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Supporters mark global day against homophobia, transphobia

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Hong Kong, gay news, Washington Blade

A poster promoting the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Hong Kong (Photo courtesy of Bess Hepworth/Pink Season HK)

LGBT rights advocates in more than 120 countries will commemorate this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) with a series of vigils, conferences and other events.

Geena Rocero, a transgender Filipino fashion model who founded Gender Proud, a trans advocacy group, is among those who are scheduled to take part in an IDAHOT event outside of Manila, the country’s capital, that the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines has organized. Rocero on Thursday also participated in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong that local LGBT rights advocates organized.

The Rainbow Pride Foundation, a Fijian LGBT advocacy group, on May 10 held its own candlelight vigil at a church in Suva, the Pacific island nation’s capital. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education on the same day held a “conga against homophobia” in the Cuban capital as part of a series of events throughout the country that will commemorate IDAHOT.

The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays on Friday will hold a symposium at a hotel in the Jamaican capital that will examine challenges that LGBT people in the Caribbean country continue to face. María Eugenia González, co-founder of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, is scheduled to attend an anti-bullying conference in the Peruvian city of Iquitos on May 21.

So-called rainbow flash mobs are scheduled to take place in at least 11 Russian cities on May 17. An estimated 100 people are expected to gather in Khabarovsk to release rainbow colored balloons in an IDAHOT demonstration that city officials have allowed to take place.

Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade earlier this week that her colleagues are “willing to defend their rights” in spite of the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights. These include a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

“Whatever the difficulties, many LGBT (people) and their supporters in Russia are looking forward to participating in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said Zakharova.

Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays Executive Director Dane Lewis had a similar view, noting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in the country.

“We need to begin to have discussions about the layers of stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBT Jamaicans and the challenges faced by those who identify as Christians,” he said.

Kate Montecarlo Cordova, chair of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, noted to the Blade that LGBT Filipinos lack legal protections and access to health care. She said hate crimes and speech, anti-trans harassment and bullying in the predominantly Muslim portion of the country that includes the island of Mindanao often go unreported.

“We, from the transgender community, feel that the IDAHOT celebration is important in our advocacy and in our lives,” said Cordova.

The Mexican government this year is officially organizing IDAHOT for the first time.

Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade earlier this week that he is hopeful that President Enrique Peña Nieto will speak at an IDAHOT event.

The British Council Mexico on Friday hosted an event that government officials, local LGBT activists and journalists attended.

“The conversation will go beyond the government’s official position and public policy on the subject of homophobia,” said Molina. “Fighting homophobia and promoting respect is, at the end, a task that concerns us all.”

The Finnish government on Thursday announced it will increase its contribution to the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership founded by C-SPAN co-founder John Evans that seeks to promote LGBT rights, by one million Euros. A State Department press release noted that Helsinki will continue to work with the governments of Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the Arcus Foundation and other groups to “build on our shared commitment and partnership to advance freedom, equality and dignity for all.”

“Today of all days, we are reminded that the cause of justice can and must triumph over hatred and prejudice,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “This is a day of action for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities and their allies all over the world. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to the equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Gays, trans people gain rights in 2013

IDAHOT first took place on May 17, 2005, to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of significant progress in the LGBT rights movement in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and other regions of the world.

Ten U.S. states, Brazil, Uruguay, France, England, Wales and New Zealand have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples over the last year. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Dutch Senate last December approved a bill that would allow trans people to legally change the gender on their birth certificates and other official documents without undergoing sterilization and sex reassignment surgery. A similar measure advanced in the Chilean Senate earlier this year.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a bill that bans anti-discrimination in his state. A similar measure took effect in neighboring Delaware last year.

The Indian Supreme Court last month issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”

Jamaican and Belizean judges last year heard lawsuits challenging their country’s laws that criminalize homosexuality. A Lebanese judge in March struck down the Middle Eastern nation’s anti-sodomy statute in the case of a trans woman who faced charges for allegedly having a relationship with a man.

Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn into office last December. Angélica Lozano, a former Council woman in the Colombian capital, in March became the first openly LGBT person elected to the South American country’s Congress.

LGBT rights crackdowns continue in Africa, Russia

In spite of this progress, anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in many parts of the world.

The U.S. and several European countries cut aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in February signed into a law a bill 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 bill that, among other things, bans membership in an LGBT advocacy group and punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison.

The 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia, in February against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Police arrested 10 activists who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the country’s national anthem near Moscow’s Red Square just before the games’ opening ceremony began. Authorities earlier in the day arrested four Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg as they marched with a banner in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

The Indian Supreme Court late last year recriminalized homosexuality — it announced in April it will consider a motion to reconsider the controversial decision. A new Brunei legal code that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death has sparked global outrage that includes calls to boycott hotels the Bruneian government owns.

A report the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released earlier this week found discrimination and violence against lesbians, bisexual women and trans people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan remains pervasive. Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian LGBT advocacy group, noted more than a quarter of the 338 reported LGBT homicide victims in Brazil in 2012 were trans.

Carlos Vela of the Homosexual Community of Hope in the Loreto Region (of Perú) told the Blade that one LGBT person a week is murdered in the South American country. This violence continues to take place, even as Peruvian lawmakers debate a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

“It is the most extreme expression of systematic violence,” said Vela, referring to the murders of LGBT Peruvians.

Jasmine Kaur of Oceania Pride, which took part in the May 10 candlelight vigil in the Fijian capital, noted homophobia, anti-LGBT hate crimes and violence is “quite strong for the LGBTIQ community” in the South Pacific country. She said the Fijian constitution includes a non-discrimination clause, but it is “flawed.”

“The bill of rights has many limitations,” said Kaur. “It is not one that can guarantee its citizens protections.”

The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday released a report that documents advances and setbacks in the global LGBT rights movement over the last year.

“Despite entrenched homophobia and transphobia in many nations around the world, the global fight for LGBT equality made historic gains in 2013,” said HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb. “At the same time, last year included horrific new anti-LGBT laws as well as alarming trends in anti-LGBT harassment and violence. These serve as important reminders of the many challenges ahead and the tremendous amount of work left to be done.”

Henness Wong, a Hong Kong activist who helped plan IDAHOT events in the former British colony, said the climate for the city’s LGBT residents is slowly beginning to improve in spite of lingering institutional and cultural homophobia and transphobia.

“Hong Kong is definitely safer than Brunei who will stone gays,” said Wong.


Denmark to allow legal gender changes without sterilization

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Danish lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill that will allow transgender people to legally change their gender without sterilization and surgery. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Denmark on Wednesday became the first European country to allow transgender people to legally change their gender without undergoing medical and psychological treatment.

Agence France Presse reported the law, which received final approval in the Danish Parliament, will allow Danes who are at least 18 to legally change their gender after stating their desire to “belong to the other sex” and completing what the Danish government describes as a six-month “reflection period.” They had previously been required to undergo sex-reassignment surgery and sterilization before making the request.

The law is slated to take effect on Sept. 1.

“Today we have dropped the requirement of sterilization when transgendered people need a new personal identification number as part of a legal sex change,” said Minister for Economics and the Interior Margrethe Vestager in a statement to Agence France Presse. “It will make life easier and more dignified for the individual.”

Danish LGBT rights advocates applauded the new law.

“We are highly satisfied that the government decided to go with the most progressive solution and that the Parliament provided a majority vote for it,” Søren Laursen, chair of LGBT Danmark, a Danish advocacy group, told the Washington Blade.

“We are very happy that the law regarding legal recognition of gender identity has been updated,” added Sarah Baagøe Petersen, vice chair of Lambda, another Danish LGBT advocacy group, in an e-mail to the Blade. “The fact that transgender people can now freely apply to change their gender — legally — without surgery or a psychological evaluation is a big step in the right direction. The entire LGBT community welcomes this change.”

Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2012 signed what is considered the world’s most progressive trans rights law that allows people in the South American country to legally change their gender on official documents without surgery and an affidavit from a doctor or another medical provider. Neighboring Uruguay has adopted a similar statute.

The Dutch Senate late last year approved a bill slated to take effect on July 1 that will allow trans people to legally change their gender without undergoing sterilization and sex-reassignment surgery. They will still need to obtain a statement from an “expert” to fulfill their request.

