The Risks Of Being Gay, Orlando To Berlin To The Middle East

Let's be clear, the terror in the Pulse club was not an attack on Western culture in general: It was aimed explicitly at gay people. Most heterosexuals don’t have the slightest idea what this really means.

Remembering the Orlando victims in Warsaw, Poland.
Remembering the Orlando victims in Warsaw, Poland.
Adriano Sack

BERLIN â€" For the launch of her 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna made an appearance at Roxy, a gay club in New York City. At one point in the scramble, she yelled out: "I was born in a disco!"

As is well known, Madonna was born in a hospital in the suburbs of Detroit. What she meant of course is that the skills and know-how that she needed to become one of the biggest pop stars ever were acquired as she danced among gay people.

Roxy’s accommodations are now being used by the Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth. The colorful carpet leading up to the main rooms is the only reminder of the former occupants. But that’s what it is with such clubs: They come and go. Orlando’s Pulse too is such a place, where identities are discovered, careers made and "one-night-civil-unions" are sealed. But in the night from Friday to Saturday it has become a place of death and terror.

The massacre is one of many killing sprees we've witnessed in recent years in the United States, and elsewhere. It's also one of many Islamic attacks on the West. When the toll of innocent lives is so high, it is always unbearable. But is it something different this time? For me, yes.

As a journalist I tend to avoid texts in which people take faraway catastrophes personally. In this case, though, I'm having a hard time not doing so. Because no matter what well-meaning colleagues might think, say or write, it’s not "our world" that has been shot at with machine guns this time â€" it’s mine.

A gay club is not only a place for young men to meet, drink and dance. It’s a safety zone. A night in the club is one of the few moments in a gay man’s life that he is not alone, not being smirked at or judged; when he can be himself, free of fear. Especially in a city like Orlando. Because the U.S. is, beyond the East and West Coasts, a repressive, conservative and aggressive nation.

Safe havens

Places like Pulse are not the meeting points of the well-earning, gay elite, but havens for those not welcome anywhere else in the American hinterland: young, old, pretty, not-so-pretty, dressed up as girls, the well-muscled in flannel shirts and baseball caps. These places are far from glamorous. But they don’t need to be. Often they are the only refuge, until a young man has saved up enough money for a trip to New York, or Berlin â€" places where, or at least that’s what they've been told to believe, freedom and peace are possible.

As for myself, I can’t complain. I have only been physically attacked three times because of my sexual orientation (once in Madrid, twice in Hamburg, and never by Muslims). I work in an industry where it’s part of the etiquette to accept me. Or at least pretend.

There were years where my way of dressing â€" not particularly flamboyant, I have to say â€" was systematically commented on during each editorial meeting. If I was to venture an opinion about soccer, the "real man" would usually express wonder that I should be interested in such a masculine activity. It is not a mean thing, per se, but it draws a clear line: us here; you there. But these are only details. And I can live with them. But then again, I don’t really have a choice either.

During a Pride Parade in front of Orlando's Pulse â€" Photo: Jeff Kern

I refuse to include the massacre of Orlando in the general Islamophobic agenda. As Donald Trump does, for instance. Yes, there are many Muslims who hate, and beat up gays. In Germany too. Also in Kreuzberg, where I live. And there are many Muslim nations where gays are persecuted, tortured and killed.

But on the global map of discrimination you don’t only find Muslim countries, even though, clearly, gay people live a freer life in Germany, and in America too.

A vow

Two years ago, I â€" freshly certified cleric of a very free church â€" had the honor of marrying two good friends of mine: Clement from Paris and Patrick from Boston. One of the two fathers wouldn’t attend, the other one had died. Both mothers had kindly asked me to not make a big deal out of the wedding. The wedding took place on the roof of a hotel in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, so I had to scream against the traffic noise. After the ceremony, the mothers, who had come there only reluctantly, thanked me for having found the right words for this wonderful wedding. That night I was convinced that our Western world was on the right track. And I wouldn’t want to live any other way or place.

In the 1990s I worked as a bartender in Hamburg in a very nice gay club on Hamburg's Reeperbahn street, and later at a club called Front, which used to have the reputation as the most over-the-top, gay and musically progressive addresses in Germany. Skinheads visited the bar regularly, looking for trouble, but most of the time they only wanted to smell our fear, and then move along.

One night at the Hamburg bar, a gang of thugs had followed a black guy to the place and laid siege to the bar, smashing the windows with manhole covers. Though the police station was 150 meters away, it took the first officers 30 minutes to arrive. Until now, it was the only night in my life that I feared for my life.

The Front too was regularly targeted, and so baseball bats were kept within reach for the doormen at the entrance. None of it would have helped against someone like Omar Mateen at the club in Orlando.

One gay friend of mine posted a message soon after the attack on Facebook: "Our fight never ends." Unfortunately he is right.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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