Many LGBT advocates protested U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order barring refugees from entering the country as well as immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries, an order some activists said could be “a death sentence for LGBTI people.” BuzzFeed reported on a group of “12 queer Iranians in hiding in Turkey,” some of whom have been awaiting US visas and “felt their dreams crushed as they heard the news.” They and others are now trapped in Turkey unless another country offers to settle them.
Trump’s order also signals a major shakeup in priorities for the US refugee program if it does resume. Under Obama, the US made a priority of resettling people who were persecuted on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The order from Trump, however, makes a priority of resettling those claiming refugee status on the basis of “religious-based persecution.” This appears to prioritize Christians, allowing for the continued processing of religion-based refugee claims during the freeze on resettlements only in cases where “the religion of that individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” In other words, a Muslim from Iran might not qualify even if their claim is related to their faith.
The Guardian also reported on Iranian LGBT refugees that were stuck in “limbo” in Turkey thanks to Trump’s executive order. It notes that “gay Iranian exiles have been subjected to a string of violent hate attacks and murders in Turkey.”
Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron C. Morris praised the ruling by a federal judge that has for the moment halted enforcement of Donald Trump’s “sweeping, poorly constructed, and unconstitutional” executive order:
“Today, our community can breathe a bit easier knowing that judges across the country have agreed that there is a strong chance that they will find that the order is unlawful or unconstitutional. Allowing it to stay in place while it is reviewed would have caused irreparable harm to hundreds of thousands of people, including thousands of LGBTQ and HIV-positive people from seeking safety in the United States.
United Nations: Independent expert on SOGI gets to work; activists await new U.S. role
The Independent Expert charged with investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity – a position that has survived multiple attempts by social conservatives to dismantle it since its creation by the Human Rights Council last year – held a public consultation in Geneva, Switzerland. on January 24 and 25. The UN’s Human Rights office has posted two videos of the deliberations, which were live-streamed. The Independent Expert is accepting submissions for his first report until Friday, February 10.
In response to the U.S. Senate confirming Nikki Haley as US Ambassador to the United Nations, OutRight Action International recounted several of the questions she faced regarding LGBT human rights as an element of U.S. foreign policy:
When Senator Booker asked Ambassador Haley during the hearing about her willingness to protect LGBT rights internationally, she responded, “I think it’s very important that we talk about America’s values. We do not allow discrimination against anyone. I will always speak out about this. We don’t want to permit discrimination here or in any country.”
In Senator Cardin’s question for the record, he asked, “If confirmed, how will you represent the government in discussions regarding the rights of LGBT persons?” Ambassador Haley answered, “As I stated during my hearing, I strongly believe that the US should unabashedly promote American values. If confirmed, I will work to advance human rights for everyone.”
Likewise, Senator Shaheen asked, “If confirmed, will you work to further the rights of LGBT individuals around the world? Will you continue U.S. participation in the LGBT core group? What other actions will you take to further this important issue?” Ambassador Haley answered, “As I stated during my hearing, I strongly believe that the U.S. should unabashedly promote American values. If confirmed, I will work to advance human rights for everyone.”
Outright’s Executive Director Jessica Stern said she is “reassured” by Haley’s statements, but added:
At the same time, I can’t help but notice that Governor Haley didn’t say the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. This is important. At the United Nations, diplomats fight tooth and nail over every word because each one influences international law, public policies, and government budgets.
When these words aren’t spoken, we see dire consequences like “conversion” therapy of gay men, forced marriages of lesbians, or mandatory sterilization of transgender people. We need LGBTI people to be specifically named and protected. OutRight looks forward to working with the new ambassador to ensure an unequivocal and specific American voice against discrimination and violence internationally – on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, gender, race, faith, nationality or any other status.
Malta: ‘Striking’ shift from conservative Catholic country to LGBT leader
The Associated Press examines the “striking” transformation of “a country that had until recently been a last bastion in western Europe of social norms largely dictated by the Catholic Church.” The story notes that the conservative Nationalist Party had recruited Alex Mangiona transgender politician to run for town council in hopes of positioning him to run for a parliamentary seat next year.
Other nations are taking note of Malta’s remarkably rapid transformation from conservative outpost — divorce remained illegal in the country until 2011 — to increasingly liberal standard-bearer.
