Monday, June 30, 2008

Venezuela: Gay pride marchers are critical of President Chavez' record on LGBT rights

Photo: A kiss in the midst of Sunday's gay pride rally down the streets of Caracas (All photos courtesy of Santiago Farías).
Organizers of Sunday's 8th Annual Venezuelan LGBT-rights March said they were surprised by the large numbers of people that showed up which they claimed eclipsed last year's estimated attendance of 30,000.

El Universal reports today that Venezuelan gay rights organizations such as Unión Afirmativa, Movimiento Gay Revolucionario and Orgullo GLBT de Venezuela supported the march.

And then there was Amnesty International: "We are not in favor or against, but it's about defending these person's rights," said Manuel Finol, identified as a member of Amnesty International's executive committee.

Jesus Medina, a member of Alianza Lambda - another sponsoring organization - said that President Hugo Chavez' government had strongly supported indigenous communities and Venezuelans of African descent but was still marginalizing the gay community.

"All the marches have taken place under the mandate of President Hugo Chavez and we thank the Mayor's Office which provided support [in the form of] security, sound equipment and the stage," he said, "but there is still no law that protects us against discrimination - To be homophobic and a revolutionary is a contradiction."

Over at Noticiero Digital, Santiago Farías of AFINES Venezuela, said that organizers called for equal rights and the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships (and posted an amazing series of photographs including the ones on this post).

"Following a ruling by [the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice] in relation to this topic, [same-sex partners] only can achieve this through the creation of a Common Partnership of Possessions belonging to the couple; a judicial determination that does not satisfy demands by Venezuelan homosexual couples," he said, "and for this reason [marchers] are attempting to elicit another judicial resolution through the National Assembly."

One Venezuelan lesbian rights organization - Fundación Reflejos de Venezuela - was not present. On June 24th they released the following statement:

"The Board and members would like to state: WE DO NOT HAVE any relation, responsibility, nor are we any part of the 8th LGBT Pride March; this is due to the discriminatory, disrespectful and anti-democratic attitude of
Mr. Heisler Vaamonde with the backing of the sponsor entity and supporting entities."

No other reasons are given but Mr. Vaamonde is known as a long-time Chavez acolyte who always trumps the president's policies while overlooking his record (or statements) on LGBT rights.

Previously on Blabbeando:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dominican Republic: Gay pride 2008, pt. II

Amazing! Just two short years ago Dominican activists seemed divided as to whether the LGBT community in the Dominican Republic should celebrate gay pride away from public venues and stay indoors - or celebrate it out in the open and in the streets of Santo Domingo.

On Tuesday I reported on the seemingly impromptu LGBT pride march that took place at El Conde Street in downtown Santo Domingo on Friday, June 20th.

Now comes word that a second public gathering took place last night at the Duarte
Park (also in the downtown colonial zone) as congregations of mostly young people celebrated the end of this year's LGBT pride week (for some reason I suspect that my friend Daniel Castellanos was an inspiration).

Today's El Nacional says that most participants were members of The Gay-Transgender-Men Alliance (also known as the GTH Alliance) but also credited Amigos Siempre Amigos (RevASA) for organizing the event ("Gays bring to closure day of pride," June 29, 2008).

Daniel Benitez from RevASA told the paper that "To be gay, lesbian or transsexual in this country is a matter of courage, since day to day we see ourselves exposed to physical and verbal mistreatment, to indifference and to being harassed by the police, religious authorities and Governmental authorities, just as regular citizens that assume that because of our sexual orientation we are less of a people, less Dominican."

Harold Jiménez, also from RevASA riled against stereotypical portrayals of gays and lesbians in Dominican media and chided religious leaders for trying to tie a recent decision by California courts to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples to the emerging gay rights movement in the island. "Gay Dominicans do not have the marriage issue on our agenda," he said.

As during the June 20th march, many bystanders were surprised and shocked to see dozens of LGBT Dominicans waving rainbow flags and expressing their gay pride.

