TV & Radio
PFLAG Rings the Closing Bell on Homophobia!
Learn more about this event!
The struggle for real equality cannot be fought alone!
Throughout history, all struggles for civil rights gained momentum, and ultimately achieved success when the majority joined forces with the oppressed.
PFLAG believes that when straight people come to the defense of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) family members and friends, equality for all will finally be achieved.
Many corporations already understand how important GLBT diversity is to their bottom line. They have implemented policies to ensure that they can recruit and retain the best employees. And they know how significant the GLBT buying power is to their business, including the buying power of parents, family members, and straight allies.
Through support, education, and advocacy, PFLAG unites the voices of parents, family members, straight allies, and GLBT people together to advance fairness, justice, and equality in local communities around the country.
During The Closing Bell event, learn how PFLAG is moving equality forward with an exciting and unique initiative, Straight for Equality.
Straight for Equality will create opportunities for straight fair-minded individuals to step up and speak out for GLBT equality.
Your support of PFLAG will make this initiative a reality.
No one is requesting special rights, just the end of special wrongs.
The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)
Historic Judy Garland concert restaged in New York
Thu Jun 15, 2006 7:03 AM EDT
By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Eclectic pop singer Rufus Wainwright bridged musical generations on Wednesday with a daring re-creation of Judy Garland's legendary 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall.
Wainwright took the stage to thunderous applause from the sellout crowd and launched straight into the first number, "When You're Smiling."
The Canadian crooner said, "We're not in Kansas anymore, we're in New York," -- a play on the memorable line from the "Wizard of Oz" movie which launched Garland's career. Backed by a 40-piece orchestra, Wainwright then restaged the monumental concert often called the greatest single night in show-business history.
Garland's double album, "Judy at Carnegie Hall," won two Grammys, including Album of the Year, and became her best-selling record, made when she was 39.
Wednesday's show was the first of a sold-out two-night run.
Among some two dozen numbers were classics such as "Do It Again," "That's Entertainment!" and "Puttin' on the Ritz."
But it was the songs most closely associated with Garland -- "San Francisco," "The Man That Got Away," "The Trolley Song," "Swanee," "Chicago" and her signature, "Over the Rainbow," that drew the strongest response.
Wainwright's dreamy, reedy tenor marked an arresting counterpoint to Garland's throaty belting.
Wainwright, like Garland, made it a family affair. He performed with his mother, Kate McGarrigle, his sister Martha, and Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft, who appeared for a duet rendition of "After You've Gone."
Liza Minnelli, Garland's other daughter, did not appear on stage.
Wainwright spoke often of Garland's influence during the performance, which was filmed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. "When I was a kid I wanted to be Dorothy," he said.
He cracked at one point, "I'm going to speak now, because on the album Judy speaks here." When a light malfunctioned, he joked, "this didn't happen in the original."
Garland's Carnegie Hall concert was one of several comebacks throughout her troubled life, which ended with her death in 1969 at 47.
Not long before the show she had nearly died from hepatitis and was told her career was over. The Carnegie Hall performance defied that prognosis, and spawned a 16-city U.S. tour and years of sold-out concerts.
Stars in the audience 45 years ago included Rock Hudson, Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Henry Fonda. On Wednesday, Sarah Jessica Parker, Joel Gray, director John Waters, Gina Gershon and designer Patricia Fields were among the fans who gave Wainwright several standing ovations.
"I did feel a real connection to Judy Garland and did really commune with her," Wainwright said at the show's end.
It was clear from the ecstatic response that the thousands who attended felt the same way.
Last Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Wainwright brings Garland to life
Wainwright said after the show he "felt a real connection" with Garland
Canadian singer Rufus Wainwright has recreated Judy Garland's legendary 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall in a sell-out show in New York.
Wainwright performed several of Garland's most famous numbers at Wednesday's concert, including Chicago and Over The Rainbow.
Garland's original show has often been called the greatest single night in show-business history.
"When I was a kid, I wanted to be Dorothy," Wainwright told the audience.
The singer will perform a second concert on Thursday evening.
Wainwright performed with Garland's daughter Lorna Luft on the duet, After You've Gone, but her other daughter, Liza Minnelli, did not appear on stage.
Garland's Carnegie Hall concert was one of several comebacks during her troubled life - she nearly died from hepatitis not long before the show.
Rock Hudson, Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and Henry Fonda were among the audience.
Her double album, Judy at Carnegie Hall, won two Grammys, including album of the year. It went on to become her best-selling record. She died at the age of 47 in 1969.
Wainwright first found fame in the US with his self-titled debut album in the spring of 1998.
Fight not over on gay unions: ACT
June 15, 2006
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell has lashed out at the Senate decision to reject a move to overturn the federal ban on civil union laws, describing it homophobic.
Senators today voted 32-30 to reject the motion which would have reversed the Federal Government's ban on the ACT law.
"I am disappointed by the decision, but not surprised," Mr Corbell told AAP.
"It is a homophobic decision."
Mr Corbell supported the historic decision of Liberal senator Gary Humphries to cross the floor.
"I welcome his decision to support the right of the territory to make laws that affect our community."
The ACT will now look to create a new Act, but Mr Corbell warned it will not be watering down the intention of the original law.
"It's still our intention to give the same level of recognition provided for in the Civil Unions Act," Mr Corbell said.
Senator Humphries earlier told the Senate there were many duties a member of parliament had to perform, and many loyalties owed.
"But mine primarily must be to the people who elect me, to the people of the Australian Capital Territory," he said.
"And I recognise that they have, in effect, through the democratic process, made a decision and I believe we need to respect and honour that decision."
June 15, 2006 - 1:20 AM
Japan lobby group backs patriotism
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese lobby group which backs traditional values, seeks to rewrite the U.S-drafted constitution and wants schools to teach patriotism is winning growing support for its agenda from both ruling and opposition party politicians.
Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference) is also keen for the prime minister to visit a shrine for war dead on the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War Two -- an emotive date in Asia -- and preserve an ancient tradition of males-only imperial succession.
"We are dedicated to our conservative cause. We are monarchists. We are for revising the constitution. We are for the glory of the nation," commentator Hideaki Kase, a member of the group told Reuters in an interview.
"We represent Japan's 'red' prefectures," added Kase, comparing supporters of Nippon Kaigi -- founded almost a decade ago -- to the conservative voters who helped to elect U.S. President George W. Bush.
Central to Nippon Kaigi's platform is a desire to restore values such as group harmony, or "wa", and devotion to the public good -- a moral code they say was eroded when U.S. Occupation authorities gave pride of place to individualism in an effort to root out militarism after Japan's 1945 defeat.
A lack of such values, supporters argue, fosters violent juvenile crime, classroom chaos and corporate scandals.
"Of course, it is important to respect autonomy, but people do not live on their own," Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Hakubun Shimomura, told Reuters in an interview.
"We need to rear children who have a spirit of contributing to society," added Shimomura, secretary-general of a 246-member group of MPs with close ties to Nippon Kaigi.
"We want to preserve Japan's national character. I don't think that is 'nationalism'," he said.
Nippon Kaigi has long urged Japanese prime ministers to visit the Yasukuni shrine, where World War Two leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honoured along with fallen soldiers, on the August 15 anniversary of Japan's 1945 defeat.
Japan's ties with China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Tokyo's military aggression run deep, have chilled since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi began annual visits to Yasukuni in 2001, though he has avoided the emotive August 15 date.
Nippon Kaigi's secretary-general, Yuzo Kabashima, said the group had 50,000 paid-up members, while its supporters, including members of Shinto and other religious groups, numbered around 6 million, a figure some analysts questioned.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso, a dark-horse candidate to succeed Koizumi, is a former chief of the parliamentarian support group, while front-runner rival, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, has been a member, although both left the group when they joined the cabinet, a Nippon Kaigi official said.
"The liberals in the LDP were the major current for a long time, but in terms of power and influence, not any more," said Sven Saaler, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo.
"All this lobbying by Nippon Kaigi has contributed to a change in the LDP and a change in the balance."
Momentum has been building in the LDP and the main opposition Democratic Party to revise the U.S.-drafted, pacifist post-war constitution to resolve the ambiguous status of the military as Japan seeks a bigger regional and global security role.
The government has also submitted a bill to change another Occupation-era law spelling out the goals of education policy, to include instilling "love of country" -- a change critics say has disturbing echoes of wartime teaching.
The bill looks set to be taken up in an extra session of parliament this autumn.
Plans to revise the imperial succession law to permit females to take the throne have been put on hold while the country waits to see if a pregnant princess gives birth to a boy.
And a caveat against trying to erase all sex-based differences -- a goal Nippon Kaigi fears feminists are pursuing -- was included in a government gender equality plan last year.
Still, Kabashima said the pace of change was too slow as the key issues "still run on rails laid down by the Occupation. So Japan is not really an independent, sovereign nation."
The extent to which Nippon Kaigi's values-based agenda resonates with the broader public, though, is hard to gauge.
"The positions that Nippon Kaigi takes are non-mainstream, yet they have tremendous influence in the ruling party," said Andrew Horvat, a visiting professor at Tokyo Keizai University.
"I think Japan is headed for a very divisive debate on values."
Cuban soap opera sparks debate
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jun 14, 4:46 PM ET
Once persecuted, then excluded, and finally tolerated, Cuban homosexuals have seen the debate on sexual diversity expand in recent weeks as a state-sponsored soap opera featuring some gay characters has riveted the nation.
In a recent episode of "La Cara Oculta de la Luna," or the "Dark Side of the Moon," Yasel, who is married and the father of a little girl, is as surprised as viewers are to discover he is physically attracted to another man, named Mario.
The attraction leads to a sexual relationship and Yasel's subsequent contraction of the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
The series on state television is intended to educate Cubans about AIDS by telling the stories of those with the virus.
But it also has sparked a more open debate about homosexuality in a society where macho attitudes persist. And while some Cubans have welcomed the debate, others have been offended, questioning why such subject matter is even discussed on "revolutionary" state television.
"From now on, these themes will have to be discussed with more frankness," said Fredy Dominguez, script writer for the telenovela that has sparked discussions among Cubans of all ages and walks of life.
Reactions from some viewers were so intense that the government brought together a panel of experts to discuss the show. One viewer called in, outraged that homosexual relationships were presented "as if they were natural."
"It compels us to be better people, to be more tolerant," said panelist Manuel Calvino, a well-known psychologist.
"The show isn't a work of art; a lot of criticisms could be made," Mariela Castro, director of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, said in an interview. "But the debate is satisfying."
Castro, whose center works to educate the public about sexual diversity, said an open discussion of such issues can help ease persisting prejudices and stigmas.
"Before, it would have been unthinkable to show this subject on Cuban television," agreed Tomas Fernandez Robaina, a 65-year-old gay professor.
But some other gay Cubans worry the show could perpetuate the idea that AIDS is punishment for homosexual activity.
"In the end, it treats homosexuality from an unhappy point of view. It's a sad story," said Olivia Prendes, a 34-year-old lesbian. "It's a continuation of the same silence."
What Cuban gays need is not just tolerance, but acceptance and respect, Prendes and others said.
Still, things have changed greatly since the 1960s, when gays were placed in work camps to be re-educated along with political dissidents, Jehovah's Witnesses and hippies.
The camps were phased out in the 1970s, but gays continued to live on society's margins, kept away from young people and key government jobs.
The exclusion gays suffered during those years was famously described by the late Cuban exile author Reinaldo Arenas in his memoir, "Before Night Falls," which was made into a film released in 2000, and other works. The film led to an Oscar nomination for actor Javier Bardem, who portrayed Arenas.
After losing his job and being jailed in the 1970s, Arenas left the island during the Mariel boatlift of 1980 and settled in New York, where he later died.
In the 1990s, the Cuban film "Fresa y Chocolate," or "Strawberry and Chocolate," did much to confront the stereotypes of homosexuality on the island.
Nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category in 1995, the movie by Cuban filmmaker Tomas Gutierrez Alea told the story of Diego, a sophisticated gay writer, and his non-sexual friendship with a naive young man named David who begins to question his long-held prejudices.
"Discrimination against homosexuals is a problem that now has been largely overcome," President Fidel Castro said in a recently published interview.
Cuban gays generally agree with that assessment, saying they no longer fear they will be arrested or lose their job because of their sexual orientation.
But many say they still lack associations and public spaces where they can express themselves with official approval, rather than gathering somewhat clandestinely.
Some would like official approval for clubs where transvestites can stage shows using female impersonators. Although some such clubs exist, and are tolerated, they are still illegal.
"What would be best today is that the work of ... transvestites be officially recognized," said transvestite performer Abrahan Bueno, whose stage name is "Dark Imperio," or "Dark Empire." "That's what I would ask for as a gay person."
Rice urges "respect" in marriage debate
Wednesday, June 14, 2006 / 03:05 PM
SUMMARY: The secretary of state ducks a question on her own views, but calls for "sensitivity that real individuals and real human beings are involved."
WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday urged "respect" and "sensitivity" in the debate over same-sex marriage, but ducked a question about her own views on the question.
"This is an issue that can be debated and can be discussed in our country with respect for every human being," Rice told a newspaper interviewer.
"When we get into difficult debates about social policy, we get into difficult debates that touch people's lives; the only thing that I ask is that Americans do it with a kind of sensitivity that real individuals and real human beings are involved here," Rice said.
The Senate last week by a wide margin rejected a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. It was a defeat for President Bush and other Republicans who hope the issue will rally GOP voters for the November elections. The amendment, first floated in 2004, could be brought up yet again.
Asked for her opinion of the amendment, Rice told the News & Record of Greensboro, N.C., "This is not my area of expertise or, frankly, my area of concentration at this point."
Rice spoke following an address to the Southern Baptist Convention. The newly chosen president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination opposes same-sex marriage, as does Bush.
"The union of a man and woman in marriage is the most enduring and important human institution," Bush said before the Senate vote. "Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them. And changing the definition of marriage would undermine the family structure."
Forty-five of the 50 states have acted to define traditional marriage in ways that would ban same-sex marriage -- 19 with state constitutional amendments and 26 with statutes.
The proposed federal amendment would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. After approval by Congress, it would have to be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures.
Cuteness a hot-selling commodity in Japan
By YURI KAGEYAMA, AP Business Writer
Wednesday June 14, 2006
Cute is cool in Japan. Look anywhere and everywhere: Cartoon figures dangle from cell phones, waitresses bow in frilly maid outfits, cherries and bows adorn bags, even police departments boast cuddly mascots.
These days, Japan Inc., known in the past for more serious products like Toyota cars and the Sony Walkman, is busy exporting the epitome of cute — bubble-headed Hello Kitty, Pokemon video games, the Tamagotchi virtual pet, just to name a few.
But the prevalent obsession with things cute has the world's second biggest economy engaging in some serious soul-searching lately, wondering what exactly is making its people gravitate so frantically toward cuteness. A big reason for the emerging debate: Cute-worship is gaining such overseas acceptance it's rapidly becoming Japan's global image.
"Cute is a boom. This style has suddenly become a fashion element among youths around the world," said Shuri Fukunaga, managing director at Burson-Marsteller in Japan, who advises global companies about communication and marketing. "Marketers in Japan are seeing this and are adept at churning out products that incorporate this style for overseas."
Nintendo Co., which makes Super Mario and Pokemon video games, recorded $3.1 billion in U.S. and European sales in fiscal 2005. The entertainment content business in Japan totals some $116 billion, the equivalent of about two-thirds of Toyota's sales, according to the Digital Content Association of Japan.
Skeptics here say Japan's pursuit of cute is a sign of an infantile mentality and worry that Japanese culture — historically praised for exquisite understatement as sparse rock gardens and ukiyoe woodblock prints — may be headed toward doom.
Osaka Shoin Women's University professor Hiroto Murasawa, an expert on the culture of beauty, believes cute is merely proof that Japanese simply don't want to grow up but feels they must change to articulate its views on the international stage.
"It's a mentality that breeds non-assertion," he said of the cute mind-set. "Individuals who choose to stand out get beaten down."
On the other side of the argument stands Tomoyuki Sugiyama, author of "Cool Japan," who believes cute is rooted in Japan's harmony-loving culture.
Collecting miniatures such as mementos for cell phones can be traced back 400 years to the Edo Period, when tiny carved "netsuke" charms were wildly popular, said Sugiyama, president of Digital Hollywood, a Tokyo school for computer-graphics designers, video artists and game creators.
"Japanese are seeking a spiritual peace and an escape from brutal reality through cute things," he said.
Model-cum-actress Yuri Ebihara, 26, widely viewed here as the personification of cute, commands such influence the clothes she sports in a fashion magazine, such as lacy pastel skirts, are instant sellouts.
"I make it a point never to forget to smile," said Ebihara, often seen in TV ads and on billboards. "If someone doesn't find me cute, I want to know why because then I'll work on it to get better at being cute."
Yutaka Onishi, editor in chief of CanCam, the 650,000-circulation magazine that propelled Ebihara to stardom, says the petite, girl-next-door Ebihara, is pioneering a look that's distinct from the tall sexy beauties of the West.
"Cute is that exclamation from the soul of Japan's younger generation," much like "soul" or "La Raza," Onishi said.
Ryoko Sato, a Japanese artist, shrugs off much of pop culture as empty fluff and seeks to delve deeper through works like "The Kiss." The photo of a skinned mouse next to its furry hide is a statement on how cute is as skin-deep as cruelty or ugliness.
"To me, cute always in my work couples with the grotesque," she said. "There's always a dark side to it."
Still, such naysayers are a minority.
"Japanese women see value in youth and want to combine childishness and cuteness with sexiness and glamour," says Sakae Nonomura, a researcher with the cosmetics company Kanebo. "Cute has now grown so widespread that various types of cute coexist."
Indeed, Japanese have come up with nuances of cute such as "erotic-cute" and "grotesque-cute," and use such phrases in everyday conversations.
Thirty-eight-year-old garbage collector Hideki Kojima is such a believer in cute he patronizes a "maid cafe," one of several that have sprung up in Tokyo, where waitresses don maid outfits and greet customers by squeaking: "Welcome home, master."
Sometimes Kojima goes three times a day to the cafe, which serves food and allows customers to take photos and play games with the maids, drops as much as $90 a visit for a chance to gawk at the maids.
"They're cute," Kojima says with conviction. "It can't really be explained in words."
Nobuyoshi Kurita, sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo, says cute is a "magic term" that encompasses everything that's acceptable and desirable — this nation's answer to the West.
Kurita thinks it's important to watch Japan's youngsters, who see the bustling streets of downtown Tokyo — where the cute aesthetic is born — as the center of their universe.
"Where cute goes determines the future of Japan," he said, adding that Japan's cute offerings may one day command the respect of luxury goods from Europe. "If it succeeds, Japan's future will be bright. If it doesn't, then Japan may disappear."
［クラシック小話］モーツァルト／ディヴェルティメント 野中圀亨（寄稿） (読売・西部版 2006/06/14夕刊)
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.