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State Department urges Ghana to protect LGBTQ rights after activists arrest

Workshop attendees taken into custody after ‘unlawful assembly’

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The State Department on Monday expressed concern over the arrest of 21 LGBTQ activists in Ghana.

Ghananian police on May 20 arrested the activists in the city of Ho. A State Department spokesperson in their statement said the U.S. “promotes efforts worldwide to protect LGBTQI+ populations from violence and abuse, criminalization, discrimination, and stigma, and to empower local movements and persons seeking to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

The spokesperson proceeded to say that the situation in Ghana is on the State Department’s radar and called upon the country’s national leaders and citizens to support and preserve the human rights of LGBTQ Ghanaians. 

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” said the spokesperson. “We urge national leaders in Ghana to uphold constitutional human rights protections and to adhere to international human rights obligations and commitments for all individuals. This includes members of the LGBTQI+ community.” 

“We call on all Ghanaians to respect the provisions under Ghana’s constitution that guarantee freedom of speech, expression, and peaceful assembly.”

What caused the arrests?

A training for activists and paralegals on how to advocate for LGBTQ Ghanaians and record any infringements of their human rights took place on May 20. Someone tipped off the authorities, and they arrested event detainees.

Alex Kofi Donkor, founder and director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, told The Guardian that “the [event] was to train them on paralegal services for vulnerable groups – how we can document issues of abuse, and how best these trained paralegals can provide support.” 

Authorities deemed the event an “unlawful assembly,” and they immediately arrested 16 men and five women. All were denied bail and are due to appear before a judge on June 4. 

Rightify Ghana, a Ghanaian human rights group, in a series of tweets said journalists teamed up with the Ghanaian police when they descended on the event, and took people’s belongings.

“Journalists were the first to storm the place, started taking photos, took their notepads, flip charts, puller banner, books, then locked them while calling the police. The worried victims started crying for help, but today a judge has remanded the 21 queer persons #ReleaseThe21,” said Rightify Ghana. 

Rightify Ghana further expressed their disappointment with the Ghanaian media’s actions as it is an entity that has fervently advocated for freedom of press in the West African nation. 

“Ghanaian media, which has for decades been advocating for press freedom in Ghana, are enablers in the promotion of hate and discrimination against minority groups in the country, especially sexual minorities. No wonder Ghana is here,” said Rightify Ghana. 

The activists’ arrest last week in Ho is the latest of a series of anti-LGBTQ events that have taken place in Ghana.

Ghanaian police officers earlier this year raided and shut down an LGBTQ center.

This action prompted Black celebrities in the West to urge President Nana Akufo-Addo in an open letter to work with LGBTQ community leaders. Some of the celebrities included actor Idris Elba, model Naomi Campbell, and British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful.

In reaction to the recent arrests, prominent human rights groups have expressed their disapproval of LGBTQ human rights abuses in Ghana.

“The arrest of LGBTIQ people holding a lawful, private gathering about protecting and supporting LGBTIQ people in Ghana is shocking, and unacceptable,” said OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern. “The basic human rights to freedom of assembly and association, enshrined in the country’s constitution, should not be limited by anti-LGBTIQ opinions of bystanders or the police.”

“Those detained should be released immediately, and an investigation into how such a blatant violation of rights could take place has to be held,” added Stern.

“I am deeply saddened that the Ghana police can act on false alarm to arrest and detain innocent citizens,” added Davis Mac-Iyalla, executive director of Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa. “The human rights defenders arrested and jailed did nothing unlawful, they were exercising their freedom of assembly and association.”

Mac-Iyalla in his statement said “this illegal arrest is a reflection of the high level of discrimination against minorities in Ghana.” 

“I call on the government to condemn the arrest and order the release of the human rights defenders,” added Mac-Iyalla. “I also call on religious leaders and all civil society locally and internationally to add their voices to this call.”

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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United Nations

US ambassador to UN: LGBTQ community ‘has shown remarkable bravery and resilience’

Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted Pride Month reception on Tuesday

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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks at her annual Pride Month reception at the U.N. on June 18, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday at her annual Pride Month reception at the U.N. criticized those in the U.S. and elsewhere who continue to crackdown on LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield noted in the U.S. “a small, but threatening group of people continues to garget the LGBTI+ community, and especially trans individuals.” She specifically pointed out the increase of hate crimes in schools, especially in states with laws that target LGBTQ students. 

Thomas-Greenfield described Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act — which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality” — as “draconian.” She also cited the case of a Russian woman who authorities jailed because she wore rainbow earrings.   

“Despite these challenges, the LGBTI+ community has shown remarkable bravery and resilience,” said Thomas-Greenfield. 

Lawmakers in Greece, Estonia and Thailand since Thomas-Greenfield hosted her 2023 Pride Month reception extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs and French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who are both gay, took office in July 2023 and in January 2024 respectively.

Dominica’s High Court of Justice in April struck down provisions of a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. German lawmakers the same month approved a statute that will make it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to legally change their name and gender.

The U.N. has faced criticism over its response to Hamas’s surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7. The Washington Blade, which attended Tuesday’s reception, saw at least one person wearing a keffiyah, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity.

“Since day one, the Biden administration has made it a priority to prevent and combat discrimination, hatred and violence on the basis of sexual orientation, and gender identity,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “I’m proud of the many, many ways … that U.S. U.N. has led on this front.”

Thomas-Greenfield in 2023 chaired a meeting that examined ways the U.N. Security Council can integrate LGBTQ and intersex rights into its work. 

The U.S. is among the dozens of countries that are members of the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday noted the U.S. continues to work with the U.N. Economic and Social Council to include LGBTQ-specific language in resolutions that focus on elections and democracy. She also referenced the group of activists who gathered in Dag Hammerskjöld Plaza, which is across the street from the U.N., in April 1965 to “protest the treatment of gay individuals at home and abroad.”

“We’re following in the footsteps of those marchers outside in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza all those years ago,” she said.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, also spoke at the reception. The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and the West Point Benny Havens Band performed.

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Asia

Thailand marriage equality bill receives final approval

Country third jurisdiction in Asia to allow same-sex marriages

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(Public domain photo)

The Thai Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that will extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The measure passed by a 152-130 vote margin with four senators voting against it and 18 abstaining. The Thai House of Representatives in April approved the marriage equality bill, with 400 of 415 lawmakers who participated in the vote backing it.

Taiwan and Nepal are the two other Asian jurisdictions that allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

Tbilisi Pride in Georgia has cancelled all physical Pride events this year

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

GEORGIA

Tbilisi Pride Co-Director Anna Subeliani (Photo courtesy of Tbilisi Pride’s Facebook page)

The organization that holds Pride events in the Georgian capital Tbilisi has announced it is cancelling all physical Pride festivities this year, in light of an increasingly hostile environment promoted by the Georgian government ahead of elections this fall. 

Tbilisi Pride says in a statement posted to Facebook that they will focus their efforts instead on reaching hearts and minds, with a hope of defeating the government and ending restrictive legislation in the October election.

“We anticipated that the summer before the 2024 parliamentary elections would be filled with physical violence encouraged by the government and rhetoric filled with hate and hostility,” the statement says.

“Now, after ‘Georgian Dream’ adopted the Russian-style law on ‘foreign agents’ and announced a hate-based anti-LGBTQ legislative package alongside constitutional changes, we are even more confident in our decision. We are demonstrating the highest civic responsibility and recognize that the fight for queer rights today is inseparable from the broader people’s struggle against the Russian-style regime. This fight will inevitably end in favor of the people on Oct. 26!

We will use the coming months to bring the message of queer people to more hearts than ever before! We will explain to everyone that homophobia is a Russian political weapon against Georgian society, against the statehood of Georgia! We are patriots of this country and will always and everywhere be where our homeland calls us!”

The U.S. government slapped visa restrictions on members of the Georgian government in response to actions taken to undermine democracy in the post-Soviet nation, just as the government announced a sweeping package of anti-LGBTQ legislation it intends to pass ahead of fall elections.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told a June 6 press conference in Washington that the government had slapped sanctions on “between two and three dozen” individuals who were “responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, such as by undermining freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, violently attacking peaceful protestors, intimidating civil society representatives, and deliberately spreading disinformation at the direction of the Georgian government.”

Citing U.S. privacy law, Miller refused to name any individuals who had been sanctioned. He added that this was considered a “first tranche” of sanctions.

Georgia has been rocked with protests for weeks in response to the “foreign agents” law, which requires media and civil society groups to registers as agents of a foreign power if they receive funding from abroad. 

The law was passed by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, vetoed by the president who is a member of the opposition, and then passed with a veto override on May 28.

Modeled after a similar law in Russia, the law is meant to undermine the credibility and actions of bodies that are critical of the government and has drawn fierce criticism from Georgia’s allies in the U.S. and European Union.

Georgia was recognized as a candidate country from EU membership this year, but EU leaders have warned that the law undermines European values and threatens membership negotiations.

