US Offers Help For Investigation of Bangladesh Killings

The 2016 General Conference of the global United Methodist Church will begin on May 10.  One of the first items on the agenda will be a debate about how to debate sexuality issues.

Bangladesh: Kerry offers to aid investigation into LGBT activist murders

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina offering American support for a thorough investigation into the murder of LGBT activists Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar by a group of men who have been linked to a local branch of al-Qaeda. From the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers:

The murders of Mannan and Mojumdar took place two days after members of the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the hacking death of Rezaul Karim Siddique, a university professor, in the northwestern part of the country. Other secular academics, writers and bloggers and members of religious minority groups have also been killed by Islamists in Bangladesh since early 2015.

Human Rights Watch researcher Kyle Knight makes a similar point:

The April 25 murder of Mannan and the friend he was slaughtered alongside, Tonoy Mahbub, is the latest in a spate of brutal killings of bloggers and intellectuals by extremists. The killings have sent a shiver down the spine of academics, activists, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Bangladesh….

The killings of Mannan and Mahbub follow a marked increase in recent targeted attacks on writers, educators, bloggers, and editors who promote liberal and secular ideas that radical groups believe are against Islam. The LGBT activists’ deaths bring to nine the number of high-profile people hacked to death in Bangladesh in 2016. As the list expands, so do the reasons individuals are targeted — from religious beliefs, to blogging and organizing a movement against radical political groups, to engaging in cultural activities, and now LGBT activism.

HRW says the police are implicated in anti-LGBT persecution:

The National Human Rights Commission has documented physical and sexual assaults on LGBT people by the police. At a United Nations review, the Bangladeshi government accepted a recommendation to enhance police training around serving women and children, but rejected the call to protect LGBT people, saying “sexual orientation is not an issue in Bangladesh.”

The Blade also reported this week that the U.S. “is offering assistance to Bangladeshis ‘under immediate threat’” in the wake of the murders.

Kyrgyzstan: Nationalist religious groups support Russia-inspired anti-gay campaigns

In Coda, Andrew North chronicles the “manufactured Kremlin homophobia” that is undermining what was a relative beacon of tolerance in Kyrgyzstan. It was never easy being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Kyrgyzstan’s patriarchal, Muslim-majority society,” he writes:

Nonetheless, in a region where the Soviet past hangs heavily and ossified dictatorship is the norm, the smallest of the Central Asian ‘Stans’ was seen as a relative beacon of tolerance and democracy. And while there were occasional attacks in the past, the LGBTQ community was mostly left to itself.

But no longer:

Two years ago, the Kyrgyz parliament followed the lead of its powerful near-neighbor Russia and introduced a series of amendments outlawing the promotion of same-sex relationships. Popularly known as the ‘anti-gay propaganda law,’ it has unleashed a campaign of violence and intimidation against the LGBTQ community, with a near 300 percent increase in reported attacks since the legislation was announced. Some people have been savagely assaulted, including one gay man we interviewed who was beaten unconscious and gang-raped this year. Several sources told us of lesbians being subjected to so-called ‘corrective rapes’, and many attacks go unreported. LGBTQ activists have gone underground after the Bishkek office of one advocacy group was firebombed.

“I get phone calls and text messages saying things like: ‘we’re gonna cut out your tongue and shove it up your ass’ and ‘you are ruining this country,” said Nika. “The new law encouraged everyone to go after us, without fear of being punished.” The police are often accused of being at the forefront, with many LGBTQ individuals detailing instances of officers threatening to expose their sexual identity unless they pay bribes.

North writes that anti-gay efforts have had “enthusiastic support from powerful national and religious constituencies” – “both Muslim and Orthodox Christian.”

Malaysia: Human rights activists urge government to restrict anti-trans religious police

Human Rights Watch’s Boris Dittrich published a commentary in Malaysiakini urging the government to rein in raids by religious police against the transgender community. Dittrich argues that a  warrantless April 3 raid by officers from the Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) on a private charitable event, which resulted in the arrest of the event organizer, was “both ludicrous and legally baseless.”

The warrantless raid and threatened prosecution are just one example of the ever-expanding reach of Malaysia’s hard-line religious enforcers.

In discussions with transgender rights groups in Malaysia, Human Rights Watch learned that Jawi and the religious authorities for the various states regularly raid private events, and even private homes, without warrants.

While in this case the alleged justification was a “beauty pageant,” in other cases they claim to be investigating violations of the khalwat laws (prohibiting unmarried couples from being in close proximity) or looking for “men posing as women,”, which is another Islamic criminal offence.

In many cases, the official religious raiders bring media with them to the raids and permit the subsequent video footage – including faces and personal information about those raided – to be shown on national television.

These blatant violations of the rights to association and privacy continue because politicians and police shy away from rebuking Jawi, and the transgender men and women caught in their nets are often too afraid to challenge them.

Siti Kasim, a lawyer who attended the event, has been punished for speaking out:

Her vocal challenge to Jawi’s authority to raid the event and arrest people, without a warrant and in the absence of any police officers, was captured on video and made national news.

In retaliation, Jawi took her to the police station and filed a criminal complaint against her. She is now facing possible prosecution for “criminal intimidation” and “obstructing public servants from carrying out their duties.”

Human Rights Watch calls for the government to rein in the religious police:

Malaysia’s government needs to end the routine abuse of transgender people and other marginalised groups by these religious authorities. Even Saudi Arabia has taken steps to curtail the power of its religious police to raid and arrest, recognising the widespread abuses that have occurred. The federal and state authorities in Malaysia should follow their lead.

Saudi Arabia: Cleric ignites backlash with call to stop punishing homosexuality

Salman al-Ouda, a Saudi cleric, reportedly called for the end to the persecution of gay people in the name of Islam. The Jerusalem Post’s report was based on the Saudi daily Eilpah, which cited an interview in a Swedish newspaper.

In the interview, Salman Odah stated that “even though homosexuality is considered a sin in all the Semitic holy books, it does not require any punishment in this world. It is a sin that will accompany its committer in the life after death.”

In the interview, Salman Odah stated that “even though homosexuality is considered a sin in all the Semitic holy books, it does not require any punishment in this world. It is a sin that will accompany its committer in the life after death.”

“Homosexuals are not deviating from Islam. Homosexuality is a grave sin, but those who say that homosexuals deviate from Islam are the real deviators. By condemning homosexuals to death they are committing a graver sin than homosexuality itself,” Odah further said.

“Even though homosexuality does not distance oneself from Islam, the Islam does not encourage individuals who have same-sex attraction to show their feelings in public,” Odah added.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the reported remarks “around fiery reactions on Arab social media networks, where a campaign under the hashtag ‘Odah permits homosexuality’ was launched.”

Pink News adds:

The cleric, an influential figure in Saudi Arabia who was once held as a political prisoner, has provoked a fierce reaction in the country, where public opinion is strongly anti-LGBT.

It is often difficult to confirm data about gay people charged under Saudi Arabia’s justice system, as consensual homosexual acts are often legally indistinguishable from rape or paedophilia under the country’s laws.

But it was reported last month that prosecutors in the country are pushing to enforce the death penalty for homosexuality – because social media is turning people gay.

In the interview, Salman Odah stated that “even though homosexuality is considered a sin in all the Semitic holy books, it does not require any punishment in this world. It is a sin that will accompany its committer in the life after death.”

Australia: Openly gay Imam tries to smooth path for LGBT Muslims

Patrick Abboud profiles Nur Warsame, the country’s first openly gay Imam:

Nur Warsame is a prominent and well-respected man in Australia’s Islamic community. He was married and has a young daughter.

For decades he has lived for his religion, all the while holding on to a deadly secret, a secret he reveals intimately for the first time, a secret that could cost him his life: Nur is now Australia’s first openly gay Imam.

“Reconciling spirituality with sexuality is a very difficult journey,” he says.

Warsame says people face huge risks to come out in the Muslim world or Islamic communities “because the losses are too high, the risks are too great, I mean there is even a risk to your life because the conservative school of thought in Islam to counter homosexuality is to be killed, that’s your repentance…”

Now Warsame organizes underground meet ups for closeted LGBTQI Muslims. “The idea is to make avenues and paths for other young queer Muslims to live their lives to the fullest and to hold on to their spirituality,” he says. “My intentions are to try to make a difference in Muslim homes.”

Peru: Presidential candidate flip-flops, tells Christian activists she would oppose civil unions

Presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the disgraced former president and leader of the Fuerza Popular political party, told evangelical Christian activists that a Fujimori administration would not promote civil unions or adoption rights for same-sex couples, and would oppose abortion except to save a woman’s life. Fujimori “signed a letter of commitment” pledging to defend the family and reject civil unions, gay marriage, and adoption by same-sex couples.

Peru Reports noted that her comments around to backtracking from pro-civil-union comments she made while visiting Harvard University last year, a shift “critics say is a play to attract Catholics and evangelical Christians.” After those comments last fall, a congressman resigned from the party “to stay firm in the defense of the principles and values of life and family.”

Fujimori led voting in April elections but not by enough to avoid a runoff, which will be held on June 5. She is reportedly running neck-and-neck with her opponent Pedro Pablo Kuckynski.

