Pope Mum on LGBTs in Uganda; Church Defends Anti-Marriage-Equality Efforts in Australia; Cyprus Passes Civil Partnerships; Global LGBT Recap

World AIDS Day will be observed on December 1. Also this week, ICASA, the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa, is being held in Harare, Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has a long track record of extreme anti-gay rhetoric. Advocates for LGBTs promote legal equality because laws criminalizing homosexuality, in addition to restricting human rights, interfere with efforts to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. From a press release from GALZ, an LGBTI organization in Zimbabwe:

We commend Zimbabwe’s efforts to integrate the needs of inadequately serviced populations as it works to close the treatment gap for all, however there is still much that needs to done. Although GALZ has made great strides towards encouraging greater tolerance of sexual diversity, discourse around sexual minorities remains an official social taboo in Zimbabwe. This homophobia plays a significant role in the spread of HIV. It emerges that a lot of the violations perpetrated against the LGBTI community are driven by homophobia emanating from society’s conservative cultures; strong and sometimes fundamentalist beliefs as well as influence from utterances made by political and other influential leaders.

It is clear that HIV is far more threatening to the health, safety and security of Zimbabwean society and culture than the practice of sodomy itself. It should be noted that the LGBTI community in Zimbabwe and Africa has played a significant role in HIV prevention campaigns and in the fight for access to affordable treatment for all those on the African continent living with the virus.

The conference has “strengthening the interaction between the public health, science and human right approaches in the control and elimination of HIV and associate diseases” as one of its objectives, the human rights protection of the LGBTI community cannot be assumed. LGBTI people are too easily overlooked when it comes to talking of oppression, freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information, protections. This is why there needs to be meaningful engagement of the LGBTI community and ICASA does create another platform to engage meaningfully.

Uganda: Pope Francis does not address anti-gay discrimination; new law restricting NGOs passes

Pope Francis disappointed LGBT advocates by failing to address anti-gay laws during his visit this weekend, reports Joe Williams for Pink News. The same was true for his visit to Kenya, though New Ways Ministry notes that Francis did talk generally about individual freedom and “working to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful of human dignity.”

Uganda’s ethics minister had told the Associated Press, “I am praying that he doesn’t talk about this. Because it will open a Pandora’s box.” While some activists had hoped Francis would “tell fellow believers that we are human beings like them,” church officials had downplayed the possibility:

John Baptist Odama, the Archbishop of Gulu, did not believe that the Pope will address homosexuality because “There is a clear teaching of the church on homosexuality.

“Because the aim of it is not to promote life but to act against it, those with that tendency are called to abstinence.”

While in Uganda, Francis visited a shrine to a group of 19th-Century martyrs, Catholic and Anglican men who were brutally executed by a traditional king because, according to lore, they refused his sexual advances, though some scholars say it was because of their dedication to defending and spreading their faith. Their martyrdom was cited by Theresa Okafor at the World Congress of Families as an explanation for Uganda’s harsh Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Al Jazeera’s Priyanka Gupta interviewed LGBT advocate Frank Mugisha about the Pope’s visit and the role of the Church in promoting homophobia.

The pope’s visit came shortly after the parliament passed a new law that gives the government vast new powers to shut down community organizations for a variety of reasons.

One clause would require charities to “not engage in any activity which is … contrary to the dignity of the people of Uganda”, which proponents fear could be used to clamp down on groups working to help LGBT people in Uganda.

It would also allow groups to be disbanded “where it is in the public interest to refuse to register the organisation, or … for any other reason that the Board may deem relevant”.

The East African Court of Justice ruled in favor of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS’ request to join as amicus a case being brought by the Human Rights Awareness & Promotion Forum against the Attorney General of Uganda seeking a ruling that the provisions of Uganda’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act violate the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community.

Australia: Catholic Church in free-speech battle; official changes mind on marriage

Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher is defending the Catholic Church’s freedom of speech in response to a complaint arguing that a recent pastoral letter sent home with Catholic high school students in opposition to marriage equality violated Tasmania’s strict anti-discrimination law.

“Australia is party to treaties guaranteeing freedoms of religion and of speech, and regularly exhorts other nations to observe these,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said Nov. 13. “It is therefore astonishing and truly alarming that people might be proceeded against for stating traditional Christian beliefs on marriage.”

Former Queensland Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie, a longtime opponent of civil partnerships and same-sex marriage, has had a change of heart, reports Michael Madigan at the Courier-Mail:

The committed Christian and marriage celebrant, who spearheaded former premier Campbell Newman’s rejection of Labor’s civil partnerships, says his change of heart follows some deep introspection on the nature of marriage, and the evolving nature of society.

“Supporting civil partnerships, and supporting same sex marriage has not been an easy journey for me,’’ Mr Bleijie said.

“I have gone from being the attorney-general responsible for abolishing same sex civil partnerships in Queensland, to intending to vote in favour in the forthcoming federal plebiscite.’’

Bleijie’s shift was also not easy for the Australian Christian Lobby to take. The group’s Queensland Director Wendy Francis put out a statement critical of Bleijie’s “capitulation.”

“Throughout his career, Mr Bleijie has actively sought the votes of people who believe in the right of children to wherever possible be raised by their parents.

“To now take a position on marriage that mandates a family structure denying this basic right to children is a blow to his social justice credentials and a breach of trust to voters.”

Ms Francis said Mr Bleijie had played into the hands of those described by Paul Kelly in the Weekend Australian yesterday as seeking to “drive religion into the shadows”.

“At a time when the public are very cynical about politicians, it is disappointing to see a politician jettisoning his principles so cheaply.”

Meanwhile, Nick Duffy at Pink News suggests that some government officials would do well to take a look at their own anti-bullying guide, which encourages people to be better allies to their LGBTI friends.

Asia: Growing acceptance for LGBT people; challenges within families

Gavin Blair at the Christian Science Monitor reports on growing acceptance for LGBT people across Asia, noting, “In a region imbued with the Confucian ideals of filial respect and saving face, the toughest battles are within families.”

When it comes to homosexuality, the Confucian cultures of East Asia can be quite conservative, though they don’t share the religious or moral objections of Judeo-Christian-Islamic countries.

But across a region becoming steadily more urban and cosmopolitan, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) communities are experiencing a changes in attitudes and a greater legal recognition that echoes the trend in the West towards much greater acceptance of equality….

South Korea is something of an outlier in the region: Conservative evangelicals groups succeeded this summer in halting a gay pride parade in Seoul, even though the rest of the Korean Queer Culture Festival went ahead.

Still, among youth in Korea, 71 percent of those between 18 and 29 said “homosexuality should be accepted,” according to a Pew Research Center poll this year. That figure is just ahead of the equivalent among US youth, and fewer than the 83 percent of young Japanese who agreed.

The absence of overt gay-bashing or other strident opposition in most of East Asia may actually have slowed down the equality battle, some activists say.

“There’s no violent discrimination against us here; nobody throwing stones or trying to kill us,” said Yuki, a gay Tokyoite who nevertheless asked to be identified only by his first name. “There’s never been a law against gays in Japan.”

“A lot of gay men in Japan would rather lead a double life,” Yuki added. “Many Japanese gay men went to Taipei to walk in the parade, but would be afraid to do so here.”

In a related story, a new poll finds support from a majority of Japanese for changing the law to recognize same-sex unions

Kenya: Anglican priests suspended for being gay sue for defamation, reinstatement

Three priests suspended by Anglican Bishop Joseph Kagunda in September after he said they had been found “guilty of the sin of homosexuality” are suing for defamation, seeking an apology and reinstatement. From George Conger at Anglican Link:

The accused had denied their guilt, and Archdeacon Gachau, who was Bishop Kagunda’s challenger for election as bishop in 2004, told The Nairobian the accusations were trumped up by the bishop as part of a political purge of the diocese. The archdeacon and two of the parish priests have filed complaints with the Employment and Labor Relations Court and have also filed actions in civil court accusing the bishop of defamation. “The Bishop, knowing very well how sensitive nature the ‘gay preacher subject’ is in the ACK church and the public and how the same would reflect on the image and character of the plaintiffs and the reactions it will elicit from the congregants,” had defamed the three priests, their complaint said. The tribunal that investigated them had was biased and had acted outside the bounds of canon law, the suit charged, not telling the three whether they were witnesses or defendants, or allowing them to present a defense to the charges. They are seeking for an apology and exemplary damages for libel in the civil court case, and reinstatement to their parishes from the Employment and Labor Relations Court. The response to the complaint from the defendants is due next month.

Cyprus: Civil partnership legislation passes

Civil partnership legislation granting legal recognition to same-sex couples passed parliament on a vote of 39-12 with three abstentions, over the objections of the Cypriot Orthodox Church. Some background from ILGA:

[The November 26] vote marks the end of a long period of public discussion in Cyprus; civil partnership recognition was first promised in 2013 with the current bill approved by the current government in May 2015. This was closely followed by the European Court of Human Rights’ unambiguous judgment in Oliari vs Italy, which stated that Italy’s failure to provide any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples violated Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The LGBTI community, including well-known activist Alecos Modinos, had hoped that Cypriot parliamentarians would pass the Civil Partnership Bill promptly. However, arguments over the bill’s content delayed the final plenary vote from its original summer date until 26 November.

More from Evie Andreou at Cyprus Mail:

Despite carrying the full force of traditional unions between two persons, regulating such issues like inheritance, adoptions are forbidden for couples entering into a civil cohabitation agreement. The prohibition applies to heterosexual as well as same-sex couples. The bill passed with 39 votes for, 12 against, while three MPs abstained.

Andreou quotes Costas Gavrielides, head of Accept LGBT Cyprus:

“As of today, all those same sex couples that were married abroad, but not recognised as such in Cyprus, will have their rights recognised,” Gavrielides said.

He added that there were couples battling in courts for years to have their rights recognised.

One of these cases, he said, was a same sex couple that was married in Canada, but one of the spouses who was not a Cypriot, was not given residence permit to live on the island, because the state did not recognise his marriage to a Cypriot national.

“There are many cases like this one. We were facing many problems in the past. This law will re-unite families,” he said.

Based on experience recorded in other countries, he is certain the law will help combat homophobia and encourage more people to stop hiding their sexual orientation.

“In other countries when these kinds of laws were passed, homophobia was reduced significantly so more same-sex couples felt more comfortable in expressing themselves. We expect that the same will happen here as well,” he said.

Argentina: Nun says Pope Francis backs her ministry to transgender community

New Ways Ministry calls attention to an article from earlier this fall about Sister Mónica Astorga Cremona, a member of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, and her ministry to the transgender community.

 “Mónica admits that within the Church itself there are conflicting opinions as to her work with these people, but says she has the support of Pope Francis and that in her community small advances have already been achieved.

” ‘Once, when Romina had just come to the church, a lady came to find me and told me,”There’s a transvestite.” I replied that she was a trans woman, and then she asked me what she was doing in the church, to which I replied, “What are you doing here?.” At first, she continued questioning me about Romina’s presence, until I asked her what would happen if that were your child,’ she says.

” ‘After a couple of days, she came back and apologized to me, and at the following Mass she went looking for Romina to give her the sign of peace,’ she adds.”

She says Francis wrote her in an email, “In Jesus’ time, the lepers were rejected like that. They [the trans women] are the lepers of these times. Don’t leave this work on the frontier that is yours.”

Northern Ireland: Play with Jesus as transgender woman draws protests

Some Catholics protested “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” a play which portrays Jesus as a transgender woman, writes Bob Shine at New Ways Ministry, “but the playwright defended it as an attempt to make audiences ‘think again’ about faith and gender. Playwright Jo Clifford, who portrayed Jesus in the play, is a transgender woman who says she is trying to get across a message that Jesus would oppose prejudice and discrimination.

Not all welcome that message as a small Catholic group protested in Belfast, as has at previous performances. Former Glasglow Archbishop Mario Conti once said that it is hard to imagine “a more provocative and offensive abuse of Christian beliefs” than this play.

Clifford, however, said protesters have generally not seen the play and that it seeks neither to offend nor blaspheme because she is a Christian herself. Her point is rather to reflect on Jesus’ ministry through this “work of devotion”:

” ‘I simply want to assert very strongly, as strongly as I can that Jesus of the gospels would not in anyway wish to attack or denigrate people like myself.’ “

Portugal: Legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt

Lawmakers approved legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt children; the country’s 2010 marriage equality law included a prohibition against adoption. As the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers reported, some religious leaders criticized the vote:

“Adoption should only be done by couples, and a couple is a man and a woman,” said Manuel Barbosa of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, according to Diário de Noticias, a Portuguese newspaper.

The Parliament on Nov. 27 is expected to consider a measure that would allow lesbian couples to conceive children through artificial insemination.

Nigeria: Students reportedly arrested on sodomy charges

Nigerian police reportedly arrested 21 male college students for same-sex activity. A local paper wrote “It was reliably gathered that the two state-owned poytechnics (names withheld) where the suspects were arrested, were a beehive of perverse sexual  acts as male students engage in same sex activities for financial gains.” It claimed that some of the people arrested were also members of cults.

