3 Dec 2009

Austria: Same-sex partners “are not family”

The following case shows how much mistreatment, injustice and even disgust same-sex couples experience in many modern societies and are treated as second-class citizens.

Austria today approved a partnership law for gays and lesbians after weeks of debate. On the European map displaying countries’ recognition of same-sex partnerships, Austria long sticked out as a gray spot with almost no provision among it’s Western neighbours. Finally, the government decided to create a civil union law. However, it is one of the most half-heartedly I’ve ever seen:

While the bill lacks behind marriage in 37 points (edit: there are actually 73), it denies adoption, a common name and even the possibility of having a ceremony in the same localities where straight marriages are usually held. A whole different office will be responsible to hold ceremonies to make sure that ‘evil is separated from good’. Also, a gay non-biological parent is explicitly not allowed to take time off from work when the biological parent falls sick and can’t take care of a child temporarily.

Yet, conservative members of the opposition dismissed the new bill as “a dangerous step towards marriage” and criticised allowing ceremonies that are “de-facto marriage-like”.

The most outrageous and insulting part of this is that the oppositional People’s Party tried everything during the drafting of the bill to make sure same-sex couples are not seen as a “family”; In German language, a surname is mostly called Familienname (“family name”), and this term is used on any form and document where a identification is important. But as soon as an Austrian couple commits to a same-sex partnership, they are not to be regarded as a part of a family anymore and therefore, their surname will be called “Nachname” (literally “surname”). All this despite gay couples having to each keep their own surname. Now, all hotel e.g. will have to print new registration forms.

I know Austria is a pretty conservative country and I heard many stories of racism but its statutory homophobia is just as vile and disgusting,

With information from http://www.ggg.at/index.php?id=62&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=2653&cHash=1f64bb52c9 and http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2009/1118/1224259040662.html

20 Nov 2009

Evangelicals slowly change perspective on homosexuality

About a week ago, the report of a Australian Pentecostal pastor giving a sermon asking for acceptance of LGBT people was a refreshing change from the usual hatred directed at us from a whole range of Christians from Catholics to Protestants.

In the US and Australia, those who condemn homosexuality are especially Evangelicals such as conservative Pentecostals who apply Bible teachings literally to many aspects of modern-day life and refuse to consolidate it with science or change of culture.

Pastor of Pentecostal Bayside Church in Melbourne, Rob Buckinham said in his Sunday sermon that in a survey, the most cited point of criticism from young Americans is that they view churches as being too judgemental, insensitive and hypocritical. He also brought up the following study:

“Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. (…) they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else.” (from: The Barna Group)

As I wrote in my previous post, this of course alienates young people from the church. As our increasingly enlightened society changes, sexist, racist and homophobic views are fading. However, deep-rooted ignorance backed by stubborn Christian belief however seems like an unshakable bastion that keeps society from progressing, when e.g. same-sex marriage laws get rejected.

Christians coming out

In Australia, Pentecostals are numbered at around 200.000 with many attendants in urban areas (see “Mega churches”). However, there a more and more gay Pentecostals coming out, such as 21-year old blogger Ben Gresham from the Hillsong Church in Sydney (I often go to their sister church in London), and even support groups are established such as Freedom 2 B[e] (freedom2b.org) for Pentecostal gays and lesbians striving to hold on to their faith despite rejection.

Now, even church leaders begin to open their eyes and challenge believes.

The Sin of Sodom

Pastor Buckingham took upon often cited bible verses that supposedly condemn homosexuality.

The story of Sodom & Gomorrah in Genesis 19 is one of them. God does not condemn Sodom for being a city full of homosexuals (that’d be a phenomenon even unseen till today). In fact, Lot, responding to the man outside his house, offered his two daughters to be gang-raped instead. If these men were all homosexuals, what use would it have to offer one’s daughters? Buckingham goes on to read Ezekiel 16:49 where the sin of Sodom is explained: Greediness. Or unwillingness to help the poor despite being loaded with riches. He rightfully drew a comparison to the modern Western world. Look at us, we know about starving in Africa. Looks like most of us are the real “sodomites”.

Christians and GLBTs

He went on to say Jesus also died for GLBT people and actually had most compassion for people from the edges of society. He specifically asked followers to invite their gay colleagues and friends to church, where they’d be welcome. He said “homosexuals are not the enemy of the church” and blamed Christian homophobia and derogatory remarks for keeping gays from church or even driving them into suicide during teen years.

Buckingham warned: ”Our job is to love and accept people, not judge or try to change them” (John 16:08).

At several points, he gave hope. As soon as people get to know gays, lesbians or transgender, compassion will fill your heart and you will learn to accept them.

The full sermon entitled “Real Christianity is accepting” is available as podcast here.

“Lord God I pray, forgive us and forgive the Christian church for giving this world the notion that You are anti-homosexual”.

Reading on:

4 Nov 2009

American churches heat up civil rights war

Yesterday, voters in the US state of Maine were asked at the ballot whether they want to accept a gay marriage law enacted by legislation earlier this year. 53% percent of voters decided to reject it.

This is the second time that an already passed law to open marriage for gays and lesbians has been brought to a public vote: Exactly one year ago, Californians struck down gay marriage with the successful referendum called Proposition 8.

Majority vs. Minority

In Maine and California, campaigns were heavy on both sides of the issue, trying to win over voters (see my post about Prop 8 last year). However, gay marriage supporters only seem to question the legitimacy of a public vote on minority rights after the loss at the ballot. Why is the majority allowed to vote on a minority right in the first place? Today, I saw the same outcry on Twitter that I saw last year in November:if you put it up to a vote of the people, we'd have slavery again".

So, is the pure egoism of humans that hinders equality? Do people only think about their own right and reject political measures that help strangers? I reckon a big part is being lead there…

Churches playing politics

Where did we see this last time? Ah yes, the medieval ages in Europe and forced conversions to Christianity under death threat are one example of an organised majority oppressing a minority. Or in South Africa were the Dutch Reformed Church declared their members “the chosen” race. All those are examples of a group of people organising themselves to oppress others, backed by pseudo-religious reasons. The same thing is happening in America today, where churches claim to have a monopoly over marriage and its definition.

Among others, the Mormon church was a heavy campaigner against gay marriage, although Mormons just make up 2% of the Californian population they were successful. In Maine, Catholic churches (especially Portland’s diocese) manipulate people into thinking that it’s OK to take away rights from same-sex couples (with campaigns that draw their money from the offertory)

American Christians have got to understand that forcing your own beliefs on others will only damage them. I myself am an active Christian, but I am ashamed of what so-called Christians are doing onto others. They take away basic rights, topple gay families even with children, they forget their every ethic and compassion out of pure egoism and ignorance.

Dividing society

Gay rights activist Cleve Jones rightly pointed out that this is a struggle for equality under the law for gay people. Blaming churches for forgetting how important equality is, Jones said:

This is a pluralistic society. We have one constitution, one Bill of Rights, and we have only one class of citizenship.

Churches fighting against this are juggling with the harmony of a diverse society. They are attacking other segments of society and draw anger at them. These churches are hurting the reputation of religion:
Various studies show that more and more young people turn their back to religion because of the churches’ hard-line politics (see Putnam/Campbell’s “American Grace”)

11 Oct 2009

Coming Out Day is October 11/12

"Today is National Coming Out Day. This doesn't mean that today you have to come out to all of your friends and family. This doesn't mean that today, if you are already out that you should forget about the people who are still in. This doesn't mean that today is only important for the LGBT community. Today, is about being YOU! Today is about bringing awareness to the world why we are who

we are. "I'm gay!" - but not because I need or want attention. I'm gay - but it's not because I was abused in a past straight relationship. I'm gay - but not because I didn't have a father when I was growing up. Yes, I am a lesbian, but it's not because I couldn't get a man. I'm gay, but it's not because I have low self-esteem and think girls won't like me, or I want to get back at my parents. We are gay - but it's not because something dramatic happened to us in the past, and it's not because we're going through a phase.

The one and only reason that we are gay is because this is the way we were born! This is who we are. We don't choose to be gay. We choose to be happy with who we are.

Today, we are choosing to show this to the world. Today, even if it's just for today, be proud of who you love!"
National Coming Out Day is celebrated by communities in many countries including the US, Canada, Croatia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland on the 11th of October. The UK's Coming Out Day takes place on the 12th this month.

In difference to big metropolitan Pride marches, this day should be taken to put the focus onto your close surroundings, your community as it is about you. The Internet is taken by many that are already out to friends and family to spread awareness.

P.S.: A little clip art (can be used as iPhone wallpaper) in Chinese since I'm in China at the moment


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13 Jul 2009

Campaigning for same-sex marriage in the UK, Ireland

Britons, including many gays, would like to think that almost everything that defines equality for same-sex couples and gays has been achieved in the United Kingdom. Civil Partnerships are legal since 2004 and in law, have little difference to traditonal marriage. But the concept in itself is discriminatory. Why have a seperate, but equal law for gay and lesbian partners? Isn't it like racial segregation that was common in many countries just decades ago? Seperate schooling or bus seats? It is. "When I grow up, I wanna... 'civil partner' a prince?"
While heterosexual couples can refer to each other as husband and wife, me and others would have to refer to our loved ones as "my partner". People might think we are in a business relationship. Yet more often, it simply leads to awkwardness or confusion, since many still don't know what civil partners are. Until they are not "married" persons, it will never feel just the same.

The biggest single inequality yet is, that civil partnerships can NOT be formed religiously, like marriages can. Even if religious institution want to, they are legally not allowed to bless same-sex couples wishing to... (well, at least) be 'civil partnered'. A Scottish bishop recently pointed out that he would be breaking the law, if a civil partnership ceremony would be celebrated in his church.

The following projects are currently underway to fight for marriage equality on the Isles:

  • United Kingdom
A simple online petition recenlty launched is to be handed to the Prime Minister to call for marriage equality in the UK. A simple signature and email confirmation will do. You have to be a resident address in Britain (you don't have to be a British citizens!) http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Gay-Marriage/
Another private project can be viewed here: www.equalmarriagerights.org
  • Scotland
Since March 2009 there is an internet campaign that was
launched with help of student groups try to lobby the Scottish Parliament to lift the ban on both, same-sex marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships. If you live in Scottland, please support and share the campaign on www.equalmarriage.org.uk

  • Republic of Ireland
Ireland's government is drafting a civil partnership law, simular to the one in the UK, but with lesser rights. An unexpected support from straight friends and family members is trying to persuade the government, that this is not enough! http://www.marriagequality.ie/
In polls, 81% of the public said different sexualities should be treated equaly.

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26 May 2009

California rejects minority's rights

A re-cap: Same-sex marriage in California has been a long back and forth game. Twice, in 2005 and 2007, the bill was approved by the legislation and then vetoed by the Governor Schwarzenegger.

In summer 2008, California became the second US-State to allow citizens to marry whatever gender they loved. In November, a voter referendum, called Proposition 8 (Prop 8), passed by a 2% margin, annuled the rights of gays and lesbians to marry yet again.

For weeks and months after the ruling, a weapon-less civil war broke out with protests not only in California but the whole of the US.

The second American civil war began with thousands of protesters demanding equal rights under the law as gay and lesbian couples. Nowhere else has the fight for marriage been fought with more media attention, YouTube videos, Facebook groups and TV appearances with people throwing arguments about civil liberties or religious doctrines at each other.

For months, the legal outcome was unclear until the Supreme Court of California announced it would make a decision weather the Proposition 8 was valid and thus same-sex marriages invalid or if it would protect the rights of a minority that a majority-vote couldn't turn over.

Since November 2008, two countries and three US-states introduced same-sex marriages: Sweden (36m inhabitants), Norway (4,8m), Iowa (3m), Maine (1,3m), Vermont (0,6m). None of those had, however, such a big cultural impact as the battle for marriage in the 37-million-strong California with countless of world-famous actors, TV stars and thousands of bloggers jumping into the debate with strong feelings on both sides.

The ruling today did not re-instate California's reputation for a state where everyone is supposedly equal. It was one of the first states to repeal a ban on interracial marriages in the 70s but decades after blacks got their civil rights, gays and lesbians remain second class citizens. If there would have been a popular vote about the civil rights in the 70s, there'd probably be still no black US president today.

The court needs to understand it has to protect equality for everyone. History thought us what happens if a majority denies the rights to a minority group: Women, Jews and Blacks are the ones that learnt already how important universal rights are. Unfortunately, many of the once discriminated discriminate others again.

White Knot

17 May 2009

5th International Day against Homophobia & Transphobia

Today is the 5th International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (Idaho). To me, this day is more meaningful than any Gay Pride days in the many cities of the world, since especially the Western ones are losing their political spirit to fight for equality that is not yet achieved. Homophobia, as an irrational of fear of different sexualities is the root of all unequal treatment, ignorance and hatred. Just like simple racism has stricken lives of so many, it is an unjustifiable human fear of the unknown and 'unusual' that leads people to do horrendous things.

Different events and online activism worldwide tried to create awareness today and call for dialog to discuss what can be done to challenge homophobia and transphobia.

Singapore, an otherwise thriving and modern city has laws punishing same-sex encounters and never saw any open gay events until yesterday. Activists called, trying to avoid to brand their project as "gay" (which would attract official intervention), called for people who believe in equal love for everyone to dress in pink and gather for visibility. The result is an heart- and groundbreaking progress for a beautifully diverse melting pot:

Moscow consecutively banned Gay Pride marches in the last years, taking away the right of free assembly or speech. The Russian capital hosted this year's Eurovision Song Contest, the world's biggest music competition whose often flamboyant, extravagant and glittery performances attract many gay fans. Despite this, only a handful of gathers dared to ignore the officials warning, that any unlawful assembly would be hardly dealt with. 40 people, many international politicans, were rapidly arrested after just 5 minutes. Only the concurrent anti-gay protests of right wings and orthodox Christians had the blessings of the Mayor.

Many online websites, such as gays.com who created a huge video project for the day and gayrussia.net, the main source of information of activists gathering in Moscow were attacked by viruses.

Web 2.0 (the interactive cyberspace) plays an increasing role in activism:
A London-based project, "A Day In Hand" calls on same-sex couples to hold hands in public to increase visibility. Pictures from couples worldwide are collected on their website adayinhand.com

Gays.com called upon the internet community to create the following video, showcasing this year's motto: Homosexuality knows no borders. Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transexuals exists everywhere. Homosexuality is no desease spread from the West or the 'immoral':

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5 May 2009

From sexism & racism to homophobia in church

I grew up with a religious family, religious by faith, not out of tradition. Like my parents, I would describe myself as a charismatic or pentecostal Christian like you mostly find it in America and in young, rock-music playing mega-churches. Most of those churches, despite their modern look, unfortunately have a problem with homosexuality and are even in the extreme founders of the so-called "ex-gay" movement that, against all scientific evidence, seek to "repair" individuals with "unwanted same-sex attractions" (which largely results in living life in denial, self-harm and even suicide).

I go to the Australian Hillsong church's offshoot in London. I like the young, ethnically-diverse people, energetic and joyous atmosphere, the uplifting music and the general feeling that you come because you like it, not because you feel obliged to. I've heard that the Australian mother church is somewhat-linked through it's pastors to ex-gay activities, but just because of one disagreement with my church's doctrine, I won't leave.

This Sunday, however, I had quite a stirring experience that made me reflect and pray a lot. Christine Caine, from Sydney was giving the four o'clock afternoon sermon.
One aspect that might be remarkable to you if you come from another denomination or religion is that yes, women are fairly equalised and allowed to preach within protestant churches. I am proud that my church overcame the century-long tradition of oppressing women that still affects today's religious practises. The Catholic, Mormon and Orthodox church don't ordain women, or in Islam, women sometimes aren't even allowed into the mosque, or are kept from the men-only main rooms.

This Sunday, Chris Caine was talking about devotion of one's personal life to God's cause (in her case, fighting prostitution and evangelism). Being an orphan, she said she had a difficult childhood, that she grew up in "a culture that demeaned females" but that she eventually broke out the oppressing culture with the help of Jesus to realise her aspirations. Christine went on:
"[I was] abused by four men for twelve years almost weekly. (...) People with my kind of background don't normally end up doing what I am doing, they end up with the drug-dependant or alcohol-dependent or two or three different kids to two or three different fathers, or gay or at the VERY least confused about their gender identity. That's what normally happens" (get the mp3 here)
Drug and alcohol addiction are negative, OK. Divorce and several husbands is what least women desire but she adds two more things to the list: "gays" and (as I understand it what she thinks is even worse) people that are "confused about their gender identity", by which she might also refer to gays and/or transsexuals.

The message to the thousands of church-attendants is that homosexuality and transsexuality are:
  • undesirable
  • comparable to drug-addiction and
  • the result of an unfortunate past.
With just one sentence, Chris Caine reinforces negative stereotypes in listeners, teaches that non-heterosexuals have something like a sickness and leaves the attendants with the thought that gay people are damaged inside. She continues the religious tradition of teaching other people are inferior and is another proof that humans forget history and repeat the same pattern of oppression again. This is severe because by this, the killing of Matthew Shephard or more recently the suicide of 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover are caused. What she and many others don't understand is that sexual orientation is nothing chosen, just like nobody chooses to be born black, green-eyed or as a woman.

It makes me sad to see the oppressed oppressing others themselves. What happened to blacks in the US didn't stop them from protesting passionately against gay-marriage a week ago in Washington (the video of it here that will sadden you).
The century-old oppression of women that even held on to affect Christine Caine's life in the late 20th century didn't teach her to respect differences and finally understand that God's creation is so big and diverse. Just like we delight in the many differently-coloured flowers of God's nature, we should cherish God's richly diverse array of humankind in which none is inferior to another.

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17 Apr 2009

Iran, Nigeria, Jamaica and 67 more

Living in the UK is great. I mean sure, it rains a lot, the food is rubbish and it's horrendously expensive but what I want to point at is that we have so many rights here and freedom we take for granted. I was shocked when I went to China three years ago and found out that there are hotels (mostly low-budget) that are legally not allowed to accommodate foreigners. I felt discriminated but I (or better my wallet) was happily welcomed in millions of other places. Still I started to realise what difference the feeling of not being treated equally means.

So I'm going to talk about equality. There is something I'd like to set as a base of understanding before I continue: All are born equal! Nobody chooses their sex, skin-colour, height, sexual orientation or eye-shape after birth. So there is no reason to be treated differently!
We did tho until recently: Women had significantly fewer rights than men a hundred years ago and black or 'coloured' people were treated like second-class citizens in South Africa just 15 years ago.
Let's go a bite more into extremes: When were people jailed and killed for what they are? The Jewish people in Europe in the 1940s. Or gays and lesbians in several countries in 2009.
As you are reading, people have to fear for their live and don't have the choice to go to another places. I want to look at some of the 70 countries worldwide where being gay is a crime.

Most countries that enforce a set of Islamic penalty code (Sharia) officially sentence homosexuals to death. Iran is one of the worst offenders. While common practise since 1979, the case of two teen boys in 2005 sparked international outrage. While President Ahmadinejad denied Iran had any gays at all, other officials openly defend the executions. While enforced rarely, the same law is still in use in the UAE, including Dubai.

The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria also enforces sharia law in the mostly-Islamic states in the north, but Christian and tribal societies in the south are just as hostile.

Jamaica was recently named the most homophobic place on earth. The state does not impose the death penalty, but the hatred is so common in the population that violent mobs regularly 'go gay-hunting' and individuals do not receive protection form the police.

I made a YouTube video to highlight these horrible circumstances and spread awareness.

(there is a great article with the complete list of countries on Wikipedia, which I was helped setting up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lgbt_rights_by_country).

29 Mar 2009

Queer for Israel

Most of you know that I took a stongly-voiced position on the Israeli side during the last months of the media war thagt was fought between Gaza and Israel-sympathisers.

Putting that aside, I now want to put a 'pink' spotlight onto Israel and highlight some astonishing facts about a country wedged in between Arab nations.

Most are probably aware that queer boys and girls in Iraq, Syria, Egypt or Iran don't live a very "gay" life. In fact, homosexuality is even forbidden in every Middle Eastern country but Jordan, Turkey and Israel; Flogging, hanging, prison or at least social persecution are what waving the rainbow flag means in the rest.

In Israel, however, gay marriages are recognised, thus putting the Jewish state ahead of even most European countries or US states. (Yet, you can't technically gay marry there since the state doesn't perform civil weddings, it only recognised those declared by religious institutions. It does recognise marriages performed abroad but it would be up to the religions to allow them within Israel.)
Foreign partners of gay Israelis are granted citizen status and joint Adoption is possible since 2009.

Also, Tel Aviv hosts the only annual Gay Pride event in the Middle East and if you watch this video of it, you will witness it is not even a small even hidden in some back allies.

Many other aspects speak for Israel's progressiveness such as equal age of consent and anti-discrimination laws in employment since 1992.

Since 1993 the military allows proud lesbians and gays (like a very dear friend of mine) to serve their country or alternatively volunteer in the national services, such as the Association of GLBTs in Israel (Agudah). This makes Israel mroe advanced than the US who are - even under a black president - still now able to eliminate exclusion and state-operated discrimination.

Many gay-themed films aimed at the mainstream market such as "Yossi & Jagger" (2002), "Walk on Water" (2004), "The Bubble" (2006) and TV series like "Florentin" were produced in Israel.

My personal favourite of Israeli LGBT exports is the trans-singer Dana International, who in fact won the biggest music competition in the world, the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998. A recent music video of hers together with camp singer Idan Yaniv brought me to write this very article. Enjoy.

Sources: Wikipedia's LGBT rights in Israel and LGBT rights by country or territory

5 Feb 2009

Gay culture has to de-sexify

or: An open letter to the ones fighting for marriage equality

The gay movies I saw as a teenager around 5 years ago were all about one topic: sex. If it's about first sexual experiences, sexual relationships or the gay clubbing world with lots of random encounters (think Queer as Folk).
My university (the School of African and Oriental Studies, London) recently hosted a lecture about the rising gay culture in Bangkok and all the gay-themed Thai movies that are becoming so popular are somehow telling a story that just cannot be without the display of sex.
The lecturer was also showing us the variety of gay print publications (he said there are somewhat close to 50 magazines in Thailand alone I believe), 90% with shirtless men on the cover from my judgement.

So gays are becoming more visible. Good isn't it? I say no, because there is something that bother me a lot: All the sex!
To be fair, on the first look, a homoSEXual differs from the rest by definition for that he doesn't have sex with the opposite gender but rather the same. So is it mainly about sex? I dare to believe our same-sex relationships are not just that but like anyone elses including zoo-visits, jealousy dramas, self-cooked dinners together and romantic text-messaging.

What annoys is that through that sex-image we like to display in our (sub-)culture a major part of society associates gays with sex (and thus fun, joy, promiscuity, anti-conservative, family-unfriendly). And this the reason why conservatives fight politically against our right to marry for example. It is because gay relationship seem to be about self-centred, physical and shameless enjoyment that families feel they need to protect marriage and children.

And that is a fatal misconception! Studies show that same-sex couples want to have a family home in stable relationships (in some countries the willingness to marry is higher than among straights) and many want to adopt. But these rights (marrying & adopting) are denied in most of the world's countries (only six out of 195 countries have gender-neutral marriage laws). Opposition in the rest of the world has strong feelings against the rights of same-sex couples as the case of Proposition 8 (a referendum in California weather to allow gay marrriage) showed. It was the most expensively fought civil right issue in the history of the US with millions spend on campaigns on both sides.
However, I begin to think that gays are partly to blame for that strong oppostion. We need to show ourselves as we are, like holding hands with the loved-one on the street, cuddling to a romantic movie in cinema and anywhere and anytime, not just walking around half-naked and snogging at Gay Pride and Mardi Gras. That is the wrong showing-off.

It is also up to us gays themselves to change society's negative perception . And once gays understand that, I will look forward to the day when homosexual couples are not only displayed in sex-themed gay films or as comic contribution in main-stream media but also in secondary roles as normal couples just like there are pictures of opposite-sex couples every minute on TV without a funny side to it.