Category Archives: Journalism

The myth of free speech in the Western world

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo cartoonists this week were atrocious and unfair. There is never any justification for the cruel massacre of 17 people and the terrorizing of a whole city for three days. But I am not Charlie and I feel very uncomfortable with the global endorsement of that hashtag. Although it has been pointed out to me that the hashtag is just a show of solidarity for the victims, I am extremely uncomfortable in supporting free speech that makes fun of Boko Haram sex slaves – sexually abused children – to make a (racist) point about welfare.

In a breath of fresh air, the leaking of internal Al Jazeera emails to The National Review revealed that they have privately positioned themselves against the global support of Charlie Hebdo. One of the quotes that most stood out for me was the following by journalist Omar Al Saleh: “Journalism is not a crime [but] insultism is not journalism. And not doing journalism properly is a crime.”

In the fast-paced world of online journalism and Twitter, a condemnation of the attacks and an unquestionable support for free speech was demanded left and right. It has become a matter of “If you’re against Charlie you’re pro terrorism/against free speech,” whereas the question here should really be: “Free speech is great, how do we use it responsibly?”

Even if free speech is an unquestionable right the Western world prides itself in, the right to publish anything you want doesn’t excuse the use of irresponsible, racist, polarizing cartoons. You are free to make fun of Boko Haram sexual slaves but the question is – should you? (Hint: No.) David Brooks of the New York Times puts it well:

“(…) Whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.

“We might have started out that way. When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative to “épater la bourgeoisie,” to stick a finger in the eye of authority, to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs.

“But after a while that seems puerile. Most of us move toward more complicated views of reality and more forgiving views of others. (…) Most of us do try to show a modicum of respect for people of different creeds and faiths. We do try to open conversations with listening rather than insult.” – David Brooks, I Am Not Charlie, The New York Times

The thing about freedom of speech is that it does not exist in a vacuum where it has no impact, especially if you are a journalist exercising your right in a major publication. Once your words appear in a magazine or newspaper, those words matter and they will influence the people who read them. You may tell yourself that people will decide for themselves to be racist and that you had nothing to do with it – but if you publish a racist sentiment you are validating thousands of racists who already feel that way and you might influence people who don’t know much about the subject.

Some people have claimed that Charlie Hebdo’s racist cartoons have spurred on debate about Islam. And here, I ask: who was part of this debate? Was Islam presented accurately by white cartoonists who probably don`t have any Muslim friends? Through the medium of the depiction of the prophet with a star on his ass, was Islam represented fairly or was it vilified? What use is a debate where only one side is heard – the side of the voyeurs?

Free speech is not about petulantly publishing offensive content that adds nothing to difficult conversations we should be having about religion, race and oppression. And neither is it “brave,” like many have claimed – it is actually pretty cowardly to incite Islamophobia in a country where Muslims are increasingly discriminated against. It is ignorant and reeks of white privilege.

Religions are not beyond reproach but the Charlie cartoons were very racialized and polarizing – they othered a group of people. Extremism can and should be questioned but not to the expense of generalizing an entire group.

The Myth of Free Speech

Much has been said about how free speech is under attack in the Western World because of this attack. Frankly, this is extremely hypocritical when, as a woman online, I see the silencing of people of colour and women every single day.

It can be through extreme harassment in orchestrated attacks or just a woman being pushed out of a forum because of gendered slurs aimed at her. It can be through the prominence of racist cartoons over the voices of real Muslims where Islam is concerned: and the erasure of these voices and the lack of positive representation of Muslim characters in the media can result in violent Islamophobia and othering. I have heard of female journalists being told their content was “too women centred” or too “politically correct” for the broader media. As the brilliant Sunny Hundal puts it:

“(…)Let’s also stand up for free speech when Muslims are being threatened. Some of the voices I hear piping up about free speech only do so when Muslims are the perpetrators not victims.

