‘Anti-Romeo’ Vigilante Squads Target Men Suspected Of Being Gay; More in the Global LGBT Recap

More than 800 same-sex couples were married in March in Finland after marriage equality went into effect the first of the month; image courtesy Cliff Gilmore via Creative Commons

Christian LGBT bloggers David and Constantino Khalaf (Modern Kinship on Patheos) have published what they call “The Ultimate Resource Guide for LGBTQ Christian and Allies.”

OutRight Action International posted a round-up of countries with constitutional protections relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.

HazteOir, a Spanish group that mobilizes socially conservative activists and sponsored the recent anti-transgender bus tour, was targeted by hackers who downloaded and distributed thousands of internal documents. Also reportedly targeted were affiliated and allied groups, including CitizenGo.

United Nations: Activists document C-Fam’s anti-LGBT record

When advocates for LGBT human rights complained about the Trump administration naming a representative of vehemently anti-LGBT group C-Fam to the official delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, members of the US mission “claimed that they did not know the extent of C-Fam’s homophobia and transphobia,” according to OutRight Action International. On April 3, the group joined with The International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ipas, and the Southern Poverty Law Center to send US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley a compilation of “the many hateful, transphobic, and homophobic things” C-Fam and its president, Austin Ruse, have said.

Russia: Arrests and ‘honor killings’ in Chechnya; Gov’t bans portrayals of Putin in makeup

We noted last week that the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta had reported that more than 100 gay men had been detained, and some of them killed, in Muslim-majority Chechnya, as a form of “honor killing” of people suspected of being gay. This week, after human rights activists called on the U.S. to condemn the arrests and violence, the U.S. State Department called on Russia to investigate the allegations and “hold the perpetrators responsible.” Novaya Gazeta has followed up with additional reporting on the brutal treatment of the people being detained.

Russian officials have reportedly added pictures of Vladimir Putin altered to show him appearing in make-up on a registry of “extremist” content that cannot be displayed or circulated. But, as blogger David Badash notes, there’s a problem:

A ruling banning the image, Radio Free Europe reports, “stemmed from a criminal case against a man named Aleksandr Tsvetkov, who was accused of stoking hate speech by posting the photograph of Putin in makeup on the popular Russian social-networking site Vkontakte.”

“Russian news outlets are having trouble reporting exactly which image of the Internet’s many Putin-gay-clown memes is now illegal to share,” The Washington Post reports. “Because, you know, it’s been banned.”

Finland: 800+ same-sex couples married in first month; Lutheran priests barred from officiating

More than 800 same-sex couples were married in March after marriage equality went into effect on the first of the month; 770 had already been in civil partnerships. The Lutheran Evangelical Church has decreed that priests are not permitted to marry same-sex couples and some bishops warned that those who do would face “consequences.” From a March 1 story:

In spite of the church ruling, a few dozen priests have said that they are prepared to administer marriage vows for same-sex couples once the new marriage laws take effect. Various newspaper reports have indicated that gay couples will find priests willing to perform marriage rites in Tampere, Helsinki and Vantaa, at least.

But in Kotka, southeast Finland, the local diocese has issued a ruling banning even prayers on church premises for same-sex couples who have exchanged wedding vows. The ban extends to prayer sessions held by priests for gay couples who have tied the knot in civil ceremonies.

Kotka clerics also decided to discontinue the practice of reading wedding announcements for same-sex couples during church services, and will no longer include such announcements in notices issued by the local church. This parish will only open church doors to heterosexual couples.

“God’s will is clear and perfect. From the perspective of teachings on marriage, it is more coherent to separate customers of marriage ceremonies and blessings into their own spaces. Priests who offer prayers can do so with couples in other venues,” said Ville Mielonen, a member of the Kotka-Kymi parish council that tabled the proposal, which was eventually accepted.

India: ‘Anti-Romeo’ vigilantes promtoed by Hindu nationalists target men suspected of being gay

In the state of Uttar Pradesh, vigilante groups known as “anti-Romeo squads” have reportedly been targeting men they suspect of being gay. From Shannon Power at Gay Star News:

The men are either assaulted or taken to the police where they have to pay a bribe to get out of an arrest.

Last week an uncle and nephew were picked up by a squad on the suspicion they were a gay couple according to the Indian Times.

They each had to pay a 5000 rupee bribe (USD77) to secure their release.

The formation of the anti-Romeo squads was an election promise from the now ruling Hindu nationalist party the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in UP.

Yogi Adityanath’s government had said the squad’s purpose was to protect young women in public from ‘eve-teasers’ (men who sexually harass women in the street).

But the squads have turned into vigilante groups – made up of the general public and police officers. They are now targeting suspected LGBTI people and young couples in public.

In other news, AP reported that the Indian government has asked states to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.

Dominican Republic: Activists feel absence of gay US ambassador; some plan to run for office

The departure of openly gay former U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster has “left a deep void,” reports the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers. Lesbian activist Rosalba Karina Crisóstomo told Lavers that “The Dominican Republic is a country controlled by religious Catholics” and said Brewster “highlighted all of the discrimination that exists towards the LGBT community in the country.” Brewster drew vocal criticism from conservative religious leaders during his tenure:

Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, the former cardinal of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo, repeatedly used anti-gay slurs to describe Brewster. A group of Dominican intellectuals and religious leaders last year urged President Danilo Medina to declare Brewster “persona non grata” because of a U.S.-backed education initiative they claimed would “turn our adolescents gay.”

Hundreds of LGBT Dominicans took part in a regional leadership event held in March, and some of them are planning to run for public office.

France: National Front builds support among gay voters in reaction to attacks by Islamic extremists

An AP story by Thomas Adamson examines growing support among LGBT people in France for the National Front Party led by Marine Le Pen:

A political party that would abolish same-sex marriage – one whose founder wanted AIDS patients rounded up and branded homosexuality “a biological and social anomaly” – is now winning LGBT votes in France.

Motivated in part by the deadly Islamic extremist attacks at home and at a Florida gay nightclub, a growing bloc of traditionally left-leaning gay voters has embraced far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, leader of the once-fringe National Front party.

“Faced with the current threats, particularly from radical Islam, gays have realized they’ll be the first victims of these barbarians, and only Marine is proposing radical solutions,” said Kelvin Hopper, 25, a gay artist who lives in a hipster district of Paris and plans to cast his ballot for Le Pen.

While nobody knows how far Le Pen’s supporters will carry her in the April 23-May 7 vote, several years of polls have shown the National Front is now more popular with the LGBT voters who make up 6.5 percent of the French electorate than it is with straight voters.

LePen’s Party, which includes a number of openly gay officials, still pledges to roll back the marriage equality law in favor of civil unions.

As AP notes, LePen is not the only nationalist leader who uses fear of radical Islamist violence to attract LGBT support:

In the Netherlands, Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders said that his party, which is hostile to Muslims and wants to halt immigration, should hold natural appeal for LGBT voters.

“We were always one of the top parties that were supported by (the gay) community. We believe that like Christians and Jews and women and journalists, gay people are also one of the first to pay the price of … Islamization,” Wilders said.

In the United States, President Donald Trump, too, has used rhetoric expressing solidarity with gays as a means of attacking some Muslim-majority countries – claiming during the presidential debates last year that they “push gays off of buildings.”

The lurch to the far-right by LGBT voters – called homonationalism – deeply shocks those who see the nationalist sentiments sweeping Europe as a threat that could erode hard-fought freedoms, not protect them.

“It is true that terror attacks and religious extremists brought huge publicity to Marine Le Pen. And she profits from this. She profits from people’s fear,” Yannick Fredefon, a gay Paris resident, said.

One factor that explains the new wave of LGBT support is that many Le Pen voters are millennials like Hopper who are too young to remember the National Front’s neo-fascist roots or the acid anti-gay sentiments openly expressed by her father.

