Glad to be gay… in Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Latvia?

Back in the late 70s a few of my schoolmates liked the Tom Robinson Band (aka TRB) though, I must admit, I never did. (I can still hear the bass drum thump-thump-thump of their big hit 2-4-6-8 Motorway …er, no thanks).

However, I’m full of admiration for how Tom Robinson could release a song called Glad To Be Gay in the still highly-homophobic ‘70s (and in the context of a sometimes macho and not-always-massively-queer-friendly punk movement). Check out these lyrics:

“The British Police are the best in the world / I don't believe one of these stories I've heard / 'Bout them raiding our pubs for no reason at all / Lining the customers up by the wall / / Picking out people and knocking them down / Resisting arrest as they're kicked on the ground / Searching their houses and calling them queer / I don't believe that sort of thing happens here / Sing if you're glad to be gay / Sing if you're happy that way ….”.

Pretty amazing stuff. Apparently Radio 1 refused to broadcast the song on the Top 40 Chart Show (choosing another tune from the EP it appeared on; ah yes, remember those days of BBC “soft” censorship…?).

Tom Robinson - now, ironically enough, a BBC radio presenter and a bit of national treasure on our airwaves - would actually be my choice to cover this weekend’s Eurovision. No, Eurovision is not a gay music festival, but c’mon, it’s super-camp and loved by plenty of gay (and straight) people. It’s where TV campery and music collide (even more so than the X-Factor). Except, of course, Eurovision host Azerbaijan is not exactly a particularly gay-friendly place …

As Amnesty’s Max Tucker said this lunchtime on the Jeremy Vine show, unlike many countries around the globe it’s not actually illegal to be gay in Azerbaijan but in this culturally conservative country it’s nevertheless “dangerous” to be openly gay. Peter Tatchell, also on the Vine show, talked about Eurovision as a police state. Hmm. Seeing Leicester’s finest (Mr Humperdinck!) on Saturday will be a strange experience. It’s a camp jamboree but not in a venue that is either especially tolerant of gay lifestyles or indeed of wider freedoms if they’re perceived to be in any sense “oppositional”.

So much for Azerbaijan (and look out for more Amnesty blogging on the eve of Saturday’s exciting Nul Points finale), but what of another big international competition happening in the region (roughly in the region) soon ..? Yep, Euro 2012. Football, and all that. Actually Euro 2012 co-host country Ukraine is another place where LGBT people have reason to fear for their safety.

Just last Sunday a pride march in Kiev was cancelled at the last minute after about 500 football hooligan-type anti-march protesters gathered threateningly ahead of the parade. Amnesty has since issued a warning, saying that in Ukraine “Gay England football fans will have extremely good reason to be concerned”. They’ll have to deal with “violent football hooligans who deliberately target gay people and people of ethnic minorities” (the reason that Theo Walcott’s family is not going) and also face an “extremely corrupt police force” with “a track record of beating and mistreating people because of their sexual orientation.” Great … Now would be a good time, then, for some strong pro-LGBT statements from the football authorities and from players (I’m still shocked, by the way, that only one professional British footballer has ever come out, and even that ended in tragedy with Justin Fashanu’s suicide).

Finally (in my very loose gallivant around the region) it’s worth noting we’re only a week and half away from Baltic Pride in Latvia. Year after year the authorities in Riga appear willing to cave into pressure from homophobic opponents to the march who cite a mix of “moral” objections or “security” fears. Amnesty’s ellieclayton has blogged on the event and there’s a petition to the Riga authorities to resist pressure to cancel this year’s march. Next week @AmnestyUK will be tweeting from Riga - so check that out.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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