Rep. Barbara Lee on Hate Crimes Bill

As much as I don’t think hate crimes legislation will do anything to curb or combat homophobic violence, I am at least happy to see Rep. Barbara Lee talk about Black and Latino LGBT folks–which quite frankly very few politicians of color are willing to do.

She, against the wishes of the Bush Administration, also attended the 2008 International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, and was very vocal about the epidemic in the US, and the need to focus prevention efforts on Black gay men.

Housing Works Update: Where Are All the Black Gay Men?

This article from Housing Works’ Weekly Update raises similar issues I raised in my op-ed for The Defenders Online about HIV/AIDS in the Black community, and the silence around Black gay men.

Two weeks ago individuals and organizations across the nation marked National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Judging by many of the articles, press releases and events commemorating the day, however, you might never guess that the highest percentage of new HIV infections in 2006 was among black gay men.

Why, even on a day dedicated to black AIDS awareness, do black gay men remain a footnote?

“It’s symptomatic of the problem we face of ridding our community of HIV in order to break the back of the epidemic,” said Ernest Hopkins, policy director of the Black Gay Advocacy Coalition. “The most heavily impacted population by percentages is black gay men. If you want to talk about this epidemic you have to start there, and then move very quickly to black women, or you’re not doing your job.” Read the rest of the article here:

Senegal Sentences 9 Gay HIV Activists to Prison. For Being Gay.

Despite my celebrating the recent Uganda high court decision in favor of several lesbians abused by police, we still obviously have a long way to go. This past week, a Senegalese court sentenced 8 gay men who worked for AIDES Senegal (an organization that provides condoms and HIV treatment, in a country that has one of the lowest prevalence rates on the continent) to 8 years in prison for “homosexual acts.” Ironically, the country just played host to a regional gathering of the International AIDS Conference. The BBC reports:

“This is the first time that the Senegalese legal system has handed down such a harsh sentence against gays,” said Issa Diop, one of the men’s four defence lawyers. Mr Diop said he would be appealing against the sentences.

The IGLHRC’s Cary Alan Johnson said he was “deeply disturbed” by the case.

“There have been pretty consistent human rights violations… in Senegal,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme from Cape Town in South Africa.

“But the extremity of this sentence [and] the rapidness of the trial all really shocks us in a country which has been moving so positively towards rule of law and a progressive human rights regime.”

According to the website Behind the Mask (which documents what’s happening to LGBT people on the African continent.), the law governing “homosexual acts” reads (in English) as follows:

“Without prejudice to the more serious penalties provided for in the preceding paragraphs or by articles 320 and 321 of this Code, whoever will have committed an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex will be punished by imprisonment of between one and five years and by a fine of 100,000 to 1,500,000 francs. If the act was committed with a person below the age of 21, the maximum penalty will always be applied”

Human Rights Watch has also issued a statement demanding their release.

Blacks, Gay Men At Highest Risk for HIV

New infections in Men

New infections in Men

The US Conference on AIDS has begun in Fort Lauderdale, unfortunately I couldn’t afford to go, but just as well because I am going to see my southern friends at Southerners on New Ground’s 15th Anniversary. But given the CDC’s recent release of the of the subpopulation data of the new infections for 2006 (called incidence), I thought I’d share some of the data with you. If you click on the link above you’ll find a lot of other tools to help you understand the data including a fact sheet, a Q&A, and a podcast:

CDC’s August 2008 data showed that gay and bisexual men, referred to in CDC’s surveillance systems as men who have sex with men (MSM)2, represented the majority of new infections in 2006 (53%, 28,720).

Now, in the more detailed analysis, CDC further examine new infections among whites, blacks, and

New Infections by Race

New Infections by Race

Hispanics/Latinos. The findings reveal that the ages at which MSM become infected vary by race:

  • Young Black MSM: Among MSM overall, there were more new HIV infections in young black MSM (aged 13–29) than any other age/racial group of MSM. The number of new infections among young, black gay and bisexual men was roughly twice that of whites and of Hispanics/Latinos (5,220 infections in blacks vs. 3,330 among whites and 2,300 among Hispanics/Latinos).
  • White MSM in their 30s and 40s: Among MSM in the analysis, white MSM accounted for close to half (46%) of HIV incidence in 2006. Most new infections among white MSM occurred in those aged 30–39 (4,670), followed by those aged 40–49 (3,740).
  • Hispanic/Latino MSM: Among Hispanic/Latino MSM, most new infections occurred in the youngest (13-29) age group (2,300), though a substantial number of new HIV infections were among those aged 30–39 (1,870)

Walt Senterfitt, in this month’s HHS Watch (a publication of Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)), writes about what the new data means for gay men in his piece called Where’s Our National Campaign Against Homophobia?

