2017 Around the World: Progress and Persecution For LGBT People

Journalist Masha Gessen dubbed 2017 “the year Russian LGBT persecution defied belief.” Pink News called 2017 “the year of the homophobic purge” featuring “brutal crackdowns across the world.” The Daily Xtra’s year-end recap focused more on the good news, saying that “LGBT movements around the world” made “impressive gains,” noting advances in marriage equality in a number of nations. But the article also notes “horrific crackdowns on LGBT people” in Chechnya, Egypt, Uganda, Tajikistan, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Tanzania.” At The Global Americans, Javier Corrales recaps the year’s top 10 LGBT stories from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Xtra’s Rob Salerno wrote that under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada was a pro-LGBT leader in 2017. Foreign Policy reported that “2017 was a bad year for Egypt’s LGBT community,” adding that “2018 could be even worse.” Amnesty International released a report on “the increasingly discriminatory environment that LGBTI rights groups” face in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

ILGA released its 2017 Trans Legal Mapping Report. GATE published “Gender is Not an Illness: How pathologizing trans people violates international human rights law.”

Among the 2017 recipients of a human rights award granted by Italian civil liberties group CILD was Wajahat Abbas Kazmi, “a Pakistani activist and director who has been working in Italy for many years.” The group cited his Allah Loves Equality project, which challenges religious fundamentalism and giving voice to “the many Muslim believers who defy religious intolerance and fanaticism every day.” According to the group, “Wajahat Abbas is making an important contribution to the affirmation of the rights of Muslim LGBT people by promoting non-homotransphobic interpretation of Islamic sources, such as Koran and Sunnah.”

The Global Interfaith Network for People of All Sexes, Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Expressions (GIN-SSOGIE) announced in December that Toni Kruger-Ayebazibwe has become the group’s new executive director. Kruger-Ayebazibwe is a lay minister in the Anglican Church, and is pursuing ordination in the Metropolitan Community Church denomination. She is completing her Master’s degree in Theology at St Augustine College, a private Catholic university in Johannesburg. From a press release:

“GIN-SSOGIE is an extraordinary organisation, with an extraordinary vision,” says Toni, “and it is both an enormous pleasure and a great challenge to be tasked with moving it forward.  I believe that the role that faith can play in challenging the oppression of LGBTI people is an area of work which is ripe for expansion.  As people of faith of all SOGI we know that our faith traditions speak to who we are in the world, and also to a vision of how the world should be – a place in which all of us, regardless of gender or sexuality, or any of the other intersections of oppression, can live life in abundance, fully embracing who we are. LGBTI people are also people of faith and it is time that we claim that space back.”

At the United Nations, High Commission for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a Jordanian prince, who has been a strong voice for the human rights of LGBT people, “has made the unusual decision to not seek a second four-year term, saying it ‘might involve bending a knee in supplication’” or lessening his independence. From the NY Times Somini Sengupta and Nick Cumming-Bruce:

Mr. al-Hussein proved confounding to many by defying classification: the first human rights chief from the Middle East but a sharp critic of violations by Arab governments; a Muslim who condemned Islamic militants; and a Jordanian prince who discarded his title to take the job and become an advocate for victims.

“Even more than his predecessors, Zeid fully embraced the role of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights as ‘conscience for the world,’ eloquently using his voice to become ‘a sort of nightmare’ for dictators, demagogues, and anti-democratic foes,” said Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, in New York.

The World Congress of Families’ 2018 global summit will be held in Moldova. According to Tass, “Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill I has accepted the invitation from President Igor Dodon of Moldova to make a pastoral visit to the republic” during the WCF gathering in September. “Dodon sayd Kirill I and he had discussed the importance of protecting and consolidating the traditional family values in the Orthodox Christian countries.”

“This is particularly important today, as Christian values are undergoing an amassed devaluation,” he said.

“I stressed Moldova’s role of a stronghold of the Orthodox Christian world and an advance guard in struggle for Christian values,” Dodon indicated. “The Orthodox Church is a most authoritative institute of Moldovan society today.”

Australia: debates shift to religious rights and next priorities for LGBT movement

With marriage equality in effect, debate has shifted to the question of religious exemptions. From The Sydney Morning Herald’s Eryk Bagshaw:

The Greens will use Phillip Ruddock’s review of religious freedoms to build momentum for an Australian bill of rights and with Labor’s support it could be put before a Senate inquiry as early as next year.

The Coalition, the Greens and the Opposition will clash over religious freedoms when Parliament resumes in February after Treasurer Scott Morrison vowed to defend Christianity from discrimination following the passing of same-sex marriage legislation.

Mr Morrison fired the first shots in the post same-sex marriagedebate by declaring he would “call out” offensive remarks against religion and attacked Greens Senator Nick McKim for puportedly advocating for non-denominational celebrations at Christmas.

