[Marxism] LA TIMES bash-o-rama: 'Milk' star Sean Penn: Pal of anti-gay dictators?

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Dec 13 10:18:10 MST 2008

Hugo Chavez a dictator? Actually, he's been elected president of
Venezuela not once but twice. He even accepted defeat more or less
gracefully a year ago when he lost an election. Chavez anti-gay?
Goldstein gives no evidence.

Yes, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, some Cuban gays were put in
camps. That was wrong and stupid, but that policy lasted about three
years and was dropped in the 1970s. At that very same time,
homosexuality was illegal in the United States, and was defined as an
illness by the psychiatric establishment. Police brutality against
gays in the United States was made famous at the Stonewall bar in New
York City in where gays rioted to protest a police attack on a gay

Furthermore, When AIDS was first discovered, HIV-positive individuals
were quarantined. Today Cuba has the lowest HIV-AIDS rate on the
planet. Cuba's no paradise for LGBT people (Where is there a gay
paradise on this earth??), but there are no Cuban Matthew Sheppards.
Cuba may not be a paradise for gays, but it celebrated the UN's World
Day Against Homophobia this year for the second year in a row as a
national holiday. Fidel Castro's niece, who is also Raul Castro's
daughter, presided over the event. National Assembly president
Ricardo Alarcon was a speaker at this government-sponsored event. Oh,
and under U.S. law, people from the United States are forbidden to go
to Cuba for a visit without receiving a permission slip from the
federal government. Cuba is the only country on earth where
Washington requires this. We are all free to travel to gay-friendly
places like Saudi Arabia and Iran without asking permission.

Hundreds of articles on LGBT life in Cuba today can be found at the
web page I've created for that purpose. Some positive, some highly
critical, but surely an indication of progress for the LGBT
population of Cuba.

Finally, if Cuba is the gulag for LGBT people which Goldstein claims,
it would be a surprise to the scores of prominent and gay Cuban LGBTs
who sat for portraits which were publicly exhibited and published in
a book "Faces, Bodies, Personas: Tracing Cuban Stories" by
Iranian-Canadian photographer Babak Salari.

There's a large and lively blog at the LA Times to which I submitted the
comments above. They haven't yet appeared, but perhaps they will. Others
should post responses to Goldstein's absurd screed.

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California

The Big Picture
Patrick Goldstein on the collision of entertainment, media and pop culture

'Milk' star Sean Penn: Pal of anti-gay dictators?
04:20 PM PT, Dec 11 2008


I'm not surprised to discover that Sean Penn is under attack
again for his outspoken admiration of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and
Cuba's Raul Castro. The real shocker is who's doing the attacking:
The Advocate, America's leading gay publication. James Kirchick, an
assistant editor at the New Republic, pretty much eviscerates Penn,
who just wrote a cover story in the Nation singing the praises of
both Latin American dictators. Up until now, in the wake of his
bravura performance as gay activist Harvey Milk in "Milk," the
mainstream entertainment press hasn't bothered to ask Penn any tough
questions about his political views.

But the Advocate doesn't pull any punches. Saying Penn is likely to
win all sorts of prizes from prominent gay organizations for his
role, Kirchick writes that "Penn's political activism, irrespective
of his views on gay rights, negates the values for which a movement
based upon individual freedom must stand." Kirchick calls Penn's
Nation story a "love letter" to the dictators, comparing it to the
notorious dispatches starry-eyed liberals sent back home during the
early years of the Soviet Union, describing it as a worker's
paradise, "neglecting to mention anything about the gulag, the
'disappearance' of political dissidents or any other such
inconvenient truths about Communism."

Penn, who received a Golden Globe nomination today for his
performance in "Milk," seems to have forgotten that not long after
Fidel Castro took power, the Cuban government ordered the internment
of gay people in prison labor camps where, as Kirchick puts it, "they
were murdered or worked to death for their 'counterrevolutionary
tendencies.' " He adds that Penn's pal, Raul Castro, was notorious
for executing political opponents, whose only crime was often their
homosexuality. Though Cuba has since decriminalized homosexuality,
the government still bans all gay organizations or any other group
critical of the regime.

Thor Halvorssen, president of the respected Human Rights Foundation,
also takes aim at the actor in the piece, calling the Castro brothers
"thugs and murderers," saying "that Sean Penn would be honored by
anyone, let alone the gay community, for having stood by a dictator
that put gays into concentration camps is mind-boggling." I'm an old
leftie myself. But having grown up in Miami, where I saw up close and
personal the flood of people--straight and gay--fleeing persecution
in Cuba, I no longer share Penn's naive admiration for totalitarian
despots who pass themselves off as populist heroes.

In an era of softball showbiz journalism where newspapers and
magazines--including my own paper--rarely ask actors or filmmakers
any inconvenient questions about their political beliefs, I'm not
holding my breath that anyone will be holding Penn's feet to the
fire. Kudos to the Advocate for reminding us that it was Harvey Milk
who said that gay rights are human rights and it is Penn "who
discredits both when he rushes to the defense of thugs who posture as
victims of the West."

It raises a fair question that I'd like to hear your opinions on:
Should we only concern ourselves with Penn's wondrous work as an
actor in "Milk," which coming in the wake of the controversy over
Proposition 8 will surely remind people that the struggle for gay
rights in America is far from over? Or does his offscreen embrace of
gay-bashing dictators matter just as much as his onscreen artistry,
especially when the views of his political heroes so completely
conflict with the free-speech message of the man he celebrates in

Photo of Sean Penn in "Milk" by Phil Bray / Focus Features

     Los Angeles, California
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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