Sunday, December 26, 2010

Year in Review, pt. 4: Argentina's gays get to marry, Rev. Ruben Diaz thanks Blabbeando, Piñeiro goes to prison


Moment of the year, captured on video: By a margin of 33-27, the Argentinean Senate voted to approve a marriage equality law in the early morning of July 15th and, by doing so, Argentina became the first Latin American country to allow gays to marry.  President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner signed the bill into law on July 21st and couples started getting married on July 31st.

They weren't the first couples to marry in Argentina, though.  That honor went to longtime HIV prevention activists and Argentinean LGBT Federation members Jose Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre, who got married on December 29th, 2009, after a court gave them the go-ahead.

They also became the first gay couple to marry in all of Latin America. Mexico City might have approved their landmark marriage equality law on December 21st, 2009, but the law only went into effect in March of 2010.

Best television ad of the year: In the days before the Argentinean Senate vote, we saw the following incredible television ad. It was produced and written by Mati Caseaux and directed by Juan Schnitman.  I'm not sure if it has gotten any end of the year "Best Commercial of 2010" accolades, but if it hasn't, it should.

On a side-note, media watchdog webportal Mediaite covered my Twitter senate vote coverage (!).

Fidel Castro says he is to blame for past persecution against the LGBT community in Cuba: In August, former Cuban president Fidel Castro took responsibility for all past abuses against the LGBT community in the island.  It was a stunning admission, tempered by his assertion that he personally has never had a homophobic bone in his body and that, if gays were sent to "internment" camps, well, that should be blamed on the incidental homophobia among the Cuban population at the time.

NYS Senator Ruben Diaz says marriage equality will happen in New York State soon --- as a sign of the end of days: I know! Isn't that special. Read all about it here.  Thanks for the marriage equality endorsement, Reverend!

NYS Senator Ruben Diaz thanks Blabbeando: I know! Isn't that special. Read all about it here. WTF!

Jacobo Piñeiro goes to prison: In a case I have followed since March of 2009, a man who confessed to brutally stabbing a gay couple in Vigo, Spain, was finally convicted and sent to prison after an earlier verdict had cleared him of all murder charges.

That earlier verdict was vacated by a higher court earlier this year and, after a new trial was ordered, Piñeiro was released after three years of being held in prison.

In October, a court reached a different verdict and the judge sentenced Piñero to the maximum allowable time in prison: 25 to 58 years, minus time already served.

Venezuelan mural defaced by homophobes, repaired: A street mural in the Chacao District of Venezuela portraying two men kissing which was defaced with dark graffiti paint and homophobic epithets. The mural, which urged tolerance towards others and was part of a campaign sponsored by the Chacao Mayor's Office to improve the city's living environment. Darient, the graffiti artist who painted the mural, returned and painted another male couple kissing. Instead of urging "tolerance," the new mural promotes "respect."

Which brings us, finally, to December.

HIV/AIDS: There were problematic HIV prevention campaigns launched in New York City and Chile, plus a Puerto Rican first lady who thought there already was a cure.

Miami homobigots protest Ricky Martin and Univision: The protest didn't really go anywhere but it was certainly shameful.

And I'll close with one of my favorite stories of the year: The Argentinean version of Big Brother drafted this cutie-patootie as one of the contestants!

...aaaaaaaaaand that's a wrap! That was the Blabbeando year that was.

Year in Review, pt. 3: World Cup fever, Jorge Steven Lopez's killer brought to justice, Lady Gaga's Little Monsters in Monterrey

Soccer superstar supports marriage equality: On the eve of the South Africa FIFA World Soccer Cup, May brought expressions of support for marriage equality from one of soccer's biggest starts: Cristiano Ronaldo. His country of birth, Portugal, became the 6th European country to allow gays to marry in May and a reporter wanted his reaction. "We must respect the choices made by anyone," he said. "after all, every citizen should have the exact same rights and responsibilities."

The Putos Peronistas fly their blue flag: In May, Argentina got one step closer to becoming the first country in Latin America to grant same-sex couples the right to marry when the House of Deputies voted in favor of a marriage equality bill with 125 in favor, 109 against and 6 abstentions (you can see the blue Peronist Fags flag proudly flying above the legislative chambers after the vote was taken).

Justice in the murder of Jorge Steven López Mercado: In Puerto Rico, Juan José Martinez Matos pleaded guilty the brutal murder of 19 year old gay college student Jorge Steven López Mercado last November and received a sentence of 99 years in prison.

The murder had drawn international attention for its brutality as well as for the silence it elicited from the leading political and religious figures in the island, with rallies for justice held in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  Public figures such as Miss Universe 2001 Denise Quiñonez, Calle 13 singer René Perez and Ricky Martin also raised their voice denouncing the crime.

Uniting all those threads was the amazingly moving work done by my friend Pedro Julio Serrano,who works at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who helped the López Mercado family to get through some of the most difficult times as their murdered son was brought to justice. Pedro Julio was next to Jorge Steven's parents after Martinez was sentenced...

Maradona is not gay. I repeat, Maradona is NOT gay: In June, as the FIFA World Cup got underway and the Argentinean soccer team emerged as a favorite to win the tournament, team manager and soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona raised some eyebrows when he adamantly denied he was gay in response to a reporter's seemingly badly translated question (here is a direct link to the video).

Argentina, alas, did not go on to win the Cup which also meant that Maradona did not have to keep a promise he made to the team's technical manager to run naked around the Obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires.

Church mural is too gay: In the Dominican Republic, an artist who had been contracted years ago to paint a church mural, denounced that a new priest wanted the mural torn down because it was too gay.  A community vote on whether the mural would be left standing or torn down was planned but I never found out the outcome.

Lady Gaga to the rescue in Monterrey, Mexico: In the meantime, LGBT activists in Mexico who had long lobbied the Mexican government to observe May 17th as the official "International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia" were enraged that the federal government finally acceded to their demands only to strip the words "homophobia" and "transphobia" from the official designation. Instead, Felipe Calderón's government, who had previously appealed the groundbreaking marriage equality ruling in Mexico City before the Supreme Court and lost, called it "The National
Day of Tolerance and Respect towards Preferences".  How did the activists respond? Of course! Staging a Lady Gaga "Bad Romance" flashmob at the Plaza of Heroes in Monterrey!

Menudo outing, pt. 2: Oh, and in the meantime, another former Menudo singer came out. Or, in other words, Angelo Garcia was already out but nobody asked him until a couple of months before even Ricky Martin came out.  But word of a 2nd Menudo being an openly gay man didn't catch fire until media followed up on Ricky's Twitter confession.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Year in Review, pt. 2: Wedded bliss in Mexico City, TG blood on Peruvian Flag, Lisa M. comes out

Continuing a look at the Blabbeando year in review:

Wedded bliss in Mexico City: In March, a marriage equality law approved by the Mexico City legislature in December finally went into effect, making it the first region in all of Latin America to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The law would survive a constitutional challenge filed at the behest of Mexican president Felipe Calderón when the country's Supreme Court ruled in August that it was constitutionally solid. The court would also rule that granting adoption rights to same-sex couples was constitutional and that all Mexican states were required to legally recognize any and all same-sex marriages recognized by the Mexico City (not all states are happy about it).

In October, La Jornada reported 417 same-sex couples had married in Mexico since the law went into effect.

Washing trans blood from the Peruvian flag: In March, I also wrote about an unusual transgender rights protest in the northern Peruvian city of Tumbes in which, in front of cameras, participants called for the church and state to stop discriminating against them and urged those in power to create  a better employment environment for them. What made the protest unusual and striking was that the women pulled out a Peruvian flag they said had been stained with their blood and, using a bucket of water and soap, they proceeded to wash the flag to call attention to all the hate crimes committed against the transgender community throughout Peru.

Hiram, a friend no more: Locally, disgraced former New York City Councilmember and New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate lost a last-ditch attempt at remaining in politics by embracing homophobia. Once a marriage equality ally, Monserrate was one of the few Democratic State Senators who a marriage equality bill and helped to sink it.  To think I once called Hiram a personal friend.

Ricky: Oh, and Ricky Martin came out.

A Cardinal talks, the authorities follow: In April, I wrote about Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodriguez of the Dominican Republic and his latest pet peeve: The public behavior he'd observed at Duarte Park, a popular public gathering spot for members of the LGBT community of Santo Domingo.  Aparently, he used a Sunday sermon to blast the "abhorrent" behavior he'd seen.  His work carries power and, for the next week, local media parroted his calls for authorities to clean up the park.  Within days the police department was telling media that they had linked illicit drug sales in the park to a group of homosexuals and giving a vow to shut down any park vendor activity that attempted against "morals and good behavior." It's a sign of how much sway the Cardinal holds over the local authorities. Scary for a man of the cloth who has been known to describe gays as "faggots".

KFC turns men gay: Bolivian president Evo Morales momentarily became the world's laughing stock - and torpedoed any serious coverage of an important international environmental conference being held in his country - when he used his key note address to argue, among other things, that feminine hormones injected into chicken from non-organic farms could cause "deviations in a man's being".

How that could be interpreted as anything but saying eating non-organic chicken could make some men gay escapes me, but the Bolivian government's defense later argued that Morales had said no such thing - and that the charge of homophobia had been a ploy by imperialists nations to overshadow coverage of the environmental summit.

Local Bolivian LGBT organizations begged to differ and sent a letter asking for clarification.  The government responded by saying the wished to affirm their support for the LGBT community in Bolivia --- and stating, once again, that Morales "under no circumstance" had been referring to homosexuality in his speech. Watch the video and see if you agree.

Bad, bad, Vatican: Also in April, responding to a call for action by the International LGBTI Association (ILGA), advocates in VenezuelaArgentina and Peru held rallies against the Vatican to reject links the Vatican hierarchy were making between pedophilia and homosexuality.

Soccer players in love: I also found what must be one of the hottest gay scenes to play in a Latin America telenovela.  It's from "Botineras" and, in it, two men who play soccer players and have fallen in love have sex for the first time. Doing some follow-up, I also found scenes from a shoot one of the actors - who says he's straight - did for a gay webportal. Meet Cristian Sancho.

Hey ladies! Oh, and Puerto Rican salsa/reggaeton singer Lisa M. came out (it's a video from VEVO, which means it might not be available to watch in your region).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Year in Review, pt. 1: Esteban Arce keeps his job, the man formerly known as Luke Sissyfag riles NOM's nerves...

I don't think I've ever done one these before. It doesn't mean I can't do one. So there.

January: Mexican television show host Esteban Arce got himself into trouble early this year when a clip of a show he did in December was posted on YouTube and went viral on Twitter earlier this year.  The reason?  Elsie Reyes, a well-known "sexologist" and author of a well known syndicated relationship advice column, had been invited to the show to discuss the topic of 'sexual orientation'.  It all runs pretty smoothly at first until Arce repeatedly demands to know if homosexuality is "normal" or "natural".  When he doesn't get the answers he wants, the interview quickly goes downhill.

The furor elicited by the clip on Twitter was like nothing I'd seen before in Latin America when it comes homophobia in media which, to be sincere, surprised me considering that it was not the first time something like this had been aired on Mexican television.  The clip even had its own hashtag on Twitter promoted by people who were calling for Arce's ouster from the airwaves (#EstebanArceFueraDelAire). And mainstream Mexican media, facing a slow news period in January, ran with the story for days on end.

Arce and his show were suspended for a few days by the Televisa network but was back on the air a month later. Top Mexican newspaper Milenio calls it one of the top 10 TV moments of the year and takes Televisa to task for doing nothing.

February: Valentine's Day brought same-sex kiss-in demonstrations and equal partnership rights rallies in Peru, Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Expect similar demos come February of 2011.

Oh, and there was a big fire two blocks away from my apartment building.

Also in February: Luke Montgomery (formerly known as Luke Sissyfag) and his boyfriend Nate Guidas launched Cause Commandos to raise funds to help survivors of the massive January 12th earthquake that hit Haiti.

Although I haven't specifically written about it, Luke has been in the news again recently as the mind behind the FCKH8 campaign (that's him giving people the finger in the site's webpage).

I've been promoting their 2011 calendar (STR8 AGAINST H8) on my blog this month but this week this particular video drew the ire of homophobic bigots (OH.MY.GOD. I haven't done this many hyperlinks since I began the blog when I naively thought being hyperlink crazy was the way to go!).

Anyway, blooper reel!!

Next up: Latino pop singers come out of the closet, my friend Hiram, soccer players in love and how eating chicken can turn men gay...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Photo: Homophobes protest Ricky Martin and Univision in Miami

Today, even as the US Congress FINALLY voted to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and paved the way for allowing gays to openly serve in the military, I got this reminder that full-on prejudice remains very much alive in the United States (and I'm not even talking about Senator John McCain's desperate last ditch attacks against the law's repeal on the Senate floor today).

As my Twitter friend @RachelLapp alerted me on Thursday, members of a Hispanic evangelical church in Miami were organizing a protest against national Spanish-language television network Univision claiming they had aired "pornographic, indecent or obscene" content when they ran a November 2 special on pop singer Ricky Martin.

I'm not sure what sort of coverage it will get today, even in Miami, but Rachel, once again, alerted me to this photo posted by Venezuelan actress Maria Elena Heredia on Twitpic (and re-posted here by permission). She apparently wasn't aware of the protest until she drove by it and wrote, in Spanish, "Miami protest against Ricky Martin for his confession!!! UNHEARD OF! Such backwardness #NOH8".

The turn out looks like a healthy number. By this pic alone, it seems there were, at least, 200 people or so. The signs seem to have been printed by the same person and distributed to participants. They are all in Spanish and the ones that I can read say "UNIVISION, CHANGE YOUR WAYS", "U.S.: Return to God and he who blessed you" and "RICKY: You mess up our children's heads".

Hm, I have a feeling that the ones with the messed up heads are pretty visible in this picture.

As I said my previous post, I thought twice about posting the information about the protest because I didn't want to give these loony-tunes more attention than they deserved.  I even kept from providing a direct link to the organizer's website.

My good friends at the GREAT gossip site Guanabee, instead, decided to poke around.  Their reason? I love this Cindy Casares quote in taking up the organizers' assertions that Latinos culture is inherently homophobic: "We hate nothing more than when another Latino presumes to speak for us in the name of some blanket generalization."

Readers commenting on a Joe.My.God. blog post also pointed out something else: Ricky Martin's interview with Maria Elena Salinas, as it ran in "Aqui y Ahora", was in no way pornographic, indecent or obscene.  What has these Miami homobigots all in a tizzy is the fact that someone like Ricky Martin dared to speak up - as a huge figure in Latin America - and say that being gay and coming out has made him a much happier man.  From "Jack": "The complaint is not that a gay person was interviewed but that the interview showed a successful and (now) happy gay person. Miserable, decrepit, poor, suicidal gay people are beautiful. Happy, successful gay people are obscene."

In that regard, see this as what it is in the annals of history: These are the John McCains of the Hispanic community in the United States. They are losing their shit because they know they are grasping at straws and keep slipping into oblivion.

Not that their homophobic hate should be taken lightly: It has and will continue to elicit violence against queers and, in this case, specifically, in the Latino community they purport to represent.

But, ultimately, it speaks to these changing times - and the importance in the Latino community of someone like Ricky Martin saying "Yes, I am".

...and I quote:
I understand their frustration. It must be hard seeing gays riding their “sport motorcycles” to their $10 million houses while the best straight role models you can offer your kids are people willing to give up their weekends to protest against the guy who sang “She Bangs”. I certainly know which sexuality I’d choose.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hispanic homophobic bigots ask the FCC to fine Univision for interviewing Ricky Martin

[UPDATE #1: This is out there already so I've changed my mind. Here is the direct link to the Spanish language call for a protest at the Miami affiliate of Univision. Also, thanks for AfterElton and Towleroad for picking up on this post as well as Joe.My.God. It's worth going over to Joe's and read the many comments the story has elicited from his readers].

[UPDATE #2: A photo of the  12/18 protest here]

[h/t: Ricky Martin fan @RachelLapp ] Did you catch pop singer Ricky Martin having explicit gay sex with a very gay man on a very gay "Aqui y Ahora" special that aired on Univision - the leading Spanish language network in the United States?  You didn't?

You know, the November 2nd "Aqui y Ahora" special in which he couldn't stop having shockingly ultra-gay sex in front of the cameras even as respected journalist Maria Elena Salinas tried to ask him if he was comfortable with his new status as an out gay man? No?

Well, apparently everyone in the United States and Latin America saw the censored version except for the members of a tiny Hispanic evangelical church in South Florida who seem to have watched a whole different show than the one I saw.

They are rallying outside the studios of a local Miami Univision affiliate on Saturday to protest the airing of the show and to call upon the the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fine the network based on it's "pornographic, indecent or obscene" content.

Translated from the religious homobigots' Spanish language press release:
On November 2nd, 2010, Univision broadcast a program called: Ricky Martin... Without Secrets, in which he spoke of having his first sexual encounter when he was 15 years of age and that, after having slept with women, he had relations with men. Afterward he felt confused until one day when he was being interviewed he felt attracted to the reporter who was interviewing him. To the point of falling in love with that man. Presenting himself as being ultra-successful, showing images of his 10 million dollar house, riding a sport motorcycle through the streets, walking through the beach and then, showing images of his concert, in front of thousands of young folk, he presents himself as the role model to follow for the children who watched the program at the child friendly hour of 7 to 8 pm.

As people who value the principles that gave birth to this nation, we have decided to say 'enough' with these shows that violate the innocence of our kids and promote confusion at a time in which our youth are developing.

Univision's complicity in transmitting this message deserves, on our side, our complaints before the FCC - the entity that regulates media in the Unites States - which says that any pornographic, indecent or obscene content can be reported as a complaint.
That's what they write online. In a downloadeable pdf document available from their website purporting to be a partial transcript of what was said in the show they lie and say that Ricky Martin mentioned singer Alejandra Guzmán by name as a woman who drove him wild in his past (the singer has been careful not to name any names from his past in his many recent interviews as well as his recently released autobiography).

In addition, at the end, they call him the perfect "paladin" to promote the "homosexual agenda" and that, in his concerts, he always promotes homosexuality by shouting "Long live la vida loca!".

Pornographic, indecent or obscene.  I swear that's what they say!  Good luck with that! What I saw was a man who was finally ready to stop lying and to come to terms with his truth, a man who was as proud of raising his children as anyone else out there and a man who, in some ways, continues to hold most of his private life private, even bristling at some of the questions that Maria Elena Salinas asked about his romantic life.  Pornographic, indecent or obscene, it wasn't, unless the feed I watched was missing scenes from the version these homobigots saw.

I shudder to think what they will read into the title of Ricky Martin's new album "Musica, Alma, Sexo" which seems like a title ripped off from - err - I mean, a take on Justin Timberlake's "FutureSex/LoveSounds" album title than anything else.

And then, a conundrum: This being Thursday and the religious homobigot protest being Saturday, I realize that writing about it on this blog might end up bringing it more attention than they even deserve.  So, perhaps for the first time since I began writing this blog, I've decided not to point out or link up to any of the original sources until the protest is all said an done. I don't want to give them more credit than they should have when their intent is to spread homophobia in my community.

I could post the homobigots' televised call for a Ricky Martin protest - which is out there. Instead, I'll leave you with this live Spanish-language version of his beautiful new single "Lo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tu" from his upcoming album...


Argentina: Alejandro Iglesias shocks the viewers of "Big Brother 2011"

While a new season of "Big Brother" won't be in the air in the United States until the summer of 2011, the Argentinean version of the reality show just began its new season over the weekend.

The format is basically similar as that of the US version: Put a bunch of strangers inside a heavily monitored house and turn the cameras on 24/7. House members participate in challenges that give them immunity or the power to vote off cast members. Last person standing wins a pot of money. The "Gran Hermano 2011" website offers free live feeds all day long. Which might pique your interest... or not.

As with most shows of this nature, producers have thrown in a couple of gay participants: Emiliano Boscatto, who holds the title of Mr. Gay Cordoba 2008, and Luz Ríos, who producers describe as having "changed her sexual orientation" - sigh! - and is now proud to be a lesbian.

Announced as well, before the season started, was a "mystery houseguest". His identity was revealed in the season's opening episode. Meet 26 year old Alejandro Iglesias...

...and now you know why the producers kept his identity hidden.

YouTube video goes viral: I am incredibly struck by the public reaction to his very public declaration of being a transgender man.

I posted the video above on YouTube on December 12th and added English-language subtitles later. A couple of days ago, it became the 4th most watched YouTube video in Argentina that day. Today, four days later, the view count is 15,000+ and the 'likes' to 'dislikes' ratio is 25-3. I do moderate comments but I have been just amazed by the level of support people are expressing for Alejandro. There is only one extremely homophobic comment I rejected and the second worst comment the video has received was for the quality of my translation (I still think it's pretty accurate).

The fact that it has gone viral in itself has made news. "The video has been seen almost 10,000 times in 72 hours" says El Dia, "The video was translated to several languages" says Jornada (it's one language, but you get the point), Impulso says the video is what fans of the show search for the most, Lubfal says the video has traveled around the world, etc.

By all reports, though, Alejandro has emerged as the public favorite to win "Gran Hermano" this year - if only he can survive the first house vote.

In the first few days at the Big Brother house, Alejandro is said to be having a tough time ingratiating himself with other guests and, particularly, other male contestants. He's been described as shy and withdrawn. But...

Telling the other Big Brother houseguests: On tonight's show, Alejandro shared his "secret" with a few of the other houseguests (go to minute 2:44). He eventually tells them "I am trans" even as one of the women first cheers him and then confesses she doesn't know what that means. I'm not sure if that will change voting dynamics. But I am certain that, whether Alejandro leaves the show this week or early in the season, he has already moved the ground on the understanding of trans issues in Argentina.

Transgender identity law: Interestingly enough, even though I doubt it's been mentioned in the show, Alejandro's participation in the show comes at a time when LGBT advocates in Argentina have been pushing for a national law that would allow transgender individuals to change their name and identity in personal identification papers.

On September of 2008 an Argentinean court allowed a transgender woman, Tania Luna, to officially change her name without requiring gender reassignment surgery - the first in Latin America - and earlier this month the Argentinean newspapers ran stories about transgender rights advocate Luisa Paz and her own efforts to do the same and, just this week, transgender actress Florencia de la V became the second trans woman to be granted a new ID card without being required to prove she'd undergone gender reassignment surgery (here is video of the press conference that took place after she was granted her new ID card).

LGBT rights advocates, including Maria Rachid, the former president of the Argentinean LGBT Federation (FALGBT) - who was so instrumental in the passage of a marriage equality law in Argentina - are now turning their eye to passage of a national transgender rights bill which includes the right to change one's ID papers.

I truly believe that the Argentinean public's embrace of Alejandro Iglesias in "Gran Hermano" will do wonders to humanize the issue before the community at large.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chile: "Dying of old age is much more fun than dying of AIDS!"

The funny thing about the two previous posts on a controversial new HIV prevention ad released last week by by the New York City Department of Health is that I had already planned to write about the topic --- if only because the Chilean government also launched a number of problematic HIV prevention public service announcements earlier this month.

For example...

"It's the worst campaign in the history of ad campaigns against AIDS" said Chilean HIV prevention and AIDS treatment advocate Manuel Jorquera of the non-profit organization Vivo Positivo ("An avalanche of criticism against anti-AIDS campaign", IPS, Dec. 8, 2010).

The campaign is the first launched under the conservative government of President Sebastian Piñera and it shows. Of three different PSA's launched, none address increased HIV risk among Chilean men who have sex with men directly, and all end with the potentially stigmatizing question of "Who has AIDS?". (as a matter of fact that's the name - in Spanish - of the website in which the campaign is hosted: ).

The most influential LGBT rights organization in Chile, the Homosexual Movement for Integration and Liberation (MOVILH) expressed concern that the ads reflected a socially conservative morality as well as a religious vision of what HIV prevention should look like ("MOVILH questions 'rigidness' of HIV numbers among gay men and repudiates campaign", Noticias123, Dec. 6, 2010).

In this ad a female model is made to look "sick" with the help of make-up artists. The signs read, chronologically, "flu", "mumps", "conjunctivitis", "chickenpox" and "vitiligo" - with the accompanying visualization of each illness - until you reach the end of the clip and the model is shown with full make-up, a healthy smile and her hair blowing behind her - along with a sign that reads "AIDS".

The ad, of course, plays into the beautiful femme fatale stereotype, not necessarily explaining anything about how HIV might be transmitted, but playing up the fear that a beautiful woman might be a temptress hiding her HIV status. "AIDS cannot be seen," the ad says at the end, "but that's not a reason to turn a blind eye".

In an opinion piece that ran Sunday in the online portal of the newspaper El Mostrador, Cristián Cabalín and Macarena Peña y Lillo pick up on the campaign's failures ("Governing without condoms"). A translated excerpt:
The [campaign's] results are clear: mixed messages that don't provide specific information or specific answers. Ads that omit mention of high-risk populations and cannot connect with the audience. Announcements that take advantage of crude humor, ignoring the objective of raising the awareness and education a public health campaign needs to be effective.

It is noteworthy that the audiovisual messages do not make reference to the population at greatest risk in the country: Men who have sex with men. One-fifth of this group are HIV-positive according to data from the Health Ministry itself, and the latest UNAIDS report states that only 56% of them use a condom during sexual intercourse. Internationally, experts agree that this is where the focus should be, however, the Chilean authorities seem to have turned a deaf ear.

The campaign chooses to extol traditional values. Perhaps the best example is the spot where an old man dies while sipping tea and then his wife dies next to him, as both hold hands, with their marriage rings highlighted. The scene is wrapped up with the slogan "Dying of old age is much more fun than dying of AIDS; and, if you die with your life partner, it's that much better."

In our culture, death has never been something "fun". Similarly, the message shows dying of AIDS as the opposite of dying from old age. However, thanks to medicines currently available through our healthcare system, many HIV positive individuals can actually die of old age. It's one of the conceptual errors contained within the campaign.

The spot ends with "Protect yourself against AIDS, be faithful." If the purpose of this ad is to prevent HIV transmission within a marriage, it fails on two points. One, fidelity is not that can be promoted in a television spot, it has to do with personal beliefs and values. Two, in the message, there doesn't exist a direct link between faithfulness and AIDS prevention; in other words, it doesn't establish a clear link between the promoted behavior and the expected response.

Rather, this ad is a defense of the traditional idea of a family, where HIV infection is a threat to that ideal construction of marriage. The public service announcement seems more appropriate as a as a depiction of a government-sponsored marriage anniversary celebration than a campaign against AIDS.
I should ad that the campaign has added three videos since it was launched, none of which address the gay population. And that humor, which seems so out of place in the leading ad on top of this post, can indeed be used to disseminate an effective prevention message. Case in point: This.

That scary NYC DOH HIV prevention ad? Trenton Straube nails it at POZ...

The long and  rambling post I wrote on Monday about the new and controversial HIV prevention ad released by the New York City Department of Health has been on my mind.

As I was writing what I thought would be an objective post in which I would not take sides on whether the ad was an effective or ineffective ad, I found myself admiring the willingness to shake up the status-quo and the use of shock tactics to wake up gay men - and particularly young gay men - out of the complacency that seems to have settled over the community when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

I've seen a lot of the leading gay bloggers write non-committal posts asking readers to express whether they find the ad effective or ineffective.  But a few have taken sides.

On the pro side:
..and, ehm, me?  At least that's what I sorta said in my last post.

Expressing outrage about the ad were:
There are also all the telling pro- and anti-ad reader remarks posted by readers at Joe.My.God. and Towleroad, among others.

Tonight, though, there is a great opinion piece by POZ Magazine copy editor Trenton Straube which nails exactly why the ad has drawn such divergent reactions as well as why the hunger for a frank discussion of the issues that lead to HIV transmission among gay men in this day and age still do not excuse the use of scare tactics for the sake of it.

From his essay:
Personally, I oppose sugarcoating reality--if the facts are scary, then so be it--and I suspect that most people, especially young men who have sex with men, are oblivious to the accurate statement "It's never just HIV." Let's tell that truth. It's important, especially in light of the bareback pornification and sexualization of, well, most everything nowadays, and in light of the growing believe that HIV is a manageable disease (surely, all the recent news about Truvada as a pre-exposure prophylaxis will convince some folks that high-risk behavior isn't so high risk after all).

However, let's talk about the PSA's tone and presentation. This 30-second horror show is one thunderclap away from parodying those "Gathering Storm" ads that warned about the impeding dangers of marriage equality. Such melodramatic delivery overshadows the important message. I get that the campaign is in line with the city's other fear-based PSAs against smoking, which relish in images of clogged arties, diseased lungs and amputated fingers.

But do we really need to see a mutilated anus in association with HIV and men who have sex with men (MSM)? The ad does more to stigmatize anal sex than people living with HIV. Cigarettes and HIV aren't synonymous and the two shouldn't be treated identically in a campaign. As other online commentators pointed out, smoking, unlike sexuality, isn't part of your intrinsic identity as a person. Sexuality subjects you to discrimination in terms of human rights, religious equality, loving relationships, etc. 
Read the entire piece here. It's certainly worth it. And my easily impressionable mind is back on the 'no to the NYC DOH ad' column.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Openly gay NYC councilman, GMHC, GLAAD ask for removal of HIV prevention ads targeting gay men

Clip taken from a segment shown to NY1 viewers in Queens on Dec. 13, 2010 (Additional info: "New Health Department Initiative Facing Opposition").

If you've lived in NYC over the last few years, particularly if you are a smoker, you are probably highly aware of a series of increasingly graphic print and television campaigns the New York City Department of Health developed to discourage people from smoking and encourage smokers to quit.

In its first incarnation, you saw "Ronaldo Martinez" speak to the camera and talk about getting a cancerous growth removed from his throat and taking his ability to speak away without the help of a machine (surprisingly, I haven't been able to find the televised version of the ad anywhere except in a different version apparently appropriated by an anti-smoking agency in Australia of all places).

I'm not a cigarette smoker but that specific ad seemed to have a punch to it. Sure, I changed the channel every time it came on, but you could certainly understand the ad's plausibility when it comes to long-term cigarette smoking.

The ads made an immediate impact, specially among friends who smoked.  They called NYC's #311 help line and ordered the expensive smoking-cessation kits that the Department of Health offered on a limited basis.

Researchers called the campaign a "huge success", at least in its early stages.  But it's not clear to me whether they took into account that the Department of Health was initially offering access to nicotine patches for free nor the fact that the city was increasing taxes on cigarettes

Not that I'm complaining. As an infrequent cigar smoker, I can say that one of better legacies of the Bloomberg administration is having barred smoking in bars.  And, apparently, some statewide programs still offer free nicotine patch or gum "starter kits" (click here).

But then came the other ads. The ones that said that smoking would make you lose your fingers (I kid you not). Or give you brain tumors. Or promote cavities. And I personally thought they'd gone off their rocker and gone punch-happy on negative messaging. Truthfully, the more graphic and preposterous it got, the less effective I felt the campaign was.

They even tried to replicate the scare tactics - laughably some may say - with campaigns to stem consumption of sugary drinks and the way they make people fatter. Gross, yes. Effective? Eh...

Which brings us to...

I've long been a critic of the public health policies developed by the New York City Department of Health under the Bloomberg administration and their reliance on scare tactics. And yet, I am inclined to like this ad. Why?

Well, it's certainly graphic and gross. But it speaks to the potentially horrible side-effects of being HIV positive. Does it say that everyone with HIV will develop these symptoms? No. But the ad does strongly imply that people with HIV are at a higher risk of being at risk of these illnesses - which I believe does act as a forceful HIV-prevention message.

Now, call me when the NYC Department of Health starts running messages saying that people with HIV are more prone to cut off their fingers as a scare tactic but, if memory serves me well, just a couple of years ago HIV prevention advocates were bemoaning that HIV prevention messages portrayed people with HIV as being all happy-happy and ultra-healthy when the reality of living with HIV wasn't nearly as cheerful.

Interestingly, a few of Michael Bloomberg's most vociferous critics seem to be backing this campaign while a number of advocates and organizations are calling for the Department of Health to pull the ads.

As the leading video attests, openly gay New York City Councilmember Danny Dromm is asking for the ads to be removed immediately as does the  South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA).

Tonight, they've been joined by the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) which released this statement. An excerpt:
Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), the nation's oldest HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy provider, today joined the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the nation's leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, to demand that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene pull a sensationalistic and stigmatizing television public service announcement aimed at gay and bisexual men.

The PSA, which is intended to encourage condom usage among gay and bisexual men, claims that those with HIV face a higher risk of bone loss, dementia, and anal cancer.  While older adults living with HIV may be at greater risk of these conditions, the PSA creates a grim picture of what it is like to live with HIV that could further stigmatize HIV/AIDS, as well as gay and bisexual men.

"We know from our longstanding HIV prevention work that portraying gay and bisexual men as dispensing diseases is counterproductive,"  said Marjorie Hill, PhD, GMHC's Chief Executive Officer.  "Studies have shown that using scare tactics is not effective.  Including gay men's input, while recognizing their strength and resiliency, in the creation of HIV prevention education is effective.  Gay men are part of the prevention solution, not the problem."

Both GLAAD and GMHC have reached out to the department to demand that the commercial be pulled and to offer assistance with framing the conversation around HIV/AIDS more accurately.

"While it's extremely important that we continue to educate New Yorkers about HIV/AIDS prevention, the sensationalized nature of the commercial, including its tabloid-like fear tactics, misses the mark in fairly and accurately representing what it's like to live with HIV/AIDS," said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. "It's our hope that the department will work with us to create a PSA that promotes safety and solutions, rather than stigma and stereotype."
The funny thing (as funny things go when discussing these issues) is that one of the top Bloomberg administration critics when it comes to HIV prevention seems to  be bending over-backwards not to say a bad thing about this.

Housing Works doesn't take sides at all but provides all the links to anyone wishing to defend the Bloomberg administration's side of things.

And that, my friends, is truly as bizarre as it gets.  As for the ad... do you think it's effective? Do you think it sucks?  I am inclined to like it but haven't yet made up my mind. What are your thoughts?

Update: Via my friend Michael Petrelis, Larry Kramer chimes in:
to the nyc dept of health:

thank you. it's about time. this ad is honest and true and scary, all of which it should be. hiv is scary and all attempts to curtail it via lily-livered nicey-nicey "prevention" tactics have failed. dr hill knows this and her remarks below, once again, show her to be living on another planet. and since when is GLAAD in the hiv-prevention business? god help us if it is. gmhc is bad enough.

can we finally get real here? we are in the 32nd year, more or less, of a plague.


these are appalling statistics.

And dr hill and some dude at glaad is telling me that prevention efforts, as they are presently constituted, are working.

of course people have to get scared. i have said this since day one and i say it today. they need to be scared into using condoms. into getting tested, into being responsible human beings. nothing so far has been able to bring a sufficient result to these requirements. why can't anyone see that? why can't our oldest aids organization see that? to say as dr hill does below that "studies have shown that using scare tactics is not effective" is, i believe, an out and out lie. i have never seen such research. if it exists, then it is as irresponsible as dr. hill and mr/s glaad.

i see a lot of doctors regularly during the course of looking after my own health. every single one of them is telling me that they are seeing more and more young and usually white men who are educated and should know better, sero-converting.

and with all the hoopla over hiv negative people taking this new once-a-day truvada "miracle cure" just so they can have sex without a condom, is going to be a nightmare of the highest order. i firmly believe this.

just as i firmly believe that NO prevention efforts can be rendered with the sugar coating it has been receiving since 1981.

i congratulate the nyc board of health for finally getting real. i look forward to even more and scarier public service announcements.

larry kramer
Michael actually does not like the ad.  For his comments, go over to his blog.


Monday, December 06, 2010

My New York: High school confidential?

This sign was posted on the front doors of a public New York City high-school right across the street from my apartment building:
We value diversity and strive to create a safe space or all.  Discrimination against lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender youth, mentors, employees and foster/adoptive parents is prohibited.
I'm not sure when this campaign started. I certainly can't find it on the website of the city agency that created it (The NYC Administration for Children Services).  But I have to say that, living in Jackson Heights, I had to do a double take when I saw the poster.  It was there all day Friday and wasn't taken down all day long even as parents brought their children to school and teachers walked through those doors.

The long and short of it is that it made me think back of my days in high-school and how impossible something like this would have been at the time. Sometimes we LGBT rights advocates do not recognize it but things have certainly changed in our lifetime. Or, at the very least, my lifetime.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Puerto Rican first lady has apparently found the cure for AIDS

Lucé Vela, wife of Republican Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño, says there is a cure for AIDS.

At least that's what Vela told a reporter today while participating at a World AIDS Day event in San Juan (Primera Hora currently lists it as their lead story on their web portal and has video of the brief interview as well).

This could have just been a slip of the tongue or some sort of unfortunate brain fart but, even if it was, it shows terrible lack of awareness about HIV/AIDS today of all days!

There has yet to be a statement from Vela or the island's governor explaining her comments.  If there is a forthcoming statement, expect the power couple to laugh it off as an unfortunate slip up.

I wasn't planning on writing about World AIDS Day. I know the date is meant to raise awareness about the issue and there is some merit to that. But, as someone who worked at an HIV prevention agency for almost fifteen years of my life, I also find a lot of the World AIDS Day observances to be self serving and - to a surprising degree - homophobic as well - particularly among those agencies that work with communities of color.  Agencies will highlight their work with children and women with HIV/AIDS or talk about their faith-based HIV prevention work while downplaying the gay angle to the disease.

And so governments will organize very special ceremonies and mourn the dead very respectfully.  And the White House will hang a huge red AIDS ribbon while President Barack Obama addresses the topic in a 45 second video. And corporations will chime in: The Gap resuscitates it's (RED)™ campaign.  Stars like Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga - who are as gay friendly as they come - will play dead ans silence their Twitter accounts for a "Keep a Child Alive" campaign that doesn't mention gays at all.

And so, on to Puerto Rico's first lady and her comments.  Here is my translation of the interview caught on camera at Primera Hora:
Reporter: This is, eh, the First Lady, your comments, please, regarding this [World AIDS Day] march...
Lucé Vela: Look, this is the second time that I participate in these marches to create awareness about HIV.  We did it last year.  We are also present this year and we want, in this way, with all the people who have shown up this morning, to create awareness and that people know that this has a cure. That we can - if detected on time - if we can test people who are at high risk on time - look, that there is a cure for this.  That it could be people like the many people who are here with us this morning could be of benefit...
Reporter: Of benefit to society...
Lucé Vela: could be of benefit to society that they get tested to be able to get the necessary treatment to push ahead and be healthy.
Yes, she said it twice.

What ads insult to injury is that Puerto Rico has such a sorry track record in providing appropriate care to people living with HIV/AIDS in the island.

Three years ago, I was able to assist New York Times reporter Erik Eckholm in translating interviews with HIV positive individuals in Puerto Rico during three-way telephone calls he made as the groundwork for a groundbreaking article titled "Puerto Rico's AIDS Care in Disarray over funds".

In that respect, Lucé Vela should be ashamed of implying people should get tested in order to be cured of AIDS.

One of the persons who blew the whistle on the 2007 scandal featured in the New York Times is José Colón, a longtime hero of mine, who could very well be described as the Larry Kramer of Puerto Rico.  He posted the following Spanish-language video on YouTube today in observance of World AIDS Day and I am posting it here just in case the Puerto Rican Governor's Office checks in:

As for Larry Kramer himself, my friend Rex Wockner just alerted me to the fact that he is also none too happy with the Obama administration's World AIDS Day response. You can check out an interview he did with the New York Daily News here.