Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN independent expert charged with investigating discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity told the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers that he sees his job as “an engaging process with all actors.” A number of anti-equality countries, cheered on by U.S. Religious Right groups, tried multiple times to derail Muntarbhorn’s position, which was created by the Human Rights Council last year. More from the Blade:
Muntarbhorn in 2006 co-chaired the meeting that led to the adoption of the Yogyakarta Principles, a set of recommendations on the application of international human rights law to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He also spoke at the 28th ILGA World Conference that took place in Bangkok last November.
“The mandate is to address the issues of violence and discrimination,” Muntarbhorn told the Blade. “That’s the entry point.”
Muntarbhorn said his work focuses on five areas: Decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations, recognition of gender identity, fighting stigma against LGBT and intersex people, empathy and cultural inclusion.
“This is very much reaching out to a broad understanding of religion,” he said.
Berry, an openly gay career Foreign Service officer whom conservative groups have derided as Obama’s “top gay activist,” became the first person to hold the position in February 2015.
In December, Tony Perkins, the head of the conservative Family Research Council, implored Trump to launch a major purge of pro-LGBT diplomats inside Foggy Bottom. “The incoming administration needs to make clear that these liberal policies will be reversed and the ‘activists’ within the State Department promoting them will be ferreted out,” he said.
The special envoy position was created during the Obama years to fight back against the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people around the globe. Conservative groups have called the office an attempt to “entrench the LGBTI agenda” into the United States government, and accuse it of browbeating countries opposed to gay-friendly school textbooks and same-sex marriage.
While the Trump administration’s relationships with Russian officials continued to make news, the Russian Orthodox Church praised Trump’s anti-abortion moves. The church statement cited its agreement with US-based Brian Brown, head of the World Congress of Families and International Organization for the Family. Brown recently traveled through Russia and several European countries while promoting the IOF’s Declaration on the Family and Marriage. In an email to supporters, Brown gushed about his “incredible trip in eastern Europe,” including his address to “over 1,000 pro-family activists” in Serbia.
Church of England: Clergy rejection of bishops’ marriage ban leaves position in ‘disarray’
The House of Clergy voted to reject a report from the bishops that had called for maintaining the ban on church blessings for same-sex couples. “The vote left the bishops’ carefully worded position on same-sex marriage in disarray,” reported Reuters. Critics of the bishops position “pointed out that warships, animals, and pubs are eligible for blessings.”
Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, told the Church of England Synod that he could see no solution in sight for disputes within the communion on sexuality issues.
Archbishop Josiah said the “dispiriting and destructive dynamic” of the conflict over human sexuality was divisive between provinces of the Communion as well as within them. He said the differences could impede their common mission to the world. And he suggested the time might be right to set aside difficult matters.
“It may mean self-restraint of a sacrificial kind, for now. It may mean patience of a painful kind, for now,” he said.
The secretary general was addressing Synod in London the day after it rejected a report from the House of Bishops on marriage and sexuality. He told the meeting he knew the issue of same-sex marriage was highly emotive and any decision they took would leave some disappointed and wounded.
He said that in his home nation of Nigeria the single most pressing issue around human sexuality was the criminalisation of homosexuality.
“The struggle for the legal, social, spiritual and physical safety of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is our issue in Nigeria and other places in Africa,” he said. “The prophetic task for African Anglicans is to denounce violence… that (is) supported by members of our communities and leadership. This is about changing attitudes and we need the space to do this work on our own.”
The theologically conservative Idowu-Fearon’s appointment as secretary general in 2015 had drawn criticism over some of his previous anti-gay comments, but he said at the time that he had never supported the criminalization of homosexuality.
In related news, a report from the Oasis Foundation says that the church’s policies are “seriously damaging the mental health of lesbian, gay and bisexual people outside the Church, often with life-threatening consequences.”
Australia: Cross-party group of legislators pushing for marriage vote
An “unprecedented show of collaboration” across party lines has made it more likely that a marriage equity bill could be brought forward soon, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The report from a group of legislators recommends protections for celebrants with religious objections to performing weddings for same-sex couples, but not the “sweeping” religious exemptions that appeared in draft legislation that had previously been put forward by the attorney general.
