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Biden urged to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach LGBTQ people abroad

US bought 500 million Pfizer doses for COVAX initiative

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COVID-19 vaccine, gay news, Washington Blade

WASHINGTON — Four Democratic congressmembers have asked President Biden to ensure some of the 500 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine it bought to distribute around the world will reach LGBTQ people that the pandemic has left even more vulnerable.

“While we are pleased to see the administration’s efforts to support global public health, we would like to ensure these vaccines are equitably distributed once they are sent abroad,” wrote U.S. Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), William Keating (D-Mass.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) in a letter they sent Biden on Tuesday.

The Los Angeles Blade exclusively obtained the letter.

“We are particularly concerned that the LGBTQI+ community may be unjustly excluded from receiving vaccines in various countries,” it reads.

The Biden administration last week announced the U.S. will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The African Union and 92 countries around the world will receive them through COVAX, a global initiative the World Health Organization co-founded in order to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine.

The letter notes the pandemic “exposed inequity in health care systems around the world for many marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQI+ community.”

“Due to stigma, violence, and discrimination, LGBTQI+ people — and transgender and non-binary individuals, in particular — face additional barriers to accessing relief and health care services,” wrote the congressmembers. “In addition to non-inclusive approaches to distributing relief, unsafe distribution centers and anti-LGBTQI+ sentiments and/or rhetoric of relief workers may also prevent LGBTQI+ individuals from obtaining vaccines.”

The letter, among other things, notes transgender people in Panama faced discrimination under gender-based regulations the country’s government implemented to control the pandemic’s spread. The congressmembers also cite Ugandan authorities who charged 19 LGBTQ people with violating coronavirus-related social distancing rules after their April 2020 arrest at a shelter in the country’s capital of Kampala and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s efforts to further restrict LGBTQ rights in his country after lawmakers gave him more power under the guise of combatting the pandemic.

“These are just a sample of the countless instances where those in the LGBTQI+ community have been unjustly discriminated against because of their gender identity and expression, sexual orientation or whom they love,” reads the letter. “As the entire world focuses on trying to return to some normalcy, we must ensure those who have been marginalized are afforded the same opportunities and resources to resume their lives.”

Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. The congressmembers in their letter notes they “appreciate your long record of promoting LGBTQI+ rights around the world.”

“We hope that as the United States finalizes agreements for vaccine donations to countries, your administration will ensure that governments receiving vaccine doses from the United States will equitably distribute them to their residents regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” they conclude.

Southeast Asia

Lawmakers in Singapore repeal country’s colonial-era sodomy law

Constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman approved

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Singapore skyline (Public domain photo)

SINGAPORE — Lawmakers in Singapore on Tuesday repealed a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The Straits Times newspaper notes 93 MPs voted to repeal Section 377A of the country’s penal code after 10 hours of debate that spanned two days. A constitutional amendment that ensures marriage remains defined between a man and a woman also passed on Tuesday with 85 MPs voting in favor of it. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in August announced his country would decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The city-state’s Court of Appeal in February upheld a lower court decision that dismissed three lawsuits against Section 377A of the country’s penal code. Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam a few months later told the BBC his country will not prosecute anyone under the colonial-era law.

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Africa

Kenyan LGBTQ+ rights groups honor Transgender refugees, asylum seekers

Event coincided with the Transgender Day of Remembrance

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The Refugee Trans Initiative and Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health used the Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor Transgender refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Two LGBTQ+ rights groups in Kenya this month used the Transgender Awareness Week and the Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor transgender refugees and asylum seekers in the country. 

The Refugee Trans Initiative and Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health on Nov. 20 hosted an event in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. It did not take place in the Kakuma refugee camp; but former residents who now live in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa attended. 

“The event was to celebrate Trans Awareness Week for Trans refugees and asylum seekers and we invited other individuals who are part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ refugee community,” Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health Director Vanilla Hussein. “We had time to reflect on the memory of our friends we have lost and most recently Francis, who was murdered in Uganda.”

Hussein said the conditions in Kakuma made it unsafe for the group to hold an event in the refugee camp.

Two gay men in March 2021 suffered second-degree burns during an attack on Block 13 in Kakuma, which the U.N. Refugee Agency created specifically for LGBTQ+ and intersex refugees. One of them died a few weeks later at a Nairobi hospital. 

A report the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and Rainbow Railroad released in May 2021 indicates nearly all of the LGBTQ+ and intersex people who live in Kakuma have experienced discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. UNHCR in a statement after the March 15, 2021, attack noted Kenya “remains the only country in the region to provide asylum to those fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” even though consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

“Trans refugees continue to live in appalling conditions due to poor welfare, lack of access to jobs, affordable healthcare and opportunities in Kenya,” said Hussein. “Currently, some trans refugees and gender non-conforming refugees lack proper documentation.”

Hussein further noted NGOs “are not funded by the donors adequately because of bureaucratic hurdles and requirements to access funding such as bank statements, which have made it hard to get access to funds that can provide food, shelter, and relief emergency assistance.”

“To sum up, Kenya remains a threat to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community due to transphobia and homophobia,” said Hussein.

Alvin Mwangi, a reproductive rights activist, stressed Trans people simply want basic human rights.

“Basic human rights are not special rights, the right to get and keep a job based on merit is not a special right, the right to be served food in a restaurant is not a special right, the right to have a roof over one’s head is not a special right, the right to walk down a street and not be attacked because of who you are and whom you love is not a special right,” said Mwangi. 

“The government of Kenya should ensure its laws and systems protect Transgender persons just like any other citizen of Kenya against all forms of violence and discrimination,” added Mwangi. “The government of Kenya should commit to end all forms of violence and discrimination against Transgender persons, by publicly condemning any major instances of homophobic and transphobic violence that occur in the counties and in the country in general.”

Mwangi also stressed Trans people are “beautiful” and “deserve love.”

“We all have the right to live with dignity and respect,” said Mwangi. “As we just marked and celebrated the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes victims of transphobic violence, and as we continue to celebrate Transgender Awareness month until the end of November, we remember those in the Transgender community who have lost their lives due to violence brought by hate and ignorance and we honor, celebrate and advocate for the respect of the rights of Transgender and gender diverse communities.”

“All Transgender persons have a right to equality and freedom from discrimination of all forms. All Transgender persons require equal protection against any form of violence,” added Mwangi. “The right to equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Russia

Russian Duma’s lower House passes anti-LGBTQ propaganda law

The legislation still needs the approval of the upper House and President Putin- introduces an expanded “all ages” anti-LGBTQ propaganda ban

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Russian State Duma (Госуда́рственная ду́ма) parliament building Moscow (Photo Credit: Russian Government)

MOSCOW – A new law which expands Russia’s “gay propaganda” law signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin in June 2013 passed the lower House of the State Duma (parliament) on Thursday.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper House of the Duma and President Putin, introduces an expanded “all ages” ban on “propaganda of non-traditional relations,” paedophilia, as well as a ban on the dissemination of information about LGBTQ people in the media, the Internet, advertising, literature and cinema. 

The language of the bill, according to the official Russian state news agency TASS, also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ+ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ+ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

In an October speech announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories, Putin attacked the Western nations on the issue of gay and transgender rights.

“Do we want children from elementary school to be imposed with things that lead to degradation and extinction?” he asked. “Do we want them to be taught that instead of men and women, there are supposedly some other genders and to be offered sex-change surgeries?”

It’s not just the Russian leader. Patriarch Kirill, head of the powerful and influential Russian Orthodox Church, portrayed the war with Ukraine as a struggle seeking to reject Western values and LGBTQ+ pride parades.

Vyacheslav Viktorovich Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma and a former aide to Putin, is one of the bill’s sponsors. Volodin told TASS that the bill is “adopted exclusively in the interests of all Russians.”

“We have a different path, our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers chose it. We have traditions, we have a conscience, we have an understanding that we need to think about children, families, the country, to preserve what we handed over by the parents,” Volodin said.

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch told the Blade this expansion of the 2013 “gay propaganda” law “is a classic example of political homophobia. It targets vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gain.”

A young Russian LGBTQ+ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, spoke to the Blade from Helsinki, Finland, regarding this latest effort by the so-called conservative “family values” politicians in the Duma.

“This is a distraction to avoid the real news of dead young Russian males killed in his illegal war in Ukraine,” they said. “These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called “non-traditional” LGBTQ+ lifestyles practised by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people out of public life- make us erased. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also told the Blade they had fled to avoiding the Russian military draft enacted by Russia to replenish the levels of combat troops fighting in Putin’s illegal war, in the face of mounting casualties and wounded soldiers.

HRW noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ+ people in Russia, the organization warned there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ+ people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ+ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

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European Union

Belgian Parliament approves a ban on conversion therapy

“Belgium is a pioneer in the field of LGBTQ rights- but a ban [on conversion practices] was sadly missing from our legislative arsenal”

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Federal Parliament of Belgium, Palace of the Nation Brussels (Photo Credit: Federal Parliament of Belgium)

BRUSSELS – The Federal bicameral Parliament of Belgium approved a ban on the practise of conversion therapy according to the State Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Sarah Schlitz.

The Brussels Times, an English-language Belgian news website and magazine, reported that in a press statement Schlitz said: “Belgium is a pioneer in the field of LGBTQ rights. Numerous legislative reforms and social efforts bear witness to this, but a ban [on conversion practices] was sadly missing from our legislative arsenal,” Schlitz said in a press release.

The Brussels based non-profit educational think tank association, Centre Permanent pour la Citoyenneté et la Participation, noted in a May 2022 report that the practices, which are aimed at changing or removing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, can take many forms ranging from the discussion table to drug treatments or exorcism sessions.

The Centre found that overall the affect of conversion therapy had long term damaging affects. The report went on to note that conversion therapy practices are “deceptive, ineffective and dangerous” practices that aim to change, suppress or eliminate the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of LGBTQ people.

Methods range from psychotherapy and electroshock therapy to beatings and even “corrective rape.” They can take place in religious, medical or sectarian environments, can be carried out by relatives or pseudo-professionals and have terrible consequences for the people who undergo them, The Brussels Times reported quoting the findings.

“The opportunity to be yourself and the freedom to live the way you want is a fundamental principle of our society that must not be compromised under any circumstances,” Schlitz said. “This prohibition is a powerful act to protect the victims from this symbolic, psychological and sometimes physical violence.”

The Times went on to report that anyone caught practising and violating the ban may be facing imprisonment of one month to two years and/or a fine of €100 to €300.

The language of the law also specifies that [the court] will also take into account whether the offence was committed by a person in a recognised position of trust, authority or influence over the victim and whether the offence was committed against a minor or a person in a vulnerable situation.

Suggesting or inciting conversion practices, directly or indirectly, will also be penalised. The court will be able to prohibit people convicted of conversion practices from carrying out a professional or social activity related to the commission of these offences for a maximum period of five years, the Times noted.

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Africa

Uganda lawmaker says international agreement has ‘hidden clauses’ to promote homosexuality

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Deputy Uganda Parliament Speaker Thomas Tayebwa (Screen capture via Next Media Uganda YouTube)

MAPUTO, Mozambique — Several LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups in Uganda have sharply criticized Deputy Parliament Speaker Thomas Tayebwa’s assertion that an agreement between the European Union and the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States has “hidden clauses” designed to promote homosexuality.

Tayebwa made the remarks during the 42nd session of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) — EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly that took place in Maputo, Mozambique, from Oct. 29-Nov. 2.

“We have discovered that with the Cotonou Agreement — an agreement between the EU and OACPS based on three complementary pillars: Development cooperation, economic and trade cooperation and the political dimension — there are hidden clauses concerning human rights,” said Tayebwa. “Clauses to do with sexuality, promotion of LGBT or homosexuality and clauses to do with abortion. We are a society that is not ready for homosexuality and we are a society that is not ready for abortion. It can never be accepted in Uganda.”

“It’s not a surprise to me and most of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community at large in Uganda that the deputy speaker of Parliament made such homophobic comments because the government he represents is homophobic too,” said Happy Family Uganda Executive Director Iga Isma. “According to me, he has no right to think about our own lifestyle. Everyone lives a life that they naturally want. If someone doesn’t eat meat, it does not mean that everyone doesn’t. I am in full support of donor countries to stop funding African countries that fail to legalize same sex relationships however, we might be affected too.” 

Pastor Ram Gava Kaggwa from Adonai Inclusive Christian Ministries, who is the executive director of Wave of Legacy Alliance Initiative Uganda, said sexual orientation does not have anything to do with whether one is African or not.

“Sexual orientation totally differs based on personal desires and wishes, it’s time to change the biased perspective on our sexual differences, just because you are practicing a different sexual narrative does not necessarily mean the other is wrong otherwise we are bound to see the spread of gender-based violence due to differences in sexual identity which may and can arise from hate speech spread through the heteronormative narrative which is taught in a manner that does not create room for respect of sexual differences,” said Kaggwa. “It is important to acknowledge the differences, variations and diversities of the community and modern-day society and respect each other regardless of such differences for we are all human and this is what exactly bonds us regardless of the different beliefs and values embodied in us.”

Kaggwa further encouraged lawmakers in Uganda and across Africa “to let and affirmatively acknowledge the rights and existence of 2SLGBTQIA+ persons and their rights at a common law level.” 

Buwande Anthony, executive director of the Uganda Youth Society for Human Rights, said Tayebwa does not speak for Africa since African countries are sovereign states with different legal systems.

“The remarks by the deputy speaker of the Parliament of Uganda can only be attributed to hypocrisy that is normally exhibited by government officials during overseas tours, if not, it was an act of ignorance of the provisions of the Constitution of Uganda,” noted Anthony. “Article 24 of the Ugandan Constitution and the Article of the African Charter on Human and Peoples rights provides against inhuman and degrading treatment. The above provisions have laid a foundation against any enactment by the state or individual initiatives against violation of individual human rights of citizens and non-citizens in Uganda.”

“Furthermore, Hon. Thomas Tayebwa cannot purport to speak for Africa since African countries are sovereign States which are governed by different legal dispensations, and whereas some African countries have moved a notch higher to respect their citizens’ human rights, others are still slow and struggling,” he added. “Therefore, it can only be fair that he speaks for Uganda where he is deputy speaker of Parliament.”

Uganda is among the African countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

President Yoweri Museveni in February 2014 signed into law a bill that sought to impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The Obama administration subsequently cut or redirected aid to Uganda and announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for human rights abuses. The World Bank also postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court subsequently struck down the law. 

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Russia

Report: Brittney Griner transferred to penal colony

Reuters noted WNBA star in country’s Mordovia region

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A Brittney Griner mural in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

YAVAS, Russia — Reuters on Thursday reported WNBA star Brittney Griner is now in a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia region.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

A Russian court on Aug. 4 convicted Brittney Griner of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. An appellate court on Oct. 25 denied Brittney Griner’s appeal.

American officials have publicly acknowledged their willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after his conviction for spying.

Brittney Griner’s lawyers earlier this month said authorities were transferring her to a penal colony. 

Her whereabouts had not been known for nearly two weeks. 

Reuters reported Brittney Griner is now at a female penal colony in Yavas, a city in Russia’s Mordovia region that is roughly 300 miles southeast of Moscow. Reuters noted Whelan is at a penal colony in the same area.

“We are aware of reports of her location, and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. The embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location.”

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