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State Dept. denounces ‘rising violence’ against LGBT people worldwide

John Kerry, United States Department of State, LGBT, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participates in an LGBT ministerial event in New York last September during the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo courtesy of the State Department.)

LGBT rights feature prominently in the 2013 Human Rights Report the U.S. State Department released on Thursday.

The report specifically references draconian anti-gay measures that Ugandan and Nigerian lawmakers approved last year – their country’s presidents signed them into law earlier this week and last month respectively. The State Department also notes up to 200 people may remain incarcerated in Cameroon under the country’s sodomy law.

The report further highlights Russian President Vladimir Putin last June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“From Nigeria to Russia to Iran, indeed in some 80 countries the world over, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack their basic human dignity and undermine their safety,” said Secretary of State John Kerry as he unveiled the report in D.C. “We are seeing new laws like the Anti-Homosexuality Bill enacted by Uganda and signed into law by President Museveni earlier this week, which not only makes criminals of people for who they are, but punishes those who defend the human rights that are universal birthright.”

Kerry further stressed the aforementioned anti-gay laws “contribute to a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons and their supporters.”

“They are an affront to every reasonable conscience,” he said.

Individual country reports also contain LGBT-specific information.

The report notes the Indian government challenged a December ruling from the country’s highest court that recriminalized homosexuality. A Belizean LGBT advocacy group continued to challenge the Central American country’s colonial-era sodomy law in 2013.

The State Department highlighted Chilean authorities “appeared reluctant” to investigate and prosecute anti-LGBT attacks, even though the South American country’s hate crimes law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The report also noted Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, “continued to be outspoken in promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons” in Cuba in 2013. Ignacio Estrada Cepero, founder of the Cuban League Against AIDS, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) are among those who continue to criticize Mariela Castro and her father’s government over the country’s human rights record.

“Non-government rights activists asserted that the government had not done enough to stop harassment of LGBT persons,” reads the State Department report. “Several unrecognized NGOs promoted LGBT issues and faced government criticism, not for their promotion of LGBT issues, but for their independence from official government institutions.”

Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, on Thursday noted a group of partygoers stabbed a cross-dressing Jamaican teenager to death outside Montego Bay last July.

“LGBT conduct is criminalized in nearly 80 countries worldwide,” said Zeya. “Even when these laws are not enforced, their mere existence creates a climate of fear and sends a message to the broader population that it’s permissible to discriminate against LGBT persons in housing, in employment, in education and that it’s permissible to beat or kill or torture someone simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The State Department issued the report three days after the Obama administration announced it had begun a review of its relationship with Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

The State Department’s Global Equality Fund since 2011 has spent more than $4 million in 25 countries to directly support LGBT advocates and underrepresented groups. USAID last April unveiled a public-private partnership with the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and other groups that will $12 million over the next four years to LGBT activist organizations in Honduras and other developing countries – the initiative’s first two trainings took place in the Colombian cities of Bogotá and Cartagena last May and August respectively.

Seven LGBT rights advocates from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic recently visited D.C., New York, Texas and California as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Activists from Latvia, Serbia, Russia, Georgia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and other countries have traveled to the U.S. over the last year.

“We agree when Kerry said, ‘the United States government best advances its national interests when its policy choices are rooted in consistent adherence to human rights principles,” said Robyn Lieberman of Human Rights First after the State Department issued its report. “As the secretary (Kerry) said, ‘countries that deny human rights and human dignity threaten our interests, and countries that practice these rights create opportunities.’ We agree and believe that the publication of the Country Reports should serve to inform the formation of policies that can contribute to solutions that the human rights violations described in the report are so badly in need of.”

28
Feb
2014

Activist tells U.N. panel LGBT people face ‘brutal’ violence

Kenita Placide, United and Strong, St. Lucia, gay news, Washington Blade

Kenita Placide of United and Strong, an LGBT rights group in St. Lucia, on March 20 testified before the U.N. Committee on the Status of Women. (Photo courtesy of United and Strong)

A St. Lucian LGBT rights advocate told a U.N. commission last week that lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people around the world face “brutal physical and psychological violence”

“Globally, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and others with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities face brutal physical and psychological violence,” said Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., in a statement she read on behalf of 76 organizations from 28 countries during a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York on March 20. “We are subjected to harassment, assault and discrimination in the global North and South alike.”

Placide read the statement on behalf of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus. United Belize Advocacy Movement, AIDS Foundation of Suriname, Minority Rights Dominica, Space for Salvadoran Lesbian Women for Diversity in El Salvador, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Council for Global Equality are among the groups that signed onto it.

“Realities and fears of violence and discrimination have direct impact on people’s ability to live safely, earn a living, have roofs over their heads and to be healthy,” reads the statement. “When people are persecuted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, they will be forced to recede, go underground, forfeit privacy and personal and family safety, even as they resist, organize and fight for justice at great personal risk in the North and South alike.”

St. Lucia is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The U.S. is among the countries that have curtailed aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, last month signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay measure that, among other things, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last June heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. The Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize a month earlier heard a challenge to an identical statute the United Belize Advocacy Movement filed in 2010.

“The criminalization of adult consensual sexual activity and our communities, along with efforts by political and religious authorities to manipulate and stoke fears about sexual orientation and gender identity, only makes matters worse,” said the LBT Caucus in the statement that Placide read. “Whether at the national level or at the CSW (U.N. Commission on the Status of Women), decision makers must stop using these issues and our lives for their geopolitical gain.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in a video message during a panel with retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, current Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins and others that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“An abuse against any of us is an affront to all,” said Ban. “Human rights can only be visible when we stand in solidarity as one.”

Vice President Joe Biden on March 22 said the U.S. should “champion” LGBT rights around the world during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in Los Angeles.

“I travelled to most countries in the world, and I can tell you, they’re looking to us as an example, as a champion of LGBT rights everywhere,” said Biden.

26
Mar
2014

Dennis, Judy Shepard push human rights in Caribbean

Judy Shepard, Cokie Roberts, gay news, Matthew Shepard, Washington Blade

Judy Shepard, on right, with Cokie Roberts, at an event unrelated to the Shepards’ Caribbean visit. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Dennis and Judy Shepard are in the Caribbean this week to meet with LGBT rights advocates, parents and other officials.

They met with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago on Monday upon their arrival in the country. The Shepards later that day attended a reception at an art gallery in Port of Spain, the Caribbean nation’s capital.

The couple also met with a group of parents and attended a forum at the University of the West Indies. The Shepards were also scheduled to attend a screening of “The Laramie Project” at the University of Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday.

The couple is slated to meet with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica and Jamaican LGBT and human rights advocates upon their arrival in Kingston, the Jamaican capital, later this week. Nearly 200 people are also scheduled to attend a screening of “The Laramie Project.”

Judy Shepard told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from Port of Spain that she and her husband received an invitation to travel to Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.

“We always take advantage to talk about the human rights agenda,” she said.

“We’re going again to talk about human rights and equal rights throughout these countries at the behest of organizations and human rights activists within those countries and with the support of our own government,” added Dennis Shepard. “If Matt was alive, we wouldn’t be doing this. It would be him.”

The Shepards’ visit to Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica is their fourth trip abroad with the U.S. State Department.

The couple traveled to Singapore, Taiwan and Sweden late last year. The Shepards visited Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Hungary in September 2012.

“What the rest of the world is experiencing also reflects back into the U.S.,” Judy Shepard told the Blade, referring to marriage rights for same-sex couples and other global advances in LGBT rights. “It sets an example for everybody else.”

Colin Robinson of CAISO, a Trinidadian LGBT advocacy organization, met the Shepards on Monday during the Port of Spain reception.

