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Gay Rights Activist Noa Sattath

Israeli gay rights activist Noa Sattath is the executive director of Jerusalem Open House, an organization devoted to fostering gay pride. Last month, the city hosted WorldPride 2006: Love Without Borders, an international pride gathering. A gay pride rally was held at a university stadium in Jerusalem under tight security. A march was planned but did not take place.

12:38

Other segments from the episode on December 6, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 6, 2006: Interview with Brian Whitakar; Interview with Noa Sattath; Review of Marisa Monte's "Universo ao Meu Redor" and "Infinito Particular."

Transcript

DATE December 6, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Brian Whitaker, Middle East editor for British
newspaper The Guardian, discusses gay and lesbian life in the
Middle East
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Brian Whitaker has written a book about a subject that is seldom
discussed: gay and lesbian life in the Middle East. Whitaker is the Middle
East editor for the British newspaper, The Guardian. In his book,
"Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East," he writes,
"Homosexuality is a subject that Arabs, even reform-minded Arabs, are
generally reluctant to discuss. If mentioned at all, it is treated as a
subject for ribald laughter or more often as a foul, unnatural, repulsive,
un-Islamic Western perversion." According to Whitaker, there's no uniform
Islamic position regarding homosexuality and the law, but a majority of the
countries in the Islamic Conference Organization and the Arab League outlaw
sex between same-sex partners. The punishments vary. In the past decade,
three countries--Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia--have executed people for
sodomy.

Brian Whitaker, welcome to FRESH AIR. Why did you decide to write a book
focusing on gay and lesbian life in the Middle East?

Mr. BRIAN WHITAKER: Well, the initial trigger was an incident in 2001 when
the Egyptian police raided a night club in Cairo, a floating night club on the
river Nile, and more than 60 allegedly gay men were arrested. This was really
the first time that I'd realized there was any real serious sort of problem
with gay rights in the Middle East. It may sound a bit strange now, but it
was just something I wasn't terribly aware of at the time.

GROSS: You write in your book that Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia reflect a
range of contrasting experiences when it comes to gay rights. In Egypt, you
say, there's no law against homosexual acts if people are prosecuted and
persecuted. In Lebanon, there is a law but there's also the beginning of
openness for gays. And in Saudi Arabia, you write, in theory, the death
penalty applies but gay men cruise and party undeterred. So let's talk a
little bit about life for gays in the Arab world. In Egypt, again, you say
there's no laws against homosexual acts. If people are prosecuted, as we just
heard, you know, in the Queen boat case, so what laws are used to prosecute
gays if there are no anti-gay laws.

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, there is a law against habitual debauchery which can be
used for really any sort of sexual activity that the authorities take a
dislike to. I think technically it's defined as having sex with more than one
person within a period of three years. That was originally brought in a long
time ago to combat prostitution, and it has since been used against gay men.
Another thing is immoral advertising, and this relates to basically gay Web
sites, chat rooms, that sort of thing, where gay Egyptians seeking to make
contact with other people have found themselves making contact with undercover
police, who then would arrange a meeting with them and have them arrested. So
that's the sort of thing that goes on in Egypt.

GROSS: I'm just thinking about how filled the American jails would be if
everybody who had sex with more than one person in three years was prosecuted
and put behind bars.

Mr. WHITAKER: Absolutely. I mean, these things are--you know, they're very
selective, and certain people are unfortunate enough to be caught, and lots of
others get away with it. I mean, even in Britain when homosexuality was
illegal here, it was calculated that only one out of about, I think it was
14,000 sexual acts was actually prosecuted.

GROSS: You say, in Saudi Arabia, there's a death penalty for homosexual acts
but it's seldom enforced. How seldom enforced is it? And what exactly does
the law say?

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, you can be executed for all sorts of things in Saudi
Arabia including witchcraft, apostasy, denying religion, all sorts of things.
In practice, I found over the last--I think it was five years or so, about six
executions, and in all those cases, at least according to the Saudi
authorities, the people had been involved in more than just having sex with
each other. There'd been photography, possibly involvement with minors and
possibly blackmail as well.

GROSS: Now you say that in Saudi Arabia that there's cruising and partying.
Where and how?

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, a lot of the partying takes place in private houses, and
it's not unusual for large parties to be held in Saudi Arabia and, of course,
it's not unusual for men and women to party separately. So in a sense, that
is quite a good cover for people because of the general sexual segregation in
Saudi Arabia, that gay people can exploit that. There are a few cafes which
are really quite secretive where people meet. There are streets where people
cruise and so on, and there have also been a few parties in what are usually
called marriage halls, which are big places where you hire a room to hold a
party, and there have been a couple of cases where the police have raided
those and suspected that it was a gay event.

GROSS: Now, in terms of private parties in people's homes, you point out that
the home is sacrosanct in Saudi Arabia, and tell us more about that.

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, very much so. I mean, this is a very old sort of idea
in Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf countries where, because the women
are a protected part of the home, it's not a place where people can just rush
into, and I think that makes the authorities very reluctant to intrude, except
in really very serious matters. And also, I think the idea of what happens
within the family is not really a--there's an idea that what happens within
the household is not really a matter of concern for the authorities. And you
hear all sorts of stories as well about, you know, husbands doing terrible
things to members of their families and that sort of thing, but there's a
clear distinction between the public and the private. And to some extent that
acts as a safety valve in the kingdom because so many things are forbidden out
in the streets, but if people do things in private, that allows them to do
what they want to some extent without causing a public scandal.

GROSS: Let's get to Lebanon. You write that in Lebanon, there's a law
against homosexuality but, at the same time, there's the beginning of
openness. What is the law?

Mr. WHITAKER: The law is that unnatural sexual acts, as it says, or
unnatural intercourse can be punished, and I think it's a jail sentence or a
fine, not a very long jail sentence. I think it's about a year or something
like that. Obviously, the question whether--what exactly is meant by
unnatural intercourse, and there hasn't really been a test case to challenge
that at the moment.

GROSS: Is this a law that's often applied to homosexuality?

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, there are a number of prosecutions. It appears at the
moment that the Lebanese authorities don't go out looking for people as has
happened on occasions in Egypt. I think the law is not applied very often in
Lebanon, and because of the particular situation there where you have a huge
diversity of people and attitudes, particularly in Beirut, there's quite a lot
of freedom compared to most of the Arab countries.

GROSS: I got the impression from your book that Beirut actually has some gay
clubs.

Mr. WHITAKER: It does indeed, yes. There's one called the Acid Club which
has been going now for some years. It's quite a large place, probably holds
about 400 people, something like that, and it has very loud music, and one of
the interesting features about the Acid Club is that men are not allowed to
kiss each other or embrace, and they're not supposed to dance too close to
each other, and they do have security people patrolling the dance floor in
these jackets with the word "Security" written on the back who will separate
male couples if they're dancing too close or deal with them if they're kissing
or anything like that.

GROSS: So it's understood that you're gay if you're at the club, but you're
still not going to have any body contact.

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, it's like a mixed club. They don't allow body contact,
and I have heard of gay couples who take a woman along and they dance sort of
in a group of three with the woman between the two men. It's, you know,
rather comical if you've seen the way these things operate in the West.

GROSS: You know, with Hezbollah staging these protests in the streets and
basically demanding that the government step down, Hezbollah obviously wants
more power. Hezbollah would not exactly be gay-friendly. So what do you
think this new turn in Lebanese politics might mean for the future of gay
rights in Lebanon?

Mr. WHITAKER: I think probably not very much, to be honest. First of all,
Hezbollah is rather different from, say, the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. They,
long ago, gave up trying to patrol the beaches and stop women wearing skimpy
clothes and that sort of thing. They don't, as far as I can see, try to
impose their moral values outside their own religious areas. The Lebanese are
very interesting in this way because you have these different groups. You
have Christians, you have Shia, Druze, Sunnis and so on. And within their own
areas, they tend to do very much what they want without very much interference
from the other groups. So in a way, it's a kind of tolerance which has been
brought about by a political stalemate in which no single group can gain total
power in the country.

GROSS: My guest is Brian Whitaker, author of "Unspeakable Love: Gay and
Lesbian Life in the Middle East." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Brian Whitaker. He's the
Middle East editor of the British newspaper The Guardian and author of the new
book, "Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East."

