Global LGBT Recap: Mandela and Equality; Elton John Defies Russian Ban; Fake-Healing of AIDS

If there were still any doubts that the struggle for and against the human rights of LGBT people has gone global, events this month would have erased them.

RD’s expanded coverage of the international LGBT equality movement will include regular recaps such as this one, in which the role of religion and religious leaders is sometimes in the forefront of stories, sometimes in the background, but is always a powerful presence.

Mandela and the Constitution of New South Africa

Among the stories of the world-changing life of Nelson Mandela was a reminder that he supported the inclusion of sexual orientation in the constitution of the new South Africa, making it the first constitution in the world to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It was fitting, and significant, that President Barack Obama referred to LGBT people in his remarks at Mandela’s memorial: “Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.” Michelangelo Signorile did an interesting interview with South African author and journalist Mark Gevisser on Mandela and the impact of the ANC’s support for equality.

India’s Supreme Court Re-Criminalizes Homosexuality

On Wednesday, December 11, the Supreme Court of India overturned a 2009 ruling by the Delhi Supreme Court and reinstated a colonial-era law against “unnatural acts.” The earlier ruling had been challenged by a “rare alliance” of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu organizations that back the continued criminalization of homosexuality. Rhetoric from anti-gay spokespeople mirrored language heard from religious conservatives in the U.S., such as this comment from Baba Ramdev, a Hindu spiritual leader: “Today they are talking about men having sexual relationships with men, women with women; tomorrow they will talk of sexual relationships with animals.”

Scott Lively and Uganda

On December 6, anti-gay religious right activist Scott Lively filed a motion asking Judge Michael Ponsor to stay proceedings in the legal case brought against Lively by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG).

The case is a novel effort to use the Alien Tort Statute to hold Lively accountable for actively encouraging systemic anti-gay persecution in Uganda. In August, Ponsor denied Lively’s motion to dismiss the case.  Lively has asked a federal appeals court to order Ponsor  to dismiss the case and wanted the judge to keep the case from moving forward while that appeal was being considered. Ponsor denied that request on December 10.

Peter LaBarbera in Jamaica

Another anti-gay American religious activist, Peter LaBarbera (of the misleadingly named Americans For Truth About Homosexuality), participated in an event in Jamaica this past weekend, where he had tweeted in advance that his message would be “don’t open up Pandora’s box of homo’l ‘rights.’”

The conference was sponsored by the Jamaican Coalition for a Healthy Society and the Christian Lawyers’ Association in Kingston. LaBarbera was joined by Andrea Williams, a Christian conservative lobbyist from the United Kingdom.

Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder reported on the conference, at which LaBarbera announced, “I do not stand with my government,” and said, “The dirty little secret that the media and homosexual activists are desperate — desperate — to squelch is that people are coming out of homosexuality every day. This is the work of God, this is the work of Jesus.”

Mat Staver in Peru

Mat Staver, who is dean of the law school at Liberty University and heads the stridently anti-gay Liberty Counsel, recently went to Peru, where he spoke to legislators, repeating the religious right’s litany of horror stories about LGBT equality being a threat to religious liberty. He received an award from friendly legislators for encouraging them to resist the Obama administration’s effort to undermine the country’s Judeo-Christian foundation by pushing LGBT equality.

Croatians Enact Catholic-Backed Constitutional Restriction on Marriage

Croats voted overwhelmingly in a  December 1 referendum to define marriage in the nation’s constitution as a “union of man and woman.” According to Reuters, the initiative was launched by a Roman Catholic group, “In the Name of the Family.” Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic had called the refendum “sad and pointless.”

More from the Reuters report: “The Social Democrat-led government disagreed with the referendum’s demand, but the outcome was no surprise in a morally conservative country where 90 percent of the population of 4.4 million say they are Catholic.”

Croatia joins Belarus, Poland, Moldova, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia with constitutional bans on marriage for same-sex couples.

Anti-Equality Protesters March in Taiwan

Opponents of a proposed law that would allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt claim that 200,000 people protested in front of the presidential palace on November 30.

One protestor was quoted by Focus Taiwan saying “”God created human beings as male and female. Only the union of a man and a woman can create the next generation, and the ability to create offspring is an important function of a family.”

A report in the China Post said that a small group of Christians who support the law joined a counter-protest. “The Christians said that they wanted to let homosexual people know that there is more than one voice among Christian groups regarding the issue of alternative family formation.” In a sign of the global nature of the struggle, the Taiwan protest was cheered by American LifeSiteNews and by anti-gay Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa.

Faith Healing Pastors Exploiting People with HIV/AIDS in Africa

Speaking of Ssempa, he tweeted on December 3 that “The AIDS Barons make more money selling ARVS, HIV testing Kits, and than [sic] what ever was made in sugar, cotton and slavery.”

The next day, The Washington Post ran a Religion News Service story from Nairobi reporting on a disturbing trend in Kenya, Uganda, and other countries in the region: “At prayer healing services in some Pentecostal churches, pastors invite people infected with HIV to come forward for a public healing, after which they burn the person’s anti-retroviral medications and declare the person cured.”

According to the story by Fredrick Nzwili, patients are charged big money for the “healing,” which makes it even harder for them to get back on treatment when their health fails. The story quotes officials with INERELA+, an interfaith network of religious leaders living with HIV, saying the organization has recorded 2,000 such cases, and notes, “the prayer healings are especially worrisome because people who quit treatment may become resistant to the drugs.”

More News from Russia

The rise of anti-gay violence in the wake of the enactment of Russia’s anti-free speech law against “gay propaganda” has been deeply troubling, but that hasn’t prevented American religious conservatives from backing the law.  More bad news came on Monday, December 9, with the announcement that  President Vladimir Putin was shutting down the state-owned news agency described by the BBC as relatively even-handed in its news coverage and replacing it with a new agency that will be headed by a ferociously anti-gay Putin loyalist, Dmitry Kiselev. 

More encouraging news out of Russia was singer Elton John’s defiance of the anti-propaganda law: at a December 6 concert in Moscow. The Washington Blade reports that John told the crowd he is “deeply saddened and shocked over the current legislation that is now in place against the LGBT community here in Russia.” He dedicated the concert to a 23-year-old man who was recently tortured and killed after he came out.

US Embassy in Manila Issues First Fiancé Visa

The US Embassy in the Philippines announced it had granted its first fiancé visa to a same-sex couple. Same-sex couples cannot get married in the Philippines, the announcement noted, but thanks to the Supreme Court ruling striking down the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that limited federal recognition to marriage between a man and a woman, the rights available to same-sex couples include immigration rights.

The announcement put the visa in the context of a broader effort by the US government to advance LGBT equality as an internationally recognized human rights – an effort that infuriates American religious conservatives. The embassy announcement quotes a comment Secretary of State John Kerry made upon the issuance of a same-sex via in London: “the state Department, which has always been at the forefront of equality in the federal government…is tearing down an unjust and an unfair barrier that for too long stood in the way of same-sex families being able to travel as a family to the United States.”

Thinking Strategically

At least two gatherings in the past week focused on the strategic promotion of LGBT equality abroad. On Friday, December 6, in Washington, D.C., the Center for Transatlantic Relations, which is part of the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, hosted a presentation called “LGBT Rights: A Geostrategic Issue for Democracies.” The panel, part of a series of discussions on the topic, featured Elizabeth Birch, former Executive Director, HRC; Chloe Shwenke, Vice President, Freedom House;Jamie Kirchick, LGBT Rights Activist & Journalist; andDonald Jensen, Resident Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations. It was moderated by Andras Simonyi, managing director of the Center and former Hungarian ambassador to the U.S.  Conversation focused in part on ways for Americans and Europeans to deal more effectively with Russia’s increasingly anti-gay policies.

Two days earlier, also in Washington, National Security Adviser Susan Rice told participants in Human Rights First’s Human Rights Summit that promoting the rights of LGBT people is an integral part of U.S. foreign policy.

And in New York City on Tuesday, December 10, International Human Rights Day, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power met with an international group of LGBT rights activists at the U.S. Mission to the U.N.  The gathering was described as a “roundtable strategy session on ways U.S.foreign policy can align more powerfully with LGBT communities globally to ensure LGBT rights are properly recognized and vigorously protected.”   It was sponsored by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Council for Global Equality. The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers reports that Powers called Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law “as outrageous as it is dangerous.”

“To criticize the criminalization of LGBT status is not cultural imperialism,” said Power. “To deny gays and lesbians the right to live freely and to threaten them with discrimination and even death is not a form of moral or religious Puritanism. It’s in fact barbarism.”

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.