by Scott Wittet
ANTI-GAY STANCE MAY HAVE FORCED AMBASSADOR'S RESIGNATION
Outgoing U.S. ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration's faith could have cost him his job, the Sunday Nation news service reports.
Sources familiar with the events leading to his resignation say Mr. Gration is a staunch Christian who was uncomfortable with the Obama administration's liberal views on Gay rights.
The son of missionary parents, Gration spent his childhood years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) and in Kenya.
His discomfort with LGBT issues became apparent last Tuesday when he skipped an event at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi marking Gay Pride Month.
Although members of his staff did not explain his absence, they were at hand to host the event, believed to have been the first of its kind in Kenya. U.S. embassies in many other countries also organized Pride events.
Since President Obama took office, his administration has championed a human rights agenda that includes the protection of LGBTs.
LESBIANS PLAN FIRST BUDDHIST GAY WEDDING IN TAIWAN
Taiwan News reports that two women will be married in a Buddhist ceremony next month as part of an effort to push for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan.
'We are not only doing it for ourselves but also for other Gays and Lesbians,' said Fish Huang in a telephone interview.
The 30-year-old social worker said that marriage never crossed her mind until she saw a movie last year that portrayed two Lesbians whose relationship concluded tragically when one died and the other was denied spousal benefits.
'It's so sad,' said Huang.
She plans to wed her partner of seven years on August 11 at a Buddhist altar in northern Taiwan.
Although homosexual marriages are not legally recognized in Taiwan, Huang insisted on tying the knot because she wants to make her relationship complete while also raising awareness of the adversities faced by sexual minorities. Alternative sexual orientation and marriage have yet to receive wide acceptance by the general public in the country, despite years of effort by activists.
The first public Gay wedding in Taiwan took place in 1996 between a local writer and his foreign partner, but Huang's will be the first with a Buddhist theme.
To prepare for the event, and to answer concerns expressed by her friends, Huang messaged a Buddhist master on Facebook, asking if the master could find grounds in Buddhism for condemning the practice of homosexuality.
To Huang's delight, the master quickly replied that compared to Western religions, Buddhism on the whole is more tolerant toward homosexuality because there is no concrete rule banning the practice in Buddhist scripture.
The master added, 'It's difficult enough to maintain a relationship ... how could you be so stingy as to begrudge a couple for wanting to get married?'
GAY RIGHTS GROUP FACES CHARGE OF INSULTING MUGABE
Media reports from Zimbabwe say Chesterfield Samba, head of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), recently was called by police for questioning.
Samba's organization will be charged under Section 33 of the Criminal Law Act, which makes it illegal to insult President Robert Mugabe or undermine the office of president.
Mugabe is famously homophobic and has made many outrageous anti-Gay statements over the years.
The government claims that in 2010, GALZ displayed in its office a letter by former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown that criticized Mugabe and may have breached the law.
The same year, two other GALZ members, Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Muhambi, were arrested but never prosecuted on charges of being in possession of 'indecent material.' It appeared the material in question was Brown's letter.
PHILIPPINE MILITARY ACADEMY WELCOMES GAYS
The Philippine Military Academy told Manila's Channel 5 News this week that it has always been open to accepting homosexuals in the country's premier training institution for military officers.
PMA superintendent Gen. Nonato Peralta said on Tuesday, 'We do not discriminate. [Homosexuality] is not prohibited.'
The bottom line, the PMA officials said, is that a cadet is a cadet, regardless of sexual orientation - subject to the same rules and expectations as everybody else.
FILM EXPOSES TRANSGENDER LIFE IN BANGLADESH
First-time film director Noman Robin accidentally walked into a shockingly violent scene that propelled him into the moviemaking spotlight in his native Bangladesh - and around the world.
ILGA reports Robin was at a mall when a hijra, or Transgender female, first was thrown out of the men's room and then the ladies' room. As customers began screaming, security guards dragged her to the street and began beating her.
'What are you doing here?' shouted the guards.
'I'm human! I need to go to the toilet,' she replied.
Robin's new drama, Common Gender, gives voice to the shunned Trans and Intersex people who cling together in slums, rejected by their families and exploited by a society that treats them as subhuman.
'The hijra was beaten in front of hundreds of people,' said Robin. 'She was just standing there, saying, 'What is my fault?' ... I am thinking, 'Oh my god, it's my duty to show this community.'
The film has been a surprise hit in conservative and mostly Muslim Bangladesh. Robin sold it as a love story to draw people to theaters.
Sushmita, a hijra and outcast, falls in love with Sanjay, a Hindu boy. His parents refuse to accept his girlfriend and Sushmita kills herself.
Filmed in the Bengali language, with no famous stars, it opened two weeks ago in just six local theaters, but because of its popularity the film will now go into general release.
Vidur Kapur, a Gay Indian comic who lives with his partner in New York City, says that many hijras have no access to regular jobs, and as a result they become sex workers.
'A lot of straight men go to them,' said Kapur. 'Indians, especially in the lower classes, have no access to women until they are married, and sometimes it's their first sexual experience.'
EU PARLIAMENTARIAN STANDS UP FOR AFRICAN LESBIAN RIGHTS
A British member of the European Parliament is calling on the body to take a stand against the brutal persecution of Lesbians in Africa, according to ILGA.
Marina Yannakoudakis, a Conservative spokesperson on women's rights in the EP, submitted a resolution that calls on the 38 countries in Africa where homosexuality is illegal to repeal their Gay bans.
It also denounces hatred and violence on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Yannakoudakis initially tabled the motion earlier this year when the first women ever to be charged with homosexuality in Cameroon were due to be brought before a court on March 8, which is International Women's Day.
The Cameroon government also opposed an EU-funded aid project to provide assistance and guidance to sexual minorities.
'Recent developments in Cameroon made me realize that we needed to stand up for the rights of LGBTI people in Africa,' Yannakoudakis said.
'Lesbian women are particularly at threat from violence and rape when their sexual orientation is revealed, and I and other members of the European Parliament's women's rights committee have been concerned by the worsening situation.'
She says she was moved to take action after a woman in her London constituency who fled Uganda told of how she was violently abused because she is a Lesbian.
'When her father discovered she was Gay, he beat her and then denounced her to the police,' Yannakoudakis explained.
'She spent over a year in a cell where she was tortured and raped almost every day. She fell pregnant and gave birth alone in her cell. The baby was stillborn and Theresa had to leave [the body] in the corner of her cell for days.
'Theresa escaped and arrived in London in 2006, but she has permanent hearing loss from the beatings. I have been told that this is very typical of Lesbians who flee persecution from some African countries.'
Yannakoudakis added that she hopes her resolution will bring about 'real change' in countries that routinely persecute LGBT people.
SOUTH AFRICA, BRAZIL DEMAND UN ACTION ON GAY RIGHTS
Pink News reports that the United Nations ambassadors for South Africa and Brazil recently demanded more action and discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity as part as universal human rights standards, and as a way to combat hate crimes.
The joint statement came as a reminder about recommendations from the first global panel discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity, which was held by the UN Human Rights Council on March 7.
Since then, the matter has not been discussed, and the joint statement by South Africa and Brazil stated this must change: 'We should not inadvertently undermine the promotion and protection of human rights by remaining silent.'
The joint statement comes at an important time, as different countries and stakeholders from all regions consider next steps and follow-up initiatives in the wake of the panel.
Strong pro-LGBT statements were also delivered by Norway, the Council of Europe, and civil society, including a joint statement by ILGA-Europe, COC Netherlands, ARC, and other organizations.
LESBIANS FEEL ENDANGERED IN SOUTH AFRICA TOWNSHIPS
Though homosexuality is not illegal in South Africa, Lesbians in townships around Cape Town say they fear for their lives following a spate of violent attacks.
One woman told the Cape Argus newspaper she had been warned by a neighbor that a group of men from the area were plotting to harm her and other Lesbians.
'We are now so scared that we are considering carrying weapons so we can defend ourselves.'
'They think we want to take over their clothes and girlfriends. We are not trying to be them & we will never be men, we are girls,' said the woman.
The brutal murder of 22-year-old openly Lesbian Phumeza Nkolonzi several weeks ago sent shockwaves through Cape Town's LGBT community.
Nkolonzi was shot three times by an unknown man who kicked down the door to her home and shot her in front of her 70-year-old grandmother and six-year-old niece, without a word. The gunman is still at large.
Members of Lesbian and Gay lobby group Free Gender say they don't know who will be attacked next.
'We are now scared to walk around the township. You can feel the tension in the air around here. Phumeza's murder has shown that we are not safe even in our homes & it's like we are walking around in a war zone - we don't know what's going to happen next,' said 29-year-old Ndwane.
Two years ago, Ndwane was attacked and beaten until she collapsed and lost consciousness while walking with a group of friends.
'They started swearing at us, calling us 'fucking Lesbians' and 'tomboys.' We ignored them and walked past them. One of them came towards me and punched me in the face. I tried to fight back & he hit me again and again. That incident left me traumatized and made me realize the extreme hate harbored by some men towards Lesbians and Gays & I'm lucky I survived, it could have been worse.'
Activist and Free Gender founder Funeka Soldaat said hate crimes against the LGBT community were on the rise in townships.
Soldaat added that having religious leaders such as the Rev. Oscar Bougardt preaching to communities that 'Gays and Lesbians should burn in Hell' is making things worse.
'We are trying to spread awareness and tolerance in communities and churches and we have this man who is respected by many as a man of God saying we should be killed. It's perpetuating hate crimes,' said Soldaat.
'Even more worrying is [President Jacob Zuma's] silence on the matter & how many more have to die before this issue is taken seriously?'
In addition to his condemnation of Gays, Bougardt has also said South African Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will 'burn in Hell' for supporting the LGBT community.
SOUTH AFRICAN GAY POLITICAL PARTY LAUNCHED
There is some positive news coming out of South Africa: A Gay political party has been launched. It is a first for Africa, according to ILGA.
The GLBTI (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex) party of the R.S.A. was created at the beginning of May by Nicholas Gregory, a marketing and design executive.
The new party aims to represent the interests of the Gay community and plans to take part in the 2014 national elections.
Party officials say they stand for promoting safe sex and demystifying the HIV pandemic, and aims to break the chain of violence against black Gays and Lesbians in South African townships.
INDIAN COURT NIXES TRANS WOMAN'S ELECTION
The election of Trans women, known locally as hijras, to local government positions has been ruled illegal by courts due to a lack of clarity on the candidates' gender, according to the Deccan Herald newspaper.
In 2009 Kamla Bua, a hijra, won the mayoral contest in the Indian town of Sagar by a margin of 43,000 votes. That seat was reserved for women belonging to what is known in India as 'scheduled castes,' or SCs. Quota systems for SC persons are designed to compensate for millennia of oppression by dominant Hindu castes in India.
But Bua's nearest rival candidate challenged the election outcome in 2011, saying that as a hijra, Bua was ineligible to run for a seat reserved for women.
After hearing arguments from both sides, a state court nullified the Bua's election on the grounds that Bua had failed to prove that she is a woman or that she belongs to the SC category.
Professor Ayub Khan, who has written extensively about hijras in politics, says the question is significant in view of the fact that voters gave a decisive mandate to Bua to run the affairs of a municipal body. He believes their will should be honored.
'People knew that they were voting for a hijra, so there is no point in nullifying the polls,' he said.
Hijras were given voting rights in 1994 and the issue of categorizing themselves as men or women was left to each individual.
Bua's attorneys say the state court's decision will be appealed.
THAI TRANS WOMAN DEFENDS UNIFORM CHOICE
Yollada 'Nok' Suanyot, a Transgender woman recently elected to a provincial administrative position in Thailand, says she has been criticized for wearing a skirt to work. Nok is calling on the public to give equal rights to Transgender people.
'I don't want to breach regulations or offend our culture, but I've been living as a woman for some time now,' Yollada told the Bangkok Post. 'So I've decided to wear a woman's uniform, with dignity and with respect for the regulations.'
The 30-year-old former beauty queen, actress, and singer said, 'I want to express myself, so that many more men will accept the Transgender group and treat us like normal women.
'There is no 'third gender' under the law in this country yet. Many people who have already had a sex-change operation, like me, have been sexually harassed, but the law does not protect us.
'I think that wearing a dress is a symbol of showing our femininity and it would make men respect us,' Ms Yollada said.
Nok gained widespread admiration for her campaign for legal recognition of the third gender.
ARGENTINA MARKS TWO YEARS OF MARRIAGE EQUALITY
Argentina, the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage and the 10th worldwide, now has married over 6,000 Lesbian and Gay couples, according to Gay Star News.
On July 15, 2010, despite opposition from the Catholic Church, the Argentine Senate approved changes to the Civil Code to legalize same-sex marriage in the country. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner ratified the law a week later.
Lesbian and Gay couples married in Argentina enjoy the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples, including full adoption rights.
This May, Argentina also passed a resolution approving the marriage of foreign couples regardless of their nationality or sexual orientation.
This has given binational Argentine couples and foreign Gay couples the opportunity to be married in the country, even though Gay marriage may not be recognized in the home country of one of the spouses.
CAMEROONIANS ANNOUNCE NATIONAL ANTI-GAY DAY
An organization called the Cameroonian Youth Rally recently announced plans to 'celebrate' August 21 as a new, national anti-Gay day in Cameroon.
According to Afrik.com, the chosen date commemorates the savage murder and alleged rape of Narcisse Olivier Djomo Pokam, a 31-year-old student, by what the group labeled 'a Gay mafia.'
The myth of a 'Gay mafia' was widely disseminated by the Cameroonian press at the time, alleging a conspiracy of 'homosexual predators' within the highest echelons of the state.
The existence and combat of the alleged mafia is a principal issue for the group.
The Youth Rally promises that henceforth, August 21 will be celebrated yearly. The primary aim is to glorify homophobia, with a parade to take place in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital.
Being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender carries huge risks in Cameroon. Same-sex sexual acts are illegal and carry a penalty of five years' imprisonment and a fine of about US$375 - a huge sum for many Cameroonians.
In 2010 four NGOs published a detailed report outlining the legal and social dangers that LGBT people face in Cameroon, including arrest, rape, loss of their children, social stigma, and discrimination based on both their sexuality and their HIV status. The report and the level of homophobic campaigns launched by the church and media indicate that Cameroon is one of the most hostile countries in Africa for LGBT people.
PETITION CONDEMNS TURKISH 'HONOR KILLINGS'
An online petition has been launched to lobby Turkey's president to address the 'honor killings' of Gay and Transgender people in his country.
President Abdullah Gül is being petitioned to act against the 'systematic violence and discrimination faced by Turkey's LGBT community,' the organizer said.
The Care2 petition's sponsor, Omar Kuddus, told Pink News he was prompted to act by the news of the killing of a Trans woman.
Earlier this week, Seçil Anne, a sex worker, was found dead at her home in Antalya, in southwest Turkey.
Kuddus said, 'The onslaught of violence against Transsexual women in Turkey has shown no sign of abating with the tragic news of yet another murder this week.
'Sexual identity and homophobia in modern-day Turkey and the systematic violence and discrimination faced by Turkey's LGBT community must be brought to the forefront.'
The highest-profile 'honor killing' in Turkey was that of Ahmet Yildiz in 2008. Yildiz was shot after his family found out about a relationship he was having with another man. It was alleged that his father, who has been a fugitive ever since, was responsible.
The petition says: 'The Turkish government is gradually opening up on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender issues. But LGBT rights are still not part of Turkish law, and there is even less in terms of anti-discriminatory legislation.'
It ends by calling on President Gül to 'express his disapproval for the murder, ensure that the criminal is suitably punished, establish laws condemning hate crime, homophobia and honor killings, provide extra protection for victims of hate crimes, and establish laws to prevent violence against Gay and Transgender citizens.'
LGBT communities and vibrant Gay scenes have been developing across Turkey in the last two decades. Turkey has also become a refuge for LGBTs from neighboring countries, most notably Iran and Iraq.
UKRAINE CANCELS VOTE ON ANTI-GAY BILL
Lawmakers in the Ukraine cancelled a scheduled vote last week on a controversial bill that would prohibit people from speaking about homosexuality in a positive or accepting way.
Similar laws against 'Gay propaganda' have been passed in a number of Russian cities in the past year.
The bill failed to advance after Ukrainian leaders heard criticism from human rights advocates and key European officials. Opponents also delivered a petition with 120,000 signers to Ukrainian authorities.
The Ukraine hopes to join the European Union, which would require the former Soviet republic to abide by Western European legal standards. Ukrainian Law 8711, as the proposed legislation is known, would put the country in direct conflict with those standards.
'Law 8711 would make it illegal to 'spread homosexuality' by 'holding meetings, parades, actions, demonstrations, and mass events aiming at intentional distribution of any positive information about homosexuality' and imposes penalties of fines and up to five years' imprisonment,' according to a news release from All Out. 'Fines and even time in prison would apply to a journalist who publishes a positive article about a Gay person, a writer who features a Lesbian character on TV, or a teacher who publicly supports human rights for Gay people in the classroom.'
Last weekend, singer Elton John denounced the measure during a concert in Kiev. He also met with a Gay rights leader who was brutally beaten in May after official fears of right-wing extremists led to the cancellation of a Pride celebration.
The decision to shelve the bill represents a victory for Gay rights campaigners and sends a message to other nations in the region.
Last month, 50 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to Hungary's prime minister in protest of the homophobic and anti-Semitic stances adopted by the far-right political party, Jobbik.
Andre Banks, co-founder and executive director of All Out, said, 'Together we are sending a strong message to other governments of Eastern Europe: Support for anti-Gay laws emboldens extremists at the expense of lucrative European ambitions.'
Ukrainian lawmakers could reconsider the bill in September.
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