The authors of a Russian law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors has drawn a good deal of criticism from gay rights groups worldwide. But they face their biggest challenge this summer. A few weeks from now Madonna is scheduled to play the Sports Complex stage in St. Petersburg, the city where the law was enacted.
Madonna has hinted strongly she will speak out in protest, if not flaunt the law itself. Russia’s already tattered civil-rights reputation could hardly be helped by castigation from the top-selling female recording artist of all time.
The city’s legislators have expressed concerns about the possibility of Madonna—who famously kissed Britney Spears on national television in 2003—of getting undressed, or worse, saying something in defense of Russian gay rights before an audience of possible minors. Disrobing, depending on how it is done, apparently might be construed as a promotion of gay sex.
The author of the law banning the dissemination of information on homo-, bi- and transsexuality, Vitaly Milonov, has not decided whether he will personally attend the concert to see if Madonna breaks it. “I heard at the concerts on this tour she pulled off her tights, and we will not have that here,” Milonov told the Russian news agency Interfax. “We warn the organizers of the concert so that everything goes well. Otherwise they will face the harsh laws of St. Petersburg.”
Soon after the bill was signed into law by St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, a former KGB agent and ally of Putin, a group of friends, writers, photographers, designers, and architects sat down to discuss its consequence over drinks at Zavtra, a restaurant in downtown Moscow.
To them it was obvious that the bill demonstrated three faces “of corruption, of censorship, and of state fascism,” as the journalist and gay activist Masha Gessen, one of the group, said. It obliges abusers to pay $170 fines, and authorizes brief detentions. Disturbingly, in a country where homosexuality was a criminal offense in the Soviet era, it could well allow some of that mentality back into police work. The law, depending on how it is interpreted, could allow police to grab more or less anyone who said or showed “gay propaganda” to young people. That could be interpreted to include holding hands while walking in public.
After Saint Petersburg, the law was adopted by five more Russian regions and threatened to become federal law, which made some gays think of emigrating from the country to more civilized places. “The text of the law says that there is no equality and it talks of propaganda, though that term has no legal definition in Russia,” Gessen said. It could even reach inside a home, she fears. “The police would be able to arrest and keep me in jail for three hours just because I do not tell my son that our non-gay neighbor is better than us.”
“I will speak during my show about this ridiculous atrocity,” Madonna wrote. “I don’t run away from adversity.”
Madonna performs in Russia in 2009.
To call international attention to the law, Gessen wrote an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune imploring potential tourists not to visit St. Petersburg. “I am especially asking you not to go if you are the singer Madonna, who is scheduled to play a concert there on 9 August,” Gessen wrote. She also asked Mercedes-Benz and PepsiCo to cancel their partnership at the St. Petersburg international forum that took place last month, but neither of the two companies acquiesced.
As for Madonna, celebrated by world’s gay community as an icon, the American star responded the following day on Facebook: “I will speak during my show about this ridiculous atrocity,” Madonna wrote. “I don’t run away from adversity,” she added, calling herself a “freedom fighter.” Both Madonna and, recently, her 15-year-old daughter Lourdes Leon advocate for the legalization of gay marriage in United States.
Nobody in Russia doubts that Madonna will perform in St. Petersburg next month. But some worry that the words she says on stage could spur persecutions against the gay minority in the city after she leaves. Over 20 gay activists have been fined and detained by police since the new law has taken force.
“The law gives a signal to all sorts of aggressive groups that we are outlaws and anybody can attack us,” said Igor Kochetkov, the leader of a St. Petersburg LGBT rights group, describing the day last May when he and dozens of other gay activists were attacked by Russian nationalists and shot at with BB guns. “This law should not be seen as just an anti-gay move; it comes in a series of recent laws allowing persecutions of opposition activists and NGOs – any different voice is punished in today’s Russia.”
Source: The Daily Beast
By JOSH KRON
Published: April 13, 2011
KAMPALA, Uganda — They entered through Parliament’s gates, an eclectic group. Their leader, the Rev. Martin Ssempa, wore sunglasses and long black robes embroidered with matching red crosses and two campaign buttons. One said, “Debate Our Bill Now!” and the other, simply, “No to Sodomy.”
The Rev. Martin Ssempa, in sunglasses and long black robes, arrived at the Ugandan Parliament in Kampala to discuss a highly contentious antigay bill.
Ugandan Who Spoke Up for Gays Is Beaten to Death (January 28, 2011)
Marc Hofer/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Mourners at the funeral of David Kato a prominent gay-rights activist in Uganda who was killed in January.
The New York Times
Uganda has long held conservative views on sexuality.
Mr. Ssempa’s mission is to get Uganda’s Parliament to pass a highly contentious antigay bill and eradicate homosexuality throughout the country — or, after more than a year of the law’s languishing in the legislature, to at least debate the proposed law.
To many here, Uganda’s gay population does not represent a sexual minority advocating for its rights, but an underground threat promoting a cancerous vice. They accuse gay men and women of recruiting children in secondary schools, and maybe giving them H.I.V.
In 2009, Uganda’s Parliament tabled legislation calling for the execution of gays under certain circumstances and requiring citizens to report any known act of homosexuality to the police within 24 hours.
The bill drew ire from Western nations and has drifted listlessly in Parliament over the last 18 months. When David Kato, a prominent gay-rights activist, was murdered in January after his photo ran on the cover of a newspaper calling for gays to be hanged, the bill became politically toxic.
But with Parliament closing next month, Mr. Ssempa, a leading religious figure from an independent sect of Christianity, made a last-ditch push last week, bringing a coalition of religious leaders, civil society organizers and two self-described former homosexuals to meet directly with the speaker of Parliament, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi. They presented him with a petition containing what they said were more than two million signatures in support of the bill.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in 2009, only a month after a seminar with American ministers about “curing” homosexuality and the dangers of “the gay movement.” Last year, an evangelical Christian from Missouri, Lou Engle, held an event in Uganda at which the bill was promoted (though after he left to travel home, he says).
But Uganda, a poor and heavily Christian nation of 35 million with a large American missionary community, has long held its own conservative views on sexuality. Mr. Ssempa says his movement is about African culture, and while the United States has continued to debate its own societal values, similar conversations are happening here.
Mr. Ssempa, reading from the petition, began the meeting by saying he was “distressed” that the bill was being “deliberately killed” by “undemocratic threats” from Western nations, and called the political bullying “homocracy.”
A bag was passed around with “Debate Our Bill Now!” and “No to Sodomy,” pins, before it came to rest in front of one of the so-called former homosexuals.
“These young people,” Mr. Ssempa said, pointing toward the two young men, sitting stiffly across from him in front of the speaker, “will share their experiences having been recruited into homosexuality and coming out. And that is why we are here.”
Bishop Julius Oyet, sitting beside Mr. Ssempa, tried unsuccessfully to pin Speaker Ssekandi with the two “Debate Our Bill Now!” and “No to Sodomy” pins before speaking passionately on the “dire need” to “save the nation.”
“We are facing a defining moment, Mr. Speaker, in our nation, when we cannot allow one of the top pillars of our culture and civilization to crumble,” the bishop said.
The focus turned to the two men sitting quietly on the other side of the table, Paul Kagaba and George Oundo. Mr. Kagaba, 27, went first.
“For me, I was lured into homosexuality by a headmaster of a primary school, who recently died,” said Mr. Kagaba, speaking of the recently killed Mr. Kato. “He was our neighbor,” Mr. Kagaba said, “and we embraced him.”
Mr. Kagaba said that Mr. Kato offered to pay his school fees, and soon Mr. Kagaba, 17 at the time, moved in. One day, Mr. Kagaba claimed, Mr. Kato bought him chicken and two Guinness beers, and raped him that night. The next morning, Mr. Kagaba says, Mr. Kato gave him $130.
Other gay activists have vouched for Mr. Kato’s innocence, and Mr. Kagaba himself said he became an outspoken gay activist for six years, until his family held an intervention and he met Mr. Ssempa. Now he says he counsels others at the pastor’s One Love clinic in downtown Kampala, where they preach sexual purity and sing a cappella.
Mr. Kagaba accused a number of human-rights organizations, including London-based Amnesty International, of propagating homosexuality. Amnesty International said it was not the first time these accusations had been made, but that the accusations were “misinformed” and “baseless.”
Mr. Oundo, 26, a transgender person who used to go by the name Georgina, went next.
“I used to call myself the Queen Mother and Lady of the City,” Mr. Oundo said. “I was recruited into homosexuality many years back, when I was 12.”
“When I joined Mr. Ssempa, I told him all my problems,” he said. “I had to come out and join the struggle.
“Please help us; let the bill pass,” he said.
But an hour later, in a quiet hotel, Mr. Oundo recanted much of what had been said at the meeting.
“David Kato was murdered; it was a plot,” Mr. Oundo said. “I don’t support the bill.”
As for being a “former homosexual,” that, too, was not true.
“I’ve always been gay,” Mr. Oundo said, in a timid but growing voice. “I didn’t choose it.”
“David Kato was the first one who taught me to protect my human right,” Mr. Oundo added.
Mr. Oundo said that his presence alongside Mr. Ssempa at Parliament had been to “protect” himself and that he had been contacted only that morning by Mr. Kagaba about the meeting and offered about $42 to attend. He said Mr. Ssempa had offered him about $2,000 in 2009 to repent and switch sides in the debate, but later reneged. Either way, Mr. Oundo became a poster-child for Mr. Ssempa’s anti-homosexuality movement.
Mr. Ssempa declined to comment on the allegations.
Mr. Oundo admitted that he had picked up boyfriends at high schools and universities, what the antigay movement calls recruiting. But he said Uganda’s gay population was full of “natural-borns,” like himself.
“If I live or die, I am gay, and if I am buried, bury me gay,” he said.
At the end of the meeting in Parliament, Speaker Ssekandi thanked the delegation but warned that there had been “very different reactions” to the bill, and that it was unlikely to be debated before Parliament’s session ended.
“There are more concerns about what happens in Sweden and what the Americans are saying, but the two million Ugandans are here saying ‘help us,’ ” argued Bishop Oyet. “Democracy demands that the people debate the issues of the people.”
Across the table, Mr. Oundo, wearing a T-shirt with an American flag on it, seemed to have misty eyes, the bag of “No to Sodomy” pins spilling onto the table in front of him.
The US media watchdog Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has on Thursday started a petition to urge CNN to stop inviting ‘experts’ whose “only qualification is that they are anti-gay” to provide ‘balance’ to LGBT-related news topics.
It is a practice that can be observed in media organisations from the United States to Britain to Singapore and possibly elsewhere, at one time or other. Anti-gay advocates from religious fundamentalists to thinly disguised ”conservative family values” campaigners have often been called upon to provide anti-LGBT comments in a misguided attempt to provide a ‘balanced’ view to LGBT-related news stories.
In December, UK’s Pink News took the BBC to task for its decision to feature a supporter of state-sponsored execution of gay men as the sole commentator for its story about the birth of a surrogate son to Elton John and his partner. Stephen Green, of right-wing group Christian Voice, called the new child a “designer accessory” and accused the couple of acting out of “pure selfishness to deprive a baby of a mother.” When contacted, the BBC defended its decision to feature an opposing viewpoint.
In April 2010, CNN, a US cable news channel that broadcasts worldwide, featured ex-gay activist Richard Cohen alongside California Assembly woman Bonnie Lowenthal to discuss a story about efforts to repeal an outdated California law requiring the State Department of Mental Health to conduct research into the “causes” and “cures” of being gay with CNN’s Kyra Phillips. This is despite the fact that Cohen is not licensed and has been discredited by major mainstream psychological associations.
On December 21 last year, CNN’s John King ran a segment on then pending repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and its implementation. During the segment, Peter Sprigg from Family Research Council appeared alongside openly gay former service member Alex Nicholson who gave firsthand accounts of how the policy played out in the day-to-day lives of gay and lesbian service members.
GLAAD however questioned Sprigg’s lack of qualifications given that it appears that he was invited based solely on his job at the Family Research Council, a conservative, Christian right group and lobbying organisation linked to Focus on the Family.” The watchdog noted: “There, Sprigg has worked to advance some of the most hurtful, dangerous, and demonstrably false notions about the lives of LGBT people that our country has seen in recent years. And yet, by pairing him with Nicholson in this segment, CNN told its millions of viewers that both of these men should be seen as equally valuable to this discussion.”
“Out of a desire for ‘balance’ on these issues, CNN turned – as they often do – to the anti-gay industry to provide the counterpoint. Except all too frequently, the network doesn’t book these people because they provide any actual expertise or experience on issues that impact LGBT people; their only qualification is that they are anti-gay.
“Is it important for the media to take these groups on? Of course it is. But that’s not what CNN and other media organizations are doing when it invites these groups to take part in otherwise reasonable discussions. The media is elevating their hurtful messages and attitudes to the level of rational discourse. The media is saying that people like Alexander Nicholson, who can speak to real-life experience and firsthand facts, need to be “balanced” by people like Peter Sprigg, whose claim to fame is arguing that being gay should be outlawed. If CNN wants to interview a gay person who believes being straight should be outlawed, THEN Peter Sprigg would be an acceptable “balance.”
GLAAD further warns that when the CNN and other media outlets invite members of these anti-gay groups onto their programming, they are “doing nothing but exposing their viewers to dangerous anti-gay rhetoric.”
GLAAD finally urges readers to tell the media that “if they can’t find someone who isn’t part of the anti-gay industry to discuss an issue that involves the LGBT community, then the ‘other side’ of that issue isn’t one worth hearing.”
The petition, which has attracted over 2,500 signatures, reads:
Dear CNN: Use experts, not the anti-gay industry.
With the new year upon us, I am asking you to make a resolution to keep anti-gay groups off of your airwaves.
When a story impacts the LGBT community, think about how you would treat the story if it impacted any other group of people. If you were running a story about education, would you seek out the opinion of someone who hates teachers? If you were running a story about agriculture, would you invite a guest who believes farming is a sin? Of course not, yet the anti-gay point of view is one you seek out regularly.
These groups, whose only qualification is their animosity towards LGBT equality, bring absolutely nothing of value to your airwaves – and by inviting them on, you’re only lending them your credibility and elevating their messages. If you are seeking a second opinion on issues of LGBT rights, I ask you to stay away from members of the anti-gay industry, and instead consult actual experts. No matter what the exact topic, you should always be able to find a professional who can offer something beyond animus. Educators, scholars, consultants, psychologists, military historians, medical professionals – no matter what field your story is related to, you can always find an actual expert who can bring something of real value to these conversations.
In this New Year, I am asking you to please stop giving these anti-gay activists a platform for their false and dangerous messages, and instead give your audience the information they need.
[Your name here]
To sign the petition or for more information, click onto Glaad.org/tellcnn