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LGBT ‘Free Zones’ tossed, UK LGBTQ ranking, Pussy Riot singer escapes

A look at top LGBTQ+ stories from Europe & the UK this week as a court rules against bigotry, the UK falters, plus a true-to life spy novel

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Sopot, Poland vice-mayor (right) Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim and LGBTQ marchers (Photo credit:Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim)

LONDON – LGBTQ+ news from Europe this past week saw a major development in Poland after a Provincial Administrative Court annulled actions taken previously to declare ‘LGBT Free Zones’ by provincial governments.

Large parts of Poland were labelled “LGBT-free zones”, where regional governments declared they were against LGBT ideology. Last fall the executive branch of the European Union, the European Commission, sent letters out last week to the governors of five of Poland’s voivodeships, (provinces) warning that pandemic relief funds totaling over 126 million euros ($150 million) will be withheld over anti-LGBTQ measures passed in their jurisdictions.

Poland has seen a resurgence in the past three years of rightwing religious ultra-conservative groups backed by nationalistic extremists in this heavily Catholic country of 38 million, which have led to passage of measures to restrict pride parades and other LGBTQ+-friendly events from taking place.

Proponents of these measures claim the necessity of the provinces to be “free of LGBTQ ideology” saying this is mandated by average Poles as well as by the anti-LGBTQ+ views of the Catholic Church.

The majority of Polish people support LGBTQ+ rights surrounding marriage and family, according to research by Miłość Nie Wyklucza (Love Does Not Exclude). 

The survey found 56% of respondents believe same-sex marriage should be legal to ensure the safety of their children. Even more, 65%, said they felt “a biological parent raising a child with a same-sex partner” fits the definition of family. And 58% of people said a same-sex couple is a family even without children. 

Lublin Regional Assembly passed a resolution in April 2019 declaring that LGBTQ+ rights aim to “annihilate” the “values shaped by the Catholic Church” PinkNewsUK reported.

In the same month, Ryki County, a district in Lublin, passed a resolution voting to protect “children, young people, families and Polish schools” from an apparent wave of “homoterror” being unleashed by “left-liberal groups”.

PinkNewsUK also reported that the Provincial Administrative Court in Lublin found the resolutions were “adopted without legal basis and in gross violation of the law” after a legal challenge by the Polish Ombudsman.

They become the eighth and ninth “LGBT-free zones” voided by the courts following interventions by the Polish Ombudsman. Municipal councils in Istebna, Klwów, Serniki, Osiek, Lipinki, Niebylec and the Tarnowski County Council all scrapped such measures in 2019.

This past June, the leaders of 17 European Union countries had signed a letter that urges the EU to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The EU has also called out the anti-LGBTQ measures taken more recently in Hungry.

ILGA-Europe, a Brussels based advocacy group promoting the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, at the European level, in a statement it sent to the Blade in June after the EU letter was issued, notes that both Hungary and Poland, another EU country in which lawmakers have sought to restrict LGBTQ rights in recent years are at odds with the EU position on LGBTQ+ people.

“For quite some time now, we’ve been informing EU ministers about systematic breaches of EU law committed by Hungary and Poland, which impact on LGBTI rights and the lives of LGBTI people,” says ILGA-Europe.

The UK has dropped to 14th in the ILGA Rainbow Europe’s rankings for LGBTQ+ rights, scoring 53 out of a possible 100

ILGA-Europe, which produces a yearly “rainbow map” of 49 countries across Europe, revealed this past week that the United Kingdom had the most significant drop in ranking for LGBTQ+ equality rights this past year falling from 10th to 14th place.

Leading contributors to the loss in ranking and standing on the ILGA annual listing was due in part to the ongoing battles over transgender rights with a failure by the Tory-led government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to set gender recognition policies especially in regard to a total ban on LGBTQ+ conversion therapy.

ILGA-Europe’s advocacy director, Katrin Hugendubel, described the UK’s plunging status to The Guardian UK newspaper as “a sad reminder that when governments don’t stand strong on their commitments to advance minority rights, a powerful opposition can use that space to spread hate and division”.

The chief executive of Stonewall UK, Nancy Kelley, warned that “years of progress on LGBTQ+ policy that was achieved under successive administrations has been rapidly eroded by a UK government that has taken its foot off the pedal”.

The ILGA highlighted the UK government’s failure to extend a ban on conversion practices to transgender people, as well as abandonment of promised reforms on gender recognition and its equality action plan. It added that the UK also lost points because the government’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was “not … effectively protecting on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” the Guardian reported.

 Stonewall’s Kelley called on the prime minister to “step back into the game” as a leader in protecting and promoting LGBTQ+ rights.

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first Pride in the UK, we call for his active leadership to rebuild our human rights institutions and to deliver a strategic policy programme that enables all LGBTQ+ people in the UK to live their lives in freedom and safety.”

Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot escaped from Russia disguised as a food delivery worker

In what could be best described as a story worthy of a Cold-War era spy novel, the leader of the Russian activist band Pussy Riot fled Russia disguised as a food-delivery worker. Maria V. Alyokhina said in an interview with the New York Times that she was able to get to her girlfriend’s home in Vilnius, Lithuania after evading Russian Federal Security Services agents.

The queer singer-songwriter musician and human rights activist who was on house arrest at the time of her escape was set to be transferred to a penal colony in the Russian Far East after being arrested six times in the past year protesting the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and more recently his order for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to the account in the NY Times, Alyokhina left her apartment in the food-delivery worker disguise, and an unnamed friend drove her to the Belarusian border. The problem then became exiting from Belarus to Lithuania as she was turned away at the border twice by Lithuanian border agents.

The Times reported that Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson eventually helped Alyokhina acquire the necessary travel documents from an unnamed country that in turn assisted her entering into Lithuania — where many Pussy Riot members had already escaped to, including Alyokhina’s girlfriend, Lucy Shtein.

The band has now kicked off their European tour in Berlin.

Pussy Riot concert with activist after escape from Russia

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Europe

Trans man attacked during Pride event in Germany dies

Malte C. defended two women from harassment

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Malte C. (Photo courtesy of Trans*-Inter*-Münster)

MÜNSTER, Germany — A Transgender man who was attacked at a Pride event in Germany last weekend has died.

Deutsche Welle reported Malte C. on Aug. 27 was defending two women at a Pride event in Münster, a city in western Germany, from a man who was harassing them. The man then began to punch Malte C. Deutsche Welle reported Malte C. fell to the ground and lost consciousness.

Trans*-Inter*-Münster, a local advocacy group who said Malte C. was one of its members, in a Facebook post said he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and had been in a coma at a hospital. 

Malte C. died on Friday.

Deutsche Welle reported police have detained the man suspected of attacking Malte C.

“We are shocked and saddened,” said Trans*-Inter*Münster in its Facebook post. 

The Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany (Lesben- und Schwulenverbandes in Deutschland in German) also condemned the murder.

“This misanthropic attack is an anti-queer hate crime that makes us angry and saddened,” said Andre Lehmann, a member of the Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany’s national board of directors, in a statement. “We call on the investigating authorities to immediately name and classify this act as an anti-LGBTI hate crime.”

“The attack was not triggered by the young man’s efforts to mediate, as stated in a joint press release by the Münster police and public prosecutor’s office today, but by the deeply inhumane attitude of the perpetrator,” added Lehmann. “This act shows once again how much we need action plans against transphobia and homophobia.”

Sven Lehmann, the German government’s queer commissioner, is among those who also expressed outrage over Malte C’s murder.

“Malte died after a hate attack at CSD (Christopher Street Day) Münster. I am stunned and sad ,” tweeted Sven Lehmann. “My condolences and deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. Violence against queer people is a threat we all need to confront.”

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The Vatican

Vatican newspaper: Pope Francis meets with trans folk sheltered in church

L’Osservatore Romano noted that the pope previously met with some of the transgender residents sheltering in the church

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Screenshot/YouTube Weekly papal audience via EWTN Europe

ROME – The Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported that during the Pope’s weekly audience in St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with a fourth group of transgender people who are staying in a church on the outskirts of The Eternal City.

Sister Genevieve Jeanningros and the Rev. Andrea Conocchia told  L’Osservatore Romano that this was the fourth papal audience since The Blessed Immaculate Virgin community in the Torvaianica neighborhood of the Roman suburbs opened its doors to transgender people during the coronavirus pandemic.

L’Osservatore Romano noted that the pope previously met with some of the transgender residents sheltering in the church on April 27, June 22 and Aug. 3. “No one should encounter injustice or be thrown away, everyone has dignity of being a child of God,” the paper quoted Sister Jeanningros as saying.

Francis has earned praise from some members of the LBGTQ community for his outreach. When asked in 2013 about a purportedly gay priest, he replied, “Who am I to judge?” He has met individually and in groups with transgender people over the course of his pontificate the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

But he has strongly opposed “gender theory” and has not changed church teaching that holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” In 2021, he allowed publication of a Vatican document asserting that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions since “God cannot bless sin,” the AP noted.

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Europe

U.S. diplomat praises Germany policy towards Ukraine

Embassy Cultural Attaché Cherrie Daniels spoke with Blade on July 22

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Cherrie Daniels, the cultural attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Germany. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Germany)

BERLIN — The cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Germany has applauded the German government’s efforts to welcome Ukrainians who have sought refuge in the country.

“The German government and the municipalities and the 16 states have been extremely welcoming of Ukrainian refugees in Germany,” Cherrie Daniels told the Washington Blade on July 22 during a virtual interview from the embassy in Berlin.

More than 900,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Germany since the war began on Feb. 24.

Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa. 

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

Dmitry Shapoval, a 24-year-old gay man from Ukraine who lives with HIV, is among the LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians who have found refuge in Berlin. The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Refuge has partnered with Airbnb.org and Alight (formerly known as the American Refugee Committee), to provide short-term and more permanent housing to Shapoval and other LGBTQ+ and intersex Ukrainians and other displaced people in Germany and other countries in Europe.

Ukrainians, Russians, Iranians, Syrians, Algerians, Ghanaians and people from more than a dozen other countries attended a roundtable on LGBTQ+ and intersex refugees the embassy co-hosted with the Canadian Embassy in Germany on July 19. ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth and representatives of Germany’s Lesbian and Gay Association, Queer Refugees Deutschland, Human Rights Watch, Quarteera and Miles also participated. 

“We can and must promote the protection of vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers,” said U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann. “These people are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable and we can and we must respond to human rights abuses. And we can and we must engage international organizations on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

Daniels said one of the issues roundtable participants discussed was “making sure that asylees get appropriate legal counseling before their asylum hearing.”

“Every country, including the United States and Germany, could do better,” she told the Blade.

Daniels added the roundtable’s overall goal was “to listen to what (participants’) challenges are in the countries they come from.”

“Our job is to listen to what those challenges are and see what our embassies in those regions or what the State Department at-large in the White House can do to support their additional inclusion and equal rights for them,” she said.

Daniels spoke with the Blade a day before Berlin’s annual Christopher Street Day parade took place.

The embassy, which is adjacent to Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. was flying several Progress Pride flags in the days leading up to the parade. The canopy over the embassy’s main entrance was also adorned in rainbow colors.

The Progress Pride flag flies in front of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin on July 22, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The embassy — along with the U.S. Consulates in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Leipzig, Hamburg and Munich — on July 6 hosted a discussion about LGBTQ+ and intersex issues in sports. Former Washington Spirit player Joanna Lohman, Portland Thorns coach Nadine Angerer and former German soccer player Marcus Urban participated.

Lohman is a lesbian, while Angerer and Urban are openly bisexual and gay respectively.

The embassy has also launched “UnterFreunden,” a podcast with an episode that highlights LGBTQ+ and intersex issues.

“What we wanted to assure is that we don’t only celebrate Pride during Pride Month, in June or July in Germany,” Jesse George, the embassy’s public diplomacy and media advisor, told the Blade during the interview with Daniels. “So we are amplifying and doing outreach regarding the LGBTQI+ community all year long.”

Viktoriya, a woman from northern Ukraine who is completing her PhD in Berlin, marches in the Christopher Street Day parade on July 23, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

President Joe Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. The White House in the same year named Jessica Stern, who was previously the executive director of OutRight Action International, as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.

The State Department in April began to issue passports with “X” gender markers. Stern during an exclusive interview with the Blade ahead of Pride Month noted the Biden administration’s continued support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad also includes marriage equality in counties where activists say it is possible through legislative or judicial processes.

“When together we stand up for LGBTQI+ persons, we stand up for the work of building a country and a world where everyone belongs and everyone’s rights are respected, no matter who they are or who they love,” said Gutmann during the July 19 reception.

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 struck down Roe v. Wade. 

Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurrent opinion said the Supreme Court should reconsider the decisions in the Obergefell and Lawrence cases that extended marriage equality to same-sex couples and the right to private, consensual sex. 

The Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify marriage equality into federal law, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last month with 47 Republicans voting in favor of it. The bill needs 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to overcome a potential filibuster.

Daniels said the Roe ruling is “definitely” on the minds of LGBTQ+ and intersex activists in Germany and “on our mind.”

“What we can do as an administration is to stand in solidarity with those marginalized communities and, of course, for women’s and girls’ rights and for reproductive rights globally,” she said. “That is something we can do as a State Department, as a foreign policy agency.”

Richard Grenell represented U.S. in Berlin from 2018-2020

Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who is openly gay, represented the U.S. in Berlin from 2018-2020.

The previous administration tapped Grenell to lead an initiative that encourages countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. The Blade last August filed a lawsuit against the State Department in federal court in D.C. that seeks Grenell’s emails about the initiative.

The embassy during Grenell’s ambassadorship hosted a group of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights activists from around the world. Grenell and then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft in 2019 organized an event on the sidelines of a U.N. Security Council meeting that focused on decriminalization efforts around the world.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell (Photo public domain)

Grenell, among other things, faced condemnation from politicians in Germany who accused him of supporting far-right politicians and attempting to interfere in German politics. Advocacy groups in the U.S. and around the world also sharply criticized Grenell over his outspoken support of then-President Donald Trump.

Daniels did not specifically discuss Grenell during the interview. Daniels said in reference to the embassy’s work in support of LGBTQ and intersex rights that “people had been invited to the embassy in that period for certain public events.”

“Now having our doors wide open and showing this inclusive face of the United States, you know, I’ll let other people draw that contrast,” she said.

“In these four walls so to speak, we’re hearing, we’re listening and steering to the extent we can, sharing our policies and programs in a way that will address how can we improve that message of inclusion and of equal rights as LGBTQ rights or human rights,” added Daniels. “It’s not some niche issue. It’s mainstreamed into all of our policies.” 

Daniels further stressed “that’s a difference that you’re going to see.”

“Again, it’s not flying the flag on Pride Month, although that’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s fighting for those rights, and all of our programs and all of our outreach and ensuring that that’s human rights. It’s not something that’s just for a particular, you know, trying to show that we do it. I think people can feel that inclusion when they’re in the company of this embassy.” 

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