As the Donald Trump administration took power in Washington, D.C., amid some uncertainty about the stance it will take toward LGBT people, Human Rights First published a video about the importance of U.S. government advocacy for LGBT human rights worldwide. The Council for Global Equality reviewed the “remarkable and inspiring leadership” provided by the Obama administration. At a confirmation hearing, Trump’s nominee as ambassador to the United Nations, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, said American values “do not allow for discrimination of any kind to anyone.” But Trump’s transition team sent the U.S. State Department a questionnaire asking if PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Pan for AIDS Relief, had become “a massive, international entitlement program.”
This week, on January 24 and 25, the new UN Independent Expert charged with investigating violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, whose position has been repeatedly but so far unsuccessfully challenged by anti-equality nation states and civil society groups, will conduct a public consultation in Geneva that is designed to help him identify priorities and set short- and long-term goals. According to the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, “The consultation is open to States, UN agencies, programmes and funds, regional human rights mechanisms, National Human Rights Institutions, members of civil society organizations, religious communities and interfaith groups, medical professionals, academic institutions and all other interested stakeholders.” The consultation will be streamed live on YouTube.
UNESCO has published a “Global Status Report” on the nature, scope, and impact of school violence and bullying. Among its findings:
The underlying causes of school violence and bullying include gender and social norms and wider contextual and structural factors. Much school violence and bullying is related to gender; gender-based violence is violence that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering against someone based on gender discrimination, gender role expectations or gender stereotypes or based on differential power status linked to gender.
The most vulnerable children and adolescents, including those who are poor or from ethnic, linguistic or cultural minorities or migrant or refugee communities or have disabilities, are at higher risk of school violence and bullying. Children and adolescents whose sexual orientation, gender identity or expression does not conform to traditional social or gender norms are also disproportionately affected.
Asia: ASEAN’s 50th anniversary marred by rise in anti-LGBTIQ religious extremism
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding this year; ASEAN is being chaired this year by the Philippines. A statement by ASEAN’s SOGIE caucus celebrates the association’s resiliency and regionalism, but called attention to inequities faced by LGBTIQ people, which the caucus says ASEAN “has failed to seriously address.” The statement decries the increasing criminalization of LGBTIQ people as well as stigmatization in media and school curricula as well as “employment discrimination, family acceptance and the increasing influence of religious institutions in spreading bigoted and false information about LGBTIQ issues that leads to the continuous structural and systemic discrimination, bullying and harassment suffered by the members of the LGBTIQ community.”
The statement also warns of a shrinking civic space for human rights defenders:
The rise of religious extremist groups in ASEAN member states in carrying out violent actions against LGBTIQ persons and groups has resulted to the disruption of LGBTIQ events and repression of the work of LGBTIQ organizations. In this hostile environment, the law enforcement apparatuses and the government remain apathetic and absent…
Europe: Conservative elected president of European Parliament
Antonio Tajani, an Italian conservative and former spokesman for Silvio Berlusconi, was elected president of the European Parliament. According to the BBC, “Mr Tajani’s European People’s Party (EPP) group benefited from a new coalition with the parliament’s liberals, the ALDE, who hope to curb the influence of anti-EU populists.”
ILGA-Europe said it was “extremely disappointed” by the “political games” that led to Tajani’s election:
In advance of the 2014 European elections, Mr Tajani signed up to Novae Terrae’s pledge, which called for an EU Roadmap on rights of families – but only families defined restrictively as those based on unions between men and women. It also requested the EU to protect the right of parents to educate their children according to their “moral and religious” values.
In previous written questions, Mr Tajani has also expressed the view that children of same-sex couples would have “…serious psychological problems and experience major difficulties in being accepted as part of society”.
ILGA-Europe are particularly disappointed about the decision by ALDE members to support the EPP candidate. “At a time when people in Europe are losing trust in the institutions and there is a great need to work together to build a clear vision for Europe, one based on diversity, equality and social justice, it is highly problematic that political manoeuvring takes precedence over human rights considerations.” commented ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis.
In other news, the European Court of Human Rights passed on the chance to rule on whether deporting someone from Europe to a country that criminalizes homosexuality violates the European Convention on Human Rights. The case involves a woman from Cameroon whose application for asylum in Spain after her family had discovered she was in a relationship with another woman had been rejected by Spanish authorities. The Court declined to rule as the case is undergoing further review in Spain. ILGA argued that “the Court needs to clear up any ambiguity” on the issue.
January 22 was National Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia in Azerbaijan, described by some human rights advocates as the worst place to be gay in Europe.
Sri Lanka: ‘Conservative Buddhist clergy’ opposed nondiscrimination effort
The cabinet rejected a proposal to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation “because it could legitimize homosexuality, which is illegal on the island,” reports AFP.
Sri Lanka’s 1883 penal code, a legacy of its British colonial rulers, makes sex between men punishable by 12 years in jail, although the law is rarely enforced.
Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said the cabinet had refused to endorse a provision in a proposed human rights plan that would have undermined the code.
“There was a provision referring to the sexual orientation of individuals and we clearly said it was not acceptable,” said Senaratne, who is also the government spokesman.
“The government is against homosexuality, but we will not prosecute anyone for practising it,” the minister said, adding that the island’s conservative Buddhist clergy was also opposed to the provision.
Zimbabwe: Chief Justice considers case of politician who called for killing of gay people
On Thursday, January 19, Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda conducted a review in the case of ruling party politician Ken Msonda, but did not announce his decision in the case. Msonda reportedly had said on Facebook and in radio interviews that homosexuals had no rights in Malawi and deserved to be killed. According to Mamba Online, he had called LGBT people “sons and daughters of the devil.” After prosecutors decided not to prosecute the unrepentant Msonda, two activists applied for judicial review. Chief Justice Nyirenda will rule on whether the case should be heard by a panel of three judges as a constitutional matter.
Canada: The challenge of being a gay Hutterite
Hutterite author Mary-Ann Kirkby writes about Tyrone Hofer, who was raised in a Hutterite colony in Maintoba, but who left the colony and whose parents cut ties with him when he came out to them. Kirkby writes about the four Hutterite sects and their respective bishops and senior pastorsthe country’s Hutterite bishops, who for the most part have not dealt openly with gay issues, which Kirkby says “permits individual colony ministers to be as alienating and inappropriate as they choose.”
If there is some hope for dignity for gay Hutterites it comes from Dariusleut Bishop Joe Wurz from Hillsvale Colony in Saskatchewan. Bishop Wurz stands out for his efforts to emulate the courage of our forefathers. Wurz is the only Bishop who has earned the trust of a gay member of one of his colonies and as a result understands more closely the struggles they face. While he makes it clear that he considers the act of homosexuality a sin based on his understanding of the scripture, he insists those who struggle with gay tendencies must be treated “with truth and grace.” Bishop Wurz maintains that the “the practice of homosexuality is a sin that is no more or less offensive to God than all other sins that people commit such as anger, jealousy, alcoholism, adultery, disrespect etc.” Its a bold statement with wide-spread implications and shows tangible leadership on a divisive and difficult issue.
In meeting with his ministers last year, Bishop Wurz instructed them to be approachable and refrain from knee jerk reactions when dealing with a gay person coming forward. No minister is allowed to handle it on their own and must refer all cases to him and his committee.Wurz’s policy, based on the biblical tenets of love, compassion and forgiveness, is one that leaders of the 3 other sects must also consider.
Bishops set the tone on Hutterite colonies. If they charge their ministers with mercy rather than malice it makes a huge difference. Behind every gay person is a mom, a dad, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and countless relatives. When a colony minister acts with a sense of compassion it allows family members to do the same…
Bishop Wurz’s policy opens the door for greater accountability from his ministers and more humane treatment for disenfranchised Hutterites. In effect, Wurz is saying that it is perfectly acceptable to say, we don’t understand, or we don’t agree or we prohibit the practice of homosexuality on our Hutterite colonies on the basis of our faith. But it’s not acceptable to vilify, berate or mistreat gay people or others like them. The reason should be obvious. Hate has no place in the Christian heart.
Romania: Religious conservatives’ generating visibility, support for LGBT activists
Vlad Viski and Voichita Nachescu write in the Advocate about Romania’s growing grassroots LGBT movement and its clash with U.S. Religious Right groups like Liberty Counsel, which is working with the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Coalition for Family to promote a referendum that would put a restrictive man-woman definition of marriage into the country’s Constitution:
Romanian public opinion seems to be changing as well. Many mainstream journalists have publicly expressed their support for civil unions. Even the president of Romania chose to express his opposition to the Coalition for Family’s efforts. Summoned by the leader of an evangelical church to clarify his position on same-sex marriage, President Klaus Iohannis declared in October that he was “against religious fanaticism.”
“I believe in tolerance, trust, and openness toward each another,” he said.
Similarly unprecedented is the level of support for same-sex marriage among Romanians. According to a Eurobarometer poll from 2015, 21 percent percent support same-sex marriage, while 36 percent of Romanians support equal rights for LGBT citizens. In a country where homosexuality was criminalized until 2001, this counts as significant progress…
Of course, Romanian LGBT activists and their supporters still face an uphill battle in their struggle against the well-funded, international religious right and its allies. Even if legalized, civil unions may represent a compromise, at best — one that could solidify, in a different way, the status of the LGBT community as second-class citizens, and even delay full equality. However, an unexpected effect of the crusade against same-sex marriage led by Liberty Counsel, the Coalition for Family, and the Romanian Orthodox Church is the unprecedented visibility and support Romanian LGBT activists have gained in 2016. One can’t help but notice that a long, cold winter for the Romanian LGBT community has finally come to a much-awaited thaw.
Australia: LGBTIQ people oppose religious exemptions in proposed marriage equality law
Just Equal released a survey of LGBTIQ adults showing that nearly 90 percent of them were opposed to religious exemptions being considered in proposed marriage equality legislation. The survey was funded by PFLAG Australia. From a BuzzFeed report on the survey:
Currently, section 47 of the Marriage Act specifies that ministers of religion have no obligation to wed any couple. The section does not apply to civil celebrants.
Under the government’s proposal, both religious and civil celebrants would have a specific right to turn away same-sex couples, based on religious or personal belief.
Six in 10 LGBTI people (59.4%) disagreed with this targeted exemption for religious celebrants, 27.8% agreed, and 12.8% were undecided.
Representatives from both PFLAG and just.equal stressed that they supported the current provisions in the Marriage Act allowing religious ministers to refuse to solemnise any marriage.
“We completely support the existing provision of the Marriage Act that allows religious freedom for clergy, but we draw the line at proposed provisions that target same-sex couples and treat us differently to other couples,” said long-time marriage equality campaigner Rodney Croome.
Poland: Pro-LGBT Sister Jeannine Gramick tours Poland
At New Ways Ministry’s Bondings 2.0 blog, Francis DeBarnardo profiles New Ways Ministry’s co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick’s week-long speaking tour in Poland last fall:
She was invited for a week-long speaking tour about Catholic LGBT issues, sponsored by the country’s leading LGBT equality organization, “Campaign Against Homophobia,” and its main Christian groups, “Faith and Rainbow” and “Tolerado.” She gave three public presentations, 14 interviews with radio, TV, or print journalists, a retreat for LGBT Christians, and spoke personally with countless individual Poles, including the Secretary General of Poland’s organization for nuns’ communities.
Traveling to Poland’s three leading cities–Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk–Sister Jeannine spread the message that she has been spreading for over 45 years: God has unconditional love for LGBT people and it is the church’s job to make that love real by working for justice and equality.
Gramick, who has endured much resistance to her work from the church hierarchy, said she was pleasantly surprised by the amount of conversation about LGBT people and acceptance among Catholics, even priests. “They are beginning to understand that this is an important issue of human rights.”
The Campaign Against Homophobia and Faith and Rainbow, two organizations that sponsored Sr. Jeannine’s speaking tour in Poland, launched a nationwide reconciliation campaign last September. “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace” posted billboards all over Poland depicting a handshake in which one hand wore a rosary around the wrist and the other wore a rainbow bracelet. While Polish bishops decried the efforts, the Polish citizenry responded quite positively. Many prominent Catholics and several Catholic publications supported the effort.
Sister Jeannine’s lecture series built on so much of the enormous work already done by these organizations and their supporters—efforts that Sister Jeannine feels will bring about many blessings. When asked about the situation in the U.S. in the future, she responded that the mission may become more difficult to accomplish in the new presidential administration, but like her friends in Poland, she is ready to keep on working.
Nigeria: Writers and artists commemorate anti-gay law with anthology
Pop culture site Konbini reported this month that Nigerian artists and writers had responded to the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act by creating a “safe space for resistance and expression” called 14, a reference to the 14-year jail term for homosexual acts included in the law. This month, on the second anniversary of the law, 14 launched We Are Flowers, an anthology of queer art, including poetry and nonfiction, photograph, and visual art meant to “shine a light on the rarely-told stories of the Nigerian LGBT community.”
Peru: Report on legal case involving mistreatment by parents
The Center for the Promotion and Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights (PROMSEX) reports on the legal case of Antonella Rabanal Roca, who says she was abused by her mother and stepfather because of her sexual orientation. PROMSEX cites the parents’ membership in the World Missionary Movement, which it calls “one of the evangelical churches that promotes speech and discriminatory practices against LGBT people” and “conversion therapies.”
India: Profile of ‘first LGBT student leader’
ScrollToday profiles Asmita Sarkar, a lesbian student at Jadavpur University described as India’s first LGBT student leader.
Cambodia: Photo exhibit using Khmer wedding rituals
Charmaine Poh, a Singaporean-Chinese documentary photographer based in Singapore, has created “Close Enough,” an exhibition that explores the life of LGBT people through the metaphor of Khmer wedding rituals.
El Salvador: Human Rights First brief on anti-LGBT violence
Human Rights First released a brief about anti-LGBT violence and murder, along with impunity for the perpetrators.
Taiwan: Complaints target TV episode featuring gay soldier
In Taiwan, where a move toward marriage equality seems to be advancing over the objections of some religious groups, China Post reports that YouTube “pulled an episode of the Defense Ministry’s TV show that features a soldier broken up with by his same-sex partner.”
The official online version of the video was removed by YouTube after users flagged it on grounds that it violated community guidelines. Cached backups of the episode remain online.
The Alliance of Crying for Hope (搶救台灣希望聯盟) blasted the “Rainbow” segment — calling the government “shameful” and “needing medical attention.”
“Imagine what kind of island Taiwan would become if the military became the breeding ground for AIDS. Taiwan’s own self-destruction means that China wouldn’t even need to invade,” the post added.
Before the video’s removal, a majority of comments in the discussion section was supportive of the episode, with some applauding the ministry’s decision to face the issue of LGBT service members.