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Russian LGBT rights advocates visit D.C., Maine

Urge end to country’s anti-gay crackdown



Oleg Klyuenkov, Lyudmila Romodina, Russia, LGBT, Rakurs, gay news, Washington Blade
Oleg Klyuenkov, Lyudmila Romodina, Russia, LGBT, Rakurs, gay news, Washington Blade

Oleg Klyuenkov and Lyudmila Romodina of the Russian LGBT advocacy group Rakurs in D.C. on Nov. 8, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Two Russian LGBT rights advocates last week urged U.S. officials to continue to pressure the Kremlin to end its anti-gay crackdown.

Lyudmila Romodina and Oleg Klyuenkov of Rakurs (“Perspective” in Russian) in the city of Arkhangelsk met with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and officials with the U.S. State Department, the White House and the Helsinki Commission in D.C. on Nov. 7. They also discussed Russia’s gay rights record Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus staffers on Capitol Hill on Nov. 8.

Romodina and Klyuenkov arrived in the U.S. on Nov. 1 — the same day the Olympic torch passed through Arkhangelsk on its way to the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Their trip began in Portland, Maine, where they met with the city’s mayor, Michael Brennan, members of a local PFLAG chapter, Equality Maine and other LGBT rights advocates and officials. The activists’ visit coincided with the 25th anniversary of the sister city partnership between Portland and Arkhangelsk.

Romodina and Klyuenkov returned to Russia on Nov. 10.

Human Rights First, a group that promotes international human rights, organized Romodina and Klyuenkov’s trip to the U.S.

“We’re trying to use [Russian] American partnerships in a constructive way; to take the partnership to a new level of dialogue where human rights and LGBT rights are present at the table, they’re discussed,” Innokenty Grekov of Human Rights First told the Washington Blade during an interview in Northwest Washington on Nov. 8.

Arkhangelsk law was ‘test pilot’ for national gay propaganda ban

Rakurs, which is a member of the Russian LGBT Network, is the first group that specifically works with Arkhangelsk’s LGBT residents.

The group was a feminist organization when it was founded in 2007. Russia’s Justice Ministry in 2010 denied Rakurs’ request to add the words lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender to their charter and by-laws.

A regional court later ordered the Justice Ministry to allow Rakurs to register as an LGBT rights organization.

“It took some time,” Klyuenkov told the Blade through an interpreter.

Arkhangelsk officials in 2011 banned propaganda that promotes homosexuality and bisexuality. They quietly repealed the law last month, but Klyuenkov told the Blade the Arkhangelsk statute was a “test pilot” for the nationwide ban on gay propaganda to minors that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed in June.

“The informational campaign that surrounded the regional ban in Arkhangelsk was a miniature version of the mass media campaign that surrounded the adoption of the federal ban,” Klyuenkov said. “It was quite aggressive as we were just slandered and slimed. We were accused of undermining demography of Russia, undermining traditional values, being a threat to traditional values.”

Rakurs distributed leaflets that contained information on what Klyuenkov described as the “dangers of adopting a federal law on propaganda.” The organization also sought a permit to stage a protest against the measure as members of the Russian Duma debated it, but Romodina told the Blade that Arkhangelsk officials used the regional gay propaganda ban to deny their request.

“When we received these denials for demonstrations involving multiple individuals, we went and nevertheless demonstrated in single pickets,” she said.

Lawmakers criticize IOC during advocates’ trip

Romodina and Klyuenkov’s trip to the U.S. coincided with the growing outrage over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record that threatens to overshadow the Sochi games.

U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in a Nov. 8 letter criticized International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach over his previous comments that appeared to suggest he feels Russia’s gay propaganda ban does not violate the Olympic Charter.

Bach said in September before the lighting of the Olympic torch in Greece that Olympic values include “respect without any form of discrimination.” Putin on Oct. 28 reiterated previous Russian government claims that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the Sochi games.

“Although some Russian authorities have indicated that the law will not affect Olympic spectators and participants, we have yet to see a satisfactory explanation of what type of activities or behavior will be permitted,” the U.S. senators wrote in their letter. “If LGBT individuals or supporters were to be arrested or harassed during the Olympics, the reputation of the IOC would be damaged.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and more than three dozen other members of Congress last month urged U.S. Olympic Committee President Scott Blackmun to outline steps the USOC plans to take to safeguard American athletes who plan to compete in Sochi.

Blackmun on Oct. 11 described Russia’s gay propaganda ban is “inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Olympic and Paraolympic movements.” The U.S. Olympic Committee Board of Directors the day before voted to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.

Advocates oppose Olympic boycott

Romodina and Klyuenkov are the latest Russian LGBT rights advocates to visit the U.S.

Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT rights group Sphere is among those who met with Ros-Lehtinen on Capitol Hill in September. He was part of the group of human rights activists who met with President Obama during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg a few weeks earlier.

Russian LGBT Sports Federation Co-President Elvina Yuvakaeva was part of a five-member delegation whom the State Department invited to the U.S. in September to meet with professional American sports team and organizers of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Klyuenkov told the Blade he feels “interest groups” within the Russian government have “persuaded” Putin to sign the gay propaganda law and other anti-LGBT measures. These include a 2012 statute that requires groups that receive funding from outside the country to register as “foreign agents.”

“This federal law on propaganda is part of a larger, broader policy,” Klyuenkov said. “The government is simply trying to distract the public’s attention from our societal problems, our economic problems.”

Klyuenkov and Rodomina both stressed their organization remains opposed to any boycott of the Sochi games over Russia’s LGBT rights record.

“We should use both the Olympic games and the existing relationships between our municipal entities as a platform for discussing human rights, for encouraging more dialogue within Russia between the government and civil society and LGBT groups,” Klyuenkov said.

The advocates spoke with the Blade a day before gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts co-hosted the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Roberts repeatedly criticized the gay propaganda law during interviews with the “Today” show and other media outlets in the days leading up to the pageant that Donald Trump co-owns with NBC Universal. Pageant participants did not discuss Russia’s LGBT rights record during the event.

“It’s great,” Klyuenkov told the Blade when asked about Roberts co-hosting the pageant. “I don’t think the Russian people watch Miss Universe.”

Elton John is scheduled to perform two concerts in Russia next month amid controversy from some LGBT rights advocates.

“His approach is to go over and engage and win over,” Grekov told the Blade. “Rakurs is doing the same. Human Rights First is so happy to help facilitate this visit and raise their voice.”

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South America

Colombia’s first leftist president takes office

Gustavo Petro has pledged to support LGBTQ, intersex rights



Gustavo Petro took office as Colombia's first leftist president on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Colombian government)

Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro on Sunday took office as Colombia’s first leftist president.

The former Colombian senator who was once a member of the M-19 guerrilla movement that disbanded in the 1990s, in June defeated former Bucaramanga Mayor Rodolfo Hernández in the second round of the country’s presidential election. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, on Sunday took office as Colombia’s first female vice president of African descent.

Colombian Vice President Francia Márquez. (Photo courtesy of Márquez’s Twitter page)

Petro before his inauguration named Néstor Osuna, an openly gay man, as the country’s new justice minister.

“I am honored and thankful to President Gustavo Petro for the appointment as Colombia’s justice minister,” tweeted Osuna on Sunday. “I commit myself to working with your team to achieve the change for which so many of our compatriots yearn.”

Petro in his inaugural speech did not specifically reference LGBTQ and intersex Colombians, but, the Washington Blade’s media partner in the country, published pictures that show LGBTQ and intersex people were among those who attended the inauguration.

Petro during the campaign pledged to fight violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to implement policies “for the reaffirmation of gender and sexual orientation identities without barriers for all nonbinary and transgender people in Colombia.” Márquez noted LGBTQ and intersex Colombians after she and Petro won the election.

Wilson Castañeda, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group in northern Colombia, told the Blade after Petro and Márquez won the election that the campaign held “various meetings” with advocacy groups. Castañeda also noted that Petro, among other things, named Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman, to run Bogotá’s social welfare and tourism office when he was mayor.

Castañeda and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power are among those who attended Sunday’s inauguration that took place in Bogotá’s Bolívar Square.

“Full squares; happy faces; the flags of Colombia, Bogotá; rural, indigenous and LGBTI communities received the president and the vice president in an emotive and historic act that inaugurated the first popular and leftist Colombian government,” tweeted Bogotá Mayor Claudia López on Sunday.

López is married to Angélica Lózano, a bisexual woman who in 2018 became the first LGBTQ and intersex person elected to the Colombian Senate.

Lozano in March won re-election in the country’s national elections. Colombians also elected five openly LGBTQ and intersex people to the country’s House of Representatives.

Tamara Argote in March became the first non-binary person elected to the Colombian Congress.

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Landmark intersex rights law takes effect in Kenya

Activists praise Children Act 2022



(Photo courtesy of Rarrarorro via Bigstock)

A new law that took effect late last month in Kenya has granted equal rights and recognition to intersex people 

Intersex people are now recognized as Kenya’s third gender with an ‘I’ gender marker in response to the Children Act 2022. Kenya is the first African country that has granted the intersex community this universal right.

The new law requires intersex children to be treated with dignity and have equal access to basic services like medical treatment and education, in addition to social protection services as a special need. It also requires the accomodation of intersex children in child protection centers and other facilities.

Courts are also required to consider the needs of intersex children who are on trial — including the calling of an expert witness — before they issue any ruling. The law further stipulates that anyone can be a foster parent without restrictions of gender, age or marital status.

It also protects intersex children from so-called sex normalization surgeries, and such procedures will only be done with a doctor’s recommendation. Those who violate the law will face at least three years in jail and a fine of at least $5,000.

“This is a great and major milestone globally for Kenya. We are now way ahead and can teach our neighbors and the whole globe good practices,” said Jedidah Wakonyo, a human rights lawyer and former chair of the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya

The long journey for recognition started dramatically in 2006 when some human rights organizations petitioned courts about a detainee who had been accused of a violent robbery.

Authorities perceived the suspect was a man after police strip-searched him before he entered prison.

This followed numerous court battles by intersex people who demanded the right to recognition as another gender in their birth certificates.

Being denied birth certificates from the discriminatiory law that only recognized male and female genders further limited their access to national identity cards, passports and other crucial documents and government services.      

The Births and Deaths Registration Act under the new law’s Section 7 (3) “shall take measures to ensure correct documentation and registration of intersex children at birth.” 

Intersex people commonly have a combination of male and female gonads (ovaries or testicles) or ambiguous genitalia. 

Wakonyo, who also chaired the Intersex Persons Implementation Coordination Committee and was named the International Court of Justice’s 2020 jurist of the year, describes the law’s enactment as a historic moment because of its comprehensive definition of an intersex person.

It defines an intersex child as “a child with a congenital condition in which the biological sex characteristics cannot be exclusively categorized in the common binary of female or male due to inherent and mixed anatomical, hormonal, gonadal or chromosomal patterns which could be apparent before, at birth, in childhood, puberty or adulthood.”

Kenyan law considers anyone under 17 to be a child.

“Defining an intersex from a child’s perspective while taking care of many aspects and not just the physical notion of being intersex is the best practice because in future they don’t find themselves in the state of gender confusion between males and females like the current situation,” stated Wakonyo. 

This provision essentially protects intersex persons from being deprived of their constitutional rights of gender recognition under the country’s Bill of Rights.

Veronica Mwangi, the deputy director at Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights, that helped secure the law’s implementation, said it addresses issues for which the intersex community has been fighting for years.    

“It is very progressive and we are glad about the gains because it provides for the existence of the intersex which all state actors have to accept. Full implementation is what we now need to focus on,” she said.

The law took effect roughly five years after Kenya became the first African nation and the second country in the world after Australia to count intersex people in a Census. The 2019 survey showed 1,524 Kenyans were intersex.

Intersex rights groups had initially petitioned the courts for a total ban of surgeries on intersex children unless they were a medical emergency.

Wakonyo backs the provision for a doctor’s approval on grounds that the surgeries will only be done “in the best interest of the intersex child, informed consent of the parents and the participation of the child depending on the age.” Wakonyo and other activists say the relaxation of the requirements for adopting intersex children not only seeks to end the problem of neglect and abandonment but also the stigma that has left some to die by suicide.

The law safeguards adoptive parents’ rights and parental responsibility and intersex children from child labor, online expuse and other forms of exploitation.

“Intersex children who are just like other children will no longer be killed at birth because of their gender ambiguity,” said Wakonyo.   

Despite the law’s huge benefits for the intersex community, Wakonyo notes it is a “very significant foundation” for the group because gender-specific accommodations in social gatherings and facilities remain needed.

Another historic win for intersex Kenyans this year was the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights’ decision to hire an intersex commissioner.

“Dr. Dennis Wamalwa applied as an intersex (person), interviewed as an intersex (person), and the shortlist comprised male, female, and ‘I’ gender for intersex. He emerged (at the) top and his intersex friends and associates came to witness his swearing,” stated Wakonyo, who also served as a Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights commissioner.

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AIDS Action Baltimore to honor John Waters at 35th anniversary commemoration

Honorees to include John Waters and Pat Moran



John Waters (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

AIDS Action Baltimore will mark 35 years of service next month by paying tribute to six people who have helped keep it in operation, including filmmaker John Waters and his friend and movie industry colleague Pat Moran.

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration, planned for Sept.18, is a cocktail reception and brunch that’s also a fundraiser for the non-profit organization, which was started in 1987 to fight HIV/AIDS and provide a safety net for people living with HIV/AIDS and experiencing a financial emergency.

“John has supported us from the beginning,” said Lynda Dee, co-founder and executive director of the organization. “All of his movie premieres benefitted AIDS Action Baltimore. Without his help, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Waters has directed 16 movies and written 10 books, and he was named in June to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Based in Baltimore, he has two museum exhibits coming up, “Coming Attractions: The John Waters Collection,” an exhibit of art from his personal collection that he’s donating to the Baltimore Museum of Art, at the museum from Nov. 20, 2022, to April 16, 2023, and “Pope of Trash,” a career retrospective at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles next summer.

Moran is a three-time Emmy Award-winning casting director who has worked closely with Waters and others on films and television shows made in Baltimore. She is one of three co-founders of AIDS Action Baltimore, along with Dee and Garey Lambert, who passed away in 1987.

Waters said he’s pleased to support AIDS Action Baltimore. 

“I’m really happy to be involved,” he said. “Pat was one of the first people that started it. I’ve been a supporter always just because I believe I’m lucky I didn’t die of it. Plain and simple. I give money as a superstition that I won’t ever get it. And Lynda Dee is a tireless AIDS warrior. The gay community owes her great, great credit … It’s an organization in Baltimore that has kept many, many people alive … I’m just honored to help them in any way I can.”

Other honorees include:

Richard Chaisson, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the Hopkins Center for AIDS Research;

Carla Alexander, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care, and an internationally recognized expert for those living with HIV disease;

Debbie Rock, a disco singer-turned-HIV activist who is the founding CEO of LIGHT Health and Wellness, a non-profit that provides a range of services for children, families and individuals in Baltimore affected by poverty, addiction, mental illness, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, including day care and respite care for children with HIV/AIDS; and

Carlton Smith, a community health worker with the state of Maryland, founder of the Center for Black Equity, and chair of the Ryan White Planning Council, which provides medical care and support services for people with HIV in Baltimore. 

Since 1987, AIDS Action Baltimore has helped more than 8,750 people, distributing $3.145 million in assistance for items such as rent and utilities. It also has a number of programs to fight HIV, from town hall meetings to testing assistance to prevention campaigns, including outreach efforts to at-risk populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31,676 people aged 13 and older were living in Maryland with diagnosed HIV at the end of 2020, and an estimated 3,559 people in Maryland were living with undiagnosed HIV at the end of 2019.

Dee wrote in June that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for AIDS Action Baltimore to provide the services it does.

“COVID-19 is eating a large percentage of U. S. Health and Human Services funding,” she wrote she in an open letter to friends of the organization. “We are in danger of losing all our hard-won treatment and prevention gains. Because of COVID-19, it is much harder to obtain the money we need to fight HIV.” 

That’s why AIDS Action Baltimore holds events such as the one next month, she added: “We are still doing our best to help ourselves.” 

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration will be held at the Belvedere (1 E. Chase St.) in Baltimore, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 18. Tickets cost $175 per person or $1,750 for a table of 10. They’re available at or by calling 410-437-AIDS. 

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