December 31, 2014 at 1:00 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Top 10 international stories of 2014
Nigeria, Nigerian embassy, protest, gay news, Washington Blade, U.N.

(Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

From Vladimir Putin’s persecution of gays to the welcoming tone of a new pope, it was a busy year on the international beat.

#10 AIDS researchers die in plane crash

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The deaths of HIV/AIDS researchers and advocates weighed heavily on the attendees of the 2014 International AIDS Conference. (Photo by Steve Forrest; courtesy International AIDS Society)

Six HIV/AIDS researchers and advocates were among those who were on a Malaysian Airlines flight that pro-Russian separatists shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17.

Joep Lange, a prominent Dutch HIV researcher who is the former president of the International AIDS Society, and his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, were among the 283 passengers and 15 crew members who were on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Pim de Kuijer, another Dutch national who worked for Stop AIDS Now, and Glenn Thomas, a former BBC journalist who was a press officer for the World Health Organization, were also on Flight 17. Lucie van Mens, another Dutch HIV/AIDS researcher, and Martine de Schutter, a program manager for Bridging the Gaps, were on the flight.

They were traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

#9 U.S. Marine charged with killing Philippine trans woman

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Philippine LGBT rights advocates on Oct. 25, 2014, took part in an “LGBT National Day of Outrage” protest in Quezon City, Philippines, to highlight ongoing outrage over Jennifer Laude’s murder earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Dindi Tan)

The murder of a transgender woman in the Philippines in October sparked outrage among Filipino LGBT rights advocates and highlighted opposition to the American military presence in the country.

Marine Pfc. Joseph Pemberton allegedly killed Jennifer Lauder inside a motel in the city of Olongapo after they met at a local nightclub on Oct. 11. The 26-year-old’s naked body was later found in a bathroom.

Pemberton had been in custody on the U.S.S. Peleliu at the Subic Bay Freeport, a former U.S. Naval Base adjacent to Olongapo on the country’s main island of Luzon until American military personnel turned him over to Philippine troops. He remains detained in Manila, the country’s capital.


#8 Mariela Castro promotes LGBT rights in Cuba

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Mariela Castro Espín, right, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, speaks with LGBT rights advocates attending the ILGA World Conference last month in Mexico City. (Photo courtesy of Francisco Rodríguez Cruz/Paquito el de Cuba)

The daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro in 2014 continued to promote LGBT causes amid criticism that her efforts are an attempt to overshadow her country’s human rights record.

Mariela Castro was president of the local committee that organized a conference in the beach resort of Varadero in May that drew hundreds of LGBT rights advocates from Latin America and the Caribbean. She also attended the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association’s biennial global gathering in October that took place in October.

Isel Calzadilla Acosta, a Cuban LGBT rights advocate from the city of Santiago de Cuba, told the Blade during an interview at the ILGA conference that the Center for National Sexual Education, which Mariela Castro directs, supports her and her colleagues.

“CENESEX supports us with capacity building and with events and we attribute everything that we are doing to them because we have a voice with Mariela Castro,” said Calzadilla.

Cuban LGBT rights advocates who are not affiliated with CENESEX and other critics of the Castro government continue to criticize Mariela Castro and her efforts.


#7 LGBT rights advance in Latin America

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Colombian Congresswoman Angélica Lozano (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LGBT rights advocates in 2014 celebrated a number of political and legislative advances.

Former Bogotá City Councilwoman Angélica Lozano Correa in March became the first openly LGBT person elected to the Colombian Congress. Luisa Revilla Urcia in October became the first transgender person elected to public office in Peru.

“I will execute my office with great humility and tenacity,” Revilla told the Blade after her election.

Chilean lawmakers advanced bills that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions and permit trans people in the South American country to legally change their name and gender without sex reassignment surgery. An LGBT advocacy group and number of legislators introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

Mexico City lawmakers in November approved a proposal that would allow trans people in the Mexican capital to legally change their gender without a court order.

#6 U.N. Human Rights Council approves LGBT resolution

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United Nations Human Rights Council (Photo by United States Mission Geneva; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The U.N. Human Rights Council on Sept. 26 adopted a resolution against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

The body by a 25-14 vote margin approved the resolution that Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Brazil introduced.

“We are pleased to see that today the international community is visibly and publicly upholding the rights of LGBT individuals, and thereby we demonstrate ourselves as a global community respecting the rights of all,” said Ambassador Keith Harper, who represents the U.S. on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011 narrowly approved an LGBT rights resolution. The same body in June adopted a resolution on the “Protection of the Family” that Russia and Uganda co-sponsored.


#5 Anti-gay African laws spark global outrage

Anti-gay laws that Nigeria and Gambia enacted in 2014 sparked global outrage.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed into law a draconian bill that, among other things, punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison. Gambian President Yahya Jammeh in November signed a statute that calls for a life sentence for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.”

Jammeh in February described gay men as “vermin” in a speech that commemorated his country’s independence from the U.K.

The State Department has repeatedly criticized the two countries over their LGBT rights records, but Gambian advocates said the U.S. has not done enough to respond to the issue. They also criticized President Obama for inviting Jammeh and Jonathan to the White House in August during a summit of African leaders that took place in Washington.

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Advocates criticized the Obama administration for inviting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to the White House. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)


#4 Trans Indians recognized in landmark ruling

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India Supreme Court (Photo by Legaleagle86; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The India Supreme Court on April 15 issued a ruling that recognizes transgender people as a “third gender.”

The landmark decision orders state officials, the federal Indian government and its various agencies to combat anti-trans discrimination in the world’s second most populous country. The ruling also calls for the inclusion of trans Indians in various social welfare and other state-run programs.

The decision includes hijras and eunuchs — groups who feature prominently in Hindu mythology and religious texts that do not identify as either male or female — in the definition of trans.

The court issued its decision slightly more than four months after it reinstated India’s colonial-era sodomy law.

The India Supreme Court on April 22 agreed to reconsider the controversial ruling.


#3 Ugandan president signs Anti-Homosexuality Act

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a measure allowing life in prison for those guilty of gay sex acts. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Feb. 24 signed a law under which those found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts face life in prison.

The Uganda Constitutional Court in August struck down the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Act because Parliamentarian Speaker Rebecca Kadaga allowed a vote on the statute last December without the necessary quorum. The issue nevertheless continues to spark global outrage.

The White House cut aid to Uganda that funded HIV/AIDS programs and other initiatives after Museveni signed the measure. The World Bank delayed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government.

The Obama administration in June announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials who are responsible for human rights abuses in their East African country.

Nikilas Mawanda, a Ugandan transgender advocate who recently received asylum in the U.S., told the Blade earlier this year that anti-LGBT violence has increased in his homeland since Museveni signed the law.

“It looks like the community-at-large has taken on the role of doing vigilante [justice,]” said Mawanda.


#2 Russia LGBT rights record overshadows Olympics

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has been accused of using anti-gay animus to distract attention from his nation’s crumbling economy. (Photo by World Economic Forum; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Russia’s LGBT rights record that includes a law banning the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors overshadowed February’s 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Russian authorities on Feb. 7 arrested more than a dozen LGBT rights advocates who protested in St. Petersburg and Moscow hours before the opening ceremony. Officials arrested transgender former Italian Parliamentarian Vladimir Luxuria twice during the Sochi games after she publicly promoted LGBT rights.

LGBT rights advocates in D.C., New York and dozens of other cities around the world held protests during the opening ceremony that took place on Feb. 7.

Activists also urged the International Olympic Committee to add sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination clause, which it did in December. Others criticized Coca Cola and other sponsors of the Sochi games for not publicly condemning Russia’s LGBT rights record.


#1 Conservative Catholics challenge Pope Francis

Catholic, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis has adopted a more welcoming, conciliatory tone toward gays. (Photo by Jeon Han; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Conservatives within the Catholic Church in 2014 challenged Pope Francis’s more moderate tone toward LGBT people and marriage rights for same-sex couples.

A draft document that Catholic bishops released during their two-week meeting — or synod — on family issues in October concluded gays have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” It also asked rhetorical questions about whether the church can offer gays “a welcome home” and whether Catholic communities are “capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.”

Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Gadecki described the draft document as “unacceptable.”

The final version of the proposed document appeared to backtrack from those previous statements, noting same-sex unions are not “remotely analogous” to “God’s plan for marriage and the family.” It also criticized “international pressure” to support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

“We profoundly lament that because of the profound internal division within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the final document from the synod has excluded references to sexual diversity and the inclusion of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people,” Estebán Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, told the Washington Blade.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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