Friday, April 30, 2010

Blogging behind closed doors

I would like to acknowledge the courage of those bloggers who often put themselves at personal risk to blog about LGBT issues in their respective countries. Several of them shared their stories with me for my Guide story that is posted below, but their work continues to provide a virtual -- and even literal -- lifeline for those who log onto their Web sites.

Khalid knows how frightening it can be to live in a country where being gay is taboo.
In 2007, Khalid agreed to appear on the inaugural cover of MK, the first gay magazine in Jordan. But the shirtless photo of the young man caused a stir after the tabloids caught wind of it. The outcry was so fierce the magazine never published.
"I was still in school at the time," Khalid told Guide magazine from his home in Amman, the capital of Jordan. "People were talking about it in my school, and they didn't know it was me at the time. It was very scary because there was no one in the whole Arab world " the Middle East " who was out in the media."
Although Khalid says he never felt his life was in danger, he did face blackmail attempts from those who threatened to out him to his parents. He hid out in neighboring Lebanon until the scandal had passed.
"It's very simple as I'm talking about it, but at the time it was very big because no other media was talking about homosexuality," Khalid said. "But now, everyone in Jordan is talking about it. That's a big step in two years."
The 21-year-old model eventually returned to Jordan, where he launched the monthly webzine My Kali to give Arab gays "a better image to look up to."
"Most of the people here look to English, European and American publications," Khalid said. "Those images don't really apply here. I just wanted to give people a different image to which [they] can relate."
Khalid, who asked that his last name not be used, is one of a growing number of gays around the world who have launched online publications. Their sites serve as virtual community centers and are an increasingly important source of news and information for gays in their own countries and others around the world.
But this online activism is often dangerous, which is why most of the bloggers quoted in this article asked that their full names not be used. Some countries in which gay bloggers work ban homosexuality. Laws designed to curb homosexual activity often carry steep prison sentences --and sometimes the death penalty. Homophobic attitudes can prove equally harmful.
GuG began to blog nearly three years ago. He wanted to document what it was like to live in Uganda, a country where gays are vilified. He lives in the capital, Kampala, which he described as "the best place to hide, where the population is densest."
His blog, with commentary about the country's leading political and religious figures, has emerged as an important source of information about gay life in Uganda. GuG has posted dozens of items about proposed legislation in his country that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality.
The BBC's call-in television show World Have Your Say invited GuG to appear as a guest in early January to discuss the situation for gay men and lesbians in Uganda. He has also spoken with other journalists around the world, but he lamented that he cannot devote all of his time to fighting the measure.
"The problem is at the moment that I have to concentrate back on bread and butter issues," said GuG.

In the Philippines, a piece of legislation affecting gays is a prominent topic on a blog called Bakla Ako, May Reklamo? (which translates roughly as "I'm gay, got a problem with that?") The proposed law would ban anti-gay discrimination.
AJ Matela began to blog in 2007 as a way of expressing himself. His site includes lighthearted topics ranging from discussions of gay social networking sites to videos of beauty pageants to "basically anything under the pink sun." Matela told Guide magazine that his blog continues to morph into something bigger than he originally imagined.
"Since many Filipinos are using the internet nowadays, increased visibility online helps a lot," said Matela.
The internet has become an increasingly popular place for gays to not only connect with each other, but to learn about gay-specific news, as well as government-sanctioned raids, arrests and other actions.
Mario Martinez launched his blog, Diario de un Gay Guanaco (Diary of a Gay Salvadoran), in 2007 as a way to speak out against the media's coverage of gay issues in El Salvador. He introduces himself to his readers as a journalist who is "tired of our society's hypocrisy."
In a recent post titled "It's not so bad to be a faggot if you are a priest," Martinez discusses the sex scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in El Salvador and the rest of the world.
"These are my experiences as a homosexual in this third-world and machismo country," Martinez explains.
Some Salvadorans have criticized his website, but Martinez says he has never felt threatened. Other gay bloggers around the world have faced far more serious threats.
Death threats forced Predrag M Azdejkovic, a gay blogger in Serbia, to delete some of his online postings. Azdejkovic, who is also the president of a gay community center in Belgrade, said he has received threatening emails from a neo-Nazi group.
He said some of his countrymen are uncomfortable with the fact he blogs for a national media outlet, but his posts are popular among young Serbs.
"Others have a problem that a gay person has a space on the national network to write," he said.
Censorship is another issue many bloggers confront.
Ricky secretly updates Gay Boy Weekly from his home in Kuwait City. His most recent posting celebrates his blog's anniversary with a picture of fireworks. Ricky routinely posts items about gay-specific news throughout the Persian Gulf, but his main challenge is remaining one step ahead of government censors.
"I'm happy that my blog is not yet blocked," he joked. "What makes me worried is that the government can say that writing about gay rights is against the law."
Mazaj, who has written Mood for Gay Syria for four years, posts information about gay-friendly coffee shops, hammams (traditional steam baths), cruising areas and hotels in Damascus, Aleppo and other Syrian cities. He said he has not faced the same difficulties that Ricky confronts in Kuwait.
"The Syrian government is a secular government," Mazaj said. "I know for sure that they know about all the places gay people go to. They don't care unless people start to demand a change in laws or ask for rights. Then it might be dangerous, but so far there have been no major troubles with the government here about the blog."
Gay bloggers can face violence from their fellow countrymen.
Cuppatea maintains A Colourful Life of a Gay Kenyan from his home in Nairobi. He blogs about daily life for gay Kenyans. Cuppatea says he identifies people in his blogs by their initials or pseudonyms to protect them from being outed to their families, friends and employers.
In 2007, these fears became a reality after an anti-gay group tried to out people by posing as gay men on Facebook. The Kenyan authorities eventually stepped in, but not before the group outed three of Cuppatea's acquaintances.
"Some straight people tried to shut me down, but I stressed freedom of speech on the internet," he said.

Even though statistics indicate roughly a quarter of the world's total population already accesses the Web, the internet continues to gain traction as more people, especially in the developing world, continue to log on. Internet World Stats reports 74 percent of North Americans and 52 percent of Europeans have regular access to the internet, compared to 28.3 percent of Middle Easterners, 19.4 percent of Asians and 6.8 percent of Africans.
Most gay bloggers who spoke to Guide magazine said they hope their blogs play an important role in shaping the conversation about gay issues in their countries.
"I would like to think that my blog, among other gay blogs in Kenya, has people see that we exist, we are there and we walk amongst them living our lives as they would theirs," Cuppatea said.
Matela agreed.
"I would like to believe that my blog helps shape the perception about homosexuality in Philippine society," he said.
Khalid remains hopeful My Kali will continue to challenge homophobic attitudes in Jordan and throughout the Middle East.
"People are easily influenced; you give them something, they read it and they admire it," he said. "I'm trying to change the very close-minded people here and the perspective of what homosexuality is. And I am trying to break that stereotypical image."
As for Ricky, he describes himself as "one small voice from the Gulf area." But he notes that he received notes from concerned readers after he stopped blogging for a couple of months.
"I didn't think that people would read what I wrote, but I discovered that there are huge numbers of people who like what I write," Ricky said. "I feel so good that they can actually hear my voice."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Homophobic, racist graffiti discovered in N.H. capital

WMUR reported earlier today someone scrawled homophobic and racist graffiti at two locations around Concord, N.H., last week.

The television station reported State House security guards discovered the vandalism, which included swastikas and "AIDS are Awesome" in a parking garage on Thursday, April 22. And in the second incident, a police officer discovered graffiti spray painted on a dugout at a local Little League field.

These acts of vandalism coincided with a rally outside the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan that drew more than 100 people to condemn the vandal (or vandals) who placed a burned rainbow flag outside the West 13th Street building earlier this month. Concord police continue to investigate the incidents, but they, and the Manhattan incident, remain reminders there are people who continue to feel it is acceptable to act out upon their anti-LGBT attitudes. This is simply intolerable.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Saturday afternoon in the five boroughs

This morning's gloom is in stark contrast to yesterday's sun and pleasant breeze, but here are some random pictures I shot at a street festival on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, in the Meatpacking District and on Knickerbocker Avenue here in Bushwick. Also attached is a raw video I shot on the J train as it traveled over the Williamsburg Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More than 100 rally against vandalism at LGBT Community Center

More than 100 elected officials, activists and others rallied outside the LGBT Community Center yesterday afternoon to denounce those who placed a torched gay flag on the front of the West 13th Street building last week.

The rally coincided with the second day of the trial of the two men who allegedly beat José Sucuzhañay to death here in Bushwick in Dec. 2008. And City Council Speaker Christine Quinn highlighted this fact during her remarks.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trial of José Sucuzhañay's alleged killers begins

Two witnesses took the stand in the first day of the trial of the two men who allegedly beat José Sucuzhañay to death on a Bushwick street corner in Dec. 2008.

New York 1 reported a police officer who responded to the initial 911 call testified he saw a Latino man laying on the street who was bleeding profusely from his head and having trouble breathing. A cab driver who witnessed the attack and wrote down the license plate of the alleged killer's SUV also took the stand.

Prosecutors maintain Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix shouted anti-Latino and anti-gay slurs at Sucuzhañay as they beat him with a baseball bat and broken bottles near the intersection of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place on Dec. 7, 2008. Scott and Phoenix allegedly targeted Sucuzhañay because they thought he was gay; he and his brother Romel were walking home from a local bar arm-in-arm.

The start of the trial comes one day after a Suffolk County jury found Jeffrey Conroy guilty of second degree manslaughter as a hate crime in the death of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Nov. 2008. Scott and Phoenix each face possible life sentences if convicted.

Transgender woman found stabbed to death in Puerto Rico home

Something is clearly not right in Puerto Rico...

Transgender woman stabbed to death in Puerto Rico home
EDGE Media Network
April 20, 2010

A transgender woman was found stabbed to death in her home outside San Juan on Monday, April 19.

Primera Hora reported authorities discovered Ashley Santiago's naked body in the kitchen of her house in Corozal, which is roughly 25 miles southwest of the Puerto Rican capital. Santiago, 31, was a popular hair stylist at a local salon.

El Nuevo Día reported Santiago's mother went to a local police station to report she had not heard from her daughter since Sunday, April 18. Police said Santiago had been stabbed 14 times. And El Nuevo Día further reported the victim's 2009 Toyota Corolla was not parked in front of her home.

Santiago's death comes a little more than five months after Jorge Steven López Mercado's brutal murder stunned Puerto Rico.

Prosecutors contend Juan A. Martínez Matos decapitated, dismembered and partially burned the gay teenager's body before dumping it along a remote roadside near Cayey on Nov. 13, 2009. As EDGE reported on Friday, April 16, Martínez's trial is scheduled to begin in Caguas on May 3.

Puerto Rico's hate crime law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. The statutes took effect in 2002, but prosecutors rarely apply it.

Investigators have yet to determine whether Santiago's killer (or killers) murdered her because of her gender identity or expression, but Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force urged authorities to investigate her death as a possible hate crime.

"The authorities have a legal obligation to investigate this hate angle," he told EDGE in a statement. "We urge the police and the prosecutor to appropriately investigate this murder; to determine whether it was motivated by prejudice and if there is enough evidence to classify it as a hate crime at this moment."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jury convicts Long Island teenager in death of Ecuadorian immigrant

A Suffolk County jury convicted a Long Island teenager of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime in the death of an Ecuadorian immigrant.

Prosecutors contend Jeffrey Conroy stabbed Marcelo Lucero to death near the Patchogue train station on Nov. 8, 2008, after he and six other teenagers attacked him. Authorities maintain the group targeted "Mexicans" and other Latino men in the area for nearly a year prior to Lucero's death.

The murder, which took place roughly a month before Keith Phoenix and Hakim Scott allegedly beat Ecuadorian immigrant José Sucuzhañay to death on a Bushwick, Brooklyn, street corner, shined a harsh spotlight on anti-immigrant violence in the county. The Southern Poverty Law Center documented these incidents in a report it issued last September. And it particularly singled out Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's anti-immigrant rhetoric as a contributing factor.

“While we can continue to disagree about policies related to the economic and social impacts of illegal immigration, we can all agree that any violence against a fellow human being cannot and will not be tolerated," Levy told the New York Times in response to the SPLC report.

Conroy faces up to 25 years in prison.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jefferson Street in a 90 second snapshot

It was unusually quiet on Jefferson Street when I shot this 90 second video from my stoop earlier this afternoon. The sun, however, felt great after a cloudy and blustery Saturday.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Manhattan man arrested in murder of transgender Queens woman

A 29-year-old Manhattan man who police said killed a transgender Queens woman in her apartment late last month has been charged with her murder.

WABC reported investigators used cell phone records to track Rasheen Everett to Las Vegas, where they arrested him on April 9. The NYPD brought Everett back to New York on Tuesday, April 13. And he has been charged with second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Everett went to Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar's 62nd Street apartment at 8:50 a.m. on March 27. The two had apparently met in an online chat room, but Everett allegedly strangled Andujar to death before pouring bleach on her body.

Everett faces a prison sentence of up to 25 years to life if he is found guilty.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vandals attach burned rainbow flag to LGBT Community Center in Manhattan

News someone burned a rainbow flag and attached it to a display case outside the LGBT Community Center in lower Manhattan truly saddens me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jury selection begins in Sucuzhañay case

Jury selection began earlier today in the case of two men who allegedly beat José Sucuzhañay to death near a Bushwick street corner in Dec. 2008.

Prosecutors contend Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix shouted anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs at Sucuzhañay as they beat him with a baseball bat and broken bottles on Dec. 7, 2008. The two men reportedly thought the Ecuadorian immigrant was gay because he and his brother were arm and arm as they walked home from a local bar.

Sucuzhañay's death sparked widespread outrage across the five boroughs. Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn were among the hundreds who marched down Myrtle Avenue a week after Scott and Phoenix allegedly attacked Sucuzhañay. And Sucuzhañay's brother Diego continues to speak out against anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT hate crimes.

"We are suffering the same," Diego Sucuzhañay said at a Make the Road New York event in December that commemorated the first anniversary of his brother's death. "We are fighting for human rights. We need stop being treated as second class citizens."

The trial itself is expected to begin sometime next month.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring in Bushwick

I shot these pictures while walking through Maria Hernandez Park late this afternoon. I don't know which type of trees these are, but they certainly produce some beautiful pink flowers.

These tulips are near the park's northwest entrance at Irving Avenue and Starr Street.

I took these pictures through the new tree the city planted in front of my building earlier this month.

Gay Puerto Rican teenager's alleged killer returns to court on Wednesday

As the man who allegedly murdered Jorge Steven López Mercado prepares to return to court on Wednesday, April 14, one question I hope to investigate is whether the public outcry over the gay teenager's brutal death has translated into any tangible changes on the ground in Puerto Rico.

Thousands of people paid tribute to López in vigils held across the United States in the days after authorities found his decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body along a remote roadside near Cayey on Nov. 13, 2009. More than 1,000 Puerto Ricans marched through San Juan to demand an end to hate crimes. And New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other elected officials have repeatedly blasted Gov. Luis Fortuño's failure to publicly respond to López's murder.

López's alleged killer's trial is scheduled to start next month. And while the gay teenager's brutal murder sparked widespread outrage among LGBT activists, it remains to be seen whether anything tangible has changed since Nov. 13, 2009.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Campaign seeks to ban protests at military funerals

The Phelps clan’s idiotic theatrics remain one of the movement for LGBT rights’ most valuable assets to change hearts and minds, but a campaign to ban protests at military funerals has certainly piqued my interest.

More than 467,000 Facebook members
have expressed their support of the effort, which emerged after an appeals court ordered Albert Snyder to pay the Westboro Baptist Church more than $16,000 in legal fees. The Phelps clan protested outside Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder's Maryland funeral in 2006. And a federal court in Baltimore ordered the WBC to pay $11 million in damages after it concluded the group's members had deliberately inflicted emotional distress against the Snyder family.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case, but Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has pledged to pay the legal fees the appeals court ordered Albert Snyder to pay.

“Let’s hope that they will see the serious error in allowing these [sorts] of protests to be held at a funeral,” Demonstration for Memorial Day 2010, the group that has organized the effort to ban military funeral protests, said.

The Facebook group’s moderators further discredits the WBC’s justification for its pickets under the heading “Let me set the record straight.”

“Matt Snyder WAS NOT gay,” they said. “The Phelps twisted “logic” if you will, is that God is killing our military members because they are fighting for a country that is okay with homosexuality. RIDICULOUS, right?”

They continue.

“For those of you who need clarification: It wouldn’t make this any less of an issue than… if he was gay, but he was not,” the moderators said. “This is only added so people can clearly understand, as many are confused.”

This clarification certainly carries a bit of irony in relation to the ongoing debate over the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but this campaign highlights an underlying question: Why has this groundswell of outrage against the Phelps clan emerged only after an appeals court ordered Albert Snyder to pay the WBC’s legal fees after its members protested outside his son’s funeral?

As the son of a Vietnam veteran, I certainly appreciate the sacrifice of those who serve in the armed forces--and their families--make. The Snyder family should continue to receive praise and support for standing up to the Phelps clan and their hateful theatrics, but those who support the campaign to ban protests at military funerals must remember fallen soldiers are not the only ones this group continues to put in their cross hairs.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lesbian bishop leads Jamaica's first 'march for tolerance'

Progress can happen in the most unexpected places.

A First for Jamaica: 100 march for gay, HIV-positive tolerance
Kilian Melloy
EDGE Media Network

Jamaica has garnered a reputation as one of the world’s most homophobic nations. But on April 7, religious and GLBT equality leaders sought to change that impression with a first-in-the-nation march for tolerance.

The march took place in Montego Bay and was led by International Movement of Metropolitan Community Churches bishop Nancy L. Wilson, who is openly lesbian, reported Radio Jamaica that same day.

The march promoted tolerance not only of gays, but also of people living with HIV, AIDS patients, and others. Wilson had just met with President Barack Obama before flying to Jamaica for the event, the article said.

"This is an amazing event," said Wilson, going on to call the march "a day of standing up with people with HIV and AIDS, their families and friends and saying all people deserve justice and health care and dignity and to be free from stigma or hatred just because of who they are or who they love and because of their HIV and AIDS status."

In recent years, news articles about Jamaica and gays have had more to do with so-called "murder music"--dance hall songs that advocate the persecution and killing of gay men--and anti-gay violence than with tolerance. Reggae star Buju Banton drew headlines with an American tour last summer--not because of his art, but rather due to the efforts of GLBT groups to boycott his performances. Banton was arrested in Florida on drug charges late last year.

Banton reportedly was involved in an incident in Jamaica in which six men broke into a house and beat the gay men living there. Charges against Banton were dropped, but the assault was commonplace in a country where gay men are attacked in their own homes and in the streets. In one town, a "Gay Eradication Day" was allegedly proclaimed in 2007, and gays and lesbians residing there were reportedly driven out. Homophobia is deeply entrenched in Jamaican society, and is reinforced in the country’s music and religious traditions. Critics of Jamaican homophobia say that government officials, including the police, do not offer gays there any protection, often merely watching as mobs attack gays or else participating in beatings and other abuses themselves.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I am not anorexic!

It's ridiculous I have to even point this fact out, but more than one person has suggested in recent days I am suffering from an eating disorder. I have lost more than 40 pounds since last summer, but I am clearly not an anorexic!

For the record, I ate a serving of whole wheat penne rigate with stir-fried tofu, chopped white mushrooms and broccoli with a touch of extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, curry powder and white wine for dinner. I am currently eating two chopped strawberries with a serving of Greek yogurt.

I did have some Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream earlier today, but last night's dinner consisted of bulgur wheat with red lentils, chopped garlic and a pinch of sea salt and pepper with raw broccoli and a slice of crusty bread with a schmeer of apricot jam. And popcorn rounded out the meal.

Hopefully these pictures prove once and for all I continue to eat quite well.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter on Fire Island

Even though the only eggs I found today were the candies and confections at Jon Wilner's annual Easter brunch in the Fire Island Pines, it was definitely a gorgeous Sunday on the beach.

Sip n' Twirl and the Pines Pantry opened their doors on Friday night, and more than a dozen people had gathered at Island Breeze in Cherry Grove to have one final cocktail before the 5:30 p.m. ferry back to Sayville left. The beach between Atlantic Walk in the Pines to Sailors Haven seemed to weather last week's nor'easter fairly well. And my facial tan became even darker.

Here is a video and some pictures from the day.

Holly on Bay Walk in the Fire Island Pines.

Looking towards the horizon from Ivy Walk in Cherry Grove.

It was just ducky near the Cherry Grove dock.

Some fancy camerawork on the bay front between Cherry Grove and Sailors Haven.

Sailors Haven beach access.

Bambi grabs a quick bite just outside Cherry Grove.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Some trees grow on Jefferson Street

The long-awaited trees have finally arrived!

City workers arrived earlier this morning to plant them along Jefferson Street between Irving and Knickerbocker Avenues. One of the new trees is directly in front of my building, but here are a few snapshots from about 45 minutes ago.