German parents have been able to designate the gender on their intersex children’s birth certificates as “indeterminate” since last November.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley last month signed a bill that added gender identity and expression to the state’s non-discrimination law. Efforts to prompt a referendum on the law failed after opponents did not collect enough signatures.

Laursen and other European LGBT rights advocates said they hope other countries enact laws that allow trans people to legally change their gender without surgery or sterilization.

“We are very pleased to see the Argentinian model for legal gender recognition being introduced in Europe by Denmark today,” said ILGA-Europe Co-Chair Paulo Côrte-Real. “The benchmark is set high now and we encourage other European countries to follow suit and to remove unnecessary, humiliating and degrading requirements which hinder people across Europe to fully enjoy their lives in preferred gender.”

“We are the first European country to go with this model – in fact, such a solution exists today only in Argentina and Uruguay,” added Laursen. “I am convinced that other European countries will now follow.”


HIV researchers, advocates among victims of Ukraine plane crash

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Six prominent HIV/AIDS researchers who were traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, were passengers on a Malaysian airliner that was apparently shot down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday. (Image by MJC via Wikimedia)

Malaysian Airlines has confirmed six HIV/AIDS researchers and advocates were among those who were on an airliner that pro-Russian separatists apparently shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

Joep Lange, a prominent Dutch HIV researcher who is a former president of the International AIDS Society, which organizes the biennial International AIDS Conference, and his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, were among the 283 passengers and 15 crew members who were on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

A passenger list that Malaysian Airlines released on Saturday also confirms Pim de Kuijer, another Dutch national who worked for Stop AIDS Now, and Glenn Thomas, a former BBC journalist who was a press officer for the World Health Organization, were also on Flight 17.

The airlines has also confirmed Lucie van Mens, another Dutch HIV/AIDS researcher, and Martine de Schutter, a program manager for Bridging the Gaps, were on the flight.

They were traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, that begins on Sunday.

“The extent of our loss is hard to comprehend or express,” said International AIDS Society President Françoise Barré-Sinoussi after Malaysian Airlines released the names of the passengers who were on Flight 17. “We grieve alongside all those throughout the world who have lost friends and family in this senseless tragedy.”

President Obama on Friday acknowledged the HIV/AIDS researchers and advocates who died on Flight 17.

“These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others,” he said. “They were taken from us in a senseless act of violence.”

Reports indicate many of those who are attending the 2014 International AIDS Conference learned about Flight 17 — and those who were on it — as they arrived in Melbourne.

“It’s a cold, somber and bittersweet morning in Melbourne on the eve of the opening of AIDS 2014,” wrote Rod McCullom, a Chicago-based journalist who reports on global HIV/AIDS and health issues, on his Facebook page.

Sean Strub, founder of POZ, an influential HIV/AIDS publication, said on Facebook he and others “were greeted with the horrific news” from Ukraine as they arrived in Melbourne on Friday.

“It feels like the entire city of Melbourne is involved with the conference, or at least trying to make delegates feel welcome, even amidst the mourning,” he wrote.

The Star Observer, an Australian LGBT newspaper that is an official media sponsor of the 2014 International AIDS Conference, on Saturday reported delegates who attended a forum on the epidemic’s impact on men who have sex with men held a moment of silence in honor of the victims of Flight 17.

The publication said many of those who attended the forum were “still visibly shaken.”

“The death of so many of the chiefly Dutch AIDS scientists and activists has made a very big hole in the talent and integrity and energy of the global AIDS response, which we’ll all feel throughout this conference and beyond,” said Don Baxter, who co-chaired the gathering, as the Star Observer reported.

“Those of us who have been engaged in AIDS work for many years are more practiced at grief than any human should ever have to become,” wrote Strub. “It’s a familiarity that can create coping mechanisms others don’t understand, sometimes including an external stoicism.”

He added this struggle is what will help him and others during the 2014 International AIDS Conference.

“We learned long ago how to crawl through the rubble of human destruction to carry on, despite the deaths of close friends and allies,” said Strub. “That’s what we’re going to do in the days ahead.”


Dutch LGBT rights group remains critical of IOC

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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

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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.


Dutch Senate approves transgender rights bill

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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.


French lawmakers to vote on gay marriage, adoption bill

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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

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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.


Same-sex marriage bill introduced in British Parliament

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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.”