August 11, 2008
Posted by: Kevin
Only 18 days ago, Barack Obama told cheering throngs in Berlin that a resurgent America could be trusted by the free world to stand up for what was right again. In the city which America rallied its battered allies to save in the face of a determined and armed Russian blockade -- intent on starving the city into submission -- Obama said: "Sixty years after the airlift, we are called upon again. History has led us to a new crossroad, with new promise and new peril. ... Let us remember this history, and answer our destiny."
But the moment Obama faced a real moral test of the "change" he promises to bring to America's position in the world, he failed miserably - and dishonorably - as Russia once again wages war in Europe.
Over the weekend, what Richard Holbrook and Ronald Asmus (both high-level State Department officials in the Clinton Administration) rightly called "a watershed moment in the West's post-Cold War relations with Russia" erupted across the Republic of Georgia, as Russian infantry, special forces, naval ships and attack planes swarmed over its democratic neighbor and ally of the U.S. and the European Union. And in response, Obama could not have been weaker or less engaged than if he was a lame-duck president playing beach volleyball in Beijing.
Russia has been engaging in a deliberate policy of destabilizing not only its southern neighbor but other countries which left the Soviet Union and pursued active friendship with the West. While it doggedly jails or murders journalists and political opponents (at home and abroad), foments ultra-nationalist groups which beat, murder and intimidate "unfavored" groups (gays included) in its cities and accumulates more autocratic powers at the cost of individual freedom, the Russian regime has even tried to assassinate critical or unhelpful leaders, such as Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko.
As most Russia experts in Washington of both political parties agree, Russia wants the democratically elected government in power in Georgia overthrown, and its move against Georgia was inevitable -- and from the scope of its ferocity, even down to the cyber-attack on Georgia's official internet portals, apparently well-planned. As the world looks aghast at the events there (deliberate bombings of apartment blocks far from military targets, a blockade of Georgia's coastline, attacks on its oil export pipeline, an expansion of its invasion far beyond Russia's stated reasons in South Ossetia), they wonder what the President of the United States will do about it, and what the two men seeking to lead the United States in November believe it all means.
The man who went to Europe and the Middle East on an obvious campaign swing only a few weeks ago issued a press release as dawn broke over the invasion, put up his feet and went on with his vacation in Hawaii. As the bombing widened far beyond the borders of South Ossetia, and the Georgian president resorted to begging on CNN for American support, Obama and President Bush -- both ostensibly on vacation in the Pacific -- were not seen or heard from after Saturday. And as the international airport in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi came under attack, and the bombing widened long after Georgia had withdrawn its forces from Russian occupied areas and called for a truce, the Bush Administration sent envoys to the region in concert with the European Union, but the president himself was still hard to locate, and Obama was still busy at the luau.
To his credit, John McCain's response was so robust that the Financial Times of London said it "upstaged" the sitting president's own administration, not to mention the Democratic nominee. It was not only the words he chose, but the manner by which he communicated -- like a President should: strongly, in clear moral terms, in person (not just by fax), repeatedly (three separate statements, and counting), and in extreme detail.
Where was the passion we (thought we) saw in Barack Obama's primary campaign as the man who would right the wrong-from-the-beginning U.S. policy in Iraq? Where was the man so brazenly adopting the suit and posture of John F. Kennedy on the home stump and in the capitals of Europe? Where was the moral foundation in a man who dared to tell the whole world they could rejoice if he was elected leader of the free world, because he would answer the call of freedom's destiny?
In the end, we are only left to wonder and scratch our heads about this man we dared to hope for and believe in. (I confess, I did, too, a bit, last winter.) We now see a man who has reversed course on so many positions, and promised much more than a man of such light qualifications has ever promised (cosmically and dimensionally more than the thin-resuméd Governor of Texas did in 2000), who seems less than eager to deliver anything but a speech.
I've been to Georgia. I've walked the streets of Gori, whose apartment blocks were bombed. I've sat with average people in Tbilisi and listened to their dreams of a better life, and their love of the United States for its undying support against Russian bullying during and after the Cold War.
They still haven't forgotten that in 1978, the Moscow government tried to stifle Georgian identity by taking constitutional steps to destroy its native language, sending 20,000 Georgians into the streets in a brazen protest against Brezhnev-era Soviet power. (Moscow backed down.) And they are quick to remind visitors that only a few months before the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing - on April 9, 1989 - Soviet forces (ethnic Russian infantry, led by a Russian commander) gassed and shot at 4,000 Georgians protesting against Soviet rule in Tbilisi, killing 20 in the crowd and injuring hundreds. One unarmed teenaged girl was beaten to death by Russian soldiers as she tried to run - an event categorically denied by Russian media until a video of the attack was smuggled to the west and shown on television. So searing was the experience that the Republic of Georgia intentionally declared its independence on the anniversary of the Tbilisi attacks, in 1991.
And as Asmus and Holbrook pointed out, along with nearly everyone else in the western media this weekend, Russia's pathetic justifications for its brutal and illegal attack on Georgia are a page right out of Hitler's attack on Poland in 1939. After years of intensely provocative actions, including the issuance of passports to rebels in northern regions of unrest in Georgia, they now say they are moving to protect "their people" as the Tbilisi government tried to exert authority over its sovereign territory. This is yet another in a long line of Russian outrages, but one of extreme significance at this moment in history. As a state legislator, Barack Obama wasted no time taking a moral stand on Iraq. As the presidential nominee of his party, where is he as a horrifying and unjust war rages on the eastern edge of Europe?
The Georgian people -- and the Ukrainians, for that matter, not to mention the cowering dissidents in Russia itself -- remember how fragile freedom was only yesterday, and is becoming again, but when they look to us now they must be wondering if we do. They wonder if Barack Obama has even an inkling of it, or if George W. Bush is too tired and debilitated to care anymore.
So much for change we can believe in. And that "we" now includes the people of Europe.
July 18, 2008
Posted by: Andoni
How can a gay HIV positive man deported from the United States in January end up in the Netherlands with the equivalent of their “green card” in less than 6 months? The answer is that the Dutch have a fair, sane, and just immigration system -- and the US does not.
I would like to tell you the story of my friend, whom I’ll call Pedro – and you will realize why I use the pseudonym as you read on.
Pedro came to the US legally on an H1B1 visa. It was his intention to work, apply for a permanent residence visa (green card) and eventually become a US citizen.
During his stay, he discovered that he had contracted HIV. Because of the HIV ban inserted into US law by now deceased Senator Jesse Helms, Pedro was ineligible to make the natural progression from an H1B visa to a green card. (Thank God, this law is on the way to being repealed as reported by Andrew Sullivan, but it was too late for Pedro.)
Pedro was employed by a law firm and his duties required him to appear in court a lot, interact with lots of officials at the courthouse, including judges. His work product was excellent and he was well loved by all with whom he interacted. When the time on his visa ran out, he would have to leave the country because he knew he would be rejected for a green card because of his HIV status. Although he had been in a relationship, that was not a path for him to stay in the US, because the US does not recognize same sex couples for immigration (or anything for that matter). Pretty much everyone he worked with or had contact with was very upset that he was going to have to leave the US.
The heads of the law firm (lawyers) hatched a plan to arrange for Pedro to marry a female employee of the firm so he could stay. (Note this is highly illegal and people go to jail for this type of fraud.) The HIV ban allows a waiver for spouses of the heterosexual variety. Pedro’s same sex relationship with a US citizen was worth nothing in the eyes of immigration, but if he married a woman, it would not only grease the path to a green card, but also overcome the HIV barrier as well, because of an HIV waiver for opposite sex spouses.
Because the wedding was scheduled, the law firm did not make any arrangement for Pedro’s replacement. The interesting thing is that a lot of people, including those at the court house, were aware of the impending marriage and the reason for it, and voiced no fraud concerns. In fact they were supportive. This is a prime example of a double standard between those immigrants you know personally and like --- versus some unknown illegal immigrant working in a meat plant in Kansas.
In the end and to his credit, Pedro could not go through with the fraudulent marriage. He left the US on time and legally.
While Pedro was in his home country looking for employment his old law firm kept calling him to try to get him back because they were having a hard time getting along without his specialized talent. I won’t go into the details of who did what or how it happened, but after a few months, Pedro returned the US on a tourist visa in order to work for his old company, and to help find and train a replacement. Again, this is highly illegal.
During this temporary period of once again working for his old firm, Pedro met and fell in love with Peter, a Dutch citizen. They made plans for Pedro to immigrate to the Netherlands to be together as a same sex couple once Pedro finished training the new employee. Before this was able to happen however, a few weeks before he planned to leave permanently, Pedro was found out and deported (again, details left out to protect a lot of people).
So how fast can a person who could not get residency in the US either based on his same sex relationship or on his job talents (he was disqualified based on his HIV status) get a green card in Holland? Here’s how fast:
After deportation to his home country in January, Pedro studied for a Dutch language and culture exam which he took and passed in February. In April he received his entry visa to join his partner in the Netherlands. Once united with Peter in Holland, they formed a civil partnership (the Dutch can choose marriage or partnership – both yield immigration benefits) and in July he received a one year visa. After one year he gets a 5 year visa. However, after only 3 of those 5 years he can choose to become a Dutch citizen.
This is so amazing compared to how he was treated in the United States. Basically, the Dutch (as well as a lot of the EU) treat same sex couples the same as opposite sex couples.
I spoke with Pedro the other day to congratulate him on his green card. He wanted everyone to know that in the Netherlands it was illegal for them to ask about his HIV status. The only health question he had to answer was with respect to tuberculosis. And that question was simply a “we are going to test you for TB and if you test positive, you have to consent now that you agree to be treated before you can get your visa.” How sane! How rooted in real medical science!
I dream of the day that the United States starts granting its gay citizens the same rights that other Western Democracies are granting theirs.
I’m also sorry Pedro did not experience the day that the US stopped discriminating against HIV positive people for immigration. But I’m comforted that he is happy and with a wonderful partner living in the Netherlands – a country that treats his relationship better than our country treats our gay relationships.
March 19, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Me thinks the bullies of the world are protesting too much when they claim the word "gay" has been transformed into an innocuous insult that means "lame" or "stupid." On its face, it doesn't excuse using a word that describes a group of people as an insult. Would it be OK to use the names of other groups that way?: "That shirt is so Jewish!"
A new survey of schoolteachers in the U.K. confirms that "gay" is only one in a series of homophobic words that top the list of student insults. Here's the list of insults, according to the British Association of Teachers and Lecturers; the percentages indicate what proportion of teachers heard the particular word on a regular basis:
- Gay (83%)
- Bitch (59%)
- Slag (45%)
- Poof (29%)
- Batty boy (29%)
- Slut (26%)
- Queer (26%)
- Lezzie (24.8%)
- Homo (22%)
- Faggot (11%)
- Sissy (5%)
Of the top 11 insults, eight words (including Brit slang like poof and batty boy) are explicitly homophobic, and three words (bitch, slag and slut) suggest promiscuity and are usually used against girls.
And yet somehow the adult "experts" are buying into the claim by kids that gay has been 'de-gayed' and isn't anti-gay when hurled as an insult:
One reason for this increase in use could be because "gay" has partly lost its sexual connotations among young people, says slang lexicographer Tony Thorne. While still pejorative, for the majority of youngsters it has replaced words such as "lame".
"I have interviewed scores of school kids about this and they are always emphatic that it has nothing at all to do with hostility to homosexuals," says Mr Thorne, compiler of the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. "It is nearly always used in contexts where sexual orientation and sexuality are completely irrelevant."
Whether or not the teens who use "gay" intend it to be homophobic, it's place at the top of a list of other popular insults -- almost all explicitly anti-gay -- suggests otherwise. So does the history of how it became an insult:
"In the early 19th Century it was used to refer to women who lived off immoral earnings," says Clive Upton, professor of Modern English Language at Leeds University. Around the 1970s it was claimed by the homosexual community as a descriptive term for their sexual orientation, now its most popular meaning. By the 1980s it was finding its way into schools as a playground insult.
"Every generation grows up with a whole lexicon of homosexual insults, in my day it was 'poofter' or 'bender'," adds Thorne. "They were used much more because they were considered more offensive than 'gay', which is more neutral."
I've noticed how the use of "gay" as an insult has come out of the playground and crept into pop culture, including films and TV shows. I hope our friends at Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who've done a bang-up job the last several years consigning "fag" to the dustbin of unacceptable slurs, can reclaim the word gay from being further cheapened as an insult that is somehow not homophobic.
(Photo of bullying via BBC)
December 02, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Dutch authorities are commissioning a study to determine why Moroccan men target gays in Amsterdam, considered one of Europe's most gay friendly cities. Amsterdam has experienced a growing number of attacks on gays and lesbians, Der Spiegel reported Friday.
In 2006, the Dutch metropolis registered 32 hate crimes directed at gays, but during the first half of 2007, 26 had already been counted, the newspaper said.
Mayor Job Cohen commissioned the University of Amsterdam to conduct a study on the motives behind the attacks. Half the hate crimes were committed by men of Moroccan origin. Some researchers believe they lashed out at local gays after feeling stigmatized by Dutch society, the newspaper said.
Regular readers of this blog know that my partner and I were holding hands as we walked through the gayest neighborhood in "the gay capital" of Europe when we were bashed by seven men who looked of Moroccan origin. I wrote a column about the experience for the Washington Blade and it blossomed into a big news story over there -- probably because it touched lots of buttons, including the threat to tourism and the cultural effect of so many Moroccan and Turkish immigrants to Holland's famously tolerant society.
