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British gay group to expand int’l advocacy efforts

Four Stonewall U.K. staffers work on global LGBT issues; more planned

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Ben Summerskill, Stonewall, gay news, Washington Blade
Ben Summerskill, Stonewall, gay news, Washington Blade

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill (Photo courtesy of Stonewall)

CONWAY, N.H.—The head of the U.K.’s largest gay advocacy group told the Washington Blade last month his organization has begun to devote more resources to the global LGBT rights movement now that marriage rights for same-sex couples have been secured in England and Wales.

Stonewall U.K. Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said during an extensive interview in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley on Dec. 20 where he was spending the holidays that his organization hopes to hire additional staff to continue its work on LGBT-specific issues in Uganda, Russia, Eastern Europe and other areas.

Four of Stonewall’s 70 staffers currently work directly on these issues. The organization also works with the British Foreign Office and the U.K. Department of International Development to raise them at the United Nations.

“I was very anxious historically about us getting engaged in that sort of territory while we didn’t have complete legal equality in Britain,” said Summerskill. “It just opened you up to the people who turn up in Uganda to say what are you doing? Why have you come to lecture us?”

Summerskill spoke with the Blade hours after the Ugandan Parliament approved a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The Indian Supreme Court’s Dec. 11 ruling that recriminalized homosexuality sparked global outrage.

Summerskill said he feels it is more effective to work through the U.K. commonwealth — as opposed to “standing outside [the Ugandan embassy in London] in the rain with placards” — to address anti-LGBT laws in former British colonies. He also applauded British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to begin channeling foreign aid directly to non-governmental organizations in Uganda and other countries as opposed to giving it directly to governments whose records on LGBT rights and other issues have sparked criticism.

“I don’t think any LGBT campaigner, however strongly they feel about Uganda, would think that it was a good thing that people should starve just so we feel we’re making some progress around human rights for gay people,” said Summerskill.

Another Stonewall strategy is to work with U.K.-based businesses to urge countries in which they do business to improve their LGBT rights records.

Summerskill told the Blade many of the corporations that are part of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions program that promotes gay and lesbian equality in the workplace are “becoming increasingly uneasy in investing in countries of that sort.” Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, which is not a member of Stonewall’s workplace advisory group, on Dec. 23 announced he would not do business in Uganda because of the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“That is another way in which we can put pressure on Uganda and other governments,” said Summerskill. “And we’ll continue to do so.”

Organization opposes Olympic boycott

Stonewall remains opposed to a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place next month in Sochi, Russia, over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Summerskill said this position “has been informed from day one” by Russian LGBT rights advocates with whom his organization works.

“They were crystal clear again from day one that that’s not what they thought was the best way of moving the needle in terms of the reality of everyday life for gay people in Russia,” he said.

Summerskill said Elton John was “right” to perform in Russia last month — the gay British singer specifically criticized a law that bans gay propaganda to minors during a Dec. 6 concert in Moscow. Summerskill added he feels the BBC’s decision to send lesbian reporter Clare Balding to Sochi to host its coverage of the games sends a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“She will be there making a very powerful point,” said Summerskill. “The coverage will be anchored by someone who billions of people by then will know is a lesbian.”

The Independent on Dec. 20 reported Cameron would not attend the Sochi games. The newspaper cited sources within the U.K. government who said the decision is not a boycott the Olympics over Russia’s LGBT rights record.

“[Cameron] has been crystal clear about what he thinks,” said Summerskill, noting British prime ministers have never attended the Winter Olympics. “He’s raised the issue face-to-face with Mr. Putin, which again would have been unthinkable when Mrs. Thatcher was prime minister, and he’s been prepared to do that very publicly. And that actually is something we should all have been quite encouraging about.”

A group of gay and lesbian advocates that campaigned against a bill that would have banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in public schools in the U.K. founded Stonewall in 1989. Stonewall Scotland and Stonewall Cymru (Wales) operate within their respective regions of the country.

Stonewall’s annual income in 2014 will be £4.5 million ($7.37 million.)

Gays and lesbians in England and Wales can begin to legally marry on March 29. A final vote on a measure that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Scotland is expected to take place in the coming weeks.

The government of Northern Ireland in November announced it had lifted the ban on gay couples adopting children.

IBM, Barclays and Goldman Sachs are among the nearly 650 companies that are members of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions program. They pay the organization an annual fee of £2,500 ($4,090) to receive advice and other materials on how to become a welcoming workplace for gays and lesbians.

“We’re very conscious that we just don’t have a situation where they do what we call signing the poster, which is all a bit too easy,” said Summerskill. “They actually pay us.”