Croatia: Zagreb Pride warns of ‘increasingly aggressive’ rhetoric from ‘radical clerical right-wing’
Zagreb Pride urged the government not to give “tacit approval of violence” regarding a February 12 tear gas attack on a club hosting an LGBTIQ-themed party. The group’s statement said in part:
Over the past few months we have been facing the escalation of hatred in public spaces fueled by the increasingly aggressive and louder discourse of the radical clerical right-wing directed against the constitutional values of Croatia, supported by a tactic approval of the Croatian Government. We have already warned about Governments´ lack of appropriate response to the fascist outbursts in relation to the destruction of the memorial plaque in Jasenovac, as well as the silence of the Government in condemning any form of incitement to hatred. Yesterday´s attack clearly and unequivocally demonstrates the fine line between hatred and violence.
Therefore, we invite the Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković, Minister of the Interior Vlaho Orepić as well as Croatian Government to resolutely, loudly and clearly condemn this violent act directed against human rights of LGBTIQ people, Croatian citizens and thereby show that hatred and violence are not the values of our society.
A social media campaign is asking people to speak out publicly: “Let’s show everyone that we, the citizens of the Republic of Croatian, we will not remain silent and watch as the foundations of our country collapsing under the guise of tradition and patriotism, while the ruling party relativize hate speech and violence towards those who are different.”
Pink News reports that about 1000 people protested in the streets of Zagreb aginst the ttack, which injured two people.”
Finland: Parliament rejects initiative challenge to marriage equality
The parliament overwhelmingly rejected a citizens’ initiative challenging the country’s marriage equality law. That means the law allowing same-sex couples to get married will go into effect on March 1. A group called Aito Avioliitto (True Marriage or Real/Genuine Marriage) had gathered more than 100,000 signatures to force the vote; the organization called the vote a disappointment but not a surprise and said the new law will “artificially obscure” what the group calls “fundamental truths” about marriage and families, “but does not actually change them.” Aito Avioliitto describes itself as “part of a European wide marriage movement” and “an official partner” of the French anti-marriage-equality group, La Manif Pour Tous.
France: LePen wants to dump marriage equality, Macron declares sympathy for ‘humiliated’ Catholics
The National Front’s Marine LePen is proposing to reverse the country’s marriage equality law and replace it with some form of civil union for same-sex couples.
Meanwhile, one of her opponents in the presidential race, Emmanuel Macron, said that the government had made a “fundamental error” when it “humiliated” the part of France that opposed marriage equality. As the Irish Times notes, “In an interview with l’Obs magazine, Mr Macron expressed sympathy for hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, many of them traditionalist Catholics, who had opposed the Taubira law that legalised same-sex marriage in 2013.” He later affirmed his support for same-sex marriage but said “it had been a mistake to allow the debate on same-sex marriage to drag on, ‘profoundly dividing society and giving the impression to one side that it had not been heard’.”
Writing in Liberation, Johanna Luyssen and Floridan Bardou criticized Macron’s comments.
Gambia: New president does not share predecessor’s intensely anti-gay agenda
Mamba Online reports that recently inaugurated President Adama Barrow brought relief to many people when he said homosexuality is not an issue in Gambia, and that the economy is a bigger priority. defeated and replaced strongman President Yahya Jammeh, who called homosexuality “anti-God” and called gay people “vermin.” Jammeh had signed a law that includes a sentence of life in prison for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Jammeh’s fall was welcomed by LGBT Gambians. A despot for more than two decades, he not only advocated violence against LGBT people but also promoted the view that homosexuality is being pushed onto Africa by the West.
He threatened to execute gay people by having their heads cut off and is believed to have supported the arrest, detention and torture of a number of people on suspicion of homosexuality by the country’s National Intelligence Agency.
While Barrow has so-far espoused a far more democratic and human rights based approach than his predecessor, his views on homosexuality have never been publicly expressed, until now.
His reported comments do not quite suggest that he is planning to decriminalise homosexuality, but they do indicate that under his rule the country may ease off on the active state persecution of LGBT people.
Homosexuality is illegal in The Gambia under British colonial era laws and those found guilty of “unnatural offences” face up to 14 years in prison. In October 2014, Jammeh signed a law creating the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”, which carries punishment of up to life in prison.
