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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for December, 2011

US Pushes Hard on LGBT Rights Around the World

Jim Burroway

December 6th, 2011

The Obama administration has issued a flurry of documents and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a groundbreaking speech on the need for protecting the human rights of LGBT people around the world. It began this morning with the White House memorandum directing American international agencies to take action in countries where LGBT abuses are taking place. That was followed by fact sheets from the White House and the State Department outlining the new policies as well as past accomplishments. Of particular interest is the State Department’s description of its engagement in Uganda over concerns about the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

Alongside Ugandan civil society’s strong and sustained outreach to parliamentarians and the Uganda Human Rights Commission, and advocacy of other governments, U.S. Government advocacy against Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill established a precedent for the United States, the international donor community and civil society to collaborate to counter efforts to criminalize same-sex conduct. [Emphasis mine]

While activities in Uganda are mentioned, Africa was not alone in receiving the State Department’s attention over the past few years. Also mentioned are Jamaica, Slovakia, Indonesia, Guinea, Serbia, and India. Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton gave what has been described as a groundbreaking speech in Geneva in advance of Human Rights Day this Saturday. I wasn’t able to see the speech and hope to have the transcript as soon as possible. (Update: It’s here, and it’s a doozy.)

It remains to be seen how the actions today will be reported in the popular media and what the response will be in countries which stand to be affected by today’s announcements. But past events does give us a clue as to how today’s developments are likely to be received in world capitals where LGBT persecution is either official policy or the social norm. Russia had earlier denounced American diplomatic protests over a proposed bill in St. Petersburg which would prohibit LGBT advocacy in public, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak followed that with a suggestion that the St. Petersburg proposal could be made a federal law. In Africa, following comments from British Prime Minister David Cameron warning that countries which prosecute LGBT people could see their foreign aid cut (a warning that was later modified to say that the aid would be redirected to NGO’s instead), African leaders, including those who oppose LGBT oppression, warned that the statement could backfire on efforts to head off legislation which would severely increase penalties against LGBT people. African LGBT advocates also warn that if changes in foreign funding force cutbacks in governmental services, the local LGBT communities would feel the brunt of the blame, making the work of LGBT advocacy much more difficult in countries where the prevailing belief is that homosexuality is a Western import.

None of that is to say that these pronouncements from the US and IK aren’t unwarranted or improper. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and as they say in Africa, when elephants fight, the grass suffers. Since Cameron’s announcement in October, there has been a measurable uptick on African newspaper articles mentioning homosexuality popping up through November and December in my Google Alerts for the continent, and those articles are rarely positive. The Ugandan Parliament revived the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the end of October, and the Nigerian Senate greatly increased the penalties in a bill which makes same-sex unions a felony in November.

Now to be clear, neither action was a response to Britain’s announcement; both events almost certainly have occurred anyway. But if anyone had been inclined to speak out against those two bills before, the current politics now makes that all but impossible. No African politician has ever lost influence by standing up to “meddling” by foreign and (especially) colonial powers. And no politician anywhere in the world — east, west, north or south — has survived the taint of being accused of colluding with foreign governments, no  matter how manifestly untrue, unjust, or an irrelevant distraction those accusations may be.

In the short term, these announcements are likely to exacerbate the situation. That is just a simple fact of life, but pointing that out isn’t to say that this is not a good change in direction. It is merely to say that we will need to be forewarned and prepared for the inevitable reaction which will come of it. Fasten your seat belts.

Indonesian gays threatened with imprisonment for blasphemy

Timothy Kincaid

March 30th, 2010

Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world, about 230 million, with about half residing on Java and the rest spread across about 17,500 islands. It is predominantly Muslim (about 86%), but the constitution also allows religious freedom, which is defined as the freedom of worship in Islam and five additional religions: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

The Islam practiced in Indonesia is generally less strident than that practiced in the Middle East. Officially secular (other than in the province of Aceh), the laws do not forbid homosexuality and there is a level of tolerance and even limited visibility. However, there are conservative factions within the nation’s Muslim population who long to remake Indonesia as a Muslim state and to administer Shari’a law.

Additionally, Indonesia has a blasphemy law which prohibits alternative interpretations of the six recognized religions. Although this law is currently being challenged in the Constitutional Court, it is being fiercely defended by the Religion Minister.

This past weekend, the ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) had planned on holding its ILGA Asia conference at Surabaya, the capital of East Java. The conference was to be from Friday, March 26th, through Monday, March 29th, and was to focus on the problems faced by women and by marginalized communities in general.

However, on the 24th, the police refused to permit the event to go on. (AsiaOne)

Indonesian police said Wednesday they will not issue a permit for an international gay and transgender group to convene a regional conference because of fears it could incite unrest.

The unrest cited was a non-subtle threat from Muslim activist groups (Jakarta Globe)

Abdusshomad Buchori, chairman of the East Java chapter of the MUI, said the conference was an attempt “to ruin the people and the young generation.”

“According to Islamic teachings, the same-sex relationships of gays or lesbians as well as bisexuals are condemned by the Almighty,” he said, adding that his organization had sent a formal request to the National Police headquarters and the East Java administration not to permit the conference to go ahead.

Abdusshomad said his organization would not hesitate “to use our own methods” to break up the event should authorities allow it to go forward. “If there are parties that insist on holding the event, we will play hard,” he warned.

Unable to negotiate a resolution, ILGA canceled the conference. But this was inadequate for militant Islamists (Jakarta Globe)

Led by the East Java chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), hardline groups descended on a Surabaya hotel on Friday, intimidating delegates who had planned to attend an international gay conference that was canceled after pressure from Islamic organizations.

“We found 130 people, including foreign participants from 13 countries, who were gathering in the hotel,” said a spokesman for the groups, Arukat Jaswadi, who is also chairman of the Center for Indonesian Community Studies. The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) also took part in the raid.

The radical Islamic groups also demanded that the management of the Oval Hotel ask the guests registered for the event to leave. “How can the hotel management guarantee us that those people are not having a conference in the hotel?” said Arukat.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) was scheduled to hold a conference in Surabaya from Friday to Sunday. The event, hosted by gay rights group Gaya Nusantara, had been expected to attract more than 150 activists.

A minor clash occurred during the raid as hotel guests resisted the checks by FPI members. Arukat said scuffles broke out because the ILGA members did not want to cooperate with them and “always argue with us.”

When the ILGA members planned to hold a news conference after the raid, the FPI members prevented them, leading to another skirmish.

“They are undermining us. It’s clear that we don’t want them to be here for the conference, now they want to hold a press conference,” Arukat said.

The groups said they would “keep an eye on the participants and make sure they leave the hotel on Friday afternoon.”

Local sources report that the militants threatened the lives of the conferees, saying that they would burn them alive.

While it is disappointing that these Muslim groups were able to intimidate police into forcing the cancellation of the conference, it is the most recent development that causes the greatest concern. The government, through its Ministry of Religious Affairs, is not choosing to call into question the bullying tactics and death threats of Muslim radicals. Rather, it is taking a position that threatens the freedom of sexual minorities to meet or advocate for their rights. (Fridae)

The Minister of Religious Affairs, Suryadharma Ali, was quoted as saying that activities such as the conference are against religious and moral order, and an offense to the religious community in Indonesia. He added that homosexual behaviour contradicts the teachings of various religions, including Islam. He added that he is certain other religions in Indonesia do not condone homosexual behaviour.

It is believed that the organisers of the conference – none have been specifically named by the authorities although three members of the ILGA Asia board are Indonesian: Poedjiati Tan of Gaya Nusantara, King Oey of Arus Pelangi and Kamilia of Institut Pelangi Perempuan, Indonesia – may be charged under the country’s Blasphemy Law.

If the local organizers of the conference are found guilty of blaspheming, they could be jailed for up to five years. While the Blasphemy Law has been used to outlaw the organization of minority religious sects, the expansion to include as blasphemy those who simply disagree with specific religious doctrines is a threat to the freedoms of all Indonesians. And it, in effect, criminalizes not only sexual behaviors but any attitude, opinion, or advocacy that disagrees with the dominant religion.

Indonesian Moderate Muslims Accept Gays

Timothy Kincaid

November 13th, 2009

A Muslim conference in Jakarta, Indonesia concluded that homosexuality is permissible. (Jakarta Post)

Moderate Muslim scholars said there were no reasons to reject homosexuals under Islam, and that the condemnation of homosexuals and homosexuality by mainstream ulema and many other Muslims was based on narrow-minded interpretations of Islamic teachings.

Siti Musdah Mulia of the Indonesia Conference of Religions and Peace cited the Koran’s al-Hujurat (49:3) that one of the blessings for human beings was that all men and women are equal, regardless of ethnicity, wealth, social positions or even sexual orientation.

“There is no difference between lesbians and nonlesbians. In the eyes of God, people are valued based on their piety,” she told the discussion organized by nongovernmental organization Arus Pelangi.

It is difficult to know to the extent that these moderate scholars influence Muslim thinking in that nation. But as we hear so very little of encouragement from the Muslim World, this is very good news indeed. This may be the first time that I’ve become aware that any segment Islam is accepting of gay people.

Indonesian Province Proposes Chipping People With AIDS

Jim Burroway

November 25th, 2008

William F. Buckly famously wrote in a 1986 New York Times op-ed that “Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.” Paul Cameron also proposed a similar solution along with quarantines.

That was more than twenty years ago. Skip ahead to 2008, where the Indonesian province of Papua is considering a 21st-century solution:

Legislators in Indonesia’s remote province of Papua have thrown their support behind a controversial bill requiring some HIV/AIDS patients to be implanted with microchips – part of extreme efforts to monitor the disease.

Health workers and rights activists sharply criticized the plan Monday. But legislator John Manangsang said by implanting small computer chips beneath the skin of “sexually aggressive” patients, authorities would be in a better position to identify, track and ultimately punish those who deliberately infect others with up to six months in jail or a $5,000 US fine.

Of course, no one can say how they intend to define “sexually aggressive.” Indonesia has one of Asia’s fastest growing HIV rates, fuelled mainly by intravenojus drug users and prostitution. Papua has been hardest hit.

Nancy Fee, the UNAIDS coordinator for Indonesia is concerned about the impact the legislation would have on prevention efforts.

“No one should be subject to unlawful or unnecessary interference of privacy,” Fee said, adding that while other countries have been known to be oppressive in trying to tackle AIDS, such policies don’t work. They make people afraid and push the problem further underground, she said.

Local health workers and AIDS activists called the plan “abhorrent.” “People with AIDS aren’t animals; we have to respect their rights,” said Tahi Ganyang Butarbutar, a prominent Papuan activist.