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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 1, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 22
International News - Scott Wittet
Section One
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International News

by Scott Wittet - SGN Contributing Writer

The Israeli Knesset has rejected legislation that would provide civil marriage for citizens who cannot be wed through religious institutions, including same-sex couples.

The bill also would have affected interfaith couples, such as Muslim-Jewish partnerships.

Currently only a small set of religious institutions, such as the Chief Rabbinate, are sanctioned to authorize marriage in Israel. As a result, LGBT and mixed-faith couples cannot be legally wed or have an equivalent of civil marriage in the country.

Israelis, both Gay and straight, can marry abroad and have the state recognize their foreign marriage. But often, according to human-rights attorney Irit Rosenblum, it is difficult in practice for such people to get equal treatment despite being recognized on paper as married.

'Hundreds of thousands of Israelis cannot realize their right to be married in their own country, and must be wed abroad, which is very expensive, all because of blatant religious coercion,' said bill sponsor Nitzan Horowitz of the liberal Meretz party.

The Jerusalem Post reported that after Horowitz presented the bill, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman said, 'You did not bring your bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, so the government's official stance is to oppose it.' Israeli officials often describe their country as a beacon and safe haven for LGBT rights in the Middle East. But in fact, most LGBT legal advances in Israel have resulted from court challenges - Israeli governments have seldom proactively legislated LGBT rights.

According to a report by the Refugee Rights Clinic of Tel Aviv University, published in 2008, Israel refuses to consider requests for asylum by LGBT people fleeing persecution, including LGBT Palestinians.

Moscow has refused to sanction a Gay pride event for the seventh consecutive year, while neo-Nazis attacked IDAHO rally participants in St. Petersburg, reports Gay Star News.

According to the GayRussia group, the Moscow official in charge of security said the scheduled march would 'provoke a negative reaction in society,' arguing that the public would see it as a 'provocation, causing moral harm to children and teenagers.'

Incumbent mayor Sergei Sobyanin and his long-serving predecessor Yury Luzhkov both have spoken out against Gay rights rallies, with Luzhkov denouncing them as 'Satanic.'

A few days before the Moscow ban was announced, dozens gathered in a city center park in St. Petersburg to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). They chanted slogans and gave out balloons, despite threats from a larger crowd of anti-Gay protesters behind a police cordon.

Eventually, an unidentified man struggled past the police and sprayed mace into the face of an IDAHO participant.

As police then forced organizers to shut down the event, participants were escorted onto buses, only to be attacked again a few blocks away by a large group of thugs dressed in soccer fan or neo-Nazi insignia, some with shaved heads.

After throwing several smoke grenades at the buses, the assailants broke the windows with rocks and clubs and climbed inside, punching and kicking the activists.

The drivers managed to get away after police officers intervened to stop the homophobes, who went on to vent their anger on a nearby busload of migrant workers.

Gay Star News reports that a mob of Orthodox Christians shut down a rare attempt to combat homophobia in the Eastern European nation of Georgia.

Around 20 participants last week joined a march through the country's capital, Tbilisi, waving rainbow flags and placards. The march was meant to celebrate IDAHO and to be a day for education and tolerance.

But before they reached the Georgian parliament, the marchers were attacked by a group of Orthodox priests and their supporters, who shouted abuse, threw punches, and smashed signs.

One of the parade's organizers, Natia Gvianishvili, told the Associated Foreign Press: 'This shows that Tbilisi has a long way to go to become a modern European city. We expected a negative reaction but did not expect to be attacked.'

A priest, who declined to give his name, wondered, 'How can you promote such a thing in the streets where there are children? It should not be allowed.'

Gvianishvili said, 'They can do what they like, but we're not going away. We're here, we're out, and we're proud.'

Same-sex sexual activity has only been legal in the deeply religious country since 2000, but homosexuality has remained a taboo topic.

An event in 2006 aimed at spreading tolerance was cancelled as a result of rumors that it was actually a Gay pride parade.

On a European International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe) list ranking 49 countries on Gay people's legal rights, Georgia came in near the bottom, along with Russia, Turkey, and Armenia.

France's new prime minister says he will implement incoming president François Hollande's pledge to equalize marriage laws for Gay and straight couples.

The new policy will also allow Gay couples to adopt children for the first time.

