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Top 10 international LGBT stories of 2018

Historic ruling in India; Brazil elects far-right leader

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Top international stories, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photos of Mariela Castro and Mike Pompeo by Michael Key; Blade photo of Melani Sofía Rosales Quiñones by Yariel Valdés González; photo of Teresa May by Arno Mikko via Flickr)

No. 10: Kim Davis-backed Romania marriage referendum fails

A referendum on whether to define marriage as between a man and a woman in the Romanian constitution’s definition of family failed in October because of insufficient voter turnout.

Less than 21 percent of voters participated in the referendum.

Kim Davis, a soon-to-be-former Kentucky county clerk who went to jail in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is among those who backed the campaign in support of the proposed amendment. Mihnea Florea, program coordinator of MozaiQ, a Romanian LGBTI advocacy group, is among those who welcomed the referendum results.

No. 9: Brazil’s incoming president sparks fear in LGBT community

The election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s president has sparked fear among the country’s LGBTI community.

Bolsonaro defeated former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party by a 55-45 percent margin in the second round of the country’s presidential election that took place on Oct. 28. Bolsonaro, who has represented Rio de Janeiro in the Brazilian congress for 27 years, will take office on Jan. 1.

Bolsonaro has sparked widespread outrage for his comments against the LGBTI community, women, indigenous people, Brazilians of African descent and other underrepresented groups. Bolsonaro has also said he would defend the “true sense of marriage” between a man and a woman once he takes office.

No. 8: U.S. remains publicly committed to global LGBTI rights

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged Pride month in June. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. in 2018 continued to publicly support LGBTI rights abroad, even though its domestic record has continued to spark criticism.

The State Department this year criticized anti-LGBTI crackdowns in Tanzania. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in June acknowledged Pride month in a statement. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan is among the U.S. officials who participated in a global LGBTI rights conference that took place in the Vancouver, British Columbia.

A new State Department policy that requires partners of foreign mission personnel and employees of international organizations to be married in order to qualify for a diplomatic visa took effect on Oct. 1. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins is among those who took part in a religious freedom conference the State Department held in July.

No. 7: Bermuda becomes first non-U.S. jurisdiction to repeal marriage

Bermuda in June became the first jurisdiction in the world outside the U.S. to rescind marriage rights for same-sex couples.

John Rankin, the governor of the British island territory, on Feb. 7 signed the Domestic Partnership Act, which allows same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships as opposed to get married. The law, which prompted calls to boycott Bermuda’s tourism industry, took effect on June 1.

Rankin’s government appealed a Bermuda Supreme Court ruling that found the Domestic Partnership Act unconstitutional. The territory’s top court on Nov. 23 upheld the decision.

No. 6: British prime minister apologies for anti-LGBTI colonial laws

Theresa May, gay news, Washington Blade

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era laws criminalizing same-sex relations. (Photo by Ted Eytan; courtesy Flickr)

British Prime Minister Theresa May on April 17 said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relations the U.K. introduced in Commonwealth countries.

“I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country,” she said during a speech at the Commonwealth summit that took place in London. “They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. As the U.K.’s prime minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today.”

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in a number of the Commonwealth’s 53 countries.

No. 5: Taiwan marriage referendum fails

A referendum on whether same-sex couples should receive marriage rights in Taiwan failed on Nov. 24.

Voters by a 67-33 percent margin rejected a question on whether same-sex couples should receive marriage rights through Taiwan’s civil code. Questions on whether marriage in Taiwan should be defined as between a man and a woman and whether same-sex couples should be able to enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships, as opposed to marriages, passed by margins of 72-28 percent and 61-39 percent respectively.

Voters by a 66-34 percent margin rejected a question on whether Taiwan’s Gender Equity Act should include LGBTI-inclusive school curricula. A question on whether the law should not include LGBTI-inclusive school curricula failed by a 67-33 percent.

Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, is among those who supported Taiwanese activists before the referendum. The National Organization for Marriage backed marriage opponents.

Lawmakers still face a May 2019 deadline to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples under a Taiwan Constitutional Court ruling from two years before.

No. 4: Inter-American court issues landmark LGBTI rights ruling

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Jan. 9 issued a landmark ruling that recognizes same-sex marriage and transgender rights in the Western Hemisphere.

The ruling stems from the Costa Rican government’s request for an advisory opinion on whether it has an obligation to extend property rights to same-sex couples and allow trans people to change their name and gender marker on identity documents. The Costa Rican government has said it will comply with the ruling, which has bolstered advocacy efforts throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Margarette May Macaulay, president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on Dec. 5 reiterated her support of marriage rights for same-sex couples during a hearing on the subject over which she presided in D.C. The Chile Supreme Court on the same day issued a ruling that said marriage for same-sex couples is a human right, but the country’s president, Sebastián Piñera, continues to face criticism from advocates over his opposition.

No. 3: New proposed Cuban constitution includes marriage amendment

Mariela Castro, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro has spearheaded LGBTI-specific issues in Cuba. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Cuban lawmakers on July 22 approved the draft of a new constitution that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

A series of public meetings on the proposed constitution took place across the Communist island over the fall. The Cuban National Assembly in the coming weeks is expected to give its final approval to the document. A referendum is scheduled to take place in February.

The debate over the proposed constitutional changes is taking place nearly 60 years after gay men were among those sent to work camps after the Cuban revolution brought Fidel Castro to power. His niece, Mariela Castro, over the last decade has spearheaded LGBTI-specific issues in the country.

Independent activists with whom the Washington Blade speaks insist they continue to face criticism and even arrest for publicly criticizing Mariela Castro and/or the Cuban government.

No. 2: LGBTI migrants seek refuge in U.S.

Melani Sofía Rosales Quiñones, a transgender woman from Guatemala City, was beaten, threatened and discriminated against in her country because of her gender identity (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The waves of migrants who have left Central America in 2018 include people who are fleeing violence and discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity in their homelands.

A gay man from Honduras with whom the Blade spoke in Mexico City on July 17 said he fled his homeland earlier this year after a group of gang members raped and killed his friend in front of him. Other LGBTI migrants from Guatemala with whom the Blade spoke in the Mexican city of Tijuana earlier this month said they hope to seek asylum in the U.S.

The migrants — many of whom have traveled to the U.S. border in caravans — still hope to enter the U.S., despite President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that has sparked widespread criticism. The death of Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV, in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on May 25 sparked additional outrage among immigrant rights activists and their supporters.

No. 1: India Supreme Court decriminalizes homosexuality

The India Supreme Court on Sept. 6 issued a landmark ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

The unanimous ruling specifically struck down India’s colonial-era sodomy law known as Section 377. LGBTI rights advocates in India and around the world not only celebrated the decision, but stressed it will bolster efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in other Commonwealth countries.

“We rejoice with all sexual, gender and sex minorities communities in India,” said Ruth Baldacchino and Helen Kennedy, co-secretaries general of ILGA, in a statement.  “As of today, a shameful part of an enduring colonial legacy is finally history. We hope that this ruling, which was made possible by the tireless work of many human rights advocates, will have an impact also on other countries around the world where our communities continue to live under the shadow of oppressive criminal laws, especially those that share a common legal heritage with India, as far afield as Africa, the Pacific and Caribbean.”

A judge on Trinidad and Tobago’s High Court in April struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law. The Kenya High Court early next year is expected to issue a ruling in a case that challenges a portion of the country’s penal code that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

British Prime Minister Theresa May in April said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era sodomy laws the U.K. introduced in Commonwealth countries.

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s civil rights division at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run

Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups

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Caitlyn Jenner was quickly repudiated by LGBTQ advocates after she entered California’s recall election as a gubernatorial candidate — and her fellow transgender Republicans are mixed over whether or not to back her up.

Transgender Republicans are few in number, but some are in high-profile positions and have been working with their party to change its approach and drop its attacks on transgender people, whether it be in the military, public bathrooms, or school sports.

Jordan Evans, a Charlton, Mass.-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully last year ran to become a Massachusetts Republican State Committee Woman, told the Washington Blade she had high hopes for Jenner as a fellow transgender candidate, but they were quickly dashed after her campaign launched.

“My feelings changed quickly after Caitlyn made it clear that she was less interested in using this opportunity to present the Republican Party and conservative movements with an accessible and high-profile introduction to the trans community and simply wanted to be a trans woman who espoused the same destructive approaches that we just so happen to be seeing all over the country,” Evans said.

Evans said the high hopes she had were based on the transgender advocacy she said Jenner was doing behind the scenes and the potential for two prominent LGBTQ Republicans to run for governor in California. After all, Jenner may soon be joined in the race by Richard Grenell, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s failed re-election.

But Jenner’s approach to the gubernatorial recall in California, Evans said, is “putting trans youth at risk for a campaign that isn’t even transformative for Republicans during this volatile time.”

“Even her current messaging is superficial and does nothing to help dispel claims that she’s unqualified,” Evans said. “The only positive thing that I’ve seen come from this is conservative mainstream media using her correct pronouns, but that is not worth the damage that she’s inflicting.”

Much of the disappointment over Jenner’s campaign is the result of her essentially throwing transgender kids under the bus as part of her campaign at a time when state legislatures are advancing legislation against them, including the bills that would essentially bar transgender girls from participating in school sports.

Jenner, declining to push back on these measures and assert transgender kids have a place in sports, instead essentially endorsed the bills shortly after she announced her candidacy.

“If you’re born as a biological boy, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete in girls’ sports,” Jenner told TMZ, which asked her about the hot-button issue during a Sunday morning coffee run.

Jenner dug deeper into MAGA-world at the expense of solidarity with the transgender community. Last week, Jenner retweeted Jenna Ellis, who has a notoriously anti-LGBTQ background and was criticized just last year for refusing to use the personal pronouns of Rachel Levine, who’s now assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win Senate confirmation.

Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly last year, said via email Jenner “did much good for several years by educating millions of people around the world about transgender folks,” but won’t countenance the candidate’s remarks on transgender kids in sports.

“In regard to her current run for California governor, her recent comments regarding transgender youth playing sports are confusing,” Williams said. “Just last year, she said that she supported transgender female athletes. Caitlyn should consult with tennis great Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe or WNBA legend Candace Parker on the subject of transgender athletes in women’s sports, as they are very well versed on the matter.”

At a time when state legislatures are pushing through legislation targeting transgender youth, restricting their access to sports and transition-related care, Jenner’s refusal to repudiate those measures has become a focal point for opposition to her candidacy from LGBTQ advocacy groups, who say she’s “out of touch” (although none were supporting her even before she made those comments).

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ political candidates and public officials, has signaled it wants nothing to do with Jenner.

Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Jenner hasn’t applied for an endorsement from the Victory Fund “and she shouldn’t bother to.”

“Her opposition to full trans inclusion – particularly for trans kids in sports – makes her ineligible for the endorsement,” Meloy said. “There are many great trans candidates running this cycle who are champions for equality.”

To be sure, Jenner used her celebrity status as a former reality TV star and Olympic champion on behalf of transgender lobbyists, urging donations to groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and going to Capitol Hill to lobby Republicans on transgender issues. Jenner has also given money for transgender kids to attend college, giving transgender advocate Blossom Brown a check for $20,000 on “The Ellen Show” in 2015.

Blaire White, a transgender conservative and YouTube personality, drew on these examples of Jenner helping transgender youth in a video earlier this month and said the two once had dinner together, but wasn’t yet ready to make a endorsement.

“I will say that until she lays out all of her policy positions and until she’s more on record in long form really talking about what she wants to do for the state of California, I can’t say for sure I would vote for her and would not vote for her,” White concluded in the video. “What I can say is: I’m interested. And also, being under Gavin Newson’s governorship, I would literally vote for a triple-amputee frog over Gavin Newsom, so she already has that going for her.”

Jenner’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment for this article on the repudiation of her campaign from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Gina Roberts, who’s the first transgender Republican elected to public office in California and a member of the San Diego GOP Central Committee, said she’s neutral for the time being as an elected Republican Party leader, but nonetheless had good things to say about Jenner’s candidacy.

“I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of indicative of how cool the Republican Party in California is because nobody really cares or it makes any difference. I mean, I was the first elected GOP transgender person in California and I think we’re ready for No. 2.”

Asked whether Jenner’s comments about allowing transgender kids in sports was troubling, Roberts said that wasn’t the case because she has her own reservations.

“I have pretty much the same opinion because … there’s so many nuances in that,” Roberts said. “If somebody transitions after they’ve gone through puberty, there is a big difference, especially in high school. If they transition beforehand, it’s not a big deal.”

A gun enthusiast and supporter of gun owner’s rights, Roberts said she competes in women’s events in shooting sports, but there’s a difference because she doesn’t “really have any advantages all those young, small ladies can pull a lot faster than I do and shoot faster than I do.”

Roberts concluded she’ll personally make a decision about whom she’ll support in the California recall election after Grenell announces whether or not he’ll enter the race, but can’t say anything until the San Diego GOP Central Committee issues an endorsement.

“He’s a good friend of mine, too,” Roberts said. “I know both of them. I think they’d both be certainly better than Gavin Newsom, I have to stay neutral until the county party decides who they’re going to endorse. I will support somebody or another in the endorsement process, but I can’t publicly announce it.”

Although LGBTQ groups want nothing to do with her campaign, Jenner’s approach has garnered the attention of prominent conservatives, who are taking her seriously as a candidate. One of Jenner’s first interviews was on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a Trump ally with considerable sway among his viewers. Hannity was able to find common ground with Jenner, including agreement on seeing California wildfires as a problem with forest management as opposed to climate change.

Kayleigh McEnany, who served as White House press secretary in Trump’s final year in the White House and defended in the media his efforts to challenge his 2020 election loss in court, signaled her openness to Jenner’s candidacy after the Hannity interview.

“I really enjoyed watching @Caitlyn_Jenner’s interview with @seanhannity,” McEnany tweeted. “I found Caitlyn to be well-informed, sincere, and laser-focused on undoing the socialist, radical, a-scientific policies of Biden & the left. Very good.”

In theory, that support combined with Jenner’s visibility might be enough to propel Jenner to victory. In the recall election, California will answer two questions, whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, which candidate should replace him. The contender with the plurality of votes would win the election, even if that’s less than a majority vote, and become the next governor. There isn’t a run-off if no candidate fails to obtain a majority.

With Jenner’s name recognition as a celebrity, that achievement could be in her reach. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2004 recall election in California as a Republican based on his celebrity status, and ended up becoming a popular governor.

But the modest inroads Jenner has made with the acceptance of conservatives and potential to win isn’t enough for other transgender Republicans.

Evans, for example, said Jenner’s candidacy is not only a disappointment, but threatening the potential candidacies of transgender hopefuls in the future.

“It’s difficult to be in electoral politics, and that’s even more true when you’re a member of a marginalized community,” Evans said. “Caitlyn’s behavior is making it even more challenging for the trans community to be visible in a field where we desperately need to be seen. She’s casting a tall shadow on our ability to have a voice and is giving credibility to lawmakers and local leaders simply unwilling to view us with decency and respect.”

Williams said Jenner should avoid talking about transgender issues over the course of her gubernatorial run “and instead focus on the hard, critical policy issues facing California.”

“It is a state in crisis and she has to run a very serious campaign and not rely on her celebrity or LGBTQ status to win over voters’ hearts and minds — just like all other LGBTQ candidates around the country need to do when they run for public office,” Williams said.

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