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USAID denies report that suggests it funds conversion therapy

OpenDemocracy report focuses on Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda

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The U.S. Agency for International Development says it does not promote so-called conversion therapy in response to an openDemocracy report. (Photo by Bigstock)

A six-month investigation conducted by openDemocracy has revealed multiple aid-funded health facilities in three African countries have been administering conversion therapy to patients. 

“Health facilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have provided, or provided referrals for, controversial anti-gay ‘conversion therapy’ to ‘quit’ same-sex attraction,” said openDemocracy in a statement.

Additionally, the statement mentions that undercover reporters who spoke to some staff at these facilities were offered help to quit same-sex attraction and were told that “being gay is ‘evil;’ and homosexuality is ‘for whites’, caused by peer pressure and a mental health problem.” They were advised to “give a gay teenager a sleeping pill to prevent him from masturbating.”

In an article that highlights their findings, openDemocracy reports that a receptionist at Mulago National Referral Hospital, Uganda’s largest public hospital and HIV clinic for marginalized and most-at-risk populations, said that an undercover reporter’s 17-year-old gay brother could “quit” his same-sex attraction.

“Whoever wants to quit homosexuality, we connect them,” said the receptionist to outside counselors, who have included Pastor Solomon Male, a well-known gay rights opponent in the area.

The receptionist also referred the undercover reporter to a former patient who she claimed was no longer gay and gave the reporter the patient’s phone number. 

Mulago, like a number of health facilities in Africa, receives foreign aid and funding from organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Global Fund, PEPFAR and the U.K.-based NGO MSI Reproductive Choices.

OpenDemocracy reports the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau network received more than $1 million from USAID between 2019 and April 2021. It remains uncertain whether the specific hospitals identified in investigations received any of this money.

The donors in response to the investigation’s findings have committed to launching a separate investigation into the health facilities and taking action against so-called conversion therapy practices they are administrating.

“We strongly condemn this harmful, unethical practice, which goes against everything we stand for as an organization,” an MSI Reproductive Choices spokesperson told openDemocracy. “We are grateful for all safeguarding concerns raised and thank openDemocracy for their investigation.”

MSI Reproductive Choices also receives millions in aid from the British government and other international donors to specifically provide health services to marginalized communities, including gay men and transgender people. 

Survivors of anti-LGBT treatments’ in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have come forward to describe their experiences with conversion therapy.

“I was not allowed to make or receive any phone calls. They also gave me a lot of drugs that made me drowsy and exhausted all the time,” said Samuel (not his real name) to openDemocracy of his experience with conversion therapy. “I felt abandoned and was afraid I was going to die.”

Samuel’s parents sent him to a conversion therapy institute for a year and a half. OpenDemocracy said he was given electric shocks and shown pictures of “ruptured anuses and wounded penises” by people who told him that if he didn’t stop being gay, he would “meet the same fate.”

A transgender woman in Tanzania recounted that her mother took her to a hospital in Dar es Salaam, the country’s commercial capital, where a doctor attempted to convince her that being trans is improbable. 

OpenDemocracy also cites two men in Kenya who said they received hormones to appear more ‘masculine’ and to limit a trans person’s ability to present in their preferred gender.

As investigations into the allegations ensue, aid donors have begun to take action regarding health facilities that prescribe conversion therapy. 

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, the Africa director at the International Commission of Jurists, a human rights organization, told openDemocracy that aid donors should ensure their money does not fund any conversion therapy activities — and to withdraw money if it does..

“Redirect funding,” said Yvee Oduor of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. “We already have clinics and health centres run by LGBTQI+ people all over the country. Why not fund these community initiatives?”

A USAID spokesperson in a statement to the Washington Blade said the agency “does not fund or promote anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy.”

“The United States government, through staff at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda, has engaged leadership of the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau and the Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) Uganda concerning the allegations cited,” said the spokesperson. “IDI subgrants to the Most At Risk Populations Initiative (MARPI) clinic in Kampala, with U.S. funding.” 

The USAID spokesperson told the Blade that officials from the U.S. Embassy in Uganda “emphasized the need to ensure support for key populations, including the LGBTQ+ community.” The spokesperson added “the implementing partners agreed to take steps to ensure” that “appropriate gender and sexual diversity training is provided to all implementing partner staff and health care workers and ensure refresher trainings” are carried out, that “hiring practices include principles of nondiscrimination in personnel contracts” and “a patient’s bill of rights is posted in facilities, and service delivery issues raised through PEPFAR’s Community-led Monitoring program are addressed.”

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Latin America

Latin America elections challenges, opportunities for LGBTQ people

Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of LGBTQ+ rights

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Richelle Briceño was a candidate for the Venezuelan National Assembly in the country's last elections. (Photo courtesy of Richelle Briceño)

By Esteban Rioseco | CARACAS, Venezuela – Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of the rights of their community amid far-right advances.

Venezuela’s presidential election will take place on July 28, while Brazil’s municipal elections will happen on Oct. 6. Regional and municipal elections will take place in Chile on Oct. 27. Uruguay’s congressional elections are slated to occur on the same day.

María José Cumplido, executive director of Fundación Iguales in Chile, emphasized the importance of having LGBTQ representation in politics. 

“It is fundamental because LGBTQ+ people tend to support laws or public policies aimed at protecting the community,” Cumplido told the Washington Blade. “In that sense, it is important that the voices of these people are heard because, obviously, they know the reality more closely and many times they have lived it.” 

Cumplido noted “LGBTQ+ representation has grown notoriously in recent years, so much so that today there is an LGBTQ+ caucus in Congress.” 

“That is good news,” said Cumplido.

Ignacia Oyarzún, president of Organizado Trans Diversidades (Organizing Trans Diversities or OTD), also from Chile, highlighted the observation and registration work the Trans Voting Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean has done. Oyarzún also noted the promotion of transgender candidates as a way to combat misinformation a promote respect for the community’s political rights.

“We monitor the situation of the political rights of our communities in the region and establish guidelines through which we encourage respect for the right to elect representatives and to be elected,” said Oyarzún. “We also maintain initiatives that have to do with the dissemination of trans candidacies and news that go against the disinformation established through false news that have begun to circulate through the various social and political media.”

Collette Spinetti, president of the Colectivo Trans del Uruguay, pointed out the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in politics, especially trans people.

“The biggest challenge is to achieve trustworthiness especially towards gender-dissident people in their ability to be able to hold public office,” said Spinetti.

Professor Collete Spinetti has dedicated many years of her life to improving living conditions for LGBTQ people in Uruguay (Photo courtesy of Collete Spinetti)

“In Uruguay politics is still quite macho, especially in the so-called traditional and right-wing parties where there is no political representation of members of the LGBTIQ+ community,” Spinetti further explained. “On the left, although there is, thanks to internal work, female representation, there is still a lack of work.”

“In this sense the scarce LGBTIQ+ representation is present through gay men,” added Spinetti. “There is still no representation of publicly lesbian people and only one representation in the interior of the country of a trans woman.” 

In Brazil, Keila Simpson, president of Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals or ANTRA), highlighted the diversity of LGBTQ representation in the country’s politics. Simpson nevertheless recognized the importance of mandates that go beyond identity and address a wide range of issues that benefit the entire community.

“The challenges for LGBTQIA people when it comes to applying for positions in Brazil are many,” she said. “The first one is the way Brazilian society sees this stigmatized and completely stereotyped population. If we think about the trans population, this violence is even greater, since in addition to being smaller in number, the discrimination is even greater because this population is commonly associated with eroticism and hypersexualization of their bodies, and these are the main problems these people face. they are associated when they run for prominent positions or leaders, even in the partisan political arena.” 

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (ANTRA) President Keila Simpson at her office in Salvador, Brazil, on March 16, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

In Venezuela, Richelle Briceño, a trans woman and former congressional candidate, on the other hand, lamented the lack of presidential candidacies that explicitly defend LGBTQ rights. She noted the country still faces fundamental challenges that prevent a serious debate on these issues.

“There are candidates who have expressed themselves against non-discrimination, but that’s as far as it goes,” Briceño recounted. “There are no specific candidates that I can tell you who even handle what the definition of the word queer is and how it is understood, let’s say, within LGBTQ+ activism.”

Briceño said María Corina Machado, an opposition leader who President Nicolás Maduro’s government has barred from running for office, has “come out in favor of issues such as equal civil marriage and the issue of recognition of trans identities.” Briceño noted to the Blade that Edmundo González Urrutia, who is running as her surrogate, did not meet with LGBTQ activists until last week.

“These activists exposed their points of view, however, the current candidate leading the polls has not made a public statement regarding his position or what his position will be on the issues of LGBT rights in Venezuela,” said Briceño.

Briceño further stressed that Venezuela “is still in a cave.” 

“Here the country is in the basics, the country is in not losing electricity, in having water and in seeing how people eat daily,” she said. “The political and economic crisis that we have lived through for two decades, and with more depth in the last decade, has not allowed for a serious debate on the issues of the 21st century, including the rights of sexual diversity populations or the LGBT population and women”.

José Rodríguez, a Venezuelan psychologist who, like many of his compatriots had to leave his country, said that “as a young Venezuelan exiled in Chile for eight years, today I feel the tranquility of living in a society where a governmental interest in the welfare of my community is appreciated, expressed by a legal framework that although it could be better; compared to the overwhelming setbacks that have occurred in recent weeks in neighboring countries and the constant lethargy of Venezuela in terms of advancing the LGBTQIA+ agenda, is deeply painful and worrying.”

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Photo Credit: Movilh

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

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

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India

Indian government committee to study rights for same-sex couples

Country’s Supreme Court last October ruled against marriage equality

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — The Indian Supreme Court seven months ago declined to grant legal status to same-sex marriages. 

At the time of the verdict, however, the Supreme Court instructed the federal government to establish a committee to address the myriad issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community in India. These include matters such as pensions, joint property ownership, healthcare access, and child custody.

In compliance with the Supreme Court’s directive, the Indian government on April 16 established a committee with Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba appointed as its chair. The committee, consisting of six members, will include secretaries from the Home Affairs, Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, Social Justice and Empowerment, and the Law Ministries.

“The Hon’ble Supreme Court vide its judgment dated 17.10.2023, in Writ Petition No. 1011/2022 Supriyo@Supriya vs. Union of India, has directed the central government to constitute a committee to be chaired by the Cabinet secretary to examine the various issues relating to queer community,” said the gazette notification.

A 5-judge constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud refused to recognize the right to marry as a fundamental right for same-sex couples. The country’s top court stated, while delivering the verdict last year, that parliament must decide whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court acknowledged it cannot make laws but can only interpret them. It also recognized queer people cannot be discriminated against. The court had said that the material benefits and services given to heterosexual couples and denied to queer couples violate their fundamental rights. 

Chandrachud and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in their dissenting opinion advocated for civil unions instead of marriage, arguing this approach would grant legal rights to same-sex couples without extending full marriage rights. They emphasized that while marriage may not inherently confer rights, it offers certain “intangible benefits in the form of expressive advantages” and provides a “bouquet of rights” for couples to exercise.

“For the right to have real meaning, the State must recognize a bouquet of entitlements which flow from an abiding relationship of this kind. A failure to recognize such entitlements would result in systemic discrimination against queer couples,” said Chandrachud. 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, the country’s second-highest law officer, at the time had stated a committee chaired by the Cabinet secretary would be formed to delineate the rights that should be available to LGBTQ+ couples in a union.

The Supreme Court had outlined several entitlements for the LGBTQ+ community that include the right for queer partners to be treated as part of the same family for ration card purposes, the ability to set up a joint bank account, jail visitation rights, recognition as “next of kin” by medical practitioners, and the right to access the body of a deceased partner to arrange the last rites.

“The committee shall set out the scope of the benefits which accrue to such couples,” stated the Supreme Court in its 2023 ruling. 

In last year’s judgment, the Supreme Court said “legal consequences such as succession rights, maintenance, financial benefits such as under the Income Tax Act 1961, rights flowing from employment such as gratuity and family pension and insurance.” 

The Income Tax Act 1961, provides some benefits to married couple in India, such as a maximum deduction of 199,654.44 ($2,400) that can be claimed in a financial year. Married couples can opt for a joint home loan with tax benefits on interest paid and principal repaid, and also get a higher loan amount. These financial benefits, however, are not available for LGBTQ+ couples in the country. Similarly, as per the rule of family pension in India, if a deceased government servant or pensioner is survived by a spouse, they will be the first to receive a family pension. Children and other family members become eligible for it only after the spouse of the decedent or pensioner become ineligible for a family pension or dies.

Activists say the establishment of a committee chaired by the Cabinet secretary to address the issues faced by LGBTQ+ couples in a union is a promising step forward. 

“The Supreme Court’s verdict on October 17 last year marked a significant milestone in recognizing the rights of LGBTQ individuals, and this committee could play a crucial role in translating legal recognition into practical and effective policy changes,” said Souvik Saha, an LGBTQ activist and founder of People for Change. “The formation of this committee is particularly important in a state like Jharkhand, where LGBTQ individuals face unique challenges. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), LGBTQ people in India, especially in rural areas, continue to face significant stigma and discrimination. In Jharkhand, these challenges are compounded by socio-economic factors and a lack of awareness and acceptance among the general population.”

He also said this committee’s effectiveness will depend on its ability to engage with LGBTQ+ communities, understand their needs, and implement policies that are both inclusive and practical. 

“As someone working on the ground, I would emphasize the importance of including voices from all parts of the LGBTQ spectrum, particularly those from marginalized communities,” Saha said.

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

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Africa

South Sudan refugee camp is ‘not a safe haven’ for LGBTQ+ residents

Gorom Refugee Settlement is outside country’s capital of Juba

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Michael Adler visits the Gorom Refugee Settlement on Oct. 25, 2023. The camp's LGBTQ+ residents remain marginalized. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in South Sudan)

GOROM REFUGEE SETTLEMENT, South Sudan — LGBTQ+ people who live at a refugee camp in South Sudan say the mistreatment they are suffering because of their sexual orientation and gender identity has left them even more marginalized.

The U.N. Refugee Agency runs the Gorom Refugee Settlement, which is roughly 16 miles from Juba, the country’s capital, in partnership with ACROSS and other South Sudanese NGOs.

UNHCR says more than 20,000 refugees live at Gorom, with the Anyuak people from Ethiopia making up the largest group. They have been there since 2011 when South Sudan became its own country after it broke away from Sudan.

Although this is not the first time the plight of LGBTQ+ people has been raised; the challenges seem to continue unabatedly and grow worse as each year passes. They are denied employment opportunities, with some of their children unable to access education.

Yaga Piuson, an LGBTQ+ activist for Gorom, says the situation has become even more dire.

“The immediate challenges faced by LGBT persons within the camp are severe and pervasive,” said Piuson. “They endure daily attacks, lack of police assistance, death threats, stoning, abuses, discrimination, bullying, denial of medical care, and the inability for their children to access education. Many are also deprived of proper shelter, leading to health risks such as pneumonia.” 

Piuson added UNHCR and ACROSS have done little to address these challenges, while the South Sudanese government has turned a blind eye.

“As of now, both the UNHCR and ACROSS have not provided a durable solution,” said Piuson. “While they have initiated interviews with LGBTQIA+ individuals, the options presented, relocation to other camps within South Sudan or urban areas, pose significant risks due to the country’s stance against homosexuality.”

“Unfortunately, the South Sudanese government and civic organizations have yet to offer any substantial assistance in alleviating these challenges,” added Piuson.

Piuson added some of the refugees have fled Gorom because of the continued persecution they face. Piuson said the settlement was no longer safe for LGBTQ+ refugees who include Anyuak, Darfurians from Sudan, Congolese and Burundians.

“Many of these nationalities have fled because of wars,” noted Piuson. “However, LGBTQIA+ individuals have fled solely due to persecution based on their sexual orientation.”

“Resolving the plight of LGBTQIA+ persons within the settlement requires providing them with a safe environment to freely exercise their rights, including freedom of movement and access to basic needs such as shelter and education for their children,” added Piuson. “It’s crucial to emphasize that the Gorom Refugee Settlement is currently not a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ individuals.”

ACROSS Executive Director Elisama Daniel in response to the Washington Blade’s request for comment said the organization did not have the mandate or jurisdiction to answer questions on the plight of LGBTQ+ people at Gorom, and directed questions to UNHCR. The agency did not respond to a request for comment.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations in South Sudan remain criminalized with up to 10 years in prison, although there is little to no evidence that anyone has been charged with homosexuality. The South Sudanese government, however, is contemplating an anti-homosexuality bill that is similar to those pending in neighboring Kenya and other countries.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that prompted worldwide outrage.  

South Sudanese Minister of Information, Communication, Technology and Postal Services Michael Makuei Leuth ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the country last year said marriage is between a man and a woman and added any form of same-sex marriage violates the constitution. The government spokesperson also emphasizes there would not be any discussions around LGBTQ+-specific issues. 

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Canada

Canada ends ban on gay sperm

Because Canadian law bans paying donors for sperm samples, Canada sources most of its sperm samples from the United States

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Health Canada offices in Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo Credit: Government of Canada - Gouvernement du Canada)

By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA, Canada – Health Canada issued new guidance this month that effectively ends the ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men, ending more than three decades of legal discrimination.

Regulations barring tissue donations from men who have sex with men were put in place in Canada and many other countries during the early days of the AIDS crisis as a means of reducing the likelihood of spreading HIV through donations. In Canada, the regulations included a blanket ban on blood, semen, organs, and other tissues from any man who had ever had sex with another man, even once, since 1977.

As the testing process and treatment and prevention efforts for HIV improved, these bans proved to be scientifically unnecessary barriers to allowing gay and bisexual men to donate.  

But as Health Canada began removing donor restrictions on blood from men who have sex with men, the restriction on sperm and other tissues persisted. That discrimination is finally over.

Going forward, would-be sperm donors in Canada will be screened on a behavior-based risk assessment, rather than on whether or not they have had a same-sex partner.

The move comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced that it is also moving to end its ban on gay and bisexual sperm donors by the end of this year.

A gay man had also filed a suit against the Canadian government, alleging the sperm donation ban violated his right to equal treatment.

Because Canadian law bans paying donors for sperm samples, Canada sources most of its sperm samples from the United States.

Global LGBTQ+ news gathering & reporting by Rob Salerno

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World

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

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Albania, and South Korea

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UNITED KINGDOM

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a Cabinet work session.
(Photo Credit: Office of the Prime Minster/UK Gov)

LONDON, United Kingdom – UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a long-anticipated election this week, sending UK voters to the polls July 4 and potentially spelling the end of thirteen tumultuous years of Conservative Party rule in the UK. 

Polls have long indicated that the UK Tories are deeply unpopular, putting them more than twenty points behind the left-leaning UK Labor Party, who are favored to win the election with a sweeping majority. 

The last several years of UK politics under a succession of Tory Prime Ministers – five since 2011 – have been rocky, as the government has tried to manage pulling the UK out of the European Union, a growing migrant crisis, and a succession of worsening domestic issues, not least of which has been the government’s handling of LGBTQ+ and particularly trans issues.

The UK Tories have failed to bring in a long-promised conversion therapy ban, amid a growing moral panic around the existence of trans people, driven as much by UK celebrities like JK Rowling as by a Tory caucus that’s grown increasingly hostile to LGBTQ+ issues over its time in power.

In fact, it was Tory Prime Minister David Cameron who introduced same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales in 2013 – although it only passed Parliament with the support of Labour, as the issue split the Conservatives.

Just a few years later, Tory politicians would be racing to declare themselves opposed to even recognizing the existence of trans people. The government has shelved a long-promised conversion therapy ban, and vetoed a law passed by the Scottish government that would have allowed trans people to self-determine their legal gender, as is the emerging norm in many countries.

The UK has even slipped from first to fifteenth place on ILGA-Europe’s ranking of European countries’ legislated LGBTQ+ rights during this time. 

The UK Labour party has not yet released a specific party manifesto as it relates to LGBTQ+ issues. However, leader Keir Starmer has pledged to introduce a “no loopholes” trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy and has discussed reforming the UK’s gender recognition system to make it easier for trans people to update their legal gender – although the party no longer supports self-identification.

Starmer’s more recent statements on trans issues have caused concern for some activists. He recently came out in support of the findings of the National Health Service’s Cass Review on gender care for minors, which recommended a more cautious approach to prescribing care for trans youth. 

He also recently voiced support for bans on trans women participating in women’s sports or accessing women’s medical centers, and for regulations requiring schools to out trans children to their parents.

“It’s[a] betrayal, a Judas move by Keir Starmer,” trans journalist India Willoughby told PinkNews. They have thrown us under the bus purely because they don’t have the stomach to fight.”

Sunak was required to call the election by the end of the year, but calling it early has put some of the opposition parties in a tight situation – most have not yet recruited a full slate of candidates to stand in all 650 electoral districts or drafted a complete party manifesto.

GERMANY

The Lesbian and Gay Association Berlin-Brandenburg eV and the Charité Queer Network, raised the rainbow flag at the Charité – University Medicine Berlin, June 2022. (Photo Credit: LSVD/Facebook)

BERLIN, Germany – The Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany (LSVD) has launched a new campaign to amend Germany’s Basic Law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity.

The German Basic Law was enacted 75 years ago, in the shadow of WWII and was intended to protect freedoms from the evils that had been inflicted by the Nazi regime. Accordingly, Article 3.1 declares that “All persons shall be equal before the law,” while Article 3.3 expands that to list specific criteria that cannot be used to discriminate between individuals. 

“No person shall be favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions. No person shall be disfavored because of disability,” the Article says.

LSVD says that the exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity from that list exposes queer people to discrimination. As an example, they point to Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, a Nazi-era law that criminalized same-sex intimacy that remained on the books until 1994.

“In 1949, homosexuals and bisexuals were the only group of victims of the National Socialists who were deliberately not included in Article 3.3. This is because men who loved people of the same sex were also subjected to the often life-destroying persecution under Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code in democratic post-war Germany,” LSVD says in a press release.

In recent years, the Federal Constitutional Court has begun to read LGBT rights into the Basic Law, ruling that “sex” includes “gender identity” and that “sexual orientation” is akin to the other traits listed in Article 3.3. But LSVD says that without explicit inclusion in the Basic Law, discrimination has persisted.

“Many people from the queer community say that they experience discrimination by the police and authorities,” LSVD’s statement says. “Because the Basic Law also applies to state bodies, the extension of Article 3.3 could finally make discrimination against LGBTIQ* by state bodies and their employees legally punishable. Anyone who is not explicitly mentioned there runs the risk of being ignored in political and social reality.”

The LSVD says there are already plenty of examples of constitutions that protect LGBTQ+ rights, including in the German states of Berlin, Brandenberg, Bremen, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia, as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

LGBTQ+ activists in Germany have become particularly concerned to secure their rights as the far-right Alternative for Germany party has climbed in the polls and could become part of a future government.

“Making our constitution storm-proof is more urgent than ever. If right-wing extremists in Germany return to a position of power in future elections, we LGBTIQ* people face gradual disenfranchisement, social marginalization and, with it, a massive increase in hate violence and state discrimination,” LSVD says. “Without explicit protection against discrimination in the constitution, we would be largely defenseless against an authoritarian or post-fascist government such as those we are currently experiencing in Hungary or Italy.”

To pass into law, the constitutional amendment would require a 2/3 majority vote in both houses of the German parliament. While the current government has expressed support for the amendment, it would need the support of the Christian Democrats to reach the required majority.

SWITZERLAND

Matthias Reynard, (right) head of the Valais Department of Health featured as the Canton of Valais unveils its new annual advertising campaign against homophobia titled “Bien en Valais.”
(Photo Credit: Government of the Swiss Canton of Valais)

VALAIS, Switzerland – The Swiss canton of Valais passed a law banning conversion therapy by a vote of 106-21 in the cantonal parliament May 16. 

The discredited practice, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity by exposing them to aversion methods that have been called torture by experts, has also been banned in the canton of Neuchatel since 2023.

The conversion therapy ban was included in a new Health Act that was supported by all parties in the Valais parliament except for the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. 

“We are sending out a clear signal that these conversion therapies are unacceptable and have no place in Valais,” says Matthias Reynard, head of the Valais Department of Health.

A nationwide ban on conversion therapy has been under consideration by the federal parliament for several years. The lower house passed a resolution calling for a ban in December 2022, but the motion has stalled in the upper house. 

Last month, the federal parliament voted to wait for the government to present its own conversion therapy bill, rather than push ahead with bills that had been submitted by two cantons to ban the practice.

But Switzerland’s cantons aren’t waiting for federal lawmakers. Local bills to ban conversion therapy are also under consideration in the cantons of Geneva, Zurich, Bern, and Vaud.

“Conversion therapy affects a significant part of our community. The latest figures from the Swiss LGBTIQ panel show that 9.5% of people who belong to a sexual minority and 15.5% of people who belong to a gender minority are affected,” Sandro Niederer, Managing Director of TGNS told the news site Mannschaft. “The psychological consequences of such practices are undisputed – the ban is a positive signal for all LGBTIQ people!”

Many of Switzerland’s European neighbors already ban the practice. France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Malta, Greece, Iceland, Norway, and Cyprus all ban conversion therapy, while neighboring Austria has had a ban under consideration for several years.

ALBANIA

Edlira Mara and her wife Alba Ahmetaj on the terrace of Tirana Municipality crowned their 14-years of love through a symbolic religious ceremony. (Photo Credit: Edlira Mara/Facebook)

TIRANA, Albania – A lesbian couple held a symbolic wedding ceremony at on the roof of city hall overlooking the heart of the Albanian capital city Tirana May 19, in a protest against the country’s lack of legal recognition for same-sex couples. 

The couple, Alba Ahmetaj and Edlira Mara, applied for a legal marriage at the municipal office on Friday May 17, asserting their right under Article 53 of the Albanian constitution, which states that “Everyone has the right to marry and have a family.” However, the current Family Code restricts marriage to opposite-sex couples only.

Mara posted on her Facebook account that the restriction violates the constitution.

“Our request for a declaration of marriage symbolizes the first link in a long and difficult, but above all just, struggle. We are determined to follow the legal path and respect the procedures and institutions of our country, challenging the discriminatory content of the Family Code, to seek the recognition of our right to marry, equally with every other couple in Albania,” she wrote.

The ceremony has caused outrage in Albanian society. The couple have reported receiving death threats for appearing in public both before and after their public wedding.

Mara and Ahmetaj wanted to hold a religious ceremony but could not a find a religious official willing to bless the union in Albania. Instead, they flew in two priests from the United Kingdom to perform the ceremony.

The Albanian Catholic Church criticized the ceremony and distanced itself from the priests involved.

“Even though he appears as a Catholic clergyman, [he] has no connection with the Catholic Church and represents nothing of us,” Mark Pashkia, a spokesperson for the Church, told Balkan Insight.

The couple involved in the suit are also raising twin daughters born through IVF three years ago. They have struggled to legally register the girls as their daughters because Albanian law only recognizes opposite-sex parents. They were forced to register Mara as the girls’ single mother, meaning Ahmetaj would have no rights over the girls if Mara dies or becomes seriously ill.

They sued the government for the right to be recognized as equal parents, but lost at the High Court. The couple are appealing the decision, and say they will fight all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if they have to.

Local LGBTQ+ activists have filed cases against the government seeking same-sex relationship recognition, but the cases have not progressed in local courts. 

Years ago, the government had floated the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage, but the proposal was scrapped amid pushback from religious leaders in the Muslim-majority country.

In neighboring Kosovo, which is also an Albanian-speaking country, prime minister Albin Kurti has pledged to reintroduce a new draft Civil Code that would legalize civil unions and open the door to same-sex marriage, but he has faced pushback from Muslim lawmakers in his own party, who voted down the draft code in 2022. 

Neighboring Greece legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year.

SOUTH KOREA

Los Angeles Blade graphic

SEOUL, South Korea (Human Rights Watch) – South Korea’s National Health Insurance Service should extend benefits to same-sex partners, Human Rights Watch said in an amicus brief filed before the country’s Supreme Court on May 16, 2024. The agency extends dependent benefits to heterosexual couples who are deemed to be in a de facto marriage, but has refused to extend those benefits to same-sex couples in a similar position.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether the agency has impermissibly discriminated against a same-sex couple that was refused dependent benefits. In 2023, the Seoul High Court ruled in favor of the couple, concluding that the refusal to extend benefits constituted discrimination based on sexual orientation. The health agency appealed to the Supreme Court.

“The Seoul High Court correctly observed that the health agency’s refusal to recognize same-sex couples is discrimination,” said Lina Yoon, senior Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We hope the Supreme Court will affirm the principle that nobody should be denied benefits solely because of their sexual orientation.”

The couple who brought the case had held a symbolic wedding ceremony in 2019, and one of the men registered his partner with the National Health Insurance Service as his spouse in 2020. The agency later revoked the partner’s dependent benefits following media attention to its effective recognition of a same-sex couple.

Human Rights Watch’s brief examines international and regional precedents for state recognition of same-sex partnerships, the status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in South Korea, and the growing recognition of same-sex partnerships elsewhere in Asia.

South Korea has not created any framework for recognizing and supporting same-sex couples. The absence of any legal framework or protections for same-sex partners leaves LGBT people with few avenues to protect their relationships with partners and children, to safeguard their shared finances and property, and to access state benefits designed to support couples and families.

The government’s failure to recognize same-sex partnerships falls short of its human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has concluded that UN member states “have a positive obligation to provide legal recognition to couples, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, as well as to their children,” and to extend those benefits offered to heterosexual couples without discrimination.

Among regional human rights bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has said that states must extend the right to marry to same-sex couples, while the European Court of Human Rights has said that states must create some form of legal recognition and protection for same-sex relationships.

As Human Rights Watch and others have noted, South Korea also lacks comprehensive protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite strong public support for a comprehensive antidiscrimination law, lawmakers have repeatedly failed to enact basic protections that would prohibit discrimination in employment, education, and other areas.

In failing to protect LGBT rights, South Korea is out of step with trends elsewhere in the region. In 2019, Taiwan became the first jurisdiction in Asia to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples, and Australia and New Zealand have subsequently recognized the right to marry as well.

Courts in Japan and Thailand have expressed concern about the lack of partnership recognition in those contexts, and Nepal’s supreme court has extended interim recognition of the right to marry while it considers a marriage equality case.

A growing number of states in the region also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Australia, Fiji, Macao, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Thailand, Tuvalu have prohibited sexual orientation discrimination in employment and other fields.

“South Korea’s lawmakers have failed to provide basic protection for same-sex couples by dragging their feet on nondiscrimination and partnership bills,” Yoon said. “South Korea’s courts now have the chance to uphold the state’s human rights obligations by ensuring that the state does not discriminate in the material benefits it does offer to committed couples.”

Global LGBTQ+ news gathering & reporting by Rob Salerno with additional reporting from Human Rights Watch

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Canada

Canadian Pride events ban Conservative politicians

Pride festivals in Alberta and Saskatchewan Canada have banned lawmakers who have pushed anti-trans policies

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Edmonton Pride Festival at Churchill Square, 2023. (Photo Credit: Edmonton Pride Festival/Facebook)

By Rob Salerno | EDMONTON, Canada – Pride festivals in two of Canada’s most politically conservative provinces are putting their feet down and barring lawmakers who are pushing anti-trans legislation from participating in Pride festivities this season.

This week, nine Pride festivals across Alberta – including those in the largest cities Calgary and Edmonton – put out a joint statement that they will “not allow the participation of the United Conservative Party (UCP) in our 2024 pride celebrations.” The move came days after several Pride festivals in neighboring Saskatchewan announced they had barred the conservative Saskatchewan Party from participating in their parades.

Both provinces have recently passed or announced policies that would harm trans youth. 

Last year, Saskatchewan enacted a regulation that would require schools to out gender non-conforming children to their parents, and when the regulation was struck down by a court, the government enacted a law using the “notwithstanding” rule that allows governments to circumvent the federal Charter of Rights.

In January, Alberta’s conservative government announced it would bring forward legislation in the fall to ban gender confirming surgeries on minors, restrict hormone treatment for minors under 16, bar trans children from playing in gender-appropriate school sports, and require parental notification for students to use a preferred name or pronoun.

“This is a direct response to Premier Danielle Smith’s stated intention to infringe on the rights, freedoms, and healthcare of the transgender community in Alberta,” the statement put out by the Alberta Pride organizations reads. “You may not join our celebrations in June when you plan to attack us in September.” 

“Queer rights should not be a political decision. Trans rights are human rights. We invite Premier Smith to re-consider her harmful and damaging policies and engage in meaningful discussions with the Two Spirit, Trans, Non-Binary, and Queer community.”

Other Pride festivals barring the UCP from participating include festivals in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Banff, Canmore, Lacombe, Jasper, Fort Saskatchewan, and Okotoks. The statement was also joined by three queer service organizations.

“When queer people are being attacked by our government, we come together and get things done,” says James Demers, a community organizer with Queer Citizens United, the umbrella organization of Alberta Pride societies that put together the statement. 

Queen City Pride, which organizes the annual Pride festival in Saskatchewan’s capital Regina, was the first city to announce that it would not allow the Saskatchewan Party to participate in its events.

“We decided as a board that we might have to put some distance between us and the Saskatchewan Party. We were very hopeful that they would change course, but they’ve gone against our Charter of Rights. We’re not ok with this, and they’re not backing down,” says Queen City Pride co executive director Riviera Bonneau.

The Saskatchewan Party has participated in the Queen City Pride in the past, with Premier Scott Moe even marching in the parade in 2019. At the time, he told CTV News he believed it was the “right thing for a Premier to do.

“The thing that triggered our announcement was that the Saskatchewan Party had put forward a registration to participate in our parade,” Bonneau says. “I don’t know why they’d want to participate, but they did try.”

Bonneau says she communicated with other Pride festivals in the province before announcing the decision publicly, as she didn’t want to pressure other festivals to make the same decision. In the event, Pride festivals in Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, and The Battlefords announced that they would not allow the Saskatchewan Party to participate, while a spokesperson for Saskatoon Pride told CBC that it would carefully vet any application to participate, and the Party would be unlikely to be accepted.

While the federal Conservative Party has offered support for the anti-trans policies announced by both provinces, Bonneau says her organization has not banned the federal party yet for a simple reason: it hasn’t applied to participate. 

But Demers says his group’s stance is that the federal Conservatives are not welcome at the member festivals either.

“They’re not any nicer to us than the UCP are. I think the consequence extends to them as well,” he says.

Demers says that the federal Conservative Party often applies to participate in Alberta’s Pride festivals, but is typically rejected.

“We have an application process for all of our Prides, and they never pass the process. They’ll typically hold a barbeque somewhere and call it a Pride event, but they have not been invited,” Demers says. “We’ve now formally disinvited them. We would not like them to show up and pretend that they care about us as their constituents. It’s us making it clear that they are not welcome.”

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South America

La Pesada Subversiva in Bolivia battles anti-LGBTQ digital hate

“In this region, far-right and ultra-religious narratives are prevalent, pushed by very conservative authorities”

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Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

By Gabriela Rodríguez Hernández and Siân Kavanagh | SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – In Bolivia, the collective La Pesada Subversiva faced an onslaught of digital violence they could have never imagined after showcasing their LGBTQ artwork. Thanks to Hivos’ Digital Defenders Partnership, they received critical support and training to protect themselves, and now have tools to fight against online aggression.

La Pesada Subversiva (The Subversive Troublemakers), a trans, feminist, and sexually diverse collective in Bolivia, has emerged as a form of resistance to patriarchy and gender-based violence. Founded in 2018 in Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s most conservative regions, the collective uses various art forms — audiovisual, writing, street happenings, and social media content — to express their views in demonstrations, protests, and the virtual realm.

Cristian Egüez (he/him), one of the founders, explains, “In this region, far-right and ultra-religious narratives are prevalent, pushed by very conservative authorities. In such a tough context, collectives are needed with the courage to confront them and maintain a critical approach to the violence that occurs.” 

Pride Month and ensuing violence

The Altillo Benni Museum, the largest in the city, commemorated Pride Month for the first time on June 1, 2022. They opened an LGBTQ art exhibition called “Revolución Orgullo” or “Pride Revolution” led by La Pesada Subversiva. The collective’s groundbreaking LGBTQ art exhibition faced vehement opposition.

“We adorned the museum facade with trans and LGBTIQ+ flags,” Egüez recounts, “but it lasted less than a day because a group of neighbors came to protest violently and aggressively.” 

Despite this, the exhibition attracted over 400 visitors, demonstrating growing public support for their cause. 

Confronting online harassment

To the collective’s surprise, the museum’s director defended the exhibition, stating that no artwork would be removed, and the exhibition would remain until the end of the month. But then an unimaginable wave of digital violence hit them. Egüez recalls the aftermath: “The event left us emotionally devastated. Throughout that year, every day, we had to endure threats and harassment online.” 

Alejandra Menacho (she/her), another founder of La Pesada Subversiva, shares her experience, saying, “They threatened to rape me, to teach me how to be a woman. It overwhelmed us; it started to really hurt because we felt … everything we said or did was being surveilled.” The collective faced constant harassment on social media, with anti-rights groups monitoring their activities and scaring them with false threats.

Seeking protection from the Digital Defenders Partnership

As the onslaught escalated, the collective sought refuge and support. They applied for a grant from the DDP to get digital protection and security. With DDP’s assistance, they underwent comprehensive training in digital security measures, enabling them to protect their online presence effectively. The members learned to protect themselves and their accounts, not to publish certain things, and to be cautious about disclosing their whereabouts. DDP’s training gave them a comprehensive understanding of digital security tools and provided clear guidelines for dealing with future incidents and how to report them. 

In addition to these digital security skills, they learned physical self-defense techniques, blending martial arts with a feminist approach. 

“This has strengthened us immensely. Now we understand digital security holistically and are always safeguarding our networks,” Menacho emphasizes. 

Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
(Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

The ongoing struggle of online resilience

Despite the challenges, La Pesada Subversiva remains steadfast in their mission. 

“Digital security must be integrated across the board; it’s not something you attend a workshop for and forget. It must be practiced continually,” Egüez asserts. 

For Menacho, even though she has experienced a lot of frustration and anger, learning to combine these digital tools with psychology and art has helped her express themselves and achieve emotional balance. 

“Because we are rebellious, we want to do these things. Also, because we don’t want these injustices to continue in Santa Cruz. That’s why we keep coming back and reinventing ourselves,” Menacho said. 

La Pesada Subversiva’s journey exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalized communities in the face of adversity. Through collective empowerment and solidarity, they navigate the complexities of digital violence, emerging stronger and more united in their pursuit of equality and justice. 

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The Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP), managed by Hivos, is an emergency grant mechanism for digital activists under threat launched by the Freedom Online Coalition in 2012. It provides a holistic response to digital threats and creates resilient and sustainable networks of support to human rights defenders.

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Mexico

Authorities in Puerto Vallarta abruptly shutter LGBTQ hotel

The hotel’s American owner, Paul Crist, is known for his support of the LGBTQ community. The shutdown came days before Puerto Vallarta Pride

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Mexican police stood outside Hotel Mercurio May 17 as items such as patio furniture were removed after they shut it down. (Screenshot/PR Vagabond)

By Ed Walsh, BAR Contributor | PUERTO VALLARTA – Mexican authorities abruptly and without warning shut down a longtime LGBTQ hotel in Puerto Vallarta Friday night, leaving some guests with their belongings tossed in the street.

Hotel Mercurio had been in operation for 22 years in the heart of the resort city’s gay-popular Zona Romantica neighborhood, south of downtown.

The hotel’s American owner, Paul Crist, is well known for his work in support of the LGBTQ community. The shutdown came days before Puerto Vallarta Pride, scheduled to run May 22-26.

The May 17 forced closure was apparently the result of a long simmering lawsuit stemming from the sale of the property from a German owner to Crist in 2002. In an open letter published by the Puerto Vallarta LGBTQ publication Out and About Puerto Vallarta on Sunday, May 19, Crist wrote that his financial issues cascaded as a result of the previous hotel owner granting him a two-year mortgage to pay off part of the $400,000 purchase price.

Crist wrote that the owner eventually refused to give him the receipts he needed to take the tax deduction for the mortgage payments. Crist believes that may have been done so that the previous owner could avoid paying taxes on those payments.

“I tried to renegotiate regarding his willingness to follow tax law, but he was adamant,” Crist wrote. “And I refused to pay without a factura [invoice] for each payment. I tried to report him to SAT, the Mexican tax authorities, and nothing ever came of it. And then he sued me for non-payment in 2005.”

Crist stated that he owns everything in the property, including the furniture and appliances that were removed from the hotel, and has instructed his hotel manager to sell everything and distribute the proceeds to his 24 employees.

Crist added that his attorney believes that the eviction was carried out illegally and is drawing up papers to fight it but Crist, 66, said he was not optimistic he would prevail.

“I have failed my staff most of all,” Crist wrote. “I have failed my hotel clients. I have failed my community. I have failed the people I love the most, especially my husband, who I had hoped to leave a great legacy. I feel deeply humiliated, very, very tired, and very much a failure.”

Jorge Gonzalez, who had worked for two decades at the hotel’s bar affectionately called “Jorge’s Bar,” told the Bay Area Reporter that there was no warning about the closure.

“We are just a little in shock,” Gonzalez said in a Facebook voice message. “Everybody’s dealing with this in their own way.”

Hotel Mercurio, in the heart of the LGBTQ-popular Zona Romantica in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
(Photo by Michael Williams)

He said multiple police officers first approached the hotel’s receptionist and the word circulated back to him at the bar that they were locking the hotel and everyone must go. He said they took everything out of the hotel, including the refrigerators. Photos and videos on social media show furniture, including mattresses, being removed from the hotel.

Gonzalez said it reminded him of the last scene in the “Friends” TV show where everything was emptied from the apartment where most of the series was set.

Another longtime Mercurio employee, Briam Robles, told the B.A. R. that the shutdown happened on his day off and he didn’t know if he would get severance pay.

“I was awaiting for the answer of the hotel, afterwards will see what I gonna do,” he texted to the B.A.R. over a Facebook direct message.

San Francisco resident Michael Williams, who was visiting Puerto Vallarta, witnessed the scene outside the hotel when he went to stop by on Saturday morning to say hello to his friends who work there.

“I thought they were remodeling. Then I learned they had closed Mercurio without warning. All guests and belongings were put on the street. The owner’s keys were confiscated. I went by and saw men tearing down everything in the lobby and the kitchen was completely gone.”

A guest with the handle PR Vagabond wrote on Tripadvisor.com that he was staying at the hotel when the closure happened. He had paid in advance when he arrived at the hotel, with four more days left on his stay when he was told to get out. He posted photos of the police action on Tripadvisor.

“Dozens of people were removing everything, furniture, washing machine, everything, and guests were simply told to move out immediately. Police were supervising the entire process,” he wrote.

In a Facebook post Sunday afternoon, Crist linked to his open letter. He wrote in part, “I will not be on social media from here forward, will not be in public at all, and will not be responding to messages and phone calls.

“If you wish, and are able to help my staff, and by that I mean some money, please contact Gabriel Bojorquez by Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp (+52) 322 135 8048,” he added. “Please do not flood him with messages of concern and help if he needs ‘someone to talk to.’

“And please, no need to respond to this post,” Crist wrote. “I appreciate your love and concern. But I cannot respond right now.”

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The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished with permission.

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South America

Argentina charges 10 police officers with murder of trans woman

The case has uncovered not only entrenched institutional violence, but also the ongoing struggle against impunity for hate crimes

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Mabel Valdez demands justice for her sister, Sofia Fernández (Courtesy photo)

By Esteban Rioseco | LA PLATA, Argentina — Argentine authorities have arrested 10 police officers and charged them with murdering a transgender woman in 2023.

In the historic development in the fight for LGBTQ+ justice in the country, the officers who were arrested on May 1 face murder and hate crime charges in connection with Sofia Fernández’s brutal death on April 11, 2023. The case has uncovered not only entrenched institutional violence, but also the ongoing struggle against impunity for hate crimes.

The initial investigation, which began last September, faced numerous obstacles, with only three points of expertise completed out of the 16 required for a formal indictment. Ignacio Fernandez, a lawyer who represents Sofia Fernández’s family, told the Washington Blade “the family’s lack of confidence in the initial prosecutor led to his departure, which coincided with my arrival to the investigation in September of last year, collaborating in an arduous but vital investigation.”

Ignacio Fernández described the long process to unravel the truth behind the brutal murder.

The legal and forensic teams faced numerous challenges that included coordination with gender-specialized prosecutors to the meticulous analysis of thousands of pieces of data on seized cell phones.

“The forensic report revealed the gruesome nature of the crime; Sofia was killed by asphyxiation with a piece of mattress and her own underwear, in addition to suffering beatings and physical torture,” Ignacio Fernández told the Blade. “Sofía was kept alone in a cell of the 5th Police Station of Pilar, under the custody of the police of the province of Buenos Aires, which triggered an intense scrutiny of the conduct of the police forces.”

The indictment, according to Ignacio Fernández, charges the three policemen with “triple homicide qualified by hatred of their sexual orientation, by the premeditated participation of three or more persons and by the abuse of their position as policemen; while the remaining seven policemen are implicated for the double qualified cover-up for being a very serious crime and for the abuse of their position as policemen in competition with the falsification of public documents.”

“The application of a gender perspective in the judicial process has been crucial, underlining the importance of recognizing and addressing violence directed towards transgender people,” he added.

Ignacio Fernández represents Sofia Fernández’s family (Photo courtesy of Ignacio Fernández)

The road to justice, however, has been far from smooth. 

Despite the arrests, defense lawyers have requested the dismissal of certain charges, arguing the lack of hearings with the victim and rulings that could be questionable in their gender-specific perspective.

Sofia Fernández’s family, fearful for her safety, hopes the defendants will remain in pre-trial detention during the judicial process. They also yearn for a speedy and fair trial, aware that prolonged time may undermine the search for truth and justice.

Ignacio Fernández indicated “the inaction of the Ministry of Women of the province of Buenos Aires” is serious because “on the other hand, the defense lawyers of all the police officers charged are from the Police Legal Department of the Ministry of Security of the province of Buenos Aires and have proposed as expert witnesses experts belonging to the same ministry, with the conflicts of interest that all this entails.”

Although the judicial investigation could take between two and four months, with possible delays due to legal appeals, it is estimated the trial could be delayed at least another year. The fight for justice, in the meantime, continues with the hope that Sofia Fernández’s case will set a precedent in the fight against transphobic violence and impunity in Argentina.

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Photo Credit: Movilh

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

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

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The Vatican

Pope: Priests can bless gays and lesbians, not same-sex unions

’60 Minutes’ broadcast Norah O’Donnell’s interview with pontiff on Sunday

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CBS Evening News anchor Norah O'Donnell, left, greets Pope Francis. ("60 Minutes" screenshot)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said priests can bless gays and lesbians who are couples, as opposed to their unions, during an interview that “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday.

“What I allowed was not to bless the union. That cannot be done because that is not the sacrament. I cannot. The Lord made it that way. But to bless each person, yes. The blessing is for everyone,” he told CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell.

Francis spoke with O’Donnell at Casa Santa Marta, his official residence at the Vatican.

“To bless a homosexual-type union, however, goes against the given right, against the law of the church. But to bless each person, why not?,” added Francis. “The blessing is for all. Some people were scandalized by this. But why? Everyone! Everyone!”

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith late last year released a new document that elaborates on a letter Francis sent earlier in 2023 to five cardinals who urged him to reaffirm church teaching on homosexuality. 

Francis in the letter the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith released in October 2023 suggested priests could offer blessings to same-sex couples under some circumstances “if they didn’t confuse the blessing with sacramental marriage.”

“Ultimately, a blessing offers people a means to increase their trust in God,” reads the document. “The request for a blessing, thus, expresses and nurtures openness to the transcendence, mercy and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life, which is no small thing in the world in which we live.”

Francis was the archbishop of Buenos Aires when Argentina’s marriage equality law took effect in 2010. He was among those who vehemently opposed the statute before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it.

Francis has publicly endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples. He has also spoken out against laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“It is a human fact,” Francis told O’Donnell.

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, even though church teachings on gender identity and other topics has not changed. Francis during the interview sharply criticized conservative American bishops who “oppose” his “new efforts to revisit teachings and traditions.” 

“You used an adjective, ‘conservative.’ That is, conservative is one who clings to something and does not want to see beyond that. It is a suicidal attitude,” he told O’Donnell. “Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.” 

CBS will broadcast O’Donnell’s full interview with Francis on Monday at 10 p.m. ET.

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