Marianela Gutierrez, for one, was delighted: "I am heterosexual and believe that people have the right to live their sexual orientation without restrictions," she said, "here we have too much double morality, people show up in the media defending morals and good customs, appearing saintly and in the end they end up in huts and brothels and not necessarily with their wives or husbands."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cuba: 1st-ever gay pride march canceled, organizers claim intimidation, others differ

Photo: Mario José Delgado González, Vice President of the Reynaldo Arenas in Memoriam LGBT Foundation, speaks to media at Habana's Quijote Park on the day the pride march was cancelled (CSM/Cuba Encuentro)

Of all the recent developments in LGBT rights throughout Latin America, few have been as fascinating as the Cuban government's increasing openness towards the island's LGBT population (particularly in light Fidel Castro's repressive record on LGBT issues during his mandate).

When Fidel finally relinquished his dictator's throne earlier this year to make way for his brother Raúl some commentators said that they expected little to change in the island. But things had already begun to change in Fidel's waning years as a ruler and economic and political pressures on the Cuban government seemed to indicate that it had to change or else.

And so, since Raúl took over, the island has indeed seen a series of changes such as allowing regular citizens to buy DVD-players, PC's, cell phones, scooters and other products; allowing Cuban citizens to book rooms at luxury hotels previously only available to wealthy tourists (which doesn't mean necessarily that the average Cuban has the money to do so anyway); and, most recently, institute a new wage system which would reward workers for good performance.

When it comes to LGBT rights, it helps that Mariela Castro is Raúl's daughter. It also helps that she is a sexologist and heads Cuba's National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX). And, as with other changes in the island, she had already begun to lay the groundwork to open up official recognition of the rights of LGBT Cubans even before Fidel stepped down.

These efforts are beginning to bear fruit this year. First came an official ceremony on May 17th commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia ("Cuban Government Backs Calls to Combat Homophobia," AP, May 17, 2008) - as public a government-sponsored LGBT-rights event in Cuban history. Then came news earlier this month that a long-gestating government resolution to have the Public Health Ministry cover the costs of sexual reassignment surgeries for transgender Cubans had been approved ("Free sex-change operations approved," IPS, June 6, 2008).

As IPS reports, the next step will probably be recognizing same-sex partnership rights:

"The [proposed] reformed Family Code would stipulate that the family has the responsibility and duty to accept and care for all of its members, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. It would also recognize the same civil, patrimonial, inheritance and housing rights for homosexual and heterosexual couples, while opening the door for legal recognition of same-sex civil unions."

Imagine that! Cuba granting same-sex couples all rights afforded to heterosexual couples even before the United States does it [Oh! And on the eve of the May 17th event, Cuban television broadcast "Brokeback Mountain" on national television].

And yet...

In October I wrote about the birth of a small gay rights organization in the island called the Cuban Movement for Homosexual Liberation ("Independent reporter says a gay rights organization has been launched," October 24, 2007). Leanes Imbert Acosta, one of the founders, told reporters that they planned to "denounce the cases of repression and human rights violations to which [gays] are subjected by the government of this island" [Back in February Luiz Mott, one of Brazil's leading LGBT rights activists, echoed those thoughts by demanding that Fidel Castro "ask for forgiveness for the persecution of gays in Cuba"]. The government, while lamenting some polices from the past, has never indicated that it would do such a thing.

It wasn't the first time that LGBT Cubans criticized their own government from the inside, of course. But considering all the recent changes, would any dissent from the official norm be tolerated?

1st ever Cuban LGBT pride march suddenly announced:

On Tuesday I received a press release from Miami's Unity Coalition announcing that the Cuban Movement for Homosexual Liberation was among a number of Cuban organizations planning the first ever gay pride march (other organizations included the Cuban Commission on Human Rights for people with HIV and Sexual Races, the Cuban League against AIDS, the Elena Mederos Foundation, the Reinaldo Arenas in Memoriam LGTB Foundation, the Havana Transsexual Collective and the Havana LGTB Cultural Center.

The march was scheduled for 10 am the next day under the theme "You are not alone." Marchers would gather at the Don Quixote Park and make their way to the Ministry of Justice were the plan was to hand a list of demands including "the cessation of violence and repression against Cuban homosexuals," an acknowledgment that gays and lesbians have been and are currently discriminated in the work place and from national political think tanks, a review of the cases of those gays and lesbians currently imprisoned under a "Dangerous Index" law enforcement policy, an better treatment for individuals with HIV/AIDS including those in prison.

Specifically, organizers said that they would ask Raúl Castro to "apologize to the Cuban people for the introduction in the 60's of UMAP concentration camps that were created by the dictator Fidel Castro, to suppress and punish homosexuals and the religious youth who opposed his Marxist ideology." (UMAP stands for Military Units to Aid Production).

They also said that they wanted to raise awareness about Jordanys Tamayo Aldama, a man they allege is serving a seven year prison sentence for "contempt towards the figure of Fidel Castro" for having publicly stated that Fidel was a homophobic.

Finally they also said that they would raise attention about the political nature of Mariela Castro's activities at CENESEX.

Unity Coalition said that they would support their efforts by opening an "information center" at Club Azucar, a Miami gay bar, and by holding an afternoon community rally in solidarity.

Sudden cancellation:

Just before noon on Wednesday, the day of the march, an e-mail message from Unity Coalition stated that "as organizers arrived at the scheduled starting point, several of them were met by Cuban police, who beat & arrested several of them."

Ray Sanchez from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Havana bureau reported on the arrests ("Cuba's Gay Pride Parade Canceled", June 25, 2008), although he says that a local activist alleged they had happened the day before the march.

"Activist Mario José Delgado [pictured above] announced the cancellation of the march moments before it was to start Wednesday at a park in Havana. He said two organizers who were to deliver a set of demands to the Justice Ministry were detained one day earlier. Delgado said he has no details of the arrests."

"'The president of the Cuban League Against AIDS and the president of the Foundation LGTB Reinaldo Arenas in Memoriam have been arrested,' Delgado said. 'They were to be here with our written demands but now we cannot carry out our activity.'"

The Sun-Sentinel also reported that a passer-by who identified himself as being gay dismissed the activists.

40-year-old Felix Lopez, told the paper that it was unnecessary: "Important strides have been made. We don't need to be instructed by people in Miami or any other part of the world. We're slowly gaining a space in our society and that's important."

The paper also said that they had tried to reach Mariela Castro at CENESEX for comment but that her secretary stated that no statements would be released.

On Thursday, Cuba Encuentro published their take ("Police stops independent march for the Day of Gay Pride," June 26, 2008, Spanish language). They said that Ignacio Cepero Estrada, coordinator of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights for people with HIV had been detained by police for two hours and let go and that an unnamed official from CENESEX told a reporter from the ANSA news agency "We have no knowledge of any manifestation that might happen. No one has informed us about this and, as such, we cannot say anything."

They also quote "independent reporter" Carlos Serpa Maceira as having seen a number of law enforcement agents surrounding the area and quote Cuban dissidents on human rights violations by the Cuban government.

As with everything related to Cuba, there are other versions:

I didn't find the direct quote at ANSA, but did find a brief article ("Homosexual protest, one detained," June 25, 2008) which does report that one of the organizers was detained. Interestingly they contradict other statements and say that there was no discernible presence of law enforcement officers in the area. As for the protest? They note that an organizer was detained but also say that the protest was cancelled because of lack of participation as only twenty people showed up.

Call me a right-wing anti-communist imperialist pig (although some of those might call me a rabid commie for mentioning some LGBT rights advances in Cuba), but I am a little more inclined to trust The Guardian and the Sun-Sentinel versions.

I also have long believed that social change doesn't happen without visibility and leadership which is what personally bothers me about the fact that the only face presented on LGBT rights in Cuba is Mariela Castro and the only version on advancement of LGBT rights seems to be hers. Why not allow LGBT leaders to speak on their own?


Blogland has had some reaction.

Over at Babalu Blog, a 2006 Weblog Awards winner for "Best Latino, Caribbean or South American Blog" which features posts from different US based Cuban bloggers and describes itself as "an island on the net without a bearded dictator," George Moneo wasn't surprised that the march might have been shut down by the Cuban government.

Interestingly when Val Prieto posted the image on the right on the same blog yesterday without any commentary, another Babalu blogger who uses the nickname pototo was so incensed by other Babalu bloggers expressing support for gays in Cuba that he decided to leave Babalu (that according to this post today from Manuel A. Tellechea at "Review of Cuban-American Blogs").

Gay Canadian blogger Jonathan Higbee reacts to the Guardian's piece and says
"[Wednesday's] despicable start to Cuba's first gay pride shows that the country is not quite ready to move forward."

In a reply Calvin from the UK begs to differ and says that "A media fraud is being perpetrated here in the interests of the United States" and calls the march "a stunt designed in Miami by far right Cuban-American sects, and funded by the US Government."

He also says that "The 'gay rights' organisations in Cuba said to be behind the parade, do not exist in any meaningful sense. Rather, they are tiny political front organisations populated by the same group of two to three hundred professional 'dissidents' who run dozens of non existent 'institutes', 'independent libraries', 'trade unions', 'human rights centres' and the like" and alleges that most are on the United States payroll.

I guess you can read anything into something depending on ideology. I don't discount his assertion that these organizations might be small in numbers but that in itself does not mean that they shouldn't have the right to protest or to demand their rights - or that they are flush with US dollars.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

ACT UP gets horny for gay pride: Marchers needed!

The Press Release:

Sunday, June 29 - 11:30am
56th Street at 6th Avenue
917-653-7267 (cell)

This year we will be focusing on getting the word out about our exciting new harm reduction campaign that we are launching in print and on the web. Infection rates in NYC are up by 33% since 2001 among young gay and bisexual men under 30 years of age. Prevention efforts are hampered by years of abstinence only teaching, which has affected even AIDS organization's educational materials which often are timid. Our first effort will be published in this weeks Gay City News showing an inviting young man starting to dress himself by opening a condom, with the following text:

"Infection Rates are UP! The only thing you need to wear are condoms!"

The CDC's recently released statistics for 2005 show that, men who have sex with men accounted for 71% of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses among men. This is another reason we need to mobilize attention to this issue. We need an edgy, gay-sex-positive, safe-sex promotional campaign in response to this alarming rise in new infections among
young gay and bisexual men under 30. That's why ACTUP/NY is creating this new campaign to promote effective safe sex messages targeting gay youth. Our contingent will be displaying our hot new posters, promoting the launching the new campaign website, and of course, distributing condoms to all the parade-goers.

No matter what your age or gender, we need you to march with us. We don't want a tiny contingent, we need a contingent that helps set a tone that safer-sex is a LGBT community standard. Monogamy, domestic partnership and marriage won't solve this problem because, they don't really work among a very large section of young men.

We'll also have vintage ACTUP banners and chants throughout for what promises to be a fierce and fun showing at pride. We hope to see you marching in the contingent!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dominican Republic: With little notice, pride just happens

Photo credit: Thalia Almendares, Coordinadora de TRANSSA

Pride happens. If you were strolling down the tourist colonial area in downtown Santo Domingo you might have been surprised to see revelers and marchers holding rainbow flags and beating on drums last Friday as the Dominican Republic's 3rd (?) annual pride event took place down El Conde Street.

The march, organized
Amigos Siempre Amigos, also had members of the transgender rights organization Trans Siempre Amigas (TRANSSA).

Both Diario Libre ("Gay Pride on El Conde Street") and Al Momento ("Gays March on Conde Street, criticize the Catholic church") covered the event in brief articles, allowing readers to post comments, most of them homophobic (a couple of examples: "The winds of social decomposition have arrived to the Dominican Republic stemming from the licentiousness of the United States" and "This country imitates all the bad things, who the hell said that to be a faggot was a source of pride, what should be done is to give all those faggots a beating right there in Conde").

New York based LGBT news portal Tras La Verdad also covered the event ("Gay pride is celebrated in the Dominican Republic; Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez is challenged publicly").

Marchers asked political leaders to promote legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.

One participant ridiculed Dominican Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez by donning a golden robe and portraying him as the devil (the good Cardinal has been known to rile against gays and lesbians and has even gone as far as calling us "faggots").

It's not the first time that TRANSSA has been publicly active on behalf of the transgender community in the Dominican Republic. Back in December, I noted that they had participated in a reality show called "The Bus is My Home" to raise awareness about their rights (the show featured a transgender participant).

TRANSSA Coordinator Thalia Almendadres is interviewed in this news report from Dominican television.

Here is a video on how marchers ridiculed the Cardinal:

Previously on Blabbeando:

Monday, June 23, 2008

My New York: The FINAL EVER Glam Slam is amongst us

All good things sometimes must come to an end and so does the annual House of Xavier's Glam Slam which will be bowing out after a decade of ballroom scene antics combined with poetic debauchery.

The soiree is scheduled for Wednesday night at 7pm and will be held at The Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan (308 Bowery, btwn. Bleeker & Houston). It's cheap! $10 bucks to get in. Scheduled appearances by Michael Musto and Flortilla DeBarge.

And, if you are in the mood to be a contestant, here are this year's open categories:


$100 Grand Prize:


The rules? Each contestant gets up to three minutes to share an original selection featuring the required props within each category. Winners must be prepared to read a second piece to compete for Grand Prize. Grand Prize category only open to the winner of each Open Category. Repeat poems will not be allowed.

To confirm participation e-mail houseofxavier @

Ad design by Rodney Allen Trice, photo of Mother Diva Xavier and Emanuel Xavier courtesy of Derek Storm.

For more info, or

Friday, June 06, 2008

On hiatus

Yes peoplez, the Blabbeando blogger sometimes does take a break. The blog will be on hiatus until June 23rd or so. No internetz, no RSS feedz, no hit counter browsingz. We will see if we are able to survive.

Stomp Out Cancer seeking indie bands for 2nd compilation

I got a message from Jake Wheat earlier today. Jake wanted to let blog readers know that he is seeking submissions for the 2nd Stomp Out Cancer indie music compilation to be released on October 28th, 2008 under the theme of "Hope." All proceeds will go to Erwing's Sarcoma research.

The 1st Stomp Out Cancer compilation was an effort to honor the life of 27 year-old Steven Mackin, a friend who died from the disease on October 16, 2006.

This year in tribute of Ben Lanman, a nine year-old boy who developed Ewing's at 8 years of age and has since recovered, and the hope that one day there will be a cure (this type of cancer mostly afflicts younger people).

For more information on how to submit songs or how to donate / buy the compilations please visit the project's site at:

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tragedy (That's Not My Name!)

Above: The Ting Tings video for "That's Not My Name!" (much, much more at Ting Tings TV here)

I was not even aware of this but... Joe.My.God has the traumatic news that the Virgin Records at Times Square and Union Square will be no more after 2009.

This follows the closing of Tower Records and HMV stores in the last few years (and a recent New York Times article on the dwindling number of record shops in the city).

Over at Joe's someone asked "Doesn't Best Buy totally have as good of a CD selection as Virgin does?" Blasphemy!!!

That might be the case if you are looking for the latest
Celine Dion or Michael Bolton but where oh where will I get my fix of UK dance music imports? (Then again, I did get The Ting Tings amazing debut album "We Started Nothing" for $5.99 at Best Buy this week).

All of a sudden I feel old. The young kids do no longer get the concept of a CD, much less an LP, a cassette tape or an 8-track. Sadness.

Spain: HIV prevention campaign targets bears

With funding from Spain's Office of the National Plan Against AIDS, the State Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals (FELGBT) has just launched an HIV prevention campaign targeting Spaniard bears.

"Bears: Protected Species" is the first nationally funded HIV prevention campaign to target the bear community and consists of a stand-alone website ( ) which provides access to information about HIV and STD prevention, drug use as related to sexual risk taking, and directions and phone numbers for HIV testing sites throughout the country.

Once on the site you can click on "Descarga Campaña" in order to get access to the posters, post-cards, stickers and website banners for the campaign as well as a 32-page "Illustrated HIV prevention Guide."

In a press statement the FELGBT said that they had chosen to target men who identify with the bear scene "because they have an image of being healthy, robust men who appear not to be at risk of getting infected, but are in reality just as vulnerable when it comes to HIV as any other homosexual."

This is not the first time that Spain's gay bars have seen an HIV prevention campaign targeting the bear community. You might still remember that back in February of 2006 I featured the "BEARback yes, BAREback NO" campaign organized by bear event photographer Antinoo and some of his friends which was not officially sanctioned by the country's health departments but pretty effective as well.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Colombia: Student who was kicked out of high school for being a lesbian speaks up against discrimination

  • UPDATE: Just today the Fifth Circuit Civil Court in Manizales, where the ruling was being appealed, not only agreed that principal Magola Franco had erred in dismissing the students but ordered the Department of Education of Manizales to institute obligatory curriculum language that educates students on human rights on gender issues with a focus on sexual diversity ("The Courts of Manizales ratifies court ruling in favor of lesbian minors," Caracol Radio, June 4, 2008).
[NOTE: The heartbreaking part about this interview is that the high-school student and her girlfriend are still being shunned by their school-mates even as they both seem determined to finish their high school education at the school. If you would like to send them a supportive message please send me your message to blabbeando @ and I will try to get it to them]

In late April, I shared a shocking video of what happened in Manizales, Colombia, when a court determined that two students had been unfairly kicked-out of an all-girls high school because they were lesbians ("
Allowed back in school by court order, lesbian students are heckled by student body, school principal").

News cameras caught the students as they walked into the Leonardo da Vinci High School to register for classes and were faced by most of the student body shouting "We don't want you!" at them while expressing support for the school principal.

In that video, the faces of the two students were blurred digitally to protect their identity but now one of them has decided to speak-up and show her face. The interview was broadcast on an investigative late night news show called El Radar on Colombia's Caracol Television. Unfortunately there are no subtitles but here is a translation (the interview proper begins at the :44 second mark).

Maria Elvira Samper: Jenny, first of all, welcome to "The Radar."
Jenny Viviana Rendon: Thanks
MES: I want to reiterate a [deep sense] of admiration for the courage and valor in showing your face [despite] a society as full of prejudice as ours is. I want to tell you that you should feel at ease, that if there is a question that bothers you it is not my intention to bother you and that if you don't want to answer it, don't answer it...
When did you decide to tell your parents that it wasn't as they wanted you to be - or how society or your classmates or your friends or your family - wanted you to be.
When my mom said to me, my mom said to me: 'You have to tell him.'
MES: Did you tell your mom first?
JVR: She figured it out... and then - once she knew - she told me "Tell your dad or I will tell him." And so I - It's me with the problem - so I will tell him.
MES: That is not your 'problem'...
JVR: Ah! Good...
MES: That is not your problem. A whole other thing is for society to see it as a problem; Have you felt... was it difficult, let's say, was it very difficult...?
JVR: [nodding 'yes'] Too difficult...
MES: Is it a united family? Is it a warm family? Has it made it easier... Have they made it easier for you all this process of integration - a little bit- or to confront a situation that I imagine became very difficult at the school when you decided - or when they told you that you were not accepted [a clip is shown of the girls walking into the school as their school mates shout against them].
JVR: Well, yes. They not only have provided me with huge [support]. I think that if it wasn't for family, one would not have the valor to show up like this.
MES: In this process have you counted with psychological assistance, with a counselor, with a schoolmate, other than your family?
JVR: We have gotten unconditional support from the Public Advocate's Office.
MES: How are your school mates with you, how have they welcomed... Did they know, let's say?
JVR: Yes. All of them...
MES: And did you feel rejected?
JVR: Very much so.
MES: Your teachers?
JVR: Well. Very well.
MES: Have you found more understanding coming from your teachers than from your school-mates?
JVR: Yes..
MES: Do you have friends to whom you feel at ease talking, with whom you feel comfortable, or do you always feel looked at differently, as if you are being questioned, or..
JVR: No.
MES: Do you feel as comfortable at school as in your home?
JVR: [Opens up eyes and reacts emotionally] Uh, no...
MES: No.
JVR: I do feel more pressure at school but I do have a friend. A friend that helps me a lot and with her... If we sit down to talk about this, it's very normal for the both of us.
MES: And the family of that friend greets you normally?
JVR: Yes, the day of the court ruling they cried with us and everything.
MES: Have they mistreated you - eh - psychologically in any way at school, for example?
JVR: Well, I think that a mistreatment was the day of the protest. That day we felt very, very awful.
MES: And who do you attribute for that [more clips are shown from the video shot on that day]. Do you feel that considering teachers that were understanding with you, the principal was not?
JVR: It's that the protest was done in the morning, we study in the afternoon. And so, the morning teachers had nothing to do with us.
MES: Do you think that the protest was orchestrated, was spontaneous...
JVR: I can't say that 'Yes! it was for.. It was organized' but... I believe it was [the high school principal has denied that she had any role in orchestrating a protest despite the banners, the students' vocal defense of her decision to remove the students and the fact that students had access to the school's intercom system].
MES: OK, after you were accepted back in school, has there been any changes or do you continue to feel that you are a bit isolated.
JVR: No, well, we both are isolated because it's only the two of us. The two of us in the classroom. The two of us during the school-breaks. The two of us for everything. Because we don't talk to anyone.
MES: But is it because the rest do not want to talk to you or because you feel a bit inhibited because you feel that there is a kind of fence.
JVR: No. We have always been very social. We have been group leaders. We have been very dynamic all these years and this year we feel more distant...
MES: What grade are you in?
JVR: 10th [equivalent to being a junior at a US high-school].
MES: You almost... on the verge of graduating. Outside of school do you find more tolerance?
JVR: [Shrugs] It's that it's so weird because one find people that say 'No, that's normal, it's silly' but then one encounters reality, it's not like that.
MES: Do you think that - from now on - things will be easier or more difficult?
JVR: [Cringes] Uh, I don't know.
MES: Are you scared? Are you fearful...
JVR: Yes, a lot
MES: What is it that you fear.
JVR: I have fear because if I was rejected for something they already knew... and with someone who was... well, that we were together... that they studied with me all the time... and I was rejected... and so I don't know if I will be rejected in the future... I don't know what kind of people I will meet in the future...
MES: Have you cried a great deal during this process?
JVR: No.
MES: Very macha!
JVR: I cried on the first day but late at night when I was already in bed but I didn't cry nor in front of them nor have I cried as if I am just about to die or that I let depression take over me, no.
MES: What would you say to parents of children like you that don't... that have left their children abandoned.
JVR: That they should get involved a little bit. That they get a little bit involved on the issue. Because if they get involved, or better said, if they try to feel like one feels sometimes, perhaps they will understand. I believe that my dad... my dad is a person with a very open mind.
MES: Who is your father.
JVR: He is an administrative assistant. But he has worked with many things and that probably helps him.
MES: Did you find more understanding from your dad, from your mom, or from both equally?
JVR: From both.
MES: And your siblings? There wasn't any shock, nothing?
JVR: No, well... let me tell you... eh, my mom at first was very stern.
MES: Why.
JVR: Well, it was harder for her because I am her little girl and everything.
MES: How were you able to get your mom - because you understand her a little bit and her reaction - how were you able to get her to lower her guard a little bit - to say it that way - and to get to the point, the point in which you are right now. Did you do something or was it an internal process when it came to your mother?
JVR: Well, I think she put a lot of herself in it, but I would speak to her normally. I would tell her 'No, but my girl friend...' or something like that. I would mention the girl's name and would speak to her normally. Something that one day she would have to understand.
MES: At school did someone find out before this was known publicly?
JVR: Yes. All my friends. 'Quote Unquote.'
MES: Well, I agree with you. Between quotation marks. And did they do... did they say something, did they have discriminatory attitudes...
JVR: No. That is what is bizarre. That when I was with them all of them said "Go ahead. Go forward. We love you both.' Well, we were always together. I think that they all acted in mass.
MES: Do you think that there are more people like this?
JVR: Yes I do.
MES: And you know them.
JVR: [Smiles] Yes.
MES: After all these things have you have an opportunity to talk intimately or personally, privately, with the [school] principal who, by all appearances, seemed to be the harshest person in all this process?
JVR: No.
MES: You don't even want to see her in a painting? [a common Colombian expression determining disdain]
JVR: No! It's not like that. To me it's all the same.
MES: Don't you want to communicate with her? Don't you want to tell her anything?
JVR: No! Well - She thinks in a different way than we and many other people do.
MES: Wouldn't you ask her - in that sense - 'I respect what your thoughts are, please respect who I am'?
JVR: We said that to her on many occasions. No, she doesn't...
MES: And what does it mean to return to a school that did to you what it did to you.
JVR: No, it doesn't matter. Because the school and I - not for the principal - but I love my school. I was born there. I have been there since 6th grade. So I have a strong feeling of belonging with the school and I don't care.
MES: And are you ready to continue fighting in this year that is left...
JVR: And in the next one as well..
MES: And in the next one that is left to seek more acceptance, more tolerance, more respect for you or people who are like you?
JVR: Yes, I think that after a little bit of time, things will calm down and we will get back... yes! to carry on normally, and to continue being the same ones as before, if God allows.
MES: He, if... Well, Jenny. You don't know how us at El Radar thank you for being with us. We hope that this show and what you have said will serve so many people and help so many people that perhaps - as people say - are inside the closet going through very difficult moments and we hope that there are many parents such as yours that can make of people such as you happy beings.
JVR: Many thanks to you.

After the interview the show's anchorman explains that while Jenny decided to go on camera with her parents consent, the parents of her girlfriend felt it was better for their daughter not to speak on camera. She still was in the studio, sitting near Jenny, as she was interviewed for the show.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Charles Ober gets New York Times endorsement for Tuesday's City Council special election

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Charlie did not emerge the victor ("Only 70 votes separate 2 candidates in City Council Race," Newsday, June 3, 2008)

As readers of the blog know,
this Tuesday voters in Queens' 30th District (covering Ridgewood, Glendale and Middle Village) will elect for someone to replace disgraced Republican Councilmember Dennis Gallagher in a special election.

Readers also know that my friend Charles Ober is vying for the seat as a Democrat and an openly gay candidate in what is considered to be a conservative district. He has already been the focus of a vile homophobic and anonymous letter writing campaign to dissuade voters from voting in his favor.

Being gay, of course, does not automatically qualify you for the city council, but Charlie has certainly worked hard as a community leader in Queens for decades and he has certainly earned his right to vie for the seat. As a friend, I might be biased in my support, but some less biased observers also think he is the best candidate among the contenders.

The New York Times editorial board, for one, endorsed Ober yesterday:
Charles Ober [is] a financial executive and community activist. The fact that Mr. Ober is openly gay has drawn attention because of the district’s conservative leanings. But more important are his deep roots in the community and the years he has spent engaging his neighbors on problems like prostitution and graffiti. His energy and civic engagement would be a valuable addition in the City Council.
By all accounts the leading candidate is Democrat Elizabeth Crowley, the cousin of Congressman Joe Crowley, who happens to be the Queens Democratic Party boss. She has also shown not to be all that gay-friendly.

Back in April, Azi Paybarah of the New York Observer noted that Ober had won the endorsement of the Stonewall Democratic Club - the largest LGBT political club in the city - and that Crowley did not even show up at the endorsement meeting.

This in itself does not make her unfriendly to gays but more telling was her campaign's response when those anti-gay letters began to appear in voter's mailing boxes: The Crowley camp not only failed to repudiate the letters but insinuated that the Ober campaign might have made them up (On May 1st, Crowley campaign manager
Michael Reich told the New York Daily News "It looks like they manufactured an issue and tried to get press on it").

Considering these developments and the fact that Ober might be poised to become the first openly gay candidate from Queens to be elected to the city council you might think that the only gay Democratic club in the borough might give him a ringing endorsement.

Alas, you might be wrong.

Gay City News reported that the Lesbian & Gay Democratic Club of Queens voted 19-0 in favor of endorsing Crowley over Ober. This despite the fact that Ober showed up at the endorsement meeting and completed a candidate's questionnaire and - big surprise! - Crowley did neither ("Gay Council Bid in Queens," May 15, 2008).

Pauline Park, also a friend, put it this way "It's really hypocritical and extraordinary that they would not endorse a qualified gay candidate especially when they endorsed a candidate who has no apparent qualification for public office at all except that she's the cousin of the county boss."

Then last week Crowley met with the editorial board of the Queens Tribune and came out against same-sex marriage ("Gay Dems' pick in Queens Opposes Gay Marriage," May 29, 2008).

This played into the paper's
endorsement on Thursday which says, in part:
Charles Ober, a longtime civic and Democratic activist in his Ridgewood community who served the LGBT community for the past decade as the board president of the Queens Pride House, is a thoughtful candidate unafraid to tell voters how he feels on critical issues, regardless of the way the wind is blowing through any particular audience.
A spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens indicated that the club's endorsement was still secure in Crowley's hand. "It's surprising because she did send a representative to the club and she showed interest in getting our endorsement," he said, "I'm not going to try to minimize that."

He also added that "It doesn't make Charlie Ober any better of a candidate; we're not comfortable with Ober's relationship to our club," indicating that their endorsement (or lack of one) speaks to animosity against Ober and is not necessarily based on merit.

If you are someone who can cast a vote this Tuesday in the 30th district in Queens, I urge you to pull the lever for Ober. Show that Queens can elect a Councilmember based on his or her ability to serve the 30th District and not on who the Democratic Party boss - or the Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club of Queens - tells you to vote for.