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Former Polish president sparks controversy

Lech Walesa, Poland, gay news, Washington Blade

Lech Walesa (Photo by Sławek via Wikimedia Commons)

WARSAW, Poland—Polish LGBT rights advocates have criticized former President Lech Walesa for suggesting during a March 1 television interview that gays in Parliament should sit “behind a wall.”

“We are disgusted that such words, directly supporting the idea of ghettoization of LGBT individuals, were spoken out loud by the former president of Poland,” said Agata Chaber of the Campaign Against Homophobia, a Polish gay advocacy group.

An advocacy group filed a complaint against Walesa, the former leader of the Solidarity movement that contributed to the fall of Communism in the Eastern European country in the 1980s, with Gdansk prosecutors on March 3. The 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner has refused to apologize for his comments.


Same-sex marriage bill introduced in British Parliament

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall, gay news, Washington Blade

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill (Photo courtesy of Stonewall)

British Culture Secretary Maria Miller on Thursday formally introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales.

The BBC reported that the House of Commons is scheduled to consider the measure on Feb. 5.

The Churches of England and Wales would be legally prohibited from marrying same-sex couples unless they opt into the law — the Church of England announced earlier this month that clergy in same-sex civil partnerships can become bishops as long as they remain celibate. It maintains marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman.

A law that allows gay couples in the United Kingdom to register as civil partners took effect in 2005.

Scottish lawmakers are expected to consider a same-sex marriage proposal later this year, while French legislators are scheduled to begin debate on the issue on Tuesday. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden are among the other European countries in which gays and lesbians can legally tie the knot.

“We’re pleased that the government has introduced this bill and we’ll be working hard over the coming weeks and months to secure this final modest measure of legislative equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” Andy Wasley of the British LGBT advocacy group Stonewall told the Washington Blade. “It’s now vital that the seven in 10 people in Britain who support equal marriage call on their members of Parliament to stand up and argue for it.”


European court finds Austria’s gay second-parent adoption ban discriminatory

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, gay news, Washington Blade

The European Court of Human Rights (Photo by CherryX via Wikimedia Commons)

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ruled Austria’s ban on second-parent adoption for same-sex couples is discriminatory.

Two women who have been raising a son born to one of them in 1995 submitted an adoption application to a local court in early 2005. The couple also requested the Austria Constitutional Court, which is the country’s highest tribunal, declare the portion of the civil code that prevents the same-sex partner of a parent to adopt his or her child.

The Constitutional Court in June 2005 rejected the couple’s petition, and the local court four months later refused to approve the women’s application. A regional court in Feb. 2006 rejected the women’s appeal.

The couple in April 2007 brought their case to the European Court of Human Rights, which is located in Strasbourg, France, after the Constitutional Court ruled against them. The judges heard it last October.

“This is a very significant and important victory for rainbow families in Europe,” Martin K. I. Christensen, co-chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board. “We hope that this judgment will pave the way towards the removal of the remaining legal barriers for these families in Europe.”

Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom are among the European countries that currently allow second-parent adoption for same-sex couples.

The French National Assembly earlier this month approved a bill that would extend both adoption and marriage rights to gays and lesbians. Lawmakers in Luxembourg and Switzerland are currently considering second-parent adoption measures.

“We feel very hopeful that this case will lead to our children’s rights gaining better recognition throughout Europe,” Juha Jämsä, vice president of the Network of European LGBT Families Associations, said in a statement. “No group of children should be discriminated against because of their parents’ sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, agreed.

“This is an important step forward towards the application of the principle of non-discrimination based on the sexual orientation and strengthening legal security and certainty for children,” she said. “This ruling should guide not only domestic courts, but also the legislator in European states that have not yet amended their legislation in that direction.”


Mexican Supreme Court rules anti-gay slurs are not protected speech

Oaxaca, gay marriage, marriage equality, same sex marriage, Mexico

Lawyer Alex Ali Mendez Diaz represented three same-sex couples from the Mexican state of Oaxaca whom local authorities denied marriage licenses. (Photo courtesy of Alex Ali Mendez Diaz)

Mexican Supreme Court justices on Tuesday announced a ruling that found anti-gay slurs are not protected speech under the country’s constitution.

Justice Minister Arturo Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea requested the justices for the first time in Mexican legal history decide what the court described in a press release that announced its decision as “the complex problem between freedom of expression and discriminatory manifestations – specifically homophobic expressions.”

The justices in their 3-2 ruling concluded the words “maricones” and “puñal” two newspaper reporters from the state of Puebla used to criticize each others work are offensive and discriminatory.

“It was determined that the expressions ‘maricones’ and ‘puñal’ as they were used in this present case were not found to be protected under the Constitution,” it reads.

The Mexico City-based National Council to Prevent Discrimination described the court’s decision as a “substantive advance in the fight against homophobia in Mexico.”

The ruling comes less than two months after the European Court of Human Rights found religious beliefs cannot justify discrimination against same-sex couples.

The Mexican Supreme Court last month formally released its decision that found a Oaxacan law that bans same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Three couples tried to apply for marriage licenses in the state, but their applications were denied. They then sought legal recourse known as an “amparo” in the Mexican judicial system that would ensure local authorities would protect their constitutional rights.

Alex Alí Méndez Díaz, a lawyer who represents them, told the Washington Blade earlier this week the first of the three Oaxacan couples plan to marry later this month.


Gay marriage march in Paris draws more than 100,000

France, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

More than 100,000 people marched in Paris on Jan. 27 in support of France’s same-sex marriage bill. (Photo by Guillaume Bonnet/All Out)

More than an estimated 100,000 people marched through the streets of Paris on Sunday in support of a proposal that would allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children in France.

French television reported that police said 125,000 people took part in the protest, while organizers placed the figure around 400,000.

Guillaume Bonnet of All Out, which uses social media and other online forums to advance LGBT rights, told the Washington Blade from Paris after he marched with his cousin and one of his friends that a lot of straight people took part in the demonstration.

“It was very emotional,” he said. “For them it’s about freedom, equality and family values.”

The protest took place two days before French lawmakers are scheduled to begin debating the proposal.

A demonstration in support of the measure last month drew more than 50,000 people to the French capital. More than 350,000 people took part in a march against the same-sex marriage and adoption bill in Paris on Jan. 13.

A poll the website released on Saturday found 63 percent of French people support same-sex marriage, compared to 60 percent who said they bac the issue last month. Forty-nine percent of respondents also support adoption rights for gays and lesbians, compared to 46 percent in December.

“To mobilize so many people just before the discussion of [the proposal,] which is supposed to pass anyway is a great success,” Charles Roncier, a gay blogger who is an assistant editor-in-chief for the website, told the Blade.

Neighboring Spain and Belgium are among the European countries that allow same-sex couples to marry. The British House of Commons on Feb. 5 is scheduled to debate a bill that would allow nuptials for gays and lesbians in England and Wales, while Scottish lawmakers are also expected to vote on a similar measure later this year.

Polish legislators on Friday struck down three proposals that would have allowed gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.

Brian Ellner, who directed the Human Rights Campaign’s efforts in support of New York’s same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in June 2011, also took part in the latest march. He told the Blade from Paris that he feels nuptials for gays and lesbians in France would “have a significant impact across Europe.”

“Just as our New York win unleashed momentum across the United States, France is a cultural capital of Europe and historically has led on issues important to civil society,” he said.

Ellner also noted growing public support for the issue in the country, while All Out continues to collect signatures in support of the same-sex marriage and adoption measure. Bonnet said the group hopes to submit 200,000 of them to French lawmakers and ministers.

“It is giving a voice to that huge silent majority, the 60 percent of French people who are for equality and that we don’t really hear about in the debate,” he said.

France, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Hundreds of thousands of same-sex marriage supporters marched through the streets of Paris on Jan. 27. (Photo courtesy of Brian Ellner)


British Institute advises fertility treatment for lesbians

pregnancy, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo public domain)

LONDON — The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the UK now recommends that gay couples and women over the age of 40 be given fertility treatment despite concerns about how the state provision will be paid for, the Daily Telegraph, a London-based newspaper, reported.

The Institute recommends that lesbian couples be offered six cycles of artificial insemination and, if that fails, in-vitro fertilization, the Telegraph reported. Since the Institute does not have to consider budgets when setting its guidelines, opponents say hospitals will be unable to afford the extra treatment without making drastic cuts to other services. The Institute is updating a 2004 directive and says it’s taking “medical advances and changes in society” into account in its recommendation, the Telegraph said.

Just more than 1,000 cycles of insemination were performed on women in same-sex relationships there in 2010, resulting in 152 babies. The number of cylces of IVF for this group rose from less than 100 in 2009 to 561 in 2010, resulting in 215 babies, the report said. Most couples paid for treatment privately, the Telegraph reported.


Queen Elizabeth II to support anti-discrimination pledge

Elizabeth II, Queen of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Defender of the Faith, gay news, Washington Blade

Queen Elizabeth II (Photo public domain)

A British newspaper on Sunday reported Queen Elizabeth II will support a pledge that calls for an end of all forms of discrimination.

Elizabeth on Monday, which is Commonwealth Day in the 54 countries that comprise the British Commonwealth, will sign a charter that includes a statement that declares opposition “to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, creed, political belief or other grounds.” The charter does not specifically refer to gay men and lesbians, but the Daily Mail cites sources within Buckingham Palace who said “other grounds” implies LGBT rights.

“This is an important development,” Andy Wasley of the British LGBT advocacy group Stonewall told the Washington Blade.

The queen will sign the charter less than six weeks after the British House of Commons overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Scottish lawmakers in the coming weeks are expected to debate the issue.

Anti-sodomy laws remain on the books in a number of British Commonwealth countries. These include Jamaica and Uganda, where lawmakers are poised to debate a bill that would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

India’s Delhi High Court in 2009 decriminalized same-sex sexual activity among consenting adults.

A bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in New Zealand is scheduled to have its second reading in the country’s Parliament on March 13. Gays and lesbians can also tie the knot in Canada and South Africa.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has previously suggested the allocation of international aid should hinge upon a country’s record on LGBT issues.

“The fact that the queen as head of the Commonwealth is publicly endorsing a statement that opposes discrimination on any grounds sends a strong signal to the many Commonwealth countries where homosexuality remains illegal,” Wasley said. “We’re proud that having achieved equality here in Britain we’re now able to challenge anti-gay discrimination around the world with the Commonwealth’s backing.”


Canadian lawmaker country’s first gay provincial premier

Kathleen Wynne, gay news, Washington Blade

Kathleen Wynne (Photo by Blane McPhail)

An Ontario legislator on Saturday became the first gay person elected provincial premier in Canada.

Kathleen Wynne defeated Sandra Pupatello to succeed Premier Dalton McGuinty after three rounds of voting at the Ontario Liberal Party’s convention that took place at a Toronto arena. She will formally take office before the provincial legislature reconvenes on Feb. 19.

“This weekend, Ontario Liberals came together to support the vision of a stronger, healthier, and fairer province,” Wynne, who is also the first woman elected to lead the Ontarian government, said in a statement after her election. “I’m excited to take these ideas and put them into action, for all of us.”

Wynne, a former Ontario education and aboriginal affairs minister whom voters first elected to the provincial legislature in 2003, will be among the handful of lesbians around the world who have achieved prominent political office. These include Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo in 2011 became the European Union’s first openly gay head of state.

“I believe that it sends out a tremendous signal of hope and empowerment to those young lesbians and gay men across Ontario and beyond, especially those living in small rural communities who feel isolated and alone,” former Canadian Parliamentarian Svend Robinson, who came out during a 1988 press conference, wrote in an op-ed the Globe and Mail newspaper published. “Now, they can be anything they want to be, including premier. Given the devastatingly high levels of suicide and attempted suicide among LGBT youth, this is important. It will save lives and build self-esteem.”

Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Egale Canada, also welcomed Wynne’s election.

“We’re very proud of her,” she told the Washington Blade during an interview from Toronto on Monday. “We’re very proud of her accomplishment. We’re also very proud of the fact she’s progressive, which I think is equally as significant as being a lesbian and a woman, so we’re very pleased and we’re looking forward to working with her over the course of the next few months and into her tenure as premier of the Parliament.”

While gays and lesbians have been able to legally marry across Canada since 2005, Kennedy said she expects Wynne will have an impact on other LGBT-specific issues once she officially takes office. These include reducing homophobia and transphobia within the country’s education system, tackling homelessness among LGBT youth in Toronto and other cities, improving access to health care for trans Canadians and adding gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“In addition to the issues of the economy and transportation and everything else, she has a lot of other priorities that she will have to be aware of and I know that she is,” Kennedy said. “That’s one of the things that’s really great to have an out lesbian as our premier because she comes into the position with a fundamental understanding of some of those issues.”

Wynne, who has three children from her previous marriage to Phil Cowperthwaite, lives in North Toronto with her partner of 25 years, Jane Rounthwaite.


HIV rates up for gay men in Israel, UK

Tel Aviv, Israel, gay news, Washington Blade, gay pride

Tel Aviv Gay Pride (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

(TEL AVIV/LONDON) — Israel has seen a 55 percent increase in HIV infection rates among gay men there since 2005 according to the country’s Health Ministry figures while the latest numbers in the UK report HIV rates among gay men have continued to rise there as well.

In a report from the Independent, a British daily, that cited research from the Health Protection Agency and the University College London, the number of UK men who’ve had sex with men without condoms has risen 26 percent between 1990 and 2010.

The latest research, published in the Plos One journal, also showed that the number of infections would have been 68 percent worse without the use of anti-retroviral drugs in the same period and 400 percent greater if gay and bi men had stopped using condoms altogether from 2000 onward. New diagnoses among gay men in the UK reached an all-time high in 2011 with 3,010 men testing positive, the Independent reported.

