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Violent mob forces cancellation of Tbilisi Pride in Georgia

March organizers’ offices ransacked, journalists attacked

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(Screenshot courtesy of Dutch MP Ruben Brekelmans Twitter page)

TBILISI, Georgia — A violent mob forced the cancellation of a Pride march that was to have taken place in Georgia’s capital on Monday.

Videos show what one source described to the Los Angeles Blade as a “marginal mob of Christian and far-right extremists” ripping down a Pride flag that Tbilisi Pride had hung from the balcony of its offices. Tbilisi Pride Director Giorgi Tabagari later posted to social media a video that showed the mob ransacked them.

Media reports indicate the mob attacked journalists and stabbed at least one person.

“They declared war against civil society, democratic values and the European course of the country,” said Tbilisi Pride in a statement it released after it officially cancelled the march.

Tbilisi Pride and other Georgian LGBTQ activists accused the former Soviet republic’s government of not doing enough to protect march participants. Tbilisi Pride in its statement also sharply criticized Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Patriarch Ilia of the Georgian Orthodox Church and “pro-Russian groups” for comments they made before and after the march’s cancellation.

“The (Georgia) Ministry of Internal Affairs, despite having all opportunities to ensure the safety of Pride Week participants, did not take any action to protect the fundamental rights of people,” said Tbilisi Pride. “Tbilisi Pride members, representatives of international organizations and (members of the) diplomatic corps had a number of meetings with MIA representatives. They knew our action strategy. They were offered specific plans … but instead of measures, we have been watching from the morning government representatives encouraging violent groups.”

The American, Austrian, Bulgarian, British, Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Israeli, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish embassies in a joint statement condemned the violence. The U.N. and European Union missions in the country were also signatories.

“We condemn today’s violent attacks on the civic activists, community members and journalists, as well as the failure of the government leaders and religious officials to condemn this violence,” reads the statement. “Participation in peaceful gatherings is a human right guaranteed by Georgia’s Constitution. Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused. Those who incite or threaten violence or commit violent acts are interfering with the efforts of Georgia’s law enforcement professionals to uphold a safe and secure environment. They should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”  

“We call on all Georgia’s leaders and law enforcement to act swiftly to protect those exercising their Constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly, to protect journalists exercising freedom of the press, and to publicly condemn violence,” it adds.

ILGA-Europe is among the LGBTQ rights groups that have also condemned the violence. Civil.ge, a Georgian news website, reported that authorities have launched an investigation.

NOM president traveled to Tbilisi in June

The first Tbilisi Pride march was to have taken place in June 2019, but organizers postponed it amid protests against a Russian MP who spoke at the Georgian Parliament. A small Pride demonstration took place a few weeks later.

U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan in May faced criticism after she met with Georgian Orthodox Church Archbishop Iakob.

Civil.ge Editor-in-Chief Otar “Otto” Kobakhidze in a series of tweets noted Iakob “led a program against LGBTQ activists in downtown Tbilisi” on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in 2013.

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown traveled to Georgia last week. Brown on June 23 participated in a Tbilisi press conference with Levan Vesadze, an anti-LGBTQ Georgian businessman who recently founded an ultranationalist political party.

“In country after country we find men and women, men like Levan, who act and stand for truth, for the family,” said Brown. “No lies, no slurs will stop us.”

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Africa

Botswana attorney general seeks to again criminalize homosexuality

High Court heard case on Oct. 12

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(Public domain photo)

GABORONE, Botswana — On June 11, 2019, Botswana moved toward being a state that no longer held some of its citizens (and, by extension, visitors) as criminals if they identified within the LGBTQ spectrum. However, the government didn’t take too long before it declared its intention to appeal the High Court judgment that asserted that consensual same-sex sexual activity in private was not to be a criminal act.

The appeal hearing took place on Oct. 12.

There are some key things to understand about what the High Court did for people in Botswana. The judgment, written and delivered by Justice Leburu, not only put a clear delineation between the state’s powers to intrude in people’s private sexual lives, but it also stated that laws that served no purpose in the governance of the people they oversaw were most likely worthy of “a museum peg” more than being active laws of the land.

In the hearing on Oct. 9, a full bench of five judges of the Court of Appeal was treated to the government’s case—as presented by advocate Sydney Pilane of the Attorney General’s Chambers—along with hearing the rebuttals from the legal counsel representing Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who brought the original case against the government, and LEGABIBO, an NGO admitted as amicus curiae, a friend of the court. The appeal, two years in the making, would have been expected to be based on facts rather than opinions of what could and could not be accepted by hypothetical Batswana. Pilane even went so far as to contest that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s utterances about how people in same-sex relationships were “suffering in silence” were taken out of context as he was talking about gender-based violence and not endorsing their relationships.

The 2019 ruling of the High Court, the most supreme court of incidence in the country, not only declared people who were or had interest in engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity not criminals, but it also allowed non-queer people to engage in sex acts that would otherwise be considered “against the order of nature” freely. The latter clause had often been interpreted as being solely about non-heterosexuals but on greater interrogation one realizes that any sex act that doesn’t result in the creation of a child was considered against this ‘order of nature’ and that nullified much of heterosexual sexual exploration—further painting these clauses as out of touch with contemporary Botswana as Leburu expressed.

In some of his appeal arguments, Pilane stated that Batswana “do not have a problem with gay people”, yet he based his contention on the fact that Batswana “respect the courts’ decisions;” as such they would not take up arms at the court’s decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Pilane maintained that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the Parliament on the recommendation of the courts. The bench was swift to query whether a body of politicians elected by a majority would be the best representatives of a minority that was oppressed by laws that the very politicians benefitted from.

Botswana’s legal system allows for the High Court ruling to remain the law of the land until such a point as it’s struck down. The Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Batswana’s sexual liberties will be a nail in the proverbial coffin of residual colonial sex-related laws plaguing Botswana. This will not be the end by any means though. Where the attorney general can form a case stating that decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations could be likened to people locking themselves in their houses with animals and having their way with them, we know that mindset changes need to be prioritized to ensure that all Batswana understand their constitutionally protected rights to privacy, expression, and freedom of association as relates to their personal and sexual lives.

The 2010 Employment Act of Botswana already protects people from being discriminated against based on their sex or gender identity. The nation’s sexual violence laws were made gender neutral, thus covering non-consensual sex (rape) in all its possibilities. In upholding the ruling of the High Court, the Court of Appeal will allow the LGBTQ and SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics) movements in Botswana some respite as attention is then channeled toward other pressing matters such as name changes, access to healthcare, and other culturally pertinent issues.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hand down a judgement following their deliberations in 4-6 weeks (mid to late November), however, this remains at their discretion. As it stands, since the High Court ruling in 2019, Botswana has experienced increased social accommodation for LGBTQ matters and figures—however, this is not to say there have not been any negative instances. With the continued sensitization, the expectation is that the courts, the government and NGO players will all contribute to a broad, national, culturing of LGBTQ rights in Botswana devoid of colonial residues.

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United Nations

U.S. regains U.N. Human Rights Council seat

Previous administration withdrew from body in 2018

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(Photo by sanjitbakshi; courtesy Flickr)

UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. on Thursday regained a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, three years after the previous administration withdrew from it.

The U.S. won election to the council alongside Argentina, Benin, Cameroon, Eritrea, Finland, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, Paraguay, Qatar, Somalia and United Arab Emirates.

The council in recent years has emerged as a champion of LGBTQ rights around the world, even though Cuba and other countries with poor human rights records are among the 47 countries that are currently members. Venezuela and Russia are also on the council.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first of more than two dozen anti-government protests that took place across Cuba on July 11, remains in custody and faces eight years in prison. The Los Angeles Blade last month spoke with several Venezuelan LGBTQ activists who said persecution forced them to flee to neighboring Colombia.

Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ rights and the Kremlin’s close relationship with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov continue to spark criticism around the world.

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley during a 2018 press conference that announced the U.S. withdrawal from the council noted Cuba and other countries “with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights record” are members. Haley also said the council has a “chronic bias against” Israel.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.  Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday in a statement said LGBTQ rights will be one of the U.S.’s focuses once it officially rejoins the council on Jan. 1.

“Our initial efforts as full members in the Council will focus on what we can accomplish in situations of dire need, such as in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen,” she said. “More broadly, we will promote respect for fundamental freedoms and women’s rights, and oppose religious intolerance, racial and ethnic injustices, and violence and discrimination against members of minority groups, including LGBTQI+ persons and persons with disabilities.  And we will oppose the council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country.”

President Biden in February issued a memorandum that commits the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The previous White House tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a campaign that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, but many LGBTQ activists in the U.S. and around the world have questioned its effectiveness. The Washington Blade in August filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department that seeks Grenell’s emails around his work on the decriminalization initiative.

“The President and Sec. Blinken have put democracy and human rights—essential cornerstones of peace and stability—at the center of our foreign policy,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday after the U.S. regained a seat on the council. “We have eagerly and earnestly pursued these values in our relationships around the world.” 

“We will use our position to renew the council’s focus on the core human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.N. Charter, which undergird the council’s founding,” added Price at the beginning of his daily press briefing. “Our goal is to hold the U.N. Human Rights Council accountable to the highest aspirations of its mandate and spur the actions necessary to carry them out.” 

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Australia

Australian live-action kids series about Trans teen wins International Emmy

The role and the series are considered a watershed event in children’s programming & has been crucial in representing trans youth experiences

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Graphic courtesy of the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences

NEW YORK – The 10th International Emmy® Kids Awards held this past Tuesday was a virtual event as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  Presented annually by International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, this year’s winner in the category of live action was a groundbreaking miniseries about a trans girl adjusting to high school in Australia.

Evie Macdonald in the role of Hannah Bradford, became the first Trans actor to star in the lead role of an Australian scripted television drama in First Day. According to the producers of the show, MacDonald was eleven years old at the time of filming and had not previously acted.

Written and directed by Julie Kalceff, a writer and director with Common Language Films in Sydney, New South Wales, First Day covers many issues faced daily by trans kids in schools and has been crucial in representing Trans youth experiences on screen in Australia and globally.

The role and the series are considered a watershed event in children’s programming and airs on Hulu in the United States, on ABC Me in Australia and on CBC Gem in Canada.

 

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