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LGBT advocates from Caribbean, South America visit U.S.

‘We’re facing some serious issues back home’



Caribbean, South America, White House, LGBT, gay news, Washington Blade

Jamaica, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Anti-LGBT violence remains a serious concern for advocates in Jamaica and in other countries in the Caribbean and South America. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

A group of LGBT rights advocates from the Caribbean and South America are in the U.S. this month on a State Department-sponsored trip designed to help them bolster their advocacy efforts in their respective countries.

Advocates from Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago arrived in D.C. on June 7 to take part in a trip organized through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

They attended Capital Pride events and met with Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, members of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and other advocates while in the nation’s capital. The activists also met with officials at the State Department and the White House.

The group traveled to Memphis on June 14 where they met with what their itinerary described as “small NGOs (non-governmental organizations) serving the LGBT population.” They also discussed “being LGBT within another minority community.”

The advocates on Monday traveled to Little Rock, Ark., and are scheduled to arrive in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday. The trip is slated to end on June 23.

“It’s a very intense program,” Donovan Banel, legal advisor of Suriname Men United, a Surinamese LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on June 12 during a mixer at Number Nine with National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling and other advocates. “I can take a lot of what I learned back to my home country and then apply it and help support the LGBT community that is in Suriname.”

Mellissa Johnson of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Alliance noted anti-LGBT discrimination and stigma remain prevalent in Antigua and Barbuda. The islands are among the 11 nations throughout the Caribbean and South America in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

“I’m happy for the opportunity to see how far and what progress has been made with the LGBT community here,” Johnson told the Blade. “We are facing some serious issues back home, so we wanted to see how you dealt with it here to see if we can incorporate it back here.”

The Jamaican Supreme Court in November is expected to hear a case challenging the country’s sodomy law filed by a man who claims his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation. The Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize last year heard a challenge to the Central American nation’s sodomy law that a local LGBT advocacy group filed in 2010.

LGBT issues gain traction, visibility

Same-sex couples can legally marry on the Dutch island of Saba, Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has spoken out in support of marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

Nearly three dozen countries earlier this month approved a resolution in support of LGBT rights during the Organization of American States’ annual meeting in Paraguay. Belize, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados are among the nations that backed it “with reservations.”

Belizean first lady Kim Simplis-Barrow has publicly spoken out against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in her country. A so-called conscience vote that would allow Jamaican parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the country’s anti-sodomy law has yet to take place, even though Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller during her 2011 campaign pledged to call for one.

Gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, last week released a video that commemorated Pride month.

Anti-LGBT discrimination, violence persist

Jamaican police on June 15 reportedly rescued a gay man who had been attacked by a mob after he was seen putting on lipstick. This latest incident of anti-LGBT violence in the country took place nearly a year after a group of partygoers killed Dwayne Jones, a cross-dressing teenager, near the resort city of Montego Bay.

Media reports indicate several people in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince were injured last August after a mob attacked a British man and his partner as they celebrated their engagement.

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic last June sparked outrage among local LGBT rights advocates after he described Brewster as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish during a press conference.

A diplomatic reception with Dominican President Danilo Medina and his wife that had been scheduled to take place in January was postponed after several ambassadors said they would not attend because Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Vatican’s envoy to Santo Domingo who organized it, did not invite Brewster’s husband. It took place on March 24 with the gay U.S. ambassador and Satawake in attendance.

David Bustamante Rodríguez, a Cuban LGBT rights advocate with HIV, remains in jail after he staged a “peaceful protest” against the country’s government on the roof of his home near the city of Santa Clara last month.

Luke Sinnette of Friends for Life, a Trinidadian LGBT rights organization, noted to the Blade while in D.C. that Caribbean countries are often connected by culture, colonial-era laws and other factors. He said what happens in a particular nation can reverberate throughout the region.

“If something happens in Belize or happens in Jamaica, you can then use that in Trinidad, or the other way around,” said Sinnette.

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Dutch government formally apologies for forced sterilization of trans, intersex people

Gender Change Act was in place from 1985 to 2014



(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Dutch government on Saturday formally apologized to transgender and intersex people who were forced to become sterile in order to legally change their gender.

The Gender Change Act, which was also known as the Transgender Act, was in effect in the Netherlands from 1985 until its repeal in 2014.

Education, Culture and Science Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven and Law Minister Sander Dekker last year on behalf of the Dutch government apologized to trans and intersex people who had undergone forcible sterilizations. The Dutch government also agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,633.68) to around 2,000 trans people who had sterilization surgeries.

A ceremony did not take place because of the pandemic.

Van Engelshoven issued Saturday’s the formal apology during a meeting with trans and intersex people that took place at the Ridderzaal, a 12th century building in The Hague that the Dutch government uses for speeches from the country’s royal family and other important ceremonial events.

“For decades we have had a law that has harmed transgender and intersex people,” said van Engelshoven. “People have undergone medical treatment that they did not want, or have been forced to postpone becoming themselves. Today, on behalf of the entire Cabinet, I make our deepest apologies. Recognition of and apologies for what has been done to these people and which has caused a lot of grief for those involved is extremely important and is central to this special day in the Ridderzaal.”

Transgender Netwerk Nederland in a press release said the Netherlands is the first country in the world to issue such an apology. The advocacy group notes the Dutch government last month began to compensate trans and intersex people who were forcibly sterilized, but adds the amount of money they will receive remains too low.

“The government has structurally disadvantaged and damaged transgender and intersex people for almost 30 years,” said Willemijn van Kempen, who spearheaded the campaign for the formal apology. “It is important that it now apologizes for that.”

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Botswana Court of Appeals upholds decriminalization ruling

‘Today is a momentous day in history’



(Public domain photo)

The Botswana Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a 2019 ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

Five justices unanimously ruled sections of the Batswana Penal Code that criminalize homosexuality with up to seven years in prison “violated the right to privacy … the right to liberty, security of person and equal protection under the law … and the right to freedom from discrimination” under the country’s constitution.

Botswana’s High Court in 2019 unanimously ruled these provisions were unconstitutional.

The Batswana government appealed the landmark decision. The High Court heard the case last month.

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, which challenged the criminalization law with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, applauded Monday’s ruling.

“Today is a momentous day in history, a victorious win in ascertaining liberty, privacy and dignity of the LGBTIQ persons in Botswana and definitely, this judgement sets precedence for the world at large,” says LEGABIBO CEO Thato Moruti. “Moreover, a new dawn for better education and awareness about the LGBTIQ issues. I anticipate that more engagement with various arms of government will also set a trajectory towards a more inclusive and diverse nation.”

Pan Africa ILGA in a tweet proclaimed Monday as a “beautiful day” in Botswana. UNAIDS described the ruling as “a great win for human rights.”

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Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video



Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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