Egypt Goes After Gays to Silence Islamist Critics; South Africa’s ‘Open Mosque’ is Closed; Global LGBT Recap

In the U.S., two major religious right gatherings are taking place this weekend. The Values Voter Summit will draw thousands of conservative religious activists to Washington, D.C. to get fired up for the upcoming elections and prepare for 2016. They will be joined by Republican presidential contenders and members of Congress. And far from the C-SPAN cameras, funders of culture war activism, including anti-gay work abroad, will meet in Orlando at The Gathering, an invitation-only event for the leaders of deep-pocket evangelical foundations.

Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy spoke with the Washington Blade this week about the “global problem” of anti-LGBT legislation. “It’s really important to recognize that this is not just an Africa problem,” said Kerry Kennedy during a telephone interview from New York. “It’s a problem wherever it happens in the world.” From the story:

Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian bill into law that, among other things, punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison. Those convicted of homosexuality in Brunei will face death by stoning under a portion of the oil-rich Southeast Asian country’s new penal code based on Islamic Shariah law that is slated to take effect next year.

Gambian lawmakers last month approved a measure that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.” The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is among the groups that have urged Chadian President Idriss Déby to reject a proposed amendment to his country’s penal code that would criminalize homosexuality.

Lawmakers in Lithuania and Kyrgyzstan over the last year have introduced measures similar to a Russian law that bans so-called gay propaganda to minors. Anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive throughout Latin America and eastern Europe in spite of recent legal advances.

Egypt: Anti-Gay Persecution as Political Tool

In an in-depth report on a harsh new crackdown on LGBT Egyptians, BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder reports that the Sisi government is using visible prosecution of gay people as a way to combat Muslim Brotherhood charges that the government has turned Egypt into a decadent “brothel.” The most recent surge was spurred by outrage at a viral video of two bearded men being “married” on a boat in the Nile. From Feder’s report:

On Tuesday, eight men went before an Egyptian judge in the country’s highest-profile trial over homosexuality in more than a decade. The men stand accused of appearing in a video showing two men exchanging wedding rings, and face the possibility of more than three years in prison.

Police hunted down the men early this month after the video blew up on Arabic social media and made headlines around the world. One of the men involved called into a popular TV show to say it was a joke, but politicians and much of the press treated it as a real same-sex wedding — a first for Egypt. Websites associated with the Muslim Brotherhood — the now-banned Islamist movement that just over a year ago was ruling Egypt — began featuring the wedding video as a sign of the moral decline in Egypt under the military-backed regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted it from power last year with the help of the army.

Egyptian officials have been enforcing morality laws with a renewed zeal almost since Sisi took power. According to human rights activists in Egypt, at least 77 people have been arrested in well-publicized cases of “debauchery” or “violating public decency,” the two charges used to prosecute people alleged to be LGBT since Egypt has no law explicitly against homosexual relationships, since October last year. Though Egypt mounted a crackdown on LGBT people just over a decade ago — most famously in the trial of more than 50 people in a case known by the name of the Nile River night club where many were arrested, the Queen Boat — there were only occasional arrests in the years since, and they were almost never prosecuted nor publicized in the press. That didn’t change during the year that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was president, before Sisi deposed him.

LGBT people have served as a convenient target as Sisi works to establish a new political order following the volatile years after the Arab Spring, when Mubarak was overthrown. Visible arrests of people on allegations of homosexuality help inoculate Sisi, a former general, from charges that he is too secular to govern, and bolsters his credibility with neighboring regimes. And it is also in the interest of the police themselves, who are only recently retaking responsibility for maintaining day-to-day order after years of military control. By making headlines through the arrest of alleged homosexuals — along with sex workers and atheists — police can show their bosses that they are keeping busy, while also showing the public they are standing up for Egyptian values after years of being associated with quashing democracy and public protest.

South Africa: ‘Open Mosque’ is Closed

We reported last week that a mosque open to women, LGBTs, and others was set to begin worship on Friday in the face of controversy and threats. This week the City Council shut down the mosque, reportedly for not having required spaces for parking. According to Pink News, CityCouncillor Ganief Hendricks “said the application process to reopen could take up to six months.”

Mosque founder Taj Hargey told the BBC, “The City Council is trying to close the mosque using ridiculous bylaws and I will not be threatened by them or anyone else.” Hargey continues to challenge mosque opponents.

“It is pure intimidation. Why are they so scared? Because they know if this mosque succeeds their theological monopoly is over,” he said.

“This is not a gay mosque. But I will not turn anyone away based on race or sexual orientation.

“This mosque is based on the original mosque in Medina with one door where men and women come together to pray.

“I want my mother, wife, daughter to pray alongside me. Not be second class citizens. They pray together at Haj, why can’t they pray together in the mosques of the world?”

