Appeals court rejects shared parenthood
by Anthony Glassman
CincinnatióThe Ohio First District Court of Appeals ruled February 16 that Shelley Zachritz could not be a legal parent to the children of her partner, Teri T. Bonfield.
The decision upheld a Hamilton County Juvenile Court ruling from December 1999.
Bonfield gave birth to three of the coupleís five children, and adopted the other two. Zachritz, who has been with Bonfield since 1988, filed for a second-parent adoption to provide a more stable environment for their children.
The original magistrate ruled that the juvenile court did not have the jurisdiction to declare Zachritz the childrenís parent. The appeals court rejected the womenís argument that Zachritz is a "de facto" parent, also known as a "psychological" parent, meaning that, since she functions as a parent and the children view her as such, she should have the legal rights of a parent.
Courts in other states have recently granted "de facto" parent status in rulings, most recently in New Jersey and Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling granting "psychological parent" status to same-sex partners of parents on September 25, while on October 10, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the New Jersey Supreme Courtís ruling allowing second-parent adoptions to gay and lesbian couples.
Other states that have, either through court rulings or legislative action, allowed second-parent adoptions on a regular basis include California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, and Washington state, as well as the District of Columbia. Additionally, at least ten more states have allowed second-parent adoptions at some point through court rulings, although the process is chancier in those states.
It is not yet known whether Zachritz and Bonfield will appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court. The women were unavailable for comment at press time.
Scott Knox, an attorney specializing in lesbian and gay family law, said the court went against the best interest of the children.
"What I wish people would think about is, itís better for the kids to have two people to take care of them," he said.
Creating legal papers to give Zachritz some of the rights she wants would help the situation, but wouldnít be foolproof, according to Knox.
"If they break up, [Bonfield] could rip up the paperwork."
Zachritz and Bonfield challenged the Juvenile Courtís ruling on two grounds. The first is that the court erred in saying that it did not have jurisdiction over the matter at hand, and the second was that the court violated Bonfieldís right to direct the upbringing of her children.
The appellate court, however, disagreed with both arguments. On the first, they ruled that, while the juvenile court did err in claiming that it did not have the jurisdiction to consider the petition, "the trial courtís dismissal of the petition was ultimately correct."
"According to the statutory language, a court may allocate parental rights and responsibilities to Ďparentsí," the decision states. "The question, then, is whether Shelly is a Ďparentí for the purposes of the statute."
The court then went on to quote an Ohio law that refers to a parent as "the legal relationship that exists between a child and the childís natural or adoptive parents."
On the second assignment of error, the court rejected their argument, claiming "the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of oneís children does not embrace the right to have all such decisions recognized or approved in law."
"She is not entitled to the benefit of laws that are, at present, clearly inapplicable to such a Ďfamilialí relationship," the court concluded in dismissing the second claim.
The courtís decision was not entirely hostile to the women, however.
"Although we have concluded that existing Ohio law does not permit Teri and Shelly to enter into a shared-parenting plan, we do not intend to discredit their goal of providing a stable environment for the childrenís growth. Our respect for such a goal does not, however, provide us with an appropriate basis for disregarding the relevant statutory language. It is for the legislature, not this court, to recognize a broader definition of "parent" that that currently contained in the Revised Code."
In December 1998, the Ohio Ninth District Court of Appeals denied an attempt by a lesbian couple from Akron to have a second-parent adoption of one of the womenís then-eight-year-old daughter.
"Although we are mindful of the dilemma facing the parties and are sympathetic to their plight, it is not within the constitutional scope of judicial power to change the face and effect of the plain meaning of [Ohio adoption law]," Judge Sheila G. Farmer wrote in her decision for the unanimous 1998 ruling.
Judge John W. Wise wrote a separate, but concurring, opinion, stating that the issue should be settled by the legislature, not the courts.
Same judge and magistrate also denied lesbian coupleís name change, citing Ďdivine edictí
by Eric Resnick
Hamilton, OhioóA transgender woman has appealed a probate judgeís ruling that she must continue to use the manís name she was born with.
Butler County Probate Judge Randy Rogers ruled last summer against the womanís petition to change her name, following Magistrate Charles Paterís ruling, which cited "divine edict" as its basis.
