In an editorial this week, the Guardian noted that anti-gay policies in Russia and Africa reflect both a legacy of colonialism and “a mix of religious beliefs, (further encouraged by some western evangelical churches), cultural identity and the dubious value to politicians of exacerbating fear of ‘the other’ to distract from the desperate concerns of a failing state have fed into the current outbreak of homophobia.”
And in advance of Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. (an event organized by the Fellowship, an American evangelical group closely tied to anti-gay politicians in Uganda), Human Rights First urged faith leaders to speak out on human rights issues:
“The United States has long been a beacon of hope for oppressed people who yearn to live in freedom, and has an historic commitment to refugees who have fled religious, political, ethnic, and other persecution. As Congress undertakes a serious immigration reform package now, it can seize an opportunity to strengthen a system that protects the most vulnerable and the persecuted, including those fleeing religious intolerance in places like Central America, China, the Middle East, and Russia,” said Human Rights First’s Robyn Lieberman. ”We call on the faith leaders to voice their expectation for a world in which religious practice is free and safe, and we call on the Americans in particular to affirm their support for an improved U.S. asylum system that protects those who must flee religious and other persecution.”
The organization also noted that it is a dangerous time for LGBT people in many parts of the world.
”There is a disturbing trend in legislation, most recently in Nigeria and Uganda, that in vague and broadly-worded terms targets LGBT people and those who promote the protection of their rights and human dignity, stripping them of their basic rights,” said Lieberman. ”Furthermore, these laws contribute to an environment in which LGBT people are beaten, attacked, and sometimes killed with impunity. Regardless of one’s views on homosexuality, people of faith should agree that no one should be violently abused because of who they are. We need to hear from faith leaders around the world that persecution and violence directed toward LGBT people are unacceptable. The Prayer Breakfast is a most appropriate time to assert such leadership.”
Speaking of anti-gay violence, the Family Research Institute, a group led by discredited American anti-gay activist Paul Cameron, declared that in some cases the death penalty is “warranted” as a punishment for homosexuality.
Russia: Olympics, Pussy Riot Focus Attention on Putin and His U.S. Supporters
On the eve of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Sochi, much of the press corps seemed focused on the sorry state of their not-ready-for-prime-time accommodations. But GQ has published a terrifying must-read piece of on-the-ground reporting by Jeff Sharlet. Sharlet speaks to gay activists in Russia who have been victims of violence and, more disturbingly, to unabashedly violent anti-gay activists who think it is fun to beat gays as well as to stalk them and collect incriminating information that can be used to get them fired from their jobs. He describes members of the “People’s Council” – a sort of umbrella group for “traditional values” activists – as “skinheads, Cossacks, veterans, Orthodox crusaders, scary squadrons of angry mothers, and more than a few politicians….”
In Washington, DC this week, American religious right supporters of Putin’s anti-gay policies, led by the World Congress of Families, held a press conference to talk about their 2014 summit which will be held in Moscow in September. Speakers from the WCF, the conservative Catholic C-FAM, and Concerned Women for America praised Putin’s policies, including the prosecution of Pussy Riot, and dismissed criticism of the increasingly anti-democratic Putin regime as either liberal media hysteria or irrational anti-Russian sentiment left over from the Cold War. Alexey Komov, WCF’s representative in Russia, praised Putin’s faith and his leadership.
Komov suggested that during the era of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. was free, pro-Christian, and pro-capitalist, while Russia was mired in communism. He suggested that under Obama and Putin, a role reversal is under way. He said he would hesitate to say which country is more free, Russia or the U.S.
Komov denied that there is any connection between passage of anti-gay legislation and anti-gay violence. WCF officials, by the way, are delighted to have been featured in a recent story in The Nation detailing how U.S. evangelicals have worked with the Orthodox Church to fuel the “pro-family” movement in Russia.
But as the games get under way, many people will be wondering what kinds of protest might be made regarding the rising tide of official homophobia and anti-gay violence. The Guardian strikes a hopeful tone:
More immediately, from this week in Sochi, every celebratory same-sex kiss on the winners’ podium, every one-man or -woman protest, every rainbow flag waved and pro-gay rights slogan displayed is a gesture of solidarity for those desperately under siege in Russia. Such signals will also act as a timely reminder for the global audience of the Winter Olympics of the international pledge, that: “All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights.”
NBC also used the Olympics as a hook to review the global anti-gay crusade being waged by American activist Scott Lively. It quotes him telling 1,000 Christians in Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, last August that there is “a war between Christians and homosexuals.”
Uganda: Anglican Leaders Back Anti-Gay Bill, Reject Criticism from Canterbury
While President Museveni deliberates and activists urge him not to sign the draconian anti-gay bill passed by Parliament, the head of the Anglican Church in Uganda has rejected a letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York that declared the “victimization or diminishent of human beings” to be “anathema.” According to the BBC, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali warned that if the Church of England does not “step back from the path” the Church of Uganda may decide to cut ties with its own “Mother Church.” The Church of Uganda has already cut ties with churches in U.S. and Canada over the issue of gay ordinations and same-sex blessings. Reuters reports that other African traditionalists are also resisting the growing acceptance of homosexuality in the Anglican Communion.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has brought a lawsuit against American evangelical Scott Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), has produced a graphic novel-style explanation of the case, which has moved forward despite complaints by U.S. conservatives that it threatens Lively’s rights.
India: Resistance to Re-Criminalization but Uncertain Future for Legislative Fix
In a show of defiance against the Indian Supreme Court’s recent ruling re-criminalizing homosexuality, a record 5,000 people turned out for Mumbai’s gay pride celebration last Saturday. (See photos here.)
The Voice of America explores the response of India’s gay community to the ruling: “Despite the huge blow to gay rights, activists say they have managed to bring what had been a taboo subject into the open in a country that remains largely conservative.” But, the story says, the ruling and relatively pro-equality Congress Party is expected to be replaced in upcoming elections by the more conservative Bharatiya Janata Party, which would harm chances for legislation to repeal the colonial-era sodomy law.
The bias of many lawmakers is not surprising in a country where homosexuality has still to win wide social acceptance.
The challenge to the initial judgment overturning the law which criminalizes gay sex had come from religious groups including Muslim and Christian. But [ Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation] says even liberal sections of India will draw the line at a gay couple living together openly.
Vatican: UN Slams Catholic Church; Church and its Allies Slam UN
A United Nations committee issued “a scathing indictment Wednesday of the Vatican’s handling of child sexual abuse cases involving clerics, releasing a report that included criticism of church teachings on homosexuality, gender equality and abortion.” The report criticized the Church for “systematically” protecting predator priests, allowing “tens of thousands” of children to be abused. According to a New York Times editorial, “The United Nations panel went to the heart of the matter in rejecting the church officials’ claims that they were responsible for enforcing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child only within the geographical limits of Vatican City and not globally through their power over the Roman Catholic diocesan hierarchy.”
Church officials and their conservative allies are angry over the report’s suggestion that the Catholic Church’s opposition to homosexuality had contributed to anti-gay violence and is call for the Church to change its teachings on sex and contraception. Silvano Maria Tomasi, a Vatican’s observer at the UN, said the Church’s teachings are “not negotiable.” The Vatican’s press office said it regretted that the UN committee “attempted to interfere with church teachings and its “exercise of religious freedom.” C-FAM’s Austin Ruse called the report “alarming” and “disgusting” and said it was part of a concerted attack on the Vatican’s position at the United Nations:
The Church represents all people of good will at the UN. If the Church was not there, abortion would now be a human right in UN documents. The family would be redefined. Religious freedom would come under further attack.
Scotland: Parliament Passes Marriage Equality Law Over Church Objections
On February 4, the Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly passed marriage equality legislation despite the opposition of the Scottish Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, and Scotland for Marriage, “an umbrella group of religious organisations which includes representatives of the Catholic Church and the Christian Institute.”
Ivory Coast: Attacks on LGBT activists
A group of around 60 people reportedly besieged an LGBT activist in his home, and when he sought refuge in the offices of Alternative-Côte d’Ivoire, the group destroyed the organization’s headquarters. According to a news report,
Men, women and children made up the mass of attackers who besieged the home of Touré Claver, waste and throwing stones and shouting all sorts of homophobic insults. On the walls and doors of the building wrote proclamations such as “no to queers in our city,” or biblical references as “forsake your father and your mother, and you’ll join a woman, not a man.”
Activists claimed nearby police refused to respond to their pleas for help. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for investigations.
Bosnia: Attack on gay film festival in Sarajevo
On February 2, a group of 10 to 15 hooded people burst into a movie theater hosting an LGBT film festival “yelling and intimidating participants” and injuring three people. According to Agence France-Presse,
Bosnia is a largely conservative Muslim country and the capital Sarajevo has usually been hostile towards hosting events linked to homosexuality.
The only attempt to organise a Gay Pride march and a festival in 2008 ended up in violence which left eight people injured. At the time dozens of radical Islamists attacked the participants at the opening of an exhibition on the eve of the march, which in the end did not take place.
Africa: Homophobia as ‘New Apartheid,’ Distraction Tool for Failing Politicians
On February 1, Al Jazeera published an opinion piece by Azad Essa, who covers Sub-Saharan Africa for the news network. Essa portrays homophobia as “Africa’s new Apartheid” and suggests that many of the continent’s political leaders are using attacks on homosexuality as a way to divert attention from their failures:
Even as economies continue to grow and middle classes emerge, rampant inequality burns holes in the aspirations of the continent. Where then does this leave the gay community? They’ve merely become a red herring, a distraction, to divert attention from the failing democratic culture among so many weak democracies across the continent.
Essa challenges those who suggest homosexuality is an “un-African” western concept, saying that “to suggest that Africa has no place for homosexuals is to imagine the continent’s history as beginning when prude missionaries brought Bibles, long skirts and umbrellas as a marker of civilization.”
The construction of sin and categorical notions of sexuality over the past four centuries on the continent are inextricably linked to colonialism, the Church and the ambitions of the state. And “independence” from the colonial powers, as it came, was a shame, for it often did little to inspire independent thought. If anything, the struggle for gay rights in so many African countries today tells us about a continent still battling the demons of colonialism, a continent that is still in the process of negotiating an identity – as articulated, again, through the lens of the colonial master. Among the greatest challenges many African democracies face today are the continued existence of one-party states and the lack of strong civil institutions.
And, in this vacuum, the Church is the most established institution outside the hallowed halls of party and state. Politicians know too well that ecriminalizing homosexual relationships at this point would only alienate them from the most dependable institution: religion.
Senegal: Jail for Consensual Sex
According to the Associated Press, last Friday a judge in the predominantly Muslim country sentenced two men to six months in jail for having sex in their own home in violation of a law prohibiting “an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex.”
Bulgaria rejects anti-gay law
Last Thursday the Bulgarian parliament reportedly rejected a proposal by an ultranationalist party to make it a crime punishable by fines and prison to publicly declare or “manifest” a homosexual orientation in the media or by participating in rallies or marches.
European Parliament Approves ‘Roadmap’ on LGBT Equality
This week the European Parliament adopted a controversial report calling on the EU to adopt a “roadmap” plan for challenging “homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
In a press release, Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said:
“Today’s vote is particularly important as the religious extremists, anti-choice and other ultra-conservative groups organised a massive sabotage campaign against this report using lies and deliberately twisting the facts. But fortunately, the European parliamentarians demonstrated their clear commitment to the EU fundamental principle of equality, non-discrimination and dignity for all.”