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State Dept. defends ban on Pride flags at U.S. embassies

Spokesperson insists Pompeo ‘respects the dignity of every individual’

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The State Department is defending its approach to LGBT rights despite the ban on Pride flags at U.S. embassies.

The State Department on Monday defended the Trump administration’s approach to LGBT rights and Pride Month, despite a new policy barring U.S. embassies from flying Pride flags at U.S. embassies.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, a former Fox News contributor on national security issues, insisted during a news conference when asked about the flag policy the Trump administration is observing Pride Month.

“Pride Month that we’re in right now is celebrated around the world by many State Department employees, by many embassies,” Ortagus said.

Last week, the State Department hosted an event to celebrate coordinated with GLIFAA, the affinity group for its LGBT employees and foreign service officers. On travel with President Trump in Europe, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn’t attend. The Pride celebration was also closed to the public and the press.

Ortagus insisted Pompeo, who’s responsible for the anti-Pride flag policy, still “respects the dignity of every individual.”

“The secretary has the position that as it relates to the flagpole that only the American flag should be flown there, but, of course, as he said in his congressional testimony respects the dignity of every individual and I think all of you can do a simple, easy Google or Twitter search and see the pictures of members, embassies and members, ambassadors, people of the foreign service celebrating Pride throughout the world,” Ortagus said.

As first reported by Josh Lederman at NBC News, U.S. embassies at the beginning of Pride month were denied permission to display the Pride flag on their official flag poles.

Previously, the flying of Pride flags at U.S. embassies has become common as a sign of U.S. solidarity with the LGBT community overseas. Embassies had been free to display the Pride flag on their official flagpoles during the Obama administration and the first two years of the Trump administration.

The new anti-Pride flag policy stands in contrast to President Trump recognizing Pride Month in a tweet, making him the first Republican U.S. president to acknowledge June as Pride Month, as well as a global initiative he recognized to decriminalize homosexuality. U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-ranking openly gay person in the Trump administration, is spearheading the initiative.

In addition to refusing to allow U.S. embassies to display the Pride flag on their official flagpoles, Pompeo neglected to issue statements this year, unlike in 2018 recognizing Pride Month or the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia.

Asked about the absence of these statements, Ortagus deflected and again referred to Pompeo’s general belief in the dignity of individuals.

“As I said, the secretary said in his testimony, he respects the dignity of every individual and of every human life. He remains committed to this effort around the world,” Ortagus said.

Ortagus alluded to the Treasury Department sanctioning a Chechen group and five individuals, including at least three Russians, for alleged extrajudicial killings and torture of LGBT individuals, although she couldn’t immediately remember when the sanctions were instituted, on whom and for exact purpose.

“I think it was just a couple weeks ago (I’d have to look at the specific date) we had Magnitsky sanctions (I’ll have to get a specific name for you) on an individual who, of course, was persecuting people of the LGBTQ community,” Ortagus said.

In a bizarre pivot, Ortagus then touted Pompeo’s commitment to religious freedom, which is often code among social conservatives to mean anti-LGBT discrimination.

Ortagus said Pompeo will host an upcoming summit on international religious freedom. Last year, Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT group designated a hate group by the Southern Policy Law Center, was a featured participant at the event.

“The secretary will, of course, next month, host the religious freedom forum that he also had last year, and he works around the world in these meetings to talk about religious freedom, religious liberty, and that’s something that I know is very dear to him,” Ortagus said.

Despite State Department policy, many U.S. embassies, including those in South Korea, China and Nepal, are reportedly still displaying the Pride flag in places other than the official flag pole.

Asked whether the Pride flags seen in places other than the flagpole are in violation of Pompeo’s edict, Ortagus said, “No.”

Ortagus denied U.S. embassies are defying the policy, asserting, “There’s no violation.”

Asked to clarify whether it’s OK for U.S. embassies to fly the Pride flag as long as it’s not on a flagpole, Ortagus replied, “That’s correct.”

