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Uganda police arrest 44 people at LGBTQ shelter

U.S. Embassy in Kampala ‘following developments in the case closely’

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Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

NANSANA, Uganda — Police in Uganda on Monday arrested 44 people at an LGBTQ shelter outside the country’s capital of Kampala.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ advocacy group, told the Los Angeles Blade in an email the arrests took place in Nansana, a municipality in the Wakiso District.

Mugisha in another tweet said prosecutors have charged 42 of the 44 people who were arrested with “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease.” Mugisha added authorities subjected them to so-called anal tests to determine whether they are gay.

Mugisha said a bail hearing for 39 of the 44 people who were arrested took place on Wednesday. He tweeted the court “adjourned the matter to Friday.”

Mugisha said three of those who were arrested have been released on bail.

Pan Africa ILGA is among the organizations that have urged the Ugandan government to release those who were arrested . A State Department spokesperson on Wednesday told the Blade in a statement the U.S. Embassy in Kampala is “following developments in the case closely.”

“We understand the individuals are being charged with violating government of Uganda restrictions on the size of gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said the spokesperson.

“The United States remains committed to supporting democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, and prosperity in Uganda,” they added. “No one should face arrests, violence or torture because of who they are or who they love. We continue to engage with the government of Uganda on a wide range of issues, including those related to human rights, including LGBTQI+ rights, to improve the lives of all Ugandans.”

Uganda is among the dozens of countries around the world in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Lawmakers last month passed a bill that would further criminalize homosexuality in the country.  

Police in April 2020 arrested 19 LGBTQ people at a Kampala shelter and charged them with violating regulations the Ugandan government put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Prosecutors subsequently dropped the charges against them, and a court ordered their release.

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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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Los Angeles Blade graphic

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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Caribbean

Challenges to St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ sodomy laws dismissed

‘Freedom and equality is worth fighting for’

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Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Photo by byvalet/Bigstock)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent and the Grenadines — A judge on St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ top court on Friday dismissed two cases that challenged the country’s sodomy laws.

Two gay men from St. Vincent, the country’s main island, in 2019 challenged laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. High Court Justice Esco Lorene Henry on Friday dismissed the two cases.

Sean Macleish, one of the two plaintiffs who lives in the U.S., expressed disappointment in the decision.

“I am disappointed with the judge’s ruling and will be discussing our options with my legal team because freedom and equality is worth fighting for,” Macleish told the Washington Blade on Friday in an email.

Jeshua Bardoo, a lawyer who founded Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG, a Vincentian advocacy group, said Friday is a “sad day for LGBTQ+ rights in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.” 

“Internationally and regionally, laws similar to those challenged in these cases have been declared unconstitutional and in violation of the rights of LGBTQ+ persons,” said Bardoo in a press release the Eastern Caribbean Alliance, a regional LGBTQ+ rights group, issued. “These archaic and draconian colonial laws, though not strictly enforced, symbolically denigrate LGBTQ+ persons as second-class citizens in their own country and perpetuate prejudice and stigma against them.”

Outright International Executive Director Maria Sjödin also criticized the ruling.

“The rejection of the bid to decriminalize same-sex conduct in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a huge disappointment and significant setback for LGBTQ rights in the country,” said Sjödin. “We urge the government to reconsider its position and take meaningful steps towards ensuring the full protection and dignity of all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2021 ruled Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. The country’s Supreme Court last year ruled against a gay man who challenged it. 

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Canada

Canadian intel agency: Anti-LGBTQ+ groups are ‘extreme threat’

CSIS warns Canadians & law enforcement that ‘anti-gender’ activists & organizations may strike LGBTQ+ organizations and events

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Canadian Security and Intelligence Service National Headquarters: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo Credit: CSIS/Government of Canada)

By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA, Canada – The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) is warning that anti-gender and anti-LGBTQ+ activists are posing a risk of “extreme violence” against the LGBTQ+ community in Canada, following a year of spreading organized anti-LGBTQ+ protests, anti-trans rhetoric coming from provincial governments, and an attack on a gender studies university class.

In a report obtained by the public broadcaster CBC, the CSIS Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) says it is monitoring the potential for a violent attack on Pride festivals and nightclubs across the country. The ITAC is charged with forecasting the possibility of terrorism in Canada, based on analysis of actor intent, capability, and opportunity.

“Anti-LGBTQ+ narratives remain a common theme in violent rhetoric espoused by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Freedom Movement, and networks such as Diagolon and QAnon,” the report says, according to the CBC. “Trans and drag communities in Canada have been the target of several online threats and real-world intimidation tactics in recent months.”

The Blade has requested a copy of the report, but it has not been made public at this time. 

Last June, a knife-wielding man attacked a class on the philosophy of gender at the University of Waterloo, approximately 70 miles west of Toronto, injuring the professor and two students before he was subdued. He now faces 11 terrorism-related charges.

“CSIS assesses that the violent threat posed by the anti-gender movement is almost certain to continue over the coming year and that violent actors may be inspired by the University of Waterloo attack to carry out their own extreme violence against the LGBTQ+ community or against other targets they view as representing the gender ideology ‘agenda,’” CSIS spokesperson Eric Balsam says in an email.

Balsam says that CSIS believes the network of anti-LGBTQ+ and far-right communities in Canada may be a breeding ground for violent activities.

“While violent rhetoric itself does not equate or often lead to violence, the ecosystem of violent rhetoric within the anti-gender movement, compounded with other extreme worldviews, can lead to serious violence. CSIS assesses that exposure to groups and individuals espousing anti-gender extremist rhetoric could inspire and encourage serious violence against the LGBTQ+ community, or against those who are viewed as supporters of pro-gender ideology policies and events,” he says.

Last year, Pride Toronto executive director Sherwin Modeste told XtraMagazine that the festival was boosting its security and increasing emergency drills to prepare for the festival in the wake of rising anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and hate crimes.

According to the latest figures from Statistics Canada, the number of police-reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation has increased in each of the last three years, from 265 incidents in 2019, to 491 in 2022, the most recent year for which statistics are available, a staggering 85% increase. The 2019 figure had been a record number when it was reported. 

Far-right groups in Canada coalesced during the COVID-19 pandemic around protests against vaccine and mask mandates, culminating in a siege of downtown Ottawa and a blockade of border crossings that lasted for nearly a month in February 2022. It is believed that as COVID receded as an animating issue, many of the networks involved transitioned to protesting LGBTQ+ rights and transgender rights in particular.

A small but organized group of anti-LGBTQ+ activists have organized sustained campaigns targeting school boards, libraries, drag performances, pride festivals, and provincial legislatures to oppose LGBTQ+ rights and sex education in schools for the last two years. The protests are generally outnumbered by counter-protesters who support LGBTQ+ rights, but there have been sporadic reports of violence and arrests at the protests.

Last fall, the far-right X account Libs of TikTok, whose operator Chaya Raichik has boasted that her anti-LGBTQ+ “shitposts” frequently inspire violence and bomb threats, turned her attention to a school in suburban Vancouver because a teacher who is nonbinary works there. 

While no violence emerged from the post, the parent who drew Raichik’s attention was given a warning by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to stop harassing school officials, but she has continued to post racist, homophobic, and transphobic statements to her X account. While Canada has long enjoyed relative peace on LGBTQ+ issues, starting last year, several conservative-led provincial governments began introducing policies to restrict the names and pronouns students can use at school in the name of “parents’ rights.”

Recently, the Alberta government went further, announcing that it would restrict gender care for minors, bar trans girls from sports, and require schools to obtain written permission from parents before sexual orientation or gender can be discussed in classrooms.

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

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Africa

Queer man murdered in Cape Town

Activists call for president to sign Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill

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Diego Jacobs (Photo courtesy of Jacobs' Facebook page)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — LGBTQ+ rights groups in South Africa have condemned the brutal murder of Diego Jacobs, a queer man in Cape Town earlier this month.

Reports indicate Jacobs, 21, was brutally murdered on Feb. 3 while walking home with two friends. A former neighbor who had previously harassed him about his queer identity reportedly attacked him.

The 20-year-old former neighbor who is currently in police custody is alleged to have started uttering homophobic slurs before stabbing him in the neck with a knife. Reports indicate Jacobs tried to avoid a conflict with him.

OUT LGBT Civil Society Engagement Officer Sibonelo Ncanana has urged law enforcement officials to thoroughly investigate the incident and ensure the alleged suspect is given a hefty sentence.

“No individual should ever face violence or discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Ncanana. “This tragic incident serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges and dangers faced by LGBTIQ+ individuals in South Africa.”

“The attack also highlights the importance of enacting the long-awaited Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, which was passed by Parliament in December last year. Two months later, the bill continues to await President Cyril Ramaphosa’s signature,” added Ncanana. “We once again call on the president to take action and assent to the bill urgently, before any more lives are lost to hate and intolerance.”

Embrace Diversity Movement Secretary General Mpho Buntse said Jacobs’ death was a heinous attack that required law enforcement officials’ urgent attention. 

“The EDM is shocked to learn of the brutal killing of Diego,” said Buntse. “This act comes at a time when we had thought that the spike in hate crimes of this nature are a thing of the past. We view this as a deliberate push back to our efforts to end hate related crimes. Beyond this obvious knowledge, we call upon law enforcement officials to ensure that justice is served.” 

Buntse, like Ncanana, urged Ramaphosa to sign the Hate Crime and Hate Speech Bill into law “to ensure that hate is punished by law.”

“As a movement we demand that this be done before the upcoming elections,” said Buntse. “Failure to do this will be a clear demonstration that there is a lack of political will to protect the queer community.”

Ruth Maseko of Fantastic Family LGBTIQ said they were aggrieved Jacob’s death and echoed other activists who urged Ramaphosa to sign the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill.

“We are deeply saddened by the needless loss of another young life,” said Maseko. “The fact that these crimes continue based merely on how a person identifies in terms of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and /or expression is an insult to our humanity or lack thereof.”

South Africa is the only African country that constitutionally recognizes LGBTQ+ rights. The country’s LGBTQ+ community, however, continues to face attacks based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity that often lead to death.

The attacks have largely been attributed to religious and cultural beliefs that run counter to LGBTQ+ rights. 

Activists who support the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill say it will help curb homophobic and transphobic attacks. Some religious leaders, however, have criticized it and urged Ramaphosa not to sign it.

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Canada

Canadian police cleared in anti-LGBTQ+ tractor flip incident

British Columbia Highway Patrol officers were pursuing a tractor participating in an anti-LGBTQ protest on a highway when it flipped

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(Photo Credit: RCMP/British Columbia Highway Patrol)

By Rob Salerno | VANCOUVER, Canada – A civilian oversight body has cleared British Columbia Highway Patrol officers of wrongdoing in a highway chase that led a tractor carrying an anti-LGBT banner to flip over last fall.

The incident occurred on Nov 25, as police pursued a tractor that was participating in a protest against the province’s inclusive sex education curriculum called the “Stop SOGI-123 Road Rally,” a small convoy of vehicles driving from Chilliwack to Vancouver along Highway 15. 

The BC Highway Patrol attempted to get the tractor driver to stop near Surrey in suburban Vancouver, then used a PIT maneuver, where the pursuing car hits the rear quadrant of the target vehicle, causing it to lose traction and spin out. The tractor flips over, and the driver was ejected from the vehicle’s open roof and sustained injuries. He was arrested and taken to the hospital.

The dramatic incident was captured on video by eyewitnesses.

The Independent Investigations Office of BC, which conducts routine investigations into all police incidents that result in injury or death, issued its report on the incident late Friday. While the report has not been made public due to an ongoing court case related to the incident, a news release says that there was no evidence the officers involved did anything wrong.

“The Chief Civilian Director has reviewed the evidence – civilian witness statements, forensic scene analysis, video footage, medical records, and police information – and determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe any officer may have committed an offence,” the report says.

The tractor driver, who has been identified as Chilliwack farmer Bill Shoker, had released several videos on social media in advance of the rally in which he denounced the province’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity-123 (SOGI-123) curriculum, which is used in public schools to promote inclusion of 2SLGBTQIA+ students and families. 

Related

Protests against sexual orientation and gender identity material and sex education more generally in school curriculums have become a regular occurrence in Canada in recent years, as a network of extremist anti-vax and anti-mask protestors morphed gradually morphed into an anti-LGBTQ+ protest network. They routinely disrupt school board meetings, library events, and protest at provincial legislatures. The in-person protest groups are often quite small and outnumbered by counter-protestors who support LGBT inclusion. 

Nevertheless, they’ve managed to disrupt events and have scored some policy wins, with several provinces run by conservative governments launching policies restricting students’ pronoun and name use. This month, Alberta announced a new policy would be coming in the fall to restrict discussion of LGBT issues in classrooms, bar trans girls from playing in school sports, and restrict gender care for adolescents.

The BC protesters were trying to launch a campaign to force a recall election of the province’s Education Minister Rachna Singh. The campaign officially failed when organizers were unable to collect the required signatures by the Jan 29 deadline. The campaign had to collect signatures from 40% of the eligible voters in Singh’s district in Surrey (11,811 signatures total), but only reported collecting 3,264.

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

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Russia

Trans journalist who enlisted in Ukrainian military designated a terrorist by Russia

Sarah Ashton-Cirillo is from the US

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Sarah Ashton-Cirillo in D.C. on May 19, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MOSCOW — A Transgender journalist from the U.S. who enlisted in the Ukrainian military has been designated a terrorist by Russia.

“The Kremlin added me to Russia’s official international terrorism list,” wrote Sarah Ashton-Cirillo in a Feb. 5 post on her X account.

Russia launched its war against Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. 

Ashton-Cirillo was a journalist when she began to cover the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s Kharkiv Defense Forces. She later enlisted and is now a junior sergeant. Ashton-Cirillo has also traveled to the U.S. several times on behalf of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

Shrapnel from a Russian artillery shell wounded Ashton-Cirillo last February while she was working as a senior combat medic in a trench near Kreminna, a city in eastern Ukraine. 

“For Russia to name me as an officially sanctioned terrorist is laughable enough, however what was truly indicative of the hate coming from the Kremlin’s regime was that every press release and article in Russia about my being placed on Putin’s terrorism list was prefaced with the fact that I am Trans,” Ashton-Cirillo told the Washington Blade on Friday. “The Russian government is genocidal and hate ridden and this is why it will collapse.” 

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