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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 8, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 23
International News - Scott Wittet
Section One
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International News

by Scott Wittet - SGN Contributing Writer

The Voice of America, a U.S. government media outlet, reports that President Barack Obama's public support for same-sex marriage has sparked criticism in sub-Saharan Africa, where Gay men and women continue to face discrimination, violence, and jail time in many countries because of their sexual orientation.

The president's immense popularity on the continent is taking a hit, even in his father's native Kenya, says Nairobi resident Vincent Ondera.

'President Obama, I just can't imagine that he supports Gay marriage. Why do I say so? In fact, I'm very much bitter with him, the president of the USA supporting Gay marriage? Lesbian? No, it can't happen,' Ondera said.

Many Africans, like Kenyan pastor Nelson Otieno, cite religion as the source of disdain for Gay marriage.

'I would say to our beloved president of America to rethink about the statement that he made and know very well that it is against our religion. We, as Christians, we cannot support Gays at all costs,' said Otieno.

In Senegal, which is 95% Muslim, angry mobs have dug up the corpses of suspected homosexuals from Muslim cemeteries, dragged them through the streets, and deposited them at their families' doorsteps.

Many Senegalese reject homosexuality as being imported from the West. Indeed, pressure from the United States, the United Nations, and other international powers to protect Gay rights has only further entrenched homophobia among many in Africa. Threats to withdraw foreign aid have been met with defiance.

Amie Weeks, a mother of four in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, says Gay marriage is out of the question.

'Very, very wrong. We are not in favor of it at all. So if they want to withdraw their support, let them. God will make a way for us because God would never be in favor of such a thing,' she said.

Still, Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage has sparked joy and hope among homosexual men and women in Africa.

Seydou Djamil Ba is one of a handful of openly Gay men in Senegal, where homosexual acts are punishable by five years in jail. Violence and death threats have forced him to flee abroad twice in the past five years.

Ba says he wishes people in Africa, particularly in Senegal, could understand that homosexuality is not the end of the world. He says Gays are people with the same rights as everyone else, and that Obama has set an example that he hopes other world leaders will follow.

For now, however, Ba said he would settle for the right to live his life in peace and without fear.

An actress who portrayed one of the Teletubbies says the children's program did not contain any pro-Gay undertones.

The show endured long-running controversy over suggestions it was promoting homosexuality to children, particularly through the character of Tinky Winky.

Nikky Smedley, who played Laa-Laa from 1997 to 2002, said: 'When the show was explained to me, I thought it was a work of genius.

'I thought, it will be massive. It came from a place of love and engagement for young children.'

But regarding questions over Tinky Winky's sexuality, she told the Birmingham Mail, 'I think it's embarrassing for the people who said it.

'What kind of person can take obvious innocence and turn it into something else? We were hardly sexual beings.'

In 1999, the late U.S. fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell prompted a worldwide debate over Tinky Winky, claiming that the character could be Gay because he was purple and had a triangle on top of his head.

In 2007, Polish politician Ewa Sowinska said she would ask psychologists to investigate whether the purse-carrying character was Gay and promoted homosexuality to children. Her office later dropped the issue.

Model, actress, singer, and activist Yollada 'Nok' Suanyot has won election as the top financial officer in Thailand's Nan province, becoming the highest-ranking Transgender politician in the nation.

The Advocate reports that Suanyot won election running as an independent against a candidate from the nation's ruling Pheu Thai party.

A former beauty pageant winner, Suanyot was a member of the band Venus Flytrap, a Spice Girls-like act made up of Transgender women. She also does commercial voiceovers and runs a jewelry business and a home-shopping TV channel.

'We barely have any rights at all at this point,' she told a Global Post interviewer shortly before the election. 'Our genitalia is not recognized as female [even after surgery] so, if we're jailed, we're put in prison with the men. We can't get proper health insurance. We can't get married. We have problems traveling outside the country and trouble dealing with banks and government offices.'

Her gender identity, however, did not figure prominently in the campaign, she said. 'As far as I can see, the people of Nan are believers in human rights,' she told the Global Post. 'They examine my ability to develop the province more than my gender.'

A 21-year-old man from Assam state in northeastern India has won the right to the operation he wanted, after a bitter public battle with his family.

As reported in the Times of India, Bidhan Baruah sued in the Bombay High Court seeking permission for a sex-change operation after his father threatened legal action against the doctor who agreed to the procedure. The court ruled that Baruah is an adult and can decide for himself.

In the process of his legal fight, Baruah inspired others to share their thoughts about sex-change operations.

According to psychiatrist Yusuf Matcheswala, who evaluated Baruah's psychological readiness for the surgery, 'Sex change was a taboo subject that was rarely discussed, but it is now being talked about openly.'

Psychiatrist Harish Shetty noticed that 'in the last three years, the number coming to discuss gender identity disorder (GID) has gone up.'

Dr. Anil Tibrewala, one of the handful of plastic surgeons in Mumbai who perform gender reassignment surgeries, added, 'In the last few days, I have spoken to four persons from different corners of India seeking the operation. But when I told them that I only operate on two to three patients in a month, they chose to fly to Thailand where doctors do two to three surgeries a day.' The surgery also is less expensive in Thailand.

It is this potential rush that worries activists like Ashok Row Kavi of the Humsafar Trust, an LGBT-rights NGO. 'The main problem for the Transgender community in India is the lack of a social support system,' he said. If their families are not supportive of their decision to undergo the surgery, they have only one refuge: the hijra [transvestite] community, and 'it's not a simple issue.'

Furthermore, there is no standard protocol for the surgeries or follow-up. 'Any person undergoing gender reassignment surgery should undergo two years of intense psychological therapy along with their family. But this is rarely done in India,' said Dr. Matcheswala.

Kavi concurs: 'In Tamil Nadu, a letter from a hijra guru saying that the person has been staying with them makes them eligible for such a surgery.'

Worse, there are stories of botched treatment and surgeries. Kavi noted, 'We have a Transgender who lost a kidney after having too much hormonal therapy. Another person wasn't operated on properly and has a leaking urethra that forces her to wear an adult diaper all the time.'

Khyber Province in northern Pakistan is allocating two percent of government jobs to Transgendered persons, or 'eunuchs,' as they are called in that country.

A provincial minister, in a recent media interview, confirmed the quota, which will apply to all provincial government hires.

The quota is linked to low literacy rates, with only 30 percent of Trans people in the province being literate.

Every year, ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association, produces maps on Gay and Lesbian rights in the world as well as its State-Sponsored Homophobia report.

The map is fascinating. Download it at or simply search for 'ilga map.'

A judge in St. Petersburg, Russia, has ruled that bans on LGBT events, issued by officials under the city's so-called 'Gay propaganda' legislation, are unlawful.

The Smolninsky district court decided this week that municipal authorities lack the competence to determine whether the events amount to 'propaganda' before they take place.

The ruling also questioned the officials' right to cancel events, saying they only had authority to suggest alternative times and places for rallies.

The two planned events were for the Day of Silence on March 7 and the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17.

With three violent thugs kicking and jumping on him, Svyatoslav Sheremet lay forlornly on the ground. He was attacked because he is the head of the Gay Forum of Ukraine.

The assault came following Sheremet's announcement to the media that the Kiev Pride parade had been cancelled due to safety concerns.

The attackers ran off when they realized that reporters were documenting the assault.

As reported by the U.K. Daily Mail, the parade, which had attracted about 150 Gay men and Lesbians, was to begin from a secret location and had a huge police presence.

But hundreds of neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists turned up and began attacking the marchers. At least two people were hospitalized.

One of the organizers of the event, Taras, said he was disappointed but added, 'Our goal was to promote dialogue in society, [and] that's succeeded.'

The attacks are particularly worrying as Ukraine will jointly host the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship with Poland this summer, meaning tens of thousands of football fans from across Europe will descend on the country.

According to a new study, most LGBT children and adolescents living on the street in Ho Chi Minh City are in the sex trade and have little power to protect themselves from violence, hunger, and disease.

Gay Star News reports that the Vietnamese Institute for Studies of Society, Economy, and Environment and Save the Children International released the joint study on May 31. The research shows that parental objections to their children's gender expression and sexual identity are the main factors driving children from home. They then lead hazard-filled lives, with irregular meals and sleeping places, constant harassment and threats of violence, and, for many, risk of infection with HIV and other STDs.

Respondents said they also face discrimination from neighbors and strangers, and have no chance of gaining employment. Some reported psychological abuse leading to suicide attempts, drug abuse, and self-mutilation.

Bisexual adolescent Tran Lan Anh (a pseudonym) told Viet Nam News that she moves from place to place with five other Lesbians on a daily basis, with no money for a permanent residence. They find it difficult just to eat.

Lan Anh says she was beaten and verbally abused daily by her parents because of her identify. She left home at the age of 13.