Watch a video of Ortagus defending the Pride flag policy here:


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Asia

Pakistani cinema and television highlights LGBTQ, intersex issues

Government sought to ban ‘Joyland’

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The Pakistani government sought to ban "Joyland" in the country. (Promotional poster for "Joyland")

There are several Pakistani movies and television shows that depict the lives of LGBTQ and intersex people in society.

Though some media outlets have become more inclusive, the representation of queer people on screen is still too rare. Pakistan has seen a rise in the production of LGBTQ and intersex movies and television shows that include dramas, documentaries and web series. Some of them are made in Pakistan, while others are produced abroad. Many of them have been released in Pakistan. The government banned some of them, but others have not only amused audiences but won international awards.

Here is a list of some of them. 

‘Joyland’

“Joyland” is a Pakistani film that made waves at the Cannes Film Festival. 

The film follows the story of a transgender woman named Biba, who is trying to make a living as a dancer in Lahore. She faces many challenges in her life, including discrimination and violence from those who do not accept her gender identity. She nevertheless persists, despite these difficulties, and ultimately finds love and acceptance from unexpected sources. This heartwarming film highlights the struggles and triumphs of the trans community in Pakistan and is sure to resonate with viewers around the world. “Joyland” is a powerful and timely film that highlights the struggles of trans people in Pakistan. It is also a celebration of hope and friendship, and an uplifting story about chasing your dreams against all odds.

In a conservative Pakistani family, the youngest son Haider (Ali Junejo) is expected to produce a baby boy with his wife. However, he joins an erotic dance theater and falls for the troupe’s director, a trans woman. This film tells the story of the sexual revolution in Pakistan and their struggle against traditional gender roles and expectations. 

“Joyland” is the first Pakistani film on the LGBTQ topic that premiered at Cannes Film Festival and received an overwhelming response. It won the prestigious Cannes “Queer Palm” award during its world premiere. The government had tried to ban the film, but it opened in the country last month. 

‘Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan’

In the conservative, Muslim-dominated country of Pakistan, homosexuality is a taboo topic. However, there is a thriving LGBTQ and intersex community in Pakistan that is forced to live in secrecy. The documentary “Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan” shines a light on this hidden community. 

It follows the lives of several LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis, who bravely share their stories. The documentary was released in 2015 in Pakistan and in the U.K. by director Faizan Fiaz. It was the first kind of movie on the “LGBTQ” topic. The film was screened at film festivals in Barcelona, Spain, and in the U.S. The word “poshida” means “hidden” in Urdu. The film is particularly timely given the current global discussion around LGBTQ and intersex rights. It examines the legacy of colonialism, class structures and the impact of the U.S. government’s gay rights advocacy in Pakistan. 

The documentary is about a serial killer from Lahore who kills trans people, women and gay men for entertainment purposes. Human rights abuses of trans men and women are also explored in the documentary. 

‘Churails’

Pakistani cinema has come a long way in recent years, tackling several taboo subjects and exploring new genres and stories. One of the most groundbreaking Pakistani films of recent years is “Churails.”

The film is the first Pakistani queer web series that revolves around four women. It is the first time that a lesbian relationship in any Pakistani film or web series is portrayed.

This film features a trans woman Baby Doll (Zara Khan), lesbian lovers Babli (Sameena Nazir) and Pinky (Bakhtawar Mazhar) and a gay husband. Four women who were students — one was a wedding planner, the third one was convicted of a crime and the fourth woman was a socialite set up a secret detective agency in Karachi. The aim was to launch a detective service for those women who were cheated by their husbands. 

A web series set in Karachi challenges the status quo and subverts the conventional narrative. The critically acclaimed web series has opened up a debate about Pakistan’s patriarchal society. The show doesn’t shy away from tough questions: Veils, deception and secrets. “Churails” is the story of four self-made women who come together to break certain stereotypes and challenge societal hypocrisy. 

“Churails” is the first Pakistani drama web series which was released in 2020 by ZEE5, an Indian on-demand video platform. The web series is directed and produced by Asim Abbasi. The film was not allowed to screen in Pakistani cinema or channels. The movie was only available on ZEE5. however, at the time of releasing the film the state bank of Pakistan ordered all the banks to block Pakistani consumers to purchase subscriptions to ZEE5. 

“Churails” won the “OTT Platform Show of the Year” at the British Asian Media Awards in February 2021. “Churails” is a feminist film in every sense of the word. 

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court hears oral arguments in 303 Creative case

Dangerous implications for LGBTQ consumers

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in 303 Creative v. Elenis, a case that could carry broad implications for whether and in which circumstances states may enforce certain nondiscrimination rules against purveyors of goods and services.

The case was brought by website designer Lorie Smith, who sought to include a disclaimer that her company 303 Creative would not develop wedding announcement websites for LGBTQ couples, but discovered that such a notice would violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws, which include sexual orientation as a protected class.

Her lawsuit against the state of Colorado, argued by counsel from the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), reaches the Supreme Court following the ruling against Smith from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which created a circuit split with decisions from the 8th Circuit and Arizona Supreme Court. A ruling is expected to come in June.

The fact pattern in 303 Creative closely mirrors the 2018 case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the Supreme Court declined to rule on the broader legal questions because it found the Commission exhibited hostility toward the religious views of the bakery that refused to design a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The high court has since moved substantially to the right, with a 6-3 conservative supermajority. Colorado is one of 20 states that enforces laws prohibiting businesses from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and a ruling that would allow for broadly construed exemptions to be carved out for firms based on their First Amendment protections would carry implications well beyond the context of same-sex marriage.

Monday’s oral arguments focused on preexisting and hypothetical cases that were presented by counsel from both parties as well as by the justices, examples whose scope and fact patterns reinforced the breadth of the legal issues at play in 303 Creative.  

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson and U.S. Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher pointed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, 2006, which found that the federal government may withhold funding from universities that, based on their objections to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” refuse to grant military recruiters access to their resources.

ADF CEO, President and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, 1995, which upheld the right of private organizations to exclude participation by certain groups without interference by the state, even if that intervention by the government was for the purpose of preventing discrimination.

Much of the discussion during Monday’s oral arguments centered on what kinds of goods and services may be considered public accommodations and which constitute artistic speech or expression by the business provider. Also at issue were questions such as whether their refusal to accommodate certain events – i.e., same-sex weddings – are tantamount to refusing goods and services to members of a protected class of people under the state’s non-discrimination laws.

LGBTQ rights groups fear the implications of a ruling in favor of 303 Creative  

ADF is designated an anti-LGBTQ extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. An amicus brief was filed in support of the government by the corporate law firm White & Case along with a coalition of LGBTQ rights groups and legal advocacy groups: the National LGBTQ Task Force, GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and the Human Rights Campaign.

“Just two weeks after a shooter killed 5 people, injured 18, and traumatized so many others at Club Q in Colorado Springs, the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in an anti-LGBTQ public accommodations discrimination case from Colorado,” wrote the National LGBTQ Task Force in a statement addressing Monday’s oral arguments.

Liz Seaton, the group’s policy director, highlighted the importance of public accommodations laws and condemned efforts by the opposition to legalize discrimination and segregation in the marketplace. “The brief’s most important argument lifts up the powerful amicus briefs of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,” Seaton said. “Those two briefs by venerable civil rights organizations provide a detailed history of public accommodations discrimination against Black and Brown people in this country.”

HRC’s statement on Monday touched on similar themes:

“Granting the unprecedented ‘free speech exemption’ sought by petitioners in 303 Creative v. Elenis would be a dangerous change to long standing constitutional and civil rights law. It would inevitably lead to increased discrimination not only related to LGBTQ+ people or weddings, but also for other vulnerable populations including women, people with disabilities, and people of minority faiths. It’s crucial that justices of the Supreme Court reject discrimination and affirm the equal dignity of every American.”

