Sunday, July 30, 2006
In "LifeWay Spanish resources promote unity, strengthens Hispanic church in Brooklyn" we are introduced to Dominican-born evangelical pastor Felipe Arias from the Evangelical Mission Church of Brooklyn who says that he mostly models his religious teachings on materials he receives from the United States-based LifeWay Christian Resources.
According to the article, this makes Ralph Tone very happy: LifeWay's international department had already begun to translate its documents into 80 other languages and with an increase in the numbers of "internationals" in the United States, particularly Latinos reaching out to Baptist ministries, LifeWay saw an opportunity to convert immigrants. And, as a regional consultant for the international department, Tone saw an opportunity to connect Arias and other Latino preachers with the LifeWay way of being.
“So many of the Latino pastors have the calling from God but not many of them have much formal training,” Tone says. “We can help them become better pastors and leaders and help their churches become more committed believers. Through our ministry we have the opportunity to help develop healthy local churches.”
I have always believed that the issue of homophobia in Latino communities is more an issue of education and awareness as to who we are as Latino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and the need to challenge some ingrained stereotypes in order to overcome a fear of 'the other.' But you need resources and tools to do so and they're sorely lacking in our communities.
If you look at LifeWay's "tools" you will have no trouble finding out that they also have a "Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals" in which they preach ways to "Find Freedom from Homosexuality" and actively deride LGBT advocates as militant activists intent on a "calculated, planned 'homosexualization' of America'" (on HIV they compare HIV positive individuals to lepers). In these articles they still call homosexuality a "deviant perversion" and link up to a number of so-called "conversion theory" evangelical groups that claim that they can change a gay person's sexual identity.
The article in The Florida Baptist News indicates that most of the congregants at the masses in Brooklyn only speak Spanish. For decades churches in this country have reached out to Latino immigrants and provided much-needed services as well as a sense of belonging instead of rejection. For immigrant families that often struggle to find footing in this country, the strict teachings of some evangelical churches provide a sense of clarity and purpose from which they draw strength.
Unfortunately, ministries such as LifeWay also use their desire to find clarity as a means to spread a vile homophobic message and some of the preachers in our communities are more than willing to play along.
It's ironic that some accuse the Latino community in the United States of being more homophobic than others when it's large right-wing religious institutions such as LifeWay setting the agenda. On the other hand, as happy as he seems to regurgitate LifeWay's creed to his immigrant parishoners, how would Reverend Felipe Arias defend LifeWay's not so immigrant-friendly positions on the current immigration discourse?
Hypochrisy abounds and homophobia spreads.
Over on his blog, Emanuel Xavier has posted a couple of updates on Willi Ninja's health status here and here following reports that he was in the hospital and might not make it through the weekend.
And, while the situation does not seem as dire as some reported, it is not necessarily all good news either.
According to Emanuel, Willi has been in the hospital for more than three weeks and might not be able to walk after he leaves the hospital. He is also poor of sight but concerned that his death might have been foretold a bit too soon. He has asked, through Emanuel and others, to request that bloggers spread out the news that he is not on his deathbed and will make it out of the hospital soon (Emanuel also says that he was among those who went to see Willi at the hospital and that, while Willi's still very much a diva, he has been grateful for the notes of support and visits he has received).
Aimee, who posted an older message on Willi Ninja's blog saying that he was in the hospital with some back ailments, also posted a new message asking for people to stop sending alerts that Willi might be dying this weekend and, like Emanuel, she says he is in good spirits.
That's Willi in the photo with "The Devil Wears Prada" fashion maven Patricia Field at a party to celebrate her 40 years in the fashion industry (photographed by Andrew Der back in April).
Seems as if Willi will live another day! Yay!
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Sometimes it's hard to gauge the extent of progress of LGBT rights in Cuba from the outside, particularly because any discussion that involve Cuban matters in the United States easily become polarized. On the left I've heard some praise Cuba's HIV treatment services, highlight a new openness on LGBT issues after years of persecution (which are sometimes too easily dismissed by the left) and claim that Cuba would be perfect if only for the US embargo. On the right I've heard of gays still being arrested, raids at gay bars, ongoing limits to personal freedoms including expression of one's sexual identity, etc.
Signs of change for the better:
On July 3rd Reuters ran this article on Mariela Castro (pictured), the Director of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, who talks about doing work behind the scenes to make sure that "The Other Side of the Moon" aired on Cuban television. Castro, Fidel's niece, also talks about a new bill that might become law in December that "would give transsexuals free sex change operations and hormonal therapy in addition to granting them new identification documents with their changed gender."
And now this:
Today, Juventud Rebelde, a Havana-based web-portal that disseminates the Communist word to Cuba's youth and their allies, reports that anal sex is "habitual behavior [between gay men] but not exclusive to them, just like kissing, hugging, or touching the rest of their bodies."
The article says that men have an anal g-spot (or "p-spot, as it's known to be related to the prostate," they say) and sings the merit of massaging those particular erogenous zones, advising women to give it a try with their boyfriends.
Try Babelfish if you want to translate the piece for additional valuable information.
BLABBEANDO, NOW WITH INSTA-UPDATE (Ugh! more translation work):
Not seconds after I published the above we find this:
Writing about the opening day of the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights which began yesterday in Montreal (parallel to the 1st Ever World OUTGames), Alejandro Brito reports for Mexico's La Jornada newspaper that the Cuban Communist Party has allegedly officially recognized that it made an error in persecuting the LGBT community back in the 1960's and denounced decisions that kept gays from reaching important leadership positions in Cuba's Communist Party as well as in the Cuban government.
Those statements were made in Montreal by the leader of the Cuban delegation to the conference, Mariela Castro (mentioned earlier), at one of the meetings, though she also said that it was never meant to be a public statement, "just an internal matter."
Brito reports that Castro said that "there is no repression against gays in Cuba, what exists is a socio-cultural reaction similar to that of other countries."
NOTE: Activist (and blogger) Michael Petrelis also writes about Mariela Castro and recent developments in Cuba regarding LGBT rights here.
He also told reporters that he'd be attending the closing night ceremony at the Gay Games in Chicago to show he truly, madly, deeply loves the gays. Now that the games are over let's check up on that!
Nope! No reports of Guillen sightings anywhere at the closing night ceremonies. If anyone knows differently, we'll appreciate the tip.
They're looking a little bit like the old Technorati (but gayer, of course) though even Technorati got a revamp last week. I think I like the Technorati revamp but prefer the older less busy one.
Recently revamped as well was that other blog search tool, Talk Digger. I also preferred the old version but who am I to say.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The direct link on Andrew's site is to a folder of photos in one of the Wockner folders taken by Nikolai Alekseev of GayRussia.ru at an anti-gay pride rally in Latvia last week (pictured: A religious woman with holy water and an icon flings herself upon a car carrying gay activists).
Bt the way, Rex Wockner's report on the Latvia gay pride disaster can be read here.
Emmanuel Xavier reminices:
"Willi recently stepped forward as yet another one of our most legendary ballroom figures living with HIV, lovingly referred to as "The Grandfather of Vogue." I've known Willi since I was barely legal and surviving at the West Side Highway piers as a hustler. They were just filming the documentary "Paris Is Burning" which would introduce the world to voguing and launch his career as a talented performer. Besides being amazing to watch on the dance floor, Willi Ninja remains one of the most beautiful and gifted souls of our community. He has reached so many people with his love and laughter. Willi was one of the very first people to support my dreams and ambitions as a writer and with the founding of the House of Xavier. Of course, I am simply one of many lives he has touched."
He also send out an excerpt from his poem "Legendary"
so black, so fierce,
so brown, so beautiful,
their time on earth may be as oppressive as ignorance
limited to the demons flowing in their blood
but after safely passing over back to the clouds
the wind will still carry their auras and prophecies
their bones will still beat drums for their children to dance'
the phoenix will still rise from the flames of
Over on Willi Ninja's MySpace.com page, someone called Aimee posted a message on the 24th that simply says: "[Willi] asked me to let his friends and fans know that he is sorry for not getting back to anyone that has emailed him but he hurt his back and is resting. He will answer you as soon as he feels better. Thank you again for your love and support. Have a wonderful day & God Bless."
Let's hope he does get better.
- UPDATE: Willi Ninja, rest in peace (Blabbeando, September 2, 2006)
I have yet to hear how it turned out but last night a group of people were supposed to hold a protest outside the House of Blues in Chicago where rap-performer and actor DMX was performing (as Keith Boykin reports in his blog). They were objecting to lyrics in songs such as "Where the Hood at?" and "Touch It" (sang with Busta Rhymes) which call in no uncertain terms for the shooting of gays [UPDATE: Here's Keith's report on what went on in Chicago yesterday]
The action follows ongoing efforts to highlight homophobic content in lyrics by popular music artists, most recently taking the shape of a successful effort by a number of bloggers to challenge the LIFEbeat foundation for hiring dancehall reggae singers Beenie Man and TOK to perform at a HIV/AIDS services benefit (btw - novalism has some choice words about media representation of the action here)
Now, if you remember, that particular event was supposed to take place at Webster Hall in NYC (LIFEbeat cancelled the show despite calls to replace the performers with dancehall stars without a history of calling for the death of gays). Now comes word that a band that also has called for the death of gays in their lyrics will be performing there next week on August 1st and this time it's not a dancehall act or a rap act but a Mexican rock band called Molotov.
In "Puto" (closest translation: fag or man-whore) from Molotov's 1997 album "Donde Jugarán Las Niñas," the band sings in Spanish:
So you are macho man, no? Ah, so macho, no?
Faggot, girly, you're rather a little male-whore, no?
Background chorus: Fag, Fag, Fag, Fag, Fag. Fag, Fag, Fag
FAG!! He who doesn't jump up and down
FAG!! He who doesn't shout and swear
FAG!! The guy who remained in conformity
FAG!! He who believed the official reports
FAG!! He who takes away our food
FAG!! Also he who covers it up
FAG!! He who doesn't do whatever he wants
FAG!! Born a fag, dies a fag
Love the killer
Kill the faggot
And what does that son of a bitch want?
He wants to cry, he wants to cry
According to Wiki-Pedia (which is not always trustworthy), the original album first came under-fire upon its release in Mexico for its cover which depicts "a young woman's legs seductively displayed in school uniform" (I might ad that the young girl is depicted in the front seat of a car with her underwear lowered around her legs). "Puto" did not actually come under fire until the band traveled to Europe where it met resistance from protesters in Germany (according to the Wiki-Pedia link) and Spain (according to the band's MySpace.com page).
In the past, Molotov have denied that the song is in any way, shape or form homophobic. In an article published in Uruguay's Ultima Hora on February 19, 2004 (which is no longer online), they were asked about the lyrics during a press conference. Band member Randy Ebright, who was actually born in the United States, was the one who came to its defense telling reporters that the song was meant to attack Mexican government officials and not the gay community. According to Ebright in Mexico the word "puto" meant "queer, someone who is fearful, who doesn't want to confront certain things."
"They cannot censure our presentations; the ones who censor us are radio stations and television. That is why we like to invite people to come to our presentations so that they get to know the group, the type of music we put out there, what topics we address and how we are in reality" (the argument that it's simply a protest song against the government has striking similarities to dancehall star Beenie Man's defense of his homophobic lyrics which, at one point, he said were not directed at gays but at Jamaica's Prime Minister).
The British monthly magazine The Economist certainly didn't make those distinctions when they published a piece on LGBT rights developments in Latin America back in December of 1999 that begun with an anecdote that involved the song playing at bars in Mexico City.
And then there are Molotov's fans which seem to skew towards the younger side and mostly male segment of the Latino community. I'm not sure they make those distinctions either judging by this, this, this, this, or the audience requesting that the band perform it here.
Back in 2004, some of us complained to the organizers of Central Park's Summer Stage after another Mexican band, El Tri, covered "Puto" at their presentation that year. After raising the issue, Summer Stage promised that they would be more careful about scheduling bands that promoted hateful violence.
If you actually read the lyrics above you can actually see how they do reflect a blistering attack on those who might be passive to conformity and official corruption. But, as a Mexican friend of mine told me, why is it that when bands seek the worst thing to call anyone they immediately grab for the homophobic language? Daniel, my friend, says that in Mexico it's directly related to macho culture and the fact that bending over is seen as the worst thing a real man can do (not that it doesn't happen in the United States as the DMX protest shows). But, whether we actually take Molotov's defense of the song at face value and recognize it as a critique on government, it doesn't mean that the crowds who have embraced the song haven't done so because it allows them to embrace the calls to kill a faggot.
Believe me, I have been at concerts where the song has been played over the speakers before the actual show, and the crowd reaction is immediate, aggressive, loud, violent and extremely homophobic.
Molotov will begin their 2006 US tour at Webster Hall on August 1st, 2006, and end at Austin Stubb's in Austin, TX on August 19. In between, they'll be touching base at Chicago (at the House of Blues), Denver, Los Angeles and Dallas, among other cities.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Why, oh, why couldn't it have been hottie (and fellow former N'Sync'er) Joey Fatone instead? Sexyback, indeed.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
As you'll read in this In Newsweekly article, 33-year old Gorriaran is running for a vacated State Senate seat and is promising, as a Democrat, to bring social and economic justice to all Rhode Islanders. Gorriaran is a former Rhode Island Pride Committe co-chair and is of Cuban heritage. Not that being Latino and gay makes anyone a better candidate but, in this case, he IS the best candidate in the race (and, yes, it is great to see gay Latinos become more involved in politics).
To check out his campaign go to www.alexisgorriaran.com and to make a donation go here.
If you are in New York and interested in the cocktail reception, please write to me at email@example.com to request additional details. Host committee members include NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, NYS Senator Tom Duane, Councilmember Rosie Mendez, political consultant Tonio Burgos, Daryl J. Cochrane, James Van Bramer, yours truly and a few other local political movers and shakers.
In the meantime, in Dallas, TX, Rogelio "Roger" Herrera has also announced that he'll be running for another vacated seat: He'll be running to become the Mayor of Dallas. Herrera, a Mexican-American gay man, is also running as a Democrat and is running on a progressive line of issues as well, though I have yet to find additional information on his campaign.
