Connect with us

European Union

Dutch ambassador to U.S. reaffirms country’s commitment to LGBTQ, intersex rights

Amsterdam Rainbow Dress displayed at Lincoln Memorial on Monday

Published

on

Dutch Ambassador to the U.S. André Haspels (Photo courtesy of the Dutch Embassy)

Dutch Ambassador to the U.S. André Haspels on Tuesday said the Netherlands remains committed to LGBTQ and intersex rights in his country and around the world.

Haspels spoke with the Washington Blade a day after the embassy, the Capital Pride Alliance and the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation showcased the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress at the Lincoln Memorial.

The dress, which has a 52′ circumference, contains the flags of the 68 countries in which consensual same-sex consensual relations remain criminalized. 

The Netherlands in 2001 became the first country in the world to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. The dress’ bodice, which is made with Amsterdam’s city flag, commemorates this watershed moment in the global LGBTQ and intersex rights movement.

A press release from the Dutch Embassy notes the dress was made in 2016 and was first displayed at Rotterdam Pride. 

Models in the U.S., Spain, South Africa, Greece, Australia and other countries have worn it. Makia Green, an LGBTQ and intersex rights activist, and Vagenesis, a drag performer and advocate, wore the dress while it was in D.C.

“We invited the Rainbow Dress to come over to the United States, to Washington, to show our support for LGBTIQ+ rights worldwide,” said Haspels. “What better location is there in front of the Lincoln Memorial, because LGBTIQ+ rights are part of a broader aspect of human rights.”

“The main issue is to focus on the importance of LGBTQI rights, and also understanding and promoting the fact that it is important to ensure freedom for everyone to decide whom they want to love and to identify and whom they want to identify with as they wish,” he added. “That’s our goal for the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress.”

The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress in D.C. on May 15, 2023. (Photo by Stephen Voss)

Haspels spoke with the Blade a day before the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Kyiv Pride on Wednesday noted its staffers visited the Dutch Embassy in the Ukrainian capital, “where the flag of the LGBTIQ+ community was solemnly raised in honor of the Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.”

“This was an extremely important event for our community,” tweeted Kyiv Pride.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on May 4 met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and other members of his government while he was in the country. Zelenskyy also visited the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The ICC in March issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova. The Netherlands-based court accuses them of abducting children from Ukraine. 

“It is important to continue to support Ukraine in many different ways,” Haspels told the Blade. “We continue to support them with military aid, with rehabilitation aid. We also receive refugees from Ukraine.”

Haspels said his government continues to gather “information about war crimes to make sure those who are responsible for this terrible war will be held accountable.” He also said the Netherlands continues to “welcome all Ukrainians, irrespective of their backgrounds, and who they are.”

“They are most welcome,” said Haspels.

The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress in D.C. on May 15, 2023. (Photo by Stephen Voss)

Haspels noted WorldPride 2026 will take place in Amsterdam. (The biennial event will take place in D.C. in 2025.) 

The Netherlands is a member of the Global Equality Fund, a U.S. initiative that seeks to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world. Haspels pointed out to the Blade that his country also works with the European Union on these issues, and has invited activists from Uganda and other countries to the Netherlands.

Ugandan lawmakers earlier this month once again approved their country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.” The Netherlands is among the countries that have urged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to veto the bill.

“We have to be honest, it’s not always an easy environment,” Haspels told the Blade in response to a question about the Anti-Homosexuality Act and supporting LGBTQ and intersex activists and rights around the world. “Sometimes you have to be cautious also not to bring people, in this case, Ugandan people, into danger.”

“It’s not easy, but we have no alternative than to continue focusing on these rights and strive for improvement,” he added.

‘We also can improve’

The Netherlands received a 56 percent score in the annual ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map and Index report that the European LGBTQ and intersex rights group last week. ILGA-Europe made three specific recommendations to the Dutch government.

         • Prohibiting medical interventions on intersex minors when the intervention has no medical necessity and can be avoided or postponed until the person can provide informed consent. 

         • Reforming the legal framework for legal gender recognition to be fair, transparent, based on a process of self-determination and free from abusive requirements (such as GID/medical diagnosis or age restriction.) 

         • Banning so-called “conversion practices” on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Haspels acknowledged his government can do more to extend rights to LGBTQ and intersex people.

