Pride continues!

On Thursday Argentina voted in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage nation wide, becoming the first Latin American country to do so.

Extremely contentious rival demonstrations were held outside of Congress in Buenos Aires, with pro-equal marriage demonstrators facing off against anti-equal marriage demonstrators, their respective ‘vigils’ lasting all night. The Roman Catholic Church, those bastions of what is good and right (ahem), waged an ardent and expensive campaign against passage of the law.

But after a 16-hour Senate debate, the vote was held after 4am and gays and lesbians won the same legal marriage rights and protections afforded to heterosexuals. (The law was already passed in the lower house, so once the Senate approved it and published it, the law became official.)

Buenos Aires has long been considered one of the most queer-friendly cities in South America and this new law will no doubt bring many gay and lesbian couples from throughout the region to Buenos Aires to marry. Uruguay and some states in Brazil and Mexico have legalized same-sex unions; in Mexico City gay marriage is legal; and in Colombia queer couples have inheritance and health insurance rights; but Argentina’s new nation-wide equal marriage law grants same-sex couples more rights than civil unions, such as adoption and inheritance rights.

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez has been a strong supporter of equal marriage; speaking about the Catholic Church’s campaign of hatred and discrimination, Fernandez said, “It’s very worrisome to hear words like ‘God’s war’ or ‘the devil’s project,’ things that recall the times of the Inquisition.”

Sen. Norma Morandini, a member of Fernandez’s party, compared the discrimination queers face to the oppression under Argentina’s past dictators: “What defines us is our humanity, and what runs against humanity is intolerance.”

Congratulations, Argentina!

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Poor people, make way for sports!

Now that Rio de Janeiro has won its bid to host the 2016 summer Olympics, it will be interesting to see what happens to the 1.3 million impoverished people who live in the over 750 favelas on the hills surrounding the city.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Favelas are essentially slums or shanty towns (“favela” translates into “slum” in Brasilian Portuguese) set up in the suburbs of a city by by the poor who have no other means of shelter. They have existed since the late 1800s after former African slaves were ‘freed’ but had no rights to land ownership, means of education, or means of employment. Poor and with no rights or place to go, they started setting up shacks in rural areas and over the years moved closer and closer to the cities in an effort to find work. Now, Rio de Janeiro has the second greatest number of favelas in Brasil after Sao Paulo — 612 for Sao Paulo and 513 for Rio based on the 2000 Brasilian census, although the number for Rio is now over 750. Nineteen percent of Rio’s population lives in favelas and the population growth in favelas is higher than the population growth of Brasil as a whole.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Various governments throughout Brasil’s history have attempted to remove the favelas, beginning in the 1940s when many of them were destroyed in favour of public housing. When the public housing was not delivered, the favelas essentially went right back up on the grounds from which they were originally cleared. Again in the 1950s the government attempted to ‘clean up’ the favelas by building two large apartment complexes, which did not solve the problem of the need for favelas. In the 1970s, while under military dictatorship, the government once again tried to destroy the favelas and move their inhabitants to public housing. However, the poor could not afford even public housing, and so the favelas persisted.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

The number of people living in these slums is due largely to the economic divide in Brasil, which is among the biggest in the world. Over one third of the population lives below the poverty line. The poor and middle class continue to grow poorer while the rich grow richer and control the majority of the wealth.

And of course, drugs and gang warfare are huge problems in the favelas. Thanks to internationally successful films such as City of God (Cidade de Deus), Last Stop 174 (Ultima Parada 174), and to a lesser extent Favela Rising, most people have a sense of what life in the favelas is like.

It could be that getting the Olympics will be a good thing for the 1.3 million impoverished people in Rio. But it’s also likely that they will suffer (even more) from it, as the poor of Durban, South Africa are now suffering from being the host city to the 2010 World Cup.

Durban is one of the most highly populated countries in South Africa, and tens of thousands of people still live in shacks because, although housing is included in their Consititution as a basic human right, the poor have so far not benefitted from this because of the anti-poor sentiments in post-apartheid South Africa. Again, a huge gap between the rich and the poor (here this means between whites and blacks) is in evidence.

Durban's shacks.

Durban's shacks.

There is an organization in Durban called The Shack Dwellers Movement, which comprises tens of thousands of poor people who have been waiting for housing since 1994. Durban itself has 14 informal settlements of about 5,000 to 7,000 people each.

The Shack Dwellers are trying to fight for their rights to homes while they are being displaced by the government in order to build stadiums, malls, and freeways for the 2010 World Cup. The Slum Act, which was introduced by the government in 2006, essentially says that anyone who resists eviction can be fined or sentenced to prison terms. Evictions are occuring in great numbers now as land is being appropriated for the aforementioned stadiums, malls, and freeways in preparation for the big soccer matches.

Durban's shacks.

Durban's shacks.

The World Cup coming to Durban has meant the mass eviction of poor people and the destruction of their shack homes. The poor are being shuttled to transitional relocation camps on the promise of public housing about 50 km outside of the city (and 50 km away from their jobs, schools, and hospitals). In fact, this public housing does not exist and the poor are going to have to live in these relocation camps for at least 10 years.

The film District 9 is not an analogy for South Africa during apartheid; sadly, it is still a reality for many of the poor there. It’s a new apartheid.

Will Brasil’s successful Olympic bid provide the same fate to the favela dwellers in Rio as South Africa’s successful World Cup bid provided to the shack dwellers in Durban? Only time will tell.

Happy Pride!

PrideThis year’s Pride marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots (Pride month is generally June).

In the United States in the 1960s, gay bars were raided by police regularly, and anyone found within was alternately beaten or arrested, or both.

