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In Benidorm, Pride events are fully inclusive

STILL bathing in the afterglow of Benidorm’s Pink Weekend in May, on June 10 I hooked up with Sammy Kruz, a member of the team that organises Pride and other related events in Benidorm. I needed some information from him to complete an article I was writing about the event for The Pink Humanist.

All involved in the Pink Weekend were elated over its success, and I was in an upbeat mood as I discussed the main points I intended highlighting in the piece. The most important, I thought, was the fact that it turned out to be an amazingly inclusive event. The crowds that gathered on the picturesque Mirador in Benidorm’s Old Town were made up of all nationalities, old and young, gay and straight, and they danced and sang and enthusiastically applauded the acts performing on a large stage.

Sammy told me that he wanted to emphasise that the sole aim of the organisers, and Benidorm Council which supported them, was to bring the community together and create a special event that could be enjoyed by all “in our beautiful town”, and that both the Spanish and international press had praised them for achieving a wonderfully inclusive atmosphere.

Spanish folk clamoured to be photographed with drag artist Roxie Corazon, who co-hosted Pink Weekend with Sammy Kruz

Then he totally wrecked my evening.

“There’s something you should be aware of,” he said, and showed me a copy of an article written by John Smith in Euro Weekly News, headed “Does Spain need to consider whether it is now too liberal?”

The very first line of that article, since removed from the paper's website, had me gritting my teeth: “There is little doubt that during the Franco regime, some things could be considered better than they are today, in as much as the country was kept under a tight rein and there were less problems with hooliganism imported or home grown . . .”

Was this a wind-up, or the ravings of some neo-fascist dinosaur yearning to return to the slime of an epoch presided over by a murderous fascist tyrant whose cruel, iron-fisted control over the Spanish people had the full support of the Roman Catholic Church?

Reading on, it became clear it was the latter. Smith was in deadly earnest when he lamented the fact that Spanish women, in the years that followed Franco’s death in 1975, had become too assertive, too mouthy, too bossy.

He didn’t write that they should be bundled back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, but the following sentence suggests he sure as hell would like to see that happen:

"Like so many other nations, Spain has also entertained a certain amount of ‘political correctness’ which has to some extent seen a reduction in the machismo of the younger Spanish male and an ability for women to not just be vocal at home but to have a voice which can be heard across the country."

Women using their voices? How very, very dare they! The idea clearly fills Herr Smith with horror.

Worse, there are now homosexuals with voices, voices so shrill that they can force local authorities into coughing up dosh to fund parades and fiestas at which perverts can flaunt their filthy lifestyles.

“Should local councils be promoting Gay Pride with large numbers of members of the LGBT factions parading around the streets shouting ‘We’re here. We’re queer! Get used to it!’?” the hatemonger asks.

I have no doubt that, were Smith to meet Svein Sellanraa, a Norwegian blogger who describes himself as a “reactionary”, he would shower him with kisses, for Sellanraa, author of a piece entitled “In defence of Francisco Franco”, wrote: “The real key to Left’s animosity towards Franco is not to be found in the Civil War, but in the peace which came after it . . .

“While the post-Vatican II Catholic Church was losing both disciples and principles by the boatload, the nacionalcatolicismo of Franco ensured the continued place of the pious and sacred in the lives of ordinary Spaniards; while the rest of the world felt trapped between the destructive avarice of American capitalism and the totalitarian attrition of Soviet Communism, the ‘Spanish Miracle’ proved that any nation willing to disregard the false dichotomy between these two economistic and materialistic ideologies could have its proverbial cake and eat it too; while atheism, androgynism, and multiculturalism cruelly beset most of Western Europe, Spain, along with Salazar’s Portugal, remained a lone outpost of decency in a seemingly infinite sea of muck . . .”

Phew!

What did that “decency”mean for gays in Spain?

From 1954, the Franco regime imprisoned, tortured and often killed gays for violating the Ley de Vagos y Maleantes, or Vagrancy Act.

The Act was established in 1933 to deal with people considered anti-social or a threat to society. Its primal objective was to control beggars, pimps, thugs and others who did not actively contribute to society. The Act was later modified to include the suppression of homosexuality.

Because homosexuality was listed as a criminal offence, gays were unable to work or contribute to pensions.

As homosexuality slowly transitioned from a crime to a mental illness, homosexuals were arrested and sent to “correction camps” in an attempt to cure them by means of electric-shock therapy – not unlike the voluntary ex-gay camps of today. The victims were also forced to watch heterosexual pornography as images of “normal” sexual behavior.

One of the most famous early victims of the regime was playwright Federico García Lorca, who wrote Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba. He was killed by firing squad in Grenada in 1936.

Homosexuality was illegal in Spain up until 1979.

In 2001, the country expunged the “criminal” from its law concerning homosexuality and in 2005 the country became the third in the world to legalise gay marriage. These big and fast changes for equality happened under the government of Spanish Prime Minister José Zapatero. Zapatero was one of the main champions for LGBT Rights in Spain during his two-term of office (2004 – 2011).

The Euro Weekly News article, not surprising caused a firestorm of biblical proportions, and understandably so. People know the nationally-distributed free paper is not a fascist rag, so seeing Smith’s hateful article in it came as a shock to many, myself included, and our fury could barely be contained.

But I’m now willing to put this down to an unfortunate error of judgment by EWN and forgive and forget and move on. Life’s too short to allow venomous old fools to sour it.

• To its credit, Euro Weekly News published an abridged version of this article in its June 16 edition.

Gay screenwriter, novelist and actor Victor Pemberton is off to the Arctic, by Barry Duke

Victor Pemberton. Photo: Barry Duke

 

LET me tell you about something about the sonic screwdriver. Of all the contraptions conceived in 20th century science fiction, Doctor Who’s gizmo was the one single object that ignited in me a lifelong passion for all manner of technological doohickeys.

To prove my point to the fellow sitting opposite me in my favourite restaurant in Benidorm, Spain, I burrow into my manbag to extract something called a tactical pen. At one end is a blinding bright flashlight. At the other a sharp metal point that could remove all of an assailant’s teeth … and both eyes if a murderous streak happens to run through one’s veins. Between the two are a concealed razor-sharp blade – and an innocuous ballpoint pen.

I also take out my iPhone, encased in a gadget that serves both as a battery pack and an electronic cigarette. People walk into lampposts and trees when they see me smoking my phone.

A look of delight crosses Victor Pemberton’s face, for he is the man who came up with the idea of equipping the Doctor with a sonic screwdriver in 1968 when he wrote the script for Fury from the Deep which he later novelised. The multifunctional tool was then given form by Victor’s colleague, set designer Michael Lindsay.

Incidentally, June 17 saw the launch on Amazon of a replica of “the 12th Doctor’s 2nd trusty Sonic Screwdriver”. It will set you back a mere $29.98. Will Victor earn any royalties from the sale of this replica? “No,” he ruefully says. “That thing has never earned me a cent. But that’s the BBC for you.”

But we’re not in Italian Twist to discuss sonic screwdrivers, tactical pens and other contrivances, fascinating as the subject might be. We’re here because I had just learned that Victor – due to celebrate his 85th birthday in October – is preparing to drive on his own from his home on the Costa Blanca to the Arctic at the end of July.

A few days earlier I had seen a small poster in the window of the restaurant, headed “Victor Pemberton’s Arctic Adventure”. Below it were the words: “Victor Pemberton, former writer, actor and script editor for the BBC’s iconic Doctor Who TV series and author of over 20 popular World War Two novels, is, whilst defying advanced age, making an epic solo journey by car to raise funds for our injured ex-servicemen.

“His 10,000 km journey will take him from the Costa Blanca in Spain, across central Europe, though Denmark to the Arctic region of Norway.

“Yes, he is stark raving mad.”

I had, in fact, met Victor a few weeks before in one on my favourite local watering holes, Bar Destiny, and guessed that he might be a very youthful 60-something-year-old. He was tattooed, trendily dressed and fashionably coiffed, and was having a quick drink before moving on to a gay dance club. It was on that occasion that I learned of his Doctor Who credentials, that he worked on the UK version of Fraggle Rock and was a prolific novelist.

I saw him again later in May, energetically dancing close to the main stage set up in Benidorm’s Old Town to mark the town’s annual Pink Weekend.

Being the party animal he is, Victor has decided to officially launch his fundraiser with two fiestas: the first at the Italian bistro and the second at Bar Destiny on July 23. “And after that’s we’ll probably move on to several other venues,” said the indefatigable octogenarian.

The moment I learned of his madcap scheme, I contacted him to find out what on earth possessed him to embark on such a venture.

He explained that his concern for the plight of injured service personnel goes all the way back to the First World War. His father had lost a leg in the Battle of the Somme, and afterwards had to get by on a pitifully small pension.

Decades later, injured soldiers still face many hardships, and an organisation called Help for Heroes was established in 2007. Its mission is “to deliver an enduring national network of support for our wounded and their families. We will inspire and enable those who have made sacrifices on our behalf to achieve their full potential.

“In the 12 months leading up to March 2015 we have helped over 4,000 Veterans and military personnel – and their families – through our network of Recovery Centres.

“The war in Afghanistan may be over, but for those who have suffered life-changing injuries, their battles are just beginning.

“We’ve estimated that, of the 220,560 individuals deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2014, up to 75,000 servicemen and women (and their families) may need our support in the future. We will not let them fight these battles alone.”

Victor contacted Help the Heroes, who were “gobsmacked” when he told them of his plan . . . and his age. But they promised to help administer his scheme by setting up an official Just Giving fundraising page called The Arctic Adventure.

Victor, who has been driving for over 50 years (his first car was a Ford Anglia) will be making the journey in a two-year-old Volkswagen and will be using a GoPro camera to film every stage of his journey. He plans to post clips on his website and on YouTube.

This amazing journey, Victor tells me, marks the start of a new phase in his life. Currently, he is living on his own in a “soulless” conurbation in Murla, a village on the Costa Blanca which is a 40-minute drive from bustling Benidorm. He and his partner of over 50 years – David Spenser – bought a villa there when they moved from their home in Islington, London, a decade ago.

Sadly, David died in at the age of 79 in 2013 – seven years after the couple were married in a ceremony attended by 80 guests and performed by a Spanish judge. Victor recalls a touching moment when a large contingent of villagers gathered in the street to applaud them as they left the village hall in which their marriage took place.

A little teary-eyed, he said: “That’s how far we’ve come from the days when David and I first met. Life was a struggle then. It was illegal to be gay and we had to live very discreet lives. Young gay people nowadays have no concept of how hard life was for homosexuals then.”

And he applauded the stance taken by the then Spanish socialist Prime Minister, José Zapatero, who made it crystal clear to the Vatican that Spain was a secular country that would brook no interference in its affairs by the Catholic Church.

When the deeply homophobic Pope Benedict XVI visited Barcelona in 2010, Zapatero refused to attend a mass conducted by the pontiff, who was confronted by Spanish gays who staged a widely-publicised “kiss-in”.

During his six-year tenure Zapatero infuriated the Church hierarchy by legalising gay marriage, simplifying divorce proceedings and allowing first-trimester abortion on demand.

Victor imagined that he would be fine living on his own and able to see from his villa the spot where David is buried. But, despite having two delightful dogs for company – a pair of Lhasa Apsos, a breed that originated in Tibet – he decided that he could no longer deal with the solitude, and on his return plans to move to Benidorm.

The dogs – Bubble and Squeak – were Victor’s 50th-anniversary gift to David, a child radio star of the 1940s and 50s. David will be best remembered for his portrayal on air of Just William. The author Richmal Crompton cast him in the role, in a series of dramatisations of her novels about the raucous but endearing 11-year-old outlaw.

This was in 1948, when David turned 14 and was already a seasoned radio actor – performing more than one play a week. He had come into acting through a ruse set up by his ambitious mother and a BBC friend.

He was lured into Broadcasting House and found himself in a studio being auditioned by the Children’s Hour producer Josephine Plummer. For playing the lead in Just William he received the standard juvenile fee of four guineas.

On his website, Victor wrote: “In the years before he died, David made a valiant attempt to write his autobiography. Sadly he only completed two-thirds of it. However, he did ask me to promise that I would finish the book for him, which meant that the final third of his story would be a biography. That book is now awaiting publication.”
The book is entitled Just David, and Victor anticipates that it will be available by the end of the year.

Following David’s death, a tribute celebration was hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in London. Organised and produced by Victor, with the help of their friends Duncan Kenworthy, Vice President of BAFTA, and Victor’s literary agent Diana Tyler, over a hundred friends, including many well-known personalities, attended the event.

Said Victor: “It was not a memorial service, but a programme devoted to David’s career, radio, film and television clips of his work, readings from his unfinished autobiography, and live piano music from one of his favourite popular composers. It was, for many, quite a revealing evening, but most of all, what David would have wanted more than anything else, lots of laughs!”

When I called Victor the day after our interview to arrange a photoshoot, he sounded amazingly chipper for a man who had left a dance club just a few hours before – at 4.30 am!

The many friends he has made in Benidorm won’t be in the least surprised if the extraordinary Victor Pemberton were to return to Spain from his Arctic adventure with a polar bear in tow.

Click on this link if you would like to support Victor's Arctic Challenge.

Farewell Marco Pannella

MUCH to the fury of the Catholic Church, Italy voted to allow civil unions on May 11. This prompted Archbishop Michele Pennisi, a member of the Italian Bishops’ Conference to say “there is a large part of the country that did not want this law passed”. The new law was “unjust” and had been introduced for “ideological” reasons, he said. Forcing it through with a confidence vote was “creeping fascism”, he added. “It seems to me that behind the law is a culture that is specifically contrary to the natural family.”

Sadly, flamboyant bi-sexual politician Marco Pannella was not alive to celebrate the historic vote: he died just two days earlier. Had he still been alive, he would no doubt been dancing in the street along with members of the LGBT community who were delighted that the Catholic Church has suffered another grievous blow.

Pannella had been a thorn in the Church’s side for decades, and there can be no doubt that his libertarian campaigning had played a key part in the vote. After all, he had been successful in many of his other campaigns.

Marco Pannella had nothing but contempt for the Catholic Church

His aggressive campaigning against the Church is detailed in depth in a post headed “Marco Pannella – The Man Who Changed Italy for the Worse” on the Catholic blog, The Eponymous Flower. Reporting on Pannella’s death, the anonymous author wrote: “His name is inextricably linked to the legalisation of divorce and abortion, the fight for the legalisation of euthanasia and ‘gay marriage’, for drug liberalisation, the abolition of conscription and . . . above all with an insatiable antipathy against the Catholic Church.”

Pannella was leader of the Italian libertarian Radical Party (PR), originally founded in 1955 by the left wing of the Italian Liberal Party, but was refounded in 1963 by Pannella. Exasperated with what they saw as the vice-like grip in which the Catholic Church and its political allies held the country, the PR campaigned for all manner of causes that the Church found objectionable.

According to an obituary in the Telegraph, the PR won its greatest victories, in 1974 and 1978, with votes that legalised civil divorce and abortion, both pieces of legislation passed after Pannella had staged hunger strikes.

In 1970 he had subsisted for 78 days on three cups of coffee a day, losing more than four stone.

This was just one of many publicity stunts pulled by Pannella over the years. In 1979 he almost managed to upstage Pope John Paul II’s Easter benediction by staging a “reverential march of nonbelievers” to St Peter’s Square. In 2000 he was given a two-month suspended sentence after dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out free hashish to the crowds in Rome’s Piazza Navona.

When, in 1997, the PR was successful in promoting six referendums, held on the same day, on issues ranging from hunting to the abolition of the Federation of Journalists, Pannella took to dressing up as a ghost, parading in a white sheet to protest at what he claimed was a plot by mainstream parties to turn people off voting. As it transpired, the referendums were invalidated by a low turnout, at a cost to the Italian taxpayer of 840 billion lire (about £340 million).

The PR attained political success in 1976 when it entered Parliament with four deputies, including Pannella. The party lost its edge from 1987 when Pannella allowed Ilona Staller, otherwise known as the pornography actress La Cicciolina, to run under its colours. Although she was placed way down the list of candidates, she received enough personal preferences – 20,000 – to be elected. She then proceeded to embarrass everyone by stripping in public at every opportunity and offering to sleep with Saddam Hussein to promote peace in the Middle East.

Giacinto Pannella, always known as Marco, was born on May 2, 1930, at Teramo, in the Abruzzo region, to a Swiss mother and an Italian father who was an engineer.

The Eponymous Flower reveals that he was named after a great-uncle who was “a Catholic priest and respected intellectual”. He studied law at Urbino University, where he became involved in Liberal student politics and later became president of the Italian union of students.

He joined the Radical Party at its formation and became the party’s leader in 1963.

Pannella never married, but lived for many years with Mirella Parachini, a gynaecologist, who survives him. He also claimed to have had some 400 lovers, including several men.

 

Faith-based intolerance remains an obstacle to gay rights in Singapore

YANG Tuck Yoong, senior pastor of Singapore’s Community Church, earlier this year expressed outrage over a promotional video released by Pink Dot SG – a non-profit LGBT organisation – featuring lesbian pastor Pauline Ong, right, of the Free Community Church.

The video infuriated Yoong, who said in a blog post that it is “deceptive for untaught people watching it. Let me put it in simple and unambiguous terms: A homosexual Christian is an oxymoron. You cannot live a lifestyle that the Bible condemns and say you’re a believer in Jesus Christ at the same time.”

He said that the “deceptive” claims in the video “were purposely used as a strategy” by Pink Dot SG to advocate for cultural acceptance and normalisation of non-heterosexual orientations and relationships.

“They say ‘we’re Christians too and this is what we believe’. But please read your Bible and don’t misquote it. I assure you that a practicing homosexual will not see the insides of heaven if they continue down this path.”

The bigot blathered on: “Any attempt to change God’s definition of what constitutes a true marriage will lead to a disastrous path of fatherless-ness or motherless-ness, and we’re now witnessing the fruit of this malady in our generation.”

