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Russian lesbian athlete: ‘We are visible to our gov’t’

State Dept. brings leader of Moscow LGBT sports group to U.S.



Vladimir Putin, Elvina Yuvakaeva, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin is under fire for his anti-gay policies, but lesbian Russian athlete Elvina Yuvakaeva says the government recognizes her LGBT group, which is planning a first-ever LGBT sports competition in Moscow next year. (Photo of Putin courtesy of; Photo of Yuvakaeva courtesy of Yuvakaeva)

In a little noticed development, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow last month selected one of the leaders of a Russian LGBT sports group to participate in a sports exchange program in the U.S. organized by the State Department.

Lesbian athlete Elvina Yuvakaeva, co-president of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, arrived in Washington last week with a five-member delegation of Russians working on the 2014 Winter Olympics set to take place in Sochi, Russia Feb. 7-23.

Under the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, Yuvakaeva and the Russian delegation will visit several cities to meet with professional U.S. sports teams and organizers of past Olympics games in Atlanta and Salt Lake City. The meetings are aimed at providing information helpful to the Russians’ effort to promote and carry out the Olympic Games in Sochi.

Yuvakaeva said she will also be meeting with U.S. organizers of the 2014 Gay Games, the quadrennial international LGBT sports competition scheduled to take place next summer in Cleveland. In addition, she said she will make use of her U.S. visit to promote a first-ever LGBT sports competition her organization is planning to hold in Moscow next March called the Open Games.

“Two years ago our organization was registered as an NGO [non-governmental organization] by our government,” Yuvakaeva told the Blade in a Sept. 15 interview. “And our small victory was in the papers,” she said, noting that the registration of organizations in Russia is considered a form of government recognition.

“In our papers the government saw that L means lesbian, G means gay, B means bisexual, and T means transgender,” she said. “So we understood that the government saw us and we are visible to our government and society.”

A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday declined to comment on the potential political significance of the selection of a lesbian sports activist for the U.S. exchange program.

Observers of the controversy surrounding calls by some LGBT activists in the U.S. and Europe for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics in response to a recently passed Russian law that critics say subjects gays to persecution are likely to view Yuvakaeva’s selection as a signal of U.S. opposition to Russia’s policies on gays.

President Obama, who has expressed concern about Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, included Russian LGBT activists as part of a contingent of representatives of Russian civic organizations with whom he met during his recent participation in the G-20 international economic summit in St. Petersburg.

“Quite frankly, I’m not going to get into a political thing like that,” said Susan Pittman, director of media relations for the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.

“I would merely reiterate that these people are selected after their applications are in and they’re reviewed by the embassy and the consulates,” she told the Blade.

“These particular programs – we have a number of them throughout the year,” Pittman said. “They include emerging leaders in a variety of fields – in professions, in sports, in the arts, in culture. The whole idea is to bring these people here in order to be able to establish relationships with their American counterparts.”

Yuvakaeva said a U.S. Embassy official approached her and invited her to apply for the exchange program in August while she attended an embassy reception. The reception, to which she had been invited, was held at the embassy in honor of U.S. athletes participating in the 2013 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) track and field competition that took place Aug. 10-18 in Moscow.

Among those attending the reception, Yuvakaeva said, was American runner Nick Symmonds, who created a stir when he spoke out against the Russian law against gay propaganda after receiving a silver medal in the competition. Sports writers said Symmonds, who is gay, became the first international athlete to criticize the gay propaganda law while on Russian soil.

Yuvakaeva said the Russian LGBT Sport Federation was founded in 2010 as a non-political organization with the purpose of promoting and facilitating sports among Russia’s LGBT community. Among other things, it serves as a representative of the Russian LGBT community on the board of the International Federation of Gay Games.

She said Russian authorities have not sought to revoke the group’s registration following the approval earlier this year by the Russian parliament of the gay propaganda law, which Russian officials have said is aimed at protecting minors from homosexuality.

According to Yuvakaeva, authorities consider the Russia LGBT Sport Federation to be in compliance with both the propaganda law and a separate law banning certain organizations from receiving money from foreign groups or governments on grounds that the Russian sports group is non-political.

“The only thing is we couldn’t invite minors to our events and we wouldn’t spread some information among minors about our events because it’s outlawed,” she said in discussing the impact of the gay propaganda law on her group.

Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of All Out and Athlete Ally last month presented a petition to the IOC that urges it to pressure Russia to end its anti-gay laws. (Photo courtesy of All Out)

Concerning the Sochi Olympics, Yuvakaeva said the Russian LGBT Sport Federation opposes calls for a boycott on grounds that it would have a negative impact on the athletes and the LGBT community.

