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US to ‘reengage’ with UN Human Rights Council

Body in recent years has championed LGBTQ issues

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(Photo by bennymarty via Bigstockphoto.com)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced the U.S. will “reengage” with the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The U.S. in 2018 withdrew from the council, which in recent years has emerged as a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights around the world.

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley during a press conference that announced the withdrawal noted countries “with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights records” are members of the council. Haley also accused it having a “chronic bias against” Israel.

Russia, Cuba and Venezuela are among the 47 countries that are currently members of the council.

“The Biden administration has recommitted the United States to a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights and equality,” said Blinken in a statement the State Department released. “Effective use of multilateral tools is an important element of that vision, and in that regard the president has instructed the Department of State to reengage immediately and robustly with the U.N. Human Rights Council.”

“We recognize that the Human Rights Council is a flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel,” he added. “However, our withdrawal in June 2018 did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of U.S. leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.”

The decision to “reengage” with the council comes days after President Biden issued a memorandum that commits the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. Blinken in his statement notes the council’s efforts to expand LGBTQ rights around the world.

“When it works well, the Human Rights Council shines a spotlight on countries with the worst human rights records and can serve as an important forum for those fighting injustice and tyranny,” said Blinken. “The council can help to promote fundamental freedoms around the globe, including freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and religion or belief as well as the fundamental rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ persons, and other marginalized communities. To address the council’s deficiencies and ensure it lives up to its mandate, the United States must be at the table using the full weight of our diplomatic leadership.”

“In the immediate term, the United States will engage with the council as an observer, and in that capacity will have the opportunity to speak in the council, participate in negotiations, and partner with others to introduce resolutions,” he added. “It is our view that the best way to improve the council is to engage with it and its members in a principled fashion. We strongly believe that when the United States engages constructively with the council, in concert with our allies and friends, positive change is within reach.”

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European Union

Czech lower house rejects equal marriage bill

Lawmakers agree to “compromise” bill expands same-sex couples’ rights, allows stepchild adoption but senators have vowed to continue fighting

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A session of the Chamber of Deputies, Parliament of the Czech Republic. (Photo Credit: Parliament of the Czech Republic)

By Rob Salerno | PRAGUE, Czech Republic – The lower house of the Czech parliament rejected a bid to allow same-sex marriage in the Central European country Wednesday afternoon, instead passing a compromise bill that expand the rights of same-sex couples in registered partnerships and allow them to adopt each other’s biological stepchildren.

The bill heads to the senate, where some senators have vowed to continue fighting for full equality.

Czechia has allowed same-sex couples to form registered partnerships since 2006, but these accorded limited rights compared to marriage. Notably, same-sex couples were barred from adoption, and were not allowed a widow’s pension or joint property rights.

Lawmakers were debating a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage, as well as a set of proposed amendments that would have instead expanded the rights of couples in registered partnerships. While a parliamentary committee had recommended that lawmakers vote on the proposals from the most expansive to the least expansive, parliament instead reversed that order. In the event, the proposal for full equal marriage didn’t even come for a vote as the compromise amendment was passed first. 

Under the compromise bill passed Wednesday, registered partnerships will be renamed “partnerships,” and same-sex couples will have all the same rights as married couples except with regard to adoption. Joint adoption will not be allowed, and partners will only be allowed to adopt each other’s biological children.

The compromise bill passed with 118 votes in favor, 33 against, and 23 abstentions. A proposal that would have allowed full joint adoption rights received 66 votes in favor to 54 against with 64 abstentions, but failed because it required a majority of lawmakers present, or 93 votes, to pass.  

Czech marriage equality advocacy group Jsme Fér says the result was disappointing.

“It is a sad day for thousands of families with children who have two moms or two dads and hundreds of thousands of LGBT people. It is a sad day for justice and equality in our country,” the group posted on X following the vote.

Same-sex marriage has been a live political issue in Czechia for the past several years. Polls have consistently shown wide support for same-sex marriage in the country, but support among lawmakers has long lagged public opinion.

Civil society had also mobilized to support same-sex marriage, with groups representing university students, artists, business groups, and large corporations joining campaigns urging legislators to support equal marriage. 

Ahead of the vote Wednesday, President Petr Pavel, who campaigned last year on a promise to support same-sex marriage, urged lawmakers to support equality.

“I recognize the principle of freedom and equality of every person from the point of view of law and see no reason to limit rights based on sexual orientation. I believe we are a tolerant society and we will rectify these rights as soon as possible. There is no change in this position of mine,” Pavel wrote in a post on X.

The compromise bill now heads to the senate, which will need to pass it before it can become law. At least one senator has said he will urge his colleagues to insist on full marriage equality.

“A watered-down version of same-sex marriage is heading to the Senate. I am sorry that the majority of MPs were against equal marriage for all. In the Senate, we still have a chance to fix it, I am ready to file a PN. I don’t want to continue the regime of two categories of people,” senator Lukáš Wagenknecht of the Pirate Party wrote on X.

But the bill may face an uphill battle in the Senate, which is slightly more conservative than the lower house. Last month, the senate rejected ratifying the Istanbul Convention on Domestic Violence, a European treaty meant to protect women, over concerns that the convention would expand LGBT rights. In fact, the treaty does not mention LGBT people, but anti-LGBT forces have been mobilizing against it in Eastern Europe. 

As in many countries in Eastern Europe, support for same-sex marriage has become a proxy for support of Western or pro-European Union values. Of the 27 EU countries, 16 allow same-sex marriage, the most recent being Greece and Estonia. A further 5 recognize some form of civil union, while a civil union bill has been proposed by Poland’s new government and another civil union bill is before the Lithuanian parliament.  

The next Czech parliamentary election is not expected until October 2025.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Africa

Ghanaian MPs approve anti-LGBTQ+ bill

Measure would criminalize advocacy, allyship

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Ghanaian flag (Public domain photo by Jorono from Pixabay)

ACCRA, Ghana — Ghanaian lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill that would further criminalize LGBTQ+ people and make advocacy on their behalf illegal.

Advocacy groups and their supporters had urged MPs to oppose the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that would, among other things, criminalize allyship.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Ghana. Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is also commonplace in the country as the Washington Blade has previously reported.

“The Human Sexual rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, a private member’s bill passed by parliament, has not yet become a law in Ghana,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima in a press release. “If the bill does become a law, it will affect everyone.” 

Human Rights Campaign Vice President of Government Affairs David Stacy also criticized the bill’s passage.

“We are outraged to hear about the Ghanaian Parliament’s passage of the so-called ‘Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Act’ — a cruel bill that violates the fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ people and allies throughout Ghana,” he said. “Every single lawmaker who voted to pass this bill is wrongly using their power to strip away the basic humanity of the people they are supposed to represent.” 

Outright International Senior Director of Law, Policy and Research Neela Ghoshal said the bill “tramples human rights, undermines family values of acceptance and unity, and risks derailing economic development and eroding democratic gains.” 

“Banning the very existence of queer people and their allies is unprecedented,” she said. “The hostility this bill displays toward LGBTQ Ghanaians will put lives and livelihoods at risk.”

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller in a statement also criticized the bill’s passage, saying it would “undermine Ghana’s valuable public health, media and civic spaces and economy.”

The bill now goes to President Nana Akufo-Addo for his signature.

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India

New Delhi high school students champion LGBTQ+ rights

Tagore International School’s Breaking Barriers program making a difference

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Tagore International School in New Delhi (Washington Blade photo by Ankush Kumar)

NEW DELHI — New Delhi woke up to a frosty morning on Feb. 3. The air was crisp and biting, as a thick blanket of fog enveloped the surroundings in a ghostly haze. Amid this wintry scene, Tagore International School – Vasant Vihar bustled with life, its buildings standing strong against the chilly breeze while teachers hurried for an outdoor tour on the weekend. 

In India traditions and customs sparkle like jewels in every corner. In the vast land, where old beliefs often hold strong, Tagore International School in South Delhi is a special place where something magical is happening. The school is becoming the beacon of inclusivity. 

The Washington Blade visited the school and talked to the students, board members and its project coordinator. 

While talking to the Blade, Vaanya Kalra, a 12th grade student at the school, said her parents are understanding and supportive. Vaanya, with a smile on her face, said she had free access to the internet when she was younger. It was during this time that she discovered a campaign called Breaking Barriers at her school that aims to support and raise awareness about LGBTQ+ rights.

“Breaking Barriers has existed for the past 10 years at my school, and I kind of always wanted to join it,” said Vaanya. “I did when I had the opportunity to join it.”

Vaanya, with a mixed feeling of sadness and anger in her eyes, opened up about her journey and said people were reacting differently to people who were different. Vaanya, who has always been an empathetic person, saw unnecessary hatred around gender and sexuality over the internet, and it became difficult for her to ignore it. She excitedly said she had time, energy and empathy and decided to join Breaking Barriers at her school.

Vaanya told the Blade she had the conversation with her friends and family before she joined the campaign. Her family was accepting of everything. She confidently shared that she enjoyed her journey in Breaking Barriers while supporting the LGBTQ+ community in her school and campaigning for it in other schools. Vaanya said she is considering higher studies in international relations.

While talking to the Blade, Vaanya expressed her extreme displeasure with an Indian news outlet for accusing Breaking Barriers members of ‘brainwashing children.’ She said that when she went online for a meeting on Breaking Barriers activities, random people took over the platform to dictate how wrong this campaign was.

“It was a very difficult journey,” said Vaanya.

Tagore International School Student Development Advisor Shivanee Sen joined the interview virtually from New York and discussed the campaign’s background. 

She said Safina Ameen and Sohini Chakrabarti were student leaders and participated in the South Asia competition for an expansive school-wide social background and Shivanee chose to join the group. Sohini, Safina and Shivanee, at their young age, sat together and decided to work in gender space. While the discussion was going on, Shivanee suggested working in the field of gender and sexuality, and the other two happily agreed to work.

Shivanee said the initial group discussion was about working on women’s rights issue, but her idea was to work on other populations who suffer discrimination in India. Shivanee’s idea led the group of three young women to work on LGBTQ+ rights in India. Shivanee sent Sohini and Safina home for their parents’ consent and they luckily gave it. The group then started to work on LGBTQ+ rights at the school level.

From left: Sohini Chakrabarti and Shivanee Sen at a UNESCO conference.(Photo courtesy of Priyanka Randhawa/Breaking Barriers)

Sohini, one Breaking Barriers’s founders, said that there was an institutional void around this thematic area across schools in India.

“These things are not being discussed in schools. I was also 13 years old when we began. So as a young kid who was trained by professionals from NGOs, and because we were on the field working on gender rights at the same time, I was talking to students older than I was, and teachers about sexuality which was quite strange and jarring to some people to have like a school-wide campaign on this thematic, because of its central kind of overarching challenge,” said Siddhi Pal, one of Breaking Barriers’ original members. “It was really hard for us to take the campaign to different schools as our work was labeled as criminal, illegal and brainwashing. Those kind of things were a huge barrier, but apart from that we were so onboard. We pushed through it and made it work. But 10 years ago subject mattered the most as we were all kids.”

While answering what kind of resistance the campaign faced from the parents, Shivanee said not much because all members joined in with pre-parental consent. Shivanee further said that in the past 10 years, her Breaking Barriers campaign that supports the LGBTQ+ community at schools rarely faced parental resistance.

“I am quite surprised that in past 10 years we haven’t really had parental pushback,” she said. “They might not be okay with their kids joining the campaign, but no parent has taken it upon themselves to try and stop the workshops happening at school.”

Expressing concern about how an Indian news outlet published a homophobic article about Breaking Barriers and Tagore International School, Vaanya said with extreme confidence that when negative news about the campaign and the members, especially in a newspaper, comes out that means the campaign is making a change.

Siddhi joined the interview from London and said the biggest source of support is when new students enroll each year. That’s when they see what their peers are doing and that helped further inspire the campaign.

“What I have heard from others over the years, people actually aspire to join the campaign as they get into more leadership position,” said Sohini. “It’s interesting to see as it was hard to start it off, and there were lots of challenges in the beginning, not to say there are not now, but to keep it going has been easier because every year more students come in, there is more and more information about the campaign. So, to keep it going has been really amazing.”

Tagore International School students (Photo courtesy of Priyanka Randhawa/Breaking Barriers)

Tagore International School Project Coordinator Priyanka Randhawa told the Blade the campaign selects the office holders from ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grades — its president or vice president typically comes from the older classes, while any interested students can join it. The Breaking Barriers team at the school is turning the campaign into a movement and taking sessions in other schools as well.

“We go to other schools and take up sensitive issues with them,” said Randhawa. “At the workshop, we show a presentation in other schools, and explain terminology related to Breaking Barriers, we share the stories of transgenders and we try to touch on emotional aspects also.” 

“These workshops are meant for high school students only. We also do workshops for educators for sensitization,” added Randhawa. “We have also collaborated with NGOs like Naz Foundation, they train our students and sensitize on LGBTQ community.”

Priyanka said the campaign encourages other schools to start their own Breaking Barriers groups.

Jiya Chawla, a student at the Tagore International School and member of Breaking Barriers, told the Blade in New Delhi that she, along with Vaanya, joined the campaign four years ago.

“We have been to multiple schools. At least 20 schools offline and online we have been to more than 40 schools,” said Jiya. “We faced questions that were a homophobic point of view or a transphobic point of view. But we never said no you are wrong. We always take our time and try to understand where they are coming from. We try to break that stigma. We know that one session is not enough to break down generational prejudices, so we do face a lot of backlash sometimes, but social media has really come to our aid now. Because everybody is already aware of what this community is all about. So now, we don’t have to explain what the community is, but why equality is important.”

On the question of changing behavior outside the Breaking Barriers, Sohini told the Blade she expected the backlash and when she was going around campaigning for the LGBTQ+ community at Tagore International School in New Delhi. Her parents curiously asked her to do a presentation for them.

“It is a taboo topic, people don’t want to engage with you. But I was personally surprised by how curious people around me were,” said Siddhi with a big smile on her face. “My parents, once were like oh you are going around, doing this presentation, so why don’t you do it for us? I think that was one of the toughest initial presentations for me because you sit down with your parents and you go through talking about sex and sexuality.” 

“It was really surprising in the beginning, even when we started doing presentations for teachers, I think teachers had a lot more questions than students in the beginning,” she added. “My friends were more willing to engage and then family, of course there are people who do not want to engage at all as well.”

A 15-year-old student at Delhi Public School in 2022 died by suicide after being bullied for his sexuality at school. The administration did not take any action, even though his mother filed a complaint. 

Vaanya said it is important to create a safe space for students at school in order to adequately respond to these concerns. She said administrators and teachers were very supportive.

“Ensuring kids that it’s okay to feel different, it’s okay for you to have a different sexuality or act differently is very important. We have created a safe space, people understand that you do not have to bully others for it and they do not have to hate others for it,” said Vaanya. “Nobody is hating someone for this or actively bullying someone for this. We have a very strict anti-bullying policy as well, so we have managed to create a safe space for everybody.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Canada

Canadian parliament debates regulating online hate speech & porn

As opposition-backed “Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act” nears passage, government introduces “Online Harms Act”

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The West Block is one of the three buildings on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Ontario. Since 28 January 2019, it has housed the interim House of Commons Chamber, installed to accommodate the House while the Centre Block is closed. (Photo Credit: Parliament of Canada/Parlement du Canada)

By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA, Canada – Canadian lawmakers are debating dueling bills meant to protect children from hate speech and pornography, and critics are saying both bills have serious civil liberties concerns and may restrict access to lawful LGBTQ+ content on the internet. 

The Canadian government introduced it’s long-promised “Online Harms Act” (C-63) that aims to regulate and ban hate speech and revenge porn on the internet into Parliament on Monday. The government says the bill will hold online platforms accountable for the dissemination and amplification of harmful content.

The new bill would impose on social media companies an obligation to act responsibly for content on their services, including by protecting children and removing child porn and non-consensual porn. A new regulatory body would also handle complaints from Canadians about child and nonconsensual porn on the internet. 

Additionally, the new bill would increase penalties for spreading hate propaganda online, with a maximum penalty set at life imprisonment. 

Arif Virani, the minister of justice, says the government’s bill is necessary to protect children from exploitation and psychological harm online.

“Children are vulnerable online. They need to be protected from online sexual exploitation, hate and cyberbullying. Now more than ever, especially given the evolving capabilities of AI, online platforms must take responsibility for addressing harmful content and creating a digital world where everyone can participate safely and freely. This legislation does just that,” Virani says.

The bill comes as the largely opposition-backed “Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act” (S-210) nears passage. S-210 aims to prevent young people from accessing online pornography by requiring any site that habitually shows pornography to require age verification. 

It’s not yet clear how the sites would be required to verify users’ ages – that’s meant to be developed in future regulations. But proposals have included facial scanning that uses AI to estimate users ages or requiring users to submit government ID to the site. Civil liberties critics have said both ideas intrude on civil liberties and put users’ personal information in jeopardy, and both are likely to be easily circumvented.

The bill also does not define what sites would be required to verify ages. Pure porn sites would be included, but it’s possible that search engines like Google or social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit would. Given the heavy penalties S-210 would impose for violations, platforms may respond by  either overzealously blocking content or blocking access from Canada entirely 

The government does not support S-210, but it has already passed through the Senate and passed second reading in the House of Commons with the support of all opposition parties and a handful of Liberal government MPs. It’s currently in the committee stage.

The government bill, C-63, does not address access to legal pornography. The opposition Conservative Party denounced C-63 before it was even introduced.

But the parties have spent the last few weeks sparring over S-210. Last week, Conservative party leader Pierre Poilievre said if he were Prime Minister he would require porn sites to verify ages, but Conservatives have consistently said they oppose every proposed measure to verify ages and not proposed any other mechanisms.

The bill’s sponsor, Conservative MP Karen Vecchio, told the House in November, “there should be no direct collection of identity documentation by the site publisher from the pornographic site, no age estimates based on the user’s web browser history and no processing of biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying or authenticating a natural person.”

And last week, one of the largest porn sites in the world, PornHub, which is owned by the Montreal-based porn conglomerate Aylo, which also owns SeanCody, Men.com, and WhyNotBi, waded into the debate. Solomon Friedman, a Vice-President of Aylo’s parent company Ethical Capital Partners, says that the company would never agree to collect users’ data and would simply block access to all of Canada. He’s calling instead for device manufacturers to build age restrictions into the phones and laptops that children use. 

“We will never ever take the private identifying information of our users,” Friedman told the Canadian Press.

“(We) will always comply with the law,” he said. “That’s either by imposing the solution, not operating … or in addition to all those, challenging these in law, if we think that they violate some higher legal principle like the Constitution.”

Pornhub has already blocked access from several US states in response to similar ID-requirement laws. But some critics have questioned the effectiveness of the laws, pointing out that data shows usage of VPNs, which hide a user’s geographic location and would enable them to get around such blocks appeared to skyrocket in those states immediately after.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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South America

Argentina’s former special envoy for LGBTQ+ rights criticizes new government

Alba Rueda resigned before President Javier Milei took office

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Alba Rueda (Photo courtesy of Alba Rueda)

By Esteban Rioseco | BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s former Special Representative on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade discussed recent setbacks in LGBTQ+ rights in the country. 

Alba Rueda, a Transgender woman who held the position in former President Alberto Fernández’s administration, revealed the challenges and risks faced by the queer community in the South American country in which 57.4 percent of the population lives in poverty, which is the highest rate in 20 years. The Catholic University of Argentina’s Observatory of Social Debt also notes Argentina began 2024 with a 20.6 percent inflation rate; this figure is 254.2 percent from year-to-year.

President Javier Milei took office in December.

“We received a request from our president at the time, Alberto Fernández, that we submit our resignation as part of the team that integrates the presidency,” Rueda told the Washington Blade.

Rueda explained she “resigned on Nov. 28, a few days before, to make it effective on Dec. 10 with the new government and since then, since Milei, the presidency and the chancellor, Daniela Elena Mondino, took office, (her post) was eliminated. It was already foreseeable according to Milei’s statements about closing the offices on gender perspective.”

“Our special representation was closed. My colleagues were redirected to other areas,” Rueda explained. “The person who accompanied me in political terms resigned with me, so the two of us left on Dec. 10, and the rest of the technical staff was relocated within the Foreign Ministry.” 

The former ambassador described how the closure of her position and the elimination of the Women, Gender and Diversity Ministry represent a significant setback in the protection of LGBTQ+ rights in Argentina. She stressed that while the country was a pioneer in passing progressive laws for the LGBTQ+ community, the lack of effective implementation and declining government commitment are jeopardizing these advances. 

“We argued that it had been a long time since very significant laws were passed in our country and that they had to be translated into national and local public policies,” she explained. “LGBTIQ+ people not only have to be protected formally in the law, but we have to change and modify the living conditions of our community that has experienced discrimination, violence and persecution for many years.”

She added “to change that culture, there needs to be not only a formal framework, but functioning democratic institutions” 

“This elimination has a direct affectation to the rights of LGBTIQ+ people,” said Rueda.

The interview revealed how Milei’s government has dismantled institutions and policies designed to protect queer people. 

“We created, for example, a program that was the first program at the national level that was an assistance program for Trans people,” Rueda said. “This program of accompaniment for the protection of their rights was in the sub-secretariat and provided economic support and was working on solving all the procedures related to access to education, health, employment, issues related to substantive issues.”

Rueda highlighted that recent political decisions are not only curtailing LGBTQ+ rights, but are also directly affecting the community, especially those who are economically vulnerable. The elimination of assistance programs and lack of legal protections are leaving many LGBTQ+ people in a vulnerable position.

“Economic rights have been affected, as is the inflationary process and the inflationary decisions of this last month are directly affecting the middle class, lower middle class and the most impoverished sectors,” said Rueda. “It directly affects not only economic rights of the LGBTIQ+ population that belongs to these classes, but also affects rights that are not being worked within the framework or promoted within public policies.”

Rueda also raised concerns about a possible increase in violence towards LGBTQ+ people in Argentina, comparable to what has been observed in other countries under hostile political leadership. Rueda stated incidents of violence have already been recorded and that the current political climate is fueling discrimination and hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community.

“It started during the campaign, and I think that during the whole last year we saw how effectively, punctually in social networks and in the public space there was a whole attack on LGBTQ+ people,” she said. “Let’s not forget during the campaign that the main candidates who are the president, the vice president and the chancellor expressed themselves in the wrong way, generating with their ignorance a completely wrong message in the media, amplifying these messages that directly affect the rights of LGBTQ+ people.”

Rueda recalled the vice president “expressed in her campaign that for her it was not necessary to call marriage a union of people of the same sex … that was the civil union and saying that marriage was a figure associated with religious aspects.”

While Milei “in an interview also during the presidential campaign, said that he did not care if people want to have sex with other people of the same sex or with animals, such as elephants, equating and putting on the same level the consensual relations of people of the same sex over 18 as zoophilia.”

The situation has reached the point that different WhatsApp groups created to seek help during the COVID-19 pandemic became active again because of the interruption of the National Social Protection Plan and changes to an employment program that made vulnerable Trans people in Argentina more at-risk.

“We are in a bad moment for the rights and quality of life of LGBTQ+ people,” Rueda said.

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Photo Credit: Movilh

Esteban Alonso Enrique Guzmán Rioseco is a Chilean digital communicator, LGBT rights activist and politician. He was spokesperson and executive president of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh). He is currently a Latin American correspondent for the Washington Blade newspaper .

On October 22, 2015, together with Vicente Medel, he celebrated the first gay civil union in Chile in the Governorate of Concepción .

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Canada

Canadian town narrowly votes to ban Pride flags

Conservatives in Canada have increasingly taken to campaigning against LGBTQ rights, and particularly in Alberta

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RF Staples School Thunder Alliance & Town of Westlock, Alberta, Canada Pride crosswalk dedication, June 28 2023. (Photo Credit: Town of Westlock, Alberta, Canada)

By Rob Salerno | WESTLOCK, Canada – The small town of Westlock, Alberta voted yesterday to ban the display of Pride flags, as well as any flag other than the Canadian flag or provincial and municipal flags, on public property, in a referendum that saw the ban win by a margin of just 24 votes.

Unofficial results posted Thursday night at 9:30 showed the flag ban received 663 votes in favor and 639 votes against. 

The town of 5,000 people about 50 miles north of Edmonton was required to hold the citizen-initiated referendum over the objections of its council due to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act. 

Anti-LGBTQ+ activists began organizing against Pride flags when the local high school’s gay-straight alliance asked the town council for permission to install a rainbow crosswalk near the town hall. The council voted unanimously to allow the students to paint the crosswalk and the RF Staples School Thunder Alliance installed it in June.

Anti-LGBTQ+ activists promptly set to work collecting signatures for their anti-Pride-flag initiative and got 700 signatures by September – more than enough to force the town to hold the referendum.

The referendum asked residents, “Do you agree that: Only Federal, Provincial and Municipal flags may be flown on flagpoles on Town of Westlock municipal property, all crosswalks in the Town of Westlock must be the standard white striped pattern between two parallel white lines, and the existing rainbow colored crosswalk in the Town of Westlock be removed?”

It’s not clear when the rainbow crosswalk will be removed.

In a press release issued after the results were made public, Westlock mayor Jon Kramer said the town council will continue to support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, even as it is required to uphold the bylaw.

“Council did not support the proposed Crosswalk and Flagpole Bylaw, as we felt it went against our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. This plebiscite is binding, and as such, the bylaw does restrict how we are able to show this commitment. However, we will continue to find ways to embrace those in our community who need a helping hand, including marginalized groups,” he said. 

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“Equity is the reason we require wheelchair accessible parking; it is why we are developing an accessible playground; and yes, it is the reason we show support to marginalized groups like our local 2SLGBTQ+ community. That won’t stop, it will just take on a different form. We know the Town of Westlock is a welcoming community and that will not change.”

Petition organizer Stephanie Bakker has been at pains to stress that her activism has been about forcing the government to be “neutral,” rather than specifically anti-LGBTQ+, even though it was only the Pride crosswalk that motivated her to action. 

In a post on her campaign web site, she thanks the town for voting in favor of the ban, and says that an official announcement will follow. 

Activists in Alberta aren’t taking this defeat lying down. 

“Smells like discrimination. Looks like discrimination. It is discrimination. I’d expect a court challenge on the way. You can’t single out the 2SLGBTQ+ community and call it neutrality. That’s a violation of human rights,” says Kristopher Wells, an activist and educator in Edmonton, in a post on X.

Under Alberta law, the municipal government may not repeal or amend the bylaw until three years have passed from the referendum date. Alternatively, another citizen-initiated referendum could be called to repeal, but only after a year has passed. However, the bylaw is not immune from a possible constitutional challenge. 

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Conservatives in Canada have increasingly taken to campaigning against LGBTQ rights, and particularly in Alberta, where the government recently announced new policies restricting teaching about LGBTQ+ people in schools, restricting access to gender care for trans youth, and requiring trans students to get parental permission to use a different name or pronoun in school. 

Also on Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Edmonton, where he met with LGBTQ+ community members. At a press conference, he delivered sharp criticism of the Alberta government’s proposed policies, calling them “some of the most difficult policies against vulnerable youth that the country has ever seen.”

“Why has the right suddenly decided to attack the LGBTQ community?” Trudeau said. “Shame on them. And of course, as a government we’re going to be there to protect our most vulnerable.”

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Africa

Kenyan advocacy organizations join fight against femicide

30 women have been murdered in the country this year

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Kenyan flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Some LGBTQ+ rights groups in Kenya have devised new security strategies to protect female community members from the risk of femicide that has been on the rise in the country in recent years. 

The strategies employed include hiring trained security response teams, emergency toll-free numbers for swift intervention and training queer women on safety as they go about their daily lives in homophobic societies.  

The LGBTQ+ rights organizations’ move to come up with their safety measures is driven by laxity by security agencies that they accuse of “personal bias, discrimination and victimization” of the complainants based on their sexual orientation whenever they seek help.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are outlawed in Kenya under Sections 162 and 165 of the Penal Code and the queer rights groups the Washington Blade interviewed said the authorities exploit this criminalization. 

“We have contracted two security response focal persons in our organization to respond to violations of LBQ womxn in Kenya,” noted Elly Doe, the executive director of KISLEB, a Kisumu-based organization that champions the rights of lesbian, bisexual and queer women.

Doe, whose organization also advocates against femicide, said KISLEB is part of a special security situation room formed to explore ways of tackling rising cases of insecurity among the LGBTQ+ community in the country. 

The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination, an LGBTQ+ rights organization also contacted by the Blade, stated it has been conducting advocacy programs that include creating safer spaces forums to address femicide and violence against women both physical and online.   

One of the forums convened last September in Mombasa, for instance, explored how communities and institutions can work together to prevent violence against marginalized women, effective support for survivors, mentorship and awareness campaigns. The participants included lesbian, bisexual, queer and Transgender women, women in politics, sports, media, women living with disabilities and sex workers.    

INEND Communications Officer Melody Njuki, who expressed her organization’s concern over growing cases of femicide, oppression and violence against women, including those who identify as queer that go unchecked is caused by several social factors that include economic exclusion. 

“The intersectional issues faced by marginalized communities and structurally silenced women particularly sex workers and LBQT+ individuals adds complexity to the challenges experienced by victims of femicide due to discrimination, stigma and systemic inequalities exacerbating the vulnerability of women to violence,” Njuki said. 

Both INEND and KISLEB last month joined other LGBTQ+ rights groups, feminists and dozens of human rights organizations in Kenya in a nationwide street protest against rising cases of femicide and violence against women. 

The Jan. 27 protests were in response to the brutal killing of 16 women across the country since the beginning of the year. Hundreds of women, including those who identify as queer, during a Valentine’s Day vigil donned black outfits and held lit candles and red roses in honor of this year’s femicide victims, whose number had risen to more than 30.

“KISLEB as an organization that champions the rights of the LBQ womxn could not sit back and watch as women are being intentionally violated and killed yet in recent years the number has been rising rapidly and so many culprits go unpunished,” Doe said over her organization’s participation in the protest. “Participating in the protest was our way of expressing our solidarity with other women’s rights organizations in condemning femicide.”

Doe raised a concern over a rise in the number of homophobic threats against queer women, particularly on social media and residential areas, and called for police officers to be sensitized on LGBTQ+ issues to deal with this menace without discrimination. 

“We have also seen the cases of the murders of the LGBTQ community rising such as a trans woman activist Erica Chandra in August in Nairobi and a nonbinary lesbian woman Sheila Lumumba in April 2022,” she said. 

INEND, together with the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Galck+ which participated in Lumumba’s murder case last December, were disappointed with the court after sentencing the suspect Billington Mwathi to 30 years in jail. The three LGBTQ+ rights groups described the sentence as “lenient” and said it didn’t meet the justice Lumumba deserved — the suspect raped her before killing her.

The organizations said they wanted Mwathi to receive a life sentence because Lumumba’s killing was not just an act of violence on an individual, but an attack on the dignity and safety of the LGBTQ+ community.  

INEND, nonetheless, attributes the rise in femicide to victim blaming on the part of the public and some leaders, which leads to a disconnect on the protection of the victims’ rights and its subsequent erosion as witnessed in the LGBTQ+ community.  

“The road to genocide starts with the dehumanization of the most marginalized, then continues to devour its way up the hierarchy of patriarchal systems,” Njuki said.  

She disclosed INEND was organizing a collective movement dubbed “#EndFemicideKe” to enlighten policymakers on the dire need to enforce strict measures on the killing of women. Njuki, however, commended jurists who are members of the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association for their partnership with INEND and willingness to show a deeper understanding of human rights particularly the protection of LGBTQ+ rights.

She cited last year’s launch of a judicial guidebook to help judges better protect queer people’s rights and the High Court’s ruling that allowed the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to register as a non-governmental organization in promoting freedom of association.

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Eastern Europe

LGBTQ Ukrainians bear brunt of psychological toll of ongoing war

The silent struggle faced by the LGBTQ community in Kharkiv and beyond necessitates international attention, according to Human Rights First

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A Pride commemoration in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sept. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sphere Women's Association)

By Amber Laenen | KHARKIV, Ukraine – As Ukraine weathers Russian missile attacks and endures a harsh winter, the psychological consequences on its LGBTQ community are emerging as a distressing and often overlooked aspect of the conflict.

Recent reports from Human Rights First, based on their visits to the northeastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, shed light on the profound emotional impact experienced by LGBTQ individuals amid the sustained Russian aggression.

Saturday marks two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. Throughout this time, Human Rights First has sought to bring human rights into the heart of the discussion surrounding the conflict, offering support to human rights defenders, activist organizations, and individuals profoundly affected by the war.

Human Rights First last November initially surveyed Kharkiv to understand how communities were preparing for the harsh winter. Returning last month they found the LGBTQ community faced not only the physical challenges of extreme temperatures but also the hidden harm of severe psychological distress.

Human rights defenders on the forefront were documenting war crimes and supporting marginalized communities, including LGBTQ individuals. They emphasized the critical need for specialized psychological support within this community.

Vasyl Malikov, a key figure in Kharkiv-based LGBTQ NGOs Alliance.Global and Spectrum Women’s Association in Kharkiv, spoke about the increasing requests for psychological assistance and counseling. 

Malikov highlighted the urgent need for both psychologists and a more comprehensive education about mental health and trauma issues.

“Some counseling can be done online, and it’s better than nothing, but what’s really needed is face-to-face time with a psychologist. Of course, that’s resource-intensive,” Malikov said, underscoring the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ community.

Associate Professor Taras Zhvaniia, collaborating with Alliance.Global, shared insights into the growing demand for psychological support within the LGBTQ community. Initially addressing trauma in children, the scope expanded to include adults grappling with anxiety, depression and other emotional challenges related to the ongoing conflict.

Zhvaniia detailed the psychological struggles unique to the LGBTQ community, ranging from anxiety and panic attacks to specific fears such as reluctance to sleep in beds at home, avoiding bomb shelters and apprehension about routine activities during shelling.

Efforts to increase psychological knowledge for the general population are underway, yet the escalating demand for LGBTQ-focused support outpaces available resources. Human rights defenders have proposed measures, including funding for online counseling and visits by foreign psychologists, specifically tailored to address the psychological impact on the LGBTQ community.

The silent struggle faced by the LGBTQ community in Kharkiv and beyond necessitates international attention, according to Human Rights First. The organization added the lack of adequately trained psychologists raises concerns about the unaddressed psychological impact, underscoring the urgency for U.S. officials and the international community to comprehend and respond to the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ individuals in the midst of the ongoing conflict.

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Amber Laenen is a senior at Thomas More Mechelen University in Belgium. She is majoring in journalism and international relations. Amber is interning with the Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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Africa

Zimbabwean vice president reiterates strong opposition to LGBTQ+ rights

Constantino Chiwenga condemned advocacy group’s scholarship

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Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga (Screen capture via SABC News YouTube)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga has expressed concerns over what he has described as foreign recruitment of LGBTQ+ people in the country.

Chiwenga on Feb. 15 described Zimbabwe as a Christian country and therefore does not have room to accommodate those who identify as LGBTQ+. His comments were in response to Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe and the advocacy group’s annual scholarship program that provides funds to people who identify as LGBTQ+.

“The government of Zimbabwe strongly and firmly rejects and denounces as unlawful, un-Christian, anti-Zimbabwean and un-African, insidious attempts by foreign interests to entice, lure and recruit Zimbabwe’s less privileged, but able students into lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activities and malpractices through offers of educational scholarships,” he said.

“Zimbabwe has legislated against all such deviances, making any offers predicated on the same aberrations both unlawful and criminal, and a grave and gross affront on our national values and ethos as a Christian nation,” he added.

Chiwenga said such scholarships are a national threat and highlighted that anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ shall not be enrolled at any educational institution.

“To that end, government sees such scholarship offers as a direct challenge on its authority, and thus will not hesitate to take appropriate measures to enforce national laws, and to protect and defend national values,” he said.

“Our schools and institutions of higher learning will not entertain applicants, let alone enroll persons associated with such alien, anti-life, un-African and un-Christian values which are being promoted and cultivated by, as well as practiced in decadent societies with whom we share no moral or cultural affinities,” added Chiwenga.

The vice president also said Zimbabwe shall not be influenced by any country to change its stance with regards to the LGBTQ+ community.

“Zimbabwe is a sovereign, African state with definite laws and values which typify it, cutting it apart from other mores,” said Chiwenga. “Young Zimbabweans who qualify for enrolment into tertiary institutions here and elsewhere, should approach government departments tasked to give grants and scholarship support to deserving cases. They should never be tempted to trade or sell their souls for such abominable and devilish offers.”

Activists and commentators have sharply criticized Chiwenga’s comments, saying people’s sexual lives should not be of public concern.

“This scholarship has been going on for years and many graduates have been supported and gainfully employed,” noted GALZ Programs Manager Samuel Matsikure. “In the 90s it showed LGBT (people) who were bullied, outed and faced harassment would drop out of school, hence, it was important to provide them with basic education so they can support themselves in life.”

Stacey Chihera, a social commentator, said what consenting adult individuals decide to do behind closed doors should never be up for public discussion. 

“I wish this entitlement about individual sexuality was applied to corruption, service delivery and infrastructure development,” said Chihera. “What consenting adult individuals decide to do behind closed doors with their private parts should never be up for discussion! Not even by the government.”

Namatai Kwekweza a lawyer and an activist, said the vice president was scapegoating the real issues on the ground that are affecting the country on a daily basis.

“The facts being a scapegoat is necessary for an underperforming and evil government that will overzealously and hypothetically talk about morality and Christian values except when it comes to corruption, looting, genocide, abductions, torture, elections fraud, abuse of office, sexual abuse,” said Kwekweza. “These leaders must be seen more, major more and heard loudest in matters of public accountability and returning stolen loot, than in matters of moral grandstanding of which they have no moral authority in the first place.”

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Zimbabwe with up to 14 years in prison.

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ+ news from Europe & Asia

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including Russia, Poland, Greece, United Kingdom, Iraq and Japan

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RUSSIA

Opening screen on the popular learning app that teaches over 40 languages to more than 60 million users worldwide. It has been accused of allegedly spreading “LGBTQ propaganda” by Roskomnadzor the Russian government media watchdog agency.

MOSCOW, Russia – The Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media agency, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, has launched an investigation into the language learning app Duolingo for allegedly spreading “LGBTQ propaganda.”

The popular learning app teaches over 40 languages to more than 60 million users worldwide.

Russian media news outlet Novaya Gazeta reported that a complaint, filed by a group Radetel, based in Novosibirsk in central Russia, and claims on its social media and website that it is on a mission to protect “public morality, culture, and traditional values,” accused the learning app of violations of Article 5 the Russian “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” law which specifies the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations as detrimental to children’s health and development.”

Russian state media outlet TASS reported that Roskomnadzor confirmed that the agancy would be investigating Duolingo for potential “distribution of information that promotes LGBTQ.”

For its part as defined on its website, Duolingo states: “Duolingo believes deeply in diversity and representation. This made it a no-brainer to include all types of characters of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations.”

The app’s statement goes on reading:

“The second reason is our learners. Something really unique about Duolingo is the extremely vast and diverse audience for our content: language learners of all ages, from all around the world. Yes, that’s a lot of people. And with such a broad base of learners, we have a responsibility to reflect and relate to the experiences of all kinds of people, LGBTQIA+ folks included.

Of course, characters are also much more compelling when they’re relatable, not only because of their dreams and their flaws but also who they love. So when we create Stories, which are written first in English and then adapted to other languages, we aim to make our content entertaining and relatable for learners worldwide. This is a fun and oftentimes difficult challenge. We’re proud to have our characters, especially our LGBTQ characters, help us do that.”

Radetel, which referred to members of the LGBTQ community as “sodomites” in its complaint to Roskomnadzor, said that “outraged” parents had brought Duolingo’s LGBTQ “propaganda” to its attention, adding that they had said they didn’t know how to explain the sentences to their primary school-age children “without traumatizing them,” Novaya Gazeta reported.

An annual meeting of judges of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and all courts of general and arbitration jurisdiction, the leadership of the Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, as well as representatives of federal authorities in Feb. 2023. (Photo Credit: Russian government)

BERLIN, Germany (Human Rights Watch) – Russian courts have issued the first known extremism convictions arising from the 2023 Supreme Court ruling designating the “international LGBT movement” as extremist, Human Rights Watch said today. The Supreme Court ruling, which was handed down on November 30 but became public only in mid-January 2024, indicates that many more convictions may follow. 

The Supreme Court ruling also declared the rainbow flag a forbidden symbol of the “LGBT movement.” Displaying the flag is the basis for administrative penalties in at least three cases that courts have tried in recent weeks. In late January, a court in Nizhny Novgorod sentenced a woman to five days detention for wearing rainbow-colored earrings after an individual accosted her and her friend in a cafe. Also in late January, a judge in Volgograd region handed down a fine over a rainbow flag published on a social media page. In early February, a court in Saratov fined a woman for posting a rainbow flag on social media.

“The Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates to allow arbitrary prosecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, along with anyone who defends their rights or expresses solidarity with them,” said Tanya Lokshina, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For years, Russian authorities tried to erase LGBT visibility, and now they have criminalized it.”

At least three groups supporting LGBT rights have shut down their operations for fear of prosecution. Other consequences of the ruling have included a series of police raids of gay clubs, incidents of self-censorship, and an uptick in requests for legal advice from remaining LGBT support groups, which have now turned to working clandestinely. 

The Supreme Court ruling and prosecutions flowing from it are discriminatory, violate a wide range of rights, and should be overturned, Human Rights Watch said.

Under Russian criminal law, a person found guilty of displaying extremist group symbols faces up to 15 days in detention for the first offense and up to four years in prison for a repeat offenseParticipating in or financing an extremist organization is punishable by up to 12 years in prison. The authorities may include individuals suspected of involvement with an extremist organization in the countrywide “list of extremists” and freeze their bank accounts. People deemed to be involved with an extremist organization are barred from running for public office. Draft legislation further expanding the notion of “justifying extremism” has passed first reading in Russia’s parliament.

The Supreme Court’s perverse decision to accept the “international public LGBT movement” as a fictional defendant in this case was compounded by their denial of all requests by LGBT activists to participate, followed by the claim that “the defendant party failed to appear.” The court also refused to consider numerous appeals lodged by LGBT rights activists, saying that only the parties to the case had the right to appeal the ruling. By using the twisted legal fiction that there was an identifiable defendant called the “international LGBT movement” to contest the case, the Supreme Court denied all Russian LGBT persons and their allies directly impacted by the decision any due process rights, including by refusing to disclose the text of the judgment or reasons for the decision. 

The text of the ruling, which was later seen by a regional media outlet in the course of a court case and published in January, states that the rainbow flag is the movement’s symbol. Because Russian law enforcement practice treats even old social media posts that are still available online as grounds for prosecution, thousands of people, and most likely more,who have posted the rainbow flag over the years face the risk of prosecution. The ruling states that 281 “active participants” in the movement have been personally identified, but it does not clarify how or by whom.

The Supreme Court ruling is the most recent example of authorities’ long record of misusing Russia’s broad and vague anti-extremism legislation to prosecute peaceful critics and members of certain religious groups, Human Rights Watch said. Hundreds of people have been wrongfully prosecuted under criminal extremism legislation, according to the SOVA Research Center and the list of political prisoners released by prominent human rights group Memorial. 

Since a court banned three organizations affiliated with political opposition leader Aleksey Navalny as “extremist” in 2021, Navalny and five of his supporters have been sentenced to prison on a range of extremism charges for legitimate activism, while dozens more have received fines and short-term jail sentences. Six members of Vesna, a democratic youth movement, have been in pretrial custody since June 2023 on various spurious charges, including extremism. Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been jailed since the organization was banned as “extremist” in 2017.

Editor’s Note: On Friday, Feb. 16, it was announced that opposition leader Aleksey Navalny had died in a Russian Penal Camp.

The Russian Federal Prison Service said early Friday that Navalny felt unwell after a walk and lost consciousness. An ambulance arrived, and its crew tried to rehabilitate him but was unsuccessful, it added.

Navalny was serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism, and in December was moved from a different prison to the highest-security level facility in the country near the Arctic Circle. The “special regime” penal colony prison in the town of Kharp, which is about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow, is in a remote area known for its severe winters.

Navalny has been imprisoned since January 2021, when he returned to Russia after recovering from a poisoning that he blamed on Putin, who has denied trying to kill Navalny with a nerve agent.

The Supreme Court ruling has drawn strong criticism internationally. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights deplored the ruling, stating that “the law must never be used to perpetuate inequality and discrimination,” and saying that Russia should repeal laws that discriminate against LGBT people.

Five UN human rights experts reminded Russian authorities that under international human rights law, peaceful advocacy and expression of sexual orientation and gender identity can neither be considered “extremist” nor legitimate grounds for administrative and criminal prosecution.

“The ruling has no basis in reality; it is filled with conspiracy theories, false and unsubstantiated claims, and hateful stereotypes; and it seeks to impose ‘traditional values’ ideology through repressive criminal law,” Lokshina said. “The only way to remedy this travesty of justice is to vacate the recent convictions and reverse the absurd ‘extremism’ designation.”

POLAND

Wojciech Szelag (Screenshot Polish media outlet TVP)

By Rob Salerno | WARSAW,  Poland – A newscaster on Poland’s public television service delivered an apology for his and the network’s previous vicious and dehumanizing coverage of LGBT+ people and issues, after Poland’s new government replaced the far-right editorial board of the broadcaster.

News host Wojciech Szelag acknowledged that TVP had frequently demonized LGBT people and delivered his apology ahead of a segment in which he interviewed two queer activists.

“For many years in Poland, shameful words have been directed at numerous individuals simply because they chose to determine for themselves who they are and whom they love,” Szelag said. “LGBT+ people are not an ideology, but people, specific names, faces, relatives, and friends. All these people should hear the word sorry from this place today. This is where I apologize.”

Poland’s new center-left government took office in December, ending eight years of government by the extremely right-wing Law and Justice Party that strongly opposed LGBT rights. The new government under Prime Minister Donald Tusk has moved to reshape institutions that the previous government had filled with party cronies, which caused controversy when the government fired the TVP management. TVP had long been accused of having become a mouthpiece for the Law and Justice Party.

Some liberals accused the government of repeating the mistakes of the right, but the government insists it is simply trying to restore editorial balance.

Bart Staszewski, one of the LGBT activists that was interviewed on the program said the apology was evidence that Poland is moving in the right direction.

“Today, first time in Polish TV, after 8 years of right-wing government, the LGBT+ activists appeared in live broadcast. I was seating there and heard journalist shaking voice. He made an apology after years of portraying LGBT-people  a threat to Polish nation in the same studio. I was moved..  Apology an important part of reconciliation. This is Poland I want to fight for… Thank you,” Staszewski wrote on X.

Straszewski later posted an image of an old broadcast in which Szelag said “LGBT ideology destroys family,” as evidence of how far the network had come.

PM Tusk has made several promises to the LGBT community as part of his election platform and coalition government agreement. He’s promised to institute a hate speech law, legalize same-sex civil unions, and legalize abortion – all issues that were strongly rejected by the previous government. 

It’s not clear at present when or if these proposals will become law, as the Law and Justice Party still holds the presidency with its veto power, at least until elections expected next May.

GREECE

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaking with reporters on the eve of the Orthodox New Year celebration and Epiphany in Chania, Greece, January 6, 2024.
(Photo Credit: Office of the Prime Minister/Greek government)

By Rob Salerno | ATHENS, Greece – The Greek Parliament voted late Thursday night to pass the government’s bill to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption rights, becoming the first Eastern Orthodox Christian country with equal marriage. The bill will take effect once it is officially published.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that he planned to legalize same-sex marriage last summer, after winning a second term with a commanding majority in parliamentary elections. The announcement came as something of a surprise given his party’s conservative orientation, but it comes as Greece has taken steps in recent years to promote LGBTI inclusion, including banning conversion therapy and banning unnecessary surgeries on intersex children.

“The vote has passed: as of tonight, Greece is proud to become the 16th EU country to legislate marriage equality. This is a milestone for human rights, reflecting today’s Greece – a progressive, and democratic country, passionately committed to European values,” Mitsotakis posted on X immediately after the vote.

Greece had legalized same-sex civil unions in 2014, but these did not offer couples equal rights compared to marriage. Same-sex couples were not allowed to adopt, and only biological parents were recognized if the couple had children. That changes now. 

The bill allows couples who were in civil unions to convert those into marriages within one year, and says the government will recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad retroactive to the date of the marriage. The option to have a civil union will continue for both straight and gay couples.

Some saw Mitsotakis’ turn as a way to neutralize a potential wedge issue after the largest opposition party SYRIZA elected openly gay businessman Stefanos Kasselakis as its leader last September. Kasselakis married his American husband in New York last year, because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in Greece.

The bill, which moved swiftly through parliament after being introduced at the end of January, was not without controversy in the country of 10 million. The influential Greek Orthodox Church came out strongly against it, as did several former prime ministers. Polling was inconsistent on the issue but tended to show a slight majority in favor of equal marriage.

Ahead of a the vote, several hundred people protested against same-sex marriage outside Parliament in Athens. 

The Prime Minister’s New Democracy Party was heavily divided on same-sex marriage, and the bill needed the support of left-wing opposition parties SYRIZA and PASOK to pass. Far-right parties and the Communist Party were also opposed. In the end, the bill sailed through on a 176-76 vote, with 2 abstentions and 46 MPs absent.

While the bill makes same-sex couples and families equal to married heterosexual couples in most respects, it does not allow same-sex couples to access surrogacy, even though infertile heterosexual couples are allowed. Some campaigners have said they believe the restriction will not stand up to a court challenge.

It’s also part of a growing trend in Europe. Of the original 15 members of the European Union, only Italy has not legalized same-sex marriage, and of the 37 countries with same-sex marriage globally, 21 are in Europe. 

Two more European countries are debating same-sex marriage bills – Liechtenstein, which is expected to pass the bill next month, and Czechia, where same-sex marriage remains a contentious political issue.

UNITED KINGDOM

Google Earth image of Masons Avenue in Wealdstone, northwest London UK.

HARROW, UK – 19-year-old Summer Betts-Ramsey appeared before a magistrate at Willesden Magistrates Court on Tuesday, Feb. 13, charged with attempted murder and possession of an deadly weapon in public after she allegedly stabbed an 18-year-old trans woman at who was with friends headed to the Harrow Leisure Centre for a roller-skating party.

Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Nicola Hannant, who is leading the investigation, said:

“This was a shocking and violent attack and we continue to support the victim and her family as she recovers from her injuries. At this stage, we are treating this as a transphobic hate crime and we know this will cause significant concern.

“Since the incident occurred, we have been working tirelessly to identify those responsible and are making good progress with our investigation.

“We have already arrested four people however we continue to appeal for anyone who may have been in the area or who believes they have further information to come forward and speak to us. We have increased police patrols and would encourage people to approach these officers with any information or concerns.”

According to Detective Inspector Hannant, the victim was subjected to transphobic slurs before being stabbed 14 times. She was rushed to hospital for treatment and subsequently discharged.

The attack comes just over a year after a pair of 15-year-olds stabbed trans teen Brianna Ghey, 16, to death in a park near her home in Birchwood, Warrington, U.K. The teens now 16, Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe, were both handed life sentences earlier this month.

Anyone with information should call 101 with reference 6306/10Feb or alternatively, contact independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The Metropolitan Police have dedicated LGBTQ+ points of contact across London who can offer advice and support. Their contact details can be found here: (Link)

IRAQ

The trans blogger & make-up artist known as “Simsim,” shown in this interview with Iraqi media outlet Al Walaa channel in 2020, spoke candidly about the threats he faced regularly because of his appearance. (Photo Credit: Screenshot/Youtube)

AL DIWANIYAH, Iraq – An unnamed security official with the Al-Qadisiyah Governorate, told Iraqi media outlet Shafaq News that a transgender blogger was killed after being repeatedly stabbed in the center of the city of Al Diwaniyah, the capital city of Iraq’s Al-Qādisiyyah Governorate, located 189 kilometers southeast of the country’s capital city of Baghdad.

The police official told Shafaq News: “Simsim, was 28 years old was killed by unknown assailants with several sharp knife stabs near the mural roundabout in the center of Diwaniyah city.” The official went on to note “the killers escaped to an unidentified location, and the forensic team took the body to complete the legal formalities.”

Iraq has witnessed a series of assassinations of transgender individuals Shafaq News noted. One of the most prominent cases was the murder of NOOR BM, a popular TikTok figure who was shot dead by an unknown gunman in Baghdad in September 2023.

Last August, Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission has ordered media outlets and social media companies that operate in the country to refer to homosexuality as “sexual deviance.”

Homosexuality is legal in Iraq, but violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in the country.

JAPAN

Courtesy of Tacaquito Taqui Usui

OKAYAMA, Japan – In a landmark ruling last week, the Okayama Family Court’s Tsuyama Branch recognized a transgender man’s petition to legally change his gender without having first undergone sterilization.

Japanese media outlet The Mainichi reported that the plaintiff, 50-year-old Tacaquito Usui, a farmer from a rural area of the prefecture of Okayama, legally change his gender without having first undergoing sterilization, after the Supreme Court’s presiding judge Yukihiko Imasaki ruled the requirement unconstitutional this past October.

But while the Supreme Court did issue a ruling on sterilization surgery, the high court is re-evaluating the requirement that a person’s genitals must conform in appearance with those of the gender they identify with.

The Okayama court judged that the man fulfilled the appearance criterion, the same conclusion it reached in his first petition, due to factors including his having undergone hormone therapy.

The Mainichi reported Usui, operates a farm in the village of Shinjo, where he lives with his 46-year-old partner and her son, aged 13. With Usui’s gender now legally recognized, the pair will be able to fulfill their long-held wish to marry.

“I want to thank my family. I feel a new life is beginning,” Usui said in a press conference after the decision.

Usui was assigned as female at birth and has said that he felt uncomfortable being treated as such from a young age. After becoming an adult, he was diagnosed with gender identity disorder. Usui told reporters the latest outcome “left me feeling society has changed” and that he is “moved by the progress that has been made.”

Additional reporting by Rob Salerno, The BBC, PinkNewsUK, Human Rights Watch, Novaya Gazeta, Agence France-Presse, The Mainichi, Shafaq News, and Euronews 24.

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