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Colombia panel examines impact of out politicians, officials

Event took place at start of four-day Victory Institute, Astraea training

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Bogota, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade
Bogota, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Panelists discussed how out politicians and officials can advance LGBT rights in Colombia and the U.S. during a panel in the Colombian capital on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia—More than 150 people attended a panel discussion in the Colombian capital on Thursday that discussed how out politicians and elected officials can advance the LGBT rights movement in Colombia and in the United States.

Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute President Chuck Wolfe; lesbian Bogotá City Councilwoman Angélica Lozano; Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman whom Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro last year appointed to run the city’s social welfare agency and Francisco Herrero, director of the National Democratic Institute, which encourages underrepresented groups to become involved in the South American country’s political process, were panelists. Marcela Sánchez, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a nationwide LGBT advocacy organization, moderated the panel.

Wolfe said the most basic reason he feels it is important for LGBT people to become involved in the political process is because there are some people “who think that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is something wrong.”

“The basic premise of serving in public office means you represent people,” he said. “They see you as a fellow person who represents you and other elected or appointed officials also have to work with you and they begin to say there’s nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender.”

Lozano, who served as the mayor of Chapinero, a district of Bogotá that has a large gay population, from 2005-2008, was an activist before she decided to enter politics. She stressed anti-LGBT attitudes persist, but out elected officials have a responsibility to effectively communicate messages that counter homophobia and transphobia.

“The focus in our community and on our rights is not only in how they think about them,” Lozano said. “It is how they are communicated with their public that wants to claim it.”

Piñeros acknowledged trans people continue to face barriers in education and employment and religious and moral stigmas. She stressed that “bit by bit” people are becoming more comfortable with trans people as they grow more visible.

“In this moment I feel more empowered,” Piñeros said. “I am allowed to be an equal person. It can be done because I believe it.”

The panel took place at the start of a four-day USAID-sponsored training the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice will conduct with Colombia Diversa that is designed to teach participants how to become involved in the South American country’s political process.

The Bogotá gathering will also take place against the backdrop of Colombia’s same-sex marriage debate.

The country’s highest court in 2011 ruled same-sex couples can legally register their relationships in two years if Colombian lawmakers don’t pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage. The Colombian Senate last month overwhelmingly rejected a gay marriage bill, and the tribunal’s deadline is June 20.

Sánchez told the Washington Blade after the panel that the Victory Institute and Astraea training is important because it will allow participants to strengthen their capacity to run a political campaign, develop their message and raise funds. She added she feels it will further empower them to become more involved in Colombian politics as lawmakers continue to debate LGBT-specific issues.

“[The training] is an informational event for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people that are interested in accessing or participating in politics out of the closet,” Sánchez said.

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Europe

Pope Francis meets with transgender people at Vatican

Meeting took place during weekly audience at St. Peter’s Basilica on Aug. 10.

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

The Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported that during the weekly papal audience in St. Peter’s Basilica on Aug. 10, Pope Francis met with a fourth group of transgender people who are staying in a church on the outskirts of Rome.

Sister Genevieve Jeanningros and the Rev. Andrea Conocchia told L’Osservatore Romano that this was the fourth papal audience since the Blessed Immaculate Virgin Church in the Torvaianica neighborhood of Rome’s suburbs opened its doors to trans people during the coronavirus pandemic.

L’Osservatore Romano noted that the pope previously met with some of the trans residents sheltering in the church on April 27, June 22 and Aug. 3.

“No one should encounter injustice or be thrown away, everyone has dignity of being a child of God,” the paper quoted Jeanningros as saying.

Francis has earned praise from some members of the LGBTQ and intersex community for his outreach.

When asked in 2013 about a purportedly gay priest, he replied, “Who am I to judge?” He has met individually and in groups with trans people over the course of his pontificate the Associated Press reported.

But he has strongly opposed “gender theory” and has not changed church teaching that holds that same-sex sexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” In 2021, he allowed publication of a Vatican document asserting that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions since “God cannot bless sin,” the AP noted.

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Russia

Brittney Griner appeals 9-year prison sentence

Russian court on Aug. 4 convicted WNBA star of drug smuggling.

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lawyers for WNBA star Brittney Griner on Monday appealed the nine-year prison sentence she received earlier this month after a Russian court convicted her of smuggling drugs into the country.

The court on Aug. 4 convicted Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Brittney Griner after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department subsequently determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Brittney Griner in July pleaded guilty to the drug smuggling charges.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly acknowledged the U.S. has offered Russia a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence after his conviction for spying.

American officials have reportedly expressed a willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a prisoner swap.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week said his country was “ready to discuss” a potential deal with the U.S. A spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry later confirmed negotiations between the two countries over a potential prisoner swap have begun.

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Asia

LGBTQ and intersex communities in Pakistan forge ahead

Colonial-era criminalization law remains in place

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(Photo courtesy of Hussain Zaidi)

Pakistan is a country that is notorious for its human rights violations, and the LGBTQ and intersex community is one of the most vulnerable groups in the country. Despite the challenges, the community is fighting for their rights and slowly making progress.

Since homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan, the LGBTQ and intersex community is often forced into hiding. This makes it difficult to estimate the size of the community, but it is thought that there are tens of thousands of LGBTQ and intersex people living in Pakistan. Many of them live in wealthy areas of Karachi, the country’s largest city, without fear, as do community members in similar parts of Pakistan.

The community, however, continues to face many challenges in Pakistan. They experience discrimination and violence both from individuals and the government. 

In 2018, for example, the Pakistani government passed a law under Section 377 of the country’s colonial-era penal code that made same-sex marriage punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Homosexuality remains criminalized in Pakistan.

In addition to the criminalization of LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis, the community also continues to face discrimination and violence that family members often perpetuate.

Many LGBTQ and intersex people face verbal, emotional and even physical abuse from their families due to societal and religious pressures. This can lead to them dropping out of school or foregoing higher education altogether. 

Discrimination in the workplace and education system forces many LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis to remain in the closet, and those who are out often cannot find work or continue their education. Access to health care — including testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and infection — is an ongoing challenge.

A law that permits transgender people to legally change the gender on their national ID cards and other official documents, allows them to vote and bans discrimination based on gender identity in employment, health care, education and on public transportation took effect last year. Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2009 ruled in favor of recognizing trans people as a third gender on identity cards. Discrimination against trans Pakistanis remains pervasive in spite of these advances.

Pakistan’s LGBTQ and intersex rights organizations fight for change

Some of the country’s LGBTQ and intersex advocacy groups organizations are based in Lahore, but most of them are in Karachi. 

Pakistan’s first gay rights organization was founded in Lahore in 1994. There are now more than 20 groups that are working to spread awareness and understanding about the LGBTQ and intersex community.

O, also known as O Collective, was founded in Lahore in March 2009 by activists dedicated to the protection of the rights of sexual minorities, specifically LGBTQ and intersex people. They are committed to the education and support of queer communities, sexual minorities, and their families and friends. O provides a safe space for the community to meet and discuss issues such as sexual health and legal rights.

The Naz Health Alliance is a public health NGO that works with the government and other stakeholders to provide technical assistance to public health programs, conduct research, provide capacity building, advocate for policy changes and social inclusion, and create awareness regarding the sexual health and human rights of MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender communities. 

The group also works towards building a healthy and inclusive society by addressing social exclusion faced by the MSM and transgender community. Qasim Iqbal founded the Naz Health Alliance in 2011.

Uzma Yaqood founded the Forum for Dignity Initiatives in 2013.

FDI is a research and advocacy organization that aims to improve the lives of sexual and gender minorities in Pakistan through education, health and other social services that are sensitive to their respective identities. The organization works to ensure women, young people and trans individuals are able to live their lives without fear.

Jannat Ali — who describes herself as an “artivist” — is the executive director of Track T, a trans rights organization that is based in Lahore.

Her organization in 2018 organized Pakistan’s first-ever trans Pride parade that nearly 500 people attended. The country’s first-ever Pride parade — which violence marred — took place in Karachi the year before.

Ali in March 2021 launched a program with episodes on Instagram and YouTube. She is the first openly trans person to host her own show in Pakistan.

Jannat Ali at WorldPride 2021 in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo courtesy of Jannat Ali)

Hussain Zaidi is a recent Swarthmore College graduate who has worked tirelessly to ensure trans people can access public health care in Pakistan. Zaidi spoke with the Washington Blade about how Pakistani’s view LGBTQ and intersex communities and what can be done to ensure their safety.

“LGBTQ+ communities are typically seen as communities adopting a Western framework for sexuality that is incongruent with the cultural norms within Pakistan,” said Zaidi. “There is an indigenous culture in Pakistan where queerness and trans bodies can thrive, but our conception of this cultural praxis and way removed from global narratives of LGBTQ+ freedom and self-autonomy.”

Zaidi added “labels for the LGBTQ+ community are considered illegitimate and propaganda arguing that Pakistani individuals on the queer/trans spectrum are coopting identities oriented towards Western frameworks and lenses.” 

“Even within communities that would be considered LGBTQ+, we see people rejecting the LGBTQ+ framework and instead arguing for the acceptance of local, indigenous praxis of transness and queerness,” added Zaidi. “So overall the social landscape of LGBTQ+ rights is complex and intersectional, with the perception of the label differing based on what class, status, educational level and background the Pakistani acting as the perceiver comes from.”

Zaidi said safety for LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis “starts first by doing the work to understand how communities in Pakistan want to represent themselves in broader Pakistani culture.” 

“Practicing the construction of systems of protection for LGBTQ+ allied people requires a culturally sensitive and community-informed approach,” said Zaidi. “Often foreign organizations providing aid and support expect programming to revolve around terminologies and ideas that are globally accessible and originated from/digestible by the West. Due to this, the important work of understanding how to support existing communities in establishing and advocating for their identities and rights goes ignored or under-prioritized.” 

“By understanding what existing communities want, a community-informed strategy to safely advocate for LGBTQ+ aligned people can be implemented that also doesn’t put the community itself at risk in any way,” added Zaidi. “There are not many organizations doing work of this nature, due to the level of public censorship and policing that is arranged by dissenting opponents to the LGBTQ+ framework. By guaranteeing basic systems of protection and safety, we can expect the number of people and organizations committed to supporting variant sexual and gender identities to increase.” 

U.S., German embassies support LGBTQ, intersex activists

The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan works to raise awareness and understanding of LGBTQ and intersex issues and people in the country. 

It organizes community and educational events to build connections and support among LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis and works to fight discrimination and oppression based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The embassy, which is located in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, in 2011 hosted an LGBTQ and intersex event.

“Mission Pakistan works to strengthen and support the LGBTQI+ community,” tweeted the embassy on May 17, which is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. “We strive every day to ensure the human rights of the LGBTQI+ community are respected and protected from oppression. We continue to press for full equality.”

The German Embassy in Karachi in 2021 also hosted an event for queer Pakistanis.

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