New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo (ch. 10 by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
See books reviews: Gay City News and Philadelphia Gay News
June 1, 2008
Texas gay couples heading to California for licensed marriages
by Jake Batsell, The Dallas Morning News (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For nearly 28 years, the Rev. Cindi Love and Sue Jennings have lived like a married couple. They’ve paid bills together, worshipped together and raised children together. But the Abilene couple never had the option to get married on U.S. soil until California’s Supreme Court ruled last month to legalize same-sex marriage. Dr. Love and Ms. Jennings, who were married in Canada three years ago, are hastily planning a late June ceremony in Los Angeles to recognize their vows in the U.S. "It’s just really important to us to have that moment, that acknowledgment and that piece of paper all our straight friends have," said Dr. Love, a former Dallas pastor who now heads Metropolitan Community Churches in Abilene. Leaders in Texas’ gay community expect more couples to head west for summer nuptials, even though their licenses won’t be recognized back home.
Unlike Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages are largely limited to state residents, the California ruling allows nonresidents to marry. Same-sex weddings are set to begin in California on June 17, barring a last-minute stay. Attorneys general from 10 states have asked the California Supreme Court to stay its decision legalizing same-sex marriages because of concerns that the marriages could unnecessarily open the door to legal challenges from gay residents of other states who get married in California. The California decision could be overturned by a referendum in November. And a constitutional amendment approved by Texas voters in 2005 ensures that same-sex marriages sanctioned elsewhere won’t be valid here.
Still, gay rights leaders and legal experts say some Texas couples surely will seize the chance to garner official recognition from a U.S. state, for symbolic value if nothing else. "There’ll be people that, as they vacation in California, will take advantage of the opportunity to recognize their relationships and affirm them, at least in a state where it’s legal at this point," said Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, an Austin-based gay-rights lobbying group. But legal experts caution that a California marriage license could make things complicated for gay couples if the relationship goes sour. California requires residency for a divorce, and Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage at all. That could prevent estranged couples who were married in California from dissolving their union.
In 2003, when two Beaumont men tried to get a divorce after having a civil union in Vermont a year earlier, Attorney General Greg Abbott successfully argued that Texas could not grant a divorce because the state does not recognize same-sex marriages or unions in the first place. "That’s certainly something for gay couples who don’t reside in California to think about – that they end up living in a legal limbo if their situation doesn’t work out," said Scott McMichael, vice president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Bar Association.
Mr. McMichael, who specializes in family law, said a prenuptial contract could help iron out the legal wrinkles. And he said he remains excited about the potential long-term impact of the California ruling. "It is exciting to see California start the process, because California typically has such influence on the rest of the states," he said. "Legal innovations usually begin in California and sweep across the country in varying degrees of speed. It’ll be awhile before it reaches Texas, I’m sure."
Despite the California decision, opponents of same-sex marriage in Texas say their position is fortified by the 2005 constitutional amendment banning such unions. "I think that we already have what we need in order to protect traditional families," said Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum. "It just breaks my heart that what has been good policy throughout millennia is now being thrust aside." Ms. Adams said she’s not concerned that the California ruling will lead to new legal challenges in Texas because the state’s case law supports limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. And with the 2005 amendment, she said, "our position is stronger now than it was even before. I don’t have a lot of worry about it, but I do feel very sad about the whole scenario," she said.
Chasity Thomas and Odessa Jenkins, who moved to Plano last year from their native southern California, have been planning a summer wedding in their home state for six months. Last month’s ruling means they’ll be able to bring home a marriage license. "The invitations have gone out. We can’t change anything," Ms. Thomas said. "It was just icing on the cake when they legalized it." The couple’s wedding, set for July 5 in Oxnard, Calif., will feature an old Hollywood theme and about 100 guests. Ms. Thomas said the couple will visit the county clerk’s office to get a license "because if we don’t take advantage, other states won’t jump aboard."
Dr. Love and Ms. Jennings, who recently moved back to Abilene after five years in North Texas, say their June 24 ceremony in Los Angeles will validate their commitment in the country where they are citizens and pay taxes. "If I am qualified legally to be married in the state of California, then I am qualified legally to be married in the state of Texas," said Dr. Love, who previously worked as an executive dean at Brookhaven College. "I’m the same human being. I have the same characteristics. Nothing changed about me because I took a Southwest Airlines flight."
The San Francisco Chronicle contributed to this report.
June 2, 2008
Gay basketball hero to be Olympic ambassador
by Tony Grew
Former NBA player John Amaechi will be Amnesty International’s first sporting ambassador at the Beijing Olympics this summer. The 37-year-old, who is the only basketball player in the history of the NBA to come out of the closet, is attending the Games as a BBC commentator. The exact scope of his additional role for Amnesty is unclear, but Amaechi has already urged athletes to speak out about China’s record on human rights. "To gag athletes is outrageous," the British basketball star told The Guardian. "Since when are equality of opportunity, basic human rights, since when have these things been political? I won’t allow any official to tell me that these are political issues and I cannot go there. My experience of the world having lived in eight countries is that human rights are not political, they are fundamental. I’ve read the Olympic charter and it is quite clear that it expects from athletes something more than being hugely talented beasts of burden. It expects that sport be more than entertainment of the masses. During their Olympic bid Beijing said the Games would be used to improve the human rights situation in China. They opened the door to that scrutiny and by aligning myself with Amnesty I hope that we can help hold those promises to account."
Amaechi, who grew up near Manchester and pursued his professional career in the US and Europe, claimed that being an ambassador for human rights in China is "the most Olympian thing to do."
"Athletes in their best light could be holistic role models, not simply regarded for how they swim or run or kick." The Amaechi Basketball Centres Foundation is the focus of much of the athlete’s charitable work. It aims to increase participation in physical activity by building affordable, quality facilities and making expert coaches and mentors available to young people. The charity built its first sports centre in Manchester. Amaechi chose to come out last year in an autobiography, Man In The Middle.
Read our exclusive interview with John Amaehi here
June 5, 2008
Interview: New Hampshire’s ‘turbulent priest’ and the fight for gay acceptance
Controversy and Bishop Gene Robinson go hand in hand. Ever since his election as the first openly gay bishop in the American Anglican Church, he has rarely been out of the headlines. Splits and schisms over the position of homosexual men and women in the Church have been a staple feature of reporting on religious affairs since his inauguration in 2003. Traditionalists decry him as a snake, a man determined to divide the faithful with his selfish insistence on taking senior office in the Church. To others, especially gay clergy and laymen and women, he is a hero, a man unafraid to be Anglican, gay and proud and to lead his diocese.
For at least a year his brothers and sisters in the Episcopacy have been struggling with the issue of the Lambeth conference. This once-a-decade get together of senior Anglican leaders from around the world is being boycotted by more than 100 bishops. They want the Church to get tough on the gay "renegades" and return to the traditional interpretation of the Bible. Homosexuality is a sin and there is no place for clergy who are in sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage. Bishop Robinson has not been invited to the Lambeth conference.
In the sort of compromise that satisfies no-one the spiritual head of the loose Anglican communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, decided to try to hold together the traditionalist wing. Some bishops have reportedly threatened to boycott the conference due to the way Robinson has been treated. However, he asked his fellow bishops not to keep themselves from the event for his sake, saying someone has to represent the LGBT population in their communities. The latest news is that he will now attend, if only to show leaders from across the world "that they have gay and lesbian faithful Anglicans in their flock." Bishop Robinson also intends to enter into a civil union later in a few weeks time, much to the consternation of Anglican traditionalists. He visited London last month to promote his new book In The Eye of the Storm, which is described as a "revealing spiritual memoir." It is that, and much more. An exploration of the Biblical homophobia espoused by many Christians, it also illuminates Bishop Robinson’s life experiences, from a poor child in the racist southern states of America to his elevation to this highest levels of the Anglican church.
PinkNews.co.uk: What’s your view of Rowan Williams?
I have great respect for him as a human being and as a theologian, and certainly as the Archbishop of Canterbury. And to be honest (when he was chosen for the role) we were dancing in the streets, we just couldn’t believe our good luck. It makes you believe in the Holy Spirit when something like that happens. But I think we have been mystified by his setting aside of his personal views, which have been extremely affirming of gay and lesbian folk. He has more than bent over backwards for who disagree about the inclusion of gay and lesbian people and it’s odd because they have cut him no slack.
They keep making demands, he meets those demands and then they demand more. He has successfully disappointed both sides. Maybe that’s a good strategy on his part, maybe he’s in the right place – he’s making everyone mad, because I think in this current debate it’s a bit hard to make everyone happy.
PinkNews.co.uk: Do you have sympathy for his position though? The view seems to be that he is a good man who’s trying to keep together the church.
Yes, and I mean, there is no doubt in my mind that that is his intention, I’m not sure whether the policy he has followed will in fact do that.
PinkNews.co.uk: You talk in your book about being called to the episcopacy. Do you think that means God is calling you to cause this division or this debate?
You know, I don’t know! I did feel called and I wasn’t sure that I would ever become a bishop, but I believe I was meant to be in the process. And then the people who actually elected me – the laity, clergy and bishops – voting for me on about a two thirds majority on all three orders – consented my election. Then this debate has resulted – I think it’s a good debate for the church to be having, and it still mystifies me that people think that the church should be conflict-free, when in fact our history says that there has always been conflict, and when you’re trying to figure out God’s will people disagree about that.
PinkNews.co.uk: Do you think that the acceptance of gay and lesbian people is more important than the unity of the church?
I don’t think that that is a choice, I think that’s a false dichotomy. There was a great split in the earliest church between the apostle Peter who believed passionately that one needed to become a Jew, an observant Jew, in order to follow Jesus. The apostle Paul argued quite the opposite, because he was out there evangelising amongst the Gentiles, who had no intention of being circumcised or eating kosher or any of those things. And so the church ultimately settled that debate. I’m sure in the middle of it, it seemed like a choice between the inclusion of Gentiles and the unity of the church. So I think we’re in the middle right now, of that debate, and therefore we cannot see our way forward to unity, but I believe that will come.
PinkNews.co.uk: Let me put it another way, in this book you talked about the Episcopalian church coming to grips with civil rights, and that therefore some people left the church.
We’ve seen it in England over women priests – some people have to leave the church they couldn’t accept that. Do you think that that’s going to be a part of this process? We’ve already experienced that, in large measures in the Episcopal church, and it looks very similar to the reactions to the inclusion of other races and of women. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. Jesus says in countless ways if you follow God it will be costly. And isn’t it odd that Christians would be surprised at the costliness of the Gospel.
PinkNews.co.uk: Turning to the Bible, I we’ve all heard the Leviticus ‘abomination’ and all that sort of stuff and St Paul’s slightly odd views…
Yes, well they are actually not odd if you know what he was talking about.
PinkNews.co.uk: You said in the book that he was expecting the imminent arrival of Christ.
It’s very interesting, there are translations of the Bible, many, many popular ones who use the word homosexual in that passage by Paul, which is a very modern concept – only 120 years old. To put a word and a concept back into an ancient text to which is was wholly unknown does bias to the text. What Paul was really referring to in his letters was something very well-known to him and greatly in Roman culture which was older men taking young adolescent boys under their wing and teaching them the ways of the world and – by the way – using them sexually. Well, we would call that child abuse. No one’s arguing for that. But you see to take those words and substitute the word homosexual, sounds like it’s talking about what we’re talking about today when in fact it was talking about something very different.
PinkNews.co.uk: Do you think that the pace of change is too quick for some in the church and that you should maybe be a bit more Roman Catholic about it and take a hundred years…
[Laughs] Or how long did it take for them to decide that the earth really goes around the sun?
Martin Luther King said that ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ I think that we are always bound by the Gospel to point out injustice, and set about rectifying it. If it takes 100 years, that’s ok by me – you know we made great strides in terms of racism, but racism isn’t over and done with. We made great strides in terms of women, but sexism is alive and well and living among us. So you know it’s going to take a long time.
PinkNews.co.uk: What about this distinction between sexuality and sexual behaviour – in other words whilst one’s sexuality may be embraced by the church, sexual behaviour outside of marriage is not, there’s no provision for same sex marriage within the Bible.
It’s a real Catch-22
PinkNews.co.uk: Therefore the only thing for gay people to do is to remain celibate within the Church of England – what’s your view on that?
