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State Dept. mum on next steps after India ruling

Spokesperson reiterates support for LGBT rights overseas

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Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade
Supreme Court of India, gay news, Washington Blade

Supreme Court of India (Photo by Legaleagle86; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki wouldn’t speculate Wednesday about how the U.S. might encourage India to repeal its law criminalizing homosexual acts when asked about the recent court ruling upholding the colonial-era law.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Psaki declined to speculate about the potential options to encourage additional steps in India after she reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to LGBT rights overseas.

“That’s a decision that the Indian government would make,” Psaki said. “We, obviously, don’t make decisions on behalf of other governments and their legislation. So, I expressed our deep concern about any efforts around the world to not recognize that LGBT rights are human rights and that’s a message we’ll continue to make.”

Earlier in the day, the India Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling from 2009 that decriminalized the same-sex relations between two men, which was previously illegal under a colonial-era law known as section 377. With the law back in place, individuals found guilty of “unnatural offenses” in the world’s second most populous country could face 10 years in prison.

Psaki said the State Department is “aware of” the decision in response to a first question about the ruling from a reporter during her daily news briefing,

But Psaki responded to the decision initially only by speaking broadly about the Obama administration’s support for LGBT rights, referencing a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry on Human Rights Day.

“We oppose any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults,” Psaki said. “LGBT rights are human rights. That’s something you heard Secretary Kerry say and Secretary Clinton say before him. And we call on all governments to advance equality for LGBT individuals around the world.”

It took questioning from another reporter for Psaki to clarify that U.S. concern with anti-sodomy laws “whether it’s India, or any other country” applies to the recent ruling.

“Any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults, that doesn’t recognize that fundamental freedoms include their right to sexual orientation, those are issues that we certainly would be concerned about as we are here,” Psaki said.

Asked whether the State Department was planning to reach out to the Indian government about the issue, Psaki wouldn’t make any specific predictions, but said human rights issues come up in conversations.

“Well, we consistently bring up human rights issues with most countries we meet with,” Psaki said. “I don’t have any specific recent call or meeting to read out for all of you, but certainly that’s something we’re happy to express publicly and privately.”

Top U.S. officials just recently had the opportunity to speak with Indian officials.

As part of her initial response speaking generally about news related to India, Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry and other high-ranking State Department officials met on Tuesday with Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and agreed to an expansion of strategic partnerships.

“The United States and India agreed … to strengthen new U.S.-India cooperation on training U.S. peacekeepers to develop support for the department’s own peace operations initiative,” she said. “The United States also accepted India’s invitation to serve as a partner country for India’s technology summit and expo in New Delhi in the fall of 2014, further intensifying our broad scientific cooperation.”

Asked whether the Supreme Court decision came up during this discussion, Psaki said she believes it happened before the ruling was handed down. When another reporter mentioned other related meetings were taking place today, Psaki said she’d have to check to verify that and whether any discussions about the ruling took place.

“I don’t have any other comment for you on the Supreme Court case than what I just offered or any other expectations of steps,” Psaki said. “That’s obviously steps the Indian government would take.”

After a reporter pointed out that the State Department would make threats aimed at Ukraine after it used violence to stop peaceful protests, but that it won’t take similar action in the India case, Psaki said the situations were different.

“Obviously, the events in Ukraine, we expressed our deep concern and the reasons why,” Psaki said. “And, as you know, we don’t group every country and everything that happens into the same category. Every circumstance is different.”

A transcript of the exchange follows:

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Department of State (Photo public domain)

QUESTION: Thank you. You must have seen the Indian Supreme Court decision criminalizing homosexuality, which has sent shockwaves in the global LGBT community. And it’s more important, because only yesterday, Secretary Kerry issued a statement on Human Rights Day, and in which he mentioned LGBT. So what is the reaction that – and especially because the Indian foreign secretary is in town?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we, of course, are aware of the Supreme Court decision. The United States places great importance on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people. And as you saw and as you referenced in the Secretary’s statement yesterday, that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons around the world. We oppose any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults. LGBT rights are human rights. That’s something you’ve heard Secretary Kerry say, I believe Secretary Clinton say before him, and we call on all governments to advance equality for LGBT individuals around the world.

I know you asked me about the visit of the foreign secretary. I’m happy to give a readout of that, if that’s helpful as well. Secretary Kerry and Deputy Secretary Burns met yesterday with Indian Foreign Secretary Singh to discuss ways to deepen the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership and consult on regional issues. Foreign Secretary Singh also met with Acting Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal, and other senior officials.

The United States and India agree to joint principles to strengthen India-U.S. cooperation on training UN peacekeepers, developed with support from the Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative. The United States also accepted India’s invitation to serve as a partner country for India’s technology summit and expo in New Delhi in the fall of 2014, further intensifying our broad scientific cooperation.

QUESTION: Thank you. Are you planning to reach out to the Indian Government to express your – directly about what needs to be done? Because if you see the atmosphere there, the political parties, the pressure, and – it is not just a vague Supreme Court decision.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have – we consistently bring up human rights issues with most countries we meet with, and I don’t have any specific recent call or meeting to read out for all of you, but certainly, that’s something we’re happy to express publicly and privately as needed.

QUESTION: Back on India —

QUESTION: Well, in that meeting between the top diplomat for the Administration and his Deputy and the Indian foreign secretary, this didn’t come up?

MS. PSAKI: That happened yesterday. I don’t – I’m not aware of when – I believe this decision may have been today, the Supreme Court decision.

QUESTION: But she still has a meeting today too in the building.

MS. PSAKI: Hmm?

QUESTION: She had a meeting today also. Was this issue brought up with her?

MS. PSAKI: Today? With – who was the meeting with today?

QUESTION: I don’t know, but I think she had —

QUESTION: But she’s in town.

QUESTION: — some meetings here today also.

MS. PSAKI: I have to check on that. I was under the impression that most of the meetings were yesterday, but I’m happy to check, and if there were meetings today, we can check if this issue came up.

QUESTION: All right. And then —

QUESTION: Yeah, but the question —

QUESTION: — in the initial – in your initial response, I didn’t hear you actually give any reaction to what the decision actually was. I’m presuming that you think it’s a bad ruling by the Supreme Court, but I didn’t hear you say that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we —

QUESTION: Can you go ahead – can you say that?

MS. PSAKI: I believe by saying we oppose any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults in general around the world, I think I was pretty clear about what our view is.

QUESTION: So what do you think about the – specifically about the Indian Supreme Court decision?

MS. PSAKI: I think —

QUESTION: I’m looking for something that’s got the word “India” in the answer, other than just —

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I’m not sure I have much more to add other than to convey that any legislation around the world, whether it’s India or any other country that criminalizes —

QUESTION: But this isn’t legislation.

MS. PSAKI: — I’m sorry – any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults that doesn’t recognize that fundamental freedoms of people include their right to sexual orientation – those are issues that we certainly would be concerned about, as we are here.

QUESTION: So you are expressing concern about the Supreme Court decision in India on this case?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Does the supreme —

QUESTION: Clarify it one more time.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You are opposed to the Supreme Court decision and you are going to raise this issue with the Indian Government, right?

MS. PSAKI: I think I expressed our concern about any cases along these lines. We are in regular touch about these issues and others with India. I don’t have anything specific to read out for you in terms of future meetings or conversations about this.

QUESTION: Yeah. Does the United States expect India to – the parliament – with respect to the parliament, does it expect the Indian parliament to repeal that law?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other comment for you on the Supreme Court case than what I’ve just offered or any other expectation of steps. That’s obviously steps the Indian Government would take.

QUESTION: Is there any actions at all the Supreme Court – is there any options at all the State Department is examining to encourage India to repeal that law?

MS. PSAKI: That’s a decision that the Indian Government would make. We obviously don’t make decisions on behalf of other governments and their legislation. So I expressed our deep concern about any efforts around the world to not recognize that LGBT rights are human rights, and that’s a message we’ll continue to convey.

QUESTION: Well, the only problem with that is that you’re threatening sanctions on Ukraine, or saying that they’re a possibility because they’re violating people’s human rights and not listening to the – not listening to the people. And yet here with India, it’s not even clear whether this has – has come up, will come up, or will ever come up with the Indian Government. And in fact, the meeting – the readout that you gave of the meetings yesterday said that everything with India is full speed ahead, and we’re intensifying our relationship, and —

MS. PSAKI: Those meetings were yesterday. I think I expressed pretty clearly our opposition to this. In terms of what steps would be taken by a government on a Supreme Court case, that’s not something I would have a comment on. Obviously, the events in Ukraine we’ve expressed our deep concern about, and the reasons why. And as you know, we don’t group every country and everything that happens into the same category. Every circumstance is different.

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Russia

Putin slams LGBTQ people in Ukraine annexation speech

The international community has condemned sham referenda

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(YouTube screenshot from AFP/NBC)

In a rally ceremony that resembled a political convention on Sept. 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his signing a degree that Russia had annexed four regions of Eastern Ukraine that were overrun by Russian military forces and Russian-backed separatists.

“The people made their choice,” said Putin in the formal signing ceremony at the Kremlin’s St. George Hall. “And that choice won’t be betrayed” by Russia, he said.

This past week, in an election President Joe Biden labeled fraudulent and a sham, Ukrainians in the occupied territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia voted to join Russia in elections supervised by heavily armed Russian troops.

Speaking from the White House on Sept. 30, Biden said the U.S. and its allies will not recognize Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian regions and reaffirmed that NATO countries will defend all territory in the alliance.

Addressing the Russian leader, Biden said “Mr. Putin, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Every inch.”

America and its allies are not going to — I’m going to emphasize, are not going to be intimidated, are not going to be intimidated by Putin and his reckless words and threats. He’s not going to scare us and he doesn’t — or intimidate us.

Putin’s actions are a sign he’s struggling. The sham referenda he carried out and this routine he put on, don’t worry, it’s not there if you’re looking, OK. The sham routine that we put on this morning that’s showing the unity and people holding hands together. Well, the United States is never going to recognize this and quite frankly, the world is not going to recognize it either. He can’t seize his neighbor’s territory and get away with it. It’s as simple as that.

And they’re going to stay the course. We’re going to continue to provide military equipment so that Ukraine can defend itself and its territory and its freedom, … And we’re fully prepared to defend, I want to say this again, America is fully prepared with our NATO allies to defend every single inch of NATO’s territory, every single inch. So Mr. Putin, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Every inch.”

Putin in his speech at the ceremony, which took place on a massive stage in Moscow’s Red Square opposite the Kremlin’s walls, took aim at the West with particular emphasis on Western values and culture.

“Western countries have been repeating for centuries that they bring freedom and democracy to other peoples. Everything is exactly the opposite: instead of democracy — suppression and exploitation; instead of freedom — enslavement and violence,” Putin said.

Later during the speech Putin decried the LGBTQ community and Western nations that allow equity and equality and human rights:

“In fact, they spit on the natural right of billions of people, most of humanity, to freedom and justice, to determine their own future on their own. Now they have completely moved to a radical denial of moral norms, religion, and family.

Let’s answer some very simple questions for ourselves. I now want to return to what I said, I want to address all the citizens of the country — not only to those colleagues who are in the hall — to all the citizens of Russia: do we want to have, here, in our country, in Russia, parent number one, number two, number three instead of mom and dad — have they gone made out there? Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed on children in our schools from the primary grades? To be drummed into them that there are various supposed genders besides women and men, and to be offered a sex change operation? Do we want all this for our country and our children? For us, all this is unacceptable, we have a different future, our own future?”

Putin then implied directly that the U.S. and its NATO allies assisting Ukraine were trying to erase Russian culture and then justified the annexation of the four regions in Eastern Ukraine:

“Today we are fighting so that it would never occur to anyone that Russia, our people, our language, our culture can be taken and erased from history. Today, we need the consolidation of the entire society, and such cohesion can only be based on sovereignty, freedom, creation and justice. Our values ​​are humanity, mercy and compassion.

And I want to end my speech with the words of a true patriot Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin: ‘If I consider Russia my Motherland, then this means that I love in Russian, contemplate and think, sing and speak Russian; that I believe in the spiritual strength of the Russian people. His spirit is my spirit; his fate is my fate; his suffering is my grief; its flowering is my joy.’

Behind these words is a great spiritual choice, which for more than a thousand years of Russian statehood was followed by many generations of our ancestors. Today we are making this choice, the citizens of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, the residents of Zaporozhye and Kherson regions have made this choice. They made the choice to be with their people, to be with the Motherland, to live its destiny, to win together with it.”

Putin has long held homophobic and transphobic opinions and has signed multiple pieces of legislation that has sharply curtailed LGBTQ rights and expression in Russia during his 18 years as president, including the country’s “Don’t Say Gay” law signed in 2013 that has been strengthened and augmented by succeeding measures.

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Maryland

Poll indicates Moore well ahead of Cox in Md. gubernatorial race

Democrat has 32-point lead over anti-LGBTQ Republican opponent

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From left, state Del.Dan Cox (R-Frederick County) and Democrat Wes Moore. (Screen capture of Cox via WUSA9; screen capture of Moore via WBAL TV 11 Baltimore)

A new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll shows Democrat Wes Moore is ahead of Republican Dan Cox by 32 points in the state’s gubernatorial race.

The poll, which was released on Saturday, shows 60 percent of respondents supported Moore, compared to only 28 percent who backed Cox. The Post and the University of Maryland surveyed 810 registered Maryland voters by telephone from Sept. 22-27.

The results mirror those of the 2020 election, when now President Joe Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump in Maryland by 33 percentage points. The former president has endorsed Cox, who opposes LGBTQ rights.

While the poll reflects the candidate for whom Marylanders are more likely to vote, it also shows the one who is generally more liked. Fifty-one percent of respondents have a favorable opinion of Moore, compared to only 28 percent of respondents who said they feel favorably about Cox.

A Democrat from Baltimore County told the Post that she feels like Moore understand the issues of marginalized communities, 

“He is coming from an African American family and knows how hard life can be,” she said.

An Independent from St. Mary’s County told the Post they agrees with Cox’s opposition to teaching students about gender identity and structural racism in the classroom. The voter also said they feel Republicans can help the economy more than Democrats can.

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National

DOJ urged to investigate threats against providers of transition-related care

Boston-area hospital forced to evacuate in August

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A coalition of major health organizations are calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigation threats against providers of gender transition-related medical care for youth, asserting ongoing hostility, including bomb threats and threats of personal violence.

The letter, dated Oct. 3, says medical providers are facing threats for providing “evidence-based health care” to youth, which has meant care for gender transitions, such as hormones, puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery. The targets of these threats, the letter says, are children’s hospitals, academic health systems and physicians across the country.

“These coordinated attacks threaten federally protected rights to health care for patients and their families,” the letter says. “The attacks are rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions.”

The letter has an organizational signature from American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and Children’s Hospital Association, listing no names as representatives. According to the letter, the group represent 270,000 physicians and medical students and CHA represents more than 220 children’s hospitals across the country.

Major health organizations call on the U.S. Justice Department to take action weeks after Boston Children’s Hospital was forced to evacuate over a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a woman charged with making the after she reportedly phoned in the threat and called the staff “sickos.”

The threats, the letter says, have had significant impact on providers and services to patients, including a new mother being prevented from being with her preterm infant because of a bomb threat; the need for increased security at children’s hospitals; and staffers facing “increased threats via social media – including to their personal accounts.”

A statement from organizations accompanying the letter urges social media companies — including Twitter, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram — to “do more to prevent coordinated campaigns of disinformation.”

Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement accompanying the letter “individuals in all workplaces have the right to a safe environment, out of harm’s way and free of intimidation or reprisal.”

“As physicians, we condemn groups that promote hate-motivated intolerance and toxic misinformation that can lead to grave real-world violence and extremism and jeopardize patients’ health outcomes,” Resneck said.

The Washington Blade has placed a call in with the Justice Department seeking comment on the letter and the American Medical Association seeking comment on why the letter has organizational signatures as opposed to signatures from any of their representatives.

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