GEORGIA: Who are right-wing forces that attacked Georgia’s LGBTIQ+ ?

Who are right-wing forces that attacked Georgia’s LGBTIQ+ ?

By Gillian Kane And Mariam Kvaratskhelia

 

EU Observer (13.07.2021) – https://bit.ly/3edGWv2 – As citizens around the world mark the closing of gay pride month with celebratory marches and parades, in Tbilisi, Georgia, organisers and activists are fighting for their basic right to assemble.

 

In this former Soviet Republic in the Caucasus, LGBTIQ+ rights have long been a litmus test for democracy and tolerance.

 

On 5 July, Georgia failed that test when organisers of Tbilisi Pride were confronted with violence by counter-protestors and forced to cancel the march.

 

Georgian prime minister Irakli Garibashvili had accused the “radical opposition” of planning the Pride march in order to sow “unrest.”

 

Following his statement, mobs stormed and ransacked the office of the Pride organisers while Orthodox priests and others attacked journalists.

 

Police stood by and failed to prevent the violence.

 

These events illustrate how LGBTIQ+ advocates in hostile countries like Georgia – at great personal risk – must push boundaries to create the public space that will allow them to truly celebrate.

 

Pride marches, starting with Stonewall in 1969, have always been an evolution. Georgia’s LGBTIQ+ movement is diving headlong into that clash, yet also picking up some support in the process.

 

The day after the violence unfolded, over 7,000 people waving rainbow flags marched down the capital’s main street to the Georgian parliament. This show of solidarity with the LGBTIQ+ community was brave and unprecedented.

 

Just weeks before Tbilisi Pride the ultra-conservative Georgian activist, Levan Vasadze, who is affiliated with the group that organised the counter-protests, held a press conference at the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel.

 

Seated next to Vasadze as he announced his intention to enter Georgian politics was the American anti-LGBT activist Brian Brown. The moment encapsulated how even as US president Joe Biden tries to normalise US foreign policy, Trump allies continue to work to promote illiberalism abroad.

 

 

Bannon and Trump

 

Brown vowed at the press conference to engage support for Vasadze in the US, including from Steve Bannon, while also teasing the promise of support from “president Trump himself.”

 

Brown did all of this despite his 501(c)3 non-profit, the International Organization for the Family, which includes the World Congress of Families, being barred from campaigning for or against political candidates under US law. American authorities should take action.

 

Brown first rose to prominence in the late naughts with his campaign against same-sex marriage in California and his creation of the National Organization for Marriage.

 

After the battle against same-sex marriage in the US was lost, he turned his attention abroad becoming president of World Congress of Families in 2016.

 

Notably, Brown’s election to this position was announced while he was in Tbilisi at a WCF conference where anti-LGBT forces gathered to “establish a beachhead in the region.” In addition to his collaboration with Vasadze, Brown has nurtured relationships with illiberal leaders in Europe such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and former Italian minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini.

 

The WCF was formed in Russia in 1997 at a meeting between Allan Carlson, an American academic and former official in the Reagan administration, and Russian intellectuals.

 

WCF has been designated an anti-LGBTI hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Brown continues fostering relationships with Russia and after Donald Trump was elected president, he worked to unite Russian and American conservatives.

 

Levan Vasadze, who made his fortune in Russia, also shares connections to the Kremlin. Alexander Dugin, a Russian ultra-nationalist who is widely considered to be the Kremlin’s chief ideologist—his nickname is ‘Putin’s Brain’—is a close associate. The two met immediately after Vasadze launched his political movement last month.

 

Vasadze’s attacks against the Georgian LGBTI community are well-documented.

 

In 2019 he organised illegal gangs to break up the first Tbilisi Pride.

 

Brian Brown was in Tbilisi and joined Vasadze before a crowd gathering on the steps of a church to protest the pride march. Though Vasadze was investigated by the ministry of interior for creating vigilante patrols, there were no consequences.

 

This year, Vasadze reprised his threats to organizers and the government, and to great effect. Tbilisi Pride was cut short because of violent intimidation, likely incited by Vasadze and Garibashvili’s rhetoric.

 

To fight this wave of repression, Georgian officials must condemn the violence and prosecute those responsible. And US authorities must hold Americans accountable to the damage they do to democracy abroad in violation of US law and against human rights.

 

 

Photo: Tbilisi Pride




UZBEKISTAN: A chance to decriminalise homosexuality

UZBEKISTAN: ‘A small ray of hope’: an urgent chance to decriminalise homosexuality in Uzbekistan

As long as the country’s Article 120 exists, said one young man, ‘we will live in fear and homophobes will have power over us’

By Anne Sunder-Plassmann

 

Open Democracy (05.07.2021) – https://bit.ly/3hI14Xh

 

“Since childhood I have always known that I’m different. Deep down I feel lonely, as if I am a foreigner in this world.”

