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30 Colombian LGBT activists attend training

Four day gathering is first of its kind in South American country

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Wilson Castañera, Colombia, Caribe Afirmativo, gay news, Washington Blade
Wilson Castañera, Colombia, Caribe Afirmativo, gay news, Washington Blade

Wilson Castañeda of the Colombian LBGT advocacy group Caribe Afirmativo. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Roughly 30 activists from across Colombia attended a four-day training in the Colombian capital from May 30-June 2 designed to encourage LGBT people to become more involved in the country’s political process.

The program, which was coordinated by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, was the first to take place as part of the USAID-backed LGBT Global Development Partnership that will contribute $11 million over the next four years to advocacy groups in neighboring Ecuador and other developing countries.

Out Bogotá City Councilwoman Angélica Lozano Correa and Blanca Durán Hernández, mayor of the Colombian capital’s Chapinero district that has a large gay population, are among those who took part. They and others advocates from Colombia and the United States spoke about a variety of topics that ranged from campaigning as an openly LGBT candidate to fundraising and responding to opponents.

Lozano, Durán, Victory Institute President Chuck Wolfe, Francisco Herrero of the National Democratic Institute and Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman whom Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro in 2012 appointed to run the city’s social welfare agency, also took part in a May 30 panel on how out political leaders and officials can advance the Colombian and American LGBT rights movements. Marcela Sánchez, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a nationwide LGBT advocacy group, moderated this event that took place at a Chapinero hotel.

“We recognize the importance of strengthening capacities for those who want to become involved,” Sánchez told the Blade after the panel. “This is why we entered this alliance with the Victory Institute.”

The training, which is the first of its kind in the South American country, took place less than a month before gay Colombians can begin to legally register their partnerships.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled the country’s lawmakers have to extend the same benefits that heterosexuals receive through marriage to same-sex couples within two years. The tribunal’s deadline is June 20, but the Colombian Senate in April overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians in the South American country.

The court in 2009 ruled same-sex couples who live together must receive the same rights Colombian law affords to unmarried heterosexual couples. It also overturned the ban on openly gay soldiers in a separate ruling it issued the same year.

Colombia’s non-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation took effect in 2011.

Federíco Ruíz Mora of the Santamaría Fundación, a Cali-based group that advocates on behalf of trans Colombians, told the Washington Blade in April while he was in D.C. on a State Department-sponsored trip that he and other activists plan to seek legal protections based on gender identity and expression.

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. A separate report that Colombia Diversa released last month indicates 58 of the reported 280 LGBT Colombians who were murdered between 2011-2012 were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Wilson Castañeda Castro, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an advocacy group that works in Barranquilla and other cities along the country’s Caribbean coast, told the Blade on Friday that police violence against LGBT Colombians remains a serious problem. Lozano said in a separate interview she hopes those who targeted, tortured and killed LGBT Colombians during the country’s armed conflict that began in the 1960s are held accountable in any peace settlement that could emerge from talks between the government and members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC in Spanish) that continue to take place in Cuba.

Participants: Political involvement helps advance LGBT rights

Those who took part in the Bogotá training said it will help LGBT Colombians become more involved in their country’s political process as the movement grows stronger and more visible.

“One of the ways to make further advance our rights as an LGBT community is to win political office,” Durán told the Blade on Saturday. “To have groups of people learn about tools, to have the skills to conduct these campaigns to me is very important.”

Lozano admitted she was a bit surprised that such a program took place in Colombia, but she described it as “positive.”

“It is incredible to me that programs like this exist,” she said.

Castañeda noted his organization, like Colombia Diversa, is non-partisan. He agreed with Durán that it remains crucial for LGBT Colombians to become involved in the country’s political process.

“We become involved in every election to present the LGBT agenda to candidates,” Castañeda said.

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Africa

Uganda lawmaker: International agreement has ‘hidden clauses’ to promote homosexuality

Deputy Parliament Speaker Thomas Tayebwa made comment at Mozambique conference

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Deputy Uganda Parliament Speaker Thomas Tayebwa (Screen capture via Next Media Uganda YouTube)

Several LGBTQ and intersex rights groups in Uganda have sharply criticized Deputy Parliament Speaker Thomas Tayebwa’s assertion that an agreement between the European Union and the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States has “hidden clauses” designed to promote homosexuality.

Tayebwa made the remarks during the 42nd session of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) — EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly that took place in Maputo, Mozambique, from Oct. 29-Nov. 2.

“We have discovered that with the Cotonou Agreement — an agreement between the EU and OACPS based on three complementary pillars: Development cooperation, economic and trade cooperation and the political dimension — there are hidden clauses concerning human rights,” said Tayebwa. “Clauses to do with sexuality, promotion of LGBT or homosexuality and clauses to do with abortion. We are a society that is not ready for homosexuality and we are a society that is not ready for abortion. It can never be accepted in Uganda.”

“It’s not a surprise to me and most of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community at large in Uganda that the deputy speaker of Parliament made such homophobic comments because the government he represents is homophobic too,” said Happy Family Uganda Executive Director Iga Isma. “According to me, he has no right to think about our own lifestyle. Everyone lives a life that they naturally want. If someone doesn’t eat meat, it does not mean that everyone doesn’t. I am in full support of donor countries to stop funding African countries that fail to legalize same sex relationships however, we might be affected too.” 

Pastor Ram Gava Kaggwa from Adonai Inclusive Christian Ministries, who is the executive director of Wave of Legacy Alliance Initiative Uganda, said sexual orientation does not have anything to do with whether one is African or not.

“Sexual orientation totally differs based on personal desires and wishes, it’s time to change the biased perspective on our sexual differences, just because you are practicing a different sexual narrative does not necessarily mean the other is wrong otherwise we are bound to see the spread of gender-based violence due to differences in sexual identity which may and can arise from hate speech spread through the heteronormative narrative which is taught in a manner that does not create room for respect of sexual differences,” said Kaggwa. “It is important to acknowledge the differences, variations and diversities of the community and modern-day society and respect each other regardless of such differences for we are all human and this is what exactly bonds us regardless of the different beliefs and values embodied in us.”

Kaggwa further encouraged lawmakers in Uganda and across Africa “to let and affirmatively acknowledge the rights and existence of 2SLGBTQIA+ persons and their rights at a common law level.” 

Buwande Anthony, executive director of the Uganda Youth Society for Human Rights, said Tayebwa does not speak for Africa since African countries are sovereign states with different legal systems.

“The remarks by the deputy speaker of the Parliament of Uganda can only be attributed to hypocrisy that is normally exhibited by government officials during overseas tours, if not, it was an act of ignorance of the provisions of the Constitution of Uganda,” noted Anthony. “Article 24 of the Ugandan Constitution and the Article of the African Charter on Human and Peoples rights provides against inhuman and degrading treatment. The above provisions have laid a foundation against any enactment by the state or individual initiatives against violation of individual human rights of citizens and non-citizens in Uganda.”

“Furthermore, Hon. Thomas Tayebwa cannot purport to speak for Africa since African countries are sovereign States which are governed by different legal dispensations, and whereas some African countries have moved a notch higher to respect their citizens’ human rights, others are still slow and struggling,” he added. “Therefore, it can only be fair that he speaks for Uganda where he is deputy speaker of Parliament.”

Uganda is among the African countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

President Yoweri Museveni in February 2014 signed into law a bill that sought to impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The Obama administration subsequently cut or redirected aid to Uganda and announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for human rights abuses. The World Bank also postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court subsequently struck down the law. 

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Russia

Report: Brittney Griner transferred to Russian penal colony

Reuters noted WNBA star is in country’s Mordovia region

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Reuters on Thursday reported WNBA star Brittney Griner is now in a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia region.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

A Russian court on Aug. 4 convicted Brittney Griner of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. An appellate court on Oct. 25 denied Brittney Griner’s appeal.

American officials have publicly acknowledged their 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 deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after his conviction for spying.

Brittney Griner’s lawyers earlier this month said authorities were transferring her to a penal colony. 

Her whereabouts had not been known for nearly two weeks. 

Reuters reported Brittney Griner is now at a female penal colony in Yavas, a city in Russia’s Mordovia region that is roughly 300 miles southeast of Moscow. Reuters noted Whelan is at a penal colony in the same area.

“We are aware of reports of her location, and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. The embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location.”

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European Union

Gay Lithuania filmmaker uses work to advance LGBTQ, intersex rights

Romas Zabarauskas came out in 2011 at Vilnius Film Festival

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Romas Zabarauskas (Photo by Arcana Femina)

A gay filmmaker from Lithuania who describes himself as the “Baltic enfant terrible” uses his work to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Romas Zabarauskas, 32, grew up in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital.

He told the Washington Blade during an interview in D.C. in August that he initially wanted to be an actor, but soon realized he wanted to direct films. 

Zabarauskas said the classic films — including John Waters’ “Pink Flamingos” and Douglas Sirk’s “All that Heaven Allows” —he watched in a local library exposed him to “the diversity of the world.” He also said Todd Haynes, Derek Jarman, Gregg Araki and other LGBTQ and intersex filmmakers “inspired” him.

“I enjoyed the diversity of the world,” he said. “It wasn’t just in terms of sexuality and gender identity, but also in terms of diversity of styles and ways of expression. It was amazing because it made me feel accepted.”

“It all sounds kind of trivial, but it’s true,” added Zabarauskas. “Cinema captures stories from all across the world in such different ways. That’s kind of amazing. I was definitely inspired by that.”

Zabarauskas studied at Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis University from 2009-2011 and at City College of New York: Hunter College from 2011-2012.

Romas Zabarauskas (Photo by Arcana Femina)

Zabarauskas’ first film, “Porno Melodrama,” which details a gay man’s decision to make a pornographic movie with his ex-girlfriend in order to make enough money for him and his boyfriend to leave Lithuania, premiered at Berlin Film Festival in 2011.

“There are many other films that have this kind of paranoia about gay villains, queer villains. I almost wanted to do something opposite,” Zabarauskas told the Blade while discussing the film. “It’s as though heterosexuality becomes this villain through the character of this villain, this ex-girlfriend. I wanted to play with that, allow myself that freedom to go very far. The title really hints more so, not to the erotic aspect of the film, because it’s not as explicit reality, but it’s more about the style of the film because it’s so out there.”

“Porno Melodrama” (Poster courtesy of Romas Zabarauskas)

Zabarauskas came out as gay during “Porno Melodrama”‘s premiere at the Vilnius Film Festival.

“Very few people were out (in Lithuania) then in 2011,” he noted. “I got a lot of media attention … I talked about what it means to be gay on TV, print and all kinds of media.”

“It was a double-edged sword,” added Zabarauskas. “I was happy to contribute with my openness and I continue to do so today. On the other hand, I got so much pressure … the direct homophobia is understandable and easy to dissect. You know what it is, but then there was a lot of gray zone. I feel like I was trapped. I went under this huge scrutiny.”

The Berlin Film Festival then screened “Porno Melodrama.” 

“I traveled the world, but then because I got so much media attention in Lithuania I was scrutinized by the critics and by film lovers and a lot of people (said) that I’m more of an activist,” said Zabarauskas. “I’m more of a public speaker than a filmmaker. The way I see it: Artists should be engaged or can be engaged, and it doesn’t contradict the art.”

The Lithuanian Film Center funded Zabarauskas’ third feature film, “The Lawyer,” which debuted in 2020.

“The Lawyer” highlights Marius, a gay corporate lawyer who forms what Zabarauskas describes as “an unexpected, human relationship” with Ali, Syrian refugee who is unable to leave Belgrade, Serbia, after his estranged father dies. Zabarauskas noted to the Blade that “The Lawyer” is the first Lithuanian film that portrays a male same-sex relationships and is one of the few made in Eastern Europe that shows LGBTQ and intersex refugees.

“I’m always interested in delving into very complicated political situations, but rather than to educate or send a direct message, I’m looking to find nuance and I’m looking to find interesting human drama,” he said. “I also don’t shy away from the kind of dialogue that they [Marius and Ali] have, in which they criticize [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad. It’s so important not to forget that that was still ongoing and actually its fueled by Russia and by Putin.”

Lithuanian television showed “The Lawyer” for the first time on Nov. 11.

Lithuanian Shorts, in 2021 screened “Porno Melodrama,” which coincided with the film’s revival. Zabarauskas’ films have also been screened at the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival and at New York City Pride’s human rights conference.

“The Lawyer” (Flyer courtesy of Romas Zabarauskas)

Zabarauskas spoke with the Blade nearly six months after Russia began its war against Ukraine.

Lithuania borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus, whose president, Alexander Lukashenko, is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, a year before it dissolved.

Zabarauskas noted then-Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė in 2014 labeled Russia a “terrorist state” after it annexed Crimea. Lithuanian MPs in May unanimously approved a resolution that described Russia’s war against Ukraine as an “act of genocide.”

“It’s the first time that I can be so proud of my country,” Zabarauskas told the Blade, referring to Lithuania’s posture towards Russia. “I’m actually very proud that Lithuania is right in terms of its foreign policy towards Russia and has been for a while.”

Zabarauskas acknowledged there is “fear” among Lithuanians about whether Russia will target their country, but he said, “that primal fear isn’t there anymore.” Zabarauskas also noted Lithuanians have welcomed Ukrainians into their homes.

“That’s been inspiring,” he said.

Gay U.S. ambassador ‘setting a personal example’

Lithuania bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and has lifted restrictions for male blood donors who have sex with men. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for LGBTQ and intersex rights, is among the more than 15,000 people who attended Baltic Pride 2022 in Vilnius in June. 

Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, the country’s second openly gay MP, is running to become Vilnius’ next mayor in 2023. Lithuanian Ambassador to the U.S. Audra Plepytė met with Zabarauskas when he was in D.C. 

“Us artists, we have this opportunity to build bridges, to make pressure,” said Zabarauskas. “We sometimes have more freedom than politicians in what we can say and what we can do. I always try to use that in meeting diplomats and politicians and reminding them that the Lithuania LGBT+ is a part of Lithuanian society and we should celebrate our rights and our lives and that’s important.”

Baltic Pride 2022 took place in Vilnius, Lithuania, on June 4, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius)

The Harvey Milk Foundation in 2021 honored Zabarauskas for his work. Zabarauskas noted this recognition to the Blade and applauded openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Bob Gilchrist’s “personal leadership” on LGBTQ and intersex rights.

“I appreciate his leadership and I appreciate that he’s setting a personal example,” said Zabarauskas. “He’s making some impactful speeches at different events.”

Lithuania is one of only six European Union member states that do not legally recognize same-sex couples.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky in August announced his support for a civil partnership law for same-sex couples. Zabarauskas told the Blade he hopes Lithuanian lawmakers will follow the Ukrainian president’s lead and back an identical measure that has been introduced in Parliament.

“It’s so huge and a lot of people are inspired by those words, including in Lithuania,” said Zabarauskas. “I think it will be impactful in terms of our chances to get the civil unions law passed because it’s going to be very difficult to twist those words.”

Zabarauskas also said he and his fiancé want to get married in Lithuania.

“We got engaged earlier this year and we don’t want to get married abroad because it wouldn’t change anything in Lithuania,” he said.

Romas Zabarauskas (Photo by Arcana Femina)
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