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International News - Rex Wockner
International News

by Rex Wockner - SGN Contributing Writer

Conflicting reports on Venezuelan civil-union bill
Venezuela's National Assembly is set to legalize same-sex unions with a new "associations of coexistence" law, MP Romelia Matute told reporters March 20.

She said the law will extend "juridical and patrimonial effects," likely meaning the legal rights and obligations of marriage, including inheritance rights.

The law also will guarantee that people who change their gender will have the "right to recognition of their identity and the expedition or modification of the documents associated with identification."

Matute said heterosexuals historically "have been cruel" to Gay people and "the revolution is about taking care of those who have been excluded."

However, on March 25, Marelis Pérez, chairwoman of the Assembly's Family, Women and Youth Committee, on which Matute sits, contradicted Matute's statements, reported Latino-issues blogger Andrés Duque.

"The Gender Equity and Equality Bill establishes respect for those who have a sexual option, safeguards their human rights, calls for no discrimination, but it is something different from granting legal [recognition] to homosexual unions," Pérez told El Tiempo newspaper. "That is not the objective of this law."

She said civil unions will be the subject of a different bill to be considered later.

Vilnius mayor: Gay march cannot be downtown
The mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, Vilius Navickas, said March 19 that Gays can have a pride parade, but only far from downtown.

"I respect everyone under the sun, and their personal lives, but I don't think that this personal life needs to be put on display on Gediminas Avenue," Navickas said, according to the Baltic Times. "Should there be a request to do this on Gediminas Avenue, we wouldn't allow it, but it would be welcomed on, say, Savanoriu Avenue."

Savanoriu Avenue is in a less-desirable part of town, distant from the city center, and has heavy traffic.

Vilnius' previous mayor, Juozas Imbrasas, banned pride events on public property altogether, prohibited pride ads from appearing on public-transportation vehicles, and blocked the European Union's touring anti-discrimination truck from parking on public property, forcing it into a supermarket parking lot.

Int'l AIDS Society blasts pope
Pope Benedict XVI's first-ever remarks on condom use were irresponsible, dangerous, ignorant, outrageous and insulting, officials of the International AIDS Society said March 20.

Speaking to reporters March 17, Benedict said AIDS is "a tragedy that cannot be overcome ... through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem."

IAS President Dr. Julio Montaner responded: "There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that condoms can increase HIV transmission - absolutely the contrary. ... Instead of spreading ignorance, the pope should use his global position of leadership to encourage young people, who are our future, to protect themselves and others from HIV infection using all the tools we have at our disposal, including condoms. His remarks are insulting to the tireless efforts of committed scientific, public health and human rights leaders around the world."

According to IAS Executive Director Craig McClure, "Male and female condoms, used correctly and consistently, can reduce the risk of sexual transmission of HIV by 80 to 90 percent."

"To suggest that condom use contributes to the HIV problem is not merely contrary to scientific evidence and global consensus, it contributes to fueling HIV infection and its consequences - sickness and death," McClure said. "Such outrageous comments are not appropriate coming from the highest office in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church."

The IAS is the world's leading association of HIV professionals, with more than 13,000 members from 188 countries working at all levels of the global response to HIV/AIDS. The society is the lead organizer of the biennial International AIDS Conference and the IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention.

Serbia bans GLB discrimination
Serbia's National Assembly banned all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation March 26.

The vote was 127-59, one more vote than was needed for passage. Sixty-four deputies did not show up to vote.

"The law says that sexual orientation is a private matter and no one should be asked to express their sexual orientation in public," the local Lesbian rights group Labris said in a statement. "On the other hand, [it says] everybody has the right to express their sexual orientation in public and not be discriminated against because of that."

The bill recently had been removed from active consideration in Parliament following objections from the Serbian Orthodox Church. It was then slightly reworded by the government and reactivated, following what Labris called "strong pressure from the public and relevant international organizations."

Enactment of a national law covering discrimination based on sexual orientation is a requirement for nations that seek visa-free travel to the European Union for their citizens.

MEPs take up Russian Gay rights crusade
Twenty-two members of the European Parliament have sent a letter to the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers complaining about Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's permanent ban on public Gay events and similar bans elsewhere in Russia.

"Since May 2006, the Russian Federation officials have banned 167 public events planned by the local LGBT community in Moscow and other cities across the country," the letter states. "Several Members of the European Parliament were present during attempts to stage marches in support of freedom and rights for sexual minorities in May 2006 and May 2007, marches which led to the beating of LGBT activists in the streets of Moscow."

The letter noted that seven legal cases over the bans are pending at the European Court of Human Rights, with the oldest of the cases dating to February 2007.

It pointed out that Moscow's fourth annual Gay pride is scheduled for May 16, the same day the campy Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Moscow, and suggested that the CoE's Committee of Ministers should take some sort of action to end the Russian Federation's systematic breach of the GLBT community's right to freedom of assembly, which is guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to which Russia is a signatory.

Mayor Luzhkov has said he will never allow a Gay pride parade in Moscow. He has called the parades "satanic" and "weapons of mass destruction."

The letter to the Committee of Ministers was signed by MEPs Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (Netherlands), Sophie in 't Veld (Netherlands), Graham Watson (United Kingdom), Marco Cappato (Italy), Alexander Alvaro (Germany), Chris Davies (United Kingdom), Johannes Lebech (Denmark), Maria Robsahm (Sweden), Ignasi Guardans (Spain), Jules Maaten (Netherlands), Daniel Cohn-Bendit (France), Kathalijne Buitenweg (Netherlands), Satu Hassi (Finland), Milan Horácek (Germany), Raül Romeva (Spain), Anne van Lancker (Belgium), Lissy Gröner (Germany), Marie-Arlette Carlotti (France), Glenys Kinnock (United Kingdom), Martine Roure (France), Britta Thomsen (Denmark) and Sirpa Pietikäinen (Finland).

Meanwhile, the third Russian Week Against Homophobia took place March 23-31 in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk, Arkhangelsk, Tyumen, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Kemerovo, Krasnoyarsk, Kazan, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk and Naberezhnye Chelny.

The various cities saw workshops, discussions, debates, film screenings and press conferences.

The Russian LGBT Network and the Moscow Helsinki Group unveiled a report looking at sexual-orientation and gender-identity legal issues and discrimination.

With assistance from Bill Kelley

photo top: Vladimir Luxuria-Sophie IntVeld-Aleksei Mitrofanov

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