International News


Budapest Pride banned over ‘traffic concerns’

Police have banned this year’s Budapest Pride festival in June, ostensibly because it will cause too much traffic disruption.

Gay-rights advocates in the Hungarian capital claim the decision, announced Feb. 14, was politically motivated and are planning to challenge it in court.

Permission had already been granted for the event and organizers applied for an extension to the usual route to march past parliament.

They hoped to hold a rally to protest Hungary’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage.

But after agreeing to stop the march before reaching parliament, they were told that permission for Pride had been withdrawn entirely.

The reason given — that traffic would be disrupted — was rejected by organizers.

Sandor Steigler, head of the organizing Rainbow Mission Foundation, said, “We suspect that the decision was politically motivated … a lot of things have happened in politics since the last march.”

Budapest Pride has been heavily guarded by police in the last two years.

In 2008, 1,500 people joined a gay-rights demonstration and Hungarian police used tear gas and a water cannon to clear the route for marchers.

There were also violent scenes at Pride in 2007, which was plagued by skinheads and fascists shouting abuse and throwing petrol bombs at the peaceful marchers.

U.K. may lift ban on gay church ceremonies

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom plan to lift the ban on same-sex civil-partnership ceremonies in churches.

The Sunday Times reports Liberal Democrat Equality Minister Lynne Featherstone will present a timetable to allow the unions in religious buildings and a proposal to end the ban on same-sex marriages.

Religious groups will not be forced to perform the ceremonies. The Church of England is one organization that opposes the law.

A spokesperson for the Church of England told the BBC: “Given the Church’s view on the nature of marriage, the House of Bishops has consistently been clear that the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register civil partnerships.”

Synagogues and mosques are also covered under the new legislation, though homosexuality is forbidden under Orthodox Judaism and Islam.

The U.K. has granted 26,000 civil partnerships to same-sex couples since they were legalized in 2005.

Gay English bishop dies at 89

Derek Rawcliffe, the first Church of England bishop to be open about his homosexuality, has died. He was 89.

St. Aidan’s Church in Leeds, which celebrated a requiem Mass for Rawcliffe on Feb. 6, said he died Feb. 1.

Rawcliffe disclosed his homosexuality on television in 1995, when he was serving as an honorary bishop in the Ripon and Leeds diocese. He was dismissed the following year for conducting blessings of same-sex couples.

In an interview with the Yorkshire Post in 1995, Rawcliffe said he faced the issue of his sexual identity when he was working in Melanesia and realized he loved a young man who had made approaches.

“I began to love everybody in a new way and to see that in spite of our sins and failings, God loves us,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Later, however, Rawcliffe befriended and corresponded with Susan Speight, who had what he called a “miraculous healing” from a disease that had put her in a wheelchair. He said he asked, “God, do you want me to marry her?” and he did so in 1977. She died in 1989.

Rawcliffe served as bishop of Glasgow and Galloway from 1980-91.

In retirement, Rawcliffe continued to minister at St. Aidan’s.

“Derek has contributed substantially in Leeds, both to our worship through St. Aidan’s and to the care of and concern about asylum seekers,” said John Packer, the bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Thai airline trains transsexual flight attendants

Four Thai “ladyboys” have been recruited as flight attendants for a start-up charter airline that says it will be Thailand’s first to include transsexuals among its cabin crew.

P.C. Air, which will fly to several Asian destinations starting in April, had its first training session recently for 30 recruits, including four from “the third sex.”

Thailand is known for its tolerance for transvestites and transsexuals, known locally as “katoeys” or “ladyboys.” An annual transsexual beauty pageant is broadcast nationally, and Thai doctors’ well-honed skills at sex-reassignment surgery — and inexpensive prices — have made Bangkok a sex-change capital.

But while katoeys are prominent in entertainment, frequently appearing on television series and in cabaret shows, other job opportunities are limited.

“I had applied to many airlines and was repeatedly turned down. They said [it was] because I was a transsexual, not a real woman,” said Phuntakarn Sringern, 24, from Bangkok. “This is the first time somebody told me to come as I am and put on my best dress.”

Company president Peter Chan, 47, who worked as a flight attendant for 10 years, said he doesn’t “see any reasons we cannot let ladyboys work as flight attendants” as long as his carrier complies with civil aviation laws.

“I think it’s time for the Thai society to be more open and support freedom of all sexes,” he said.

The airline has separate orientation sessions for male and female recruits, and the transsexuals have been placed with the natural-born women. Chan said the transsexuals must live up to feminine standards.

“For ladyboys, we have to spend more than one day with them to make sure they can keep their feminine personalities. Their voices and their postures must be naturally feminine and they must be very patient,” he said.

Becoming a flight attendant has long been the dream of Dissanai Chitpraphachin, 23, a native of Mahasarakam province in Thailand’s rural northeast and a former winner of the Miss Tiffany pageant for transsexuals.

“When I was young, I couldn’t take my eyes off those nicely dressed ladies in the airline commercials every time they came on the screen,” Dissanai said. “I simply want everyone to open up their hearts and judge us by our work, not because of our sex.”

Swiss officials to deport Iranian gay man

A Swiss court on Feb. 14 decided to deport an Iranian gay man, convicted of trafficking heroin, back to his home country.

The 35-year-old man argued that he could face severe persecution should he be forced to return to Iran. The Federal Administrative Tribunal seemed to doubt the man’s life would be in jeopardy should he be sent home. The court stated, “In practice, homosexuality is tolerated by the [Iranian] authorities when it is not done openly in view in an offensive manner.”

The man argued that things for gays had worsened since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took power in 2005. The court said that argument did not hold up because the man had visited Iran two times after 2005.

DJ: Gay hatred is everywhere in Uganda

BBC Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills says that the situation for gay people in Uganda was far worse than he expected.

While working on an upcoming documentary, the gay Radio 1 presenter said he feared for his own safety in the country.

Mills met antigay MP David Bahati as part of filming for “The World’s Worst Place to be Gay?”

When the presenter said he was gay, Bahati became enraged and the film crew fled. Later, they heard that Bahati had sent armed police to a hotel he thought they were staying in.

“I was really frightened,” Mills said. “It’s just something that you wouldn’t think would happen. It was a real shock to the system and we were told to lie low. I wasn’t aware before I went about what was going on in Uganda. I met gay people in safe houses because they had to flee their homes. The newspapers print their names, their photos, even what car they drive. These people are just hounded. It’s so bizarre that somewhere just seven hours away by plane can be so different.”

During filming, Mills met victims of homophobia and the pastors preaching against homosexuality.

“All the gay people we met had a story about how they had been tormented or attacked,” he said. “There was a guy we saw in hospital, he had AIDS and was very ill. But because they knew he was gay, he wasn’t getting the right treatment. He’s dead now. Then there was a girl called Stosh, who had to go into hiding after her face was plastered across the newspapers. It’s all very well reading about these things, but when you actually go to Uganda, you realize how bad things are. It was a lot worse than I expected.”

Gay people in Uganda have “an air of optimism,” he said. “But they’re faced with every pastor, every teacher in every school, saying the same thing. They think things will change but it’s going to take a long time.”

When asked how attitudes could change, Mills said: “I don’t really know. The West has been quite vocal and President Obama publicly denounced Uganda but [the preachers] still say homosexuality is un-African, that it is against the family.

“They think it was brought in by the West,” he said.

Many of those he met had been accused of “promoting” homosexuality and “recruiting” children.

The film crew also saw firsthand the influence Western preachers have on antigay sentiment in Uganda.

“It’s all wrapped up in Christianity and evangelicalism,” Mills said. “And Americans come over to preach. We went to a sermon and saw a guy from Atlanta preaching gay hate.”

He added: “I went to Uganda with the aim of making a fair and balanced film but in two weeks, we couldn’t find any [non-gay] person saying that homosexuality was OK.”

“The World’s Worst Place to be Gay?” aired on the BBC on Feb. 14.

Botswana pol defends antigay comments

A prominent Botswana politician is defending antigay comments he made, despite criticism from gay-rights groups in the southern African country.

Deputy Speaker Pono Motloadi disparaged gays late last month during a meeting organized by AIDS groups on the subject of preventing the spread of HIV in prisons. In an interview with The Associated Press, he called homosexuality “a culture away from our culture.”

Gay-rights activist Lorraine Setuke called Motloadi’s comments “barbaric.”

Motloadi’s views are not uncommon on the conservative continent. Botswana is among dozens of African countries with antigay laws, though prosecutions there are rare.

Israel: German partner of victim must leave

Israel plans to expel the German partner of an Israeli killed in a 2009 shooting at a community center in Tel Aviv, an official said Feb. 9, prompting appeals from the gay community leaders and an Israeli lawmaker to let him stay.

Thomas Schmidt, 27, began the bureaucratic process of registering himself as the partner of an Israeli citizen in 2008. But less than a year later, a masked gunman opened fire at a meeting of gay and lesbian youth and killed two Israelis, including Schmidt’s partner, Nir Katz, 26.

It was the worst assault against Israel’s gay community. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to bring the killer to justice, while other Israeli leaders vowed efforts to promote tolerance toward gays and lesbians in Israel.

Police continue to search for the assailant.

Schmidt, who has lived in Israel since 2004, wishes to remain in the country, said Nirit Moskovich of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which represents Schmidt. He has grown close to the family of his slain Israeli partner and does not maintain contact with his family in Germany, Moskovich said.

Sabine Hadad, a spokesperson for Israel’s Interior Ministry, said Schmidt’s case was brought last year before a special humanitarian committee, which ruled that Schmidt could extend his stay in Israel for nine months only.

When Schmidt arrived at the Interior Ministry recently, he was told his visa had expired and would not be renewed. Schmidt says he was never informed of the nine-month restriction, Moskovich said.

Nitzan Horowitz, Israel’s only openly gay lawmaker, wrote in a letter to Israel’s interior minister that “there would be no damage to the state of Israel if such a positive person as Thomas Schmidt, in light of the difficult and extraordinary circumstances, would stay with us here.”

Yonatan Gher, head of a Jerusalem gay community organization, harshly criticized the decision to expel Schmidt, saying “While one lone person committed the hate crime” in Tel Aviv in 2009, “today, the country is committing a hate crime.”

Gher said that “Israel claims at every opportunity how open and accepting it is to the gay community. Now it has the opportunity to put those words into action.”

Israel does not permit same-sex marriage but recognizes same-sex couples who marry abroad.

Drug dealing alleged on gay cruise

A cruise-ship passenger from California has been arrested for allegedly selling drugs to fellow passengers on a Caribbean cruise.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Jeffrey Quniones says 51-year-old Steven Barry Krumholz of West Hollywood, Calif., was arrested in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Allure of the Seas had come from the Bahamas on a charter billed as the “world’s largest gay cruise,” run by Atlantis.

Court records show that customs agents boarded the ship Feb. 9 in St. Thomas and found drugs on one passenger. The passenger told agents he bought the drugs from Krumholz. A search of Krumholz’s cabin yielded more than 140 Ecstasy pills, nearly 3 grams of methamphetamine and $51,000 in cash. While waiting for the suspect to return to his cabin, two more passengers came to buy drugs, according to the affidavit.

Defense attorney Gabriel Villegas declined comment Feb. 11.

The Allure of the Seas, which shares the claim of world’s largest cruise ship with a sister vessel, departed Port Everglades, Fla., on Feb. 6 with some 5,400 passengers in a trip chartered by Atlantis Events Inc., of West Hollywood. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Ship owner Royal Caribbean International said it has a zero-tolerance policy on illegal drugs at sea and that it cooperated fully with authorities.

Polish pol condemned for antigay comments

Poland’s governing party has reprimanded a lawmaker in its ranks for an antigay remark and moved to punish him.

Tomasz Tomczykiewicz, Civic Platform’s parliamentary leader, condemned the remarks by Robert Wegrzyn on Feb. 10, calling them “stupid” and “irresponsible.” He filed a formal complaint demanding that Wegrzyn be punished and fined.

Wegrzyn apologized on Feb. 10 for the remark, in which he criticized the prospect of marriage among men but said he’d “gladly watch” lesbians.

He said he is not homophobic, but conceded that the remark was sexist.

He could be fined up to 1,000 Polish zlotys ($350).

Soccer player wants athletes to come out

If German soccer player Manuel Neuer had his way, gay athletes would come out of the closet.

In a recent interview with German celebrity magazine Bunte, the 24-year-old Schalke goalie, who helped the Germans finish third in last year’s World Cup, said fans are more concerned with an athlete’s abilities than they are with his sexuality.

“Yes, those who are homosexual should say so. That would take a load off their minds,” he said. “And the fans would get over it quickly. What is important to them is the performances on the pitch of the player, not his sexual preferences.”

To date, the only German soccer player to come out is former regional league player Marcus Urban, who went public about his homosexuality several years after his retirement from the sport.

— compiled by Larry Nichols