4 Lesbian Film: Journey to Kafiristan (true story)
October 30, 2000
Switzerland prepares Partnerhsip Laws
The Swiss government has appointed Justice Minister Ruth Metzler to draft a registered-partnership bill for gay couples. The measure is expected grant registered partners a large number of the rights and obligations of marriage, including adoption rights and access to medically assisted procreation.
It also may give immigration rights to Swiss gays’ foreign lovers. The process of enacting the law could take several years. Currently, gay couples have nearly all the rights of marriage in Denmark, France, Greenland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the U.S. state of Vermont.
International Coalition Advocates for Full Recognition of Gay Victims of the Nazis in Swiss Bank Litigation
Historic Settlement Brings First-Ever Legal Recognition of Anti-Gay Persecution by Nazis
New York – In a historic proposal, an international coalition Thursday is asking a U. S. federal court to allocate a portion of a $1.25 billion settlement of a lawsuit against Switzerland’s two largest banks to create a fund to help recognize and address Nazi persecution of gay people.Such a fund would be the first of its kind.
The lawsuit prompting the court’s settlement plan has led to the first-ever legal recognition that gay people were systematically persecuted by the Nazis.The lawsuit resulting in the settlement was filed against the Swiss banks to recover funds deposited in the banks by victims of Nazi persecution and never returned to their rightful owners. In addition, the settlement provides compensation for the banks’ unjust enrichment from assets that the Nazis looted from the victims or derived from slave labor. The court-administered plan to distribute settlement funds recognizes that the Nazis specifically targeted gay people, alongside Jews, Sinti and Roma (gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people with disabilities.Most of the settlement funds will be distributed to Jewish survivors, their heirs, and Jewish support organizations.
The Pink Triangle Coalition seeks $12.5 million, or one percent, to account for Nazi persecution of gay people."No amount of money will ever right this historical wrong for any of the individuals and groups victimized by the Nazis. However, the Pink Triangle Coalition seeks to fulfill the responsibility of honoring the memory of the Nazis’ gay victims. In obtaining a small portion of this important settlement, we will work to ensure that these atrocities and the hatred that fueled them never happen again," said Julie Dorf, IGLHRC representative to the Pink Triangle Coalition.
The Pink Triangle Coalition was formed in Berlin in 1998 to work for recognition, remembrance, and education concerning Nazi persecution of gay people and to ensure representation of gay victims vis a vis the various international funds that have sprung up for educational projects and reparation payments linked to the Nazi era.Although reclaimed in recent decades as a sign of gay liberation, the pink triangle was the badge assigned to gay men interned in Nazi concentration camps.
The Nazis used other insignia to identify members of other groups singled out for persecution, most infamously the overlapping yellow triangles that formed the Star of David to identify Jews. Jewish victims far outnumbered others persecuted under Hitler, with nearly six million killed.The Nazi regime ruthlessly crushed the many gay and lesbian organizations, businesses, and publications that had been established in Germany in the early twentieth century. According to historians, the Nazis also arrested at least 50,000 men under a law that banned male homosexuality.
As many as 15,000 were sent to concentration camps, where most met their deaths. Gay prisoners often were assigned to extremely hazardous slave labor such as clearing mine fields and working in the quarries. Many died from exhaustion; others were killed outright. Still others were castrated and subjected to so-called "medical experiments" because of their sexual orientation."By explicitly acknowledging homosexuals as victims of Nazi persecution, the proposed settlement of the Swiss banks suit marks a historic turning point.
More than 55 years after the defeat of the Third Reich, the losses sustained by our community will at last be recognized alongside those of the other groups who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime," said historian Gerard Koskovich, United States delegate for the Mémorial de la Déportation Homosexuelle, Paris, and one of the members of the coalition."The Pink Triangle Coalition is requesting only a very small portion of the total settlement, but it will allow us to assist the surviving homosexual victims of Nazi persecution as they approach the end of their lives. And by funding historical research and educational programs, it will make it possible for us to honor the memory of all those who did not survive or who are still too traumatized to come forward," he added.
Unlike most other victims of Nazi persecution, gay people worldwide were subjected to systematic harassment even after World War II ended. For example, until 1969 Germany maintained the Nazi-era law that criminalized male homosexuality. Some gay survivors were jailed by the Nazis’ successors. Because of the ongoing threat of prosecution after the war, widespread silence about Nazi persecution of gay people, and anti-gay bias, some gay victims of the Nazis have been unable to come forward to demand recognition.
To date, 88 survivors have identified themselves as gay and are participating in the settlement."Gay people who survived the camps were forced to hide in the same closet to which virtually all gay people were consigned until recently," said Michael Adams, deputy legal director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, continuing, "The forced invisibility that has been part of so much anti-gay oppression around the world has compounded the continuing nightmare for gay survivors of the Nazis."At the center of the Swiss banks lawsuit was the allegation that the banks failed to return more than 50,000 bank accounts that had been opened by victims of the Nazis, who attempted to shield some of their financial assets from the Third Reich.
The lawsuit also alleged that the banks were unjustly enriched with assets that the Nazis looted from their victims and with the profits of Nazi slave labor.While much of the Swiss bank settlement funds will go to repay seized bank accounts and supplement payments that Nazi victims have received from prior reparation funds, a portion has been set aside by the court for other purposes. This set-aside of funds reflects a widespread understanding that most victims of the Nazis are now deceased; others, such as elderly gay survivors are unlikely to come forward.
To more fully address present-day consequences of the Nazi era, the court is expected to dedicate some settlement funds to public education and organizational support. For example, $100 million has been set aside for organizations that care for Nazi survivors, with 90 percent of that money dedicated to Jewish support groups.(In Re: Holocaust Victim Assets Litigation, No. CV 96-4849 [ERK][MDG])
April 30, 2003
Zurich warms up for gay festival–including the zoo
by Mark Ledsom in Zurich
Zurich’s homosexual community will be coming out of hibernation thisweek with a month-long celebration of gay life. Combiningworkshops, culture, parties and sport, the "Warm May"festival is now in its fourth year.
The festival was originally conceived as a sideshow to the Eurogames,an international gay sports tournament that was hosted by Zurich in 2000. Now standing on its own, Warm May comprises more than 70 events -ranging from serious theatre to massage courses. Although clearly targeted at Zurich’s sizeable gay community,organisers insist that the festival is open to everybody. "We just want to come out and show people what we are doing andremind them how varied our activities are," Warm May spokeswoman MonicaTschanz told swissinfo. Prejudice "One of the workshops deals with sexual orientation and will be led by a homosexual, a bisexual and a heterosexual who will start a discussion about prejudice and what it’s like living these different lifestyles – sofor this event in particular everybody will be welcome." Although the vast majority of Warm May events concentrate on morelight-hearted activities and subjects, the issue of prejudice will also becentral to the theatre piece "Wilde Oscarade". The play offers a German language re-enactment of Oscar Wilde’s "Ballad of Reading Gaol" – written following Wilde’s two-year imprisonment for "gross indecency". "I hope the audience will see how much things have changed sinceWilde’s time, but also feel how much things haven’t changed," says theplay’s director Radu Klinger.
"A lot of people are still being killed injail and it’s a problem which is very current in the United States. And just as in Oscar Wilde’s day, many of those killed are homosexuals."
It’s hoped that Zurich’s far more tolerant attitude to homosexualitywill be enhanced by the Warm May festival – with even the city zoo getting in on the act. Following a successful debut last year, the zoo is offering a tour of its facilities concentrating on the issue of homosexuality in the animal kingdom. "Last year, we had a very positive reaction to the tour which shows that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon," says Tschanz. "So many people wanted to see the tour last time that we decided to organise four tours thisyear. "I myself am a big fan of nature documentaries but I always thinkit’s a pity that the film-makers concentrate exclusively on heterosexual activity. We know there is more to it than that and I think people are now open enough to have a look at this too."
From the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde to gay animal tours, much has clearly changed over the past hundred years. As the man portraying Wilde in the Warm May production, actor Bodo Krumwiede may have the best idea wha tthe Irish playwright might have made of it all. "I think he would be very happy," reckons Krumwiede, "and very glad that people can come together and talk about what it means to be gay without running the risk of being arrested."
The epic quest of two women in 1939, who start out in search of a beautiful valley in Afghanistan, and end up on a road trip bursting with eroticism and self-discovery.
The true-life story of Swiss writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach (a cohort of Thomas Mann’s children Erika and Klaus), played by Jeanette Hain of THE TRIO, and ethnologist Ella Maillart (played by Nina Petri of RUN LOLA RUN) unfolds along an arduous route from Geneva, Switzerland through the Balkans and into the sultry bosom of Persia.
• WINNER BEST FILM ~ Locarno International Film Festival
Running time: 100 min.
German with English subtitles
Picture This films: http://www.picturethisent.com/dvdvideo/detail_journey.html
July 1, 2003
by Mark Ledsom in Zurich
Zurich’s homosexual community celebrated a landmark victory on Tuesday as the city registered its first gay couple. Ernst Ostertag and Robert Rapp, both 73 years old, exchanged rings under a new law that grants same-sex couples official recognition. Five other couples were also registered on Tuesday and 15 others are due to follow in the coming days.
Gay rights supporters are now campaigning for similar recognition at a national level. "It’s very symbolic that Zurich has enacted this law, allowing the first gay registrations in the German-speaking part of Switzerland," said François Baur, president of Swiss gay rights organisation Pink Cross. "Similar proposals are already at the committee stage in the national parliament and we expect to see a nationwide referendum on the issue by 2005."
Popular backing Zurich is actually the second Swiss city to recognise gay and lesbian partnerships, with Geneva having led the way in 2001. However the Zurich registrations go somewhat further than those in Geneva. As well as receiving civic recognition, Zurich’s gay couples will be granted similar tax allowances to heterosexual pairs and will also be allowed full visitation rights if one partner is hospitalised.
Perhaps even more significantly, the Zurich registrations are the first in the world to be backed by a popular referendum. Almost two-thirds of voters in the canton gave their backing to the proposals in September.
Arriving in a horse-drawn carriage at Zurich’s city hall on Tuesday morning, Ostertag and Rapp were the first gay couple to be recognised by the city. Together for the past 47 years, the pair seemed delighted not only with the occasion, but also with their role as pioneers. "It’s really a coronation of everything that the whole community has done in the past 50 years," Ostertag told swissinfo shortly after exchanging rings with his partner. "We have become symbols of the fight for homosexual equality in Switzerland and today marks a major victory in that fight."
Ostertag also pointed out that this wasn’t the first time he had been registered by the Zurich authorities although the previous occasion had been under very different circumstances. "During the police repressions of the 1960s, I was also on a list of homosexual men. The police raided my flat once at 4.30am, took me down to the station and even took my fingerprints. It was inhuman, a dreadful experience.
"Now here we are using the word ‘registration’ again, but in a completely different context. So now we can leave all those past memories behind and just forget about it."
Unsurprisingly, after almost half a century together, Ostertag and Rapp don’t expect Tuesday’s ceremony to have a radical effect on their relationship. Nor are they planning a honeymoon, having already enjoyed one in Greece back in 1957. But there may now be at least one small change in the way the two men introduce each other to the outside world. "We haven’t quite decided how we’ll refer to each other now," beamed Ostertag. "Most people know us by now of course, but, yes, in certain cases I’ll probably be saying ‘this is my husband, Robbi’."
September 7, 2003
Gay fathers club together in Zurich
by Mark Ledsom in Zurich, Swissinfo
Coming out as a gay man can be a tough enough experience at the best of times, but what happens when you’re also a dad? That was the question that led to the setting up in Zurich of a "Gay Fathers" group. Now in its eighth year, the organisation was founded by three gay fathers who found that their specific problems were largely overlooked by the homosexual community.
The group provides support, counselling and practical advice for men who have declared their homosexuality after fathering children in long-term heterosexual relationships. There are no official statistics on the number of gay fathers in Switzerland, but the Zurich group reckons it has so far helped more than 150 men. "I would say that our members are fairly evenly divided," says coordinator Daniel Grütter, "between those who have always known they are gay but have repressed it, and those who just ‘discover’ it one day, perhaps after falling in love with another man.
"Any form of coming out is difficult. But it’s even harder when there is a wife involved, and extremely difficult when you also have to explain it all to children." Difficult isn’t the word which group member Stephen Salinger uses to describe his own experience three years ago. "It was horrendous," recalls the Zurich-based Australian. "My children were five and seven at the time and I thought that I was an absolute failure. My marriage was at an end, and it felt like I was too. I really did want to stop living. "But then I found out about the Gay Fathers group and for me it was a lifeline. There’s no set agenda so members are free to discuss whatever they like, whether it’s the difficulties of coming out or the financial and legal aspects of separation."
As well as receiving help from the group, Salinger says he was fortunate to have an extremely supportive wife. Having come through the initial upset, the two remain friends and Salinger has been able to maintain a strong relationship with his children. Exclusion Despite the group’s efforts, however, such happy endings are not guaranteed and many of the men have to cope with the pain of exclusion from their own families.
Werner Hemmig had been married for 20 years before telling his wife that he could no longer live as a heterosexual man. Nine months later he is still estranged from his wife and two teenage boys. "My sons reacted very badly when they found out I was gay," Hemmig says. "In fact they were physically ill. I don’t have a good relationship with them and they find it very hard to accept me as a father. Of course, that makes me very sad." But although he has not yet managed to reconcile his former lifestyle to his current one, Hemmig is still grateful for the support offered by the Gay Fathers group. "Before I came to the group, I was feeling like a rubber band being pulled from one side to another. Now though I’m a lot more assured about my homosexuality. I also have a number of friends who I can really talk to about my life and my problems. So all in all, I’m feeling quite happy now."
October 11, 2003
Gay politicians stay in the closet
Switzerland’s gay politicians are still holding back when it comes to coming out. While Paris and Berlin have gay mayors, in Switzerland it is still rare for high-ranking gay politicians to openly talk about their sexual preferences. There are about 400,000 gays and lesbians living in Switzerland, making up about six per cent of the population.
Meanwhile, Saturday marks the 12th Swiss Coming Out Day. Sociologist Martin Abele says although homosexuality has in general become increasingly accepted in Switzerland, there is still a limited acceptance within the political sphere. "It would still be a sensation if a gay or lesbian ran for the post of a cabinet minister," Abele told swissinfo. Moël Volken of the gay rights organisation, Pink Cross, says he only knows one Swiss parliamentarian who is openly gay. "I am not sure whether someone who is openly gay would actually make it into the Swiss cabinet," Volken told swissinfo.
The parliamentarian Claude Janiak says he has never really come out as such – he is simply open about his sexuality. "I take my partner to public engagements in Basel, which has never caused any problems," Janiak told swissinfo. Double life "Many politicians believe that their private lives should be separate from their political lives," said Brigitte Röösli of Switzerland’s lesbian organisation, LOS.
"Many gay politicians lead a double life as they are too afraid of the public’s reaction and not getting re-elected." She added that only 16 of the more than 3,000 candidates standing for the parliamentary elections on October 19 are openly gay. However, Abele thinks this is a huge step in the right direction, as four years ago the number was significantly lower. "It is important for the gay-lesbian community that politicians come out, as it gives them somebody to identify with," Abele said.
High-ranking politicians are less likely to come out of the closet but young politicians, who are at the beginning of their career, tend to be more open about their sexualities. Meanwhile, Pink Cross claims the French-speaking parts of Switzerland are less progressive when it comes to accepting homosexuals. "It is almost impossible to launch a pro-gay campaign in western Switzerland. There homosexuals are not as widely accepted as they are in the German-speaking part of the country," Volken told swissinfo. And it is worse, he added, in the Italian-speaking part of the country. "In Ticino homosexuals are even more hidden away."
Two years ago, however, Geneva became the first canton to pass a law that gives homosexual couples almost equal rights. And earlier this year homosexual couples gained official recognition in canton Zurich.
Parliament is now due to debate the nationwide registration of gay couples, their legal status and whether homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt children and use artificial reproduction techniques. Urban life Abele says homosexuals are more likely to be accepted in urban areas and points out that those who have been in contact with gays or lesbians are more open towards them. "Young gay and lesbians still have to struggle with the fact that they are ‘different’," Abele said. "This is a long-winded process and young people have to get over the negative clichés and the jokes about gays," he added. . swissinfo, Alina Kunz Popper (translation: Billi Bierling)
December 2, 2003
Gay couples edge closer to equal rights
by Jonathan Summerton, Swissinfo
The House of Representatives has approved legislation to grant gay couples the right to register their partnerships.
But opponents have promised to put the issue to a nationwide vote if the Senate follows suit. The new law would give gays and lesbians the same entitlements as married couples – with just a few exceptions. They would not have the automatic right to adopt children or have access to fertility treatment, and there would be no legal provision for a common surname.
"Of course, those are rights that we would also like to have," Moël Volken of the gay rights organisation Pink Cross told swissinfo. "But we would be happy to see the law adopted in its current form," he added.
Civil law Opponents of the proposals, such as Christian Waber of the conservative religious party, the Federal Democratic Union, argue that the rights of people in same-sex partnerships are already guaranteed under civil law, and there is no need for any new legislation. "Common property rights can be covered by wills, and civil law can be used to guarantee access to information," he told swissinfo.
But the Pink Cross insists that provisions under civil law are not enough. Volken says gay and lesbian couples are currently discriminated against in a number of areas including health insurance, pensions, taxes or the death of a partner. The new legislation would recognise the right of both partners to be the next of kin, and in the case of the death of one partner, allow the other to inherit common property without being hit with a huge tax bill.
"At the moment, of course, the law allows you to leave everything to your partner, but not in the same way as married couples," said Volken. "This means that if you have built a house together and one partner dies, the other one will have to pay taxes just to keep what already belongs to them. "In some cases that tax can be as high as 50 per cent, and most people simply would not be able to afford to pay."
Rights Giving same-sex couples the chance to register their partnerships is also an issue of human rights, says the Pink Cross. It would be proof that the prejudice of previous decades no longer exists and it would act as a sign that gay men and lesbians have been integrated fully into society. "We were born here, brought up here and are members of this society, and it’s very natural that we should have the same rights as everybody else."
"This legislation wouldn’t force gay men and lesbians to ‘marry’, it would just give them the same right of choice as heterosexual men and women." But Waber says he will call for a nationwide vote if the legislation makes its way through parliament. He maintains the prime function of any state is to protect the family and not promote other lifestyles. "Gay and lesbian couples already have rights as citizens, and those rights are guaranteed in the sense that they are not discriminated against," he said. "The state can only protect lifestyles that actually guarantee its future – and that means the family and children."
March 30, 2004
Switzerland courts gay tourists
Zurich, Switzerland (UPI) – Switzerland’s national tourist office has launched a special advertising campaign to attract gay tourists from the United States and Britain. "The potential is great," Oliver Kerstholt of Switzerland Tourism told Swissinfo. "Gay travelers usually have a high disposable income since they don’t have families to support."
The campaign’s brochure, titled "It’s Only Natural," includes listings in the major cities of Zurich, Geneva and Lucerne. It also highlights smaller Bern, the Lake Geneva region and mountain resorts Engelberg, Zermatt and Davos. Some have questioned the inclusion of isolated mountain resorts without active gay scenes, but the resorts are working to attract gay clients.
Engelberg hosts a gay and lesbian ski week and Zermatt is playing a role in the campaign. "I think people come here first and foremost to be in the mountains," said Daniel Luggen of the Zermatt tourist office. "They want to be outdoors, eat good food, and I don’t think they feel the need to go to (gay) clubs."
June 4, 2004
Parliament gives its blessing to gay couples
The Swiss parliament has voted in favour of allowing gay couples to register their partnerships. The Senate followed the House of Representatives by agreeing in principle to grant gays and lesbians similar entitlements to married couples. The proposed new law, which now has to go back to the House of Representatives to iron out minor differences, recognises the right of both partners to be next of kin.
In the case of the death of one partner it would also allow the other to inherit shared property without having to pay a huge tax bill. But no automatic rights would be granted to adopt children or have access to fertility treatment and no legal provision is planned which would allow gay couples to adopt a common surname.
A small religious conservative party in parliament has already made it clear that it will challenge parliament’s decision. The gay rights group, Pink Cross, has welcomed the law as an important step towards ending discrimination against gays and lesbians in the areas of health insurance, pensions and taxes.
The group called on parliament to wrap up debate on the new legislation before the summer break. Claude Janiak, a member of parliament for the centre-left Social Democrats, welcomed the outcome of the debate. "Parliament has voted for a pragmatic solution which goes beyond that of Germany and other neighbouring countries," Janiak told swissinfo.
But he added that Switzerland still lags behind Nordic countries when it comes to gay rights. "It is true that it will have taken longer to find a realistic solution, but the law was accepted by parliament without much opposition." The move by parliament to offer gays and lesbians similar rights to heterosexual couples comes three years after the city of Geneva introduced its own legislation governing same-sex partnerships.
Last year Zurich became the second Swiss city to grant official recognition to gay couples. The conservative religious party, the Federal Democratic Union, has come out against the new federal law. The party argues that there is no need for new nationwide legislation, because equal rights are already guaranteed under civil law. "We will feel compelled to mount a challenge if the law passes its final reading in parliament," Christian Waber of the Federal Democratic Union told swissinfo.
The party says parliament’s role is to protect the family and it should not be encouraging alternative lifestyles. Waber added that he had received pledges of support from numerous individuals and groups. "I’m confident that we will be able to collect enough signatures to force a nationwide vote," Waber said. But Janiak appears unconcerned by the threat of a referendum. "I’m waiting to see whether opponents will be able to challenge the law," he said, "and I’m not worried about a possible nationwide vote." Gay marriages are legal in the Netherlands and Belgium as well as in some provinces of Canada and the US state of Massachusetts, according to a survey by the Associated Press news agency.
Over the past 15 years a number of European countries have introduced similar rights for gay couples. Gay and lesbian couples are granted special legal status under French law, while Germany, Hungary and Croatia all recognise same-sex partnerships.
Portugal and several regional authorities in Spain give gay couples the same rights as their non-married heterosexual counterparts. In South America, legislation is in place on a regional level in parts of Brazil and Argentina.
10 June 2004
Fight goes on for gay couples–new law needs expanding
Gay couples say Switzerland’s new law recognising same-sex partners as next-of-kin falls short, because it does not allow for marriage or adoption. But with a referendum looming on the new law, they say the fight for more rights will have to wait. Parliament on Thursday cleared the last hurdle for a new law allowing gay couples to register their partnerships. In the case of the death of one partner, the other can inherit shared property without paying a huge tax bill.
But the law does not confer rights to marry, adopt children or undergo invitro fertilisation.
A small religious conservative party has already made it clear that it will challenge the decision. The Federal Democratic Union said parliament should not be supporting alternative lifestyles, adding that it was confident it could collect enough signatures to force a nationwide vote. The gay rights group, Pink Cross, said on Thursday that its priority was to ensure that the new legislation was not overturned. Spokesman Jean-Paul Guisan said any attempts to have adoption and marriage rights included in the law would have killed its progress through parliament.
"We needed this to pass in its current form. If we had said ‘it’s marriage or nothing’, we would have got nothing. We need to proceed carefully, and we are so glad to have this much.” Guisan said the law solved the most important problems, such as inheritance rights and the rights of a foreign partner. He added that it was a welcome first step towards ending discrimination against gays and lesbians in the areas of health insurance, pensions and taxes.
“It also satisfies us on a symbolic level, because the law recognises that same-sex couples exist. That recognises the dignity of all homosexual people, even those who aren’t couples,” said Guisan. Claude Janiak, a member of parliament for the centre-left Social Democrats, echoed the Pink Cross, saying he was “satisfied” with what had been achieved so far.
“It eliminates the most important areas of discrimination. I feel very grateful that it went through parliament relatively fast,” he said. “There are still some major questions, like adoption rights.” Doris Leuthard, interim president of the Christian Democratic Party, also describes the new legislation as “a major improvement”. Leuthard’s party has traditionally stood for family values and its power base is in Catholic regions of Switzerland. “Registration gives rights that are comparable to the rights of marriage, even if it is does not allow for marriage like in some European countries,” said Leuthard.
“Of course, there are many countries which have done nothing about this issue. “I have talked to a number of organisations and many say ‘this is ok for us’. Adoption is more of a concern of lesbians than male same-sex couples. I believe that the law we now have also serves the interests of children.” The decision by parliament to give gays and lesbians similar rights to heterosexual couples comes three years after the city of Geneva introduced its own legislation governing same-sex partnerships. Last year Zurich became the second Swiss city to grant official recognition to gay couples.
June 6, 2005
Swiss voters back new rights for gay couples
Swiss voters backed new rules giving homosexual couples many of the same social and taxation rights as married heterosexuals. " This is a magnificent victory," Yves Guisan of the Swiss gay organisation Pink Cross said. " I am really proud of the Swiss people, who have proved their openness and courage." But "no" campaigner Ruedi Aeschbacher, a lawmaker from the small Evangelical Party, said the result was a "worrying development" that showed Swiss society was falling apart.
Several European countries already have civil unions for same-sex couples, as do as some Swiss cantons, or states.
But it was the first time that a nation’s voters were asked to decide if gay or lesbian couples should have legal weight.
Official results from Switzerland’s 26 cantons showed that 58 per cent of those taking part in a referendum on Sunday approved the legislation. Turnout was strong among the 4.8 million strong electorate. The Swiss Parliament last year passed legislation to create a civil unions registry and grant limited rights to same-sex couples–mainly in the areas of pensions, inheritance and taxes. But, opponents, headed by a small conservative religious party, the Federal Democratic Union, collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue.
The FDU claimed that granting any rights to same-sex couples would undermine traditional marriage. The Roman Catholic Church urged voters to reject civil unions. But, the Federation of Protestant Churches supported the government’s legislation.
Swiss activists organized a nation-wide ‘Yes to Partnership’ campaign to support partnership rights. It was the first time in European that voters had been asked to decide whether same-sex couples should receive government sanction. Elsewhere in Europe the decision of how to recognize gay and lesbian relationships has been decided by governments.
Holland and Belgium have legalized same-sex marriage. Most other European Union nations have varying forms of domestic partnerships.
October 30, 2006
Large rise in HIV rates among gay men
HIV/Aids prevention in Zurich’s red-light district (stopaids)
The number of new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men in Switzerland has almost doubled over the past three years. In a report published on Monday, the Federal Health Office said it was concerned by this trend and intended to focus greater efforts on its HIV/Aids prevention programmes. In Switzerland three out of every 1,000 people are living with HIV/Aids. Over the years better prevention has reduced infection rates among drug users and immigrants, but since 2000 new HIV infection rates among gay and bisexual men have continued to rise. In 2005, 49.3 per cent of all men diagnosed as HIV-positive were gay or bisexual, whereas they represented 36.5 per cent in 2004. And by the end of 2006, the Federal Health Office expects 300 new cases.
Yet according to the authorities this is a phenomenon that other western European countries are also having to come to terms with.
There are many reasons for this increase, according to the Federal Health Office. "Many gay and bisexual men in Switzerland have dropped their guard," it explains. It is felt that large numbers are tired of the prevention messages that spoil the party atmosphere of certain evenings. Also, improvements in anti-retroviral treatments allowing those who test positive for Aids to live longer have deluded people into thinking that AIDS is an illness that can be treated.
The Federal Health Office also highlights the growth in internet chat sites, which enable people to meet up in non-traditional locations away from saunas and sex clubs which are targeted by prevention campaigns. According to a study by the gay association Dialogai, in general higher numbers of gay people suffer from anxiety, drug addiction, alcoholism and depression than among the general population. The Federal Health Office concludes that depression, even temporary, can "cause a person to take higher risks when meeting someone, despite their knowledge about HIV and initial wish to have protected sex".
To tackle "this serious epidemic", the Health Office has invited groups representing gay and bisexual men to refocus their efforts on HIV prevention. Rather than wishing to change existing campaigns, the office wants to ensure that all organisations combating HIV/AIDS for this particular target group apply the same approach
-According to the Swiss Aids Federation, more than 20,000 men and women live with HIV/AIDS in Switzerland. Two people are diagnosed HIV-positive every day.
-Between 1983 and 2005, 8,251 people were diagnosed with AIDS, of whom 298 in 2004 and 234 in 2005.
-To date, 5,622 people have died from AIDS in Switzerland.
-65 million people worldwide have contracted AIDS since June 1981 and 25 million have died from the disease. There are more than 38 million people living with HIV. 2.8 million people with HIV/AIDS died in 2005, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
-Federal Health Office – article on rise in HIV infections among gay and bisexual men (http://www.bag.admin.ch/hiv_aids/01033/01143/01500/index.html?lang=fr)
-Federal Health Office – HIV/Aids (http://www.bag.admin.ch/hiv_aids/index.html?lang=en)
-Swiss Aids Federation (http://www.aids.ch/e/index.php)
-UNAIDS 2006 Report on the global Aids epidemic (http://www.unaids.org/en/HIV_data/2006GlobalReport/default.asp)
Switzerland Tourism, the official Swiss national tourist office–has produced a booklet entitled ‘It’s Only Natural’ targeted specifically to LGBT travelers
"Switzerland is a cosmopolitan nation wtih a vibrant gay and lesbian community–indeed, the people recently voted to have gay and lesbian partnerships registered…whether you plan to hike up a mountain, invest in a Swiss watch or dip into fondue, don’t believe the hype, Switzerland is less expensive than you think. This guide gives just a taste of what’s on offer. We’re sure you’ll make plenty of discoveries of you rown, but in the meanwhile, welcome to Switzerland."
The guide lists activities, venues and organizations for the major cities as well as travel information to/from and within the country. Photographs depict male and female couples holding each other as they enjoy Swiss sites and scenes. Cities covered include Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Lucerne, Zurich, Arosa, Davos and Engelberg. Gay events such as film festivals, human rights conferences, street parades, clubs, organizations as well as museums, art galleries, hotels and restaurants are listed with phone numbers and web sites.
Further information can be had at www.mySwitzerland.com Z (click on Gay+Lesbian Travel)
January 04, 2007
Couple celebrate Switzerland’s first gay union
Two men, ages 89 and 60, have become the first couple in Switzerland to join in a same-sex union. A new law recognising such unions was passed in 2005 and came into effect January 1. The men, who wish to remain anonymous, registered their partnership on Tuesday in Locarno in the southern Swiss state of Ticino. The two have been together for about 30 years. The new law, which was approved by a popular referendum, does not allow marriage between two people of the same sex but ensures that gay unions have legal standing similar to marriage. The referendum was the first time in Europe that the issue of same sex partnerships had been the subject of a plebiscite.
The partnership legislation was passed by the Council of States and the National Council in 2004. The Roman Catholic Church were instrumental in forcing a referendum on same-sex unions, but in the event 60% of Swiss voted for the new laws. The Protestant Churches supported the legislation. Due to Switzerland’s unique system of ‘direct democracy,’ Swiss citizens who collect 50,000 signatures in 30 days can force a referendum on any new law. Same-sex couples will receive the same tax and pension status as married couples but will not be allowed to adopt children or undergo fertility treatment. More same-sex couples are now lining up to tie the knot.
Switzerland’s first gay union celebrated [pinknews.co.uk]
Meanwhile … Gay rights activists in the Czech Republic have spoken of their delight at the number of gay and lesbian couples that have registered their partnerships. The central European state, which joined the EU three years ago, became the first former Soviet Bloc country to allow gay unions. Since the new laws were adopted in July last year, over 200 gay unions have been registered. Although the Czech Republic is regarded as one of the more liberal of the newer EU members, the partnership legislation proved controversial. It was rejected by the country’s Parliament four times and when it did finally pass in December 2005, it was vetoed by President Vaclav Klaus.
Registered partnerships grant some of the rights of a marriage, including, inheritance, hospital, spousal privilege, and alimony rights, but do not allow adoption, widow’s pension, or joint property rights.
November 7, 2007
Swiss teen recounts UAE sexual assault
by Barbara Surk
Summary: Casting anguished looks at a defendant, a 15-year-old French-Swiss boy told a Dubai court Wednesday he was kidnapped by three Emirati men and raped on the back seat of a car at the edge of the desert, in a case that has raised questions over treatment of sex crime victims here. Casting anguished looks at a defendant, a 15-year-old French-Swiss boy told a Dubai court Wednesday he was kidnapped by three Emirati men and raped on the back seat of a car at the edge of the desert, in a case that has raised questions over treatment of sex crime victims here. The boy’s mother, Veronique Robert, said her son "cried a little" but was "very strong" as he testified for 90 minutes in a session closed to the public at the defense’s request.
"He looked the defendants in the eyes and gave a chance for justice to be served," Robert told The Associated Press on the phone afterward. "Now they (the judges) have a full picture. They heard the defendants’ stories, they heard my son and the witnesses. Now they can judge." The teenager has told police investigators that three men abducted him and a 16-year-old friend in July while they were on their way home from a mall and took them to the edge of Dubai’s desert. The men allegedly took turns raping the younger boy in the back seat. The 16-year-old, who was not assaulted, also testified Wednesday. The case has reflected the complicated attitudes toward sex crimes in the booming city-state where critics say the laws are an outmoded mix of religious and tribal values.
Robert has said that her son accused a police forensic doctor of calling the boy a homosexual while examining him after the assaults, implying the incident was consensual. She also said her son had left the country in early October because French diplomats told her that he might be prosecuted for homosexual acts, a crime here. But after authorities said he would not be charged, the boy returned to testify, and Robert on Wednesday expressed faith in the Emirates’ legal system. "We are here, we trust you. Now please do your job," she said. Before Wednesday’s session was closed to the public, reporters inside the court saw the 15-year-old glance twice in apparent anguish at the older of the defendants, who is HIV positive.
Two Emirati men, ages 35 and 18, are on trial on charges of "kidnapping with deceit" and "forced homosexual relations," a charge that can be punished with life imprisonment or death. The third defendant, who is under age 18, is being tried in a juvenile court on the same charges and could face up to 10 years imprisonment if convicted. The defendants are not charged with rape, because under Dubai law that charge is applicable only to women victims. Even convictions for rape of women victims are rare in the Emirates, and there have been cases where the victim herself was charged with prostitution. Although rape against men is not a specific charge, prosecutors have other charges they can bring in such cases, such as forced homosexual relations. Consensual homosexual acts are also illegal, punishable by a year in prison.
Robert said she is pushing for reforms in Emirates law to ensure just treatment for rape victims — girls and boys alike. "Victims of rape, boys and girls, need to be treated as victims, not as homosexuals and prostitutes, " she said. "My son was never a homosexual, but even if he was, rape is still rape."
When the case came to light, Robert also accused Emirati authorities of lying about the HIV status of the 35-year-old defendant to cover up the fact that AIDS exists in Dubai. Dubai officials have defended their handling of the case but have not commented the mother’s accusations. The defendants’ lawyers refused to speak to the media about this case. Robert, a journalist, has set up a Web site (http://boycottdubai.com/english/index_E.php) calling for pressure on Dubai to take basic steps to protect underage rape victims, such as ensuring they are tested for infectious diseases and get psychological help, immediately after an attack.
After the boys’ testimonies, the judge adjourned the hearings until Sunday, when the last witness in the case — a policeman — is to testify. Prosecutors have asked for the death penalty in the case, but Robert said she asked the court not to sentence them to death. The AP is using Robert’s name with her agreement, but is not identifying her son. The Emirates’ legal system prohibits the media from naming the defendants until a verdict is reached.
November 07, 2007
Dubai court hears French boy’s rape testimony
by John Irish, Reuters
Dubai (Reuters) – A tearful French teenage boy told a court in Dubai on Wednesday that three United Arab Emirates nationals lured him and a friend into their car and gang-raped him at knifepoint in July, his mother said. Alexandre Robert, 15, told a closed court session that he and the friend were tricked into getting into a sports utility vehicle by the youngest suspect, an acquaintance of the boys, who offered to drive them home from a shopping mall where they had been playing videogames, Veronique Robert told reporters. Alexandre, dressed in a black suit, said he was raped by the three men. His friend, 16, was taken away from the car and not assaulted, she said, adding that of one the suspects has AIDS.
Alexandre had returned from Switzerland, where his mother lives, to testify in the hearing in the Gulf Arab emirate, a regional tourism hub which is hoping to more than double its visitors to 15 million by 2015. The alleged assailants then dropped off the two boys near a Dubai landmark hotel, the court heard. Two of the suspects, aged 36 and 18, stood in white prison uniforms flanked by policemen during the hearing. Both men deny the charges. The third suspect, 17, is being tried in a juvenile court.
A source present at the hearing said one of the defendants angrily protested after the victim’s attorney asked for the suspects to be tested for AIDS and hepatitis. The trial, which will resume on November 11, attracted local, French, U.S. and Swiss media.
In Another Light
"I’m not ashamed to tell the truth and only the truth. I feel relieved … and angry," Alexandre said outside the court after giving his testimony. "I see Dubai in another light." Dubai, one of fastest-growing cities in the world, is home to man-made island resorts and covered desert ski slope, and is building the world’s largest theme park. Veronique Robert, a Swiss national, accused UAE authorities of deliberately not informing the family that one of the suspected rapists tested HIV-positive in 2003, delaying medical attention for her son. "We needed to start treatment … a week after the case, but because the Dubai authorities didn’t tell us, we weren’t able to," she said. "AIDS is a taboo subject here … The government played with the life of my child."
Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim brushed aside the accusations, but declined to give further comments on the ongoing case. "The case is a court case … I think she is blaming everyone …" Members of the defendants’ family were not present at the hearing. The defense lawyer was not available for comment
5th March 2008
Homophobia to be tackled at Euro 2008
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
An LGBT rights organisation in Austria will display posters around Vienna tackling the subject of homophobia during the UEFA European Football Championship later this year. Switzerland and Austria will co-host the tournament from June 7th to 29th. None of the UK home nations qualified. QWIEN, which is based in Vienna, has announced a Europe-wide competition to design the posters. 50 designs will be displayed at a venue in the city during the tournament. Vienna will host three home games, two quarter-finals, a semi-final and the final. The posters will stay up until after Vienna’s Rainbow Parade on July 12th.
"According to statistics five percent of the total population is gay," QWIEN said in a statement on their website. As a result therefore, of the 500 professional players in the Austrian football league, 25 should be gay professional kickers. However, there is not one gay professional player in Austria, not a single player who openly admits his homosexuality. Football is the last bastion, where the clichés about "real men" can be lived out, on the field as well in the fan sections. Bad play is termed "feminine", and feminine behaviour is not welcome, is put down, segregated, and this form of behaviour leads to sexism and homophobia. Hesitant or poor players are referred to as "sissies" or "faggots" and the opponents berated as "fags", with defensive play commonly ending up in "limp-wristed" passes. This kind of outright macho behaviour is common practice and not only in Austrian stadiums. Qwien Kultur will put a focus on city life, in that it is making a theme out of homophobia in football. By issuing a Europe-wide poster competition we are making an otherwise taboo topic public during the period of Euro 2008."
All poster submissions must reach Qwien Kultur by the end of May. A pre-selection jury will select the best 50, after which a jury of well-known experts will decide on the best three. The best 50 posters will be exhibited in a public venue. Click here for more information
17th March 2008
Swiss may deport gay teen to Cameroon
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
Switzerland is due to return a Cameroonian teenager to his home country, where he could face imprisonment and physical punishment. Anatole Zali arrived in Switzerland from Cameroon on 3rd February 2008 and claimed asylum on the grounds that he had been threatened because he is gay. In Cameroon, Zali, who is 18, claims to have received threats from the police, where he stayed with his cousin for protection. His cousin was later arrested by the police on suspicion of being gay, and an arrest warrant on the same grounds was issued for Mr Zali.
In the wake of the warrant, he fled to Switzerland to escape arrest. His claim for asylum was rejected on 14th February 2008 and under current asylum legislation in Switzerland asylum-seekers are not granted state-funded legal assistance. Consequently, Anatole Zali had to submit his own appeal against the rejection of his asylum claim without legal representation. He was given five days from the initial decision in which to submit his appeal, in accordance with Swiss asylum procedures. His appeal was rejected.
Amnesty International argue that Switzerland has obligations under international law, including the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to give asylum-seekers access to a fair and satisfactory asylum procedure, and not to return anyone to a country where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations. Those detained or imprisoned in Cameroon because of their alleged sexual orientation have been targeted for ill-treatment in custody.
They are often subjected to verbal and physical threats from other inmates. Organisers of the campaign to stop Mr Zali’s deportation have suggested a number of actions that could help him to stay in Switzerland. These include urging the Swiss authorities not to forcibly return Anatole Zali to Cameroon, as he is likely to face arrest because of his sexual orientation.
For more information click here. (Note: webpage is in French.)
November 11, 2008
Jamaican star Capleton’s Basel concert cancelled after Swiss gay groups protest
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A reggae star who has gone back on a promise not to perform songs encouraging violence against lesbian and gay people has had a concert in Switzerland cancelled. The performance by Capleton in Basel was due to take place on November 6th but was pulled by the organisers, according to local LGBT rights group Homosexuelle Arbeitsgruppen Basel (HABS). HABS, together with Stop Murder Music Bern, opposed the concert because Capleton has performed songs encouraging violence against lesbian and gay people, in violation of his commitment to abide by the terms of the Reggae Compassionate Act (RCA). He signed the agreement in early 2007 and undertook to not perform "murder music" songs any more.
Stop Murder Music Bern was able to prove that after he signed the RCA Capleton has performed songs that incite homophobic violence, including during last year’s Christmas Extravaganza concert in Jamaica. "The Stop Murder Music campaign gave Capleton a chance to continue his career unimpeded if he agreed to stop inciting the murder of lesbian and gay people," said Peter Tatchell, gay rights activist and UK coordinator of the Stop Murder Music campaign.
"He signed the RCA and promised to abide by it. But he has carried on as before, stirring up homophobic hatred and violence. We feel tricked, betrayed and cheated. Congratulations to the Swiss campaigners for getting his concert pulled. Performers who promote the killing of other human beings should not be rewarded with concerts, money and stardom. This is the latest of scores of concert cancellations secured by our SMM activists around the world. We have targeted eight Jamaican dancehall singers whose lyrics glorify, encourage and promote the murder of lesbian and gay people. Their incitements are a criminal offence. Our aim is to show these artists that homophobia doesn’t pay. It has a damaging financial consequence," added Mr Tatchell.
In July 2007 artists Beenie Man, Sizzla and Capleton, who had previously released anti-gay hate songs, including incitements to murder lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, signed up to the Reggae Compassion Act, in a deal brokered with top reggae promoters and Stop Murder Music activists.
The Act reads:
"It must be clear there’s no space in the music community for hatred and prejudice, including no place for racism, violence, sexism or homophobia. We do not encourage nor minister to HATE but rather uphold a philosophy of LOVE, RESPECT and UNDERSTANDING towards all human beings as the cornerstone of reggae. We agree to not make statements or perform songs that incite hatred or violence against anyone from any community."
However, in October 2007 planned Sizzla concerts in Toronto were banned. All five dates of the star’s 2004 UK tour were cancelled after gay rights activists protested against his presence. Earlier this year it was revealed that Sizzla was denied a Schengen visa for a proposed European tour. The German Foreign Office phoned the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany to confirm the ban and to confirm that their embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, confirmed that the singer has songs in his repertoire that meet the legal criterion of "incitement of the people."
The Schengen Agreement between 29 nations on the continent of Europe allows free movement across their borders. A common Schengen visa allows tourists access to all the countries party to the agreement.