Stonewall has also worked with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to develop a campaign to tackle anti-gay bullying in U.K. schools.

The U.K.’s anti-discrimination law protects trans people in employment and public accommodation, but Summerskill said some of the statutes need “tidying up.” Trans people in the U.K. have been able to legally change their gender on birth certificates and other documents without sex-reassignment surgery since 2004, but the country’s hate crimes law does not include gender identity and expression.

Stonewall Scotland advocates for transgender rights, and Stonewall does so on the international level.

Stonewall and Stonewall Cymru do not specifically advocate for trans rights because Summerskill said English and Welsh trans advocates have specifically asked them not to do so. This stance has sparked division among some British LGBT rights advocates.

“While that’s a lively debate, we’ve kind of finessed that by trying to be as supportive as we possibly can of trans people but not claiming to speak on their behalf if a material number have said we don’t want you to,” Summerskill told the Blade. “Happily there is an infrastructure, although it’s fragile, of seven or eight quite good trans organizations in Britain.”

Summerskill also discussed British Olympic diver Tom Daley’s acknowledgement last month that he is in a relationship with a man widely reported to be “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

He categorized the Olympian who won a bronze medal during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London as a “national treasure” alongside Balding, John and comedian Stephen Frye. Summerskill added most of the reaction to Daley’s announcement from within the U.K. was along the lines of “Oh, he’s a nice young man.”

“We want him to do well in the Olympics in 2016,” said Summerskill. “If being able to be who he is makes that easier, which it almost certainly does, then he will probably perform better.”

Summerskill also discussed those who were quick to label Daley as bisexual or gay, even though the British Olympian has not used either term to identify himself.

“He’s kind of said he’s in a relationship with another guy,” Summerskill told the Blade. “It’s pretty clear what that means unless you’re a queer theorist looking to be upset by someone whose not using the language you like to use to describe what’s going on in your life.”

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World

Election in India’s most popular state seen as crucial LGBTQ rights test

Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party currently governs Uttar Pradesh

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(Bigstock photo)

India’s most populous state and a battleground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold the election in seven phases in February as the Election Commission of India has announced.

The Uttar Pradesh election is the key prize in India’s parliamentary election as the state holds 80 parliamentary seats, the most in the country. Uttar Pradesh’s LGBTQ community and LGBTQ people from across the country have been eyeing this election because it can play a crucial role in policy changes for the community in India.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing nationalist party, is ruling Uttar Pradesh. The party is also ruling the country under Modi, but it has not been supportive of same-sex marriage.

“We are not a minority anymore. The community is thriving in the state,” said Lovpreet, a Lucknow-based activist who works for transgender rights in Uttar Pradesh. “If the current government is not going to give us the right for same-sex marriage, we should remove the government in this election.”

The ruling party is yet to release its election manifesto, but the party is not considering listing LGBTQ issues in it.

A newly married same-sex couple from New York last year applied for an OCI (overseas citizen of India) Card, which would have allowed them multiple entries and a multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India, but the country did not recognize them as legally married and refused to issue it to them.

The couple filed a petition in Delhi High Court. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is the central government’s legal representative, stated in response to the petition that marriage is permissible between a “biological male” and “biological female” and the government therefore cannot issue an OCI Card to their spouse.

Although India struck down a colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality in 2018, there is still no law for same-sex marriage. The LGBTQ community has been demanding for years that political parties legalize same-sex marriage, but the issue is yet to appear in any party’s manifesto.

Lovpreet, who lives in Uttar Pradesh, believes that BJP is doing some good, like forming a trans advisory board last September.

“BJP is slowly moving towards being LGBTQ friendly, and if given the time and opportunity, it can do some good in the future,” said Lovpreet.

The Indian National Congress (INC), a leading central left-wing party, is also fielding its candidate in the state election, but the party does not see LGBTQ issues as important.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, an MP and chair of All India Professionals Congress, the INC’s professional wing, refused multiple requests to speak on the legalization of same-sex marriage. The INC last week released its manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh election, but there were no promises for the LGBTQ community.

Former Defense Minister Jitendra Singh, an INC member who will set the party’s agenda ahead of the Uttar Pradesh election, also refused to speak about the legalization of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues in the state and the country.

Ram Gopal Yadav, the leader of the left-wing socialist Samajwadi Party and the head of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha), the upper house of the Indian Parliament, in 2013 while speaking with the media explicitly said that homosexuality is “unethical and immoral.” But the Samajwadi Party has recently changed its tone regarding the community.

“With every aspect, whether it is farmers, whether it is women, whether it is children or the LGBTQ community, there will be continuous policy measures of the party that are progressive and liberal,” said Samajwadi Party spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari. “When the government is progressive and not bounded by dogma, then every issue related to any community has to be looked at in a manner that gives equal opportunity and be empathetic towards them. The more vulnerable the community is, the greater government needs to do,” he added further. 

The Mayawati Prabhu Das-led Bahujan Samaj Party, a national party that is running in the Uttar Pradesh election, has emerged as an LGBTQ ally. The party, however, has not released its election manifesto and it is yet to be seen if it will include LGBTQ issues.

There is no political party in Uttar Pradesh or the country with significant LGBTQ representation.

Tiwari in a statement to the Washington Blade said there is no plan yet for the Samajwadi Party to field candidates from the community in the upcoming election, but the party can consider it for the upcoming parliamentary election.

“The central government is not decriminalizing same-sex marriage. They are looking at the conservative vote bank,” said Preeti Sharma Menon, a spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party.

Aam Admi Party is a national party in the country. The party had fielded candidates in previous Uttar Pradesh elections but had no significant luck.

“To appease conservative voters, the ruling party, the BJP, is not taking steps to legalize same-sex marriage,” Menon added further.

The Aam Aadmi Party in the previous parliamentary election had a trans candidate from Uttar Pradesh. The party has expressed its desire to field other candidates in the state’s election from the community.

The BJP is ruling both the country and the Uttar Pradesh with no intention to support or address LGBTQ issues.

Senior BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar from the state of Maharashtra last year made several homophobic comments in Parliament. The party did not punish him, nor did other political parties condemn his statements.

It is yet to be seen how this election impacts policies of different political parties for the LGBTQ community in the upcoming parliamentary election of the country.

Mohit Kumar (Ankush) is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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Florida

Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s Capital Pride to resume ‘large-scale’ outdoor events

Organizers say one of the largest ever parades and festivals set for June

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Happy days are here again? Scenes like this from 2019 could be back in 2022. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced on its website that it plans to resume the city’s Pride Parade and Festival in June 2022 that traditionally has attracted tens of thousands of participants after canceling the two events in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.

“The Capital Pride Alliance is excited to announce the highly anticipated return of our annual large-scale outdoor Pride Celebration in June 2022!” the group says on its website. “Registration for the Capital Pride Parade on June 11, 2022, and the Capital Pride Festival on June 12, 2022, will be open soon,” the website message says.

Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director, told the Washington Blade the group met with D.C. government officials on Monday to coordinate plans for the upcoming outdoor events in June. He said an updated announcement with more details of the events would be released later this week or early next week.

The Capital Pride website message focuses on the parade and festival.

“Join the LGBTQ+ community for the return of the historic Capital Pride Parade,” the website message says. “In 2022, a modified route will honor our history and acknowledge the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Washington, DC, while respecting the origins and importance of taking to the streets in our fight for equality,” it says.

“Be prepared to experience one of the largest Pride Parades to ever take place in the United States Capital,” the message adds.

The message says the Pride Festival will resume at its traditional location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol that it refers to as America’s Mainstreet.

“Enjoy a full day of entertainment on three stages, food, drink and advocacy with over 300 exhibitors,” the website message says. “The Festival is the largest annual event in the national capital region,” the message continues, adding that the Capital Pride Concert will also return this year at its usual locations at the site of the festival.

“You will experience entertainment on three stages, from international headliners to our best local regional LGBTQ+ talent,” according to the Capital Pride website message. It says concert performances will take place from 12-10 p.m. And a “Capitol” Sunset Dance Party will take place at the festival site from 8-10 p.m.

“The concert may end but the dancing will continue,” the message says. “Enjoy the electronica sounds of an international DJ sensation while you dance in the middle of America’s Main Street on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the sun setting on the U.S. Capitol.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s public health officials ended the city’s COVID-related restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend outdoor events as well as indoor entertainment events last May as the number of COVID infections began to decline.

But as the number of Omicron variant cases of the COVID virus increased dramatically in the fall of 2021, the mayor resumed the requirement of the use of face masks in all indoor public places.

Also put in place earlier this month by the city was a requirement that restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments require customers to show proof of vaccination as a condition for admission to the establishments. Bowser, however, has said the city was not considering resuming restrictions on the number of people allowed in establishments such as restaurants and bars or outdoor stadiums.

Capital Pride Alliance has not said whether it will put in place a vaccination requirement for admission to the Pride festival and parade as well as some of its planned indoor events. With the number of Omicron related COVID cases beginning to drop in the past two weeks in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs, the prospect of a resumption in restrictions on the number of people allowed to assemble at outdoor events like the Pride Parade and Festival appears to be less likely.

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