New Mormon Anti-Gay Policy Sparks Mass Exodus From Church; Christian AID Workers in Africa Refuse to Help Gay Refugees; Ukraine Rejects, Then Accepts EU-Required Gay Rights Law; Global LGBT Recap

Mormon Church: Policies Targeting Same-Sex Couples, Children Spark Mass Exodus

We wrote in the last recap about the Mormon Church’s new policy declaring married same-sex couples apostates and banning their children from baptism until age 18 – and only then after they disavow their parents’ relationship. This week Kate Kendell, head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, announced via a column for Religion News Service that she had formally resigned her membership in the LDS Church and asked that her name be removed from the records.

Even at the height of church involvement in the passage of Proposition 8 in California, I never seriously considered removing my name. It just didn’t matter that much to me. Spiritually and emotionally, I left the church I grew up in decades ago. And despite being a “known gay activist” to the church, I was never excommunicated, so my name remained on the church rolls as a member. Not anymore.

On Thursday (Nov. 5), it was revealed that the church issued policy changes to “Handbook 1,” the guide for its lay leadership. Under the changes, same-sex couples who marry are apostates and are unwelcome in church congregations. Going further, the new policy states that the children of same-sex couples cannot be baptized in the church until they are 18 and then only if they disavow their parents. It was the gratuitously cruel and stigmatizing treatment of children that pushed me to disavow the church of my childhood. It is impossible for me to be a part of a religion that would attack its own members and punish them by denying their children involvement in the church. The move is as clever as it is draconian. Members seeking to live lives of integrity as openly LGBT people must not only leave the church, but take their children with them. It requires a particular streak of evil genius to manufacture such a “Sophie’s choice.”

Kendell wrote that the news was “crushing” to LGBT advocates who had been working to change the tone of the church’s approach to LGBT people:

Two months ago, when I attended a conference in Utah sponsored by Affirmation, a support organization for LGBT Mormons and friends and family, I met many non-gay Mormon officials who supported their LGBT congregants. I met a lesbian couple from Seattle who are married and who attend services with the blessing of their Mormon bishop. It was a happy conference, and there was a clear sense that the Mormon church had softened its positions toward LGBT members while still holding fast to its core doctrine opposing recognition of same-sex marriages.

Against that backdrop comes this repugnant and deeply stigmatizing pronouncement. I can’t help but think how crushing this news is to everyone who had begun to believe that they could both love their church and love themselves or their LGBT family. I can’t help but think about that lesbian couple in Seattle and their bishop, who tried to do the right thing and now must turn this couple away. The consequence of these policy changes is emotional carnage to individuals and families who simply wish to live as their authentic selves and remain part of a religion they love, but which does not deserve them.

My sister, who is a devout Mormon but who also loves me unconditionally, was one of the first to reach out to me when the news hit. In a text she wrote: “I’ve been very sad all day since I heard of the Church’s pronouncement on the children of same-sex marriages. I feel like we are going backward when I thought we were moving forward slowly.”

My sister’s response echoes the reaction of thousands of faithful Mormons. My mom, who died in 2003, would have been one of them. When I would ask her how she reconciled her faith, which condemned me, and her love for me, she would say, “God gave me you and my testimony. I know my job is to love both. He’ll figure out the rest.”

A mass resignation event is scheduled to take place in Salt Lake City this Saturday where an attorney will be on hand to help. For those who live further away, there is an online guide to having one’s name removed from the record of the Mormon Church.

Africa:  Gay Ugandans Regret Fleeing to Kenya; Christian UN Refugee Staff Refuse to Assist

The BBC’s Emmanual Igunza wrote this week about gay Ugandans who regret having fled to Kenya, where he reports many are facing harassment and attacks by both vigilantes and police.

Tyrone is one of more than 500 Ugandans who have escaped to Kenya, to apply for asylum and be resettled abroad on the basis of their sexual orientation.

His country made international headlines in recent years when it tried to introduce a tough new anti-homosexuality law, which allowed life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality”.

Although the courts struck it down, the environment has proved too dangerous for a growing number of Ugandans.

But in Kenya they face constant attacks, kidnappings, extortion and police harassment.

Recently, almost a dozen LGBT people were taken by the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) to a safe house in Nairobi, after they were attacked on a night out.

Even that agency – the very group tasked with protected LGBT people – has admitted its own staff are hostile.

The deputy head of protection for UNHCR told me that staff have said that as Christians they could not work with, or talk to, a gay man.

“It’s difficult for people to go beyond all the prejudices they have. And this is what we faced with our own colleagues,” Catherine Hamon explained.

Some of the Ugandans I spoke to also told me this discrimination from UNHCR staff has led to delays in determining their refugee status, making them live with uncertainty about their future.

Queer Collective, “a new arts initiative with the goal of creating a space for queer artists working in east Africa to come together and share their work locally, nationally, and internationally” has launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund “I Am Other,” a project to document the lives and stories of LGBTQ Ugandans. From its campaign page:

Because many political, cultural, and religious leaders believe that LGBTQ Ugandans are “un-African” and do not exist — it is important to document the vast gender and sexual orientation diversity in the country.

Ukraine: Parliament Rejects, Then Passes EU-Required Nondiscrimination law

“On Nov. 10 the Verkhovna Rada refused to pass a law that would have allowed Ukrainian citizens to have the long-awaited privilege of visa-free travel in the European Union,” wrote Lev Golinkin in a Foreign Policy article entitled “Ukraine Chooses Homophobia Over Europe.”

The reason behind the legislation’s resounding defeat? A provision preventing discrimination against gays in the workplace. This provision, which is a precondition for visa-free travel set by the EU, ignited a vociferous outcry, and ultimately turned into a red line which the Rada refused to cross.

“As a country with a thousand-year-old Christian history, we simply cannot allow this,” is how Rada deputy Pavlo Unguryan, a member of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s own party, explained it after a previous attempt to pass the legislation on Nov. 5 failed….

When it comes to explaining the glacial pace of Ukraine’s anti-corruption reforms, the Rada has excuses — the country is involved in a war with Russian-backed separatists, the entire system needs to be changed, old views must be rooted out, and so on. But when it comes to throwing away the privilege of visa-free travel to Europe, the Rada has no excuse. It should not, therefore, be surprised to discover that Europe (which has a history of Christianity at least as long as Ukraine’s) has no time for a country that places a higher value on discrimination than European integration.

The ultimate irony in all this is that Eastern Europe already has a country with organizations of homophobic thugs and politicians who use conservative Christian traditions to justify an atrocious record of violating the rights of the LGBT community. That is the very country Ukraine is trying to separate itself from: Russia.

Just two days later, on Thursday, the parliament reversed itself and passed an anti-discrimination amendment to the labour law. A response from Insight, an LGBT advocacy organization (translation courtesy of Google):

After several unsuccessful attempts voting deputies took a break, and in the end it finally were able to find 234 votes to adopt the amendment, which prohibits discrimination in employment, among other things, on sexual orientation and gender identity. The joy of this victory was somewhat overshadowed by remarks by Speaker Volodymyr Groisman, which he used as arguments had to convince the deputies to vote “for”, he noted that the amendment applies only to employment and further developed the idea as follows: “We stand with you for family values, and in any case – I hear some fake who say that Ukraine may be at least some same-sex marriages. God forbid that this happened, and we never will not support it.” Such bias indicate that the fight against homophobia in our country should go a long way, but today’s achievement in any event is a significant milestone along the way and a historical event for Ukraine.

The Gay Alliance of Ukraine celebrated, and said the first appearance in law of the terms sexual orientation and gender identity should make it easier in the future given that thunder did not burst from heaven and Jesus did not show up personally to vent his outrage at the vote. They also said that activists’ unwillingness to remain invisible and push for the vote has generated a new level of visibility and interaction with the public.

