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Colombian LGBT rights advocates visit U.S.

Six activists took part in State Department-sponsored trip



Colombia, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade
Columbia, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Colombian LGBT rights advocates are in the U.S. on a State Department-sponsored trip. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Castańeda)

Six Colombian LGBT rights advocates have visited D.C. and two other states this month as part of a State Department-sponsored trip to learn how activists, politicians and government officials in this country advance civil and human rights.

The group — which includes lawyer Viviana Baharquez Monsalve; Wilson de Jesús Castañeda Castro, director of Corporación Caribe Afirmativo in Cartagena; Juan Carlos Pietro García, director of the city of Bogotá’s Office of Sexual Diversity and Federico Ruíz Mora of the Santamaría Fundación in Cali — arrived in D.C. on April 14.

The advocates met with State Department officials, Lisa Mottet of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Human Rights Campaign and Victory Fund staffers, transgender activists and others while in the nation’s capital. They will have also traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, and San Diego before returning to Colombia on Wednesday.

Castañeda, whose group advocates on behalf of LGBT Colombians who live along the country’s Caribbean coastline, told the Washington Blade during an April 18 interview that he and his fellow activists highlighted their work on behalf of their gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans countrymen. He said they also wanted to learn about this country’s elections, documentation of hate crimes and anti-bullying efforts in schools while in the United States.

Ruíz, whose group advocates on behalf of trans women, discussed how the Colombian LGBT rights movement compares to that in the United States.

“Things are rather similar to those in our country, but there are clearly obvious differences,” he said.

The activists arrived in the United States less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases that challenge the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Their trip also coincided with the ongoing debate over a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Colombia.

The Colombian Senate had been scheduled to vote on the proposal on April 18 — the same day the activists spoke with the Blade, but it was postponed until Tuesday. Baharquez said it will prove “very, very difficult” to pass the same-sex marriage bill because of opposition from religious conservatives in the country’s Congress.

“There is little hope that something is going to pass,” she said.

Colombian senators in 2007 defeated a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.

The country’s Constitutional Court in three separate rulings it issued later that year and in 2008 extended property and inheritance rights, social security and pension benefits to same-sex couples. The tribunal in 2009 issued a ruling that said co-habitating gay and lesbian couples must receive the same rights that unmarried heterosexual couples receive under Colombian law.

The same court in 2011 ruled lawmakers must pass legislation within two years that extends the same benefits that heterosexuals receive through marriage to same-sex couples. If legislators fail to act on this mandate by June 20, gays and lesbians can legally register their unions.

Anti-trans violence remains endemic in Colombia

While attention remains focused on extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, violence against trans women remains rampant throughout the country.

A report from the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender Women (REDLACTRANS) notes 61 trans women in Colombia have been reported murdered between 2005-2011. The group further notes none of the alleged perpetrators have been prosecuted — Ruíz said authorities often exacerbate the problem.

“Colombia is the same as many Latin American countries and others around the world; the trans community is that which is the most affected,” he said as he discussed the issue. “This has to do with historic discrimination and exclusion accompanied by systematic acts of violence. This violence has to do with transphobic acts because of [the victim’s] gender identity.”

The advocates hope to launch a campaign in support of a trans rights bill that would, among other things, “guarantee a dignified life for trans women in Colombia.” Ruíz further described them as those who are “in a helpless situation against the constant violation of their human rights.”

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in May 2012 signed a bill that allows people who have not undergone sex-reassignment surgery to legally change their gender without a doctor or judge’s approval. The law further mandates public and private health insurance plans to cover SRS, hormone therapy and other trans-specific treatments without additional premiums.

Castañeda told the Blade the campaign through which Argentine LGBT rights advocates secured passage of their country’s trans rights bill is “important to us.” He stressed, however, their own effort should take into account the “particularity of the situation” that trans Colombians currently face with regard to discrimination and violence.

Ruíz also responded to the Blade’s question about whether the ongoing same-sex marriage debate has overshadowed the need to extend legal protections based on gender identity and expression.

“It is an advance in the recognition of rights as a group,” he said, while noting some trans women don’t identify much with the issue of nuptials for gays and lesbians. “For the trans organizations, it will be much more important that gender identity is recognized as an identify for the purposes of rights.”

In addition to efforts in support of same-sex marriage and trans rights, the advocates said they will continue to seek LGBT inclusion in the ongoing peace profess between the Colombian government and armed rebels. They also hope to have a greater presence in the country’s political system.

The U.S. Agency for International Development earlier this month announced a public-private partnership designed to promote LGBT rights around the world. The Victory Institute and the Astraea Foundation will conduct the initiative’s first training in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, from May 30-June 2.

Bogotá City Councilor Angelica Lozano; Blanca Durán, mayor of the Colombian capital’s Chapinero district and Tatiana Piñeros, a trans woman whom Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro appointed last year to run the city’s social welfare agency are among those expected to attend.

“For those of us who have come to the United States, we identified and built upon best practices to know and use in our daily work,” Prieto said.

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US ambassador to UN calls for repeal of criminalization laws

Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke at U.N. LGBTI Core Group event



U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (Photo courtesy of the U.S. State Department; public domain)

United States Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield is among those who participated in a Wednesday event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that highlighted efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Thomas-Greenfield in her remarks during the largely virtual U.N. LGBTI Core Group event noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than 70 countries.

“For millions of people it is illegal for them to be who they are, to love who they love. We need to repeal and eliminate these laws,” she said. “For our part, the United States is using our diplomacy, our foreign assistance and every tool we have to protect human rights, empower civil society and support local LGBTQI movements.”

The U.S. is one of 35 countries that are members of the Core Group.

Wednesday’s event also highlighted efforts to decriminalize transgender people and repeal laws that specifically target them.

“We need more countries to join this committed group,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “Together, let’s do everything we can to protect human rights and promote equality for all.”

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo; Nepalese Ambassador to the U.N. Amrit Bahadur Rai; New Zealand Ambassador to the U.N. Craig Hawke; Australian Permanent U.N. Representative Mitch Fifield; Brazilian Ambassador to the U.N. Rolando Costa Filho; Canadian Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Keith Rae; Assistant U.N. Secretary General for Strategic Coordination Volker Türk; Argentine Foreign Affairs Minister Santiago Cafiero; Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Tom de Bruijn; Japanese Foreign Minister Jun Shimmi; Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide; Salvadoran Foreign Affairs Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco; Costa Rican Vice Multicultural Affairs Minister Christian Guillermet-Fernández; Finnish Foreign Affairs Ministry Johanna Sumuvuori; Nick Herbert of the British House of Lords; European Union Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli; Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Ann Linde; Icelandic Foreign Affairs Minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson; Maltese Equality, Research, Innovation and the Coordination of Post COVID-19 Strategy Minister Owen Bonnici; Mexican Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Undersecretary Martha Delgado; Italian Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Benedetto Della Vedova; Chilean Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Carolina Valdivia; German MP Michael Roth; Irish State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora Minister Colm Brophy and Danish Development and Nordic Cooperation Minister Flemming Møller Mortensen participated in the event that Reuters U.N. Bureau Chief Michelle Nichols emceed.

Acting OutRight Action International Executive Director Maria Sjödin and activists from Bhutan, Botswana, Guyana, Mozambique, Angola, Panamá and India took part. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, and Nikkie de Jager, a Dutch U.N. goodwill ambassador known as NikkieTutorials who is trans, also participated.

“Decriminalization is a very basic demand,” said Sjödin. “Given how many countries have these laws on the books, it is still a priority.”

Herbert, who is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s LGBTQ envoy, noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in 35 of the Commonwealth’s 54 countries. Herbert also announced the U.K. will give an additional $2.75 million to “support LGBT+ individuals in Commonwealth countries, including to those seeking to address outdated legislation that discriminates against women, girls and LGBT+ individuals.”

“We are clear that tackling discrimination is only one part of the issue,” said Herbert. “We must encourage countries as well to put in place laws that protect their LGBTI citizens going forward.”

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promote LGBTQ rights abroad. The decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relation is one of the White House’s five global LGBTQ rights priorities.

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Immigration Equality condemns deportation of Haitian migrants, asylum seekers

Prominent activist found dead in Port-au-Prince home in 2019



Hurricane Matthew, gay news, Washington Blade
Hurricane Matthew damage near Jérémie, Haiti in 2016. Immigration Equality has condemned the deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Reginald Dupont/Fondation SEROvie)

Immigration Equality on Wednesday sharply criticized the Biden administration over the deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from the U.S.

“Over 10,000 Haitian migrants and asylum seekers are waiting at America’s doorstep, but the Biden administration won’t uphold their basic right to ask for protection,” said Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford in a press release. “This is blatantly illegal and morally reprehensible. Many of these people are asylum seekers who face grave danger if returned to Haiti. They have traveled thousands of miles to escape a country torn apart by devastating earthquakes and political turmoil.”

The White House in recent days has been struggling to respond to the influx of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers in Del Rio, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. Pictures of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing and whipping Haitians have sparked widespread outrage.

Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most migrants and asylum seekers because of the pandemic, remains in place. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun to deport Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from Texas.

Immigration Equality in its press release notes Charlot Jeudy, a member of Kouraj, a Haitian LGBTQ rights group, was found dead inside his home in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, in 2019.

Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remain commonplace in Haiti.

President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination on July 7 and an 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14 that left scores of people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of others have caused additional turmoil in Haiti, which is the Western Hemisphere’ poorest country.

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas in 2010 killed an estimated 200,000 people.

Fondation SEROvie, a Haitian HIV/AIDS service organization, contributed to relief efforts after Hurricane Matthew caused widespread damage on the country’s Tiburon Peninsula in 2016. Last month’s earthquake struck in the same area.

“For LGBTQ people in particular, expulsion means returning to a society that rejects them. They are frequent targets of violence and sexual assault, including by the police,” said Crawford. “The country is fundamentally unsafe for the queer and transgender community.”

“Instead of welcoming Haitian asylum seekers as the U.S. should, the Biden administration is sending them back to life-threatening conditions,” added Crawford. “We call on the administration to halt the deportation flights immediately and end Title 42 in its entirety. The disturbing images of border agents on horseback chasing down terrified Haitian migrants go against the administration’s professed ideals. Shame on the Biden administration for embracing this xenophobic and illegal Trump-era policy and mistreating vulnerable migrants.”

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Biden highlights LGBTQ rights in UN General Assembly speech

President noted crackdowns in Chechnya, Cameroon



President Biden addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2021. (Screen capture via NBC News)

President Biden on Tuesday in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly spoke in support of LGBTQ rights around the world.

“We all must defend the rights of LGBTQI individuals so they can live and love openly without fear,” he said.

Biden in his speech specifically cited anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Chechnya and Cameroon. He spoke after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is a vocal opponent of LGBTQ rights, addressed the General Assembly.

“As we pursue diplomacy across the board, the United States will champion the democratic values that go to the very heart of who we are as a nation and a people: freedom, equality, opportunity and a belief in the universal rights of all people,” said Biden.

The White House earlier this year released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations and protecting LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers are two of the administration’s five priorities in its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights abroad. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week expressed concern over the fate of LGBTQ Afghans who remain in their country after the Taliban regained control of it, but it remains unclear how many of them the U.S. has been able to evacuate.

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