Equal Marriage?

equalmarriage

This weekend the ‘UK’ became the 8th state in Europe to legalise same-sex marriage, placing it in a small group alongside Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain. While this is a historic moment, and certainly one to celebrate no matter what your view point on marriage as an institution, it is also a moment to reflect on the progress that has been made, and most importantly, on the progress still to be made.

It is pretty striking that only 8 nations in Europe offer full marriage equality. These countries are more or less neighbours and form the Western section of Europe. It is, however, slightly misleading to consider the UK as a nation of full marriage equality, considering that the law passed only covers England and Wales. Scotland will allow same-sex marriages from Autumn this year onwards, and Northern Ireland does not foresee a discussion in the near future. This is not something unusual, and is in fact similar to the stalemate that Germany finds itself in today.

Marriage equality is, most importantly, not the only yardstick to measure equality by. Legislation counts for one half, but the other half must be counted against public attitude and day-to-day life. While it is great that same-sex couples can marry in a country where it was a crime to even be gay 47 years ago, it is crucial to remember that same-sex couples do not necessary feel safe to behave in public as a straight couple might. Homosexuals still have to consider coming out over and over again, and wonder if it will effect their life at work and other aspects of their daily routine.  Homosexuals are still beaten up and attacked in acts of homophobic violence. Of course, these are problems that affect different people in different areas on numerous levels, but even at a base level, homosexuals still have to endure name-calling, heckling and snide remarks. While marriage equality is a huge step in the right direction, until suicide rates, hate crimes levels and the above listed significantly drop, there is still a lot to fight for. Away from home, and around the world there are plenty of much larger issues and more dangerous circumstances that we must bear in mind. We have not reached a stage where we can rest on our laurels.

Various recent examples include:

On the topic of marriage equality: BBC – “Fifth of Britons would turn down invitation”

On whether ‘marriage equality’ is even a valid term: Buzzfeed – “6 ways the UK still doesn’t have marriage equality”

Perhaps the most powerful presentation of the reality of discrimination: Panti’s Noble Call 

(I do not own the rights to this image)

 

Advertisements

The Debate Surrounding The Veil

Image

I recently came across two articles regarding the debate surrounding the veil, one by the Berliner Morgenpost (Germany) and one in the Guardian (UK), and I was intrigued that both the German and the British press were discussing this on the same day. The Morgenpost article reports on a Berlin judge’s decision to ban a female lawyer from wearing a headscarf (or ‘hijab’) in court, while the Guardian article considers the ‘niqab’.

First things first, let me clear up the difference between the ‘hijab’, the ‘niqab’ and the ‘burqa’ (also spelt ‘burka’). The ‘hijab’ is commonly referred to as a headscarf and covers a woman’s hair and shoulders/chest, leaving her face exposed. The ‘niqab’ refers to a veil that covers the entire face and leave only the eyes visible (as pictured above). This is not to be confused with a ‘burqa’ (which it often is), as a ‘burqa’ is especially loose and features a thin cloth section over the eyes.

There are so many different arguments surrounding this issue it is difficult to know where to begin. From the articles, we can see that, even from the surface, this issue is hugely contentious and very current. The German article, is, to my mind, more contentious as it merely regards the ‘hijab’, which is much less controversial than the ‘niqab’ or the ‘burka’ – Full veiling of the face, raises many more questions. The judge argues that a court of law is a neutral ground where the law is in place without the influence of personal beliefs. This is an interesting sentiment considering that Germany is far from a secular state. The Government is (currently) represented by a Christian party (the CSU, or the Christian Conservative party), the church is still entwined with the tax system (there is still a Kirchensteuer of between 8-9% of income)  and shops still close on a Sunday to observe the Sabbath. Furthermore Article 4 of the Federal Constitution (‘Grundgesetz’) claims:

“1. Freedom of faith and of conscience, and freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, shall be inviolable. 2. The undisturbed practice of religion shall be guaranteed.”

This raises questions regarding the ruling made by the judge and furthermore raises issues regarding bias towards Christianity. It also raises questions regarding the fine line between integration and assimilation – what happens if you live in a predominately Christian country, or in a predominately Muslim country? How far should people expect you to integrate? And furthermore, in the interest of freedom of choice and individuality, how far should you be willing assimilate?

