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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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India

Transgender woman from Kashmir makes her mark

Shoaib Khan has been in corporate India for 11 years

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Shoaib Khan (Photo courtesy of Shoaib Khan)

Kashmir, the crown of India, the world’s largest democracy, has been the center of the flourishing of Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and other religions

The transgender community since ancient times has had cultural roots in every state in India, including Kashmir, but a conservative society did not let the community spread its wings properly. Breaking all odds, Shoaib Khan finished her studies and became the first trans person from Kashmir to work in India’s corporate world. 

Khan is a person who believes that people do not come out, but they feel the same from childhood. Her journey was never to come out, but she felt the same from her childhood.

“I was dependent on people, like my family, for lots of things,” said Khan. “When I got the ability to stand by myself, when I was independent, I started behaving the way I wanted to and I started accepting the way I was from my childhood.”

Before the India Supreme Court’s historic ruling that struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country, talking about trans people was a taboo topic for many. 

Khan told the Washington Blade it was difficult to come out because trans people face ridicule and bullying. She believed that if one can have determination and confidence, the world starts to adjust and accept.

Khan also believes that family plays an important role, but her family’s reaction was not good when she told them about herself. Khan told the Blade that since the family knows their own from childhood, it was not a surprise for them. She stood her ground, and she is still fighting for her rights in her social circle.

Through the Blade, Khan wants to encourage other families anywhere in the world to support their kids if they are from the LGBTQ and intersex community.

“At least do not deprive them of their basic human rights,” said Khan. “Try to educate them, and if they gets any opportunity then these people will excel in multiple fields.”

As a trans person, Khan’s journey to get an education was not easy. 

She faced humiliation, harassment and mental torture. When Khan was in seventh grade, someone bullied her, and when she went back home, she cried and counted the remaining days of school.

“I counted days that how many days I have to go to school to face this humiliation till 10th standard,” said Khan, while talking about her childhood. “The journey was not easy.”

Khan said society has a major role to play to make the lives of trans people easy. She urged her community to stay strong and connect to excel in life where they are accepted.

Shoaib Khan (Photo courtesy of Shoaib Khan)

Khan has completed her bachelor’s in commerce and master’s in business administration with a specialization in human resources. She is currently working with a corporation in India.

While talking with the Blade, Khan said that India’s trans community is facing a lot of discrimination, not only in Kashmir but around the country. Khan believes discrimination is present because of the lack of awareness about the community, but at the same time she believes the community is seeing improvements.

“Before decriminalization of homosexuality, there was no option to choose for gender other than male or female, but now if you go to the Aadhaar link (India’s biometric ID card,) you have the option to choose between male, female and others,” said Khan. “This is a great example in that our country is leading the improvements. Our country is behaving democratically, where people have the right to choose what they are.”

Khan suggested the government should spread awareness about gender identity so that people know it is natural and people do not choose it.

While talking with the Blade, Khan thanked close friends and family who supported her throughout her journey. She said that many people have supported her, but some close ones made her competent enough to fight her way to where she is at.

“I would like to thank them for their unconditional love and support,” said Khan. “They will be happy to see my work published, where I am talking about rights and standing for my community. That is a big achievement.”

‘Journey is not easy’

Khan has worked in the corporate world for 11 years.

She began her career in the airline industry before she entered the corporate sector. Khan said her experience in the airline industry was not as good as she expected because there was no sensitization about gender. She said corporate policies are not bad, but people should be sensitized before introducing someone from the LGBTQ community.

While talking about her previous experience, she said she was subjected to some harassment and humiliation. Although she raised her voice and actions were taken at the time, Khan said her current corporate journey has gone well, and she feels satisfied. 

She said other members of the LGBTQ and intersex community feel proud of what she has accomplished, and they say she is their representative from Kashmir.

“The journey is not easy,” said Khan. “You can look on to the lives of where people from trans community or LGBTQ community have achieved success. Because they did not put themselves in a confined zone where they are subjected to humiliation only. So, they concentrated on education. I would like to give an important message to my community that you need to be educated, you need to have a light in your eyes, and where you can differentiate between right and wrong.”

Shoaib Khan (Photo courtesy of Shoaib Khan)

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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Congress

EXCLUSIVE: Outgoing Rep. Cicilline on future of LGBTQ rights and life after Congress

Gay congressman departs office this week; led major LGBTQ legislative victories

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Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Speaking with the Washington Blade by phone on Tuesday from Rhode Island, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) was optimistic about the outcome of the debt ceiling negotiations that have roiled Capitol Hill, the White House, and Wall Street for weeks.

“My sense of it is there are enough Democratic and Republican votes to get it to the president’s desk,” said the congressman, who would fly back to Washington in the evening with the expectation that a vote would be held the following day.  

Even amid the chaos and back-and-forth travel this week, Cicilline was ready to look back on the landmark legislative accomplishments of his distinguished career in politics, which have included groundbreaking advancements for LGBTQ rights.

And despite the ascendancy of anti-LGBTQ attacks from the right, including from much of the Republican caucus, he told the Blade there is ample reason to be optimistic that the chamber’s pro-equality work will continue in his absence.

As announced back in February and effective on Thursday, Cicilline will retire from Congress to lead his state’s largest philanthropic organization, the Rhode Island Foundation, having represented its 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House since 2011.

A former attorney, Cicilline was tapped to lead the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism.

Particularly in recent years, the congressman became one of the most powerful House Democrats, elected to leadership in 2017 as a co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and picked in 2021 by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to serve as one of the nine members tasked with managing the House’s second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

Among other legislative achievements, Cicilline is widely credited with leading the House’s passage, twice, of the biggest civil rights bill since the 1964 Civil Rights Act – the Equality Act, which would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in areas from education and housing to employment and public accommodations.

While the Senate failed to pass the Equality Act, Cicilline said, “I’m handing that work off to [U.S. Rep.] Mark Takano [D-Calif.], who I know will take it over the finish line” once Democrats win control of the House again.

The congressman told the Blade that he hopes his leadership on this bill will be remembered as a key part of his legacy – and was adamant that its passage through both chambers is now a question of “when” rather than “if.”

“The majority of Americans support the Equality Act, and a majority of voters in every single state support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people,” so “this is about the Republican conference in Congress catching up with the American people,” Cicilline said.

Congress is beginning to look more like America in at least one respect, though. After his first election to the House, Cicilline was one of only three openly LGBTQ members serving in Congress (having already made history in 2003 as the first openly gay mayor of a state capital, Providence, R.I.).

Today, “I’m leaving with 10 colleagues in the House and two in the Senate,” he said, “so that’s great progress.”

“The calvary has arrived” with “young new members who are going to lead the next wave of this fight” such as openly LGBTQ U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (Calif.), Becca Balint (Vt.), Eric Sorensen (Ill.), and Ritchie Torres (N.Y.), Cicilline said.

Echoing comments from his final speech on the House floor last week, the congressman also expressed his faith and confidence in party leaders with whom he has worked closely, including Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)

Hopes and expectations for the current Democratic conference’s ability to deliver on behalf of LGBTQ Americans were buttressed late last year by passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation co-led by Cicilline that codified fundamental rights for same-sex couples that might otherwise be erased if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or weakens its constitutional protections for marriage equality.

How to combat the rightwing crusade against LGBTQ and especially trans Americans

However prepared Cicilline believes his colleagues are to meet the moment, the congressman is also up to speed on the unprecedented challenges presented by the current political climate with respect to LGBTQ rights.

This year, state legislatures have introduced hundreds of bills targeting trans Americans, which endeavor to restrict their access to everything from lifesaving healthcare to public bathrooms. At the same time, anti-trans rhetoric has escalated to such an extent that a rightwing pundit speaking at CPAC said “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” which some interpreted as a call for genocide against the community.

Legislatively, Cicilline said it is all part of a cynical political strategy adopted by Republicans. Having concluded that their crusade against same-sex marriage was no longer winnable, the party sought another way to fight against LGBTQ rights, eventually polling anti-trans positions and messaging that successfully motivates “the most extreme parts of their political base,” he said.

“Our Republican colleagues have weaponized the trans community in such a way that they think it’s politically advantageous to attack even trans kids,” which is “really horrific” especially considering the potential for tragic real-world consequences, including targeted violence against the trans community, Cicilline said.

“I hope people who are seeking public office will be conscious of that and will be responsible, but unfortunately, I think there are some who are so driven by their desire for power, that they’re prepared to do almost anything to get there,” the congressman added.

Some conservatives hope their polarization of and fear mongering about trans issues will drive a wedge, providing sufficient incentive or a permission structure for LGB Americans to turn their backs on the trans community, Cicilline said, but “That’s not gonna happen.”