Senator McKim believes a charter or bill of rights could satisfy both religious conservatives and advocates for greater social freedoms.

“Religious rights are important rights but they need to be protected in a way that balances other rights,” he said.

“There is a difference between the right to believe in religion and the right to practise by discriminating against other people.”

Meanwhile, LGBT activists are figuring out the movement’s next steps:

Easier gender changes on birth certificates. Preventing unnecessary surgery on intersex children. Gender education in schools and LGBTI acceptance in aged care.

These are just some of the LGBTI causes raised as priorities by Australian community leaders and activists keen to keep the ball rolling after the passage of marriage equality legislation.

A fact often lost in the postal survey debate is that marriage equality is not the be-all and end-all for queer people, for the simple reason that many are opposite-sex attracted and could already marry – particularly people who are bisexual, trans or intersex.

But now one of the last forms of discrimination before the law of gay and lesbian Australians has been lifted it remains to be seen if there’s enough solidarity to bank the win and move on to the next fight.

Indonesia: Official says gay people should be ‘nurtured’ by religious groups but not accepted

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said in December that LGBT people should be “nurtured, not shunned,” but also called for “religious adherents” to reacquaint LGBT people with religious teaching, saying “there is no religion that tolerates LGBT action.” More from Human Rights Watch:

This is not Saifuddin’s first foray into doublespeak. In February 2016, as Indonesian government officials embarked on a feeding frenzy of anti-LGBT rhetoric, he said: “We cannot be hostile [toward] nor hate [LGBT people] as they are also citizens of the state. This doesn’t mean that we condone or allow for the LGBT movement to shift the religious values and the identity of the nation.” That same month he urged nonviolence toward LGBT people while suggesting they were “mentally ill” and in need of, “treatment – either psychological or religious.”

That March he reiterated his conditional and contradictory approach to tolerance by calling for Indonesians, “to embrace [LGBT people] so they will be conscious that they live in a religious society which can’t accept homosexuality.” And although Saifuddin attended an awards ceremony in August 2016 for the Alliance of Independent Journalists, which bestowed a prestigious freedom of expression award on two LGBT rights defenders, a week later he took pains to explain that he had no prior knowledge of the award winners’ identities.

St. Helena: Legislative Council votes for marriage equality

The legislative council of this British Overseas Territory voted nine to two to allow same-sex couple to marry:

Cyril Leo and Brian Isaac were the only councillors to vote against the bill becoming law. Dr Corinda Essex abstained.

She said she knew her view would be controversial. “I have no objection to same-sex relationships and indeed I respect them,” she said. “I know a number of people who have entered into them. I am no way homophobic in any respect.

“However I believe that can be achieved through civil partnership.”

She added: “I believe very strongly that marriage was ordained not just in the Christian faith but in all the [main] faiths of the world… [as being] between a man and a woman.” …

The Hon. Cruyff Buckley said he was a Christian but supported a change in the law. “This bill ushers in a new level of respect for minority groups,” he said. …

Governor Lisa Phillips will now be asked to ratify the bill and make it law, giving people on St Helena the same rights as same-sex couples on Ascension, Tristan da Cunha and most other UK overseas territories outside the Caribbean.

Speaking later in the traditional adjournment debate, Lawson Henry said it was a great day for St Helena.

St Helena’s 2017 Marriage Bill does not compel ministers to marry same-sex couples if it conflicts with religious doctrine. It also deals with other aspects of marriage law, including allowing weddings to take place outside places of worship.

Egypt: Government commission says atheism leads to homosexuality, should be outlawed

A parliamentary commission on religion is advocating that “promotion of atheism” be criminalized; according to Pink News, the commission “ruled that atheism can cause ‘mental imbalances’ which in turn leads to homosexuality.’”

It is believed that the commission hopes that by pushing through the law it will support the bid of another law which has been deemed the most homophobic law in the world.

The second law which is currently being pushed through targets the community by punishing gay sex in a public or private place with a prison sentence ranging from one to three years.

The measure was introduced by MP Riyad Abdel Sattar, a politician leading the rhetoric that those who identify within the LGBTQ+ realm have a “disease”.

As well as criminalising gay sex it also puts journalists and activists at risk of covering LGBTQ+ events as it threatens conviction.

Northern Ireland: Same-sex couples challenge dismissal of marriage equality lawsuit

Two same-sex couples have appealed a judge’s ruling dismissing their marriage equality lawsuit. Grainne Close and she and her partner Shannon Sickles do not “want to walk down in aisle in Ahoghill,” saying, “For us, this isn’t about a religious marriage. We respect people’s right to religion.”

Tunisia: Online radio station for LGBT community debuts

An online radio station focused on the LGBT community began broadcasting in December. From Japan Times:

The outlet — set up by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights group Shams — aims to tackle deep-rooted hostility in the North African state, where homosexuality is officially illegal.

The slogan of Shams Rad station is “dignity, equality” and its presenters include prominent activists, but those behind it have reported receiving threats.

It intends “to sensitize the people of Tunisia, ordinary citizens and political decision makers about homophobia in society and to defend individual liberties,” said director-general Bouhdid Belhadi. …

Gay rights activists have emerged from the shadows in Tunisia since the revolution in 2011, but their position remains precarious in Tunisia’s conservative Muslim society.

Article 230 of the penal code includes a punishment of up to three years in prison for homosexuality and young men are regularly detained and prosecuted.

While activists have welcomed the launch of the radio station, it has drawn some hostile reactions on social networks and from other media.

Belhadi reported receiving more than 4,000 insults and threats online, including death threats.

Iran: Activists decry public officials’ anti-LGBT ‘hate speech’

LGBT network 6rang published a briefing paper on “official hate speech against LGBT people.”

The 27-page briefing includes shocking official statements, describing homosexuals and homosexuality on official platforms as “lower than animals”, “savagery”, “subhuman”, “corrupt”, “diseased”, “western” and “Zionist”. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of a discourse that promotes and justifies hate and violence against LGBT people in the family, society, and in educational, judicial and law enforcement institutions.

For example, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in one of his many remarks about homosexuality has said “If we were to presume that human desires legitimize hamjensbazi[faggotry] then someone could also have the desire to commit incest and they should face no impediment. In principle, all impediments would then have to be removed.”

Mehrdad Bazrpash, a former Member of Parliament and a former deputy to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said in March 2012 in responses to criticisms accusing Iran of homophobia that “it is a great honour for the Islamic Republic to violate the rights of homosexuals.” The report also quotes Iranian parliamentarian Ali Motahari as asking “why the West is moving toward animalism, and promoting affairs such as homosexuality that go against the human nature?”

Chile: Marriage equality opponent wins presidential election; Congress will have pro-equality majority

Sebastián Piñera, Chile’s president between 2010 and 2014, will return to office in March after winning a runoff election in December.  Piñera is an opponent of marriage equality for same-sex couples; as president he argued against a “new definition of marriage” in a brief filed at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, but he did sign hate crimes and anti-discrimination legislation known as the Zamudio law. Both houses of Congress will have majorities committed to marriage equality.

The Supreme Court ruled that Graciela Ortúzar, the mayor of Lampa, had violated the Zamudio law and engaged in illegal arbitrary discrimination by mocking transgender councilmember Alejandra González Pino over her gender identity and not using her chosen name.

Nepal: Legal commission calls for full implementation of LGBT equality

The International Commission of Jurists “has called on the Government of Nepal to fully implement the court’s ruling on the protection o the rights of lesbian, gay,  bisexual, transgender and intersex people.”

Russia: Anti-Gay Chechen officials hit with US sanctions

The U.S. imposed financial sanctions on Ramzan Kadyrov, the anti-LGBT leader of Chechnya and a political ally of Vladimir Putin. According to AFP, “The US also imposed sanctions on the Chechen security official Ayub Kataev, likewise accused of gross violations of human rights and abuses against gay men, as well as three others accused of involvement in the corruption case uncovered by deceased Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.” Kataev is a prison warden who “allegedly oversaw the detention and torture of gay men in Chechnya” in the first half of 2017.

Bermuda: Governor still weighing options on law to strip same-sex couples of right to marry

Gov. John Rankin has been seeking legal advice about whether to grant his consent to the parliament’s vote in December to rescind marriage equality for same-sex couples. But four gay couples who had been approved to get married on Bermuda-registered ships were allowed to move forward.

Malaysia: Activists worried by state’s new ‘conversion therapy’ for trans women

The state of Terengganu will run a “voluntary” conversion therapy course targeting transgender women; AFP reports that the course will “include medical, psychological and religious experts, as well as transgender women who have ‘returned to normal lives.’”

Israel: Profile of Orthodox lesbian activist

The Jewish Chronicle (UK) profiles Zehorit Sorek, a lesbian and Orthodox Jew who says her role as an activist is twofold: “one aspect of her work is to communicate with the religious community to lobby for greater acceptance of LGBT Israelis in religious life, and the other is to raise awareness among members of the public.”

Her most visible campaign, titled ‘Our Faces’, targets young, in-the-closet Israelis who perceive a contradiction between religious observance and homosexuality.

The campaign, launched two years ago, produces and ublicizes headshot collages of headshots of members of Israel’s Orthodox LGBT community in newspapers and online.

Ghana: President slammed for suggesting anti-LGBT attitudes may someday evolve

President Nana Akufo-Addo said in an interview this fall that there’s no real effort to promote acceptance of homosexuality in Ghana, where it is a criminal offense. But NewNowNext reports that even his acknowledgement that the country may some day see the kinds of changes in attitudes toward LGBT people reflected in other part of the globe sparked criticism from political and religious leaders.