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Russian government labels LGBTQ advocacy groups ‘foreign agents’

Russian LGBT Network has 17 branches across country

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Russian human rights activists protest in Moscow on Aug. 15, 2012, (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

This past Monday, the Russian Ministry of Justice included the Russian LGBT Network and five lawyers from the recently dissolved human rights group, Komanda 29 (Team 29), including its founder Ivan Pavlov, a prominent lawyer, on the list of “foreign agents.”

This latest move by Russian authorities is continuing a months-long crackdown on activists, opposition supporters and independent media. The government has designated a number of independent media outlets, journalists and human rights groups as “foreign agents.” At least two disbanded to avoid a further crackdown.

The Russian LGBT Network has advocated for civil rights in Russia since 2006 and has 17 branches across the country. The group is well-known both in Russia and abroad for its effort to rescue gay men and lesbians from Chechnya.

They played a crucial role in the exposure of a brutal “anti-gay” campaign in Chechnya during which dozens of men were abducted, tortured and several believed to have been killed for their real or perceived sexual orientation. The group also provided shelter for victims of homophobic attacks from Chechnya and elsewhere around the country, and helped with their relocation to safer locations within and outside Russia.

The Russian LGBT Network said in a statement that it would continue to operate and contest the designation in court | Screenshot via Facebook

“We don’t know why we have been declared a ‘foreign agent.’ The Russian LGBT Network disagrees with this status. We are not involved in political activities, we offer legal and psychological aid (and) defend the rights of the LGBT+ community,” the statement on the group’s Facebook page read. The statement added that the group would continue to operate and contest the designation in court.

Team 29, was an association of lawyers and journalists specializing in treason and espionage cases and freedom of information issues. Team 29 shut down earlier this year, fearing prosecution of its members and supporters, after authorities accused the group of spreading content from a Czech nongovernmental organization that had been declared “undesirable” in Russia.

Ivan Pavlov and his colleagues have courageously provided help to civil society and political activists and groups that have been targeted by the authorities, including Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

In April, Russian authorities launched a criminal case against Pavlov, who was representing a former Russian journalist accused of treason. They accused Pavlov, who has since left Russia and resettled in Georgia, of disclosing information related to a police investigation, the Associated Press reported.

Russian human rights activists protest in Moscow, August 15, 2012 (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, in a statement released to international media outlets said:

“Beyond shameful, the justice ministry’s decision reveals that committed, principled lawyers defending the rights of people targeted in politically motivated cases and frontline LGBTI rights defenders are unwelcome and ‘foreign’ in Putin’s Russia.

“LGBT-Network has exposed heinous crimes against gay men in Chechnya and helped evacuate people at risk to safety where they can speak about these atrocities. Now LGBT Network is, itself, a victim of the persecution that is being increasingly targeted at all human rights defenders—openly, viciously and cynically.

“The authorities cite the need to protect ‘national interests’ and resist ‘foreign influence’ in their incessant destruction of Russia’s civil society. But what’s really in the national interest is to protect, uphold and respect all human rights for everyone.

“These reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations must stop, and the ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organisations’ laws must be repealed immediately.”

In an article published this past July, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty’s correspondent Todd Prince explains that a Council of Europe legal advisory body has sharply criticized recent Russian amendments to laws regulating so-called ‘’foreign agents,” saying they constitute “serious violations” of basic human rights and will have a “chilling effect” on political life.

In a report analyzing the amendments, published on July 6, the Venice Commission, which is composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law, called on Russia to reverse aspects of its “foreign agents” laws such as registration and reporting requirements, or alternatively revise “the entire body” of the legislation by narrowing the definition of a “foreign agent.

The commission warned in its 26-page report that the amendments will have a “significant chilling effect…on the free exercise of the civil and political rights which are vital for an effective democracy.”

It further said the broadened scope of the “foreign agents” legislation allows authorities “to exercise significant control over the activities and existence of associations as well as over the participation of individuals in civic life.

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Africa

Ugandan activists appeal ruling that upheld Anti-Homosexuality Act

Country’s Constitutional Court refused to ‘nullify’ law

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(Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Twenty-two LGBTQ activists in Uganda have appealed this month’s ruling that upheld the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.”

President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

Media reports indicate Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha and Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara are among the activists who filed the appeal.

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Africa

Congolese lawmaker introduces anti-homosexuality bill

Constant Mutamba’s measure seen as distraction from country’s problems

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Congolese MP Constant Mutamba (Photo courtesy of Mutamba's X account)

A member of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s National Assembly who is a leader of the country’s opposition party has introduced a bill that would criminalize LGBTQ people.

Part of the bill that Constant Mutamba, leader of the Dynamic Progressive Revolutionary Opposition platform, has put forth states anyone who “commits a homosexual act (including acts and gestures) will be liable to a 5- or 10-year prison sentence.”

The country in recent years has seen government leaders and civic society target the community with anti-LGBTQ sentiments.

The Superior Council for Audiovisual and Communication, Media Regulatory Authority  last June cautioned the media against showing LGBTQ-specific conversations. Several activists have criticized Mutamba’s bill, saying it seeks to move attention away from governance, service delivery and other pertinent issues in the country.

Sirius Tekasala, a human rights activist, said a person’s sexual orientation does not impact issues of governance.

“The proposed bill does not go in the direction of improving the socio-economic life of the Congolese people,” said Tekasala. “It’s not homosexuals who prevent you from doing your job well or from breathing. This is a violation of human rights.”

Mbuela Mbadu Dieudonné, a social analyst and trade unionist, said the bill is just a way of deviating people from the pertinent issues.

“He should suggest how to get the Congolese people out of this precariousness of life which is growing on a daily basis,” said Dieudonné. “When we don’t know the real problems of the Congolese people, he sets himself up as the great director of scenes to distract the Congolese people.”

Many Congolese, however, seem to support the bill and have applauded Mutamba for drafting it.

This is not the first time that such kind of a bill has been drafted.

An anti-homosexuality bill introduced in 2010 would have sentenced people who engage in consensual same-sex sexual relations to between three and five years in prison. The measure, however, did not become law.

Mutamba’s bill, however, may pass with Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in effect. The country’s Constitutional Court earlier this month upheld it. Burundi, Tanzania and other neighboring countries are also considering similar measures.

Many Congolese people view LGBTQ rights as a Western phenomenon that disregards their religious and cultural beliefs. LGBTQ Congolese are among those who have fled the country and sought refuge in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and other places.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are not criminalized in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but Congolese law does not recognize same-sex marriages.

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

German lawmakers on Friday passed a transgender rights bill

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

MONACO

(Photo courtesy of the Principality of Monaco)

Monaco’s top court struck down two lower court rulings that would have required the tiny Mediterranean principality to recognize foreign same-sex marriages, in a ruling that has not yet been published.

The case centered around a binational Monegasque-American same-sex couple who married in Grand Rapids, Mich., in August 2019 while residents in that state. When they returned to Monaco the following year, the government refused to record them in the state register of marriages.

“Although valid, this union cannot be transcribed in the marriage register in view of its manifest contrariety with Monegasque public order characterized by the constitutional principle according to which the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion is the state religion,” stated a letter from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in a letter to the Civil Registrar on the matter.

The letter goes on to invite the couple to instead form a cohabitation contract, which has been available to same-sex couples in Monaco as a form of civil union since 2020.

The couple rejected that offer and appealed to the attorney general, who again refused to recognize the marriage, so the couple took their case to court.

In March 2022, the court of first instance ruled in the couple’s favor, citing the presumption in international private law that marriages validly concluded in one country are generally recognized in any country. The court also found that the same-sex marriages are not contrary to the public order simply because Catholicism is the state religion, and that the cohabitation agreements are inadequate to protect the family rights of married couples.

The prosecutor general quickly appealed the decision, but the Court of Appeal once again ruled in September 2023 in the couple’s favor. The court also found that the state’s offer that the couple could protect their rights through a cohabitation agreement to be impractical, as the cohabitation law specifically says that agreements are unavailable to anyone who is already married. 

Still, the government appealed the decision to the Court of Revision, Monaco’s highest court dealing with administrative matters. That court finally ruled that the government is not obliged to record same-sex marriages, striking down the previous two rulings. 

LGBTQ rights have long been a contentious issue in the tiny city-state of approximately 39,000. While there are no local LGBTQ advocacy organizations, the state has been pushed to enhance the legal rights of its queer citizens by its larger European neighbors.

Monaco was one of the last states in Western Europe to offer legal recognition to same-sex couples through the 2020 Cohabitation Agreement Bill, which came about largely because Monaco recognized it was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which courts have interpreted as requiring states to give equal recognition to same-sex couples. 

Still, the cohabitation agreement is explicitly unequal to marriage. Couples in cohabitation agreements are not considered families and can even include siblings or other relatives. They don’t enjoy equal treatment in terms of taxation or inheritance, can’t choose a common surname and can’t adopt and cohabitation with a Monegasque citizen doesn’t entitle a partner to residency rights the way marriage does.

Monaco also lacks any anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and transgender people are not allowed to change their legal gender. 

ITALY

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni with Argentine President Javier Milei in February during a state visit. (Photo courtesy of Meloni’s office)

During a press briefing Friday at the conference “For a Young Europe: Demographic Transition, Environment, Future,” Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took aim at the practice of surrogacy which is already illegal in Italy saying the practice is “inhuman.” 

The prime minister’s party recently introduced legislation in the Italian Parliament that would further criminalize the act by hiking fines from €600,000 to €1 million ($640,290 to $1,067,150) and increasing jail terms from three months up to two years.

“I continue to believe that surrogacy is an inhuman practice,” Meloni said. “I support the bill that makes it a universal crime,” she added.

Last week Pope Francis issued a papal document, the 20-page Dignitas infinita, which stated that surrogacy “violates” both the dignity of the child and the woman, who “becomes a mere means subservient to the arbitrary gain or desire of others.” The document also declared gender-affirming surgery to be a grave violation of human dignity.

CNN reported that the move to criminalize surrogacy is largely seen as a move against the LGBTQ community. Italy was the last European country to legalize same sex unions, which it did in 2016 but does not allow gay couples to be “married,” in line with the Catholic Church.

Under Meloni’s government, birth certificates were changed to list “mother” and “father” rather than “parent 1” and “parent 2.” In 2023 some communities where her Brothers of Italy leads the government, names of lesbian mothers were removed from birth certificates.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech Parliament (Photo courtesy of the Czech Parliament)

The Czech Senate began consideration of bill that would enhance the rights of people in same-sex civil partnerships this week, continuing a tense legislative process that has seen pro-and anti-LGBTQ groups lobbying lawmakers to make changes to the bill.

The civil partnership bill passed through the lower house of parliament in February. It was a compromise after a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage couldn’t get enough support to pass. 

The bill makes registered partnerships, which have been legal in the Czech Republic since 2005, equivalent to marriage in all matters except adoption. Same-sex couples will have the right to stepchild adoption only — couples will not be allowed to jointly adopt.

Some senators have presented amendments to the bill that would allow same-sex marriage and full joint adoption, but some legislators think this strategy is risky — any amendments would send the bill back to the lower house, where it’s not clear they could pass. 

On the other hand, some senators are pushing amendments that would water down the bill further, by eliminating adoption entirely. 

Leading up to the senate debate, LGBTQ advocates were sanguine about the prospects of getting everything they want.

“Together with the majority of Czech society, we sent a clear message to our legislators: Only the institute of equal marriage will ensure equal legal protection, social security and family stability for all couples and families with children,” wrote Lucia Zachariášová a lawyer who works with the LGBTQ advocacy organization Jsme Fér in an open letter to legislators this week. 

“However, the partnership can at this moment fulfill a promise repeated so much that if it is not a question of marriage, there will be no problem to accept such a solution. It is important to repeat again: it will help especially families with children to have a little more restful sleep,” she writes.

So far, three senate committees have examined the bill, recommending either that the Senate pass the bill as is or simply not debate it. In the Czech system, if the Senate doesn’t address a bill passed by the House, it is sent to the president to be signed into law anyway. The president is expected to sign the bill, as he campaigned for full marriage equality.

One more committee is set to examine the bill next week before it’s scheduled for debate on the senate floor April 17. 

If the Senate rejects a bill, or passes it with an amendment, it returns to the lower house, where deputies can either accept the amendment or reaffirm the bill with the support of an absolute majority or 101 votes. The bill originally passed through the lower Chamber of Deputies with 118 votes in favor.

While Czech LGBTQ people are disappointed by the lack of progress on marriage equality, they’re also anxious to get the bill passed, as it would still offer a great improvement to the legal rights of many same-sex couples and their children.

“The House is not expected to improve the amendment. On the contrary, there is a fear that the situation could worsen or that everything would fall under the table,” Jsme Fér said of the progress on the bill in a post on X. “[Senators] fear a debate that might not be dignified for hundreds of thousands of LGBT people, and after six years of debates in the House of Representatives, everything important has already been said.”

GERMANY

The German Reichstag in Berlin in 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The German Parliament on Friday voted 374-251 to pass a new law allowing trans people to change their legal gender by a simple administrative procedure, replacing outdated requirements from the 1980s for declarations of support from doctors and other invasive procedures.

The new law also imposes hefty fines of up to €10,000 ($10,658.85) on anyone intentionally disclosing a trans person’s previous name or gender for a harmful purpose. The law allows exceptions in cases where disclosure would be a legal requirement, for example in a court proceeding or a police investigation.

Under the new law, trans people may change their legal gender to male, female or “diverse” — a third-gender option already available under German law. Applicants can also request that no gender details be recorded at all. Trans people will simply file a request, and then appear in person at a registry office three months later to make the change official. 

The new law is open to people over 18. Those between 14 and 17 will need a parent’s permission to file the application, while those under 14 will require parents to file the application on their behalf. 

Applicants are limited to one name and gender change within 12 months. The law also allows the government to suspend applications to change legal gender from male to female or diverse made up to two months before a national emergency is declared.

The law continues to allow operators of women-only spaces, such as gyms or changing rooms, to decide on their own who is allowed to access them. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the law was about showing respect to gender-diverse people.

“We show respect to trans, intersex and non-binary people — without taking anything away from others. This is how we continue to drive the modernization of our country. This includes recognizing realities of life and making them possible by law,” Scholz wrote in a statement on X.

The law was part of the governing agreement made by the current governing coalition. The upper house of parliament does not need to vote on the bill. The law will come into effect in November.

Under the 1980 Transsexuals Law, trans people were required to get two expert reports from doctors attesting that the applicant will not be likely to want to return to their previous legal gender. These reports often required trans people to undergo invasive psychological and physical examinations and would add months of delay and average additional costs of up to €2000 (approximately $2,130.)

The Constitutional Court struck down a requirement that trans people have sex reassignment surgery and be sterilized in 2011. The same court required the government to create a non-binary option for intersex people in 2017, which the government did a year later.

Germany’s coalition government, in place since September 2021, has promised to introduce several pro-LGBTQ policies, including creating a hate crime law, amending the Basic Law to ban discrimination based on sexual identity, and automatic parenthood recognition for same-sex parents.

UNITED KINGDOM

(Photo by Rob Wilson via Bigstock)

A government-commissioned review of gender care services for trans youth in England and Wales has sparked an outcry from trans activists who say that the review discounted decades of research showing the value of gender care treatment to reach a conclusion that care should be restricted for youth.

The “Cass Review” was commissioned by the National Health Service England in 2020 to examine gender care services for young people following reports showing a large increase in the number of youth accessing care at the now-closed Gender Identity Development Service. The Review was led by Dr. Hilary Cass, a former president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health.

The disputed report concluded that there isn’t good scientific evidence to support most forms of gender care, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy or social transition.

“While a considerable amount of research has been published in this field, systematic evidence reviews demonstrated the poor quality of the published studies, meaning there is not a reliable evidence base upon which to make clinical decisions, or for children and their families to make informed choices,” reads an excerpt of the report’s executive summary.

But trans advocates criticized that conclusion, pointing out that Cass held existing studies of gender care to an impossible standard. Her report discounted any study that wasn’t based on double-blind trials, which they say would not be possible or ethical.

“The Cass Review dismisses a very large number of studies and omits studies from the past two years. Hence, it neglects a vast amount of evidence on the benefits of gender affirming medical treatment for trans youth in its analysis,” writes Dr. Hane Maung of the trans healthcare service GenderGP.

“For many medical interventions, including gender affirming medical treatment for trans youth, randomized controlled trials are unfeasible and unethical, because the consequences of not intervening would be very apparent to the participants and also would be unacceptably harmful,” he says.

The Cass Review urges caution in treatment for trans youth, including a new recommendation that medical consultations be undertaken before youth are allowed to socially transition — a major expansion of the medicalization of gender identity. Some trans activists also noticed that the review suggests increased surveillance of trans care through age 25, suspecting this implies further restricting care into adulthood.

The day the Cass Review was published, NHS England announced it would be launching a review of adult gender care, alleging whistleblower complaints.

The Guardian reports that Cass also advised the government to be cautious with the proposed ban on conversion therapy, which the government has put under review, but which is unlikely to be introduced before an election is held. Cass reportedly urged the minister responsible to ensure that doctors providing gender care are insulated from accusations of conversion practices, claiming that doctors are already afraid to take a more cautious approach to providing treatment.

The Cass Review has already made waves across the UK, with transphobic author JK Rowling claiming that it vindicates her years-long anti-trans campaigning, and claiming she would “never forgive” “Harry Potter” stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson for supporting trans rights.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak endorsed the report’s findings.

“We care above all about the wellbeing of children and it’s clear that these things are not neutral acts, whether that’s social transitioning, any kind of medical intervention, we simply do not know the long-term effects of these things,” he says. “And that’s why anyone involved in considering these issues, of course, has to treat people with sensitivity and compassion, but also have to be extremely cautious when it comes to taking any action.”

The opposition Labour Party, which is expected to win national elections later this year, has already said it would implement all of the Cass Review recommendations when in government. Labour’s shadow minister for health told the Sun that he no longer stood by the statement that “trans women are women” in the wake of the review. 

The NHS Scotland and NHS Wales, which hold devolved responsibility for care in those countries, said they were reviewing Cass’ findings.

BELARUS

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. (Belarusian Telegraph Agency screenshot)

The government of Belarus issued a decree this week declaring that depictions of LGBTQ people may be considered illegal pornography, whether or not sexual acts are depicted.

The Culture Ministry amended a decree on “erotic materials” to include homosexuality or transgender as “non-traditional sexual relationship or behavior,” equivalent to necrophilia, pedophilia, and voyeurism. 

That may mean that depictions of LGBTQ people are considered pornography. Under Belarussian law, production, distribution and public displays of pornography are punishable with up to 4 years in prison, or up to 13 years for child pornography. 

Using these new definitions, an innocuous picture of a same-sex couple with their child, or a picture of a trans child, or a picture of two same-sex teens on a date, could all be considered child pornography.

According to Human Rights Watch, it is not yet clear how the government plans to interpret and enforce the new decree.

Belarus is one of the least free countries in Europe according to the human rights advocacy group Freedom House. Often considered a client state of neighboring Russia, Belarus tends to follow its larger neighbor culturally and politically. The country has bene governed by President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, with political dissidents routinely jailed and media heavily censored. 

LGBTQ Belarusians lack any protections from discrimination, and anti-LGBTQ violence is common. Officials have floated introducing a Russia-style “gay propaganda” law over the years, but one has never been formally enacted.

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