Syria: ISIS not the only source of brutality against LGBTs
Dan McDougall’s feature story in the Sunday Times of London Magazine examines the situation in Syria, “where gay people are being persecuted and murdered – and not just by Isis.” Writes McDougall:
In recent months, the photojournalist Robin Hammond and I have interviewed gay citizens in Africa and the Middle East. Theirs is a narrative of great pain and desperate suffering. Here in the Middle East, it is clear that the taboo against same-sex activity is getting stronger, not weaker, and a corrupted version of Islam finds itself at the heart of much of this hatred….
McDougall makes it clear that ISIS is not the only problem.
Everyone in this shabby room acknowledges that Isis alone did not bring homophobia to Syria. Gay men there have long been the target of “honour killings”, as they are considered a disgrace to their families. Others have been imprisoned.
The civil war, however, has intensified the persecution. At the heart of the Isis plan to target and wipe out the LGBT community are the Hisbah — the religious police, named after a Muslim doctrine that translates roughly as “accountability”.
The story recounts the brutal torture and executions being carried out routinely.
“In my opinion, it cannot get any worse than being gay in Syria today,” Halim, a human rights campaigner, tells me in a packed bar in downtown Beirut. “It’s a place where you don’t know your enemy. Seeing people you have had casual sex with being taken in on the street, and wondering if they will take you down with them. Lovers turning on lovers.
“Also, this isn’t just an Isis story,” he continues. “If you are gay, you have many enemies intent on your persecution: the government, Isis, al-Nusra [the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda]. That’s not including your own extended family: they are often enemy number one.”
McDougall reports that religious police use social media to entrap people, and rely on informants.
Knowing who the enemy is has become increasingly difficult for gay people. From the ranks of its own religious police force, Isis is believed to have deployed undercover agents to entrap those who have been accused by others of being gay.
Elmo, a doctor now working in a call centre in Beirut, fled his Isis-held town in Syria after a member of his family — a cousin attempting to curry favour with his new masters — betrayed him to the militants. Such betrayals are common.
The attitude now if you are gay and trapped inside is ‘trust nobody’,” says Elmo. “Not your mother, nor your closest friend. The only difference between all the factions is that some will torture you before they kill you if you are outed and caught.”
Among those McDougall interviews are young people fleeing across the Mount Lebanon range “not knowing if they will find safety or further persecution on the other side of the border in Lebanon.”
… For gay people on the run from Syria, being “out” in Lebanon isn’t an option, either. Lebanon now has the highest proportion of refugees in the world, with Syrian refugees making up a quarter of the country’s population. “We know hundreds, thousands of LGBT refugees are coming across, but if we start counting, it could be used against them and us. It’s better they slip unnoticed into Lebanon. Prejudice against gay men and women doesn’t stop at the border. The trouble is, they are being arrested and abused here in Lebanon, too.”
Anglican Communion: Archbishop of Canterbury calls special gathering to prevent schism over LGBT
The Archbishop of Canterbury, in an effort to prevent the disintegration of the Anglican Communion over theological and cultural divides on teaching on sexuality, has called a special gathering of Communion primates in January 2016, including the leader of a conservative group in the U.S. that broke away from the Episcopal Church over the ordination of gay people.
“The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians: when the command of scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the church and our theological understanding urges unity.”
Writing in the Atlantic, David Graham characterizes the move by Archbishop Justin Welby as “dissolving the Anglican Church to save it.”
Justin Welby was named archbishop of Canterbury with high hopes that he was the man who could save the Anglican Communion. Now it appears he may oversee its breakup—a calculated destruction intended, paradoxically, to save it.
Welby’s plan is meant to deal with increasing “conflicts over the ordination and consecration of gays and women and over same-sex marriage in the U.S. and U.K.”
These changes led to acrimonious splits in the church. In the U.S., conservative parishes left the Episcopal Church, labeling themselves “Anglican.” At the same time, African branches of the church reacted strongly against the elevation of female clergy to leadership positions and the sanctioning of homosexuality….
In the first years of his term, Welby sought to build ties with African church leaders to forestall schism. If these reports are correct, he seems to have decided that even if the Communion could be duct-taped together for now, a more permanent solution was going to have to come eventually.
