Tuesday 29 May 2007

Teletubbies as ‘threat’ to nation

Europe = Tolerance?

Polish authorities completely lost it. Now they are fighting against… cartoon character!

A senior Polish official has ordered psychologists to investigate whether the popular BBC TV show Teletubbies promotes a homosexual lifestyle (BBC).

The spokesperson for children's rights in Poland, Ewa Sowinska, singled out Tinky Winky, the purple character with a triangular aerial on his head (picture by BBC).

Reuters quoted her as saying: "I noticed (Tinky Winky) has a lady's purse, but I didn't realise he's a boy... Later I learned that this may have a homosexual undertone." Ms Sowinska wants the psychologists to make a recommendation about whether the children's show should be broadcast on public television.

However, in an apparent attempt to distance government from this ridiculous situation, the Polish Parliamentary Speaker Ludwig Dorn said he had warned Sowinska against making any comments which would "turn her department into a laughing stock" (PinkNews). And many people in Poland agreed with him. In fact, as BBC reported, she already turned herself into a “laughing stock”: one Polish radio station asked its listeners to vote for the most suspicious children's show. Some e-mailed in, saying that Winnie the Pooh had only male friends. :)

Tinky Winky from Teletubbies was once attacked by American ultra-conservatives suspecting the character in being gay and prompting worldwide debate over his sexuality. US preacher Jerry Falwell claimed that Tinky Winky must be gay because he is “wearing woman’s handbag”, “he is purple and has a triangle on his head; both of which are symbols of gay pride” (PinkNews).

A month ago, the European Parliament has called on Poland to stop public leaders inciting discrimination against homosexuals (BBC). The resolution followed a statement by a deputy education minister that Poland was drafting a law to punish teachers who "promoted" homosexuality. MEPs repeated an appeal to EU anti-racism experts to look into "the emerging climate of racist, xenophobic and homophobic intolerance in Poland".

Human rights organisations said it would prevent lessons promoting tolerance towards homosexuals, and the dissemination of lifesaving information about Aids.

"It was not just any person who made this dreadful statement, it was a member of the government, helping to contribute to a climate in which hatred is regarded as normal," said Dutch MEP Sophia in't Veld, who was at Moscow pride last Saturday supporting Russia’s gay rights activists.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) made its warning in an open letter to Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. It said the bill "would create a climate of intolerance" in schools.

All persons, including children, have a right to free speech, freedom from discrimination, and to seek, receive and impart information
Human Rights Watch

Recently, more than 10,000 teachers marched in the capital, Warsaw, protesting against the government's education policy and demanding pay rises (BBC). The demonstrators demanded the dismissal of Education Minister Roman Giertych, accusing him of ignoring teachers' groups and increasing intolerance.

As always, instead of solving real problems faced by society, politicians used one of their now increasingly favourite methods - inciting homophobia to turn the attention from real problems into the aspects of ‘moral values’.

Along with Poland, recent incidences of extreme intolerance towards gay people in Baltic states, especially Latvia and Lithuania (all EU members!) have proved that something got wrong with the EU values. They joined the club (EU) but did they take the values?

EU should apply stricter rules on new member states; acceptance should be conditional on protection of human rights. Full membership should be granted after ensuring that new member states are ready and devoted, institutionally, to protect human rights which include rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Instead, they were motivated by political reasons to enter Poland and Baltic states into the EU as quickly as possible, without enough work to ensure that human rights values shared are the same. I hope EU will acknowledge its mistakes and will act differently in case of any other potential member states, including those involved in European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which includes Armenia too, to make sure that closer cooperation with Europe or prospects of membership are linked to human rights records without any exclusions.

There is need for EU-wide anti-discrimination policy, compulsory for member-states and those involved in ENP, which along other forms of anti-discrimination measures, will include protection of gay rights. I wanted to say “we need UN-wide policy”, but at this stage, unfortunately, UN is a weak institution, with some of its notorious member states being a part of its Human Rights Commission, almost useless in dealing with human rights abuses.

Moscow anti-gay attack fuels western criticism over Russia's record on human rights and democracy

Released leader of GayRussia Nikolay Alexeev announced date for next year's Moscow Gay Pride - Saturday, 31st May 2008 and declared his MP ambitions

I've just learned that all detained gay right activists, including leader of GayRussia Nikolay Alexeev, has been released from custody. According to UKGayNews, within hours of being released by a Moscow Court, Nikolay Alekseev had met with others on the Moscow Gay Pride Committee to discuss the future.

“The Moscow Pride Committee has decided tonight that next Moscow Pride will take place Saturday May 31,” Mr. Alekseev said last night. And that was not all.

“I am planning to run next December in the Douma [Russian parliament] election. This could really change the course of next year’s Pride,” he added.

Alexeev expressed his gratitude to gay rights campaigners, various European governments and politicians that had made statements about the events during Moscow Pride. And in particular, he paid tribute to Germany, who currently hold the European Union presidency.

The incident prompted Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, to announce she would raise the issue of human rights with President Vladimir Putin at next month's G8 summit in Germany. "It has been shown once again today that human rights are systematically abused in Putin's Russia," she said in a statement (Independent).

Russian agency RIA Novosti reported that Italy's foreign minister has expressed anger at the detention of two members of the European parliament during Sunday's unsanctioned Gay Pride Parade in central Moscow, while a spokesman for France's Foreign Ministry has said he regrets the "acts of violence" perpetrated against the marchers.

According to BBC, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe condemned Sunday's "unacceptable violence," while Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said the "sad" incident in Moscow "leaves you speechless".

London Mayor Ken Livingston expressed his "deep concern at the reported physical violence against, and arrest of" gay rights activists and urged Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov "to resolve the root cause of this protest by lifting the ban on the Gay Pride parade in Moscow in line with the practice of most cities throughout the world" (PinkNews) The Mayor of Moscow has made openly homophobic remarks in the past, calling homosexuality "satanic".

Meanwhile, British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who was badly beaten before being arrested by riot police, expressed his dismay at the police actions (Sky News, picture by PinkNews): "The Moscow police, astonishingly, arrested me and let my attackers walk free."

Richard Fairbrass, a singer with the band Right Said Fred, was left with a deep gash under his left eye and blood pouring down his face after receiving several blows to the head, while trying to speak to journalists (picture by RIA Novosti):

"When it was over I actually felt more sorry for the guy that whacked me than I did for me... How threatened can he be, how insecure is he to be threatened by a bisexual pop singer who's most famous for singing 'I'm too sexy'?" Fairbrass told BBC Radio Five Life that he would be travelling with security in Eastern Europe from now on.

More pictures from Moscow (by RIA Novosti) are available here.

Elsewhere in Moscow, Mikhail Solomontsev, the official spokesperson for Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov paid tribute to “the clear, smooth and polite work of the police, who acted strictly within the law” (UkGayNews). Yeah, sure... as documented above and here!

Sunday 27 May 2007

Gay Rights Activists Attacked And Arrested at Moscow Pride

14th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in Russia

Russian police detained gay protesters calling for the right to hold a Gay Pride parade in central Moscow on Sunday while nationalists shouting "death to homosexuals" punched and kicked the demonstrators (Reuters).

Nationalists and extreme Russian Orthodox believers threw kicks, punches and eggs at the gay rights group, chanting "Moscow is not Sodom" (BBC, Reuters).

According to the news agencies, prominent British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was arrested, along with the leader of GayRussia, Nikolay Alexeyev, two West European MPs, and dozens of other gay rights activists in Russia, as violence broke out at a banned protest by gay rights activists.

Here is the link to the video of events from BBC.

"We are defending our rights," said a young gay man named Alexey to Reuters, with blood pouring from his nose after he was beaten up by a man screaming "homosexuals are perverts" opposite the mayor's office. His attacker was detained.

"This is terrible but I am not scared. This is a pretty scary place, a pretty scary country if you are gay. But we won't give up until they allow us our rights," he said.

Nicolay Alexeyev (picture by Newsru.com), the organiser of Moscow Pride, is being held by police with other gay activists, among them Peter Tatchell (picture by AFP). Mr Alexeyev was attempting to deliver a petition signed by more than 50 MEPs (Members of European Parliament) urging Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov to allow such events. Luzhkov has called homosexuality "satanic" and says he will never allow gay rights parades in Russia's capital (BBC).

Mr Alexeyev released the following statement (PinkNews):
"We ask the western democraties to put a maximum pressure on the Russian authorities to release us immediately. [...] We praise the German Chancellor Merkel who is currently heading the European Union Presidency to raise the question to President Putin. We also praise the other leaders of the G8 and the EU to speak publicly on this issue. We are very thankfull to European parliamentarians Volker Beck, Sophie In't Veld, Vladimir Luxuria and Marco Cappato who came for us in Moscow and of course all the other. They can show to the world that gay and lesbian rights do not exist in Russia. They can show to the world that freedom of expression not only about politics. Please remember the words of Sophie In't Veld at yesterday press conference. There is no such thing as human rights light in which you can just avoid LGBT issues. There is no place in Europe for people who do not respect the rights of their citizen. European democracies should ban Mayor Luzhkov and his people to enter their countries as they did to officials in Belarus. We ask for your help and support. Probably now, more than ever."

British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell was knocked to the ground and kicked twice. When he got up he was punched in the face again and taken away by two riot policemen (Reuters). After receiving the blow, he leaned on a lamppost and shouted: "Someone protect me, Someone protect me," before being roughly escorted away by riot police (BBC). His attacker was not detained (BBC).

Pictures below document attacks - Russian ultra-nationalist about to punch veteran British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell at a protest in Moscow (AFP, PinkNews):

Here are extracts from Peter Tatchell's keynote speech at the Moscow Pride conference in the Swissotel, Moscow (PinkNews):

"I bring you a message of comradeship and solidarity from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] human rights organizations OutRage! in London.Your struggle is our struggle. [...] We are in this fight for freedom together. [...] As long as gay people in Russia are not accepted and respected, then we are all diminished in all parts of the world. We are diminished regardless of whether we are gay or straight. An attack on one is an attack on all. When gay rights are suppressed, it is a loss to the whole democratic and human rights movement. Conversely, when lesbian and gay people win victories, it is a victory for all lovers of freedom and liberty.

[...] This is why it is so important that the LGBTI human rights movement is not separate from the broader human rights movement—but part of it.It is sad to see some human rights activists here in Russia distance themselves from the LGBTI human rights campaign—and from this weekend's bid to stage the Moscow Pride march.When human rights activists pick and choose which freedoms to defend, they undermine and compromise the whole human rights agenda. Human rights are universal and indivisible. [...]"
A member of the German Bundestag Volker Beck was hit by an egg during a gay rights protest in Moscow (Reuters):

Yulia Volkova and Lena Katina, of the pop group t.A.T.u., did turn up at the protest, but were quickly evacuated from the scene by their entourage when eggs were thrown at their car (PinkNews, picture by Reuters):

"What we have is authoritarianism and we are moving towards totalitarianism," said Lydia Hmelevskaya, a 24-year-old lesbian (BBC). "I have been beaten up on a train because of the way I look. I have the right to look the way I want to."

BBC: On numerous occasions, nationalists circled gay rights activists as they spoke with journalists, then reached in to punch or kick the person being interviewed. One journalist was attacked because he wore an earring, which led nationalists to say he was gay. Police intervened to arrest dozens of gay rights activists and only rarely detained their attackers.

"It is very conspicuous when people are arrested in front of the mayor's office when they were doing nothing other than trying to present a peaceful petition," said Scott Long, a rights activist with Human Rights Watch who observed the events (Reuters).

"There was no real attempt to separate the two sides and that led to people being beaten up," he said. "I would call on the Russian authorities to protect freedom of assembly, protect freedom of expression and protect demonstrators."

Thursday 24 May 2007

Ménage à trois Daniel Zueras's style

No Quiero Enamorarme (I Do Not Want To Fall In Love) music video

Spanish singer Daniel Zueras, 25-year old, became famous from Spanish version of Fame Academy reality TV show, in which he came in second in 2006. Although his debut album was a commercial failure, his first single No Quiero Enamorarme from the same album, released in April 2007, reached No.1 at the Spanish Singles Charts and became a hit throughout the South America.

The music video for his first single features a ménage à trois (one of whom Zueras himself), type of threesome which you would not normally see on American MTV. Apparently, bisexual nature of the video with relatively 'open' scenes 'upset' some YouTube users and was flagged as "inappropriate" by some. However, it was shown in afternoon TV programmes in Spain to a wider audience and, in fact, became a hit on the YouTube itself. According to record company, "for sure, some scenes will raise passions, because of their high erotic content". Well, sex (and controversy) sells! While I do not particularly like the music - nothing special, conventional Spanish pop, I find the video quite enjoyable, sexy and simply hot!

Thursday 17 May 2007

The 2007 Homophobia Hall of Shame

Pope Benedict XVI, US President George W. Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have undermined human rights by actively promoting prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Human Rights Watch said today in its annual “hall of shame” to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.

This ‘hall of shame’ does not claim to include the worst offenders, but it highlights leaders who have lent their authority to denying basic human rights. Bush and Pope Benedict both speak of human dignity, but their homophobic words and actions undermine families and endanger health.
Scott Long, Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program

Leaders named to the “Hall of Shame" for their actions in the past year are:

Pope Benedict XVI: for undermining families. The leader of the Holy See has gone well beyond expressing the Church’s theological views on homosexuality. The Pope has intervened in politics in many other countries to condemn and threaten figures who support equal rights or any form of recognition for lesbian and gay families. After Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, Pope Benedict’s Pontifical Council on the Family commanded Spanish officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples or even to process the paperwork if they tried to adopt a child.

US President George W. Bush: for jeopardizing public health. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) requires that one-third of HIV-prevention spending go to so-called “abstinence-until-marriage” programs. These programs threaten the health of LGBT people by sending a message that there is no safe way for them to have sex, and by denying them life-saving information. In some countries, such as Uganda, grants from the $15 billion PEPFAR program have funded groups that actively promote homophobia; in others, they have drastically reduced condom provision.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: for creating public and private scandals. President Ahmadinejad has overseen a widening campaign to “counter public immorality,” arbitrarily arresting thousands of Iranians for dressing or behaving differently. In recent weeks, for example, thousands of women have been detained for not conforming to “correct” Islamic dress. In Iran’s surveillance society, Ahmadinejad also uses religious vigilantes to raid homes and other private places in search of “deviant” behavior – including homosexual conduct. The Iranian regime polices public behavior and violates the right to privacy on a massive scale.

Roman Giertych, Polish Minister of Education and Deputy Prime Minister: for endangering children. Part of a right-wing government that has made homophobia a centerpiece of policy, Giertych’s education ministry has proposed a law to fine or imprison teachers, school officials, or student human rights defenders who even mention homosexuality. Vital facts about safer sex and protection against HIV/AIDS could be banned from schools under the new law.

Bienvenido Abante, Member of the Philippine House of Representatives and Chair of the House Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights: for trying to force his sexual orientation on others. Representative Abante has urged that homosexuals be “cured” and turned into heterosexuals. He has repeatedly blocked a landmark bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Philippines. He has also suggested that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are excluded from the “definition” of human rights.

Human Rights Watch also pointed to large and small gains that give reason for hope:

In Nepal, after years of abuse directed at lesbians, gays, and transgender people during a violent civil war, the authorities in February gave a meti (transgender person) in February an official citizenship ID with a gender listed as neither male nor female. This was first time that a government in South Asia has given transgender identity full state recognition.

In Denmark, Parliament in June extended equal access to reproductive technologies to lesbians and single women. Denmark in 1989 became the first country in the world to create civil unions for same-sex partners, but such unions have still discriminated against same-sex couples in many areas, including reproduction. The Danish decision marked a recognition of women’s equal worth as parents, and a further step toward full equality.

In Mexico, Mexico City and the northeastern state of Coahuila passed civil-union laws opening recognition to same-sex couples. Unions solemnized in Coahuila must be recognized as valid across Mexico. These moves come after the 2003 passage of a sweeping federal antidiscrimination law offering protection against unequal treatment based on sexual orientation.

Internationally, the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Law in Relation to Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity were launched during the March session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Adopted in November at a meeting of international legal experts in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, these groundbreaking principles spell out the international legal standards under which governments and other actors should end violence, abuse and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and ensure full equality.


International Day Against Homophobia

On the 17th May 1990 the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. Now International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) exists to provoke actions to end Homophobia, to demand rights and equality.

More than 70 countries still punish women, men and children because of their sexuality.

This picture of two Iranian gay teenagers who were hung two years ago shocked the world. These Iranian teenagers – one 18, the other believed to be 16 or 17, were executed for the ‘crime’ of homosexuality. They were hung because they were gay – the most horrific reminder of state level crime fuelled by homophobia and widespread in many parts of the world.

In Armenia, gay men and women are mainly ‘hidden’. There is widespread prejudice, misinformation and homophobia in Armenian society. Total lack of education and ignorance in relation to sexuality. And it's not only within straight majority. I came across with ignorance among Armenian gay men too. There is big issue of dealing with sexual identity. Living in a society with traditionally strong male dominance, ‘macho’ culture, any diversion from what is considered to be “man” is regarded unacceptable, not only for society, but also on personal, emotional level. I am not even talking about revealing sexuality (“coming out”) to parents, friends or work colleagues. This is almost non-existent in Armenian reality, either in Armenia or Diaspora.

Under the pressure of Council of Europe, Armenia decriminalised gay sex at the end of 2002. It was an important step, we should not underestimate it. In fact, as examples from western countries show, this normally serve as an essential legal basis for further development of gay rights and equality. However, things are moving (if moving) very slowly in Armenia. But there are some good news too. I specifically want to mention the establishment in July 2006 of the first Armenian NGO Menk (WE FOR CIVIL EQUALITY) which deals with the issues of sexual education and promotion of equality towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Armenia. It remains to be seen how successful this or other initiatives will be in promoting all-inclusive equal society in Armenia. Certainly, progress cannot be achieved and considered in isolation from the development of democracy in Armenia. More democratic Armenia will mean more rights for everyone, regardless sexuality.

…Today I launch my second blog:


This blog will deal specifically with gay related issues. It will be personal and not so, ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ – topics ranging from, say, men whom I consider sexy to gay rights and equality. I hope it will be of interest not only for gay men and women. And yes, I put “gay” next to “Armenia”, “gay” next to “Armenian”, we’ve got to get used of it. There are gay Armenian around us, even if they are mainly ‘hidden’, there is gay Armenia, even if it’s mainly ‘hidden’, as yet…

So why "Homosexuals are Hidden in Armenia"?

(posted in Unzipped on 3 May 2007)

Armenian media continues to stigmatise gay community

Blogrel posted a letter of a member of Association of Gay and Lesbian Armenians (AGLA) in France in response to the article Homosexuals are Hidden in Armenia published recently in one of the popular Armenian newspapers – Aravot daily. Here is the link to the original article (in Armenian only). In his open letter, AGLA member asks Aravot “to be more critical on articles that can endanger and stigmatise any group of our society”. And rightly so.

I honestly believe that the subject of sexual minorities is not a concern of a minority group. It is about tolerance for the society as a unity of all people, who can be minorities and majorities in many relations.
Grigor, AGLA France member

Yesterday I tried to leave a comment in Blogrel but it was not possible to post it (it remained unpublished), possibly for technical reasons. Since the issues raised in that article and following comments are important in terms of understanding Armenian reality in relation to (lack of) gay rights and equality, I decided to post my comment here, with some additions:

Thanks for bringing up this article to the attention. Actually, I am not surprised re Aravot daily. I can recall TV comments made by Aravot’s editor-in-chief Abrahamyan years ago. He could not hide his “disgust” towards gay people and, although stating that he is against violence and discrimination, suggested that gay men and women should remain in ‘closet’. And this is one of supposedly ‘liberal’ Armenian newspapers – a newspaper, which played an important role in promoting free speech in Armenia!

To hear these sorts of comments from ordinary people who live in Armenia would not surprise me; there is a huge lack in education on sexuality, homosexuality and related issues in Armenia. But here we are: ‘liberal’ newspaper, journalist and an ‘expert’ sexopathologist. There is either absolute silence in Armenian media on gay issues or incredible ignorance, like in case of this article in Aravot.

The only rightly made point in this article was that gay men and women hide themselves in Armenia, forced to get married which result in unhappy families (to say the least!). However, instead of developing this issue (which is reflected in the title itself), the article reinforces existing clichés on gays working as hairdressers and so on. It made ludicrous statements and inferences, widespread in Armenian society and ‘supported’ by ‘specialist’ sexopathologist, that being gay is a matter of choice, a pathological condition or that gay people need pity since they ‘become gays’ because of ‘childhood trauma’ or ‘horrific upbringing by father’ (?!).

It goes on further to suggest that lesbians ‘recover’ from homosexuality and “forget” their female lovers after being pregnant and after sleeping with the “real” man - the most ridiculous statement I read in years!

While I agree that it is important to start discussing gay issues in Armenia, to actually acknowledging the existence of gay community in Armenia (and in this context I am pleased that there is some sort of discussion going on in one of Armenian blogs), I strongly disagree with the suggestion that we should “applaud Aravot for finding the space… to address a social problem, which is definitely not popular, doesn’t bring any money in election days”. I do not think that addressing important social problem mean (again and again) miseducating people about the very essence of the problem, reinforcing existing clichés and leading to further stigmatisation of gay community in Armenia.

This type of articles is one of the reasons why gay men and women in Armenia prefer to hide themselves, remain in ‘closet’. It’s time to break this vicious circle!

P.S. I will certainly comment further on the issues raised in this article and related issues in my blog very soon.

Armenian 'YouTube'

(posted in Unzipped on 3 May 2007)

I was pleasantly surprised to come across to this first Armenian Video Sharing Network on the web: yesoudo.com It's very new, still in early stages, but my first impression was that it could be very promising development.

Hrant Dink on Turkey-Armenia, family and gay issues

Here is one of the uploaded videos which caught my eyes. It's a rare interview (in Armenian and French) with Hrant Dink (The Independent named him "Armenian champion in Turkey"), a prominent Turkish-Armenian editor who shot dead on 19 January 2007 in Istanbul for his stance on Armenian genocide and human rights in Turkey. This interview (autumn 2005, Paris) is exceptional, since here, along with Turkey-Armenia relationships, a prominent Armenian spoke out in support of gay rights (an exceptionally rare move in current Armenian reality). When asked, what would be his reaction if his son or daughter came out as gay, Hrant Dink said that he would provide with support:

You should live your life, If you ever have any problems, I will be beside you, I will support you!

I wish I could say "We are all Hrant Dink!"...