In the U.S. this week, the Supreme Court heard cases asking whether the Constitution requires states to permit or recognize marriage for same-sex couples; a ruling is expected in June.
New U.S. special envoy for LGBT rights Randy Berry is facing a tough task, reports USA Today’s Oren Dorrell:
Many of the countries most hostile to the LGBT community are U.S. allies in Africa and Asia, including Nigeria, Uganda, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. All are embroiled in fights with radical Islamic terrorists who also condemn homosexuality, and reject U.S. and European pressure to reduce their persecution of LGBT members.
Berry has served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 22 years; he met his husband while serving in South Africa.
“Societies, companies and cultures thrive when they realize the value of diversity,” he said.
But Berry has no illusions that his message will be received warmly in all circles. “Clearly, not everyone is going to agree with the position we are taking,” he said.
Indeed, Nigerian Catholic Bishop Emmanuel Badejo describes U.S. and European insistence on LGBT rights as “cultural imperialism,” the imposition of ideas that don’t fit African society.
Berry said that to accept such objections “you have to believe members of the LGBT community should be discriminated against, should be arrested, detained, subjected to torture and harassment, and should be in some countries executed.”
Singling out sexual minorities in that way runs counter to the core American value that people should have the “freedom to be who you are regardless of who you love or your identity,” Berry said. “That’s a conversation we have to have.”
How to have that conversation will be different depending on where it’s held, however. Berry said he intends to travel to all corners of the globe with his message, focusing first on heavily Catholic Latin America, where he believes he’ll find a receptive audience in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru and Colombia, where gay rights have advanced.
At the Advocate, Matt Baume looks at the campaign being waged by a newly formed right-wing group that is trying to “drum up outrage” over the fact that Rick Estridge, the vice president for overseas finance for Catholic Relief Services, is gay and married.
“It is increasingly difficult to take CRS seriously as a Catholic organization,” Lepanto Institute president Michael Hichborn said in a press release. Hichborn may be the organization’s only member; no other names are listed on the institute’s website, and posts to the organization’s Facebook page are written in the first person.
Tom Price, the relief agency’s senior manager for communications, confirmed that Estridge is an employee there and has been for 16 years. “At this point we are in deliberations on this matter,” he told Catholic News Agency April 20. Later in the week, he said nothing had changed and that the group would make no further comment. Price also confirmed that Catholic Relief Services does not have a policy regarding the employment of openly LGBT people or on nondiscrimination.
Also this week, filmmaker Parvez Sharm’s “A Sinner in Mecca” had its premiere at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto. Sharm, described by the CBC as an “Indian-born, New York-based, openly gay Muslim,” secretly videotaped his journey to Mecca on his iPhone and other small phones.
“I was terrified because they reserve the death penalty for people like me,” Sharma said.
Several times he had his equipment seized and video files deleted by authorities. But he persevered with both his spiritual journey and his film.
“I was there making this pilgrimage for the thousands of gay Muslims who were too scared to go to Saudi Arabia, who would feel they would never be welcome,” Sharma said. “I felt I was doing it for them.”
The CBC reports that Sharma had received death threats and the Hot Docs festival had added extra security for the film’s three sold-out screenings.
Seventh-Day Adventists: Long history of support for gay ‘cures’
We recently noted that a “healing from homosexuality conference” organized by the SDA church in London had been cancelled. This week, Jonathan Cook reports at the blog for Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International on the extensive promotion of “coming out ministries” by the church.
These speakers of the now cancelled conference in England are part of a group called Coming Out Ministries that “shares how we found redemption, victory, healing, and freedom from homosexuality.” These four speakers, Mike Carducci, Wayne Blakely, Ron Woolsey, and a new addition, Danielle Harrison, are currently being vigorously promoted in the Adventist church. They spoke at the ‘In God’s Image’ summit organized by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on “alternative sexualities” in Cape Town, South Africa last year; and they are speaking at the North American Division pastors’ convention this summer in Austin, Texas. They are speaking at numerous churches and camp meetings in the upcoming year, and their stories have been featured prominently in official church publications. They even have given week of prayer presentations at Adventist elementary schools.
