Monthly Archives: May 2013

South Sudan Sex Trade report unsettles Ugandans

Embarrassed by the country’s marked involvement in sex trade, a Ugandan religious group has started programmes to dissuade youths from getting involved in prostitution.


The church group, Arising for Christ, made the move after a report from South Sudan claimed that a majority of sex workers in the country were Ugandans.

According to the report, “The mapping report of female sex workers in South Sudan, phase 1, 2012” 45 percent of sex workers in South Sudan were Ugandan, while 27 percent were Kenyan.

South Sudanese and Congolese sex workers make up 8 percent, while Ethiopians and others have 1 percent of the sex trade share in Juba.

The report was conducted by the South Sudan Ministry of Health, South Sudan Aids Commission, and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Pastor Solomon Male, the executive director of Arising for Christ,[LINK=] infamous for his stance against homosexuality[/LINK], said it was unfortunate that Uganda’s image abroad was being marred by sex workers.

“Many youths both female and male are taken to countries like China, Dubai and some Scandinavian countries to work as prostitutes. Some young men end up being recruited into homosexuality. We cannot accept such to continue,” he said.

“We have started sensitising youths in the country not to allow themselves to be recruited into sex work especially by those who promise to pay them a lot of money if they take them to Juba or overseas.”

Male said that they have already started moving to various schools and institutions of higher learning to spread the message.

He charged that sex trade was increasingly looking lucrative as the government had failed to provide employment to the youth who end up in prostitution because they had become desperate.

“The young women are willing to sell their bodies because that is all they have. Young men are also going out to work as male prostitutes. Some are used by homosexuals out there,” Male said.

He said they will engage Members of Parliament so they could enact harsh laws for those who recruit youths into prostitution.

Last year, police in the East African nation arrested and[LINK=] charged two women who reportedly promised young girls jobs in some Asian countries[/LINK] but on reaching there their passports were confiscated and they were forced into prostitution.

Analysis: The plight of LGBTI asylum seekers, refugees

Refugees and asylum seekers face a host of challenges when crossing borders, but the obstacles are particularly pronounced for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons, say experts.

Gay refugees face a number of challenges

Gay refugees face a number of challenges

“LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees face a range of threats, risks and vulnerabilities throughout the displacement cycle,” Volker Türk, director of international protection at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told IRIN from Geneva.

“And while the world has come a long way since first recognizing asylum claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the 1980s, residual factors ranging from criminalization to disbelief result in LGBTI people suffering at the hands of a variety of actors as they flee oppression and seek safety,” he said.

A new edition of the Forced Migration Review (FMR) released on 29 Aprilhighlights many of the remaining challenges for LGBTI migrants and asylum seekers.

According to UNHCR, targeting people based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity for persecution, discrimination, and harassment can stem from the belief that they are encouraging unwanted or unnatural social change.

LGBTI people leave home for the same reasons as everyone else: to flee war, persecution, and oppression; to seek stability, education, employment, and freedom. In situations of upheaval or conflict, sexual and gender minorities have become targets for scapegoating or “moral cleansing” campaigns, compounding the inherent vulnerability created by unrest, activists say.

LGBTI persecution 

LGBTI people experience torture, violence, discrimination, and persecution in countries around the world, sometimes deliberately carried out by the state and often conducted with impunity.

Homosexual acts are punishable with the death penalty in five countries (Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen), as well as some parts of Nigeria and Somalia, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, the oldest and only membership-based LGBTI organization in the world, reported in 2012.

According to research by Human Rights Watch, gay Iranians are fleeing, frequently to Turkey, due to the state-sponsored persecution they face at home, while thousands of LGBTI people have sought international protection in Europe in recent years on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

And while few countries keep LGBTI-specific data, Norway and Belgium, which both track asylum decisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity, have shown a steady uptick in recent years.

From 2008-2010, LGBTI asylum decisions in Belgium increased from 226-522. During the same period in Norway they increased from 3-26.

But information about abuses against LGBTI people – called “Country of Origin Information” (COI) in the asylum process – can be scant in hostile countries, argued Christian Pangilinan, a Tanzania-based refugee lawyer cited in the Forced Migration Review.

For transgender people, COI can mislead agencies, such as in Iran where authorities “allow transsexual surgery as a forced method of preventing homosexuality rather than supporting trans identities,” according to a gender expert’s FMR chapter.

Crossing borders of geography and identity 

The multiple document checks migrants might encounter can be particularly difficult for transgender or gender-variant people. While international standardsfor travel documents officially recognize three genders – marked M, F, or X – only a handful of countries have incorporated the third category, meaning that high-security travel environments, such as airports or emergency residential camps, can threaten humiliation or exclusion to people whose gender identity or expression is different from what is indicated by their documents.

Sexuality and gender are nuanced personal matters. According to research by psychologists, some individuals may have had limited experience expressing or experiencing his or her deeply-felt sexual orientation or gender identity, and may outwardly appear very different than how he or she feels – to the extent of even being in a heterosexual relationship.

With the asylum process taking increasingly extended periods of time, some may start the migration or asylum process with one identity, and change over time, complicating the matter both personally and administratively and exposing the individual to further discrimination or ill-treatment.

UNHCR’s guidelines for claims to refugee status based on sexual orientation and gender identity take the progressive step of acknowledging that “sexual orientation and gender identity are broad concepts which create space for self-identification” which may“continue to evolve across a person’s lifetime”.
Nonetheless, according to UN Office of Drugs and Crime guidelines, discriminatory attitudes regarding sexual orientation and gender identity can mean the credibility of LGBTI people is dismissed by authorities.

“That no one should be compelled to hide, change or renounce his or her identity in order to avoid persecution is a central tenet of refugee law, and this applies to sexual orientation and gender identity on equal footing with other claims,” UNHCR’s Türk told IRIN.

“There is no space for decision-makers determining refugee status to expect them to conceal who they are.”

Safety and security 

“There is harassment in the camp against us, sometimes beatings,”said Yoman Rai, a 19-year-old Bhutanese refugee living in a camp in Nepal. “We have a protection unit and complaint mechanism, but we are still facing problems,” he said, adding that just last month a transgender woman was beaten by other people in the camp.

Security in refugee camps is complicated and contingent on numerous, unpredictable factors. For members of the LGBTI community, vulnerabilities are exacerbated. Sexual abuse is common, but often goes unreported because the right questions are not being asked, and because survivors of sexual violenceare reluctant to report events that will “out” them to legal authorities.

Life can be particularly difficult in a refugee camp

Explained Rai: “Many Bhutanese are not `out’ to anyone except for the outreach workers because they still believe being LGBTI will put them in danger and negatively affect their resettlement process,” adding that the outreach educators’ network was operated by a Nepalese LGBTI rights NGO.

Emergency shelter settings -such as relief camps or refugee housing- posespecific challenges for transgender people. Access to male-female gender-segregated facilities, such as dormitories or bathrooms, can be perilous. New research is exploring how immigration detention centres can respect and protect LGBTI residents, a US-based prisons expert explained in FMR.

For LGBTI migrants who end up in urban areas, research has shown that cities can be unwelcoming and unfamiliar and access to basic social services limited by scant local resources, exclusion of foreigners, or limitations to access including finances, language, and cultural barriers.

“The single most threatening factor for these migrants is isolation,”said Neil Grungras, executive director of the Organization for Refugee Asylum and Migration (ORAM), a leading advocacy group for refugees fleeing persecution due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

With UNHCR data showing the average major refugee situation lasting 17 years, these circumstances can impinge on a significant portion of an individual’s life.

Migrant populations are generally more at-risk for HIV due to disruption and displacement, and according to UNAIDS are often overlooked in host-country HIV policies.

“It is critical that refugee organizations identify what the best ways of offering protection are, such as providing access to safe shelter, requesting expedited resettlement, and, if possible, working with the police and refugee communities to address specific threats of violence,” said Duncan Breen, a senior associate in the refugee protection programme at Human Rights First.

Evolving frameworks 

Recent UN reports and statements demonstrate increased international attention to the human rights of LGBTI people.

On the programme level, agencies have begun to adjust to include considerations of sexual orientation and gender identity.

For example, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is implementing a “safe space” project for refugees at its four US Refugee Admissions Program Resettlement Support Centers.

Jennifer Rumbach, IOM resettlement support centre manager for South Asia, told IRIN the programme is designed to help LGBTI refugees at “every step along the way – whether during counselling, interviews, orientations, travel, or post-arrival…

“Disclosing sexual orientation and gender identity overseas works to the refugees’ benefit because it ensures we can provide appropriate and respectful services, ask questions that are critical to their resettlement experience, and try to get them any special help they need while they wait to be resettled,” she explained.

But ORAM’s Grungras warned:“We have to be extra careful to talk with refugees and migrants on their own terms – to understand them as they understand themselves, and not label them as“LGBTI” just because it fits our programmes.”

In spite of challenges such as a dearth of respectful terms used in some languages referring to sexual and gender minorities, IOM’s programmes also attempt to engage with local terminology.

“While it’s important for staff to understand sexual orientation and gender identity terms used by the international community, we make special efforts to use relevant and respectful local terminology in our signs, handouts and interview and counselling scripts,” said Rumbach.

Supporting and protecting LGBTI people as they migrate requires nuance, sensitivity, and an appreciation of evolving identities, legal frameworks, and programmatic potential.


Challenges Remain for LGBT in South Africa

CAPE TOWN — A few weeks ago, the first traditional Zulu gay wedding ceremony was held in South Africa.  The country has one of the most liberal legal frameworks regarding gay rights and protections.  Because of this, South Africa has become a land of exile for many African gays persecuted in their home countries.  But even here, challenges remain as anti-gay attacks still happen.

A woman holds her hands up during the Durban Pride parade where several hundred people marched through the city center in support of gay rights, July 30, 2011 file photo

Tiwonge Chimbalanga greets people as she walks proudly in the street of her neighborhood near Cape Town.  Everybody knows her around here.  In 2009, while still living in her native Malawi, Tiwonge, who is a transexual woman, was sentenced to 14 years of prison for having held a traditional engagement ceremony with her then-fiance.  Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi, like in 37 other countries in Africa.

So with the help of Amnesty International and the South African NGO Gender Dynamix, she decided to go into exile in South Africa in 2011, she recalls.

Tiwonge says that when she was in Malawi, she thought of South Africa as being a free place for gays.  So when she got here, the one thing that she expected was freedom.

In South Africa, not only is homosexuality allowed, but lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders (LGBT) also have had the right to marry and adopt children for years.  To this day, it is still the only country in Africa to allow such freedoms.

But everything is not perfect in the rainbow nation.  In fact, attacks against LGBT still happen on a regular basis.  Tiwonge agrees she continues to face challenges.

Tiwonge says about four months after she arrived she was attacked and beaten up, with her money and her passport stolen.  And recently, she was stabbed in the back by some Malawan people.

Her new next-door neighbor, who is from DRC, was kicked out of his apartment and was beaten up when his landlord realized his tenant was gay.

Discrepancies between the legislation and the reality within South African society can be explained by the context in which the current South African constitution was drafted, says Noel Kututwa, Southern Africa director for Amnesty International.

After the white-minority rule ended in the 90s and Nelson Mandela’s party took power, a new constitution was drafted with a core focus on equality for everyone, with no exception.

“And as part of the fight for freedom, justice and equality that South Africa went through, the African National Congress, then led by former president Nelson Mandela, was anchored around human rights,” said Kututwa.

Kututwa says South Africa’s LGBT community was included in that concept of human rights, or rather, was not excluded.  The debate about their rights came later on, when the constitution was already adopted.

“At the time that it was adopted, it was really futuristic,” said Kututwa. “It was even going beyond what even the country was even ready for at that time.  And that [became] quite clear when one looks at gay and lesbian rights, that it is a contentious issue.  There are certain sections of the society with the South African society who don’t accept those rights.”

Tiwonge is now an activist.  She volunteers in an NGO which helps LGBT who apply for exile in South Africa and is in contact with the gay community in Malawi to push LGBT rights forward in her native home country.

A Gay Zulu Wedding and the Danger of a Single LGBTI African Story

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago, two gay black South African men tied the knot at their 200-guest traditional wedding, the first of its kind in the old Zulu capital, KwaDukuza.

Tshepo Modisane and Thoba Sithole, both proudly Zulu and Tswana, respectively, decided to go public with their gay African traditional wedding ceremony by inviting reporters to cover the occasion. The video report spread quickly across the Interwebs, inciting a series of media headlines that describe the union as progress for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Africans.

Lessons From Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single (Gay African Male) Story

Chimamanda Adichie, a celebrated Nigerian writer, said in her famous TEDTalk, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.”

On paper, South Africa boasts the friendliest constitution, which protects its LGBTI citizens from discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Nevertheless, the country’s struggle to shift cultural attitudes toward acceptance of this marginalized group of people, especially in rural areas and townships, remains.

For this reason, as the media continue to hail this single occurrence as a milestone, it becomes critical that supporters of the LGBTI African movement for equality consider that this single narrative exists within the context of many others.

For instance, the video report states that the two gay black men are based in the metropolitan city of Johannesburg and are working professionals in the fields of financial services and IT. That’s not to imply that they’ve been in any way exempt from experiencing the debilitating impact of societal discrimination — far from it; the effects of homophobia (compounded with racism, as the couple is black) on the livelihoods of people presumed to be LGBTI can result in workplace discrimination and prejudice in health care, not to mention depression, anxiety and even suicide.

Still, there’s a huge difference between, on the one hand, the experience of being a “regular-looking” cisgender male employee at a “Big Four” financial consulting firm in a fairly liberal city that boasts the largest gay pride parade in the country and, on the other, the harsh reality of trying to make ends meet in a poor township while also fearing rape for being a lesbian, or murder for being an effeminate gay man.

In a piece written for a South African LGBTI publication last year, writers T.J. Tallie and Maria Hengeveld shared comments by Junior, a young, black, gay-identified male who disagreed with South Africa’s reputation as a progressive state (emphasis in italics added by me):

“When you have money, it’s quite easy to set yourself free from discrimination and danger,” Junior says. “Many of the white gay and lesbian people here can afford to reside in a safe and progressive area, but the majority of us live in townships. In openly embracing your sexuality there, you run the risk of getting abused, raped or murdered.” Junior’s statement emphasizes that gay and lesbian equality in South Africa is strongly mediated by race andclass, and that sexual freedom is often available to those who have the racial and literal capital to afford them.

In light of the struggles of LGBTI Africans, the desire to celebrate any kind of progress, especially when it comes in the form of a gleeful Zulu wedding, is understandable; the vibrant ceremony presented a sharp contrast to the media’s grim (and at times gruesome) depiction of violent homophobia on the African continent. However, it is dangerous to assign wide-sweeping gains toall LGBTI Africans based on the perceived victory of a few.

What of gay Africans who view marriage as the least of their problems: young people, for instance, who have been disowned by their families and, above all, seek a stable alternative to homelessness? What about transgender women who experience rejection (and violence) from both gay and straight communities alike? And lesbians, forced to live in fear of so-called “corrective rape”? Will marriage mean social acceptance for them too?

If we’ve learned anything from criticism of the marriage equality movement in the U.S., it’s that too much emphasis on marriage as a pathway to acceptance could only end up benefiting a small segment of the LGBTI community (e.g., gay men, or members of the middle class), while the groups most at risk (e.g., women, youth, transgender people, etc.) are likely to go unheard and unsupported.

A Nigerian lesbian activist (who prefers to remain anonymous) remarked on the unwillingness of many global human rights funders to support “less popular” LGBTI programs:

If you’re not doing HIV/AIDS work, forget it. Funders are mainly interested in gay men because of that. With women, we are not seen as much as being affected by these issues. And there is no research on Nigerian gay women to suggest otherwise, so we are at a disadvantage. Our organization provides a safe haven for lesbians and bisexual women to be out, be themselves, meet other women. We organize social events, movie nights, you name it. I know it is saving lives. But the funders don’t seem to feel that way because we are not in the news.

Nigeria’s recent move to further criminalize homosexuality has no doubt sent even more LGBTI Nigerians back into the closest, making the need for safe social spaces even more critical. In that country, a publicly staged same-sex wedding is punishable by imprisonment for up to 14 years (and by death in the north). Consequently, before the media declare the gay Zulu wedding as progress for the LGBTI African movement, they must ask themselves, “What does progress for LGBTI people in other African countries (or even for different groups of Africans within South Africa) look like?”

The Role of Media in the LGBTI African Movement

Florence Xhaxas, founder and director of the gender justice organization Young Feminist Movement Namibia, warns against zeroing in on the struggles — and the progress — of a single African country at the expense of others: “As much as I feel [the wedding video] is great for South Africans, the feeling isn’t shared by all LGBT people across the continent. The truth is that [South Africans] have mastered the art of amplifying their voices and documenting cases.”

To Xhaxas’ point, while stories from South Africa and Uganda continue to shape Western media’s narrative about the LGBTI African movement, other countries experiencing their own share of hardships and progress go unnoticed. For instance, the murder of David Kato, a Ugandan LGBTI rights activist, sparked global outrage, whereas the brutal torture and slaying of Maurice Mjomba, a gay Tanzanian community organizer, barely received attention. Similarly, while South African women are perpetually portrayed as victims in coverage of “corrective rape,” uprisings by lesbians in other countries, such as Namibia, and Malawi, aren’t likely to make headlines.

Still, the cultural significance of the gay Zulu wedding video — and the power of media itself — cannot be ignored. LGBTI Africans all over the world were able to see their relationships affirmed in the media, which is a rarity.

Denis Nzioka, founder and editor of LGBTI news organization Identity Kenya, puts it best when he says, “Greater positive media portrayal of LGBT Africans has been proven to change people’s perception. As one of my close friend lesbian friend once quipped, ‘Kenya’s often mild acceptance of homosexuality can be attributed, in some small way, to two persons: Will and Grace.'”

Given the impact that a single video has had on recent conversations about homosexuality in Africa, among Africans at that, it goes without saying that proponents of human rights on the African continent should more intentionally support LGBTI African media advocacy organizations and initiatives, the writersjournalistsdigital media producers and artists whose collective worksembrace the act of challenging single stories by creating a more realistic, contextualized and complete vision of LGBTI African experiences.


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Gay couple arrested in Zambia under new law

Zambian police have arrested a gay couple after the family of one of the men reported the relationship to authorities.

Homosexuality is forbidden in many other African countries. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G

Homosexuality is forbidden in many other African countries. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G

The arrest is the first of its kind under tough new anti-gay laws.

James Mwape (20) and Philip Mubiana (21) from the northern town of Kapiri Mposhi, are said to have been living together for some time.

“The two have been charged with the offence of sodomy or having sex against the order of nature contrary to the laws of Zambia,” said central province police chief Standwell Lungu.

The two men will appear in court on Wednesday.

Police allege that Mubiana played a female role in the relationship, and had at times attempted to dress like a woman, prompting his relatives to report the two to the police.

“The relatives are the ones that reported the matter to the police,” said Lungu.

Human rights activist Josab Changa said the authorities should stop arresting people practising same-sex marriages.

“Arresting them is an infringement on their human rights. Human rights should be respected irrespective of the perceived evil that somebody may do,” said Changa.

Last month, another rights activist, Paul Kasonkomona, was arrested for appearing on live television calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in this deeply conservative southern African state.

Homosexuality is also illegal in many other African countries.

The ongoing battle for gay rights in the Arab world

When the European parliament issued a critical report on Egypt’s human rights record in 2008, the Mubarak regime responded with nationalistic fury. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand,sided with Europe. “Respect of human rights is now a concern for all peoples,” its parliamentary spokesman, Hussein Ibrahim, declared at the time.

That Islamist movements, or at least the more mainstream ones, should take an interest in human rights is not especially surprising. They have, after all, experienced repression at first hand and had years to reflect upon it. There are some obvious limits, though. While acknowledging universal rights up to a point, they still hanker after cultural relativism. Ibrahim for his part added an important rider, that “each country has its own particulars” — and made very clear that in Egypt’s case the Brotherhood excludes gay rights.

It’s a similar story in Tunisia now where the moderately Islamist Ennahda party dominates the post-revolution government. Samir Dilou, the country’s first human rights minister (and a member ofEnnahda) caused an outcry from activists last month by saying on television that sexual orientation is not a human right and described homosexuality as a perversion requiring medical treatment. Amnesty International quickly sought to disabuse him, pointing out in a letter that “homosexuality stopped being seen as an illness or a “perversion” by world medical organizations and associations decades ago.”

Dilou’s remarks, though, confused and homophobic as they might seem, also suggest that Islamists — some of them at least — are beginning to shift their ground. He didn’t, for example, invoke religious scripture to denounce homosexuality as one of the most heinous sins known to man or suggest that gay people should be put to death, as many Islamic scholars have previously done. “We are not inciting anybody against homosexuals,” his press secretary said later, but “Tunisia’s distinctiveness as an Arab-Muslim society must be respected.”

Unintentionally, perhaps, Dilou’s remarks also raised a tricky question for Tunisia’s “distinctive” society. If homosexuality is now to be regarded as an illness rather than a sin, how can they justify continuing to criminalize it, with punishments of up to three years in jail for offenders?

The “sickness versus sin” debate is a familiar if futile one, but sometimes a necessary step in adjusting to reality — an attempt to find some middle ground between moralistic rejection of homosexuality and acceptance. To those who can’t accept gay people the way they are, the idea of “curing” them can seem more enlightened than punishing them, and some societies have hovered for a time between the two. Britain in the 1950s, for instance, provided “treatment” for gay men (sometimes even in the form of chemical castration) as an accompaniment, or sometimes an alternative, to prison.

Arab societies today are in a similar position. Discovering a gay son or daughter in their midst, some families react punitively and throw them out of the house. Others send them to psychiatrists. Which they choose is partly a matter of class and partly a matter of how “traditional” or “modern” the family consider themselves to be.

Same-sex acts are illegal in most Arab countries, and even in those where they are not other laws can be used — such as the law against “habitual debauchery” in Egypt. With a few exceptions, though, the authorities do not actively seek out people to prosecute. The cases that come to court often do so by accident or for unrelated reasons. This is mainly a result of denial: large numbers of prosecutions are to be avoided since that would cast doubt on the common official line that “we don’t have gay people here.”


To continue denying that gay Arabs exist, though, is increasingly difficult. Thanks to the internet, young Arabs who experience same-sex attractions can now find information that helps to explain their feelings and gives them a sense of identity, as well as providing the means to contact others of a similar disposition. Gay activism in Arab countries is still on a relatively small scale, but it is growing. The Lebanese LGBT organization, Helem, has been functioning openly in Beirut for almost 10 years now and has won some recognition from the government for its work on sexual health. There are numerous gay Arab blogs and websites, and the latest addition in Tunisia is amagazine called “Gayday”.

Inevitably, this draws a response from those who are fearful of change — sometimes a violent one. In post-Saddam Iraq, men suspected of being gay, or simply not “masculine” enough, have been killed by vigilante squads and the number probably runs into the hundreds. The authorities turn a blind eye while newspapers provide incitement with articles condemning “fashionable” (i.e. western) hairstyles and clothes. Many Arabs blame the West for spreading homosexuality and other forms of “immorality” but also look to the West for solutions. A series of articles at IslamOnline (an Egyptian-based website supervised from Qatar by the famous cleric, Youssef al-Qaradawi) provided what was claimed to be a scientific look at homosexuality, based on the idea that sexual orientation is a choice which can also be “corrected”. Its main source for this was not Islamic teaching but theNational Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a fringe psychiatric organization in the United States which promotes “sexual reorientation therapy.”

Such arguments may offer a rationale for not punishing homosexuality but they cannot offer a genuine way forward. The arguments themselves are already thoroughly discredited and adopting them is nothing more than an avoidance mechanism, postponing the day when fundamental questions will have to be addressed.

The core of the Arab Spring is a revolt against authoritarian rule, but to bring real change the struggle cannot be limited to merely overthrowing regimes; it also has to tackle authoritarianism in society more widely. Doing that is more about changing attitudes and ways of thinking than politics: even as dictators fall, the Mubaraks of the mind are yet to be confronted. Attitudes towards gay rights are therefore an important measure of how far, or not, a society has moved from authoritarianism. Gay rights in the Middle East are not simply about gay people; they are intimately bound up with questions of personal liberty, the proper role of governments, and the influence of religion. Demands for gay rights add to the broader pressure for change and, conversely, progress in these other areas can ease the path towards gay rights.

Criminalization of homosexuality, for example, reflects abhorrence of the act but also a philosophy of government that seeks to regulate people’s behavior in matters that ought to be no concern of the state. This applies at many levels, not just sex — from the imposition of dress codes in some countries to the notion that publishing a newspaper or establishing an NGO requires permission from the government.131313

As far as religious attitudes to homosexuality are concerned, the debates in Islam are very similar to those in Christianity and largely boil down to a question of how believers interpret the scripture. So far, Muslims have generally been more resistant than Christians to admitting the possibility of new scriptural interpretations. One reason is that the “doors of ijtihad” (independent interpretation rather than dogmatic acceptance of established views) have long been considered closed. Another is insistence on ahistorical readings of the Qur’an — the idea that its injunctions are valid for all times and all places and cannot be modified in the light of changing times and circumstances.

To successfully make an Islamic case for gay rights, those barriers have to be broken. Again, though, the key point is not homosexuality itself but the underlying principle: a more open and questioning approach to religious teaching unblocks the road to many other things.

While the calls for freedom heard during the first year of the Arab Spring have been mainly directed against unaccountable governments — a demand, in a sense, for collective liberty — there is also an undercurrent seeking liberty at a more personal level. This is a fundamental issue but one that Arab societies are reluctant to recognize because of the value placed on pretensions of unity (national, cultural, and religious) and conformity with social norms.

The rights of minorities are rarely considered seriously and, if they are discussed in public at all, it’s usually to emphasize how harmoniously everyone is getting along. When conflicts break out — as between Christians and Muslims in Egypt — they are quickly hushed up rather than being examined and addressed. At the root of this is an aversion to fitna or social strife — a feeling that difference is a problem and a source of embarrassment. The idea that diversity has some intrinsic value, and that it can enrich a society if handled properly, has not yet taken hold. Overcoming that is one of the main challenges for ethnic and religious minorities, along with those who are outsiders for sexual or other reasons.

Another huge challenge for the future is entrenched and continued patriarchy. Arab leaders personify it, but it is imbued throughout society and built on rigidly-defined gender roles in which traditional concepts of “manliness” are highly prized. Intentionally or not, gay people undermine that simply by asserting their presence — as do women.

In the meantime, of course, Arabs are preoccupied with more broadly rendered and elemental struggles in Syria and elsewhere. But in this the question of gay rights cannot be set aside indefinitely. At some point it will have to be recognized as a part of the process of change, and inseparable from it.

Sexual and Romantic Beliefs

“How can you tell me what’s right for me?”

The Strait and Narrow

Patient education and its source. I’m a nurse, and I work at a hospital. I care for four or five patients at a time, and a big part of taking care of them is patient education. We teach them that with whatever their condition is, they need to do this and that. If you do these things, we say, you will be better off, and you won’t have as many negative outcomes from your disease. Maybe it’s eating more fiber, or exercising more, or checking their blood sugar. We also tell them there are things they shouldn’t do. Maybe we tell them, you can’t smoke anymore; you shouldn’t drink too much fluid; you must avoid alcohol; you should rarely eat fried foods; you need to cut back on your salt. You need to avoid these things, we say, and if you don’t, bad results will tend to happen to you…

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Be Yourself

Keeping Up With Julian

Be Yourself

Don’t let anything intimidate you.

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Is Frank Ocean Dating Mr. Givenchy?

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