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Botswana attorney general seeks to recriminalize homosexuality

High Court heard case on Oct. 12

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(Public domain photo)

GABORONE, Botswana — On June 11, 2019, Botswana moved toward being a state that no longer held some of its citizens (and, by extension, visitors) as criminals if they identified within the LGBTQ spectrum. However, the government didn’t take too long before it declared its intention to appeal the High Court judgment that asserted that consensual same-sex sexual activity in private was not to be a criminal act.

The appeal hearing took place on Oct. 12.

There are some key things to understand about what the High Court did for people in Botswana. The judgment, written and delivered by Justice Leburu, not only put a clear delineation between the state’s powers to intrude in people’s private sexual lives, but it also stated that laws that served no purpose in the governance of the people they oversaw were most likely worthy of “a museum peg” more than being active laws of the land.

In the hearing on Oct. 9, a full bench of five judges of the Court of Appeal was treated to the government’s case—as presented by advocate Sydney Pilane of the Attorney General’s Chambers—along with hearing the rebuttals from the legal counsel representing Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who brought the original case against the government, and LEGABIBO, an NGO admitted as amicus curiae, a friend of the court. The appeal, two years in the making, would have been expected to be based on facts rather than opinions of what could and could not be accepted by hypothetical Batswana. Pilane even went so far as to contest that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s utterances about how people in same-sex relationships were “suffering in silence” were taken out of context as he was talking about gender-based violence and not endorsing their relationships.

The 2019 ruling of the High Court, the most supreme court of incidence in the country, not only declared people who were or had interest in engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity not criminals, but it also allowed non-queer people to engage in sex acts that would otherwise be considered “against the order of nature” freely. The latter clause had often been interpreted as being solely about non-heterosexuals but on greater interrogation one realizes that any sex act that doesn’t result in the creation of a child was considered against this ‘order of nature’ and that nullified much of heterosexual sexual exploration—further painting these clauses as out of touch with contemporary Botswana as Leburu expressed.

In some of his appeal arguments, Pilane stated that Batswana “do not have a problem with gay people”, yet he based his contention on the fact that Batswana “respect the courts’ decisions;” as such they would not take up arms at the court’s decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Pilane maintained that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the Parliament on the recommendation of the courts. The bench was swift to query whether a body of politicians elected by a majority would be the best representatives of a minority that was oppressed by laws that the very politicians benefitted from.

Botswana’s legal system allows for the High Court ruling to remain the law of the land until such a point as it’s struck down. The Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Batswana’s sexual liberties will be a nail in the proverbial coffin of residual colonial sex-related laws plaguing Botswana. This will not be the end by any means though. Where the attorney general can form a case stating that decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations could be likened to people locking themselves in their houses with animals and having their way with them, we know that mindset changes need to be prioritized to ensure that all Batswana understand their constitutionally protected rights to privacy, expression, and freedom of association as relates to their personal and sexual lives.

The 2010 Employment Act of Botswana already protects people from being discriminated against based on their sex or gender identity. The nation’s sexual violence laws were made gender neutral, thus covering non-consensual sex (rape) in all its possibilities. In upholding the ruling of the High Court, the Court of Appeal will allow the LGBTQ and SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics) movements in Botswana some respite as attention is then channeled toward other pressing matters such as name changes, access to healthcare, and other culturally pertinent issues.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hand down a judgement following their deliberations in 4-6 weeks (mid to late November), however, this remains at their discretion. As it stands, since the High Court ruling in 2019, Botswana has experienced increased social accommodation for LGBTQ matters and figures—however, this is not to say there have not been any negative instances. With the continued sensitization, the expectation is that the courts, the government and NGO players will all contribute to a broad, national, culturing of LGBTQ rights in Botswana devoid of colonial residues.

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Eastern Europe

Slovenia legalizes marriage, adoption for same-sex couples

Country first in Eastern Europe to pass such legislation

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(Image by AlexLMX via Bigstock)

Slovenia has become the first country in Eastern Europe to legalize same-sex marriage and the adoption of minor children by same-sex couples.

