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Authorities ban gay Putin images

BARRY DUKE examines the continued rise of homophobia in Russia

AN image that has been dominating Gay Pride events across the globe over the past few years has been one of Vladimir Putin Putin wearing make-up and mascara, created after Russia introduced a stupid “gay propaganda” law in 2013. So powerful did the image become that it was even used in 2014 by Brew Dog, a specialist beer company in the Britain.

The company promoted the “Hello, my name is Vladimir” brew with the words: “I am a beer for uber hetero men who ride horses while topless and carrying knives. I am a beer to mark the 2014 Winter Olympics. But I am not for gays. Love wrestling burly men on the Judo mat or fishing in your Speedos? Then this is the beer for you!”

The pride posters, and japes by companies like Brew Dog, got right up the noses of the Russian authorities and in April this year The Telegraph reported that Russia’s Justice Ministry branded the images as “extremist” and banned it.

According to the description posted on the Justice Ministry’s register, the ban applies specifically to a picture posted on Vkontakte, a Russian social network, intended to represent “the supposed nonstandard sexual orientation of the president of the Russian Federation” and carries the caption: “Putin voters … they say there are lots of them, but there aren’t any among the people I know.”

The picture was one of several posted by a man called Alexander Tsvetkov which were banned by a court in Tver, a city northwest of Moscow, in May last year.

The “gay propaganda” law, which bans the promotion of homosexuality to minors, was criticised as state-sponsored homophobia and a sop to an extreme conservative constituency.

Putin said at the time that the law was not an attack on homosexuality, which is legal in Russia, but an attempt to protect children.

The Putin image was the 4,071th banned item on the register of 4,074 banned materials that also includes Nazi imagery, white power slogans, and jihadist websites encouraging terrorism.

Growing up in apartheid South Africa, which banned around 60,000 books, films, posters and other items regarded as offensive or seditious taught me that censorship is inextricably tied up with tyranny and human rights abuses, and I am convinced that the move against the Putin images is the part of of a much larger strategy in that god-besotted nation to stifle free speech and demonise minorities.

Putin, left, and Kadyrov at a meeting outside Moscow in 2007. Photograph: Dmitry Astakhov/AFP/Getty Images 

Evidence for this comes from Chechnya, Russia’s Muslim majority semi-autonomous republic. It was reported in April by the Guardian that many gay men had been rounded up and some killed in the ultra-conservative Russian republic as part of a vicious an anti-gay campaign.

The Guardian was following up a report in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and claims by human rights activists. The newspaper’s report, by an author regarded as a leading authority on Chechnya, claimed that more than 100 people had been detained and three men killed in the roundup. It claimed that among those detained were well-known local television personalities and religious figures.

Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, described the report as “absolute lies and disinformation”, basing his denial on the claim that there were no gay people in Chechnya. “You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” he told Interfax news agency.

“If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”

On April 21, PinkNews, reported that Kadyrov had vowed to purge Chechnya of all gay men before the start of Ramadan on May 26.

Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Russia project director for the International Crisis Group, told the Guardian she had been receiving worrying information about the issue from various sources a ten-day period. “I have heard about it happening in Grozny [the Chechen capital], outside Grozny, and among people of very different ages and professions,” she said.

The extreme taboo nature of the subject meant that much of the information was arriving second or third hand, and as yet there are no fully verifiable cases, she added. “It’s next to impossible to get information from the victims or their families, but the number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening.”

Chechnya is formally part of Russia, but functions as a quasi-independent state in which the word of Kadyrov often seems to transcend Russian laws. He has overseen the rebuilding of the republic with Moscow’s money, after two devastating wars. Kadyrov has at various times endorsed polygamy, compulsory wearing of the hijab for women in public places, and collective punishment for the relatives of those involved in the Islamist underground.

Chechen society is strictly conservative, meaning that unlike other cases where relatives or rights activists may put pressure on authorities when a homosexual relative disappears, those suspected are likely to be disowned by their own families. Locals say that if a family was known to have a gay member, other relatives would find it difficult to marry due to the “shame”.

Attitudes to LGBT rights are mixed in Russia, with an infamous law banning the “propaganda of homosexuality among minors” on the books.

But Moscow and other big cities have a thriving gay scene, even if much of it remains underground.

In Chechnya and the other Muslim republics of the North Caucasus, there is no discussion of the issue, and gay men do not even tell their closest friends of their orientation.

The Novaya Gazeta article claimed that three people had been killed, and suggested others could have been handed to their families with the expectation that the family would perform an honour killing.

Igor Kochetkov, a gay rights activist from St Petersburg, has helped organise an emergency contact centre which gay people in Chechnya can reach out to securely to get help with evacuation. He said “dozens” of people had got in touch to ask for help. Many are in hiding from both their families and the authorities.

“We are talking about the mass persecution of gay people, with hundreds of people kidnapped by authorities,” Kochetkov told the Guardian. “This is unprecedented not only in Russia but in recent world history. There is little doubt that we are dealing with crimes against humanity.”

Sign the PinkNews petition to stop crimes against Chechen's gays here.

Why are large corporations still ‘dominantly straight?’


IN mid-April of this year, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a lengthy interview with Lord Browne, pictured above, former Chief Executive of BP who was forced to resign after being “outed” in 2007 by a former boyfriend. He later headed the fracking company Cuadrilla and in 2015 moved on to become executive chairman of L1 Energy – an oil and gas firm backed by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman.

He was invited by the BBC to talk about gay people in big business, an issue he dealt with in his book The Glass Closet in which he presents a thorough range of statistics, first-hand interviews, and under-reported case studies to prove that businesses financially benefit from an inclusive attitude to the LGBT community.

Lord Browne spoke of the fear he experienced on learning he was gay, and the tormented life he led for decades inside the closet. His “outing”, though, proved a liberating experience and he found that people in general not only accepted his homosexuality, but gave him enormous support.

But he emphasised that despite the great gains made by LGBT communities in the West, business remains “pretty conservative and remains dominantly straight.” Only one CEO in the Fortune 500 list of companies, he told listeners, was openly gay: Apple’s Tim Cook.

In 2014, Lord Browne hailed Cook as “an important role model” after Mr Cook publicly acknowledged his sexuality, saying he was “proud to be gay”.

Cook made his announcement to try to help people struggling with their identity, he wrote in a Bloomberg Businessweek article.

Cook also challenged his home state of Alabama to ensure the rights of gay and transgender people.

Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'proud to be gay'.

“While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now,” he wrote.

“So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” he added.

He said he didn’t consider himself an activist, but that he realised he had “benefited from the sacrifice of others.”

“So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy,” he added.

Cook said that he had been open about his sexuality with many people, including colleagues at Apple, but that it still “wasn’t an easy choice” to publicly announce his sexual orientation.

Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC News technology correspondent wrote at the time: “Tim Cook’s announcement may come as no surprise in Silicon Valley or across corporate America.

“But that does not mean that we should underestimate the significance of the leader of the world’s most valuable company talking openly about his sexuality.

“Back in May 2014, a piece in The New York Times asked “where are the gay chief executives?” and struggled to name any openly gay CEOs at America’s 1,000 biggest companies.

“Apple under Steve Jobs was not a company that took a stand on any issues which were not seen as relevant to its business.

“Tim Cook has been more forthcoming on all sorts of issues, including equal rights for gay workers, and while he says he does not see himself as an activist, that is how many will now see him.

“That could embroil him in controversy in the United States, let alone in other parts of the world with less liberal views of sexuality.

“Mr Cook admitted that going public as a gay man was not an easy choice – but it certainly looks a courageous one.”

“He said that Alabama had been too slow to ensure the rights of ethnic minorities in the civil rights era, and was now being too slow to guarantee gay rights.”

Cook said: “Under the law, citizens of Alabama can still be fired based on their sexual orientation. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and we can create a different future.”

Cellan-Jones added: “Mr Cook has championed equality at Apple, but in August [2014] said he was ‘not satisfied’ with workforce diversity at the company.”

And he pointed out that many LGBT people in the UK felt it was “safer to stay in the closet” when at work.

In May a US study by LGBT organisation Human Rights Campaign suggested that 53 percent of US LGBT employees had not come out at work.

Lord Browne said: “By deciding to speak publicly about his sexuality, Tim Cook has become a role model, and will speed up changes in the corporate world.”

In reviewing Lord Browne’s book for The Independent in 2014, Mark Leftly wrote: “As Lord Browne argues, ‘diversity and inclusion are not the same thing’ and the companies that understand the differentiation will have a more productive workforce and reach a wider audience. ‘The LGBT population, traditionally under-served by marketers, present a meaningful and often sizeable opportunity,’ writes the author, pointing out the buying power of the US LGBT market grew from $743bn (£442m) in 2010 to $830bn (£648bn) last year.

“Lord Browne is clearly at his most comfortable, and certainly at his most fluent, when he takes a cold, hard look at the facts. It is here that references to, and quotes from, senior figures in world business feel relevant rather than just a name-dropping exercise to convince the world that, yes, Lord Browne has a first-class contacts book.”

Writing for The Financial Times in 2014, Adam Jones said: “This slim book expands on Lord Browne’s 2010 memoir Beyond Business, which briefly touched on the debilitating experience of having to hide part of his identity from colleagues for four decades. The new account is bolstered by interviews with others who have been through similar experiences and paints his double life as a cautionary tale, not a ‘workable blueprint for a business career’.

“During his early years at the oil and gas group, the young manager felt obliged to tag along when colleagues went to watch women ‘wiggle around’ in strip clubs on work trips. He found the whole thing ‘appalling’ but felt it was imperative to blend in.

“On a rare foray into a New York gay bar in the 1970s, he describes how he bumped into a colleague and was left terrified that this might lead to broader exposure at work: ‘I could not imagine that anyone else in the office would be gay . . . I wanted to sink through the floor.’ The prose is terse but you feel for him.

“Promotion to the top job made it harder to reconcile the different elements of his life, not least because BP’s high-profile purchase of Amoco meant security staff were next door as he slept while in the US. ‘The closet door was now nailed shut,’ he observes.

“In 2006 he had an opportunity to tear out those nails during an appearance on the BBC radio show 'Desert Island Discs'. Coming out then would certainly have been more dignified than the tabloid assault a year later.

“But the veteran manager held his tongue. Conditioned by the hostile attitudes of the society of his youth, he had failed to appreciate that his secret had lost its power to shock most people in the UK.”

Warren Allen Smith ‘died of happiness’ aged 95

MARCUS ROBINSON looks back on the life of the New York-based writer and gay rights activist who died on January 8, 2017


FOLLLOWING the death of Smith, a New York Times obituary declared that he “died of happiness”. Those three words sum up the pleasure he got out of the many accomplishments he notched up during his life.

These were covered in depth by the Des Moines Register, which profiled Smith, a native of Minburn, Ohio, shortly before his death.

Readers of The Pink Humanist will know Smith for his regular column, which he began writing for the Gay and Lesbian Humanist under the title of “Gossip from across the Pond", but less known are his many other activities which stretched back decades.

For example, he was a member of Mensa, an international society whose members have IQs in the top two percent of the population.

He once owned a recording studio in the heart of Manhattan where celebrities flocked, and he continued to hobnob with the rich, famous and powerful right up to the time of his death in a care home in New York.

In 1969 he found himself in the centre of the Stonewall riots, the launching point for one of the nation’s biggest civil rights battles.

He also studied piano, playing for services at the local Methodist Church.

He enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa, where he majored in piano, also played trombone, and developed his writing skills by submitting columns for the college newspaper.

His studies were halted in 1942 when he was drafted into the Army. He served as a clerk at Fort Knox, Kentucky, before being shipped to England. In June 1944, he landed on Omaha Beach as part of the largest amphibious assault in history. He then served as chief clerk for the Army’s adjutant general, headquartered at Reims, France.

After his was discharged from the army in 1946, Smith began his career as a substitute teacher at West Chester, but left Iowa in August 1948, hitchhiking to New York City with $40 in his pocket.
He attended Columbia University and earned his master of arts degree in American literature in 1949.

In his first week of arriving in New York City, Smith met Fernando Rodolfo de Jesus Vargas Zamora of Costa Rica, who was to be his companion until Vargas died of Kaposi’s sarcoma in 1989.

He and Vargas established the Variety Sound Corporation at 42nd Street and Broadway Avenue in Times Square. They operated both the Variety Recording Studio and Afro-Carib Records. Liza Minnelli, accompanied by conductor Marvin Hamlisch, cut her first demo record at the studio. Smith ran the corporation from 1961 to 1990.

In 2004, Smith took on some parental duties involving teenager Ligardy Termonfils whose mother lives in Brooklyn and whose deceased father, whom Smith befriended, had served as a bodyguard for Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

Smith returned to central Iowa for visits in 2001 and 2006. With Ligardy accompanying him, Smith visited again in 2008, and says he found Minburn “still a small town with a big heart.”
Until shortly before his death, Smith remained in demand for interviews by journalists around the globe for his first-person memories of the Stonewall riots of June 1969, when gay patrons rebelled during a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

The incident 40 years ago at the tavern at 53 Christopher Street escalated over several nights. It is now considered a milestone event in the fight by gays, lesbians and transgenders to obtain civil rights. Smith was chased by police until he found refuge in a nearby restaurant.The rioting sparked the Gay Liberation Movement and inspired Gay Pride Week.

Smith wrote newspaper columns, newsletters and magazine articles through the years, and was book review editor of The Humanist from 1953 to 1958. He wrote book reviews for the Library Journal in the 1960s.

Among Smith’s books is the 1,264-page encyclopaedia Who’s Who in Hell - A Handbook and International Directory for Humanists, Freethinkers, Naturalists, Rationalists and Non-Theists (2000) filled with the names of 10,000 people.That book led to Smith’s Celebrities in Hell (2002).

Reporting his death for the Freethinker, Barry Duke said: “I have been in regular touch with Smith for around five years, discussing possible subjects he might want to write for The Pink Humanist. During our frequent email exchanges, Smith animatedly kept me abreast of his many activities in New York and remained remarkably active even after moving recently into an assisted living facility."

Among the many tributes flowing in since news of his death broke was one from George Broadhead, Secretary of the UK LGBT charity, the Pink Triangle Trust, who wrote: “I never met Warren but communicated with him regularly when I was secretary of the UK Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA). I am proud to have been included in Warren’s Who’s Who in Hell."

In an interview 17 years ago, Smith, said he spent decades researching people who, like himself, either don’t believe in God, question God’s existence, or, at very least, are sceptical of all organised religions.

The first 50 years or so of Smith’s research constituted a labour of love, but after getting a computer around 1990, Smith began to think that maybe he had a book.

Lyle Stuart, longtime non-believer and notoriously anti-establishment owner of Barricade Books, agreed, and on July 10, 2000, his book was published and contained more than 10,000 names ranging from billionaire Warren Buffett to actors Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, and George Clooney.

His own entry describes him as a “roué and a sybarite”.

Smith said in his interview with Frank DiGiacomo: “I do think I’m a happy person. If you’re the member of an organised church group, you really have to have a guilt complex. You have to feel guilty about not loving God enough or not contributing enough money or not contributing enough to society.”

In his summer 2002 column for the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Smith wrote: “‘And what do you do?’ Sir Ian McKellen asked. ‘I’m an author,’ I replied.

“We were at the annual ceremonial of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the 250-member honorary group of notable American artists, writers and composers, which also includes 74 foreign members (eg, Margaret Drabble, Thom Gunn, David Hockney). Presumably, Sir Ian thought I might be a member or a recipient of one of the Academy’s awards. The ceremonial, which I attend as a journalist, is not open to the general public. When I explained that I have written two books about people who have not been attracted to organised religion, he said with a smile, ‘Is anyone any more?’

“When I mentioned writing for the present journal, Sir Ian expressed deep interest, asked how to subscribe and we exchanged e-mail addresses. Not wanting to monopolise him, I started to leave but he eyed my 36-year-old black companion, Peter Ross, and brought him into the conversation, too.

“‘How much longer can the Catholic Church continue?’ Sir Ian wondered aloud, commenting upon all the reports about priests sexually abusing children. He then turned to the subject of computers, and my companion and I talked about OS X, gigabytes and digital imaging.

“It was only when I returned home that I realised I’d listed this incredibly handsome man in my Who’s Who in Hell (Barricade Books) as well as in my just-published Celebrities in Hell (Barricade Books), documenting that he is an atheist who considers Hell simply a theological invention.”

Pink Humanist editor Barry Duke receives a Lifetime Achievement award

GEORGE BROADHEAD, Secretary of the UK LGBT charity the Pink Triangle Trust – publisher of The Pink Humanist – reports on the National Secular Society’s award in March 2017 to the magazine’s editor

FOLLOWING his invitation to travel to London in March to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Secular Society (NSS) at a function at which Yasmin Rehman was named Secularist of the Year, Barry Duke was asked by NSS President Terry Sanderson to provide him with some information he could use to introduce him.


Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, left, at the award ceremony. Photo: Sven Klinge

Duke said: “It was only at that point I realised how far back my activism stretched. As a stroppy 15-year-old, I began challenging teachers and my peers over racism, homophobia and censorship and it took me a while to jot down all the work I did over more than half a century to promote secularism and fight censorship, sexism, racism and homophobia”

In presenting Duke with his award, Sanderson, said: “Barry Duke, who many of you will know as the present editor of the Freethinker, has a long and colourful back story that may not be so familiar.

“From his earliest days in journalism in apartheid South Africa, Barry has aggressively fought censorship. He wrote numerous articles in magazines and newspapers highlighting the irrational and racist decisions made by what was then South Africa’s Publications and Entertainments Control Board – a strict censorship enforcer. It had a list of over 60,000 items that were banned – including the children’s book Black Beauty and a poster with the slogan ‘Black is Beautiful’. Eventually a law was brought in making it illegal to even criticise the censors.

“Barry fled the country when he was tipped off that he was in imminent danger of being detained for a violation of the Suppression of Communism Act.

“After he was granted asylum in the UK in 1973, he immediately made contact with Bill McIlroy, then editor of the Freethinker, which, unsurprisingly, was also on the list of banned items in South Africa. He then began writing articles for the magazine about his experiences of censorship and apartheid and their links to the Calvinist Christianity upon which many of the laws in the country were based.

“He had no inkling at the time that he would one day become the magazine’s editor, a job he has done for just over 20 years. Having settled in the UK, he became actively involved in humanism, atheism and gay rights. In 1979, he was a founding member of the Gay Humanist Group, (now called LGBT Humanists, part of the British Humanist Association) after Mary Whitehouse began a private prosecution for blasphemous libel against Gay News.

“He and his late partner Brian Parry then launched a magazine for the group. He also served on the NSS council as treasurer for a while. Around five years ago, he was asked by the UK gay humanist charity, The Pink Triangle Trust, to launch an on-line magazine – The Pink Humanist – on its behalf, and also create a separate website for the charity.

“He moved to Spain in 2010, and became involved in the creation of the first Gay Pride event in Benidorm, working alongside Spanish, British and Dutch activists, and attending meetings with the city’s mayor and other elected officials.

“He is now active writing for the press on the Costa Blanca as well as keeping up a constant flow of news and opinion on the Freethinker and Pink Humanist websites.

“His passion for social justice, equality and free speech burns as brightly today as it did when he first began challenging racists and bigots in his earliest days as a journalist. I think you’ll agree that Barry deserves the recognition of this lifetime achievement award and the encouragement to keep on keeping on. I’m very pleased to say that he’s come from his home in Spain to be with us today.”

Among the many guests at the Secularist of the Year event was human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who also began his activism at an early age in Australia. In 1967 Tatchell launched campaigns in support of Australia’s Aboriginal people.

He was elected secretary of his school’s Student Representative Council. In his final year in 1968, as school captain, he took the lead in setting up a scholarship scheme for Aborigines and led a campaign for Aboriginal land rights. These activities led the headmaster to claim he had been manipulated by communists.