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Trump nominee refuses to say foreign laws criminalizing gays unjustified

Brownback nominated as U.S. ambassador for int’l religious freedom

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Gov. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), nominated as U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, speaks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 4, 2017. (Screen capture public domain)

President Trump’s pick as U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom faced tough questioning Wednesday over his anti-LGBT record during which he refused to say laws in foreign countries criminalizing LGBT status were always unjustified.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, whom Trump nominated in July to become U.S. ambassador at-large for international religious freedom, was non-committal on opposition to these foreign laws, which in some cases penalize homosexuality with death, under questioning from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Seeking to connect the issue of anti-LGBT discrimination to religious freedom, Kaine asked Brownback if he’s aware that countries have laws punishing homosexuality with imprisonment or death.

When Brownback replied, “I believe that’s correct,” Kaine pointed out the justification for these draconian anti-gay laws is religious reasons.

In response, Brownback said the day before his confirmation hearing, he had a “lengthy conversation” with Randy Berry, who continues to serve during the Trump administration as U.S. envoy for the State Department for international LGBT human rights issues, and how he worked with the Obama administration’s U.S. ambassador for religious freedom David Saperstein.

“We had a good conversation about how these two offices work together,” Brownback said. “I don’t see doing anything any different than what they worked together.”

Kaine started to reply, “That wasn’t really my question,” but Brownback responded, “But that really is the point.”

Seeking to get back on topic, Kaine asked the nominee if there’s any situation in which religious freedom could be used to justify laws imprisoning or executing people for being LGBT, but Brownback didn’t directly answer.

“I agree with what Randy Berry did around the world on that topic,” Brownback said. “I’m not fully briefed on the various specifics of what he basically did and described to me yesterday and the work he did back and forth with ambassador Saperstein, I wouldn’t see changing.”

With his question unanswered, Kaine asked again if there’s any circumstance in which criminalizing homosexuality for religious reasons is justified, but Brownback again declined to directly answer.

“I don’t know what that would be and what circumstance, but I would continue the policies that had been done in the prior administration in work on these international issues,” he said.

Kaine wasn’t satisfied: “I really would expect an unequivocal answer on that, but my time is up.”

Brownback refused to say outright laws criminalizing homosexuality are always unjustified days after the Trump administration faced criticism for voting against a U.N. resolution condemning the death penalty for homosexuality. The Trump administration defended that action by saying the resolution was about the death penalty in general, not specific to gays, and previous administrations declined to support similar resolutions.

The choice of Brownback as ambassador for religious freedom overseas has inspired consternation among LGBT rights supporters since Trump announced his choice based on the Kansas governor’s anti-LGBT record, which was explored during the hearing.

Brownback also faced tough questions from Kaine about rescinding as governor an executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination in the state workforce.

Referencing Brownback’s decision in 2015 to reverse the order established by his Democratic predecessor Kathleen Sebelius, Kaine asked the nominee to defend his actions.

“That was an order that created a right by the executive branch that wasn’t available to other people and it wasn’t passed by the legislative branch,” Brownback replied. “I believe those sorts of issues should be passed a legislative branch.”

But Kaine wouldn’t have Brownback’s explanation the protections should be left the legislature, asking the nominee, “Isn’t that kind of the point to an executive order?”

“You issue an executive order on something that the legislature doesn’t pass,” Kaine added. “If it was clearly in statute, you wouldn’t need to issue an executive order.”

But Brownback said an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination would be inappropriate because it was “a foundational issue that you were creating a right for state employees that wasn’t available to the rest of the people in the state.”

When Kaine replied “was it bad” to give state employees a course of action under anti-LGBT discrimination, Brownback insisted the state legislature should be responsible for those protections.

Kaine asked Brownback a series of questions on whether as Kansas governor he appoints Cabinet secretaries and agency heads, and the nominee more or less affirmed that was the case. When Kaine asked Brownback if he applies a high standard to state employees, Brownback replied “yes.”

Kaine’s follow up: Why then, as Kansas governor, could he also not protect LGBT state employees through executive order?

“If you’re hiring for honesty, if you’re hiring for competence, wouldn’t that be an appropriate thing that the governor as a chief of state personnel operation would want to know about leaders in state government,” Kaine said.

Brownback’s defense: “I think that would be a rational thing. I just don’t think it’s a right the executive branch should create without the legislative branch.”

Reversing the executive order isn’t the only anti-LGBT action Brownback took as governor. Last year, he signed into law a “religious freedom” bill allowing student groups at taxpayer-funded public universities in Kansas to deny membership to LGBT students.

As a member of Congress — first as U.S. House member, then as U.S. senator — Brownback built a significant anti-LGBT reputation. Among other things, Brownback championed a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.

Kaine recalled during his tenure as Virginia governor issuing an executive order against anti-gay discrimination in state employment, saying that was the first action he took as governor even though he faced resistance from then-Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell over the legislature not having acted on the issue.

“Can’t you see that the retraction of an executive order like this that had been in place for eight years sends a message that that is not a value, non-discrimination against folks on the grounds of sexual orientation, that’s not a value that you share?”

Brownback disagreed and insisted for the role at hand as ambassador for religious freedom, he wouldn’t engage in any kind of discrimination.

“I look forward to working with people, working with everybody regardless of their ideas or views on how we can advance the agenda of religious freedom,” Brownback said.

Also questioning Brownback on LGBT rights was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who after raising the issue of Indonesian refugees in her state facing deportation asked Brownback if he’s willing to work with civil society groups working not just on religious freedom, but LGBT and women’s rights.

In response, Brownback insisted his focus will be religious freedom to maintain bipartisan support for that role.

“I will work with anybody that I can on the topic of religious freedom and not veer out of that lane because I think if you start to veer out of that lane, you get pulled to other topics that other people are charged with doing, you’re going to lose bipartisan support for the position, which is critical to have,” Brownback said.

Coming to Brownback’s defense was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was chairing the hearing and said his colleagues were asking him about topics other than religious freedom.

“If there is persecution on the basis of religion, or oppression on the basis of religion, or the denial of liberty on the basis of religion, your job would be to advocate for that freedom for them to practice in peace religion in peace,” Rubio said. “That is the scope of the job that you’d been nominated to, is that correct, not to litigation theological points or policy differences beyond the scope of that liberty?”

Brownback affirmed that view and repeated his response that bipartisan support for his role is important, adding a distraction into other issues would make the position “less effective if effective at all.”

David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of government affairs, said after the hearing his organization remains “deeply concerned” about Brownback’s nomination.

“Brownback’s long history of anti-LGBTQ actions in Congress and as governor was reflected in his refusal at his hearing today to unequivocally condemn the inhumane treatment, including execution, of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Stacy said. “While he expressed some support for the LGBTQ human rights work at the State Department, his other responses give us every reason to believe that Brownback will continue to use his own narrow view of ‘religious freedom’ as permission to discriminate against LGBTQ people.”

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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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