fairly young - 16 or 17 - that I was interested in women and [she] wasn't happy about it," she says. Sahar was then bundled off to see a psychiatrist who "suggested all manner of ridiculous things - shock therapy and so on".
Sahar decided to play along with her mother's wishes, and still does. "I re-closeted myself and started going out with a guy," she says. "I'm 26 years old now and I shouldn't have to be doing this, but it's just a matter of convenience. My mum doesn't mind me having gay male friends, but she doesn't like me being with women."
Ghaith, the Syrian student, has also found a solution of sorts. "Nobody was remotely trying to understand me," he says. "I started agreeing with the psychiatrist and saying, 'Yes, you're right.' Soon he was saying, 'I think you're doing better.' He gave me some medicine that I never took. So everybody was fine with it after a while, because the doctor said I was doing OK."
As soon as he graduated, Ghaith left Syria. Six years on, he is a successful fashion designer in Lebanon. He visits his mother occasionally, but she never wants to talk about his sexuality.
"My mum is in denial," he says. "She keeps asking when I am going to get married - 'When can I hold your children?' In Syria, this is the way people think. Your only mission in life is to grow up and start a family. There are no real dreams. The only Arab dream is having more families."
There are just a few signs, though, that attitudes could be changing - especially among the educated urban young, largely as a result of increased contact with the rest of the world. In Beirut three years ago, 10 openly gay people marched through the streets waving a home-made rainbow flag as part of a protest against the war in Iraq. It was the first time anything like that had happened in an Arab country and their action was reported without hostility by the local press. Today, Lebanon has an officially recognised gay and lesbian organisation, Helem - the only such body in an Arab country - as well as Barra, the first gay magazine in Arabic.
These are small steps indeed, and cosmopolitan Beirut is by no means typical of the Middle East. But in countries where sexual diversity is tolerated and respected the prospects must have looked similarly bleak in the past. The denunciations of homosexuality heard in the Arab world today are strikingly similar to those heard elsewhere years ago - and ultimately rejected.
· Names have been changed. Brian Whitaker's book, Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, is published by Saqi Books, price £14.99.