Thursday, November 27, 2008

MILK is good for You

Gus van Sant's MILK is one film I've been waiting to watch since I first read about it during summer. I had seen the trailer, watched the tele-interviews and browsed a few film commentaries. Now when the film finally released this past Wednesday, I can't help but pray it comes to theatres in my town soon. What's encouraging is the film's extra positive review from both the popular and critical groups. Particularly noteworthy are the reviews by Peter Travers (RollingStone) and A. Scott (NY Times).

Travers (RollingStones, 112508) writes, "(...) To those who say it's ancient history since Harvey's battle is no long­er an issue, I say wake up and smell the hate crimes, and the bill banning gay marriage that passed on Election Day. To those who say its focus limits its audience, I say Harvey's focus was human rights and therefore limitless. To those who say Milk is hagiography, I say Harvey is my kind of saint: a New York Jew with a screwed-up past, a lively sex life and a goal to bring the gay movement out of the shadows even if he had to be a media whore to do it. " To read the complete review, click here.

The film reviewers of NY Times have designated the film "critics pick". A. Scott in his review writes, "(...) The strength of Mr. Black’s script is that it grasps both the radicalism of Milk’s political ambition and the pragmatism of his methods. “Milk” understands that modern politics thrive at the messy, sometimes glorious intersection of grubby interests and noble ideals (...) Harvey Milk was an intriguing, inspiring figure. “Milk” is a marvel." To read the complete review and more about the film in NY Times, click here.

Additional links - To watch Campaign Revisited and see how Gus van Sant and his art department recreated the look of the 1970s for the film (NYTimes, 112608) click here. To do your bit, pledge your support and join the movement (official site), click here.

So the next time, my mum tells me, "Boy! Milk is good for you," I will not complain.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Born Free-Born Natural II

Excerpt source: For the Bible Tells Me So (2007) - a film exploring the intersections of sexuality and religion. I know many of us have seen this film and some of us have even bookmarked this cartoon story; nevertheless I thought of sharing it with my readers since in my previous post, I discussed the "choice" question. I think the creative story-telling idea is brilliant. However, there is a slight glitch. Notice how the gay and the lesbian protagonists are represented, especially Martha.

My question - Can we alongside, also fight gay stereotypes please? To visit the film's website, click here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Born Free-Born Natural I

"(So) hug a gay today. Because you believe in gay rights. Or because you believe in democracy. Or, best of all, if you believe that the two should be part and parcel of each other." - "Gays and democracy" - Jug Suraiya, writer and columnist extraordinaire, TOI (Aug.2008).

Jug makes a compelling argument for the need of homosexuality to be sanitized off the legal and social taints from within the Indian society. From referencing health minister Ramadoss’s proposition in favor of legalizing homosexuality to defining homophobia as a “jurassic park of prejudice,” he argues that its time Indians recognized and embraced their changing social mores. What more, he goes on to claim that “gays are good for democracy” just like the “anti-globalization activists, vegans, poets, and others who belong to often misunderstood and misrepresented minorities”; and that their rainbow is an apt metaphor for describing a pluralistic society founded on the conviction that “freedom of choice is the cornerstone of democracy.” It is also here that he goes grossly wrong and overboard with comparing homosexuality to a lifestyle choice. I think every time we hear of irrational slurs such as “being gay is a choice”, we should ask back the question, “when did you choose to be straight?”

[To read the source article, click here].

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

From Surrogacy to Parenthood

The US and India are the only two countries that offer surrogacy to same-sex couples as found out recently by an Isreali gay couple who hired a surrogate mother to deliver their child in India. Today, both of them are proud fathers of a baby boy born October 12 this year in Mumbai. For more on the story, click here.

An interesting paradox. On the one hand, India is still reeling under the draconian law, the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes homosexual act if not homosexuality itself. On the other hand, the country has a law that allows gay couples to become fathers through surrogacy, thanks to the guidelines laid down by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) in 2002. This law allows Indian clinics to treat same-sex couples with donor egg IVF and surrogacy. In fact, India’s surrogacy program is a huge hit internationally what with less cumbersome paperwork, cheap costs and easy availability of surrogate mothers.

The only concern that medical experts have had over the years is whether children raised by gay and lesbian couples are disadvantaged by that fact alone. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has repeatedly stated that there is no persuasive evidence to suggest any such disadvantage. Phew! Gay couples can now seek hot spots such as India to avail joys of parenthood. Interesting.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


My recent web-browsing led me to this (acronyms instead of complete names of institutions have been used here):
Non-discrimination policy
The DT [India], D USA, Inc., and The IIGS affirm diversity of people, talents, and viewpoints.
None of these entities discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, age, physical attributes/disability, health status (including HIV) , sexual orientation, caste, religion, creed, nationality, place of origin, or race.


Everytime I read of a clearly stated non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation in any part of the world, I feel elated and hopeful of a more equal and tolerant tomorrow. The Equality Forum recently reported that 94.2% of the 2008 FORTUNE 500 companies have voluntarily included sexual orientation in their employment non-discrimination policies. In fact, this year marks the 5th anniversary of Equality Forum-FORTUNE500 project - a collaboration with Professor L. Thomas, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and I. Ayres, William K. Townsend Professor, Yale Law School. To learn more about this project and view the entire list of Fortune 500 companies that protect their employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, click here.
Additional resources (click on each): Fair Employment Mark; Human Rights Campaign; PFLAG. Also, to read the Obama-Biden support plan for LGBT Community, visit the original source here or read about it in the HRC Back Story, here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Words and Identities

Recently, local authorities in the UK directed its staff to be careful about using words, which could be considered racist, sexist, homophobic or nationalistic, including the phrase British, which implied “a false sense of unity.” This came about considering that many Scots, Welsh and Irish resist from being called British and that the country today is a land of a variety of cultures, languages, religions and identities.

On the careful use of homophobic terms consider this: Scotland's National Health Service recently told doctors and nurses to avoid using the terms ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ as they excluded same-sex couples with children. As part of their “zero-tolerance policy to discriminatory language” they recommend:
1. The use of terms ‘parents’, ‘carers’ or ‘guardians’ instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad’.
2. The use of terms ‘partners’ and ‘next of kin’ instead of ‘husband’, ‘wife’ and ‘marriage’.

This is serendipituous and coincidental at the same time. Last year, I had participated as a graduate student volunteer in a pre-test of questions to review the graduate admissions evaluation process in my University. As a student volunteer group we jointly brainstormed on what current questions could be amended. One thing that some of us insisted be changed was the question that asked the educational background/occupation of "Father” and "Mother.” We debated the implicit assumption in this question with regards to mainstream sexuality and gender; and asked for the terms to be replaced with "Parent 1" and "Parent 2." Our purpose was to shift the emphasis from socially constructed gender binaries and the traditional understanding of family as a heterosexual unit to a more cognizant view of alternate sexualities and changing family structures. We wanted the University to take that valuable step and become a model Institution, welcoming prospective students and their families, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation.

Before I conclude, I think it is worth revisiting some super common gender stereotypes and the terms used for them here:
Boys = sporty, strong, decision-makers, and
Girls = emotional and expressive.
As a result, boys who are emotional and show their feelings are often called "sissy's", "girls", "faggots" and/or "poofs". Girls who are too boyish or who hold feminist views run the risk of being called "dykes" and/or "lesbians". The damaging effect of such terms on individual's psyche and personality have long been studied and known. It is reassuring to see, however, that governments and various other groups throughout the world are exercising high degree of control and thought in utterances - both public and otherwise; and also realizing that it is not enough to be careful about using words that are racist but even those that are homophobic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Some good news:
The state’s highest court had ruled on Oct. 10 that excluding same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional, and a week ago it announced that gay marriages could officially be performed starting on Wednesday, Nov. 12.

Stigma, Fear or Both?

Few days ago, I had written about AIDS Sutra (2008) - an anthology of stories on AIDS in India. Here are excerpts from “Hello Darling,” a short story by Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi. These are essential pieces from Siddharth’s narrative, which I chose for their realistic and documentary content. Of course, the actual story is bigger and more intricate.

On the need for awareness of dealing with long-term HIV- positive individuals:
“(In India) there’s a big NGO/medical structure built around (HIV-AIDS) prevention and testing, and, to some extent, giving first line treatment. But I think the awareness of dealing with long-term positive patients, and all that implies – for example, how to treat them for other opportunistic infections, or surgery that is not necessarily related to their HIV, but is affected by their being poz –is much less here. I certainly know people who have, quite recently, decided to move abroad, and their being poz was very much a factor in their decision.” (2008:68)
On the loathing for lepers and those with HIV:
Homosexual men with HIV have to combat not only the stigma that attends to their sexual origins, but also their health condition, yet another bridge to have to cross. The disgrace shrouding HIV in India provokes menacing acts of hatred, reserved, in another era, for lepers; and the self-loathing it encourages in the individual is often only a reflection and elaboration of the loathing that society fosters for HIV.” (2008:68)
On stigma, fear and the complex intermingling of the two:
“(…) At ‘bug-parties’ in America, positive men called ‘gift givers’ would bareback – have unprotected sex – with ‘bug chasers’, men who desired to be HIV positive only so that they could finally overcome the constant threat, and terrible doom, of possible infection.” (2008:70)

Each of the above discusses the complex physiological and psychological dimension central to the global AIDS epidemic. It is concerning then to read of AIDS as a manageable disease and HIV as less a threat to survival. I believe there is so much work that needs to be done at all levels – efforts that address not just human sexual health but also the associated stigma, for the two remain interwoven in complicated ways.

India poses a special challenge or should I say a scarier challenge that takes us back in time to the phobia prevalent in the 1980s here in the USA or the dangers endemic to the then social conditions in East Africa. Bigotry and prejudice is rampant in Indian society and barring few, most in the Government too are unwilling to wake up and come-out of their self-constructed caves of ignorance. Stifling laws of the Victorian era are still looked-upon as saviors of Indian morality (whatever that meant). I think it may help to magnify societal ignorance and bring it to world attention. And this book does precisely that and more.

Italicized excerpts from the book: Akhavi, N ed. (2008) AIDS Sutra - Untold Stories From India. NY: Anchor Books.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Homophobia in Education

This poster appeared on UK billboards for two weeks in February 2008. Click here for more information.

Stonewall is one of the leading organizations working towards equality and justice of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in the UK. Founded in 1989, it is well known for its thoughtful and effective campaigning and lobbying. Their “Education for All” campaign was launched in January 2005 to address homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools in the UK.

Their message: Education for all is a call to action…
“Homophobic bullying causes permanent damage to young people and blights the School and Colleges where it takes place. Making all young people – regardless of their sexuality – feel included and valued is a major opportunity for the educational system to transform the lives of a significant number of pupils and students.”

The efforts of this organization and their creative and thoughtful campaigning paves way for the much needed awareness on sexuality to reach Schools and institutional spaces - otherwise perceived to be safe and inclusive of all. According to a recent study in the US, gay and lesbian students are 3 times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; Chicago Public School District survey, 2003). To address this, public school officials in Chicago recently recommended a “gay-friendly high school” as a way to target students who feel they have been victims of bullying for their sexual orientation. The Chicago Sun-Times also quoted a member of the school’s design team as saying that students at this school shall be taught about “gay and lesbian historical figures” as their role models.

It is currently being debated whether a separate educational environment is truly the best solution. Even homosexual activist groups in the area are opposing this move on the grounds that it amounts to separate but equal treatment. As a precedent, a similar school but one exclusively for LGBTQ students, the Harvey Milk High School, was created in the East Village, New York City in 1985. The then State Conservative Party Chairman M. Long had criticized the creation of the school, asking “Is there a different way to teach homosexuals? Is there a gay math?”

Between measures adopted by organization such as the Stonewall in the UK and those being proposed here in the US, I think it may be helpful to critically reconsider the latter – or all such recommendations that seek to set up separate domains of learning for groups identified by their sexual orientation. In my opinion, education is a great leveler and educational spaces should provide for one and all a safe climate for personal growth and development. I am more inclined to spread awareness from within all inclusive educational environments than fight for the establishment of nouveau ghettos-in-the-making or the so-called “gay-friendly” schools. It may help to think along the lines of subaltern counter-publics and reach out to one and all. As a member of the A-Team in my University, we are committed to this endeavor - an environment inclusive of all.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Embedding Sexuality in Text

At times the blogosphere can be a space of bizarre encounters and correspondences. This morning, a reader commented on my way of writing. He said, “(…) I didn’t know you were gay. I thought you’d be a girl or something looking at the way you write (…) Your writing [and nature of argumentation] gives your readers hint that you are somewhat girlie, delicate and feminine”.

Two successive moments formed my reaction to this comment -
Moment 1: OMG! Never before had anyone made such heterosexist remark on my writing and opining. In the past, I had people comment on my handwriting and label it as “beautiful, neat and feminine”; but this! was totally uncalled for.
Moment 2: Interesting! If words and thoughts are inseparable and writing is a way of thinking, then does that also mean we map our identities (knowingly or unknowingly) in our written expressions? Is a person’s writing marked and defined by her/his sexuality? These questions have given me a pause for thought.