It's depressing to see that the next year, in 2006, there were so many gay bashings, and considering the number that always go unreported the true figure was likely at a rate of one per week. And the number so far in 2007 is even worse.
Mayor Cohen was wonderful to us, including an invitation back to Amsterdam for Gay Pride weekend in 2005, and it's good to see he's continuing to take the problem seriously.
My only concern is the direction the university study might take, according to the UPI report, which is itself a translation of an article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel. The theory that Moroccan Dutch lash out against gays to protest their own mistreatment is not a new one. Scott Long of Human Rights Watch advanced a similar hypothesis about our attack.
"There's still an extraordinary degree of racism in Dutch society," Long told PlanetOut in an interview back then. "Gays often become the victims of this when immigrants retaliate for the inequities that they have to suffer."
It was extraordinarily dispiriting and offensive to have a so-called human rights activist excusing a violent attack because of "inequities" allegedly suffered by our attackers. I wrote another column back then taking Long to task, and he subsequently backed off some. But the Der Spiegel account makes clear that the "blame the victim" mentality still holds water in at least some P.C. circles.
It's not just that whatever connection between mistreatment of Moroccans and gay bashings is extremely indirect, if causal at all. But it sends the signal that bashings gays is a legitimate way to register protest against Dutch racism. What's more, it lets off the hook those who could actually improve the climate in a much more direct way.
The city of Amsterdam and especially it's gay community were incredible after our attack. Not so incredible were local Muslim leaders, who criticized me for describing the physical features (and accents) of our attackers, despite the growing trend of bashings there now obvious to everyone.
I waited in vain to see one of these "leaders" take the initiative to condemn violence against gays, whatever their own beliefs about what the Koran says on homosexuality. Unless and until cultural leaders respected by the thugs in the street isolate and condemn the intolerance, expect it to continue.
February 16, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Prime Minister Romano Prodi introduced the legislation, which would be open to both gay and straight unmarried couples, to fulfill a campaign promise. But several members of his fragile governing coalition have threatened to bolt if the legislation is adopted and one cabinet minister said she'd rather resign than support rights for gay couples.
Center-right opposition leader Sylvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister, saw the political opportunity and took it. After Prodi's cabinet unified long enough for a unanimous vote for the civil unions bill, Berlusoni attacked. "It creates exactly what we don't want," he told Reuters, "a sort of 'second division' marriage, which devalues the meaning of family."
Berlusconi certainly knows a thing or three about "devaluing the meaning of family." At 70, the bazillionaire business mogul is used to flirting with impunity despite the fact that he's married (to a woman 20 years younger). At a television awards ceremony a couple weeks ago, he told one beautiful woman, "I'd follow you anywhere." To another, he said, "If I weren't already married, I'd marry you."
That was all his semi-separated wite, former actress Veronica Lario, could take and she demanded an apology. When he refused in private, she wrote an open letter to him and sent it to the newspaper most critical of him. "They are comments that I interpret as damaging to my dignity, comments that for the age, political and social position, family context … of the person who made them, can't be brushed off as harmless jokes."
Berlusconi relented and issued a public apology, but too late to make transparent and hypocritical his claim to defending the institution of the family for all Italians. (Though whether due to the language difference or the unique co-existence of Catholicism with Italian male bravado, I haven't seen media reports picking up on the irony and polls show most Italians more sympathetic to Berlusconi than his wife.)
For me, the irony is even deeper because I agree with Berlusconi that, as written, the Italian civil unions bill undermines marriage and the family — but not because it's open to gay couples or would lead to adoption by gay couples. The problem is that it's open to unmarried heterosexual couples, an approach (also adopted in Washington, D.C.) that seems equal on its face but actually threatens marriage much more so that allowing gays to wed, since straight couples then have the easier option of "marriage lite."
Especially in a culture like Italy's dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, where divorce is still heavily frowned upon, these civil unions will become more and more tempting for straight couples. Berlusconi, for example, was only seen in public twice with wife during his entire tenure as prime minister, during state visits from President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But they stay technically married yet separated, no doubt for political reasons.
"Marriage lite" civil unions, like the "PACS" adopted by France, may well undermine long-term relationships and even exacerbate the chronically low European birthrate. Civil unions ought to be a half-step toward true marriage equality for gay couples, not a half-step backward for heterosexuals.
January 16, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Everyone knows the gays have a reputation for fabulous taste in all sorts of things, including travel destinations. As with fashion, urban neighborhoods and any given aesthetic trend, as go the gays, so goes everyone — eventually.
But apparently those of you (er, us) who subscribe to Out Traveler magazine didn't get the memo. In the magazine's 2006 "Readers' Choice" awards, the selections weren't fashion forward or even mildly creative. They were, in fact, the same choices the average joe schmo non-homo might make:
Favorite U.S. destination: New York City
Favorite foreign destination: London
Favorite island: Hawaiian Islands
Favorite gay resort: Key West
Remember, these aren't your run-of-the-mill 'mos making these choices. They're gays interested enough in travel to read a gay travel magazine chock full of new and different vacation ideas, along with the old stand-bys. So c'mon people, we're better than this!
Key West as "Favorite Gay Resort"? Maybe 10 years ago (or longer). It retains a modicum of charm amidst a sea of aging hetero cruise passengers, decked out in fanny packs and matching T-shirts. These days, Key West doesn't even qualify as the best (or most popular) gay resort in South Florida. That prize goes to trés-gay Fort Lauderdale.
The Hawaiian Islands? What is this — a prize package on "The Newlywed Game"? Yes, they're gorgeous (OK, I've actually never been.) But at least go with Ibiza or some place with a little spice. Mykonos, anyone? Lesbos? (The island, not the pejorative.)
New York as favorite U.S. destination? Of course the city is amazing, but can't we be a tad more adventurous, Out Traveler readers? Venture a bit more afield? At least you didn't pick San Francisco. (Oh wait a minute, you did — San Francisco Gay Pride as favorite gay event. At least Gay Days in Orlando came in second, though even it has seen hipper days.)
Then there's London as favorite foreign destination. Now don't get me wrong; I love London. It's the most truly international city I've ever visited. Give me London over New York any ole day. But again, can we be a bit more daring? Next to Tijuana and Toronto, London is probably the most commonly visited foreign city by Americans. Aren't we gays supposed to lead the crowd, not follow?
So we come to a new survey question (since Madonna eviscerated all competition — including U.K. fave Kylie Minogue — for greatest gay icon of all time. Besides, I knew you guys picked well when this weekend I saw, by complete coincidence, a VH-1 special dubbed into Portuguese that named Madonna the "No. 1 gay music icon." Note to Jimbo: Kylie didn't even make their Top 20.)
What ought to be the favorite non-U.S. gay travel destination? I've come up with 10 options, including London and staying with popular places including some that are a bit more off the beaten trail. Fully half of them are in Europe, and yes, I included my current address. I offer no apologies for that bit of complete objectivity.
So cast your vote! (Doing so won't take you off the site or stick you with spam, I promise.) And if you don't like my choices, don't hesitate to add a comment with alternatives.
December 20, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Our gay friends across the pond have successfully lobbied for civil unions, immigration rights for same-sex partners and the repeal of anti-gay laws like disparate ages of consent and "no promo homo" rules for schools. But perhaps all that success has gone a bit to their heads. Now some gay activists there are up in arms over an alleged slur from the host of a TV program about cars:
The BBC has upheld a complaint against Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, after he described a car as a "bit gay." The ruling is a surprise since the corporation had defended Clarkson robustly when the remarks were broadcast in the summer.
He provoked the ire of the gay community when he asked a member of the show's audience if he would buy a two-seater Daihatsu Copen, retailing at £13,495. The man said, "No, it's a bit gay," to which Clarkson added: "A bit gay, yes, very ginger beer." …
Fraser Steel, the head of editorial complaints at the corporation, took offense and has upheld the complaint — thought to be the first in broadcasting about homophobia and a motor car. In his ruling, Mr Steel said: "Clarkson supplemented the term 'gay' with a phrase which is rhyming slang for 'queer.' There was no doubt that it was being used in the sense of 'homosexual' and was capable of giving offense."
That's right. It wasn't calling the car "a bit gay" that rankled official censors at the BBC, but the "rhyming slang" of "ginger beer" that was meant to mean "queer." I'll admit to not exactly being up on the latest British slang, but by "ginger beer" it seems to me Clarkson meant to say it was a bit fey, or metrosexual, or not manly enough. Either way, do gay activists in Britain really believe that government-enforced political correctness of this sort actually advances the cause? Apparently:
Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, the equal rights group, said: "At last the BBC appears to be taking this sort of offensiveness seriously. This is not light-hearted teasing, it is inappropriate language. The BBC would not permit offensive remarks to be made about faith or race communities."
Of course "light-hearted teasing" is exactly what Clarkson and his guest were engaged in, and the sort of hysterical reaction from Summerskill and his ilk only provokes a (well-deserved) backlash among free-thinking sorts everywhere. But Summerskill isn't the half of it. Paul Patrick of School'sOUT, the U.K. version of GLSEN, wasn't satisfied by Carson's scolding from censors and released a public letter demanding more decisive action from the BBC:
The BBC have told-off Jeremy Clarkson for his misuse of the word "gay." … Yet they continue to maintain that the use of the word “gay” to mean dysfunctional is not homophobic. Clarkson was only scolded because he went on to use the rhyming slang "ginger beer." This is outright hypocrisy!
Humor-challenged folks like Summerskill and Patrick bring to mind the old joke about how many gay activists it takes to screw in a light bulb. The answer? "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
What's really got Patrick fuming is the cultural use of the word "gay" to mean "stupid," which is apparently as universal in schoolyards in the U.K. as it is the U.S. of A. Of course using "gay" in that context is troublesome, and perhaps even worth a finger-wag from the teacher; but demanding the goverment censor its use from the airwaves?
As Patrick's No. 1 example of the injury he felt from such slurs, he offered up a boy band — yes, a boy band — called Take That, who according to Patrick "clearly used the word 'gay' to mean both 'naff' and homosexual to such a degree that [a BBC program host] apologized to her audience on their behalf."
In fact, Patrick's example is a perfect illustration of why the free marketplace of ideas is better than censorship, every time. The BBC host apologized to her viewers, so the message from the boy band, such as it was, was countered in real-time.
Asking for more — and Patrick even raises the specter of gay youth suicides to back his demands — only pushes anti-gay speech underground and colors the entire cause with the luster of political correctness run amuck.
December 18, 2006
Posted by: Chris
A new survey that polled Europeans about a wide range of social issues found views on gay marriage split largely along north-south lines, much as they are in the U.S. Overall, 44 percent of citizens in the 25-country European Union support gay marriage for the whole continent, but the number is deceptive.
In Holland, the first place worldwide gay couples could marry, support is 82 percent, compared to tallies below 20 percent in several eastern and southern European countries. Other countries follow a similar pattern; backing for gay marriage is high in Sweden (71%), Denmark (69%), and Belgium (62%), but falls in Romania (11%), Latvia (12%) and Cyprus (14%).
Support for gay marriage is at about one-third in the U.S., with support much higher in New England and the Northeast, and of course most Canadians support their government's decision last year to make equal marriage rights the law of the land. Having grown up in the American South, I would attribute the conservative intransigence to conservative religious views, inferior public education and a prideful lack of curiosity in cultures other than their own.
The more progressive Europeans, who also typically live in the more prosperous E.U. nations, have used the prospect of E.U. membership as a way to influence social policy in southern and eastern Europe. The national Democratic Party has had a similar influence, though palpably less strong, in the U.S., more on race and gender than on sexual orientation. As support for full legal equality for gays grows rapidly among Democrats in the the northeast and west, the more conservative midwest and south will eventually be dragged along, though not as quickly as across the pond.
November 28, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Austrian tourist marketers are quaking in their jackboots about how a flaming queen named Bruno might smear the country's reputation among potential visitors. Bruno is actually Sasha Baron Cohen, whose Borat character put Kazakhstan on the map, and not in a good way.
Universal Studios announced that Borat will be succeeded by Bruno "a gay, stupid, self- centered and Nazi-adoring Austrian, lifestyle journalist." Bruno works along the same lines as Baron Cohen's alter ego Borat Sagdiyev from "Da Ali G Show." Both show alarming dress sense, misbehave unscrupulously and provoke even more embarrassing reactions from their unsuspecting, but often not undeserving victims.
Bruno hosts "Funkyzeit mit Brueno (Funky Time with Brueno)" on a fictional Austrian TV channel, conducts interviews on fashion, celebrities and homosexuality. Needless to say, disaster is never far behind, once Bruno starts torturing interviewees in his faux-German accent.
If the Bruno sequel follows the lead of Borat's original, the Austrians don't have too much to worry about. In "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," the segments in Kazakhstan were over-the-top characterizations that were clearly staged with willing participants (who weren't even in Kazakhstan). It came off as a silly spoof of what we Westerners think places like Kazakhstan must be like.
The same can't be said for the good ole U.S. of A. Cohen stayed in character as Borat and interacted with red-blooded Americans who for the most part had no idea they were part of a comedy. Borat caught many of these Americans reflecting absolutely the worst of our society: racism, sexism, wacky speaking-in-tongues church worshipers, snotty politicians and on and on.
No word yet whether Cohen is unleashing Bruno on America, or sticking to Europe for his victims. But if this clip of Bruno from "Da Ali G Show," interviewing a Christian minister from my own hometown of Little Rock, Ark., is any indication, it's the Americans again who will be wincing (or should be):
No doubt the gay version of Austrian tourist marketers — the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — will be watching Bruno's stereotyping. I hope they keep their sense of humor. Cohen's targets are generally the proudly ignorant and prejudiced, and gay culture certainly offers some examples of that. But my guess is that, like Kazakhs, gays and Austrians will come in for some over-the-top tweaking, while the real daggers are out for red-white-and-blue bigotry.
For more Bruno hilarity, follow the jump:
November 27, 2006
Posted by: Chris
I've heard from a number of folks in the last 24 hours that Fox News aired a news report this weekend that included a brief reference to the bashing of me and my boyfriend in Amsterdam in April 2005 by a seven young men we described as looking Morrocan. The report apparently shows the photo of me after the attack, with a broken nose and two black eyes, and puts the event in the bigger context of fundamentalist Islam clashing with tolerant Western Europe, since my boyfriend and I were beaten for holding hands in the street.
It's more than a little ironic for Fox News to draw such broader conclusions from a gay bashing, given the conservative media outlet's simultaneous lack of interest in whether fundmentalist Christianity bears responsibility for fostering a climate of intolerance here in the United States that results in gay bashings (of much greater frequency and often of much greater ferocity). Muslim bigotry plays much better to Fox viewers, obviously, than the homegrown Christian variety.
In reality, it's simplistic to imagine our Moroccan attackers in Amsterdam were acting on some fundamentalist religious faith. As I pointed out in a column just one week after the attack, we were attacked as we walked back to our hotel room in the wee hours on Saturday morning through a street full of holiday revelers. Our attackers were not on the corner for morning prayers.
There are those, of course, who do engage in violence — against gays, women and other innocent targets — in the name of fundamentalist Islam. We have become so inundated with such bloody attacks over recent years that many Westerners have come to conclude that violence is inherent in the practice of fundamentalist Islam. Pope Benedict XVI outraged Muslims worldwide in September when he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor for that proposition. The pope has since apologized for the remarks and distanced himself from the emperor's view, but the violent backlash in some parts of the Islamic world — like the violent reaction to the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed earlier this year — only seemed to prove the emperor's point.
In addition to the Fox News report that mentioned our Amsterdam attack, the network is also reporting this weekend about the massive protests in Turkey over Pope Benedict's scheduled visit there next week. There's more irony here, since the 25,000 who took to the streets outraged by the pope's remarks haven't felt similarly motivated to protest on the many occasions when fundamentalists Muslims actually do engage in bloody violence against innocents in the name of Allah. Surely such jihadist claims do greater insult to Islam's reputation as a peaceful faith, and yet they almost never elicit much protest.
My own view is that fundamentalist faiths of all stripes are directly responsible for a great deal of violence in the world and indirectly responsible for an even greater amount. When fundamentalist leaders aren't explicitly condoning violence — something fundamentalist Muslim leaders do today to a much greater degree, obviously, than their Christian counterparts — they are fostering a culture of intolerance and giving aid, comfort and religious support to all kinds of bigotry.
The point can be overstated. The greatest violence of the 20th century was committed in the name of nonreligious ideology, whether Hitler's facism or Stalin's communism. But since religious leaders claim to offer a path to peace, the violence committed in their name is an even greater perversion. We would go a long way toward building a culture that is truly tolerant and open when we can see such perversions from within the Western-Christian world with the same clarity we condemn it within Islam.
October 30, 2006
Posted by: Chris
* A Myer's department store in Sydney, Australia, has been forced to close its public toilets "because homosexuals were using the facility as a meeting point, often having sex in full view of other horrified users," the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The Myer's location had become a popular "tearoom" due to a cruising site called Squirt.org that lists some 15,000 such spots in Australia alone, including an Air Force base and the toilets at the Sydney Opera House. In the 21st century, with all the myriad private ways for men to cruise other men, there's really no excuse for such public sexcapades, and the way it discredits all gay men.
* Jon Stewart to a crowd of 12,000 at a taping of "The Daily Show" at Ohio State University: "A buckeye is a gay acorn, right?" (AP) (No, the photo isn't from the Ohio appearance, but I still love it.)
* Threats of violence from ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups have convinced police to reconsider permit approval for Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade, scheduled for Nov. 10. Considering that one anti-gay activist stabbed a parade participant last year, police are right to take the threats seriously. But cancelling it? Isn't Israel the country that famously refuses to negotiate with terrorists? Like the World Pride march earlier this year, plans for the Jerusalem march have accomplished what a shared faith in God could not: uniting rightist Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders. If that's not a statement of the sorry state of things in the Middle East today, then I don't know what is.
* Colorado voters will have the opportunity to split the difference next Tuesday on legal recognition for gay couples. Amendment 43 writes heterosexual-only marriage into the state's constitution. Meanwhile, Referendum I establishes a domestic partnerships for gay couples that have some basic legal rights but are not the equivalent of marriage or Vermont-style civil unions. The Rocky Mountain News has joined some moderate politicians in endorsing both measures as a middle ground, but let's not confuse these voter referenda for true democracy in action. Minority rights shouldn't have to be put to a popular vote, much less be subject to a constitutional amendment intended to prevent judges from addressing inequality.
* What a difference an ocean makes. Over the pond, Conservative Party leader David Cameron is standing by one of his closest advisers, MP Greg Barker (pictured), after the 39-year-old left his wife of 14 years for a male interior designer who had worked in the family home. The affair hasn't altered Cameron's new stance on behalf of the Tories in favor of civil partnerships for gay couples, passed in December 2004, a measure also backed by Barker at the time. Remarked one Tory insider: "The days are gone when we made people resign because of extramarital affairs, whether it’s straight or gay."
October 29, 2006
Posted by: Chris
* The church that bills itself, probably correctly, as the world's largest gay church — Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas — has joined the United Church of Christ, among the more left/progressive of mainstream Protestant denominations. The Dallas Cathedral, which claims 4,300 members, disaffiliated with the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in July 2003, three months after the gay Christian denomination began investigating longtime pastor Mike Piazza's expense account and management of church finances. Piazza denied wrongdoing but resigned his MCC credentials two days before the investigation concluded. He took a brief leave of absence from the Cathedral when the congregation voted to leave UFMCC, but he later returned remains "national pastor" and dean. The 1.2-million-member UCC voted in June 2005 to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples and support full civil marriage equality for them as well.
* An online auction site for domain names issued a press release today claiming that Gays.com sold recently for $500,000, to German (couple?) Julius and David Dreyer. "We are confident that we will be able to introduce an entertaining and informative website in the near future; one that will meet the needs of the gay community," the release quotes Julius Dreyer as saying. Is there a shortage of gay websites I was unaware of? No doubt unamused were the folks cover at Planet Out, Inc., who own Gay.com, and a dozen other gay media and leisure businesses. At least they got a phat write-up in the New York Times today for gay cruises that might help their RSVP brand, which hit hard times this year.
* Gay Americans aren't the only ones going north of the border, to Canada, to marry. Up to 100 Irish gay couples have trekked to Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., to enter into "civil partnerships" since the government began offering them last December. Now, like their American counterparts, Irish gay couples are demanding similar rights back home.
* Meanwhile further north, in Scotland, Catholic bishops are confronting an embarrassing problem: a bishop who is a little too zealous about promoting the Vatican's opposition to a proposed ban in the U.K. on discrimination against gays by hotels, agencies and other public accommodations (including Catholic adoption groups). It seems Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell has accused the church of a policy of "appeasement" in its relationship with the "moral vandals" and "politically correct zealots" — e.g., Scottish Labor Party officials — who are supporting the measure.
* Back home in the USA, Christian conservatives are already fulfilling my prediction that they are not-so-secretly happy with the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling. "Pro-traditional-marriage organizations ought to give a distinguished service award to the New Jersey Supreme Court," the Post quoted Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, as saying. No doubt they are disappointed that it didn't go even further, ordering the state to actually marry gay couples.
* Still, President Bush and his allies on the Right are pushing the ruling for all it's worth. "Activist judges try to define America by court order," Bush told an adoring crowd in Indiana, which responded with whoops of "USA! USA!" I can almost hear former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who stood at the schoolhouse door to take his stand against "activist judges" who ordered schools integrated, joining in from his grave.
* Across the state, embattled Indiana Congressman John Hostettler (R) has taken his cue from the president and launched a new ad that warns, with an announcer impersonating Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry," that a vote for his Democratic challenger will allow Nancy Pelosi to "put in motion her radical plan to advance the homosexual agenda, led by Barney Frank, reprimanded by the House after paying for sex with a man who ran a gay brothel out of Congressman Frank's home." "I know what you're thinking," the narrator concludes. "Is this true? Well, do you feel lucky? Go ahead, vote for Brad Ellsworth. Make Nancy Pelosi's day."
* Recent updates in Foley-gate: The Catholic priest Mark Foley says abused him has a second accuser, and has been belatedly de-frocked by the Miami archdiocese while it conducts an investigation. And Jeff Trandahl, the gay former chief clerk of the House, has reportedly named Jim Kolbe, the gay Arizona Republican retiring his congressional seat, as another of a small number of "problem members" who spent too much social time with pages. Kolbe, whose partner is young enough to be his grandson, is already under investigation by the U.S. attorney in Arizona that he was overly familiar with teenage pages on a 1996 Grand Canyon camping trip.