Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Days of mourning – Part 2: COLEGA and Eddie Garzon

1. Eddie Garzon and Marlene Forero, Undated photo, Flushing Meadows Park
2. Composite image of the COLEGA float designed by Eddie Garzon

Eddie Garzon had come to the Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA) in 1996 through Fernando G., another organization founder. Having first-knowledge of Eddie’s stage and costume design skills, Fernando had convinced Eddie to work with COLEGA in designing that year’s Queens and Manhattan Pride costumes. That first year, Eddie came at a late stage in the planning so we ended up doing something simple, with long Colombian flags floating in the wind and a bunch of huge helium filled balloons with the yellow, red and blue colors of the Colombian flag.

But for 1997, Fernando and others wanted something more grandiose so, as Fernando was prone to do, he exaggerated the number of volunteers and the fiscal support that COLEGA would be able to provide, invited Eddie once again - and then quickly disappeared when it came to crunch time. The result? A few volunteers spent almost five days and nights helping Eddie and some of his closest friends needle, cut, paste, twist and mold some body costumes shaped like coffee cups, a huge coffee pot, two big straw bags which looked like coffee sacs and, once those were over, paint, cut, saw and carry a horse-shaped wood figure which we then mounted on top of a jeep the night before the Heritage of Pride Parade. The theme? “100% Colombian coffee, 100% gay Colombian” – a play on gay and national pride.

On the day of the actual Heritage of Pride March, the huge coffee pot failed to vent white vapor from its spout as it was supposed to do, six of the twelve coffee cup costumes did not arrive on time (nor the dancers inside them), and it seemed as if the stress nearly drove everyone to leave the organization even as we were marching. Nevertheless, we all looked amazing and were featured in most of the nightly news that night. One of the most vivid memories that day was running up 5th Avenue from 32nd Street back to 56th Street with Eddie running at my side when we were told that the additional costumes had finally arrived, then taking a cab ride sans costumes when we realized that the dancers had left when they did not find the contingent.

With us in the cab, Marlene Forero, a single straight woman and mother, who had been with us every night as we put together the costumes and the float. Marlene had met Eddie at a performance of Estampas Negras (Black Pictures), a Colombian folk dance company in which Eddie also performed. Though not familiar with gays, Marlene struck the closest of friendships with Eddie almost immediately based - at first - on their common nostalgia for their country of origin but evolving to the point where Marlene would call Eddie when she was at the supermarket and ask him if he was missing anything in his kitchen. Eddie, who was incredibly charismatic and seemed to know just about everyone in Queens Latino gay circles, started presenting his friends to Marlene. Soon, Marlene’s home had become the place where all these beautiful boys would stop by for some Colombian food, no-nonsense advice from a woman who adored them and to dish (her friends, mostly a group of single and married Colombian middle-age women, chided her at first for hanging out with so many gays but then grew jealous of the fun Marlene was having going out with them to the bars and special events and ultimately started to join her on her 'gay expeditions.')

That was the last year that COLEGA would participate in the Heritage of Pride march and, though I saw Eddie a couple of times after that, by the time he was accosted, we had lost track of each other.

So, four years later, in light of the news reports, it made sense to reach out to Marlene, who was the first one at the hospital on the night of the attack. She quickly brought me up to date: Eddie was in a coma four days after the attack and his prognosis was uncertain, his parents were flying from Florida the next day and they wanted to have a prayer ceremony at the chapel inside Elmhurst Hospital for close friends and family. I told her I’d be there. By then, the police had put up some flyers alerting the community of the crime, asking for leads, the attack was being investigated as a ‘hate crime,’ and people in the bars were slowly finding out what had happened.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Days of mourning – Part 1: The Attack

I did not find out about the attack – which happened around 3:50 a.m. on Wednesday, August 15th, 2001 - until 5 days later when I read a Sunday Newsday article (“Gay Activists Rally Against Hate Crime,” August 19th, 2001). Even then, it also took me a couple more days to track down some old friends and confirm that the “Edgardo Garzon” in the article was, in fact, Eddie Garzon, the beautiful, vibrant, talented young gay man who had been a member of an organization I founded in Jackson Heights a few years earlier, the Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA).

According to newspaper and police reports, and the recollection of R., a friend who had walked home with Eddie the night of the attack, he had been partying with some friends at a couple of local bars including Friend's Tavern and had ended up at Cositas Ricas, a Colombian bakery on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 80th Street. After dancing and drinking the night away, they were ready to call it a night and, as usual, in the end it was Eddie and R. turning right on 77th Street off Roosevelt Avenue in the general direction of their apartments.

The Newsday article initially said that he had been attacked outside Friend’s Tavern but a week later other news reports corrected this: Just as Eddie and R. had made the turn on 77th, Eddie stopped to urinate in the dark next to a tree. R., who had walked a few steps ahead, realized that Eddie had stopped and waited for Eddie to catch up. Instead, a red car seemed to stop next to Eddie as he was zipping up and R. observed Eddie and the driver exchange a couple of words. When Eddie finally caught up with R., he said it was not anyone he knew, just a guy apparently trying to pick him up (SIDE-NOTE: 77th Street and 73rd Street actually bracket a small 4-block 37th Road. Back in the 1990’s, when the Indian movie-house The Eagle actually used to be a porn theatre called The Earle - and a seedy gay bar called The Magic Touch was right next to it - 37th Road was actually so well-known as a gay pick-up spot that it received the name “Vaseline Alley” which still survives today though both the porn theatre and so-called “Tragic” Touch bars have gone – as well as most of the pick-up action as well).

Here is when things get blurry: There is a camera inside a bank on the corner of 37th Avenue which captured the moment when Eddie and R. say good bye and start heading their separate ways – R. takes a right on 37th Ave. while Eddie begins to cross that same Avenue (37th Ave. is actually one block down from 37th Road – yes, Queens street addresses can get a bit complicated). The camera shows that Eddie seemed to stop and look at some people inside car parked near the same corner. He seems to just stand there for a few seconds, just looking at the car and its occupants, and then he just finishes crossing the street.

R. says that he was half a block away when he heard the screech of rubber wheels speeding up on the pavement. Turning around he notices the car make a hard left and rush in the direction Eddie had gone. Fearing something is awfully wrong, he runs back and turns a right on 77th Street. It’s dark and there are trees lining the street, R. is not sure if he just sees one or two people jumping back into the car. He is just certain that the car is speeding away from him as fast as possible. He screams Eddie’s name and there’s no response. By the time that R. is able to reach Eddie, he is already unconscious, lying in a pool of his own blood.

By morning, the sidewalk would still have blood stains despite the powdered white detergent that the police or the neighbors spilled on it; R. was at the police station, being interviewed as a witness, Marlene Forero had been awakened and gone to the hospital and patiently waited to hear news of how serious the injuries had been, and Eddie was in the operation table undergoing emergency surgery for massive trauma to the brain caused by being hit by “either a lead pipe or a baseball bat,” as Newsday put it in that first article. Four years later, what was used to kill Eddie Garzon, remains a mystery.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Strolling Around My Neighborhood on Saturday

1. The famed Jackson Heights community gardens
2. La Virgen
3. Little India food market
4. My apartment building, seen from the back of the building
5. & 6. Some cool posters wheat pasted to wooden construction site walls.
7. Still bald

Friday, August 26, 2005

ACT UP 2005

On my voice mail last night [Anne's voice in bold]:

Hi this is Anne Northrop and Eric Sawyer [pictured above] from ACT UP calling to urge you to attend an important demonstration that can save tens of thousands of people from HIV infection. US and Ugandan government policies have caused a dramatic 10-month long condom shortage in Uganda, the African country best known for its successful HIV prevention efforts. 32 million condoms remain locked up in Uganda's governmental warehouses while the US government ramps-up abstinence-only prevention programs. Join us on Tuesday, August 30th at 1PM for the "Unlock the Condoms" demonstration outside of Uganda's Mission to the UN - 336 E 45th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan. Call 646 645-5225 for information. Thank you.

Meet Kanye

Wanna thank Kanye for speaking out about homophobia in rap music?

Ok, New Yorkers, here's your chance. Ah, and the Goldigger video by Hype Williams? Pretty great video even if Jamie Foxx can't sing and even though it's another one of those 'bitches-out-to-get-me" tracks. Late Registration 5 stars

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Some noteworthy new releases look back at acid house

Mr. Larry Heard, aka Mr. Fingers, aka Loose Fingers, has released a heartbrakingly beautiful CD that seems to look back at his musical career from the vantagepoint of a true legend in house music looking back at his glory days and some missed opportunities. Larry Heard / Loose Fingers' "Soundtrack From the Duality Double-Play" is split in half, "The Duality" which contains a mellow, jazzy, mostly instrumental 8-song suite; while "The Double-Play" 2nd half kick-starts with the wiggly acid groove of "What is House" (think Blaze's "Do You Remember House?" over an acid beat) and mostly sustains the groove through the end. Faves: "Transmission X," "Lamentation" (download free MP3 here legally) and "Ask Me About My Life" (sample here).

Coincidentally BBE records also released their latest "The Kings of House" 2-CD mix sessions, with one disc going to Kenny Dope and the other to Louie Vega (aka Masters at Work, aka Nuyorican Soul). Just as nostalgic for the Detroit / New York / Chicago house music scene of the 1990's, it's no surprise that Mr. Fingers' hugely influential "Can You Feel It" is here (mashed up with Sterling Void's "It's Alright" which the Pet Shop Boys would later cover). This is the sound of the West Side Piers back when the young ones were voguing their way through life (before Madonna picked it up) and, at least the Kenny Dope mix, also builds to an acid house freak out. Louie Vega goes a bit more for tribal house beats though he also goes back to basics, ending with - what do you know - Mr. Fingers' amazing "Never No More Lonely" (with vocals from the incomparable Robert Owens). Stand outs: Hercules "7 Ways to Jack", Tyree's "Acid Crash", the original version of "Strings of Life" by Rhythm is Rhythm (recently resurrected by Soul Central feat. Kathy Brown), Romanthony's "Let Me Show You Love", Blunted Dummies' "House for All" and Kerri Chandler's "Rain."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Beneath the Radar: Aruba, the Cherokee Nation and the Mayan Indians

Just beneath the radar, there have been some interesting developments on the same-sex marriage front in the Caribbean and among indigenous groups in the United States and Central America.

· Yesterday, Arubas Superior Court said that the government had to register the Dutch marriage of two women, Aruban-born Charlene Oduber-Lamers and Dutch-born Esther Oduber-Lamers, under laws established when the Caribbean island was a Dutch colony. Unlike former British colonies in the Caribbean (i.e. - Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Jamaica and Belize), Dutch colonies (i.e. - Aruba and the Dutch Antilles) never inherited anti-sodomy statues from their colonizers which – in general – makes them supposedly less homophobic. Nevertheless the ruling is already creating tensions between the Aruba government and Holland as Aruba is determined to make a final appeal before the Dutch Supreme Court arguing “that Dutch law also grants the island the right to self-rule - permitting it to ignore Holland's legalization of gay marriage” and that “the civil code [does] not allow for same-sex marriage and that it would go against Aruba's way of life.”

· Just as in the case of the Oduber-Lamers, Dawn McKinley and Kathy Reynolds are a lesbian couple who are also struggling to have their marriage recognized by a different nation: The North-American Cherokee nation. Both had received a marriage certificate when they exchanged vows in May of 2004 but its official filing was stopped when Todd Hembree, a member of the tribe and attorney, sued to have it blocked arguing that he would suffer grave harm if the marriage was allowed to stand. In June of 2005, the tribe adopted language limiting marriages to couples of different sex. And, while on August 3rd a tribal court dismissed the suit saying that Mr. Hembree had no standing to file the suit and could not show how he would be harmed by the women’s marriage, on August 10th a group of Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilors filed another petition requesting a temporary injunction while also arguing that recognition of the women’s marriage would cause irreparable harm to the tribe. On August 15th, the court granted the injunction. A hearing will soon be held and debate still simmers.

· In the meantime, down in Guatemala, similar rifts were exposed recently among Maya tribe members when an unsigned Mayan Wajxaqbib’ No’ Indian Defense press release was sent out on July 6, 2005, which, among other things, stated:

Gays have risen as a result of the social decomposition in the midst of the 20th century. We cannot rationalize this issue since it does not fit within our culture as indigenous people, just as it also stands against the development of humanity according to nature’s principles…

If they were born with this defect or learned it later, we cannot, or there should not be any room for these same things to continue happening or by copying other countries’ behaviors.

It should not be strange that countries that are politically, militarily or economically powerful are the ones which have the most gays, since they are responsible for the atrocities committed against poor communities, they are the ones who export their filth and pollute our communities.

Just as the Unites States and other wealthy nations are the ones who export all type of transgeneric products, industrial pollution, chemical warfare, lack of culture, assimilation and illnesses such as AIDS and others.

This type of attitudes or customs are an inheritance from the ‘democracy’ of industrialized countries, who lack spirituality and who – currently – only see the human self as a cybernetic machine, with whom they can do as they please.

Countries such as Guatemala could not remain behind and those who govern us are the premier degenerates. Now these [governing bodies] put the legalization of gay matrimony in their agendas – is it perhaps because they cannot see the principal problems that afflict the nation?

Local non-profit, Amigos Contra el SIDA (Friends Against AIDS) picked up on the release and immediately demanded an apology, stating that it was irresponsible for a marginalized and oppressed minority to attack another, defending the right for gays to marry and adopt children, reiterating their respect for the Maya tribes and sharing anecdotes about the repression of gays in Guatemala under the hands of the police and the government.

The call to action by Amigos must have had an internal impact in certain Maya circles because, on July 31st, 2005, the Wajxaqbib’ No’ Indian Defense released an
Error Notice Related to the Press Release Sent Out on July 6th about the Gays:”

We assume institutional responsibility for the enormous error caused by an individual’s opinion, the limited articulation of ideas on the subject in the press release, and not our institution’s political or ideological stand.

We ask for forgiveness from all those persons and institutions that received this degrading expression which caused great damage, to people and institutions that assume their full right to sexual diversity, we let you know that the position of the Indian Defense is related to the defense and respect of the rights of every person as an individual or a collective.

Though this apology is apparently the official statement that the Defense is sending out to people who contact them on the issue, to date, Amigos have yet to receive the statement directly. Amigos remain open to talking to the Maya leadership on these issues the Defense admit having little knowledge of or much familiarity.

The Return

I survived the yello-cab taxi stampede on Monday. That's good because I had to go to Newark airport to welcome back my papito. Nice smile on his face. No?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"Details" magazine: Here we go again?

So it has hardly been a year since Details magazine got into trouble over their "Asian or gay?" photo feature, protests and all. Now word comes that they seem to be over the hump and willing to give it another try in their September 2005 issue (damn! I bought the magazine for it's homophobia cover story but still didn't crack it open in time to break the news!).

Then again, maybe not? If the magazine was wishing for additional sales due to controversy and perhaps one or two additional protests outside their office, early word seems to indicate that the parody actually works and that it might be embraced by the people they might sought to offend. Time will tell.

All I wanna know: Why did they get the J-Lo line so wrong? ANYONE knows that the song says "Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got..."

[Feature text: Gay or rapper? One comes straight outta Compton, the other just came out last year. Whether you're living the thug life or just rolling with the gang-bangers, busting a cap in somebody's ass doesn't need to be a bad thing. Mount up, regulators - we're about to give the term sucka MC new meaning.

DOG TAGS: "What's your name, sailor?"

WASHBOARD ABS: "Just think of them as speed bumps on your way to my dirty south."

FUR COAT: "Works as bedding on those cold nights with Fat Joe."

DARK DENIM JEANS: "Slung low to make access easier for the Lil' Jons."

SHOWPIECE TATTO: "When you're this hard, you don't mind a little prick."

DIAMOND CROSS: "When fans get down on their knees, they
will see the light."

CONSPICUOUS BOXERS: "Only Calvin Klein knows where I pack my nine."

BLING: "Don't be fooled by the rocks I got, deep down I'm still Jenny from the block."

LOOSELY TIED WORK BOOTS: "For those long days working in timber land."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Seen during lunch: The Flatiron Building (wha..?)

So here is the famed Flatiron building which opens up into 5th Avenue - at the right - and Broadway - at left. I am about to get flattened by an incoming flurry of yellow cabs but - hey - that's what I do for this blog.

Now, I assure you that I have lived in this town for close to 13 years now but it wasn't until last year that someone pointed out to me that the building was named because of its "flat iron" shape - and that I was, in fact, not pronouncing its name correctly.

So to all those tourists who stopped me to ask the name of the building and went home thinking they had seen the Flatrion (as in 'flah-tree-on') building, my apologies because what you actually saw was the Flatiron building (as in 'flat-iron'). I am truly sorry.

Seen during lunch: A big rat

Yes, Manhattan does have BIG rats, but perhaps not as big as this one (seen at 5th Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets). Manhattan residents, as always, act as if nothing strange is going on (something really big has to happen to phase us).

Saturday, August 20, 2005

My New York - Death at Penn Station

Death happens. No, there wasn't a terrorist attack at Penn Station last Thursday at 3pm. But some of the hurried masses must have at least stopped and wondered about (maybe helped) the young man lying on the floor. Unfortunately, according to a message I got on an e-mail list, the young man didn't make out of the famed train station alive:
Rod was a bodybuilder, model, tattoo enthusiast. He was a friend to some (a lot), and idol to most, and in general a spectacular human being. Rod passed away Thursday afternoon in NYC. According to his good friend Wayne, Rod had a major heart attack about 3pm...collapsing in Penn Station in NYC. Rod's heart had only been functioning at about 30% due to a previous illness. Here's to you Rod. We will miss your extraordinary presence. You were spectacular, and one of life's truly nice guys. We grieve the loss of you.
Now I didn't know Rod (whatever his real name was) or even knew he had been in some flicks. But if a porn star collapses and dies at Penn Station it must be some sort of news, no? You wonder who he was, what was his life like, where he came from, how many men (and women?) were his fans.

Not to belittle his passing but it does bring us to the final episode of Six Feet Under on HBO on Sunday night. Rod and Six Feet Under, RIP.

Da Bro's

So there is this thing called Fotki that became my passion for a while. Anyhow, Fotki has periodic contests and I've put photos up for running in the last three (yes, I know there's a thing called Flickr as well as another called Smugmug and they probably have contests too). Unfortunately I haven't cracked the top 100 yet. But, hey! I think my entries have been pretty groovy so here's the one (above) that just came in at #112 (l-r: my brothers Juan and Gabriel, our pet lion and I). As for the winner of the "My Family" contest as posted by enarcadie, here you go:

Friday, August 19, 2005


The Farach-Colton Family (l-r: Julia, Andrew, Martin and Lucas) Posted by Picasa

For those who were caught unguarded when Spain, a heavily Catholic country, allowed same-sex partners to marry starting this past July, you might want to look down “South America-way” and watch Argentina fall in love with five-year old twins Julia and Lucas Farach-Colton. Their two dads, Martín and Andrew - who became fathers thanks to a surrogate mother and were married in Canada recently - were in Argentina this month exploring the possibility of moving there with the whole family.

"Just as we were pushed out of here by authoritarian forces almost forty years ago, we are thinking of moving back because the United States is not what it used to be. The Republicans are encouraging discrimination and it is not in our interest to raise our kids in an anti-gay, ultra-religious and fascist space,” said Argentina-born Martin at a press conference, according to Clarin.

The press-conference, put together on Wednesday by the LGBT-rights organization Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (CHA), came after weeks of intense media attention on reports that an anonymous lesbian couple in the city of Cordoba were about to give birth to a child which was conceived by artificial insemination - and gave a face to the issue of gay parenting in a way that Argentina had not seen to date (this morning La Mañana de Cordoba reported that the couple from Cordoba had actually given birth to a healthy baby girl on Tuesday) .

The CHA has been lobbying hard to expand recognition of the landmark 2002 same-sex civil union law beyond Buenos Aires (which remains the only municipality in South America to have passed such a bill). CHA President César Cigliutti says that next month they will begin working with allies in the Argentinean senate on drafting the language to introduce a bill that would extend coverage to the rest of Argentina and make sure to include inheritance and joint-adoption rights not currently recognized by the Buenos Aires law [Mr. Ciglutti and his partner, Mr. Marcelo Suntheim, became the first couple in South America to register as same-sex partners in July 18th of 2003].

As for Julia and Lucas, who would not fall in love with them? The last we saw of them, Lucas was beaming at the assembled reporters at the press conference and telling them, in English, “Hey guys! I love You!” (click here or here and go to video link).

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Kanye West Comes Out... and why he should talk to Al Sharpton

Kanye West Posted by Picasa
Kanye West has come out... against gay bashing.

The AP has reported that in an MTV interview set to air tonight at 10:30pm (EST) the popular rapper admits having been a homophobe until one of his cousins came out, forcing him to change his attitude towards gays. Energizing the stagnant rap music word with his Grammy winning 2004 debut, "The College Dropout", Kanye is set to release a follow-up, "Late Registration", on August 30th. About gay-bashing, he says: "Not just hip-hop, but America just discriminates. And I wanna just, to come on TV and just tell my rappers, just tell my friends, `Yo, stop it.'"

Recently the constellation seems to be realigning itself in favor of a powerful major effort to combat homophobia in African-American communities. On Sunday, July 31st, 2005, some people went to church and were moved to tears - even those that felt long abandoned by the black churches in their communities; and - even though the event took place in New York's Riverside Church - word has traveled like wildfire through blogs and regular word-of-mouth.

Just a few days earlier, on July 27th to be more exact, I had been invited to a private meeting for the launch of an anti-homophobia project targeting African-American communities. Now, this is nothing new and there have been other African-American led efforts to do so. What made this note-worthy was that the person launching the initiative was the Reverend Al Sharpton.

At the gathering, he gave a stirring speech about his mentor, Bayard Rustin, and how it dawned on him that Bayard was gay. He spoke of how much pressure and pain African-American leaders had caused Mr. Rustin in not accepting him and about their outright despise at the fact he was gay.

He said that it was time for an effort to counter homophobia in African-American communities and, in particular, to tell black that 'being macho does not mean beating up or attacking people just because of a different sexual orientation.' Finally, he closed by saying that years had passed since he had first met Mr. Rustin and said that the initiative was perhaps '30 years too late' but that he was now ready to do this now.

Then he turned the mike over to Marjorie Harris of the Fields Harris Group, which he introduced as the communications and marketing agency which would lead the effort - and the message changed somewhat. Ms. Harris mostly spoke of the HIV transmission risk posed to black women by men on the 'down low' - men who slept with men but did not identify as gay - an increasingly disreputed "phenomenon". Ms. Harris said that what was unique about the project was that it would bring both the concern of African American women with efforts to combat homophobia in black communities under the same roof.

Now, though this was the first year that the Reverend marched in a gay pride march (see PHOTOS), it is certainly not the first time that the Reverend has sided with LGBT communities - most memorably during the his 2004 presidential campaign run. Even back in 1994 he was joining ACT UP in New York to demand that former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani make HIV/AIDS a top priority. So, despite some troubling press about the Fields Harris Group and the Reverend, he does have the right heart on the issue and - like him or not - his voice does carry in African American communities.

Now, if the Fields Harris Group could reach out to Kanye and figure out to engage him as a national spokesperson, making it easier for others to join, we would certainly be heading in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In the news - Asylum

The San Francisco-based Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a previous immigration court decision to deport José Boer-Sedano, a Mexican gay man with HIV, and granted him political asylum in the United States. English and Spanish language media are picking up on the story as if this was the first time that such a thing has happened, including which calls it a '1 in a 1,000' chance ruling, showing you how little is known about the asylum process.

I have personally acted as translator in several asylum court hearings (at least in New York State anyone seeking asylum can bring their own translators, sometimes risky because the translator might not be that great) and I know of several Mexican gay men with HIV or AIDS who have been granted asylum previously. But while I might know this from personal experience it would be hard to say if this is a common thing: The Office of Homeland Security (which aabsorbed the Immigration and Naturalization Service/INS) does not keep records on why it grants asylum - whether it's persecution based on sexual orientation, political beliefs or other reasons - just the numbers.

The asylum process is at once mundane and bureaucratic as well as nerve-wracking and life-changing and has never been better portrayed as in the documentary "Well-Founded Fear". It is also no secret that under this government it has gotten progressively tougher (notice that in the case above the court overturned a decision by United States immigration courts).

The fact that Mexico is a "friend" to the United States also makes it hard to argue that such bad things could possibly happen in a friendly country (as a matter of fact for a while it was rumored that asylum decisions regarding gay men from Mexico were denied due to a glowing article that a United States-based gay tourism journalist wrote about Mexican beach resorts and how open gay life seemed there).

The courts do not seem to differentiate weather gays are treated better in urban areas than in a rural area in a specific country (and believe me, there is a big difference). I also remember one asylum court interviewer telling an asylum seeker that he would be fine if he just 'butched it up' a little more and another outright challenging another asylum seeker's homosexuality because he was masculine.

I have always found it capricious that if someone is granted political asylum in the United States after proving that he or she is in danger of dying in his or her home country based on persecution due to sexual orientation, other immigrants also need to prove the same thing about the same country (if one proves it, why should others prove the same thing?).

But I have also seen political asylum seekers be granted asylum based on a weak case while others with strong cases are denied - even if they have photographic evidence of beatings and torture - just because one ultimately argued that he feared being killed if he was ordered to return to his country while the one that actually had proof of personal persecution said he wanted to stay in the United States to make a better life for his family.

[UPDATE: Leave it to Arthur S. Leonard to tell it like it is and show me that I am incorrect in at least one respect: The rulings are not final until United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees with the courts]

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My New York - And a Detour

69th Street R Train Station - Queens Posted by Picasa

On a related subject... maybe we should also talk about sex.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Colombia: An opportunity to make something good out of a stunning revelation

Presidential candidate and former Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus Posted by Picasa

As someone who was born in Medellin, Colombia, I am constantly amazed by how far the LGBT movement in my country of birth has come and by how LGBT rights have taken center stage on a national level. The leading national newspaper, El Tiempo, is the only Latin American newspaper who has unequivocally editorialized in favor of marriage for same-sex couples ("El Derecho a Ser 'Gay'", November 21, 2001) and, under the leadership of former Senator Piedad Cordoba, a same-sex civil union bill even got to the Colombian Senate floor last year (though promptly dismissed on a technicality).

So it should not come as a surprise that in a joint interview published on Saturday, El Tiempo asked two of the leading presidential candidates - Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa - "What would you offer to the so-called sexual minorities?"
Both men, who happen to also be well-regarded former Mayors of Bogota, say that they support gays.

Mr. Peñalosa is direct in his response: "In this issue, as on others, I am truly liberal."

It is Mr. Mockus who responds by making a stunning confession: "More than to offer something, I express my complete tolerance towards adult homosexuality. As a kid, I was harassed by a 15-year old gay man and by another who was forty [years of age]. Abusive homosexuality should be rejected with all our spirit. Sexuality is the most delicate of human languages, for homosexuals or heterosexuals."

The person who forwarded the article to me was offended that Mr. Mockus would make comparissons between homosexuality and pedophilia but I actually think there are nuances here that do not make this a blanket accusation that all gays are pedophiles - as religious fundamentalists argue from time to time.

A extremely candid man with streaks of brilliance in dealing with urban development, this is not the first time that he has done or said something that might shock people (this is the man, after all, who - as Director of the National University of Bogota - dropped his pants in a public auditorium and showed his butt to a a crowd of 2,000 students as an expression of his frustration in dealing with them. The result? He was promptly fired when a student sent a video tape to all the major television news networks and then became a political neophyte who was elected to the Mayoral office).

The last couple of times that I have gone to Colombia I have been shocked by the number of young kids - male and female - that you see in certain areas of Bogota and Medellin at night prostituting themselves. In Colombia, the age of consent is 14, and - overall - awareness about sexual or physical abuse of minors or enforcement of laws protecting children are lax. Physical abuse of children is also common. Sometimes the results are tragic as when Luis Alfredo Garavito - a heterosexual man - was arrested in 1999 and confessed to having killed and dismembered over 140 (mostly) street children between the ages of eight and sixteen over a period of five years.

With so many homeless children in the street and some of the violent culture that has led to the rise of teen sicarios, sometimes society becomes so jaded that only when these extremely horrid crimes rise to the awareness of the general population do they elicit a reponse. Considering the high rates of sexual and physical abuse endured by children in Colombia, the general silence about it is astounding (and protects people like Luis Alfredo Garavito who left some clues behind as he sought kids to kill throughout 5 different states).

Which is why I am grateful to Mr. Mockus for speaking up about the issue in such a personal way. It's just that someone should talk to Mr. Mockus and help him to better define the differences between one thing an the other. If Mr. Mockus is willing to listen and have an open heart, it could turn into a tremendous opportunity of having such a visible figure raise awareness about the abuse of children in Colombia. Though many gay men cringe at the word 'tolerance' which Mr. Mockus used in his response, that last line in his statement speaks of respecting everyone's sexuality, whether gay or heterosexual - which makes me think that he would willingly listen to why he should not make such connections.

House of Xavier

A friend of mine, Emanuel Xavier Posted by Picasa, sent this message out this weekend. I'm happy to pass it along:
Out of all the things I have been fortunate enough to accomplish, the one that I am most proud of is creating the House of Xavier's annual Glam Slam. Back in 1998, the whole concept of a poetry ball and a House defined by spoken word was so new and fragile.Some of the earliest members weren’t even interested in poetry and were simply looking for a more traditional House to make names for themselves which, to their credit, they went on to do with great effect. At the time, fresh off the heels of Pier Queen and about to publish my first novel, Christlike, I barely had enough time to make my presence known at the balls and things looked very bleak.But I just kept doing my thing because the ultimate goal was to make a significant contribution through spoken word while, at the same time, paying tribute to the ballroom scene which had inspired me. Fortunately, I had Mother Diva Xavier on my side- one of the most incredible people I am blessed to call a friend.She believed in this and stood by my side even when everyone else doubted and questioned my motives. Without Mother Diva Xavier and everyone who supports these events, not to mention the amazing talent that comes out every year to spit on the mic, the annual Glam Slam would simply be history. Please check out the new website at and, if you happen to be in "Nueva York" next year during Gay Pride, come check it out for yourself.

Venezuela Update - 7,000 stop receiving HIV treatments

I posted about Venezuela's new $1M dollar HIV prevention initiative and questioned why it was only targetting women and youth when most of the people affected by HIV/AIDS in the country were gay men (and it seemed as if they were totally left out of the media prevention initiative).

I also said that I was checking with some of the local LGBT activists (I would have liked to have been proved wrong, particularly because the article I quoted also mentioned that Venezuela had a unique free access HIV treatment program).

But word now comes that the much championed free HIV treatment access program just dropped 7,000 people from its rolls. According to Santiago Farias, an article published on El Carabobeño on Thursday, August 11th (via Agence France-Presse) claims that - despite the new prevention initiative and the lauded treatment program - Venezuela is struggling to keep HIV positive individuals on its treatment rolls and the non-profit HIV awareness organization Acción Ciudadana Contra el SIDA (ACCI) [Citizen Action Against AIDS] is declaring that the Venezuelan government stopped providing HIV meds to the 7,000 people three weeks ago.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Rocking My World

1. Running - Jon Cutler featuring Pete Simpson
2. Bar A Thym - Kerry Chandler
3. Amortiguador - Andrea Echeverri
4. Sow Into You - Ex-MOLOKO singer Rosin Murphy (and producer Herbert)
5. Bring U Up! - Romanthony

Spanish Language Media No Longer Immune

History was made. Yesterday, a San Francisco man was awarded $270,000 from Univision Radio (the largest Spanish-language radio broadcaster in the Unites States) in an arbitration court desison. Univision was found liable for "outing" the man during an on-air phone prank on a morning show. Roberto Hernandez, the victim, argued that the forced "outing" had a "devastating" effect on his personal and professional life.

I am aware that a few years ago the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined a Puerto Rican radio station for broadcasting obscene language but this is the first time that I am aware that a court or regulation enforcement agency has forced a Spanish-language media coropration based in the United States to pay for these kind of stunts.

And the fact is that we are not talking the usual radio shock-jock banter that people hear on, say, Howard Stern, or elsewhere. A local radio show here in New York, "El Vacilón de la Mañana" (97.9 La Mega FM) which is syndicated nationaly, practically invented the format (jokes, prank phone calls and parody songs all morning long with brief news and wheather alerts) and caught a lot of people unguarded when they actually beat Howard Stern's ratings consistently and became, from time to time, the most-listened radio station in the New York metropolitan area, regardless of language. Now the "La Mega" format is being exported to other cities around the United States and even rival Spanish-language stations in each market are imitating them.

So what is so offensive? A couple of examples:

In a song skit called "Cuando Me Violaste" ("When You Raped Me") set to a bachata rhythm, a guy sings about being raped by another man the previous night. He sings about how huge a hole the guy left afterwards and how much it hurt (while siging longingly and lisping a few words here and there).

In a "Vacilón" prank phone call a man is told that his wife has tested positive for HIV and that he needs to rush to the hospital for testing before he dies. The man, who does not understand what HIV means asks for clarification to which the pranker says "SIDA, amigo su mujer tiene SIDA!" ["AIDS, my friend, your wife has AIDS!]. At that moment the man starts losing his composure, gets agitated, and the radio jokey actually tells him that this is why it's so important to rush to the hospital: Because - if he also has it - he could die in a couple of hours. They also tell him that his wife has admitted sleeping around with other men. The guy on the phone sounds as if he's on the verge of tears but towards the end he seems to realize this is too much and asks if it's a prank. When he is told that it is, he lets out a sigh of relief and laughs along. Never mind the misinformation spread through these skits (HIV is not the same as AIDS, someone diagnosed with HIV or AIDS can live a long life, etc.).

You actually do not need to rely on my descriptions: These and other skits are included in one of the four popular CD compilations that "El Vacilón" has released commercially (where this type of material is defensible as a Free Speech issue). But so far, no fines from the FCC for the live broadcast of the same skits (which are not defensible if broadcast on live radio or television under FCC regulations).

They get away with it because nobody at the FCC seems to speak or undesrtand Spanish or care much about the most-listened radio show in the New York City metropolitan area. They get away with it because they began to run some HIV prevention messages during the commercial breaks as a shield. They get away with it because agencies like mine see the huge listenership as a means to reach as wide a Spanish-speaking population with an HIV prevention message and go to the show to 'inform' the community (but then get ridiculed the moment they leave the studio as when the HIV disclosure skit mentioned above was re-broadcast the moment members of my agency had left). They get away with it because so many people in the community don't see anything wrong with the skits.

At the very least, after that last experience, the top brass at my agency said that they had learned their lesson and will not be back on the show. But it certainly has undermined the on-going efforts to keep them from spewing so much mierda.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Venezuela: $1M for HIV Awareness (but what about the gays?)

Caracas Pride - July 3, 2005 (courtesy of Santiago Farias) Posted by Picasa

So today I find an article ("An Ounce of Prevention, Aimed at Women and Youth" - IPS, August 12, 2005) that says that the Venezuelan government has decided to launch an initiative to raise HIV/AIDS awareness in two specific communities: Women and youth.

Most of the almost $1M dollar budget will go to broadcast 6 television ads with the theme "AIDS can reach you" and to provide free distribution of condoms on a national basis. This is all great and dandy but I wonder if there are similarly budgeted campaigns already targeting the largest community affected by HIV/AIDS in Venezuela: Gay men [I have asked several LGBT activists in venezuela and will post a response if it comes].

Or could it be that producing gay-themed HIV prevention campaigns for television goes against the 'Radio and Television Social Responsibility Law' which President Hugo Chavez signed establishing penalties for broadcasts containing depictions and sounds of violent or offensive sexual practices, among other no-no's? The Law itself does not mention homosexuality explicitly but, in a television interview transcribed in, he addresses issues raised by the legislation by stating: "How is someone like you going to transmit sex scenes during youth programming hours. Or scenes of violence. Movies that champion drug use, homosexuality, those things that are very human, but which are characteristic of the lowest [type of] humanity?"

Last Night - Union Square

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Dancing in the Park

So today Gay City News published a couple of the photos I took at the Gay and Lesbian Dominican Empowerment Organization (GALDE)'s annual picnic back on July 31st, 2005. The weather was as glorious as it had been in previous years (sunny, mid-80's) and the turn-out seemed, at least to me, higher as well. Unfortunately I was only able to get there as things were winding down and missed most all the (usually) outstanding performances.

For all the June gay pride hoopla in New York this continues to be my favorite annual event. The backdrop of the George Washington Bridge is certainly magnificent but it's the reggaeton, bachata and salsa blasting from the speakers that truly gives it that special kick. It helps that, even after 15th years, most people in New York don't know about it. The result? An event that draws from 500 to 1,000 people that still manages to feel like a family picnic. My hats off to GALDE and all their volunteers for another great weekend.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Blogs Are Over

So this is when I finally join the blogger revolution, a pretty good signal that the Blog craze is coming to an end. Considering my ambivalence with the English language (English not being my first language although I've been in the United States for 25 years) the hope is that I can use this to improve my editorial and analytical skills without making a fool of myself. Groovy thing is that I also get to 'inaugurate' my baldness as well. A surprise to some who I haven't seen in a while.

So let's see where this takes me and if somehow - against any common sense - I can make something thought-provoking and fun out of this. Even if I am the only one who ends up reading the damn thing.

Hey! At least I got the "ad-a-pic-thingie" down pat!

An omen of good things to come I hope...