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OAS commission issues landmark ruling against Jamaica sodomy law

Gareth Henry targeted before fleeing to Canada

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Gareth Henry (Photo courtesy of Gareth Henry)

WASHINGTON — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in a landmark decision said Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Human Dignity Trust, a London-based human rights organization, in 2011 filed the case with the commission on behalf of Gareth Henry, a gay man, and Simone Carline Edwards, a lesbian woman. J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBTQ advocacy group, was also named as a plaintiff.

The commission reached its decision on Sept. 28, 2019, but did not release it until Feb. 17.

“The criminalization of private sexual consensual activity between adults violates the principle of equality and nondiscrimination, the right to privacy, and the right to humane treatment,” reads the decision.

Henry during a telephone interview from Toronto told the Los Angeles Blade that Jamaican police officers and others began to target him in 2004 after he “naively raised my hand to go speak to the media” about J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson’s murder.

Henry said four police officers on Feb. 14, 2007, beat him at a pharmacy in front of a mob that the commission’s decision notes “was chasing other gay men and chanting that gay people must be killed.” The ruling further notes police officers on the same day “showed up at his home and threatened him.”

Henry in November 2017 fled Jamaica. He received asylum in Canada the following year.

The decision notes the Netherlands granted Edwards asylum after “a homophobic attack” in her home on Aug. 29, 2008, “almost killed her.” Henry told the Blade that a friend who was attacked by a mob in Montego Bay in 2005 was later found dead.

“The next morning, I woke up to the headlines in the local newspaper that said ‘alleged homosexual beaten and killed,'” he said.

Human Rights Trust in its press release notes the ruling is the first time the commission has ruled a law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct violates the rights of LGBTQ people. It adds the decision creates an important legal precedent that can be used to challenge sodomy laws in other Caribbean countries.  

“This is a major legal victory for Gareth, Simone and the entire LGBT community in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, where nine countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex intimacy,” said Human Rights Trust Director Téa Braun in the press release. “It is a highly significant step forward that must now accelerate the repeal of these stigmatizing and discriminatory laws.”

The Jamaican government has not responded to the Blade’s request for comment, but Justice Minister Delroy Chuck told a Jamaican newspaper the ruling is “not binding on a sovereign state.”

The D.C.-based Organization of American States created the commission in 1959 as a way to promote human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere. It works closely with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to enforce the American Convention on Human Rights.

Jamaica is among the OAS member states that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights.

Henry told the Blade he is “very happy, overwhelmed with joy” over the ruling, but conceded it is also bittersweet.

“It’s also kind of a bit of mixed emotions and reactions to why I had to do this, why these recommendations are needed and as a citizen, not in my own country that I could not be my authentic self,” he said. “I have also been reflecting on the many lives that have been lost and the many lives that have been destroyed and the people who have been displaced over the last nine years since I filed this petition.”

“This is also about them, the sacrifices that they have been made,” added Henry.

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Caribbean

Final vote on new Cuba family code slated for September

Same-sex couples poised to receive marriage, adoption rights

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

HAVANA — The Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba is reporting a final referendum on whether the final draft of a new family code that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples will take place in September.

Tremenda Nota on June 23 reported a specific date for the referendum has not been announced, but it quoted comments President Miguel Díaz-Canel made the day before during a meeting of the commission that has written the draft. 

“We are entering a decisive stage,” said Díaz-Canel, according to Tremenda Nota. “We are going to need all the support that we need to ensure the emancipatory principles of equality and inclusion that the family code defends are actually approved.”

The National Assembly late last year approved the draft family code. 

A “popular consultation” ended on April 30. Tremenda Nota reported the last of the family code’s 25 drafts was presented to Díaz-Canel and other officials on June 6.

Díaz Canel and Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, are among those who publicly support marriage equality. Cuban voters in 2019 overwhelmingly approved the draft of their country’s new constitution, but the government’s decision to remove a marriage equality amendment before the referendum on it sparked outrage among independent LGBTQ+ and intersex activists.

Efforts to implement the new family code are taking place against the backdrop of continued persecution of LGBTQ+ and intersex Cubans and others who publicly criticize the country’s government.

Tremenda Nota Editor Maykel González Vivero is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests that took place across Cuba on July 11, 2021.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province. De La Cruz subsequently received a 6-year prison sentence, but he was released on house arrest last month.

Reports indicate Brenda Díaz, a Transgender woman who was arrested during a July 11 protest in Güira de Melena in Artemisa province, on Wednesday received a 14-year prison sentence. 

Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota’s original story is here.

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Africa

Homophobic attacks persist in South Africa

Mpho Falithenjwa died by suicide after he was bullied for being gay

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Mpho Falithenjwa, 14, died by suicide earlier this month after he was bullied because he was gay. (Photo courtesy of Mpho Falithenjwa's Facebook page)

JOHANNESBURG — Despite having a constitution that explicitly protects LGBTQ+ and intersex South Africans, homophobic attacks remain pervasive in the country.

Mpho Falithenjwa, 14, died by suicide earlier this month after he was bullied because he was gay, according to his sister who spoke with MambaOnline, a local LGBTQ+ and intersex publication. South Africa’s LGBTQ+ and intersex community is wondering how an incident like this can be averted from happening again.

“We believe that the untimely passing of Mpho was mainly because of societal pressure, because of how society made it impossible for Mpho to come out without fear or prejudice, so what happened to Mpho really saddens us as activists it saddens us as Access Chapter 2 but over and above it saddens us as a country that 26 years after officially signing this Constitution as a country, we still have to grapple with issues of addressing the victimization of homophobia and transphobia subjected to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and it happened a time when we are reflecting and commemorating international Pride,” said Mpho Buntse of Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTQ+ and intersex rights organization. 

“Moreso, it brings eyes into the country to question the credibility of our Constitution because it cannot be that we have a Constitution that embraces the 2SLGBTQIA+ community yet it still makes it difficult for people to live without prejudice so this was conversion practice in the making because of the pressure that Mpho was given by society to conform to what society believes Mpho is as compared to what Mpho believes he is,” added Buntse. “What happened to self-affirmation? Generally as a country I think we really need to take a stance, a very strong stance in fighting and confronting issues of transphobia and homophobia from a place of policy more than anything.” 

Ruth Maseko of the Triangle Project called for more stringent measures to be taken against any form of bullying.

“There are many forms of bullying, verbally, physically and emotionally, it is abusive and should never be tolerated. Nobody should stand by no matter who you are, what your position is or what your age is and watch another person being bullied,” said Maseko. “Moreover, a deep concern for us is that the ages of perpetrators of hate crimes have been young. What are we passing on to our young people? What messages are we giving them, that makes it okay to start calling people names and excluding people because of who they are?”  

Falithenjwa’s death by suicide is the latest case to send shockwaves across South Africa.

A court in Pretoria in April sentenced two men to life in prison for raping a 19-year-old lesbian in 2020.

Human Rights Watch statistics indicate at least 20 LGBTQ+ and intersex people were reported killed in South Africa between February and October 2021. The international NGO indicates many of them were either beaten or stabbed to death because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We cannot keep losing young lives just based on who they are and how they identify. It’s hard when you are young and feel that you are not accepted and then bullied, and nobody does anything to stop bullying wherever it happens,” said Maseko. “That person then turns that hate inwards and ends their own life before their life has even really begun. Why? Just because of who that person is? Words have the ability to cause this outcome and it is devastating that a young person feels like they can no longer go on because of someone else’s words.”

Maseko added it is “not acceptable and should not be tolerated.” 

“Our children should be learning in their homes that it is never okay to do this to others. Children should not engage in prejudice,” said Maseko. “If they have learnt it, because none of us are born with prejudice, they have the ability to unlearn it. In schools, where it is evident that someone is the target of bullying on any grounds, immediate action should be taken.”

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Europe

Turkish police arrest 100’s of LGBTQ+ activists over banned Pride parade

The largest Turkish LGBTQ+ activist group on Monday noted that “the detentions experienced during the march, was among “firsts” for this year

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LGBTQ+ protestors in Istanbul, Sunday June 26. Banner reads: ""If you don't let us walk, we will open our asses" (Photo by Kuir Mavzer- LGBTQ+ Kaos GL)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Hundreds of LGBTQ+ people, allies, and supporters took to the streets of Istanbul Sunday in defiance of the Turkish government’s ongoing 2014 ban of LGBTQ+ Pride parades and Pride Month festivities.

Protestors violently clashed repeatedly with police and security forces in various neighborhoods located around the Bol Ahenk Sokak (Pedestrian Plaza) and other sections of the central downtown areas.

Authorities had shut down the city’s transit systems hours prior to the influx of LGBTQ+ activists and demonstrators and flooded streets with police in riot gear who made hundreds of arrests, in some cases tear gassing participants and attacking them with clubs.

Government security forces arrested over 373 people including Agence France-Presse journalist and chief photographer, Bülent Kılıç. Detainees were taken by bus to a central holding facility for processing. Photojournalist Mehmet Demirci documented the arrest of Kılıç in a Twitter post:

The largest Turkish LGBTQ+ activist group Ankara-based Kaos GL documented the arrests and clashes which occurred prior to the 5 p.m. planned parade kick-off in a series of Twitter posts.

KAOS GL in a press release on Monday noted that “the detentions experienced during the march, was among “firsts” for this year. Totally 373 LGBTI+s and LGBTI+ right defenders were taken into custody on the day of march! This number is a record both in the history of Pride Marches and the other public demonstrations.”

The group also recorded the scope of anti-LGBTQ+ Pride Month bans and pressure by Turkey’s governmental bodies across the country:

“There were 10 ban decisions announced within the scope of Pride Month events. These ban decisions were taken by Boğaziçi University Rectorate, METU Rectorate, Gaziantep Governorship, Çanakkale Governorship, Datça District Governorship, Beyoğlu District Governorship, Kadıköy District Governorship, Eskişehir Governorship and İzmir Governorship.

The detentions began with 70 people at 9th Boğaziçi Pride March on May 20, increasingly went on till June 26. 373 people were taken into custody in İstanbul on June 26. This number is among the highest detentions within the context of the public demonstrations in İstanbul recent years. Totally 530 LGBTI+s and LGBTI+ right defenders were detained in 37 days.”

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