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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 13 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 28
International News - Scott Wittet
Section One
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International News

by Scott Wittet - SGN Contributing Writer

AFP reports that the Southeast Asian nation of Laos recently held its first-ever Pride event in what supporters hope is a sign of softening social values in the small Communist country.

Although homosexuality is legal in Laos, it is frowned upon by many in the socially conservative nation of around 6 million people, and event organizers decided against holding a parade.

Instead, around 100 LGBT people gathered on a U.S. embassy sports field in the capital city of Vientiane to watch entertainment and sip beers provided by the capital's handful of Gay-friendly bars.

Organized by the embassy and local activists, the June 25 'Proud to Be Us!' event also drew a senior government health representative, the U.S. embassy said - a positive sign in one of the world's few remaining Communist countries.

'I think everyone involved realized that this event was just a first step, so there was no big agenda or set of specific issues we wanted to focus on,' Mike Pryor, the U.S. embassy's deputy public affairs officer, told AFP from Vientiane.

'The goal was to spread the message that LGBT people are valued and loved, and regardless of sexual orientation everyone should be treated with dignity and respect and be allowed to contribute fully to society,' he said.

Although they are rarely victims of violence, Gay and Transgendered people in Laos face widespread discrimination and have difficulty finding work in government or other high-status sectors, leaving many in poorly paid jobs or the sex industry.

The U.S. wants LGBT rights to be recognized as basic human rights, Pryor said, adding that the issue is high on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's agenda.

Laos is a land-locked, mountainous nation where a bloody civil war ended in 1975, bringing to power a Communist regime that has kept strict control over the country despite taking some steps toward economic liberalization.

ILGA reports that a homophobic attack occurred May 19 during a gathering to mark the end of this year's International Day Against Homophobia in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé.

Around 11 p.m., representatives of several LGBT organizations were marching one by one to the podium to discuss what the previous week's activities had meant to them.

Rounds of excited applause greeted the speakers. But in the courtyard outside, men from the local neighborhood were converging, having caught word of what they call 'a gathering of fags.'

Their numbers grew and around midnight, they burst into the room.

Inside, the party atmosphere vanished. Some people ran behind the podium, looking for an emergency exit. Others hid under tables. Some people escaped, others did not. Some were caught and beaten by the gang of Gay bashers.

Some guests at the gathering were robbed of money, mobile phones, jewelry, and identification papers. Some were stripped naked and forced to return home without clothes.

'Nearly two-dozen people who came to the party were nearly beaten to death,' said Yannick N., an organizer of the event. 'The abusers themselves said they wanted to do away with [us].'

None of the organizers called the police because, they said, they know from experience that the police would have arrested the victims of the beatings rather than the attackers.

The gathering had been organized to provide a forum where young LGBT artists could 'pass along a positive message to the community.' The event was supposed to include the announcement of winners of a competition for best new work in poetry and song on the theme 'Challenging homophobia in and through education.'

Yannick N. was philosophical about the attack. 'Just when we were talking about how to combat homophobia through education, we were reminded how indispensable it is that we find ways to change the deeply distorted perception of [LGBT] people in Cameroonian society,' he said.

Other, earlier activities of IDAHO week in Yaoundé had proceeded without major incident.

The Indian city of Chennai's fourth annual Rainbow Pride March drew a colorful mix of activists and community members, with quite a few joining in from other Indian cities as well, according to The Hindu newspaper.

'The city [Chennai] is not like it used to be - it is slowly coming to accept people with alternative sexual preferences. You just need to use the right words at the right time,' said Dev, a physics teacher. Among his supporters were some of his students, one of whom said, 'Our parents might not accept them, but for us, it does not matter at all.'

Right next to Dev's group was a 74-year-old man with a board reading 'In support of my Gay son.'

'Nothing is difficult when you love and understand your children,' he said.

Carrying banners that read 'Straight is just a line' and 'Narrow-mindedness is a disease, homosexuality is not,' the crowd marched along Chennai's beachfront.

The LGBT community has been looking for ways to help people understand their issues better. Shailaja, a participant in the rally, asked, 'When schools impart sex education, shouldn't they also teach children about sexuality and gender? Adolescents who are attracted to the same sex should not wonder what is wrong with them.'

L. Ramakrishnan of the NGO Orinam said, 'Having this visibility is to correct the notion that homosexuality is a Western influence. We are from every section of the society and we want our rights!'

Jennifer McIntyre, U.S. consul general in Chennai, and many other members of the consulate also participated.

Yulianus Rettoblaut, chair of the Indonesian Transgender Forum, is seeking funds for a waria (Transgender) nursing home in her country.

'We have to do [the project] bit by bit because currently no one is eager to support us financially,' Yulianus said in a recent interview with The Jakarta Post. 'I hope that eventually people can see how important this is for our aging friends.'

Traditionally, elderly people in Indonesia are cared for by their families, but the relatives of waria often reject or lose contact with them.

Yulianus currently cares for three waria: 67-year-old Yoti, 67-year-old Sri, and 71-year-old Iwan.

Until the new home is built, Yulianus, also known as Mami Yuli, focuses on training waria to support themselves in old age.

'We have successfully trained around 40 aged Transgenders who currently live independently. Most of them are beauticians, tailors, and cooks,' said Yulianus. 'But, of course, we will try to accommodate those like Iwan, who can barely walk anymore.'

On a Friday night in June, the only Gay bar in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, is a dark building in a sea of dark buildings. Its shades are drawn, its door shut tightly. But inside, the 100% Bar is flush with joie de vivre.

Tall Mongolian men in designer shirts stand with their arms around one another, blowing clouds of cigarette smoke. A rainbow flag is displayed behind the bar.

Mongolia, a traditionally pastoral country of 2.7 million people sandwiched between Russia and China, is a tough place to be Gay. Homosexuality was considered taboo from the 1920s until 1990, when the country was under Soviet rule. Before 2002, it was technically illegal, reports the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

But over the past few years, a small group of human rights activists in Ulan Bator have braved ostracism, intimidation, and violence to forge an LGBT community. In 2009 they established Mongolia's first Gay rights organization, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Centre. They also have engineered a high-profile media campaign on Mongolian TV and pushed for anti-discrimination legislation in Parliament.

Mongolia's recent discovery of vast mineral deposits has sent its economy into overdrive. Expensive bars and restaurants have blossomed among the capital city's Soviet-era apartment blocks and narrow, rubble-strewn alleyways. But an influx of foreign capital has also stirred a rise in ultra-nationalist, neo-Nazi groups who believe in using violence to keep foreign influence at bay. Their shadow lies over the city in the swastikas graffitied on the walls of tenement buildings and in the gangs of bald, leather-clad men who prowl the streets at night.

Many Gay Mongolians live in fear of these groups. In 2009, an ultra-nationalist gang beat and raped three Transgender women on the city's outskirts. LGBT Centre staff members have suffered death threats and attempted abductions.

Although Ulan Bator's LGBT community is growing quickly, activists say that the country's legacy of Soviet intolerance has been hard to shake. 'The majority of the public believes that being Gay is just imitating cool foreigners,' said Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel, the centre's current executive director.

Tsedendemberel, 32, said that in the Mongolian countryside - a seemingly endless expanse of grassland and desert where almost 40% of the population live in felt-lined tents - young men were under intense pressure to marry and have children by age 25. Many Gay Mongolian men fear their parents will view their homosexuality as a betrayal.

Ireland's deputy prime minister, Eamon Gilmore, has publicly backed marriage equality, calling it the 'civil rights issue of this generation.'

He said the government would discuss the issue during Constitutional Convention talks later this year, reports Gay Star News.

Speaking in Dublin, Gilmore also congratulated organizers of the city's Pride celebrations, which saw 30,000 take part in the main parade on June 30.

Ireland's Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) has welcomed Gilmore's support for Gay marriage, saying his views are in step with public opinion.

'The huge popular enthusiasm and support for civil partnerships across the country, and the polls showing 73% public support, demonstrate that Ireland is ready to move to civil marriage for Lesbian and Gay couples,' said Kieran Rose, GLEN chair.

Rose added that all of Ireland's political parties are now behind LGBT equality.

The partners of Gay knights and dames in the U.K. could also be given titles under a new proposal to be discussed in Parliament.

Gay Star News reports that currently only the female spouses of male peers or knights receive that honor (male spouses of dames do not). But Conservative Member of Parliament Oliver Colvile wants to bring more equality to the system.

If the proposals become law it would affect many famous couples, including Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Other high profile knights and dames who may be affected by the reforms are Sir Ian McKellan, Prince Charles's former private secretary Marc Bolland, and Dame Angela Mason, activist and former director of LGBT rights group Stonewall.

'The current system is uneven and rather outdated,' said Colvile.

'If you are made a peer or a knight, your wife automatically gets the title of lady, but if you are Gay or are a woman and become a dame, your partner gets nothing.

'In a lot of marriages, the other half ends up playing a very significant role in their career. I think we have got to make sure it's recognized in the same way for men and women, and in civil partnerships.'

A Gay cruise has been diverted from Moroccan city of Casablanca with organizers saying they were turned away from the port.

The cruise would reportedly have been the first of its kind to visit Morocco, where homosexuality is illegal.

But 2,100 Gay holidaymakers aboard the cruise liner Nieuw Amsterdam were told the planned stop in western Morocco had unexpectedly been cancelled.

Holland America Line and RSVP Vacations diverted the ship from the African port on July 1.

According to Reuters, passengers on the ship received a letter saying, 'Our port agent in Casablanca has advised us that authorities in Morocco have - despite previous confirmations - now denied our scheduled visit.'

However, Moroccan Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad later told Reuters, 'We don't ban cruise ships here and we never ask our visitors about their sexual preferences.'

He insisted additionally that the ship was free to return if the organizers so wished.

In Morocco homosexuality is punishable by six months to three years' imprisonment and a fine of 120 to 1200 dirhams (about $14 to $140).

The annual Pink Dot Pride festival, held after dark June 30 in Singapore, has been hailed as a great success, with more than 15,000 people gathering to show support for the LGBT community.

Gay sex is still illegal in Singapore, yet the festival saw a 600% increase over the 2,500 people who came together at the first Pink Dot in 2009.

The Pink Dot was formed by pink lights from cellophane-covered flashlights and cell phones, as the crowd sang along to Cyndi Lauper's 'True Colors.'

'This is a beautiful, glowing Pink Dot but we need to go a step further beyond tonight and take this glow with us when we leave,' said one of the event's ambassadors, actor Lim Yu Beng.

Search YouTube for 'pinkdot 2012' to see a video celebrating the event.

Organizers say a record 700,000 people took part in Paris' Gay pride event this year. The celebration was energized by the newly elected French Socialist government's pledge to swiftly legalize marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, they said.

'This is a special parade because it is the first time we have a government, a president, and a parliament who are in favor of progress,' said Nicolas Gougain, spokesperson for Gay rights group Inter-LGBT, to the French daily Le Figaro.

A day before the march, Dominique Bertinotti, the new minister for families, told the daily Le Parisien, 'In one year, same-sex couples will be able to marry and adopt. They will have the same rights and the same responsibilities as any other married couple.'

This was confirmed in a statement released by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's office the same day, although an exact date for this change was not given.

The Pride parade made its way from Montparnasse to the iconic Place de la Bastille, passing through the Parisian Gayborhood, Le Marais.

Speaking with Gay Star News, activist Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner said, 'It was very festive due to the government's announcement - it was really dynamic and diverse. So many people of different ages and origins participated, it was really a true celebration of diversity and tolerance. It really gave us a lot of energy.'

Each year, the EuroGames gather LGBT athletes and their friends from across the continent. More than 2,000 participants from 34 European countries are taking part in this year's games, which are being held for the first time in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, according to PinkNews.

Normally, local governments support the games as good tourist draws and income generators. But the Budapest Assembly and the Mayor of Budapest declined to give the games any support or endorsement this year.

But support did come from the European Parliament, with members of the LGBT Intergroup, Ulrike Lunacek and Kinga Göncz, speaking at the opening ceremony.

Lunacek noted, 'The atmosphere at the grand opening of the EuroGames in Budapest was very good.

'This event is a huge success for the organizers, considering the city has denied them any support. I am confident that the Games will contribute to more openness in Hungary,' she added. She also thanked European Union ambassadors for expressing their support.

Göncz, a former foreign affairs minister of Hungary, added, 'The EuroGames is a competition for admirable and accomplished sportspeople. It provides an opportunity for members of the LGBT community as well as their friends to compete together in a friendly atmosphere and, by so doing, they demonstrate that there is no place among them for exclusion or for prejudice against those who are different.

'We Hungarians can all be proud that such a major event first takes place in our country, out of all former Eastern Bloc states.'

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