Monthly Archives: August 2019

London Ghosts: The Gory History of Temple Bar

If you stand in front of St Paul’s cathedral and look to your left, towards Paternoster Square, you’ll see a stone arch with windows and well-worn statues. This is Temple Bar. Hard to believe now, but there were once human heads on poles adorning the top of it.

Temple Bar when it was in Fleet Street – note the severed heads on poles on top

The structure was built in 1670 by Sir Christopher Wren, the great architect who gave us St Paul’s Cathedral and many smaller churches. He set about rebuilding London in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, a vast inferno that consumed much of the ancient city.

This terrible event had one upside. It gave Wren the opportunity to design a new and more ordered metropolis. However, poor Wren’s hopes of creating piazzas and wide streets was confounded at every turn by stubborn Londoners and their wish to keep the medieval winding thoroughfares and dark alleys.

So, why did Wren build Temple Bar? The stone gate replaced wooden posts and chains that separated the City of London from the City of Westminster. It was originally positioned across the road in front of what’s now the Royal Courts of Justice. On one side was Fleet Street in the City and on the other was The Strand leading to Whitehall and the centre of royal government.

Everybody entering the City had to pass under the Temple Bar. It wasn’t entirely popular. For one thing, it held up traffic. The archway soon became way too narrow for the mass of carts, horses, carriage and people trying to cram through and do business. It also had four poorly crafted statues of James I, Elizabeth I, Charles I and Charles II that were described in very unflattering terms by one Victorian writer as “mean” with “small feeble heads”. They’re not the greatest works of art it must be said.

After being removed from Fleet Street – Temple Bar sat in a park outside London unloved and forgotten

The man who carved these mediocre works of art was called John Bushnell. By all accounts, he was somewhere between eccentric and insane. One scheme he devised was to prove that the Greeks could have invaded Troy by building his own Trojan Horse out of timber and covering it in stucco. He spent £500 of his own money (a vast sum then) on this project creating a horse’s head that could hold a dining table to seat twelve people. The whole thing fell to pieces during a storm.

There is a room along the top portion of Temple Bar that was used as a storage room for Child’s bank. On the very top of Temple Bar, the heads of traitors once stared down on passers-by. This was meant to be an object lesson for 17th and 18th century Londoners not to rebel against their anointed kings and queens.

The first head to appear on Temple Bar was Sir Thomas Armstrong involved in the so-called Rye House Plot. Next came Sir William Perkins and Sir John Friend who planned to assassinate King William III as he returned from hunting in Richmond – intercepting his coach between Brentford and Turnham Green. They were hanged at Tyburn despite pleading their innocence – and their heads removed for public display.

In a ghoulish twist, typical of London, there were enterprising people in 1746 who were reportedly hiring out looking glasses at Temple Bar so that passers-by could take a closer look at the severed heads. It cost a halfpenny apparently. In 1766, a man was arrested for firing musket balls at the heads – which he then confessed to having done for three nights running.

In 1772, one of the heads blew down during a storm. Incredibly, the blackened object had been on top of Templar Bar since 1723 – nearly fifty years! A chap called John Pearce took it to a local tavern where it was then buried under the floor. Must have been an amusing subject of conversation beforehand!


Notes On The Hairless Man

I love hairless men, and possibly amongst my peer group, I am one of the few who admits it! I’ve never been caught up in the whole…often fake…macho ethos! The gay cultural stereotypes such as Bears, Clones, Leathermen etc have always extolled the virtues of hairy men, and as such, I’ve always felt on the outer, and discreetly cringe every time I’m added to yet another “Adoring Hairy Men” FB group. I even hate body hair on myself, and depilate what I do have every month. I don’t totally object to it…some I find quite sexy such as just the centre of the chest, or closely clipped chests…and treasure trails (the line of hair from the navel down) drives me insane with its erotic promise of what’s at the lower end of it. But totally hair-covered bodies I find quite a turn-off, especially if it’s really thick, on a man’s back, and masses of matted pubic hair. I hate that continual delays in foreplay as you pick it out of your mouth. For me, it’s about the sensation of skin, the soft, silky feel,of it as you run your hands…or tongue… down it. I love being able to lick someone all over. But that’s me! Needless to say, I don’t agree with a lot in this article…but it comes down to different strokes for different folks, and that leaves scope for all of us!

Michael B. Jordan

Men without chests — that was C. S. Lewis’s striking description of graduates of the postwar English schools, with their faculties trained to dismiss the virtues of patriotism and piety. These Englishmen, Lewis worried, would become lifelong enemies of the sublime, unable and unwilling, when push came to shove, to defend themselves or their countrymen. American men, I am happy to report — even the sensitive new age guys — still have something of a chest, thanks to our enduring fitness mania. But have you noticed how bare those chests are? Late twentieth-century America is increasingly a land not of men without chests but of men without chest hair.

Men without chests — that was C. S. Lewis’s striking description of graduates of the postwar English schools, with their faculties trained to dismiss the virtues of patriotism and piety. These Englishmen, Lewis worried, would become lifelong enemies of the sublime, unable and unwilling, when push came to shove, to defend themselves or their countrymen. American men, I am happy to report — even the sensitive new age guys — still have something of a chest, thanks to our enduring fitness mania. But have you noticed how bare those chests are? Late twentieth-century America is increasingly a land not of men without chests but of men without chest hair.

I first realized this a couple of years ago while watching the otherwise forgettable B-movie romance Picture Perfect, starring Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Bacon, who was then just under 40. As the two characters get ready to, well, put the 13 in PG-13, Bacon takes off his shirt and his chest is completely hairless. Okay, Kevin Bacon may not prove much. But not long after that, I saw Al Pacino, whose fuzzy talent has graced the screen in such classics as Scarface and Serpico, appearing as hairless as an angel in The Devil’s Advocate. (Once you’re aware of the hairless-man phenomenon, by the way, you can no longer see a movie without noticing it. Sorry.)

Now, only 20 percent or so of adult white males are totally without what’s technically referred to as “terminal pigmented chest hair.” And yet, in the last few years, practically every Hollywood male sex symbol, when standing half-dressed for his more intimate scenes, looks as if he has absolutely no chest hair. Tom Cruise. Matt Damon. Keanu Reeves. Brad Pitt. All of them look like boys. One even sees older actors depilated to look like the boy-man stars who now capture every significant romantic role. The traditional Hollywood aesthetic in which old was never sexy has been carried to a new extreme: Now only the immature is sexy. Forget heroin chic, the hip aesthetic of the early ’90s; say hello to permanent adolescence. And this new look trickles down. A big-city cop of my acquaintance confided not long ago that he shaves his chest. For several years now waxing salons have not been for women only. One of these days, no doubt, a cosmetic surgeon will come up with the philosopher’s stone of our age — how to transplant hair from men’s chests to their heads — and make a fortune.

But the hairless man represents more than just a simple change in cosmetic fashions, like the widening and narrowing of ties. These men without chest hair carry on, knowingly or not, quite a tradition. In ancient Rome and Greece, the romantic associations of men and boys were jeopardized by the appearance of facial and bodily hair. It meant the boy was now a man, which meant he was no longer available. The Roman epigrammatist Martial lampooned men who plucked their hair to stay boyish.

Why pluck the hairs from your gray fanny?

That’s a chic touch which men admire

In girls, not in a flagrant granny.

Martial also took issue with a man who insisted on calling him brother ( fratere), a term that also meant lover:


I’m shaggy-legged and bristle-cheeked

Daily you depilate

Your silky skin. Your voice is light;

You lisp in a charming way —

My voice, as my loins can testify,

Is gruff, and so, I’ll say:


We’re less alike than eagles and doves

Or lions and does, so Mister

Don’t call me “brother,” or

I’ll have to call you sister.

Obviously today, as ever, the phenomenon cannot be disentangled from the romantic ideals of male homosexuals. As Salon columnist Camille Paglia authoritatively noted in a recent piece, “depilation has become highly fashionable in the gay male world. . . . Not since Greek athletes scraped their oiled, sandy bodies with the strigil . . . have men had such a fetish for girl-smooth skin.” But what is most interesting about the hairless man is that he is no longer exclusively gay; he is, rather, the American male ideal.

Last decade’s gay “clone” has become this decade’s hetero stud. The subject of countless overwrought academic “queer theory” treatises, the gay “clone” was usually defined as an archetypal boy cruising men on the street-corners and in the clubs of big cities. Boyish and neatly dressed (jeans and T-shirt ironed), he displayed a vanity and sense of style that were a “perfect” representation of manliness. And then, somewhere along the line, the straight male began to imitate him. To see the gay clone today, one need only flip through magazines like Men’s Fitness or Men’s Health, two glossies that have made vanity a lifestyle.

A typical article from Men’s Health tells readers how to decrease calories and stress (“Assign numerical values to the major parts of your life, such as work, marriage, and family; this can help you better apportion your time”) while increasing earnings, physical strength, and sex drive. And “if Jane Goodall’s research assistants have been creeping around your backyard, perhaps it’s time to ask a dermatologist about hair removal with lasers. . . . A typical back treatment takes four hours and costs $ 500 to $ 2,000. Nose and ear procedures cost around $ 200. Backside denuding is at the doctor’s discretion.” After which, you can turn over and be made to look like the hairless man on the magazine cover. These magazines are an education in how to look exactly like a ’90s man without having to think about what it means to be one.

Nor is this simply another case of gay fashion being a trendsetter for straights. The newly prominent hairless man is a sign of the convergence of gay and straight culture. Male vanity and the desire to prolong adolescence are becoming mainstream traits, no longer the markers of a subculture. Just two years after Ellen DeGeneres’s “coming out” scored a ratings bonanza for her then-declining, now-off-the-air TV show, the arguments between gay activists and their critics over how visible homosexuality should be on prime time TV are already seeming quaint. Such arguments presume that there is a dominant, hostile majority culture. But there isn’t. There are only tiny protest groups that get laughed at when they count the number of gay characters in TV shows and movies. The mainstream culture is the culture of the hairless man, at best indifferent to old-fashioned, grown-up male traits.

Here is a mainstream cultural moment. Cinematic stud Mark Wahlberg was interviewed earlier this year by Matt Lauer on the Today show. By the admittedly bland standards of morning television, the contrast in personalities should have made it an interesting conversation: Strong silent type who recently played an outsized porn star in the movie Boogie Nights confronts Sensitive New Age Guy, the kind of softy Americans want to see first thing in the morning. Instead, the only contrast in the interview was that of a regular SNAG versus a post-macho SNAG. It took Wahlberg, the post-macho SNAG, only seconds to reveal his vulnerable side: “It’s kind of hard, you know, because the whole macho thing, you know, it’s — coming from Boston, it’s — it’s also an — an athletic place, you know, and there’s not too much opportunity there. So being the tough guy is the thing to do. . . . It was — it was difficult to — to accept the role in Boogie Nights only because I was — and it’s stupid now to think about it, but I was worried about what my friends would think, you know, and — and stuff like that . . .”

Machismo is never so talked about as when it is absent. But there was a worthwhile question answered by the interview: What do you get when you put two SNAGS together? Answer: a conversation about being gay.

LAUER: You said in an article in Premiere magazine that when you were growing up, it was tough to repress the fact that you were . . . creative. It was a little bit like being gay and not being able to tell your parents.


LAUER: How does it feel to be in a place right now where it’s cool to be gay — sorry, it’s cool to be creative? You know what, it could be either way.

WAHLBERG: It’s cool to be gay, too. It’s cool to be gay.

LAUER: I loved your look when I said it. You kind of looked at me and said ‘What?’

WAHLBERG: It’s cool to be gay, too.

In fact, there is nothing ironic in Wahlberg’s playing spokesman for the gay community. The rapper formerly known as Marky Mark was central to one of the most important sightings of the hairless man. Before his success in Boogie Nights had him making appearances on Charlie Rose and other talk shows, Wahlberg was a model for the famous Calvin Klein ad that appeared in countless magazines, but nowhere more prominently than on that humongous billboard above Times Square. Striking a pose in his skivvies, Wahlberg looked like a bit of rough trade freshly showered for a special occasion. But more important, he was, except for a butchy hairdo, as smooth skinned as the day he was born.

Not only has the mainstream gone gay — remember the quaintly controversial IKEA commercial featuring two thoroughly domesticated gay men picking out items for their home? — but gay life has gone mainstream. The course of this change can be seen in Hollywood movies. It was just a few years ago that the gay hit The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a bawdy and occasionally hilarious movie from Australia, inspired a mediocre American imitation starring tough-guys Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze — hairless men both. In 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding, Julia Roberts’s gay pal, who is her cover date for the wedding, seems to be the only character capable of romance; a faux-heterosexual tic has him stealing all the scenes he is in. Amidst so many public displays of friendship to support the comedy’s bland premise (the possibility of good friends’ getting married) the gay character refreshes the movie by leading the rehearsal dinner in a round of “I Say a Little Prayer.” It’s a weird throwback moment in which the movie’s greatest display of devotion — a scene that could have been stolen from an old Gene Kelly musical — is romantically meaningless. It’s also a reflection of the question at the center of the movie: Is love just an intense form of friendship?

Well, yes, according to various pop-culture trends of the ’90s. The super-successful girl pop band the Spice Girls were practically a propaganda squad detached by the friends of friendship to demote eros to the status of a lower passion. Two of the most popular sitcoms of the decade Seinfeld and Friends were both predicated on the elevation of platonic love, one cynically and the other in a way that was painfully cute. Ross from Friends, the show’s one regular male character of serious romantic intent, doesn’t even merit being called a SNAG. His whiny boyish mannerisms suggest he can barely live up to the guy part. Men who really do love women have been, if not written out of television and Hollywood, playing second fiddle to their emasculated brothers.

In her famous 1964 essay “Notes on Camp,” Susan Sontag, the voice of New York’s then cultural vanguard, felt compelled to explain the obvious overlap between the self-consciously theatrical style described in her essay and homosexual taste, which, she wrote, constitutes “the vanguard of camp”: “The camp insistence on not being ‘serious,’ on playing, also connects with the homosexual’s desire to remain youthful.” In September 1996, New York magazine published a prescient article describing the decline of the other defining characteristic of gay life: militancy. Referring to the “‘Hallmarkization’ of gay sensibility,” the author, Daniel Mendelsohn, argued, “If you take away the edge and the kitsch, there’s not much left — and what remains isn’t all that different from what you find in straight culture.”

This seems to already overstate the difference between the sometimes campy and sometimes edgy singles culture of gays and the less campy and less edgy singles culture of straights. Traditionally, big cities are magnets for both gays and young people who are looking for careers first and spouses later. In places like New York, the romantic lives of a young straight and a young gay — both divisible into units of temporary attachments — aren’t really that different. The difference between young married people and young unmarried people is far greater. If an icon of gay sexuality like the hairless male has gone mainstream over the last decade, it is because mainstream America wasn’t intrinsically hostile to gay visibility to begin with.

What has been lost as the hairless man, an eternal boy, has become our male ideal? Real romance, for one significant thing. The hairless man is perhaps searching for romance, but only insofar as it supplies self-fulfillment and steers him clear of the burdens of love and family. Which is a pity. In order for real romance to occur, there must be some connection with matrimony. The hairless man would have to be robbed of his adolescent affectations and forced to mature. Defenders of a traditional culture have been overly fixated on gay characters, openly gay actors, and gay love stories. Such entertainment will succeed or fail on its merits as entertainment. Yet, it is the embarrassment of heterosexual love that should concern us.

Manliness cannot, after all, be reduced to a hard body, high income, and regular exercise. And yet, a pretty boy, the hairless man, has become the signature of American romance, thus mistaking the acorn for the tree, potential for the final product, leaving us with too many suitors and too few fathers, and stories about sex and love that never end in marriage and family. The problem, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, is that we cannot raise geldings and expect them to be fruitful. We cannot turn middle-aged men back into boys and expect them to be leaders, elders, the carriers of what wisdom that comes with age. We cannot erase general notions of manliness from popular culture and expect today’s boys to be tomorrow’s protectors and providers. Where can one find reflections of manliness, if everywhere you turn, the American male seems boyish, hairless, shorn of any sign that he is an adult?


Gay History: The Very Gay and Interesting History Of The Almost Lost Tradition Of The Sunday Tea Dance

Here’s to the Sunday afternoon Tea Dance phenomenon, a gay tradition which is slowly disappearing.

Many gay men under the age of 30 today are totally clueless of almost lost tradition of the Sunday Tea Dance. (A tradition that really must be brought back.) So here’s a little history primer on the tradition of the “Sunday T-dance” and how and why we embraced it in the LGBT culture.

Historically, tea was served in the afternoon, either with snacks (“low tea”) or with a full meal (“high tea” or “meat tea”). High Tea eventually moved earlier in the day, sometimes replacing the midday “luncheon” and settled around 11 o’clock, becoming the forerunner of what we know as “brunch”.

From the late 1800’s to well into the pre-WWI era in both America and England, late afternoon (low) tea service became the highlight of society life. As dance crazes swept both countries, tea dances became increasingly popular as places where single women and their gentlemen friends could meet — the singles scene of the age.

While tea dances enjoyed a revival in America after the Great War, The Great Depression of the 30’s wiped them out. Tea consumption was in steady decline in America anyways and by the 50’s, tea was largely thought of as something “your grandmother drinks”. Also, nightlife was moving later and younger. Working men and women were too busy building the American Dream to socialize so it was left to their teenaged children in the age of sockhops and the jukebox diner. Rock and roll was dark and dangerous — something you sneaked out for after dinner, not took part in before dinner.

Tea Dance at the Pines on Fire Island, 1980.

Gay people, of course, were still largely underground in the 50s, but it was in these discreet speakeasies that social (nonpartnered) dancing was evolving. It was illegal for men to dance with men, or for women to dance with women. In the event of a raid, gay men and lesbian women would quickly change partners to mixed-couples. Eventually, this led to everyone sort of dancing on their own.

By the late 60s, gay men had established the Fire Island Cherry Grove and also the more subdued and “closeted” Pines (off of Long Island, in New York) as a summer resort of sorts. It was illegal at that time for bars to knowingly sell alcohol to homosexuals and besides many of the venues there were not licensed as ‘night clubs’ or to sell alcohol. To avoid attracting attention, afternoon tea dances were promoted. Holding them in the afternoon also allowed those who needed to catch the last ferry back to the mainland to attend.

The proscription against same-sex dancing was still in effect, so organizers were forced to institute no touching rules. Since there were no lesbians around to change partners with, gay men developed the dancing apart style that club-goers everywhere now take for granted.

June 28, 1969: the Stonewall Riots mark the fiery birth of the so-called “modern gay rights movement”. Following (and in part perhaps inspired by) the death of gay icon Judy Garland, (as the urban legend goes) patrons of the Greenwich Village watering hole The Stonewall Inn fought back against another in a very long line of violent police raids, eventually barricading the police inside the bar and setting off three nights of rioting. The “snapped stiletto heel heard around the world”as some call it is commemorated today with Gay Pride celebrations held around the end of June.

Post-Stonewall, the tea dance moved from the Fire Island Pines to Greenwich Village. A newly-energized gay community around Christopher Street embraced the social dancing craze started on Fire Island. While the Fire Island gays tended to be rich upper-class preppies, the downtown gays of Christopher Street and the Village were working-class and they tended to party at night. As in the straight community, tea dances gradually moved later until they became subsumed into the night club scene.

Through the 70’s, gay men championed the uniform of the working class — t-shirts and denim — as fashion aesthetic. In part because they were affordable, and in part because it projected an appealing hypermasculinity associated with the working class. Gays in the post-Stonewall era were consciously rebelling against the effete stereotypes associated with the manicured, sweater-wearing, tea-drinking gays of the Fire Island set. Real men wore t-shirts and drank beer. Gay men still had afternoon/early evening dances — usually on Sundays, in order to make the most of one’s weekend while still being able to get up for Monday morning’s work.

The downtown gays rejected the term tea dance as being too effete and opted for the supposedly butcher t-dance, and promoted t-shirts and denim as the costume of choice. By the mid 70s, the Christopher Street Clone look (short cropped hair, mustache, plaid shirt over a tight white t-shirt, faded denim jeans that showed off your ass) had made the trans-continental trip from New York City to Los Angeles (gays in Hollywood) and, of course, to San Francisco (follow the Yellow Brick Road and it leads to Castro). It brought with it the tea dance phenomenon, which is slowly dying out and is nothing of its former self and in may places is all but gone.

So grab those fans and poppers boys and and let’s “Ohhhhha, Ooooha” like it’s 1978 again!

Let’s not let Sunday Tea become a piece of our forgotten gay history also.


GayHistory: Mickey Mouse, Homophobe

Mickey Mouse: guilty of a hate crime?

Brent Bozell is one of those right-wingers who has made a career of being indignant at every hour of the day, always on the lookout for an excuse to whine and complain. One of the things that upsets him is that some comic books feature openly gay characters. “The world of comic books has sure changed a lot since we were young,” Bozell wrote in a 2006 column. “Who would have predicted, 10 years ago, that the comics would become a red-light neighborhood where sexually perverted superheroes would be packaged to elicit from children fascination and sympathy?”

Like most professional moralists, Bozell has no real sense of history: he’s a traditionalist with no grounding in the past. If Bozell knew anything about earlier times, he would realize that gays have been portrayed in comics for decades, not just in comic books but even in comic strips that ran in family newspapers.

What could be more wholesome than Mickey Mouse, the big-eared emblem of the Disney empire? Yet a Mickey Mouse comic strip from January 22, 1931 shows the little rodent meeting a big cat who displays all the markers stereotypically given to gay characters during that period: a lisp, a limp handshake, and a general effeminacy of manner (in this case, batting eyelashes). Revealing himself to be not just homophobic but a violent gay-basher, Mickey attacks the big cat.

In the early decades of the 20th century, many cartoonists featured characters that were gay stereotypes: swishy men and butch women. I’ve sprinkled examples throughout this essay. Here are some notes on them (to maximize enjoyment of these images, I suggest clicking on each one):

Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs

1. In an April 11, 1925 Wash Tubbs sequence, the hero meets a “girl” who turns out to be Desperate Desmond, a cowboy actor.

Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie

2.In a January 11, 1927, Little Orphan Annie strip, the pupil-less waif talks to Miss Brussels, a very manly woman who runs an all-girls schools (which were, in popular folk-lore, places where Sapphic love flourished). “Hm-m-m- Never saw anyone just like that before,” Annie reflects. “Dresses lots like a man, doesn’t she, Sandy?” Like many of the masculine women in Annie, Miss Brussels turns out to be a very bad egg, who mistreats the poor orphan. (Later on in the Cold War era, Annie meets some traitorous State Department diplomats who seemed very effeminate, conforming to the commonly-held notion that gays were more likely to betray their country).

Rea Irvin’s The Smythes

3. A 1930 Sunday page of The Smythes, a domestic comedy drawn by Rea Irwin, the famed cartoonist who was so instrumental in creating the visual ambience of The New Yorker magazine, features a very foppish interior decorator named Mr. Bullfinch.

Frank King’s Gasoline Alley

4.Frank King also used an “interior decorators are gay” gag in a June 06, 1930 Gasoline Alley strip.

5.Terry and the Pirates in the late 1930s, which had a lesbian villain (Madam Sanjak from 1939) and a gay villain Papa Pyzon (in 1936) based on Charles Laughton (who was himself gay and also collected comic strip art). Madame Sanjak specialized in kidnapping and hypnotising young girls, and making them her slaves. For more on these characters see this article.

Will Eisner’s The Spirit, part

6. A Spirit story, by Will Eisner, from September 07, 1941 introduces a character named Miss Dorothy Heartbern, who turns out to be a very fey man. Asked to impersonate the Spirit, he says, “The Spirit! Oh! How romantic!! I just love bad men!!” The phrase “a friend of Dorothy” was commonly used to describe gay men in that period.

There are enough of these gay characters that one could easily do an anthology called “The Gay Image In Comics before Stonewall.” The general point to make about these characters is that they are all homophobic stereotypes, although the tone of the representation varies greatly. Sometimes the cartoonists were mildly satirical (as swishy she-men), sometimes melodramatically hostile (as vile seducers of children).

Will Eisner’s The Spirit part 2

One last point needs to be made: conservatives like Bozell never objected to these gay stereotypes when they flourished in the comics. So what people of this ilk are upset about is not the representation of homosexual per se, but about the fact that gays are increasingly shown in a neutral or favourable light. As long as gays are represented in a homophobic way, Bozell and his political allies would never raise a voice of objection. For the Bozells of the world, it is okay to show gays, as long as you don’t show them as human beings.


  • Mickey Mouse, Homophobe, sans everything, 16 December 2009, by Jeet Heer

Gay History: Why My Own Father Would Have Let IS Kill Me

The group that calls itself Islamic State (IS or Isis) has a special punishment for gay people – it kills them by throwing them off high buildings. Taim, a 24-year-old medical student, tells the story of how he only escaped this fate by fleeing from Iraq to Lebanon.

In our society, being gay means death. When Isis kills gays, most people are happy because they think we’re sick.

I first realised I was gay when I was about 13 or 14. I too thought homosexuality was a sickness and I just wanted to feel normal. During my first year of college, I started having therapy for it. My therapist told me to tell friends that I was going through a “difficult phase” and to ask for their support.

I’m of Muslim background but my ex-boyfriend was from a Christian background and I had a bunch of Christian friends, whom I used to hang out with. In 2013 I got into a fight with a fellow student, Omar – who later joined Isis – about hanging out with Christians. A friend of mine told him to go easy on me because I was going through a hard time, having treatment for being gay. That’s how people knew. I think my friend’s intention was noble but what happened as a result ruined my life.

Still from an IS video

In November 2013, Omar attacked me with two of his friends. I was just walking home after a really lovely day. They beat me, threw me to the ground and shaved my head, saying to me: “This is just a lesson to you for the moment, because your father is a religious man. Watch what you do!” He meant that I wouldn’t be killed then and there out of respect for my dad, because I’m from a religious family.

I left town for a few days and didn’t go to university but then I went back, and in March 2014 I made Omar angry again, this time by suggesting that non-Muslims shouldn’t have to pay the “jizya”, the tax paid by non-Muslims to a Muslim government. I was washing my hands in the university bathroom when he and others attacked me again. They came at me from behind, but I recognised one of them from his green watch. It was the same group. They kicked me half-unconscious. I was barely able to walk and stopped going to university for a month.

Then, in the middle of final exams, Isis took over. Omar called me and asked me to repent and join them. I hung up the phone.

Taim with shaved head

On 4 July, a group of fighters from Isis came to my home. My father answered the door and apparently they said to him: “Your son is an infidel and a homosexual and we have come to carry out God’s punishment on him.”

My dad is a religious man and luckily for me he was able to tell them to come back the next day, to give him time to find out whether the accusation was correct. He came inside the house and started screaming. Finally, he said: “If these accusations are true, I will hand you over to them myself, happily.” And I just stood there, not knowing what to do and what to say, or how to defend myself.

I was in shock. But my mother decided that I should leave the house immediately, and she started working on getting me out of Iraq for good. It was midnight and she said to me: “We’re leaving right now.” She took me to her sister’s house. The next day she booked me a plane ticket to Turkey and got me a visa. But I had to travel via Erbil and they wouldn’t let us into Kurdistan. I stayed in a village near Erbil for two weeks, trying to get in but I never managed it. I tried to leave via Baghdad but there were clashes on the road and the driver wouldn’t go on. I tried to get out so many times, and failed.

Eventually, in August, after weeks in hiding, my mum arranged somehow for me to get to Kirkuk, driving there through fields and on unpaved roads. From there, I went to Sulaymaniyah. I’d planned to go to Turkey but the first available flight was to Beirut and I didn’t need a visa – so here I am.

If I’d stayed, Isis would have come for me and killed me the way they’ve killed others. If Isis didn’t get me, members of my family would have done it. A few days after I left, I learned that my uncle – my father’s brother – had taken an oath to cleanse the family honour.

Recently, I received an anonymous Facebook message – but my mother thinks it was from my uncle. It said: “I know you’re in Beirut. Even if you went to hell, I would follow you there.”

All I want now is to be in a safe place, unreachable by my dad or anyone with extremist thoughts. I want to be safe, to be free, and to be myself – to get my degree and start living… I just want to start living.

Human rights lawyers from the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project have helped me get refugee status and are working on getting me resettled in another country, where I want to continue my studies. Here I’m living in one room, the size of my bathroom back home. I’m in limbo.

I think I will recover eventually but there will always be a memory of this dark period when I literally had to run for my life to avoid being killed. It was very stressful, but luckily I made it.

I’ve lost contact with most of my family. A month after I fled, my younger brother sent me a Facebook message saying: “I have had to leave town. The family is shattered and it’s all because of you.”

I was angry and didn’t reply. But then on New Year’s Eve I missed him, so I wrote to him, saying: “It’s not my fault that I was born this way. They (Isis) are the criminals.” And after that we had a long conversation on Facebook about our childhoods.

I’ve not spoken to my father. What he did was very hurtful. He’s my father. He’s supposed to protect me and defend me, no matter what. But when he said that he’d hand me over to Isis, he knew what they were going to do to me. He knew. Maybe in the future I can forgive him, but right now I don’t even want to think about him. I want him out of my life.

I talk to my mum every week, though. It’s hard for her because there’s no network coverage and she has to go out of town to get a signal. She’s the most amazing woman in the whole world. She’s cultured, respectful – very bright. She loves me and when she was trying to smuggle me out, we never discussed my homosexuality. She was just focused on getting me to safety. Because she is my mother, I think she always knew that I was gay. But all I felt from her was her love, her ultimate love. I never said goodbye to her because when I actually managed to escape, there had been so many failed attempts that I was sure I would be back and see her again.

All I need is a hug from her.

I still have gay friends at home but we’re not in contact any more, for their own safety.

Earlier this year one of my best friends, who stayed behind, was killed.

He was thrown off the main government building.

He was a great man – a very kind person. He was 22 years old, a medical student, and he was really calm and really smart – a bit of a genius. He used to talk to me about the latest scientific discoveries.

He always got straight As. You never saw him without a book.

We met first online – gay Iraqis hang out a lot in online communities – and then face to face. In person, he was quite quiet – but online he never stopped talking. Sometimes he would chat until the power went off and we lost the internet. He shared his deepest secrets with me. As gay men, we all had to lead secret lives. But he was the kind of person you love to talk to.

I don’t know how he was outed because he was very careful – but maybe through a text or online message. When Isis capture people, they go through all their contacts.

The last time I saw him in the flesh was a few days after Isis took over our town, but we continued talking online until I fled.

When I first saw the pictures of him, I can’t describe what I felt. The video images follow me in my nightmares. I see myself falling through the air. I dream that I’m arrested and then thrown from a building – facing the same fate as my friend.

It was devastating to see him go in that brutal way. He was blindfolded but I knew it was him from his skin tone and from his build. It looked like he died immediately but a friend told me he didn’t – perhaps the building wasn’t high enough. The friend said he’d been stoned to death.

I wanted to break down. I couldn’t believe it. One day he was alive, active, just living his life.

And now he is gone.

Isis are professional when it comes to tracking gay people – they hunt them down one by one

Even before Isis arrived, I was living in constant fear. There are no laws to protect you. Militiamen were killing people in secret, and no-one would say anything. To them, we’re just a bunch of dirty criminals they need to get rid of because we bring God’s anger and are – as they see it – the source of all evil.

For the past few years it’s been really, really hard. There were militiamen or security men who – if they found out someone was gay – would arrest him, rape him, torture him. There were lots of murders supervised by the Iraqi army. Videos came out of people being burned alive or stoned and you can see soldiers there. I have seen a video where some gay men had ropes put around their necks and they were dragged around the streets and people were throwing stones at them and when they were half-dead they were set on fire. Some people had their rectums glued up and were then left to die in the desert.

Before Isis, I think that maybe the power of my family protected me. But let’s assume that Isis disappeared this second, the threat to my life would be just as serious, now that I’ve been identified as gay.

The difference now is that Isis has only one horrible method of killing people – throwing them off buildings and, if they don’t die, stoning them. I know that if Isis had captured me, that would have been my fate.

What’s also changed is that the media are focusing on what Isis is doing, because it’s Isis. And Isis films everything and releases the video and says: “We killed these people for being gay and this is their punishment according to our Holy Book.”

Isis are also professional when it comes to tracking gay people. They hunt them down one by one. When they capture people, they go through his phone and his contacts and Facebook friends. They are trying to track down every gay man. And it’s like dominoes. If one goes, the others will be taken down too.

We have feelings and we have souls – stop hating us just because we’re born different

It’s devastating to see the public reaction to the killings. Usually, when Isis posts pictures online, people sympathise with the victims – but not if they’re gay. You should see the Facebook comments after they post video of the killings. It’s devastating. “We hate Isis but when they do things like this, we love them. God bless you Isis.” “I am against Isis but I am totally with Isis when they kill gays.” “Amazing news. This is the least that gays deserve.” “The most horrible crime on earth is homosexuality. Good job Isis.” “The scene is ugly but they deserve it.” “Those dirty people deserve Isis.”

And there are thousands of people agreeing with these comments full of hate. That is what is so disturbing. This is the society I fled from.

Islam is against homosexuality. My father made me study Sharia law for six years because he wanted me to be a religious man like him. There is a hadith [an ethical guideline thought to be a saying of the prophet] that instructs gay men to be thrown off a cliff and then it’s up to a judge or the Caliph to decide if they should be burned or stoned to death.

Imam and Islamic scholar Dr Usama Hasan from the Quilliam Foundation says there are many hadiths and traditions ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad and his disciples on the subject of punishment for homosexuals. “However, all are disputed and there has never been any consensus on them, especially since they seem to contradict the Koran, 4:15-16.” He adds that some scholars have argued that Muhammad could not have given any such ruling since no confirmed case of homosexuality was ever brought to him.

I think Isis is throwing gay men from buildings because our society hates us and it’s a way of gaining support.

I try not to look at Isis’s videos. But to be honest I do look for their martyrdom videos. I want to see if I can see Omar, the man who ruined my life.

I worry a lot about the gay men still left there. I have dozens of friends who can’t leave because they can’t afford to. But, after our friend’s death, I said goodbye to them online and blocked them, for their own safety.

I’m speaking out to honour my friend who was killed – and for the gay men I know who are still in Iraq. I want Iraqis to know that we’re human beings, we’re not criminals. We have feelings and we have souls. Stop hating us just because we’re born different.

I was lucky to get out. I saved my soul. But what about them? Will they be lucky enough to survive? And, if they survive, will they recover from the trauma of being hunted? It’s a disaster. They’re all targets.

Taim told his story to the BBC’s Caroline Hawley. Taim is not his real name, nor is Omar the real name of his persecutor.


Gay History: Born Free, Killed By Hate – The Price Of Being Gay In South Africa

Betty Melamu is still waiting.

She prays that one day she will face the people who killed her daughter and find out why they did it.

“I want to know, that’s the point,” she says. “I want those who did this thing to my child to be arrested, all of them.”

Almost 4 months after Pasca was murdered, no-one has been arrested.

For many LGBTI people and their families in South Africa, safety, justice, and the promise of a truly rainbow nation still feel a long way off.

South Africa’s constitution was the first in the world to protect people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation. The country was also the first in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage. But after a spate of murders, gay people say more needs to be done to stop hate crimes.

Betty Melamu sits on a brown leather sofa in her living room in the township of Evaton, just south of Johannesburg. She’s cradling a framed picture of her daughter Motshidisi Pascalina, known as Pasca.

In a quiet, wavering voice, she sings Pasca’s favourite song.

“Whenever she would listen to radio or go to church she would sing that song,” she remembers.

When I ask if Pasca was a good singer she says, “Yes,” and laughs – apparently Pasca was more spirited than talented, constantly switching between parts as she sang.

She loved football too, studied hard at school and wanted to be a politician.

“She wanted to do something good,” says Melamu with pride.

But the laughter and happy memories are fleeting, and sadness is etched in her thin, drawn face. Pasca was a lesbian, something her family knew and accepted. She had just turned 21 and completed her final high school exams when she went to a party in December.

“I don’t know what happened after the party,” says Melamu. “But she didn’t come back.”

Two days later Pasca’s body was found in a field in a neighbouring township. She had been beaten and mutilated. At the morgue her family couldn’t recognise her face and could only identify her by a tattoo on her leg.

“At that time I was strong,” Melamu remembers. “But after that I feel like I am crazy woman.”

And as we talk, she repeats one question, over and over.

“Why? Why did this happen to my child?”

Pasca was was born in 1994, the year apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela was elected president – she was one of the first of South Africa’s so-called born free generation.

In his inauguration speech, Mandela promised to “build a society in which all South Africans will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts… a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

But 21 years later, this promise remains largely unfulfilled for the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

In a country where crime rates in general are high, black lesbians in poor townships face particular risks and often suffer the most violent crimes.

As women, they’re vulnerable in a country with one of the highest rates of rape in the world. As lesbians in an often homophobic and patriarchal society, they face a further danger – the idea that they can be “changed” and “made into women” through what is known as “corrective rape”.

It’s suspected this may have happened to Pasca, although the post-mortem was unable to determine this.

And when crimes happen, there’s no guarantee that the response will be adequate. Victims say they often face secondary harassment by police or health care workers.

Pasca’s case was assigned to a police officer who was on leave at the time, only returning to work two and a half weeks later.

Frustrated at the delay in this and two other rape cases, in January activists took to the streets of Evaton with rainbow flags and banners. Chanting “Pasca is our sister,” they marched to the local police station to demand justice.

“The police are not doing anything,” Lindiwe Nhlapo told me several weeks later. She’s part of Vaal LGBTI, one of the groups that organised the march. “The police are failing us big time.”

Since then, the police have tried to address concerns about the investigation into Pasca’s death, but frustration with the justice system is a common story.

Lindiwe Nhlapo wants justice for Pasca

In the nearby township of KwaThema, silver drapes and rainbow flags adorn the living room of the small house that’s the headquarters of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee (EPOC).

There’s also a bar down one end and a sign on the wall – Divas and Dykes Lounge. Day or night, this is a safe place for gay and transgender people to socialise.

“I can’t walk with my partner on the street and hold their hand,” says Bontle Kahlo, from EPOC. “I can’t go out at night and say ‘I’m going to dance somewhere,’ because I’m not safe. I might get killed because of who I am, because of who I love.”

Bontle Kahlo (right) with her partner Ntsupe Mohapi

She points to a frame on the wall containing photos of dozens of LGBTI men and women.

“This is our memory wall,” she says. Some of them died of natural causes, but many of the lesbians in the pictures were murdered because of their sexual orientation.

“Women are less than men,” says Kahlo. “If you’re a black woman, you are even less, and if you’re a black lesbian woman you are basically nothing in this country.”

Among the faces on the wall is Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old lesbian who was raped, mutilated and murdered in 2011.

Noxolo Nogwaza’s photo is top left – she is wearing a baseball cap and white top

But five years later, no-one has been prosecuted.

“The feeling we got from the police is that they expected us to do all the work for them,” says Kahlo.

“It’s very tiring to be an activist but to also be a police officer and to try as hard as you can, and to have a government which is not supportive.”

Her partner and fellow campaigner Ntuspe Mohapi nods in agreement.

“They’re good at talking but not at acting,” she says.

When they heard about Pasca’s murder, there was a familiar sadness.

“I think it’s getting worse,” Mohapi says. “And these are just the cases of murder that we are talking about. We haven’t started with rape, or hate speech, and the bullying in schools, and the suicides of gay teenagers.”

South African law doesn’t classify hate crimes differently from other crimes, so there are no official statistics to turn to.

The organisation Iranti-org is funded by the EU to document violence against LGBTI people – it has counted more than 30 murders and rapes in the country since 2012.

Pasca was just one of three LGBTI people killed in South Africa during a six week period late last year. The deaths barely received a mention in the mainstream media.

There hasn’t always been a lack of interest though. After the murder of Noxolo Nogwaza and several other lesbians in 2011, there was a global outcry. 170,000 people signed a petition calling on the government to act.

In response, the government set up a National Task Team and drew up a National Intervention Strategy to reduce hate crimes.

It also established a Rapid Response Team to make sure that hate crimes are properly investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted. This has had some success in clearing a backlog of murders and other crimes.

Mpaseka “Steve” Letsike says more should be done to change attitudes

But the government is not doing enough says Mpaseka “Steve” Letsike, co-chairwoman of the National Task Team and head of LGBTI organisation Access Chapter 2.

“We are not getting it right. There’s a huge gap. We need to invest our energies into prevention, into conversations, into dialogues.”

The government is doing some of this – funding awareness campaigns and training police and health workers. But “it’s still a drop in the ocean,” says Letsike.

To get a sense of the challenge South Africa faces, I travel to the Johannesburg suburb of Yeoville. It’s home to many migrants from more traditional, rural parts of the country.

In a tiny room, barely big enough for a bed and a fridge, I perch on an upturned bucket and speak to two men. The elder of the two speaks softly, but has a fearsome clarity when our conversation turns to homosexuality.

“Homosexuality is a taboo to us,” he says. “I’ll go back to African traditions, there’s no word for that in our language.”

I ask what would happen if one of his daughters told him she was a lesbian.

“I might kill her myself. That thing is unnatural, it’s awkward, so I cannot accept something that is awkward in my house.

“If someone said choose between keeping this child or killing it, I would kill it.”

His views reflect the gap between the law and the attitude of many South Africans. It shows that the government has failed to create a truly rainbow nation, say activists.

“Conditions for LGBTI people in South Africa have improved substantially since 1994,” says John Jeffery, deputy minister of justice and constitutional development. His department is responsible for the National Intervention Strategy.

“We are trying to educate people about LGBTI rights, that gay rights are human rights,” he says, and adds that he is frustrated with the criticism.

“There’s no use complaining outside that government is not doing enough,” he says. “I unfortunately have not heard proposals from civil society organisations about things we should be doing that we’re not doing. They need to tell us where they think we should be improving.”

While open to suggestions, he says there are limits to what he can do.

“More could be done, but the extent to which we can run awareness programmes would depend on budget and what money we’ve got, and unfortunately government is facing budget cuts.”

The government is currently in the process of preparing legislation to outlaw hate crimes and hate speech, which should allow better monitoring of crimes and, it’s hoped, reduce homophobic abuse.

“There’s no magic solution, it’s a process and that process takes time,” says Jeffery.

Betty Melamu is still waiting.

She prays that one day she will face the people who killed her daughter and find out why they did it.

“I want to know, that’s the point,” she says. “I want those who did this thing to my child to be arrested, all of them.”

Almost 4 months after Pasca was murdered, no-one has been arrested.

For many LGBTI people and their families in South Africa, safety, justice, and the promise of a truly rainbow nation still feel a long way off.


Gay History: What It’s Like To Be Gay And A Muslim?

The Orlando shooting was a hate crime against gay people – even if, once it emerged that the attacker had been a Muslim, many people claimed this as a terrorist attack rather than a hate crime. And, in an important sense, this was also a terror attack, since its aim was to spread fear in the LGBT community.

Since the massacre there has been a lot of speculation about Islam and homosexuality and there are fears that one man’s despicable act of terrorism could fan the flames of Islamophobia and other forms of social exclusion, leading to discord and unrest in an era of elevated Islamophobia.

It is difficult to define the “Islamic position” on homosexuality, as a monolithic phenomenon, simply because Islam is a very diverse faith group with some 1.6 billion followers on six continents. In most Muslim countries, homosexuality is illegal and in some countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is punishable by death. But in others, such as Jordan and Turkey, homosexuality is not considered a crime.

Most Islamic scholars are in agreement that homosexuality is incompatible with Islamic theology. They tend to draw on the story of Lot in the Koran (also in the Old Testament) which recounts the destruction of the tribe of Lot allegedly due to their engagement in homosexual acts as “evidence” for God’s condemnation of homosexuality. Many scholars also cite the Ahadith (statements attributed to the Prophet Muhammed) that are condemnatory of homosexuality. Theological and legal condemnations of homosexuality can engender perceptions at a social level that homosexuality is wrong and that it should not be permitted.

Muslims on homosexuality

In 2009, a Gallup survey revealed negative attitudes towards homosexuality among European Muslims. In France, 35% of Muslims viewed homosexuality as “morally acceptable” (versus 78% of the general public). In Germany, 19% of Muslims viewed it as morally acceptable (versus 68% of the general public). In the UK, none of the Muslim respondents viewed homosexuality as morally acceptable (versus 58% of the general public who did).

Earlier this year, a survey commissioned by Channel 4 was conducted among a random sample of 1,081 individuals who self-identified as Muslim. The results found that 18% of the British Muslim respondents agreed that homosexuality should be legal in Britain while the majority (52%) disagreed. Conversely, only 5% of the general public thought homosexuality should be illegal. Furthermore, 47% of the British Muslim respondents indicated that they did not believe that it was acceptable for a gay person to become a teacher. These data suggest that there are low levels of acceptance of homosexuality in Muslim communities in the UK.

However, qualitative interview data can provide more nuanced understandings of what Muslims think and why they might hold these views.

In my research into attitudes concerning homosexuality among samples of first and second-generation British Muslims of Pakistani descent, I found that attitudes tend to be largely negative. Although research into attitudes towards homosexuality in the general population points to demographic variables, such as age and level of education, as key determinants of the nature of attitudes, this has not been the case in my own work with British Muslims. Muslims of various ages, education levels and socio-economic backgrounds have participated in my studies and generally perceive homosexuality in negative terms. In substantiating these attitudes people often draw on holy scripture. As one 54-year-old woman said:

It says it in the Koran that it’s wrong and sorry I’m not the one who made it. It’s what the God revealed to the Prophet so it’s the truth and that’s my belief system.

Many interviewees draw upon holy scripture as the basis of their views regarding homosexuality. There appears to be a desire not to “re-interpret” holy scripture – to accommodate homosexuality – because of the divinity of its origin. Moreover, there was a fundamental rejection of essentialist arguments concerning the origins of sexual orientation – that people are born gay and that they do not “choose” to be gay – and interviewees often argued that people had “chosen” to be gay. One 28-year-old man said:

God doesn’t create gay people. It’s a path they’ve chosen and that’s an incorrect path according to our faith.

Indeed, previous research has shown that believing the essentialist argument regarding homosexuality is correlated with less discrimination and greater acceptance.

What does the Koran say about homosexuality? Lord Harris/BritishMuseum, CC BY

First-hand relationships

Although many British Muslims may disapprove of the concept of homosexuality, several individuals reported positive first-hand experiences of contact with LGBT people. A 45-year-old man said:

Homosexuality is wrong, I believe … I have a gay neighbour and he lives with his partner. He’s a very nice guy – both of them [are]. They are very respectful. We consider them friends.

Some people spoke fondly of their LGBT friends, neighbours and acquaintances, suggesting that first-hand contact may challenge homophobia which exists at an abstract, conceptual level. It is also vital to stress that the Muslim interviewees overwhelmingly rejected violence against LGBT people. As one woman put it:

Violence and hate crimes are un-Islamic. We are not supposed to kill or hurt others, as Muslims. No, they can’t have it both ways so they won’t be accepted in our community but it’s for God to punish, not us.

It was difficult for British Muslim interviewees to accept homosexuality given the overwhelming “evidence” of its prohibition in Islam. Individuals simply had no positive theological frame of reference given the absence of LGBT affirmative voices at an institutional level. This led some individuals to view endorsement of homosexuality as a violation of their religious faith and its norms:

Being gay is un-Islamic and so is encouraging it.

Put simply, the acceptance or endorsement of homosexuality was perceived as contravening key tenets of Islam.

Gay Muslims speak out

Clearly, the stigma attached to homosexuality in Islamic communities can have profound effects for those Muslims who also self-identify as gay. For almost a decade, I have been researching the social psychological aspects of being Muslim and gay. In view of the generally negative attitudes towards homosexuality in Muslim communities and the silence that can surround discussions of sexuality, most of my Muslim gay interviewees have manifested a poor self-image and low psychological well-being. Many view their sexual orientation as “wrong” and, thus, express a hope to change it in the future. One young gay Muslim man said:

It’s [being gay] wrong, really, isn’t it? … In the mosque we’re told that Shaitan [Satan] tries to tempt Muslims because he is evil and he makes us do evil things. I know that doing gay things is evil but I hope I’ll change my ways and take the right path soon … It’s all about temptation, really. Life is a big test.

Those gay Muslims who conceptualise their sexuality as immoral and wrong can understandably struggle to derive self-esteem, which is key to well-being. They may come to view their sexual orientation as “evil” and resist it. Some attempt to change their sexual orientation, sometimes by entering into marriages of convenience. This conceptualisation of homosexuality stems from their understanding of the Islamic stance on it. Said by a 28-year-old man:

What the Prophet said was right and that’s always going to stand, yeah. Men having sex with other men was wrong in his eyes. He hated it.

It is easy to see how belief in the negativity of homosexuality from the perspective of one’s faith (which, in countless studies has emerged as an important identity among British Asian Muslims) could cause some gay Muslims to develop internalised homophobia and, in some cases, to doubt the authenticity of their Muslim identity.

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, received death threats after voting in favour of same-sex marriage. Daniel Leal-Olivas / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Gay Muslims may cope with this internal conflict in a number of ways. While some hope to change their sexual orientation and to “become” straight, others may deny that they are actually gay:

Maybe I’m not bisexual because I’ve never been with a woman but I can’t call myself gay either … I refuse to do that because I just don’t feel gay.

Crucially, in making sense of the “causes” underlying their sexual orientation, some gay Muslims were of the view that they had “become” gay as a result of their social environment and consequently blamed British society:

I’m gay because I was brought up here [in Britain] but I reckon if I’d been brought up in Pakistan then I would have turned out straight because this doesn’t happen that much there. Like I haven’t heard of any gays in our village. Here there are clubs and that and so I just kind of fell into the gay culture.

We tend to attribute aspects of our identity that we see as undesirable to external factors. This is a means of protecting one’s sense of self from threats. Some of the gay Muslim interviewees in my studies have identified British (or Western) culture as the reason for their sexual orientation.

Reconciling homosexuality and Islam

Many individuals of religious faith struggle to accept homosexuality given the centrality of heterosexuality to faith life, according to most faith groups. Muslims are no exception. Individuals use all sorts of strategies for protecting their sense of identity and some of these strategies can actually have poor social and psychological outcomes. Social psychologists have long argued that intergroup contact is a good starting-point for improving relations between different social groups.

Universities are obvious contexts in which different groups can come together – LGBT and Islamic student societies on university campuses could collaborate with the aim of increasing inter-group contact between Muslims and LGBT people (and indeed those who identify with both categories).

Of course, inter-group contact needs to be characterised by positive images of the outgroup. So there needs to be much more discussion of homosexuality in Muslim communities – which will admittedly be difficult given the cultural taboo around sexuality. Faith and community leaders should broach the topic. My view is that people need to be exposed to LGBT affirmative images. This has already happen to some extent.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the Eastenders storyline concerning Syed Mehmood, a gay Muslim character who struggles to come out to his parents, generated some discussion in the British Muslim community and led some individuals to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality within their community.

Coming out: Syed from Eastenders on Twitter. Twitter

This is a positive step forward and one that can be built on. Similarly, there needs to be more acknowledgement and acceptance of faith groups in LGBT contexts which tend to be secular. In my research, I’ve also found that gay Muslims can face Islamophobia on the gay scene, which can hinder their sense of belonging in these spaces.

In addition to improving relations between groups, it is likely that this exercise will have positive outcomes for well-being among those individuals who self-identify as Muslim and gay. Growing up in an environment in which you are led to believe that your sexual orientation is wrong, sinful or symptomatic of mental illness can lead to profound social and psychological challenges, including internalised homophobia, low self-esteem, depression and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts.

The reasons underlying the horrendous attacks perpetrated by Omar Mateen in Orlando may never be fully understood. But if it is true that he was a closeted homosexual – it was reported that he had used gay dating applications and frequented gay bars, including the one that he attacked – he clearly had a very difficult relationship with this aspect of his identity. There is already some empirical evidence that homophobia is associated with homosexual arousal, which suggests that homophobia might be a means of distancing homosexuality from one’s sense of self.

Could it be that his actions were in part a result of his internalised homophobia? Did he attack the LGBT community in an attempt to distance his own sexuality from his sense of self?

In any case, we as a society have a responsibility to acknowledge diversity and to allow people the space and opportunity to self-identify in ways in which they choose. We have a responsibility to challenge prejudice (of all kinds) when it shows its ugly face. We have a responsibility to support and protect minorities who are vulnerable to marginalisation and exclusion. Sometimes this will be challenging particularly when it means that we have engage with sensitive issues such as religious norms and customs but we must persevere – for the sake of freedom, peace and well-being for all of society.


Gay History: When The Canadian Government Used “Gay Detectors” To Try To Get Rid Of Homosexual Government Employees

We are all familiar with the colloquialism “gaydar” which refers to a person’s intuitive, and often wildly inaccurate, ability to assess the sexual orientation of another person.

In the 1960s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) attempted to use a slightly more scientific, though equally flawed, approach- a machine to detect if a person was gay or not.  This was in an attempt to eliminate homosexuals from the Canadian military, police and civil service. The specific machine, dubbed the “Fruit Machine”, was invented by Dr. Robert Wake, a Carelton University Psychology professor.

Taking the lead from the United States’ McCarthyism, the Canadian government considered all homosexual public servants to be a threat to national security for various absurd reasons. In order to deal with the “security threats” posed by gay people, a special team in the RCMP was formed. Section A-3’s sole mission was to identify and dismiss from service every homosexual working for the Canadian government. Identified homosexuals were immediately fired or forced to resign.

Initial efforts included following people around and undercover work at various clubs, but this proved to be extremely costly and somewhat inefficient. Thus, Section A-3 decided they needed a new plan, a way to screen every employee directly. This new plan was the “Fruit Machine”.

The Fruit Machine primarily used the “pupil area response test” as an indicator of a person’s sexual orientation, as well as perspiration levels and pulse rate. While undergoing the test, the subject would sit in a dentist-style chair.  They’d then be shown various images, some completely mundane, while others depicted naked or semi-naked photos of women and men. If the subject’s pupils dilated when being shown erotic photos of people of the same gender, s/he was assumed to be homosexual.

Besides the “science” behind the machine being completely flawed, there were other problems as well.  For instance, each photograph changed the amount of light hitting the person’s eyes. If the difference from one slide to another was large enough, this obviously would change the subject’s pupil dilation, but was not accounted for in the results.

The Fruit Machine was not a stand alone test, but many of the other methods used were just as ridiculous. For instance, another test run by the RCMP included monitoring subjects’ physiological responses to specific words such as queer, gay, drag and even bar.

As you might expect, once word got out that the Fruit Machine test was attempting to determine if you were gay or not, rather than a stress testing machine as people were initially told, getting people to take the test became nearly impossible.  That, along with numerous mechanical failures with the machine itself, soon got funding for that particular part of the program cut off and the RCMP’s dream of having a gaydar to screen all Public Employees with was put on hold, though that didn’t stop them from continuing their work trying to root out “dangerous” homosexuals from the Canadian payroll.

Not to be deterred, the RCMP eventually started using a new type of machine, this one, a type of plethysmograph that measured blood flow to genitals while the subject is shown various images. While not nearly as scientifically flawed as the Fruit Machine, this one also, as you might expect, doesn’t give terribly accurate results on the whole and eventually the program for trying to root out homosexuals was abandoned by the Canadian government, but not before at least 400 people lost their jobs after being accused of being gay (with some estimates being significantly higher).

Bonus Facts:

▪ Despite that penile plethsymograph and the vaginal photoplethysmograph are somewhat flawed in detecting someone’s sexual orientation, it is still used to this day in nations like Canada and the United States to try to measure sexual arousal in certain people, though now being used primarily on pedophiles, ephebophiles, and rapists.  Some have even pushed for its use in trials, but to date such evidence is not generally admissible in court in either the U.S. or Canada owing to the highly flawed nature of the results of the test.  Despite this, there are exceptions, such as that courts do use the results of these tests to monitor convicted offenders to help determine things like if they are likely to become repeat offenders if let out of prison.

▪ In Czechoslovakia, such a test was recently used to try to determine if refugees from Iran were actually gay or not, to see if they should be given asylum. (The penalty for being gay in Iran is death and the two in question claimed if they were sent back to Iran, they’d be killed as the police were looking for them due to their homosexuality.)

▪ Funny enough, according to a 1996 study at the University of Georgia, using the somewhat flawed penile plethsymograph test (so take these results with a grain of salt), they found that homophobic men were more likely to be sexually aroused by depictions of gay sex than non-homophobic men.

Canada is not the only country ashamed to have a Fruit Machine as part of their history. The American version of the Fruit Machine (pictured right) is currently on display at the new war museum in Ottawa, Canada. The Canadian Fruit Machine, which was much more elaborate than its American counterpart, has been lost and thought to have been destroyed when that part of the program was shut down.

▪ Delta airlines once argued in a plane crash litigation case that they should pay less for gay passenger deaths owing to the fact that the gay person may have had AIDS, so at that time would have died soon anyways… Delta Airlines later apologized for making that argument.

▪ In 1952, the Unites States Congress enacted a law banning lesbians and gay foreigners from entering the country. The law was on the books until it was repealed in 1990.

▪ A “beard” is someone of the opposite sex who knowingly dates a closeted lesbian or gay man to provide that person with a heterosexual “disguise,” usually for family or career purposes.


Gay History: 16 Vintage “Gay” Advertisements That Are Funny Now That “Gay” Means “GAY”

“Gay” is a great word. Here’s why: it rhymes with everything. Also, it’s brief. Therefore it should be no surprise that even before it meant “inverted sinner pervert homosexual” and still meant “happy.” What happened next was that gayness and happiness split up, but they’ve been getting back together ever since and are going strong. Look at our ancestors in gayness!

16 Vintage “Gay” Ads That Weren’t Actually About Gay People But Should Be Now


which makes 4th of july a gay holiday


the captain is actually waving goodbye to these girls who he hasn’t got a chance with anymore


before R Family, there were these guys


as we know it from watching ‘the real l word’!


we go way back with beer


if you know what haviland & riese vlog this line is from, you win a pony


this teapot inspired the romi klinger hit track, “gay in LA”


it’s a white tank top


there are a lot of ways to look at this situation, i haven’t picked just one yet


not as sweet as lesbian sex, but sweet


but lately we’ve been really into these color-coded bandana things?


it’s every straight girl’s favorite fantasy



this paint roller is detachable, p.s.


every little girl’s dream, every parent’s nightmare


but what does it mean?


Gay History: The U.S. Military’s Proposed “Gay” Bomb

One doesn’t commonly associate the slogan “make love not war” with the U.S. military. Indeed, the United States military is feared and formidable precisely because it has proven so effective at conceptualizing clever and innovative ways to search, find and destroy, often with the simple push of a button.

However, in a departure from these hostile traditions, in 1994 the Wright Laboratory, part of the U.S. Air Force, produced a three page proposal for a “gay bomb”.

Documentation obtained by the Sunshine Project, an anti-biological weapons non-governmental organization, found that the Ohio-based Wright Lab requested a 6 year, $7.5 million grant to create a variety of non-lethal weapons. The bluntly titled project, called “Harassing, Annoying and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals” reads like a bawdy proposal penned by a Bond Villian- Auric Goldfinger perhaps?

It proposed a bomb “that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soldiers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistibly attractive to one another”. While the laboratory also came up with similarly questionable ideas, such as bad-breath bombs, flatulence bombs and bombs designed to attract swarms of stinging insects to enemy combatants, one has to admit that the gay bomb is certainly the most novel.

The Pentagon maintains that the love affair with the gay bomb idea was brief. However, the Sunshine Project thinks the Pentagon doth protest too much, finding that they “submitted the proposal to the highest scientific review body in the country for them to consider”. Indeed, the proposal’s information was submitted to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002.

The Pentagon certainly admits giving the project consideration, releasing a statement affirming: “The department of defence is committed to identifying, researching and developing non-lethal weapons that will support our men and women in uniform.”

Nonetheless, the project never made it off the ground. But the question remains: how did they even come up with such an idea? Perhaps the best clue lies in the political climate at the time. When newly elected President Bill Clinton attempted to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military, there was a din of saber rattling, pitchfork sharpening and moral hand-wringing from the military brass.

The general consensus among many leaders of the military was touted by the Department of Defence, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” And that allowing gay people in the military would pose a security risk and disrupt the needed order for the military to be effective.The resulting Don’t Ask Don’t Tell  (later fully called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, and Don’t Harass) compromise, which has since been struck down, was less than thrilling for the Pentagon at time.

In such a political climate, with rampant unfounded paranoia about gay people disrupting military discipline and morale, this project seems, notwithstanding its highly flawed premise, somewhat more understandable in terms of how they came up with the idea and why they believed it might be an effective weapon.

As to the science behind this military farce, while various companies, peddling scented sprays and rub-ons, find it expedient to claim that their product contains human pheromones which have an aphrodisiac effect, lab testing has lagged behind somewhat in actually confirming any of this. Admittedly, one section of the documents, entitled “New Discoveries Needed” acknowledges that, thus far, no such chemicals have been found to exist.

While the Gay Bomb project never became perhaps more than a pie in the sky dream of the Wright Lab, it has gained a second lease on life through news media, popular culture and even academia.

The news of this proposed weapon of mass de-lovin’ even spawned a musical, disappointingly entitled “Gay Bomb – The Musical”. Why they chose this title, as opposed to say “Brothers-in-Arms”, “Das Booty”, or “Saving Ryan’s Privates” is a mystery we may never solve…

For the attempt at making a gay bomb, the Wright Lab had the honor of winning the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. As the prize is organized by the Annals of Improbable Research, it seems to be an excellent home for the project, though perhaps a step down from the National Academy of Sciences.

Among other 2007 IG Nobel prize winners were Mayu Yamamoto (Chemistry), awarded for extracting vanilla flavour from cow dung, and Dan Meyer and Brian Witcombe, (Medicine) awarded for researching the side effects of swallowing swords. The levity of the event seemed lost on the gay bomb creators, however, who kept a straight face about the whole matter; they declined to attend the award ceremony to accept the prize personally. One hopes they were not insulted by this tongue-in-cheek gesture. After all, is all not fair in love and war?