Two Gay Men Arrested In Russia For Holding A Sign That Read “Homosexuality Is Normal”
For the first time, police in St. Petersburg, Russia, have made arrests on the strength of a new law banning the dissemination of information on homo-, bi- and transsexuality. Two men were arrested in the city center on Thursday after holding up a sign reading “Homosexuality Is Normal,” according to the newswire Interfax.
Russia’s second-largest city passed the controversial law on Feb. 29. The two men now face a possible maximum fine of 500,000 rubles (€12,800/$17,000). The maximum penalty is more than the average annual income in Russia.
The law bans films, music videos, books and newspapers that contain homosexual content as well as the rainbow flag, which is a common symbol of gay pride. And the ban may soon no longer be limited to just St. Petersburg and other cities in Russia. At the end of March, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party introduced a bill in the country’s parliament, the Duma, which would impose the ban at the national level.
“We are trying to protect our society from homosexual propaganda,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Russian radio three weeks ago.
Brazil’s Surge in Violence Against Gays Is Just Getting Worse
One of the developing world’s rising stars is also seeing a surge in antigay homicides. Kristian Jepsen on how the hate crimes are casting a shadow over a major emerging economy.
Brazil has never been hotter. Tourists and entrepreneurs are flocking to the country for its natural beauty and its booming business climate. Portuguese professionals are seeking work in the former colony. And the country’s legendary party scene is at a fever pitch. But behind the “Carnaval” mask, an ugly trend is emerging.
Though the overall crime rate is down sharply in major cities, murders of gays and lesbians are on the rise. It’s especially acute in the most populous areas: Bahia, Minas Gerais, and the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo—precisely where police have made their biggest dents in criminal activity in general.
Attacks against gays have climbed steadily for most of the last decade, with 272 murdered in 2011—one every 36 hours, according to Grupo Gay da Bahía, a leading gay-rights group that tracks antigay violence. This year, GGB reports, it’s even worse, with 75 murders in just the first 10 weeks. That’s one every 24 hours.
The antigay surge may come as a double surprise. After all, Brazil is not just famous for its bonhomie, it’s also home to one of the best-organized gay-rights movements anywhere, whose activists pride themselves in rolling out the biggest gay-pride parade in the world. But success has its price. As homosexuals have won a place for themselves, they also have become visible targets. Behind the samba beat, the country remains deeply polarized at home, in politics, and in the pews.
“The extent to which the rights movement is able to reach people is a tremendous victory, but this creates anxiety amongst many,” said James Green, a professor at Brown University and an authority on homosexuality in Brazil. The “anxiety” finds its expression in violence, he said.
Policymakers have taken note. For the past five years a group of lawmakers has been at work on legislation to stop the bloodshed. Their goal is to turn homophobia into a crime. The so called Anti-Homophobia law calls for up to three years in prison for anyone found guilty of discriminating or inciting violence against homosexuals. One of the leaders of the drive is Sen. Marta Suplicy of the left-wing Workers Party (PT). A trained sexologist and a former mayor of São Paulo, Suplicy is no newcomer to the rugged world of Brazilian politics.
As homosexuals have won a place for themselves, they also have become visible targets.
Nonetheless, when the bill raised howls from Brazil’s powerful religious lobby, she was forced to dial back, removing an article that criminalized public utterances against gays. Legislators connected to the growing flock of Protestant evangelical churches protested that the new law would criminalize faith-based sermons that drew on Scripture to criticize homosexuality. The bill was reworded.
After the evangelicals also rejected an even more watered-down version in December, the bill was sent back to committee, which, in Brazilian political terms, puts it on the legislative endangered list. Fighting back, Suplicy recently announced on Twitter that the Human Rights Commission had approved her request for a public hearing on the bill, scheduled for May. But activists aren’t holding their breath. “The evangelical bloc will never pass one law which would be to our benefit,” says Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transexuals (ABGLT), who recently criticized the redrafted law for creating a human-rights hierarchy.
Brazil’s evangelicals are not the only obstacle. Although many fellow PT members say they favor the criminalization of homophobia, President Dilma Rousseff seems reluctant to take a definite stance. Recently, she has kept conspicuously quiet on the issue, and last year even vetoed the “Kit Gay,” a widely hailed educational packet designed to teach schoolchildren sensitivity around homosexuality and homophobia.
Blocked in the national legislature, gay-rights advocates have turned to local initiatives. São Paulo state representative Telma de Souza of the Worker’s Party has proposed a Delegacia Gay, a special unit in the São Paulo police force, tasked specifically with handling antigay crime. The unit would be modeled on the Delegacia da Mulher, a unit charged with curbing and dealing with violence against women. In addition to trying to diminish violence against gays, officers of the Delegacia Gay would receive special training, both in psychological counseling and in human rights, to better deal with victims of hate crime. “There is not enough being done in the political spectrum to combat the prejudice and violence against homosexuals,” says Souza, who is calling for a broad public debate on the problem.
The initiative couldn’t be timelier. A little more than a year ago, a young man (who as it happened was straight) was strolling down the Avenida Paulista in the heart of São Paulo’s financial district with two homosexual friends when he was assaulted by a group of teenagers. They crushed a fluorescent lightbulb over his face. The unprovoked violence of the attack jolted the nation, not least because it took place in plain view, in the heart of the nation’s most sophisticated metropolis. Specifically referring to this incident, Souza says, “This should not be occurring in the 21st century. We are not talking about gay rights here, but human rights.”
Ahmed, Gay Iraqi Man, Describes Escaping Death Sentence, Prison Rape In Emotional Video
The alleged slaying of at many as 58 “emo” Iraqi citizens who are either gay or believed to be gay has sparked concerns from international human rights organizations, with many fearing Iraq may be returning to the rampant level of hate crimes against homosexuals as seen in 2009.
As Out magazine is reporting, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) recently released a video which aims to bring the issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis into focus.
In the video, a gay man identified simply as Ahmed recalls the story of an ex-boyfriend’s betrayal and its aftermath. Ahmed’s boyfriend disclosed private photos of the couple to family members, after Ahmed had refused to continue financially supporting him. “One day my sister called me. She said that six of my uncles…received a small envelope under the main gates of their houses. A letter was written with the CD, ‘Your son is one of Baghdad’s biggest gay b*tches.” Ahmed claims his uncles were then planning to organize an “honor killing”, which have long been utilized by Islamic militas to preserve the idea that families should be led by opposite-sex partners, after receiving the package.
After Ahmed had an encounter with religious police, who took him to their high court, he is thrown into jail, where he claims he was subjected to rape and other abuses. “The judge said, ‘You are accused of being a homosexual. I want to tell you something. You don’t deserve to live, and you’re a shame for your family and the Iraqi nation.’”
As Reuters reports, death squads have been targeting two separate groups — gay men, and those who dress in a distinctive, Western-influenced style called “emo,” which some Iraqis mistakenly associate with homosexuality, since the start of this year. Fortunately for Ahmed, he was able to buy himself out of jail while awaiting trial and gain safe passage to the United States as a refugee.
Acceptance is one thing. Reconciliation is another. Sure at Pride, everyone is accepted (except perhaps the protestors). There are churches that say they accept all. There are business that say the accept everyone. But acceptance isn’t enough. Reconciliation is.
But there isn’t always reconciliation. And when there isn’t reconciliation, there isn’t full acceptance. Reconciliation is more painful; it’s more difficult. Reconciliation forces one to remember the wrongs committed and relive constant pain. Yet it’s more powerful and transformational because two parties that should not be together and have every right to hate one another come together for the good of one another, for forgiveness, reconciliation, unity.
What I saw and experienced at Pride 2010 was the beginning of reconciliation. It was in the shocked faces of gay men and women who did not ever think Christians would apologize to them.
What I saw and experienced at Pride 2010 was the personification of reconciliation. It was in the hugs and kisses I received, in the “thank you’s” and waves, in the smiles and kisses blown.
I hugged a man in his underwear. I hugged him tightly. And I am proud.
Every time I teeter on the edge of just hating everything, something like this pulls me back.