A communiqué issued this week by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's office said: 'The Government is determined to challenge prejudice and to put an end to discrimination and violence. It will implement the commitment of the President of the Republic to the right to marriage and adoption for Gay couples.'

In France both Gay and straight couples currently can enter into a Civil Solidarity Pact (PACS), but only straight couples can marry.

Though affording many legal protections, a PACS does not give couples the right to joint adoption or artificial insemination.

A Seventh Day Adventist Church school in Melbourne, Australia, has fired a language teacher, Keith Paulusse, because he expressed support for marriage equality on Facebook.

Church elder Johnny Wong defended the termination by saying the church believes marriage is solely between a man and a woman.

The firing follows last year's dismissal of a clergyman, the Rev. Matt Glover, from Melbourne's Lilydale Baptist Church, also for supporting marriage equality.

Australian Marriage Equality campaign director Rodney Croome called it 'un-Australian' to fire staff because of views expressed outside work. 'Expressing a view on a mainstream issue in a social setting should not be the basis for depriving someone of their livelihood,' he said.

'Australian employees should not be looking over their shoulders every time they disagree with their employers.'

A new report on the rights and HIV vulnerability of Transgender people has found that in some parts of Asia, nearly half of all Trans women are HIV-positive. The report blames the alarmingly high prevalence rates on 'stigma and prejudice,' according to Gay Star News.

The United Nations Development Programme report is called 'Lost in Transition: Transgender People, Rights, and HIV Vulnerability in the Asia-Pacific Region.'

In Delhi, India, according to the report, 49% of Trans women are HIV-positive. The rate is 37% in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and 22% to 34% in Jakarta, Indonesia. The report found the rate of HIV infection for Trans women exceeded that for men who have sex with men, 'sometimes substantially so.'

There is evidence these figures are rising. One study found a 9% increase in HIV prevalence among Transgender women in Jakarta from 2003 to 2007.

The report attributes the high prevalence of HIV in Transgender women in Asia to a 'stigma sickness slope,' whereby individuals are bullied and marginalized at school, causing them to drop out. They are again discriminated against when seeking employment, do not get support from the legal system or police, and end up relying on sex work to live or to get their surgery.

The report laments that there is very little research on Transgender men and HIV prevalence. But it speculates that 'it is likely Trans men also do sex work, providing services as female or male sex workers.'

The report puts the number of Trans people in the Asia Pacific region at 9 million to 9.5 million, based on an informed assumption that they make up 0.3% of the population.

On May 3 the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights called for the government to decriminalize homosexuality and prostitution in that country. Now Kenya's Weekend Star newspaper reports that some members of the clergy and some rights groups object to the recommendation, claiming that such a move would actually be 'against human rights' and that that the recommendation is 'culturally obnoxious and goes both against the spirit of the national constitution and the teachings of all the faith communities in Kenya.'

'Kenya is a God-fearing state and to make such disgusting recommendations is a great abomination before God,' Kenyan Bishop Ogonyo Ngede said. Ngede petitioned the government not to allow such 'acts of indecency to take place in the country'.

Forum for Awareness and Community Empowerment director Haggai Kadiri added that Kenya has 42 tribes with different cultures and that adopting same-sex relations and prostitution is 'alien' to all of them. He said the country should not bow to demands by 'some foreign countries' to legalize such acts.

'Homosexuality, Lesbianism, and prostitution will not make any positive development in the country but will only infringe on the rights of Kenyans,' Kadiri said.

The only LGBT political party in the world is trying once again to win seats in Filipino elections to be held a year from now.

As Ang Ladlad ('Coming Out') filed its petition for accreditation, party head Danton Remoto revealed he is negotiating with two or three larger parties to gain a place on their senatorial roster, according to Inquirer News.

'I don't want to run but people are asking me to do so,' said the professor and poet.

Established in 2003, Ladlad fights for equal rights among all Filipinos, whether LGBT or not. It boasts a membership of 60,000 registered voters.

The party's platform includes support for an anti-discrimination bill; creating livelihood centers for poor LGBTs and persons with disabilities; support for LGBT-friendly businesses; establishing homes for older LGBTs; and creating information centers on legal, psychological, and HIV/AIDS issues.

Malawi President Joyce Banda, who came to power last month upon the death of her predecessor, proclaimed in her first state-of-the-nation address last week that it was urgent that the country's draconian 'Indecency and Unnatural Acts' laws be repealed.

The UK Guardian newspaper reports that elsewhere in the speech, Banda said her government wanted to normalize relations with 'our traditional development partners who were uncomfortable with our bad laws.' She is referring to countries like the United States and the UK, both of which have linked human rights progress to foreign aid.

However, repealing the law requires a parliamentary vote and, although Banda's party commands a majority, it is unclear how much support the move would have in the socially conservative nation.

Malawi was widely condemned for the conviction and 14-year prison sentences given in 2010 to two men who were arrested after celebrating their engagement and were charged with unnatural acts and gross indecency.

The president at the time, Bingu wa Mutharika, pardoned the couple on 'humanitarian grounds only,' while claiming they had 'committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws.'

Mutharika died from a heart attack in April. Banda, who was vice president, stepped in to serve out his term, which ends in 2014. She has hit the ground running with a cabinet reshuffle, the firing of the police chief, and sweeping reforms to break from Mutharika's autocratic rule.

Gift Trapence, executive director of the Centre for the Development of People, says Banda has previously demonstrated her liberal attitudes on the issue of Gay rights. 'When she was vice president she was invited to address a group of religious leaders and she spoke in favor of including LGBT communities in HIV interventions.'

Trapence said Banda's stand offers hope on a continent where homosexuality is criminalized in 37 countries. 'It has come at the right time as the African Union is coming to attend a summit in Malawi. This sends a good message to the African heads of state who will attend.'

A group is reportedly targeting websites related to the Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan in protest of a 'parade of homosexuals' it believes will take place at the event.

The independent Esctoday.com website, which publishes news about the Eurovision Song Contest, was taken down by a denial-of-service attack recently. In April, the official Eurovision website experienced a similar attack.

According to Eurovision-interest site Esckaz.com, a group calling itself 'The Devotees of Azerbaijan' took responsibility.

It said: 'Ignoring its people's honor and morals, Azerbaijan's ruling regime is trying to spread ungodly (sinful) thoughts, and plans to arrange a parade of the homosexuals before the eurovision sound contest 2012 [sic]. For that reason, The Devotees of Azerbaijan group wants to cyber-attack the websites supporting this unethical act.'

Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 2001, LGBT people in the Muslim country still suffer oppression and harassment. They cannot marry and have no legal protection against discrimination.

The 2012 event was seen as an opportunity for the contest to 'move towards openness,' according to a hopeful statement by the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

At the first celebration of IDAHO (the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia) in the Burmese capital Rangoon last week, a local youth helped a centenarian Transgender woman to the stage during a section of the program called 'Paying Respect to Seniors.'

'She was almost in tears,' one of the organizers of the event, Aung Myo Min, told Gay Star News. 'She told the audience how pleased she is to see this event take place in Rangoon.'

The program started with a speech by a well-known Burmese make-up artist, Ko Mar. He said that as a Gay man in Burma he has struggled for acceptance. He encouraged young LGBT people to maintain a strong sense of self-worth and to fight for equality.

Then author Atta Kyaw spoke about homophobia in Burmese society, noting that the media typically present stereotypes of LGBT people that reinforce dangerous misconceptions. In movies, for example, Gay men usually are presented as flat, comic characters rather than as multi-dimensional individuals, Kyaw said.

Burma has recently liberalized many of its policies, including releasing Nobel laureate and political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from nearly 15 years of house arrest.

IDAHO events in Rangoon and other Burmese cities went smoothly, without interruption from authorities.

A Canadian Muslim Lesbian has launched a new book on liberal Islam in Malaysia, where the majority of citizens are Muslim.

According to PinkNews, the book, Allah, Liberty and Love, was introduced by its author, Irshad Manji, at a public event in the nation's capital, Kuala Lumpur, after two other venues pulled out. Her previous book, The Trouble with Islam Today, though critically acclaimed, has been banned by that country's authorities.

Afterward, Manji tweeted, 'Fantastic event in KL! Great energy - except 4 cops who told latecomers that event is banned. Didn't stop us. Congrats 2 all.'

According to press reports, Jamil Khir Baharom, minister in charge of Islamic affairs, said that Home Ministry and Islamic officials would not allow the author to tour their country, because they feel that the book is offensive to Muslims. He added that Manji's ideology and openness about her sexuality was anti-Islamic.

Manji also had problems in Indonesia, where local police shut down several events after a group called the Islamic Defenders Front held violent protests condemning her views on Islam and her homosexuality.

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