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July 26, 2007

BUSH'S IRAQ "AL QAEDA" LIES

Prof. Juan ColeJuan_cole (left), on his excellent, award-winning blog on Iraq and the Middle East, made mincemeat yesterday of Bush's claims -- in his much bally-hooed Tuesday speech --  that the U.S. is fighting Al Qaeda and "foreign" terrorists in Iraq. Here is part of what Cole -- who teaches Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan, who is fluent in Arabic, and who regularly provides news unavailable elsewhere translated from the Arab-language press -- had to say about the president's tendentious, duplicitous speech:

"Bush (at right, being micturated on by an Iraqi at a popular, specially-built pissoir) alleged that the 'al-Qaeda' fighters in Iraq are professional terrorists. He said that ifBush_iraqi_pissing  he had not invaded Iraq, they would even so have been busy engaging in violence.

"An analysis of persons named as fighters on Internet sites 18 months ago vigorously contests Bush's allegation:

'Out of 429 fighters only 22 (5.1%) have had fighting experience in other regions, demonstrating that the foreign fighters in Iraq do indeed constitute the third generation of Salafi-jihadists. . . It is worth noting that 17 out of 31 fighters [on which there was education data] quit their education to join the fight against the American occupation. This is also evident in the high percentage of BA degree holders (19.4%), which is different from what typically occurs in Salafi-jihadist movements, whose ideologues are normally the ones with high levels of education while the fighters are mostly young men who have not completed their education. . . Another interesting fact is that 22 of those fighters are married, and among those whose career status is known, 8 out of 18 (44%) work in the private sector, with some even being investors. This lends further credence to the notion that the occupation of Iraq, and all the excesses that surrounds it, is generating new developments in erstwhile socio-economically stable Salafi-jihadi networks.'

"The small band of some 1200 foreign fighters in Iraq are not for the most part career terrorists as far as anyone can tell. They are too young, at an average of 27, for that description. They are a new generation. They were college students and financiers who became angry about Bush's military occupation of a Muslim Arab country. In the absence of that invasion, they would still be at ordinary ho-hum jobs.

"Bush says that his occupation of Iraq cannot explain the violent tactics of the "al-Qaeda insurgents" there. He says that the US was not in Iraq during the Embassy bombings of 1998, the attack on the US Cole in 2000, or September 11.

"This talking point is pure propaganda on many fronts. First of all, Bush has not established that the foreign jihadis in Iraq are 'al-Qaeda' in any significant sense. So his attempt to sneak in a continuity here is not legitimate. Second, while it is true that nothing justifies the violence of al-Qaeda (especially against a ship named the Cole!), it is not true that it lacks all context or motive or that US actions in Iraq were irrelevant to it. Muslim activists believed that US sanctions on Iraq were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children in the 1990s, and the US continued from time to time to bomb the country..."

Read the rest of Prof. Cole's long, highly informative post by clicking here -- it includes an acid dissection of Rudy Giuliani's factless attack on Rep. Ron Paul over Iraq in the recent presidential debate among Republicans.

Posted by Direland at 07:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (33)

MURDER MUSIC: TWO-FACED REGGAE STARS SIGN, THEN RENEG ON, PLEDGE TO STOP HATE SONGS

The following is a revised and expanded version of an article written for Gay City News, which published it today:

Two Jamaican reggae stars want to have it both ways: they've signed a pledge to put an end to their songs calling for the murder of gays and lesbians -- and thus halt a successful boycott of their hate music -- but back home in Jamaica (one of the world's most culturally homophobic countries) they're trying to pretend they didn't sign the pledge.

Banju_banton This week, gruff-voiced reggae mega-star Buju Banton (left), notorious for his song lyrics calling for the murder of homosexuals, signed a pledge to cease his homophobic music-making after a successful three-year global boycott initiated by the U.K.-based Stop Murder Music campaign.

The Stop Murder Music campaign, a joint project of the militant British gay rights group OutRage!, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), and the British Black Gay Men’s Advisory Group (BGMAG), caused the cancellation of hundreds of concerts and sponsorship deals, costing homophobic reggae artists more than $5 million.

Banton — the stage name of 35-year-old Jamaican dancehall music star Mark Anthony Myrie — signed the Reggae Compassionate Act (RCA), by which he agreed to not make homophobic statements in public, release new homophobic songs, or authorize the re-release of previously-recorded hate-gays numbers, the British daily The Guardian reported on Monday, July 23.

Among Banton’s particularly poisonous anti-gay songs, his "Boom Bye Bye" features sounds of gunfire "in a batty-boy’s head" — "batty-boy" being Jamaican patois for "faggot" — and says of any "batty-boy," "burn him up bad like an old tire wheel."

The Reggae Compassionate Act states, "There’s no space in the music community for hatred and prejudice, including no place for racism, violence, sexism, or homophobia."

The pledge was drawn up by the Stop Murder Music campaign, and was also signed at the beginning of June by reggae stars Beenie Man (famous for singing, "I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays"), Capleton (one of whose hit songs says "Blood out di chi chi, bun out di chi chi," Jamaican patois meaning "kill and burn gays"), and Sizzla, also noted for kill-gays lyrics [ADD: like "shoot queers, my big gun goes boom."]

Dennis_carney Dennis Carney, vice-chair of the U.K. Black Gay Men's Advisory Group, who is of Jamaican descent, said: "These performers are sending a clear message that lesbians and gay men have a right to live free from fear and persecution, both here in the
U.K. and in Jamaica. (Left, Carney accepts the London Black LGBT Community 2007 Advocacy Award on behalf of the Stop Murder Music campaign.)

And Gareth Williams, co-chair of the Jamaican gay rights group J-FLAG, added in a statement, "This statement against homophobia and violence is a move in the right direction. We hope it is not commercially motivated by the singers' desire to maintain their concert revenues."

But, back home in Jamaica, Radio Jamaica's website claims Banton's manager has denied that the singer signed the RCA pledge: "Speaking with RJR news, Buju's manager Donovan Germaine dismissed the report out of hand," the Web site said. While providing no direct quote, it continued, "He added that the [Banton] management team would not comment further on the issue as it was being used by the gay rights group to gain mileage for their cause." Pandering to the hometown homophobic fans, wouldn't you say?

Beenie_man Meanwhile, the newspaper Jamaica Observer reported on Sunday that Grammy-winner Beenie Man (left), in remarks also apparently designed only for home-turf consumption, has denied having signed the RCA agreement, which he blamed on profit-hungry European
promoters, and said he would not pledge to honor it.

"‘It's a ting from the promoters of Europe. They are getting so much fight from the Christian and ‘g’ organisation and everything,’ said the self-proclaimed 'King of the Dancehall,' who apparently could not bring himself to say the word gay," the Jamaican Observer reported, adding that Beenie Man "said he did not personally sign any agreement and could not promise that he would be abiding by it. ‘I do music,’ he argued. ‘Dancehall mi do, I can't promise nuh man dat. And mi neva sign it, yuh hear sah.’"

Peter_tatchell_headshotBut contacted by this reporter, Peter Tatchell of OutRage! (left), which has coordinated the Stop Murder Music campaign, provided me with photocopies of the RCA statement signed by Banton and the other three reggae stars, all of whom used their real names. The photocopies of the signed statements are also now posted on Tatchell’s Web site.

"The signatures were obtained on our behalf by the U.K. reggae promoter
Eddie Brown of Pride Music," Tatchell told Gay City News, adding, "I have total confidence that he obtained their real signatures."

Tatchell explained to this reporter how the stop-gay-hate agreement was reached with the Jamaican singer-songwriters.

"Negotiations over the RCA began in March this year," he said, recounting how, "Eddie Brown of Pride Music U.K. — not a gay company despite the name, but a straight reggae promotion and PR firm — approached me expressing concern that the ‘murder music’ tag was harming the Jamaican music industry. He admitted the SMM boycott campaign had hit the artists hard financially and also damaged promoters like him. He offered to try to broker a deal to end the singer’s incitements to murder LGBTs . Our aim is to stop murder music, so we agreed to cooperate. Eddie acted as the go-between."

Then, Tatchell told me, "Within the framework agreed with J-Flag, OutRage!, and BGMAG, Dennis Carney of BGMAG and I drafted the statement, and I sent it to Eddie Brown. Our draft consciously pitched it to reject all hatred and violence, and to appeal to reggae’s tradition of one love, peace, and justice."

After that, Tatchell said, "Eddie forwarded our version to the singers and to his fellow reggae promoters. The artists rejected our first draft and we rejected the revised version they sent back to us. The title Reggae Compassionate Act was the idea of Eddie and his fellow promoters. Eventually, Eddie and his colleagues accepted our second draft, which was a slightly softer-worded version than the first. Nevertheless, it included all the essential points we wanted. He then put our new version to the singers on our behalf. One by one the four artists agreed to sign it."

According to Tatchell, "Eddie arranged the actual signatures with the artists while some of them were in Jamaica and while others were on tour. He negotiated face-to-face with some of their managements. The four signed agreements were delivered to him. He then sent us PDFs of these signed documents, which I have put on my Web site." (To see the signed documents, go to Tatchell's Web site and click on the rubric "Pop Music.")

Tatchell added, "Eddie is totally confident that all four artists have signed — and we have their signatures, including Banton’s, to prove it. Eddie also believes that more dancehall stars will eventually sign up to the RCA."

In a note to editors accompanying its press release on Banton's signing of the RCA, the Stop Murder Music campaign asked, "To test the singers' sincerity, we urge you to assign your journalists to interview them to make sure they personally confirm their commitment to renounce and oppose homophobia." In view of the reported denials in Jamaica, it looks like that was a wise precaution.

Brett_lock A key figure in the SMM campaign, Brett Lock (left) of OutRage!, said: ""We have never accepted any agreement whereby an artist agrees to not perform homophobic lyrics at concerts in Europe and the US, but continues performing them in the Caribbean. The idea that these singers can incite the murder of gay people in Jamaica and then come to Europe and be accepted as legitimate artists is morally sick and indefensible. The only agreement we will accept is an agreement that they will not incite homophobic hatred and violence - in lyrics or in public statements - anywhere in the world, including Jamaica. This is what the Reggae Compassionate Act says, and this is the pledge made by the four singers who have signed it,"

Banton has a record of homophobia that is a lot more than musical. In 2004, Banton was charged with being part of an armed group of homophobes who invaded the home of several gay men in Jamaica and badly beat them, sending two to the hospital.

"Mr. Banton was allegedly one of a group of about a dozen armed men who forced their way into a house in Kingston on the morning of June 24 and beat up the occupants while shouting homophobic insults, according to the victims," the Guardian reported on July 17 of that year.

Banton was later acquitted by a jury, at a time when a public opinion poll showed that 92 percent of Jamaicans believe homosexuality should remain criminalized. Gay sexual behavior currently carries a penalty of 10-15 years in prison.

Several gay and lesbian leaders in Jamaica have been murdered in recent years, and gay men walking in the streets are frequently targeted by lynch mobs (for details, see this reporter’s articles, "Jamaica, Island of Hate," October 5-11, 2006, and "Jamaican Mob Threatens to Murder Gay Men," February 22-28, 2007.)

British reggae DJ Mark Richards from the reggae label Xtremix records, asked by the Guardian about this week’s signing by Banton of the RCA agreement, said, "I can see why he’s done it. He doesn’t want to jeopardize his whole career over just a few songs. But it doesn’t mean he’s going to change any of his opinions."

The Stop Murder Music Campaign is continuing to target other reggae artists whose lyrics incite murder of lesbians and gays — among them Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, Vybz, and TOK.

Posted by Direland at 04:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (22)

July 25, 2007

NEW IRAQI GAY MURDERS CONFIRMED

The following article was written for Gay City News, New York's largest lesbian and gay weekly:

A new wave of assassinations of Iraqi gays - part of the organized campaign of "sexual cleansing" of homosexuals that has been one of the saddest byproducts of the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq - has been confirmed by Iraqi LGBT, the all-volunteer, London-based group of gay Iraqi exiles that has been documenting the grim work of the Islamist anti-gay death squads in Iraq.

Ali_hili_gq Ali Hili (left) is the 33-year-old gay Iraqi exile who founded Iraqi LGBT three years ago in London with 30 other gay Iraqis, and is now the group's coordinator. Iraqi LGBT has members, supporters, and informants throughout Iraq, with whose help the group has been able to document and confirm a bloody harvest of assassinations by fanatically anti-gay Islamist enforcers.

Hili told me this week of the following new confirmed murders and arrests of gay Iraqis, all of which occurred at the beginning of this month. (Pseudonyms have been used for those still living to protect their safety.)

Mustafa, 26, was a well-known gay man in his neighborhood in the city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, who went out for a walk with a friend to shop for clothes. Mustafa was stopped and arrested by the local militia of the Badr Corps - the armed branch of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the largest Shia political formation in Iraq.

The Badr Corps was integrated into the Ministry of the Interior's police last year, and its anti-gay death squads since then have operated with full police powers.

Mustafa was separated from his friend, taken to an isolated area, and shot and killed on the spot by the Badr militia, reported Haydar, an Iraqi LGBT member in Najaf.

Ali, a gay lad of 17, was also killed in Najaf in early July.

"One of our main sources in Najaf told us that his young friend Ali had been killed for his gay behavior and his sexuality, " Hili told this reporter, adding, "Ali's mother told our source during a phone conversation that her son had disappeared, only to be later found shot to death in a nearby neighborhood."

In the small Southern Iraqi town of al-Simawa - a stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, which has also deployed anti-gay death squads - two gay friends, aged 29 and 30, received death threats targeting their homosexuality. Within a few days, the two young men were assassinated.

Ali, another young gay man from al-Simawa, had moved to Baghdad a few years ago after finding a better job there and living conditions more congenial with his sexuality. After a short visit to his hometown of al-Simawa, on his way back to Baghdad he was stopped at a police checkpoint, arrested, and accused of being a "terrorist." Ali managed to call the Iraqi LGBT representative in al-Simawa, who is well-known and well-connected in the little town.

"Through friends who have connections with the police, " Hili said, "our representative discovered they'd been told by the police officer in charge of handling the investigation of Ali that Ali was well-known as a gay man in al-Simawa, and that because of that the police officer wanted to accuse Ali on suspicion of terrorism and thus punish him for his homosexuality."

Ali is still in police custody.

Gay City News first broke the story about the systematic murders of Iraqi gays last March (see this reporter's March 23, 2006 article, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays.") and regular reports on the sexual cleansing campaign in Iraq have continued to appear in these pages.

Links to these stories are available online in the Web version of this article.

Ayatollah_sistani_best These latest murders bring to nearly 400 the total number of assassinations targeting gays which Iraqi LGBT has been able to confirm since it began to document the murderous campaign of sexual cleansing being waged by hard-line religious elements. This drive began with the death-to-gays fatwa issued in October, 2005 by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (left), the 79-year-old Iranian born-and-trained chief spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims.

Sistani is recognized by SCIRI as its spiritual and political guide, and both Sistani and SCIRI have been aggressively courted by the U.S. occupier. SCIRI now holds the balance of power in the U.S.-approved Iraqi government.

But, warned Hili, the nearly 400 murders confirmed by his group are "only the tip of the iceberg," as Iraqi LGBT's resources are severely limited and many assassinations of LGBT Iraqis because of their sexual orientation go unreported as such, partly because the victims' families are afraid of reprisals, and partly because the virulently homophobic police not only care little about the murders of gays but - infiltrated as they are by the SCIRI's Badr militia - are frequently complicit or participants in those crimes.

Moreover, secure communications within the country are quite difficult - both because electricity is only available a few hours a day and frequently cut, rendering the Internet unusable, and because the anti-gay death squads and their operatives in police uniforms are constantly monitoring the communications of suspected LGBT Iraqis.

Iraqi religious extremists have adopted the tactic of Internet entrapment of LGBT people used by Iran in its anti-gay crusade, as Hili illustrated with the latest in a long string of stories about such snares.

In late May, two gay Baghdad University students - Ahmed, 23, and Zaid, 24 - arranged a date with two men through a gay Internet chatroom. Their "dates" were very good looking men with a brand new car. After chatting awhile, the two students agreed to accompany their "dates" to the al-Karada neighborhood of Baghdad.

It turned out that their "dates" were in reality members of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army who had been posing as gay in order to entrap them. The Mahdi army men locked the car doors, took out guns, and began furiously beating Ahmed and Zaid.

The two gay lads were then kidnapped, taken to a deserted area, stripped, blindfolded, had their hands bound behind their backs with painful wire strips, and were then even more severely beaten and tortured at gunpoint.

The Mahdi army men demanded to know the names and phone numbers of other gay men, and went through the details of everyone listed in the students' mobile phones.

The two gay students fully expected to be killed - that is how such kidnappings of gays usually finish - but, miraculously, after having told them to kneel on the ground and say their prayers, the Mahdi army men drove away, and left the youths in the secluded area where they'd been tortured. They were eventually rescued by a passing motorist.

Ahmed and Zaid were eventually aided by Dina H., a lesbian activist with Iraqi LGBT, who runs one of the safe-houses which Iraqi LGBT maintains for those who have been targeted by the Islamist anti-gay death squads and so have had to flee their homes.

After their horrific kidnapping, these two gay students have vowed to hide their sexuality to protect themselves.

"Normally, gay kidnap victims are always killed, " Hili said. "Ahmed and Zaid do not know why they were not shot. They are pleasant, kind young men - perhaps their kidnappers took pity on them. But they have now learned that being gay in Iraq is impossible - it is too dangerous."

Dina, the Iraqi LGBT activist who helped the two students and collected their story, "is running a safe-house that hides eight gays and lesbians who have fled death threats and attempted honor killings by their families," Hili recounted. "She has helped many gay Iraqis over the last four years. We all think she is incredibly brave."

Unfortunately, Iraqi LGBT was forced last month to close two of the five safe-houses it had maintained for gay and lesbian Iraqis fleeing death, because of lack of funds to support them and those who'd found refuge in them.

"We often feel let down by the gay community in the West, " Hili said sadly. "We need help to protect our friends and save lives. We need money for the safe-houses, food, electricity, security protections, clothing, and to help pay the phone bills of members of the Iraqi LGBT group so we can continue to report these murders and kidnappings."

Hili added, "We are also paying for medication for our members in Iraq who are HIV-positive - otherwise, they will get no treatment. If it is discovered they have HIV, they will surely be killed."

Hili begged, "In these hard times for gay Iraqis, the whole worldwide LGBT community should stand up for the rights of Iraqi LGBTs, and support these victims of sexual cleansing in Iraq."

Readers wishing to send a contribution to help Iraqi LGBT's vital, life-saving work haveIraqi_lgbt_logo  two ways to do so. Direct credit card donations can be made via the secure PayPal link on the Iraqi LGBT Web site.

If contribution by check is preferred, the U.K.-based gay human rights group OutRage! is working with Iraqi LGBT to support its work. Iraqi LGBT does not yet have a London bank account, since as refugees seeking asylum its members lack the legal status to establish one, and operating an Iraqi LGBT bank account in Baghdad would be suicide. Iraqi LGBT asks that checks be made payable to "OutRage!" with a cover note marked "For Iraqi LGBT," and sent to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT, England, U.K. OutRage! then forwards the donations received to Hili and Iraqi LGBT for wire transfer to activists in Baghdad.

Posted by Direland at 11:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

July 11, 2007

FASCISTS ATTACK BUDAPEST GAY PRIDE

The following was written for Gay City News -- New York's largest lesbian and gay weekly -- which will publish it tomorrow:

Budapest_pride_injured_man_comforteThe 10th annual Budapest Gay Pride March this past Saturday, July 7, was violently attacked by hundreds of counter-demonstrators armed with Molotov cocktails, bottles, eggs, and nylon-stocking coshes filled with sand. (Left, an injured, bloodied Budapest Pride marcher is comforted by a comrade.)

Some 2,000 LGBT participants marched with several colorful floats from statue-filled Heroes’ Square to a dance club at the foot of one of the bridges crossing the Danube, where an after-party had been planned, and along more than a mile of that route they were pelted by the anti-gay gangs. A number of Pride marchers were injured, several required hospitalization, and a truck caught fire from oneBudapest_pride_1  of the Molotov cocktails.

The anti-gay demonstrators, who followed the Pride March (right) in three trucks and on foot, shouted epithets like, "Faggots into the Danube, followed by the Jews," "Soap Factory," and "Filthy Faggots."

The homophobic counter-demonstration was organized by two fascist political formations, the Movement for a Democratic Hungary (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom, commonly referred to as "Jobbik") and the neo-Nazi Hungarian National Front. Jobbik, in alliance with another ultra-right political party, received 2.2 percent of the vote in last year’s parliamentary elections.

When the Pride March arrived at the Buddha Beach discotheque for the after-party, they found the club blockaded for several hours by the fascist counter-demonstrators and the club’s doors locked on the orders of the police. The marchers, who could not enter the club, were thus crowded together with the anti-gay contingent in the street outside it, where they were again attacked.

The anti-gays outside the club eventually dispersed, but marauding gangs of thugs, some of them skinheads wearing swastika arm-bands, continued to roam the area near the discotheque, beating up Pride marchers as they left. At least a dozen people were reported injured in these beatings, including a German man who was badly bashed over the head with a beer bottle and taken to the hospital.

Gabor_demsky In the wake of the violence, Gabor Demszky (left), Budapest’s mayor since 1990, said that he and his political party, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), unambiguously condemned the assaults on the Pride March, calling the anti-gay attackers "intolerant, primitive, and cowardly." The SZDSZ, which is the junior partner in Hungary’s governing coalition, had previously sent a message of support to the Pride event.

Mayor Demszky added, "On these occasions, I consider myself Jewish, Roma, and gay." The Roma ethnic minority, frequently called Gypsies, have suffered widespread racial discrimination in Hungary and are frequently targeted by the two anti-Semitic parties that organized the anti-gay counter-demonstration.

The police, who were reported to have arrested eight people during the day's events, were accused of inexcusable negligence and indifference to the anti-gay violence in a statement released by three non-governmental organizations — Patent (People Against Patriarchy, which works on the issues of violence against women and equality for sexual minorities); NANE (a 12-year-old women’s rights association); and Gemini (a social dance club for LGBTers).

"The violent counter-demonstrators were throwing bottles at the participants of the Pride March from arm’s length, threatening their life," the statement from the three associations said. "While several participants were injured from bottles and splinters, the police were present only sporadically. Many colleagues from our organizations witnessed and documented the police simply watching the counter-demonstrators throw eggs and bottles without acting. Through this, the police officers perpetrated the crime of ‘endangering through professional negligence.’"

The associations went on to add, "The police failed to ensure the safety of the participants of the events after the March. The Pride March ended at the club Buddha Beach, which the police held closed for hours because of the threatening presence of the extremist group. After lifting the closure, the police was present for a few more hours but failed to patrol in the area. That is why it was possible for gangs of demonstrators to beat up more than 10 persons in nearby parks and streets by 1 a.m. The police should have demonstrated with reinforced and highly visible forces that they would not tolerate further attacks against participants of the LGBT event."

In a separate statement, a coalition of seven gay groups denounced a "cover-up" of the police negligence by Hungary’s Minister for Public Order — who had said he could find no fault in the police conduct — and demanded an official investigation of "why the police did not protect the marchers and why calls for help in the course of the night were refused."

The Pride March was part of a four-day LGBT Film and Cultural Festival, which was opened with a coming-out speech by a senior government official.

State Secretary for Personnel Gábor Szetey (right), a member of the MSZP — Hungary’sGbor_szetey  Socialist Party, which leads the coalition government — became the first high-ranking government official to speak out as openly gay when said in his speech to the Festival, "My name is Gábor Szetey. I am the personnel state secretary of the Government of the Republic of Hungary. I believe in God, love, freedom, and equality. I am Hungarian and European. I am an economist and a personnel leader. I am a partner, a friend, sometimes an opponent. And I am gay."

The 38-year-old Szetey said it took him 28 years to accept his own identity, which he could never talk about with his now-deceased mother, according to the Hungarian news agency MTI. He added that he hoped his public coming out would make it easier for other Hungarians to do the same.

The opening of the LGBT Festival also was attended by Klára Dobrev, the prime minister's wife; Health Minister Ágnes Horváth; Economy Minster János Kóka; Environment Minister Gábor Fodor; government spokesman Dávid Daróczi; and the leader of the SZDSZ parliamentary group, Mátyás Eörsi.

The SZDSZ announced last week that it would sponsor a bill to provide equality of marriage rights to same-sex couples; and its dominant ruling coalition partner, the Socialists, indicated willingness to give same-sex couples some form of equal rights.

Viktor_orban But parties opposed to any form of legalizing gay unions have a significant edge in public opinion polls for the next parliamentary elections, according to an IPSOS poll released this week. In that poll, the conservative FIDESZ (Citizens Party) — led by homophobic former Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left)— received 58 percent, while the Socialist MSZP got just 29 percent, and its very pro-gay ally SZDSZ only four percent.

Posted by Direland at 05:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

July 05, 2007

GAY PRIDE IN EUROPE LOOKS GLOBALLY

I wrote the following report for Gay City News -- New York City's largest lesbian and gay weekly newspaper -- which published it today:

Pride Parades in London, Toronto, Madrid, and Paris this year attracted millions of participants, and concern for the plight of oppressed gays and lesbians in ultra-homophobic countries was high on their agendas.

London_pride_royal_navy_marchers In London last Saturday, June 30, despite torrential rains and the discovery of a terrorist-planted car stuffed with explosives along the parade route through the city’s West End, dozens of thousands of buoyant LGBTers -- led by the city’s mayor -- marched to Trafalgar Square for a rally and concert featuring entertainment headliners. (Left, the Royal Navy gay contingent of the London Pride march)

Ken_livingstone Mayor Ken Livingstone (left), a member of the Labour Party left, appeared on the lead Pride float with openly gay actor John Barrowman. A leading man in many West End theater playsJohn_barrowman  and musicals, and a popular figure on a wide range of BBC television shows, Barrowman (right) -- who holds joint U.K.-U.S. citizenship -- is best known to U.S. audiences for his roles in the Brit import TV series “Dr. Who,“ the films “De-Lovely” and “The Producers,” and the short-lived prime time U.S. TV soap operas “Titans” and “Central Park West.”

London_city_hall Livingstone had London’s ultra-modern City Hall (photo left) draped in a huge rainbow flag to mark London Pride, and had his own special bus in the march decorated with rainbow flags, bows, and balloons.

In his remarks to the Pride rally, Livingstone -- who appeared on-stage with his two small children -- used his remarks to underscore the plight of LGBT people in other countries.

“This has become a good city for people of a different sexual orientation to live in.--we follow places like San Francisco and Copenhagen and Amsterdam -- but let's never forget these are just a few secure, isolated areas, in a world still awash with bigotry and hatred,” the mayor said.

"We used to see a situation a hundred years ago where gays andLondon_pride_protests_homophoibia_p  lesbians would be beaten to death and the police would turn a blind eye. That is still the situation for tens and millions of our comrades and sisters and brothers around the face of the planet,” Livingstone added, noting that “Peter Tatchell, who was in the march today, was viciously beaten by fascist thugs in Moscow, that’s still the situation.” (Left, London Pride marchers carried signs protesting homophobia in Poland)

Peter_tatchell_good Tatchell (left), the founder and head of the militant British Moscow_pride_07_tatchell_punched__2 gay rights group OutRage, was severely assaulted in the attempt to hold a banned Moscow Gay Pride demonstration in front of the Russian capital’s city hall on May 27 (see this reporter’s May 31 article, “The Agony of Moscow Pride.”) (Right, a young Moscow fascist, in camouflage t-shirt, prepares to punch Peter Tatchell, in the blue shirt on the right)

Moscow_pride_07_tatchells_eye Tatchell, who has been nominated as the British Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for the university town of Oxford, told this reporter two weeks ago that he is still suffering vision problems, some memory loss, and cognition difficulties as a result of the beating to his head he received in Moscow. (Right, Tatchell in a Moscow ambulance with his bloodied eye after his beating.)

"So let's celebrate Pride in London today,” Livingstone went on to tell the Pride rally, “but let's do all the things we can for those people in other cities who still live in fear and oppression.”

Ali_hili_gq Shortly before the rally, Livingstone met with gay Iraqi refugee Ali Hili (left), coordinator of the London-based Iraqi LGBT group, which has a network of members and informants throughout Iraq. Iraqi LGBT has documented 350 murders of lesbian, gay, and transgendered Iraqis since the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq unleashed a lethal campaign of “sexual cleansing” by religious death squads, which are commanded by Islamic political formations courted by the U.S. and British occupiers. (The anti-gay reign of terror in Iraq has been regularly covered in these pages -- for this reporter’s most recent report, see the May 3 article, “Iraqi Gay Activist Arrested, Tortured.”)

In what Hili told this reporter was the first-ever formal participation by gayLondon_pride_ali_hili_4  Iraqis in a Pride event anywhere in the world, the Iraqi LGBT group was invited by London Pride organizers to have a booth under a tent at the rally. The group distributed leaflets to the Pride marchers and rally participants, and sold T-shirts with the slogans, “Iraqi Gay and Proud -- Coming Soon, Baghdad Pride” and “You Can Save Lives, Iraqi LGBT Needs Your Help.” (Above Right, Ali Hili and two gay Iraqi comrades hanging up the Iraqi flag in the Iraqi LGBT London Pride booth; Ali is on the right in the photo)

Iraqi_lgbt_leaflet_london_pride The all-volunteer organization currently maintains five safe-houses in Iraq for gays who have been forced underground after threats by the anti-gay religious death squads, which have now been integrated into the Iraqi police and the Interior Ministry by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. Iraqi LGBT was forced to close three other safe-houses in southern Iraq in May due to lack of funds. (Left, the Iraqi LGBT group's leaflet for London Pride)

“We had over 14 of our members participating in this year’s Pride,” Hili told me. “Our group attracted lots of media attention, and our members gave many interviews to journalists.”

Hili added that, “I had a very warm welcome from Mayor Livingstone, who spoke about the terrible situation that his government and the U.S. government caused because of the awful and illegal war in Iraq.” Livingstone promised to take up the issue of the terror campaign against Iraqi gays, Hili said.

The London Pride rally was also addressed by two members of the new British government headed by Labour Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown, successor to Tony Blair.

Angela_eagle_w_harman Openly lesbian MP Angela Eagle, who was named last week by Brown as junior Treasury Minister, was introduced to the crowd by the Labour Party’s new Deputy Leader in the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, who has also been named Minister for Women. Harman’s ministerial portfolio is also expected to include equality issues, among them gay rights. (Left, lesbian Treasury Minister Eagle, on the left, with Minister for Women Harman at London Pride)

"This is my first public appearance as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and this is the first public appearance of our new treasury minister Angela Eagle,” Harman told the Pride rally. "I think we should celebrate her appointment here today,” she added, calling Eagle “my sister in government.”

Harman, who is considered a feminist, and has been identified with the Labour Party’s left wing, promised the Pride rally that the Brown government would initiate “new work in schools to tackle homophobia, more work within the police and the criminal justice system to prevent and deter homophobic crime.”

But doubts have been raised about new Prime Minister Brown’s commitment to full gay equality by gay rights campaigners and the gay press.

Gordon_brown_dour Last Wednesday, June 27, OutRage’s Tatchell issued a statement saying, “Gordon Brown (left) has missed more gay equality votes in parliament than any other MP -- in 13 out of 14 votes on gay equality in the House of Commons, Mr. Brown has not bothered to turn up and vote.”

Tatchell added that, “While I doubt he [Brown] is homophobic, he has failed to make any serious effort to vote in favor of gay law reform.”

Toronto_pride_yonge_st_4 Toronto’s Pride Parade, held on June 24th, which had 150 floats and drew a crowd estimated by the Toronto daily Globe and Mail at one million, made international solidarity its main theme. (Left, Toronto Pride marchers carrying huge Rainbow Flag down Yonge Street)

As the Toronto Pride Parade made its way down Yonge Street -- the main street in the city’s gay neighborhood -- in the lead as Grand Marshal was Rossana_flamercaldera the co-secretary of the International Gay and Lesbian Association, Rossana Flamer-Caldera (left), an LGBT activist from Sri Lanka. Flamer-Caldera was co-founder in 2004 of the Sri Lankan LGBT group Equal Ground, which held its own four-day Pride festival this year from May,.20-24, including the country’s first-ever LGBT film festival.

Sri Lanka, where homosexuality is a crime punishable by ten years in prison, was one of eight countries which Toronto Pride organizers decided to highlight this year because queers face persecution there in the form of denial of civil liberties, torture, imprisonment, or the death penalty.

Representatives of gays in Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Belarus, Russia, Jamaica, and Honduras -- each carrying their country’s flag -- were invited to lead the Toronto Pride Parade right behind Sri Lanka’s Flamer-Caldera.

“It was the most awe-inspiring moment of my life,” Flamer-Caldera said, adding, “Fortunately, my sunglasses masked the tears that streamed down my face – it was just unbelievable! The million plus crowd greeted me (and the rest of the parade) with so much enthusiasm and support, cheering and whistling all the way. I cannot put it into words really, how I truly felt.”

Arsham_parsi_toronto Arsham Parsi (left), executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO -- formerly the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, PGLO), who was granted asylum by Canada last year as a sexual refugee afterArsham_toronto_pride  fleeing for his life from police persecution in Iran, and who now resides in Toronto, was invited to represent Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.(Right, Arsham Parsi in black hood carrying the Iranian flag in the Toronto Pride march.)

“This was my first time marching in a Pride parade,” Parsi told me. He added that doing so, and carrying the Iranian flag, “was very important for me -- I kept thinking about all the persecuted Iranian queer people as I marched.”

Parsi went on to say that his feelings as he marched “were something between happiness and severe fear: I was happy because this was my first Gay Pride march in which I could protest discrimination and torture and persecution for being queer internationally -- but I also had fear for my personal security, because I know that there are Iranian intelligence police in Toronto.”

Europride1_front_line_of_march Madrid was host this year to EuroPride, and a crowd estimated at 2.5 million joined in the 200 LGBT cultural, festive, and sporting events that culminated in a parade this past weekend on Saturday, June 30. (Left, the front line of the EuroPride Madrid march)

The theme of the Madrid EuroPride was “Europe Now --Equality is Possible,” and the parade, which made its way through the middle of Spain’s capitol city, featured 45 floats, including entries from Manchester, Marseille, and Zurich, and organizers said that some 200,000 people from all over Europe had come to Madrid specifically for the event.

Madrid had been chosen for this year’s EuroPride in recognition of the Zapatero pro-gay reforms introduced by the government of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (Right).

In 2005, Zapatero pushed through parliament legalization of same-sex marriage as well as the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, and brought in legislation that made homosexual rights equal to those of heterosexuals in areas including inheritance and workplace benefits. (Zapatero's appeal to the Spanish parliament on the day it voted to legalize gay marriage was the most powerful speech in favor of full equality for those with same-sex hearts ever delivered by a head of government anywhere on the globe -- to read this moving speech, click here.)

Earlier this year, Spain passed a law that will allow transsexuals to change their name and gender without undergoing gender reassignment surgery.

Felgtb_logo_2 “We have to defend our rights as gays, and from Spain we are going to proclaim loudly that these rights can be achieved everywhere in Europe," said Antonio Poveda, 39, president of the FELGBT, Spain's Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Bisexual Federation (logo left), who singled out Poland and Russia as two European countries that persecute homosexuals.

Several groups in the parade carried banners saying, "Poland, stop homophobia. For a European Union free of discrimination," "Next EuroPride in Poland," and "Watch out for the German shepherd" next to a photograph of Pope Benedict XVI. Europride_5_colorful_men_kissing

Gay activists draped in rainbow flags also demonstrated in front of the Polish Embassy in Madrid, calling for greater equality for Poland's gay community. Demonstrators “called on Poland's conservative government to back down from a policy against homosexual influences in public life,” Associated Press reported. (Right, two colorful marchers embrace at Madrid EuroPride)

Carmen_calvo Zapatero’s government was represented in the parade by Minister of Culture Carmen Calvo (left), who told Agence France-Presse, “We are very proud to receive the rest of Europe. Today Spain is an example of advanced democracy. We must fight homophobia and reactionary attitudes." The heads of Spain’s two major trade union federations also took part in the march.

In Paris last Saturday, 500,000 people turned out for the Marche des fiertés, a Pride parade led by openly gay Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, the radio network Europe 1 reported.

Paris Pride’s slogan this year, “No Compromise on Equal Rights,” was addressed to newly-elected conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who opposes both gay marriage and gay adoptions.

Paris_pride_delanoe_good “It’s too bad that the right, and notably Monsieur Sarkozy, who took so many years to understand that the PACS [France’s version of civil unions] was a necessary step forward, are now trying to restrain the march of History,” Mayor Delanoë (rght, in whte, at the head of the march) told the daily Le Monde at the the parade, adding: “The march of History is toward liberty, equality, and equal rights.”

The Pride parade included delegations from the major trade union federations, and from a coalition of groups favoring more liberal asylum policies for refugees from sexual persecution in homophobic counties (at left).

Paris_pride_place_pierre_seel Some Paris Pride marchers paused to lay flowers at the small square re-baptized Place Pierre Seel (left) in honor of the only surviving French 'Pink Triangle' to have testified openly about his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps, to which he was sent for being gay. In his 1993 autobiography (right), and in his Pierre_seel_bookjacket_2 unforgettable appearance in Rob Epstein's documentary "Paragraph 175," on the Nazi campaign of terror against gays, Pierre Seel helped let younger generations know that we, too, were part of the Holocaust. (For more on Pierre Seel, click here.)

BELOW, Paris Pride Arrives at La Bastille

Paris_pride_arrives_at_la_bastille

The Iraqi LGBT’s website is http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com/ The Iranian Queer Organization’s website is http://www.pglo.net/ The Sri Lankan organization Equal Ground is at http://www.equal-ground.org/ The International Gay and Lesbian Association’s website Theishttp://www.ilga.org/

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