“My position and our official position is that a boycott of Sochi is a bad idea because the Olympics is a big event which is held every four years,” she said. “So Olympic athletes are preparing for this event a minimum of four years and it means Olympic athletes cannot compete and don’t have an opportunity to win medals.”

She said her organization also believes a boycott would have a negative impact on public opinion of the LGBT community in Russia and elsewhere.

“Our suggestion is to ask athletes, for example, at the opening ceremony to hold hands,” she said. “Same-sex people can hold hands during the opening ceremony to support LGBT people in Russia and all people.”

Although she won’t use her U.S. visit to campaign against a boycott, she said she will make her views known on the subject when she meets with LGBT sports representatives in the various U.S. cities to which she will travel through this month.

Among her priorities during her U.S. visit will be to promote and possibly raise money for the upcoming Open Games next year in Moscow, Yuvakaeva said. In what could be another first, she said she will ask officials of the Coca-Cola Company to consider contributing money for the Open Games when she and the Russian delegation meet company officials during their visit this week to Atlanta.

The delegation was scheduled to meet the Coca-Cola officials in connection with the company’s role as a sponsor of the Sochi Olympics.

“I want to ask Coca-Cola about these funds because they can make a PR campaign that says, OK guys, we’re sponsors of the Sochi Olympics. And in the same situation we support LGBT athletes in Russia because we gave some money for the Russian Open Games,” she said.

“So I think it might be interesting for them,” Yuvakaeva said. “We’ll see.”

While Yuvakaeva visits various U.S. cities in her participation in the State Department’s exchange program, Konstantin Yablotski, the other co-chair of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, is in Los Angeles promoting the Open Games on the West Coast.

Yablotski, a figure skater who competed in the 2010 Gay Games in Germany, and Yuvakaeva, an avid snowboarder and badminton player, are each committed to advancing LGBT equality in Russia through sports, Yuvakaeva told the Blade.

She said the sports planned for the Open Games, for which both LGBT people and heterosexual athletes are invited, are track and field, basketball, volleyball, badminton, soccer, tennis, table tennis, swimming and cross-country skiing.

Yuvakaeva said that while foreign athletes would be welcome to participate in the Open Games, her organization was still deliberating over the extent to which foreign participation may be possible due to logistical limitations and security and safety issues.

“Our main goal is propaganda for a healthy sports lifestyle among the LGBT and society,” she said.


Middle East

Upwards of 30,000 march in Jerusalem Pride parade

Anti-LGBTQ violence reported after event



The Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance Parade took place in Jerusalem on June 1, 2023 (Photo courtesy of WDG)

WDG is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel. WDG originally published this article on Friday.

JERUSALEM — Upwards of 30,000 people on Thursday marched in the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance Parade, which marked the beginning of Pride month in Israel.

The parade, organized by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, began with the traditional gathering at Gan Happamon. Many politicians also came to support and encourage the marchers.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who chairs the Yesh Atid party, in his speech referred to the counterprotest the Lahava movement organized near the parade’s starting point. Several dozen LGBTQ and intersex rights opponents participated in the protest.

“Outside are standing, like every year, the wretched thugs of Lahava movement, demonstrating against us,” said Lapid. “Only this year these people are no longer just a ridiculous bunch of dark extremists — they are part of the government. Bezalel Smotrich, (Internal Security Minister) Itamar Ben-Gvir [and] Avi Maoz, are trying to push us all back into the closet, to the dark closet of their foreknowledge. In Israel there is not one fight for democracy and a separate fight for LGBT rights. It’s the same struggle against those enemies. in the name of those values. Those who attack Israeli democracy attack the LGBTs, those who attack the LGBTs attack democracy.”

Benny Gantz, chair of the National Unity Party, referred to the need to hold parades in the capital. 

“We won’t have to march when in this parade we won’t need security, we won’t need snipers and undercover policemen. We won’t have to walk when each and every one can walk in any neighborhood they want, holding hands like any couple. We will not have to march when gay will not be a curse in school but simply self-determination, when each and every one can fill out any government form according to what he is,” he said. “We will not have to march when a prime minister in Israel would not think of giving the keys to the education system to a dark racist and allocating hundreds of millions to oversee liberal education programs. I am ashamed of this and I tell you that even at the most difficult political price, I will never do such a thing. We will not have to march when there are no racists in the government. Such people would be denounced and would not be elected, not because of the law — but because no one would want to elect them. We won’t have to step when simple love won’t be complicated or will be as complicated as any simple love.”

At the end of the gathering, the marchers began marching towards Independence Park where Ran Danker, Ivri Lider, Roni Duani, Rinat Bar and others were performing.

More than 2,000 police officers and soldiers, visible and hidden, secured parade participants with the assistance of reinforcements and volunteers. 

As with every year, the police commissioner and the Minister of internal Security came to the parade area to examine the work of the police in the field. But unlike previous years, Ben-Gvir was received with shouts of “shame.” Ben-Gvir came to supervise the parade, despite a prior demand from the parade organizers that he refrain from doing so.

“In my position as a minister, I do and will do everything so that there is no crazy case, as was the case with the murder of Shira Banki,” said Ben-Gvir, “My policy is to give freedom of speech to those who oppose the parade, even to those who speak against the parade, that is their right. They are not breaking the law yet. Our job on this day is to allow the parade and protest, this is democracy, this is the beautiful mosaic in the state of Israel and this is how I act as minister of national security.”

Several serious incidents of violence against the LGBTQ community took place after the parade ended and marchers dispersed. In one of them, boys and young men were seen setting Pride flags on fire, and in the second, a group of young people attacked a number of LGBT people near Jerusalem’s Central Station. They shouted at them to “go back to Tel Aviv, you son of a bitch.”

“This is a resounding slap in the face that reminds us that no matter how much we spread light, the struggle is not over yet, and the hatred towards us exists and understands,” Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance said in response to the violence. “In Jerusalem those who walk around the city tonight, are asked to be alert and take care of themselves. Don’t worry, we will win.”

“The Jerusalem parade is the strongest expression of our opposition to hatred, and to the plans of the hate lobby to fight in our community,” Hevruta, an LGBT religious organization, said. “Even hundreds of millions of shekels, the authority and standards of Avi Maoz and the Noam party will not be able to extinguish our love for God, for who we are and for our families.”

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European Union

Latvia elects first openly gay president

Edgars Rinkēvičs has been country’s foreign minister since 2011



Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs (Screen capture via LTV Ziņu dienests YouTube)

The Latvian Parliament elected Edgars Rinkēvičs as the country’s next president in a vote held Wednesday. When he assumes office on July 8, he will be the country’s first openly gay head of state, as well as the first openly gay head of state of an EU country or a former Soviet country.

Latvia’s president is a largely ceremonial role that is elected by the national Parliament. He won a narrow majority of 52 out of 100 votes on the third ballot, held coincidentally during Pride week in the capital, Riga.

Rinkēvičs has served as Latvia’s foreign minister since 2011, a post where he became popular for championing European integration. 

In 2014, he became the first Latvian political figure to come out publicly, while the country debated a same-sex civil union law. To date, the Latvian Parliament has still been unable to pass any laws recognizing same-sex couples, despite multiple court decisions ordering it to do so.

Reached for comment after the election, the Latvian LGBTQ advocacy group Mozaika and Riga Pride released a joint statement saying they are thrilled with the election.

“We are thrilled about the fact that Edgars Rinkēvičs will be the next president of Latvia.  First and foremost, he is one of the most popular and professional politicians in Latvia, and with this election he broke the glass ceiling. He is an absolute inspiration to many young people and the LGBTQ community at large. 

We are hopeful that he will stand behind his promise to have human rights and democracy as one of his priorities and we believe he will play an instrumental role to strengthen Latvia’s society and will make it safer not just for the LGBT community but for many vulnerable groups,” the groups say.

Pride parade in the Latvian capital city of Riga. (Photo Credit: Riga Pride/Facebook)

Not everyone has been so thrilled. Former Member of the European Parliament Andrejs Mamikins, tweeted that “God will no longer bless Latvia,” in response to the election.

“Today, godlessness won the presidential election in Latvia. Disgrace and misery @edgarsrinkevics,” he wrote. 

Latvian TV reports that the State Police have opened an investigation into Mamikins’ post for possible violations of the law banning incitement to hatred. 

Latvia, a deeply conservative Baltic nation of about 1.8 million people about one-third of whom are Russian-speakers, regained its independence amid the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since that time, it has taken a stridently pro-Western political orientation, including joining NATO, the European Union and the Eurozone. 

But the country’s political elite has never warmly embraced LGBTQ rights. According to ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Index 2023, Latvia scored only 22 percent on a list of legislated rights for LGBT people, placing it 37th among 49 ranked countries.

Latvia’s neighbors on the Baltic Sea have also been slow to advance LGBTQ rights, although Estonia’s government is expected to advance a same-sex marriage bill in Parliament next week, and Lithuania’s parliament passed a civil union bill through a second reading vote in May.

While openly gay and lesbian people have served as prime minister of several other EU countries — including Ireland’s Leo Varadkar, Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel and Belgium’s Elio Di Rupo — Rinkēvičs will be the first gay person to hold the role of head of state of an EU country. The only other openly gay head of state in modern history was Paolo Rondelli, who was one of the two Captains Regent of the microstate San Marino for six months in 2022.


Rob Salerno is a writer, journalist and actor based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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African advocacy groups condemn Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

South African organizations criticize government’s silence



(Photo by NASA)

LGBTQ and intersex rights groups across Africa have condemned the signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that calls for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Mpho Buntse, a spokesperson for Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTQ and intersex advocacy organization, said it was very worrisome the South African government did not condemn the law, even though the country is the only one on the continent that fully upholds LGBTQ and intersex rights.

“It has really been apparent that South Africa would rather protect its diplomatic relations rather than impose on the sovereignty of a country like Uganda. However, we are not dealing with an issue of economic or financial diplomacy, but we are dealing with a human rights crisis. We are dealing with a situation where we could see potential violence being subjected to the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, but not only to the LGBTQ+ community but the rest of the Ugandan population stands to be affected by this law because even if you don’t identify as LGBTQ+ you will be compelled to report to the state those that you know that identify as LGBTQ+,” said Buntse. “So we find it really problematic that we choose to be just spectators when we could or potentially have played an active role from the start of this.”

Buntse noted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act on Monday, was in South Africa in late February.

“We didn’t seize the opportunity to play an active role, so South Africa is always on a missed opportunity where we are now seeing a country to be a spectator instead of being an ally of the LGBTQ+ community,” added Buntse.

Bruce Walker of Pretoria Pride, another South African advocacy group, said he was not surprised by the government’s stance.

“They are showing their true colors,” said Walker. “The governing party is full of homophobes. It’s written in the constitution, the rights for the LGBTQI+ community, but they never support the LGBTQI+ community. They flatly ignore it. You either support and respect our constitution or not but as it stands they do not. They are far too scared to take a stand.” 

Gays And Lesbians of Zimbabwe also condemned the law, saying it violates human rights.

“This law blatantly violates the human rights of LGBTQ individuals in Uganda including the right to privacy, freedom from discrimination and the right to equal protection under the law We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ugandan LGBTQ community through this difficult time,” said GALZ in a statement. “We call on the Ugandan leadership to engage in constructive dialogue, and to work towards solutions that are inclusive and respectful to all individuals.”

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, like GALZ, also condemned the law and expressed solidarity with LGBTQ and intersex Ugandans.

“It’s a great disappointed to have the president assent the Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” said LEGABIBO. “To all LGBTIQ+ identifying persons in Uganda, we stand in solidarity with you.”

East Africa Trans Health and Advocacy Network also castigated the law. EATHAN, like LEGABIBO and GALZ, said it will continue to stand up for LGBTQ and intersex rights in Uganda.

“Sad day for LGBTIQ Ugandans. We stand with our trans, intersex and nonbinary Ugandans and the entire LGBTIQ community. We must keep fighting and have the law declared unconstitutional,” said EATHAN.

We Are All Ghana, a Ghanaian LGBTQ and intersex rights group, in its reaction said the community in Uganda and across Africa should not be silenced.

“As we stand in solidarity with the Ugandan queer community, let us remind ourselves as the Ghanaian LGBTQ+ community and Africans as a whole that we must not allow ourselves to be bullied into silence. our rights are as human as anyone else’s,” said We Are All Ghana.

Shemerirwe Agnes, executive director of Africa Queer Network, a Uganda-based advocacy group, said there was nothing anyone or any particular organization could have done to dissuade Museveni from signing the bill.

“We are being attacked and killed since that bill was passed because the society and the police thought that just because that bill was passed it was now law so one would think that just because it’s now law then it’s now going to be implemented,” said Agnes. “It was implemented even before it was signed into law there is nothing we can do now because President Museveni doesn’t listen to anyone.”

U.S. President Joe Biden is among those who have also condemned the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The White House has announced it will “evaluate” the law’s implications and how it may impact U.S. aid to Uganda. Advocacy groups, meanwhile, have challenged the Anti-Homosexuality Act in the Ugandan Constitutional Court.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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