Court fines hotel owners for refusing gay couple a room

gay, GayA court in England has fined hotel owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull for refusing a gay couple a double room, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy tried to get a room at the Chymorvah Hotel, near Penzance , in 2008, but were turned away. The judge ruled that this was discrimination and awarded the couple £1800 ($2,863) each in damages.

The Bulls are Christian and say they object to giving any unmarried couple a room. The judge ruled that since Hall and Preddy are civil partners they have the same rights as married couples. The BBC has filmed a statement by Hall and Preddy.

[Image courtesy Ludovic Bertron]

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First gay museum in the U.S. opens in San Francisco

gay, GLBT, glbt, San FranciscoLess than a month after President Obama repealed the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the U.S. has gotten its first gay museum. The GLBT History Museum is located in the Castro District of San Francisco. Run by the GLBT Historical Society, it features 1,600 sq. ft. of exhibition and activity space.

Yesterday was its grand opening and visitors got to see two exhibitions: Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History and Great Collections of the GLBT Historical Society Archives.

The GLBT Historical Society has some history of its own. It was founded in 1985 and has one of the largest archives of its kind. Currently there is only one other gay museum in the world. The Schwules Museum in Berlin is the first museum dedicated exclusively to GLBT history. It had its first exhibition in the Berlin Museum in 1984 and moved to its own space in 1985.

[Photo courtesy GLBT Historical Society ]

The Purgatory Museum

I’m not sure what I’m looking at.

A rectangular slab of wood bears two burn marks–one in the shape of a cross, the other resembles a human hand. Nearby are other items–a shirt, a prayer book, a pillow–all with burns that look like they’ve been made by fiery fingers.

I’m in Rome’s smallest and strangest museum, the Piccolo Museo del Purgatorio, the Little Museum of Purgatory. Housed in the church of Santo Cuore del Suffragio, which is dedicated to relieving the souls tortured in Purgatory, it stands barely ten minutes’ walk from the Vatican. Small it certainly is, just one long case along a single wall, but the questions it raises are at the center of an increasingly acrimonious debate that’s dividing Western civilization.

Purgatory is a halfway point between Heaven and Hell, a place for the souls of people who lived good enough lives to avoid eternal damnation, but not quite good enough to join the angels. In Purgatory these souls suffer torment for enough time for their sins to be forgiven, a sort of celestial spanking with no Child Protective Services to intervene.

But there is hope. Prayers by the living can reduce a soul’s time in Purgatory. Faithful relatives offer up prayers or even pay for entire masses to be said for the departed. Others neglect this spiritual duty, and it is said that sometimes a tormented soul will return to Earth and ask for help.

During the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries these visitations happened fairly often and took on a common pattern. A spirit would appear to a relative or friend, reveal it was in torment, and ask for prayers to shorten its time in the cleansing fires. As proof that the spirit had been there, it would touch its burning hand to a nearby object. These events were one of many types of miracles common in the Catholic world such as apparitions of the Virgin Mary and bleeding statues of Jesus.

The Purgatory Museum collects these soul burns and tells their story. The hand and cross that I am seeing was left on a table by Fr. Panzini, former Abbot Olivetano of Mantua. In 1731 he appeared to Venerable Mother Isabella Fornari, abbess of the Poor Clares of the Monastery of St. Francis in Todi. He appeared to her on November 1, 1731 (All Saints Day) and said he was suffering in Purgatory. To prove his claim, he touched his flaming hand to her table and etched a burning cross in it too. He also touched her sleeve and left scorches and bloodstains.

%Gallery-101999%I have to admit I’m skeptical. I am an agnostic, and while I can’t disprove the existence of some sort of deity, I’m having trouble believing this story. The hand doesn’t look quite right. I take several photos, including the negative black and white image shown here. On this image details become clear that aren’t easily spotted with the naked eye. The burnt hand and cross are made up of a series of circular patterns as if they were made with some sort of hot poker. Other objects, whose images and stories can be seen in the attached gallery, appear more convincing but could still easily have been made with a bit of flame and ingenuity.

This doesn’t dissuade the two guys I’m seeing the museum with. They are a devoutly Catholic gay couple here in Rome on pilgrimage, something I find far more mysterious than a few burns on a nightcap. They go from object to object with wonder in their eyes. Looking at that same hand they don’t see its shape as odd, and they don’t see the circular patterns that make it up as a sign of forgery. A burning hand, of course, would have flames coming out of it, which would distort its shape and lead to some areas of the imprint being more scorched than others.

And that, I realize, is what the Purgatory Museum has to teach. For the faithful, it is yet more proof of Divine Judgment. For an atheist, it is proof of the gullibility of religious people and the nasty web of lies that supports organized religion. For the agnostic standing between two fundamentalisms, it proves nothing. Personally I think these objects are the products of overzealous fraudsters wanting to make converts by any means necessary, yet debunking them doesn’t disprove the existence of spirits any more than showing there’s no life on Mars would disprove the possibility of aliens on other planets.

As I stand there wondering where the whole debate over religion is going to lead, an attractive young American nun walks in, hands me a pendant of the Virgin Mary, and hurries off before I can ask her what the Latin inscription says. This sort of thing happens a lot in Rome. The inscription reads, “O MARIA CONCEPITA SENZA PECCATO PREGATE PER NOI CHE RECORRIAMO A VOI” and bears the date 1850. Translation, anyone?

So I leave the same as I entered, “knowing” nothing but insatiably curious about everything. That’s a pretty good place to be, I think. Walking down the nave I see one of the gay Catholics gazing upon a reclining figure of the crucified Jesus. His face is transfixed with reverence, wonder, and sadness as he bends down and kisses the statue’s feet. His visit to Rome will be very different than mine.

This starts a new series called Vacation with the Dead: Exploring Rome’s Sinister Side. I will be looking at the Eternal City’s obsession with death, from grandiose tombs to saints’ relics, from early Christian catacombs to mummified monks. Tune in tomorrow for The Tombs of Rome!

Uganda: the latest not so gay-friendly destination

While every city council and national tourist board seems to know the equation gay + traveler = big bucks, the central African nation of Uganda wants none of it. A controversial bill may soon pass that would not only outlaw homosexuality, but would also impose the death penalty against certain “offenders” and make it criminal to not report known homosexuals.

Whence in Africa, most gay travelers know to keep it on the down low, however the new legislation would be sure to sniff them out by criminalizing anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality”. If convicted, people who know gay people would face seven years in prison. That includes hotel owners and landlords who rent rooms to homosexuals.

So forget Utah, the gay witch hunt of the century will occur in lovely Uganda, land of gun-toting child missionaries and toxic breasts.

Erotic art exhibit bares all

When you think of art exhibits, you probably don’t think of scenes of group sex, gigantic phalli, and barnyard animals, but the Eros exhibition ain’t your grandma’s art show.

In fact, when this art was made, your grandma wouldn’t be born for another two thousand years.

The Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, Greece, has just opened “Eros: From Hesiod’s Theogony to Late Antiquity”. This exhibition is dedicated to ancient love in all its manifestations from the early years of Greek civilization to the waning of the Classical world during the decline of the Roman Empire. It includes 272 artifacts from fifty museums in Greece, Cyprus, Italy, and France, and will run for six months.

Eros was the god of love, but he was also the god of lust, jealousy, and all the other good and bad emotions connected with desire. One statue shows him dragging Psyche, the goddess of the soul, by the hair and hitting her with a mallet. That sums it up nicely.

The ancient Greeks were anything but prudes. The civilization that gave us theater, literature, poetry, and the ideals of democracy liked things a bit raw. Their art was full of images of sex, from the more vanilla varieties involving husbands and wives to older men with young athletes to randy farmers doing objectionable things with the livestock.

The Romans were more prudish than the Greeks, but still made room for the randy side of life. Although they turned Eros from a lascivious young man into a cute innocent cherub, their art often expressed deeper urges.

This exhibit isn’t like what you’d see in the Amsterdam Sex Museum; it’s history with a point. It shows us that the two great Western civilizations that created the foundation for our own culture weren’t all that different from us. Sure, they didn’t have the Internet, but they made up for it with paintings, poetry, and sculpture. The things that some people get shocked by nowadays have always been around. They aren’t a sign of the decline of morality or the approaching Armageddon. They are, like it or not, part of the human condition.