At the same time, the Georgian government has introduced a package of anti-LGBTQ legislation also modeled after Russian laws, which it is hoping will fire up its base and divide the opposition ahead of fall elections.

Under the package of laws, the state would be forbidden from recognizing any relationship other than heterosexual relationships, restrict adoption to married heterosexual couples and heterosexual individuals, ban any medical treatment to change a person’s gender and require that the government only recognize gender based on a person’s genetic information, and ban any expression or organization promoting same-sex relationships or gender change.

The bills are meant to be introduced in parliament before the end of the summer session in July, and the government plans to hold a vote on it ahead of elections scheduled for October.

POLAND AND LITHUANIA

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (Photo courtesy of the Polish government)

Bitter fights are emerging over civil union legislation in the governing coalitions that run Poland and Lithuania, with left-leaning parties insisting on improving the legal rights of LGBTQ couples and families, while more conservative parties want to maintain the status quo.

In Poland, that’s led to protracted negotiations to get a draft civil unions bill introduced, long after Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s original promise to have the law in place within his first hundred days in office. Tusk was sworn in as prime minister in December.

Tusk’s coalition includes his own centrist Civic Platform party, as well as the left-leaning Left party, and the more conservative Poland 2050 and Polish People’s Party (PSL), the latter of which mostly opposes recognizing same-sex couples. The coalition agreement left out any mention of civil unions.

The ambitious civil union bill aims to be an “all-but-marriage” type of union, complete with adoption rights, which has drawn the ire of the PSL. Negotiations within the coalition have focused on finding a way to get the PSL on board but have so far proved fruitless.

The opposition parties are even more hostile to LGBTQ rights and are not expected to support the bill in any form.

Regardless, Equalities Minister Katarzyna Kotula, who comes from the Left party and has been spearheading the bill, has given the coalition a deadline of the end of June to come to agreement. Failing that, she says she’ll introduce the bill without government support, although that will likely doom it to fail.

A last-ditch negotiation among the coalition partners is expected to take place June 17.

Tusk has struggled to introduce other promised social reforms since taking office. A promised hate crimes and hate speech bill has yet to be introduced. In March, the president, who comes from the conservative opposition Law and Justice Party, vetoed a bill to legalize the morning-after contraception pill.

Duda has not yet revealed if he will veto a civil union bill. The coalition does not have a three-fifths majority in parliament to override a veto. 

Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius. (Photo courtesy of Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius)

In neighboring Lithuania, tensions over a long-stalled civil union bill erupted into a dispute between coalition partners this week.

The left-leaning Freedom Party has threatened not to support the nomination of Foreign Affairs Minister Gabrielias Landsbergis to the post of European commissioner, given his party’s lack of support for the civil union bill that awaits a third a final vote in parliament.

The dispute has spilled a lot of ink in Lithuanian press, with the coalition partners debating whether or not the threat was appropriate in the circumstances.

Lithuania heads to the polls in October for parliamentary elections. 

GREECE

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaking to reporters at an EU press conference in early 2024. (Photo courtesy of the Greek prime minister’s office)

After his party took a drubbing in EU elections last weekend, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis says he is going to pause pushing forward new LGBTQ rights legislation, suggesting the new priority is changing minds rather than laws. 

Mitsotakis announced his surprise support for same-sex marriage and adoption rights last year after clinching reelection, and his government passed a marriage bill in February.

But in last week’s EU elections, his party’s support dropped nearly five percentage points, while the more radical far-right Greek Solution and the anti-LGBTQ conservative NIKI party collectively gained about 10 percentage points. 

Mitsotakis himself speculated to Bloomberg TV that the new same-sex marriage and adoption law passed this year alienated his party’s traditionally conservative base.

Greece is already one of the highest-scoring countries on ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Map Index, thanks in large part to reforms that Mitsotakis himself ushered in. In addition to same-sex marriage and adoption, his government has banned conversion therapy, banned unnecessary surgeries on intersex children, and set up a National Strategy for the Equality of LGBTQI+ People.

Queer activists in Greece were still calling on the government to facilitate legal surrogacy and automatic parental recognition for same-sex couples, and a simplified process for transgender people to update their legal gender.

FRANCE

Pope Francis meets with French President Emmanuel Macron (Photo courtesy of Macron’s office)

The far-right National Rally party is campaigning on restricting LGBTQ rights in snap parliamentary elections, with prime minister candidate Jordan Bardella supporting restrictions on surrogacy and IVF for same-sex couples.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced snap parliamentary elections after his party’s poor showing in the European Parliamentary elections last weekend. National Rally won the most votes in that election and is polling strongly ahead of the June 30 first-round vote. However, French elections are run in a two-round system, and National Rally often fails to win second-round votes as voters coalesce around a less unappealing compromise candidate to block them.

