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Wednesday, 11 January 2006
Anger at 'shameful' India gay law
Two men dance together in nightclub in Bombay

India says same-sex relationships are 'unnatural'
Two men dance together in nightclub in Bombay

India says same-sex relationships are "unnatural"


India's laws on homosexuality threaten human rights and encourage the spread of HIV, a leading rights watchdog has told the prime minister in a letter.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Manmohan Singh after police in the northern city of Lucknow allegedly carried out a sting operation on gay men.

It accused the police of "shameful" harassment. Police said those arrested had engaged in "unnatural acts".

Homosexuality is illegal in India and can carry a 10-year sentence.

'Internet links'

Human Rights Watch says that last week police officers in Lucknow posed as gays on a website, entrapping one man and forcing him to call others who were then arrested.


Criminalisation of people most at risk of HIV infection may increase stigma and discrimination, ultimately fuelling the Aids epidemic
Denis Broun, UNAIDS



Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Programme, said: "Lucknow police have a shameful record of harassing gay men as well as non-governmental organisations that work with them.

"They are able to do so because India's government clings to the criminalisation of homosexual conduct, which only prevents people from coming forward for HIV/Aids testing, information and services."

The United Nations' Aids body, UNAids, also condemned the arrests.

Denis Broun, UNAids India coordinator, said: "Criminalisation of people most at risk of HIV infection may increase stigma and discrimination, ultimately fuelling the Aids epidemic."

Lucknow police spokesman Ashutosh Pandey told Reuters those arrested had "established online internet links with gay groups outside the country too" and would not be released.

Dismissed petition

The 145-year-old colonial Indian Penal Code clearly describes a same-sex relationship as an "unnatural offence".

Many people in conservative India regard same-sex relationships as illegal or even blasphemous.

In 2004, the Indian government opposed a legal petition that sought to legalise homosexuality - a petition the high court in Delhi dismissed.

The government argued that the abolition of the law dealing with what it termed as "unnatural sex acts" could result in an increase in delinquent behaviour.

"While the right to respect for private and family life is undisputed, interference by public authority in the interest of public safety and protection of health and morals is equally permissible. This is precisely what the law does," said a government affidavit.







Tuesday, 24 May, 2005
Pink China comes out of shadows
By Louisa Lim
BBC News, China

A bartender and a patron on a quiet night at a Beijing gay bar, 10/02/2004
China's gay scene is still evolving



It is only four years since China dropped homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders.

Now, gay activists in China are using the internet and other high-tech methods to try to create gay communities.

But even as China's gays come tiptoeing out of the closet, they admit they are fighting an uphill battle.

At a recent meeting in Beijing, a group of woman were discussing gender identity.

This kind of open salon for lesbians is relatively new in China, a product of the internet generation.

"If we didn't have the internet to unite people together, the salons, the bars, the discos could not be there. So the internet is a very, very important thing to lesbian culture," said 23-year-old Sylvia, attending the meeting with her girlfriend.

"You have a brand new way for you to find friends, find girlfriends, and start your new life, because before the internet appeared, everybody thought they were the only person in the world and they couldn't find any other people like themselves," she said.

But gay websites exist in a grey area, with some official interference.

"Some gay websites are closed by the service provider, and sometimes they'll give you other reasons, like not really gay-related, but actually the real reason is the sensitive gay content," said Xiao Xian, a lesbian activist.

"We're still testing the water, like what we can do, what is being allowed. So the government didn't have a clear rule put down on paper. Rather, it's unwritten rules, so you have to test it, you have to see what you can do," she said.
Internet in China (file photo)
Many gays in China rely on the internet



A gay and lesbian film festival attended by more than 100 people was recently held in a small room in a disused factory — a second attempt, after the authorities refused to allow them to hold the event on a university campus.

The films shown were mostly shot on the mainland, but most had never been seen in China before.

One of the films — a bittersweet gay love story between a man and a Martian — was directed by Cui Ze'en, a professor at Beijing Film Academy, who has been forbidden from teaching for 15 years since he came out of the closet.

He believes that the authorities feel as threatened by sexual dissidents as political dissidents.

"They're the same taboo," he said. "Homosexuality represents a different cultural politics. Being gay is a kind of body politics, which is entirely rejected in our system, because in our country, politics is all about being the same. But gay people are different."

Drag queens

At a smoky bar in southern China I caught up with the country's underground gay scene.

As disco lights flashed red, green and blue and music blared, a transvestite on stage strutted his stuff in a red bikini with gold tassels.

One of the performers was 28-year-old Yuan Bing, a slender boy from the country in a white diaphanous dress. He discovered as a child that he liked dressing up in girls' clothes.

He said the audience reaction to his drag act was generally positive, but it could get nasty.

"When we are performing, sometimes customers really react against us. They simply can't bear us and they verbally attack us. We love what we do and we sometimes get angry with this response," he said.

Every person here has their own story of heartbreak and discrimination.

"I don't think I can tell my parents. If other people found out, my parents would lose face," said Yuan Bing.

It is a familiar, sad story for China's sexual dissidents

In his stage persona, Yuan Bing braves public discrimination and official disapproval every day.

Yet in his private life he still hides behind a wall of silence.












Monday, 16 May, 2005
Fear and loathing in gay India

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Calcutta
Indian laws say same sex relationships are 'unnatural'
Indian laws say same sex relationships are "unnatural"




This is the first in a series of articles about the lives of gay people in South Asia.

She is a qualified computer professional and works in a government job, but has been forced to live a double life for many years now.

At work, she uses her true name. Outside, she uses a nom de guerre, heading a support group for lesbians, bisexuals and transgender communities.

She lives with her partner — who lives a similar double life — in an apartment in the eastern city of Calcutta they bought together with a bank loan after fighting for one for six years.

"When we went to the bank for the first time to get a loan, I was told I could not put down my partner as a co-applicant. It had to be a spouse. Finally, last year, the bank relented.  I put down my partner as a friend," says Malobika, 41.

'Unnatural offence'
These days, there is a greater openness about the gay community in the big cities of Inida.

But homophobia is still pretty rampant
These days, there is a greater openness about the gay community in the big cities.   But homophobia is still pretty rampant

Rafiquel Haque, gay activist

It has been a long, strange trip towards coming out of the closet for lesbians like Malobika in conservative India, where same-sex relationships are illegal and almost blasphemous.

The 145-year-old colonial Indian Penal Code clearly describes a same sex relationship as an "unnatural offence".

In a largely patriarchal society, lesbians bear the brunt of social ostracisation and the law more than gay men.  In many states, lesbians have taken their lives after facing harassment at home and outside.

Malobika and her friends have been luckier — "We are educated and have a class advantage," as one of them says.

Born to a mechanical engineer father and a homemaker mother, Malobika discovered her sexuality when she was 17.  Some 18 years later, when her parents were frantically looking around for a suitable groom, she finally told them the truth.

"My mother said she did not understand what I was saying.

They run a helpline, publish a magazine and take up cases of human rights abuses.

The new openness often masks the frustrations within
They run a helpline, publish a magazine and take up cases of human rights abuses.

The new openness often masks the frustrations within


"It took some time for the whole thing to sink in," she said, sitting in a smoky teashop in downtown Calcutta.

Five years ago, Malobika along with five other lesbians started up a support group called Sappho named after the Greek lyric poet.

Anguished world

The helpline has become their window to the dark world of Indian lesbians.

Most of the women who call in say they have been forcibly married off by their parents.

When they tell the truth, they are thrown out of their homes by their spouses, parents and relatives.

Most of these hapless women suffer from extremely low esteem and say that something is gravely wrong with them.

"Am I normal? Am I like other women? Tell me please," asks an anguished caller on the Sappho helpline.

A panicky man asks, "My wife says she is a lesbian.  Can you please cure her?"
The gay march in Calcutta has become an annual feature
The gay march in Calcutta has become an annual feature


Sappho has a psychiatrist on the line, who counsels these panicky women — and men.

Homophobia, say support groups, is acute in India.

Malobika says when parents find out — or the girl tells them — the truth, they run to the doctor.

"The doctor typically tells the girl to swim, cook and knit.  'That way she will become a girl again,' they say.

"The parents then usually take the girl home and shut her up, cutting her off from the outside world."

Many girls from the villages escape to the big city after being thrown out of their homes.

Greater acceptance
Pavan Dhal is worried about "risky sexual behaviour" among the gays

Malobika remembers one 28-year-old girl who ran away to Calcutta to be with her partner and take up a job in a beauty parlour. Four years later, her estranged parents came to visit her — and since then have accepted the relationship

In big cities like Calcutta, there is slightly more acceptance of same sex relationships these days.  As in other parts of the world, India has seen a growing gay and lesbian movement.

"These days, there is a greater openness about the gay community in the big cities.  But homophobia is still pretty rampant," says Rafiquel Haque, 31, a theatre actor and gay rights activist.

This means that when bright, young men like Rafiquel decide to come out of the closet and begin talking to the media, they lose some friends.

One reason is that gay behaviour is also regarded as sexually predatory.

Rafiquel says he was friends with a "liberal" artist couple and their only son — till they saw him on a television show on gay issues.

"The moment they came to know I was gay they stopped talking.  They stopped their son from meeting me. His mother told me, 'If my son becomes like you, I will commit suicide'."

Coming out of the closet, however, is easier now: the eastern West Bengal state alone has some nine gay and lesbian support groups.
The government says public morals need to be protected
The government says public morals need to be protected

Carnival

Rafiquel, who was instrumental in setting up one in 1993, says they reached out to 5,000 gay men in the state within three years.

Two years ago, he organised a same sex mardi gras in Calcutta. Since then it has become a regular yearly event.

Plays on gay issues are staged, members debate community issues, and books and journals are sold at this merry fortnight-long carnival.

It climaxes with a colourful march through the streets of Calcutta — last year as many 300 gays, lesbians and transgender people participated in the march.

But life is still not easy even for a gay man in India — he usually faces derision at work, and struggles to find a partner.

Most gay men usually cruise darkly lit streets and unkempt parks and often get picked up by police looking for bribes.

"It's not easy to meet a partner.  I still don't have a lasting partner.  It can be very lonely sometimes," says Pavan Dhal, 36, who heads a support group.

"There's also a lot of risky sexual behaviour.  It's not a very happy situation that way".






Thursday, 19 May, 2005
Sri Lanka's gays share their journey

Throughout South Asia, homosexuality has been a taboo subject. But there are signs in some areas that gay people are now becoming more open in their behaviour. In the second of a series of articles from the region, the BBC's Chloe Arnold looks at gay life in Sri Lanka.

Companions on a Journey newsletter

Gay society in Sri Lanka
Newsletter of the Companions on a Journey gay society



When Sujeewa told his older brother he was gay, he beat him up and chased him out of the house.

That was eight years ago, since when Sujeewa has started helping out at Companions on a Journey, Sri Lanka's only society for gay men and women.

"It was very difficult for my friends and family to accept I was gay," says Sujeewa, who doesn't want to give his last name.

"It's a bit easier today, but people are still suspicious of me.  I have to be very careful where I go."

We are sitting in a neat white room with comfortable sofas and a large television in the corner.

Companions on a Journey is a drop-in centre in Colombo that's become a lifeline for Sri Lanka's gay community.

Once a week it shows films with gay themes — Priscilla — Queen of the Desert, Maurice, The Crying Game and Boys Don't Cry.

On the other side of the room, half a dozen book shelves are stacked with gay literature, from novels to magazines to advice on how to cope with the HIV/Aids.

Growing confidence

Sujeewa, who is 28, wears leopard-print corduroys, a tight T-shirt and gold earrings, and his long hair is tied in a sleek ponytail.

"I get a lot of nasty looks because of the way I dress," he says.  "But it's something I've just had to get used to."

Since he first discovered Companions on a Journey, Sujeewa's life has turned around. He feels more confident with his sexuality, he has started working as a hairdresser and now has a steady boyfriend.


Before, we had to be so secretive about where we met... Now at least being gay is less of a taboo
Sujeewa

"Before, we had to be so secretive about where we met," he remembers.

"Now at least being gay is less of a taboo."

Sherman de Rose, the founder of Companions on a Journey, agrees.

When he started the group last year, he used to receive death threats.

It got so bad, he says, he had to leave the country for a while until religious groups, political leaders, and some sections of the media, the most vehement opponents to his organisation, calmed down.

"But attitudes have begun to change," he says.

"At the beginning, people wouldn't even discuss the topic of homosexuality.  They refused to recognise it existed.

"Now we can hold demonstrations to demand better rights and we won't get chased off the streets."

'Afraid to be themselves'

One of the most difficult things for gay men and women in Sri Lanka is simply coming to terms with their homosexuality. Given the social intolerance, it is very difficult, Sherman says.

The society can relax with a drag queen competition
The society can relax with a drag queen competition



"So many gay men marry and have children because it is easier than coming out," he says.

When he first opened his doors, people used to turn up and say they weren't gay themselves, they were coming for a friend.

"Even here, they were afraid to be themselves," he says.

Others just came and sat there for an hour or two, not speaking, not doing anything.

"They saw us as a safe haven, a place where they could go through a sort of healing process," he says.

"It takes an enormous amount of courage for people to come here.  They suffer from very low-self esteem because of the rejection."

He still receives dozens of letters from around the country from people who don't give their names or addresses, but who just write to thank him for being there.

"They simply say that they are glad they aren't alone," he says.

Legal challenge

Companions now have two more drop-in centres in Sri Lanka, one in Kandy and one in Anuradhapura.  They put out a monthly newsletter and every full moon they organise a big party.


We aren't expecting miracles, but I think we're getting there, bit by bit
Sherman de Rose, founder, Companions on a Journey


"It's a chance for people to let their hair down, really be themselves," Sherman says.

"And we always have a competition to find the most beautiful drag queen."

But there is a more serious side to the organisation.

Working with a network of lawyers, they are trying to persuade lawmakers to change Sri Lanka's criminal code, which outlaws homosexuality.

"There is still a lot of opposition," he says, "and we still aren't even close to Europe or the United States when it comes to gay rights.

"But we've come a long way in eight years.  We aren't expecting miracles, but I think we're getting there, bit by bit."











      Companions on a Journey website     


      Sappho     
 
 





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For archive purposes, this article is being stored on TheWE.cc website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.