Vatican Enlists Allies Against Gay Marriage; Iranian Gays Pushed to Change Gender; And More in This Week’s Global LGBT Recap

New Vatican Confab on ‘Complementarity’ in Marriage

Before the dust had settled from the Catholic bishops’ synod on the family, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that it will be hosting an interfaith colloquium this month on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” Organizers tout the interfaith aspect of the conference, which they say will feature representatives from 14 religious traditions and 23 countries. Americans attending will include Rick Warren, evangelical author and pastor; Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Henry Eyring, First Counselor in the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; and Charles Chaput, the ultraconservative Archbishop of Philadelphia. Also participating will be Nicholas Okoh, the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria, who has called homosexuality a manifestation of the devil and praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s “courage” in signing a harsh anti-gay law last December.

Meanwhile, Catholic bishops have publicly slammed Catholic Universities that have decided to offer benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. The Advocate reports that Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha criticized Jesuit-run Creighton University and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend criticized Notre Dame. Rhoades said that “Living in conformity with our Catholic teaching that marriage by its nature is between one man and one woman needs religious liberty protection so we are not forced to treat same-sex unions as equivalent to marriage.”

Latvia: Foreign Minister Comes Out as Gay

On Thursday night, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs announced via twitter that he is gay, a move that, in the words of the Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum, “immediately gave gay rights advocates a prominent voice in post-Soviet Eastern Europe” where acceptance of, and legal protections for, LGBT people have lagged behind Western Europe. “Latvia enacted a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2005, and very few gay men and lesbians in the country are open about their sexuality,” according to the Post. “A law that would confine sex education in schools to traditional opposite-sex marriage is making its way through Parliament.”

The Washington Blade reports that Rinkēvičs’ announcement, made with the hashtag #Proudtobegay, was praised by Mozaika, a Latvian LGBT advocacy group, and by Daniel Baer, the gay U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Kyrgystan: Gays Under Pressure As Clerics Back Anti-Gay Bill

We have written before about anti-gay “propaganda” law being considered in Kyrgystan. Reuters reported this week that members of the gay community are thinking about fleeing the country:

Some are thinking of leaving the mainly Muslim state bordering China if the law is passed by parliament, mirroring a move last year by Russia that outraged the West and was seen by critics as part of a broader crackdown on civil society.

The law is backed by Muslim clerics:

Maksat Hajji Toktomushev, Kyrgyzstan’s grand mufti, said there should be no discussion of gay issues.

“These are psychologically ill people, their psyche is destroyed,” he told Reuters. “They need to be cured … I would have banned from the very beginning any discussion of this.”

“This is bad, this is decay and depravity. God does not tolerate this issue, even mere discussion of it.”

The law, which includes a one-year jail term for “forming a positive attitude to untraditional sexual relations” among minors, is, like Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, a major step backward:

Consensual sex between men was a crime in Soviet times but Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished country of 5.5 million, adopted a new criminal code in 1998 that made it legal.

Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have also taken similar steps but the two other ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, have not. Kyrgyzstan would, however, be the first of them to ban “gay propaganda” among minors…

“We supported this bill, because it reflects the hopes and expectations of our voters willing to protect the traditional family,” Kurmanbek Dykanbayev, one of the initiators of Kyrgyz bill, said. “And from now on, there will be no possibility to arrange gay clubs, gay cafes or to hold gay rallies.”

A 23-year old man told Reuters that “gangs in Bishkek had started to ‘hunt’ for members of the LGBT community, sometimes befriending them on social media sites, arranging a meeting and then beating their victims or threatening them before extorting money.”

Reuters reports that the U.S. embassy “has urged Kyrgyzstan not to adopt the law, saying it is discriminatory and will hurt civil society in the country, which is struggling to build the first parliamentary democracy in post-Soviet Central Asia.”

Slovakia: Court Allows Anti-Gay Referendum

Last week the Slovak Constitutional Court gave its approval for an anti-gay referendum to move forward.

The questions ended up at the Constitutional Court’s plate after President Andrej Kiska was faced with a citizen’s initiative, which received 400 000 signatures. The initiative was initiated by an organisation called Alliance for Family, and strongly supported by an American far-right evangelical organisation Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Constitutional Court ruled three out of four questions were admissible. One relates to the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, whereas a second seeks to ban adoption of children by “same-sex couples or groups.”

A third question that was deemed constitutional relates to sexuality education, and seeks to include opt-outs if parents do not agree with the content of the education.

Only a question seeking to prohibit any future same-sex registered partnerships was deemed unconstitutional.

Daniele Viotte, a Member of the European Parliament, responded,  “I do not understand how the Constitutional Court ruled that these questions are in line with the Slovak Constitution, which specifically forbids referenda on issues of fundamental rights and liberties.”

Iran: Gays Forced to Change Gender

Ali Hamedani of the BBC reports that in Iran, where homosexual acts are punishable by death, gay people are being pressured by clerics, doctors, and family members to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

It’s not official government policy to force gay men or women to undergo gender reassignment but the pressure can be intense. In the 1980’s the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa allowing gender reassignment surgery – apparently after being moved by a meeting with a woman who said she was trapped in a man’s body.

Shabnam- not her real name – who is a psychologist at a state-run clinic in Iran says some gay people now end up being pushed towards surgery. Doctors are told to tell gay men and women that they are “sick” and need treatment, she says. They usually refer them to clerics who tell them to strengthen their faith by saying their daily prayers properly.

But medical treatments are also offered. And because the authorities “do not know the difference between identity and sexuality”, as Shabnam puts it, doctors tell the patients they need to undergo gender reassignment.

Last Friday the UN Human Rights Council examined Iran’s human rights record in a process known as the Universal Periodic Review. IGLHRC reports that Impact Iran, a coalition of human rights organizations, worked in advance of the meeting “to expose human rights abuses by the Iranian government and hold it accountable.” IGLHRC reported after the meeting:

As the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to impose severe penalties (including capital punishment) for consensual same-sex relations, the international community has become more vocal in its opposition to human rights violations in Iran. During the second Universal Periodic Review of Iran by the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 31, 2014, at least ten countries—including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Spain, Iceland, Denmark, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg—made recommendations to the Iranian government regarding decriminalization of homosexuality and respect for the rights of LGBT people in that country.

Hossein Alizadeh, Regional Program Coordinator for Middle East and North Africa spoke to  BBC Newshour on Sunday about human rights violations in Iran. From Alizadeh’s comments:

Last year the head of the Iran Human Rights Body who is the brother of the head of Iran’s judiciary Mohammad Javad Larijani had a speech in Geneva in which he publicly said that the right to life is not applicable to homosexuals. On Friday, he had a speech in Geneva again, during the universal periodic review (UPR) of Iran, where he basically said that homosexuality is a lifestyle that is imposed by the West on Iranians and the Iranian government does not recognize that.

Kenya: Journalist Slams Kenyans For ‘Preaching Water, Drinking Wine’

Denis Nzioka notes that television journalist Larry Madowo criticized Kenyans for claiming they hate homosexuality at a time when Google listed Kenya as the world’s top country for searches for gay porn. Madowo wrote in the Daily Nation that Kenyans are “preaching water, drinking wine.” Says Madowo, “In a country that’s mostly Christian and rabidly opposed to homosexuality, there sure are many odd sexual preferences your local pastor or imam wouldn’t approve of. Some gay commentators claim that the most homophobic people are secretly gay; maybe this provides a shred of evidence.”

The column notes, “The Google Trends report came out just after the Kenya Film Classification Board banned the feature film, Stories of our Lives, which tells the stories of some gay Kenyans.” The film premiered in September at the Toronto Film Festival.

Uganda: Legislators Prepare Renewed Push for Anti-Gay Law

Gay Star news reported on a renewed effort by anti-gay Ugandan legislators to re-pass the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was overturned by the courts on a procedural issue.  It quotes Member of Parliament Latif Ssebaggala saying, “We want to ensure everybody that we have not backtracked. We are still on course and in fact we are more energized that our culture, our norms, our religious norms are protected.”

According to Gay Star News, another Member of Parliament, Nabila Naggayi, “has said she wishes to ban all anal sex – even between straight married couples – as she believes it is against Ugandan culture.”  Edwin Sesange, a gay rights activist, told Gay Star News he was confident the bill would either fail to win passage or be thrown out again. He added: ‘I call upon the LGBTI rights movement to be prepared to challenge this through peaceful means through all levels, local and international. We have a lot of work to do, we must not let them think we’ve got comfortable.’

The country report on Uganda from the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration estimates that 42 percent of Ugandans are Roman Catholic, 36 percent Anglicans, 12 percent Muslim (mostly Sunni), 4.6 percent Pentecostals, and 3 percent “other” which includes various indigenous beliefs. Also from the report:

Homosexuality is rejected by most Ugandans “on the basis of tradition, culture, religion and moral values.”  Many in Uganda perceive homosexuality as “un-African and un-Christian”, a phenomenon inspired by “Western practices.” Homosexuality is often presented in connection to wider threats to ‘authentic’ African values and traditions. Anti-homosexuality activists have presented homosexuals as “an imminent threat…

In predominantly Christian Uganda, many find support for their opposition to homosexuality in the national narrative of the Ugandan Martyrs. In the late 1880s, King Mwanga II of the Kingdom of Buganda murdered a group of Catholic and Protestant missionaries and converts, in part for their refusal to accept Mwanga’s alleged homosexual advances. Celebrating Uganda Martyrs Day in 2010, President Museveni recalled this history in stating, “even before religion was introduced in the country, we were against homosexuality and any form of sexual abuse.” Museveni praised the Christian Church, stating that it “has been at the fore in fighting homosexuality and moral decadence.”

At Huffington Post last week, Fareen Walji with Urgent Action Fund – Africa reviewed LGBT-related developments, good and bad, from Africa this year.  Walji concludes, “My hope is that whilst we work to advocate against each new piece of legislation that criminalizes love in Africa, we also celebrate in the spaces where transgender people are seen just as people, and LGBQTI citizens are afforded the same rights to live their lives in the way that their heterosexual peers enjoy.”

Egypt: Prison Sentences for Men in ‘Wedding Video’ Case

Eight Egyptian men were sentence to three years in prison on charges of spreading indecent images and inciting debauchery.  As Pink News reports, “The men were arrested in September, after a video leaked online appearing to show an unofficial same-sex wedding ceremony on a riverboat in the Nile.” According to the report, “The public prosecutor previously claimed the video was ‘humiliating, regrettable and would anger God.”

More from the Los Angeles Times’ Laura King:

In Egypt, it isn’t a crime to be homosexual – at least in theory. But a high-profile court case, resulting in three-year prison terms handed down to Saturday to eight defendants for “inciting debauchery,” pointed up the increasingly hostile climate toward gays in a country where repression of all stripes is on the rise.

The evidence upon which the eight were convicted appeared to rest strongly on a video – viewed widely on Egyptian social media in recent months – showing them attending an alleged same-sex engagement party on a boat on the Nile. The men denied any wrongdoing and said the event in question – described by the prosecution as a “same-sex lovers’ party” — had been misconstrued…

Homosexuality has long been a taboo topic in Egypt. Even in relatively cosmopolitan big cities, conservative Muslim mores exercise tremendous influence. Gay men have frequently been jailed under various statutes governing indecency, immorality, or offense to Islam…

Egypt’s harsh treatment of those suspected of homosexual acts has been extensively documented by human rights groups over a period of many years. Some of those accused have undergone torture, according to groups including Human Rights Watch.

At the Atheist Republic website, Debapriya Chatterjee reports on a September interview given by Egypt’s Religious Endowments Minister Mohammed Mokhtar Gomaa, who “blamed Zionists for encouraging atheism and homosexuality in his country.”

Gomaa went on to condemn these “Zionist forces” for underestimating Egypt’s stability by using various means like atheism, terrorism, nihilism and deviance to destabilize them.

“We must confront atheism, nihilism, homosexuality and moral depravity the same way we confront extremism and terrorism,” he said.

Jordan: Halloween Banned as Gay, Satanic

Gay Star News reported last week, “Jordan has banned Halloween fearing of a backlash from Muslim fundamentalists who condemn the festival as ‘homosexual and Satanic.’”

Ministry of Interior spokesperson Ziad Al Zoubi confirmed the decision to Al Ghad daily. He said all sorts of activities surrounding Halloween had been banned to prevent a repeat of the previous two years’ riots in the capital Amman.

The ministry was forced to make the ban public after several groups asked the department permission to hold celebrations.

In 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood attacked Halloween celebrations and set fire to a cafe where a party was being held.

‘We watched with disgust and shame last night homosexual and Satanic rituals in an Amman cafe. This presents a challenge to the values of the Jordanian people and their Arab and Muslim identity, as well as a violation of religious laws,’ the group said in a statement on its website.

Uruguay: Symbol of Progressive Change in Latin America

We have reported previously on the intersectional progressive organizing that has led to major shifts in this country. Last week USA Today took a look at changes in Uruguay and across the Americas. From a story by Alan Gomez:

Just a couple of years ago, this tiny country that’s squeezed between Brazil and Argentina found itself in the same position as so many of its Latin-American neighbors. Abortion was illegal. Gay marriage was illegal. Marijuana was not tolerated.

In two quick years, all that has changed. Today, Uruguay finds itself leading a slow but steady movement that is changing the makeup of a region long considered a bastion of conservative social mores….

Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, says it’s a bit easier to take such leaps in his country, one of the first in the region to officially separate its government from the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1900s. The former guerrilla, who spent more than a decade in prison, says he feels it is his responsibility to take chances on what he calls “social experiments.”

“Human beings have a conservative attitude of permanently defending the status quo, but life is always about change,” Mujica said in an interview with USA TODAY. “Instead of modifying our laws so people can live, we try to change how they live. It’s like fighting against the wind — it’s useless.”

Some Uruguayans are shocked at how quickly things have changed. And many, echoing the voices of so many around Latin America, are sickened by it.

“It’s a horror,” said Mercedes Arcos, 66, who volunteers to help young women get educated and employed. “We’ve lost God in this country. We’ve removed God and inserted ourselves.”

Gomez puts changes in Uruguay in a broader context:

Uruguay is the only country to adopt laws approving all three issues, sparking a broader regional debate that is increasingly being won by progressive Latin Americans. From Mexico to Argentina, Colombia to Peru, more countries are debating and approving changes that grant wider abortion rights, more expansive protections for same-sex couples and the decriminalization of marijuana.

The shifts resonate far from Latin America. One-quarter of the 473,000 green cards issued in the U.S. in 2013 went to people from Central and South America, and the vast majority of undocumented immigrants come from there, so those immigrants are playing an increasingly larger role in shaping public opinion in the U.S.

That can change the way American political parties shape their campaigns targeting Hispanics, how businesses advertise to them and how the federal government and states deal with the ongoing debates over gay marriage and marijuana legalization.

Nepal: Challenges for LGBTs

Nicola Nepal writes for the Advocate on challenges facing queer women and transgender people in Nepal:

Nepal is one of the most open countries in Asia for LGBT rights, with a robust movement for sexual minorities’ equality. But even though gay rights have received widespread support, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people have been largely marginalized. Public ignorance, bias, and the absence of funding plague this population, and as a result, these groups face several grave issues.

Most lesbians who come out in Nepal are from poor families, and many have dropped out of school due to bullying or expulsion. They face an impoverished job market and suffer doubly because of discrimination that starts right at the job recruitment process. Disowned by their families and shunned by society for their gender nonconformity, some lesbians resort to drug abuse and run the risk of using infected syringes.

Since even many educated Nepalis believe that homosexuality is a psychological condition and a curable disease, lesbians and trans men are sometimes subjected to “corrective rape.” Men who feel threatened by queer women and transgender men are often rape perpetrators, punishing these women who dare to break out of oppressive gender binaries.

Russia: Steve Jobs Memorial Dismantled Under ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law

We reported last week that Russian anti-gay politician had responded to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s public coming out by saying he should be banned from the country. This week, a St. Petersburg memorial to Apple founder Steve Jobs was dismantled with the explanation that since it was outside a college, it was “in an area of direct access for young students and scholars” and would run afoul of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law.

International Organizations

Last week the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission hosted a conference on collaboration between activists in Africa and their counterparts around the world. Chesterfield Samba of Zimbabwe and Dorothy Aken’ova of Nigeria discussed both the benefits and potential pitfalls of international collaboration. From IGLHRC:

Aken’ova said recent gains at the United Nations, specifically the adoption by the U.N. Human Rights Council of a resolution specific to sexual orientation and gender identity, shows the “very strong and very real” partnerships between local activists and international organizations that lead to progress. These formidable gains, however, are not without drawbacks as Aken’ova noted, “the backlash is immense.” Oftentimes, when linkages between advocate communities fail, intervention by the Global North can worsen the situation for those on the ground….

Although activists in Zimbabwe and Nigeria face similar challenges, both Samba and Aken’ova rejected the notion of a uniform solution to LGBTI persecution on the African continent. The implementation of Sharia law in Nigeria, for example, has created a considerably more hostile environment for LGBTI people, forcing activists like Aken’ova to adapt strategies to confront restrictive tenets of Islamic law as they impact the LGBTI community.

Also last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on discrimination and violence against transgender people in Latin America.

This week, John Fisher, co-director of ARC International, published an analysis of the careful strategies that went into the recent efforts at the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a resolution of human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity. In June, a coalition of states had blocked action on the resolution. He writes that success was achieved through leadership, respectful listening to concerns, and the avoidance of negative campaigning by proponents of the resolution. Another analysis of the Human Rights Council process was published last Friday by Regina Maria Cordeiro Dunlop, Permanent Representative of Brazil; Marta Maurás, Permanent Representative of Chile; Juan José Quintana, Permanent Representative of Colombia; and Laura Dupuy, Permanent Representative of Uruguay.