Others, especially gay men, are in awe of the blond, blue-eyed, 48-year-old former lawyer’s persona – they see an audacious, strong-willed woman writing the rules in a world of men.

Indonesia: Independent justice reform group criticizes Aceh’s harsh anti-LGBT legal code

The Jakarta Post reported on April 1 that the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform “has lambasted the Aceh administration’s Islamic criminal code bylaw, or Qanun Jinayat, saying it could potentially provoke discrimination and over-criminalization of LGBT communities and other vulnerable groups.”

The Aceh province is governed by the conservative Islamist legal code. Notes the Jakarta Post:

Qanun Jinayat imposes criminal sanctions on both Muslims and non-Muslims found to have consumed liquor, dated in public or carried out same-sex relations, among other things.

“The state has gone too far by interfering on the private affairs of its citizens and making their personal matters a public affair. This will eventually lead to discrimination and injustice against vulnerable groups, including LGBT [lesbian,gay,bisexual,transgender] communities,” ICJR said on Friday.

The Aceh Public Order Agency, or Wilatul Hisbah, arrested two male students suspected of being in a relationship, the paper reports.

The two students were taken to the Wilatul Hisbah office for questioning. They were accused of violating Article 63 (1) of the 2014 Qanun Jinayat, which states those found to be carrying out same-sex relations will face a maximum sentence of 100 lashes or pay a maximum fine of 1,000 grams of pure gold or face 100-month imprisonment.

The ICJR says it regrets the impact of the implementation of Qanun Jinayat in Aceh. This case will increase the stigma against LGBT people in the province, it further says.

Tanzania: Profile of activist struggle with anti-LGBT crackdown

NewsDeeply’s Women and Girls profiles Queen M, a transgender woman who is “fighting for my survival” amid the government’s recent crackdown on LGBT people:

A 1945 criminal code passed by Britain when Tanzania was under its administration prescribes between 30 years to life in jail for gay male sex. Lesbian sex isn’t against the law. Activists say that, despite the law, former president Jakaya Kikwete, who was in office from 2005 to 2015, mainly left LGBT people alone. But since his successor John Magufuli was elected, that tolerance has evaporated, they say.

“[Magufuli] is religious and very traditional,” says Queen M. “The new government believes that sex work and homosexuality are Western-adopted behaviors and can easily be eradicated, and thus declared war on these communities.”

The backlash against the LGBT community, which began around March 2016, is “taking place in the context of a broader crackdown on freedom of expression and association in Tanzania,” with civil society and journalists also being targeted, says Neela Ghoshal, a researcher in the LGBT rights division of Human Rights Watch. For LGBT people, the situation is “clearly deteriorating,” she says.

In one of the government’s latest moves, health minister Ummy Mwalimu in February announced a ban on HIV/AIDS services at 40 drop-in centersthat cater to “key populations” – including gay men, men who have sex with men, transgender people and sex workers – saying they had been “promoting homosexuality.” A program supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and implemented by Save the Children, which was meant to help key populations get HIV treatment, has also been postponed, a Global Fund spokesperson confirms.

Mexico: Chihuahua suspends marriage for same-sex couples

There’s more evidence of continued resistance to the advance of marriage equality, where conservative Catholic and evangelical Christians have been rallying opposition with the help of US-based religious groups and who want to but a restrictive definition of marriage into the country’s constitution. The Civil Registry of the state of Chihuahua reportedly suspended what had been the practice of granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples without forcing them to get an injunction, or amparo, from the federal courts.

Germany: Poll shows supermajority support for marriage equality

A German newspaper poll found that 75 percent of Germans favor marriage equality for same-sex couples. The center-left Social Democratic Party supports marriage equality, as do The Greens and The Left parties. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its allied Christian Social Union do not and are reportedly planning a family-themed election campaign.

Japan: First same-sex couple approved as foster parents

A gay male couple were approved as foster parents by city officials in Osaka, reportedly a first for Japan. From the Japan Times:

Traditionally, only married couples or individuals are allowed to become foster parents. Members of the LGBT community have been eligible to foster children, but only as individuals.

