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Conclave chooses next pope

Cardinals on Wednesday elected Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio as the church’s next pope

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Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Photo by Aibdescalzo via Wikimedia Commons)

The College of Cardinals on Wednesday elected Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio as the Catholic Church’s next pope.

His election as the first Latin American pontiff took place less than two days after the papal conclave to choose Pope Benedict XVI’s successor began. The white smoke that symbolized Bergoglio’s election rose from a chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel shortly after 7 p.m. in Rome after the cardinals chose him on the fifth ballot.

Bergoglio, who took the name Francis I, was born in Buenos Aires to an Italian immigrant father in 1936.

He became archbishop of the Argentine capital in 1998.

Bergoglio, a Jesuit who was elected cardinal in 2001, was reportedly the runner-up in 2005 when the College of Cardinals elected Benedict to succeed Pope John Paul II. He is also among those who led the opposition to Argentina’s same-sex marriage law that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed in 2010.

“We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God,” he said before Argentine lawmakers passed it. “Here also is the envy of the devil through which sin entered the world, which deviously seeks to destroy the image of God, man and woman who have received the mandate to grow, reproduce and dominate the Earth.”

Esteban Paulon, president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Federation of Argentina, highlighted these statements against nuptials for gays and lesbians as he spoke about Bergoglio’s election from his home in Rosario.

“At least in terms of LGBT rights it was a clear signal that the church was radicalizing the discourse,” he told the Blade.

Fernández also criticized the now pope’s position on that issue–and his claim that adoption rights for gays and lesbians constitutes discrimination against children.

A human rights lawyer in 2005 accused Bergoglio, who has also described abortion as the “death penalty,” of conspiring with the country’s military junta to kidnap two Jesuit priests in 1976.

In spite of the aforementioned controversies, he has reached out to people with HIV/AIDS.

The National Catholic Reporter reported he kissed and washed the feet of 12 AIDS patients during a 2001 visit to a hospice.

“As a cardinal, this man who is now Pope Francis has said some pretty harsh things in the past,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a group for LGBT Catholics, told the Washington Blade. “We would hope that he recognizes that he is a pope for a church that includes lots of LGBT people and our families and that he would take the time to listen to us, to our experiences, to the experiences of kids who’ve been raised by same-sex parents before he starts making papal pronouncements on these issues and risks alienating even more people.”

Francis DiBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., echoed Duddy-Burke.

“As he begins his papacy, we request that Pope Francis make one of his top priorities the re-evaluation of the Catholic hierarchy’s approach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues,” he said, referring to Francis’ statements against same-sex marriage and adoption rights for gays and lesbians. “We hope that in his new office, he will have the wisdom to hear all sides of these complex issues and that he will inject pastoral messages into his statements.”

Ryan Fecteau, a gay student at the Catholic University of America in D.C., also reacted to the new pope’s election.

“Though Pope Francis has expressed anti-gay sentiment in the past, he comes from a country that has legalized marriage for same-sex couples,” he told the Blade. “We must have optimism in knowing that the first Jesuit pope has witnessed the power of love without exception. And we must hope it has changed his views for the better.”

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown is among those who welcome the pontiff’s opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio will follow in the steps of Pope Benedict XVI and provide a consistent and strong voice in support of marriage and children,” he said in a statement. “Our prayers go out to Pope Francis as he leads the world’s over 1 billion Catholics in the weeks, months, and years ahead.”

Benedict on Feb. 11 became the first pope to resign since 1415.

Italian newspapers reported in the days after Benedict’s surprise announcement that he announced his resignation on the same day he learned male prostitutes are blackmailing gay Vatican priests. La Repubblica said report also detailed an underground network of gay priests.

Vatican officials denounced the reports as “unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories.”

Argentines react to the new pope

Fernández congratulated Francis in a statement she issued shortly after the College of Cardinals elected him.

“It is our desire that you have, assuming the helm and guidance of the church… successfully carry out your extremely important pastoral charge in pursuit of justice, equality, fraternity and peace for mankind,” she said.

Paulon again highlighted to the Blade the role Francis played in the campaign against Argentina’s same-sex marriage law.

He also noted a sense of pride among Argentinians over his election.

“Of course in Argentina there is a sense of joy among a good part of the population for the pope,” he said.

Duddy-Burke further acknowledged the church’s center continues to shift away from Europe.

“It’s a time of transition and prayer for all Catholics,” she said. “We join in praying for the pope and his ministry.”

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Africa

Botswana government to abide by decriminalization ruling

Mokgweetsi Masisi met with LGBTQ activists on Monday

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Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi on Monday said his government will abide by a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in his country.

Masisi said he would implement the Botswana High Court’s 2019 ruling against sections of the Batswana Penal Code that criminalized homosexuality.

The Batswana government appealed the High Court ruling. The Botswana Court of Appeals last November upheld it.

Agence France-Presse reported Masisi invited representatives of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), a Batswana LGBTQ rights group that challenged the criminalization law with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, to meet with him at his office in Gaborone, the Batswana capital.

“We demand and expect anybody to respect the decisions of our court,” Masisi told LEGABIBO members, according to Agence France-Presse.

Botswana remains one of only a handful of countries that have decriminalized homosexuality.

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World

Global Equality Caucus hires former El Salvador National Assembly candidate

Erick Iván Ortiz received more than 10,000 votes in 2021

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Erick Iván Ortiz (Foto cortesía de Erick Iván Ortiz)

A group of LGBTQ elected officials from around the world that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has hired an openly gay man who ran for the El Salvador National Assembly last year.

Erick Iván Ortiz will oversee the Global Equality Caucus’ work throughout Latin America.

This work will specifically focus on Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Peru. Two events that are scheduled to take place in Mexico City in April and Buenos Aires in May will mark the official launch of the Global Equality Caucus’ efforts in the region.

“The idea at the end of the day is to confront the threats from anti-rights groups that can be identified,” Ortiz told the Washington Blade during a recent interview in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.

Ortiz, who is a member of Nuestro Tiempo, a new Salvadoran political party, received 10,615 votes when he ran for National Assembly in 2021. Ortiz would have been the first openly gay man elected to the country’s legislative body if he had won.

Editor’s note: The Blade on Monday published a Spanish version of this story that El Salvador Correspondent Ernesto Valle wrote.

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Election in India’s most popular state seen as crucial LGBTQ rights test

Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party currently governs Uttar Pradesh

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India’s most populous state and a battleground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold the election in seven phases in February as the Election Commission of India has announced.

The Uttar Pradesh election is the key prize in India’s parliamentary election as the state holds 80 parliamentary seats, the most in the country. Uttar Pradesh’s LGBTQ community and LGBTQ people from across the country have been eyeing this election because it can play a crucial role in policy changes for the community in India.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing nationalist party, is ruling Uttar Pradesh. The party is also ruling the country under Modi, but it has not been supportive of same-sex marriage.

“We are not a minority anymore. The community is thriving in the state,” said Lovpreet, a Lucknow-based activist who works for transgender rights in Uttar Pradesh. “If the current government is not going to give us the right for same-sex marriage, we should remove the government in this election.”

The ruling party is yet to release its election manifesto, but the party is not considering listing LGBTQ issues in it.

A newly married same-sex couple from New York last year applied for an OCI (overseas citizen of India) Card, which would have allowed them multiple entries and a multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India, but the country did not recognize them as legally married and refused to issue it to them.

The couple filed a petition in Delhi High Court. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is the central government’s legal representative, stated in response to the petition that marriage is permissible between a “biological male” and “biological female” and the government therefore cannot issue an OCI Card to their spouse.

Although India struck down a colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality in 2018, there is still no law for same-sex marriage. The LGBTQ community has been demanding for years that political parties legalize same-sex marriage, but the issue is yet to appear in any party’s manifesto.

Lovpreet, who lives in Uttar Pradesh, believes that BJP is doing some good, like forming a trans advisory board last September.

“BJP is slowly moving towards being LGBTQ friendly, and if given the time and opportunity, it can do some good in the future,” said Lovpreet.

The Indian National Congress (INC), a leading central left-wing party, is also fielding its candidate in the state election, but the party does not see LGBTQ issues as important.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, an MP and chair of All India Professionals Congress, the INC’s professional wing, refused multiple requests to speak on the legalization of same-sex marriage. The INC last week released its manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh election, but there were no promises for the LGBTQ community.

Former Defense Minister Jitendra Singh, an INC member who will set the party’s agenda ahead of the Uttar Pradesh election, also refused to speak about the legalization of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues in the state and the country.

Ram Gopal Yadav, the leader of the left-wing socialist Samajwadi Party and the head of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha), the upper house of the Indian Parliament, in 2013 while speaking with the media explicitly said that homosexuality is “unethical and immoral.” But the Samajwadi Party has recently changed its tone regarding the community.

“With every aspect, whether it is farmers, whether it is women, whether it is children or the LGBTQ community, there will be continuous policy measures of the party that are progressive and liberal,” said Samajwadi Party spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari. “When the government is progressive and not bounded by dogma, then every issue related to any community has to be looked at in a manner that gives equal opportunity and be empathetic towards them. The more vulnerable the community is, the greater government needs to do,” he added further. 

The Mayawati Prabhu Das-led Bahujan Samaj Party, a national party that is running in the Uttar Pradesh election, has emerged as an LGBTQ ally. The party, however, has not released its election manifesto and it is yet to be seen if it will include LGBTQ issues.

There is no political party in Uttar Pradesh or the country with significant LGBTQ representation.

Tiwari in a statement to the Washington Blade said there is no plan yet for the Samajwadi Party to field candidates from the community in the upcoming election, but the party can consider it for the upcoming parliamentary election.

“The central government is not decriminalizing same-sex marriage. They are looking at the conservative vote bank,” said Preeti Sharma Menon, a spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party.

Aam Admi Party is a national party in the country. The party had fielded candidates in previous Uttar Pradesh elections but had no significant luck.

“To appease conservative voters, the ruling party, the BJP, is not taking steps to legalize same-sex marriage,” Menon added further.

The Aam Aadmi Party in the previous parliamentary election had a trans candidate from Uttar Pradesh. The party has expressed its desire to field other candidates in the state’s election from the community.

The BJP is ruling both the country and the Uttar Pradesh with no intention to support or address LGBTQ issues.

Senior BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar from the state of Maharashtra last year made several homophobic comments in Parliament. The party did not punish him, nor did other political parties condemn his statements.

It is yet to be seen how this election impacts policies of different political parties for the LGBTQ community in the upcoming parliamentary election of the country.

Mohit Kumar (Ankush) is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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