Biggest, Best & Worst LGBT Religion Stories of 2016 and more in Global LGBT Recap

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At People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch blog this week, I posted highlights of how the U.S. Religious Right made life more difficult and dangerous for the world’s LGBT people in 2016. Michael Lavers at the Washington Blade published his take on the top 10 international stories of the year; Heather Cassell at The Bay Area Reporter also published a recap of the year’s biggest LGBT stories, many of them international. Colin Stewart at 76 Crimes reported that “substantial advances for LGBT rights were achieved in 2016,” noting that three nations dropped anti-LGBT laws “amid anti-gay violence, arrests and setbacks that marred the past 12 months.” New Ways Ministry’s Bondings 2.0 blog reported on what its readers saw as the best and worst stories for LGBT Catholics in 2016.

OutRight Action International posted video of a panel discussion on “the future of global LGBTIQ activism over the next four years, Trump’s potential impact, and our strategies for strengthening our community and resilient activism as we move forward.”

Many American anti-LGBT religious activists are expanding their global reach, including the relatively small and extreme group MassResistance, which has boasted in recent months about helping anti-equality activists in Mexico and launching a new chapter in Nigeria. Last Tuesday, the group wrote about the assistance it is providing Christian groups who are opposing the advance of marriage equality in Taiwan.

BuzzFeed, the polling firm Ipsos, and the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law collaborated on a survey of public attitudes toward transgender people in 23 countries. (ILGA released a mapping report on legal recognition in November.) The new survey asked whether transgender people should be: protected form discrimination by the government; allowed to use the restroom of the sex they identify with; allowed to have surgery so their body matches their identity; allowed to marry a person of their “birth sex”; allowed to conceive or give birth to children; and allowed to adopt children. Spain is the most trans-friendly of the nations surveyed; Russia is at the bottom of the list. The interplay of religious beliefs and attitudes was found to be complex, for example, in India:

Centuries-old communities of transgender women — most commonly known as hijras — were criminalized under laws passed when India was a British colony, and today often make a living as beggars or sex workers. India’s Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that the government must enact broad reforms to correct this history, including outlawing discrimination on the basis of gender identity, creating affirmative action for transgender people in employment and schools, and giving them welfare benefits. A law to comply with the order unanimously passed the upper house of the Indian legislature in 2015, but the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced its own watered-down version of the legislation earlier this year that transgender activists have widely condemned.

Our in-person survey in India — which was conducted just before the government rolled out its legislation in August 2016 — found overwhelming support for the original Supreme Court ruling, with 47% saying they “strongly agree” with the decision and an additional 35% saying they “somewhat agree.” Support for individual provisions of the ruling ranged as high as 80%, and 64% said they also support reserving seats in the legislature for transgender people the same way there are seats specifically allocated for women. (This idea was not included in the court order.)

But responses in our survey suggest that Indians are still conflicted about the place of transgender people in society. The long history of transgender communities and religious beliefs that they bring blessings is reflected in the fact that more than 60% of Indians said transgender people have “a special place in society” and 48% said they believe they “have unique spiritual gifts,” more than any other country on both measures. But 55% also said transgender people “are violating the traditions of [their] culture” and 49% said they are “committing a sin” — comparable to Russia on both measures.

In a separate story, BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder examines how and why in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, the “mullahs bless sex reassignment” and the government subsidizes the surgery. It dates back to 1986 when, following a personal appeal from a trans woman, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a hand-written fatwa that “God willing, sex reassignment, if advised by a reliable doctor, is permissible.”

More from the BuzzFeed story:

Hundreds have undergone sex reassignment surgery in Iran since Molkara’s meeting with Khomeini. Almost 1,400 people applied for permission for the process between 2006 and 2014, according to government figures published in Iranian media, and the country’s State Welfare Organization even provides some funding to help cover the cost of surgery. Iran has also become a destination for transgender people seeking surgery from other Muslim countries; most countries in the region persecute homosexuals and transgender people alike.

A major reason Iran’s rules on gender identity are so different from its neighbors’ is that Iran is Shiite, while most countries in the region are Sunni. That’s according to Iran’s most visible authority on the theology of sex reassignment, Hujjat al-Islam Kariminia, a cleric and legal scholar at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International University.

Sunni teaching holds that someone’s “true gender” cannot be altered, Kariminia told BuzzFeed News, but Ayatollah Khomeini’s understanding of Shiite teaching is that surgery reveals their “true gender” that may be hidden within.

In fact, Khomeini had ruled that sex reassignment was allowed by religious law two decades before Molkara showed up on his doorstep. He wrote about the issue in 1965, just after he was sent into exile by the shah for challenging an agreement allowing US troops to be stationed on Iranian soil.

“If they get the surgery, the gender will not change but [their] real gender that has [long] been hidden will become visible,” Khomeini wrote in a collection of judgments on religious law. Surgery is allowed if “a man finds in himself tendencies similar to a woman’s, or a woman finds tendencies [like that] of men,” he explained, but added that until the whole reassignment process is complete, “they [must] not act as the opposite sex does and has to, since this is haram [forbidden].”

Russia: Putin Christmas speech reportedly attacks West for abandoning Christian roots

President Vladimir Putin devoted a portion of his Christmas speech to attacking western countries for abandoning their Christian roots, according to a video posted to several website with pro-Putin messages. This (unverified) text is taken from the English-language chyron on the video:

We see that many euro-atlantic (the West) States have taken the way where they deny or reject their own roots, including their Christian roots which form the basis of Western civilization.

In these countries, the moral basis and any traditional identity are being denied – national, religious, cultural and even gender identities are being denied or relativized.

There, politics treats a family with many children as equal to a homosexual partnership (juridically); faith in God is equal to faith in Satan.

The excesses and exaggerations of Political Correctness in these countries indeed leads to serious consideration for the legitimization of parties that promote the propaganda of paedophilia.

Putin also send US President-elect Donald Trump a “very nice” Christmas letter.

Taiwan: Marriage equality moves forward in parliament

The day after Christmas, amid raucous protests, a parliamentary committee passed the first draft of a marriage equality bill, which is supported by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).

An AFP report noted: “While Taiwan is considered progressive on many issues including gay rights, its roots in Confucianism translate into a strong sense of adherence to traditional values such as family loyalty and social hierarchy.” Conservative Catholic and evangelical groups have been resisting the legislation, with some help from U.S. groups, as noted above. According to the China Post, “Conservative parents’ groups have alleged that the inclusion of gender equality issues in textbooks acts as an ‘incubator that transforms straight children into homosexual children.’”

The Taipei Times has some details, noting that the next step in legislative review “is not expected until April.”

During the review, the committee revised an amendment proposed by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) that would neutralize the gender-based Article 972 of the Civil Code, which stipulates that a marriage is an agreement between a man and a woman.

Yu’s amendment would remove the “man and woman” provision from the article and recognize marriage as an agreement between “two parties,” a contentious point between supporters and opponents of the marriage equality legislation.

However, to reduce opposition to the legislation, DPP Legislator Julian Kuo (郭正亮) raised a motion to revise Yu’s amendment, proposing that “man and woman” be retained, but inserting an addendum to recognize “both parties of a same-sex marriage.”

Opponents of marriage equality have been calling for a referendum, a step Yu has opposed:

She rejected proposals to launch a referendum to decide on marriage equality, saying a human rights issue should not be put to the vote.

“We are not God. How do we have the right to decide on other people’s human rights?” Yu asked.

It would take at least six months for the legislation to pass, she said, calling on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights campaigners to make use of those “golden six months” to communicate with the public.

South Africa: Pastor teams up with US pastor banned from country for anti-gay extremism

Last September, the government banned extremist anti-gay American pastor Steven Anderson from the country. Anderson, who preaches that gays should be put to death, responded to the massacre at the gay nightclub in Orlando by saying “there’s 50 less pedophiles in the world.”

The Mail & Guardian reports that an anti-gay pastor in Cape Town, Rev. Oscar Bougardt, is planning to open two churches affiliated with Anderson. Bougardt, who calls homosexuals a “danger,”  visited Anderson in the U.S. recently and they hit it off:

Bougardt said that the Cape Town chapter of Anderson’s Faithful Word Baptist Church would open in Elsie’s River, a suburb of Cape Town, in late February or March.

Another chapter was planned for Pretoria, and both would be run under the registration of Bougardt’s Calvary of Ministries Church, he said.

“I am in the process of buying a building that they will obviously be funding,” said Bougardt, adding that he had around 400 congregants following his preaching.

Like Anderson, he believes homosexuality is a sin and said he would not “twist and turn” the Bible to accommodate anybody.

“Why should we be tolerant of their criminal lifestyle? Ninety-nine percent of paedophiles stem from homosexuality.

“I’m saying so because it is proven that 99% of the paedophiles have a homosexual background. They are blaming their previous lifestyle on what happened. Go and read up on it.”

Nepal: Immigration officials give visa to woman married to another woman in US

Immigration officials decided to grant a visa to an American woman who married a Nepalese woman in the U.S. and then returned with her to Nepal, where they plan to remain.