Combating sexual orientation discrimination
December 23, 2004
European Group of Experts reviews legislative measures taken by the Member States
of the European Union to combat sexual orientation discrimination
Book URL for Lesbians in Christian church in Europe
EGAT – European Aids Treatment Group
January 30, 2007
Europarliament Lurches Right
The following was written for Gay City News — New York’s largest gay weekly — which published it on January 16. Technical difficulties prevented my posting it here until now:
As the European Parliament–which in the past has played a key role in advancing gay rights on the Continent-opened its new session in its headquarters at Strasbourg, France, its political complexion has undergone a significant change with the arrival of 53 new, mostly conservative deputies from Bulgaria and Romania, dimming prospects for further progress and strengthening the neo-fascist bloc.
The two countries acceded to full membership in the European Union earlier this month-and the Continental press has been filled with commentaries about the Europarliament’s "lurch to the right," as the leading French daily Le Monde put it.
"LGBT issues have become infinitely more complicated as the center of gravity of the European Parliament has shifted further to the right than ever before," Professor Louis-Georges Tin (right), president of the International Committee for the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) –which was endorsed last year by the Europarliament-told me by telephone from Paris.
One immediate result of the shifting composition was to give the ultra-homophobic neo-fascist bloc in the Europarliament enough members, or MEPs as the deputies are known, to form its own recognized parliamentary group for the very first time. The neo-fascist group, to be called "Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty" (ITS), will be given a budget of one million Euros (nearly $1.3 million) and is now on equal footing with the seven other political groups in the Parliament. This new status means, Bulgarian MEP Dimitar Stoyanov (left), a member of the ITS group, told The Independent, a British daily, that "We will be able to table amendments, we will have longer speaking time in the plenary sessions, and, eventually, we will win chairman, or deputy chairman, positions on committees."
Stoyanov is from Bulgaria’s neo-fascist Ataka (Attack) party, whose leader, Volen Siderov (left), last February called for capital punishment for homosexuality.
Five of the new Romanian MEPs are from the neo-fascist Romania Mare (Greater Romania) party led by the demagogue Vadim Tudor (right)–who, in September 2005, was disciplined by Romania’s National Council for Combating Discrimination for having said on television, "Homosexuals are an aberration of nature, and they shouldn’t mess with me because I’m going to impale them on wooden stakes and they might like it."
This sort of violent anti-gay rhetoric is typical of both these Bulgarian and Romanian neo-fascist parties, whose stock-in-trade is bashing homosexuals, Jews, and other ethnic minorities, including the Roma (typically called Gypsies in the U.S.) and Hungarians.
Elected this past weekend as president of the new ITS group was French MEP Bruno Gollnisch, the number two man in neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National party and Le Pen’s designated dauphin as party leader. Gollnisch, who calls homosexuals "degenerate" and "sick" and equates gay sexuality with pedophilia, crusaded in the most vile terms against France’s civil unions law (known as the PACS), and has called the anti-racism movement "mental AIDS." (Photo above left, Le Pen, with Gollnisch on the right)
The anti-Semitic Gollnisch is currently on trial under a French hate-speech law banning Holocaust denial, for having questioned the existence of the Nazi gas chambers in the World War II German death camps, statements which also got him suspended for five years from his post as a professor of law at the University of Lyon.
Other new extreme-right deputies from Bulgaria and Romania have reinforced the ultra-nationalist Union of a Europe of Nations (UEN) group in the Europarliament, which opposes the European Union and will now have 44 members, making it larger than the Green group, with only 40. The UEN includes 20 deputies from the three gay-hating parties that rule Poland in a coalition government–the Law and Justice Party of homophobic Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the right-wing Catholic and anti-Semitic League of Polish Families party, and the agrarian nationalist Self-Defense party. (Above right, the huge Europarliament building at Strasbourg)
At the same time, the very gay-friendly president of the last Europarliament–Josep Borrell, from the Spanish Socialist Party of Prime Minister Jose Zapatero, leader of the continent’s most pro-gay government-has been succeeded by Hans-Gert Pöttering (right), a highly conservative Catholic from Germany’s right-wing Christian Democratic Party who has been the head of the Europarliament’s conservative group, the Popular Party of Europe, or the PPE. With 277 MEPs, the PPE is the Parliament’s largest bloc.
The contrast between the outgoing and incoming Parliament presidents could not be more striking. Borrell, who endorsed the International Day Against Homophobia a year before the Europarliament did so, was a frequent and vocal critic of the conservative-dominated European Commission, which makes day-to-day governing decisions for the European Union. And Borrell was a vigorous opponent of the notorious Italian homophobe Rocco Buttiglione (left), whose 2004 nomination as the EU’s justice commissioner created a firestorm of controversy. Buttiglione’s anti-gay and misogynist positions eventually led to his nomination being withdrawn.
"As a Spanish citizen I would not want to have as a justice minister someone who thinks that homosexuality is a sin and who thinks that a woman should stay at home and have children under the protection of her husband," Borrell (right) declared at the time in opposition to Buttiglione.
But the new president, orthodox conservative Pöttering, who took office this week, was a fervent support of Buttiglione, and he idolizes homophobic Pope Benedict XVI, the Bavarian who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger enforced an increasingly harsh and conservative orthodoxy in the Catholic Church at the direction of John Paul II.
The Europarliament’s gay politicians sound surprisingly sanguine about the body’s turn right. Openly gay MEP Michael Cashman from Britain’s Labour Party, who is a vigorous defender of his beleaguered prime minister, Tony Blair, and who chairs the Europarliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights, dismisses the new neo-fascist ITS group as "a rag-bag of the desperate and the despicable."
Cashman (left) told me by telephone from Strasbourg, "We must call on the European Commission to issue a new directive against discrimination in the supply of goods and services, a directive that was promised by Commission President [José Manuel] Barroso [a former right-wing Portuguese prime minister] during the Buttiglione controversy."
And, Cashman said, "The European Commission hasn’t delivered" on its promise of a "uniform, horizontal anti-discrimination law" on employment that would include sexual orientation. But he did not detail any new legislative initiatives the Intergroup would propose.
Intergroup vice-chair Sophie int’ Veld (right), from the Netherlands’ D-66 party, which has been part of that country’s ruling conservative coalition, told this reporter there has been "no follow-up" on the resolution calling for education against homophobia in schools and universities which the Europarliament passed last January (see this reporter’s article in Gay City News, "Europe Targets Homophobia," February 2-8, 2006). But, she said, "I frankly do not think the arrival of our Romanian and Bulgarian colleagues has changed things substantially."
But IDAHO’s Tin takes a different view, saying that, given the new political situation in the Europarliament, "I think advances will be more laborious, and more rare. And that which we appeared to have won earlier will be, if not called into question, at least regularly debated and contested. We have a duty to be extremely vigilant
19 April 2007
Moldovan Gay Pride ban: Statement by the Mayor of London
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone today issued a statement on the Moldovan authorities banning the gay pride march in the capital of Chisinau.
The Mayor said:
‘I strongly condemn the decision by Chisinau City Council to ban the city’s gay pride march. This is an unacceptable attack on universal human rights in clear defiance of national and international human rights law. It also contravenes a recent decision by the Moldovan Supreme Court, which robustly defends the right of all Moldovan citizens, including LGBT people, to freedom of expression, assembly and peaceful protest.
‘It is completely unacceptable that violent threats to public safety, including anti-gay counter-demonstrations by religious and far right organizations, can override basic human and civil rights. The Moldovan authorities control security and their police forces have a responsibility to take all steps to protect citizens from violence and ensure that demonstrators are able to exercise their right to peaceful protest.
‘The European Parliament has made clear that lesbian and gay people should be treated with ‘respect, dignity and protection’. Moldova is clearly not doing this. I urge Chisinau City Council to comply with national and international law, reverse this ban and ensure that the march can take place safely and without obstruction.’
Information Center GenderDoc-M
C.P. 317, MD 2001
Chisinau, Republic of Moldova
April 25, 2007
Gay Rights Group Welcomes European Parliament Debate on Homophobia
Strasbourg – The Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights welcomed the news that the European Parliament would debate and adopt a resolution this week on homophobia in Europe following a vote striking down a motion for dismissal from the Union for the Europe of Nations political group. The news comes in the midst of increasing homophobia in European Member States. From the Netherlands to Italy, from Belgium to Latvia, in Poland and in Council of Europe states, homophobic remarks and homophobic violence are becoming more and more rampant. A signal from the European Parliament that it will not accept the proliferation of such statements silently would highlight that Europe does not intend to allow such actions to become a part of ordinary citizens’ daily life.
“The resolution is an important initiative by the European Parliament, that highlights our determination to strive for equal rights for all,” said Michael Cashman (UK/PSE), president of the Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights. “Our Union was built upon the ashes of the 2nd World War,” he pointed out. “We, in the European Parliament, cannot help but see the parallels between the spread of homophobia and the spread of anti-Semitism that lead to the human tragedy. “We must always remember that it is to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again that we have built this Union,” he insisted.
Sophie in`t Veld (Netherlands/ALDE), whose own Member State was rocked by the news recently that a gay man was beaten to death because of his appearance highlighted the importance of the signals made by politicians and religious leaders. “It is the homophobic statements by leading politicians that create the climate in which hatred and violence thrive,” she said. “Hate speech encourages the thug on the street. It is our role as Members of European Parliament to speak out and foster a culture of tolerance and diversity.”
Spanish MEP Raul Romeva (Verts/Greens) insisted that MEPs cannot remain silent.
“We know what the consequences of remaining silent are,” he said. “If we hesitate, if we fail to speak up, if we fail to join our voices with those who are oppressed, and then we are just as responsible as those who propagate hate and intolerance. “The first step towards equality is having the willingness to act when others are being wrongfully named as scapegoats,” Mr. Romeva said
Alexander Stubb (Finland/EPP-ED) echoed the statements by his fellow officers.
“I call upon my colleagues from all political parties to vote on a strong resolution that unequivocally condemns the spread of homophobia. “We cannot be apologetic in the face of those who wish to proclaim hatred and intolerance as acceptable national values. As the Treaties of the European Union highlight, it is hatred and intolerance that this Union exists to combat. What this Union stands for is a Union where each individual is free to live in peace and dignity.”
April 29, 2007
MEP Slams Poland’s Anti Gay Stance After Euro Parliament Votes
As the European Parliament debated the question of homophobia in the EU and, in particular Poland, despite attempts to get the subject off the agenda, UK Green MEP Jean Lambert spoke out against the prominent Polish politicians and ministers making public anti-homosexual statements and even promoting anti-homosexual legislation. Lambert, who is a member of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights, said yesterday she was proud to vote for the resolution against Homophobia but regretted the antagonistic approach taken by some of her colleagues towards this important motion.
“This is the European Year of Equal Opportunities in a Union which prides it self on its commitment to human rights,” she said. “However we still have certain member states, such as Poland, where the Government has yet to realize what such a commitment means in reality. “What it means is delivering on equality at work; not using language which incites hatred and attacks on individuals simply because of who they are; respecting the human rights of others, including their right to assembly and to be protected from violence – including state violence. I sincerely hope that this is the last time that the European Parliament has to address this issue as I trust that Member States will fulfill their duties under the law and under international convention,” Lambert concluded.
And UK Labour MEP Michael Cashman, the president of the Parliament’s all-party group on gay and lesbian rights, condemned what he called “Conservative cynicism” after UK Tories sided with the extreme right wingers in the attempt to suppress Wednesday’s debate. Having failed to thwart the debate, they then feigned indifference and did not participate in the vote that followed, Cashman pointed out.
“On Wednesday afternoon, the extreme-right Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN) Group attempted to suppress the debate by tabling a procedural motion,” he said. “Much to the disgust of many members in the chamber, Conservative MEPs chose to support the motion. “This is just another example of the Conservatives saying one thing, and then doing something completely different,” he said. “Despite David Cameron’s rhetoric it is clear that the Tories have not changed from the days when they were introducing discriminatory legislation in this country such as Clause 28.”
Cashman said he was “appalled” to see Tory MEP Philip Bradbourn vote with the far-right UEN Group in Wednesday’s vote.
“I would like to know how he can justify his actions,” he continued. “Having tried to suppress the debate [on Wednesday], the Conservative whip instructed Tory MEPs to register an abstention on the issue. This is typical of the Tories. Last year they refused to support a motion condemning racist, homophobic and xenophobic violence. They also failed to support the EU’s DAPHNE program – a set of measures designed to help the victims of domestic violence and rape."
June 6, 2007
Governments told not doing enough to halt racism
Bucharest (Reuters) – Governments should work harder to combat racism and other hate crimes which are on the rise globally but go largely unreported, advocacy group Human Rights First said in a report on Wednesday. The New York-based group said most European governments lacked mechanisms for reporting anti-Semitic and anti-gay violence, as well as attacks against Muslims.
"Governments need to do more to combat violent discrimination … and should strengthen criminal laws and law enforcement procedures," Human Rights First said in a survey of Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) members. The report, released on the sidelines of an OSCE conference in Bucharest on combating discrimination, cited Croatia and Latvia for introducing legislation on hate crimes, but said 24 OSCE members had no special provision for punishing such crimes.
"In the majority of cases, criminal justice systems neither track nor effectively prosecute bias crimes … Public policy responses to racist, anti-Semitic and other bias crimes too often reflect indifference." The report said in Germany, one of five European countries featured in the report, "extremist crimes" hit their highest level in 2006 since monitoring began in 2001. It said incidents involving extreme right groups rose 20 percent in 2006.
In Russia, the report said hate crimes reached "crisis proportions" but there was little evidence "of concerted action to combat such violence through the criminal justice system."
22nd June 2007
EU’s stand against gay executions
The Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights welcomed news that the European Commission intends to mark the 10th October of every year as the European Day Against the Death Penalty. Several nations retain the death sentence as punishment for homosexuality. In July 2005 two gay teenagers were publicly executed in Iran for the "crime of homosexuality." According to Iranian human rights campaigners, over 4,000 lesbians and gay men have been executed since the Ayatollahs seized power in 1979
The draft proposal submitted by the Commission yesterday aims to support the World Day against the Death Penalty. If the draft is adopted by the Council and the European Parliament, the European Day will be organised jointly with the Council of Europe. The Intergroup welcomed the Commission’s leadership on the issue.
"Marking the 10th October of every year as a European Day Against the Death Penalty would do much to reaffirm the shared European values on this issue," Michael Cashman, MEP for the West Midlands, explained. "Within the LGBT community, we are all too aware of the irreversible nature of this punishment. Too many countries still penalise same-sex sexual relations, and many of them have in place provisions whereby LGBT people risk the death penalty for simply being who they are." "
Still too many countries with which the European Union maintains diplomatic and commercial links are engaging in this outrageous violation of basic human rights," MEP Raul Romeva added. "I welcome this initiative to focus on the continuing struggle to abolish the death penalty. I also hope the initiative will be followed up with open and frank talks led by the Commission and the Council to seek abolition of the death penalty from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Sudan, and many others who still penalise same-sex sexual relations with the death penalty."
Landmark Case for the whole of Europe: Will the European Court of Justicedecide in favour of Same-Sex Couples?
RKL-President Graupner represents ILGA-Europe (the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Organisation ILGA) in a landmark case before the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The highest court in the EU has to decide if registered (same-sex) partnerships have to be treated on the same footing as marriage and if employers and pension schemes may restrict benefits to married partners. Mr. Maruko for years lived with his partner in registered partnership. After his partner had died the VddB, the pension scheme for German theatres, refused to pay him a survivors pension as such pension are provided only formarried partners. Mr. Maruko sued the VddB and the Bavarian Administrative Court Munich referred the case to the ECJ for interpretation of the EU-Antidiscriminati on-Directive. The ECJ heard the case in an oral hearing on June 18th, 2007. Mr. Maruko has been represented by ILGA-Europe and ILGA-Europe itself by RKL-president Dr.Helmut Graupner who has been assisted by Dr. Robert Wintemute (professor of human rights at Kings College London) and Manfred Bruns from the German federal lgb organisation LSVD (who is a retired federal attorney at the German Supreme Court).
The German government did not oppose Mr. Maruko while the British and the Dutch governments did so. The European Commission however supports Mr.Marukos position. The Advocate General has announced his opinion for September 6th, 2007. The ECJ then will have to decide two questions. First, if registered (same-sex) partnerships in employment have to treated on the same footing as marriage and second, if employers and pension schemes may restrict benefits to married partners, as long as marriage is an exclusively heterosexual institution excluding same-sex couples.
