Pride Month & Prejudice; ‘Worrisome Time’ For LGBT People; Global LGBT Recap

Courtesy Flickr user Thomas Hawk via Creative Commons

LGBT communities in many parts of the world celebrate Pride month in June. The U.S. State Department told embassies and consulates that they may recognize local celebrations.

The Associated Press’s David Crary kicked off the month with a June 1 report on this “worrisome time for LGBT activists” in the US and around the world.

In the United States and many other parts of the world, this is a worrisome time for LGBT activists, as the pace of civil rights victories has grown uneven and reports of anti-LGBT violence and persecution surface relentlessly.

In the past two months, there have been large-scale detentions of gay men in Nigeria and Bangladesh, and chilling accounts of roundups and torture of scores of gays in Chechnya. In Indonesia, a major police raid on a gay sauna was followed two days later by the public caning of two gay men. …

Graeme Reid, director of Human Rights Watch‘s LGBT Rights Program, says the setbacks for LGBT people interconnect with gains achieved on their behalf.

“That’s the paradox of this time in which we live,” he said. “The two are related: the progress and the mobilization of forces in opposition to that progress.”

On Wednesday, ARC International will sponsor a side event at the Human Rights Council on extra-judicial killings based on sexuality and gender.

In a story whose existence seems like some kind of cultural milestone, the New York Times reported on California-born Pakistanti-American Ali Mushtaq competing in the International Mr. Leather competition. The Times’ Erik Piepenburg called Mushtaq’s presence “a big leap out of the pitch-black closet for Muslim men who are not only gay but also into leather fetish.”

Issa Arden, a member of the social media team for I.M.L., said that having Mr. Mushtaq compete this year could broaden the gay subculture’s appeal to racial, ethnic and religious minorities. “The more fully you see people that are different in various ways, the more you see an embrace of everything that leather can be,” said Ms. Arden, one of a small group of women at I.M.L. “Having someone Muslim or noticeably brown or who is well built but smaller of stature, it’s all of those things.”

But publicity has been a mixed bag. Mr. Mushtaq said that while most of the feedback he received had been positive, he also got text messages calling him “an ugly, dirty Muslim” and a “terrorist.” He has also met fellow leather folk who think “that being Muslim is the antithesis of being progressive,” he said.

Although he calls himself a Muslim (he studied Arabic and the Quran as a child), Mr. Mushtaq says his relationship to Islam today is “an ethnic identity as opposed to a fundamentalist religious identity.” He adheres devoutly to some elements of the faith (he doesn’t eat pork), and more casually to others (“I’m a very light drinker”). His Islam is not “the crazy people with the swords,” as he put it, but professionals “who consider themselves Muslim” and who “might approve of gay marriage.”

Mushtaq did not win but says he wants to continue be visible:

“It’s about reaching out to the people in Islamabad,” he said. “I want to be the role model I didn’t have. You see somebody that looks like you and you say, maybe I can be a part of this.”

Finland: ‘Intense’ debate over marriage equality in Lutheran Church

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is “the only Nordic national church which doesn’t celebrate same-sex marriage,” reports Evangelical Focus. Lutheran churches in Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Norway celebrate same-sex marriages. Marriage equality only became law in Finland since March 1 of this year. During an “intense” debate on the topic at the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in May, Archbishop Kari Mäkinen interrupted a speaker who was opposing marriage equality and asked him to stop claiming marriage equality would hurt children.

The Archbishop’s reaction has been interpreted as an example of the hardened attitude in society towards those who represent the traditional view of marriage. “The Liberal trend has determinedly aimed at a situation, where the views it represents are not allowed to be criticised”, writes Timo Eskola, Researcher at Theological Institute of Finland.

This has already been the development in other Nordic Lutheran Churches. In 2015 The Church of Iceland scrapped its freedom of conscience clause, ending the right of clergy to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages. The resolution overturned a 2007 statement by the annual Church Council, that held that the “freedom of clergy in these matters must be respected”.

In Sweden, pastors have in principle freedom not to minister in a wedding ceremony for gay couples. However, it is difficult to have an office in Church, if you give the answer in a job interview, that you won’t minister to same-sex couples, says Timo Laato, Lecturer at Lutheran School of Theology, Gothenburg, Sweden.

The Church of Norway has officially two views on marriage, and gender is seen as irrelevant to a marriage. A pastor should not question the two views. According to a bishop, there is no room for those in the Church, who call the Church’s new doctrine as schismatic, says Rolf Kjøde, Director of Continuing Education and External Courses at NLA University College in Norway.

Chile: President angers Catholic bishop with call for same-sex marriage, decriminalization of abortion  

In her last major speech to the country’s Congress, President Michelle Bachelet announced her plans to introduce marriage equality legislation this year, saying (in translation), “it cannot be that old prejudices are stronger than love.” She also said she would make an effort to decriminalize some abortion. Both initiatives are strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and a number of news sites drew attention to the camera’s focus on the sour face of Santiago’s Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati when Bachelet mentioned them.

Russia: French president pushes Putin on abuse of Chechen gays

French President Emmanuel Macron urged Russia’s Vladimir Putin to ensure the safety of LGBT people in Chechnya, where gay men have been subjected to a campaign of detention and violence. More from the New York Times:

Mr. Macron said that he had discussed the reports of collective punishment of gay men in Chechnya with Mr. Putin and that they had agreed on a “very regular monitoring” of the situation.

Mr. Macron said Mr. Putin had told him he had taken measures to “establish the complete truth on the activities of local authorities” in Chechnya, but he did not specify what those measures were. Chechnya is under the control of a pro-Kremlin leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov.

“As for me, I will be constantly vigilant on these issues, which are in keeping with our values,” Mr. Macron said.

Huffington Post reported that a “chain of Russian food stores fun by a devoutly religious national businessman has placed signs in its windows saying “No entry for faggots.” Store owner German Sterligov told Reuters, “Our planet is full of filth and sick humans.”

Ukraine: Russian anti-gay vigilantes find a new home

Hromadske International reported that Russian anti-gay vigilantes have found a new home in Ukraine. It reports that police arrested some members of a group called the White Lions, who attack gay men (they say pedophiles), film their assaults, and extort money by ”threatening to share the video on social media.’ More from the report:

Artem Artemyev, a leader of another anti-gay vigilante group in Ukraine, the “Heritage” movement, offers his own explanation for the arrest of his colleagues from the ‘White Lions” group: “The ‘White Lions’ acted harshly. They resorted to violent actions and were allegedly extorting money from people,” he says.

The “Heritage” movement calls itself “a public movement, aimed at exposing those who encroach on children’s dignity”. The organization operates under the following scheme: the movement’s vigilantes lure queer men through fake social media accounts to meet in real life. And when they arrive, they attack and abuse them, while filming the process for subsequent social media posts.

Artemyev claims that the “Heritage” movement’s activity is a non-profit hobby. According to him, since he became a member of the movement, they have ‘spoken’ to 121 people.

“I do it to ensure that children grow up in a safer society, where no one would ruin their psyche,” he explained. “They are the future of our country, nation, race, I mean the white race, which is a priority. I’m not a racist, I just like my people more.”

Indonesia: CNN, Salon take in-depth looks at 18 month backlash against LGBT people

On May 31 CNN reported on Indonesia’s crackdown against LGBT people, noting, “In less than 18 months, being gay in Indonesia has gone from widely tolerated to just plain dangerous.” The report calls it “a dark turn for a country that for decades prided itself on its diverse heterogeneous society.”

The world’s largest Muslim democracy, Indonesia is often considered something of a bulwark of tolerance amid growing conservatism elsewhere in the Islamic world.

But that perception is now shifting, amid increasing verbal attacks on minority groups and the growing implementation of Islamic bylaws by regional governments.

In less than two weeks, two young men were seized by vigilantes who burst into their home in Aceh province, then taken to authorities who caned them for having homosexual sex.

In a separate incident, later in the month, attendees at an alleged gay party in a Jakarta sauna were arrested and images of their faces were disseminated online by Indonesian police.

Homosexual sex is not illegal in the majority of Indonesia, except in the extremely conservative province of Aceh. Jakarta is not part of any province; it is controlled by the central government.

One week ago, West Java Police Chief Anton Charliyan announced that he would create a special taskforce to crack down on LGBT people.

“They will face the law and heavy social sanctions. They will not be accepted by society,” he said.

CNN traces the start of the backlash to early 2016 when a number of political leaders began making “unprompted attacks on Indonesia’s LGBT community.” It notes that conservative Islam is a growing political force, evident in the arrest and conviction of Jakarta’s Christian governor on blasphemy charges.  The report says human rights activists have been disappointed by President Joko Widodo’s “lackluster” defense of LGBT people.

Salon’s Nico Lang also reported on “the right-wing backlash behind the brutal lashing of gay men in Indonesia.” Writes Lang, “It’s an ugly, miserable time to be LGBT in Indonesia, and it’s only getting worse.”

Prior to 2016, LGBT rights groups in Indonesia were able to operate openly, but many of these organizations could no longer publicize their events. Of the more than 120 advocacy groups, many shut down. Knight said that gay government officials often picked up and left, afraid that they would be discovered and outed. An Islamic school opened in 2008 to give transgender Muslims a safe space to worship closed last February following demonstrations by the Islamic Jihad Front, an extremist group that has also targeted Christian minorities.

President Joko Widodo has repeatedly failed to condemn the anti-LGBT vitriol, sending an extremely mixed message. Although Widodo declared last October that “there should be no discrimination against anyone,” the president’s spokesperson has also said that there’s “no room” for queer and trans people in Indonesia. …

Maria Sjödin, deputy executive director of OutRight Action International, said that the backlash largely resulted from the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States. She claimed that the “social media attention . . . is part of what got people riled up.”

But another factor is the growing influence of hard-line groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (IDF) and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the latter of which claims over 40 million members. Nahdlatul Ulama, an organization that believes that LGBT people are “deviant,” “a form of perversion,” and “a desecration of human dignity,” called for an anti-gay propaganda law strikingly similar to Russia’s in February 2016. The conservative Muslim organization has since built strong ties with the Jokowi government. The president, who meets frequently with NU members, once called the group the “vanguard” of Indonesia.

Italy: National federation of Christian LGBT groups forms

At New Ways Ministry’s blog, Francis DeBernardo writes about LGBT religious organizations in Italy, many of them Catholic, and a recently formed national federation of Christian LGBT groups.

South Africa: Profile of gay Imam with Hindu partner

At the India Times, Shweta Sengar profiles Muhsin Hendricks, a gay Imam with a Hindu partner.

Hendricks grew up in Cape Town in a very small Muslim community, which was very orthodox and conservative. His grandfather was a cleric at a local mosque, which was just a stone’s throw away from the house.

“Homosexuality is a sin, said my grandfather and people who engage in same-sex activity earn the wrath of God and go to hell.”

Hendricks recalls that his grandfather also said that God is extremely compassionate and overwhelmingly forgiving. “All these contradicting things confused me because even at that time I knew I did not choose to be gay and why would such compassionate and a merciful God send me to hell for something that I did not choose?”

Hendricks opened the People’s Mosque in Cape Town for people struggling to reconcile their Muslim faith with their LGBT identities.

UK: Prime Minister criticized for campaign stop in anti-gay church

LGBT rights activists criticized Prime Minister Theresa May for making a campaign visit to Jesus House, a church that is “notorious for its homophobic views.” A commentary published in The Independent calls Jesus House “at its core, a fundamentalist institution” whose pastor Agu Irukwu is a “passionate opponent of marriage equality.” Author Douglas Robertson calls it “deeply wrong” for May and the Conservative Party to be aligning themselves with and promoting “an organization that promotes hatred, homophobia and misogyny born of religious fundamentalism and masquerading as religious freedom.” The UK’s general election will be held on June 9.

Poland: Warsaw Pride parade draws crowd in spite of opposition from church, gov’t, nationalists

A crowd estimated by organizers at 50,000 people and by police at 13,000 marched in Warsaw’s 17th annual Equality Parade on June 3, which DW notes come at a time when the conservative government is opposing civil unions for same-sex couples:

Poland’s constitution is one of seven in the EU to ban gay marriage and the country is one of six in the 28-member bloc not to allow same-sex civil unions.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland came to power in late 2015 on a ticket of promoting traditional Polish values, family and Catholic traditions.

he government has been attacked by the EU and other international institutions for its alleged attacks on democracy in Poland, in particular accusations it has politicized civil service, media and other areas of public life, while also undermining the Constitutional Tribunal. …

In an open letter, the assembly of Catholic bishops in Poland asked Polish Catholics not to participate in the parade, claiming that advocating for LGBTQ issues was “falsifying the church’s unchangeable teaching.”

AP reports that “several far-right nationalists tried to block the parade but were removed by police.”

Ireland: Gay son of immigrant father set to become fiscally conservative prime minister

Leo Varadkar is set to become Ireland’s youngest and first openly gay prime minister, but his fiscal policies may shift the country to the right:

Varadkar might seem to be an unexpected pick for leader of Ireland — a country that’s still finding its secular European footing after years of church influence over the state. But Varadkar’s policies signal a sharp move towards the right.

In his leadership campaign, “Taking Ireland Forward,” Varadkar’s fiscally conservative politics took center stage. He fiercely campaigned against benefit fraud with the slogan “welfare cheats cheat us all.” He pledged to invest in large infrastructure projects, reform tax laws for the self-employed and has proposed to ban “essential” public workers from going on strike.

Varadkar also promised to represent the “people who get up early in the morning,” in an effort to harness the support of Ireland’s rural farmers, the middle class and elderly — rhetoric that critics say both alienates and demonizes a large chunk of Ireland’s casual workforce, who have been hit by increased austerity measures. He has also pledged to hold a referendum on abortion in 2018.

Varadkar’s father is an immigrant from India. Varadkar came out during the 2015 campaigning for a marriage equality initiative. “If my election shows anything it’s that prejudice has no hold in this Republic,” he told BBC. As CNN reports, he was elected leader of the Fine Gael party on Friday and will be confirmed as prime minister on June 13.

Australia: Margaret Court charges Americans with financing conspiracy against her

A feud between former tennis greats continued, with Martin Navratilova calling for the Margaret Court Arena to be renamed for former aboriginal tennis star Evonne Goolagong after Court publicly opposed marriage equality and declared she would boycott Qantas airline “where possible” to protest the company’s support for marriage equality. She also told a Christian radio station that “tennis is full of lesbians.” Navratilova has said that while Court was “an amazing tennis player,” she is also “a racist and a homophobe.” Court charged that money from America was behind the “conspiracy” against her.

Myanmar: Prejudice and a bit of progress for LGBT people

The Myanmar Times takes “a snapshot of LGBT rights in Myanmar,” finding “prejudice and progress.” It says the country’s colonial-era law criminalizing same-sex activities includes long prison terms as punishments. Even though it is “not strictly enforced,” it signals that homosexual activity is wrong and gives policemen a tool for blackmailing LGBT people.

These laws appear to influence how the general population in Myanmar views same sex relationships.

“Society looks down on the LGBT community. People mock me and embarrass me in public just because I love a man,” said U Aung Myo Min.

He said this was compounded by certain religious beliefs – as it is “widely accepted that only those who commit adultery in their past life become homosexual as a form of punishment”.

The story says that depite persistent cultural prejudice, there have been “some tentative steps forward,” including public events on World AIDS Day and the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Malaysia: Government hosts competition for videos to ‘prevent’ homosexuality

The health ministry launched a competition offering cash prizes of up to $1,000 for the best videos explaining how to “prevent” homosexuality. More from AFP:

Activists on Saturday said the move will further spread fear among Malaysia’s LGBT community, as conservative attitudes chip away at the Muslim-majority nation’s one-time reputation for moderation and tolerance.

Contestants are invited to submit a video clip addressing various categories including gayness or “gender confusion”, and offering suggestions as to how these could be “prevented or controlled”. …

Malaysia’s Deputy Director-General of Health Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said in a statement the contest was “never intended to discriminate any specific group” and that it was “purely to tap knowledge and creativity of adolescents on sexual and reproductive health related matters.”

Bermuda: First same-sex wedding

The first wedding in Bermuda of a same-sex couple was conducted on May 31, reports the Royal Gazette.

The marriage ceremony of Bermudian lawyer Julia Saltus and her fiancée, Judith Aidoo, was conducted at the Registry-General on Wednesday, followed by a reception at Café Lido, Elbow Beach, according to one guest who attended.

The nuptials came less than a month after the landmark Supreme Court ruling of May 5 which enabled gay people to marry on the island.

Romania: Opposition leader steps down over party’s opposition to marriage amendment

Nicusor Dan, founder and leader of the opposition party USR resigned from the party on May 31 after the party’s national bureau voted to oppose a proposed “traditional family” revision to the constitution that would restrict marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

Cambodia: Opposition parties say they are open to marriage equlity

Several opposition parties said they would consider legalizing marriage equality at a roundtable that was snubbed by the ruling Cambodia’s People Party. Forty civil society organizations have called on Cambodia to legalize marriage for same-sex couples after a court ruling in Taiwan in favor of marriage equality. More from Khmer Times:

“Taiwan becomes a trailblazer in respect of LGBT rights in Asia, building momentum for marriage equality across the continent. We take this historic opportunity to call upon the Cambodian government to show its commitment to LGBT rights by legislating for same-sex marriage in Cambodia,” the statement read.

The statement added that the LGBT community in Cambodia faces enormous challenges from marriage inequality to daily discrimination in society. The denial of marriage rights, the groups said, was a form of cultural and social isolation which alienated people from their own families and communities.

Same-sex relationships are not illegal in Cambodia, unlike many of its neighbours, however legislation to allow for gay marriage is still absent. According to the Diplomat magazine, the LGBT community received royal support from the late King Norodom Sihanouk as well as the current King Norodom Sihamoni, but this has not shielded them from discrimination by family, friends and society in general.

France: Gay policeman killed in jihadist attack married posthumously

The gay policeman killed by a jihadist in Paris in April was married posthumously to his partner on May 30. Under French law, reports The Local, the president can authorize a posthumous marriage when there are “significant grounds” to do so and the deceased person had an “unequivocal” desire to get married.

Canada: Two-spirit & LGBT indigenous youth meet; Conservatives choose social conservative leader

The CBC reports on a gathering of indigenous two-spirit and LGBT youth that was held in Regina in May: “The talking circle was facilitated by two-spirit elder Marjorie Beaucage, who described the circle as a kind of peer support for young Indigenous people who need to talk about their gender identity.

Vice reviews the positions of Andrew Scheer, who was elected to lead the Conservative Party:

It’s no secret in Ottawa that Scheer is a dedicated social conservative.

Campaign Life Coalition, an aggressively pro-life and anti-gay marriage religious organization, gives Scheer top marks for his voting record.

That record includes votes against bills to legalize gay marriage, enshrine human rights protections for transgender people, and to allow physician-assisted dying. Scheer has also voted in favour of legislation that would re-define when, during pregnancy, a fetus is considered a human being and to criminalize sex work.

Scheer, whose five children attend a Christian school, is calling for tax deduction for homeschooler and parents who send their kids to “independent” schools. He has also threatened to “pull federal funding rom universities that do not foster a culture of free speech on their campuses.”

Israel: LGBT film festival targeted by BDS campaign

The Tel Aviv LGBT film festival was hit with some cancellations after it was targeted by BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) activists , reports the Jerusalem Post, who charge that the festival is a form of “pinkwashing.”Among those deciding not to participate was Fawzia Mirza, a Pakistani-Canadian actress and filmmaker, “citing her identity as a ‘Muslim queer person.’”

Mexico: Governor apologizes after dismissive reference to same-sex marriage

The Governor of Nuevo León Jaime Rodríguez Calderón—also known as “El Bronco”—was the target of LGBT protests after he said “Marriage is between man and a woman and I do not believe in the other zonceras (silliness).” He later apologized, saying he had been misunderstood.

Thailand: Justice ministry says it will promote marriage equality legislation

The Ministry of Justice announced that it will push for passage of a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Africa: Human rights commission takes on SOGI

Human Rights Watch reported that the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights “has taken on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, topics that some may have considered too ‘controversial’ but that fall squarely within the ambit of human rights.”

South Africa: Interfaith group calls on church, gov’t to denounce gender-based violence

The Global Interfaith Network for People of all Sexes, Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Expressions called on the government and churches to speak out against deadly gender-based violence after a spate of attacks against women and gender non-conforming people in May.