May 27, 2007
Breaking News: POLICE BREAK UP MOSCOW GAY PRIDE, EUROPEAN POLS AND GAY LEADERS ARRESTED
For the second year in a row, an attempt to hold a Gay Pride demonstration in Moscow despite a ban by the city's mayor -- who had called such demonstrations "satanic" -- was broken up today by police and special OMON riot militia. The gay contingent was violently attacked by anti-gay ultra-nationalists and fascists, who threw punches and bottles. Among those reported arrested so far (there were 31 arrested, according to the Novosti news agency) were German MP Volker Beck, chief Moscow Pride organizer Nikolai Alekseev, British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, and Italian MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Marco Cappato. (Photo left, Moscow Pride organizer Nikolai Alekseev being arrested today.)
Cappato (right), the Italian MEP, was kicked by a gay rights opponent as he spoke to journalists, and Tatchell, the founder of the British gay rights group OutRage, was punched in the face. Cappato then began shouting, "Where are the police?" and officers hauled him away as he struggled with them. Austrian TV has a two-minute video of today's attacks on Moscow Pride '07, including Tatchell being punched in the face, Capatto's appeal and arrest, and other anti-gay violence, which you can see by clicking here.
Richard Fairbrass (left) the openly gay lead singer of the British pop group Right Said Fred (famous for their hit song "I'm Too Sexy..."), was punched in the face and kicked by anti-gay activists while speaking to Reuters in an interview."We understand this is a gay event and so we came down here today," Fairbrass told Reuters before being hit. Blood dripped from his face after the attack.
Italian MP Vladimir Luxuria (right), who is transgendered, was one of a group of European politicians who joined the Russian gay contingent in attempting to deliver to Moscow City Hall a letter, signed by a roster of some 40 European MPs and MEPs, demanding that Mayor Yuri Luzhkov permit the holding of Gay Pride demonstrations. She telephoned her first impressions to the website gayrussia.ru, which has been in the forefront of organizing Moscow Pride:
"When we went out of the hotel. The police was already here to check our documents and to make pressure," Luxuria said. "Then, we met Alexei Mitrofanov [a heterosexual Russian MP who supported the Gay Pride effort) and went to his car and as soon as we got out of the car the police approached us and stopped in a violent way Nikolai and pushed him inside the van . They arrested him and other organizers.
"I tried to take Nikolai with me and police pushed me very violently. They throw eggs on me and one went inside my bag on my passport. I am worried I can have problems to leave. Then we tried to approach the city hall but we’ve been violently prevented. I saw some old women with bags of stones and eggs. We are now in a safe place with tATu [a very popular Russian duo of girl singers, who had joined the gay demonstrators] and Sophie [Dutch MEP Sophie In't Veld.] Marco Capatto has been detained as well," the Italian MP concluded. (Photo above left: In Moscow today, an anti-gay thug prepares to throw a punch at Peter Tatchell, head of the British gay rights group OutRage. Tatchell was injured in the eye and unable to walk unaided after the punch, and was subsequently arrested SEE PHOTO RIGHT. He is currently hospitalized for treatment.)
Veld (left), the Dutch MEP, also telephoned her first impressions to gayrussia.ru:
"The real violence started after we left," Veld said. "We got there and then we went up to the city hall. Police immediately arrested Nikolai (Alekseev), and also Nikolai Khramov, so there were a lot of cameras everywhere. Many journalist. We felt eggs and other things being thrown. Police did nothing to arrest the hooligans. We walked 40 meters and there were interview and journalists. I was walking not far from Mitrofanov and saw a guy with a knife. And then when I saw that I thought: That’s it I am out of here. From what I heard there was a real fight after we left but I don’t know. Last year was massive. This time the square was emptied in advance. They had put fences around and a lot of journalists were waiting there. The police arrested our people but not any of the hooligans."
Moscow Pride '07 organizer Alekseev has been informed by the police that he will NOT be released. That is also the case for Nikolai Khramov, leader of the Russian Radicals, another heterosexual who supported Moscow Pride. Both will appear in court tomorrow and could be sentenced to up to 15 days in jail. French embassy officials concerned about human rights violations appeared at the Tverskoie police station -- where a group of egg-throwing anti-gay demonstrators pelted members of the gay contingent as they were released from custody -- and German MP Beck (right), author of Germany's domestic partnership law, was eventually set free by authorities. (At last year's attempt to hold a Moscow Pride demonstration, also broken up by police, Beck was bloodied when he was hit in the face with a rock by an anti-gay demonstrator.) The fascists continued to roam the area near city hall looking for gays to bash well after the attempted Pride event had been broken up.
May 23, 2007
HORRIFIC NEW PHOTOS OF IRAN'S TORTURE OF GAYS Plus, 87 Arrested in Raid on "Gay" Party
I wrote the following report for Gay City News -- New York's largest lesbian and gay weekly -- which publishes it tomorrow:
Terrifying new photos showing the effects of police lashings last month on an Iranian gay couple have been released by the Iranian Queer Organization. Details and more torture photos below.(First photo at left.)
Also, Iranian authorities staged a brutal and violent May 10 raid on a birthday party in Esfahan which they suspected was a gay party, beating the guests and arresting 87 people, including four women, one of whom had a child with her. Some 80 of those arrested made bail or were released immediately but face possible prosecution in the future; while 17 of those arrested were imprisoned awaiting trial, and a judge told their families that they would be charged with “homosexual conduct” (hamjensgarai in Persian) and the consumption of alcohol.
According to the most recent telephonic reports from Esfahan received by Arsham Parsi, (photo right) executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO--formerly the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization), 12 of the 17 jailed in Esfahan were eventually also allowed to post bail and released pending their trial, which is scheduled for a month from now. Five are still incarcerated -- including the lad whose birthday was being celebrated, 19-year-old Farhad, and his uncle, who were unable to make the $250,000 bail each set by a judge, Parsi told me this Wednesday.
“I’ve been told that Farhad faces prison and perhaps execution,” Parsi said by telephone from Toronto, where he has been living since he was granted asylum by Canada last year as a sexual refugee from persecution in Iran.
Parsi said that, according to multiple accounts he has received from Iran, police brought along on the raid both a film crew and four mullahs to serve as witnesses to what they suspected would be gay sexual activity at the party. The mullahs accompanied police because, under the religious Sharia aw in force in the Islamic Republic of Iran, four witnesses are required for conviction on a charge of homosexual sex involving penetration, a crime which carries the death penalty. Consumption of alcohol carries a penalty of 100 lashes, and, after a third conviction, the death penalty. (Left, another photo of one of the tortured gay couple.)
Police and members of the Basiji -- the thuggish parapolice attached to the Revolutionary Guards, who are used to enforce morality -- severely beat the Esfahan party guests, both inside the house where the party was held and in the street outside it, resulting in broken bones for some of the partyers, according to these accounts by eyewitnesses and guests at the party.
A voice-mail left on the office telephone of the IRQO by one of those arrested said, “The police beat us so hard that one of us threw himself out of the third-floor window and broke his legs; he is now in hospital. When we were arrested, we were forced to sleep on the floor, and the police were walking on us. We don’t have any voice here and you are our voice, please tell the world about our horrible situation in Iran, it is our daily life.”
Parsi told this reporter that eight of those jailed were transgendered or had been wearing female attire, that they had all denied having had anal intercourse with men, but that police had subsequently had them examined by a legal medical officer who claimed he had found evidence of anal sexual intercourse on the part of “most of them.” Parsi said those examined all told the arraignment judge that was because they had been raped, but the
evidence of the legal medical officer can be used to convict them of a sexual crime that carries capital punishment.
Parsi added that he had received a telephone call from one of the transgendered who was arrested, and that “she told me the awful story about that night and her jail experience. She told me that the police kept bags over their heads while they were in jail, and that they were hardly allowed to go to the toilet -- they were permitted to use a toilet only twice in the four days they were in jail.” (Right, another photo ot the tortured gay couple.)
Esfahan is Iran’s third largest city, with a population of 1,600,000, and is also home to one of Iran’s most important nuclear facilities, and thus is under tight police control and surveillance.
Further evidence of the brutality of Iran’s heavy-handed theocracy towards homosexuals came with the release by the IRQO of horrific photos of the wounds of a gay couple who had been subjected to 80 lashes in April “just for being gay,” as Parsi put it. The gay couple -- Farhad, 26, and Farnam, 23 (photo left) -- escaped from Iran to Turkey last Saturday. They were arrested when police broke into their home in Tehran. According to an Iranian Ministry of Justice document furnished to this reporter by the IRQO, Farhad and Farnam
were charged with both “organizing immoral parties” and with the crime of “tafhkiz” , which can be translated as intercrural sex or interfemural sex.
