Archives for posts with tag: oppression

Love it or hate it, but ever since Dana International claimed her prize in Birmingham in a Gaultier gown trimmed with parrots, the Eurovision Song Contest can legitimately claim that it has done its bit for LGBTQ visibility. In recent years – partly because of the dreadful voting system and the way former Eastern bloc countries have tried to use it to bolster prestige – despite the scale of the event and viewing figures, it’s lost its allure a little and never quite recaptured that frisson of transgressive danger it enjoyed on Dana’s night of triumph in Birmingham in 1998. However, it might just do it again in 2014.

The decision of Austria’s ORF to send drag performer Conchita Wurst to Copenhagen is what could make the difference. Conchita is not the first drag queen to represent their country on the Eurovision stage; in fact, in the light of recent events, it’s worth recalling that Verka Serduchka nearly won for Ukraine in 2007, although this year’s entrant Maria Yaremchuk (not a drag act) can’t be certain of getting quite the same  level of support from countries of the former Soviet Union when it comes to voting this year. Just recently it was reported that the hugely popular  Verka Serduchka may have been dropped as a star act on Russian Saturday night TV because of the Putin government’s laws outlawing “homosexual propaganda”.

Conchita Wurst can sing, and the song will please anyone who likes Bond themes, but as any Eurovision fan will tell you, that doesn’t necessarily make it a winner.  What’s clear though, is that ORF’s decision to send Conchita to Sweden has resulted in an outpouring of homophobia in social media, and serious attempts in both Belarus and Russia to have Austria’s performance blocked from broadcast on the night.  To the Austrian broadcaster’s credit, they haven’t just issued a dull corporate response, but launched a viral campaign which jokily challenges the anti LGBTQ prejudice being shown to their entrant. They want you to knit a fake beard “for tolerance”, and have produced a promotional video to the soundtrack of their own version of Pharrell’s “Happy”.  Douze points.

In the context of Russia’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, and the increasing confidence of those who seek to roll back equality, even if you don’t get out the knitting needles, voting for Conchita – who is openly gay and consistently makes a stand for diversity – in the semi-final on May 8th, so as to ensure Austria is there on the big night (and maybe beyond), is something worth doing, even if you don’t give a ding-a-dong for the ESC.

Quite by chance this week I found myself watching an excerpt from a documentary by the writer and comedienne Ruby Wax. It was made at the turn of the century, and in interviews at their Arkansas HQ key members of the Ku Klux Klan revealed their unfocused prejudices and fears about the rising power of homosexuals in America.

The KKK come across as comic rather than seriously threatening, but what’s shocking is that their confused rhetoric has survived the intervening years almost unchanged in the mouths of present-day US political figures such as Michele Bachmann who accuses the LGBTQ community of intimidation. It’s also alive and well in the slogans and leaflets of Besorgte Eltern NRW (Concerned Parents of North Rhine-Westphalia) who are busily organising marches in German cities like Cologne (there’s another one this weekend) in their campaign to stop children learning about homosexuality at school, and who sadly can’t be dismissed as unwitting clowns or mere echoes from another age, despite the tone of their propaganda.

It’s worth remembering the way many of us in the West reacted when we first saw the video footage from Uganda of preachers showing pornography to their congregations, finding Marin Ssempa’s speeches ridiculous, but with growing concern about how his simplistic misinformed bigotry was gaining hold.

You only had to look at the vile Facebook page of the Uganda Youth Coalition Against Homosexuality (now removed – thankfully – by Facebook following a barrage of complaints) to see how this rabble-rousing has led to the obscene torture and murder of members of the LGBTQ community in Africa .  And it’s worth remembering that the US evangelist widely credited with setting in motion what’s happened in Uganda is Scott Lively, now seeking a new platform in Massachusetts, where he is standing as an independent candidate for election to the post of Governor later this year. He talks openly of a coming anti-gay “revolution” in response to the “homosexual agenda”.

And it’s at this point that the Ruby Wax interviews with the Ku Klux Klan, from another century, suddenly aren’t quite so quaint and amusing.

As Uganda’s president called gays “disgusting” in a CNN interview and a tabloid newspaper published lists of suspected homosexuals, feeding hysteria and witch-hunts following the introduction of the country’s new laws against homosexuality, politicians and pundits elsewhere may have made appropriate noises of disapproval, but in truth they don’t really know what to do.

Desmond Tutu, William Hague, Barack Obama and the Swedish government (among others) may all have voiced dismay and muttered of consequences, which is to their credit; but the reality is that within a few days, people will nod and say how terrible it all is for gays in Uganda now, and then ask how the elections are going in the Ukraine or if there’s other news we should know about.  Compassion fatigue kicks in quickly as far as the LGBT community is concerned.  It’s a shame we spoiled the Olympics for the athletes, because they worked so hard to get there…

Out journalist Alice Arnold rightly argued in the Telegraph that we “mustn’t be left to fight American and African religious zealots alone”, and whilst happily there are many who support her view, there’s also a growing murmur that somehow none of all  this uncomfortable noise about homosexuality would be happening if we hadn’t kept on rubbing it in people’s faces.  Look what happens when you get uppity. We have only ourselves to blame, and gay was such a nice cheery word until we ran off with it, behaving inappropriately in public.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s Governor is deciding whether to sign the bill allowing businesses to deny services to the LGBT community; that it’s got this far is a disgrace, but a sign of how US evangelists are now beginning to push back at home after their African adventures. Scott Lively, the man who will have blood on his hands for his meddling in Uganda, now has a new target; he wants the American Psychiatric Association to reinstate homosexuality as a mental illnesss.  Don’t be naive and think this will go away overnight, as the debate (yes, the word debate will be used, and we’ll be asked to be reasonable and “hear both sides”) has barely started. And it’s our fault it’s happening, because if we hadn’t made all this fuss about marriage, people would have left us alone…

When Uganda’s Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, told AFP journalists that  treatment of homosexuals in his country is “tolerant” because the government is “not slaughtering them”, and reports showed suspected gay men being forced to walk naked through the streets of the Nigerian capital, Lagos, it was a stark reminder of just how bad the situation of the LGBT community has now become across much of Africa.  In Cameroon, it’s reported a well-known gay activist has been arrested, and in Malawi, Muslim leaders are calling for the death penalty for gays.

This increasingly active state-sponsored persecution of our community has – as we’ve said before – been partly fuelled by US evangelists exploiting splits in the Anglican Communion (ordination of women, gay rights etc.) and the power of fundamentalism; having lost traction at home under Obama, it’s an opportunity they’ve seized aggressively, often using pseudo-science and stoking the notion that homosexuality is somehow “un-African”, just another example of Western moral decadence imported under colonial rule. It’s given an increasing number of African leaders a useful scapegoat to distract populations from debates about corruption and so forth as well as creating a spurious image of “moral leadership” and a sense of continental unity and shared values linked to ethnic identity which gets beyond tribalism and the tensions between Islam and Christianity.

This week Vladimir Putin gave a top honour for – among other things – “humanitarian work” to a top TV news presenter who says the hearts of gay people who die “should be buried or burned as unfit for extending anyone’s life.”

The combination of what’s going on in Africa and Putin/Russia’s institutionalised homophobia is a particularly dangerous and toxic cocktail,  because it creates a climate which implies there is a twisted “legitimacy” to the anti-gay lobby, and suggests that there is somehow a large-scale morally-acceptable alternative to what has been happening in more enlightened countries in recent years.  

You can already see the effects spreading; a growing sense that the Christian community is being marginalised, and proposals to curb discussion of homosexuality in schools. In the US, several states are debating laws which will allow doctors to deny healthcare to the LGBT community on grounds of conscience.

If you add to that the complacency of the LGBT “community” the world starts to feel increasingly unsafe. It may be partly down to visibility and changes in reporting over the years, but somehow it feels there is a much bigger aggressive and physical threat to the LGBT community than I can ever remember.  It’s time we spoke up.

Strange times in Ireland, where what drag queen Panti Bliss said on a TV show about a group of people who oppose gay marriage led to state broadcaster RTE having to pay €85,000 in damages and now means you could easily find yourself in court if you call someone “homophobic”.

Panti Bliss – to his credit – hasn’t stepped back from the limelight over this. Indeed – among other things – he’s appeared on stage at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre at the end of a performance to address the audience on the meaning of oppression and homophobia. Little wonder that the video of this has gone viral, as it’s a powerful, entertaining, well-argued speech, and yes, you should take the time to watch it.

The homophobia issue has led to heated exchanges in the country’s parliament, with openly-gay senator David Norris delivering a blistering critique of both the anti-marriage group and fellow politicians.

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