Ugandan Anti-Gay Fallout: New Laws, New Violence, New Underground Railroad

This week’s global LGBT recap again highlights vast differences in legal status for LGBT people, and in the role played by religious leaders in advancing equality or advocating discrimination – or death – for LGBT people.

Uganda: New Anti-Homosexuality Act Considered, HIV Criminalization Law Signed

We noted last week that Ugandan religious and political leaders were pushing for a quick re-passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in the wake of an August 1 decision by the Constitutional Court that the law was invalid because it was passed without a quorum in Parliament. ThinkProgress reported last week that there are signs that President Yoweri Museveni will try to slow the momentum. All Africa has reported that Museveni will back a new version: “According to MPs backing a new version of the bill, the law will be watered down and focused on the threat of supposed homosexual recruitment of children.” Medard Bitekyerezo, an MP supporting the law, said it would not “harass” consenting adults.

A Catholic Bishop said people frustrated by the Constitutional Court’s action “should not take the laws into their hands and harm homosexuals since they are also human beings though with different sexual feelings.’

John Baptist Odama, the bishop of the Church in Gulu, has reminded Ugandans that homosexuals are also human beings created in the image of God.

‘Let us learn to love God’s human creatures. It is not that I am advocating for homosexual practice in the country, but we should not take laws into our hands to harm and hate the homosexuals because we all have weaknesses,’ he has said.

But according to activist Denis Nzioka, six LGBT people were stoned to death in the Ugandan countryside last weekend. A press release from the Friends New Underground Railroad and the Safe Passages Fund says that Christian leaders responded to the Court ruling overturning the Anti Homosexuality Act by stepping up anti-gay messages on evangelical radio programs. According to the release, “Since the Railroad’s debut in April, a total of 448 Ugandan LGBT individuals who sought help to leave Uganda were successfully helped with funding from Quaker groups, The Safe Passage Fund, churches, nonprofits and individual donors.”  [Update 8/22/14: BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder reports that some human rights activists and investigators in Uganda are skeptical about FNUR’s claims about stonings, and are questioning the group’s unwillingness to provide more information about its allegations. Feder reports that Ugandan activists are concerned that non-credible claims of violence may undermine their own work, and have called for further investigations to clear up the matter as soon as possible.]

FNUR also says that a campaign has been waged against students at Christian schools:

In recent months, students attending Ugandan Catholic and Christian universities, colleges and other schools have also been major targets of the national antigay witch hunt being coordinated by Ugandan evangelical bishops and clergy. They have demanded that Catholic educational institutions identify and expel any students suspected of being LGBT. Dozens of students have recently been “outed” and expelled at three universities, some then evicted by their families, their names and details of their private lives, including names of friends, have been broadcast oncommunity radio stations. Attacks and threats have followed.

From May thru July, 22 gay male seminary students, over two dozen self-identified lesbians, and several trans students at three different Catholic universities were outed, went into hiding, and were provided successful safe passage out of Uganda. The 22 seminarians have been granted asylum and are now resettled in European countries. Several of the lesbian and trans students are also in the process of being permanently resettled. Currently, 13 lesbian university students at another university are in hiding and hope to leave after being outed, according to FNUR sources.

The Observer reported on Monday that the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda had fired its staff after USAID withdrew funding that accounted for about 90 percent of the group’s revenues. IRCU leaders have been vocal supporters of the Anti Homosexuality Act, and the Observer reports that relations “soured” when “religious leaders questioned American’s support to pro-gay activists within Uganda.”

The local organization says it is a victim of its anti-gay stance, which the donor finds unacceptable, although some sources claim IRCU failed to meet some of USAID’s rigorous accountability procedures.

Suspension of funding was communicated to IRCU in a June 26 letter by USAID Country Director Lislie Reed. She told the religious body that their partnership was being terminated effective July 31….

The money was part of USAID’s five-year HIV/Aids support project. The major components of the project included care and treatment of people living positively with Aids, prevention, psycho-social support, support for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs), coordination and advocacy.  At least 70,000 patients were supported under palliative care, 40,000 on anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment and 45,000 children under OVC support.

A senior member of staff who has been laid off told The Observer that USAID was maintaining support for all the beneficiaries of the projects previously executed by IRCU but now under a different framework. The IRCU brings together Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Seventh Day Adventist churches to address issues of common interest.

This week Museveni did sign a law criminalizing the transmission of HIV. The U.S. had denounced the legislation back in May when it was passed by Parliament, saying stigma, discrimination, and fear would “further fuel the epidemic by deterring those most in need from accessing lifesaving HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

Meanwhile,Joan Tumwine, a Ugandan who moved to the UK in 2013 to work for a Christian charity, Youth for Christ, lost her employer’s support when she sought asylum as a lesbian. According to Pink News, “The charity said it could not trust her to work with children because she is a lesbian.”

Tumwine says she applied for asylum without coming out to her employer

On considering whether to come out, she said: “I studied each one of them and the way they used to talk about gay people was not good and that made me not trust them with my problems and not only that, being Christians they did not like gay people.”

She did not come out as gay, but when she attempted to seek asylum in the UK, she says the charity would not support her, and instead tried to remove from the UK, forcing a plane ticket on her.

The Out and Proud Diamond Group African LGBTI is mobilizing a petition campaign to stop her deportation to Uganda, which is reportedly scheduled for this Friday.

UK: Bishop Opposes Church’s Marriage Ban; Debate Over ‘Conscience’ Exemption for Registrars

Last week the Right Reverend Dr Alan Wilson, a Church of English bishop, spoke on behalf of same-sex marriage, in spite of the fact that gay weddings are still prohibited by the Church of England. According to the Oxford Mail:

Bishop of Buckingham the Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson this week spoke at a debate on the issue at Kidlington’s St John’s Church.

A prominent supporter of gay marriage, he told worshippers at the Broadway church that the Christian tradition holds “the root of marriage is not sex but companionship”.

He said: “The idea that marriage is about friendship has become extremely powerful in England.”

Christians must symbolise “good news”, he said: “One of the really painful things I have had to learn is how the Church can be really bad news to people”.

This can “stir feelings of guilt and lack of self worth”, but he said: “God has made us like that. If he wanted to make us another way he would but he didn’t.”

Echoing the ongoing debate over “religious exemptions” in the U.S., a columnist for the Telegraph argued that the state should protect registrars whose religious views will not allow them to marry same-sex couples. Pink News notes that last year, a former civil registrar from Islington lost an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Christina Odone, former editor of The Catholic Herald, argues in the Telegraph that religious believers receive fewer protections from the government:

“Sexual preference and gender equality are taken seriously: laws and a host of employment regulations protect these rights with a convert’s fervour. A schoolboy who calls another one ‘gay’ as a term of abuse faces arrest; a woman can sue the pants off her boss if she can prove his sexual discrimination

“But people’s beliefs are of no account. The conscientious objector who cannot marry a gay couple because to do so would run counter to her religious beliefs will lose her job; the pharmacist who won’t sell the morning-after pill because he thinks abortion is a sin will lose his.”

She added: “The state will not protect belief – and in some countries it will actively quash it: as the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination on Christians in Europe found two years ago, the EU has introduced more than 50 laws that discriminate against Christians.”

According to Pink News, Odone formerly opposed same-sex marriage, but announced last year that she had reversed her opinion based in part on Vladimir Putin’s homophobia.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech this week that his government is taking steps to remove lingering inequalities for same sex couples and said that “prejudice” should not stop gay couples from adopting children.

“When there are children in need of a loving family, and gay couples with so much love to give, we should not allow prejudice to stand in the way of progress for our children or for our wider society.

“That sends a powerful message about who we are as a country in the modern world.”

He also said that Britain has not properly recognized marriage in its tax system and his government is changing that.

“Let me be clear. I don’t think that this will suddenly mean people deciding to get married for a few extra pounds. That’s not what it’s about.