After considerable debate Tuesday in the Slovenian Parliament, 48 lawmakers passed legislation that guarantees the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Twenty-nine MPs opposed the legislation, while one abstained.

This past July, the country’s Constitutional Court in a 6-3 ruling found a Slovenian law that granted rights to only opposite-sex marriages and adoptions violated a constitutional prohibition against discrimination. The court ordered the Parliament to amend the law within six months to guarantee that all marriages and adoptions would be equal in the eyes of the law.

At the time of the high court’s ruling; Labor, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Minister Luka Mesec said: “The Constitutional Court has ordered us to do it, and we will do it with the greatest pleasure.”

Most of Slovenia’s Eastern European neighbors do not allow civil unions or same-sex marriages.

The government of Estonia came the closest in 2016 by agreeing to recognize same-sex unions created in other countries. Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Montenegro have laws establishing same-sex civil partnerships — and in Hungary, even talking about homosexuality in front of minors has been punishable by a fine since summer 2021, euronews noted.

“With these changes, we are recognizing the rights of same-sex couples that they should have had for a long time,” Slovenian State Secretary Simon Maljevac told MPs when presenting the amendment.

The main opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party, criticized the court’s decision and organized several rallies against the new law.

“The best father will never replace a mother and vice versa,” said SDS parliamentary group chair Alenka Jeraj prior to the debate and vote.

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Russia

Putin slams LGBTQ people in Ukraine annexation speech

The international community has condemned sham referenda

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(YouTube screenshot from AFP/NBC)

In a rally ceremony that resembled a political convention on Sept. 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his signing a degree that Russia had annexed four regions of Eastern Ukraine that were overrun by Russian military forces and Russian-backed separatists.

“The people made their choice,” said Putin in the formal signing ceremony at the Kremlin’s St. George Hall. “And that choice won’t be betrayed” by Russia, he said.

This past week, in an election President Joe Biden labeled fraudulent and a sham, Ukrainians in the occupied territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia voted to join Russia in elections supervised by heavily armed Russian troops.

Speaking from the White House on Sept. 30, Biden said the U.S. and its allies will not recognize Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian regions and reaffirmed that NATO countries will defend all territory in the alliance.

Addressing the Russian leader, Biden said “Mr. Putin, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Every inch.”

America and its allies are not going to — I’m going to emphasize, are not going to be intimidated, are not going to be intimidated by Putin and his reckless words and threats. He’s not going to scare us and he doesn’t — or intimidate us.

Putin’s actions are a sign he’s struggling. The sham referenda he carried out and this routine he put on, don’t worry, it’s not there if you’re looking, OK. The sham routine that we put on this morning that’s showing the unity and people holding hands together. Well, the United States is never going to recognize this and quite frankly, the world is not going to recognize it either. He can’t seize his neighbor’s territory and get away with it. It’s as simple as that.

And they’re going to stay the course. We’re going to continue to provide military equipment so that Ukraine can defend itself and its territory and its freedom, … And we’re fully prepared to defend, I want to say this again, America is fully prepared with our NATO allies to defend every single inch of NATO’s territory, every single inch. So Mr. Putin, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Every inch.”

Putin in his speech at the ceremony, which took place on a massive stage in Moscow’s Red Square opposite the Kremlin’s walls, took aim at the West with particular emphasis on Western values and culture.

“Western countries have been repeating for centuries that they bring freedom and democracy to other peoples. Everything is exactly the opposite: instead of democracy — suppression and exploitation; instead of freedom — enslavement and violence,” Putin said.

Later during the speech Putin decried the LGBTQ community and Western nations that allow equity and equality and human rights:

“In fact, they spit on the natural right of billions of people, most of humanity, to freedom and justice, to determine their own future on their own. Now they have completely moved to a radical denial of moral norms, religion, and family.

Let’s answer some very simple questions for ourselves. I now want to return to what I said, I want to address all the citizens of the country — not only to those colleagues who are in the hall — to all the citizens of Russia: do we want to have, here, in our country, in Russia, parent number one, number two, number three instead of mom and dad — have they gone made out there? Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed on children in our schools from the primary grades? To be drummed into them that there are various supposed genders besides women and men, and to be offered a sex change operation? Do we want all this for our country and our children? For us, all this is unacceptable, we have a different future, our own future?”

Putin then implied directly that the U.S. and its NATO allies assisting Ukraine were trying to erase Russian culture and then justified the annexation of the four regions in Eastern Ukraine:

“Today we are fighting so that it would never occur to anyone that Russia, our people, our language, our culture can be taken and erased from history. Today, we need the consolidation of the entire society, and such cohesion can only be based on sovereignty, freedom, creation and justice. Our values ​​are humanity, mercy and compassion.

And I want to end my speech with the words of a true patriot Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin: ‘If I consider Russia my Motherland, then this means that I love in Russian, contemplate and think, sing and speak Russian; that I believe in the spiritual strength of the Russian people. His spirit is my spirit; his fate is my fate; his suffering is my grief; its flowering is my joy.’

Behind these words is a great spiritual choice, which for more than a thousand years of Russian statehood was followed by many generations of our ancestors. Today we are making this choice, the citizens of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, the residents of Zaporozhye and Kherson regions have made this choice. They made the choice to be with their people, to be with the Motherland, to live its destiny, to win together with it.”

Putin has long held homophobic and transphobic opinions and has signed multiple pieces of legislation that has sharply curtailed LGBTQ rights and expression in Russia during his 18 years as president, including the country’s “Don’t Say Gay” law signed in 2013 that has been strengthened and augmented by succeeding measures.

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South America

Two transgender women elected to Brazil’s Congress

Erika Hilton and Duda Salabert threatened during campaigns

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From left, Duda Salabert and Erika Hilton (Screen captures via campaign videos)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers will be on assignment in Brazil through Oct. 11.

BRASÍLIA, Brazil — Two transgender women on Sunday won seats in the Brazilian Congress.

Voters in São Paulo elected Municipal Councilwoman Erika Hilton, a Black travesti and former sex worker who is a member of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party. Voters in Minas Gerais state elected Belo Horizonte Municipal Councilwoman Duda Salabert, who is a member of the leftist Democratic Labor Party.

Salabert in a video she posted to her Twitter account noted she received the highest number of votes for any congressional candidate in Minas Gerais’ history. Salabert also highlighted she received death threats during her campaign.

“I am the first trans person elected to the National Congress,” she said. “We won the election, despite the attacks from leftists, attacks from Christian fundamentalists and death threats from the extreme right.”

Hilton also received threats during the campaign.

“Erika and Duda showed true courage in their campaigns for Congress,” said LGBTQ Victory Institute Global Programs Director Alhelí Partida in a press release.

Hilton and Salabert are two of the 324 openly LGBTQ candidates who ran in the presidential, congressional and state legislative and governor elections. Eighteen of them, including Hilton and Salabert, won their respective races.

Fábio Félix, an openly gay member of the Socialism and Liberty Party, who is a member of the Federal District’s Legislative Chamber, won re-election with the highest number of votes of any of the candidates running for seats in the body that governs Brasília, the country’s capital. Eduardo Leite, the openly gay governor of Rio Grande do Sul who is a member of the Social Democratic Party, will face off against Onyx Lorenzoni, a member of President Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing Liberal Party who is his former chief-of-staff, in an Oct. 30 runoff.

“While we hope their success is a sign of better days, Brazil remains an incredibly tough place to engage as an out leader – where homophobia, transphobia, death threats and worse are common,” said Partida. “In 2018, we lost one of our own, Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman Marielle Franco, assassinated by anti-LGBTQ and anti-women attackers. While her loss continues to be devastating, she has become an icon and the fuel needed to inspire more courageous LGBTQ Brazilians to raise their voices.”

Bolsonaro will face off against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Oct. 30.

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