This week the Human Rights Campaign released its list of countries to watch in 2015, both countries “where the fight for equality is making progress” and “those where the fundamental rights of LGBT people are increasingly under attack.”
Anjem Choudary, a London-based cleric who has said people found guilty of sodomy should be stoned to death, defended the murders of Charlie Hebdo magazine staff and reportedly called it “an act of war” for shops to stock the magazine. Choudary’s commentary appeared at USA Today last Friday. In it he asserted, “Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires.” Choudary said that insulting the Prophet is a capital offense in an Islamic state, and that “many will take the law into their own hands.”
The Advocate reports on Reciprocity, a group that holds spiritual retreats for homeless youth in New York City, many of them LGBT. The organization was founded by Taz Tagore, a Buddhist whose family fled east Africa during an ethnic cleansing, and Adam Bucko, a “mystic Christian” whose family fled communist Poland.
Philippines: Pope’s Visit Excites Young Catholics
A Bloomberg story on the excitement caused by Pope Francis’s visit to the Philippines this week included this:
An April 2013 survey by the Social Weather Stations found that the number of Filipinos identifying themselves as Catholics fell to 81 percent from 88 percent in 1997 and one in every 11 Catholics has considered leaving the church. Weekly church attendance among adults dropped to 37 percent in 2013 from 53 percent in 2006.
There are signs that church attendance has ticked up in anticipation of the visit.
“The line to a blockbuster movie? Hot selling concert? Celebrity autograph signing? Nope! It’s a Sunday Mass!,” said MJ Francisco, 31, who is gay and was inspired by Francis to attend Mass for the first time in two years.
“I really think that Pope Francis’ gospel of inclusion, while shaking the conservative set, has attracted a far larger number of people back to the Church, especially the young.”
The Philippines is the bulkhead of the faith in Asia, where 130 million Catholics now account for about 12 percent of the world total. That’s up from 5 percent in 1910, when 65 percent of the faithful were in Europe, according to a Pew Research Center’s survey. Europe now accounts for less than a quarter of world Catholics.
Gambia: President Rails Against Gays (Again)
President Yahya Jammeh, who has made anti-gay tirades a staple of his political positioning, gave a speech portraying homosexuality as counter to Islam and the Bible. The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers reports:
Gambia Affairs, a Gambian news website that operates independently from the country’s government, reported that Jammeh told soldiers in the country’s capital of Banjul that “the Bible that came first condemns homosexuality and the Bible is the book of the Almighty Allah and the Quran.” The Gambian president also appeared to sharply criticize the U.S. and other countries that have criticized his government’s LGBT rights record.
“Let me make it very clear that if they think that they can be homosexuals and want to impose homosexuality on the globe, they are doomed,” said Jammeh, according to Gambia Affairs. “They say I am intolerant…and that homosexuals are a minority that is being oppressed in this country.”
“All the religious books condemn homosexuality and there is a so-called power of democracy that says that homosexuality is a right,” he added. “All empires before collapsed not at the time they were weakest, but at the peak of their might and when they equated themselves with the Almighty Allah. So this evil empire of homosexuals will also go down the dirty drain and garbage of hell.”
Jammeh’s speech came roughly two weeks after two U.S. citizens allegedly led a failed coup to overthrow his government.
“Let me warn those countries that think they are powers,” said Jammeh, according to Gambia Affairs. “They may be evil powers, but the Gambia is a righteous power protected by God. We will prevail by the grace of the Almighty Allah. All forces of evil that have bad intention towards the Gambia will perish. We will not change our way of life.”
Russia: US Religious Activists Thank God for Putin’s Russia
We reported last fall on the social conservative conference held in Moscow, which was originally planned as the World Congress of Families Summit, but lost official WCF backing in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch reports that transcripts of speeches at the conference have become available. WCF managing director Lawrence Jacobs described the striking down of sodomy laws in the US as part of an international “timeline of a culture of the family and the church, a Marxist takeover. “I think Russia is the hope for the world right now,” said Jacobs, adding:
“Russian Eastern European leadership, I believe, is necessary to counter the secular, post-modern, anti-family agenda and replace want I’m calling the cultural Marxist philosophy that’s destroying human society, in particular destroying the family.”
Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage praised Russia’s “leadership in defense of the family,” saying “God bless you for that.” Brown called for “boldness” and a willing to persevere in the face of persecution. Here’s how he ended his speech:
Finally, I think we need to be faithful. Our Lord said that we would be persecuted if we stood up for righteousness; we are going to be persecuted, it is going to take a faithfulness for all of us that when we are persecuted and when there are attempts to divide us, that we stand together for the truth! There are many issues on which we may disagree; there are many issues of geopolitics that there may be differences of opinion in this room, but what we are united on is the fundamental truth that is at stake in this century, and that is the truth of the beauty and dignity of marriage and family.
And I believe, instead of fear, or being depressed, or being negative, we need an optimism with our faith, to say that no culture can long stand that neglects or denies the truth, the simple truth that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. No culture can long stand that denies the inherent dignity of each and every human being. We need to proclaim this truth, be faithful, and I believe, it may take five years, ten years, fifteen years, even decades in the future. If we are faithful, we will make a change. But above all that, whether the change occurs or not, we are all called to do this. This is our mission, this is our duty, and it is our honor to be a part of it at this time in history. Thank you, and God bless!
In another story, we reported last week on Russia’s move to ban people with “sex disorders” from getting driving licenses, a move that was slammed by Europe’s human rights commissioner this week. But this week the Russian government said that wasn’t the intention of a new safety decree that, according to Reuters, “lists trans sexuality among the medical conditions that could prevent a person from driving.” Reuters reported on Wednesday:
But a government official said that a mental or behavioral disorder in itself was not a reason to stop someone driving.
The law would affect only those suffering from chronic and prolonged mental disorders with severe or persistent symptoms, Health Ministry spokesman Oleg Salagai told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Ireland: Priest Comes Out During Mass, Urges Support for Marriage Equality
Father Martin Dolan, a priest in Dublin’s Church of St. Nicholas of Myra for 15 years, came out to his parishioners as gay on Sunday morning, and called on members of his congregation to support marriage equality in the referendum that will be held in May. He reportedly received a standing ovation. After the service, Dolan began a holiday. According to the Belfast Telegraph, “The Dublin Archdiocese declined to comment until they had spoken to Fr. Dolan directly.”
United Kingdom: Christian School Upset Over Questioning of Students on Sexuality
Christ Gray, the headteacher at Grindon Hall Christian School, whose students range from 4 to 18 years old, complained that a government schools inspector inappropriately quizzed students about LGBT issues. According to Pink News:
Mr Gray told the Sunderland Echo: “In the days after the inspection, several parents complained to me about what they saw as intrusive and deeply personal questioning of their children in some group sessions.
“I heard reports of primary school children being asked if they knew of any boys or girls who thought they were in the wrong body and others if they knew what gay and lesbians did.
“The offer of a one-to-one meeting with an inspector, who was a complete stranger to them, in order to discuss personal matters of sexuality was also viewed with alarm by some parents.
“It is clear that many of the questions asked are viewed by parents as wholly inappropriate, particularly given the age of the children involved.”
A spokesman for the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) defended the inspector, saying “We are committed to making sure all pupils in England receive a broad and balanced education.”
“One part of how we assess this is through talking to pupils to consider the extent to which they are being prepared for the next stages in their lives.
“Ofsted is not looking for answers to questions which are contrary to their faith. Nor do we require evidence that schools ‘promote’ other faiths.
“Instead, inspectors must ensure that pupils are able to express views which are neither intolerant nor discriminatory towards others.
Tunisia: Trans Person Sparks Debate with TV Appearance
Al Arabiya news reported on Sunday that a trans person appeared on a popular Tunisian television talk show.
Born “Leila”, but going by the name “Jalel,” the transsexual appeared on Andi Mankolek (“I Have Something to Tell You”) – a program that enjoys the highest viewership among Tunisian television channels – explaining that he was registered as female at birth but has long identified as a man…
Jalel, who revealed that he has been using hormonal treatment to look and sound like a man, explained that he wants to undergo a sex reassignment surgery but cannot because such surgeries are illegal in the tiny North African nation. A Tunisian female footballer grabbed headlines in 2013 when she legally changed her status from female to male after court consent. But such incidents seldom take place.
“From the outside, I am a man. But inside, I am a woman. But deeper inside, I am a man,” Jalel, wearing a pair of sunglasses that concealed his identity, said, explaining his dilemma.
“I have always felt like a man,” he went on. “I am rejecting my femininity because I have never felt it. I never felt it because my brain has been programed to be a man; in the way I think, the way I speak, and the way I walk.”
Al Arabiya reported that homosexuality is a criminal offense in Tunisia.
In a traditionally Muslim country, which is also known to be one of the Arab world’s most progressive, Jalel’s story sparked mixed reactions on social media.
“These are lies. God created her as female and her name is Leila. She rejected her femininity and she is going to be punished for this on Judgment Day,” said a Facebook user.
“This woman, and the likes of her, does not need an operation as she claims because she wants to change God’s creation. She needs the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); this is her solution,” said a commentator on Ettounsia’s website. ISIS reportedly stoned two homosexual men to death in Syria November last year.
An interview with Tunisia’s grand mufti, Othman Battikh, in which he declared that sex reassignment surgeries are sinful in Islam, was also played during the show. Battikh noted that “corrective surgery” was only allowed in the event the “patient” proved to have hormonal abnormalities….
Others sympathized with his plight, however. “This person is going through a lot of struggle that no one understands except his creator. And our modern-proclaimed society is mocking him,” said one commenter.
“Religion continues to deny the psychological component of the human being although it is one that maintains a real balance within the person,” it added.
Egypt: Men Arrested in Tabloid-TV Bathhouse Raid Acquitted
Same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited in Egyptian law but homosexuality is a social taboo in the conservative, Muslim-majority country. Same-sex marriage is unheard of. Only in recent years have movies and fiction included gay characters.
The men in the bathhouse raid faced various charges, including debauchery and performing indecent public acts. Monday’s verdict came after only three hearings, during which families quarreled with journalists who tried to photograph their relatives in the dock.
The courtroom erupted into a frenzy after the word “acquittal” was heard from the judge and women ululated. Scott Long, an American researcher who had followed the case said he was both “shocked and delighted.”
“I hope this is a sign that these raids will come to an end,” Long told The Associated Press amid the cheering. “Finally there was a judge who listened to the evidence.”
Rights activists say 2014 was the worst year in a decade for Egypt’s gay community, with at least 150 men arrested or put on trial.
BuzzFeed’s report on the acquittal includes more detail about problems with the prosecution’s case, as well as allegations that at least one man was allowed by police to be raped by other prisoners while in custody.
Kyrgyzstan: Europe Condemns Anti-Gay Bill; MP Wants to ‘Cleanse Society’
This week the European Parliament debated the draconian “homosexual propaganda” bill that, as we have reported, has been moving through the legislature in Kyrgysztan; members of parliament passed a resolution urging the Kyrgyz government to drop the bill. Meanwhile, in Kyrgyzstan, Member of Parliament Narymek Maldobaev called for extermination of LGBT people. From Towleroad:
A 26-minute film by Vocativ covers a broad swath of the issues facing the nation, including the nation’s attitude towards gays and lesbians. There is resistance to the “Western idea” of accepting people for who they are, and MP Narynbek Maldobaev went so far as to call for an extermination, saying, “If it were up to me, I would round them up, the despicable criminals. I’d bring them to a public square and there I would publicly punish them.”
When the interviewer asked for clarification on whether “punish” meant execute, Madobaev responded in the affirmative, saying that it would be, “In order to cleanse society.”
Mexico: Mexicali City Officials Continue to Resist Marriage Equality
Last weekend officials in the city of Mexicali continued their refusal to marry Víctor Aguirre Espinoza and Fernando Urias Amparo in spite of an order by Mexico’s Supreme Court more than six months ago that the men could marry. The couple had previously been denied based on claims of incomplete paperwork. This time, the excuse was that a premarital counselor the couple had been required to see refused to certify their participation complained that that the men “suffer from madness.” The counselor is the head of an anti-equality organization, the Coalition of Baja California Families. According to this report, the mayor has been under pressure by Bishop José Isidro Macias. The couple has filed a complaint against the mayor, who could reportedly be removed from office for contempt of court.
India: State Official Plans Training Camps and Drugs to Make LGBT Youth ‘Normal’
Ramesh Tawadkar, the minister of sports and youth affairs in the state of Goa reportedly said on Monday that the state government would set up training centers where LGBT youth could receive medicine and training to make them “normal.” The announcement provokedwidespread outrage and mockery, and Tawadkar later claimed he had been misquoted, and that his remarks were meant to apply to drug-addicted youth.
Thailand: New Constitution to Recognize Third Gender
Naith Payton reports at Pink News that Thailand’s new constitution will include references to a third gender:
A spokesman for the panel which is drafting the new constitution, Kamnoon Sittisamarn, said this was to ensure all sexual identities would be protected and treated equally under the law.
He told Reuters: “We are putting the words ‘third gender’ in the constitution because Thai society has advanced.
“There are not only men and women, we need to protect all sexes. We consider all sexes to be equal.”
Northern Ireland: Marriage-Seeking Couples Thwarted, Turn to Courts
In Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom that does not permit or recognize marriage by same-sex couples, the ruling party has blocked legislative efforts on behalf of marriage equality. This week a couple that lives in Northern Ireland and got married in England filed a legal challenge to the lack of legal recognition of their marriage. Another couple had hoped to convert the civil partnership they had entered in Belfast into a marriage in Scotland but found out that the law requires civil partnerships be converted to marriage in the country in which it was registered, meaning they would have to go through the long process of dissolving their partnership before getting married elsewhere in the UK. “To get married we would effectively have to get divorced first,” said John Vernon, “that is ridiculous.”
Cayman Islands: Students Plan Public Dialogue on LGBT Issues
“Students in the Cayman Islands, supported by the Governor and Premier, aim to host a series of debates, opening up a dialogue about LGBT rights in the Cayman Islands,” reports Pink News. “The debates will come in the form of a number of free public lectures.”
Despite the Cayman Islands being a British Overseas Territory, meaning residents in many ways are treated as British, including passports, access to the UK and EU, the territory does not have many of the protections for LGBT people.
Some issues faced by LGBT people in the Cayman Islands, whether visiting or living there, include a lace of discrimination protections, no legal recognition of relationships, and gay cruise ships being picketed when they dock.
Austria: Court Strikes Down Adoption Ban
The Constitutional Court this week struck down a ban on adoption by same-sex couples.
Austrians in same-sex relationships could previously only adopt the biological children of their partners’ since 2013, but could not jointly adopt non-biological children.
Head of the court, Gerhart Holzinger, said: “This is no justification for difference in treatment because of sexual orientation.”
Previously only married couples were allowed to adopt, and Austria does not have same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples can form a “registered partnership” which does not have the same benefits as marriage.