Two terrified boys are forced out of a car by members of a gang who taunt them with the question: “Were you kissing?” A paving stone is dropped on to the head of a lesbian by one of her relatives. A man’s screaming is captured as he is raped. These “trophy videos” are the hardest thing to watch in Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge, a harrowing documentary about the persecution of LGBT people in the Russian republic. The videos were made by people who hunt down and and terrorise gay Chechens, with the backing of the government and security forces.
“The leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, is waging a ‘blood-cleansing operation’ to eliminate all LGBT people,” says the director, David France, speaking by Zoom from his home in New York. Thanks to nationalism, religious fundamentalism and Vladimir Putin’s “gay propaganda” law, LGBT people have become scapegoats. As one of the gang members tells the boys in the car: “All our problems are because of people like you.”
Last week, beloved children’s author J.K. Rowling became the world’s most famous transphobe. After the Harry Potter writer spent days defending transphobia on Twitter and in her blog, writing that she was “worried about the new trans activism,” millions of distraught fans and confused bystanders were left wondering what the hell was going on.
But Rowling’s public spasm of self-delusion isn’t unusual. It’s part of a larger, weirder pattern of prejudice. Whenever I’m sharing war stories with American progressives, one of the first things they tend to ask is why there are so many prominent British transphobes, and why respectable left-wing publications like the Guardian publish their writing on the subject so often. They ask me why the only Western leaders speaking the same language on trans rights as these British liberals are right-wing despots.
Well, buckle up, because this is why.
Britain is the epicenter of a strange, savage, and specific cultural backlash against trans rights. That backlash is doing real harm to people whose lives should not be up for debate. Its proponents have recruited a great many decent, well-intentioned people to their cause through subterfuge and scaremongering — including mainstream media figures and celebrities like Rowling.
In the past half-decade, British transphobes have done everything in their power to convince the public that trans women are a sexual threat to women and girls and ought to be banned from women’s changing rooms, public bathrooms, and prisons. They have threatened and harassed trans teenagers and bullied trans speakers off stage. They even picketed Amnesty international for daring to invite a trans comedian to a women’s event. Their zeal is grounded in a totally false conception of what it means to be trans. They accuse trans women of trading in stereotypes and implying that womanhood is, in Rowling’s words, a “costume,” all about makeup, manicures, ‘pink brains’ and “a liking for Jimmy Choos.” Ironically, some of these transphobes are happy to use the tactics of patriarchy against trans women, who find themselves subject to sexual shaming and taunts about their appearance by people who call themselves feminists.
On Wednesday, May 1, 2019, Caster Semenya, the two time-Olympic champion and professional athlete who has competed in track and field since she was a child, lost an important battle in the fight around gender and sports. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled that Semenya would have to take hormones that would lower her naturally occurring testosterone levels in order to “ensure fair competition in women’s sports.” If Semenya declines the suppressants she cannot compete in the 800-meter races at the Olympics, as well as other international competitions. The ruling concluded that “discrimination is necessary, reasonable and a proportionate means of achieving the IAAF requirement to preserve the integrity of female athletics.”
“I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.”
So said the reigning Olympic champion in the women’s 800-meter last year, in a statement challenging rules that could threaten her athletic career.
The rules, issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), require some female runners whose bodies produce high levels of testosterone to take medication to lower those levels. Many saw the rules as a direct effort to target Semenya, who is believed to have a condition that produces high testosterone. The runner appealed the new regulations, but on Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled against her.
Semenya’s story is about the ongoing efforts by sports governing bodies to develop gender divisions that are fair to all athletes. But it’s also about what happens when an athlete — especially a black athlete — doesn’t conform to other people’s ideas about womanhood.
spent much of this week reading and trying to absorb the new and
devastating book by one Frédéric Martel on the gayness of the hierarchy
at the top of the Catholic Church, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.
It’s a bewildering and vast piece of reporting — Martel interviewed no
fewer than “41 cardinals, 52 bishops and monsignori, 45 apostolic
nuncios, secretaries of nunciatures or foreign ambassadors, 11 Swiss
Guards and over 200 Catholic priests and seminarians.” He conducted more
than 1,500 interviews over four years, is quite clear about his
sources, and helps the reader weigh their credibility. He keeps the
identity of many of the most egregiously hypocritical cardinals
confidential, but is unsparing about the dead.
The picture Martel draws is jaw-dropping. Many of the Vatican gays — especially the most homophobic — treat their vows of celibacy with an insouciant contempt. Martel argues that many of these cardinals and officials have lively sex lives, operate within a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture, constantly hit on young men, hire prostitutes, throw chem-sex parties, and even pay for sex with church money. How do we know this? Because, astonishingly, they tell us.
There is nothing more newsworthy in today’s media economy than an attractive young woman who has committed a violent crime, except possibly an attractive young woman who is deemed to have gotten away with it.
Imagine the expression on the faces of the nation’s editors when news broke that Lavinia Woodward, an exceptionally gifted medical student at Oxford University, had been spared jail for stabbing her boyfriend in a violent rage last September. Imagine being faced with a hundred dispiriting Getty images of Donald Trump’s orange face, and then learning that not only has a pretty young blonde with a name like an Agatha Christie character gone stab-happy at an Oxford college, she’s also got an Instagram feed and a taste for very short shorts.
Ma Baoli was accustomed to secrets.
By day, he was a police officer in northern China with a wife and a knack for street chases. By night, he led a life as a gay man, furtively running a website for gay people across China at a time when many were viewed as criminals and deviants.
For 16 years, Mr. Ma kept his secret, worried that coming out would mean expulsion from the police force and estrangement from his family. Then in 2012, his superiors at a police department in Qinhuangdao, a coastal city in Hebei Province, uncovered his website and he resigned.
When the US supreme court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage last year, the White House welcomed it with rainbow-coloured lights and many people celebrated by adding a rainbow tint to their Facebook profile.For the authorities in Saudi Arabia, though, this was cause for alarm rather than celebration, alerting them to a previously unnoticed peril in their midst. The first casualty was the privately run Talaee Al-Noor school in Riyadh which happened to have a rooftop parapet painted with rainbow stripes. According to the kingdom’s religious police, the school was fined 100,000 riyals ($26,650) for displaying “the emblem of the homosexuals” on its building, one of its administrators was jailed and the offending parapet was swiftly repainted to match a blue rainbow-free sky.