Dominican Republic: Evangelical leaders decry outside support for LGBTs, tell pastors to ‘guide’ voters

Evangelical leaders urged political candidates to resist what they said were efforts by foreign groups to force abortion and gay rights on the country. From, with English via Google translate:

The Christian Action Group, the Biblical Foundation Church, and about 200 pastors and churches in Santo Domingo, said the Dominican nation is experiencing moral decay and social product of influence of countries of the European Community and the United States, which they want to impose “the new Moral Agenda” which promotes abortion, marriage between lesbians, gays and transsexuals.

The president and director of the Christian Action Group spoke on a panel addressing “The new global agenda and its implications in the Dominican Republic.” They warned that international institutions like the Organization for American States and United Nations are pushing an agenda that would “destroy the foundations and values underpinning the Judeo-Christian culture.” They also claimed that there is an agenda to silence churches and eradicate Christians.

The group urges pastors to “guide” their parishioners about “the profile of the candidate for whom they should vote” in May 15 elections.

Israel: Jerusalem’s taboo-busting gay bar attracts diverse crowd

Eitan Arom at the Jewish News Service profiles Jerusalem’s only remaining gay bar:

If any city needs a nonjudgmental space, it’s Jerusalem.

Both sides of Israel’s capital—the Muslim eastern half and the Jewish western half—have in common large numbers of socially conservative residents who look down on homosexuality.

“In the west, you have Orthodox Jews, and in the east you have Arabs—and the Arabs are so homophobic,” says Khaled Alqam, a gay Arab, while sitting under a heater on the patio of the Video Pub in Jerusalem. “They think if you’re gay, you’re a spy.”

According to the story, the bar is attracting straight clientele, something that surprises the bar’s owner.

It’s a situation he says he couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago. He also notes with a bit of puzzlement the bar’s regular clientele of practicing haredi men, whom he is convinced are closeted homosexuals.

“I bet they have a wife and 10 kids waiting at home,” he says. “But the fact that they come here—it’s interesting, that they feel comfortable here.”

A short time later, a swarthy bearded man wearing a beanie and a long black beard walks into the bar. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) Al Bel rises to shout, “The rabbi is here!”

The man, who asks not to be named, identified as haredi and straight. Nonetheless, he’s been coming to Video roughly twice a week since it opened, attracted by the friendly atmosphere and lively dance floor.

“I come here to drink beer—that’s not forbidden,” he says.

Asked if he approves of the gay community despite biblical and rabbinical prohibitions against homosexuality, he points skywards and says, “It’s not my problem—it’s His problem.”

In a different story, AFP writes about Allah Nash, an irreverent drag troupe that performs in the bar, “railing against political and religious taboos.”

Bahamas: Pastor opposes call for transgender rights

After Bahamas Transgender Intersex United (BTIU) launched its Bahamian Trans Lives Matter Campaign, Grace Community Church Pastor Lyall Bethel urged the government to say whether an upcoming referendum on a gender equality constitutional amendment would support a “hidden agenda” or lead to same-sex couples marrying.

 “The minute the government starts to (discuss) these extreme views, any and every off the wall grouping of people would set out to make their beliefs and practices the norm in this country,” he added.

“What is next? If a person wants to become a cat, are we then expected to bow down and grant that right to them to act and live beyond the social and religious confines? It is unfair for them to demand that we adapt our laws to fit their beliefs.

“They are demanding healthcare and rights in that regards, are we as taxpayers supposed to fit the bill for their hormone treatment and procedures moving forward? This is why I make the point – we can’t start the process of granting such rights because it will become a black hole that we can never see the end of.

“This is why the government has to clarify this matter. The issue of gender equality has many unanswered questions that need to be addressed,” he added.

YES Bahamas, the organization campaigning on behalf of the referendum said it would not address BTIU’s specific issues or “pave the way for same-sex marriage nor bestow any new rights to the LGBT community.”

Italy: Civil union legislation moves forward in legislature

A civil unions bill won committee approval on Wednesday, setting the state for a vote on the House floor on Monday, May 9. The legislation won Senate approval after a provision that would allow same-sex couples to adopt their partner’s children was stripped out to placate conservative Catholics.

Russia: Activists arrested at May Day event

Police arrested dozens of LGBT activists who were participating in a May Day celebration.

A video shows the advocates carrying a rainbow flag and chanting as they marched through a square. Several police officers and journalists then surrounded them.

Yuvakaeva told the Blade that authorities detained around 15 of them.

“Authorities prefer meetings of neo-Nazis to opposition and peaceful LGBT manifestations,” Yuvakaeva told the Blade.

“By using different pretexts they did not confirm the route for LGBT (marchers) and did not propose an alternative option as the law requires,” she added. “At the same time they found it to be fine when the Nazi organization banned in Russia goes through the city with a ‘united Slavic people and white race’ column.”

Mexico: Marriage equality advance continues

Marriage equality continues its steady advance through Mexico and the complex legal relationship between its state governments and its federal courts.