The vote was also praised by pro-equality members of the European Parliament:

Vatican: Church Officials Meet with U.S. Special Envoy for LGBT Rights; Leaks and Intrigue Continue

TIME’s Elizabeth Dias reports that Vatican officials met on Tuesday with Randy Berry, U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons. Berry met with officials from the Holy See’s Secretary of State office and separately with representatives from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

President Barack Obama only created Berry’s position at the State Department in April, and until now, Berry has primarily only talked with faith leaders in the field, as he has traveled to 30 countries in the last seven months. He met with evangelical congregations in Jamaica when he visited in May, for example. Conversations about LGBT human rights have never before reached this level with the Catholic Church, which considers gay and lesbian sexual behavior a sin and restricts marriage to unions of one man and one woman.

Berry’s focus however is not on marriage, but on the twin foreign policy issues of violence and discrimination. That strategy, Berry hopes, allows for common ground with the Vatican to stand together against extreme violence. “We were not there to talk about issues of civil unions or same sex marriage, for example, because that is not part of our policy,” Berry says. “That is not part of the conversation we were interested in engaging in, nor do I think were they.”

Berry requested the Vatican meeting as part of his three-week trip to Eastern Europe, which has included visits to five countries and a stop in Athens for the annual conference for ILGA, an international lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex rights association. Church officials accepted. “I wanted a chance to brief Vatican officials myself,” Berry says. “These issues of violence and extreme discrimination are of concern to us all.”

Berry flatly denied claims by church officials that the U.S. was threatening to withhold foreign aid from countries as a means of pushing them to adopt marriage equality.

Intrigue and media leaks continue at the Vatican, where the Independent’s Michael Day reports that some observers “believe the leaks are part of a campaign to undermine Pope Francis’s effort to reform the Curia.”

Vatican-owned properties in Rome are operating as seedy saunas and massage parlours where priests pay for sex, according to the latest in a series of leaked reports to embarrass the Church.

It is also claimed that Vatican officials are allowing buildings to be rented out at peppercorn rents as favours to powerful colleagues and turning a blind eye to shady property deals, as well as allowing addresses to be used as red-light establishments….

One particular Vatican department, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, has been highlighted in the list. It owns hundreds of high-value properties in central Rome, worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Two years ago it emerged the Vatican had purchased a €23m (£16m) share of a Rome apartment block, 2 Via Carducci, which housed the Europa Multiclub, Europe’s biggest gay sauna. Tales of visiting priests were legion, and a section of the sauna’s website promoting special “bear nights” included a video of a hirsute man stripping down and changing into a priest’s outfit.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who held the Vatican’s purse strings under the previous Pope Emeritus Benedict, was said to have been behind the purchase of the block of flats in 2008.

It was also alleged in this month’s leaks that Cardinal Bertone used €200,000 from a medical charity to refurbish his penthouse flat.

Earlier this month, the Vatican arrested two people who had served on a financial reform commission set up by Francis for leaking confidential documents.

The Washington Post profiles Krzysztof Charamsa, the priest fired from his high-level Vatican job after he came out on the eve of the family synod. Reporter Anthony Faiola notes that while Charamsa deliberately chose a particularly splashy and provocative way to come out, some LGBT Catholics fear his tactics could be harmful.

Many gay activists are cheering Charamsa’s action, heralding him as a Vatican whistleblower. In two days of extensive interviews with The Washington Post, for instance, Charamsa said the Vatican office where he worked routinely shut down priests and bishops calling for more acceptance of gay people. He describes an angry uproar in its halls on the day in 2013 when Francis, responding to a question about gay priests, famously declared, “Who am I to judge?”

Yet at a time when they can almost smell what they call the sweet scent of change, some gay Catholics counter that Charamsa’s “theatrical” coming out may have done more harm than good. It could, they say, embolden church hard-liners and have a chilling effect on the slowly thawing relations between gay people and the Catholic Church.