“It’s about sending a clear message that in Britain we recognise and value the commitment that people make to each other. And that’s just as vital whether the commitment is between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and another woman.

“I believe in the right of marriage for all people.

“As I’ve said, when people’s love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change.

“So we’ve changed it.”

Kenya: Anti-Gay Member of Parliament Calls ‘Stone the Gays’ Bill Unnecessary

We reported last week that a bill calling for stoning gays to death had been introduced in Kenya. Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin notes that many passages come directly from Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. The author of the bill, Edward Onwong’a Nyakeriga, is reportedly a devout Seventh Day Adventist. He defended his proposal in an interview:

The most radical proposal in the Bill is reserved for foreigners, who Mr Nyakeriga wants “subjected to death by stoning in public,” if convicted of sodomy.

Mr Nyakeriga told the Nation this extreme and highly unusual form of punishment be reserved for foreigners because, in his thinking, homosexuality is not an African practice and has been introduced by unsavoury elements.

“Whoever wants to bring it sees Kenya as a dumping ground. Ours is an expression of extreme deterrence,” he said.

During a Kenyan talk show debate on the proposed law, Nyakeriga repeated his assertion that the stoning provision is there as a strong deterrent. “The best way to express something is to say it loudly and clearly,” he said. But Irungu Kang’ata, the leader of an anti-gay caucus in Parliament, said he did not support the draconian proposal because current laws are a sufficient deterrent.

Gay rights activist Eric Gitari called the law an unconstitutional “embarrassment” to the country and said the country’s treatment of minorities is a measure of its maturity as a democracy. He also said that attitudes are changing, saying that 40 percent of the Kenyan Christian Professional League said the government should not legislate on homosexuality. Gitari rejected charges that gays want to force anything on society.  “We don’t want to be told how to love and express our love when our love is not hurting anyone, and when no one is being forced to get into this love.”

Lebanon: Activists Call for Release of Men Arrested by Morals Police for ‘Indecency’

Earlier this month, a unit of the Moral Protection Bureau of the judicial police raided a Turkish-style bathhouse and arrested 27 men who were allegedly seeking to have sex with other men. Five Lebanese NGOs are calling for their release. The organizations seeking the men’s release include Helem, Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality (AFE), M-Coalition, Marsa Sexual Health Clinic and the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH). As we noted earlier this year, a judge significantly weakened  Article 534, the county’s anti-sodomy law. Officials have suggested that the men arrested this month  might instead by charged with public indecency.

Ireland: Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Marriage Equality

A new poll conducted by the Sunday Times found that more than 85 percent of people in Ireland believe  it is acceptable for gay and lesbian couples to get married, and 64 percent believe that it is acceptable for gay couples to adopt children.

Welcoming the poll results, Kieran Rose from Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) said that results was another demonstration  of the transformation in attitudes to lesbian and gay people.

“It is clear from this poll and other recent polls public opinion firmly accepts that lesbian and gay people and families headed by lesbian and gay couples should be afforded the same respect, legal status and protections that are available to the rest of society,” said Rose.

He said that the growing political and public support shows that Ireland is “ready for the next step in the 20 year journey to civil marriage and full Constitutional equality for lesbian and gay people and families”.

The government has announced that a referendum on marriage equality will take place early in 2015.

Pink News reported last week that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland upheld a complaint from the Family and Media Association that a radio host had broken requirements of “fairness, objectivity and impartiality” by hosting a discussion in which all three people supported marriage equality.

Iran-in-Exile: Gay Imam Marries Lesbian Couple in Sweden, Documentary Kickstarter Campaign

An Iranian lesbian couple was married by a gay Imam in Sweden during Stockholm Pride.

The holy man, who is based in South Africa, is also gay and has become a household name among LGBT activists from Muslim countries.

Speaking after the ceremony, Algerian-born Zahed told of his delight at the couple’s happiness and revealed his admiration for their bravery in pursuing a new life abroad.

‘I am very grateful for this beautiful wedding,’ he revealed, ‘and to be able to give my blessing to this happy couple.’

Pink News notes:

Homosexuality is legally indistinguishable from rape in Iran, with hundreds of lesbians forced by the regime to undergo gender reassignment to ‘fix’ their sexuality.

The pair could have also been subjected to 50 lashes if they were caught – which may have proven fatal for Mosleh, who suffers from congenital brittle bones.

A kickstarter campaign to raise funds to complete a documentary about two gay Iranian men awaiting asylum surpassed its $30,000 goal this week. The film, Golf Alpha Yankee, described by New York filmmaker Rick Flynn as an LGBT Human Rights documentary, has received pledges topping $42,000. An Advocate article published three days before the deadline has more details:

Filmmaker Rick Flynn bills Golf Alpha Yankee, which spells “gay” in military call letters, as the first film of its kind to document human rights atrocities committed against LGBT Iranians by a regime whose former president once claimed Iran didn’t have any gay people.

Two years in the making, the film features interviews with LGBT Iranian refugees living in Turkey, awaiting decisions from United Nations officials about if, when, and where their applications for asylum might be accepted.

Although life in Turkey is far safer for LGBT people than it is in Iran and many other Arab countries, Turkey is still a challenging place for them, as the film shows.

Luxembourg: Gay Prime Minister May Be One of First to Marry Under New Law

Luxembourg’s openly gay Prime Minister Xavier Bettel announced this week that he is engaged and will marry his partner “soon.” From the LA Times’ Henry Chu:

The remarkable thing when this tiny nation legalized same-sex marriage in June wasn’t that the conservative-leaning prime minister, Xavier Bettel, supported the new law.

It was that he might be among the first to take advantage of it.

Bettel and his partner, architect Gauthier Destenay, probably will tie the knot sometime soon. “He asked me, and I said yes,” the 41-year-old prime minister said with an impish grin. “I can’t give you the date, because it’s not official yet.”

Chu notes that strides toward equality in much of the European Union have surpassed those in the U.S. – which has yet to elect an openly gay governor – but there are still problems:

Acceptance is strongest in the west and north, but even in Western Europe, at least one major country, Italy — with the Vatican looking over its shoulder — offers virtually no legal protections or rights to its gay and lesbian citizens.

Spain: Senator Blames Debt on Government ‘Favours’ for Gays

Sen. Luz Elena Sanín from the Popular Party blamed the increase in the government’s debt on “favours” to “NGOs and homosexuals.”

The Colombian-born politician, now a Spanish national, added that her party had been forced to further aggravate the country’s economic crisis when coming to power in order to pay back the debt from Zapatero’s subsidies for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community.

“Otherwise we wouldn’t have this gaping economic hole,” Catalan daily La Vanguardia reported her as saying during a press conference held to sing the praises of her party’s economic model.

Her comments have been met with staunch opposition from members of Spain’s Socialist Party and LGBT groups, who have described her words as a “breeding ground for homophobia”.

India: Impact of ‘Third Gender’ Ruling Reaching Universities

We noted in April that the Indian Supreme Court had recognized transgender people as a “third gender.”  GLAAD notes that the impact of the decision is working its way through the system, and that Delhi University has added “transgender” as a gender option in student and faculty application forms.

The Telegraph of India reported that the “ministry of social justice and empowerment has been working to formulate a comprehensive scheme for [transgender people] covering all parameters laid down in the Supreme Court order and including the recommendations of an expert committee,” which suggested that people belonging to the third gender “should be given access to health care and education at all levels without stigma or discrimination.”

Russia: Anti-Gay Extremist Jailed But Not for Anti-Gay Violence

A violent anti-gay extremist who fled Russia for Cuba in 2013 was convicted of inciting extremism, not on the basis of his self-documented violent homophobic harassment of gay men and youth but on promoting racial slurs and extremism. He has been sentenced to five years in a penal colony.

Taiwan: Lesbian Couple Challenges Child Custody Laws

The China Times reports that a lesbian couple in Taiwan has launched a court challenge to laws that prevent one of the women from being a legal guardian to their two children, who were born through artificial insemination while the women were living in Canada.