Global LGBT Recap: Promise and Peril in the New Year

The new year dawns with more LGBT people than ever before living in states and countries that recognize marriage equality. But, thanks to the Supreme Court in India, this year also begins with more LGBT people living in countries that declare them and their relationships to be illegal than at the same time last year.  The conservative Catholic Family & Human Rights Institution (C-FAM) is celebrating resistance to LGBT equality and reproductive choice that it works to foment and strengthen in Europe and international bodies.

The Vatican: Malta, India, Uganda, More to Come

Toward the end of 2013, Pope Francis was declared person of the year by both TIME magazine and, more controversially, by the LGBT-oriented Advocate.  As the year draws to a close, conservative and liberal Catholics, and LGBT Catholics and non-Catholics, will be keeping a close eye on the Vatican to see whether the pastoral tone set by Francis in his first year will lead to more substantial changes there and among national conferences of bishops.  Some observers are hopeful while others continue to publicly challenge the notion that the pope can be considered progressive if he continues to uphold the hierarchy’s positions on women and LGBT people.

National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen saw the Pope’s pastoral tone at work in Rome last week:

If anyone wants an example of what the emphasis on mercy under Pope Francis looks like in action, they’ll find one this afternoon in Rome at the Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the pope’s Jesuit order, where a funeral will be celebrated for a Colombian transgendered and homeless person beaten to death five months ago.

Andrea Quintero’s funeral was delayed because her family had not requested her remains or given instructions. Eventually, Allen reports, “the Jesuit-run Centro Astalli, dedicated to aiding refugees, in combination with the local branch of Caritas and civic officials, stepped in to organize a funeral service. (Note: Allen uses male pronouns and “transgendered” in his story; I have used feminine pronouns and would use “transgender.”)

It’s safe to say that indicators from the Vatican are mixed: As the year drew to a close, Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta invoked the Pope in opposition to a proposed law that would allow civil unions and adoption by same-sex couples; the bishop said the pope was “shocked” by the law and encouraged him to speak out against it.

More promising was New Ways Ministry’s report last month that Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai did not, like many other religious leaders in that country, support the Supreme Court ruling that reinstated the colonial era anti-sodomy law and re-criminalized homosexuality. He said:

 “[T]he Catholic Church has never been opposed to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, because we have never considered gay people criminals. As Christians, we express our full respect for homosexuals. The Catholic Church is opposed to the legalisation of gay marriage, but teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.” 

New Ways Ministry’s Bob Shine points out that Gracias, in addition to heading up India’s bishops’ conference, “is also a member of the eight member Council of Cardinals formed to advise Pope Francis.” The archdiocese of Delhi stated that it was opposed to any law that would criminalize homosexuality while reaffirming the hierarchy’s position on marriage equality. In addition, writes Shine:

 … India’s Christians are a minority struggling for recognition of their own rights. In the same week that homosexuality was criminalized, police injured Catholic demonstrators, including ten nuns, and arrested Archbishop Couto.  Relations between the government and the Catholic Church are contentious, reports. Defending all minority rights, including LGBT equality aside from marriage, is seemingly a position with which leading Catholic voices seem comfortable.

Regarding Uganda, where many religious leaders have backed the harsh anti-gay law passed by parliament just before Christmas, Archbishop Michael Blume , the Papal Nuncio to Uganda, responded to a letter of concern from  Brother Brian McLaughlin, noting that the country’s bishops had opposed the law in 2009, saying at the time:

 The recent tabled Anti-Homosexuality Bill does not pass a test of a Christian caring approach to this issue. The targeting of the sinner, not the sin, is the core flaw of the proposed Bill. The introduction of the death penalty and imprisonment for homosexual acts targets people rather than seeking to counsel and to reach out in compassion to those who need conversion, repentance, support, and hope. The Bible says in Luke 6:36-37 ‘Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.

New Ways Ministry is asking readers to write to Pope Francis and Archbishop Blume and encourage them to publicly oppose the legislation in Uganda.

Though the Ugandan bishops spoke out against the bill in 2009, and although the portion quoted above is hopeful, the rest of their statement presents a very negative attitude toward homosexuality. Last year, there was a report that the bishops had reversed their opposition to the bill, though, because they have not spoken about it clearly, it is difficult to know where they stand currently.  It is hopeful that the papal nuncio supports their 2009 opposition to the bill, an indication that he may feel the same way.   Still, because the Ugandan bishops’ current position is unclear, it’s important that the pope and the papal nuncio hear from Catholics that they want church teaching on human dignity and respect to be upheld in this matter.

New Ways praised the Pope’s New Year’s Day statement celebrating the World Day of Peace – which focused on the value of human fraternity – but also challenged the church. “Pope Francis imagines a church that ‘speaks out in order to make leaders hear the cry of pain of the suffering and to put an end to every form of hostility, abuse and the violation of fundamental human rights.’  Where is that church when it comes to the human rights of LGBT people?

Uganda: Gay and Afraid While Anti-Gay Bill Awaits Presidential Decision

On December 30, CNN broadcast a report on the impact of anti-gay political rhetoric on LGBT people in Uganda, where a long-pending anti-gay bill passed just before Christmas. The story notes that at Christmas mass, Anglican Archbishop Stanley Ntagali thanked parliament for passing the bill.

The report cites the United Nations saying that “if signed by the President, this new law would reinforce stigma and prejudice, and institutionalize discrimination,” and quotes an activist saying that the number of threats against LGBT peoples is already on the rise.