It is amazing to me that we gay and lesbian folk and gay Christian folk have carried on our relationships with such integrity, and really following the values that are put forward in terms of our relationships being faithful and monogamous, life long intentioned and so on. You would think that conservative Christians would be all for that yet they accuse us of trying to undermine marriage, when all we’re wanting to do is embody our same values in our own relationships. You would think that conservative Christians would be totally supportive.
PinkNews.co.uk: If you were in a heterosexual relationship and you were doing all of the things that you said but had not got married they would criticise you in the same way.
I do think that’s true.
PinkNews.co.uk: There is no mention of same sex marriage in the Bible, it’s very clear that it’s supposed to be for men and women in the Biblical sense and a religious sense and so –
Well the church is supportive of lots of things that aren’t in the Bible. And the church has changed it’s mind about things a lot. The Roman Catholic church has not changed its mind about divorce. In the Anglican church we used to not give people communion after divorce, and we would not bless their second marriages – we’ve changed our minds about that. We’ve decided that we were denying them communion at perhaps the very time they needed it. And second marriages can be a blessing, both to the couple and to the community. And so I see that as a testing to God’s ongoing relationship with those of us who are in the church. And so I see that as just a part of the natural development.
PinkNews.co.uk: Are you still having a June wedding?
Well, we’re not having a wedding, but the law provides for a civil union. It provides about 400 of the 1100 rights and protections that heterosexual marriage offers, so it’s not equal, it’s not equality, but it’s certainly a step forward. And frankly the reason I’m doing it at this time is that there is every reason to believe that my life will be in danger here at the Lambeth conference. And frankly I’m not willing to…
PinkNews.co.uk: You think your life will be in danger more in England than in the United States?
I don’t know about more but I can tell you that I just talked to my partner on the phone this afternoon and since I’ve been here and articles have been run about me, we’ve got two threatening calls to our home phone saying that if I come to Lambeth then my life will be hell.
PinkNews.co.uk: And so you wear a bullet proof vest …
Yes – and you know there are lots of crazy people out there and you know more and more crazy people are turning to violence. And so I’m not willing to put my life at risk without taking advantage of what protections I can put in place, in a civil union for my partner and family. I think that’s what any wife or husband would do
PinkNews.co.uk: I’m surprised to hear that people would take something like this so seriously that they would threaten someone’s life – I assume you’ve spoken to the authorities?
I literally just heard about it in the car coming back here, but I will, yes…
PinkNews.co.uk: You’ve said you want to be a June bride. A conservative Christian would think that that’s a very camp way of expressing yourself, very cheeky …
It was! It was. I’m a human being, I’m a fairly playful human being and you know I love that part of gay culture, and I’m not going to conform to someone else’s idea of how I should act as a bishop – perhaps more bishops should be acting in a similar manner. And it points out to me the lack of humour in all of this – my goodness, if we can’t laugh about this then we are in sad shape indeed.
PinkNews.co.uk: Well, I don’t remember Jesus making many jokes.
Um, we don’t have a lot of recorded … but you know he was actually kind of playful and mischievous with his critics.
PinkNews.co.uk: On this idea of civil partnerships, radical homosexual activists claim that civil partnerships are a form of apartheid – what’s your view on that?
For me I think that civil partnerships are an interim step until we have equality. I frankly don’t care what word we use. What I care about is that they be equal. And it’s very interesting where in the United States about six or seven states have civil partnership in one form or another. It’s been the experience that in a couple of those states that civil partnerships are not being recognised regardless of what the law is. If your partner’s at the hospital and you’re not allowed to make medical decisions on his or her behalf, and so we have a couple of states that have civil partnerships – Vermont and New Jersey – who are looking at making it marriage. So I see it as an interim step.
PinkNews.co.uk: Do you think your civil partnership should be celebrated in the presence of the media?
It will be completely private, as a matter of fact to ensure that – to represent this division between the civil and the religious – we were going to have a civil ceremony actually on the state Capitol steps (in Concord, New Hampshire), and then walk across to the church for the religious part. But in an effort to keep this completely private we’ve moved this entirely inside the church, you have to show your wedding invitation and be on the list. And we will do the civil part of the ceremony in the rear of the church. And then we will process up to the altar for the religious part.
PinkNews.co.uk: Finally, why are you coming to Lambeth later this summer, despite the lack of invite?
I think it’s important that the six hundred bishops or so that are planning to attend not be allowed to forget that they have gay and lesbian faithful Anglicans in their flock. And it will be all too convenient for them to gather and never remember that we are there needing their pastoral care as much as anybody else. And are entitled to it – as much as anybody else. I will be there to represent that under-represented group, and frankly, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that someone from say Nigeria has never had the opportunity to sit with a self-affirming, unashamedly Christian person and hear their story. Because it’s illegal to be gay – you can be imprisoned for it in Nigeria. And so I want to be there for those bishops who might want to take the opportunity to sit down with someone who is both gay and Christian, and if they want to listen to my story and that of other gay and lesbian people.
In The Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson is published by Canterbury Press and is on sale now for £12.99.
June 6, 2008
US Catholic group spends frantically to oppose gay marriage
by Alex Au
A Catholic organisation in the United States spent an estimated three-quarters of a million dollars to buy advertisements in three major newspapers to attack homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Spread over two full pages, the ad appeared on 5 June 2008 in three major newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post. At the Los Angeles Times, each page costs US$113,000. Two pages would have cost US$226,000. The costs in the other newspapers would be similar, thus totaling about three-quarters of a million. This amount of money would have fed countless hungry children around the world at this time of rising food prices, not to mention helping homeless and injured people in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake.
The campaign was obviously in response to the California Supreme Court decision of May 15, which legalised same-sex marriage. Weddings will start on June 17 and since California has no residency requirement, any couple from anywhere around the world can get married in the state. New York, for example is gearing up to recognise out-of-state gay marriages such as those contracted in Calfiornia. Governor David Paterson has instructed all government departments to make the necessary changes to procedures and policies to this end, following a New York appellate court decision in February this year that ruled that same-sex couples must be legally recognised in New York, just as the law recognises those of heterosexual couples solemnised elsewhere.
Thunderous objections to same-sex marriage and homosexuality
The two-page ad by The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (text can be found at www.tfp.org) asserted that those who supported same-sex marriage "deny that the self-evident biological, physiological and psychological differences between men and women find their complementarity in marriage, just as they deny that the specific primary purpose of marriage is the perpetuation of the human race and the raising of children." This is a misreading of social history. Across cultures, marriage as a custom has mainly been for regulating power and property. That’s why marriage has always been a public event involving an extended family or the whole clan, rather than a purely private matter between two people. It signals publicly who would in future have exclusive sexual rights over the body of the female, who – including mothers-in-law – would have power over the wife and offspring and who would have inheritance rights. Notice, for example, how common it is for societies to make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children.
Christian Europe, for nearly two millennia, was no different in the way it treated marriage. The traditional marriage vow in Church ceremonies included the bride promising to obey and serve her husband, but not the other way around. The newspaper ad then invoked a sense of threat. It said that by legalising gay marriage, “the State will expect Christians and all people of good will to betray their consciences by condoning, through silence or act, an attack on Divine law and the natural order.” It was interesting how the above attempted to broaden its appeal by referring to “all people of good will,” as if those espousing tolerance, inclusiveness and social justice aren’t “people of good will.” The second half of the ad was aimed more at homosexuality in general, reminding readers of the “perennial moral doctrine that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil.” It also called on Catholics in public office to (ab)use their public office to advance the Church’s position. “The Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.”
Finally, it rounds off its attack by threatening excommunication, suggesting that “A Catholic who accepts the practice of homosexuality and same-sex ‘marriage’ as good renounces natural moral law principles confirmed by Divine Revelation and thus breaks the vow of fidelity made to Our Lord Jesus Christ at baptism.” However, the most interesting sentences in the long advertisement were these: “Civil laws are structuring principles of man’s life in society, for good or for ill. They play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behavior.” It’s a tacit admission that people can get used to seeing gay persons and gay marriage as perfectly normal, and in the end see the fallacy of their doctrine.
Only the first wave of the campaign
More such public campaigns will come, not only from Catholic organisations, but certainly from evangelical Protestant groups too, as California gets closer to the November elections when voters are likely to be asked to decide on a constitutional amendment to overturn the recent Supreme Court decision. In California, a simple majority is all that is needed to amend the constitution to define marriage as something between a man and a woman. A recent opinion poll conducted by the Field Research Corporation indicated that this is likely to be a close-run thing. It found 51% approval among of registered California voters for the idea of same-sex marriage, with 42% disapproving. When asked whether they favoured changing the California state constitution to define marriage as only one between a man and woman, 54% said they were against doing so. 40% said they were for changing the charter.
The poll was conducted among 1,052 registered voters in California between May 17–26. Given margins of error, and the likelihood that opinions will shift over the next few months, the November ballot will probably be a crucial watershed. Stay tuned.
June 08, 2008
In Massachusetts, a ‘long journey’ changes judgment on gay marriage: 4 Years of Same-Sex Weddings
by Mike Swift
Webster, Mass. – If five years ago somebody had told Paul Kujawski, a Polish kid who grew up in this central Massachusetts mill town, that he’d vote to allow two men to marry, he would have laughed in their face. But when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2003 that gay men and lesbians could marry, state Rep. Paul Kujawski of Webster and the other 199 members of the Massachusetts legislature had to make the same decision California will face in November: Should a state constitution be rewritten not just to prevent gay marriages – but to potentially undo existing unions? Starting with the first gay marriages in California on June 16 and leading up to Election Day in November, California voters will face some of the same questions Kujawski asked himself: What if my kid starts thinking two mommies or two daddies are better than a mommy and a daddy? What if my sons had been born gay? Or me?
A kid who grew up over a family meat market that served the old-world Poles, French Canadians, Italians and Irish who made shoes and textiles in Webster’s squat brick factory buildings, in a town where you grew up attending Mass under the steeples on the hillside, Kujawski knew exactly what to think: Marriage was a man and a woman, a bride and a groom, an Adam and an Eve.When a former baseball teammate asked Kujawski to meet with a group of people from his church who favored gay marriage, the legislator went only as a favor."You can talk to me until you’re blue in the face, until hell freezes over," Kujawski said. "I’m not changing."
Three times, the anti-abortion, anti-gun-control Catholic voted for a constitutional ban. But last spring, Kujawski completed what he describes as a kind of conversion – a Paul on the road to Damascus. He was among 11 senators and representatives who reversed themselves on the final vote at a constitutional convention – killing a proposed ban. "It was quite a long journey," the 54-year-old Democrat said. "My prior religious beliefs and faith dictated that it wasn’t right and it wasn’t moral. But you go into so many homes" of gay couples, "and you feel the happiness – you really did – it was kind of incredible." While blue-collar, staunchly Catholic towns like Webster and much of Massachusetts haven’t traveled as far on gay marriage as Kujawski, they are in a very different place than when the court ruled.
For some in the tightly woven community of Webster, Kujawski’s vote did not create much good feeling. The morning after the constitutional vote last June, Kujawski picked up a raging voice-mail from a man he’d coached in Little League. He was suddenly a "liberal scumbag." Shouting, the man added, "We’re through as friends!" Father Michael Roy, a revered local priest who had backed Kujawski after a drunken-driving arrest, said Kujawski "was really disappointing the deeper principles that he knows are at work in his life." Even Kujawski’s mother was unhappy. "It wasn’t pleasant," he said. "I don’t know whether she understands it."
Yet, among the brick buildings of Webster’s Main Street – from the florist shop, to the barber’s chair and the lunch counter – while there has not been a revolution since Massachusetts sanctioned the nation’s first same-sex weddings, there has been evolution. Most people say gay marriage is far less pressing a public issue than Iraq, the economy or local schools. "It’s kind of a dead subject," said Jon Marcheterre, a barber on Main Street. While many people still don’t approve of two men or two women marrying – they largely call it a private matter. "There’s a lot more important issues," said Brian Germain, a selectman in the neighboring town of Dudley. He predicts Kujawski’s vote won’t cost him his statehouse seat. "I know a lot of people are judging Paul, but Paul has done a lot for our community."
Flood of weddings
California take note: When gay men and lesbians got the green light to marry in Massachusetts on May 17, 2004, there was an immediate flood of same-sex weddings – 6,121 in the remainder of 2004. State records show gay weddings made up 18 percent of all Massachusetts marriages during that period. Justices of the peace in rural towns who knew few gays suddenly were doing scores of same-sex weddings. Claire Watts, a 69-year-old retiree and grandmother who is a justice of the peace in a small town near the tip of Cape Cod, did more than 30 that first week in May. She was moved by the emotional ceremonies. "I cry at them. It’s a powerful thing that we’re doing for these couples," she said. And older couples? "It’s something that never in their whole life did they think they would be able to do, and it gives them . . . dignity."
The deluge of gay weddings was short and localized. More than half of the state’s roughly 11,000 such marriages were in the last seven months of 2004. More than a third were in Boston, Cambridge and the gay centers of Provincetown and Northampton. In 2006, Massachusetts’ last full year for data, the 1,442 same-sex weddings were 3.8 percent of the state’s total. As in California, Massachusetts has shown growing support for same-sex marriage. In 2005, a Boston Globe poll found 56 percent opposed to a constitutional ban.
Still, opponents of gay marriage say courts and politicians, by twice blocking constitutional bans on gay marriage from going to a popular vote, have snatched a choice that rightfully belonged to the people. That fiat, they say, was aided by money from powerful pro-gay groups. They vow to fight on for a constitutional ban. "This is an unsettled question in Massachusetts," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which gathered a record 170,000 petition signatures in 2005 to start the second amendment process. "The people never had a say. Every time the legislature has basically said, ‘You’re not sophisticated enough to make this decision.’ "
Paul Kujawski’s "long journey" began with that evening church meeting in 2006. Kujawski wasn’t much swayed by the rational, legalistic arguments for gay marriage. But then Debbie Grzyb and Sharon Murphy, two women sitting among the dozen people in the room who Kujawski hadn’t even realized were a couple, told their story. Middle-aged women who had lived closeted lives for the 24 years they had been together, Grzyb and Murphy married in 2004, and only came out to their families then. Feeling apprehensive about revealing their lives to someone who they believed would be hostile, they explained what marriage had meant to them. "Our families started treating us as a real couple," Murphy said. "It was real; it wasn’t make-believe anymore."
June 9, 2008
Gay bishop ties the knot in New Hampshire
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The man at the eye of the storm battering the Anglican communion celebrated his same-sex relationship with a civil union ceremony and a church blessing on Saturday. Bishop Gene Robinson’s election as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 made him the first openly gay man to take control of an Anglican diocese. His elevation caused huge ructions within the worldwide Anglican church over gay clergy and the blessing of gay relationships. This weekend, however, the controversy was forgotten as he and his partner Mark Andrew took advantage of new legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples in New Hampshire by entering into a civil union. The ceremony was held on the fifth anniversary of his election as Bishop. Both the civil union and a service of thanksgiving were held at St Paul’s Church in Concord, the state capital of New Hampshire.
Concerns about security meant that Mr Andrew and Bishop Robinson, who have been partners for two decades, did not publicly reveal the date of their intended nuptials. More than 100 people attended and the civil ceremony was conducted by friend of the couple and justice of the peace Ronna Wise. The leaders of the Anglican communion from across the world will be gathering for the Lambeth conference later this summer. Held every ten years, the conference has provoked controversy, with the Archbishop of Canterbury wavering over whether or not to invite Bishop Robinson.
In an interview with PinkNews.co.uk published earlier this month Bishop Robinson spoke about the ceremony. "We’re not having a wedding, but the law provides for a civil union," he said. "It provides about 400 of the 1100 rights and protections that heterosexual marriage offers, so it’s not equal, it’s not equality, but it’s certainly a step forward. And frankly the reason I’m doing it at this time is that there is every reason to believe that my life will be in danger at the Lambeth conference. There are lots of crazy people out there and you know more and more crazy people are turning to violence. And so I’m not willing to put my life at risk without taking advantage of what protections I can put in place, in a civil union for my partner and family. I think that’s what any wife or husband would do."
Since the start of 2008 same-sex couples may enter into a New Hampshire civil union, as long as both parties are at least 18, not a party to another civil union or a marriage and not closely related by blood to their civil partner.
June 9, 2008
US abandons UN human rights body
by Sophie Picheta
The United States has announced plans to distance itself from the United Nations Human Rights council – an action that has been said to “fail victims of abuse.” Human Rights Watch called the decision to no longer attend regular Human Rights Council meetings an “abandonment” of human rights defenders and victims. Although never a member of the Human Rights Council, the United States often took part in debates and discussions as an involved observer. At a State Department briefing on Friday, it was announced that the US will only participate in debates at the Council on matters of “deep national interest.”
The United States did not take part in Friday’s Council discussion about Burma, highlighting the extent of their withdrawal. Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said that the country’s participation would be “ad hoc.” "I’m not going to try to tie our hands diplomatically one way or the other." He also spoke of his scepticism of the UN Council when it comes to “fulfilling its mandate and its mission.” "Instead of focusing on some of the real and deep human rights issues around the world, it has really turned into a forum that seems to be almost solely focused on bashing Israel.”
In 2006, the Council voted to make suspected human rights abuses by Israel a point of discussion at every meeting. But the plans voiced by McCormack to take a “more reserved approach in terms of engaging the council” have be criticised by the Human Rights Watch advocacy director Juliette de Rivero, who called them “counter-productive” and “short-sighted.”
"Washington’s hands-off approach to the Human Rights Council undermined it from the start,” said de Rivero. "It’s ironic that the US shares responsibility for the shortcomings it’s now using to justify further distancing itself from the council.”
Humans Rights Watch also drew attention to the lack of viable alternatives available to the Council, and noted the human rights record of the United States with regards to their counter-terrorism efforts, which undermined its credibility at the council. The United States failed to cooperate with human rights experts from the council, who were investigating its Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Despite this, having the United States at the table was seen as very important in building a stronger Council.
"This decision is a victory for abusive states and a betrayal of those fighting for their rights worldwide,” said de Rivero. "Instead of ceding the field to those who want to shield abusers from scrutiny, the US should have redoubled its efforts to make the council work as it should."
Medellín , Colombia
The Organization of American States, at its 38th meeting carried out in Medellín , Colombia , approved, by consensus, Resolution "Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity". The resolution was presented by the government of Brazil , and was approved after three days of negotiations and a mobilization campaign by civilians present there. The English-Speaking Caribbean countries (some countries still criminalize homosexuality) initially resisted and the initial text – although short, was further shortened.
* The decision includes gender identity (a subject considered difficult in many countries and forgotten by many activists in the world) besides sexual orientation, and recognizes the existence of the human rights violations to the ITBLG population.
* This is the result of a strategy of political incidence organized within the regional system of the OAS since 2006 and was designed by Global Rights, Mulabi – Espacio Latinoamericano de Sexualidades y Derechos e IGLHRC (International Gays and Lesbianas Human Rights Commision) Latin America section.
* We also had an informal session with Mr. Insulza, the Secretary General and afterwards we presented a declaration before the plenary session, finding clear and key support.
* At the end is the text of the resolution in English together with the declaration presented to the General Assembly by Camilo, a young 14-year-old Colombian transsexual (female to male).
* At the end you will find the list of the people that made up the working group ( 20 people – 16 countries)
* I consider that with this resolution we have "come out of the closet before the OAS and that now we exist in that political space".
Germán Humberto Rincón Perfetti
Bogotá – Colombia
Belissa Andia (Instituto Runa – Secretaría Trans ILGA, Perú)
Caleb Orozco (United Belice Advocacy Movement, Belice)*
Camila Zabala ( Aireana , Paraguay ) ***
Camilo Rojas, Sentimos Diverso , Colombia )
Cindy Loren (GATTA, Brasil
Claudia Spelman (Colectivo Travesti de San Pedro Sula,
Edmilson Medeiros (Red Afro LGBT y Articulação Politica das Juventudes
Germán Rincón Perfetti (Asociación. Lideres en acción, Colombia )
Javier Minnota Minnota ( Afro América XXI, Colombia )
July Betanzes (Colectiva Mujer y Salud, República Dominicana)
Marcelo Ferreyra (IGLHRC, Argentina )
Marina Bernal (Mulabi, México-Colombia)
Michel Riquelme (Organización de Transexuales por la Dignidad de laDiversidad, Chile )
Natasha Jiménez ( Mulabi , Costa Rica )
Sandra Montealegre (Mesa Joven por la Diversidad Sexual , Colombia )
Sara Hoyos (Activista independiente, Colombia )
Silvia Martínez (Red LAC/Trans, Nicaragua )
Stefano Fabeni (Global Rights, Italia/EEUU)
Tamara Adrian (DIVERLEX, Venezuela )
Tatiana Cordero (Taller Comunicación Mujer , Ecuador
Maurice Tomlinson ( Jamaica AIDS Support for Life , Jamaica )
Vidyaratha Kissoon (Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination
SASOD, Guyana )
Re. Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, And Gender Identity The General Assembly Reaffirming:
*That the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in that Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status;
*That the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man establishes that every human being has the right to life, liberty, and the security of the person;
Considering that the OAS Charter proclaims that the historic mission of America is to offer to man a land of liberty and a favorable environment for the development of his personality and the realization of his just aspirations;
Reaffirming the principles of universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of human rights;
Taking Note with concern acts of violence and related human rights violations perpetrated against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity;
1. To express concern about acts of violence and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
2. To request that the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs (CAJP) include on its agenda, before the thirty-ninth regular session of the General Assembly, the topic of "Human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
3. To request the Permanent Council to report to the General Assembly at its thirty-ninth regular session on the implementation of this resolution, the execution of which shall be subject to the resources allocated in the program-budget of the Organization and other resources.
Medellin Declaration of the Coalition of Lesbian, Gays, Bisexuals, Travesti, Transsexuals, Transgenders and Intersex of The Americas
Mister Secretary General, Ministers, Members of the Official Delegations, Civil Society Representatives,
We, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, travesti, transsexual, transgender and intersex organizations, convened in Medellin , Colombia on May 29, 30 and 31, 2008, in accordance with directives established by the General Assembly of the OAS in its resolutions AG/RES.2092( XXXV-O/05) which determine a regulatory framework to enhance and strengthen civil society participation in OAS activities and in the Summit of the Americas process, are concerned** that in the draft declaration of Medellín "Youth and democratic values" there are no references to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, even though they were part of the recommendations from the civil society meeting in Washington , from the 10th to the 14th of March, 2008.
Our reality as youth is characterized by the violation of the right to life; we are victims of torture, genital mutilations, forced medical surgery and sexual violence. Our rights to health, education, identity, work and participation are denied. We are constantly victims of stigmatization and exclusion in our families and in society as a whole. Our visibility and the right to our social and legal identities are also denied. All these rights violations are caused by social, cultural and religious prejudices that destroy our dignity as citizens.
All our rights are systematically violated in all countries of the hemisphere.
Since this reality contradicts the essence of the democratic values of the OAS, we recommend:
– That Member States recognize the existence of diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity and expression among young persons. This includes recognizing the rights to change name and sex in our legal documents without requiring genital mutilation.
– That Member States promote the respect for diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in education and media to build a just, equitable and inclusive society.
– That Member States ensure, especially to youth, full access to education, health, employment and occupation without discrimination; in case of rights violations within families and communities of origin to provide services sensitive to the needs of young persons.
– That Member States repeal all criminalizing and discriminatory legislation, and promote cultural, social and institutional changes which are aimed at preventing and punishing discrimination and violence, and thereby fully guaranteeing our rights.
– That the General Assembly approves the draft Resolution CP/CAJP-2626/ 08 "Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" presented by the Brazilian Delegation, whose initiative we fully endorse. At the same time we urge all Member States to support the above mentioned resolution.
– That the General Assembly approves the draft Resolution AG/doc4794/08 "Draft Inter-American Convention against Racism and all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance" and that Member States commit themselves to finalizing the negotiation of the draft accepting the substantive progress achieved during the past year.
We believe that, as long as discrimination and intolerance against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, travesti, transsexuals, transgenders and intersex continue unpunished in our societies, there will neither be democratic values for youth, nor will there be democracy for all.
