A new documentary, “Hunted: Gay and Afraid,” premiered on Britain’s Channel 4 on Thursday night. The documentary explores “the backlash against LGBT rights across the world” and the influence of the “global network of organizations that promote what they believe to be family values.” According to The Independent, the documentary focused on anti-gay “villains” such as the World Congress of Families. “View footage of any high-level meeting to draft draconian, homophobic legislation, anywhere in the world, and it seems you’ll find a WCF member or affiliate lurking in the corner of the frame.” The documentary includes interviews with two men who were arrested in Uganda for being gay.
Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People Randy Berry met with LGBT advocates in Uganda while visiting that country in mid-July, continuing a vigorous travel schedule since taking the position in April. Berry spoke at a human rights event on Capitol Hill this week that also featured speakers talking about the experiences of LGBT people in Russia, Uganda, and elsewhere. Berry said his work with governments and civil society activists calls for nuance and pragmatism about the different realities existing in countries around in world. He described his work in places with deep-seated homophobia as a “tree-planting exercise.”
The role of American religious conservatives in spreading or inflaming homophobia abroad was also the focus of a panel at last week’s Netroots Nation conference, which was moderated by yours truly and included remarks by researcher Gillian Kane of Ipas, Jamaican human rights and HIV activist Maurice Tomlinson, People For the American Way’s Miranda Blue, and Urooj Arshad of Advocates for Youth, who cautioned American human rights activists to work closely with LGBT advocates on the ground to avoid unintentionally making things harder for them.
Susan Ryan-Vollmar, writing in the Boston Globe this week, describe her experience as a spectator to the Turkish police’s violent attack on Istanbul’s pride march at the end of June. The day before, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus had entertained more than 3,000 people in a concert held at a university in Istanbul, with concert-goers’ safety having been assured by U.S. Consul General Charles Hunter’s informing the Turkish government in advance that he would be sitting in the front row. Ryan-Vollmer called the concert “a rare public expression of LGBT culture in the Muslim world,” and “one example of many this past June of US-led efforts to celebrate and honor LGBT people around the world by marking LGBT Pride month.”
These are not acts of “cultural imperialism,” as claimed by CitizenGo and Family Watch International, global advocacy groups that promote Christian causes. Nor are they empty gestures that ultimately endanger US national security, as the National Review’s Josh Craddock wrote in an April essay chastising the Obama administration for “treating sexual predilections as human rights.”
Ömer Akpinar is an openly gay Turkish journalist and activist. The acceptance of LGBT people by the president and other US officials “lifts up the bar of democracy for people in Turkey . . . and mainstreams the pro-LGBT discourse” in Turkish culture, Akpinar explained in an e-mail exchange….
US diplomatic leadership on LGBT rights may not influence the actions of foreign governments like Turkey, which can still decide at random to blast its citizens with tear gas and rubber bullets. But it comforts and emboldens LGBT people across the world, like Akpinar, who are making courageous sacrifices to advance human rights in places where the idea of full equality remains a far-off dream.
Arcus Foundation Executive Director Kevin Jennings has called on American LGBTs to expand their vision and agenda. “It’s almost as if our concern for the lives of LGBT people ends at our nation’s shores…We in the U.S. are not, in fact, the world. We need to cure our movement of its myopia and remember that justice for the LGBT community is a global cause, spreading far beyond our borders. LGBT activists around the world have repeatedly asked us to support their work to improve such dire circumstances. We need to answer their call.”
Europe: Human Rights court rules calls for recognition for same-sex couples
“The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Italy has failed to protect the private and family life of cohabitating same-sex couples by not allowing for any legal recognition of same-sex relationships,” writes Georgetown University’s Erik Voeten for the Washington Post. Voeten notes that the ruling does not require that Italy recognize same-sex marriages, but the court’s decision that lack of legal recognition for same-sex couples is a human rights violation could have an impact on the 23 countries under the court’s jurisdiction which currently “do not have any form of registered partnership for same-sex couples.”
Italy could appeal to the Grand Chamber of the court, which it did successfully in a 2011 case about crucifixes in public school classrooms, a case in which “Italy relied on considerable support from other states where religion plays an important role in public life…” Reuters reported that support for same-sex unions “has risen in Italy, especially after another predominantly Roman Catholic country, Ireland, voted in May to legalize gay marriage.” In addition, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that medical intervention and sterilization are not required for a transgender person to have their gender legally recognized.
United Nations: Conservatives claim “family” victory at Human Rights Council
The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution on July 3 which declared, “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.” Economist blogger Erasmus reported that “a new global force is fighting liberal social mores.”
It was backed by 29 countries, including Russia, China and many members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. America, South Africa, South Korea and 11 European countries (including Britain, France and Germany) voted against, on grounds that it put too much emphasis on traditional family structures.
South Africa unsuccessfully tried to insert language that took account of same-sex marriages and other non-traditional arrangements. Efforts by Western delegations to include the point that family structures can sometimes be oppressive likewise came to nothing.
Not much attention was paid to the resolution when it was passed, but a week later, the news was picked up as a success story by some socially conservative websites in America as well as Russia….
A joint letter to the president of the Human Rights Council from several UN offices expressing concern over the language, saying that it “falls short of requiring States to respect, protect and fulfil women’s and girls’ fundamental human right to equality in the family” and expressing concern “that only one type of family is being considered as playing a crucial role in preservation of cultural identity, tradition, moral heritage and the value system of society, which ignores the existence and questions the role of other non-traditional families.”
Back to the Economist blog:
Pasquale Annicchino, an Italian scholar who write son religious freedom and diplomacy, said the resolution reflected a broadening diplomatic showdown between a Western liberal bloc and an anti-liberal coalition in which “Russia and some other states portray Western ideas of human rights, and LGBT rights in particular, as a Western imposition…” And on these issues, the “anti-liberal” side has allies within the Western world as well as outside it.
ISIS: More executions, personal account of anti-gay persecution by Islamic militants
The Daily Mail has a report of two more men executed by Islamic State militants for being gay.
The BBC published an interview this week with Taim, a 24-year old medical student who fled to Lebanon from Iraq under threat of death. According to Taim, he had already endured several beatings from ISIS sympathizers when fighters came to the family home:
On 4 July, a group of fighters from Isis came to my home. My father answered the door and apparently they said to him: “Your son is an infidel and a homosexual and we have come to carry out God’s punishment on him.”
My dad is a religious man and luckily for me he was able to tell them to come back the next day, to give him time to find out whether the accusation was correct. He came inside the house and started screaming. Finally, he said: “If these accusations are true, I will hand you over to them myself, happily.” And I just stood there, not knowing what to do and what to say, or how to defend myself.
Taim’s mother encouraged him to leave the house immediately and helped him flee the country, which he was able to do after weeks in hiding. He said his uncle has sworn to kill him to “cleanse the family honour” and that a friend was killed earlier this year, thrown off a building and stoned to death. He added that it is devastating to see so much public support for such killings on social media.
Latin America: Latest turf expansion for Alliance Defending Freedom
In the summer issue of Political Research Associates’ magazine The Public Eye, Gillian Kane writes about the expansion of the US-based conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom in Latin America. The report documents the behind-the-scenes work ADF is doing at the Organization of American States and its Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The push into Latin America follows earlier expansion of its presence in Europe.
Today, ADF is one of the largest conservative legal organizations in the United States, with a budget dwarfing those of sister groups like the Becket Fund and Liberty Counsel. Indeed, one might argue that it is chiefly responsible for the rightward jurisprudential shift on religion in the public sphere. ADF engages the question of religious freedom broadly…They have a roster of over 2,400 affiliated lawyers across 31 countries, and enough pro bono attorneys to generate volunteer services worth over $146 million… ADF claims to have been involved in over 500 cases, not just in U.S. courts, but also in six continents and 41 countries, including Argentina, Belize, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, and India….
ADF has a dedicated focus on the Organization of American States, and they are planning, over the next three years, to open offices in Chile and Costa Rica. ADF’s work with the OAS is bifurcated between the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights and their Washington, D.C., office, where the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is housed. ADF quickly established themselves in the system, even managing to meet with the new OAS secretary general the month before he was elected. It should be noted that as this issue was going to press, the inter-American system was holding elections for new commissioners and judges, opening the possibility for a reconstitution of the Court and Commission with conservative leanings.
Kane reports that among the cases in which ADF has intervened are a case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in which the Chilean courts denied a mother custodial rights because she is gay. ADF lost that and other cases, but it is “uncowed and continues making long-term investments in the inter-American human rights systems.”
Neydy Casillas Padrón, ADF’s legal advisor to Latin America, is also their permanent representative to the OAS. While delegates were debating ratifying the Convention Against Racism during the 2013 OAS Guatemala meeting, Casillas Padrón, an aggressive advocate, was reportedly lobbying delegates not to sign, claiming the Convention would violate their religious freedom because it “treats homosexuals like VIPs, and relegates the rest of us to second class citizenship.”
Kenya: Pastors ask Obama not to talk about LGBT equality
The Christian Broadcasting Network reported this week that 700 evangelical pastors wrote an open letter to US President Barack Obama urging him not to talk about “the gay agenda” during his visit to the country on Thursday.
Mark Kariuki is the key architect of that letter. He leads an alliance representing 38,000 churches and 10 million Kenyan Christians.
“We do not want him to come and talk on homosexuality in Kenya or push us to accepting that which is against our faith and culture,” Kariuki said.
Kariuki welcomes the president’s visit but says leave “the gay talk” in America.
“Let him talk about development; let him talk about cooperation; let him talk about the long-time relationship Kenya has had with America,” he said. “But about our beliefs and culture– keep off!”
Obama has used previous trips to Africa to urge governments to respect gay rights. Kariuki said the open letter is a warning to the president.
“The family is the strength of a nation. If the family is destroyed, then the nation is destroyed,” he said. “So we don’t want to open doors for our nation to be destroyed!”
… Bishop Kariuki said he’ll fight to keep homosexuality a crime in Kenya.
“It is an abomination to God. Kenya is 82 percent Christian. So, as far as our conviction and our faith are concerned it is not a natural thing,” he said….
“I believe that with all my heart with that agenda he is ruining America because America has been known as a Christian nation,” he said. “It has been known as a nation that has sent missionaries out. Now it is a different nation all together because it is an agenda against God!”
Nigeria: Anti-gay law discussed on presidential visit to US
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised LGBT equality and Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act when he met with President Muhammadu Buhari in Washington, D.C. The law, which was signed by Buhari’s predecessor and imposes harsh criminal penalties for same-sex conduct, has sparked violence against LGBT individuals. Buhari did not address the issue in his public remarks.
Poland: Transgender rights bill advances
A transgender rights bill that would allow trans people to legally change their gender without medical intervention passed the lower house of the Parliament. According to the Washington Blade, Trans-Fuzja Foundation President Wiktor Dynarski said the debate on the bill was “the first time that we actually heard Polish policy makers openly protecting bodily autonomy of trans people and recognizing that trans citizens need to have their dignity assured.”
The victory comes in spite of the fact that, as we reported last year, Poland’s Catholic Church had declared war against “gender ideology” and teamed up with members of the ultraconservative United Poland party to form a “stop gender ideology” committee in parliament.
If the Gender Accordance act passes the Senate and is signed by the president, it will become law in January 2016.
Mexico: Congress calls on states to get in line with marriage equality
Mexico’s federal Congress, following up on a recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Justice, called on state legislatures to reform their civil and family law to ensure recognition of the right of same-sex couples to get married.
On July 10, 20 same-sex couples were married on the beach in Acapulco. The ceremony, which was opposed by the mayor of Acapulco and the Catholic Church, was witnessed by the governor of the state of Guerrero, Rogelio Ortega.
Kazakhstan: Human Rights Watch reports on intensified climate of fear for LGBTs
Human Rights Watch this week released a report that says “LGBT people in Kazakhstan face hostility and abuse, a lack of sufficient response and support mechanisms, and an intensified climate of fear amid recent efforts to adopt an anti-LGBT ‘propaganda’ law,” according to a statement by the group. The report says that politicians have invoked the country’s membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as one reason for backing anti-LGBT legislation. HRW’s Kyle Knight notes that Kazakhstan is bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, and called on the IOC not to “take its eye off the ball on ugly discrimination and human rights abuses for Olympic host contenders.”
Saudi Arabia: Religious police fine school, arrest administrator over rainbow design
An international school in Riyadh has reportedly been fined more than $25,000, and its administrator arrested and awaiting trial, for a rainbow-themed paint job that the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Vice charged was promoting “emblems of homosexuality.”
Taiwan: Marchers hope for marriage equality in near future
Reuters reported that on July 11, “[t]housands of gay rights supporters marched through Taipei…months ahead of elections that are likely to usher in a pro-gay party and could make Taiwan the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.”
Ireland: Gender Recognition Bill advances
Not long after the historic popular vote to amend the Constitution to recognize marriage for same-sex couples, Irish lawmakers approved the Gender Recognition Bill, which allows transgender people to legally change their gender without medical intervention.
Finland: Opponents of marriage equality force debate
Opponents of the marriage equality law that passed last November have gathered more than the 50,000 signatures required to force a parliamentary debate on the law.
Australia: Renewed push for marriage equality
As we have reported, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stubbornly opposed marriage equality in spite of public opinion polls in its favor, and in spite of the fact that his sister, a member of Sydney’s City Council, is a lesbian. The Catholic Church has also been an outspoken opponent. The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers has a look at the renewed effort by marriage equality advocates to overcome Abbott’s opposition and secure a pro-equality vote in parliament. Former footballer Lachlan Beaton recorded a video in which he talks about his struggles to come out and calls on parliament to legalize same-sex marriage.
Jamaica: Court delays case on pro-equality TV ad
The Jamaica Court of Appeal has adjourned until February 1, 2016 its hearing in a case brought by human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson against TV stations that refused in 2012 to run a 30-second ad calling for respect for the human rights of LGBTI people.
Sri Lanka: Equality group releases pride video
EQUAL GROUND released “Nothing But Pride,” a music video that encourages people to be “proud and gay.”