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Slovenian Constitutional Court rules same-sex couples can marry, adopt

Country’s voters in 2015 rejected marriage equality law



(Image by AlexLMX via Bigstock)

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Same-sex couples in Slovenia can now marry and adopt children after the country’s Constitutional Court on Friday ruled a law that limits marriage and adoption to heterosexual partners is unconstitutional.

Media reports indicate the court ordered the Slovenian National Assembly to amend the law within six months.

Slovenian voters in 2015 overwhelmingly rejected a law that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil unions since 2017.

Neighboring Austria is among the European countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

Switzerland’s marriage equality law took effect on July 1. Slovenia is the first former Yugoslav republic to allow same-sex couples to marry.

“We welcome (the) Slovenia Constitutional Court decision that a marriage is a life union of two persons, regardless of gender and that same-sex partners can jointly adopt,” tweeted ILGA-Europe on Friday. “We urge the Slovenian government to ratify the decision ASAP so the (sic) equality can prevail.”

The Vatican

Pope Francis: Criminalization laws are ‘unjust’

Pontiff told AP that homosexuality is not a crime



Pope Francis (Bigstock photo)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Tuesday said homosexuality is not a crime and laws that criminalize it are “unjust.”

“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” Francis told the Associated Press during an exclusive interview.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in nearly 70 countries around the world, and Francis acknowledged some Catholic bishops support criminalization laws and other statutes that discriminate against LGBTQ+ and intersex people. The Associated Press notes Francis said cultural backgrounds contribute to these attitudes, and stressed “bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.”

“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” said Francis. “[They should apply] tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

Francis’ comments are the latest indication of how the Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has softened since he 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.

Francis in 2013 said gay men and lesbians should not be marginalized. The pontiff three years later said the Roman Catholic Church should “ask forgiveness” from gay people over the way it has treated them. Francis 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. The Associated Press reported that Francis referred to LGBTQ+ and intersex issues within the context of “sin.”

“Pope Francis denounced laws in nearly 70 countries that criminalize LGBTQ people and called on the Roman Catholic Church to take an active role in repealing those laws,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “His historic statement should send a message to world leaders and millions of Catholics around the world: LGBTQ people deserve to live in a world without violence and condemnation, and more kindness and understanding. Other influential voices in faith, government, business, sports and entertainment should now similarly speak out on outdated laws that criminalize the lives and relationships of LGBTQ people and that negatively impact travel and business in these countries.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an LGBTQ+ and intersex Catholic organization, echoed Ellis.

“World leaders and legislators in many, many countries pay attention to what Catholic officials say,” said Duddy-Burke in a statement. “The Vatican’s support of criminalizing homosexuality has made life very dangerous for countless gay people in countries on nearly every continent. Shifting the stance and pushing for an end to making queer identity illegal will make life safer for many people around the world.”

Esteban Paulón, an LGBTQ+ and intersex activist in Argentina, on Wednesday said he “celebrates” Francis’ condemnation of criminalization laws that include the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual relations. Paulón also agreed with Francis’ assertion that Catholic bishops support these statutes, but added the pontiff’s comments are “contradictory” because they don’t change Vatican doctrine.

“The don’t have any consequences because (the church) continues to consider us sinners,” said Paulón. “It does not represent a concrete change in questions of doctrine and action on the part of the Vatican state.”

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The Vatican

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI dies

Retired pontiff resigned in 2013



Pope Benedict XVI (Photo by hixnhix via Bigstock)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Saturday announced Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died at the age of 95.

Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said Benedict passed away at 9:34 a.m. local time (3:34 a.m. ET) at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican.

Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in Marktl Am Inn in Germany’s Bavaria state on April 16, 1927.

The Associated Press notes Benedict in his memoirs acknowledged his forced enlistment in the Hitler Youth in 1941 and his desertion from the German army just before the end of World War II.

Benedict and his brother, Georg, in 1951 were ordained as priests. He became Munich’s bishop in 1977 and then-Pope Paul VI in 1980 elevated him cardinal.

Benedict assumed the papacy on April 19, 2005, after Pope John Paul II died. Benedict on Feb. 11, 2013, became the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII stepped down from the papacy in 1415. His successor, Pope Francis II, on Wednesday said Benedict was “very ill.”

Benedict described gay men and lesbians as ‘intrinsically disordered’

Benedict as the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith enforced the Catholic Church’s moral doctrine.

He wrote in a 1986 letter that gay men and lesbians are “intrinsically disordered.” Benedict also said in the same document that gay organizations could no longer use church property.

Benedict described marriage rights for same-sex couples as “a manipulation of nature” and categorized marriage equality efforts around the world as a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity itself.” Activists during Benedict’s papacy also criticized the Vatican’s opposition to condom use as a way to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Benedict during his papacy faced scathing criticism over his handling of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The Vatican’s finances also came under scrutiny.

“Benedict’s approach to gay and lesbian issues was clearly hindered by the fact that he did not understand the human dimension of love and relationship that characterizes same-gender couples and individuals,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based organization that ministers to LGBTQ+ and intersex Catholics, in a statement. “He relied on centuries-old, abstract philosophical and theological ideas instead of learning about more recent understandings of sexuality. Most importantly, he failed to listen to the lived experiences of real people.”  

“While clearly a man of faith seeking to act with good intentions; his resistance to engaging the lives, love and faith of actual human beings means he will be remembered as a church leader who did not listen pastorally to those the church serves,” added DeBernardo in his statement. “In contrast, Pope Francis, his successor, has called for pastoral leaders to be listeners and learners, particularly in ministry with those on the margins of church and society, such as LGBTQ+ people.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an LGBTQ+ and intersex Catholic organization, in her statement also acknowledged Benedict’s anti-LGBTQ+ legacy.

“The death of any human being is an occasion of sorrow. We pray for Pope Benedict’s soul and express our condolences to his family, friends and loved ones,” said Duddy-Burke. “However, his death also calls us to reflect honestly on his legacy. Benedict’s leadership in the church, as pope and before that as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), caused tremendous damage to LGBTQIA+ people and our loved ones. His words and writings forced our community out of Catholic churches, tore families apart, silenced our supporters and even cost lives. He refused to recognize even the most basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ people. Many of us experienced the most harsh and blatant religiously justified discrimination of our lives as a result of his policies.”

The Vatican says Benedict’s body will be in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday “so the faithful can pay their respects.” His funeral is expected to take place on Jan. 5.


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Ireland will criminalize incitement to hatred against trans people

The new legislation will repeal the previous incitement to hatred laws and is intended to make prosecutions easier



Photo credit: TENI - Transgender Equality Network Ireland/Facebook

DUBLIN – Helen McEntee, Ireland’s Minister for Justice, head of the nation’s Department of Justice, presented the Irish government with her approval on legislation that will criminalize incitement by any person to commit acts of hate against transgender people, those with disabilities, and acts condoning, denial or gross trivialization of genocide such as the Nazi holocaust and war crimes.

The Irish Times reported that the new legislation will repeal the previous incitement to hatred laws and is intended to make prosecutions easier. However, the bar for a prosecution remains high — a defendant must have deliberately intended to incite hatred or violence against a person on account of their protected characteristic and there are defense’s for a reasonable and genuine contribution to literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic debates.

A person who seeks to incite hatred against a person or group with one of these characteristics may be guilty of an offense which could carry a penalty of up to five years in prison, the Times noted.

The Times also reported that the Minister for Justice intends to include a “demonstration test” in the Bill, where guilt can be established if the perpetrator uses, for example, racial language or other evidence of hate against the victim. A demonstration test hinges on a perpetrator showing hostility towards someone with a “protected characteristic” at the time of an offence being committed. The Cabinet was told this could include the use of hostile or prejudiced slurs, gestures, other symbols or graffiti.

The public’s input/comment process for the legislation received around  around 4,000 responses and the Justice Department’s staff also consulted with outside leading experts with backgrounds in hate crimes, discrimination, and the LGBTQ+ community.

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Slovakian Parliament rejects same-sex registration for couples

The legislation did not give equal protections and rights such as marriage or civil unions and needed 76 votes to be passed



Slovakian Parliament (Photo Credit: Government of Slovakia)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – A proposal that would have codified the ability of same-sex couples in Slovakia to register their partnership, which would have granted inheritance rights, decisions regarding medical care, treatments and compensation in the event of death or injury at work, was rejected by the Slovakian Parliament this past week.

The legislation did not give equal protections and rights such as marriage or civil unions and needed 76 votes to be passed. The bill saw 50 parliamentarians vote in favour, 37 politicians vote against, 15 submitted a blank vote, and 31 did not vote at all.

Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová was critical of the outcome telling various media outlets the legislation was necessary to protect the “safety and acceptance of [our] fellow-citizens.” “We need to act,” she tweeted. “Our society is not threatened by the love of two people of the same sex or their partnership.”

The vote on the legislation occurred a few days after a vigil was held in the Slovakian capital city to honor the two victims killed and a third who was badly wounded in a shooting outside of the Tepláreň bar, a popular LGBTQ+ establishment in the old city, which was also attended by the nation’s president and the European Parliament’s Vice-President.

President Čaputová noted regarding the vote, “Our society is paying for indifference and insensitivity when even such a tragedy does not move a sufficient number of deputies to take the necessary and correct step.”

Opposition to granting rights to same-sex couples as well as opposition to LGBTQ equity in rights in the country is led by the far-right political groups including the Kresťanská únia (Christian Union).  Richard Vašečka, a party Member of Parliament told the Standard  his party promised before the last elections to protect marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

He added he is afraid that this law is only the start of an “avalanche” that ends with allowing the adoption of children by same-sex couples and punishing people for disagreeing with the LGBTQ agenda.

Vašečka stressed that he respects every person but is convinced that “every child deserves a father and a mother, and it is the best family space for raising children.”

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Montenegro’s 10th pride held despite strong opposition & protests

The country’s government backed Pride in recent years & approved same-sex partnerships in 2020 as it seeks membership in the European Union



Montenegro Pride in October of 2021 (Photo Credit: Montenegro Pride/Facebook)

PODGORICA, Montenegro – Despite strong opposition from the powerful  Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro joined by pro-Serbian self labeled traditional values and family officials, Montenegro Pride was held with over 500 people in attendance marching Saturday.

Montenegro’s 10th annual pride event in this extremely conservative Balkan country was dubbed “No more buts,” reflecting demands from LGBTQ+ activists that more be done to stem hate speech and harassment of the nation’s LGBTQ community despite huge steps that have been made in the past years Voice of America reported.

Support for the Montenegrin LGBTQ+ community was also expressed by the U.S. Embassy which tweeted “In honor of #MontenegroPride and the #LGBTQI community in Montenegro the U.S. Embassy is illuminated with the rainbow colors! Happy Pride! #nemaviseali

“We gathered here for the 10th time to show we are human, (that we are) live beings made of flesh and blood, wishes and dreams, but rejected and ignored, discriminated and trampled upon because of love,” LGBTQ+/Human rights activist Stasa Bastrica told Voice of America.

The country’s government and elected officials have backed pride events in recent years and approved same-sex partnerships in 2020 as the country seeks membership in the European Union.

Bastrica pointed out while speaking with a reporter from VOA, the church and other conservative forces in Montenegro have fueled hatred against LGBTQ community by “making us the main enemy of the majority and … insanely blaming us for the disappearance of marriage, family (values) and sometimes natural disasters, and all in the name of God.”

Another activist, Danijel Kalezic said Friday’s Serbian Orthodox church-led gathering opposing the Pride March and LGBTQ+ rights in general illustrated the divisions in Montenegro. He insisted that the LGBTQ community will not give up their demands.

“We don’t want them (officials) to come here and take photos with us,” Kalezic said. “We want results. No more buts!”

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Trans man attacked during Pride event in Germany dies

Malte C. defended two women from harassment



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



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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U.S. diplomat praises Germany policy towards Ukraine

Embassy Cultural Attaché Cherrie Daniels spoke with Blade on July 22



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 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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“I feel very secure here,” LGBTQ+ Ukrainians take refuge in Berlin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight anti-LGBTQ and anti-intersex discrimination



Dmitry Shapoval, 24, is a gay Ukrainian man with HIV. He fled his country in March and now lives in Berlin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BERLIN — Dmitry Shapoval is a 24-year-old gay man from Ukraine who lives with HIV.

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

Shapoval now lives in Berlin with his cat Peach and has begun the process of resettling in Germany.

“I feel very secure here,” Shapoval told the Washington Blade on July 22 during an interview at Berlin’s Palais Populaire by Deutsche Bank on the city’s Unter den Linden boulevard.

Shapoval is one of the more than 900,000 Ukrainians who have arrived in Germany since the war began. 

Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa, and 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. 

Anastasiia Baraniuk and her partner, Yulia Mulyukina, were living together in Dnipro, a city on the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, when the war began. 

Mulyukina, who is from Russia, was living in Moscow when she and Baraniuk began to talk online. Mulyukina traveled to Lviv in western Ukraine via Istanbul to meet Baraniuk, who is a Ukrainian citizen.

Mulyukina on July 22 told the Blade at Palais Populaire that she asked the Russian Embassy in Kyiv for help when the war began. Mulyukina said officials suggested that she “ask Ukraine what to do.”

“I was really shocked that my own country, with this idea of bringing peace, bringing quiet to Ukraine, just rejected me entirely,” she said in Russian as Shapoval translated.

Baraniuk, who also spoke with the Blade in Russian, said the Ukrainian government and a local NGO provided them with food and money. 

The couple had planned to stay in Ukraine, but they decided to leave after Mulyukina “heard five explosions” while she was walking to a store. The two women’s friends gave them money to buy train tickets to Poland.

Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, helped Baraniuk and Mulyukina and their cat enter Poland. They spent a week there before they arrived in Berlin on April 28.

Shapoval met them when they arrived at the train station.

From left: Yulia Mulyukina and Anastasiia Baraniuk fled their home in Dniper, Ukraine, in April. They now live in Berlin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Shapoval, Baraniuk and Mulyukina are among those who attended a reception that took place at the end of a two-day meeting the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration organized that took place in Berlin from July 21-22.

Activists from Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy and the U.S. attended the gathering that had a stated goal of starting “the conversation about long-term/mid-term needs and solutions for LGBTIQ Ukrainians and incite collaboration among stakeholders working with LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third-country nationals.” 

“We were thrilled to bring together activists and human rights defenders from 10 countries and 20 organizations to develop medium and long-term strategies to support displaced LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third country nationals,” ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth told the Blade after the meeting. “All these organizations, including ORAM, have done an amazing job getting emergency support and services to LGBTIQ Ukrainians in need. As the war in Ukraine drags on, it’s more important than ever for organizations to coordinate efforts and plan for supporting longer term needs. This two-day roundtable in Berlin was a great step in that direction.”

ORAM has partnered with and Alight (formerly known as the American Refugee Committee) to provide more than 1,000 nights of short-term housing to LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians and other displaced people in Germany and other countries in Europe. Shapoval, Baraniuk and Mulyukina are among those who live in such apartments.

Roth noted ORAM has begun to develop “a housing collective” for LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians in Berlin. He said ORAM rents the apartments in which the refugees can live for up to six months, “allowing them to register in Berlin, access social welfare and other services.” 

“Safe and secure housing is one of the most urgent needs facing displaced LGBTIQ Ukrainians,” Roth told the Blade. “It’s an essential element in getting settled and rebuilding lives.”

Berlin Pride shows solidarity with Ukraine

The meeting ended a day before the annual Christopher Street Day parade took place in Berlin.

Baraniuk helped carry ORAM’s banner during the parade, while Mulyukina took pictures for the organization.

Anastasiia Baraniuk marches in the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin on July 23, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers

‘Stop Russian aggression’

Kyiv Pride Executive Director Lenny Emson is one of the LGBTQ and intersex activists from Ukraine who participated in the ORAM meeting and in the parade.

He told the Blade before the parade began that he took several trains from Kyiv to Poland before he flew to Berlin. Emson said the trip took two days.

“I understand that it is a safe ground, but I still have those flashbacks,” Emson told the Blade as he smoked a cigarette in front of a hotel near the parade staging area. “When you were sitting in the conference room and I saw something that reminds me of an air raid siren I was getting a panic attack. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a safe place.” 

Emson also took issue with parade organizers’ opposition to war.

“Unfortunately, we as the Ukrainian community here (are) very disappointed with the motto that Berlin Pride put on the main stage: No war,” said Emson. “This doesn’t reflect the feelings that we have right now.”

“We would like to actually say it loud: Stop Russian aggression,” he added. “We need action right nowWe need to stop it. We need to stop Russian aggression. We need to stop it right now.”

A group of marchers held a blue and yellow — the colors of Ukraine’s flag — banner that read “Arm Ukraine: Make Pride in Mariupol possible” while others simply carried the Ukrainian flag.

A man carried a homemade sign that read “Arm Ukraine: Make Pride in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Zaporizha, Kryvyi Rih possible again.” Viktoriya, a woman from northern Ukraine who is now pursuing her Ph.D. in Berlin, held a cardboard poster that noted her homeland’s “queer soldiers are fighting for all of us.”

“I’m marching for both rights of queer people and rights of Ukrainians: The right to live and the right for love,” she said as she marched toward Potsdamer Platz in the center of Berlin.

Ukrainian LGBTQ and intersex activists march in the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin on July 23, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity were commonplace in Ukraine before the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight anti-LGBTQ and anti-intersex discrimination after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House. 

Shapoval, who is dating a man he met last October when he traveled to Berlin, told the Blade that he received “looks” in Kyiv if he wore a pink shirt.

He was wearing a pair of purple sneakers during the interview. Shapoval said he would not have been comfortable wearing them if he were still in Kyiv.

“For me it was even harder because I had misery in Ukraine because of homophobes,” he said. “Even the gay community is so toxic in Ukraine because it’s all about toxic masculinity and all of that … I also had some experiences where gays were like, ‘Oh my gosh just cut your hair and then we will get in touch with you.’”

Shapoval has begun the process of applying for German residency. 

“I fell in love with the city right from the beginning,” he said. “I found friends here.”

Hafen, a gay bar in Berlin’s Schöneberg neighborhood, shows its solidarity with LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
Prinzknect, bar in Berlin’s Schöneberg neighborhood, shows its solidarity with LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians by selling Odesa mule — and not Moscow mule — cocktails (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, and others have noted transgender and gender non-conforming Ukrainians have not been able to leave the country because they cannot exempt themselves from military conscription. Another issue that LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians have faced as they attempt to resettle in another country is the lack of legal recognition of their relationships.

A marriage equality petition that Kyiv Pride submitted to Zelenskky on July 12 received more than 28,000 signatures, which is higher than the threshold that requires him to consider it. Ukrainian law requires Zelenskky to respond to it within 10 days of receiving it. 

Baraniuk and Mulyukina hope to resettle in the U.S. and Canada, but are unable to legally prove they are in a relationship. The U.S. has a marriage-based immigration system for bi-national couples, while the Canadian system requires them to be married or “common-law partners.”

The U.S. has approved Baraniuk’s resettlement request, but denied Mulyukina. 

They said the process to legally prove they are together is prohibitively expensive.”Right now we are looking for a way to get the proof that we are a couple,” said Baraniuk. “We don’t want to stay in Berlin.”

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Andorra lawmakers extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples

Lawmakers in Andorra on Thursday unanimously approved a new family code that will extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples



Andorra national flag/Bigstock

ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra — Lawmakers in Andorra on Thursday voted unanimously to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Andorra is a small country known for its ski areas that is nestled between Spain and France in the Pyrenees.

Media reports indicate the new Andorran family code that lawmakers approved eliminates the legal differences between married heterosexual couples and gays and lesbians who have entered into civil partnerships. 

“Today we are voting on a law for everyone, which includes all of us,” said Carles Enseñat, president of Andorra’s Democratic Parliamentary Group, before the vote. “[It is] a law of a modern country that ensures the free development of citizenship and bases its success on the most primordial organizational nucleus — the family — with all its diversity.”

Spain and France are among the European jurisdictions in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

The Slovenia Constitutional Court earlier this month ruled a law that limited marriage and adoption rights to heterosexual partners is unconstitutional. Switzerland’s marriage equality law took effect on July 1.

It is not immediately clear when Andorra’s new family code takes effect.

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