You know, one of the things that I found very disturbing in your book was the
fact that for a lot of gays in some Arab countries one of the problems that
they face is getting beaten up by members of their own family because the gay
person in the family is perceived as having, you know, ruined the honor of the
family. Tell us one of the stories that you were told.

Mr. WHITAKER: There was a story from Jordan, which was actually reported in
some Canadian newspapers and on a TV program about a Jordanian man who had
been married for some years, even though he knew he was gay, he'd got married,
and this is a very common thing in the Middle East because there are huge
family pressures for people to get married and to have children. After some
years of marriage, he fell in love with a Jordanian man, and he left his wife.
Later on, he was found with his male lover by his brother, and the brother
threw him down the stairs. He then spent some time in hospital, and the
brother came to the hospital and opened fire and shot him in the leg. I don't
know whether he intended to kill him but, anyway, he was wounded and kept in
hospital somewhat longer.

After he recovered, he was taken to his brother's house and basically
imprisoned. I mean, he was kept in a room with bars on the window and
confined there until an aunt who was in Canada intervened and persuaded the
family to let him leave Jordan and go to live in Canada. This was agreed by
the family, but on the condition that the man signed over all his inheritance
rights, his business, his home, his car and so on to the brother who'd
attacked him. This may be a fairly extreme case, but I have heard of quite a
lot of others where a family response has been violent or they've at least
threatened violence.

The other reaction, often from maybe the more educated kinds of families, is
to regard homosexuality as a form of illness rather than just being bad.

GROSS: Well, let me just go back to the case you just described. Would it be
considered legal for the brother to have, you know, thrown this guy down the
stairs and then shot him in the leg and keep him imprisoned and then take away
his property and inheritances? Is that considered acceptable because it is a
situation of honor or could...

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, yes...

GROSS: ...the brother who did this, could he have been prosecuted?

Mr. WHITAKER: He could. I mean, this is a very tricky area in the Jordanian
legal system where in theory, obviously, it was a very serious assault but
where questions of honor are involved or the family claims a question of honor
is involved, the authorities often take quite a lenient view. I think it's
difficult to prove, partly because nobody really has any interest in
investigating in the families, if they're involved in the killing, don't want
it to be known, and the authorities really don't feel very inclined to look
into too deeply either.

GROSS: There are a lot of arranged marriages in the Arab world and--did you
meet a lot of people who go through the marriage or who go through the
arranged marriage and then lead a more underground gay life?

Mr. WHITAKER: Yes, I've heard of quite a lot of this. I mean, it's
something which didn't really sort of occur to me when I started work on the
book. I mean, obviously, I'd heard that there were lots of arranged
marriages, and I never sort of linked that to what happens to gay people, and
basically when young people get into their 20s or so, the family will decide
it's time for them to marry and start looking for a husband or wife, and the
range of excuses for not marrying is basically pretty limited. I mean, a lot
of people will postpone it by trying to stay at university or college as long
as possible, some of them by trying to study abroad. But it is quite unusual
still, even in the big cities of the Middle East for people to remain
unmarried.

GROSS: In the United States, gay rights and particularly gay marriage have
become very political issues, and you know, especially the Christian right has
been very anti-gay marriage in its activism. There's been a campaign to have
like state laws or state constitutional amendments...

Mr. WHITAKER: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...banning gay marriage and a federal amendment to ban gay marriage.
Are there any--like, is gay rights like a political issue that's, you know,
debated in public in any of the Arab states that you've reported from?

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, it's not so much debated, but I think it's fairly
clearly a political issue, and it has been politicized basically by
nationalists who want to see homosexuality as a Western perversion, and this
also applies to some of the Islamics. So it is used as one way of resisting
what they see as Western influence, if you like. And you get this quite often
in modern Arab novels where you occasionally get gay relationships, and quite
often, they involve a Westerner and an Arab, and the relationship turns into a
metaphor for Western domination of the Middle East, very often, and obviously,
that's--if it's that kind of metaphor, then the relationship being described
is going to be a pretty horrible one and a humiliating one for the Arab
partner.

GROSS: You know, I just find that kind of baffling in a way that
homosexuality has become this metaphor for like Western imperialism or seen as
like this Western perversion. Isn't homosexuality a part of classic Arab
literature and didn't people like William Burroughs go to countries like
Morocco, in part because there was a more, more access to boys, frankly, I
mean.

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, yes, I mean, exactly. There is a very long history--I
mean, some of the most famous classical Arabic poetry--Abu Nuwas and people
like that. That is basically gay poetry. You even find, I mean in the idea
of male beauty or male attractiveness is something which has been very widely
accepted over a long period, and you even find it in the Quranic vision of
paradise, where apart from the virgins, there are rather attractive young men
serving people with drinks. And again more recently, as you mentioned, places
like Morocco, a lot of Westerners, Europeans in particular, who had been
persecuted in Europe at the time, would go to North Africa or parts of the
Middle East where there were able to live with comparative freedom. And, of
course, you know, in Britain we had, technically speaking, we had the death
penalty for homosexuality until the 1860s. So it's not that long ago that in
Britain we were on much of the same par with the Saudis. And curiously, if
you look at some of the writing of the early European travelers in the 17th
and 18th, 19th century to the Middle East, quite a lot of them described the
sexual behavior there in quite extraordinary terms. So very curiously, the
sort of image that is promoted in the Middle East now of homosexuality being
part of Western decadence in the 18th and 19th century, it was described in
Europe as a kind of Oriental, you know, strange Oriental way of behavior.

GROSS: Brian Whitaker is the Middle East editor for The Guardian and author
of "Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East." He'll be back
in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.

I'm Terry Gross, back with Brian Whitaker, author of the book, "Unspeakable
Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East." He's the Middle East editor
of the British newspaper, The Guardian.

You write that the most open city for gays in the Middle East is Tel Aviv.
What makes it the most open city?

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, I think it's a very open city in lots of ways, not just
in terms of sexuality. And, of course, in Israel they do have positive laws,
not just--they haven't just made same-sex relations legal, but they do have
laws against discrimination. So that's a very positive factor. And at the
same time, there are religious elements, not so much in Tel Aviv, but in
Jerusalem and other parts of the country which are still very conservative and
in some ways very similar to the reactionary Muslims that you find in some of
the other countries.

GROSS: And, you know, you also say that some Palestinians who end up in
Israel because it's more open to gay people basically face charges from fellow
Palestinians of, you know, being collaborators.

Mr. WHITAKER: Yes. It is the way people in the Palestinian territories view
it. As if somebody, anybody, who goes to live in Israel, then that's just
seen as quite a serious betrayal of their cause. And, of course, it gets very
difficult then if somebody goes to Israel and then fails to get residence
there and has to go back.

GROSS: Since it's so difficult to be "out of the closet" in most Arab
countries, was it difficult to get people to talk with you for your book about
being gay in the Middle East?

Mr. WHITAKER: I got contact in Egypt, first of all, who introduced me to
some of the people. And that was the way to work. I had a curious experience
in Syria where I met somebody whose family had strong connections with the
theater, and I told him what I was doing, and I said, `I'm looking for some
gay people to interview for the book, do you know any?' He said, `Yes, I know
plenty.' And I said, `Well, could you set up--help me to set up some
interviews?' He said, `No, I couldn't possibly do that because I'm not
supposed to know that they're gay.' And so even where people are widely
believed to be gay, then it's something which you don't really admit to.

GROSS: Did people who you interviewed want to know if you were gay?

Mr. WHITAKER: They didn't actually. It's quite curious. No.

GROSS: If this is too personal just say so, but I'm tempted to ask you myself
if you're gay and if that affected your access to people while you were over
there?

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, yes, I am, but I don't think it did. I mean, you go
along as a journalist, you know, you're doing a professional job, and it's the
same as interviewing anybody else basically.

GROSS: Is this a risky book for you to write, because if you write a book
about being gay in the Middle East, a lot of people might assume that you're
gay, which you are, and if you're reporting on a part of the world in which
it's hard to be out and gay, might you find like some of your sources drying
up, or, you know, might it be more difficult for you to function?

Mr. WHITAKER: Well, that's something obviously that I wondered about and to
some extent worried about. I think, as I proceeded with the book, I got
more--you get sort of accustomed to the idea. What you find, I think, in the
Middle East is that people tend to be extremely polite, and they don't raise
things. I mean, this is all part of the idea of separating sort of what goes
on in private and what goes on in public.

GROSS: Since there are far more many openly out gays in the West than in the
Arab world, and there's gay literature and gay movies and music and
everything, do you think that gay people in Arab countries are looking to the
West for a sense of what it means to be gay and for a sense of like a larger
gay identity?

Mr. WHITAKER: I think there's a very interesting debate beginning to develop
in the Middle East about this because clearly, at the moment, a lot of gay
people in the region have nowhere else to look but the West. And I've heard,
for example, gay people in Egypt who look at those in Beirut and say, `Oh,
they're just--you know, they're just aping the West, they're copying
everything from the West.' And one of the activists in Egypt was saying to me,
you know, `We have to find Arab ways of being gay.' And it's something which
sounds fine, but when you asked him what exactly he meant, did he have any
ideas about what that would involve, he didn't really. So, I think it may be
that there's a certain universality about this, or it may be that eventually
some distinctive Arab gay culture will emerge. It's hard to say at the
moment.

GROSS: Well, Brian Whitaker, I want to thank you very much for talking with
us.

Mr. WHITAKER: OK. Thanks.

GROSS: Brian Whitaker is the Middle East editor for The Guardian and author
of "Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East."

Coming up we talk with Noa Sattath, the head of a group that organizes an
annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem. This year there were violent protests
that tried to prevent the march from happening.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Noa Sattath, organizer of gay pride parades in
Jerusalem, discusses strong and violent protests to the parades
TERRY GROSS, host:

My guest Noa Sattath is the executive director of Open House Jerusalem, a gay
rights group that has organized an annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem since
2002. Opposition has been strong and sometimes violent. Three people in the
parade were stabbed last year. This year the opposition tried to prevent the
parade through violent protests.

Noa Sattath, welcome to FRESH AIR. Why have you been organizing gay rights
parades in Jerusalem?

Ms. NOA SATTATH: Well, first of all, I'm from Jerusalem. I've been in
Jerusalem all my life, and I struggle for my rights here in my city. Gay
pride marches in Jerusalem are really different than in most cities that I
knew in the US in the sense that pride marches around the world have a
celebratory nature, which is very fun, and they have--some of them have a very
sexual nature, which is also a lot of fun. Here in Jerusalem this is a very,
very clear political demonstration against oppression.

GROSS: Well, before we get to some of the violence that you faced, you know,
I've noticed just reading the newspapers that opposition to your gay pride
parades is the only thing that's effectively united Orthodox Jews with
Orthodox Muslims, as well as Christians...

Ms. SATTATH: Yes.

GROSS: ...united them in opposition to your marches. And I wonder how that
makes you feel, knowing the impossibility of finding unity, and this is what
they found unity on?

Ms. SATTATH: Well, I'm very much looking forward to them finding unity. So
I'm hopeful that once they've found this ridiculous issue to unite over, they
may find other issues. But, seriously speaking, I'm very disappointed that
these respectable religious leaders can only unite over hate when there are so
many other important issues in our area.

GROSS: Some of the most hate-filled literature for this march, I understand,
came from Orthodox Jews. There were posters in some ultra-Orthodox
neighborhoods encouraging people to make Molotov cocktails in opposition to
the marchers.

Ms. SATTATH: Yeah. The amount of hate pressed against the community in the
past months has really been unprecedented. Although we've seen incitements
against our community for four or five years now, the amounts that we've faced
in the past months and direct threats and violence were larger than ever in
the past months. And they included threats and violence, directions to the
ultra-Orthodox community on how to act violently against the marchers and
other violent threats.

GROSS: You and the other organizers finally decided to not hold the march in
the streets as you customarily have, but rather to move it to a stadium and
make it more of a rally than a march. How did you decide, why did you decide
to do that?

Ms. SATTATH: About 36 hours before the march was scheduled, there was the
tragedy...(unintelligible)...where the Israeli defense forces killed 19 or 20
Palestinian civilians. This new situation has caused a new security alert in
Israel entirely. And the police that were supposed to allocate 12,000
policemen to the security of the march in the streets were unable to commit
this amount of forces at the time. So we have had to take a responsible
stance and change our plans.

GROSS: Now, last year, I understand that somebody stabbed three people who
were participating in the march.

Ms. SATTATH: Yeah.

GROSS: What happened with that, and what was your personal reaction to it?

Ms. SATTATH: Well, the last year's march in June 2005, there were 800
policemen escorting the march. And despite the very heavy security force, an
ultra-Orthodox man managed to step into the crowd and stabbed three of the
participants. I was very close to the stabbing, very, very close. And one of
the teenagers who was stabbed--one of them was 18 years old--as he was taken
to the hospital, asked me to continue the march and said that he would march
again as the head of the march this year. He actually spoke at the rally
three weeks ago.

GROSS: Did he recover fully from the stabbing?

Ms. SATTATH: Yeah. All the three people who were stabbed have recovered
since. And the attacker was sentenced to 12 years in prison for attempted
murder.

GROSS: I understand that this year somebody put a curse on you.

Ms. SATTATH: Yes.

GROSS: Tell us the story.

Ms. SATTATH: Well, there's a--the amount of incitements against the
community also culminated in the very intense efforts to undermine me
personally. So there's a curse called Pulsa diNura. It's an ancient Kabbalic
curse which basically is the curse of death. It's not very often used, and
it's not widely believed in, but it is a sign of--for very, very radical
struggle against someone. So the Pulsa diNura curse was also used on Yitzhak
Rabin before he was murdered. And it may be used against heads of state. And
it was used against me just before the march as a sign of the--it was just a
sign to the amount of violence that we had to face here.

GROSS: How is the so-called curse put upon you?

Ms. SATTATH: It's a very--it's a ritual. It's performed at midnight, and
there's fire. It's very pagan in how it's portrayed. But it's a whole--it's
a whole ceremony.

GROSS: Is the ceremony...

Ms. SATTATH: Rabbis gathering together to put a curse on somebody's head.

GROSS: Rabbis gathering together?

Ms. SATTATH: Yeah, and reciting phrases in Aramaic.

GROSS: So obviously this was done not in your presence?

Ms. SATTATH: No, no.

GROSS: How were you informed about it?

Ms. SATTATH: This is very rare. It doesn't happen often. I think it
happens about once a year in Israel. And some reporters were covering it.

GROSS: Some reporters were actually present at the ceremony?

Ms. SATTATH: Yeah. It is illegal to do this in Israel.

GROSS: I wonder if you think that Israel has a kind of like macho self-image
and if gay men are seen in Israel as being like more feminine and less macho,
and if that affects how gay rights are perceived?

Ms. SATTATH: That's an excellent question. I think it's--you're very right.
The hetero-sexist macho culture in Israel is sometimes very threatened by any
gender-blending ideas. So, I think that the military nature of our society
does impact how people view GOBT rights. On the other hand, I can tell you
that in Israel that the GOBT...(unintelligible)...participate in the military,
and that is a very crucial side of our acceptance into society.

GROSS: As part of your gay rights group Open House, you have like a component
within that that speaks specifically to the needs of Palestinians and other
Arabs who are gay. Would you tell us about that part of your program?

Ms. SATTATH: Sure. We run, I'd say, I believe, the largest GOBT program in
the Arabic--in the world. And we have several community building projects
throughout Israel for Palestinians. And the Palestinian society, like other
societies in Israel, is very, very conservative, and hence the need to really
enforce the building of positive LGBT identities within the Palestinian
community. For instance, our group, together with a group in Lebanon, are
thinking of how to coin the term for `coming out of the closet' in Arabic.
And just a few years ago, they invented the term for gay that is not
derogative. We're building the very foundations of the community for an Arab
and a Palestinian LGBT community.

GROSS: What are some of the issues that Palestinians, gay and lesbian people,
have brought to your attention that show some of the problems that they face
in Palestinian culture of being gay?

Ms. SATTATH: Well, the Palestinian society is very, very conservative, very
strict about issues of sex. And people who are gay are sometimes expelled
from their families, sometimes violently threatened and almost always are
somewhat outcast from the society. One of the major issues that
Palestinians--that GOBT and non-GOBT face right now is access. Ramallah is
about 15 miles from where I'm sitting right now, which is very close to the
Jerusalem Open House, and I've just today, it's now 4:00 here in Jerusalem,
and I have, before I left to come here, I've met Palestinian gay man who came
from Ramallah, and he left his house at 5 in the morning, this morning, and
only now reached the Open House. That's the amount of effort that people
engage in trying to reach communities. And this is the only alternative that
GOBT people in Palestine have. They need to find a way to reach community
outside of Palestine, and this is a very, very difficult task.

