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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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Africa

Cameroon president’s daughter comes out

Brenda Biya acknowledges relationship with Brazilian model

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Brenda Biya (Photo via Instagram)

The daughter of Cameroonian President Paul Biya has come out as a lesbian.

Brenda Biya, 26, on June 30 posted to her Instagram page a picture of her kissing Brazilian model Layyons Valença.

“I’m crazy about you and I want the world to know,” said Brenda Biya.

Her father has been Cameroon’s president since 1982.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in the Central African country that borders Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Chad. The State Department’s 2023 human rights report notes harassment, discrimination, violence, and arbitrary arrests of LGBTQ people are commonplace in the country.

Brenda Biya is a musician who does not live in Cameroon.

The BBC reported she told Le Parisien, a French newspaper, in an exclusive interview published on Tuesday that she and Valença have been together for eight months. The women have also traveled to Cameroon together three times, but Brenda Biya did not tell her family they were in a relationship.

Brenda Biya said she did not tell her family that she planned to come out, and they were upset when she did. Brenda Biya told Le Parisien that her mother, Cameroonian first lady Chantale Biya, asked her to delete her Instagram post.

The Washington Blade on Thursday did not see the picture of Brenda Biya and Valença on her Instagram account.

“Coming out is an opportunity to send a strong message,” Brenda Biya told Le Parisien.

Brenda Biya described Cameroon’s criminalization law as “unfair, and I hope that my story will change it.”

Activists applauded Brenda Biya for coming out. The BBC reported the DDHP Movement, which supports Cameroon’s anti-LGBTQ laws, filed a complaint against her with the country’s public prosecutor.

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Caribbean

Dutch Supreme Court rules Aruba, Curaçao must allow same-sex couples to marry

Ruling likely also applicable to St. Maarten

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Curaçao is one of the constituent countries in the Caribbean that are part of the Netherlands. The Dutch Supreme Court on July 12, 2024, ruled Curaçao and Aruba must extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. The ruling will also apply to Sint Maarten. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday ruled Aruba and Curaçao must extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and of Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba in 2022 ruled in favor of marriage equality in two cases that Fundacion Orguyo Aruba and Human Rights Caribbean in Curaçao filed.

The governments of the two islands appealed the ruling.

The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and of Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba has jurisdiction over Aruba, Curaçao, and St. Maarten —three constituent countries within the Netherlands — and Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba — which are special municipalities within the kingdom. 

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry and adopt children in Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba since 2012.

Aruba, Curaçao, and St. Maarten must recognize same-sex marriages from the Netherlands, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba. Aruba’s registered partnership law took effect in 2021.

“Today, we celebrate a historic victory for the dignity and rights of LGBT individuals in Curaçao and Aruba,” said Human Rights Caribbean President Janice Tjon Sien Kie on Friday in a statement.

Aruban Sen. Miguel Mansur, who is gay, on Friday described the ruling to the Washington Blade as “an amazing victory which applies to Aruba, Curaçao, and by implication St. Maarten.”

“Aruba progresses into a society with less discrimination, more tolerance, and acceptance,” he said.

Melissa Gumbs, a lesbian St. Maarten MP, told the Blade the ruling “could very well have some bearing on our situation here.” 

“I’m definitely looking into it,” she said. “We’re researching it to see what is the possibility, and also in touch with our friends in Aruba who are, of course, overjoyed with this ruling.”

Cuba, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Barts, Martinique, and Guadeloupe, are the other jurisdictions in the Caribbean in which same-sex couples can legally marry. 

Mansur said the first same-sex marriages in Aruba will happen “very soon.”

“There are two couples ready to wed,” he told the Blade.

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Caribbean

Black transgender woman from Chicago disappears in the Bahamas

Taylor Casey last seen on June 19 on Paradise Island

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Taylor Casey (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

A Black transgender woman from Chicago disappeared last month while attending a yoga retreat in the Bahamas.

flyer the Royal Bahamas Police Force has distributed says Taylor Casey, 42, was last seen on June 19 on Paradise Island, which is adjacent to Nassau, the country’s capital.

Casey’s family in a press release said employees at the Sivanandra Ashram Yoga Retreat she was attending reported her missing on June 20 “when she failed to attend that day’s classes.” 

Casey’s mother, Colette Seymore, traveled to Paradise Island after her daughter disappeared.

The press release, which advocates in Chicago released ahead of a press conference on Thursday, notes “a search of the area and conversations with the Bahamian authorities left Ms. Colette Seymore with more questions than answers.”

Thursday is Casey’s 42nd birthday.

Seymore is among those who spoke at Thursday’s press conference.

“My child has been missing for almost three weeks,” said Seymore in the press release. “My family, friends, and I are distraught! I am pleading with everyone to call your elected officials and demand the FBI lead this investigation and bring her home safe and sound.”

The Windy City Times described Casey as “a fixture of Chicago’s transgender community and a beloved youth advocate.” Casey has also practiced yoga for 15 years, and went to the retreat “as part of a long-term goal to deepen her yoga practice.”

“She was excited to be participating in the yoga teacher training program and looking forward to sharing her experience with others when she returned,” noted a second press advisory her family released this week.

The Nassau Guardian, a Bahamian newspaper, on June 27 reported authorities found Casey’s cell phone in the ocean, but her other belongings were still in her room at the retreat. 

A spokesperson for Taylor’s family told the Washington Blade they have reached out to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas for assistance. Eyewitness News Bahamas, a Bahamian newscast, on June 28 reported the Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with Bahamian authorities to investigate Taylor’s disappearance.

The Bahamas Organization of LGBTI Affairs has also offered its support to Taylor’s family and assistance to authorities.

“There is still hope,” Alexus D’Marco, the group’s executive director, told Eyewitness News Bahamas. “They’re just looking for that piece of hope and to have some closure to finding their loved one.” 

D’Marco also called for Bahamian authorities to do more to investigate missing persons’ cases in the country.

“A human being is missing, and that is the whole thing about this,” she told Eyewitness News Bahamas. “Regardless of her gender identity, being identified as a trans person, she’s still a human being and she’s still a visitor to our shores.” 

Anyone with information about Casey’s disappearance can call the Royal Bahamas Police Force’s Criminal Investigation Department at (242) 502-9991, (242) 502-9975, or (202) 502-9976.

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