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Gay Rights Are Playing a Major Role in India's National Election for the First Time


The Indian Supreme Court's decision to recriminalize gay sex acts has mobilized many in the LGBT community, and leading political parties are taking notice.

PatankarMUMBAI — When the Indian Supreme Court reinstated a 153-year-old ban on gay sex, reversing a lower court’s decision that it was unconstitutional, something stirred in the stillness around equal rights activist Pallav Patankar (pictured, right).

“It occurred to me that all these years we had worked on a narrow path of judicial reform against Section 377,” he said, referring to the part of the Indian Penal Code drafted in 1850 by British lawmakers to outlaw homosexual acts. “But now, we could no longer afford to be apolitical. I had voted as a student, a professional, as someone who defended women’s rights, but I hadn’t asked what would happen if I looked at myself as a political entity through a queer lens.”

In the first Indian election where the rights of sexual minorities are a political issue, two national parties, the ruling Indian National Congress and the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have included the reading down of Section 377 in their political manifestos.

SinghThe main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is leading the polls, has been silent on Section 377 in its manifesto, but party president Rajnath Singh (pictured, right) has previously described homosexuality as “unnatural” and stated the party’s support for Section 377.

“Gays and lesbians are not criminals, but we are a conservative party that strongly believes in the traditional family structure, and the need to keep our social and moral fabric intact,” said Shaina NC, national executive member and Maharashtra state treasurer of the BJP.

On Tuesday, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court allowed the country’s marginalized transgender community to identify as a third gender and directed the government to ensure their equal treatment. It is also the first national election in which transgender people can register to vote under the category of “others.”

“You’ve got to love India,” said Anuja Parikh, member of support group Gaysi Family. “A minority within a ‘minuscule minority’ gets recognized.” Parikh was referring to the Supreme Court judgment that recriminalized homosexuality and called LGBT people “a minuscule fraction of the population.”

In India, politicians tend to cater to vote banks, offering policies and concessions to those sections that they believe have enough numbers to catapult them to 543 parliamentary seats.

“In order for this invisible community to become invincible, we have to show numbers and politicize ourselves,” said Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist who became a member of AAP.

Sitting in the window seat of a local train, as the city tore past, Iyer, 33, talked about how there was no choice for the community but “to dirty its hands” and begin forming political alliances.

His party had excluded its opposition to Section 377 from its manifesto but later feebly added it when the LGBT community raised a stink.

2_india“We need to fight not only for LGBT people but for all those who want to live their lives without the Indian government peeping in their bedrooms,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Humsafar Trust polled 524 queer and queer supporters and found that a majority favored the Congress Party and the AAP — with 45 percent and 41 percent, respectively — parties that have opposed criminalization of gay sex.

But the survey also showed that a 14 percent portion said they would vote for the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party that has opposed gay rights. The poll was accompanied by a qualitative analysis of the queer Indian voter, which mapped the opinions of 37 queer voters in Mumbai.

In a room scattered with political manifestos, voters were asked to write their political views in one line.

What showed up on flipcharts was a wide spectrum: from views like “Queer rights are not important, national interests should decided whom to vote” to “Regressive and bigoted parties will not get my vote.” Almost half of those who attended were undecided; Congress led with 22 percent of the vote and the rest was equally divided between AAP and BJP who each received 16 percent.

“Because the LGBT community can no longer expect others to fight on our behalf, given the spate of homophobic comments from political leaders and the Supreme Court ruling, it’s crucial that we come together, lobby, and make our voice heard,” said Parikh, the activist with Gaysi Family.

Part of channeling one clear voice for an entire community was to start a conversation. What did the queer voter want? Reading down Section 377 was top priority, followed by laws supporting marriage equality, anti-discrimination, adoption rights and a gender-neutral sexual assault mechanism.

Soon, the room was opened up for debate, and voters were allowed to attack and defend their political views, especially those who supported the BJP.

IndiaThere was talk of how being Indian came before being gay and that the BJP had proved itself in its states showing better governance, growth and infrastructure.

Some felt the BJP did not defend gay rights publicly only to oppose its rival Congress party.

“At first it confused me to see gay people support a party that believes homosexuality is a crime,” said Patankar, director of the HIV Programs at Humsafar Trust. “One reason is internal homophobia: You don’t like the fact that you’re homosexual and you don’t mind voting for the BJP because you don’t consider queer rights as rights.“

As Patankar spoke in his office at the Humsafar Trust, a young man in a nearby cabin said he hated himself because of his sexual orientation, tears rolling down his face, his gaze fixed into the middle distance.

At the event, after an hour-long debate, the organizers called for a secret ballot, to see if opinions had changed. They found that the section favoring the BJP remained untouched while those who had earlier been undecided sided with the Congress now with 49 percent and AAP with 21 percent.

“We need to talk among ourselves and at some point present these findings to politicians,” Patankar said.

Outside his cabin, near a rainbow flag painted onto a pink wall, a small group had huddled around a computer to discuss how a gay man had been beaten and blackmailed by someone he met on an online dating site. Thumbs anxiously skittered over smartphones to tip off friends who could be possible targets of such hate crimes that had peaked since the Supreme Court ruling.

“The queer struggle is one of the many struggles that fight the inherent discrimination in our social system,” Patankar said.

Utah Moves To Block Gay Adoptions: VIDEO


While the fate of gay marriage in Utah remains unclear, so too does the status of adoptions of children by gay couples granted following Judge Robert J. Shelby’s decision back in December that struck down the Beehive State's ban on same-sex marriage. As Fox 13 News in Salt Lake City reports, the Utah Attorney General’s office has filed emergency petitions this week with the state Supreme Court, “asking the court to deny orders from judges who have already approved the adoptions”:

In one petition, the state argued that 3rd District Court Judge Elizabeth A. Hruby-Mills’ decision “authorizes the department to violate the plain text of the Utah Constitution and Utah law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriage…”

They went on to say, “The trial court abused its discretion.”

DocsIn its arguments before the 10th circuit, Gene Schaer, the attorney representing the state of Utah, reiterated the argument made by the state in its brief filed for the court, that to confer marriage rights to same sex couples would be to change “the primary role of marriage from being child-centric to adult-centric.” The state’s brief against same-sex marriage suggested that to allow same-sex couples to marry in Utah would irreparably harm the state’s tradition of marriage (a sterling one, to be sure). 

Despite the hurdles, couples have been persistent in trying to ensure the state recognizes their adoption as legal and valid. Kimberly and Amber Leary were one of the first couples to marry when the ruling came down in December from Judge Shelby. After saying ‘I do,’ the Learys filed for second parent adoption like many other gay couples in the state. As Amber is the biological mother, only she is currently recognized as a legal parent of their daughter born in 2012. However, they’ve been fighting to change that. From Fox 13:

“This entire process has been celebration one day, crying the next, celebration one day, crying the next,” Kimberly Leary said.

Sitting in a waiting room at the Department of Health, she and her wife Amber Leary feel right at home.

“We’ve been here an hour...We’re going to get the birth certificate with both of our names on it,” Amber said. “That’s it, a piece of paper with both of our names on it saying that we’re her legal parents.” […]

Laura Gray, who represents the couple in Hruby-Mills’ case, spoke about the issue.

“They claim that they want to protect Utah’s children, but they are intentionally harming these children by injecting themselves into these cases,” Gray said. “We don’t understand why the Attorney General has to take this extraordinary step of now trying to undo completed adoptions.” [...]

“You just keep fighting, mostly for our child that she sees that, hey, we’re doing the right thing. We’re fighting for you; we’re fighting for us, for her constitutional rights,” said the Learys. 

Watch FOX13's report, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Utah Moves To Block Gay Adoptions: VIDEO" »

Hundreds March in Five-Hour Ceremony to Celebrate Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law: VIDEO

Uganda rally

Hundreds of government officials, religious leaders, and Ugandan citizens took part in a disturbing, five-hour ceremony in Kampala on Monday to celebrate the country's recently enacted ‘Anti-Homosexuality Law.’ 

Buzzfeed reports:

BahatiSpeakers paid tribute to President Yoweri Museveni, the official guest of honor, and linked Uganda’s fight against homosexuality with shedding its colonial past in an event that had the feeling of a campaign rally.

“Today, we come here again [to celebrate] sovereignty and freedom … [and] to take charge of our destiny,” said David Bahati, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, noting that the event was taking place at the Kololo Independence Grounds, the parade grounds where Ugandan independence was granted in 1962. “The citizens of Uganda are with you, Mr. President. The religious and cultural leaders are with you, Mr. President. The members of parliament and the nation is behind you.”

The event, called the “National Thanksgiving Service Celebrating the Passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” was organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), an umbrella organization of the country’s major denominations, and other groups that had supported the bill, which punishes homosexuality with up to life in prison and essentially bans LGBT advocacy.

Watch footage from the rally, AFTER THE JUMP...

Speakers praised the “courage” of President Museveni to sign the law despite widespread international backlash. Religious leaders also called for a publicly-funded trust to compensate for any loss in foreign aid.

MuseveniMuseveni, who supported the idea of a fund, drew laughs while arguing how unnatural gay sex is:

“The sexual organs of human beings are highly specialized,” he said. “Because that part is not for that purpose, it creates very unhealthy repercussions … the intestines come out — this is terrible!”

“There are other terrible things,” he warned. “Oral sex is an idiocy … The mouth is for eating.”

He also vowed to uphold the law despite outside pressure, saying “I am now mobilized to fight this war.”

In other news, a gay teen in Uganda attempted suicide earlier this month by overdosing on pills and swallowing rat poison. At least 17 gay Ugandans have reportedly attempted to kill themselves following the country's passage of its anti-gay law. 