“There are countries which we had looked up to ’til now and that are said to be very progressive,” Helena Dalli, Malta’s minister for civil liberties, said in an interview Wednesday evening. “But they are asking us now, such as Belgium for instance, whether they can take our model of law, the gender-identity law, so they can model their own law on ours.”
The conservative Nationalists are a microcosm of the evolution underway in Malta, an island nation of some 420,000 people where it seems just about everyone knows everyone else’s business and generations of gay people lived undercover to avoid the moral judgment of neighbors and colleagues.
To Mangion’s dismay, his party abstained from voting on a 2014 civil unions law because of objections to allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. Then, two months ago, Malta became the first European nation to ban gay conversion therapy…
The “devoutly Catholic” Joseann Peregin, mother of a gay son, recalls hearing a bishop say, “If you’re gay, excommunicate yourself. Go there is no place for you in the church.”
But the stunning blow dealt to the church’s prestige when Malta voters approved the 2011 referendum allowing divorce left the institution “severely damaged,” she said.
The Rev. Rene Camilleri said while many Maltese are still believers and even church-goers, they “are not taking a package deal” of church teachings. Pope Francis says while the church should be welcoming to gays, marriage can only be between a man and woman.
Like the church, Malta still prohibits abortions. Camilleri, the Malta Catholic archdiocese official for evangelization, stressed his abortion opposition, but said in an interview he thinks “it’s only a question of time” before abortion is legalized in Malta.”
University of Malta sociologist Andrew Azzopardi suggested his country’s membership since 2004 in the European Union also played a role in prodding social liberalization.
Canada: LGBT people, questions welcome at Toronto’s Unity Mosque
Samra Habib’s “Queering Islam” in the Advocate profiles a number of LGBT and affirming Muslim leaders in the U.S. and Canada, among them El-Farouk Khaki from Toronto’s Unity Mosque:
Unlike at traditional mosques, everything is open for debate and dialogue at Unity mosque. Congregants are encouraged to speak about their individual experiences with the religion. It makes sense that Khaki would launch the mosque to create a safe space for everyone who feels unsafe in society. Growing up in Tanzania, where he was one of the few brown-skinned people in black Africa, and then moving to Canada with his family, he always felt like a minority. Although his parents grew up in the Shia community, they later started identifying as Sunnis when Khaki was a child, and he felt out of place in both sects. He tried being Sunni in his 20s but realized that sectarianism didn’t reflect his relationship with Islam.
“I think that’s something that a lot of people are realizing, especially new converts who are entering Islam,” explains Khaki, referring to how pledging allegiance to sects is losing its appeal. “Prophet Muhammad was neither Sunni nor Shia. So I gave that sectarianism away because it doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Southern Africa: Report on LGBT engagement with homophobic churches
The Globe and Mail reports on “Silent No Longer: Narratives of Engagement Between LGBTI Groups and the Churches in Southern Africa,” released by the Other Foundation. The report calls religiously sanctioned homophobia the “greatest obstacle” to the acceptance of LGBT people in Southern Africa.
Other Foundation fellow Carl Collison spoke with several activists who protested outside Grace Bible Church in Soweto one Sunday in January:
Thami Kotlolo, one of the protesters, explained their purpose: “Our hope is to spark dialogue and hopefully get the church’s policies changed. The aim is not to fight or antagonise, but rather to make people think and remind the church that there are passages in the Bible that promote love.”
Part of Kotlolo’s artillery in this bid were posters scrawled with Biblical text such as “Love thy neighbour as you love yourself” and “But he who loves God is known by God”.
Another protester, Geoffrey Ogwaro, a human rights advocate specialising in LGBTI rights with the University of Pretoria Faculty of Law’s Centre for Human Rights, said: “We are saying the church should stop spreading discriminatory messages that could be read as hate speech. Saying LGBTIQ people are less than animals is dehumanising them. There is a connection between the messages heard from pulpits and the violence against LGBTIQ people, especially against lesbians.”
The Other Foundation report examines the “powerful influence” of homophobic church leaders and also offers proposed strategies for effective engagement with churches “about their role in either exacerbating homophobic violence and exclusion or promoting respect for all people.”
Australia: Push for marriage equality, debate over religious exemptions, continue
A long struggle by advocates for marriage equality to get a free vote in Parliament continues, with MPs from the ruling Liberal Party pushing for a vote in spite of the parliament’s rejection of a national plebiscite on the issue. That would require the Liberal Party to abandon a deal it made with its coalition partners requiring a plebiscite be held before a parliamentary vote. Christian conservatives have strongly resisted a change in the law and one MP said that “compromises that allow religious exemptions” would be necessary, though legal advocates have criticized draft religious exemptions as overly broad.
Norway: First same-sex marriage in state church
Two men were married in the Eidskog Church at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, the moment that a new marriage liturgy for same-sex couples took effect after winning approval by the Church Synod the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. According to The Local, “The ceremony marks a new milestone for gays and lesbians in Norway, which like its Nordic neighbours is at the forefront of gay rights in Europe. Civil marriage and adoption have been open to gays since 2009 and the Church also authorises the ordination of homosexuals.” The men have been a couple since 1981.
Lebanon: Court says homosexuality not punishable offence; profile of LGBT community center
A court ruled on January 26 that homosexuality is “a personal choice, and not a punishable offense.” The judge essentially ruled that a portion of the penal code stating that an act “undertaken in exercise of a right without abuse shall not be regarded as an offense” challenges the article that makes sexual intercourse that is “contrary to the odder of nature” punishable by up to a year in prison. An LGBT rights activist said that most people arrested under the law “aren’t detained in the act but in the street because of their appearance.” Under the country’s legal system the ruling in the case does not throw out the law generally.
Ralph Hurley O’Dwyer at Ireland’s University Times profiles the Helem Community Center, a new LGBT community center in “Beirut’s bohemian quarter.” The space includes kitchen and shower facilities, says Helem’s Joseph Aoun, which “means that vulnerable people such as trans* refugees from Syria, who often find themselves homeless, can come here, relax and do something as simple as have a shower, thereby reclaiming their basic dignity.”
Helem was officially founded in 2004 as the evolution of an underground association called “Club Free”. As an activist organisation aiming to improve LGBT+ rights in Lebanon and the wider Arab world, one of Helem’s principal aims is to overturn Article 534 of the Lebanese Constitution which states: “Any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature is punishable by imprisonment up to one year.” This article, a relic of French legislation introduced during Lebanon’s French mandate, has been used to imprison gay people in recent years. However, in two landmark trials in 2009 and 2014, the judges in question ruled that homosexuality is natural and hence that it cannot be prosecuted through the use of article 534. Nevertheless, as Lebanon retains a French-influenced codal system, these rulings do not offer the same protection they would offer under Ireland or the UK’s Common Law system. In essence, different judges could choose to interpret the article differently.
Moreover, Lebanon’s gay community continues to suffer violence and even torture at the hands of the state police. Particularly vulnerable are LGBT Syrian refugees, who face increased discrimination on account of their nationality…
While homophobia is still rife in Lebanese society, there are many signs of hope. Attitudes towards homosexuality amongst university students seem, for the most part, refreshingly accepting. Moreover, daily battles are being won against homophobia in society at large. Sustained campaigning by Helem and other NGOs has led most Lebanese media to adopt the term “mithli”, which derives from the Arabic root for “same”, to refer to gay people, as opposed to the pejorative terms formerly used. The most popular rock band in Lebanon, Mashrou’ Leila, has an openly gay singer, Hamed Sinno. Lebanon’s most respected living author, Amin Maalouf, a member of the Académie Française, has spoken out against homophobia in Lebanon and France, and recently included a gay character in his novel Les Désorientés.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Lebanon’s burgeoning sexual revolution is its capacity to change society for the better across the Middle East. For although Lebanon is one of the smallest countries in the Arab world, due to its strong cultural and intellectual traditions, its influence has always been one of the strongest. Indeed, since the establishment of Helem, LGBT associations have sprung up in countries such as Tunisia and Palestine. Decisions such as that made by the Lebanese Psychiatric Society and the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health to unequivocally state that homosexuality is not an illness influence attitudes across the Arab world, improving the lives of LGBT people across North Africa and the Middle East.
Gambia: Relief as anti-gay ex-president relinquishes power under pressure
Gambia’s intensely anti-gay former president, Yahya Jammeh, finally left the country under pressure from neighboring nations after saying for weeks that he would not recognize the results of the December election in which he was defeated. The head of an Ivory Coast activist group called Jammeh “a kind of icon of homophobia.” Cameroonian activist Lambert Lamba said Jammeh’s departure is “a great relief for the population, especially the LGBT population who were often martyred under his rule.” More from Robbie Corey-Boulet for Associated Press:
Around two-thirds of African countries criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct, according to Amnesty International. In the handful of countries that enforce their anti-gay laws, local groups have emerged to push for access to health care and to combat extortion, assaults and other forms of discrimination.
In Jammeh’s Gambia, however, such work was all but impossible, and many would-be activists made the painful decision to leave.
No African leader deployed anti-gay rhetoric with as much relish as Jammeh, who has denounced homosexuality as “anti-god, anti-human and anti-civilization” as well as “an evil and strange social cancer.” In 2008, he said gay people had 24 hours to leave the country, vowing to “cut off the head” of any who remained, and in 2015 he warned gay men he would slit their throats.
Gambian law criminalizes same-sex sexual acts, and arrests under Jammeh are believed to have been common, though no meaningful data exists. Members of the feared National Intelligence Agency would sometimes infiltrate parties organized by the LGBT community, photographing attendees who were later taken into custody.
In October 2014, Jammeh signed a bill imposing life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” a term applying to groups including “serial offenders” and people living with HIV/AIDS. The law sparked a fresh round of house-to-house searches and arrests.
Nigeria: Challenges of living under ‘Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act’
The Nigerian Tribune features a story on the challenges facing the country’s LGBT community:
Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, of 2013, which took effect in January 2014, made a bad situation much worse for the already subdued Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, as the law prohibits any form of gay marriage, or civil union entered into between persons of the same sex.
On 13 January, 2014, former president, Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which imposes various punishments for some types of homosexual acts.
The Act imposes a 10-year prison sentence on anyone who “registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations” or “supports” the activities of such organisations. It also provides a 14-year imprisonment for persons who contract same-sex marriage in the country.
Reverend Jide Macaulay told the Tribune, “I lived in Nigeria as a young man with my parents and the rest of my family, I was never able to express my sexuality due to the hostile environment of the home, church and community against same sex attractions. The only response was often violence masked in the rhetoric of religious oppression and bigotry.”
Jordan: Law vs reality for LGBT community
An article in Global Voices says that there’s a difference between what the law books say about LGBT people and the reality they face.
Jordan’s stance on LGBT issues is considered one of the more advanced in the Middle East, as criminalization of same-sex relations was removed from country’s the Penal Code in 1951. However, decriminalization alone has not ensured complete freedom for members of Jordan’s LGBT community. Article Six of the Jordanian Constitution protects citizens from discrimination on the basis of race, language or religion, but these protections do not extend to people of variant sexual identity.
This gray area is where discrimination still manages to play out in the daily lives of LGBT persons. Nasser*, a 23-year-old who moved to Jordan about a year ago and identifies as a homosexual, has experienced being asked to leave an establishment for displaying affection publicly. “The manager of the bar approached us and told us that what we were doing is not allowed. I told him that that I know the laws, and that this is not illegal in Jordan,” he told Global Voices. “He told us, ‘it may be allowed in Jordan, but it’s not allowed in here,’ and then we felt uncomfortable and left.”
For transgender persons, the situation is even more complicated and dangerous. Article 307 of the Jordanian Penal Code states: “Any male who is disguised in a female’s dress and enters a place reserved for women only or which cannot be entered by other than women at the time of committing the act; he shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not to exceed six months.” However, in practice, transgender persons have experienced harassment even while in public spaces.
The article notes that ordanian Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who became UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2014, has “put forth more than twenty proposals to protect LGBT persons.”
Scotland: Catholic secondary schools to create LGBT ‘safe spaces’
The Scottish Catholic Education Service announced that every Catholic secondary school will have a “safe space” for LGBT students where they could find someone who had been trained to meet their needs.
France: Growing gay support for far-right Marine Le Pen?
At BuzzFeed, Lester Feder and Pierre Buet report on the growing support for the right-wing National Front among LGBT voters. The party, led by Marine Le Pen, has tried to distance itself from the extremism and anti-Semitism of its founder, Le Pen’s father. Like Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos in the U.S., Le Pen wants to convince gay voters that their enemy is not conservatives but Muslims:
The race is the next key test of the nationalist wave that led the UK to leave the EU and to the election of Donald Trump in the US. Some on the right have predicted — and some progressive LGBT activists are worried — that LGBT voters could help put politicians like Le Pen into office because they increasingly fear Muslim immigrants. Left-wing parties have been responsible for nearly every LGBT rights advance on the continent, and if their supporters were to defect to nationalist parties it would suggest the political crisis in the continent is even deeper than many on the left have feared…
There’s still a lot standing in the way of LGBT voters actually voting for Marine Le Pen in large numbers. But her anti-immigrant, anti-EU position — coupled with a more center-left economic policy that supports France’s robust social safety net — is pulling voters from left-wing constituencies to her side. Courting LGBT voters remains a high-wire act, because beneath Le Pen’s march to victory is a simmering internal battle that could build into a true revolt from within.
If she does pull it off and win the presidency, Marine Le Pen would upend not just French politics, but potentially the politics of all of Western Europe. A victory could offer a radical new template for nationalist parties and demonstrate that even the most reliable of left-wing voters may be up for grabs.
United Kingdom: Activists celebrate posthumous pardons, decry continuing deportations
The government posthumously pardoned about 49,000 men who had been convicted in previous decades under laws used before 1967 to criminalize homosexual activity. Under the law people who are still living will also be awarded pardons if they apply for them. Huck Magazine commented, “Before you celebrate this government pardoning dead white gay men, remember the United Kingdom still deports LGBT people to countries where it’s unsafe to be queer all the time.”
Venezuela: Two women recognized as legal parents on son’s birth certificate
Venezuela Analysis reports that two lesbians have been recognized as legal parents on a child’s birth certificate for the first time. The action by the national registry office follows a Supreme Court case brought by the Venezuelan Equality Association. The women were married in Argentina, where they gave birth to their son. According to the news report, the women’s son was conceived in vitro with one woman’s egg and was carried to term by the other woman.
Estonia: Men married in Sweden have marriage officially recognized
Two men who had married in Sweden had their marriage recognized after a court ruling required reluctant authorities to register their marriage, making them “the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Estonia,” according to Gay Star News.
Mexico: Court rules same-sex couples entitled to assisted reproduction
Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to assisted reproduction. Under the country’s legal system, the ruling does not immediately change state laws, but means that couples who challenge local restrictions will be able to obtain a federal injunction, or amparo, allowing them to exercise their rights. This is the same situation for same-sex couples who want to be married in states that have not yet passed marriage equality legislation.
The Congress of the State of Durango rejected marriage equality legislation last Tuesday, meaning that couples will continue to have to go through the time-consuming process of getting an amparo in order to get married in the state. LGBT activists said that deputies had been “intimidated” by anti-marriage equality groups like Red Family and the National Front for the Family, which has been supported by U.S. Religious Right groups. A business leader told a reporter that Durango continues to be a very conservative society and that deputies were voting based on moral and religious reasons rather than on the legal issues.
European Union: Parliament calls for recognition of adoptions without discrimination
The European Parliament adopted a report on February 2 “demanding the automatic recognition of domestic adoption orders” – without discrimination on the basis of parents’ sexual orientation – across EU member states.
Sudan: Mini-documentary on brutal realities of life for LGBT Sudanese
Mesahat, a group established in 2015 to reduce the risks faced the sexual and gender minorities in Egypt and Sudan, posted a short documentary, “Queer Voices from Sudan…What is it like to be Queer in Khartoum.” It reports that LGBT people face high levels of legal and social violence.
Hungary: Registered same-sex couples win equal tax, inheritance treatment
The National Tax and Customs Administration announced that it would stop discriminating against registered same-sex partners in matters of taxation and inheritance. Partners will receive the same treatment as married spouses except for explicit exceptions named in the partnership law, such as parenting. Hungary will host the World Congress of Families summit in May.
Netherlands: Mobile app designed to help LGBT migrants & refugees
Dutch officials have created a mobile app to help LGBT migrants get information on refugee rights and resources and Dutch asylum procedures.
Liberia: Essay on ‘tacit tolerance’ and backlash to public pressure for LGBT equality
Baba Sillah, a Liberian post-graduate student in the Graduate School of Global Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo, published an essay in Front Page Africa Online examining “tacit tolerance” and Liberian resistance to pro-LGBT activists from the U.S. and U.K. “The essay concludes with observations on how the strategy for demanding gay rights through public activism may not be working in Liberia and suggests the need to explore more feasible options which will place premium on protecting the health of gay people over legal rights recognition.”