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Shades of ‘Blue’

Blue is the Warmest Colour, gay news, Washington Blade

Production still from Cannes Palm D’or winner ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour.’ (Still courtesy of Sundance Selects)

It was a good year for LGBT film in 2013 — which means plenty of DVD options for cold winter nights at home.

The most fabulous movie of the year was clearly Pedro Almodóvar’s “I’m So Excited.” This superb farce by a master filmmaker at the peak of his powers is staged largely within the confines of a malfunctioning airplane. While the pilots try to find a place to land, the three male flight attendants drug the coach passengers and perform elaborate musical routines to distract the first class passengers, who include a virgin with psychic powers, a notorious dominatrix (played by Almodóvar regular Cecilia Roth), a shady businessman, a pair of newlyweds and a famous actor. While maintaining a delightfully campy tone, Almodóvar manages to make some interesting observations about sexual identity, death, ethics and morality.

Camp was also an essential element of a more mainstream offering: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Wonderful over-the-top performances by Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket skillfully guide the audience through the darkening political landscape of the dystopian Panem.

Real-life stories served as the inspiration for several notable LGBT movies of 2013. Helmed by openly gay director Lee Daniels, “The Butler” chronicled the emergence of the civil rights movement through the eyes of White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker). “The Dallas Buyers Club” told the story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic straight man who is diagnosed with AIDS. With the help of Rayon, a transsexual, he fights the medical establishment by smuggling drugs into the county. HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” recounts the tempestuous relationship between famous pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his younger lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), whom he literally tries to remake in his own image.

HBO also presented “Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You,” a documentary about the groundbreaking African-American stand-up comedian. Director Whoopi Goldberg details not only Mabley’s onstage life as a trailblazing performer who challenged racial and gender barriers and who was the highest paid performer at the legendary Apollo Theatre, but also her offstage life as a lesbian who was teasingly called “Mr. Moms.”

Another outstanding documentary was “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” written and directed by filmmaker Alex Gibney, who combines archival footage with incisive interviews to tell the intertwined stories of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Private Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning).

Directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the documentary “Bridegroom” tells the emotional story of Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom. Their plans to marry are crushed by Bridegroom’s untimely death. Crone’s grief is exacerbated when his partner’s family bars him from the funeral. A year after Bridegroom’s accidental death, Crone made a video called “It Could Happen To You.” The video became a viral sensation on YouTube and Facebook and inspired Bloodworth-Thomason to make this moving documentary about the importance of marriage equality.

Although billed as a murder mystery, “Kill Your Darlings” is really a coming-of-age story about Beat poet Alan Ginsberg (played by Daniel Radcliffe). The movie recreates the meeting of Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs and the tortured relationship between their friend Lucien Carr and David Kammerer (an excellent Michael C. Hall).

Lesbian director Kimberly Peirce took an unexpected turn after winning acclaim for “Boys Don’t Cry.” Working with openly gay screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who adapted Lawrence D. Cohen’s script for the famous 1976 Brian De Palma film of the Stephen King novel), Peirce tried to put a contemporary feminist spin on the classic horror tale “Carrie.” While Peirce never manages to fully put her personal stamp on the material, her version is still quite terrifying. She puts a stronger focus on the tangled relationship between fundamentalist Margaret White (an unnerving performance from Julianne Moore) and her teenage daughter Carrie (the tremendous Chloë Grace Moretz) and takes a fresh look at spoiled rich girl Chris (Portia Doubleday). Peirce also explores Carrie’s fear and delight at researching and refining her new-found telekinetic powers, (and the careful orchestration of her revenge at prom) and the dehumanizing impact of technology.

Blue is the Warmest Colour” was the surprise hit of the Cannes Film Festival. In an unprecedented move, the jury awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or not only to director Abdellatif Kechiche but to lead performers Léa Seydoux (Emma) and Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle). Inspired by both the contemporary graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh and a sprawling 18th century novel by Pierre de Marivaux, the movie tracks the rise and fall of the passionate relationship of teenage schoolgirl Adèle and blue-haired art student Emma. The movie was controversial for explicit sex scenes between the two women, a controversy that was mirrored in the movie’s discussions of how male artists have depicted female nudes throughout the ages.

Finally, one of the queerest movies of the year came from straight director Woody Allen. Inspired by the Bernie Madoff story, “Blue Jasmine” is Allen’s heartfelt homage to Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Jasmine French (the superb Cate Blanchett) is a New York socialite who loses everything when her investment banker husband Hal is jailed for fraud. She flees to San Francisco to live with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine tangles with Sally’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), who lost his life savings in one of Hal’s schemes, and Sally’s current boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), resists the advances of her lecherous boss (Michael Stuhlbarg) and is wooed by the suave but naïve diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard).

The movie moves back and forth between Jasmine’s memories of her Park Avenue life with Hal and her attempts to start over again in San Francisco, which are derailed by the potent combination of guilt, anger, denial, vodka and Xanax. Blanchett, who won raves for her recent stage performance as Blanche DuBois in “Streetcar,” offers a stunning performance as a forlorn figure who is both exasperating and seductive as she descends into madness.

01
Jan
2014

Cartoon: gays leave this way

Sochi, Winter Olympics, Russia, Vladimir Putin, gay news, Washington Blade, anti-gay

“Gays: leave this way.” (Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

16
Jan
2014

Shigella outbreak in UK linked to rimming

Shigella, bacteria, rimming, gay news, Washington Blade

Shigella grow on agar plates in a lab. (Photo public domain)

LONDON — The UK has seen an increase in cases of a bacterial infection linked to rimming by gay and bi men, Gay Star News reports.

Shigella can lead to diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever. It’s spread through oral contact with feces or unwashed hands, the article said.

In 2009, there were only 43 cases among men in the UK that did not have a link to travel. Just four years later, reports have surged to 224 cases with more cases expected, Gay Star News reports.

“Shigella is on the rise, so it is vital gay and bisexual men know about it and how to avoid getting it,” Dr. Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at Public Health England, was quoted as saying.

Posters and leaflets informing men about the infection are being distributed to nightclubs, saunas and bars and other gay venues, as well as sexual health clinics.

Gay and bisexual men are being urged to avoid oral-fecal contact and to wash their hands thoroughly and shower after sex, the article said.

The infection is treatable with antibiotics.

05
Feb
2014

Anti-gay advocates launch global ‘pro-family’ group

Scott Lively, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Anti-gay activist Scott Lively spoke at the Coalition for Family Values press conference at the National Press Club on Feb. 21. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two anti-gay advocates on Friday announced a new organization designed to combat the global LGBT rights movement.

Scott Lively of Defend the Family International and Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality unveiled the Coalition for Family Values at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. Greg Quinlan and Diane Gramley of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania spoke at the press conference.

Matt Barber of Liberty Council Action, Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern and Brian Camenker of MassResistance are among the more than 70 anti-gay activists and religious leaders from the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K. and Brazil who have thus far joined the coalition.

“We share a Biblical world view and speak the plain truth of the LGBT agenda and its destructive influence on society,” said Lively. “Our goal is to promote and protect the natural family as the essential foundation of civilization, and family values as the sources and guide to mainstream culture in every society, while advocating reasonable tolerance to those who choose to live discretely outside the mainstream.”

The press conference took place against the backdrop of ongoing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record that includes a 2013 law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

Authorities earlier this week twice detained transgender former Italian Parliamentarian Vladimir Luxuria who protested the controversial statute during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Police in St. Petersburg and Moscow on Feb. 7 arrested 14 LGBT rights advocates who marched with a banner in support of the campaign to add sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause and sang the Russian national anthem near Red Square while holding Russian and rainbow flags.

Lively, who said during the press conference he has been to Russia three times, last August applauded Russian President Vladimir Putin for signing the gay propaganda law.

“On behalf of millions of Americans and Canadians who are concerned about the seemingly unstoppable spread of homosexuality in our countries and internationally, I wish to respectfully express my heartfelt gratitude that your nation has take a firm and unequivocal stand against this scourge by banning homosexualist propaganda in Russia,” wrote Lively in an open letter to Putin.

Lively reiterated his praise of the Russian president during the D.C. press conference.

“We want to praise the Russian Federation for providing much-needed leadership in restoring family values in public policy,” he said, adding he hopes other governments will enact laws similar to the gay propaganda law that Putin signed. “By taking these steps in the face of intense criticism and hostility by some Western governments and NGOs, the Russians have demonstrated the high value that they place on their children and the natural family model of society. We believe that God will bless the Russian people for their faith and courage.”

LaBarbera echoed Lively.

“The United States of America, especially under President Barack Obama has nothing to teach Russia and the world when it comes to homosexuality-based so-called rights and sexual morality,” he said. “Russia has enough problems of its own to be worrying about U.S. liberals who are obsessed with promoting the normalization of homosexuality and gender confusion, even to children.”

Ellen Sturtz and Slava Revin of the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance heckled Lively and LaBarbera for several minutes after they spoke. The LGBT rights advocates prevented Gramley from speaking for several minutes before security personnel escorted them from the room in which the press conference was taking place.

Ellen Sturtz, Coalition for Family Values, National Press Club, Washington Blade, gay news

Ellen Sturtz joined with other activists in interrupting the Coalition for Family Values press conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“When it comes to their children and the efforts by homosexual activists to tell kids that gay is okay, Russia has made the right decision,” said Gramley. “Last year Russia sent a message to the world that their children are important.

