Saturday, September 29, 2007

NYT Reverses Reporting on Iran's Gay Teen Hangings

[This was sent to Ms. Mathis, spokeswoman for the paper, over the weekend, and I hope to receive a reply from her on Monday morning. This reversal in reporting a key fact is significant.]
Catherine Mathis
The New York Times
Dear Catherine,
As a gay activist, I have been involved with organizing street protests and candlelight memorials for Iranian teenagers Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari since July 2005, when news and horrific photos of their hanging in Mashad began circulating on the web.
I believe one reason they were executed was because they engaged in homosexual relations, and that the Iranian government threw extra charges at the boys to obscure the inherent gay element to their hangings.
There have been questions raised by non-governmental organizations, particularly Human Rights Watch, about why Marhoni and Asgari were put to death in the public square, and HRW has never gone on record stating conclusively either that the boys were gay or killed for homosexual relations.
In the July 29, 2005, Times article by Nazila Fathi on the case, she never used the words gay or homosexual, even to report that in the gay and human rights communities, debate raged about whether the hangings were gay-related or part of a larger anti-gay campaign by the Islamic Republic's leaders. Fathi also prominently cited the investigation by HRW and quoted a researcher for the NGO high-up in the story.
The Times today reports on gays in Iran, and the Asgari and Marhoni hangings are now presented in the context of the country's attitudes toward its LGBT citizens, and they are for the first time identified as gay.
From the article:
For a country that is said to have no homosexuality, Iran goes to great lengths to ban it. Gays are punished by lashing or death if it is proved that they have had homosexual relations. Two gay teenagers were executed in 2005 in Mashad, a northeastern city.
This raises the question of what has changed from July 2005 to today write unquestionably that the teenagers were gay?
Given that the Times has gone from one extreme to another in its reporting on this very important case, on a key element, an explanation is called for.
I hope you can answer my question and address my concerns at the beginning of the work week.
Best regards,
Michael Petrelis
Taken from the NY Times of July 29, 2005:
Human rights advocates have condemned the execution last week of two young men convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy, calling it a violation of international law.

The ages of the two men were not announced by Iranian officials at the time of the execution, which took place on July 19 in Mashad in northeast Iran. But Human Rights Watch said they were 18 and 19, and the younger man was a juvenile when the assault took place.

"Death is an inhumane punishment, particularly for someone under 18 at the time of his crimes," Hadi Ghaemi, an Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement issued Wednesday. "All but a handful of countries forbid such executions. Iran should as well."

The two were hanged in public in Mashad after they received 228 lashes. They were convicted of raping a 13-year-old boy 14 months earlier, theft and drinking alcohol, which is banned under Iran's Islamic law. Their lawyer, Ruhollah Rezazadeh, was quoted by ISNA, the student news agency, as saying that one of the young men was under 18 when he was executed. [...]

ISNA carried photographs of the execution showing two hooded men tightening ropes around the necks of two blindfolded young men. [...]

Blackwater Hires Gays?;
NYT Uses Private Security Consultant in Iraq

The Blackwater USA security firm faces unprecedented scrutiny of its operations, some very deadly, in Iraq providing safety to US State Department personnel and other foreign and private entities doing business there.
The New York Times has extensively covered Blackwater USA lately after a September 16 bloody shootout involving its private soldiers that left more than a dozen innocent Iraqis dead, and their stories piqued my interest in learning if the paper also employs this private army for protection of NYT employees and the bureau in Baghdad.
I emailed Catherine Mathis, the Times' spokeswoman, some questions and she replied that they do not use Blackwater USA contractors and that the paper employs an unnamed consultant for security needs.
My message to the Times:

Hi Catherine,

I've been following the Times' coverage of the problems in Iraq with the Blackwater security firm, and Monday's story, which referenced most foreign organizations there use the firm, raised a question for me.

Does the Times employ the services of Blackwater to protect its employees, the paper's bureau and/or homes of reporters?

I'm curious to learn which security firm the Times is using for protection in Iraq. Can you tell the name of the company, without jeopardizing the security of Times employees?

Best regards,

September 24

“If Blackwater left at this moment, it might leave a security gap because most of the embassies and most of the foreign organizations that are working in Iraq” rely on Blackwater, Mr. Sheikhly said at a news conference with a spokesman for the American military in Baghdad. “This will create a security imbalance.”
In a message dated 9/27/2007 11:54:47 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

We have a private consultant who works exclusively for us and is no
relation to Blackwater.


After reading this email, I scoured the web for information about Blackwater USA and security for the Times' operation in Iraq, just to see what is out there on the subject, turning up two items of interest to me.
The first is an interview with the president of the company, Gary Jackson, on an intelligence blog run by R.J. Hillhouse. The talk took place earlier this year, and seemingly apropos of nothing related to homosexuals or heterosexuals, Ms. Hillhouse asked about gays and Blackwater USA:

Hillhouse: Does Blackwater hire individuals who are openly gay?

Jackson: To be frank, I really don’t care whether a given employee is gay. It doesn’t really have much to do with whether an individual can accomplish their job, and that’s our concern.

That doesn't sound like a negative response, now does it. Okay, so gays who know guns and ammo can work for this mercenary company, one with many multi-million contracts with the State Department and other departments of the US government.

So it may be one tiny step for gay equality in employment practices, but I can't just see that angle and be blinded to the larger context of Bush's continuing war on Iraq for oil.

Let's also not overlook the messed up of irony of the US military not allowing open gays to serve in the armed forces, yet the State Department has no problem using the services of a private army that apparently hires gays.

The second item of personal interest comes from a conservative blogger, Admiral Quixote, who located an exchange of emails between the former NYT bureau chief in Baghdad, Susan Sachs, and a neighbor of the bureau who wrote to complain about the private security forces protecting the paper's office.

Written in 2003, which seems like such a long time ago in this endless and pointless war, what fascinates me about the exchange is the window it opens on NYT security procedures back then for its bureau in Baghdad.

Click here to read the full exchange. This is reply from Ms. Sachs to her Iraqi neighbor:

Dear Ms. Al Ali:

I am the Bureau Chief in Baghdad for The New York Times, and it's our house/office on Abu Nawwas Street that your letter to the newspaper addressed.

We do indeed employ guards for our house. As you may or may not know, UNICEF has completely blocked access to the street at the north end and the Sheraton Hotel and U.S. military have completely blocked access at the south end. The French Embassy, as well as BBC and Reuters, have blocked access from the one other side street, where your brother's house is located.

Because of these roadblocks, and new security measures at UNICEF put in place after the terrible suicide car bombing at the International Committee for the Red Cross, we were left two weeks ago with no one checking cars that bypassed the U.N. and drove over the curb onto our street.

Anyone could pass with missiles or car bombs meant for the Sheraton or Palestine Hotels, and it is possible they could as well target The New York Times, the French Embassy, Reuters and BBC. Such an event would doubtless destroy your brother's house as well.

To have access to our house, therefore, we have cleared a dirt path from the main street, cutting behind the trees and up to the street near our house. We have cleared a parking area in the field next to the street for visitors. We have posted a guard at the point where the dirt path meets Abu Nawwas.

We now have that guard check all cars -- and that includes New York Times cars with New York Times staff inside -- to protect ourselves against car bombs, kidnappings and other criminal acts.

Current intelligence indicates that suicide car bombs, like those that killed and maimed so many Iraqis over the past weeks, remain the principal threat to "soft targets" such as ourselves and our neighbors. Looting also remains a problem and, I might point out, our guards now provide the only security for your brother's house.

In addition, beginning at about 5 p.m., we are the only inhabited building on the street, requiring us to put on extra guards at night.

I should also tell you -- and perhaps you could inform your brother -- that only three weeks ago, a car was parked just in front of his house that was suspected of carrying explosives. Two teams of bomb-sniffing dogs reacted to that car; Army explosives experts had to be called to investigate.

I write all this to give you a picture of what the neighborhood is like these days, through no fault of your brother's, of course, but also through no fault of our own. As you know, your brother's house is uninhabited day and night. When he drove in the other day to check on it, he was stopped on the dirt road entrance to the street by our guard. When he explained that he was the owner of the house, the guard called my office manager and our on-site British security advisor.

They explained to him the security concerns. But, in an effort to accommodate a neighbor, they said he could park his car in the lot next to the guard post and not have it checked. The distance from the parking lot to his house is perhaps 100 feet at most.

Your brother agreed, and then gunned his car and charged past the guard onto the street, driving straight toward our house. This behavior naturally alarmed our guards and staff. My office manager ran toward your brother's car and told him to move it away from the house immediately. T hey argued and got into a shoving match. Our professional security contractor and other witnesses say that NO gun was ever pointed at your brother's head or any other part of his body. What happened was an argument and shoving, in reaction to our alarm over your brother's behavior.

Nevertheless, I have gone to your brother's house several times since the incident to speak to him and explain why we are doing what we are doing. I wanted to see if we could work out an arrangement that would be acceptable to him for parking and access. I have never found him at home.

Please tell him that I am sorry the situation turned out as it did. I have cordial and cooperative relations with our other neighbors on the street, who actually occupy their building during the day and with whom we have worked out practical solutions to the security and access issues.

Once again, the street is blocked by UNICEF, the French Embassy and the Sheraton Hotel, not by The New York Times. Indeed, we are providing the only security and access for ourselves and our neighbors. We would welcome the opportunity to work with your brother.

Very truly yours,

Susan Sachs

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Savage, Sullivan: Unaware of Bunuel's Last Supper in "Viridiana"?
Two of the gay community's self-appointed scolds, my colleagues and pals Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan, have weighed in from different perspectives on the Folsom Street Fair's now-controversial poster parodying the Last Supper painting, created by an artist, da Vinci, of the homosexual persuasion.
Maybe the fact Dan lives on the Left Coast and Andrew resides on the Eastern Seaboard, can explain some of their thinking on the image for our city's fair this weekend.
Andrew's wagging his gay English nanny finger of disapproval at the San Francisco crew that created the satirical poster for this year's fetish fest in the streets of America's gay mecca.
Utterly unnecessary, I'd say, and counter-productive to ensuring that events like Folsom can continue to thrive. And not even ballsy. Next year, guys: do a similar parody on a sacred Muslim scene, if you have the balls. Easy, cheap blasphemy impresses no one.
Um, Andrew, I can't agree with you about the poster being a problem for the fair to keep on trucking and flourish, not when all the balls and cocks and tits and asses at the annual event do a much better job of being "counter-productive."
And I assure you, as a 15-year resident of San Francisco easy and cheap blasphemy can get you laid and stoned in this town, many times over, Andrew, and there's nothing wrong with either of those activities.
On the other end of the queer political spectrum, Dan's created a wonderfully funny collection of similar painted or cinematic satires throughout the ages at the Slog, and from all manner of media. Check it out.
And speaking of the cinema, die-hard foreign film buffs are fondly well-aware of Luis Bunuel's controversial dinner scene mocking the Last Supper and Catholic values in "Viridiana." I wonder if either Dan or Andrew is familiar with this movie masterpiece.
The 1961 film angered Franco and his government banned it from Spanish screens well into the Seventies.
This is the YouTube video of the classic scene, without subtitles, but even if you haven't seen the film and don't understand Spanish, you'll easily catch Bunuel's message.

Funnyman Mel Brooks poked fun at the Last Supper, both the artwork and the actual meal long ago, in his inimitable way in "History of the World, Part 1."

The Gay Russians Are Coming,
The Gay Russians Are Coming!

There are many courageous gay people around the planet taking great personal risk to come out of the closet and organize for human rights protections for themselves and the larger community, and one of the bravest is Nicolas Alekeyev of Moscow.
He's been attempting to stage a simple gay pride march and festival for a number of years, and faces violent opponents and political barriers in his efforts to live free out of the Russian closet, and I try to stand in solidarity with him whenever I can through the web and street protests.
This week Nicolas informed me that he is coming to America for the first time and I'm so pleased he will be a visitor to our country. He will be traveling with his longtime partner.
However, I'm very disappointed to learn he will not be visiting my hometown of San Francisco. His only stop will be in Chicago and I hope everyone in that area will turn out in large numbers for his public speaking engagements, and extend to him the solidarity he more than deserves from USA gays.
Major kudos to the people of the Gay Liberation Network for organizing Nicolas's tour of Chicago.
Here is his letter, along with an excellent story in the Chicago Free Press on his impending visit:
Dear friends,
I will be on my first ever US visit first week of October. I will be visiting Chicago with the kind invitation of Gay Liberation Network. The organisers of my trip arranged for me a few public speeches, on 3 October and 6 October.

You can find more information here at the Gay Liberation Network site.
If by any chance anyone of you can be in Chicago at the same time than me (1-7 October) I will be glad to have a chance to meet.
Nikolai Alekseev

And this excerpt is from the Chicago Free Press edition of September 26:

Gay Russian leader Nikolai Alexeyev said last week that despite continuing battles with authorities over Pride parades and other public events, Russia’s gay community is moving steadily toward greater openness and freedom.

“The situation is obviously very different if you live in Moscow and St. Petersburg, compared to the rest of the country,” Alexeyev said. “It’s very difficult to live in the smaller cities and villages and even in some of the larger ones. Even in the major cities there are lots of instances of people being attacked when they go out of the clubs, and gay people are very scared to go to the police when they are attacked. …At the same time we see real progress compared to five years ago.” [...]

After he and others organized Moscow’s first Pride Parade in 2006, Alexeyev said, “The tide changed and the interest in the media began to grow. …Now we have some very good relations with some major news agencies.”

Alexeyev said GLBTs in the United States could play a role in winning freedom for their counterparts in Russia.

“The most important thing is to show solidarity with Gay Pride Day,” he said. He said he was “very thankful” for the presence of a small number of European politicians at this year’s Pride event in Moscow, but added, “To have just one representative from the United States Congress would be a very important thing. …It would have a huge impact on the future of Moscow Pride.”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ugandan Embassy: We Protect Gay Citizens

(A fearful gay Ugandan wears a mask at the August 16 Kampala news briefing by Sexual Minorities of Uganda.)

After more than a week of calling and emailing Mr. Charles Ssentongo, second in command at the Ugandan embassy in Washington, I finally got him on the phone this morning for a ten-minute conversation.
I asked what his government is doing to protect the human rights and safety of gays and he assured me Uganda doesn't discriminate in treating all citizens equally. When I replied that reports from gays in Uganda reveal deep concerns over their personal safety, Mr. Ssentongo said his government enforces civil liberties for all people.
He mentioned recent public news conferences by SMUG, Sexual Minorities of Uganda, as proof of tolerance for gays. The press conferences were certainly a step forward, I said, but grounded in fear by the gays, some of whom wore masks to protect their identities.
The hateful articles in the Red Pepper newspaper came up as I explained that many Americans see the outing campaigns as directly contributing to stigma for gay Uganda. I impressed upon him that Doug Ireland's coverage in Gay City News about the problems for our brothers and sisters was widely read, and that we stand in solidarity in our family members.
In his opinion, the Red Pepper likes to inflame lots of situations and people, including people in the government and it's a sign of mature political democracy in action, after the hell Uganda has been through, that a tabloid can publish without government interference.
I requested a written summary affirming Uganda's commitment to its gay citizens, and he promised to email it to me, but stressed it may take a while because his computer was hit by a virus last week.
This exercise in political advocacy -- calling the embassy, emailing them, leaving detailed voice mail messages, speaking to the difference secretaries and other staffers -- may not be a big gesture to bring immediate help to gay Ugandans.
But just flexing American gay global political muscle with one government's embassy in Washington, making them deal with our concerns just because they have to listen to me and my messages, is a small step, an important one really, in keeping pressure on foreign governments.
As I wrote this post, Mr. Ssentongo sent the summary, written in diplomat-ese, that doesn't once say the word gay, which is disappointing, but I'm still quite pleased he took the time to keep his promise and I remain in solidarity with gay Ugandans.
This was our written exchange today:
In a message dated 9/24/2007 10:41:15 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

Mr. Petrellis,
Thank for your email regarding a recent article by the Red pepper newspaper published in Uganda.

The government of Uganda guarantees the fundamental rights of all its citizens as enshrined in its constitution.

Freedom of speech and expression, the cornerstone of our young democracy are being exercised through an uncensored free press where all shades of opinions are expressed.

The Red pepper is one of the tabloids in Uganda which has taken advantage of this platform to express different opinions on a wide range of subjects and issues in the Uganda society including matters of faith, politics, sexuality, and daily social life among others.

On a number of occasions, individuals, groups of citizens and government where they have felt misrepresented or offended by this or any other publication they have taken the cases to courts of law or the media council.

I wish to assure you that our government is committed to ensuring the protection and safety of all its citizens in accordance with the laws of Uganda.


Charles Ssentongo

-----Original Message-----
Sent 9/24/2007 7:49:28 AM
Subject: Ugandan government and gay people

Hello Mr. Ssentongo,
It was good to have a productive conversation with you this morning. I hope you will keep your stated promise to provide me with a summary of how your government protects the human rights and safety of gay Ugandans.
Best regards,
Michael Petrelis
San Francisco, CA

Saturday, September 22, 2007

ACT UP/Paris in SF Chron, Wash Times For Immigration Reform

From opposite ends of the political spectrum two American newspapers today, the liberal San Francisco Chronicle and the ultra-conservative Washington Times, are running the same story about immigration reform battles in France.
The article by freelancer Elizabeth Bryant examines deportation and immigration matters under the conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, but doesn't mention the gay and AIDS protest group ACT UP and their demonstration this week in Paris, calling for liberal policies.
But both the SF Chronicle and Washington Times use photos from ACT UP's protest, and it does my old activist heart good to see my French brothers and sisters hitting the streets and making news in the classic inverted pink triangle t-shirts, only the wording has slightly changed. The t-shirts read "Silence = Mort."
Yes, silence still equals death for far too many gays and people with AIDS/HIV on our precious planet and I salute ACT UP/Paris for remaining active and extremely visible, still calling for necessary changes to improve lives everywhere.
Merci, mes amis pour votre vigilance et solidarite!

(From the Washington Times. No photo credit provided.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Russia Arrests 7 Gays at Blood Ban Protest

If I lived in Vladimir Putin's Russia, a place where muckraking journalists are murdered and political opponents are poisoned, while much of the media are either state-operated or heavily biased in favor of Kremlin leaders and programs, I'm not so sure I would be a gay activist.
Oh, and let's not forget the resurgent homophobia of many religious figures, all advocating denial of basic human rights and tolerance towards LGBT Russians. In such an environment, with so few minimal legal protections for dissenters and gays, I'd probably keep my head low and voice mute.
But the courageous gay community in Russia, lead by the brave Nicolas Alexeyev, isn't intimidated in this situation. Russia's gays every May attempt to stage a nonviolent gay pride festival and march in Moscow, and are denied marching and assembly permits, while police allow homophobes to brutally attack gays.
And now word emerges that late last week, several gays were arrested protesting a law barring gay men from donating blood, because of irrational fears about sexually transmitted diseases. A similar ban is in effect in the United States and no serious effort is underway to repeal it.
Russian gays deserve all the solidarity American gays can muster and extend to them as their small movement battles many problems under Putin.
Seven protesters have been detained in Moscow for holding a demonstration against a law which prohibits homosexual men from giving blood. [...]
"The fact is that this part of society is considered to be at risk of sexually transmitted infections and when they passed this law they were thinking about those people who are infected and only about those people," explained Sergey Oprishenko, a doctor from the blood donor centre.

However, the doctor also says that all blood donated is checked for infections.
The leader of Moscow's Gay Pride movement, Nikolai Alekseyev, believes that the law is discriminatory. The same law also prevents prostitutes and drug addicts from giving blood.

Mr Alekseyev says its unfair to compare gay men to drug users and sex workers, pointing out that there is no law preventing gay women from giving blood. He added that the health service is desperately short of blood, yet it is "stopping people giving blood for reasons that are incomprehensible."

Ten protesters picketed outside the Russian Health Ministry. Seven were arrested and held in a nearby police department.

Mr Alekseyev questioned the legality of the arrests, saying there was no trouble at the demonstration and that the protesters "didn't interfere with anyone." [...]

Monday, September 17, 2007

VP Dick Cheney Vows: "We'll Be Active in [2008] Elections"
Those loud peals of hearty laughter, happiness and shrieks of glee today coming from all Democratic Party candidates for any federal office in 2008, including the oval one in the White House, must be in reaction to a promise made by Vice President Dick Cheney in Kansas City this afternoon.
The Veep and George (Worst. President. Ever.) Bush will be hitting the campaign trail, even though they will thankfully and finally be retiring from public office. With these two vowing to show their faces and support during the 2008 races, I think the Democrats can start measuring for new drapes at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and in more House and Senate offices on Capitol HIll.
While the President and I won't be on the ballot next year, we'll be active in elections because they matter a great deal to the country.
Talk about terror striking at Americans! I'm gazing into a GOP crystal ball and I see Republican hopefuls across this great country shrieking at the prospect of having Bush and Cheney campaign for them in 2008, or in any degree "active" on their behalf.
Maybe by next year Cheney's speechwriters will have him correctly state when the disastrous tax cuts for the rich were enacted. That would be in '01 and '03.
The main advantage our party will have, we believe, will be a record of accomplishment, because the economy has been restored from the recession in the aftermath of 9/11, the tax package we passed in '91 [sic] and again in '93 [sic] has had a tremendous impact on the economy. We've now generated more than eight million new jobs in the last four years.

SF Rally for Gay & Lesbian Marriage, Message to Gov Arnold
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples, your body and voice are very much needed at an important rally and march, tomorrow September 18. Now is the time to send a message to Gov Arnold - sign the bill and be remembered for endorsing gay equality.
The Bay Area Reporter web site has posted an alert for Tuesday's action:

Several gay rights groups have called for a day of action next week in an effort to persuade Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign the gender-neutral marriage bill that was passed by the legislature earlier this month.

In San Francisco, people should meet at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 18. Plans call for a rally at the community center with remarks by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), followed by a march to Harvey Milk Plaza.

Leno's AB43 would allow same-sex couples to wed. The bill, sponsored by Equality California, marks the second time Leno has secured legislative approval for same-sex marriage. In 2005, Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill. [...]

Let's all hit the streets of San Francisco tomorrow, raise our proud voices and send a message to Arnold - gay marriage equality now!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gay Equality Group Forms in Kuwait

The march for international equality for LGBT citizens across our planet took a mighty big step forward in a small piece of the Middle East this week.

Gays in the constitutional monarchy of Kuwait are petitioning their government for approval of an advocacy organization permit, according to Arab news sources.

What fascinates most in this article are the claims of not just the mere existence of a Kuwaiti gay community, but one that is expanding and going very public with a request to the government.

I wish the name of the group had been reported by the news services, and a gay or lesbian Kuwaiti quoted, but it's enough to know today that our brothers and sisters there are stepping out of the closet.

And I fear what sort of public education campaign will be waged with the two million dollars to "combat" gay people and lesbians in the school system.

The problems faced by gays in Kuwait were cited in the most recent annual human rights report from the US State Department, published in March 2007:

There was discrimination against homosexuals in societal attitudes and legal issues. In February 2005 police charged a group of 28 alleged homosexuals with creating a public disturbance after they met outside a fast-food restaurant. On October 27, police raided a party where homosexuals were allegedly celebrating a wedding. On December 10, the legislative committee of the National Assembly unanimously approved a law to impose a fine of $3,450 (1,000 dinars) and/or one year's imprisonment for those imitating the opposite sex.

Here are excerpts from the Al Arabiya news service's story:

The Kuwaiti Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has received a request for the establishment of an association to protect the rights of homosexuals and transsexuals, press reports said Monday. [...]

According to press reports, gays no longer avoid public places and are starting to seek recognition and equal rights despite the traditional aversion to their lifestyle by mainstream society.

Gay rights activists have lashed out at a recent statement by the Kuwaiti National Council, and its Commission for Upholding Ethics, which condemned sex changes.

The Council's legislative committee has proposed an amendment to Article 198 of the penal code, which deals with acts of debauchery. If approved, the new law would criminalize cross-dressing and all instances of imitating the opposite sex. [...]

The paper also said the Kuwaiti government has allocated two million dollars to combat the growing phenomenon of gays and transsexuals in the Gulf emirate.

The campaign comes in the wake of complaints from parents that lesbians were harassing their daughters at school. [...]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ugandan Gays: Help Us End Witch Hunts in Kampala

The gay and sexual minorities communities in Uganda have issued urgent appeals for help from the international human rights community, to combat another hateful witch hunt causing much worry.
The Red Pepper tabloid is instilling fears of violence by printing intimate and precise details about homosexuals, as you can see from the scans of the two-page article.
Messages from gay Ugandans implore their brothers and sisters to hit their keyboards and send short emails and letters, to the editor of the Red Pepper and Ugandan embassies around the globe.
Regardless of where you live, write a brief letter to the editor of the Red Pepper, protesting their despicable coverage. The contact info can be found below.
And if you reside in the United States, send off an email to the deputy in charge of the Ugandan embassy in Washington. Just cut-and-paste his email address from my letter.
Click here to read veteran journalist Doug Ireland's excellent story in Gay City News this week, or go here to read his blog post, with updates from gay Ugandans.
Taking just a few minutes to pen a letter to the Red Pepper and Ugandan government officials will do a lot to help bring a small degree of safety for gays and sexual minorities there, and go far in creating international LGBT solidarity.

To learn more about gays in Uganda, visit this terrific blog.

Feel free to adapt these letters for your own emails to the Ugandan leaders:
September 13, 2007
Charles Ssentongo
Deputy Chief of Mission
Embassy of the Republic of Uganda
Washington, DC
Dear Mr. Ssentongo,
As a gay human rights advocate I am deeply worried for the safety and well-being of my sexual minority brothers and sisters in your country, because a hate-filled article appeared in the September 9 edition of the Red Pepper in Kampala.
American newspapers and bloggers, at the urging of gay activists contacted by Uganda's gays, are writing about the latest poor journalism from the Red Pepper, which has a history of printing articles whipping up hysteria and causing tremendous fear for gay Ugandans.
I write to you to convey a request to you and your government:
Please immediately condemn the inflammatory and homophobic September 9 story in the Red Pepper, ask the editor to quickly implement acceptable standards of journalism related to covering gay people, and publicly state that the human rights of all Ugandans, including its gay and sexual minority citizens, will be protected.
To further educate all Americans about the plight of gay people in your nation, I have posted the Red Pepper story and a copy of this letter.
It is hoped that you will soon reply to me in writing, so I can share with my fellow Americans, your response to my concerns and we can continue a dialogue about how the Uganda government and press treat gay people.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Best regards,
Michael Petrelis

Please send letters to both email addresses:
September 13, 2007
Mr. Richard Tusiime
Red Pepper
Dear Sir,
I am a human rights advocate who is gay and wish to convey my deep displeasure with the September 9 story "Homo Terror!" that appeared in your paper.
It is highly unacceptable and very uncivilized to publish precise descriptions of private citizens you claim are homosexuals. There is no valid reason for your story and I fear it creates stigma and real fear for the people identified and all sexual minorities in Uganda.
Men named on your list have expressed on the web that they live in terror of being attacked and suffering violence. This terror is because the Red Pepper is not practicing normal standards of acceptable journalism.
I ask that you refrain from further publishing similar defamatory stories about gays and sexual minorities, adopt reporting principles that don't violate the privacy or human rights of Ugandans, and issue an apology for the September 9 story.
Please be aware that gays and lesbians in San Francisco and across the United States of America stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Uganda.
Best regards,
Michael Petrelis

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NYT Quote: "There Should Not Be ... a Single Gay Person" in Iran

During the years I've been organizing on behalf of LGBT Iranian, there's been a constant debate about use of the word "gay" and all its Western connotations and if it can be applied to Iranians who engage in same-sex relations.
Many intellectuals and activists maintain that the gay identity is a Western construct that is simply inappropriate when discussing things like the hangings and executions for homosexual conduct in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While the debate continues, gay Iranians formed organizations using the "g" word, prominent among them was the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, now known as the IRanian Queer Organization.
Last Sunday the New York Times ran an illuminating article titled "Molding the Ideal Islamic Citizen," and to my surprise, and small delight in my activist heart, the gay word was used.
That in and of itself wasn't what made the word jump out and catch my attention. It was that the word was contained in a quote from a leader in the previous Iranian government.
To place this matter in its proper context, read Rex Wockner's story from July about gay Iranians because he examines how the Times used the word homosexual and how it was interpreted by the staff at non-governmental organizations.

From the NYT:

“Kids born after the revolution are now much less religious than those born before the revolution,” said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who was a vice president in the reformist Khatami government. “Those born before, or even during the revolution, their beliefs were voluntary.”

For eight years, Mr. Abtahi worked beside President Khatami in trying to lower the temperature of the government’s rhetoric while allowing a small increase in social freedoms, intended as a salve for a young population. The people in charge now say that the Khatami years threatened to destabilize the system.

But Mr. Abtahi smiles, a smile of redemption, and referred to the realities of human nature. “We have not been in power for two years, ” he said. “There should not be a single prostitute, there should not be a single bad hijab, not a single gay person. Two years have passed since they came to power, and we see their battle has intensified.” [Emphasis added.]

This quote raises a few questions for me, including, does Mr. Abtahi speak English and did he really use the word gay? The Times says nothing about speaking with him through an interpreter, so maybe he is proficient in English. Then again, the Times reporter could be fluent in Farsi and not need translators, right? If a translator assisted in the reporting and quoting, it would interest me to know what exactly was the Farsi word or phrase Mr. Abtahi said that was translated into "gay person."

I'll assume Mr. Abtahi either speaks excellent English, or the Times translator very accurately interpreted his word, because I want to make a political point and one that reinforces my outlook as a veteran global gay activist.

There is, in my opinion, a gay identity and growing universal meaning to the word gay in many cultures and languages, also in Iran, a country with a terrible record respecting the human rights, and basic dignity, of its gay citizens.

So for the time being, we can allow the gay word debate as it pertains to Iran to go on hiatus for a while, in consideration of Mr. Abtahi words as quoted in the Times and how Iranian LGBT advocacy groups and individuals call themselves gay.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pegah, Iranian Lesbian, Released from UK Detention

I am so pleased that Pegah Emambakhsh has experienced much good news recently, as you can see from the hopeful message from her support team in Sheffield, but she is still facing hassles from the British government and we cannot close the activist file for her.
May our sister Pegah find relief and a degree of happiness upon her release from detention, and I remain very hopeful her expert legal advocates will eventually gain asylum for her, with absolutely no chances of being deported back to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As many people around the world have worked ceaselessly and prayed for Pegah, enormous and special gratitude goes to the Pegah support team in Sheffield, the Italian gay human rights organization GruppoEveryOne and the lesbians and gays in Japan, all of whom have truly amazed in organizing an international support network.

Once I receive updates from the wonderful friends in Sheffield, I'll share it here.
Let us celebrate this nugget of positive news on the global LGBT advocacy front, and remember that efforts to strengthen international gay solidarity need YOU.
Check out the web site for Gays Without Borders, and also visit our Yahoo! group and sign up for this growing international solidarity network.
Message to sister Pegah: Thank you for allowing us to stand in solidarity with you and may your deportation problems be favorably resolved quickly.

The message today from Sheffield:


We have some good news at last! Pegah was granted bail this morning, is now out of Yarls Wood Detention Centre and back with people who will love and care for her. The Court of Appeal have also agreed to hear her case. It will be listed within the next couple of weeks and will be heard sometime in the next few months, we believe.

There are also other actions that we know are being taken on her behalf, by influential organisations at a high level in the UK.

We really don't think that we would have got this far without the fantastic work you have put in supporting Pegah. She is truly grateful and gives her heartfelt thanks to you all - as do we. It is impossible to overstate the value of your support.

This does not mean that Pegah is out of the woods but she is now in a much more hopeful position.

As you will understand Pegah needs time to recover from the ordeal of the past few weeks. She also needs to get back in touch with the ordinary business of living her life in some peace and tranquility.

We will keep you updated as events develop.

Love and solidarity to you all

Friends of Pegah
Sheffield, UK

Friends of Pegah Campaign
c/o Victoria Hall Methodist Church
Norfolk Street
Sheffield S1 2JB

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Only 500 Days Before Bush Leaves the Oval Office: Worst. President. Ever.

A friend from my church, St. Francis Lutheran Church of San Francisco, recently gave me a gift, to boost my political spirits. The gift is a "Days Left in Office" key chain and clock, counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds left before George W. Bush returns to his village in Texas.
The clock today, right at the moment I write this, shows only 501 days, 8 hours, 14 minutes and 3.1 seconds remaining for the worst presidency in American history.
This means that tomorrow, September 7, marks only 500 days before the United States inaugurates a new president, because 500 is such a nice round figure, easy for minds to wrap around, I thought it worth calling attention to, especially for everyone ready to send Bush packing - yesterday!
As you go throughout your day tomorrow, keep in mind that it is a milestone on the countdown calendar for Dubya, the worst president ever.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Gays Without Borders

A diverse group of global LGBT human rights activists has launched a new network, Gays Without Borders, in a cooperative effort to build international solidarity and increase communication.
Hailing from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and the USA, the activists who thus far comprise Gays Without Borders, represent a wide mix of political, organizational and social justice viewpoints. We may soon add our first member from Nepal!
No matter where we live or fall on the sexual orientation spectrum or respectfully differ on political questions, we agree on one important matter - more cooperation and coordinated is needed at the global level.
And to foster better communication among us, we have a Yahoo! group established.
I am proud to be part of the Gays Without Borders network and look forward to participating in dialogues and actions, everything from street demonstrations to letter-writing campaigns to posting messages on my blog, with a fabulous network of individuals dedicated to sharing knowledge and building bridges to LGBT people everywhere.
Click here to visit our Yahoo! group, then send the moderator a message, saying you're interested in Gays Without Borders. Emails should be sent to:

Please join Gays Without Border today and help us make the world a better place for all LGBT citizens.