GROSS: What was your parents' reaction when you came out, and how has that
reaction been affected by the death threats that have been put on you as a
result of your work as a gay activist?

Ms. SATTATH: I can tell you that my parents right now are very supportive,
and they've had a rough time sleeping in the past few weeks. But I think that
they share the goals of the struggle with me and were not--they have not
changed their minds because of the violence.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. SATTATH: Thank you.

GROSS: Noa Sattath spoke with us from Jerusalem. She's the executive
director of Open House Jerusalem.

Coming up, Milo Miles review music by the Brazilian singer and bandleader
Marisa Monte.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Critic Milo Miles reviews music by Brazilian singer,
songwriter and bandleader Marisa Monte
TERRY GROSS, host:

Brazilian singer, songwriter and bandleader Marisa Monte is a model of a
modern diva. She produces her own records, organizes bands and shapes every
aspect of her career, which has resulted in a cult following in North America
and hit records in South America. She has a pair of new albums and was on
tour when critic Milo Miles saw her perform last month.

(Soundbite from song in foreign language by Marisa Monte)

Mr. MILO MILES: Marisa Monte's recent Miami performance was close to what I
imagined a perfect world music show would be like when I first got interested
in international pop. South Florida is home to many exotic species, the human
variety of relentless mix of excluded beauty and excessive girth. But folks
of every shade and age blended together at the sold-out show, united by Marisa
fandom. It was a glimpse of a world without bondage of gender or generations
or even language. Miami is bilingual Spanish-English, but, of course, Monte
sings Brazilian-Portuguese.

Monte's eclectic audience reflects her skill with eclectic musics. Though she
doesn't like to be classified, she's really the youngest and perhaps last
exponent of tropical...(unintelligible)...the Brazilian response to rock and
roll that began in the late 1960s. This shows up in her pop instincts. When
she needs a big encore number, she goes for a stomper that suggests a
tropical...(unintelligible)...invention of "Give Me Shelter." With her daft
nine-piece band, she made the plan seem spontaneous, and careful control feel
like a game. She lures you into sweeter and softer tunes by hitching them to
vibrant articulate melodies that sound like old friends the second time you
hear them. Plus she can write a song that sounds modern but is timeless as
one 50 years old.

(Soundbite from song in foreign language by Marisa Monte)

Mr. MILES: Monte recently released two albums at once, "Universo ao Meu
Redor," original and vintage sambas, and "Infinito Particular," a gorgeous,
but insistently intimate and low-key modern pop collection. All of her styles
have more force on stage. When she puts down her sturdy guitar, her charming
harmonica and does the diva thing, all waving willow arms and serpentine
waist, the audience melts. But she's become a potent and confident bandleader
as well. She featured each player in a number after she introduced him,
special mention should go to bassist and guitarist...(foreign language
spoken)...the traditional samba guitar. The most special stage effect came
during the vintage samba "My Canary" where a pair of red paper cubes are blown
about in an ornate cage, looking for all the world like two nervous flirting
birds, a perfect compliment to the song's theme of uncertain love.

(Soundbite from song in foreign language by Marisa Monte)

Mr. MILES: Monte's dramatic skills are in full effect for the erotic agonies
of Carnalismo from the hit album "Tribalistas." My favorite Monte moment was
when she used a made-up word to cast a dreamy electronic mood
in...(unintelligible).

(Soundbite from song in foreign language by Marisa Monte)

Mr. MILES: The Gusman Center for the Performing Arts provided a marvelous
setting that deserves comment itself. The place began life as the Olympia
Movie Theater in 1926 and was the first air-conditioned building in the south.
The restored original design is an atmospheric fantasy by John Eberson, not to
suggest sitting in the open-air courtyard of an opulent Spanish mansion
complete with statues and fountains and peacocks. The scenic projected night
sky of twinkling stars and passing clouds is remarkable. For a moment, I
thought the place somehow didn't have a roof. Everyone from Elvis Presley to
Pavarotti has played the Gusman. Marisa Monte was a very worthy addition to
the historic roster.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Cambridge. Marisa Monte spells her last name
M-O-N-T-E.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite from song in foreign language by Marisa Monte)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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