Who's Watching Big Brother?
by Liz Highleyman
In this issue:
In early December, demonstrators in India prevented the showing of the film Fire. The film, directed by Deepa Mehta, features the sexual relationship that develops between two married Indian sisters-in-law. The demonstrators, members of the Hindu Shiv Sena political party, stormed several theaters, breaking windows, tearing down posters, and threatening theater managers with further mayhem if the film continued to be shown.
Fire had originally been cleared by India's film censorship board, but was sent back for re-certification in light of the protests.
Shiv Sena member Meena Kulkarni alleges that the film is alien to Indian culture and "poisons our women. It makes them think about something immoral."
According to director Mehta, "Lesbian relationships are part of the Indian heritage, and the film brings into the public domain the hypocrisy and tyranny of the patriarchal family [and] the issue of women's sexuality."
The repeal of Rhode Island's sodomy law, reported last issue, was apparently the start of a trend. On Nov. 23, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned that state's sodomy law by a vote of 6 to 1. The Georgia law applied to both homosexual and heterosexual sodomy. The test case involved a man convicted of consensual oral sex with his 17-year-old niece.
According to Chief Justice Robert Benham, "We cannot think of any other activity that reasonable persons would rank as more private and more deserving of protection from governmental interference than consensual, private adult sexual activity."
Georgia was the site of the conviction that led to the Bowers v. Hardwick case in 1986, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state's sodomy law. The November ruling by the state Supreme Court does not have a bearing on the federal court's ruling on a nationwide basis, but does take precedence in Georgia.
In related news, two men in Houston, TX were arrested and jailed on Sept. 17 for engaging in consensual anal sex. Police entered the home of one of the men after they received a false report of an armed intruder, apparently called in by a disgruntled ex-lover. The men, John Geddes Lawrence and Tyrone Garner, were found guilty in December and fined $200 each.
Gay activists are hailing the case as a perfect opportunity to challenge the rarely enforced law, which applies only to homosexual conduct. A challenge cannot be brought on theoretical grounds, but requires an actual case in which someone is harmed by the law and is willing to follow through with the appeals process.
Finally, long-time gay activist Frank Kameny issued a public solicitation to sodomy on a Virginia radio show, saying, "I hereby solicit, urge, entreat, and invite every person in the state of Virginia of the age of 18 years or above to engage with me in an act of sodomy of his or her choice... This solicitation includes, but certainly is not limited to all police chiefs and police officers, other law enforcement officials, prosecutors under whatever formal title, and judges in the state of Virginia."
Kameny's intent is to challenge that state's law against solicitation for sodomy. So far, no word on whether anyone has taken him up on his offer.
The trial of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), a law that would restrict sexually explicit material on the Internet, began on Jan. 20 in Philadelphia.
The law, informally known as CDA II, is a re-worked version of the Communications Decency Act, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in June 1997. In that case, the court ruled that the CDA was overly broad and would limit adults to viewing only material that was suitable for children. The new law imposes a narrower standard of "harmful to minors," and applies only to commercial Web sites.
A coalition of 17 plaintiffs -- including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, A Different Light bookstore, the Philadelphia Gay News, and Salon online magazine (now Salon.com) -- filed a suit challenging the law in October.
In November, U.S. District Judge Lowell A. Reed, Jr., issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the act while the trial is underway. The plaintiffs assert that the "harmful to minors" wording is too vague and that the measure would chill free expression.
To commemorate World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, AIDS prevention advocates had planned to display a "Tree of Life" Christmas tree decorated with condoms during a concert at New York City's Wollman skating rink in Central Park.
The tree -- and the concert -- were cancelled by the rink's managers after complaints from city officials and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called the condom tree "one of the most idiotic ideas I have ever heard of." Cassie Ederer, a spokeswoman for event sponsor Levi Strauss, said, "The goal is to get people, especially young people, to talk about condoms and safe sex. Saving lives definitely outweighs the controversy."
Update: Sex Crackdown in New York City
As reported in ATM Issue #17, New York City has instituted a drastic rezoning plan that would close or relocate most of the city's sex-oriented businesses. Under the 1995 ordinance, sex businesses such as peep shows, massage parlors, and porn shops cannot be in residential areas or within 500 feet of a school, place of worship, or another sex business.
Sex business proponents tried every possible avenue of legal appeal, claiming that the plan was a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. A New York state appeals court upheld the ordinance, and in July 1998, the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals declined to overturn that ruling. Finally, in January, the Supreme Court rejected a pair of free speech-based appeals, and allowed the city's regulations to remain on the books.
Some sex shops and porn palaces have explored creative ways to remain open. Some stores are stocking 60% non-sex-related merchandise, and formerly nude dancers have donned bikinis. One strip club recently announced that it would admit minors because the law's wording targets "adult" establishments. City officials estimated that all but about 20 of the city's 155 sex establishments would have to move or close, and many have already shut their doors.
Queer Books OK in Canadian Libraries
In December, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Canada, ruled that a school district could not bar books about same-sex relationships. The school board of Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver, had banned three titles from grade school classrooms on religious grounds. The three books -- Asha's Mums; One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads; and Belinda's Bouquet -- are children's books that describe families with same-sex relationships. The suit was brought by a group of teachers and parents who claimed that the ban violated Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Noting that the B.C. School Act stipulates that all school business must be conducted "on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles," Supreme Court Justice Mary Saunders ruled that the school board must review the books again based on the principles outlined.
CA Sex Radical Busted
Dragon (a.k.a. Brian Mangan), a Santa Barbara sex radical known to many in the bi, poly, Pagan, and S/M communities, was arrested in early September and charged with pimping. The arrest occurred when Anna's Touch, a strip-tease/massage studio operated by Dragon's wife Zea, was broken into by five assailants who robbed and bludgeoned a woman.
When police responded, they seized videos, BDSM gear, money, and clothing from the studio and the couple's home. With the new evidence, they charged Dragon and Zea with pandering and running a house of ill fame. Zea is currently in hiding. Dragon was held in jail for four weeks until a high bail could be raised. Women who worked at the studio have testified that Dragon was not part of the business, yet he faces three to 10 years in prison.
Supporters believe that Dragon is being targeted because of his modern primitive appearance and his open embrace of alternative sexuality and religion. His trial began on Jan. 19 and ran for a week. The district attorney insisted on showing seized videos of S/M play and shamanic rituals, despite the fact that these had nothing to do with the charges against the defendant.
On Jan. 26, a jury found Dragon guilty on all counts, and he was returned to custody. Sentencing is scheduled for March 5; he faces up to 10 years in jail. Financial support for Dragon's legal defense is urgently needed.
For more information, see the Web site at www.millenniumgroup.org/dragon.
Liz Highleyman is a freelance journalist and health educator. She is associate editor of the anthology Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries and Visions (Haworth Press, 1995).
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