[photo via J. Lester Feder/BuzzFeed]

Continue reading "Hundreds March in Five-Hour Ceremony to Celebrate Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law: VIDEO" »

Obama Neglects LGBT Issues In Chat with Pope Francis

Obama and Pope Francis

The Washington Blade is reporting that President Obama failed to raise LGBT-specific issues with Pope Francis during their meeting in the Vatican last Thursday. 

“I would say that the largest bulk of the time was discussing two central concerns of his,” Obama told reporters after the meeting. “One is the issues of the poor, the marginalized, those without opportunity and growing inequality.”

Obama said he and the pontiff discussed immigration reform and the possibility of a papal trip to the U.S. The president stressed there was also “some specific focus” during their 50 minute meeting on the Middle East – and specifically Syria, Lebanon and the fledgling peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“The theme that stitched our conversation together was a belief that in politics and in life the quality of empathy, the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes and to care for someone even if they don’t look like you or talk like you or share your philosophy – that that’s critical,” said Obama. “It’s the lack of empathy that makes it very easy for us to plunge into wars.”

Obama said he did not discuss any specific religious exemptions relating to the Affordable Care Act, although the Vatican noted that the two discussed “questions of particular relevance for the church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection…”

Esteban Paulón, LGBT Federation of Argentina President, expressed disappointment that Obama failed to address global concerns about global LGBT inequality with Pope Francis. Before becoming the pope, Francis served as archbishop of Buenos Aires (where his record on gay rights was decidedly mixed)

“Even though we did not have high expectations, we believed that within the context of the meeting President Obama would have brought to the table his administration’s concern that it has expressed, and that we have shared, about the climate of hostilities towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in many parts of the world,” Paulón told the Blade on Friday. “In many of those countries this persecution happens with the support, or at the very least with the complicity and silence, of the Catholic hierarchy.”

Crowds Cheer For One Of UK's First Married Gay Couples: VIDEO


As we just reported, Peter McGraith and David Cabreza of Islington were among the first same-sex couples (and quite possibly the first) to get married once marriage equality was legalized in England and Wales after midnight. When the happy couple emerged from Islington Town Hall they were greeted with a warm and raucous crowd wishing them well.  

Meanwhile Prime Minister David Cameron, who fought hard for marriage equality, released a statement today, as Joe.My.God. highlights:

"The introduction of same-sex civil marriage says something about the sort of country we are. It says we are a country that will continue to honour its proud traditions of respect, tolerance and equal worth. It also sends a powerful message to young people growing up who are uncertain about their sexuality. It clearly says ‘you are equal’ whether straight or gay. That is so important in trying to create an environment where people are no longer bullied because of their sexuality – and where they can realise their potential, whether as a great mathematician like Alan Turing, a star of stage and screen like Sir Ian McKellen or a wonderful journalist and presenter like Clare Balding. We are a nation that is growing stronger economically because of our long term economic plan. But I hope we can also be a country that is growing stronger socially because we value love and commitment equally. Let us raise a toast to that – and all those getting married this weekend.”

Watch video of McGraith and Cabreza emerging as husband and husband for the first time, along with a few more photos from the big day, AFTER THE JUMP…


(Photo at top via Twitter; photo at bottom also via Twitter)

Continue reading "Crowds Cheer For One Of UK's First Married Gay Couples: VIDEO" »

Same-Sex Marriage Begins At Midnight In England And Wales: VIDEO


At midnight local time tonight, marriage equality will officially become the law of the land in England and Wales. The campaign has been hard fought but thanks to legislation passed last year and signed in July by Queen Elizabeth II, same-sex couples can finally enjoy the same rights and benefits as their heterosexual counterparts in Britain. 

Calling today, “a great step forward,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg seemed to soak in the historic nature of what Britain has achieved. From ITV:

"It's a landmark day," [Clegg] said. "I am so chuffed about this change in the law."

"It's just a simple idea that if two people love each other it doesn't matter that they're the same sex - if they love each other and want to show that commitment towards each other through marriage, they should be able to do so.”

As the Standard reports, Clegg also announced that the rainbow flag will be flown “above the Cabinet Office and Scotland Office from today.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband for his part spoke to ITV, calling this an "incredibly happy time" for same-sex couples as well as "an incredibly proud time for our country".

Andrew Wale and Neil Allard from Brighton (pictured above) will be one of the first couples to be wed after the stroke of midnight, joining many more across the country. The couple told ITV that being able to get married at all is to them a “great privilege.” Trevor Love, the registrar who will officiate the wedding, has called it, “the most exciting day of my life.”

Meanwhile, though the Christian clergy in Britain has been at odds with proponents of marriage equality for some time, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby gave remarks today that some are interpreting as more ‘conciliatory’ in nature: "I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it's the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being.”

Happy day though it may be, British men still can’t become the Princess of Wales or Queen of England due to changes in courtesy titles associated with peerages that were made to accommodate the new marriage law. 

You can watch a special message from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, AFTER THE JUMP…

Continue reading "Same-Sex Marriage Begins At Midnight In England And Wales: VIDEO" »


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