UNESCO on Religion, Culture and SOGI in Asia; Orthodox Family Sues to Stop Cremation of Israeli Trans Woman; Struggles of Iraqi Queer Activists; Global LGBT Recap

Asia: UNESCO on religion, culture and anti-LGBT bullying and violence

UNESCO released a report on school bullying, violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Asia-Pacific region. From the report’s section on religious and cultural context, with citations removed:

In many cultures in the region the concepts of social order, family honour, and sexual purity provide a longstanding foundation for what is considered to be acceptable behaviour. Cultural taboos often restrict discussion of sexuality and there are societal expectations of heterosexual marriage, and the importance of having children to ensure care of elders and the family lineage. This is documented in many Confucian cultures, including China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam in East Asia as well as in many South Asian societies. In some societies, tolerance of sexual diversity is believed to exist as long as it is not visible, and men demonstrate masculinity through heterosexual marriage and fathering children. Marriages of convenience to alleviate societal and family pressure are also reportedly not uncommon in Indonesia and Mongolia. In some instances gay men and lesbians undergo ‘cooperation marriages,’ as reported in China.  Oppressive family dynamics to remain gendernormative push some transgender youth to the streets to avoid violence, shame and anguish, as documented in Myanmar.

In the region, and globally, personal religious beliefs and affiliation are typically seen as powerful predictors of attitudes about sex, sexuality and gender diversity. However, cross-national differences in cultural orientations suggest that the role religion has in explaining public opinion may depend on a nation’s cultural context. For example, in a recent public opinion survey, 73% of persons in the Philippines said ‘homosexuality’ should be accepted in society, despite also ranking as a highly religious setting.

There is significant religious diversity in the Asia-Pacific region. In a recent study, Hindus were the largest religious group in the Asia-Pacific, comprising around 25% of the total population, followed by Muslims (24%), and people unaffiliated with any religion (21%).There is also significant diversity within countries, and particularly in China, including Taiwan province and Hong Kong SAR, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Viet Nam.

The predominant religions vary greatly in their attitude towards sexual and gender diversity, although even within a faith the approach is often not uniform and can change based on interpretations of religious texts or between religious leaders. In some countries, a resurgence of conservative interpretation of religion has been associated recently with a rise in violence and intolerance of LGBTI people. Homophobic sentiments are believed to be especially high in countries that are more religious and/or theocratic, with correlation also found between homophobia and gender inequality.

Gender and sexually diverse people take on special roles during some Hindu ceremonies, and people of diverse gender and sexual identities are acknowledged in many Hindu and Buddhist texts, as indicated earlier. Some texts suggest that Buddhism, while regarded as mostly tolerant towards sexual and gender diversity, interprets ‘homosexuality’ as a result of bad karma – LGBT people are believed to have committed sins in past lives, and therefore are regarded as deserving stigmatisation and discrimination imposed upon them. Islamic sects vary in their interpretation of sexual and gender diversity. In certain areas of the region, sexual and gender diverse people take roles during ceremonies, while more conservative Muslim states ban ‘imitating the opposite sex’ under Sharia law.While some minor doctrines such as Zahirism or Rafida affirm that ‘homosexuals’ should not be punished, the majority of the Islamic sects in the region are generally opposed to sexual and gender diversity. This is particularly so for those more conservative Muslim states applying Sharia law which condemns same-sex sexual acts, particularly between men, with punishments including imprisonment, lashing and even death. There are limited examples in Asia-Pacific of progressive clerics and Islamic organisations offering greater acceptance for people of diverse sexual and gender identities. In Indonesia, some scholars propose a humanist interpretation of Islam inclusive of LGBT people, students and faculty at some Islamic studies universities are exploring diverse genders and sexualities in the course of their studies.

Although only seven percent (7%) of the population in the region are Christian, Christianity remains influential in the region, particularly in forms of Christian values and penal codes introduced to the region by missionaries during the colonial periods. Historical texts suggest that Christian missionaries were opposed to the sexual and gender diversity in many cultures of the region, and the influence of Christianity in the colonial periods has already been discussed. This opposition is still in place in some settings as demonstrated by the active campaigning against LGBTI rights by evangelical Catholic groups in Hong Kong SAR, Republic of Korea and Singapore.

In other countries, recent discourse and practice has been more embracing of sexual diversity,and may be further influenced by statements by the Catholic Pope Francis supporting greater integration of persons with diverse sexualities. Examples of Christian communities run by, and for, LGBTI people, while not large, exist in Australia, Hong Kong SAR, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea.

Research among ‘same-sex attracted and gender questioning’ (SSAGQ) young Christians in Australia has found changes across time. In recent years, the religious sub-group had higher expectations of how they should be treated, and reported fewer contradictions between their faith and their sexuality. The study calls for further research on the influence of media statements on religious SSAGQ young people. This is an area, generally, that merits further research.

Iraq: Profile of Iraqi queer activist and organization

In Huffington Post UK, Lucy Sherriff profiles Amir Ashour, “a 25-year-old Iraqi and the founder of the country’s only organization for its queer community.”

Amir left behind his home and family a year ago and is currently living in Sweden. There, he hopes to register and expand his charity IraQueer, as it is illegal to do so in Iraq.

He has received multiple threats from both officials and his friends because of who he is and the work he does.

“It’s incredibly difficult being away from my family – I’ve been missing birthdays, everything – and the more work I do for IraQueer, and the more people know about it, the harder it’s getting for me to be able to return to Iraq,” Amir says.

The activist says that a major threat to queer people in Iraq, which criminalized homosexuality in August, is armed militias.

“The main one that has been practising all the killing campaigns in Iraq actually announced a partnership with our government a few months ago, under the name of ‘fighting ISIS’….

“Even if homosexuality is against religion and Islam is the main force of law in Iraq, killing is illegal. That is not something people can debate and argue.”

…Whether or not there is room for homosexuality in Islam is still up for debate. But Amir says the question is not whether Islam should create room for the queer community, as they are simply “two different things”.

“I know a lot of people who are Muslims and queer at the same time.

“Islam does criminalise sexuality – that is clear. But Islam also promotes love and peace and no killing and all these human values, so why not go with these instead of violence?”

Israel: Orthodox family sues to halt cremation of transgender woman

May Peleg, a transgender activist from Jerusalem, committed suicide this month; she expressed a desire in her will to be cremated. But, as she had feared, her ultra-Orthodox family asked a court to stop the cremation so that they could bury Peleg as a man. From Ilan Lior in Haaretz:

Attorney Yitzhak Dahan, representing the mother, said the will has no validity. “The moral obligation to honor the will is the family prerogative and there is no legal validity to other instructions.” He referred to Peleg as a male and said that the family, brothers, sisters and children want him to be buried according to Jewish law. “Cremation is contrary to Jewish law,” Dahan noted.

On Wednesday, a court ruled against the family, ordering that Peleg be cremated according to her wishes, but the judge delayed the order to give the family time to appeal.

Mormon Church: Mass resignations after anti-gay policy change

More than 1,000 Mormons and their supports rallied in a Salt Lake City park on November 14 as part of a campaign of mass resignations following the release of new anti-gay policies that prohibit the baptism of children of gay couples. Organizers told Reuters last Sunday that about 1,500 people had resigned. Church officials urged people to think twice.

A Church spokesman said: “We don’t want to see anyone leave the Church, especially people who have been struggling with any aspect of their life.

“It’s extremely important that our members read what leaders have said, and do not rely on other sources or interpretations or what people think they have said,” Eric Hawkins said in a statement.

Ireland: Same-sex couples begin marrying

Same-sex couples began to get legally married this week. The first couple to be married, Cormac Golloogly and Richard Dowling, have been together for twelve years and had previously celebrated a civil partnership. Under the government’s implementation of marriage equality, civil parternships will not transfer automatically into marriages.

The Irish Independent notes:

A key element of the new regulations is that clerics and other religious officials who object on belief grounds to same-sex marriages will not be legally required to solemnise any such unions.

Hundreds of couples are expected to marry in the coming weeks.

More attention to former President Mary McAleese’s comments about the Church and homosexuality. McAleese’s son is gay.

“My views are founded emphatically in the Gospel. . .What infuses me, what is the essence of my being, is my faith in Christ. And it is the love of Christ and his offer of mercy to the world, the sense that every single person is a child of God, it is that which infuses me, gives me the outlook I have on the world. . .[That] is the outlook I have on our gay citizens.”

To not have spoken out “would have been an act of craven and unchristian cowardice,” McAleese added. She is “ashamed” that the church has not advocated LGBT rights and said it has been “a major conduit for homophobia which is toxic, a form of hatred that has nothing to do with Christ and is unchristian.”

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook told students at Trinity College Dublin that being gay “is one of the greatest gives that God gave me.”

Netherlands: Lawsuit over job discrimination based on ‘God’s word’

A 25-year-old student is planning to sue a garden and farming supply center that rejected him for an internship when it discovered by looking at his Facebook page that he is gay, according to Island Times.

Bas van der Meer had been through two interviews with the company, A. Th. De Boer, when he received an email saying he is not welcome. ‘As nowhere in God’s word does he approve of you living out your sexual orientation… we cannot take you on,’ the email is quoted as saying by the AD….

Some 58% of orthodox Protestants in the Netherlands think homosexuality is wrong, making them the most anti-gay group in the country, according to research from the government’s socio-cultural think-tank SCP at the end of last year.

