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Gay Nigerian priest makes religion serve LGBTQ people

Rev. Jide Macaulay founded House of Rainbow

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Jide Macaulay, gay news, Washington Blade
Rev. Jide Macaulay (Photo courtesy of Rev. Jide Macaulay)

LONDON — It is impossible to speak of queer identity and culture without acknowledging the important role religion has played in shaping it throughout history. Whether it’s Pope Francis praising the work an American priest has done to affirm LGBTQ identity, or a Republican legislator rebuking the existence of transgender people by invoking scripture from the Bible, religion and spirituality unquestionably influence conversations about sexual identity in the U.S. and how American society would like for people to manifest their sexuality. 

A significant portion of LGBTQ people in the U.S. are religious.

A study the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute conducted in 2020 found that 5.3 million LGBTQ adults are religious with almost half of this metric identifying as “highly religious.” Forty percent of those between ages 18 and 35 are religious, and 65 percent percent of those over 65 identify as religious as well. In addition, 71 percent of Black LGBTQ adults in the U.S. are religious. 

The Washington Blade recently spoke with Rev. Jide Macaulay, founder and CEO of the London-based House of Rainbow CIC, to talk about his work as a gay Black African Christian priest.

Macaulay was born in London and grew up in Ikeja, the boisterous capital of Nigeria’s Lagos State. He was born into a religious family to parents who he described to the Blade during a 2017 interview as “very dedicated Christians.” His father was one of Nigeria’s leading theologians, so Macaulay’s upbringing was naturally Christian-centric, with him being involved in the church from a young age. 

As a budding adult, Macaulay pursued theology as a profession and became an ordained minister in 1998 after training with his father. After a two-year hiatus from the church, he joined the Metropolitan Community Church in London to study theology and later joined its congregation as a minister in 2003. Macaulay says it was there that he became confident in his understanding that “God loves gay people regardless of all these messages of it being a taboo or abomination.”

Sheathed with this conviction, Macaulay moved back to Nigeria to create an environment that mimics that which he had experienced at the Metropolitan Community Church.

“It became important to me to go to Nigeria to create the same space and tell LGBTQ people that ‘God loves you just the way you are,’” says Macaulay. “I embodied a lot of the spirit of the human rights church that came out of the origin of the Metropolitan Community Church.”

Macaulay started House of Rainbow under this ideology on Sept. 2, 2006. This weekly gathering of LGBTQ Christians initially began with 34 congregants, but the congregation grew rapidly to a point where Macaulay “didn’t know what to do with all the people.” He says the growth “perplexed” him as he didn’t realize that House of Rainbow was so popular. 

House of Rainbow encountered problems that emanated from operating in a country with virulent homophobic laws, despite its popularity. Many congregants were physically attacked for identifying as queer, and Macaulay recalls individuals emerging to church with broken noses and arms. The media also caught wind of House of Rainbow’s weekly gatherings and chaos ensued. 

The culmination of these events forced Macaulay to leave Nigeria after two years. House of Rainbow remained steadfast with its mission to create a community for LGBTQ Christians and soldiered on for a couple of more years before it eventually dissolved. 

“It’s unfortunate, now, that as I speak to you we do not have a House of Rainbow community in Nigeria,” says Macaulay. “We still have people connected [to the community], but we don’t have a physical presence or anyone leading it.”

House of Rainbow’s reach has nevertheless now become global, with communities established in 22 countries. The majority of them are in Africa.

‘Homosexuality is not a sin; it is who we are’

The crux of Macaulay’s ideology centers on inclusion and acceptance. He creates a space at House of Rainbow where LGBTQ individuals can not only gather in community, but can also feel seen and recognized as meaningful members and contributors to Christianity

“The important thing [that people need to understand] is that as a minister of the gospel of Christ, I want every LGBTQ person to make [it to] heaven,” says Macaulay. “I want them to be on a path towards salvation and redemption.”

“This whole language that if you are gay, you are destined for hell and eternal damnation is so wrong. That is even abusive in itself,” adds Macaulay. 

He further invokes a popular scripture that loosely states, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” 

This scripture is a part of what homophobic Christians use to denounce queerness. Macaulay, nevertheless emphasizes that there is a lack of complete understanding of what the scripture truly communicates.

“[The scripture] didn’t say that anyone is going to hell. It said that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” says Macaulay. “Having said that, it is important to understand that homosexuality is not a sin; it is who we are.”

Macaulay’s work is therefore enmeshed in the need to fight for social justice causes. He aims to use the church as a platform to bring awareness to and fight for all iterations of LGBTQ rights. Whether it be racism, sexism, or classism, Macaulay aims to “be like Jesus” and emulate his unwavering passion to uplift those at the bottom of society’s hierarchy.

“It’s inconceivable to think that any religious space wouldn’t be a platform for social justice. Jesus Christ was about social justice,” says Macaulay. “Even the Civil Rights Movement in America had the church fighting injustices relating to racism.”

Macaulay stresses that the church needs to “do what is right” and stand up for the rights of LGBTQ people. 

“In the Bible in Micah 6:18, it says, ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice? To love kindness and work in humility with your God,” says Macaulay. “Therefore, Christian leaders need to have a strong understanding of justice.” 

When reflecting on the current state of religion, its diversion from and/or weak approach towards social justice, and also its complicity in oppressing minority groups, Macaulay says, “Jesus Christ would definitely be mad.”

Can you be a gay African and Christian?

Prior to being colonized by European countries, many African cultures had relaxed attitudes towards sexuality and gender. The Shona in Zimbabwe, Pangwe in Cameroon, Igbo in Nigeria and other African tribes all permitted queer existence without any negative repercussions. 

The expansion of European global influence brought with it homophobic laws, which were largely enacted under the pretense of “Christian values,” that forced African countries to institutionalize queerphobia, which has now become an undeniable legacy of colonialism on the continent. 

That colonialism introduced African populations to Christianity is not an uncommon sentiment among queer Africans and Africans in general. Hence, it is not uncommon to find LGBTQ Africans who denounce Christianity not only because of its association with the racism that fueled European occupation of the continent, but also its functioning as a tool that erased what many of them nostalgically view as a queer-affirming past tainted by the arrival of the white man.

Macaulay both believes and shuns this. He acknowledges that colonialism did participate in the erasure of queer acceptance in African cultures, however, the concept of Christianity being “unAfrican” is fallacious. 

He asserts that African and Black African Christians existed before colonialism, and thus, the notion that Christianity is the “white man’s religion” is a false notion. 

“Christianity was present in pre-colonial Africa,” says Macaulay. “In the Bible there are numerous references to Africa, including Egypt and Ethiopia where important biblical events happened, [for example], the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt in search of the promised land.”

Macaulay, because of this, spotlights the need for religion to be decolonized. 

By reframing how Christians conceive of religion, from unlearning the notion that Jesus is white to acknowledging the existence of Black people in the Bible, one can have a more wholesome and truthful interaction with Christianity. 

Also, this will allow for queer African Christians to exist in their queer communities comfortably as Macaulay states that there’s a need for them to occupy space in the community as proudly religious people without bearing the shame that is cast on them by what seems to be an agnostic-leaning landscape.

Lil Nas X and ‘going to hell’

Lil Nas X on March 26 released a single titled “Call Me By Your Name” which garnered massive attention for both its musical mastery through a catchy hook and its depiction of Black queerness. The accompanying video further dramatized the story by drawing from Christian visual imagery of heaven and hell, and God and the Devil. 

The song’s video features scenes of Lil Nas X in sensual form, including him giving a caricature of Satan a lap dance. This particularly angered many religious groups, including Christian allies of the LGBTQ community who USA Today reported criticized the video for “going too far to prove a point.’”

Macaulay is a fan of Lil Nas X, who he dubs as his “favorite artist of all time right now, after Michael Jackson,” and for him, Lil Nas X’s discography extends beyond simple displays of queer identity. 

Macaulay has one thought at the forefront of his mind when he looks at “Call Me By Your Name”: The concept of hell is abusive and a form of scaremongering. 

“The concept of hell is propaganda. It is almost fictional,” says Macaulay. “The idea that if you do something wrong you will go to hell, is wrong in and of itself. Homosexuality was never wrong. Homophobia is wrong.”

Little Nas X performs on Saturday Night Live on May 22, 2021. (Screenshot)

He further underlines that God made gay people, and supports this with a scripture from the book of Philippians which loosely points to God’s omnipotent knowledge before, during, and after one’s life on earth. 

Macaulay says that people should listen to Lil Nas X’s pain, and not rebuke him, because he speaks for millions of gay people.

“The reality is that when you tell people that they are going to hell, you are excommunicating them from living their own lives appropriately,” says Macaulay.

Macaulay nonetheless has a deep admiration for today’s younger generations, especially because they refuse to align themselves with the bigotry that ravages societal discourse about identity. 

“I’m really glad for the young people that have stepped out. They are fighting back. They are the warriors and heroes saying, ‘Enough is enough. I’m proud, queer and African,’” says Macaulay. “I think that the sad reality for the Christian community is that they’re missing out on the gift and talents of the queer community [by being exclusive].”

Macaulay and House of Rainbow have created “GAYMoment,” a weekly online service that centers queer worship. Each Sunday, queer people from around the world gather online for prayer, sermon, and testimonies, all provided by queer people. 

Macaulay champions sex positivity

Discussing sex and sexual identity is a topic from which Macaulay does not shy away. In fact, it is one that although he is a religious leader, he also approaches as a person of faith. 

Macaulay, who lives with HIV, is a proponent of sex positivity.

“I think it’s important for every adult human being to experience a sexual relationship that is appropriate, suitable, and consensual,” says Macaulay. “It is important that everyone in their lifetime engages positively with sex, particularly adults. I don’t recommend it for minors though.”

Macaulay is also a vocal advocate for having honest and open conversations about sex and sexuality. He gives credence to the fact that society needs to address the lack of comprehensive sex education. 

“Countries that have [addressed sex education] are doing better. They have less cases of STIs and teenage pregnancies,” says Macaulay. “Also, students get more opportunities to know more about various sexulities.”

Sex education should be age-appropriate and geared towards protecting children, minors, and vulnerable adults, says Macaulay. He believes that children should know about their bodies and be armed with the confidence to talk to adults when their boundaries are violated. 

Thus, by keeping advocacy as the focal point, Macaulay, who is affectionately known as “Mama Jide” functions in a quintessential role in the queer community, one similar to that of house mothers in ballroom culture who outstretch themselves to the limits to ensure that their children not only have their basic needs, but also reach a point of complete self-actualization and realization of their purpose in life.

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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 lack of confidence in the initial prosecutor and the need to recuse him marked the beginning of an arduous but vital legal battle.”

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. “The investigation also highlighted the alleged involvement of police officers in the crime, which triggered intense scrutiny of the conduct of law enforcement.” 

The indictment, according to Ignacio Fernandez, “not only covers the triple homicide, but also the cover-up and falsification of documents by seven other police officers.” 

“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 “with Estela Diaz at the head, it is added that the defense lawyers of all the police officers charged and with a very clear conflict of interest are from the Directorate of Police Legal Counsel of the Ministry of Security of the province of Buenos Aires.”

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 Fernandez’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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World

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

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including ILGA-Europe, Liechtenstein, Georgia, United Kingdom, Taiwan and New Zealand

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ILGA-EUROPE

An LGBTQ Rainbow flag and the flag of the European Union flying near Brussels, Belgium offices of the International Lesbian and Gay Association—Europe (ILGA-Europe) (Photo Credit: ILGA-Europe)

BRUSSELS, Belgium – The International Lesbian and Gay Association—Europe (ILGA-Europe) released its annual Rainbow Europe Map module ranking countries across the continent on the status of LGBTI rights, revealing that many countries are falling behind as political pressure from far-right politicians grows.

The report was released May 15, just a day after the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency released its own report detailing a shocking growth in violence experienced by LGBTQ people across member states over the past year.

“Across Europe, LGBTI people are being targeted by hate speech and violence and their human rights are being actively undermined, yet we still see too many countries across the region stalling in moving legal protection forward and not renewing their commitments through national strategies and action plans,” says ILGA-Europe’s Advocacy Director, Katrin Hugendubel.

“This non-action is dangerous, as without proper legislation in place to protect minorities, including LGBTI people, it will be much too easy for newly elected governments to quickly undermine human rights and democracy.”

Once again, Malta held the lead in the country rankings, as it has for the past nine years, scoring 88% across ILGA-Europe’s categories of equality and nondiscrimination law, family recognition, hate crime and hate speech laws, legal gender recognition, intersex bodily integrity, civil society space, and asylum policies. 

Iceland jumped to second place with 83% after passing new laws banning conversion therapy and facilitating legal gender recognition. Belgium reached third place with 78% after banning conversion therapy.

At the other end of the spectrum, Russia (2%), Azerbaijan (2%), and Turkiye (5%) hold the bottom rankings amid ongoing crackdowns on LGBT rights and expression in all three countries. Last year, Russia banned “the LGBT movement” as an “extremist organization.”

Several countries jumped up the rankings in this year’s report, including Greece and Estonia, which both legalized same-sex marriage. Liechtenstein collected points for extending adoption rights to same-sex couples, although it did not collect points for legalizing same-sex marriage, which happened the day after the report was released.

Germany, Bulgaria, Iceland, and Slovenia all collected points for passing legislation on hate crimes and hate speech, while Belgium, Cyprus, Iceland, Norway, and Portugal all collected points for banning conversion therapy. 

But the changes haven’t all been positive. Several countries tumbled down the rankings as progress stalled on LGBTQ rights. Montenegro, Finland, Spain, Sweden, and Slovenia all lost points because their governments failed to renew action plans to promote LGBT rights. The report also noted the looming threat of right-wing governments across Europe, including in Italy where the national government has restricted the recognition of same-sex parents, and in several countries which are eying restrictions on legal gender recognition and trans health care, including France, UK, Slovakia, and Croatia. 

The UK once occupied the top spot on ILGA-Europe’s rankings, but has fallen to 15th place as other countries press ahead on LGBT rights while the UK’s Conservative government has increasingly come under the sway of an anti-trans moral panic.

LIECHTENSTEIN

Parliament of Liechtenstein building, Vaduz. (Photo Credit: Principality of Liechtenstein)

VADUZ, Liechtenstein – The Alpine microstate Liechtenstein saw its Parliament give final approval to legalizing same-sex marriage in a near-unanimous vote Wednesday.

By a vote of 24-1, Parliament approved a series of bills that would amend marriage law to allow same-sex couples to marry in the country of about 30,000 people nestled between Switzerland and Austria. The only “no” vote came from an MP from the right-wing populist Democrats for Liechtenstein party.

The new law will come into effect on Jan 1, 2025, as long as it is not vetoed by the Prince or challenged in a citizen-initiated referendum. The Prince is not expected to veto the bill, as he has previously expressed support for same-sex marriage. 

Under the new law, no new civil unions will be registered, although same-sex couples already in same-sex unions will be allowed to continue their unions. 

Liechtenstein’s Parliament had already amended the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt last year, following an order from the Constitutional Court. 

The tiny, conservative-leaning and mostly Catholic country has been slow to adopt LGBT rights. It lacks any legal protections from employment discrimination or anti-LGBT hate crimes. 

ILGA-Europe ranked Liechtenstein 33rd out of 48 states in Europe, with a score of 28% on its latest Rainbow Europe Map. This decision on marriage will likely see it rise somewhat in the rankings next year.

The Catholic Church has previously strongly rejected same-sex marriage. Last year, the country’s archbishop Wolfgang Haas had called same-sex marriage a “diabolical attack against the Creator’s will to salvation,” and cancelled a planned service for opening of parliament in protest of the law. Haas has since retired.

The decision makes Liechtenstein the last German-speaking country to legalize same-sex marriage.

In a state posted to its Facebook group, the Liechtenstein LGBT advocacy group FLay thanked the lawmakers and other supporters who helped get same-sex marriage legalized in the country. 

“We are looking forward to introducing marriage for all per 1 January 2025 and thank you to all who have fought for it,” the statement said.

Liechtenstein is the 22nd European country to introduce same-sex marriage, bringing the global total to 38 countries. A bill before the Thai senate is expected to pass before the summer, which would make it the 39th.

GEORGIA

Screenshot from DW Germany’s live-stream YouTube coverage of massive protests in the Republic of Georgia capital city of Tbilisi against actions taken by the Georgian Parliament this past week.

TBILISI, Georgia – The government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia says it is close to finalizing a new law against so-called LGBT propaganda inspired by similar laws passed in Russia and Belarus in recent years, in what critics say is an attempt to maintain power by stoking divisions on a culturally sensitive issue.

The Georgian capital of Tbilisi has been rocked by protests for weeks as the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced a controversial “Foreign Agents” bill inspired by a similar Russian law, which requires any organization that receives funding from out of the country to register with the government as “organizations serving the interests of a foreign power.” 

Critics say the bill is intended to silence and discredit media and civil society that is critical of the government.

Friday saw intense protests marked by anti-government and pro-European demonstrators marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia while anti-LGBTQ protesters, including prime minister Irakli Kobakhidze and church leaders took to the streets to mark the government’s competing “Family Purity Day,” Reuters reported.

The party had first introduced the foreign agents bill last year, but withdrew it after months of protests and condemnation from European Union countries. The government reintroduced the bill this spring, with some observers suggesting it’s an attempt to tip this October’s national elections in their favor. For weeks, protesters have attempted to halt passage of the law, but Parliament gave it final approval May 14. It was vetoed by president Salome Zurabishvili on Saturday, but the government has enough votes in parliament to override the veto.

The proposed anti-LGBTQ law would amend article 30 of the Georgian Constitution to include a host of regulations restricting LGBTQ rights. It would ban recognition of same-sex relationships, ban adoption by gay people or same-sex couples, ban medical interventions to facilitate gender change, restrict recognition of gender to that of biological sex, and ban advocacy for recognition of same-sex couples or trans people.

To pass, the bill would require at least a ¾ vote of parliament (113 votes), or a 2/3 vote (100 votes) in each of two successive parliaments. The government currently controls 84 of the 150 seats in parliament, but likely believes it can pull enough votes from the opposition to pass the constitutional law.

Critics have noted that both laws put Georgia’s application to join the European Union in jeopardy as they clearly attack the fundamental rights at the heart of the Union. But while the EU has been sharply critical of the foreign agents law, its criticism of the anti-LGBTQ law has been far more muted. 

Local activists say that the EU’s silence has been strategic, as any criticism would play into the hands of Georgian Dream, who claim that LGBTQ rights are a “pseudo-liberal ideology” advanced by a decadent West.

The timing of the bill is likely meant to further divide the opposition as protests mount against the foreign agents law. Georgian Dream has been sliding in the polls since it was returned to power in 2020, but still commands a plurality of support compared to the highly fractured opposition according to most polls. 

Georgian Dream politicians have deep ties to Russia, and have increasingly sided with Russia in international and cultural disputes, including by refusing to impose sanction against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. The support is ironic, considering that Russian forces invaded Georgia in 2008 and continues to support two unrecognized breakaway republics that resulted from that war.

On Friday, Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that he plans to introduce legislation to sanction Georgian leaders over their assault on democracy and introduce incentives for the government to reverse course.

ILGA-Europe ranked Georgia 36th out of 48 countries, with a score of just 25% on its most recent Rainbow Europe Map this week.

UNITED KINGDOM

10 Downing Street in London is the official residence and offices of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom. (Photo Credit: Government of the UK)

LONDON, UK – The Conservative government of the UK has directed schools in England to ban discussion of gender identity in schools and restrict sex education for children under age 9, in an update to statutory guidance issued to schools that is currently under review.

Although the guidance has not yet been released or put into effect, LGBTQ activists and government critics are already comparing the guidance to the notorious Thatcher-era Section 28, which banned discussion of homosexuality in all schools across the UK from 1988 until it was repealed in England and Wales in 2003 and in Scotland in 2000. 

The UK has long been in the grip of an anti-trans moral panic, fostered by segments of the ruling Conservative Party that are hostile to trans people and influential British celebrities like Harry Potter creator JK Rowling who has long campaigned against trans people’s rights.

Last week, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appeared on ITV’s daytime talk show Loose Women, where he complained that “gender ideology” was infiltrating UK schools. 

“Children were being exposed to lots of different things,” Sunak said. “You know, we’ve got lots of people talking to kids, they were talking about [how] you can have 72 different gender identities.”

There is no evidence that children in UK schools are being taught that there are 72 different gender identities or are being taught to engage in inappropriate behavior.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who was recently reelected to a third term, blasted the government’s new policy as being harmful to the children the government claims to want to protect.

“We’ve just got to be a bit aware when we have these conversations that we’re conscious about the impact that this has on trans young people,” he said.

“Many of these people – young people – learn about these things through social media. You know, the proliferation of porn, and also the proliferation of misogynists like Andrew Tate. If we’re delaying proper, responsible teaching until later on, I worry about who’s going to be rebutting some of the nonsense on social media.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan tried to mollify critics by claiming that the new policy will not restrict discussion of adults who have undergone gender reassignment. 

“Gender reassignment” is listed as protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, but the act does not list “gender identity” or “gender expression” as protected characteristics. 

“Let me be clear on gender ideology in schools,” Keegan said on BBC Radio 4’s Today. “The thing that we’re trying to stop is not gender reassignment. Gender reassignment is something that is a protected characteristic – that adults are allowed to reassign their gender, there’s a process that they go through for that. That is a protected characteristic, and that can be taught.

“Gender identity and ideology is something different, and this is part of probably similar campaign groups that have been building this set of materials and this ideology,” she said.

Jo Morgan, the chief executive of Engendering Change, an organization that provides sex education workshops in schools, disputed the idea that schools are teaching children to be trans.

“They are concerned that schools are becoming breeding grounds for transgenderism. There’s no evidence to support that. What we are doing as educators is saying, this is in the news, in social media, it’s everywhere – let’s unpack it together and look at what sources of information you are being exposed to, let’s talk about how this relates to the Equality Act,” Morgan told The Guardian.

ILGA-Europe ranked the UK 15th out of 48 countries with a score of just 52% on its most recent Rainbow Europe report, citing a lack of legal protections for trans people and outdated procedures for legal gender recognition. 

TAIWAN

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen with Taiwanese drag queen Nymphia Wind, winner of season 16 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Screenshot/YouTube Livestream)

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Outgoing Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen hosted RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Nymphia Wind at a ceremony at her presidential office May 15, in a sign of the growing acceptance of LGBT people in the Asian island nation.

The Taiwanese-American performer Nymphia Wind was crowned the winner of season 16 of RuPaul’s Drag Race in an episode that aired April 19, taking home the crown and scepter and a cash prize of $200,000. She is the first person of East Asian descent to win the long-running reality competition series. American drag artist Raja, who is of Dutch-Indonesian ancestry, was the Drag Race first winner of Asian descent after taking the crown in season 3.

Tsai had been quick to offer her congratulations to Wind, posting a message on Instagram just days after her victory. Less than a month later, Wind was in her office, where she performed a trio of songs in full drag – Lady Gaga’s “Marry the Night,” Taiwanese singer Huang Fei’s “Chase, Chase, Chase,” and Jolin Tsai’s gender equality hit “Womxnly,” which she performed with a quintet of backup dancers in drag.  

“I want to thank you for demonstrating your fearless beauty, standing up and breaking down barriers,” Tsai said to Wind after her performance, noting that her win “will bring courage to many young people in Taiwan, so they stay fearless and stay true to their hearts.”

Under Tsai’s leadership, Taiwan has become a bastion of liberal values, including progressive attitudes toward LGBTQ people. Among recent landmarks, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage and adoption, and it banned conversion therapy, and the capital Taipei hosts East Asia’s largest Pride Festival. 

“Thank you for your contributions to this country, so that I could grow up to be like this today,” Wind told Tsai after her performance. “Thank you for your eight years of dedication, becoming our Taiwan mother.”

Tsai is due to step down May 20. Her successor, Vice President Lai Ching-te, last year became the most senior government official to march in Taipei’s Pride parade.

NEW ZEALAND

Wellington Regional Hospital, Wellington, New Zealand.
(Photo Credit: Wellington Regional Hospital/Tom Ackroyd)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Activists are calling for greater access to gender-affirming surgeries after the New Zealand Medical Journal published a report of a trans teenager who attempted a self-mastectomy at home and had to be treated at hospital.

The teenager, an eighteen-year-old high school student, had reportedly watched a “how to” video on YouTube and prepared instruments for the surgery himself. He went to the hospital hours into the surgery after he became concerned that he had damaged a nerve while attempting to remove his left breast. 

Surgeons at the hospital then removed both breasts, and he was discharged a day later. The report notes that the boy reported higher confidence and self-esteem at a post-operation interview a month later. The hospital’s mental health team assessed that he did not have a psychiatric disorder and was not suicidal, but that he had attempted the surgery as an act of desperation.

“Due to the long wait times of referral in the public healthcare system, an inability to afford a private consultation and the significant psychological stress of having breasts at an upcoming pool party he planned to complete a bilateral (double) self-mastectomy at home,” wrote the report’s authors, Wellington Regional Hospital doctors Mairarangi Haimona, Sue Hui Ong and Scott Diamond.

Gender-affirming surgeries are covered by New Zealand’s healthcare system, but wait times for surgeries can be lengthy – ten years or longer for “bottom surgery” by the only doctor in the country who performs it. 

Top surgery can be accessed in the parallel private system for around NZ $15,000 (approximately US $9,200) and is generally not covered by private health insurance, putting it out of reach for many. 

Transgender people often need to self-advocate for care in the public health system, but with increasing demand and associated psychological and possible physical harm it’s crucial for public services to be more accessible to an under-served population,” the report’s authors concluded.

Self-surgery is an incredibly risky option for trans people – complications can range from scarring to infection to death. And the surgeries may not even work if the patient is taken to the hospital and patched up due to complications. 

Te Ahi Wi-Hongi, executive director of the advocacy group Gender Minorities Aotearoa, urges any trans person considering home surgery to avoid it and “hang in there.”“It might seem right now it’s completely hopeless, but we went from a 40-year waiting list for genital reconstruction surgery to 10 years or less when in 2019 the Government made changes [announcing $3 million funding for genital gender-affirming surgery],” Wi-Hongi told the New Zealand Herald.

Global LGBTQ+ news gathering & reporting by Rob Salerno 

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South America

Peru classifies transgender people as mentally ill

President Dina Boluarte signed decree on May 10

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Government Palace in Lima, Peru (Photo courtesy of the Peruvian government)

LIMA, Peru — The Peruvian government on May 10 published a decree that classifies transgender people as mentally ill.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday noted the country’s Essential Health Insurance Plan that President Dina Boluarte, Health Minister César Vásquez and Economic and Finance Minister José Arista signed references “ego-dystonic sexual orientation.” The decree also notes, among other things, “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorder in childhood.

Human Rights Watch in its press release notes the Health Ministry subsequently said it does not view LGBTQ identities as “illnesses.” Peruvian LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, however, have sharply criticized the decree.

“This decision is an alarming setback in our fight for the human rights of trans people in Peru, and it represents a serious danger to our health and well-being,” said Miluska Luzquiños, a trans activist who works with the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, which is known by the Spanish acronym REDLACTRANS, on her Facebook page.

A lack of legal recognition and protections has left trans Peruvians vulnerable to discrimination and violence.

Luisa Revilla in 2014 became the first trans person elected in Peru when she won a seat on the local council in La Esperanza, a city in the northwestern part of the country. 

She left office in 2019. Revilla died from COVID-19 in 2021.

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Africa

Kenyan advocacy group offers safety tips to LGBTQ+ hookup app users

Blackmail, kidnappings and assaults are commonplace

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(Bigstock photo)

MOMBASA, Kenya — The growing cases of queer people in Africa becoming victims of blackmail, physical and sexual assault from online hook-ups have compelled a Kenyan LGBTQ+ rights group to work with the community to help it stay safe when using digital platforms.

Upinde Advocates for Inclusion held a 3-day training from May 11-14 to teach queer people about unsafe social media and dating app hook-up practices that suspected homophobes exploit.

The Mombasa-based group of which Lizzie Ngina is executive coordinator noted lesbian, bisexual and queer women, and gender non-conforming people are the most frequent targets online and on Grindr and other dating apps.

 “LBQ women and GNC persons confront major challenges in terms of digital security and data protection, freedom of expression, assembly, association, speech, privacy, protest and online organizing,” Upinde Advocates for Inclusion stated.

Although the digital platforms were seen as convenient meet-up places for LGBTQ+ people in overcoming physical anti-gay attacks, Upinde Advocates for Inclusion said anti-gay discrimination, marginalization, gender-based violence, misinformation, and disinformation limits LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming people from accessing the social media services.    

Queer people while using dating apps and social media for hookups were, however, urged to first trust their intuition before deciding to have a physical meeting with people with whom they chat online.

“If it does not seem like someone you are messaging is using their true identity, they probably are not. In this case, do not agree to meet them in person,” Upinde Advocates for Inclusion warned. 

It asked LGBTQ+ users to ensure the first in-person meeting with someone they met online is in a public place that is queer-friendly and known to them. Upinde Advocates for Inclusion also advised queer people to inform their trusted friends or family about their meeting plans, the place, and how long they expect it will take place in order to ensure someone can intervene if something goes wrong.

“Organize your own means of transport to and from the meeting, and do not accept a free ride from a stranger,” the group warned. “Also, do not move to a secondary location if you feel unsure during the meeting.” 

Upinde Advocates for Inclusion also warned queer app users to remain sober during the meeting and cautioned against leaving their food or drinks unattended in order to avoid any potential risks associated with spiking.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Ishtar-MSM and other Kenyan LGBTQ+ advocacy groups that offer legal aid to queer people last year reported about 100 cases of blackmail, extortion, physical and sexual assault against their members by suspected homophobes they met on dating apps and social media.

The two organizations this month noted 10 of the cases are expected before courts soon, although they said most victims of anti-gay attacks don’t report them to the authorities because they fear further stigmatization and discrimination. Consensual same-sex sexual relations also remain criminalized in Kenya. 

Targeting the LGBTQ+ community on digital platforms and dating apps is not unique to Kenya.

The Washington Blade last month reported it is still risky for queer Nigerians to search for a partner or to use gay dating apps infiltrated by homophobes who lure them to meet in-person and then rob or assault them. South African authorities last year arrested four men in connection with the targeting of Grindr users.

LGBTQ+ Kenyans urged to protect themselves at protests

Upinde Advocates for Inclusion in their workshop taught participants about the signs that suspected homophobes or their associates have compromised their devices. They include unusual activities on their cell phones that include calls with untraced history, disappearing blank messages, blinking screens, high data consumption, devices that overheat when not in use and echo when picking calls and quick battery depletion with minimal use.

“If you suspect your device is compromised, do not format or reset it, log out all the accounts, find an alternative device to use, change the password for the accounts on the device, and do not connect the gadget to any other devices,” Upinde Advocates for Inclusion warned. 

The group also taught queer people about how they should conduct themselves when taking part in street protests amid anti-gay attacks. Upinde Advocates for Inclusion advised them to always to identify safe alternative routes to and from the protests, wear comfortable running shoes, and always carry a spare outfit that is not LGBTQ+-specific.

“If you are in a group, always strategize on having a meeting point should there be any danger or should you get separated,” the group stated. “Also, try to split up responsibilities among the group so that one person can’t be targeted.”

Upinde Advocates for Inclusion also urged queer people to always leave a protest before it ends, to have an emergency contact on speed dial or memorize it for immediate help in case of danger and to always to keep in touch with a trusted contact who is familiar with the protest but not attending it. 

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European Union

Gay man from Ukraine struggles to rebuild life in Berlin

Dmytro Shapoval arrived in Germany in March 2022

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Dmytro Shapoval in Berlin on April 15, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on assignment in Berlin from April 12-15.

BERLIN — A gay Ukrainian man with HIV who fled his war-torn country more than two years ago remains in Berlin.

Dmytro Shapoval first spoke with the Washington Blade in July 2022.

He was working at an IT company’s call center and studying web and UX design in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, when Russia launched its war against his country on Feb. 24, 2022. Shapoval less than a month later swam across a river with his cat Peach and entered Poland.

He arrived in the German capital on March 19, 2022.

“I feel very secure here,” said Shapoval when he first spoke with the Blade on July 22, 2022, during a reception that took place at the end of a two-day meeting with European activists the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration organized.

Shapoval again spoke with the Blade on April 15 while he was at ORAM’s offices near Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz.

He said he was sleeping on a mattress on the kitchen floor of a Ukrainian friend’s apartment in Berlin’s Wedding neighborhood, while looking for a more permanent place to live. 

Shapoval had just finished an IT course at a private university, but told the Blade he “was not in that headspace to study” because of the depression from which he said he suffers. Shapoval also told the Blade the German government has postponed his residency permit for a year.

“It’s challenging,” he said.

Germany has granted temporary protection to nearly 1 million Ukrainians

The German government has granted temporary protection to more than 900,000 Ukrainians since the war began. (The U.N. Refugee Agency says there are 2.2 million refugees in Germany.)

Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa.

The German government offers those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing, food and other basic needs. Ukrainian refugees can also access health care, language classes, job training programs and childcare. 

Shapoval and other single Ukrainian refugees receive €563 ($609.30) a month through the program.

Shapoval told the Blade it is difficult for him to find a job because his legal status remains uncertain. He also complained about German bureaucracy, which he described as “such a hell here.”

A memorial to Ukrainians who have died during Russia’s war against their country in Berlin on April 13, 2024. The memorial was across the street from the Russian Embassy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Shapoval’s mother remains in Dnipro, a city on the Dnipro River that is roughly 300 miles southeast of Kyiv.

He said the first year of the war was “pretty quiet” in Dnipro because it is not as big as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa and other Ukrainian cities. Shapoval said the situation in Dnipro changed last fall.

Shapoval told the Blade a Russian missile hit a nine-story civilian building in the city.

“I had the worst day of my life because I knew that my mom was going to Dnipro,” he said.

Shapoval said the building the missile hit struck was close to his grandmother’s home.

“I was so horrified,” he told the Blade. “I was trying to call her to get in touch. She was not answering at all.”

Shapoval said his grandmother called him several hours after the attack. She told him the missile strike damaged the city’s communications infrastructure.

“It’s pretty horrible,” said Shapoval.

Shapoval spoke with the Blade hours before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a controversial conscription law that seeks to replenish the country’s military. Zelensky last month also enacted a statute that lowers the minimum draft age from 27 to 25.

Shapoval said he does not want to go into the military, and has thoughts that he would die in the war. Shapoval also told the Blade he does not watch news reports about Ukraine because they exacerbate his depression.

“Just seeing these buildings destroyed and sometimes (at night when) people are sleeping there, or also (seeing) news about kids being stolen into Russia and then brainwashed there in these camps … is really bad,” he said.

Dmytro Shapoval in Berlin on July 22, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

‘You’re a white refugee, so everything’s fine’

Shapoval noted support for Ukrainian refugees in Germany has begun to wane.

He recalled a conversation he had at a queer bookstore in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood during which someone who he described as German asked him what its like to be a refugee.

“Without even letting me answer without any space, he’s like, ‘Oh, but you’re a white refugee, so everything’s fine,'” recalled Shapoval.

Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, launched a surprise attack against Israel. 

Shapoval said the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip has pushed the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the plight of Ukrainian refugees out of the headlines. He also recalled an exchange he had with a Syrian woman with whom he had become friends in Berlin after Oct. 7.

Shapoval said she wrote in an Instagram post that “one or two years of war in Ukraine, this amount of kids died and two months of war in Palestine, this amount of kids died.”

“I’m like, what the fuck is that?” he recalled. “It’s not a competition of dead babies.”

“The fact you put two in comparison already makes one side less valuable and one side more valuable, but it’s also different pain,” added Shapoval. “I know that it is also horrible there … it seems like people are not understanding that.”

Shapoval said he reached out to her and tried to explain his perspective.

“It’s a bit hard right now,” he told the Blade.  

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Africa

Uganda’s president meets with US ambassador

Unclear whether William Popp raised Anti-Homosexuality Act

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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni meets with U.S. Ambassador to Uganda William Popp on May 10, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Museveni's X account)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

ENTEBBE, Uganda — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 10 met with U.S. Ambassador to Uganda William Popp.

Museveni in a post to his X account described the meeting, which took place at his official residence in Entebbe, as “productive.”

“We discussed key issues, such as the upcoming Census, regional peace, and socio-economic development. I emphasized the need for an inclusive census for informed decision-making,” said Museveni. “I also shared my views on fostering peace and security in the region. Additionally, we discussed opportunities in transitioning our population from a rural-based pre-capitalist society to industry and services.”

statement the Ugandan Foreign Affairs Ministry released noted Popp “conveyed his appreciation for the president’s valuable time and wise counsel.” 

“He also acknowledged President Museveni’s extensive knowledge and experience, underscoring the importance of their continued dialogue in fostering a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Uganda,” said the statement.

The statement further notes Foreign Affairs Minister Jele Odongo; Defense and Veterans Affairs Minister Jacob Oboth-Oboth; Rosette Byengoma of the Defense Ministry; and Lt. Gen. Samuel Okiding, who is deputy chief of the Ugandan defense forces, attended the meeting.

The meeting took place nearly a year after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. has sanctioned Ugandan officials and removed the country from a duty-free trade program. The World Bank Group also suspended new loans to Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court last month refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” A group of Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have appealed the ruling.

It is not clear whether Popp raised the Anti-Homosexuality Act with Museveni during their meeting.

“We do not discuss the details of private diplomatic engagements; however, we have regularly raised with the highest levels of Ugandan government U.S. government concerns about democratic space, rule of law, and respect for human rights for all Ugandans, including members of the LGBTQI+ community in relation to the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Wednesday.

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