Thursday, August 31, 2006

I'm Coming Back

I will start updating this again, I promise!

I'm moving to Chicago, I've decided....going to get a job there, perhaps. See what life has in store.

I plan to start updating this site hard-core in one week.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Gay Jewish Porn Actor to Visit Israel

PinkNews recently reported that Michael Lucas, a Jewish-American porn actor, will be visiting Israel to offer a live show to entertain the troops. A quote:

His claim to be entertaining the troops will not be sanctioned by the Israeli army. Instead he offers free entry to soldiers attending his ‘performance’ in a Tel-Aviv nightclub.
And another:

Lucas also hopes his trip will bring awareness to the plight of gay people caught up in the current conflict:

"People need to see the faces of war, and I plan to shed light on the world where gay Israel exists," he writes.

"I will expose the reality that the people of Israel face right now, especially that of gay Israelis who are targeted by the hate of Hezbollah."
I was infuriated when I read this, and I didn't know why. It's great that he's going there to entertain, and it's great that such a show is accepted in Israel. I am competely supportive of that.

But the last lines irritate me immensely; they are inappropriate and uneducated. Gay rights are an international issue, and should not be confused with nationalist, ethnic, or religious conflicts.

Hizbullah has not been attacking Israel because of Israel's comparative support of gay rights, and Israel has not been attacking Lebanon in some spectacular defense of gay rights.

Going to entertain the troops is one thing, but going to ally gay rights with a national cause is wrong on many levels.

Arrests at a Gay Wedding in KSA

I know posts have been scarce recently; I've been traveling around Connecticut and New York with my sister. I've been trying to decide what to do. I don't think I'm going to return to Lebanon right now, I'll see what's in store for me here first. I think I'm going to go to Chicago; I have friends there. Then I'll go back to my old twice-per-day posting routine. I hve a lot to say, anyway.

In the past few days, there have been reports in the Western media about arrests of gay men in Saudi Arabia, starting with South Africa's Independent Online. It says it's from al-Watan, but I don't know if it's al-Watan from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, or even al-Watan al-Arabi, and I don't feel like searching for it to compare the English with the Arabic. A quote:

Saudi authorities arrested 20 young men after raiding a suspected gay wedding in the southern town of Jizan, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The detainees, who were among some 400 men attending "the wedding party of two men" on Tuesday, had been "emulating women," the Al-Watan paper said.

In all, some 250 people were detained in the police raid on the party but the rest were later released.

Police had "arrested the wanted people and released those who have nothing to do with the matter," the paper quoted a police commander as saying.

Some guests were also seen chewing qat, an illegal narcotic widely used in neighbouring Yemen, on a hill above the square where the party was being held, Al-Watan said.
This really isn't surprising. Gay people being arrested, and homosexuality being linked to socially unacceptable (at least on the surface) vices such as drug use and femininity. I mean, the guests were probably using qat as al-Watan states. But who doesn't? That's like reporting young men in Morocco for smoking kif or Egypt for shisha.

It's all demonization. People who themsleves have used qat will act outraged at the use of others, when really they're attacking something else - a commonly-used tactic. There's an extremely few people who will stand up for the rights of gay people in the Middle East to live unbothered, especially when they are portrayed as effeminate drug users.

I hope the media will cover what happens to these young men. If the fact that the story's barely been touched b Western media is any indicator, however, I don't expect to see too much more of this story, unless they're publicly hanged - doubtful after the Iran scandal.

One question - why isn't the gay media pouncing on this? Why did they pounce on Iran and not KSA? Saudi Arabia has an equally horrible gay rights record. I don't evern want to think about the discrepancy; my mind gets carried away with conspiracy, bias, and unscrupulous foreign policy.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hizbullah Defeats "Gay" Israeli Army, WorldNetDaily Bogus?

I've been M.I.A. for a few days, roaming the countryside with my sister, and this is what I come back to? WorldNetDaily yesterday reported that al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade leader Abu Oudai came out with a gay slur in his exaltation of Hizbullah's victory. The article, "Hezbollah defeated 'gay' Israeli soldiers" is long, but the gay quote only a few lines. Here it is, from the fourth paragraph:
"If we do [what Hezbollah accomplished], this Israeli army full of gay soldiers and full of corruption and with old-fashioned war methods can be defeated also in Palestine."
You would think Im angry, but I'm not...I'm nonplussed. Something is wrong here. I first became suspicious when the title of the article makes it seem like the article will be about gay issues, when they truly play a very minor role in the article. This made me wonder...was the title only there for shock value?

You have WorldNetDaily, a newssite that has ads for Ann Coulter and whose readers have repeatedly chosen the infinitely aggregious book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) as one of their favorite books.

Can you trust this news source?

Also, look up Abu Oudai on the web...the only people he's ever talked to are WorldNetDaily. So, essentially, a leader of a terrorist group in the West Bank decides to talk to the media and chooses a small, anti-Islamic news organization to pledge allegiance to? Unlikely.

Honestly, I don't think Abu Oudai exists...and I don't think that the articles in WorldNetDaily are legitimate. There's nothing in Arabic to back up Abu Oudai's existence. Abu Oudai conveniently says exactly what we think he'll say, and is often the only Palestinian source in WorldNetDaily's articles. I might understand using Abu Oudai to discuss Palestinian issues, but Hizbullah? Is WorldNetDaily unable to pick up a phone and call Lebanon? Faulty journalism.

I find it funny that the other news organizations that picked up the story, such as Ynetnews (which often takes from WorldNetDaily), PinkNews, and didn't question the source. Were they just happy to see what they wanted to see?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

In America

I made it to America, and now I'm in Queens, NY with my sister. For a bit. I'll probably go somewhere else. I'm not really in the mood to post right now, but I'm getting back to it.

First, some interesting things:

At the customs in Newark International Airport, I was kept for a few hours, being questioned over and over again. One officer would ask me a few questions, go away, and be replaced by another who would start all over again. Painful. One word that was mentioned that seemed crazily inaccurate: Taliban. I'm coming from Lebanon, not Afghanistan. Granted, to some people, they may sound similar - they both have "an" in the second syllable. But, as far as I know, they're not the same country, and they're not in the same region. I could be wrong.

In Cyprus, I went to a gay bar on the Greek side one night. I took a taxi into town. When I got there, the driver asked me where I wanted to get out, implying that he would take me there. I told him the gay bar of Limassol, called Allelum. He pulled over immediately, asked for 3 pounds, and drove away. I knew I was near it, but I got lost - I'm no good at reading Greek. What I found is that Cypriots, when I met them, were so very nice to me. They asked where I was from, how I was doing, if I had a beautiful sister. Then I started asking directions to the gay bar. They told me, but shut down and were very cold. There was no conversation after that.

I spent a night two expatriates, one Iranian and one Irish. It was an interesting night, and I got a bit too drunk. We ended up on a pier, sitting on a bench. Just sitting. A car pulled up, and they stood up quickly - they were worried the police might cause trouble for us. An interesting thing about Cyprus: the laws may have been changed to be pro-gay in order to please the European Union, but no one has told the police. Cyprus is a very conservatice country, to put it lightly, and will be dragged kicking and screaming to the modern social policy of the E.U.

It's probably a good example of the situations in a lot of countries - the laws don't tell you much. Just because homosexuality is legal or illegal doesn't predict the situation for gay people in actual day-to-day life. Egypt, for example, has no laws against homosexuality. But it's not a gay haven. In Morocco, there are laws against homosexuality. But it's not nearly as bad.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of coverage on normal gay life in many countries outside of Europe and North America. Many times, all that people have to reference are laws, treaties, and speeches of political and religious leaders. It's less than half the picture.

Gay Iranians Show Thanks for Protest

I'm a bit behind because of the travel, but here's something interesting. MAHA, an e-mail-based magazine for gay people in Iran (not having a website means the government can't shut it down) sent out the following letter on August 6:

We note some differences of opinion in the international lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement about how to best support LGBT people in Iran. We would like to express our view, and we believe that a great number of our readers share our opinion. Iranian society has developed despite the oppression. The demand for democracy and human rights is growing in our country.

We believe that the human rights of Iranian women, students, workers and LGBT people are not western phenomenon but aspects of universal human rights and are important for human freedom, dignity and fulfilment in Iran – and everywhere.

Despite all our difficulties and dangers, the Iranian LGBT community is getting more and more informed and is expressing its demand for human rights. We identify as LGBT people and want the same freedoms that LGBT people worldwide want.

Let no one claim there is not homophobic oppression in Iran. Every LGBT Iranian is at potential risk of arrest, imprisonment, flogging and execution. Avoiding such a fate requires leading a double life and hiding one’s sexuality. Even though there are secret gay parties and magazines, we are all at risk. Great discretion is the only thing that keeps many of us from the jails of the authorities – and worse.

Any disagreement over the reason for the execution of Mahmoud and Ayaz in the city of Mashhad last July does not alter the fact that the execution of men and women indulging in same-sex relations is mandatory in the penal code of Iran.

For the record, we believe the two teenagers were hanged (left) because of their homosexuality. The authorities are well-known for pinning false charges on the victims they execute. We urge people to never take at face value the charges claimed by the courts and newspapers. They are not reliable. In late July 2006, for example, a BBC television programme in England exposed how the Iranian authorities made false allegations about Atefah Sahaaleh, who was executed in the city of Neka in 2004 for “crimes against chastity”. The Iranian courts even lied about her age, claiming she was 22 at the time of her execution. In fact, she was only 16 – a minor, like Mahmoud and

We express our appreciation and admiration for the united efforts worldwide on July 19 in support of Iranian LGBT people, against homophobic oppression and all executions in Iran. These efforts gave us Iranian LGBTs hope and inspiration. It is good for our morale to know that people in other countries care about us and are pressing the Iranian authorities to halt their homophobic persecution.

Some prominent authorities here in Iran publicly condemned same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, following last year’s international protests against the Mashhad hangings.

This shows that your protests are having an effect.

The authorities in Tehran are concerned about the bad publicity they are getting all over the world.

Please do not stop. International protests are effective and we urge all groups around the world to work together for the common good of LGBT Iranians.

There is growing activity by Iranian LGBTs, both inside and outside Iran, to enlighten people about sexual diversity and respect for individual sexual orientation. Our E-magazine is part of that process.

The Iranian LGBT community in exile plays an important role in the struggle for LGBT rights in Iran. We believe that unity and cooperation between all LGBT Iranian activists is vital and important and we advocate this unity.

LGBT rights are part of human rights and they will be achieved in Iran by a joint effort from all Iranians for a democratic and modern Iran. International support for the democracy struggle inside Iran, at every level, is laudable and helpful.

We express our strongest opposition to any military intervention or military action against our beloved county Iran. It will not help the democratic struggle here but only strengthen the position of the conservative religious hardliners. War would close down the opportunities for reform. The authorities would use the pretext of “national security” to suppress debate and dissent, including the work of LGBT Iranians

Within our country, LGBTs need to make alliances with other oppressed sectors of the population who share our commitment to democracy and human rights. It would be a mistake to see LGBT rights as separate from the broader humanitarian struggle in Iran. Isolating our movement would keep it weak and marginal. LGBT rights should be a part of the mainstream Iranian democratic agenda.

We believe that Iranian LGBTs need support at every level, both nationally and internationally – from the UN, EU and national governments, and from human rights, NGO and LGBT organisations worldwide. We value your solidarity.

International pressure on the Iranian authorities regarding human rights and LGBT rights is effective and we welcome it.

Portraying homosexual rights in Iran only as a socio-cultural issue is harmful for our unity and the success of our struggle. It is our view that LGBT rights are about social, cultural, economic, legal and political justice. One cannot fight for LGBT people but ignore discrimination in the law and the fact that the Iranian authorities have made sexual orientation a political issue by denouncing and outlawing same-sex relations, and by punishing LGBTs with imprisonment and violent abuse, including torture and

We do not agree that the LGBT issue in Iran is purely a cultural matter. LGBT rights are a political issue too. Achieving LGBT rights in Iran demands hard work, both socio-cultural and political – changing laws and institutions, as well as changing people’s values and attitudes.

Iranian homosexuals are oppressed by the authorities. But in some other Muslim countries, like Lebanon and Turkey, LGBT people are able to form their own organisations, organise conferences and publish their information. This shows that greater liberalisation is possible in a Muslim country.

That is why, we strongly believe that in the current situation, the central obstacles against homosexual rights in Iran are the anti-homosexual laws. That is why the removal of discrimination against LGBT people in the country’s penal code is vital. It would pave the way for a significant improvement of LGBT people’s lives by changing the law and removing the threat of arrest and other abuses. We also need democratic, reform-minded people to lead the country and to secure changes in the education system and the media to combat homophobic prejudice and to promote understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.

Due to the current homophobic repression in Iran, we are unable to openly express our demand for LGBT human rights. That is why international LGBT pressure on the Iranian authorities, in solidarity with Iranian LGBT people, is most vital and welcome.

We thank you for your support -- MAHA
No disagreement here. I said something similar here. It's good to hear Iranians say it. It's impossible to find a perfect way for Westerners to address gay rights in other parts of the world - there's not enough information. Going on e-mails like this one at least let people know they're on the right track.

In most cases, a misguided attempt to help people is better than no attempt at all.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Wikipedia Argument Over Gay Palestinians

I can't write much, as I'm paying an incredible amount of money to use the internet in Cyprus. But check this out:

Wikipedia, as you know, is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Over the last few weeks, it seems there has been a small battle in the entry "Gay Rights in Israel".

Check out the history page and compare older versions. One day, something that shows abuse of gay Palestinians by the Israeli Secret Service is added. The next day, it is deleted, replaced by something that documents abuse of gay people in the Palestinian Territories.

The pro-Israel writers don't seem to want anything that shows Israel in a bad light, despite the fact that it is true. I recognize that Israel is far ahead of any other country in the Middle East regardging gay rights. But to portray it as a gleaming tower on a hill is unfair and untrue, and serves Israeli political interests. It's important to note that Israel treats Israeli gay people very well, but Palestinian gay people are subject to a different standard.

Palestinian gay people are in one of the worst situations worldwide: they are seen as threats by both Palestinians and Israelis, and cannot live in peace on either side. On the Palestinian side, they are tortured and threatened. On the Israeli side, they are left with no income but prostitution and are recruited by the secret service. Only when this dichotomy is understood can their needs be addressed.

Hopefully, this Wikipedia debacle will calm down and turn out well.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Conversation with a Jordanian Taxi Driver

I've heard that a lot of Jordanian taxi drivers are spies of the government sent to keep watch on the Jordanian people. Someone told me 1 in 10. I don't know if it's true, but this conversation was definitely strange. I was taking a taxi across town, which took about a half an hour in the traffic, so we had a while to talk. For your information, the driver was around 40 years old, an avid smoker, and had a booming voice. We started talking about the war, how I'm going to America, and what Beirut is like to live in. Here is what it became, in loose translation:

Taxi Driver: Do you have a boyfriend of girlfriend in Beirut?

Me: I have a girlfriend.

TD: Really? What's her name?

Me: Amal. She's Shi'a.

TD: Is she pretty?

Me: She's okay. (Here I explain what my imaginary girlfriend looks like. For the record, I do not tell random taxi drivers I'm gay. It's not a good policy.)

TD: Do you like only girls?

Me: Yes. You?

TD: I like men only.

Me: (Laughing.) You say it so openly.

TD: What do I care what people think?

Me: Do you have a boyfriend?

TD: No. I had a boyfriend three years ago. He was American. Every been with a black?

Me: No.

TD: (Some things about black people I won't repeat.) He was great. He was here for 8 weeks. Every day for 56 days, I would go to his apartment after work and we'd...(Some gestures I won't explain.)

Me: (Laughing hard and trying to move on to another subject.) Really? Do you meet people often?

TD: Sometimes.

Me: How do you meet them? Is there a bar or something you go to? (I'm trying not to seem too interested, but I'm truly very curious.)

TD: I meet them in the taxi. (Of course!)

Me: Interesting. (We pull up to where I'm getting out.)

TD: If you ever need a taxi, here's my number. (He writes his number on a pack of cigarettes and gives it to me.) Call me any time.
I got out of the car quite quickly, but gave him a nice tip - I always tip gay people well. It was scary, but interesting, and not the only gay come-on I've gotten in Jordan. The conversation would be funnier if I included the parts cut out, but I cannot, in good taste, do that. I try to keep this site clean.

Mostly, I'm just amazed at how open he was, even after my pretending to be straight. Is he really that free with his words? Am I obviously gay? Or am I just too hot to resist? (Haha.)

I'm not going to call him, if you're wondering.

Lebanese Video Speech at Montreal's Outgames

Well, I'm back from southern Jordan, in Amman for a bit before I fly to Cyprus and America. My visit to Sodom was interesting; I'll post on it when I can get my photos of it uploaded. But here's an interesting bit of news:

At the world's first Outgames in Montreal, which has been considerably more international than Chicago's Gay Games, a Lebanese activist from Helem, Rasha Moumneh, was supposed to give a speech during the opening ceremonies. The statement drew attention to the atrocities being committed in Lebanon by the Israeli military and Helem's support of the boycott of this year's World Pride in Jerusalem. It also highlighted the bind that Helem finds itself in: struggling against an oppressive government at home on the one hand and resisting the pull of neo-colonialist agendas that attempt to co-opt human rights causes to justify their ends on the other.

The speech was recieved with a standing ovation from many of the audience members, some of whom openly voiced support and solidarity with Helem and the people of Lebanon and Palestine. The video can be accessed here, but it is not working on this cheap internet cafe computer. Nevertheless, To Be, a Canadian magazine, had some quotes:

Nowhere was the solidarity of the conference attendees more felt than in the reaction to a video sent by the LGBT rights group Helem, which has branches in both Lebanon and Montreal. The delegates gave a standing ovation after a representative of the group explained why she could not attend. “The air, land and sea blockade imposed by the state of Israel have killed three hundred in Lebanon and by conservative estimates, 650,000 have been internally displaced,” she said. “As of July 12, when the hostilities started, all of Helem’s LGBT work stopped and Helem is donating its space and resources to humanitarian relief efforts.”
There was also a bit in another Canadian magazine, Capital Xtra:

"Today, we are fighting for human rights, more so for those in Lebanon," says Remy, from Helem, a Montreal-based organization that fights for the rights of Lebanese queers around the world.

For its part, Helem found tremendous support from athletes and participants as they gathered outside the stadium entrance.

"I was overwhelmed," Remy says in a quivering voice.

With Lebanon and Israel in conflict, Helem was approached by the Outgames to take part in the opening ceremony as a keeper of peace.

Members of the Israeli team shared in the call for peace. Gur Rosen and Dan Alogor from Team Israel had a talk with Helem members, something that would only have been possible at a meet like the Outgames.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Sad State for Gay Palestinians

A great article by Brian Whitaker just appeared in the Jewish Quarterly. It's well-documented, brings in other news sources, and is hard to dispute. It points out how Israel is generally a great place for gay people, but not for gay Palestinians. It documents how gay Palestinians are abused in Israel, and abused worse in Palestine. Here's a good bit:

For gay Palestinians who feel persecuted at home, the obvious escape route is to Israel, but because of the political conflict this can be fraught with difficulties. As far as most Palestinians are concerned, fleeing into Israel is a betrayal of their cause, while gay men who remain in the Palestinian territories also come under suspicion.

‘In the West Bank and Gaza, it is common knowledge that if you are homosexual you are necessarily a collaborator with Israel,’ said Shaul Gonen, of the Israeli Society for the Protection of Personal Rights (‘“Death Threat” to Palestinian Gays’, BBC, 3 March 2003). Bassim Eid, of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, explained:

In the Arab mindset, a person who has committed a moral offence is often assumed to be guilty of others, and it radiates out to the family and community. As homosexuality is seen as a crime against nature, it is not hard to link it to collaboration – a crime against nation (‘Palestinian Gay Runaways Survive on Israeli Streets’, Reuters, 17 September 2003).
Regarding gay men as politically treacherous is not unique to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. There are parallels here with Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, when gay men engaged in secret government work were treated as a particular security risk. In the popular imagination, this may well have been seen as an intrinsic part of their psychological make-up, although the fact that their sexual activities were illegal did expose them to the possibility of blackmail by Soviet agents.

Equating homosexuality with collaboration makes it extremely dangerous for Palestinians to return home after fleeing to Israel. One man told Halevi in the New Republic of a friend in the Palestinian police who ran away to Tel Aviv but later went back to Nablus, where he was arrested and accused of being a collaborator:

They put him in a pit. It was the fast of Ramadan, and they decided to make him fast the whole month but without any break at night. They denied him food and water until he died in that hole.
There is little doubt that some – though by no means all – gay Palestinians are forced by their precarious existence to work for Israeli intelligence in exchange for money or administrative favours such as the right of residence; both Eid and Gonen said they knew of several. Others, meanwhile, are coerced into undercover work for the Palestinian authorities; one 19-year-old runaway stated in an interview with Israeli television that he had been pressurized by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to become a suicide bomber in order to ‘purge his moral guilt’, though he had refused (‘Palestinian Gay Runaways’, Reuters, 17 September 2003).

Estimates of the number of gay Palestinians who have quietly – and usually illegally – taken refuge in Israel range from 300 to 600. Although Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and recognizes same-sex partnerships for immigration purposes, it does not welcome gay Palestinians – mainly because of security fears. This often leaves them trapped in an administrative no-man’s-land with little hope of finding a proper job and constantly at risk of being arrested and deported. Some try to disguise themselves by wearing fake military dog-tags and even Star of David medallions.

‘The Palestinians say if you are gay, you must be a collaborator, while the Israelis treat you as a security threat,’ Gonen told a news programme (‘Palestinian Gays Flee to Israel’, BBC, 22 October 2003). But even if they are neither collaborators nor a security threat, they can easily become targets for exploitation by Israeli men. ‘They work as prostitutes, selling their bodies unwillingly because they have to survive,’ Gonen said:

Sometimes the Israeli secret police try to recruit them, sometimes the Palestinian police try to recruit them. In the end they find themselves falling between all chairs. Nobody wants to help them, everybody wants to use them.
The quote is from the end, which is definitely better than the beginning, for in typical Whitaker style, the article jumps from topic to topic, often throwing in details that distract from the flow of his articles. This especially pertains to Britain. Whitaker can't resist mentioning Britain, even when it's not very germane. Is it a remnant of imperialism, national pride, or unrestrained blabbering? Who knows.

One thing I did notice: Whitaker mentions that the Israeli police try to recruit gay Palestinians, but didn't go into it. I would have liked to know more.

Al-Jazeera Points Out Helem's Good Deeds

In a nicely-written article in al-Jazeera, there is this tidbit written about Helem:

In west Beirut an office for the gay NGO Helem has been turned into the coordinating centre for Samidoun.

Underneath the rainbow flag the activists work around the clock to make sure the refugees in their care are provided for.

"I don’t think the refugees really care about the fact that we are a gay rights NGO. They only care if the NGOs helping them are American," Helem activist Ghassan Makarem said.
I didn't see a similar version of that written in Arabic, but, whatever. This article was written by Christian Henderson, not an Arab name, so that could explain why it's written so positively. I don't mean to say that an Arab would not write positively about gay people, merely that al-Jazeera won't get as much flak if it's written by a white guy. Gay people can be happy there's positive coverage of them, and people who hate gay people can just tell themselves that it's Western projection of gay rights onto the Arab World. I estimate that angry letters to al-Jazeera over a positive depiction of gay people would be double if the article was written by an Arab. This way, everyone wins.