Pope Francis meets with bishop who blessed gay couple; Proposed NGO law in Uganda threatens LGBT groups, civil society; Interfaith sexuality organizing in Indonesia; global LGBT recap

We reported last week on the UN Security Council briefing convened by American and Chilean diplomats to discuss the anti-LGBT brutality of ISIS. In an Advocate commentary last week, Jean Freedberg of HRC Global argued that the meeting represented “a turning point for global LGBT rights.”

The Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia dedicates its latest issue to the theme, “Queer in Southeast Asia.” It includes articles on life for LGBT people in Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand.

NewNowNext.com highlights “Seven International LGBT Activists You Need to Know About.” Featured are Khader Abu Seif, a Palestinian living in Israel; Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera in Uganda; Ivana Fred in Puerto Rico; Harish Iyer in India; Kenita Placide in St. Lucia; Mamikon Hovsepyan in Armenia; and Monica Shahi in Nepal. A sample:

Homosexuality has been legal in Armenia since 2003, but incidents of discrimination, harassment and violence are not uncommon—primarily due to a lack of education and the influence of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Mamikon Hovsepyan is the director of Public Information and Need for Knowledge (PINK) Armenia, the leading LGBT rights group in the country.

“We are focused on LGBT human-rights protection and advocacy, and we use all the mechanisms—mostly international organizations—to bring change, slowly,” he tells NNN. “But it’s also very important for us to empower LGBT people here in Armenia—we need more community members to join the movement and make changes together.”

Last year, Hovsepyan was one of 60 people publicly outed in by the tabloid Iravunk, which linked to their Facebook profiles and called on readers to shun them. Those outed were harassed and threatened, and one man was unable to return to Iran after the list was published…

“Hate speech in Armenia is rising day by day,” Hovsepyan told NNN. “The homophobic media has the support of government officials and promotes aggression and hate toward LGBT people.”

Vatican: Pope Francis meets with previously shunned liberal bishop; Vatican nixes trans godparent

Jacques Gaillot, a French bishop who was demoted by Pope John Paul II for his liberal views – he has been nicknamed “the Red Cleric” — met with Pope Francis on Friday, reports David Gibson for Religion News Service. According to a report by Agence France-Presse, Francis initiated the meeting.

The meeting came just one month ahead of a highly anticipated global meeting on family life at the Vatican, which the Church’s more liberal members hope will result in a softening of the centuries-old institution.

“I don’t want to ask anything of you, I told the pope, but a whole people of the poor are happy that you are receiving me, and feel acknowledged too,” Gaillot said.

“I spoke to him about… the sick, the divorced, gay people. These people are counting on you.”

The 79-year-old said he had told the pope how he had recently blessed a divorced couple as well as a homosexual couple, saying “he listened, he is open to all those things. He said that to bless is to speak well of God to people.”

Gaillot said he now devotes much of his time to helping and defending migrants and the pope, he said, told him “continue, what you do (for the downtrodden) is good”.

A story in Ouest France quotes Gaillot talking about blessing the union of a gay couple:

”I am in civil clothing and I just bless them. This is not a marriage, it is a blessing. We have the right to give the blessing of God, after all we also bless houses! The pope listened, he seemed open to all that. At that particular moment, he specifically said that to bless people also involves to speak well of God to those people,’ said the French prelate.”

Francis DeBarnardo at New Ways Ministry reports that Gaillot had been scheduled to give the closing speech at a conference on religion and homosexuality at the first World Pride event in 2000. But on the day before the conference, the Vatican ordered him not to give his speech. That was not the first time Gaillot had drawn negative attention from John Paul II, as Gibson notes:

After years of tensions with the Vatican, and with his fellow bishops in France, John Paul in 1995 removed Gaillot – nicknamed the Red Cleric – from Evreux and, in a near parody of exile, named him titular head of Partenia, a defunct diocese in the desert of modern-day Algeria that has not existed as an actual Catholic community since the fifth century.

Paradoxically, that exile freed Gaillot to continue his activism – and irk Rome – as he moved in with squatters in Paris and advocated for a host of reform causes in politics and the church.

New Ways also reports that the Vatican “has intervened to prevent a transgender man in Spain from being a godparent.” The local bishop had previously reversed a similar decision, approving Alex Salinas’s request to be his nephew’s godparent. But the bishop reversed himself again after checking with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which said “publicly and definitely” that transsexual Catholics are ineligible.

Indonesia: ‘When sexuality meets faith’

Diego García Rodríguez, writing in the current issue of Inside Indonesia, speaks with members of the Youth Interfaith Forum on Sexuality (YIFOS), which was created in the wake of two incidents in 2010. In one, a group of conservative Muslims occupied the hotel where an international LBGTI conference was scheduled, and in the second, conservative Muslims attacked an international gay film festival in Jakarta.

YIFOS began as a community-based organisation bringing together members of Muslim, Catholic and Buddhist communities. The organisation’s goal was to foster exchange between members of different religions about faith and sexuality. ‘In Indonesia we never have the chance to discuss our own sexuality,’ Vica points out. The lack of safe spaces for young people to speak freely about sexuality and faith was what prompted YIFOS’s establishment.

From its conception, YIFOS has aimed to involve religious leaders in its efforts. ‘So we invited religious leaders to talk at local groups and discuss sexuality and faith.’ Yulia explains that people of all religions are welcome to join this discussion, providing they are willing to bring an open mind. The focus of YIFOS dialogues is always to put young people first, allowing them to search out grounds of commonality, negotiating religious values and issues of concern around sexuality and the LGBT community, without fear of judgement.

The inclusion of religious authorities in debates on sexuality is a new phenomenon in Indonesia. The country has seen the emergence of interfaith organisations such as Interfidei in Yogyakarta in 1991, or the Regional Interfaith Youth Network formed in Ambon in 2005. However, YIFOS is the first space in which simultaneous discussions on sexuality and faith are encouraged. Unlike other groups working in a single city or region, YIFOS has operated across the country since 2011. For Catholic communities, the organisation has visited centres where regular discussions among youth regarding sexuality were already in place. With participants already in place, all that YIFOS needs to provide are materials. YIFOS also works with Islamic youth organisations on university campuses.

Before the arrival of YIFOS, reflects Yulia, ‘it was quite difficult to talk about sexuality within faith groups; but also when we went to LGBT groups, they were quite reluctant to speak about God.’ By creating safe spaces where young people can feel comfortable speaking about their sexual and religious identities, the participants in YIFOS dialogues are able to realise what they have in common as young people, instead of focusing on their differences.

YIFOS leaders decided after two years of running dialogues to create an annual Youth Queer Faith and Sexuality Camp, held over five days in 2012 and extended to eight in 2013 and 2014.

During the 2014 camp, which took place in a secret location – for the participants’ safety – from 29 August to 5 September, members from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Islamic faiths presented their perspectives on sexuality. Abdul Muiz, member of the Islamic organisation Fahmina, told participants to lose their fear of being bullied and harassed about their sexual orientation. He highlighted that Islam is about ‘giving love and caring for each other’. This was a welcome perspective for camp participants.

Asked about the persistence of discrimination against sexual minorities, one YIFOS leader says, “religious leaders are often considered to be faultless, like they’ve never done anything wrong, but we forget sometimes that religious leaders are also humans.” The article concludes:

Through creating a safe space for dialogue and introducing new interpretations and interactions between people with different sexual orientations and religious identities, YIFOS aims to influence these religious leaders’ responses in future.

Uganda: New NGO law threatens LGBT and other civil society groups

Lawmakers meeting in emergency session began debate on the NGO bill, legislation that would give the government power to ban civil society groups for virtually any reason by claiming it is in the “public interest to do so.” BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder reports that the move is seen both as a way to shut down LGBT advocacy organizations and to target political opponents of President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni critics worry that the bill will not generate the international opposition that the Anti-Homosexuality Act did even though it is designed to achieve many of the same goals. The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers raised the question at a State Department briefing this week; spokesperson Mark Toner said, “Certainly we’d be concerned about any proposed legislation that would further limit gay rights in Uganda or put LGBT populations under any duress.”

Maldives: ‘Lenient no more’

Police arrested two men on charges of homosexual activity. According to a Colin Stewart report in 76 Crimes, “The arrests follow a toughening of the Maldives law about LGBTI intimacy, which was extended last year to everyone in the country, not just Muslims, Rainbow Warriors stated.” Rainbow Warriors is a London-based LGBTI group. It reported earlier this month:

“Same-sex relations are illegal in the Maldives under Sharia law, and with the publication of a new Penal code in 2014, also under national law, and may be punishable by death penalty. The new Penal code transposes into national law provisions which were previously just in Sharia law and applicable to Muslim citizens. In any case these new provisions have not been put into legal practice so far and there is no record of trials for homosexual practices in the aftermath of the new penal code.”

But, Stewart says, “the latest arrests put an end to that period of inactivity.”

The new anti-gay repression intensifies a homophobic climate that led LGBTI people “to flee persecution based on their sexual orientation throughout Maldives in 2014,” according to the New Zealand immigration agency.

He notes that ILGA’s 2015 report on state-sponsored homophobia had said of the Maldives:

“[Sexual conduct] is instead regulated by uncodified Muslim Sharia law, which criminalises same-sex sexual acts between both men and between women. For men, the punishment is banishment for nine months to one year or a whipping of 10 to 30 strokes, while the punishment for women is house arrest for nine months to one year.”

According to Stewart, the country rejected international recommendations to improve its treatment of LGBTI people expressed in its 2010 and 2015 U.N. Universal Periodic Review, “which  scrutinizes each country’s human rights record every four years”:

“At its 1st UPR in November 2010, recommendations to Maldives were to decriminalise, protect against violence and remove discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in national laws.

“Maldives rejected all five of these recommendations. In a Briefing Paper submitted to Maldives’ 2nd cycle UPR in May 2015, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) says, ‘[u]ncodified Muslim Sharia Law criminalises homosexual conduct, thus making the Maldives a very insecure place to advocate for the rights of persons who identify themselves as LGBTI.’

“A panel of refugee appeals officers in the Immigration New Zealand Agency recognised that individuals are forced to flee persecution based on their sexual orientation throughout Maldives in 2014.”

Mexico: First gay couple marries in Tijuana

Marriage equality continues its steady spread in Mexico over the objections of Catholic leaders. The first gay couple to be married in the city of Tijuana had a civil ceremony on Wednesday after they received an amparo – an injunction – from the federal Supreme Court of Justice. Unlike some other localities who have resisted such court orders, Tijuana’s mayor congratulated the couple. Luis Vargas, one of the newly married spouses, commented to a reporter on moral and religious opposition to same-sex couples, saying that as a citizen he pays taxes and contributes money to the church, and that neither the government or the church has found his sexual orientation to be a barrier to taking his money.

Dominican Republic: Human Rights First reports on country visit

Human Rights First published a dispatch by Shawn Gaylord and Mariel Perez-Santiago on a recent trip to the Dominican Republic:

In 2013, the arrival of openly gay U.S. Ambassador James Brewster in the Dominican Republic stirred passionate debate in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. When Human Rights First traveled to the Caribbean nation last week, activists reflected on Brewster’s influence and recognized his role in opening dialogue on the human rights of the LGBT community.

But they also emphasized that Brewster’s arrival was hardly the beginning of the movement to advance the human rights of LGBT people in the DR. During a week of interviews with committed activists and NGO leaders, we learned about the longstanding—and ongoing—efforts to advance the human rights of LGBT Dominicans.

At a roundtable discussion, nearly 20 activists outlined the major issues confronting the LGBT community. One transgender activist said, “Society has turned us into sex slaves,” highlighting how marginalization and lack of opportunities force many transgender women to become sex workers; as such, they become even more vulnerable to violence and abuse—including by the police. Discrimination in healthcare is routine for LGBT people, and transgender women in particular often face ridicule and rejection from hospital and clinic personnel.

Faroe Islands: Gay Marriage as a campaign issue

Voters in the Faroe Islands, which have been autonomous from Denmark since 1948, voted for a new parliament on Tuesday. AFP reports that the one-month campaign was “dominated by gay marriage and whether to raise taxes on fishing firms.”

Former colonial master Denmark became the first country in the world to recognise same-sex unions in 1989 and legalised gay marriage in 2012, but the issue remains controversial in the deeply-religious Faroes…

The ruling centre-right government has been prevented by one of its smaller coalition members, the Christian Centre Party (Midflokkurin), to put same-sex marriage to a vote in parliament.

Tunisia: Profile of activists

The Guardian’s Simon Speakman Cordall writes about activists in Tunisia mobilizing against deep-rooted prejudice and gender norms.

Ukraine: Neo-Nazis attack LGBT group

A group of neo-Nazis attacked the headquarters of a Ukrainian LGBT group on Sunday night, throwing smoke bombs and severely beating a man who tried to stop the attack.

Nepal: Push for protections in new constitution

Activists in Nepal are pushing to have protections for LGBT people included in the country’s new constitution.

India: Activists want intersex people included in trans rights bill

Activists are asking sponsors of a transgender rights bill moving through parliament to amend the bill to include intersex people.