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Dutch Senate approves transgender rights bill

Koen van Dijk, Philip Tijsma, COC Nederland, gay rights, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Holland, gay news, Washington Blade

COC Nederland Executive Director Koen van Dijk, right, and Philip Tijsma, the organization’ communications director, at their Amsterdam office on Sept. 3. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Dutch Senate on Dec. 17 overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow transgender people to legally change their gender on their birth certificates and other official documents without undergoing sterilization and sex-reassignment surgery.

Transgender Network Netherlands Chair Carolien van de Lagemaat and COC Nederland Chair Tanja Ineke described the vote as “a victory for transgender people in the Netherlands.” The two groups also noted trans people under current Dutch law can only legally change their gender on official documents after “obligatory and often unwanted sterilization and gender modification operations.”

“It’s an invasion of rights,” COC Nederland Executive Director Koen van Dijk told the Washington Blade in September during an interview in his Amsterdam office. “It’s the integrity of the body; it’s privacy.”

The Council of Europe and the U.N. are among the international organizations that have urged the Dutch government to allow trans people to legally change their gender without sterilization and SRS.

The main chamber of the Dutch Parliament earlier this year approved the measure after COC Nederland, the Transgender Network Netherlands and other Dutch LGBT advocacy groups lobbied the country’s lawmakers for years to support it. Germany, Austria and Portugal have also passed similar trans rights laws.

Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2012 signed a law that allows trans Argentinians to legally change their gender on official documents without surgery and an affidavit from a doctor or another medical provider.

The Dutch statute eliminates the need for a person to petition a judge to approve their request to legally change their gender. They will still need to obtain a statement from an “expert” to fulfill their request.

The law does not apply to people under 16 years of age.

“The two organizations will keep up the pressure and advocate for the law to be further amended,” said van de Lagemaat and Ineke. “They argue that there should be no minimum age and that the ‘expert statement’ should no longer be required, as it is the case in Argentina.”

The Dutch law is scheduled to take effect on July 1.


Dutch LGBT rights group remains critical of IOC

Koen van Dijk, Philip Tijsma, COC Nederland, gay rights, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Holland, gay news, Washington Blade

COC Nederland Executive Director Koen van Dijk (right) and Philip Tijsma, the organization’s communications director, at their Amsterdam office on Sept. 4. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

AMSTERDAM—The executive director of the Dutch LGBT advocacy group COC Nederland said during an interview with the Washington Blade earlier this month the International Olympic Committee should take a stronger stand against Russia’s LGBT rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“I don’t think they’ve done enough to uphold their own charters,” Koen van Dijk said during an interview at COC Nederland’s Amsterdam office on Sept. 4. “I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the IOC to be the watchdog of the human rights situation in Russia, but they did make a decision to plan this major event in a country where they knew the situation was bad, where they knew it was deteriorating.”

The IOC told the Blade last month the Olympics “should be open to all, free of discrimination” against athletes and others who attend them. It also said those who participate in the Sochi games could face disqualification or loss of their credentials if they publicly criticize Russia’s gay propaganda ban to minors that President Vladimir Putin signed into law in June.

Russian authorities have repeatedly said they will enforce the law during the Sochi games, in spite of repeated assurances the IOC said it has received from the Kremlin the statute would not impact athletes who plan to compete in the Olympics.

Figure skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is of Russian descent, told CBS News last month he is “not afraid of being arrested” while in Sochi. Gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup said he plans to wear a rainbow pin during the Olympics if he qualifies to compete in them.

“[The IOC] started first by saying the Olympic games should not be used for political signals,” van Dijk noted. “After that they banned rainbow signals, which sort of implies that they think giving a voice to either your own sexual orientation or solidarity with other people is a political statement.”

Van Dijk spoke with the Blade two days before President Obama met with two Russian LGBT rights advocates and seven other human rights activists during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg.

The ongoing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record coincides with the 400th anniversary of friendship between Russia and the Netherlands.

COC Nederland in April organized a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the meeting he had with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Amsterdam. A rainbow flag also flew at half-staff over Amsterdam City Hall and at other locations throughout the city while Putin visited.

More than 3,000 people last month protested Russia’s gay rights record during a Kremlin-sponsored concert in Amsterdam’s Museumplein that van Dijk said was designed to “acquaint the Dutch audience with the beauty and diversity of Russian culture.”

“We said well we understand the beauty and diversity of Russian culture and we fully agree,” van Dijk told the Blade. “But when the same government that is presenting us with this concert is fighting against diversity in their own country, we don’t want them to bring any propaganda here. So we decided to precede their concert with our own manifestation.”

Van Dijk noted Rutte has spoken out against the gay propaganda law and Russia’s LGBT rights record “very strongly.”

COC Nederland is scheduled to meet with the Dutch Olympic Committee on Wednesday to discuss the issue going into the Sochi games. Dutch Parliamentarians have also debated the possibility of boycotting the Olympics, but COC Nederland does not support such an action.

“The LGBT community in Russia is very vulnerable,” van Dijk said, noting public opinion in Russia is against gays and lesbians who remain susceptible to anti-LGBT violence. “Calling for a boycott would only give power to the anti-gay sentiments in Russia and make them more vulnerable because they would be the international conspirators that have spoiled the big Russian party of the winter games.”

Van Dijk stressed his organization feels “it’s better to keep communication lines open” with the Russians as opposed to boycotting the Sochi games. He also said he feels it is important for COC Nederland and other LGBT advocacy groups to take into account their Russian counterparts who do not support calls to boycott the Olympics.

“We always want to put the opinion of the people that we are working [with] there in front,” van Dijk said. “The Russian LGBT movement sent a very clear signal: Don’t boycott, but come over and show us your diversity. Make a statement during the games instead of leaving us alone and boycott.”

COC Nederland, the Netherlands, Holland, Russia, Vladimir Putin, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade

COC Nederland is among the Dutch groups that publicly opposed a law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed in June that bans gay propaganda to minors. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)


Dutch diplomat attacked in Moscow

Russia, Moscow, Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, gay news, Washington Blade

Two men attacked a Dutch diplomat in his Moscow apartment on Oct. 15. (By David Crawshaw via Wikimedia Commons.)

Two men on Tuesday beat a Dutch diplomat after they broke into his Moscow apartment.

The Moscow Times cited a Russian newspaper that reported Onno Elderenbosch, who is the deputy chief of mission at the Dutch embassy in Moscow, saw an elevator in his apartment building was not working when he returned home. The publication said Elderenbosch saw two men dressed as electricians when he walked up to his apartment.

The Moscow News cited a Russian law enforcement official who said the two men beat Elderenbosch and ransacked his apartment once he opened the door. The newspaper said the source indicated Elderenbosch’s assailants also drew a heart with an arrow throughout it and the LGBT acronym in lipstick on a mirror inside the diplomat’s home.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday that Elderenbosch, whom he did not identify by name, was “slightly injured” during the attack. He said he had summoned Russia’s ambassador to the Netherlands to The Hague over the incident.

“Our people must be able to work safely,” Timmermans said. “I want assurances that the Russian authorities will uphold their responsibilities on that point.”

The Associated Press reported that a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson described the attack as a “deplorable incident.” He said authorities would continue to seek those responsible.

The attack against Elderenbosch took place against the backdrop of growing tension between the Dutch and Russian governments over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record and a host of other issues.

COC Nederland, a Dutch LGBT rights organization, in April staged a protest outside a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte that coincided with the 400th anniversary of friendship between the two countries. Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan refused to meet with Putin during his trip.

Russian authorities in July arrested four Dutch LGBT rights advocates under a law that bans gay propaganda to minors. More than 3,000 people protested the statute and other anti-LGBT measures in the country during a Kremlin-sponsored concert in Amsterdam.

COC Nederland has also criticized the International Olympic Committee over its response to the gay propaganda law and the country’s LGBT rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February. The group has also urged Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima to raise the aforementioned issues on their upcoming trip to Russia next month during which they are scheduled to meet with Putin.

Rutte, who has publicly criticized the Kremlin over its LGBT rights record, described the attack against Elderenbosch as “extremely serious” as the AP reported. The news agency noted he said “we need to get the facts on the table” first.

A Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesperson did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the attack against Elderenbosch and whether he is gay.

COC Nederland Chair Tanja Ineke described the incident as “scandalous.”

“The police must get to the bottom of this,” she said. “It is terrible for the person involved and it appears to be another expression of the rapidly deteriorating climate for LGBT people in Russia.”


EU court rules homosexuality can be grounds for asylum

European Court of Justice, gay news, Washington Blade

European Court of Justice (Photo by Stefan64; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The European Court of Justice on Thursday ruled those who face incarceration in their home countries because of their sexual orientation could receive asylum in the European Union.

The ruling stems from the case of three people from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal who sought asylum in the Netherlands in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively. Each of the applicants claimed they would face persecution in their African homelands because of their sexual orientation.

Homosexuality remains illegal in the three countries.

Sierra Leonean law punishes those found guilty of same-sex sexual acts with up to 10 years in prison, while those convicted under Senegal’s anti-sodomy law could face up to five years of incarceration. Gays and lesbians found guilty of same-sex sexual acts in Uganda could face up to life in prison.

Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati in 2009 sparked global outrage when he introduced a bill that would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The Dutch Ministry of Immigration and Asylum in 2010 and 2011 denied the asylum seekers’ request based on grounds they had not demonstrated they have “a well-founded fear of persecution by reason of their membership of a particular social group.”

A court in The Hague in 2010 and 2011 upheld the Sierra Leonean and Ugandan petitioners request for asylum. The same tribunal in 2011 dismissed the Senegalese asylum seekers’ appeal.

The Dutch Ministry of Immigration and Asylum appealed the ruling that overturned its previous decision in the case of the Sierra Leonean and Ugandan petitioners to the Dutch Council of State. The advisory body asked the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to determine whether gays could be considered a “particular social group” and whether the criminalization of homosexuality is “an act of persecution.”

“It is common ground that a person’s sexual orientation is a characteristic so fundamental to his identity that he should not be forced to renounce it,” the European Court of Justice ruling reads.

“The criminalization of homosexual acts alone does not, in itself, constitute persecution,” it continues. “However, a term of imprisonment which sanctions homosexual acts and which is actually applied in the country of origin which adopted such legislation must be regarded as being a punishment which is disproportionate or discriminatory and thus constitutes an act of persecution.”

The ruling applies to all 28 EU member states, but it stipulates authorities in a particular country must determine whether an individual asylum seeker is facing persecution in their homeland. The Dutch government grants asylum based on sexual orientation on a case-by-case basis.

COC Nederland, a Dutch LGBT advocacy group, welcomed the European Court of Justice’s ruling.

“The current policy states that LGBT asylum seekers are to be expected to live in their country of origin with ‘a certain restraint’ when it comes to expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the organization said. “This criterion is no longer valid in the light of this new European ruling. COC Netherlands has been advocating for such a policy for years.”

Livio Zilli of the International Commission of Jurists is among those who were critical of the decision.

“The court should have found that these laws, even when they have not recently been applied in practice are capable of giving rise to a well-founded fear or prosecution in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and who accordingly should be recognized as refugees when they apply for asylum,” Zilli said.


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.”


French lawmakers to vote on gay marriage, adoption bill

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)

French lawmakers on Tuesday are expected to vote on a bill that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples.

The long-anticipated vote in the country’s National Assembly will take place after lawmakers began debating the proposal on Jan. 29. Supporters and opponents of the bill have staged several marches through the streets of Paris in recent months.

Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are among the European countries that currently allow same-sex couples to marry.

The British House of Commons on Feb. 5 overwhelmingly approved a proposal that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot in England and Wales. Scottish lawmakers are expected to debate a same-sex marriage proposal in the coming weeks.


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.


Saba becomes first Caribbean island to legalize same-sex marriage

Saba, Glenn Holm, gay news, Washington Blade

Saba Tourist Bureau Director Glenn Holm (Photo courtesy of Glenn Holm)

The Dutch island of Saba earlier this month became the first jurisdiction in the Caribbean to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Xiomar Gonzales Cedeno Ruis and Israel Ruis Gonzales from Aruba and Venezuela respectively exchanged vows at the island’s courthouse on Dec. 4. A same-sex couple from Curaçao married in Saba on Tuesday.

The Netherlands, which has allowed gays and lesbians to marry since 2001, gave its Caribbean territories more time to implement the same-sex marriage law. Observers expect Bonaire and St. Eustatius, which were formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles that formally dissolved in 2010, will follow suit.

Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, which have greater autonomy from Amsterdam, do not allow gays and lesbians to legally marry. The three islands, along with Bonaire and St. Eustatius, must recognize same-sex marriages performed within the Netherlands.

Glenn Holm, the openly gay director of the Saba Tourist Bureau who worked with Cedeno and Ruis, told the Washington Blade he plans to promote “gay weddings on the highest point of the Dutch kingdom” while in the Netherlands next month.

“There are of course some people who are against it, but they will just have to get used to it,” he said, referring to Dutch euthanasia and abortion laws that will soon take effect on Saba, Bonaire and St. Eustatius. “It simply means that the choice is there should it be necessary, the same for same-sex unions. If it’s not your bag you don’t have to let it concern you. Live and let live, love and be allowed to love whosoever you choose to.”

Martinique and Guadeloupe are expected to consider the issue next year as French lawmakers debate a same-sex marriage bill. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has spoken out in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians, but LGBT people still face systematic discrimination and even violence throughout the region.

Jamaica and several other English-speaking Caribbean countries still have colonial-era sodomy laws on the books that criminalize same-sex sexual acts. The U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb rampant anti-LGBT violence in the country.

Puerto Rican advocates have repeatedly criticized outgoing Gov. Luís Fortuño and his administration for what they contend was an unwillingness to speak out against anti-LGBT violence in the American commonwealth in the wake of gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado’s brutal 2009 murder. The Puerto Rico Senate late last year approved a proposal that would have eliminated LGBT-specific protections from the island’s hate crimes law.

A 2011 Justice Department report that blasted the Puerto Rico Police Department cited an inadequate response to hate crimes as among its numerous deficiencies.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland in February after he received death threats following local media reports about his marriage to a Canadian man, described same-sex marriage in Saba as a “toehold where we can advance LGBT human rights in the Caribbean.”

The Supreme Court of Jurisdicture of Belize in May is expected to hear a case challenging the country’s sodomy laws. AIDS-Free World has also challenged laws in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago that prohibit gay people and those with disabilities from entering the country.

A Trinidadian newspaper on Dec. 18 reported Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar wrote in a private letter to the head of an international LGBT advocacy group in the United Kingdom that she would support a ban anti-LGBT discrimination.

“As a human rights activist, I think it’s excellent because it’s a way to get up the laws and two it provides evidence for the courts to say there is absolutely no negative impact within this entire region of these rights being recognized for LGBT,” Tomlinson told the Blade, referring specifically to Saba. “Its evidence that even within the Caribbean you have forward-thinking legislators who are willing to push the envelope and take the political risks that are necessary to advance human rights of all citizens.”