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.
While a great deal of international effort still has to go into removing explicitly anti-LGBT laws — think sodomy laws such as the various Section 377s in Asian countries, or Russia’s anti-gay speech law — it’s also important to press positive legislation that promotes LGBT visibility and inclusion. Equal marriage is one such type of legislation. Another, which hasn’t gained as much attention but is building, would be laws that put an end to coerced therapies designed to “convert” LGBT citizens to “more acceptable” forms of heterosexuality.
California was the first state in the U.S. to pass a law banning so-called “gay cure” therapy — which immediately set off a controversy over whether that was an interference with freedom of speech if such therapies and therapists use only counseling techniques. Could the state put an end to a therapist’s speech aimed at converting LGBT individuals?
(The previous barbaric tactics of electro-shock and lobotomies have usually receded in most civil societies. You can read an excerpt from Gay Seattle about Washington state’s most famous case involving the actress Frances Farmer by clicking here.)
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals delivered its decision last August. Yes, by all means, it said, governments have a right to regulate therapists and therapies. If approaches are considered harmful, useless or forms of consumer fraud — as conversion therapy is by scientific and medical groups — then the government can ban them.
For anyone young or suffering from social or religious pressure to become more gender- or sexual-conforming, these laws are an absolutely critical and much needed advance in how we all live together civilly.
Now that more and more states are adopting equal marriage laws — or having their discriminatory laws struck down by federal judges — Catholic archdioceses have begun responding by firing any employees who exercise their right to same-sex marriage. The Seattle Times today carries a good overview of what’s happening. Click here to read the story. (To read a subsequent New York Times update, click here.)
For Seattle, most of the focus has been on the dismissal of a popular vice principal at Eastside Catholic High School, Mark Zmuda. He was fired shortly before Christmas, prompting a student uproar and the collection of more than 20,000 petition signatures online urging the Archdiocese of Seattle to reinstate him. Presented with those signatures yesterday, an Archdiocese spokesman said that although Continue reading The new Catholic response to marriage equality→
Ed Murray was inaugurated as Seattle’s mayor yesterday, the first LGBT person to claim such a high political post in Washington state. As a previous state representative and then state senator, Murray has worked for LGBT rights for decades, successfully coordinating the passage of an anti-discrimination law in employment as well as the passage in 2012 of an equal marriage law. He and his partner Michael Shiosaki, who have been together for 22 years, were just married five months ago.
Ed is a classic example of a social justice advocate who knows how to pragmatically work in the legislative trenches and build coalitions, finding ways to position himself so that others need his help and then coaxing them along to also help LGBT causes. His early work, under his legislative mentor Cal Anderson, was documented in the closing chapter of the original 2003 version of Gay Seattle; his latest work was detailed in the introduction to the 2013 paperback edition.
December 27, 2013 — In Iran, homosexuality carries the death penalty and the penalty is carried out by hanging. (Click here for a Huffington Post 2012 report.) No surprise then that one of the most moving scenes in a new visual poem, “I,” by Iranian author J.D. Kamran occurs when Iranian gay men and Iranian lesbian women take a hangman’s noose into their hands and untie it. Then they play jump rope, visually asserting what we all know to be true: gender knows no boundaries of play, just as love knows no boundaries of outdated law.
I have always been here, Not on the gallows! Not in death! I have always been here, in life.
Thanks to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for supporting the work of LGBT activists in Iran. The IGLHRC will soon be publishing manuals in Persian to be used by media, activists, and human rights attorneys. Meanwhile, LGBT folks in Iran rely on mobile devices and the Internet — not only to get their stories out but to know that they are not alone. I have to admit that when I stumble across folks like these on the new international social media available — yes, even those “who’s nearby” or not apps — I’m stunned at their courage.
December 17,2013: A little more than a year ago, lesbians and gays in Washington state, where I live, began to be able to marry. Now word comes that roughly one out of every six Washington marriages since that time are between men or women of the same sex. The most recent info from the state Health Department actually only covers ten months from last December until this past September. In that time 7,071 same-sex couples legally married.
Compare that to the 2010 census, in which final estimates were that 19,000 same-sex households existed in Washington state, with about 3,000 of the folks in those households already married (presumably in states where it had already been legalized, or in Canada). The figures on new Washington state marriages means that about half of same-sex couples here have now legally married.
India has disappointingly returned to the ranks of nations that not only criminalize gay sex, but do so using an antiquated, vague legal definition of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” imposed by the colonial British in 1861.
The section of the penal code involved, Section 377, is the same that has been at recent issue in other former British colonies in Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, and Myanmar/Burma. In fact, Section 377’s wording and numbering was either adopted directly or served as the model for criminalizing homosexuality in more than 30 of the roughly 70 nations that still do so. In India, as in Burma, the section makes sex “against the order of nature” punishable with 10 years in prison. Other nations add even more extreme punishment. Malaysia’s Section 377 specifies up to 20 years imprisonment along with whipping.
The Delhi High Court had struck Section 377 down in 2009 in the case of Naz Foundation v Govt of NCT of Delhi. The Delhi decision decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults, saying