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EU court rules homosexuality can be grounds for asylum

Decision comes in case of three Africans who sought refuge in the Netherlands

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European Court of Justice, gay news, Washington Blade

European Court of Justice, gay news, Washington Blade

European Court of Justice (Photo by Stefan64; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The European Court of Justice on Thursday ruled those who face incarceration in their home countries because of their sexual orientation could receive asylum in the European Union.

The ruling stems from the case of three people from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal who sought asylum in the Netherlands in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively. Each of the applicants claimed they would face persecution in their African homelands because of their sexual orientation.

Homosexuality remains illegal in the three countries.

Sierra Leonean law punishes those found guilty of same-sex sexual acts with up to 10 years in prison, while those convicted under Senegal’s anti-sodomy law could face up to five years of incarceration. Gays and lesbians found guilty of same-sex sexual acts in Uganda could face up to life in prison.

Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati in 2009 sparked global outrage when he introduced a bill that would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The Dutch Ministry of Immigration and Asylum in 2010 and 2011 denied the asylum seekers’ request based on grounds they had not demonstrated they have “a well-founded fear of persecution by reason of their membership of a particular social group.”

A court in The Hague in 2010 and 2011 upheld the Sierra Leonean and Ugandan petitioners request for asylum. The same tribunal in 2011 dismissed the Senegalese asylum seekers’ appeal.

The Dutch Ministry of Immigration and Asylum appealed the ruling that overturned its previous decision in the case of the Sierra Leonean and Ugandan petitioners to the Dutch Council of State. The advisory body asked the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to determine whether gays could be considered a “particular social group” and whether the criminalization of homosexuality is “an act of persecution.”

“It is common ground that a person’s sexual orientation is a characteristic so fundamental to his identity that he should not be forced to renounce it,” the European Court of Justice ruling reads.

“The criminalization of homosexual acts alone does not, in itself, constitute persecution,” it continues. “However, a term of imprisonment which sanctions homosexual acts and which is actually applied in the country of origin which adopted such legislation must be regarded as being a punishment which is disproportionate or discriminatory and thus constitutes an act of persecution.”

The ruling applies to all 28 EU member states, but it stipulates authorities in a particular country must determine whether an individual asylum seeker is facing persecution in their homeland. The Dutch government grants asylum based on sexual orientation on a case-by-case basis.

COC Nederland, a Dutch LGBT advocacy group, welcomed the European Court of Justice’s ruling.

“The current policy states that LGBT asylum seekers are to be expected to live in their country of origin with ‘a certain restraint’ when it comes to expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the organization said. “This criterion is no longer valid in the light of this new European ruling. COC Netherlands has been advocating for such a policy for years.”

Livio Zilli of the International Commission of Jurists is among those who were critical of the decision.

“The court should have found that these laws, even when they have not recently been applied in practice are capable of giving rise to a well-founded fear or prosecution in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and who accordingly should be recognized as refugees when they apply for asylum,” Zilli said.

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Africa

Namibian High Court strikes down Apartheid-era sodomy laws

Gay activist challenged statutes in 2020

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(Bigstock photo)

The Namibian High Court on Friday ruled laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country are unconstitutional.

Friedel Dausab, a gay activist, in 2020 challenged the Apartheid-era statute.

The Washington Blade previously reported Dausab said the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, which listed “sodomy” as a Schedule 1 offense, and a second law that criminalized “unnatural” sexual acts, promote stigma and exclusion of LGBTQ Namibians. Equal Namibia, a Namibian LGBTQ advocacy group, on its X account praised the ruling.

“Welcome to a new Namibia. A born-free Namibia,” it said.

Dausab, who challenged the laws with the assistance of Human Dignity Trust, a British NGO, told Reuters he is “just happy.”

“It’s a great day for Namibia,” he said. “It won’t be a crime to love anymore.”

Namibia is the latest country in which consensual same-sex sexual relations have been decriminalized in recent years.

The Namibian Supreme Court in May 2023 ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. The landmark decision sparked criticism among leading politicians and religious officials.

Activists say their rhetoric has contributed to increased harassment of LGBTQ Namibians and hate speech against them.

Amnesty International in a press release notes MPs last June passed two bills that “seek to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminate against trans people and criminalize any support, celebration or promotion of same-sex unions with up to six years in jail and hefty fines.” Khanyo Farise, the group’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, said the organization in recent weeks has “observed alarming rhetoric threatening LGBTI persons in Namibia.”

“Whatever the outcome of the High Court decision on June 21, violence and discrimination against LGBTI people has no place in Namibian society,” said Farise. “Authorities should take decisive action to prevent human rights violations against LGBTI persons and hold perpetrators accountable.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. Council budget bill includes $8.5 million in LGBTQ provisions

Measure also changes Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs

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The D.C. Council approved Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget proposal calling for $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for a $21 billion fiscal year 2025 budget for the District of Columbia that includes more than $8.5 million in funding for LGBTQ-related programs, including $5.25 million in support of the June 2025 World Pride celebration that D.C. will be hosting.

Also included in the budget is $1.7 million in funds for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which includes an increase of $132,000 over the office’s funding for the current fiscal year, and a one-time funding of $1 million for the completion of the renovation of the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community’s new building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

The D.C. LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition earlier this year asked both the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to approve $1.5 million for the D.C. Center’s building renovation and an additional $300,000 in “recurring” funding for the LGBTQ Center in subsequent years “to support ongoing operational costs and programmatic initiatives.” In its final budget measure, the Council approved $1 million for the renovation work and did not approve the proposed $600,000 in annual operational funding for the center.

The mayor’s budget proposal, which called for the $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025, did not include funding for the D.C. LGBTQ Center or for several other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition.

At the request of D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), the Council’s only gay member, the Council approved at least two other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition in addition to the funding for the LGBTQ Center. One is $595,000 for 20 additional dedicated housing vouchers for LGBTQ residents who face housing insecurity or homelessness. The LGBTQ housing vouchers are administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

The other funding allocation pushed by Parker is $250,000 in funds to support a Black LGBTQ+ History Commission and Black LGBTQIA+ history program that Parker proposed that will also be administered by the LGBTQ Affairs office.

Also at Parker’s request, the Council included in its budget bill a proposal by Parker to change the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to become a “stand-alone entity” outside the Executive Office of the Mayor. Parker told the Washington Blade this change would “allow for greater transparency and accountability that reflects its evolution over the years.”

He said the change would also give the person serving as the office’s director, who is currently LGBTQ rights advocate Japer Bowles, “greater flexibility to advocate for the interest of LGBTQ residents” and give the Council greater oversight of the office. Parker noted that other community constituent offices under the mayor’s office, including the Office of Latino Affairs and the Office of Veterans Affairs, are stand-alone offices.

The budget bill includes another LGBTQ funding provision introduced by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) that allocates $100,000 in grants to support LGBTQ supportive businesses in Ward 6 that would be awarded and administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Allen spokesperson Eric Salmi said Allen had in mind two potential businesses on 8th Street, S.E. in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill as potential applicants for the grants.

One is the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are, which had to close temporarily earlier this year due to structural problems in the building it rents. The other potential applicant, Salmi said, is Little District Books, D.C.’s only LGBTQ bookstore that’s located on 8th Street across the street from the U.S. Marine Barracks.

“It’s kind of recognizing Barrack’s Row has a long history of creating spaces that are intended for and safe for the LGBTQ community and wanting to continue that history,” Salmi said  “So, that was his kind of intent behind the language in that funding.”

The mayor’s budget proposal also called for continuing an annual funding of $600,000 to provide workforce development services for transgender and gender non-conforming city residents experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

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Congress

EXCLUSIVE: Markey bill would offer additional support to LGBTQ elders

Measure would create Office of LGBTQI Inclusion within HHS

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U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will introduce a bill on Friday to support LGBTQ elders and older adults living with HIV by establishing an Office of LGBTQI Inclusion within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Among other responsibilities, the office would advocate, coordinate activities, issue policy recommendations, and oversee the collection of data from these communities.

A major piece of the work to improve health equity at HHS under the leadership of Secretary Xavier Becerra and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine has been data collection initiatives for LGBTQ and other populations that can encounter barriers accessing care.

The Elder Pride Act will also “establish a rural grants program to serve the unique needs of rural LGBTQI+ older adults, including through education and training, community outreach and creation of community spaces, and improved cultural competency,” according to a press release announcing the legislation, which the senator’s office previewed exclusively with the Washington Blade.

“After years of exclusion and discrimination from health care settings, workplaces, and their local communities, LGBTQ+ older Americans deserve the protections their neighbors are afforded,” Markey said.

“Queer and trans elders should be able to age with dignity, grace, and surrounded by community,” he added. “The Elder Pride Act will ensure that all older adults are able to have access to the care and services they need.”  

Cosponsoring senators include Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D- Calif.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). The legislation’s provisions were included in a pair of bills introduced earlier this year by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus’s Aging Issues Task Force.

The press release from Markey’s office also highlights several of the challenges faced by LGBTQ older adults vis-a-vis their cisgender and heterosexual peers: Fewer sources of support. higher poverty rates, poorer healthcare, poorer health access, and poorer health outcomes.

At the city and county level, older adults are served by local area agencies on aging (AAAs), which receive services and activities from HHS. Fewer than half of these organizations report that they will be able to provide LGBTQ-specific activities by the time the population of LGBTQ elders reaches 7 million, which is expected by 2030.

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