Lively: We ‘unequivocally oppose any violence’ against anyone

Reports that emerged on Thursday suggested Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed his country’s so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Lively, who is running to succeed outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, on behalf of a Ugandan LGBT rights group that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting anti-gay attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled Sexual Minorities Uganda’s lawsuit can move forward.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who met with Museveni in the East African country on Jan. 23, told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “As I’ve said before, it is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT and human rights groups have also criticized Museveni over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. They have also spoken out against the draconian bill Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed last month that bans nuptials for gays and lesbians, same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in LGBT advocacy groups.

Lively said in response to the Blade’s question about whether the coalition will contribute to additional anti-LGBT violence in Nigeria, Uganda and other countries that he and other members “unequivocally condemn any violence against anyone, including homosexuals.”

“We do not support the promotion of hatred,” said Lively. “We believe that existing laws in every country are sufficient to protect people from that kind of violence. Anyone who engages in violence against people like that should be prosecuted and punished.”

Lively further described the Center for Constitutional Rights that filed the federal lawsuit against him on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda as a “Marxist law firm from New York City.”

“The purpose of the lawsuit is to shut me up because I speak very articulately about the homosexual issue from a pro-family perspective,” said Lively in response to the Blade’s question.

21
Feb
2014

The story behind the Harvey Milk stamp

Harvey Milk stamp, gay news, Washington Blade

The Harvey Milk commemorative stamp is set to be released this spring.

While no specific date has been announced for the official release of the United States Postal Service’s first-ever Harvey Milk stamp, the Washington Blade has confirmed that the release date will be in May—not as late as June, as has been reported by several media outlets and as the postal service’s own Web site still indicates is possible.

“It will be May, not June,” said Susan McGowan, director of USPS Office of Stamps and Corporate Licensing. “And we hope people will turn out to experience a very special release ceremony.”

The stamp’s coming out party promises to be a big affair for the postal service—one that’s been nearly a decade in the making.

“Let’s just say it’s going to be a great celebration,” McGowan told the Blade.

Today, Harvey Milk may seem like a shoe-in as a candidate to be honored with the issuance of a U.S. postage stamp bearing his likeness.

But according to organizers of the National Harvey Milk Stamp Campaign, there was fervent opposition from some of the country’s most fundamentalist religious groups, as well as from some members of the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee (CSAC), which votes to approve about 25 stamp requests out of about 1,000 requests each year.

“I know for a fact that some of the stamp committee members were absolutely opposed to the idea of a Harvey Milk stamp or a stamp honoring any homosexual leader,” said San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, head of the International Imperial Court System, which led the national campaign to win approval for the stamp.

“That was early on, of course. I think as the process moved on and they saw how much support we had not only from Democrats, but from top Republicans, support grew.”

Although she couldn’t say whether the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee’s vote for the Harvey Milk stamp was divided or unanimous, USPS’s McGowan was adamant that there is no story of impassioned opposition to the stamp on the committee.

“I think you’re trying to find controversy where there wasn’t any,” she said. “It’s quite possible the vote was unanimous; we don’t keep those details because all that is needed is a simple majority for approval.”

What matters, says McGowan, is that the committee did approve the Harvey Milk stamp, and that it will be released in May.

Ramirez said the process for winning approval for the Harvey Milk stamp was arduous. But he added that he and his colleagues on the stamp campaign, including Stuart Milk — Harvey Milk’s nephew who is also a gay civil rights advocate — GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the Harvey Milk Foundation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, numerous senators and members of Congress, mayors and others, were gratified that it succeeded.

“I don’t think it was as hard as it would have been 20 years ago,” Ramirez said. “In the end, I think we were treated fairly and we got approval for the stamp faster than a lot of other stamp campaigns.”

Still, some organizations such as Save California, a right-wing religious group, plan to protest the postal service’s decision to commemorate Harvey Milk, whom they call a “sexual predator.”

Nevertheless, Ramirez said national symbols, such as commemorative stamps, speak louder and resound for longer than any words of hate or bigotry espoused by angry ultra-conservatives.

“The fact that we now have the image of one of our greatest GLBT leaders on a beautifully designed United States postage stamp says more than anything else about how far we have come as a country fighting against the hatred that we still face as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez knows about that history through his own experience. He helped lead historic marches for LGBT rights in the early 1970s in downtown San Diego and other California locales to protest police abuse of gay people.

“Young people don’t know how bad it was,” Ramirez said. “You could get beat up or worse by the police, just for being in a gay bar. This stamp honoring Harvey Milk shows that by fighting for our rights and never giving up, we can change the way the majority of people behave toward minorities, whether it’s racial minorities or GLBT people.”

According to McGowan, the postal service received thousands of letters of support for the Milk stamp.

“It was overwhelming,” she said. “We get about 30,000 letters of support for stamp proposals every year, but that’s for all of the thousand or so annual stamp proposals combined. The amount of public support for this stamp was really amazing.”

The stamp campaign began with a simple letter, dated Oct. 20, 2009, signed by Ramirez in his capacity then as chair of the City of San Diego’s Human Relations Commission, asking the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee to consider and approve the design and issuance of a U.S. postage stamp commemorating and bearing an image of San Francisco City and County Supervisor Harvey Milk.

In essence, the Harvey Milk campaign asked the postal service for the first time to specifically honor a person for being a tireless soldier in the battle for equal rights for LGBT people—and for having the courage and tenacity to become one of the nation’s first openly gay elected public officials.

Ramirez and his fellow signers of the San Diego Human Relations Commission’s letter to CSAC wrote in 2009: “The governor of the state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently inducted Harvey Milk into the California Hall of Fame, saying ‘he embodies California’s innovative spirit and has made a mark on history.”

By citing California’s then Republican governor’s support for the stamp, the campaign hoped to demonstrate the principles Milk stood for crossed party lines.

“Harvey Milk is recognized nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights,” the letter continued.

That same year, the film “Milk” won Sean Penn an Oscar for best actor in recognition of his critically acclaimed portrayal of the slain civil rights leader. The hit film also brought home an Oscar for writer Dustin Lance Black for best screenplay.

That was also the year that President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now, five years later, a postage stamp featuring Milk’s smiling face will finally be released. The stamp will find its way into the stamp collections of philatelists throughout the world.

According to one gay stamp collector, given the fact that this is the first stamp expressly honoring an openly gay American hero, it is conceivable that the postal service may get a whole new generation of LGBT philatelists as stamp-collecting customers.

“Harvey Milk continues to inspire us all to strive for a society that provides unlimited and equal opportunities for all our citizens,” wrote Rep. Nancy Pelosi to CSAC when she was still speaker of the House of Representatives, imploring the committee to approve the stamp. “The United States Postal Service has yet to honor an LGBT American hero with a stamp, commemorating the life and efforts of Harvey Milk would be a testament to Harvey’s courage and a symbol of pride to anyone who has ever felt discrimination or cared about those who have.”

Recently, a new stamp campaign was launched for another openly gay Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

In January, the Blade broke the news that many of the same people and organizations that won approval for the Harvey Milk stamp have joined with Walter Naegle, Mandy Carter and the National Black Justice Coalition (which Carter cofounded), to win approval for a United States postage stamp commemorating the life and work of the late Bayard Rustin.

Along with A. Phillip Randolph, Rustin was chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

“The current campaign is a new effort, but there have been letters written for more than a decade suggesting that Bayard be honored with a stamp,” said Walter Naegle, Rustin’s surviving partner. “Perhaps an increase in the number of supporters will help, but the postal service doesn’t seem to be influenced by such efforts.”

Naegle is currently engaged in an ongoing Rustin awareness campaign, focusing his efforts on a multitude of fronts. He promises to do what he can to help the Bayard Rustin National Stamp Campaign succeed.

19
Mar
2014

Research finds meth reduction has health benefits

condoms, gay news, Washington Blade

Men in a new study reported practicing safer sex while cutting back on methamphetamine use. They had fewer anal sex partners and were less likely to engage in other risky behaviors like not using condoms.

SAN FRANCISCO — Methamphetamine users who focus on cutting back or practicing safer methods of getting high — instead of trying to quit the drug altogether — are also able to reduce risky sexual behaviors that can make them vulnerable to HIV, according to San Francisco researchers as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

In a paper released April 18, researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation looked at a harm reduction program for gay and bisexual men who use methamphetamine or other stimulants. The program, called the Stonewall Project, does not require participants to abstain from using, but encourages them to consider behavior changes that can improve their health in more subtle ways, the Chronicle article said.

The researchers, who studied 211 gay and bisexual men enrolled in the Stonewall Project, found that over a period of six to 12 months the men cut back on the amount of stimulant drugs they used. They also reported less severe symptoms of addiction and improved employment, the report found.

Plus, the men reported practicing safer sex while on methamphetamine. They had fewer anal sex partners and were less likely to engage in other risky behaviors like not using condoms, the report said.

Harm reduction programs have been widely accepted and used in San Francisco for more than a decade and the Department of Public Health requires its contractors to practice harm reduction, the Chronicle article said.

But it’s still controversial in the addiction field, where many proponents of 12-step programs and other treatment protocols focus on drug abstinence.

The idea behind abstinence programs is that no level of drug use is acceptable, and that may apply especially to stimulants like methamphetamine, which are closely tied to extreme risk-taking behaviors, the article said.

24
Apr
2014

Iran a ‘paradox’ for LGBTs

Arsham Parsi, Iran, gay news, Washington Blade

Arsham Parsi (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Arsham Parsi had just been accepted into an Iranian university to study to become a veterinarian when three of his friends who were either gay or transgender committed suicide.

He had previously worked with a doctor in his hometown of Shiraz in southern Iran who had been conducting research for a study on rates of HIV among gay and bisexual men, but he “decided to do something” after his friends took their own lives.

Parsi launched an online support group in 2001 that later became known as the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization. He formed another website for LGBT Iranians two years later, posting information under two pseudonyms.

“I just thought I have to do something,” Parsi told the Washington Blade during a June 12 interview at the Northwest D.C. offices of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank that focuses on national security and foreign policy, as he discussed his life as a gay man and Iran and his advocacy efforts. “At that time I didn’t know what I had to do.”

Parsi said local authorities in early 2005 began to follow him after they arrested two of his friends. He told the Blade that he decided to flee the country after learning about this surveillance.

Parsi took an overnight train from Shiraz and arrived in Tehran, the Iranian capital, the next afternoon. He said he had just missed the train to Turkey, so he took an overnight bus to Tabriz near the Turkish border.

“It was the most stressful trip that I had because I didn’t know what would happen,” he told Blade.

Parsi boarded a Turkey-bound train in Tabriz at 7 a.m. on March 5, 2005, knowing that he “couldn’t come back anymore.” He crossed the Turkish border less than six hours later.

“I just felt that I’m stepping into exile and I can’t go back,” said Parsi, noting he was crying when the train left Iran and entered Turkey. “It’s such a difficult feeling that you have to go and you have no rights to come back. If you go back, they may kill you.”

Parsi, 33, received refugee status from the U.N. Refugee Agency and received asylum from the Canadian government. He has lived in Toronto since April 2006.

He told the Blade the university that his two sisters attended expelled them because of his advocacy. Parsi said anti-gay graffiti appeared on the door of his parents’ home after he spoke with CNN, the BBC and other international media outlets — and local authorities soon opened a file on them titled “the promotion of homosexuality and corruption.”

His parents subsequently fled to Turkey before resettling in Toronto.

“It was very difficult for my parents to leave all their belongings in their 50s,” said Parsi. “They built their home, their situation. They left all their belongings just because of my work and my activism, and they never, ever blamed me for that.”

His organization, the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, has received nearly received 900 cases of LGBT people from his homeland who sought refuge in Canada, the U.S., Australia and Europe. Parsi told the Blade that 65 percent of them have been closed successfully.

“I have a really difficult job,” he said, noting his organization’s name reflects Canada’s role as a refuge for slaves who escaped the U.S. on the Underground Railroad during the 19th Century. “It’s not my job. It’s kind of my life and my passion.”

Parsi spoke with the Blade after he participated in a panel on Iran’s human rights record that took place at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.); Florida Congressman Ted Deutch and Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chair of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and daughter of the late-former California Congressman Tom Lantos are among those who also took part.

Iran is a ‘paradox’

Iran is among the handful of countries in which homosexuality remains punishable by death.

Parsi told the Blade the Iranian government has executed more than 4,000 people under the auspices of their reported homosexuality between 1979 and 2000.

Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were hanged in a square in Mashhad in northeastern Iran in 2005 after a court convicted them of raping a 13-year-old boy, although Parsi and other LGBT rights advocates claimed the authorities executed them because of their homosexuality.

Reports that emerged in March indicate that two gay men were executed in Rasht for “perversion.”

Parsi said the Iranian government does not highlight the sexual orientation of the people he said it continues to persecute because of the international outcry that followed Asgari and Maroni’s executions.

“I believe it’s going on right now, but we don’t know because the Islamic Republic of Iran is very smart right now,” said Parsi, referring to the executions of gay men. “Whenever I see a young man was executed, I said maybe he was an LGBT. I don’t know.”

Parsi noted to the Blade that gay men who can prove their homosexuality are exempt from serving in the military.

“It’s a paradox,” he said. “In one way they don’t want to have gay people in the military or in the camps — oh maybe they do something bad. They have sex and mess around. And in another way homosexuality is punishable by death and they have to prove that the doctors say this person is homosexual.”

Parsi also noted to the Blade and during the briefing that the Iranian government encourages transgender people to undergo sex-reassignment surgery — offering them financial assistance and other incentives to do so. He said nearly half of those who underwent the procedure were not trans, but gay.

Iran’s nuclear program is not ‘only issue’

Then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a 2007 speech at Columbia University that homosexuality does not exist in his country.

The United States and other countries greeted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s election last year with cautious optimism, but Parsi told the Blade that he feels the new government in Tehran has changed very little.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Iranian Queer Organization last December urged Iran in a letter to Rouhani to repeal the death penalty and other punishments used against LGBT Iranians. Parsi said the current Iranian president does not have “any authority” to stop this persecution because it comes directly from those within the Ministry of Justice whom Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directly appoints.

“I don’t support the Iranian government,” said Parsi. “We didn’t have a choice between a good person or a bad person or a good candidate or a bad candidate. It was just bad and worse.”

Talks between the U.S. and Iran over the country’s reported nuclear program are scheduled to resume this week in Vienna. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday signaled that Washington is open to potential military cooperation with Tehran to slow the advance of a group of Sunni extremists who have taken control of wide swaths of northern Iraq in recent days.

Parsi and others who took part in the Capitol Hill panel said the response to Iran’s nuclear program has come at the expense of efforts to highlight the country’s human rights record.

“Iran’s only issue is not its nuclear program,” Parsi told the Blade. “We have to focus on human rights.”

Parsi further noted the U.S. has one of the highest rates of executions in the world — only Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China execute more prisoner than this country as a 2011 Amnesty International report notes. He said that Washington “cannot blame” Tehran for executions because of its own policies towards capital punishment.

Advocacy is ‘investment for the future’

Parsi acknowledged to the Blade that remains unlikely he will be able to return to Iran.

He noted his organization continues to struggle to gain additional financial support and more volunteers. Parsi said he nevertheless remains optimistic that life for LGBT Iranians will someday improve.

“All of my work is an investment for the future and the brighter tomorrow,” he said.

19
Jun
2014

‘It’s a new day’ in Virginia politics

Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe takes office three days after the 2014 legislative session begins. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Efforts to ban anti-LGBT discrimination and repeal a state constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage are among the priorities for Virginia LGBT rights advocates during the 2014 legislative session that begins on Wednesday.

State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) has once again introduced a bill that would ban discrimination against state employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The state Senate last January approved the measure by a 24-16 vote margin, but a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee subsequently killed it. Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe has repeatedly said the first executive order he will issue once he takes office on Saturday is a ban on anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees.

“We definitely want to continue that momentum,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish.

McEachin, state Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) and state Dels. Joe Morrissey (D-Henrico County), Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County), Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria), Ken Plum (D-Fairfax County) and Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) have sponsored proposed resolutions that would seek a repeal of the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin. Howell and state Del. Joseph Yost (D-Giles County) are expected to introduce bills in their respective chambers that would extend second-parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians.

Parrish told the Blade that more than 50 families have already said they want to testify in support of the measure.

“We expect that to be a big bill in the House and in the Senate,” he said.

State Del.-elect Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) has pre-filed a bill that would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in the commonwealth. State Del. Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) has introduced an identical measure.

Simon has also proposed a measure that seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the Virginia Fair Housing Law.

State Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County) next week is expected to introduce a bill that would ban so-called “ex-gay” conversion therapy to minors in the commonwealth.

The Alliance for Progressive Values has worked with the Arlington County Democrat to write the bill that Ebbin is expected to introduce in the Senate.

Hope told the Blade on Tuesday similar bills that California Gov. Jerry Brown and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law last year “certainly inspired me that this is the right time to bring this to Virginia.”

Parrish said Equality Virginia would support the proposal, but Hope conceded it will likely face resistance.

“This is an uphill battle,” he said. “This is Virginia that we’re talking about, so I expect some stiff opposition and some hurdles.”

Christopher Doyle, director of the Maryland-based International Healing Foundation, singled out the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations that oppose “ex-gay” therapy for encouraging Hope and other state lawmakers to introduce measures that seek to ban the controversial practice.

“No one has ever tried to ban a specific therapeutic modality for any mental health issues,” Doyle told the Blade. “The foundations of the bill are incorrect and politicians are being misinformed and deceived.”

Krupicka and state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Fairfax County) have introduced bills that would allow the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue license plates to Equality Virginia supporters that contain the slogan “Equality for All.”

Parrish said his group will also oppose a measure state Del. Bob Marshall (D-Prince William County) introduced that would require married same-sex couples to file their Virginia income tax returns as single individuals because the commonwealth does not recognize their unions. This measure seeks to codify the policy outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell announced in November.

“We have been reaching out to the new administration though about what we can possibly do about that very punitive tax opinion that came out of the [outgoing Gov. Bob] McDonnell administration,” said Parrish.

The 2014 legislative session will begin three days before McAuliffe, Lieutenant Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and Attorney General-elect Mark Herring take office.

All three men publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples. It remains unclear whether McAuliffe and Herring will defend Virginia’s gay marriage ban in two federal lawsuits that challenge it.

“It’s a new day,” Ebbin told the Blade as he discussed McAuliffe, Northam and Herring. “We’ll be dealing with people who are looking to help us instead of looking to harm and stymie us.”

Parrish said the tone from the governor and the attorney general’s offices will be “a 180” compared to McDonnell and outgoing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. He added the House will continue to remain a barrier to advancing LGBT-specific legislation during this legislative session.

“Now that we have a friendly administration in the governor and the attorney general’s office, it will allow us to better make the narrative that the Senate and the governor and the attorney general and the Virginia public are all on the same page,” said Parrish. “And it’s the House of Delegates that’s blocked any forward movement for the LGBT community.”

08
Jan
2014

Understanding Israel in all its complexity

Tel Aviv, Israel, gay news, Washington Blade, gay pride

Tel Aviv gay pride. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

By STUART KURLANDER & ALAN RONKIN

History matters. Facts matter. Both were tossed to the wind by Pauline Park in a recent op-ed in the Washington Blade, who assailed the American Jewish Committee and its signature Project Interchange program. Without any explanation, she asserted that AJC “is aggressive in its defense of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

Nonsense! AJC, of course, is a strong advocate for an Israel that thrives in peace and security, and continues to support a negotiated two-state solution to achieve sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace. As a global advocacy organization, AJC has brought that message to the top leaders of many countries, including Arab nations.

But Park’s baseless accusation is the foundation for her criticizing American LGBT community leaders who participated in an educational visit to Israel and the West Bank with AJC’s Project Interchange. For over 30 years, more than 6,000 leaders from across the United States and 84 other countries have participated in Project Interchange’s unique, weeklong educational seminars in Israel.

Project Interchange’s success is rooted in its non-ideological approach. By introducing first-time visitors to a broad range of Israelis, who offer diverse narratives across the political, social and religious spectrum, seminar participants gain an appreciation for Israel as a dynamic diverse society. What’s more, AJC’s Project Interchange participants travel to the West Bank, where they meet with a range of Palestinian leaders, including at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority.

Yes, Israel has challenges like other democratic nations, though Israel’s challenges have special significance given the history of the conflict and its neighborhood. Project Interchange is not afraid to show Israel in all its complexity, “warts and all.” What visitors find is a robust democratic nation, where, among other things, there are freedoms of speech, religion and sexual orientation. Indeed, Tel Aviv was named the No. 1 gay city in the world in a broad survey by GayCities.com and American Airlines.

The LGBT delegation that visited Israel in October fulfilled AJC’s desire to introduce this important segment of American society to Israel. When it comes to understanding Israel, there is simply no substitute for first-hand, on-the-ground experience. The group seized the opportunities to engage directly with Israelis and Palestinians in open conversations. As part of their program, the LGBT delegation visited Ramallah, as do other Project Interchange groups, to engage with Palestinian leaders. Regrettably, Palestinian LGBT groups rejected the opportunity to meet with their U.S. counterparts.

Park, however, as a member of the New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, offers a preconceived, politically myopic view of Israel. One has to wonder whether she or any members of her delegation met with, or even expressed a desire to meet with, any mainstream Israelis on her 2012 visit to the region. Moreover, one cannot help but wonder whether her use of the term “occupation” refers to the period since June 1967, following Israel’s war of survival, or to 1948, when Israel was established as an independent country following a UN recommendation.

Let’s remember that a Palestinian state could have been established at the same time. The UN Partition Plan of 1947 divided the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. That was the original two-state solution. But the Arabs rejected that concept. Sixty-six years later the two-state solution is still on the table.

And, let’s recall Israel did not set out to govern the Palestinians. Israel came to rule over Gaza and the West Bank not by choice, but in a defensive war in June 1967, when neighboring Arab states — particularly Egypt and Syria — threatened time and again to overrun and destroy the young country.

Israel has tried relentlessly to find negotiating partners to exchange land for peace. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994. But the Palestinian leadership rebuffed Israel’s substantial peace offers in 2000, in 2001 and again in 2008. These historical facts are ignored by Park, her organization and other supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) anti-Israel movement, which at its core dismisses Israel’s right to exist.

Our utmost hope is that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with the key assistance of the U.S., will yield an enduring agreement. Both peoples deserve to live in peace and security. Tellingly, Park and her organization don’t seem to share the same goals for one of those peoples.

Stuart Kurlander is a board member of AJC Washington; Alan Ronkin is executive director of AJC’s Washington regional office.

22
Jan
2014

Gay Olympian travels to Russia

Shawn Gaylord, Human Rights First, Olympics, Sochi, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Winter Olympics, David Pichler, Mary Elizabeth Margolis, Rosa Khutor, gay news, Washington Blade

From left: Mary Elizabeth Margolis and Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First and Olympian David Pichler in front of the Olympic torch in Sochi, Russia. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights First)

A gay Olympian told the Washington Blade on Sunday from Sochi, Russia, that he has not seen any athletes publicly support LGBT rights since he arrived in the country.

“We haven’t been to a lot of the different games where somebody might try to flash a symbol,” said David Pichler, a U.S. diver who competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics and 2000 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney during a telephone interview from the Black Sea resort city. “I imagine we would have heard if there had been something like that.”

Pichler and Shawn Gaylord and Mary Elizabeth Margolis of Human Rights First arrived in Sochi on Feb. 6.

The group visited a gay nightclub on Saturday where they met with Andrei Ozyorny, a 24-year-old man who wrote to Sochi Mayor Anatony Pakhomov last month after he said there are no gay people in the Black Sea resort city. Pichler, Gaylord and Margolis also attended the finals of the women’s slopestyle on Sunday where Jamie Anderson won a gold medal for the U.S.

Shawn Gaylord, Human Rights First, Olympics, Sochi, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Winter Olympics, David Pichler, Mary Elizabeth Margolis, Rosa Khutor, gay news, Washington Blade

From left; Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First, Olympian David Pichler and Mary Elizabeth Margolis of Human Rights First at the finals of the women’s slopestyle in Rosa Khutor, Russia, on Feb. 9, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights First)

Pichler told the Blade that he, Gaylord and Margolis heard about an anti-LGBT protest that took place in Sochi before President Vladimir Putin and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach officially opened the games.

“[It] is kind of contradictory of the standards of the protest zone and everything that was set up,” said Pichler. “There was not anything negative or any type of action taken on them.”

Pichler told the Blade he had read about NBC’s decision to omit the portion of Bach’s speech during their broadcast of the opening ceremony in which he said it is possible for competitors “to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.” He said parts of the opening ceremony he saw on Russian television showed empty seats inside the stadium where it took place.

“It’s very disappointing to look around and see everyone coming out of the tunnel and seeing part of the stadium empty,” said Pichler. “That says a lot I think about the situation.”

Pichler spoke with the Blade on the same day that Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, left Sochi where he had been highlighting efforts in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

Pichler, Gaylord and Margolis met with Russian LGBT Network Chair Igor Kochetkov, Maria Kozlovskaya of “Coming Out” and Anastasia Smirnova in St. Petersburg on Feb. 6 before traveling to Sochi. St. Petersburg police the following day arrested Smirnova and three other LGBT rights advocates who tried to march over a bridge with a banner in support of adding gay-specific language to Principle 6 of the Olympic charter.

Police in Moscow arrested 10 LGBT rights activists who were singing the Russian national anthem in Red Square while holding rainbow and Russian flags just before the opening ceremony. Elena Kostynchenko told the Blade during an interview from the Russian capital on Saturday that officers threatened to sexually assault her and another female activist while in custody.

“It was interesting, just seeing what they’re going through and seeing how much they’ve taken on and how much they’ve had to deal with,” said Pichler as he discussed his meeting with Kochetkov, Kozlovskaya and Smirnova in St. Petersburg. “It’s impressive, and at the same time it’s very discouraging and very frightening to me to see what they have to go through.”

Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month those who protest his government’s LGBT rights record during the Olympics will not face prosecution under the country’s controversial law banning gay propaganda to minors that took effect last June. The IOC repeatedly said before the games that it had received assurances from the Kremlin that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination while in Sochi for the Olympics.

Gaylord said the St. Petersburg advocates told the group they recently saw police officers approach a woman in a subway station who looked “masculine in appearance, yelling things at her about the anti-propaganda law.”

Margolis told the Blade the Moscow Times last week published a short article about “how LGBT friendly the games were going to be.” She said the story also dismissed the international outcry over the Kremlin’s gay rights record ahead of the Olympics.

“Putin said it’s going to be very safe and we’re very excited to welcome all the athletes,” said Margolis, referring to the Moscow Times article. “It was just like a couple of paragraphs about it. It was real positive.”

Gaylord noted he did not see any LGBT-specific articles in the Russian newspapers he read during the group’s flight from the U.S. He told the Blade the only media reports he has seen about the St. Petersburg and Moscow arrests have been from American outlets.

Pichler added the group remains “kind of out of touch” because of the precautions he, Gaylord and Margolis have taken while in Sochi. These include not using Internet connections from computers that have Human Rights First and other personal information on them and purchasing temporary cell phones.

“We’re not getting to the information that we need to an extent because we haven’t had the resources since we came to Sochi,” said Pichler.

Pichler and Margolis are scheduled to return to the U.S. on Tuesday. Gaylord is scheduled to meet with Russian LGBT rights advocates in Moscow later this week before he travels back to D.C.

10
Feb
2014