June 29, 2017 at 7:12 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Politicians, officials to launch global LGBT rights group
Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel is among those who have agreed to work with a new group that seeks to promote LGBT and intersex rights abroad. (Photo by Julien Becker; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

MADRID — The gay prime minister of Luxembourg is among the elected officials from around the world who have agreed to launch a new group that seeks to promote LGBT and intersex rights.

Xavier Bettel and more than three dozen others will take part in the LGBTQI (LGBT, queer and intersex) Elected and Appointed Officials Experts Group, which the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and organizers of the WorldPride International Human Rights Conference will coordinate.

The group will “explore ways for openly LGBTQI elected and appointed officials to support and provide advice to other openly LGBTQI and allied and appointed officials around equality initiatives.” It will also soon launch a survey that will allow participants to identify other out officials and those who “would like to advise other out or allied elected and appointed officials in areas related to their expertise on equality for LGBTI people, if needed.”

“It’s a topic that’s not a national topic,” said Bettel on Thursday as he spoke via video to elected officials, activists and others who attended the WorldPride LGBTQI Interparliamentary Plenary that took place in the Spanish Senate chambers. “It’s an international topic.”

Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón, Taiwanese Digital Minister Audrey Tang, European Parliament Vice President Ulrike Lunacek, Spanish Sen. Pilar Lima, Ecuadorian Congresswoman Diane Rodríguez, Venezuelan National Assemblywoman Tamara Adrián, Canadian MP Randy Boissonnault and South African MP Zakhele Mbhele are among the other officials and politicians who took part in the plenary.

“What we have in common is working towards equality,” said Lol Kin Castañeda, a lesbian activist who is also a member of the Mexico City Constituent Assembly.

Ángeles Álvarez, a lesbian member of the Spanish Congress of Deputies who is also the secretary of equality and diversity for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in Madrid, urged elected officials “to raise their voices” for LGBT and intersex rights. British MEP Julie Ward is among those who also stressed the need for LGBT and intersex advocates to support immigrants, women and other marginalized groups.

“We must be there for all those whose rights are under attack,” she said.

Politicians ‘must look at LGBT issues as a human rights issue’

The plenary took place two days before up to three million people are expected to attend the WorldPride parade in Madrid.

German lawmakers on Friday are expected to vote on whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Alex Greenwich, a gay member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in Australia who is also the co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality, a group that advocates for marriage rights for same-sex couples, on Thursday said “it does surprise many people” that gays and lesbians cannot legally tie the knot in his country.

“We’re the country that gave the world Kylie and Olivia Newton John,” joked Greenwich during an interview with the Washington Blade that took place before the plenary began.

Turkish police earlier this week used tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse LGBT rights advocates in Istanbul who defied the city’s decision to ban a Pride event. This year’s WorldPride is also taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing persecution of gays and lesbians in Chechnya.

“All politicians must look at LGBT issues as a human rights issue,” said Apsara Reddy, a trans journalist and activist from the Indian city of Chennai.

Gay Italian MEP Daniele Viotti further stressed “full equality is the goal of the LGBTI movement.” He, like Ward, said advocates are “fighting for everyone’s rights.”

Politicians criticize Brexit, Trump

Gay Scottish MEP Alyn Smith on Thursday stressed progress on LGBT and intersex issues is “not inevitable.” He pointed to a statistic that indicates hate crimes in the U.K. have increased 147 percent since the so-called Brexit referendum to leave the European Union passed last June.

“We cannot afford to be complacent,” said Smith. “Things can go backwards.”

Shane Cohn, a gay member of the St. Louis Board of Alderman, noted the U.S. “made great strides” on LGBT and intersex-specific issues during the Obama administration. He said President Trump and Vice President Pence have put these advances at risk

“We’re facing a real perilous situation in our country,” said Cohn.

None of those who spoke at Thursday’s plenary specifically criticized Trump.

Greenwich described Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, health care and other issues is “concerning.” He nevertheless told the Blade his country’s relationship with the U.S. will remain strong, even though reports indicate Trump insulted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a contentious phone call shortly after he took office.

“It was very strong before Donald Trump became president,” said Greenwich. “It will be strong during his presidency and after his presidency.”

The White House last month omitted the name of Bettel’s husband, Gauthier Destenay, from the caption of a photo of first lady Melania Trump and other spouses of NATO heads of state. Advocates criticized the omission and the White House subsequently added Destenay’s name to the caption.

“Being different for me is what makes the success of a society,” said Bettel on Thursday at the end of his remarks.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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