U.S. Religious Right Groups Support Move Toward ‘Illiberalism’ of Hungary and Poland; and More in Global LGBT Recap

The European Lesbian* Conference, which brought together 500 activists, artists, academics, politicians, journalistas and civil society leaders in Vienna ended on Sunday.

At 76 Crimes, Dominique Menoga and Michaël Cousin reflect on the first international francophone conference on sexual and gender minorities, which was held in Montreal in August. A new international coalition, the Global LGBTQI Francophone Initiative” is in the process of coming together and working together “to end governmental and societal repression of sexual and gender minorities.”

A U.S. vote against a United Nations resolution condemning the death penalty for “same-sex relations” and other acts provoked widespread outrage, leading U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley to tweet, “Fact: There was NO vote by USUN that supported the death penalty for gay people. We have always fought for justice for the LGBT community.”

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert explained the vote this way:

“We voted against that resolution because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances,” Nauert said. “The United States unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy. We do not consider such conduct appropriate for criminalization.”

OutRight Action International’s Jessica Stern supported this explanation:

“There’s been some misreporting and misconceptions,” Stern told NBC News. “The U.S. always opposes this death penalty resolution, because it makes reference to a global moratorium on the death penalty. For both Obama and Trump, so long as the death penalty is legal in the U.S., it takes this position.”

“OutRight will call out the Trump administration on its many rights violations, its many abuses of power from LGBTI violations to xenophobia, but this particular instance is not an example of a contraction of support on LGBTI rights,” Stern continued. “It would be a mistake to interpret its opposition to a death penalty resolution to a change in policy.”

Indonesia: Anti-LGBT Crackdown Continues With Mass Arrest

Police announced the arrest of more than 50 men in a raid that one news report calls “the latest sign of a backlash against homosexuals in the Muslim-majority country.” The arrests follow an ongoing wave of anti-gay rhetoric and action from religious and political officials. Reuters reports:

The arrests are the latest in a spate of high-profile police actions against gay clubs and parties in Indonesia this year that have called the country’s reputation for tolerance into question.

With the exception of the ultra-conservative Aceh province in northern Sumatra, where Islamic law is enforced and two men were publicly flogged last month for gay sex, homosexuality is legal in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. …

Activists say police targeting of consensual gay sex has shone a light on discrimination and harassment in the world’s third-largest democracy.

Egypt: Backlash to Rainbow Flag Intensifies

We reported last week on an anti-gay backlash spurred by social media reaction to video of a rainbow flag being waved at a concert. Reuters reports:

Sarah Hegazy has been jailed, beaten by inmates, and could face a life sentence in an Egyptian prison if found guilty of “promoting sexual deviancy” and other charges tied to her alleged crime: waving a rainbow flag at a concert.

The 28-year-old denies waving the flag but is one of 57 people arrested so far in Egypt’s widest anti-gay crackdown yet, a swift zero-tolerance response to a rare show of public support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the conservative Muslim country. …

Hegazy, the only woman rounded up in the three-week-old campaign, says police goaded her cellmates to abuse her during her first night in prison, where she is being detained for 15 days and interrogated by special prosecutors who usually focus on Islamist militants.

Reuters reports that as part of the backlash, “Al-Azhar, Egypt’s 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning, said it would stand against gays in the way it stands against Islamist extremists.”

In Slate, Ahmed El Hady and Scott Long report in-depth on the “moral panic” that has led to at least 57 arrests:

Most of the detainees are held incommunicado, but one, Sara Hegazi, told her lawyer that guards goaded other inmates to beat her in her cell. On October 1, Egypt’s dreaded secret police force, with its long record of disappearances and torture, got involved, arresting at least two more accused flag-wavers. Egyptians have a term that’s sometimes used for disappearing into the state security gulag: going “behind the sun.” Cairo authorities and many straight/cisgender Egyptian citizens now see the rainbow flag—a symbol of peace and diversity—as a national security threat, and homosexuality itself as treason.

We are two activists, from Cairo and New York respectively, who know the Egyptian situation well. While this panic might seem like an outbreak of collective insanity, our experiences—and recent history—confirm it’s not. Egypt’s persecution of LGBTQ people is a calculated strategy. (It imitates an equally political campaign against gays launched in 2001 by the Mubarak dictatorship, this time on a vaster scale.) The only incomprehensible thing is how Western governments, and Western LGBTQ activists, give Egypt’s homophobic brutality a free pass.

Under a 1961 law banning “debauchery,” men who have sex with men in Egypt face three years in prison. And ever since Abdel Fattah El-Sisi overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in a 2013 military coup, his minions have been working the law for all it’s worth. This furor is only the latest, if most convulsive and berserk, stage in a crackdown that started only a few months after Sisi came to power. We know of at least 300 whom police arrested for “debauchery” since then, and there are probably hundreds more. …

The Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi overthrew, retains a stubborn core of support and remains a focus of resistance. But the LGBTQ arrests help the army reinforce its religious street cred, despite ousting a religious government. They let Sisi claim he’s safeguarding national morals and masculinity, giving political Islamists and other conservatives a reason to back military control. Back in 2014, Sisi’s tame media even began fabricating smears that the Brotherhood itself was responsible for the “spread” of homosexuality. (The Brotherhood, despite its vocal conservatism, had carried out virtually no arrests under the “debauchery” law: They had, after all, no religious credentials to prove.) In one notorious case, headlines blared that a man charged with “debauchery” had been converting other men to political Islam by luring them into bed. The stories claimed he made the four-fingered sign of the Muslim Brotherhood during sex, like a religious form of fisting.

The allegations are often ludicrous. But the arrests of LGBTQ people lend legitimacy to the regime’s other repressive measures. The tortured bodies of trans women and gay men cement the dictatorship’s bloody but insecure foundations.

Romania: U.S. Religious Right Groups Back ‘Illiberal’ Path

A planned referendum to place a ban on same-sex couples marrying into the Constitution could “put the country on an ‘illiberal’ path alongside the likes of Hungary and Poland,” notes Claudia Ciobanu in Politico’s Europe edition:

The planned vote — which could be held as early as November — is the result of a campaign by “Coalition for Family,” which brings together more than 40 groups, many of them religious or describing themselves as “pro-life.” With the backing of the influential Orthodox Church, the organization collected 3 million signatures (Romania’s population is 20 million) in just a few months in 2015, enough to take the initiative to parliament.

“We have the constitutional right and moral obligation to defend the family from those tendencies of modern society which diminish its importance and accelerate its degradation,” says the Coalition for Family’s website.

All major political parties in Romania have expressed support for the constitutional change, with the exception of newcomer Union to Save Romania (USR), and the initiative is expected to be approved in parliament. The government has said it wants to call a popular referendum as soon as November, but the Constitutional Court’s announcement this week that it would analyze the law’s compatibility with the rest of constitution may push back the date of the vote.

As Politico notes, the upcoming referendum is not the region’s first:

In Croatia, a group called “In the Name of the Family” collected 750,000 signatures in 2013 to launch a referendum that successfully amended the country’s constitution to stipulate that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman.

In 2015, the “Alliance for Family” mobilized Slovakians to trigger a referendum to restrict the family rights of gay people, but the vote eventually failed because of low turnout. That same year, Slovenia’s “Children are at Stake” group used a referendum to block the government’s plan to legalize gay marriage. (The country passed the legislation this year.)

Similar efforts to mobilize citizens to restrict gay rights have taken place in Georgia, Bulgaria, France and elsewhere across Europe. In many cases, U.S. religious groups have played an active role in their campaigns.