“There’s the law, and there’s the rules and regulations, which are very important,” he said. “We also can improve.”

Haspels noted there is “still a lot of legislation in preparation in order to improve the situation.” Haspels also specifically pointed to violence against LGBTQ and intersex rights activists where the “police did not act responsibly.”

“We’re struggling with that,” he said.

“There’s scope for improvement for my country as well, but again, I think the most important thing is to bring it out in the open, to start a discussion,” added Haspels. “That’s also the idea of the Rainbow Dress, and we’re also working together with United States. Also there in the United States, things can still be improved … We follow closely what’s going on in other countries, but the most important thing is to have a dialogue.”

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

European Union

The 2024 European elections: A turning point for LGBTQ rights in the EU?

Right-wing parties made electoral gains

Published

on

European Union President von der Leyen addresses the European Parliament in October 2023. (Screenshot courtesy of the European Council Press Office)

As the dust settles after the 2024 European Parliament elections, right-wing parties are gaining substantial ground and concerns about the potential impact on LGBTQ rights are growing. The projected surge in support for far-right parties, however, was not as pronounced as some had expected.

Monday morning’s estimates indicate the far-right’s presence has, however, undeniably increased. 

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) gained four seats, bringing their total to 73. The Identity and Democracy group saw a significant rise, gaining nine seats to reach 58. Together, these nationalist, anti-immigrant parties now hold around 130 seats, reflecting their growing influence. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, which clinched over 32 percent of the vote, and the Alternative for Germany securing approximately 16 percent of the vote and becoming the country’s second-largest party, ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, in particular could affect the broader political dynamics in Europe.

Despite the gains for the far-right, the mainstream conservative European People’s Party (EPP) emerged as the largest group, securing 189 seats, an increase of 13 seats. The two other centrist parties, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and Renew Europe, however, experienced losses that eroded the political center. S&D finished with 135 seats, losing four, while Renew Europe saw a significant reduction, finishing with 83 seats.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen celebrated her party’s victory and called for cooperation among centrists to ensure a “strong and effective Europe.” She emphasized the responsibility that comes with the election results, noting the need for stability amid growing support for extremist parties.

The election’s biggest losers were the Greens, who saw their support decrease by 25 percent, ending with 53 seats. The Greens, despite this setback, could still play a crucial role in supporting centrist majorities as an alternative to further-right parties.

All eyes are now on the election winners, the EPP. 

Von der Leyen has indicated her readiness to work with certain parties sitting with the hard-right ECR. Initial signals from the EPP camp, however, suggest it will stay true to its traditional allies at the center. Von der Leyen has offered to work with socialists and liberals to build a “majority in the center for a strong Europe,” underscoring the importance of maintaining a united front against extremism.

The narrow margins in the new parliament could lead to issue-by-issue coalitions, especially for sensitive issues such as those related to the European Green Deal. This limited room for maneuver could see the EPP relying on partners to its right on an ad hoc basis, including for critical decisions that include ushering in a new commission president. Von der Leyen’s future hangs in the balance as she seeks re-election. National delegations within her EPP grouping and support from lawmakers of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which clinched 24 seats, will play a crucial role in her bid to secure an absolute majority of 361 MEPs.

The implications for LGBTQ rights in Europe are significant. 

Far-right parties, known for their conservative social values, might push for policies that restrict LGBTQ rights, opposing marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, and challenging the legal recognition of gender identity and access to healthcare for transgender people. Such potential policy reversals represent a significant setback for the LGBTQ community.

The rising popularity of far-right ideologies also poses a risk of heightened discrimination and hate speech against LGBTQ people. 

Hate-motivated violence and exclusion are likely to become more prevalent, along with more frequent and aggressive hate speech targeting the LGBTQ community. Additionally, far-right parties often promote traditional gender roles and family structures, potentially undermining the visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ identities. Nonbinary, transgender, and intersex people could face increased stigmatization.

The 16th annual Rainbow Map that ILGA-Europe publishes underscores the importance of legal protections for LGBTQ people. 

Authoritarian leaders across Europe continue to use the scapegoating of LGBTQ people to divide and mobilize their electorates. Several countries, however, have demonstrated robust political will to advance and protect LGBTQ rights. Some countries — Germany, Iceland, Estonia, and Greece — have made significant strides in protecting LGBTQ rights through improvements in legislation and anti-discrimination measures. Belgium, Cyprus, Norway, and Portugal have introduced bans on conversion therapy practices.

Countries such as Italy, on the other hand, show the consequences of stalling legislative protection for LGBTQ people. Moreover, EU accession countries, including Turkey and Georgia, are actively eroding human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Rainbow Map illustrates the stark differences in how European countries handle LGBTQ rights. 

While some nations are making significant progress, others are regressing, influenced by the far-right’s growing power. Germany, Iceland, Estonia, and Greece, for example, have made noteworthy improvements in their legal frameworks to protect LGBTQ people. Germany prohibited hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics, while Estonia and Greece amended their laws to allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.

In contrast, Italy, which has dropped in the rankings due to stalling legislative protections, exemplifies the risk of complacency that many activists in Europe fear. The far-right’s influence can quickly lead to the erosion of rights if proactive measures are not taken. The situation is even more dire in EU accession countries such as Turkey and Georgia, where LGBTQ rights are actively being rolled back.

The stakes are high as Europe moves forward from these elections. 

The EU must address the rise in political hate speech and new tools of oppression that include Russia’s criminalization of the LGBTQ movement. Without strong laws and policies to protect LGBTQ people, the foundation of safety, rule of law, and democracy in Europe is at risk.

The balance of power remains delicate as the European Parliament prepares for its new term.

The first major test will be the approval of the new European Commission president, which is set for July. Von der Leyen, who narrowly won her position five years ago, will need to secure broad support among centrists while navigating the complex dynamics of the new parliament. The secret ballot process adds an additional layer of uncertainty, making her re-election far from guaranteed.

The 2024 European elections have set the stage for potentially significant changes in the legislative and social landscape of the EU. As right-wing parties gain power, the fight for LGBTQ rights becomes more crucial than ever. The next few years will be pivotal in determining whether Europe can uphold its commitment to human rights and equality or if it will see a regression influenced by nationalist, conservative ideologies.

Continue Reading

European Union

Gay Ukrainian man struggles to rebuild life in Berlin

Dmytro Shapoval arrived in Germany in March 2022

Published

on

Dmytro Shapoval in Berlin on April 15, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on assignment in Berlin from April 12-15.

BERLIN — A gay Ukrainian man with HIV who fled his war-torn country more than two years ago remains in Berlin.

Dmytro Shapoval first spoke with the Washington Blade in July 2022.

He was working at an IT company’s call center and studying web and UX design in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, when Russia launched its war against his country on Feb. 24, 2022. Shapoval less than a month later swam across a river with his cat Peach and entered Poland.

He arrived in the German capital on March 19, 2022.

“I feel very secure here,” said Shapoval when he first spoke with the Blade on July 22, 2022, during a reception that took place at the end of a two-day meeting with European activists the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration organized.

Shapoval again spoke with the Blade on April 15 while he was at ORAM’s offices near Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz.

He said he was sleeping on a mattress on the kitchen floor of a Ukrainian friend’s apartment in Berlin’s Wedding neighborhood, while looking for a more permanent place to live. 

Shapoval had just finished an IT course at a private university, but told the Blade he “was not in that headspace to study” because of the depression from which he said he suffers. Shapoval also told the Blade the German government has postponed his residency permit for a year.

“It’s challenging,” he said.

Germany has granted temporary protection to nearly 1 million Ukrainians

The German government has granted temporary protection to more than 900,000 Ukrainians since the war began. (The U.N. Refugee Agency says there are 2.2 million refugees in Germany.)

Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa.

The German government offers those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing, food and other basic needs. Ukrainian refugees can also access health care, language classes, job training programs and childcare. 

Shapoval and other single Ukrainian refugees receive €563 ($609.30) a month through the program.

Shapoval told the Blade it is difficult for him to find a job because his legal status remains uncertain. He also complained about German bureaucracy, which he described as “such a hell here.”

A memorial to Ukrainians who have died during Russia’s war against their country in Berlin on April 13, 2024. The memorial was across the street from the Russian Embassy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Shapoval’s mother remains in Dnipro, a city on the Dnipro River that is roughly 300 miles southeast of Kyiv.

He said the first year of the war was “pretty quiet” in Dnipro because it is not as big as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa and other Ukrainian cities. Shapoval said the situation in Dnipro changed last fall.

Shapoval told the Blade a Russian missile hit a nine-story civilian building in the city.

