Sydney celebrates Mardi Gras
Revelers decked out in sequins, feathers, wigs and leather danced through the streets of Sydney last weekend to the cheers of more than 300,000 people at the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
More than 130 floats and 9,500 people participated in the parade, which began as a protest march in 1978 by gay and transsexual men and women and has flourished into one of the world’s largest LGBT pride events.
“I am totally in my element,” said a transsexual who identified herself as Gummi Cat. “This is my first year being in the parade and I am absolutely loving it,” she said from a carriage being pulled by a man dressed in little more than a black leather harness.
The parade kicked off with Olympic gold medal diver Matthew Mitcham, who stood atop the first float surrounded by male dancers dressed in Speedos and carrying scorecards.
Lifeguards, cheerleaders, nurses and sports teams strutted and spun to their floats’ music. Banks, schools and churches were represented, as were the Australian Federal Police, the Defense Department and state firefighters. All of the marchers, whether flamboyant in feathers and high heels or wearing their official work uniforms, grinned ear to ear as they waved to the crowd.
Spectators waited for up to six hours for prime viewing spots along the 1.5-mile route of the 31st annual parade. Many were packed 10 rows thick on the sidewalk along the main thoroughfare, Oxford Street, which was lined with metal barricades and police and parade officials.
“I’m blown away. It’s been amazing,” said 75-year-old Peg Low, who waved a rainbow flag next to a barricade near the front of the parade route and attracted hugs from a few brightly dressed marchers.
Low came from Queensland state to attend the parade in memory of her son, Stephen, who died of AIDS 15 years ago.
“I’m so happy because all our gay friends made this work, created something so wonderful,” she said.
Joan Rivers, in town for her one-woman comedy show, waved from atop a truck. Another float was dedicated to slain U.S. gay-rights activist Harvey Milk, the subject of a movie last year starring Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for his role.
This year’s parade theme was “Nations United,” a tribute to gays around the world, particularly in countries where they cannot live openly.
In Australia last year, lawmakers passed legislation giving same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexuals, though they have not legalized same-sex marriages.
Parents pull kids from gay lessons
Parents who removed their children from a London elementary school over lessons marking LGBT history month could face prosecution.
The U.K. observes gay history month in February each year and schools are encouraged to mark it with special classes as a way to teach tolerance.
More than 30 students were pulled out of classes at the George Tomlinson School in East London. The area is made up mainly of immigrant families, many of them Muslim.
Among the parents objecting to the classes was Pervez Latif, who kept his two sons, who are 9 and 10, from going to school throughout the week.
“I didn’t want my children to be learning about this,” Latif said.
He said he wrote a letter to the school explaining his objections and was told the children would be listed as truants if they were not in class.
The law allows for 19 excused days a year; any additional days a student is not in class are viewed as truancy. But the school regards the removal of the students as an unexcused absence.
The penalties range from a fine to criminal charges.
“If I am faced with court action, then I will just explain that these are my views,” said Latif.
Special gay-history lessons at the school ranged from references to famous gays and gay events in history classes to reading age-appropriate books in literature classes.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the school said no decision had been made on seeking charges against the parents.
“As part of the borough’s policy of promoting tolerance in our schools, children are taught that everyone in our society is of equal value,” the statement said.
Burundians want gays criminalized
Tens of thousands of people from Burundi, an impoverished East African nation, demonstrated March 6 in the capital of Bujumbura to demand the outlawing of homosexuality.
The demonstration, which drew up to 20,000 people, followed the government’s refusal to pass a law that would have criminalized homosexual acts. On Feb. 17, senators voted through a draft criminal-code law that abolished the death penalty, but rejected an amendment that outlawed homosexuality.
At the protest, Jeremie Ngendakumana, the ruling party’s chairman, said, “[We are] protesting today to support the [view of the] majority of Burundians that homosexuality should be punished by law. Homosexuality is a sin. It is a culture which has been imported to sully our morals and is practiced by immoral people.”
Before the senators rejected the antigay amendment, the lower chamber of the nation’s parliament adopted the amendments in November that sought to penalize homosexuality by up to two years in jail.
British PM criticizes Prop. 8
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown blasted Proposition 8, the California law banning same-sex marriage, as “unacceptable” and said it was a setback for civil rights in the United States.
Brown made the comments during a speech to British gay-rights leaders at a reception last week at the prime minister’s official residence.
“This attempt to undo good that has been done is unacceptable,” Brown said. “This shows why we have always got to be vigilant, always got to fight homophobic behavior and any form of discrimination.”
The prime minister praised U.K. gay leaders for pushing to have civil partnerships legalized in 2005, giving same-sex couples all of the rights of marriage except the name.
He praised the activists for “changing opinion” about same-sex unions.
“You have shown how the legislative process, by your pressure, can respond,” he told the group.
Brown’s comments came only hours after the California high court heard arguments challenging the legality of the proposition. It could be up to 90 days before a ruling is made in the case.
Indian city to open trans bathrooms
The Indian city of Chennai will build new toilets for trans people.
Officials from the Chennai Municipal Corporation have identified three areas with the largest trans populations, which will benefit from the new facilities.
The first will be built in Saidapet, where it will cater to those living in Kothamedu, Theedeer Nagar and Athuma Nagar.
The move is part of a pilot project to recognize the considerable trans community in south and central Chennai.
Each lavatory will have both toilets and urinals.
Municipal commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni was quoted as saying that the scheme was aimed at “extending recognition to the community and mainstreaming them,” and that more facilities could be built if the public responded well to the idea.
However, there has been a mixed reaction from the city’s trans population, with some saying that it would open the way for discrimination and isolation.
“I don’t agree with this. We want to mingle with the mainstream. We don’t want to be separated like this,” said Aasha Bharati, president of the Aravanigal Association in Tamil Nadu State.
India’s first transgender television host, Rose Venkatesan, said, “It is a big problem because not everyone has undergone a sex change. This is a good idea but, in the long run, I see a society where there is no difference and all use the same toilets.”
Man acquitted of murder in ‘gay-panic’ killing
A man who confessed to killing a gay couple in Spain has been acquitted of murder by a jury, who accepted his “fear” defense.
Jacobo Piñeiro Rial will instead spend 20 years in prison for setting fire to the home of Isaac Ali Dani Peréz Triviño and Julio Anderson Luciano in July 2006.
The couple, who lived together in Vigo, were planning to marry.
Rial told the court in Pontevedra that he had met one of the men in a bar and returned to their house to have a meal with them.
Later that night, he stabbed the couple 57 times and then set fire to the house, claiming he had suffered “an unbearable fear” in their presence after one of the men had allegedly threatened him with sex at knifepoint.
Despite the number of wounds inflicted, a jury found him “in legitimate defense.”
It was revealed in court that Rial had spent the previous day drinking and taking cocaine at a local gay bar.
His defense attempted to argue that this had clouded his judgment, but toxicology experts said the substances would have left his body by the time of the murders.
Triviño’s mother, who lived with the couple but was away the night they were killed, described the verdict as “homophobic, racist and brainless.”