Malawi Catholic Bishops Call For Enforcement of Sodomy Law; Ukrainian Thugs Disrupt Equality Festival Opposed by Orthodox Church; Indonesian Islamists Continue Rhetorical War on LGBTs; Global LGBT Recap

The World Psychiatric Association has released a statement on gender identity and same-sex attraction and behaviors, which says in part, “Psychiatrists have a social responsibility to advocate for a reduction in social inequalities for all individuals, including inequalities related to gender identity and sexual orientation.” It calls for descriminalization and legal equality for LGBT people.

The statement argues that LGBT people should be regarded as “valued members of society who have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as all other citizens. This includes equal access to healthcare and the rights and responsibilities that go along with living in a civilised society.” It says there is no evidence to support the efficacy of harmful therapies meant to change sexual orientation.

Malawi: Catholic Bishops Urge Govt to Enforce Sodomy Laws, Oppose Gay Rights and Unions

The Catholic bishops’ conference last week released a pastoral letter that addresses the state of the country and the problems facing its people. After paragraphs devoted to celebrating God’s mercy and the role of the church to bring hope and liberty to the hurting, the bishops’ letter complains that the government is no longer prosecuting people for being gay.

The letter praises the government’s resistance to LGBT equality, which is likely a reference to a law signed last year that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and forbids legal recognition for other relationships.

We, the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Malawi are aware of the pressure that the Government has endured so far from foreign nations and agencies who attach their financial support to values and practices that are contrary to our culture. We applaud the efforts and the courage the Government has demonstrated so far to resist the pressure to adopt such foreign values and practices i.e. homosexuality and abortion. We wish to affirm that such practices are not only against our cultural values but are also contrary to our laws and beliefs.

The letter declares that the bishops are “deeply concerned” about advocacy for abortion rights and the fact that “the family and the institution of marriage between man and woman are under direct attack from those campaigning for homosexual rights and homosexual unions.” While discussing abortion, the letter celebrates the “dignity of every human person.” But when addressing homosexuality, the letter focuses on the “dignity of the family.”

The bishops say that while homosexual orientation is “disordered” it is “not sinful in itself.  But they insist that “homosexual acts or unions” are “objectively evil and totally unacceptable.” They oppose anti-gay violence and say that God “asks us not to judge and not to condemn” but complains that the government is no longer prosecuting people under sodomy laws, which former President Joyce Banda effectively suspended in 2012.

From this perspective, we agree with those who have faulted the Government for putting a moratorium on laws governing homosexual acts. This means that those guilty of homosexual acts or unions cannot be prosecuted. The Government has bowed down to pressure from donor community, international bodies and local human rights campaigners. As Pastors, we find this path very unfortunate. It is an act of betrayal on the part of those in power to sell our country to foreign practices and tendencies contrary to the will of God because of money…We call upon all Catholics and people of good will to stand up for what is morally right today in the face of the hugely funded campaign for homosexual rights and unions.

Ukraine: Orthodox Church Opposes Equality Festival; Right-Wing Thugs Violently Disrupt It

Equality advocates reported that right-wing protesters disrupted plans for an equality festival planned in Lviv for last weekend, saying LGBT activists were effectively driven out of the city by thugs who harassed activists, surrounded a hotel where they were staying, and ended the gathering with a bomb threat. The Guardian reports that “the venue was surrounded by about 200 members of far-right groups shouting “kill, kill, kill.”

There seems to have been resistance from a number of quarters to the planned event, including from the Lviv Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate.  It was probably unfortunate timing that the festival was planned during Lent, however Bishop Filaret’s strong language about ‘sinners’ makes it clear that his objections were not linked only to the time chosen.

A commentary from Bishop Filarent of Lviv and Galician opposed the equality festival as “propaganda of sin,” declaring, “God came to save sinners, but He did not give us the right to compromise with sin.”

“We cannot and will not remain silent when promoted sin is corrupting the human soul and body,” the bishop wrote, saying it was especially inappropriate for the event to take place during Lent. The bishop also emphasized “that we do not bless our faithful to take part in any protests” and urged against temptation “to aggression or condemnation of others.” (English via Google translate)

Event organizers released a statement with their version of the events. More information from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group:

The LGBT initiative Equality Festival had planned an Equality ‘Quest’ on March 19, as part of various anti-discrimination, pro-tolerance events over the weekend.  The quest was to go around places linked with ideals of equality and freedom within the city.

