Friday, June 7, 2013

French Authorities Detain Five Suspects With Links To Extreme Right Groups In Connection To Death Of Clement Meric, Thousands Celebrate Tel Aviv Pride, Vancouver Health Authorities Warn Gay And Bisexual Men Of Syphilis Infections, Esther Williams, The Out List

An update on a previous post: In France, the Guardian reports that eight people linked to extreme right groups in that country were being questioned by police on Friday after the death of a young anti-fascist campaigner who had been severely beaten in an altercation with skinheads in central Paris. The death of 19-year-old Clément Meric has shaken France, with thousands gathering in anti-fascist demonstrations across the country and political soul-searching about whether extreme far-right and neo-Nazi groups (which have been on the fringes of recent anti-gay marriage protests) are enjoying a resurgence and should be banned. The fatal altercation started at a private clothing sale in an apartment in central Paris where the main attraction was the British label Fred Perry, whose polo shirts are highly sought after in France by skinheads as well as left-wingers and mods. The quest to buy reduced-price designer British labels, including Barbour and Ben Sherman, at an event organized by e-mail-invitation, had attracted young people of all types. A few hard-left, anti-fascist activists attending the sale rebuked a handful of skinheads present who wore "white power" and "blood and honour" tee-shirts. Outside on the street, in a busy shopping area behind Paris's major department stores, the altercation turned violent, with the skinheads allegedly calling for backup and one possibly using a knuckleduster. Meric, who suffered severe injuries from being beaten, is also believed to have hit his head on a metal post. He died in hospital on Thursday. A student at Paris's prestigious Institute of Political Studies and the son of law professors from Brittany, he had beaten leukaemia earlier in life. The interior minister, Manuel Valls, blamed "an extreme right group" for the murder. He said there had been a "dangerous discourse" in France for several weeks, a nod to the heated row over same-sex marriage and violent skirmishes on the fringes of the anti-gay marriage movement and demonstrations. The leftwing former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon said the fact that Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National, which has increased its scores in elections and now has two MPs, had become normalized and "banal" had allowed all types of extreme-right movements to flourish. The hard-left Parti de Gauche warned of "the fascist horror which has killed right at the heart of Paris", while some of Meric's fellow activists called his death "a political murder.” Le Pen said the attack had nothing to do with her party and the FN had "no contact, near or far" with Meric's attackers. Serge Ayoub, a former skinhead leader in Paris once known as "Batskin" for his baseball bat, and now linked to the extreme-right group Jeunesses Nationalistes Revolutionnaires (Nationalist Revolutionary Youth) denied any members of his group were responsible for Meric's death. The prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called for all groups of "fascist and neo-Nazi inspiration" to be broken up. A scattered array of extreme-right groups in France are thought to have several hundred members. Some have staged public actions, such as the group Génération Identitaire which last year occupied a mosque construction site in Poitiers in protest at the "Islamisation" of France. The right warned against making any link between the death and the anti-gay marriage demonstrations. The former minister Luc Chatel from the mainstream rightwing UMP said: "Daring to make a link between the murderer who beat Clément Meric to death and the French people who expressed their opinion during the protests [against same-sex marriage and adoption]" was "vile and hateful.” Three people were released after police questioning on Friday night. The remaining five suspects – aged between 19 and 32, including one woman – are scheduled to appear before a judge Saturday at which time they will be formally charged.

In Israel, the Associated Press reports that drag queens, politicians, grandmothers and shirtless men descended on Tel Aviv in their thousands Friday to party in the annual gay pride parade, the 15th march to be held in an Israeli city that has emerged as one of the world's most gay-friendly. Loud dance music beat along the parade's route, with rainbows painted on participants' faces, arms and bellies. Drag queens in sequins and platform heels waved to the crowd from floats as scantily-clad men bopped and bounced to the music. Tel Aviv has become a top destination for the gay community. Tourists from Brazil, England, Russia and elsewhere partied in the Tel Aviv parade alongside Israelis on Friday. "We love Israel. We have come four times now. The people are so nice and open minded and so lovely to us," said a tourist from Germany who gave his name as Klaus, dressed in floppy orange hat with matching high heels. "There is a lot of energy here," Klaus said. Marching with his husband, Gerhard, he noted the warm weather and the fact that Tel Aviv has a beach as attractions. Tel Aviv is one of the few places in the Middle East where gays feel free to walk hand-in-hand and kiss in public. The municipality spends some 2 million shekels (550,000 dollars) annually on the local community and on attracting gay travelers, Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai told Israeli Army Radio. The first gay couple to wed in France, Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau, who tied the knot last week in a politically charged ceremony, are now honeymooning in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv's openness stands in contrast to Jerusalem, just a short drive away, dominated by strictly Orthodox Jews and with a much smaller gay scene. In 2005, an ultra-Orthodox protester there stabbed three marchers at a gay pride parade. Despite its more open reputation, Tel Aviv has also experienced violence. The parade came just after police announced they had arrested four suspects in connection with the killing of two people at a gay youth center in Tel Aviv four years ago, what was then seen as the most homophobic attack in Israel's history. Police said Friday they were no longer treating the killings as a hate crime, saying the motive was of a personal nature. Gay community leaders said they still believed the two victims were killed because of their sexual orientation. While the mood was tinged by the news of the arrests, thousands still paraded through Tel Aviv. A beach party was set for post-march revelry. Tel Aviv has led the rest of Israel to become progressively more accepting of gays, granting them some rights while the country lags in other spheres. Officially, there is no gay marriage in Israel, primarily because there is no civil marriage of any kind. All weddings must be conducted through the Jewish rabbinate, which considers homosexuality a sin and a violation of Jewish law. But the state recognizes same-sex couples who marry abroad. Gay adoption is officially illegal, but couples can get around the law by using surrogacy or adopting abroad. The partner of a parent can adopt the child of his or her partner. Gays have served openly in Israel's military for decades. Community leaders say Israel still has far to go in promoting equality. Many politicians who attended Friday's parade said they would work to advance gay rights. "I will do everything to preserve Israel's values of promoting equality and fighting discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons," said Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at a rally before the parade. "I love you and I am committed to you," she pledged.

In British Columbia, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and Vancouver Coastal Health officials are warning gay and bisexual men of an alarming increase in the number of syphilis infections, reports the Vancouver Sun. Dr. Reka Gustafson, the medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, says the highly contagious disease is at the highest level seen in 30 years in the region. Last year there were 371 reported cases in B.C., and 80 per cent of them were in the Coastal Health region, which stretches from Metro Vancouver up the coast as far as Bella Coola. Officials say syphilis is often mistaken for other diseases, and left untreated it can cause blindness, hearing loss, bone pain and neurological problems. Severe cases can be fatal. Health authorities are urging sexually active gay and bisexual men to be tested every three months.

The water, Esther Williams once quipped, was her favorite co-star. The Los Angeles Times reports that with her beauty, sunny personality and background as a champion swimmer, Williams shot to stardom in the 1940s in the "aqua musical," an odd sub-genre of films that became an enormous hit with the moviegoing mainstream, fanned popular interest in synchronized swimming and turned Williams into Hollywood's Million Dollar Mermaid. The MGM bathing beauty, whose underwater extravaganzas made her one of the most popular actresses of the era, an idol in competitive swimming and a fashion force, died in her sleep early Thursday in Beverly Hills, said her publicist, Harlan Boll. She was 91. Her movies (including Bathing Beauty, Jupiter's Darling and Million Dollar Mermaid) were as light as sea foam, but she stuck with their mix of romance, comedy and underwater spectacle, concluding that she would "rather be a commercial success than an artistic flop." Her legions of fans didn't seem to mind — for a time she was a top 10 box office draw. As Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote in 1984: "Esther Williams did more for a bathing suit than John Wayne ever did for a cowboy hat, Tom Mix for a horse, Errol Flynn for a sword, Ronald Colman for a pith helmet or Cary Grant for a tuxedo." MGM's Louis B. Mayer had pursued Williams — a teenage swimming champion — to star in aquatic films as an answer to ice-skating star Sonja Henie, whose films were making money for 20th Century-Fox. At the time, Williams, a Los Angeles native, was recovering from her disappointment at not having been able to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics in Finland because of the war in Europe. She was starring with Johnny Weismuller in Billy Rose's live Aquacade revue in San Francisco but had no experience in acting, singing or dancing. She intended to return to her job as a stock girl at I. Magnin in Los Angeles, hoping to become a buyer for the store. But Mayer kept calling, and eventually wooed her with promises of stardom. Her screen test with Clark Gable resulted in a contract offer from MGM. Aware of her shortcomings, Williams showed remarkable aplomb by insisting on a training period to learn about making movies. Meanwhile, MGM had launched a publicity campaign featuring her in various bathing suits, her face ablaze with a smile. She appeared on the cover of half a dozen movie magazines and became a favorite pinup of American soldiers. Like so many other starlets of that time, Williams was first glimpsed on screen in an Andy Hardy movie — the 1942 Andy Hardy's Double Life, starring Mickey Rooney. By the time she starred opposite Red Skelton two years later, studio executives had so much faith in her that the film, originally called Mr. Coed, was released as Bathing Beauty. It was a smash hit. By then MGM had built a $250,000 swimming pool for Williams on Sound Stage 30 — 90 feet wide, 90 feet long and 25 feet deep. A "bucket camera" was devised to follow her underwater. The pool was filled with special-effects equipment to create underwater fountains, geysers and fireworks, and there was a central pedestal with a hydraulic lift that could raise Williams 50 feet out of the water. "Like Venus on the half-shell," she said. Technicolor was new then, and Williams was resplendent in her shocking pink one-piece bathing suit, swimming gracefully in the pale green water. Williams first worked with genius choreographer Busby Berkeley in 1949 on Take Me Out to the Ballgame, one of the rare films in which she doesn't have a water scene. When she saw how Berkeley created dancing scenes for herself, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, she could "foresee my liberation" in swimming films, she once said."MGM made money off me, but they never understood the art form," she said years later. "Not until the fifth picture did I even get a choreographer." Williams and Berkeley made two more films together: Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), which was one of her most popular, and Easy to Love (1953). The latter featured a finale in which Williams and 80 water-skiers carried big flapping flags while speeding over the water and, at another point, Williams dangled from a trapeze hanging from a helicopter. Despite the spectacular feats, however, the allure of the aquatic film began to fade. She made a few other films for MGM, ending with Jupiter's Darling in 1955, which she wryly called "a great hair picture" in which she was outfitted with "a parade of braids and chignons." But the picture lost money, and MGM was ready to toss her overboard. In all, Williams said she had swum more than a thousand miles through two dozen films. Williams left MGM and, after a few non-swimming movies for other studios, exited the business altogether, pursuing a private life as the wife of Fernando Lamas, the handsome Argentine actor. Although the marriage, her third, was not an easy one, the two remained together until his death from cancer at 67 in 1982. In the 1980s, Williams' films enjoyed renewed popularity when Ted Turner purchased MGM's film library and began showing some of her most popular movies on cable television. She also began work on her autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid, written with Digby Diehl and released in 1999. Though Diehl said in an interview with the Times that Williams did not "tell all," she told enough about her own and her fellow Hollywood stars' racy carryings-on that the book created more than a few waves. Her most sensational story involved heartthrob actor Jeff Chandler, whom she dated for a couple of years and considered marrying. That is, until he showed up one night at her bedroom door wearing "a red wig, a flowing chiffon dress, expensive high-heeled shoes and lots of makeup." She realized with horror that he was a cross-dresser. Williams left the relationship with one parting bit of advice for Chandler: "Jeff, you are too big for polka dots." Million Dollar Mermaid also shared the grit and danger behind the glossy films she made in her 20s and 30s. Among other injuries, she broke three neck vertebrae in a dive; suffered several broken eardrums; nearly drowned when she couldn't detect the trapdoor designed to give her a way out; was almost mutilated when an outrigger went out of control on black coral; and was nearly overcome by waves created by a camera boat that came within inches of her water skis. The latter scene was shot by Berkeley in Cypress Gardens, Florida, while Williams was pregnant with her third child. "My life was of no importance to him at all," Williams said of Berkeley in an interview with the Washington Post in 1984. "The shot was the thing." But never one to feel sorry for herself, Williams repeatedly returned to an axiom her no-nonsense mother taught her: "Esther, what part of the problem are you?" She realized she was the only one who could make sure she was safe. The last of five children, Esther Jane Williams was born in Los Angeles on August 8, 1921. It was no secret in the family that Esther's mother, Bula, a teacher who later became a psychologist, had tried "to get rid of me" while pregnant by going horseback riding and jumping off a chest of drawers. Esther's oldest sister, Maurine, was more of a mother to her. Their brother, Stanton, was their parents' adored son who inspired the family to move from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles so that he could appear in films. Hopes for his stardom were dashed when Stanton, at age 16, died of an intestinal disorder. Watching her parents' devastation, Esther decided that she was the only one who "could replace Stanton as the rock on which the family stood." She was 8. "If my shoulders weren't strong enough as yet, then I would make them strong," she later wrote. Not long after, at her mother's urging and with Maurine as a coach, Esther began swimming, first in the ocean and then in a public swimming pool near the family's home. Her athletic talent eventually won her a spot on the prestigious Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team and then a chance to be on the U.S. swim team at the 1940 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, that were suspended because of the war. After she left films, Williams helped launch synchronized swimming as a competitive sport and enjoyed a career in swimsuit design, swimming pools and fitness. Yet she still left behind an Olympic legacy. Synchronized swimming made its debut at the 1984 Summer Games in her hometown, and Williams the movie star had helped pave the way. Williams' fourth husband, Edward Bell, survives her as do her children Benjamin Gage and Susan Beardslee; stepchildren Lorenzo Lamas, Tima Alexander Bell and Anthony Bell; three grandchildren; and eight step-grandchildren. Her son, Kim Gage, died in 2008.

When Proposition 8 passed in California in November of 2008, eliminating the right for same sex couples to marry, Americans were up in arms. Undeterred by the ruling, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, photographer and director of The Black List and The Latino List, and interviewer Sam McConnell decided to make a documentary on various figures from the gay community. “When we started, we were calling the project ‘Generation 8,’ which was a real strong reference to the post–Proposition 8 generation,” Greenfield-Sanders recalled. “We started to interview people and we felt it would be limiting to be just about marriage equality; there are so many other issues.” The Out List, which will be released on HBO on June 27—the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall riots—tackles marriage equality, the coming-out process, stereotypes, and what it means to be gay in America today. Vanity Fair offers a look at a selection of Greenfield-Sanders’s powerful portraits of the people who shared their experience for the movie.

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