Sunday, February 24, 2008

Anti-HIV gel for women fails in African trial

Sabin Russell, Chronicle Medical Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

An experimental gel meant to protect women against HIV failed to do so in a large-scale trial in Africa, the latest in a string of setbacks in testing new ways to stem the spread of AIDS.
Results of the trial were released Monday afternoon in South Africa, where the study was carried out among 6,200 volunteers living in three regions of the country.
Half the women were assigned the active ingredient, Carraguard, a gel-like substance derived from seaweed; the other half received an inert material of the same look and texture. Laboratory studies had shown that Carraguard, inserted vaginally, could protect against HIV, but the latest test showed it did not work in the real world.
In tests that lasted up to three years, there were 134 infections in the Carraguard group, and 151 in the group that received the placebo - statistically a dead heat.
Researchers will look at possible reasons for the disappointing results, including the failure of the women in the test to use the gel during most of their sexual encounters.
"Carraguard was safe, but not effective against HIV transmission," said Khatija Ahmed, principal investigator for the study.
This was the first major trial of a so-called microbicide to be completed, as earlier or smaller studies of such products had to be halted when evidence emerged that they not only were not working, but may have increased the risk of HIV infection.
Because Carraguard was proved safe, it might be reused in future studies that add antiviral drugs to the gel. "We will be developing the next generation of products using Carraguard as a base," said Robin Maguire, director of product development for the Population Council, a New York nonprofit.
The Population Council carried out the study with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the federal government's U.S. Agency for International Development.
All three organizations have pumped millions of dollars into research to find a microbicide. The long-term goal is to develop a gel or cream that could be inserted vaginally or rectally to block HIV infection.
In Africa, where many women have little control over whether their husband or partner will wear a condom, the development of female-controlled HIV-prevention technologies is a high priority that so far has yielded disappointing results.
In 2000, a study among South African prostitutes showed an alarming increase in HIV infections among those assigned to Nonoxynol-9, an already approved contraceptive gel that blocked the AIDS virus in the test tube. But it apparently also irritated vaginal tissues, providing more routes for HIV to invade the bloodstream.
In January 2007, two trials of an experimental microbicide, cellulose sulfate, were abruptly halted in Africa and India after an initial analysis showed it could be increasing the risk of HIV infection.
In July, a three-year African study testing whether simple use of a diaphragm might protect women from HIV found that it did not.
Two weeks ago, a major study exploring whether treating genital herpes infection with a common drug, acyclovir, could also reduce the risk of HIV infection in gay men and African women reported there was no protective effect.
In the Carraguard study, there are already strong indications that it might have failed because the women in the study were not able to use it consistently. Women typically utilized the product once a week, but sometimes up to 10 times a week. But during the course of the experiment, results showed women used it only 44 percent of the time they had sex.
"That overall number is low, and it could have had an impact," said Barbara Friedland, a Population Council researcher who coordinated behavioral studies in the trial.
Female participants in the trial did not know whether they received the active ingredient, Carraguard, or the placebo. Both groups were given condoms and counseled extensively to use them. It will take further analysis of the study results to determine whether patterns of condom use or failure to use the microbicide played any part in the outcome.
Carraguard had been considered a possible microbicide since 1994. Earlier, smaller studies had indicated it was safe, and that women found the feel, scent and texture of the product acceptable.
According to Population Council researcher Maguire, studies showed that Carraguard could withstand storage in the hot environmental conditions found in Africa for at least four years. The organization is now conducting early studies to determine whether Carraguard might work better if it was mixed with an antiviral drug normally used to treat HIV infection.

China launches first anti-AIDS drive for gay men: state media

Men in the bathroom of a department store, which has become a hangout for Shanghai's emerging homosexual population

BEIJING (AFP) — Chinese authorities have launched their first anti-AIDS programme focused on gay men, amid rising concern that the disease is becoming more prevalent among homosexuals, state press reported Thursday.
The programme has begun with efforts to learn more about gay lifestyles, the health ministry said, according to the China Daily, after decades of disbelief from the government that homosexuality was anything but a mental problem.
"The programme aims to strengthen measures to prevent and control the deadly disease among the homosexual community," the China Daily quoted Wang Weizhen, a senior official with the ministry's HIV/AIDS prevention department, as saying.
"By learning more about gay people, we can better protect them against this incurable disease. Studies are under way in several cities to collect information on gay men, such as their... behavioural patterns."
The programme will also deliver special funding and technical support to gay men, Wang said, without giving further details.
China's communist rulers for years deemed homosexuality as a psychological problem, and it was only in 2001 that being gay was removed from the official list of mental disorders.
Even now, the official estimate of gay men in China is between five and 10 million people, a tally that activists have previously said is far lower than reality.
What is certain is that HIV/AIDS is killing more and more gay men.
Of the 700,000 Chinese people living with HIV-AIDS, sex between men accounted for 12.2 percent of the infections, according to data compiled by the government, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation last year.
Meanwhile, as the state-run press highlighted the government's new campaign to tackle the disease, one of the nation's most prominent anti-AIDS campaigners remained in jail on charges of subversion.
Hu Jia, who also sought to raise awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, was arrested in December last year and is awaiting trial.
Chinese and international rights groups have said authorities arrested Hu as part of their long-running campaign to silence any voices of dissent.

U.S. State Dept. lifts ban on hiring HIV-positive foreign service officers

WASHINGTON Feb 15, 3:59 PM

The U.S. State Department has lifted the ban on hiring people with HIV to be foreign service officers, according to a press release from Lambda Legal.New guidelines will be put in place, and the State Department will evaluate people living with HIV on a case-by-case basis."At long last,the State Department is taking down its sign that read 'People with HIV need not apply,'" said Lambda Legal's HIV Project Director, Bebe Anderson.Lambda Legal has been fighting this case on behalf of client Lorenzo Taylor for the past five and a half years. Partly due to the new guidelines, Taylor has decided to settle his lawsuit."Now people like me who apply to the foreign service will not have to go through what I did. They and others with HIV will know that they do not have to surrender to stigma, ignorance, fear or the efforts of anyone, even the federal government, to impose second-class citizenship on them. They can fight back,"Taylor said.

Cry for Help from Refugee Sheds Light on Desperation of Gays in Iran

President Ahmadinejad claims there are no gays in Iran

22nd February 2008 11:08

A poignant plea for help from a gay Iranian refugee in Malaysia is shedding light on the desperation and fear experienced by homosexuals in Iran and those who have fled their home country to seek refugee status in other countries.The letter, penned by a young gay man calling himself Sepehr, contains a heartbreaking tale of life as a homosexual in Iran and the suffering caused by the necessity of fleeing to another land to escape persecution and possible death. The cry for help from another gay Iranian refugee echoes the plight of other gays & lesbians who remain trapped in Iran under threat of death because of their sexual orientation—as well as the fear and desperation faced by Iranian refugees attempting to escape from the country's harsh anti-gay regime.Just this week, Mehdi, a 19-year-old gay Iranian who fled from the United Kingdom last year to prevent deportation back to Iran went on a hunger strike in protest of the decision by a Netherlands court to return him to the UK. If he is forced back to the United Kingdom, he will likely be sent back to Iran immediately and he fears he will end up with a death sentence if that occurs. Mehdi lived in England for two years while studying on a student visa. While in the UK, he learned his former boyfriend had been executed as a suspected homosexual and is believed to have revealed his relationship with Mehdi under torture before being killed.In another related story, members of the Union of Students in Ireland called on the Iranian government this week to halt the planned executions of two men suspected of being homosexuals. The two young men, identified as Tayyeb Karimi and Yazdan (surname unknown), have been condemned under Article 110 of Iran's Penal Code stating that men who have gay sex "will be executed."Last September, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech at New York's Columbia University that "In our country we don't have homosexuals like in your country. This does not exist in our country."In 2005, Iran faced public outcry after the public hanging execution of two gay teenagers. According to the Times, the two teen boys were held in prison for 14 months prior to being killed and were tortured and beaten repeatedly.Below is the text of the letter published this week from a gay Iranian who fled his country for fear of being tortured or executed. The man, going only by the alias of Sepehr, ended up in Malaysia where he applied for asylum and registered with the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The letter was sent to the Iranian Queer Organization in Toronto, which published it on Thursday. My name is Sepehr [alias used]. I was born and raised in Iran, a country that kills people for falling in love. My government kills homosexuals by asserting we are an enemy of God. My president denied us, even our existence as human beings, when he claimed there are no homosexuals in Iran during his speech at Columbia University. If he can say there are no homosexuals in Iran, it is because we cannot show ourselves. We stay hidden because if we are visible they will lash us; they will hang us; they will kill us. They tell us that we are fighting with God by falling in love with the same sex. I want to understand that if this is the case, then why has God created us like this? I have had great difficulty in Iran and have never felt attracted to the opposite sex and my whole life I have been confronting insecurity about this. I have always felt like an outsider and friends and acquaintances have often discussed my difference but I could never change how I feel. When I began high school, the abuse started. This left emotional scars. Then I met someone from school who changed my life. The feeling that existed between us finally gave new meaning to my life. But this came at the cost of handcuffs and the hard punches of the Basiji. My period of dejection began from there. I understood that my feelings are sinful. I was afraid of everyone and everything. I tried to straighten my life. I went to University and learned English and this kept my thoughts occupied for a while, in a new place and with new people who didn’t know me. I eventually went to see a doctor and realised that this is my nature and not a virus of some sort. But still I was looking for answers to so many questions. I read books to understand how I should relate to myself and my feelings. It was at this point that I realized that I have a right to a life of my own. I met a friend and together we tried to put the past behind us. In a new town and with a new life, I finally entered into a few good years. But the effects of my sexual identity had me trapped again and this good period of my life came to an end. Again sadness; again loneliness. Am I sick? Do I have a disease? My family abandoned me, and just because I love people of the same sex as me. I left Iran by bus to Pakistan because I was being threatened. If arrested, I risked being killed in a public execution with no trial. From Pakistan I went to Zimbabwe and finally ended up in Malaysia in May 2007 where I applied for asylum and registered with the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Almost a year later, I have completed my second interview and am now awaiting the results of this process. For about eight months I have been suffering here in Malaysia. In order to get money to eat, I went to the hospital to sell one of my kidneys but they told me that it is illegal to sell body parts in Malaysia. However, I have few options as I am not allowed to work, so acquiring those basic needs for survival are therefore difficult. I am staying in a small town 45 kilometres from the capital city with no money to eat, and living accommodations that leave me vulnerable to millions of insects that suck my blood every night. I do not know what to do. I don’t even have money to buy soap to wash my clothes. I sit here now in this dying body to write this letter to you. I am praying. I am crying. I am begging my God to help me. I am planning to commit suicide but if I do that I will lose so much, over 10 years of study, hard work and self-reflection to figure out who I am. I had plans. I wanted to write books. I wanted to share my experiences. I wanted to help gay men to better understand who they are. I wanted to speak with people to help them to understand that I deserve to live too. But this is my life now and as I am writing this letter my life is over. But what I can't understand is what I have done so wrong that I deserve to have my body burnt by cigarettes. I can’t understand what I did wrong that I must be beaten with a gun. But this is life. I cannot make my plans with an empty stomach. I cannot continue this life. I need your help now. Please help to show me a more just life. I am still young. I want to be alive but I don't know how. Please contact me and show me the way. Help me now, tomorrow is too late. I beg you.I am tired.

Gay lobby rebuked - Church says won't accept homosexual lifestyle in Jamaica

published: Monday February 18, 2008

JAMAICAN CHURCH leaders stand resolute that despite strong lobbying by international gay rights activists, homo-sexuality will not be accepted as normal.
The Church's rebuke comes in the wake of a recent scathing report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch and protests last week by a Florida church sympathetic to gays.
The Rev Dr Merrick 'Al' Miller, pastor of the Fellowship Taber-nacle in St Andrew, said that Jamaicans generally deem homo-sexuality wrong.
He said the demands of gay activists who are attempting to force their beliefs on society will in no way influence Jamaicans to change their views.
"Homosexuality is wrong from every possible angle," said Miller. "It's immoral from a physical, social and spiritual standpoint." He said that despite this, the Church was willing to help and support those homosexuals who are in need of counselling or assistance to change their lifestyle.
"I have no problem in supporting and helping someone who sees that he is going the wrong way and wants help in changing his life, but where I draw the line is when you say that it is OK and want to force others to accept your abnormal behaviour," he added.
It was reported last week that on Valentine's Day, leaders of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Florida staged a demonstration outside the Jamaican consulate in Miami over what they said was a series of anti-gay murders and gay-bashing incidents in the island.
The MCC, a worldwide assembly of gay, lesbian and transsexual congregants, said they were prepared to push for a boycott of Jamaican tourism if the country fails to deal with reported attacks on gays.
The church also staged protests at consulates in New York, Toronto and Philadelphia. They reportedly called for a public aware-ness campaign to promote a more "gay-friendly" environment, and called on the Jamaican police to begin sensitivity training regarding the gay and lesbian communities.
The Rev Dr Lloyd Maxwell, of the AGAPE Christian Fellowship in Portmore, said that Scripture takes a very clear stance on the matter of homosexuality and, as such, the Church would not sanction nor encourage the lifestyle.
Rev Maxwell said the idea of conducting a public awareness campaign to sensitise Jamaicans on the issue is ludicrous.

Irish judge sets resolution deadline in landmark trans case

15th February 2008 10:30 staff writer
The High Court in Dublin declared yesterday that birth registration laws in Ireland are in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.Mr Justice Liam McKechnie has given the Irish government two months to decide how to resolve the issue. His ruling follows the case of Dr Lydia Foy, a dentist who underwent gender reassignment surgery.In October he ruled that the failure of the government to provide proper recognition of the female identity of Dr Foy is a violation of the European Convention.He said that the system of birth registration in Ireland is incompatible with the convention as it prevents Dr Foy's registration as female at birth.The government will now have to outline how it intends to comply with Article 8 of the convention, respect for private life. Dr Foy changed her name to Lydia in 1993 and has previously been issued with an Irish passport and driving licence in which she is identified as female. She also obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate in the UK, but the High Court in Dublin questioned the relevance of the document in the Republic of Ireland.When obtaining the certificate, Dr Foy stated that she was unmarried, despite the fact that she married in 1977 and fathered two daughters.In 2002, Dr Foy was refused a direction by the courts to the Registrar of Births to describe her as female on her birth certificate.Just days after that High Court decision the European Court of Human Rights ruled on a landmark case.The UK's refusal to give transgender people new birth certificates breached their rights to marry and to respect for privacy under the Convention, the European court ruled.At that time the High Court in Dublin urged the Irish government to take action, but nothing has been done in the intervening five years, so Dr Foy has returned to court. In his 70-page judgment, Mr Justice McKechnie criticised the government for not bring forward legislation when the case arose in 2002. In April 2007 counsel for Mrs Foy argued that ruling in Dr Foy's favour could "enormous uncertainty" and put in a unique position, as the Irish state only recognises a marriage between people of the opposite sex. Dr Foy will now be able to claim compensation. She has been awarded costs.

Senegal 'gay wedding' men freed

Police in Senegal have released several men arrested over the publication of pictures said to depict a wedding ceremony between two men.
No official reason has been given for their release.
The pictures were published in Icone magazine, whose editor, Mansour Dieng, has since received death threats.
Homosexuality is illegal in Senegal but it is not clear whether the arrests were in connection with the ceremony or the death threats.
Mr Dieng has also been questioned by police over the issue.
The BBC's Tidiane Sy in Senegal said that at least five of those arrested appeared in the photographs.
The ceremony is believed to have involved a Senegalese man and another from Ghana or the Ivory Coast, who has not yet been found.
Mr Dieng told Africa Global News that he published the pictures to prove that an earlier article on homosexuality in Senegal was true.
Senegal is a predominantly Muslim country and gay men and women remain socially marginalised.

Gay Wedding Stirs Controversy in Senegal
By Naomi Schwarz Dakar
21 February 2008

After photos of a reported marriage ceremony between two men were published in a local magazine in Senegal, politicians, journalists and religious leaders are weighing in on their views about homosexuality. Many say laws against homosexuality have not been sufficiently enforced, but others say the issue is being exploited. For VOA, Naomi Schwarz has more from Dakar.
In the weeks since a monthly magazine published photos of what it said was a marriage ceremony between two men in Senegal, the issue of homosexuality has been all over the news in the largely Islamic country.
On a nighttime television talk show, a representative from the government responded to accusations it is not taking the issue seriously enough.
On call-in shows, many Senegalese are expressing shock over the reported gay marriage and the presence of homosexuals in the country. Some link homosexuals to the spread of AIDS and accuse the gay community of pedophilia. Human rights and homosexuality activists say both claims are unfounded.
The editor of the magazine that reported the gay marriage received death threats from some of the men in the published photographs. Several of the men in the photos were arrested in connection with the incident but were released without charge, sparking outrage among some politicians.
On the street, the same attitude against homosexuals prevails.
Sitting among women selling dried flowers and couscous on a Dakar street, Khady Diouf, a laundry woman and mother of five, makes a slashing motion across her throat when asked how she would react if one of her children told her he or she is gay.
The Muslim woman says she believes God does not approve of being gay.
Religious leaders in Senegal are spreading the message that homosexuality, which is illegal in the country, is against Islamic tradition.
The leader of Dakar's biggest downtown mosque organized a mass protest against homosexuality. He said the release of men arrested in connection with the reported gay wedding shows the government is not enforcing laws against homosexuality.
Offenders can receive up to five years in jail, but arrests are rare.
At another Dakar mosque, worshippers signed a petition calling on the government to enforce, on television and in the news, what it says are Senegal's traditional morals.
Adama Mboup, a businessman and one of the petition's organizers, says homosexuality reflects the decline of traditional social and religious values.
But Senegalese human rights activist Alioune Tine says the issue is being exploited by media outlets aiming for larger profits.
"When newspapers make this kind of sensational news, the newspaper is bought by people," said Tine.
He says the issue with the pictures of the gay wedding sold the most copies in the magazine's history. But he says the wedding was not news.
"The events happened in 2006. It was private and the wedding [was] very symbolic. You have no mayor, no preacher, no imam," he said.
He says the government should protect the privacy rights of homosexuals, as it would any other minority. But he says with upcoming local elections, some opposition politicians with ties to religious fundamentalist groups are using the issue to rile up supporters. These opposition politicians have accused the government of not upholding what they say are the country's religious values, and some have accused unnamed prominent members of the ruling party of being homosexual.

Australia Debates Same Sex Marriage

22nd February 2008, staff writer

Greens senator Kerry Nettle introduced a Valentines Day marriage equality bill to the new Australian parliament calling for recognition of overseas same-sex marriages and the ability to allow local ones.Her party leader, Bob Brown, has united with Liberal Australia Capital Territory (ACT) senator Gary Humphries to condemn the new government's attitudes to the Territorial Government's civil partnerships legislation.The new prime minister is said to have mixed views on allowing same-sex unions, having gone on record on the AM radio programme saying: "I have a pretty basic view on this, as reflected in the position adopted by our party, and that is, that marriage is between a man and a woman."He does, however, support a national registry for both same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships.There are concerns Ms Nettle's amendment may not get the opportunity to be debated given that her term expires in July.“This is about highlighting the inequality that’s there, and keeping the pressure on the Labour party,” she said.Last year, a Galaxy poll commissioned by GetUp found 53 percent of Australians supported marriage equality.

Taunts forced Australian gay officer out

John Kidman
February 24, 2008

DURING his three years as a NSW police officer, Dallas McCarthy endured taunts of "poofter boy" and "fag dog" - not from criminals but from his own colleagues.
Mr McCarthy claims he was ordered by a superior to introduce himself to senior officers as "pillow-biter". And he says when he discreetly complained he discovered a handful of chopped liver in his locker and a note warning: "Your heart's next."
The former constable abandoned his ambition of becoming a gay and lesbian liaison officer, quitting the force in disgust last April.
In his initial letter of complaint, while stationed at Cabramatta, Mr McCarthy told of being ridiculed by an officer in the tea room with the claim that he give his boyfriend a pillow for Valentine's Day.
The same officer also allegedly asked if the doughnut he was eating "reminded" him of anything. Later, he was assigned to visit a local sex shop, where he might be able to "look for a new pillow to buy".
Mr McCarthy said he had appealed to a superior, yet word of their supposedly private meeting leaked back to his tormenters within days.
He then went to the force's employee management branch and was placed on a witness support program. However, fictitious payback complaints began emerging about his own behaviour.
Mr McCarthy said an internal investigation into the chopped liver incident put it down to "an officer subjected to harassment by other officers" but failed to identify who was responsible.
He eventually obtained a transfer to Bankstown but the vilification started again after a management shake-up.
Mr McCarthy, who has insulin-dependent diabetes, suffered heightened blood glucose levels, and he became so despondent he resigned.
On Friday, a NSW Police spokeswoman said the Cabramatta allegations were "thoroughly investigated and appropriate disciplinary action was taken against the perpetrator".
A spokesman for Police Minister David Campbell said the minister had received a letter from Mr McCarthy.
"He was satisfied that the issues raised had been dealt with internally by police headquarters," he said.
Mr McCarthy said while he had been "embarrassed, belittled, extremely intimidated and shaken" by his experience in the police force, he was determined to move on with his life. He has started a new job and a teaching degree.
On Saturday, he hopes to volunteer at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade as a show of support for his former colleagues who will be marching in police uniform.

Uganda's Anglicans threaten to secede from global church, Move comes after boycott of once-a-decade meeting

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP)
Feb 18, 2:09 PM

Uganda's Anglican church threatened on Monday to secede from the 77-million member Anglican Communion unless U.S. clergy condemn homosexuality.
The announcement was the latest salvo in a fierce dispute about homosexuality that has overtaken the global fellowship of Anglican churches since its U.S. wing — the U.S. Episcopal Church — consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003.
"Anglicanism is just an identity and if they abuse it, we shall secede. We shall remain Christians, but not in the same Anglican Communion," Church of Uganda spokesman Aron Mwesigye said.
There are about 9.8 million Anglicans in Uganda, according to the country's last census in 2002.
Last week, Uganda's Anglican bishops said they would boycott a once-a-decade gathering of worldwide church leaders this summer in England because of the Episcopal Church's stance on homosexuality.
Mwesigye said the Ugandan church is now considering a complete severing of ties "because we have complained against homosexuality several times but no action is taken."
"If they don't change, and continue to support homosexual practices and same-sex marriages, our relationship with them will be completely broken," Mwesigye added.
Jim Rosenthal, spokesman for the Anglican Communion in London, made no comment on the the idea of secession by the Ugandan church, but said the Ugandan church's spokesman seemed to be speaking about last week's news.
Tensions between more liberal and conservative branches of Anglicanism mounted in 2006 with the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports ordaining gays, as the first female leader of the U.S. church.
Supporters of ordaining gays believe the Bible's social justice teachings take precedence over its view of sexuality. However, most Anglicans outside the U.S. believe gay relationships are sinful, and they are distancing themselves from the U.S. church.
Mwesigye said that if the Uganda church does break off, it will enlist other African churches to form a separate fellowship that does not condone homosexuality.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and the spiritual leader of the communion, has struggled to hold off one of the biggest meltdowns in Christianity in centuries, but he lacks any direct authority to force a compromise.

Pastor Credited With Canadian Gay Marriage Win Receives Highest National Honor

(Ottawa) Longtime Canadian LGBT civil rights activist Rev. Brent Hawkes will be invested Friday into the Order of Canada by the Queen's representative.
The Order of Canada is the country's highest civilian honor.
Created in 1967, it recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to community and service to the nation. Over the last 40 years,more than 5,000 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order.
"To my knowledge, Rev. Dr. Hawkes, is the only person to receive their country's highest honor in recognition of their gay activism," said Douglas Elliott, founding president of the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association.
Hawkes has been on the front line of gay activism in Canada for decades. For more than 30 years he has been the senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.
In 2001 under considerable publicity he conducted a double wedding for two same-sex couples at the church and then went to court when the province of Ontario refused to register the marriages.
He performed the wedding ceremony for Kevin Bourassa & Joe Varnell and Elaine & Anne Vautour, wearing a bulletproof vest on the advice of police and following a series of threats from socially conservative activists.
To conduct the ceremony without marriage licenses - something that had been denied gay couples - Hawkes found a loophole in the law. It allowed the ancient Christian practice of Publishing Bannes.
By announcing the impending marriages in church on three consecutive Sundays marriage licenses were not required.
The Ontario government refused to register the marriages, citing federal law. Under Canadian law the definition of marriage is a federal responsibility while registering and recognizing them is a provincial matter.
The couples along with seven couples who sought secular marriages in Ontario took the government to court. A judge ruled that the prohibition on gay marriage was unconstitutional and gave the federal government one year to amend the law. Eight other provinces and territories followed.
Finally the federal government abandoned plans to appeal and brought in legislation legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. (story)
Michaelle Jean, the Governor General of Canada, will preside over the investiture ceremony at Rideau Hall, the Royal residence in Ottawa.
Hawkes has previously been honored with the City of Toronto's Award of Merit, the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal, the United Nations Toronto Association Global Citizen Award and the YMCA Peace Medal.
In 2006 Hawkes had his own wedding, marrying longtime partner John Sproule.

Israel to allow gay adoptions

Lesbians kissing at a Love Parade in Tel Aviv in 2002.

published Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gay and lesbian couples in Israel will be allowed the same adoption rights as heterosexual couples, the Israeli government announced Tuesday.
Prior to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's announcement Sunday, the government had not allowed gays to adopt children through the Welfare and Social Services Ministry's Child Welfare Service. For gay families, the child must have been one of the partners' biological offspring in order for his or her partner to adopt that child.
"I welcome the decision," Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog said in a press release. "There is no reason same-sex couples who meet the criteria for adoption should not be able to join the process of adoption and of parenthood. We must adapt to the spirit of the times and the changes that are afoot."
Mazuz emphasized that he was addressing only the legal constraints of the law. Just as heterosexual couples, prospective same-sex couples' requests to adopt would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Herzog first brought up the possibility of legalized adoption by gay and lesbian couples when he announced his decision to review the increased number of applications by same-sex couples seeking to adopt. (The Advocate)

Both gay and celibate: an Orthodox rabbi's difficult dilemma

JERUSALEM (AFP) — It is not illegal to be actively homosexual in Israel, but that does not mean it is accepted -- especially within the country's religious Orthodox community.
When a member of that community is also gay, the dilemma is complete.
"Religion does not prohibit a man from loving another man," says R, a gay and an Orthodox rabbi who dares not give his name because he might be branded an abomination if he were found out.
But there is a biblical injunction against a man "lying with a man as with a woman," as the saying goes. That ban, in the book of Leviticus, prescribes death for the wrongdoer.
Therein lies a dilemma for R, who is discreetly seeking to change the mindset about homosexuals among religious Jews, whom he characterises as homophobic and ignorant.
Even so R remains true to his religious faith, despite Israel decriminalising homosexuality in 1988.
The Bible says what it says, the Orthodox religious community stands by it, and that includes R himself.
Leviticus, one of the five books of the Torah, which contains Jewish law, says "you shall not lie with men, as with women; it is abomination. Neither shall you lie with any beast to defile yourself with it; nor shall any women stand before a beast to lie down to it; it is perversion."
"If a man also lies with men, as he lies with a women, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
R takes that injunction seriously. He lives with another observant Jewish man in what he describes as a romantic but celibate relationship, and one that is not flaunted in public.
Even so, R says "we are part of the religious world and we plan to stay there."
He reiterates his own celibacy and says that a group he has co-founded -- HOD -- toes the line on that.
However, R acknowledges that what gay religious Jews do in the privacy of their bedrooms is not something he can do anything about.
Earlier this month, in hopes of opening up dialogue with the Orthodox world and of helping people like them cope with their complicated lives, R and others launched a website --
HOD is the Hebrew acronym for religiously observant homosexuals; ironically, it is also a Hebrew word meaning "splendour".
R said "people who have homosexual tendencies suffer greatly, especially within the religious community. Many gays feel rejected not only by the Orthodox society, which does not look favourably upon their lifestyle, but also by God.
"We therefore must slowly find a way to broach and remedy this difficult situation.
"Speaking to gay men, rabbis, families and educators, helps us understand fully the sheer distress and anguish that religious gays feel. We cannot be obtuse to their suffering -- or the suffering of any human being for that matter."
The HOD site is not what one might consider stereotypically gay.
Its masthead does carry an abstract illustration of two men, side by side. They are both wearing kippas, the Jewish beanie, and one man's hand is resting on the other's shoulder in a sign of camaraderie.
But the site features articles on Jewish law (halacha) and carries the weekly readings from the Torah.
It also allows for virtual Q&A and gives a link where R may be contacted online or by telephone.
"We don't intend to vaunt our homosexuality and we won't be marching in any parades," HOD co-founder Itai told AFP, in a reference to so-called Gay Pride events held each year in cities around the world.
"What we want to do is carry out a silent revolution, not come out in the classic sense of the term," says the 28-year-old former rabbinical student.
"We are rejected by other homosexuals, who can't comprehend our desire to remain religious, and by the religious, who do not accept our homosexuality," Itai says.
Shortly after HOD's launch, Itai told YNetNews that it was innovative in its approach to homosexuality and religion.
"Up to now, the only website catering to the religious gay community was atzat-nefesh (, which was basically run by straight people and publicly stated that a religious person cannot be gay.
"They tried to 'turn' gay religious people straight, which is something we know cannot be done. We try to help people reconcile their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation."
The attitude of the Orthodox leadership towards homosexuals among the faithful is one of silent contempt. There are no calls for people to be stoned.
Itai told AFP that only one Orthodox rabbi, Yuval Sharlo, would even listen to these isolated people.
But even Sharlo, director of an important Talmudic school in Petah Tivka near Tel Aviv, draws a line.
"In spite of my clear sympathy to people who have 'alternate tendencies', the halacha point of view on this matter is unequivocal and cannot be changed," he wrote on HOD.
Itai agrees.
"It is not a matter of us calling halacha into question. Like all religious people we accept the stringent demands of Torah law and would gladly sacrifice ourselves on God's altar."
Even so, "the way gays are treated in the Orthodox world today violates many of the commandments of how man should treat his fellow man."

Indian gay prince to adopt a child to continue lineage

Manvendra Singh Gohil.

Sunday, 24 February, 2008
To continue 500-year-old lineage of royal family of Rajpipla, the gay prince of the erstwhile state has decided to adopt a male child. Rajpipla is a city and a municipality in Narmada district in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Forty two-year-old Manvendrasinh Gohil is the only person of royal lineage in the country who has openly proclaimed to being a gay creating a stir.
"When I declared about my status, after the initial stir, people of the Rajpipla were worried about who would continue the 500 to 600 year-old tradition of the royal family. Though the kingdoms are gone, people of our erstwhile state have great respect for our royal family," Gohil said.
"People of the state still consider that the rule of our dynasty was better in comparison to the present rule. They respect us and look upon the ruling family especially in times of crisis," Gohil said.
"There are many tradition set by the family in Rajpipla which starts in the presence of king. Even Tajias are taken out in presence of the king," he added.
"I being the 39th heir in the royal lineage of the Gohil family, there are numerous family traditions which the king has to follow," the scion who recently became the first male personality from India to have a tete-e-tete with Ophra Winfrey in the globally viewed chat show, said.
"So considering all this things, I have promised to my family and the people of the state that I will adopt a male child," he said.

Don't ridicule gays, says Bollywood

Feb 07, 2008

Mumbai, (IANS) News of a private gay party in Thane being raided by police has sent shock waves in filmdom. Actors like Celina Jaitley, Manoj Bajpai and Lillete Dubey feel laws pertaining to homosexuality should be revised.

Lillete Dubey: Of course, the laws pertaining to homosexuality should be revised. They are archaic and inhuman. An individual's sexual preference is a completely private matter. It falls under the realm of the law when there's a public display of obscene behaviour. Any such conduct must be equally punishable for straight and gay persons. If gay behaviour offends publicly, the law has every right to react. Otherwise, we're the largest democracy and sexual freedom is our democratic right.

Celina Jaitley: My closest friends are gay and I wouldn't let anyone hurt them. The laws need drastic change. Homosexuality has existed since the invention of civilisation. Some of our greatest artistes today are gay. At this time of HIV and AIDS, gay rights should be our primary concern. In Britain, they've gay marriages. So why are we stuck with their obsolete laws? They left the country long back! Also science proves homosexuality is genetic.

Randeep Hooda: I've lots of gay friends, both male and female. As long as they respect my heterosexual space, I've no problems with their sexuality. As far as the gay party on Saturday night is concerned, if the partygoers were disrupting the neighbourhood's peace then they deserve to be pulled up. Alternative sexuality must not be an excuse for extra rights and privileges. If you want to be equal then fight it out in life just like any of us.

Manoj Bajpai: Yes, the law should be revised. All citizens have the right to decide how they live their lives.

Rohit Roy: I'm not very clear about gay rights and laws in India. But I must say this sort of raid gets us thinking about the priorities of the police. Shouldn't they crack down on elements dangerous to society rather than gays who just want to live in peace?

Nandana Sen: Yes, absolutely! The laws need a change. No one has the right to invade a peaceful private gathering. It's against our democratic principles to treat homosexuality as crime.

Tanushree Dutta: Oh my god! This is ridiculous. The laws need desperate change. Or maybe homosexuality is legal and the cops don't know about it?

Imtiaz Ali: Of course, the laws need to be revised. An act that is natural to some cannot be illegal in a free democracy.

Riya Sen: Everyone in a democracy should enjoy the freedom to do what he or she likes. I think it is uncivilised to question anyone's sexuality. Invasion of privacy is a bigger crime than any. Not just homosexuality, we need to open up our minds against all kinds of prejudice if we want to really go global.

Amrita Arora: Gays have just the same rights as straight people. I party with them and I find them sensitive and dependable. Why single them out to ridicule? High time people stop being judgemental about how others live their lives.

Vipul Shah: Yes, laws need revision. Nobody has the right to decide for others. It's every individual's birthright to decide his or her sexual preference. And nobody has the right to interfere. Unless they were behaving obscenely, the gay partygoers shouldn't have been raided.

Shefali Shah: I don't see why there should be laws against individuals based on their sexual preferences. It's a free world. People are entitled to make their own choices as long as their choices don't hurt anyone.

Samir Soni: I don't think the laws should vary according to sexual orientation. What is unlawful should remain so regardless of whether you are gay or straight.

Mahesh Bhatt: The state has no business to step into people's bedrooms and question their sexual preferences. It's a matter between two consenting adults.

Neil Nitin Mukesh: It's a sensitive subject that needs careful consideration.

Indian Actor Siddharth has no problems doing gay roles

Indo-Asian News Service
Mumbai, February 22, 2008

Rang De Basanti actor Siddharth says he is ready to play a gay role because he feels sexual orientation is a natural and personal choice."I have close friends who are gay, and they are as intelligent and caring, if not more, than my heterosexual friends. I think it's time we started respecting them and giving them their much-deserved freedom to just be themselves," said the actor, according to whom India is a homophobic country.
Excerpts from an interview:
What prompted you to accept Vishal Bharadwaj's Blood Brothers as your follow-up to Rang De Basanti in Hindi?In the year following Rang De Basanti, I went back to Hyderabad and did two hugely successful Telugu films. I decided to take a break for six months and travel. That's when Vishal called. I worked on the film because of the cause it stood for and also because I was excited about working with Vishal Bharadwaj and the Oscar-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. I am now busy with my most exciting film till date, Striker with director Chandan Arora. I choose films based on my convictions, and take my association with them very seriously.
Bharadwaj tells me that many leading actors in Mumbai are extremely wary of stepping into HIV territory. What made you so sure of this project?I am not concerned with how other actors are functioning. I was the 15th actor considered for Rang De... As for this film, my creative processes made it impossible to refuse the kind of work it offered.
How much do you concern yourself with issues other than cinema, including AIDS?Having done work with leading NGOs in the field I was fully aware of the topic and its gravity. Other than that, there is only so much more I can do as an actor. AIDS awareness and education are areas that concern me most.
Bharadwaj says you're a unique actor. What is your take on him as a director? Would you like to do a full feature with him?Vishal Bharadwaj as a director is first human and emotional and only then is he a technician. This makes working with him a very warm and comfortable experience. It made me able to go that extra step for his film. As for working with him again, actors lead a passive existence and need to wait for somebody else to take the first step in order to get work. Vishal and I will work again depending on his writing and how it appeals to me at that time.
Have you seen the other three AIDS films in Mira Nair's bouquet? What do you think of them?I loved Santosh Sivan's piece Prarambh that starred my dear friend Prabhu Deva. It was the most relevant and 'impactful' piece in the omnibus.
You play a heterosexual man who suspects he has AIDS. Would you be willing to play a gay man who's tested HIV positive?I think we are a homophobic country and I believe the media's insensitive sensationalisation of the issue is largely responsible for this. As an actor I play roles based on reality. Sexual orientation is a natural and personal choice. I see no reason for it to affect my decision to accept a project.
I have close friends who are gay, and they are as intelligent and caring as, if not more than, my heterosexual friends. I think it's time we started respecting them and giving them their much-deserved freedom to just be themselves.

Gay Africans and Arabs come out online

Mon Feb 18, 2008
By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - When Ali started blogging that he was Sudanese and gay, he did not realize he was joining a band of African and Middle Eastern gays and lesbians who, in the face of hostility and repression, have come out online.
But within days the messages started coming in to
"Keep up the good work," wrote Dubai-based Weblogger 'Gay by nature'. "Be proud and blog the way you like," wrote Kuwait's gayboyweekly. Close behind came comments, posts and links purporting to be from almost half the countries in the Arab League, including Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco.
Ali, who lists his home town as Khartoum but lives in Qatar, had plugged into a small, self-supporting network of people who have launched Web sites about their sexuality, while keeping their full identity secret. Caution is crucial - homosexual acts are illegal in most countries in Africa and the Middle East, with penalties ranging from long-term imprisonment to execution.
"The whole idea started as a diary. I wanted to write what's on my mind and mainly about homosexuality," he told Reuters in an e-mail. "To tell you the truth, I didn't expect this much response."
In the current climate, bloggers say they are achieving a lot just by stating their nationality and sexual orientation.
"If you haven't heard or seen any gays in Sudan then allow me to tell you 'You Don't live In The Real World then,'" Ali wrote in a message to other Sudanese bloggers. "I'm Sudanese and Proud Gay Also."
His feelings were echoed in a mini-manifesto at the start of the blog "Rants and raves of a Kenyan gay man" that stated: "The Kenyan gay man is a myth and you may never meet one in your lifetime. However, I and many others like me do exist; just not openly. This blog was created to allow access to the psyche of me, who represents the thousands of us who are unrepresented."

That limited form of coming out has earned the bloggers abuse or criticism via their blogs' comment pages or e-mails.
"Faggot queen," wrote a commentator called 'blake' on Kenya's 'Rants and raves'. "I will put my loathing for you faggots aside momentarily, due to the suffering caused by the political situation," referring to the country's post-election violence.
Some are more measured: "The fact that you are a gay Sudanese and proudly posting about it in itself is just not natural," a reader called 'sudani' posted on Ali's blog.
Some of the bloggers use the diary-style format to share the ups and downs of gay life -- the dilemma of whether to come out to friends and relatives, the risks of meeting in known gay bars, or, according to blogger "...and then God created Men!" the joys of the Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh.
Others have turned their blogs into news outlets, focusing on reports of persecution in their region and beyond.
The blog GayUganda reported on the arrests of gay men in Senegal in February. A month earlier, Blackgayarab posted video footage of alleged police harassment in Iraq.
Kenya's "Rants and Raves" reported that gay people were targets in the country's election violence, while blogger Gukira focused on claims that boys had been raped during riots. Afriboy organized an auction of his erotic art to raise funds "to help my community in Kenya".
There was also widespread debate on the comments made by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last September about homosexuals in his country.

The total number of gay bloggers in the region is still relatively small, say the few Web sites that monitor the scene.
"It is the rare soul who is willing to go up against such blind and violent ignorance and advocate for gay rights and respect," said Richard Ammon of which tracks gay news and Web sites throughout the world.
"There are a number of people from the community who are blogging both from Africa and the diaspora but it is still quite sporadic," said Nigerian blogger Sokari Ekine who keeps a directory of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender blogs on her own Web site Black Looks.
The overall coverage may be erratic, but pockets of gay blogging activity are starting to emerge.
There are blogs bridging the Arabic-speaking world from Morocco in the west to the United Arab Emirates in the east. There is a self-sustaining circle of gay bloggers in Kenya and Uganda together with a handful of sites put up by gay Nigerians.
And then there is South Africa, where the constitutional recognition of gay rights has encouraged many bloggers to come wholly into the open.
"I don't preserve my anonymity at all. I am embracing our constitution which gives us the right to freedom of speech ... There is nothing wrong that I am doing," said Matuba Mahlatjie of the blog My Haven.
Beyond the blogging scene, the Internet's chat rooms and community sites have also become one of the safest ways for gay Africans and Arabs to meet, away from the gaze of a hostile society.

"That is what I did at first, I mean, I looked around for others until I found others," said Gug, the writer behind the blog GayUganda.
"Oh yes, I do love the Internet, and I guess it is a tool that has made us gay Ugandans and Africans get out of our villages and realize that the parish priest's homophobia is not universal opinion. Surprise, surprise!"