The numbers are much lower in Israel, according to a report from Haaretz, a daily Tel Aviv-based newspaper, but still represent an increase. Citing Health Ministry numbers, Haaretz, reported 150 new HIV cases among gay men there in 2011.

The increase, Haaretz reported, has led the Health Ministry to conduct periodic surveys of sexual habits among gay men there. In a 2010 survey of 2,000 men, 20 percent reported they had had anal sex without a condom in the past six months. About 25 percent reported using recreational drugs.

Researchers in the UK said effective HIV treatment has made it “less visible” than it was pre-1996. One researcher told the Independent that gay men still use condoms “most of the time” and that 80,000 more cases would have occurred had condom use stopped entirely there.


Jamaican gay rights advocate visits D.C.

Dane Lewis, Jamaica, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals & Gays, gay news, Washington Blade

Dane Lewis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dane Lewis, executive director of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, was visiting a gay friend in Kingston, the country’s capital, on a Sunday night in the late 1990s when a group of men slashed three of his car’s tires.

A mob had already formed when he told his friends who were inside the house that they needed to leave. The men eventually stoned Lewis’ car — and a friend who was sitting in the backseat still has shards of glass in his arm after they broke a window.

“We took a girlfriend with us, which we thought would have been a good cover, but that clearly didn’t work,” Lewis told the Washington Blade on Sunday before he attended a D.C. Center-organized mixer at Larry’s Lounge in Dupont Circle. “The community already had an issue with the guy that we went to see and obviously reacted because he had friends that the others thought were gay coming to visit.”

Lewis, who has been with J-FLAG since Feb. 2008, spoke with the Blade roughly two months after he appeared in a public awareness campaign designed to promote greater acceptance of LGBT Jamaicans.

He said reaction to the “We Are Jamaicans” campaign has been “thankfully very positive,” but he has received some negative feedback. This includes a threatening note left on his car outside his Kingston home that read “Batty man for dead” or “Gay man should be murdered” in Jamaican slang.

“We are claiming space in a way that they think we really should keep our lives private and behind closed doors,” Lewis said. “That sadly has been just the way that LGBT people are expected to play to survive in a culture like ours. They would obviously find it offensive that people are being so comfortable with their orientation and the need to speak openly about their realities.”

J-FLAG has faced a number of challenges since its 1998 founding.

A man stabbed Brian Williamson, the organization’s co-founder, to death inside his Kingston home in 2004. Former J-FLAG executive director Gareth Henry sought asylum in Canada in 2008 after he received death threats.

A J-FLAG report said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004. Authorities found honorary British consul John Terry strangled to death inside his home near Montego Bay in 2009 — they found a note left next to his body that referred to him as “batty boy.”

The State Department, Human Rights Watch and other groups have criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence on the island. J-FLAG is among the organizations that have blasted Buju Banton, Elephant Man, Sizzla and other reggae and dancehall for lyrics they contend incite anti-gay violence.

In spite of these challenges, Lewis notes the country’s LGBT rights movement has seen some advances in recent years.

Jamaican singer Diana King came out as a lesbian last summer in a post to her Facebook page. Beenie Man in the same year apologized for his anti-gay song lyrics.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson said shortly before her Dec. 2011 election her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law. It has yet to do so, but the Jamaica Supreme Court in June will hear a case that challenges the colonial-era statute on grounds it violates a constitutionally-guaranteed right to privacy.

“It will be a very interesting case to watch,” Lewis said. “It will give a better sense of where the courts are at in terms of protecting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”

Lewis spoke with the Blade a day before Queen Elizabeth II signed a Commonwealth charter with an anti-discrimination statement that reportedly includes an implicit reference to gay men and lesbians. He said President Obama’s statements in support of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage have had a positive effect in Jamaica.

“What it has done has opened up a debate for us around the issue of rights and whether same-sex marriage needs to be on the table,” Lewis said.

Lewis remains optimistic this progress will continue in the years to come.

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson in December said lawmakers should repeal the country’s anti-sodomy law. A January sexuality symposium included LGBT-specific information, but a recent J-FLAG report found only 17 percent of Jamaicans tolerate gay men and lesbians.

A video showing a mob at a Jamaican university attacking a student whom they reportedly caught in a “compromising position” with another man in a bathroom went viral last November. The clip captures two security officers beating the man while the crowd calls him “batty boy.”

J-FLAG statistics note one third of Jamaicans feel the government has not done enough to protect their LGBT countrymen. Lewis said the Nov. 2012 incident and others like it help “generate the conversation” about gay and lesbian rights in the country.

“We need to capitalize on that energy and begin to have some public discourse,” he said.