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First hearing in Virginia marriage lawsuit scheduled

Carol Schall, Mary Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia

Carol Schall (left) with Mary Townley and their daughter Emily. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The first hearing in a federal lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is scheduled to take place in Norfolk, Va., on Jan. 30.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia will hold the hearing in the lawsuit that Tim Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk filed in July. Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond are also plaintiffs in the case the American Foundation for Equal Rights joined in September.

“This case is about liberty,” David Boies said during a Sept. 30 press conference in D.C. during which AFER formally announced he and Ted Olson, who argued against California’ s Proposition before the U.S. Supreme Court, had joined the case. “It’s about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about the inalienable right of every individual to marry the person who they love.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia in August filed a class action federal lawsuit against the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who had been denied marriage licenses.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski on Dec. 23 ruled Staunton Circuit Court Clerk Thomas E. Roberts and Janet Rainey, the state registrar of vital records, will remain defendants in the case. He removed outgoing Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell from the lawsuit because he is not specifically responsible for enforcing the state’s marriage laws.

Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General-elect Mark Herring both support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

It remains unclear whether they will defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban once they take office on Saturday.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and state Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) are among the Virginia lawmakers that have introduced resolutions that would seek a repeal of the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters approved in 2006.

09
Jan
2014

Gay couples more likely to be happy in relationships

young happy gay couple relaxing, gay news, Washington Blade, gay couples

(Photo courtesy Bigstock)

LONDON — Gay couples are more likely to be happy and positive about their relationships than their straight counterparts according to a major study by the Open University, the Independent, a British newspaper, reports.

However, they are less likely to be openly affectionate toward each other — holding hands in public, for instance — because they still fear attracting disapproval, the article said.

The study of 5,000 people – 50 of whom were later followed up with in-depth interviews – aimed at finding out how modern couples keep their relationships on track through life’s difficulties.

“LGBQ participants (lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer) are more generally positive about and happier with the quality of their relationship and the relationship which they have with their partner,” the research concludes.

22
Jan
2014

Russian LGBT rights record overshadows Olympics

GetEQUAL, Russia, Vladimir Putin, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of GetEQUAL on Feb. 9 protested outside the Russian embassy in Northwest D.C. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Kristofferson)

The 2014 Winter Olympics officially opened on Feb. 7 amid outrage over the arrest of 14 Russian LGBT rights advocates earlier in the day.

Police arrested 10 activists near Moscow’s Red Square who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the Russian national anthem just before the games opened in Sochi.

Elena Kostynchenko, who is among those taken into custody, told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from Moscow on Feb. 8 that officers beat one activist and choked another once they arrived at a local police station.

She said authorities also threatened to sexually assault her and another female advocate. Kostynchenko told the Blade officers also made lewd comments about her body and spit in her face before her release.

“They didn’t care about anything,” said Kostynchenko.

St. Petersburg police earlier on Feb. 7 arrested Anastasia Smirnova and three other Russian LGBT rights advocates as they marched with a banner that read “discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement. Principle 6. Olympic charter” in reference to a campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter.

Smirnova appeared on a U.N. panel in December that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She later took part in a Capitol Hill briefing on Russia’s LGBT rights record.

Smirnova told the Blade she and the three other activists faced additional harassment after St. Petersburg officials released them from custody on Feb. 7. She said it took them three hours before local police officers and other authorities allowed them to retrieve their car that had been towed.

“We are sorry to learn of the detention of activists in Russia for making political statements,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade after Russian police arrested Smirnova and the other LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg and Moscow. “This is an example of the disturbing trend in the Russian Federation of legislation, prosecutions, and government actions aimed at suppressing dissent and groups that advocate for human rights and government accountability.”

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is among those who also criticized the activists’ arrest.

“Tonight’s about solidarity,” said Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign, as he read an e-mail from Smirnova during an opening ceremony watch party his organization co-hosted with Team D.C., Capital Pride and Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and Pride House International that benefitted the Russian LGBT Sports Federation. “Let them know we stand in solidarity with them.”

rainbow flame, Berlin, Russia, Sochi, Germany, Winter Olympics, anti-gay, Vladimir Putin, gay news, Washington Blade

Advocates showed their support for LGBT Russians in Berlin on Feb. 11. (Photo courtesy of David Ehinger)

Activists in New York, Philadelphia and nearly 40 other cities around the world held similar events during the opening ceremony. A handful of activists gathered outside the Russian embassy in Northwest D.C. on Feb. 9 to protest the Kremlin’s gay rights record.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month those who protest his government’s LGBT rights record during the Olympics would not face prosecution under the country’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors. The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from the Kremlin that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games that are taking place in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

The Blade’s attempts to reach the Russian government for comment on the arrests were unsuccessful.

“We understand that the protesters were quickly released,” said IOC spokesperson Sandrine Tonge on Feb. 9. “As in many countries in the world, in Russia, you need permission before staging a protest. I understand this was the reason that they were temporarily detained.”

IOC President Thomas Bach said during his speech at the opening ceremony that people should “have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful” way and “not on the backs of these athletes.”

“Olympic games are always about building bridges about bringing people together,” he said before he and Putin officially opened the games. “Please respect the Olympic message of good will, of tolerance, of excellence, of peace.”

Bach also said it is possible for competitors “to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.” NBC omitted this portion of the speech from its broadcast of the opening ceremony.

Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, spent several days in Sochi highlighting the campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to Principle 6 of the Olympic charter.

David Pichler, a gay U.S. diver who competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics and 2000 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney, told the Blade during a telephone interview from Sochi on Feb. 9 that he had not seen any athletes publicly speak out in support of LGBT rights. Gay figure skater Brian Boitano, lesbian hockey player Caitlin Cahow and former Secretary of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano are among the members of the U.S. Olympic delegation to the games.

“We haven’t been to a lot of the different games where somebody might try to flash a symbol,” said Pichler, who was in the Olympic host city with Shawn Gaylord and Mary Elizabeth Margolis of Human Rights First. “I imagine we would have heard if there had been something like that.”

Shawn Gaylord, Human Rights First, Olympics, Sochi, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Winter Olympics, David Pichler, Mary Elizabeth Margolis, Rosa Khutor, gay news, Washington Blade

From left: Mary Elizabeth Margolis and Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First and Olympian David Pichler in front of the Olympic torch in Sochi, Russia. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights First)

The group visited a gay nightclub on Feb. 8 where they met with Andrei Ozyorny, a 24-year-old man who wrote to Sochi Mayor Anatony Pakhomov last month after he said there are no gay people in the city. Pichler, Gaylord and Margolis met with Smirnova and two other Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg on Feb. 6 – one day before police arrested her and three other activists.

Pichler noted to the Blade an anti-LGBT protest took place in Sochi before the games officially opened.

“[It] is kind of contradictory of the standards of the protest zone and everything that was set up,” he said. “There was not anything negative or any type of action taken on them.”

LGBT rights advocates continue to target Coca-Cola and other Olympic sponsors for not criticizing Russia’s LGBT rights record – HRC served Coke and other Coca-Cola products during its opening ceremony watch party in D.C. Queer Nation NY on Feb. 10 criticized lesbian speed skater Ireen Wust after she said she had a “cuddle” with Putin after winning a gold medal for the Netherlands.

“The Olympic athletes have said that they will not make political statements during the Games yet that is exactly what Ireen Wust did,” said Queer Nation NY member Duncan Osborne. “By embracing Vladimir Putin, a man who has trampled on the human rights of LGBT Russians, political dissidents, artists, undocumented immigrants, and others in Russia, Wust has endorsed his fascist agenda.”

12
Feb
2014

Report critical of D.C. police response to hate crimes

Cathy Lanier, DC Metro Police, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier (Washington Blade photo by Strother Gaines)

The restructuring of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit in 2009 “weakened its effectiveness in responding to hate crimes” and hindered its ability to reach out to the LGBT community, according to a newly released report.

The 41-page Hate Crimes Assessment Report was prepared by an independent task force created in 2012 by the Anti-Defamation League of Washington, a nationally recognized civil rights group, at the request of D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

In announcing the launching of the task force, Lanier said she asked the ADL to assist the MPD by conducting an impartial review of its programs directed toward the LGBT community, comparing them with other police departments and identifying areas that could be improved.

“MPD policies on the identification and handling of bias or hate crimes are strong and reflect many best practices of law enforcement agencies nationally,” the report concludes.

It also concludes that the “vast majority” of MPD leaders and rank and file officers have a deep commitment to “ensuring the safety and security of the LGBT community and to all of those who live, work, or visit the District of Columbia.”

But the report says a series of structural changes that the department put in place for the GLLU beginning in 2009, which were aimed at expanding the reach of the unit throughout the city, appear to have weakened its effectiveness and diminished its credibility within the LGBT community.

“MPD’s outreach to the LGBT community, which is a critical component of preventing and responding to hate crimes, is significantly less visible and effective than it was prior to the restructuring,” the report says.

“The restructuring of the GLLU reduced the size and limited the role of the central core of the GLLU, weakened its effectiveness in responding to hate crimes and engaging in outreach, and made it less accessible and visible to the LGBT community,” says the report.

“The GLLU’s reduced visibility and presence in the LGBT community has significantly impacted the level of trust the LGBT community has in MPD,” it says.

Former Police Chief Charles Ramsey created the GLLU along with separate liaison units working with the Latino, Asian, and deaf and hard of hearing communities in the late 1990s. Unlike police liaison units in other cities, whose responsibilities were limited mostly to public relations and educational duties, Ramsey arranged for the GLLU and the other units to investigate crimes and make arrests.

Under the leadership of its former commander, Sgt. Brett Parson, the GLLU developed strong ties to the LGBT community, assigning its officers to attend LGBT events and meetings and to patrol neighborhoods with high concentrations of LGBT residents. Although the officers were based in the GLLU headquarters in Dupont Circle, they responded to calls throughout the city and played an active role in investigating crimes targeting LGBT people, including hate crimes.

Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government recognized the GLLU as a highly effective agent for community policing and awarded the unit a grant to expand its work and assist police departments in other cities set up similar units.

In 2009, two years after then Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed her, Lanier put in place a restructuring plan that, among other things, decentralized the GLLU and the other liaison units through the creation of an affiliate officers program that placed affiliate liaison unit members in each of the seven police districts. The restructuring included downsizing the central GLLU office.

LGBT activists, who said they had no objections to the creation of the affiliate program, expressed strong opposition to what they said was an initial plan by Lanier to close the GLLU’s headquarters office. Activists said at the time that the affiliate officers, who were to receive limited training on LGBT related issues, would not have the experience and depth of understanding of the LGBT community that the core GLLU officers, most of whom were gay or lesbian, had.

Lanier quickly backed down from her initial plan to disband the headquarters unit after opposition surfaced from members of the City Council. However, according to activists, she appeared to be gradually decreasing the core unit’s size.

A short time after the restructuring began, Parson requested and was given a transfer out of the unit to patrol duties. Citing budget constraints, the department replaced Parson with a sergeant who was assigned to supervise both the GLLU and the Latino Liaison Unit.

LGBT representatives said the lack of a full-time supervisor for the GLLU was a further indication that the chief was diminishing the ability of the GLLU to carry out its mission.

Other changes associated with the restructuring included restrictions on the types of events or meetings GLLU officers could attend and what appeared to critics as an increase in the frequency that GLLU officers were detailed to other assignments unrelated to the LGBT community.

Lanier has said that due to police personnel limitations, officers from various specialized units would be temporarily detailed to other, street patrol duties as needed.

In a series of recommendations, the Hate Crimes Assessment Report calls on the department to appoint a full-time supervisor of the GLLU and to ensure that the GLLU’s core unit is sufficiently staffed with officers.

In an 8-page response to the task force report, Lanier said she and the department’s leadership agree with most of the conclusions and recommendations of the report.

“Admittedly, some of this is difficult for me to read as it clearly details where the Department has fallen short in our goal to foster strong relationships with our great and diverse communities that enable us to jointly combat the scourge of crimes motivated by hate or bias,” Lanier said in a statement accompanying the report.

“Nonetheless, I strongly support the recommendations of the Task Force, and the Department will be working to implement them,” she said.

Among other things, Lanier said the department agrees with the report’s finding that neither the GLLU nor its affiliate officers “have the visibility in the community that is our goal, and we must improve that.”

She added, however, that it became clear from the report and meetings MPD officials had with the task force that some members of the LGBT community have “expectations” that the MPD cannot meet.

“While we value a strong relationship with the LGBT community, we are also responsible for being sound stewards of public resources,” she said in her response. “Members of the GLLU had attended events in the past that we have determined are inappropriate for police officers on-duty, including bar crawls, book clubs, and certain events in Leather Week,” according to Lanier.

“That said, we believe there are plenty of opportunities for MPD – GLLU as well as its affiliates – to strengthen outreach with the community,” she said.

In her response to the report, Lanier said Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who had been detailed to serve as the GLLU’s supervisor for over a year, “has been assigned to oversee GLLU exclusively since November 2013.” She added that Mahl “is a good fit for the GLLU and its next stage of development.”

In another finding, the report says there is a belief in the LGBT community that “homophobia and transphobia are widespread within MPD, with several describing it as rampant.”

Interviews with members of the community revealed that the hostility toward transgender people, especially transgender women of color, is common among many MPD officers, the report says.

“Virtually every transgender person who spoke to us at the four community meetings reported that they had been harassed or mistreated because of their gender identity or expression, ranging from acts of ignorance and insensitivity to outright hostility and overt expressions of bigotry and harassment,” the report says.

In citing hate crimes data released by the MPD, the report notes that hate crimes targeting the LGBT community make up the highest percentage of hate crimes compared to other categories of victims, such as race, ethnicity, religion, or disability. In 2012, the most recently year for which full data is available, there were 46 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation, comprising 57 percent of a total of 81 hate crimes for all categories.

Police data show there were 9 hate crimes reported in 2012 based on gender identity or expression.

The report doesn’t say how many cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes resulted in an arrest by police or how many of the cases remain unsolved.

“It remains unclear whether the reported increase [in anti-LGBT hate crimes] reflects an actual higher level of hate violence directed against the LGBT community, better reporting by LGBT victims, or the lack of reporting by victims in other categories,” the report says.

The task force members who wrote the report are: David Friedman, Sophie Dornstreich, Michael Liberman – Anti-Defamation League; Sara Warbelow – Human Rights Campaign; Lisa Bornstein – Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Mara Keisling and Vincent Paolo Villano – National Center for Transgender Equality; Jack McDevitt, Associate Dean and Director of the Institute of Race and Justice, Northeastern University in Boston; and Jim Nolan, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology, West Virginia University in Morgantown.

“We welcome the recommendations in the ADL report,” said Hassan Naveed, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV). “GLOV and other LGBT organizations plan to issue a community response to the recommendations in the next two weeks.”

The full report along with Lanier’s response can be seen here: http://mpdc.dc.gov/publication/report-hate-crimes-assessment-task-force

01
Mar
2014

Beyer changed position on same-sex marriage

Don Beyer, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia

Don Beyer (Photo public domain)

Former Virginia Lt. Gov. Don Beyer, who is running against two gay candidates in an 11-candidate race for Virginia’s 8th congressional District U.S. House seat, expressed strong opposition to same-sex marriage when he ran for governor in 1997.

In a position paper on his campaign website this year for the congressional race, Beyer says, “I believe the institution of marriage should be available to committed, same-sex couples” and adds, “I support full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”

But in a 1997 gubernatorial debate against Republican rival Jim Gilmore, which was televised on C-Span, Beyer was asked whether he agreed with then-U.S. Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.) that gay couples should be allowed to legally marry.

“I disagree with Sen. Rob that homosexual marriages should be the law in Virginia or in America,” he said. “I value the American family. I do not believe that we should have discrimination on the basis of many different things in Virginia, but I do not think we should elevate a homosexual relationship to the status of a civil marriage,” he said in the debate.

Beyer lost the election to Gilmore, who also opposed same-sex marriage at the time.

19
Mar
2014

Trans workers in Boston eligible for health coverage

Martin J. Walsh, Marty Walsh, Democratic Party, workers in Boston, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Boston Mayor Martin “Marty” Walsh. Photo by David Parsons; courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

BOSTON — City workers in Boston seeking gender reassignment surgery would for the first time have their care covered by health insurance under a City Council proposal supported by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Boston Globe reports.

City Councilors at Large Michelle Wu and Ayanna Pressley said they planned this week to file a proposal that would guarantee transgender city employees access to gender reassignment surgery, hormone therapy and mental health services, the article said.

Wu said on April 11 that the ordinance is meant to affirm human rights for transgender people and also make city jobs attractive and welcoming to the widest range of talent.

“The city of Boston and our city government should be doing everything we can to make sure we are doing that with the most inclusive policies,” Wu was quoted as having said in the Globe. “It’s the best business decision, as well as the right thing to do.”

Walsh recently recommended a coverage mandate for transgender treatment to the city’s Public Employee Committee, which advises officials on health care and other human resources issues, according to his spokeswoman, Kate Norton. With Boston’s strong-mayor form of government, Walsh’s backing is the surest sign the measure will become reality, the Globe reports.

Walsh asked that the mandate take effect on July 1, when the city begins its new fiscal year, Norton said. The committee discussed the proposal at a meeting last week but did not vote, the Globe reports.

The ordinance set to be filed by Wu and Pressley would ban the city from contracting with any health insurer that denies benefits or “discriminates in the amount of premium, policy fees, or rates charged” on the basis of gender identity, according to a draft provided to the Globe last week.

It grew out of the Elevate Boston Coalition, cofounded by Pressley during last year’s mayoral race to highlight issues affecting women and girls, communities of color, and the LGBT community.

Transgender city workers are guaranteed medical treatment by statutes in San Francisco; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; and other U.S. cities, according to Andrew Cray, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, an independent nonpartisan educational institute in Washington.

16
Apr
2014

Jamaica’s ‘unique’ brand of homophobia

Angeline Jackson, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, an organization that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, was walking with a friend in a town outside of Kingston, the country’s capital, in 2009 when two men robbed them.

Jackson, now 24, said during a Capitol Hill reception on May 21 that U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) attended, that the two men who were stepbrothers forced her to perform oral sex on them at gunpoint. The two men raped Jackson’s friend before bringing them to one of their mother’s homes two hours later.

Two female police officers came to Jackson’s home after she told her mother about the alleged incident. She said one of them told her that she “should leave this lifestyle and go back to church.”

“I looked at her,” said Jackson as she spoke during the Capitol Hill reception. “I was like, you mean the same night that this has just happened to me this is the response that you give me as an officer of the law.”

Jackson, who co-founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica in January 2013 alongside Jalna Broderick, met with New York Congresswoman Yvette Clark and officials with the U.S. State Department while in D.C. last week. She also spoke with the Washington Blade on May 21 at the offices of Human Rights First.

“The quality of citizenship of LGBT people needs to be at the same standard as heterosexuals so that within the country everybody can be moving forward,” said Jackson.

Lesbian, bi Jamaicans face discrimination, violence

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

The murder of Dwayne Jones last July near Montego Bay after a group of partygoers stabbed him to death after they realized the teenager was cross-dressing sparked global outrage.

Jamaica, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates protested outside the Jamaican embassy near Dupont Circle last August. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

Jackson noted to the Blade that gay men and “butch” women are more likely to experience physical violence, in part, because of the way she said Jamaican society views male homosexuality. She said sexual violence is more likely to be perpetrated against “feminine” LGBT women.

“A male being gay means that somebody’s making themselves a woman,” said Jackson. “You’re making yourself a girl; you’re making yourself less than and so the way the male relationships are looked at is different than female relationships.”

“Our culture is this melting pot of religion, culture, music and misogyny,” she added. “All four of them just combine to give us this unique Jamaican homophobia.”

Jamaica has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence with a third of women reporting they have been raped.

Quality of Citizenship Jamaica last year conducted the first survey of LGBT Jamaicans designed to collect information about education, health care and other basic needs. Jackson said her organization is also trying to determine any possible connection between sexual violence and the sexual orientation of those who experience it.

“We know because of that, it must mean that the same thing is happening within the LB (lesbian, bisexual) community,” Jackson told the Blade. “We just don’t know what it is. We’re trying to ascertain what that figure is.”

Jackson said anti-LGBT harassment — particularly against those who live in lower-income areas of Kingston where Quality of Citizenship Jamaica is based — remains pervasive.

She noted to the Blade a group of people stoned a lesbian couple. Jackson discussed another reported incident during which a man who saw a lesbian couple walking to their respective homes in Kingston called them a “sodomite” and asked them whether it was “a good man you want” or “a good cock you want to change you.”

She said she receives “certain looks” if her hair is cut “too low” or she dresses in “a certain way.” Jackson added she has also “gotten the stares” and questions about whether she is a lesbian or a “sodomite” or “a boy” when she wears a large T-shirt or cuts her hair short.

“I’m usually more of the in-between look that people can’t figure out whether I’m butch or femme,” she said. “They kind of leave me alone.”

Jackson told the Blade she spends more money when she travels to make sure she remains safe. She said she takes public transportation only for short distances or when she is with a friend.

“It doesn’t always boil down to actual violence,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the mere fear of violence and the attack. It can cripple you or it can force you to take precautions. I prefer to be safe than sorry.”

Jackson said she used to wear a mask, hat and glasses when she attended pro-LGBT protests because she was afraid.

“When we started QCJ we decided this is not going to be the face of this organization,” she told the Blade. “There is going to be a face, and unfortunately that meant it was me.”

Jamaica is among the Caribbean and Central American countries in which same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaican Prime Minister elect, gay news, gay politics DC

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said shortly before her December 2011 election that her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to a decade in prison with hard labor. She said she would call for a so-called conscience vote of her taking office that would allow parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the issue.

A vote has yet to take place.

“I do not agree with the vote,” Jackson told the Blade. “I do not think that rights — fundamental human rights — should be put up for a vote.”

The Jamaica Supreme Court in November is expected to hear a complaint against the colonial-era law that AIDS-Free World filed on behalf of Javed Jaghai who alleges his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation.

The new constitution that Jamaican lawmakers unanimously approved in 2011 explicitly guarantees the right to privacy.

Jackson referenced to the Blade a newspaper account of two older men convicted under the sodomy law who were caught having sex inside their home in 1999 after police officers patrolling their Mandeville neighborhood saw them having sex.

“Jamaicans tend to forget that means male and female as well, conveniently,” she said, referring to privacy and her group’s desire to amend the law to criminalize only non-consensual sex. “So if it’s consensual sex, you leave the people alone.”

The University of the West Indies last week terminated the contract it had with Dr. Brendan Bain to direct a program that uses a President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant to train doctors and other health care providers throughout the Caribbean to work with groups at risk for HIV after he testified on behalf of religious groups defending Belize’s anti-sodomy law. Dozens of people gathered outside the school’s Kingston campus on Monday to protest the decision as the Associated Press reported.

The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society in 2011 hosted a symposium at the University of the West Indies in Kingston at which Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Paul Diamond, a British lawyer, spoke about what Jackson described as the need to keep the sodomy law in place.

Brian Camenker of MassResistence spoke at a Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society rally that took place at a Kingston park last December. Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, and Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern in the U.K. are among those who spoke at a conference the group organized alongside the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship earlier that month in the Jamaican capital.

“Keep your crazies at home,” Jackson told the Blade when asked whether the U.S. government has done enough to address anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Jamaica. “Keep the fundamentalist people at home; the people who have the crack science that you know has been discredited here or has been discredited in their respective countries.”

She also urged LGBT rights activists in the U.S. and other countries to work directly with Quality of Citizenship Jamaica and other advocacy groups on the ground.

“It’s a problem, this savior complex,” said Jackson. “These white people come in with a savior complex to save LGBT people and tell Jamaica what to do. And it doesn’t work well because then it backfires.”

28
May
2014

Iran a ‘paradox’ for LGBTs

Arsham Parsi, Iran, gay news, Washington Blade

Arsham Parsi (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Arsham Parsi had just been accepted into an Iranian university to study to become a veterinarian when three of his friends who were either gay or transgender committed suicide.

He had previously worked with a doctor in his hometown of Shiraz in southern Iran who had been conducting research for a study on rates of HIV among gay and bisexual men, but he “decided to do something” after his friends took their own lives.

Parsi launched an online support group in 2001 that later became known as the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization. He formed another website for LGBT Iranians two years later, posting information under two pseudonyms.

“I just thought I have to do something,” Parsi told the Washington Blade during a June 12 interview at the Northwest D.C. offices of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank that focuses on national security and foreign policy, as he discussed his life as a gay man and Iran and his advocacy efforts. “At that time I didn’t know what I had to do.”

Parsi said local authorities in early 2005 began to follow him after they arrested two of his friends. He told the Blade that he decided to flee the country after learning about this surveillance.

Parsi took an overnight train from Shiraz and arrived in Tehran, the Iranian capital, the next afternoon. He said he had just missed the train to Turkey, so he took an overnight bus to Tabriz near the Turkish border.

“It was the most stressful trip that I had because I didn’t know what would happen,” he told Blade.

Parsi boarded a Turkey-bound train in Tabriz at 7 a.m. on March 5, 2005, knowing that he “couldn’t come back anymore.” He crossed the Turkish border less than six hours later.

“I just felt that I’m stepping into exile and I can’t go back,” said Parsi, noting he was crying when the train left Iran and entered Turkey. “It’s such a difficult feeling that you have to go and you have no rights to come back. If you go back, they may kill you.”

Parsi, 33, received refugee status from the U.N. Refugee Agency and received asylum from the Canadian government. He has lived in Toronto since April 2006.

He told the Blade the university that his two sisters attended expelled them because of his advocacy. Parsi said anti-gay graffiti appeared on the door of his parents’ home after he spoke with CNN, the BBC and other international media outlets — and local authorities soon opened a file on them titled “the promotion of homosexuality and corruption.”

His parents subsequently fled to Turkey before resettling in Toronto.

“It was very difficult for my parents to leave all their belongings in their 50s,” said Parsi. “They built their home, their situation. They left all their belongings just because of my work and my activism, and they never, ever blamed me for that.”

His organization, the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, has received nearly received 900 cases of LGBT people from his homeland who sought refuge in Canada, the U.S., Australia and Europe. Parsi told the Blade that 65 percent of them have been closed successfully.

“I have a really difficult job,” he said, noting his organization’s name reflects Canada’s role as a refuge for slaves who escaped the U.S. on the Underground Railroad during the 19th Century. “It’s not my job. It’s kind of my life and my passion.”

Parsi spoke with the Blade after he participated in a panel on Iran’s human rights record that took place at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.); Florida Congressman Ted Deutch and Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chair of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and daughter of the late-former California Congressman Tom Lantos are among those who also took part.

Iran is a ‘paradox’

Iran is among the handful of countries in which homosexuality remains punishable by death.

Parsi told the Blade the Iranian government has executed more than 4,000 people under the auspices of their reported homosexuality between 1979 and 2000.

Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were hanged in a square in Mashhad in northeastern Iran in 2005 after a court convicted them of raping a 13-year-old boy, although Parsi and other LGBT rights advocates claimed the authorities executed them because of their homosexuality.

Reports that emerged in March indicate that two gay men were executed in Rasht for “perversion.”

Parsi said the Iranian government does not highlight the sexual orientation of the people he said it continues to persecute because of the international outcry that followed Asgari and Maroni’s executions.

“I believe it’s going on right now, but we don’t know because the Islamic Republic of Iran is very smart right now,” said Parsi, referring to the executions of gay men. “Whenever I see a young man was executed, I said maybe he was an LGBT. I don’t know.”

Parsi noted to the Blade that gay men who can prove their homosexuality are exempt from serving in the military.

“It’s a paradox,” he said. “In one way they don’t want to have gay people in the military or in the camps — oh maybe they do something bad. They have sex and mess around. And in another way homosexuality is punishable by death and they have to prove that the doctors say this person is homosexual.”

Parsi also noted to the Blade and during the briefing that the Iranian government encourages transgender people to undergo sex-reassignment surgery — offering them financial assistance and other incentives to do so. He said nearly half of those who underwent the procedure were not trans, but gay.

Iran’s nuclear program is not ‘only issue’

Then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a 2007 speech at Columbia University that homosexuality does not exist in his country.

The United States and other countries greeted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s election last year with cautious optimism, but Parsi told the Blade that he feels the new government in Tehran has changed very little.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Iranian Queer Organization last December urged Iran in a letter to Rouhani to repeal the death penalty and other punishments used against LGBT Iranians. Parsi said the current Iranian president does not have “any authority” to stop this persecution because it comes directly from those within the Ministry of Justice whom Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directly appoints.

“I don’t support the Iranian government,” said Parsi. “We didn’t have a choice between a good person or a bad person or a good candidate or a bad candidate. It was just bad and worse.”

Talks between the U.S. and Iran over the country’s reported nuclear program are scheduled to resume this week in Vienna. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday signaled that Washington is open to potential military cooperation with Tehran to slow the advance of a group of Sunni extremists who have taken control of wide swaths of northern Iraq in recent days.

Parsi and others who took part in the Capitol Hill panel said the response to Iran’s nuclear program has come at the expense of efforts to highlight the country’s human rights record.

“Iran’s only issue is not its nuclear program,” Parsi told the Blade. “We have to focus on human rights.”

Parsi further noted the U.S. has one of the highest rates of executions in the world — only Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China execute more prisoner than this country as a 2011 Amnesty International report notes. He said that Washington “cannot blame” Tehran for executions because of its own policies towards capital punishment.

Advocacy is ‘investment for the future’

Parsi acknowledged to the Blade that remains unlikely he will be able to return to Iran.

He noted his organization continues to struggle to gain additional financial support and more volunteers. Parsi said he nevertheless remains optimistic that life for LGBT Iranians will someday improve.

“All of my work is an investment for the future and the brighter tomorrow,” he said.

19
Jun
2014

Chilean Senate committee approves civil unions bill

National Congress of Chile, gay news, Washington Blade

A Chilean Senate committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a civil unions bill. (Photo by the Photographic Collection of the Library of the National Congress of Chile; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A Chilean Senate committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to advance a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

The vote sets the stage for a potential vote on the measure in the full Senate.

“Today we have taken a step forward in this fight for civil unions that we began a decade ago,” said the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, in a statement. “The step that was once a dream is becoming real.”

Luis Larraín, president of Fundación Iguales, another Chilean LGBT advocacy group, also applauded the vote.

“We are one step closer to the state of Chile recognizing that there are distinct types of family and that all of them deserve protection,” he said.

Former President Sebastián Piñera first introduced the civil unions bill in the Chilean Congress in 2011.

Senators in January voted 28-6 to move the proposal out of committee.

President Michelle Bachelet, who took office in March, publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples in the South American country during last year’s presidential campaign.

Chile’s highest court in 2011 ruled the country’s ban on nuptials for gays and lesbians is constitutional in a case the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation filed on behalf of three same-sex couples who are seeking marriage rights.

The Piñera administration argued in a brief it filed with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights last November in response to the same-sex marriage lawsuit that the plaintiffs have “not exhausted domestic remedies to obtain the nullification of the administrative act for [the] alleged violation of fundamental rights.” Lawyers representing the three couples have repeatedly urged Bachelet to reject her predecessor’s position in the case.

Anti-LGBT violence casts shadow over advances

LGBT rights advocates have seen a number of legal and political advances in the conservative South American country in recent years.

Piñera in 2012 signed an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination bill that had languished in the Chilean Congress for seven years. It is named in honor of Daniel Zamudio, a 24-year-old man whom a group of self-described neo-Nazis beat to death inside a park in Santiago, the country’s capital, earlier that year.

The country’s Senate in January advanced a bill that would allow trans Chileans to legally change their name and sex without sex reassignment surgery.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 ruled in favor of Karen Atala, a lesbian judge who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband seven years earlier because of her sexual orientation.

Claudio Arriagada last November became the first openly gay person elected to the Chilean Congress.

Jaime Parada Hoyl, a former spokesperson for the Movement of Homosexual Integration and Liberation, in 2012 won a seat on the municipal council in Providencia, a wealthy Santiago enclave.

Voters in the Santiago suburb of Lampa re-elected transgender Councilwoman Alejandra González during the same municipal elections. Trans activist Zuliana Araya also won a seat on the Municipal Council in the coastal city of Valparaíso.

Anti-LGBT violence remains a serious concern in spite of these political and legal advances.

The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation said in a press release on Tuesday that Zaconi Orellana Acevedo, a 22-year-old trans woman, was killed earlier this week in a town outside of Santiago.

“We cannot forget that the female transsexual population is particularly vulnerable, because from an early age all doors are closed for them and a great many of them are forced to engage in commercial sex work to survive,” said the advocacy group. “The lack of a gender identity law that would allow trans people to change their name with a simple process in the Civil Registry and not in the judiciary as occurs right now, would bring more development possibilities to this social group.”

A rash of other anti-LGBT attacks over the past year have sparked outrage among Chilean advocates. These include the death of Esteban Parada Armijo in January after two men stabbed him in Santiago’s Bellavista neighborhood where several gay bars and clubs are located.

Guillermo Aguilera Guerrero allegedly stabbed Alejandro Alfredo Bustamante Godoy to death inside his Valparaíso home a few weeks before Parada’s murder.

Bachelet has said she supports efforts to strengthen Chile’s hate crimes and anti-discrimination law.

06
Aug
2014

Christie vetoes birth certificate bill

Chris Christie, New Jersey, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is embroiled in scandal but took time out to veto a trans rights bill. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

TRENTON, N.J.— Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Jan. 13 vetoed a bill that would have allowed his state’s transgender residents to change their gender on their birth certificates.

“It appears that this veto is arbitrary, capricious and designed to harm transgender people who are the most vulnerable among LGBT New Jerseyans,” said Barbra Casbar Siperstein, political director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey (GRAANJ).

Garden State Equality Executive Director Tony Stevenson described Christie’s veto as “a vindictive move to punish the LGBT community after a year of tremendous progress.”

“This was a simple bureaucratic change, which would have offered tremendous support to the transgender community, and have zero effect on anyone else,” said Stevenson.

Christie vetoed the measure nearly a month after the New Jersey Senate approved it by a 21-11 vote margin. The bill passed in the state Assembly last June by a 43-27 vote margin with one abstention.

Christie is embroiled in a scandal involving aides who allegedly created massive traffic jams in Fort Lee because the mayor there wouldn’t endorse Christie’s re-election bid last year.

15
Jan
2014