Catholic Bishops Meeting For Family Synod; South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Church OKs Gay Weddings, Ordination; Court in Malaysia Deals Setback To Transgender Advocates; Global LGBT Recap

Sunday, October 11 was National Coming Out Day.

The Canada-based Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights is featuring Telling Our Stories, a video portrait series.

These countries were selected for Envisioning’s research on two grounds: 1) a shared legacy of British colonial laws that criminalize same-sex intimacy and 2) partnerships with local grassroots LGBT organizations working for human rights…Through the voices of the 31 people in these 25 portraits we learn about discrimination and violence fueled by state, church, workplace, family and community. Most importantly, we hear stories of resistance and resilience: building support within family and community, building movements, using media, challenging the laws through legal cases.

Nancy Nicol writes:

“A number of themes can be identified throughout this body of work that speak to profound discrimination and violence: random violence in public places; police harassment, extortion, custodial rape; ‘corrective rape’ against lesbians ‘to make them straight’; exclusion and violence perpetuated by friends, family and community; Church fueled hate; state fueled hate; employment discrimination; loss of education, friends, family; loss of access to healthcare due to fear of exposure.

We also hear stories of resistance: stories of family, friends, neighbours, strangers who have acted as allies; parents confronting homophobic school officials; organizations developing security plans to protect LGBT persons; positive media opening up more community discussion on homosexuality; community mobilizing; LGBT people joining legal suits “so that no-one will have to go through what I have gone through.”

Catholic Church: Family Synod highlights splits

The three-week Catholic bishops’ synod on the family got under way last week with high hopes among some LGBT advocates and visible tensions between more conservative and more progressive factions within the bishops. (See Patricia Miller’s RD piece on conservative hardliners staking out their positions.twitter.) A priest who came out on the eve of the conference was swiftly dismissed from his Vatican position.

French cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois said it would be misguided to expect to major changes to what the Church formally says on questions of love, sex and marriage, regardless of how far the tone has shifted on homosexuality.

“If you have come to Rome with the hope of seeing a major change to Church doctrine, you are going to be disappointed,” he said.

Indeed, at his opening remarks last Sunday, Francis called for a more welcoming, compassionate and merciful church, but also affirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage, devoting a third of his homily to procreative love between man and woman.

At a press briefing on Thursday, Accra Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckley said the world should be more patient with African countries on the topic of homosexuality. AFP reported that Palmer-Buckle said at the briefing “that the working document which bishops and cardinals study ‘appears to have been written by someone apparently lacking the African point of view.’”

It is a recurring complaint from African prelates taking part in the three-week synod: there is little discussion of extended families, for example, while much is said of the family units of the West, made up of a father, mother and children.

Time spent discussing the problem of lonely or abandoned elderly people also has little resonance in Africa, they say.

And a push to open the Church’s doors to gay people is perhaps the issue which meets the most resistance.

Church leaders from the continent have no desire to “block the work” underway at the summit, Palmer-Buckle said, but he added: “it seems that what is good in Africa is not seen as good enough elsewhere”.

“Give countries time to deal with issues from our own cultural perspectives,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.

Speaking of differing cultural perspectives, the government of France’s François Hollande has, in the face of stubborn stonewalling from the Vatican, reportedly backed down from its attempt to appoint a gay ambassador to the Holy See.

After the previous week’s flap over the intrigue surrounding Pope Francis meeting with marriage-refusing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, the Vatican let it be known that the Pope had requested a meeting with Yayo Grassi, a gay man the pope had known since Grassi was a high school student. Grassi, an Argentine native who now lives in DC, and his boyfriend were “the only real audience granted by the Pope” at the Vatican embassy during his D.C. visit. In fact, Francis personally called Grassi to tell him he’d like to give him a huge when we was in D.C.  Grassi spoke with the Washington Blade’s Lou Chibbaro:

Concerning reports that the Pope has been a longtime opponent of same-sex marriage and opposed a same-sex marriage law passed by Argentina’s Congress in 2010, Grassi said he and then Cardinal Bergoglio discussed the gay marriage issue in an email exchange at that time.

“In 2010 when the Congress in Argentina was debating the marriage equality law I read in the news that he had said quite strong and negative things about gay marriage,” Grassi said. “I was extremely surprised when I saw that,” he said. “So I fired an email to him explaining to him how much I owed him, what an important person he was in my life, how much he developed my most progressive thoughts in my life and that I was disappointed to hear that he was saying these negative things about gay people and about gay marriage.”