But on June 28, 1969, the people fought back. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted the police and as many as 2,000 people took part in the ensuing riot, which lasted several days.

The Stonewall riots are often credited with sparking the modern equality movement of the GLBT community.

It is worth remembering and thinking about this as we celebrate Pride this year. Gay Pride events around the world celebrate the movement’s progress towards equality for queer people, and it’s hard to imagine “the movement” without Stonewall.

We have come a long way in 40 years, but full equality is still elusive. The Gay Pride movement is as important as ever. But some argue that events like Pride parades mar “mainstream” society’s perception of the queer community, doing more harm than good.

Non-queer or non-queer-friendly people may look at the display with disdain, imagining that the nudity, Dykes on Bikes, leather daddies, bears, drag queens, and drag kings are a representative depiction of the queer community as a whole. And these people would be hypocrites who haven’t taken a moment to really think about it.

Do Americans have to struggle to prove their legitimacy and normalcy after Mardi Gras? Does the rest of the world imagine that all Americans are always drunken, vomiting fucktards in elaborate costumes who get naked for some cheap plastic beads? Do Brasilians have to prove their legitimacy and normalcy after Carnival? What about teenagers and twenty-somethings after Spring Break? Do they all have to go back to their respective high schools, colleges, and home towns and prove that they aren’t always drunken freaks who will fuck and suck anyone or anything in front of a camera?

Do people who participate in Mardi Gras, Carnival, or Spring Break relinquish their politics?

Pride, like Mardi Gras, Carnival, Spring Break, and probably most weddings you’ve been to, is a celebration. It’s a liberation. Once a year, queers and queer-friendly straight people come together to celebrate and party. And on Monday they all don their normal clothes and go to their normal jobs, come home to their normal spouses and make a normal dinner for their normal kids (or what-have-you).

You needn’t look hard to see that the political/social struggle for equality and resistance against discrimination and oppression are still alive and well within Pride events: signs, booths, petitions, flyers, buttons, flags, and statements from stage are ubiquitous. Members of the queer community who bemoan Pride events as lacking politics are perhaps missing the point. Gay Pride is a celebration first and foremost, but it is also a political statement by the very fact of its existence.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a group of friends while watching one of the early season one episodes of the lesbian show The L Word. The conversation was about whether or not The L Word was a political show. Someone asked me my opinion and I said that I thought the existence of the show itself is a political statement.

Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message.” In this case, the Pride parade itself—that thumping beat, that rainbow flag, that naked body, that cheering crowd—is the message. That is the politics.

Millions of people from all over the world travel to some of the biggest Prides, in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Sydney, etc. It’s a celebration, but the message is that it’s okay to be queer and proud of it, that it’s okay to celebrate sexuality. These are still political messages.

The sexual liberation of Pride owes a lot to the feminist and “free love” movements, advocating that it’s okay to be sexual, to enjoy sex, to talk about sex (as long as it is between, or among, consenting adults). The queer community embraces and celebrates queerness, sexuality, and the body. That’s political.

Not that Pride is all about sex. Far from it. It’s about community, family, politics, music, kids and dogs, water guns and stickers, drinking and dancing, open-mindedness, acceptance, celebration, and…pride.

Pride is a confluence of politics, community, and celebration. Maybe the overt politics do come second to the celebration. But it is a celebration after all. Some 363 days of the year most queers live their politics, constantly fighting for equal rights. Two days out of the year they celebrate because they are not ashamed of who they are; they are proud to shout it from the back of a flatbed truck.

If Pride were a three-day conference with political speakers and action groups, do you think anyone in the mainstream public would care? Would municipal governments, business owners, and the media clamour to be a part of it? Would we be all over the television, internet, and newspapers? Not a chance.

The gay rights movement, like any equality movement, is about the socio-political struggle for equal rights. Pride is about celebration.

The two can, and do, converge.

What a doofus

Hey! I'm Tom Cruise! I'm crazy! Gracias, gracias, gracias....

Hey! I'm Tom Cruise! I'm crazy! Pew-pew-pew! Gracias, gracias, gracias, gracias, gracias....

Tom Cruise is in Brasil with his stepford wife promoting his tepidly reviewed movie Valkyrie. While there he thanked a crowd of people with “graçias” (except that they speak Portuguese in Brasil, Tom, not Spanish) and talked about how much he loves the tango (whoops! that’s Argentina, Brasil’s rival country—you probably meant to say “samba” right? Of course you did).

You don’t have to know everything about every country in the world, but if you’re visiting a country you should probably learn something about it—most importantly, what language they speak and how to say “please” and “thank you” in said language.

Tom, don’t you have an assistant or something? Maybe he or she could prepare a little half-page primer on each country you visit, which you could then read before you gaffe. Really, even just printing off the first page of the Wikipedia entry on Brasil would suffice; the first line is: “Brazil (Portuguese: Brasil).”

But more than that, don’t be so disingenuous. People know you’re just there to sell a movie and that you don’t really care about the country or the people. The public is well aware of how these things work by now. You’re no more genuine than a rock star who shouts, “Good evening <insert town/country name here>! You’re my favourite <town/country>, <insert town/country name here>! You are so much cooler than <insert rival town/country name here>, where we played last night!” Granted, a lot of people will scream and applaud at lines like these, but not because they think you mean it; rather, because they’re caught up in the fervor and patriotism of the moment.

So the next time you’re in Brasil, or some other country you don’t care enough about to even discover what language they speak, at least have the backbone to admit that you just want them to pay money to see your movie and leave it at that. Graçias. I mean, obrigado. Or maybe danke? Merci…?