Iran: How assaulting eight women and girls can make you a “gay man” (updated)

Abandon hope: Surreptitiously taken photograph of the entrance to Lakan Prison, Rasht, Iran

Abandon hope. Surreptitiously snapped photograph of the entrance to Lakan Prison, Rasht, Iran

Note: Update at the bottom of this post

Let’s start with Washington, that pale cold city. The Washington Free Beacon is a right-wing US webzine edited by Matthew Continetti, who used to write defensive hagiographies of Sarah Palin. The zine is disarmingly blunt about its specialities: a) attacks; b) propaganda. (“At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them.”) Examining its mission statement when it launched two years ago, an Atlantic critic burst into adjectives: “flawed, soulless,” “vicious and unethical.” The Beacon loves guy stuff, neocons, and wars. It actually has a reporter named Adam Kredo — who sounds like a DC Comics supervillain, particularly since his name on the website is trailed by a Twitter command: Follow Kredo0.  

They turn to me, not to you, Spider-Man. Soon I will rule the world!

They turn to me, not to you, Batman. Soon I will rule all Gotham!

On March 3, Kredo published a piece declaring that “Iran executed two gay men on Sunday for the crime of ‘perversion’…The head of Iran’s judiciary department in the northern city of Rasht announced on Sunday that two homosexual men had been executed for ‘perversion,’ which is considered a severe crime under Iran’s hardline Islamic law…  As the Western world negotiates with Iran over its contested nuclear weapons program … While Iran is known to plan and fund terror attacks across the globe …” And on and on.

Where is Rasht? It is the capital of Gilan province, not too far from Tehran as an ambitious crow might fly, but a long way by land over the mountains. Thirty kilometers south of the Caspian Sea, the city once called itself the Gate to Europe: opulent trade with Russia and beyond rumbled over its pine-lined roads. In its prison last week, executioners put two men to death. Were they gay? The rumor trade, richer these days than spices, reached America.

L: Gilan province in Iran; R: Rasht and vicinity

L: Gilan province in Iran; R: Rasht and vicinity

These stories, about gays murdered in Iran, waken questions. The stories are recurrent and they all resemble one another, without enough detail to individuate them. They’re all unsourced — usually there’s a newspaper article the writer never actually read. They have their own life and appear in locust cycles, not so much out of design as from a summer swelter of fear and xenophobia, whenever a crisis between the US (or Israel) and Iran is imminent, or wanted. I’ve seen them many times before. The repression of LGBT people in Iran is real. These stories have little or nothing to do with it.

Instead, these rumors seize the lives of distant human beings, hollow them out, and use the husks. The victims become both mannequins and messages, static and imperative like propaganda posters. They also distort the reality of death as it’s actually dealt out to prisoners in Iran. Look at the gays, they say, the “innocent” ones like us, twisting our attention away from the scope of atrocities and the other dead who aren’t assimilable or attractive.

The stories play out in entirely predictable, functional ways. For Kredo0 (adding that extra zero to his name is irresistible) it’s mainly about showing his cojones to cowardly lefties who love the Muslims.

adam kredo gay iran

For Jamie Kirchick, it’s about how Iran never changes. (On Twitter, Kirchick lathers praise on Free Beacon and its editor Continetti with the ardor of someone angling for a job — the webzine supposedly has a cushy seven-figure starting investment.)

kirchick iran copy

But basically it’s about getting the gays to stop worrying and love that bomb graph Netanyahu used to hold.

iran israel copy

Nobody bothered to check Iranian sources. But I wanted to know what the real story was. 

Here it is.

In the last week, the local press in Gilan province reported just one case of two people executed together. The two men were killed on Wednesday, February 26 (7 Esfand,1392). The story first appeared in KhazarOnline.ir the next day. (Xazar is the Farsi name for the Caspian Sea.) It’s headlined “Two corrupt Rashti men were executed for the crime of desecration of 8 women and girls.”

Two predators were executed yesterday morning (Wednesday) at Rasht Central Prison … About two years ago, the defendants locked girls and women in cars for the keeping of livestock. The public affairs office of the Gilan judiciary said the two men were executed for raping eight women and girls.

There you are. How did these rapists become “gay men”?

That’s a story in itself. It’s an Iranian game of Telephone. On Saturday (March 1, 10 Esfand) another Gilan website, DiyarMirza.ir, covered the case: “Execution at Rasht Central Prison of two accused of harassment  [آزار و اذیت].” It’s not clear why the charge has gotten vaguer and weaker-sounding in this telling. My suspicion is that concern, or pressure, to protect women victims’ honor mitigated against offering detail. (Moreover, the item is buried as a short postscript to a longer story about the execution of three other men for drug dealing — one of the most serious offenses in Iran.) The one paragraph gives the initials of the dead, and their parents’ first names.

Culture of killing, from the cradle to the grave: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

Culture of killing: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

This is not a very important item. It’s not till Sunday (March 2, 11 Esfand) that it reaches Tehran, when it’s picked up by the national Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). It makes just a blip on their website, saying that “two men aged 28 and 30 years were executed today in Rasht Central Prison,” based on information from the Gilan judiciary. It gives the offense as “unlawful acts” [اعمال خلاف شرع].  You can more or less see what happened: either IRIB gave Gilan a routine call to see if they had any news, or the Gilan PR people decided to phone their executions in, but in either case they gave only a cursory account of a really negligible slaughter. It would seem, moreover, that IRIB got the date wrong. (I checked. The Gilan news sites have no report of executions after February 26.)

Late Sunday, though, the generally respected Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), which tries to draw attention to all executions in Iran, carried the story. HRANA was set up in 2009, after the Green Revolution, to disseminate news of abuses and resistance; it has essentially relocated to the US now. “According to IRIB,” they reported, “two men were executed today in Rasht Central Prison,” for “unlawful acts.” Then, because HRANA is particularly concerned with the pretexts for which Iran kills people, they try to hone in on figuring out the “unlawful acts” phrase. It

consists of acts that are prohibited by law and by Islamic shari’a law, and the penalty for them is set on the basis of the religious laws in Islam. Acts of crime and sin can be included such as: lavat [ لواط] (men having sex with men), masaheghe [ساحق] (women having sex with women), zina [ زنا] (sexual relations between men and women who are not married to one another), moharebeh (attempting to overthrow the Islamic Government), drinking alcoholic beverages, sabolnabi (cursing the prophets and the imams), theft (stealing another’s property covertly), and ghazf (accusing others of zina or lavat) — and in general acts that are opposed to shari’a. 

I see some unlawful acts here: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

I see some unlawful acts here: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

HRANA published a version of this article in English as well. That concluded by noting that “The specific charges of the 2 men hanged in Rasht on charges of unlawful acts against Sharia Law are not clear.”

But that warning went nowhere; because the next to take up the story was Iran Press News, in the United States. Iran Press News, a site dating from 2004, offers content in both Farsi and English, with a right-wing bent especially in the latter. One item in the HRANA lists of “unlawful acts” had jumped out at them. In Farsi, IPN published only a bare mention; but the headline was now “Two young homosexuals [ همجنسگرا ] were executed in prison in Rasht.”

The public affairs office of the Gilan judiciary announced that two men, aged 28 and 30 years, were executed today in Rasht Central Prison. The two men were guilty of unlawful acts … Unlawful acts as a crime in the Islamic state is usually used to suppress the execution of homosexuals. [Emphasis added]

This was the first suggestion in the whole trail that the men were homosexual; it was based entirely on the fiction that “unlawful acts” could only stand for one crime in the HRANA roster.

How did the “homosexual” version leap from Farsi to English news sites? Answer: Banafsheh Zand.

Just a few centimeters more: Cartoon by

Just a few centimeters more: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

Banafsheh Zand is an Iranian exile in the US who couples far-right inclinations with a strong fetish for the gays. She’s been a regular for Fox News, Front Page magazine, and the National Review, though all seemed to inch away eventually from her extravagant insights. An immigrant herself, she pals around with racist, ferociously anti-foreigner Michelle Malkin; but she also gamely frequents Glenn Beck‘s paranoiac show to cheer for the homosexuals against Ahmadinejad. She’s a fount of conspiracy theories. Here, on the fringe Newsmax site, you can hear her descant on Egypt, only days after the military massacred a thousand civilians this summer. That leaves her unfazed; she’s still worried that Iran, through the dead Muslim Brotherhood, may overrun the country. Never mind that the Sunni Brotherhood oversaw what Amnesty called an “unprecedented level of sectarian violence against Shi’a Muslims” during its brief reign. “There are major Shi’a strongholds in Egypt,” she intones. Also, Iran has “forty thousand trained suicide bombers” planted worldwide, waiting to bust like balloons.

 I can see Ayatollah Khameini from my house: The mullahs are coming to Cairo

She’s part Scheherazade, part salesman, marketing stories. I encountered her first during the frenzy of July 2005, when GayWorld exploded over the “gay teenagers” hanged in Mashhad, Iran, and she played a central role. Peter Tatchell and Doug Ireland were devouring fictions fed to them in part by Iranian exile cultists; headlines burgeoned; and Zand was hourly calling up the offices of New York’s Gay City News, claiming she had incontrovertible proof the children were lovers and had been raped by mullahs in detention. (At the time she styled herself, uneuphonically, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi: but Signor Bonazziwhoever he was, has since decamped into Shah-like obscurity.) Back then, and for years after, she was English editor of Iran Press News. I believe she helped found it. This time, she may have given the IPN story its “homosexuals” slant. If not, she knew how to run with it.

On the killer's trail: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

On the killer’s trail: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

The hard-right website Gateway Pundit picked up the story on Sunday evening, March 2, only hours after IPN carried it. Zand had translated the IPN text for them; their version ended, “Hat Tip Banafsheh Zand.” (They added the obligatory, morbidly exploitative photo of “Iranian gay teens” in 2005 being prepared for hanging.)

From there, it easily made its way to Adam Kredo0 and the Washington Free Beacon. Despite his title of “Senior Writer” on “National Security & Foreign Policy” for the Beacon, Kredo0 seems to have limited international experience, apart from five swell months interning at the Jerusalem Post. Zand probably overwhelmed him. He quotes her all over. “Not much is known about the two men executed over the weekend due to” — an inability to read Farsi? — no, “Iranian efforts to sweep such executions under the rug, according to Banafsheh Zand, an Iranian political and human rights activist.” “‘When people talk about the nukes, the nukes are a symptom,’ said Zand.” And so on.

So there you have it. It is, of course, just possible that there was another execution of two men in Rasht last week, and both those men were gay; it’s also just possible that those stories of eight women raped were make-believe, like Obama’s birth certificate. But it’s not likely.

By Mana Neyestani

By Mana Neyestani

Rather, everything suggests this was a heterosexual rape case that quickly got turned into a “homosexual” story — the moment it reached the US. It was reshaped deliberately, deceptively, and opportunistically, as a small stratagem to persuade US gays to mobilize in opposition to Iran, Rouhani, and any possible nuclear accord. It’s another instance of what happened in 2005: facts manipulated to rouse a constituency’s intense emotions. We haven’t absorbed much since about skepticism or evidence. Possibly the Washington Free Beacon didn’t realize they were baited. But they didn’t try hard to learn. Adam Kredo0 didn’t look for the source article, or call any Iranian diasporic LGBT groups, or speak to anyone except Banafsheh Zand. Expedient distortion and lazy journalism cooperated to deceive. By the way, I did contact the under-resourced but always resourceful Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), an extensive, reliable, and diverse network of activists centered in Canada. They hadn’t heard of the Rasht “gay” story — bad sign for its veracity — but are investigating. If those hardworking people can add, contradict me, or confirm, I will let you know.

US gays have a little bit of political power now, in the Obama era. That augurs an intensified competition to get you to take somebody’s side, to seduce you into backing bombing or demanding droning, with the illusive wiles of solidarity.

But this story is also a reminder of how neither I nor you have ever thought hard enough about Iran. The one sensible thing Kredo0 did for his article was to quote my colleague Hadi Ghaemi, of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran: describing the case of Ruholla Tavana, who faced the death penalty for things he said in a private video on his personal computer. (Kredo0 didn’t bother to call Ghaemi, just used a press release.)

This is an unbelievable act of inquisition at its worst ….The Iranian Judiciary’s insistence on the death sentence calls into question whether these sentences are politically-motivated and intended to confront the wave of international protests against the trend of ever-increasing executions in Iran.

What Ghaemi points to is that all these sentences are “politically motivated,” meant to send a message about the state to its citizens as well as external foes. There is no special status for LGBT people in Iran; they’re not “innocent victims” to be preferred to others, to the rapists and murderers we can cast off when we find the unpleasant facts of their stories. The Iranian state lives increasingly on the death penalty, and the death penalty is an extreme assertion of ownership over the limit point of everybody’s bodies and life-spans. There is no distinction. The state is saying it wants to control anything it can, and those who resist that even in the inmost crevice of private spaces can lose their lives. The casual indifference with which its officials toss off the figures and details — another two dead, “unlawful acts,” today or last week, like Don Giovanni’s thousand-and-third in Spain — suggests the degree to which the allocation of death has become an ordinary business of living. The crime (rape, murder, warring against God, sodomy, harassment) matters less than the message, which is that your existence is submissive to power, is porous.

Hanging toys: Cartoon by Mana

Hanging toys: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

LGBT people live in oppression in Iran. The constant possibility of the death penalty is part of that, though it’s been inflicted for consensual lavat only rarely in the last decade. Far more comprehensive, though, is the intrusion that the death penalty stands for: the claims of the state over life as well as death, over clothing and skin and hair, orifices and closets, bottles and bedrooms and belief; the quality of the air you breathe (intolerable in many places), the onetime plenitude of water now being drained away, the things you whisper or write that turn out to be criminal after the fact. Everybody faces those in some measure. We outside gravely mistake that situation if we think we fulfill our responsibilities by showing our solidarity with respectable people: the nice attractive gays (the young, clean, virgin ones you can write your dreams on), the secular published authors, the decent political prisoners. Resistance comes from everywhere, and the strength of the movement LGBT people are building lies in its unexpected solidarities. Resistance hides amid the secret drunks, with the down-and-out heroin addicts in Artists’ Park, who don’t want to be told what they can put in their bodies. (To read the crime pages on Iranian news websites is to see in the mind’s eye a ceaseless parade of drug users marched to execution: it’s possibly the main pretext for the machinery of killing in the country.) It rests with the sex workers who spread their legs despite divine animadversions and don’t even bother to shield their hair, with the stoned street kids even more than with the North Tehran parties, and even with the rapists who, whatever else they may have done, don’t want to die. Feeling sympathy with likeness is one thing, but solidarity can’t stop with sympathy. Our local obsession with identity is a weak distraction. It divides and detracts from the struggle against the state of death.

If you want to read one thing about Iran, read this summary of longtime human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei’s advice for how to roll back the death penalty, in an Islamic state where execution is not just policy but religious precept. “Stop using slogans and save lives,” he says. Don’t deal with generalities or identities; talk about individuals and their cases. Every accused is worthy. “Nobody is born a criminal.” Every person has a story. All that matters is that the stories be true, and theirs.

"Sweet moment of release from prison in Rasht": Yousef Nadarkhani, a Christian preacher imprisoned for  four years, is freed in January 2014; by joindhands on Flickr

“Sweet moment of release from prison in Rasht”: Yousef Nadarkhani, a Christian preacher imprisoned under threat of the death penalty for four years, is freed in January 2014; photo by joindhands on Flickr

Note: Several friends I can’t name assisted me with research and translation here. All errors are my own. The drawings are by the remarkable Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani. Among Neyestani’s other distinctions, he’s one of the few Iranian artists of a political bent to have addressed themes of LGBT people’s oppression in his work:

cartoon 2 copyImportant Update: Ali Abdi, an Iranian-born anthropologist studying at Yale, has done his own research on this situation since I published this post, and has helpfully shared with me what he’s discovered. He did the sensible thing, and went to the website of the Gilan provincial judiciary to look for cases there. Here’s what he found:

a) The case of two men raping eight girls (reported in KhazarOnline.ir) and the case of two men executed for “harassment” [آزار و اذیت]; reported in DiyarMirza.ir on March 1 (or 10 Esfand) actually do seem to be separate ones! In fact, the execution of two men for eight rapes appears to have occurred all the way back in December. The Gilan judiciary website recounts it, dated December 19, 2013 (or 28 Azar 1392). The details are a bit different from the Khazar Online version but it certainly looks like the same basic story.

Ali caught me in one significant error: the Khazar Online story is dated 1 Esfand (February 19), not 8 Esfand as I reported. My apologies. But in any case, if the execution happened in December, why did Khazar Online resurrect it after two months, claiming it was recent? Abdi speculates that they were looking around for clickbait and hoped that “rape of women and girls” would lure readers. If so, it worked; the story is still one of the most viewed on their main page.

b) The Gilan judiciary website has a short announcement of the execution of two men on March 1, 2014 (10 Esfand); “harassment” [آزار و اذیت] is the only description of their crime. This is apparently the story that DiyarMirza.ir carried the same day. It got picked up by IRIB the following day; they substituted “unlawful acts”  [اعمال خلاف شرع] for “harassment.” It seems to me quite possible that IRIB jumbled together the rape case and the “harassment” case, each involving two executions, which the Gilan media had headlined in recent days. (Remember, the rape case was still prominent on the Khazar Online front page.) That might explain why they used “unlawful acts,” to cover the confusing multiplicity of accusations.

HRANA then took up the story, and included a list of things that “unlawful acts” might mean; their possibilities included extramarital sex, theft, blasphemy, false accusation, and lavat or sodomy. From there, Banafsheh Zand and right-wing hacks in the United States seized on the “sodomy” possibility as the only one that interested them. They started spreading their propaganda about “gay executions” to the American LGBT public. And so it goes.

Women's equality: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani (apologies, of course, to the Human Rights Campaign)

Women’s equality: Cartoon by Mana Neyestani (apologies, of course, to the Human Rights Campaign, which probably has that symbol copyrighted)

c) So what does “harassment”  [آزار و اذیت} mean? It’s not a crime in Iranian law, which makes it strange to see on an official judicial website. A quick survey of Farsi media suggests it’s commonly used for “sexual harassment” in the generally-understood sense, particularly intrusive attacks in public places which have become an issue throughout the region. However, those would probably not make a capital crime in Iran. But it also seems to be used widely for sexual assaults on minor girls, including by people in authority (see here or here). And Abdi confirms this thought. Faced with an assault against an adult woman, he writes me, officials would refer openly to “rape” (and possibly try to publicize the state’s paternal efforts at protection.) But an assault against a girl might be shrouded in euphemism: “when a minor is raped, assaulted, etc. there is a conscious effort not to bring it up.” (Ali believes this would hold for assaults on minor boys as well. This makes sense, although in the Mashhad executions in 2005, the rape of a minor boy was widely publicized as such — as lavat beh onf, “forcible sodomy“.) There is certainly no reason at all, though, to think that “harassment” is a cover for consensual male homosexual acts.  

d) I’m very grateful to Ali Abdi for his research. Updating and correcting information is a basic part of honest human rights work. This, others writing on Iran might learn. Gay City News, for one, has never published a correction on any of its messily flawed Iran reporting, (Or anything else. Even when the late Doug Ireland, in one of his last pieces for them, confused Belarus with UkraineGay City News never corrected itself.) As for the egregious Peter Tatchell, he never admits to error; instead he stirs up a storm of invective, threats, and distractions in PR blasts and social media, in the hope that the facts, like light in the ambit of a black hole, will bend themselves before his mistakes and mendacities. If these folks had just done some basic checking back in 2005, they could have spared us a world of trouble.

It is, of course, beyond rational expectation that the Free Beacon would double-check anything. You have to live in reality to recognize the possibility of error.

e) Oh, and one thing about the Gilan judiciary’s helpful site. So user-friendly, so transparent! Truly, this is reform. Indeed, when they’re posting announcements on stuff like meetings, conferences, and judicial sentences carried out, the very avatar lets you know the topic, and the result:

Gilad judiciary copy

I don’t even need to try my feeble hand at translating. Then when you do clink the link (maybe with a tingle of trepidation, like turning a doorknob in a slasher movie), atop the announcement perch the images like Poe’s raven on the bookcase, reminding one, far more powerfully than any bureaucratic lingo, what the state in its might and majesty can do for you:

ImageHandler

Words fail me.

Kermanshah update

Closed door policy: Stone arch at the Taq-e Bostan site, a complex of Sassanid rock carvings near Kermanshah

Closed door policy: Stone arch at the Taq-e Bostan site, a complex of Sassanid rock carvings near Kermanshah

All the men detained in the October 9 raid on a party in Kermanshah have reportedly been released on bail, though the ultimate disposition of the case remains unclear.

My own article on the case has been translated into Farsi, and is available on the website of the Iranian Queer Organization.

Santorum spotted in Ghana: Panic follows

Off with their headlines: from Ghana's press

“I love a moral issue,” Elaine May would say, back in the great days of Nichols and May. “It’s so much more interesting than a real issue.”

That pretty much describes the dynamics of a moral panic. It provides endless things to talk about, none of them real. Ghana continues down this path, amid a panic about homosexuality now fed by David Cameron’s ham-handed promises to tie overseas aid to LGBT rights. People are describing things that don’t exist, ignoring things that do, and venting paranoid ideas in pompous, concerned, and official tones. Those suffering from the frenzied arguments and the UK’s ill-timed intervention, of course, are the actual LGBT people of Ghana — real enough, but constrained to listen as their lives are described in terms that range from Biblical wrath to pseudomedical quackery.

Yesterday, for instance,  Rev. Godson King Akpalu, President of the Ghana Mental Health Association (GMHA) told reporters that “homosexual and lesbian perpetrators” are mentally ill.

Rev. Akpalu said the Ghana Mental Health Association will classify the perpetrators and supporters of these “dirty acts” as suffering severe mental problems and should be referred to a mental health facility for early treatment before suicide sets in.

He said given the opportunity, even mental patients would choose an opposite sex partner, emphasising  that, “We as a nation cannot sell our birthright for a handful of meals and drag our posterity into curses and shame. …  [H]ow can we in the name of foreign aid from a Godless people flout the laws of God which we all abide by from our very existence?”

Santorum stains

Judging from the reverend’s words, Rick Santorum has been sighted in Accra, adding to the atmosphere of terror:

The GMHA President said it was common knowledge that some of the men and boys who had fallen prey to such unnatural acts wore “pampers” to hold up the unnatural flow of fluid that gushes out from their anus, and asked whether this made the practice a natural one.

Meanwhile, in Parliamentary debate on Thursday, MPs

condemned homosexuality in no uncertain terms, with a call on the Executive to amend the Criminal Code, Act 29 (1960) to provide for stiffer punishment for those who engage in the practice. They gave the assurance that a bill presented to the House in that regard would be passed swiftly.

Opposition MP Eugenia Kusi said:

“Madam Speaker, I would want us to amend the criminal code to make that act a criminal offence. I know that if that kind of bill comes before us we will not waste time in passing it”. She advised children to stay away from people who claim to be homosexuals and report those who try to woo them into the act to their parents and guardians.

Ghana, of course, already criminalizes homosexual conduct, with Section 104 (1) (b) of the Code defining  “unnatural carnal knowledge” of “any person of sixteen years or over with his consent” as a misdemeanor. (Misdemeanors are liable to variable terms of imprisonment, usually less than three years.)

J. J. Appiah, leading the debate, told fellow lawmakers that

“Human right undoubtedly is supreme and fundamental  to our existence and I am glad to say that it is also our supreme interest as legislators but when these rights appear abnormal and barbaric then measures should be put in place to curtail them. … It has been established that lesbianism is a cause of many sexually transmitted diseases. In the face of this it appears most logical, most necessary, for us as a House to enact laws that would uphold the principles of morality and integrity”.

Oye Lithur

Nana Oye Lithur, a prominent and courageous Ghanaian feminist and human rights lawyer, spoke out against the spreading panic, as she has repeatedly in recent months. According to Ghanaweb

She feared with the increasing emotional sentiments against homos, people might take advantage of the situation by physically assaulting or even killing people suspected to be homos. She said as religious leaders preach tolerance to political leaders in the country they are obliged to use the pulpit to preach tolerance for homos and not hate speech. She said pastors must live according to the biblical quotation of “love thy neighbour as thyself” in their dealing with homos.

She added:

“Not even the President of Ghana can deny anybody human rights irrespective of the person’s sexual orientation, ethnic group, gender and what have you. These are guaranteed in our constitution and everybody in Ghana has an obligation to respect that constitution. ”

Backlash in Ghana: New anti-gay legislation discussed

a Ghana headline from 2003: but we need more laws!

Ghana, in recent months, has been the scene of a mounting moral panic about the “threat” of homosexuality. The press warns about  “increasing growth In numbers” of homosexuals:

Some people make the claim that homosexuality (sexual relations between people of the same sex) became known in Ghana when tourists, international workers and even missionaries flooded the country in the 70s. Those within the group who were homosexuals invited innocent boys to their houses, flushed them with gifts and money and promised to send them to the rich countries. … Many Ghanaians went abroad and returned as homosexuals. Many also went to prison and indulged in gay habits which became habitual, and followed them even after their release from prison.

Girls also pick it from boarding secondary schools. Senior girls have their “supi” and only God knows what they do with them. There are now gay prostitutes in Ghana.

Some people claim that homosexuality is not a disease and it cannot be cured. They claim, further, that even though somebody can entice you to have anal intercourse that cannot make you a homosexual. One is born that way. However, another school of thought insists that one can be addicted through being enticed to practice it.

The Christian Council of Ghana condemns the “detestable and abominable act” :    

Declaring the position of the Council on homosexuality in Ghana, Reverend Dr Fred Deegbe, General Secretary of the Council, said the issue of homosexuality had become so serious that Ghana had witnessed gay marriages . … He said the Council had observed with dismay the claim of homosexuals that nowhere in scripture was homosexuality and the same-sex committed and loving relationships condemned and called for the need for Christians to frown such behaviours.

He explained that some Ghanaian youths have adopted and emulated certain lifestyles including homosexuality being practiced by the western world and there was the need to condemn this abomination from happening on Ghanaian soil. “We Ghanaians and for that matter Africans cherish our rich and strong values on issues such as homosexuality and we must not allow anyone or group of people to impose what is acceptable in their culture on us in the name of human rights”.

The baiting quickly moved into the political arena. When an opposition-party expert on health said the right to privacy protected private sexual acts, and asked “Why should what two people do in their privacy without confronting anybody, be subject to the law?” — a presidential spokesman accused his entire party of “supporting and promoting the activities of homosexuality in Ghana.”   And the Minister for Ghana’s Western Region promptly “tasked the Bureau of National Investigations and all security agencies to smoke out persons suspected to be engaging in same sex.”

He also enlisted the services of landlords and tenants to provide reliable information which will lead to the arrest of homosexuals.  His directive follows months of campaigns against the practice of homosexuality in the country.

Fortunately, that order appeared to be mostly hot air and bluster.

But the British government’s recent public claim that it will link overseas aid to human rights performance, especially singling out LGBT rights as an issue, has served to make the “threat” homosexuality poses explicit. Now the homophobes know what they’re fighting, and they are fighting mad. Yesterday Ghana’s President proclaimed he would forgo foreign aid if necessary: “I will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana.”

Today comes news that the country’s parliament may consider new legislation to keep homosexuality from “flourishing.”

In Ghana, legislators are set to begin discussions on strengthening legal sanctions against practicing homosexuals.

This came after British Prime Minister Dave Cameron threatened to withdraw aid from countries that ban homosexuality. But Ghanaian President John Atta-Mills sharply says his government will never legalize homosexuality.

President Atta-Mills was quoted as saying “no one can deny Prime Minister Cameron his right to make policies, take initiatives or make statements that reflect his societal norms and ideals.  But he does not have the right to direct other sovereign nations as to what they should do especially where their societal norms and ideals are different from those which exist in the Prime Minister’s society.”

Catherine Afeku, an opposition MP, offered a somewhat ambiguous note of caution. She has previously “called for a comprehensive policy from government on the way forward when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.” She echoed previous reminders of protections for private life:

Member of Parliament Catherine Afeku says there seems to be overwhelming support from legislators backing a review of the penal code to address homosexuality. “Ninety-nine percent of the members in the chamber support the statement that as a people, our cultural norms, our societal upbringing, does not accept homosexuality,” said Afeku. “But, once we have brought out the emotional condemnation, we have to put our thinking caps on and look at the law… What people do in their rooms cannot be legislated upon because we don’t have anything on the books right now that will punish that act.”

It’s not clear, then, what any new legislation might do, since Ghana still retains its colonial-era sodomy law punishing “unnatural carnal knowledge.” It could follow the lines of Nigeria‘s or Uganda‘s long-bruited bills: prohibiting organizing around sexuality, advocating for human rights, or any form of public visibility.  Or it might strengthen the existing law’s intrusion into private life.

Or the rhetoric might die down in due time, as the advantages of political posturing recede. What’s certain is that Cameron’s own posturing continues to feed a backlash across Africa. It’s hard not to think: God save us from our friends. And in that spirit, a coalition of sexual rights and human rights groups in Ghana issued a statement today:

Press Release on the British Prime Minister’s ‘Homosexuality Threat’ To Ghana

Accra, 03 November, 2011: The Coalition against Homophobia in Ghana (CAHG), the Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana (GALAG) and other LGBT Networks in Ghana are surprised and in total shock at the increased interest by the UK government to withdraw aid to some African countries who are homophobic. Though the Coalition have no problem with calling on government to abide by the British code of conduct for financial support, we believe LGBT people do not live in isolation in Africa.  We have families and friends who need these aids to survive on daily basis.

Cutting aid to some selected Africa countries due to homophobic laws therefore will not help the LGBT people in these countries, but will rather stigmatize these groups and individuals. LGBT people will be used as scape goats for government inability to support its citizens and some sectors of the economy.

The challenge now is that,

1.     Homosexuality is now being seen as western import due to the continuous threats from the UK government. It is now difficult to convince the ordinary person on the street that homosexuality was not imported into Africa; although we know and have always had African indigenous people who are born homosexuals.

2.     LGBT groups and organizations are finding it very   difficult and risky to organize their programs due to such threats and continuous discussion on radio and television stations in Ghana.

3.     Support from government agencies for LGBT programs with regards to health will be affected since the government will not want to be seen as promoting or supporting LGBT activities in the country.

We believe the UK government can use diplomacy to get some of these important issues across to the countries noted for promoting hate against homosexuals or the LGBT community in Africa. We encourage the UK government to find other alternative way to address the issue other than this option, which is going to increase   the level of stigma, violence and discrimination against LGBT people in Africa.

Though all these noise continue to go against LGBT groups and individuals in Africa, development partners never supports LGBT initiatives on the ground. Embassies and consulates including the EU offices continue to turn deaf ears to LGBT issues insisting that their priorities do not include LGBT people in Africa. 

We are by this release appealing to development partners to channel some support to LGBT groups and organization in countries like Ghana to support local or internal advocacy as well as network building with state institutions.

This we believe will go a long way to help the LGBT people in Ghana and Africa at large.

###

For more information, please contact the coalition on coalition.homophobia.gh@gmail.com

Signed: 

1.     Coalition against Homophobia in Ghana

2.     Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights, Ghana

3.     Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana (GALAG)

4.     Face AIDS Ghana

5.     National Association of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (NAP+)

6.     Development Communication Initiatives – Ghana

7.     Young People Advocate for a Change

8.     Youth and Human Rights -, Ghana

My foot is possessed by a spirit lesbian

Linda Harvey, not fully inflated

Linda Harvey, conservative talk-radio star and inflatable sex doll sold in shops across the country, except for Mississippi where she is prohibited by law, has warned of the danger posed to small children by health care workers who “proclaim a homosexual lifestyle.”

“Let’s say your 11-year-old has broken her leg rather badly and needs to be in the hospital a few days. Which would you prefer – a nurse who’s proud of her lesbianism, who has rainbow identifiers on her work clothing, or a nurse who does not?” …  She said parents should consider writing a letter to the pediatrician saying that if a child must be hospitalized, then he/she will not be treated by gay workers. “For routine in-hospital care where contact with your child would be required,” she continued, “your values should be respected.”

A broken leg is notoriously one of those cracks in the body where demon homosexual spirits can enter. The surest protection is to seal all your child’s real or potential orifices with dried-up oatmeal and Superglue (Superglue is also illegal in Mississippi).   Rainbow identifiers are devil stigmata, and the sharp pins used to attach them can also open up new skin portals for the spirits to come in. A child with a broken leg can thus end up with her limb possessed by a health care worker’s lesbianism. The child may wake from a coma to find her leg attempting to penetrate a vagina.  (We saw this on Marcus Welby in 1972.).

Just think, then, how much worse it could be if your boy child were in the hospital with a broken penis!

Linda Harvey, fully pumped

Linda Harvey plays Chair and Inflatable Cushion on the advocacy thriller Mission: Impossible, a regular series (Thursdays at 10 on Fox) in which, after receiving messages from the country’s last remaining 8-track tape, conservative fighters don rubber masks to render them indistinguishable from Barney Frank, and infiltrate Satanic child-murdering circles and the US Congress. Mission: Impossible offers information you will not see on Fox News, even.  As its website says,

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (Hosea 4:6 KJV) Mission:America is dedicated to bringing the truth to America, covering trends in the culture omitted by the mainstream media. In the midst of darkness, there is still great hope… in salvation through Jesus Christ.

Addressing me directly, along with my nurse and my personal trainer, the website emotes,

NOTE: If you have come here from a “gay” blog,and you consider yourself a fair person, please take every accusation with a great deal of skepticism. Virtually none of it is true.

We are not the “Klan.” we are not racists, we don’t “hate” homosexuals. We simply object to homosexuality, the behavior, which is unnecessary. And we spend a lot of time on this site pointing out why this is so ( if you care to read and be fair).

We don’t blame the mortgage crisis on homosexually-behaving people (someone does NOT know how to read); we don’t wish the death penalty on homosexuals (sigh!); we don’t believe all homosexuals are child molesters; and we don’t wish for kids who are sadly drawn into homosexual or “transgendered” behaviors to be bullied! …

And uninformed speculations about my personal life (Linda Harvey) are uncalled for and frankly, fall into the category of ad hominem attacks born out of desperation. None of these people know me, and I don’t know them (nor do I care to). It’s strange what people will do. I have an actually very full and wonderful personal life. God has greatly blessed me, and I am grateful every day.

But none of us has time to debate with people who just don’t care to read first and get the facts. Propaganda is an enemy to us all, and the truly intelligent person will read something other than shallow, vicious “gay” blogs.

I am not responsible for the mortgage crisis!  Other homosexuals are. Homosexuality is rightly called “unnecessary,” which is why I have sold mine on Craigslist to reduce my carbon footprint. And I like that sigh — or “(sigh!)”  But one has to be careful. Breathing with your mouth open, particularly in the presence of people wearing rainbow identifiers, allows the demon lesbian spirits to enter. Please mix 2 cups of Quaker Oats with 110 mg of Superglue, and begin eating. (Do not attempt in Mississippi.)

Nigeria: No marriage here, move along please

I was for it because I was against it: Nigeria's Senate President David Mark

A Nigerian Senate committee held hearings Monday on the “Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill.” This product of moral panic would provide criminal penalties for engaging in, solemnizing, or “aiding and abetting” a same-sex marriage — all quite unnecessary, since Nigeria’s colonial-era sodomy law already penalizes homosexual conduct sternly.

Nigeria’s politics often have a slightly mad quality. The hearing was no exception, since some participants seemed to have no idea what the bill was about, believing they were there to oppose a proposal for same-sex marriage, not support a ban against it. The Catholic Church mobilized in this addled fashion; Catholic Women of Nigeria (CWON) claimed it sent women from “36 states of the federation” who “converged in Abuja to march to the assembly.”

Speaking in a telephone interview, the CWON’s national president, Mrs. Felicia Onyaibo, said the women will this morning match to the National Assembly to hand in a letter of protest to the Senate President, David Mark, condemning the initiative, and urge him to discard such bill, as it is not in the interest of the nation and dignity of marriage.

“We are also extending invitation to the male counterparts to support us in this protest. They can join us in the protest today so that we can help fight this ill initiative, which is aimed at destroying marriage values and its dignity,” she said.

Other news stories lent credit to the same notion. But no one has offered a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Nigeria; no one in Nigeria has suggested it. Imaginative Christian soldiers, these souls are girding their loins and going off to war against a figment, a fiction, a ghost.  As a statement by bill opponents explained a month ago,

We as human rights defenders are aware that not a single gay group has asked for the right to marry. Our advocacy is not directed at that.  We are advocating for tolerance and respect for everyone irrespective of his or her sex, gender, age, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, etc.

The spectral ability of same-sex marriage to induce a panic even in the absence of anyone proposing it has been repeatedly shown worldwide, and is worth deeper consideration. In this case, the bill would be largely a symbolic insult to the same-sex loving population, but one with practical ramifications — a bullying threat to public activism, and an affirmation that they have no place in Nigeria’s diverse array of communities and cultures.

Meanwhile, at Monday’s meeting of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, opponents of the bill were given only two slots to speak, while proponents (that is, opponents of non-existent same-sex marriage) were given many more. The Senate President appeared at the hearing and “openly rejected the proposal for same sex marriage in the country,” which nobody proposed:

“It is incomprehensible to contemplate on same sex marriage. I cannot understand it. I cannot be a party to it. There are enough men and women to marry each other. The whole idea is the importation of foreign culture, but this one would be a freedom too many. We cannot allow our tradition and value system eroded.

“It is offensive. It is repugnant. I will preach against it and we must stand up to reject same sex marriages in Nigeria. I do not think any religion support this. I don’t know where this whole idea of same sex marriage comes from.”

The Daily Times notes that the “senate president’s disposition on the bill is a strong indication of its fate. It suggests that the bill, which has failed at two consecutive sessions in the House of Representatives, may finally be passed into law by the Senate.”  But the paper adds, “the little population of public homosexuals in Nigeria – with help from the international community – have been able to put up a strong resistance to the promulgation of any law directly against the act [of same-sex marriage].”

Aside from the question of international help, of which there’s been not so much, this is true. Activists in Nigeria managed to quash the early bill in 2006 -7 essentially on their own, by organizing, appearing at hearings, and speaking out when everybody believed they would be too intimidated to appear or to raise their voices. Courage to them as they face the same ruckus and rhodomontade for another round.

Subscribing to homosexuality: Rogue bishop in drag

Twenty years or so ago, I often said that if I had thought to copyright the phrase “breakaway republic” around 1989, I would have made a fortune. Obviously, “breakaway bishop” is the missed financial opportunity of the last decade. Why do I never win?

While the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the world’s Anglicans, visits Zimbabwe, Al Jazeera interviews the rogue bishop who has broken with the church.   The reasons for the breach?  His support for dictator Mugabe; his hunger for as much profitable church property as he can get his paws on; and … homosexuality. Of course. He won’t even talk to the Archbishop of Canterbury, because “I won’t speak to someone who subscribes to homosexuality.”  (How do you “subscribe” to it?   Is there a button you click here somewhere?)

In the colors of a Cardinal: wrong denomination

His ecclesiastical drag and mitre seem a bit too big for him in this footage; I wonder if they are running short on the plus sizes in the Harare church storehouse. I stared at him for some while, trying to think who his rotundity reminded me of.  Naturally!  He just needs a little more décolletage.

Boxers or briefs or sexual perversion: a Cairo question

Back when I researched the massive crackdown on homosexual conduct in Egypt from 2001 to 2004,  I learned the police believed in an infallible proof of sin: men who had sex with men, they supposed, wore colored underwear.   Cops would strip down suspects to check whether they were were clothed in the virtuous, white, baggy cotton underpants of the fellaheen, or some decadent, dyed, tight foreign thing that meant instant incrimination.   Presumably the police also dressed their own agile hips in those pale, limp, traditional garments, as a matter of moral duty.

Seksi Kırmızı Geniş Aralıklı File String! Beefcake photo from a Turkish textile website

This kind of mythology wasn’t restricted to Egypt.  In Turkey, police imagined that all male homosexuals wore red thong briefs, or tanga. I interviewed one gay man, the victim of a hate crime, who was stabbed almost to death in his apartment. He described shouting at the police, “That man tried to kill me! And no, I wasn’t wearing a tanga!”

I remember all this because the excellent Egyptian blogger Rebel without a Cause recounts a recent controversy there. Ramadan, as you may know, is the big TV-viewing season, largely because there’s nothing else to do  from sunup to sundown. Companies save up their best ads for the month.  This year, Cottonil, the textile giant, ran a commercial for men’s boxers.

It’s a little paean to male friendship, which, like your shorts, can be too tight, too sticky, or a little worn; it shows three guys getting kind of gropy with one another, and wearing Cottonil boxers under their low-slung jeans. Rebel describes the result:

Some people saw the advertisement as a sign of media irresponsibility saying that the ad is inappropriate and rude especially in Ramadan and that it offends families watching TV together. Part of this argument is about appropriate dress; i.e. what is considered decent clothes and what’s not! … A lot of people are concerned about what “message” their children would get from seeing young people with low hanging jeans!
The other part of this argument is about the fact that people are seeing Egyptian boxers ads for the first time in their lives. Something about the fact that it’s an ad about underwear seem to irrationally provoke many people. The humorous innuendos did not sit well with a certain mindset that is uncomfortable with the human body and especially because underwear are somehow linked to… genital organs!! … Interestingly though, some of the young people reacted to the ad saying it’s “a gay ad”! I wonder why such comment was made. Is it because it’s an advertisement for male underwear? Or is it because it portrays male friendship and intimacy? Does seeing males touching each other amount to being gay?

 

The commercial contributed to debate about all these things. The English edition of Al Masry Al Youm, for instance, carried an article on all that handholding and touchy-feelyness among boys, “Physical contact between men: An Egyptian phenomenon or an acceptance of homosexuality?”(They concluded basically that it’s not the latter, but a deliberate Egyptian attempt to confuse foreigners, and middle-class reporters.)

How does homosexuality get conflated with underwear? — is what I want to know. There’s a Foucauldian way of seeing this.   When homosexuality meant simply a set of acts, it could be sought out and enjoyed or punished as such, in comparative simplicity, without worrying too much about the interior dispositions of the people involved. But when it became a defining form of desire and the mark of a special kind of person, suddenly it ceased to be simple and material: now it was a hidden inclination within the soul, the intenal sign of difference. If you wanted to extirpate it, you could no longer just concentrate on punishing the acts; you needed to distinguish the kind of person who experienced the want and yearning. You needed to investigate the desire, not just the deeds.

It was tempting, then, to imagine that instead of endlessly interrogating interiority, you could actually find some external signs that marked off that kind of person: Somewhere out there, on the skin or inside the jeans, there lurked the Five Unmistakable Marks that would render hunting this particular Snark easier.

But there’s something else at work here, too. Imagining that the mark of homosexuality is a particular consumer good means identifying it with money, with the cash economy, with the ability to buy.  It’s not natural by definition; it is a literally acquired taste, paid for at the counter. It comes with the privilege of having a few extra pounds in your pocket. The police and the workers, wearing their stained white shorts, can’t afford these rainbow indicators of decadence and power.

It’s foreign, too. Never mind that Cottonil is an Egyptian company; the style, after all, comes from outside. Never mind, moreover, that in the US sagging jeans mean no-homo manhood (the best explanation for the fashion is that it’s a sign of solidarity with brothers in prison, where your belts are taken away).   They can easily be refigured to signify a corrupting, elite effeminacy, an unwanted and infectious import.

Egypt is going through rapid changes, not just political but economic. Information, trends, fashions and attitudes and facts are flowing in. But money and power are, in most ordinary folks’ experience, flowing out of their hands, out of the country. It’s a fine time for hopes but also for fears to flourish: an hour to imagine new freedoms, to flirt with the previously unutterable, but also to fantasize scapegoats and look for forces to blame.  Already the military rulers have successfully dallied with blaming “Israeli spies” for a renewable list of ills.  In the foreseeable future, there could be a steady upsurge of public debate and understanding about forbidden topics. There could equally be a mass moral panic targeting some unpopular group, like the one that underpinned the earlier crackdown. I am packing both styles of underwear in my next suitcase.