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EXCLUSIVE: Former manager of Russian gay nightclub to seek asylum in U.S.

Arkady Gyngazov, Russia, Moscow, gay news, Washington Blade

Arkady Gyngazov arrived in D.C. last month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The former manager of a Russian gay nightclub that has been attacked several times over the last few months told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview on Thursday he plans to seek asylum in the United States.

Arkady Gyngazov and three of his friends arrived in D.C. on Dec. 14 after flying from Moscow to New York the day before.

He told the Blade he has obtained a pro bono lawyer through Immigration Equality and the D.C. Center who agreed to take his case. Gyngazov has also worked with Larry Poltavtsev of Spectrum Human Rights, an organization that monitors the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record, since he arrived in the nation’s capital.

Gyngazov said he will formally seek asylum once his visa expires in June.

“I’m not going to go back to Russia because I feel my safety, even my life, is threatened,” he said.

Gyngazov was managing the Central Station nightclub in Moscow on Nov. 16 when two men whom security personnel refused to allow inside the establishment opened fire. None of the estimated 500 people who were inside the club during the incident were injured, but the assailants destroyed its surveillance camera and left bullet holes in the building’s facade.

An estimated 500 people evacuated Central Station on Nov. 23 after a group of assailants launched poisonous gas into the club. The Moscow Times reported roughly 100 people on Dec. 14 “dismantled” the roof of the building in which Central Station is located and either damaged or stole some of the club’s equipment that had been stored in the attic.

Gyngazov told the Blade during an interview from Moscow after the Nov. 16 incident the owners of the building placed a large neon sign above the club’s entrance the month before that reads “gay club here.” It also contains an arrow that points toward the door.

“I’m afraid because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, what will happen to me,” he said on Thursday. “I’m not going to hide all my life.”

Gyngazov, 32, grew up in the Siberian city of Tomsk. He moved to Moscow in 2006.

Gyngazov is not out to his two younger siblings or his grandparents, even though he said he realized he was gay when he was a child. His parents are deceased.

He said life for LGBT Russians was “easier than now” in the 1990s under then-President Boris Yeltsin, in part, because his government was struggling to rebuild the country’s economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Gyngazov told the Blade “he never thought” the Russian Duma would pass a bill that sought to ban gay propaganda to minors and that President Vladimir Putin would sign it into law.

“He’s making a dictatorship, like the Soviet Union two,” said Gyngazov.

Gyngazov said he recently read an article in a Russian newspaper in which government officials said the suicide bombers who killed 34 people in two separate bombings in Volgograd late last month targeted the city because the West has sought to export homosexuality to Russia. Authorities said two men tortured and killed Vladislav Tornovoi near Volgograd last May after he came out to them.

The Duma last month approved a sweeping amnesty bill that prompted the release of two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot who had been serving two-year prison sentences for staging a protest against Putin inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012. Authorities in December also released a group of 30 Greenpeace members who had been in custody since they tried to board an oil rig in the Barents Sea in September and Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was serving a 10-year prison sentence after his conviction on fraud charges in 2005.

Gyngazov told the Blade he thinks Putin granted amnesty to members of Pussy Riot, the Greenpeace members and Khodorkovsky because he wanted to temper criticism of his country’s human rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place next month in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. He said he remains fearful of what will happen to LGBT Russians once the games end.

“I’m afraid for my friends who stay there,” said Gyngazov. “When I talk to them, I can’t help them.”


Pennsylvania couple seeks marriage rights

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rdsmith4; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PHILADELPHIA—A married lesbian couple from suburban Philadelphia has filed a federal lawsuit against a Pennsylvania law that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Isabelle Barker and Cara Palladino tied the knot in Massachusetts in 2005.

The couple moved to Pennsylvania shortly after their wedding when Barker accepted a position at Bryn Mawr College. Barker gave birth to the couple’s son in 2009.

“We took on the commitment of marriage in 2005 and have supported each other through life’s ups and down,” said Palladino. “We think it is wrong for Pennsylvania to void our marriage and treat us as though we are unmarried when we are very much a loving family.”

Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, initiated the lawsuit that was filed on Jan. 13 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Mary Bonauto of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is among those who are co-counsel in the case.

