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Hungarian PM Viktor Orban says EU blocking funds over LGBTQ policies

A spokesperson for the EU said its refusal to sign-off on Hungary’s recovery plans is not related to the anti-LGBTQ laws.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Screenshot via France 24 YouTube)

BUDAPEST – In an interview with Hungarian state media this past Friday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, of blocking funding for his country’s coronavirus recovery plan over its anti-LGBTQ policies.

“The funds are loans that Brussels does not want to give us because of the debate on our LGBT policy,” he said.

A spokesperson for the EU said that the refusal to sign-off on Hungary’s planned spending and validation of Hungary’s recovery plans is not related on the recent passage of anti-LGBTQ laws. The EU maintains that its concerns are the lack of independence of the Hungarian judiciary coupled with an insufficient fight against corruption.

The deadline for the EU Commission to review Hungary’s plan was extended until the end of this month. Orban’s government had submitted its plan last May. The EU has yet to disburse the allocated €7.2m in grants.

The Hungarian National Assembly approved legislation in June that prohibits sharing with anyone under the age of 18 any material that portrays or describes homosexuality or gender identity linking it to another legislative measure by amendment that purports to protect minors against paedophilia.

In a statement to France 24 English in June Orban defended the law saying that he was supportive of LGBTQ rights but he characterized the law as to defend the right of parents to educate their children in regards to human sexuality.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has publicly labeled the law a “disgrace”.

“This bill clearly discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and it goes against all the values, the fundamental values of the European Union and this is human dignity, it is equality and is human fundamental rights, so we will not compromise on these principles,” said von der Leyen.

In July the law, which had added a provision banning sex-reassignment surgery to minors, took effect.

Despite the increasing backlash to the anti-LGBTQ law and policies, Hungarian officials continue to support the measures. On Facebook this past Wednesday Hungary’s Justice Minister Judit Varga wrote that it is her country’s right to protect its “culture, national identity and the family values rooted in them.” taking aim at EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, Varga noted, “We reject categorically the assumption that the purpose of the law would be exclusion or discrimination. […] It’s only about the upbringing of Hungarian children and the protection of minors.

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German Cabinet approves ‘self-determination law’ for Trans, nonbinary people

Process to legally change name and gender on official documents would be simplified

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German Reichstag (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BERLIN — The German Cabinet on Wednesday approved a “self-determination law” that would simplify the process for Transgender or nonbinary people to legally change their name and gender in official documents.

The Associated Press notes Trans or nonbinary adults would only have to notify a registrar office that they plan to legally change their name and gender in official documents and wait three months before they do so. German law currently requires anyone who wants to change their gender on official documents to obtain testimony from two experts who are “sufficiently familiar with the particular problems of transsexualism” and a court ruling.

The AP reported the new law would allow children who are at least 14 to legally change their name and gender with parental or guardian approval. A teenager could ask a family court to overrule their parent or guardian if they deny their request. The AP notes a parent or guardian of anyone who is under 14 can go to a registry office and seek a legal name and gender change on their behalf.

German lawmakers need to approve the proposal before it takes effect.

“Imagine that you … simply want to live your life and you don’t wish anyone anything bad, and then you’re questioned about what your sexual fantasies are, what underwear you wear and similar things,” Justice Minister Marco Buschmann told a German television, according to the AP. “Those affected have found this questioning very degrading. Now we simply want to make life a bit easier for a small group for which it has great significance.”

The Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, a German LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group known by the acronym LSVD, in a statement urged lawmakers to approve the proposal.

“The Bundestag is now responsible for correcting the discriminatory regulations and exclusions,” said LSVD. “Self-determination must be guaranteed without ifs ands or buts; this must also apply to young people. The Self-Determination Law must guarantee real sexual self-determination — without heteronomy or distrust.”

Queer Commissioner Sven Lehmann in a tweet described Wednesday as “an important day for fundamental and human rights.” Jenny Wilken of the German Society for Trans Identity and Intersexuality, an advocacy group known by the acronym DGTI, described the proposal as a “first step towards self-determination,” but criticized the three month waiting period and several other provisions.

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Holocaust Memorial for LGBTQ+ victims vandalized in Berlin

The memorial to LGBTQ people persecuted under the Nazis was the target of an attempted arson attack, Berlin police say

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The "Memorial to Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism" is located at the edge of the German capital's famed Tiergarten park. (Photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BERLIN – The “Memorial to Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism” located at the edge of the German capital city’s famed Tiergarten Park was vandalized this past weekend according to a Polizei Berlin (Police Berlin) spokesperson.

Polizei Berlin said that a park security official observed a male suspect ‘papering’ the monument with slips of paper later found to contain biblical verses condemning homosexuality and then attempting to set the memorial ablaze by tossing a burning object at it. The suspect fled when confronted by the guard.

Polizei Berlin are investigating this incident and another attack against a memorial for victims of the Holocaust, the “Platform 17” memorial, inside the Berlin-Grunewald train station.

The Memorial to Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism, in the shape of a cube with a window insert where a video of a same-sex couple kissing can be seen was first erected in 2008.

German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) reported that under the Nazi regime in Germany from 1933 to 1945, homosexual people were systematically repressed and persecuted, with some 50,000 being convicted on account of their sexuality.

Many thousands of them were deported to concentration camps and large numbers murdered there.

The second arson attack took place at the”Platform 17″ memorial, which honors the German Jewish people who were sent to their deaths during the Holocaust from the Grünewald train station.

In a statement issued Monday the Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Association decried both incidents:

“We are shocked by the inflammatory energy of both acts and hope that the person responsible in both cases will be caught quickly.”

These past two weekend incidents are among a rising rate of hate related incidents in Germany, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), a German television broadcaster reported.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior , the number of attacks against queer people increased in 2022. Last year, 1,005 cases were counted, including 227 violent crimes and 341 insults. That is about 15 percent more cases than in the previous year. The gay anti-violence project “Maneo” in Berlin also reports a slightly higher number of cases. According to Maneo, they will be “at a high level” overall in 2022.

The queer commissioner of the federal government assumes that the vast majority wants queer people to be able to live without fear and have equal rights. However, the results of a study from 2023 showed “that this consent is not stable and self-evident”.

Kerstin Thost, the spokesperson for Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Association told ZDF:

“We all have a responsibility now to work tirelessly to protect and treat everyone equally,” said Thost. In this situation, everyone should position themselves for human rights and democracy. Even those who are not affected by queer hostility themselves.”

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Far-right party falls short in Spanish elections

Vox vehemently opposes Transgender rights

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (Screen capture via Twitter video)

MADRID — A far-right party that vehemently opposes Transgender rights fell short in the Spanish elections that took place on Sunday.

Vox won 33 seats in the Spanish Parliament, which is 19 less than the 52 seats it won in the country’s last national elections that took place in 2019. Carla Toscano, a Vox MP who is a vocal opponent of Trans rights, is among those who lost their seats in the Congress of Deputies.

“An honor to have been able to defend in Congress over the last few years equality under the law for all Spaniards, the presumption of innocence, the family, life, justice, biological reality and above all what is good, beauty and the truth,” tweeted Toscano on Monday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party on Sunday won 122 seats in Parliament, while Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s conservative Popular Party won 136 seats. 

The Popular Party and Vox won a combined 170 seats in Parliament. The Associated Press reported PSOE and other leftist parties that could support won a total of 172 seats. Neither bloc has the required 176 seats in order to have a majority in Parliament that would allow it to form a new government.

The AP notes Sánchez called Sunday’s vote after his party suffered loses in local and regional elections that took place in May. Another national election could take place later this year if lawmakers cannot form a new government.

“Spain has been crystal and resoundingly clear: The involutionist, backwards bloc that proposed the repeal of the progress made over these four years, has failed,” tweeted Sánchez. “There are many more of us who want to continue moving Spain forward.”

José María Núñez Blanco, president of Fundación Triángulo, a Spanish LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, on Saturday reiterated his concern over Vox during an interview with the Washington Blade in Mexico City.

Núñez, who was attending a conference the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute co-organized, noted Vox is already part of many of Spain’s regional governments. 

Parliament in February approved a bill that allows people who are at least 16-years-old to legally change their gender without medical intervention. 

Núñez noted Vox has backed efforts to deny legal recognition of Trans people. He further described the prospect the Popular Party creating a government with Vox as “crazy.”  

“Hopefully the government that comes out of tomorrow’s election continues to keep moving forward,” said Núñez.

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Openly gay US ambassador to Hungary marches in Budapest Pride march

Upwards of 35,000 people participated in annual event

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Openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman participates in the annual Budapest Pride march in Budapest, Hungary, on July 15, 2023. (Screenshot courtesy of U.S. Embassy to Hungary's Twitter page)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Tens of thousands of people on Saturday participated in the annual Budapest Pride march that took place in the Hungarian capital.

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony and openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman are among the more than 35,000 people who participated in the event that took place amid fears right-wing protesters would disrupt it.

“Everything was great,” Budapest Pride President Viktoria Radvanyi told the Washington Blade after the march.

The U.S., along with 37 other countries, on July 14 issued a joint statement through their respective embassies in support of Budapest Pride.

“On the occasion of the 28th Budapest Pride Festival, we the undersigned embassies and cultural institutes express our full support for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, Transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in Hungary and their rights to equality and non-discrimination, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and freedom from violence,” reads the statement. “Respect for the rule of law and universal human rights are the foundations upon which democratic states are built. International human rights law is grounded on the broad premise that all individuals have the same rights and freedoms without discrimination.”

“We reject and condemn all acts of violence, hate speech, harassment, stigmatization and discrimination committed against individuals and communities on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics and support the fight against such acts,” it continues. “In this regard, we are concerned with legislation and political rhetoric, including in Hungary, that is in tension with principles of non-discrimination, international human rights law and human dignity and contributes to stigmatization of the LGBTQI+ community. We stress the need for leaders and governments, here and elsewhere, to show respect for and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and communities and to eliminate laws and policies that discriminate against them.”

Hungarian bookstore chain fined for violating anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law

The Pride march took effect against the backdrop of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government’s continued crackdown on LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

A law that bans legal recognition of Transgender and intersex people took effect in 2020. Hungarian MPs in 2020 effectively banned same-sex couples from adopting children and defined marriage in the country’s constitution as between a man and a woman.

An anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law took effect in 2021. The European Commission last July sued Hungary, which is a member of the European Union, over the country’s propaganda law.

The Budapest Metropolitan Government Office last week fined Lira Konyv, the country’s second-largest bookstore chain, 12 million forints ($36,056.74), for selling copies of British author Alice Oseman’s “Heartstopper.”

Pressman is among those who have sharply criticized Orbán over his government’s LGBTQ+ and intersex policies.

“No matter how many government-produced posters of ‘Brussels’ bombs may be emblazoned around town at any given moment, the reality is Hungary is not under ‘attack’ by outside forces, or vulnerable to a ‘liberal virus’ or ‘Western decadence,’ or cowering before George Soros, or at the mercy of omnipotent conspiratorial powers,” said Pressman on June 16 during a speech he gave at a Budapest Pride event. “No, the reality is something far simpler. The story of Hungary, including its movement for equality, is one being written not by foreigners, but by Hungarians.”

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Greek Prime Minister says he plans to legalize same-sex marriage

“Same-sex marriage will happen at some point and it’s part of our strategy.”  He added; “Greek society is much more ready and mature”

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Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis, speaks with reporters at a meeting of the EU Commission last month. (Photo Credit: Government of Greece, Office of the Prime Minister)

ATHENS, Greece – Speaking with a reporter from Bloomberg Television earlier this week, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece, voiced his support to legalise same-sex marriage in this Balkan country during the new legislative session.

This echoed the prime minister’s remarks made shortly after the leader of the centre-right New Democracy party, was been sworn in as the prime minister of Greece for a second term. Addressing the Hellenic Parliament, Mitsotakis said:

“Today, we are in a new beginning. Citizens expect bold steps into a future they can’t wait. So together let’s start the journey towards optimistic Greece of 2030. With a vision, a plan and a lot of work.

So at the start of our new term, I will not promise miracles. Only perseverance and hard work. “Is it possible?” some had asked in 2019. “And yet, it is possible,” we answered them in the first four years. This is how we will continue in the coming years.

We want it, we can and we will.

We must be a government of all Greeks and all Greeks. At the beginning of the new legislative period, I want to express my unwavering will that the new administration fully fulfills the expectations of the citizens.”

Speaking with Bloomberg the prime minister noted: “Same-sex marriage will happen at some point and it’s part of our strategy.”  He added; “Greek society is much more ready and mature.”

Greece has recognised same-sex civil unions since 2015, this move by Mitsotakis would mean full equality for LGBTQ+ Greeks. The country has made significant advances for LGBTQ+ equality rights in a broader sense. ILGA-Europe’s annual ‘Rainbow Europe’ index, which ranks the best and worst places to be LGBTQ+ in Europe, placed Greece at 13 out of 49 countries – higher than places such as the UK, Ireland and Germany.

In May of 2022, the country passed a law that banned the use of so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited practise that has been condemned by global medical groups. Previously in January of 2022. Greek Health Minister Thanos Plevris and Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga issued a decree allowing men who have sex with other males to donate blood without restrictions.

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Estonia to become first Baltic country with marriage equality

Bill passed by 55-34 vote margin

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The Estonian Parliament in Tallinn, Estonia. (Photo by Griash Bruev/Bigstock)

TALLINN, Estonia — Lawmakers in Estonia on Tuesday approved a bill that will extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country.

The marriage equality bill passed by a 55-34 vote margin. Estonia will become the first Baltic country and the first former Soviet republic to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

“It’s official: Estonia has legalized marriage equality. We join other Nordic nations with this historic decision,” tweeted Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. “I’m proud of my country. We’re building a society where everyone’s rights are respected and people can love freely.”

Kallas in her tweet noted the bill will take effect in 2024.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Kallas.

“Congratulations to the people and government of Estonia on the passage of marriage equality legislation and the recognition of same-sex families,” tweeted Blinken. “In this historic moment, the United States is proud to stand with you in support of LGBTQI+ communities everywhere.”

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US ambassador to Hungary criticizes country’s anti-LGBTQ+ crackdown

David Pressman gave speech at Budapest Pride reception

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U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman speaks at a Budapest Pride event in Budapest, Hungary, on June 17, 2023. (Screen capture via U.S. Embassy in Hungary YouTube channel)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman on June 16 criticized the crackdown on LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in the European country.

Pressman, who is openly gay, in a speech he gave at a Budapest Pride reception noted he recently visited the Hungarian capital’s House of Terror Museum, which honors those persecuted during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Hungary and the post-World War II Communist governments that ruled the country until 1989. Pressman said one of “its most haunting elements is the depiction of government efforts to turn Hungarians into informants against other Hungarians, neighbors against neighbors, brothers against brothers and parents against their own children — families against themselves — and all in service of oppression … and of empowering the few at the expense of the many.”   

“It is impossible not to see echoes of this in your Parliament’s vote earlier this year to encourage neighbors to report to the authorities their gay neighbors raising children,” he added. “Turning neighbor on neighbor conjures a dark past of covert agents and informants, of fear and betrayal, in this country and this region that I do not need to recount. You have a museum for that. While this legislation did not become law, the fact it was ever considered, let alone supported by this government and passed by the legislature is chilling.”

Pressman noted “this proposal is not unique; others became and remain law.”

“Laws prohibiting ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’ were adopted by Russia in 2013,” he said. “These Russian laws found a new home here in Hungary eight years later — like a virus spreading — when the government adopted laws to forbid ‘educational programs aimed at the promotion of … homosexuality.’ And this law remains in force today.  And — in both Russia and in Hungary — the crackdowns on discourse related to gayness were preceded and accompanied by a closing of space for independent institutions and civil society.”

“History teaches us that when governments start discriminating against one group — whether for who they love or what they believe, their politics or their race, or the color of their skin — others are usually not far behind,” added Pressman. “It teaches us clearly what can happen when we fail to speak out and stand up to these laws and policies as soon as they infect our democracies.”

The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Budapest Pride President Viktoria Radvanyi told the Washington Blade in February after U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power met with her and other activists in the Hungarian capital that it is “impossible to change your gender legally in Hungary” because of a 2020 law that “banned legal gender recognition of transgender and intersex people.” 

The anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law that Pressman referenced in his speech took effect in 2021. 

Hungarian MPs in 2020 effectively banned same-sex couples from adopting children and defined marriage in the country’s constitution as between a man and a woman. Pressman and his partner of 22 years, who was in the room when he gave his speech, have twin sons. 

The European Commission last July sued Hungary, which is a member of the European Union, over the country’s propaganda law.

Pressman in his speech noted a high school student in the Hungarian countryside recently asked him what it is like to be an “out gay ambassador” in the country.

“About midway through my response, I paused. Not for lack of words, but because while I was speaking, I heard another voice in the back of my head. And that voice was trying to figure out whether by answering this high school student’s question was I also violating Hungarian law,” said Pressman. “Here I was, the representative of the president of the United States of America in Hungary, and I was questioning what I was allowed to say about myself, whether answering this earnest student’s question was I also violating Hungarian law.”

“This is the devious power of such laws,” he added. “It isn’t merely what a government may do to censor and restrict speech. It is the silence left behind because people are too afraid to speak up in the first place. It is that even earnest questions and truthful answers, really are off limits.” 

‘Hungary is not under attack by outside forces’

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government have repeatedly criticized Pressman since President Joe Biden nominated him to become ambassador in May 2022. Pressman, for his part, in his speech repeatedly criticized Orbán over his efforts to curtail LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in Hungary.

“The truth is that there are Hungarian kids today struggling with who they are and who they love. They yearn to be proud of themselves, proud of their country, and proud to build their future within it,” said Pressman. “And it is also a truth that they are often told — through laws and statements of their political leaders and their media megaphones — that they have something to hide. That they should not be proud of themselves. That their country is not proud of them, and that they have no future in Hungary. That they are, somehow, not actually Hungarian, when they are. That they don’t exist when they do. That they are invented when they are made in God’s image. That their identity is the product of propaganda, when in fact it comes from their own beating Hungarian heart.”

Pressman described Hungarians as “fiercely independent, sophisticated and intelligent people, and rightfully proud of their rich culture and history.” 

“No matter how many government-produced posters of ‘Brussels’ bombs may be emblazoned around town at any given moment, the reality is Hungary is not under ‘attack’ by outside forces, or vulnerable to a ‘liberal virus’ or ‘Western decadence,’ or cowering before George Soros, or at the mercy of omnipotent conspiratorial powers,” he added. “No, the reality is something far simpler. The story of Hungary, including its movement for equality, is one being written not by foreigners, but by Hungarians. “

Pressman also predicted government-controlled newspapers would criticize him and incorrectly categorize his speech.

“While the news should report this truthful story factually. I can already read the headlines Minister (Antal) Rogán’s team is dictating for tomorrow’s papers.  No doubt I’ll be accused of staging provocations, of importing Western wokeness and foisting obscene values while meddling in Hungary’s domestic affairs,” he said. “What won’t happen is any of the government’s captured and controlled media outlets printing this speech in full.  What they’ll cut out — what they always cut out — is the fact that it is Hungarians who believe in these universal human rights, and it is Hungarians leading the fight for them.”  

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Planned attack on Vienna Pride Parade stopped by Austrian police

Austrian police had waited to reveal details of the planned attack until after the parade to ensure participants did not feel anxious

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Regenbogenparade Wien Vienna Pride 2023 (Screenshot/YouTube)

VIENNA – The head of the Directorate of State Security and Intelligence for this central European country told reporters that a planned attack against the Viennese LGBTQ Pride Parade was prevented by Austria’s Cobra special forces.

During a press conference, Omar Haijawi-Pirchner told reporters; “Through the successful and also timely intervention, we managed to defuse the moment of danger for Vienna Pride and to ensure the safety of all participants.” 

The three suspects – Austrian citizens with Bosnian and Chechen roots, young men, aged 14, 17 and 20, had sympathized with the Islamic State militant group ISIS, were arrested on suspicion of planning to attack the parade prior to its start. The Vienna Pride Parade, held to celebrate LGBTQ+ rights, attracted around 300,000 people according to officials from the Austrian Directorate of State Security and Intelligence (DSN).

Haijawi-Pirchner told reporters Austrian police had waited to reveal details of the planned attack until after the parade to ensure participants did not feel anxious.

“That’s ultimately the goal of terrorism, to cause anxiety and fear in the public. It’s also our job not to let that happen,” he said.

Referring to the ISIS connection, Haijawi-Pirchner acknowledged: “There are calls to carry out attacks in Europe again and Europol [The European police organization] just a few days ago published a report to that effect,” he said. “We are taking this very seriously.”

The BBC noted that in November 2020, a gunman with ties to ISIS had opened fire in a popular nightlife area in Vienna, killing four people and injuring 23 others.

The organisers of Vienna Pride released a statement after the details of the foiled planned attack were made public:

“We will not be defeated by the enemies of LGBTIQ rights, democracy and an open society.

“Today’s police coverage of yesterday’s Rainbow Parade Day shows all the more: LGBTIQ rights have been threatened with step back in number recently and we have to fight for our visibility and safety every day.” Our answer to this must be louder: We will not let the enemies of the rights for LGBTIQ people, democracy and an open society defeat us!,” said Ann-Sophie Otte, head of the HOSI Vienna. And further: “Yesterday’s rainbow parade with over 300,000 participants is this loud and visible signal that we stand together here. “

There was no danger at any point to the participants.

“We are in intensive exchange with the security authorities all year round and thank you for the good and close cooperation also around the Rainbow Parade,” said the organizer of the Vienna Pride Katharina Kacerovsky-Strobl. And Ann-Sophie Otte adds: “This year’s Pride motto applies even more today and every day: Together we rise – against hate and fascism!” “

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Latvia elects first openly gay President

Latvia’s neighbors have also been slow to advance LGBT rights, although Estonia’s government is expected to advance a same-sex marriage bill

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Edgars Rinkēvičs, then Latvia's Foreign Minister, speaking at the annual Foreign Policy Debate in the Latvian Parliament (Saeima), 26 January 2023. (Photo Credit: Government of Latvia/Facebook)

By Rob Salerno | RIGA – The Latvian Parliament elected Edgars Rinkēvičs as the country’s next president in a vote held Wednesday. When he assumes office on July 8, he will be the country’s first openly gay head of state, as well as the first openly gay head of state of an EU country or a former Soviet country.

Latvia’s President is a largely ceremonial role that is elected by the national Parliament. He won a narrow majority of 52 out of 100 votes on the third ballot, held coincidentally during Pride week in the capital, Riga.

Rinkēvičs has served as Latvia’s foreign minister since 2011, a post where he became popular for championing European integration. 

In 2014, he became the first Latvian political figure to come out publicly, while the country debated a same-sex civil union law. To date, the Latvian Parliament has still been unable to pass any laws recognizing same-sex couples, despite multiple court decisions ordering it to do so.

Reached for comment after the election, the Latvian LGBT advocacy group Mozaika and Riga Pride released a joint statement saying they are thrilled with the election.

“We are thrilled about the fact that Edgars Rinkevics will be the next President of Latvia.  First and foremost, he is one of the most popular and professional politicians in Latvia, and with this election “he broke the glass ceiling.” He is an absolute inspiration to many young people and the LGBT community at large. 

“We are hopeful that he will stand behind his promise to have human rights and democracy as one of his priorities and we believe he will play an instrumental role to strengthen Latvia’s society and will make it safer not just for the LGBT community but for many vulnerable groups,” the groups say.

Pride parade in the Latvian capital city of Riga. (Photo Credit: Riga Pride/Facebook)

Not everyone has been so thrilled. Former Member of the European Parliament Andrejs Mamikins, tweeted that “God will no longer bless Latvia,” in response to the election.

“Today, godlessness won the presidential election in Latvia. Disgrace and misery @edgarsrinkevics,” he wrote. 

Latvian TV reports that the State Police have opened an investigation into Mamikins’ post for possible violations of the law banning incitement to hatred. 

Latvia, a deeply conservative Baltic nation of about 1.8 million people about one-third of whom are Russian-speakers, regained its independence amid the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since that time, it has taken a stridently pro-Western political orientation, including joining NATO, the European Union, and the Eurozone. 

But the country’s political elite has never warmly embraced LGBT rights. According to ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Index 2023, Latvia scored only 22% on a list of legislated rights for LGBT people, placing it 37th among 49 ranked countries.

Latvia’s neighbors on the Baltic Sea have also been slow to advance LGBT rights, although Estonia’s government is expected to advance a same-sex marriage bill in Parliament next week, and Lithuania’s parliament passed a civil union bill through a second reading vote in May.

While openly gay and lesbian people have served as prime minister of several other EU countries – including Ireland’s Leo Varadkar, Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel, and Belgium’s Elio Di Rupo – Rinkēvičs will be the first gay person to hold the role of head of state of an EU country. The only other openly gay head of state in modern history was Paolo Rondelli, who was one of the two Captains Regent of the microstate San Marino for six months in 2022.

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Rob Salerno is a writer, journalist and actor based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Dutch ambassador to U.S. reaffirms country’s commitment to LGBTQ+, intersex rights

Amsterdam Rainbow Dress displayed at Lincoln Memorial on Monday

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André Haspels (Photo courtesy of the Dutch Embassy)

WASHINGTON — Dutch Ambassador to the U.S. André Haspels on Tuesday said the Netherlands remains committed to LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in his country and around the world.

Haspels spoke with the Washington Blade a day after the embassy, the Capital Pride Alliance and the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation showcased the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress at the Lincoln Memorial.

The dress, which has a 52′ circumference, contains the flags of the 68 countries in which consensual same-sex consensual relations remain criminalized. 

The Netherlands in 2001 became the first country in the world to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. The dress’ bodice, which is made with Amsterdam’s city flag, commemorates this watershed moment in the global LGBTQ+ and intersex rights movement.

A press release from the Dutch Embassy notes the dress was made in 2016 and was first displayed at Rotterdam Pride. 

Models in the U.S., Spain, South Africa, Greece, Australia and other countries have worn it. Makia Green, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights activist, and Vagenesis, a drag performer and advocate, wore the dress while it was in D.C.

“We invited the Rainbow Dress to come over to the United States, to Washington, to show our support for LGBTIQ+ rights worldwide,” said Haspels. “What better location is there in front of the Lincoln Memorial, because LGBTIQ+ rights are part of a broader aspect of human rights.”

“The main issue is to focus on the importance of LGBTQI rights, and also understanding and promoting the fact that it is important to ensure freedom for everyone to decide whom they want to love and to identify and whom they want to identify with as they wish,” he added. “That’s our goal for the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress.”

The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress in D.C. on May 15, 2023. (Photo by Stephen Voss)

Haspels spoke with the Blade a day before the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Kyiv Pride on Wednesday noted its staffers visited the Dutch Embassy in the Ukrainian capital, “where the flag of the LGBTIQ+ community was solemnly raised in honor of the Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.”

“This was an extremely important event for our community,” tweeted Kyiv Pride.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on May 4 met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and other members of his government while he was in the country. Zelenskyy also visited the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The ICC in March issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova. The Netherlands-based court accuses them of abducting children from Ukraine. 

“It is important to continue to support Ukraine in many different ways,” Haspels told the Blade. “We continue to support them with military aid, with rehabilitation aid. We also receive refugees from Ukraine.”

Haspels said his government continues to gather “information about war crimes to make sure those who are responsible for this terrible war will be held accountable.” He also said the Netherlands continues to “welcome all Ukrainians, irrespective of their backgrounds, and who they are.”

“They are most welcome,” said Haspels.

The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress in D.C. on May 15, 2023. (Photo by Stephen Voss)

Haspels noted WorldPride 2026 will take place in Amsterdam. (The biennial event will take place in D.C. in 2025.) 

The Netherlands is a member of the Global Equality Fund, a U.S. initiative that seeks to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world. Haspels pointed out to the Blade that his country also works with the European Union on these issues, and has invited activists from Uganda and other countries to the Netherlands.

Ugandan lawmakers earlier this month once again approved their country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.” The Netherlands is among the countries that have urged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to veto the bill.

“We have to be honest, it’s not always an easy environment,” Haspels told the Blade in response to a question about the Anti-Homosexuality Act and supporting LGBTQ and intersex activists and rights around the world. “Sometimes you have to be cautious also not to bring people, in this case, Ugandan people, into danger.”

“It’s not easy, but we have no alternative than to continue focusing on these rights and strive for improvement,” he added.

‘We also can improve’

The Netherlands received a 56 percent score in the annual ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map and Index report that the European LGBTQ and intersex rights group last week. ILGA-Europe made three specific recommendations to the Dutch government.

         • Prohibiting medical interventions on intersex minors when the intervention has no medical necessity and can be avoided or postponed until the person can provide informed consent. 

         • Reforming the legal framework for legal gender recognition to be fair, transparent, based on a process of self-determination and free from abusive requirements (such as GID/medical diagnosis or age restriction.) 

         • Banning so-called “conversion practices” on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Haspels acknowledged his government can do more to extend rights to LGBTQ and intersex people.

“There’s the law, and there’s the rules and regulations, which are very important,” he said. “We also can improve.”

Haspels noted there is “still a lot of legislation in preparation in order to improve the situation.” Haspels also specifically pointed to violence against LGBTQ and intersex rights activists where the “police did not act responsibly.”

“We’re struggling with that,” he said.

“There’s scope for improvement for my country as well, but again, I think the most important thing is to bring it out in the open, to start a discussion,” added Haspels. “That’s also the idea of the Rainbow Dress, and we’re also working together with United States. Also there in the United States, things can still be improved … We follow closely what’s going on in other countries, but the most important thing is to have a dialogue.”

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