Istanbul ‘Haven of Sorts’ For LGBT Syrians and Iraqis; Cayman Islands Affirm Marriage Ban with ‘Holy Bible Evidence’; No Room for LGBTs in Malaysia’s ‘Islam-Based’ Human Rights Policy; Global LGBT Recap

Richard Blanco, the openly gay Cuban-American poet who read at Barack Obama’s second inauguration, composed and read a poem for the ceremony reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana.

Guatemalan photographer Eny Roland Hernandez’s large-scale portraits of LGBT people taken in Denmark and Guatemala were posted around Copenhagen as part of the city’s pride celebration.

The International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has begun publishing in serial format a graphic novel about the struggles for acceptance by two fictional gay men in Iran. The group plans to publish an episode of “Yousef and Farhad” once a week over the coming months; the first episode is available on Facebook. The graphic novel was created by Amir Soltani and Khalil Bendib. From an IGLHRC press release:

“For too long, the lives of Iranian lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have been kept in the dark. Our goal is to hold up a mirror to Iranian society that shows the persecution of a homosexual couple and suggests a new response,” said Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC’s program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “By reaching Iranians in the human and familiar setting of family, our ultimate hope is to encourage greater acceptance as the starting place for a change in attitudes in the wider society.”

… The choice of the names Yousef and Farhad for the characters was intentional, as both are timeless names from Persian literature. By bringing them together in a same-sex love story, the novel reminds readers that homosexuality has existed for centuries in every society and culture.

In the New York Times, Andrew Siddons examines the plight of American Foreign Service officers whose same-sex spouses cannot get long-term visas in countries that do not recognize same-sex couples’ marriages. The story says, that about half of State Department positions “are effectively off-limits for Foreign Service officers who would want to move with their same sex spouses.”

Vatican: No room for LGBT Catholics at upcoming World Meeting of Families

New Ways Ministry, a Catholic group planning to hold a conversation around gender identity issues during the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia next month, was banned by church officials from holding their event in a local parish.  St. John the Evangelist in downtown Philadelphia was also going to serve as a home base for Equally Blessed, but that group has been shut out too. The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein notes:

The news Tuesday follows the announcement by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput that people advocating for gay equality would not be given a platform at the World Meeting of Families, a once-every-three-years global meeting about family issues in the church.

The issue shows the complex balancing act for the church as Francis continues to make inclusive comments and powerful gestures of welcome toward gay people even as he speaks out strongly against gay marriage and transgender acceptance. The pope’s U.S. visit next month and the family meeting come just ahead of a major gathering of cardinals in Rome in November that will address concrete questions about the place of gay people and families in Catholicism.

Boorstein reports that a number of pro-LGBT groups have been denied permission to have a booth in the exhibition hall at the World Meeting.

Among them was Fortunate Families, a group for Catholic parents seeking equality for their LGBT children. Its president, Deb Word, and her husband run a safe house for LGBT youth in Memphis.

The World Meeting’s director of programming, Mary Beth Yount, told Word that the group couldn’t advertise at the event because it isn’t welcoming of parents who disapprove of their children’s same-sex behavior, the National Catholic Reporter wrote. Word noted to Yount that several other bishops have met with and supported similar parent groups.

Gavin, the archdiocesan spokesman, noted that there is a panel at the meeting called “Always Consider the Person” that features a gay, celibate Catholic professor and his mother. There are also panels on gender “complementarity” and on sexuality and celibacy.

The church’s decision was criticized by New Ways Ministry, but defended by the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett, who said, “Why would they want to come anyway if they’re opposed to Catholic views on the family.”

Turkey: Istanbul provides LGBT Syrians and Iraqis ‘a haven – of sorts’

U.K.’s Independent reported on Sunday that LGBT Syrians and Iraqis “have found a haven – of sorts – in Istanbul.” The story by Bradley Secker begins at Tek Yön, a nightclub “where you’ll find gay exiles from every sect and ethnicity in the Middle East.” Says Subhi, from Syria, “Istanbul is a bubble of freedom and gay rights in the region, and Tek Yön is a good meeting point for gay Syrians and gay Arabs in general.”

The story reports that the Syrian regime “took out its ire on the LGBT community” after the civil uprising, but notes that “Isis militants may well be the most boastful, and brutal of the lot, routinely circulating images of men they have labelled as gay being hurled to their deaths from rooftops, or being stoned to death in fields.”

Turkey, which shares a border with both conflict zones, has absorbed millions of refugees, among them sexual minorities who have become outcasts from their own communities. In a Middle East that is becoming increasingly divided along political, religious, and ethnic lines, eclectic Istanbul offers a rare chance to cut across these invisible borders – the type of opportunity the recently formed group LGBT Arabie has jumped on.

“There are hundreds of us here,” says the group’s co-founder, Nader, a 25-year-old gay Syrian from Homs. Sporting an earring, Nader wears his beard long, breaking the stereotypes of hardline religion associated with it. His rallying cry is a glimpse of optimism for both a community and a region living in turmoil and fear. Since March, on Sunday afternoons he has hosted “Tea and Talk”, an Arabic-language meeting for LGBT people on Istanbul’s Asian side.

In a room furnished only with fold-out chairs, and walls decorated by photographs, newspaper clippings and banners from the LGBT rights struggle in Turkey, tea is poured and conversation begins, as a small rainbow flag flutters from the window. The first meeting welcomed nine intrigued but slightly nervous guests, and has grown ever since. Participants from across the Arab world, from Morocco via Libya to the Levant countries, discuss issues of refugee rights and asylum, Islam and homosexuality, and coming out. Most LGBT activities and connections in the past were largely online – yet here there is a tangible sense of grass-roots activism.

Despite Istanbul being “something of an oasis,” the situation in Turkey “is still far from perfect.”

Being LGBT and Syrian here means facing not only homophobia and transphobia from within the Syrian diaspora, but also rising animosity from Turks. Minutes before it was due to begin this year, Istanbul Pride was cancelled under orders from the city’s governor, who cited the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as the reason. Subsequently, the amassing crowds of thousands were faced with riot police, who fired tear gas, plastic pellets and water at them.

For many LGBTs, Turkey is a stopping point on the way to hoped-for resettlement in Europe, Canada, or the United States. Said one transgender woman, “No reason in this life will make me think to go back to Syria, whether there is war or not. My problem is not just the war.” Another Syrian, Sami, supports himself and his friends through sex work.

Like many other Syrian LGBTs, Sami is waiting for his resettlement case to be processed. In the meantime, Saturday nights are his liveliest. As he dances in his regular spot, you can hear Arabic dialects from all over the region. For at least one night a week, Arab Christians, Sunnis, atheists and others dance to the same beat.

“There is freedom in Istanbul, but not much,” concludes Sami. “I want to go to a place far away.”

Malaysia: Prime Minister says LGBTs not included in country’s Islam-based view of human rights

Prime Minister Najib Razak said that the country defines human rights “in the context of Islam and the Shariah” and cannot defend the “more extreme aspects of human rights” such as the rights of LGBT people, reports Rachel Middleton in International Business Times.

Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director Phil Robertson later told a news conference that he was shocked by Najib’s promise to uphold human rights only within the Islamic context saying that Kuala Lumpur should withdraw from the United Nations if the government was not serious about upholding human rights for all.

Amnesty International Malaysia’s Executive Director Shamini Darshni also criticized the Prime Minister, reports the Malay Mail, saying that the principles of the Universal Declaration of HumanRights “take precedence over faiths to as to ascribe a sense of equality among all persons.”

Cayman Islands: Legislature affirms same-sex marriage ban with ‘Holy Bible evidence’

The legislature of this British Overseas Territory has voted unanimously to reject marriage for same-sex couples by approving a motion that maintains the constitutional definition of “traditional marriage.” From the Cayman Reporter:

The motion for “Preservation of Traditional Marriages” was filed by Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden.

“Sadly what is really historic about our modern era, Madam Speaker, is that a behaviour that for thousands of years was understood as a social and moral evil — a perversion and an abomination in God’s sight — is now being promoted not only as normal behaviour, but as something everyone should accept as good,” Eden said.

Basing his argument on “Holy Bible evidence,” the long-serving MLA’s motion was passed unanimously by the house, demonstrating Cayman’s majority view towards the advancement of legal rights for those seeking same-sex unions.

Stating that homosexuality is a sin, MLA Alva Suckoo seconded the motion, saying that he “shouldn’t be expected to support legislation that would allow sin.”

The motion was brought to the house following a pivotal judgment on same-sex civil-unions in Italy by the European Court of Human Rights, which the Cayman Islands as a jurisdiction is subject to being an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.

Puerto Rico: At mass wedding, couples celebrate marriage equality, Church does not

More than 60 same-sex couples took part in a mass wedding on Sunday, including couples from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Venezuela. More from Associated Press:

The ceremony was criticized by the Roman Catholic bishop of Arecibo, Monsignor Daniel Fernandez Torres. Citing the church’s catechism, which defines marriage as a sacrament, he said that a marital union can be shared only by a man and woman and that same-sex marriages are “contrary to natural law.”

“Today is a sad day for Puerto Rican society,” Fernandez said in a statement.

Puerto Rico until recently prohibited same-sex marriage and the recognition of such marriages, but the government struck down those laws after the Supreme Court decision. Officials also now allow gay couples to adopt children.

In recent days, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla also signed two executive orders that allow transgender and transsexual people to change their gender on their driver’s license and protect their rights when seeking medical services.

You can see a collection of wedding photos at Huffington Post and more at TelesurvTV.

Northern Ireland: Gay couple makes religious liberty claim against marriage ban

A gay couple that was married in England last year has filed a lawsuit claiming that Northern Ireland’s refusal to recognize their marriage, and treating it as a civil union, is infringing on their religious liberty.

The pair’s solicitor Ciaran Moynagh told the Belfast Telegraph said: “They are saying the downgrading of their marriage isn’t lawful and one of the aspects is that they are arguing that their religious liberty is being infringed.

“The petitioner says that he has a belief in God, within the liberal Christian tradition, and he chose to have a religious marriage.

“Northern Irish law does not recognise their marriage as a marriage, and that therefore denies them their right to manifest their beliefs.”

He added: “My clients are not activists, not in any way, they are not trying to directly change legislation. Their aim is simply to have their marriage recognised as what it is. They did not want to do this, court is a last resort.

Bolivia: President Morales praises pope, says lesbian friends explaining gay marriage to him

In an interview with Mercedes Lopez San Miguel for Argentina’s Pagina 12, Bolivian President Evo Morales talks about meeting Pope Francis and worries that the Pope could be poisoned by right-wing forces for his statements on poverty, the environment, and capitalism. Morales said his mother taught him to be Catholic but that he had been let down by church authorities’ alliance with the right and discrimination against those who “gave their lives for the people.” But now, he says, “I have a pope.”

Asked about gay marriage, he said “I am fairly conservative, but it is a reality that we need to debate and let the people decide. Maybe because I come from a conservative family with that theme, perhaps the same religion, but I cannot understand how they can marry women with women and men with men.” But, he added, “I have lesbian friends explaining it to me and it is a reality.”

Italy: Venice Mayor’s LGBT book ban seen as part of struggle over Church’s social influence

The New York Times’ Elisabetta Povoledo reported this week on moves by the new conservative mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, to ban 49 children’s books from preschool libraries.

There is the story of the male dog who aspired to be a ballerina. The one about the little boy who wanted to be a princess, and a princess who wanted to be a soccer player. The tale of the penguin egg hatched and adopted by two male penguins (based on a real story at the Central Park Zoo in New York). And another about a little boy who learns to live with a physical disability, metaphorically depicted as a little saucepan that bangs around in his wake.

Yet one of the first formal acts of Venice’s new conservative mayor,Luigi Brugnaro, was to announce that he would ban them from the city’s preschool libraries.

After an outcry — from residents, authors, publishers, librarian associations and even Amnesty International — he whittled his list of banned books to just two.

But that was not before the mayor had ignited a lively debate about the right of educators to choose their teaching tools without political interference, and about Italy’s continuing struggle with broadening civil rights for gays.

Brugnaro is unapologetic, saying his action was fulfilling a campaign pledge opposing the “cultural arrogance” of the previous administration. Povoledo says many of the books have yet to make it into the libraries, and authors and civic groups have rallied in their defense.

Some saw the ban as reflecting ingrained Roman Catholic doctrine. One of two books that remains banned is Ophélie Texier’s “Jean A Deux Mamans,” or “Jean Has Two Mothers.”

Books that challenge the status quo are seen as eroding the church’s hold over social issues, said Francesca Pardi, the author of “Piccolo Uovo,” or “Little Egg,” the other book still on the forbidden list.

Her book, the tale of an unhatched egg that sees happiness in various family configurations, won the prestigious Andersen Prize in 2012, Italy’s top nod for children’s literature, even as a popular Catholic magazine cited it as a book to avoid.

“In Italy, it’s as if morality is the prerogative of the church,” Ms. Pardi said, “and so some principles are never put into discussion.” A book that shows that there is “room for all becomes very threatening, especially because it’s told in a simple language that shows there is nothing to be afraid of,” she said….

Roberto Baiocco, a child development expert and assistant professor at the University of Rome La Sapienza who worked on the reading project, interpreted the book controversy as part of a “historic moment when the government has to make decisions on what constitutes a family.”

Australia: Marriage quality bill ‘consigned to scrap heap’ by Prime Minister

After a weekend in which thousands of marriage equality supporters rallied,  a marriage equality bill was introduced this week by Warren Entsch, a “progressive redneck” former crocodile farmer who broke party ranks. The bill continues to be opposed by the socially conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a former Roman Catholic seminarian, and the legislation was, in the words of one news report, “consigned to [the] legislative scrap heap.”

 “This bill does not create different classes of marriage,” said Mr Entsch.

“The main purpose of this bill is not a complex one. It is to give same sex couples in Australia the same right to marry the person they love as that currently only granted by law to heterosexual couples.

“It does not establish a hierarchy or ranking system pitting a marriage between a same-sex couple above that of a heterosexual couple or vice versa.

“It provides absolute protections of religious freedoms … because you cannot replace one form of prejudice and discrimination with another.”

Abbott, reported the Star Observer, “said a decision on how to move forward with a ‘people’s vote’ was unlikely to be made for weeks.”

Meanwhile, polling showed plunging support for Abbott’s government, indicating that “the Coalition is facing a 36-seat electoral wipeout.”

The bad news comes as the government continues to languish on the wrong side of popular opinion on issues such as marriage equality, for which public support remains high at 69 per cent, and global warming, where nearly six in every 10 voters think the policy response to date has been “too little”.

Bitter internal divisions over how to proceed on the marriage equality front continue to dog the government, with senior ministers bickering and openly advocating positions at odds with the Prime Minister who now appears to favour a referendum some time next term if re-elected.

American anti-marriage-equality activist Ryan Anderson was reportedly in Melbourne this week. Earlier this month, the anti-marriage-equality Marriage Alliance ran Titanic-themed TV ads portraying same-sex marriage as a dangerous iceberg

Uganda: Official wants to ban adoption by marriage-equality countries

Pink News reports that the Ugandan Minister of State for East African Affairs, Shem Bageine, wants to ban people from countries with marriage equality from adopting children from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, the members of the East African Community.

Mexico: LGBT activists stage kiss-ins as response to anti-equality demonstrations

LGBT activists organized a kiss-in (besotón, literally big kiss) in front of churches around the country on Sunday, which organizers said was meant as a peaceful response to demonstrations organized by Catholic and evangelical groups against the Supreme Court of Justice rulings in favor of same-sex marriage.

Ukraine: Gay rights march cancelled; forum attacked with smoke bombs

AFP reports that last Saturday, masked men hurled smoke bombs into a forum that was convened by LGBT activists after a planned march was banned by a local court. More from AFP:

A gay pride march in the capital Kiev in June — the second in the nation’s post-Soviet history — was marred by scuffles after activists were attacked by far-right nationalists. Around a dozen people were injured.

The socially conservative country — locked in a bruising war with pro-Russian insurgents — is seeking a closer alliance with Europe and remains keen to promote civil liberties freely enjoyed in much of the West.

But homophobia remains rampant in a nation where the conservative Orthodox church wields considerable influence and nationalist far-right groups have grown more prominent.

China: Student sues over textbook description of homosexuality as treatable disease

A Chinese student has sued the Ministry of Education because textbooks in the college library defined homosexuality as a sickness, including a book published in 2013. China decriminalized consensual homosexual activity in 1997; the Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality and bisexuality from its diagnostic manual of mental disorders in 2001.

Russia: Pride celebration banned, Pride movie OK with ‘explicit’ label

“Pride,” the 2014 movie about LGBT activists coming to the aid of striking miners in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, will be allowed to be shown in Russia, though carrying an “explicit” rating. Notes Joe Williams at Pink News, “Ironically, the film opens and closes with scenes set at London’s annual Pride parade – whereas in Russia, Moscow Pride was banned for the tenth year in a row back in May.

United Kingdom: Fewer than half of young people say they are completely heterosexual

In a survey that asked British people to plot themselves on a “sexuality scale,” with 0 indicating exclusively heterosexual and 6 indicating exclusively homosexual, 72 percent described themselves as completely heterosexual, 4 percent chose completely homosexual and 19 percent placed themselves somewhere else on the scale. Younger people were less likely to place themselves at one end or the other; 43 percent of 18-24 year-olds placed themselves somewhere between 1 and 5, with 46 percent saying they are completely heterosexual and another 6 percent saying they are completely homosexual.

Vietnam: Viet Pride 2015

Viet Pride 2015 drew hundreds of people to a parade marking the end of the LGBT festival in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday. See photos at