Added Grassi, “It was a pretty long letter. And I mentioned my boyfriend by name and told him at that time we were 14 years together.”

Bergoglio, less than three years before becoming Pope, responded with a “beautiful reply – a very loving reply,” Grassi said.

“He started by apologizing because he had hurt me, because I was hurt,” said Grassi. “And immediately after that he said I have never said any of those things that the press is publishing about me,” Grassi recalls.

“He said as a matter of fact he never expressed himself about this question. And he ended up by saying something that to me is so important,” said Grassi. “He said believe me, in my pastoral work there is no place for homophobia.”

A former priest, Mario Bonfani, told La Repubblica that when the Vatican discovered he was gay, he was sent to the Venturini monestary where “priests who manifest inappropriate sexual tendencies are sent to reflect.”

“It’s a place where they help you to rediscover the straight and narrow. They wanted to ‘cure’ me but I refused to go.”

Following Bonfanti’s allegations, the head of Venturini, Father Gianluigi Pasto, told Italian reporters: “I can only say that here we help the priests become healthy”.

On Tuesday, Vatican spokesperson Father Thomas Rosica said there is a need for new, non-exclusionary language, saying gay persons “our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters.”

Rosica’s comments echo those made by Pope Francis at Tuesday’s Mass, in which he stressed the need for mercy and flexibility.

“Where the Lord is, there is mercy,” the pontiff said. “Where his ministers are, there is rigidity. The rigidity that defies mission, which challenges mercy.”

A day earlier, Francis told bishops not to safeguard a “museum of memories” in the church, while advising them to do away with their prejudices and listen to one another.

South Africa: Dutch Reformed Church OK’s gay ordination, unions

The Dutch Reformed Church has voted to acknowledge same-sex unions and to allow gay ministers to be ordained without requiring them to remain celibate.

Dutch Reform Church moderator Nelis Janse van Rensburg said: “It is historical because with this decision we actually are at a point where there can be no doubt that the Dutch Reformed Church is serious about human dignity.

“And you know that we are living in this country where we have so many problems with the dignity of people.”

But while the decision’s been hailed, individual churches won’t be forced to follow the ruling.

“Church councils and congregations are like families. They will eventually decide that how they will go about it. They know the context, they know the situation, they know about the faith of these people, so they can decide on that.”

The church will also help ministers to get the necessary legal documentation to ratify civil unions.

“The pastors who will legitimise these relationships have to be licensed by the state and we will in due course now start liaising with the state to make that possible for these pastors who are actually willing to become commissioners of same-sex relationships,” Van Rensburg said.

“The church has stated that while its decision will impact (on) churches here, it does not extend to its synod in Namibia, whose laws don’t recognise same-sex relationships.”

Malaysia: Court deals setback to trans people

In a setback for transgender civil rights advocates, the Federal Court overturned lower court rulings that an anti-cross-dressing Shariah law was unconstitutional. According to the Malay Mail, “The apex court’s decision today will set a precedent on other cases where state Islamic authorities are arguing that fundamental constitutional rights guaranteed to all Malaysians cannot be applied to determine the validity of Islamic laws.” But the decision was not grounded in the substance but in a jurisdictional issue: the Federal Court said the challenge should have come directly to it.

Lawyer Aston Paiva, who represented the three transgender respondents, said that while the orders declaring Section 66 unconstitutional have been set aside, it does not mean that they will not be allowed to bring the case back to the apex court….

Paiva added that he was unsure if his clients will refile the case at the Federal Court as the decision was contingent on a consultation with his clients as well as whether or not Negeri Sembilan enforces the ban on crossdressing.

More background on the case from the Malay Mail:

The Court of Appeal had in November 7 last year ruled that Section 66 of the Negri Sembilan Shariah Criminal Enactment 1992 prohibiting cross-dressing by Muslims was unconstitutional and void, noting that the provision contravened fundamental liberties, including personal liberty, equality, freedom of movement and freedom of expression.

The three-judge panel of Malaysia’s second-highest court led by Justice Datuk Mohd Hishamudin Yunus and comprising Datuk Aziah Ali and Datuk Lim Yee Lan had also said the law was discriminatory as it failed to recognise men diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

The Negri Sembilan government had appealed that decision along with five other applicants: the state’s Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JHEAINS), JHEAINS’ director, its chief enforcer, and the state’s chief Shariah prosecutor, and the Negri Sembilan Islamic Affairs Council.

Kyrgyzstan: Anti-gay law could provoke copy-cats throughout Asia

Shawn Gaylord writes in the Advocate that anti-gay legislation under consideration in Kyrgyzstan “would set a new and frightening precedent with the potential to reignite a wave of anti-LGBT legislation in its region.”

