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Gay ambassador in the spotlight amid Ukraine crisis

Baer a ‘strong voice for human rights’ at OSCE as Russia invades

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Gay U.S. ambassador Daniel Baer is representing U.S. interests during the Ukraine crisis at the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A gay U.S. ambassador is taking center stage in the crisis over Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine by representing American interests at the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.

Daniel Baer, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August to his seat at the Vienna-based international conference, has his work cut out for him in one of the most daunting foreign policy challenges faced by the Obama administration.

As widely reported, after turmoil in Ukraine leading to the ouster of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian military forces under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin occupied buildings, airports and other assets in Crimea for what he’s said is ensuring the safety of ethnic Russians living on the peninsula. Both the United States and the Ukraine government have deemed the incursion an act of invasion and occupation by Russian forces.

From his Twitter account, Baer has posted updates about efforts to mitigate the crisis, which include attending emergency meetings to deliver the U.S. call to send an international observer mission to Ukraine.

The OSCE was set up during the Cold War as a forum where the United States could raise human rights and security issues with countries aligned with the Soviet Union. After the Cold War, the OSCE has served as a pan-Atlantic forum now comprising 57 European, Asian and North American countries for conversations on conflict management and human rights, although the most recent crisis in Ukraine recalls the original purpose of the organization.

In his prepared remarks for an initial emergency meeting on Sunday, Baer said Putin is breaking various international agreements by intervening in Crimea, such as its 1994 Budapest Summit commitments that enabled the de-nuclearization of Ukraine.

“The effects on relations between the Russian Federation and every single participating state around this table, to which the Russian Federation has pledged its commitment to abide by principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, will be profound,” Baer said.

Baer also lists the times Russian diplomats were critical of military incursions in the Middle East, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sri Lanka, saying Russia can’t selectively apply this principle to its foreign policy.

In response, the Russian government insists it has undertaken the incursion into Crimea out of concern for the Russian ethnic minority. But Baer asserts an international monitoring team would be an appropriate way to handle the situation.

“Now just a moment ago we heard from the delegate of the Russian Federation a repeat of their concerns about the protection of Russian citizens, the treatment of minorities, and the security of Russian military installations and personnel in Crimea,” Baer said. “An international monitoring mission is the right way to address these concerns.”

Following the meeting, Baer was photographed speaking with the media as he spoke about the U.S. call for an OSCE-led monitoring mission to Ukraine. According to Reuters, Baer told reporters the United states has won tentative support for a many members for a monitoring mission, including “openness” from the Russian delegation. Moscow has veto power on the OSCE.

 

Recently via Twitter, Baer said he’s hearing “worrying” multiple reports that paramilitaries are going house to house in Crimea and issuing threats if residents don’t attend pro-Russia rallies.

It should be noted that Baer is taking a lead role during the Ukraine crisis, but isn’t the top U.S. diplomat handling the situation. Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, was also set to participate in the OSCE meetings along with Baer.

An initial emergency ambassadorial meeting of the 57 OSCE participating states called by the Swiss chairman took place Sunday. Following a special meeting Monday in which Nuland spoke for the United States, Baer said via Twitter yet another meeting was set for Wednesday “in response to Ukraine’s activation of Vienna Document Ch III mechanisms.”

Prior to his assignment as U.S. ambassador to OSCE, Baer was the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor, where he took a lead role in shaping policy for international LGBT affairs. In his new post, Baer has moved to Vienna with his partner Brian Walsh.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said Baer was “a strong and vibrant voice for human rights” at the bureau, so his role in mitigating the Ukraine crisis is reassuring.

“The OSCE was originally created to engage the former Soviet Union on human rights issues, and so it’s fitting that Dan is representing our country there now as we come – once again – to a confrontation with Russia over human rights with a leader who looks increasingly like a Soviet-era dictator,” Bromley said.

Recalling the anti-gay laws — including a controversial law banning anti-gay propaganda to minors — already put in place under Putin’s regime, Bromley said Putin has shown his targets for persecution aren’t limited to his own LGBT citizens.

“It’s important that we have a strong ambassador at the OSCE, and one who, as a gay American, understands that persecution of just one small minority in a country rarely ends with that one group, but, as history has shown repeatedly, almost always ends with a more aggressive assault on the rights of a broader group of people,” Bromley said.

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Africa

Botswana government to abide by decriminalization ruling

Mokgweetsi Masisi met with LGBTQ activists on Monday

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(Public domain photo)

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi on Monday said his government will abide by a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in his country.

Masisi said he would implement the Botswana High Court’s 2019 ruling against sections of the Batswana Penal Code that criminalized homosexuality.

The Batswana government appealed the High Court ruling. The Botswana Court of Appeals last November upheld it.

Agence France-Presse reported Masisi invited representatives of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), a Batswana LGBTQ rights group that challenged the criminalization law with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, to meet with him at his office in Gaborone, the Batswana capital.

“We demand and expect anybody to respect the decisions of our court,” Masisi told LEGABIBO members, according to Agence France-Presse.

Botswana remains one of only a handful of countries that have decriminalized homosexuality.

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World

Global Equality Caucus hires former El Salvador National Assembly candidate

Erick Iván Ortiz received more than 10,000 votes in 2021

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Erick Iván Ortiz (Foto cortesía de Erick Iván Ortiz)

A group of LGBTQ elected officials from around the world that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has hired an openly gay man who ran for the El Salvador National Assembly last year.

Erick Iván Ortiz will oversee the Global Equality Caucus’ work throughout Latin America.

This work will specifically focus on Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Peru. Two events that are scheduled to take place in Mexico City in April and Buenos Aires in May will mark the official launch of the Global Equality Caucus’ efforts in the region.

“The idea at the end of the day is to confront the threats from anti-rights groups that can be identified,” Ortiz told the Washington Blade during a recent interview in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.

Ortiz, who is a member of Nuestro Tiempo, a new Salvadoran political party, received 10,615 votes when he ran for National Assembly in 2021. Ortiz would have been the first openly gay man elected to the country’s legislative body if he had won.

Editor’s note: The Blade on Monday published a Spanish version of this story that El Salvador Correspondent Ernesto Valle wrote.

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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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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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