“That isn’t just inconsistent, it also makes me think you don’t really care for the principles at stake. And that also makes it much harder for all of us to convince Muslims about why they should embrace more free speech and the right to insult their religion.” – Sunny Hundal, Why do liberals find it so hard to persuade Muslims about free speech?, Liberal Conspiracy

It must be pointed out that in France, the use of the hijab is forbidden. In 2012 several Muslim institutions sued Charlie Hebdo for their racist content but the case was dismissed. To me, this is a clear double standard: racist cartoons inciting hate? Okay. Embracing Islam as a religion publicly? Not okay. This is only one instance in which free speech is exposed as a myth, or rather a selective right: it is only available to the powerful majority.

We are kidding ourselves if we idealize journalism as some kind of noble profession when a lot of the content is produced for profit. Of course, the fact that it is for profit does not mean it cannot be used for good and for the public interest but your commitment to free speech is extremely polarized if you think everyone has the same footing when joining in the conversation.

Journalists, I am sceptical about your commitment to free speech if you are not seeking diverse voices to include in your work. Editors, I am sceptical about your commitment to free speech if you are not striving for a more diverse pool of writers. I am sceptical about the commitment of most of the press when their opinion sections look like this:

The Times, June 2014.
The Times, June 2014.
The Times, January 2015
The Times, January 2015
Question Time panel after the attacks in Paris.

Go ahead and say “But I am pro-diversity!” but this is not about you or your opinions. This is about systemic violence that silences women and people of colour across the Western world and the fact that people aren’t outraged about that. I am not Charlie Hebdo because I believe a diverse set of voices – not polarizing racist cartoons – will set us free.

UPDATE: Adding this helpful read about the two-layered type of humor Charlie Hebdo is all about – as well as an explanation of how it is also exploitative and racist.

My thoughts are with the friends and family of the victims of the massacre and the Muslims who will undoubtedly suffer Islamophobia as a result of these attacks.

The Pro-Choice Fight in Brazil

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This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. It is part of my Beyond the Sex and Sunshine series, where I write about Brazilian women and try to change the sexualized narrative around them. To read the full text please click here and support my work.

Jandira Magdalena dos Santos Cruz, 27, was last seen alive on her way to an illegal abortion clinic in Campo Grande, Rio de Janeiro. Weeks later, her body was found carbonized in a burnt car, without limbs or a dental arch. A divorced mother of two daughters, Jandira resorted to abortion when her boyfriend refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. This illegality what led Jandira to pay USD$1,200 for a procedure in an illegal clinic. Her case is not a rare one: according to the World Health Organization (WHO) one woman dies every two days because of unsafe abortions in Brazil. Brazilian public health care estimates indicate that 1.5 million women get abortions yearly while the Ministry of Health’s calculations reveal that 3.7 million Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have had at least one abortion in their lifetime. In Latin America, 95% of abortions are considered unsafe by WHO.

In Brazil, having an abortion is punishable by law and could result in one to four years in prison. In 2005, a proposed bill of law threatened to take away the already existing provisions for abortions and to make abortion a heinous crime. The law would also forbid stem cell research.

In an election year, the subject of abortion is curiously absent from electoral campaigns and debates. Despite Jandira’s death and that of thousands of women which has caught the attention of mainstream media, advocating for the legalization of abortion is considered political suicide in a country where 79% of people are against any change in legislation.

“Abortion is a taboo, religion and the media display dead babies of eight or nine months and say this is abortion, which causes discomfort in any person,” says activist Isabella Medeiros, organizer of a pro-choice march in Rio de Janeiro on September 28. “This image of taboo that the media shows the population is very fictitious; the rate of women who get abortions is immense. In truth, it is a great manipulation because of religion, more so than politics, where conservative values are predominant.”

Mariana* says this predominant attitude in society makes it harder for women who have abortions to speak out or even heal mentally from the procedure. She got an abortion after paying R$12,000 ($5,000) to a doctor who instructed her to go to a high-class hospital and pretend she was having a miscarriage so she could be operated safely.

“He told me to come to a hospital – a good hospital in Rio – and pretend I was having a miscarriage. I would have to arrive in the early hours of the day. I was lucky – we paid a lot of money. My father got a loan from the bank, my mother didn’t go on a planned trip. I was lucky to have a family that was looking out for me, that supported me. They understood it wasn’t the time for me to have a kid.”

While Mariana was fortunate to have the procedure done in a proper hospital, this is not the reality of most Brazilian women.

“Jandira’s case is an example of what we call unsafe abortion,” explains Dr Ligia Bahia in an interview to newspaper O Globo. “It’s an abortion performed outside of a medical unit with proper credentials. In Brazil, because abortion is illegal, interventions in illegal clinics are more common. Women put themselves in a situation of extreme risk when they seek this kind of operation. Ideally, society would debate this theme without an ideology, focusing only on the grave issue of public health.”

Since the legalization of abortion in Uruguay, the number of abortions has decreased and there have been no deaths as a result of the procedures. Despite this positive result, political leaders in Brazil seldom mention a direct change in legislation, with presidential candidate Marina Silva only going as far as proposing a referendum on the issue. According to Uruguay’s Public Health sub-secretary Leonel Briozzo, “that’s not the best way to solve the problem.”

“For the life of women,” they chanted

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On September 28, Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Legalization of Abortion, women took to the streets in several cities across Latin America to protest for their bodily autonomy. In Brazil in particular, organizers of the movement hoped to bring attention to the issue in times of election.

At the end of Copacabana beach, a small group of feminist activists painted pro-choice signs for the march later in the day. They were of all colors and backgrounds, but all of them recognize that the criminalization of abortion is a bigger danger to low-income women of color. One of the signs read: “The rich women pay, the poor women die.”

Besides remembering the death of thousands of women across Latin America who died from unsafe abortion, the march in Copacabana had as an objective to start a political conversation about the legalization and decriminalization of the procedure.

Protester Desirée Carvalho, 23, said: “We think this is something to be debated since we are in an election year and this is a subject that isn’t debated, even though we have more than one woman running for president so our objective is this, to talk about the need of the legalization of abortion by the public health system.”

The march was peaceful, but also met with a bit of hostility. Many people shook their heads in disapproval when the protesters chanted pro-choice songs to call attention to the march. A few others observers pumped their fists and joined in, but the march was mostly met with silence.

In a Lugar de Mulher (A Woman’s Place) blog post that went viral last month, Brazilian feminist writer Clara Averbuck summarizes an approach to the legalization of abortion that might work for Brazil.

She wrote: “Your personal opinion about abortion doesn’t matter. Women will continue to have abortions and to risk their lives while it’s not a legal and safe procedure (…) You hate the idea of abortion? OK, so don’t have one. Your opinion won’t change that women have abortions (…) All kinds of women have abortions and there is not one personal opinion that will change that.”

*Not her real name.

This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. To read the full text please click here and support my work in changing the narrative around Brazilian women.

Beyond Sex and Sunshine

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It’s not news that Brazilian women are used to sell plane tickets, hotel stays, tours, and whatever else there is to do in Brazil. In the last year covering Brazil, I’ve come to realize that the mainstream press is reluctant to cover anything other than Brazilian women’s sexuality – which enforces stereotypes and dehumanizes women in a way that puts them in danger.

So far I have reported on the fact that here in Brazil there are more rapes than murders, that 80% of Brazilian women have been sexually harassed in the street, how one woman dies every hour and a half in this country, how the former Human Rights Committee president was sexist and how sexual exploitation of minors is considered normal in Brazil.

While Brazilian women are depicted as hypersexual, they live in an extremely sexist and conservative society. It’s not really surprising since most women around the world live in that kind of environment, but I believe this fallacy is especially harmful in Brazil. While we, women, are viewed as sexual objects, beckoning Brazilian and foreign men alike to a ‘sexual paradise, we are also human and we support the country in so many more important ways.

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For example, did you know 25% of Brazilian households are financially supported by women? Yet, men receive, on average, salaries that are 42% higher than women’s? Did you even imagine that native indian women and black women have the hardest time getting health care in Brazil? Or that in eleven years, rape rates have risen by 88% in Rio de Janeiro – a supposedly sexually free city?

These statistics are terrifying to me. I know women here in Brazil from all walks of life, and they are so much more than sexual objects. I want to tell their stories and explore how their particular lives are affected by their nationality and its stereotypes.

This is why I have launched the project Beyond Sex and Sunshine at Beacon Reader. Although I have pitched similar projects / reports to mainstream publications they have been widely rejected – there is really no interest in selling such a humanizing project, I guess.

The cool thing about Beacon Reader is that you can back my work financially, so you will be helping me directly in making this project happen. I know a lot of people don’t have money to contribute, but I also believe writers should be paid for their work.

Here are the subjects I am planning to cover:

  • The life and stories of Brazilian women in the favelas
  • Afro Brazilian culture
  • Racism and gender
  • Transgender women and their struggles
  • Queer women and their struggles
  • Brazilian carnival, sexual harassment and the non-sexual aspects of carnival
  • Brazilian women and football
  • Native indian women’s lives in a colonized Brazil
  • Rape, rape culture and the failings of the Brazilian system
  • Women, politics and religion
  • Sex workers
  • Sexual exploitation of girls and its normalization
  • Women entrepreneurs

As I move forward with the project I am sure new subjects will come up. I also ask that if there is anything you think I should be covering you please get in touch with me through email at nicolefroio@gmail.com. I am so, so excited about it and I really hope I get the funding I need to get this project off the ground. It would be really amazing if you could fund me but I know that’s not always possible. For those who cannot fund me I will sporadically release shorter, edited versions of my work.

Things to note:
1) Any NGOs/communities I mention in my reporting will receive a donation from the funding raised on Beacon;
2) I will try my best to let these stories speak for themselves, distancing myself from privilege and biases. I want to be responsible.

If you can’t fund me, I only ask that you spread the project’s link around. Tweet and share, please please please. Thank you!

 

Politics and Sports: Why the 2014 World Cup can make or break Brazil

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Brazil: Love it or Leave it

Humanity’s competitive nature has always been an advantage to political leaders. The Roman gladiators were not only an example of human cruelty and violence, but also an instrument of political control. Centuries later, this method hasn’t changed and as the biggest sporting event in the world approaches, the Brazilian people are subject to the too well known intersection of sports and politics.

This intersection is well known in Brazil, albeit forgotten since the military dictatorship ended in 1985 because of the establishment of democracy. But while a democracy implies freedom and a people chosen government, political manipulation is present in all kinds of political systems. The clever political PR that can be drawn from the World Cup comes at the optimum time for Brazilian politicians: 2014 is presidential election year.

In 1970 Brazil was prosperous but violent. While the economy was growing by 10% every year, the military dictatorship leaders unceremoniously silenced the press, tortured, murdered and exiled members of the opposition. President Emílio Garrastazu Médici was one of the cruellest politicians in Brazil – hundreds of people were killed during his term.

Go, Brazil!
Go, Brazil!

The middle class was growing, but Brazilians lacked basic human rights such as freedom of speech and press freedom. The people were becoming richer, but many didn’t like this lack of rights. Médici created an image of a populist, soccer crazed president who resonated with Brazilians. He claimed to be ‘a man of the people’ and often said he was passionate about football.

This might not seem like an efficient tactic of political control to outsiders, but in a country that has been used and abused by European colonizers and then further explored by the USA, the people often need some help with their self-esteem. Back then, Brazilian football was still golden: we were the best in the world and that’s really all we had. Médici’s image combined with a growing middle class placated the naysayers.

Brazil’s 1970 World Cup win provided Médici with the best kind of political propaganda. Nationalism was the norm, and slogans like ‘Brazil, love it or leave it’ and ‘Nobody can hold this country down’ increased the people’s self-esteem and distracted them from the dictatorial reality. Brazil became the first country to win the World Cup three times.

President Médici holding up a Brazilian flag
President Médici holding up a Brazilian flag

Maybe this is why Brazilians rely so heavily on winning the cup. When we lost in 2010 the value of our country went down in the streets. After watching the match in Copacabana’s FIFA Fan Fest, walking home was incredibly sad, people were throwing Brazilian flags on the ground and street sellers were letting their Brazil-themed products go for much less than a dollar.

The current climate in Brazil is mixed. I’ve met people who are excited for the soccer matches and people who have nowhere to live and complain about the government’s negligence towards the poor. Some people are in the street yelling ‘There won’t be a World Cup’ and burning FIFA’s official sticker albums, while others quite happily buy the stickers until they complete it.

In 1970 the intersection of politics and sport was very significant, but in 2014 it might be even more so. Social media and a globalized coverage of the World Cup and the issues surrounding it have given unhappy Brazilians an opportunity to be heard by the rest of the world. The huge difference is that in 2014 the championship is interfering directly with internal policies on housing, health and education. It is emphasizing the negligence the Brazilian people suffer. The clever plan to control the people in this way might have backfired.

Yet the danger of it working out for the current government is still present. If Brazil wins, public approval will sway towards the party that is currently in power, despite its negligence. In history, we can refer back to instances where this type of political propaganda has worked: the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany was used to ‘prove’ the superiority of the Arian race and it succeeded. It played a significant part in the holocaust.

Of course, this intersection can be used for good. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised a black gloved fist in a Black Panther salute, a gesture in opposition of white supremacy and for civil rights. And just last year during the Winter Olympics in Russia LGBT rights activists and supporters made a point of boycotting and speaking out against Putin’s anti-gay policies – and journalists made sure the Russian Olympic Committee got laughed at around the world by tweeting photos of their unfinished rooms and disgusting running water.

The real consequences of the 2014 World Cup will only be seen by the end of the year. It’s innocuous to think the result of the championship will have no political bearing in the choosing of future leaders. But I sincerely hope that the global focus in Brazil will be used for good and that the big political dogs will not win. Maybe a win for Brazil will mean Brazilians recognize they deserve better.

MEET THE ELITE COPS CHARGED WITH CLEANING UP RIO’S FAVELAS

A group of men dressed head to toe in black scoff down their daily serving of rice and beans, talking over one another like they’re at a family gathering. Rio de Janeiro’s Special Operations Battalion (BOPE) spend every lunch like this, the hour or so providing a brief respite from the dangers of their job.

The Caveiras (or Skulls in Portuguese, a nickname based on the battalion’s sinister logo) are the elite police force called into Rio’s favelas when conflicts become too heavy for the regular cops to handle. “We’re the last resort,” one of the commanders says.

Continue reading on Vice UK.

Why ‘exposing’ food banks is not okay

I know how being a journalist works. You have to dig around and find stories, otherwise you’re simply no good. There’s a lot of pressure for you to find something worthwhile, something people will actually care about enough to click on a link. If you can’t find stories, chances are you will be fired. That’s the job, take it or leave it.

I’m a freelance journalist and I know what it’s like to sit in front of your computer and realize you’ve got nothing to write about. It sucks because if you don’t write, you don’t earn. If you don’t find stories, you don’t get paid. I understand this kind of desperation.
But as difficult as being a journalist is, there is no excuse for a journalist to pose as a low-income father and use it to generalize the poor in the UK. This is exactly what Mail on Sunday reporter Ross Slater did. He pretended to be a person in need of food to feed his family and got some food from a food bank.

Despite the incredible work food banks do every year (which has been increasing because of the Tory government’s cuts in benefits), the MoS used this fraudulent ‘investigation’ to write a sensationalized report about how easy it is to fool the food banks. There are countless reasons why this is completely unethical and I am being nice enough, Ross Slater, to list them below.

The ‘investigation’

This report is essentially a non-story. Man pretends to be in need for food, food bank questions him about his unemployment, food bank gives him £40 worth of food to feed his family. So food banks are basically doing their job – what Slater is ‘proving’ is that there is a minority of people who might take advantage of this system. Which we already know.

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In an attempt to destroy Trussell Trust’s reputation, presumably because of the MoS’s historical opposition and sensationalization of benefits or any aid to poor people, all that Slater managed to do is prove food banks are essentially doing their jobs. You’re the scum here, mate.

The language

The language in this report is absolutely appalling. It is a far cry from impartial – subtly, every line implies that food banks are lying when they say people genuinely need emergency food. Hey, Simon Murphy and Sanchez Manning, I am looking at you.

“The charity, which runs more than 400 of Britain’s 1,000 food banks, acknowledged that a third of the food was given to repeat visitors, but insisted the rise was based on genuine need for emergency food.”

They insisted because they want to convince us of something that’s not true. I get is, MoS! Thank you for revealing what awful gargoyles food banks are! Let’s make this 100% clear: there is no way the MoS can know the reasons for the repeat visitors to come back to food banks with more pleas. Although they seem completely okay with implying they’re all fraudulent criminals, just like their own reporter Ross Slater.

The headline is perhaps the most telling bit of all:

“No ID, no checks… and vouchers for sob stories: The truth behind those shock food bank claims”

MoS is directly preying on the poor who need food by calling their situation ‘sob stories’ and generalizing people who are in need as criminals who fraud their way through the system. Vilifying a system that helps needy people is disgusting and immoral, especially in the way this was done. Low income people, unemployed people, people on the dole – they do not need any more stigma and prejudice.

“HOW MOS REPORTER GOT 3 DAYS OF GROCERIES… NO QUESTIONS ASKED

(…) The woman, called Katherine, who was in her 60s, asked our reporter a series of questions about why the food bank vouchers were needed.”

Nothing beats a controversial sub headline, I guess. Honestly, no comment.

Also, why does it matter that Katherine was in her 60s? Are they implying she’s gullible because of her age? Oh.

And then, of course, Ross Slater told his ‘sob story’.

“He explained he had been unemployed for a few months and had been caught out by higher than expected winter fuel bills and was strapped for cash and food. He added that his wife had left her job and was not earning and that they had two children to care for. After asking for details of how much Jobseekers’ Allowance was received, the assessor’s questions turned to the dietary requirements of the reporter and his family.”

Posing as a needy person to get free food is disgusting in itself – doing so to get a story out of it is a disgrace. Although many Slater defenders might say he is just doing his job and that he later returned the food, he still took advantage of his privilege to stereotype and stigmatise those who need food, simultaneously trying to destroy the Trussell Trust’s reputation… to push the MoS’s political agenda against the poor. In telling these lies, Slater was minimizing the needs of hungry people who cannot afford to feed their own families. I don’t really see how committing this crime in the name of ‘journalism’ is any better than the crime Slater claims to be ‘investigating’.

What the MoS and Slater seem to ‘forget’ is that there are people who are unemployed and can’t afford heating. There are people who have ‘sob stories’, as patronizing as that is, and they are straight up living them, with difficulty. Slater is fortunate enough to have a job, be white (can’t wait for people to cry racism on this one – having white privilege is a fact. Educate yourself) and write for a newspaper with incredible reach.

But obviously, it seems Slater and his counterparts (who actually wrote the article) are incapable of using privilege for good.

The image

Here is a photo of Slater posing as a needy person. The imagery is impossibly offensive: he’s sitting on the ground, looking miserable, with hand out spread on the floor around him.

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If the language and ‘investigation’ failed to enforce low income people stereotypes, this photo certainly does it. Posing as a needy person obviously means sitting on the ground with your food, with an unshaved face and an unhappy look. Needy people do not need this kind of image representing them.

So congratulations to the Mail on Sunday, Simon Murphy, Sanchez Manning and Ross Slater for preying on the poor. That’s what the world really needs right now, to discredit those who can barely survive.

ETA: The MoS report on Trussell Trust has resulted in a surge of donations to food banks

Review & Interview: Taking a Chance on God

McNeill and his partner Charlie
McNeill and his partner Charlie

John McNeill was born in Buffalo, New York, and grew up to be a soldier who fought in World War II. He was captured by the Nazis but survived and came back to America to follow his call to priesthood. It seemed he would have a tranquil, quiet life of devotion to God – but his sexual orientation and a craving for justice and equality turned him into an activist, a pioneer and a Vatican pariah.

The documentary Taking a Chance on God tells McNeill’s life story, revealing the source of the Jesuit’s persistence and strength to fight for acceptance and peace. The film’s co-producer and co-editor Ilene Cutler has been following screenings all over the world and I caught up with her at the 21st Mix Festival of Culture of Diversity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

After watching the movie Cutler took questions from the audience. One man stood up and thanked her and John McNeill for the film. Teary-eyed, he told Ilene and the audience that like McNeill he had been expelled from his own church because of his sexuality. His boyfriend held his hand and asked if he was OK in a caring whisper.

It was a great moment for everyone, especially for Cutler. The project had been 10 years in the making and it seems this kind of reaction to the documentary is common.

“We get a strong response from many people who laugh hard and cry hard. And it’s very satisfying to me as a filmmaker to have humour and heart in a very important message about love and acceptance,” she said.

Although the film mostly focuses on McNeill’s battle to be accepted in a religious environment it also tells the story of a man who is more than his sexuality. He is a war veteran who was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany, he is a scholar and a therapist, and his activism started during the Vietnam war. As a war veteran and a priest, his voice was strong and he relished spreading a message of non-violence.

John McNeill, Dignity NY Contingent, LGBT Pride Parade
John McNeill, Dignity NY Contingent, LGBT Pride Parade

So when the gay community rioted in Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, because of a police raid, McNeill decided to be open with himself and the community by becoming a voice in the LGBT rights movement.

In 1976 he published the ground-breaking study The Church and the Homosexual that defied the teaching methods of the Catholic Church on homosexuality. In response to the public uproar McNeill went on the Today Show and came out as a gay man to millions of people across America.

The Vatican told McNeill to shut up and not mention sexuality anymore.

But McNeill couldn’t stay quiet about something that affected him and so many others so intrinsically. To this day he makes himself accessible to people who need his help – Cutler even offered his email to people who wanted to talk to him

“He is very accessible. He wants to help anyone that he can still. He is 88 years old but still very sharp, very with it and very much involved.”

Because of this persistent involvement despite his age, Cutler and director Brendan Fay felt it was important to finish the movie before McNeill passed.

“He does ministry in Florida, he was able to see the movie in his home in Ft Lauderdale, in Miami, in New York, he was able to travel which is not so easy for him because of health problems. And this was far but he did go to Rome for the very first screening in Europe.

“And there he was, in the home of the pope, with a large Italian audience, crying and hugging and laughing and loving the film. For Brendan and I who worked very hard on making the film finished while he was still with us this was an incredible feeling of accomplishment that he got to be there to see this.”

On April 14th 1987 John’s superiors came to his apartment in New York City and expelled him from the Catholic Church by reading out a ‘Decree of Expulsion’ that had come directly from the Vatican.

In the film McNeill talks of that day with tears and hurt in his eyes, but there is no bitterness.  Despite the expulsion McNeill continued his ministry, forging a life in God and LGBT activism at the same time.

But now the Vatican’s approach to sexuality this may be changing and Cutler tells me McNeill is excited about Pope Francis’s recent statements about the LGBT community.

“He keeps saying to me – can we… we need to talk to Pope Francis! And I do feel like he just needs to meet him and maybe there could be this radical change. He’s already so excited about what the pope has said – ‘Who am I to judge?’ you know? Just that one statement was such a big moment for John and for everyone. So he’s so hopeful that at the end of his life we can be on this precipice – is that too big of a word, precipice? – like on a mountain of possibility on the other side for change.”

His partner of 48 years Charles Chiarelli is a constant source of comfort and love for McNeill. It seems obvious to the Jesuit that the love between them cannot possibly be “an objective disorder” and “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,” like his colleague Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in response to The Church and the Homosexual.

Cutler says the next step is to make the documentary more accessible for people who are more close minded.

“I think it’s so important. Every time I see the film with different audiences they say ‘Oh I wish my mother could see this or my father could see this’, so we are very hopeful that we can get it on television, public television where many more people can see it.

“If we could show it on television or other places that your average person – not just gay or gay allies – could see it I feel like it can have a big impact.”

Ilene Cutler and I
Ilene Cutler and I

“The Bullets in the Favelas Aren’t Made of Rubber”: A Report from Brazil for The Toast

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The awesome blog The Toast has published one of my reports, and I am super proud of it! The first few paragraphs are below and you can keep reading after clicking the link at the end.

When J. took his first breath, fresh into the world, he was already condemned to be an outcast for the rest of his short life.

His birth certificate bore no reference to his father: he had none. He was–like thousands of children born in the Complexo da Maré, Rio de Janeiro–excluded from society.

His mother was HIV-positive and he lived in a 2m by 2m cubicle house without a bathroom. The complex of favelas where he lived is one of the most dangerous parts of town, where two neighbouring rival factions of drug traffickers make sure all Maré residents live in a state of constant civil war.

Read More on The Toast.

Two deaths and significant damage in World Cup stadium

Stadium is meant to be completely renovated by Fabruary 2015.
Stadium is meant to be completely renovated by February 2015.

Estadão newspaper is reporting there was an accident in Itaquerão stadium, Itaquera, São Paulo this morning. Three corpses were found in the debris. Itaqueirão is one of the stadiums being built to be used in the 2014 World Cup.

The accident happened when the last piece to complete the South sector was being placed.

Major Mauro Lopes told Record TV: “According to Copom, three people were found dead.”

Firemen are still searching for more victims.

More information to come. It remains to be seen what will happen in regards to next year’s World Cup, as this places doubts on the safety of Brazilian stadiums.

Corinthians fans offer condolences to families of victims.

(Our condolences to the families of the victims of the tragedy in Itaqueirão)

Accident raises questions about Brazil’s readiness to host the World Cup.

Fifa won’t make a statement about the accident because the renovation is Odebretch’s responsibility.

Corinthians FC however have expressed condolences.

Photo of accident:

Renovation architect says damage is minimum.

André Sanchez (ex Corinthians president) and security attack FOLHA reporter, taking his cell phone.

Buzzfeed and Associated Press report the accident.

More photos in Folha’s photo gallery here.

More on attacked reporter. He was forced to delete photos.

Romário tweets the accident is ‘very sad’

Folha reports building of stadium was 94% done.

Romário: Stadium should be delivered to Fifa in December because it will host first World Cup match.

According to Folha, the floor the crane was standing on yielded. Crane was biggest in the country.

Company is also responsible for Rio de Janeiro’s international airport.

Confirmation that TWO PEOPLE have died, not three or four.

Building works will be stopped until further notice.

Fifa says they hold no responsibility for the accident. Ronaldo and Joseph Blatter are sorry for the accident.

Estadão says Public Ministry’s report on the stadium had highlighted 50 irregularities in the building works.

Ex Corinthians president says Folha reporter invaded area and denies any physical assault.

Works will be stopped for three days while 30% of the stadium is cordoned off for investigation.

One of the deceased was a father of three.

Many people on Twitter blaming Fifa’s pressing deadlines to have the stadium ready.

Odebretch assures journalists the structure of the stadium has not been compromised.

Witness tells ESPN the crate driver jumped off the vehicle to survive. He lived.

São Paulo mayor Haddad is in Paris and laments the accident.

Reports that builders are in shock.

Bizarre and sad news that two-time Brazilian World Cup champion has passed away.