Let us recall the number of times we’ve tried to gauge the sex of a person [sic] by simply reading a little abstract of his/her work. Let us recall those many moments when we have asked ourselves, if the protagonist of this book is gay, is the author gay too? I guess the question of most interest to me right now is that if sexuality is an invisible trait (Shilts, 1987) how do we make it visible in our expressions – written, oral and/or other? And is this visibility “out there” or is it layered and in need of some deep analysis?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Celebration or Conundrum

This is coming via my pal Trevor’s post on minority rights. Last night while I was all teary eyed and joyful over the Obama win, this morning again, I was all teary eyed but disappointed reading about measures to ban gay marriage that succeeded in Florida, Arizona and California. Gay adoption was banned in Arkansas. The following are the results of these important ballot measures (the numbers in parentheses are the percentage of precincts counted). For more on these numbers and related results, visit dailykos.

Arizona: Proposition 102 defining marriage as between a man and a woman (92%)
For: 1,009,693 - 57%
Against: 777,359 - 43%
Arkansas: Ban Gay Adoption (90%)
For: 549,074 – 57%
Against: 418,648 - 43%
California: Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage (84%)
For: 4,605,065 - 51.8%
Against: 4,293,068 - 48.2%
Colorado: Proposition 46 to end affirmative action (77%)
For: 886,544 – 49%
Against: 911,218 – 51%
Florida: Amendment 2 more strongly banning gay marriage (99%)
For: 4,657,031 – 62%
Against: 2,848,490 - 38%
Nebraska: Ban Affirmative Action (99%)
For: 384,729 – 58%
Against: 283,351 - 42%

This tragic turn takes me back to my conversation with a friend last Saturday. We were discussing "gay marriage," and the arguments for and against it. The pro-liberal me was all for supporting the right of every individual to get married irrespective of sexual orientation or ethnicity. But my friend thought otherwise. She was arguing instead for the right to "civil union," which provides all legal benefits to both partners but leaves the certifying of marriage to the Church. Her underlying argument - marriage cannot exclude religion, and for two people to then enter into this institution, the approval of Church or for that matter any religious institution was essential.

...and the debate continues.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Smart Condom Campaign

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to this incredible news story entitled, "Safe sex ideas that raise eyebrows" by Mehan Holohan in Mental Floss. It highlights five novel campaigns launched by nonprofit organizations in different countries to encourage wider use of condoms. To read the entire article, click here.

In India for example (one of the countries included in the story), The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated money for a national condom ring tone that sings "Condom, Condom." In conjunction, the BBC World Service Trust is producing a mass media campaign to make condoms more socially acceptable by way of improving the image of the condom user as a smart, intelligent and responsible individual. To hear the ringtone and read more about this campaign, visit here: It is composed by Rupert Fernandes and sung by Vijay Prakash.

Here's a snippet of one of the ongoing commercials of this campaign. The commercial is in Hindi with English subtitles: A cellphone goes off at a wedding reception and it has the most unlikely ringtone of "condom, condom." If you think people are shocked and disgusted, well think again! This is the new age India where most people are seen delightfully endorsing the chant.
Social Message: Condoms signify smart and responsible behavior. Check it out!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The A-Team

Following up on Oct.29 post, the first meeting of the Student Advisory Board was fantastic to say the least. We are a group of graduate and undergraduate students at the University in different years and in different Schools/Departments. We brainstormed issues of concern to the LGBTQ community and identified common threads based on the list of those discussed. We also laid the ground rules of expectations from each other from within the Advisory group and finally talked of ways to ensure sustainability of our conversations over time.

I am excited and energized about this new initiative and I hope our LGBTQ Action Team, unofficially the A-Team, is able to effect change and make this University truly inclusive of all its members. [The Cottage Inn lunch notwithstanding, this Saturday afternoon was wholesome and simply delicious].

About This Blog

This blog is built around what I refer to as the socio-sexual debate, meaning the simultaneously coexisting conditions of human society and human sexuality in a constant state of inner conflict and pressing debate. To read more, click here.

Opinion Matters

"There is a way of discussing sexuality without using labels" (Mika* in an interview with Shana Naomi Krochmal, OUT, 2008-01-28).

*Mika is a London-based singer-songwriter.

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