“I am happy we became foster parents (and recognized) as a single household, not just as individuals,” the older of the two men said, adding the boy is now “living a comfortable life as he talks about his school and friends.”

Netherlands: Anti-LGBT violence leads to public and social media hand-holding campaign

After a “spate of anti-LGBT violence,” including a gay couple being beaten by a group of youths who reportedly attacked them for holding hands, men and women began holding hands in public as a show of solidarity. Dozens of people posted photographs with the hashtag #allemannenhandinhand (all men holding hands.)

Lebanon: Hackers take down sexual health campaign

The website of the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) was reportedly hacked by hackers who defaced the site with anti-gay rhetoric as well as the hashtages #fuckpalestine and #fucklebanon. “The attack came just weeks after LebMASH launched the country’s first LGBTI sexual health campaign,” reports Gay Star News. “The campaign aimed to raise awareness on the negative effects of marginalization and discrimination on the health of LGBTI people.”

Costa Rica: Report on municipalities making progress on being officially welcoming

Roberto Acuña Ávalos at La Voz de Guanacaste writes that the area “timidly raises its own gay pride flag.” The story reviews nondiscrimination declarations that have been made by local municipalities there and in other parts of Costa Rica. A companion story profiles Albert and Keith Toney, an American couple that had been the first to marry in the town of Holden, Massachusetts, and who are now living in Guanacaste.

Panama: Two legal challenges to legal ban on same-sex couples marrying

La Estrella de Panamá reports on two challenges to the constitutionality of the legal provision that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The story by Marlene Testa suggests that there has not been a major political push for such a change and that religious beliefs are an obstacle [clumsy English via Google translate]:

The lawyer Germán Rodríguez approaches the subject from two perspectives: the human and the religious. From the human point of view, he is convinced, but religion is more restrictive and he is a man of faith.

Others consulted accept only the religious doctrine and refuse to recognize a bond that does not have the ‘blessing’ of the children.

‘God instituted an order, made man and woman to mate. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that men of the same sex can be mated, “says Alonso Chasin, a 25-year-old Venezuelan, who is cleaning offices.

Panamanian lawyer and economist Rudy Perea Arrieta, 70, thinks differently. He is convinced that it is necessary to adapt to the times and we must put aside the religious prejudices that go against the common sense and the decent coexistence of the citizens of any country.

Peru: Congressional Committee moves to strip LGBT people from hate crimes law

The Congressional Constitutional Committee voted to recommend removing LGBT people from the country’s hate crimes law; the provisions had been added in January as part of a legislative decree. A congressman who supported the removal said “those who defend life and the family are not homophobic” and said they lawmakers decided to repeal part of the decree “because human rights are given to people, not to attractions, not to feelings, not to emotions.” The move was carried out by members of the Fujimori bloc, but was criticized by party member Kenji Fujimori, who published a drawing of himself with a rainbow flag.

Australia: Business leaders launch marriage equality campaign

Religious opposition and political machinations have prevented a parliamentary vote on marriage equality even though polls show strong majority support. Business leaders have been among vocal supporters of equality, and the Sydney Morning Herald reports that they have launched a new campaign, which came “in stark defiance of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s advice to ‘stick to their knitting’.”

The initiative invites customers to order one of 250,000 specially-commissioned rings bearing the phrase “until we all belong” – which will also appear on Qantas boarding passes and other paraphernalia.

The ring is incomplete, representing the “gap” in equality between same-sex couples and their heterosexual peers. In a series of video advertisements, straight allies are encouraged to wear the rings “until we all belong”.

Senator Eric Abetz, described by the Morning Herald as “arch-conservative” attacked the business executives for “trying to establish their personal PC credentials” rather than focus on running their companies.

Italy: Milan prepares shelter for LGBT people rejected by families

The City of Milan is preparing to open a shelter for gay and trans youth rejected by their families; it will be part of a complex confiscated from the mafia and being redeveloped into a multi-use facility that will also include a home for Alzheimer’s patients.