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South Korean LGBT Activists Declare Victory After Seoul Mayor Agrees To Address Discrimination: VIDEO

Seoul

The mayor of Seoul, South Korea, has apologized for failing to proclaim a new civil rights charter that includes LGBT protections, and agreed to establish a panel to discuss ways to end discrimination, according to a coalition of activist groups.  

The LGBT coalition, called Rainbow Action, decided to end a six-day sit-in at Seoul City Hall after meeting with Mayor Park Won-soon last week. 

The sit-in began when Won-soon and the Seoul Municipal Government declined to proclaim the charter on World Human Rights Day as originally scheduled, saying the LGBT protections had caused "social conflict." 

The Rainbow Action coalition alleged Won-soon, a former human rights attorney who recently expressed support for same-sex marriage, had caved to pressure from South Korea's powerful right-wing religious lobby.

From Rainbow Action: 

In the end, at 5 PM on December 10, the fifth day of the sit-in, the mayor requested a private conversation with the protesters. Consequently, a delegation consisting of six representatives from both LGBT activist groups and civil NGOs met with him. From the start, dialogue had been one of the protesters’ demands. During the private conversation, the mayor apologized to the LGBT delegation, “It is my responsibility and fault.” Saying, “I am sorry for the emotional pain that you have suffered and will make whatever statements that you demand,” he made it clear that “This is an occasion for me to offer comfort for the emotional pain that you have suffered and to apologize to you” and, “regardless of any misunderstanding or statement, no citizen will be subjected to discrimination or disadvantage.” He also stated, “I will search for practical ways of resolving the difficulties that you suffer from.” 

Rainbow Action continued its sit-in when a subsequent press release from the city and Facebook post from the mayor glossed over the issues and offered only vague apologies. But the following morning, Seoul's innovation officer met with the protesters and agreed to form a panel to work on ending discrimination in city government, prompting Rainbow Action to throw a victory party and end the protest:  

Throughout the 6-day-long sit-in, the protesters were showered with support from both home and abroad. Indeed, over 300 NGOs including those for human rights, people with disability, women, civil society, laborers, and other minorities provided signatures of support in just one day. In addition, moving messages of support poured in from LGBT rights activist groups, major figures, and grassroots organizations overseas. Furthermore, countless people visited the City Hall and joined the cultural festival held every evening by the protesters. Through the sit-in, South Korean sexual minorities showed that the government and hate-mongers alike may not thoughtlessly disregard their rightful demand and movement for full social citizenship. The sit-in also served as an occasion for LGBT people in the nation to have more self-confidence and to confirm the future direction of their continued fight for justice and equality. The protesters are deeply grateful to friends and allies around the globe for their solidarity.

Watch Rainbow Action's video thanking supporters around the world, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

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Egyptian TV Reporter Broke Law In Filming Raid Of Gay Bathhouse, Activist Groups Say: VIDEO

MonaIraqi1

An Egyptian TV reporter broke the law when she disseminated information about some of the more than two dozen men arrested in a raid of a gay bathhouse on Dec. 7, according to a statement from activist groups

Mona Iraqi, a reporter for the pro-government Al-Qahira wal Nas channel, can be seen filming the arrests on her mobile phone above. Iraqi had tipped off Egypt's morality police about the bathhouse and accompanied them on the raid, according to reports. 

Iraqi“With pictures, we reveal the biggest den of group perversion in the heart of Cairo,” Iraqi (right) later wrote on Facebook, where she posted photos from the raid. The Facebook post has since been removed.

A trailer promoting Iraqi's investigative report said it would reveal "the secret behind the spreading of AIDS in Egypt,” and she defended the three-part series an interview with Voice of America.  

But 10 activist groups from the Middle East and North Africa have issued a statement accusing Iraqi of criminal conduct. The statement was published by Cairo gay activist Scott Long's A Paper Bird:

"Besides prying into people’s intentions and their private, consensual practices, this presenter clearly violated articles 75 and 58 of the law of criminal procedures: these prohibit anyone from disseminating information about persons arrested by the police to others who do not have standing in the case. We demand that the presenter, Mona Iraqi, be held accountable before the law for misusing her profession to violate the privacy of others and slander and misrepresent them, and for pursuing professional benefit regardless of consequences."

The raid was part of a horrific, unprecedented crackdown on LGBT people by the Egyptian government under President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who seized power last year. According to the activist groups, more than 150 people have been arrested on the assumption that they are gay or transgender — even though homosexuality is not technically illegal — since June 30, 2013: 

"In some cases prison sentences of eight or nine years have been imposed, on legal grounds that are incorrect or fabricated. The arrests have been accompanied by a still more monstrous media crusade, publicizing the personal information of those arrested, publishing their pictures, even posting filmed interviews with them. The media present homosexuals as a group of 'sick' individuals and criminals in need of therapy — or paints them as a deviant community that spread after the revolution."

In September, Grindr sent a message to all Egyptian users warning that police officers may be “posing as LGBT on social media to entrap you.” And on Nov. 1, eight men were sentenced to three years in prison after taking part in an alleged same-sex wedding which was recorded and posted to YouTube.

Following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, LGBT people in Egypt hoped for freedom under a new democracy, The Washington Post reports. But those hopes have been dashed as as-Sissi aims to distract people from Egypt's economic woes and appear as socially conservative as the Muslim Brotherhood from which he seized power.  

Once in police custody, LGBT prisoners are often subject to anal examinations, beaten and threatened with rape, The WaPo reports. They are reluctant to contact their families due to the social stigma of homosexuality, and few attorneys will represent them.  

Sadly, al-Sissi's government is funded in part by the US. The Washington Blade reports that the State Department issued a statement in response to the bathhouse raid, but officials have not said whether the US will cut funding to Egypt, as it did in response to Uganda's anti-homosexuality law. From The Blade:  

The U.S. during the 2014 fiscal year gave $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, with the majority of it going to the country’s military. The State Department said more than $7 million of this allotment went to “other security assistance programs.” 

Watch the first part of Iraqi's report, for which she is getting hammered on her Facebook page, AFTER THE JUMP ...

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Anti-Gay Group That Botched Houston Petition Aims To Put Plano LGBT Protections On Ballot: VIDEO

  Welch

The anti-gay group that led a botched petition drive against Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance now plans a similar effort in Plano, Texas — where the City Council passed LGBT protections this week. 

The Houston Pastor Council's petition to repeal the Houston ordinance was rejected by the city due to invalid signatures, prompting a lawsuit

Plano is more than 250 miles from Houston, but that's not stopping the Pastor Council, according to Houston Public Media:  

Director Dave Welch (above) says the group will work with pastors in the area to try to repeal the ordinance. He says law places unnecessary restrictions on businesses.

“There’s no evidence of any discrimination at all,” Welch says. “These categories are vague and undefined and place criminal penalties on something [businesses] can’t even defend themselves over.” ... 

The Pastor Council plans to place a referendum on the ballot to overturn Plano’s new law. A similar move in Houston has led to an ongoing legal battle over the Equal Rights Ordinance, which has yet to be enforced. 

To put the Plano ordinance on the ballot, the group would need to gather approximately 3,800 signatures before Jan. 17, city spokesman Scott Stoler told Towleroad. 

"We have not heard anything specific about an organized effort to repeal the ordinance," Stoler said Friday. 

Jmateer_webMeanwhile, state legislators have introduced "license to discriminate" bills to undermine local nondiscrimination ordinances in Texas, and the anti-gay Liberty Institute, based in Plano, reportedly is trolling for plaintiffs to challenge the ordinance. 

The Liberty Institute's Jeff Mateer (right) appeared on the Family Research Council's Washington Watch radio program on Friday. 

"In order to bring a legal challenge, you need a plaintiff, and so we're looking for people who are impacted by it," Mateer said. "And these would be, for instance, small business, folks who are bakers and photographers and florists, who this law now tells them you have to violate your religious beliefs. If someone wants to have a same-sex commitment ceremony in your facility, then the law says you're compelled to host them, you're compelled to bake their cake, you're compelled to provide their flowers, you're compelled to be their photographer." 

Note that the FRC and other hate groups are still referring to the Plano law as a "Bathroom Ordinance," even though it specifically exempts restrooms and similar facilities from its public accommodations provision. 

The restroom exemption has drawn criticism from transgender advocates, so it'll be interesting to see whether LGBT groups can unite in defense of the ordinance given its obvious flaws. 

In any case, Stoler also confirmed that the city will begin offering benefits to the same-sex partners of employees in January. In fact, Plano has even put together an informational video about the benefits. Watch it and weep below, Houston Pastor Council and Liberty Institute.

Also, listen to Mateer's interview with FRC, and watch his nauseating testimony against the ordinance, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

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MSNBC's Thomas Roberts Counts Down the Top 5 LGBT Stories of the Week: VIDEO

Roberts

MSNBC's Thomas Roberts takes a look back on the big LGBT stories of the week including PFOX's "ex-gay" billboard in Richmond stirring controversy and a new study showing gay couples are less likely than straight counterparts to file for divorce.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Homeless Shelter For LGBT Youth To Open In San Antonio: VIDEO

Homeless

Growing up in a small town in the Texas Panhandle, Sandra Whitley says she knew she was gay from the age of 13 — in 1975.

“I thought I was the only person in the world that had these feelings,” Whitley writes. “As much as I tried to keep it a secret, it was not long until my classmates, the town, and my parents knew. The parents of my classmates would not let their children associate with a homosexual. I no longer had friends. I was the talk of the town and my parents were not pleased. The school board tried to expel me from school. I was very lost and had no one to talk to.”

Whitley (below right) said she considered running away but ended up in a mental hospital.

“As horrible as that place was and as angry as I was when I got out (and for years to come), I did not end up on the streets,” Whitley writes. “As my life continued, I was always in trouble for being gay.  My relationship with my parents suffered for 20 years. I often said my only crime has been being gay.”

Whitley moved away from Texas for two decades before returning to San Antonio, where she’s owned a business for the last 20 years.

Now, Whitley plans to open a homeless shelter in San Antonio exclusively for LGBT youth, one of the few of its kind in the nation. Whitley will serve as executive director of the Thrive Youth Center, and initially, is underwriting many of the shelter’s expenses.

“I want these kids to know there is hope and they are not alone,” Whitley writes. “They can lead happy and productive lives. We are here to help them discover their dreams and fulfill them!”

WhitleyThe Thrive Youth Center was initially scheduled to open at Travis Park United Methodist Church downtown in November, but the opening has been delayed until at least January due to a zoning problem, KENS-TV reports.  

Whitley told Towleroad the city notified her the day the shelter was scheduled to open — after a report appeared in the LGBT publication Out In SA — that the site needed to be rezoned. The application to rezone the site will be heard by the city's Zoning Commission next week. Whitley said even if the rezoning application is rejected, she'll find another site. 

"I might have to jump throughout five hoops instead of two, but it's going to happen," she said. 

Whitley said she thinks opposition to the shelter is based on the fact that the city is trying to keep homeless people out of dowtown, rather than anti-LGBT sentiment. 

About 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, according to a 2012 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. Of those, 46 percent said they ran away because of family rejection, while another 43 percent said they were forced out by their parents. According to Thrive Youth’s website, the rate in San Antonio is even higher, with as many as 50 percent of homeless youth in the Alamo City identifying as LGBT.

Whitley and the shelter’s assistant director, Joshua Lee Yurcheshen, said they visited The Ali Forney Center in New York City and the Los Angeles LGBT Community Center — two of the only other shelters exclusively for homeless LGBT youth. 

Initially, Thrive will provide emergency shelter for up to eight youth, two nights a week, and offer breakfast packs and bus passes. But Thrive’s founders say the shelter will eventually be open every night in addition to offering a daytime Drop in Center and a Transitional Housing Program.

“This is the first critical step for our organization,” they wrote on Thrive’s website. “As we gain strength and momentum, we will attain our goal of being able to provide a safe haven every night of the week for homeless and at-risk youth. It is the first step in breaking the cycle of homelessness.”

For more info on the Thrive Youth Center, or to donate or volunteer, visit the website.

Watch a report from WOAI-TV, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

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Gay-Friendly Corporations Refuse To Come Out Against 'License To Discriminate' Bills In Texas

LTD

Eight companies with perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index have contributed money to the campaign of Texas Republican Sen. Donna Campbell (above right), the author of legislation that seeks to enshrine a "license to discriminate" in the state Constituion. 

But none of these otherwise gay-friendly companies have come out in opposition to SJR 10, which Campbell filed early last month.

The Texas Observer reports: 

“SJR 10 is one of thousands of bills filed, we will weigh in and comment on bills when and if they are scheduled for hearing,” said Mona Taylor, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based AT&T Inc., which contributed $5,000 to Campbell’s campaign through its PAC this year.

Other companies with perfect HRC scores that have contributed to Campbell’s campaign in the last year include General Motors Co. ($2,500), Citigroup Inc. ($1,500), UnitedHealth Group Inc. ($,1000), the Raytheon Co. ($1,000), Merck & Co. ($1,000), Genentech Inc. ($750) and Astellas Pharma Inc. ($500).

On Monday, Plano added itself to the list of cities in Texas that have passed ordinances banning anti-LGBT discrimination. Two days later, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas (above left), filed a House version of Campbell's "license to discriminate" bill — and another lawmaker is threatening to introduce a similar measure, The Observer reports. 
 
Experts say the legislation would severely limit cities' ability to enforce nondiscrimination ordinances, since any business owner could claim an exemption if they have "a sincerely held religious belief." But the unintended consequences of the constitutional amendment could be far worse, according to Equality Texas' Daniel Williams.
 
Texas already has a statute, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that provides strong protections for religious freedom. But the proposed amendments would supplant the RFRA and go much further, overriding the statute's exceptions for things like zoning regulations and civil rights laws, according to The Observer
 

“A church or a synagogue or a mosque could conceivably be built anywhere with no concern to traffic flow or how much parking is available or building codes,” Williams said. “There are butchers that butcher in accordance with very specific religious laws, and they’re able to do that, but the city and the state enforce environmental protections that ensure we don’t wind up with giant ponds of blood in residential neighborhoods. If you take away the ability of cities to enforce those, it’s going to have an enormous negative impact on the quality of life for everyone in that area.”

Williams said Campbell has introduced similar measures in three previous legislative sessions. Given the senator's penchant for seeking to enshrine a "license to discriminate" in the state Constitution, the companies' campaign contributions could reasonably be interpreted as an endorsement of the legislation — at least until they publicly state otherwise. 


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