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Poland LGBTQ ‘Free Zones’ tossed, UK ranking drops, Pussy Riot singer escapes

Maria Alyokhina fled Russia disguised as a food delivery driver

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Sopot (Poland) Vice Mayor Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim, right, and LGBTQ marchers (Photo courtesy of Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim)

LGBTQ news from Europe this past week saw a major development in Poland after a court annulled actions taken previously to declare ‘LGBT Free Zones’ by provincial governments.

Large parts of Poland were labelled “LGBT-free zones,” where regional governments declared they were against LGBTQ ideology. Last fall the executive branch of the European Union, the European Commission, sent letters out last week to the governors of five of Poland’s voivodeships, (provinces) warning that pandemic relief funds totaling over 126 million euros ($150 million) will be withheld over anti-LGBTQ measures passed in their jurisdictions.

Poland has seen a resurgence in the past three years of rightwing religious ultra-conservative groups backed by nationalistic extremists in this heavily Catholic country of 38 million, which have led to passage of measures to restrict pride parades and other LGBTQ-friendly events from taking place.

Proponents of these measures claim the necessity of the provinces to be “free of LGBTQ ideology” saying this is mandated by average Poles as well as by the anti-LGBTQ views of the Catholic Church.

The majority of Polish people support LGBTQ rights surrounding marriage and family, according to research by Miłość Nie Wyklucza (Love Does Not Exclude.) 

The survey found 56 percent of respondents believe same-sex marriage should be legal to ensure the safety of their children. Even more, 65 percent, said they felt “a biological parent raising a child with a same-sex partner” fits the definition of family. And 58 percent of people said a same-sex couple is a family even without children. 

Lublin Regional Assembly passed a resolution in April 2019 declaring that LGBTQ rights aim to “annihilate” the “values shaped by the Catholic Church” PinkNewsUK reported.

In the same month, Ryki County, a district in Lublin, passed a resolution voting to protect “children, young people, families and Polish schools” from an apparent wave of “homoterror” being unleashed by “left-liberal groups.”

PinkNewsUK also reported that the Provincial Administrative Court in Lublin found the resolutions were “adopted without legal basis and in gross violation of the law” after a legal challenge by the Polish Ombudsman.

They become the eighth and ninth “LGBT-free zones” voided by the courts following interventions by the Polish Ombudsman. Municipal councils in Istebna, Klwów, Serniki, Osiek, Lipinki, Niebylec and the Tarnowski County Council all scrapped such measures in 2019.

This past June, the leaders of 17 European Union countries had signed a letter that urges the EU to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The EU has also called out the anti-LGBTQ measures taken more recently in Hungary.

ILGA-Europe, a Brussels based advocacy group promoting the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, at the European level, in a statement it sent to the Blade in June after the EU letter was issued, notes that both Hungary and Poland, another EU country in which lawmakers have sought to restrict LGBTQ rights in recent years are at odds with the EU position on LGBTQ+ people.

“For quite some time now, we’ve been informing EU ministers about systematic breaches of EU law committed by Hungary and Poland, which impact on LGBTI rights and the lives of LGBTI people,” says ILGA-Europe.

The UK has dropped to 14th in the ILGA-Europe’s rankings for LGBTQ rights, scoring 53 out of a possible 100

ILGA-Europe, which produces a yearly “rainbow map” of 49 countries across Europe, revealed this past week that the United Kingdom had the most significant drop in ranking for LGBTQ equality rights this past year falling from 10th to 14th place.

Leading contributors to the loss in ranking and standing on the ILGA annual listing was due in part to the ongoing battles over transgender rights with a failure by the Tory-led government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to set gender recognition policies especially in regard to a total ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy.

ILGA-Europe’s advocacy director, Katrin Hugendubel, described the UK’s plunging status to The Guardian newspaper as “a sad reminder that when governments don’t stand strong on their commitments to advance minority rights, a powerful opposition can use that space to spread hate and division”.

The chief executive of Stonewall UK, Nancy Kelley, warned that “years of progress on LGBTQ+ policy that was achieved under successive administrations has been rapidly eroded by a UK government that has taken its foot off the pedal”.

The ILGA highlighted the UK government’s failure to extend a ban on conversion practices to transgender people, as well as abandonment of promised reforms on gender recognition and its equality action plan. It added that the UK also lost points because the government’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was “not … effectively protecting on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” the Guardian reported.

Kelley called on the prime minister to “step back into the game” as a leader in protecting and promoting LGBTQ rights.

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first Pride in the UK, we call for his active leadership to rebuild our human rights institutions and to deliver a strategic policy programme that enables all LGBTQ+ people in the UK to live their lives in freedom and safety.”

Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot escaped from Russia disguised as a food delivery worker

In what could be best described as a story worthy of a Cold-War era spy novel, the leader of the Russian activist band Pussy Riot fled Russia disguised as a food-delivery worker. Maria V. Alyokhina in an interview with the New York Times that she was able to get to her girlfriend’s home in Vilnius, Lithuania, after evading Russian Federal Security Services agents.

The queer singer-songwriter musician and human rights activist who was on house arrest at the time of her escape was set to be transferred to a penal colony in the Russian Far East after being arrested six times in the past year protesting the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and more recently his order for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to the account in the New York Times, Alyokhina left her apartment in the food-delivery worker disguise, and an unnamed friend drove her to the Belarusian border. The problem then became exiting from Belarus to Lithuania as she was turned away at the border twice by Lithuanian border agents.

The Times reported that Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson eventually helped Alyokhina acquire the necessary travel documents from an unnamed country that in turn assisted her entering into Lithuania, where many Pussy Riot members had already escaped to, including Alyokhina’s girlfriend, Lucy Shtein.

The band has now kicked off their European tour in Berlin.

Pussy Riot concert with activist after escape from Russia

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Turkish police arrest hundreds over banned Pride parade

Istanbul officials sought to prevent event from happening

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LGBTQ activists in Istanbul on June 26, 2022, with a banner reads: ""If you don't let us walk, we will open our asses" (Photo courtesy of Kuir Mavzer/Kaos GL)

Hundreds of LGBTQ people, allies and supporters took to the streets of Istanbul Sunday in defiance of the country’s government’s ongoing 2014 ban of Pride parades and Pride Month festivities.

Protestors violently clashed repeatedly with police and security forces in various neighborhoods located around the Bol Ahenk Sokak (Pedestrian Plaza) and other sections of the central downtown area.

Authorities had shut down the city’s transit systems hours prior to the influx of LGBTQ activists and demonstrators and flooded streets with police in riot gear who made hundreds of arrests, in some cases tear gassing participants and attacking them with clubs.

Government security forces arrested over 373 people including Agence France-Presse journalist and chief photographer Bülent Kılıç. Detainees were taken by bus to a central holding facility for processing. Photojournalist Mehmet Demirci documented the arrest of Kılıç in a Twitter post.

Ankara-based Kaos GL, the largest Turkish LGBTQ activist group, documented the arrests and clashes which occurred prior to the 5 p.m. planned parade kick-off in a series of Twitter posts.

KAOS GL in a press release on Monday noted that “the detentions experienced during the march, was among ‘firsts’ for this year. Totally 373 LGBTIs and LGBTI+ right defenders were taken into custody on the day of march! This number is a record both in the history of Pride marches and the other public demonstrations.”

The group also recorded the scope of anti-LGBTQ Pride Month bans and pressure by Turkey’s governmental bodies across the country.

“There were 10 ban decisions announced within the scope of Pride Month events. These ban decisions were taken by Boğaziçi University Rectorate, METU Rectorate, Gaziantep Governorship, Çanakkale Governorship, Datça District Governorship, Beyoğlu District Governorship, Kadıköy District Governorship, Eskişehir Governorship and İzmir Governorship.

The detentions began with 70 people at ninth Boğaziçi Pride March on May 20, increasingly went on till June 26. 373 people were taken into custody in Istanbul on June 26. This number is among the highest detentions within the context of the public demonstrations in İstanbul recent years. Totally 530 LGBTI+s and LGBTI+ right defenders were detained in 37 days.”

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German soccer federation announces transgender players can choose their team

Rule takes effect in 2022-2023 season

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(Photo courtesy of the German Football Association)

The German Football Association (Deutscher Fußball-Bund e.V.) this week issued new regulations and rules governing all transgender, intersex and non-binary players.

On Thursday the governing soccer body passed a new regulation that takes effect as of the start of the upcoming 2022-2023 season allowing all trans, intersex and non-binary players to decide for themselves whether to compete on men’s or women’s teams.

The DFB also specified that as long as the player’s health is not affected by playing sports while taking medication, they can continue to participate in the sport. Under the new regulation, this would not be considered as doping.

This marks a departure from the recent trend and actions of other international sports governing associations such those taken earlier this month by the swimming’s world governing body FINA, which meeting in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest, voted to restrict trans athletes from elite women’s competitions.

FINA said their action was necessary to determine eligibility criteria because of the “biological performance gap” that appears between males and females.

Thomas Hitzlsperger, the DFB’s diversity ambassador, said “Football (soccer) stands for diversity, a value that the DFB also promotes. This new regulation on playing rights will provide an important foundation to allow players with diverse gender identities to play football.”

Sabine Mammitzsch, the vice president for women’s and girls’ football (soccer) welcomes the regulation telling media outlets:

“The national and regional associations and also those responsible at grassroots level have signaled for some time that there is uncertainty around how to treat trans, intersex and non-binary players in practice. They therefore welcome the introduction of a far-reaching, nationwide regulation on the playing rights of these groups.”

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Mass shooting in Norwegian capital leaves 2 dead, cancels Pride

Gunman opened fire at Oslo gay bar

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Head of Oslo Pride Inger Kristin Haugsevje. (Screen capture via Global News YouTube)

A gunman entered an establishment popular with the LGBTQ community in the Norwegian capital city’s nightlife district on Saturday morning at approximately 1 a.m. local time and opened fire, killing two people and injuring dozens more.

A spokesperson for the Norwegian Police Service told the Washington Blade in a phone call that officials are investigating the matter as an act of terrorism. According to the official, the suspect is a 42-year-old Norwegian citizen originally from Iran.

Multiple eyewitnesses reported that the suspect had entered the bar and produced a semi-automatic rifle from a bag and started shooting.

Olav Roenneberg, a reporter with Norway’s largest broadcast media outlet NRK who was on scene when the shooting started, told NRK colleagues in an interview “I saw a man arrive at the site with a bag. He picked up a weapon and started shooting. First I thought it was an air gun. Then the glass of the bar next door was shattered and I understood I had to run for cover.”

The police official, while not confirming the weapon used, did acknowledge that the shooter had been known to Norwegian officials in the country’s security services since 2015 as a “suspected radicalized Islamist” and also apparently had a history of mental illness. The official also pointed out that up until the incident there were no previous major criminal acts committed by the suspect.

Because of the incident, organizers of the Pride parade which had been scheduled to start hours after the shooting was cancelled. The parade was set to culminate the week long Pride festivities in Oslo.

Norwegian Prime Minister Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere wrote in a public post on Facebook that “the shooting outside London Pub in Oslo tonight was a cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.” He added “We all stand by you,” showing support for the country’s LGBTQ citizenry.

Norway’s King Harald V issued a statement offering condolences and said he and Norway’s royal family were “horrified by the night’s shooting tragedy.”

“We sympathize with all relatives and affected and send warm thoughts to all who are now scared, restless and in grief,” the Norwegian monarch said. “We must stand together to defend our values: Freedom, diversity and respect for each other. We must continue to stand up for all people to feel safe.”

Oslo Pride issued a statement concerning cancelling the Pride parade;

“Oslo Pride has received clear advice and recommendation from the police that the parade, Pride park and other events in connection with Oslo Pride be canceled. Oslo Pride therefore asks everyone who has planned to participate in or watch the parade not to attend. All events in connection with Oslo Pride are canceled.

Now we will follow the police’s recommendations and take care of each other. Warm thoughts and love go to relatives, the injured and others affected. We will soon be proud and visible again, but today we will hold and share the pride celebrations from home,” says Inger Kristin Haugsevje, leader of Oslo Pride, and Inge Alexander Gjestvang, leader of the Association for Gender and Sexuality Diversity.

Oslo Pride has close communication with the police and is following the situation, and will provide ongoing information.

The White House reacted to the news of the shooting issuing a statement by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan;

“The horrific shooting in Norway this morning has been felt around the world. The United States strongly condemns this act of terror. We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims, the diverse and strong LGBTQI+ community of Oslo, our close NATO ally Norway, and all who have been devastated by this senseless act. The United States has been in touch with the Norwegian government and offered to provide assistance. We remain committed to continuing to partner with Norway to advance a more equitable and just world for all, free from violence and discrimination.”

Oslo shooting being investigated as act of terrorism:

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