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Iceland might ban Circumcision

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Iceland is considering a law that would make it the first European country to outlaw male circumcision for anyone under the age of 18. The bill proposes up to six years imprisonment for anyone who performs a circumcision on a child that is not for medical reasons.

European religious leaders say the restriction would impinge upon religious freedoms while other people argue that a child’s welfare and bodily integrity supersedes any religious traditions.

Male circumcision is commonly practiced by Jews and Muslims. In some countries, including the U.S., male circumcision is popular across religions and ethnicities, for alleged health and cultural reasons. The World Health Organization estimated in 2009 that about one in three men globally is circumcised.

Male circumcision is “a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity,” a spokesman for Milah UK, a Jewish campaign group, told The Guardian, adding that Iceland’s proposed ban is “extremely concerning.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union, called the proposal a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom.  “Protecting the health of children is a legitimate goal of every society, but in this case this concern is instrumentalised, without any scientific basis, to stigmatise certain religious communities,” Marx said last week, according to the Catholic News Agency. “This is extremely worrying.”

The bill reportedly has strong public support. Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, a member of parliament from the Progressive Party, said she proposed the bill after realising there were no restrictions on male circumcision in Iceland, even though female circumcision was outlawed in 2005.

“I see it as a child protection matter,” Gunnarsdóttir told Euronews. “In Iceland we acknowledge the right to believe but we also acknowledge the right and freedom of everyone to choose and have their opinions.”

She added: “I stand by that and I say people should be allowed to have their beliefs for themselves but you have to draw the line when it’s about other people. Children should also have their own rights for their own beliefs when they are adults.”

The bill says people who want to be circumcised for religious or cultural reasons can do so once they are old enough to “understand what is involved in such an action.”

Male circumcision has long been a controversial issue in Europe. In 2012, Germany considered a ban but ― following months of fierce debate ― ruled that only doctors or trained experts could perform the procedure. In 2016, doctors in Denmark deemed non-medical male circumcisions to be “ethically unacceptable” when performed on children under the age of 18. Many doctors in Sweden refuse to perform the procedure for non-medical reasons.

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The Wound

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Protests erupted over the The Wound, a queer film that premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and its director John Trengove for appropriating African culture and publicising a secret tribal circumcision ritual depicted the film.

The traditional Xhola circumcision ritual  that is a  major topic in the film marks a boy’s passage into manhood. Considering that the ritual has resulted in over 800 deaths, it makes sense why young Kwanda, the youthful initiate in the film, wouldn’t want to go through it. His resistance forces his mentor Xolani to reconsider the traditions and the tribal notions of manhood altogether.

The actual ritual has gotten public exposure before. Former South African president and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela wrote about the experience in his autobiography.

The ritual involves a traditional surgeon (called an ingcibi) who severs the initiate’s foreskin using a spear, which is then tied to the initiate’s blanket. The penile wound is covered with a healing plant and for the next eight days, the initiate is confined to a hut (called a bhoma) and forbidden from eating certain foods. After eight days, an ukosiswa rite removes the food restrictions and marks the start of the second phase, which lasts two to three more weeks. The initiates’ seclusion ends when they race to the river to bathe themselves. Finally, the initiates’ hut and possessions are burnt, each initiate gets a new blanket and is called an amakwala (new man) henceforth.

Quartz Africa reports that protestors, like South African journalist Lwando Xaso and the current Xhosa king, say Trengrove (a white South African) appropriated Xhosa culture, particularly “jealously guarded secrets of a tradition that has managed to endure oppression and modernization.”

Xaso said, “It is not okay to subjectively delve into traditions and practices you are not a part of under the guise of sparking debate and engagement. It is not your place because you are not speaking as a member of that society.”

Two South African cinemas stopped showing The Wound over security threats, but it remains available elsewhere internationally.

French President’s Chef teaches queer Arabs & Israelis rejected by their Families how to cook

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The head chef of the French presidential palace was in Israel on Monday to teach Jewish and Arab gay teens rejected by their families how to cook for themselves.

The 39-year-old chef, who has been working for French presidents at the Elysee Palace for 20 years, visited the Jewish state for the class. “I will teach you simple recipes that you can remake,” Gomez told the kids.

One of those listening intently was a young man from an ultra-Orthodox family who has had no contact with them since he came out at the age of 16. “Meeting this chef is an extraordinary experience,” said the teenager who asked to be named only as “O.”

O lives at Beit Dror, an organisation which supports gay people in Israel, while attending cooking classes at a school in the centre of the country.

Gomez taught the young people to make cannelloni spinach gratin and apple pie. Gomez is taking part for the sixth year in a row in the “So French, So Food” festival in Israel, which brings around 20 prominent French chefs to work with Israeli counterparts.

“Every year I support a charitable cause and put my name at the service of an organization,” Gomez said. He was the youngest person to win the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France award for chefs in 2004, when he was just 25.

“It’s good for them to participate in this workshop. This moment of happiness for these young people is not insignificant,” said Yael Doron, director of Beit Dror. Beit Dror has 14 beds for young people rejected by their families who are homeless and sometimes even forced into prostitution, Doron said. Most come from religious Jewish or Muslim families.

“Beit Dror saved my life,” said an 18-year-old referred to as “L” and wearing ripped jeans and a black T-shirt. His father is Muslim and his mother Christian and he said he was a victim of physical violence during his adolescence. “I don’t believe in religion any more; I believe in myself now,” he said.

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Thousands of US Teens will undergo “Gay Conversion”

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More than 75,000 American teenagers aged 13 to 17 will face gay conversion “therapy” before they turn 18 according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a university located in California.

According to the research, around 20,000 queer kids will receive the controversial treatment from health care “professionals”. Another 57,000 will undergo treatment from religious or spiritual charlatans. The research further found that approximately 698,000 queer adults already received conversion therapy. 350,000 of them received it in their youth.

Conversion therapy posits that pseudoscience or religion can “cure” people of homosexuality. Professional health associations condemn the practice and have consequently called on the U.S. Congress and politicians to pass laws against it.

“Our research shows that laws banning conversion therapy could protect tens of thousands of teens from what medical experts say is a harmful and ineffective practice,” said Mallory, one of the authors of the study.

Indeed, the study reveals 6,000 people would have received conversion therapy before 18 if it hadn’t been for state laws banning it. So far, nine states, Washington D.C., and 32 localities have banned health professionals from practising it. Recently, New Hampshire failed to pass a law banning the practice.

Professionals link the practice to severe mental health problems and suicide.

America’s moving backwards: Homophobia on the Rise

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For the first time in four years, Americans are less accepting of queer people in a dangerous yet not wholly unexpected reversal of progress. GLAAD released the findings from its fourth annual Accelerating Acceptance report yesterday and they show that the attacks on the community by the Trump administration are having a real effect.

Less than half of non-LGBTQ adults, 49 percent, reported being “very” or “somewhat” comfortable with LGBTQ people across seven situations, down from 53 percent the previous year. Alarmingly, this is the first time the Accelerating Acceptance report has shown a decrease in acceptance for queer people.

Meanwhile 55 percent of queer adults reported that they experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity, up 11 percentage points from the previous year.

30 percent of those polled said they would be uncomfortable to learn a family member is LGBTQ, up from 27 percent last year. 31 percent reported that they would be uncomfortable to have their child taught by an LGBTQ educator, up from 28 percent last year. 31 percent also said they would be uncomfortable to have an LGBTQ doctor, up from 28 percent the previous year.

“In the past year, there has been a swift and alarming erosion of acceptance which can only be fought by being visible and vocal,” said GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis. “This report puts numbers to the bias that too many LGBTQ Americans have recently experienced.”

The Trump administration has attacked the queer community in a number of ways in its first year, including an attempted ban on transgender soldiers, siding with those who wish to discriminate against us in employment, healthcare, and public services, ensuring a pride flag didn’t fly on federal property on National Coming Out Day, fired the remaining members of his HIV/AIDS council without explanation, and appointed anti-LGBTQ lawmaker Sam Brownback to lead as the “religious freedom” ambassador. He was confirmed yesterday, with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. And that’s just a partial list.

You can read the full report on GLAAD’s website.

Opinion: Labels are good

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Opinions like “Labels are bad” and advice á la “Stop trying to put people into boxes” are widespread, especially among queer folks. And many people probably think they’re doing us a service by spreading that gospel.

The truth is more complicated. By trying to get rid of labels you actually end up risking to disenfranchise the marginalised groups within the queer community who are glad to have a small point of representation.

It might not be convenient to end up with seemingly infinite acronyms like LGBTQQIP2SAA (extreme example, to be fair) but guess what? Sometimes convenience is not the priority when it comes to treating people right and making sure no one feels like an outcast.

Finding out that there is actually a term for your orientation or your preferences can mean the world to someone, it can help you establish an identity and make you feel like you belong, that you’re not just some weirdo who’s different from everyone else in the world. Labels can literally save lives.

I often personally opt for the term “queer” when I talk about my own sexuality just because I can’t be bothered to explain the mess that are my preferences to people who likely don’t even care about the details (and how do you explain in one word that you prefer sex with girls, love a boy but don’t seek relationships with either not to mention anything that goes beyond binary genders…).

And I believe that queer is a great umbrella term for our community but that doesn’t mean that we have to take more nuanced labels away from the people who rely on them for representation. So let’s not.

Slate has more on the topic.