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Obama urged to raise LGBT issues with Francis

Adviser says president ‘inspired’ by pontiff

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Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with President Obama at the Vatican on Thursday. (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Advocates have urged President Obama to raise LGBT-specific issues with Pope Francis during their meeting at the Vatican on Thursday.

Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino and Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, said in a letter to Obama that the meeting will be “an important opportunity to address critical moral issues confronting the global community.”

“We write to urge you to use this meeting — and the joint statement following it — to reinforce Pope Francis’ positive statements on the inherent dignity of LGBT people and to amplify the shared opposition of the United States and the Catholic Church to laws criminalizing LGBT people which have sparked violence against this vulnerable minority around the world,” said the women.

Massimino and Kennedy specifically cited Nigeria and Russia, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics last month against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record, in their letter to Obama. The women further noted Francis is expected to travel to Uganda this year.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last month signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

“At a time when members of the LGBT community are being arrested, attacked, and ‘outed’ in situations that make them vulnerable to violence, there is a real urgency for U.S. leadership,” writes Massimino and Kennedy. “There is particular value for Pope Francis to raise this issue publicly in Uganda because his words will reverberate throughout Africa and worldwide at this time, and we hope he would raise these issues consistently.”

LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón told the Washington Blade he also hopes Obama will discuss Russia and Uganda’s LGBT rights records with Francis.

Paulón noted the pontiff was among the most vocal opponents of his country’s same-sex marriage bill before lawmakers approved it in 2010. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner criticized then-Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio over his rhetoric against the measure that included calls for a “holy war” against it.

“We hope that in this meeting President Obama, like he did when he visited Russia (in 2013) and in recent declarations against Uganda’s homophobic laws, brings to the table at this meeting the need for the Vatican to change the position it has had on LGBT rights,” Paulón told the Blade. “We know that Obama supports marriage equality and the pope was the most active opponent to the Argentina law.”

Paulón added he hopes Obama will also urge Francis to change the Vatican’s policy towards sexual abuse.

“The Vatican must stop covering up and protecting pedophiles,” said Paulón.

LGBT Catholics continue to welcome Francis’ more moderate approach to gays in the church since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last March.

The Argentine-born pontiff said last summer during an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit magazine, the church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception. Francis less than two months earlier told reporters who asked him about the reported homosexuality of the man whom he appointed to oversee the Vatican bank during a flight back to Rome after attending World Youth Day in Brazil that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized.

The former archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2001 visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 people with AIDS. Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke told the Blade during an interview earlier this month that Francis uses the word “gay” as opposed to “homosexual or same-sex attraction disorder or any of the sort of distancing and clinical kind of terms” that Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, used.

The LGBT Catholics and advocates with whom the Blade spoke about the first anniversary of Francis’ pontificate noted church teaching on homosexuality, marriage and other issues has not changed in spite of his more conciliatory tone.

Francis last July criticized what he described as the “gay lobby” during his press conference with reporters while returning to Rome from World Youth Day. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child last month sharply criticized the Vatican over its continued opposition to homosexuality and anti-gay rhetoric that contributes to the “social stigmatization of and violence against” LGBT adolescents and children raised by same-sex couples.

A White House spokesperson on Wednesday declined to say whether Obama would raise LGBT-specific issues during his meeting with Francis.

“You always welcome the opportunity to meet with the pope,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Wednesday while traveling to Rome from Brussels where Obama discussed Russia’s continued aggression towards Ukraine with European and NATO allies. “But in particular, the president – I think like many people around the world – has been inspired by the first year that Pope Francis has had, by the way in which he has motivated people around the world by his message of inclusion, of equality, which has deep meaning for people both of the Catholic faith, but people of different faiths all over the world.”

“It’s an opportunity for them to get to know each other personally, for the president to hear from the pope about what he is trying to do around the world, and really for the president to express his appreciation for the pope’s leadership on a range of challenges that he has highlighted in his first year,” added Rhodes.

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National

Threats of violence and death shuts down Nebraska drag queen story hour

After discussions and consultations with Lincoln Police, the museum and the LGBTQ+ group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

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Screenshot of the Lincoln Children’s Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska. ABC News affiliate coverage

LINCOLN – A private LGBTQ+ event scheduled for after hours this past Saturday at the Lincoln Children’s Museum in Nebraska’s capital city was cancelled after the museum and the event’s organizers received a torrent of abusive violent threats including ones that were simply death threats.

Longtime local drag performer Waylon Werner-Bassen, who is the president of the board of directors of LGBTQ advocacy group OUTNebraska had organized the event alongside Drag Queen Story Hour Nebraska.

Bassen told the Lincoln Star-Journal in an interview last week on Tuesday that the scheduled RSVP only two-hour event, which was accessible through Eventbrite, had garnered a conformed attendee list of approximately 50 people.

Mandy Haase-Thomas, director of operations and engagement for the Lincoln Children’s Museum in an email the Star-Journal confirmed the event was invitation-only private, not sponsored by the museum and to be held after museum’s open-to-the-public hours.

According to Bassen, immediately after the event was announced the threats commenced, some of which included death threats. After discussions and consultations with officials from the Lincoln Police Department, the Lincoln Children’s Museum and Bassen’s group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

Officer Luke Bonkiewicz, a spokesperson for the LPD said that the matter was under investigation and as such would not comment other than to acknowledge that the threats were found to be credible.

In an Instagram post the museum expressed its dismay over the event’s cancellation.

Community reaction was swift and uniformly in support of OutNebraska and the dreg queen story hour event with the city’s Mayor weighing in along with a supervisor with the Lincoln Police Department.

The ACLU of Nebraska along with other supporters which included state lawmakers Senator Adam Morfeld and Senator Tony Vargas also weighed in.

OutNebraska and the museum have both stated that they will reschedule the event. In a Facebook post Out Nebraska noted: “We look forward to working with Lincoln Children’s Museum to reschedule this as an entirely private event. It’s so sad when hate threatens families with children. All parents want their children to be safe. Because we could not be certain that it would be safe we will cancel this weekend and reschedule for another time — this time without a public portion of the invitation. We will be in touch with the families who have already registered with more information about when we are rescheduling.”

In related news the LPD not only recently celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month, but the designated person nominated at the end of June by the Mayor to be the department’s new Chief, is SFPD Commander Teresa Ewins, the San Francisco California Police Department’s highest-ranking LGBTQ member.

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World

Harsh anti-LGBTQ bill introduced in Ghana

Measure would criminalize LGBTQ identity, allyship

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Ghana flag (Public domain photo by Jorono from Pixabay)

A bill that would criminalize LGBTQ identity and allyship in Ghana was officially introduced in the country’s Parliament on Monday.

The “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” went to the Constitution and Legal Affairs Committee after its first reading.

Eight conservative lawmakers who are from the opposition and ruling parties sponsored the bill. Thomson Reuters Foundation News reports Samuel Nartey George, a member of the National Democratic Congress party, is the lead sponsor. 

The bill, if passed, would outlaw LGBTQ identity and subject anyone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community or as an ally with up to 10 years in prison. 

A draft of the bill that was leaked online last week listed some of the punishable offenses that include “gross indecency,” which is defined as “the public show of amorous relations between or among persons of the same sex.” This act, labeled a misdemeanor, can result in “a term of imprisonment no less than six months and not more than one year.”

Activists in Ghana and across the world have sought to raise awareness of the bill on social media with the hashtags #KillTheBill and #GhanaIsEnoughForUsAll. A Change.org petition that urges Ghanaian lawmakers to oppose the measure has been created.

Critics say the measure would violate human rights and would make LGBTQ people more vulnerable to persecution and violence. The Coalition of Muslim Groups in Ghana and other religious organizations have welcomed the bill, with Thomson Reuters reporting they say it is needed to “prevent the dilution of cultural values and beliefs in Ghanaian society.”

Naa Seidu Fuseini Pelpuo, the overlord of the Waala Traditional Area, and other traditional leaders have condemned the LGBTQ+ community as “unnatural and [perverted].” Pelpuo has also banned activities between LGBTQ individuals in the Waala Traditional Area and warned of “firm and swift” punishment if found engaging in “such acts,” according to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.

The bill’s introduction comes after the May arrest of 21 activists and paralegals who attended a conference on how to advocate for LGBTQ rights.

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World

Hundreds participate in first-ever Cayman Islands Pride parade

Territory’s governor, premier among marchers

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Upwards of 600 people attended the first-ever Pride parade in the Cayman Islands on July 31, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation)

Upwards of 600 people participated in the first-ever Pride parade in the Cayman Islands that took place on Saturday.

Caymanian Gov. Martyn Roper, Premier Wayne Panton and opposition MP Barbara Conolly are among those who participated in the parade that the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation, a local advocacy group, organized.

Caymanian authorities required that all participants were vaccinated against COVID-19. Noel Cayasso-Smith, founder and president of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation, on Monday told the Washington Blade on Monday during a WhatsApp interview that his group did not allow alcohol in the parade and “discouraged” public displays of affections “in order to maintain a respectful event.”

“This is the first time in history the Cayman Islands has ever been able to put on a Pride,” said Cayasso-Smith. “I’m excited because we had no protesters. We had no negativity throughout the entire parade.”

Cayasso-Smith said he and members of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation decided to organize the parade, in part, because the pandemic has drastically reduced travel to and from the Cayman Islands. Cayasso-Smith noted hotels, condominium associations, restaurants, bars and local businesses all supported the event.

“Pride month came in and you know for every year I got really tired of seeing our Cayman people leaving to go to Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Canada to enjoy themselves for Pride,” he said, while noting the travel restrictions that remain in place because of the pandemic. “We thought it would be great to have our Pride here since we’re in our own little bubble.”

The Cayman Islands is a British territory that is located in the western Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and Cuba.

The Caymanian government in 1998 refused to allow a gay cruise ship with 900 passengers to dock. Religious officials in the British territories pressured authorities to prohibit an Atlantic Events vessel from visiting the territory.

Cayasso-Smith, who was born in the Cayman Islands, told the Blade that “growing up here has been very difficult for me as a gay person.” Cayasso-Smith lived in the U.K. for 13 years until he returned to the Cayman Islands to help his family rebuild their home after Hurricane Ivan devastated the British territory in 2004.

“I decided to stay because I thought, you know, I should be able to live in my country as a free gay man where there’s no laws restricting me from being who I am,” said Cayasso-Smith. “I feel that as a gay man contributing to the island I should have the right to live free.”

Caymanian Grand Court Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in 2019 struck down the territory’s same-sex marriage ban. The Caymanian Court of Appeal a few months later overturned the ruling.

The territory’s Civil Partnership Law took effect last September.

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