Update: Nepal Constitution Aims High.

Update relevant to Nepal Constitution Aims High.

Prime minister Jhalanath Khanal resigned last Sunday due to several conflicts in the constitution writing process. So far no replacement have been announced, and the fact that it took seven months to choose prime minister Khanal – it might take some time to find a new one. There are still some political unrest in Nepal, but it´s on the right track.

Nepal Constitution Aims High.

A draft constitution for Nepal would enshrine LGBT rights advances as breathtaking as the heights of Mount Everest if lawmakers are willing to adopt the document.

Following centuries of monarchy and a decade-long civil war that ended in 2006, Nepal has emerged as a democratic republic with one of the world´s most progressive stances on LGBT rights, which could be promulgated in a new constitution this year unless the government further delays its implementation.

Extended once last year, the constitution´s deadline was put off by three months more in late May. Lawmakers disagree on broad questions of government structure, not the LGBT content – some of the most inclusive language of any nation.

The LGBT issues are pretty well formulated in the draft, and there is no opposition, so we don’t need to worry about that. Our concern is about how long it will take to have the constitution, says Sunil Pant, Nepal´s first openly gay elected official and a member of the interim constituent assembly writing the document.

Pant, who is pushing for adoption of the constitution this year, says the draft proposes citizenship rights for “third gender” individuals, who identify as neither male nor female; bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; calls for government affirmative action in support of LGBT people; and proposes gender-neutral language on the rights to work, health, education, and marriage, the latter also being drafted in a separate law directed by a supreme court ruling.

Pant, founder of the LGBT network the Blue Diamond Society and the tourism company Pink Mountain Travels and Tours, attributes the success to a receptive private sector, lack of sensational media, and the Hindu religious tradition, which has  deities that challenge binary gender norms. He also cites the movement´s organizational acumen, and he believes the pace and quality of change will allow Nepal to implement its constitution whenever it is finally adopted.

Nepal´s situation is likely to differ from that of South-Africa, which has a notably progressive constitution, but a disconnect between law and reality.

Three new AIDS advances embolden the medical community

After three decades, major developments in HIV treatment and prevention are finally moving forward at a steady pace – two studies and one extraordinary patient have captured the attention of doctors and scientists, and made the idea of a cure less fantastical.

Doctors say American Timothy Ray Brown was indeed cured of HIV in Germany. The “Berlin Patient” was being treated for leukemia when he was given a bone marrow transplant using the stem cells of a HIV resistant donor. More than two years after the transplant, his bloodstream is now free of HIV even though he´s not taking antiretroviral drugs.

Many of us view this as a unique case that´s not relatable to people doing very well on medications, says Peter Anton, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. However, it does provide proof that it´s possible to eradicate HIV from the body. Until now we haven´t had that proof because of concerns that there are hidden reservoirs of HIV as well as low levels of HIV replication we cannot detect.

There is also much excitement over microbicides, a new type of prevention method in the form of a gel applied vaginally or rectally to prevent infection, especially after last year´s announcement that a vaginal gel containing the antiretroviral drug tenofovir had a 39% success rate among South African women. Further advances could boost those numbers, and more studies are under way. Human trials of rectal microbicide will likely begin in two to three years.

If you go to a bar nad ask how many people know what a microbicide is, most people won´t raise their hand, Anton says. We want to change that.

Another breakthrough came out of a study on pre-exposure prophylaxis, PrEP. Results showed that regular doses of the antiretroviral pill Truvada cut HIV infection rate by 44% among a group of HIV-negative, specially men and transgender women who have sex with men. While Anton is heartened by the findings, he offers caveats, specially about people preemptively taking PrEP without further confirmation of its success. The second major PrEP worry involves those who contract HIV while taking the regimen – there´s a chance they could become resistant to other antiretroviral drugs.

There are so many people who do not know their diagnosis, Anton says. If they end up taking prevention medicines but are already HIV-positive, they could be utilizing single-drug therapy, which is a big NO-NO. To avoid drug resistance, HIV-positive people need combination-drug therapy.

As studies on PrEP continues, regiment refinement is likely on the horizon.

One of the efforts on the PrEP side was to study preventive use in a controlled setting so we could document whether you need it daily or weekly, Anton says. This is going to be looked at further so we can give more informed guidelines than those out now.

Queer World: Norway

Through history…

The 20th of May 1950 Norway’s first LGBT organisation was established, called The Federal of 1948 – Norwegian Section of The Danish Federal of 1948. Rolf Løvaas was elected as chairman. The 29th of November 1952 there are demands to pull out of the Danish Federal and form an independent Norwegian organisation. The board stepped down, and a new board was formed. David Meyer – a pseudonym – was elected chairman of the board. Then on the 1st of February 1953 the name of the organisation changed to The Norwegian Federal of 1948.

The next step in LGBT history in Norway is the broadcast of the first radio show about homosexuality the 15th of June 1965. The broadcast was led by Liv Haavik and lasted for 80 minutes. Producer Torlof Elster considered it an important theme and gave her as much broadcast time she wanted.

Homosexuality was illegal until 1972 when it was removed from the Penal Code. Gay and straight age of consent was made equal. Even though it now was legal it was considered and mental disorder until the Norwegian Psychiatric Association removed it from the list of mental illnesses in 1977.

In 1978 openly gay teachers get full rights and protection from discrimination guaranteed by the Department of Church and Education. Then in 1979 equal rights was introduced to the military – no D.A.D.T in Norway 🙂

In 1982 The Department of Social Affairs removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

1992, and The Norwegian Federal of 1948 and other organisations became LLH, The National Association for lesbians and gays. In 1993 the Partnership Act is written into law. This gives gays the same rights and duties as married couples when in civil partnerships. With the exception of the right to adopt and to have the ceremony in a religious setting. In 1998 gays are included in a special anti discrimination act of the Work Environment Act – with the exception of positions in religious settings.

Marriage equality is written into law in 2008 and effective from the 1st of January 2009.

LGBT people in politics

Jon Reidar Øyan, Norwegian Labour Party
Håkon Haugli, Norwegian Labour Party
André Oktay Dahl, Conservative Party of Norway
Anette Trettebergstuen, Norwegian Labour Party
Erling Lae, Conservative Party of Norway
Bent Høie, Conservative Party of Norway
Wenche Lowzow, Conservative Party of Norway
Per-Kristian Foss, Conservative Party of Norway

Links point to their norwegian Wikipedia page.

Other famous LGBT people

Anne Holt, writer – lawyer – ex-politician
Karen-Christine “Kim” Friele, gay rights activist – writer
Sven Elvestad, writer
Trygve Hjorth-Johansen, journalist
Gudmund Vindland, writer
Anne Aasheim, journalist
Mia Hundvin, professional handballplayer
Anne Grete Preus, musician
Gro Hammerseng, professional handballplayer
Vibeke Skofterud, professional cross-country skiier
Sara Azmeh Rasmussen, writer
Frank Rossavik, news editor
Arnfinn Nordbø, writer
Sturla Berg-Johansen, comedian
Christen Sveaas, business mogul
Per Sundnes, tv-host
Arve Juritzen, tv-host – producer – publishing editor
Jan Thomas Mørch Husby, stylist
Karen Pinholt, leader LLH
Christine Koht, tv-host

Links point to their norwegian Wikipedia page.

Some statistics

Most statistics indicate that 3-5% of the norwegian population is gay. That´s somewhere between 150 – 250 000 people. That´s 1 in 20. These statistics are supported by surveys done in high schools, which shows that on average there is 1-2 – in each class –  seeing themselves as gay or bisexual.

As in most other countries some surveys tackling the issue of suicide, suspected gay or people with suppressed gay feelings are at a slight higher risk of actually committing suicide.

Homosexual relationships are widely accepted and protected by law in Norway. The last 10 years or so the coming out age have dropped dramatically. It´s now more or less normal to come out around 16, while in the 90´s it was more likely to be in the in the early 20´s while going to university.

But there are still problems surrounding the LGBT community in Norway. Homophobia is live and well, unfortunately. It´s bullying in schools, in the workplace and unprovoked acts of violence. But that’s a small ignorant part of the general public.

The Titans are coming.

In a simulation, a Titan-like atmosphere produces nearly all of life’s building blocks.

Scientists studying Titan’s atmosphere have learned it can create complex molecules, including amino acids and nucleotide bases, often called the building blocks of life. They are the first researchers to show it’s possible to create these molecules without water, suggesting Titan could harbor huge quantities of life’s precursors floating in its atmosphere. It’s a breakthrough that even has implications for the beginning of life on Earth.

Researchers at the University of Arizona built a simulated Titan atmosphere in a special chamber in Paris and blasted it with microwaves, simulating the effect of solar energy. The reactions produced aerosols, which sank to the bottom of the chamber, where scientists scooped them up for study. What they found was unexpected, to put it mildly: all the nucleotide bases that make up the genetic code of all life on Earth, and more than half of the 22 amino acids that make proteins.

Of course, this doesn’t prove Titan has life — this was a test chamber, not the actual moon’s atmosphere, for one thing — but it’s intriguing, at least.

“Our results show that it is possible to make very complex molecules in the outer parts of an atmosphere,” said Sarah Hörst, a graduate student in the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab, in a UA News story. She led the research effort with her adviser, planetary science professor Roger Yelle.

Titan is one of the most promising places for life elsewhere in the solar system. It has huge methane lakes and scientists recently learned that hydrogen is disappearing faster than it should at the surface, suggesting some sort of chemical reaction is consuming it.

The best data about Titan’s characteristics has come from the spacecraft Cassini, which has tasted some of the moon’s outermost atmosphere in a series of flybys since 2004. But Cassini was not designed to dip below 560 miles above the surface, much too far to really get a sense of what the moon’s atmosphere contains.

To truly test its capabilities, researchers would have to recreate the atmosphere in a lab, mixing the gases found on TItan and subjecting them to radiation. The microwaves caused a gas discharge, the same process that makes neon signs glow, which caused some of the nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide to bond together into solid matter. These aerosols were levitated in a special chamber before they got heavy enough to fall down. The prospect of small floating life forms in the Titanic atmosphere is intriguing enough, but the study also revealed some interesting possibilities about the genesis of life on Earth. Titan’s atmosphere might be chemically similar to that of the early Earth, suggesting that instead of emerging from a primordial soup, the building blocks of life might have rained down from on high.

Hörst said the most interesting aspect of the study was proof that you can make pretty much anything in an atmosphere — a finding with major implications for astrobiology.

“Who knows this kind of chemistry isn’t happening on planets outside our solar system?” she said.

Gay youth in the US.

One of the outrageous ironies of the recent media reports of gay teen suicides (in the US) can be found in a less-reported but equally significant story of 2010. A landmark study published in the journal Pediatrics in June shattered long-held myths by concluding that children of lesbian parents are better adjusted than children of heterosexual parents. The kids of lesbian parents score higher all over the board. Higher on psychological measures of confidence and self-esteem, they excel academically, and are less likely to have behavioral problems. This long-term study, which focused on lesbian families because the gayby-boom started earlier with women, pointed to a variety of possible reasons, with family planning and an awareness of discrimination among them.

Breaking every nasty stereotype perpetuated by bigots, the kids of gay parents are in fact all right. The irony lies in the fact that it´s the children of straight parents who are very much in a full-blown crisis, be they gay and victims of bullying or the perpetrators of bullying themselves.

It´s hard to know if gay teen suicides are on the rise or if media reports – and the use of social media to get the news out – have focused more attention on them. But on thing is for certain: They´re happening at an unacceptable rate.

Columnist and author Dan Savage, the man behind the “It Gets Better Project” on YouTube, believes that despite the gains of the gay equality movement and the coming out of celebrities here and there, life is worse for LGBT teens today then it was 20 years ago, particularly for those living far from urban areas. While the gay political movement has made dramatic strides, most of those advances have been for adults in big cities. And at the same time, the religious right has come full force out of it´s own closet – condemning homosexuality and pushing therapy to cure the gays. In suburban and rural areas, preachers attack gays, ugly campaigns have been waged to bar gays for marrying, and politicians rail that gays shouldn´t be teaching in schools.

Savage may be on to something; As we have moved ahead with civil-rights movement for LGBT adults – marriage, employment nondiscrimination laws, adoption and gay parenting – the organized political movement has largely ignored the backlash our success has triggered and ignored how that backlash hurts gay youths. Sure, there are some excellent groups focused on these issues, such as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. But many gay adults, unless they have children themselves, are far removed from these issues and often see fighting discrimination in their own lives as more important. It´s true, of course, that progress for LGBT adults helps everyone in the long run. If LGBT people had full civil rights – equal marriage rights and federal constitutional protections against discrimination – homophobia would diminish in society and young people would grow up in a better world. But we all know that equal rights and the hate will only grow worse in the meantime.

An example of this can be found in the 2010 Republican primary campaigns for a U.S. Senate seat from New Hampshire. The two Tea Party-backed candidates vying for the nomination ran on a platform of homophobia. Not only did both oppose all gay civil rights including marriage, they opposed adoption by gays and lesbians – an extreme position given that only one state, Florida, has banned such adoptions, and that ban was overturned in a state appeals court in recent months. New Hampshire already has full civil rights for gays, including marriage equality and antidiscrimination statues. And yet here were two candidates hell-bent on rolling those achievements back. And the winner of the Republican primary, Kelly Ayotte, actually made the Senate.

It will be many years before marriage equality and antidiscrimination protections come to every state. And the New Hampshire example shows that even after equality is won, it may be many years before antigay forces stop trying to strip away hard-earned rights of the LGBT community. We´ll be fighting for a long time. One battlefield will continue to be the schools, where young people will be targeted. And it´s not just the gay kids and those who are perceived to be gay who are under attack, it´s also those whose parents are gay who are being singled out as different by bullies.

The problem is only going to get worse unless there is a concerted effort to dramatically change the culture of schools. Often we´re dealing with the symptoms rather that the larger problem when it comes to bullying and homophobia.

In the research, ‘slut’ and ‘faggot’ are the two words used most by bullies, says Elizabeth Payne, who founded the Queering Education Research Institute at Syracuse University´s School of Education.

Through QuERRI´s Reduction of Stigma in Schools Program, Payne and her colleagues are doing the qualitative research that is much needed to get at the root of bullying. She believes we have a Band-Aid approach that punishes bullies rather than preventing them from developing in the first place.

Right now we focus on the individual kids´ problems. Conversations are about bullying prevention, and those things are important. But why has the effeminate male been the primary target of bullying for so many years? The problem with the bullying programs is that we reeducate the bully and then there´s another one right behind that one, because we haven´t really questioned the structure of the school itself. The football players and the cheerleaders are the most valued. It´s based on gender. We have to questions schools about how they´re privileging that, and the school needs to equally send those messages that it´s OK to excel at other things.

We also must battle a message that´s reinforced far beyond the schools through a popular culture that still values the macho male and demonizes those who are perceived as effeminate. A case in point is the is the controversy that erupted a few months ago after the trailer for the Ron Howard film ‘The Dilemma’ was shown in theaters. Star Vince Vaughn´s character jokes that ‘electric cars are gay’. The fact that he tries to clarify by saying, “I mean, not ‘homosexual’ gay, but ‘my parents are chaperoning the dance’ gay,” only underscores the ugliness of the message. “Gay” isn´t just a sexual orientation: it´s nerdy, weak and undesirable. When Hollywood and pop culture help to solidify the message coming from antigay politicians and preachers, it shouldn´t shock anyone that it plays out detrimentally among young people.

Not untill we address these larger and more challenging aspects of culture, in schools and beyond, will we see the bullying and suicides diminish. And changing the culture will have a positive effect – not just on LGBT youths, but on all kids, including the bullies. If there´s one thing all parents can glean from the landmark study of children of lesbian parents, it´s that teaching kids about difference and acceptance seems to be part of the mix in building self-esteem and confidence for all.

Building blocks of life.

Biologists have isolated a bacterium that can use a deadly chemical in place of one of life’s key building blocks, in a finding NASA says could have major implications for astrobiology and our understanding of life on Earth.

In the study, researchers examined a bacteria living in a very salty and arsenic-heavy lake in northeastern California, not far from Yosemite National Park. It is not a space alien, nor is it “new life” – it’s an existing bacteria that lives in a difficult environment and was deliberately manipulated in a lab.

But the results are interesting because nothing like this has ever been done before. All life as we know it depends on six key ingredients – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. This bacteria can switch from phosphorus to arsenic – usually a deadly toxin – and not only survive, but thrive. It can swap arsenic for phosphorus so completely that arsenic is incorporated into its DNA and other biomolecules like ATP, according to the study. This is a first, and it upends our assumptions about how life works.

“I don’t know about a new textbook, but certainly some paragraphs and sentences are going to have to be rewritten after today,” said James Elser, a professor at Arizona State University.

Extraterrestrial life?

What this means for astrobiology is pretty speculative, however. When looking for life in other worlds, especially promising places like Saturn’s moon Titan or in the Martian soil, scientists look for telltale signs of life as we know it. That means carbon-based life, respiration with oxygen and carbon dioxide, amino acids, and so on.

This finding tells us that we should ditch these assumptions and broaden our horizons. If a humble Earthling bacteria can live on a poisonous chemical, then who knows what might lurk elsewhere in the solar system? We’ll have to recalibrate our mass spectrometers.

“I find this result delightful because it may have to expand my notion of what environmental constituents might enable habitability,” said Pamela Conrad, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a principal investigator on the new Curiosity Mars rover, which will carry experiments designed to look for signs of life. “The implication is that we still don’t know everything there is to know about what might make a habitable environment on another planet. We have to increasingly broaden our perspective.”

Mono Lake, California

In terms of its metabolism, the bacterium – a proteobacteria called GFAJ-1 – is actually not very interesting, according to Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a scientist with NASA’s Astrobiology Institute and lead author of the paper released today. It is not a chemosynthetic bacteria, for instance, using chemicals instead of light to produce food. In that way, it’s less exciting than well-studied extremophiles that live near superheated hydrothermal vents or the unforgiving sulfur lakes of Yellowstone National Park.

“But it’s interesting because it’s a chemical mutant. In an arsenic-enriched environment in Wolfe-Simon’s lab, its very DNA changed. It swapped arsenic for phosphorus in the nucleic acids that make up the backbone of DNA, and that’s a revolutionary result,” Elser said.

“Every living thing uses phosphorus to build its DNA,” Elser said at a press conference Thursday. “The fact that I am sitting here today discussing the possibility that that is not true is quite shocking.”

At the very least, that is interesting for our understanding of microbes, Wolfe-Simon said. Microorganisms are the oldest and most prevalent form of life, and this study shows that we know less about them than we thought. There may be many other species of microbes that can tolerate or thrive with arsenic, for instance. This is just the first time anyone has really ever tried to find one.

Wolfe-Simon said she had been thinking about chemical substitution for several years. Back in 2006, while she was a postdoctoral fellow at ASU, she proposed looking for life forms that can survive even substituting various chemicals for the building blocks of life. It’s not a wild hypothesis – there are a few previous examples of trace metallic elements substituting for one another, including the switching of copper for iron as an oxygen carrier in some mollusks, for instance. The swapped elements share some chemical similarities, making the transition simpler.

Arsenic and phosphorus are also chemically analagous – arsenic is directly below phosphorus on your periodic table, and the elements have the same number of electrons in their outer shells, which makes them behave similarly. So swapping arsenic for phosphorus makes sense on paper. Wolfe-Simon wanted to find out if it worked in practice, and she went looking in a likely place – California’s Mono Lake, which teems with life despite containing high levels of arsenic and a salinity level three times that of the oceans.