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4 Dutch LGBT advocates arrested in Russia

First foreigners charged under anti-gay propaganda to minors ban

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Kris van der Veen, Groningen, gay news, Washington Blade
Kris van der Veen, Groningen, gay news, Washington Blade

Groningen LGBT President Kris van der Veen (Photo courtesy of Kris van der Veen/Groningen LGBT Foundation)

Russian authorities on Sunday arrested four Dutch LGBT rights advocates for violating the country’s anti-gay propaganda law.

The Russian online newspaper Lenta reported that police detained the activists at a summer camp in the city of Murmansk in the northwestern part of the country during a human rights seminar in which a local LGBT advocacy group was participating. The publication said Kris van der Veen, president of LGBT Groningen, a Dutch LGBT advocacy organization, gave a lecture on gay rights.

Rolf Jurjens of LGBT Groningen confirmed to the Washington Blade from the Netherlands that authorities had arrested van der Veen in Murmansk on Sunday.

Jurjens said van der Veen and the three other Dutch LGBT rights advocates had traveled to the city to film a documentary about gay life in Russia. Local media reports indicate van der Veen interviewed a 17-year-old teenager before authorities took him and the three other activists into custody.

The four activists had been scheduled to appear in a Murmansk court earlier on Monday, but authorities have released them from custody.

Officials reportedly fined them 3,000 rubles ($92.80.)

They are also expected to eventually return to the Netherlands.

“We are still in Murmansk,” van der Veen wrote on his Facebook page in Dutch earlier on Monday. “It is about the documentary, gay propaganda. It is good, but it’s still very vague what’s next.”

Van der Veen and the three other LGBT Groningen members are the first foreigners charged under the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors ban that President Vladimir Putin signed into law in June.

Putin earlier this month signed a second bill that prohibits same-sex couples from other countries from adopting Russian children.

These two laws came into effect against the backdrop of increasing anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Russia.

Two men in the southern Russia city of Volgograd and on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the country’s Far East have been killed during what local authorities have described as anti-gay attacks in recent months.

Police in St. Petersburg on June 29 arrested 40 LGBT activists and a handful of nationalists who challenged them during a gay rights rally. Authorities in the Russian capital on May 24 arrested 30 LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage a Pride celebration outside Moscow City Hall.

Members of Coming Out, a Russian LGBT advocacy group in St. Petersburg, will go on trial on Thursday under the country’s “foreign agent” law that came into effect last fall.

The U.S. State Department, the European Union and various human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized Russian lawmakers and Putin over their opposition to LGBT rights in the country. Actor Harvey Fierstein is among the growing number of those who have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled to take place in Sochi in February.

“American and world leaders must speak out against Mr. Putin’s attacks and the violence they foster,” the actor and playwright wrote in an op-ed the New York Times published on July 21. “The Olympic Committee must demand the retraction of these laws under threat of boycott.”

“The United States places great importance on the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons around the world,” State Department spokesperson Noel Clay told the Blade in a statement on Monday. “We call on Russia to uphold its international commitments regarding freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.”

Jasmine Heiss of Amnesty International also criticized Russian authorities over the Dutch activists’ arrest.

“Ultimately, Amnesty International sees the legislation as an affront to free expression and an attack on minority rights, whether applied to Russian citizens or foreign tourists in Russia,” she said. “As the arrests showed, the legislation represents government sponsored intolerance and violates the prohibition of discrimination.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court rules to preserve access to abortion medication

Case is Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA

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The abortifacent drug mifepristone is marketed under the brand name Mifeprex (Photo courtesy of Danco Laboratories)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a much-anticipated decision against efforts by conservative doctors and medical groups challenging access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortions. As a result of the high court’s decision, access to the drug won’t change.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the court, reversed a lower court decision that would have made it more difficult to obtain the drug, which is used in about two-thirds of U.S. abortions. The ruling however was narrow in scope as it only addressed what is known as legal standing in a case.

SCOTUSblog senior court reporter Amy Howe noted that Kavanaugh acknowledged what he characterized as the challengers’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections” to elective abortion “by others” and to FDA’s 2016 and 2021 changes to the conditions on the use of the drug.

But the challengers had not shown that they would be harmed by the FDA’s mifepristone policies, he explained, and under the Constitution, merely objecting to abortion and the FDA’s policies are not enough to bring a case in federal court. The proper place to voice those objections, he suggested, is in the political or regulatory arena.

“Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in this incredibly important case. By rejecting the Fifth Circuit’s radical, unprecedented and unsupportable interpretation of who has standing to sue, the justices reaffirmed longstanding basic principles of administrative law,” said Abigail Long, a spokesperson for Danco. “The decision also safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use.”

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden on Supreme Court Decision on FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine:

“Today’s decision does not change the fact that the fight for reproductive freedom continues. It does not change the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, and women lost a fundamental freedom. It does not change the fact that the right for a woman to get the treatment she needs is imperiled if not impossible in many states.
 
It does mean that mifepristone, or medication abortion, remains available and approved. Women can continue to access this medication – approved by the FDA as safe and effective more than 20 years ago. 
 
But let’s be clear: attacks on medication abortion are part of Republican elected officials’ extreme and dangerous agenda to ban abortion nationwide. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Republican elected officials have imposed extreme abortion bans in 21 states, some of which include zero exceptions for rape or incest. Women are being turned away from emergency rooms, or forced to go to court to plead for care that their doctor recommended or to travel hundreds of miles for care. Doctors and nurses are being threatened with jail time, including life in prison, for providing the health care they have been trained to provide. And contraception and IVF are under attack.
 
The stakes could not be higher for women across America. Vice President Harris and I stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to make deeply personal health care decisions. We will continue to fight to ensure that women in every state get the health care they need and we will continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law — that is our commitment.”

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, in a ruling a year ago, waved aside decades of scientific approval, ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration improperly approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago in 2000.

Kacsmaryk, appointed to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, in his 67 page opinion wrote that the FDA’s two-decade-old approval violated a federal rule that allows for accelerated approval for certain drugs and, along with subsequent actions by the agency, was unlawful.

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas in mid-November by Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ legal organization.

Applauding Kacsmaryk’s ruling, Erik Baptist, speaking for the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement: “By illegally approving dangerous chemical abortion drugs, the FDA put women and girls in harm’s way, and it’s high time the agency is held accountable for its reckless actions.”

Erin Hawley, a senior attorney for the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case at the Supreme Court, said the opinion was “disappointing,” but told reporters in a press gaggle after the ruling that the explicit mention of conscience protections was a victory.

“The Supreme Court was crystal clear that pro life doctors do have federal conscience protections, even in emergency situations,” Hawley said. “So that’s a huge win for the pro-life cause. The Supreme Court clearly said that our doctors are entitled to those federal conscious protections that are based on their religious beliefs.”

The case now returns to the lower courts, and the dispute over access to the drug likely is not over. 

SCOTUSblog also reported that Nancy Northrup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the decision but conceded that the dispute could continue even after Thursday’s ruling. She, too, noted that the three states “could still attempt to keep the case going, including taking it back up to the Supreme Court,” and she warned that access to mifepristone “is still at risk nationwide.”

The Hill notes that for instance, the same district court in Texas that originally ruled against the FDA said a group of three red states—Missouri, Idaho and Kansas— can intervene in the lawsuit.

“I would expect the litigation to continue with those states raising different standing arguments than made by our doctors,” ADF’s Hawley told reporters.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, emailed the Blade the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in response to a unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court:

“We appreciate today’s unanimous decision to uphold access to the abortion drug mifepristone, authored by a conservative Justice. This ruling reinforces the critical importance of maintaining accessible reproductive healthcare and highlights the necessity of safeguarding these rights from baseless legal attacks.

However, it is imperative to recognize that the Court should never have accepted this case. The so-called Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine lacked the standing to initiate this challenge. Moreover, federal conscience exemptions already exist for healthcare providers who object to offering abortion-related care. 

Medication abortions involving mifepristone constitute the majority of abortions in America, including those sought by LGBTQ+ people. Our community understands the necessity of bodily autonomy and the right to make decisions regarding our own medical care, including reproductive care. Patients deserve access to the medications they need, and providers should be able to deliver that care without unwarranted interference from extremist courts or politicians.   

Attacks on abortion do not end with this decision; millions of people nationwide are still unable to get abortion care and abortion opponents remain focused on their end goal of a nationwide abortion ban. 

Equality California will continue to work with our legislative partners in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as organizational allies, like Planned Parenthood, to help protect and expand access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”

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National

McBride clears Dem field, poised to become first trans member of Congress

Primary opponent drops out of Delaware race

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Sarah McBride (Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride has become the Democratic frontrunner for Congress after her primary opponent dropped out of the race. This sets up McBride to possibly become the first transgender member of Congress if elected in November. 

Eugene Young announced on Wednesday he suspended his campaign for Delaware’s At-Large congressional district, leaving McBride as the only Democratic candidate running for the seat. Young’s announcement leaves Republican challenger Donyale Hall as McBride’s only obstacle to the House of Representatives.

As the new Democratic frontrunner, McBride is slated to win the strongly Democratic state’s sole House seat, which is currently held by Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester. Blunt Rochester is leaving the House to run for Thomas Carper’s seat in the Senate who will be retiring at the end of the year. 

According to McBride’s campaign, she has raised more than $2 million and does not appear to be slowing down. Not only could McBride become the historic first trans member of Congress, but her campaign has raised record-breaking amounts — more than any candidate for an open congressional seat in state history.

McBride currently holds a seat in the First State Senate District of Delaware and has used that momentum to mobilize her supporters.

LPAC, an organization that works to get LGBTQ+ women and nonbinary candidates elected to public office, has endorsed McBride’s run for Congress as well as her past campaigns. LPAC’s Executive Director Janelle Perez released a statement regarding McBride’s path to the House.

“LPAC is thrilled that Sarah McBride has cleared the Democratic field and is on a clear path to making history in November as the first out trans person ever elected to the U.S. Congress,” Perez wrote in her statement. “This did not happen by accident: Sarah has actively cleared the field by building an undeniably formidable campaign, connecting deeply with voters and out-raising every candidate in the field by a longshot.”

Other candidates have until July 8 to enter the race, although that is unlikely given McBride’s fundraising advantage and growing momentum. 

“It is no surprise to me that Sarah has reached this point — she is a compassionate leader who truly cares for her community and has a tangible impact on everyone around her,” Perez added. “This is a groundbreaking moment for LGBTQ+ representation in our country and I know that Sarah McBride will make an incredible member of Congress.”

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Africa

Protesters vandalize Zimbabwean LGBTQ rights group’s offices

GALZ has reported the incident to the police

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Protesters vandalized GALZ's offices in Harare, Zimbabwe, with homophobic graffiti. (Photos courtesy of GALZ)

A handful of protesters over this past weekend vandalized the offices of Zimbabwe’s largest LGBTQ rights organization.

Although they did not enter GALZ (an Association of LGBTI People in Zimbabwe)’s building in Harare, the country’s capital, they did gather at the gate and sang homophobic songs. The protesters also left anti-gay graffiti on the gate and walls.

Several people after the incident started to question the authenticity of the protesters, arguing GALZ itself organized the protest in order to get funding. They said some of the protesters “looked gay” and even argued the organization had yet to approach the police.

GALZ has sought to discredit some of the reports, while calling the protest disrespectful and uncalled for.

“We categorically condemn the acts of vandalism and intimidation that occurred on Sunday afternoon,” said GALZ in a statement. “A group of individuals claiming to represent various Christian churches descended at our offices. They proceeded to vandalize the property, painting hateful graffiti on the walls. While we respect differences in values, it is utterly unacceptable to deploy acts of vandalism and intimidation against communities who hold different values.”

GALZ said it has filed an official police report, and is “cooperating fully with the ongoing investigations.” 

“We call on the authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable for these criminal actions,” said the organization. 

GALZ also said it remains steadfast in its commitment to LGBTQ rights, and urged religious and political leaders to be at the forefront of fostering unity in Zimbabwe.

“This act of violence has not been committed in isolation, it is a stark reminder of the ongoing discrimination and hostility that our community faces,” said GALZ.

“We urge religious and political leaders to condemn such acts of hate and to uphold the  constitutional rights and freedoms for all citizens to be protected by law regardless of their diverse backgrounds including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. We encourage Zimbabweans to resort to open and respectful dialogue to address indifferences,” added the organization.

Several United Methodist Church parishioners last month held a protest in Harare during which they protested the church’s recent decision to allow LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages. James Kawadza, one of the protest organizers, said it was un-African to engage in same-sex relations.

“Homosexuality is unlawful in Zimbabwe and marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “The church has aligned with the rainbow movement, and this is also a threat to our African traditions and human existence at large. Homosexuality is not contextual, it is an abomination where Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire.”

Section 73 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act on sexual crimes and crimes against morality says any “male person who, with the consent of another male person, knowingly performs with that other person anal sexual intercourse, or any act involving physical contact other than anal sexual intercourse that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act, shall be guilty of sodomy and liable to” a fine, up to a year in prison or both.

Cases of people being arrested under this provision are rare.

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