Parsi, who spoke to the fled gay couple by telephone, said that “the police told them, ‘The 80 lashes are just for your immoral parties. For your tafkhiz you will get a lot more.’” Fearful of imprisonment and more torture on the tafkhiz charge, the couple fled Iran just days before their trial on that charge.
The violent Esfahan raid and jailings were vigorously denounced by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Amnesty’s statement said in part, “Amnesty International opposes the criminalization of consensual adult sexual relations conducted in private and urges the Iranian authorities to urgently review law and practice to ensure that no one can be prosecuted for such reasons…AI is concerned that [some of] the men may be held because of what they were wearing at the time of their arrest…If this is the case, then they are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of
Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, noted that the Esfahan raid came as the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was conducting a new campaign against “immoral behavior,” begun in April, that includes a stringent crackdown on women who violate rigorous Islamic dress codes. According to Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency, police said on April 25 that 150,000 people had been detained so far in this campaign. On May 13, police told the same news agency that 17,000 people had been stopped and interrogated at Iranian airports since the campaign began, of whom 850 women had been detained and released only after signing
“commitment letters,” while another 130 faced prosecution.
“In Iran, the walls of homes are transparent and the halls of justice opaque,” HRW’s Stork said, adding: “This ‘morality’ campaign shows how fragile respect for privacy and personal dignity is in Iran today.”
IRQO’s Parsi told this reporter that Farhad and Farnam (photo below right) were among five new refugees from persecution in Iran -- two of the others gay, one of them transgendered -- who arrived in Turkey on the same train last Saturday. “One of the guys arrived without a penny,” Parsi said, “he completely needs support, and for the moment he is living in one of our safe houses in Turkey, where we have eight people already living in a tiny two-bedroom house.”
Parsi said that his organization can only afford two such safe houses in Turkey, and that “both are very, very small and dirty, with totally inadequate toilet facilities and no way to bathe properly.” Added Parsi, “We now have over 30 gay, lesbian, and transgendered Iranian refugees in Turkey who totally depend on IRQO’s support -- they cannot get jobs in Turkey, where there is a lot of homophobia and transphobia -- and our small budget simply cannot adequately meet their needs. We appeal to all our brothers and sisters in the West not to forget the suffering of LGBT Iranians, or that we urgently need your donations.”
Contributions to the Iranian Queer Organization -- an all-volunteer group that is the largest Iranian LGBT association, with over 40,000 people on its e-mail list -- may be made on credit cards via a secure PayPal account through the organization’s website at http://www.pglo.net/
May 17, 2007
A Modest Proposal: OUR OWN PUBLIC IDAHO
Today, May 17, is the third annual International Day Against Homophobia ( IDAHO), and it is being observed all over the world -- EXCEPT in the United States.
The failure of national gay organizations in the U.S. to organize or encourage any sort of participation in IDAHO became even more glaring when the government of the United Kingdom gave a ringing endorsement to IDAHO last month. In addition, in a concrete response to the global campaign initiated last year by the International Committee for IDAHO, the U.K. pledged to work for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality through the United Nations.
In an unprecedented statement issued from London April 19 on behalf of the government, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for human rights, Ian McCartney (left) -- who is also a former chairman of the British Labour Party -- and the Minister for Women and Equality, Meg Munn (right), said: "“We fully support the work of the International Day Against Homophobia campaign to increase awareness of the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people across the globe.”
The statement went on to say: "“2007 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which began the long road to equality and justice for gay, lesbian and transsexual people in the UK. It has been a long and difficult journey. Yet around the world, countless gay, lesbian. bisexual and transsexual people still suffer discrimination, sometimes with devastating consequences for their lives, and in flagrant denial of their human rights...The Government is committed to promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms in all its foreign policies as much as its domestic ones. We include the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people in these efforts. We hope the International Day Against Homophobia will encourage others to take similar steps.”
Even some U.K. Conservative Party leaders endorsed IDAHO -- like Eleanor Laing, Tory Shadow Minister for Women and Equality, who said "There is much to celebrate this year on IDAHO...Regardless of party political persuasion, attitudes are changing and I have every confidence that we are progressing towards a day when homophobia will be a thing of the past." And the Liberal Democratic party openly gay MP Stephen Williams introduced a resolution in Parliament endorseing IDAHO for the second year in a row -- and helped organize an IDAHO forum in the House of Commons building today..
The U.K.'s endorsement of IDAHO coincided with the European Parliament's re-endorsement of IDAHO, for the second year in a row, in its sweeping April 26 resolution condemning homophobia in Poland and throughout Europe (as I reported in Gay City News) and also pledging to work for universal decriminalization.
There are lessons here for U.S. activists -- because the U.K.government's endorsement of IDAHO was the result of widespread support for the May 17th day of commitment and education by LGBT groups (and even AIDS groups like Britain's National AIDS Trust) throughout the country. Last year, over 50 different IDAHO events were held in the U.K. This year, according to the U.K. IDAHO Committee's website, there will be over 80 IDAHO events around the country, most of them initiated by local groups.
Why should U.S. activists be lagging so woefully far behind our British comrades in using IDAHO to call attention to the plight of LGBT people less fortunate than ourselves? Why should our national gay organizations -- e.g., the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and even the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) -- be so reluctant to follow the example of activists across Europe: for example, like those in Italy, where, at the initiative of the largest national group, ARCIGAY, there were planned IDAHO events in 19 different cities throught Italy this year?
And if our national gay institutions won't get off the dime and either organize IDAHO events in this country, or encourage local LGBT groups to do so, why shouldn't we do as our British activist comrades have done? Shouldn't local gay activists and community organizations across the U.S. organize IDAHO events themselves, if our national groups won't?
The need for international solidarity among LGBT activists has not diminished. Indeed, a detailed new report from the International Lesbian and Gay Association documents how today, in 2007, "no less than 85 member states of the United Nations still criminalize consensual same-sex acts among adults," including nine countries which impose the death penalty for homosexuality. The report is available online in English, Portugese, Spanish, and French. In releasing this report, ILGA said that, because "May 17th is the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO), ILGA has chosen this time of the year to launch a report on State homophobia around the world to raise awareness of the extent of institutionalized homophobia around the world."
ILGA went on to note that these laws in 85 countries are "a reality which extent remains unknown to the vast majority of people" and "promote a culture of hatred. And, ILGA added, "Although many of the countries listed in the report do not systematically implement those laws, their mere existence reinforces a culture where a significant portion of the citizens need to hide from the rest of the population out of fear." We in the U..S. should not forget that psychological destruction caused by homophobia can be as devastating as physical destruction." (To read this vital ILGA report, click here.)
Agitation and education about the institutionalized homophobia in these 85 countries can help save the lives of LGBT asylum seekers -- who face a perilous obstacle course when seeking refuge even here in the U.S., home of the welcoming Statue of Liberty (as I documented in a January 11 Gay City News article on the plight of gay asylum seekers, "Since 9/11, U.S. Turns a Blind Eye to Persecution.") That's just one of the good reasons U.S. activists should organize IDAHO events in their communities -- so that we can enlighten both the public and our elected officials about the need to eliminate the life-threatening roadblocks to refuge here for lesbians, gays, and the transgendered.
Moreover, next year the U.S. will have a new president. Isn't it time to begin demanding of all presidential candidates that they commit themselves to seeking a United Nations commitment to universal decriminalization of homosexuality? Last November, the International Committee for IDAHO launched a critically important new global petition campaign for a United Nations resolution in favor of the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. Five Nobel Prize winners, six Academy Award winners, 10 Pulitzer Prize winners, and two former French prime ministers were among the hundreds of VIPs --led by South African Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu -- endorsing the launch of this IDAHO campaign (for more information, click here.) But, while IGLHRC's Paula Ettelbrick and NGLTF's Matt Foreman both individually endorsed this IDAHO petition, neither of their organizations has done anything to publicize it or use it as a tool to agitate for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality (neither has HRC.) Organizing IDAHO events locally can be used to help put pressure on Congressmen, Senators, and, yes, on presidential candidates to commit themselves to working through the U.N. for the goal of abolishing all laws that make our kinds of love a crime.
We cannot allow our gay groups to use lack of money as an excuse for not doing anything in support of the International Day Against Homophobia. After all, IDAHO was the brainchild of the brilliant black French academic Louis-Georges Tin (left), who now heads the Paris-based International Committee for IDAHO -- and, as he said in a profile of him which I wrote last year, "“It may be surprising to some to learn that we work with no budget and no paid staff...In the beginning this was a necessity, as I began IDAHO alone and with no money. But it is also a choice—because an association with a base in 50 countries can quickly become a bureaucracy. I wanted to avoid this at all costs. I tried to imagine a structure that would leave the most room for local initiatives, enthusiasm, and independence—even if there’s enormous work coordinating IDAHO at the international level with the help of our correspondents in each country. And I think this formula has worked rather well!” Yes, indeed -- for IDAHO is now observed from Ghana to Greece, from China to Kenya, from Mexico to Turkey, in dozens and dozens of countries around the globe.
