Showing posts with label Gay Youth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Youth. Show all posts

April 26, 2019

City To Open LGBT Homeless Shelter For Its Gay Youth



Image result for shelters for lgbt youth
 BY  

Only 1 to 8 percent of Americans, depending on the age group, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Yet around 40 percent of the young people living on the streets or in shelters identify as LGBT, according to research by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s Law School. The primary reason they end up without stable housing is family abuse or rejection.
While LGBT youth have been more likely to experience homelessness for quite some time, cities are just starting to focus on this vulnerable population's needs.
Sacramento, Calif., is slated to open its first homeless shelter specifically for LGBT youth this summer. It will host 12 beds and allow people to stay for 90 days.
"We have a couple of homeless youth providers, but it’s not a perfect fit," says Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Hansen. "Homelessness at large is a diverse population of people. As a government, we have largely used a one-size-fits-all [approach]. We need to tailor these interventions to the populations we’re serving."
Pixie Pearl, assistant director of housing for the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, explained  to an ABC affiliate why custom shelters are necessary.
“We have services that address different things for homelessness, but not necessarily, ‘Is this affirming to who I am? Am I going to be called she? Am I going to be called by my name?'"
Some see the rise in LGBT-specific shelters as evidence of a problem.
"My one concern is it’s happened because existing resources haven’t been safe [for LGBT youth]. So it’s a mixed blessing, I think we've started to have them because everyplace else has been awful," says Currey Cook of Lambda Legal, a legal advocacy organization for LGBT populations.
 

'There's More Out There'

In Central Florida, there are only eight shelter beds right now for LGBT homeless youth, according to Heather Wilkie, executive director of the Zebra Coalition, which provides housing and support services to LGBT people in the region. Of the 268 homeless youth they counted on a recent night, 93 of them identified as LGBT.
"And that’s just the number we counted. We know there’s more out there. They’re couch surfing. They’re hard to find," says Wilkie.
City officials in Orlando, Fla., are meeting with social services providers to brainstorm ways to better accommodate this population. They're expected to add two more shelter beds for LGBT youth this month. Still, Wilkie admits, that’s not enough.
She's hoping to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) this fall to help expand that capacity. Her five-year plan is to open a group home, and three other residential sites, for LGBT homeless youth.
 

Federal Changes

The Obama administration made LGBT youth homelessness a bigger priority than any administration before it. The same isn't true for the White House under President Trump.
In 2014, Obama’s HUD launched the LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Prevention Initiative to inform "national strategies for preventing homelessness among LGBTQ youth." The Trump administration has not continued to fund it.
The Obama administration also rolled out the LGBT Equal Access rule, which prevents discrimination in public housing on the basis of sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity. In testimony last month, HUD Secretary Ben Carson told Congress that the rule is still in effect, but critics say the department has taken down or discredited the Obama-era guidance.
The Obama-era efforts made it possible, Wilkie says, for cities to begin making blueprints of their own for their LGBT populations. Last year, New York City announced plans to open its first shelter for LGBT youth. It's projected to open at the end of this year.
"These new beds would be available once renovations, permitting and certifications have been completed by state and city agencies," said Mark Zustovich, spokesman for New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, in an emailed statement.
In the meantime, the city has drop-in shelters catered to the LGBT population in each borough. But advocates worry that they turn away young people.
"It’s really important to diversify housing. Emergency shelter gets brought up a lot, but not every youth is going to adapt to emergency. If you’re 19, are you going to be able to adapt to shelter rules? It doesn’t work as well," says Orlando's Wilkie.
Curfews and bans on guests and pets are cited as reasons why youth don't like traditional shelters.
 

LGBT Representation

Councilmember Hansen, an openly gay man, credits the opening of these LGBT-specific shelters for homeless youth to the increased visibility of LGBT people in government and politics.
In November, for instance, the number of LGBT state lawmakers rose to 129 -- at least three of them won in states that had never elected an openly gay or transgender legislator before. And this year, a record number of big cities could elect a lesbian for mayor.
"Now that we’ve gained seats at the table, we’re better able to address the needs [of these populations]," he says. "Our representation means something, and that’s why we run."

November 29, 2017

Australia's AG Tells Young People "There is Nothing Wrong With You"








Attorney-general George Brandis has told young gay Australians "there is nothing wrong with you" in a heartfelt speech supporting same-sex marriage in the Senate.
On Tuesday morning, Brandis brought to an end speeches from over 50 senators as part of the debate on a same-sex marriage bill that parliamentarians expect to pass.
Brandis said the passage of the bill will "demolish the last significant bastion of legal discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality".
"At last, Australia will no longer be insulting gay people by saying: different rules apply to you," he said. "After centuries of prejudice, discrimination, rejection, and ridicule, [this bill] is both an expiation for past wrongs and a final act of acceptance and embrace."
Brandis spoke at length of the pain and confusion often experienced by young gay people, saying the passage of marriage equality would send a message that ameliorated their hurt.
"I want to reflect for a moment on the message this will send, in particular, to young gay people: to the boy or girl who senses a difference from their friends, which they find difficult to understand and impossible to deal with," he said.
"In his first speech in the parliament, my friend Tim Wilson spoke movingly of his own experience of confronting that knowledge, as a tormenting fear 'that took an energetic 12-year-old and hollowed his confidence to eventually doubt his legitimate place in the world'.
"How many hundreds of thousands of young Australians have known that fear? How many have lived with it, silently and alone? How many have failed to come to terms with it and been overborne by it? By passing this bill, we are saying to those vulnerable young people: there is nothing wrong with you. You are not unusual. You are not abnormal. You are just you.
"There is nothing to be embarrassed about. There is nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing to hide. You are a normal person and, like every other normal person, you have a need to love. How you love is how God made you. Whom you love is for you to decide and others to respect." 
Brandis made historical references through the speech, starting with the South Australian push to decriminalize homosexuality, which began in 1972. He also cited a 1989 essay by conservative writer Andrew Sullivan, Here Comes The Groom, saying: "It proved to be one of the most influential publications of the late 20th century because it kicked off the gay marriage debate."
Brandis said legalizing same-sex marriage would "stand as one of the signature achievements of the Turnbull Government".
"It rises above tawdry day-to-day politics as an imperishable legacy," he said. "If I may draw a comparison: nobody today remembers the arguments about the state of the economy, or the policy controversies or the political intrigues, that took place during the government of Harold Holt. Like all political ephemera, they have faded into history.
"But people do remember the 1967 referendum, that great act of inclusion of Indigenous Australians. As the years and decades pass, its significance only grows.
"And I predict that, like the 1967 referendum, this decision by the Australian people, enabled by their government and enacted by their parliament, will come to be seen as one of those occasional shining moments which stand out in our nation’s history, about which people will still speak with admiration in decades, indeed in centuries to come; one of those breakthroughs which have, as the wheel of history turns, defined us as a people."
Brandis described November 15, the day it was revealed Australians had voted "yes", as a triumphant and joyous day.
"Like all of the best and most enduring social change, it was not imposed from above," he said. "The will for it germinated in the hearts and minds of the people themselves. Now that the Australian people have spoken, it is for us, their elected representatives, to respond.
"And so, let us now complete the task which they have set us, and for which so many of us have worked for so long."
The ensuing vote to move to debate on amendments, carried on the voices, was in one way significant, as the first time either house has voted in favor of marriage equality. In another way, though, it marks just another procedural step along the complicated path to the bill becoming law.
The Senate is now debating a series of amendments to the same-sex marriage legislation.
Lane Sainty


May 9, 2017

Central American GayYouth AreFleeing Their Countries Due to Sexual Violence




Sexual and gender-based violence by gangs, particularly against girls, has been a major driver of Central American youths from the region, a group that protects immigrant children reported Thursday. 
Gang members are using rape, kidnapping, torture, sexual violence and other crimes, predominantly against women and girls and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, as a main tactic to expand their control of territory in Central America, according to Kids In Need of Defense(KIND). 
"Our research found that sexual and gender-based violence by gangs causes many children, especially girls and LGBT children and youth, to flee Central America and seek safety in the U.S.," said Rachel Dotson, director of gender and child migration initiatives. 
Much of the violence is being seen in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The violence is worsened by the impunity of gang members. Many don't report the crimes or when they do they or their families are subject to gang violence, the report states. 
"Representatives of government agencies in all three countries acknowledge that there is little their governments can do to protect their children," Dotson said. 

A 14-year-old Guatemalan girl traveling alone to the U.S through Mexico.

In this June 19, 2014 photo, a 14-year-old Guatemalan girl traveling alone to the U.S. waits for a northbound freight train along with other Central American migrants, in Mexico Rebecca Blackwell / AP

The region's problems and the migration, asylum and border issues it raises for the country will be the topic of a mid-June conference the administration plans in Miami, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said separately Thursday. 
"There's corruption there, there's terrible intimidation. They're afraid for their parents. These cartels … are horrifically violent and they hold neighborhoods, cities in a grip of fear and that includes police in many cases,” Kelly said at a forum held by the Atlantic Council, which released its own report on Central America. 
The release of the reports came the same day the Senate approved a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill that included $655 million for Central America. The money is aimed at bolstering the region's security and economy and stemming migration from the region to the U.S. The House approved the bill Tuesday.  
The amount is $95 million less than what was provided in 2016. It also falls short of the $1 billion the Obama administration requested from Congress in 2015 after a wave of Central Americans, including many unaccompanied youth, hit the southern border. 
"It is heartening to see USAID and the Department of State will continue to focus on addressing root causes (of the violence and migration), but it is a disappointment it is a reduction in funding," said Lisa Frydman, director of regional policy and initiatives. 
For its research, KIND interviewed 60 Central American children in Mexican custody and reviewed documents from 36 KIND client cases. Researchers also did 58 interviews with judges, police, prosecutors and representatives of advocacy groups in the region. 

Image: Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas on June 18, 2014. Eric Gay / AP

The Atlantic Council report was the result of a year of work on the region's issues by a task force. It also raises issues of gangs and violence against women and girls as well as the building of security and justice systems, but also focuses on economic and other issues. 
"El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are too often relegated to the back burners of U.S. foreign policy-making. Their fate directly impacts millions of Americans," said John Marczak, a director at the Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center and task force director, in a statement. "It is time for a new call to action based on long-term investment and partnership." 
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, had worked on Central America's issues - once accompanying then-Vice President Joe Biden to the region - as the head U.S. Southern Command. 
In his remarks, Kelly tied the region's problems in Central America to the drug trade that people turn to for lack of economic opportunity. 
The drug flow in the region "is entirely due to the drug demand in the United States - heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine," he said. 

Image: Heroin samples at Ohio Attorney General's headquarters

Heroin samples at the Ohio Attorney General's headquarters of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in London, Ohio on Sept 16, 2015. Ty Wright / The Washington Post/Getty Images, file

"The reason for the drug flow is our drug demand and we do nothing about it," said the DHS Secretary. "Yes we try to rehabilitate drug addicts, yes we try to arrest our way out of this but we do little in our country, my country, the United States of America, to try to get at this incredible drug demand of the three hard drugs that as a direct result, is what is happening in Central America - a breakdown of societies, lack of police effectiveness and a lot of other things." 
Kelly said the mid-June conference is "a direct result of President Trump telling me to fix the problems on the southwest border." 
The first day will deal with economic development and the region's countries opening themselves to investment, he said. 
He said "the Mexicans are co-sponsoring with us. We've got Canada, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia … as well as we think some European countries, the EU coming in." 
Kelly also said Vice President Mike Pence will attend one day, and potentially the secretaries of Commerce and Treasury and others administration officials. The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and Luis Alberto Moreno, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, will also be in attendance. 
Kelly said the second day would focus on security - better police, better border protection and an improvement in their police.
by 

April 7, 2017

LGBT Youth More Likely to be Arrested and Jailed







A disproportionate number of sexual minority youth in the U.S. are criminalized and subjected to abusive treatment in correctional facilities, a new study focusing on youth in detention found.

Conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, the study defines sexual minorities as those who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual, as well as those who identify as straight but have had some attraction to the same sex.

The study reported on three key findings: 60 percent of all incarcerated girls are sexual minorities; sexual minority youth are two to three times more likely to be held in custody for more than a year compared to heterosexual youth; and gay and bisexual boys are nearly 11 times more likely than straight boys to report having experienced sexual violence by peers.

"The findings support calls by policymakers and advocates for the need to pay attention to the unique needs of LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) youth in state systems," Dr. Bianca D.M. Wilson said in a statement released by the Williams Institute.

The study’s findings were based on a 2012 survey that anonymously questioned a nationally representative sample of youth at juvenile correctional facilities.

August 26, 2016

Since 12% in Youth Facilities are LGBT Its Time to Start the Conversation


                                                                     



Stigma and discrimination, unsafe schools and discriminatory policing drive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth into the justice system where they are overrepresented and subject to unfair treatment and abuse, says a new report.

Studies show that while LGBT youth make up about 7 to 9 percent of the population, they account for larger percentages of youth in juvenile justice facilities, according to the report by the Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress.

In a survey by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, 12 percent of youth in juvenile justice facilities self-identified as nonheterosexual.

Another survey by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency of seven facilities found that 20 percent of youth identified as LGBT or gender nonconforming. In the same survey, 40 percent of girls in juvenile justice facilities identified as LGBT, while 85 percent of nongender-conforming youth were youth of color.

“This report confirms once and for all what many of us have known for some time: LGBTQ young people are grossly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, and it’s no coincidence. We live in a society where discrimination and stigma too often lead to criminalization and mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), in a news release.

The report highlights research on the experiences of LGBT youth to create a portrait of what factors help push them into the justice system, what happens once they are there and recommendations for change.

The hope is that a comprehensive round of the research can encourage a conversation about solutions that can make a difference for LGBT youth. The report’s recommendations include reducing homelessness for LGBT youth, reforming policing strategies and improving support for LGBT youth when they are released from facilities.

Naomi Goldberg, MAP policy and research director, said the field has taken an interest in LGBT youth once they are in custody, as part of a broader conversation about conditions of confinement. But conversations about how LGBT youth end up in the system also are beginning, especially at the local level.

“I think there are places where city officials and advocates are recognizing that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented and are particularly vulnerable, but it doesn’t feel like a conversation that is happening systemwide the way conditions of confinement conversations are,” she said.

One opening for a broader conversation could come as cities consider how to improve policing policies, Goldberg said.

“My hope is that LGBT people will be a part of those conversations,” she said.

The new report is a companion to one the co-authors released earlier this year that looks at the experiences of all LGBT people in the justice system, including youth.

Youth experiences

The report traces some of the reasons LGBT youth are disproportionately likely to end up in the justice system.

For example, family stigma or mistreatment in the child welfare system can mean youth run away and stay on the streets, making it more likely they will encounter law enforcement. Similarly, students who are bullied in school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity may be more likely to miss class or drop out. They then could face charges such as truancy or otherwise come in contact with the justice system.

Once in the system, studies show LGBT youth are more likely to be held while awaiting adjudication, are vulnerable to sexual assault and abuse, and do not receive the services they need for a smooth re-entry into the community.

“Their experiences in these systems are a huge threat to their lives and life chances, and we are doing far too little to prepare them for a healthy and productive life after release,” said Shannon Wilber, youth project director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

lgbtmap.org/file/lgbt-criminal-justice-youth.pdf

January 14, 2015

In Jamaica Homeless Youth are Outlawed from even Calling the Gutters Home (RU A GAY TOURIST?)




Youth walks through Shoemaker Gully before it was sealed shut after a raid on Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo courtesy of LoopJamaica.com)
Youth walks through Shoemaker Gully before it was sealed shut after a raid on Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo courtesy of LoopJamaica.com)
Jamaican activists who balk at the idea of forcing LGBT youths to live on the streets are trying to find a feasible alternative now that police have ousted dozens of youths from Shoemaker Gully, a drainage channel in New Kingston.
The youths had lived in that gully for two years after being expelled from their homes for being gay, then rousted out of abandoned buildings. Police have repeatedly raided the gully — most recently just before Christmas. Again and again, the youths were arrested, warned, released and then allowed to return to their only home — the gully.
At Christmastime 2014, however, the gully was sealed so they could not return to it.
Activist Yvonne McCalla Sobers, former head of the Dwayne’s House initiative that sought to build a shelter and training center for the youths, stated:
Homeless LGBT youths sleeping in Jamaican sewers. (Photo courtesy of Micheal Forbes)
Homeless LGBT youths sleeping in New Kingston drainage channel known as Shoemaker Gully — before they were forced out on Dec. 23. (Photo courtesy of Micheal Forbes)
The youth are today in a worse situation than they were last month, last year, or even the year before that. Shoemaker Gully, “home” to the youth since the latter part of 2012, has been sealed off and made inaccessible to them.
They have been set adrift in a city that is unfriendly to the homeless in general, and particularly hostile to homeless persons who are gay or trans*. So they sleep where they can and how they can, hoping to remain undetected by police or civilians. Providing them with any kind of support has become challenging because there is no longer a central location at which they can be found.
The local police superintendent has proposed establishing a shelter where the youths could be housed and trained for gainful employment, as have the advocates who are raising money to open such a shelter under the name of Dwayne’s House. But nothing has yet come of those plans.
Activists and the news media presented vastly different version of the Dec. 23 raid.  RJR News Online reported:
New Kingston police Senior Supt. Fitz Bailey
New Kingston police Senior Supt. Fitz Bailey
“Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey, Head of  the Police Division, told RJR news that the operation targeted suspects linked to major crimes, including murders committed in and around New Kingston. Several persons were detained by the police during the operation.
“He said 40 to 60 individuals had sought refuge in the gully, and that New Kingston residents were fed up with the situation.
” ‘They have been wreaking havoc on the business district, in terms of their involvement in criminal activities, from robbery, larceny, burglary, and even two murders. The citizens and business people have really been intimidated and they have exhibited a level of frustration,’ he explained.
“He said a multi-agency approach will continue to be used, as the police are determined to drive criminals out of  New Kingston.” 
In contrast, McCalla Sobers said:
“In the December 23 arrest of ten of the youth, the police said these youth were to be questioned for serious crimes. However, the only youth in the group who was on the police wanted list was able to scale a wall and escape from the lockup; and the other youth were released within hours of their being held. “
She added:
Scene from police raid on LGBT youth in Shoemaker Gully in March 2014. (Click image for video.)
Scene from police raid on LGBT youth in Shoemaker Gully in March 2014. (Click image for video.)
“The claim can now be made that New Kingston is safe with the removal of these youth who are seen as criminals. Now. there are thieves who have taken refuge in the gully; this is a known minority for whom the majority invariably takes the blame.
“In the time of my close association with the youth, the usual policing practice was to make a periodic show of force, detaining eight to ten of the youth at a time. Media would be present, and the impression would be given that the police were being tough on crime in New Kingston. However, most of the detainees would be released, some within hours. The remainder would be charged with minor offences such as littering, loitering, or ‘calumnious language.’
“The police have a list of the youth whom they say are ‘wanted.’  The other youth in the gully have tried, without success, to persuade those committing the crimes to cease the theft or leave the gully. The youth point out that the alleged offenders invariably escape while non-offenders are arrested and harassed before being released.
“Recently, some of the youth confronted the most-wanted person on the police list who had once again taken refuge in the gully after committing a serious offence. There was an altercation in which the most-wanted man stabbed one of the youth just before police arrived on the scene. The police allegedly stood by as this most-wanted man stabbed the youth three more times. As this youth lay bleeding on the ground, the others in the gully [allegedly] appealed to the police for help, to no avail. Ultimately, the injured youth was taken to hospital by another set of police who came on the scene. The most-wanted man [allegedly] stood by with the bloody knife, and no attempt was made to arrest him.”
What’s next? McCalla Sobers said:
“There has been some movement toward finding shelter for these youth. The Member of Parliament representing the New Kingston area has identified a space deemed suitable for housing these youth. An entity has allegedly offered to provide funds for setting up this shelter, but these funds would not be available until mid-year if the promise is fulfilled.”
Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG
Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG
Dane Lewis, executive director of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), has asked Jamaicans to be more compassionate toward the homeless youths, who he feels have been marginalized and are victims of a hostile society. J-FLAG has urged stronger action by members of parliament to  solve the problem of homeless LGBT youths.
Activist Maurice Tomlinson said that a recent Home 4 the Holidays campaign  raised only about $10,000 Canadian dollars [US$8,500] plus about US$900 for a shelter for the youths — far less than the US$350,000 that was estimated as needed for the proposed purchase.
McCalla Sobers added:
“The current perspective of the youth is that they have risked their safety by showing their faces on multiple documentaries in the hope that the publicity would help them to find stability in their lives. They need tangible evidence to show they are not being abandoned and neglected yet again. Help for these youth cannot come soon enough in 2015. “
by 
76crimes.com 

About Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart, a 40-year journalism veteran, is publisher and an editor of the "Erasing 76 Crimes" blog. More profile information on Google+.

May 9, 2014

According to 'Jack’d’ Young Gay men are into Obama and Gay Marriage

                                                                         
Jack'd Logo
 
– Jack’d, the fastest growing gay app in the world among young gay men, today released the findings of a community survey conducted among its users in the United States. Ahead of the second anniversary of Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage May 9, Jack’d surveyed its users on their thoughts on marriage, relationships and the president himself.
Jack’d polled users across America using an in-app survey, which revealed that more than half of gay men (55 percent) foresee marriage equality in every state within 10 years. Only 11 percent felt that it would never be legal in every state. Overall users seem to be optimistic at the prospect of same-sex marriage with 86 percent stating they either live in a state where marriage is already legal or foresee its legalization.
Users also expressed their thoughts on the president with 81 percent saying they are happy that Obama has drawn direct comparisons between gay rights and the civil rights movement and 71 percent of respondents stating they believe Obama is doing outstanding or good work toward gay rights. Though when questioned on if the progression toward marriage was happening fast enough 58 percent of respondents acknowledged things are moving in the right direction, but just not quick enough.
“It’s great to see such positivity in the Jack’d community for the steps America has taken toward promoting same-sex marriage equality” said Adam Segel, Jack’d chief executive officer. “Jack’d represents such a young and racially diverse community, 80 percent of our users are 18 to 30, so it’s good to know this community feels supported and acknowledged.”
Will and Kyle Photo: Courtesy of Jack'd
The survey also identified two African-American men Kyle and William, aged 22 and 26 respectively, who are happy with the changing climate of gay rights in America, “We are excited to live in a country where our president is supportive of same-sex marriage. We met through Jack’d two years ago, started our business PoseCookMove together, and are planning on getting married one day. As young, gay black men it means a lot to us that we have our president’s support.”
Further findings from the survey highlighted that gay men in America are open to finding love on gay apps like Jack’d. 29 percent of respondents had already met a boyfriend through Jack’d and 86 percent said they would consider marrying someone they met on the app. Jack’d users also don’t believe age is a restriction for adults wanting to marry with 82 percent of respondents citing that you don’t need to be married by a certain age to avoid being single forever, though 92 percent stated they would ideally want to be married either in their twenties or thirties.
In addition to marriage equality, the Jack’d survey found that users rated health (including HIV) as a top issue in 2014 followed by employment discrimination, violence and immigration.

April 25, 2014

Burma’s Gay Community Refuses to Stay Silent



                                                                           

Last year, on a sweltering evening in July, a dozen old men sat around a podium in a cavernous hall in Mandalay, the second largest city in Burma (also known as Myanmar). A group of crossdressing men wearing shimmery outfits approached the podium to pay respect to the men by kneeling on the floor. The group at the podium included some of the eldest gay people in Mandalay, and they were receiving homage from the local LGBT community.
Burmese society places great importance on seniority, and the LGBT communities are no exception. But the ceremony serves another purpose. Because the gay veterans don’t have children, at their advanced age they have more difficulties than heterosexual men, who have offspring to help make ends meet. Thus the ceremony also provided an occasion to give the men donations collected among the local gay community.
Many members of the Mandalayan LGBT community attended the ceremony, as well as several families with children. The fact that such an event takes place at all might give the impression that LGBT people are socially accepted in the country, but Burma is far from being a paradise for queer people. Only two weeks before the event, police detained 12 gay men in Mandalay. The men had reportedly been hanging out and chatting near the luxurious Sedona Hotel, a known meeting point for gay people in the city. A report from the Asian Human Rights Commission says the police allegedly beat and humiliated the men — including forcing them to do “frog jumps” — in order “to correct their behaviour.” Police then released them on bail.
Such incidents are not new in a country where homosexuality is technically illegal. A penal code passed during British rule forbids “unnatural sex acts,” and no government has abolished it since Burma attained its independence in 1948. Yet only a few days after their arrest, the gay men who had been detained did something with no precedent in the country: instead of being cowed by the abuse or staying silent as the police had demanded, they spoke out at a press conference and denounced the abuses they had suffered.
A few months later, the country’s new LGBT Rights Network publicly called on the government to do away with 19th-century laws that allow officials to discriminate against the LGBT community.
Burma has been undergoing a process of political transition ever since the generals who ruled the country with an iron fist for five decades decided to establish a quasi-civilian government two years ago. This transition has brought the relaxation of censorship in the media, the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the mushrooming of civil society organizations that would have previously operated clandestinely.
The LGBT communities are also organizing, giving birth to an incipient movement to reclaim their rights.
Perhaps the most famous LGBT-rights advocate is Aung Myo Min, a 47-year-old man who was able to return to the country last year after 24 years in exile for his political activism. Shortly after his return, he founded Equality Myanmar, an organization with offices in Rangoon (also known as Yangon), the former capital and the country’s biggest city, and Mandalay.
His is the first organization to work on LGBT rights in Burma; albeit, its scope is not limited to this. The NGO has been quite active since its inception: “In April, we were able to set up the Burma LGBT Rights Network, including small organizations from 13 areas across the country,” Aung Myo Min says.
He says the fact that the people detained in Mandalay decided to speak out indicates that something is changing in the Burmese LGBT community. “I see the empowerment from zero to hero, from nothing to something. Even if we face legal failure against the police, this kind of thing makes everyone more motivated and encourages them to stand up.”
But the LGBT communities don’t have to surmount only legal obstacles and those set up by the police. Burma is a Buddhist-majority country where religion plays a big role — the prevailing mentality is deeply conservative, largely because of 50 years of almost complete isolation under the dictatorship. According to Aung Myo Min, many Buddhists regard LGBT people as “strange creatures” who are being punished in their present life for sins committed in previous incarnations.
Under these circumstances, a gay scene is almost non-existent. Other than in Rangoon — where some discos host monthly gay nights — few gay or lesbian spaces exist in the country. In Mandalay, a much more conservative city, there is not a single gay bar.
But there are festivals devoted to the nats, popular spirits much worshipped and sometimes feared in the country, to which many people give offerings to improve their luck. In these festivals, intoxicated men dance dressed as their particular nat. Usually only men dance, impersonating both male and female nats, and the natfestivals have turned into meeting places for gay people.
Zin Min Htun, a 32-year-old makeup artist from Mandalay who prefers to be called by the feminine Ma Pwint, knows the world of the nats well. He also knows how a gay man has to struggle in Burma. He realized he was gay at the age of 12. When he was 21 years old and at university, he decided to come out of the closet during a nat festival. Dressed as a female nat, he went to the festival to dance, but his father found him there and took him home, where he beat him for hours and kept him locked in his room for a week.
After that, he went to live in another city and pretended to be heterosexual. But after three years he moved back to Mandalay to come out once and for all. He now lives with his parents, an old and conservative couple who still cannot bring themselves to accept his homosexuality, and is one of the best-known faces in the local gay scene. He dances often in nat festivals across the country.
Life is not any easier for lesbians. “Harry,” a 17-year-old student from Mandalay who volunteers in a local NGO promoting LGBT rights, also faces challenges at home. Her father, a cab driver, does not accept her homosexuality and her mother and grandmother accept it only reluctantly; her mother contents herself thinking that at least Harry is not in danger of getting pregnant, and her grandmother believes that this is just a phase that will pass.
But Harry does not have any doubt about her sexual orientation. This thoughtful and mature tomboy has always “felt ridiculous” dressing as a girl and feels “free dressing as a boy.” She loves to play football, a sport reserved for men in Burma, and claims that she feels at home only in the NGO headquarters. “It’s like a second family” where she is respected in a way she rarely experiences elsewhere. In any case, she believes that lesbians are slightly less discriminated against in Burma because many people believe that tomboys will be men, widely regarded as superior to women, in their next reincarnation.
In this environment, some prefer to wait before being open about their homosexuality at home. That is the case for “TJ,” a 19-year-old boy who left his home village in Magway Division two years ago to study English in Mandalay. His friends in the city know his sexual orientation and support him, but he has not come out to his family. “I know my parents will understand me when they find out, because they love me so much,” he says in his soft voice, “but I will wait until they ask me to tell them.”
Not all LGBT people in Burma lead anonymous lives. One of the most famous fashion designers in the country is Pauk Pauk. The designs of this 42-year-old trans woman are demanded by actors, pop stars and women of Burmese high society. But her path to success has not been easy. It took her from the town of Mogok, where her mother ran a hairdressing business in which Pauk Pauk first learned the ropes, to Milan, where she studied design before eventually rising in the profession.
Pauk Pauk has suffered insults because she is different and at times has been under constant threat of sexual harassment. But now she is in love with an actor from Rangoon who fully accepts her as she is: “I’ve always felt like a woman, a Burma woman who has never sought easy sex, but rather a relationship of love.”
While Burma might be years from displaying the proverbial tolerance toward LGBT people found in its neighbour country, Thailand, incidents like the arrest in Mandalay are starting to generate some debate about LGBT rights among the public at large.
Discussions about same-sex marriage are not on the agenda, but there are people who are ready to bring them to the table: “I don’t know about others, but I’m ready for that. I would say that the debate should be activated,” says Aung Myo Min, with characteristically cautious optimism.
In the meantime, LGBT Burmese live their lives negotiating with their own identities in an environment where role models and support from others is scarce. And they struggle to find their place in a society where they are still looked upon as “strange creatures.”

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