All posts by garyatkins

Gary L. Atkins is an award-winning journalist whose works include the critically acclaimed Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging and his new book, Imagining Gay Paradise: Bali, Bangkok and Cyber-Singapore. He specializes in creative non-fiction journalism, fusing an easy-to-read narrative style powered by strong characters with questions about history, geography, communication, and social justice. Gay Seattle follows the 100-year-long saga through which gay men and women imagined their “coming home” – rather than just their “coming out” -- in the context of the Pacific Northwest’s famously wet landscape and roguish history. Similarly, Imagining Gay Paradise journeys through a century of imaginings of paradise and manhood by gay men in the tropical geography of Southeast Asia. The story stretches from the end of the colonial empires to the present world of cyberspace, ranging across the development of the aesthetic paradise of Bali in the 1920s and 1930s to the erotic paradise of Bangkok fostered from the 1960s onward, and to the cyber-paradise promoted since the 1990s in Singapore. Gay Seattle was published by the University of Washington Press in 2003 and received numerous accolades for its fusion of journalism and scholarship, including a Washington State Book Award and a national Jesuit Book Award. The University of Hong Kong Press is publishing the hardback edition of Imagining Gay Paradise and is joined by Silkworm Press of Thailand as co-publishers of the paperback edition. Imagining Gay Paradise is also being made available as an e-book. Gary first became interested in writing about age six when his parents gave him a rubber-type printing press. He immediately started producing a newspaper for his local neighborhood in New Orleans. In high school, he initially thought he might become a historian or a biologist – two other strong interests – but eventually he realized that if he entered journalism, he could write about all three of his interests: current political and legal events, history, and nature. He graduated from Loyola University and then Stanford University, served an internship on the Washington Post and joined the Pulitzer-winning Riverside Press-Enterprise in California -- where he won numerous awards for his narrative and environmental reporting and writing. Seattle University hired him to teach in and chair its Communication Department and, in 2005, named him a full professor. He teaches courses in narrative journalism, communication justice, media and sexual/gender justice, and international communication in Asia.

What Rome giveth, Rome taketh away

So much for this past week’s news that the Catholic Church might be willing to extend a more welcoming hand to LGBT families — called, euphemistically, “irregular unions” — or to “regular” families with LGBT children. What had been widely interpreted as welcoming paragraphs in a draft report from the bishops’ synod on the family were first watered down and then stripped away entirely.

Begone lesbians and gays! Poof!

Conservative bishops and cardinals won the day apparently, although not without some interesting wrinkles thrown in by Pope Francis — who, of course, has been seen as prodding, if not pushing, for a more compassionate stance. Here’s a great report from the Washington Post.   Perhaps one of the most interesting wrinkles is that one of the most virulently anti-gay cardinals, Raymond Leo Burke, has now been demoted by Pope Francis.  Burke, who used to be archbishop of St. Louis but of late has been heading the Vatican’s top court on canon law, protested the synod’s draft vehemently and even attacked Francis publicly, saying that he had no right to disregard (Burke’s presumed interpretation of) canon law and Catholic doctrine.  Burke will now go from being, in essence, the Vatican’s chief justice to being “patron of the Knights of Malta.” The title says it all.  Here’s a story from the Gay Star News.

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New Reports Highlight LGBT Issues in Asia

The “Being LGBT in Asia” project supported by the United Nations has been busy the past few months churning out report after report on LGBT issues in Asia — all of which make fascinating reading. They provide background on traditional understandings of sexual orientation and gender identity as well as current efforts to promote equal rights.

So far six reports are out: Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.  You can download then from the “Being LGBT site.”

Vatican moving toward more compassion for LGBT and non-traditional families?

The Vatican may finally be moving toward a more contemporary understanding of what a “family” is and, as a result, toward more compassion toward LGBT citizens throughout the world. A preliminary report from the current synod of bishops being held to discuss Catholicism’s approach to family is calling for more acceptance of gays, unmarried couples, those who have divorced or are cohabiting — and even toward cultures such as in Africa where polygamy is still common.

A 12-page report contains three paragraphs that particularly apply to and  seem to shift the tone of the Church toward lesbians and gay men. Will the tone remain once it has been debated by the bishops? That’s hard to tell since the church of Pope Francis is torn between those who want to maintain the traditional doctrinal hostility toward LGBT folks and those who want to move toward a more pastoral stance of supporting all of us.  Even the three paragraphs reflect this, the first and last being more supportive than the second:

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

 “The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

 “Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”

Advances and Retreats in Equality

EqualityRisingThe Human Rights Campaign Foundation has released “Equality Rising,” a report on LGBTQ global equality during 2013.  Among some of the findings pertinent in Asia in particular:

— Nepal created what may be the world’s broadest third-gender identity category for its citizenship documents, open to anyone who does not wish to be identified as either male or female.

— Bangladesh also began offering a third-gender identity category, though a more limited one for its traditional hijras who are born with ambiguous genitals or else are physically male but live in a female identity.  Those who identify as hijras now have new state protections for access to education, housing and health services.

— In South Korea, a court ruled that transponders can change their legal gender status without undergoing genital surgery. A previous court decision had allowed changes to gender status, but only if a person underwent gender reassignment surgery before applying for the change.

— Mongolia held its first ever Pride week in mid-September, with groups holding discussions on LGBT rights, a PFLAG meeting , and a queer film festival.

— In Singapore, the Pink Dot rally in June — a substitute for an actual pride demonstration or march — attracted a record 21,000 folks dressing in pin at Hong Lim Park.

— In India, of course, there was a double setback. First the Supreme Court reinstated Sectoin 377, the colonial sodomy law that had been struck down by a Delhi court in 2009. Then, just a few weeks ago, a nationalist right-wing party, with a long record of homophobia, took power in the national elections.

The report concludes:

The achievements and setbacks in 2013 make it clear that the world is being pulled in two directions. One direction aims to respect the human rights of LGBT people. The other sees LGBT individuals as a threat to society, family and tradition, unworthy of the freedom to live openly and safely.

The gulf between these two directions is getting wider because of unprecedented progress in some places. Disturbingly, this progress has led to reactive anti-LGBT laws and violence in others.

We are at a critical time in the global equality movement. Change is happening at a rapid rate. As some LGBT people are nearing legal equality, we must work together to ensure that others are not left behind.

A new gay U.S. ambassador for Vietnam

Ted Osius
Ted Osius

Ted Osius, a gay man who has been serving as a deputy ambassador in Indonesia, has been nominated by President Obama to become the new U.S. ambassador in Vietnam. Osius and his partner Clayton Bond, have a young son together so it should be quite a little family gathering at all the official receptions ambassadors must attend. Bond works with the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs.  If confirmed Osius would be the first (out) gay ambassador in Asia. Obama has nominated six (out) gay ambassadors.

A little more update from Cambodian Rights Conference

It’s been a while since I posted here….and before I get started again, it seems appropriate to share a few more photos from the LGBT workshop in Phnom Penh. Thanks to the organizer of the workshop, East-West Management Institute, for these:

Longtime transgender activist Sou Sotheavy , observes participants draft legislation for LGBT rights
Longtime transgender activist Sou Sotheavy , observes participants draft legislation for LGBT rights

 

Burmese representatives, including U Hla Myat, traveled to the workshop to bring back ideas and offer theirs
Burmese representatives, including U Hla Myat, traveled to the workshop to bring back ideas and offer theirs

 

A dramatic moment -- lawyers and law students promise to take LGBT rights cases
A dramatic moment — lawyers and law students promise to take LGBT rights cases

Cambodian LGBT advocates urge changes in law and school policies

Village chief speaking at LGBT conference
Village chief speaking at LGBT conference

LGBT advocates meeting in conference in Phnom Penh have urged changes and clarifications in several laws in order to offer more protection to LGBT students, allow same-sex marriage, and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (1993), Article 31, guarantees equal rights to all citizens regardless of personal characteristics, stating: “Every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other status.”

However the Constitution also needs to be supplemented by other laws and interpretations of laws, called “prakas” in Cambodia.

The proposed law to prevent non-discrimination reads: “Sexual orientation and gender identity shall not be discriminated against under the law of Cambodia.”

Advocates say a praka, is also needed to insure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are not refused educational services simply because of the type of school uniform they choose to wear.Conference participants unanimously adopted the following proposed draft language for a Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport praka: “No students shall be denied of education services on ground of sexual orientation and gender identity and choice of uniform”.   Read more.

Cambodia, in its new civil code implemented in 2011, has removed prohibitions on same-sex marriage, much as Vietnam did this past fall. To make further clarifications, participants at the conference proposed changes that would remove the words “man and woman” from the Civil Code section defining “engagements” and replace those words with “two persons.”  View the powerpoint developed at the conference: Cambodia Marriage

View a short video of law students crafting the laws.

A story in the Phnom Penh Post about the first day of the conference: “LGBT Rights Battle Ongoing”

A story in the Cambodia Daily News about the first day of the conference: “Discussions Center on Equalizing Cambodia’s LGBT Rights”

Further background on the conference from its organizer, East-West Management Institute.