While they are being promoted as an example of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people by the Seventh-day Adventist church, oddly they do not identify as LGBT. Instead they use terms such as “redeemed” to describe their sexual orientation.
With the exception of their newest member, Danielle Harrison, their group consists entirely of older men in their 50s and 60s, who came out in a very different era, a time when same-sex intimacy was illegal and deeply suppressed. They experienced traumatic childhoods, which they blame as the cause of their sexual orientation. When they realized that they indeed were gay, they lived rather promiscuous lifestyles, often filled with drugs, and for one individual, years of male prostitution. In his presentations, Carducci describes his former life as the “typical gay lifestyle” which for him usually included one or more sexual encounters a day, in addition to struggling with an addiction to pornography. This short promo video offers an overview of their stories.
By promoting these voices as representative of the entire experience within the LGBT community, even though they do not currently identify as such, the Adventist church elevates stories that portray all LGBT people as damaged, sex addicts, drug and alcohol abusers, unfaithful in relationships, and utterly lost if they do not follow the same path of these four “redeemed” individuals. They are predicated entirely on a model that views LGBT people as fundamentally flawed and broken.
Cook’s piece examines the long history of church funding and promotion for “change” therapies and ministries since the 1970s. We reported last year on the SDA Church’s international summit on dealing with “alternative sexualities” and subsequent adoption of guidelines saying that people who live outside biblical teaching on sexual conduct should not be admitted or retained as church members.
Kenya: Legal victory for LGBT groups generates religious praise, condemnation
“In a move that has stirred the anger of Kenya’s anti-gay Christian groups and sparked celebration by pro-gay clergy, the nation’s High Court has ruled that gay rights activists have the right to formally register their own groups and welfare organizations,” reports Frederick Nzwili for the Religion News Service:
A three-judge panel issued the ruling Friday (April 24) in response to a 2013 petition by the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The organization had unsuccessfully tried — five times — to register under the nation’s Non-Governmental Organizations Co-ordination Act since 2012 but had been rejected on grounds that Kenya’s penal code criminalized gay and lesbian associations.
This time, things were different, with the court ruling that refusing to register the organization was an infringement of the constitutional rights of association for LGBT people. The judges said registration was not about the moral and religious views of Kenyans, since the constitution does not set a limit of rights….
Vincent Agoya from the Daily Nation has more:
The court ruled that the Constitution allows recognition and protection of the rights of “every person”, including minority groups such as gays and lesbians.
“In Kenya, the Constitution is supreme, and it requires conduct to be justified in terms of laws that meet the constitutional standard. The state has to act within the confines of what the law allows, and cannot rely on religious texts or its views of what the moral and religious convictions of Kenyans are to justify the limitation of a right,” judges Issac Lenaola, Mumbi Ngugi and George Odunga ruled.
Nzwili writes that Kenyan law bans homosexuality, with the ruling will allow LGBT people and their supporters to have a platform from which to advocate for their rights and freedoms.
“This is what we have been crying for,” said the Rev. Michael Kimindu, a former Anglican priest and now president of Other Sheep-Africa, a gay rights organization. “It is the beginning of the journey towards freedom. We will now start asking: What happens when two people who are gay want to have a baby or want to go to church to marry?”
Another pro-equality pastor, John Makokha of the Riruta Hope Community Church in Nairobi, welcomed the development but said he feared it will face strong resistance. Indeed,the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum announced “that it will appeal the ruling since it was hostile to the fundamental values and moral norms of most Kenyans.”
“We are not happy with the ruling. There are fundamental omissions and wrongs in it. That’s why we are appealing,” said Charles Kanjama, a lawyer who is vice chairperson of the forum.
“Kenya is a multicultural country and most people are opposed to any attempt to legitimize or legalize same-sex behavior,” added Kanjama.
Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, too, was troubled by the ruling, saying Kenyan society is organized around “family units,” not gay rights groups.
“The judgment was made with very narrow considerations and it is not only against Christianity, but also against Muslims’ teachings and traditions,” said Wabukala, who leads Kenya’s 4.5 million Anglican Christians, the country’s largest Protestant denomination.
Churches had warned about these developments in the drafting of a new constitution in 2010, said the Rev. Wellington Mutiso, the head of Baptist churches in Kenya. “I am disappointed with the ruling, but gratified that we had warned about it that time.
“These rights are now in the constitution and there is little we can do about it, unless we amend the constitution. That is a very costly affair. So think we may have to live with it.”
United Kingdom: Politicians, religious activists spar on gay ‘cures,’ marriage equality
A BBC News documentary reported on “Transformation Potential,” described by Pink News as “a religious ‘gay cure’ therapy conference” which took place in London in April. Journalist Benjamin Zand was kicked out of the conference after filming portions of it. Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to end the “dangerous” and “profoundly wrong” practice:
The announcement was not welcomed by all, however – the Core Issues Trust, which advocates for the use of gay ‘cure’ therapy, released a statement, accusing the Government of attacking “Judeo Christian values” through the pledge.
The statement read: “David Cameron’s remarks to PinkNews betray a political agenda that now denies the legitimate wishes of ordinary people who simply want to exercise their freedom and right as autonomous individuals to live as they choose either in active gay relationships, abstinence, celibacy or in marriage to opposite sex partners.
It continued that the Government “trivialises the range and complexity of human experience”, and said the idea to ban the practice “is based on the false notion that children are born gay”.
Saying the Prime Minister’s remarks were “irresponsible”, Core Issues Trust also said they would lead to the “persecution of orthodox Christians, Jews and others” in the UK.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the first major party leader to have backed marriage equality, and who also recently denounced “gay cure” therapy, was targeted by the anti-gay Coalition for Marriage. “NICK CLEGG FORCED SAME-SEX MARRIAGE ON BRITAIN,” screams the group’s poster. “Use your vote for true marriage at the General Election on 7 May.” Clegg tweeted in response: “Don’t think I’ve actually forced anyone into a same-sex marriage but proud to have given people the choice though.”
Conservative Christian groups and churches are circulating a “manifesto for Christians” from the right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) which pledges to provide a “conscience clause” that would allow for religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. UKIP’s Nigel Farage:
“Sadly, I think UKIP is the only major political party left in Britain that still cherishes our Judaeo-Christian heritage. I believe other parties
have deliberately marginalised our nation’s faith, whereas we take Christian values and traditions into consideration when making policy.
“Take the family, for instance. Traditional Christian views of marriage and family life have come under attack of late, whereas we have no problem in supporting and even promoting conventional marriage as a firm foundation for a secure and happy family.”
The Stormont, Northern Ireland’s legislature, voted for the fourth time against marriage equality. The vote was 49-47 with three abstentions, and leaves Northern Ireland as the only region in the UK without legal marriage for same-sex couples. Northern Ireland’s largest LGBT group is opposing a call for a referendum. John O’Doherty, the director of the Rainbow Project, said: “Even if the public were to vote in favour of marriage equality, the Assembly would have to pass enabling legislation and as we have seen this week, the Assembly is incapable of making this necessary legal change.”
An independent candidate for Parliament, Susan Anne White, unveiled a “biblically correct” manifesto that calls for recriminalization of homosexuality and pledges opposition to “the LGBT agenda” and “redefinition of marriage.”
Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Jim Wells resigned this week amid controversy over his comments that children should not be brought up by a same-sex couple because they would be “far more likely to be abused or neglected.”
Also this week, the Church of Scotland warned that ministers who refuse to conduct same-sex weddings could be “vulnerable to legal challenge” under the European Convention on Human Rights.”
