Connect with us

National

More than a dozen Russian LGBT rights advocates arrested

Arrests took place hours before Olympics opening ceremony

Published

on

Anastasia Smirnova, Sochi, Olympics, Rayburn House Office Building, gay news, Washington Blade
Anastasia Smirnova, Sochi, Olympics, Rayburn House Office Building, gay news, Washington Blade

Anastasia Smirnova (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Russian authorities on Friday arrested more than a dozen LGBT rights advocates hours before the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Video from Moscow shows police arresting 10 LGBT activists–including two Swedish nationals–Red Square who held rainbow flags as they sung the Russian national anthem.

A source who remains in contact with activists in the Russian capital told the Washington Blade the arrests took place shortly before the opening ceremony began in Sochi. The advocates have been released, but the source said one of the activist’s cries was “heard outside of the police station” as officers beat him.

Anastasia Smirnova and a pregnant woman are among the four activists whom St. Petersburg authorities took into custody earlier on Friday. The activists were reportedly trying to take pictures of themselves holding a banner that read “discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement. Principle 6. Olympic charter” in reference to a campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter before police took them into custody.

“Detention for a photo with a banner–isn’t it an amazing way to celebrate the opening of the games,” wrote Smirnova on her Facebook page while in custody at a St. Petersburg police station.

The arrests took place a day after U.S. Olympian David Pichler and Human Rights First staffers met with Smirnova, Russian LGBT Network Chair Igor Kochetkov and Maria Kozlovskaya of “Coming Out” in St. Petersburg.

David Pichler, Human Rights First, Russia, gay rights, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Winter Olympics, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Olympian David Pichler and staffers with Human Rights First on Thursday met with Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights First)

“Having just met with Anastasia and her fellow activists yesterday, we were shocked to hear of her arrest,” said Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First. “This confirms our concerns about growing violence and discrimination, and increased use of the anti-propaganda law. We renew our calls for the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee to speak out publicly against these discriminatory laws.”

Smirnova is among the Russian LGBT advocates who took part in a Capitol Hill briefing in December on the Kremlin’s gay rights record. She also sat on a United Nations panel alongside retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic on Dec. 11 that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“We are sorry to learn of the detention of activists in Russia for making political statements,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade. “This is an example of the disturbing trend in the Russian Federation of legislation, prosecutions, and government actions aimed at suppressing dissent and groups that advocate for human rights and government accountability. The so-called LGBT ‘propaganda’ law is part of this trend.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) also criticized the arrests.

“No one should be arrested for protesting peacefully and exercising their God-given right to free speech. This is yet another sad example of the intolerance running rampant in Russia,” the Florida Republican told the Blade.

Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month that those who protest the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the 2014 Winter Olympics will not face prosecution under the gay propaganda law. The interview took place a day before authorities detained a gay rights advocate who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh.

The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from Russian officials that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games that will take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said Putin during a Jan. 17 meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi. “We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors.”

Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview from Sochi earlier this week he had seen little evidence of LGBT advocacy in the Olympic host city ahead of the games.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday highlighted LGBT rights during a speech he gave during an IOC meeting in the Black Sea resort.

“We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,” said Ban. “We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

Ros-Lehtinen once again criticized the IOC for allowing Russia to host the games.

“It is fundamental that the IOC select countries that honor all the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter, and that those countries reflect the spirit of freedom imbued in the charter,” the Florida Republican told the Blade. “I hope for a day where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, will be able to express themselves in all spheres of society without fear of reprisal.”

Smirnova posted on her Facebook page shortly after the Olympic opening ceremony began in Sochi that authorities had released them from custody.

They face charges of participating in an illegal public assembly during their scheduled court hearing on Saturday.