Palabras de Camilo Andrés Rojas, Representante de la Red de Organizaciones por los derechos de personas gays, lesbianas y transexuales
June 13, 2008
A Patrick family coming-out, Lesbian daughter buoyed by parents
by Matt Viser, Globe Staff
It was just three weeks after her father, Governor Deval Patrick, had helped keep gay marriage legal in Massachusetts. The family was at their vacation home in the Berkshires, preparing a midafternoon picnic by the pool. Katherine Patrick walked into the kitchen, told her parents to stop what they were doing, and asked her aunt to leave the room. "I’m a lesbian," she told them. Her mother, expecting terrible news, nearly burst out laughing, a sense of relief coming over her. Her father wrapped her in a bear hug and said, "Well, we love you no matter what."
Katherine Patrick, 18, recounted the experience of coming out to her parents last summer in an article published yesterday in the weekly newspaper Bay Windows, New England’s largest newspaper for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. It was the first time she has granted an interview, and her dramatic media debut generated news that quickly shot across the nation on the Internet. "It’s not only something that we accept, but it’s something that we’re very proud of," Katherine Patrick told Bay Windows. "It’s a great aspect of our lives and there’s nothing about it that is shameful or that we would want to hide."
After her disclosure, she and the family declined follow-up interview requests. Local and national gay advocates immediately hailed the Patricks’ story as a model for how parents should handle similar situations. Several said the news may take on added significance in the black community, where being openly gay often has an added negative stigma. "This is a very powerful statement and image for the rest of the country to see a very public father embracing his openly lesbian daughter," said Steve Ralls, spokesman for the national organization Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "Their story will resonate with a lot of families, from Massachusetts to Los Angeles."
The disclosure also provides a rare glimpse into the Patricks’ family life. The governor and his wife, Diane, have been intensely private and particularly guarded about their children, Katherine, who graduated in 2007 from St. Andrew’s School in Delaware, and Sarah, who recently graduated from New York University. Both daughters were conspicuously missing from his gubernatorial campaign, showing up only a handful of times, at his primary-night gala and on Inauguration Day. "We live in a fishbowl and to some extent we’re dealing with that," Patrick told reporters yesterday in a brief statement. "But we’re proud of her, we love her, we support her, and I think that’s all that needs to be said."
Patrick and his daughter are planning to march tomorrow in the Boston Pride Parade. They also marched together last year, although at the time the governor did not know that his daughter was just becoming comfortable calling herself a lesbian. A person briefed by the family said the decision for when and how to make the announcement was entirely Katherine’s. The family was not under pressure to go public, although they wanted to make sure it was done on their terms, instead of in a news story that could make it appear they were trying to hide the fact, the source said. Katherine, who is planning to enroll at Smith College in the fall, also wanted to make the announcement before she left for college. "She wanted to let people know because her father is obviously in a prominent position," the source said. "She didn’t want to make a huge deal about it. But she wanted to let people know."
The governor’s office on Monday contacted Laura Kiritsy, the editor of Bay Windows, saying the governor and his daughter wanted to meet with her that evening. Kiritsy said they didn’t tell her explicitly what the interview would be about, although she said a source had told her about two weeks earlier that Katherine wanted to announce in Bay Windows that she was a lesbian. The 45-minute interview took place at the headquarters of MassEquality, a gay advocacy organization where Katherine has been an intern since March. Diane Patrick was also planning to be at the interview, but got stuck in traffic. "I was just happy for her that she . . . was comfortable with who she was," Diane Patrick later told the paper.
The governor has long been an advocate for the gay community and yesterday’s news further cemented his popularity among gay-rights supporters. "I think it’s great," said Marc Solomon, executive director of MassEquality. "I am also so proud of Governor Deval Patrick. He fought his hardest for our community before he knew his daughter was a part of it. He and Diane are the parents that every gay kid dreams of having."
Katherine is the latest in a short line of relatives of elected officials whose sexuality has been brought to the forefront. Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary, who last year had a baby with her partner, became a lightning rod in the 2004 presidential debates. Chrissy Gephardt, daughter of former US representative Dick Gephardt, is a lesbian who came out publicly in 2004, when her father was running for president. Republican Alan Keyes reportedly threw his daughter out of the house and cut off financial support after she announced in 2005 that she is a lesbian. In a dramatic statement last year, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders tearfully said he could no longer oppose same-sex marriage as he revealed publicly that his daughter is gay.
Deval Patrick told Bay Windows that his first inkling his daughter might be gay came when she started watching a show on Showtime that depicts a close-knit group of lesbians who live in Los Angeles. "I think when Katherine started to memorize all the episodes of ‘The L Word,’ there was some hint that maybe she was sending us," Patrick said. At one point during the interview, the governor started to tear up. "Don’t cry, Dad," Katherine said as she recounted her emotions as he led the fight to kill an antigay marriage amendment last year prior to her revelation. "He’s done some good things. I appreciate it. Want a tissue? Oh, God. He’s a crier."
"First of all, we’ve had so many people in our lives whom we love who are gay or lesbian, so that’s not that unfamiliar to us," the governor said. "You know, I can still – because we live in Massachusetts – I can still imagine what Katherine’s wedding is going to be like." Then, as he lowered his voice, he added, "How much it’s going to cost."
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
June 13, 2008
California gay couples readying to say ‘I do’: November voter initiative looms over proceedings
by Chris Johnson
With marriage licenses available for same-sex couples in California starting Tuesday, California officials are stepping up their efforts in anticipation of a flood of gay couples tying the knot in the state. The California Supreme Court on June 4 refused to issue a stay in its May ruling allowing same-sex couples to wed, despite a request to stay the implementation until November from the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization based in Arizona. But one county in a conservative region of the state has ceased to perform marriage ceremonies altogether. Kern County will cease to issue marriage licenses for all couples, gay or straight, starting today. A statement on the web site for Kern County Clerk Ann Barnett states that the county does not have the staff or space to handle the expected increase in wedding ceremonies. “Because of the long-term administrative plans, budgetary reasons and the need to increase security for elections, the Clerk’s office will cease solemnizing weddings, which is discretionary on the part of the County Clerk,” the web site states. Barnett did not return calls seeking comment.
But a Monday article in the Bakersfield Californian suggests that Barnett issued the order because of religious objections. In an e-mail to the Alliance Defense Fund, Assistant County Clerk Glenn Spencer asks the firm whether it will defend Barnett if Kern County stopped performing ceremonies. “Will Alliance Defense Fund defend the County Clerk if she ceases performing all marriage ceremonies as of 5:00 p.m. on June 16th?” Spencer wrote. “We have the news media calling for her response and we need to issue a news release today, but she really wants to be assured of your legal assistance before she speaks to them, as we fully expect to be sued and our own counsel is not being of help.” Barnett has a history of opposing same-sex marriage. At her request, a brief was filed with the California Supreme Court opposing the implementation of the justices’ ruling on marriage, according to the Bakersfield Californian. Further, after the ruling was made, Barnett tried to resign her position as clerk while keeping her other duties as auditor-controller and elections boss
Brian Raum, senior attorney for Alliance, confirmed to the Blade that Kern County sought the organization’s help. He called the e-mail a “routine request for legal advice.” “The real concern is what appears to be an intentional act of distributing confidential and privileged communications,” he said. Raum said Alliance will defend any county clerk that decides to cease performing wedding ceremonies. Alliance also sued to stop New York from recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Gay marriage is illegal in New York but Gov. David Paterson (D) told state agencies last month that they had to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Calif. cities gear up for marriage
While Kern County is getting out of the business of officiating weddings, most California officials are bracing for a frenzy of marriage license applications. A report published Monday by the Williams Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles projects that about 51,320 same-sex couples will marry in California within the next three years. Brad Sears and M.V. Lee Badgett, who wrote the report, expect that the availability of same-sex marriage in California will be a tremendous economic boon to the state. The authors estimate that allowing gay couples to wed “could result in approximately $683.6 million in additional spending on weddings and tourism in the state over the next three years.”
Same-sex marriage will create about 2,178 new jobs for California and put about $63.8 million in the coffers of the state and local governments, the report states. Dean Logan, clerk for Los Angeles County, said his office has undergone a number of expansions to prepare for the expected increase in couples applying for marriage licenses. “Basically, what we’re trying to do is just increase capacity and gear up for what we expect to be an initial high-volume interest,” he said. Los Angeles City Hall will have extended hours when same-sex marriage licenses first become available, Logan said. The building will be open all day on June 21, a Saturday, when City Hall is normally closed. An additional center that will issue licenses and perform ceremonies will also be set up in West Hollywood, a gay neighborhood. Logan said his office is “gearing up for thousands, as opposed to hundreds” of same-sex marriages in the first weeks they are available.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that about 250 gay couples have made appointments in San Diego County to obtain marriage licenses in June. More than 50 have been scheduled for Tuesday, the first day same-sex weddings are legal. Ken Yeager, a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, also said his office has been busy making changes, mostly geared toward ensuring that gay couples feel comfortable when they come to County Government Center in San Jose to apply for a marriage license. “We’re looking at things through ‘gay eyes’ to make sure that again there’s nothing that happens that’s embarrassing or awkward for anybody,” he said.
The marriage applications throughout California have been changed so that they no longer say “Bride” and “Groom” and say instead “Party A” and “Party B.” Yeager, the first openly gay elected official for Santa Clara County, became certified as a marriage commissioner June 2 to officiate over some of the first same-sex weddings in California. “A lot of gay and lesbian couples prefer to have somebody that they know officiate and many of them know me and so they’ve all asked me if I would do it,” he said. Yeager said applying for a marriage license is a simple process. A couple needs to fill out forms, pay a fee and then participate in the ceremony, he said. A blood test, previously a condition for obtaining a marriage license, will be unnecessary because the requirement was eliminated in 1995. “From the moment you get to the front window and begin to fill out the form, if you don’t already have the form filled out, it takes 20 minutes,” he said.
Plaintiff couples plan ceremonies
The couples that brought the suit to the California Supreme Court enabling same-sex marriage in the state are also busy with wedding plans. Stuart Gaffney, project director for the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at University of California in San Francisco, and his partner of 21 years, John Lewis, an attorney, are wasting no time in getting married. They have plans to apply for a marriage license at San Francisco City Hall at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday Their ceremony is slated to begin at 9 a.m. Only six people are allowed in San Francisco City Hall for each wedding ceremony, so while the actual ceremony will involve only a few people close to Gaffney and Lewis, they expect 60 at a reception to follow. Gaffney said planning for the wedding has been an emotional time for him and his family. “Our hope and our dream is just to get married as soon as possible and be part of really a wonderful historic moment all across California,” he said.
Gaffney and Lewis were among the approximately 4,000 couples that, in 2004, married in San Francisco, which, under the guidance of Mayor Gavin Newsom, briefly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But in August of that year, the California Supreme Court ruled that Newsom had overstepped his authority and voided those licenses. While Gaffney and Lewis are getting married in June, other couples that were plaintiffs in the marriage lawsuit are willing to put off their nuptials until the fall to have more time for planning. Jewelle Gomez, a writer and director of grants for the Horizons Foundation, and her partner Diane Sabin, executive director for the Lesbian Health Research Center, are planning to get married at the San Francisco Public Library this fall and will possibly hold the ceremony on Halloween. “We’re not going to rush out — we’ve only been engaged for 15 years,” she said. Gomez said she and her partner want to marry before California residents vote this November on a state constitutional amendment constitutional banning same-sex marriage.
Andrea Gillespie, a prominent lesbian activist and friend to Gomez and Sabin, will be deputized as marriage commissioner to perform the ceremony, Gomez said. The wedding will be “non-traditional” because the couple wants the ceremony to be political and encourage people “to think about what this is in terms of human rights,” she said. The wedding will also be focused on “community building” because “unions are about building community and about how communities come together to support each other,” Gomez said. In their vows, the couple intends to talk about sex to dispel the myth that lesbians in long-term relationships, “particularly middle-aged lesbians,” don’t have sex, Gomez said.
Another plaintiff couple — Jeanne Rizzo, executive director of the Breast Cancer Foundation, and her partner of 19 years, Pali Cooper, a chiropractor — are planning an August wedding. Rizzo said she and her partner put off the ceremony because Cooper’s father died unexpectedly the Friday after the Supreme Court issued its ruling. “So we won’t be getting married in the first wave,” Rizzo said. “We’ll be allowing some family grieving time and then we’ll celebrate at the end of this summer.” The couple intends to tie the knot at San Francisco City Hall with Newsom officiating the ceremony. The two will wear Hawaiian leis while exchanging vows in honor of the first time they held a commitment ceremony in Hawaii. The couple will also rededicate the diamond and sapphire rings they exchanged 18 years ago. “We’ll polish them up and it’ll be really nice to have them be our true wedding bands,” Rizzo said.
Gay groups caution against filing lawsuits
But while gay couples are making plans to tie the knot in California, a coalition comprised of high-profile gay advocacy groups is advising couples against taking their ambition to marry too far to the point of starting lawsuits throughout the country. California, unlike Massachusetts, has no residency requirement for marriage, so gay couples from across the country are able to marry in the state. Couples from out-of-state could marry in California, then sue to have their marriage recognized in their states of residence. The coalition, which released its guidance this week, urges couples against any attempt to “go suing right away.” “Most lawsuits will likely set us all back,” the guidance states. “Pushing the federal government before we have a critical mass of states recognizing same-sex relationships or suing in states where the courts aren’t ready is likely to get us bad rulings.”
The coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Equality Federation, Freedom to Marry, Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation, Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. The guidance states that the best way to advance same-sex marriage throughout the country is to proceed through the state courts and the state legislatures. “When we’ve won in a critical mass of states, we can turn to Congress and the federal courts,” the guidance states. “At that point, we’ll ask that the U.S. government to treat all marriages equally.”
Efforts in making the marriage of gay couples “a conspicuous part of American society” will enable the gay community to win equal treatment, the guidance states.
June 17, 2008
Same-Sex Marriages Begin in California
by Jesse McKinley
San Francisco – With a series of simple “I dos,” gay couples across California inaugurated the state’s court-approved and potentially short-lived legalization of same-sex marriage on Monday, the first of what is expected to be a crush of such unions in coming weeks. The weddings began in a handful of locations around the state at exactly 5:01 p.m., the earliest time allowed by last month’s decision by the California Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. Many more ceremonies will be held on Tuesday when all 58 counties will be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In San Francisco, Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 84, longtime gay rights activists, were the first and only couple to be wed here, saying their vows in the office of Mayor Gavin Newsom, before emerging to a throng of reporters and screaming well-wishers. Ms. Martin and Ms. Lyon, who have been together for more than 50 years, seemed touched, if a little amazed by all the attention. “When we first got together we weren’t thinking about getting married,” Ms. Lyon said before cutting a wedding cake. “I think it’s a wonderful day.”
Outside City Hall, several hundred supporters and protesters chanted, cheered and jeered in equal measure, giving an unruly carnival feel to the scene, complete with a marching band playing wedding songs and signs reading “Homo Sex is Sin.” In Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco, Mayor Ron Dellums presided over more than a dozen marriages in the City Council chambers, which had been transformed into a de facto wedding chapel, with stands of flowers and a standing-room-only crowd. In Sonoma County, the wine-rich region north of here, 18 couples were scheduled to be wed on Monday, including Chris Lechman, 37, and Mark Gren, 42, who called to book their nuptials shortly after the court’s decision. “We’ve been on pins and needles,” said Mr. Lechman, who celebrated the 15th anniversary of meeting Mr. Gren on Monday. “We are thrilled to be part of history.” Janice Atkinson, the Sonoma County clerk, said her office would stay open late for the rest of the month to accommodate what she expected would be a heavy load of same-sex weddings.
On Sunday, Ms. Atkinson and staff members were at a gay pride celebration in Sonoma handing out applications for marriage licenses to prospective newlyweds. “We’re expecting some very happy couples,” she said. “And a lot of media.” The selection of Ms. Martin and Ms. Lyon as San Francisco’s first same-sex couple was symbolic; the couple wed here in 2004, when the city broke state law by issuing more than 4,000 marriage licenses and conducting weddings in City Hall. Those marriages were later invalidated by the state Supreme Court. On May 15, however, the same court struck down the two California laws that prohibited such unions, opening the door for California to becomes the second, and largest, American state to legalize same-sex marriage. Massachusetts did so in 2004, and more than 10,500 couples have wed there.
Same-sex marriage has been hotly contested nationwide and state by state in the courts and at the ballot box, and California is no exception. Voters in the state will decide a ballot measure in November that would effectively overturn the court’s decision by defining marriage as “between a man and a woman.” Forty-four states already have some sort of legal barrier — either a law or constitutional amendment — barring such unions. In 2004 alone, 13 states passed ballot measures banning same-sex marriage. This year, however, supporters have found encouragement in both the California Supreme Court decision and in a subsequent order by Gov. David A. Paterson of New York to force his state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages from elsewhere. The California court has also rebuffed several challenges to its May 15 decision made by two conservative legal groups and Republican attorneys general who fear that the marriages will cause legal challenges to be brought in their own states.
One legal challenge was filed last week by the Liberty Counsel, a group based in Florida that wants the California Court of Appeal to halt the weddings to allow the State Legislature time to work out discrepancies in marriage law created by the state Supreme Court’s decision. Mathew D. Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said Monday’s ceremonies “make a mockery of marriage.” “Marriage has traditionally been known, across continents and all geographical regions, as between a man and a woman,” said Mr. Staver, who is 51 and married. “Marriage between the same sex may be some sort of union, but it’s certainly not marriage.” There has also been some local opposition to the ceremonies. In rural Kern County, north of Los Angeles, the county clerk has canceled all weddings performed by her office, a position she took after consulting with the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona legal group that argues against marriage for gay men and lesbians. Weddings at the county clerk’s office — long an affordable, no-frills option for couples — have also been called off in Butte County, north of Sacramento, the state capital.
In more liberal parts of the state, however, the weddings were being warmly embraced. In Beverly Hills, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson also married, saying their vows under a chuppah on the steps of the city’s courthouse. The ceremony was solemnized by a rabbi, Denise Eger. “Great floods cannot dampen your love,” Rabbi Eger said. “Your courage brought you here today.”
Carolyn Marshall contributed reporting from San Francisco and Oakland, and Rebecca Cathcart from Beverly Hills.
June 17th, 2008
Gay Arabs Party Here, Risk Death Back Home
by Trenton Straube
It’s Saturday night, and Sami is feeling the Middle Eastern dance tracks of DJ I.Z.’s set at Habibi. Upstairs at the Stonewall Inn for the monthly roaming party, he pushes through a thicket of men and hits the makeshift dance floor, where he and an Egyptian friend break into freestyle belly dancing. A gay Muslim Moroccan, Sami loves Arabic pop music but rarely gets to dance to it. But Sami (like most of the people in this article, he requested that his real name be withheld) does go dancing often. Sure, he frequents Splash, Therapy, and other homo hot spots, where the Habibi devotees blend into the city’s multicultural stew pot. Yes, they arrive from diverse—and sometimes harrowing—backgrounds. And yes, they’ve experienced various degrees of anti-Arab fallout from September 11—but most remain closeted to some degree, and once in a while, they just want to hang with their homies. Finding other gay Arabs wasn’t always so easy. In the early ’90s, Jennifer Camper, a first-generation Lebanese-American, sought out other lesbian Arabs. The first she met ominously whispered: "I have a list of seven names." At that time, few Arab immigrants self-identified as gay; finding them in the pre-Internet age posed a challenge, since there was no official lesbian social group, like Assal for women, or places like Habibi.
What did exist was a local branch of the national Gay & Lesbian Arab Society (GLAS). The group met twice monthly at the LGBT Community Center. Immigrants were terrified to attend their first GLAS meetings, lest someone see them and tell their family. Even today, Arab families—the primary, all-important social unit—place immense pressure on their children to marry. It’s still common for gay Arabs to do so, then take an out-of-town job while sending money back home. Those who are able to attend college abroad enjoy a reprieve—but once back home, they face an arranged marriage. Politics and religion exert more pressure to stay in the closet. In most Arab countries, homosexuality is not only illegal, but the penalties for it are also harsh—including torture and death. The infamous "Cairo 52" were arrested by police who broke up a boat party on the Nile River in 2001; the men were beaten, exposed, publicly humiliated, and imprisoned for up to five years. In Islamic-fundamentalist nations like Iran, gay men are allegedly hanged. Although Islam remains the dominant religion in the Middle East, it accounts for only half of our Arab immigrants. Most others are Christian, with a smattering of Jews. "A lot of people not from the Arab community don’t understand the large role religion and ethnicity play in the typical Middle Easterner," says current GLAS president Nadeem, himself an Iraqi immigrant. That’s why the group employs a rule: No religious or political discussions. For GLAS members struggling to reconcile their religion and sexuality and requiring additional guidance from their peers, the organization directs them to specialized support networks like the gay Muslim group Al-Fatiha and the gay Catholic group Dignity.
Even within those very strict boundaries, the meetings could become unexpectedly emotional and therapeutic. Nadeem recounts leading a gay discussion group a few years back. Thinking it’d be a neat icebreaker, he asked the guys to describe—without going into graphic detail—their first same-sex encounter and what made it special. "About 10 people were in the discussion," he recalls, "and for three of them, their first experience was being raped. I was like: ‘Whoa, OK—I guess we’ll have to talk about this.’ " In 2005, GLAS discontinued its meetings. By then, the women had splintered into Assal, and most men socialized at Habibi. But another demographic was making itself known in the gay Arab-American world: "hummus queens"— gay men attracted to Arabs. Not that all hummus queens were on the make: One attended to seek advice on how to help his closeted Arab partners come out. The real death knell for GLAS meetings was the Internet, which offered anonymity, safety, and thousands of friends. A local LGBT Arab online forum thrives on Yahoo (subscribers can join at glas.org); discussions range from the struggles of coming out and the newbies in town to relevant entertainment—such as the first gay Arab film, Toul Omri (All My Life).
Even in the Internet age, a savvier new breed of immigrants must deal with violence from the old country and family pressures.
Kamar, a Lebanese immigrant from a liberal family, effortlessly assimilated into American culture. When he settled in New York, he didn’t care to cultivate friendships with other Arabs—yet he recalls being afraid to come out to his parents because of a childhood incident in his native Beirut. He, a brother, and his mom were walking outside when gunfire erupted: "She threw us into a corner and shielded us with her body, so if a bullet came it would hit her instead of us," he recalls. "I can remember every detail of that day—her dress, everything. My mom was willing to die for me. I couldn’t come out to her. I didn’t want to upset her. How could I?"
Happy ending: Kamar has come out to his family, and after the usual disappointments and drama, they’ve drawn much closer.
Post-9/11, the U.S. government mandated that all immigrants must be registered—and the newly formed Department of Homeland Security was especially on the lookout for Arabs. Many people required legal counsel and turned to Assal and GLAS, which had always helped their members on matters involving immigration, health care, housing, and HIV. The FBI even questioned GLAS founder Ramzi Zakharia, allegedly for dubious online postings, but the inquiry ended when agents learned that he was openly gay. Others weren’t so lucky. Blue-collar workers and devoutly religious Arabs—men who wore beards and women who covered themselves—found themselves laid off and the victims of random violence. They turned to GLAS and Assal for help. Within months after September 11, queer Arabs knew they had to show the world that they remained a proud part of New York City. In June 2002, GLAS joined the Pride March down Fifth Avenue for the first time. Viewed by hundreds of thousands and broadcast internationally, the event was a double coming-out— as Arab gays and as Arab-Americans. GLAS invited gay non-Arab Middle Easterners—Iranians, Turks, and Armenians—to join its members as they blasted Arab pop from boom boxes, waved banners, threw candy, and, yes, belly-danced.
They couldn’t have been more visible— which is why many others opted to stay home. Ironically, openly participating in the Pride March was one way that asylum seekers could prove they were gay: The U.S. grants asylum based on the sexuality, but many immigrants missed the window (up to one year after first arriving) to apply. Group meetings became safe havens from an America that equated Islam— and, by default, all Arabs—with terrorism. For Camper, being around other Arab lesbians meant "your shoulders come down, you relax, and you don’t have to explain yourself." They could talk about an unaccepting family without having the comments taken as proof that all Arabs are rabidly homophobic.
Habibi and Assal—which translate to "Dear one" and "Honey"—still serve that function. Assal is especially important, because social and religious activities in Arab culture are often segregated by gender; women foster strong and intimate bonds away from men. At a recent Assal dinner, excitement swirled around a member’s pregnancy and the discussion topic: "How to tell your Arabic parents you’re having a baby—with your female roommate!" Like their American counterparts, many queer Arab immigrants simply don’t want to join gay social networks or activist groups; they’re too busy working, playing, and just living day-to-day lives. For instance, Zakharia—a Palestinian- American who’s been in the U.S. since 1982—works at an advertising agency, has been out to his family, and lives with a longtime partner. For immigrants like him, "being here makes it much easier," as Sami puts it. "There are so many things around you that make you feel welcome. You can do whatever you want—have a life, a job, whatever—and be gay." You can even dance to Arabic pop music in the arms of another gay man
Boy Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Though they often go unreported, boys around the world also face the trauma of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. According to ILO and UNICEF, two percent of those forced into commercial sexual exploitation are men or boys, but the practice might be far more widespread than reported due to social stigmas associated with sex with boys. The sexual exploitation of boys may take place in informal, unorganized settings, making them both vulnerable to abuse and less likely to be identified by authorities charged with assisting them. Young street boys form relationships with older boys for protection, and are sometimes forced by these boys to have sex with older men for profit as part of the relationship.
Public meeting places are often arranged, including parks, markets, bus terminals, rail stations, hotels, beaches, and movie theaters. When boys have pimps, they may endure injections with hormones to accelerate physical maturity and increase sexual performance, with painful results and long-term health consequences. Traffickers have also been known to lure boys into prostitution by making them dependent on drugs and alcohol. Culture and stigma play a significant role in the victimization of boys in prostitution. Some researchers, for instance, believe that strict gender-segregation can foster the sexual exploitation of boys in situations when adult men do not have access to women for sex. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, for example, boys are sometimes forced into prostitution behind the cultural practice of bachabazi or launda dancing—where boys dressed as girls dance at weddings and private parties for men.
A different concern was highlighted by a research study on commercial sex in Costa Rica, which concluded: "Local demand for young boys arises because homosexuality is heavily stigmatized in Costa Rica, so `respectable’ Costa Rican men prefer to pick up boys from the street and take them somewhere discreet to use them rather than to enter into open homosexual relationships with their social and/or age equals."
Sexual exploitation of boys is also found in tourist destinations. The beaches of Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Dominican Republic are host to men seeking sexual encounters with boys who are pimped by men or other boys. In Thailand, boys aged between 10 and 15 can earn $280 a night having sex with foreign men. In some European cities, including in Great Britain and the Czech Republic, "rent boys," often very young, are exploited in train stations by incoming tourists. According to NGO sources, Ghana and the Gambia face a growing problem of boys in prostitution. The hidden nature of these boys’ trauma means they receive little or no help. Social stereotypes that presume boys cannot be exploited in prostitution often result in their exclusion from assistance, forcing many to remain silently in the sex trade.
June 19, 2008
Rebuttal of the USA Human Trafficking Report (above)
I’ve never heard of this activity and I think in my many years of working with and for APNSW I’ve probably met and worked with more male sex workers than just about anybody. And whilst we of course work with adult sex workers, not sexually exploited children, young adult male sex workers tend to know what is going on.
I think it is probably the usual story with the unreliability of the US TIp report. It is rumour made out to be fact to support the political ends of the US State Departments Office to Combat Trafficking. The Report has been declared unreliable for it’s statistics, stories and sources by the US Congress’s own Govt Accounting Office (GAO)
The nucleus of such a wild story may well be about young transgenders buying and injecting hormones- by US definitions transgenders would be classified as male.
apnsw.org / E-MAIL: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
June 21, 2008
Gay Marriage Is Good for America
by Jonathan Rauch
By order of its state Supreme Court, California began legally marrying same-sex couples this week. The first to be wed in San Francisco were Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, pioneering gay-rights activists who have been a couple for more than 50 years. More ceremonies will follow, at least until November, when gay marriage will go before California’s voters. They should choose to keep it. To understand why, imagine your life without marriage. Meaning, not merely your life if you didn’t happen to get married. What I am asking you to imagine is life without even the possibility of marriage. Re-enter your childhood, but imagine your first crush, first kiss, first date and first sexual encounter, all bereft of any hope of marriage as a destination for your feelings. Re-enter your first serious relationship, but think about it knowing that marrying the person is out of the question. Imagine that in the law’s eyes you and your soul mate will never be more than acquaintances. And now add even more strangeness. Imagine coming of age into a whole community, a whole culture, without marriage and the bonds of mutuality and kinship that go with it.
What is this weird world like? It has more sex and less commitment than a world with marriage. It is a world of fragile families living on the shadowy outskirts of the law; a world marked by heightened fear of loneliness or abandonment in crisis or old age; a world in some respects not even civilized, because marriage is the foundation of civilization. This was the world I grew up in. The AIDS quilt is its monument. Few heterosexuals can imagine living in such an upside-down world, where love separates you from marriage instead of connecting you with it. Many don’t bother to try. Instead, they say same-sex couples can get the equivalent of a marriage by going to a lawyer and drawing up paperwork – as if heterosexual couples would settle for anything of the sort. Even a moment’s reflection shows the fatuousness of "Let them eat contracts." No private transaction excuses you from testifying in court against your partner, or entitles you to Social Security survivor benefits, or authorizes joint tax filing, or secures U.S. residency for your partner if he or she is a foreigner. I could go on and on.
Marriage, remember, is not just a contract between two people. It is a contract that two people make, as a couple, with their community – which is why there is always a witness. Two people can’t go into a room by themselves and come out legally married. The partners agree to take care of each other so the community doesn’t have to. In exchange, the community deems them a family, binding them to each other and to society with a host of legal and social ties. This is a fantastically fruitful bargain. Marriage makes you, on average, healthier, happier and wealthier. If you are a couple raising kids, marrying is likely to make them healthier, happier and wealthier, too. Marriage is our first and best line of defense against financial, medical and emotional meltdown. It provides domesticity and a safe harbor for sex. It stabilizes communities by formalizing responsibilities and creating kin networks. And its absence can be calamitous, whether in inner cities or gay ghettos. In 2008, denying gay Americans the opportunity to marry is not only inhumane, it is unsustainable. History has turned a corner: Gay couples – including gay parents – live openly and for the most part comfortably in mainstream life. This will not change, ever. Because parents want happy children, communities want responsible neighbors, employers want productive workers, and governments want smaller welfare caseloads, society has a powerful interest in recognizing and supporting same-sex couples. It will either fold them into marriage or create alternatives to marriage, such as publicly recognized and subsidized cohabitation. Conservatives often say same-sex marriage should be prohibited because it does not exemplify the ideal form of family. They should consider how much less ideal an example gay couples will set by building families and raising children out of wedlock.
Nowadays, even opponents of same-sex marriage generally concede it would be good for gay people. What they worry about are the possible secondary effects it could have as it ramifies through law and society. What if gay marriage becomes a vehicle for polygamists who want to marry multiple partners, egalitarians who want to radically rewrite family law, or secularists who want to suppress religious objections to homosexuality? Space doesn’t permit me to treat those and other objections in detail, beyond noting that same-sex marriage no more leads logically to polygamy than giving women one vote leads to giving men two; that gay marriage requires only few and modest changes to existing family law; and that the Constitution provides robust protections for religious freedom. I’ll also note, in passing, that these arguments conscript homosexuals into marriagelessness in order to stop heterosexuals from making bad decisions, a deal to which we gay folks say, "Thanks, but no thanks." We wonder how many heterosexuals would give up their own marriage, or for that matter their own divorce, to discourage other people from making poor policy choices. Any volunteers?
Honest advocacy requires acknowledging that same-sex marriage is a significant social change and, as such, is not risk-free. I believe the risks are modest, manageable, and likely to be outweighed by the benefits. Still, it’s wise to guard against unintended consequences by trying gay marriage in one or two states and seeing what happens, which is exactly what the country is doing. By the same token, however, honest opposition requires acknowledging that there are risks and unforeseen consequences on both sides of the equation. Some of the unforeseen consequences of allowing same-sex marriage will be good, not bad. And barring gay marriage is risky in its own right. America needs more marriages, not fewer, and the best way to encourage marriage is to encourage marriage, which is what society does by bringing gay couples inside the tent. A good way to discourage marriage, on the other hand, is to tarnish it as discriminatory in the minds of millions of young Americans. Conservatives who object to redefining marriage risk redefining it themselves, as a civil-rights violation. There are two ways to see the legal marriage of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. One is as the start of something radical: an experiment that jeopardizes millennia of accumulated social patrimony. The other is as the end of something radical: an experiment in which gay people were told that they could have all the sex and love they could find, but they could not even think about marriage. If I take the second view, it is on conservative – in fact, traditional – grounds that gay souls and straight society are healthiest when sex, love and marriage all walk in step.
Mr. Rauch, a senior writer with National Journal and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, is the author of "Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America" (Holt Paperbacks, 2004).
June 30, 2008
US Army discharges openly gay sergeant after TV appearance
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A 30-year-old army medic who became the first American active-duty gay service member to speak on television about life in the army as a gay man has been discharged. Despite the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy which bans openly gay people from the US Armed Forces, Sergeant Darren Manzella told CBS 60 Minutes in December that his army colleagues and commanders knew his sexuality. The programme also showed a video of Manzella kissing his former boyfriend. Manzella is an army medic who had recently from Kuwait. He previously earned a Combat Medical Badge for service in Baghdad. "My sexual orientation certainly didn’t make a difference when I treated injuries and saved lives in the streets of Baghdad," he said of the Army’s decision to discharge him. It shouldn’t be a factor in allowing me to continue to serve."
Manzella came out to his commander in 2006 because he was receiving anonymous e-mails threatening to expose him. "They recommended that I just go back and keep doing my job," he said. After that, he was sent to Kuwait for his second Iraq war deployment. His dismissal became effective on June 10th.
Gay advocacy group, the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network, has said it knows of about 500 gay army members who are serving openly without any consequences. "The discharge of battle-tested, talented service members like Sergeant Manzella weakens our military in a time of war," said Adam Ebbin, SLDN’s communications director. "National security requires that Congress lift the ban on gays in the military and allow commanders to judge troops on their qualifications, not their sexuality."
More than 12,000 troops have been dismissed under the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" law approved by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, at an estimated cost of more than $363 million (£182.6m). The policy prohibits anyone who "demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" to serve in the US forces. Serving gay men and lesbians are also not allowed to tell anyone about their sexual orientation or relationships. "A lot of service members are getting ‘wink-wink’ treatment from their commanders," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Centre at the University of California, which studies the policy.
In May the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said that Congress, and not the military, is responsible for the ban on openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans from military service. Speaking to graduating cadets at West Point military academy, Admiral Mike Mullen said that "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is a law that the Armed Forces follow. "Should the law change, the military will carry that out too," he said. An estimated 65,000 lesbian and gay service members serve on active duty and in the reserves of the United States military, according to SLDN.
During his Senate confirmation hearing last year, Admiral Mullen told lawmakers: "I really think it is for the American people to come forward, really through this body, to both debate that policy and make changes, if that’s appropriate. I’d love to have Congress make its own decisions with respect to considering repeal." The most senior US military veteran in the House of Representatives has called for an end to the ban.
Democrat Congressman Joe Sestak, who served 31 years in the Navy, retiring with the rank of three-star Admiral, is one of seventeen veterans in Congress who want to repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Nearly 150 of his Congressional colleagues have lent their support to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act which would repeal that law and allow lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel to serve openly. In March US Presidential candidate Barack Obama told leading gay publication The Advocate he supports a repeal of the gay ban and is hopeful it can be achieved. Polls show that 79% of Americans support allowing gays to serve openly.
June 30, 2008
One million commemorate Stonewall Riots in New York
by Angela D’Amboise
The largest of the pride celebrations in the United States, more than one million people attended yesterday’s gay pride parade in New York, which commemorates the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. The 39th anniversary of the New York Pride Parade, the celebration held its first parade in 1970 to commemorate the one year anniversary of the riots, credited as the kick off of the gay rights movement. This is a particularly memorable year for New Yorkers as newly appointed NYC Goveror David Paterson recently ruled that New York will recognise same-sex marriages from other states.
Legally blind, Paterson drew cheers from the crowd, appearing in the parade one day after undergoing eye surgery, according to WNBC New York. One of the largest and oldest LGBT events in the world, yesterday’s parade drew more than 500,000 marchers and one million viewers watching the parade pass by. The parade marches through midtown Manhattan and winds down in Greenwich Village, the hub of New York’s gay community.
New York’s pride parade has taken on many different roles over the years. Often thought the most politically charged of the gay pride parades, in the mid 1980s, the parade took on an activist role, shining a light on the AIDS epidemic, which had affected much of New York’s gay community. A moment of silence was observed at 2pm to pay tribute to those the gay community has lost to AIDS.
July 2, 2008
LGBT Christians must toughen up says Bishop Robinson
by Tony Grew
The only openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion has said that people who want to change the church to become more accepting should "expect suffering." Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, was addressing a congregation at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Sacramento, California. "We want to change the world without paying the price for it," he said, according to kcra.com "Most of what I’ve learned about our movement I’ve learned from the African-American civil rights movement in this country. And those people went out and paid their dues for civil rights, knowing there’s going to be dogs and fire hoses and tear gas and maybe death. And so you and I, especially if you are in the LGBT community, you and I need to toughen up. And we need to expect suffering."
On Sunday a group of senior Anglican clergy announced the formation of a breakaway group that rejects the acceptance of gay relationships and the ordination of gay clergy, called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA). Since Bishop Robinson’s installation, there has been civil war over gay issues among the Anglican Communion. The breakaway group, backed by 300 of the 800 or so bishops in the Church, intend to snub the Archbishop of Canterbury by not attending the Lambeth Conference later this month. It claims God’s blessing for same-sex unions is against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony.
"In 2003 this false gospel led to the consecration of a bishop living in a homosexual relationship," the group said in a statement. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, criticised the formation of the new "global network," and said it was not enough to just dismiss the existing structures of the worldwide Communion. "If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve," said Dr Williams.
A spokesman for the Archbishop was more forthright, telling the Daily Telegraph: "It is ludicrous to say you do not recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury or the see of Canterbury; they are the defining characteristics of Anglicanism. By doing away with the role and the place, these people are becoming a Protestant sect."
July 02, 2008
New York Governor Leading the Way for Gay Rights
by C. Liang
When he participated in New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride March alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Charles Schumer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Governor David Paterson received thunderous applause and praise from the gay community for his vigorous efforts in advocating gay rights. Just a month prior, New York Governor Paterson issued a directive to state agencies to recognize and provide full marriage benefits to gay couples who were legally married elsewhere. “When Governor Paterson says he’s a friend to the LGBT community, he means it… What he did … sends a message that leadership isn’t about waiting. It’s about finding the opportunity. It’s about finding the way to move progress and civil rights forward,” said Quinn.
No governor has ever embraced the gay community as fully as Governor Paterson, who is believed to be the first serving governor to ever march in a gay pride parade. Even a thunderstorm halfway through didn’t dampen the mood of those that were marching down Fifth Avenue. The parade involved half a million participants and an estimated 1 million onlookers. However, not everyone is happy about Governor Paterson’s initiative on behalf of the gay community. Representing several state Republican officials, a conservative Christian policy group is suing the governor in State Supreme Court in the Bronx over the directive. Governor Paterson remains firm. “It is the law and it is the right thing to do. I stand by it,” he said. “If someone would like to go to court and waste their money and prove me wrong, they can do that. And I welcome that.”
Democratic Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell believes that Governor Paterson is emerging as an icon for the gay community. Gilbert Baker, the creator of the Rainbow Flag, and Candis Cayne, the transsexual actress who recently appeared on Dirty Sexy Money, were the grand marshals for the parade. The parade honors the memory of the 1969 Stonewall riots, when patrons fought back against a police raid of a gay bar in Greenwich Village.
July 5, 2008
Gay Episcopal bishop sees hope for progress
by Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer
Almost exactly five years after he was elected as the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson remains the most controversial Christian in the world. His consecration as the first openly gay, partnered Anglican bishop launched a global conversation about sexuality in Christianity and divided the Anglican Communion, the largest Protestant body in the world with 77 million members. Yet what he is doing now may be more radical: Robinson is traveling the country and the world to talk more openly and more publicly than ever about his faith.
"The principal identity that I have is as a follower of Jesus," said Robinson, who was in San Francisco this weekend. "I think I’m so ‘dangerous’ because I’m so normal. … What terrifies (conservatives) is that people will get to know me and find me to be not all that extraordinary and, indeed, find out how theologically orthodox I am. And then all of their arguments fall apart."
Robinson recently published a memoir about his faith and experiences, "In the Eye of the Storm," and is on a national tour to promote his book, which he hopes will give theological perspective and understanding to how the Bible views lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The Bible, Robinson said, is on their side. "I think there are a lot of people, a lot of religious people from all kinds of traditions, that are ready to support us," he said. "But the second someone conservative starts quoting Scripture, they sort of crumble in their response. I believe in my heart that God’s love is not only inclusive, but extravagant," he said. "I know what it’s like to be told by my church and culture that I am unworthy in God’s eyes, and I know the kind of liberation that comes from discovering that God loves me beyond my wildest imagining. I want to bring that good news to LGBT people who have been wrongly told otherwise."
In a midday interview at his San Francisco hotel, Robinson was buzzing with energy. His day had begun at 6:45 a.m. with a radio interview in Berkeley and was going to end just before midnight on the campus of San Francisco State University, where he was going to present the award-winning documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So," which profiles his life. Three weeks ago, Robinson had a civil blessing of his 20-year relationship with his partner, Mark Andrew. He did so now because death threats have been pouring in as he prepares to fly abroad. Robinson, who was consecrated with a bulletproof vest, wanted to give his partner and two daughters from a previous marriage legal protections in New Hampshire should he be killed abroad. On Monday, he flies to England to be present for the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican Communion bishops, an event called the Lambeth Conference.
He’ll be both the center of attention and on the sidelines.
Because of his open stance about his sexual orientation, Robinson was not invited to Lambeth. Robinson said there are "a handful" of other gay bishops in the United States, Great Britain and other parts of the world. But they’re quiet about it. "We’re much further ahead on this issue on a pastoral, personal basis than we’re willing to say from the pulpit or officially," he said. "It’s secrets that tear families apart." So instead of participating in official conversations with other bishops, Robinson will be in the exhibit area, among the vendors hawking candles and vestments.
"I intend to make myself available to talk with whoever wants to talk," he said. "My experience tells me that when two people of differing views sit down in the same room, not only recognizing one another as human beings, but brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, this mysterious and holy thing happens. What happens is we have this experience of being reminded that there is so much more that connects us, so much more that we have in common than that which separates us," he said.
Conservatives in the Anglican Communion have, since Robinson’s consecration, demanded that the Episcopal Church repent for consecrating Robinson or be disciplined. Neither has happened. Last week in Jerusalem, a conservative bloc of archbishops declared that they were going to form an alternative leadership – including for breakaway conservative churches in the United States. Conservatives say the Episcopal Church and supporters of gay rights are disregarding the importance of the Bible. Robinson’s consecration meant "it was evident that there was no turning back for the leaders of the Episcopal Church, that they had chosen to put human experience above biblical authority," said Rev. David Miller, rector of St. John’s Anglican Church in Petaluma, which has left the Episcopal Church and is now under the jurisdiction of a province in South America. "It was out of the closet."
Several primates – leaders of provinces, which play a role similar to that of the Episcopal Church in the United States – have asked to meet with him privately, and only on the condition that he never reveal that he met with them or discuss what they talked about. It goes against Robinson’s desires to hide the truth, but he’s willing. "I’m sad about that," he said. But "I will do anything to sit down with those folks and try to heal this gulf between us."
It’s a fallacy, Robinson said, that if he were to step down, the question of gays and lesbians in the church would somehow disappear. "It’s an unstoppable movement forward by an oppressed people," he said. "Wouldn’t it be nice if the church led the way for a change, instead of bringing up the rear?"
July 16, 2008
Massachusetts moves to allow out of state gays to get married
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
An obscure law originally passed to deny some interracial couples access to marriage will be repealed, the Massachusetts state Senate has decided. 1913 legislation prohibits officials from issuing marriage licences to out-of-state couples whose marriages would be illegal in their home states. The state House of Representatives will consider the issue next week.
The 1913 law has affected same-sex couples since a Massachusetts court ruling in 2003 legalised same-sex marriage in the state. Then-Governor Mitt Romney revived the 1913 law in order to weaken the impact of the state’s Supreme Court ruling that gay and lesbian couples should have equal rights to civil marriage. The repeal of the law is supported by state Senate President Therese Murray, Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, and Governor Deval Patrick. Last month the Governor spoke of his pride in his daughter for publicly coming out as a lesbian. He then took part in Boston’s Pride parade with her.
Mr Deval, a Democrat, is the first black Governor of Massachusetts. Conservatives in the state are unhappy that gay marriage was imposed by the courts and not the legislature. In 2007, the state legislature defeated a measure to amend the state’s constitution to ban such unions. Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute in Woburn, told The Republican newspaper that he opposes moves to overturn the 1913 law. "It’s Massachusetts attempting to force its social experiment on other states in total defiance of the right of other states to define marriage," he said.
Gay rights groups were pleased that Massachusetts may offer gay marriage to people from other states. "We fully expect the House to pass this bill and send it to Governor Patrick’s desk to be signed into law this month," said Kara Suffredini, Director of Public Policy at the Family Equality Council. "Massachusetts has given much to this country, and now it also has the opportunity to give the gift of marriage equality for all loving families. The Family Equality Council encourages our supporters and fair-minded people to thank their state Senators for their vote today and to ask their state Representatives to support this bill so that all families may be recognised, respected, protected and celebrated."
Mr Suffredini also pointed to the financial benefits of repealing the 1913 law. A report from the Massachusetts Office of Housing and Economic Development forecasts a $111 (£55.4m) million windfall to the state should same-sex couples from other states be allowed to marry in the state. The report also predicts the creation of 330 jobs and an additional $5 million in tax revenue over three years.
July 16, 2008
Massachusetts Senate votes to end gay marriage restriction: The state House and governor are expected to support the move against a 1913 law that has been used to prevent some out-of-state couples from marrying.
by Stephen Braun, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
The Massachusetts Senate on Tuesday voted to repeal an obscure 1913 law that has been used to keep out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying there. Legislators in the state House of Representatives in Boston are expected to take similar action today, and Gov. Deval Patrick has promised to sign the repeal. The move could allow gays and lesbians from other states to marry in Massachusetts within weeks.
"The governor has said several times he intends to support the repeal if it passes," spokeswoman Becky Deusser said. Patrick’s daughter, Katherine, 18, announced last month that she is a lesbian. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. However, then-Gov. Mitt Romney invoked the 1913 law, which opponents said originally had been used to block interracial unions. The 95-year-old statute prevented out-of-state couples from obtaining licenses if their marriages would not be legally recognized in their home states.
In May, California became the second state to legalize gay marriage, following a state Supreme Court ruling. The political climate in Massachusetts for solidifying gay marriage rights has brightened since 2004. Surveys show that more than half of the state’s voters now accept some form of gay unions. "In poll after poll, the issue has gained mainstream support," said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center. Those who fought to repeal the 1913 statute said Tuesday that the move — together with the California court decision — could amplify political momentum nationwide. Hundreds of same-sex couples have taken their vows in California since June 16, when local jurisdictions began accepting civil marriage applications.
"The California ruling was a wake-up call for Massachusetts," said Marc Solomon, campaign director of MassEquality, a coalition backing same-sex unions. "We had to remove the last vestige of marriage discrimination on the books here." The repeal was opposed by the Massachusetts Family Institute, a group that said the 1913 law legitimately upheld the authority of states to define marriage. "This law was deemed to be credible by our state courts just two years ago," said Kris Mineau, the institute’s president. "There’s no credible evidence that this law had any racist motivation."
In California, a group called Protect Marriage has gathered more than 1 million signatures in an effort to get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage onto the November ballot. Similar ballot drives are underway in Florida and Arizona; Massachusetts ballot efforts can be approved only by the Legislature. Nationally, the issue of gay marriage is being raised by Republican candidates in swing states such as Ohio, where social conservatives are a potent political force. GOP presidential candidate John McCain has come out in favor of the effort to overturn gay marriage laws, while his Democratic foe, Barack Obama, opposes the California initiative to outlaw such unions.
"We think this issue has lost some of its edge," Solomon said. "It’s just not a big deal. Americans look at this and they wonder why these groups are constantly talking about gay marriage when gas prices and the war in Iraq are so much more critical." A study commissioned by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development predicted that marriages of gay couples from New York and other Northeastern states could mean as much as $37 million in revenue for the state each year for the next three years — and nearly $2 million a year in taxes.
July 31, 2008
US HIV travel ban lifted as Bush signs new AIDS bill
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
US President Bush has signed a new law lifting a ban on HIV positive people from entering the United States and signed new legislation to fight AIDS in the developing world. There will be a rise in the budget to fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis of $15bn (£7.5bn) to $48bn (£24bn). The law also removes a requirement for a third of the AIDS fight to be targeted at abstaining from sex rather than through medical research or distribution.
As he signed the bill, Mr Bush said: "It’s going to save millions of people. This bill embodies the extraordinary compassion of the American people. We are a compassionate nation. And that’s what this bill says loud and clear. I want to thank everybody who’s helped make this bill possible."
Earlier this month the United States Senate approved the bill and includes clauses that will end the ban. However, the ban will not automatically be lifted, and it is unclear exactly when procedures will be changed to comply with the new law. At present any foreign national who tests positive for HIV is "inadmissible," meaning he or she is barred from permanent residence and even short-term travel in the United States. There are waivers available, but obtaining them has always been difficult. The ban originates from 1987, when fear about the spread of the disease led US officials to require anyone with HIV to declare their status and apply for a special visa. At present the law requires the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to include infection with HIV (the only disease or condition specified in the statute) on the list of diseases that serve as a basis for inadmissibility.
The new law has been welcomed by both AIDS charities and gay campaigners. "We appreciate the President signing the repeal of this unjust and sweeping policy that deems HIV-positive individuals inadmissible to the United States," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "The HIV travel and immigration ban performs no public health service, is unnecessary and ineffective. We thank our allies on the Hill who fought to end this injustice and now call on Secretary of Health and Human Services Leavitt to remove the remaining regulatory barriers to HIV-positive visitors and immigrants."
July 31, 2008
New Mass. law lets out-of-state gay couples marry
by Glen Johnson
Boston (AP) — Massachusetts on Thursday began allowing any gay couple to get married there as Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill repealing a 1913 law that had blocked most out-of-state same-sex couples from tying the knot. The old law barred couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their union would not be legal in their own states. Patrick said the repeal shows that "equal means equal" in Massachusetts, where a 2003 ruling by the state’s highest court made gay marriage legal a year later. "In five years now … the sky has not fallen, the earth has not opened to swallow us all up, and more to the point, thousands and thousands of good people — contributing members of our society — are able to make free decisions about their personal future, and we ought to seek to affirm that every chance we can," Patrick said.
Supporters of repealing the measure said the old law had the taint of racism because it was passed 95 years ago as states tried to prevent interracial marriages. The exact reasons the Legislature approved it remain unclear. Opponents said it prevented Massachusetts from interfering with the decisions of other states — the overwhelming majority of which specifically bar same-sex marriage. Out-of-state gay couples can marry as soon as Thursday because lawmakers included a provision to make the repeal effective immediately.
"We’re being recognized as a married couple," said Joy Spring, of Middletown, N.Y., who planned to marry her partner of seven years, Carla Barbano, in Provincetown on Friday. Their 11-year-old daughter, Lizzy, will exchange rings with the couple at the ceremony. "It’s extremely important. If something happened to one of us she’d always be taken care of," said Spring, who joined Barbano in a civil union in 2006 in New York. The couple is from one of the few states that will recognize their impending union: New York Gov. David Paterson said earlier this year that state law requires recognition of legal marriages performed elsewhere.
The California Supreme Court ruled this year that same-sex marriage is legal, and Rhode Island law is quiet on the subject. Other states specifically forbid it, though a few allow same-sex civil unions. Opponents of same-sex marriage have said repealing the 1913 law would sow confusion and lawsuits in states that have chosen — by public vote in many cases — to bar the practice. The old law had been invoked by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, who said repealing it would make Massachusetts the "Las Vegas of gay marriage." Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, has said lawmakers’ "arrogance and folly" in repealing the law "are doing terrible harm to marriage laws across the country."
Patrick, the state’s first black governor, has an 18-year-old daughter who recently came out publicly as a lesbian. Asked if the change might create legal problems for couples returning to states with gay marriage bans, Patrick said: "What we can do is tend our own garden and make sure that it’s weeded, and I think we’ve weeded out a discriminatory law." Supporters also said the repeal will allow Massachusetts to share in the economic boon California has enjoyed since June, when it began allowing same-sex marriages with no residency restriction. A state study estimates that more than 30,000 out-of-state gay couples — most of them from New York — will wed in Massachusetts over the next three years. That would boost the state’s economy by $111 million and create 330 jobs, the study estimated.
In Massachusetts, there is a standard three-day waiting period after applying for a license, but any couple can petition a court for a waiver — something gay couples in-state did by the hundreds when the first legal gay marriages in the nation were performed in May 2004.
AP reporter Nancy Kelsey contributed to this report.
July 31, 2008
Book review: How solutions lie in The Wisdom of Whores
‘The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS.’
by Elizabeth Pisani. Viking Canada. $23.
by Greg Beneteau
Elizabeth Pisani is taking the AIDS industry to task in print. After nearly a decade of tracking HIV-infection patterns among high-risk groups in Asia, Elizabeth Pisani has concluded that there’s a worldwide shortage of frank discussion about HIV risk factors. People, she says, don’t talk openly about "sex and drugs and all the other daft things you do when you’re thinking with your dick, or female equivalent." The Wisdom of Whores describes in almost comic detail how the US government doles out billions of dollars to fund abstinence before marriage programs that don’t work and to "eradicate prostitution" in countries where there are few alternatives. This approach is tainted by religious ideology — the kind of bible-thumping that paints AIDS as an angry and vengeful God’s punishment of gays. According to Pisani political correctness, human rights and money — especially money — also conspire to distract attention from the realities of the world AIDS crisis.
"It’s recognized that there’s an institutional investment in making HIV absolutely everybody’s problem, in making it a development issue and a gender inequality issue and in mounting an expansive multisectoral response and all of that bollocks," Pisani explains. "But while we’re doing that we’re refocusing prevention away from what works." A former Asian correspondent for Reuters, Pisani stumbled into the world of epidemiology after returning to school in the UK in the mid 1990s. With a PhD in infectious disease epidemiology she joined the newly formed United Nations umbrella group UNAIDS in 1996 and helped to sound the alarm about the rapidly growing numbers of HIV cases. She relates with frustration how world leaders are afraid to confront evidence that intergenerational and extramarital sex — sex that lies outside the bounds of polite conversation — fuel HIV transmission in parts of Africa. They prefer, she says, to portray AIDS as an issue of poverty and under-development.
But Uganda and Senegal, despite their socioeconomic challenges, were able to stave off the worst of the HIV epidemic by focusing prevention efforts on sex workers and people having "sex in nets," or with multiple partners. Elsewhere the timidity had disastrous consequences: By the time Pisani penned the first biennial report on AIDS in 1998 one in four adults in some African countries were believed to be infected. "I just reached a pitch of frustration that we could be making so much more difference than we were," she says. The late Republican senator Jesse Helms told the New York Times in 1995 that he wanted to decrease funding for US domestic AIDS programs because the disease was spread by the "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct" of gays. It was then that the "AIDS industry" — Pisani’s term for the many national governments, NGOs, faith groups, pharmaceutical companies and do-gooder rock stars — finally got on board. Helms changed his tune in 2000 when celebrities like Bono and Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, convinced him that HIV brings immeasurable suffering "to infants and children and their families." Helms was one of the driving forces behind the 2003 President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a five-year, $15-billion US program to fight the epidemic. (Recently renewed and increased substantially in July 2008.)
PEPFAR did raise the bar for funding HIV programs in developing countries but, Pisani points out, the same people who are silent about HIV as it rampages among gay men, drug users and sex workers in the West are also squeamish about helping gay men, drug users and sex workers in the rest of the world. Faith-based groups are singled out for special treatment under PEPFAR, despite the opposition of many churches to contraception and homosexuality. Only 20 percent of PEPFAR funds goes to prevention efforts and fully a third of that money promotes abstinence — an approach that doesn’t work — as the sole means of prevention. High-risk groups have been entirely overlooked. By law, donor recipients aren’t allowed to take PEPFAR funds if they intend to help sex workers do anything but get out of the business. Brazil, which wants to regulate sex work, walked away from $40 million rather than yield to this demand. And to this day not a cent has gone toward harm-reduction programs for drug users, Pisani notes. There are also those who see PEPFAR as an investment rather than an act of mercy. In the first years of the project huge amounts of cash went toward buying brand name antiretroviral drugs and "Made in America" condoms rather than relying on cheaper, local versions. In Asia, where Pisani started tracking HIV-prevalence rates in 2001, close to 100 million people were being ignored or underserviced. It was her job to figure out in which circles HIV was being spread, mainly through good old-fashioned field surveillance: sample some people and ask them about their behaviours. Pisani found that asking transgendered sex workers about condom negotiation and learning the street value of heroin in Jakarta turned out to be a lot like writing a good news story.
"I never thought I would be an arms-length number cruncher," Pisani says. "I was first and foremost a journalist and that means talking to people." Those people include Fuad, a young Indonesian long-haul truck driver who supplements his meagre income by selling sex to men, as does his girlfriend back home. Pisani spoke with Frankie, a former heroin user from Bali who used to share a single needle among dozens of his fellow inmates in prison. Pisani learned that in Indonesian jails heroin is cheaper than clean needles. We meet Nancy, who is at ease talking about her work as the headmistress of an Indonesian network of MTF transsexual sex workers known as waria. She complains that her young charges have no respect for their elders, brazenly showing off their designer vaginas — bought at sex-change clinics in neighbouring Thailand — to potential clients. Nancy also works for Jakarta’s Department of Social Affairs teaching waria the practical skills they need for career options outside of sex work. But even in the face of high HIV- prevalence rates and a conservative Muslim theology that vilifies sex work and condom use, most waria remain sex workers either because the pay is too good or it’s the only job they’ve ever known. They choose.
"It’s less about the money than about the orgasms," Nancy explains to Pisani. "Let’s face it, we’re all human, we’ve all got to get laid." The book is full of such frank, often funny revelations from ordinary people. Combined with reams of statistical data collected from the red-light districts of Jakarta to the gay discos of Shanghai, Pisani comes to a simple but inescapable conclusion: sometimes people, for survival, fun or a combination of the two, take risks and they need help to do so more safely, not preaching and isolation. But Pisani is not just another angry scientist railing against conservative values. She also tears a strip off liberal activists who have their own grab bag of failed policies, what she calls "the sacred cows of the AIDS industry." Many of the ideas central to prevention today, such as emphasizing peer education, using grassroots non-governmental organizations for outreach and pressing for a strict "voluntary testing only" rule, were borrowed from the playbooks of AIDS activists in gay communities in the ’80s. They were amazingly successful under the repressive conditions they faced but, according to Pisani, many of the underlying assumptions change when you go halfway around the world. Peer education?
Pisani says sex workers and drug users are more often rivals than friends, that small-scale outreach falls apart when your client base is too large or spread over too large an area, and that in some cases mandatory testing can break the wall of shame and stigma when followed up with care and support services. Pisani also unabashedly tears apart any notion that it’s preferable to spend money on universal prevention campaigns rather than target high-risk behaviours. She blames this mentality on the politicization of the issue — the back-and-forth between ideologies that has hindered epidemiologists’ efforts to treat HIV like any other infectious disease. "That’s what it is, first and foremost," she says. "But now we’re in this weird situation where saying ‘HIV is a gay disease’ is stigmatizing to the gay community. So we say something else. Then awareness and condom use during anal sex drops and suddenly, HIV is a gay disease again…. If, in bending over backward to avoid stigmatizing people, you lose the ability to reach them it won’t work." It all sounds rather unkind. Then again public health has always been a rather fascistic discipline, Pisani concedes.
When behaviours prove frustratingly hard to change, sometimes you just need to fall back on the basics: condoms, clean needles and frank discussions about the risk factors for HIV transmission. "Everyone takes risks," she says. "It’s part of the human condition, thank God; how boring would life be if it weren’t? But people choose the risks they’re willing to take based upon a fairly complex cost/benefit model. It’s not perfect but the more information we give them the more sophisticated their analysis will be." Have her experiences made Pisani any more risk-averse? She laughs. "Oh God, no. I’m just as much of a slut as I ever was.