Catholic Church Bans Gay Film: This Week’s Global LGBT Recap

The Global Respect Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate this week. According to Human Rights First, the legislation “would direct the State Department to report gross violations of basic human rights against LGBT individuals in its annual Human Rights Report and to ban foreigners who have committed or incited these violations from entering the United States.”

Indonesia: Muslim Political Parties Push ‘Propaganda’ Law as Wave of Homophobia Builds

We have been reporting for weeks on a wave of anti-gay rhetoric and actions by religious and political leaders. In a review of recent developments in Indonesia, the Global Law Monitor at the U.S. Library of Congress notes, “Homosexuality is not outlawed at present in Indonesia, except in Aceh Province, which operates under a degree of autonomy and applies Sharia law.” But this week BuzzFeed’s Rin Hindryati and Lester Feder report that legislators are drafting legislation that would restrict the rights of LGBT people in order to “protect society from the massive propaganda launched by the LGBT community.”

This is the latest escalation in a political uproar over LGBT rights that began in January and caught LGBT activists by surprise. While there have been isolated confrontations over LGBT issues in Indonesia, it is unusual for the issue to be the focus of prolonged political debate in the country, which has a reputation for pluralism.

But following remarks by the higher education minister in January, some of the country’s top politicians have been drawn into the debate: Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu recently suggested the LGBT movement was a bigger threat to national security than nuclear weapons; a former communications minister called for punishing homosexuality with execution on Twitter. There have also been reports of a growing number of hate crimes targeting people perceived as LGBT in the country.

The biggest shift in the politics of the issue, however, was a call last week from the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) movement for the government to crackdown on LGBT rights. The NU claims tens of millions of members and is described as the world’s largest Muslim organization, but was founded in large part to counter fundamentalist movements coming out of the Middle East and has not previously taken the kind of anti-LGBT stance held by more conservative Indonesian Islamic groups.

The group issued a statement declaring that homosexuality was incompatible with human nature and asking the government to force “rehabilitation for every person who has LGBT characteristics so they can return to normal,” according to a report in the Jakarta Post. “Based on NU’s evaluation, LGBT activities should be prohibited and categorized as crimes,” the Post quoted the group’s leader as saying.

The call for legislation was most strongly taken up by the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), a conservative Islamist party that has a small number of seats in the National Assembly.

Reuters’ Alisa Tang reported on Tuesday on the climate of fear that has been created:

LGBT activists, facing a barrage of homophobia and hate speech by Indonesian authorities, are setting up hotlines and safehouses, while “unfriending” people on social media and deleting website directories that could expose them to violence.”

The intensity of the public campaign against LGBT people is unprecedented, Tang writes.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, though some politicians have called for criminalization of gay sex.

Sexual and gender minorities in Indonesia have historically lived amid a tense calm, with tolerance and pluralism protecting them from violence and a sense that discretion brought safety, said Kyle Knight, LGBT rights researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“What we’re seeing now may be unprecedented in terms of its fever pitch,” Knight wrote in an email from Indonesia, where he is documenting human rights abuses related to the rise in anti-LGBT rhetoric. “This time around, government officials have even stoked the cacophony of hatred.”

Some officials – including Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan – have defended the LGBT community.

“Whoever they are, wherever they work, he or she continues to be an Indonesian citizen. They have the right to be protected as well,” Pandjaitan was quoted as saying in The Jakarta Post.

This is little comfort for LGBT rights defenders.

In a review of recent developments in Indonesia, the Global Law Monitor at the U.S. Library of Congress notes, “Homosexuality is not outlawed at present in Indonesia, except in Aceh Province, which operates under a degree of autonomy and applies Sharia law.”

Italy: Catholic Church Bans Gay-Themed Movie, Activists Protest Weakening of Civil Union Bill

The Catholic Church in Italy has effectively banned Weekend, a movie by British filmmaker Andrew Haigh, by declaring it unfit to be shown in any of the theaters owned by the church, notes Andrew Potts at Gay Star News. More from AFP:

In an unusual move that prompted accusations of homophobic censorship, the Italian Conference of Bishops’ Film Evaluation Commission classified the film as “not advised, unusable and scabrous (indecent or salacious).”

The Commission listed the film’s principal themes — described by critics as love and identity — as drugs and homosexuality.

The result, according to its distributor Teodora Film, was that the film was shunned by the more than 1,100 cinemas which are owned by the Church and make up the bulk of Italy’s network of independent/arthouse theatres.

The country’s official film board approved Haigh’s Nottingham-set drama for audiences over 14.

“I cannot see any other explanation than a problem of homophobia in the Church,” Teodora’s president, Cesare Petrillo, told AFP.

“They decided it was unacceptable, that it should be censored and they have used their power to paralyse the distribution.

Who knew the Catholic Church was a dominant owner of movie theaters? AFP offers some explanation:

The large number of Italian cinemas owned by the Church are a legacy of the days when every parish had its own cinema and local priests controlled projections, regularly cutting sections of films they deemed unsuitable for parishioners.

Most of these cinemas are now rented out to operators who do not have to be religious but do have to sign a contract which, according to Petrillo, includes a clause agreeing to go along with the guidance issued by the bishops.

The Commission evaluates every film released in Italy. Often it will approve a film as “recommended” but signal that it is also “problematic” and might be best viewed in the context of a debate or a discussion on the issues raised.

Recent examples in this category include “The Danish Girl”, a drama about a transgender artist, and Oscar-winner “Spotlight” which deals with clerical sex abuse in Boston and was classified as “complex.”

Only very rarely does the guidance make it clear the Church does not want a film shown at all with the only other recent example being Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s “El Club”, in which the main characters are all Catholic priests, including one with a history of sexually abusing children.

The Church’s lingering influence in Italian public life was underlined in recent weeks when a bill to legalise gay civil unions was shorn of provisions guaranteeing same-sex couples equal adoption rights to their heterosexual counterparts.

LGBT rights activists and families protested in Rome last Saturday against the stripping of adoption right for same-sex couples from a civil unions bill moving in the national legislature. AFP reports:

Activists say the bill, which had to be cut back to the bare bones to pass in the senate and is now being examined in the lower house, is only a small step towards securing rights for homosexual families.

They are particularly angry over the scrapping of a clause which would have allowed gay people to adopt their partners’ biological children – a proposal the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, was forced to dump under Catholic pressure.

Taiwan: Religious Coalition Calls for McDonald’s Boycott over Coming-Out Ad

The Alliance of Taiwan Religious Groups for the Protection of Family called for a boycott of McDonalds to protest an ad featuring a son coming out to his father over a cup of coffee. The father initially walks away upset, but returns and writes his son a note of acceptance. More from AdWeek’s David Kiefaber:

The Alliance of Taiwan Religious Groups for the Protection of Family is leading the incitement to boycott. “Even if you want to just take a leak at a McDonald’s bathroom, you can’t help but feel polluted,” a rep from the Alliance told local media. (What an odd thing to say to the press.) The rep also accused McDonald’s of “openly promoting gay issues” and miseducating children on sexual behavior.

Shanghaiist quotes from a statement released by Chang Shou-yi, secretary general of the Alliance of Taiwan Religious Groups for the Protection of the Family:

“Because McDonald’s is frequented by many children, it is especially important to oppose the promotion of same-sex behavior,” the statement added. As such, the Alliance “opposes all advertising that miseducate children on sexual behavior,” and “rebukes and boycotts all enterprises that are polluting the next generation.”

Shanghaiist also notes:

While same-sex marriage is not currently recognized in Taiwan, the island is generally seen to be on the forefront of Asia in the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

President-elect Tsai Ing-wen has been on the record as saying she supports marriage equality. In a campaign video released before she led her party to a landslide victory in elections in January, she said, “In the face of love, everyone is equal. Let everyone have the freedom to love and to pursue their happiness.”

Seven cities in Taiwan, including Taipei, Kaohsiung and Chiayi, now accept household registrations of same-sex couples.

In a poll by Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice, close to 60 percent of respondents indicated that they approved of same-sex marriage. If activists succeed in overcoming opposition from a small but vocal, and highly influential, Christian minority, Taiwan will become first in Asia to legalize gay marriage.

South Africa: Foundation Promotes Affirming Religious Voices, Official Urges African Countries to Protect LGBT Rights

The Other Foundation, which advances LGBT human rights in southern Africa, is planning a meeting with religious leaders to discuss homophobia. Shekeshe Mokgosi, the foundation’s public engagement manager, told reporter Don Makatile that people use the Bible and Qur’an to promote homophobia, but that the foundation hopes “to use church leaders to chart the way forward.”

There is good news, according to The Other Foundation, such as the once-conservative Dutch Reformed Church relaxing its stance on gay unions among its congregants and the progressive views of such eminent church leaders as Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba.

South Africa is a convenient launchpad for changing African stereotypes as it was among the first four countries in the world to allow gay marriages.

People in the church are beginning to talk, says Mokgosi, and this dialogue augurs well for gays and lesbians.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Advocate Michael Masutha last week called on African nations to defend the rights of sexual minorities, reports Mamba Online. He was speaking at the Africa Regional Seminar on Finding Practical Solutions for Addressing Violence and Discrimination Against Persons Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression,” a three-day seminar hosted by the South African government and the South African Human Rights Commission.

Mushwana further noted that, despite “unacceptably high levels of violence that are perpetrated solely due to another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity… we are acutely aware that discussions on these matters are either difficult or not tolerated by many leaders, be they politicians, religious leaders, traditional leaders or community leaders.”

In his speech, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Advocate Michael Masutha said that the seminar had its roots in the resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in May 2014 condemning violence and other human rights violations against the LGBTI community.

The historic resolution, while largely ignored by African governments, also condemned attacks by states against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to Mamba, Masutha addressed “the issue of traditional, cultural or religious beliefs” by quoting former UN High Commission for Human Rights Navi Pillay:

“People are entitled to their opinion. They are free to disapprove of same-sex relationships, for example … they have an absolute right to believe and follow in their own lives whatever religious teachings they choose. But that is as far as it goes. The balance between tradition and culture on the one hand and universal human rights on the other must be struck in favour of human rights.”

Dominican Republic: Petition Seeks Removal of Openly Gay U.S. Ambassador

A petition posted to the White House website calls on President Obama to remove openly gay Wally Brewster from his post as US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, reports the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers.

The petition — which an anonymous person posted on Tuesday — accuses Brewster of promoting “an LGBT agenda inconsistent with the Christian cultural values and tradition of the Dominican Republic.”

It specifically criticizes Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, for visiting a school. The petition also notes the two men “supported” last week’s official launch of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s latest international affiliate in the Dominican Republic.

The petition says the U.S. Agency for International Development is “also supporting LGBT activities with their current budget.”

“Though we have proved to be a tolerant country, we deem this agenda disrespectful to the culture and traditions of most Dominican families,” it reads.

As we have previously noted, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez and other religious conservatives have  harshly criticized Brewster.

Malaysia: Activists Protest Arrests of Trans women

Justice for Sisters is protesting the March 2 arrests of 12 transgender women under a law that makes it a crime for a male person to pose as a woman.

These on-going arbitrary arrests of trans women further affirm Justice for Sisters’ call for the repeal of all laws that criminalize transgender persons based on gender identity. These laws are not only discriminatory and violate fundamental human rights of transgender persons— including right to self determination, freedom of movement and freedom of expression—but these laws are also open to abuse. In this case, although the women were asleep while they were arrested in their hotel rooms, they are still being investigated under Section 28.

Justice for Sisters criticized “dehumanizing” media coverage of the arrests.

India: Legislature Rejects Decriminalization, UN Official Wants Court to Make ‘Enlightened’ Decision

The legislature once again voted down a bill to decriminalize homosexuality.

Juan Mendez, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment told Firstpost this week that he hopes the Supreme Court of India, which is reconsidering an earlier decision that reinstituted a colonial-era sodomy law, will make an “enlightened” and “progressive” decision regarding consensual homosexual activity, and said that whichever way the court rules the government will have a responsibility to protect people from violence.

“My mandate does not extend to general issues of non-discrimination. But as a matter of international law, I think that sodomy laws, as they are sometimes called, that is laws that criminalise private behavior between consenting adults do violate the principle of non-discrimination. So, I would hope that the Supreme Court of India, like in many other instances of human rights [violations] has shown very enlightened and very progressive decisions would also recognise this, in the case of sodomy laws,” he added….

The UN expert presented his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on 8 March which assessed the applicability of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in international law to the unique experiences of women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

“A clear link exists between the criminalisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, police abuse, community and family violence and stigmatization,” Mendez states in his report.

Ukraine: Anti-Gay Activist Named Family Ombudsman

Adrian Bukovynsky, who has supported a Russian-style anti-gay “propaganda” law, has been named the cabinet’s Ombudsman on Family Matters. As President of the ‘Family’ Ukranian Charitable Fund, Bukovynsky took part in a 2013 press conference in support of a ban on pro-gay “propaganda.” At the press conference he said “gay culture leads to the destruction of the world, and therefore we uphold and reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of our compatriots.”

Kazakhstan: Alturi Profiles Feminist Activist

Alturi profiles feminist activist Jam Gulzada Serzhan, who is “working to protect the rights of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) women in a country where activism of any kind can be dangerous.” Jam and a friend founded a group, Feminita, to work on feminist issues, including LBT women’s rights. As Alturi notes, “This project is a bold undertaking in a country where an anti-LGBTI law similar to Russia’s was under serious consideration for much of 2015 and where LGBTI people continue to live in fear.”

Lebanon: Public Health Approaches to LGBT Rights

An article by physician and LGBT rights activists Omar Harfouch posted by the Center for Transatlantic Relations this week examines the use of public health arguments to promote LGBT rights. Writes Harfouch, “The Lebanese experience proves that public health can be a tool used in fighting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But reflecting on these successes also highlights that health care disparities still persist in Lebanon and other countries where LGBT communities face stigmatization.”

Europe: Hungary Vetoes Action Items on LGBTI Equality

The government of Hungary vetoed the European Parliament’s efforts to approve a list of actions of advance LGBTI equality that had been developed by the European Commission.

In December 2015, the Commission published a list of specific targeted actions aiming at combating LGBTI discrimination in the EU in 2016-19, following up on the demand by the European Parliament to establish a ‘Roadmap against Homophobia’, the so-called Lunacek-report.

The Commission’s text was welcomed by MEPs, but criticized for not going far enough.

Although Member States do not need to give their consent to the list of actions, the support by 27 Member States indicates strong political support for progress on LGBTI equality.

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Co-President of the Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, reacted: “I strongly welcome the efforts by the Dutch Presidency to put this on the agenda and the attempt to reach unanimous Council Conclusions on the List of Actions.”

“Although it is disappointing that the Hungarian government has taken this as an opportunity to show itself from its most homophobic side, the broad agreement among all other Member States is really a promising sign of increased LGBTI acceptance across Europe.”

At Pink News, Nick Duffy notes that the proposed agreement had even been supported by socially conservative countries like Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. One MEP called Hungary’s veto a “disgrace.”

On Tuesday the Parliament adopted a report on the status of women refugees and asylum seekers in the European Union, which includes a focus on the specific challenges facing LGBTI people, who may be subjected to abuse even in countries which are considered safe.

Also on Tuesday, International Women’s Day, Transgender Europe released a fact seeh on transgender rights and gender equality.

Hong Kong: Court Rejects Spousal Visa for British Wife of Hong Kong Woman

A court rejected a British lesbian’s challenge to the government’s refusal to recognize her U.K. marriage to a Hong Kong woman, leaving her without access to a spousal visa.

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