Likewise, the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus released a statement exploring the broad implications that could result from the Court’s ruling on 303 Creative:

“…the Supreme Court could issue a broad ruling that not only implicates nondiscrimination laws’ applications to graphic designers but to a wide range of businesses providing goods and services that have an artistic component. A broad ruling for the graphic designer could not only provide a constitutional basis for discriminating against same-sex couples, but also for discriminating against all marginalized people currently protected by public accommodations nondiscrimination laws.”

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Russia

New anti-LGBTQ propaganda bill sent to Putin

LGBTQ Russians ‘will cease to be publicly known’

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(Screenshot from Russian state media)

UPDATE: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed the bill into law.

The upper chamber of the Russian State Duma voted Nov. 30 to approve legislation banning LGBTQ propaganda as well as materials that promote discussion of gender reassignment and mention of LGBTQ issues to minors, which is categorized as promotion of pedophilia. Violation of the ban will result in fines of up to 10 million rubles ($160,212.80.)

The legislation now heads to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to sign it within the next few days. Russian State Media outlet RIA News reported the new ban on LGBTQ propaganda, gender reassignment and pedophilia will apply to films, books, commercials, media publications and computer games.

The legislation broadens the scope of the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” statute signed into law by Putin on June 30, 2013.

That statute amended the country’s child protection law and the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses to prohibit the distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors.

The definition includes materials that “raises interest in” such relationships, cause minors to “form non-traditional sexual predispositions,” or “[present] distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships.”

Businesses and organizations can also be forced to temporarily cease operations if convicted under the law, and foreigners may be arrested and detained for up to 15 days then deported, or fined up to 5,000 rubles ($80.11) and deported.

The new law will  extend “responsibility for propaganda of LGBTQ+ people among adults,” in addition to the earlier law regarding minors.

The language of the bill also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

Human Rights Watch noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ people in Russia, there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ people in Russia — frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

The Moscow Times newspaper and webzine, which publishes outside of the Russian Federation to avoid censorship, ran an article Dec. 2 reporting on St. Petersburg LGBTQ activist Pyotr Voskresensky, who in an act of defiance opened up a small “LGBTQ museum” in his apartment prior to Putin’s signing the measure into law.

“The museum is a political act,” said Voskresensky. “As this era is coming to an end, I felt I wanted to say one last word.”

Voskresensky — who has spent years acquiring Russian-made statues, jewelry, vases, books and other art objects that tell stories about the country’s LGBTQ subculture — decided this was his last opportunity to share his collection with ordinary people he told the Times.

For safety reasons, the museum’s location has not been made public: Hopeful visitors must contact Voskresensky via Facebook to receive the address.  

On a recent tour, the first thing visible to visitors at the entrance was a portrait of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, one of the most famous gay men in pre-revolutionary Russia. 

At the end of the exhibition, there were a few contemporary art pieces, including a satirical model depicting Russian Duma Deputy Vitaly Milonov, a prominent supporter of the anti-gay legislation, wearing a bridal veil. 

Anti-LGBTQ lawmaker and parliamentarian Vitaly Milonov
(Courtesy of Pyotr Voskresensky via the Moscow Times)

In a phone call with the Washington Blade on Saturday, a young Russian LGBTQ activist who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals and who has communicated with the Blade previously from their Helsinki safe space, reiterated:

“These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called “non-traditional” LGBTQ+ lifestyles erased out of public life. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also noted that with Putin’s signature, Russian LGBTQ people “will cease to be publicly known” effectively driving them underground. “Those bastards have tried to make us erased — they stupidly think we no longer [will] exist” The activist angrily vowed; “we are not disappeared — never. We are human and we are natural and they will not defeat our humanity.”

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