In the past, National Rally has campaigned strongly against LGBTQ rights, especially same-sex marriage, but they appear to have conceded that marriage equality is settled law.

While campaigning ahead of the EU elections, Bardella appeared on the French television show “Le Grand Oral”, where he reiterated his opposition to surrogacy. 

Bardella also bitterly opposed Macron’s 2019 law which finally allowed lesbians to have access to in-vitro fertilization. 

He told local television at the time, “There is no right to having children. Children have a right to have a father and a mother and this law creates children without fathers.”

National Rally’s opposition to same-sex parenting mirrors that of Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, under whose watch the Italian government has stripped parental recognition from same-sex couples and imposed criminal penalties on Italians who conceive children via surrogacy.

The first week of the truncated election has taken a number of surprising turns. The mainstream right-wing party, the Republicans, has been in turmoil since its president announced his party would consider a coalition with the National Rally, which led party members to oust him and an embarrassing schism where he barricaded himself in the party headquarters and took over the party’s social media.

And in a bit of news that may be a little on-the-nose, the National Rally has nominated a man named Guillaume Bigot as their candidate in Belfort in northeastern France.

PAKISTAN

(Atheist Republic/Los Angeles Blade graphic)

A Pakistani man was apparently committed to a mental hospital after he attempted to open a gay bar in Abbottabad, Pakistan, this month.

The man, whose identity has not been disclosed, had apparently hoped to open the country’s first gay bar in the city of 250,000 people, about 75 miles north of Islamabad. 

Abbottabad is best known in the west as the city where Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. Forces in 2011.

According to the Telegraph newspaper, the man had applied to open “Lorenzo Gay Club,” which he described in his application to civic authorities for a “No Objection Certificate” as a “great convenience and resource for many homosexual, bisexual and even some heterosexual people residing in Abbottabad in particular, and in other parts of the country in general.”

The application, dated May 8, also insisted that “there would be no gay (or non-gay) sex (other than kissing)” and that a notice would be posted on the wall to warn against “sex on premises.” 

The applicant describes the club as “a matter of the basic human right of free association, as established in the constitution.”

Gay sex is illegal in Pakistan, which is an officially Islamic republic. A conviction would carry up to two years in prison, but the law is rarely applied as it is difficult for anyone to be openly gay in the strictly conservative country.

The application sparked considerable debate online, after a copy of the application was released to the local media. The application seen in the “Pakistan Observer” is signed by a Preetum Giani, but it is not clear if that is the applicant or a representative.

According to the Telegraph, the man was committed to the Sarhad Hospital for Psychiatric Diseases in Peshawar on May 9, and friends have been unable to reach him since. Friends who spoke to the newspaper say they are worried about his safety, but also worried for their own safety if they speak out.

The Telegraph also reports that far-right politicians in Pakistan had threatened violence and arson against the club if it had been allowed to open. 

The applicant had previously told the paper that he believed it was important to stand for human rights, and that he would defend the right to open the club in the courts, in hopes that Pakistan’s courts would follow neighboring India’s lead, where gay sex was decriminalized in 2018. 

SINGAPORE

Rev. Miak Siew, a Singaporean LGBTQ activist, with Judy and Dennis Shepard in Singapore in May 2024. (Photo courtesy of Miak Siew’s Facebook page)

A new Ipsos poll has revealed a slight majority of Singaporeans support laws banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and support legal recognition of same-sex couples and adoption. 

The poll found that 54 percent of respondents agreed that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, and 57 percent agree they should have the right to adopt, compared to only 25 percent who oppose same-sex marriage and 30 percent who oppose same-sex couple adoption rights.

On both questions, a large number of respondents were unsure or had no opinion. 

An even larger number of respondents supported anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said that LGBTQ people should have discrimination protections in employment and housing, although only 40 percent supported legislation to that effect, while 20 percent opposed it, and another 40 percent were unsure. 

There are no specific anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people in Singapore.

The poll found strongest support for LGBTQ rights among younger respondents as compared to older generations.  

Two years ago, Singapore repealed a colonial-era law that criminalized gay sex. But at the same-time, parliament also amended the constitution to require parliamentary approval for same-sex marriage. 

These poll numbers may indicate that eventual legalization could be possible.

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