“We have no Anglican Pope. Our authority as a church is dispersed, and is ultimately found in Scripture, properly interpreted,” Welby said in his statement. That’s essential for understanding what’s happening now. The archbishop draws his authority as much from tradition and an Anglican sense of propriety as any formal role….
But because the archbishop is not a pope, he cannot make a decree and expect the primates around the world to obey. It meant that neither [of Welby’s predecessors] could impose his authority, either to halt the liberal churches’ changes or to silence the conservative ones’ objections. It means, too, that Welby cannot impose peace in the Anglican Communion, and instead must find a creative solution to the church’s problems that eluded his predecessors.
Stephen Castle writes in the NewYork Times:
The creation of a lighter and looser relationship among the churches might be enough to allow Canterbury to maintain relations with the Episcopal Church and, say, provinces in African countries, which have encouraged their governments to criminalize homosexuality….
If such an outcome were agreed upon, members of all the churches would be able to call themselves Anglican, but the change of structure would make clear that there need no longer be a common doctrine.
When asked by The Guardian newspaper whether this would represent if not a divorce, then a legal separation, the source responded: “It’s more like sleeping in separate bedrooms.” The archbishop’s office confirmed the authenticity of the quotations.
The conservative Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), headed by Kenyan primate Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, will “prayerfully consider” Welby’s letter, reports Fredrick Nzwili for Religion News Service. But Wabukala said the problems in the communion are not about structure but about “false teaching” and that the solution is restoring the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion.
Indonesia: Online photos of gay wedding ceremony spark backlash
Photos of a wedding ceremony between two men being blessed by a Hindu holy man have reportedly sparked outrage among some Indonesians.
The photos, which are circulating on Facebook, show two men – a Westerner and a local – exchanging vows at a five-star resort in the town of Ubud. The ceremony was officiated by a Hindu holy man and two women in traditional Balinese dress were also in attendance.
Ordinary Balinese are reportedly up in arms over the wedding and the island’s governor, Made Pastika, called it ‘a disgrace.’
‘In the Hindu religion it is banned. Extremely banned,’ he told the provincial government on Wednesday (16 September).
‘I want to know, where was it? We should give a reprimand. I think it’s a disgrace for Bali. It should not happen.’
Inspector General Sugeng Priyahot said he understood that the men were legally married in the U.S.
‘Preliminary information that we received is that the two men, a US national and an Indonesian, have already married in the US. They came to Bali to hold a celebration,’ Inspector General Sugeng Priyanto said.
He said they were now investigating whether laws against desecration of religion could be used, as Hindu offerings were made during the ceremony.
Bali is a popular wedding destination among Westerners but Indonesian law defines marriage as between a man and woman.
According to a story from Australia’s News.com,
In Indonesia, where marriage between couples of differing religion is also banned, many couples marry outside the law, meaning their union is not legal but is legitimate in the eyes of their families and friends.
The controversy in this case is not the marriage itself but the apparent involvement of the Hindu religion which is against gay marriage.
According to the report, the chairman of the Grand Council of Customary Villages said the group has launched an investigation.
“We emphasise that same sex marriage is not allowed in our religion. In our customary law it is also not allowed as it could cause the area to be cuntaka (or impure). If the wedding ceremony really happened a purification ceremony should be held in the village where the wedding was held.
“We have to find out what it actually is. Why was there a man wearing the white clothes of a Pemangku (Hindu Holy man)? Was the wedding according to Hindu religion? If it was only acting to feel like a Balinese ceremony it was also wrong. They should not do it,” Mr Upadesha said.
Chile: Bishops conspire against victim of sexual abuse by priest
The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers reports on a scandal based on emails leaked to a Chilean newspaper showing how two cardinals, including a close adviser to Pope Francis, conspired last year to prevent a gay man who had been abused by a priest from being named to a sex abuse commission created by the pope — and to block him from speaking with other bishops.
The man, Juan Carlos Cruz, did meet this month with parishioners in the city of Osorno who oppose Francis’ decision to appoint as head of the local diocese a bishop who helped cover up sexual abuse allegations against a the priest who abused Cruz and hundreds of others .
Philippines: Gay priest speaks out against bishops’ anti-marriage-equality letter
Catholic Bishops in the Philippines released a harshly anti-gay pastoral letter in August.
The August letter from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines attacked same-gender unions, saying they are “not and can never be a marriage as properly understood and so-called” and is not “similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage,” reported The Bangkok Post.
The bishops also claimed homosexuality is “objectively disordered” and that Catholic lawmakers should oppose marriage equality “in a particularly vigorous way.” None of this language is novel, but its repetition causes harm.
New Ways Ministry reports that a priest, Fr. RJ, responded in Outrage Magazine, calling the bishops’ letter “wrong and hurtful and a far cry from the Gospel”. He wrote:
“This pastoral letter not only violates the teaching of the catechism about accepting and respecting LGBTs, it further violates Pope Francis’ teaching against judging and marginalizing LGBTs. . .The Gospel is about human rights, and equality, and about love. Instead of opposing equal rights for LGBTs, Holy Mother Church should be at the forefront of defending and protecting LGBTs persons, LGBT couples, and LGBT families.”
… “Jesus was always on the side of the marginalized. Jesus was always on the side of human rights and human dignity. . .I challenge any bishop to look an LGBT couple in the eye and prove to them that their marriage perverts and undermines the common good. The reality is that the legalization of same-sex marriage enhances human rights and social justice.”
Australia: Anti-marriage Prime Minister ousted, replaced by progressive Catholic convert
We have reported on (now former) Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s long-time efforts to block a parliamentary vote on marriage equality. This week, Abbott was purged in a party leadership vote. Abbott was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, who like Abbott is Catholic, but a very different sort of Catholic. Notes Bob Shine at New Ways Ministry, “Turnbull’s support for same-gender couples’ rights dates back to 2012, though he drew criticism at the time for endorsing civil unions as a compromise.”
Australians have a new prime minister after a leadership vote ousted the heavily criticized conservative Tony Abbot, a Catholic, in favor of a more progressive Catholic who supports marriage equality, an issue that is being hotly debated in that nation.
Shine pointed to commentary by Michael Bernard Kelly at Michael Bayly’s blog The Wild Reed:
“Interestingly, a hard right-wing, Opus Dei leaning, anti-marriage equality, climate change denying Catholic PM has been replaced by a progressive Catholic who is passionate about action on climate change, dedicated to marriage equality, and committed to making Australia a constitutional republic. Interesting times ahead for us – but now we have a PM with some real vision. That is something to celebrate.”
Turnbull is, however, sticking to Abbott’s controversial (and LGBT activist say unnecessary, expensive and potentially harmful) plan to hold a national plebiscite on marriage equality, saying “every single Australian will have a say.” Polls show that about 70 percent of Australians support marriage equality.
Spain: Prime Minister who opposes gay marriage attends gay wedding
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy created a furor when he announced that he would attend a wedding between two men today. According to CNN, “This is news in 2015 because Rajoy has consistently opposed the recognition of same-sex marriage, which became legal in Spain 10 years ago.”
Rajoy had previously said that same-sex couples should be content with civil unions, reports CNN, and that allowing same-sex marriage was a “poke in the eye” to Catholics.
Cue accusations of hypocrisy and a debate about loyalty to friends over political principles — all of this occurring with national elections 12 weeks away….
The wedding is in Vitoria, in the Basque country, between Rajoy political ally Javier Maroto and his partner Josema Rodriguez. Maroto is a senior official of the governing Popular Party, or PP, which Rajoy leads. Not only has Rajoy said he plans to attend; a PP colleague has disclosed he’s an official witness of the marriage.
“Will he, won’t he go?” has taken up acres of Spanish media coverage and spawned a new hashtag on Twitter: #laBodaDeMaroto (the marriage of Maroto). While it’s unlikely to dominate the election campaign, the event has led to dissent between the conservative and more centrist factions of Rajoy’s party. It may also be politically awkward since the party’s base is among the older and (by and large) more conservative Spaniards….
The opposition Socialist Party is enjoying the Prime Minister’s discomfort, congratulating Maroto on his wedding and expressing pride that the law it passed a decade ago should have brought happiness to so many people. Twisting the knife, party spokesman Angeles Alvarez tweeted that Rajoy is planning to celebrate in private what he persecutes in public.
Canada: Bus driver fired for refusing to drive rainbow bus advertising gay pride parade
Pink News reported this week that Jesse Rau, a driver for Calgary Transit, was fired after he repeatedly refused to drive a rainbow-colored bus advertising the city’s pride parade, saying that doing so “would be promoting a lifestyle he ‘can’t condone.’” Reminiscent of the furor over the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to process marriage licenses for same-sex couples, Rau held a press conference claiming that he was fired for standing up for his faith.
Rau claims he is just a normal Christian being ‘persecuted’ for his beliefs, but his story was rather undermined by the presence of radical anti-gay preacher Artur Pawlowski, who spoke alongside him at the press conference.
Pawlowski regularly espouses overtly anti-gay views, claiming that homosexuals are “provoking the wrath of God.”
He has also claimed previously that God caused flooding that hit the region in 2013, because he was angry about the “perversion” of homosexuality.
Calgary Transit says it is unable to comment on a private personnel matter.
Korea: Christian Pop star apologizes for tweet supporting American anti-marriage-equality clerk
Choi Siwon, a Korean pop star and actor, apologized after fans expressed dismay over his retweeting of an anti-marriage-equality tweet from a conservative American religious figure.
On September 11, Choi retweeted a post from conservative theologian John Piper. “Obergell is not constitutional; so-called gay marriage does not exist,” said Piper, in the Tweet which linked to an op/ed written in support of Kim Davis….
K-pop fans who were familiar with the work of Super Junior delivered the strongest reaction to his Twitter activity, due to the regular practice of skinship or simulated homosexuality that has been performed by Choi Siwon during concerts and other activities. Skinship is regularly practiced by many Korean pop acts, as part of their fan service….
While he has frequently appeared in scenes depicting skinship with other members of Super Junior, Choi Siwon has maintained conservative religious views.
Meanwhile, he returns to Korean drama in the upcoming series, “She Was Pretty.” “She Was Pretty” will serve as his final drama role prior to his November 2015 enlistment in the Korean military.
Azerbaijan: European Parliament denounces repression of LGBT advocates
Last week the European Parliament adopted a resolution denouncing the intimidation and repression of LGBT people and their allies. According to the parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights:
The overall human rights situation in Azerbaijan has deteriorated continuously over the last few years, with many independent journalists and civil society leaders now imprisoned without appropriate access to healthcare. Those not imprisoned, are often subjected to intimidation and harassment.
Independent LGBTI activists had to flee the country for fear of persecution.
In its resolution, the Parliament “strongly condemns the unprecedented repression against civil society in Azerbaijan”. It highlights that it is “extremely concerned over the situation of LGBTI people” and “condemns political hate speech against LGBTI people”.
Furthermore, the Parliament “calls on the Azerbaijani government to stop obstructing and intimidating human rights defenders working for the rights of LGBTI people”
…Tanja Fajon MEP and Kati Piri MEP, Vice-President and Member of the Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, continued: “The crackdown on LGBTI civil society is part of a wider systematic crackdown on civil society, which is beyond imagination: Nearly one hundred political prisoners, and continuous intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders.”
Uganda: Museveni says no need for new anti-gay law
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said publicly that there is no need for a new anti-gay law because the country already bans same-sex sexual behavior. Anti-gay lawmakers have been pushing for re-passage of the Anti Homosexuality Act that was overturned by a court for procedural reasons.
Ireland: Marriage equality a reality by year’s end
The Belfast Telegraph reports that will legal challenges out of the way, legislation implementing marriage equality, approved in a May referendum, should be passed in the coming weeks, making marriage equality a reality in Ireland before the end of the year
El Salvador: Human rights groups call for more action in response to anti-LGBT violence
Last week Amnesty International responded to a wave of violence against LGBT people by calling for concrete action to fully implement hate crimes legislation, noting that a 2012 law on violence against women was stymied by “a lack of funding and bias against women among government officials, including judges.”
Austria: Proposal would clear convictions under old anti-gay laws
The Minister of Justice has proposed legislation that would create a process allowing gay men and women convicted under old anti-gay laws to be pardoned
Russia: Putin honors anti-gay politician
President Vladimir Putin has rewarded notoriously anti-gay politician Vitaly Milonov one of the country’s highest civilian honors for “Merit to the Fatherland” and “outstanding contributions to the state associated with the development of Russian statehood.” Milonov championed an anti-gay “propaganda” law in St. Petersburg that became the model for similar national legislation; more recently he called for Facebook to be blocked in Russia.
United Nations: Analysis of politics behind recent resolution on protecting the family
Arvind Narrain of LGBT advocacy group ARC International published a commentary this month on the politics underlying the Human Rights Council’s passage of a controversial resolution to “protect the family.”
The Resolution was sponsored by a cross-regional group of states including Egypt, Cote d’Ivoire, El Salvador, Mauritania, Morocco, Russian Federation, Tunisia, Uganda, Qatar, Belarus, China and Bangladesh. The ‘controversy’ at the center of the resolution concerned the intent of the resolution itself. Was it to protect the family, or was it to use the language of protecting the family to actually target those who were vulnerable to abuse within families including children, women and LGBTI persons?
More from Narrain’s analysis:
It is possible to surmise that the resolution at its heart was premised on the targeting of the rights of LGBTI persons and the use of the language of, ‘protection of the family’ was only a means to an end. This emerged most critically in Egypt’s statement introducing the resolution. As Egypt noted,
Speaking about absolute and unspecified diversity can be an invitation to cast protection on family settings where human rights may not flourish to be respected. Family is family everywhere as a unit that bonds men, women and children together…[family] should remain reflective of similar essence and shared values.
The crucial intent of the resolution was to circumscribe diversity within the notion that a family was a bond between men, women and children. This core intent was manifested in another amendment moved by Pakistan which called for a recognition that “men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the rights to marry and to found a family, bearing in mind that marriage is a union between a man and a woman” (emphasis provided).
Cuba: moment of democratic transition for LGBTs, others?
Ian Lekus, writing for the Center for Transatlantic Relations, examines the situation of LGBT people in Cuba at a moment of potential democratic transition, placing the analysis in a larger context:
As societies transition to democracy, it is inevitable that they wrestle with who truly counts in matters of political, social, and cultural inclusion. For LGBT people, it is increasingly clear that the strength of democracy in a given country can be assessed in part by how the government promotes or hinders the rights of its sexual and gender minorities.
This is evident from both the advances and setbacks in LGBT human rights around the world in recent years. It is no accident that the prominence of openly lesbian and gay people in the anti-apartheid struggle led South Africa to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation when drafting its constitution of 1996 — the first country in the world to do so. Brazil’s post-junta constitutional guarantee of health care as a fundamental human right led the country in the 1990s to become a global pioneer in providing free and universal HIV medications. More recently, Argentina’s path-breaking 2012 law on gender recognition has become the template for transgender rights advocates in many other countries.
In the post-communist world, LGBT citizens have not fared as well. In Russia, the 2013 law banning so-called “propaganda” for LGBT rights has fomented widespread harassment, discrimination, and violence against LGBT Russians, and as Vladimir Putin’s government has worked to organize an anti-Western bloc, it has encouraged other former Soviet republics to adopt similar legislation. In Central and Eastern Europe, right-wing political parties have found electoral success, stoking nationalist fervor and accompanying the escalation of violent hate crimes against LGBT people, migrants and refugees, Muslims, and Roma in Poland, Bulgaria, and elsewhere. In Sub-Saharan Africa, long-serving strongmen cynically deploy homophobia to curry popular favor and pass anti-LGBT legislation that broadly inhibits the growth of an independent civil society (although growing popular support for LGBT inclusion and the positive legal, judicial, and legislative developments across the Continent receive far too little attention).
Lekus notes that recent progress in promoting LGBT human rights in Cuba “reflect a marked shift from the early history of sexuality & gender in revolutionary Cuba,” citing state persecution, including labor camps and expulsion.
It remains to be seen which historical precedents will inform Cuba’s overall democratic transition and the inclusion (or lack thereof) of LGBT Cubans in that expansion of democratic citizenship. Will Cuba’s path resemble the roads taken in South America, where the democratic transition from military rule proved particularly robust and where national leaders promoted LGBT human rights at home and abroad? Will Raúl Castro and his eventual successors seek to imitate China and Vietnam, where dramatic market reforms occur within unreconstructed communist political structures, and where LGBT people have carved out increasing space in the private sphere, but LGBT human rights – as rights, as markers of an independent civil society – remain off the table? Or will Cuba’s future resemble that of post-communist Central and Eastern Europe, where the incomplete transition to democracy fueled the rise of violent homophobia and xenophobia?
Gambia: Human rights group report on “fear and repression” dismissed by government
Human Rights Watch released a detailed report this week on “two decades of fear and repression” under the presidency of Yahya Jammeh, who took power in 1994. The country’s ambassador to the United States dismissed the report, reports the Washington Blade, which noted,
The report notes Gambian police and officials with the country’s National Intelligence Agency “promptly rounded up” dozens of people “on suspicion of their sexual orientation” last fall after Jammeh signed a law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.”
Nepal: New Constitution offers explicit protection to LGBTs
Nepal’s Constituent Assembly endorsed a new Constitution on September 16; it will officially come into force on September 20.
Nepal’s new constitution is the first in Asia to explicitly mention the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Nepal now joins a handful of countries around the world such as South Africa (1996) and Ecuador (1998) that provide protections for LGBT people in their national constitutions. This is Nepal’s first constitution as a federal republic following the dissolution of the 239-year-old monarchy by a parliamentary vote in 2008. It contains several articles that enshrine protections and rights for LGBT people.
The constitution includes explicit protections for “gender and sexual minorities” and replaces “male and female” and “son and daughter” with gender-neutral language.
Argentina: Buenos Aires becoming mecca for gay wedding tourism
At the Global Post, Simeon Tegel reports that Buenos Aires is becoming “a mecca for gay marriage tourism.” A travel agency dedicated exclusively to the gay marriage niche market has brought more than 130 foreign couples, mostly female, to Argentina to get married. LGBT people are making advances across Latin America, the article notes.
But the region has a long way to go before gays and lesbians can hold hands wherever they please. As GlobalPost has previously reported, much of Latin America has a terrifying homophobic violence problem.[Travel agent Leandro] Swietarski stresses that Argentina’s tolerant attitudes toward the LGBT community evolved long ago, and are rooted in Argentina’s identity as a nation of immigrants, and Buenos Aires’ cosmopolitan atmosphere.
It’s certainly not that the entire population is on board with the capital’s openness.
Today, Argentine-born Pope Francis may be known for publicly refusing to “judge” gays, a watershed moment for the Catholic Church. But as the top clergyman in his home country in 2010, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio led large protests against the government’s marriage reform, calling it a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”
Still, the country did bring in same-sex marriage a full half-decade before the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of it.
Kenya: LGBT film festival held in Nairobi
Last Saturday, the Guardian’s Murithi Mutiga reported on the Out festival, a four-day LGBT film festival held in Nairobi.
With homosexuality illegal in Kenya, its capital Nairobi is an unlikely – and potentially dangerous – place to openly host an LGBT film festival celebrating gay culture.
But on Thursday night, a young crowd packed into an auditorium in the city centre to attend the Out festival, an event hailed as a key step towards encouraging public discourse on LGBT issues in the country.
On the opening night of the four-day programme, festival goers watched the British film Pride, based on the true story of a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to help families affected by the British miners’ strike in 1984, and an episode of American sci-fi series Sense8, depicting transgendered and interracial couples.
But there were no Kenyan films on offer. The award winning production, Stories of our Lives, which tracked the lives of members of the LGBT community in Kenya, was banned in 2014 by the country’s film board after it claimed the documentary “promotes homosexuality, which is contrary to national norms and values”.
The film sparked a debate among young activists who argued that the country’s gay rights movement could gain credibility by joining in solidarity with other groups such as striking teachers.