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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Gay Culture

Aired January 1, 2000 - 4:10 p.m. ET


BOBBIE BATTISTA, CNN ANCHOR: A moral dilemma for some, just a different lifestyle for others. If you defend human rights...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People should be given freedom.


BATTISTA: ... how can you deny gay rights?


SHAGOON SATPATHY, EVENTS MANAGER: I thought better to commit suicide and get lost, that would be the best thing I thought.


BATTISTA: People's attitudes may surprise you.

RIZ KHAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, no matter where on the globe you travel, homosexuality is a sensitive issue.

BATTISTA: And the local dominant attitudes have a major impact on how gays live, work and contribute to their communities.

We have a series of reports now on gay culture around the world, from a country leading the way in legal protections to nations where the gay community is just beginning to find a voice.

One of them is Zimbabwe, where CNN's Bob Coen reports condemnation begins at the top.


BOB COEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Zimbabweans celebrate at a local nightclub. Around them, a group of gay men partying the night away, a common scene in clubs around the world -- but not in this country. Being openly gay or coming out here requires particular courage.

For years, gays in Zimbabwe have faced prejudice, discrimination and open hostility. But today, a growing number of gays are determined to fight for their rights, a struggle they say will continue well into the 21st century.

KEITH GODDARD, ZIMBABWE GAY AND LESBIAN ASSOCIATION: The type of society we're looking for is one where the issue of sexual orientation is of no concern at all. We're looking for total equality for lesbian and gay people with heterosexuals, and I think that's going to take a good 25 years.

A speech by Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, five years ago marked a turning point in the battle for gay rights here.


ROBERT MUGABE, PRESIDENT OF ZIMBABWE: If we accept homosexuality as a right, as is being argued by the association of sodomists and sexual perverts, what moral fiber shall our society ever have to deny organized drug addicts or even those given to bestiality.

GODDARD: Once Mugabe came out with his pigs and dogs speech and his vilification of the gay community, it sent a shock wave through the whole nation, and it became absolutely clear that gays and lesbians were not accepted in society.

COEN: Homosexuality has since been publicly condemned by many sections of Zimbabwean society as both immoral and un-African. The church has been one of the most vocal critics.

JONATHAN SIYACHITEMA, ANGLICAN BISHOP: In the culture of the African in Zimbabwe, its unheard of for a man and a man living together as if they are husband and wife. And biblically, this is something -- I mean, it is condemned, really.

COEN: When we asked people in the country's capital, Harare, some shared this view. But many were more tolerant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To me, I think it's none of our business. People do what they like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all right. I don't mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm dead against it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they should be left alone, but I don't agree with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They should be banned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People should be given freedom. That's a human rights. It's their right.

COEN: Although many here claim to tolerate homosexuality, members of Zimbabwe's gay community who have come out say they face constant discrimination at work, on the streets, even in their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The minute you come out at your work place that you're gay, you lose your job. I've been a victim of that. I've lost my job because of that. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since November, we've moved three places already -- September, yes. We've moved three places so far, because when they started to hear we were gay, they'd have to tell us to move.

COEN: Romeo and his lover, Carlos, have been living together for seven months now. They didn't want us to film at their current home for fear of being thrown out once again, yet despite these difficulties they don't regret coming out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm gay. I mean, I'm a gay man and I'm proud of what I am, and I'm proud of going out with other men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's a waste being the closet. I'd rather be out and done with it.

SKANISIWA YENGWENDA: I'm proud to be a black lesbian in Zimbabwe. Many people are saying that people like me don't exist. Well, here is living proof that we do -- and I'm not the only one.

COEN: Many Zimbabweans were shocked when this statement was broadcast on national television recently. Twenty-three-year-old Skanisiwa Yengwenda (ph) was addressing a public hearing by the commission which is drawing up Zimbabwe's new constitution. Zimbabwe's gay community has been lobbying the commission to emulate neighboring South Africa, where gay rights are enshrined in the constitution.

A few days later, she was walking in downtown Harare.

YENGWENDA: I was approached by two guys and I was beaten up because they saw me on television. So yes, all because of I am lesbian. I wish I could change and make my family and my parents happy, get married and have children, but I can't change.

COEN: After her television appearance, Skanisiwa's parents also threw her out of the family home. She is spending this holiday season living on the floor in a bare room at Zimbabwe's gay association with just a thin mat and an old blanket. She has nowhere else to go.

YENGWENDA: Right now, I just feel like the world is coming to an end for me because I lost my family and my parents. And my friends won't talk to me now because I've come out lesbian.

COEN: Yet despite the day-to-day hardships faced by gays, it appears that things may slowly be changing. A draft of Zimbabwe's new constitutional allows for the protection of the rights of people with a, quote, "natural difference or condition," a term specifically chosen to accommodate gay rights without offending other sectors of society.

But the country's gay community is not satisfied.

GODDARD: If it had been clearly spelled out as sexual orientation, then we would have held an enormous party and celebrated. As it is, we can claim a victory, but we're disappointed that the commissioners didn't have the gumption just to put the words in regardless.

COEN: The struggle for gay right in Zimbabwe continues. At a recent demonstration to mark World Human Rights Day, just two members of the gay association were brave enough to march publicly in front of their banner.

Activists say it's going to take much to change old attitudes, and there's still a long way to go before gays are truly accepted in the society.

YENGWENDA: It's very difficult. I know I have to be strong. I have to be strong. One day, things are going to be better.

COEN (on camera): Do you think it's worth it?

YENGWENDA: Yes, this is my life. If I can't fight for my life as a lesbian woman, no one no one is going to fight fore my life. So I have to fight for my life.

COEN (voice-over): Bob Coen, CNN, Harare, Zimbabwe.


BATTISTA: When we return, we'll have more on gay cultures around the world.

KHAN: Next, we look at homosexuality in Southeast Asia.


KHAN: As the countries of the world step into the year 2000, progress for some cannot always be measured in time. Gay activists say one such example can be found in India, where the vast majority of homosexuals keep their private lives a secret in a highly conservative society.

Well, these days, the is a fledgling gay rights movement in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, perhaps India's most cosmopolitan city. But as CNN's Satinder Bindra found out, the movement has a long way to go.


SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The imposing gateway of India. For decades, Indians and tourists have been coming here to soak in this ocean view. More recently, the area around the gate, known a "The Wall," is also becoming a well-known gay hangout. Most of the meetings here take place in secrecy and only under the cover of darkness.

(on camera): It is hard to be gay in India. According to a century-old law, sex between two consenting males in illegal. So a majority of what some activists estimate are 50 million gays in the country are not yet out of the closet. There is still no gay community in India, and behind all the secrecy lies the guilt and shame of being discovered. (voice-over): Unlike the West, there are few places in India for gays to meet. But there are exceptions, like Mumbai's Voodoo Discotheque. This disco is where affluent gays in India's financial capital, artists, Web designers and company executives, dance the night away, their sexuality still a dark secret.

SHAGOON SATPATHY, EVENTS MANAGER: I am from such a society or culture that the word "gay" doesn't exist.

BINDRA: Four years ago, 23-year-old Shagoon Satpathy dared to come out. The experience was so traumatic, he swallowed 40 sleeping pills.

SATPATHY: I thought better to commit suicide and get lost, that would be the best thing I thought.

BINDRA: Satpathy says he attempted suicide twice again. He says his family was sympathetic, but he moved thousands of miles to Mumbai to save his family members further shame and humiliation.

Satpathy's agony is shared by thousands of other gays, and they are slowly sharing their experiences in cyberspace. Mumbai's first gay site,, gets 800 hits a week. The site was put together by Bhavesh Kharia. Until just a few months ago, Kharia says, people were even scared to come out on the net.

Now gays are using their real names on the net, a cyberspace network of gays is slowly evolving.

BHAVESH KHARIA, WEB DESIGNER: Most of the concern is we don't want our parents to find out. You feel that you are somehow letting them down. And that's where the guilt and the shame comes in.

BINDRA: Kharia says gays come to his site not just for sex chat, what he offers is advice for troubled minds.

KHARIA: You realize even other people are depressed, even other people are going through the same trauma. And then the positive part comes, I am not alone. There are so many others.

BINDRA: Activists say Indian gays are under pressure by members of their own family to marry.

KHARIA: They think it's a disease or something which can be done away with or maybe a doctor will cure it.

BINDRA: With so little understanding, it could be decades before Indian society accepts gays.

ASHOK ROW KAVI, GAY ACTIVIST: You cannot nominate your partner for an insurance policy because your blood relatives are the first, according to the laws. You do feel suppressed.

BINDRA: Suppressed and scared. Shagoon Satpathy says he is petrified of AIDS, but says many others are throwing caution to the winds. SATPATHY: I know people go to lous, go to parks, they talk in the stations, they exchange phone numbers, they meet somewhere, and in lous they have sex.

BINDRA: Satpathy says he practices safe sex. After four years in Mumbai, he dreams of a career in films. He doesn't want to sacrifice his future to AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.

Mumbai's government is reacting to such fears. Street plays in the local language are educating people about AIDS. Stalls are also being set up to preach safe sex, and at several railway stations in Mumbai counselors distribute thousands of free condoms.

KAVI: More than 80 percent of gay men don't use condoms, are not having safe sex; 20 percent of gay men in Bombay, according to our survey, have a history of STDs. They have multiple partners, over six partners in six months is the average we have here.

BINDRA: With world's largest population of HIV-positive people, self-help groups in India are mushrooming everywhere. But gay men are hesitant to join.

AKSHAY, NETWORK FOR POSITIVE PEOPLE (through translator): They are scared people will blame homosexuals for the HIV epidemic, says Akshay. That's their thinking. And then just being gay in itself is such a trauma, they can't deal with these two stigmas together.

BINDRA: Like other HIV-positive people in India, HIV-positive gay men have little access to professional counseling or drugs like AZT, which are effective against HIV. They have to deal with the AIDS monster themselves. What happened in predominantly Gay American cities like San Francisco 15 years ago is being repeated here on a much larger scale. But with no identity and no political voice, Indian gays do not receive either the compassion or the medical resources they need.

(on camera): Within the next few years, doctors fear thousands more HIV-positive men in India will develop full-blown AIDS and die. As more gay people begin to understand and relate to that suffering, activists say they may finally come together and form a community.

Satinder Bindra, CNN, Mumbai.


BATTISTA: Our next stop is Southeast Asia, where homosexuality is often scorned, even outlawed. CNN's Maria Ressa reports from Manila in the Philippines, a city perhaps more tolerant than most in the region.


MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Friday night in Manila. Drag queens on stage, where performers fit the stereotypes of gay men most people here are comfortable with. ANNETTE ABLAN, CLUB OWNER: Ninety percent of our audience are straight, and the straight, straight guys, you know, they are the ones that enjoy it the most.

RESSA: In other parts of Southeast Asia, finding a show like this would be difficult, if not impossible, as millions of gay men and women deal with the reality of living in societies that refuse to officially acknowledge hey exist. Like in Singapore, where homosexual acts are against the law or in Malaysia, where Anwar Ibrahim, once the second-most powerful man there, is now in prison. One of the charges against him? Illegal homosexual acts. Anwar vehemently denies the accusation.

In Indonesia, being gay is not illegal, but few publicly admit they are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm cautious because it might affect my work or my family. You have to accept that society still can't accept us.

RESSA: Agum (ph) runs his own company. Perhaps that has given him the courage to admit he has lived with a man for the past four years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We used to be very discrete. We didn't want to show we are a gay couple. But recently, I've begun to think we have to be ourselves instead of pretending all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): There's not enough room in this world for my pain.

RESSA: Overall, gay communities in Southeast Asia are less outspoken than those in the West. Among the barriers they face: religion, the lack of emphasis on individual rights, and the shame they say being gay brings to their families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, I don't care. You know, so long as it doesn't hurt other people. And I don't really care that much about other people any more, except perhaps for my parents.

RESSA: The Philippines is one of the few countries here with a strong network of lesbian support groups.

RONA MONTEBON, WYMYN SUPPORTING WYMYN: We have women who are very strong, and who are into -- very courageous in terms of getting out there, showing their faces in public, and, you know, giving a lesbian face -- giving a face to the lesbian identity, or lesbian person looking for (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think gays are treated well?


RESSA: Gay men are more accepted than the women here, some becoming fixtures in Manila's entertainment scene. BOY ABUNDA, TALK SHOW HOST: Comparing the Philippines, let's say, to Malaysia or Hong Kong, I think, honeys, we are in paradise.

RESSA: Radio and TV talk show host Boy Abunda has lived with the same lover for the past 17 years. He says for as long as he can remember, he has always acknowledged he is gay.

ABUNDA: Yes, I sell out of loneliness. Because whatever we say, gays are discriminated, but we are aware of that. But, as I always say, to keep quiet about it is to add injury to something that is very painful.

RESSA: A fundamental challenge to confronting sexuality in these countries the inability to speak frankly and openly about sex.

(on camera): Although the Philippines is considered to be more accepting of its gay community than other countries in Asia, gay activists here agree there is still a long way to go.

In Manila, the gay communities are tolerated, but existing and demanding your rights are two different things. In the Philippine senate, four bills are pending barring same-sex marriages and any legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

These women say that's what they're fighting, their societies exclusion, denial and segregation.

ABUNDA: I hate the condescension, because I don't think anybody has any right to put down anybody on the basis of sexual orientation.

RESSA: But those more optimistic and more patient say the groundwork is there. In a recent production of the Broadway musical "Rent" in Manila, three couples took center stage. One heterosexual, the second two women, the third two men.

ROBERTO GARCIA, DIRECTOR: It is a world of acceptance, and it is a world that says, you're OK, you know, and what you are doing is fine. You're not doing anything wrong. There are other people like you. There are other people who love like you. There are other people who live like you.

RESSA: Night after night, the mainstream audience gave the show a standing ovation. And night after night, patrons stream into Annette Ablanche's (ph) nightclub. Small victories, say many gay men and women here, on the eve of a new millennium.

Maria Ressa, CNN, Manila.


KHAN: The institution of marriage has adjusted to many changes over the past century. Now people are asking whether the definition of marriage will be broadened to include partners of the same sex.

As CNN's Chris Burns reports from the Netherlands, changes is already imminent. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Holland is known the world over for its liberal policies. In Amsterdam, the red-light district isn't in some back ally, it's a tourist attraction. So are the so-called coffee shops, known not only for their caffeine, but for selling small amounts of marijuana or hashish. In this liberal atmosphere, it's little wonder the gay community is well-established here.

The restaurant business caters to the gay mainstream, a politically and economically powerful mainstream demanding all the rights heterosexuals enjoy.

(on camera): Holland is set to become the first country in the world to give gay marriages the same status as heterosexual ones. That goes for taxes, pensions, inheritance, and most controversially, raising children.

(voice-over): The Dutch parliament is expected to approve the marriage legislation in the coming months. Franz Stello (ph) and Gerard Kuibers plan to be the first gay couple to tie the legal knot. They have been partners for 29 years, and already married in a church ceremony. They live as domestic partners under Dutch law, already allowing some tax and other privileges.

They live in small town near Rotterdam, a quiet, traditional life where the locals dress-up windmills for the holidays. A town full of children Stello and Kuibers say they would have adopted if Dutch law let them. Kuibers remembers the frustration they felt years ago.

GERARD KUIBERS: I had once a child in the hospital where I'm working. And the child was left by their parents, so I thought by myself maybe I can have this child, the child, and take it with me home. So maybe I can adopt a child. But it was impossible in that time, you know.

FRANZ STELLO: In that time, I feel it as a consequence, being a homosexual and have a homosexual relationship.

BURNS: Boris Dittrich, a gay member of parliament, expects the marriage laws to pass in the coming months. In addition to being able to adopt children and enjoy lower taxes, the new laws also offer security.

BORIS DITTRICH, DUTCH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: When they split up, when they get a divorce, one has to pay alimony for the other. So there are all kinds of things -- we make it really equal in comparison to heterosexual couples.

BURNS: Conservative lawmakers accept existing laws for gay partnerships, but they draw the line there, especially when it comes to children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marriage means that there is an automatic relationship with children arranged within the marriage. That's a biological thing that is arranged within the whole marriage.

BURNS: But gay and lesbian advocates say the proposed legislation would allow homosexual couples to have children through a surrogate mother, or for lesbians, artificial insemination. Dutch Roman Catholic officials say, they accept the existing couples law, but they believe the proposed legislation should be challenged on legal grounds.

DEACON HENK DEGEN, BISHOPS CONFERENCE COMMITTEE FOR FAMILY: There is a mutilation of the definition and the essence of marriage, when it has been opened for homosexual persons.

BURNS: Why the consensus in Holland to pass such legislation and what brought about the tolerance society? Gay studies professor Rob Tielman says, it comes down to Holland's geography.

PROF. ROB TIELMAN, UNIVERSITY OF UTRECHT: We live below sea level, so we are creating dikes to continue to live where we live. And this creates a mentality of cooperation, of consensus.

BURNS: Tielman, who with his partner of 28 years raised two gay youths without adopting them, says studies show 5 percent of children are homosexual no matter who raises them.

TIELMAN: It's in the interest of children that they have parents that take care of them, that love them, and it's not an important factor what exactly they do in the bedroom.

BURNS: He acknowledges studies also show gay couples more likely to have multiple partners than heterosexual couples, but he attributes that to male sexuality in general, not homosexuality.

Frans Stello says, marriage, like for heterosexuals is not for everyone.

FRANS STELLO: I think there are many gay people who just want to live free and have different relationships. I think it's about 50/50, I think, yes. And there's kind of people like that way of life, OK. That's their life. But we want to have -- how must I say this? -- life like a family, and we prefer that kind of life.

BURNS: A way of life most Dutch agree should be a right for all and a test case for the rest of the world.

Chris Burns, CNN, Amsterdam.


KHAN: Coming up next, a check of the national and international weather forecast.

BATTISTA: And the first babies of the millennium. Some proud parents in New Zealand have nabbed that claim to fame.


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