From this more questions arise, as we start to consider who decides if a woman wears a veil in the first place? It is a personal choice, social and religious pressures, or patriarchy?

From all of these questions we see that there isn’t one simple answer, and this means there shouldn’t be one simple solution. One thing is for certain – a general ban is not the answer, as we have seen from France in recent years. You can’t speak for every woman who wears a veil, whether she chooses to, or not and for these reasons it seems unlikely that these stories will change in the near future.

Recently, I wrote about Wadjda – the first film to be fully recorded in Saudi Arabia. This film raises interesting questions about the veil and the role of women in this Islamic State, and most significantly the influence men have on the women in this state. It is a very interesting film and I would highly recommend it, particularly because it comes from within Saudi Arabia and therefore avoids the distortion of a Western view on the issues that arise.

As the Guardian article points out, discussions in the UK so far seem to have left Muslim women out and have instead decided to speak for them and about them, without allowing them to express an opinion or a counterargument. If something is to be discussed, both sides should be represented. It is ironic that parliamentary discussions talk of the repression of women, and the lack of a female voice as reasons for a ban, while promoting a repression of women through the discussion of the topic by disconnected parties.

(I do not own the rights to this image)

Die Qual der Wahl

Image

So the German general elections are just a week away and Berlin (and the rest of the country, I’m sure) has been covered by thousands of Plakate in various shapes and sizes and with varying degrees of cliche. Germany is big on election posters, much more so than the UK and they adorn every free lamp post (even in side streets) and every patch of grass by the side of the road – then, of course there are the billboards. I thought I would include a selection of a few that are around, and highlight their pros and cons.

Now, while I may not stand in agreement with Angela Merkel’s social policies, she is currently pulling a head of the other parties significantly and does have her mainly successful leadership for the past 8 years, plus her handling of the EU and Euro crisis on her CV. Furthermore, she is seemingly the only candidate with a chance currently. While the SPD has a lot of pulling power, Peer Steinbrück seems to let the side down, particularly after his now infamous appearance on the cover of Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazine.

The above image shows one of CDU‘s campaign posters – this is my particular favourite because it is completely transparent in its ‘actual’ and ‘attempted’ message. The party, who’s image is wholly based on Christian conservative beliefs, is trying to show that social policy is important to them too – most likely in an attempt to appeal to those undecided between SPD and CDU. The tagline claims “Every family is different, yet equally important to us”. All well and good so far. Then you see the image. A white, middle class family bonding over making breakfast. The only thing that doesn’t make this a complete stereotype is that the father is cooking, letting his wife take the day off. How modern. This image is perfect for a CDU campaign, its the headline that is misplaced and essentially reads, “every white, middle class family is slightly different, yet equally important to us”. Here we can see the dilemma surrounding election campaigns – do you alienate your base or try to appeal to new voters. The CDU know as well as everyone else that they hold a strong lead and therefore they are focusing on appealing to their base. This poster alienates anyone who doesn’t stem from a ‘nuclear family’ and excludes immigrants (1st, 2nd and every other generation), and anyone who isn’t heterosexual, for a start.

Image

The SPD (Germany’s social democrats) also went for an obvious photo shoot and slogan combination – which tends to focus more on policy plans, as opposed to the CDU, who have focused more on successes in the past two terms and vague slogans alluding to family policy and economic growth. On the whole, I quite like the SPD campaign, and generally prefer policy suggestions as opposed to empty words and pats on the back. While the mother and the daughter are clearing playing to cliches here, at least it is more realistic and inclusive than the CDU‘s image.

The FDP (Germany’s free democrats who are business heavy) are sinking rapidly and are currently hovering around the 5% mark, and could fall below, meaning they wouldn’t even be allowed into the Bundestag. For this reason, and because their posters are nothing special, I am going to move on to die Grünen/Bündnis 90. The Greens have mainly gone for a lot of word play and images of ‘friendly looking locals’

Image

Here the Greens are highlighting their parental and family policy with the headline “my mum will be the boss” and their slogan “and you?” features on every poster in the hope to make the people on the street feel involved.

Some of the best posters on offer this year come from Die Linke, German’s left party. These posters are to the point, with only text and the logo to offer. They also highlight the parties policies and central beliefs. The poster below reads “Enough chatting! 10 Euro minimum wage now”. However some of the party’s posters are far too ideological, which in turn make the party look less credible.

Image

Finally we have the controversial NPD (Germany’s nationalist party) below. These images are recycled from the local elections back in 2009 and as racist as ever. The image speaks for itself, and the slogan reads “Have a good journey home”. Thankfully this party doesn’t hit the 5% mark and is unlikely to in this election. Their posters are erected to get a reaction and to create tension. They also open up a whole new issue regarding freedom of speech, democracy and ultimately the question as to whether they should be banned or not.

Image

The German general election is on Sunday 22nd September.

The Invisible Men (2012)

Image

Last night I watched The Invisible Men; Yariv Mozer’s polemic documentary about the situation of gay Palestinians inside Israel. The documentary follows the lives of three men, Louie, Abdu and Faris, who have escaped from the Palestinian territories across the border into Israel.

Tel Aviv is well known for its gay scene and relative equality compared to other Middle Eastern countries when it comes to homosexuality. Homosexuality is legal in Israel, and homosexuals enjoy much the same rights as in Europe. Equal marriage isn’t legal, however, and, of course Jerusalem is somewhat a special case when compared to Tel Aviv. Despite all this, this tolerance doesn’t extend to homosexual Palestinian refugees, and as a result they live their lives in fear of being sent back across the border into the Palestinian territories, where their families, friends and the police are often waiting to attack.

The documentary focuses on Louie, who has a noticeable scar on his face from when his father attacked him with a knife after finding out about his homosexuality. He has lived illegally in Israel for 10 years, mostly avoiding the police but occasionally being returned across the border. He meets with Abdu who has applied for humanitarian asylum in Europe. While this may seem like the logical option, this is a difficult decision to make. Applying for asylum in Europe is a long process with no guarantee. Furthermore, for these men, Europe is a world apart from the world they have grown up in. Obviously, they will be able to live openly as homosexuals in Europe in relative safety (the EU Fundamental Rights Agency survey has proved, however, that even Western Europe isn’t a utopia for gay rights and equality), but they will be alone and a long way from home. On top of this, they will experience a language barrier and it is unlikely they will return to Israel or the Palestinian territories any time in the near future. Louie doesn’t want to leave Israel. He was born there and has lived there this entire life, but a lack of an Israeli birth stamp and residency papers means that he cannot legally stay in Israel or apply for Israeli asylum.

This raises many, many questions. This film was only made possible because all three men ended up gaining asylum in Europe and as a result they are now safe from their families and the Israeli police force and the Magav (the border force). Politics is obviously a huge and contentious issue in this area of the world and it is something for which there is no clear and simple answer. Palestinian citizens need to be able to claim asylum in Israel on the basis of sexual discrimination in the Palestinian territories, however. Israel is progressive in terms of its policies concerning homosexuality, and as we see time and time again from Eytan Fox’s films (for example) gay Palestinians could live happy and safe lives in Israel just like homosexuals do from many other countries in the world. This would mean they would not have to leave the Middle East to find safety, and would solve a lot of the fundamental issues that face them everyday, or issues that they would face in Europe. Here Israel has the opportunity to become a safe-haven and model for rest of the Middle East on social reform and sexual equality. At the very least the police forces should be more understanding of the plight of these men, instead of simply seeing them as the Palestinian papers they hold.

This documentary is very moving, and can be difficult to watch at times. The stories these men tell, and the obvious fears they have are testaments to the inequalities of this world. There are many sub-issues that influence this particular problem (all of which are political) and it seems a crying injustice that these men should be returned to, what is essentially, their deaths on the grounds of their sexuality and their nationality. If we are to promote that all love is equal in the Western World then we need to think of our brothers and sisters all over the world that are discriminated against to the point of death on a daily basis.

Die Zeit newspaper in Germany recently ran a story on Palestinian gay men in Tel Aviv, which featured many heart-breaking stories of boys being pushed from pillar to post, back and forth across the border in a fight with the Israeli police and their families. One boy had been in Tel Aviv since he was a teenager; he was raped as a child but his father believed his rapist’s lies because of the position he held in their town. As a result, he punished his son, locked him up and physically and mentally abused him. When the boy finally managed to escape he crossed the border to Israel. Living in an abandoned bus station he was involved with drugs and lived in fear of the police. He once returned home, only to be attacked again by his family. The article, entitled Wir Kinder vom Busbahnhof (Us children from the bus station) is available here in full, if you speak German.

I can only assume there are only stories of male homosexuals in this situation in the press and on film because, as is often the case when homosexuals are persecuted, the (all too often) men in charge in these countries do not see lesbianism as a real threat for reasons that link back to misogynistic ideologies. Whereas male homosexuals are often seen, and portrayed in propaganda, as dangerous and ‘infectious’ bodies due to the penetrative nature of sex between men. There seems to be a belief that female sexuality is also not a threat because this is a ‘weak decision’ that can be changed by a man. Men are scared of other men that threaten their masculinity or patriarchy. For more information surrounding this, see research into the persecution of homosexuals in the Third Reich – particularly Richard Plant’s seminal text, The Pink Triangle. Ernst Röhm is a fine example of a gay man who became too powerful and was killed by the fears of his fellow party members.

Finally, the Israeli LGBT+ organisation can be reached here (in English and Hebrew) and they feature as helpers in the asylum process in Mozer’s documentary. More information about Mozer’s documentary can be found here.

(I do not own this image).

Taxi zum Klo (1981)

Image

As one of the first, if not the first, explicitly queer themed film to come out of (West) Germany, Taxi zum Klo is a lost classic, which tells us much about society at the beginning of the 1980s. Followed by a string of, albeit less well known, queer films Taxi zum Klo is perhaps less famous than the East German offering, Coming Out (1989) – however this first screened on the night the Berlin Wall fell, which probably helped it secure it this place.

Mostly autobiographical and filmed non-professionally by a team of Frank Rippioh’s friends Frank tells the story of himself, a gay teacher in 1980s West Berlin. For Frank sex plays an all-encompassing role in his life and this is not shied away from on screen (hence the certificate ‘18’ rating).

Taxi zum Klo studies many different themes, mainly the concept of sexuality and the definition of sexuality. Frank struggles with the boxes people, including his partner Bernd, continue to put him in. He wants the relationship that Bernd offers him, but he also wants to explore himself sexually and not live in a routine – at one point he becomes enraged when Bernd calls him home for his dinner. The film is (in)famous for its risqué sex scenes, even by today’s standards. At times the film slips into pornography (Interior Leather Bar?), perhaps most famously the watersports scene. In this respect, this may not be a first step into queer cinema, certainly if it is your parents you are introducing to queer classics.

Despite the amateur nature of this film, the camera work has a certain beauty to it. One scene sees Frank cruising in the depths of winter, and in the background you see Berlin’s famous Siegessäule, or Victory Column. Not only is this an interesting image, juxtaposing the city to Frank’s sexuality, but also Siegessäule is now actually the name of one of Berlin’s queer publications. On another level this could be cryptic innuendo, or juxtaposition to Imperial Germany and its suppression of anything that wasn’t ‘manly’ in the early 1900s.

The film is often quite intense to watch, but there is something deeply interesting about the film; maybe it’s the risqué nature, maybe it is the characters, or maybe it is the production work. Honestly, I think it is the way it handles the topic of sexuality so openly and freely – something that Berlin has continued to do to this day. There are interesting juxtapositions to his school life and the lives of his fellow teachers, but also to the prostitute in the STI clinic. These juxtapositions continue throughout and are often layered over other scenes to juxtapose them further. Most important though are the scenes when Frank drives through the city while we hear his stream of consciousness – these scenes reveal Frank’s desires, thoughts and concerns at a most intimate level. Overall this seems to be an unsung hero of queer cinema and a relic from a time when in many countries in Europe homosexuality was only just legal. (Homosexuality was decriminalised in West Germany in 1969, and in 1968 in the East).

(I do not own this image)