Monday, November 15, 2010

STDs, AIDS, Anal Cancer, and Half-truths

Since I've received several emails regarding all three of the conditions in the title, I thought it might be a good idea to inject some scientific facts into the matter. There is clearly a lot of misinformation floating around out there – most of it perpetuated by anti-gay evangelical groups – and if there's one thing I hate it's misinformation that contradicts science and demeans a group of people; in this case LGBT people.

Misinformation #1:
State-sanctioned gay relationships could have negative health consequences for a nation, because an increase in STDs and HIV/AIDS is seen in countries where same-sex marriages are legal.

Fact-based response:
European statistics indicate no rise or spike in HIV/AIDS transmissions since the legalization of same-sex unions. In Norway, for example, our HIV rate is less than 0.1%. The rate is the same in Iceland, Finland, and Sweden, while Denmark and the Netherlands' rates stand at 0.2%. Other Western European countries have similarly low rates, except for Italy at 0.5%, which, ironically, is one of the only European countries that does not have same-sex unions yet.  Spain also has a rate of 0.5% while Portugal stands at 0.4%, and in those countries the Catholic Church has traditionally been against safe sex education and condom distribution.  Today, however, the two governments have fortunately decided that public health is more important than trying not to upset the bishops.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Three Cheers for Oz and Mexico!

Labor Party and Green Party members of the state parliament of South Australia have announced that they'll be filing a marriage equality bill soon.  The states of Tasmania and Victoria have recently done the same.  At present, the states of Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania have same-sex civil unions, and Canberra, ACT, has civil partnerships.

In all states and territories, same-sex couples have de facto couple status with the federal government, the same as heterosexual cohabiting couples.  As such they receive the benefits of:  joint Social Security and Veterans' entitlements, employment entitlements, superannuation, workers' compensation, joint access to the Medicare Safety Net, hospital visitation, immigration rights, inheritance rights, and the ability to file a joint tax return and gain the same tax rebates as married couples.

Additionally, polls found that a full 62% of Australians now support full marriage equality, and more and more MPs in the national parliament are coming out (no pun intended!) in favor of marriage equality.  Green Party MP Adam Bandt recently delivered this heartfelt speech in the House of Representatives.  Good on ya, Oz!

At the same time, Mexico's House of Representatives has voted to extend Social Security benefits to same-sex couples.  The rule change will provide benefits to both private and government employees and their same-sex spouses/partners.  The Mexican Senate must now vote on the bill.

In August Mexico made headlines when its Supreme Court upheld a law granting marriage equality in Mexico City, and also ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to adopt.  Marriages performed in the Mexican capital must also be recognized in all 31 Mexican states, the court ruled, even if the individual states do not perform the marriage ceremonies.

Viva la igualdad!  (Viva equality!)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Asia Tip-Toes Toward LGBT Rights

The words "Asia" and "LGBT rights" rarely appear in the same sentence.  Asia is a region that's not as rigidly conservative as Africa, but neither is it as open-minded and progressive as the West.  It is seemingly teetering in between; trying to find its footing on the landscape between personal liberties and age-old traditions.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that gay rights are nothing more than a dream in Asia, but over the last couple of years there have been some gradual moves.  They may not be as dramatic and sweeping as in Europe, but it looks as though Asia may finally be slowly tip-toeing closer to rights for its LGBTs.

Nepal is, surprisingly, the brightest star on the Asian map these days.  This beautiful little Himalayan kingdom-turned-republic is in the process of writing a brand new constitution, and in it will be protections for Nepalese LGBTs against discrimination.  What's more, it will also contain the right to same-sex marriage.  When the new constitution is completed and ratified (by April or May of 2011 they say), Nepal will become the very first country in Asia to have marriage equality.  Now that's a milestone and something to be proud of.

Taiwan is well known as one of Asia's most gay-friendly countries, if not the most gay-friendly.  It is also known as Asia's most liberal land.  Taiwan has two national anti-discrimination laws (one protecting against workplace discrimination and one protecting against discrimination in education), and while they are not as stringent as European anti-discrimination laws, they are progressive pieces of legislation nonetheless.  Taiwan was the first country in Asia to enact such nationwide laws.  Furthermore, the Taiwanese Education Ministry has announced that starting in 2011 school textbooks will include topics on LGBT human rights and non-discrimination.

In 2003 the then-ruling Democratic Progressive Party proposed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the country, but it has yet to be taken up due to political party wranglings.  It is still stalled and likely will continue to be because the current ruling party, the centre-right KMT, are less likely to bring it up for debate.  The large and active LGBT community in Taiwan continues to lobby for it, however, and polls show that many Taiwanese are favorable toward the idea.  A 2006 poll showed that 75% of Taiwanese feel that same-sex relations are acceptable.  This was, however, a general question regarding "relations," not same-sex marriages specifically.

Japan is an enigma to me.  I've been to Japan and I think it's an awesome place with very friendly and cutting edge people.  But like other Asian countries, Japan approaches the issue of LGBT rights timidly, cautiously.  It's a country that doesn't mind if its citizens marry video game avatars, but at the same time "isn't ready" to allow same-sex human couples the right to wed.  I mean no disrespect to my Japanese friends, but that's just weird.  Come on, Japanese government... What's going on in the Land of the Rising Sun?  Robots and video game characters can tie the knot before human beings??  Japan is unique, I'll give them that much.

Japan is a curiosity to me because it's wealthy, prosperous and economically liberal, but fairly socially conservative.  This has to do with ancient traditions more than anything, but over the past decade the ice has started to crack.  The country has taken two significant legal steps toward equality recently, including a law passed unanimously by the Diet which allows Japanese transsexuals who have undergone GCS, or gender confirming surgery, to change their gender on all documents.  

Additionally, in 2009 the Justice Ministry announced it would begin honoring the marriage certificates of Japanese citizens who have married a foreign same-sex spouse if the marriage took place in a country where same-sex marriage is legal.  If the couple choose to reside in Japan, the Japanese government will recognize their marriage and bestow the same rights and benefits as in opposite-sex marriage.  This is seen as a huge move toward equality, and most see it as a step towards eventual marriage equality in Japan.  Furthermore, it seems to me that the people of Japan are far more receptive to the notion of same-sex marriage than their government officials are.  This isn't particularly unique -- such is the case in many nations.  Public opinion often evolves faster than governments are willing to change.  The vast majority of Japanese people that you talk to about marriage equality are entirely supportive of the idea.

Japan and Nepal were the only Asian countries to sign the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which condemns violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  It also condemns the deprivation of social and cultural rights based on those grounds.  The other Asian nations did not sign because they feared it was "an attempt to legitimize same-sex civil partnerships or marriage."

Singapore isn't known for being a friend of LGBT rights.  This is another country that makes me scratch my head.  I often wonder how a country so advanced and seemingly sophisticated can remain stuck in the Victorian era when it comes to marriage and sexuality.  Male homosexuality is actually illegal in the city-state, though the law hasn't been enforced for years.

That Singapore society typically frowns on homosexuality shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, however, when one considers its three dominant faiths:  conservative Confucianism (among the Chinese-Singaporeans), conservative Hinduism (among the Indian-Singaporeans), and conservative Islam (among the Malay-Singaporeans).

Not all hope is lost, however.  Recently the laws were amended to allow transsexual Singaporeans the right to legally change their gender on official documents.  Those who have undergone full GCS are also allowed to enter into marriage.  This one even surprised me, and it's a sign that Singapore, like other Asian countries, is perhaps starting to see some value in fairness.  It's anyone's guess as to how long it will take for the anti-homosexuality law to be repealed, let alone for same-sex relationships to be legally recognized.  When I've asked Singaporeans about this they simply roll their eyes and say "Maybe by the year 2200."  As such the government of Singapore remains extremely homophobic.

South Korea, like Japan, is also fairly socially conservative.  Baby steps for equality have been made in recent years, however, and Article 31 of the Korean Human Rights Committee Law states that "no individual is to be discriminated against on the basis of his or her sexual orientation."  In the military, though, servicemen and women are expected not to reveal their sexual orientation or carry out relationships with someone of the same sex.  In 2009 this code was found to be discriminatory by a military court.  It was appealed to the Supreme Constitutional Court.  On October 27, 2010, the Human Rights Committee weighed in, finding the code unconsitutional.  Now we await the ruling from the Supreme Court.

Transsexual South Koreans are able to undergo GCS in their country, and since 2006, to change their gender on all legal documents.

The Democratic Labour Party is actively involved in fighting for LGBT rights in Korea, including marriage equality as part of their party platform.  They are the country's third largest party.  South Korea's current president, however, Lee Myung-bak of the right-wing Grand National Party, is opposed to marriage equality.  But there is no doubt that education and awareness on LGBT issues is growing among South Koreans, and things can only get better from here!

South Korea has yet to sign the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, reportedly due to opposition posed by right-wing Christian groups in the country.  South Korean delegates have, however, voted in favor of gay rights in the UN General Assembly.  Nepalese and Japanese delegates are the only other Asian delegates who have also voted in favor of gay rights.  (Though Taiwan is also supportive it is not part of the UN due to its official standing as still being part of China.)

Straight soldiers for civil rights

Though LGBT discrimination still exists in most parts of Asia, there is certainly reason to be optimistic.   Even in communist China more and more are showing support for LGBT rights, especially among the younger generation.   A 2000 survey showed that over 48% of mainland Chinese view homosexuals favorably, and a same-sex marriage bill was even proposed (though dismissed) in 2007.  In 2010 there was also a picture campaign featuring straight Chinese holding signs of support for LGBT rights, and the willing participants numbered in the thousands -- including many Buddhist monks.

Asia is rising and progressing, and hopefully the rights and dignity of all Asians will rise and progress at an equally impressive rate.  It may take time, but the momentum will continue to build by changing hearts and minds, one at a time if needs be.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thumbs-up for Pink and Perry

American singers Pink and Katy Perry both have new songs out with pro-equality messages.  To top it off, the videos further promote the message.  Pink's video, Raise Your Glass, features a same-sex wedding complete with the newlyweds kissing at their reception, and Katy Perry's Firework also features a guy-guy kiss.

These are great songs with a great message, and I applaud both Pink and Katy Perry for boldly taking a stand to promote equality.  The question remains whether these video will be shown in their entirety on TV in the Philippines, or whether the MTRCB will panic at the sight of two men's lips touching and, in order to prevent the sky from falling, decide to censor it...

If that's the case, you can at least see Firework right here:

Update:  January 2011
I travel back and forth between Norway and the Philippines quite a lot, and I was home in Norway for the holidays.  Low and behold, I happened to see this video on Norwegian TV while I was there, and it was shown in its entirety (including the kiss).  Then I came back to the Philippines and caught the video on MYX Philippines (kind of the Filipino MTV), and surprise surprise, the kiss was censored out.  How sad.  I don't know why the Philippines is so afraid of everything.