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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 16, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 11
International News - Scott Wittet
Section One
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International News

by Scott Wittet - SGN Contributing Writer

LONDON OLYMPICS VOLUNTEERS QUIZZED ON HOW TO DEAL WITH GAYS The summer Olympics in London require a lot of preparation, apparently including a quiz for volunteers that included advice on dealing with complaints about Gays holding hands.

Seventy thousand volunteer hopefuls have been given the quiz. It also includes a question on how to act when unable to discern a person's gender.

One question on the well-intentioned test asks the volunteer what they would do if a complaint is received about a Gay couple holding hands. The Huffington Post says that multiple-choice answers included telling the complainant to 'stop being a homophobic idiot,' 'politely' asking the couple to stop holding hands, and, presumably correctly, explaining to the complainant the 'huge diversity of people' at the Games.

On how to deal with confusion about a person's gender, volunteers had to choose between 'ask if they are male or female,' 'panic,' or 'tell them where the male, female, and accessible toilets are.'

GAY PERFORMERS TOO LEWD FOR PHILIPPINES RESORT Puerto Galera, on the Philippines island of Oriental Mindoro, is a popular tourist destination known for its beaches and diving spots. At night the entertainers come out, maybe too far out, and that's got the mayor in a tizzy, according to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).

Local bar owners have been complaining that Puerto Galera officials aren't allowing Gay performers on stage, allegedly because their acts are too racy. But a spokesman for the town's mayor clarified, 'There is no ban on Gay or Transexual performers. All we ask is [for them] to tone down the kind of acts they do, and definitely no lewd performances.'

The Ladlad Partylist, a political party that fights for LGBT Filipinos, said that instead of banning Gay talent, the municipal government should enact an ordinance that would prohibit children from entering comedy bars to watch such shows, or set age limits for watching Gay acts. A Ladlad candidate noted that 'you cannot control the performers or what they say and do on stage.'

The mayor's office countered that if Ladlad was referring to an area called White Beach, no such restrictions would work because the bars are open-air, on the beach.

GAY TEA LAUNCHED IN AUSTRALIA A line of 'Gay teas' have been launched in Australia to benefit LGBT health charities for the coming month and to coincide with Australian Mardis Gras celebrations.

The new DiversiTEA brand features eight blends: B!tch Please, Disco Ball, D.R.A.M.A Queen, F@g H@g, French Tickler, Pearl Necklace, Pinkies Up, and Pride.

B!tch Please includes chili pepper for a fiery drinking experience, and D.R.A.M.A. Queen is blended with lime, lemon peel, and daisies in order to relax over-excitable drinkers.

Pearl Necklace is a night-harvested jasmine bud tea described as a 'pleasure to watch,' with the tagline 'Who doesn't want a pearl necklace?'

Twenty percent of proceeds from tea sales will go to health charities.

February may be the month for Gay drinks around the world. In 2011, the Minerva microbrewery in Mexico launched what was believed to be the world's first Gay beers.

MALAYSIANS RETAIN BAN ON GAY FESTIVAL A Malaysian court last week refused to reverse a police ban on a Gay-themed festival in the socially conservative, Muslim-majority nation.

As reported by ILGA, last November police banned the fourth annual 'Seksualiti Merdeka' (Sexuality Freedom) festival featuring Gay-oriented films, concerts, and forums just days before it was to open.

Police said at the time the move was taken to avoid angering conservative Muslims.

Recently a court in the capital Kuala Lumpur sided with government prosecutors who said police acted within their powers in a bid to prevent unrest, and that those powers could not be challenged in court, festival organizer Pang Khee Teik told AFP.

Pang said he was 'stunned' by the court's endorsement of that argument and that he planned to appeal.

The ruling underscores a pattern of persistent persecution of homosexuals in Malaysia, said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch.

'We are concerned over the discrimination and the intimidation of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. The rights of this entire community are under threat. [Malaysia] is using national security as a catch-all phrase to justify any human rights abuse, and that is unacceptable.'

The ban on the Gay festival followed Prime Minister Najib Razak's pledge in September that he would grant greater civil liberties and break with the country's authoritarian past.

SOUTH KOREAN ACTOR THROWS OPEN CLOSET DOOR Veteran actor Hong Seok-cheon is instantly recognizable in his country, where he became famous as the host of South Korea's version of Sesame Street and costarred in a popular 1990s sitcom.

But according to ILGA, on a recent Saturday afternoon, the slender 41-year-old with his signature shaved head was playing himself, an out-of-the-closet Gay man talking about what it's like to be a pariah in a conservative society where 77% of Koreans in one poll said they believed 'homosexuality should be rejected.'