Romania’s Coalition received legal assistance from the international chapters of several U.S.-based conservative Christian groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Liberty Counsel. In the U.S., both have been designated as anti-LGBTQ hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The international chapters of both organizations submitted pro-referendum legal opinions to Romania’s Constitutional Court while the body assessed whether the civic initiative could be considered by parliament. …

Liberty Counsel’s vice president of legal affairs, Horatio Mihet, said his organization “provided legal support and shared lessons we have learned while advocating for natural marriage in the United States and elsewhere.” Andreas Thonhauser, a spokesman for ADF International, said that the group also gave legal expertise to other countries in the region that requested help.

Local churches — be it the Orthodox Church in Romania or the Catholic Church in Slovakia or Croatia — were also involved in recent anti-LGBTQ rights campaigns.

Efforts to prohibit gay marriage also tend to go hand-in-hand with campaigns to remove sexual education classes from school curricula and restrict abortion rights.

Scotland: Anglican Communion Sanctions Scottish Episcopal Church Over Marriage

Anglican primates have sanctioned the Scottish Episcopal Church for its decision to embrace same-sex couples’ marrying. From The Herald:

It means the Scottish Church will join the US Episcopal Church in being barred by Anglican primates from taking part in certain votes and decision-making processes in the Anglican Communion. …

In January last year, the communion sanctioned the US Episcopal Church when it decided to allow same-sex marriage in church.

It is unclear yet if the Scottish church will be excluded from the next Lambeth Conference, the once-in-a-decade gathering, in 2020, or the next meeting of Anglican primates in 2019.

Chechnya: ‘Long Arm of Retaliation’ Follows Gay Refugees

Boris Dittrich of Human Rights Watch writes about Chechnya’s “long arm of retaliation” against gay men. He spoke with two gay men from Chechnya who are living in refugees in Western Europe.

“We were abducted, tortured in Grozny. The police extorted us for money because we are gay. They threatened to disclose our sexual orientation to our families. We paid them a lot to avoid that,” Bula and Zelim said. They had fled Grozny before this year’s purge against gay men. Bula, handed me his cell phone, showing me a picture of himself with a broken nose and a black eye.  “This happened in Moscow where I was hiding after I fled from Grozny. I was attacked by two Chechens who came to look for me. After that I escaped to Western Europe in 2016.”

Even then, the threats continued.  “A few days ago,” Bula said, “the police came to my parent’s house in Chechnya. They demanded that I come back. If not, they said they would return to take revenge and arrest my father. Arrest means torture or worse.”

I tried to grasp at something positive. “This is really terrible for your mother, but fortunately you are safe here.”

That proved naïve.

“We received text messages from people we met only once or twice in Grozny. They say they want to meet with us here in this country or elsewhere in Western Europe. But we suspect they want to trick us and abduct us to Chechnya.” Bula wiped the sweat from his palms with a napkin.

They had fled far from home. But it seemed Chechen authorities knew where to find them.

Bula’s eyes filled with tears. “We violated the honour and reputation of our country by asking for asylum based on our sexual orientation and now they want to punish us. If not the government, then our families are expected to kill us. This happened to some of our friends.”

Australia: Marriage Ballot May Cost Prime Minister

Reuters reports that the nonbinding mail ballot being taken on marriage equality, which Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull saw as “politically the least risky way of putting a highly emotive issue on the agenda,” has “awakened interest in politics among young voters who could ultimately turn him out of office.”

Turnbull personally supports marriage equality but refused, in keeping with a deal with conservatives in his ruling coalition, to allow a parliamentary vote without some kind of referendum. But, says Reuters, “there is a strong likelihood that the new generation will lean toward the center-left Labor Party rather than his Liberals.”

Marriage equality supporters held an “epic” street party in Sydney on Sunday.

Philippines: Nondiscrimination Bill Heads to Senate

A non-discrimination bill passed unanimously in the House of Representatives now goes before the Senate “for a period of interpretation and amendments before it can be voted on,” reports Helen Parshall at the Washington Blade.

Nepal: First Marriage Involving Transgender Person Approved

Nepal approved the first known wedding involving a transgender person, reports Pink News.