Friday, October 15, 2010

Iraq's LGBT community 'forgotten' by the US government

After having visited Iraq and seen the randomness of the violence firsthand, the disconnect in our attitudes here in the US angers me the most. After reading four installments of my reporting about Baghdad and the dangers gay men face there and beyond -- roughly 16,000 words, including part 1, part 2, and part 3 -- what are you going to do about it? And where does all this fit into the broader crisis facing gay men and lesbians around the developing world, such as in Africa, a new frontier of anti-LGBT violence?
It's easy to sit in the comfort of one’s home, after watching "The A-List" or "Dancing With the Stars" or the latest escapades of Lindsay Lohan, and say, "Oh, I care about gay Iraqis!" But how is that abstract, touchy-feely thought put into practice?
It's true that when I tell other gay men I am writing about gay Iraqis, they often ask me what they can do, some with the utmost sincerity. If you're one of them, well, here's an answer.
Are you willing to write letters to members of Congress and to the State Department, provide money to groups like Human Rights Watch, IGLHRC, the London-based Iraqi LGBT, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, the List Project, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), or the International Rescue Committee (IRC)?
How much does seeking asylum or refugee status even cost? To give you an idea, when Human Rights Watch (HRW) helped gay Iraqis flee to another country, they needed a few thousand dollars for each individual to cover flights and other incidental expenses. One of the men they helped told me he could not legally work in his temporary host country and it would take up to a year for his refugee paperwork to be processed. He paid $250 rent for an apartment out of a monthly $400 stipend HRW provided, which was due to run out shortly after I interviewed him in February - long before he would officially be granted refugee status.
Multiply the costs borne by this man by so many months and so many other gay men, and you recognize the exorbitant bill that the warm and fuzzy notion of saving lives means for a group like HRW, even without considering the staff salaries it takes for it do this work in the first place.
Ali Hili's Iraqi LGBT group pays rent on safe houses, with some of the money raised no doubt going to pay bribes to corrupt Iraqi police, something there is no official budgetary line for. And once that rare refugee or asylum seeker reaches the US, he’s usually not allowed to legally work for up to a year. What is the cost of housing this person? And where does that money come from?

The above is from Michael T. Luongo's "Gay Baghdad: Final Thoughts and a Call to Action" (Gay City News) and the links above go to previous coverage. There's some strong reporting in the series. There's also whines of the State Dept in the conclusion. A State Dept frined of Luongo's whines that reporters have the "attitude that we should not have invaded" and that's moot because there's no way to travel back in time but it makes staff throw up "a defenisve wall" and oh, boo hoo. The same friend whines, "Even if I could heli-vac all the gays out of Iraq, what about the Christians, what about the women, what about all the other persecuted people?" Yeah, what about them? And what about the State Dept losing their sniveling little blame everybody else attitude. What about the refugees? Start granting the asylum. It's not difficult. The State Dept tells Luongo that "the 9,000 gay Iraqis in Damscus [Syria] would nearly overload the official US quota system for the number of Iraqis our nation will accept in one year." Raise the quota -- and, no, bringing all those 9,000 Iraqis into the US would not overwhelm the quota system which stands at 18,000 for Iraqis alone.

By the State Dept's own admission, there are over 4.2 million Iraqi refugees. 18,000 is an appropriate number to admit yearly? Or goal for admittance? That's a thousand more than Bush was offering. And that's 'change you can believe in'?

Here's reality. In the US, there's currently a wave of homophobia that is targeting and putting at risk young LGBT Americans. Mr. Pretty Words can't be bothered addressing that in one of his lengthy speeches. And that same reluctance to do so -- while embracing one homophobe after another (Valerie Jarrett being only the latest homophobe finally exposed) -- goes a long way towards explaining the US government's embrace (and dry humping?) of puppet Nouri al-Maliki who has encouraged the targeting of gays in Iraq. But that's overlooked, that's ignored. "In the event of an outbreak of genocide, we would reserve the right to intervene, with the international community, if that intervention was needed to provide civilians with a safe haven," promised Princess Tiny Meat back when he wanted everyone's vote. But everyone missed the qualifier that went unspoken: Only some lives matter. And the US government has made very clear that the lives of gay Iraqis do not matter. (Nor the lives of Iraqi women, Iraqi Christians, Iraqi Jews, go down the list.)

