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Macedonian lawmakers approve same-sex marriage ban

Constitutional amendment described as ‘discriminatory and undemocratic’

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Bekim Asani, Macedonia, gay news, Washington Blade

Bekim Asani, Macedonia, gay news, Washington Blade

Bekim Asani, chair of LGBT United Macedonia, a Macedonian LGBT advocacy group, is among the advocates that oppose efforts to amend the country’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. (Photo courtesy of Bekim Asani)

Macedonian lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Amendment XXXIII passed in the former Yugoslav republic’s assembly by a 72-4 margin less than a year after Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s government introduced the proposal.

“Marriage shall be a life union solely of one woman and one man,” reads the proposed amendment.

Macedonian law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Amendment XXXIII states the country “requires a clear and precise constitutional definition of marriage as a union solely of one woman and one man.”

“Marriage exclusively defined as the union between one woman and one man is an integral part of human history, a constant and centuries-long tradition in this region,” reads the proposed amendment. “Marriage is one of the fundamental pillars of society. Thus, marriage constitutionally defined exclusively as a union between one woman and one man shall contribute to marriage as an institution being further acknowledged and promoted in our society.”

The LGBT Support Center, an advocacy group based in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, is among the organizations in the former Yugoslav republic to criticize the proposed amendment.

“These constitutional changes are not only completely unnecessary and redundant, but discriminatory and undemocratic to their very core,” said the LGBT Support Center in a statement. “The only real effect would be enhancing the negative social stigma on LGBTI people, further marginalizing this already deeply marginalized community and unnecessarily increasing the burden of everyday life of LGBT people in Macedonia.”

Chris Paliare, president of the Macedonian Canadian Lawyers’ Association, in a letter he wrote to Gruevski last October also argued the proposed amendment is unnecessary.

“Constitutionalizing these provisions has no rational legal justification and can only be justified, if at all, for some political gain, something that should never be part of a government program when human rights issues are at stake,” said Paliare.

Macedonia’s LGBT rights record lags far beyond those of most other European countries.

The former Yugoslav republic decriminalized homosexuality in 1996, but the country’s anti-discrimination laws currently do not include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Same-sex couples in Macedonia also lack legal protections.

Anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain commonplace in the country.

The LGBT Support Center in Skopje has experienced at least six attacks since 2013. Two members of the LGBT Association of Macedonia were injured last October when a group of masked men attacked a coffee shop in the country’s capital where they had gathered to celebrate the group’s second anniversary.

Bekim Asani, chair of LGBT United Tetovo Macedonia in the city of Tetovo, told the Washington Blade before lawmakers approved the marriage amendment that he faces discrimination and threats on a daily basis.

“I can’t be who I am,” he said. “It is the same for every other openly LGBT person (in Macedonia.)”

Tanya Domi, an adjunct professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University who is currently writing a book on the LGBT rights movements in several Balkan countries, told the Blade that many Macedonian advocates have been attacked and “forced to seek emergency health care.” She noted many of them have also been evicted from their homes.

“It is a deeply hostile environment for LGBT persons,” said Domi.

Asani told the Blade he feels the proposed amendment will only worsen the situation for LGBT Macedonians.

“Macedonia is democratic country it should be free but when it comes to LGBT in reality it is not like that,” he said. “With the constitutional changes, a bad situation for LGBT people will get even worse.”

Same-sex marriage is legal in Portugal, Spain, France, England, Wales, Scotland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Irish voters in May are scheduled to vote on a referendum that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Finnish lawmakers in November approved a measure that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot in the Scandinavian country. Parliamentarians in Estonia and Malta within the last year have extended civil unions to same-sex couples.

Slovak lawmakers in June 2014 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to their country’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Croatia, Hungary and Latvia also define marriage as between a man and a woman in their respective countries’ constitutions.

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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