Nigeria: Jail the Gays Bill Pending

Tris Reid-Smith reports for Gay Star News that the repressive “Jail the Gays” bill that passed the parliament in Nigeria in December has not yet been sent to President Goodluck Jonathan for his signature.  If he returns the law to parliament with recommended changes, that could delay resolution until after a coming election.  LGBT activists hope that he will refer it to the National Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, activists are considering with “dread” the potential consequences of the legislation for LGBT people and for HIV prevention and treatment programs

South Africa: Concern about LGBT Equality in a Post-Mandela Nation

Joe Morgan of Gay Star News reported on New Year’s Day that some South African activists are concerned that the legacy of Nelson Mandela, which included the groundbreaking inclusion of sexual orientation in the Constitution, could be at risk in his absence.

President Jacob Zuma, as well as several other representatives in South Africa, have made homophobic comments in the past.

‘When I was growing up, an ungqingili [a gay] would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out,’ Zuma has said, also describing same-sex marriages as a ‘disgrace to the nation and to God’.

Mogoeng Mogoeng, the Chief Justice, belongs to an extremely conservative church that believes gay people can be ‘cured’.

In 2012 alone, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa called for the removal of LGBT rights from the constitution.

Activists have told GSN they are concerned that without Mandela, the figurehead of equality, South Africa could follow the rest of the continent and ban gay rights.

Morgan quotes Ingrid Lynch of the Triangle Project, who calls the threat real, but says she believes protecting LGBT rights can be ensured by tying them to other issues.  She cites Desmond Tutu, who “fights against homophobia and transphobia as well as AIDS, poverty and violence against women,” and says that if activists do the same, “then our voice becomes a lot stronger. That way, we will stay South Africa.”

Latin America: Homophobic Violence

On December 29, the Global Post published a long article on Latin America’s “homophobic killing problem,” citing statistics that are themselves almost certainly underreported due in part to police hostility and family shame. “The human rights arm of the Washington-based Organization of American States recently launched a database about the trend, with killings in the region often running at several a day.” Some of the violence may be a backlash to progress that has been made in the region.

Whatever the precise body count, the epidemic may actually be a backlash against progress made by the gay community in the region, says Graeme Reid, Human Rights Watch’s LGBT director.

He cites the recent advent of gay marriage in Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico City. And in the last two years, Ecuadorean authorities closed down 15 “clinics” that supposedly cured homosexuality, their patients often admitted by their families against their will.

Violence has also spurred some positive political response, says the story. In 2012 Chile passed an anti-discrimination law that had been stalled in Congress for seven years, “after a horrific murder in a Santiago park.”  The law includes harsher jail terms for hate crimes.

Russia: Principle 6 Campaign & It Gets Better

An international cast of athletes has joined the Principle 6 campaign, which as created by Athlete Ally and All Out to give athletes, spectators, and others a way to raise awareness of anti-LGBT laws in Russia before and during the Sochi Olympics. The campaign is built around Principle 6 of the Olympic charter, which states: “Sport does not discriminate on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise.”

And the It Gets Better campaign launched by activist and author Dan Savage has launched a project aimed at letting young people in Russia know that people around the world are aware of their struggles and support them.  “You are beautiful,” is one message of the project’s launch video which includes voices from six continents.

Jamaica: Two Faces of Christianity

It Gets Better’s international affiliates page notes that a project for Jamaica is in the works and “coming soon.” The sooner the better – Religious Right figures like Peter LaBarbera and  MassResistance’s Brian Camenker participated in a recent conference there and urged Jamaicans not to do away with sodomy laws. Those laws have literally been driving LGBT teens  to live in sewers, as reported by Lester Feder at Buzzfeed.  Camenker warned participants against repealing the “buggery law,” saying, “a law that contradicts God’s law is the beginning of a slippery slope that you cannot imagine.”

In a bit of good news, a website devoted to chronicling the impact of laws criminalizing homosexuality reported last week that activists who prepared a Christmas dinner for LGBT youth were joined by Fr. Sean Major-Campbell of Christchurch, Vineyard Town in downtown Kingston. “He told them a story about a US$100 bill that still maintained its value as much when it was new as when it was crushed and trodden on. He asked the youth to remind themselves that they were like that hundred-dollar bill, with value despite their present condition.” The post includes information about a fundraising campaign to establish Dwayne’s House, a permanent shelter for homeless LGBT youth.

Thailand: New LGBT-Rights Political Party in the Works

LGBT activists in Thailand are working to create a new political party this year, but say they don’t have time to have it up and running for upcoming elections. According to a December 29 story in the Bangkok Post, the party “will be named the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression Rights Party, or the SOGIE Rights Party (SRP).” Its advocates say it could draw members from across current political divides.

Central America: Religious conservatives oppose USAID’s HIV Efforts

Brian Tashman at Right Wing Watch reports that William Murray and his Government Is Not God PAC are complaining about the U.S. Agency for International Development’s support for efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Central America by tackling the stigma that surrounds it.  “In short,” the group says, “your tax dollars will be used to hand out condoms to homosexuals, normalize cross-dressing and transsexuality, remove the ‘stigma’ from men and women who prostitute themselves or are drug addicts, and will be used to fight against ‘heterosexual norms’ in Central America.” It also attacks USAID plan to encourage trans-inclusive workplace policies, saying that transgender people “are individuals who are mentally ill and need treatment.”