In Iraq, the political stalemate also continues. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's seven months and eight days and counting.

Yesterday's snapshot included: "Today Lara Jakes (AP) reports that the US military counts 77,000 Iraqi kiled from January 2004 to August 2009. While an undercount, Jakes notes that it 'is the most extensive data on Iraqi war casualties ever released by the Americna military.' (The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry offered an undercount of the same period plus two more months and came up with 85,694 as their total.)" Leila Fadel (Washington Post) notes, "The U.S. military collects detailed information on Iraqi casualties but has largely been unwilling to make it public, only occasionally releasing limited data on civilian fatalities. The report, which was posted on the U.S. Central Command Web site in July but drew little notice until Thursday, was prompted by a Freedom of Information Act request from George Washington University's National Security Archive." Margaret Griffis ( points out, "The Health Ministry estimate tracks only the deaths in which a certificate is issued. Because many Iraqis were killed without their deaths being reported to the ministry, the real toll of the war is unknown and this new number should be considered only a base estimate."

TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Jeanne Cummings (Politico), John Dickerson (CBS, Slate), Major Garrett (National Journal) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "Never Let Them See You Sweat: Notes from the Florida Campaign Trail."
This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with female panelists to discuss the week's news on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is on sexual exploits. this week's To The Contrary online is extra is on cyber bullying. Need To Know is PBS' new program covering current events. This week's hour long broadcast airs Fridays on most PBS stations: "An examination of a federal program meant to help the disadvantaged and disenfranchised in Alaska that may have instead enriched non-native executives and shortchanged taxpayers. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

City of David
Lesley Stahl reports from under the city of Jerusalem from a controversial archeological dig that has become a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. | Watch Video

Stand Down
Some veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan into the recession are finding themselves homeless. Scott Pelley reports on an annual encampment in San Diego where veterans can find hope, help and services.

Market Street
Morley Safer reports on a mystery that was solved about a 100-year-old film that we now know was made on San Francisco's Market Street just days before the 1906 earthquake. | Watch Video

60 Minutes, Sunday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Radio note. The Diane Rehm Show begins airing on most NPR stations (and streaming online) this morning at 10:00 a.m. EST. For the first hour (domestic), Diane is joined by panelists Chris Cilliza (Washington Post), Michael Duffy (Time magazine) and Janet Hook (Wall St. Jornal) while, for the second hour(international), Diane's joined by panelists Gordon Lubold (now with Politico), Kevin Whitelaw (Congressional Quarterly) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers).

And we'll close with this from David Swanson (War Is A Crime):

The World Justice Project on Thursday published a "Rule of Law Index," and there's no easy way to say this. Let me put it this way: as when rankings on education, infant mortality, work hours, lifespan, retirement security, health, environmental impact, incarceration rates, violence, concentration of wealth, and other measures of quality of life come out, it is time once again for we Americans to shout "We're Number One!" more loudly than ever. Because, of course, we're not.
The Rule of Law Index looks at 35 nations around the world, including seven in Western Europe and North America. The researchers understand the rule of law as follows:

"I. The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law.

II. The laws are clear, publicized, stable, and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.

III. The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, fair, and efficient.

IV. Access to justice is provided by competent, independent, and ethical adjudicators, attorneys or representatives, and judicial officers who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve."

To gauge the strength of the rule of law in each nation, the WJP examined nine areas using surveys of the public and of experts in each nation. The region of Western Europe and North America came out the run away leader in every category.

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