“Everyone is feeling right and strong, and the support that we have is truly heartwarming,” wrote Smirnova.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Congress

Takano: Asian Development Bank LGBTQ, intersex safeguards are an ‘opportunity’

‘It’s not a radical thing’

Published

on

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

California Congressman Mark Takano on Dec. 2 told the Washington Blade he is hopeful the Asian Development Bank will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the institution’s safeguards.

“I am optimistic that something like this can be done,” said Takano during a Zoom interview. “It’s not a radical thing. It’s very modest.”

The ADB, which is based in the Philippines, seeks to promote economic and social development through the Asia-Pacific Region.

Ambassador Chantale Wong, who is the ADB’s U.S. director, is the first openly lesbian American ambassador. Takano, a Democrat who will represent California’s 39th Congressional District in the next Congress, is openly gay.

The Treasury Department has endorsed the safeguard that Takano said he expects “to come to a head” in the spring of 2023. Takano and other members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional LGBT+ Equality Caucus — U.S. Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Andy Kim (D-N.J.) and Ted Liu (D-Calif.) — in an Oct. 14 letter to ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa expressed their “strong support for the creation of a standalone gender and sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) safeguard in the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s updated Safeguard Policy Statement.”

“The inclusion of such a safeguard presents an opportunity for the ADB to lead by example among multilateral development banks (MDBs) in a region of the world where civil society has been at the fore of pushing positive change for sexual minorities,” reads the letter.

“The explicit inclusion and protections for sexual and gender minorities in this proposed safeguard are not only beneficial for the economic and social development of the region, but would also open further opportunities for investment,” it adds.  

Takano noted the ADB would be the first multilateral development bank to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its safeguards.

“This is an opportunity for the ADB to be a leader among MDBs globally,” reads the letter. “As Asian Americans and advocates for the LGBTQI+ population here in the United States, we are eager to see the ADB spearhead the establishment of necessary protections for the international LGBTQI+ community that will allow them to participate in civic life more fully.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 issued a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

Wong and Takano were both at the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore on Aug. 1 when U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke in support of LGBTQ and intersex rights.

The speech coincided with a Congressional delegation to Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan that Pelosi led. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Aug. 21 announced his country will decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Lawmakers in the Southeast Asian city-state late last month repealed the colonial-era sodomy law, and approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. 

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Taiwan since 2019. Lawmakers in Indonesia on Tuesday approved a new Criminal Code that would, among other things, criminalize sex outside of marriage.

Qatar, which is hosting the 2022 World Cup, is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. 

Takano over the Thanksgiving holiday led a Congressional delegation to Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq and Lebanon. The Council for Global Equality notes homosexuality is still criminalized in Kuwait and Lebanon. Discrimination and persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in all four of the Middle Eastern countries that Takano visited.    

“Different parts of Asia are showing signs of huge progress in terms of governance and recognizing LGBTQIA+ minorities and recognizing their humanity,” Takano told the Blade, while noting 60 percent of the world’s population lives in Asia. “Being able to embed safeguards into Asian Development Bank standards and how they approve projects and implement projects could be a huge leap forward in terms of achieving new standards in all these countries with regards to LGBTQ people in Asian nations.”

“This is very exciting,” he added.

Takano also specifically praised the Biden administration, American diplomats and Wong herself for their efforts to advance LGBTQ and intersex rights

“(U.S. foreign missions) find ways to create safe spaces for LGBTQ people in those countries to be able to come together, to talk,” said Takano. “To have someone like Ambassador Wong lead that is very important and that the administration supports the efforts of Ambassador Wong is not surprising.”

“What a difference it makes to have President Biden and Vice President Harris, but not only have they with their words said they support our community, they’ve also appointed people like Amb. Wong, who is actually taking actions,” he added. “She’s using the levers and dials of her office to take a step forward.”

GOP support for Respect for Marriage Act ‘an unexpected turn’

Takano spoke with the Blade two days after the Respect for Marriage Act passed in the U.S. Senate by a 61-36 vote margin, with 12 Republicans supporting it.

More than 40 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted for the Respect for Marriage Act in July. A final vote could take place in the chamber as early as Thursday.

“We were reeling from that Supreme Court decision on Roe and the comments in Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion,” said Takano. “Boy oh boy did we in Congress say that we need to protect what we can. The Respect for Marriage Act is making sure we protect same-sex marriages, but also protect interracial marriages.”

Takano conceded Republican support for the bill “is kind of an unexpected turn in this Congress,” even though a majority of GOP lawmakers opposed it. Takano also acknowledged public opinion has shifted significantly in support of marriage equality over the last decade.

“This court has shown it’s pretty radical,” he said. “I’m happy that we have a way to make sure that existing marriages are protected.”

Continue Reading

Florida

Author of Fla. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law indicted for wire fraud

Joseph Harding allegedly obtained pandemic loans fraudulently

Published

on

(Screenshot from Harding YouTube campaign video)

A federal grand jury has returned a 6-count indictment against Florida state Rep. Joseph Harding (R-Williston).

The indictment was announced by Jason R. Coody, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

Harding, 35, represents Florida’s House District 24. He wrote the state’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law, titled the “Parental Rights in Education,” passed in March of this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida stated:

The indictment alleges that between Dec. 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, Harding committed two acts of wire fraud by participating in a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) and for obtaining coronavirus-related small business loans by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and for the purpose of executing such scheme, caused wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce.

The indictment alleges that Harding made and caused to be made false and fraudulent SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applications, and made false representations in supporting loan documentation, in the names of dormant business entities, submitted to the SBA. 

The indictment further alleges that Harding obtained fraudulently created bank statements for one of the dormant business entities which were used as supporting documentation for one of his fraudulent EIDL loan applications. By this conduct, the indictment alleges that Harding fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled. 

Harding is also charged with two counts of engaging in monetary transactions with funds derived from unlawful activity related to his transfer of the fraudulently obtained EIDL proceeds into two bank accounts, and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.

The investigation was jointly conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Office of Inspector General and the SBA’s Office of Inspector General. 

Harding’s trial is scheduled for Jan. 11 at 8:30 a.m., at the U.S. Courthouse in Gainesville before U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor.

The maximum terms of imprisonment for the offenses are as follows:

  • 20 years: Wire Fraud
  • 10 years: Money Laundering
  • 5 years: Making False Statements

Florida Politics reported that according to Politico’s Gary Fineout, Harding has already been released on bond, and the government did not look to detain Harding.

Harding has already lost his committee assignments for the upcoming legislative term.

“After consultation with Representative Harding regarding his indictment, I am temporarily removing him from his committee assignments to allow him time to focus on this matter,” House Speaker Paul Renner said Wednesday in a written statement.

“In America we adhere to the rule of law, and as such, Representative Harding is presumed innocent and will have the opportunity to plead his case before a court. Since the indictment does not relate to any aspect of his legislative duties, any further questions should be directed to his legal counsel.”

The governor cannot remove a lawmaker from office, even if arrested. The Florida Constitution states that “each house shall be the sole judge of the qualifications” of members. To expel a lawmaker, each chamber needs a two-thirds majority vote.

Continue Reading

Congress

Raphael Warnock wins Ga. runoff

Democrats now control U.S. Senate by 51-49 margin

Published

on

(Public domain photo)

U.S. Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker Tuesday night in a run-off election.

In last month’s election, Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast, but fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid the runoff.

Warnock’s victory means Democrats gain the outright majority in the Senate, with 51 seats to the Republicans’ 49, freeing them from a power-sharing agreement for committee assignments and diminishing the power of moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Political commentator and journalist Jacob Rubashkin, reflecting on Warnock’s victory noted on Twitter; “In 1934, no Democratic senators lost re-election. But since 1934, every president, Democrat and Republican, has seen at least one senator from their party lose re-election in every single midterm cycle. Biden becomes the first president since FDR not to lose a single senator.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular