Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Around The World In 80 Gays : Part 8 - A Revolution

Last Time : 19) Hillary Goodridge and 20) Julie Goodridge were among the first same-sex couples to marry in the USA in 2004. The first lesbian couple to marry in the world were 21) Helene Faasen and 22) Anne Marie Thus in the Netherlands in 2001. So far the only lesbian world leader to marry is 23) Johanna Sigurdardottir.
23) Johanna Sigurdardottir (b.1942) became the world’s first openly lgbt Head of Government in 2009. She also became the world’s first Head of Government to marry a same-sex partner. As Prime Minister of Iceland Johanna led the coalition government that legalised same-sex marriage in that country, and when the law came into effect on 27th June 2010 Johanna was one of the first to marry.

Johanna Sigurdardottir’s appointment as Prime Minister of Iceland was a result of the financial crisis which almost took Iceland into anarchy. The then Prime Minister had pursued an economic policy which the banks couldn’t sustain and in October 2008 the Icelandic banks collapsed.

Naturally, the Icelandic people were shocked and wanted answers from their government, and demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister. There were protests throughout Reykjavik and outside parliament. Protests often centre around one voice standing up for the community. In October 2008 the voice which led the protests belonged to a gay entertainer called 24) Hordur Torfason (b.1945).

24) Hordur Torfason is a well-known figure in Icelandic entertainment. He is an actor, singer-songwriter and musician. When the first protests were taking place Hordur went along to add his support. The size of the crowd was unexpected and the organiser of the protest felt out of his depth. Hordur stepped in and took the lead. He was no stranger to activism, as I’ll explain later, and his experience and authority, not to mention his experience of standing in front of an audience, focussed the protestors.

For weeks Hordur stood in front of the parliament building leading the protests, which got larger and larger. These became known as the Pots and Pans, or Kitchenware, Revolution because of the use of pots and pans to make noise during the protests. The Prime Minister resigned and the Opposition parties formed an interim coalition government. It was they who appointed Social Affairs Minister 23) Johanna Sigurdardottir as Prime Minister on 1st February 2009. A full election on 25th April affirmed her position as the world’s first elected lgbt Head of Government.

As I said earlier, 24) Hordur Torfason was no stranger to activism. Way back in the 1970s he was involved in workers’ rights. He was a pioneer of the gay rights movement in Iceland, setting up the organisation now called Samtokin78.

He was also active in protests against the deportation of an African asylum seeker. Despite being progressive in same-sex marriage legislation Iceland has a less than progressive track record on accepting asylum seekers. It has one of the lowest acceptance rates in Europe.

It wasn’t until 2013 that refugees were accepted on the grounds of protection from abuse and imprisonment because of sexual orientation. Several lgbt asylum seekers have gone to Iceland from African states. Samtokin78 has been active in persuading the Icelandic government to grant them asylum. Not all have been successful.

Numbers of lgbt refugees from Africa have increased in the past few years as African governments bring in anti-gay legislation. Nigeria in particular has seen many lgbt asylum seekers arriving in Europe as a result of the increasing stand against homosexuality and the 2014 laws which criminalised same-sex marriage, gay organisation, and displays of open affection in public.

The reason given by African politicians for criminalising homosexuality, not only in Nigeria but across the continent, is their claim that homosexuality is “un-African” and a “white man’s disease”. Many studies and surviving native traditions prove them wrong. The case of 15) Xica Manicongo, a West African slave in 16th century Brazil can be referred back to as an illustration of this point.

But gender and sexual variation wasn’t just part of the culture, it was part of native African religion. A number of deities in the Yoruba religion of Nigeria had gender variations. During the centuries when thousands of Yoruba captives were enslaved and shipped to the Americas, as Xica Manicongo was, their religions went with them. Their deities formed the basis of new beliefs in the New World as the slaves adapted to their new environment.

Anthropologists have made many studies of this inter-continental evolution of the traditional Yoruba religion. One of the leading academics in this field was a Cuban ethnologist, herself a refugee for a time, called 25) Lydia Cabrera (1899-1991).

Next time we look at how the Yoruba deities from Nigeria connect the Eurovision Song Contest to voodoo.

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