There has also been a consistent tendency over at least the last 15 years within much of the AIDS community itself – and certainly by the media and other institutions of civil society enlisted in the struggle against HIV/AIDS – to “de-gay-ify” HIV/AIDS. For example, messages stress that HIV is an “equal opportunity virus” and that anyone can be at risk, emphasize children and women at risk, and stress that HIV/AIDS is, in its majority, now an epidemic in communities of color (while simultaneously neglecting to stress that those most disproportionately impacted in communities of color are gay and bisexual men).

This direction in messaging was in part well intended, to combat the widespread assumption that if you are not a white gay man, AIDS is not your problem and you are not at risk. It was also meant to get beyond the intensified stigmatization of gay men and focus on the behaviors that put one at risk. This approach has been embraced by many HIV positive and other gay men who fear the added stigmatization of having “gay” remain widely associated with “HIV/AIDS” in public consciousness. Even from the start though, this approach was a capitulation to rather than a confrontation of societal stigma and prejudice against gay people, against transgender people, against all people who are sexually “non-normative.” And it didn’t work. Homophobia still is rampant, dollars have gone elsewhere, and, alone among the exposure categories, HIV infection rates among gay men are rising.

Here’s video from a panel CHAMP sponsored (that I moderated) back in February on the issue:

Tecumseh Roberts: Gay Murder and Nation-making in Liberia

I have this theory–nationalism is bad for queers. Why? It seems to me that many nationalist movements are framed around an idea of nationhood that equates resistance with (hetero) masculinity. The idea of building a nation then means that the heterosexual family becomes the initial “seed” of the nation. All other people who fall outside of those terms of “reproducing” the nation, vis-a-vis the family, are expendable, and are often written off as socially dead, murdered, or suffer the brunt of infectious diseases or chronic illnesses (AIDS or breast cancer, to name a few specifics) Queer and non-normative sex, gender expression and identity become seen as counterrevolutionary in the nationalist politic.

I am not taking sides about “revolutionary”–I mean any organized group trying to overthrow a political/ideological government or regime. In the most recent case, Liberia. That West African nation “founded” by the U.S., using former U.S. slaves as the “colonizers,” is recovering from the throes of a very brutal period of violence and political instability which lasted, in various forms, for more than 20 years.To address the most recent conflict (1999-2003), the country has established a “Truth & Reconciliation” Commission to, according to the website, create “an independent and accurate record of the rights violations and abuses as a result of the conflict.”

Last week, Prince Johnson, a state senator and former guerilla leader was testifying about the death of Tecumseh Roberts, a Liberian popular musician. He testified that another member of his former militia killed Roberts because he was gay. Apparently Roberts was in charge of delivering rice to people in the territory that Johnson controlled, but read this synopsis from the Liberian Journal of Johnson’s discovery that Roberts was gay:

Mr. Johnson said following the discovery of musician Roberts, a stream of blood flowed down his pants leading to the confirmation of suspicion by Gen. Varnii that the musician was a “homosexual.”
“Gen. Varnii ordered Tecumseh Roberts to take off his trouser and when he (latter) took off his trouser, it was discovered that his butt [anal] was rotten. The man whole anus was rotten,” the senator told commissioners.
Following the discovery that he was a homosexual, Johnson said, Gen. Varnii shot and killed Mr. Roberts.
The suggestion by Prince Johnson in his testimony is that Roberts had been fucked so much and so hard that his anus was “rotten”–in a state of decomposing, no longer alive or viable. It was in fact, dying,and therefore Roberts’ whole body, and the idea of a gay Liberian, also had to die, and therefore he was shot (Nevermind the thought that if the man was in fact bleeding he may have been raped). One need not look to West Africa to find similar examples of non-heteronormative sex/sexuality is tantamount to social, political and cultural death. It is the reason why, I continue to blog about all the murders of Black queer folks here in the U.S.

Call Tyrone!: Gambian Prez Orders Queers “Out”

I am growing interested in the way narratives, and means of conveying morality in political rhetoric crosses borders. I am no scholar in this field, but I am beginning to find similar lines of thought in political messaging both here in the US, and among other political leaders in the Third World. President Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia said last Thursday that homosexuals, thieves and drug dealers must leave the country in 24 hours. He went on to say that “Any hotel, lodge or motel that lodges this kind of individuals will be closed down, because this act is unlawful. We are in a Muslim dominated country and I will not and shall never accept such individuals in this country.”

According to Behind The Mask, homosexuality in Gambia is covered under a law that makes an offense of anyone who

(a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; or
(b) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or
(c) permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature;

and is punishable by 14 years in prison. In fact, according to Behind the Mask, in 1999 the Prez used the old there’s no queers in the animal kingdom logic by noting that “among my animals there are no lesbians, no gays or whatever. They do everything as nature ordered.”

What’s interesting about his telling the queers and the other undesirables to “call Tyrone” is that he seemed to be equating such acts of immorality with immigrants to Gambia, and blamed Gambian youth for not taking advantage of the opportunities the immigrants are, stating that “all stores belonging to Gambians and rented to foreigners would be seized. We are tired of investing for only foreigners to the benefits. Today, look at the NYSS [National Youth Service Scheme] as compared to when it was newly created; Gambians have ran away from it and we provide a number of young people people for skilled training. This means that Gambians are difficult to help.”

Jammeh was equating the loss of the moral compass in Gambia with immigrants (whom from what I can tell come from neighboring countries like Senegal and Sierra Leone), and that Gambian youth don’t take advantage of the opportunities they are given. Sound familiar? To me, this sounds like a cross between right wing anti-immigration rhetoric and neo-liberal racial uplift politics in America. Is this simply an accident, or is there some possible link between these narratives that are crossing borders?

Jammeh has lived and “studied” in the US. While the Prez is calling for the end of all this outside influence, looking at his resume from the Gambia’s official government website, he was trained right here in the good ole USofA. Under the category “Overseas Training,” the only listing is

September 1993 – January 1994

Attended Military Police Officers Basic Course (MPOBC) at Port McClellan, Alabama, USA.
Obtained a Diploma in Military Science (Military Operations).

Yes. He received additional military training by the US Military. Not that he was in any need of it. If you read the rest of his resume, other than being President, the man has done nothing else but serve in the military.

As a matter of fact, Reporters Without Borders has accused “President Yahya Jammeh’s police state” of using murder, arson, unlawful arrest and death threats against journalists.

Housing, Gentrification and Queer Safety Actions in NYC Tomorrow

There are three really interesting actions taking place this weekend in NYC to bring attention to issues that are critical to poor & working class people, blacks and Latinos—particularly women, and queer/gender non-conforming people (and all the places where those identities intersect). If you’re in NYC I strongly advise trying to make it to one or more of these if you’re able:

11am, Harlem, NYC. “Hands Across Harlem”
The Coalition to Save Harlem is holing a Hand Across Harlem demonstration to protest the city’s plane to re-zone 125th Street, which would effectively kill most small independent black/Latino-owned business along 125th, and drive rents in Harlem even further into the stratosphere, opening the area up for increased gentrification. Protesters are planning to meet at 11am at 125th St and Broadway, and form a human chain at noon across 125th Street, river to river. At 1pm a rally will begin at 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell. For more background read the NY Observer Article. (The photo above is of Sikhulu Shange, owner of Harlem Record Shack, which has become the symbol for the types of long-held indigenous businesses in danger of closing). I think this campaign is worthwhile, but for nearly as long as Black people have been in Harlem, I would venture to say we have not ever owned a majority of the businesses.

1pm, Downtown Brooklyn, NYC. “Fed Up Homeowners ‘Auction Off’ Brooklyn Supreme Court”

Hardworking homeowners being devastated by subprime mortgages and foreclosures are placing the Brooklyn Supreme Court (360 Adams Street—front steps facing Cadman Plaza W.) up for public auction on Saturday April 12th at 1:00pm. Frustrated by financial institutions’ unwillingness to negotiate solutions to the current crisis, New York City homeowners who are a part of CHANGER’s 300 strong city wide organizing campaign, DO SOMETHING, in partnership with United Community Centers will rally, hold a home foreclosure auction, and release new data on the inner workings of foreclosure auctions. Visit Community CHANGER online for more information.

1:30-6:30pm, Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, NYC. “Safe Neighborhood Summit.”

The Summit will kick off the Safe Neighborhood Campaign with speakers, workshops on preventing violence and challenging police violence, and community strategy sessions.

The Safe Neighborhood Campaign is a program initiated by the S.O.S. Collective of the Audre Lorde Project, which works to address an increase in violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit. And gender nonconforming people in communities of color. The Summit takes place in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza, 1368 Fulton St. (between Brooklyn & New York Ave.) C to Kingston-Throop, A to Nostrand Ave, B43, B44, B25. Register now online, Or by phone at: 718-596-0342 ext 22, ask for Ejeris.

S.O.S. is currently inviting organizations, businesses, religious institutions, and schools to become “Safe Spaces” which pledge to intervene in and prevent harassment or violence on their premises. Some “Safe Spaces” also agree to be “Safe Havens” which agree to provide sanctuary to community members escaping violence. We are guided by the belief that we can create violence free neighborhoods one Safe Space at a time.

There are a couple things happening next week you should know about too! Stay tuned!