A gay diplomat led a U.S. delegation at an international conference earlier this month that touched on the importance of LGBT rights as a human rights issue.
Michael Guest, former U.S. ambassador to Romania, headed a delegation of about 25 U.S. diplomats during the human rights portion of an annual review conference for the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. The review conference took place between Sept. 30 and Oct. 8 in Warsaw, Poland.
The Warsaw Review Conference was a primer engagement for trans-Atlantic countries to discuss human rights principles — including hate crimes against LGBT people and the freedom to association to have Pride celebrations across the globe — in anticipation of a later OSCE summit that this year is set to take place in December in Astana, Kazakhstan.
In an interview with the Washington Blade, Guest said that his sexual orientation made his designation as head of the delegation representational of the Obama administration’s stated principle that international LGBT rights are human rights.
“I also think that it made an impact with other delegations,” Guest added. “It was clearly a prominent feature of my biography, so there were a number of delegation members that come and it’s representative in their eyes as a sense of progress that an openly gay man would be appointed.”
Still, Guest said he thinks his 26-year service as a diplomat was the primary reason he was selected for the position and noted that during much of his career he focused on OSCE policy.
“I dealt with it at the time when all these changes were happening in Europe in 1989, 1990 and 1991 and when most of the commitments on fundamental freedoms and human rights were signed by the newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union and the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe,” he said.
Guest attained notoriety in 2007 when he retired from the State Department in protest because it didn’t offer certain benefits — such as security training and free medical care — to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers. The situation has since been rectified by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, which took part in the review conference as an non-governmental organization, said the selection of an out gay man to lead the U.S. delegation was significant because previous administrations have been reluctant to incorporate LGBT issues in foreign policy.
“The United States in the past has been reluctant to address LGBT concerns within this forum,” Bromley said. “I think the fact that they selected Michael Guest as someone who is openly gay and works with organizations that promote issues on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was an important statement.”
The OSCE was established in 1975 after 35 trans-Atlantic countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, signed the Helsinki Accords and agreed to take part in annual meetings. During the Cold War, the OSCE served as a forum where the United States could raise human rights and security issues with Warsaw Pact countries.
But Guest said the tone of the conference has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to become less of an East-West dialogue and more of a pan-Atlantic conversation.
“It’s an opportunity to look at what has been done and is being done on human rights issues ranging from migration to freedoms of assembly and freedom of religion, to human trafficking, to capital punishment, to gender balance to hate crimes and intolerance — the whole range of human rights related issues,” Guest said.
During the course of the discussion on human rights, Guest impressed upon the 56 participating states in the conference the importance of inclusion of LGBT rights as human rights issues.
The former ambassador mentioned LGBT issues during his opening statement at the conference’s plenary session, including bias-motivated violence against LGBT people and the right to freedom of association at Pride celebrations. Such activities in Eastern Europe, where the conference took place, are often the targets of hostility and violence.
Guest lamented human rights abuses such as “when civil society assemblies are denied permits on spurious grounds, or police allow bigots to attack Gay Pride parades.” The former ambassador also acknowledged the United States has more to accomplish on human rights issues because “equality under the law continues to elude those of us who are gay or transgender.”
During a later discussion, Guest also appealed to governments in attendance to implement hate crimes protections measures and recalled his own personal experience as the victim of bias-motivated violence.
After a hostile non-governmental organization equated homosexuality to pedophilia and necrophilia at the end of the meeting, Guest responded that the connection was offensive and such inflammatory allegations can be responsible for hate crimes.
Guest told the Blade he raised LGBT issues during the conference because he believes they should be brought up in any comprehensive discussion of human rights.
“We raised it in questions of freedom to assembly, freedom of association and in the course of the discussions on hate crimes and tolerance,” he said. “We had some good news stories to tell from the standpoint of the United States, such as the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act and the overall trend in hate crimes going down, but the negative, of course, being that the reported number of LGBT hate crimes and hate crimes against immigrants has, in fact, gone up.”
LGBT issues were also raised by non-governmental institutions at the conference, including the Council for Global Equality.
Bromley delivered a statement at the conference on behalf of his organization — as well as two European international LGBT right groups — that called for passage of hate crimes protections in other countries as well as the decriminalization of sodomy.
Emphasizing the importance of accurate documentation and effective prosecution of bias-motivated violence against LGBT people, Bromley said hate crimes won’t go away as long as countries have anti-gay statutes on the books.
“As a first step, we call on all participating states in the OSCE region to remove any laws that continue to criminalize homosexual conduct or identity or the public dissemination of scientifically supported information on homosexuality and sexual health,” Bromley said.
Bromley told the Blade that discussion of LGBT rights at the conference was significant because the U.S. delegation had only begun to bring up such issues last year after the start of the Obama administration.
“We’re very pleased to see that level of emphasis from the head of the delegation, but a number of other governments also spoke to the issue, so it’s certainly gaining ground and giving additional attention to LGBT hate crimes,” Bromley said.
The delegations from other countries and other non-governmental organizations at the conference responded to the U.S. delegation’s promotion of LGBT rights in varied ways. Guest said the session in which he spoke personally about hate crimes issues caused delegations from other countries to take note.
“It was a very quiet session,” Guest said. “People were listening very quietly, and a lot of people did respond specifically to what I said including non-governmental organizations. A number of delegations told us afterwards — either to me directly or others on the team — how that more personal approach really had resonated with them.”
Guest said a representative from the Catholic Church in Vatican City was among those that approached him afterward and mentioned that talking about hate crimes in a personal manner was “a way that we could build bridges.”
But Guest said the outcome was different for discussions of freedom of association and the right to hold Pride celebrations. The former ambassador speculated these talks made less of an impact on the delegation because they had already come up at last year’s conference.
“I think it’s just that because Gay Pride issues have come up before, there were some delegations that maybe expected it and maybe didn’t really reflect as much as might otherwise be the case,” Guest said.
So-called “ex-gay” groups and other organizations hostile to LGBT rights were also present.
Bromley said Redeemed Lives, a Christian ministry, spoke out at the conference about bias-motivated violence against “ex-gay” people for giving up what the ministry called a “homosexual lifestyle.”
“That was somewhat alarming to see a strong showing of ex-gay activists who were waving issues that were, as far as I know, not legitimate concerns,” Bromley said. “I don’t doubt that there could be violence directed at ex-gay individuals, but I never heard of any reports to that effect.”
Reparative therapy programs that seek to change sexual orientation have been widely discredited by major medical and psychiatric associations around the world.
A spokesperson for Redeemed Lives deferred comment to a statement the organization made at the conference, which was published on the OSCE website. In the statement, Mario Bergner, director of Redeemed Lives, stresses the importance passing legislation to protect the free speech of Christian academics and clerics to “teach the sexual morality of their faith traditions” so that they can help those with “unwanted sexual desires.”
“Such people include Christians with sexual addictions for whom freedom means living free of internet pornography, Christians with compulsive sexual behaviours for whom freedom is fidelity in marriage, and Christians, like myself, with unwanted same sex attractions for whom freedom is the self emancipation that comes through effective pastoral care or psychological treatment for homosexuality,” Berger said.
Bromley said the organization’s concern about hate crimes against people who identify as “ex-gay” is ironic because the Matthew Shepard Act already protects them.
“It would actually be covered under our current hate crime law because it would still be violence on the basis of sexual orientation,” Bromley said.
But the conference nonetheless provided a forum to discuss international LGBT rights as a human rights issue.
Guest noted progress was made at the conference, although he said more work is needed.
“I think there are moments like that where you feel that you are making headway in getting people to understand that these are issues that governments have to take seriously,” Guest said. “And then, there are other times where it seems to go right past — certainly on some the freedom of association things.”
Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill
“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”
TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.
HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.
The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.
“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”
In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”
This will kill kids, @RonDeSantisFL. You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in. In a national survey (@TrevorProject), 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide last year. Now they can’t talk to their teachers? https://t.co/VtfFLPlsn3— Chasten Buttigieg (@Chasten) January 20, 2022
The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.
When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.
If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678.
California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity
Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her
A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim.
The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.
Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district.
It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community.
After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended.
Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco.
According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities.
During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns.
Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day.
Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her.
However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.
In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things.
“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”
However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”
GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania
“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”
The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.
Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”
The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.
The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.
“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”
Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.
“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”
Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Central Pa. borough poised to become first to repeal LGBTQ protections https://t.co/ZFpDOfRivw— PennLive.com (@PennLive) January 22, 2022
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