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Mexico City's Nonchalance Toward Gay Marriage is Catching on in South America

Mancera
Mancera marrying 26 gay couples in July.

BY DUDLEY ALTHAUS / GlobalPost

Mass same-sex marriages, presided over by the mayor? Yes, and then some.

MEXICO CITY — In Mexico’s modernizing capital, the word these days seems to be “keep calm, and marry on,” a nonchalance toward gay marriage that’s slowly catching on across Latin America.

Pushing that message, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera stood witness recently to the mass wedding of 58 lesbian and gay couples, who said their vows in unison.

"This is one more event in ... the city of freedoms,” Mancera, who presided over a similar ceremony in July, told the 74 women and 42 men taking the plunge. Mexico's capital is “a city that is concerned about and working on moving ahead,” he said.

MassgayweddingThe latest gay nuptials took place at a museum just blocks from Mexico City’s central plaza — and from the cathedral pulpit of Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who has railed against gay unions as “perverse” affronts to Mexican families and the “divine project.”

But this city’s left-leaning government has been poking the eyes of Catholic leaders and other cultural conservatives for more than a decade now. Promoting diversity — sexual, political, religious — is official policy here. The Mexican capital in many ways has set the pace of social change across Mexico and the region.

Mancera told the newlyweds at the March 21 mass wedding the city is determined to push equality issues "step by step." He announced an initiative to make it easier for people to legally change their gender.

Mexico City legalized gay marriage in late 2009. Less than a year later, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the rest of the nation must recognize those marriages.

That said, same-sex unions remain illegal in most of Mexico. As in the United States, the federal system here leaves the definition of marriage up to state legislators, or the municipal council in the case of Mexico City’s federal district.

But advocates in the past year have won court rulings forcing recognition of gay marriages in several states on a case-by-case basis. Those decisions give activists hope that judges can nudge state governments toward recognizing marriage equality.

Mexicocity“We have advanced very quickly,” said lawyer Luis Guzman, 33, a leading activist in the conservative western city of Guadalajara who married his long time companion in one of Mexico City's first gay weddings. “These four years have been very important to us.”

“The courts are the easiest way to do it,” Guzman said. “The local legislatures don't want to touch the issue.”

Despite enduring discrimination, courts and congresses are changing laws and attitudes toward gay rights elsewhere in Latin America.

“There has been a gay rights revolution that has stretched from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande," Omar Encarnacion, a political scientist at Bard College in New York, noted on a recent blog post in The New York Times.

Well, perhaps not quite a revolution.

The culture clash over gay unions regionwide has been at least as fraught as that in the United States. With gay equality entwined here with a growing awareness of human rights of every kind, courts and activists across the region have been prodding reluctant lawmakers and societies alike.

Many societies remain outright hostile to same-sex couples, as GlobalPost’s Simeon Tegel reported last year. And violence stalks gays throughout the region.

“There are some advances, but they are hand in hand with backlash,” says Maria-Mercedes Gomez, Latin America coordinator for the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

“We still have a long, long way to go, still far from a heavenly situation on human rights.”

Yet Latin America provides three of the 17 countries that have legalized gay marriage worldwide. The Argentine capital Buenos Aires started the charge allowing same-sex marriage in November 2009. Argentina's congress legalized it nationally in 2010 and Uruguay's did so last spring. Chile's lower congressional chamber currently is debating a senate-approved “life partnership agreement,” a form of civil union.

Bypassing legislators, a Brazilian judicial panel ruled last year that gays could not be denied marriage licenses, effectively legalizing the unions. The ruling is being challenged and congress may yet rescind or modify it.

Some form of civil union are legal in Colombia and Ecuador. Chile's lower congressional chamber currently is debating a senate-approved “life partnership agreement,” a form of civil union.

2_mexicoOutside Mexico City, gay marriages have been recognized as legal since 2011 in Quintana Roo, the state on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula that includes Cancun.

Three other states, including Jalisco, of which Guadalajara is the capital, allow civil unions. A federal court in late 2012 ruled that Oaxaca state's vague legislation rendered the marriages of three gay couples legal.

“We are recognizing realities," said Hector Maldonado, director of Mexico City's Civil Registry, which records marriages. "This is a defense of the freedom of expression, the freedom to love.

"The changes here make it clear that people have to push for their rights," he said. "Now they have to push it in the states as well."

Such attitudes remain well ahead of the average citizens. But one nationwide poll revealed last year that a slight majority of Mexicans now at least don’t opposed gay marriage or civil unions.

Public attitudes in part are shaped by religious leaders, which despite Pope Francis’ more conciliatory language, in Mexico have been almost uniformly hostile to same-sex unions in Mexico.

