When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

TOPIC: history


How Prostitution In Medellín Has Burst Out Into The Open

Medellín was once a mix of conservative values and hidden perversions, but now the sex trade is no longer a secret to anyone.

Updated Nov. 29, 2023 at 6:15 p.m.


BOGOTÁ — In the 1940s, Medellín wasn't just Colombia's chief industrial city but also boasted the most brothels, sex workers and "red light" districts.

As a columnist from Bogotá wrote, "You enter Medellín through a brothel." One conservative daily newspaper proclaimed in an editorial that the city was a "branch of Sodom and Gomorrah."

Watch VideoShow less

This Happened—November 29: Robert McNamara Resigns

Updated November 29, 2023 at 12:00 p.m.

As a key proponent of expanding the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara became the target of much the ire of the U.S. anti-war movement. He finally resigned after being the longest serving Secretary of Defense.

Get This Happened straight to your inbox ✉️ each day! Sign up here.

Keep reading...Show less

Bravo! Brava! Opera's Overdue Embrace Of Trans Performers And Storylines

Opera has played with ideas of gender since its earliest days. Now the first openly trans performers are taking to the stage, and operas explicitly exploring trans identities are beginning to emerge.

Welcome to Worldcrunch’s LGBTQ+ International. We bring you up-to-speed each week on the latest on everything LGBTQ+ — from all corners of the planet. This week, we feature an article by Manuel Brug for German daily Die Welt, which looks at how the emergence of trans performers and storylines in modern opera follows in the genre’s long history of playing with the idea of gender. But first, the latest news…

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

TW: This content may address topics and include references to violence that some may find distressing

🌐 5 things to know right now

• Romania not ready to uphold same-sex couples' rights: “I don't think Romania is ready," said the country’s Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu, signaling his refusal to uphold the rights of same-sex couples in line with a European Court of Human Rights ruling. Earlier this year, the ECHR ruled that Romania had failed to implement LGBTQ+ rights — a ruling that aimed to push Romanian policymakers to enforce laws to protect their LGBTQ+ citizens.

France moves closer to compensating gay men jailed under past laws: French senators are discussing a bill that acknowledges the country’s role in the persecution of gay people between the 1940s and 1980s, as well as plans to offer compensation to those that are still alive today. Between 1942 and 1982, an estimated 60,000 gay men were convicted in France, notably during WWII, under the Nazi-allied Vichy regime.

• Russia may soon be able to dismantle LGBTQ+ organizations: Russia’s Supreme Court is set to consider a petition put forth by the country’s Justice Ministry, which requested that the "international LGBT social movement" be labeled an "extremist organization." If the court concurs with the ministry, as many anticipate, law enforcement are likely to be authorized and equipped to dismantle LGBTQ+ organizations, enabling them to target activists within Russia.

• Ghana Cardinal says it's time to understand homosexuality: In Ghana, Cardinal Peter Turkson says that although the Church still considers same-sex relationships to be "objectively sinful,” homosexuality should not be a criminal offense, and that people should instead receive education and help. This comes as the Ghanaian parliament debates a bill that imposes harsh penalties on LGBTQ+ people. The proposed bill aims to criminalize identifying as LGBT, with a three-year prison sentence. Additionally, individuals advocating for LGBTQ+ rights may face up to 10 years in jail.

• India's LGBTQ+ community holds Pride march amid restrictive laws: Over 2,000 people celebrated a Pride event in New Delhi despite the country’s top court’s refusal to legalize same-sex marriages in an October ruling. Although legal rights for LGBTQ+ people in India have expanded over the past decade thanks to the Supreme Court, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has recently rejected the legal recognition of same-sex marriage and same-sex unions, claiming that they go against Indian culture.

Bravo! Brava! Opera's Overdue Embrace Of Trans Performers And Storylines

BERLIN — The figure of the nurse Arnalta is almost as old as opera itself. In Claudio Monteverdi’s saucy Roman sex comedy The Coronation of Poppaea, this motherly confidante spurs the eponymous heroine on to ever more lustful encounters, singing her advice in the voice of a tenor. The tradition of a man playing an older woman in a comic role can be traced all the way back to the comedies of the ancient world, which Renaissance-era writers looked to for inspiration.

The Popes in Baroque Rome decreed that, supposedly for religious reasons, women should not sing on stage. But they still enjoyed the spectacular performances of castratos, supporting them as patrons and sometimes even acting as librettists. The tradition continues today in the form of celebrated countertenors, and some male sopranos perform in female costume.

“I don’t know what I am, or what I’m doing.” This is how the pageboy Cherubino expresses his confusion at the flood of hormones he is experiencing in his aria in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – one of the most popular operas of all time, full of amorous adventures and sexual misunderstandings. Cherubino cannot and does not want to choose between a countess, a lady’s maid, and a gardener’s daughter. He sometimes wears women’s clothing himself, and in modern productions the music teacher even chases after the young man.

The role of Cherubino, the lustful teenager caught between childhood and manhood, someone who appears trapped in the "wrong

body, is traditionally performed by a woman, usually a mezzosoprano. The audience is used to this convention, also seen in Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier or Siegfried Matthus’s Cornet Christoph Rilke’s Song of Love and Death, first performed in 1984.But what does it mean for an opera singer to come out as a transperson, when playing with gender has been such an integral part of the repertoire for centuries?

When the Vienna State Opera staged Olga Neuwirth’s Orlando in 2019, based on Virginia Woolf’s iconic gender-fluid protagonist, the New York-based trans performer Justin Vivian Bond played Orlando as an androgynous child and a night club singer. Even in Italian opera houses, which are thought to be more conservative, trans performers have played the flamboyant comic speaking role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp in Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment.

So far, the shift has been confined largely to minor roles. But baritones like Lucia Lucas and Sam Taskinen, who live as women in their daily lives, are also seeking to embrace their female identity on stage.

Lucas says uncompromisingly, “I’m trans. I don’t want to perpetuate any cliches. I want to be taken seriously as an artist.” On stage she still performs male roles with gusto, and she has even played the greatest lothario of all, Don Giovanni, in her native USA – in traditionally redneck Oklahoma of all places. The story of this groundbreaking performance was told in the documentary The Sound of Identity.

Lucas, who chose the name Lucia as a nod to Donizetti’s tragic heroine and refers to herself as a “female baritone”, has also played the role of Public Opinion in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, and the high priest in Samson and Delilah. She has also performi at the Metropolitan Opera.

Are the parameters changing for queer performers in traditionally puritanical America? For starters, there is a blurring of gender identities: does the man singing onstage with a female voice identify as a trans man in his daily life, and does the baritone who plays male roles live as a trans woman? Openly trans stars are still exceptions, and European opera houses are seemingly beginning to discover them only now. Two new, very different operas, both centring on trans title characters – Lili Elbe and Strella – are now being performed in St Gallen and Athens.

Jan Henric Bogen, the visionary artistic director of the opera house in St Gallen, commissioned Lili Elbe – the first major opera about a trans person – for the reopening of the brutalist concrete theatre after years of renovations. It is the seventh opera by the Grammy Award-winning American composer Tobias Picker, and his first to be performed in Europe. The 67-year-old Picker’s librettist is his husband Aryeh Lev Stollman. Lucia Lucas – a longtime friend, whom he cast as Don Giovanni when he was artistic consultant at the Tulsa Opera – acted as dramaturg.

Picker has wanted to compose a piece especially for Lucas for some time. At first he wanted to write an opera about the Stonewall riots of 1969, which were a turning point in the fight for LGBT rights. But in the end he decided to focus on the life of Lili Elbe.

Elbe was born in Denmark in 1862 and, although it is believed by some people that she had both male and female sex organs, she was raised as Einar Wegener. “He” became a painter, as did his wife Gerda. In Paris, the bisexual Gerda painted her husband as a female model called Lili, hiding her sitter’s true identity. In 1930 Wegener was the first trans person to undergo gender-affirming surgery.

The operation was performed at the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute of Sex Research in Berlin. As a consequence, Lili and Gerda’s marriage was dissolved by King Christian X of Denmark himself, and Elbe was issued with papers in her new name. In 1931, a few months after her fourth operation, Lili Elbe died of complications from surgery. She is buried in Johannstadt in Dresden.

Lili Elbe’s life story, Man Into Woman, published in 1931, was the basis for The Danish Girl, a biopic released in 2015, in which – in a decision that is now criticized by many activists – Eddie Redmayne performed as Einar/Lili. Lucia Lucas’s performance as Lili in the opera is convincing mainly due to her powerful vocals, even though visually she bears little resemblance to the historical Lili Elbe.

Read the full article by Manuel Brug for Die Welt, translated from German to English here.


Here are some other great LGBTQ+ reads we spotted for you this week:

• From Pink News: Why older lesbian visibility is so essential

• From Euronews: UK museum says Roman emperor Elagabalus was transgender

• From Al Jazeera: LGBTQ advocates cheer Thailand’s latest drive for same-sex marriage law

• From BBC: Poland's LGBT community hopeful era of hate speech is over

Keep reading...Show less

This Happened—November 27: Before Ardern, There Was Clark

Updated on Nov. 27, 2023 at 12:50 p.m.

Helen Clark became the first elected female Prime Minister of New Zealand on this day in 1999.

Keep reading...Show less
FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why Taiwan Backs Israel Even If Its Own Struggle Mirrors Palestine's

Taiwanese, though under the weight of a far more powerful neighbor, have the tendency to idealize Israel and fail to create a self-definition beyond the island nation's anti-China image.

TAIPEI — After the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas, who killed around 1,200 people and took 200 hostages, Israel imposed a complete blockade on Gaza and began a large-scale counteroffensive. Originally, most Western countries fully supported Israel's right of self-defense. However, sentiments have shifted in a section of the west over the past month, with Israel's counterattacks having caused up to 10,000 deaths in Gaza and pushing the Gazan population into a humanitarian crisis, marked by a dire shortage of water, electricity, food, and medicine. With the opening of a new front by Israel on the Lebanese-Syrian border, there are fears that the fighting could expand even further, resulting in an even greater humanitarian catastrophe.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

After the Hamas raid shocked the world, public opinion in the Chinese-speaking world, like in western society, split into two. One side firmly supported Israel's determination to defend its homeland and national sovereignty, while the other side invoked the region's history and sympathized with the Palestinians.

However, unlike in the west, most Chinese people did not choose a side based on well-considered national interests or humanitarian concern for the disadvantaged, but rather based on their attitudes toward the United States and China. Being anti-American or anti-China has become a fundamental factor determining whether you support Palestine or Israel.

Watch VideoShow less
This Happened

This Happened—November 18: Jim Jones' Deadly Cult

Updated Nov. 18, 2023 at 4:10 p.m.

During a time filled with a myriad of cults, the People's Temple massacre became the largest cult mass killing as Jim Jones led 918 people to death by cyanide poisoning.

Get This Happened straight to your inbox ✉️ each day! Sign up here.

Watch VideoShow less
This Happened

This Happened — November 17: The Velvet Revolution

Updated Nov. 17, 2023 at 12:10 p.m.

In the push for an end to the Communist regime, Prague's international students took to the streets to have their demands heard on November 17, 1989. It was the beginning of what would come to be known as the Velvet Revolution.

Get This Happened straight to your inbox ✉️ each day! Sign up here.

Watch VideoShow less
FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War
Murat Sevinç

Gaza, A View From Istanbul: Why I Still Believe In Western Values

Palestinians are suffering under the Israeli regime and relentless bombardment of Gaza, yet the Western world, also known to be the "civilized" world, continues to support Israel. Turkey's complex relationship with Islamic and Middle Eastern countries as well as with the West brings back the most fundamental questions about the past and future.


ISTANBUL — Civilians in Palestine are being bombed in front of our eyes. The “civilized” world continues to stand witness to the reckless use of violence by Israel, as it has done so many times before. Yet a part of the world does not just witness the violence: It openly excuses and supports it — much the same as the blind eye turned for decades to the tortures suffered by the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

The Palestinians are suffering under a rotten Israeli regime currently run by racists. The right-wing fanatics among the world's Jewish population in various parts of the globe are doing their best to wear down the anti-war supporters, who are doing their best to make their voice heard. We've heard these voices from both sides many times before. I believe the existence of the Jews who take to the streets of Tel Aviv and in the cities of the West to protest the Israeli assault on Gaza are the most meaningful acts of opposition. They are not many, but they are being heard and seen.

Turkey, meanwhile, is no less predictable. Everybody knows who will react to what, when and for what purpose. The ruling administration and some small opposition parties who share much in common perceive what’s happening from a window of pan-Islamism. Their current reaction is unfortunately not related to commitments to human rights or international law, or even from an anti-war stance against the fascistic attitude of the Israeli government.

Watch VideoShow less
Reinhard Mohr

From Nazism To Anti-Fascism To Pro-Hamas, Reflections Of A Post-War German

The post-War generation in Germany was shaped politically by one question: Why didn’t our parents prevent the Holocaust? Nowadays, as baby boomers are retiring, the inner political wrestling seems to have fallen out of time, because anti-fascism has long changed sides.

Updated Nov. 14, 2023 at 6 p.m.


BERLIN — These days, one experience keeps coming to mind which apparently has nothing to do with the Hamas massacre on October 7 and its terrible consequences. At the same time, it does — albeit via the winding paths of my biography, which was largely that of an entire generation: the so-called baby boomers, born roughly between 1950 and 1965.

We were the strongest cohort of the post-War period, until the "baby bust."

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

Soon we will all be retired — we, the eternal young professionals, forever young. We were the ones who repeatedly confronted their parents with probing questions: What did you do? What did you know? Why didn’t you prevent it? How could this even happen? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?

No matter what the answers were — at that time we made an almost sacred commitment, indeed an inner vow, to fight all forms of anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews in the future, even if all the past could no longer be undone.

Watch VideoShow less
Manon Laplace

A Future For Timbuktu's Ancient Books? Conservation And Digitalization

Mali's "mysterious city" welcomes a new class of students trained in looking after ancient books. From conservation to digitization of these works, a colossal task awaits them to preserve this endangered heritage and the secrets they contain.

Updated Nov. 13, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.

TIMBUKTU — In the workroom of the Ahmed-Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Research, time seems to have slowed down. As the dust and the sound of brushes on paper float by, six students hold in their hands one of the most precious heritages of the region.

Ceremoniously, they repeat the same gestures: lifting the pages, one by one, with the tip of a thin wooden spatula, then, with the flat of the brush, ridding the inks and the centuries-old papers of dust.

Watch VideoShow less
Chiara Valerio

What If Globalization Creates Vampires?

Inspired by a new book on vampires, Italian writer Chiara Valerio analyzes how the figure of the vampire has come to represent life and death over centuries of science, art and culture. When understood through a modern lens, what can the vampire tell us about our own Gothic concerns?


TURIN — What is death?

Well, let's put it like this: what is a vampire? From the moment that they first made their appearance in fiction, vampires have served as a symbol through which to understand the relationship between life and death. But did vampires exist before Gothic fiction? What did it mean to return from the dead and be nourished by blood? Could it have been not horrifying — but divine?

These are the questions that Italian writer Francesco Paolo De Ceglia asks in his book Vampyr, Storia Naturale Della Resurrezione (Vampyr: A Natural History of Resurrection). The book looks at centuries of meditations on the question of death, consisting of religious and scientific nuances, metaphors, and metonymies. Often, it all adds up to nothing more than pain.

Reading De Ceglia, it becomes clear that when understanding death, the pivotal issue is the separation between the scientific moment of death and the metaphysical question of what comes after. Today, technology can pinpoint the exact instant of death. But the threshold between life and death hasn't always been such a sharply defined one. For centuries and centuries, humans observed how the process breathing ceased and that of decomposition began, both obscuring and exposing the human body. Little wonder that an army of shadowy figures made their way into the decomposing body — the vampire being the most famous of them all.

Watch VideoShow less
This Happened

This Happened — November 1: A War Begins That Would Change Two Nations

Updated Nov. 1, 2023 at 12:50 p.m.

Starting in 1954, the Algerian War was fought between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front, and ultimately led to Algeria winning its independence in 1962, ending more than a century of French colonial rule.

Watch VideoShow less