“On behalf of Cara and Isabelle and other legally married same-sex families, we will take this injustice as far as is needed to affirm the nation’s 226-year-old history of recognizing marriages from sister states,” said Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin.

The American Civil Liberties Union last July filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s statutory gay marriage ban on behalf of 11 same-sex couples and a widow. State Reps. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) and Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery County) and state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) have introduced same-sex marriage bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature.


Uganda president: Nobody should ‘impose their views on us’

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has responded to President Obama’s criticism of him over his decision to sign a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

“Africans do not seek to impose their views on anybody,” said Museveni in a Feb. 18 statement the Washington Blade obtained on Friday, referring to Obama’s comments on the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill he issued earlier this week. “We do not want anybody to impose their views on us. This very debate was provoked by Western groups who come to our schools and try to recruit children into homosexuality. It is better to limit the damage rather than exacerbate it.”

Museveni said he sought “scientific opinions” on whether people were “born homosexual” before he announced on Feb. 14 he would sign the controversial measure his country’s lawmakers approved late last year. The Ugandan president specifically cited Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy – with whom he met last month – for sending him information from U.S. scientists who said “there could be some indications that homosexuality could be congenital.”

Museveni said scientists from the Ugandan Ministry of Health and two other agencies came to a “unanimous conclusion” that “homosexuality, contrary to my earlier thinking, was behavioral and not genetic.”

“I have now received their signed document, which says there is no single gene that has been traced to cause homosexuality,” said the Ugandan president. “What I want them to clarify is whether a combination of genes can cause anybody to be homosexual. Then my task will be finished and I will sign the bill.”

Museveni’s Feb. 18 statement came a day before reports emerged he had signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. The Ugandan government did not return the Blade’s request for comment, and the RFK Center and other organizations were unable to confirm the reports.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who met with Museveni in the East African country on Jan. 23, told the Blade on Thursday. “As I’ve said before, it is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

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

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively on behalf of a Ugandan LGBT rights group that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled Sexual Minorities Uganda’s lawsuit can move forward.

Lively and other anti-gay advocates held a press conference at the National Press Club in downtown Washington on Friday where they unveiled a new coalition designed to combat the global LGBT rights movement.

“We unequivocally condemn any violence against anyone, including homosexuals,” said Lively in response to the Blade’s question about the SMUG lawsuit and whether he feels the new coalition will further exacerbate anti-LGBT violence in Uganda, Russia and other countries with controversial gay rights records. “We believe that existing laws in every country are sufficient to protect people from that kind of violence. Anyone who engages in violence against people like that should be prosecuted and punished.”

Two LGBT rights advocates heckled Lively and others who spoke at the press conference for several minutes before security personnel escorted them from the room in which it was taking place.


Activists differ over calls to cut Uganda aid

Dickson Mujuni, RPL AIDS Foundation, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation in Uganda working with youth
peer educators in the East African country. (Photo courtesy of Dickson

LGBT rights advocates in Uganda and other countries continue to disagree over whether the East African nation should lose foreign aid over a law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

BuzzFeed late on Sunday reported the Obama administration will divert $6.4 million originally earmarked for the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda – which backs the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed last month – to other organizations. The website also noted a study designed to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university has been suspended.

Jonathan Lalley, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told BuzzFeed the Obama administration will also redirect roughly $3 million that had been earmarked to promote tourism and biodiversity to non-governmental organizations that work on the issue. The website further reported the Pentagon has suspended or cancelled “near-term invitational travel” for Ugandan officials and plans to relocate events that had been scheduled to take place in the East African country in the coming weeks and months.

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation told the Washington Blade on Monday the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda should not receive U.S. aid because he said HIV/AIDS programs the group funds “don’t consider” the “most at-risk populations.”

“Those leaders themselves have been promoting homophobia, putting pressure on the president to assent to the AHB (Anti-Homosexuality Bill) which he did and commending him for signing that bill into law,” he said.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, offered a different perspective.

“I don’t support aid cuts in any form,” he told the Blade. “People should know that those are country policies which don’t comply with legislation such as the anti-gay law.”

A number of African advocates who traveled to New York last December to attend the 65th anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights told the Blade they oppose efforts to cut foreign aid to Uganda and other countries over their country’s LGBT rights records.

“We’re not asking the U.K. or foreign governments to cut aid to Africa,” said Juliet Mphande, executive director of Rainka Zambia, during a briefing the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission hosted. “LGBTI individuals are also Africans, so ultimately we all benefit from that aid.”

Ben Summerskill, who recently stepped down as chief executive of Stonewall U.K., last December applauded British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to directly channel foreign aid to non-governmental organizations in Uganda and other countries with controversial human rights records. Summerskill spoke to the Blade in New Hampshire hours after the Ugandan Parliament approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“I don’t think any LGBT campaigner, however strongly they feel about Uganda, would think that it was a good thing that people should starve just so we feel we’re making some progress around human rights for gay people,” said Summerskill.

The Obama administration last month announced after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law that it had begun a review of its relationship with Uganda.

A CDC-funded program that fully or partially funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s HIV/AIDS response ended on Feb. 28. The World Bank, the Netherlands and other European countries have also cut aid or postponed loans to the East African country after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to fight the epidemic in the East African country. The Ugandan government in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

The Washington Post on Sunday reported the White House will send 150 Air Force special operations personnel and several aircraft to Uganda to help the country’s government track down Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army whom the International Criminal Court has indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity that stem from the group’s decades long insurgency against the Ugandan government. The Lord’s Resistance Army is among the issues that U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and four other members of Congress discussed with Museveni during a meeting on Jan. 23.

The delegation did not meet with Ugandan LGBT rights advocates while in the country, but Inhofe has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to the Blade.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” said the Oklahoma Republican before Museveni signed the measure into law. “It is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

Mugisha is among the Ugandan human rights advocates who signed onto a challenge of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law filed with the country’s Constitutional Court earlier this month.

“We are cognizant that there are many who share our concerns about Ugandan President Museveni’s recent enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act,” said Grant Harris and Stephen Pomper of the National Security Council on Monday. “Ensuring justice and accountability for human rights violators like the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] and protecting LGBT rights aren’t mutually exclusive. We can and must do both.”


N.Y. lawmakers seek conversion therapy ban

New York, Albany, capitol, gay news, Washington Blade, conversion therapy

New York State Capitol Building. (Photo by Canucklynn; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

ALBANY, N.Y.— Three New York lawmakers on Jan. 13 introduced measures that would ban so-called conversion therapy against LGBT minors.

State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D, WFP-Manhattan) and state Sens. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) put forth identical bills in their respective legislative chambers.

“Stronger laws to protect LGBT youth from being subjected to these unsafe and disproven practices are long overdue,” said Glick.

Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan M. Schaefer applauded Glick, Hoylman and Gianaris for introducing the bills.

“Trying to change someone’s true identity through so-called therapy is a dangerous practice that can seriously harm our LGBT youth,” said Schaefer. “Anyone who says they can change an LGBT person from being who they are is preying off of fear and confusion to sell a practice that doesn’t work and causes lasting harm.”

A federal judge in November upheld New Jersey’s law that bans sexual orientation conversion therapy for minors.

Lawmakers in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia have recently introduced similar measures that seek to ban the practice.


EXCLUSIVE: Gay Russian doctor to seek asylum in U.S.

George Budny, asylum, gay news, Washington Blade

George Budny is seeking asylum in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of George Budny)

A gay Russian doctor told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview on Feb. 7 that he plans to seek asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he said he faced in his homeland.

“I have suffered persecution and discrimination in Russia due to my political views and sexual orientation,” said George Budny. “I am fearful for my safety, the safety of my family and friends and fearful of the fact that I will never be allowed to become a productive and successful member of society in my home country.”

Budny, who is from St. Petersburg, spoke with the Blade in Dupont Circle hours after the 2014 Olympic Games officially opened in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi – and police in his hometown and Moscow arrested 14 LGBT rights advocates. Budny and his boyfriend also attended an opening ceremony viewing party at the Human Rights Campaign.

He said he began to experience homophobia after his mother began to inquire about why the Supreme Council of the United Russia Party in Moscow replaced her and other local officials ahead of the country’s 2007 parliamentary elections.