India: Transgender rights bill advances
A transgender rights bill passed the upper house of Parliament, a year after India’s Supreme Court ruled that transgender people “were entitled under the constitution to be protected from discrimination,” according to BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder. Feder explains the contrast with the country’s treatment of homosexuality, which was recriminalized when the high court upheld a previously discarded colonial era sodomy law: “India has long-established communities of trans women known as hijras with a history stretching back before European colonization,” he writes. “Though hijras often face discrimination and harassment, they also have an important symbolic place in India.”
The Times of India reports,
The Rajya Sabha on Friday unanimously passed a private member’s bill seeking equal rights with dignity for transgenders, who are widely scorned, ostracised and ghettoised in the country.
It was historic not only because it was the first private member’s bill to be passed in the Upper House in 36 years, but also since it might turn out to be the goad for the government to swiftly bring a comprehensive legislation for the marginalised community.
Ireland: Marriage equality referendum ‘pivotal moment,’ NOM lends moral support to opposition
On May 22 Irish voters will participate in the world’s first national referendum on marriage equality. The BBC’s Claire Brennan says, “The vote marks a pivotal moment in the evolving relationship between Church and State, pitting religious leaders against the government in an historically conservative and Catholic country.
Polls suggest 78 percent support for a constitutional change to allow gay couples to marry, but some supporters worry that the vote will be closer. Pink News says that “there are fears that a combination of low turnout and strong opposition from religious groups could lead to an upset.” Irish singer Róisín Murphy predicted this week that in spite of a concerted anti-equality push among churches, she is confident that equality will win in a “cake walk.”
Meanwhile, Brian Brown of the U.S. based National Organization for Marriage encouraged its backers to support the opposition.
Kyrgyzstan: Profile of LGBT activist as law criminalizing advocacy advances
Human Rights First published a video profile of Ruslan Kim, head of advocacy and public relations for Kyrgyz Indigo. Legislation modeled on, but even more far-reaching than, Russia’s notorious anti-gay “propaganda” law is moving through the parliament. It would criminalize any neutral or positive speech about LGBT relationships and essentially outlaw civil society groups and reporting on LGBT issues, according to Human Rights First. From the interview with Kim:
Here in Kyrgyzstan, members of Parliament try to hide behind a wall of family values, religion, and tradition to encourage the escalation of violence and the consolidation of discrimination against the LGBTQI community at a legislative level. Community representatives are already regularly subjected to threats, blackmail, bullying and violence; they remain invisible. This is the first time in the history of Kyrgyzstan that LGBTQI rights have been discussed at a national level. Now is our chance to raise our voices, to make ourselves heard and change national policy. We as activists don’t have the right to stop fighting or to give up. We must always remember those standing behind us, waiting to be seen and heard.”
Uganda: Government targets nonprofits
Famous for initiating what is now known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, Uganda is placing a measure before parliament to consider what could have a major impact on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the African country.
The bill caught public attention when its text was published in the April edition of the Government Gazette. It seeks to increase government involvement in the work of non-governmental organizations, also called NGOs, working inside Uganda.
The government claims that the legislation will strengthen the NGOs’ work and help better promote the services they offer. It would do so by creating NGO monitoring offices at the district, regional, and national levels. That framework would also ensure that all rules and regulations set up by the bill are enforced….
Critics rebuke the bill as a rejection of the work that NGOs do in Uganda—to better the livelihood of its people, especially the underprivileged. They also argue that it is illogical to give NGO monitors absolute power—to either revoke or altogether refuse to grant NGOs the operating licenses they need to conduct their work….
In April 2014, it was reported that a bill barring NGOs from rendering any support, financial or otherwise, to the LGBT community would be drafted and put before parliament. Alleged to have been masterminded by Minister of Internal Affairs Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, such legislation would bar NGOs from expressing a political opinion on an issue—like LGBT civil rights.
Several human rights organizations have since spoken out against the new bill, asserting such involvement by government in the work of NGOs would abuse freedom of association and expression.
Organizations are also worried that if the bill is passed in its current state, it will hinder Ugandans from freely working with any local or international NGOs, as some activities, like those helping LGBT persons, might be viewed as illegal by the government.
Argentina: Government recognizes three parents
The government of Argentina has recognized parental affiliation for a lesbian couple and the biological father of their child. According to AFP, some 9,500 same-sex couples have married in the country since 2010 passage of a marriage equality law. The biological father, who did not give up his parental rights in the process of assisted fertilization, is a long-time friend of the couple.
The triple affiliation had the support of the government of the province of Buenos Aires to the provincial Registry of Persons and was signed by Claudia Corrado, registrant, on the grounds that the biological father did not give up his rights as part of the assisted fertilization procedure and expressed that he shares an interest in the child.
Lawmaker María Rachid, a supporter of gay rights, said the recognition reflects a need for legal responses to the everyday reality of family situations that are more complicated than those with “a father, mother, children, dog and garden.”
Jamaica: Activist challenges sexual violence against lesbians
David McFadden of the Associated Press reported this week on activists’ efforts to confront sexual violence against lesbians:
When Angeline Jackson and a friend were ambushed at gunpoint and sexually assaulted on a wooded trail outside the Jamaican capital, police initially seemed less concerned about the attack than the fact she is a lesbian.
“The first policewoman I spoke to told me I should leave this lifestyle and go back to church,” Jackson recalled of the 2009 attack, shaking her head in frustration.
It is an attitude all too common on the island, where gay rights activists say homosexuals suffer pervasive discrimination and occasional attacks. Activists say some LGBT people have even been the victims of brutal sexual assaults intended to force them into becoming heterosexual or punish them for not fitting societal norms….
Although there are growing pockets of LGBT tolerance in Jamaica, anti-gay attitudes continue to be fueled by some church leaders and dancehall reggae performers who disparage homosexuality. And as in other English-speaking Caribbean nations, sex between men, in fact, is unlawful in Jamaica, with violators subject to 10 years imprisonment and hard labour, although the anti-sodomy law is rarely enforced.
US President Barack Obama cited Jackson’s advocacy in during his April visit to the country.
Nepal: Israeli gay couples and infants airlifted from quake damage
Amid the widespread human and cultural devastation caused by a massive earthquake and aftershocks in Nepal, the country’s Blue Diamond society, an organization for sexual and gender minorities, made an appeal for assistance. Israeli news reports that last Sunday the country’s air force had begun “airlifting 26 infants from quake-hit Nepal born to surrogate mothers, along with their Israeli parents, most of them homosexual couples.”
The first Israeli Air Force (IAF) transport plane aimed at rescuing Israelis from the devastation wreaked by an earthquake in Nepal arrived at a military base in Israel Monday morning.
The plane brought with it several wounded Israelis and premature babies of Israeli parents born to surrogate Nepalese mothers. A separate plane carrying more babies and their parents is slated to arrive later in the day.
Omri Lanzet, one of the many new parents who landed in Israel with his newborn son Sunday night told Ynet news that “We had a baby just days old with us, and had no heat. The food and the diapers ran out.”
“The babies are the most vulnerable, and some of them were born prematurely. It’s neither the place nor the proper environment for a baby only a few days old.”
…The Justice Ministry ruled on Sunday that four Nepalese surrogate mothers carrying babies for Israeli couples will be allowed to fly to Israel in order to have the babies in the Jewish state.
The Israeli couples had earlier put in a special request that the women be allowed to seek refuge in Israel due to the deteriorating medical conditions in Nepal.
Under Israeli law, only heterosexual couples can legally have children through surrogate mothers, meaning homosexual couples and single people often seek help overseas, said Roy Youldous of Tammuz, an Israeli firm offering surrogacy services.
Japan: Pro-gay politician elected mayor of Tokyo district
A politician who had pushed for municipal recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages in Tokyo’s Shibuyu district was elected mayor of the district on Sunday. Ad exec Ken Hasebe had been a member of the district assembly since 2013. The Japan times reports that the increase in public support for recognition of LGBT relationships contributed to a “particularly joyous” mood at Sunday’s Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade.