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Pope, Canterbury archbishop, Presbyterian leader denounce criminalization laws

Religious officials made comments after leaving South Sudan

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Pope Francis The pontiff, along with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields of the Church of Scotland on Feb. 5, 2023, denounced criminalization laws after they left South Sudan. (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the world’s top Presbyterian minister on Sunday publicly denounced laws that criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people and said their respective churches should welcome them.

The Associated Press noted Francis told reporters during a press conference onboard his plane after it departed from South Sudan that “criminalizing people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice.” Welby and the Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields, the Presbyterian moderator of the Church of Scotland, were standing alongside the pontiff.

“There is nowhere in my reading of the four Gospels where I see Jesus turning anyone away,” said Greenshields, according to the AP. “There is nowhere in the four Gospels where I see anything other than Jesus expressing love to whomever he meets.” 

“And as Christians, that is the only expression that we can possibly give to any human being, in any circumstance,” added Greenshields.

Francis during an exclusive interview with the AP on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.” 

The pontiff acknowledged some Catholic bishops support criminalization laws and other statutes that discriminate against LGBTQ and intersex people. Francis told the AP that cultural backgrounds contribute to these attitudes, and added “bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.”

Francis spoke to the AP ahead of his trip to Congo and South Sudan, which is among the nearly 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The pontiff — who was a vocal opponent of the marriage equality bill in his native Argentina before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it into law in 2010 — now supports civil unions for same-sex couples. 

The AP notes the Church of Scotland allows same-sex marriages. The Church of England allows clergy to bless same-sex civil marriages, but LGBTQ couples cannot marry in its churches. 

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, but the church continues to consider homosexuality a sin. The Vatican also opposes marriage for same-sex couples and blessings of them. 

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Africa

Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC invited the Democratic Alliance and other parties to form a Government of National Unity.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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Africa

Namibian High Court strikes down Apartheid-era sodomy laws

Gay activist challenged statutes in 2020

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(Bigstock photo)

The Namibian High Court on Friday ruled laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country are unconstitutional.

Friedel Dausab, a gay activist, in 2020 challenged the Apartheid-era statute.

The Washington Blade previously reported Dausab said the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, which listed “sodomy” as a Schedule 1 offense, and a second law that criminalized “unnatural” sexual acts, promote stigma and exclusion of LGBTQ Namibians. Equal Namibia, a Namibian LGBTQ advocacy group, on its X account praised the ruling.

“Welcome to a new Namibia. A born-free Namibia,” it said.

Dausab, who challenged the laws with the assistance of Human Dignity Trust, a British NGO, told Reuters he is “just happy.”

“It’s a great day for Namibia,” he said. “It won’t be a crime to love anymore.”

Namibia is the latest country in which consensual same-sex sexual relations have been decriminalized in recent years.

The Namibian Supreme Court in May 2023 ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. The landmark decision sparked criticism among leading politicians and religious officials.

Activists say their rhetoric has contributed to increased harassment of LGBTQ Namibians and hate speech against them.

Amnesty International in a press release notes MPs last June passed two bills that “seek to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminate against trans people and criminalize any support, celebration or promotion of same-sex unions with up to six years in jail and hefty fines.” Khanyo Farise, the group’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, said the organization in recent weeks has “observed alarming rhetoric threatening LGBTI persons in Namibia.”

“Whatever the outcome of the High Court decision on June 21, violence and discrimination against LGBTI people has no place in Namibian society,” said Farise. “Authorities should take decisive action to prevent human rights violations against LGBTI persons and hold perpetrators accountable.”

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United Nations

US ambassador to UN: LGBTQ community ‘has shown remarkable bravery and resilience’

Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted Pride Month reception on Tuesday

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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks at her annual Pride Month reception at the U.N. on June 18, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday at her annual Pride Month reception at the U.N. criticized those in the U.S. and elsewhere who continue to crackdown on LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield noted in the U.S. “a small, but threatening group of people continues to garget the LGBTI+ community, and especially trans individuals.” She specifically pointed out the increase of hate crimes in schools, especially in states with laws that target LGBTQ students. 

Thomas-Greenfield described Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act — which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality” — as “draconian.” She also cited the case of a Russian woman who authorities jailed because she wore rainbow earrings.   

“Despite these challenges, the LGBTI+ community has shown remarkable bravery and resilience,” said Thomas-Greenfield. 

Lawmakers in Greece, Estonia and Thailand since Thomas-Greenfield hosted her 2023 Pride Month reception extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs and French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who are both gay, took office in July 2023 and in January 2024 respectively.

Dominica’s High Court of Justice in April struck down provisions of a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. German lawmakers the same month approved a statute that will make it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to legally change their name and gender.

The U.N. has faced criticism over its response to Hamas’s surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7. The Washington Blade, which attended Tuesday’s reception, saw at least one person wearing a keffiyah, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity.

“Since day one, the Biden administration has made it a priority to prevent and combat discrimination, hatred and violence on the basis of sexual orientation, and gender identity,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “I’m proud of the many, many ways … that U.S. U.N. has led on this front.”

Thomas-Greenfield in 2023 chaired a meeting that examined ways the U.N. Security Council can integrate LGBTQ and intersex rights into its work. 

The U.S. is among the dozens of countries that are members of the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday noted the U.S. continues to work with the U.N. Economic and Social Council to include LGBTQ-specific language in resolutions that focus on elections and democracy. She also referenced the group of activists who gathered in Dag Hammerskjöld Plaza, which is across the street from the U.N., in April 1965 to “protest the treatment of gay individuals at home and abroad.”

“We’re following in the footsteps of those marchers outside in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza all those years ago,” she said.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, also spoke at the reception. The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and the West Point Benny Havens Band performed.

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