Wednesday, 19 December 2007
Celebrating New Year at home, with family, then friends, and yes, TV programmes, special New Year films, special New Year food… it’s a package deal :)
Btw, if you want to visit London, do not do it for Christmas and New Year holiday. It’s the most boring time (ever!) in London. It may be hard to believe, but trust me (as someone who knows how to party and have fun London style), it’s very true. Any other time, this is one of the most exciting cities you could ever find.
Past year was very turbulent for me. To be honest, I do not miss it at all and look forward to its formal farewell. But, hey, I started my blogs this past year; in fact, only several months ago (in April/May); it seems like years though... In 2007, my life was full with unfinished matters, some of which from previous years. It was very stressful at times, frustrating and disheartening… But I made it - THE closure. It feels so good now. It feels liberating. I wish you all effective closure and very happy and exciting New Year ahead!
I will resume my blogging most probably at some point during the week of 7th January. But you never know, depending on circumstances, may well continue blogging. Otherwise, will certainly reflect my Yerevan experiences in upcoming posts in New Year.
Many thanks for reading my blogs, many thanks for your comments and messages. Keep in touch!
Friday, 14 December 2007
Below is a formal announcement by organisers.
Pink - (Public Information and Need of Knowledge)
"Our main mission is STIs prevention (special attention to HIV) among LGBT community. Recently, the amount of HIV infected people has risen and it is uprising every year among general population and LGBT people, to promote respect for LGBT rights in Armenian society and even in LGBT community in Armenia, because it is fact that lots of LGBT individuals in Armenia don't know their rights. A lot of people think themselves to be sick; it means they still think homosexuality to be illness, disease. We want to give information about what the situation is, help to understand and solve many questions they haven't found answers for yet.
The mission of the organisation.
o Raising awareness in society about facts and background of sexuality, STIs, HIV/AIDS, LGBT.
o Searching for role models, create an info centre, self help groups and build a ground for advocating gay rights.
o Developing projects and undertaking studies or research in various fields that are of particular concern to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people
We have agreements with several organizations in different regions of Armenia to work together and create a "Pink corner" in their offices, which will be a part of our organization.
I would like to mention about so called "straight" LGBT individuals. The term "straight" needs definition. The present reality makes a lot of people to cover themselves as straights. It is widely spread in Armenia. To reach these kinds of people is very difficult because they are afraid to be uncovered. We want people to visit our organization, so they will feel very comfortable and secure realizing that we don't want to discover who they are, but to give information about sexual health, hygiene, sexuality even he is not LGBT individual, for that purpose we need to take into consideration the way LGBT "straight" individuals are thinking, because our main purpose is to reach to the wide LGBT community which members are mostly covered under "straight" term. There is an organization for LGBT community in Armenia, but so called "straight" LGBT individuals will never attend that kind of organization realizing that it is openly organization for LGBT and even they will do a harm for that kind of organization.
On the other hand we want to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the elimination of all kinds of discrimination. If there is a LGBT organization in Armenia so it doesn't do its job properly to our mind, because nobody is talking about the real situation of LGBT in Armenia in any kind of forms. There are facts about LGBT individuals who have been tortured by their own parents, there is nothing about what the situation is in army (it is fact lots of guys have sex in army using no condoms and how they behave towards gay men in army who are being raped and even they can be killed and nobody will know about it). Nobody talks about LGBT people who are famous all over the world.
Main present and past activities, programs and successes.
o Have been providing World AIDS Day events at gay friendly club since 2004
o Cooperating with local NGOs
o Leaflets and booklets on HIV/AIDS, STIs, are donated by MSF Greece to have them available for distribution.
o Trainings in 2007 in Gyumri (Shirak region), Dilijan (Tavush region), Vanadzor (Lori region) and Yerevan
For the conclusion I would like to add that all what was presented above is just a drop in ocean. A lot of problems should be spoken about.
And even if we are able to give right information about STIs, LGBT community, sexual health, hygiene to a very few people, it will mean that we have achieved and done something for our society. We realize that we can not manage to do a lot, but to our mind the first step of doing something is to speak about it and do something towards it, because as Albert Einstein said:" The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing". We don't want to be participants of evil.
For all these we highly aspect your assistance and support.
Visit our non-official web page
M.H. and G.T."
Tuesday, 11 December 2007
Ask Armenian Ombudsman about discrimination of LGBT people in Armenia, homophobia, inequality, other human rights violations
Thanks to A1+ blog, we have an opportunity to ask direct questions to the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman) of Armenia Armen Harutyunyan.
Deadline to submit your questions - Friday 14 December (inclusive).
To send your question, leave it in a comment section of A1+ blog here:
I think it’s a good opportunity to ask (perhaps for the first time) Armenian official who is responsible for the human rights protection in our country about the state with LGBT people in Armenia, gay rights, homophobia, inequality, discrimination, lack of legal protection. You may wish to ask also specific, more personal questions, if appropriate, which involve human rights violations and discrimination.
Go to the A1+ blog site here:
and leave your question to Armen Harutyunyan. A1+ blog promises his replies to the questions over next week.
Make your voice heard!
Monday, 10 December 2007
Survey was conducted among women 15-49 yrs old.
*via Radio Liberty
Sadly, not a shocking news...
ILGA-Europe recognises the significant development that the signing of the Reform Treaty shall bring with it in EU law, and the implications that it may have for the advancement of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people within Europe. The Charter is the first EU document that brings together the whole range of civil, political, economic and social rights provided in a number of international conventions. Undoubtedly the Charter, which will come into force 2009 after all EU member states ratify it, will provide a new opportunity for LGBT people to address and challenge discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and we look forward to seeing how the European Court of Justice is going to interpret the Charter."
Well, except for the UK and Poland, which opted out from the Treaty. I would not worry much about the UK with its pretty comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, but Poland...
I wish similar to this Rights Chapter treaty covers also the Council of Europe countries (all three South Caucasus countries are members of the Council of Europe). Still, this is great news and it would hopefully have influence on and send message to other countries which seek prospect of membership or closer ties with the EU, including Armenia.
Sunday, 9 December 2007
By Gabriele Zamparini
"In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country." – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [see also here - Unzipped: Gay Armenia]
Iran did it again. Makvan Mouloodzadeh, 21 years old, was executed because homosexual. The Iran Lobby, so powerful within some quarters of the Western “Left” and the so-called “anti-war movement”, will once again try to justify this barbaric murder and repeat the lies of the Iranian theocracy: he was killed not because homosexual but because he was accused of rape. This time however the homophobic apologists on the “Left” will need to find a better excuse; Makvan “was accused of committing anal rape (ighab) with other young boys when he was 13 years old. However, at Mr. Mouloodzadeh's trial, all the witnesses retracted their pre-trial testimonies, claiming to have lied to the authorities under duress. Makvan also told the court that his confession was made under coercion and pleaded not guilty.”
Like canaries in a coal mine, homosexuals have always been the minority whose treatment in a society would detect the grade of freedom and tolerance within that society or the lack of them. Probably the most persecuted minority in most of the times, cultures and places [but ‘most’ doesn’t mean ‘all’], the attitude toward homosexuals is indicative of the state of that society in its whole. More...
*This report by The Cat's Dream cited also my post Gay death in Iraq: a desperate call for help
Saturday, 8 December 2007
...or shall I say body-to-body? Imagine, you do not know the context of it. I can't stop being amazed how much homoeroticism is involved in all this tough guy sports - boxing, rugby... They sure would deny it ;)
Monday, 3 December 2007
via Petrelis Files, I found this link to Swiss national AIDS prevention campaign slogan. It is aimed to target everyone, straight and gay. LOVE LIFE STOP AIDS… So simple and so powerful! One of the most life affirming and positive, without usual horror elements, anti-AIDS message I heard in years.
Here is just one (gay related) photo to accompany this message:
Sunday, 2 December 2007
*Nikolai Alexeyev, gay rights activist and Moscow Gay Pride organiser, shows his spoiled voting paper minutes before being arrested. It reads: "No to homophobes. No to Luzhkov." Photo via GayRussia.ru
Nikolai Alekseyev and 12 fellow gay rights activists have been arrested this morning at 10am in Moscow while they attempted to vote at the "District Electoral Commission N° 165". They came to the place at 9.30 am. Yuri Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow who banned the last two Gay Prides (calling them "Satanic"), was planning to vote in the same place later in the day. Representatives of Gayrussia.ru reported that the police ‘suddenly broke into the place and took all the activists who were quietly voting.’ Reportedly, some 5 police busses could be seen around the voting place which usually serves as a school. However, Lenta.ru reported that Nikolai Alekseyev was arrested when he wrote ‘No to homophobes. No to Luzhkov’ on his ballot paper and started to demonstrate the bulletin to journalists (see photo above). In Putin’s ‘guided democracy,’ spoiling the ballot papers is a silent form of protest by many: opposition leader Garry Kasparov has been reported writing ‘Another Russia’ over his ballot paper.
The activists were detained at the Tverskoy police station. They were charged for attempting to conduct an "illegal gathering". Those charged for taking part in an "illegal gathering" are due to appear in court on Monday at 10am (Moscow time).
Two weeks ago, a group of Russian gays and lesbians called for the LGBT community to vote in the election and to write on the ballot paper “No to homophobes” as a protest to the lack of human rights in the country for their community. They claimed that no political party took the LGBT issues into consideration and therefore they did not want to support anyone.
“We were trying to vote,” said Moscow Gay Pride organiser Nikolai Alexeyev, speaking from the police station where he was detained. “Men from the special services pushed us outside the polling station, put us in a bus and drove us to a police station.” There was no direct protest, Alexeyev said. It was simply a matter of “spoiling” their ballot papers by writing “No to Homophobes” across the paper.
Those arrested were detained for more than three hours at the Tverskoy police station in central Moscow, about 100 metres from City Hall and less the five minutes walk from Red Square. For hours, they were not given a reason for their detention.
An official from the Prosecution Department visited the Tverskoy police station in the afternoon. He immediately ordered that those still detained to be released, indicating the maximum time permitted for detention in such cases was three hours, Alexeyev said by telephone. He called intervention from the Prosecution Department against police actions "sensational".
Nikolai Alexeyev expressed hope that the journalists in the polling station where activists were arrested can testify that they did not conduct any demonstration, but simply "about 20 of them voted at the same time." A number of media representatives were at that pollig station waiting for the Mayor of Luzhkov who was due to vote shortly after the LGBT activists.
(based on Gay Republic Daily, GayRussia.ru and UKGayNews)
Saturday, 1 December 2007
Statistics and commentary
Unless otherwise stated (or provided with the specific link), most HIV/AIDS statistics in this post are via National Centre for AIDS Prevention in Armenia
Incidence and prevalence
From 1988 to 1 December 2007, 528 HIV cases had been registered in the Republic of Armenia among its citizens. 66 new cases of HIV infection were registered in 2006; and 99 - in 2007. Males constitute a majority in the total number of HIV cases - 396 cases (75.0%), females make up 132 cases (25.0%). 528 reported cases include 11 cases of HIV infection among children (2.1%).
AIDS diagnosis was made to 206 patients with HIV, of whom 40 are women and 6 are children. From the beginning of the epidemic, 119 death cases have been registered among HIV/AIDS patients (the cases include 19 women and 3 children).
The overwhelming majority of the HIV-positive individuals (72.3%) belong to the age group of 20-39.
Modes of transmission
The main modes of HIV transmission are through injecting drug use (47.9%) and heterosexual practices (45.1%). Besides, there are also registered cases of mother-to-child HIV transmission as well as through blood transfusions and homosexual practices
|Transmission through injecting drug usage||47.9 %|
|Transmission through heterosexual practices||45.1 %|
|Mother-to-child transmission||1.9 %|
Transmission through blood
|Transmission through homosexual practices||0.4 %|
All the individuals infected via injecting drug use were men. Some of them temporarily inhabited in Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkoutsk, Rostov, Surgut etc.) and Ukraine (Odessa, Kiev, Mareupol etc.) and were most likely infected there, where HIV prevalence is much higher. In addition, the majority of all the HIV-infected males (64.7%) are individuals who practice injecting drug usage, whereas the majority of women were infected through sexual contacts (98.4%).
The maximum number of HIV cases was reported in Yerevan, the capital: 254 cases, which constitute 48.1% of all the registered cases. Shirak Marz follows next - 52 cases, which constitute 9.8% of all the registered cases.
However, while interpreting these statistics, one must bare in mind under-registration of cases. As WHO advises, whereas the above figures represent reported cases, it is estimated that the actual number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Armenia is about 2800-3000.
As to the HIV transmission "via homosexual practices", on one hand, it seems to be not high. On the other hand, under-reporting/under-registration, which is true for both straight and gay people, would be certainly higher for gays - in case of gay people there is not only stigma associated with HIV/AIDS but also fear of disclosure of their sexual orientation.
High proportion of HIV among straight people is not surprising due to lack of proper sexual education and still prevalent attitude of being engaged in unprotected sex. Also, according to second-generation HIV surveillance data collected in 2002, HIV prevalence among injecting drug users is about 15% and less than 3% among female sex workers. In 2006 there was no registered opioid substitution programme for injecting drug users in Armenia.
That's not to say that the situation in relation to sexual education is rosy among gay Armenians. Sure, they may be more aware of risks as compared to general population. However, one relatively recent survey among MSM (men having sex with men) revealed disturbing lack of knowledge especially among younger groups which constituted 56% of surveyed 70 MSM. Only around half of the youngest group of participants (18-30 yrs old) mentioned "unprotected sexual intercourse" as a mode of HIV transmission, while almost all of the older age groups indicated it. And slightly lower proportion of the youngest age group (51%) still believed that one may get HIV through "shaking hands."
Below are the distribution of answers concerning HIV transmission:
- By unprotected sexual intercourse: I group (18-30 yrs old) – 56%, II group (30-45 yrs old) – 92% and III group (45-62 yrs old) – 100%
- By drug injection: I group – 82%, II group – 83% and III group – 85%
- By blood transfusion - I group – 44%, II group –75% and III group – 100%
- From pregnant mother to a child: I group – 33%, II group –67% and III group – 85%
- By relating with HIV infected people, for example, shaking hands while greeting: I group – 51%, II group –33% and III group – 14%
Another anonymous survey among LGBT Armenians conducted by gay rights group WFCE confirmed lack of proper knowledge on HIV/AIDS. While most of them indicated that HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex, majority (67%) did not use condom when they last had anal sex. The most frequent reasons cited for not using condoms were "no condom" (31%), "partner was against" (18%), "reduces pleasure" (15%), and "feel embarrassed to buy/purchase" (11%).
On the other hand, back to the previous survey, the prejudice towards HIV-positive people was prevalent in all age groups, being higher (again!) among the youngest:
26% from I group (18-30 yrs old), 33% from II group (30-45 yrs old) and 57% from III group (45-62 yrs old) have mentioned that they would limit their mutual relations with HIV infected person (it is not clear whether the question referred to sexual or general contacts). Respectively, 51%, 29% and 14% have mentioned that they would completely cut their mutual relations with HIV infected person, and 21%, 25% and 0% have mentioned that they would not only completely cut their mutual relations with HIV infected, but also actively prevent their relatives and friends from any relation with HIV infected person. And respectively only 3%, 13% and 29% of the survey participants have mentioned that they would continue their relations with HIV infected people.
I am not aware of the exact methodology of these surveys to judge more properly their reliability, however, my guess is that the convenient sampling was used which is a common practice to recruit participants for surveys dealing with sensitive matters. It means that it was not a random and thus more representative sample but possibly conducted by recruiting survey participants, say, through friends, or with the help of a particular social group etc. However, this is the best available evidence we have to get an indication of the state of knowledge and behaviour in this case among MSM or LGBT people in Armenia.
These surveys and HIV/AIDS statistics highlight the urgent need for proper sexual education among our population (younger generation is of particular concern!), which is as relevant for straight majority, as for gays. Relatively low rates of HIV in Armenia doesn't mean anyone could relax. Moreover, it should be a basis for more active actions to prevent its spread.
HIV testing is free of charge in Armenia and 29 facilities across the country provide testing. Systematic tests are performed in connection with pregnancy, in IDUs, in nationals returning home from long-term residency abroad and in blood donors. Nearly 50 000 people were tested for HIV in Armenia during 2006; 66 were found to be positive.
Armenia has one treatment facility providing medical care to people living with HIV. 170 people received medical care for their condition in 2006. By April 2007, 52 were receiving HAART [Combination of several (typically three or four) antiretroviral drugs is known as Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART).] of which 61% are current or former injecting drug users. About 2/3 of the people living with HIV and who attended care were tested for coinfections and TB and hepatitis C were diagnosed in half of these cases.
1988 - registration of the first HIV case; the transmission mode is heterosexual intercourse;
1988 - registration of the first AIDS case;
1989 - registration of the first death from AIDS;
1990 - registration of the first case of HIV infection through injecting drug use;
1996 - registration of the first HIV case among women;
2000 - registration of the first case of HIV transmission through homosexual practice;
2001 - registration of the first cases of HIV infection and AIDS among children.
Friday, 30 November 2007
"Annie Lennox has never been the sort of pop star to use her celebrity to get into fancy shops after hours or create overpriced clothing lines. She's proving yet again she wants to help those less fortunate with her new single "Sing" from her latest album Songs of Mass Destruction. To help raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness, Annie has also released special remixes of her single Sing to help raise funds for the HIV/AIDS organization Treatment Action Campaign.
Annie so rocks! Here is the video for "Sing" with an opening by Nelson Mandela."
She certainly rocks! For more - http://www.myspace.com/annielennoxsing
"SING MY SISTER SING
LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD"
World AIDS Day release of Sing – Saturday 1st December
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Friday, 23 November 2007
Eastern Europe and Central Asia
An estimated 150 000 people [70 000—290 000] people were newly infected with HIV in 2007 bringing the number of people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to 1.6 million [1.2 million-2.1 million] compared to 630 000 [490 000-1.1 million] in 2001, a 150% increase over that time period.
Nearly 90% of newly reported HIV diagnoses in this region in 2006 were from two countries: the Russian Federation (66%) and Ukraine (21%). Elsewhere, the annual numbers of newly reported HIV diagnoses are also rising in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (which now has the largest epidemic in Central Asia). Of the new HIV cases reported in 2006 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia for which there was information on the mode of transmission, nearly two thirds (62%) were attributed to injecting drug use and more than one third (37%) were ascribed to unprotected
- South Caucasus
Increasing numbers of new HIV cases are being reported in each of the Caucasian republics. In Georgia, more than half (60%) of the 1156 registered HIV cases to date were reported in the past three years (2004–2006), and the annual number of newly registered HIV infections has risen each year (EuroHIV, 2007).
Similar patterns are evident in Armenia’s smaller epidemic (EuroHIV, 2007), where most reported HIV infections have been among injecting drug users (almost all of them men). HIV prevalence of about 9% was found among injecting drug users, whereas prevalence of less than 2% was found among female sex workers (Armenian National AIDS Foundation, 2006).
Almost half (47%) of all HIV infections documented in Azerbaijan’s relatively recent epidemic were reported in 2005–2006 (EuroHIV,2007). Almost half of the HIV cases registered by 2006 were in the capital, Baku, where 13% of injecting drug users tested HIV-positive in a 2003 survey (WHO, 2006b). In addition, high prevalence of HIV (9%) and other sexually transmitted infections (9% syphilis and 63% chlamydia) has been found among female sex workers, among whom condom use appears to be infrequent (WHO, 2006b).
Full report is available here
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
It was sad to announce the closure of AGLA France a month ago, but it's pretty symbolic that with this interview, there will be an announcement of the re-launch of the website of another prominent Armenian LGBT organisation – Armenian Gay & Lesbian Association of New York (AGLA NY), with exciting and broad agenda.
Today Unzipped: Gay Armenia is speaking to Christopher Atamian, President of AGLA NY, to discuss the changes in the organisation, gay rights and life in Armenia and Diaspora, and a groundbreaking conference on LGBT rights in the Caucasus, which is being organised by AGLA NY. He has been President of AGLA NY for a little over one year (15 months) now.
Before going to the questions, I asked Christopher Atamian to introduce himself, provide with a brief biography. I am glad that Chris agreed. It amazes me how many talented people we have in our community and how little we know about them (if know at all).
I was born in New York City. I attended Harvard University, USC Film School and Columbia Business School. I am a former Fulbright, Gulbenkian and Bronfman Scholar. After working ten years in corporate media, where I was last CMO of BKL Media, I started True Faux Productions two years ago: we produced Trouble in Paradise which won a 2007 Obie (!) and are planning to move it to Off-Broadway and eventually Broadway. I have made three short films that have screened from LA to Armenia and I write for leading publications including The New York Times (This past weekend I had a feature in Arts and Leisure) and The New York Press where I was the Dance Critic for two years. I was recently included in “Forgotten Bread: First Generation Armenian American Authors” and translated Nigoghos Sarafian’s “Vinceni Andaruh” from Western Armenian into English. I have just completed a first novel and I am working on a book called “Deconstructing Ararat: Aesthetization, Diaspora and Identity in Armenian Film” I also started Nor Alik, a leading cultural organization which produces Making an Armenian Difference, a Film, Performance and Lecture series. I am single and live in NYC.
Christopher Atamian: "We need to tell bigots and people who would pretend we don't exist that it’s not all right to ignore us. "
Artmika: This Thursday (15 November) sees the launch of AGLA NY new website. However, my take is that it is not just a revamp of the website, say, making it more functional or changing colours/design, but rather a re-launch of the Association per se with a broader agenda.
Christopher Atamian: That is partly true. We’re lucky to have had five past presidents who kept the flame alive, so to speak. But up until now, we’ve remained mainly a social organization. And although that is one very important function for a gay and lesbian association, it seemed to me that we could do a lot more. So in a short period for time with the help of a committed group of core members, we’ve started a Coming Out Committee; an enhanced web site; a newsletter and all sorts of fun, interesting, upcoming events. I’m most proud of the Conference that we are organizing in 2008 on LGBT Rights in the Caucasus, which will be the first of its kind in the world.
A: AGLA NY has recently changed its status to "non-profit". Could you tell a bit more about it and what would it mean to your members and broader LGBT Armenian community?
C: It simply means that we will be able to raise money and that the moneys raised will be tax-deductible. Hopefully that means that we will be able to build a healthy endowment for the organization and increase the breadth and depth of our programs.
A: Who can become a member of AGLA NY? I noticed you have two membership levels – "friends of AGLA NY" which is free, and "AGLA NY member" for a small fee. What is the difference between these two levels of membership?
C: Like any organization, there are costs for events, meeting spaces, websites and other activities. We wish that weren't the case but it’s a reality for any non-profit organization. As a result, we request that members pay a membership dues to join. But we also recognize that not everyone can afford that nominal fee, so we also offer another level of association with our group. However, only dues paying members may join the executive or vote.
A: What about plans for scholarships for deserving Armenian students which you announced on your website? Who will be eligible for it?
C: We are taking our cue from GALAS LA, though this is something that I have wanted to do from the beginning. We may or may not name the scholarships after one or more gay and lesbian Armenians who have unfortunately passed away. As of now, the plan is just to eventually establish these scholarships. We have to first raise the money and then endow the scholarships. That being said, anyone reading this interview who would like to endow a scholarship should feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We assume that any member of our community - gay or otherwise - will be able to apply. I am a firm believer in education and can’t stress how important I think it is for Armenians to increase their presence in our nation’s leading educational establishments.
A: For the fifth year now you participated in Gay Pride parade in NY this summer, and you plan to have your own float next year, for the first time. How important is it for you to participate in Pride events in NY? Could you picture similar event in Yerevan, say, in a year, 10 years…?
C: It’s very important. Our presence, no matter how small, sends a message to the general public and to the Armenian community as well. This year we plan to have a float and over 25 people participate. It ‘s going to be quite fabulous.
Yerevan has a long way to go. There are so many problems in Armenia, from poverty to lack of democracy to a looming renewal of conflict with Azerbaijan. But people continue to live and gay people deserve to live open, free lives as well. In this respect - and in others - the Armenian government says one thing and does another.
Like its neighbor the Republic of Turkey - I'm sad to say - it pays lip service to Council of Europe/EU laws, in this case civil rights legislation which guarantees LGBT people equal rights under the constitution. In reality gay people are persecuted there, although a small somewhat "out" group exists. I can’t say that much progress has been made, though to be honest I have not been back to Armenia in 3 years. But reports are not overly positive. We in the Diaspora can put some pressure - not much perhaps - on the government there to respect the laws they are sworn to uphold. And as a persecuted people, it behooves us as Armenians to be models of tolerance.
A: For me, the most important project AGLA NY put forward for the coming year is organization of a conference on LGBT rights in Caucasus. If successful, it would be one of the most significant events for gay rights movement in Armenia and the region. Could you provide more details? Also, is there any date set up for the conference?
C: Yes, we hope it will be a groundbreaking event. We plan to have sponsors and to hold it in a University setting. The Conference will be guided by a committee that is yet to be decided and will include an array of members from the New York-area Armenian and non-Armenian communities. That’s all I can say for now. Details to follow.
[from AGLA NY website (as of 14 November 2007): "AGLA NY is organizing the first-ever conference on LGBT rights. This is a crucial event and a first in the history of Armenia and the surrounding region. As you can imagine, given the persecution that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people face in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Abkhazia, this conference is of vital importance. We will be partnering with leading national and international organizations and bringing as much visibility as possible world-wide to issues of discrimination and human rights in the region. The conference will also draft an open letter to the Presidents of all four republics demanding that they apply EU laws regarding LGBT rights that they already have on the books, and publishing conference findings in the local and Armenian press. We need people to help organize the event, do PR for it and to (wo)man the event. It's a great learning opportunity as well, and as we are now a non-profit organization, we will offer college internship or community credit for our younger volunteers!"]
A: Maybe I am wrong, but my impression is that until now the main focus of AGLA NY was on local issues with LGBT Armenians. However, now you are shifting your attention to broader Armenian and outer community issues. What is behind this shift?
C: Again, up until now, AGLA NY was mainly a social organization and I think that this disappointed certain people. So we are doing all sorts of things now and enlarging both our social events (we’re holding a bang-up fundraiser in 2008) and other events, like the conference. Last year, under my impetus, we also participated with the Armenian Network, the ASA and the AGBU YP’s in the annual Armenian Thanksgiving Dance and donated over $1,000 raised to Fund for Armenian Relief’s efforts to help Armenians who suffered during the Israeli bombings of Lebanon. And why shouldn’t we? We are both Armenian after all and gay, so we should be active in both those aspects of our identities.
A: What was your reaction to the closure of AGLA France announced in this blog a month ago?
C: It’s very sad, but I am not surprised. Our communities are small, so keeping organizations alive is a Herculean task at times. (Also, we have to learn to be more politically active: we can be more active in every respect than we currently are, both in terms of the number of people who participate in Armenian cultural and fundraising activities and in terms of the amount of money we donate to support our organizations.) But I can’t speak specifically to Micha’s particular situation in France. I hope that AGLA France will re-open if possible.
A: I'd like to ask you the same question I asked Micha Meroujean of AGLA France. What are the most urgent and practical steps need to be done to develop gay rights movement in Armenia and Diaspora?
C: To speak out! To be present and in everyone’s faces. We’ve been taught to hide and that is wrong. We need to tell bigots and people who would pretend we don't exist that it’s not all right to ignore us. We have a right to be present, and to be married and to have families if we so choose. And if you look at Armenian cultural production, our people owe a great debt to LGBT people, from Tekeyan and Paradjanov on down to the current generation of writers and artists. In the recent book "Forgotten Bread: First Generation Armenian American Writers," for example, there were three contributors out of 15 who are members of our small AGLA NY Group. That's an amazing statistic, if you think about it.
A: NY is one of the most liberal cities in the world in terms of equality and visibility for gay people. I suppose, for gay Armenians in New York the main problem will come from their 'Armenian' part, rather than New Yorker. How easy is it to be gay Armenian in NY?
C: You know being gay is difficult, period. Everything from marriage laws, to health insurance issues, to the passing on of wealth is made difficult for us. Meeting people is more difficult. Gay people still are discriminated against and my generation - people roughly 35 to 45 - were taught that there was something wrong with them, that being gay was bad, so that there is a high rate of depression, addiction and self-hatred in our communities which makes things very difficult. I think younger people in their 20s have it slightly easier now. But I still think it’s not a cake walk. Look at Matthew Shepard. And you can still get attacked in NYC or called a faggot in the street: not pleasant things.
A: And back to the re-launch. On 15th November you will honor the contribution of past presidents of the Association. How many presidents has AGLA NY had, and are they still connected with the organization? What would be your message to them
C: My message to them is simple: thank you. There are 5 past presidents and myself and I think at least 4 will be present on November 15th, at last count. And yes, three of them still come to meetings on a regular basis. They and other members of the group have become like family to me.
A: Many thanks, Chris! And congratulations to you and to all of us for this new exciting agenda of AGLA NY.
Friday, 9 November 2007
This was designed specifically for British schools but universal in its message.
Thursday, 8 November 2007
The following message I received this morning from a prominent human rights activist in Georgia:
"I am not supporting any political power. However, what happened yesterday was very ugly. State of emergency that is declared now is limiting our basic human rights. I do not get any information. Please sign this petition following the link bellow."
Please sign and distribute the following petition as wide as possible
Below is a full text of the petition. Please, follow the link above and sign it.
Stop abuses by the government of Georgia
The Government of President Saakashvili has revealed its authoritarian nature, ordering SWAT teams to violently curb peaceful protest in streets of Tbilisi.
On November 7, 2007 at approximately 5 am Georgian SWAT teams violently dispelled a peaceful manifestation outside the building of Parliament in Tbilisi. Police used teargas, water, rubber bullets and blunt force clubs against peaceful demonstrations.
Opposition leaders who were engaged in a hunger strike and lying on the street were severely beaten. Koba Davitashvili of People’s Party and singer George Gachechiladze are in hospitals in critical conditions. Others face the risk of prosecution on the charges of treason.
Around 5 p.m., riot police again attacked opposition demonstrators who had gathered some kilometers away from the Parliament.
508 people had sought emergency assistance due to injuries and gas poisoning. Some of them are in critical condition. Georgia’s ombudsman, Sozar Subari, was also attacked by riot police with rubber truncheons. Riot police later raided the private television station, Imedi TV and forced it and the Kavkasia television station to stop broadcasting. Later in the evening, the government declared the state of emergency and suspended a number of legal rights. Electronic and print media was prohibited to cover news stories.
For the moment, members of the Parliamentary Majority and the President have made statements, threatening to arrest those that speak against the clampdown.
The protest rally started on November 2, 2007, when tens of thousands of protestors, led by the 10-party opposition coalition, gathered outside the parliament on Tbilisi’s main street. The protest organizers had informed the government of their intention to gather at the parliament building, as required under Georgian law.
Several thousand protestors continued to demonstrate peacefully for five days outside the parliament. They demanded timely parliamentary elections and reform of the election management body and voting system.
We, undersigned, call on the international community:
1) to interfere urgently in the crisis in Georgia to prevent further casualties and deterioration of situation;
2) to condemn massive violation of human rights by the law enforcement agencies of Georgia;
3) to pressure the Georgian government to stop persecution of opposition members and dissenters;
4) to influence President Mikhail Saakashvili and his government to cancel emergency rule and remove ban from the media;
5) to compel the Georgian government to release all political prisoners.
“Even in a time of crisis, Georgians have a right to protest peacefully without being beaten by the police,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Firing rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators is a complete abuse of the use of force. The government does not have a carte blanche to restrict fundamental freedoms just because it is in crisis.”
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Here is just a small excerpt from this chilling documentary about 'proud' confessions of a father who killed his son:
"I found out he was gay. I killed my son and now I am considered a hero by my friends. I hanged him in my house, in front of his brother to give an example to him and to prevent him from doing the same."
He was charged for murder but soon was released after his lawyer explained why he committed his crime. Apparently, new Iraqi constitution states that a person who commits the crime to restore the honour of the family should be exempt from the prosecution.
This short film entitled "Queer Fear - Gay Life, Gay Death in Iraq". After watching it you will understand that "Gay Life" part of the title is pretty much irrelevant here... (thanks UKGayNews for the link)
Read UKGayNews article on how you can help LGBT Iraqis here
Saturday, 3 November 2007
For the first time ever, in Tbilisi gay guy came out in public during a reality TV show. He was immediately expelled from that show. No news then, some would say. That’s how things are in the South Caucasus. True. But the only fact of coming out in public was significant itself. I want to praise this courageous 20 yrs old guy from Tbilisi. His name is Pako Tabatadze. This case received a widespread coverage in media, both local and international. Perhaps, the best coverage in terms of understanding the subject matter and professionalism was by RFE/RL.
“Pako Tabatadze had dreams of stardom. Tabatadze, a 20-year-old dance teacher, was among 12 young Georgians selected to compete in the fourth season of "GeoBar." The popular reality television show, a Swedish import that purports to promote social diversity in a former Soviet republic, features "real-life" characters who live and work together as they vie for the chance to run a fashionable bar. But when Tabatadze came out, his dream ended.”
However, not everything was as straightforward as it may seem. There was a big deal of manipulation involved in this whole story. Manipulation by certain people, producers of that reality show, who played on person’s desire to lead an open life as gay man and stage-managed his actions for their own purposes. Basically, they used him to boost the show’s ratings, and then threw him away.
As perfectly pointed out by RFE/RL reporter, “his sexual orientation [was] apparently too "real" for reality television.”
“He says the show's producers selected him largely because he is gay. But they then turned around and kicked Tabatadze off, telling him that the network had received disapproving calls from the public and the Georgian Orthodox Church following his debut.
"It was the show's producers who told me [to come out] - they told me they would include me in the project if I was going to admit that I was gay," Tabatadze said. "Of course they knew that this was going to cause quite a stir. If they didn't want me, they should not have let me into the project. But if they wanted me, then why did they kick me out?"
“In the course of the show, Tabatadze performed a provocative dance and declared his sexual orientation -- all in keeping, he says, with the producers' efforts to mold his image into that of the stereotypical, effeminate, gay man.
"They gave me new a haircut, shaved one side and put my name on my head," he said. "When I went to shoot the opening clip, I hated the makeup they gave me, and didn't want to be filmed like that. But they said if I didn't want to do it, I could leave."
According to Pako, he intended to come out in another TV show in few weeks. However, producers lured him into doing so in their programme, under their terms. Certainly, Pako was also partly to blame since he ‘allowed’ these manipulations happened. However, do not forget, on the one side of this story is a young, inexperienced, ambitious man who wanted fame, but who also wanted to live his life openly as gay man. An easy target for manipulations. On the other side are show biz producers who make living out of exploiting people’s sensibilities and personal circumstances.
"GeoBar" is a program that should primarily show young people's relationships and their struggle for success from a positive angle," Koba Davarashvili, director of Rustavi2 TV which hosts the show, was quoted as saying by the Georgian English-language daily The Messenger, adding that one person's "social problem" should not be the focus. Can this statement go any more ridiculous – “one person’s social problem”, “positive angle”?! What is so negative with young person’s desire to live his life openly? Director of Rustavi2 TV since was resigned to “return to business”, whatever that means. It’s not clear whether his resignation has anything to do with this case.
Paata Sabelashvili, head of Georgia's only LGBT rights group Inclusive Foundation, says overcoming the public's negative perception of homosexuals is a tremendous challenge. "In this respect, things have always been difficult in Georgia, for it was only seven years ago that homosexuality was decriminalized -- and this has left a significant mark on the public mentality," Sabelashvili said. "On top of this, there is no reliable source of mass information on this issue, and the media are openly homophobic. Hence, society regards homosexuality as limited to [the public's] understanding of it as a disease, crime, debauchery, or sin. These four definitions are predominant in relation to homosexuality." Change “Georgia” to “Armenia”, and you won’t need to change anything else in this statement, except that gay male sex was decriminalised in Armenia two years later, at the end of 2002.
Inclusive foundation in Georgia did a good job in compiling homophobic statements by officials and media monitoring. As I understand, this monitoring is to be continuous.
There are unconfirmed reports about calls from Georgian Orthodox church or government intervened by demanding Pako’s dismissal from the show. There are even speculations that “the Patriarch called President Saakashvili who then contacted the administration of the TV company.”
Pako Tabatadze is considering a legal action against discrimination. If unsuccessful locally, he may consider appeal to European Court in Strasburg. If this case goes to court, it perhaps will be the first case in the South Caucasus when gay man takes a case to a court against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In fact, as I learned, the Inclusive Foundation, LGBT rights NGO in Georgia, forwarded this case to the Ombudsman's office. I understand that Ombudsman’s office is currently studying the case.
Georgia is the only country in the South Caucasus who has specific article in the Labour Code (adopted in 2006) that explicitly outlaws discrimination of employees on the basis of sexual orientation. But who cares what is written in legal documents. What is more important is what Patriarch says. Forget about state/church division. The intrusion of Georgian church into the state affairs and as a ‘nation’s moral guardian’ is increasing to the frightening levels.
Pako says he has openly lived as a gay man for quite some time and has found acceptance among his family and friends. "Now, when walking down the street, I have to hang my head low." As Georgia Today reports “since his debut on Bar 4 [a reality TV show] he is now commonly subjected to abusive comments on the streets of Tbilisi.”
The only ‘encouraging’ fact of this story was that apparently that show biz producer did not think that being out gay will ruin his career, although he probably assumed that it would do quite a big harm to married singer Kerim. But hey, it’s an entertainment field we are talking about, where, as opposed to ordinary world, being gay, to some extent, is considered not so ‘deplorable’, even in Azerbaijan. The same is true for other ex-Soviet countries, including Armenia. We have our famous in/out singers (and not only) too.
Another talked about in various forums case of ‘outing’ was allegedly conspired by students of one of Armenian main universities. A ‘profile’ of the head of university, including his mobile phone number, was posted in one of popular Armenian gay personals sites.
I remember years ago newly established Armenia TV at least twice invited gay Armenians for a talk show. It was quite a step from that TV station, perhaps the fist time when gay issues were publicly discussed in presence of gay person. In one instance it was a guy who covered his face with a mask, for obvious reasons. However, the other guy was not afraid of being there openly and spoke out his life story without any cover. These were THE DAYS when I thought something is going to change in Armenia. And I remember that despite various misunderstandings and occasional homophobia in the audience, it was possible for organisers to create more or less healthy environment there. Unfortunately, early promises for Armenia TV did not live up long, these shows were scrapped (I assume, partly due to some rumours going on back then). Since then, it was pretty much steady downfall for Armenia TV, which became anything but innovative, diverse, and fresh. Interestingly, I do not remember any public outrage back then, there were discussions afterwards, especially among students and younger generation, but nothing particularly hateful that I could recall.
It was important back then and important now to increase gay visibility in a society, to ‘expose’ people to ordinary gay men and women, to educate public so that being gay would eventually become something ordinary, and not only an exclusive for entertainment field. My impression is that our society became less tolerant over the past few years.
Tuesday, 30 October 2007
It became one of the most commented pictures in Yesoudo.
Micha: “They didn't need to write anything, they could simply keep the poster as it is and no gay or any self-respecting pet would go there. Rap party called "Hin Djougha"? With a blond bimbo in US-flag bikini on its poster? No kidding! I don't even dare to imagine what kind of rap they're going to perform”
We also discussed a serious nature of it and lack of legal basis and groups or NGO-s to take the case to the court. There is no anti-discrimination law to include homophobia, sexism etc in Armenia. Only racism is currently punishable.
Blogian now re-posted this picture, and along with pointing out homophobic aspect of it, raises the following question:
“What caught my attention most, though, is not the American-flagized blond nor the homophobic message but the name of the party (rap group?) - Hin Jugha (Old Djulfa). This is the historic Armenian place where Azerbaijan destroyed thousands of stone-crosses in December of 2005. What do homophobia, rap and Old Djulfa have to do with each other?”
I suppose, this is a ‘perfect’ combination for attention seeking bigots and loser-‘promoters’. What can be more eye-catching and attention grabbing than semi-naked blond, vulgar homophobia and false patriotism? Imagine, what sort of crowd would be attracted to that party… Even thinking of it made me nauseous.
Back to Yesoudo, the most hilarious comment in relation to this ad came from my Yesoudo friend Chant, a talented young filmmaker.
Chant: Someone should do graffiti 2 males kissing on that ... here's an idea to inspire you by artist Banksy: http://www.thismoment.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/blog/banksy.jpg
Monday, 29 October 2007
I never was a supporter of choosing someone based on gender. Abilities should be the factor! But may be we lived too long under almost total male dominance in Armenian politics and government. May be woman President will bring those essential qualities which are lacking in our male candidates. May be she will be able to ease the tensions in our society and act as a consolidating power. May be woman President will transform Armenian society into more tolerant and inclusive one. And may be if women gain power in our neighbouring countries too, they will be able to solve the problems in a way only women know and bring long awaited peace to the region.
Just one request, if I may. Please, save us from Alvard Petrosyan, who once infamously told Aravot newspaper that as a “normal” woman she is afraid of homosexuals, calling them “enemies” of women.
Recent developments in Armenia related to the establishment of the Women’s Resource Centre, and the latest example of regional cooperation of women organisations in the South Caucasus, as reported by Lara in Life in Armenia, are encouraging.
Here is a call for future woman President for Armenia!
TO: The European Parliament, European Political Parties, Humanitarian Organizations, International Press
We are writing to draw your attention to the case of a 40-year-old gay Iranian man, identified here as Alex, who is about to be expelled from Greece and deported back to Iran. As is well known and documented, gay people in Iran are subjected to persecution and severe punishment, including execution. If Alex returns to Iran, Greece will be committing a serious miscarriage of justice and a gross violation of human rights.
Alex (his real name and identity are known to our organization) used to live a fully respected life in Iran. He is a member of a rich Iranian family and used to have a respectful job in Iran. In 1999 he was visited at his workplace by an ex-schoolmate who knew Alex was gay and who was probably a member of the government party. After that visit, Alex was arrested by the religion police and kept in the Jankal jail at the Iranian town of Rast for 45 days.
Alex was tortured at Jankal. He was beaten systematically with lashing straps in his back and kidneys and afterwards was put in water in order to not develop ecchymosis and edema. He was beaten several times in the face, losing three teeth as a result. He had his testicles twisted, was submitted to bastinado and had salt poured on his open wounds. He was put twice in mock execution.
After spending forty-five days in jail, his family paid to get him out so that he could attend the funeral of his mother. The police took him to the funeral in women’s clothes. While out of jail, Alex managed to escape. A few days later, he arrived to Greece by way of Turkey in a terrible condition.
He went to the General Administration office of the police and applied for political asylum based on the torture he had been submitted to in Iran. The application was rejected. In 2003, Alex submitted a second application for political asylum stating that he was homosexual and had a relationship with a Greek man, Phoebos (his real name and identity are known to our organization), who also testified that he was Alex’s partner. (Alex and Phoebos are still together today). However, this application was also rejected. (Alex’s file in the Ministry of Public Order is YDT 95/43303; his file in the Asylum Department of the Home Office is 12206/38647).
Now Alex’s case is to be discussed in front of the Supreme Council, which is scheduled to decide for a definitive resolution regarding his status as a refugee on March 11, 2008.
Alex’s deportation to Iran will constitute a violation of the articles 3 and 15 of the International Convention of the Human Rights, co-signed and validated by Greece.
We need your strong support in order to prevent the Greek state from violating the international law and the human rights of a person whose life is in danger because of his sexuality.
We would be more than happy to provide further information on the case.
Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to your response and immediate action.
The Members of the Greek Homosexual Community (G.H.C.-ΕΟΚ)
Contact: General Secretary of GHC-EOK Marina Galanou
Greek Homosexual Community, EOK
(Member of: ILGA, ILGYO, All Different-all Equal)
Antoniadou 6 str., Athens, Attica, PC 10434, Greece
Tel. (0030)210.8826600 Fax. (0030)210.8826898
http://www.gayhomes.net/eok/ & http://www.eok.gr/ email@example.com
Sunday, 28 October 2007
October 28, 2007
A new film is to depict a gay love affair between Salvador Dali, the eccentric master of the avant-garde, and his fellow Spaniard Federico Garcia Lorca, the doomed dramatist and poet.
Little Ashes, a UK-Spanish production, is set in the cultural and political tumult of Twenties Madrid and follows the intense friendship of three revolutionary young artists: Dali, Lorca and the Surrealist film maker Luis Bunuel.
Described by its producers as 'racy' and 'sexy', the film will show Dali and Lorca's feelings deepen into a love affair which the sexually repressed artist tries and fails to consummate. As a substitute, Lorca sleeps with a female friend, with Dali present as a voyeur.
The interpretation, by British screenwriter Philippa Goslett, is likely to cause controversy among biographers and historians. Although a physically intimate relationship between the men has long been rumoured, Dali told interviewers more than once that he rejected the homosexual Lorca's attempts to seduce him.
Playing the larger-than-life Dali - painter of ants, spindly-legged elephants and melting pocket watches, creator of the Lobster Telephone and farceur instantly recognisable for his pointed moustache - is an acting Mount Everest. In Little Ashes the part has gone to Robert Pattinson, a 21-year-old London-born actor best known to cinema audiences as Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter series. Lorca will be played by the Spanish actor Javier Beltran, while the role of Bunuel is taken by Matthew McNulty, who was in Control, the recent biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. Little Ashes, named after a Dali painting, is directed by Paul Morrison, whose credits include Solomon and Gaenor, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2000.
The film will find Dali, aged 18, arriving in Madrid, where from 1922 he lived in the university hostel, the Residencia de Estudiantes. It was there, as a bizarre exhibitionist diving into Cubism, that he became close to Bunuel and Lorca, who he later described as 'the poetic phenomenon incarnate' and the only person who ever made him jealous. Lorca would go on to write plays including Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba before being murdered, aged 38, by Nationalists during the Spanish civil war.
In typically vivid language, Dali, who married in 1934, denied their relationship ever became physical. He was homosexual, as everyone knows, and madly in love with me,' he said, according to Alain Bosquet's 1969 Conversations with Dali. 'He tried to screw me twice... I was extremely annoyed, because I wasn't homosexual, and I wasn't interested in giving in. Besides, it hurts. So nothing came of it. But I felt awfully flattered vis-à-vis the prestige. Deep down I felt that he was a great poet and that I owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dali's asshole.'
But Goslett defended the movie's portrayal of a love affair between them. 'Having done a huge amount of research, it's clear something happened, no question,' she said. 'When you look at the letters it's clear something more was going on there.
'It began as a friendship, became more intimate and moved to a physical level but Dali found it difficult and couldn't carry on. He said they tried to have sex but it hurt, so they couldn't consummate the relationship. Considering Dali's massive hang-ups, it's not surprising.'
She said their lovemaking was displaced to a third party. 'Lorca slept with a female friend of theirs, which Dali called the ultimate sacrifice. Dali watched it and this was the start of his voyeurism. It was the construction of his mask that we are familiar with now. For me the real tragedy is Dali. He was really haunted by Lorca for the rest of his life and talked about him incessantly - more than his wife, Gala.'
The film was shot mainly in Barcelona on a modest £1.4m budget. There was a sceptical response from Ian Gibson, the Spanish-based biographer of both Dali and Lorca, and now working on a life of Bunuel. 'It depends how you define an affair,' he said. 'He [Dali] was terrified of being touched by anyone, so I don't think Lorca got far.'
Friday, 26 October 2007
I must say that this statement by ILGA-Europe is surprising, to say the least. They were the first to re-publish yesterday BBC report in full without providing any additional commentary. Now apparently they 'retracted' that report and accuse others in "sensationalism." Coincidence of this last attack to the conference and the fact that many delegates were inside the venue provided legitimate basis for BBC and others to link it with the conference. Whether it was linked or not, the fact of attack against the gay venue warranted its widespread coverage by media and condemnation.
In relation to the action organised by 9 protesters (see below), ILGA-Europe states that "The protesters were reasonably peaceful and many of them engaged in conversations with the security guards and even the conference participants. During the coffee break some conference participants equipped with smiles took their organisation’s banners and small rainbow flags and peacefully stood opposite the protesters. There was no confrontation, all were smiling and fascinated by the need of those 9 people to come to protest against the conference. " "Some delegates were wondering how come that the Rainbow Flag public event was banned, but those 9 people were allowed to come and protest outside the hotel. We quickly learned that according to Lithuanian laws on demonstrations there is no need for official permission if there are up to 9 people organising a public event and this made it clear to all of us why there were exactly 9 protesters."
ILGA-Europe reports that during the second day of the annual gay rights conference in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius nine protesters gathered outside the conference venue to protest against "propaganda of homosexuality". Delegates were greeted by "Go Home" posters. Over 200 representatives all over the Europe participate in the annual ILGA-Europe conference in Vilnius.
In the meantime, last night, conference delegates were attacked by smoke bombs. BBC reports that "delegates inside a local bar found it difficult to breathe after the smoke bombs were thrown, but had to stay inside because of safety concerns".
As posted in this blog few days ago, the public event to coincide with the Annual Conference and display a 30 meters long rainbow flag was banned by the Mayor of Vilnius. The Baltic Times reminds that Lithuania, along with neighbouring Poland, is regularly ranked among the most homophobic nations in the European Union.
A press officer for Mayor Juozas Imbrasas told the BBC the public gathering had been banned because of what she said were "safety concerns" due to building works. ILGA-Europe rejected the mayor's decision saying no alternative site had been offered to them and described the ruling as appalling. Executive Director Patricia Prendiville said "It is a positive duty of the city authorities to offer an alternative venue to the applicant and they did not do that.
"There is no doubt that the City of Vilnius used the construction works as a cover. "
Vladimir Simonko from the Lithuanian Gay League said, "There is unfortunately institutional homophobia in Lithuania. A recent survey of MPs revealed the majority of them have a negative attitude towards the gay community. It's hard work for us."
London Mayor Ken Livingston expressed his solidarity with European gays and condemned decision by Vilnius Mayor to ban a public LGBT event for the second time this year. [Earlier this year, in May, the Mayor of Vilnius refused to give permission for the anti-discrimination truck tour to visit Vilnius. It was a part of European Commission initiative All Different - All Equal campaign.] "I applaud the Lithuanian Gay League’s legal action against Vilnius City Council to overturn the ban and I hope that it succeeds."
Amnesty International also condemned attacks and Mayoral ban: "Amnesty International is deeply concerned by yesterday's attacks on the gay community in Vilnius, which saw the mayor ban a rally and a smoke bomb attack on a conference, and has called on the Lithuanian authorities to act."
Amnesty International said:
'Sadly these events are not a one off. Lithuania has repeatedly failed to protect and respect the rights of their gay community.
'To persecute people for their sexual orientation is to violate their fundamental human rights.
'Amnesty International calls on the Lithuanian authorities to respect the right to peaceful freedom of assembly for all, the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and to actively promote respect for diversity in their country.
'The Lithuanian authorities also need to offer adequate police protection to the country's gay community.'
*photo by ILGA-Europe
Wednesday, 24 October 2007
However, looking for completely irrelevant things, I came across Mr Gay Europe website and did not regret it. WOW, there was a participant from Azerbaijan in the Mr Gay Europe 2007 contest which took place in August in Budapest. He did not win any prize, but the only fact of participation is worth mentioning in this case. It is not Western Europe for you, it's South Caucasus country (predominantly Muslim) we are talking about, where homophobia is very high.
"I am proud to be able to represent Azerbaijan in the Mr. Gay Europe competition," says Sadikh Ragimov, 19, from Baku.
Occupation: Student - School of business administration/New Port International University Film Directory/Plato Movie School
Hobbies: Cinema, Comics, Cooking, Drawing/Painting, GLBT activist, Music, Photography, Reading/Writing, Traveling.
*source of picture and self-info on Sadikh Ragimov - Mr Gay Europe website
I looked at the history of this relatively new contest (was hosted for the first time in 2005) and got confirmation that he was the first delegate not only from Azerbaijan but also from South Caucasus to participate in the Mr Gay Europe contest. Believe me, for whatever reason he decided to participate, it was pretty big thing to do. Well done, Sadikh!
For all those who doubt that participation in the Mr Gay contests could be dangerous for life, here is example from EU member Poland related to Mr Gay Europe 2007 Polish contestant (based on news provided by the Mr Gay Europe):
"Even if only 21 proud men was on stage, the presenter referred to 22 men; the Polish Delegate was just before leaving for Budapest attacked and beaten severely in Warsaw, and was not able to take part in the finals. The Polish Delegate was however on the minds of the other 21 and was therefore mentioned as one of the group." I just hope that with the newly elected government things will change for better in Poland.
Anyway, for all those interested, Mr Gay Europe 2008 will take place again in Budapest, July 2-6.
Tuesday, 23 October 2007
Georgia and Azerbaijan must stop discrimination and incitement to hatred and put in place an inclusive anti-discrimination law in line with Council of Europe and EU standards if they aspire to EU membership. This is according to the joint ILGA-Europe and COC Netherlands reports on the position of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in the two South Caucasian countries.
The comprehensive reports are the result of a joint fact-finding mission and reflect the vulnerable social and legal situation of LGBT people. They also reflect the position of national authorities and international organisations. Finally, the reports give a particular focus to lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people and give examples of human rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The reports seek to raise awareness of European and international organisations, put pressure for positive change on national governments and encourage donors to support LGBT organising in these countries.
Patricia Prendiville, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said:
“The reports illustrate the vulnerable position of LGBT communities and the systematic nature of human rights violations against them. This situation runs against Georgia and Azerbaijan’s obligations under the European Convention for Human Rights and against European Union laws and values these countries have to respect if they aspire to EU membership in the future”.
Frank van Dalen, President of COC Netherlands, said:
“Upon completion of the fact-finding mission to South Caucasus, COC Netherlands with ILGA-Europe and other partners has started a five-year project aimed at strengthening LGBT movements in the Newly Independent States and prevention of HIV/AIDS in this community. First results give very positive hopes: where there has been hardly any movement before now there are strong, registered NGOs advocating for human rights and social equality and providing a range of services for the community”.
A high level of hostility towards same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities prevails in virtually every aspect of Georgian society. Many believe them to be a disease, some see them as a sin, others as a perversion. Human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are opposed by some prominent human rights defenders and other high-level figures. Stigmatisation is so pervasive that most LGBT people are forced out of communities, deprived of any chance to openly express their sexual orientation or gender identity, and suffer from discrimination and hate crimes. And yet they are forced to come out and organise into associations and groups if they want to be able to stand up for who they are.
This joint ILGA-Europe and COC report is the first of its kind to be published about same-sex relationships and LGBT people in Georgia. It explores identities, common human rights violations, the landscape of LGBT organising, health and HIV/AIDS, and relevant legal aspects. It also provides recommendations to the Georgian government, donors, LGBT activists and international organisations.
Full report on Georgia is available here
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not invisible in the predominantly Muslim Azerbaijani society. Tens of transgender sex workers go into the main street of the capital city Baku every night, prominent showbiz figures barely hide their sexual orientation, mass media gives more space every day to the subject of sexual orientation and gender identities. And yet one should not be misled by this relative visibility: there is a price of estrangement from family, bullying, social exclusion, discrimination, blackmailing and hate crimes attached to it.
This joint ILGA-Europe and COC report is the first of its kind to be published about same-sex relationships and LGBT people in Azerbaijan. It explores identities, common human rights violations, the landscape of LGBT organising, health and HIV/AIDS, and relevant legal aspects. It also provides recommendations to the Azerbaijani government, donors, LGBT activists and international organisations.
Full report on Azerbaijan is available here