Israel Supreme Court upholds ruling in favor of trans woman’s wishes for cremation

We reported last week that the ultra-Orthodox mother of May Peleg, a transgender woman, was fighting Peleg’s wish, detailed in her will, to be cremated. On Tuesday, the country’s Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling against the mother and upholding Peleg’s wishes.

Mexico: Marriage equality keeps moving forward

We have occasionally reported on the long march toward marriage equality that has been taking place in Mexico’s complicated court system. Individual couples and groups of couples have been able to win federal injunctions, known as amparos, requiring local officials to grant them marriage licenses. But those amparos do not require states to change their laws, and thereby allow all couples to marry, until five amparos have been granted. Last week, the Supreme Court of Justice ruled in favor of two same-sex couples in the state of Jalisco. And the court provided an amparo for 44 people from the state of Baja California. Journalist Rex Wockner maintains an updated status report on marriage equality in Mexico and elsewhere.

Guatemala: Profile of first lesbian member of Congress

US AID has profiled Sandra Morán, who became the first openly LGBTI member of Congress in recent elections.

“My promise is to all people,” she said. “Although most identify me as a feminist, I believe in rights for all. I am a lesbian and I live as that. I hope that the global fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights advances to a point where it transcends to the smallest towns and communities worldwide.”

Morán’s election is no light feat for Guatemala; a nationwide survey conducted by George Washington University in 2012 found that 74 percent of Guatemalans would not vote for an openly LGBTI candidate, making Morán’s win against the odds.

But the Sept. 6 elections embodied a spirit of change, reflecting a growing sentiment against problems within Guatemalan government and society. “The elections occurred in the context of a fight against corruption and traditional politics; my election to Congress is a representation of that,” Morán said.

Morán was a participant in USAID’s Elections Project: More Inclusion, Less Violence, which worked with Guatemalan election officials to ensure that LGBTI people had the opportunity to vote.

Bolivia: Justice Minister supports gender identity law

Virginia Velasco, the Minister of Justice, announced her support for a law to allow transgender people to change their name and gender identification in legal documents.

Commonwealth: New Secretary General taking on 40 members that criminalize homosexuality

Baroness Patricia Scotland, who will be the next secretary-general of the 53-nation Commonwealth, has announced that she will encourage the 40 member states in which homosexuality is criminalized to legalize consensual homosexual activity. According to the Independent:

A report this month by the Kaleidoscope Trust shows that more than 90 per cent of LGBT Commonwealth citizens live in jurisdictions where they are treated as criminals or suffer discrimination.

Testimony from LGBT people in that report ranged from the struggle to find work in Rwanda to being pelted with stones in unprovoked attacks in Dominica. In some Nigerian states, homosexuality for men is punishable by death by stoning. The same punishment is being introduced in Brunei, where a civil servant was fined £470 this year for cross-dressing in public.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday on the fringes of CHOGM, where on 27 November she was named the next Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland said she would “absolutely” be talking to member states about LGBT rights. However, she refused to guarantee that the issue would be on the agenda at the next CHOGM, noting that the Commonwealth operated by consensus and so needed to be persuaded rather than told what to do.

Baroness Scotland said: “What we have to accept is that this [decriminalising homosexuality] is something that will depend on consensus. We do not have the right or opportunity to force states, but we can start a really good conversation to work with them so they understand the economic issues in relations to human rights and make the change. The one thing I have to do is to build consensus and trust and I can hope it will [be on the next CHOGM agenda].”

India: Finance minister criticizes criminalization of homosexuality

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley criticized the country’s criminalization of homosexuality, saying India cannot simply “nudge off” the LGBT community. More from Joe Williams at Pink News:

Arun Jaitley says that the country must reconsider the “conservative” ruling made by the Supreme Court in 2013, as it ignores the needs of “millions of people” across India.

“When you have millions of people involved in this (gay sex) you can’t nudge them off,” he stated.

He added that India’s approach to gay rights needs to be modernised, arguing that the law would have been “right” fifty years ago, but not today.

“As jurisprudence world over is evolving, I think the judgement was not correct and probably at some stage they may have to reconsider,” he said.

Bermuda: Court rules for binational couples

The Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that Bermuda’s immigration policies promoted discrimination on the grounds of marital status or sexual orientation in violation of its Human Rights Act. The case was brought by a group of Bermudians who are part of binational couples whose partners were not permitted to live and work in Bermuda.

Cook Islands: Traditional leaders block ceremony

A lesbian couple that hoped to renew their vows on a beach in Rarotonga were blocked by traditional leaders opposed to same sex marriage.