‘Putin’s Children’ Push ‘Traditional Values’ in Latvia; Jewish Reparative Therapy Group Finds ‘Haven’ In Israel; Sikh Activist in UK Supports LGBT South Asians; Global LGBT Recap

International Activism and Advocacy

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released “Born Free and Equal: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in International Human Rights Law.” The report promotes five core legal obligations states have with respect to protecting the human rights of LGBT persons:

  • Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence;
  • Prevent torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of LGBT persons;
  • Decriminalize homosexuality;
  • Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and
  • Respect freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

On a related note, the Independent published “How the British Empire’s gay rights legacy is still killing people to this day,” by Chris Godfrey. The article reviews developments affecting the legal status of LGBT people in African countries.

For the most part, the criminalisation of homosexuality in Africa is a direct result of colonialism, with much of the anti-homosexual legislation introduced by European states still in place.  But recently, political pandering and religious influence have seen countries such as Gambia and Nigeria introduce laws which further restrict the human rights of their LGBT populations….Freedom of expression and freedom of association are integral in the fight for LGBT acceptance, but in many African states (and beyond) these fundamental human rights are heavily restricted….

Before the continent’s activists can bring about the decriminalisation of homosexuality, they must first secure a platform for discussing the issue free from persecution. In countries like Uganda, that particular challenge is set to become much harder.

Though Uganda’s infamous Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) was nullified in early 2015, a new bill designed to stifle non-governmental organisations (NGO) operating across the country is set to come into law. The legislation will require NGOs to acquire government issued permits in order to operate. While the law is not a specific attack on the country’s LGBT population, they’re certainly a high profile target.  For Dr Frank Mughisha, the country’s most high profile LGBT activist, it threatens the existence of his organisation, Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG).

“Any organisation that’s not in the public interest cannot exist, any organisation that is not a registered NGO cannot exist,” says Dr Frank Mugisha. “It will definitely affect a lot of other countries as well because many countries, including the UK, are providing development support to many NGOs in Uganda and some of those NGOs are also doing work on LGBT rights. So they’ll be shut down.”

At The Advocate, Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First responds to a recent New York Times article that suggested Americans advocacy for LGBT equality in Africa may have done more harm than good. Gaylord writes that “the challenge discussed in the article is real.”

It’s something we advocates constantly consider and navigate as we work to protect the human rights of LGBT people, not only in Nigeria but in many other countries where the charge of American imperialism has political currency. For U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations, advocacy on the international stage must be thoughtful. Working across cultures requires us to grapple with the reality of unequal resources, the power of privilege, and the need for cultural competency.

We should readily admit that every time the U.S. engages, there is likely to be some degree of backlash. We’re rarely choosing between “backlash” and “no backlash” but instead weighing the cost of backlash and the benefits of action.

Gaylord proposes a set of principles for American activists working in other countries: listen to and be guided by people on the ground; recognize that civil society groups in other countries may also spurn LGBT work; be flexible; acknowledge that the U.S. has also committed human rights abuses; don’t be silenced by repressive propaganda framing LGBT human rights as a Western import; and take the long view.

Latvia: ‘Putin’s Children’ – A Look at the ‘Moral Guardians’ Opposing LGBT Equality

Last month, the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism published “The Rise of Latvia’s Moral Guardians,” which profiles an organizations that promote “traditional values.”  A related article, “Putin’s Children,” examined how Latvian conservatives spread anti-gay myths that emerge from Russia, which include propaganda against pro-LGBT Scandinavian countries.

A fight for “traditional values” has become another battlefield in the confrontation between Russia and the West. Armed with family values, mixed in with the anti-western propaganda, the Kremlin attracts supporters who are not natural allies. Some are even ideological opponents.

“We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization,” explained the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech in September 2013. “We know that there are more and more people in the world who support our position on defending traditional values that have made up the spiritual and moral foundation of civilization in every nation for thousands of years,” he said several months later.

The “Moral Guardians” article profiles a group called “Kin” (“Dzimta”) which promotes “traditional values” and takes students on laser-tag paramilitary training sessions.

The group also has held events in various churches and community centers. Both believe that in recent years, hiding behind gay and lesbian rights movements, different forces have been trying to break up the traditional family model with the aim of turning people into the manipulated “vegetables.”

Three parent movement organisations have been formed in Latvia since 2013. They are “Kin”, “Let’s Protect Our Children” and “Our Children.” The “traditional values”, it turned out, is one issue that can unite ethnically-divided Latvia, where about 26 percent are ethnic Russians and even more people use Russian as their native language. Together, the three organisations lobby for changes in the laws to prohibit the “propaganda” of homosexuality, oppose adoption by foreign families, and fight against excessive power of the nation’s social services.

In 2014, Kin held a press conference at which they announced each MP’s position on sexual minorities, which led to the introduction of an amendment to ban “promotion” of sex in schools.

