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Obama tells Russian activists he’s ‘very proud’ of their work

President meets with LGBT leaders in St. Petersburg

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President Obama speaks for the Democratic National Convention

President Barack Obama said the work of Russian activists is ‘critically important’ in maintaining an open society. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

President Obama said the work of Russian activists is “critically important” to maintaing an open society during a roundtable he held with civil society leaders in St. Petersburg.

Obama met with leaders of two Russian LGBT groups — Igor Kochetkov, director of the LGBT Network, and Olga Lenkova, spokesperson for Coming Out — as part of a discussion he had with a total of nine activists, according to the White House pool report from the New York Times’ Peter Baker. The meeting took place as part of Obama’s visit to St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit.

The work of these activists, Obama said, is “critically important” because they help maintain a free society, according to a transcript of his remarks from the White House.

“So the kinds of activities that are represented here are critically important to Russia’s development, and I’m very proud of their work,” Obama said.

Obama makes the remarks as Russia has been under scrutiny because of anti-gay violence in the country and passage of a controversial law that bans pro-gay propaganda to minors.

Additionally, Obama drew on his own history as a community activist, saying his engagement at the grassroots level is what helped him win the White House.

“I’m now in government, but I got my start as a community organizer, somebody who was working in what would be called an NGO in the international community,” Obama said. “And the work I was doing was helping poor communities have a voice in what was happening in their lives. And I got elected as president by engaging people at a grassroots level.”

Obama didn’t make a direct reference to the anti-gay propaganda law in the remarks provided by the White House, but talked about importance of freedom to the press and assembly.

“I think it is important for us to remember that in every country — here in Russia, in the United States, around the globe — that part of good government is making sure that we’re creating a space for civil society to function effectively: freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, making sure that people can join together and make common cause around the issues that they care deeply about,” Obama said.

Obama was seated at tables set up in a horseshoe shape with National Security Adviser Susan Rice to his right, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul to his left and the nine Russian activists on either side of them, according to the pool report. The president arrived for the meeting at the Crown Plaza at 7:23 p.m. and wrapped up the discussion slightly more than an hour later at 8:45 p.m.

None of the civil society groups listed in the pool report — including the LGBT Network and Coming Out — immediately responded to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the meeting.

Based on the pool report and information provided by the White House, it’s not immediately clear whether the anti-gay propaganda law came up in a direct way during the meeting. U.S. LGBT activists who work on international issues said they were hoping Obama would continue to express his opposition to the law while in St. Petersburg — a position he’s already articulated.

Innokenty “Kes” Grekov, an associate who covers Russia for the international group Human Rights First, didn’t take part in the meeting, but said activists brought up the anti-gay law among other issues. Grekov said the activists, in turn, were mostly asked to address the backslide of the situation in Russia.

In a statement, Grekov praised Obama, saying “engaging civil society has been a hallmark of this administration.” Still, Grekov added there’s more work to be done.

“Today’s meeting was a terrific first step,” Grekov said. “Now, as President Obama returns home from this trip, he should double down on U.S. efforts to address the concerns of civil society and LGBT activists, and continue to raise these issues in the administration’s bilateral engagement with Russia.”

Andre Banks, executive director of All Out, commended Obama for meeting with human rights activists, but said initiatives against human rights abuses in Russia are happening across the globe.

“On Tuesday at least 33 events in 21 countries were planned to urge world leaders to speak out against Putin’s human rights crackdown,” Banks said. “In addition to Obama’s meeting with leaders from the community, David Cameron met with Putin and brought up Putin’s human rights crackdown. We hope other world leaders will step up and speak out.”

Concern about the anti-gay atmosphere continues as, according to the Associated Press, Russian lawmaker Alexei Zhuravlev has published a bill that would deny gay parents custody of their children in Russia. Other grounds for denying custody include alcoholism, drug use and abuse.

Notably, Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev wasn’t listed as among those attending the meeting. He stirred controversy earlier this week after making a series of Facebook posts accusing the “American Jewish mafia” of blocking him from taking part in a phone conference with Human Rights First on Russia’s anti-gay law.

Obama also held a 20-minute meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin while in St. Petersburg. Obama had previously cancelled a formal bilateral summit that was supposed to take place between him and Putin as part of the G-20 summit. At the time, an administration official told the Blade part of the reason for canceling was the anti-LGBT atmosphere in the country.

During a news conference earlier in St. Petersburg, Obama said the potential military operations in Syria was the primary topic of conversation between the two leaders. Obama didn’t say whether the anti-gay propaganda law came up.

“But what I did say is that we both agree that the underlying conflict [in Syria] can only be resolved through a political transition as envisioned by the Geneva I and Geneva II process,” Obama said. “And so we need to move forward together. Even if the U.S. and Russia and other countries disagree on this specific issue of how to respond to chemical weapons use, it remains important for us to work together to try to urge all parties in the conflict to try to resolve it.”

Other White House officials had their own meetings in St. Petersburg that were relevant to Russia LGBT issues.

National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement Rice affirmed U.S. support for the Olympics with Russian Presidential Foreign Policy Adviser Ushakov amid calls by some, including U.S. actor Harvey Fierstein for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics in Russia over the anti-gay law.

“NSA Rice reaffirmed U.S. support for the upcoming Sochi Olympics, underscoring the importance of ensuring a secure event, in the spirit of the Olympic Charter,” Hayden said. “While acknowledging impediments in the bilateral relationship, NSA Rice welcomed a regular exchange of views and cooperation on areas of mutual interest.”

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras impide que personas LGBTQ puedan casarse y tengan derechos civiles 

Organizaciones presentan nuevos recursos de inconstitucionalidad

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Manifestaciones del 20 de enero en la Corte Suprema de Justicia por la decisión de la Corte (Foto cortesía de Reportar sin Miedo)

Reportar sin Miedo es el socio mediático del Washington Blade en Honduras. Esta nota salió en su sitio web el 20 de enero.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Líderes LGBTIQ+ enfrentaron un hecho de discriminación hoy al presentarse en la Corte Suprema de Justicia, donde los guardias de seguridad los reprimieron y cerraron los portones de acceso vehícular y peatonal, impidiéndoles ingresar al edificio para presentar los recursos de inconstitucionalidad sobre el matrimonio igualitario. 

En una marcha pacífica, más de 50 personas de la diversidad sexual organizadas en mesas de acceso a la justicia de Honduras salieron del bulevar las Fuerzas Armadas hacia las instalaciones del Poder Judicial para pedirles a los magistrados de la Sala de lo Constitucional que acepten un nuevo recurso tras el fallo anunciado esta semana y presentado en 2018 por las organizaciones Cattrachas y Somos CDC. 

Durante los 10 minutos en que se interrumpió el acceso al palacio judicial, lxs activistas denunciaron agresiones verbales del personal de seguridad de la Corte. Al final ingresaron por el portón vehícular. Se instalaron en las gradas de la entrada principal e hicieron un plantón pacífico, durante el cual exclamaron: “Sí se pudo”, después de lo cual se permitió que líderes LGBTIQ+ ingresaran a la sala a presentar el nuevo recurso. 

Las mesas de acceso a la justicia para población LGBTIQ+ están integradas por Arcoiris, Somos CDC, Asociación Kukulcán, colectivo feminista Ixchel, Somos Trans, Colectivo Violeta, Muñecas de Arcoiris, Grupo Lésbico y Bisexual LITOS de Honduras entre otras.

La directora de Muñecas de Arcoíris, JLo Córdova, y sus compañeras trans marcharon y exigieron a la corte respeto a los derechos civiles de las personas LGBTIQ+ en Honduras. 

“No esperamos nada de una clase política opresora”, dijo el activista de la Asociación Arcoíris, Donnis Reyes, quien recalcó que el fallo de la CSJ no es nada nuevo, ya que por más de 12 años el Partido Nacional de Honduras ha influenciado las decisiones del Poder Legislativo y Judicial. 

“Estamos pidiendo que se deroguen ciertos artículos anticonstitucionales y no están basados en derechos”, dijo la directora ejecutiva de la organización feminista Ixchel, Lucía Barrientos, quien se refiere a la opinión consultiva sobre identidad de género, igualdad y no discriminación a parejas del mismo sexo presentada por la Corte IDH. 

La Corte IDH ha indicado que existe un vínculo indisoluble entre igualdad y no discriminación y se ha establecido la dificultad de separarlos por cuanto el incumplimiento de uno (igualdad) acarrea necesariamente la verificación de la prohibición del segundo (no discriminación). 

En ese sentido, la Corte IDH ha indicado que, en función del reconocimiento de igualdad ante la ley, se prohíbe todo tratamiento discriminatorio. Este principio rector y derecho fundamental fue acertadamente introducido en nuestra Constitución en su artículo 60.

“La falta de reconocimiento jurídico de la realidad conformada por las parejas homosexuales es un atentado contra la dignidad de sus integrantes porque lesiona su autonomía y capacidad de autodeterminación al impedir que su decisión de conformar un proyecto de vida en común produzca efectos jurídico-patrimoniales, lo cual significa que, dado un régimen imperativo del derecho civil, quedan en una situación de desprotección que no están en capacidad de afrontar”, resolvió la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras.

La CSJ declaró no ha lugar los recursos de Inconstitucionalidad vía acción y por razón de contenido, ambos contra el Decreto No. 176-2024, emitido por el Congreso Nacional de la República, en fecha 28 de octubre del año 2004, mediante el cual reformó el artículo 112 de la Constitución de la República y el artículo 45 del Código de Familia.

El fallo fue notificado en la tercera semana de enero, a pocos días de la culminación del gobierno nacionalista de Juan Hernández, pero la sentencia fue emitida en abril de 2021, dos meses después (28 de junio) de la sentencia histórica del caso “Vicky Hernández y otros versus Honduras” por la Corte IDH, donde condena al Estado de Honduras por el asesinato de la líder trans de San Pedro Sula y ordena una serie de reparaciones que incluye otorgar, a través de la vía administrativa, el cambio de nombre de las personas trans, así como otra serie de derechos. 

Reportar sin Miedo habló con activistas, quienes dijeron: “Hubo un retraso injustificado en la notificación de la sentencia”. 

En América Latina, 10 países reconocen algún tipo de uniones del mismo sexo. El matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo es legal en Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, México, Uruguay y en los territorios dependientes de Guayana Francesa e islas Malvinas. Bajo una perspectiva del derecho comparado, el reconocimiento de las uniones homosexuales se ha dado a través de dos vías: la judicial (a través de sentencias de tribunales judiciales) y la legislativa.

Sin embargo, en Honduras el artículo 112 Constitucional, en su párrafo primero, literalmente dice: “Se reconoce el derecho del hombre y de la mujer, que tengan la calidad de tales naturalmente, a contraer matrimonio entre sí, así como la igualdad jurídica de los cónyuges. Solo es válido el matrimonio civil celebrado ante funcionario”.

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