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U.N. human rights experts urge Ghanaian government to block anti-LGBTQ bill

Measure is ‘textbook example of discrimination’

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GENEVA — A group of U.N. human rights experts on Thursday sharply criticized a bill that would further criminalize LGBTQ people and outlaw allyship in Ghana, and urged the country’s government to stop it from becoming law.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, and 11 of his colleagues in a press release note the “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” that has been introduced in the Ghanaian Parliament “argues that any person who deviates from an arbitrary standard of sexual orientation or gender identity is immediately to be considered dangerous, sick or anti-social.”

“Such laws are a textbook example of discrimination,” they said.

Madrigal-Borloz and his colleagues in their press release added the bill “promotes harmful practices that amount to ill-treatment and are conducive to torture, such as so-called ‘conversion therapy’ and other heinous violations like unnecessary medical procedures on internet children, and so-called corrective rape for women.”

Madrigal-Borloz and nine other U.N. human rights experts in a letter they sent to the Ghanaian government expressed their concerns over the bill.

“We express our grave concern about the draft bill, which seems to establish a system of state-sponsored discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons of great magnitude,” reads the letter. “As such, the bill appears to constitute an immediate and fundamental breach of Ghana’s obligations under international human rights law.”

The letter notes the bill, among other things, “promotes unnecessary medical interventions on intersex children by offering incentives to parents to ‘realign’ the child to an ‘appropriate (sic) binary designation as determined by a medical practitioner.'” The letter also points out the measure “creates an enforcement system that would require any person witnessing any of the activities prohibited by the law to report them to the police ‘or in the absence of the police, political leaders, opinion leaders or customary leaders in the community.'”

“We respectfully urge your excellency’s government to take all measures necessary to withdraw the proposed bills from consideration,” reads the letter.

The U.N. Human Rights Council in 2017 appointed Madrigal-Borloz to succeed Vitit Muntarbhorn, who was the first independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues. The council in 2016 approved a resolution that created the position.

Samuel Nartey George, a member of Ghana’s National Democratic Congress party, and seven other conservative lawmakers on Aug. 2 officially introduced the “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill.” Lawmakers are expected to consider the measure again in October.

A Ghanaian court last week dropped charges against 21 LGBTQ activists who were arrested at a human rights workshop in May.

Tinashe Chingarande contributed to this story.

Asia

Japanese Prime Minister sacks aide over anti-LGBTQ remarks

An openly gay member of the House of Councilors, Taiga Ishikawa, said the situation was “beyond one’s patience”

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President Joe Biden walks along the West Colonnade with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Friday, January 13, 2023, at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

TOKYO – Masayoshi Arai, who until Saturday served as executive secretary to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, was fired after he made anti-LGBTQ comments to reporters late Friday afternoon local time.

Arai told reporters in a gaggle at the prime minister’s office he would “not want to live next door” to an LGBTQ couple and that he does “not even want to look at them.”

He also said during an off-the-record conversation with reporters that if same-sex marriage is introduced in Japan, it would “change the way society is” and “quite a few people would abandon this country.”

At a press conference Saturday, a clearly agitated Kishida told reporters Arai’s remarks were “completely inconsistent with the policy of the Cabinet,” the prime minister adding, “We have been respecting diversity and realizing an inclusive society.”

Kishida acknowledged that he had fired Arai upon learning of the comments calling them “inexcusable.”

Tetsuro Fukuyama, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and member of the Japanese House of Councilors, the upper house of the National Diet [Parliament] of Japan, took to Twitter writing:

“It’s an outrageous remark, even off the record. It would be a big problem if all the secretaries of the prime minister’s official residence had such a sense of human rights. “We respect human rights and values, but if same-sex marriage is recognized, some people will abandon the country.” Do you understand the meaning of respect? It deserves immediate dismissal.”

An openly gay member of the House of Councilors, Taiga Ishikawa, said the situation was “beyond one’s patience” on Twitter and noted that Arai had also said that all of Kishida’s executive secretaries are against same-sex marriage.

The lawmaker, also a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, called for the entire team of secretaries to be dismissed and said he would pursue the matter in Parliament.

Japanese media outlet  Kyodo News reported that Japan has not legally recognized same-sex marriage as many members of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, led by Kishida, have opposed the concept, emphasizing the country’s traditional values such as the role of women in giving birth and raising children.

The 150-day ordinary Diet session began on Jan. 23. The latest gaffes about LGBTQ people will likely prompt left-leaning opposition bloc lawmakers to grill Kishida over his views on family affairs in Japan, political experts said.

