Gay Asia News & Reports (All Asia) 2006-08

New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo (ch. 10 by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
(book review: Gay City News )

Website for America/Canadian Asians: Generasians Together

1 Utopia guide books:
   China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea & Taiwan

2 Landmark Guide to Gay and Lesbian Life in 16 Asian Countries 7/06

3 National Study of LGBT Asian and Pacific Islander Americans 7/06

4 Gay men in Asia at high risk for HIV, largely ignored 8/06

5 What’s Fueling the Epidemic in MSM and How to Stop It? 8/06

6 Landmark Utopia Guide to Gay and Lesbian Life in 16 Asian Countries 8/06

7 New AIDS foundation’s new safe sex campaign targets Asian gay men 5/07

8 ‘Asia must overcome HIV stigma’ 7/07

9 Focus on male-male sex in global AIDS fight 7/07

10 Changing Hearts and Reading Minds 7/07

11 Sex Slaves Returning Home Raise AIDS Risks, Study Says 8/07

12 First association for people living with HIV in Pakistan 8/07

13 Ocumentary: For Film On Gay Muslims, TIFF is beginning of a mission 9/07

14 Couple in same sex marriage ordered to part 9/07

15 Gay Rights Gain Ground Around Globe, even in the land of machismo 9/07

16 LGBT discrimination in Europe’s margins 10/07

17 Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

18 UN Commissioner backs LGBT rights 11/07

19 Asia-Pacific must do more to tackle gay AIDS crisis-group 11/07

20 Banks woo gay recruits in Asia 1/08

21 ILGA-Asia conference elects first regional board 2/08

22 ChiangMai, Thailand witnessed its first gay march 2/08

23 Cool reception for Asia’s gay workers 2/08

24 Recognising Same-sex Relationships 4/08

25 The revolution will not be funded 5/08

26 On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) 5/08

27 AIDS hitting Asian gays at high rates: UN 7/08

From John Goss at Utopia-Asia Guide Books

Eleven months ago I launched the publication division of Utopia
. Since then we’ve published 6 guidebooks under the Utopia banner: the Utopia Guide to China; to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar & Vietnam; to Thailand; to Singapore, Malaysia & Indonesia; to Japan, South Korea & Taiwan, and to Asia (16 countries). See for more info.

As companions to our 6 guidebooks I want to publish additional volumes under the Utopia banner and would like to invite you to contribute to the first of these, a collection of short works (10-50 pages would be ideal) by gay writers, exploring destinations in Asia. Works should not be extremely "time-sensitive" as the intention is to continue selling this book for years to come.

You may select any location within the region, and any subject you wish to focus on. Essays or stories that touch on gay-related subjects will be given priority in the final selection. In addition to non-fiction, works of fiction or poetry are also welcome. Photographs are as well, although these will appear only in black and white.

Authors selected for the book will receive 20 cents per book sold, plus 1 cent per page (of full or partial text as laid out in the book) per book sold. Example: if your story is laid out in 30 pages then you will receive 50 cents per book sold.

Authors will also receive 2 complimentary books and they may order additional copies at cost + shipping.

Content may be erotic but must not be pornographic. Authors retain all rights. Utopia retains the right to edit works as needed.

The book will be distributed by Ingram, the largest distributor in the US. The books will be available in electronic form and will also be available in printed form from major online resellers around the world.

Please let me know if you are interested in participating. I’d like to have all submissions by the end of August. Works should be proofed and spell-checked and submitted in plain text format or Word format.

Feel free to submit more than one piece. I am also looking to publish complete works under the Utopia banner, so if you have an Asia-themed novel or other gay-Asia related project sitting around gathering dust, please let me know.

I look forward to your participation!


John at Utopia

July 29, 2006 –

Press Release

Landmark Guide to Gay and Lesbian Life in 16 Asian Countries

First Compendium of Asia’s Homosexual Sub-Cultures

Utopia Guide to Asia :
The Gay and Lesbian Scene in 16 Countries
Including Philippines, Sri Lanka, Mongolia and Nepal

BANGKOK-When Christian missionaries first arrived in Japan they were mocked by common folk in the street who would point and shout, "Look, they’re the ones who think buggery is bad!"

Today, buggery is big business around the globe and no less so in Asia where nearly a dozen annual public gay pride festivals generate income along with awareness.

Asia is often assumed, incorrectly, to be inhospitable to homosexuality. On the contrary, despite lingering colonial-era laws, political opportunism and panic perpetuated by non-indigenous religions, Asia is rich in its varieties of sexual expression. Local cultures are traditionally tolerant of behavior considered to be essentially private.

Mass media in most Asian countries now regularly produce TV and film with more complex depictions of queer life. Courts, in even conservative countries like South Korea, are striking down institutionalized discrimination. Governments are sponsoring programs to educate young students about sexual diversity.

Get ready for more. Asia’s young queers, not content to suffer fools, are just beginning to flex their economic muscle.

For the first time, the region’s homosexual subcultures have been collected in a single volume to illustrate a surprisingly widespread gay scene.

While the guidebook uses conventional categories for ease of reference, the jaw-dropping variety of alternatives to strict heterosexuality defy conventional social and academic boundaries.

Included within are complete listings for the gay and lesbian scene in Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, together with "best of" listings for select major cities in a dozen other countries.

The Utopia Guide to Asia compiles contact details for organizations and businesses including accommodation, bars, discos,
spas, and restaurants. A special section of the book highlights groups, clubs, and spaces that are especially welcoming for women.
Hundreds of tips and warnings from locals and visitors provide first hand insights for both frequent travelers and armchair explorers.

The guide is available for sale now in printed and electronic form at and will also be available in bookstores internationally and from popular online book resellers in the months to come.

A pioneer on the Internet, Utopia has been Asia’s most popular resource for gays and lesbians since 1994. Utopia’s website is located at and more information about Utopia may be found at

"These fun pages dish out the spice on even the most buttoned-up spots in Asia." — TIME Magazine TIME Traveler

"A really good place to start looking for information… excellent coverage of gay and lesbian events and activities across Asia." —
Lonely Planet

July 2006 – LGBT

National Study of LGBT Asian and Pacific Islander Americans

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is pleased to partner with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Asian and Pacific Islander communities to launch the largest survey ever of these communities’ experiences living at the intersections of race, sexual orientation, class, language, and immigration status.

Over the years, the Task Force has partnered with Asian and Pacific Islander activists on a number of occasions. We worked with Asians and Pacific Islanders for Human Rights (APIHR) to organize a national roundtable of API issues and concerns at Creating Change 2002 in Portland, Oregon.

In 2004, we collaborated with Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY), South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA), Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sisters – DC, New York University Asian/Pacific/American Studies, and others, to convene Queer Asian Pacific Legacy, the largest pan-Asian, multi-gender LGBT API conference in a decade. Over 400 activists participated.

In early 2005, the Policy Institute released Asian Pacific American Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People: A Community Portrait, a regional survey of LGBT APIs concentrated in the New York metropolitan area. At Creating Change 2005 in Oakland, California, the Task Force hosted a national leaders’ roundtable of nearly all the community based, LGBT-focused Asian and Pacific Islander organizations in the country. The conference was also the site of a national Town Hall meeting of API activists that drew over 150 attendees.

To take the survey visit

August 12, 2006 – Associated Press

Gay men in Asia at high risk for HIV, largely ignored

by Margie Mason, Hanoi, Vietnam
Men who have sex with men in Asia are highly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, but remain largely ignored despite increasing infections in the region with the world’s second-highest number of people living with the virus, according to a report released Friday.

Many Asian countries have been forced to address HIV/AIDS in high-risk groups such as female sex workers and injecting drug users, but men who have sex with men, known as MSM, have typically been left out – many men are married and do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual.

This, along with a lack of initiative by governments, has helped fuel a rising threat. Studies in Bangkok, Thailand found infection rates as high as 28 percent among MSM; 14 percent in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and 16 percent in Andhra Pradesh, India; according to the report by Bangkok-based TREAT Asia, a nonprofit program of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (See report #5 below).

" It’s so diverse that we need to stop just throwing up our hands and not doing anything," said Paul Causey, an HIV/AIDS consultant in Bangkok who worked on the analysis. "We need to start thinking of what we can do right away." The survey, one of the most comprehensive reports ever published on MSM in Asia, is a compilation of the few studies that have been conducted, combined with interviews from researchers and aid workers in 19 countries. The report was released ahead of the 16th International AIDS Conference, which opens Sunday in Toronto.

Unlike gay communities in Western countries that were hit hard by HIV/AIDS early in the epidemic and became a loud voice for change, MSM in Asia are often not unified, are hidden from society, or persecuted by police. Sex between men is illegal in 11 of the countries examined.

Male-to-male sex is also common among certain professions in South Asia. For example, 49 percent of truck drivers surveyed in Lahore, Pakistan reported having sex with other men, along with 22 percent of rickshaw drivers in Bangladesh. Access to information and condoms is also limited, with prevention programs available to only 2 percent of MSM in 16 Asia-Pacific countries, the report said. " If we really do want to avoid Asia becoming an Africa, these are the things that we’re going to have to start paying attention to," Causey said.

Many MSM have multiple partners, do not use condoms and have high rates of sexually transmitted diseases – all key factors to rising infection rates. And because so many MSM in Asia also have sex with women, they could help spread the disease to more people within the general population.

" MSM in Asia need not suffer the same fate as many gay men in the West," said Kevin Frost, director of TREAT Asia, in a statement. "We’ve paid for that lesson with too many lives." An estimated 8.3 million people were living with the virus last year in the Asia-Pacific, home to the highest number of HIV/AIDS infections after sub-Saharan Africa.

August 2006 – From: amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

MSM and HIV/AIDS: Risk in Asia: What Is Fueling the Epidemic Among MSM and How Can It Be Stopped?

High Risk Behaviors Leading to High HIV/AIDS Prevalence Ignorance about the extent of male-male sex results in a relative lack of MSM programming, which in turn leads to high levels of risk behaviors.

In the past, HIV/AIDS prevention programming in Asia has often concentrated on heterosexual sex or injection drug users (IDUs).Therefore, many men see sex with women as being an HIV/AIDS risk and male-male sex as a safer option. MSM often show much higher condom use when having sex with women than with men.

The prevalence of consistent condom use among MSM is as low as 12%, and up to half of all MSM in some regions have never used a condom.Yet a majority of these men believe that they are at low risk. In several countries less than 20% have been tested for HIV.

Finally, up to half or more of these MSM also have sex with women—the result of a combination of situational sex and the social pressure to marry—and can thus serve as a bridge population for HIV/AIDS infection. The unsurprising outcome of a situation characterized by lack of programming, lack of knowledge, and high prevalence of unsafe sex is rising rates of HIV infection. Even in countries with low overall HIV/AIDS prevalence, cases among MSM contribute disproportionately to the total.

Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are both a marker of unsafe sex and a contributing factor to the transmission of HIV. In some areas more than half of all MSM have an STI. Few doctors in the region have the knowledge or cultural sensitivity needed to diagnose the many cases of rectal STIs.

To read the full 85-page report, go to:

14 August 2006 –

Landmark Utopia Guide to Gay and Lesbian Life in 16 Asian Countries
— For the first time, the region’s homosexual subcultures have been collected in a single volume to illustrate a surprisingly widespread gay scene

Review written by
Asia is often assumed, incorrectly, to be inhospitable to homosexuality. On the contrary, despite lingering colonial-era laws, political opportunism and panic perpetuated by non-indigenous religions, Asia is rich in its varieties of sexual expression.

When Christian missionaries first arrived in Japan they were mocked by common folk in the street who would point and shout, "Look, they’re the ones who think buggery is bad!" Today, buggery is big business around the globe and no less so in Asia where nearly a dozen annual public gay pride festivals generate income along with awareness.

Asia is often assumed, incorrectly, to be inhospitable to homosexuality. On the contrary, despite lingering colonial-era laws, political opportunism and panic perpetuated by non-indigenous religions, Asia is rich in its varieties of sexual expression. Local cultures are traditionally tolerant of behavior considered to be essentially private.

Mass media in most Asian countries now regularly produce TV and film with more complex depictions of queer life. Courts, in even conservative countries like South Korea, are striking down institutionalized discrimination. Governments are sponsoring programs to educate young students about sexual diversity.

Get ready for more. Asia’s young queers, not content to suffer fools, are just beginning to flex their economic muscle.

For the first time, the region’s homosexual subcultures have been collected in a single volume to illustrate a surprisingly widespread gay scene.

While the guidebook uses conventional categories for ease of reference, the jaw-dropping variety of alternatives to strict heterosexuality defy conventional social and academic boundaries. Included within are complete listings for the gay and lesbian scene in Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, together with "best of" listings for select major cities in a dozen other countries.

The Utopia Guide to Asia compiles contact details for organizations and businesses including accommodation, bars, discos, spas, and restaurants. A special section of the book highlights groups, clubs, and spaces that are especially welcoming for women. Hundreds of tips and warnings from locals and visitors provide first hand insights for both frequent travelers and armchair explorers.

The guide is available for sale now in printed and electronic form at and available in bookstores internationally and from popular online book resellers.

A pioneer on the Internet, Utopia has been Asia’s most popular resource for gays and lesbians since 1994. Utopia’s website is located at and more information about Utopia may be found at

May 9, 2007 – Fridae

New Zealand AIDS foundation’s new safe sex campaign targets asian gay men

“Be proud and strong – Renew your commitment to safe sex, no exceptions,” reads a campaign poster featuring five out and proud gay Asian men from Singapore, the Philipines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Tahiti.

The New Zealand AIDS Foundation’s Gay Men’s Health team is to launch its first resource aimed at raising HIV awareness among Asian gay and bisexual men on Friday May 11 in Auckland. The resource comprises a poster, featuring five out and proud gay Asian men – including Gay Men’s Health Promoter Valeriano (Val) Incapas – with the heading “Be proud and strong – Renew your commitment to safe sex, no exceptions.”

“Gay men make up a significant part of the growing Asian migrant population, as many Asian countries are very vocal in condemning homosexuality,” Incapas says. “Gay men in Asian countries often are forced to move where they feel they can live and express themselves more freely, countries like New Zealand.” Asian gay men are also part of the wider community of men who have sex with men, who are the highest risk group for HIV infection in New Zealand. 70 new gay and bisexual diagnoses were recorded in 2006 – one every five days.

“Up until now, there has been a lack of visible role models for Asian gay and bisexual men to encourage open discussion about the importance of condom use in preventing HIV,” Incapas says. “Without the skills of handling themselves in a community with different social rules, and often coming to New Zealand with no condom culture, Asian gay men can be vulnerable to being taken advantage of.”

The poster features men from Singapore, the Philipines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Tahiti. All the men are profiled on an accompanying flier, along with individual messages about why they value safe sex.

“This is about standing proud and taking a leadership role in our own communities to help turn the HIV epidemic around,” Incapas says. “But HIV isn’t confined to one particular group or ethnicity – as gay and bisexual men, we are all susceptible because of the risk of transmission via anal sex. We must all renew our commitment to using a condom every time.”

Launch Venue:
Shanghai Lil’s Bar and Lounge
133 Franklin Rd
7pm, Friday 11th May

Source: New Zealand Aids Foundation press release

July 20, 2007 – The Times

‘Asia must overcome HIV stigma’

Sydney – Asia has made progress in containing HIV but must remove the stigma associated with the virus to fully consolidate the gains and keep it under control, international research chiefs say. Speaking ahead of an international conference of 5,000 HIV/Aids researchers in Sydney next week, America’s top expert Anthony Fauci and his Australian counterpart David Cooper said HIV remained a major public health risk in Asia. Fauci said predictions HIV would devastate Asia as it had Africa had proved false after local health authorities, which were initially slow to heed warnings, adopted pro-active policies. But he said the potential for an epidemic still existed in a region estimated to have eight million people with HIV, a figure aid agency USAid says could climb to 40 million by 2010.

"The population density in Asia is so great, with countries like India and China that have a billion people each, that infection rates just have to track up a few percentage points and you’re potentially looking at a catastrophe," Fauci told AFP. Cooper, the co-chair of the International Aids Society (IAS) conference, said responding to HIV was complicated by the fact that many suffers existed on the fringe of Asian society and faced discrimination. "We’re not going to have the generalised epidemics in our region that we’ve got in sub-Saharan Africa, we’re going to have explosive smaller epidemics," he said.

"They tend to occur among drug users, also among gay men, sex workers or mobile workers such as truck drivers, fishermen who are more likely to pay for sex. In Asia, they’re stigmatised and discriminated populations. The trick is to get into these vulnerable populations and provide non-judgemental healthcare." Cooper cited China as an example of a country that had overcome its initial denial of an HIV problem but could go further if discrimination ended. "China is responding pretty well, their response has changed, they’re putting treatment in place and doing research," he said. "But people are still very much concerned about the human rights issues and how people with HIV are treated in Chinese society."

China estimated last year that it had 650,000 HIV cases, although United Nations (UN) officials estimate the actual number is now higher. A recent paper in British medical journal The Lancet praised China’s adoption of schemes such as needle exchanges and awareness campaigns among gay men, although the UN said there was still resistance to confronting the problem at a local level.

In India, where the estimated number of HIV cases was this month halved to 2.5 million, the government has set out to target the type of at-risk groups identified by Cooper. "They’re talking about upscaling programmes with marginalised groups," said Anjali Gopalan, head of the Naz Foundation, which works primarily with men. There was quite a bit of silence on them earlier." Indians with HIV are still often treated as social outcasts, with reports of doctors shunning Aids patients and HIV-positive children being barred from attending school with other pupils.

In Cambodia, one of the countries hit hardest by HIV/Aids, the authorities are concerned that discrimination is helping the virus spread. "It is difficult for us since stigma causes infected people not to speak out and this quietly spreads the infection," said Ly Peng Sun, deputy director of the National Centre for HIV/Aids and Dermatology. "Bias can prevent us from fighting the virus successfully."

Vietnam has introduced laws banning discrimination against people with HIV, although locals say it means some employers simply find a pretext to sack infected workers, rather than admitting it is because of their illness. "If this new law is effectively implemented, it will serve not only as a shield for the fundamental rights of people living with HIV…but also as a positive tool for fighting stigma and discrimination," UNAids Vietnam director Eammon Murphy said.

Thailand has adopted a different tack to breaking down the taboos regarding HIV with innovative education campaigns such as traffic police handing out condoms, an initiative dubbed "Cops and Rubbers." The country, which has experienced about half a million Aids deaths and has about the same number of HIV cases, has slashed infection rates since it appointed a cabinet-level anti-Aids co-ordinator to oversee prevention efforts. It is also pushing international drugmakers over access to generic versions of newer and more expensive HIV medications that are needed to treat patients who have become resistant to the old drugs

30th July 2007 – PinkNews

Focus on male-male sex in global AIDS fight

by Writer
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has announced the launch of a new global initiative to fight the spread of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) in the developing world. Stigma, discrimination, and lack of access to health services have sparked alarming epidemics that threaten to devastate MSM communities in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, mirroring the HIV pandemics that ravaged gay communities in North America and Western Europe in the 1980s. According to a report from the International Lesbian and Gay Association, male-male sex is illegal in 85 countries, making MSM increasingly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, estimates that fewer than one in 20 MSM around the world has access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care.

The MSM Initiative, which was launched at the International AIDS Society conference in Sydney, will support grassroots MSM organisations, fund critical research, and advocate for increased global attention and funding for HIV/AIDS programs specific to MSM. "Empowering MSM and other marginalised groups to protect themselves from HIV is one of the world’s most urgent health priorities," said Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS. New data indicates that the HIV pandemic among MSM is widespread and worsening. In Africa, nearly 40 percent of MSM in Kenya and nearly 22 percent of MSM in Senegal are estimated to be HIV positive, compared to 6 percent and 0.9 percent HIV prevalence in the overall adult population. HIV prevalence among MSM is estimated to be 27 percent in Ukraine, 21 percent in Uruguay, and 15 percent in Mexico.

MSM groups also rarely benefit from international HIV prevention efforts because bilateral funding and grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria flow primarily through national governments that largely ignore the needs of MSM. "The frightening truth is that, in many parts of the world, we simply do not know how bad the epidemics among MSM groups may be," said Dr. Chris Beyrer, director of the Johns Hopkins Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Programme in the United States. Transmission among MSM is still not tracked in most countries, resulting in a significant research gap. More research is urgently needed to inform more effective HIV prevention efforts." The term MSM includes those who identify as "gay," but also encompasses any men who have sexual encounters with other men, including groups whose gender and sexual identities defy Western categorisation.

For instance, in India there are at least three designations of MSM. Kothis are effeminate MSM who are often married to women and have families. Panthis are masculine men who have sex with kothis, and hijras, who are often castrated, are considered to be a third gender altogether. "The HIV epidemic in men who have sex with men in India is really bad. It has occurred for a simple reason. We have been totally neglected and invisible," said Ashok Row Kavi, the founder of the Humsafar Trust, a grassroots MSM group in India. The programmes that are working for MSM are those where community-based groups have been empowered to take control."

Despite various challenges, some progress is being made. Grassroots movements are forming in Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and other regions where discrimination is commonplace and the epidemic has reached crisis proportions. The MSM Initiative will provide seed grants to grassroots organisations doing innovative work with MSM groups in the developing world.

"A quarter century into the epidemic, MSM in many countries still do not have even the basic tools to protect themselves against HIV," said amfAR Acting CEO Kevin Frost. "We must have the courage to stand side by side with the grassroots organisations on the front lines of this epidemic delivering services and demanding greater action from governments. With funding and support, these organisations can transform attitudes, change policy, and mobilise funding to reverse the alarming spread of HIV among MSM." In addition to directly supporting grassroots organizations, the MSM Initiative will advocate for more research on MSM issues and fund global advocacy efforts aimed at mobilising funding from international donors, national governments, and others.

The advocacy programme will also focus on launching campaigns to end the stigma, discrimination, and violence that threaten the lives of MSM and fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS. The MSM Initiative has already enlisted partners from a number of leading organisations, including UNAIDS and the Global Forum on MSM and HIV. It has also received significant financial support from groups including the M.A.C AIDS Fund, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline’s Positive Action programme, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"A coordinated global initiative is urgently needed to reverse the alarming rise in new infections among MSM," said George Ayala, director of education at the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA). Working together, we can more effectively fight the denial and discrimination that have made MSM so vulnerable to HIV. We look forward to working closely with amfAR and the MSM Initiative to demand that the world finally takes this issue seriously.

July 31, 2007 – New York Sun

Changing Hearts and Reading Minds

by Brendan Bernhard
In a departure from the usual Middle Eastern diet of tabbouleh, rampaging mobs, and suicide bombs, tonight PBS presents "Dishing Democracy," a one-hour edition of the globetrotting documentary series "Wide Angle."
The program’s subject is "Kalam Nawaem" (Sweet Talk), an Arabic talk show modeled on ABC’s "The View," only with prettier hosts and more stylish sets. The show is carried on the privately owned Arab satellite channel MBC, whose motto is charmingly upbeat, "We See Hope Everywhere." If our own media had to serve up a motto in reply, I think it would be, "Really? We See Only Despair." But then, the last few years have been hard on American morale. It was once believed that the presence of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers might transform the Arab world, but PBS’s press release hints that they arrived too late, and with the wrong mission. "While the United States has been striving to promote democracy in the Arab world, a homegrown revolution is already taking place. Every Sunday night in living rooms throughout the Middle East, tens of millions of viewers are tuning in to a fearless all-female talk show whose four hosts discuss controversial subjects, shatter stereotypes, and provoke debate."

The four hosts of "Kalam Nawaem" are certainly willing to tackle subjects head-on. "The subject of this show is masturbation," announces Fawzia Salama, introducing a particularly controversial edition of the program. A woman calling in anonymously admits that she began masturbating when she was 15. "Nobody taught me how to do it, my body asked for it," she says with a touch of lyricism. "When we talked about, excuse me, the female masturbation," says the show’s male producer, "Oh, my God! We made a big, big split in the media. But at the end, simply it was a success. When you make a controversy, this is the true success. And life is a controversy, it is a duality." The presenters of "Kalam Nawaem" are united by their willingness to discuss hot-button topics (sexual equality, homosexuality — "a super-taboo" — wife-beating, sexual abuse, infidelity, and child sex education, to name a few). They also share a certain rootlessness. The striking Palestinian actress Farah Bseiso was born in the Gaza Strip but grew up in Syria and Kuwait. Ms. Salama, the oldest of the bunch (she looks about 60), is an Egyptian journalist based in London. Rania Barghout is a Lebanese who once lived in London, now lives in Beirut, and is considering a return to London. Lastly there’s Muna AbuSulayman, a divorced Saudi from a prominent religious family. Ms. AbuSulayman is the only host to wear the hijab, and the only one who could be called a conservative.

"Dishing Democracy" shows the women’s lives off-air as well as on, but the background is often more revealing than the foreground. When Ms. AbuSulayman visits a Saudi shopping mall, you don’t learn much about her, but you do get a pretty good sense of the eeriness of Saudi shopping malls: The men in white gowns with red-and-white headdresses, the women like floating black pillars. Only their heavily made-up eyes are visible, and they’re the busiest, most flirtatious eyes you’ll ever see. My favorite moment in "Dishing Democracy" comes when the Dutch director, Bregtje van der Haak, cuts away from the television studio to gauge the reaction in a Cairo cafe, where an unshaven, unemployed, all-male ensemble is sitting around sucking on water pipes and occasionally glancing at the TV. An episode of "Kalam Nawaem" is on, and it’s about sex education. "We’re uptight because we try to hide from children what’s natural," says Ms. Salama, who probably imported the idea from London. The men in the café are unimpressed by the sex talk: "That’s not okay, we’re Muslims," says one, a T-shirt-worthy line in the tradition of "No Sex Please, We’re British."

Another man in the cafe — mustachioed, quite young, looking distinctly peeved — isn’t taking the bait either. "They want to tell us what to think," he says indignantly, referring to the women on the show, "and now they’re getting satellite TV to tell us about it. You know what? Next, they’ll teach it in primary schools." My dear sir, I’m afraid you’re right. These media boors, with their grotesque salaries and inflatable smiles, have ideas, opinions, theories about how you should live, and they broadcast them all day long! It’s just the way it is. As for sex education in primary schools, you don’t know the half of it: Try kindergarten. "Dishing Democracy" provokes mixed feelings. Of course you side with the four women encouraging greater openness in the Arab world. On the other hand, you also pray they don’t end up replicating every dumb bit of therapy-speak we’ve ever come up with.

Additional URLs for the show:

August 1, 2007 – New York Times

Sex Slaves Returning Home Raise AIDS Risks, Study Says

by Donald G. McNeil, Jr
Adding another bleak dimension to the sordid world of sex slavery, young girls who have been trafficked abroad into prostitution are emerging as an AIDS risk factor in their home countries, according to a study being released today.
Girls who were forced into prostitution before age 15 and girls traded between brothels were particularly likely to be infected, the study found. Shunned by their families and villages on their return, they sometimes end up selling themselves again, increasing the risk.

The study, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, concerns girls from Nepal trafficked into bordellos in India, but the problem is also emerging elsewhere, said the lead author, Jay G. Silverman, a professor of human development at Harvard’s School of Public Health. Girls from China’s Yunnan Province sold to Southeast Asian brothels, Iraqi girls from refugee camps in Syria and Jordan, and Afghan girls driven into Iran or Pakistan all appear to be victims of the same pattern, he said, and are presumably contributing to the H.I.V. outbreaks in southern China, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“Most authorities fighting human trafficking don’t see it as having anything to do with H.I.V.,” Dr. Silverman said. “It is just not being documented.”

Aurorita M. Mendoza, a former Nepal coordinator for Unaids, the United Nations AIDS agency, called the study “very important.” “It’s the first I know of that’s linked H.I.V. to sex-trafficked girls,” she said.

24 August 2007 –

First association for people living with HIV in Pakistan

A new national initiative from UNAIDS in Pakistan aims to ensure that communities and the government listen to the experts – people living with HIV – when making decisions about treatment, care, support and prevention. Twenty-four year old Masood is the newest recruit to one of UNAIDS’ latest initiatives: the“Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Pakistan”. The association was launched on World AIDS Day 2006 with the support of UNAIDS and its UN co-sponsors, and the Pakistan government. The aim is to make sure that people living with HIV are consulted when decisions about prevention, treatment, care and support are taken at federal and provincial level. In keeping with the principle of greater involvement of people living with HIV, all the executive board members of the association are HIV positive. Now, it is establishing the first network among people living with HIV in Pakistan to provide a platform for them to speak in unison.

“In my experience, most HIV positive people here have difficulty conveying their needs, often because of poverty and because the literacy rate is low and information provided is limited,” says Masood. “Here in Pakistan HIV is not seen as a priority and people have many issues surrounding their treatment, care and support, stigma and discrimination and society’s attitudes.” Stigma and discrimination is specifically associated with children and women from rural areas of Pakistan. These women have been infected by their husbands; most of them were migrant workers who have been deported by certain countries without being told about their HIV positive status. The Association has already begun to bring the small number of NGOs and self-help groups together. The objective is to provide training in leadership skills and health information, including adherence to anti-retroviral treatment.

With a Masters in Business Administration from University in Lahore, Masood is working with them to organize themselves strategically, to develop policies and to raise funds. There has been a three-day workshop on capacity building already, focusing on the issues for people living with HIV in Pakistan and how to operate an effective positive self-help group. Another two-day workshop focused on HIV literacy helped pre-testing and collecting feed back on the newly developed booklets and other information materials produced in Urdu and English for people living with HIV (PLHIV). UNAIDS will be supporting more workshops across the country and is planning to do this activity in collaboration with Association of PLHIV, provincial and federal Government and civil society organizations working on AIDS issues.

“We aim to contribute to improving people’s lives, give them a sense of belonging, political empowerment and strength of spirit,” says Masood.

At the same time the Association aims to contribute to the national goal – to “prevent a generalized epidemic in Pakistan by containing the spread of HIV and AIDS and elimination of stigma and discrimination against those infected and affected” *The country’s epidemic is concentrated and intensifying. Pakistan has one of the highest rates of injection drug use in the world (4.5 per capita per annum), and 64% of injecting drug users report use of non-sterile needles. Frequent use and reuse of unsterilized and contaminated needles contributes to a high transmission rate of HIV among injecting drug users (10%). The World Health Organisation and UNAIDS estimate the actual prevalence may be as high as 85,000 (46 000- 210 000). During the Launching ceremony of Association of PLHIV in 1 st December, 2006 Dr. Aldo Landi, UNAIDS Country Coordinator said: “This is the first step as a breakthrough in the fight against stigma and discrimination”. He further expressed the need of involvement of PLHIV at both federal and provincial level. Most importantly PLHIV should be treated in full respect of human rights.

Masood is a hemophiliac who contracted HIV through infected blood. In Pakistan, about 50 per cent of blood products are screened for HIV before blood transfusion – and 1.5 million blood bags are transfused every year. About 18 per cent of people living with HIV in Pakistan were infected in this way. “I have spent many years of my life for humanity,’” says Masood, who has campaigned for better treatment for hemophiliacs and as a volunteer, running a UNICEF funded project for a Lahore based PLHIV NGO, before joining UNAIDS. I am very ambitious because I am facing and feeling the pain,”says Masood. “I want to make a real difference by encouraging people living with HIV to realize how important it is for them to be involved at every level.

“They themselves will bring about change. I am happy to be the first drop of rain.”

September 4, 2007 – The Globe and Mail

TIFF 2007: Ocumentary: For Film On Gay Muslims, TIFF is beginning of a mission

by Alwynne Gwilt
After nearly six years, Parvez Sharma will finally show his documentary A Jihad for Love at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday. But the work is far from over for the filmmaker, whose feature film about the lives of gay Muslims who continue to live strongly by their faith is sure to be provocative. Instead, as audiences get their first glimpse at the 70-minute documentary filmed in 12 countries and nine languages, Sharma and his producer, Sandi Dubowski, who directed 2001’s Trembling Before G-d, will be on the hunt for donations to help pay off the film’s post-production costs and fund their planned Muslim Dialogue Project.
"Over the next few years, we need to make sure that even outside of distribution it will be able to get discussions going for years to come, to create impact and change the lives of people," said Sharma, 34, who lives in New York on a visa as an "alien with extraordinary abilities."

Sharma, who is himself a gay Muslim, sees the project as a first for the world of Muslim homosexuals. "For the first time Islam’s most unlikely storytellers are stepping out and stepping proud and sharing their stories with the camera," he said, adding that the fact the film is done from a fully Muslim perspective also makes it stand out. But neither Sharma nor Dubowski want the film to just be a one-time eye-opener for audiences, but rather the beginning of a lengthier discussion.

With the Muslim Dialogue Project he and Dubowski plan to do just that by using Dubowski’s proven method from Trembling: turning cinemas or film festivals into town halls, garnering enough chatter to spread interest in the film as it moves into other countries. After three of the five TIFF screenings, four of the film’s actors will discuss their thoughts in a Q&A session at the theatres.

07 September, 2007 –

Couple in same sex marriage ordered to part

by Cynthia Lee
Malacca – Three months short of their fifth wedding anniversary, a couple has been ordered to part as the husband was actually a woman. Syariah judge Che Saufi Che Husin yesterday ordered a farak (part forever) between Mohd Sufian Mohamad, 40, and Zaiton Aziz, 43, as the marriage was not legitimate under syariah. The couple arrived in court together in a Perodua Kancil, wearing matching yellow attire, and looked calm when the judgment was read to them. They walked out of court together and left in the same car.
Sufian, 40, whose birth certificate bears the name Mazinah Mohamad, married Zaiton Aziz, 43, in December 2002.

They were alleged to have committed same-sex marriage and were charged under section 11 of the Malacca Islamic Family Enactment 2002. The marriage, solemnised by imam Ishak Juki from the Bukit Cina mosque, had been deemed legal as all procedures had been adhered to. However, problems surfaced a few months later when the Malacca Religious Affairs Department refused to register the marriage after becoming suspicious of the bridegroom’s gender. Sufian was also ordered to amend his gender status and name in the National Registration Department according to the original birth certificate.

In announcing his ruling, Che Saufi said: "According to the first respondent’s (Zaiton) statement, she had never seen or touched her husband’s private parts and had taken him to be a man all along and that she felt good and satisfied together. "This is astounding and illogical. It is abnormal to go through life as husband and wife as such." He said the couple had also failed to prove the "husband" to be a hermaphrodite as claimed by Syariah lawyer Mohd Mokhtar Karim. Malacca Hospital gynaecologist Dr Nor Hasinah Mohd Said had said a physical examination carried out with two other specialists revealed that Sufian was not a man.

Chromosome and blood tests also confirmed that Sufian was a woman.

September 17, 2007 – MSNBC

Gay Rights Gain Ground Around Globe, Now mature in the west, gay power is growing worldwide, even in the land of machismo

by Joseph Contreras, Newsweek International
After eight years together, Gilberto Aranda and Mauricio List walked into a wedding chapel in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán last
April and tied the knot in front of 30 friends and relatives. Aranda’s disapproving father was not invited to the springtime nuptials. For the newlyweds, the ceremony marked the fruit of the gay-rights movement’s long struggle to gain recognition in Mexico. The capital city had legalized gay civil unions only the month before. "After all the years of marches and protests," says Aranda, 50, a state-government official, "a sea change was coming."

The sea change spreads beyond Mexico City, a cosmopolitan capital that is home to a thriving community of artists and intellectuals.The growing maturity of the gay-rights movement in the West is having a marked effect on the developing world. In the United States, the Republican Party is in trouble in part because it has made a fetish of its opposition to gay marriage. At least some gays in big cities like New York question why they are still holding "pride" parades, as if they were still a closeted minority and not part of the Manhattan mainstream. Since 2001, Western European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain have gone even farther than the United States, placing gay and lesbian partners on the same legal footing as their heterosexual counterparts. And now, the major developing powers of Asia, Latin America and Africa are following the liberal road—sometimes imitating Western models, sometimes not—but in all cases setting precedents that could spread to the remaining outposts of official homophobia.

In Mexico, the declining clout and prestige of the Roman Catholic Church have emboldened gay-rights activists and their allies in state legislatures and city councils to pass new laws legalizing same-sex civil unions, starting with Mexico City in November. The rising influence of tolerant Western pop culture has encouraged gay men and lesbians to proclaim their sexuality in gay-pride marches like the one in the Brazilian city of São Paulo in June, which drew 3 million participants, according the event’s organizers. It was the largest ever in Brazil. Western models also helped inspire South Africa to legalize civil unions in November 2006, thus becoming the first country in the developing world to do so. In China, the trend goes back to the climate of economic reform that took hold in the 1980s, ending the persecution of the era of Mao Zedong, who considered homosexuals products of the "moldering lifestyle of capitalism." Among left-wing movements in many developing countries, globalization is a favorite scapegoat for all of the planet’s assorted ills. But even those who resist the West’s basically conservative free-market economic orthodoxy are quick to acknowledge the social liberalism—including respect for the rights of women and minorities of all kinds—that is the West’s main cultural and legal export. "I think it helped that Spain and other parts of Europe had passed similar laws," says longtime Mexican gay-rights activist Alejandro Brito. "These types of laws are becoming more about human rights than gay issues."

Key people have hastened the trend in some countries. Some activists single out a few political celebrities for de-stigmatizing their cause, including Nelson Mandela, who readily embraced British actor Sir Ian McKellen’s suggestion that he support a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual preference in South Africa’s first post-apartheid constitution, and former prime minister Tony Blair, whose government was the first to recognize civil partnerships between same-sex couples. They also point to activist judges in Brazil, South Africa and the European Court of Human Rights, who have handed down landmark rulings that unilaterally granted gay, lesbian and transgender communities new rights. These include a judicial order that gays be admitted into the armed forces of European Union member states. The biggest and perhaps most surprising change is in Latin America, the original home of machismo. In 2002, the Buenos Aires City Council approved Latin America’s first-ever gay-civil-union ordinance, and same-gender unions are the law of the land in four Brazilian states today. Last year an openly homosexual fashion designer was elected to Brazil’s National Congress with nearly a half a million votes. In August a federal-court judge in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul broke new legal ground when he ordered the national-health-care system to subsidize the cost of sex-change operations in public hospitals, thereby putting sexual "reassignment" on par with heart surgery, organ transplants and AIDS treatment as medical procedures worthy of taxpayer support. By the year-end, Colombia could become the first country in Latin America to grant gay and lesbian couples full rights to health insurance, inheritance and social-security benefits. A bill containing those reforms is working its way through the National Congress at present. And even Cuba has turned a corner. In the 1960s and early 1970s homosexuals in Cuba were blacklisted or even banished to forced-labor camps along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic priests and other so-called social misfits. HIV patients were locked away in sanitariums as recently as 1993. Several Cuban cities now host gay and lesbian film festivals. The hit TV program on the island’s state-run airwaves last year was "The Hidden Side of the Moon," a soap opera about a married man who falls in love with a man and later tests positive for HIV.

The push for "more modern ways of thinking" about minorities, feminists and homosexuals has roots that go back to the political ferment that shook the region in the late 1960s and 1970s, says Braulio Peralta, author of a 2006 book on gay rights in Mexico, "The Names of Rainbow." But it has gained in recent years, due in part to troubles in the Roman Catholic Church, which includes eight out of 10 Mexicans and long stood opposed to any attempt to redefine marriage laws. Last November, the Mexico City Legislature took up the civil-union law just as the country’s top cardinal, Norberto Rivera Carrera, was facing charges that he had sheltered a Mexican priest accused of sexually abusing children in California. The prelate chose to stay under the radar as the vote loomed. "The Catholic Church was facing a credibility crisis," says longtime Mexico City-based gay-rights activist Brito. "So many of its leaders including Rivera knew that if they fiercely opposed the gay-union law, the news media would eat them alive." The change in attitudes is most vivid in the sparsely populated border state of Coahuila, an unlikely setting for blazing trails on gay rights. The left-wing political party that rules the national capital has made few inroads here. Yet soon after the state’s young governor, Humberto Moreira Valdés, was elected in 2006, he backed a civil-union bill modeled on France’s pacts of civil solidarity, and in the state capital of Saltillo the progressive Catholic bishop added his support. The 62-year-old prelate, Raul Vera, says he was comfortable doing so in part because the bill stopped short of calling for same-sex marriage. "As the church I said we could not assume the position of homophobes," he says. "We cannot marginalize gays and lesbians. We cannot leave them unprotected."

That seems to be the prevailing consensus in South Africa’s ruling party. The constitution adopted by South Africa after the African National Congress (ANC) took power in 1994 was the world’s first political charter to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In November 2006, the national Parliament overwhelmingly approved a civil-union bill after the country’s constitutional court called for amendments to a 44-year-old marriage law that denied gay and lesbian couples the legal right to wed. In pushing for approval of the Civil Union Act, the ruling ANC shrugged off both conservative opposition parties and religious leaders, some of whom accused the government of imposing the morality of a "radical homosexual minority" on South Africans. President Thabo Mbeki had been blasted by gay rights activists in the past for trying to downplay his country’s raging HIV/AIDS epidemic, but on the issue of same-sex civil unions his government stood firm. The sweeping terms of the 2006 Civil Union Act placed South Africa in a select club of nations that have enacted similar laws and that, until last year, included only Canada, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. But there are glimmers of change in other nations. China decriminalized sodomy a decade ago and removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001. Police broke up a gay and lesbian festival in Beijing in 2005 but took no action last February against an unauthorized rally in support of legalizing gay marriage. The Chinese Communist Party has established gay task forces in all provincial capitals to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. And in April a Web site launched a weekly hour-long online program called Connecting Homosexuals with an openly gay host. It is the first show in China to focus entirely on gay issues.

Tolerance, however, by no means spans the globe. Homosexuality remains taboo throughout the greater Middle East. In most of the Far East, laws permitting gay and lesbian civil unions are many years if not decades away. In Latin America, universal acceptance of homosexuality is a long way off. Jamaica is a hotbed of homophobia. Even in Mexico, the first couple to take advantage of Coahuila’s new civil-union statute were fired from their jobs as sales clerks after their boss realized they were lesbians. The new Mexico City law grants same-gender civil unions property and inheritance rights, but not the right to adopt children. Even Mexican gays who still struggle against daily bias see signs of improvement, however. In 2003 José Luis Ramírez landed work as a buyer at the Mexico City headquarters of a leading department-store chain, and things were going swimmingly until he brought his boyfriend to a company-hosted dinner with clients. "My boss’s face just dropped," recalls Ramírez. Ramírez was subsequently denied promotions and left the company last year. But sexuality "isn’t an issue" with his current employer, a new household-furnishings retailer.

Tolerance is now the majority, at least among the young. A 2005 poll by the Mitofsky market-research firm found that 50 percent of all Mexicans between the ages of 18 and 29 supported proposals to allow gay marriage. Karla Lopez met Karina Almaguer on the assembly line of a Matamoros auto-stereo factory. The two became the first Mexican couple to marry under the civil-union bill; Lopez, now 30, is a mother of three. She urges more gays and lesbians to follow her example and come out publicly. "I felt strange at first because people would judge us and look at us from head to toe," she says. "But I now feel more secure and at ease." If more political leaders, clergymen and judges act to legitimize folks like Karla Lopez, the new mood of tolerance will surely proliferate across the planet in her lifetime.

With Monica Campbell in Mexico City, Mac Margolis in Porto Alegre, Karen MacGregor in Durban, Quindlen Krovatin in Beijing and Anna Nemtsova in Moscow

25th October 2007 – PinkNews

LGBT discrimination in Europe’s margins

by writer
Two leading gay rights groups have compiled a report into the serious situation gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face in two countries aspiring to join the EU. The ILGA-Europe and COC Netherlands study of the position of LGBT People in Georgia and Azerbaijan concludes that the South Caucasian nations must stop discrimination and incitement to hatred. They are also urged to put in place an inclusive anti-discrimination law in line with Council of Europe and EU standards. The reports are the result of a joint fact-finding mission and reflect the vulnerable social and legal situation of LGBT people. They put a particular focus to lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people.
They also give examples of human rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In Georgia a high level of hostility towards same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities prevails in virtually every aspect of society. Many believe them to be a disease, some see them as a sin, others as a perversion. The human rights of LGBT people are opposed by some prominent human rights defenders and other high-level figures. Stigmatisation is so pervasive that most LGBT people are forced out of communities, deprived of any chance to openly express their sexual orientation or gender identity, and suffer from discrimination and hate crimes.

In Azerbaijan lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not invisible in the predominantly Muslim society. Tens of transgender sex workers go into the main street of the capital city Baku every night, prominent showbiz figures barely hide their sexual orientation, mass media gives more space every day to the subject of sexual orientation and gender identities. And yet one should not be misled by this relative visibility: there is a price of estrangement from family, bullying, social exclusion, discrimination, blackmailing and hate crimes attached to it. The reports seek to raise awareness of European and international organisations, put pressure for positive change on national governments and encourage donors to support LGBT groups organising in these countries.

Patricia Prendiville, executive director of ILGA-Europe, said: "The reports illustrate the vulnerable position of LGBT communities and the systematic nature of human rights violations against them. This situation runs against Georgia and Azerbaijan’s obligations under the European Convention for Human Rights and against European Union laws and values these countries have to respect if they aspire to EU membership in the future."

Frank van Dalen, president of COC Netherlands, added: "Upon completion of the fact-finding mission to South Caucasus, COC Netherlands with ILGA-Europe and other partners has started a five-year project aimed at strengthening LGBT movements in the newly-independent states and prevention of HIV/AIDS in this community. First results give very positive hopes: where there has been hardly any movement before now there are strong, registered NGOs advocating for human rights and social equality and providing a range of services for the community."

To read the reports click here.

Undated –

Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The Yogyakarta Principles address a broad range of human rights standards and their application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

12th November 2007 – PinkNews

UN Commissioner backs LGBT rights

by staff writer
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has spoken of her support for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. Louise Arbour made her comments after an historic meeting at the UN last week. The event, held in parallel with the session of the third committee of the UN General Assembly, discussed the Yogyakarta Principles. Named after the Indonesian city where they were adopted, the principles were introduced by 29 international human rights experts at a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva in March 2007.
They refer to the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity and address issues such as rape and gender-based violence, extra-judicial executions, torture and medical abuses, repressions of free speech and discrimination in the public services.

Ms Arbour said in a statement: "Next year we will celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – an occasion that provides an ideal opportunity to recall the core human rights principles of equality, universality and non-discrimination. Human rights principles, by definition, apply to all of us, simply by virtue of having been born human. Just as it would be unthinkable to exclude some from their protection on the basis of race, religion, or social status, so too must we reject any attempt to do so on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Yogyakarta Principles are a timely reminder of these basic tenets. Excluding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons from equal protection violates international human rights law as well as the common standards of humanity that define us all "And, in my view, respect for cultural diversity is insufficient to justify the existence of laws that violate the fundamental right to life, security and privacy by criminalizing harmless private relations between consenting adults. As such, I wish to reiterate the firm commitment of my Office to promote and protect the human rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

Last week’s event brought together non-governmental organisations, UN representatives and state delegates, and was an initiative co-sponsored by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The Yogyakarta Principles call for action from the UN human rights system, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organisations, and others. Last year 54 states called for the UN Human Rights Council to act against egregious violations of the rights of LGBT people.

November 30, 2007 – Reuters

Asia-Pacific must do more to tackle gay AIDS crisis-group

by Ben Blanchard
Beijing, Nov 30 (Reuters) – Asia-Pacific countries are not doing enough to tackle a growing AIDS crisis among men who have sex with men, hampered by social stigma and discriminatory laws, according to an advocacy group. Though in some countries such as China the government is now actively involved in reaching out to this community, in others, including Malaysia and India, progress has been much slower, said the Asia-Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health. It is an "almost unrecognised but ever-growing crisis that many governments in the region are only just beginning to grapple with", the group said in a statement ahead of World AIDS Day on Saturday.
HIV infection rates in some Asia cities in the men who have sex with men (MSM) community are estimated to be as high as 32 percent, added the group, a coalition of U.N. bodies, governments and non-governmental organisations.

"One of the main reasons is stigma around engaging in MSM behaviour, and also identifying as gay, transgender and so on in Asia," Edmund Settle, HIV/AIDS Programme Manager for the UNDP in China, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

That stigma can range from lack of visibility to homophobic violence in places like Nepal.

"There’s also a legislative reason. In a lot of post-colonial countries such as India and Malaysia, engaging in male-to-male sex is illegal, punishable by long prison sentences. So it’s very difficult to talk openly about male-to-male sex if it’s illegal," he added. Another problem is lack of data, though research has now started to take place, and lack of focus on the community in HIV/AIDS prevention work.

"Despite MSM having higher infection rates than the general adult population, the financial investment for HIV prevention, care and support services for this marginalised group across the Asia-Pacific is abysmally low in national HIV and AIDS programme planning, usually between 0 and 4 percent," group chairperson Shivananda Khan said in the statement. "Less than one in 10 MSM in the region have access to any sort of HIV services, woefully short of the six in 10 that UNAIDS describes as minimal coverage necessary for high-risk groups," Khan added. "Is it any surprise then that we really don’t have a clear picture of the true extent of the HIV crisis affecting men who have sex with men?"

Knowledge of safe sex can be pitifully low.

In China, which has an estimated 700,000 HIV cases, only 30 percent of men who have sex with men use condoms, according to a new Chinese government/UN report. And in urban areas, new cases are growing fast in this community.

"If you just look at urban cases, in China they are starting to make up a large proportion of HIV infections," Settle said, adding this was also the case in other major cities around the region. "What we don’t know is the second and third tier cities." (Editing by Nick Macfie)

15th January 2008 – PinkNews

Banks woo gay recruits in Asia

by staff writer
While multi-national corporations have been actively recruiting gay, lesbian and bisexual staff in the UK for some time, the policy has now been adopted in some Asian nations. The Financial Times reports that American investment bank Lehman Brothers held a recruietment event for LGB students at Hong Kong university and is considering similar events in Singapore. Homosexual relations are legal in Hong Kong. Despite recent debate about the issue in Singapore they remain against the law.
Other major institutions such as Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and UBS are also targeting gay graduates in Hong Kong, the FT reports.

Christopher Jackson, a senior vice-president for Lehman Brothers in Tokyo, told the paper: "The way we’re tackling this in Asia certainly emanates to some extent from the fact that we’re a US firm based in New York."

Last year British gay equality organisation Stonewall launched its third annual guide for LGB graduates, Starting Out, sponsored by Credit Suisse. Multi-nationals such as American Express, Abn Amro, Barclays, BP, Citi, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, Time Warner and UBS advertised their gay-friendly credentials in an attempt to attract the best talent.

February 1, 2008 –

ILGA-Asia conference elects first regional board

by Sylvia Tan
Alongside 14 panel presentations and workshops held Jan 24 to 27 in Chiangmai, 26 Asia-based member organisations of the International Lesbian and Gay Association elects its first regional board. Fridae editor Sylvia Tan reports from Chiangmai.
A 10-member regional board has been elected for the first time by 26 Asia-based member organisations of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) on Sunday, 27 Jan 2008, at the third ILGA-Asia conference held in Chiangmai. Members of ILGA met separately after each day’s conference proceedings to discuss the proposals related to self-organising within the organisation.
About 160 lesbian, gay and human rights activists from 12 Asian and non-Asian countries attended the conference which was held in the northern Thai city from Jan 24 to 27. The conference was hosted by the Committee on Lesbigay Rights in Burma (CLRB) and M-Plus, a local gay group which runs a drop-in centre.

The ILGA-Asia board is the fourth regional board to be set up within the framework of the 29-year-old organisation after Europe (1996), Latin-America (2000) and Africa (2007). Founded in 1978, the Brussels-based network has links with some 600 member organisations in over 90 countries including 75 gay groups across Asia. Asia is currently represented on ILGA’s world board by Mira Alexis P. Ofreneo of Manila-based lesbian activist group CLIC (Can’t Live In the Closet) and Aung Myo Min of Committee for Lesbigay Rights in Burma which is based in Chiangmai. They were elected at ILGA’s last regional conference held in 2005 in Cebu, the Philippines. Following the appointment of the new ILGA-Asia board on Sunday, Poedjiati Tan of Gaya Nusantara, Indonesia’s oldest gay rights advocacy group; and Sahran Abeysundara (Equal Ground, Sri Lanka) – best known to many as being a contestant on The Amazing Race Asia – will be the new female and male representatives to represent Asia on ILGA’s world board.

The other eight members of the Asia board are Eva Lee (Common Language, China) and Ashley Wu (Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association) representing East Asia; Toen-King Oey (Arus Pelangi, Indonesia) and Tan, South East Asia; Abeysundara and Hasna Hena (Bangladesh), South Asia; Anna Kirey (Labrys, Kyrgyzstan) and Suki (MSM Mongolia), Central Asia; Kamilia (Institut Pelangi Perempuan, Indonesia) and Frank Zhao (Trans China) were elected to fill the vacant seats in the West Asia region (Middle East) as it did not have any representation in the conference. The 10 board members will serve a 2-year term until a new board gets elected at the next ILGA-Asia conference to be hosted by Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society in 2010. The other contender Bali, which was proposed by potential host organisation Gaya Nusantara, lost by a hair’s breath when a vote was taken on Sunday. Only member organisations have voting rights, while individual members are excluded from voting.

According to the ILGA website, the aim of a regional conference is to provide an "opportunity for Asian activists to reflect on ways to consolidate their movement and further progress in self-organising on a regional level."

Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, ILGA Female Co-Secretary-General, says that one of the main aims of establishing a regional board is to create opportunities for activists in Asia to network, pool their resources and benefit from the experiences of others who face the same challenges in their own countries. "One of the short term objectives is to have a working constitution and eventually establish a secretariat in Asia – a registered NGO working for LGBTIQ rights. My vision is for Asia to form a cohesive and strong network to fight for our rights in this region which has long been neglected," the Sri Lanka-based activist told Fridae. "Many of the countries in Asia also criminalise homosexuality so I think a concerted effort to decriminalise in many of the countries would be a primary objective of quite a few regions." She added that the key to gaining LGBT rights is having a big voice, and making it "so much bigger so that people have to take notice" and recognise equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgendered people.

Prominent speakers at the 4-day conference include Dr Naiyana Supapueng from the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand and Vitit Muntarbhorn, Professor of Law at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University who also co-chaired the experts’ meeting which drafted The Yogyakarta Principles, a set of principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. Prof Vitit is also a UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Attendees of the conference also heard from Aya Kamikawa, a Setagaya Ward Assembly Member in Tokyo who is the first transsexual person to seek elected office in Japan; and Kanako Otsuji, Japan’s first openly lesbian politician who ran in a national election last year about mainstreaming LGBT issues at a national political level in Japan A street parade was held in the city for the first time as over 200 conference attendees, observers and members of the local LGBT community marched from the Buddhist Centre (Puttastan) to Pantip Plaza on Saturday night. More photos and reports to follow.

February 1, 2008 – From: International Lesbian and Gay Association

(For full text and photos: )

ChiangMai, Thailand witnessed its first gay march on Saturday, Jan 27
as some 160 gay activists and NGO workers descended on the northern Thai city for the third ILGA-Asia conference. Conference attendees as well as members of the local LGBT community marched from the Buddhist Centre (Puttastan) through the busy Chang Klan Road’s Night Market to Pantip Plaza as thousands of tourists and locals looked on.

The march, which was organised in conjunction with the 4-day conference, was covered by the local media including The Nation newspaper, The Irrawaddy News Magazine and the BBC World Service. Among those present were Sunil Pant, the founder and director of Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society – an organisation that advocates the rights of sexual minorities. According to a press release issued by Pant in December last year, the Nepal Supreme Court had “issued directive orders to (the) Nepal government to ensure rights to life according to their own identities and introduce laws providing equal rights to LGBTIs and amend all the discriminatory laws against LGBTIs.” It also declared that persons of the third gender should be recognised as such. Locally termed metis, they could be pre op male to female transgenders, or persons with a gender expression that is not typical of his/her biological sex.

While some members of the LGBT community have expressed discomfort about massage parlours (and gogo bars especially in the case of Bangkok Pride) prominently advertising their services during pride parades, a veteran pride parade organiser argued that any promotion of commercial services should be viewed the same way as long as the participants are supportive of the gay cause. He highlighted that while many have no reservations about the presence of blue-chip brands, the same people may balk at the presence of massage parlours, gogo bars and other businesses that cater to the gay community as their participation casts gays in a bad light.

Related web sites

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Blue Diamond Society

International Lesbian and Gay Association

Isis International-Manila

Equal Ground

Arus Pelangi

Institut Pelangi Perempuan

Gaya Nusantara

February 7, 2008 –

Cool reception for Asia’s gay workers

by von Raphael Minder
Homosexual employees face discrimination across most of Asia, but global investment banks are at the forefront of change. The international dimension of investment banking is forcing employers to confront the issue of homosexual discrimination. Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank, recently held an unusual recruitment event at Hong Kong university. Lehman’s invitation was specifically aimed at gay and lesbian students who aspire to be bankers. Encouraged by the success of the presentation and buffet dinner for 50 students, Lehman is planning to extend its initiatives targeting the gay community this year. It will include the bank’s first pro-gay activities in Singapore, the city-state that has become one of Asia’s leading financial centres but where sex between men is illegal. Lehman Brothers is not the only bank seeking to recruit from Asia’s gay community. Such is the enthusiasm among investment banks that some have banded together to give their Asian events a higher profile, taking it in turn to organise lectures, dinners and other events around a gay or lesbian theme. In November, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Lehman, Merrill Lynch and UBS co-sponsored a cinema evening in Hong Kong which featured The Bubble, a 2006 film about the gay relationship between a Palestinian and an Israeli soldier.

Investment banks’ efforts to recruit more gays and lesbians is partly an attempt to attract the most talented employees. At a time when Asia has become the world’s biggest region for deals such as initial public offering, investment banks are struggling to fill the new positions on offer. And the intense hiring competition makes it crucial to ensure talented gay people are not deterred from applying because of a combination of Asian intolerance and western macho behaviour on trading floors. Cheryl de Souza, Lehman’s Asia director of diversity and inclusion, says: "Walking across some of the floors in Hong Kong, you will find that we now have people who feel comfortable about having a picture of their [same-sex] partner on their desk and that’s huge in terms of progress." Furthermore, banks are increasingly committed to corporate social responsibility and best practice, which also helps explain why some US executives argue that they are ahead of their peers in pushing for sexual diversity. Christopher Jackson, a senior vice-president for Lehman in Tokyo, says: "The way we’re tackling this in Asia certainly emanates to some extent from the fact that we’re a US firm based in New York."

In most of Asia, gay people still face discrimination
What Lehman and some other investment banks are trying to achieve in Singapore and other parts in Asia runs counter to the region’s cultural and legal environment. Homosexual people are broadly accepted in some countries, notably Thailand, the Philippines and Hong Kong, where gay sex was only decriminalised in 1991. But in most of Asia, gay people still face discrimination and censure – both in and out of the workplace – amid a blend of religious intolerance, family conservatism and legal bans, often inherited directly from British colonial rule. For instance gay sex is a criminal offence across the Indian subcontinent.

In Malaysia, a Muslim country where sodomy is a crime, police in November broke up a gay sex party in a fitness club on Penang and arrested 37 men aged between 20 and 45. The evidence gathered against them included used condoms found on the floor as well as six boxes of new condoms – which in many countries would probably be construed as a sign of responsible sexual behaviour. Richard Welford, a director of CSR Asia, a consultancy focused on corporate social responsibility, says: "In the vast majority of cases in Asia, gays and lesbians have to stay hidden. Sometimes they will even make up boyfriends or girlfriends . . . But it does seem that in some sectors such as investment banking, businesses are taking the lead [in improving the situation for gay people]. You could say that they are ahead of Asian society there."

Investment banks are in a better position to push for change
This has not been the case in Asian retail banking. Unlike retail banks that have countrywide branch networks, investment banks are also in a better position to push for change because they generally operate only in a country’s biggest city, where the population is usually most diverse and conservative attitudes are less entrenched than in second-tier cities and more remote Asian manufacturing centres. The international dimension of investment banking is also forcing employers to confront the issue of homosexual discrimination more regularly than their counterparts in retail banking and other more local institutions. A recurring problem is the difficulty of getting investment bankers to relocate to countries that do not offer dependent visas for same-sex partners. Still, the jurisprudence governing homosexuality is not necessarily the best guide as to where gay people will find it easiest to work in the Asia-Pacific region, according to some executives who gathered at a recent evening party of Fruits in Suits, an association that holds monthly events in Hong Kong.

Some even contrast life in Sydney, where the Mardi Gras celebration is one of the world’s biggest annual gay events, with the macho working environment within parts of the Australian financial services industry, which one banker says is "a lot behind the curve". India offers another intriguing situation, according to Stephen Golden, a vice-president at Goldman Sachs, who helps co-ordinate the bank’s global leadership and diversity programme. He says: "India is one of those places where the laws relating to homosexuality haven’t changed but society has. We have had employees who are openly gay and have been asked to transfer to India and have gone there without any issues. They understand the cultural environment and have had very good experiences."

"The least diverse office we have in Asia"
On the flip side stands South Korea, where there is no legislation banning gay sex but where gay people say they cannot be open about their sexuality for fear of being treated as social pariahs. Kay McArdle, who heads Goldman’s diversity programme in Asia excluding Japan, describes Seoul as "the least diverse office we have in Asia". Still, she finds reason for optimism in the current staffing problems that Korean firms are confronting. Recognition that there is a dearth of women in the workplace should eventually translate into broader improvements for gay people and others who struggle to gain acceptance in the Korean workplace, she argues. "The Korean government has recently been doing a huge push on getting women back into the workforce as many employers face acute staff shortages." Ms McArdle says. "They are getting up the curve, slowly but surely. And that is good news for diversity in general."

April 9, 2008 –

Recognising Same-sex Relationships

by Douglas Sanders
The European Court of Justice has just recognised equal pension rights for same-sex partners. Can we expect such rulings to spread to Asia? Prof Douglas Sanders outlines same-sex partnership rights worldwide. Lesbian and gay equality rights continue to make progress in various national and international systems. The first big issue was decriminalisation. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was enacted 60 years ago, half of the world had laws making gay sex a crime. Those laws survive in all former British colonies in Asia except Hong Kong although they are almost completely gone in the West. The second big issue was ending discrimination against individuals. People shouldn’t get fired just because they are gay. The third big issue was the recognition of relationships. If there were rights and obligations attached to heterosexual marriage, those should be applied as well to stable homosexual relationships.
The fourth big issue was the recognition of rights in relation to children – access, custody, adoption, reproductive services.

Three ways to recognise relationships developed.
First "ascription. " If it looks like a marriage, treat it like a marriage. Some countries already had rules for unmarried heterosexual couples who were described as living in ‘common law’ or ‘de facto’ relationships. Those rules could be applied by judges or legislators to same-sex couples in the name of equality. Sometimes it was the rules that applied to married couples that got applied to same-sex couples. The logic was that heterosexuals could marry and get the benefits. If homosexuals could not marry, they should still have some way to get the benefits, in the name of equality. Second "registered partnerships" or "civil unions." Create by legislation a system under which same-sex couples can "register" their relationship and get some – or most – or all of the rights and obligations of marriage. This started in Denmark in 1989. Third extend "marriage." The Netherlands did it in 2001, followed by Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa and Massachusetts.

Lots is happening.
Courts in Israel and New York have started recognising Canadian same-sex marriages, though such marriages are not possible locally. The President of Ecuador announced in March that the government would recognise homosexual unions – "without ever arriving at the point of marriage" he added. Ireland is just completing a ‘civil partnership’ bill for same-sex couples. It also defines the rights and obligations of ‘common law’ couples (straight or gay) who live together without marriage or registration. A recent poll said that 58 percent of the Irish think gay couples should have access to "marriage." In advance of the Olympics, activists in Beijing have set up an exhibit displaying 10,000 signatures from Chinese citizens supporting same-sex marriage. A bill has been introduced at least twice in the National Peoples’ Congress supporting same-sex marriage (with no hope, so far, of passage).

In the UN human rights system we have two decisions under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that hold that same-sex couples should have equal pension rights – Young v Australia in 2003 – and X v Colombia in 2007. We have one decisions saying they cannot claim "marriage" – Joslin v New Zealand. In the European human rights system we have a decision of the European Court of Human Rights upholding equal tenancy rights for same-sex couples – Karner v Austria in 2003. On April Fools Day, 2008, the European Court of Justice handed down a decision in the Tadao Maruko case. The ECJ enforces the treaty establishing the European Union. It has nothing to do with the European Convention on Human Rights. The issue was whether a survivors’ pension that would be granted to a married partner could be denied to a registered partner. This was an obvious case of discrimination. In Germany only heterosexuals get married and only homosexuals get registered. The government pension scheme recognised both survivor spouse and survivor partner pension rights. But the pension in question was separate. It was set up under a collective agreement to provide a supplementary benefit solely for employees of German theatres.

The European Union non-discrimination law on sexual orientation (a) only applies to employment and (b) was not to affect "national laws on marital status and the benefits dependent thereon." Discrimination in pay is discrimination in employment. The Court held that the survivor pension was part of the "pay" granted to the deceased partner. So the matter came within the non-discrimination law. The first problem was solved. On the second issue, the Court never said what the ‘marital status’ exemption was about, but held that it does not override the basic non-discrimination rule in the directive. The judges were on our side. So the rule in the pension scheme restricting survivors’ benefits to married partners was struck down.

The German registered partnership law is one of the best in Europe. It treats registered partners as the same as married spouses. But the reasoning of the European Court of Justice does not focus on the fact that the German law delivers the same rights and responsibilities as marriage. As a result, the decision logically applies to all systems of recognition of relationships. Does it apply where a government – as in Poland – has no registered partnership law? The decision does not tell us the answer. But the logic of the decision is that equal benefits should apply.

And what of Asia? Any recognition of same-sex relationships?
The first cases to be fought over in the West related to health insurance, survivor tenancy rights and pension rights. Generally speaking, governments in Asia do not provide such rights for anybody, straight or gay. Half of Asia is still burdened by criminal law prohibitions. No country has a national anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation. Taiwan is the exception. There are two non-discrimination laws. The Gender Equity Education Act, 2004, protects both the sexual orientation and gender identity of students in schools. This was the first legislation in Taiwan referring to sexual orientation and different gender temperament or quality. The Employment Services Act, 2007, forbids discrimination against homosexuals.

The Domestic Violence Prevention Act includes same-sex couples. This is made clear in an ‘explanation’ under the key section of the legislation. Same-sex marriage was hinted at in Taiwan a number of years ago, but disappeared from the governments’ agenda. More recently a Same-Sex Marriage Act was proposed by DPP legislator Bi-Khim Hsiao.

The legislation in South Korea establishing a National Human Rights Commission specifically instructed the body to address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Commission held public hearings on the possibility of a national anti-discrimination law and proposed such a law to the government last year. "Sexual orientation" was included in draft legislation, then dropped after public controversy with the explanation that it was included by implication. The legislation was not reintroduced, and now there is a new government. So some things are happening close to home. Expect fights and lobbying ahead.

Douglas Sanders is a retired Canadian law professor now living in Bangkok. He can be contacted at between 0000-00-00 and 9999-99-99

March, 2008 –

The revolution will not be funded

If same-sex politics are to have any effect in Southasia, the sexuality ‘movements’ in the region need to move out of the arena of funding and into the sphere of independent thinking.

by Ashley Tellis
An observer would be forgiven for looking at the current proliferation and variety of conversations on same-sex politics in Southasia, and making some assumptions: that sexuality has finally arrived in the region as a mainstream issue of debate; and that the challenges posed by same-sex-based politics have truly shaken up the region’s societies. But nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike the women’s movements in our countries – or various other struggles, whether against dams or for tribal rights – the same-sex ‘movements’ in this region have never been grounded, autonomous movements. While the women’s movement and other causes may have eventually been co-opted by NGOs and the institutionalised mindsets that surround them, those dealing with same-sex sexuality have been NGO-based from the very beginning.
Same-sex politics in Southasia originally piggybacked on the brigade of civil-society organisations that were focusing on HIV and AIDS during the 1990s. Indeed, funding for HIV-related issues in India alone increased exponentially, from INR 1.4 billion in the early 1990s to nearly INR 7.1 billion in 2007. With this influx of funding, from a plethora of international agencies, it comes as no surprise that NGOs have clambered for a share of the pie. In particular, same-sex-focused groups attached themselves to this funding wave, and thus defined themselves through these NGOs. First and foremost, this tendency has been deleterious for those impacted by AIDS who have most needed this funding. Same-sex-identified populations, after all, are not the worst affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Southasia; the primary categories with the disease are instead made up of economically poor mothers and their children, patients receiving infected blood in hospitals, and injectable-drug users.

The conflation of same-sex issues with those of HIV and AIDS has also led to a cottage industry of sexuality-focused NGOs, often run by middle-class ‘entrepreneurs’. Such organisations base their operations on funding, and have thus involved themselves in the full-time manufacturing of new target populations and identities – such as the absurd kothi, an ‘identity’ that refers to cross-dressing, largely working-class men who are not hijras (the third gender in Southasia) but who have sex with men. As a term, ‘kothi’ suddenly emerged during the 1990s, and is now taken as a given. All the while, these groups continue to increase the vast alphabet soup of identities (for instance, LGBTHKQ … the letters could really go on), even as they maintain a primary eye on keeping their NGOs in business. How can any change be expected if the fire that comes from self-identifying as ‘gay’ – a term with a long history – has been replaced by suddenly grafting a new word onto populations, largely without their knowledge or input? In recent years, queer has become bandied about as the new popular term. This is a word with a very specific history, mainly in US academia, but suddenly whole groups of people are being referred to as ‘queer’ in India and elsewhere. But in fact, queer, an English-language and remarkably vague word, is one that only has resonance in the middle and upper classes, among folks who do PhDs in the US and write to US-based funding agencies for money to carry out their ‘queer’ studies in Southasia. NGO activists in the region now utilise this word – currently in favour with donor agencies – and set about purporting to selflessly garner funds on behalf of beleaguered populations. These populations, inasmuch as they see themselves as groups, do not have a fixed language for how they describe themselves, but rather complex forms of self-identification and community that need to be studied carefully.

Not only are these groups audacious enough to speak on behalf of other people; they do not even bother to pay attention to how the ‘target populations’ might want to speak about themselves. It is evident that the ‘lesbian’ women who marry each other across India certainly do not always identify as women (with one often taking on a ‘male’ identity); likewise, hijras or aravanis (the term used in Tamil Nadu) do not generally define themselves as ‘transgendered’, the term currently prevalent in human-rights circles. While the challenge is to pay attention to these personal references, NGOs instead dole out names that they think such groups should have, and promise them some shade under the ‘queer’ umbrella. Had this shade been useful, the whole process might have been worthwhile, at least in retrospect. But NGOs, in order to validate their own existence (as well as the requirements of funding), quickly append all local struggles onto an international human-rights language that may have nothing to do with ground realities.

This righteous aura marks both the Southasian NGOs and international funding organisations such as USAID (the US Agency for International Development), the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. One way or another, the internationalisation of ‘queer’ (or whatever) identities inevitably determine the very language in which international organisations and donor groups – and, consequently, Southasian NGOs – construct their work. Thus emerges a homogenous construction of identities and strategies, patterned on the language of international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
There is widespread evidence showing the NGO sector in developing countries to be far less accountable than is often projected, often trampling upon local sentiments while simultaneously increasing the vulnerability of already marginalised sections of society, such as the HIV-positive. It is now incumbent on critical observers to disabuse NGOs of any superior aura, and instead to subject them to the same analysis as would be received by corporations and other bodies organised around profit. Indeed, this may be a well-placed approach anyway, as NGOs around the world are becoming increasingly corporate in their modes of self-organisation and operation.

The next step is to examine the problems that arise when same-sex-focused movements are run by such organisations. As the University of London researcher Rob Jenkins, among others, has pointed out, the problem with most donor agencies such as USAID and DFID (which has pumped more than INR 6 billion into India over the last eight years for sexuality-related work) is twofold. First, they portray civil society as sacred, moral and apolitical. Second, they portray themselves as, likewise, little more than impartial guides. In fact, neither of these characterisations holds much water.
Let us take each of these ideas in turn. First, while most sexuality-based NGOs and funders claim to be apolitical, they share a very particular conception of how to define ‘civil society’. They want, for example, ‘accountability,’ ‘individual rights and liberties’ and ‘autonomous centres of social and economic power’. In other words, they want social independence that leads to economic competitiveness, better performance and ‘good governance’ in the various sectors of Southasian countries – all of which is cumulatively seen as the pathway to democratic development.
Versions of each of these goals are brought up in various guises by sexuality-based NGOs in the region, as well. They aim to democratise sexual space in favour of marginalised and neglected groups, for whom they promise to fight for rights; and to create autonomous and self-sufficient spaces for their members. In addition, two other ideas have been heavily relied upon by such NGOs – health and human rights. As mentioned previously, the former gained its importance due to the fact that most sexuality-based NGOs originally legitimised their existence through work they claimed to be doing under the auspices of HIV/AIDS prevention. ‘Human rights’, meanwhile, has become of increasing importance due to the fact that there was already in place an active international human-rights conversation dealing with sexuality and sexual orientation, to which Southasian NGOs were able to append their struggles with the goal of gaining global legitimacy.

With regards to the second idea, that donors want to project themselves as free of their own motives or agendas, it is important to understand the dynamic at play when funders give money to various groups, particularly in developing countries. Is there scope for NGOs to question the ways in which donors want them to strategise, or are these the very frameworks with which NGOs have no qualms about following? If the former is the reality, then what is the real ‘autonomy’ of these NGOs, and what repercussions does this have, in this instance, on the business of same-sex politics in Southasia? But if the truth is closer to the latter, then the levels of neglect in the engineering of social change must be considered alarming. Thus, if NGOs unquestioningly follow a prescribed framework and language, this is completely irresponsible vis-à-vis the constituency they are claiming to represent. NGOs in the West should likewise not be thought of as particularly selfless with regards to their missions in developing countries. Ann Hudock, a US technical specialist in governance, has shown how Western NGOs conceive of and exploit their counterparts in the developing world – patronisingly seeing them, for example, as unable to lead development and lacking the capacity to plan project activities. Hudock has also shown how the new process of ‘capacity-building’ has been a way for NGOs from developed countries to disengage from direct involvement in development activities, and has failed to address the politics of the implications of this kind of funding. In the field of sexuality, this is compounded by a lack of perspective on the often messy ways in which sexuality intersects with cultural anxieties in many Southasian societies. Many governments in the region, including various progressive elements, have already conceived of same-sex sexuality – sometimes even of sexuality itself – as being somehow foreign.

Not taking the necessary care with regards to how sexuality is approached in terms of intervention can have disastrous effects on a social space. The fact that international funding agencies have an agenda, timeframe and goals to reach – to which NGOs in Southasia are inevitably tied – and a certain packaged set of messages to get across means that they often do not bother to listen to what local social contexts demand. Nor do they pay any more than scant attention to the relationship between the NGO and the society in which it is working. A case in point is the 2001 arrest of workers from Bharosa, an NGO in Lucknow linked to the Naz Foundation (a British NGO with offices across India), working on HIV/AIDS-related awareness. Safe-sex educational materials were considered pornography, an office was mistaken for a sex hotel, and Bharosa’s HIV-related outreach work was seen by the police to be a gay racket. Significantly, charges, including under the notorious Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, were ultimately brought against the employees and not the NGO itself. In another case, there was a similar absence of support on the part of an international donor agency to Sahayog, an NGO in Almora, in Uttarakhand, that was shut down by the district administration for allegedly hurting ‘local sentiments’ in a report about sexual practices. When dissonance with local cultural mores gets policed as ‘criminal’, to what extent does the donor community remain accountable? In the evidence thus far, the answer seems to be ‘minimal’.

A new language
It is important to recognise the ideology of funders when it comes to issues of sexuality, for it is one that inevitably leads to many subsequent problems at the local level. Sexuality-based NGOs, as with most other NGOs, construct themselves as the superior educators vis-à-vis the community in which they are working – often with no engagement whatsoever on how the community arranges its own education on such matters, as happened in the Almora case mentioned above. While donors have little to do with these NGOs after handing over the funds and overseeing the fact that the language of the work they do mirrors the language of their intentions, the actual effects of this language on civil society is generally of little concern to them.

Since employees at NGOs dealing with issues of sexuality are generally urban and metropolitan in perspective and location, they often fail to understand how lives are led on the urban periphery, let alone in the rural hinterland. They certainly do not engage with everyday life in these areas in any sustained way. Nonetheless, they take it upon themselves, on a daily basis, to speak for these groups. At the same time, they generally do not help to organise these groups in any self-sustaining way, but only in terms of dependence – after all, they are the NGOs’ bread and butter. This is accomplished by constructing these groups as social categories, which are then mistakenly represented as political categories that the people in question have adopted for themselves. All of this would be rather comical were it not for the serious effects that it has on people’s lives by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Sexuality is naturally a fraught arena, and such unthinking practices increase difficulties rather than making conditions better for marginalised groups. Indeed, this can not only lead to serious disruptions of people’s lives, but also to the neglect of those who really need help – women who marry each other across the country and are forced to commit suicide, for example.

Often, these women understand themselves and their relationships differently from the term ‘lesbian’. But because they are not easily assimilated into a lesbian politics or a fundable group does not mean that the critique they offer of heterosexual patriarchy is not revolutionary, even if the language in which they choose to construct their relationships may draw on the available framework of heterosexual marriage. It is crucial to stop fooling ourselves that just by uttering the words sexuality or queer or same-sex desire we are automatically involved in a revolution. This revolution, if it does come, will not be carried out from NGO offices. Southasians must forge a language and a politics closer to our own contexts, a locally grounded politics that respects sociological particularities and our own languages. This would mean eschewing the identity politics that have led to widespread impasses, even in Western Europe and the US where they were born. Only when we learn to speak our own language, not simply parrot an identity-laden, alienating language from the West, and only when we are able to forgo dependence on Western support structures, will we finally have a same-sex politics that can begin to make a real difference

17 May 2008 – From the South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality

On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO)
, 17 May 2008, we are pleased to announce our working paper:

Human Rights and the Criminalisation of Consensual Same-Sex Sexual Acts in the Commonwealth, South and Southeast Asia

No less than 86 member states of the United Nations still criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts among adults (ILGA, 2008). Of these, nearly 50% (as many as 41) are in the Commonwealth.

Last year, IDAHO 2007, in an unprecedented statement the British Foreign Office Minister Ian McCartney affirmed "Britain’s commitment to the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality" .

This working paper draws attention to the possible role the Commonwealth and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the United Kingdom can play in undoing the criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual acts the world over.

A summary follows.
The full working paper can be download from www.asiaSRC. org/
Printed copies of the paper will be available soon. Please circulate this announcement to your respective networks. Thanks.

The criminalisation of consensual same sex sexual acts has been a subject of judicial review in different fora in different countries. In different cases, the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee have held that these laws violate the right to privacy. The US Supreme Court has held that such a law violates the right to liberty. The Constitutional Court of South Africa has held that such a law violates the rights to privacy, equality, and human dignity.

The Yogyakarta Principles (relating to sexual orientation and gender identity) call upon all states to repeal all laws that criminalise consensual sexual activity among persons of the same sex who are over the age of consent.

In light of pressing human rights concerns, a global review of these laws is entirely worthy. In this paper however, a selective focus is invited to South and Southeast Asia. In this region, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, and Sri Lanka (a total of 11 countries) have such laws. Eight of these are Commonwealth countries. They share a common forum – the Commonwealth – for mobilising dialogue and action on the subject.

These countries have a shared history of British colonisation. The criminalisation is a direct reflection of Victorian period law-making in what was then the British Empire. In 2007, in an unprecedented statement the British Foreign Office Minister Ian McCartney affirmed "Britain’s commitment to the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality" .

The Commonwealth and the United Kingdom – together and separately – offer promising potential for undoing the criminalisation, not just in the region but also across the world. There needs to be greater demand and targeted lobbying to turn this potential into action.

The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality is hosted by TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues) in New Delhi, India. TARSHI is an NGO that believes that all people have a right to sexual wellbeing and a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality. The Resource Centre aims to increase knowledge and scholarship on issues of sexuality, sexual health and sexual well being in this region. It specifically focuses on sexuality related work in China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Philippines, and Vietnam. The Resource Centre is part of the Ford Foundation’s Global Dialogue on Sexual Health and Wellbeing. Similar centres are based in Africa, Latin America and North America. Please visit www.asiaSRC. org for more information.

July 29, 2008 –

AIDS hitting Asian gays at high rates: UN

United Nations (AFP) — HIV infection rates among gay men in many parts of Asia are as severe as those which devastated US homosexual communities in the late 1980s, top officials of the UNAIDS agency said here Tuesday. Launching his agency’s 2008 report on the global AIDS epidemic, Peter Piot, UNAIDS executive director, urged more action to prevent the spread of the disease among gay men who have unsafe sex and stressed the importance of working with affected communities. "All over Asia there are now epidemics of HIV in men who have sex with men of the same magnitude that we saw in this country 25 years ago," Piot said. "That is something that has been detected fairly recently. There is not enough action yet but we are now starting programs," he added.

Paul De Lay, director of Evidence, Monitoring and Policy at UNAIDS, said the HIV epidemic among gay communities in Asia was not new, but that it had recently reached the levels seen in cities such as San Francisco at the end of the 1980s when HIV infections reached their peak. He said it could be due to a number of factors, including less funding for programs that target men who have sex with men and the fact that there were new groups who were less aware of the risks of unprotected sex. "Asia has recognized populations of men who have sex with men for quite some time," he told AFP. "The epidemic in these populations started in the mid-1990s. What we see now is a resurgence." "There are countries where the percentage of people infected are similar to what we were seeing in San Francisco or in Berlin or in London where up to 15 to 20 percent of men who have sex with men are HIV positive," he added. The report meanwhile noted that unprotected sex between men was a "potentially significant but under-researched aspect of the HIV epidemics in Asia," citing countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. "Recent study data from several major cities in the region, from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, show increasing HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men," the report said.

In China, unsafe sex between men could account for up to seven per cent of HIV infections, it noted. De Lay said there were also high infection rates among gay populations in cities such as Chennai and Mumbai in India and in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta. He added that these communities often faced homophobia from the wider population, as well as discrimination from health care providers, which discouraged them from seeking information and getting tested. "Even without blatant national laws that criminalize homosexual behavior, you can still have a gradation of policies and practices that can be almost as bad," he said.

De Lay pointed to a similar resurgence of HIV infections among gay populations in the US and western Europe, which he said showed the need for constant vigilance. The report said higher risk unprotected sex among gay men in several countries in western Europe, such as Germany, appeared to be linked to the increasing numbers of new HIV diagnoses among that group. "It’s disturbing because it’s this sense that we can never let our guard down as far as prevention, that the epidemic will come creeping back if there isn’t this constant attention being paid to it," De Lay said