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Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

Sept. 16 marked a year since Mahsa Amini’s death in Iran

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

Iran

Shadi Amin, the executive director of Germany-based Iranian LGBTQ network 6rang (Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network), grew up in Iran thinking she was “sick” because she’s queer. In a recent interview with PinkNewsUK, Amin reflected on the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly not wearing a headscarf properly by Iran’s dreaded “morality police.”

The death of the young Iranian Kurdish woman on Sept. 16, 2022, touched off massive protests across the country, especially in its capital city of Tehran. But Amin points out that those protests over Amini’s death led to become a rally call to fight for the rights of women, LGBTQ folks and other marginalized groups in Iran.

“[LGBTQ+ people] are one of the most active and involved groups in these demonstrations and protests last year … We saw everywhere when there was a demonstration [there was] the rainbow flag, even if sometimes the people didn’t agree with that and they said go back,” Amin told PinkNewsUK.

“They tried to put us out of the demonstration, but I think our LGBTI youth community is really powerful and they try to bring their demands in this movement,” she added.

More than 22,000 people were arrested and hundreds killed, including some who were executed by the Iranian government in an effort to crush dissent through violence. 

Read the entire interview here: [Link]

Serbia

Earlier this month several hundred LGBTQ people and the allies marched in the Serbian capital of Belgrade marking the celebration of a Pride march that was unmarred by violence in this religious conservative Balkan nation.

Belgrade Pride in 2019 (Photo courtesy of Belgrade Pride)

Radio Free Europe noted that in a similar event last year, at least 21 people were arrested in connection with attacks against police, with most of them suspected of being far-right hooligans protesting against the LGBTQ Pride march. 

The government of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic reversed its decision to ban the international EuroPride parade event on Thursday, Serbian state media reported.

On Sept. 12, officials from EuroPride and Belgrade Pride, commemorated the start of EuroPride 2022 in Belgrade with a ceremonial flag raising. On Friday led by the Dutch Embassy, members of the European Union and other non-EU states issued a joint statement applauding the Serbian government’s roll-back of the ban.

United Kingdom

Security footage of the attack on the Queer Superstore on Sept 10, 2023.

A 29-year-old man was arrested by Greater Manchester Police in connection with the vandalistic attacks on the Clonezone store on Sackville Street in the heart of Manchester Center. The store is the U.K.’s first and favorite Queer Superstore.

The suspect also being held on suspicion of 24 motor vehicle thefts and remains in custody for questioning.

Clonezone has been attacked five times this year, with the latest incident on Sept. 10 at approximately 2 p.m. Two men approached the shop on a bike on Sunday and attempted to smash the windows before throwing an object at the doors.

Chief Inspector Steve Wiggins, of GMP’s City Center Neighborhood Team, said: “This is the second arrest in connection with this series of disturbing incidents but the investigation is still very much ongoing.

The attacks are very specific with offenders arriving on bikes and causing significant damage.

We are keen to find out the motivations behind the attacks and believe that will help us trace those responsible and bring them to justice.

We have a dedicated team investigating these incidents, so if anybody knows anything about these attacks I would urge them to call police.”

Information can be passed on to police by calling 0161 856 3345 or via 101, or anonymously through Crimestoppers at 0800 555 111.

More than 60 people joined the protest organized by Reading Pride outside the Oracle shopping center in downtown Reading, where Chick-fil-A opened its first U.K. temporary pop-up store on Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Reading Pride)

American fast food chain Chick-Fil-A announced its plans to open five new franchise stores around Britain in as yet to be disclosed locations, the BBC reported on Sept. 15.

Chick-fil-A had previously launched a pop-up store for a six month lease in the Oracle shopping center in Reading in 2019, but was met with severe opposition and its lease wasn’t renewed. British LGBTQ rights activists protested the College Park, Ga.,-based food chain’s donations to groups that have a record of being opposed to LGBTQ rights.

During the 2019 protests in Reading, the BBC noted that Reading Pride spokesperson Kirsten Bayes told protesters: “Companies like this have no place here in Reading and they have no place anywhere.

“We are standing in solidarity with campaigners across the United States … for justice and freedom for LGBT people.”

A local elected official, Reading Labor Councilor Sarah Hacker said: “We can make sure that they don’t spread their hatred across the U.K.”

The fast food chain firm is run by the Cathy family, who have publicly stated their opposition to same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues.  In 2020, the firm softened its stance and shifted its focus, hiring a diversity vice president. The BBC reported that the company changed its approach to charitable giving, focusing on education and hunger alleviation, moving away from donations directed at anti-LGBTQ organizations, including several of those listed as extremist hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“From our earliest days, we’ve worked to positively influence the places we call home and this will be the same for our stores in the U.K.,” Joanna Symonds, Chick-Fil-A’s head of U.K. operations, told the BBC.

“We encourage our operators to partner with organizations which support and positively impact their local communities, delivering great food and wider benefits to those around them,” she added.

In announcing the new U.K. investment, the chain highlighted its current charitable work, which include a $25,000 one-off donation to a local non-profit organization when a Chick-fil-A restaurant is opened, and donations of surplus food to local shelters, soup kitchens and food charities. Those policies would apply to its U.K. branches too, it said.

Ireland

The apparent rebranding of a beloved LGBTQ bar and safe space in Cork and makeover provoked protests by the local queer community.

Irish LGBTQ publication GCN reported that in recent weeks, people began to notice a change in the appearance of Chambers Bar, no longer recognizable as an LGBTQ space. A new sign had been displayed above the doorway with the name “Sinners” in black and white, a stark contrast to the venue’s once vibrant appearance.

Patrons gather outside of Chambers Bar on Washington Street in Cork, Ireland, in June 2021 after its relaunch, having been closed down for the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Chambers Bar/Facebook)

This name is nothing new to people in Cork, as Chambers Bar has been hosting student nights under this name for a number of years. Even so, this year was the first time that, in addition to hosting a student night for “Freshers” Week, all Pride flags, rainbow curtains and posters for upcoming drag shows were also taken down.

However, the catalyst for sparking an onslaught of backlash seems to have come from the cancellation of a weekly drag show. This was to be hosted by Cork drag queen Krystal Queer, who took to Instagram to express her disappointment in a video that now has over 300,000 views.

In stark contrast to the small group of anti-transgender protesters gathered in Dublin to hear anti-LGBTQ TERF Kellie-Jay Keen, a.k.a. Posie Parker, speak at her “Let Women Speak Rally” at Merrion Square, Trans and Intersex Pride Dublin had nearly a thousand supporters turn out to counter demonstrate.

The Irish Times reported that a large police presence was visible in and around the square and metal barriers were erected to create a space between the rival demonstrations.

The counter demo by Trans and Intersex Pride Dublin assembled outside the lower house of the Irish legislature on Kildare Street ahead of marching into Merrion Square.

Leading pro-trans activist Jenny Maguire told the crowd: “We as queer people are forced into a world that’s not meant for us.”

“We do everything we can to force a world that accepts us and that can love us all unapologetically, and it is them that wants to reverse any progress we’ve made so far and pull us back into the Dark Ages.”

Italy

Italy’s right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has demanded local councils only list biological parents on birth certificates, flinging hundreds of same-sex couples into a legal morass, France 24 News reported Thursday.

Journalist Lara Bullens reported that after same-sex civil unions were legalised in Italy in 2016, and in the absence of any clear legislation on parental rights for same-sex couples, a handful of city councils across the country started listing parents of the same gender on their children’s birth certificate.

This led to a situation of creating a host of “ghost parents.”

Rainbow Families Association families gather in Rome on July 25, 2023, to protest the anti-LGBTQ policies of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. (Photo courtesy of Famiglie Arcobaleno/Facebook)

But in recent months, Italy’s right-wing government has been cracking down on city councils to stop listing same-sex parents on birth certificates, France 24 reported. Led by the hardline traditionalist Meloni, the ministry of interior issued a directive in January 2023 instructing Italian mayors to stop automatically registering the births of children conceived or born abroad through assisted reproductive methods. 