Except in ours.
It may be too late for this year -- but shouldn't activists across the U.S. begin making plans now for IDAHO events next year in support of those whose only crime is that they love like us?
AN IMPORTANT P.S. You have till Friday at 5PM, GMT (noon, US Eastern time), to sign on to the petition to protect human rights in Poland. So send in your signature! A deeply homophobic petition organized by US religious-right forces, called “Homosexual hands off Poland!” got almost 9000 signatures before it was presented to Polish leaders. You can show them how much strength LGBT people and their allies can muster. How? Simply send an e-mail to HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH at firstname.lastname@example.org giving your FULL NAME (or ORGANIZATION’s NAME) and COUNTRY. (Your personal contact information won’t be included in the petition!) Or you can sign in through the following web pages: English: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/10/poland15894.htm Español: http://hrw.org/spanish/docs/2007/05/10/poland15902.htm Polski: http://hrw.org/polish/docs/2007/05/10/poland15897.htm This campaign is co-sponsored by HRW and the Polish Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH)
May 12, 2007
ROME'S ANTI-GAY "FAMILY DAY"--a Letter from Rome
This first-hand report on the huge anti-gay demonstration in Rome today was written exclusively for this blog by DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris. A veteran expat journalist who wrote from Italy for years for TIME and the Wall Street Journal, Judy now writes for ARTnews and in June publishes a new book (right), "Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery" (I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.) ROME – Everyone knows that the Italian family, the more dynastic and inbred the better, is the heart and soul of Italy—think Gucci, think Agnelli, think the Mafia. Hence the electricity in the build-up to today's (Saturday’s) celebration in the vast Piazza San Giovanni of that newest of Roman holidays, “la giornata della famiglia”, which in Italian is spelled, and written, “Family Day” (pronunciation: fam-ee-lee dai). From the Alps to the immigrant-crammed Italian islets off Libya, half a million aficionados of the family today converged on the Eternal City on May 12 via parish-chartered bus, special train, automobile, motor scooter, roller skate and tricycle, for what is being presented as one of the greatest mass turn-outs in recent Italian history -- organizers later claimed one million came out today, while more neutral media cited a police figure of 250,000. Leading the pro-family crusaders today was the stocky, solidly Catholic Minister for the Family Rosi Bindi (left). “Certainly, some clergymen will also want to be there,” hinted Mons. Giuseppe Betori (right), Secretary general of the Council of Italian Bishops (CEI). The event coincided with the day 33 years ago when divorce became legal. And indeed some of the secular-minded within the government ruling coalition, including the Radical party’s representative in the cabinet Emma Bonino (right) -- she is Minister for International Trade and European Policies -- are joining in a counter-demonstration today, three kilometers away in the Piazza Navona. The counter-demo hoped to serve, among other things, to remind Italians of the Radicals’ work on behalf of the other successful referenda back in the mid-Seventies which introduced, after divorce, legal abortion in public hospitals. Other cabinet ministers were somewhat torn between private Catholic conscience and secular convictions. Deputy Premier and Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli (left) has offended many in the Center-left government of Premier Romano Prodi by refusing to attend the Family Day although, as he announced, “if I were merely a Member of Parliament, I would” (i.e., not in the cabinet). From the Party of the Democratic Left's Massimo D’Alemma (right), himself a former premier, this brought a whiplash comment, in which he implied Rutelli is a hypocrite, “Even if I were a ‘mere’ Member of Parliament, I would not attend the Family Day demonstration," he said. One good reason: the DICO legislation under siege by the Family Day supporters today is a law promoted by that same government Rutelli is supposedly representing. As for the leader of the conservative opposition, former Premier Silvio Berlusconi (left) was hemming and hawing until the last minute, still uncertain whether or not to attend Family Day celebrations. He is in an awkward position: as leader of a rightist coalition Berlusconi is under siege by Pier Ferdinando Casini (right), the head of the powerful Catholic party UDC (Unione dei Democratici Cattolici). Berlusconi is very much a family man, with one divorced wife in the shadows and another divorce in the wings, with children from both wives spanning an ample arc of time. This somewhat hypocritical position, together with the reputation of Italian males for two-timing, has generated the sole Family Day joke I’ve heard so far, apart from the concept. Here it is: “Giovanni will go down into the piazza for the demos--in the morning to Piazza San Giovanni with his wife, and in the afternoon, to Piazza Navona with his mistress.” Like Berlusconi -- who in the end finally showed up -- the Church, the architect of this challenge to lay Italy, was in something of a quandary. Priests have been given official authorization to march in the piazzas, but, making a delicate distinction, bishops were denied by their superiors permission. Also, Following on the heels of this mega-event will be a national conference on the family to be held in Florence in late May, and the same sort of delicate distinctions mark the decision of the organizer, Minister Bindi, to exclude from it the presence of organizations like ARCIGAY yet welcome the Italian support group of parents of gay individuals, the AGEDO (Associazione di Genitori di Omosessuali). Behind the scenes has been the fight for control of the event's TV coverage, which is the real crunch. Almost all networks are owned by either Berlusconi or by the Italian state. But the nation-wide state-owned RAI, with its three networks, is controlled by a 40-member oversight commission of busy parliamentarians. Through conservative finagling of quorum rules the oversight committee’s actions obliging coverage of both events has successfully been blocked, and the organizers of the pro-civil unions Piazza Navona event are in despair. Polls show that fewer than a third of Italians were aware of the rival event to the Catholic show of family power. And indeed, this pro-gay "rainbow" gathering managed to rally only a few thousand, compared to the hundreds of thousands who turned out at the Vatican's appeal. In another setback, the International Day Against Homphobia (IDAHO) on May 17 was to have been marked by nineteen Italian cities, but, due to a contemporary visit by George Bush to Italy, the date of the Italian participation has been pushed back into June. This would have something of the picturesque about it save for the fact that the heart of the matter is political. A bill known by its initials as the DICO, which would legalize non-traditional partnerships, including gay ones, is to go before Parliament, and the so-called Family Day is a de facto political plebescite in the piazzas for or against the DICO. The Italian Church is going to the mattresses to fight this. To quote the rhetorical statement by controversial Mons. Angelo Bagnasco from Genoa (right), head of the conference of Italian bishops, “And shall we not say no today to forms of stable cohabitation which are alternatives to the family, when tomorrow incest is to be legalized, or pedophilia among consenting individuals?” When this made headlines, with its implying that the proposed new DICO --which would legalize gay and other stable relations -- is the gateway to legalized pedophilia and incest, Bagnasco’s spokesman said he had been misinterpreted (“summary syntheses which are only partial and misleading”). Elsewhere Bagnasco claimed higher authority. “[Pope] Benedict XVI himself said that there is risk is in pursuing desires, expectations and dreams. The focus upon what one desires exposes the dreamer to the risk of the passage from behavior that is considered illegal to legal behavior. Only if we ensure that legal norms remain a strong foundation can we be certain that this does not happen.” Said one politician from the Radical party today: “Never since the Seventies have we see the Church so mobilized.” Church spokesmen deny that they are exerting “undue pressure on the legislators,” however. The head of the Italian Bishops' commission on the family, Mons. Giuseppe Anfossi (left), also complained that the Church “simply” wants to defend the family and marriage from what is a “real lobby, beginning with that [lobby] linked to the world of homosexuality.”
This first-hand report on the huge anti-gay demonstration in Rome today was written exclusively for this blog by DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris. A veteran expat journalist who wrote from Italy for years for TIME and the Wall Street Journal, Judy now writes for ARTnews and in June publishes a new book (right), "Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery" (I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.)
ROME – Everyone knows that the Italian family, the more dynastic and inbred the better, is the heart and soul of Italy—think Gucci, think Agnelli, think the Mafia. Hence the electricity in the build-up to today's (Saturday’s) celebration in the vast Piazza San Giovanni of that newest of Roman holidays, “la giornata della famiglia”, which in Italian is spelled, and written, “Family Day” (pronunciation: fam-ee-lee dai).
From the Alps to the immigrant-crammed Italian islets off Libya, half a million aficionados of the family today converged on the Eternal City on May 12 via parish-chartered bus, special train, automobile, motor scooter, roller skate and tricycle, for what is being presented as one of the greatest mass turn-outs in recent Italian history -- organizers later claimed one million came out today, while more neutral media cited a police figure of 250,000.
Leading the pro-family crusaders today was the stocky, solidly Catholic Minister for the Family Rosi Bindi (left). “Certainly, some clergymen will also want to be there,” hinted Mons. Giuseppe Betori (right), Secretary general of the Council of Italian Bishops (CEI).
The event coincided with the day 33 years ago when divorce became legal. And indeed some of the secular-minded within the government ruling coalition, including the Radical party’s representative in the cabinet Emma Bonino (right) -- she is Minister for International Trade and European Policies -- are joining in a counter-demonstration today, three kilometers away in the Piazza Navona. The counter-demo hoped to serve, among other things, to remind Italians of the Radicals’ work on behalf of the other successful referenda back in the mid-Seventies which introduced, after divorce, legal abortion in public hospitals.
Other cabinet ministers were somewhat torn between private Catholic conscience and secular convictions. Deputy Premier and Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli (left) has offended many in the Center-left government of Premier Romano Prodi by refusing to attend the Family Day although, as he announced, “if I were merely a Member of Parliament, I would” (i.e., not in the cabinet). From the Party of the Democratic Left's Massimo D’Alemma (right), himself a former premier, this brought a whiplash comment, in which he implied Rutelli is a hypocrite, “Even if I were a ‘mere’ Member of Parliament, I would not attend the Family Day demonstration," he said. One good reason: the DICO legislation under siege by the Family Day supporters today is a law promoted by that same government Rutelli is supposedly representing.
As for the leader of the conservative opposition, former Premier Silvio Berlusconi (left) was hemming and hawing until the last minute, still uncertain whether or not to attend Family Day celebrations. He is in an awkward position: as leader of a rightist coalition Berlusconi is under siege by Pier Ferdinando Casini (right), the head of the powerful Catholic party UDC (Unione dei Democratici Cattolici).
Berlusconi is very much a family man, with one divorced wife in the shadows and another divorce in the wings, with children from both wives spanning an ample arc of time. This somewhat hypocritical position, together with the reputation of Italian males for two-timing, has generated the sole Family Day joke I’ve heard so far, apart from the concept. Here it is: “Giovanni will go down into the piazza for the demos--in the morning to Piazza San Giovanni with his wife, and in the afternoon, to Piazza Navona with his mistress.”
Like Berlusconi -- who in the end finally showed up -- the Church, the architect of this challenge to lay Italy, was in something of a quandary. Priests have been given official authorization to march in the piazzas, but, making a delicate distinction, bishops were denied by their superiors permission. Also, Following on the heels of this mega-event will be a national conference on the family to be held in Florence in late May, and the same sort of delicate distinctions mark the decision of the organizer, Minister Bindi, to exclude from it the presence of organizations like ARCIGAY yet welcome the Italian support group of parents of gay individuals, the AGEDO (Associazione di Genitori di Omosessuali).
Behind the scenes has been the fight for control of the event's TV coverage, which is the real crunch. Almost all networks are owned by either Berlusconi or by the Italian state. But the nation-wide state-owned RAI, with its three networks, is controlled by a 40-member oversight commission of busy parliamentarians. Through conservative finagling of quorum rules the oversight committee’s actions obliging coverage of both events has successfully been blocked, and the organizers of the pro-civil unions Piazza Navona event are in despair. Polls show that fewer than a third of Italians were aware of the rival event to the Catholic show of family power. And indeed, this pro-gay "rainbow" gathering managed to rally only a few thousand, compared to the hundreds of thousands who turned out at the Vatican's appeal.
In another setback, the International Day Against Homphobia (IDAHO) on May 17 was to have been marked by nineteen Italian cities, but, due to a contemporary visit by George Bush to Italy, the date of the Italian participation has been pushed back into June.
This would have something of the picturesque about it save for the fact that the heart of the matter is political. A bill known by its initials as the DICO, which would legalize non-traditional partnerships, including gay ones, is to go before Parliament, and the so-called Family Day is a de facto political plebescite in the piazzas for or against the DICO.
The Italian Church is going to the mattresses to fight this. To quote the rhetorical statement by controversial Mons. Angelo Bagnasco from Genoa (right), head of the conference of Italian bishops, “And shall we not say no today to forms of stable cohabitation which are alternatives to the family, when tomorrow incest is to be legalized, or pedophilia among consenting individuals?” When this made headlines, with its implying that the proposed new DICO --which would legalize gay and other stable relations -- is the gateway to legalized pedophilia and incest, Bagnasco’s spokesman said he had been misinterpreted (“summary syntheses which are only partial and misleading”).
Elsewhere Bagnasco claimed higher authority. “[Pope] Benedict XVI himself said that there is risk is in pursuing desires, expectations and dreams. The focus upon what one desires exposes the dreamer to the risk of the passage from behavior that is considered illegal to legal behavior. Only if we ensure that legal norms remain a strong foundation can we be certain that this does not happen.”
Said one politician from the Radical party today: “Never since the Seventies have we see the Church so mobilized.”
Church spokesmen deny that they are exerting “undue pressure on the legislators,” however. The head of the Italian Bishops' commission on the family, Mons. Giuseppe Anfossi (left), also complained that the Church “simply” wants to defend the family and marriage from what is a “real lobby, beginning with that [lobby] linked to the world of homosexuality.”
POLAND SPANKED BY EUROPE OVER HOMOPHOBIA
On May 3, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Polish President Lech Kaczynski (right), when he was mayor of Warsaw, violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by banning the Warsaw Gay Pride March in 2005. The ruling, in a lawsuit brought by Poland's Equality Foundation - which organizes the Warsaw Pride Marches - was unanimous by the seven judges, among whom was Judge Lech Garlicki from Poland.
Kaczynski's ban on the earlier Pride March was ruled to have violated articles protecting freedom of association and assembly, the right to an effective remedy, and the prohibition on discrimination. This year's Warsaw Gay Pride March will be held on May 19.
A week before the court ruling, on April 26, the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted overwhelmingly to condemn Polish politicians for "inciting discrimination and hatred based on sexual orientation," in a resolution that also asked the Europarliament's leaders to send a fact-finding mission to Poland to investigate rampant homophobia and racism there.
The immediate impulse for this condemnation was the announcement by the Kaczynski government of legislation that would prohibit any discussion of homosexuality in schools and fire any teacher who violated that ban (see this reporter's article, "Poland Moves Vs. Gays In Schools," March 22).
But the resolution also cited "a series of worrying events [that] have recently taken place in a number of member states," particularly in Eastern Europe, such as bans on gay pride marches, hate speeches by political and religious leaders, breaking up of demonstrations by police, homophobic violence, and constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex unions.
The wide-ranging resolution, which passed 325 votes to 124 with 150 abstentions, went on to urge member states to grant gay people "the same respect, dignity, and protection as the rest of society."
It further demanded that the European Commission - the body responsible for the day-to-day governance of the European Union - enforce its "principle of mutual recognition" to insure that gay couples are able to move freely across European borders without fear of discrimination. The Commission also asked all EU member states to pass legislation outlawing discrimination against same-sex couples.
The resolution as well asked the European Commission to draft new EU directives to insure that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited in all areas. So far, EU law covers only equal treatment in the workplace. And the Europarliament simultaneously urged the European Commission to take member states to court if they violate their obligations under EU law not to discriminate against same-sexers.
This is the strongest and most extensive pro-gay resolution ever passed by the Strasbourg parliament. It also re-endorsed the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), which it had supported last year, and pledged to observe the annual May 17 event in future years as a sign of the Europarliament's continued commitment to eliminate homophobia.
IDAHO was marked in more than 50 countries last year, and the number is expected to be even greater this year. May 17 is the anniversary of the day the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990.
Finally, the Europarliament called for the "universal decriminalization of homosexuality." This was yet another victory for the Paris-based International Committee for IDAHO, which last November launched a global petition campaign demanding that the United Nations take a stand for abolition of all laws criminalizing homosexuality (see this reporter's article, "Bold Move for U.N. Action," November 21, 2006).
"When you hear from the prime minister that homosexuality is abnormal, that we should be cured, that they will try to cure us by force, this is quite frightening," said Robert Biedron (left), the head of the Warsaw-based Campaign against Homophobia, adding: "I think that this resolution is very important for new European member states as a reminder on which way the new democracies should go."
A recent report by the Campaign Against Homophobia found that almost 18 percent of Polish gays and lesbians have experienced physical violence and more 51 percent have been the victims of psychological violence - but as much as 85 percent of these cases have not been reported to the police due to the victims' fear of further discrimination.
While welcoming the resolution, German gay rights activist Jörg Litwinschuh (right) said that it's only worth something if actions follow.
"If nothing changes, sanctions have to happen," he said, according to the German public broadcasting service Deutsche Welle, adding that his Initiative Queer Nations would also lobby German Chancellor Angela Merkel to address discrimination against gay people in her meetings with foreign leaders.
Litwinschuh is the executive director of a consortium of German scientists and celebrities that plans to reopen the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute, the first center in the world to study homosexuality, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. He said that he was particularly pleased that the Europarliament's resolution called on "member states concerned finally to accord full recognition to homosexuals as targets and victims of the Nazi regime."
May 11, 2007
CHANGE SEX OR DIE: An Exclusive Interview with an Iranian Transgendered Activist on Iran's Surgical "Cure" for Homosexuality
The following article was written for Gay City News -- New York's largest lesbian and gay weekly -- which published it yesterday:
The situation of the transgendered in Iran has been the subject of frequent media reports that paint a rosy picture of life for them in the Islamic Republic, and which characterize Tehran - in a recent description in the U.K. daily The Guardian - as "the unlikely sex-change capital of the world."
Western journalists seem to find it exotic that, in Iran's patriarchal society - in which sexuality and expressions of sexual identity are religiously codified with the force of law, women are restricted to second-class citizenship, and homosexuality is a crime punishable by death - sex reassignment surgery has mushroomed, with the approval of the country's religious authorities.
This came about after Maryam Khatoon Molkara (left), then a 33-year-old pre-op transman, forced his way into an audience in the early 1980s with the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and founder of and undisputed authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Moved by Molkara's pleas, Khomeini was eventually persuaded to issue a fatwa which declared that sex-change surgery was permitted since it was not mentioned as forbidden in the Koran.
Western journalists present the contemporary Iranian theological discourse on transsexuality that has developed in the ensuing years since Khomeini's fatwa as a curiosity that contradicts the West's prevailing view of Islamic attitudes toward all things sexual.
But Afsaneh Najmabadi, an Iranian who is a professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University, said in an article on Iran.com that she feels "uneasy" when reading these "celebratory" portrayals of Iran's attitude toward the transgendered.
"Every time I read one of these reports I want to say BUT, BUT, BUT, because there are some scary things going on that have gone almost unnoticed," she said.
Najmabadi (right), author of "Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity" (University of Chicago Press), wrote not long ago that Iran's official position on the transgendered has manufactured "a religio-psycho-medicalized discourse on 'unnatural and deviant' [ghayr-i tabi'i and inhirafi] sexualities" that is "deeply troubling because of the explicit framing of transsexuality within a particular mapping of sexuality that simultaneously renders homosexuality, and more generally any sexual and gender non-conformity, as deviant and criminal."
And while a positive and progressive attitude toward sex-change surgery is liberating for genuinely transgendered people, it can have an enormously deleterious effect when deformed to be used as a supposed "treatment," or even as punishment, to "normalize" homosexual desire.
Because homosexuality is a capital crime in Iran, and because the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been engaged in a what he has called a "cultural revolution" that involves highly-organized persecutions targeting feminists and homosexuals, the choice presented to Iranian same-sexers is often a stark and unpleasant one, a choice epitomized by the title of a recent documentary by the France 2 public television network's newsmagazine "Envoyé spécial," which called its half-hour broadcast on the transgendered in Iran "Changer de Sex ou Mourir" - "Change Sex or Die."
How Iran's official discourse on the transgendered conceals a multitude of evils and ills can be seen in the following, eye-opening interview with Atrian, a 26-year-old male-to-female transsexual activist also known as Sayeh, who fled Iran last year to Turkey.
Atrian was extensively interviewed in Kaysen, Turkey, on April 5 by Arsham Parsi (left), the 27-year-old executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization (or IRQO, the new name adopted by the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, or PGLO). Parsi was on a fact-finding trip to meet and help the many LGBT Iranian refugees in Turkey whom the IRQO is assisting.
The interview with Atrian was conducted in Persian, and a transcript was provided exclusively to this reporter, and translated into English for Gay City News by Morteza Dehghani.
Atrian says that there are many people who accept sex-change surgery to escape persecution as homosexuals.
"A significant number of people who get a sex change in Iran are gay, as you cannot state in Iran that you are a man and want to be with another man, even if your appearance is feminine," Atrian declared.
"There are only a small percentage of people who get a sex-change operation who are actually transgendered. Out of some 100 transsexuals whom I've encountered," she reported, "only 20 of them were genuinely transgendered, and the rest are gay."
Atrian explained, "If you are known to be gay, you will be hanged. Therefore, many gays try to plead for societal acceptance by announcing themselves as transgendered. A lot of gays have been brainwashed into believing they are ill. Some believe that if they present themselves as women, they might find a boyfriend more easily."
It is not often mentioned in Western reports, but to gain approval for sex-reassignment surgery, one must have a certificate signed by the religious authorities declaring that one is "mentally ill." So, Atrian said, "Many gays believe they will get accepted more easily by society by claiming they are ill [as transgendered]."
Unable to endure the barrage of government persecution, scathing religious opprobrium, and often the hatred of their own families, said Atrian, "Many gays, for many different reasons, become emotional and get the operation. But soon after getting the operation, they'll cry for days at the mistake they have made."
Atrian recalled her visit to one gay man who had opted for sex-change surgery.
"I was visiting him in the hospital, and he told me, 'If you can, flee Iran.' I asked him why - and as he was crying like a river, he replied: 'I have committed a huge mistake. Why did I want to become a woman? I didn't even become a woman, I've become something deficient, and I would give anything to go back to my previous state.' In another incident, I was at a doctor's office and encountered two transsexuals who were begging the doctor to operate them to go back to their previous state."
This sort of thing, Atrian related, is quite common.
Atrian described the typical path of what she calls "the many gays who are forced by the society into believing that they are transsexuals. This group is under constant pressure from their parents, telling them that they have been led into deviation from the righteous path. They start analyzing themselves, thinking 'I am a boy, so how can it be that I like other boys? Because this is a sin! I must be a prostitute. I've deviated from the righteous path!'"
So, Atrian recounted, these gays "start contemplating ways to obtain society's acceptance so that it would be okay for them to like other boys. And then they reason: The only way to do that is to attach a label to myself that shows I'm a sick person, because when you are sick, people pity you and say, 'Oh my god, this poor kid! This is the way God has created him, it is a genetic disease!' So, he will be forced to make himself known as a transsexual" who is mentally ill, in order to be treated leniently.
"If you want to prove you're not a homosexual," Atrian underscored, "you'll be forced to get the sex-change operation. You don't want to be forced to explain why you are attracted to your own sex, and the only way to avoid that is to get the operation."
And, added Atrian, "A lot of people become drug addicts after the operation because they realize it was a mistake, they become depressed, and often commit suicide because there is no way to undo the operation. But neither the doctors, nor the parents, nor anyone else take responsibility for these tragedies, because no one respects or values transsexuals."
Atrian said that transsexuals are often raped by the very doctors who are involved in their surgery.
"This is a quite normal occurrence, as normal as saying that your doctor smokes," she explained. "The doctor knows that the patient is scared and does not have any family support, therefore he will listen to the doctor who claims he wants to help him. But just because they are doctors doesn't mean they are ethical."
Moreover, Atrian said, "You can't complain about these doctor rape cases to anyone, because the police forces themselves commit the same sort of acts. When I'm already depressed and have problems about my situation, and when this doctor - whom I desperately need and who is in control of my future destiny - forces me to have sex with him, I think to myself, 'How can someone possibly take advantage of another human being in this situation? What such a doctor is doing is similar to a supposedly charitable person who asks a hungry person for sex in exchange for a loaf of bread.'"
In Iran, Atrian said, sex-reassignment surgery has become a lucrative, assembly-line business.
"The doctors performing the operations in Iran are so careless - for them, it is like cutting paper and not flesh," she explained. "Left and right, on a daily basis, they perform sex-change operations on people without even paying proper attention to each case, just because it's a highly profitable business. Yet they are so proud that they are in a country that allows people to have sex changes. But they perform all these operations improperly, and often incompletely."
Atrian asserted that, "Out of all the people they operate on, only a few remain healthy. How many of these patients do not become psychotic because of the way they've been treated and mutilated? How many do not commit suicide? How many can live a normal life after their operation? Most of them don't even get the chance of finding a companion - they are shunned as transsexuals, and their past will always haunt them."
Atrian added that even some psychiatrists "take advantage of the simpleness of their patients. A couple of years ago, one of my friends visited a psychiatrist - and this doctor told him that, if my friend wanted to prove that he had feminine emotions in order to be permitted to get a sex-change operation, my friend had to have sex with him. This is not a common sort of incident with psychiatrists, but it happens from time to time." (Read this reporter's August 19, 2006 interview with an Iranian lesbian whose psychiatrists attempted to force her to have sex-change surgery.)