"Truly Mexico is suffering a lot of bad things, flu, violence, poverty, unemployement and together with these comes news of a bad and perverse law," Rivera, Mexico's highest-ranking Catholic clergyman, said when the gay marriage law was passed.

When the Supreme Court ruled that the capital’s marriages are valid nationwide, the prelate said that "de facto or supposedly legal unions between persons of the same sex are immoral, as they contradict the divine plan."

But, at least in key parts of the capital and other big cities, public opinion seems to be steadily shifting toward acceptance.

Mexico City's gay pride parade each June draws tens of thousands of marchers and thousands more spectators, including many families.

Gay men at times seem to own the Zona Rosa, or Pink Zone, which until the capital's disastrous 1985 earthquake was the city’s nightlife mecca.

Smooching same-sex couples have become common on the street and subway, where gay men often gravitate to the last car of the trains, far outnumbering straight riders.

Such public displays of affection seldom draw stares in this city of 9 million, even more rarely a public rebuke.

“It depends of course upon what part of the city you are in,” said Samuel Villanueva, a 29-year-old sales clerk, who strolled with his veterinarian partner through a recent lunchtime throng in the Zona Rosa, their arms across the small of one another's back.

“But there isn't so much discrimination any more,” Villanueva said. “There are gays in every family, in every neighborhood. People are starting to realize and accept that.”


Transgender People Voted for the First Time in El Salvador's History

Dglgbtigrupo
LGBT activists display their inked fingers after voting in the second round of the Salvadoran presidential elections, on March 9, 2014. in order to prove that a citizen has voted, fingers are dipped in semi-permanent ink after turning in the ballot. Third from left is Pati Hernandez, executive director of ASPIDH Arco Iris, and second from right is Karla Avelar, executive director of COMCAVIS trans.

BY DANIELLE MARIE MACKEY AND GLORIA MARISELA MORAN / GlobalPost

SAN SALVADOR and NEW YORK—Rubi Navas is among the first transgender women in the history of El Salvador to be allowed to vote.

In previous years, Rubi and her peers were normally barred from voting, because their physical appearances don’t match the masculine birth names on their national identification cards. The few who were able to cast ballots were lucky; an unusually progressive election official had probably let them by.

But on Feb. 1, three days before the first round of the 2014 Salvadoran presidential elections, the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal proclaimed that all people must be allowed to vote, without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

CerenWhile recent historic advances, like this one, were made by the administration of outgoing president Mauricio Funes, questions remain about whether his successor, Salvador Sanchez Ceren (pictured), will take the same proactive stance.

Despite previous progress, the climate for LGBTI rights in El Salvador is complicated by corruption and organized crime, which exacerbate the already pervasive issues of discrimination and violence.

On March 9, in the elections’ second and final round, Rubi went to the polls with a bandaged right arm to protect bullet wounds she sustained in an attack nearly one month earlier. In a violent episode all-too-familiar to many LGBTI people in El Salvador, Rubi was shot three times by an off-duty police officer.

While simultaneously enjoying a newly awarded right, Rubi arrived at the polling station still the unhealed victim of attempts on her life—an event which is representative of the state of LGBTI rights in El Salvador, and the ways in which discrimination still functions against LGBTI people.

On the night of Feb. 7, 2014, Rubi was working on a street near downtown San Salvador.

Like many transgender women in El Salvador, she is only able to find employment in sex work. An off-duty, intoxicated officer cornered Rubi, accusing her of stealing his mobile phone. When she denied the accusation, he shot her three times, hitting her once in the neck and twice in the arm.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Transgender People Voted for the First Time in El Salvador's History" »


Did the EU Just Sell Out Ukraine's Gay Community?

BY EMILY LODISH / GlobalPost

Ukraine says the EU dropped a requirement that the country protect 'sexual minorities' as part of visa negotiations. The EU denies it.

Ukraine is looking for a legal makeover, but it may not benefit everyone.

PetrenkoOn Monday, Ukraine's parliament finalized a new anti-discrimination law, but in a worrying move for the country's LGBT community, the country's justice minister said the law would not include a clause to protect "sexual minorities."

"We did find an understanding with the European Commission on the draft law on discrimination," said Ukraine's Justice Minister Pavel Petrenko (pictured).

"And they removed their demands concerning the indication in the law of guarantees for sexual minorities."

But David Stulik, a spokesman for the European Commission delegation to Kyiv, denied the minister's claim. He told BuzzFeed that the EU had not dropped the requirement.

The law, which is part of a plan to do away with visas for Ukrainians traveling to the EU, does guarantee protection of all persons for race and religion, according to Petrenko.

Ukraine's parliament has previously considered anti-"gay propaganda" laws, though none have passed. Negotiations, it seems, are ongoing.


Turkey Bans Twitter: Here's Why

Turkey

BY JACOB RESNECK / GlobalPost

It's hard not to see this as having to do with the audio files Twitter users are passing around involving the prime minister and a corruption investigation.

ErdoganISTANBUL — Turkey has blocked Twitter hours after the prime minister vowed he’d “eradicate” the popular social media site.

A controversial new internet law passed last month allows the country’s telecommunications authority to order content removed within hours without a court order.

On Thursday night, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed Twitter wasn’t complying with the new law, and told a rally of thousands that he’d bring the site down.

The press advisory of the Prime Ministry later in the night clarified Erdogan's statement, arguing that Twitter officials currently "ignore" some court rulings in Turkey, which order the social media platform to "remove some links" as per the complaints filed by Turkish citizens.

"[In Erdogan's speech] it is stated that as long as Twitter fails to change its attitude of ignoring court rulings and not doing what is necessary according to the law, technically, there might be no remedy but to block access in order to relieve our citizens," the statement said.

Reaction to the move — which came around midnight Friday local time — was swift. Major newspapers posted instructions offering simple technical workarounds to access the site.

“This is certainly a step backwards in terms of openness, transparency and the democratization process of Turkey,” said Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Bilgi University in Istanbul. “Restrictions on political speech and discourse of this scale is unacceptable in any country including in Turkey.”

Twitter representatives confirmed reports that the site had been disrupted.

“We're looking into this now,” said Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler. The company’s official account offered Turkish cell phone subscribers ways to send tweets via text message.

The cause of the ban is most certainly political as Turkey prepares for March 30 local elections, seen as a key test of power for the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party, now in its 11th year of rule.

Anonymous users have been posting links to YouTube of audio recordings purporting to be wiretaps that expose rampant corruption within Erdogan's inner circle.

This follows a corruption scandal that erupted Dec. 17 that implicated three cabinet ministers as well as businessmen with close ties to the prime minister’s closest associates.

The government has responded to the accusations with mass purges of the police and judiciary as well as by ordering evidence destroyed. Erdogan has said the accusations are part of a plot hatched by a former ideological ally, Fethullah Gulen — a Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric — whom he accuses of conspiring to bring down his government.

Twitter“It was just a matter of moment for Prime Minister Erdogan and his men to decide to ban Twitter,” said Erkan Saka, an outspoken blogger and communications lecturer at Bilgi University in Istanbul. “Twitter remains the main channel for freedom of expression and dissemination of corruption file leaks.” 

Cyber law experts say the ban on Twitter is reminiscent of the YouTube ban that lasted for 18 months from 2008-2010.

“Certainly this is politically motivated just prior to the local elections,” Akdeniz said. “I suspect the decisions were issued prior to the PM's speech but they were only executed subsequent to his speech.”

Some of the alleged leaked wiretaps appeared to record Erdogan himself instructing media companies to censor coverage of last spring’s Gezi Park protests. Such censorship — during the protests CNN Türk famously showed a documentary on penguins in Antarctica in place of the news — is another reason why Twitter has been an important tool for Turkish citizens to share information, unrestricted, in real time. Several media companies during Erdogan’s tenure as prime minister have been fined or taken over by companies close to the government.

The recently passed internet law was panned by press freedom groups, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which warned it would have a chilling effect on free speech. The Turkish government claimed that the law was meant to protect children and the privacy of individuals.

Right now, the warnings from CPJ and other press freedom groups are looking prescient.

“CPJ urges the Turkish government to immediately unblock Twitter, and to respect the press freedom and free expression rights of its citizens,” said Geoffrey King, the group's internet advocacy coordinator, late Thursday.


Cutting Foreign Aid Won't Defeat Anti-Gay Laws in Africa and Latin America

BY ARI SHAW AND MAURICIO ALBARRACÍN / GlobalPost

Commentary: Human rights courts and commissions are the best tools to diminish violence and strengthen LGBT rights.

MuseveniBOGOTA — Will cuts to foreign aid as a response to anti-gay laws help the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Africa? The conventional wisdom seems to say “yes.”

Recent legislation in Uganda, which imposes a life sentence for “aggravated homosexuality” and criminalizes any promotion of homosexuality, has been rightly condemned as a violation of the fundamental equality and dignity of LGBT people.

In response, a number of Western countries, including Norway, Denmark and Sweden, have withdrawn foreign assistance, and the World Bank froze a $90 million loan to Uganda.