Talking about '80's romantic pop, there seems to be a resurgence of sorts of the New Romantic and New Wave pop music periods with the recent tour by Thomas Dolby, the Human League touring Europe at the moment and the original line-up of Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD) planning a 2007 tour (to think that I saw them back in 1984 when they were promoting their amazing Junk Culture - YouTube redux, I guess). And then, you also have the stupendous new Pet Shop Boys release, Fundamental. Now, get the Thompson Twins (YouTube thrice) back in the recording studio and I will be oh-so-happy.
What is a bit surprising about the new Scritti Politti release is just how much attention it has been getting. The New York Times profiles Green Gartside in the front page of their arts section today and calls the new album "his best work in 20 years, remarkably beautiful... subtle and exacting."
Amazingly, it's also been picked up on the short-list for the UK's Mercury Prize (along with other great acts such as Hot Chip and Thom Yorke).
Not sure I'm ready to call it the album of the year (Zero 7's The Garden is my fave right now and then there's Beat Pharmacy's dubby bubbly masterpiece Constant Pressure which includes this track) but a fine record indeed.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
A few days removed from the LIFEbeat debacle, it's interesting to note how a magazine devoted to reggae culture does not shy away from the issue of homophobia in reggae dancehall music.
Yup, that's Elephant Man on the cover. Some of us staged a protest against him and others for their homophobic lyrics when they performed at the Hammerstein Ballroom in September of 2004 at a concert promoted by local radio station Hot97 in New York.
In a featured interview, Elephant Man talks about his love for strip-bars, his many girlfriends and his 'anaconda' ("which I'm informed by a reliable source is eye-watering large" writes the British reporter), his glorification of guns and gangster culture and, oh yeah, his love for God.
He also addresses recent ellegations that he has AIDS by giving a direct if somewhat myopic response, considering his repeated boasts about the number of sexual partners he has: "That is the most terrible rumor there could ever be about you. When people spread those kind of t'ings, they trying to hurt you very bad but I got over it. Whoever started it know it's not true. They see me every day at stage show, dancing, performing, drinking liquor with my friends and doing all dem good t'ings. How could I have AIDS?"
Hm, at least he wasn't on the original LIFEbeat line-up.
Of the 2004 protests against "murder music" he is less forthcoming and, while there are no appologies, he does seem to indicate some sort of truce brought upon by the demands of being on a major music label: "I know why all that happen, but now we put it aside. We don't talk about them. We just do music, we happy, they happy. Nobody wanna go back to being a problem to nobody. Everyone's just taking it easy and being cool. If you'e on a major label, you can't think of saying those kind of things."
Turn over to page 44 though and you'll see another side of the issue. Tanya Stephens, a Jamaican reggae singer and songwriter who has been in the industry for more than two decades, is also profiled in advance of the August 29th release of her new CD Rebelution, which the magazine crowns as the release of the month. In the review Riddim says "It seems unlikely that any other [reggae] album will be able to top Tanya's this year" ("These Streets," a track from Rebelution included on the free covermount CD is simply beautiful, hear it and more on Tanya Stephen's myspace page).
In an amazing interview in which she talks candidly about the state of dancehall reggae, her refusal to play into industry pressures to be more "sexy," her repudiation of the "lynch-mob mentality" that permeates some dancehall culture, and her new found responsibility to serve as a mentor to a number of upcoming female performers, she also talks about breaking sexual taboos through her songs and the issue of homophobia in dancehall lyrics.
Take "Freaky Type:" In the song, Stephens questions some men's hatred of "bow-cats" (other men who perform oral sex on women) and confesses that she rather enjoys "being bowed" but also says that what two people do between the sheets is nobody's business. She tells Riddim "People in Jamaica need to understand the concept of free will. As long as you're not affecting or hurting anybody in a negative way, what right have people to intervene in a way like that?"
In the new album, the magazine contends that the track that will probably draw the most controversy will be "Do You Still Care?" In it she starts by asking listeners to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is different than them, someone who needs help. She then flips the situation and asks people to think if, in a time of need, they would accept help from someone who was different from them. She ends by explicitly drawing comparissions between racism and discrimination based on sexual identity.
"By tying the race issue to the homophobic issue I'm making the point whether someone is different by birth or choice they should be accepted for what they are. We need to learn to leave with each other and share the space that's not intrinsically yours, but ours. All discrimination is as stupod as the next; one shouldn't be more acceptable than the other. I felt it my duty to make that point."
Memo to LIFEbeat: How about a Caribbean benefit concert featuring Tanya Stephens?
By the way, talking about the LIFEbeat incident, Terence Heath has some interesting comments on possible next steps and on how the issue reverberated through the blogosphere (just thought I'd share).
And, talking about homophobia in the Caribbean, after initially runing an excerpt, Out magazine has decided to give complete online access to a feature story in this month's issue on the recent attack in St. Marteen that left two gay US tourists with massive head wounds. Although the attack still seems the result of a homophobic reaction, the article dares to question whether there was some provocation and indicates that one of the gay Americans who knew the victims and was there at the moment of the attack called one of the assailants a "crazy nigger" while the attack was taking place. The article still condems the vicious attack but, not surprisingly, most readers who have left comments at Out online are up in arms about some unflattering details about the American tourists' aggressive behavior.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Also today, Gay City News' Paul Schindler has an "Editor's Memorandum" on the fissures that have appeared among activists, rights-groups and journalists.
Gay.com has a piece on the gathering at the LGBT Center which pundit Andrew Sullivan derides here.
Joe.My.God. has photos of the uptown demos (and commentary as well).
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Yet, on the eve of the demonstrations, a public fight has broken out between one-man UK activist Peter Tatchell (who called for the demos) and United States-based human rights advocacy organizations IGLHRC and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
First came an "open letter" from OutRage!'s Peter Tatchell addressed to Scott Long of Human Rights Watch and Paula Ettlebrick of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
14 July 2006Scott Long of HRW responds:
Dear Scott and Paula,
While I have great respect for your human rights work and that of your respective organisations, I am totally baffled by the decision of HRW and IGLHRC to not support the 19 July protests against the Iranian regime's persecution of LGBT people.
The 19 July protests were initiated by OutRage! and IDAHO (the International Day Against Homophobia), with the support of the main Iranian LGBT group, the Persian Gay & Lesbian Organisation (PGLO).
You say you support the PGLO. But you appear to not trust their judgement that the 19 July protests deserve support.
The agreed common, universal demand of all the 19 July protests worldwide is:
Iran: Stop Killing Gays! Stop Killing Kids!
OutRage! has proposed an additional five demands for the 19 July protests, which local protests are free to adopt or not. These five demands have been endorsed by PGLO. They are:
1. End all executions in Iran, especially the execution of minors.
2. Stop the arrest, torture and imprisonment of Iranian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and repeal the Iranian penal code's criminalisation of same-sex relationships.
3. Halt the deportation to Iran of LGBT asylum seekers and other victims of Tehran's persecution.
4. Support Iranians struggling for democracy, social justice and human rights.
5. Oppose foreign military intervention in Iran; regime change must come from within - by and for the Iranian people themselves.
You were both advised of these demands in a news release issued by OutRage! on 26 June.
I fail to see why HRW, IGLHRC and others cannot support these clear, simple demands. They are totally consistent with your human rights commitments.
Perhaps you can explain?
Which of these demands do you disagree with?
Based on their sources inside Iran, PGLO and Afdhere Jama of the queer Muslim magazine Huriyah have concluded that Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were gay lovers and were hanged because they were gay. On this evidence, and on the balance of probabilities, I share their conclusion.
I am not prepared to give the benefit of doubt to the murderous regime in Tehran and to its stooge newspapers like Quds - which have a proven record of lying and trumped up charges against people who are executed.
Nevertheless, when I drafted the main demand of the 19 July protests and the additional five demands, I deliberately omitted reference to Mahmoud and Ayaz to allow the creation of the broadest possible coalition to support the 19 July protests. I wanted the involvement and support of those who had doubts or uncertainties about the Mahmoud and Ayaz executions.
Despite this, you have chosen to not support the 19 July protests. That is, of course, your right. But I find it disappointing to say the least.
You say you respect, admire and support the PGLO, but you seem unwilling to accept its considered opinion that the teens were gay, that they were executed for homosexuality, and that the 19 July protests merit support.
While it is not your fault, your lack of support for the 19 July protests will doubtless be exploited by homophobes and apologists for the Iranian regime.
We already know that HRW's and IGLHRC's equivocation last year on the Asgari and Marhoni executions was ruthlessly exploited by such people to undermine solidarity with Iranian LGBTs and, in particular, to dismiss their reports of homophobic persecution as bogus and to ridicule the claims of Iranian LGBT asylum seekers.
While I am sure your public meeting will be useful, your support for the five demands and the 19 July protests would have been appreciated and valuable.
As for the allegation that some people are obsessed with only gay victims and have long ignored other equally abhorrent abuses by the Iranian dictatorship:
I deplore any such one-sidedness, but this allegation does not apply to me or OutRage!
OutRage! has been supporting the Iranian human rights struggle for 14 years and sees the LGBT rights as part of the global human rights movement. We endorse the freedom struggle of all Iranians, which is why we also campaign for the human rights of Iranian women, union activists, students and persecuted ethnic and religious minorities.
I have personally supported the Iranian democratic, socialist and human rights struggle for 35 years (first against the Shah and then against the Ayatollahs).
My motto is very simple: oppose the oppressors and support the oppressed.
That is why I am backing the 19 July protests.
Yours in solidarity! Peter Tatchell
Tue, 18 Jul 2006In the meantime this has resulted in two separate events taking place tomorrow in New York City, on the anniversary of the hangings. The first one is associated with the OutRage! and has some of the flashier local (and international) sponsors:
Thanks for your manifesto. Having hashed through this issue with you and others in a number of venues over the past weeks, I am puzzled by your purpose in turning what until that point had been a private discussion into a public dispute. In doing so you pose many questions, but you also raise some unintended ones. One is why you feel impelled to aim your rhetoric at both Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC, not for anything misguided our organizations may have actively done, but out of apparent pique because we did not endorse, in its pristine form, an Outrage! initiative. It is difficult for me to answer, or indeed fully to understand, demands which are addressed to me in my institutional capacity but which seem, in their impetus, so personal. And I will not try. We should focus on the important things at stake. I will limit myself to rehearsing matters of fact, and then suggesting some implications for how we might think about both strategy and responsibility.
As you know quite well, Human Rights Watch is indeed co-organizing an event on July 19. We'll use the occasion to talk about strategy, because a strategic discussion is crucial right now. As you also know quite well, I've invited you to join us in a further meeting to talk intensively about how advocacy around Iran should be carried forward. Your letter leaves the impression that Outrage! is less interested in discussing strategy than in setting it unilaterally. I hope that is not the case.
Despite what you say, anyone observing what has transpired in recent weeks could see that the demonstrations you have called for do not center around your five demands. They center around the tragic images of two young men hanged in Mashhad. Those images, in flyer and website, poster and powerpoint presentation, have been captioned, branded, harnessed to service in the cause of "gay rights," magnified and manipulated to serve the reputations of the living, transmuted and exalted and refined and deformed by earnest and desperate imaginations, pressed into a politics which would have been beyond the comprehension of the dead. Even in your open letter, you move quickly to what obviously lies for you at the heart of the matter: condemning Paula Ettelbrick and myself for questioning a particular narrative around their deaths.
I do not play games with the dead.
I'll only repeat what I've said to you and others, from the very beginning, about Human Rights Watch's perspective on these executions.
- We do not know what happened: thus far, no one does. As a human rights organization whose effectiveness only extends as far as its credibility, we simply can't endorse conclusions based on speculation.
- The bulk of evidence suggests that the youth were tried on allegations of raping a 13-year-old, with the suggestion that they were tried for consensual homosexual conduct seemingly based almost entirely on mistranslations and on cursory news reporting magnified by the Western press. But the facts remain clouded in claims and counterclaims. I am still concerned that so many activists remain completely dismissive of that 13-year-old boy.
- We know their execution was wrong. The death penalty is wrong. Executing people for crimes committed as minors violates human rights. Their killing deserved the strongest condemnation. (See our letter to the head of Iran's judiciary about the case, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/07/27/iran11487.htm)
- There is no basis whatever for imputing a Westernized "gay" identity to these youths. We have no idea what their behavior was or how they would have identified themselves, given the complexities around identity and sexuality in Iran.
As you also know, Human Rights Watch has spent seven months researching report on human rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Iran. We have amassed a great deal of information about the situation there. Our record of documenting and campaigning against human rights abuses in Iran extends over decades; I'm sure you'd agree it's a considerable one. And Jessica Stern and I have written over 50 affidavits for LGBT Iranian asylum-seekers in more than a dozen countries, many referred to us by the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, as well as providing other forms of direct aid.
I am therefore particularly disturbed when you claim that our public disagreements will damage asylum-seekers' cases and cause. Since you made those disagreements public, the charge is hypocrisy on its face. But HRW would not be supporting the dozens of asylum-seekers we have already worked to help, if we promote claims we cannot verify. The single-minded concentration of so many advocates on the uncertainties around Mashhad has actually distracted attention from what can be documented: the torture and abuse LGBT people in Iran face. It pins refugees' fates and lives on a single undetermined case, rather than on an analysis of the overall situation in Iran. An unfortunate side-effect of the media's obsession with those images has been that, in the eyes of governments, "proving" what happened in Mashhad has become the linchpin for determining states' obligations to asylum-seekers--instead of examining Iran's overall and provable record on sexual orientation as well as other issues, and instead of looking at host countries' absolute obligation not to return people to torture.
Now: as for the questions of strategy and responsibility.
I've never said people should not attend or support the July 19 demonstrations. Some of the organizers are friends I respect highly, and only a fool would fail to appreciate the energy, dedication, incredible work and good will that have
underlain all the organizing. I have only urged people to think very carefully about what the demonstrations are meant to achieve. And no one has explained that. What happens after July 19? How are these demonstrations meant to affect the Iranian government? How are they going to be seen in Iran? Are they only about publicity, consciousness-raising, the self-purifying effect of protest? (Surely you don't want these committed people's work, this dedication dissipated on that.) Do you have a plan for change, or just for catharsis?
Look at the world, not just London and New York.
Months of US pressure on Iran have only inflated the popularity of the Ahmedinejad government. Europe's and North America's claims to promote democracy face violent derision through the Middle East. We met this morning with one of the most famous Iranian human rights activists; he described how the government reviles the least exertion of civil society activists by defaming them as paid traitors, bought and bribed by Condoleeza Rice's $75 million. People afraid of a rain of missiles on their roofs readily believe the warnings. Hysteria there and hysteria here make an inflammatory combination. Images of Western protests on TV screens may only provoke rage and vindicate repression. Iranian democrats, Iranian activists, Iranian gays and lesbians want support. They deserve support. But they want thoughtful support, sometimes quiet and patient rather than loud and proud, content with the background rather than insisting on the spotlight. And they want to lead and guide the calls for change in their own country--not sign on to other people's demands.
After more than fifteen years of working with LGBT activists and movements in countries from Romania to Jamaica to Zimbabwe--in situations of severe repression, in places where governments persecute them while rights defenders ignore or despise them--it sometimes seems to me I know less than when I started.
The complexities of pursuing this kind of work across borders are so immense, the differences so enormous, the confusions so multiple, the chances of error so great and its consequences so extreme: the only lesson may be that there are no lessons. With each new project or connection, almost with every new e-mail, one embarks on the renewed challenge of conducting oneself responsibly amid the inequities of history and power, and turning good will into useful action. We have to learn, again and again, that our partners are neither infallible experts who can be used to affirm our own authenticity, nor pliant supplicants expecting the gift of our expertise. Accepting our common vulnerability to error, we can create a rough and temporary equality out of the injustices that divide us. Our colleagues will make mistakes, and so will we. But one thing is important to remember. They may have to live through the consequences of their own mistakes. But they shouldn't have to live through ours.
You say that you stand with the oppressed, and against the oppressors.
Peter, none of us stand with the oppressors.
But do you always ask the oppressed whether they want you standing there?
I would like to tell one story.
Over three years in Egypt in this decade, a massive crackdown on men suspected of homosexual conduct saw hundreds--probably thousands--of people arrested and tortured. I spent three years working on those cases. It meant months of building relationships not just with extraordinary gay people but with genuinely heroic mainstream human rights organizations in Egypt, learning about their own needs and crises, listening to their complaints about Human Rights Watch (they had plenty) and trying to see how sexual rights work could be integrated into their slow and isolated campaigning for democracy. "Building relationships" didn't entail going to their cocktail parties. It meant going to the protests they organized during the Iraq war, a hundred people ringed by three thousand armed security thugs; it meant standing in the jails after they or their friends were arrested, facing down police, trying to catch a glimpse of them or just find out where they were or whether (or how) they were being tortured. Those relationships were difficult, fraught with intense and (for me) sometimes personally agonizing conflict. When we wrote a report on the Egyptian crackdown we cleared every word and every recommendation with them--not always easily, but we did. We accepted their advice on framing the report, and produced a book which never suggested this was a "gay rights" issue--but rather a question of privacy and torture, part of the endemic crisis of torture which has afflicted Egypt for twenty-five years. We released the report in Cairo, in Arabic and English, strongly backed by five local human rights organizations, some of which would not have presumed to approach the issue three years before. We didn't use demonstrations to pressure the Egyptian government: we relied on our partners' brave advocacy, on the local press, on the embarrassment of a web-accessible Arabic report read by tens of thousands of Egyptians and revealing the police's sleaziest practices.
On the day we released the report, the arrests, the crackdown, stopped.
One Interior Ministry official said, privately, "It is the end of the gay cases in Egypt, because of the activities of certain human rights organizations."
They meant not just HRW but our allies, secured despite our differences. I'm not suggesting this offers any model for change in Iran. I'm not suggesting it's the only strategy. I'm saying that demonstrations in Milan and Manhattan are not the sole form of activism or barometer of success. I'm saying that long negotiations with our Iranian colleagues, in Iran and in the diaspora, are essential to deciding what might actually move the government in this moment of crisis and impending war, what might change law and policy and persecution. And I'm saying you can't simply assume that those colleagues are waiting for your contributions, uncritically eager for your support. It will require responsibility if we are to deserve their confidence, and it will take time and pain and patience to earn their trust.
I continue to have respect for your work and that of Outrage. We should explore our differences but we need not trumpet or exalt them. And we should continue to work together.
Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch
A reminder: Tomorrow (Wednesday, July 19) is the International Day of Action Against Homophobic Persecution in Iran, called on the first anniversary of the public hanging of two teenagers, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, for homosexuality.The 2nd event takes place an hour later and has been organized by HRW and IGLHRC:
There will be vigils and demonstrations on July 19 in 25 cities around the world -- 10 in the U.S. (see DIRELAND for additional information on other demos)
This call to action has been endorsed by -- International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA); International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO); Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO); International Lesbian & Gay Cultural Network; Nordic Homo Council (Scandanavian countries); and the following national LGBT organizations: ARCIGAY (Italy), HOSI (Austria), OutRage (U.K.), Moscow Pride and GayRussia.ru (Russia), COC (The Netherlands), Tupilak (Sweden), Solidarité Internationale LGBT (France -- plus a coalition of 15 gay organizations in Marseille), and BeLonG To Youth Project (Ireland). The July 19 Day of Action has also been endorsed by the following publications and media: MAHA magazine (Iran); Enkidu magazine (Mexico), Gay City News (New York City), Seattle Gay News, Independent Gay News (Fort Lauderdale-Broward County), Gay Egypt (website); and by many local ad hoc committees.
The New York City July 19 demonstration has been called by a committee including: Andy Humm and Ann Northrop, Gay USA cable TV news; Walter Armstrong, POZ magazine; Sandy Rapp, Lesbian feminist singer-writer;Rosario Dawson, actor-activist; Doric Wilson, Playwright; Martin Duberman, Professor Emeritus, City University of New York; Church Ladies for Choice. Allen Roskoff, president, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club; the Stonewall Democratic Club; the Metropolitan Community Church of N.Y.; Darren Rosenblum, Associate Professor, Pace Law School; Larry Kramer, writer-activist; John Berendt, author, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and "City of Falling Angels"; Lawrence D. Mass, M.D., physician, writer, activist, co-founder of Gay Men's Health Crisis; Arnie Kantrowitz, prof. emeritus, College of Staten Island, CUNY, and author, "Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay"; Sean Strub, founder, POZ magazine; Kenneth Sherill, Professor, Political Science, Hunter College, CUNY; Wayne Besen, Executive Director, Truth Wins Out; Rev. Pat Bumgartner, pastor, Metropolitan Community Church; Rick Shur; Andrew Berman; Frank Jump, educator, artist, activist; Vincenzo Aiosa, same- sex marriage activist; State Senator Tom Duane; Ethan Geto, Geto & DeMilly Inc.; Joe Kennedy, Gay Activists Alliance veteran; Dirk McCall, President, Stonewall Democratic Club; Mark Green, former NYC Public Advocate and candidate for Attorney General.
New York -- Location: Iranian Mission to the U.N., 622 Third Avenue (at 40th St.) Time: 5:00 P.M. Contact: Andy Humm, Andyhumm@aol.com
INTERNATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION and HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH TO HOLD JULY 19 COMMUNITY FORUM ON HUMAN RIGHTS, IRAN, AND LGBT ADVOCACYTomorrow we will try to be at the IGLHRC event which shows where our loyalties lie. Hope to see you there too!
WHAT: The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) invite all interested advocates to participate in Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Human Rights, Iran, and LGBT Advocacy, a community dialogue about the persecution faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Iran and how activists in the West can responsibly engage in supporting our colleagues in Iran as well as elsewhere.
WHO: Speakers include:
. Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of IGLHRC
. Scott Long, Director of LGBT Rights Program, Human Rights Watch
. Parvez Sharma, Director of the new documentary "In the Name of Allah"
. Ayaz Ahmed, Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBTIQ Muslims
. Hadi Ghaemi, Iran Researcher, Human Rights Watch
. Kouross Esmaeli, Iranian-American Filmmaker and Activist
. Moderated by Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC
WHY: Numerous reports and stories of persecution faced by gay men and lesbians in Iran have been circulating. In particular, the executions of two young Iranian men last year on July 19 have been reported as gay-related deaths, prompting some activists to call for demonstrations in local communities to draw attention to these issues on the year anniversary of their hangings. This call raises important questions for human rights and LGBT advocates concerned about human rights violations globally, but unsure of how best to engage and respond.
. How do we situate campaigns for LGBT rights in the context of other human rights issues such as the death penalty and women's rights?
. How do we respond in situations where facts are contested and documentation difficult?
. What are the responsibilities--and dangers--for Western campaigners wanting to think globally and act locally?
. How do we avoid reinforcing stereotypes and playing into hostilities prompted by our own government?
These are not abstract questions or ones relevant only to activists for sexual rights. While Iran will be emphasized in this discussion, the questions are relevant for all human rights advocates as we grapple with how global calls for justice can be made meaningful in the face of persecution and global hostilities.
While IGLHRC had initially offered to coordinate a public vigil to protest the use of the death penalty as a punishment for sexually-based crimes in Iran and elsewhere, conversations with colleagues have made clear that in New York City, dialogue, not demonstrations, would be the most productive way to build longer term strategies and understandings of how best to respond to human rights violations in Iran and around the world.
WHEN: Wednesday, July 19, 2006
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
WHERE: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
208 West 13th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues
New York, New York
Endorsers: Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBTIQ Muslims, Amnesty International OUTfront, Assal East Coast, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and SoulforceNYC
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is the only human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse or murder because of their sexuality, gender identity or HIV status. IGLHRC addresses human rights violations by partnering with and supporting activists on the ground in countries around the world, by monitoring and documenting abuses, by engaging offending governments, and by educating international human rights officials. A US-based non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in San Francisco and Buenos Aires. http://www.iglhrc.org
Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice. We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable. We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law. We enlist the public and international community to support the cause of human rights for all. Our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program advocates against abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity worldwide. http://www.hrw.org