Late last year, LGBTQ issues in Japan drew fresh attention as LDP lawmaker Mio Sugita, the then parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications, was pressured to retract past remarks against sexual minority couples.

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United Kingdom

Trans Gen Z er dies after wait on UK Healthcare system

LGBTQ+ people already face disproportionately worse healthcare outcomes in the UK – and that’s without an NHS in crisis

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Alice Litman (Family photo)

BRIGHTON, UK – Alice Litman was a year 11 student when she told her family she wanted to live as a woman. Barely 4 years later at age 20 she took her own life. According to her parents Peter and Caroline Litman, she died partly because of the inaccessibility of gender-affirming healthcare in the UK. 

The BBC reported that an inquest is to be held into the death of Litman who took her own life while on an NHS waiting list for almost three years for gender-affirming healthcare. She had been referred to the NHS Gender Identity Development Service in August 2019, but was still waiting for an initial assessment when she took her own life at the age of 20.

BBC News reported that the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, where the gender-identity clinic is based, as saying it was “deeply saddened” by Litman’s death but it was “not appropriate to comment while the inquest is ongoing”.

The clinic’s website, which currently only shows data from the same month that Litman died, reveals the waiting list to be 11,407-people long.

Assistant coroner Sarah Clarke will examine issues relating to her death in the Coroner’s Inquest due to take place this upcoming September.

Peter and Caroline Litman (Screenshot/BBC South East)

Peter and Caroline Litman hope lessons will be learned from their daughter’s death the couple told the BBC. They said in a statement: “We believe that Alice died partly because of the inaccessibility of gender-affirming healthcare in the UK.

“We want the inquest to examine this to ensure we can get justice for Alice, and change for all the trans people who are facing the same issues.”

“It’s not just Alice. It’s too late for her. There are lots of other young transgender people out there and they need our help.”

Last month PinkNewsUK journalist Patrick Kelleher reported LGBTQ+ people already face disproportionately worse healthcare outcomes in the UK – and that’s without an NHS in crisis.

The crisis is a dangerous threat to everybody who relies on free healthcare reports PinkNewsUK.

For LGBTQ+ people specifically, it’s compounded by existing barriers – the NHS has acknowledged that outcomes are disproportionately poor for the queer community.

In the government’s 2017 National LGBT Survey, 16 per cent of LGBTQ+ people said they had a negative experience when accessing public health services because of their sexual orientation, while 38 per cent had a bad experience on the basis of their gender identity. More than half (51 per cent) faced waits for mental health care, while years-long waiting lists for gender-affirming care are well-documented.

Cleo Madeleine, communications officer for trans charity Gendered Intelligence, told PinkNewsUK:

“LGBT+ people already have worse access to healthcare than the general population, with both physical and mental health outcomes falling across the board. Some of this stems from a lack of education on LGBT+ people or an excess of stigma around specific needs like sexual health and gender identity services.

“Elsewhere we find that LGBT+ people – as many as 25 per cent – avoid seeking necessary care because they fear reprisal, or because they have been denied healthcare because of their identity before.” 

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European Union

Finland to allow Transgender people to change gender without sterilization

Country’s MPs approved series of amendments on Wednesday

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Finnish flag (Photo by feofan4ik via Bigstock)

HELSINKI — Lawmakers in Finland on Wednesday voted to allow Transgender people to legally change their gender without proof they had been sterilized or were unable to have children.

The Associated Press reported the amendments that Finnish MPs approved by a 113-69 vote margin will also allow Trans people who are at least 18 to legally change their name without medical intervention. Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the amendments’ passage was a priority for her government ahead of the country’s general election that will take place in April.

Seta, a Finnish LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, described the vote as a “victory for human rights.”

ILGA-Europe also praised the vote.

“We are thrilled to hear that the Finnish Parliament just adopted Translaki — a new law making legal gender recognition based on self-determination for adults,” said ILGA-Europe. “While there is more work to do, this is a significant step! Congratulations to all who have worked for so long on this!”

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Europe

ILGA-Europe: New program for racialized LGBTQ+ communities

The new initiative will be supporting up to 15 organizations’ work on socio-economic justice for racialized LGBTI communities

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Photo Credit: ILGA-Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium – ILGA-Europe announced a new two part 12-month program focused on the work being done by and for racialized LGBTQ+ communities across Europe this week.

According to the international LGBTQ+ advocacy non-profit, the new initiative will be supporting up to 15 organizations’ work on socio-economic justice for racialized LGBTQ+ communities through a combination of grants and other resources.

The program has two interconnected components:

  • Financial support for the implementation of a project (up to 20.000 euro per project), AND
  • Learning and networking that will bring grantees together (on-line) on a regular basis to exchange learning, share challenges and solutions, build solidarity and find points for collaboration and inspiration.

The aim of this program is to:

  • Bring together a group of up to 15 European LGBTI organizations/groups across Europe that work on addressing the intersectional impact of socio-economic injustice, racialization, racism and supremacy and specific harms affecting the lives of racialized LGBTI communities across Europe.
  • Support, strengthen and advance their work on socio-economic justice for racialized LGBTI communities through a combination of grants and regular peer-learning/networking meetings.

ILGA-Europe noted that currently, the LGBTI movement across Europe operates in an increasingly hostile environment that directly affects the lives of LGBTI communities and the work of activists.

This environment is marked by anti-rights opposition, anti-democratic developments, rising unemployment, economic crises, ongoing and brewing geo-political conflicts, deepening structural inequalities, fear-mongering, mounting transphobic, and sexist and racist rhetoric and violence.

In a statement, ILGA-Europe said:

“So many organizations and groups have been doing incredible work and contributing to change, while at the same time being historically excluded from funding. By supporting these groups, we also wish to recognise and acknowledge the specialized knowledge and skills involved in addressing intersectionality. This can mean anything from exposing structural oppressions that shape harm; building and sustaining the resilience of racialized communities; developing and applying anti-racist, feminist and alternative approaches; to working through – and in spite of – institutional violence and trauma.

This programme expresses our commitment to continue our engagement with socio-economic justice and to strengthen our work on anti-racism. We see a great value for the wider movement in making the work of the organizations supported, disseminated and visible. We see an opportunity to bring the learning from this programme to the wider movement, as we believe that solutions and approaches that include a few will pave the way and point to the solutions for many.”

Key information & details:

In selecting proposals, ILGA-Europe will prioritise projects that:

  • Demonstrate clear understanding of how the intersection of LGBTI identities, socio-economic injustice and racialisation works in their local contexts
  • Present a clear plan for how the envisaged change is going to come about in these contexts
  • Seek to establish practices/tools/solutions that can live beyond the project’s lifetime
  • Have the potential to enhance the movement’s thinking on anti-racism and working towards socio-economic justice in general and for socio-economic justice for racialised LGBTI communities in particular.
  • Respond to the framework, aim, objectives, and areas of work of this call
  • Are implemented by LGBTI-run organisations and initiative groups in Europe that have history and practice of working with and for racialised LGBTI communities

Deadline & Timeline:

  • Proposals should be submitted using the attached application form and budget template. The last day to submit your application (deadline) is 2 April 2023, Sunday, 23:59 CEST.
  • We will review applications, decide on projects to be supported and inform all applicants about the results of the review via the e-mail address provided in the application by 5 May 2023.
  • Contracts will be signed with organisations in May 2023. Successful applicants should be available to respond to requests during that period. The project must start on 1 June 2023.
  • To submit an application or if you have any questions in the preparation of your project proposal, please contact: [email protected]

Questions?

If you have any questions in the preparation of your project proposal please submit them via e-mail to [email protected]

We will answer all of your questions via e-mail and then publish answers on a dedicated ilga-europe.org website page on 27 February and on 23 March, in order to share the information among all applicants.

Call for Applications DOWNLOAD

Application Form DOWNLOAD

Budget Template DOWNLOAD

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The Vatican

Activists around the world welcome Pope Francis’ decriminalization comments

Church teaching about homosexuality remains unchanged

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

CURITIBA, Brazil — Activists around the world say Pope Francis’ comments against criminalization laws are a milestone for the global LGBTQ+ and intersex rights movement.

Toni Reis, president of Aliança Nacional LGBTI+, a Brazilian LGBTQ+ and intersex advocacy group, told the Washington Blade that Francis’ comments are “a message that needs to be assimilated by at least 70 countries that still criminalize homosexuality in some way, including 11 countries in which the death penalty can be applied.”

Reis and his husband, David Harrad, in 2017 baptized their three adopted children at a Catholic cathedral in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil. Reis later received a letter on official Vatican letterhead that said Francis “wishes you happiness, invoking for your family the abudance of divine graces in order to live steadfastly and faithfully as good children of God and of the church.”

“We are unable to find in the recorded words of Jesus Christ, on whom the Christian faith is founded, any reference to homosexuality as a sin,” Reis told the Blade. “There is no longer room for deliberately decontextualized interpretations of the Old Testament and the books of certain Apostles in this sense.”

Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The pontiff acknowledged some Catholic bishops support criminalization laws and other statutes that discriminate against LGBTQ+ and intersex people. Francis told the Associated Press that cultural backgrounds contribute to these attitudes, and added “bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.”

Toni Reis, second from left, with his children after their baptism at a Roman Catholic cathedral in Curitiba, Brazil, on April 23, 2017. Reis has received a letter in which Pope Francis congratulated him and his husband, David Harrad, for baptizing their three adopted children. (Photo courtesy of Toni Reis)

Chantale Wong, the U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank who was born in Shanghai, is the first openly lesbian American ambassador.

Wong’s aunt and uncle enrolled her in a Catholic bording school in Macau, which at the time was a Portuguese colony, after she fled China with her grandmother in 1960. Wong was baptized and given the name Chantale after St. Jane Frances de Chantale.

She later attended an all-girls Catholic high school in Guam.

“He is definitely my pope,” tweeted Wong on Jan. 25.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is openly gay, in a tweet thanked Francis “for your strong and clear words against the criminalization of LGBTIQ+ persons in the world.” Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues who traveled to Cambodia last month, echoed Bettel.

“Criminalization based on sexual orientation is contrary to international human rights law,” tweeted Madrigal-Borloz on Jan. 25. “I welcome this recognition by (the pope.)”

Homosexuality is the ‘real sin’

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013.

Francis — who vehemently opposed a marriage equality bill in his native Argentina before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it into law in 2010 — a decade later publicly backed civil unions for same-sex couples.

The pontiff in 2013 said gay men and lesbians should not be marginalized. 

Francis in 2016 later said the Roman Catholic Church should “ask forgiveness” from gay people over the way it has treated them. The pontiff in 2017 compared politicians who use hate speech against LGBTQ and intersex people and other minority groups to Adolf Hitler.

The Vatican in 2020 gave money to a group of Transgender sex workers in Italy who were struggling to survive during the coronavirus pandemic. Francis in 2021 named Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man who is a survivor of clergy sex abuse, to a commission that advises him on protecting children from pedophile priests.

Francis last year during several of his weekly papal audiences met with trans people who were living at a Rome church. 

Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity remain unchanged despite these overtures. 

Francis during the Associated Press interview referred to LGBTQ+ and intersex issues within the context of “sin.” The pontiff later sought to clarify the comment.

“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” wrote Francis in a handwritten letter he sent to the Rev. James Martin, editor of Outreach, a website for LGBTQ+ and intersex Catholics, on Jan. 27.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, during an interview with the Blade acknowledged Francis “is giving a message that criminalization of the LGBTQ+ community must be fought.” Serrano added, however, the pontiff’s comments do not change church teachings.

“There is no change in dogma, there is no change in doctrine and nothing has changed in the catechism of the Catholic Church. Everything remains the same,” Serrano told the Blade. “As long as all that remains the same, there is no change.”

Serrano further stressed Francis’ categorization of homosexuality as a “sin” is paradoxical.

“Homophobia: That is the real sin,” said Serrano.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, shows his tattoo that pays tribute to the LGBT Puerto Ricans who died inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., during an interview in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 7, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, on Tuesday noted to the Blade that he is Catholic.

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

Singapore, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Botswana, Bhutan and India have decriminalized homosexuality in recent years.  

Mugisha said Sexual Minorities Uganda welcomes Francis’ statement, which he made ahead of his trip to Congo and South Sudan. (Consensual same-sex sexual activity is legal in Congo, while South Sudan continues to criminalize it.) 

“Being Catholic, I know the Catholic Church will respect the pope’s views and I hope the church in Africa starts working with us towards discrimination of homosexuality,” Mugisha told the Blade.

ILGA World Co-Secretaries General Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown in response to Francis’ comments said “such a simple statement has now the potential to initiate a much-needed change and will provide relief to millions of persons in our communities across the world.” ILGA World Executive Director Julia Ehrt, like Serrano, said Vatican doctrine towards LGBTQ and intersex people needs to change if the pontiff’s position against criminalization laws will have any meaningful impact. 

“We urge the Holy See to turn these words into concrete action,” said Ehrt. “The Catholic Church and its institutions can and should play an active role in supporting decriminalization efforts across the world and within the United Nations and multilateral fora, where demands to scrap these profoundly wrong laws have long been reiterated.”

Outright International, a New York-based global LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, in its response to Francis’ comments also noted church teachings.

“We welcome Pope Francis’ message of inclusion and acceptance,” said Outright International in a statement to the Blade. “Discrimination, persecution and marginalization are common experiences for LGBTIQ individuals and communities around the world. In some countries, many are subjected to conversion practices and its lifelong physical and emotional damages, which are often performed and sanctioned in the name of church teachings.” 

“Religious leaders have a storied history of perpetuating misconceptions about same-sex relations, promoting them as threats to society. As such, LGBTIQ people are subject to violent attacks, harassment and social stigmatization. The church’s actions have also influenced efforts to oppose the advancement of human rights for LGBTIQ people,” added Outright International. “Our hope is that the pope’s statement will foster respect, dignity and conversations that will lead to change in attitudes and lasting legal protections in this arduous journey for full equality.”

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South America

Gay man’s murder in Argentina underscores growing hate crimes concerns

Alejo Portillo stabbed 42 times last month in Misiones province

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Alejo Portillo (Photo courtesy of Alejo Portillo's Facebook page)

COLONIA AZARA, Argentina — Authorities in Argentina’s Misiones province on Dec. 30 found a 20-year-old gay man dead with 42 stab wounds to his body.

Alejo Portillo was found in the town of Colonia Azara. His murder underscores an increase in hate crimes in Argentina over the last year, even though queer people have more rights than almost any other country in Latin America.        

Data from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Federation of Argentina indicates hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity increased in Argentina in 2022. The group recorded 129 deaths last year, compared to 120 the previous year. 

Portillo’s mother, Alejandra Benítez, found his body after she tirelessly searched for him when the Argentine police refused to help her. She said she sensed that something “horrible had happened to him” from the moment her son disappeared.

The main suspect is a 20-year-old man with whom Portillo was in love and with whom he had a hidden relationship. Argentine media reports indicate Portillo’s body was found naked and showed signs that he had been raped.

Benítez spoke with Misiones Cuatro TV, a local television station.

She said she saw her son for the last time on Dec. 28 when she said goodbye to him after he borrowed his sister’s bicycle. 

“He was invited by someone he knew to the place where my son went,” said Benítez. “He wasn’t going to go to that place for nothing. He knew who he was going to meet.”

She said on Dec. 29 she was already worried because her son did not return to the house where he lived, and he was not answering her WhatsApp messages. Benítez began to search for him herself, even though she did not have access to a vehicle. 

“I don’t know what happened, I can’t understand,” Benítez told Misiones Cuatro TV. “My son was not hurting anyone.” 

A march took place in Colonia Azara a few weeks ago. Participants demanded justice for Portillo’s death and urged authorities to classify it as a hate crime.

Trans Travestis No Binarie Maricas Gay y Lesbianas de Oberá Misiones, a local queer rights group known by the acronym TTNBMGLOM, condemned Portillo’s murder and pointed out “we want to publicly pronounce our voices and feelings in relation to the murder of Ema Portillo (self-perceived as Alejo,) that occurred in the town of Azara-Misiones.”

“In view of the facts, we believe it is important to highlight and underline that the homicide of Alejo Portillo is a case of hate crime,” said TTNBMGLOM on Instagram. “Alejo was stabbed because he was homosexual, because of his orientation and gender identity. For being a person of non-heterosexual identity.”

“Alejo Portillo’s hate crime is clearly a symptom of the reality that LGTB existences and identities live in the province of Misiones, especially removed from the large urban epicenters,” María Alejandro, a nonbinary activist from Misiones, told the Washington Blade, referring to Buenos Aires, the country’s capital.

María Alejandro added “(people with) LGBT identities live in a situation of extreme discrimination, marginalization and violence. And this was what was happening to Alejo in his community. He was one of the few people who publicly expressed his identity and sexual orientation, therefore, he was clearly pushed towards exclusion and discrimination.”

María Alejandro said “the particularity of the crime, the excessive and symbolic violence that provokes Alejo’s death and the deep context of discrimination, stigmatization and marginalization that he lived in his community allow us to sustain that it is a hate crime. Alejo’s body shows clear signs of an act committed with a high degree of violence. There are 42 stab wounds.”

María Alejandro mentioned to Blade that they demand an investigation similar to the case of Evelyn Rojas, a Transgender woman who was murdered by her partner in Misiones. 

Authorities determined Rojas’ murder was a hate crime, and her partner last year received a life sentence.

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India

LGBTQ+, intersex activists in India prepare for marriage equality ruling

Country’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear multiple cases

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The Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — The world’s largest democracy is preparing to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples through the Indian Supreme Court.

The highest court of the land on Jan. 6 transferred to itself all marriage equality petitions that had been pending before other courts. 

Two same-sex couples on Nov. 14, 2022, filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages. The first petitioners are Supriyo Chakraborty and Abhay Dang, while the second couple is Parth Phiroze Merhotra and Uday Raj Anand. 

The petitioners argued before the Supreme Court that marriage only between “male” and “female” discriminates against same-sex couples by denying them adoption, employment, retirement and other benefits. The petitioners have requested the law be declared unconstitutional.

Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli after they heard the petitioners ordered the federal government to respond to their petition. Lawyers on Jan. 3 asked the Supreme Court to transfer two similar cases from the Delhi and Kerala High Courts. The Supreme Court agreed to the request and transferred nine marriage equality cases to its jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court in 2018 struck down the colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality. 

While delivering the judgment in 2018, Chandrachud said that the case is much more than decriminalizing a provision. 

“It is about an aspiration to realize constitutional rights and equal existence of LGBT community as other citizens,” he said.

Activists and the LGBTQ+ and intersex community are expecting the Supreme Court to issue a favorable ruling.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), one of the world’s largest voluntary organizations and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s parent organization, has come out in support of the LGBTQ+ and intersex community, even though the organization is considered conservative, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat in an interview with “Organizer and Panchjanya,” the organization’s magazine, said that the LGBTQ+ community too should have the right to privacy, and the organization will have to promote this view.

“People with such proclivities have always been there; for as long as humans have existed,” said Bhagwat. “This is biological, a mode of life. We want them to have their own private space and to feel that they, too, are a part of the society. This is such a simple issue. We will have to promote this view because all other ways of resolving it will be futile.”

RSS is an organization that supports Indian culture and values. 

It runs 20,000 schools in the country and promotes free education for poor neighborhoods. RSS volunteers carried out relief efforts during last year’s flood in Assam state, and ran a rescue operation in Modi’s home state of Gujarat when an earthquake killed more than 20,000 people.

Tinesh Chopade, associate director of advocacy for the Humsafar Trust, told the Washington Blade he is positive and hopeful of the upcoming ruling 

“Justice Chandrachud is very positive towards protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community,” said Chopade. “It’s just we should be mindful of the technicality of the judgement as the court has asked government response of the case.”

Chopade also talked about Bhagwat’s statement. 

Chopade said it is a good sign because RSS was against homosexuality when the Supreme Court decriminalized it. Chopade added he strongly believes Sangh’s statement could have a positive impact on Indian society.

“RSS has a large following in society, so definitely the chief’s statement would help change the attitude of the individuals towards the community,” Chopade told the Blade. “If we have a conversation as a community with them (RSS), then we will be more than happy to engage, not only with the chief (justice) but also with other workers to see how we can work together. We definitely see that as positive towards the influencing the larger society.”

Chopade further highlighted how the LGBTQ+ and intersex community is preparing for the Supreme Court’s expected ruling. He said that even though it has little control over the decision, the community is hopeful.

“As a community-based organization, our job is to prepare the community on the ground for such legal proceedings. We have so many beautifully written judgments in past by the Supreme Court of India, but when it comes to implementation, that’s the challenge,” said Chopade. “We can prepare the community for the responses or implementation. For example, if tomorrow we have marriage equality, then as an LGBTQ organization, our job is to disperse the judgment.”

A spokesperson of the Sappho for Equality, an LGBTQ+ and intersex organization based in the Indian state of West Bengal, told the Blade that equality must extend to all the spheres of life, including the home, workplace, and public spaces for the LGBTQ+ and intersex community.

Decriminalizing homosexuality, according to Sappho for Equality, is not enough.

“We deserve all the rights and privileges that people who are at the center of society receive through legal recognition of their interpersonal relationships such as marriage,” said the Sappho for Equality spokesperson. “With the help of various queer-trans* activists and leaders, we are trying to bring to the surface the lived realities of many queer-trans* couples from across the country who’ve had to fight with their (birth) families as well as the legal institutions at the cost of their mental, physical, social health and wellbeing. Marriage equality is an absolute necessity of the hour as it lies in the fact that many queer-trans individuals who come from multifarious intersectional backgrounds will at least be able to tell their (birth) families about the legal recognition of their relationships which ensures security.”

Ankush Kumar is a freelance 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

Congolese rebel group displaces Transgender people

Refugee camp residents consider Trans women sorcerers

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Displaced Transgender people in Congo's North Kivu province. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko)

GOMA, Congo — M23 rebels in Congo’s North Kivu province have displaced a number of Transgender people and left them even more vulnerable to persecution.

M23 rebels last November approached Goma, the province’s capital city, and forced around 180,000 people to leave their homes. Jérémie Safari, coordinator of Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko, a Congolese LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, told the Washington Blade that residents of the Kibumba camp where displaced people have settled have refused to assist trans people and have accused them of being sorcerers.

“Trans people went (through) war like everyone else,” said Safari. “In the Kibumba camp where the displaced have settled, the local community there has refused Trans people access, accusing them of being sorcerers, bad luck charms and of being the origin of the war following their evil practice.” 

Safari said other displaced people who did not want Trans women in the camp have attacked them. Safari said these Trans women currently sleep in the street in Kibumba without food.

Safari, in addition, said the government has done little to help these displaced Trans people, even though consensual same-sex sexual relations are not criminalized in the country.

“The displaced people received help but not the trans people since they do not live in the camp and also the government is still extremely hostile towards LGBTIQA+ organizations in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). No LGBTQA+ organization can be legally recognized by the Congolese State,” said Safari.

Safari said Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko currently needs funds to provide housing, food and medicine to the displaced Trans people.

“If we could have $7,000 (U.S. dollars) firstly for their survival, since we are afraid of their life and their health which is in danger, that would be of immense help,” said Safari.

The M23 since last May has demonstrated increased firepower and defensive capabilities that have enabled the group to overrun U.N.-backed Congolese troops and hold territory. 

The U.N. says the fighting between Congolese troops and M23 rebels has forced nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes. 

Human Rights Watch has called upon the U.N., the African Union and governments to publicly denounce M23 abuses found to have been committed by other combatants, maintaining sanctions against senior M23 commanders and expanding them to those newly found responsible for serious abuses and senior officials from across the region complicit in them. Human Rights Watch also said any political settlement should not include amnesty for those responsible for human rights abuses and prevent responsible M23 commanders to integrate into the Congolese armed forces. 

“The government’s failure to hold M23 commanders accountable for war crimes committed years ago is enabling them and their new recruits to commit abuses today. Civilians in eastern Congo should not have to endure new atrocities by the M23,” said Thomas Fessy, a senior DRC researcher at Human Rights Watch.

M23 sprung from elements within the Congolese army in 2012. 

The rebel group claims it is defending the rights of Congolese Tutsi and originally comprised of soldiers who participated in a mutiny from the Congolese army in April-May 2012. They claimed their mutiny was to protest the Congolese government’s failure to fully implement the March 23, 2009, peace agreement — M23 derives from this date — that had integrated them into the Congolese army.

The Congolese army and the U.N. Force Intervention Brigade defeated M23 in November 2013, and its members fled to Rwanda and Uganda. The group re-emerged in November 2021.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Eastern Europe

Ukrainian ambassador to U.S. highlights LGBTQ+, intersex rights

Oksana Markarova spoke at servicemembers photo exhibit in D.C.

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Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova speaks at Ukraine House on Jan. 26, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova on Jan. 26 spoke in support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights during an event that highlighted her country’s LGBTQ+ servicemembers.

“(The) LGBTQ+ community is an inseparable community of us, whether it’s here or in Ukraine,” said Markarova. “The faster we can stop any discrimination, the faster we will win, not only in the battlefield in Ukraine, but we also will win globally.”

Markarova spoke during a photo exhibit at Ukraine House that showcased LGBTQ+ and intersex Ukrainian servicemembers.

QUA – LGBTQ Ukrainians in America, the Ukrainian Union of the LGBT Military and KyivPride organized the exhibit that features photographs from Alim Yakubov, a Crimean Tartar who moved to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, after Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.

KyivPride Executive Director Lenny Emson, QUA – LGBTQ Ukrainians in America President Bogdan Globa and U.S. Agency for International Development Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator Jay Gilliam are among those who spoke alongside Markarova.

Viktor Pylipenko, an openly gay Ukrainian servicemember who founded the Ukrainian Union of the LGBT Military, spoke via a video from the frontlines of Russia’s war against his country. A Russian missile attack forced him to end his remarks and seek shelter.

“I want to thank all of them for their service to country,” said Markarova. “It’s unbelievable and (the) ultimate sacrifice to be there in harm’s way.”

Markarova also described Globa as “a leader for all Ukrainians here” and said she is “really thankful for all the activities that we do together, and everything that you do.” Globa later told the Washington Blade that Markarova is the first Ukrainian ambassador to speak at an LGBTQ-specific event in the U.S.

QUA – LGBTQ Ukrainians in America President Bogdan Globa speaks at Ukraine House in D.C. on Jan. 26, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2021 pledged Ukraine would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House.

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

Zelenskyy last summer said he supports a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

Ukrainian lawmakers last Dec. 15 unanimously approved a media regulation bill that bans hate speech and incitement based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Zelenskyy less than a week later traveled to D.C.

Zelenskyy, a former actor and comedian, earlier this month made a broad reference to LGBTQ and intersex rights in a virtual Golden Globes appearance.

Markarova praised Emson and Kyiv Pride and other Ukrainian LGBTQ and intersex rights groups that include Gender Z and Insight.

“Thank you for everything you do in Kyiv, and thank you for everything that you do in order to fight the discrimination that still is somewhere in Ukraine,” said Markarova, speaking directly to Emson. “Not everything is perfect yet, but you know, I think we are moving in the right direction. And we together will not only fight the external enemy, but also will see equality.”

“It’s a constant fight,” added Markarova. “It’s a fight that makes us better. It’s a fight that makes us freer, and it’s a fight that ultimately will give us the opportunity to live in the country where everyone again, regardless of their nationality, religion, color of their skin or sexuality, can live where they want to live.”

Markarova also noted Russia “brutally crossed the border and attacked us in 2014 and again attacked us now.” She added her country is “also fighting for something bigger.”

“We are fighting for our right to live how we want to live. We are fighting for our democracy. We’re fighting for the right to choose who we want to choose and whether it has to do with the government or whether it has to do with who we love and how we believe and this is very important,” said Markarova. “This is what differentiates Ukraine from Russia that attacks us; that we are free, we are democratic and we want to live like we want to live. That’s why we will never give up or surrender again.”

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United Nations

International Holocaust Memorial Day: LGBTQ victims remembered

The Nazis targeted anyone they believed threatened their ideal of a ‘pure Aryan race’, including disabled people, LGBTQ people and others

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The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin on July 22, 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BERLIN – Ordinary People is the theme for International Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 as around the globe the day is set aside for everyone to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution.

The Nazis targeted anyone they believed threatened their ideal of a ‘pure Aryan race’, including Roma and Sinti people, disabled people, LGBTQ people, political opponents and others.

In a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania, whose Ambassador, Robert S. Gilchrist, is openly gay, a coalition consisting of other nation’s diplomatic missions to the Baltic nation including Israel, Germany, The Kingdom of the Netherlands, Japan and the European Commission Representation noted:

As we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we commemorate the Holocaust of six million Jews, men, women and children, including more than 200,000 Jews murdered in Lithuania.  We remember other communities who were also murdered: Roma, disabled persons, LGBTQI+ persons, Slavs, and others.  We do not forget that the Nazis committed these heinous crimes with the support of local collaborators throughout Europe.  And we remember the heroism of countless people who, at great personal risk, stepped in to save thousands of Jews.”

Dr. Amy Gutmann, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, tweeted: “Today we remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the six million Jews, and millions of Roma, Sinti, Slavs, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and political dissidents murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.” Dr. Gutmann added: “As my father, a German Jew forced to flee Germany in 1934 said, “Everything we do – and everything we don’t do – makes a difference.”

PinkNewsUK journalist Patrick Kelleher wrote:

It is thought that up to 50,000 gay men received severe prison sentences under Nazi rule. According to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, most were sent to police prisons, but between 10,000-15,000 were sent to concentration camps.

Life for queer people in Weimar Germany was a very different picture to what it would become under the Nazis.

Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23,
2022
(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

There were gay bars, there was a functioning queer scene – there was even an institute for sexual research, a concept that would be impossible to imagine in most European cities of the day.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, everything changed. In the years that followed, millions of Jews, alongside other minority groups, were rounded up, tortured and murdered in concentration camps, up until 1945.

Ambassador David Pressman, the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, who arrived in that country with his husband and their two children last Fall also remembered the Holocaust in a tweet:

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