Hong is the featured guest on a cable TV show called the Star Lecture Series. He is making history, he says, as the first Gay man to discuss sex and sexual orientation on-air in South Korea.

The room is edgily silent as he paces the stage, microphone in hand, before an under-25 audience, many of whose members still live at home with their parents.

'In South Korea, we're led to believe that Gay sex is dangerous, alien, and dirty. For so many years, I've been treated as an outcast in my own country. I'm just so happy to be here today, talking openly about who I really am.'

The audience applauds and Hong is near tears, grateful for the acceptance that for years he thought would never come.

When Hong came out in 2000, the reaction was swift and brutal: Within 24 hours, the network summarily fired him from his jobs as a regular guest on several talk shows and slapstick host of the children's show Po Po Po.

No one would take his calls. Hong says he received so many death threats he shut himself up at home and began drinking heavily and contemplating suicide. Previously a nonsmoker, he began going through three packs a day.

'I knew my career was over,' he said. 'It was like somebody suddenly dropped a bomb on everything I had worked so hard for. One day it was there, and the next it was gone.'

Looking back, Hong says he should have seen the reaction coming. South Korea's conservative combination of Confucianism - which puts a premium on marriage and childbirth - and a strong Protestant ethic makes tolerance for Gays and Lesbians rare, he says.

But the internet is slowly changing things. Some young Koreans are cautiously rebelling against their parents' views and a society not given to acceptance of dissonant sexual orientation.

Quietly, Gay bars are appearing. Still, even if a few rainbow flags have begun to fly, many participants at Gay and Lesbian pride rallies wear masks to avoid identification.

While on the nation's entertainment blacklist, Hong opened the first of several now-popular restaurants in an attempt to start anew. But people didn't make it easy. For a while, he said, many came in not to eat, but to shout insults at him.

'They'd walk into my restaurant and see me and loudly announce, 'I didn't know this was a Gay restaurant,' he said. 'Or groups of men would get drunk and start yelling, 'Homosexual!'

But then, as younger South Koreans slowly began to accept Gay culture, opportunities arose. Although no celebrity has yet followed Hong out of the closet and most other Gays and Lesbians prefer to remain under the social radar, Gay characters are appearing on TV and in film.

Anna Leach of Gay Star News reports: A softly spoken TV presenter with a mop of honey-colored hair welcomes the audience before reading a news story about a Transgender day of remembrance. Don't let the low-budget appearance belie the significance of this broadcast. The show is a monthly program, broadcast on the internet since November last year, about LGBT rights in Burma (Myanmar), a country where until recently any kind of political self-expression was brutally repressed.

The show, Colors Rainbow TV, is broadcast from Thailand, but the group behind the show are planning celebrations for the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17 in Rangoon and seven other cities in Burma. This would have been unimaginable just a couple of years ago.

Since the leader of the pro-democratic National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, was released from house arrest in November 2010, Burma has seen glimmers of hope after years of strict political repression. President Thein Sein has legalized public protest, has relaxed (but not totally liberalized) state restrictions on the press, and has released hundreds of political prisoners.

Colors Rainbow was started by Knoo Know Lahkang, a human rights trainer. He left Burma in 2002 and since then has worked for the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma. 'For ordinary people life in Burma is very hard,' said Lahkang in an interview with Gay Star News. 'And for LGBT people it's even more hard.'

Burma still upholds laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Another law says that you can get arrested for acting suspiciously, meaning you can be arrested for anything. 'Many Transgender people have been arrested with that law,' said Lahkang. 'Just two months ago, a group of Transgendered people were enjoying a traditional festival in Rangoon when they got arrested and were put in Insein Prison for two months. They just got out and they're really angry and mad at the police because they didn't do anything wrong.'

Lahkang said that since the 'Burmese spring' more Gay men have come out. '[Homosexuality] is more visible in public,' he said. 'But harassment and arrests by the police are still ongoing.'

There has always been a visible Transgender community in Burma. 'But similar to the rest of Asia, there's a lot of stigma,' said Lahkang. 'When you come out to your family they often kick you out, so there are many Transgender people living on the streets and working as very cheap sex workers.'

What about life for Lesbians in Burma? 'Compared with the Gay and the Transgender groups, Lesbians are still very quiet,' said Lahkang. 'There are a lot of international NGOs that work for the Transgender community and in HIV/AIDS prevention, but there aren't any for Lesbians.'

Lahkang said that in Burmese culture Lesbians receive more respect than Gay men. 'There is the concept in Burmese community that men are more valuable than women so when a woman acts like a tomboy, the Burmese community sees that as good,' he says. 'But when a man acts like a woman, people think that's really bad.'

But Lahkang also heard about problems faced by Lesbians in Burma. 'There's a lot of misinformation about Lesbian sex,' he says, 'and 'corrective rape' does happen in Burma.'

Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman who has campaigned for democracy in Burma for over 20 years, and who was under house arrest for 15 years, is standing in a by-election this April. Has she said anything to suggest she will protect LGBT rights if she gets into power?

'So far her party hasn't spoken about the LGBT issue,' said Lahkang. 'But they have been talking a lot about human rights and how they won't accept discrimination against any group, so that sounds like a good sign to us.'

Lahkang is full of plans for the nascent LGBT rights movement in Burma.

'We have plans to lobby parliament and for a community campaign at the grassroots level with LGBT people,' he says with enthusiasm as bright and colorful as his TV show. 'I want to tell the international community, especially those working in LGBT rights, to please support us and let the world know what we are doing - help us, contact us, and cooperate with us.'

As the rest of the world celebrated Valentine's Day, 10 Cameroonian women were arrested on suspicion of being Lesbians, Cameroon Radio-Television reported.

The young women allegedly were taken into custody after making a scene due to a jealous quarrel.

Consensual same-gender sex is considered criminal in the West African nation and is punishable by a jail sentence of six months to five years, plus a fine. Gay rights defender and founder of the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals, Alice Nkom, says detainees in Cameroon are frequently tortured in police stations to force them to confess.

The Gay community in Cameroon is especially concerned because the former deputy prefect of the region where the women were arrested has complained about 'a vast network of homosexuals from Equatorial Guinea and Gabon' who supposedly live in the region.

Australian comedian and television presenter Adam Hills is to host Australia's first 'mass Gay TV wedding,' according to Pink News.

The star believes that by televising the marriages, which will not be valid under Australian law, he will shine a light on the same-sex marriage debate currently raging in Australia.

Twenty couples have already asked to take part in the event on March 26th. It will be broadcast two days later.

Hills said: 'Same-sex couples may not be able to legally marry in Australia yet, but they sure as hell can have a great big TV wedding.'

Hills says he decided to televise the event after asking the audience of a talk show whether they would allow Gay couples to marry, and the majority said they would.

The body of a murdered South African Gay man was found last week, bound and suffocated in a copycat manner to seven previous cases.

The body of Rulov Senekal, a manager of the Joburg Theatre and one-time artistic director of the Johannesburg Youth Ballet in the 1990s, was discovered by one of his neighbors on Sunday.

According to a report in the Star newspaper, Senekal was tied up and murdered after inviting two men into his apartment Saturday evening.

The report, by journalist Shain Germaner, who has been following the cases of the murdered Gay men, said management and security in the apartment building said two men had signed the guestbook 'most likely under aliases, to visit Senekal around 5 p.m.'

According to the report, the two walked out just 30 minutes later, taking a full plastic bag and Senekal's laptop.

According to the Star, police were called in after a friend and neighbor of Senekal's informed security that he wasn't answering his door.

Senekal is the eighth Gay man found murdered in his home in the Joburg and Pretoria areas over the past two years. The murder scenes have largely been similar, with no signs of forced entry and very little taken from each crime scene.

Gay rights groups have been pressuring the police to conduct more in-depth investigations and commentators have spoken about a serial killer, but police have dismissed such speculation.

It appears as if all the murdered men had met their killers online or through cell phone chat rooms. However by the time of the latest report being filed, it had not been confirmed whether Senekal had used any online dating services.

Dawie Nel, Director of OUT, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) health and well-being group in Pretoria, expressed concern at the limited success of the police in investigating the murders. He said that OUT is in discussion with pro-bono lawyers on a bid to pressure authorities to take action.

'There is a perception that there is a lack of interest in the cases, in part due to the sexual orientation of the victims. Added to this, the investigating officers may have limited knowledge or awareness of the LGBT community and online dating,' said Nel. 'We fear that someone is preying on gay men and the authorities appear unwilling to acknowledge this.'

OUT has launched a campaign to alert men who have sex with men (MSM) about the dangers of casual sex dates with strangers. The campaign consists of articles that will be published in Gay media, web banners, venue posters, and other communication aimed at the LGBT community.

Tips include meeting a date in a public place, making sure someone knows when you go out to meet a date, being wary of inviting strangers to your home, avoiding people who are deceitful or who ask for financial support, and, if you meet someone at a club, introducing him to a friend before leaving.

Representatives of Muslim and African countries walked out of a Human Rights Council panel set up to tackle the issue of murder and violence against Gays and Lesbians around the world, as reported by the U.K. Guardian newspaper.

Speaking before the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Pakistan described homosexuality as 'licentious behavior' while African group leader Senegal said Gays are not covered by global human rights accords.

Before it too stormed out of the chamber, Nigeria - where Gay rights groups say there have been many attacks on male and female homosexuals - claimed that none of its citizens were at risk of violence because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Mauritania said attempts to impose 'the controversial topic of sexual orientation' would undermine discussion in the council of other human rights problems.

According to diplomats, not all countries in the Islamic and African groups walked out.

The reaction came after the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and the human rights high commissioner, Navi Pillay, told the session that Gay people should be protected by all governments.

'We see a pattern of violence and discrimination directed at people just because they are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender,' Ban said in a video message to the panel, chaired by African group dissenter South Africa.

'This is a monumental tragedy for those affected - and a stain on our collective conscience. It is also a violation of international law. You, as members of the Human Rights Council, must respond,' the U.N. chief declared.

Islamic nations and most African countries have long kept discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity out of the council, but a strong drive by the United States and South Africa brought it onto the agenda last June.

Latin American countries like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay also were supportive and helped push through a narrow vote to mandate the panel and a high commissioner's report on Gay rights.

In the report, Pillay, once a South African high court judge, detailed how homophobia led to abuse, often fatal, ranging from mob killing of males, multiple rape of Lesbians 'to cure them,' and torture in public and private jails.

The report said 76 countries among the U.N.'s 192 members had laws criminalizing homosexual behavior. At least five - in particular Iran - implement the death penalty.

'I know some will resist what we are saying,' noted Pillay, explaining that some states would argue that homosexuality or Bisexuality 'conflicts with local cultural or traditional values, or with religious teachings, or run counter to public opinion.'

She said that such states were free to hold their opinions, but 'That is as far as it goes. The balance between tradition and culture, on the one hand, and universal human rights on the other, must be struck in favor of rights.'

Pink News reports that a popular, privately owned daily newspaper in Syria alleges that Gays and Lesbians are 'prospering' due to the Syrian uprising and it holds them responsible for current social problems.

'A loose wrist, a noticeable way of using the fingers, sitting and crossing the legs together in a feminine manner, and an interest in gossip and whispers are among homosexuals' main distinctive features.' That was the introduction to an article about Gays in Syria published in a local newspaper in February.

The article lamented that the uprising 'gave homosexuals a freedom they would've never dreamt of' and that since March 2011, the number of Syrian members in a popular online dating site has increased from 20,000 to 100,000 members.

The website is not mentioned explicitly but it is presumed to be ManJam, a popular Gay dating site. In reality, there are no more than 10,000 members registered as living in Syria.

The article also says that before the uprising, Gays looking to hook up were a priority for the Mukhabarat - the Syrian intelligence service. But it claims now they have bigger problems on their hands they've left Gays alone, thus facilitating their 'proliferation.'

The three-page article goes on to describe the slang and terms used by the members of the underground Gay community to communicate with each other and includes an interview with two male prostitutes describing how their business has flourished since the beginning of the revolt last year.

One of the prostitutes, called 'Dandan' in the article, reportedly agreed to speak with the newspaper for an undisclosed amount of money as an act of vengeance after another member of his group 'betrayed' him. The other, only mentioned by his initials, claims that he sources European male models to 'perform' for the wealthy men of the Persian Gulf countries.

The article also tells the story of a Syrian dentist who was raped while studying for his degree in Russia.

It claims he said: 'One night, I was staying with a friend of mine and we got drunk. He and his friends, five of them, locked the door and took turns raping me. At first, I was filled with a destructive, humiliating feeling but the pleasure was overwhelming and I suddenly recognized what I was missing. I then started sleeping with any guy I could get!'

More interviews follow, this time with three Lesbians.

The article said one of them is married, the other was raped, and the third turned Lesbian because she feared her father would kill her - in a so-called 'honor killing' - if he found out she was having premarital sex with a man.

The article includes a survey that states that 26 out of the 50 Gay men that were interviewed were raped as children while 10 lived in a household dominated by the mother or with an absent father and 14 stated that they were born females in male bodies. As for the Lesbians, the survey included 23 women out of which 18 'learned' Lesbianism at school and five were raped as children and had felt disgusted with men ever since.

Finally, it concludes with a notary public who works in the Palace of Justice stating that marriage rates have fallen to a third over the past year. He blamed the increasing easiness with which Gays can meet one another, along with deteriorating economic circumstances.

The last sentence in the article demonizes Gay people as 'social germs' who 'have infested our society and who take the opportunity to strike once the first signs of weakness appear.'

The private-owned newspaper, whose issue dated November 23, 2011 was withdrawn from markets for featuring an article criticizing the ruling Baath Party, is one of the most popular daily publications in Syria with over 50,000 daily copies in circulation.

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