“What country are we living in and in what year, when priests bless half-drunk nationalists that pelt people with rocks while the police look on and then load us into police cars?”

Excerpt from a gorgeous interview with “Olga” and “Irina,” a gay couple in Russia, from the forthcoming Gay Propaganda, a bilingual collection of edited interviews with LGBT Russians.

For a moving post-Valentine’s day read, give the whole interview a look (published at PEN.org).

xo,

TP

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1.) Sam Taylor just finished an eleven-month tour in Iraq as a chaplain’s assistant with the U.S. army. While enlisted, she hid her transgender identity and even dealt with a fellow soldier who insisted that all ” ‘she-males’ would be rounded up and killed ” in a just world. Taylor is back home in North Carolina and beginning to resume the life she left behind, beginning to take estrogen, coming out to the men she served alongside. When speaking to the Chapel Hill News in a recent article, she wouldn’t comment on how estrogen was changing her body:

“I feel that, because there are so many stories and jokes and ideas about what happens to a trans woman’s body … and because that journey is often so visible to the outside world, non-trans people often feel that they are no longer bounded by standards of politeness when it comes to questions about a trans person’s body,” she said.

2.) The AP did an important story about LGBT homeless youth, a community left behind by politics and budget cuts. The article has photos and stories from homeless youth in Detroit and New York City. It paints a grim picture of the dearth of services, but a strong picture of resilience and self-made community. The good news is that the Obama administration is hosting a “national conference on housing and homelessness in America’s LGBT communities” today in Detroit.

Baresco Escobar, 19, from Fairfax, Va., an aspiring entertainer who identifies himself as bisexual, visits a local fast food hangout in Manhattan's Union Square popular with youth from the LGBT - lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender community, Thursday, March 1, 2012, in New York. When he leaves in the late evening, Escobar goes to the far end of Brooklyn to sleep in an abandoned house with dozens of other homeless kids, covering bare floors with blankets and cuddling for warmth. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

3.) UH-OH: “The [Utah] Legislature gave final passage Tuesday to a bill that would let schools skip teaching sex education and prohibit instruction in the use of contraception.” Schools in Utah already allow parents to opt-out of having their kids attend sex-education classes, but under this new bill, schools can choose to skip the topic altogether, and if they do teach, they must cover abstinence only.

This is great news:

On the evening of Monday, November 7, The Ali Forney Center …reopened a 20-bed emergency shelter in Brooklyn as a shelter specifically for this population.  The reopening was made possible by a $620,000 grant from the New York City Council, turned over to the AFC by the New York City Dept. of Youth and Community Development. As the shelter is an existing shelter, previously operated by an organization that failed to comply with licensing requirements, it does not add to the city’s total number of shelter beds, which currently stands at around 250. However, it does increase the percentage of such beds set aside for LGBT youth, and brings the total of AFC-operated beds to 77.  Nonetheless, the AFC’s waiting list currently stands at 199 youths – a figure which has grown by 40 percent in the last year alone.

I reported on the rally and movement for more shelter beds in my last blog post, and I can’t help but feel like this must have been a direct result of the activism that has been taking place. I don’t know if it’s the increased media attention on Occupy Wall Street, yesterday’s elections, or what, but it does feel like there is a revival of progressive direct action and activism afoot. People are waking up from the slumber of Obama’s first term.

For the complete press release and more information on the LGBTQ homeless shelter update, click here.

I attended a rally on Monday of this week put on by a coalition of organizations fighting for more homeless shelters for LGBTQ young people. According to the flyer, an LGBTQ teen is 8 times more likely to experience homelessness than a straight teen in New York City. This is because as people come out younger and younger, many are being kicked out of their homes or facing isolation and bullying in schools. Every night in New York City, almost 4000 young people are without stable housing, but there are fewer than 200 youth shelter beds. Facing cuts by the city and state, supporters came out to demand protection for these vulnerable young people.

I interviewed a few people at the rally and spliced together a quick video of people’s impressions:

If this inspires you to take action, visit aliforneycenter.org.

Moscow Pride 2011 Logo: Features a cupola like the one on Moscow's famous St. Basil's Cathedral, except in rainbow colorsThe Russian Government has marked the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) by once again banning Moscow Gay Pride. Moscow’s Deputy Mayor Ludmila Shvetsova cites the city’s inability to provide adequate protection and security from the anti-gay forces who will inevitably attend the event.

This is bullshit. One of the main threats of violence for the Pride organizers and marchers comes from Moscow’s Police and Riot guard themselves, who have interrupted the marches and violently arrested participants year after year.

While organizers of 6th annual Moscow Pride on May 28th of this year plan to hold their event regardless of the City Hall decision, this certainly comes as a blow to their organizing and once again reflects the stubborn bigotry of Moscow’s leadership. Their next step is to move their plea directly to the federal government and apply for a permit to march in front of the Kremlin, the federal seat of power, an area which is under the direct jurisdiction of President Dmitri Medvedev.

Organizers are quite used to this kind of treatment by their own government and have always circumvented it by planning events in secret and being prepared for arrests, intimidation and interruption. After all, they managed to hold Pride events even under former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who famously called the “faggots” “satanic.”

I met Moscow Pride’s main organizer, Nikolai Alekseev, at an event earlier this year. Alekseev’s persona moves easily from high-profile professional as he travels the world speaking about human rights to on-the-ground rabble-rouser. He told those of us in attendance at a Columbia University-sponsored event that his organization’s tactic keep getting more and more James Bond-esque because they have to do so much of the planning in secret to avoid getting shut down before they even hit the streets. Alekseev says that organizers are followed and have their phones tapped in the weeks leading up to Pride every year.

Alekseev is not all gloom and doom, though. In that talk (watch a complete video here), he confidently insisted that within a few years, the debate in Russia will change from whether or not to ban marches to the more serious considerations of marriage equality, sex ed and homophobia. Not only that, but Russian LGBTQ activists had a victory late last year with the city government of St. Petersburg authorized its first ever gay rally.

I encourage you to check out the complete video of Alekseev’s talk to learn about the history of the Moscow Pride movement, their victories at the European Court of Human Rights and their dreams for the future.