“We are standing in lockstep with our trans brothers and sisters, and we’re just not going to allow them to be attacked in this way,” he said.

Broadly speaking, Cicilline said elected Democrats must “stand up for the queer community, speak out, condemn this kind of [anti-LGBTQ/anti-trans] legislation, and let the American people see the contrast” between the Democratic Party, which “stands for inclusion and has fought for LGBTQ+ equality” and the GOP, which is pushing “these very toxic and dangerous and un-American attacks on the LGBTQ community.”

The congressman noted that working against the interests of LGBTQ Americans is nothing new for congressional Republicans. “With just a couple of exceptions,” he said, the House GOP caucus voted against the Equality Act’s nondiscrimination protections, which stem directly from America’s most basic foundational values of fairness and equality.

“So that means I have colleagues in the Congress of the United States on the Republican side who fundamentally rejected the legislation that would grant me and others in my community full equality as citizens of this country, [colleagues who would] allow discrimination to continue against our community,” Cicilline said.

When it comes to navigating interpersonal working relationships with anti-LGBTQ Republicans in the chamber, though, “I frankly don’t really care how they feel about us,” the congressman said. “That’s irrelevant to me.”  

Cicilline to continue advocating for LGBTQ Americans after Congress

In addition to the Equality Act, Cicilline said that if Democrats recapture control of the House, he expects to see renewed momentum for a bill that he authored, the Global Respect Act, and another for which he was an original cosponsor, the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act. Both were passed by the House but not by the Senate and therefore remain “unfinished business,” he said.

The Global Respect Act, Cicilline said, “will allow the U.S. to impose visa sanctions on anyone who commits gross human rights violations against the LGBTQ community,” while the latter bill would mandate that federal surveys must include data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Other legislative efforts that Cicilline has led, in areas from antitrust to foreign policy to gun violence, also include some “unfinished business” – bills that might see movement in the next Congress that carry the potential, in many cases, to measurably impact the lives of all Americans.

For instance, Cicilline, who has been at the vanguard of Congress’s work modernizing and strengthening antitrust law, remains hopeful about the eventual passage of six bills that he introduced in 2021, all designed to increase competition in digital markets.

These would curb the monopolistic power of dominant tech platform companies whose business models center engagement as the primary mechanism to drive advertising revenue – even though, as these firms are aware, content that tends to earn more engagement tends to be that which is incendiary, offensive, hateful, false, or misleading, violent or otherwise outrageous.

Looking beyond Congress, Cicilline said he is eager to continue advancing “equality and justice for our community” at the Rhode Island Foundation, building upon the organization’s existing work “supporting the organizations that are doing really important work to support the LGBTQ community.”

Cicilline acknowledged that leading an “explicitly non-partisan organization” will be a departure from his work in Washington – though perhaps not to the extent one might imagine.

“You know, our community remains, in this country, a marginalized community,” the congressman said. “In fact, it’s the only community, still, in America, that it’s legal to discriminate against.”

At this point, rather than pivoting back to discussing the need for passage of the Equality Act, Cicilline instead explained that because of the lack of national nondiscrimination protections, he is even more eager to include the LGBTQ community in the foundation’s work advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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Alabama

Ala. extends ban on transgender female athletes to universities

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed bill on Tuesday

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Alabama Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed House Bill 261, which limits transgender students to playing sports in public colleges and universities only with “their biological sex assigned at birth.”

“Look, if you are a biological male, you are not going to be competing in women’s and girls’ sports in Alabama. It’s about fairness, plain and simple,”  said Ivey in a statement released by her office.

House Bill 261 was approved 26-4 in the Alabama Senate and 83-5 in the House of Representatives. In the vote in the House more than a dozen lawmakers abstained from the vote.

Ivey had previously signed legislation in 2021 banning trans female athletes from competing in K-12 girls sports. At the time she signed that bill the governor had noted that “Alabama remains committed to protecting female athletes at all levels and upholding the integrity of athletics.”

Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is part of a “systematic attack against LGBTQ+ people” in Alabama and elsewhere.

“In just two years, [Ivey] and extremist lawmakers in Alabama have passed four anti-LGBTQ+ bills. From dictating what bathrooms we can use to blatantly ignoring the actual problems in women’s sports, these politicians are making Alabama an increasingly hostile place for transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole,” Anderson-Harvey said.

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