Charamsa is unbowed. The church, he said, has deployed “Nazi words” against gays, and the time has come to respond. Referring to the 1969 New York riots that became a milestone in the American gay rights movement, he said, “The church needs a Stonewall.”

Hong Kong: Catholic Bishop Defends Cardinal, Compares Homosexuality to Drug Abuse

Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, defending a political letter from Cardinal John Tong opposing marriage equality and anti-discrimination protections, compared gays to drug addicts, reports the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers:

“The church doesn’t have any enemy and it wouldn’t criticize anyone,” said Yeung, according to the South China Morning Post. “It was only talking about a wrong-doing. For example, it was wrong to [abuse] drugs and we would say so, but we still love drug addicts.”

Tong’s November 5 letter cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling as an example of trends that are undermining families.

Regrettably, in recent years social trends and political movements, such as extreme libertarian attitudes, individualism, the “Sex Liberation Movement” and the “Gay Movement”, under the guise of equality and the fight against discrimination, have all along been advocating the enactment of a Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance and the recognition of same-sex marriages.  Thereby, the core values and key concepts of marriage and of the family are continually being challenged and misinterpreted, so that the very foundation of society is being undermined.

Tong’s letter argued that passage of the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance (SODO)  and recognition of same-sex marriages “would force our society into undergoing a change that would turn it upside down” – and urged Hong Kong’s Catholics to vote on that basis.

Since we are in such a critical situation, I urge our faithful to play an active role as the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”, by taking into due consideration, in the upcoming 2015 District Council Ordinary Election and other Elections in the future, the stance of each candidate and that of the political party he / she might belong to with regard to the core values of marriage and the family, and the proposal to enact SODO.

A group of Catholic Filipinos in Hong Kong protested in solidarity.

Ireland: Same-Sex Couples Can Marry on Monday; Former President ‘Ashamed’ of Church

Minister for Equality Frances Fitzgerald signed an order implementing the Marriage Equality Act, which will allow same-sex couples to marry beginning next Monday, November 16.

Former President Mary McAleese said in an interview that she has often considered leaving the Catholic Church but that it is “woven into” her and “for all its messiness it calls me home.” Regarding the messiness:

She said she “is obliged to accept the infallible teaching of the church”, but did not accept that church teaching on exclusion of women from the priesthood is infallible doctrine.

She said her Catholic faith remains strong, despite her public opposition to the church during the recent referendum on same-sex marriage.

She said her son Justin, who is gay, had given her “an even greater insight” into the prejudices confronting gay people….

“I am ashamed, frankly, of my church’s failure to be a champion of gay rights and of women’s rights. I am ashamed of my church’s involvement historically in anti-Semitism,” she said.

“The church wouldn’t necessarily have to be a champion of gay marriage. I’m quite happy for the church to stay away from civil marriage and let the State provide for that – that is not the issue.

“I see my church as a major conduit for homophobia, which is toxic – a form of hatred that has nothing to do with Christ and is un-Christian.”

Honduras: Congressional, Evangelical Leaders Declare Opposition to Marriage Equality

Congressional leader Mauricio Oliva declared this week that, based on religious objections, he and his colleagues were not willing to support marriage equality. He appeared with members of the Evangelical Fellowship of Honduras.

Oliva said he could not stop someone from introducing a bill, which he said would get whatever formal treatment required, but that he would not support it. From a November 10 report in La Prensa (translation via Google).

Yesterday some 50 representatives of the Evangelical Fellowship of Honduras asked the Congress to reject any initiative to promote marriage between same-sex couples…

The Evangelical Fellowship rejects the proposal that emerges from the Lesbian and Gay Community…

Pastors declared that they were not acting according to a whim or with fundamentalist mentality, but based on the Scriptures.

The Bible lays down the principles of how to manage sexuality, which is a responsibility that human beings have said Pastor Alberto Solorzano.

