Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gay marriage in Brazil, an update

On Tuesday, October 25th, the Supreme Court of Brazil upheld the same-sex marriage of two women. This was after two lower courts rejected their petition to convert their civil union to a legal marriage. The court has previously, unanimously, held that same-sex civil unions are to be afforded a great number of important rights such as community property, inheritance, health insurance, property rights, alimony, tax benefits and adoption.

So you would think this would settle the matter. Not quite. In Brazil State courts are not bound to follow the rulings from the Supreme Court.

What this means is that if a same-sex couple is in a registered civil union (so-called “stable relationship”) they can petition the State court to have it converted into a legal marriage (which affords additional privileges, protections and responsibilities). If the State court then rejects this petition the couple can appeal their way to the Supreme court where it will be granted.

So we still can’t get married “the easy way” like our straight counterparts, but this was an important step in the right direction.

Ultimately, what is needed is for the legislature to pass a law that provides for the legal marriages of same-sex couples. That’s not such an easy feat given the powerful influence of religious institutions among legislators. But we’ll get there.

In the meantime, there is a path available to legal marriage.

NOTE: be sure to read the clarification from Denis in the comments section. He corrects me that it was not the Brazilian Supreme Court that ruled, but rather a superior appeals body one level below the Supreme Court.  Thanks Denis.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pianist Fabio Martino

And now for something completely different.

Here's Brazilian pianist Fabio Martino playing with the São Paulo State Symphonic Orchestra. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Viva Brazil!

I love Brazil. I love Brazilians and their zest for life. And I love Brazilian parties.

Yesterday Luiz and I went to the 75th birthday party of the husband of a classmate of his. (I said 80 years on Facebook, but that was in error.) Luiz, with his instantly-endearing personality, and his voluptuous colleague Elvira were asked to be Masters of Ceremonies for the party. They sure knew how to work a microphone.
The party was at a salon de festa in Rio and it was a non-stop pleasure extravaganza.
We arrived at 12:30, the stated time the party was to start. So, of course, we were about an hour early… Even the hostess and her husband, the person of honor, were not even there yet. The musicians were doing their sound check and the waiters had not yet moved into working mode. But good for us, we could choose the perfect table (directly in front of a big oscillating fan).
The birthday boy (retired military brass) had asked people not to bring presents, but rather a kilogram of dried foods which he would then donate to a local charity. Nice touch, I thought. (By the end of the evening, the table with the food donations nearly collapsed from the weight of the items brought by his friends.)
So, as is typical for a Brazilian party of this type, the waiters began to serve beer and sodas, plus passed appetizers. I nursed a beer, but I was really holding out for the fine scotch (here referred to as whisky) that was surely to flow once the man himself arrived.
As the room filled with more than 200 people, the guest of honor and his wife arrived. The photographer and videographer got to work. Absolutely every person was greeted, kissed or hugged, and appreciated for being present by the star couple. Live music filled the background.
Before long we enjoyed the first of three performances by a professional dancer and her very cute partner. Beautiful.
Luiz and Elvira, along with the musicians, kept the party on track for a couple hours until it came time to open the buffet.
The food was plentiful and delicious, although I had just a bite or two. The children at our table (we had pulled three tables together) loved the raviolis and cheese sauce.
The prideful couple shared a featured dance and invited everyone to join them on the dance floor. We’re talking real dancing here – none of this hugging with a swaying back and forth from one foot to the other. Dancing.
The scotch was flowing by now…
After another dance performance two totally decked out pastistas came in to the sounds of a pounding samba refrain. We’re talking big, beautiful women wearing only a few strings of clothing and a lot of feathers – shaking their booties!  Luiz commented: “There’s nothing like some feathers, some glitter and a naked butt to shake up a party.” The birthday boy paraded around with his two new best friends, taking pictures with all his military buddies.
Much later, after the third dance performance we sang happy birthday, the cake was cut, and finally, take-away party favors were distributed (sweets in beautiful boxes), the signal that it was polite to leave now, if you so desired.
We stayed a bit longer. Luiz and Elvira had their responsibilities with the microphone.
I enjoyed meeting Elvira’s young daughter Adriana, an obstetrician and gynecologist. She had great stories to tell and her iPhone was filled with photos of the many babies she has delivered (she said she delivers one or two every day). Wonderful energy.
Finally we said our goodbyes and thank yous to the hostess and the man of the hour. Great party.
Oh – one more thing - in attendance, sitting at the table next to us, was a 106 year old man. Very sharp. People kept coming to his table and paying respect and offering their admiration. Also, there was a (unrelated) 103 year old woman at the party – who looked 80 (as if I know what that “looks” like). A moment was taken to honor both of these individuals. Very touching.
All in all – what a great party and celebration of life! Viva Brazil!

The making of a cachaça commercial

This is a fun 2 1/2 minutes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Supporting at-risk youth in Rocinha -- an update

Reporting back on our effort to raise funds for SpinRocinha at the Rocinha Media School, the professional DJ school for at-risk youth in Rocinha – I have a few bits of news.

We have raised half of our goal of US$900 to support the school in buying an iPad to advance their efforts in so many ways. So we still need your help.

I can also tell you about a mother/son pair that has enrolled. Marcia and her 13 year old son Arthur have enrolled to realize a shared dream to be music makers.  Marcia has long valued her experience  living in Rocinha and focuses on giving every opportunity she can to Arthur. She believes they both have music in their veins – and so the DJ school is a natural fit for their aspirations for the future. Marcia says she does not need money to be rich, but to make music with her son is a dream come true.
Please consider making a contribution to this valuable social program in Rocinha. You can do that here.
Also – if you are a blogger – please consider posting about this effort on your blog with links back here, or placing the dynamic button located in the right column of this blog on your blog.  I have provided the code you need.
And you can always share this or the original post on Facebook and Orkut.
The kids need your help. And we completely appreciate your support.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Gay Pride Parade 2011 in Rio de Janeiro

Luiz and I had originally planned to host a brunch on Sunday morning to gather our gay and lesbian friends and then all go over to Copacabana for the big parade (well, more like a street party). But to our frustration many of our queer friends (now all in our 50s) are not into these sorts of public events and big crowds (SO old school!)

Our friend Carlos in Fort Lauderdale, FL helped to forward some very cool rainbow chains (thank you Carlos!) which we were going to deck out our friends with – but alas, it was just Luiz and I – so we decided to take the beads with us to the event and sell them on the street. They were a hit! In less than two hours we had sold 34 of the 36 chains we had (keeping two for ourselves). We got R$10 a piece for them.

Anyway, the Parade was a gas, the weather was perfect AND we were able to meet up with Rachel and her band of merrymakers.

There were easily 11 trio-electricos, many outrageous drag queens, LOTS of straight people – and my favorite: yummy eye candy.

As is often our plan, Luiz and I stopped by the Chinese restaurant along Avenida Atlântica, east of the Copacabana Palace Hotel for dinner. (Friends in San Francisco, close your eyes, the price for a simple Hunan Chicken dish with fried rice, and two sodas: R$50.00 – OUCH – and they charged us R$1.00 for the Styrofoam box for taking home the leftovers!) 

On a more serious note – the theme of the many LGBT pride events across Brazil is to abolish homophobia, both through cultural campaigns and via the legislative process. Much progress has been made, and of course there is more to do.  But the level of political discourse at these events is impressive.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Supporting at-risk youth in Rio's Rocinha favela community

There was a time when opportunities were scarce in Rio’s Rocinha favela community. Actually, those times persist. Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio, with more than 300,000 poor residents clinging to the steep hillsides between Zona Sul and Barra de Tijuca. While living conditions have improved for some of its residents over the past 30 years, opportunities for its youth have barely budged.

But people like Zezinho and Lea are making a dent in those troubles. They are creating real opportunities for at-risk youth in the community. They are planting seeds that will surely grow into life-changing opportunities for young residents.

Let me tell you about a new, grass roots, social program and its benefits – and how you can be a part of the change that is happening. I am asking for your help.

Rocinha Media School is a new non-profit organization in Rocinha that focuses its efforts on at-risk youth and includes a program: Spin Rocinha, which teaches professional DJ skills so young people can acquire the pride and ability to take on a profession – without having to resort to street economics to survive. You can learn much more about the Rocinha Media School here.

The training is top notch. The equipment is top notch. The mentoring is all you could ask for. And the students are thrilled. There has been immediate interest among residents to participate.

Using state of the art equipment plus local and international DJs, Spin Rocinha attracted 10 students (full capacity) to its first class who are committed to learning the art of DJing and to lifting their eyes to the possibilities of the future. Music – listening to music, playing music, spinning music – it is a powerful personal and cultural force in this community. It is a lifeline.

And of course we need your help as we toss that lifeline to at-risk youth in the community. While much of the equipment has been donated, there is more needed. The school is looking to buy an iPad. They need US$900. Without getting too far into the weeds, the iPad is a big step forward in technology because:

1. It means they can be mobile - it does what a big clunky unit (2 x cdjs and a mixer) does so they can take the classes out to the youth in the community.

2. It is where the technology is evolving to.

3. It acts as an MPC (which is another tool that DJs use) - and also replaces a big clunky piece of equipment that way.

4. It allows them to upload and store all the media (music) on it so it also helps that they don't have to lug thousands of cds around.

5. It plugs straight into self-powered speakers or an amp eliminating the need for a big mixer.

6. They won't have to worry about secure space to store large equipment.

7. It runs off batteries so they won't need to worry about accessing power, which can be a problem when needing to find a place with reliable power and the several outlets needed with all the other equipment that needs to be plugged in.

8. Mobility allows them to play gigs out in the public without any worries about transportation or set up.

So if we REALLY want to make a tremendous impact/contribution to their efforts, this is the opportunity. This is the piece of equipment that will move them out of the studio (where they have the clunky – ‘though state of the art – DJ equipment), into the community, where the youth can practice and show off their newly learned skills. (Receiving the praise from others to spur them on.)

It’s often difficult to know how one can help address the endemic problems of inequality, lack of opportunity and youth hopelessness in Rio’s favela communities. If you want to help make a real difference in the lives of some of these youth, this is an opportunity.

Rocinha Media School is a local and internationally supported organization that could use your help.
You can make a financial contribution by visiting the donate page on Rocinha Media School’s website.

Please, join me in supporting at-risk youth looking for opportunities to change their lives. Click on the link, make a donation, and make a difference. If not us, then who? We can do this.

Thank you!

[Note to fellow bloggers and folks on Facebook – please consider doing us the great favor of linking to this post or reposting this appeal AND (very important) offering your personal endorsement of me as an honest guy, and Rocinha as a place that needs our support. There is power in numbers. The young people in Rocinha need our help. This is a chance to do an act of kindness that may change a life – and likely save a life.]

Here is a brief video (in Portuguese) of Spin Rocinha's premiere class.

An interview with me at BlogExpat

Many of you have read this all before... but the folks over at BlogExpat wanted to hear my story - so here's the interview just published today.

Expat Interview