A New President, But the Same Old Homophobia: Proposition 8 Wins in California

November 6, 2008

The sun seemed to shine a whole lot brighter yesterday morning after America voted to get Barack Obama into the White House by an overwhelming margin. The NYTimes headlined: “Racial Barrier Falls as Voters Embrace Call for Change”. Just as Germany tore down the Berlin Wall, we cast our votes to overcome this conveniently-exclusionary thing called Race. We are Making History.

So, what the hell were the states of California, Florida, and Arizona thinking when they simultaneously voted to BAN same-sex marriages? Let’s stop discrimination but only with regards to Race? Hey, go right ahead with those barriers against same-sex couples? Yes, we are Making History indeed. Who ordered the Rain on Our Parade.

According to the NYTimes yesterday afternoon: In California, 52% voted for a ban on same-sex marriages (already deemed legal by the California Supreme Court back in May). Homophobes in Florida and Arizona won by even bigger margins. Arkansas passed a measure that bars gay men and lesbians from adopting children.

THIRTY states have now passed bans on same-sex marriage. Only Massachusetts and Connecticut consider same-sex marriages legal. Rhode Island and New York recognize marriages performed elsewhere.

Why do religious fundamentalists consider marriages between same-sex partners such a profound and urgent threat to the traditional family unit headed by a male/female partnership? Aren’t the cultural trends towards divorce and single-parenthood even bigger (more logical) threats? And speaking of race, why do so many black and Latino votes support the bans on same-sex marriages?

It seems to me: If you want to fix the family, fix the FAMILY. Don’t blame other people. Don’t exclude alternate lifestyles. Really, Stop The Hate Now.

These bans are crimes against humanity. As Obama’s win unleashes a “Flood of Hope” worldwide, we need to direct some of that energy against the bigots that hide behind the dark cloud of religious fundamentalism.

Yes We Can. Let the Sunshine In.


Still Life from a Starbucks Civilization

July 10, 2008

Just before the not-long-enough July 4th weekend, globalized coffeemaker Starbucks announced that it will be closing 600 stores. By now, we’ve heard gleeful reactions from people who support the demise of this Walmart of coffee beans. We’ve also, of course, heard the human side to these closings: 12,000 full- and part-timers are losing their jobs (that’s 7% of Starbucks’ workforce).

I don’t know whether this is good or bad. But the Starbucks phenomenon hints at a critical issue facing countless developing communities (aka emerging markets) around the world: how to negotiate transnational and commercial development (which might bring much-needed basic services like water and electricity) with local culture (which binds people together).

Yesterday I was on a United Airlines flight, reading Paul Ricoeur’s “History and Truth”, which prompted thoughts about Starbucks:

We have the feeling that this single world civilization…exerts a sort of attrition or wearing away at the expense of the cultural resources which have made the great civilizations of the past. This threat is expressed, among other disturbing effects, by the spreading before our eyes of a mediocre civilization which is the absurd counterpart of elementary culture. Everywhere throughout the world, one finds the same bad movie, the same slot machines, the same plastic or aluminum atrocities, the same twisting of language by propaganda…

And as I’m reading this, I ask for a cup of coffee and what do I get?

One could make an attempt to scream.

Caffeinated, back to Ricoeur:

In order to get on to the road toward modernization, is it necessary to jettison the old cultural past which has been the raison d’etre of a nation?…

It is a fact: every culture cannot sustain and absorb the shock of modern civilization.

Looping back to Starbucks’ store closings, though, I’m a bit more optimistic. Sometimes modern civilization just cannot sustain and absorb the shock of local culture.

Hey, some people just DON’T want to unite with the same mass-produced cups of $5 coffee anywhere and everywhere. It’s a start.


A Few Firsts: Gay Prides in India, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Havana

June 29, 2008

While NYC kicked off its 38th annual gay pride march yesterday, other cities were celebrating — or fighting for — their first. Another striking illustration of how uneven sociopolitical landscapes get across borders.

In India, gay rights supporters came out in the streets of Calcutta, Bangalore and New Delhi. Some wore masks, fearing persecution and violence yet wanting to participate. Activists called for an end to discrimination, seeking the “right to love”.

According to IHT, the marches are happening just 3 days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that dates to the British colonial era.

While India does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, the 1861 penal code enacted by the British colonial government rules that “carnal intercourse against the order of nature between any man, woman or animal” is punishable by imprisonment of 10 years to life.

The Guardian reports on these other firsts:

Czech Republic
A gay parade in the country’s second largest city, Brno, was delayed on Saturday when the marchers were attacked by a group of rightwing extremists, who were shouting abusive slogans and throwing eggs.

The march was delayed by about an hour and took an alternative, shorter route than had been planned, under police protection.

Bulgaria
Extremists throwing rocks, bottles and petrol bombs attacked Sofia’s first gay pride parade on Saturday. Police say that they blocked the extremists from harming the 150 or so people in the procession through the city. About 60 people were detained for harassing the participants. Bulgaria’s Orthodox church says the march should be banned as it undermines the country’s Christian traditions.

Havana
Cuba’s first gay pride parade was abruptly cancelled last Wednesday.

The unofficial march, organised with Florida’s Unity Coalition, was not sanctioned by Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro.

Imagine that.

So, we continue to fight until everyone’s rights are equal. This is not a gay issue. It’s a human rights issue.


Gay Pride in New York City

June 29, 2008

So today we celebrate with great pride. LOTS to be thankful for. Lots more to fight for.

If you’re able: shut your computer down now and go support any one of three main events today (Sunday, June 29), organized by the folks at Heritage of Pride:

Rally at Bryant Park: 42nd St. and 6th Ave., 2 – 6pm

March: begins at 5th + 52nd and does runway down to Christopher + Greenwich St., noon till end; Governor Paterson becomes the first governor to kick off the march

Dance/Fireworks at Pier 54: 13th St. + Hudson River Park, 4 – 10:30pm

Cheers, Queers!

In memory of one of the best, who died of AIDS way too early. Music CAN change a world.


South African Court: Chinese Population to be Reclassified as “Black”

June 19, 2008

There are about 200,000 ethnic Chinese in South Africa. During apartheid, they were discriminated against because they were classified as people of mixed race. Today, the Chinese are generally considered white — a misclassification that is, ironically, disqualifying them from benefits and protections guaranteed by ANTI-apartheid laws.

So, how should South Africa rebalance this inequality? BBC reports that the Chinese Association of South Africa took the government to court, charging it with discrimination.

The High Court then ruled that Chinese South Africans are to be reclassified as: Black People. Yes, Black People. This (apparently well-intended) correction — not a joke — will now allow Chinese to benefit from anti-apartheid policies.

Before the Chinese over-rejoice, BBC notes that White People in South Africa still earn about 450% more than their Black counterparts. I guess the gap is so huge that White People can barely tell Non-Whites apart. Who needs multiple classifications?

14 years after apartheid, the racial violence continues.

xinTricky Pop Quiz:
Here’s an AFP photo of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South African President Thabo Mbeki signing an agreement in Cape Town a couple years ago.
Should they both be classified as “Black”?

Same-Sex Weddings See First Light of Day in California

June 17, 2008

ringsLast month, California’s Supreme Court issued a landmark decision to overturn state laws that restricted marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Today, county clerks in 58 counties across the state began issuing official marriage licenses to hundreds of same-sex couples. YES!

It’s an historic day and the media has been running incredible photos and stories of newlyweds. The first marriage was performed by San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom, for a couple in their 80s. The couple had married in 2004, only to have this right stripped away, and their license invalidated.

This points to the still-precarious legal status of same-sex weddings in California and the rest of the United States. In November, voters in California decide whether to rescind the Supreme Court’s decision through a ballot measure that could revert the definition of marriage back to heterosexual unions.

Exclusionary efforts are underway. In a condescending statement quoted in NYT, a Florida-based group called Liberty Counsel said the ceremonies “make a mockery of marriage.” An Arizona-based group called Alliance Defense Fund is inciting discrimination and succeeded in getting one county clerk to cancel all same-sex weddings.

LA Times reports that very protesters showed up physically today because they are focusing on the ballot measure later this year. Another conservative group, protectmarriage.com, emailed supporters that they will fight in November and cautioned against protesting Tuesday’s ceremonies. The group warned: “Media outlets would love to see us engage in fierce protests and hostile demonstrations of outrage. … We must not fall into this trap.” Already, the group has submitted 1.1 million signatures earlier this year for the ballot measure to amend the state constitution. Now THAT’s a mockery of human rights.

Today, California opened a window to a new day in America. But the fight for equal rights for all is not over. Keep that window open! We need lots more happy days like today.

Here are just a couple groups that could certainly use your support: Human Rights Campaign and in New York, Empire State Pride Agenda. Feel free to add in comments.


Revival of India’s Ancient Sanskrit Opens a Debate about Contemporary India

June 15, 2008

As India grows wealthier, summer camps that teach children Sanskrit are increasingly popular. Supporters of the Sanskrit revival consider the ancient language integral to Indian culture and national pride. Others disagree.

Opponents see it as a Hindu nationalist effort to turn back the clock and claim the supremacy of Hindu thought in a contemporary India that now includes Muslims and other religious minorities.

The teaching of Sanskrit is an increasingly political issue. The Washington Post reports today that Sanskrit teachers are being viewed with suspicion and scholars are warning against exploiting India’s reverence for its ancient language to privilege Hindu traditions.

Historian Arjun Dev is quoted:

It is critical to understand Sanskrit in order to study ancient Indian civilization and knowledge. But the language should not be used to push Hindu political ideology into school textbook. They want to say that all that is great about India happened in the Hindu Sanskrit texts.

Today, Sanskrit is just one of 22 official languages in India and is considered a dead language by many. As essential to Asia as Latin is to the West, it is the world’s oldest known tongue dating back to the 4th century BCE and is revered as the language of the gods. Knowledge of Sanskrit was historically seen as a marker of social class and educational attainment.

It is currently spoken fluently by only 14,100 people in a nation of a billion, although recent revival efforts have apparently succeeded in initiating “at least four million Indians into speaking the language without making the mistake of associating the language with the Hindu religion, the exclusive preserve of the upper caste Brahmins”.