Australia: Christian Lobby Leader Doesn’t Want Anti-Marriage Activists Called Bigots

The Australian Christian Lobby criticized Greens MP Adam Bandt who called three other members of parliament “bigots” who were “scraping the bottom of the barrel” after they said marriage equality would undermine the rights of marriage celebrants and children.

Pink News reports at Lyle Shelton, the head of the ACL, asked for an apology brom Bandt,saying “All Australias must be free to discuss these consequences without fear of being labelled a bigot.”

Bandt didn’t really agree, however saying: “I don’t need to apologise, it’s the ACL that needs to.”

Speaking to BuzzFeed News, he said: “I was making the point that the bigots are those grasping at straws by saying marriage equality is a breach of human rights.

“When 59% of Australian Christians support marriage equality, it’s the ACL that should apologise for pushing prejudice and misrepresenting Christian values.”

Greece: Draft Legislation Would Allow Civil Partnerships for Same-Sex Couples

The Ministry of Justice this week released draft legislation that would allow same-sex couples to register for civil partnerships that would offer equal marriage rights except for the right to adopt children.

Egypt: Human Rights Activist Detained, Then Released

Partners in the Sexual Rights Initiative coalition were among Egyptian and international human rights advocates who called for the release of journalist and human rights defender Hossam Bahgat after he was detained on Sunday by the military police. He was interrogated and charged with publishing false information in regard to a story he wrote about the secret military trial of officers who had allegedly been plotting a coup. He was released on Tuesday, according to the New York Times, hours before scheduled protests in London, Cairo and elsewhere. Mada Masr has published Bahgat’s account of his ordeal, which concludes defiantly:

I wish for freedom for the thousands of people unfairly detained in Egyptian prisons. I reassert my rejection of the criminalization of journalistic work, the use of the Penal Code to imprison journalists, and the trial of civilians in military courts.

Azerbaijan: Activist Flees Persecution, Struggles in Germany has published a profile of Cavid, an Azerbaijani human rights and pro-democracy activist who founded an LGBT rights group in 2012. When photographs of his engagement went public, he and his fiancé fled the country, but his fiancé turned back to be with his family. After government officials and family members prevented the couple from reuniting, Cavid applied for asylum in Germany.

He was assigned a dormitory room in a small city in North Rhine-Westphalia which “is situated among the mountains and my dorm is at the highest point.” Cavid has a disability that causes nerve pain and impairs his mobility. He walks with a cane. Isolated by language barriers and the landscape, bereft after his losing his partner, Cavid was pushed to his limits when Azeri immigrants recognized him and began threatening him. “I had to run away from a homophobic country to Germany, but the same continues even here… I make up lies when people ask me about myself because I’m afraid.” He reached the end of his resilience when a fundamentalist Muslim was assigned as his roommate. Last April he tried to end his own life.

Turkey: Supporters of LGBT Rights Chosen for Parliament

A campaign to elect pro-LGBT candidates to parliament reportedly had some success earlier this month.

LGBTI rights very rarely came to the forefront of the most recent election period. There were no openly identified LGBTI individuals on the candidate lists of any of the parties, but following yesterday’s [Nov. 1] election, there were some representatives chosen from among LGBTI rights-defending CHP and HDP representatives who had signed the LGBTI Rights Pledge.

As a result of the “LGBTIs in Parliament” campaign led by SPoD LGBTI with support from LGBTI activists from all over Turkey leading up to the June 7th 2015 general elections, 22 representatives from the CHP and HDP signed the LGBTI Rights Agreement upon being elected. After the November 1st repeat of the general election, 16 of these candidates were elected once again.

European Union: LGBT Rights in progress reports for nations seeking EU membership

On Thursday, the European Commission published its annual progress reports on seven countries’ progress toward EU membership: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey. The reports include information on LGBTI issues in those countries, summarized in a statement by the EP’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights:

The reports show that LGBTI people continue to face discrimination, threats and violence in the Western Balkans and Turkey. This is a consequence of both a lack of anti-discrimination and hate crime legislation, as in Turkey and Macedonia, and a lack of effective implementation and prosecution of perpetrators, as is observed in the other four countries.