Transsexuals in Iran, Atrian said, are often targeted for beatings in the streets - both by the Basiji (the thuggish para-police used by the regime to enforce its draconian moral codes) and by people pretending to be Basiji. "Anyone who wears Basiji gear and has a motorcycle can beat you and nobody would question them for it, no one would ever check their IDs to make sure they are Basiji forces." (See this reporter's February 9, 2006 interview with Mekabiz, a 21-year-old, self-described "transsexual man" who was tortured by police and raped with the complicity of his jailers,)
Atrian related that, "Even though the special forces of the police have no specific orders to arrest transsexuals, they too can arrest you. I myself have been arrested three times, and was disrespected in the most brutal way possible. I remember how four men who looked like Basiji beat me close to death in the middle of the street. They kept slamming their boots on my head so hard that even now, when I think about it, subconsciously my head starts moving to dodge their boots."
For transsexuals, said Atrian, Iran is "a sick society which made you ill in the first place and is now pointing at you and calling you sick."
With help from the IRQO, Atrian has obtained a visa to Canada, and is now waiting for a departure date from Turkey, where homophobia and transphobia are rampant and where she has been beaten several times and been threatened with death.
"I hope to get to Canada alive," she said. "Even if it is only for one year there, I would like to be myself and live without needing to pretend to anyone that I'm a poor and helpless person, live without needing to beg them not to belittle me or attack me. I don't want to feel the need to explain to people that I'm not a dirty and inferior person."
"My life," Atrian added, "is not like a cigarette that you can smoke and then throw away, as I will live and suffer in its ashes. I might get to Canada, or I might not. But I will never forget that all my rights were taken away from me in Iran. From now on, I want to build my life."
For more information on the plight of the Iranian LGBT community, or to make a credit card donation via the secure PayPal system to help refugees from persecution like Atrian, visit the IRQO Web site.
May 06, 2007
French Election: WHAT SARKOZY'S VICTORY MEANS
In the third consecutive defeat for the French left in a presidential election, NICOLAS SARKOZY (left) has been chosen to lead France with a comfortable 53.06% of the vote, as the pre-election opinion polls had predicted. His Socialist opponent, Segolene Royal, received 46.94% (ACTUAL VOTES, UPDATED MONDAY MORNING.) A whopping record 82% of French voters went to the polls today to give an unambiguous victory to the autocratic, demagogic, hard-right nationalist Sarkozy, who campaigned on promises of a "rupture" with France's mixed economy and its welfare state, one of the most extensive in Europe.
The crowd in the hall where Sarkozy declared victory after the polls closed repeatedly sang the national anthem, La Marseillaise -- with its famous xenophobic refrain, "Marchons, marchons! Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons!" (Translation: Let us march, let us march, May impure blood soak the furrows of our fields.) And Sarkozy's campaign was marked by incessant appeals to racism and the fear of immigrants, symbolized by his adoption of a slogan used by the neo-fascist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, "France, love it or leave it," and by his proposal for a new "Ministry of Immigration and National Identity," which was widely criticized by the left and by anti-racist groups for amalgamating the two concepts and suggesting a fundamental opposition between the two.
In fact, the campaign strategy of "Sarko," as he is referred to in France, was based on appeals to the electorate of Le Pen (right) and his Front National party, which in the last presidential election in 2002 had beaten the Socialists for the place in the run-off against then-president Jacques Chirac. That lurch to the right five years ago by a significant portion of formerly left voters was confirmed by today's vote, in which more than two-thirds of former Le Pen voters -- many of them from the one-time Communist-dominated working class suburbs -- went for Sarkozy, according to the exit polls.
Indeed, as the weekly Le Canard Enchaine -- which has the best insider political gossip -- reported a couple of weeks ago, a Sarkozy confident of victory had already discussed his long-term political strategy for remaining in power -- for, as Le Canard revealed, he plans to integrate the Front National into his ruling UMP party in his second term, uniting the hard-right and the neo-fascist extreme right in an alliance imitating that operated by the Italian Silvio Berlusconi with the "post-fascist" Alleanza Nationale of Gianfranco Fini (right), who was Berlusoconi's vice-premier.
In his victory remarks within minutes after TV declared him the winner, Sarkozy -- frequently referred to the in the French press as "Sarko l'americain" for his aggressively Atlanticist views and his sympathy for Bush -- promised a cheering audience of supporters that "the American people can count on our friendship" and that the war on terrorism "is of primary importance in the world, it is a fight that will be our fight" under his leadership. In fact, President Bush called Sarkozy within a few minutes after the polls closed to congratulate him, according to a report on France 2 public television. (At left, a widely-circulated satirical poster, based on the French title of the movie "Fatal Attraction," showing Sarkozy during a visit with George W. Bush in the White House. This famous photo was widely commented upon in France, for it shows Sarko the same height as Bush -- even though the diminutive Sarkozy is several inches shorter than the U.S. president. Sarko had worn lifts in his shoes for the photo-op meeting to make them seem of equal height. No wonder the iconoclastic centrist magazine Marianne recently portrayed Sarko on its cover as Napoleon, another tiny authoritarian.)
But in reality, what Sarkozy's victory means for France is something closer to the so-called "Reagan Revolution" in the U.S. that began in 1981 the process of dismantling and destroying the institutional New Deal legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chirac was a Gaullist, and the political heritage of General Charles De Gaulle, who led France from 1958 to 1969, included a vigorously statist approach to the economy and defense of a wide series of social protection and social safety-net measures that had been instituted by the left's Popular Front government in the mid-1930s, and which were renewed and extended by post-war governments dominated by the political activists of the Resistance movement to Nazi occupation, who had a conception of government as a guarantor of economic security for all. Sarkozy is of a new generation than his predecessor Chirac and, ideologically, is not a Gaullist -- but rather Sarko is in phase with the "Chicago school" of economics led by Milton Friedman.
Sarko believes in minimal government, a slimmed-down state that interferes as little as possible in the economy, an aggressively laissez-faire approach that is dear to the economic barons of the MEDEF, the French business leaders' association, whose tycoons were solidly behind Sarkozy's candidacy. Sarkozy has already promised to, in effect, abolish the ISF (the tax on large fortunes), accord more tax breaks to big business and the upper-middle-classes, and make more cuts in the state-run national health system (declared by a U.N. survey to be the finest in the world in terms of delivery of health services and quality of care.) Sarkozy's economic program is designed to help the already-privileged classes retain and extend their socio-economic position, to the detriment of the have-nots (the massive pro-Sarkozy vote in the upper-income neighborhoods today confirms that they understood Sarko's message to them.) And he has promised a major down-sizing of the civil service employed by state agencies.
Sarkozy is a skilled demagogue who, on the stump, tried to give the impression (like Bush's first presidential campaign did) that he was a "compassionate conservative." But Sarkozy's so-called "compassion" is strictly rhetorical -- his concrete economic orientation is bound to deepen the gulf between the haves and the have nots, to aggravate what Jacques Chirac -- in a famous phrase from his 1995 re-election campaign -- had baptized the "social fracture."
Sarko's speech tonight had accents of Petain, when he declared that his election represented "a break with the past," and that he intended "to rehabilitate work, authority, morality, respect and merit.” Another odious moment in Sarkozy's victory peroration came when he proclaimed that France would no longer be a country of "repenting" -- this was a dig at Chirac, who was the first French president to apologize for the crimes committed by the Vichy French state against Jews under the Nazi occupation, and who'd sent an ambassador to apologize to the Algerians for the French massacre of thousands of civilians in the city of Setif that had triggered the bloody war for Algerian independence from France's colonial rule. It was an ugly moment in Sarko's frightening speech, and a bow to Le Pen's notorious anti-Semitism, and Sarko's "break with the past" means a closing of the books on the most unsavory parts of France's recent history.
Life for the have-nots will become even more difficult under Sarkozy's hard-right, anti-immigrant, law-and-order society. He has announced "zero tolerance" for illegal immigration, has deported tens of thousands of immigrants during his two terms as Interior Minister and split up immigrant families while making it tougher for them to become French citizens. He has proposed strict minimum sentences for all sorts of crimes, thus removing all discretion from French judges, and France's already-crowded prisons will soon be overflowing with expanded, and younger, populations. French prisons, like ours, are training institutes for criminals, and by sending ever-larger numbers of young people to them for petty offenses Sarkozy will, in fact, be manufacturing new generations of hardened voyous (thugs in French.) (Above left, Sarko as his puppet character in the popular satirical TV show "Les Guignols," showing him as the Chilean dictator Pinochet. Above his head, the balloon has him saying, "Too much liberty kills liberty.") In 1986, I was in Paris during the legislative elections that made Jacques Chirac prime minister for the first time -- and the next day, the police -- who sensed that the right's victory had unleashed them -- displayed an openly hostile and noticeably new aggressive posture toward people of color in the streets. I've had reports from French friends that the same thing happened after Sarkozy's strong, lead showing in the first round of this presidential election two weeks ago. Now, with Sarkozy's election, one can expect that the forces of law-and-order will consider that all restraints on them have been removed, and it will be more unpleasant than ever to be an Arab or black in France, no matter how many generations one's family has lived there or how perfectly one speaks French. (Remember Sarkozy's hard-line program of repression during the October 2005 ghetto riots against racism, exclusion, and unemployment that had all France in flames?)
Sarkozy absolutely hates the left -- in part because the Communists burned his aristocratic family's chateau in Hungary (from whence his family emigrated to France) in 1944. And, in a major campaign speech just days before the election, Sarkozy surprisingly devoted 20 minutes of his discourse to a violent denunciation of the May 1968 student-worker revolt (Sarko was only 14 at the time of that rebellion.). The heritage of May ';68, Sarko thundered, must be "liquidated." He blamed it for a generalized attitude of "laxisme," for France's having become a country "in which work has no value, in which people think they can do anything they feel like doing, in which people are lazy," and on and on. May '68 was, of course, the fountain of social ferment that led to the sexual revolution, to women's liberation and the legalization of abortion, the gay liberation movement and the eventual repeal of laws criminalizing homosexuality, the relaxation of censorship laws, and a whole series of other cultural changes that opened up a stuffy, paternalistic, arteriosclerotic French society. But May '68 was also a general strike by 11 million French workers that gained union recognition in many factories, higher wages, and that won a reinforcement of the social safety net in an agreement (negotiated on behalf of then-President Georges Pompidou by a young Jacques Chirac) that became known as "les accords de la rue de Grenelle" (the agreement of Grenelle Street). What was unstated in Sarko's anti-May '68 speech was that all that sort of thing, too, must be "liquidated." Dark days are ahead for those who love liberty, equality, and fraternity in France. (For more, see my earlier article, "Why Sarkozy Is Dangerous.")
FOR MORE BACKGROUND INFORMATION on today's post, see my earlier reports on France's presidential election:
March 10, "Can Bayrou Beat Segolene Royal?"
February 22, "Segolene Royal in Free-Fall"
February 9, "France: Bad News for the Left";
February 1, "Jose Bove Complicates the Contest"
December 14, 2005 -- "The Rapid Rise of Segolene Royal"
May 03, 2007
IRAQI GAY ACTIVIST ARRESTED, TORTURED--Americans Present in Interrogation Center Where Torture Took Place
I wrote the following article for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay and lesbian weekly newspaper -- which published it today:
A key Iraqi gay activist was arrested and tortured in Baghdad on April 29, according to Ali Hili, the London-based coordinator of the all-volunteer Iraqi LGBT group (logo below left), which has a network of members and supporters throughout Iraq.
Hani, a 34-year-old nurse whose last name cannot be given for security reasons to protect him and his family, was in the Al Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad, where he lives, and searching for a taxi when he was stopped and arrested this past Sunday by five policemen riding in a police pickup truck, Hili told me by telephone from London.
“Hani was in charge of communications for our Baghdad group, and he’s been a very important part of our work in reporting and documenting the campaign of persecution and murder targeting Iraqi LGBT people,” Hili said.
“When Hani -- who is obviously gay and a bit effeminate -- was stopped by the police, who demanded his identification papers, on seeing his name one of the police said, ’Yes, it’s him, he’s one of them,’ which is yet another piece of evidence that the police have a hit-list of some of our activists,” recounted Hili (right).
Hani was handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to a police interrogation center. While he was in custody, Hani was beaten and tortured for several hours. “The police used a screwdriver, which they pounded into Hani’s legs with a hammer -- sometimes the police use electric drills for this sort of torture -- and they also beat him badly,” Hili said.
“The police tried to get Hani to admit he was a member of our Iraqi LGBT group, but he refused to say so, which is when the torture began,“ according to Hili, adding: “But Hani had his cell phone with him, and on that phone he had my cell phone number --which is listed on our website -- and the phone numbers of a number of journalists, including one from the Washington Post. The police demanded to know why Hani had these phone numbers if he was not a member of our organization, and why he was in contact with journalists if he was not a member, and also threatened him with rape if he did not admit it.”
While Hani was in police custody, he heard several different voices speaking English with American accents coming from somewhere outside the room in the detention center where he was being held. “Hani asked if he could speak to one of the American soldiers and explain why he was being detained, in the hope that he might be rescued, but the police refused to allow him access to these Americans,” Hili related.
The reported presence of Americans in a police interrogation center while a gay activist was being tortured underscores the indifference of Iraq’s U.S. occupier to the dire plight of Iraqi gays and to the religiously-inspired murder campaign which has been targeting them for the past two years.
While Hani was being interrogated, a senior police officer arrived and demanded to know if Hani’s family was wealthy, or if they had savings that could be used to ransom him--otherwise, he was told, he would be killed. Hani was then allowed to make a phone call to his brother, who managed to assemble some $2000 in U.S. currency and gold, and in a series of phone calls was able to negotiate Hani’s release in exchange for the money. A rendezvous was arranged, Hani’s brother forked over the shakedown money, and an hour later Hani was released, still blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back.
Hani is now in hiding at the home of a doctor, from where he was able to telephone Hili and give an account of his ordeal. Hili in turn telephoned this reporter. “Hani is suffering terribly from the wounds he received during his torture, but he does not have any medication or painkillers, which are very scarce and expensive in Baghdad now,” Hili told me.
Hili also reported the latest documented case of the murder of an Iraqi gay -- Maan, a 27-year-old carpenter from the town of Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad and the site of a large U.S. military base. “There were many rumors in Maan’s neighborhood that he was having sex with other men -- he was last seen on April 21st, when a police squad stopped him and arrested him,” Hili said. On April 25th, Maan’s corpse was found on the side of a road -- he had been murdered execution-style, blindfolded and with several shots to the back of his head.
The arrest and torture of Hani this past Sunday is only the latest in a series of attacks on the Iraqi LGBT group, which has been targeted by the Islamist fundamentalists ever since it began getting publicity about the murderous campaign of “sexual cleansing” being waged by hardline religious elements following the death-to-gays fatwa issued in October, 2005 by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the 79-year-old Iranian born-and-trained chief spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims.
Last November 9, five underground gay activists were abducted in a police raid on a secret gay planning meeting of the Iraqi LGBT group in Baghdad's Al Shaab district (see this reporter’s article, “Iraqi Gay Activists Abducted,” December 12, 2006.) The five activists have not been heard from since, and are presumed dead.
The Iraqi LGBT group was also specifically named last fall in a fatwa proclaimed by a mullah who is a cleric for the heavily-armed faction led by extremist Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr -- it said that “people who want to harbor and protect gays should be killed.” Another anti-gay fatwa was issued against Hili, the Iraqi LGBT group’s volunteer coordinator, as an individual by Ayatollah Sistani's Council of Mullahs. Hili received an e-mailed death threat from Sistani’s official headquarters in Qum, Iran (considered by the Shia as one of their most sacred "holy cities") This death threat was stamped with the Ayatollah Sistani’s seal.
Also last Fall, there were three Interior Ministry raids on safe houses the Iraqi LGBT group maintained in Basra and Najaf. Two lesbians who ran the Najaf safe house as a refuge for children forced into the commercial sex trade were murdered -- their throats were slashed.
The Ayatollah Sistani’s original death-to-gays fatwa inspired the deployment of anti-gay death squads by the Badr Corps, military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the most powerful political Shia group in Iraq and now the cornerstone of the current, U.S.-approved Iraqi government. SCIRI considers Ayatollah Sistani its spiritual and political guide. The SCIRI’s Badr Corps, which operates anti-gay death squads, was integrated into the Iraqi Interior Ministry last Fall, and its members now wear police uniforms and are able to operate with full police powers.
Gay City News first broke the story about the systematic murder of Iraqi gays last March (see this reporter's article, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays, U.S. Indifferent," March 23, 2006).
The Bush administration has assiduously courted both Ayatollah Sistani and SCIRI during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
A January Human Rights Report of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) confirmed the organized “assassinations of homosexuals” in Iraq (see this reporter’s article, “U.N. Confirms Iraqi Gay Killings,” January 25, 2007. ) The report said UNAMI had been “alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by clerics, where alleged homosexuals would be ‘tried,’ ‘sentenced to death,’ and then executed.”
In this latest attack on a member of the Iraqi LGBT group, “When Hani was arrested, he had on him $500 in cash which I had just wired him, money that was to be used to support one of the safe houses we maintain in Baghdad for gays who have been forced to flee their homes because of death threats, but the police stole the money like gangsters” Hili said. “We are a poor organization, and the loss of this sum was significant for us. We are so short of cash we are being forced to close two of our safe houses in the south of Iraq this month because we can no longer afford to pay the rent.” These closures will reduce from five to three the number of safe houses in Iraq maintained by the Iraqi LGBT group.
“We not only have to pay rent for these safe houses and for electricity, we also have to feed the guys in these houses, and pay for their health care and medications -- some of them are HIV-positive -- because they are not able to go out in public or find work for fear of being killed,” Hili said.
“We beg our gay American brothers and sisters for help, because the troops that are in my country in their name could not care less about the horrible situation gay people face in Iraq since the invasion and since the institution of a regime which is under the sway of anti-gay religious fanatics and is approved by the U.S.,” Hili pleaded.
Contributions to the Iraqi LGBT group will be used to fund its safe houses in Iraq, sustain those sheltered in them, continue and extend the group’s ability to report on and document the lethal anti-gay campaign of sexual cleansing, and help refugee Iraqi gays fleeing death threats to find asylum in gay-friendly countries. Credit cards may now be used to make donations to Iraqi LGBT via a secure PayPal account on the group’s website by clicking here (once on their site, click on the button marked “Make a Donation.”)
May 02, 2007
French Presidential Debate: THE SARKO-SEGO SHOW
I just finished watching, live from France, the presidential debate between the Socialist Segolene Royal and the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy (via TV5Monde, the international francophone channel). Photo Above Left: Royal on the far left, Sarkozy on the far right during the debate
It ran incredibly long -- two hours and 40 minutes -- which was longer than planned. This was in large measure due to the absolute inability of the two moderators -- top-rated commercial TF1's veteran nightly news presenter Patrick Poivre D'Arvor, for the conservative network owned by the huge Bouyges construction firm; and Arlette Chabot, news director of France 2 public TV, another TV veteran whom I've always found colorless and a lousy moderator -- to impose order on the two loquacious candidates or to exact answers to the questions the moderators posed. Yes, "PPDA" (as he's known) and Chabot, who presided over this exercise, were utterly useless. (One sardonic French commentator -- the excellent Philippe Meyer (right), a well-known author and an editorialist for Europe 1 radio -- said right after the debate that, as a journalist, he was so ashamed of the PPDA-Chabot performances as moderators that he wanted "to tear up my press card.") As a result, international issues were, astonishingly, almost entirely ignored -- this was a very Franco-French, navel-gazing exchange. But the problems of the ghettos -- which exploded in nationwide riots in October 2005, and for which nothing has been done since -- went unmentioned. Both candidates regurgitated their favorite formulas. Nothing new was heard.
Sarkozy --- who has campaigned on the nationalist, immigrant-baiting slogan (stolen from the neo-fascist Le Pen) "France -- Love It or Leave It" -- was told by his counselors he had to moderate his aggressive, demagogic image; he did so to such an extent that at times he appeared to be on Xanax. Royal tried to de-stabilize Sarko with several attacks and by feigning anger at several points -- rather obviously, too. It didn't work -- Sarko, whose nervous outbursts of inflammatory language are legendary, refused to be provoked. He appeared calm, serene, and very, very polite -- as he needed to be, his counselors had told him, in debating a woman.
But while underdog Segolene's attempts at attacking Sarko provided the (very) few lively moments in the endless debate, on the substance she really quite failed to distinguish herself from him sharply in policy terms, and many of her statements were the sort of vague generalities that have characterized her campaign. Yes, Segolene was for maintaining the 35-hour work week (although she wants to make it "flexible"), Sarkozy against it; Segol will maintain current levels of public employees (although she wants to "re-deploy" them,), while Sarko wants massive cuts in the number of civil servants on the government payroll -- but there was too much agreement on too many questions (especially law-and-order) and too muich talking past each other between the duo. And, since all the opinion polls have consistently shown Sarko beating Sego for months in head-to-head match-ups, and since the first round of voting the latest polls have showed Sarko winning the runoff by anywhere from 4 to 6 points, it's hard to see that this debate did the Socialist candidate enough good to give her a real chance of winning the election four days hence. UPDATE: For whatever its worth, an overnight poll taken for LCI radio and the conservative daily Le Figaro showed that Sarkozy was seen as "more convincing" by 53% of the viewing audience of an estimated 20 million, while Royal's score was only 31%.)
As the libertarian socialist philosopher and best-selling author Michel Onfray (left) wrote on Monday in the scintillating, must-read "presidential blog" he's been writing on the campaign for France's largest newsweekly, the mildly-left Nouvel Observateur, in an offering Onfray entitled "Royal is Sarkozy's best weapon":
"When the choice is between the right and the left, even if the left is pale, the choice is simple. But when one is offered a choice between the right and the center, which has been the new reality of this run-off, one can easily wish to leave this game to others and abstain from participating in this masquerade...." Onfray's brutal judgement on Royal led him to announce he'll cast a blank ballot. (read the rest of his commentary by clicking here.)
Onfray's diagnosis of the problem with Segolene Royal, was confirmed, it seemed to me, by the TV debate. Or, as a Paris friend of mine e-mailed me after the debate, "Segolene is starting to resemble 'la chêvre de
monsieur Séguin' " (Mr. Séguin's sheep) -- taken from a famous story by the 19th century novelist Alphonse Daudet, the young sheep leaves her traditional home to roam the mountains -- only to be eaten by a wolf.
And the electoral math is against Royal. In the first round of voting on April 22, all of the left presidential candidates put together got just 36% -- the lowest score for the left since 1969, which saw the election of conservative President Georges Pompidou. The hard-right parties, on the other hand, scored 45% (including the votes for the neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen and the nationalist immigrant-baiter Vicomte Philippe de Villiers). Most of the Le Pen and de Villiers votes will go to Sarko (above left, with his buddy George Bush), while it is unclear whether all of the votes of the Communists, Greens, independent anti-globalization candidate Jose Bove, and the three Trotskyite parties will in fact all go to Segolene and her Blairite, centrist-pandering political posture.
But even if they did, and even if the Socialist candidate could get half of the 18.5% of first-round votes cast for the so-called official centrist candidate, Francois Bayrou (left)-- whose electorate she's been sucking up to for the last two weeks -- she'd still wind up significantly short. And a majority of Bayrou's voters are essentially moderate conservatives -- Bayrou, after all, had participated in conservative governments led by Jacques Chirac on and off for years -- and so are unlikely to vote for a Socialist.
(Bayrou has indicated he will probably make some sort of indication of whom he's voting for on Thursday -- but right after the first round, he refused to endorse either of the two remaining runoff candidates. And it's quite possible Bayrou -- who, since his unexpectely strong, first-round showing, has said he will launch a new centrist political party, the Parti Democrate -- will still refuse to back either Nicolas Sarkozy (right) or Segolene Royal. That's the posture indicated after the debate by Bayrou's close political associate, Jean-Marie Cavada. Bayrou's current UDF party now has only 29 members of parliament, nearly all of whom were elected with support from Sarkozy's UMP party -- and 22 of those so-called "centrist" deputies have already endorsed Sarko. Were Bayrou to say he's voting for Royal, it would seriously jeopardize those deputies' re-election in the legislative elections this summer and, perhaps, result in more permanent defections by these pols from the Bayrou-led UDF to the Sarkozy-led UMP, further whittling away Bayrou's meager parliamentary representation.) UPDATE: Thursday's Le Monde reports exclusively that, following the debate, Bayrou has now told the newspaper that he "probably won't" endorse a candidate before Sunday's election, but that he nonetheless declared, "I will not vote for Sarkozy," which Le Monde made its headline.
To sum up, it doesn't seem to me that this debate will change much in the final outcome -- and Sarkozy remains the odds-on favorite to be elected president of France on Sunday. More's the pity -- because, as I've previously written on this blog, the liberticide, immigrant-baiting, demagogic corporate lacky Sarkozy -- known in the French press as "Sarkozy l'americain" for his fervent pro-Americanism, Atlanticism and advocacy of a brand of aggressively free-market policies that resemble Bushonomics -- is a very dangerous man. CHECK THIS BLOG ON SUNDAY AFTER 3 pm E.S.T. FOR REAL-TIME ELECTION RESULTS AND ANALYSIS.
UPDATE: A P.S. -- In other European election news, noted British human rights and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell (right) has a commentary in Thursday's Guardian you should read warning of the dangers of a breakthrough by the racist British National Party -- Le Pen's ideological cousins -- in today's (Thursday, May 3) U.K. regional and local elections if there's a low turnout by anti-BNP voters. The BNP, which advocates a "White Britain," is contesting a record 800 seats this time, twice as many as ever before. Read Tatchell's analysis by clicking here.
FOR MORE BACKGROUND INFORMATION on today's post, see my earlier reports on France's presidential election:
March 10, "Can Bayrou Beat Segolene Royal?"
February 22, "Segolene Royal in Free-Fall"
February 9, "France: Bad News for the Left";
February 1, "Jose Bove Complicates the Contest"
December 14, 2005 -- "The Rapid Rise of Segolene Royal"