During the early hours of Saturday morning, the Lviv District Administrative Court passed a ruling banning all events in the area where the Equality Festival quest had been planned.

The pretext was depressingly familiar.  The Sokol nationalist organization had informed that it would be holding an event – almost certainly a counter-demonstration –  and the Mayor’s Office asked for all events on the square outside the Opera Theatre to be banned.  The European Court of Human Rights has on a number of occasions found that the likelihood of counter-events does not justify restricting citizens right to peaceful assembly.  The regional police also asked for the ban, although it is they who are obliged to protect all citizens exercising their right to gather.

Indonesia: Anti-Gay Islamists Continue Rhetorical War On LGBTs

Weeks of escalating anti-gay rhetoric in Indonesia show no signs of stopping, according to an Associated Press report this week. A tradition of more moderate Islam that embraces democratic values is seemingly being challenged in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country:

Gays are a contagion, declares the banner in bold red and black lettering that hangs on the sidewalk of a bustling neighborhood in the Indonesian capital close to embassies, luxury hotels and the homes of some of the country’s leaders.

Erected by an ultra-conservative Islamic group, it’s the latest manifestation of a virulent campaign of denigration against gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities that has entered the mainstream and is testing Indonesia’s image for moderation.

Echoing venomous headlines in conservative newspapers, government officials and leaders in areas from psychiatry to religion also have heaped condemnation on homosexuality. The defense minister even said gays and lesbians were a more serious threat to national security than nuclear war.

The AP story quotes a lesbian activist who says she has been receiving late-night phone calls for several weeks threatening to kill her if she does not close the advocacy group she works for. The campaign by “Islamic hardliners” has already forced an Islamic boarding school for transgender students to shut down.

Indonesia’s human rights commission has deplored the outpouring of hatred, but President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has been silent. He was elected on a platform that included human rights and respect for diversity as a top priority.

Kyle Knight, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said it feels like the cause of equality has been set back by a generation. Bigoted officials “actually do ruin people’s lives,” he said.

Belize: American Anti-Gay Activist Slams Local Religious Practices As ‘Witchcraft’

Anti-gay missionary and pastor Scott Stirm was challenged by Rep. Frank “Pawpa” Mena after Stirm criticized Garifuna religious practices, specifically saying the Dugu funeral ceremony is “witchcraft.” The Garifuna people are, according to a Wikipedia entry, “mixed-race descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak people,” many of whom practice a syncretic form of Catholicism that incorporates some traditional mystical practices.

According to 7Newsbelize, Stirm has said that he has “raised two Garifuna boys as (his) own” and that he has worked with others who “needed demonic strongholds broken off their lives from withcraft & fear.” Mena’s response:

“I need a couple of seconds to address the presentation made by the Eurocentric pastor who’s obvious skin colour seems like its entitlement to ethnocentrism. Garifuna spirituality is what it is, it is Garifuna spirituality. It is part and parcel of a rich heritage called Garifuna Dugu. Much of the black and indigenous cultural practices were destroyed by the forceful introduction of those Eurocentric believes as early as the 15th century. Those days are gone Mr. Speaker, the pastor’s utterances are obvious signs of the time; if you can’t respect a great people in culture and country then there are daily flights out of Belize on a regular basis. We are a people of faith, courage and resilience and we normally say in Garifuna god in front of us and we follow.”

Stirm, an anti-gay activist from Texas who has fought to preserve Belize’s colonial-era sodomy law, suggested this week that video of his remarks have been released to try to discredit him because he is standing in the way of “some bold LGBT moves” that the government is set to make.

Senegal: Anti-Gay Mob Burns University Buildings

After a man accused a fellow student of hitting on him in the shower, an angry mob formed and reportedly burned and ransacked university buildings, threatening to kill the young man they were searching for. From Bobby Rae Pink News:

Djamil Bangoura, president of Prudence, an organisation that supports the LGBT community in Senegal, said mob justice was common in the country when someone was suspected of being gay.

“This isn’t the first time that a mob has gone after someone suspected of being gay at Cheikh Anta Diop University,” he said.

“Since 2012, we’ve counted nine similar cases. Some of these students dropped out of school because of these events.

“These mobs are often sparked by mere suspicions or rumours that someone is gay, not by facts.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Senegal and punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of 1.5 million CFA Francs or both.

Asia: Support For Equality Grows; Some Shinto Temples Marry Same-Sex Couples

At Nikkei Asian Review, Mariko Tai reports on growing support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality, across Asia.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June to legalize same-sex marriage empowered activists seeking the same rights elsewhere, including places like Taiwan and Vietnam, which are considered relatively progressive when it comes to equality for the LGBT community.

Businesses and municipal governments are leading the way in many countries. And in Japan, religious institutions “are more approachable than many people realize,” says the story. “Some temples and shrines openly welcome same-sex couples for wedding ceremonies.” For example:

Kyoto’s Shunkoin Temple, which dates back more than 400 years, held its first same-sex wedding ceremony in 2010. “Buddhist doctrine isn’t incompatible with same-sex marriage,” said Zenryu Kawakami, the temple’s deputy chief priest. “The teachings of Buddhism are applicable to any marriage, and understanding the impermanence of all things can foster a lasting relationship.”

More than 10 same-sex couples have exchanged vows at the temple. They have come from as far away as China, Taiwan, the U.S., U.K. and Brazil.

Kiyoshi Momoyama, chief priest at Negainomiya Shrine in Osaka, believes same-sex nuptials belong in Shinto — Japan’s indigenous faith.

Some Shinto priests have declined to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies because they are wary of changing the words of prayers that have been said for hundreds of years. Momoyama is undeterred. “Though there is a general form for prayer,” he said, “I believe priests can adapt it for same-sex couples.”

Colombia: Marriage Equality Ruling Reportedly Coming After Holy Week

According to media reports, the Constitutional Court has agreed to rule in favor of marriage equality and against a conservative judge’s proposal for civil unions as an alternative. The reports predict a 6-3 victory after the Court meets.

Cuba: Obama Meets With Dissidents, Including LGBT Activists

U.S. President Barack Obama met with dissidents, including LGBT rights activists, during his historic visit to Cuba this week. The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers reported that LGBT rights advocates were among the human rights activists harassed and detained in the days before Obama’s arrival.

Austria: Legal Challenge to Same-Sex Marriage Ban

A couple is challenging in court the same-sex marriage ban in Austria, reportedly the only country in the world that allows same-sex couples full adoption rights but does not allow them to marry.

Argentina Joins Global Equality Fund

Argentina agreed to join the Global Equality Fund, “a public-private partnership that supports civil society organizations advancing LGBTI rights worldwide,” according to the White House. “Argentina also announced support for the recently established LGBTI Rapporteur at the Inter-American Commission on Huan Rights and for the opening of a similar office at the UN Human Rights Council.” The Washington Blade notes that Argentina becomes the third Latin American country, after Uruguay and Chile, to join the Global Equality Fund.

Kyrgyzstan: Profile of LGBT Activist

Alturi has posted a profile of activist Michael Taalaibekov, whose work is “especially crucial at this moment in history.”

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is considering proposed legislation similar to Russia’s “propaganda” law. “In fact, this draft law is much worse than its Russian counterpart,” Michael explains. “It imposes a criminal penalty of up to one and a half years of imprisonment.” The bill, which is supposed to address “the formation of positive attitudes towards non-traditional sexual relations,” has already had its second reading in parliament, and a third and final reading is expected soon. “There is a coalition for justice and non-discrimination of which I’m a member. We’re doing everything possible to stop the draft law.”

Malaysia: Comedy Film with LGBT Themes Banned

Banglasia, an irreverent comedy film, has been banned by authorities because it mocks the government and “accentuates negative sociocultural lifestyles such as lesbian gay bisexual transgender (LGBT).”

Thailand: Gay American-Spanish Couple Fighting Surrogate for Custody of Child

An American man and his Spanish partner had their day in court this week in a long-running custody dispute between them and the Thai woman who acted as a surrogate, but “who decided she wanted to keep the child when she found out they were gay,” according to AP. According to the story, the woman who carried the child was not the egg donor.