“I had the worst day of my life because I knew that my mom was going to Dnipro,” he said.

Shapoval said the building the missile hit struck was close to his grandmother’s home.

“I was so horrified,” he told the Blade. “I was trying to call her to get in touch. She was not answering at all.”

Shapoval said his grandmother called him several hours after the attack. She told him the missile strike damaged the city’s communications infrastructure.

“It’s pretty horrible,” said Shapoval.

Shapoval spoke with the Blade hours before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a controversial conscription law that seeks to replenish the country’s military. Zelensky last month also enacted a statute that lowers the minimum draft age from 27 to 25.

Shapoval said he does not want to go into the military, and has thoughts that he would die in the war. Shapoval also told the Blade he does not watch news reports about Ukraine because they exacerbate his depression.

“Just seeing these buildings destroyed and sometimes (at night when) people are sleeping there, or also (seeing) news about kids being stolen into Russia and then brainwashed there in these camps … is really bad,” he said.

Dmytro Shapoval in Berlin on July 22, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

‘You’re a white refugee, so everything’s fine’

Shapoval noted support for Ukrainian refugees in Germany has begun to wane.

He recalled a conversation he had at a queer bookstore in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood during which someone who he described as German asked him what its like to be a refugee.

“Without even letting me answer without any space, he’s like, ‘Oh, but you’re a white refugee, so everything’s fine,'” recalled Shapoval.

Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, launched a surprise attack against Israel. 

Shapoval said the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip has pushed the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the plight of Ukrainian refugees out of the headlines. He also recalled an exchange he had with a Syrian woman with whom he had become friends in Berlin after Oct. 7.

Shapoval said she wrote in an Instagram post that “one or two years of war in Ukraine, this amount of kids died and two months of war in Palestine, this amount of kids died.”

“I’m like, what the fuck is that?” he recalled. “It’s not a competition of dead babies.”

“The fact you put two in comparison already makes one side less valuable and one side more valuable, but it’s also different pain,” added Shapoval. “I know that it is also horrible there … it seems like people are not understanding that.”

Shapoval said he reached out to her and tried to explain his perspective.

“It’s a bit hard right now,” he told the Blade.  

Continue Reading

European Union

Activists demand EU sanction Uganda over Anti-Homosexuality Act

Yoweri Museveni signed law on May 29, 2023

Published

on

Hillary Innocent Taylor Seguya, an LGBTQ rights activist, speaks at a protest in front of the European Union Delegation to the United States’s offices in D.C. on April 18, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

More than a dozen activists who protested in front of the European Union Delegation to the United States in D.C. on Thursday demanded the EU to sanction Uganda over the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Hillary Innocent Taylor Seguya, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist, and Global Black Gay Men Connect Executive Director Micheal Ighodaro are among those who spoke at the protest. Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell also participated in the event that her organization organized along with GBGMC and Convening for Equality Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ rights group.

(Washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The country’s Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” A group of Ugandan LGBTQ activists have appealed the ruling.

A press release that Health GAP issued ahead of Thursday’s protest notes EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen on March 6 announced more than €200 million ($212.87 million) for Uganda in support of “small business owners, young female entrepreneurs, agribusinesses as well as vital digital infrastructure projects in full Team Europe format with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and several member states.”

“These concrete initiatives will make a difference to aspiring entrepreneurs, Ugandan businesses and create jobs in multiple sectors,” said Urpilainen in a press release that announced the funds. “This is a perfect example of how Global Gateway can make a tangible difference for citizens and businesses and unlock the full potential of a partner country by working together.”

Convening for Equality Uganda on Tuesday in a letter they sent to Urpilainen asked the EU to review all funding to Uganda and “pause or reprogram any funds that go via government entities.” The protesters on Thursday also demanded European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “to hold Ugandan President Museveni’s government accountable for this attack on human rights.”

Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, in a statement he released after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act said the law “is contrary to international human rights law and to Uganda’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, including commitments on dignity and nondiscrimination, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.”

“The Ugandan government has an obligation to protect all of its citizens and uphold their basic rights,” said Borrell. “Failure to do so will undermine relationships with international partners.”

“The European Union will continue to engage with the Ugandan authorities and civil society to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are treated equally, with dignity and respect,” he added.

Urpilainen last September in a letter to the European Parliament said the EU would not suspend aid to Uganda over the law.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular