Global LGBT Recap: Nigeria Jails Gays, Russian Orthodox Spox Calls for Criminalization Referendum

Nigeria: President Signs ‘Jail the Gays’ Law; Gays are Jailed

Goodluck Jonathan, president of Africa’s most populous country, disappointed human rights activists and drew international condemnation for signing a harsh anti-gay law that calls for long jail sentences for people who join in a same-sex union, participate in a gay organization, or display same-sex affection.  A presidential spokesman defended the signing, saying “”More than 90 percent of Nigerians are opposed to same-sex marriage. So, the law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs as a people.” Same goes for American religious right leaders who have supported the law.

According to Al Jazeera, “Nigeria is a highly religious society, with its 170 million people roughly divided in half between Christians and Muslims, though a significant number are also believed to follow regional religions.” The Associated Press and other news outlets reported that dozens of people were arrested by officials reportedly working off a list of names obtained by torturing four men who had been entrapped. State Department officials told the Washington Blade yesterday that they were trying to confirm those “very troubling” reports.  According to AP, Islamic Shariah law is enforced to varying degrees in nine of 36 states. The chairman of Bauchi’s state Shariah Commission told AP that 11 men had been arrested in the past two weeks and charged with belonging to a gay organization, but denied that anyone had been tortured.

According to Al Jazeera:

Under the terms of the law, anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage or civil union can be sentenced to 14 years in prison while any such partnerships entered into abroad are deemed “void”. 

It also warns that anyone who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or who directly or indirectly makes a public show of a same-sex relationship will break the law. Punishment is up to 10 years in prison, it adds.

The law was condemned by the U.S., Britain, and Canada. The U.S. State Department denounced the law as inconsistent with Nigeria’s international obligations, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights. Said a spokesperson, “The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act not only prohibits same-sex marriage in Nigeria; it also includes broadly worded provisions implicating the rights to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association that are set forth in the ICCPR.” Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in, saying in a statement that the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about the law, which he said “dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.”

United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pallay released a statement calling the law “draconian” and saying it “violates a wide range of human rights.”

The High Commissioner expressed hope that the Supreme Court of Nigeria would review the constitutionality of the new law at the first opportunity. “International human rights law and jurisprudence clearly indicate that States have a legal duty to protect all individuals from violations of their human rights, including on the basis of their sexual orientation. Disapproval of homosexuality by the majority on moral or religious grounds does not justify criminalizing or discriminating against LGBT persons. Indeed, the defence of human rights often requires the State to step in to protect the rights of members of minority communities from the prejudices of the majority,” Pillay said.

Advocates for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment worry that the law will disrupt their work. One counselor told AP that “the arrests were sparked by a rumor that the United States paid $20 million to gay activists to promote same-sex marriage in this highly religious and conservative nation.”

The anti-gay law in Nigiera has drawn support from Christian and Muslim leaders, but its passage has not quelled sectarian violence in the country. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that a car bomb attack killed at least 29 people in the northeastern city of Miaduguri.  Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group active in the area, has “repeatedly attacked schools, churches, and government and military targets.” Says Reuters, “The radical Islamist sect says it is fighting to create an Islamic state in a country of nearly 170 million, split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.”

In Uganda, where a draconian anti-gay bill has also passed parliament, Amnesty International and other human rights advocates are actively trying to convince the president not to sign the legislation.

Cameroon: Gay Activist Jailed for Loving Text Message Dies

Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, a 34-year old activist who was jailed in 2011 for sending another man a text message saying, “I’m very much in love with you,” has died, reports AP. He died about a month after his family removed him from a hospital where he was seeking treatment for a hernia that he developed while in prison. Civil rights lawyer Alice Nkom  (we wrote about her in July), said his family “said he was a curse for them and that we should let him die.” According to Human Rights Watch, he had been in hiding since his provisional medical release from prison in 2012. More from the AP story:

“I accuse the state,” said Nkom, the most prominent of a small group of lawyers in Cameroon willing to defend suspects charged with violating Cameroon’s anti-gay law. “If there had not been criminalization of homosexuality, he would not have gone to prison and his life would not be over. His life was finished as soon as he went to prison.”

Cameroonian officials have been unapologetic about their enforcement of the anti-gay law, and have rejected recommendations from the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect sexual minorities from violence. Appearing before the council in September 2013, Anatole Nkou, Cameroon’s ambassador to Geneva, testified that a prominent gay rights activist found tortured and killed last year died because of his “personal life,” prompting outcry from international rights groups.

Russia: Orthodox Church Joins Call for Criminalization Referendum 

Adam Federman, writing in The Nation, examines in-depth the connections between the Russian Orthodox Church, right-wing American evangelicals and funders, and Russia’s anti-gay (and anti-abortion) crackdown. Noting that anti-gay forces denounce pro-LGBT pressure from abroad, he notes, “The irony is that it is the new conservative vanguard—anti-gay, anti-abortion and pro–“traditional family”—that has most successfully cultivated the West’s financial and institutional support.”

The church’s close ties with American evangelicals reflect a shift in policy. For much of the post-Soviet period, the Russian Orthodox Church held evangelical denominations at arm’s length, fearing that they would compete for influence within Russia. But as the church has consolidated its power, it has come to view the evangelical community as a partner. “The ROC realizes that the evangelical denominations are not their opponents but rather their allies in the relations between the church and the secular population,” says Olga Kazmina, a professor of ethnology at Moscow State University.  

As if to make the point, a priest who acts as spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church called  for a referendum to recriminalize homosexuality in Russia, a move that would dramatically escalate the already worsening persecution of LGBT people in the country. Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder reports:

Vsevolod Chaplin, who heads the church’s department on engagement with society, in an interview with the Interfax news agency Friday. “I’m certain that such sexual contacts must be entirely excluded from the life of our society. If this can be achieved through means of moral persuasion, that’s better. If we need to involve the law then let’s ask the people if they’re ready for this.”

Chaplin gave the church’s stamp of approval to an idea first proposed by actor and defrocked priest Ivan Okhlobystin, who became a face of Russia’s anti-gay crackdown after he called for burning all LGBT people “alive in ovens” last month.

In an open letter to President Vladimir Putin posted to Twitlonger on Tuesday, Okhlobystin proposed a referendum to restore Russia’s Soviet-era sodomy law.

Speaking of Okhlobystin, he reportedly resigned this week from his job as creative director of the country’s largest cell phone retailer after more than 15 LGBT organizations teamed up to urge Apple CEO Tim Cook to cut ties with Euroset.  He did so defiantly, saying he would never change his position that “Sodom and Gomorrah must be destroyed!”

Journalist and LGBT activist Masha Gessen, who has dual Russian and American citizenship, has left Russia with her partner and three children under the threat of proposed legislation that could lead to their children being taken from them. She spoke with NPR’s Terry Gross last week. Gessen told Gross that the 2012 Pussy Riot protest within the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and their arrest marked the beginning of a new era in Russia. She described Putin’s ties to the Orthodox Church and his anti-gay policies as part of a larger effort to quell challenges to his power. Says Gessen,

“…so what he has done is what every Russian ruler and most dictators in the history of the world have done in these kinds of situations, which is that he has sort of tried to mobilize a potentially loyal constituency against some sort of imagined enemy. And the constituency that he is reaching for is a constituency that would support traditional values, that would support the Russian Orthodox family, that identifies as Russian Orthodox, which may sound a little bit strange in a country that lived through decades of religion being illegal, but in fact many, many Russians identify as Russian Orthodox and have this vague idea of a Russian national identity that is tied to the Orthodox church.”

In response to a question from Gross about why the anti-gay witch hunt was catching on now, Gessen responded:

Well, for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s convenient. I mean it’s Putin’s effort to shore-up his constituency around is very vague but very Putin idea of traditional values, the Russian family, the Orthodox religion, and against the West. And nobody represents that alien West in Russia better than LGBT people do. Part of the reason for that is that, you know, there was never any conversation, public conversation about sexual orientation in Russia. While the Western world was having the sexual revolution, we were having the Soviet Union. So this is really the first time that issues of sexuality – as absurd as that sounds – have been brought up in the public arena in Russia. …

Also I think that Putin believed that LGBT people were one minority that they could beat up on with impunity. I think it’s only very recently that he has realized that the West is actually quite serious about its negative reaction to these laws. This is ridiculously reminiscent of the anti-Semitism of the 1970s and the American Campaign for Soviet Jewry, when we know from a lot of people’s memoirs, that whenever the Americans tried to negotiate with the Soviets about letting the Jews leave the country Soviet officials just couldn’t understand how it could possibly be so important to these important men to talk about this tiny minority that wanted to go to some tiny country somewhere. And we’re seeing this reproduced. I think they couldn’t imagine that there would be any repercussions on the international stage, but at the same time it was a very effective weapon in Russia.

And when Gross asked about the connection between the church and the government:

Of course, they are in this together. And they actually, this is playing out the way wars play out, because the rhetoric that they have created is very much the classic sort of war rhetoric. To effectively create the image of an enemy you have to show first of all that the enemy is extremely dangerous, but on the other hand less than human. And that’s the way the church and the secular officials have sort of divided this up. The church talks about the coming apocalypse. The church talks about the LGBT movement being the antichrist, and there has been a lot of that kind of talk. And then you have people on television talking about the LGBT people being less than human.

For example, the number two person in the state broadcasting company – actually now he’s the number one person – hosted a show devoted to the question of whether it was enough to protect our children to ban homosexual propaganda or whether more needed to be done. He argued that more needed to be done. He said and we need to outlaw blood and sperm donations by them. And if they die in car accidents, we need to bury their hearts underground or burn them for they’re unsuitable for the aiding of anyone’s life. This is also a quote. So you can see the sort of, you know, again, extremely dangerous on the one hand, immediate grave danger, the apocalypse and less than human. You need to bury – to burn their hearts.

Gessen is among the Russian activists interviewed in a new film, “Young and Gay in Putin’s Russia,” which is being released online in five installments this week by VICE, “a global youth media company.”

Actor Ian McKellen helped organize a letter signed by 27 Nobel laureates encouraging repeal of Russia’s anti-gay laws and asking the government to take steps to protect members of the LGBT community.

On January 10, just a few weeks before the February 7 opening ceremonies for the Olympics in Sochi, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for Americans heading to the Olympics that touched on a number of issues including crime, potential terrorism, and access to medical care. It included a specific warning about Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law:

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER (LGBT) ISSUES:  In June 2013, Russia’s State Duma passed a law banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors.  The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia.  Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100).  Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 14 days in jail, and deportation.  The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms.  Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes “LGBT propaganda,” and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as “LGBT propaganda.”    LGBT travelers should review the State Department’s LGBT Travel Information page.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged people to take the State Department warning seriously; “The threat of terrorism and the very, very hostile actions Russians have taken towards gay people is a reason for Americans to be cautious about traveling over there.” In contrast, former state representative Dave Agema, a member of the Republican National Committee, wrote a post for the Illinois Family Institute that Russia’s “propaganda” law “hardly seems unreasonable.”

Arkady Gyngazov, former manager of a gay nightclub that has been repeatedly attacked is seeking aslym in the U.S., GLAAD reported.  Meanwhile, another outspoken anti-gay Russian, Maxim Martsinkevich, has reportedly fled to Cuba.

Poland: Catholic Church Declares War on ‘Gender Ideology’

On Foreign Policy’s blog, Hanna Kozlowska examines the Polish Catholic Church’s war against “gender ideology.”

Says Kozlowska, “While Pope Francis has staked out a conciliatory stance toward divisive social issues that have plagued the church in recent years, Polish bishops are taking a hard stand in favor of a doctrinaire, conservative brand of Catholicism.” It’s a church-state partnership, she notes: 16 members of the ultraconservative “United Poland” party formed a “Stop gender ideology” committee in parliament.

The crusaders use the word “gender” in its English form and argue that it refers to a concoction of all the social changes the church finds unacceptable, including gay marriage and contraception. For several months, priests and Catholic commentators have been pushing the concept of “gender ideology” in the Polish media, and the highest church authority issued a letter titled “The Dangers Stemming From Gender Ideology” to be read in churches the Sunday after Christmas. The debate has gotten so much traction that a group of prominent linguists declared the word “gender” the word of the year in Poland.

Kozlowska sees Poland as the “front lines of Francis’s fight to reform the Catholic Church.”

The movement in Poland is therefore indicative of the problems Francis faces in mollifying conservative elements among his flock. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, appeared happy to preside over what was often described as a “rump church,” one true to doctrine but with a smaller flock as a result of refusing to bend on social issues. Francis, however, has showed no patience for such rigid thinking and has during his still-young papacy adopted a rhetoric aimed at building a more inclusive church. But that language of inclusion of historically shunned individuals — such as homosexuals — has created discontent among the church’s more doctrinaire members.

Kozlowska says the campaign also serves as “something of a diversionary tactic” from the church’s failture to confront the child sexual abuse scandal. She says the head of the church, Archbishop Joef Michalik, has basically blamed sex education and “gender ideology” for sex abuse by priests. On that front, Polish media reported that the Vatican is refusing to extradite Polish Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who has been accused of abusing children while he was serving in the Dominican Republic: The Vatican is reportedly conducting its own investigation, but a statement from the Holy See to a Warsaw prosecutor said “Archbishop Wesolowski is a citizen of the Vatican, and Vatican law does not allow for his extradition.”

Zimbabwe: High Court Judge Upholds Work of Gay and Lesbian Group

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is not shy about his anti-gay stance, having once described gays and lesbians as “worse than pigs and dogs.” In recent years, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), has “been banned from participating at some of the country’s high profile fairs and meetings.” Police and prosecutors have repeatedly raided the group’s offices and seized property whose return GALZ is seeking.  “The property included computers, DVDs, pamphlets, compact discs and various documents. In raiding and confiscating the GALZ property, the police justified its actions on a search warrant in which the law enforcement agents claimed that the organisation was in “possession of pamphlets and fliers with information that promotes homosexuality for distribution.”

But High Court Judge Justice Priscilla Chigumba reportedly ruled this week that the operations of GALZ are above board. Chiguma reported “ruled that GALZ is not obliged to register in terms of the Private Voluntary Organisations Act…and is specifically exempted by the Act.” Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights’ Tonderai Bhatasara welcomed the decision and said it will closely monitor what the government does next in a case against GALZ chairperson Martha Tholanah, who “was scheduled to stand trial last month for allegedly leading an unregistered organisation but her trial was postponed to the end of this month.”

Scotland: Catholic Church Furious About Gay-Inclusive Sex-Ed Curriculum

The Scottish Express reported this week that Catholic Church officials are in a “fury” over a new sex-ed curricula being prepared in anticipation of likely legalization of same-sex marriage. The Express reports that draft guidelines being prepared for schools “make it clear even denominational schools will have to comply.” Scotland has 366 Catholic schools, which the paper says have traditionally taught sex-ed in line with church teachings. But “The new guidance calls for sex lessons in Catholic schools to be brought into line with that of other schools, where pupils are given explicit lessons about contraception and gay sex.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Denominational schools, like any other local authority schools, are subject to inspection by Education Scotland on the quality of their learning and teaching.” The Church “issued a furious response, accusing the Government of showing it a ‘grudging tolerance’ – and demanding guidance be rewritten.”

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said: “The SCES has encouraged the Scottish Government to move beyond the grudging tolerance which this draft and the original guidance showed towards the right of Catholic schools to follow Church guidance when teaching about sexual health and relationships, including marriage.

“We expect it, in its final guidance, to honour Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell’s assurance it has ‘no intention of requiring any denominational school to act contrary to the guidelines/policy established by the SCES or other religious authorities with a role in denominational education’.”

United Kingdom: Christian Counseling Group Denounces ‘Conversion Therapy’

“Britain’s leading body for Christian therapists has instructed its members to stop trying to turn gay patients straight using so-called ‘conversion therapy,’” reported The Guardian on Monday.

The Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC) said the practice should be stopped “in the interests of public safety”, but the move has prompted a furious response from proponents of talking “cures” for homosexuality who have promised to fight for what they see as the right to therapy of anyone distressed by “unwanted same sex attraction”.

According to the Guardian, “The decision by the ACC to speak out against the practice follows similar statements in the last two years by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy and the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Department of Health.” The ACC changed its earlier position because such therapies “have the potential to create harm and therefore [we] view them as incompatible within the ethos of counselling.”

But, as in the United States, proponents of reparative therapy are fighting back.

However, one organisation preparing to resist the ruling is the Core Issues Trust, a Northern Irish group that campaigns for Christian therapists who attempt to “treat” homosexuality and whose 2012 adverts stating, “Not gay! Ex-gay, Post-gay and Proud. Get over it!” were prevented from appearing on London buses by Boris Johnson after the Guardian alerted the mayor.

In an online statement rebuking the ACC’s position, the Core Issues Trust said it was “a misapplication of Equalities Act 2010 [sic]“, demanded the ACC “provide empirical evidence to support its misleading statement produced on the matter of counselling same-sex attracted persons” and urged the organisation to “avoid compromise of its members’ right to teach and uphold orthodox Christian sexual ethics.”

Luxembourg: Marriage Equality in 2014?

Luxembourg’s Justice Minister Félix Braz announced last week that the government would vote on a same-sex marriage bill this summer and said if it were approved, same-sex couples could be married before the end of 2014, making it the 11th European country to legally recognize marriage by same-sex couples. According to Wort.lu, a survey last year found 83 percent support in Luxembourg for marriage equality.

France:  Government Announces 7,000 Same-Sex Couples Married Last Year

France’s national statistics agency, Insee, announced this week that about 7,000 same-sex couples were married last year, representing about 3 percent of marriages nationwide. Same-sex couples won the right to marry in May  over strong objections from the Catholic Church, the far right, and others – cheered on by American religious conservatives.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the far-right National Front has called for passage of a Russian-style “propaganda” law.  

International: Brian Brown Expands Scope of International Anti-Gay Activism

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown has actively backed Russia’s anti-gay campaign, as documented by Right Wing Watch’s Miranda Blue in a series of posts in October . GLAAD’s Jeremy Hooper reports this week that in December Brown joined the board of CitizenGO, a Madrid-based petitioning platfor with a global focus. CitizenGO, says Hooper, “has its eyes fixed all over the world and on all of the planet’s LGBT people, citing petitions directed to Britain, France, Italy, Peru, and Croatia, and its promotion or direction of campaigns against “homosexual activist tyranny.”

But wait, there’s more.  It turns out that Brian is not just on the board of CitizenGO. Instead, it appears that the organization Brian runs in tandem with NOM, the conservative rallying platform called ActRight, has absorbed CitizenGO as its own.  The CitizenGo logo now reads, “CitizenGo: Member of the ActRight Family.”

CitizenGo has officially endorsed the Russian anti-gay “propaganda” law.

Peter Montgomery, a Washington, DC-based writer, is an associate editor for Religion Dispatches and a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way. His work focuses on religion, politics, and LGBT issues. Follow him on twitter @petemont.

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