'When I applied for manual jobs, employers refused to hire me and used impolite words, reasoning that because I am not a 'normal' person, I will steal their money,' she said.

Lan Anh now works in the sex trade.

In response, the Vietnamese Centre for Studies and Applied Science for Gender, Family, Women, and Adolescents plans to provide training and jobs for LGBT street children and adolescents in beauty services and fashion.

As reported previously in SGN, Malawi President Joyce Banda has announced her intention to repeal a number of laws that have made Malawi a pariah state, from its ban on homosexuality to a law that allows cabinet ministers to shut down newspapers.

The Christian Science Monitor notes that the planned repeals come at a time when Malawi, an impoverished state of 14 million - half of whom live on less than a dollar a day - is seeking to reestablish links with Western donor nations that were severed during the tempestuous final years of the late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Malawi's international donors welcomed the announcement.

Speaking last Thursday during Norway's Constitutional Day in Lilongwe, Norway's ambassador to Malawi, Asbjorn Eidhammer, said that all governments bear a responsibility to protect people who are different from the majority, both from prosecution and from persecution.

But the repeal of the bans on homosexuality and same-sex marriage is a deeply unpopular move for many Malawians.

Some of the strongest views come from Malawi's powerful evangelical community. Billy Mayaya of Church and Society, a social and development group, says President Banda should consult with citizens before making such a drastic change in Malawian law.

The opposition People's Transformation Party stated that decriminalizing homosexuality would be a 'grave mistake' and urged 'Members of Parliament, faith leaders, Christians, and Muslims to resist any intention directly or indirectly to legalize same-sex marriages.'

In the northern city of Mzuzu, Mtende Chirwa said Malawians should not simply accept the policies favored by foreign donors.

'Where are we heading as a nation?' he asked. 'We are a God-fearing nation and anything contrary to that is un-Malawian. We should have the courage to tell the donors that some of these human rights are not part of our culture and society.'

But one university student in the southern city of Zomba, who did not want to be named, noted that Malawi has to be realistic about its own dependence on foreign funds, and must recognize that democracy requires elements of compromise.

'Malawians will have to live with this,' the student said. 'We are a poor country and therefore donors will continue to dictate to us what to do. Economically we cannot stand on our own.'

On June 1, European Union Commissioner Andris Piebalgs launched an international assistance package for NGOs and other groups wanting to tackle discrimination against LGBTs.

Speaking at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, Piebalgs said, 'It is clear that no country can develop in the long term when some minorities face serious threats, intimidation, and even violence because of who they are.

'Since I took office, I have put the promotion of human rights and human development at the core of E.U. development policy. The new package launched today is a clear signal of the EU's determination to help civil society and willing partners to make diversity acceptable and an asset of our societies.'

However, representatives from the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP), with whom the commission is working on development strategies, boycotted the launch event because they did not agree with the inclusion of sexual orientation on the agenda.

Police in Canada have confirmed that a Chinese student studying in Montreal dated a porn actor who later killed him and sent his body parts to the country's top political parties, according to Gay Star News and Pink News.

Jun 'Justin' Lin, a 33-year-old from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has been identified as the victim of suspected killer Luka Rocco Magnotta, 29. Magnotta is now on Interpol's wanted list, according to Canadian police.

A missing-person report posted on the Montreal Chinese consulate general's website said friends and family lost contact with Lin on May 24, around the time police believe Magnotta killed a man and filmed the murder inside his second-floor apartment in western Montreal.

The murder footage was posted on a website that specializes in gore, showing a man stabbing another with an ice pick while the victim lies naked and tied up. A song from the film American Psycho plays in the background. Links also have been established with an online video that showed a man believed to be Magnotta killing two kittens.

A headless, limbless torso was discovered in a suitcase behind the rundown apartment building on the day that parts of the same body (a hand and a foot) were mailed to the ruling Conservative Party and the Liberal Party of Canada.

Montreal police commander Ian Lafrenière said at a press conference: 'All I can tell you now is that he [Magnotta] left Montreal [and] he may have returned under another identity but we're engaged in a worldwide search. We don't know exactly which identity he used to travel. He has three different ones.'

Magnotta is also known as Eric Clinton Newman and Vladimir Romanov. He is white and 5 feet 8 inches tall, with blue eyes and black hair.

Lin, who first came to Canada in 2010, was described by his boss as a model employee who never missed a shift, and by another convenience store owner as a responsible, polite cashier.

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