It cited a case from December 2022, in which Italy’s top court ruled that a child of a gay couple who was conceived through surrogacy abroad shouldn’t have their birth certificate automatically transcribed in Italy.  

Though the directive primarily concerned surrogacy, which is banned in Italy and now even a crime for those seeking surrogacy abroad, its interpretation by local councils has disproportionally affected LGBTQ families — including those who resort to other reproductive methods.

Italy’s Family Minister Eugenia Roccella told Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra: “In Italy, one becomes a parent in only two ways — either by biological relationship or by adoption,” and urged same-sex parents to follow the adoption procedure.  

Currently the support for LGBTQ families on this issue is being provided by the LGBTQ rights organization, Famiglie Arcobaleno working alongside Rete Lenford, which is committed to advocacy for LGBTQ rights as an association of lawyers, lawyers, practitioners, scholars, students and people with experience in the issues surrounding LGBTQ rights.

Both Rete Lenford and Famiglie Arcobaleno, are representing hundreds of cases of the affected LGBTQ families in court.

Russia

(The following article is from Human Rights Watch

Last week the European Court of Human Rights handed down a ruling in the case of Maxim Lapunov, the only victim of Chechnya’s vile 2017 anti-gay purge who dared seek justice for the torture he suffered at the hands of local law enforcement.

The court found Lapunov was “detained and subjected to ill-treatment by State agents,” which “amounted to torture” and was perpetrated “solely on account of his sexual orientation.”

European Court of Human Rights (Photo courtesy of the Council of Europe)

Lapunov took his case to the European Court in May 2019 because the Russian authorities had failed to investigate his assault. Despite great personal risk, Lapunov had been eager to cooperate with Russia’s investigative authorities through the assistance of his persistent lawyers from the Committee Against Torture, a leading Russian human rights group.

Tanya Lokshina, the associate director, Europe and Central Asia Division for Human Rights Watch noted:

“I first met Lapunov nearly six years ago, when I moderated a news conference in Moscow at which he publicly told his story for the first time. Lapunov, then 30, described to a roomful of journalists how he had been rounded up and tortured along with dozens of others. His hands shook as he detailed the horrific experience. He stopped several times to regain composure but kept going.”

A Russian from Siberia who had traveled to Chechnya for work, Lapunov did not have to face what every Chechen man caught in the purge feared: Being targeted by his own relatives or exposing his entire family to overwhelming stigma because of his homosexuality. His captors threatened to kill him if he spoke out, but he refused to be silent. “We all have rights …,” he said at the news conference. “If we just let it be [in Chechnya], … we’ll never know whose son or daughter will be taken next.”

At the time, Russian authorities claimed they could not investigate the purge because no victims stepped up to testify. When Lapunov provided his staggering testimony, they still failed to investigate. In early 2019, Chechen police rounded up and tortured more men because of their presumed sexual orientation. Realizing they would never get the Russian authorities to do their job and investigate, Lapunov and his legal team filed their complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. Today, they won.

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia lost its Council of Europe membership and there is no hope that the Russian authorities will implement this ruling anytime soon. Yet it sets the record straight. This, I hope, will serve to support all survivors of the purge.

Additional reporting from PinkNewsUK, BBC, Agence France-Presse, GCN Ireland, the Irish Times and Human Rights Watch.

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Africa

Eswatini government refuses to allow LGBTQ rights group to legally register

Supreme Court previously ruled in favor of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities

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Members of the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group, after the Eswatini Supreme Court on May 5, 2023, heard arguments in their case in support of legally registering in the country. (Photo courtesy of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities)

The Eswatini Commerce, Industry and Trade Ministry this week said it will not allow an LGBTQ rights group to register.

The country’s Supreme Court in June ruled the government must allow Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities to register.

The Registrar of Companies in 2019 denied the group’s request. Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities the following year petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case. The Supreme Court initially ruled against the group, but it appealed the decision.

“[The] Minister of Commerce and Trade refuses to register ESGM citing the ‘Roman Dutch Law,'” said Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities on Thursday in a tweet to its X account. “This was after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the refusal to register ESGM by the registrar was unconstitutional.”

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Asia

Pakistan resumes issuing ID cards to transgender people

Federal Shariat Court in June ruled against trans rights law

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Kami Sid (Courtesy photo)

Pakistani authorities have resumed the registration of transgender people and issuing identity cards to them after the Supreme Court’s Sharia Appellate Bench on Sept. 25 ruled on the issue.

An Islamic court on June 13 ordered all data acquisition units to halt the registration of trans people and to issue identity cards only to males or females. 

The Supreme Court in 2009 extended civil rights to the trans community. Pakistani MPs in 2018 passed a historic law, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, that guaranteed all the rights available for all citizens to trans people, and prohibited any discrimination based on gender identity.

Jamiat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan and several other Pakistani religious political parties in 2022 raised objections to the law, stating it was un-Islamic. 

The Federal Shariat Court in May struck down three sections of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act and said Islamic teachings do not allow anyone to change their gender at their will. The court also said gender assigned at birth shall remain intact. 

The Islamic court’s June 13 verdict prohibited any new registration for an identity card with an X gender marker or update an older one. The National Database and Registration Authority after the ruling issued that halted the registration of trans people. Individuals in Pakistan need ID cards to open bank accounts, seek legal aid, report a crime to the police, ask for medical help and receive a passport. 

NADRA is an independent agency that regulates the government database and registration of sensitive information of citizens. The Federal Shariat Court is a constitutional Islamic court that scrutinizes and determines if laws made in Parliament comply with Sharia laws.

Nayyab Ali, a trans rights activist in Pakistan, during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade said the court’s voting bloc is based on religious elements. She also said right-wing political parties target trans Pakistanis when they do not get publicity.

“Right-wing political parties picked up the transgender issues in Parliament, and started hate speeches on transgender laws,” said Ali. “There is also a divide in the transgender community in Pakistan. Some transgender factions also support right-wing political parties to strengthen their agenda. People inside the government came from the grassroots level of society. Society has an extreme level of phobia and stigma for the transgender population, so when they come to power, they make policies that are against the transgender community.”

Ali told the Blade that former Prime Minister Imran Khan introduced an “Islamic utopia” in Pakistan and implemented an Islamization policy in his day-to-day politics, which created more hatred against trans community and affected society at large. 

Ali on X, formerly known as Twitter, praised the decision that allowed the resumption of issuing ID cards to trans people. Documents the Blade obtained indicate she is one of those who challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami Sid, a trans activist and executive director of Sub Rang Society, a Pakistan-based LGBTQ rights organization, said the community is happy and quite hopeful for a better future.

“First we as a community were very much worried about the Federal Shariat Court’s decision,” said Sid. “But after several advocacy and meetings we are quite hopeful for the fight against the Federal Shariat Court decision, and now quite relaxed as a transgender activist, I must say the community is happy.”

Kami, like Ali, also challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami told the Blade conservative parties over the last few years have become more willing to promote an agenda that opposes rights for women, children and trans people. 

“Transgender rights are human rights,” said Kami. “That is why the previous government refrained from commenting on the Shariah Court ruling out of fear of the right-wing parties and because transgender people are not a top priority.”

Kami said the Pakistani government has faced several obstacles this year regarding the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani attended the annual UPR meeting in Geneva in January and received approximately 354 human rights-specific recommendations.

Iside Over, an online news website, reports Pakistan may not get an extension over the European Union’s Preferential Trade Arrangement over its failure to improve its human rights record, among other reasons. Kami told the Blade the Generalized System of Preference, or GSP, from the EU has put pressure on the Pakistani government to address human rights-specific issues.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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TikTok in talks with Kenyan government to stop LGBTQ-specific content

Official says ‘draft framework’ will be ready by end of this month

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(Public domain photo)

TikTok is the latest global digital video platform to enter talks with the Kenyan government to stop access to LGBTQ-specific videos and other content prohibited under the country’s laws.  

TikTok, a popular short-form mobile video-streaming platform, is currently in joint talks with government officials to develop a framework for censoring such content classified under the “restricted category.”  

“A draft framework of the content regulation is being worked on by a joint team and it will be ready by the end of this month. The larger regulatory framework will address specific content like LGBTQ, explicit and terrorism materials shared on TikTok,” an official who is familiar with the discussions told the Washington Blade.

The joint team is compelled to develop the framework to regulate TikTok users who enjoy full control of videos they share on the platform without the service providers’ prior approval, unlike Netflix and other movie streaming platforms that readily classify content for users.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized under Section 165 of Kenya’s penal code.     

The move to regulate TikTok content arises from a petitioner who wrote to the National Assembly last month demanding the country ban the social media platform for promoting what he deemed harmful and inappropriate content. 

The petitioner, Bob Ndolo, an executive officer for Briget Connect Consultancy, cited violence, explicit sexual videos, hate speech, vulgar language and offensive behavior as content with a “serious threat to cultural and religious values of Kenya” shared on TikTok. 

The petition ignited an uproar among Kenyans, particularly TikTok users who make a living from their videos through monetization. 

They asked the government not to ban the platform, but instead enact a regulatory framework to stop inappropriate content. This request prompted President William Ruto and several senior government officials to convene a virtual meeting with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on Aug. 24 over content regulation under Kenya’s guidelines and monetization.  

Chew during the meeting committed to “moderate content to fit community standards” by removing inappropriate or offensive content from TikTok and pledged to set up an office in Nairobi to serve the African continent.   

The virtual meeting was followed by another physical one at State House between Ruto and TikTok Africa Director Fortune Sibanda on Sept. 2, where it was announced that the social platform is set to launch a national training program to empower its users on creating and promoting so-called positive content. 

TikTok has already stopped monetization for users sharing inappropriate or restricted content and deactivated their accounts as efforts to draft the regulatory work continue.

“A joint artificial intelligence tool is being used in the meantime to detect offensive content for removal and the accounts brought down,” stated the official. “It has significantly reduced inappropriate content for the last few weeks since Kenya and TikTok started engaging.”

The latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report released in June revealed that Kenya leads the world in TikTok usage with an astounding 54 percent share of global consumption. Thailand and South Africa follow with 51 percent and 50 percent respectively.   

The Kenya Film Classification Board, the country’s film regulator, signed an agreement with Netflix in February this year to stop the streaming of LGBTQ-specific movies. The regulatory body is part of the ongoing talks with TikTok. 

The KFCB is also yet to finalize its talks with Showmax and two local video-on-demand platforms to stop the streaming of LGBTQ-specific movies.    

The regulatory body derives its powers from the Films and Stage Act that regulates the exhibition, distribution, possession or broadcasting of content to the public. 

The ever-changing digital technologies that include TikTok and other social media platforms have prompted the KFCB to reconsider its regulatory framework by coming up with new measures. 

One such proposal, dubbed the Kenya Film Bill, would empower the KFCB to classify and regulate content in this digital era to stop ones that go against government-mandated standards. 

The Information, Communication and Technology Ministry last week appointed a special team to look into existing laws and recommend policy and regulatory framework for the digital platforms. The ministry’s senior officials, including Assistant Minister John Tanui, are also taking part in the talks with TikTok.

The ministry’s newly unveiled panel will also ask whether the Kenya Film Bill can be enacted independently or combined with new legislative proposals.  

The regulation of TikTok content in Kenya comes amid the anticipated introduction of the Family Protection Bill in the National Assembly that would criminalize any form of promotion of LGBTQ activities with harsh punishment of at least 10 years in jail or not less than a $67,000 fine or both.     

TikTok in April 2022 suspended the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ rights group in the U.S., for a couple of days after it included the word “gay” in a reel against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. The company determined the post violated “community guidelines.”

A British lawmaker criticized TikTok in September 2019 over reports that it censored LGBTQ-specific content, such as two men kissing or holding hands, and artificially prevented LGBTQ users’ posts from going viral in some countries.

Theo Bertram, TikTok’s director of public policy in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, apologized to the British parliamentary committee and confirmed the company only removes such LGBTQ-specific content if law enforcement agencies in countries of operation request it.

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