Chad: Government Considers New Anti-Gay Law

Chad, which has never banned homosexuality, is reportedly considering an anti-gay law that would punish gay sex with 20 years in prison. Agence France-Presse reported this week that the legislation has been approved by the cabinet and is likely to pass the legislature. The Guardian’s David Smith writes,

The development is part of a wave of homophobia sweeping across Africa. Some observers believe it may have been a response to the increased visibility and assertiveness of gay lifestyles and politics in Africa, though US evangelical Christians have been widely blamed for instigating draconian anti-gay legislation in Uganda and other countries. Same-sex relations are illegal in 36 of the continent’s 54 countries, according to Amnesty International, and punishable by death in some.

More from The Guardian:

The decision, yet to be ratified by the country’s president, was condemned by human rights groups as another setback in the struggle for gay rights on the continent. Chad’s penal code is more than half a century old and does not explicitly mention homosexuality.

But section 361 of a draft new code states the punishment for anyone who has sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex is 15 to 20 years in jail and a fine of 50,000-500,000 Central African francs (£60-£600), according to a document seen by Agence France-Presse.

The cabinet claims that the measure is intended to “protect the family and to comply with Chadian society”. It will go before MPs and President Idriss Déby to be rubber-stamped. Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights programme at Human Rights Watch, said : “This is a setback for legal reform in Chad – the revisions to the penal code are intended to integrate national law with international law, whereas this provision would do exactly the opposite.”. The US-based Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights called on Déby to strike down the proposed law. “By criminalising homosexuality, Chad’s proposed penal code is an instrument of discrimination, not of justice,” said its president, Kerry Kennedy. “I urge president Déby and the Chadian parliament to reject any attempts to make prejudice the law of the land.”

The new penal code also abolishes the death penalty, more than a decade after the last execution of prisoners, a move welcomed by activists. “This is very good news, which is unfortunately marred by the criminalisation of homosexuality,” Florent Geel, Africa director of the International Federation of Human Rights, was quoted as saying by the Gay Star News website. “Criminalising homosexuality seems discriminatory, demagogic and counter-productive, as it may turn groups against each other.”

Serbia: Orthodox Church Protests Upcoming Pride

We reported last week that Serbian officials had made arrests in an attack on a German equality activist, and were making plans to allow this year’s Pride celebration to be held after having cancelled it for several years due to fears of violence. This week the country’s top religious leader slammed the event and its organizers.

Patriarch Irinej, the head of the country’s Christian Orthodox Church, attacked the organisers of the parade “and their mentors from Europe”, claiming they haven’t learnt their lessons from previous parades, which have been violently disrupted by far-right groups.

According to Associated Press, he added that “a great majority” are against this weekend’s event being held, and that “thousands of policemen will have to be brought to Belgrade” to police it.

AP reports, “Holding the march is seen as a test of Serbia’s pledge to respect human rights as it seeks European Union membership.”

Irinej said that the pride organizers “and their mentors from Europe” haven’t learned the lesson from the past marches, adding that “a great majority” of Serbs are against holding the event.

“Thousands of policemen will have to be brought to Belgrade,” he said, adding that they face the threat of injury and death.

Several far-right groups, which include soccer hooligans, have announced anti-gay marches in the capital a day before the pride event.

Police said Tuesday they have filed charges against eight people who had made threats against gays on social media.

“Police are here to secure the safety of all citizens,” said Milorad Todorovic, the police officer in charge of cyber crime. “I hope the pride event will be held on Sunday.”

In related news, the European Commission’s annual report on Serbia, set to be released on October 8, reportedly “notes significant or moderate progress in most fields related to the EU integration process, but criticism concerning human rights, primarily those of the LGBT population, and the pace of reforms.”

The part of the report addressing the rights of the LGBT population has not been completed yet, as the Commission is waiting to see whether a pride parade set for September 28 will actually take place in Belgrade. If the parade is cancelled again for security reasons, this will be met with harsh criticism as the same situation has taken place year after year, a Tanjug source said.

Russia: Cultural Festival Disrupted; Anti-Gay Activists Don’t Know How to Quit Putin

We reported last week that the “QueerFest” cultural festival was getting under way in St. Petersburg. Radio Free Europe reported last Friday that anti-gay activists, “led by a city lawmaker,” disrupted the festival by dousing participants with green liquid and releasing a gas that made many people feel sick, and reportedly sent 16 to the hospital. According to the report, “St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, his aide Anatoly Artyukh, and activists who associate themselves with the Russian Orthodox faith interrupted the opening ceremony of the “KviroFest-2014” event at a cafe on September 18. According to Gay Star News, festival organizers said the event was also hit with last-minute cancellations from many venues.

Speaking of Russia, American religious conservatives can’t seem to shake their love for Putin’s anti-gay policies.  As Miranda Blue notes at Right Wing Watch, Austin Ruse, who heads the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), was on the planning committee for the recent “pro-family” summit in Moscow. As we noted last week, that gathering was held without the official sponsorship of the World Congress of Families, who pulled their support under pressure after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but with several WCF officials in attendance.

So it was interesting yesterday to see Turtle Bay and Beyond, a blog sponsored by C-FAM, run a lengthy post by contributor J.C. von Krempach, in which he acknowledges that Putin is using anti-choice and anti-LGBT policies for cynical expansionist ends, but wonders if the Russian president’s leadership is nonetheless preferable to President Obama’s support for LGBT equality and reproductive rights around the globe.

(He, like many of his fellow admirers of Putin’s embrace of the Russian Orthodox church, neglects to mention the devastating impact the Ukraine conflict is having on that country’s evangelical protestants.)

“The problem with the US today is that President Obama has a religion of his own making,” writes Krempach. “That religion has abortion and same-sex ‘marriage’ as its most precious sacraments, and Obama is its messiah.”

“If Obama kept his religion for himself, that would not be such a great problem. In actual fact, however, he puts his position as the head of the executive of the world’s largest and most powerful democracy entirely at the service of this novel religion, promoting sodomy and child-slaughtering domestically and abroad.”

All of this, he writes, makes it difficult to “know which camp to choose.”

After portraying Putin’s opposition to abortion and gay rights as grounded in political calculation more than religious conviction, Krempach concludes:

So whose camp do I choose, Putin’s or Obama’s? Neither. Both have, for very different reasons, a pretty bad human rights record. But both also do some good. When Obama sets out to restore peace and order in the Middle East, I do wish him the best of successes. And when Putin defends marriage and family at the UN, I also wish him all the best. There is not only black and white in this world. There are also many shades of grey.

Scotland: Debate Over ‘Conscience’ Clause for Sex Ed Guidelines

Among the policy debates that will be taken up now that the referendum on independence has been held is the ongoing development of guidelines for the teaching of sex education. A few months ago, the National Health Service board for Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Scotland’s largest, opposed a draft guidance that would allow teachers and students to opt out on the grounds of “conscience,” saying it could undermine the whole purpose of providing sex education. On Sunday, the director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, Michael McGrath, published an op ed in the Scotsman making the case that teachers should be allowed to teach students that “marriage is uniquely a relationship between a man and a woman”. An excerpt:

Now when this revised guidance does see the light of day, I expect it to be unambiguous in its proclamation of same-sex marriage as a legal institution which extends the same legal rights as have been enjoyed traditionally by heterosexual married couples. However, I also hope that it will be fair in its consideration of those who believe that marriage is uniquely a relationship between a man and a woman. That consideration should extend to respecting the freedom of religious belief and expression of those who might be charged with teaching children and young people about marriage.

Certainly in Scotland’s denominational schools, existing guidance enables teachers to follow guidance issued by the Catholic Church in the teaching of religious and moral issues (were this not to be the case, a school could not be recognised as “Catholic”). During the consultation phase of the new legislation, Scottish Government ministers gave assurances that this arrangement would continue to be honoured. So I expect to see these assurances reflected in its revised guidance.

In this context, the timing of our recent publication – God’s Loving Plan – is significant. The words of the Old Testament prophet Jonah help to explain the relevance of the document’s title: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope”. (Jeremiah 29:11)

God’s Loving Plan updates guidance for teachers in Catholic primary schools on relationships education (including sex education) and will be used to plan how children will learn about themselves as the summit of God’s creation, about how they should relate lovingly to others and about how God equips them with potential for life. Ironically, Scotland’s Catholic schools have had the benefit of detailed church guidance on these issues – a fact which belies the myth that “Catholic schools don’t do sex education”.

The document reflects the belief of Christians (and followers of other faiths) that God has a loving plan for all whom he has created out of love. God wants us to know love firstly as children, in loving relationships with our families and friends, from whom we learn about tenderness, caring, self-giving and forgiveness. God wants us to learn that, as we grow, we can find love in good friendships and relationships through which we learn about our emotions and about the importance of respect, intimacy, modesty and chastity. The document stresses that, in honouring God’s loving plan for family life, the Sacrament of Matrimony is provided to bless the commitment of a man and a woman to an exclusive, loving and faithful relationship which is open to new life….

Indonesia: Aceh Province Considers New Sharia Law

The parliament in conservative Aceh province is reportedly considering a new law that would make gay sex punishable by 100 lashes.

Aceh is the only part of the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation to enforce Islamic sharia law and has been slowly implementing it since 2001, when it gained some powers of autonomy.

A draft bylaw sent to AFP on Saturday outlaws anal sex between men and “the rubbing of body parts between women for stimulation”, and for the first time applies Islamic laws and punishments to non-Muslims. The bylaw also punishes adultery with 100 lashes of the cane.

The bylaw reinforces previous sharia legislation that bans alcohol consumption, gambling, fraternising between unmarried men and women, and physical displays of affection outside of marriage, such as touching and kissing.

Canings in Aceh are often carried out with a long thin rattan stick and are aimed at humiliating, rather than causing pain. The bylaw allows for fines paid in gold or jail time as an alternative to the lashes. Eight men on Friday were caned for gambling in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, as around 1,000 watched, some filming and cheering.

The draft is a watered-down version of a bylaw that prompted international outrage when it was passed by Aceh’s parliament in 2009 as it included stoning to death as punishment for adultery. It was later overturned by the provincial governor.

Aceh Party’s Ramli Sulaiman, who heads the commission that drafted the law, said the majority of members in the parliament appeared to support the draft and that it could be passed as early as Monday. “We have studied the implementation of sharia in countries like Saudi Arabia, Brunei Darussalam and Jordan to draft this law and we are happy with it,” he said. But the director general of regional autotomy at the ministry of home affairs, Djohermansyah Djohan, said earlier that his department could shoot the law down if it violated human rights.

United Kingdom: South Asian Gays Wed to Avoid Violence from Families

The Independent’s Pavan Amara reports this week on gay South Asian immigrants in the United Kingdom who are in heterosexual marriages of convenience in order to protect themselves from pressure and violence from relatives.

Tariq lives alone, but you’d never know that if you visited his flat. All around his home are all the signs of a happy marriage, despite his wife living a few miles away. It’s a deception she willingly goes along with, however. She is a lesbian, he is gay, and neither can bear to tell their families – opting instead for the pretence of life as a straight couple through a marriage of convenience, which Tariq admits is a “farce” but might stop his wife from being killed by her parents….

Tariq and his wife are both from south Asian origin, and believe it would be impossible – and dangerous – for them to reveal their true sexuality to their families due to cultural pressures. Hundreds of others just like them are seeking fellow gay partners of the opposite sex for sham marriages to escape the pressure from their demanding relations.

Amara reports that hundreds of posts advertised for marriages of convenience on a websites aimed at the UK’s ethnic minorities.

Polly Harrar, founder of the Sharan Project charity which helps British Asian people forced into marriage, has recently worked with other people considering MOCs as a way to “safeguard their sanity, and sometimes their lives”. The clients her charity comes into contact with have often “grown up knowing their lives were in danger if they were homosexual”, she says.

“It’s a knowledge you have from day one – that people in your community talk about how gay people deserve violence or death, hearing about what happened to others,” says Ms Harrar. “So, though it’s not an explicit threat made to your life by one or two people, you know what will happen if you don’t hide your sexuality through an MOC… One female client was considering having one because she worried that if people found out she was a lesbian, she would be subjected to a corrective rape to turn her straight.

According to the story, the British government has a forced marriage unit, but that marriages of convenience, even if undertaken as a result of intense family and societal pressure, may not meet the definition of forced marriages.

Mexico: Marriages Begin in Coahuila

Last Saturday, same-sex couples began to marry legally in the Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders Texas. The legislature had voted to make marriage equality the law on September 1. The wife of the governor of neighboring state Durango was not to happy about the development, saying that homosexuality “is outside of what’s properly natural for the human being.”

Peru: Activists Launch “Leave Your Fear in the Closet” Campaign

GLAAD reports that Plural Peru, an LGBT equality organization, has launched a campaign called #DejaElMiedoEnElCloset – leave your fear in the closet. As we have reported, several American religious right leaders have traveled to Peru to encourage the government to resist LGBT equality.

Celebrities, government leaders and regular folks were asked to upload a photo of themselves holding a paper with the phrase #DejaElMiedoEnElCloset to support the cause.

“Our motivation was to say ‘enough’ to discrimination, to say what we think and feel without fear,” said Antonio Capurro, a founding member of the organization and a leading advocate in Peru.

France: Former President Says Marriage Equality Law ‘Humiliates’ Families

The “twice-divorces and thrice-married” Former President Nicolas Sarkozy is being criticized for recent attacks on marriage equality legislation that some see as a way to position himself for a return to politics:

In a 45-minute prime-time TV interview, Sarkozy, The Guardianreports, “became animated at the end of the interview when asked about the Socialist government’s so-called ‘marriage for all’ legislation that legalised same-sex unions and brought hundreds of thousands of mostly rightwing, traditional, Catholic protesters on to the streets of France.”

Sarkozy admitted that while he would not repeal the law, he “detested” the way it was introduced by Hollande’s Socialist government, and accused the Socialists of “humiliating families and humiliating people who love the family”.