The group’s public lectures went, however, less noticed, but were more aggressive. Their videos can be found on YouTube. In them, Kornetova tells stories of “juvenile justice.” Customarily, this phrase is used to mean laws aimed at protecting children’s interests, but the defenders of “traditional values” interpret it as a form of limiting parental rights. In the summer 2013, she spoke at a worship service of the mostly Russian-speaking “New Generation Church”, which used to draw on support from some conservative Americans. Its leader, Aleksey Ledyaev was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006 hosted by the US President George W. Bush.

In her talk, Kornetova said that the children’s rights protection agency going around schools, teaching what “evil and bad parents” were. Children must be taught not to trust “nice ladies” and never seek their help because then the children will be taken away from families, “will be put in a shelter”, “given drugs” and mothers will not see their children for months and sometimes years, or even never. One should definitely not seek help of social services, she says, because this is the surest step to child removal from the family.

The hidden goal of the child protection services is to legalize the illegal child trade. Kornetova’s presentation shows potential buyers of children: childless couples, especially those who are unable to conceive, same-sex couples and pedophiles. “And they want our children, who are beautiful and ecologically clean,” she said during her presentation at the “New Generation Church” service.

Kornetova’s husband, a short muscular martial arts expert named Saulus Seikis, gives a historical outline of how since the 16th century “the sodomy laws have entered the laws of the European Union and the international thinking.”

The report also says that three pro-Kremlin activists are founders of “Let’s Protect Our Children,” a group that sponsored a signature drive promoting a referendum against “gay propaganda.”  Another group, “Family,” also backed the referendum campaign and warns against “genderism.”

Taiwan: Marriage Equality Opponents Push Referendum

The Central Election Commission held a hearing on Thursday on a referendum proposed by marriage equality opponents that would require marriage equality or custody legislation to be approved in a national referendum before taking effect. From Abraham Gerber at the Taipei Times:

[Thursday’s] hearing on referendum wording was called after conservative activists associated with the Faith and Hope League submitted more than 130,000 petition signatures for a proposed referendum aimed at preventing the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Crossing the first 100,000 signature petition drive threshold would potentially move it into a second petition drive phase if its wording is approved.

Activists from both sides packed the CEC’s spacious 100-seat conference room, with a large crowd kept in the building’s lobby for hours because of space limitations.

Faith and Hope League activists said the referendum was necessary to prevent influential legislators from “sneaking through” legalization, creating “serious and irreversible” damage to social mores.

Israel: American Reparative Therapy Group Finds ‘Haven’ in Israel

JONAH, a Jewish “reparative therapy” group that had been based in New Jersey has “found a haven for their work in Israel.” JONAH was shut down “for violating New Jersey consumer fraud laws by claiming therapy could ‘heal’ homosexuality.” More from Daniel Estrin at the Associated Press:

Israel’s Health Ministry advises against so-called “gay conversion” or “reparative” therapy, calling it scientifically dubious and potentially dangerous, but no law limits it. In Israel, practitioners say their services are in demand, mostly by Orthodox Jewish men trying to reduce their same-sex attractions so they can marry women and raise a traditional family according to their conservative religious values.

Clients also include Jewish teenagers from the U.S. and other countries who attend post-high school study programs at Orthodox seminaries in Israel. Half of all such students attend seminaries that require youth who admit to having homosexual feelings to see reparative therapy practitioners, according to the Yeshiva Inclusion Project, a group that counsels gay prospective students.

“Since there is such a strong religious presence here, and I think political correctness isn’t as prevalent, there’s more openness about it, about this kind of therapy here,” said Dr. Elan Karten, a U.S.-trained psychologist and Orthodox Jew who has treated about 100 people with homosexual attractions since he opened his Jerusalem practice eight years ago.Proponents in Israel say therapy does not “convert” clients, but boosts self-esteem and masculinity, which they say can reduce homosexuality. In Israel, therapists say there is greater acceptance of their work than in the U.S.

United Kingdom: Profile of LGBT Sikh Activist

Gay Star News published Manjinder Sidhu’s “What I learned on my rocky road to coming out as gay to my Sikh family.” After coming out to his supportive but confused parents, he realized there was no literature or support in the Punjabi language.

I decided to provide life coaching and spiritual counseling to LGBTI South Asians because every time I would return back from a human rights deployment abroad, the state for South Asians LGBTI’s in the UK was the same. Dire, closeted, in fear and hidden.

There has never been any literature for non-English speaking parents on this matter so I decided to take matters in my own hands. In fact, my book Bollywood Gay out February 2016 has a pamphlet inside explaining homosexuality in different languages.

I’ve also lived in India where homosexuality is still criminalized. Middle class gay Indians have far more freedom and support in general then the ones here. But for the poorer population, suicide, arranged marriage and worse is the case.

I have a reach in the sub continent and Arab countries at the moment, and work closely with Stonewall and Barnardos. I speak at schools and work to bring awareness to LGBTI South Asian issues with religious organisations and LGBTI groups.

The crux of my work is to empower, inspire and educate South Asian LGBTIs to be able to have an easier coming out process whilst living the life they always dreamed of. I do this through the principles of the law of attraction. Love and forgiveness are key ingredients along with gratitude and prayer.

He says he has found the Sikh community to be supportive:

Our local Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) in particular was very supportive. Since then I have started an Out of Purdah initiative – where we speak to various religious organizations and community groups empowering LGBTI South Asians.

You can find his videos on YouTube.

England: Liberal Anglicans Call for Marriage Equality, Services to ‘Affirm’ Trans People

Church of England Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham says the church should provide a liturgy that would acknowledge and affirm the gender of people who transition as well as liturgies for same-sex weddings. As reported by The Telegraph’s religious affairs editor John Bingham, Wilson is a leader of a new campaign by pro-LGBT Anglicans, the LGBTI Mission, pushing for liberalization of church teachings on sexuality, an effort that runs counter to pushback by conservative Anglicans that resulted in the recent suspension of the Episcopal Church USA from the Anglican Communion. .

The new campaign group’s aims will be fiercely opposed by conservative Anglicans who believe that any endorsement of “homosexual practice” goes against the teaching of the Bible.

But Bishop Wilson said: “Lots of people are going around saying sorry, it’s great fun saying sorry – but what has actually changed?

“The LGBTI Anglicans say we can’t carry on as we have done – you can’t say ‘can we carry on having blacks-only beaches’ if you say you want to dismantle apartheid.

“Repentance is about change of mind and renewal.

“There is plenty of evidence of a change of mind, there is a genuine wanting to move on but if you want to move on you have to go somewhere different to where you are now.”

He added: “In a lot of this I don’t think the Church has to change its doctrine of marriage – it just has to apply it to same-sex couples.”

Nick Duffy at Pink New notes that the New Chapel (Unitarian and Free Christian) in Manchester recently made provision for transgender people to be rebaptized, something Wilson says he does not support, saying that “as an Anglican I think you are baptized once.”

India: Supreme Court Reconsiders Recriminalization of Homosexuality

On Tuesday, in what an LGBT activist called “a progressive step in the right direction,” the Supreme Court ordered new proceedings that could reverse the 2013 ruling that recriminalized homosexuality. BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder notes that nearly 600 people were arrested in the year after the Court overturned a 2009 Delhi Court decision that had thrown out the colonial-era sodomy law.

More background from Human Rights Watch:

The law, section 377 of the Indian penal code, punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with up to life in prison. The law had been struck down in 2009 by the Delhi High Court, which said the law was a violation of fundamental rights to equality, nondiscrimination, life, and personal liberty guaranteed by the Indian constitution. The court had noted how criminalization of same-sex relations had a negative impact on the lives of LGBT people.

The 2009 ruling said: “Even when the penal provisions are not enforced, they reduce gay men or women to what one author has referred to as ‘unapprehended felons,’ thus entrenching stigma and encouraging discrimination in different spheres of life. Apart from misery and fear, a few of the more obvious consequences are harassment, blackmail, extortion and discrimination.”

The Indian government chose not to challenge the High Court judgment. But following appeals against the verdict by some individuals and religious groups, a two-judge panel of the Supreme Court overturned that decision in 2013, ruling that amending the law was the responsibility of the legislature. Human rights activists, lawyers, and medical professionals filed curative petitions to revise the previous ruling, saying that section 377 denies privacy and dignity, and that upholding it results in a miscarriage of justice.

Turkey: Profile of LGBT Syrian Refugees from ISIS Brutality

At Vocativ, Carmen Gentile profiles three LGBT Syrian refugees who fled ISIS and are part of “an untold number of LGBT Syrian refugees” who are building new lives in Turkey. “We are still not safe in Turkey,” says one, but “it’s a far cry from the dangers he faced while living in Syria.”

Australia: Parliamentarians Push to Pass Marriage Equality Legislation, Avoid Plebiscite

Marriage equality supporters are hoping to force a parliamentary vote on marriage equality legislation, but they would have to overcome the position of the ruling party that the issue should instead be put before voters in a national plebiscite.  The Sydney Morning Herald’s Judith Ireland reports that Labor Party MP Terri Butler will try to bring up a bill within the next few weeks.

Labor has been calling on the government to dump the plebiscite – which would be held after the next federal election – arguing “marriage equality should just happen”.

On Monday, Ms Butler said that making same-sex marriage an election issue or the subject of a plebiscite would have “real world consequences”.

“Kids will see placards and taxpayer funded advertising claiming that their parents shouldn’t be allowed to marry. That sends a message that their family is somehow inferior.

“Some of the material and slogans that we’ve seen in similar plebiscites overseas have been degrading and disgusting,” she said.

Turkey: Court Will Consider Surgical Requirement for Legal Gender Change

The Constitutional Court will review the Gender Reassignment Law this month and LGBT advocates hope it will result in a revision of the legal requirement that people undergo gender reassignment surgery in order to have their gender identity legally recognized.

Italy: Disputed Crowd At Last Weekend’s Anti-Civil-Unions Rally

There were conflicting claims and reports about last Saturday’s anti-civil-unions “Family Day” rally in Rome. Organizers claimed two million people participated, but Reuters reported that “hundreds of thousands” attended the rally in the ancient Circus Maximus, which authorities said could hold about 350,000 people. The week before, thousands of Italians had participated in pro-civil-unions rallies across the country.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is promoting the civil unions law but faces opposition from within his own government and from the Catholic Church. The president if the Italian conference of Catholic bishops, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, had endorsed the rally as “absolutely necessary.” According to Reuters, “The Italian Bishops Conference has come out firmly against the bill and many of the banners on display had overt religious overtones.”

A week ago Pope Francis issued a strong reminder of the church’s opposition to gay marriage, saying that the traditional family was “the family God wants”.

Some protesters echoed his view. “I am a grandfather and this law goes against God and goes against the bible,” said Franco Pantuso, 71, a retired waiter from the central city of L’Aquila who had came to Rome especially. “Our children and grandchildren must be protected.”

Latest opinion polls say that 70 percent of Italians believe that same sex couples should be granted legal protection, such as inheritance rights. However, only some 24 percent think that any adoption rights should be granted to gay couples.

Hungary: Far-Right Youth Activist Gets Suspended Sentence For Violent Anti-Pride Protest

A member of a far-right youth group was given a suspended prison sentence for actions during a violent protest of the 2012 Budapest Pride March. From a press release from the LGBT advocacy group Háttér Társaság:

In its judgement the court laid down the principle that “freedom of expression – which is guaranteed by the Fundamental Law and other laws – is not without limits. Its limit is the sovereignty of other persons, their freedom, security and sense of security. (…) Making hateful and hurtful comments, wearing clothes different from those of the participants or taking part in a spontaneous counter-demonstration is not a crime, but threatening others or exhibiting other frightening behavior is suitable to make the participants feel alarmed, which amounts to violence against a member of a community.”

“We welcome the most recent decision of the court which confirms that violent protesters against the Pride March are not exercising their freedom of expression, but are committing hate crimes” – said Tamás Dombos, working for the Legal Aid Service of Háttér Society, which provides legal representation to the victims. “It is, however, rather unfortunate, that while the whole series of incidents happened under the noses of the police, they only managed to charge one member of the group, and even though the suspects were charged on the same day the incidents happened, it took the criminal justice system more than three years to deliver a first instance judgement. We hope that following this decision the police will be more encouraged to step up against violent counter-demonstrators.”

Germany: Shelter for LGBT Refugees Opens

The first shelter specifically for gay and lesbian refugees and asylum seekers opened this week in Nuremberg. The project was undertaken by local activists after reports from refugees who felt threatened in other shelters. AFP reports that “the gay and lesbian association for the states of Berlin and Brandenburg said it had recorded 95 cases between August 1 to December 31, last year, including physical violence, sexual attacks and threats.”

European Union: EUP Adopts Progress Reports on Kosovo and Serbia

On Thursday the European Parliament adopted progress reports on Kosovo and Serbia, candidates for EU membership, that encouraged the countries to take actions to improve the human rights situation for LGBTI people in their countries.

In its report on Serbia, the European Parliament “welcomes the successful Pride March of 20 September 2015.”

It expresses its concern, however, over shortcomings in implementation of the country’s anti-discrimination framework, particularly referring to LGBTI people.

In relation to Kosovo, the Parliament welcomes the adoption the Law on Protection from Discrimination, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity. If welcomes, furthermore, that the Ombudsperson has been mandated to act as an equality body.

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Co-President of the Intergroup on LGBTI Rights and rapporteur on Kosovo, reacted: “Despite progress in laws and visibility in Serbia and Kosovo, discrimination and violence continue to make lives of LGBTI people difficult, and threaten access to basic freedoms.”

“Leading politicians should show more courage to condemn hatred and prevent abuse. Both countries have the necessary laws in place. Now it’s time to implement them!”

Tanja Fajon MEP, Vice-President of the Intergroup on LGBTI Rights and shadow rapporteur on Serbia, continued: “I am glad that the Parliament has again agreed that human rights, including for LGBTI people, are at the heart of the European integration project.”

“Hatred and prejudice have kept too many people in the Balkans from full participation in society for far too long. It’s time for equal rights for all.”