Budny, 29, said party bosses told his mother they replaced her with a civil servant who was affiliated with Russia’s Federal Security Bureau – which succeeds the former Soviet Union’s KGB – because of him.

An employee at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg told Budny’s father that she knew his ex-boyfriend with whom he was very close. An official with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told his father he had seen Budny at a gay bar.

Budny told the Blade his father realized his is gay when he found “Queer As Folk” DVDs in his apartment.

“I had to admit, yes I am, please forgive me,” said Budny.

Budny said his mother was “crying for about a year” after she learned about his sexual orientation. She thought he “turned out gay” because she had sinusitis when she was pregnant with him.

Budny told the Blade his father sent him to treatment and to female prostitutes because he said “they will fix you.”

He said his father eventually kicked him out of his family’s apartment early one morning in late 2007 because “the scandals became intolerable.” Parliamentary elections took place around the same time.

Budny told the Blade he had secretly saved $1,000 because he said he expected his parents would force him to leave their home. He said his father took the aforementioned money before he kicked him out.

“I stopped being their son and they regarded me as a cancer in the family, destroying them from within,” said Budny, noting his younger brother was only 8 years old when his father forced him to leave the family’s apartment. “The reason was to save their younger son because he didn’t know what he was dealing with.”

Life with boyfriend in St. Petersburg ‘amazing’

Budny moved in with his then-boyfriend from Malaysia with whom he studied at a St. Petersburg medical school. The couple worked and traveled to Sweden, Norway, Germany and other European countries during their relationship that lasted five years.

“We would earn money and spent it on trips,” said Budny. “It was amazing.”

Budny had a post-doctoral fellowship at an Ohio university for three years. He returned to St. Petersburg in the fall of 2011 as protests against Putin and the United Russia Party he heads took place ahead of parliamentary elections.

“I felt like I was gaining hope in Russia when I saw all these people,” Budny told the Blade, noting it was the first time he had ever seen LGBT rights advocates protesting openly. “I was impressed at how things changed when I was gone. I felt like there was a lot of freedom in the air.

He supported the opposition Yabloko party ahead of the December 2011 parliamentary elections. Budny became a member of a St. Petersburg election commission where he educated the public about voting rights, counted votes and confirmed the final results before submitting them to the authorities.

The party did not gain any seats in the Russian Duma.

Budny subsequently filed four complaints against those he felt falsified St. Petersburg election results.

“Due to the high-profile nature of my position, I was under immense scrutiny,” he told the Blade. “To my distress, I discovered election fraud and publicly exposed it (video footage, etc.) on my blog, on television and in newspapers.”

Election officials removed economist Grigory Yavlinsky, whom Yabloko nominated as its presidential candidate, from the ballot less than two months before Russians went to the polls again in March 2012.

Budny said any optimism that had remained “all ended very quickly” when Putin succeeded now Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during Russia’s presidential election that took place in March 2012.

Being outed at hospital ‘terrifying’

A bill St. Petersburg Legislative Assemblyman Vitaly Milonov introduced that sought to ban gay propaganda in the city became law in September 2012. A Russian law that requires non-governmental organizations that receive funding from outside the country to register as “foreign agents” took effect two months later.

Budny had been a resident at St. Petersburg’s largest hospital when the city’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors took effect in September 2012. He said a university student who worked part-time at a gay bar began working at the facility where people with HIV, Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases receive treatment on the same day the statute came into force.

Budny said other residents and their supervisors began making “derogatory and horrible jokes” against his colleague because he was “very feminine by Russian standards.”

“If I come out or if they ever find out I’m gay at my job, this would happen to me,” Budny told the Blade. “It was terrifying.”

Budny said the residents and the physicians who supervised them soon began to harass his colleague to his face. They also mistreated their patients, including an 18-year-old dancer with HIV who contracted meningitis.

“’You should be working; you’re getting all these horrible diseases,’” one of the doctors told the patient, according to Budny. “He was dying from AIDS.”

Budny said the hospital fired his colleague in December 2012 after he took sick time. He told the Blade the residents and physicians’ response was “the faggot got kicked out.”

Budny told the Blade they started “painting me with the same brush” because someone had seen the two men having lunch together and “being friendly.”

“That hate campaign started against me,” said Budny. “I had to make up a girlfriend story. It was just a really bad story.”

Budny told the Blade the St. Petersburg gay propaganda law made it illegal for him and other hospital staff to talk about LGBT topics with any patient who was younger than 18. These include anal sex and other risk factors associated with contracting HIV.

“Do I violate the Hippocratic oath or do I violate the propaganda law,” said Budny. “Either way I should be making compromises on my professional level or on my legal level. I can’t focus on my professional growth under this condition.”

Anti-gay attacks in St. Petersburg

Budny said he has been attacked three times since 2009 because of his sexual orientation.

He told the Blade more than half a dozen men whom he described as “skinheads” tried to choke him with a thick metal chain while he and his then-boyfriend walked through a theater district near St. Petersburg’s largest park.

Budny said the second incident took place after he and his then-boyfriend from Malaysia left Central Station, a gay club in St. Petersburg. Its owners also operate a gay bar in Moscow outside of which two men opened fire last November.

Budny told the Blade the third attack took place “just out of nowhere” last year as he walked home from a St. Petersburg Metro station late at night. Budny, who is Jewish, said two skinheads called him a “faggot” and used anti-Semitic slurs during the attack.

He said his assailants punched him in the face and broke his nose before he ran into a nearby restaurant.

Skinheads are among those who frequently joined Milonov at anti-gay rallies in St. Petersburg. Budny filed a complaint with city prosecutors late last year that urges them to investigate the lawmaker for voter fraud.

Budny told the Blade that his supervisor told him after he completed his residency in January 2013 that hospital administrators didn’t “want to see me anymore.” He noted the 2012 presidential election results showed nearly everyone at the hospital backed Putin, even though Budny said some of his colleagues said they never even voted.

“I found it out too late unfortunately and realized my hospital officials really, really hate me for exposing the election fraud in my own precinct,” he told the Blade. “I realized what can I do if this will be happening in every clinic that I go to. I want to be a physician I don’t want to quit.”

Mother: Stay in U.S. because of propaganda law

He received a student visa and arrived in the U.S. less than three weeks before Putin last June signed a bill that sought to ban gay propaganda to minors into law.

Budny currently lives near Union Station in D.C. as he studies at Kaplan University near Dupont Circle to secure the necessary credentials to apply for a residency program. His roommate introduced him to his boyfriend shortly after he arrived in the nation’s capital.

Budny told the Blade he speaks with his mother, although she remains uncomfortable with his sexual orientation. He has not spoken with his father since he kicked him out of the family apartment in 2007.

Budny said his mother has told him to stay in the U.S. because of Russia’s gay propaganda law.

“She is afraid for the safety of my younger brother and all of us,” said Budny.

He said authorities last month conducted what he described as an emergency inspection on the St. Petersburg children’s clinic he and his mother opened more than a decade ago.

Budny told the Blade the officials wanted to investigate the building’s electrical and plumbing systems, the windows and whether the first-floor of the apartment building in which the facility is located had been properly zoned. He said local officials in 2009 allowed the clinic to move into the building.

“They are attacking us by basically saying we are starting a clinic in an apartment building,” said Budny. “My mother is sure that this happened right after I filed my complaint against [Milonov].”

Budny told the Blade a D.C. lawyer has begun working on his asylum case. He expects she will formally file his petition with the U.S. government in the coming weeks.

“Right now I realize there is no way back,” said Budny, discussing Russia’s gay propaganda law. “They’re not going to repeal it. It’s going to be reinforced.”


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.”


Peruvian official backs civil unions bill

Antonio Capurro, Peru, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Peruvian LGBT rights activist Antonio Capurro holds a sign that reads “And where are our rights? We are also citizens.” (Photo courtesy of Antonio Capurro)

A Peruvian official last week recommended lawmakers in the South American country approve a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.

Public Defender Eduardo Vega Luna told Congressman Juan Carlos Eguren Neuenschwander, president of the Commission of Justice and Human Rights in the Peruvian Congress, in a March 26 letter that legislators should approve the measure.

Vega also told Eguren that lawmakers should also support other efforts that would extend rights to LGBT Peruvians.

Roger Rodríguez Santander, director general of human rights for the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, also backs civil unions measures that Congressmen Carlos Bruce, Martha Chávez and Julio Rosas have introduced.

“The report also cited an approximation of the situation of the fundamental rights of LGBTI people in the country and recommends to the Executive Branch and the Congress the adoption of public policies directed to overcome the state of vulnerability of the fundamental rights of this important part of the population,” wrote Vega.

Antonio Capurro, director of Plural Perú, an organization that supports the civil unions bill, applauded Vega.

“We salute the immediate response of the public defender, that has been together with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, one of the premier public institutions in defense of equal rights for same-sex couples,” Capurro told the Washington Blade. “Setting aside religious beliefs to offer citizenship and rights to the entire population, which also incudes us. It is what can be done within a secular state because policies are not dictated by the beliefs of who governs, but rather by what the law says.”

Clauco Velásquez Wong of the Homosexual Community of Hope in the Loreto Region, an LGBT advocacy group based in the city of Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon, told the Blade the report illustrates “a picture of the problem concerning the fundamental rights that affect this community.”

Vega issued his report ahead of a debate on Bruce’s civil unions bill that is expected to take place in the Justice and Human Rights Commission of the Peruvian Congress in the coming weeks. The measure would extend economic benefits to same-sex couples, but not adoption rights.

A 2013 poll found 65 percent of Peruvians oppose any efforts to allow same-sex couples to enter into a civil union. Lima Archbishop Juan Luís Cipriani and other leading Peruvian religious figures are among those who oppose Bruce’s measure.

Peruvian President Ollanta Humana opposes civil unions. Two of his opponents in the country’s 2011 presidential election – Keiko Fujimori and Alejandro Toledo – backed the issue.

Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, also supports the civil unions bill.

Velásquez’s group and other Peruvian LGBT rights organizations have begun to share an ad campaign in support of the measure.

“I have the right to love anyone I want,” says a woman in the spot.

Neighboring Brazil, along with Uruguay and Argentina, is among the more than a dozen countries in which gays and lesbians can legally marry. Same-sex couples on Saturday began exchanging vows in England and Wales.

A handful of same-sex couples have tied the knot in Colombia since last July, but the country’s inspector general has spearheaded efforts to challenge them.

A measure that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in Chile in January advanced in the country’s Senate.

“We remain ready to combine all of our forces to achieve fair policies for our community,” Velásquez, who is among the Latin American LGBT rights advocates who visited the U.S. earlier this year on a State Department-sponsored trip, told the Blade.


Marriage advocates criticize Ind. lawmaker

Indiana State House, gay news, Washington Blade

Indiana State House (Photo by Jason82; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) on Jan. 21 moved a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the Hoosier State to another committee after it stalled.

The Indianapolis Star reported that Bosma moved the proposed amendment — House Joint Resolution 3 — from the House Judiciary Committee to the Elections and Appointment Committee. Republican leadership of the House Judiciary Committee last week declined to allow a vote on the proposal after they held a hearing on it.

“We’ve followed the legislative process with an earnest expectation that legislators truly seek to represent their constituents,” said Freedom Indiana Campaign Manager Megan Robertson in a Jan. 21 press release. “We found that to be the case with the legislators serving on the House Judiciary Committee, but House Speaker Brian Bosma broke his commitment to Hoosiers to uphold the traditional legislative process.”


Plaintiffs in Virginia marriage lawsuit: We were Goliath

Human Rights Campaign, American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, HRC, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Virginia, Chad Griffin, Tom Shuttleworth, Carol Schall, Emily, Mary Townley, Adam Umhoefer, David Boies, Ted Olson, Tim Bostic, Washington Blade

From left, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, lawyer Tom Shuttleworth, Carol Schall, Emily, Mary Townley, Adam Umhoefer, lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson, and plaintiff Tim Bostic (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NORFOLK, Va.—Timothy Bostic and Tony London were in the den of their Norfolk, Va., home with their dogs on Thursday when Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

The two men earlier in the day found out that London’s brother had passed away.

“We were at home in the den waiting to hear about plans so that we could make our trip to Texas,” Bostic told the Washington Blade on Friday, noting he ignored his cell phone when his lawyers called it to let him and London know about Allen’s ruling. “The home phone rang and it was the same number and I was like, that’s really odd. So I picked it up and that was them letting us know the decision had come down.”

Bostic and London – who challenged Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban alongside Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield – were among the more than 400 people who gathered at Decorum Furniture in Norfolk on Friday to celebrate Allen’s ruling.

“We are so proud to be proud Virginians,” said Hampton Roads Pride President Laurel Quarberg.

Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam also attended the event that Blaine Stewart, an anchor on WKTR, a Norfolk television station, emceed.

“We shouldn’t as a government be telling people who they should and shouldn’t love,” Northam told the Blade. “In 2014 one should be able to love and marry who they want. They should be able to be in the workplace without discrimination and they should be able to raise children as they so choose. It’s a big day for Virginia.”

Same-sex marriage supporters also celebrated Allen’s ruling at a number of gatherings that had been previously scheduled across the state to coincide with Valentine’s Day.

Bill Euille, William D. Euille, Alexandria City Courthouse, Virginia, marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille joined a rally for marriage equality at the Alexandria City Courthouse on Valentine’s Day. Couples proceeded from the rally into the courthouse to request a marriage license, but were denied due to state law. The rally in Alexandria was one of several held throughout the state. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Nearly 30 people gathered outside the Alexandria City Courthouse. The Granby Theater in downtown Norfolk on Friday night served cocktails named in honor of Allen – the nightclub also placed the slogan “VA is 4 all lovers” on its marquee.

More than a dozen people unfurled a rainbow banner outside the Virginia Beach Circuit Court before two couples sought to apply for marriage licenses. They included Teresa C. Phillips and Joyce Ann Davis of Chesapeake, who married last October in Delaware on their 33rd anniversary.

Phillips, who spent more than two decades in the U.S. Army, told the Blade as she and Davis walked to the courthouse that the Pentagon gave her spouse an identification card allowing her to receive benefits after they tied the knot in Delaware. Phillips said she and Davis were “elated” to hear Allen’s ruling, but acknowledged “we still have a long way to go” before she and other gays and lesbians can marry in the commonwealth.

“I want to get married in Virginia,” Phillips told the Blade.

Attorney General Mark Herring, who announced last month he would not defend the marriage amendment in court, described Allen’s 41-page decision as “a victory for the Constitution and for treating everyone equally under the law.” Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish and gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) are among those also applauded the decision.

The Family Foundation of Virginia, the National Organization for Marriage, House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford County) and state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) and others criticized the ruling – and Herring in particular for not defending the marriage amendment that Virginia voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

“She opened her order before the word other with a rather poetic quote,” former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told Bruce DePuyt of News Channel 8 on Friday, referring to Allen’s decision to begin her ruling with a quote from Mildred Loving on the 40th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Virginia’s interracial marriage ban. “It rather undermined her objectivity. She clearly had a view coming in. We expect judges to look at these things more objectively.”

Schall and Townley, whose daughter Emily just turned 16, have also faced questions from same-sex marriage opponents about whether gay couples should raise children.

“Now we know that most of America doesn’t agree with the view of those few,” London told the Blade. “Those few still have the right to make any kind of statement that they want to however they want to as long as its within the boundaries of the law. We’re perfectly happy to see them come up there because we know there is no argument, there’s just no argument at all.”

Bostic added he felt sorry for the lawyers who were defending the marriage amendment during the Feb. 4 oral arguments in their case.

Allen stayed her ruling, pending the outcome of an appeal.

“It felt like David and Goliath… except this time we were Goliath,” he said. “We were expecting less support and more opposition from the get go. I do believe in Virginians, but it was just this idea all of a sudden there were more people on our side than we were hearing negative. It’s a good feeling.”

As Bostic and London spoke with this reporter at Decorum Furniture in Norfolk, a woman whose girlfriend of 16 years passed away two weeks ago thanked the men for filing their lawsuit against the marriage amendment.

“What you guys did was great,” she said.

“That is why we’re doing this,” London told the Blade after the woman spoke with him and Bostic. “16 years and they have nothing left. They have no rights in this state at all. Whatever they built together is gone.”