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Andorra’s prime minister comes out as gay

Xavier Espot Zamora spoke with country’s public broadcaster

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Andorran Prime Minister Xavier Espot Zamora. (Photo courtesy of the Andorran government)

ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra — Andorran Prime Minister Xavier Espot Zamora has come out as gay.

“I’m gay. I’ve never hid it,” he said during an interview with Radio and Television of Andorra, the country’s public broadcaster, on Monday. “Now, if I’m not asked I don’t have to say it, in the sense that it doesn’t define the entirety of who I am and even less my personal politics, but at the same time I think it shouldn’t be a problem to express it. And if this helps many children, young people or teenagers who are going through a difficult time see that in the end, regardless of their condition or sexual orientation, you can prosper in this country and reach the highest magistracy, then I am happy to express it.”

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

Espot has been prime minister since 2019. The country’s lawmakers in 2022 extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The prime minister is one of a handful of heads of state and government who are openly gay or lesbian.

Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs took office in July.

Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has been in office since 2013, while Ana Brnabić became Serbia’s prime minister in 2017. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is openly gay.

Deputy Belgian Prime Minister Petra De Sutter is a transgender woman.

Then-Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir in 2009 became the world’s first openly LGBTQ+ head of government.

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The Vatican

Pope Francis expresses openness to blessings for same-sex unions

Pontiff vehemently opposed marriage equality in native Argentina

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has said he is open to the possibility that the Catholic Church would allow blessings for same-sex unions. 

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on Monday released a letter that Francis wrote to five cardinals who urged him to reaffirm church teaching on homosexuality ahead of this week’s Synod on Synodality, a meeting during which LGBTQ+ Catholics, women in the church and other issues will be discussed.  

Francis wrote the letter on July 11.

The Associated Press reported Francis said “such (same-sex) blessings could be studied if they didn’t confuse the blessing with sacramental marriage.”

“This new step, outlined in a document released on Oct. 2 by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, allows for pastoral ministers to administer such blessings on a case-by-case basis, advising that ‘pastoral prudence’ and ‘pastoral charity’ should guide any response to couples who request a blessing,” noted Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministrya Maryland-based organization that ministers to LGBTQ+ Catholics, on Monday in a press release. “It also indicates that permitting such blessings cannot be institutionalized by diocesan regulations, perhaps a reference to some dioceses in Germany where blessings are already taking place with official and explicit permission. ‘The life of the church,’ the pope writes, ‘runs through many channels in addition to the standard ones,’ indicating that respecting diverse and particular situations must take precedence over church law.”

DeBernardo in the same press release said the “allowance for pastoral ministers to bless same-gender couples implies that the church does indeed recognize that holy love can exist between same-gender couples, and the love of these couples mirrors the love of God.”

“Those recognitions, while not completely what LGBTQ+ Catholics would want, are an enormous advance towards fuller and more comprehensive equality,” he said. “This statement is one big straw towards breaking the camel’s back of the marginalized treatment LGBTQ+ people experience in the church.”

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

Francis has publicly endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples, and has said laws that criminalize homosexuality are “unjust.” Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity have nevertheless not changed under Francis’ papacy.

Francis earlier this year told a newspaper in his native Argentina that gender ideology as “one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations” because “it blurs differences and the value of men and women.” 

The pope was the archbishop of Buenos Aires when a law that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in Argentina took effect in 2010. Francis was among those who vehemently opposed the marriage equality bill before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it.

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Europe

Rikkie Valerie Kollé named Miss Netherlands 2023: Historic first

Rikkie Valerie Kollé was selected as Miss Netherlands and will represent her country at the 72nd Miss Universe pageant

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Rikkie Valerie Kollé being crowned Miss Netherlands 2023. (Photo courtesy Miss Universe Pageant)

LEUSDEN, Utrecht, the Netherlands – In a historic first for the beauty pageant where the finalist will go on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, the title and tiara of Miss Netherlands was awarded to a 22-year-old transgender woman on Saturday, July 8 at the AFAS Theater in Leusden.

Rikkie Valerie Kollé was selected as Miss Netherlands and will represent her country at the 72nd Miss Universe pageant set to take place in El Salvador later this year. Kollé, a Dutch-Moluccan model and actress living in Breda succeeds her predecessor, Ona Moody.

In a press release, pageant officials noted that Nathalie Mogbelzada, 26, from Amsterdam, was named first runner-up while Habiba Mostafa and Lou Dirchs were awarded Miss Congeniality and Miss Social Media, respectively.

Reigning Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel from the United States attended the glittering event as a special guest.

Kollé will be the second transgender representative at the Miss Universe pageant after Spain’s Angela Ponce who participated in 2018.

NPR reported the 71-year-old competition first began allowing transgender contestants in 2012.

More trans women have been competing in the preliminary pageants in recent years. In 2021, former Miss Nevada Kataluna Enriquez became the first trans contestant in a Miss USA pageant. Trans woman and activist Daniela Arroyo González will compete for this year’s Miss Universe Puerto Rico title next month.

Thai business mogul Anne Jakrajutatip, a trans activist who is also transgender, bought the Miss Universe Organization last year. She has said she’s committed to advancing the organization as an inclusive platform and wants to transform the brand for the next generation.

NPR also noted that Kollé has another chance to make history: If she takes the Miss Universe title in December, she would be the first out trans woman to do so.

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Europe

Turkish police detain dozens of Istanbul Pride march participants

Anti-LGBTQ crackdown expected to worsen after president re-elected

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A Pride flag hangs from a building in Istanbul on June 25, 2023. (Photo by Tuğçe Yılmaz via Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week's Twitter page)

ISTANBUL — Turkish police on Sunday detained dozens of people after they participated in an Istanbul Pride march.

Reuters reported police in riot gear blocked access to the city’s Istiklal Avenue and Taksim Square and limited access to public transportation in the area.

The news agency noted police detained at least 50 people. An activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Sunday said police took 60 “of our friends … into custody.”

“Two of the people the police unlawfully took from the streets to take statements are under the age of 18,” said the activist.

Turkish authorities over the last decade have cracked down on LGBTQ+ and intersex activists in the country.

Police in 2015 used tear gas and water cannons against people who were about to participate in an Istanbul Pride march. Authorities in 2017 arrested nearly two dozen people who defied a ban on Pride events in the city.

Police in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on May 10, 2019, arrested 18 students and an academic who participated in a Pride march at the Middle East Technical University. They faced up to three years in prison, but a court in 2021 acquitted them. Police in 2022 violently broke up a Pride parade at the same Ankara university.

The State Department in 2021 criticized Turkey after police once again used tear gas to disperse Istanbul Pride march participants. Security forces last June arrested more than 370 people who tried to participate in another Istanbul Pride march.  

The activist with whom the Blade spoke noted police in Izmir, the country’s third largest city, on Sunday detained at least 10 people who participated in a Pride march. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a former Istanbul mayor who has governed Turkey since 2003, won re-election on May 28. The activist and others across the country say they expect Erdoğan will further restrict on LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

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Europe

Iceland to ban conversion therapy

Country’s lawmakers passed bill on June 9

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The Icelandic Parliament in Reykjavík, Iceland. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

REYKJAVÍK, Iceland — Lawmakers in Iceland on June 9 approved a bill that will ban so-called conversion therapy in the country.

Media reports note 53 members of the Icelandic Parliament voted for the measure, while three MPs abstained. Hanna Katrín Friðriksson, an MP who is a member of the Liberal Reform Party, introduced the bill.

“This is a really important issue for all gay people and a step worth celebrating,” said Samtökin ’78, an Icelandic LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, after the vote. “There is no cure for being gay and any attempt to do so is violence. It’s so good that the government recognizes it with legislation.”

Malta, Cyprus, Brazil and Ecuador are among the other countries that ban conversion therapy.

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Ireland

14 year-old schoolboy brutally beaten in Ireland for being gay

The boy, who was hospitalized after the assault, suffered from a concussion, broken teeth and a shoe print on his forehead

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Students from Beaufort College post primary school in Navan, County Meath, Ireland leaving campus in 2022. (Photo Credit: Beaufort College/Facebook)

NAVAN, County Meath, Ireland – A thirty second video that circulated on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram this past week showed a young boy being jumped by a group of other young males, one punching the victim in the face, knocking him to the ground at which point the others joined in kicking and pummeling him.

A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána, the national police service of Ireland, told the Blade that the victim had been transported to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, where he was treated for serious facial injuries. The spokesperson also noted that the attack had taken place on Monday, May 15, 2023 at approximately 2.30 pm.

Some of the teens in the video are wearing school uniform jackets from Beaufort College, a post primary school in Navan, a medium-sized city located 54.3 km northwest of the Irish capital city of Dublin.

According to witnesses and in an interview with British LGBTQ+ Media outlet PinkNewsUK, the teen was attacked over his sexual orientation. A family member, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the victim had been verbally harassed since the beginning of the last term. “The whole family is aware of this, and that it’s been an ongoing issue,” the relative told PinkNewsUK.

The boy, who was hospitalized after the assault, suffered from a concussion, broken teeth and a shoe print on his forehead, the family member and the Garda confirmed.

A screenshot from the video on Twitter showing the moment the attack commenced.

“No 14-year-old should be beaten like that for anything at all, especially because of who he is. He is only a child and it happened across the road from a family member, where he was trying to get to, the family member told Irish media adding: “We are shocked, horrified and upset at what can happen in this day and age. It was a number of people against one boy, while others filmed it and posted it online. That is horrific and wrong.”

The Garda spokesperson confirmed that investigators are aware of the video online. “An Garda Síochána is aware of a video circulating on social media of this incident and out of respect for the victim in this case we would request that people refrain from sharing this video. An Garda Síochána is appealing to any person with information on the assault to contact Navan Garda Station at 046 9079930,” the spokesperson said.

The Irish Taoiseach, (prime minister), Leo Varadkar, who is openly gay himself, condemned the attack on the boy telling Irish media outlet RTÉ Radio 1 Wednesday that he hoped “everyone would condemn [the attack] utterly.” He added: “I want to send my solidarity to the person who was harmed and injured in this way. I would say to them that life does get better.

“It is very sad that people experience violence and bullying in school, but life does get better and I’d say not to give up. I would say how sad I am that in this day and age we still see this kind of bullying and violence in our schools.

“I understand there is a Garda investigation underway and that the victim has been treated for their injuries [and] I would ask anyone who has information to co-operate with the investigation.”

The Taoiseach also condemned the bystanders in the video who took no action to intervene and to stop the beating.

PinkNewsUK reported that five male teenagers were taken into custody by the Gardaí in Navan on Friday (19 May) and have been released without charge. 

A Gardaí spokesperson said: “Gardaí in Navan are continuing to investigate the assault of a teenage boy which occurred in Navan on Monday.

“Yesterday, Gardaí arrested five juvenile teenagers in the Navan area for alleged offences under Section 3 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1999. All five were detained under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 at Garda Stations in the Meath Region.

“The five juvenile teenagers were later released without charge and a file will be referred in the first instance for consideration for admission to the Juvenile Diversion Programme in accordance with Part 4 of the Children Act, 2001.”

Ireland has a reputation for being LGBTQ+ friendly according to Rainbow Europe – ILGA-Europe’s annual benchmarking tool. It shows the Republic of Ireland as in the upper tier of European nations, being scored in seven thematic categories: equality and non-discrimination; family; hate crime and hate speech; legal gender recognition; intersex bodily integrity; civil society space; and asylum.

A recent article by Dylan O’Sullivan writing for Queer Majority noted that Ireland is considered the 9th most gay-friendly country in the world, the fourth country to elect an openly gay head of state, the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, and the list goes on. And all this from a country that, as recently as 1993, considered homosexuality a criminal act.

Additional reporting by PinkNewsUK

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The Vatican

Pope Francis once again condemns gender ideology

Argentina newspaper published interview with pontiff on March 10

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis earlier this month said gender ideology is “one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations” in the world today.

“Gender ideology, today, is one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations,” Francis told La Nación, an Argentine newspaper, in an interview that was published on March 10. “Why is it dangerous? Because it blurs differences and the value of men and women.”

“All humanity is the tension of differences,” added the pontiff. “It is to grow through the tension of differences. The question of gender is diluting the differences and making the world the same, all dull, all alike, and that is contrary to the human vocation.”

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

Francis publicly backs civil unions for same-sex couples, and has described laws that criminalize homosexuality are “unjust.” Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity have nevertheless not changed since Francis became pope.

Francis told La Nación that he talks about gender ideology “because some people are a bit naive and believe that it is the way to progress.” The Catholic News Agency further notes Francis also said these people “do not distinguish what is respect for sexual diversity or diverse sexual preferences from what is already an anthropology of gender, which is extremely dangerous because it eliminates differences, and that erases humanity, the richness of humanity, both personal, cultural, and social, the diversities and the tensions between differences.”

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Europe

ILGA-Europe: New program for racialized LGBTQ+ communities

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

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Photo Credit: ILGA-Europe

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

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

The program has two interconnected components:

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

The aim of this program is to:

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

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

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

In a statement, ILGA-Europe said:

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

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

Key information & details:

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

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

Deadline & Timeline:

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

Questions?

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

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

Call for Applications DOWNLOAD

Application Form DOWNLOAD

Budget Template DOWNLOAD

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The Vatican

Activists around the world welcome Pope Francis’ decriminalization comments

Church teaching about homosexuality remains unchanged

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homosexuality is the ‘real sin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Vatican

Pope Francis: Criminalization laws are ‘unjust’

Pontiff told AP that homosexuality is not a crime

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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

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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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