Nigeria stones gays; CNN cheers Nigeria’s “traditional weddings”

Germany’s first same-sex wedding, 2017

For those of us who live in the Western world, it can seem as if gay rights have won the day. Having been legalized in Germany in 2017 and in Austria in 2018, same-sex marriage is the law of the land in every major Western country except Switzerland, which seems to be on the verge of approval. It’s still verboten, to be sure, in the microstates of Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, and – surprise! – the Vatican City State.

Monaco: every modern amenity except gay marriage

There are odd exceptions and gray areas. Another microstate, San Marino, in the name of tourist profits, permits foreign gay couples, but not same-sex Sammarinese citizens, to wed within its borders. Also, although the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay nuptials applies to Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the jury is still out on whether it applies to American Samoa. And while gay marriages are already recognized in most of the U.K. and in the nation of Ireland, gays in Northern Ireland won’t enjoy the right to marry until this coming January. There are other curiosities: the Netherlands was the first country in the world to permit same-sex marriage, but the status of gay unions is still a gray area in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, even though they are fully constituent parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The two large islands making up the bulk of New Zealand have recognized same-sex marriage since 2013, but it’s still banned in the rest of the so-called Realm of New Zealand — namely, the Cook Islands and the islands of Niue and Tokelau.

Some may find it surprising that so many Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Uruguay – have same-sex marriage. Even more surprising, perhaps, is that there are beginning to be legal breakthroughs in gay rights in countries where public hostility toward gays is still through the roof. In June, for example, laws criminalizing same-sex relations were – quite remarkably – ruled unconstitutional in Botswana. This followed similar actions in Angola, Mozambique, and the Seychelles – and, last year, in India.

Goodluck Jonathan with Barack Obama

But in some part of the world, things are going the other way. Take Nigeria. In 2014, that country’s then president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed an act prohibiting same-sex marriage and “amorous relationships,” the latter of which apparently refers to any sort of intimate same-sex conduct. Violation can result in a long jail term – which, according to the Guardian, is 10 years. On December 11, the Guardian‘s Jason Burke reported that no fewer than 47 men had just gone on trial for this transgression, having been arrested in a police raid on a Lagos hotel where they were attending a meeting of a gay club. Although the law has previously been used by Nigerian authorities to harass, detain, intimidate, and extort money from gays, this is reportedly the first time that suspected offenses have led to actual prosecution.

A “traditional Nigerian wedding” as depicted by CNN

In a way, the 47 gay defendants were lucky to have been arrested in Lagos, which is in southern Nigeria, rather than in one of twelve states in northern Nigeria that have adopted sharia law, under which homosexuality is punishable by stoning to death. Given these grim facts about the status of gays in Nigeria, some readers who are aware of the truth about the situation might have been surprised on October 1 to read an article on the CNN website headlined “10 Things Nigeria Does Better than Anywhere Else.” The author of the piece, Noo Saro-Wiwa, began by admitting that “Nigeria has something of an image problem” but went on at once to insist that Nigeria, for several reasons, is an absolutely terrific tourist destination. Ironically, the very first reason given was the country’s “traditional weddings”: After gushing for several sentences about the terrific way in which Nigerians perform marriage ceremonies, Saro-Wiwa concluded: “If you haven’t experienced a traditional Nigerian wedding, you haven’t experienced Nigeria.” In true CNN fashion – the international “news” network loves to whitewash African and Arabic countries, perhaps because it derives much of its income from African governments, in the form of advertising revenue from their national airlines and tourism boards, and despite the fact that these countries are the toughest on earth on their gay citizens – there wasn’t a word about the way in which non-traditional couples are treated in Africa’s most populous country. This is CNN.

The loveliness of Putin

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Sir Elton John

Some readers may have noticed a news story a few weeks back about Elton John and Vladimir Putin. Yes, that’s right, Elton John and Vladimir Putin.

In an interview, Elton had expressed concern about gay rights under Putin, whose 2013 law banning “propaganda about non-traditional sexual relations” helped spike gay-bashing in Russia. Elton has long been outspoken on gay rights, and last year, writing on his website, he discussed his latest visit to Russia, in December 2013: 

putin19On that trip I met with members of the LGBT community in Moscow. Although I was still welcomed as an openly gay foreigner, I wanted to really understand at first-hand what difference the legislation had made to Russian LGBT in their own country. What I heard reinforced all the media stories that have been circling since the propaganda bill became federal law: that vicious homophobia has been legitimised by this legislation and given extremists the cover to abuse people’s basic human rights.

The people I met in Moscow – gay men and lesbians in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s – told me stories about receiving threats from vigilante groups who would “cure” them of homosexuality by dousing them with urine or beating them up. One young man was stalked outside a gay club by someone posing as a taxi driver who tried to garrotte him with a guitar string because he was a “sodomite”. Everyone shared stories of verbal and physical abuse – at work, in bars and restaurants or in the street – since the legislation came into force last June. And, some of the vital work providing HIV prevention information to the gay community has been labelled “homosexual propaganda” and shut down.

In September of this year, while visiting the Ukraine and voicing support for LGBT rights in that country, Elton told the BBC that he wanted to talk LGBT rights with Putin himself: “It’s probably pie in the sky….He may laugh behind my back when he shuts the door, and call me an absolute idiot, but at least I can think I have the conscience to say I tried.”

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Vovan and Lexus

This statement caught the attention of a couple of Russian TV comedians, Vladimir “Vovan” Krasnov and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov, who are apparently famous in their country for pranking celebrities. They duped Elton with a phony phone call, pretending to be Putin and inviting the singer-songwriter to come to Moscow for a friendly chat. John accepted the invitation. Later, when he found out he’d been pranked, he took the news in good spirits.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. In mid October, it was reported that Putin, after learning about the gag, actually did call Elton.

FILE - In this photo, Sir Elton John, left, and husband David Furnish attend the Ninth Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation benefit 'An Enduring Vision' at Cipriani Wall Street in New York. John and Furnish have become parents to a 7-pound, 15-ounce baby boy born on Christmas Day. The news was first reported Monday night by USMagazine.com and confirmed to The Associated Press by John's Los Angeles-based publicist. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File)
Elton John and David Furnish

The source for this report was none other than John’s husband, film producer David Furnish. Appearing at an awards ceremony in London on Wednesday, Furnish said that John and Vlad had actually made plans to meet and discuss gay rights. Apparently they got off to a very friendly start. As the Daily Mail put it, Furnish “described the man who backed a civil war in Ukraine and sent forces to help Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad, as ‘so polite and lovely.’” Furnish repeated: “He’s genuinely lovely.” And then he added this baffling remark: “Besides, this isn’t about politics – I’m not a politician – it’s about humanity.”

Meaning what, exactly? When a man’s “politics” are inhumane, not to say downright brutal, how to pry loose the concept of “politics” from the concept of “humanity”? Does Elton, whose devotion to LGBT rights is surely admirable, agree that Putin, who has imprisoned and murdered his political opponents, is lovely? Does it really take a simple phone call to make Furnish, and maybe Elton too, decide that a tyrant is perhaps actually not a tyrant at all? Or that a tyrant can remain a tyrant but still, somehow, be lovely? Does this fall into the same category as Hitler loving his pet dog?

With all due respect to Elton’s activism, we’re admittedly scratching our heads over that one.