This small Central Asian country is on the verge of passing a law that would be the first of its kind — a “propaganda” law that would result in people being thrown in jail for expressing the most basic sentiments about their own identities….

The Kyrgyz version of the propaganda law is far more dangerous than its Russian counterpart. On first glance, the Kyrgyz version of the propaganda law seems to be a carbon copy of its Russian predecessor — certain sections, in fact, seem to be directly copied and pasted from Russian documents. But expanding upon what it emulates, the Kyrgyz law introduces newly conceived criminal penalties carrying prison sentences of up to one year.

The Kyrgyz draft law also significantly broadens the scope of its application, expanding its terms to include a widespread ban of all forms of public information about nontraditional sexual relations rather than limiting the ban to information accessible to minors. In effect, the sweeping nature of the bill could land journalists, artists, and human rights defenders in jail simply for exercising their freedom of speech. In practice, it could go as far as to shutter gay clubs, ban LGBT gatherings, and even allow Kyrgyz police to arrest workers at HIV/AIDS clinics for distributing informational materials to patients.

Isle of Man: Chief Minister comes out

Allan Bell, Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, a self-governing British dependency of about 85,000 people, came out publicly as a gay man who has been in a relationship for more than 20 years. Bell is asking the Tynwald, the 1000-year-old parliament, to legalize marriage equality.

Ireland: marriage equality implementation moves though one House of Parliament

Legislation implementing marriage equality passed the Dáil – the House in Parliament – and will now go to the Seanad.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald moved an amendment, which was accepted, removing the requirement for civil partners, who had registered a civil partnership in Ireland, to give three months notice when seeking to marry one another.

“The amendment is to reduce any unnecessary administrative burden on civil partners wishing to marry,’’ she said.

Honduras: Hundreds gather to talk LGBT issues in the Western Hemisphere

Hundreds of people from throughout the Western Hemisphere joined a conference in Tegucigalpa designed to bolster LGBT advocacy in the region. The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers covered the conference.

Randy Berry, the special U.S. envoy to promote global LGBT rights, spoke at the gathering that took place at a Tegucigalpa hotel alongside gay Peruvian Congressman Carlos Bruce, transgender Venezuelan National Assembly candidate Tamara Adrián, Costa Rican Deputy Minister of the Interior Carmen Muñoz, Honduran Vice Minister of Human Rights and Justice Karla Cueva, Gonzalo Cid Vega of the Chilean Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, gay Long Beach (Calif.) Mayor Robert Garcia and others. Kenita Placide of United and Strong, an LGBT advocacy group in St. Lucia, also attended the conference alongside Marcela Romero of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People and five Cuban advocates who are affiliated with the National Center for Sexual Education, a group headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro.

Maximiliano Ferraro, a gay lawmaker in Buenos Aires, on his Twitter page described the conference as “two days of hard work and exchanges, for more equality and rights.”

…The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute co-organized the conference alongside Hivos International, a Dutch group that promotes LGBT and other human rights issues, and Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian advocacy organization. The Association of Youth in Movement, which advocates on behalf of LGBT Hondurans and other marginalized groups, also sponsored the gathering alongside the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS and other foundations, non-governmental organizations and businesses from throughout the region.

Turkey: Welcoming for Syrian refugees?

An interview with Hayriye Kara, an attorney who works with refugees, explores the challenges facing Syrians fleeing to and through Turkey, including debate over identifying migrants as refugees or “guests.”

Syrians and other refugees are not here because Turkey is gracious. They’re not here because of our hospitality. They are exercising their fundamental rights guaranteed by international law. Turkey is not doing them a favor. Refuge is a fundamental human right. This is the direction that we need to give to the public opinion…The economic and social burden needs to be shared internationally. But putting that aside for a minute, when the first waves of Syrians started coming into Turkey, their legal status was not recognized. They were called “guests.” There is no such thing in law as guest.

Asked about the experience of gay and trans refugees, Kara said:

Syrian refugees include Christians, Alevis, Sunnis, and Kurds. These groups experience many layers of discrimination. For instance, the Sunnis received religion-based assistance from the Turkish government, which Alevis and Christians couldn’t. But these social groups either came from Syria together or found each other here in Turkey. LGBTs never had that opportunity. Syrian LGBTs who reached and were assisted by Kaos GL have a certain economic standing, speak English, and have access to the Internet. The real problem is with LGBT refugees who work without papers and don’t have Internet access. Nothing is known about those people. And speaking of personal needs, sexual orientation and identity were not covered in the new code. Even for civil society organizations, sexual orientation and identity are afterthoughts. Every Syrian is assumed to be heterosexual.

The LGBT refugees that I’m in touch with are not very keen on being with other Syrians. They experience oppression and aggression from both Turkish and Syrian societies. Different forms of discrimination are not experienced in clear-cut ways. When they intersect, problems become multilayered. Gay and trans refugees are targets of both racism and homophobia.

Even when they enter Turkey from the land border, many gay and trans Syrian refugees come to Istanbul and Izmir. Loneliness becomes routine when they can’t find more people like themselves. On the other hand, for instance LGBT refugees from Iran are very organized. We can speak of an Iranian LGBT movement with its own alternative support and communications network. There’s no such network for Syrians. Recently, Syrian LGBTs in Istanbul started organizing with the help of Lambdaistanbul. This sort of initiative is very important to alleviate problems, however slightly.

Poland: Parliament fails to vote; president’s veto of gender accordance act stands

The Polish Parliament’s term ended without a vote on overturning the president’s recent veto of the Gender Accordance Act. The legislation, which “was considered a breatkthrough for Poland’s transgender community,” was opposed by conservatives and the Catholic Church. The conservative “natural law” blog Agenda Europe had celebrated the veto:

This prevents Poland from adopting an inherently untruthful law, and from succumbing to the pressure of the international Homo-Lobby and the government of certain countries that, having themselves made the aberrant decision of re-defining a person’s sex in a way that contradicts reality, are now keen to ensure that they will not remain the only ones to indulge in such grotesque self-delusion.

Canada: Meeting health care needs for people with diverse gender identities, expressions

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is tracking the way sexual and reproductive health and rights and being addressed during the 2015 election campaign and has published a set of policy papers, including one that addresses the issues of health care for people of diverse gender identities and expressions and religious “conscientious objection” to the provision of reproductive health care.

India: Judge rules against parents of trans person

Human Rights Watch celebrated a judgment of the High Court of New Delhi last Monday. HRW’s Yuvraj Joshi:

The court stepped in to protect Shivy, a 19-year-old transgender man studying neurobiology in California, who was being mistreated by his parents during a family holiday to India. Shivy said his parents confined him to his grandparents’ home in Agra, took away his Indian passport and United States residency card, and compelled him to enroll in a university in Agra. When he ran away, his parents reported him to the police, who searched for him and reportedly harassed activists who had assisted him.

The Court’s ruling celebrated Shivani Bhat’s “indomitable spirit” and affirmed that Shivy’s parents had agreed to continue to pay educational expenses as long as Shivy continued to study neurobiology, said:

The time has come for us to mainstream the transgender community. Prejudice is so rampant, so authoritatively practiced that even families fall prey to its all pervasive pressure.

In other news, India’s first LGBT magazines, Bombay Dost, marked 25 years since it began publishing.

Italy: Last western holdout to relationship recognitions – thanks, Catholic Church

Itlay is “the last major country in the West that has not given same-sex couples any legal recognition,” writes Crispian Balmer for Reuters, noting that “Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised a bill allowing civil unions would be approved by year-end, after more than two decades of failed attempts by various parties.

Centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised a bill allowing civil unions would be approved by year-end, after more than two decades of failed attempts by various parties.

Despite only aiming to legalise civil partnerships with limited rights that fall short of full gay marriage, the bill has been held up, highlighting Italy’s struggle to go against Roman Catholic teaching…

Senator Monica Cirinna, author of the government’s draft legislation for civil unions, says Italy is still stuck in the “Middle Ages.” She argues that the country needs to approve her law to boost its international credibility…

Italy’s parliament is just a five minute drive from the Vatican, the seat of power for the Roman Catholic Church which exerts considerable sway over domestic politics, even as its power elsewhere appears to recede…

“We live under the shadow of the Vatican dome,” said Cirinna. “Catholicism here is different than in other countries. It is a presence. The pope speaks at his window every Sunday.”

Staunchly Catholic Ireland voted in a referendum in May to legalise full gay marriage, following in the footsteps of other Catholic countries such as France, Spain and Portugal.

Islamic State: More executions

Militants associated with ISIS reportedly killed three more men who had been accused of being gay.

Tunisia: President opposes decriminalization of education, his own justice minister

The president of Tunisia, while on an official trip to Egypt, made it clear that he is vehemently opposed to decriminalizing homosexuality.

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