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Monday, February 13, 2006

Newswrap - Week Ending 2/11

for the week ending February 11, 2006
(As broadcast on This Way Out program #933, distributed 2-13-06)
[Written this week by Jon Beaupré and Greg Gordon, with thanks to
Graham Underhill and Rex Wockner]

Reported this week by Jon Beaupré and Sheri Lunn

With headlines like "The Queers Are Among Us", tabloid newspapers in
Cameroon have published lists of more than 50 of the country's well-known
entertainers, government officials and sports personalities, claiming each is gay or
La Météo first ran a 3-page feature on alleged homosexuals and their
activities. Nouvelle Afrique and L’Anecdote soon followed with similar, though
slightly different, lists. The papers sold out so quickly that newsstands began
selling photocopies.
L’Anecdote Editor François Bikoro told reporters that his paper's circulation
more than quadrupled. Publisher Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga defended the
reports, saying that "Men making love to other men... may be normal in the West,
but in Africa — and Cameroon, in particular — it is unthinkable... We had to
ring the alarm bell."
The tabloid frenzy followed a virulent anti-gay Christmas Day homily
delivered by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Yaoundé Victor Tonyé Bakot, who
condemned same gender marriage and adoption by gay and lesbian couples, and denounced
the European Union for "giving legitimacy" to homosexual acts.
The tabloid reports, which name, among others, a well-known tennis
star-turned-singer, 2 other popular Cameroon musical performers and 2 Cabinet ministers,
have angered queer rights activists in and outside of Cameroon, while
sparking gossip all across the West African nation. Well-known British activist
Peter Tatchell called the unfolding events "just the latest homophobic outrage" in
Cameroon, charging that at least 11 gay men have been imprisoned without
trial for several months following police raids on gay venues in the capital city
of Yaoundé.
Paul Nkemayang, a member of Cameroon's National Communications Council, this
week said his group has "simply advised those whose names appeared in the
publication[s] to seek legal redress, if they consider [them] very offending." He
said that the reporters have told him they have a "basketfull of documents"
to back up their stories in court.

The fallout continues in the U.S. over the Bush administration's late
January vote at the United Nations Economic and Social Council to deny hearing
applications for consultative status by the International Lesbian and Gay
Association -- or ILGA -- and a Danish queer advocacy group. Nearly 3,000
non-governmental organizations have such status, which enables them to distribute
documents and speak at meetings of some U.N. bodies and conferences.
Spokespeople for the State Department defended the vote, a reversal of the
U.S. position 4 years ago when ILGA last applied. They cited pedophilia and
ILGA's alleged ties with the North American Man/Boy Love Association -- even
though that group was kicked out of ILGA several years ago. The U.S. supported
ILGA's application when opponents used those same charges to deny consultative
status to ILGA in 2002.
45 Congressmembers -- 44 Democrats and one independent -- signed a letter to
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week calling the January vote a
"drastic reversal" of policy and demanding that she repudiate it. By siding with
Iran's motion to deny a hearing of the queer groups' consultative status
application, the lawmakers wrote, "the United States joined some of the world's most
oppressive regimes, among them China, Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe" and
demonstrated "a reprehensible inconsistency" in the protection of rights based on
sexual orientation.
A group of queer Iranian web-bloggers, including officers of the Persian Gay
& Lesbian Organization, has also written to Rice. They ask if the U.S.
representative voting with Iran "thought about the consequences of such policy on
millions of youth, including GLBT [youth] in Iran that are yearning for freedom?
How do you [expect] them to believe that [the] U.S.A. sincerely want[s] to
spread democracy and human rights in the Middle East and support reform in
Iran?" The letter also noted that Iranian youth were among very few in the Middle
East to hold candlelight marches demonstrating support for the U.S. following
the 9/11 attacks, and called the Bush administration vote "like a slap [in]
our face."

The obnoxiously anti-queer Fred Phelps and his small congregation from the
otherwise insignificant Westboro Baptist Church got the press coverage they
glory in again this week. The Kansas clan turned up at the funeral for civil
rights icon Coretta Scott King, who suffered a stroke in August and died last
week at a Baja California holistic health center. The picketers called her a
"fag enabler," shouting that her advocacy on behalf of GLBT equality meant she
was "doomed to Hell." As shocked mourners passed them, members of an
Atlanta-based transgender group Feminine Outlawz joined counter-protesters yelling
"take your hate back to Kansas."
The Church is notorious for picketing at funerals of people who have died
from AIDS and gay-bashed college student Matthew Shepard. They've lately been
showing up at funerals for U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq because, according to
Phelps' daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, "they were fighting for a country that
harbors homosexuals and adulterers."
At least 8 states have passed or are considering legislation to ban
demonstrations within 500 feet of funerals specifically because of the Westboro
Church's actions.
Speeches at the lengthy funeral for Mrs. King by President George W. Bush and
his father, and by former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, were
filled with praise for the woman who championed human rights for all. Dr. Joseph
Lowery, who with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. founded the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, was the first to mention her support for gays and
lesbians, reminding the audience that she "frowned on homophobia." Poet and friend
Dr. Maya Angelou underscored that point when she said Coretta Scott King "cared
for gay and straight people alike."

Lesbians and gay men who've wanted to visit the great resorts of the
Caribbean as part of all-queer cruises have received less-than-welcoming receptions
in recent years, but the tide seems to be turning. In a notorious 1998
incident, a Cayman Islands official named Thomas Jefferson, then Tourism Minister of
the tiny British protectorate, turned away an all gay cruise from docking in
the capital George Town. That decision provoked a storm of international
protest and led to diplomatic pressure on the Caymans by the British government.
In 2000, the British Privy Council, which has authority over the Caymans,
repealed the sodomy laws in all U.K. overseas territories. Nevertheless, a cruise
by GLBT families led by entertainer/activist Rosie O'Donnell in 2004 to The
Bahamas caused a major uproar there. But a visit to the Caymans by California
based Atlantis Tours this week brought the first of almost 13,000 queer
tourists to the sunny island northwest of Jamaica without major incident. The
Cayman's current Tourism Minister, Charles Clifford, had issued a plea to Atlantis
Tours urging the passengers on the all-gay cruise to behave "appropriately."
And while some die-hards continued to protest gay tourists strolling down
their streets, by most accounts both local merchants and their new queer customers
thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

After years of denying the existence of queer culture, China has for the
first time in history conducted an assessment of its estimated five to ten
million gay men. The study, entitled "Chinese Men Who Have Sex With Men: Survey On
Sex And The State Of Self-Identity" was supported by the Ford Foundation in
the United States and published by the Beijing Gender Consultation Center. It
not only presents the first comprehensive and in-depth view of the behavior
and current status of China’s gay men, but also reveals their mostly-hidden
social existence, which is little known to the general public. The survey was
compiled by noted Chinese scholar Tong Ge, who studied in-depth the personal
experiences of 400 gay couples. There was no assessment of the status of lesbians
or other sexual minorities. In 2003, the government conducted an AIDS survey
on six population groups across the country, including drug users,
prostitutes, gay men, venereal disease patients, paid blood donors and anonymous people
under examination in hospitals. While that survey uncovered some AIDS
infection patterns, it revealed little about LGBT communities, and this current
survey is seen as a modest first step in understanding the lives of gay men in the
world’s most populous country.

However, China has banned screenings of the multi-award winning movie
"Brokeback Mountain". According to a Xinhua News Agency report late last month,
the movie's "sensitive topic" of gay love makes it too controversial for
theatrical release in that country. And this week the government of the United Arab
Emirates did the same, saying it needed to protect its citizens from
"offensive, abnormal behaviors."

And finally, a survey of another sort, released this week in Australia,
shows that a majority of its citizens support rights for gay and lesbian couples.
When asked the question "Do you personally agree or disagree that the
Federal Government should introduce a new law which formally recognizes same sex
relationships in Australia?" 52% of the 1200 respondents agreed, 37% said they
did not, and 11% said they didn't know.
According to David Scamell of the Secular Party of Australia, which
commissioned the study, it is "unjust, unfair and out-of-touch with Australian society
for the... Government to continue to deny gays and lesbians basic recognition
in areas like taxation, superannuation and social security". The Gay and
Lesbian Rights Lobby said it will be meeting with government leaders in the coming
week to discuss federal recognition of same gender relationships, although
Prime Minister John Howard has repeatedly expressed his opposition to granting
any legal recognition to gay and lesbian couples.
But hot on the heels of Valentine's Day, and in support of recognition for
same gender relationships, queer leaders and their supporters have announced
that on February 19th at Victoria Park in Sydney they'll be conducting a Mardi
Gras Fair Day mass planting of 10,000 pink hearts.


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