Friday, April 21, 2006
by Wayne Besen
In flowery billboards and endearing television ads, the Jamaicans look so incredibly friendly. On the website www.Jamaicans.com
, the slogan is "home away from home." In another ad campaign, the residents plead with benign smiles, "Come Back to Jamaica." But it turns out that Jamaica is not home if you're a homo, and you might come back from Jamaica in a body bag. For whatever reason, the locals have gone loco and gay bashing has replaced Jamaican bobsledding as the national sport.
An article in last week's Time Magazine
calls Jamaica the "most homophobic place on earth." It points out that recently two of the island's leading gay rights advocates, Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey, had been ruthlessly slain.
If that was not enough, a crowd essentially danced on Williamson's grave by celebrating over his mutilated body. In 2004, a father learned his son was gay and went to his school to invite a group of peers to lynch his son. Now that's family values!
Not too long after this sickening episode, witnesses claim police egged on a mob that stabbed and stoned a gay man to death in Montego Bay. Earlier this year, a Kingston man, Nokia Cowan, drowned after a crowd shouting "batty boy" (a Jamaican slur for queer) chased him off a dock.
"Jamaica is the worst any of us has ever seen," Rebecca Schleifer of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch explained to Time
Despite this record, Americans continue to subsidize this slaughter by boarding ships destined for Jamaica to cruise and booze. This is unconscionable and you can bet there would be a much greater uproar if this abuse were happening to any other minority.
Sadly, Jamaica's curious anti-gay fixation is spreading to other parts of the Caribbean. In St. Maarten, two producers for CBS News were gay bashed by thugs weilding tire irons. The attack occured outside the nightclub Bamboo Bernie's, where Richard Jefferson, 51, and Ryan Smith, 25, were first harrassesed for being gay earlier in the evening by the assailants. The victims were airlifted for medical treatment to Miami. Jefferson, who has been released, said Smith was being treated for brain damage.
Additionally, Jefferson told the Associated Press that local authorities had not spoken to witnesses the night of the crime, nor had they pursued leads. Instead of St. Maarten's CSI, the police were MIA.
"The people who harmed us are well-known punks," Jefferson told reporters last week, according to the AP. "People in the community know who these guys are. They are not talking to the police. The entire island is watching something bad happening."
Two men were finally arrested this week, (one was already released) but their cowardly actions seemed to win the approval of a local newspaper, Today, that derisively referred to gay people as "faggots" and "homos." According to the unfathomable April 11editorial:
"During and after World War II, it was considered common sport for military guys to let themselves be picked up by a faggot in a bar in Los Angeles or San Francisco. The one who was picked up would pretend to go along for the ride, only to turn around and beat up or rob the homo who picked him up, leaving him without wallet and sometimes teeth.
"All that has changed, of course, largely due to American laws that are being spread around the world. Gay bashing is now a no-no. Slurs against homos, a no-no. And beating a person over the head for flagrant public behavior that once was considered criminal misconduct is a no-no."
In a comparatively minor, but no less telling cultural barometer, the Bahamas banned Brokeback Mountain. It seems Nassau must decide if it is an island chain open to the world or a palm tree-lined prison where its pristine waters are merely a mote to drown tolerance and diversity.
Unlike other homophobic hotbeds in the Middle East, our community can exercise considerable leverage over these human rights abusers. While few Americans are going to spend a holiday in Jeddah or Tehran, we are frequently visiting the Caribbean. Many of our allies would gladly vacation elsewhere if they were aware that their gay friends and family members were being brutally attacked.
It is time for Americans to reassess their relationship with islands such as Jamaica, St. Maarten and the Bahamas. Either they welcome all of us, or none of us. But these "paradises" can no longer be playgrounds for heterosexuals and hunting grounds for homosexuals.
Here is a message that Jamaica might understand: "Aloha, Mon, friend of batty boy going to Hawaii."
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
by Wayne Besen
When fundamentalists are confronted with evidence that contradicts religious dogma, they like to dismiss the inconvenient facts by saying that God is testing their faith. But in the past few weeks, God has given the faithful so many tests, that President Bush ought to appoint Him to run "No Child Left Behind."
First, the right wing was presented with a crushing $2.5 million study that said the power of group prayer was ineffective and provided no benefit to patients recovering from cardiac bypass surgery. In fact, 59 percent of patients who knew they were being prayed for had complications, compared to 51 percent of the patients who did not receive prayers. A few more of these studies and patients will pray that no one is praying for them. Of course, prayer can be a positive force, but it should be a humble and reverent matter, not the showy and superstitious domain of the audacious and ostentatious.
If you think about it, this study makes a lot of sense, with prayer often leading to the law of unintended consequences. For example, in the past two decades countless teams of Neo-Puritans have prayed for homosexuals to be delivered out of "bondage." In that same time period, however, the number of gay men and women who are just plain out has increased dramatically.
In another divine test, a 375 million year old fossil was found that scientists say is a long-sought missing link in the evolution from fish to walking life forms. Before the discovery, advocates of Intelligent Design had claimed that the fact such a link was missing undermined the theory of Evolution. I guess medieval minds will go back to the drawing board to dream up their next Creationist scheme.
Meanwhile, we have learned that Judas may not have been a betrayer of Jesus, but his best friend. The Gospel of Judas is particularly devastating to fundamentalism because it shows their religion is not as absolute as they suggest. The idea of preaching God's "word" becomes questionable when we keep digging up new words.
Who is to say that we won't stumble upon a hidden text buried in a Vatican vault where Paul comes out of the closet and goes to a circuit party in Babylon? Or maybe we will come to find that Sodom was not actually destroyed, but gentrified by gays and the writers of the Old Testament were simply bitter because they were priced out of their apartments.
Neo-Puritans might want to escape the modern world by retreating to the comfortable confines of Wal-Mart. But inside the Big Box are little boxes stuffed with DVDs of Brokeback Mountain. And coming soon to the Big Screen is the Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, which will have religious conservatives reeling.
When all else fails, the right wing will return to gay bashing, which is what it intends to do as midterm elections approach. However, there is even bad news on this front. A new Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll shows that only 51 percent of people oppose allowing gay people the freedom to marry, compared to a whopping 63 percent in 2004. At this rate, Pat Robertson will be performing gay weddings by 2010.
In search of a new scapegoat, conservatives thought they had a sure winner in Mexican-bashing. What they did not expect was that the people who cleaned their houses, would clean their clocks in the battle over public opinion. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants attended boisterous protest rallies across America, causing angst among GOP political operatives who are afraid this issue might cost the party Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada in future elections.
If this isn't bad enough, George W. Bush, the man the fundamentalists catapulted into the Oval Office as the "Chosen One" is plummeting in the polls. At the same time, key former Generals are no longer playing ball with Donald Rumsfeld, while Dick Cheney is getting rancorously booed at that great bastion of liberalism - the major league baseball park.
Finally, a new study reported in the Journal of Research Into Personality reveals that confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grow up to be liberals, while whiney, habitual complainers grow up to be conservatives. The existence of Robert Novak, Bill O Reilly and Tucker Carlson seem to back the study's conclusions.
God has tested Neo-Puritans and they have received a report card pockmarked with Fs. A group that anoints itself moral and then chooses Tom DeLay as its prophet and Bush as its savior, can't be surprised when they encounter disasters of biblical proportions.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
by Wayne Besen
For the past eight years, the only place the GLBT community has flexed its muscle in Washington is Results Gym. With no serious presidential contender to carry the marriage banner in 2004 and few amigos on Capitol Hill, politicians who fancy themselves allies left us twisting in the wind as if we were piñatas.
As the right wing beat the stuffing out of our beleaguered families, our "friends" whispered from the sidelines, "don't take it personally, we still love you." And, of course, they do love us, which is the problem. We are adored like the terminally uncool, but loyal, buddy who unfailingly helps move our furniture or fixes our computers, but never asks us why we haven't invited him to swanky A-List parties.
To translate this politically: Gay and lesbian people are licking envelopes until we are ready to join NA for glue detox and throwing money at ungrateful politicians like it is an Olympic sport. And for our efforts we often get patronizing pols who tell us that we must subordinate our concerns for more important issues, as if there are actually more pressing matters than protecting our families.
Incredibly, last week a political hero emerged who finally handed us an engraved invitation to the penthouse party. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., shocked the political world when he announced his support for marriage equality.
"As I said at the Kenosha County listening session, gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry and have access to the same rights, privileges and benefits that straight couples currently enjoy. Denying people this basic American right is the kind of discrimination that has no place in our laws, especially in a progressive state like Wisconsin. The time has come to end this discrimination and the politics of divisiveness that has become part of this issue."
Feingold is not the first senator to endorse marriage rights, but he is the first legitimate potential presidential contender to do so. He has clearly taken a political risk, so, the big question is, will we stand by him, as we should?
The answer is not so cut-and-dried, with many of our leaders firmly enmeshed in the Democratic machine, which is clearly banking on a Hillary Rodham Clinton nomination. There is a palpable fear that anyone who crosses Clinton in the primaries might be frozen out of power if she wins the presidency. And, of course, this may be true, but our leaders must be reminded that what is best for the GLBT community comes first, before loyalty to any party or candidate.
If we show ourselves to be feckless and unable to rally support, it will be the last time in the foreseeable future that a legitimate presidential contender takes a risk to support our full inclusion in the American dream.
Quite frankly, if we let him down, we don't deserve further support. Feingold has laid on the train tracks, and we must be equally courageous by seizing control of the train and driving it on a new track. For if a powerful bloc of progressives and GLBT advocates join forces to put Feingold in a position to win the Democratic nomination, the world will take notice and backing marriage equality won't seem like political suicide to so many candidates.
Realistically, it will be an uphill battle for Feingold to win the nomination. But now might be a rare moment where the senator could pull off an upset. As a crusader for campaign finance reform in the age of Jack Abramoff, Feingold can offer himself as the candidate who can clean-up corruption in Washington. His motion to censure President Bush for illegally wiretapping Americans makes him appear almost prophetic, as new scandals seem to roil the Bush administration by the day.
Most important, Feingold appears reasonable and presidential on television. One can easily imagine him in the Oval Office with his finger near the button. He is attractive and articulate with a thoughtful array of public policies that are innovative, yet mainstream. His Midwestern sensibility also connects with voters in the crucial Great Lakes region.
Pooling our resources for Feingold in the primaries is a wise move that will allow our community to show its strength and send the message that we will not be taken for granted. And, it will not hurt the Democratic Party's chances against Republicans in the general election, since the community can rally behind the eventual nominee if Feingold comes up short.
A thoroughbred has announced his support before the presidential horserace has even begun. It is now our moral responsibility to ride him to the end of the rainbow, where we might just find a pot of gold in Feingold.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
by Wayne Besen
For the gay community, foreign affairs used to mean an exotic one-night stand with a hottie from a foreign land? Today, however, gay and lesbian people are increasingly subjected to horrifying images of their brothers and sisters getting maimed and murdered overseas. Sure, we always knew such abuses occurred, but we weren’t actually confronted with them. However, as the world shrinks, it is harder to get lost in our myopia, while the anti-gay dystopia is beamed into our daily lives.
Technology is the impetus behind this new reality and it offers us perverse irony: The more advanced we become, the more we are exposed to the barbarism of the backwards. With the click of a mouse, we can now see grisly and gruesome images of people guilty of nothing more than being gay.
By far, the most unnerving aspect is that these helpless victims look like our partners and friends. It is easy to see ourselves hanging from the noose in Iran, beheaded in Saudi Arabia or caged like an animal after a bar raid in Egypt. With the warp-speed of the Internet, the “other” becomes us in real time.
Like all hate crimes, the damage extends far beyond the actual victims. Informed and aware gay people worldwide carry psychological scars from these international human rights abuses, whether they realize it or not. First, comes profound sadness for the victims and the twinge of guilt for being born in the “right” country. Second, there is the frustration and outrage that there is little we can do as individuals to help. Third, comes helplessness and despondency when our government remains silent in the face of anti-gay pogroms. The message sent is unmistakably clear: The lives of gay people are worth less than the lives of others.
Consider that the State Department did absolutely nothing after Shiite Iraqi leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa calling for the brutal execution of homosexuals. The “moderate” leader said that homosexuals should be, “Punished, in fact killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.”
Awareness of such atrocities can also cause disillusionment, withdrawal and isolation from the national debate on foreign policy. For example, part of the ever revolving and evolving case made by Bush for spending up to one trillion dollars to oust Saddam Hussein was that he was an evil tyrant who killed his own people. But if you are gay, the Grand Ayatollah is also a tyrant that is killing his own people. Forgive me if I’m having trouble distinguishing between the sadism of Saddam and al-Sistani. (Women’s rights are also in jeopardy as fundamentalist Shiites push for Sharia, or Islamic law).
In Afghanistan, a nation where a person can be killed for switching religions, what do you think the chances are of a gay bar opening up in Kabul anytime soon? How can a gay taxpayer or soldier celebrate such empty “liberation” and “democracy”?
Unspeakable cruelty is not limited to the usual suspects though, as it encompasses a virtual intercontinental array of abusive nations. In Moscow, Mayor Yuri Lukzhov is trying to ban Gay Pride, scheduled for May 27. It is unclear if the police will be ordered to beat and imprison those who defy his fascist order to prohibit GLBT people from peacefully assembling. Similar Gay Pride controversies took place last year in Poland and Latvia.
In Nigeria, there is a proposed bill that would introduce criminal penalties for relationships and marriage ceremonies between persons of the same sex as well as for public advocacy or associations supporting gay rights. If this law passes, Nigeria will cease being a free country in any way, shape or form.
In Nepal, Human Rights Watch reports that a “sexual cleansing” drive is underway in Kathmandu with mass arrests being made of gay and transgender people.
In Peru, the nation’s leading presidential candidate, Ollanta Humala, is having trouble explaining why his family says they plan to have a popular bisexual talk show host shot for immorality if their son wins his election on Sunday.
Sadly, in January the United States backed an Iranian initiative to deny United Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of gay people. But as the world shrinks, it will be increasingly difficult for free nations to shrink from their responsibility to uphold a basic standard of human rights. The “gay exception” to the rule of law has to end, and offending nations must be severely penalized for their atrocities. We can no longer allow these countries to hide behind the transparent veil of religion or culture. The civilized world has to stand up and call this often-psychotic behavior for what it truly is: Cold blooded, state sanctioned murder.