Turkey is particularly singled out for its high number of hate crimes, attacks and murders of transgender persons.

Successful prides in Albania, Kosovo and Serbia were welcomed, whereas Montenegro and Turkey were condemned for the ban of the Nikšić Pride and police violence against Istanbul Pride.

Concerning legal gender recognition, the report on Montenegro welcomes the adoption of a new protocol for legal gender recognition, whereas Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are criticized for the absence of such procedures. Turkey is criticized for the excessive requirements for gender recognition.

Daniele Viotti MEP, Co-President of the Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, added: “We are a union built on values of democracy and human rights. However, many LGBTI people in South Eastern Europe still face discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“In this regard, I am very pleased to see that the Commission continues to put a strong emphasis on the rights of LGBTI people throughout its accession reports. It shows that the EU takes its commitments to human rights seriously.”

Commonwealth: ‘Paradise or Persecution’ Campaign Aimed at Tourists

UK’s International HIV/AIDS Alliance has launched “Paradise or Persecution,” an effort to raise awareness of anti-LGBT laws and human rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity in countries that are part of the Commonwealth and frequent destinations for British tourists

UK: Scholar Lectures on Queer Muslim Scholarship

Samar Habib, author of Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations (Routledge, 2007) and editor of Islam and Homosexuality (Praeger, 2010) will speak at the University of Leicester on November 25 on “States of Being: Narratives of Queer Muslim Diasporas in Contemporary Scholarship.”

Habib argues that the rise in scholarly preoccupation with Islam in the ‘West’ and with queer diasporic Muslims is twofold: it is not only the result of organisation and visibility of queer Muslims in the diaspora, but also a response to Islamophobic nationalist discourses in the West.

In her lecture, Habib will take a geographic survey of this abundance in contemporary scholarship on queer Muslim diasporas in search of common threads and differences across national borders and contexts. How do various nation states respond to theemergency of queer Muslims? How do queer Muslims narrate their identities in a diasporic, and often hostile, context? What questions do researchers ask and still need to ask?

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, this lecture will be the inaugural event of Queering Islam, a new series of events in the academic year 2015-2016, involving lectures, readings and film screenings probing the relationship between Islam and sexual non-normativity. The series’ organiser, Alberto Fernández Carbajal is Leverhulme Fellow at the School of English. The events are meant to inform his 3-year research project Queer Diasporas: Islam, Homosexuality and a Micropolitics of Dissent.

UK – India: LGBT Exhibit Coincides With Diwali

“Asian Future” – an exhibit being held this week as part of London LGBT arts festival GFEST – coincides with Diwali, the Hindu and Sikh festival of lights that took place this year on November 11. According to Joe Williams at Pink News,

Challenging perceptions of Asian LGBTQI identities, ‘Asian Future’ offers a rare glimpse into a world where gender, sexuality and religion are defiant bedfellows…

“It couldn’t be more apt, because darkness most definitely needs to be banished from the lives of every LGBTQI Asian around the world, and particularly in India – where it can still be ‘a criminal offence’ if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual.”

‘Asian Future’ will feature the work of legendary artist, writer and activist Sunil Gupta, renowned for his honest portrayal of gay life around the world, including his native India where practicing homosexuality is essentially illegal.

The exhibition will present a series of his photographs that explore moments from South Asian Queer life sketches.

Also on display are photographs by Charan Singh, a visual artist informed by years of community activism and HIV/AIDS work in India.

Israel: New Documentary Follows Lives to Gay Palestinian Israeli Citizens

At +972 magazine, Lisa Goldman reviews “Oriented,” a documentary film that follows three gay Palestinian Israeli citizens who live and work in Tel Aviv. Goldman says the film is “blissfully free of clichés” and writes of the protagonists, “They are politically active and assertive about their right to define their own complex identity – and they’re not at all interested in conforming to the expectations of others.”