Despite views expressed by bigots like Yoong, and the fact that homosexuality remains illegal in Singapore, the Pink Dot SG has been gaining in strength.

It began staging annual gatherings in Hong Lim Park in 2009. In its first year, the event attracted just 2,500 participants. But by 2015 this number had swollen to an astonishing 28,000, and attracted nine corporate sponsors.

This year’s Pink Dot SG event, its biggest ever, took place on June 4 and saw the number of sponsors double to 18. The included Barclays, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, BP, Bloomberg, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, General Electric, Microsoft and Visa. In the days leading up to the Pink Dot SG event Bloomberg and NBC Universal released powerful videos in support of the gathering. This, said the organisers, “marks the increasing recognition that the embracing of discrimination-free working environments goes hand-in-hand with sound business strategy.”

Yet, sadly, Singapore remains wedded to Section 377A of the Penal Code, the law that criminalises sex between men.

According to StraitsTimes, in 2014, the highest court in Singapore upheld the law, ruling that the provision was constitutional. The three-judge Court of Appeal rejected two separate challenges to strike down the law.

Gay couple Gary Lim, 46, and Kenneth Chee, 38, as well as 51-year-old Tan Eng Hong, asserted that the provision was discriminatory and should be declared void by the court.

Their argument was that Section 377A infringes their right to equal protection under the law, as guaranteed by Article 12 of the Constitution, and violates their right to life and liberty, as guaranteed by Article 9.

Contravention of Section 377A carries up to a two-year jail term for men who, in public or private, commit acts of “gross indecency” with other men. Tan was the first to file a challenge against the statute in 2010 after he was charged with having oral sex with another man in a public toilet. Lim and Chee later filed their own challenge. Their cases were separately heard – and dismissed – by High Court Judge Quentin Loh. Their appeals were heard together in July of 2014.

In a 101-page written judgment delivered by Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, the apex court rejected their arguments.

The court held that Section 377A did not violate Article 9 as the phrase “life and liberty” referred only to the personal liberty of a person from unlawful incarceration and not to the right of privacy and personal autonomy.

As for Article 12, the court held that Section 377A passed a classification test used by the courts in determining whether a law complies with the constitutional right of equality.

The court also ruled that Section 377A fell outside the scope of Article 12, which forbids discrimination of citizens on grounds including religion, race and place of birth. The court observed that Article 12 did not contain the words “gender”, “sex” and “sexual orientation”, which related to Section 377A.

The court added that many of the arguments canvassed in the case involved “extra-legal considerations and matters of social policy outside the remit of the court”. It stressed that it can only consider legal arguments; taking on legislative functions would “efface” the very separation of powers which gives the court its legitimacy in the first place.

“Whilst we understand the deeply-held personal feelings of the appellants, there is nothing that this court can do to assist them. Their remedy lies, if at all, in the legislative sphere,” said the court.

Activist lawyer M Ravi, who acted for Tan, called the decision a “huge step backwards for human rights in Singapore”. He said it was “disturbing” that the court has “thrown this issue back to Parliament”.

OutRight Action International reported that an unsuccessful attempt to have Section 377A scrapped had been made by Siew Kum Hong, a Member of Parliament who sponsored a public petition to repeal the provision. He ultimately delivered 2,341 signatures to Parliament. Siew noted that the signatories came from a broad cross-section of Singaporeans – middle-aged, old, young, students, professionals, religious and non-religious people – all of whom believed that repealing 377A was not so much about sexual rights or gay rights but about anti-discrimination, fairness and justice.

Or, as MP Charles Chong put it: “If it’s true that some of us are indeed born with a different sexual orientation then it would be wrong of us to criminalise and persecute people who do no harm to us, no matter how conservative a society we are. Intimate relationships between consenting adults in the privacy of one’s bedroom are not the business of government.”

Arguments against the repeal of Article 377A raised the spectres of same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption. One opposing MP, Lim Biow Chuan, implied that homosexuals are not a legitimate minority community in Singapore like racial or religious minorities because there is “no conclusive evidence that homosexuality is inborn.”

Another opponent, Ms Thio Li Ann argued that, “demands for homosexual rights are political claims of a narrow interest group masquerading as legal entitlements.” She added: “Homosexual activists try to infiltrate and highjack the noble cause of human rights. You cannot make a human wrong a human right.”

Thio warned that unlike heterosexual sodomy, “sodomy between homosexuals is not a private act without public consequences and it’s not a victimless crime because oral and anal sex spread HIV and AIDS . . . Anal penetrative sex is inherently damaging to the body and is a misuse of organs.”