Rogers and Pater also cited "natural law" and "divine edict" in another, unrelated case, denying name changes to a lesbian couple who wanted to share the same last name. The 12th District Ohio Court of Appeals upheld this ruling February 12.
"Natural law" is a philosophy that all law is derived from an innate moral sense and traditional moral principles, such as the Ten Commandments. "Divine edict" means Godís law.
Rogers, reviewing the transgender womanís case, removed Paterís citation of "divine edict." However, Rogers agreed that "allowing the applicant to change [his] name to that of a woman would be "confusing and misleading to others."
Oral arguments were heard on this case by the 12th District Court of Appeals on February 20.
Openly gay Cincinnati civil rights attorney Scott Knox represents the applicant. He also represents the lesbian couple denied a name change. Knox has taken both cases pro bono.
The anti-gay American Family Association of Ohio has submitted friend of the court briefs opposing the name changes in both cases.
Niether AFA-Ohio board chair Phil Burress nor executive director Barry Sheets would return calls for comment on either case.
Burress is also the president of Citizens for Community Values of Cincinnati, which spearheaded a 1993 petition drive to put the Issue 3 anti-gay city charter amendment on the ballot.
Attorney David Langdon represents the AFA in both cases. He is a full-time employee of Citizens for Community Values.
Michael J. DePrimo, attorney for the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy in Tupelo, Mississippi, indicated that the group became involved in the two cases because someone in the local affiliate brought it to their attention.
DePrimo said AFA believes these two cases can impact public policy throughout the state, and they want to defend the "sanctity of the family."
DePrimo said it is "nothing personal" and AFA is "not reacting to anything in particular about the individuals" in choosing to be involved in these two cases in light of the hundreds of uncontested name changes in Ohio each year.
Ohio law requires that applicants for name change prove three things: residency in the county for one year prior to the filing; notices of the hearing published 30 days prior to it; and reasonable and proper cause for the change of name.
Judge Rogers noted in his decision that the residency and notification requirements were met.
Rogers also noted that the applicant was married for 22 years and is the father of two adult children, who do not approve of the decision to live as a woman.
The applicantís psychologist testified that the applicant is suffering from gender dysphoria, which was defined to the court as "discomfort or dissatisfaction with the body that one has been given."
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists gender identity dysphoria, sometimes called gender identity disorder, as a mental disorder.
In this case, according to the mental health practitioners involved with the applicant, best treatment for their client is gender reassignment surgery.
The applicant plans to have the surgery, and as part of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoric Association standards of care, a man considering surgery should live for at least one year as a woman before the surgery is performed.
Rogers wrote, "In deciding this case, the court finds it important that the applicant offered no evidence of any physical or mental disorder other than gender dysphoria. His gender dysphoria is not concurrent with any physical intersex condition. The fact that he has fathered two children is evidence that [applicant] has the chromosomes, gonads and genitals of a man."
Rogers noted that, "Court-approved name changes receive an aura of propriety and official sanction."
Knox argues that it is impossible for the applicant to live as a woman, in accordance with the Harry Benjamin Standards, if she presents herself as a woman, but has a manís name.
"You canít live entirely as a woman when your first name is "Steve," says Knox. "Every time she uses a credit card or check or, hell, even takes out a library book, she has to brace herself for an unpleasant, embarrassing, or potentially dangerous encounter with whoever is behind the counter."
During testimony, the applicant told the court of a situation where she was faced with such a situation while attempting to pick up airline tickets.
Knox also points out that this denial of name change runs contrary to case law in Butler County. Three other transgender people have been granted name changes by the Butler County Probate Court with no opposition.
"Common sense also tells us that it causes much less confusion for an apparent female to carry a female first name," said Knox. "The only confusion occurs when an apparent female presents ID with a manís name."
Knox also points out that in Ohio, the applicantís drivers license, passport, and birth certificate will also reflect her birth as a male. "It will reflect that she is a transsexual, born a man, living as a woman, and there is nothing misleading about that."
On appeal, Knox argued that the judge failed to apply the correct legal standard for allowing name changes.
"Neither the diagnosis nor the mode of treatment are disputed in the evidence of record, writes Knox. "The only reasonable course of action for [applicant] is to follow the treatment recommendations of his psychologist, arrived at through years of counseling, which is in complete accord with the standard of care for transsexualism. Therefore, reasonable cause exists for the name change."
Knox cites a Pennsylvania case where an appellate court found that there was no public interest being protected by denying a transsexualís name change and that the details leading up to such surgery are not a matter for governmental concern.
In the Pennsylvania case, the appeals court found that the lower court abused its discretion in not allowing the name change.
Knox hopes the panel of three Ohio appellate judges will agree.
Knox also cites federal law, saying, "Intentional discrimination on the basis of gender by state actors violates the Equal Protection Clause, particularly where, as here, the discrimination serves to ratify and perpetuate invidious, archaic, and overbroad stereotypes."
Knox concludes, "The trial court reached outside the statute to put itself at cross-purposes with all precedent for similar name changes, even prior decisions of the Butler County Probate Court itself."
At the appeals court hearing, Langdon argued that a man born a man should have a manís name.
He was asked by a judge if he thought courts should approve lists of legal names for boys and girls. He replied, "I think that would be a good idea, but no, they havenít done it."
Langdon said that court sanctioning of name changes for the purpose of reassigning gender was like enabling the alcoholic.
"The trial court is doing the client a favor by denying the name change," he argued, "Because men should have menís names and women should have womenís names."
Knox said, "There is not one case in the entire country where there has been a denial of a transgender name change where evidence presented shows that the person is transgendered."
Knox has no intention of allowing this Butler County case to become the first. He said he will take this case to the Ohio Supreme Court if necessary.
"If the standard is correctly applied, my client wins."
On behalf of the AFA, DePrimo says, "We are confident that the courts in Ohio will rule in accordance with common and statutory law that has existed for hundreds of years."
A decision is expected in two to three months.
by Anthony Glassman
ClevelandóAmid glaring lights, smothering heat, and a standing-room only crowd, Mr. Cleveland Leather was crowned on February 24.
The first Mr. Cleveland Leather competition was held at the Tool Shed/Crossover club. It drew 450 people to the pair of bars, in the old Ohio City Oasis location at Detroit Ave. and West 29th St.
"It was superb," said Greg Ammell, co-owner of the bar and one of the organizers of the event. "I was very pleased."
Dennis McMahon, sponsored by Laws Leather Shop, took the honors as Mr. Cleveland Leather 2001, and will be traveling to Chicago to compete in the International Mr. Leather Competition, held Memorial Day weekend.
McMahon, a member of the board of trustees for the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, held the Mr. Northeast Ohio and Mr. Ohio Drummer titles in 1999.
Ralph G. Haurin, known onstage as J. D. Hart, and Bruce Edwin Brandon III were the first and second runners-up, respectively. Brandon has held the Mr. Ohio Drummer title, and is the current Mr. Gay Akron.
Among the judges were the owners of the Leather Stallion Saloon, M.J.ís Place, and Rockies Bar. The evening was emceed by William Lauer, Mr. Midwest Bear 1999.
Competitors were judged in three events: introductions, leather interpretation, and full leather. During the full leather part of the competition, the contestants also answered a random question posed by Lauer.
Ticket sales were $3 in advance, which had to be cut off days in advance for fear of filling the club beyond capacity, or $5 at the door. $1,000 of the money raised will go to defray McMahonís costs to travel to Chicago for the international competition. The rest of the money will be used to pay for the costs of the event, and the remainder will go towards next yearís contest, the location of which has not yet been decided.
"We havenít even thought about it yet," said organizer David Laws of next yearís competition. "We werenít expecting any kind of turnout like that."
"The leather community here hasnít had anything like this in the last ten years," he continued, "and it wasnít just the leather community, it was the whole gay community, which was good to see."
When asked why they chose to start the event at this point, Laws shrugged.
"The leather bar [Crossover] started taking off, and some of the employees thought it was a good idea," he answered.
"It kind of puts Cleveland back on the map as a leather community," McMahon said.
The program for the event gives more of an insight into the environment that sparked the contest.
"The leather community [twenty years ago] was making an impact for the benefit of the entire gay community. The onslaught of AIDS impeded the clubs' activities and forced them to re-focus themselves," the program reads. "The formation of clubs such as the Rangers, Iron Eagles and a few other clubs lit a spark and started the rejuvenation of clubs and their impact on the community."
The program also cites three reasons for the creation of the competition. Two of the goals were to sponsor the winner in the international competition and to bring together various organizations and businesses in Clevelandís gay community.
"First," the program contends, "the contest is intended to catalyze the revitalization of the leather/levi/uniform clubs, for the benefit of the entire gay community."
"My pet project is to set up a hepatitis B program for testing and prevention," McMahon said, illustrating the point. "Itís five times more contagious than HIV, it is at epidemic proportions, and it runs cyclically."
by Janet Macoska
Cleveland Heights--The 26th annual Womyn's Variety Show rocked the Civic auditorium on February 24, entertaining an audience of over 700 women.
"The show was one of the shortest ones we've ever had, about 90 minutes, which of course, left quite a bit of time for the traditional dance party," said Marcia Sindelar of Oven Productions, the showís sponsor. "That went on for 3Ĺ hours, and the dance floor was always crowded. We had a very successful evening. I felt this Variey Show was one of the best--sexy, fun and entertaining."
Oven Productions is a nonprofit organization that promotes feminist culture in the Cleveland area. Since 1975, Oven has produced over 160 cultural events including music, comedy, films, theatre, art, dance, poetry and crafts.
Some of the women who appeared in the Womyn's Variety Show included Eve Muzic and Merideth Shantz of the punk rock group The Cassettes; acoustic guitarist Carol Smith who performed "Me and Bobby McGee," and some good olí country stompin' from Cleveland's popular Rainbow Wranglers. |
by Eric Resnick
Frankfort, Ky.--The Kentucky House of Representatives is considering a statewide gay and lesbian civil rights bill, and, at the same time, a measure to cancel all local gay and lesbian rights ordinances.
House Bill 166, sponsored by Lexington Democrat Kathy Stein, adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of groups protected against discrimination. The bill was introduced January 5 and sent to the Judiciary committee February 6.
A similar measure was introduced by Stein during the last legislative session, without the definition of gender identity.
This yearís bill has three additional sponsors, all Democrats.
House Bill 190, sponsored by Ft. Thomas Republican and Northern Kentucky Right to Life member Joseph Fischer, voids all local civil rights ordinances in the state that protect groups not covered in federal civil rights laws. It was introduced February 7 and sent to the Judiciary committee February 8.
Fischer and co-sponsor Jimmie Lee, a Democrat from Elizabethtown, claim the benefit of the bill is "to promote the uniform application of a single, uniform body of civil rights law throughout the Commonwealth."
Currently, federal civil rights laws include protection on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age forty and over, and disability.
In 1999, four Kentucky cities passed ordinances granting non-discrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender.
The communities passing the ordinances were Lexington-Fayette County, Henderson, Louisville, and Jefferson County, which includes Louisville.
"Passage of these four bills raised the visibility of the issue and the possibility of a statewide law," said Jeff Vessels, the openly gay executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.
Vessels pointed out that in the legislatures last session, "neither of these bills saw the light of day."
"It was always under the threat of, if one passed, so would the other," he said.
"However," said Vessels, "we are cautious because 190 [Fischerís bill] eliminates local laws and prohibits local governments from having commissions that look into discrimination outside the federal definition."
"Having these bills around mobilizes both sides," said Vessels, "and we worry that anti-gay groups may attempt to rally around this one."
A similar measure in Colorado was approved by the voters in a statewide referendum, then struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996 in the decision Romer v. Evans.
Deadly force bill altered
A bill to expand the situations where self-defense justifies deadly force has been modified to eliminate the possibility that it would give a legal basis for the "gay panic" defense in murder cases.
"Gay panic" is a strategy often used in gaybashings, where the defendant claims the victim made a pass at him, triggering temporary insanity.
Under current Kentucky law, people can use deadly physical force on others to protect themselves from death, serious physical injury, kidnapping and forced sexual intercourse.
House Bill 49, sponsored by State Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, originally would have added burglary, robbery and "deviate sexual intercourse" to the list.
The Kentucky ACLU and the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, a gay lobbying group, pointed out to Damron that this would have legalized the gay panic defense, since "deviant sexual intercourse" could be any gay sex, under Kentucky definitions.
The House Judiciary Committee, before approving the bill February 20, replaced "deviant sexual intercourse" with "forced sodomy," and clarified the billís definitions of "force," "threat" and "attempt."
Church rejects minister who says he had amnesia
Dallas--A minister who resurfaced last year after a mysterious disappearance 16 years ago failed to win a leadership vote February 23 at a predominantly gay church. He said he would resign by the end of the month.
The Rev. James Simmons said he would become a member of the congregation that voted 106-76 in his favor. He needed 182 votes to earn the congregationís backing.
Simmons became senior pastor at White Rock Community Church in January, but he requested the vote after widespread media attention cast doubt about his story of a mysterious 1984 disappearance and amnesia.
Simmons was known as Barre Cox when he disappeared in 1984 while driving to San Antonio from Lubbock.
His disappearance spurred a wide air and ground search, but he never was found. Cox was declared dead, and his marriage was dissolved.
However, in December, Simmons was recognized as Cox while giving an audition sermon at the church in east Dallas, and a friend put him in touch with his family.
Simmons said he was found in a junkyard outside of Memphis, Tenn., although he does not remember the name of the town, the hospital that treated him, or the name of the family that found him.
No police or hospital records have been found to verify his account.
Community Shares tops $1 million
Cleveland--Greater Cleveland Community Shares set a goal for itself for the year 2000: they wanted to collect $1,000,000 in donations for their member organizations. On February 26, they announced that they had surpassed that goal.
In overall fundraising for last year, Community Shares stands at $1.02 million, $20,000 over their goal. The final figures are to be released later in March.
The agency disburses donations to 33 community organizations, including the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, the Cleveland Public Theatre, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood.
Community Shares allows employees to make donations to social organizations through their employers, who often also donate an additional amount in proportion to their employeesí donations.
Christian Coalition hit with bias suit
Washington, D.C.--Ten employees of Pat Robertsonís Christian Coalition filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against the organization February 22.
According to the suit, black employees were left out of two dinners and a prayer breakfast sponsored by the coalition in honor of George W. Bush. The employees also allege that they are not allowed to use the front door to enter the offices, and havenít been given security cards to enter through the back door, meaning they must bang on the door to enter, even when returning from the rest rooms.
The suit also charges that, while some white employees enjoy health care benefits, none of the black employees at the organizationís Washington headquarters have insurance.
The suit states that Roberta Combs, the Christian Coalitionís executive director, has banned the black employees from using the kitchen because they spend too much time talking there.
The suit names the Christian Coalition and Combs as defendants. Combs issued a statement denying the accusations.
Beating victim is still unconscious
Albany, Georgia--For six weeks, Geraldine Martin has been spending much of her time by her sonís hospital bed, hoping he will begin to recover from a brutal beating that police still know little about.
Robert Martin, known around the small town of Ashburn because he often dressed as a woman, was found lying outside an abandoned school Jan. 7. He had been struck in the back of the head with a blunt object.
Martin, 32, remains in critical condition at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has offered a $1,000 reward for information on Martinís attacker, but no one has come forward to collect the money, said Tom Davis, special agent in charge of the GBIís Perry office.
Davis said the GBI has no evidence the assault was a hate crime.
The Georgia Equality Project, an Atlanta gay and lesbian advocacy group, sent a representative to Ashburn to provide support for the victimís family. The group also hired an attorney to act as an intermediary between the Martins and authorities.
In April 1999, police found a transvestite beaten to death with a baseball bat in Wilcox County, one county north of where Martin lived.
Lesbians sentenced to death
Bosaso, Puntland--Conflicting reports about the sentence handed down to two lesbians in this breakaway Somali region have international agencies scratching their heads.
Media sources, including the Somali newspaper Qaran, first reported that two women, convicted of "exercising unnatural behavior," would be stoned to death. The next report had the sentence as being death by firing squad.
The women were supposedly tried under Somali Criminal Punishment Law, based on Islamic Shariía law. The area is very conservative, and predominantly Muslim.
According to reports, the relationship came to authoritiesí attention after one of the women sued the other for giving her a sexually transmitted disease and refusing to pay for medical treatment. The names of the women have not been released.
But Puntland police say the case never came before the court, and the Qaran later printed an apology for the original story. Amnesty Internationalís East Africa team received a message that the courtís judgment had been misinterpreted.
Puntland is a region of Somalia that declared its independence in 1998 and set up its own civil infrastructure. It is opposed to the new government appointed for Somalia last year.
Senate passes hate crime bill
Charleston, West Virginia--After 35 minutes of spirited, partisan debate, the Senate passed a bill February 23 that would make crimes targeting gays and people with physical or mental disabilities a felony.
The Senate passed the measure 20-12. All six Republicans voted against the bill.
Existing law protects West Virginians based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin and political affiliation. Individuals who violate the law face up to $5,000 in fines, a prison sentence of up to 10 years or both.
"The only point of controversy in this bill is that itís against homosexuals. A lot of people just donít like gay people," Sen. Mark Burnette, D-Greenbrier, said.
West Virginiaís image nationally is not good, Burnette said. Voting against the measure would enhance the image that West Virginians are "an intolerant bunch of rednecks," he said.
Burnette later apologized if his remarks offended senators.
The bill heads for the House of Delegates. A similar measure died in the House Judiciary Committee last year following two days of debate.
World War II hero was gay, book says
London, England--Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, "Monty" to the nation he helped save from Nazi tyranny, was gay, according to a new biography by Nigel Hamilton, the author of a three-part official biography of Montgomery.
Hamiltonís new book, The Full Monty, says that Montgomery, the hero of the battle of El Alamein and scourge of German Gen. Irwin Rommelís Afrika Korps, was a repressed gay man who liked the company of attractive younger men. Hamilton does not claim that Montgomery had sex with any men, but Hamilton does point to the 40-year absence of women in his life after his wife died.
In 1976, five years after Montgomery died, another of his biographers noted his fondness of the company of young men, so this is not the first time rumors of homosexuality have surrounded him.
Judge will decide on repeal petitions
Miami--The battle over Miami-Dadeís gay civil rights ordinance is headed to the courts.
County elections officials filed suit in circuit court February 26 against both Take Back Miami-Dade, an anti-gay religious coalition intent on repealing the ordinance, and Save Dade, a civil rights group fighting to keep the ordinance.
Elections officials disqualified 63 signatures in a random sampling of 200 from Take Back Miami-Dadeís petitions to put the matter before voters. The group then submitted affidavits from some of the people whose signatures were disqualified, testifying that they had signed the petitions.
Save Dade followed suit with testimony from voters who claimed they never signed the petitions.
Florida law makes no provisions for elections officials to read affidavits from petitioning organizations, so elections supervisor David Leahy has asked the court to decide whether or not he can take the affidavits into account before deciding on the petitionsí validity.
Partner inheritance bill dies
Denver, ColoradoóRepublicans in the state senate received enough bipartisan support February 21 to kill a bill that would give gay and lesbian Coloradans the right to inherit their partnersí estates.
SB 159, introduced by State Sen. Pat Dascoe, would have given the surviving member in a committed relationship full rights to inherit their partnerís assets, even without the presence of a will.
According to Pascoe, the current state law makes it easy for the family of the deceased partner to contest a will, leaving the surviving partner out in the cold.
Egyptians imprisoned for web site
Cairo, Egypt--A court on February 20 found two men guilty of advertising themselves on the Internet as sex partners for interested males, court officials said.
They said 27-year-old engineer Sami Gamal was sentenced to three years in prison, while accountant Gameel Gebreel, 32, received 15 months.
The two men were arrested in early February and charged with committing an indecent act.
Officials said the two men posted sexually explicit photographs of themselves on an Internet web site, urging interested men to have paid or unpaid sex with them. In its ruling, the court said the action of Gamal and Gebreel was "unprecedented" in Egypt.
The court added that it felt no sympathy for the accused, who "abused the technological revolution to do their disgraceful act that defames Egypt."
Illicit sex is frowned upon in Egypt, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation of some 65 million that has grown more conservative over recent decades. Homosexuality among Egyptians is a strictly-held taboo and is met with zero tolerance.
Compiled from wire reports by Patti Harris, Anthony Glassman and Brian DeWitt.
Reviewed by Kaizaad Kotwal
In Before Night Falls, when Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas is asked, "Why do you write?" he simply replies: "Revenge."
Before Night Falls is a vividly imagined journey into the life and writings of the brilliant, gay and controversial Cuban author and exile Reinaldo Arenas.
Directed and co-written by Julian Schnabel (Basquiat), the film stars Spanish actor Javier Bardem, whose eloquently complex and quietly powerful performance as Arenas earned him the 2000 Venice Film Festivalís Volpi Cup for Best Actor and more recently an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
The film spans Arenasís entire life, from his rural childhood and his early embrace of Castroís revolution to the persecution he would later experience as a writer and a gay man in Castroís Cuba; from his stealthy departure from Cuba in the Mariel exodus of 1980 to his exile and death in the United States. Here we have a portrait of a human being whose search for freedom at every level--artistic, political, sexual, personal--defied poverty, censorship, persecution, exile and death.
Like Arenasís work, Before Night Falls combines segments of dreamlike imagination with gritty realism; in so doing, it embodies the creative ethos to which Arenas dedicated himself: transforming personal experience into unfettered expression. The same could be said of Bardemís stunning performance.
By the time of his death in 1990, Arenas had written over 20 books, including 10 novels as well as numerous short stories, poems, essays and plays. His body of work is arguably one of the most passionate and angry ever written against the totalitarian state.
Under Schnabelís direction, the film is an imaginative blend of magical lyricism and ripe realism. Schnabelís background as a painter is evident in the way he uses the camera and also in the way he constructs visual montages, to tell a story that is compelling and cogent. From time to time, Schnabel removes all dialogue from a series of scenes, allowing the images and a brilliant score to tell the tale. These are some of the filmís best moments.
While the movie is rich in style and has much ground to cover, it does leave the viewer wanting more in the way of details from Arenasís life. There are many aspects of his life left uncovered or briefly run through, but that is mainly due to the large amount of material to be unfolded in approximately two hours.
The supporting cast is marvelous. Oliver Martinez, a French born actor turns in a sweet and touching portrayal as Lazaro Gomez Carille, Arenasís friend.
Andrea Di Stefano gives a suave and obnoxious rendering of the gay playboy Pepe Malas, who introduces Arenas to Havanaís gay culture and who also betrays all those he befriends. Sean Penn, with a gold tooth and heavy makeup, turns in an effective cameo as a farmer who meets the young Arenas on his way to join Castroís rebels. Hollywood heartthrob Johnny Depp does double turns as Bon Bon, a transvestite with a rather large and intriguing capacity to smuggle goods in body cavities, and Lieutenant Victor, a brutal law enforcer who forces Arenas to denounce his work, his sexuality and in essence his entire being.
But the film truly belongs to Javier Bardem, the son and grandson of actors, part of a long dynasty famous both in Spainís cinema and theatre.
Bardemís performance in Before Night Falls is subtle, detailed and quietly powerful. A lesser actor could have taken a role such as this and imbued it with false histrionics and harsh overacting. Bardem never betrays the essence of Arenasís character, and from his joi de vivre to his intense rage, it is impossible to take oneís eyes of Bardemís stunning looks and magnetic physicality.
Schnabel and his team create an eerie reincarnation of Cuba on locations in Mexico, and this serves the film very well. The score works magically with Schnabellís images and the editing and use of documentary footage blends very well to create an interesting whole.
Before Night Falls could have been a much stronger film from the point of giving us more details about Arenasís life. It is nevertheless a compelling piece of cinema and a smashing piece of acting on Bardemís part.
With Castroís Cuba still alive and well, this movie is a tough reminder of the triumph of the human spirit but an equally sobering message of the longevity of totalitarian evil and human oppression. |
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