“For folks here it was exciting and inspiring meeting parents who have been able to take that role after their son’s death and who are taking leadership in creating space for equality, for LGBTI people,” he told the Blade on Tuesday during an interview from his home outside the Trinidadian capital. “The biggest impact of the visit may be inspiring people who are struggling and organizing here to make change that there are people like the Shepards who can and will join the fight.”

Robinson said two government officials attended the Monday reception, but it remains unclear whether Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar met with the Shepards. Vice President Biden met with the her last May while he was in Trinidad and Tobago to meet with other Caribbean leaders.

Dane Lewis, executive director of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, told the Blade he and his colleagues are scheduled to meet with the Shepards on Friday.

“We feel that it is timely, what with the reality being faced by many LGBT youth and their families struggling to deal with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Rampant anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica has garnered headlines around the world.

A group of partygoers stabbed Dwayne Brown to death near Montego Bay last July after someone at the gathering realized the teenager was cross-dressing.

A Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays report said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004. These include Brian Williamson, the organization’s co-founder who was stabbed to death inside his Kingston home in 2004.

Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica are among the English-speaking Caribbean countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said shortly before her Dec. 2011 election that her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. It has yet to do so, but the Jamaica Supreme Court last June heard a lawsuit that challenges the colonial-era statute.

Robinson noted his country recently had a “discussion around sexual orientation and citizenship” within the context of constitutional reforms.

“There’s no political leadership on this issue,” he told the Blade. “There is a climate where it would be very easy for politicians to take leadership… but they won’t.”

Robinson acknowledged anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica is “real” and “worse objectively” than what he said occurs in his own nation. He added he feels the country has seen some progress on LGBT-specific issues that has yet to occur in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Our violence happens in homes,” said Robinson. “Homophobic violence is by parents and relatives and not mobs. Looking in it’s very eager to see the Caribbean as this place of backwardness and horror where terrible things happen, but there have also been changes that we admire in Jamaica that haven’t happened here.”

Robinson added he feels the Shepards’ trip will have what he described as a largely “domestic” impact in the sense that it will inspire Trinidadian advocates to continue to seek progress on LGBT-specific issues.

“It’s really important to us here to domesticate these issues,” said Robinson. “That is the only way progress will happen. It won’t happen through U.S. imports. International media will help, but it will really happen when people perhaps inspired by the Shepards – parents, ordinary heterosexual people, those of us who are trying to build a movement.”

09
Apr
2014

Jamaican LGBT advocates condemn murder of cross-dressing teenager

Montigo Bay, Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

A street in Montego Bay, Jamaica. (Photo by D. Ramey Logan via Wikimedia Commons)

Jamaican LGBT rights advocates have expressed outrage over the reported murder of a cross-dressing teenager near the resort city of Montego Bay.

The radio station Irie FM reported the 17-year-old was dancing with a man at a party on July 21 while dressed as a woman when someone realized the teen was cross-dressing. A second man reportedly discovered the teenager was actually male.

Irie FM said a group of party-goers stabbed the 17-year-old to death either late on July 21 or early Monday morning before dumping the teen’s body in bushes on the side of a road.

The Jamaica-Gleaner reported earlier today that police officers found the teen, whom they identified as Dwayne Jones, with what it described as “multiple stab wounds and a gunshot wound.”

“We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the teenager who was slain,” the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG,) a Jamaican LGBT rights group, said in a statement it issued on Tuesday. “We call for a thorough investigation into the murder of the teenager in Montego Bay and hope that the family and loved ones of the slained teen will find the justice they deserve.”

Jones’ murder comes against the backdrop of pervasive anti-LGBT violence in the Caribbean nation.

A J-FLAG report said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004.

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

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,” a derogatory term used against gay men in Jamaica.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with the group AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland in 2012 after he received death threats after local media reported he had married a Canadian man, told the Washington Blade from his home in upstate New York that there have been nine reported anti-gay murders on the island so far this year. He added there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of reported attacks against LGBT Jamaicans since 2009.

Tomlinson said this spike in the number of reported incidents could be the result of the work advocates have done to document human rights abuses against LGBT Jamaicans.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last month heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor.

“The rhetoric is getting much more toxic,” Tomlinson said, noting brutal attacks against gay Jamaicans has become more common. He said they are no longer confined to just Kingston and a handful of other areas. “We’re not sure if the increase in attacks is a function of that or the reporting.”

The State Department, Amnesty International and other groups have criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence in the country.

AIDS-Free world has challenged Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in D.C. It has also asked the group that is housed within the Organization for American States to formally respond to the ongoing persecution that homeless men who have sex with men and other vulnerable groups of gay Jamaicans face.

Tomlinson’s group also plans to ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to formally condemn discrimination and violence against LGBT Jamaicans.

The Organization of American States, of which Jamaica is a member, last month adopted an anti-discrimination resolution that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression during its annual meeting that took place in Guatemala. Jamaica declined to accept the protocol’s LGBT-specific recommendations.

Tomlinson, who appeared on the National Public Radio program “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin on Monday to discuss the documentary “The Abominable Crime” that examines anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica, told the Blade the government has been “absolutely silent” on the issue.

Former J-FLAG staffer Nico Tyndale’s cousin was murdered in Jamaica earlier this year because his assailants thought he was gay.

Tyndale told the Blade earlier on Tuesday that many people continue argue the country is not homophobic – and gay Jamaicans are actually “the ones killing ourselves.”

“We can’t even be who we are,” Tyndale said. “Being who we are only leads to a mob and a slaughter.”

24
Jul
2013

Activists protest anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica

Jamaica, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates protested outside the Jamaican embassy near Dupont Circle on Aug. 28. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

A group of LGBT rights advocates on Wednesday gathered in front of the Jamaican embassy near Dupont Circle in Northwest D.C. to demand authorities investigate last month’s murder of a cross-dressing teenager.

Ten activists affiliated with GetEQUAL, the D.C. Center and other groups held illuminated panels with various slogans in front of the embassy on New Hampshire Avenue, N.W. A handful of others from the Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition in Springfield, Mass., took part in a second gathering in Boston.

30 LGBT rights advocates gathered outside the Jamaican High Commission to protest Jones’ murder and the death of Dwayne Brown, a gay man who was found stabbed to death near the resort city of Montego Bay early on Aug. 27.

“Jamaica has long been called the most homophobic place on Earth,” Cathy Kristofferson of the Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition said outside the Jamaican embassy in D.C. “The violence due to homophobia has prompted hundreds of LGBT Jamaicans to seek asylum in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Currently the country is doing nothing to distance itself from that label.”

A group of partygoers reportedly stabbed Jones, 17, to death near Montego Bay on July 21 after someone at the gathering realized the teen was cross-dressing. The radio station Irie FM reported a man at the party discovered Jones was actually a male.

Jones murder took place against the backdrop of pervasive anti-LGBT violence in the Caribbean country.

A report from the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG,) a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered on the island between 1997 and 2004. These include J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson who was stabbed to death inside his home in Kingston, the country’s capital, in 2004.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with the group AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland last year after he received death threats after local media reported he had married a Canadian man, noted in an Aug. 29 post to his blog there have been several anti-LGBT attacks in Jamaica since Jones’ death. These include a mob who attacked a cross-dresser in St. Catherine outside of Kingston on Aug. 10, and a group who surrounded the home of two gay men in the same area nine days earlier.

Nearly 1,500 people in June attended a Kingston rally in support of the country’s anti-sodomy law a few days before the Jamaica Supreme Court heard a lawsuit that challenges the statute under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said during an Aug. 26 press conference at which he discussed a new school curriculum that it would not be “grooming Jamaican children for homosexual behavior.”

“The material stands squarely against any kind of discrimination, but there is a line to be drawn and we have drawn it clearly,” Thwaites said. “The values we propose for human relationships — wholesome, joyous relationships are between men and women.”

Authorities have yet to make any arrests in Jones’ death.

“The government of Jamaica, through the Jamaica Constabulary Force, is continuing its investigation of the killing of Dwayne Jones,” Jamaica Ambassador to the U.S. Stephen Vasciannie told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “We are confident that, if sufficient evidence is unearthed, the director of Public Prosecutions will bring appropriate charges in keeping with Jamaican law.”

Vasciannie also referred to Justice Minister Mark Golding’s July 29 statement in which he condemned Jones’ murder.

“Given our country’s history of brutality and the pluralistic nature of our society, all well-thinking Jamaicans must embrace the principle of respect for the basic human rights of all persons,” Golding said. “This principle requires tolerance towards minority groups and non-violence in our dealings with those who manifest a lifestyle that differs from the majority of us.”

The groups who organized the protests in D.C., Boston and London also called for a boycott of Jamaica’s tourism industry and urged businesses not to invest in the island’s economy “until the hate and homophobia ends.”

30
Aug
2013

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.

12
Mar
2013

D.C. Center to launch immigrant asylum program

Mova, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT nightlife

Mova (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

The D.C. LGBT Community Center held a fundraiser Jan. 8 at MOVA to launch a new program to assist LGBT foreign nationals who apply for U.S. political asylum to escape persecution in their home countries.

The program, called Center Global, is aimed at providing temporary housing, financial assistance and referrals to service providers for LGBT foreigners in the D.C. area who are going through the complicated process of applying for and awaiting approval for political asylum, according to Center director David Mariner and Center Global coordinator Matthew Corso.

The two noted that legal groups have long provided pro bono legal representation for people going through this process, some of whom have fled their home countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Jamaica after encountering violent assaults and death threats due to their sexual orientation.

But those going through the legal process are banned from working in the U.S. until their asylum application is approved, making it difficult for them to pay for housing, food and other basic necessities, Mariner and Corso said.

“Basically, what we’re trying to do is raise the funds to help support the folks who are here going through this process,” said Corso. “We also want to raise awareness within the D.C. LGBT community of the plight of LGBT people being persecuted in other countries around the world.”

09
Jan
2013

Gay advocates outside U.S. welcome Obama’s inaugural address

Barack Obama, Inauguration 2013, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama made history by including gays and lesbians in his 2013 inaugural address in two instances. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBT advocates around the world continue to praise President Obama for including gays and lesbians in his second inaugural address.

Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals or ABGLT in Portuguese, described the specific references to the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and “our gay brothers and sisters” as a “bold stance.”

“May the position you have taken publicly serve as an example for many politicians who are our allies but who remain in the closet when it comes to defending our rights publicly, or those that yield to political pressure from leaders opposed to gay rights and veto affirmative public policies for the LGBT population in exchange for political support,” he said in a press release. “Your gesture has demonstrated the importance of taking a firm and unambiguous position.”

Simón Cazal, chief executive officer of Somosgay, an LGBT advocacy organization in Paraguay, also applauded the president’s speech.

“President Obama’s declarations were received with much happiness in Paraguay because of the positive global impact they have on the LGBT movement,” he told the Washington Blade on Wednesday. “It gives hope to activists in countries where we confront violence and even death for simply being who we are.”

LGBT rights around the world became a cornerstone of the White House’s foreign policy during the president’s first term.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Dec. 2011 declared “gay rights are human rights” during a landmark speech in Geneva that commemorated International Human Rights Day. The White House on the same day released a presidential memo that directed agencies responsible for American foreign policy to promote LGBT rights.

The State Department has also spoken out against anti-LGBT violence in Honduras, Jamaica, Uganda, Zimbabwe and other countries — Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha is among those Clinton honored at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, the East African country’s capital, in August.

The former First Lady also spoke at the International AIDS Conference that took place last summer in D.C.

“Both achievements and failures in LGBT rights issues of America and other developed countries are often watched closely by emerging, young LGBT communities such as [the] LGBT Centre of Mongolia,” Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel, the group’s executive director, told the Blade in reference to Clinton’s speech in Geneva. “This time we are proud of Mr. Barack Obama who is in sync with the voice for equal rights and justice for all human beings. Mongolia — a small but ambitious nomadic mentality between two big powers — has been attempting to adopt democratic principles, values and ways of thinking into its post-socialistic transitional society and the United States of America is our third ally and definitely a role model of democracy.”

The president’s second inaugural speech also coincided with same-sex marriage debates that are currently underway in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, México and other countries.

New Zealand Parliamentarian Louisa Wall told the Blade she feels media coverage of the speech in her country “is contributing positively to the marriage equality debate” there.

“His words spoke to the heart of national identity based on passed social developments — all of us are created equal — recounting Seneca Falls, the evolution of women’s rights, Selma, [the] evolution of racial equality and Stonewall, the beginning of the evolution of the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s to live open and honest lives,” she said. “Marriage equality will fulfill the values envisaged in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights — that all people have the ability to be born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

She added Obama’s LGBT-inclusive inaugural address reaffirm Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s previous comments against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

“[For] President Obama to say ‘Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well’ enshrines his commitment to full equality and non-discrimination in this his second presidential term,” Wall said. “This leadership is clear and concise — a truth that Obama is completely committed to, that of one law for all and the belief in and realization of full equality, in status, rights and opportunities for all.”

Jaime Parada Hoyl, who last October became Chile’s first openly gay candidate elected to office when he won a seat on the Providencia municipal council outside Santiago, the country’s capital, agreed.

“Today’s most important [world] leader is actually saying to the rest of us that governments have an obligation to protect their citizens from discrimination and abuses motivated by sexual orientation,” he told the Blade. “This cannot be overlooked. We expect a lot from Obama’s second term on this matter and hope that this will be able to translate to the rest of the world.”

Jaime Parada Hoyl, Chile, gay news, Washington Blade

Jaime Parada Hoyl on Oct. 28 became Chile’s first openly gay candidate elected to office. (Photo courtesy of Jaime Parada Hoyl)

24
Jan
2013

Gay Jamaican man challenges country’s anti-sodomy law

Javed Jaghi, Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

Javed Jaghi is the first person to challenge Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law from within the country. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

A Jamaican gay rights activist last week filed the Caribbean island’s first domestic challenge to its anti-sodomy law.

AIDS-Free World on Feb. 7 filed the complaint with the Jamaica Supreme Court on behalf of Javed Jaghai, who said his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation. The Dartmouth College graduate talked about his case in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“It is a reminder that there is much more work to be done to achieve equality for gay Jamaicans,” Jaghai wrote. “We can sit patiently while our humanity is denied and wait for the paradigm to shift in a generation or two, or we can aggressively agitate for change now. I choose to do the latter.”

Those convicted under Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law, which dates back to 1864, face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St. Kitts and Nevis are among the 11 English-speaking Caribbean countries that continue to criminalize homosexual acts.

The U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence in the country.

Jamaican lawmakers in 2011 unanimously approved a new constitution that explicitly guaranteed the right to privacy for the first time. Although the anti-sodomy law remains in place, Jaghai’s lawyers maintain it’s now impossible to enforce it.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland last February after he received death threats following local media reports about his marriage to a Canadian man, told the Washington Blade the eventual outcome of Jaghai’s case could reverberate throughout the region.

The Dutch island of Saba remains the only jurisdiction in the Caribbean that allows gays and lesbians to tie the knot. Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten do not allow same-sex marriage, but the Netherlands requires them to recognize those performed within the country.

Tomlinson said Jaghai’s case could potentially have an impact on relationship recognition of same-sex couples in the Caribbean.

“That would be a long-term effect we expect,” he said. “Right now it’s to get the courts to acknowledge that at least in private same-gender loving individuals have the rights of everyone else.”

The court is expected to hear Jaghai’s case on June 25.

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Feb
2013

State Department meets with LGBT travel representatives

Janice Jacobs, State Department, gay news, Washington Blade

Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, speaks at the Smart Traveler Day roundtable at the State Department on Feb. 20. (Photo courtesy of Esperanza Tilghman/State Department)

The State Department on Wednesday hosted a roundtable to discuss its efforts to provide LGBT-specific information to Americans who plan to travel overseas.

“We want all of our citizens to be informed about their destinations abroad and any particular challenges that they may face,” Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said. “We want them to know about the services that are available to them at our embassies and consulates if problems should happen, despite their precautions.”

Jacobs’ comments come five days after the Bureau of Consular Affairs added LGBT-specific information to its website that includes travel warnings, alerts and other country-specific advisories. These include references to “widespread” anti-gay discrimination in Ukraine, efforts to curb “the promotion of homosexuality” in Russian cities and an advisory that urges LGBT travelers to “consider exercising caution when visiting Estonia” because of harassment and violence those who have publicly shown affection have experienced.

The country-specific profiles also include information about HIV/AIDS travel restrictions.

“It’s important that our LGBT audiences know about the resources that we provide to help U.S. citizens travel safe and travel smart,” Jacobs said.

Michelle Bernier-Toth, managing director of Overseas Citizens Services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, further stressed the protection of Americans “is really the department’s top priority.” She and other officials sought recommendations and other feedback on the Smart Traveler Day initiative from the roughly 50 people who attended the meeting.

“It’s a start,” Bernier-Toth said. “It’s a recognition that this is a community that is on the move, is traveling. It’s an important community, an important stakeholder for us. And we are going to make it as robust and as useful as we can possibly make it.”

White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan also spoke at the gathering.

He pointed out the initiative typifies the Obama administration’s commitment to equality for LGBT people. Raghavan specifically pointed out the extension of benefits to same-sex partners of foreign service officers, new regulations that make it easier to change gender markers on passports and the Global Equality Fund.

“It really shows that this is how this administration does business,” he said. “We are all about advancing equality in every place that we can find.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed in 2011 a during a speech she delivered in Geneva that “gay rights are human rights.” President Obama on the same day directed government agencies to consider a country’s LGBT rights record in the allocation of foreign aid.

The State Department in recent years has spoken out against anti-LGBT violence in Honduras, Jamaica, Uganda, Zimbabwe and other countries.

Clinton and Obama urged the Ugandan government to protect the rights of its LGBT residents following the Jan. 2011 murder of gay activist David Kato amid the debate over the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would impose the death penalty against anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The former first lady last August honored Ugandan LGBT rights advocate Frank Mugisha and other human rights advocates at the U.S. embassy in Kampala, the country’s capital.

“Don’t ever lose context of what has been accomplished by this White House, by this secretary of State that will continue for four more years,” Charlie Rounds of the Forward Motion Group, who also chairs the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association Foundation, said. “It’s huge.”

Uganda is among the countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality. Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the seven nations that impose the death penalty upon those found guilty of same-sex sexual acts.

UNAIDS notes Australia, Israel and Singapore are among the 45 countries with travel restrictions against people with HIV/AIDS. Obama in 2009 completed the process former President George W. Bush began that lifted the ban on those with the virus from entering the country.

Bernier-Toth told the Washington Blade during the meeting the State Department rarely urges an LGBT traveler not to travel to a specific country that criminalizes homosexuality.

“The decision whether to travel is always up to the individual,” she said. “Our purpose in life is to put out that information as accurately and in a timely fashion so that people can make those smart decisions.”

IGLTA President John Tanzella added his organization tries to work with a particular destination through affiliated hotels and other travel-related businesses as opposed to boycotting them.

“There’s also gay and lesbian citizens everywhere that we eventually hurt,” he said.

Lisa Peterson of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Ken Kero-Mentz, president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, also attended the roundtable.

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2013