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British youth face ‘mental health crisis’

teen suicide, gay news, Washington Blade

Forty percent of young gay people in England have considered suicide according to a new study.

LONDON — More than half of young gay people in England have suffered mental health issues and 40 percent have considered suicide according to findings of a major study from Youth Chances released this week, the Independent reports.

The report says that neglect of LGBT issues in schools contributes to a climate of hostility and fear that results in a “mental health crisis” for LGBT young people, the Independent said.

The Youth Chances Project — the biggest social research study into young LGBT people ever undertaken in England — finds that 50 percent have self harmed and 42 percent have sought medical help for anxiety or depression, the article said. Charity Metro, which led the project, interviewed more than 7,000 16- to 25-year-olds and asked about their experiences with education, employment, health services and relationships.

Dr. Greg Ussher, Metro’s acting chief executive, told the Independent, “We are failing LGBTQ young people. The clear message is that they are badly served. What they want most is emotional support and they are not getting it. By the age of 13, most are already sure or are questioning their sexuality or gender identity, so we need to ensure all families and schools are equipped to give that support.”

One in five LGBT pupils reported being the victim of physical attacks at school, but the majority did not report them and only a small proportion of those who did felt that their concerns were resolved. And only a quarter said they had learned anything at school about safer sex with a same-sex partner, the Independent reports.

Ussher warned that if schools failed to act it would lead to a “hugely increased risk of bullying and abuse; isolation and rejection — all leading to significantly increased levels of depression, self-harm and suicide,” the article said.

15
Jan
2014

GSAs reduce suicide risks study finds

Gay Straight Alliance, GSA, Bullis School, gay news, Washington Blade, GSAs

A GSA Student Summit was held last year at the Bullis School. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

BRITISH COLUMBIA — Students at Canadian schools that have gay-straight alliances (GSAs) are less likely to have suicidal thoughts and to attempt suicide according to a new study from the University of British Columbia, Health Canal reports.

This is true for both LGBT and straight students, researchers found.

LGBT youth and straight students in schools with anti-homophobia policies and GSAs had lower odds of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, primarily when both strategies were enacted, or when the polices and GSAs had been in place for three years or more, Health Canal reports.

Published in the International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies and funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the study drew on data from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey to test the link between school policies and programs, discrimination due to perceived sexual orientation and suicidal thoughts and attempts, the article said.

30
Jan
2014

College Park considers trans, LGBT contractor bias bills

Dave Kolesar, Patrick Wojahn, gay news, Washington Blade, marriage equality, Maryland, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

College Park City Council member Patrick Wojahn (on right) with his partner, Dave Kolesar. Wojahn said a majority of the eight-member Council expressed support for the pro-LGBT bills. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The College Park, Md., City Council has directed its city attorney to draft three separate bills that would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression and require that contractors doing business with the city adopt policies of non-discrimination for their LGBT employees and provide equal benefits for employees’ same-sex spouses.

According to College Park City Council member Patrick Wojahn, who’s gay, the Council informally discussed the idea of drafting the three bills at a Feb. 4 work session. Wojahn said a clear majority of the eight-member Council expressed support for the bills. He said the Council then asked the College Park city attorney to draft the bills.

Wojahn said the Council expects the attorney to complete the drafting process within a month or two.

Both the State of Maryland and Prince George’s County, in which College Park is located, have existing laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation. But neither the state nor P.G. County has laws banning discrimination against transgender people. Nearby Montgomery County and three other counties in Maryland, including Baltimore, have transgender non-discrimination laws on the books.

Fellow Council member P.J. Brennan, who’s also gay, is among the Council members pushing for the three new laws, Wojahn said.

20
Feb
2014

Gay U.S. ambassador brings hope to Dominican advocates

James Wally Brewster, United States Department of State, Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster (Photo public domain)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Dominican LGBT rights advocates remain hopeful that gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster will continue to generate more visibility around their nascent movement in the Caribbean country.

“In reality the Dominican LGBT community is not a rather large community,” Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigas told the Washington Blade on March 7 during a meeting with nearly a dozen Dominican LGBT rights advocates at the home of Deivis Ventura of the Amigos Siempre Amigos Network of Volunteers in the San Carlos neighborhood of the Dominican capital. “[Brewster] is a person from our community. It is a big impact.”

King spoke with the Blade alongside Amigos Siempre Amigos Executive Director Leonardo Sánchez, radio host Franklyn Sánchez, Edward Tavarez da Silva of the website Zona VIP, Lorena Espinosa of the Woman and Health Colective, Marinela Carvajal of Republika Libre, Anyi Fermin of the Metropolitan Community Church of Santo Domingo’s Women’s Ministry, Pedro Mercedes, Stephanía Hernández of Gente Activa y Participativa, Dominic Rincon of University Students for Diversity and Marta Arredondo of Amigos Siempre Amigos. Ventura is among the seven Latin American LGBT rights advocates who visited the U.S. earlier this year as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Espinosa told the Blade that Brewster “helps us a lot.” Carvajal added the gay U.S. ambassador has brought more visibility to the Dominican LGBT rights movement.

“There is more discussion of [LGBT] issues,” said Carvajal. “There has been an opportunity to highlight our issues.”

The U.S. Senate last November confirmed Brewster as ambassador to the Caribbean nation.

Brewster, who is a former member of the Human Rights Campaign board of directors, introduced his husband, Bob Satawake, in a video to the Dominican people shortly after his confirmation. The two men met with Carvajal, King and other Dominican LGBT rights advocates last month at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo.

The State Department said Brewster was unavailable to speak with the Blade in Santo Domingo. He and Satawake gave an exclusive interview to Ritmo Social, a society magazine published by Listín Diario, a conservative Dominican newspaper, in January.

“I was chosen by President Obama to represent his government and the American people as a reflection of our country, its diversity and its mission. I am committed to serving this ideal,” said Brewster. “President Obama was aware of our understanding of the Dominican Republic and knew that we were going to work diligently to advance the extraordinary relationship between our two countries and people.”

Brewster continues to face criticism from Dominican religious figures who oppose his ambassadorship because of his sexual orientation.

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo last June referred to Brewster as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish during a press conference. Rev. Luís Rosario of the Santo Domingo Youth Ministry last month said he feels the gay ambassador is a “bad example” for Dominican society and families.

Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Vatican’s envoy to the Dominican Republic, cited the country’s Constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman as the reason he declined to invite Satawake to a diplomatic reception with Dominican President Danilo Medina that was scheduled to take place in January. The event was cancelled after a number of ambassadors said they would not attend because Okolo did not invite Brewster’s husband.

Hernández noted to the Blade a group of Brewster’s opponents dress in black each Monday to protest “the homosexual ambassador.”

“We are defending a person who is homosexual, that is gay and has come to occupy his country’s public position in the Dominican Republic,” said Ventura. “We are defending the right that we have to occupy public positions equally as gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people. This is why we are defending Wally.”

LGBT Dominicans becoming more visible

The activists with whom the Blade spoke in Santo Domingo insist the country has slowly become more open and accepting of LGBT people.

Parque Duarte in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City remains Santo Domingo’s de facto LGBT community center. Hundreds of LGBT people gather on weekend nights in spite of López and some neighbors’ efforts to ban them from the square that is across the street from a church.

Listín Diario, which announced on Saturday that López will have a weekly column in the newspaper, in 2010 published an article with the headline “Parque Duarte is a center of promiscuity” that outlined “homosexuals, prostitutes and drug users have invaded it.” The newspaper also ran a picture of two trans women kissing.

A number of young gender non-conforming Dominican men on a recent Saturday night were dancing at Fogoo Discotec, a gay nightclub in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City that is across the street from the gay-owned Adam Suites Hotel. Middle-class Dominicans and visitors typically frequent Esedeku and other nearby gay and lesbian bars and clubs.

Listín Diario and Ritmo Social earlier this month published pictures of Brewster and Satawake at an Elton John concert they attended at Altos de Chavón near Casa de Campo on Feb. 28. King told the Blade that Dominicans are increasingly aware of their advocacy efforts because newspapers and other media outlets reach out to them for comment on LGBT-specific issues.

“We are in the press,” he said. “With any gay problem that has to do with the community, the press reaches out to us. We are the community’s spokesperson.”

Serious problems persist for LGBT Dominicans in spite of increased visibility since Brewster assumed his post.

Espinosa and other advocates with whom the Blade spoke pointed out López and others with close ties to the Catholic Church continue to discriminate against LGBT Dominicans, Haitians and other marginalized groups in the country.

“The Catholic Church constantly rebukes us,” said Hernández. “If you are gay, you’re discriminated against. If you’re trans, you’re discriminated against. If you’re poor, you’re discriminated against.”

Hernández told the Blade that trans Dominicans continue to suffer violence from the police and a lack of access to health care. She noted staff at a clinic frequently treats her as though she is a man, even though her gender identity is female and she lives as a woman.

“They call me by the man’s name that is on my documents,” said Hernández. “I make a scene. I reclaim my rights. But there are others who do not reclaim their rights. These people that need to go to a health service. What do they do? The don’t seek the service.”

LGBT advocacy groups receive the bulk of their funds from the U.S. and Europe through HIV/AIDS prevention programs and human rights initiatives.

Hernández and others noted the Catholic Church continues to block any efforts to expand access to condoms and contraception in the country. Dominican lawmakers in 2009 approved a constitutional amendment banning abortion that then-President Leonel Fernández introduced with the church’s support.

“The Dominican government does not give one peso to any LGBT group,” Ventura told the Blade.

Ventura added wealthy gay Dominicans who own businesses in Miami and other cities have also not contributed to Dominican LGBT rights organizations. One gay man with whom the Blade spoke at Esedequ said he was not familiar with their work.

“They are not going to donate a peso to the community,” said Ventura.

Parque Duarte, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

Parque Duarte in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City remains a de facto community center for the Dominican LGBT community in spite of efforts from the city’s homophobic Roman Catholic bishop and others to remove them. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

18
Mar
2014

Zimbabwe president threatens to expel pro-LGBT diplomats

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe, Africa, gay news, Washington Blade

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. (Photo public domain)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday threatened to expel foreign diplomats who promote LGBT rights from his country.

“We did not fight for this Zimbabwe so it can be a homosexual territory,” said Mugabe in a speech that marked his country’s independence from the U.K. in 1980 as the New Zimbabwe newspaper reported. “We will never have that here and if there are any diplomats who will talk of any homosexuality, just tell me. We will kick them out of the country without any excuse. We won’t even listen.”

New Zimbabwe noted Mugabe also said his country will resist efforts to decriminalize homosexuality. The website reported the Zimbabwean president also referred to the U.S. and other Western countries that blasted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for signing a bill into law in February that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The White House cut foreign aid to Uganda after Museveni signed the measure into law. The World Bank also postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that would have bolstered the East African country’s health care system.

“They say they want you to believe that if a man gets another man and they have a homosexual relationship, they have human rights to do so,” said Mugabe as New Zimbabwe reported. “That act is inhuman. It’s not human and human rights cannot derive from acts which are inhuman. That does not exist in jurisprudence.”

Mugabe’s comments come less than a month after he described homosexuality as “inhuman” during an event in Harare, the country’s capital, that commemorated International Women’s Day.

The Zimbabwean president has repeatedly faced criticism from LGBT rights advocates and others over his anti-gay rhetoric.

Mugabe told supporters last July ahead of his country’s presidential election that authorities should arrest gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children. The Zimbabwean president during the same event criticized President Obama over his support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Mugabe described gays and lesbians who took part in a Harare book fair in 1995 as “dogs and pigs.” He reportedly said during a speech at a teacher’s college in the city of Masvingo last June that gay men and lesbians should “rot in jail.”

The State Department in August 2012 criticized the Zimbabwean government after police arrested more than 40 members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, a local LGBT advocacy group, inside their Harare office. Authorities confiscated computers and pamphlets from the organization a few days before the arrests.

Zimbabwean police reportedly stopped a Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe workshop last month.

“The United States remains committed to the people of Zimbabwe,” said Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in a statement that marked Zimbabwean Independence Day. “We will continue to support all Zimbabweans as you seek a more democratic, prosperous and healthy future.”

18
Apr
2014

Pro-LGBT Colombian president re-elected

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (Photo by Antonio Cruz of Abr; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Pro-LGBT Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday won re-election in the second round of voting in his country’s presidential election.

Santos defeated former Finance Minister Óscar Iván Zuluaga by a 51-45 percent margin with slightly more than 4 percent of the 15,341,383 total ballots cast left blank.

Santos, who highlighted during his campaign the ongoing peace process between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known by the Spanish acronym FARC that has staged a decades long guerrilla war, specifically acknowledged his LGBT supporters after declaring victory against Zuluaga as Andrés Duque of Blabbeando reported. Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, said rainbow flags were inside the incumbent’s campaign headquarters.

Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed Santos’ victory over Zuluaga, a close ally of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe who opposes peace talks with the FARC.

“We congratulate President Santos on his victory, as well as the Colombian people and electoral officials on a peaceful and orderly election,” said Kerry in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with President Santos and his administration to advance our bilateral relationship and to continuing to support the Colombian government and people as they pursue a negotiated end to the conflict there.”

Santos last month publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples during a Google hangout the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo hosted ahead of the first round of the South American country’s presidential election that took place on May 25.

“Marriage between homosexuals to me is perfectly acceptable and what’s more I am defending unions that exist between two people of the same sex with the rights and all of the same privileges that this union should receive,” he said. “If these unions are called marriage or not is secondary to me. For me it is important that they have their rights.”

Zuluaga indicated his opposition to the issue in a candidate questionnaire that Colombia Diversa published on May 15.

“I respect the sexual inclination of people and their privacy, but I do not agree with marriage between partners of the same sex, nor adoption,” he said. “I agree that you should have a legal framework that respects inheritance rights, civil rights and social security for same-sex partners.”

The Colombian Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled that same-sex couples could legally register their relationships in two years if lawmakers did not pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.

The Colombian Senate in April 2013 overwhelmingly struck down a same-sex marriage bill.

Several gay and lesbian couples in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, and other cities have exchanged vows since the Constitutional Court’s deadline passed last June. Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has challenged the rulings that allowed them to marry.

The Impact Litigation Project at American University Washington College of Law and the New York City Bar Association in April filed briefs with the Constitutional Court in a case brought by two gay couples challenging Ordóñez’s efforts to nullify their marriages.

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón, who will leave office in August, earlier this month discussed the progress his country has made towards LGBT rights during a meeting in New York with Charles Radcliffe, senior human rights adviser for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner. These include the passage of a gay-inclusive anti-discrimination law in 2011 and the 2012 appointment of a transgender woman, Tatiana Piñeros, to run Bogotá’s social welfare agency.

Colombia Diversa and other Colombian LGBT advocacy groups and activists have been critical of Santos’ administration for what they maintain is its silence during the same-sex marriage debate. They nevertheless welcomed his re-election.

16
Jun
2014

Study finds STIs plague New Zealand gays

Auckland, New Zealand, gay news, Washington Blade

Auckland, New Zealand (Photo by Partyzane; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — One in 12 gay or bi men who participated in a health survey in New Zealand in 2011 reported having an STI in the previous year, Gay New Zealand reports. Chlamydia and gonorrhea were the most common.

The study, which has been published by international journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, found having anal sex and more partners were associated with more STIs, the article said.

“Having anal sex and more partners were associated with more STIs” says co-investigator Associate Professor Nigel Dickson, director of the Otago University-based AIDS Epidemiology Group.

“Condoms were protective” the article quoted Dickson as having said. “Men who reported not using condoms about half the time or more when they had anal sex were 70 percent more likely to report STIs compared to men who used condoms more consistently, regardless of whether their partners were regular or casual.”

The findings are based on the Gay Auckland Periodic Sex Survey and national internet-based Gay Online Sex Survey led by Dr. Peter Saxton of Auckland University, in collaboration with Dickson and Tony Hughes from the New Zealand AIDS Foundation. The surveys were funded by the Ministry of Health. Saxton, who heads the Gay Men’s Health Research Group at the University of Auckland, says while HIV is the most serious sexually transmitted infection, others can cause unpleasant problems for gay men, such as the human papiloma virus (HPV) as a threat for anal and oral cancer in infected men.

Other STIs can increase the spread if HIV, Satson said.

13
Aug
2014

Pinkwashing & Israeli occupation – not so complicated

Pauline Park, Israel, gay news, Washington Blade

The author, Pauline Park, at the gap in the separation wall at Al-Wallaja east of the Israeli frontier. (Photo courtesy Park)

BY Pauline Park

“The concept of ‘pinkwashing’ emerged as a hot topic throughout the week,” Kevin Naff wrote of his participation as part of “a delegation of nine LGBT leaders from the United States” to Israel in November (“Israel as ‘gay heaven’? It’s complicated,” Times of Israel, Nov. 10). The delegation tour was sponsored by Project Interchange, a program of the American Jewish Committee, which is aggressive in its defense of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Naff quotes a speaker who addressed the group, Gal Uchovsky, as telling the delegates “that we had arrived in ‘gay heaven’” and that Israel is “the best LGBT country in the world” whose “LGBT residents face no serious problems that he could identify.” My Israeli friends would certainly contest Uchovsky’s absurd claim that LGBT Israelis “face no serious problems.” Fortuntely, Naff was able to recognize Uchovsky’s propaganda for what it was.

One would get a very different impression speaking primarily or exclusively with wealthy gay Jewish Israeli men in North Tel Aviv — as Naff and his fellow delegates seem to have done — than if one spoke with LGBT Israelis from more marginalized communities, including lesbians and bisexuals, who often feel marginalized by gay men in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel; transgendered women, who face police harassment and brutality in Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel just as they do in New York and other U.S. cities; Israelis who face discrimination because of their of Mizrahi (Sephardic) Jewish ethnic origins; or refugees from Africa and elsewhere who may be LGBT (though not necessarily openly so) but who have no right to remain in Israel, because the state of Israel does not recognize non-Jewish economic refugees or those fleeing political persecution — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And that’s not even to mention the pervasive discrimination that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship face. As Prof. David Lloyd argued persuasively in a December 2013 analysis for the Electronic Intifada, the crucial distinction between “citizenship” (ezrahut) and “nationality” (le’um) in Israeli law privileges Jewish Israelis over Palestinians living in Israel because “citizenship” is in effect a second-class citizenship without nationality status.

“Some critics claim the country’s embrace of LGBT rights is merely a propaganda effort to claim the mantle of modernity and establish a stark contrast to homophobic regimes in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East,” Naff writes. In doing so, Naff is in fact rearticulating the very discourse in which Uchovsky was engaging in when describing Israel as a gay paradise — the attempt to use Israel’s record on gay rights (supposedly better than that of its Arab and Muslim neighbors) as a justification for an Israeli occupation that is illegal under international law, or at the very least as a means to distract attention from it.

Naff’s delegation appears to have met with only one Palestinian — “a scholar and Fatah and PLO adviser,” Abu Zayyad. But meeting with a single official with the Palestinian Authority — widely viewed by many West Bank Palestinians as little more than a tool of the Israeli occupation — hardly constitutes balance when the rest of the tour was devoted to meeting with LGBT Israelis and Israeli officials.

“The focus of the visit — LGBT issues — was often overshadowed by the frustrating stalemate of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Why can’t the two sides come to an agreement on a two-state solution? It’s complicated,” Naff writes. And yet, is the issue of the Israeli occupation of Palestine really that complicated? For all of the complications and complexities of the situation, it is at root quite simple: the indigenous people who have lived in Palestine for centuries are being systematically dispossessed of their land and their rights by a foreign military occupation that is illegal under international law and that even the United States does not recognize as legitimate. And that occupation makes no exception for Palestinians who might be LGBT/queer, who face the same restrictions and daily humiliations living under Israeli occupation as non-LGBT Palestinians. And contrary to propaganda in circulation, Israel is not and cannot be a haven or a refuge for LGBT Palestinians because there is no such thing as refugee status for non-Jews in Israel, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rather than hearing pinkwashing propaganda from the likes of Gal Uchovsky, Naff and his colleagues would have learned far more if they had met with Palestinian villagers and farmers under siege from Israeli settlers and the Israeli military in the West Bank, as I have. I participated in the first U.S. LGBTQ delegation tour of Palestine in January 2012 and met with many Palestinians — both LGBT and non-LGBT — throughout the West Bank, from Nablus in the north to Hebron in the south and Ramallah in between. Staying two nights with a Palestinian family in Dheishe in Bethelem, one of the largest refugee camps in the West Bank, I had the opportunity to speak at length with Palestinians about conditions in the occupied territories.

Naff expresses his disappointment with the decision of alQaws and Aswat to decline the invitation to meet with his delegation. AlQaws and Aswat, two of the leading Palestinian LGBT groups, are doing vital work on behalf of queer Palestinians under extremely difficult circumstances that no U.S.-based LGBT organization has to face. The 16 members of my delegation met with members of both alQaws and Aswat for extensive discussions about the impact of the occupation on LGBT Palestinians, and those discussions were productive and enlightening. It seems to me that Naff’s group of relatively privileged LGBT Americans should have recognized how problematic it was to demand that LGBT/queer Palestinians either facing pervasive discrimination within Israel or living under a crushing foreign military occupation in the West Bank engage them in dialogue, which is the privilege of the powerful. True dialogue is simply not possible when one party is holding a gun to the other’s head, which is what “dialogue” with a people living under a brutal and illegal military occupation represents.

I might add that members of Naff’s delegation could have found opportunities to engage with LGBT/queer Palestinians even before leaving the U.S. and could do so now that they are back from their tour; they can also feel free to engage members of New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid if they wish to hear our views on Palestinians and the Israeli occupation.

The conclusion I have come to is that pinkwashing does nothing for queer Palestinians and arguably makes things worse by generating more support for Israel and the occupation in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. The liberation of queer Palestinians is inseparable from that of Palestinian society as a whole; whatever privileges wealthy gay Jewish Israeli men may enjoy in the affluent districts of North Tel Aviv do nothing for queer Palestinians being crushed by a brutal and illegal foreign military occupation that is daily dispossessing more and more Palestinians of their lands and their homes.

Given the intransigence of the government of Binyamin Netanyahu — the most right-wing prime minister in Israeli history — and his determination to move forward with the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem and the de facto annexation of the West Bank, it seems to me that only boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against apartheid Israel will advance the cause of the peaceful resolution of the impasse that the Israeli government itself has created with its endless occupation of Palestine and construction of an apartheid regime.

Pauline Park is a member of New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, founded in 2011. She was a member of the first U.S. LGBTQ delegation to Palestine in January 2012.

 

(Kevin Naff responds: After members of our LGBT delegation expressed concerns that we were not given access to more of the Palestinian perspective, Project Interchange arranged a follow-up conference call in November with Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy & Survey Research. I shared Pauline Park’s concerns over pinkwashing, but Project Interchange worked hard to present a balanced itinerary, which included visits to the West Bank, Ramallah and the edge of the Gaza Strip. I welcome Park’s invitation to learn more about NYCQAIA and will follow up with her.)

06
Jan
2014

Putin: Gay rights protesters won’t face prosecution during Olympics

ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Sochi, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) in Sochi, Russia, on Jan. 17. (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview his network aired on Sunday that those who protest the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the 2014 Winter Olympics will not face prosecution under Russia’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“Acts of protest and acts of propaganda are somewhat different things,” Putin told Stephanopoulos through a translator during an interview with him and a handful of other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K., that took place in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. “They are close, but if we were to look at them from the legal perspective, then protesting a law does not amount to propaganda of sexuality or sexual abuse of children.”

Putin once again sought to downplay concerns over the gay propaganda law ahead of the Sochi games that begin on Feb. 6 during his interview with Stephanopoulos that aired on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“It has nothing to do with prosecuting people for their non-traditional orientation,” he told Stephanopoulos. “In this country, everybody is absolutely equal to anybody else, irrespective of one’s religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal. So no concerns exist for people who intend to come as athletes or visitors to the Olympics.”

Putin said during the interview that “homosexuality remains a felony” in some U.S. states — Stephanopoulos pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down these anti-sodomy laws.

The Russian president also noted homosexuality remains a crime in 70 countries — and seven of these nations impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual relations.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993.

“Russia does not criminally prosecute people for being gay, unlike in over one-third of the world’s nations,” said Putin.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin criticized Putin’s comments to Stephanopoulos.

“President Putin’s public interpretation of the country’s anti-LGBT law is beyond comprehension,” said Griffin in a statement. “This law was designed to do nothing less than secure second class status for LGBT Russians and visitors. It does nothing to protect children, but goes great lengths to harm families.

Putin spoke with Stephanopoulos and other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K. a day before authorities detained a protester who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh.

Putin on Friday once again sought to downplay concerns over Russia’s gay propaganda law during a meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said the Russian president as the Associated Press reported. “One can feel relaxed and at ease, but please leave the children in peace.”

LGBT rights advocates blasted Putin’s comments.