Cuban lawmakers consider gay-marriage proposal

by Andrea Rodriguez
Associated Press
Thursday Feb 7, 2008

Taking up Raul Castro’s invitation to speak their minds without fear of reprisal, more Cubans have begun publicly complaining and challenging government policies on everything from limits on Internet access to travel restrictions.This week some leading figures called for change: Culture Minister Abel Prieto said that he supports gay marriage, and famed folk singer Silvio Rodriguez said he believes all Cubans should be free to travel abroad and stay in the hotels reserved for foreign tourists.Open challenges of government authority remain rare in Cuba, where the Communist Party dominates all levels of power. But since replacing his older brother Fidel as acting president, Raul Castro has urged Cuban citizens to help shape their country’s economic future.Tentatively at first, then more audaciously, Cubans have responded.University students, for example, were outspoken in a town-hall style meeting on Jan. 19 with Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s legislature. A video of the meeting posted on the Internet shows student leaders challenging him to explain why government policies fail to live up to Cuba’s egalitarian ideals.They asked Alarcon why many basic goods - including toiletries and clothes - are sold in convertible currency meant for tourists and foreigners, making some necessities virtually inaccessible to state employees paid in Cuban pesos worth much less. They complained about laws prohibiting citizens from entering state-run hotels without official permission. They complained about limits on Internet access, and on rules that make getting a travel visa nearly impossible for most Cubans.Alarcon ducked questions about the Internet and called travel a privilege, not a right. When he was their age, before the revolution, he told the students, he wasn’t able to enter Cuba’s luxury nightclubs or exclusive beaches."I never set foot in the Tropicana, nor Varadero," he said. "You know why? "Because my father didn’t have the money to pay for it!"However, other powerful Cuban figures joined the calls for societal change."I think that marriage between lesbians, between homosexuals can be perfectly approved and that in Cuba that wouldn’t cause an earthquake or anything like that," Prieto, a member of the party’s powerful Politburo, told reporters following a screening of a documentary on Rodriguez’s career.
Cuban lawmakers are considering a proposal to allow gay marriages, though its progress in the legislature’s closed-door sessions remains unclear.A 57-year-old writer turned political leader, Prieto is the only top Cuban government official who sports shoulder-length hair. But he is also a member of the island’s supreme governing body, the Council of State. And he said he supports what Raul Castro has termed a "debate" on Cuba’s future.The "immense majority of intellectuals" want to "confront problems, to battle all expressions of bureaucracy in culture and in society and at the same time defend this revolution and socialism," Prieto said.Rodriguez, whose songs have made him a leading voice of the Cuban revolution, described what Cuba is going through now as "a moment of change, of transition ... not the only one I have lived to see within the revolution."The internationally renowned folk singer is a member of parliament who has long defended the Cuban government in the face of criticism over alleged human rights violations. Nonetheless, Rodriguez said Tuesday that authorities should ease restrictions that prevent many Cubans from entering state-run hotels, traveling overseas and even within their own country. "Permission to leave and enter should be completely open," Rodriguez said.For decades, Cuba has restricted travel to keep citizens from flooding large cities in search of jobs. It also limits visas abroad, citing national security concerns. Since Cuba first began accepting foreign tourists en masse in the early 1990s, most Cubans have been barred from hotels, even if they can pay for rooms.Cubans also are complaining about a law requiring citizens to register their full salaries for taxation if they have been paid illegally in dollars or euros for working for foreign firms or embassies.Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who became an independent journalist and an anti-communist, documented a Jan. 12 public meeting at state-run employment agency Acroex in which employees criticized the new measure."Nobody can disagree with Cuban workers paying taxes on their earnings, something which happens in the whole world," Espinosa Chepe wrote in an article released Tuesday. But he blasted government requirements that Cubans who work for foreigners arrange their jobs through state employment agencies, which collect hefty fees in convertible currency and then pay the employees in less valuable regular pesos.In the article, he said the meeting caused such an uproar that officials suspended plans for similar forums at other state-run firms.

Spaniards Would Keep Same-Sex Marriage Law

January 26, 2008

More than two years after the current government legalized same-sex marriage in Spain, the vast majority of people in the European country support the course of action, according to a poll by Instituto Opina released by Cadena Ser. 74.5 per cent of respondents believe the law should remain as it is now, while 18.1 per cent want to repeal it.
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was sworn in as president of the government in April 2004, following a victory for the Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) in the legislative ballot. The conservative Popular Party (PP) had administered the government under José María Aznar since 1996.
In April 2005, the PSOE-dominated Congress of Deputies approved a bill that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, divorce and adopt children. In June, the bill became law after a 187-147 vote. Spain became the third country in Europe—after Belgium and the Netherlands—to permit same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage is also legal in Canada and South Africa, and at least 18 countries offer some form of legal recognition to same sex unions.
On Jan. 21, Zapatero recalled the moment when his government legalized same-sex marriage, and called it a show of "respect" for diversity. The president said that—if re-elected in the March general election—he would remain "loyal to those values" and declared: "There is not only one family model, but free families that we must respect. (...) We will not take one step backwards in our defence for tolerance and freedom."

Polling Data

Do you think the law that allows homosexual marriage should be repealed?
Yes 18.1%
No 74.5%

Not sure 6.2%

Source: Instituto Opina / Cadena Ser Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,000 Spanish adults, conducted on Jan. 8, 2008. Margin of error is 3.1 per cent.

Spanish judge suspended over lesbian ruling

20th February 2008 16:45 staff writer

A judge in Spain who ordered a mother to choose between her partner and her daughters, because "a homosexual environment threatened their education," has been suspended.The body which supervises the judiciary in that country, the General Council for Judicial Power, has suspended Fernando Ferrín Calamita and a complaint about his behaviour is under investigation. The woman, from Murcia, south east Spain, was faced with the impossible choice after her husband discovered her in a compromising position with another woman. The woman's husband filed for divorce and was awarded custody of the couple's two daughters, after 'proving' his wife is a lesbian. "The mother will have to chose between her daughters and her new partner," Judge Ferrin ruled in June 2007. "It's impossible that two homosexual parents can give a child complete education." The Spanish Federation of Gays, Lesbians, Transsexuals and Bisexuals said the case went against basic human rights: "There has been no case of it's kind since the arrival of legal gay marriage in Spain, and the law states that the custody of a child should be decided independently of the sexual orientation of the parent." Judge Ferrin is known for his firm stance against topless swimming and nudists. Spain is credited with having some of Europe's most liberal gay rights legislation, and in 2005 became the third country to legalise gay marriage.However, decades of persecution under dictator Francisco Franco ended with the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1979.The country goes to the polls in a general election next month. Partido Popular, the main opposition party, who are the political heirs of Franco, have made the family a central plank of their election campaign. Party leader Mariano Rajoy said in an interview last week that he is ready to take away the right to adopt from gay couples.PP has promised to establish a new "family" ministry if they win the March 9th general election and suggested that the "traditional family" needs extra protection.The party has also talked about "downgrading" gay marriage to a form of civil partnership. The Socialist government came to power in the aftermath of the 2004 and has legalised same-sex marriage and adoptions, eased divorce laws and repeatedly clashed with the Roman Catholic Church.

Jamaican gay activist seeks refugee status in Canada

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Gareth Henry, a leading Jamaican gay activist, has come to Canada claiming refugee status.
Henry says 13 of his friends have been killed in Jamaica since 2004. One 22-year-old friend who was suspected of being gay was chased by a mob, Henry told CBC News. The only place he could run to was the harbour. He couldn't swim.
"Everyone," said Henry, "stood and watched him drown."
Henry, who was vocal activist with the country's pioneering gay-rights organization J-FLAG, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, has had his own troubling experiences. On Valentine's Day last year, he was caught in a pharmacy and surrounded by an angry mob, he said. There was no protection from the police or state.
"When you find police officers who are leading mob attacks, turning up at people's home like myself, pointing guns at my window, with civilians with them, and saying that I need to leave or they're going to kill me, it reinforces homophobia."
Henry said he wants to stay in Canada and is claiming refugee status. He says Canada understands and protects human rights and that Jamaica is not a place he can return to.

South Africa unveils hike in AIDS funding

published Friday, February 22, 2008

South Africa's finance minister said Wednesday the government will spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the next three years to double the number of people receiving AIDS medication.
Trevor Manuel, presenting his ministry's budget, said South Africa would spend an additional $274 million by 2011 to allow an extra half-million people with the AIDS virus to access antiretroviral treatment. That would bring the nation's total of HIV-positive people with access to treatment to about 900,000.
Mark Heywood of the AIDS Law Project welcomed Manuel's new spending plan but estimated that even with the additional money, about 500,000 people in need of treatment in 2011 still would not receive it.
South Africa has 5.4 million people with HIV or AIDS, the most in the world. Every day, nearly 1,000 people there die of AIDS and another 1,000 are infected. The social and economic costs to the country are immeasurable.
Critics blame President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, for the scale of the crisis.
After much delay, Tshabalala-Msimang earlier this month published guidelines for preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission by using a combination of two drugs -- nevirapine and AZT -- in accordance with long-standing World Health Organization recommendations.
But in a sign of the health ministry's ambiguous attitude toward use of medication, a doctor in the hardest-hit province of KwaZulu-Natal was temporarily suspended earlier this month for giving the treatment to pregnant women in his care without awaiting official approval.
The case caused an uproar, with hundreds of health professionals signing a petition demanding that the doctor, Colin Pfaff, be reinstated. Pfaff said Wednesday that hospital authorities told him the charges had been dropped.
''In many ways the work has only just begun,'' wrote Pfaff, who works in an area where nearly 40 percent of pregnant women carry the virus. ''I really hope that with dual therapy now approved ... many more babies' lives may be saved.'' (AP)

Swedish patients to get unisex underwear

published Friday, February 22, 2008

Sweden, a champion of gender equality, plans to introduce unisex underwear for hospital patients in a move designed to save both money and space, the project leader said Thursday.
The Swedish Standards Institute has developed a new boxer-style underwear that is considered equally suitable for male and female patients.
Swedish hospitals currently have four different models of underwear -- two for men and two for women.
Switching to one model will save money because hospitals can buy greater quantities at a better price, project leader Tuula Cammersand said. It is also an issue of space.
''A lot of people have complained that the different types take up a lot of space because you need all the different models and in different sizes,'' Cammersand said.
The new boxers are expected to receive final approval in April and be introduced before the summer, she said. (AP)

Swiss panel: Positive barebacking sometimes OK

published Thursday, January 31, 2008

Swiss AIDS experts said Thursday that some people with HIV who meet strict conditions and are under treatment can safely have unprotected sex with noninfected partners.
The proposal astonished AIDS researchers in Europe and North America who have long argued that safe sex with a condom is the single most effective way of preventing the spread of the disease -- apart from abstinence.
"Not only is (the Swiss proposal) dangerous, it's misleading and it is not considering the implications of the biological facts involved with HIV transmission," said Jay Levy, director of the Laboratory for Tumor and AIDS Virus Research at the University of California, San Francisco.
The Swiss National AIDS Commission said patients who can satisfy strict conditions, including successful antiretroviral treatment to suppress the virus and who do not have any other sexually transmitted diseases, do not pose a danger to others. The proposal was published this week in the Bulletin of Swiss Medicine.
The Swiss scientists took as their starting point a 1999 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which showed that transmission depends strongly on the viral load in the blood.
The other studies had also found that patients on regular AIDS treatment did not pass on the virus, and that HIV could not be detected in their genital fluids.
"Let's be clear, the decision has to remain with the HIV-negative partner," said Pietro Vernazza, head of infectious diseases at the cantonal hospital of St. Gallen in Switzerland and an author of the report.
The studies cited by the Swiss commission did not themselves definitively conclude whether people with HIV and on antiretroviral treatment could safely have unprotected sex without passing on the virus.
The World Health Organization said Switzerland would be the first country in the world to try this approach.
"There is still some concern that you can never guarantee that somebody will not be infectious, and the evidence I have to say is not conclusive," said Charlie Gilks, director of AIDS treatment and prevention at WHO.
"We are not going to be changing in any way our very clear recommendations that people on treatment continue to practice safer sex, including protected sex with a condom, in any relationship," he added.
In any case, of the 2 million people worldwide now receiving HIV treatment, only a very small number receive medical care comparable to that in Switzerland, Gilks said. (AP)

Canadian judge ripped for making HIV positive witness wear mask

published Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Canadian judge who asked a witness with HIV and hepatitis C to wear a mask in the courtroom is being challenged by two AIDS advocacy groups, according to United Press International.
Complaints were filed with the Ontario Judicial Council about Justice Jon-Jo Douglas. The Criminal Lawyers Association has also filed a complaint against the judge.
A man is on trial for allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow inmate at a provincial prison. During the November trial, it was revealed that the alleged victim had HIV and hepatitis. Douglas demanded that he wear a mask to hide his identity.
The trial's prosecutor said the judge ignored her argument that a mask was unnecessary.
"The HIV virus will live in a dried state for year after year after year and only needs moisture to reactivate itself," the court transcript quotes Douglas as saying. (The Advocate)

Brazil's Carnaval condom giveaway

published Monday, January 28, 2008

Health officials Sunday began distributing millions of condoms to fight the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases during Brazil's five-day Carnaval.
The government expects to hand out 19.5 million condoms by Carnaval's end Ash Wednesday, Feb. 6, state news service Agencia Brasil reported, under the program first launched several years ago.
"We have to let society know the importance of prevention," Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao said as he kicked off the campaign at a Rio de Janeiro cultural center.
Church officials in Brazil -- home to the world's largest Roman Catholic population -- have opposed the condom program, as well as another plan to hand out morning-after pills during Carnaval in the city of Recife.
"The church has nothing against having fun during Carnaval, but the banalization of human sexuality is something we cannot tolerate," Bishop Antonio Augusto Dias Duarte of the Life and Family Commission of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops said last week. "It will only serve to diminish inhibitions and encourage orgiastic behavior."
About 80 percent of young men polled by the Health Ministry reported using condoms, although just 40% of women said they insist on it, Temporao said, without giving more details on the survey. Nearly 600,000 Brazilians are HIV-positive, of whom 200,000 are being treated, he said.
The United Nations has praised Brazil's AIDS treatment program, which provides free antiviral medications that significantly improve life expectancy, as a global model. (AP)

Malta's gay group ask for equal rights

21st February 2008 12:50 staff writer

The gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans communities in the tiny EU nation of Malta have presented a petition asking for a range of measures to be introduced to protect them through the law, and have received the backing of a fringe political party. Alternattiva Demokratika leader Harry Vassallo said yesterday that the recognition of gay rights would be a step forward, according to the Times of Malta. He said he was supporting the petition organised by the Malta Gay Rights Movement and signed by more than 1,000 people, asking for legal recognition of same-sex couples, a homophobic bullying strategy for the island nation's schools and new laws targeting homophobic and transphobic crimes.The MGRM also wants gender reassignment surgery to be made available through Malta's public health services and goods and services protection for LGBT people. In 2004, Malta banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation after the Malta Gay Rights Movement lobbied for the measure to be included in an Employment Relations Act.Alternattiva Demokratika currently have no seats in Malta's parliament and the MGRM proposals are unlikely to receive the backing of any of the main political parties in the country, one of the most socially conservative countries in the EU. 98% of the population are Roman Catholics, and although homosexuality is legal, there remains significant prejudice.Malta, a British colony until 1964, has around 400,000 inhabitants and is the smallest EU state in terms of both size and population. In 2000 the government was criticised by gay rights groups for openly homophobic statements condemning EU proposals to treat gay people equally.According to a December 2006 Eurobarometer survey, only 18% of the Maltese population support gay marriage, and there is significant prejudice against the LGBT community. In July Malta's Union of Teachers threatened to publish the details of four attempts to oust gay and lesbian teachers from Roman Catholic school posts. According to the union, Church schools were under pressure from parents to fire the teachers, leading to four interventions in the past five years.