Iran: Profile of gay man who sold kidney to finance emigration

BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder profiles “Danial,” a gay man who sold a kidney to make enough money to leave the country and get to Turkey. Because he was the son of an Afghan man, Danial could not get an Iranian passport, making his effort to emigrate more complicated and dangerous. During his year in Turkey awaiting news that he might be allowed to emigrate to Canada, Danial attempted suicide.

Russia: LGBT Activist granted asylum in Spain

Natalia Tsymbalova, founder of the Alliance of Straights and LGBT for Equality and a leader of the Democratic Petersburg coalition, has been granted asylum in Spain, where she has been living since August 2014. Her statement thanking the Spanish government recounted the reasons she felt unsafe in Russia, including police detentions and attacks “in the street by Nazis, homophobes and ‘Orthodox activists’ whom the police did nothing to head off.”

“Over the last few years I have been working in Russia as a human rights and political activist. I have participated in and organised numerous public events in support of LGBT rights and also political actions for the democratic opposition in St. Petersburg. In the last year our most urgent issue was the protesting against Russian military aggression in Ukraine. Protecting the rights of LGBT people and supporting Ukraine are the most urgent and dangerous issues in contemporary Russia. By openly challenging the state’s policy of fomenting hatred and spreading lies, you make enemies both in government and among radical groups. As a result, I was forced to leave the country, fearing for my life and my freedom….

“In addition, I had grounds to expect physical violence. I used to receive threats but in recent years they had grown to an enormous number. My public activities resulted in promises to hunt me down, beat me up, and kill me. Neo-Nazis, homophobes and pro-Putin agitators showered me with insults on social networks, harassed me on the phone and at events, and even complained to my place of work. On 24 August 2014, Ukrainian Independence Day, myself and some friends who were in a picket on Malaya Sadovaya street was physically attacked by activists belonging to the pro-government movement “NOD” [National Liberation Movement]. They said that I was a “leading Ukro-Fascist and organiser of a Maidan in St. Petersburg”, after which the threats became a torrent. I was even told that some Nazi website or other had offered a reward for my head….

“I cannot travel to Russia. But I continue to participate, as well as I am able to from a distance, in the work of the organisations of which I was a member prior to departure. In addition, I try to provide information and moral support to those who, like me, are applying for asylum in Spain.

Lithuania: Vote on anti-gay “propaganda” law postponed

Lithuanian lawmakers postponed a planned vote last week on a new law modeled after Russia’s ban on anti-gay “propaganda.” The legislation would essentially ban any public visibility for LGBT people, including a march or protest.

Shawn Gaylord of US-based lobbying group Human Right First said: “While the tabling of this amendment is a welcomed respite for LGBT Lithuanians, the proposed amendment will remain a threat to the protection of the human rights of Lithuania’s LGBT community until it is officially defeated.

“The introduction of this amendment and other similar bills throughout Eastern Europe is an alarming trend that contributes to increased violence and discrimination. We urge the Obama Administration to publicly condemn this legislation and to press the Lithuanian government to ensure that the amendment is not reintroduced.”

Tomas V. Raskevičius, Policy Coordinator of the Lithuanian Gay League, said: “Despite the fact that the bill was removed from the Parliament’s agenda, it can be submitted for the final voting at any time.

“This continuous threat serves a persistent reminder that LGBT human rights remain a tool for political manipulation and blackmail.

Uruguay: Country joins global quality effort

Uruguay has joined the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership, “a public-private partnership the State Department manages with the U.S. Agency for International Development,” reports the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers. Marriage equality became the law in 2013; the country will host a global LGBT rights conference in April 2016.

Bolivia: President apologizes for ‘lesbian’ remark

President Evo Morales apologized after saying publicly to his health minister Ariana Campero, I don’t want to think you’re a lesbian.” He said he made the comment because she was speaking to another women while he was giving a speech.

Uganda: Activist denied asylum in U.K.

Robert Kityo, a gay Ugandan, was detained by police in the U.K. ion after the government ruled against his asylum request, saying there was insufficient evidence that he would face persecution in Uganda. The decision is being reviewed.

Colombia: Court postpones marriage equality decision

The Constitutional Court did not rule on the constitutionality of marriage for same-sex couples as expected. Instead, the decision was postponed for further consideration.

Canada: Trudeau targets discrimination on gender identity

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a public letter to Minister of Justice and Attorney General Joy Wilson-Raybould laying out an agenda for his administration. Among his expectations:

Introduce government legislation to add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to the list of distinguishing characteristics of “identifiable group” protected by the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code.

Catholic Church: Francis who? U.S. Bishops stick with culture war political priorities

Despite widespread expectations that Pope Francis’s focus on poverty and the environment might influence the political priorities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, the bishops approved a “Faithful Citizenship” guide for 2016 that continues making the U.S. hierarchy’s political priorities the culture war issues of abortion, marriage equality, and “religious freedom.”