Anti-Gay Violence Rages in Gambia; Conservative ‘Complementarity’ Confab; Coming Out in Iraq Can Be Death Sentence; Global LGBT Recap

Transgender Day of Remembrance was observed around the world on Thursday to memorialize victims of violence against transgender people. Organizers report that at least 226 trans people were murdered in the past year, which almost certainly under-reports the actual figure.  In the US, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported earlier this year that, based on data collected from 13 states and Puerto Rico, almost three-quarters of LGBTQ homicides in 2013 were transgender women, more than two-thirds trans women of color. In Wales, Liberal Democrats marked Transgender Awareness Week by leading a debate in the Welsh Assembly on issues faced by trans people.

Gambia: UN, Amnesty International Sound Alarm About Anti-Gay Persecution

This week the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein criticized Gambia’s recent amendment to the criminal code that imposes life imprisonment for the broad and vaguely defined offence of “aggravated homosexuality.” He said the law “violates fundamental human rights” and he “expressed alarm at reports of a wave of arbitrary arrests and detention of individuals perceived to be homosexual in the country.”

Since the new law was approved, representatives of The Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency have been reportedly conducting door-to-door enquiries to identify, arrest and detain individuals believed to be homosexual, and some of those detained have allegedly also been subjected to violent attacks and mistreatment, Mr. Zeid said. In other countries, similar laws have also led to an increase in violence against members of the LGBT community, including mob attacks.

“I call on The Gambia to fulfil its international obligations to promote and protect the human rights of all persons without discrimination, to repeal all provisions of the Criminal Code that criminalize relations between consenting adults and to put in place an immediate moratorium on arrests on the basis of such laws,” the High Commissioner said.

Amnesty International also sounded the alarm on Gambia this week, highlighting the detention and torture of eight people it says were arrested earlier this month:

“These arrests took place amid an intensifying climate of fear for those perceived to have a different sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

Earlier this year, Gambia’s vehemently anti-gay President Yahya Jammeh, threatened to kill Gambians who seek asylum in Europe to avoid anti-gay persecution at home.

Uganda: President Tells Church to Support Government’s Anti-Gay Efforts

As we have reported, politicians in Uganda are working behind the scenes on a bill to replace the notorious Anti-Homsexuality Act, which was thrown out by the courts on a procedural matter. Reports have suggested that President Yoweri Museveni is trying to steer the outcome toward more of an anti-gay “propaganda” law. Last weekend he called on church leaders to support the government’santi-gay efforts, reports Pink News.

In a speech at the weekend read for him by the Minister of Security, Muruli Mukasa, President Museveni said that any clergy who presides over a wedding of a gay couple should be blacklisted and isolated from the Church of Uganda.

Mr Museveni said that homosexuality had become a ‘danger’ to the young generation.

There’s more from the Uganda Monitor, which reports that the remarks were made at the consecration of a bishop, and that the speech declared that the wedding of a gay couple is counter to both biblical teachings and African norms and customs.

Africa: Experts Hope Botswana Court Ruling Will Encourage Openness:

Reuters reported on Tuesday, “United Nations and African human rights experts on Tuesday urged African countries and others around the world to lift bans on lobbying for gay rights after Botswana’s High Court ruled that a local group there had a right to be registered.

The ruling last Friday marked a rare victory for gays and lesbians in Africa, where homosexual activity is banned in 38 countries, and in 3 can bring the death penalty. Most also bar any campaigning on gays’ behalf….

In making their decision, the Botswana judges rejected government arguments for refusing the registration of the local group, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, or LEGABIBO.

The experts quoted the court ruling as declaring that “it is not a crime for one to be attracted to people of one’s own sex” and that “advocacy for legislative reforms to decriminalize homosexuality is lawful.”

Reuters reported from Gabarone that the Botswana judge, Terrence Rannoane, said freedom of expression and association were protected by the country’s constitution, even though engaging in homosexual acts was still a crime.

Also this week, LGBT Weekly published a wrap-up of the state of LGBT equality in Africa.

Vatican: Conference on ‘Complementarity’ Draws Raves from Anti-Gay Religious Right

The Vatican-hosted interfaith conference on the “complementarity” of men and women in marriage took place this week. It was organized by conservative German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It drew a number of high-profile participants and attendees from anti-gay religious activists in the U.S.  A centerpiece of the “Humanum” conference was a set of six videos, which it turns out were produced by Mark Regnerus, author of a discredited report on “family structures” that is still widely cited by anti-gay activists.

Conservative activists, including Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, and Eric Teetsel, heaped praise on Pope Francis’s opening remarks.  At New Ways Ministry, Francis DeBernardo reviews differing interpretations of Francis’s remarks, which included the formulation used by anti-marriage-equality advocates that every child deserves a mother and father. DeBernardo notes that while some viewed the speech as the pope bowing to pressure from conservatives, he saw it as a continuation of Francis’s practice of “defending traditional doctrine, but avoiding angering those who oppose it.”

Anti-gay Americans also cheered the remarks of Nicholas Okoh, the brutally anti-gay Archbishop of Nigeria chosen by conference organizers to represent the Anglican Communion. TIME magazine’s Elizabeth Dias found the collaboration between evangelicals, Mormons, and Catholics notable:

Skepticism about the other’s faith tends to run deep between Catholics, evangelicals and Mormons. In strict economic terms, the three faiths all compete for followers. They are heavily missionizing, and often they evangelize precisely in ways that distinguish themselves apart from the other faiths. But the Protestant work ethic runs deep in both evangelical and Mormon culture, as does deep commitment to faith convictions that the outside world may not understand. The gathering signals that some Vatican leaders recognize that banding together to support marriage as between one man and one woman may be a smart strategy going forward, especially as they have been standing separately against the western world’s changing sexual mores.

On paper, the colloquium concluded with an affirmation of marriage. “For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter,” it reads. “It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate….This we affirm.”

But in practice, it ended with something more significant—a strengthening of alliances. The event forged and deepened relationships across faith lines. “This group differs on many points—theological and political—but we agree that marriage matters,” says Moore, who walked around the Vatican with a copy of Luther’s 95 Theses in his coat pocket, a symbol of Protestantism’s break with Rome 500 years ago. “The colloquium started a conversation of groups on virtually every continent and virtually every religious tradition on how we can work together for the common good of marriage.”

For Eyring, of the LDS Church, the event marks a beginning. “They are talking about how are we going to get the word out and what more can we do. They want to do more,” he told theDeseret News. “It’s been amazing how receptive they have been to us,” Perry added, describing relationship he has been developing with Catholic leaders. “I think that we’ve developed a relationship now that they recognized that we have the strength and our structure in our organization that can reach out in a way that other churches do not have.”

American evangelical leaders say they are also leaving hopeful of the journey ahead. “The content of the colloquium was important, but perhaps more so were the connections made between people who share come concerns but who didn’t know each other before,” Moore says. “I am leaving the colloquium much more optimistic than I was when I arrived.”

Adds Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council: “The atmosphere was almost euphoric as the attendees from six of the world’s seven continents broke from the historic gathering to return to their respective nations renewed in their stand for marriage,” he says. “The courts may declare otherwise, and Hollywood may depict its demise, but the union of a man and a woman as the natural and enduring definition of marriage will endure until the end.”

While in Ireland, stridently anti-gay Cardinal Raymond Burke refused to comment on his recent demotion, and while he declined to talk about Ireland’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality, according to Pink News, “he did say he would refuse to give communion to any legislators who voted in favor of equality.”

Meanwhile, advocacy groups and news outlets noted that 2013 tax filings from the National Organization for Marriage showed a huge drop-off in donations after 2012, a year in which there were several high-profile ballot measures on marriage – all of which NOM lost.  Still, NOM and its affiliated “Education Fund” raised about $6.8 million in 2013. It ended the year with $2.5 million in debt.

Iraq and Islamic State: ‘When Coming Out is a Death Sentence’

The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission published this week “When Coming Out is a Death Sentence,” a report on the persecution of LGBT Iraqis, and “We’re Here: Iraqi LGBT People’s Accounts of Violence and Rights Abuses.” From IGLHRC:

LGBT people in Iraq have long been persecuted. But the rising tide of turmoil today puts many at imminent risk of death. The Islamic State prescribes death for the “practice” of homosexuality. Furthermore, evidence gathered for two briefings by IGLHRC and its partners, MADRE and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, demonstrate the direct effect of the collapse of the rule of law on LGBT persons, through unfettered violence by sectarian militias.

While the conflict in Iraq has placed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis at risk of serious human rights violations, LGBT Iraqis face unique threats to their safety. In addition, escape to previously safer areas, such as Iraqi Kurdistan, has been curtailed by the conflict. Unlike other groups, such as women or ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT people have little communal safety or protection from family, tribal or community members. Once exposed, family and community members, along with the authorities, are often complicit in abuses against LGBT individuals.

The Guardian reports:

Shia militias acting under Iraqi government cover are leading the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis, sharply increasing their risk of death or exile, a report has found.

LGBT Iraqis lack family or community support and the government refuses to offer any meaningful protection, according to the report When Coming Out Is A Death Sentence published by the group. It said the central government was likely to be complicit in a recent increase in attacks against gay people in Baghdad, which have been carried out by the feared Shia militia, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.

“Past and present killing sprees against LGBT Iraqis have taken place with total impunity,” it said. “No one has been held accountable for the murders, and the previous government rejected calls to even investigate violence based on actual or perceived sexual and gender non-conformity.”

On 15 May this year, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq – the most powerful Iranian backed militia group in Iraq – displayed wanted posters in Baghdad of 23 men it said were gay and another man accused of having long hair. One month later, two allegedly gay youths, aged between 15 and 17, were attacked and beheaded with their heads thrown in a rubbish bin, said a witness to the attack. A subsequent attack on a Baghdad brothel, thought to have been carried out by the same militia, killed about 34 people, most of them women.

Turkey: A Country Divided on LGBT Issues

Rev. Irene Monroe writes this week about Turkey being a conflicted country, both a safe haven for LGBT people in the Middle East – “the ‘go-to’ country for LGBTI Muslims feeling other Islamic countries for their safety” – but also a country where LGBT people face persistent religious and cultural prejudice and legal discrimination. She notes that the government promised in 2013 to provide constitutional protection against discrimination but then let the proposal die. She says Turkey LGBTQ Union is a new online effort to encourage collaboration among the country’s LGBT groups, but that the organizer is fearful enough to keep his identity secret, speaking via skype from an underground gay club.

Russia: Teen Support Group Leader Charged Under Propaganda Law

At BuzzFeed, Max Seddon reports on Russian officials charging a support group for LGBT teenagers under the country’s anti-gay “propaganda” law. “On Monday, Russia’s state communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, announced that it was charging journalist Elena Klimova, the group’s founder, with ‘promoting homosexuality to minors.’” Among the “evidence” in the brief against Klimova was the group’s online suicide prevention efforts.

The Barents Observer reports that for the LGBT community in Arctic Russia, “the danger is everywhere and it’s everyday.” It profiled young LGBT activists in Murmansk and the harsh challenges they face in Putin’s Russia, which began in 2000 when “then-newly elected president, Vladimir Putin, was trying to court the religious vote” with “rapid policy reversals” on LGBT issues.

The parents of Matthew Shepard are headed to Russia today for a five-day trip at which they will join a screening of the documentary “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine” at a gay film festival in St. Petersburg, and will visit Moscow where they hope to meet with parents of gay children. Associated Press points out that anti-gay politician Vitaloy Milonov has suggested that the sponsors of the film festival be sanctioned.  It’s not the first trip abroad for Shepard’s parents.

Vietnam: Openly Gay US Ambassador Set to Take Post

Ted Osius, an openly gay career diplomat, was confirmed as US Ambassador to Vietnam two months ago; the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers spoke to him as he was preparing to take his post; his husband and son will join him.

Osius’ ambassadorship also comes against the backdrop of a Vietnamese LGBT rights movement that continues to grow more visible.

PFLAG Vietnam officially launched in Ho Chi Minh City in May 2011, and it has grown to include hundreds of members across the country. Vietnam’s first Pride parade took place in Hanoi a little more than a year later.

A number of popular Vietnamese television shows now feature gay characters.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Justice in June 2013 proposed a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry and extended rights to gays and lesbians who live together.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved a measure to amend the country’s marriage and family law, but it did not include provisions that would have allowed gay nuptials or extended rights to same-sex couples. Members of the Vietnamese Parliament continue to debate them.

“It’s a conservative country, but it could be the first country in Asia after New Zealand to endorse same-sex marriage,” Osius told the Blade. “It could be. I don’t think it’s guaranteed. It’s a work in progress just as it is here.”

Osius acknowledged the presence of an openly gay ambassador in Vietnam could have a positive impact on the country’s LGBT rights movement.

“I will show up with the family that looks like mine,” he told the Blade. “My husband’s African American; our son is brown, he’s Latino. I’m white. We have this modern family. My mom’s coming with us. She’s 84. It’s a multigenerational, multiethnic family.”

Osius said he has not seen any negative reaction to his confirmation within Vietnam — a picture of him with Clay and their son went viral within the country.

Australia: Member of Parliament Comes Out, Calls for Marriage Equality

On Thursday, Liberal MP Don Harwin came out as part of his Christmas message on the last sitting day for Parliament, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Harwin advocated for marriage equality. “I hope that my many friends who are waiting for the opportunity to marry will not have to wait too much longer for the Commonwealth Parliament to reform the law,” he said.

A council member in the City of Casey who is affiliated with the right-wing Rise Up Australia party submitted a motion calling for an end to the “promotion of homosexuality.” Her measures seek to end diversity training, ban press releases dealing with sexual orientation.

South Africa: Church fires minister for appearing in photo with gay people

The Afrikaans Protestant Church fired Philip Olivier from the Groblersdal congregation after he posted a picture on Facebook showing him at a social function with gay people. According to Gay Star News, “The church charged the minister with socialising and mixing with gay people. It cited 1 Timothy 6:11 in the Bible, ‘flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness’.” According to Mambaonline, Olivier is himself gay.

“It boils down to one thing – homophobia toward the gay community. That’s why they dismissed me at the end of the day. The church is not right. They should stop being homophobic and reach and out embrace people with love. At this stage it’s quite the opposite,” Olivier told Mambaonline.

Colombia: Human Rights Leader Killed

LGBT human rights activist Guillermo Garzon Andrade was murdered last Saturday in his home in Bogota. Activists called on the Attorney General’s office to investigate, saying that previous human rights activists’ killers have gone unpunished.

Exodus International: Former ‘Ex-Gay’ Leader Marries in Oklahoma

John Smid, former director of “ex-gay” group Love in Action, and who spent 11 years on the board of Exodus International, married his same-sex partner in Oklahoma on Sunday.

World Bank: Profile of LGBT Leader

At, R.A.Schuetz profiles Fabrice Houdart, a Senior Country Officer at the World Bank and president of its LGBT organization, who has worked to quantify the extent to which discrimination against sexual minorities impedes economic development.

Japan: First Pride Celebration in Fukoka

On Sunday about 1,000 people took part in the first LGBT pride parade in Fukoka, Japan.