Stuart Milk and LGBT human rights leaders address U.K. Houseof Lords
by Heather Cassell
Stuart Milk, along with three other LGBT human rights leaders, continued the international conversation about global LGBT human rights with a panel of representatives of the House of Lords late Tuesday night (January 24) in London.
Milk, the openly gay nephew of slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and founder of the Harvey B. Milk Foundation, was joined by Renato Sabbadini, secretary general of the International Lesbian and Gay Association; Emma Reed, head of the LGBT Equality, U.K. Government Equalities Office; and David Wardrop, chairman of the Westminster Branch of the United Nations Association.
The global LGBT community leaders were invited to speak about queer rights around the world at the House of Lords policy summit on human rights issues. The summit was hosted by Lord Baron Frank Judd, Senior Member of the U.K. Joint Committee on Human Rights.
The House of Lords keeps the United Kingdom's government in check and plays a "vital role" in lawmaking as the second chamber of Parliament, according to its website.
The overarching premise of the discussion was how LGBT human rights will progress globally when there are nations that continue to criminalize homosexuality and governments' responsibility and roles individually and collectively in curbing anti-gay laws, said Milk in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter from London after the meeting.
The 90-minute discussion also included an estimated 100 British and European community organizers who came out to speak about global LGBT rights.
"Overall it was an interesting debate," said Milk. "It was really positive. There were some really dark issues involved that we all know about and they discussed them."
The discussion addressed a number of current issues, including funding for nations that criminalize homosexuality, LGBT refugees, religious organizations' exportation of hate, intersex invisibility, transgender rights, LGBT employment discrimination, and progressive corporations instituting LGBT-friendly policies in countries that have anti-gay laws.
Milk told the B.A.R. that he was able to be a "bit of an activist" during the meeting, stating that "organizations that are trying to pass laws that put the death penalty on homosexuality, in my view, they are terrorist organizations."
"There has been no movement yet for taking away those funds," added Milk, who said that HIV/AIDS organizations weren't mentioned.
Sabbadini disagreed with Prime Minister David Cameron's proposed move to punish U.K. commonwealth nations for embracing the anti-LGBT spirit instilled in them nearly a century ago under British rule by implementing new anti-gay laws.
"The reason for my disagreeing with these kind of measures is that they do more harm than good, particularly to LGBTI people in the countries concerned," wrote Sabbadini in an email interview from Brussels on January 25.
Sabbadini reasoned that cutting aid affects the poor and the very people who need it, including LGBTI people, and not the "ruling elite" who promote "transphobia and homophobia" and then scapegoat LGBT individuals. He said that cutting aid only contributes to a "false perception that LGBTI rights are a Western construct, which Western countries are trying to impose on cultures different from their own."
Sabbadini cautioned that any government exploring cutting funding to anti-gay nations should consult with local LGBTI activists to insure that the action is one they agree with and want.
Alternately, Sabbadini suggested investing more money in aid, particularly in cooperation projects working with local civil society and specifically with LGBT activists, "to create conditions for change" within the society as opposed to from outside the community.
The House of Lords acknowledged the legislating homophobia problem was one initiated by Britain that was now long outdated, Milk said, adding that he was surprised and impressed by the public ownership taken by the British government.
Reed gave a "typical bureaucratic non-response," but said the agency would follow up when questioned by LGBT refugee advocates and refugees about Britain's recent actions returning individuals to hostile countries where they knew individual lives were threatened because they were gay, Milk said.
No date was given as to when the Home Office, which handles refugees, would provide an answer, Milk said.
The discussion also brought up potential actions, such as employing LGBT ambassadors and having the United Nations represent LGBT communities, particularly in countries not living up to its resolutions, such as Sweden, he said.
Members of the House of Lords cautioned that changes could come slowly, said Milk.
"It's as slow as its members allow it to be," the community leaders responded, he said.
For more information, visit http://milkfoundation.org.
Women document LGBT experience
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the Oscars this week, but women directors were not among this year's contenders and most of the films nominated did not have LGBT content. (Christopher Plummer was nominated as best supporting actor for his role as a gay senior in Beginners).
There are a number of quality LGBT films, in particular documentaries being made by LGBT filmmakers, including women, but often the films struggle for acceptance into film festivals and often are largely unknown to audiences.
Yet, that doesn't stop women directors, queer or straight, from aiming the camera directly at hot issues, such as life for LGBT Jamaicans or being lesbian in Thailand.
Filmmakers Selena Blake, director and producer of Taboo Yardies, and Ruth Gumnit, cinematographer and director of Visible Silence: Thai Tomboys and the Women Who Love Them. The film is being produced in collaboration with her wife, Marguerite Salmon, and her company, Marea Media.
The women took on their respective films by chance and circumstance, they said.
"I had no intention of making a documentary about homophobia in Jamaica," said Blake.
The subject came up during a random conversation when someone mentioned they would never go to Jamaica because they "kill gays there," she said.
"What the hell? What are you talking about? That doesn't happen," Blake, 49, said was her first response. The Jamaican-born New York transplant had recently wrapped up her first film Queens Bridge: The Other Side that explored the positive side of public housing.
Stunned by the knowledge about her home country, Blake, who is straight, began investigating.
"I started investigating and I started digging and I was shocked," said Blake, who flew to Jamaica three times with a crew to film. "I didn't know anyone in Jamaica who was gay and that this was happening. I was clueless."
Her curiosity took her on a four-year journey that resulted in Taboo Yardies, a raw perspective examining homophobia in the Caribbean nation and in New York's Jamaican community. In the film, Blake interviews Jamaican political and religious leaders in the island nation and U.S., as well as LGBT citizens and queer activists, LGBT expatriates and refugees, and well-known queer writers Staceyann Chin and Thomas Glave, who now live in New York.
"I don't understand this hate. I can't explain it. It makes your hair stand up and your blood boil," said Blake. "I think that there is something within our culture. We are trying to fight demon within our culture. We don't understand, we kill, then ask questions."
She's currently submitting the film to festivals for consideration and fundraising to cover the estimated $200,000 she invested through credit cards and loans, along with her work as a caterer and commercial model to make the film.
Blake hopes her film will "open our eyes" and will be a "vehicle" to change how people think and feel about LGBT people and to help LGBT people in Jamaica.
Gumnit, 49, a self-identified butch/tomboy, was raised in Asia but now lives in San Francisco. She picked up her recent film interest after returning from shooting a documentary about refugees on the Burma/Thailand border. She knew she was going to return to the region and realized she needed to learn "survival Thai," she said.
The tutor she found ended up being one half of an older Thai lesbian couple. They became friends and remained in touch when her tutor and her partner returned to Thailand after she graduated from the University of San Francisco.
Gumnit became increasingly interested in Thailand's tom, short for tomboy, and dee, short for lady, culture. Six years and an estimated $50,000 later, Gumnit is about to wrap up editing, starting post-production and the film festival circuit submission process soon, she said.
The journey has taken her to Thailand twice, where she interviewed Thai lesbians who risked sharing their story with Gumnit.
"I just have so much respect for all of the people who are participating, some of them are taking quite a large enough risk," said Gumnit. "Their strength gives me strength."
Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-221-3541, Skype: heather.cassell, or email: email@example.com.