Global LGBT Recap: Religious Leaders Support Persecution as Countries Vie in Homophobia Olympics

Associated Press has published a concise overview of the state of gay rights around the world. And Jon Stewart has taken on the homophobia Olympics.

Nigeria: Christian, Muslim Religious Leaders Praise Anti-Gay Law, Flogging Begins

In Nigeria, violent anti-gay persecution is on the rise in the wake of President Goodluck Jonathan signing a brutal anti-gay law. Jonathan has faced strong criticism from abroad, but has been backed by local religious leaders, including Roman Catholic Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of the capital city of Abuja, who commended the assembly and president for “resisting all the pressures and enacting a law against homosexuality.”

Another Catholic bishop, Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, praised the “zeal and enthusiasm” of members of the General Assembly. The Prelate and Moderator of the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, Most Rev. Emele Uka, praised the law as “a bold step aimed at reforming the society along godly ethics.” The Da’awah Coordination Council of Nigeria, an association of Muslim groups, also praised the new law, as did the group Muslim Rights Concern.

Meanwhile, Islamic courts have moved to arrest and try suspected gay people, which could lead to death sentences for gay Muslims:

Mubarak Ibrahim, 28, was ordered to lie on a bench while the 20 lashes were administered in front of a packed courtroom.

He said he was misled into the act of sodomy by the principal of the high school he was attending and has not committed a homosexual act since.

Judge Nuhu Mohammed said spared Ibrahim the sentence of death by stoning because the crime occurred so many years ago and because the young man had shown “great remorse.”

AFP has reported that the passage of the federal law has emboldened Sharia enforcers. More from LGBT Nation:

Nigerian gay rights advocate Davis Mac-Iyalla told LGBTQ Nation that the new federal law “has initiated a beginning of legally sanctioned persecution and witch-hunt towards Nigeria’s LGBT community.” 

Mac-Iyalla said that historically, northern states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara have rarely applied Sharia law towards LGBT people, but the new law is being interpreted as giving a license to do so.

“The situation throughout Nigeria is worsening by the day. I’ve just been contacted by two brothers in their 30s who have went into hiding in Lagos,” he said. “Vigilante groups are hunting them down, asking for huge ransoms.”

“Nigeria is now legally sanctioning and its laws are encouraging persecution by both the state and its citizens against LGBT people,” said Mac-Iyalla.

This week Canadian officials reportedly canceled a state visit by President Jonathan that had been scheduled for February.  Also this week, a Nigerian state governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, defended the law while he was in Ireland to accept an international leadership award given by Metro Eireann, a multicultural newspaper. “I am sure no one here in this country would accept a condition in which an adult can sleep with a 10-year-old girl,” he said. “If that situation is not acceptable, we in Nigeria view gay marriage as such.”

Uganda: Inhofe to Visit Museveni, Who Says He Will Block Bill, But Status Unclear

There were conflicting reports this week about whether President Yoweri Museveni had blocked the draconian anti-gay legislation pushed through the legislature in December. Several news items suggested he had blocked the bill, but it his letter to the legislature criticizing the bill may have been more of a statement by the president than an actual procedural move to block it. Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder reported on January 19 that Museveni told American human rights activists that the bill is “fascist,” and that he would formally reject it, though his deadline for doing so was unclear because it was not clear if and when parliament had delivered the bill to his desk.

Museveni’s odd and rambling letter is far from an endorsement of LGBT people; it calls them abnormal – “nature goes wrong in a minority of cases” – and suggests at one point that “sexual starvation” turns women into lesbians. And he has harsh words for people with money “who take advantage of the desperation of our youth to lure them into these abnormal and deviant behaviors.” He says he would support life imprisonment in such cases. He flatly rejects the western notion of homosexuality as an alternative sexual orientation.

Nonetheless, he suggests that some people are born gay the way some are born as albinos. He considers the contributions made by Alan Turing, who was “sexually abnormal” but “much more useful to society than the millions of sexually normal people.” One section could even be interpreted as a plea for tolerance for such “abnormals”:

”I normally separate spiritual matters from social issues, ever since the 1960s,” he writes. “Some confuse these two: If socially you behave in a given manner, then you are not spiritual, they seem to say. My private view which I never seek to impose on anybody, is that people can have different social arrangements but be very spiritual. Can’t a Moslem who is polygamous be as spiritual, as godly, as a Christian who is monogamous?”

The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers reports that a congressional delegation led by U.S. Sen Jim Inhofe is scheduled to meet with Museveni this Thursday, January 23, as part of a congressional delegation whose itinerary includes Germany, Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Niger. As Jeff Sharlet has reported, Inhofe has long been the liaison between the secretive evangelical group the Family (aka the Fellowship), and Museveni. Sharlet has also reported that Inhofe ushered David Bahati, author of the anti-gay bill, into the group. Is this a U.S. taxpayer-funded mission trip for Inhofe? Lavers reports, by the way, that the U.S. lawmakers have rejected requests from Ugandan LGBT rights advocates to meet with them.  

Malawi: Challenge to Anti-Gay Law

Reuters reported this week that the United Nation’s AIDS task force will join human rights groups in a legal challenge to Malawi’s laws criminalizing homosexuality. Felicia Kilembe, a spokesperson for the Malawi Law Society, said “Our argument is that as long as same-sex relationships are consensual and done in private no one has business to get bothered.”

Kenya: Prominent Author Comes Out

Binyavanga Wainaina, an award-winning Kenyan author best known abroad for his satirical “How to Write About Africa,” came out publicly this week by publishing an article online called, “I am a homosexual, Mum.”  It is presented as a “lost chapter” from his 2011 memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place.  As the Global Post’s Tristan McConnell notes, “On a continent where secrecy defines the gay experience and where a majority of countries outlaw homosexuality, coming out is a rare step for a public figure.”

Wainaina “struggled with the relative ease of being clandestinely gay while surrounded by his artist friends in cosmopolitan Nairobi, while elsewhere in Africa homosexuals faced increasing oppression.”

Last month he went to a close gay friend’s memorial in the western town of Kisumu and learned that the friend’s Christian family had been rejected by the church due to their son’s sexual orientation. Yet the young man’s parents had accepted their son’s homosexuality and even welcomed “half the queens in Kisumu” into their home to celebrate his life, Wainaina said.

Wainaina rejects the argument often made by anti-gay activists in Africa that homosexuality is “un-African,” saying ”The idea that there is no such thing as gay in African culture is a mixture of an inherited Victorian puritanism via the first churches, mixed with sloganeering and fear.” But in spite of the recent trend, he is optimistic:

Wainana believes his honesty will be embraced in his home and in other African countries. “People who live in societies where you are being lied to a lot value truth,” he said….“I want to be part of a generation of people in Kenya and Africa who change [Africa] to be accountable to itself,” he said.

Africa: Former President of Mozambique Says LGBT Equality Essential to Development

Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique and co-chair of the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development, published an open letter to African leaders last week that put LGBT equality and reproductive justice at the heart of the continent’s economic development goals. He writes that empowerment of women and gender equality, the rights and empowerment of adolescents and youth, and the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people “represent not only human rights imperatives, but smart, cost-effective investments to foster more equitable, healthy, productive, prosperous and inclusive societies, and a more sustainable world.”

Sexual and reproductive health and rights, in particular, are a prerequisite for empowering women and the generations of young people on whom our future depends.

This simply means granting every one the freedom – and the means — to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one’s life – one’s sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children – without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.

This also implies convenient, affordable access to quality information and services and to comprehensive sexuality education.

We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.

As an African who has been around a long time, I understand the resistance to these ideas.

But I can also step back and see that the larger course of human history, especially of the past century or so, is one of expanding human rights and freedoms.

African leaders should be at the helm of this, and not hold back. Not at this critical moment.

Chissano ended his letter quoting Nelson Mandela: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Russia: Putin Tells Gays to ‘Leave Kids Alone’ But Arrests Rainbow Flag-Waving Teen

As the Olympics approach, the biggest concern of Russian officials may not be international opposition to the country’s anti-gay laws but the threat of terrorism related to ongoing conflicts with Islamist forces in the region.  Putin pledged a discrimination free Olympics; he said gay visitors would be welcome as long as they “leave kids alone.” A teenager who held up a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch passed through his hometown on January 8 was detained and arrested by Olympic officials as well as law enforcement officers. 

Meanwhile, lawmaker Alexei Zhuravlyov is proposing a law “that would deny custody to any parent who leaves a straight relationship to be gay.” CNN reports this is a slightly watered down version of a law he proposed last year that would have stripped gay people of parenting rights.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) released a report on  developments for LGBTI people in Russia during 2013, including the “propaganda” law, the ban on adoptions of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples, the proposed law to strip gay people of parental rights and a rising tide of hate speech and violence. It also reports on a November conference on “The Holiness of Motherhood,” which brought together government and Orthodox Church officials, sociologists, psychologists, and journalists to develop information policies that protect “family values.” The conference may preface a greater crackdown on media coverage of LGBTI issues.For its part, the Russian government officially criticized Europe for its “aggressive” promotion of homosexuality.

Jordan: LGBT Activism in Face of Islamist Threats

Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, published a profile of Hassan Al Kilani, a Jordanian LGBT activist who is “playing with fire” in a country where Islamist influence is on the rise.

Hassan Alaa Al Kilani has nothing against tradition. In fact, as a practicing Muslim, he’s all for tradition. And that includes jihad, or holy war, which the 24-year-old also believes in, with all his heart.

“Under the name of jihad, different people do different things. When someone takes away your fundamental rights, and you claim them back – that is jihad. It is exactly what I am doing when I am defending the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.”

According to the article, “Jordan is the only Arab country where homosexual acts are not a crime, and since 2008, the LGBT community has been allowed to assemble and form organizations.” But, it says, that has changed since the Arab Spring, “which gave a boost to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists in Jordan.” It has become more dangerous to be gay, Al Kilani says.

He says his application to start a gay organization was declined by the Ministry of Social Development. A ministry employee said it was due to fear of radical Islamists.  He was warned, “You could be shot by them, they will say that you are breaking Muslim rules, and that killing you will send them to heaven,” he was warned.

Colombia: Pro-Gay Ad from Senator

Colombian journalist, commentator, and Senator Armando Benedetti has been a supporter of civil unions. This week he posted a short campaign video featuring kissing same-sex couples, Benedetti himself emphatically stating his support for equal rights, and the text of Mexican national hero Benito Juárez’s famous line “El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz” (Respect for the rights of others is peace) – all in a 20-second spot that it’s hard to imagine many U.S. Senators running.

Jamaica: Push to Repeal Anti-Gay Law

We have noted in recent weeks that American anti-gay activists have traveled to Jamaica to rally support for the country’s anti-gay laws.  Aileen Torres-Bennett reports for Reuters on the reason for that organizing: an effort to repeal the country’s Offenses Against the Person Act, “which makes anal sex a crime, regardless of gender or consent, and prohibits ‘acts of gross indecency’ between men, in public or in private.” Torress-Bennett reports that even though homophobia is “a cultural norm” in Jamaica, a push for equal rights is gaining momentum. Minister of Justice Mark Golding says a non-binding “conscience vote” would be taken sometime before the end of the legislative year in March, “opening the door for the law to be reviewed, possibly later in 2014.” Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller advocated for repeal of the law in 2011 during her election campaign.

Inter-American Institute of Human Rights:  Human Rights Scholar is New President

This month Chilean lawyer Claudio Grossman became president of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. Grossman is Dean of the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington D.C. and a professor of international and human rights law. The International Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans and Intersex people for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) praised Grossman, who has been honored by, among others, the ACLU of the National Capital Area and the Hispanic National Bar Association. As chairperson of the UN Committee Against Torture, Grossman has criticized Russia’s crackdown on freedoms of assembly, association, speech and information.

Vatican: New Cardinals, New Geography, Same Old, Same Old?

Pope Francis named his first group of cardinals this week; they will be formally appointed next month.  Pew notes that more than half of the 90 cardinals selected by Francis’s predecessor, Benedict, were European. But just eight of Francis’ first 19 are from Europe; six of them are from Latin America and the Caribbean.  Fernando Sebastián, an 85-year-old Spaniard, told a newspaper on Sunday that homosexuality is a “defective manner of expressing sexuality” because it does not lead to procreation. He said it was not an insult to call homosexuality a defect, like high blood pressure, because “in many cases of homosexuality it is possible to recover and become normal with the right treatment.” Sebastián said his comments do not contradict the widely reported “who am I to judge” comments of Francis. “It’s one thing to be compassionate towards a homosexual person and another thing to morally justify the practice of that homosexuality.”

Scotland: Pro-Trans Amendment to Pending Marriage Equality Bill

In Scotland, where the marriage equality bill is moving toward a final debate and vote expected in February, the Equal Opportunities Committee in parliament voted unanimously to remove from the bill a “spousal veto” provision that would have required married transgender people to get legal consent from a spouse before obtaining legal recognition of their gender.  Linda Fabiani, a member of the Scottish Parliament, had advocated for removal of the spousal veto, writing “I strongly believe that access to legal gender recognition is a human right, and a deeply personal matter, that should not be able to be blocked by another person.”

Serbia and Kosovo: Record on LGBTI Rights Criticized by European Parliament

Last week the European Parliament adopted resolutions condemning the treatment of LGBT people in Serbia and Kosovo. According to PinkNews, one report condemned Serbian authorities’ decision to ban a planned Belgrade Pride Parade last year for the third year in a row.  The parade had been opposed by Christian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej, who said a “parade of shame” would cast a “moral shadow” on Serbia. The Serbia report also “called on authorities to improve efforts against violent hooligan groups’ threats against LGBT people, and for wider political support for the human rights of LGBT people, and for anti-discrimination strategy to be implemented.”

Regarding the report on Kosovo, Member of the European Parliament and Co-President of the LGBT Intergroup and Rapporteur on Kosovo Ulrike Lunacek said, “Respect for the rights of LGBTI people is an important hallmark of an inclusive and tolerant society. The principle of non-discrimination embedded in Kosovo’s constitution needs to be filled with relevant laws and implementation strategies in order to improve the lives of LGBTI people in the country.”

Lithuania: Anti-Gay Legislation Moves Forward

Back in August, American anti-gay activist Scott Lively penned a gushy fan letter to Vladimir Putin praising his anti-gay efforts and saying “Already Lithuania, Moldova, Hungary and the Ukraine have begun to follow your principled example, and you have engendered real hope in the international pro-family movement that this destructive and degrading sexual agenda might finally begin to be brought to a halt across the globe.”

In fact, the Lithuanian Gay League reports that a Russian-style anti-gay law moved forward in parliament parliament on Tuesday, January 21 and is now just one step from adoption. The measure’s backer, Petras Gražulis, said it was needed because “traditional family values” are discriminated against when public advocacy of homosexuality is allowed; the law would ban public events like Pride celebrations. The parliament is also reportedly scheduled to vote this week on a constitutional amendment that would narrow the definition of the family. If it passes, according to the European Law Department under the Ministry of Justice, people who live together but are not married would lose legal status as a family, including benefits if a common law partner in the military were killed. The Parliament also voted to include the anti-gay Gražulis in a delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “one of the countinent’s leading organizations for defending human rights.” 

United Kingdom: Blaming Gays for Bad Weather Gets Politician Suspended

UPI reports, “A British politician from the United Kingdom Independent Party has been suspended after he blamed the bad weather that has been sweeping across Britain on the legalization of gay marriage and then said that being gay is a ‘spiritual disease’ that can be healed. UKIP councilor David Silvester wrote a letter to his local paper saying: ‘The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.’” Silvester says he warned David Cameron that the same-sex marriage bill would lead to natural disasters. “It is his fault that large swathes of the nation have been afflicted by storms and floods.”

Silvester told the BBC on Sunday that being gay was a “spiritual disease” that could be healed and that gay marriage was the latest law that would anger God, similar to abortion.

“I believe as a Christian I should love gay people and indeed, I do,” Silvester said. “My prayer for them is they will be healed. It is nonsense to say it is homophobic. If you love a person enough to want them to be healed and to have a proper family, that is hardly homophobic. It is a spiritual disease.”

Slovakia: Proposed Constitutional Amendment

The Spectator from Slovakia reports that the opposition Christian Democratic Movement is pushing for new language in the country’s constitution to “protect” marriage by defining it as solely the union of one man and one woman. Party Chairman Ján Figeľ said such a definition was incorporated in the constitutions of Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary.

Austria: Court Overturns Ban on Sperm Donation to Lesbian Couples

Austria’s constitutional court gave the parliament until the end of this year to overturn a ban on sperm donations for lesbian couples, reports Reuters. The court “rejected arguments that such bans were needed to protect families, noting same-sex couples did not replace heterosexual marriages so could not jeopardize them.”

Davos: LGBT Events at World Economic Forum

The Human Rights Campaign is teaming up with donors Paul Singer and Dan Loeb to host two LGBT-related events at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week.  Among the participants will be Masha Gessen, the journalist we wrote about last week who is leaving Russia under threat of losing her children to proposed laws targeting gay parents.  HRC’s international partnership with Singer has drawn criticism from some activists, in part over the fact that some of Singer’s wealth comes from a “vulture fund” that targets vulnerable countries by buying their debt and engaging in aggressive collection strategies.

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.

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