These actions, while understandable, are misguided.

Condemnation by foreign governments, including the United States, is an important symbolic measure and can help delegitimize anti-gay laws. Yet cuts in foreign assistance can have the unintended effect of emboldening homophobic rhetoric that links aid and LGBT rights to neocolonial intervention.

This would further endanger the lives of LGBT citizens in these countries.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act has received broad support among Ugandans. Its author has said that any costs in foreign aid are “worth it.”
 
RedpepperMeanwhile, activists report an increase in arrests and harassment of LGBT people, and a similar bill in Nigeria has led to a rash of mob violence against gays and lesbians.

Foreign governments and international donors seeking to help should, instead, increase financial and technical support for African LGBT rights organizations and human rights institutions.

LGBT activists in many African states face highly restrictive and dangerous conditions that limit their ability advocate for reforms. In many cases, these laws not only discriminate against LGBT individuals but also criminalize or severely restrict public dissent and association around LGBT issues.

The burgeoning African system of human rights courts and commissions should be strengthened to provide an important and necessary tool for enhancing LGBT rights and activism in the region.

The experience of LGBT rights activism in another developing region — Latin America — offers insight into the roles regional human rights bodies can play.

In the past several years, advances in gay rights in Latin America have outpaced those in the United States and some European nations. Argentina and Uruguay, for instance, have full marriage equality, while Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia offer some form of legal protection for same-sex couples and families.

Violence and inequality persist, but in many national debates around LGBT rights, the Inter-American human rights system has been an important resource for gay rights activists.

IachrIndividuals and nongovernmental organizations can appeal directly to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which investigates and offers recommendations to remedy cases of human rights abuse.

Consequently, the quasi-judicial commission has been an active forum for documenting and publicizing human rights abuses.

In the past five years, the commission has held 17 public hearings related to gay rights, same-sex unions, and homophobic violence in the Americas.

Since February 2012, it has issued 31 news releases drawing national and international media attention to the plight of LGBT communities in member countries and across the region.

The commission has also visited countries to highlight the negative conditions for LGBT people there. And, as of February 1, the commission has a permanent office with a mandate to monitor human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights only hears cases referred by the commission or from petitions by national governments, but its rulings are legally binding.

Most notably, in a 2012 case against Chile, the court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected categories under the American Convention on Human Rights. As a result, no domestic laws may be promulgated that restrict individual rights on these grounds.

The ruling has not only shaped the ongoing debate in Chile around marriage equality and same-sex families, but has also set binding precedent for national judges in member states facing same-sex marriage litigation.

The African regional human rights system might play a similar role in augmenting the work of LBGT rights activists in the region. Following the lead of its Inter-American organization, the African Commission could take a more active role as a public forum to highlight violence against LGBT people and publicly shame governments that fail to protect them.

Moreover, the commission could coordinate more closely with the tapestry of sub-regional African courts, such as the East African Court of Justice, that are increasingly asserting their jurisdiction to hear cases involving human rights violations.

To be sure, regional human rights systems are no panacea for ending human rights abuses against LGBT people. The process can be frustratingly slow, often taking years to reach a ruling.

These institutions lack strong enforcement powers, and some leaders openly defy their judgments. The African system in particular has faced charges of inefficiency, while the nascent African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has struggled to become fully operational.

Regional human rights institutions can provide crucial publicity, legitimacy and legal precedent for LGBT rights activists in the face of stifling national laws.

A strengthened African regional human rights system can bypass critiques of foreign intervention and create external pressure on national governments that bolsters the work of local activists. The best lesson from LGBT activism in the Inter-American system is that the amplified voices of citizens are often the most persuasive.

Ari Shaw is currently a Fulbright Scholar in Colombia researching the impact of international law on LGBT activism. Mauricio Albarracín is a lawyer with Colombia Diversa, a national LGBT rights organization based in Bogotá.


Don’t Malign the MH370 Captain’s ‘Fanatical’ Politics

Captain

BY PATRICK WINN / GlobalPost

The tabloids are misinformed. You'd probably agree with the captain.

BANGKOK, Thailand — He’s “fanatical,” says one Western media outlet. He’s “obsessive,” says another. The captain of Malaysia Airlines’ missing jet was even photographed wearing a black T-shirt (above, right) that proclaims “Democracy is Dead,” which apparently “fuels talk that he hijacked the flight.

These headlines create a composite image: an oddball radical with an Islamic name, a man possessed by fringe politics — all in a Muslim-majority nation unfamiliar to most in the West.

But these tabloid notions are grossly misinformed.

All evidence available to the public suggests the opposite: Capt. Zaharie Shah’s politics appear to be generally in tune with Western sensibilities. And given Malaysia’s authoritarian leanings, his opposition views are entirely understandable.

Malaysia is a tropical, multi-ethnic home to roughly 30 million people. The nation endured centuries of European colonization only to shake off British rule in 1957 and become, by Asian standards, modern and affluent. Thanks to a cultural mix of Malays, Chinese and Indians, its cuisine is also mind blowing.

The nation’s government, however, leaves much to be desired.

“People need to see that Malaysia is a one-party state, run by princelings, despite regular elections. This regime has been protected from effective competition,” said Wong Chin-Huat, a political scientist with Malaysia’s Penang Institute think tank.

"Once you understand that,” Chin-Huat said, “you’ll also understand why there’s chaos in coordination over the missing flight.”

Malaysia’s dominant party, Barisan Nasional, has held power for nearly 60 years. To retain control, Malaysia’s leaders stifle protest and dissent. They have instituted laws and privileges favoring the dominant race, Malay, over all other citizens.

They also pursue dubious charges against political challengers, such as Anwar Ibrahim, a veteran politician whose opposition party promotes a less oppressive, more racially integrated vision of Malaysia. This vision has never condoned armed struggle, coups, terrorism or hijacking jets full of innocent passengers.

The MH370 captain happens to be a committed Anwar supporter. The two are also very loosely related through in-laws but have no personal relationship, according to Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper.

AnwarAnwar (pictured, right), the face of Malaysia’s opposition, was sentenced to a five-year prison term several days before the flight went missing. Zaharie attended the trial. The politician’s alleged crime: fully consensual male-on-male sex — a crime in conservative Malaysia. Human Rights Watch condemned the verdict as a “political case” worthy of “international ridicule.”

That prison sentence conveniently follows a groundbreaking election last summer in which the ruling party, badly threatened by Anwar’s opposition, earned less than half of the popular vote. Barisan Nasional retained power nonetheless.

“So if you think the captain is an extremist, then I’m afraid that 51 percent of Malaysians share that extremism. That’s how many people voted for the opposition party,” Chin-Huat said. “This situation generates anger, frustration and depression because it seems you can’t remove a government through elections. But the anger is understandable.”

“Him wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Democracy is Dead,’” Chin-Huat said, “is no different than Americans’ reaction in 2000 when Al Gore lost to George Bush.”

Tabloids’ screaming speculation that Zaharie hijacked the plane in “political protest” is hard to reconcile with the total lack — as far as we know — of a manifesto recovered by police on searches of his home and computer. Without a public declaration of intent, the killing of 239 people (plus himself and his co-pilot) would also be rendered completely pointless.

That hasn’t stopped Fox News from calling him an “obsessive follower” of anti-government politics, or its pundits claiming that “experts” believe his politics are a “cause of concern ... is it a political or ideological act of protest?”

Zaharie, a highly competent English speaker, has a light presence on social media. His YouTube channel, featuring his mundane and geeky tutorials on home repair, has become a haven for both consolation and cruel trolling.

Zaharie also appears to have clicked “like” on a number of atheism-themed YouTube clips, which suggests a degree of unorthodox broadmindedness in Malaysia’s puritanical society. The state holds Islam so sacrosanct that citizens declared “Muslim” at birth are forbidden from legally switching faiths.

MapMultinational investigations into the bizarre vanishing of flight MH370 have grown more agonizing by the day. Satellite data indicate the Boeing 777 could have ended up as far as the Kazakhstan hinterlands or the depths of the Indian Ocean.

Malaysia’s premier has declared the plane’s disappearance “deliberate” and police have sharpened their focus onto Zaharie and his co-pilot. So far, authorities have not identified any others aboard the plane who appear capable of the expert navigation skills displayed after the jet veered off its scheduled Kuala Lumpur to Beijing route.

Investigating both pilots’ beliefs, mental state, behavior and belongings is necessary as long as 239 passengers and a 770,000-pound jet are missing. But so far, no publicly available evidence suggests Zaharie’s political beliefs were deranged or unhealthy.

Quite the opposite. The captain’s opposition to Malaysia’s flawed government — with its legacy of race-baiting, draconian laws and censorship — should be relatable to many Americans.

And if it turns out Zaharie’s politics somehow played a role in the flight’s disappearance?

Given everything we currently know, blaming Malaysia’s popular opposition would still be misplaced. That’s like blaming actress Jodie Foster for the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan — all because the mentally ill gunman wanted to impress her.

(map via bbc)


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