 

So spoke Rustam*. Like thousands of other gay and bisexual men in Uzbekistan, he learnt early on that, unless he hides his sexual identity, he risks tarnishing his family name and losing his loved ones. “What I experience, what I feel, my pain, everything stays inside me. I cannot even tell my friends and family. Their hatred of homosexuals is endless,” he adds.

 

Rustam also knows no one would be punished for subjecting him to abuse or discrimination; in fact, he could easily be imprisoned for being gay.

 

In Uzbekistan, homosexuality is illegal. Article 120 of the country’s criminal code punishes consensual sexual relations between adult men by up to three years in jail.

 

Impunity

 

Besides Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan is the only former Soviet republic where same-sex relations remain a punishable crime – a hangover from Soviet legislation introduced in the 1920s and 1930s. This is despite many other Muslim-majority countries having decriminalised homosexuality, including Uzbekistan’s neighbours – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – as well as Azerbaijan and Turkey.

 

But instead of committing to improving the lot of gay and bisexual Uzbekistanis, the country’s government officials and politicians have on many occasions expressed homophobic views in public. This reinforces widespread stereotypes and condemns members of the LGBT+ community in the country to live in fear of discrimination, extortion, imprisonment, and even violence.

 

A case in point is Uzbekistan’s new draft criminal code, which has been under development over the past few years. While human rights organisations have repeatedly urged Uzbekistan to use this opportunity to decriminalise homosexuality, instead the content of Article 120 has simply been moved to Article 154 – in a newly created chapter called ‘Crimes against family, children and morality’ – with the previous wording unchanged.

 

“This article gives people the right to abuse and discriminate against us with impunity,” one young man bitterly remarked. “As long as it exists, we will live in fear and homophobes will have power over us,” he concluded.

 

“I have never been beaten and intimidated like that in my entire life. I wanted to die to free myself from this torture”

 

Alisher Kadyrov, the head of the Uzbekistan National Revival Democratic Party, declared on his Telegram channel earlier this year that the country’s laws do not go far enough in criminalising homosexuality. Uzbekistan should “prohibit all forms of propaganda of homosexuality”, Kadyrov said, and the criminal code article “should stipulate compulsory treatment, imprisonment, revocation of citizenship, and deportation”.

 

In March last year, the chief consultant of Uzbekistan’s Presidential Security Council, Okil Ubaydullaev, told experts of the United Nations Human Rights Committee that homosexuality is a “lifestyle” that is “not approved by Islam” and “not in keeping with the Uzbek mindset”, adding that the general public is strongly opposed to decriminalising same-sex relations.

 

Despite this, in October 2020 Uzbekistan was elected to the UN Human Rights Council, whose members are expected to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.

 

Living in the shadow of abuse and extortion

 

A young Uzbekistani man who was imprisoned under Article 120 in recent years reports that, during pre-trial detention, he was regularly subjected to violence by other detainees, while the guards looked the other way. He recalls that the days spent in pre-trial detention “were the most awful and disgusting of my life”. Likewise, when he first arrived at the penal colony, officers beat him and attempted to rape him with a truncheon, while he was treated with hatred and contempt by fellow inmates and prison guards.

 

Those suspected or convicted of same-sex relations have the lowest status in the informal but strictly imposed prison hierarchy in Uzbekistan. Guards and fellow prisoners regularly force them to carry out all sorts of demeaning work such as cleaning dirty toilets with their bare hands. “Article 120 of the criminal code keeps thousands of people in fear every day,” Shukhrat* told me, adding that “this article turns us into outsiders and forces us to live in the shadows”.

 

Unsurprisingly, Article 120 has also been used against heterosexual men. From exile in France, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia has documented cases of police officers extracting large bribes from pious Muslim men by threatening to open cases against them under Article 120.

 

According to Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Interior, between 2016 and 2020 a total of 44 individuals were convicted under Article 120, with 49 people currently serving prison terms for sentences related to it. But the criminalisation of homosexuality has implications that go beyond the number of convictions under Article 120. Police officers often use the threat of charging gay and bisexual men under the article, or of disclosing their sexual identity to family members and neighbours, in order to extort money from them.

 

“We live in the centre of Eurasia, but it’s as if we lived on a different planet”

 

Ravshan*, a young bisexual man, was detained after police burst into his apartment and filmed him and his partner having sex. The officers took Ravshan to the local police station, where “they suspended me from the ceiling using handcuffs, severely beat me, and tried to rape me with a truncheon”. After that, they laid him on the floor and an officer jumped up and down on the young man’s stomach.

 

Ravshan recalls: “I have never been beaten and intimidated like that in my entire life. I wanted to die to free myself from this torture”. When police threatened to imprison him under Article 120 unless he gave them $2,000, he paid up and was released. And it is not uncommon for the police to coerce gay and bisexual men to reveal details about their wealthier friends and partners. Ravshan later realised that his partner had cooperated with the police and set him up, possibly in order to avoid being himself charged and jailed.

 

Clearly, when in danger, gay and bisexual men cannot rely on the police and are left to their own devices. Take the case of Komil*. He provided anonymous online support to LGBT people in Uzbekistan. Last year, he started receiving death threats online. The callers somehow managed to figure out his identity and, one day, Komil noticed that he was being followed on his way home from work. In September, someone appeared at Komil’s house and knocked at his bedroom window in the middle of the night. As he heard the sound of a gun being loaded, Komil screamed at the top of his lungs and the person disappeared. The following day, however, he received another message to his phone: “We will destroy you and give your blood to the dogs!”

 

Like many others who have been targeted by homophobic activists, Komil did not report the incident to the police. In addition to the real risk of imprisonment and torture, there are credible allegations that many police officers collude with homophobes, who often disseminate the names and contact details of gay and bisexual men on internet-based messaging services, sharing videos of beatings and intimidation. This practice has continued with impunity for years.

 

“We live in the centre of Eurasia, but it’s as if we lived on a different planet, where it is normal to hate and humiliate, imprison and punish, discriminate and kill people simply for who they are,” says Shukhrat.

 

Moreover, the ongoing criminalisation of homosexuality and the widespread homophobia in society translate into gay and bisexual men being afraid to undergo HIV tests, despite the fact that they are a high-risk group and Central Asia is considered a HIV hotspot. This is because staff at HIV clinics have frequently disclosed information about their clients’ sexual orientation and HIV status to family members.

 

An outreach worker at one of those facilities recalled to me how “Ivan* did an HIV test. Staff at the centre asked him for his phone number. Two days later they rang and said he was HIV positive. At that point, they threatened to send the police after him and reveal to his family that he is gay, in case he didn’t show up at the centre immediately to give them his full contact information”.

 

While a draft presidential decree indicates the new criminal code will enter into force on 1 January 2022, until Uzbekistan’s Parliament approves it there is still a window of opportunity for change. Ending the criminalisation of homosexuality would help gay and bisexual men in Uzbekistan step out of the shadows.

 

The fact that some people have broken out of this hateful mindset gives some reason to hope. For example, the mother of a gay man recalls: “When I found out that my son is gay, I was thrown into a blind panic. I dragged him to imams and to psychologists to try to ‘heal’ him. I caused him so much pain. I often regret this. Now I understand that homosexuality is not an illness. My son is healthy. Now I only want my son to be happy”.

 

Rustam, for one, does not want to give up. “Despite everything, I still feel a small ray of hope that the authorities will remove this terrible article from the criminal code and that in the future we will be able to live our lives without fear of imprisonment and discrimination”.

 

*The names of the men interviewed for this article have been either changed or left out to protect their identities.

 

Photo credits: upyernoz / Flickr.

 




USA: Presbyterian Church takes first vote on banning ordination of openly gay men

USA: Presbyterian Church in America takes first vote on banning ordination of openly gay men

By Anugrah Kumar

 

The Christian Post (04.07.2021) – https://bit.ly/2SNNbhP – The Presbyterian Church in America has voted to change a rule in its governing document that would disqualify all gay men from serving in its ministry.

 

The resolution to change the rule, “Overture 23,” was passed 1,400-400 at the denomination’s 48th annual convention in St. Louis, Missouri, last week.

 

“Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, ‘gay Christian,’ ‘same-sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same-sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office,” the amended rule states.

 

The amended rule will go to local church bodies for a vote before the second round of convention balloting next year following which the language would be placed in the PCA’s “Book of Church Order.”

 

The Washington Times quoted Chris Norris of the Calvary Presbytery as saying during the debate: “Sanctification begins with one’s identity as a new creation in Christ. … Taking a gay identity flies in the face of the new creation.”

 

The denomination also affirmed “Overture 37,” which refers to pastoral candidates.

 

“…Careful reflection must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires,” it states.

 

“The candidate must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending on this work of grace to make progress over sin. … While imperfection will remain, he should not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness (e.g., homosexual desires, etc.), but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus,” it adds.

 

During the annual convention, the PCA also endorsed Lifeline Children’s Services as its “preferred adoption and orphan care ministry” due to its “commitment to the sanctity of life” and not Bethany Christian Services, which recently announced it would be offering its services to LGBT couples.

 

The endorsement of Lifeline came three months after the Michigan-based group Bethany, which is the nation’s largest Protestant adoption and foster agency, announced it would begin placing children with adults who identify as LGBT.

 

In a statement to The Christian Post at the time, Nathan Bult, senior vice president of the historically evangelical organization, said that faith in Jesus is at the “core” of their mission,” but they were “not claiming a position on the various doctrinal issues about which Christians may disagree.”

Photo credits: Getty Images




HUNGARY: FIDESZ proposed controversial amendments about LGBTI people law

Hungarian parliament’s proposed amendments censoring public communication about LGBTI people violates EU law

ILGA-Europe’s statement on proposed anti-LGBTI and illegal amendments by FIDESZ in the Hungarian parliament

 

ILGA Europe (11.06.2021) – https://bit.ly/3iKwz5f – Yesterday, on 10 June, MPs of ruling party FIDESZ tabled a number of amendments in the Hungarian Parliament which directly discriminate against LGBTI people, and breach a number of EU laws. The proposed amendments introduce a ban on the “portrayal and the promotion of gender identity different from sex at birth, the change of sex and homosexuality” for persons under 18. This language would be being introduced to:

 

  • The Child Protection Act;
  • The Act on Business Advertising Activity;
  • The Media Act – all such content will be qualified as category V (unsuitable for minors), and the publication of such content will be banned in public service advertisements;
  • The Family Protection Act and the Public Education Act – such topics cannot be part of sexuality education, schools cannot invite external speakers or NGOs for education on “sexual culture, sexual life, sexual orientation or sexual development” unless they receive a special licence by the state to do so, and participating in such activity without a licence is classified as a misdemeanour.

These amendments, due to be voted on next Tuesday (15/06), would effectively ban the representation or communication about diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and sex characteristics in the Hungarian public sphere, as well as specific places such as in schools. The amendments are the next stage in a series of legislative attacks launched by FIDESZ against the human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBTI people in Hungary. They also violate the right to freedom of expression and the right to education for all Hungarian people. The amendments clearly violate international human rights norms, in particular the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, UN Human Rights Committee and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights (Articles 11 and 21) and Treaty on the European Union (Articles 2 and 6).

 

The discriminatory language being introduced to the Media Act constitute a clear violation of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (Articles 9, 30 and 51). The discriminatory language being introduced to the Act on Business Advertising Activity constitute a violation of the EU’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. The discriminatory language being introduced to the Business Advertising Activity Act and the Family Protection Act breach the right to freedom of service provision and freedom of movement of goods as set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Article 19 in relation to Article 26).

 

We call on all Hungarian MPs to vote against this openly discriminatory amendment. These amendments, when adopted, will have a significant impact on the rights of LGBTI people and all those who should enjoy their freedom of expression to simply even communicate about the existence of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and sex characteristics.

 

We also call on EU institutions, as well as Council of Europe and UN to condemn the ongoing and systematic attacks of the Hungarian government on the human rights of LGBTI people and the principle of non-discrimination.

 

Photo credits: Jakub Hałun




UN: Faith leaders urged to stamp out anti-LGBT+ rhetoric

UN calls on religious groups and leaders to dial down anti-LGBT+ rhetoric for fear of violence or discrimination

 

By Hugo Greenhalgh

 

Openly News (14.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/34kcSZm – Religious leaders and institutions should stamp out rhetoric or practices that could incite discrimination or violence against LGBT+ people, the United Nations and international human rights experts said on Friday.

 

Their call came amid debate about the relationship between religious freedoms and LGBT+ rights as Britain’s government moves to ban so-called conversion therapy, which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

“Religious authorities have a responsibility to ensure that religion and tradition are not utilized to promote discrimination of persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity,” the United Nations said in a statement.

 

The declaration was signed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, more than 100 U.N. experts and the Council of Europe’s rights commissioner ahead of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on Monday.

 

“The right to freedom of religion or belief of all human beings during their life course, including that of LGBT persons, must be recognised,” the U.N. independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz said.

 

He called on religious leaders to dial down anti-LGBT+ rhetoric as it could lead to violence and discrimination.

 

“Such incitement constitutes hate speech and is protected neither by freedom of expression nor by freedom of religion or belief,” Madrigal-Borloz said in a statement.

 

The issue was spotlighted this week as some religious groups voiced concern that the British plan to ban conversion therapy could criminalise clerics seeking to help people change their sexuality or gender identity through prayer.

 

In March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Evangelical Alliance, a conservative Christian lobby group representing 3,500 churches, he did “not want to see clergy and church members criminalised for normal non-coercive activity”.

 

Related stories:

EXPLAINER-What is LGBT+ conversion therapy and why is it so controversial?

British PM pledges to exempt prayer from LGBT+ conversion therapy ban

U.N. expert calls for global ban on ‘cruel’ conversion therapy

 

Photo credits: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi