Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hallows' Eve in Maine -- 3 days to go!

And three days to go...

There was a little bit of sunshine this morning here in Portland but by evening the drizzle and rain had returned. Last night was a late one so I didn't get up until fairly late. Today we didn't make it into the "No on 1 / Protect Marriage Equality" campaign offices until the late afternoon.

There was blood on the doors.

OK, it wasn't really blood and it looked a bit too gell-y and gooey, but it was Hallows' Eve and staffers had decorated the office here and there.

A few people even wore something Halloweenish, if not full costumes. One volunteer, for example, was wearing a cap in the shape of a red lobster head. They do love those red lobsters here in Maine. The best costume of the night, hands down, definitely went to Jenna Lowenstein of the National Stonewall Democrats who was dressed as... drum roll please ... a blogger! (check her out above). You see, she is wearing an exact copy of the t-shirt I had on yesterday except that yesterday wasn't Halloween so it was simply a shirt and today was Halloween so it served as a costume. You see, the t-shirt has this Twitter RT and hashtag thing going on which, eh, OK, this is taking a bit long to explain. Just take it from me. It was the best disguise of the night. Plus! She had horns.

When it came down to it, though, today's Halloween motifs served as mere background to the hard work being done to get people to the polls on Tuesday. Bowls full of candy, lollipops and M&M's set up for the staff and volunteers were left mostly untouched. And people of all ages - gay, bisexual, lesbian, straight and transgender - were sitting around placing calls to make sure people turned out at the polls on Tuesday to protect marriage equality in Maine.

The campaign says that it has registered more than 8,000 volunteers. Of those, there are about 100 to 125 incredible individuals who decided to take a "vacation" and travel from other states to volunteer their time. One of them was Pam Perkins of Hendersonville, North Carolina, sitting next to Rex. From today's edition of The Bangor Daily News ("Maine marriage law has nation engaged"):

Perkins said she first heard about the “volunteer vacation” program after she and her long-time partner were legally married on the top of Mount Mansfield in Vermont in September. The couple was honeymooning in Maine and decided to get involved.

“I fell in love with Maine and wanted to come back and help all Mainers” seeking marriage equality, Perkins said.

Perkins, a professional gardener now enjoying her “off season,” returned to Maine earlier this month with the help of donated frequent flier miles and lodging provided by a “No on 1” supporter. She has spent most of the month working full time helping coordinate the volunteer efforts out of the campaign’s Portland headquarters.

Yup! It's crunch-time at office headquarters and elsewhere but there are certainly some great people on this team. And, if Pam Perkins can volunteer a whole vacation, so can you, even now - and you don't even have to travel! How? Click here and find out.

Of course, it's crunch time for the other side as well. Above are two door hangers produced by the opposing sides to be distributed this weekend. Yes, the battle is so heated that the smallest detail counts. As long as those details work for our side and translate into a victory on Tuesday, I'll be more than happy.
  • Of course, Rex Wockner has his own version of what we saw at headquarters. For his take, click here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Something big is about to happen in Maine -- 4 days to go!

The leaf-strewn winds of October have brought me to Portland, Maine. I've been here less than 48 hours and I've already had my first Maine lobster and checked out both of the local gay bars, Blackstones and Styxx. Yes! Styxx! Like the 80's band. I almost have gotten the hang of the city's layout and, though it's been mostly grey and rainy since I arrived, the temperatures have been rather mild for this time of year. With some luck, I'll get time to visit some of the local federal parklands as well.

What brings me, here, mostly, is my friendship with Rex Wockner, a San Diego-based journalist who I've known, like, forever. He has been here for a few days covering a referendum on Tuesday's ballot that would strike down a law allowing same-sex couples to marry in Maine. Recent polls have been too tight to predict whether anti-gay forces will prevail and Question 1 will pass or if Maine will respect equality for all by voting "No on 1". Rex, who has been sharing up to the minute commentary on his blog, said it best on the update he posted yesterday:
Maine doesn't have a lot of people (the same number live in the San Diego city limits) but this battle is hugely important as the first voter referendum on gay marriage since Prop 8. If the gays win here, they knock the wind out of the opposition's sails, they go on to win same-sex marriage in New York and New Jersey later this year, California votes again and Prop 8 dies, and that's the end of same-sex-marriage culture war. If, on the other hand, the opposition wins here in Maine, they prove that they can continue to take away gay people's marriage rights by blasting the airwaves with hateful ads claiming that gay marriage melts kindergartners' brains -- and they prove, for the first time, that they can take away gay people's marriage rights even when the Legislature passed the gay marriage bill and the governor signed it into law. There were no "activist judges" involved here in Maine. So, what happens here Tuesday: It matters, no matter where you live in the U.S. (Scroll down to learn how you still can volunteer to save the gay world, even without leaving the comfort of your La-Z-Boy, from anywhere in the U.S. Or just click here.)
So, yes, the second reason that brings me to Maine is to experience what hopefully will be victory on Tuesday when the ballot results come in -- for all Mainers in particular and for all the other reasons indicated by Rex above.

Having said that, tonight was my first visit to the "No on 1 / Protect Maine Equality" headquarters. I loved it! And not necessarily because they offered brownies (sorry, folks, I don't like brownies -- the thought is what counts, though). We must have gotten there around 9:30pm, or so, and the place was a-buzzin'. There were staffers and volunteers aplenty and the place was still rockin' when we left around 11:00pm.

As closely as I've been following the campaign from New York, it also felt surreal to walk in and see the gang. Ooh! There's Campaign Manager Jesse Connolly! Ah! Karin Roland of the Communications Team! Hey! There's Jenna Lowenstein from National Stonewall Democrats! We also ran into Joe Sudbay of AMERICAblog. He is based in DC, but grew up in Portland, Maine, and has been putting his heart and soul into it as well (that's Joe on the left and Rex on the right in the pic above). "4 days to go!"

My favorite thing tonight, though, was walking into the Communication Team's office and have Julia Rosen, who I had actually met at this year's Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh, show us a brand new ad that the campaign had just launched tonight. Probably the best ad I have seen from the campaign...

Truth be told, though, the vote is now up to whoever mobilizes the most voters on Tuesday
. And, in that respect, everyone can help out. Even if you're not in Maine. You can sign-up for a call-only shift from anywhere in the United States here.

A great bunch of folks, I say. And I'm here to stay... at least until Tuesday, when I will probably be blogging from campaign central and hopefully sharing the joy. More pretty pictures here (photo album to be updated as the days go by).


3-2-1 Countown to Equality

Washington State:

Who we are:
Approve Referendum 71 is the campaign to preserve domestic partnerships in Washington State. By voting to approve, voters retain the domestic partnership laws that were passed during this year's legislative session, including using sick leave to care for a partner, adoption rights, insurance rights, and more.

What we need:
We need phone bankers to get our supporters out to vote. Washington is an all mail-in ballot state, and we need to ensure our supporters put their ballots in the mail. Also, youth turnout is a critical component of our campaign, and youth turnout historically drops in off-year elections. So we need a lot of help to turn them out.

How you do it: Sign up here to make remote calls for Approve 71. We'll then contact you for a training, and you can make GOTV calls.


Who we are: The No On 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign is working to protect Maine's recently-passed law legalizing marriage equality for same-sex couples. Our opponents have put the issue on the ballot for Nov 3, 2009. Because of Maine's early voting election laws, people are already voting at the polls, so we need help immediately to turn out our side at the polls.

What we need:
We need you to devote a few hours to Call for Equality. Call for Equality is a virtual phonebank set up so that you can call Maine voters wherever you are. Much of Maine is rural, where canvassing isn't effective, so we need to reach these voters- along with other supporters- by phone. All you need is a phone and internet connection. No experience required! We'll provide the training, and all you need is a a few hours to help get a win in Maine.

How you do it: Click here to sign up for a training and your shift. There are lots of times available for your convenience.

Kalamazoo, MI:

Goal Thermometer

Who We Are: The Yes on Ordinance 1856 / One Kalamazoo campaign is working in Michigan to support the City Commission of Kalamazoo's twice approved ordinance for housing, employment, and public accommodation protections for gay and transgender residents. Opponents forced a public referendum on the ordinance so dedicated local volunteers, led by former Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jon Hoadley, are working to ensure voters say YES to fairness and equality and keep Ordinance 1856.

Why The Urgency: In the final weeks, the opposition has gone all out with aggressive disinformation and misleading red herrings to try to defeat the ordinance. This includes signs that say "No to Discrimination" (even though voting No actually supports continued discrimination of GLBT residents), transphobic door hangers and fliers, and now radio ads that falsely suggest that criminal behavior will become legal when this simply isn't true. The Yes on Ordinance 1856 supporters are better organized but many voters who want to vote for gay and transgender people are getting confused by the opposition.

How To Help:

1) Help the One Kalamazoo campaign raise a final $10,000 specifically dedicated to fight back against the lies on the local TV and radio airwaves and fully fund the campaign's final field and GOTV efforts.

Give here:

2) If you live nearby and can physically volunteer in Kalamazoo sign up here. If you know anyone that lives in Kalamazoo, use the One Kalamazoo campaign's online canvass tool to remind those voters that they need to vote on November 3rd and vote YES on Ordinance 1856 to support equality for gay and transgender people.

Contact voters:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Steven Michael Mackin, remembered

My friend, Steven M. Mackin passed away from Ewing's Sarcoma three years ago to the day. He was always taking photos of himself and, in some ways, he fully knew that they might be for posterity. One of the last request he made of me was that, if he died, I would use his photos so that he would never be forgotten. He also left me this silent video as well as this not so silent one as well.

He had beaten cancer once before, but he was also the first to realize that it was back. He kept complaining of stomach pains and asking me if I thought the cancer was back. I had no idea but tried to assure him that it might be something else. Until the end, I think he held strong for the sake of his family and his friends. Even of he probably knew much more than we all did.

Unwavering in his advocacy for others trying to beat Ewing's Sarcoma, and unflinchingly honest with his own battles and fears, Steven left his thoughts and feelings posted publicly for everyone to see on his LiveJournal blog Things I've Found In My Butt (it's sooooo worth a read, starting from the first post). He ultimately lost his battle on October 28th of 2006.

Steven's blog was featured on an Associated Press article in March of 2007 ("Blogging at Life's End"), and he was also the inspiration for "Stomp Out Cancer".

In the meantime, I have tried to maintain contact with his mom, Sheila, and was so glad to see her name pop up on Facebook a few weeks ago! My thoughts and love go to her tonight. Through Steven, I also met the amazing Kawika (here and here), now a friend for life.

And, today, I am more than glad to write this post in Steven's memory. Nothing would be more appropriate, though, than to post this memorial video that was posted a few days after Steven died (below). I had nothing to do with it and was shocked to see my image pop up early in the video, but it remains the rawest and most amazing of the YouTube tribute videos dedicated to Steven available online. The music, courtesy of Alter Bridge, is just right and, in my mind, will forever be linked to Steven. We love you Seven! Rest in peace.

Mexico: Anonymous videos show homophobic hazing of alleged robbers by vigilantes

Considering the reports of extreme drug-trade fueled violence coming from Mexico these days, the three videos that surfaced anonymously on YouTube on October 16th might not qualify as being the worst (I have translated and posted one of them, above). They don't show bloodshed; they show faces being slapped but not the beatings that allegedly took place; and, thankfully, every one of the five young men who is shown being humiliated in the video, was later set free. That doesn't mean that the videos are any less shocking or disturbing to watch.

Reports say that the videos were uploaded by someone using the moniker "Ratitas de Tepic" ["Little rats from Tepic"]. In the additional info area, the person wrote "estos ratitas, por querer robar mi casa, eso fue lo que les pasó" ["these little rats, for wanting to rob my house, this is what happened to them"].

From yesterday's Los Angeles Times ("Mexico divided over video of alleged robbers being abused"):
The video[s] of the beating and sexual abuse of five young alleged thieves at the hands of vigilantes has provoked widespread outrage here. But in some quarters, there have been disquieting voices of approval.

The video landed on YouTube. It shows the cowering teenage boys being slapped in the face and forced to French kiss one another. Each is forced to say that they are about to be raped as punishment for robbing houses.

In the state of Nayarit, where the incident took place, many people suspect that the abusers might be police officers - Authorities deny that.

Nayarit Gov. Ney Gonzalez Sanchez was furious when he learned of the video and the abuse. Speaking over the weekend, he gave state prosecutors until Monday to produce results in the case -- "definitive, serious results, without scapegoats," he said. "No one has the right to take justice into their own hands."
Not surprisingly, state prosecutors beat the deadline:
Nayarit state prosecutor Hector Bejar Fonseca met the governor's deadline and on Monday announced the arrest of four suspects in the assaults. The men are not police officers, he said, and were arrested after being overheard in a bar bragging that they made the video. Bejar Fonseca said the suspects were drug dealers and that they had five accomplices who remained at large. It was unclear what the motive was for the alleged abuse.
One of the held captives, interviewed by Mexico's El Universal, insisted that it was the Prosecutor's Office that handed him and the other young men to the abusers:

One of the youth told El Universal that he and the others were handed over to their abusers from inside the state prosecutor's headquarters. The youth, whom the paper did not name, said they were repeatedly beaten, threatened and intimidated. He said the owner of the house that the youths allegedly tried to rob joined in, which matches what the person who posted the videos on YouTube said.

From comments made by one of the victims as reported in the El Universal article that the Los Angeles times mentions:
"They took three of us to the weapons area of the Procurator's Office... As we arrived, a man said: Take off the handcuffs, and they took them off. They took us down of the pick-up truck and told us to climb on another, the Wolf unit; it had a double cabin. And we no longer were able to see anything. They would not allow us to raise our head."
El Universal says that, on-camera, they were threatened with being forced to have sexual relations with each other and with having their hands cut-off. Off-camera, the victims reported being hit on their legs with a stick, having been beaten up and kicked. The video also shows evidence that their hair was clipped.
They were kept overnight from October 14th to the 15th, and let go in the early morning after forcing them to take their clothes off and told to run.

A lawyer, acting on behalf of some of the victims, said that more than 10 people participated in the beating, including at least two women. The videos, which were captured with a cell phone, were illuminated by a light beam from a motorcycle.

El Universal says that none of the young men - high school students all - has returned to school and that they are still traumatized by the beating. Some of their families have refused to come forward, afraid that there will be retribution if they speak to investigators of the press.

Nayarit en Linea, which first broke the story, has been following up on the latest developments, including the Nayarit Governor's ultimatum and the arrest of four construction workers after an allegedly "anonymous" tip.

A typical comment below that latest post:
"Oh, please! The Procurator's own grandmother does not believe him. It's such a coincidence that when they grabbed the "guilty" they were just grabbing anyone who was going by. Who does he want to kid if everything that goes on in the State is invented by the government and, this case, I don't think is the exception. If only because it became national news, according to them, they have been working [on this]. The Procurator, as if nothing had happened, as always showing indifference before these facts."

Previously on Blabbeando:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ecuador: In a busy city street, free 'makeovers' to look like the opposite gender

I love this story:

Passersby at one of Quito's busiest downtown streets a week ago Saturday were startled to see a few women set up an impromptu beauty salon on the sidewalk using a vanity table with makeup, a couple of stools and a big black umbrella to provide some cover.

The women, who were all transgender, were offering free makeovers to anyone who wanted one. There was one catch: A sign next to the stand read "Trans beauty tips" and the makeover being offered was to make you look like someone from the opposite gender.

“Ladies and gentlemen, who hasn't dressed as a widow on the 31st of December?*," asked one of the women, "Who hasn't explored the other side of their sexuality dressing like the opposite gender? We invite you to change, to try, to turn into a handsome gentleman or into a beautiful lady, so you can understand that to dress like a man or a woman does not interfere in who you are as a person."

According to Luicia Real Hidalgo, a reporter from El Telégrafo, the event was described by organizers as a "street performance" that was part if a week-long series of events seeking to raise awareness about transgender rights in Ecuador ("The trans fight discrimination through art").

Initially, despite the large crowd that stopped to watch, there were few takers. Finally, to much laughter from the crowd, Jorge Sáenz stepped out of the crowd and sat down on a stool. He remained in silence while the women applied blush, eyeliner, eye shadow and hair gel, and put a necklace around his neck.

Finally, when it was all done, Mr. Sáenz walked back to the crowd and, responding to the ongoing laughter, said "I am a man and I won't stop being one just for wearing makeup".

Luis Tapia, a friend of Mr. Sáenz, wasn't having it. He handed his friend a hankerschief and told him to clean up the makeup because he looked like a "faggot". He told the reporter that there were a few people who liked to dress like "little women" in their home town of Michelena, but said "one always has to keep a distance" and that transgender people should not be allowed any spaces because "their ideas might contaminate children."

To Cayetana Salao, one of the organizers, it was the exact kind of exchange that she hoped to elicit with the "street performance." She told the crowd that "being trans is not an illness, nor a disorder, nor some trauma" and that it shouldn't be considered a mental pathology.

These were the themes of a multi-national effort by transgender rights advocates, to raise awareness about transgender issues around the world under the slogan "STOP trans pathologization 2012". The effort was launched by a number of LGBT and transgender rights organizations in Spain and elicited responses from organizers in more than 38 countries, including several in Latin America.

Back on the streets of Quito on Saturday afternoon, after listening to Ms. Salao, Dayán Méndez decided that she too would take the challenge and sat down on the stool for a make-over. The beauty stylists used make-up to ad depth to her cheeks and make her chin look wider. They applied a fake mustache and goatee and tied a man's tie around her neck to make her look masculine.

“Everything they said is related to what I respect and believe," Méndez said, "People speak of equality, but it's only lip service, because society mistreats those who do not fall within what is considered to be 'normal', and later, with retrograde ideas, every human right is violated."

In contrast to Mr. Sáenz and his disapproving friend, the article says Ms. Méndez received nothing but support from her friend Carlos Altamirano, who stood by as he saw his friend be made-over to look like a man. He applauded the initiative and said that it made sense to do it on that specific intersection because it was the same place where "these people walk, work, and are abused, and it's in this same site that they should demand their rights."

Another member of the makeup troop, Alejandra Moreira, said that their goal with the project was to reach out to everyone in an educational and non-confrontational way. “In a direct manner, but with subtlety, people will see our art and will begin to understand us and respect us a little bit more," she said.

According to promotional materials, the "performance" and events that took place as part of the "STOP transpathologization" campaign in Quito was sponsored by a number of transgender and LGBT rights organizations in Ecuador as well as the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, among other international entities. It was also promoted by the Ecuadorean government through its Culture Ministry.
* - In a lot of mostly rural towns in Latin America, there is an annual tradition to celebrate the end of the year by dressing up a life-size puppet to look like an old man and to stuff it with fireworks, while another man dresses in black women's clothing and dons a veil to represent the dying year's widow. On New Year's Eve, revelers participate in a procession through the town with the 'widow' wailing behind the marchers carrying the puppet. At midnight, after much partying and drinking, the puppet is set afire, and the new year is welcomed in.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Investigative report on 'ex-gay' therapy centers in Ecuador draws prestigious journalism award

In May of last year, I picked up on a 2-part investigative report that ran in Ecuador's El Universo on a number of unregulated and illegal centers for the supposed treatment of homosexuality ("Ecuador: Kidnapping, torture, confinement at 'ex-gay' therapy centers").

The disturbing articles, which also drew attention from Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin ("Ex-gay torture chambers in Ecuador"), revealed that there were more than 140 centers throughout the country claiming to cure homosexuality. Most heartbreakingly, those who were interviewed at these centers were teens or young adults sent there against their will by their parents. There was also a strong link between religious fervor and the nature of the teachings at these sites.

Today comes word that reporters María Alejandra Torres Reyes and Marjorie Ortíz received a 3rd place mention for Latin America in the prestigious Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize for both articles. The award, established in 1992 by the European Commission, "is awarded to journalists for outstanding reporting on Human Rights, Democracy and Development", according to press materials. This year, more than 1,000 journalist entries from 133 countries were submitted for consideration.

From the award site:
The investigative report discovered and denounced clandestine centres (which called themselves "clinics"), that offered to "remove" and "cure" homosexuality in exchange for money and, in most cases, with the permission of the family of the supposed "patients". The owners used violent and illegal methods. The "therapies" included beatings, electricity on the genitals, pornographic videos, taking hard drugs and pills for hours or days, and injections of hormones (male or female). Sometimes even rapes occurred. Thanks to this report, the authorities (who were unaware of this issue) closed these torture centres. The media had never spoken of these centres in the country and few people knew that they existed.
El Universo, which reported today on the honors, noted the journalists' reactions.

“I am very happy that a topic as important as this, addressing the gay community of the country, has been recognized internationally," said Marjorie Ortíz. She said that the mention encouraged her to continue investigating after 10 years of working as a journalist.

“We believe that this is also a recognition for those who suffer abuse an torture, such as those we contacted for our reporting," said Maria Alejandra Torres Reyes.

Both reporters were present at the award ceremony that took place on Thursday in Stockholm. Dora Luz Romero Mejia took 2nd prize for a report in La Prensa on twelve women murdered by their partners in Nicaragua, and Joao Antonio Barrios and Thiago Prado took first prize for a series of articles of paramilitary occupation of the shanty-towns of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the police corruption that accompanies it.

I, for one, am thrilled to have found about this tonight and congratulate El Universo and the journalists for the honor. I hope it brings additional attention to the plight of teens who are taken to these type of centers throughout Latin America, often against their will, and that it helps to shut down such illicit ventures once and for all.

Alison Moyet a year ago -- and today!

In October of last year I had one of my life-time dreams fulfilled. Sure, I had already seen her perform with Vince Clarke in July of 2008 for their Yazoo reunion tour, but what I had always dreamed about was seeing the incomparable Alison Moyet live, singing her own amazing songs.

Dream come true: "One More Time" from the show I saw at the Blender Theater on October 8, 2008:

A year later, almost to the date, comes word a Nov. 3 UK release of a new Alison Moyet "Best of" album titled, appropriately, "Best of 25 Years Revisited". It's not the first 'hits' compilation she has released. "Singles" came out in 1995 with a bonus disc of live versions. And now, the deluxe version of the new release, also sees a 2nd disc with 11 newly recorded re-interpretations of old songs, also sung by Ms. Moyet.

What brought this to light was a recent YouTube discovery of a performance of "This House" by Ms. Moyet that took place earlier this month to promote the new release:

I was simply stunned. Not because it is and shall be one of my favorite Moyet songs, mind you. But because it's difficult not to miss Ms. Moyet's weight loss between October of last year and now. While watching her sing last year, I have to confess I wondered about her weight and her health. It must have taken a lot of work and exercise and major changes to her lifestyle. But she certainly seems at ease and happy - and I hope she feels great. The interview that followed her performance on the Paul O'Grady show doesn't address the weight drop, but it certainly offers a few juicy tidbits, including footage of Moyet as a back-up singer in a special appearance on British TV by legendary Dusty Springfield. Enjoy:

Update #1: From a profile of Alison Moyet the October 2nd edition of The Daily Mail:
[Moyet] says that the decision to shed the pounds was nothing to do with vanity but everything to do with preparing for old age. ‘I have lost and put on big batches of weight in my life many, many times,’ she admits. ‘But what concerns me is the idea of being an obese old woman, because I don’t like the idea of being physically incapable in someone else’s hands.
I have smoked and eaten too much rubbish in my time, but the catalyst for me to do something about it was not wanting to be incapacitated. It goes back to my need for privacy.’
Update #2 [January 2nd, 2011]: Excerpt from a statement Alison posted after comments regarding a televised New Year's Eve performance in the UK elicited lots of Twitter comments:
...then there was Twitter trending over my body. Wow thats MENTAL. I forget. I have lived with me in this form for way more than a year and I don't think about how I seem to others. Being fat all my life and still in my head and my whole psychology I am used to people having their say over me, relatives, journalists.. but we live in new times and instead of giggles behind hands, a spiteful byline and the odd shout out, it is now in your face and unashamed. Complimentary or resentful, I don't like it at all..ha bleedin' body eh? It will be the death of me. As a point of research for those wondering, no I feel no more confident or lush than I did as big me, less maybe, and spending little time gazing at myself in the looking glass and no time on the pull...I feel utterly unchanged. I am certainly not flattered that a few more 'would'. It is utterly irrelevant.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The yellow, the orange, the red, the green, the Levi...

Yup! I've been away from home... As for Levi, he is ever vigilant and zombie-eyed at night.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Actor Jaime Camil says kissing scenes with male co-star are being edited out from telenovela

This is unusual:

Jaime Camil, the leading actor in a new telenovela being broadcast in Mexico, has expressed frustration and disappointment with Televisa, the parent company, for editing out scenes in which he is shown kissing male co-star Jose Rohn.

"Los Existosos Pérez" ["The Successful Perez Family"], an adaptation from an original Argentinian series, is a half-hour comedy of mistaken identity and intrigue set in and around a television news studio.

Camil plays Gonzalo González, a man hired by the station owners to impersonate top rated news anchorman Martín Pérez, after the star anchor has an accident and falls into a coma (Camil plays both parts).

Unbeknownst to the impostor, a very public marriage between the anchorman and his female news co-host is a sham, and is a cover for a long term relationship between the anchorman and another man.

The impostor suddenly finds himself trying to deflect the anchorman's male lover's advances without letting the lover know he is someone else, while secretly falling in love with the female co-host. Hilarity ensues [preview here].

I've checked out a few of the episodes that have been posted on YouTube and haven't been too impressed. It's not a bad show in particular, but it's not a good one either. Using the gay storyline to elicit laughs seems a bit retro, even though it's been described as a huge step forward for Mexican television. It doesn't help that the actors who play gay men camp it up a bit to project 'gayness' - and that includes Jose Ron as the anchorman's lover and an actor playing a gay network assistant. It's not in itself a bad thing, but it's a tired old stereotype nevertheless.

All of this would be par for the course and might not even merit a mention except that Camil spoke up last weekend.

Interviewed by a gossip show correspondent in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the telenovela is being shot, Camil said he was perplexed about several kissing scenes that had been shot between him and Jose Rhon which were either edited out or shortened when televised [see YouTube video below].

"They are editing them for a reason [and] I still fail to comprehend why it is," he says on camera, and ads that "it's a bit frustrating, as an actor, to undertake a creative process [to create] a character and, suddenly, to have it cut off based on false morals or double standards that sometimes exist in Mexico."

He does admit that it's up to the producers to decide what makes it on air or what doesn't and says that he is happy with the way that the show and his character have been developing in the two months since it was launched.

Mexican gossip show NX, which captured Camil's seemingly unguarded comments, ran the interview with commentary. Highlighting how homophobic Mexican media can be, a member of the show jokes that Camil is just angry because he had to shoot the kissing scenes several times and had to kiss a man over and over.

Still, this IS Mexico, where these huge media conglomerates closely guard their product and content and where these increasingly multi-national telenovelas are produced to be sold later to the lucrative international syndication market. To a higher degree than Hollywood, stars who are part of Mexican show-business rarely speak up or criticize producers or companies, particularly if you are currently part of the show you are criticizing.

In that light, I think it's huge that a well-known telenovela star like Camil, who is actually playing the show's lead, is willing to go on record about his criticism and willing to question whether there is homophobia at play.

It'll be interesting to see if Camil's comments lead to Televisa reviewing what it shows and doesn't show in a telenovela that is supposed to embrace gay characters. It will also be interesting to see if Univision, which is scheduled to air the series possibly on prime time here in the Unites States, will also cut the kissing scenes or let them stand.

An aside: The show does mark the return of legendary telenovela star Veronica Castro to Mexican television. You might remember, in a somewhat related vein, that she refused to play a lesbian role on a Mexican TV special because she did not want to kiss another woman.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

PJ on Obama, LGBT rights, the march in DC and the worker's strike in Puerto Rico

Readers of this blog know I just adore my friend Pedro Julio Serrano. Yes! Even though I totally ruined his recent surprise birthday party when I called to tell him I couldn't make it. The thing is that his partner Steven, who had sent the invites out, hadn't quite told PJ about the party. Steven now hates me, I'm sure.

Last we saw PJ and Steven on this blog, they were asking New York State to let them get married (with the help of Steven's mom). Before that, it was PJ going on NY1's "Pura Politica" to take on Luis Tellez of the homophobic National Organization for Marriage, and systematically breakingdown every single point that Tellez made against marriage equality.

On Friday, PJ was back on "Pura Politica" with host Juan Manuel Benitez and he was right on target when discussing President Barack Obama, last weekend's LGBT rights march in DC, comments made by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, and a worker's strike in Puerto Rico.

Of course, I've taken the liberty of translating the exchange (see above). Below is the translated transcript...

JUAN MANUEL BENITEZ: In the 'lightning round' section, the [mayoral] candidates had to respond 'Yes' or 'No' to whether President Barack Obama had done enough for the rights of gays. Let's listen [video of last week's mayoral debate]. In other words, Mayor Bloomberg thinks he hasn't done enough, Bill Thompson says yes. With us, PEDRO JULIO SERRANO from the [National] Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Thank you so much for being here, Pedro Julio [PEDRO JULIO: Thank you, Juan Manuel]. And tell me, what's so important about this question in a mayoral debate...

PEDRO JULIO SERRANO: Well, clearly, politicians from the City of New York have to demonstrate complete knowledge of all topics, no? And the topic of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and bisexual community is an important topic, no? And, clearly, looking at a change in administration, with a Bush administration, which used us as a scapegoat for political gain, we now have a president who has promised to be a 'Fierce Advocate' for the rights of the gay community. So, clearly, there is true value in that... that in a city that many see as a place where the rights of the gay community can be recognized faster than in other places in the nation, they see New York City as an important place. That is why it has relevance in a mayoral debate.

JMB: Ah, did he screw up? Bill Thompson? When he said that Barack Obama has done enough? Because those of us who were there were able to hear some kind of 'Ooooh!' in the audience, as if they were left feeling disappointed with that answer.

PJS: I believe that the president hasn't still been able to do too many things because Congress still hasn't sent him legislation for the president to sign; so, this question here also has to be put into the context that Congress first approves a law, and then the President has to sign it or veto it. So, clearly, he could do more since - with an Executive Order - the president could - right now - stop the firing of lesbian, gay and bisexual people from the military [JMB: 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell']. He could eliminate it until Congress passes the legislation. But he could stop it momentarily while Congress takes action. So, clearly, there are things that the president could do, and there are things that have to wait for Congress, and you have to evaluate [the president] in a more open way.

JMB: Because President Obama, on Saturday night, this last Saturday, gave a speech before the Human Rights Campaign organization and promised once again that he wanted to end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' - which is that law, that order in the military which says that gays, bisexuals, lesbians, transgender people can serve in the army as long as they are not open about their sexuality. He promised it once again. Do you believe in that promise? Or not?

PJS: Yes. I believe it. And I think we will be finally be able to evaluate Obama after he finishes his term if he met all the promises hr made to the gay community. President Obama has truly been a person who has spoken in front of African-American audiences, and before churches, no? about the importance of eradicating homophobia and that we all are treated equally. I think President Obama is still not at a place in which he is demanding complete equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, but he has been the first president who has mentioned the word 'transgender', who has promised to eradicate discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. So we are clearly seeing an openness that we didn't see in the last 8 years and that we hope, truthfully, that he is able to meet with his mandate - when he is done - towards securing equal rights.

JMB: OK, but many in the community don't think the same way as PEDRO JULIO. That the president is not delivering on his promises and, the day after he gave that speech we talked about, before the Human Rights Campaign, tens of thousands of people marched in the capital to protest what they see as too slow a rhythm on these reforms. A lot of them, in this community, were not in agreement with this protest. Why, PEDRO JULIO...

PJS: Well, I have to say that I'm clearly convinced that a tardy justice is no justice. In other words, I am in agreement that this has to be addressed immediately. I would like it if tomorrow - more than that - today! I wish we already had all rights that the rest of society enjoy. But, clearly, we also have to see that there is a political process, and in the state of rights that we have, laws have to be approved, and the president would then have to sign them. So, clearly, the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force was also marching there in Washington, which is the organization for which I work, and we were clearly demanding, not only from the president but also from Congress - and i believe looking past Congress and the president and the political system - demanding from society that they embrace us as the human beings we are; as their sons, brothers, friends, co-workers, who are also part of this society, and that we deserve the same respect and dignity than everyone else.

JMB: And, before we leave, you also marched in Puerto Rico on Thursday...

PJS: Indeed. The gay community joined the national strike in Puerto Rico because the great majority of the community in Puerto Rico is a... is part of the working class, no? and has seen itself affected. I have friends, and family members who have seen themselves affected by these firings, no? which have been unjust and immoral, and, clearly, in the gay community, the situation is aggravated, because they not only are fired but they also lack legal protections right now so that they can protect their employment and their lives, and can have access to the same sustainment that the rest of society enjoys.

JMB: As always, PEDRO JULIO, many thanks for coming back to "PURA POLITICA".

  • Pedro Julio Serrano has his own Spanish-language blog (here) and was the first Spanish-language blogger to join the influential group of bloggers at The Bilerico Project.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Spain: Calendar features transgender models posing as the Virgin, controversy follows

A calendar released by an LGBT rights organization in Spain is raising some eyebrows for its use of religious imagery in what is a predominately Catholic country.

The 2010 calendar, which had an initial pressing of 10,000 copies, shows settings that mimic religious paintings and features transgender models dressed like the Virgin Mary.

Copies were distributed at July's pride march in Madrid but it's receiving widespread attention now after El Mundo published this story today.

On sale to raise funds for the LGTB Collective of Madrid (COGAM), its
authors say that it's meant to be a "secular calendar" and that it each page suggests alternate ways to celebrate religious holidays.

"Wherever it's noted that December 25 is Christmas, a candy sweet should be eaten on behalf of International Democracy Day" is one example.

Venezuelan photographer Juan Antinoo, author of the images, says that he doesn't see why they should be considered controversial.

"It's not something that worries me, what truly is important is that the message gets out there; which is the importance of the use of a condom" he said. "They are interpretations of religious images, not copies," he added, "I sincerely don't think anyone should be offended by them".

[Disclaimer: I've actually met Antinoo couple of times and love his work and, in this case, each page is supposed to incorporate condoms as imagery; I have to say, though, that I'm not sure the prevention message quite carries through here in the way that his "BEARback, yes, bareback NO" campaign did].

Of course, the predominant factor that sets these images apart is the use of transgender models posing as the Virgin. The include Carla Antonelli, a leading Spanish transgender rights activist, who said she certainly considered the potential controversy that the calendar might elicit before she agreed to pose for it.

"I posed myself the following scenario: Why is it that a transsexual woman can't represent a religious icon given life by so many other actors and actresses throughout history? To not do it would be akin to internalizing the same discriminatory principles that people want to throw against us", she said.

The project's authors say that there is a definite intent to make transgender women more visible to society.

I'm not sure how the whole thing would play here in the United States [you might remember the whole bru-ha-ha over the Folsom Street Fair poster a couple of years ago or the reaction by then-Mayor Rudolph Guiliani to a certain painting]. But this is Spain, a country in which one of the most common insults, despite religious overtones, might even make atheists blush ("Me cago en la ostia"), and where people don't mince words when they want to say something.

So, if your faith is strong enough to withstand it (and if you are a true believer, it should), or if you dig the transgressive nature of the campaign, or if you want to know what the bru-ha-ha is about, or if you want to feel offended despite the warnings, please feel free to peruse through each page of the calendar here (Warning: some nudity).

  • Carla Antonelli's blog can be found here.
  • Antinoo's site can be found here.

From Questioning Transphobia:
The shock of these images is, I think, that transsexual bodies are associated implicitly with the profane. Christian theology is, as queer liberation theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid puts it, a “vanilla theology,” an imaginative specatacular economy that depicts already-privileged bodies as holy (the historically inaccurate depiction of Jesus as a white man), and excludes those of marginalised groups. She says that “belief systems are organised around people’s bodies, and people’s bodies in relationships, and in sexual relationships” (2003: 43)... [read on]
From My Private Casbah:
Even though I'm not Catholic, it's devotion to Mary is one of its features that draws me to it the most. The idea of an African woman producing a vessel of salvation for mankind is an intensely powerful idea. I love speaking to Notre Dame D'Afrique [...]The depiction of Mary as a transgender woman seems very natural to me. I really don't understand how it is any different than the myriad ways that Mary has already been depicted. I know that some people arrogantly think that they can own the divine. They don't want others to know that Mary belongs to everyone. She is the face that we see when we think about the feminine divinity. If Mary looks like us and the Creator deemed her worthy of recognition and respect and admiration, how could we worthless? In my opinion, depicting Mary as a transgender woman only magnifies her image and I think this is something that could be quite empowering for all women [read on]
From Page McBee at the bitch magazine blogs:
This calendar may be cheeky and subversive, but it's also powerful in its indictment of the offended viewer: what is so wrong about trans women, anyway? Who decides what bodies are "right?" And what does it mean to be a woman, anyway? Hat's off to these women who, like many before them, force us to examine these sorts of questions anew [read on]
From New York Gay Pride:
I think this is unnecessary and reminds me of the gay nativity in Amsterdam during X-mas last year. A drag queen Maria, a leather Joseph etc. It’s just really disrespectful to religious people and only gathers bad publicity for the gay community. Some things should be left sacred [read on].
From Queering the Church:
So, this calendar, appropriating religious imagery to promote condoms, raise funds for LGBT Collective Madrid, and is meant to suggest alternative, secular ways to celebrate religious holidays, “should (not) be considered controversial”? I’m certain that very many would disagree, and only on the fiercely traditionalist fringe [read on].
From Guanabee:
The calendar has, unsurprisingly, drawn ire of the Catholic Church. And why not, really? Even if the calendar didn’t feature transgender individuals (whom some religious groups view as fighting against being the way God made them), it does prominently feature condoms, which go against the Catholic Church’s firm stance against contraception and view that sex is a means of procreation. So, yes. It is most definitely intentionally provocative. Which is why it’s here, right now, along with our own little reminder to practice safe sex. Unless you choose to remain abstinent because of your faith. In which case: We still love ya, too. And we’ll be eating various sweets on Christmas day for you, for Jesus, for democracy, and because we’re kind of a pig... [read on]
Previously on Blabbeando:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Brazil: Court says transgender individuals have the right to change their name and gender on civil records

In an unanimous decision announced yesterday, Brazil's Supreme Justice Tribunal ruled that transgender individuals who have undergone gender-reassignment surgery have the right to change their name and gender on their birth certificates.

EFE reports that the ruling by the 2nd highest court in the nation came as a response to a woman who had undergone gender-reassignment surgery from male to female and asked the court to be allowed to officially change her name from Claudemir to Patricia.

A lower court in Sao Paulo had ruled against her saying that there was an "immutability" to the data contained in birth certificates and that someone's "appearance" did not supersede said immutability. But Supreme Justice Tribunal judge Nancy Andrighi said it was "contradictory" for the Brazilian government to offer free gender reassignment surgery to transgender individuals but stop short at denying them the right to change the data on their civil registry.

Andrighi, according to O Globo, also said that to deny a transgender person to officially change their name and gender would expose the person to ongoing exposure to ridicule and discrimination.

Coverage for gender-reassignment surgery was recently added to the list of procedures covered by the Brazilian government's National Health System.

Colombia: Court says gay man has right to equal share of property in separation from partner

Is this another first in Latin America?

The top court in the city of Pereira, Colombia, located in the center-west state of Risaralda, has ruled that when a same-sex couple splits, the former partners are entitled to an equal distribution of belongings, just as married heterosexual partners are given the same right.

The verdict follows a January ruling by the Colombian Supreme Court which stopped short of granting marriage or civil union rights to same-sex partners but basically said that gay couples should enjoy the same rights as heterosexual partners.

In this case, Julio Alfredo Girardo (pictured above), who had spent 27 years with Jorge Eduardo Gómez Alzate, went to court and sued him after Gómez Alzate dumped him and took their belongings. On Tuesday, El Tiempo reported that a lower court had already judged against Girardo last year. Girardo decided to appeal the decision and emerged victorious. The court determined that there was enough proof of a "marital society" between the men, which also meant that Girardo had the right to an equal distribution of belongings.

"I wasn't about to do what many people do, who, for fear of letting others know about their homosexuality, they remain quiet," said Girardo. "Someone had to take the step, and that was me".

Attorney Fabio Girardo Sanz, speaking to Caracol Radio, said that the ruling set a national precedent and could apply to other regions in the country for individuals in a similar situation.

So there is still no civil unions or marriage rights for same-sex couples in Colombia but the courts are beginning to recognize same-sex couples as family units deserving the same rights as heterosexual partners.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

UPDATE: Court in Spain orders new trial in brutal killing of gay couple

Back in March, I brought you the shocking story a man who was acquitted of murder charges in the stabbing death of a gay couple in Vigo, Spain.

Jacobo Piñeiro Rial (right) had spent the afternoon of January 12th of this year drinking at a gay bar. At some point, he left the place with bartender Isaac Al Daní Pérez Triviño, and accepted an invite to Triviño's apartment. According to court testimony, the two spent the afternoon doing drugs. The pair didn't even leave the room after Triviño's partner, Julio Anderson Luciano, arrived with a couple of friends for dinner.

Luciano's friends left, but Piñeiro stayed in the apartment with the couple. Something went horribly wrong and, according to forensic reports, the bloodbath began around 4am on the morning of the 13th and didn't end until 2 hours later.

Piñeiro, who argued that he wasn't gay and that he'd panicked after the men had tried to sexually assault him, methodically took his time as he stabbed them 57 times. Forensic experts testified that he followed Luciano as the victim struggled to crawl out of a hallway into the living room, stabbing him 22 times as he went along. Once he'd killed the couple, he dumped clothes across the floor and on the bodies, dousing them with gasoline, and set everything afire.

Astonishingly, despite the fact that Piñeiro spent a whole afternoon at a gay bar and accepted an invite by a gay bartender to go home with him, the jury that heard the case in March believed in the gay panic defense and absolved Piñeiro of murder charges. Apparently, the jury would have set him free if it wasn't for the judge who stepped in to correct some jury 'errors' and sentenced him in setting the apartment on fire. The judge sentenced Piñeiro to 20 years in prison on the arson charges.

Understandably, there were protests. In Vigo, Madrid, New York and Berlin. The New York protest came at the calling of my friend Karlo.

The outrage elicited by the acquittal led to demands that the court ruling be annulled. And this summer, the Superior Justice Tribunal of Galicia decided to take a look at the ruling and determine if it had been fair.

Yesterday, mincing no words, the Tribunal called the lower court ruling "defective, absurd, illogical and arbitrary"and ordered a new trial, according to El Pais. The Tribunal also dismissed petitions to reduce the sentence for setting the apartment on fire.

Asked by La Voz de Galicia how she felt about the announcement, Marta Pérez Triviño, Isaac's mother, said "I am very happy, although we have only won a battle but we have yet to win the war".

She told the paper that she hopes that a new trial will take place before July.

Speaking about the first trial's murder acquittal, she said "If it had been a different murdered couple, the verdict would have been a lot different; the jury was greatly swayed by racism and homophobia."

Ms. Triviño has always said that she is not only fighting for justice for her son Isaac, but also for his partner Julio, who she loved as if he were her own son.

Although it didn't surface during the trial, police records show that after being arrested, Piñeiro told police that he had been particularly disgusted by the fact that a black Brazilian man made sexual advances, using some of the vilest racist terms possible. Ms. Triviño has implied that the jury in the first trial might have held similar sentiments against Julio.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Colombia: Shooting a gun in the air will get you a lesser fine than urinating in the street

Fines imposed on people committing a number of minor infractions have just increased exponentially in Bogotá, Colombia.

Clara López, secretary of the Bogotá Government's Office, said that these fines, as determined by the National Police Code, had not been updated or changed for more than 39 years, and were often seen as a joke even by the police officers who were trained to enforce them.

López told El Tiempo that the fees for these fines had been updated to reflect the increase in cost of life since 1970 so that throwing litter on the streets, which would have brought a penalty of 3 to 5 US cents just last month, will now cost you 16 to 32 US dollars (using today's conversion rate for the Colombian peso).

The changes come in light of a series of increasingly violent fan-driven public fights inside and outside soccer stadiums. "People who disturb the normal development of social activities, including in stadiums", the paper says, will now pay a fine of 1,315 dollars.

The 1,315 dollar rate is the highest fine mentioned but it also applies to having "sexual relations in a public place" and "urinating in public".

Interestingly, burning one's house down intentionally - which will now cost you a still paltry 162 to 324 dollars - or shooting a gun in an open space - which now elicits a fine of 324 to 648 dollars - will bring a much lesser charge than being caught having sex or urinating in public. My concern is that both those charges might be used to harass LGBT folk out in the street late at night, just as similar laws have been used elsewhere in Latin America to entrap gays and lesbians.

Another fine that caught my eye: The lowest fine of 16 to 32 US dollars applies if you are caught not raising the Colombian flag outside your home on national holidays.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Argentina: Recreational center for LGBT retirees opens in Buenos Aires, 1st in Latin America

I have always been weary of business ventures selling themselves as human interest stories to get free media promotion (see, for example, the hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles about LGBT travel, including all the ink spilled on Caribbean and Latin American LGBT sea cruises). It's the main reason, other than I haven't been blogging as much as of late, that I haven't written about what is being sold as the first-ever LGBT retirement recreational center in all of Latin America.

But then came the actual opening of the center last week in Buenos Aires and video posted online by La Nación ("First center for retired gays opens", Oct. 1, 2009). It moved me enough to write about it today.

The center was the idea of a lesbian couple who happen to be psychologists, Graciela Palestra and Silvina Tealdi. They founded the LGBT-rights organization Puerta Abierta ten years ago and have now decided to open el Centro Puerta Abierta a la Diversidad (The Open Door to Diversity Center).

The Center, described as having bright white walls, several large social rooms, smaller therapy and one-on-one counseling rooms, a kitchen, a balcony and a grilling area, was designed to make it a fun space, according to the founders. They also say they have received over fifty inquiries from people interested in becoming members.

On the video posted online, La Nación interviews Dr. Palestra and also talk to two members: Norma Castillo and her partner of 30 years Ramona Arévalo. Other members were encouraged to talk to media, they say, but none were willing to speak openly about their sexuality to a reporter or in front of a camera. Ms. Castillo, who is the president of the Center, says "it's not easy to get riled up to talk about their sexuality; society judges".

Here is a translated transcript of the interview:

NORMA CASTILLO: I was 35 years old...
REPORTER: And did you have a boyfriend before...?
NC: I was married... I was married. And so was she... I was homophobic! And later, when I went to a psychologist and began to look back, and see myself and to see things, that's when I realized that I was burying it all up. That my... Honestly, I thought I was heterosexual...
RAMONA ARÉVALO: I was married, I have a son, male, but I didn't know this, that I'd be attracted to a woman as the years passed by, no?
REPORTER: When did you discover that you liked women?
RA: [Laughs] When I saw her... [the couple laugh]
REPORTER: Did you know she was the love of your life? [NC laughs]
RA: Possibly, I didn't know at the moment, but we both began to build it, no? [...]
RA: When they are much older, it's harder for them to say that they are gay.
NC: So they go to a regular retirement home and, when a woman who is single arrives, they look for a boyfriend [laughs] and so, she cannot say 'No, I don't want to have a boyfriend" [laughs].
GRACIELA BALESTRA: "Puerta Abierta a La Diversidad" [Open Door to Diversity] is the first center for pensioned and retired lesbians and gays in the Republic of Argentina, and - we also believe - in Latin America. The mission is to have a place, indeed, for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender seniors, so they can have their own place, get together as couples, get out of a solitary life. There is a lot of loneliness among older people. [...]
REPORTER to RA: How was telling your son...
RA: No. There was no problem. I told him, "I have a relationship with her". He told me: "Well, mommy, it was you; Perhaps it could have been my dad; So I won't make it an problem", he said. He didn't have any problems.
GB: We offer psychotherapy specializing on homosexuality and we are welcoming to family members: Sons, fathers, mothers, also, of gays and lesbians. Couples...
NC: I told you, it is very difficukt for older people, because one drags behind many taboos, a lot of fear about what people will say. Plus, you also have to have a bit of courage because, to go against the current, in whatever it is, is always difficult.
GB: One tries to help in constructing this path to coming out of the closet, and to be increasingly authentic everywhere they go. It's not easy. Really, there is a lot of help needed.