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Boris Johnson’s LGBTQ rights advisor visits D.C.

Nick Herbert praises efforts to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans

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Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who advises Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ issues, speaks at the Victory Institute's 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advisor on LGBTQ issues last week applauded his government’s efforts to help facilitate the successful evacuation of LGBTQ Afghans from the country.

“I’m very proud of the tremendous work that’s been done by the U.K. government,” Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords, told the Washington Blade on Dec. 1 during an interview in D.C. “The U.K. has shown global leadership here.”

A group of 29 LGBTQ Afghans who Stonewall, Rainbow Railroad and Micro Rainbow evacuated from Afghanistan with the help of the British government arrived in the U.K. on Oct. 29. Herbert on Nov. 6 announced a second group of LGBTQ Afghans had reached the country.

“It took … a strong effort with different parts of government working together and the determination that this was really important and that people’s safety was at risk and also that we have a moral obligation to the communities affected,” said Herbert.

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and regained control of the country.

A Taliban judge has said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan. Rainbow Railroad and Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, and others have been working to help evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from the country.

Advocacy groups continue to urge the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in Afghanistan.

Herbert noted the British government has committed to grant asylum to 10,000 Afghans under the country’s “Operation Warm Welcome” that seeks “to ensure the Afghans who stood side by side with us in conflict, their families and those at highest risk who have been evacuated, are supported as they now rebuild their lives in the U.K.” Herbert stressed this program will “prioritize” LGBTQ people and other at-risk groups in Afghanistan.

“This shows the power of working together and governments working in partnership with NGOs to achieve something,” he told the Blade. “I fully recognize there were lots of citizens who remained in Afghanistan, and so nevertheless, I think it was very heartening to see that those Afghan citizens who are most at risk were brought to the center.”

Herbert said he expects more LGBTQ Afghans will be “brought to safety,” but he declined to provide a specific number.

Johnson raised LGBTQ rights crackdown with Hungarian prime minister

Herbert spoke with the Blade before he participated in the Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in-person at the JW Marriott in D.C. from Dec. 2-4.

Johnson in May appointed Herbert as his LGBTQ rights advisor.

Herbert is the first person who officially advises a British prime minister on LGBTQ issues. The former House of Commons member also co-founded the Global Equality Caucus, a group of LGBTQ elected officials around the world who work to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Herbert throughout the interview noted his government continues to champion LGBTQ rights.

The British government on World AIDS Day pledged more than £23 million ($30.5 million) in additional funding to efforts that seek to “achieve zero new HIV infections, AIDS and HIV related deaths in England” by 2030. The British government also announced it would move to allow people with HIV/AIDS to serve in the country’s armed forces.

“It’s a legacy discriminatory policy that has no basis in sound science any longer,” said Herbert, referring to the policy against people with HIV/AIDS in the British military. “It’s entirely safe for people to serve, and we think they should be free to do so.”

A public comment period on a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy in England and Wales is underway.  Herbert also expressed concern over the increasing backlash over efforts to expand rights to transgender people in the U.K.

“I’m troubled by the debate,” he said. “I recognize that … this is a that a complicated issue where you have an assertion of conflicting rights. But I don’t think it’s acceptable to see some of the sort of angry exchanges of language that has been seen over the course of the last few months.”

“It’s very damaging,” added Herbert.

Herbert noted to the Blade that Johnson rose Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán when the two men met in May in London. Herbert also highlighted the British government in June will host a global LGBTQ rights conference that will coincide with London Pride’s 50th anniversary.

“The prime minister, by the way, has always been very ready to raise these issues, both when foreign secretary and now as prime minister, which is why I think he wants to hold this conference on the agenda,” said Herbert.

“We have to stand together with other countries to express our concern about what is happening,” he added. “We also must take a strong stance against culture wars, and I think governments joining in culture wars results in harm to citizens.”

U.K. has ‘historic responsibility’ for anti-LGBTQ laws in former colonies

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries around the world, and many of them are former British colonies.

Then-Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era criminalization laws the U.K. introduced. Herbert spoke with the Blade two days after the Botswana Court of Appeals upheld a 2019 ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

“We want to work with our partners in encouraging countries to try to change those laws,” Herbert told the Blade.

He stressed the British government has “to guard against any idea that we’re being so neocolonial,” while adding the U.K. has a “historic responsibility for these laws and their legacy.”

“The position we approach (with) this is one of respect where we, along with other countries, are encouraging decriminalization,” said Herbert. “We want to work with countries that will work with us to support them in that journey. We have to recognize that all countries have been on a journey.”

Herbert noted to the Blade that homosexuality was criminalized in the U.K. when he was born.

“We need to remember that other countries are different points of the journey, but it doesn’t all happen at once. And they have to make their own decisions on this and we have to encourage them to support them to do so,” he said. “I don’t think that this is a case of Britain lecturing, certainly not a case of dictating. It’s a question of encouraging.”

Herbert also questioned the use of sanctions against countries that enact anti-LGBTQ laws.

The British government late last year sanctioned three Chechen officials who are responsible for the anti-LGBTQ crackdown in the semi-autonomous Russian republic that continues. Herbert described these sanctions as “justified,” but said the British government has “to be careful of blunt instruments that may backfire.”

“There can be different ways to make our feelings known and to encourage countries to do the right thing,” he said.

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Polish House passes bill echoing Russia “gay propaganda” law

Measure passed on Jan. 13 by 227-214 vote margin.

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The Polish parliament's lower House, the Sejm (Screenshot via Polish government Sejm RP YouTube)

A measure that would give school administrators and superintendents the power to remove books, lessons, and ban student participation in events or clubs that are LGBTQ affirming passed the lower house of Poland’s parliament, known as the Sejm, on Jan. 13 in a 227-214 vote.

The measure, dubbed “Lex Czarnek,” or “Czarnek’s Law,” after Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek,  who has been vehemently opposed to the LGBTQ rights and the country’s equality movement, now moves on to the upper house, the Senate where it faces opposition and likely will be rejected Polish broadcast media outlet RMF 24 reported.

According to RMF24, “The Sejm adopted the amendment to the Educational Law, prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science. The project is commonly known as ‘Lex Czarnek.’ The role of school superintendents will be strengthened, and the rules governing the functioning of non-governmental organizations in schools and educational institutions will be changed.”

Opposition to LGBTQ rights has an ally in the education minister whose role would determine the outcome of implementation of the measure:

“Pursuant to the amendment, the headmaster of the school or facility will be required — no later than two months before the commencement of classes conducted by associations or organizations —to obtain detailed information about the action plan in the school, the outline of classes and materials used in the offered classes, as well as obtain a positive the opinion of the education superintendent for the activities of such an organization at school or in an institution. The curator has 30 days to issue an opinion.”

The law also contains a stipulation that “if the head of the school or educational institution fails to comply with the recommendations issued by the school superintendent, he will be able to summon him to explain why he did not do so. If the principal still does not follow the recommendations, the probation officer may apply to the governing body of the school or facility with a request to dismiss the principal during the school year, without notice.”

A member of the Sejm, Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk, a progressive leftist politician who in addition to protesting against abortion laws, has also been active in protests for LGBTQ rights, tweeted her outrage; “The voice of the curator Nowak, as if it were not stupid and dangerous to health and life, is more important for PiS deputies than the voice of students, parents and teachers.”

The MP and Czarnek, target of Dziemianowicz-Bąk’s anger, has staked out several public vitriolic anti-LGBTQ positions that has included an attack on the LGBTQ community in West Hollywood.

Speaking with a reporter on Serwis Info Poranek with the national state-run TVP Info (TVP3 Polska) last June, the newly appointed education minister said (translated from Polish):

“Let’s end the discussion about these LGBT abominations, homosexuality, bisexuality, parades of equality. Let us defend the family, because failure to defend the family leads to what you see.

As he spoke these words, he was holding a phone in his hand, on the display of which he showed a picture of several people.

“These are the Los Angeles guys in downtown last June. I was on a delegation there, I was passing through, there was a so-called gay pride parade there,” he added. “We are at an earlier stage, there are no such things with us yet, but such chaps shamelessly (sic.) Walk the streets of the western city of Los Angeles,” he added.

Przemysław Czarnek (Screenshot via Serwis Info Poranek)

Serwis Info Poranek also noted that according to Czarnek, “Europe is also heading for this, Poland is heading for this … These people are not equal to normal people, let’s end this discussion.”

During the ongoing battles over the so-called LGBTQ “Free Zones” with the European Commission Czarnek weighed in comparing the LGBTQ community to the Nazis.

“There’s no doubt, that LGBT+ ideology grew out of … the same root as Germany’s Hitlerian National Socialism, which was responsible for all the evil of World War II,” Czarnek said as PinkNewsUK reported.

Renew Europe, the liberal, pro-European political group of the European Parliament tweeted its outrage over the actions by the Sejm:

Observers think that the law will be rejected by the senate although under the Polish constitution there is still a possibility it could be signed off on by the anti-LGBTQ Polish President Andzej Duda.

PinkNewsUK reports:

“Although it seems that Lex Czarnek is on track to becoming law, Rémy Bonny, executive director of pan-EU LGBT+ rights organisation Forbidden Colours, insists that all is not lost.

With pressure from politicians both in the EU and around the world, Poland could be forced to backtrack.

He told PinkNewsUK that “in September, after threats by the European Commission to take away funding, four out five provinces that declared themselves ‘LGBT+ free zones’ withdrew their anti-LGBT+ resolutions … International pressure on Poland works.”

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Murdered Honduran transgender activist buried

Thalía Rodríguez shot outside her home on Monday

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The funeral of Thalía Rodríguez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Reportar sin Miedo)

The Washington Blade on Thursday published a Spanish-language version of this story from Reportar sin Miedo, the Blade’s media partner in Honduras.

A prominent transgender activist in Honduras who was murdered on Monday has been buried.

Reportar sin Miedo reported activists are among those who attended Thalía Rodríguez’s funeral that took place in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, on Tuesday.

Rodríguez led Asociación Cozumel Trans, a Honduran trans rights group.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras and the U.N. Refugee Agency have all condemned Rodríguez’s murder. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power in a tweet said she was “horrified” by the murders of Rodríguez and Pablo Hernández, a leader in Honduras’ indigenous Lenca community who was killed on Sunday near San Marcos de Caiquín, a municipality in the country’s Lempira department, while he was on his way to church.

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France, Greece to end restrictions for MSM blood donors

Calls for U.S. to remove abstinence requirement grow

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gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
(Bigstock photo)

France and Greece this week announced they will allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood without restrictions.

Têtu, a French LGBTQ magazine, noted men who have sex with men previously had to remain abstinent for four months before they could donate blood in France.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran on Tuesday announced this requirement would no longer be in place as of March 16. Têtu also noted officials will no longer ask potential blood donors about their sexual orientation.

“It’s a whole new relationship with the blood donor that we want,” said Véran.

Greece on Monday also said it would allow MSM to donate blood without restrictions.

Greek Health Minister Thanos Plevris and Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga issued a decree that will become official once the Government Gazette publishes it.

Greece and France are the latest countries to lift restrictions for MSM who want to donate blood.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently allows MSM to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man for three months.

The American Red Cross this week declared a blood crisis because of the surge in COVID-19 omicron variant cases. The declaration sparked renewed calls for the U.S. to allow MSM to donate blood without restrictions.

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