Honduras: Activist seeks to become first LGBT person elected to Congress
Activist Erick Martinez is running to become the first LGBT person elected to Congress. He also ran in 2012, reports the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers, who reports that Martinez “noted an evangelical pastor told Hondurans not to vote for gay men and lesbians because ‘we corrupt God’s models.’”
Martínez told the Blade he compared them to “delinquents, murderers and rapists.”
Martínez and the three other candidates brought a formal complaint against the pastor. A panel of judges said his actions did not constitute discrimination, but they promoted hate and violated Honduras’ election laws that prohibit “churches from becoming involved in political issues.”
Ukraine: Nondiscrimination law in place but ‘traditional values,” discrimination continuing reality
Natasha Blum at International Business Times profiles Marina Lemischenko and Marina Kostetska and expores the challenges facing LGBT people in Ukraine, where a 2015 law bars anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace but where cultural prejudice is a continuing reality.
Ukraine has been struggling to balance national identity and European values. Insight has monitored hate crimes and discrimination as well as advocates for legislative changes to protect the LGBT community. The organization of five members came up against the traditional value system in Ukraine, a country in which 70 percent of people identify as Orthodox Christian. What’s more, a wave of nationalism spread through the country after the revolution and reached extremes among some of the 15,000 pro-Ukrainian volunteers who have been fighting in informal battalions in the East. These battalions have often been affiliated with the far-right and neo-Nazi groups that oppose LGBT rights.
Because members of battalions were volunteering in the war, they could easily evade Ukrainian laws against attacks on LGBT people.
Once veterans return home, “they can dictate whatever they want to see in ‘their’ city,” said Insight founder Olena Shevchenko. “They’re above the law, or they are the law.”
Lebanon: Fallout from recent court decision that homosexuality not a crime
Farid Farid, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, examines continuing fallout from a January court decision in which a judge ruled that homosexuality is not a crime but a legally protected personal choice.
Samar Habib, an Australian academic based in the US who has written extensively about LGBT rights in the Arab world, sees Maalouf’s January 26 ruling as “critical to the ongoing agitations of activists in Lebanon to decriminalise homosexuality”.
“The contest, however, is going to be over the legislative system’s willingness to enshrine anti-discrimination laws explicitly. There is tremendous resistance against this, it is seen as a threat,” she told Fairfax Media.
The verdict has caused uproar in Lebanon since its announcement but has gained support from popular culture icons with massive followings in the Arab world, such as singer Carole Samaha:
While homosexuality is punishable by death in Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in Lebanon it is not explicitly outlawed. However it is still considered a criminal act…
According to a global study by the Pew Research Centre, more than 80 per cent of Lebanese view homosexuality unfavourably, hardened attitudes that can be attributed to conservative religious institutions, Christian and Muslim alike.
January’s verdict has been condemned by various religious bodies, such as the Association of Muslim Scholars of Lebanon, describing it as “a shock to Lebanese society”.
“In the Arab world, even when the law is secular, it is still a reflection of the collective religious beliefs and values of a people. For this reason, I do genuinely believe that to engage the religious establishment in all the countries of the Arab world is crucial for affecting lasting and sustainable social change,” Habib said.
India: ‘Almost openly gay’ pop culture figure profiled
Aatish Taseer profiles Karan Johar, a popular movie director and producer and talk show host who is “by miles the most famous Indian ever to almost be openly gay.” While Johar has “done more than anybody to introduce the idea of homosexuality into the Indian home,” he has remained reticent to talk about his own sexuality. Writes Taseer:
It is impossible not to see Mr. Johar against the background of the society in which he lives. India right now is in the grip of a strange schizophrenia when it comes to gay freedom. The gay dating apps are teeming with activity. Everyone is having sex. Even in small towns, men are furiously soliciting other men. But the legal recognition of same-sex love is stuck firmly in 19th-century Britain. In 2013, the same year Mr. Johar’s gay kiss hit movie screens across India, the Supreme Court reinstated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which places homosexuality, alongside bestiality, as “against the order of nature.”
What the ruling in practice has come to mean is that gay sex for the most part is permitted — the authorities turn a blind eye — but is criminalized on the books, which means of course that marriage, or even any social or legal acknowledgment of same-sex love, is a distant dream. This has created a society where gay freedoms — which can mean Grindr on one end, and the right to marriage on the other — are reduced to carnal pleasure. India, as a consequence, feels like a place where love and sex have parted ways, and where the arc of freedom is bending toward license.
It is in this context that Mr. Johar’s equivocations acquire special meaning. He is not popular among activists and the intelligentsia. They accuse him of reducing gay characters to effeminate parodies. Apurva Asrani, the script writer of “Aligarh,” an affecting film about a gay professor in a Muslim university town, wrote in The Wire: “Sadly Karan’s public image reeks of the very same gay stereotyping that Bollywood infamously propagates — the frustrated sexual predator, the comic relief, the closeted ‘butt of all jokes.’ ”
But Mr. Johar knows that he is far more subversive than his critics admit. He has introduced the idea of homosexuality by stealth into the Indian home. He knows the limits of his “family” audience, but he works vigorously within them.
OutRight Action International published an interview with Sushant, a Californian who talks about the resistance he initially faced in bringing his male lover home to India to meet his parents. In spite of dire warnings from friends and family about his father, Sushant says his parents love his partner Parks. “Despite Paragraph 377, and the social stigma in India around homosexuality, we kiss and hold hands in public, whenever we want to express our affections for each other,” he says. “We usually get curious and puzzled stares.”
Poland: Official discourages same-sex couples married abroad from registering
The Campaign Against Homophobia criticized Deputy Public Prosecutor General Robert Hernand for telling regional prosecutors that it is unacceptable for civil registrars to register the marriages of same-sex couples who married abroad.
Kenya: Court orders registrar to register name change for five trans people
A court ordered the Principal Registrar of Persons to register legal name changes for five transgender people.
Peru: Marriage equality legislation introduced
Marriage equality legislation was introduced on Valentine’s Day
Japan: New film featuring transgender character ‘breaks boundaries’ in Japanese cinema
A new film by Naoko Ogigami, “Close-Knit,” won second prize in the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Kenta Kato reports for Asia Times: “A transgender character is at the film’s center and is played by one of Japan’s superstars in Toma Ikuta, no less.”
Close-Knit conveys a beautiful yet poignant tale of Japanese contemporary families. Abandoned by a single mother, Tomo (Rinka Kakihara), an elementary school student, visits her uncle Makio (Kenta Kiritani), who now lives with his transgender partner, Rinko (Toma Ikuta).
Although surprised by Rinko’s appearance, Tomo slowly begins to understand her sexuality and comes to appreciate her new family.
Ogigami celebrates traditional family values, yet undermines their inherent conservatism by indicating that blood relations or sexual orientation are not mandatory requirements when it comes to being a good mother.
Taiwan: Documentary about woman’s relationship with lesbian mother wins a Teddy
Hui-chen Huang’s documentary about her relationship with her lesbian mother won Best Documentary at the 2017 Teddy Awards at the Berlin Film Festival. The Teddy Award is the festival’s official award for LGBT-themed films.
“We come from Taiwan, a small but beautiful island, which may soon become the first country in Asia with same-sex marriage this year. This award is the best gift for those who have been fighting for the marriage equality,” said director Huang in her acceptance speech.
The documentary is a letter from Huang to her mother, who silently suffered from an abusive relationship that arose from a forced marriage in Taiwan in the 1970s, as well as a rejection of her sexual orientation by society and gradual estrangement from her two daughters.
“Small talk” was selected for Berlin International Film Festival Panorama Section, which drew a lot of attention and favorable review. The film is the first documentary of children who grew up with gay parent that recording their intersection and daily lives, which also nominated for the best documentary and best editing award of the Golden Horse in 2016.
Philippines: Legislation targets street harassment of women and LGBT people
Senator Risa Hontiveros introduced legislation aimed at curbing street harassment of women and LGBT people. Reports Gay Star News:
The Bill would outlaw catcalling, wolf-whistling, cursing, leering, groping, persistent requests for name and contact details.
It will also be illegal to use derogatory words about a person’s actual or perceived sex, gender expression, or sexual orientation and identity including sexist, homophobic and transphobic slurs in public spaces.