“This statement demonstrates very well how the official discourse labels LGBT people as a threat to children, instilling fear and hatred in the society,” Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson for a coalition of six Russian LGBT advocacy groups that includes the Russian LGBT Network, told the Blade on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has frequently criticized the Kremlin over its LGBT rights record, described Putin’s comments as “sickening.”

The U.S. State Department on Jan. 10 issued an alert to Americans who plan to travel to Sochi that highlighted ongoing security concerns and the vagueness of Russia’s gay propaganda law.

“The job to Olympics host is to ensure security of the participants in the Olympics and visitors,” Putin told Stephanopoulos. “We will do whatever it takes.”

19
Jan
2014

More than a dozen Russian LGBT rights advocates arrested

Anastasia Smirnova, Sochi, Olympics, Rayburn House Office Building, gay news, Washington Blade

Anastasia Smirnova (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Russian authorities on Friday arrested more than a dozen LGBT rights advocates hours before the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Video from Moscow shows police arresting 10 LGBT activists–including two Swedish nationals–Red Square who held rainbow flags as they sung the Russian national anthem.

A source who remains in contact with activists in the Russian capital told the Washington Blade the arrests took place shortly before the opening ceremony began in Sochi. The advocates have been released, but the source said one of the activist’s cries was “heard outside of the police station” as officers beat him.

Anastasia Smirnova and a pregnant woman are among the four activists whom St. Petersburg authorities took into custody earlier on Friday. The activists were reportedly trying to take pictures of themselves holding a banner that read “discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement. Principle 6. Olympic charter” in reference to a campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter before police took them into custody.

“Detention for a photo with a banner–isn’t it an amazing way to celebrate the opening of the games,” wrote Smirnova on her Facebook page while in custody at a St. Petersburg police station.

The arrests took place a day after U.S. Olympian David Pichler and Human Rights First staffers met with Smirnova, Russian LGBT Network Chair Igor Kochetkov and Maria Kozlovskaya of “Coming Out” in St. Petersburg.

David Pichler, Human Rights First, Russia, gay rights, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Winter Olympics, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Olympian David Pichler and staffers with Human Rights First on Thursday met with Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights First)

“Having just met with Anastasia and her fellow activists yesterday, we were shocked to hear of her arrest,” said Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First. “This confirms our concerns about growing violence and discrimination, and increased use of the anti-propaganda law. We renew our calls for the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee to speak out publicly against these discriminatory laws.”

Smirnova is among the Russian LGBT advocates who took part in a Capitol Hill briefing in December on the Kremlin’s gay rights record. She also sat on a United Nations panel alongside retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic on Dec. 11 that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“We are sorry to learn of the detention of activists in Russia for making political statements,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade. “This is an example of the disturbing trend in the Russian Federation of legislation, prosecutions, and government actions aimed at suppressing dissent and groups that advocate for human rights and government accountability. The so-called LGBT ‘propaganda’ law is part of this trend.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) also criticized the arrests.

“No one should be arrested for protesting peacefully and exercising their God-given right to free speech. This is yet another sad example of the intolerance running rampant in Russia,” the Florida Republican told the Blade.

Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month that those who protest the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the 2014 Winter Olympics will not face prosecution under the gay propaganda law. The interview took place a day before authorities detained a gay rights advocate who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh.

The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from Russian officials that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games that will take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said Putin during a Jan. 17 meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi. “We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors.”

Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview from Sochi earlier this week he had seen little evidence of LGBT advocacy in the Olympic host city ahead of the games.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday highlighted LGBT rights during a speech he gave during an IOC meeting in the Black Sea resort.

“We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,” said Ban. “We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

Ros-Lehtinen once again criticized the IOC for allowing Russia to host the games.

“It is fundamental that the IOC select countries that honor all the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter, and that those countries reflect the spirit of freedom imbued in the charter,” the Florida Republican told the Blade. “I hope for a day where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, will be able to express themselves in all spheres of society without fear of reprisal.”

Smirnova posted on her Facebook page shortly after the Olympic opening ceremony began in Sochi that authorities had released them from custody.

They face charges of participating in an illegal public assembly during their scheduled court hearing on Saturday.

“Everyone is feeling right and strong, and the support that we have is truly heartwarming,” wrote Smirnova.

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2014