TV & Radio
Sao Paulo gay pride parade attracts millions
The Associated Press
Sunday, June 10, 2007
SAO PAULO, Brazil: Millions packed central Sao Paulo for the city's 11th annual gay pride parade, dancing and waving rainbow flags in a carnival-like atmosphere as they condemned homophobia, racism and sexism.
At least 3 million people filled the canyonlike Paulista Avenue, organizers said, surpassing last year's count of 2.5 million. A police spokesman who is not authorized to be quoted by name under department rules confirmed the larger turnout.
"This is the biggest parade on the planet," Tourism Minister Marta Suplicy said. "Our city is showing, once again, its respect for diversity."
Gay pride marches in San Francisco, New York, Berlin and other major world cities have attracted hundreds of thousands, far less than the Sao Paulo turnout.
Trucks blasting disco and electronic music rolled through the streets, followed by marchers carrying banners with slogans such as "Dignity for All," and "All Forms of Love Bring Us Closer to God."
Parade organizer Nelson Matias Pereira said this year's participants are appealing for a "world where racism, sexism and homophobia, in all their forms, no longer exist."
"There is no question the prejudice we have suffered for years has diminished a lot, but it's still there and we still a long way to go," said one marcher, mechanic Sebastiao Pereira Rodrigues, who was wearing black leather shorts and a tight purple T-shirt.
Sao Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab and Suplicy — an avid supporter of gay rights — addressed the crowd in between live concerts.
2007年05月24日 22:40 来源：中国新闻网
[ 2007-05-26 08:48 ]
Japon: l'unique élue ouvertement gay brigue une tribune au Sénat
le 5/6/2007 à 3h57 par AFP
Kanako Otsuji lors de son "mariage" avec sa compagneDans un monde politique nippon dominé par des hommes souvent conservateurs et prudes, Kanako Otsuji détonne. Elle a été l'unique élue ouvertement homosexuelle du Japon et brigue aujourd'hui un siège au Sénat pour donner "une voix aux minorités".
A 32 ans, la jeune femme a lancé sa campagne pour les élections sénatoriales du 22 juillet, espérant faire progresser "la tolérance vis-à-vis des différences" dans une société japonaise largement acquise à l'organisation familiale traditionnelle.
"Un de mes objectifs est de faire entendre la voix des minorités sexuelles et de me battre pour leurs problèmes", affirme Mlle Ostuji, dans son QG électoral de Shinjuku ni-chome, le quartier gay de Tokyo.
Pour la première fois dans l'histoire de l'Archipel, cette candidate lesbienne est soutenue par l'un des grands partis politiques, le Parti démocrate du Japon (PDJ, centriste), principale force d'opposition à la droite au pouvoir.
"Le PDJ souhaite renforcer son action pour résoudre les problèmes des minorités", explique une porte-parole du parti pour justifier la sélection de Melle Otsuji.
Pour autant, la direction du PDJ n'a pas souhaité mentionner la question homosexuelle dans son manifeste électoral, preuve que le sujet reste tabou au sein de la classe politique et de la société japonaise en général, selon la candidate.
"Ma candidature est une première étape. Lorsque je serai élue, le PDJ se penchera probablement ouvertement sur la question", espère-t-elle.
En 2005, alors jeune élue de l'assemblée préfectorale d'Osaka (ouest), deuxième mégalopole du Japon, Kanako Otsuji s'était fait connaître en devenant la première, et jusqu'à présente unique, responsable politique à révéler publiquement son homosexualité dans un livre.
"J'ai beaucoup réfléchi avant de le faire, j'avais peur des réactions", se souvient-elle, évoquant un "geste nécessaire pour donner une visibilité aux homosexuels".
Mais son entourage professionnel et privé "a fait semblant d'ignorer" son "coming out", ce qu'elle a ressenti comme "une discrimination silencieuse très déstabilisante".
Des homosexuels lui ont cependant envoyé des centaines de courriers électroniques pour la remercier de son "courage".
Depuis la fin de son mandat à Osaka en avril, Kanako Otsuji a décidé de porter la question des minorités sur la scène nationale.
En défendant des valeurs familiales traditionnelles, le gouvernement conservateur de Shinzo Abe "ignore tous les gens qui ne choisissent pas cette voie", déplore-t-elle.
La communauté homosexuelle est de fait confrontée à de multiples difficultés, à commencer par le Sida, dont les cas augmentent au Japon, tandis que les autorités tardent à prendre les mesures appropriées, selon elle.
Elle évoque aussi les difficultés sociales de nombreux couples lesbiens, un problème lié à l'inégalité salariale homme-femme au Japon.
Melle Otsuji aspire à "accélérer le processus vers un projet d'union civile" entre couples du même sexe.
Ainsi, lors d'un mariage symbolique à Nagoya (centre), la candidate a convolé dimanche en justes noces avec sa partenaire, Maki Kimura.
"Je n'ai jamais pensé au mariage, trop conformiste à mon goût. Mais pour faire avancer une cause au Japon, accomplir un acte qui s'inscrit dans une tradition n'est pas une mauvaise chose", argue-t-elle, précisant avoir reçu de nombreux messages de félicitations, y compris de responsables politiques.
Réaliste, elle évalue cependant à "une décennie" le temps qu'il faudra pour que l'union civile soit acceptée au Japon.
Assurant être "soutenue" par des dirigeants japonais qui n'osent pas révéler publiquement leur homosexualité, elle reconnaît cependant que "solitaire, son action a une portée limitée".
Mais si elle échoue aux sénatoriales, prévient-elle, le PDJ, pas plus qu'un autre parti, ne prendra plus le risque de miser sur un candidat gay avant "20 ou 30 ans".
Lesbian politican takes on Japan - AFP
Lesbian politican takes on Japan
Thursday Jun 7 14:51 AEST
With a wedding ring on her finger and a party endorsement on her back, Kanako Otsuji is on a mission to become Japan's first openly gay member of parliament and change the way the country treats sexual minorities.
In a political world whose upper ranks are almost exclusively older men, the 32-year-old Otsuji stands out for more reasons than her sexual orientation.
Just weeks ahead of the July 22 elections, Otsuji, who is running on the ticket of the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan, tied the knot with her partner.
But as Japan does not recognise gay marriage, her ceremony Sunday is considered illegitimate in the eyes of the state.
"By serving as a politician who is openly lesbian, I can make the homosexual population a visible issue," said Otsuji, formerly a local lawmaker in the western city of Osaka.
"I believe one of my missions in parliament would be to expedite legislation of a system similar to a civil union," Otsuji said in an interview at a campaign office in Tokyo's biggest gay district.
She predicted, however, that "it would take at least 10 years of debate" before Japan allows civil unions, a system which would give the rights, benefits and recognition of marriage to same-sex and unmarried couples.
"Right now, Japan doesn't even allow married women to have dual surnames," she said.
In Japan, homosexuality has long been accepted in fact but not openly discussed.
In medieval times, homosexual relationships were an open secret among priests, nuns and samurai knights. More recently, vibrant gay entertainment areas have sprouted in major cities.
But even if gays and lesbians do not encounter outright hostility, Otsuji said Japan was behind many Western countries in awareness of sexual diversity.
She doubted the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who often calls for Japan to re-embrace "family values," would endorse a gay candidate.
"There are gay politicians and there must be gay members of the Liberal Democratic Party, too, because it is such a big party," she said. "But I cannot imagine the LDP would endorse an openly gay candidate."
Gay circles in Japan welcome Otsuji's candidacy.
"I think more gays and lesbians of younger generations will start contesting in the field of politics and I hope Otsuji will lead the movement," said gay activist Satoru Ito, who offers counselling and workshops for young homosexuals.
"Many gays and lesbians in Japan are still struggling to come out."
Otsuji herself struggled with years of dilemma and fear until she finally accepted to herself at age 23 that she was a lesbian.
"I would see many homosexual people come out only at gay bars and pretend to be heterosexual during the day," she said. "Even at gatherings of gays and lesbians, they didn't want to use their real names" in fear of their families and straight friends finding out.
"I didn't think it was right that you are forced to hide who you really are."
After university, she went to work as an intern for an Osaka lawmaker. Otsuji hesitantly confided her sexuality to her but was thrilled when the politician agreed to raise the subject of sexual minorities in the assembly.
"Politicians openly deliberated words that had only been whispered and heard at underground gay bars," she said. "That was when I became determined to enter politics."
In another bid to increase awareness for gays and lesbians, Otsuji and her partner, who is one of her campaign aides, held a public marriage ceremony in which both of them wore white wedding dresses.
Otsuji said she had never thought of doing something as conservative as a wedding.
"But I was simply happy to see so many people celebrating my wedding," she said. "Living as a lesbian, there haven't been many opportunities for people to celebrate my life."
Some 1,000 people gathered for the event, part of a gay festival in a park in the central city of Nagoya. Leaders of her party including Ichiro Ozawa, Japan's main opposition leader, sent congratulatory telegrams.
But while Abe is facing sagging approval ratings due to a scandal and mismanagement of the pension system, Otsuji's path to office will not be easy.
Only around 10 percent of members of parliament are women, placing Japan 100 out of 138 countries in female representation according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Despite its endorsement of Otsuji, the Democratic Party of Japan does not mention sexual minorities in its election manifesto.
Otsuji admitted her candidacy will also be a test for the party.
"If I fail this time, Japanese politics may not have another gay candidate for 20 to 30 years," she said.
米国の広告代理店Prime Access Inc.は4日、ゲイやレズビアン向けの媒体への広告費は一般媒体に比べ3倍以上の伸びを示していると発表した。米ビジネス界では、レズビアン、ゲイ、バイセクシャル（両性愛）、トランスジェンダー（性同一性障害）の頭文字をとったLGBT市場の争奪戦が活発化している。また、ニューヨーク市は5日、同性婚をニューヨーク州で合法化すれば1億4200万ドル（約172億円）の経済効果を同市にもたらすとする試算を発表するなど、自治体もLGBT市場に熱い視線を送っている。
Prime Accessらの共同調査「ゲイ・プレス・リポート」によると、1996年以来すべての雑誌における広告収入の増加率が47％（年率換算で4％）なのに対して、ゲイ向けの雑誌媒体では205％（年率換算11.8％）に達している。最も広告が多い分野は不動産業。ゲイやレズビアンの消費者は、一般消費者に比べて自由に過ごす時間が多く、それだけFortune 500と呼ばれる優良大手企業には魅力があるという。Prime Acces創業者Howard Buford氏は「この数字で明らかなのは、米国企業はゲイ消費者の購買力と影響力に価値を見い出しているということだ」と語る。
Assembly OKs bill allowing same-sex couples to marry
Lawmakers also vote to return schools to Oakland's control
Mark Martin and Greg Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
(06-06) 04:00 PDT Sacramento -- For the second time in three years, the state Assembly approved legislation Tuesday allowing same-sex marriage in California in a vote that highlighted a continued and profound disagreement among legislative Democrats and Republicans on one of the hot-button social issues of the time.
On a party-line vote, Democrats supported San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno's effort to make California the first state in the country to legislatively end the prohibition on gay marriage. The bill advances to the state Senate, but even if it is approved there, it's likely to face a veto from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A spokesman for the governor said Schwarzenegger has not changed his mind on the issue since 2005, when he rejected a similar bill, arguing that voters had spoken against gay marriage by passing Proposition 22 in 2000.
Tuesday's vote came as the Legislature faces a deadline this week requiring that bills be approved by at least one house. A measure to more quickly end state control of the Oakland Unified School District also was approved by the Assembly.
AB43, which would eliminate references to gender in the state's marriage code, was approved after a two-hour debate on the floor of the Assembly that was far less tense than a harsher and lengthier debate two years ago, when the Legislature made history by becoming the first legislative body in the country to approve gay marriage.
Then, the bill's outcome was in question in the Assembly until a few moderate Democrats finally agreed to vote yes after intense and emotional lobbying from Leno and gay rights groups.
Going into Tuesday's vote, the bill was almost certain to pass -- 43 Democrats had already expressed support for the measure, more than enough needed for approval. The less dramatic vote prompted some Democrats to suggest gay marriage would eventually be allowed, even if Schwarzenegger again vetoes the bill.
"I think I will see this in my lifetime,'' said Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz. "I appreciate the fact that we are going to pass this today, and that is just a signal of where history is going.''
In the debate, Republicans accused Democrats of attacking the institution of marriage and ignoring the California voters who overwhelmingly approved Prop. 22.
"The voters spoke pretty loudly and pretty clearly,'' said Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale (Butte County). Several Democrats used personal anecdotes to argue that gay couples should have the right to marry.
Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, noted her daughter, a lesbian in a 17-year-long relationship, would be proud of her vote Tuesday. Laird, who is gay, described the difficulty he and his partner of 11 years have had in making sure their wills and legal papers were synchronized because they don't have the legal right to marry. Leno read a statement from a UC Berkeley student who was raised by two lesbians in support of his measure.
The legislation was approved on a 42-34 vote.
Calif. Assembly OKs Gay Marriage
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
(06-05) 19:49 PDT Sacramento, Calif. (AP) --
The state Assembly voted Tuesday to allow same-sex couples to marry, challenging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said he will veto the bill if it passes the full Legislature.
Legislators approved the measure on a party-line vote of 42-34, with the majority saying lawmakers should not to wait for the state Supreme Court to act on the issue.
A debate about California's one man-one woman marriage law of 1977 is likely to be decided this year or early next year by the high court.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which adopted a similar measure in 2005. Schwarzenegger vetoed it.
California in 2003 recognized domestic partners, creating a registry that affords same-sex couples many of the rights given to married couples.
Massachusetts is the only state that allows same-sex couples to marry. Several states have or plan to enact laws allowing either civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Lesbian politician in Japan gets hitched
5th June 2007 12:17
Japan's first openly lesbian politician celebrated her same-sex partnership on Sunday, a month before elections for Japan's upper house.
Kanako Otsuji, 32, is a candidate for the Democratic Party of Japan in next month’s election for the House of Councillors.
She tied the knot with her partner of four years, Maki Kimura, 32.
Their wedding took place in Ikeda Park in Nagoya, the country’s third largest city, during an HIV/AIDS prevention festival called Nagoya Lesbian & Gay Revolution.
Some 1,000 guests attended the wedding.
The leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa, the Secretary General of the Party, Yukio Hatoyama, and Fusae Ota, the Governor of Osaka all sent congratulatory telegrams to Miss Otsuji.
Miss Otsuji said in her wedding speech that the wedding would be the most unforgettable memory of her life.
After the wedding, Miss Otsuji told GayJapanNews: “Gays and lesbians are hiding themselves in society to protect themselves.
"I want people to know that gays and lesbians exist in society by looking at us (Kanako and Maki).”
The couple's union is not legally recognised as Japan does not have same-sex marriage or civil partnerships.
The election for the Upper House is scheduled for 22 July.
Miss Otsuji said that she and Miss Kimura would have to concentrate on the election for the coming month.
She added she wanted to create a society where people live differently but can live together, and she would begin to think about her life with Maki after the election.
Only four countries allow same-sex marriage; the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Belgium, and South Africa. The state of Massachusetts in the US also allows same-sex marriage.
The International Herald Tribune
Japanese companies embrace diversity
By Miki Tanikawa
Friday, June 1, 2007
TOKYO: In the middle of 2006, Nissan Motor's auto development division summoned a team of 10 women to develop a small car that would appeal to female buyers. The team, made up of designers, product planners and advertising and marketing staff and ranging in age from their 20s to their 30s, came up with the Pino, a minicar to be produced in pastel colors and with a wide array of options, like cushions and special ashtrays, that it felt young women would want.
When the Pino was introduced in January, Nissan was hoping to sell 2,600 vehicles during the first month and beyond. It got 5,500 orders during the first month and has sold steadily above target ever since.
"You are able to make good products by letting women participate in all aspects of the business process," said Yukiko Yoshimaru, general manager of the diversity development office at Nissan. "That way, we can meet the customers' needs satisfactorily."
That Nissan even has a diversity officer may sound startling to those who are used to thinking of Japanese companies as dominated by men, and Japanese men at that. But the automaker has made visible progress on the diversity front under a management team that includes Carlos Ghosn and other French executives from Renault. Aside from bringing in foreign managers from overseas, it has increased the proportion of women in managerial ranks to 4 percent from 1.6 percent three years ago.
And Nissan is not alone in making a visible commitment to diversity. Big employers from manufacturers like Matsushita Electric and Toshiba to large lenders like Mizuho Corporate Bank are setting up departments, holding seminars for management-track women, and soliciting foreigners as regular, full-time employees to work at headquarters in Japan.
Of the 750 new employees Matsushita Electric hired last year in Japan, 30 were non-Japanese; of the 100 non-engineering positions, close to half were filled by women, according to the company. Nissan also boasted a 50-50 ratio of women to men for non-engineer new recruits last year.
"To meet the diverse needs in the global market, you need to have diversity in the composition of your employees," Yoshimaru said. "A homogeneous group can only come up with something homogeneous."
This is radical talk in corporate Japan, which previously took pride in its homogeneity, especially during the go-go years of the 1970s and 1980s, saying it make them efficient. Today the new buzzword is "daiba-shitii," or diversity.
As a general manager of diversity development office at Tokyo Electric Power, the largest electricity producer in Japan, Hiroko Amemiya's job consists of publishing in-house magazines and leaflets meant to raises awareness of the issue and holding seminars for employees and managers to discuss habits and customs in the workplace that might stand in the way of creating a diverse work force.
"There are certain ingrained habits and thinking that are difficult to shake off immediately," she said. "People say, for example, that women aren't good at driving. But some women are good at driving, and to conclude that women can't drive well leads to a bias, and bias leads to discrimination."
Japanese business, like Japanese society and many other countries, still has a long way to go to be truly gender- or ethnicity-blind. According to the most recent survey by the Ministry of Welfare and Labor, in 2003 women held just 3.3 percent of managerial jobs at companies with more than 5,000 employees - among the lowest in mature economies.
And only about 1.6 percent of the population was foreign-born at the end of 2006, according to the Justice Ministry - the highest it has ever been. Xenophobia still runs deep in certain segments of society, and "No Foreigners" signs are found in some commercial outlets in the countryside.
But things are changing - largely, say corporate managers and analysts, because they have to. Demographics and globalization demand it.
In Japan, one of the fastest aging societies in the world, labor is increasingly becoming a scare resource. A big lump of workers in their late 50s, the so-called baby boomers, are retiring, while the pool of younger workers is shrinking, driving big companies to scramble for workers to plug the gap.
"In certain businesses such as the info tech industry, companies are structurally and chronically short of workers," said Yukihiro Yamao, president of AXIS Consulting in Tokyo, an employment concern that has helped big Japanese employers like Fujitsu, Hitachi and their group companies find workers from overseas.
He has placed about 30 Chinese white-collar workers with Japanese companies in the past year and sees assignments from clients zooming to several hundred in a few years.
"These days, a third of new Japanese employees quit their big employers in less than three years," he said. "At a time when Japanese workers are leaving, you don't have a choice to say, 'I want only Japanese workers.' "
Second, big Japanese companies are turning to global markets for growth as their home turf grows more slowly.
"The weight of our business is shifting overseas," said Kimie Iwata, a board member and corporate executive for personnel at Shiseido, the cosmetics company. "To that end, we need to train and ready our employees for overseas responsibilities."
Today, 32 percent of Shiseido's business comes from its overseas units. To enhance its global business operations, Shiseido named Carsten Fischer, a German executive who worked as vice president for Asia-Pacific for Procter & Gamble.
"The more a company becomes global in its operation, the more global should the management become," Fischer said. "Shiseido is a company that has already done much in the field of diversity and we are determined to stay ahead. Obviously, the lack of international managers and the lack of English speakers are a challenge. The existing conservatism in business processes, rituals and at times unconditional following of rules is difficult to accept."
Iwata said that even the company's domestic business required diverse and flexible talents in ways that it did not before. "In the past, when the market was simply growing, all you had to do was to produce and sell given items in a most effective way," she said. "The market is shrinking now, and to survive you have to deliver new value. Where does new value come from? It does not exist inside the company. You get that from outside."
Despite all the movement to hire and promote more women and foreigners, some experts contend that the diversity movement is superficial at best and borders dangerously on a fad.
"Japanese people have this 'we are in the same boat' mentality," said Kimiko Horii, president of Gewel, a nonprofit organization that promotes the status of, and provides resources for, executive women. "If some companies do it, then others feel they must do it, too."
Many of the diversity officers, she said, are not sufficiently empowered and do not report directly to the chief executive. "They often aren't given enough resources and the budget to work with," Horii said. "What do you expect them to accomplish? In any case, the CEO should demonstrate a vigorous support for the cause."
Amemiya, the Tokyo Electric Power diversity executive, acknowledged that the chief executive's commitment was crucial to the success of any diversity program. She added that the issue of top-level support was a common topic of conversation among diversity officers, who meet regularly with each other. "But commitment by the top management is something you elicit as well," she said. "It's also a matter of how you communicate to other employees."
One common challenge is to remove small barriers. Executives in charge of diversity and human resources said flexible policy on working hours and job transfers was crucial. For instance, women with children need to leave the office in the afternoon to pick up their children at school, and cosmetics salespeople cannot, Iwata said - even though Shiseido has a program that lets married people take time off for children.
"That's around the time when the business picks up at the retail stores," Iwata said. "So, practically, they cannot leave work around that time."
Iwata said her company recently decided to hire 500 part-time staff around Japan to relieve their saleswomen with young children of their duties during the early evening hours.
Obstacles like these are blamed for causing many career-track women, who joined Japanese companies after passage of the Equal Employment Act of 1987, to quit after several years of working.
"There is a whole generation of women employees who joined after 1987 that are missing who would be eligible for management jobs by now," Amemiya said.
Osamu Yunoki, executive officer in charge of human resources at Uniqlo, the clothing retail chain, said his company recently imposed a rule whereby employees in the head office are not allowed to work beyond 7 in the evening. "Lights go off at 7," he said.
The burden of working overtime had been a turnoff especially for women and non-Japanese staff, Yunoki said. But after the no-overtime policy was enforced, "the number of meetings decreased, the amount of e-mails people sent went down, and the overall efficiency increased," he said. Yunoki added that when Uniqlo introduced policies that were friendly to women and foreigners, it helped create a good working environment for all. "Now, men appreciate it also," he said.
Because Uniqlo has 730 stores in Japan and 39 overseas, finding diverse talent is a serious strategic concern, Yunoki said.
The need to have women involved is acute in designing products, planning marketing and advertising strategies and conducting sales in retail stores. - 70 percent of Uniqlo's customers are women, Yunoki said. Many of them travel overseas and are well attuned to the trends in Europe and the United States, and clothing designs must reflect the tastes overseas.
At Uniqlo, product planning for all goods is initiated in its office in New York, which is heavily staffed by American designers and is executed in conjunction with their counterparts in Milan and Tokyo.
"To plan, design and execute the business, you have to have a very diverse team, or else you cannot win," Yunoki said. "We need them to compete effectively and that's what business is all about."
Crucible of hate
All across eastern Europe, gay people are demanding equality. But in Russia, Poland and Latvia, their growing confidence is being met with violent resistance from nationalist and religious groups. What lies behind this hysteria? Phoebe A Greenwood reports
Phoebe A Greenwood
Friday June 1, 2007
It is Gay Pride season in Europe, with marches in Poland and Russia. In Latvia, the capital, Riga, is hosting four days of lectures, classical concerts, parties and film screenings, but the big draw will be the final parade through the Vermane Garden on June 3. Organisers are hoping for a turnout of around 400, maybe more if the weather is as sunny as last year. It's hard to know. What they can expect with some certainty is that neofascist and ultra-religious counterdemonstrators will outnumber their marchers by at least two to one. The police presence will be greater still. As one activist put it, "It'll be less of a Pride parade than a human rights fight."
Whether the sun shines or not, the atmosphere will be stormy. The hope is that Ivars Godmanis, Latvia's new minister of the interior, generally considered a pragmatic man, will prevent a repeat of last year's event, a human rights and PR disaster. The march had been banned as a risk to security. The Latvian prime minister, Aigars Kalvitis, said he could not condone "a parade of sexual minorities", even though such a ban was an infringement of the right to freedom of assembly to which Latvia had signed up when it joined the EU on May 1 2004.
As a compromise, Riga Pride organisers held a private indoor rally at the Berg hotel, following an Anglican church service. The church was surrounded by a group of religious extremists, old women and skinheads. "We tried to leave by the back door but they had put guards there. We tried to move through them but groups of people started to run at us shouting, 'You deserve to die,' and 'Leave our land.' They were carrying bags, which could have had anything in them," remembers Jolanta Chianovica, a half-French, half-Latvian activist.
The bags were full of human excrement, which was hurled at the mostly female congregation. Meanwhile, more counterdemonstrators had swarmed to the Berg hotel, where they were refusing to let Pride supporters in or out. "I saw two girls trying to leave and people spat in their faces directly in front of the police but they did nothing. When they saw the police weren't interfering to stop the violence, they felt they could do whatever they liked. That was really frightening," says Chianovica.
The new mayor of Riga has approved this year's march, but gay and lesbian activists are steeling themselves. Latvia is typical among eastern European countries where, increasingly, being gay is seen as an act of political aggression. Rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are denied on vague grounds of "promoting homosexuality" or posing a risk to security. Homophobia has become a touchstone issue for politicians seeking to divert attention from economic frustration. Homosexuality may be decriminalised in these countries, but only on condition that it stays out of sight. Aside from a small number of activists who are openly gay, homosexual people in most of eastern Europe are invisible. In Poland, where an anti-European party was elected just two years after the country gained membership to the EU, the rise in homophobia is tangled up with a surge in nationalism. In Latvia, activists claim they frequently hear that homosexuality didn't exist in the country before it became part of Europe.
In Britain, homophobia still exists, but there are laws to protect gay and lesbian citizens from it. There is no such legislation to protect sexual minorities from discrimination in Latvia and Poland, or Russia and Moldova, which are members of the Council of Europe, where Prides have been banned. In Belarus and Serbia, no one has even suggested a Pride. Romania introduced anti-discrimination law in 2000, but last year hundreds of protesters turned out to pelt the Bucharest Pride parade with eggs, bottles and stones. Both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe have voiced concern about the rise in homophobic violence in eastern Europe during recent debates, flagging Poland as a particular trouble spot. But their power appears to be limited. The promotion of homophobic legislation and use of hate speech by politicians in these countries continues unabated, a two-fingered salute to the notions of integration and acceptance represented by Europe.
On May 19, 5,000 people marched in Warsaw Pride. The following day, Roman Giertych, who is deputy prime minister and minister for education, joined 800 supporters of family values in a countermarch, to oppose "revolting pederasts". In Moscow last Sunday, gay activists were punched, kicked and pelted with eggs by a mob - some holding crucifixes - as they tried to hand a petition signed by 40 MEPs to the mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, in protest at his ban on a Pride parade. Riot police stood by as thugs chanting "death to homosexuals" attacked veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell, Right Said Fred singer Richard Fairbrass and Russian pop duo Tatu, then moved in to arrest 31 of the pro-gay protesters.
Riga's 2006 Pride ban had a EU precedent in Warsaw in 2005, a ban which, the European court of human rights recently ruled, violated three articles of the convention on human rights. Lech Kaczynski, the Warsaw mayor who refused that application, is now the president of Poland and intends to appeal against the court's decision. The Moldovan supreme court ruled that the decision of Chisinau authorities to ban the 2006 march was illegal, but Vasile Ursu, the mayor, banned the 2007 Pride anyway. In Moldova in April, a group of lesbian and gay supporters protested against the Pride ban in a picket outside Chisinau city hall. They also tried to lay flowers at a statue commemorating victims of repression, but police blocked their access to the monument, filmed the mostly foreign protesters and noted the number plates of their cars. Rightwing extremists threw eggs.
"Their idea is that gays and lesbians, by laying flowers at the monument, make it dirty," says the event organiser, Maxim Anmeghichen. The Moldovan police made no arrests but detained a driver working for the activists on no particular charge. Maxim reasons, "He's a Moldovan driver, and they probably thought, 'We'll show our protest this way.' "
Last year in Latvia, police said they could not step in to protect the gay rights rally because they had not been given authorisation from the mayor to do so. Counterprotesters, who were to all intents and purposes engaged in an illegal protest, gathered freely to chant, throw holy water and excrement. The police detained 14 people for acts of violence.
Igors Maslakovs was among the anti-gay protesters. Describing himself as a businessman, Maslakovs stopped work last year to devote his time to founding and running Latvia's "No Pride" organisation. The No Pride logo shows two male stick figures having sex with a red line through the middle. The group website, which was built using Maslakovs' money, announces its purpose: "To fight against the opinion that homosexual lifestyle is proper and even recommended, which is enforced on Latvian society by [the] EU."
Maslakovs' account of last year's Pride event differs only marginally from those of the supporters: "It wasn't human excrement, it was chicken shit." He claims it was aimed at the two Anglican pastors who led the morning service and that they got what they deserved.
Maslakovs' views on homosexuality, he says, are Christian beliefs. He has particular affinity with the New Generation Church, an evangelical organisation with a swelling international congregation of mostly Russian speakers. The group now has 108 churches in 15 countries, including Argentina, Israel and America. It is headed by Aleksey Ledyaev, a publicity-savvy pastor with close ties to the Christian right in America. In February, Pastor Ledyaev attended a breakfast at the White House hosted by President Bush. "He's a very good man, a very powerful man. He has many connections with parliament and worldwide connections to the USA and Russia. He agrees with me," says Maslakovs.
Pastor Ledyaev declined an interview, writing instead: "I believe that Christians and their traditional values are discriminated against today, and not the gays and lesbians." In his sermons, he has been more explicit, saying of homosexuals: "God will bring evil upon them! God will drive them out and they will fall!" Many of the counterprotesters at last year's Pride wore "I Love the New Generation" T-shirts.
Homophobia has a strong ballast in Latvia's Christian leaders. Early this May, the Archbishop of Riga urged Christians to take to the streets and oppose the Pride march. "If there are 1,000 sexually crazy people acting foolishly, then the people's march in Riga should have at least 40,000 or 50,000. That proportion would give the government enough reason to leave sexual perversion outside the law."
Maris Sants, the Anglican pastor for whom the bags of chicken excrement were intended, has had first-hand experience of this church's response to perceived perversion. He became a celebrated champion of gay rights in Latvia when, two years ago, he was excommunicated from the Lutheran church by the Archbishop of Latvia on a charge of "promoting homosexuality".
"I had been preaching against xenophobia and promoting tolerance, not homosexuality," he says. "I was told of my excommunication via email. It wasn't a surprise. The atmosphere in the church was very closed, more like a totalitarian sect. They are against women's rights and are only open to Latvian-speaking people. I know a blind pastor who is suing the church. They're not allowing him to serve because he is blind. The Old Testament says a pastor in many ways needs to be perfect, a model, so that can't include people with special needs."
In many former communist states where religion was suppressed for decades, the church has developed considerable influence. One ideology has been replaced by another. The current human rights commissioner for the Latvian parliament, Janis Smits, was previously a Lutheran pastor. He was mayor of Riga when Pride was banned and is a representative for the ultra-nationalistic First party. In September 2006, he addressed Latvia's parliament, the Saeima, on the issue of gay rights. "I invite all Christians who are here ... if you vote for the legalisation of homosexuality, then, please, go to church and openly repent for what you have done, because it will no longer be possible to halt this plague that you have let loose in our society."
Such inflammatory speech is frequently heard in the Saeima, as it is in parliaments across eastern Europe. In Poland, the anti-European far-right coalition has been in government for the past two years. "We joke that this government is more Catholic than the Pope," says Tomasz Szypula, secretary general of Poland's Campaign Against Homophobia. But the reality is not so funny. Roman Giertych has proposed a bill banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools and universities.
The European Parliament has expressed its concern about this legislation, and in April voted to send a fact-finding delegation to Poland. What the EU hopes to achieve through this investigation is unclear. Even less clear is what Giertych means by the "promotion of homosexuality". It is a phrase Szypula has written asking him to clarify. So far he has failed to do so.
Giertych's father, MEP Maciej Giertych, is less reticent. He explains that the issue of gay rights in Poland is not one of human rights but morality. "By promoting, I mean spreading literature or inviting homosexuals to talk to children about the glories of homosexuality. Private sexual lives should remain private, whether they are decent lives or homosexual, adulterous, promiscuous, lesbian lives. They should keep to themselves rather than promote themselves, especially in schools."
In Szypula's opinion, the Polish gay community learned to hide under communist rule and is continuing to hide in the new democracy. "Many people say, 'I can't show my sexuality outside because it would become political.' But when you go to work and your colleagues start talking about their children or wives, you see it is not political to say you are gay, it's just who you are," he says.
Police do not record the motives for violent assault in Poland. The Campaign Against Homophobia, however, has questioned more than 1,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Poles and found that over the past two years, half of those questioned had suffered psychological violence and, of the 18% who had been physically assaulted, half were attacked more than three times. Of those who were physically attacked, 85% said they were too scared to report the crime to the police.
Aside from physical risks, the psychological battery that gay rights activists expect in return for visibility takes its toll. Szypula describes the first time he was hit by an egg: "It may be just an egg, but it hurts like hell, and worse than that is the humiliation. You have egg on you, on your clothes. Though, unfortunately, you can get used to anything."
London MEP Jean Lambert, who spearheaded the campaign to launch an investigation into Poland's homophobic school legislation, says the EU could be more proactive in protecting the rights of its gay and lesbian citizens but is limited by what it can actually do.
"People listen to their peers, and for the Polish government, that is other governments. If there is a special relationship anywhere in the EU, aside from France and Germany, it's between Britain and Poland. British ministers need to actively explain why they have gone even further than the European Union requires to protect the legal rights of gay and lesbian people."
After his involvement in last year's Riga Pride, during which he made several TV appearances, Maris Sants was attacked six times in the street. He has since distanced himself from activism, preferring to concentrate instead on the book he is writing about homosexuality and Christianity in Latvia. It keeps him indoors. "I felt burnt out. After four years of being open, I now feel it's time that I stepped back from the movement," he says.
Szypula knows many activists who have resigned in order to reclaim their anonymity and their lives, and he understands why: "I don't want to be a full-time gay my whole life either. But we have to survive this government. We need to build structures in our community so when this government falls, we'll be ready. These are big words I'm saying now but I have to really believe in them. Otherwise, when I look at the situation and see it only getting worse, I just feel hopeless".
Homosexuality and the law
How attitudes vary across eastern Europe
Belarus Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1994. No legislation barring discrimination in employment. Age of consent 16 for all relationships. No laws on homophobic crime. Widespread homophobic prejudice, stigma-tisation and acts of violence against gay people. Russian Orthodox Church considers homosexuality a "grave sin".
Bulgaria Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1968. Discrimination in employment banned in 2003. Age of consent 14 for all relationships. Some inheritance rights for same-sex couples. Gradual change in previously conservative public attitudes to homosexuality.
Latvia Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1992. Discrimination in employment banned in 2006. Age of consent 14 for all relationships. Same-sex marriages banned. Homophobia widespread.
Lithuania Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1993. Discrimination in employment banned in 2004 as a condition of joining the EU. Age of consent 14 for all relationships. Open opposition to gay rights on the political right.
Moldova Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1995. No legislation barring discrimination in employment. Age of consent 16 for all relationships. Homophobia rife, verbal attacks on gay people routine, and physical attacks not uncommon.
Poland Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1932. Discrimination in employment banned in 2003. Age of consent 15 for all relationships. Government proposing legislation that would allow teachers to be dismissed for promoting "homosexual culture". Public attitudes very anti-gay.
Romania Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1996. Discrimination in employment banned in 2000. Age of consent 15 for all relationships. Gays allowed to serve in armed forces. Intolerance widespread, but government is recognised as making significant progress in redressing inequalities and homophobia.
Russia Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1993. No legislation barring discrimination in employment. Age of consent 16 for all relationships. Intolerance and homophobia widespread; Russian Orthodox Church condemnatory; support for such rights as gay marriage very low.
Serbia Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1994. No legislation barring discrimination in employment. Age of consent 14 for all relationships. Discrimination and homophobia widespread, and public opinion very hostile. Homosexuals banned in armed forces (though this law is only loosely applied) and constitution bars any recognition of same-sex unions.
Slovakia Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1961. Discrimination in employment banned in 2004, though critics of the legislation consider it flawed. Age of consent 15 for all relationships. Tolerance gradually increasing, especially in the capital, Bratislava.
Slovenia Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1977. Discrimination in employment banned in 1998. Age of consent 15 for all relationships. Civil unions for same-sex couples legalised in 2006. Active lesbian and gay movement, no discrimination against gays in armed forces, and public attitudes far more tolerant than further east (though still below EU averages).
Ukraine Homosexual acts decriminalised in 1991. No legislation barring discrimination in employment. Age of consent 16 for all relationships. Gays not allowed to serve in armed forces. Homophobia rife outside Kiev.
· Sources: Avert.org; Diskriminace; LGBT rights on Wikipedia
Transsexual wins landmark identity case
31/05/2007 - 16:23:06
A transsexual today won a landmark case to have her new name changed from male to female on her Leaving Cert exam certificate.
The action had been taken against the State Examinations Commission and the Department of Education and Science.
The case was settled when the State Examinations Commission agreed to reissue the transsexual's Leaving Certificate as well as her Group Intermediate Certificate exams in the female name she had chosen.
Equality Authority chief Niall Crowley said the outcome was a valuable and necessary recognition for transsexual people from an important statutory body.
“Steps should now be taken by the Government to provide a legal recognition for transsexual people in the gender with which they identify so that the example of the State Examinations Commission can be followed across all sectors,” he said.
The complainant was registered at birth as male but was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and underwent treatment for this.
She changed her name by deed poll and requested to have her Group Intermediate Certificate and her Leaving Certificate amended to reflect her new name as she needed these documents to find a job.
She contacted the Department of Education and Science who referred her to the State Examinations Commission.
The Commission advised her that is was not possible to have her Group Certificate and Leaving Certificate reissued in her new name.