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Friday 24 July 2009

How to get married

This is a joyous, wonderful video of Kevin Hines and Jill Peterson's fantastic 'dancing' wedding.

Most of the 'dudes' don't get the beat though. And we know what that means ...

NOTE: Ari Herzog reminds me to note:
FYI, Paul, something you failed to mention in your post is the possibility that the video may be yanked in the coming days due to a licensing issue Seth Simonds mentions.
Foolish music corps strike again. A viral like this is BOUND to increase sales of that track. Doh!

Coulson: I didn't do it. Nobody saw me do it, you can't prove anything

Andy Coulson tells MPs 'things went badly wrong' at News of the World

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson speaks of deep regret but says he had 'no recollection' of phone hacking

Embedding recommended for Parliament video

The British Houses of Parliament, LondonImage via Wikipedia

The House of Lords shows itself - again - to be the most thoughtful and progressive chamber in a new report 'Are the Lords listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament' from its Information Committee.

Parliament has some really daft rules against use of video of proceedings, which it has been extremely slow in changing. Leading the charge against this has been LibDem MP Jo Swinson.

The Lords new report backs Swinson's campaign to free up reuse of video and - hurrah! - backs embedding and republication.

42. 'Embedding' is the process whereby a document or file of one type is inserted into a document or file of another type on the internet. Embedding is central to much use of multimedia in web pages, which tend to embed video, animation, and audio files. In our Annual Report 2007-08,[11] we reported the growing number of people asking to embed parliamentary material (such as video footage of proceedings) into their own web sites. Such embedding would, for instance, allow other web sites to include windows within their web pages so that clips of parliamentary proceedings could play within their own pages instead of having to open a separate window and application to view the clips. Under the terms of the current licences, the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited (PARBUL) cannot allow any of its licensees to offer embedding. Peter Lowe of Sky News found it "extraordinary" that Parliament did not allow embedding (Q 311).

43. The BBC asked Parliament to change this policy so that it could include footage from Westminster in its 'Democracy Live' website, which would also include footage from the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament (QQ 308-09, 314; p84). Last year, we called for further research to be carried out on allowing embedding of footage of parliamentary proceedings. During our inquiry, it was made clear to us that embedding would allow wider access to parliamentary proceedings through websites and other channels (pp 16, 143). Peter Riddell, Political Commentator and Assistant Editor of The Times, said that it would be "a tremendous help" to journalists preparing articles online (Q 191). Channel 4 said that enabling users "to embed clips on their own sites, and then use social bookmarking tools to promote these clips to others, is an effective and low-cost way of expanding the reach of Parliament—as the easier it is to spread information the more people will see it" (p 104). Jo Swinson MP told the Committee: "we need to wake up and get into the twenty-first century on this. If we can actually get clips of Parliament out there, particularly in two or three-minute pieces which are easy to watch, easy to forward to friends, that is a much better way and a much easier way for people to understand what is going on in Parliament than having to watch the BBC Parliament channel for hours on end until something they might be interested in comes up."

44. People should be allowed to embed the House's proceedings on their websites, so that our proceedings can have as wide a distribution as possible on the internet. We recommend that a trial start as soon as possible. We have invited the BBC and the House of Lords administration to bring forward proposals for how the House can maximise potential synergies with the BBC's forthcoming 'Democracy Live' website.

Yay! The irony here though is how slow the BBC has been with the option to embed on its video. There does seem to be a lot of internal resistance and only some news video is embeddable. What's bizarre is that you can find loads of BBC news video on YouTube, which they don't police.

As well, people are getting iplayer content and reusing it, here's how to get the iplayer embed code. That's not being policed either.

Here's what the Lords says about Parliament and YouTube

38. In May 2008 Parliament launched a YouTube channel, which it uses primarily to show short films promoting and explaining the work of Parliament. The Hansard Society praised the videos about the work of the House of Lords (p 13). We used YouTube throughout our inquiry, to update people outside Westminster on what had happened during our meetings and to provide an insight into the views of witnesses and members of the Committee. In June 2009, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and the European Union Committee released videos on YouTube to mark the publication of their reports.

39. We also used Parliament's YouTube channel in our inquiry to allow people to contribute by submitting their views on video. Dr Jackson said that this development was "very exciting": the fact that members of the public can upload videos gives the channel the potential to be "a powerful interactive instrument" (p 139). Parliament would benefit from the interactive nature of such websites, by treating them not simply as publishers and distributors but as places where user-generated content can be created and displayed.

40. Members of either House are allowed to post footage featuring the member on the member's own website. However, at present, the two Houses do not allow parliamentary proceedings to be posted on YouTube or any other third-party hosting website. This ban has attracted negative publicity; and Parliament has been criticised for not embracing new technology. Last November, we agreed that Lords be allowed to place on YouTube (and similar searchable video hosting websites) clips of their contributions to the House's proceedings. The final administrative and legal steps around copyright are being taken, and the Committee will inform members when they can start to upload their contributions to YouTube. Technical training will be provided for members who wish to take advantage of this new possibility.

HT: Emma

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Swineflu: NHS #fail

Not only do we have a crashing website. Not only do we have a phone line four months late. We also have an #fail for how most people will seek information about swineflu online - search.

Mate Jack reports that he is #1 in Google result for 'have I got cold or swine flu'. Although the NHS is advertising on this search this isn't good enough because click through on text ads is very low.

NHS is #5 'natural' result - below my 'fold' on this search. They must also be optimising their site to appear at #1 in such results. But they have not.

Not. Good. Enough.

Either NHS online fixes this - quick, Google indexes pretty damn quickly - or they hire someone who can. Thousands, if not millions, of Brits will be looking for swine flu advice online via search NOW. If this is what they will see the NHS is #fail-ing them.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Gmail now rocks even more

I had the unfortunate experience recently of having to access a Yahoo account. Could I work out how to do some simple tasks? No, not easily.

Yahoo seem to be on a self-destruct bender with a badly received homepage redesign and increasingly dodgy search results containing paid-for entries.

And don't get me started on the horrors of Hotmail.

Gmail - in sharp contrast - just gets better and better.

I just added a bunch of useful stuff to my set-up from Gmail Labs. To find them go to settings > labs.

Such as? Auto non-English message translation, signature tweaks (this places your signature before the quoted text in a reply and removes the "--" line that appears before signatures), 'Canned Responses' (save and then send your common messages using a button next to the compose form), quote selected text (just text you have highlighted when you reply to a message), a tweak which lets you specify starting and ending dates for the out of office autoreply, adding a Mark as Read button, Undo Send functionality, and a tweak which allows insertion of images into a message body.

As well, Gmail now lets you automatically unsubscribe from mailing lists when you hit 'spam' for a message.

Like with Firefox, I just love this type of functionality personalisation. Why use anything else?

HT: Craig Elder/
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Monday 20 July 2009

NSFW: The Moon Landing as it REALLY sounded

From: The Onion

Paul + Tania go to the Strawberry Fair

Strawberry Fair is a festival of music, entertainments, arts and crafts, held in Cambridge for the last 30 years on Midsummer Common.

It used to be a lot more 'hippy' than it is now but it still has a Wiccan corner and lots of other interesting stalls like the 'Interknit' one, the Freecycle clothes line, lots of non-profits and things like anarchist book stalls. The best for me though is the amazing herb stall, every variety under the sun.

My video of it was recorded with a Flip camera and - hopefully - I'm getting better at editing :p

What is the real Tory policy on social media + government IT?

Mixed MessagesImage by brothergrimm via Flickr

The Tories are very reluctant to spell out much about the policies this far in advance of a likely general election. As a result they keep sending out mixed signals on what they will actually do if elected, which are usually not picked up in the press.

An example would be David Cameron's high profile anti-homophobia stance vs a new report from Ian Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice which says that some rights of same-sex partners who are not biological parents should be downgraded, all in the name of maintaining 'normality'.
"We believe the desired objectives could be better achieved by giving a same-sex partner special guardianship status rather than by having two females registered as parents, since this is fundamentally incompatible with the heterosexual reality of parentage," they say.
Another bunch of mixed messages are on government use of social networks and IT.

Civil Pages is a new internal government social network which is based on highly successful ones used in many big businesses like IBM. The idea is to help departments work collaboratively, share knowledge and best practice, and avoid duplication of work.

The Daily Mail lept on it, dubbing it the government's 'Facebook' and ran to a Tory MP for a negative comment. They got Eric Pickles, the Conservative Party chairman no less.
"We have 2.26million unemployed people crying out for Government help and Labour are squandering taxpayers' money on Facebook. What people want is for the Civil Service to get on with their jobs and give the taxpayer value for money. What they don't want is people idly wasting their time indulging in meaningless gossip."
I can just imagine those other Tories who are using social media to promote the party and who are promoting government use of it, those who 'get it', quietly throwing up their hands at this rent-a-quote ignorant nonsense.

Now we have Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, going at public sector organisations sharing of IT systems and processes in the name of privacy.

Again sounding like a Daily Mail hit piece Green says:
"It has its roots in a false analogy with the private sector, which has indeed used ICT to provide services more efficiently and cheaply. The difference, of course, is that in almost all industries any private sector operator cannot compel us to use its services."

"Government can not only compel us to use them, but can change the rules, and the terms and conditions, whenever it suits."
Green also criticised the other two main elements of the Transformational Government strategy, describing the aim of designing IT enabled services around the citizen and business as "largely cosmetic", and the campaign to build IT professionalism in government as "largely comic".

So does that mean he supports the opposite? Going backwards?

There is much to criticise about the delivery of 'transformational government' but Green sounds like he wants to return to paper shuffling - and inefficiency - in his drive to knock the government.
"The cost of running Britain's state run databases over the next 10 years has soared to £34bn. This is presented as being for the convenience of the citizen, when the overwhelming driver is the convenience of the state."
Note the use of the scare word 'databases' and I would seriously question what that figure actually means. Nowhere does this Tory talk about efficiency and better service delivery.

Green proposes five principles 'to determine the relationship of the citizen and the state', the fifth one of which is 'the delivery of public services should not be determined by technology alone'. What the hell does that mean?

It sounds luddite, it sounds like he equates 'technology' with the advance of the robots, it sounds like a play to the Daily Mail-led gallery.

On government use of technology and social media the Tories speak with a forked tongue. Should those of us working to advance both be concerned enough to extend that metaphor?
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Sunday 19 July 2009

People in Zimbabwe eating buried dogs and cats

This has got to rank as the most shocking story to emerge from Zimbabwe In the second city of Bulawayo desperate, poor people have turned to a neglected pet cemetery as a source of ‘food’.

A poster to the civil organisation blog Sokwanele reveals what the site is like:

Horrifyingly, this pet-graveyard also revealed to me a very despairing side of the on-going desperate poverty in our country. A worker at the site tells of people who wait until dusk and then uplift the animals. If its a big dog, they take the meat and sell it. If the pet is in a plastic sack or bag, the carcass is dumped out and the bag retained to be sold or re-used. The health consequences of these desperate actions are huge.

There are little skulls and big skulls, little teeth and big teeth, little bones and big bones, scattered around as far as the eye can see. Crows circle overhead, the stench is horrendous, and it seems that we have all turned yet another blind-eye to yet another travesty in our community.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Two flip interviews at #psw09

Socitm held its annual 'Building perfect council websites' event this week at Olympia, London. Must have been over 200 people there and a very interesting line-up of contributors.

I took my Flip camera along and managed to grab a couple of people for short interviews.

Kingston upon Thames councillor (and former Mayor) Mary Reid is a real pioneer in use of social networks in the UK. She's had a blog for a long time and driven a lot of development in her council. Here, continuing from a point I'd made in one of her sessions, she talks about whether the development of social media policy is really needed.

Gerry McGovern is an old hero of mine. He's basically a usability guru but he doesn't talk like one. His presentation style is very funny, pointing out the silliness of how much web design looks to an outsider - woods'n'trees stuff.

Here's the website for 'psw09' with links to other posts and presentation slides.

It was also the 'soft launch' for Socitm Web Professionals - of which more later!

Socitm web professionals banner

Colalife: using sugary drink distribution for good

Russell on the plinth

My friend Russell Tanner spent an hour on Friday afternoon furiously tweeting away whilst precariously perched on top of a plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Of course he was part of the One and Other project and decided to use his hour to promote the Colalife project.

ColaLife is a campaign to get Coca-Cola to open up its distribution channels in developing countries to save lives, especially children’s lives, by carrying much needed ’social products’ such as oral rehydration salts and high-dose vitamin A tablets.

For the latest on the campaign, please visit the blog. ColaLife is an independent and purely voluntary movement backed by thousands of supporters on its Facebook Group. ColaLife is not an organisation.

It was launched by Simon Berry, who had an idea while working on the British Aid programme in 1988:

What about Coca Cola using their distribution channels (which are amazing in developing countries) to distribute rehydration salts? Maybe by dedicating one compartment in every 10 crates as ‘the life saving’ compartment?

Having made no progress with the idea for 20 years, Simon decided to try once more but this time using the convening power of the internet. Since floating the idea on his blog in May 2008, he has managed to create a huge community around the campaign, through a Facebook group and appearances on Radio 4’s iPM programme. He is now in discussions with Coca-Cola and is looking to engage with an international NGO to move the project forward.

Here's Simon and Russell talking about Colalife.

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Tuesday 14 July 2009

Listen to Gay Life After Saddam

Here is the BBC radio report on the situation for Iraqi LGBT. It is nothing but horror (and heroism) and here's the thing: life was better under Saddam.

Iraqi gays report a (discrete) gay life before 2003 which reminds me of the life which currently exists in Beirut. There were clubs, people could meet by the river. An exile says "no one was killed for being gay under Saddam regime".

This brilliant report goes to Baghdad and visits the Iraqi LGBT safe house. It is very hard listening.

"They had thrown [my boyfriend's] corpse in the garbage. His genitals were cut off and a piece of his throat had been cut out."

Some LGBT find their way to the UK. Very, very few. The UK Border Agency in every instance says they can go back and just 'be discrete'. I kid you not.

Not surprisingly (sic) both David Miliband and Phil Woolas refused to give an interview for this programme.

It includes a lot of background from my friend Ali Hilli. I can't begin to express my admiration for him. He is a true hero.

Listen to the show (60').

Gay Life After Saddam

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Monday 13 July 2009

People + Power - Iran: Inside the protests

This is a really excellent account from a reporter from Al-Jazeera English in Tehran of the protests. Starting from the election results announcement she follows students and protesters and gets a unique perspective.

23' well spent to watch.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Music: Grace Jones Hula Hoops while performing 'Slave to the Rhythm'

For the entire song. The lady is 60 years old!

Using a translation widget

Screenshot of Google Translate widget

On LGBT Asylum News I recently added a Google Translation widget. I've just got my first feedback on it and it's good, apparently it's a useful add-on!

The widget is from madtomato and shows flags for six languages. You click and it sends you to Google Translate, where you can pick another language.

Screenshot of Google translate showing LGBT Asylum News in French

It's not perfect - the widget should say the following 'Click any flag to select another language' - I've modified it to say that.

Google Translate isn't perfect either - it misses the titles of posts on LGBT Asylum News for some strange reason - but I use the service often and find you can generally get the sense of what an article is about and fill in most mistranslations or non-translations.

It also now has a much wider range of languages. They recently added Fasi (Persian) due to demand and I know that's been heavily used, and useful.

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@PubSecBloggers - follow UK Public Sector Bloggers on Twitter

Using Twitterfeed I've set up a new Twitter account which will be updating with new posts from UK Public Sector Bloggers.

These are the bloggers which are on the page which Dave Briggs set up last year. He says:
The bloggers I have used so far aren’t just civil servants, or local government officers, but anyone who works for or in the UK public service, and who write about it now and again. This is an inclusive kind of thing!
A lot of people I know now get their info from Twitter. I know I now get a lot of traffic to both my blogs via Twitter, and I just don't use my RSS Reader anything like as much as I used to.

So if you follow @PubSecBloggers, you'll get notification of any new posts from this collection of bloggers.

NB: Had to pick an icon and went with Stimpy (of the Ren + Stimpy cartoon series fame), just 'cos I loooove it :]

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Tuesday 7 July 2009

'I'm tempted to extend the metaphor'

Oh, go-on ...

"Every Prime Minister needs a Willie" - of course the famously naive Margaret Thatcher had no concept of a double entendre. Out (but not out) Mandy however ...

Sarkozy's burqa ban busted

And you think we (the west) can comment on this without a little, er, hypocrisy being involved. The Daily Show thinks otherwise ...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Burka Ban
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

Monday 6 July 2009

How very dare he! Woolas claims UK fair on LGBT asylum

Minister gets cake in his faceImage by solomonsmfield via Flickr

In a shameless piece of bandwagon climbing, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas has published a piece on LabourList claiming that his department is fair on LGBT asylum. He says he is "proud" that people were at Saturday's London Pride march who have won asylum.

Practically nothing written in the article matches the actual experience of LGBT asylum seekers at the hands of the Home Office and the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

He claims that his department does not tell people to 'be discrete' and send them home - that's the Court of Appeal.
From time to time we are accused of expecting gay men and lesbians to be discreet, effectively to suppress their sexuality in order to avoid persecution. This is not an accurate representation. The Court of Appeal has found, in line with our policy that whether a gay claimant can reasonably be expected to tolerate behaving discreetly is something that must be considered on the individual merits of the case.
This is so barefaced as to take my breath away. Who writes the rules, the courts or the government?
Following an eight year ordeal the Ugandan gay asylum seeker John 'Bosco' Nyombi has finally won asylum in the UK.

Despite a well-documented media and government anti-gay campaign in Uganda, which has included articles and photos of Bosco, he was deported in September last year. The UK Border Agency making it usual claim that LGBT can be safe in such countries if only they are 'discreet'. However the method of his deportation, which involved deception, violence and rule breaking, led to a historic decision by a British court following which the Home Office was forced to return him to the UK in March, where he was immediately put into a detention centre due to an 'error'.
John finally got leave to remain a few weeks ago.

It took a major international campaign to secure leave (which was exceptional and outside the department's strictures) for Mehdi Kazemi, the 19 year old Iranian whose boyfriend had been executed.

A spokesperson for the Iraqi LGBT group told me that Home Office evidence submitted in all cases of Iraqis in the UK says they can return and 'be discrete'. This in a country where death squads are actively seeking out and torturing and executing gays in large numbers.

The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) writes in a letter responding to his article:
The UKBA (and judiciary) often argue something along the lines of “if you kept quiet about it before, you can go back and do so again”. Such argumentation does not acknowledge that fears for repercussions along with internalised homophobia and shame usually are the - very damaging - reasons for such ‘keeping quiet’ or ‘staying in the closet’.

Also worrying is the consideration given to the ‘social norms and religious beliefs of their country of origin’ as a factor in assessing whether an LGBT person could be required to be (more) discreet. Even the Indian Delhi High Court recently stated that arguments of cultural relativism - or indeed the views of a majority of the population - can not 'hold captive' principles of equality and non-discrimination!

Phil Woolas claims that “a degree of discretion can be required in all sexual relationships, heterosexual as well as homosexual”, which implies that the measure of discretion required would be applied equally. This is clearly not the case and in practice LGBT persons would be forced to have to live a lie.

Moreover, this reference to discretion does not reflect the realities of most LGBT asylum claims: applicants simply want a life in which they can be who they are and/or have a relationship with their partner, without fearing death, violence, rape, prosecution, forced marriage or losing their livelihood or homes. Their claims are not about seeking the right to commit ‘public indecencies’. However, within the legal, social, cultural or religious framework in many of their home countries, an (open or secret) LGBT identity or same sex relationship is often, in and of itself, considered ‘indecent’.

Their claims are not about wanting some sort of freedom to ‘public indecency’. However, within the legal, social, cultural or religious framework in many of their home countries, an (open or secret) LGBT identity or same sex relationship is often in and of itself considered ‘indecent’.
These are policy decisions - not court ones - and nothing to do with the 'merits of the case', unless Woolas seriously believes Iraqi gays should just 'be discrete' and hence avoid having their anuses glued or Bosco could survive in Kampala despite a rampant Ugandan media after his blood (he actually went into hiding) or Kazemi could safely be returned into the arms of the Basiji.

Woolas claims that there are "clear instructions" to caseworkers that homophobic and transphobic persecution are legitimate grounds for granting asylum. But the UKLGIG reports that:
Currently there is no Asylum Policy Instruction (API) on LGBT issues. UKLGIG have been requesting such an instruction from the UKBA to guide their staff for a long time.
Woolas says country information used to make decisions in accurate and up to date. Well in the case of Iraq the UNHCR "advises favourable consideration" for persecuted the LGBT minority two months ago. Human Rights Watch and others have been reporting the pogrom of Iraqi gays for several years. Woolas claims country information comes from such sources and "does not contain any Home Office policy or opinion". If that was the case why are his lawyers opinions saying gays can be safely sent back to Iraq?

Here's why, the independent governmental Advisory Panel on Country Information recently (October 2008) published a very critical review of the quality and quantity of information on LGBT issues within the country of origin information (COI). UKLGIG say they are hopeful that new COI reports "will show a significant improvement".

LGBT asylum seekers are not safe in the care of Woolas' department, in accommodation provided for them or in detention centers as a recently published groundbreaking report found out. They suffer high levels of homelessness, discrimination and exploitation. Cases of rape are described in the report.

Asylum staff and adjudicators receive race and gender awareness training but, again contrary to Woolas' claims, have only just started extremely limited training for a few caseworkers on sexual orientation issues. Lack of training results in them often making stereotyped assumptions: that a feminine woman can’t be a lesbian or that a masculine man cannot be gay. They sometimes rule that someone who has been married must be faking their homosexuality.

Cuts in the funding of legal aid for asylum claims means that most asylum applicants - gay and straight – are unable to prepare an adequate submission at their asylum hearing. Most solicitors don’t get paid enough to procure the necessary witness statements, medical reports and other vital corroborative evidence.

It is left to groups such as UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group and campaigners and hard-working solicitors. They are the people responsible for those asylum seekers on the Pride march- not Woolas.

For him to claim otherwise is nothing short of outrageous and not to be believed, and isn't by many, including many members of his own party.

Labour LGBT passed a motion at its recent AGM which said that "the experience of LGBT people in the system does not often match the up to the high standards of treatment we would expect from the UK" and that "the UK Government should not return people on the pretext that they will have to 'hide' their sexuality on return to their home country." It mandated its executive to question the Home Office.

And amongst those who signed a petition on this issue to Gordon Brown were Labour MEPs Eluned Morgan, Claude Moraes and Glenys Kinnock, Mick Houghton, Secretary Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils, Labour MP Celia Barlow and former Minister Stephen Twigg.

It is great that Labour members are finally waking up to this issue. Perhaps Woolas' brazenness will finally provide the push for the changes in LGBT asylum which are so desperately needed for those that I know most right-thinking people believe deserve our protection.

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Thursday 2 July 2009

Gay Iranians and the 'Green Revolution'

Photo source

Iranians are struggling for their rights and we, LGBTQs, are within people. We are active in this battle as citizens of Iran but we do not want to make any problem or additional pressure on our oppressed community.

From a letter to the author by Iranian gay students

Since the declaration of the results of the Iranian Presidential election on June 12 the world has been following what's been termed 'the green revolution' on the streets of Iran's cities.

Much has been written about how women are leading the protests and demands for democracy:

For these wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, their march to oust Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has everything to do with their desire for equal rights.

The regime in Iran obviously feels threatened by peaceful female activism. They branded as illegal the One Million Signatures Campaign initiated by women's rights groups in Iran, a campaign to change discriminatory laws against women in that country. Dozens of women involved in the effort have been harassed or jailed by the government.

But there are other, minority, groups suffering in Iran who have bravely joined the protests.

Lesbians and gays suffer severe social disapproval in Iran as in much of the Muslim world (or the Christian, see Uganda or Jamaica) but, as in Iraq and Lebanon, have historically been discreetly tolerated - gay nightclubs existed during the Shah's rule as they did under Saddam's.

Following the Islamic revolution in 1979 they have faced a state which threatens them with death (Iran is one of only a handful of countries where death is the penalty in law for what Iran's version of Sharia law calls 'Lavat') and which uses entrapment and 'morality police'. The regime's homophobic violence has also spilled over into Iraq where Shia death squads hunt gays.

Click image to enlarge map

Over the past ten years Human Rights organisations have documented numerous executions however getting hard information has been clouded by the regime's tactic - aware as they had become of their international image - of using other charges than homosexuality, such as rape.

This is what was alleged in the infamous case of teenagers Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni which produced images whose currency internationally against the regime is as strong as those of Neda, the young women shot by a Basiji militia during the protests on the streets of Tehran.

It is not confirmed that they were in fact gay and information about this and other cases is also clouded by their use by competing exile groups as well as right-wing American groups as propaganda. Nevertheless executions are known to have taken place. The boyfriend of the young Iranian gay asylum seeker Mehdi Kazemi. who eventually won refuge in the UK, was killed by the regime.

The use of rape charges in particular is part of the hypocrisy and violence at the heart of the regime - rape is a tactic they themselves use to suppress and torture:

"It was on Saturday or Sunday that they raped me for the first time. There were three or four huge guys we had not seen before. They came to me and tore my clothes. I tried to resist but two of them laid me on the floor and the third did it. It was done in front of four other detainees.

"My cell mates, especially the older one, tried to console me. They said nobody loses his dignity through such an act. They did it to two other cell mates in the next days. Then it became a routine. We were so weak and beaten up that could not do anything.

"Then the interrogations started again. They said: 'If you don't come to your senses we will send you to Adel Abad [another prison in Shiraz] to the pederasts' section so that you receive such treatment every day.' I was so weak I did not know what to say. Then they asked for my contacts. I told them I had no contacts and I was informed about the demonstrations through the internet."

With the knowledge of what they face if arrested, the bravery of those not only on the streets but those who defy the regime and get word out via the censored and monitored internet is heroic.

All those (and it is around 32000) who have been following one young student on Twitter, Change_for_Iran, have heard first hand about the violent raid on Tehran University dormitories, his going into hiding in the city, his fears for his friends who could not be contacted and then his disappearance then reappearance on Twitter having got himself out of the city.

Gay students from Iran tell me that:

Iranian government is very sensitive about western media and they are monitoring the internet very carefully.

The students contacted me because of a letter which claimed to come from a gay Iranian student organisation which had been circulated by a Toronto, Canada, organisation. It had been quoted in an article I had distributed which was published by the Boston gay magazine Edge but none of them had signed it and they contacted 286 others throughout Iran and none of them had either.

They warned, in a letter signed by 28 named people:

"You will make a big problem for us by publishing this letter especially in this situation that many of students are subject of arrest by Iranian authorities."
The fear comes from the suggestion of the existence of an organisation of gay students. Hossein Alizadeh, of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission says that these fears are well-grounded:
"The reality is that gay people are always the easiest target for the government to go after. I’m worried that if there is a crackdown, they will be targeting gay people. LGBTs have a lot to lose if the result of this is that the current government is more entrenched."
Part of the government's crackdown on the 'Green Revolution' has been to, quoting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, label them "thieves, homosexuals and scumbags".

Yet the irony of this statement, apart from the fact that Ahmadinejad told an American audience in 2007 that "in Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country", is that, in the case of gays, they do form part of the opposition.

'Morality police' assaulting a young man on a Tehran street

"The Iranian LGBT community is angry, in addition all minorities. These are the people you see in the streets of Iran," says Arsham Parsi, of the IRanian Queer Railroad (IRQR). Like women and young people who face harassment and worse from the regime's morality police they are unhappy with the discrimination and being targeted by the government, he says.
"Enough is enough. They’re going to the street to support the green movement and saying, ’We do exist, we didn’t vote for you and we want our votes back.’"
LGBT activists in the west and their supporters and allies owe it to their incredibly brave brothers and sisters in Iran to do all we can to support the 'Green Revolution'

At a protest outside the London Iranian embassy

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