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Freeing Myself from Sexual Repression

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

(Cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

Those moments when we realize that we are always learning are the most humbling and most important for me.

I’ve been out of the closet since I was 22 and it’s safe to say that I’m very secure in my identity and very open-minded about sexuality, which I have explored ad nauseum. I have always carried this open-mindedness as a badge of honor given the often sex-negative society we live in today. Imagine my surprise this past weekend when I discovered a new side of my sexual awareness I never knew existed. I had a sexual awakening.

Fittingly, my sexual awakening happened in the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend exhibit hall, which was on Capitol Hill and within a stone’s throw from the U.S. Capitol. I had never been before so I was excited about what was in store for me, but I certainly didn’t think I was going to tap into an unexplored area of my sexuality. To be sure, there was a lot to take in, and I saw many things, (the most intriguing for me was the leather cocoons) which I had only ever seen online.

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While casually strolling through the many rooms in the exhibit hall, I found myself captivated with all the live demonstrations going on, especially the wrestling demonstration. Picture two attractive and fit men, both in singlets and both quite obviously aroused, wrestling for passersby as a crowd begins to form. It was certainly a spectacle. Of course, grabbing attention is the point of any expo, but I was completely turned on and it wasn’t only because of the demonstration itself, but because I was also engaging in voyeurism. And, I wanted to do more of it.

I love my leather-loving friends, gay and straight alike, but I never considered myself part of their community. When I left the hotel Saturday, I started to think more about this since I had just had such a great time. I had automatically written off an entire sex community early on after coming out (and before, I guess) because I didn’t think it could offer anything for me. And, worse, I realized that I had even been critical of the leather community (and more broadly, the BDSM community) for promoting what I viewed as risky behavior. I had unwittingly repressed a  part of myself and I had never thought twice about it until just this past weekend.

I had repressed my very own sexual freedom.

I’m trying not to be too hard on myself about it. I am, after all, a product of a society that is still debating the merits of discrimination for certain minority groups, especially sexual minorities. To wit, some of America’s most prominent and influential citizens have been instrumental in codifying this kind of oppression through legislation in other countries. Can we say Uganda?

As I reflected on this new awakening I started to drift into the politics of sexual freedom as they currently stand in our own country and what life can be like when we celebrate sexuality and recognize it as a basic human right. In a couple of weeks, many of those at the helm of this movement will converge on Minneapolis for Creating Change, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual LGBT equality conference. Included in this conference is a day-long institute dedicated to sexual freedom and the integral role it plays in the ongoing fight for equality.

To keep the momentum going, Team Columbia and VenusPlusX.org will be hosting a free two-day sexual freedom mini-conference right next door at the Hotel Ivy (it will follow the day-long Creating Change institute and is free to the public and conference attendees) and it will include workshops, political caucuses and live- demonstrations. Attending either would be very beneficial for any LGBT rights advocate looking to make an impact.

Educating Americans on how sexual freedom is an essential part of their daily lives that should be cherished and celebrated is certainly a tall order. If, however, the LGBT rights movement can keep sexual freedom as one of its many driving forces, it could have a far more profound impact on society than it has ever realized.

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Religious Right Has No Intention of Letting Uganda Anti-gays Bill Die

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This despite reports that the Uganda Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee doubts the Anti-Homosexuality Bill will pass.

Religious extremist Lou Engle’s group The Call is planning a rally next month in Uganda and will include calls to support the legislation.

From Truth Wins Out:

“He [Warren Throckmorton] reports that The Call Uganda, an organization which has both political and religious purposes and supports Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, is preparing for a large rally on May 2.

According to Throckmorton, ‘The relative quiet in Uganda surrounding the bill could easily be broken by this event.'”

Engle is a scary guy. His intensity is unnerving and he has a penchant for using disturbing images to get his point across. His work against families and reproductive health rights is legendary. His message is one of hate and he calls on followers to become martyrs for Christ.

Just check out some of The Call’s videos for a taste.

The Call Uganda is just the kind of thing supporters of the all but dead Anti-Homosexual act need to bring it back to life.

From Throckmorton:

‘I am quite concerned that this event could have the same kind of impact that the March 2009 anti-gay conference had in Uganda. At that event, Scott Lively told his Ugandan audience that gays were behind Nazi Germany and possibly involved in the Rwandan atrocities. In general the conference reinforced the desire of some religious leaders to persuade the government to create laws which would eliminate homosexuality from the nation.”

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British Government: Kill-the-Gays Bill Sponsor Banned if Bill Passes

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Just off the heels of the last week’s Senate vote condemning the Ugandan Anti-homosexual Bill comes the news this week that the UK plans to ban the bill’s sponsor MP David Bahati from entering the country if the bill is passed.

From The Guardian:

Civil servants in the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the Borders Agency are drawing up plans to block the visa of born-again Christian MP David Bahati if he does not drop legislation that would see consenting adults who have gay sex imprisoned for life and impose the death penalty on those with HIV – which will be called “aggravated homosexuality”.

The move is the most recent rebuke from the British Parliament toward the Ugandan government. Earlier this month, 118 British MPs publicly dencounced the homophobic legislation. Speaking for the group of MPS, activist Peter Tathcell said in a statement, “Even if the death penalty is dropped, the Bill will remain unacceptable. It will still violate the equality guarantees of international human rights agreements.”

This seems to be confirmed in today’s news:

The British government is concerned by a wave of anti-gay sentiment sweeping Africa that has also put pressure on homosexual people in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nigeria.

Read about that uptick in violence here.

The issue appears to be coming to a head in the UK’s Parliament. The Guardian article also says an “unnamed” senior British official has said the issue could become a “major diplomatic incident if the Ugandans do not back down.” It goes on to report that the Ugandans seem to be using stalling tactics to delay passage of the bill until next year, especially amid the intense international pressure to kill this bill.

Box Turtle Bulletin says these “stalling tactics,” if indeed true, confirm reports that the bill is most likely not to receive a vote.

But with President Yoweri Museveni’s bid to extend his twenty-five year rule for another five years, the bill could be resurrected at any time if Museveni decides it is to his political advantage.

Dead or not, the American government should show its support for the British government’s moves.  The Senate resolution was a welcome step, but we need this vote coupled with executive action. The State Department can show solidarity with its British counterpart and give Bahati the same warning.

Let’s go one step further and issue the same warning to Museveni, too!

I’ve been told that the State Department is preparing to review the entire continent’s human rights record, a reportedly unprecedented effort. It is thought that this review should result in solutions to get various African nations to adopt more tolerant and accepting policies toward LGBT Africans. Homosexuality is currently illegal in 37 countries across the vast continent.

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Key Senate Committee Speaks Out Against Uganda Anti-Gay Bill

April 14, 2010 1 comment

In case you missed it today, the Senate Foreign Relations committee passed a resolution by unanimous consent late last night that calls on Ugandan legislature to kill the Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently under consideration.

From the HRC Back Story blog:

The Senate Resolution, introduced by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, expresses the United States government’s “unequivocal” opposition to the proposed Ugandan bill. Stressing the “universality of human rights” and the bill’s potential to undermine U.S. efforts to combat HIV/AIDS globally, the resolution calls upon the Secretary of State to more closely monitor human rights abuses that are motivated by sexual orientation and to encourage the repeal or reform of similar laws around the world. Next, the resolution will need approval by the full Senate.

This is great news as it means the United States Congress is one step closer to officially rejecting that bill on moral grounds. It is, however, just a resolution and has no kind of enforcement language included. There is a similar resolution making its way through the House.

It is encouraging to see language in the resolution that calls on the president and the Secretary of State to better monitor the continent for human rights abuses. Despite its lack of any kind of real effect, this resolution does bolster arguments made here and the rest of the blogosphere that American foreign aid should be withheld from any country that systematically persecutes minorities of any kind. It provides the kind of of leverage needed to apply more pressure to the administration to act.

Start pressuring!

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Anti-gay Evangelist Publicly Condemns Kill-the-Gays Bill

April 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Sometimes it’s true that it is better to be late than never.

Yesterday, Joyce Meyer , of the Joyce Meyer Ministries, sent an email to her supporters and followers condemning Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. Meyer has followers the world over, including an office in Uganda, and has the messaging power of other huge evangelicals such as Joel Osteen and Rick Warren.

Meyer is certainly no friend of the gay community and has been outspoken about her objections to the “homosexual lifestyle.” Still, Meyers criticized efforts made in God’s name that would persecute other human beings.

From Meyer’s statement:

It is increasingly evident that the proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” introduced in the Ugandan parliament is a profoundly offensive, dangerous and disturbing attack on the very foundation of individual liberties and human rights afforded not only to the good citizens of Uganda, but on the at-large global community.

If enacted, this hostile legislation will also further, and adversely, serve as a major setback in the global health efforts to combat Uganda’s AIDS epidemic and reduce the record-high infection rates among the country’s HIV population, an already at-risk community that could be further ostracized, threatened, and targeted as potential criminals.

The call to stop this bill is certainly welcome, especially given Meyer’s star power and influence. A more responsible preacher of God’s word, however, would have come out against this bill sooner, especially since it seems the bill may be going nowhere fast. Just last Monday, a group of 118 British Members of Parliament slammed the Ugandan government for entertaining passage of this legislation.

In a motion drafted in part by U.K. gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, the group of MPs called on the Ugandan government to drop the proposed legislation, claiming it violates the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. The motion further calls upon the Ugandan parliament t to decriminalize “same-sex acts between consenting adults in private, and outlawing discrimination against gay people.”

Then there were reports filed Friday that members of a key panel in the Uganda legislature did not see passage of the bill happening.

“I think it is useless and will not achieve what it intends to achieve,” said Alex Ndeezi, a member of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee tasked with reviewing the bill before it can be presented to the house.

The panel’s chairman Stephen Tashyoba said the draft law was not a priority.

“As far as I am concerned, we really have more urgent matters to discuss like electoral reforms, which are already behind schedule,” he said.

I’m glad Meyer has finally stepped up and that lawmakers are responding to international pressure to kill this bill, but I’m afraid that the damage has been done.

It will be a victory if this bill does indeed fail, but anti-gay fervor has been whipped up by the bill’s author, David Bahati and Martin Ssempa as well countless news outlets and law enforcement agencies. People in countries all over Africa have of late been encouraged to report their fellow citizens suspected of being gay. In some cases, it seems that acts of violence have been condoned. Worse is the American involvement that has been instrumental in fomenting this homophobia.

Once this bill in Uganda is dead, the real challenge will be changing hearts and minds and teaching acceptance.

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LGBT Violence on Uprise in Africa

April 12, 2010 2 comments

I have been less than prolific on El Castillo in the past few weeks. So, to my devoted reader, I say hello again.

I’ll be expanding on my absence in future posts, but suffice it to say that my schedule is getting back to normal and there should be more to fill your google reader or your inbox or whatever portal you use to read this blog.

On with the business of the day. I have been writing some on the treatment of gays in Africa, specifically with regards to what’s happening in Uganda. I will be writing alot more about this in the weeks to come.

There was more news today about violence directed at gay men in the west African country of Senegal. Madieye Diallo, a gay activist who had recently succumbed to AIDS and had been buried, was exhumed from his grave site not long after his funeral. His body was then mutilated and then dumped at the doorstep of his parents.

The event has driven some gay Senegalese into hiding.

‘I locked myself inside my room and didn’t come out for days,’ says a 31-year-old gay friend of Diallo’s who is ill with HIV, ‘I’m afraid of what will happen to me after I die. Will my parents be able to bury me?’

A wave of intense homophobia is washing across Africa, where homosexuality is already illegal in at least 37 countries.

In the last year alone, gay men have been arrested in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. In Uganda, lawmakers are considering a bill that would sentence homosexuals to life in prison and include capital punishment for ‘repeat offenders.’ And in South Africa, the only country that recognizes gay rights, gangs have carried out so-called “corrective” rapes on lesbians.

Though it is officially illegal to be gay in Senegal, the country has long had a “clandestine gay community” and has generally been tolerated.

This wave of violence against LGBT people in Africa has spread across the continent and it has been helped along with support from various media outlets in that country that have made known their sympathy for draconian laws that outlaw homosexuality.

It is also due in no small part to the support of conservative American evangelicals who have taken their fight against gays and lesbians to Africa. For the leaders of this movement, they see Africa as the one place where they can make inroads with their message of hate and violence. Take, for example, their support for the Ugandan anti-gays bill that would imprison gay men and women as well those who associate with them. This involvement from American evangelicals has spurred recent actions from folks like Martin Ssempa and Ugandan legislator David Bahati, both of whom have done their fair share of fomenting a violent anti-gay fervor.

To be sure, what is happening in Africa has international repercussions. Still, there is a basic level of decency that all humans should be afforded, if no other time than in death. This alone should be enough to drive folks into action to help put an end to this kind of violence.

I’ll have more about what’s happening in Uganda in future posts.

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Supporters of Anti-gay Legislation in Uganda Hosting President Obama Thursday

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Heads of state and other dignitaries will gather this week to attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast. A highly secretive Christian fundamentalist organization called The Family hosts the event each year. The Family has ties to major players in our government and also boasts such members as the embattled Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and the governor from South Carolina, Mark Sanford.

The event has happened for several years and usually without much fanfare, but this year attendees and the rest of the country can expect much more hoopla over the event. That’s because a coalition of civil rights organizations are calling on the President and other invited guests to skip the annual event to protest the involvement of members of The Family who had a direct hand in crafting Uganda’s horrendous and deeply violent Anti-Homosexual bill. Up until recently this bill included execution as punishment for violation of the law. It was only amended after much arm-twisting by the international community. The new legislation does nothing, however, to address the other draconian elements that look to be codified.

If you don’t know much about The Family, it’s probably because they don’t have a web site nor any discernible appearance of a legitimate non-profit organization. Instead, the group is shrouded in secrecy and only really surfaces every year to host this annual event. The Family has been the subject of much scrutiny in the last year not only for its involvement with Uganda, but also for its shady dealings and influence with some of the highest office holders in America. Check out the video below of Rachel Maddow interviewing Jeff Sharlet, who has recently published a new book about The Family.

At a press conference in Washington today, organizers of an alternative to the National Prayer Breakfast, dubbed the American Prayer Hour, called on the Congress, the President and the world-at-large to repudiate the homophobic legislation and The Family, whose only reason for existing is to organize the prayer breakfast.

“It is irresponsible for any public official to associate themselves with a group that has such a checkered past,” said author FrankSchaeffer. “I don’t think that anyone with a conscience should participate in the breakfast, especially if there is a good alternative.” Schaeffer, whose father was instrumental in the up-rise of the modern Christian right wing movement, has been outspoken about The Family’s involvement in Uganda and its ties to leaders in government.

Schaeffer went on to compare to terrorists organizations calling The Family, America’s version of the Taliban.

“Our national leaders have got to stop and think a minute about working with a group similar to the Taliban and who, if they had their way, would do here in the U.S. exactly what the Ugandan’s are trying to do,” Schaeffer said.

According to Schaeffer, the National Prayer Breakfast has become The Family’s annual meeting saying that as soon as it is over, the wheeling and dealing for more influence begins.

“They deal in the currency of oppression. They see U.S. divided into ‘We’ and ‘They’,” he said. “Enough of the pussyfooting around on this. It is time to see who is interested in religion and who is just interested in power.”

The press conference marked the first in a series of events this week designed to spotlight and ramp up the pressure against The Family and its involvement with Uganda’s efforts to eliminate its LGBT population.

The most compelling moment at today’s event came when a soft-spoken gentleman, Moses, took to the podium. Moses is a gay Ugandan man who is seeking asylum in the United States in order to escape persecution at home for being gay. He is also in serious fear for his life so he delivered his remarks with a paper bag draped over his face to hide his identity.

He talked at length about his experience, which has included severe beatings, rape at the hands of the police and public outing. He praised the efforts of the organizers and called on all Americans to do all they could to bring sunshine to the human rights atrocities happening in his home country.

“In Uganda, one would rather die than come out of the closet,” he said. “When you’re gay in Uganda, you’re denied things like housing because of the threat you pose to spreading deviance.”

The discrimination has even infiltrated Uganda’s health care system as evidenced by Moses’ harrowing story of being raped by a local police officer. He went home to treat himself, knowing he would be denied assistance at hospital in favor of being reported.

When speaking about the Ugandan legislature’s decision to remove the execution provision of the bill, Moses called the move insincere. The bill still retains a provision that calls for a minimum sentence of 20 years for violation of the law.

“The average Ugandan dies at 51, he said, so if one is outed in their 20s or 30s they would in effect be handed a death sentence,” he said.

Other events this week include a protest outside The Family’s C Street House tomorrow evening. The protest is being organized by Full Equality Now DC. Protesters will gather on Capitol Hill at 5:30 and hold a rally outside the residence which houses members of Congress including  Sen. John Ensign, who admitted last year that he had had an affair with the spouse of one of his staffers. That staffer claims that the C Street House was the site where many of Ensign’s adulterous acts took place.

The week will culminate in the American Prayer Hour on Thursday morning. It will be running counter to the prayer breakfast and organizers are urging all who can to attend any of the several meetings happening all over the country. Prayer hours will be taking place in Dallas (where the Nat’l . Lesbian and Gay Task Force is having their annual Creating Change conference), Chicago, L.A. and even Anchorage, Alaska! For a complete list, visit AmericanPrayerHour.org.

According to the American Prayer Hour web site, organizers hope to “share our inclusive vision and worldview by celebrating our core values of diversity, justice, respect for all people and religious pluralism.” It is also very much about highlighting the anti-gay activists who are behind the National Prayer Breakfast and the role they have played in promoting homophobia in other countries, specifically Uganda.

The White House has already confirmed the president’s attendance at the breakfast on Thursday, despite repeated calls to skip the event. Bishop Gene Robinson said, however, that Mr. Obama’s attendance on Thursday is key.

“To get someone not to attend at this point is inappropriate. One of the things we like about Obama is his tendency to go where angels fear to tread,” said Robinson. “I’d rather he do go as it’s an opportunity for him to speak out.

In anticipation of the president’s attendance on Thursday, Harry Knox, who is HRC’s director of Religion and Faith and also a member of Mr. Obama’s Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership Advisory Council, said every effort has been made to ensure the president uses the opportunity to repudiate the Ugandan effort and those of anyone associated with them. The administration’s recent actions have also been encouraging.

“At the direction of the president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear to Uganda that if this bill passes the country will have serious diplomatic issues with the United States,” Knox said.

No word exactly on what those issues could be, but most on the panel today agreed that Uganda’s substantial foreign aid could be at risk.

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