"The ECJ already three times decided in favour of transsexuals, but so far never for homosexuals" , says Dr. Helmut Graupner* , president of the Austrian lesbian and gay rights organization *Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL) *and counsel of Tadao Maruko, "We very much hope that the highest court in the EU this time will send a strong signal against discrimination of same-sex couples".
*Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL), founded in 1991, on a supra-partisan and denominational level is working for the implementation of human rights for homo- and bisexual men and women. In its honorary board it convenes so prominent members as Prime Minister Dr. Alfred Gusenbauer, President of Federal Parliament Mag. Barbara Prammer, former Minister of Justice Mag. Karin Gastinger, former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Peter Schieder, Federal Ombudsman Mag. Terezija Stoisits, Director of Public Security Dr. Erik Buxbaum, the President of National Juges Association Dr. Barbara Helige, the Vice-President of the Vienna Bar-Association Dr. Elisabeth Rech, the President of D.A.S.-legal expenses insurance company Dr. Franz Kronsteiner, the President of Weisser Ring Dr. Udo Jesionek, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Austria Mag. Heinz Patzelt and the well-known human-rights experts Dr. Lilian Hofmeister and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Manfred Nowak, the constitutional law professors Univ.-Prof. Dr. Christian Brünner, Univ-Prof. Dr. Bernd-Christian Funk, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Heinz Mayer and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Ewald Wiederin, famous child- and adolescent psychiatrist Univ.-Prof. Dr. Max Friedrich and the Vienna Child- and Youth-Ombudspersons DSA Monika Pinterits and Dr. Anton Schmid, sexologists Univ.-Prof. Dr. Josef Christian Aigner, Prof. Dr. Rotraud Perner and Mag. Johannes Wahala, theologist Univ.-Prof. Dr. Kurt Lüthi, Life-Ball-Organisor Gery Keszler, Entertainer Günter Tolar and many more. October 2nd, 2006, RKL’s 15 years anniversary has been celebrated in historic Ceremonial Act "Against Sexual Apartheid" in the lower chamber of Austrian federal parliament. This first honouring of an lgbt organisation in a national parliament worldwide took place in attendance of over 500 guests including highest representatives from the judiciary, administration and politics.
See the oral observations of Dr. Graupner in the hearing before the ECJ at: http://www.graupner.at/documents/PlaedoyerMaruko.pdf
More information: Rechtskomitee LAMBDA, (++43/1/876 30 61), office@RKLambda. at www.
RKLambda. at http://www.rklambda .at/
30th July 2007
Focus on male-male sex in global AIDS fight
by GayLinkContent.com Writer
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has announced the launch of a new global initiative to fight the spread of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) in the developing world. Stigma, discrimination, and lack of access to health services have sparked alarming epidemics that threaten to devastate MSM communities in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, mirroring the HIV pandemics that ravaged gay communities in North America and Western Europe in the 1980s. According to a report from the International Lesbian and Gay Association, male-male sex is illegal in 85 countries, making MSM increasingly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, estimates that fewer than one in 20 MSM around the world has access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care.
The MSM Initiative, which was launched at the International AIDS Society conference in Sydney, will support grassroots MSM organisations, fund critical research, and advocate for increased global attention and funding for HIV/AIDS programs specific to MSM. "Empowering MSM and other marginalised groups to protect themselves from HIV is one of the world’s most urgent health priorities," said Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS. New data indicates that the HIV pandemic among MSM is widespread and worsening. In Africa, nearly 40 percent of MSM in Kenya and nearly 22 percent of MSM in Senegal are estimated to be HIV positive, compared to 6 percent and 0.9 percent HIV prevalence in the overall adult population. HIV prevalence among MSM is estimated to be 27 percent in Ukraine, 21 percent in Uruguay, and 15 percent in Mexico.
MSM groups also rarely benefit from international HIV prevention efforts because bilateral funding and grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria flow primarily through national governments that largely ignore the needs of MSM. "The frightening truth is that, in many parts of the world, we simply do not know how bad the epidemics among MSM groups may be," said Dr. Chris Beyrer, director of the Johns Hopkins Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Programme in the United States. Transmission among MSM is still not tracked in most countries, resulting in a significant research gap. More research is urgently needed to inform more effective HIV prevention efforts." The term MSM includes those who identify as "gay," but also encompasses any men who have sexual encounters with other men, including groups whose gender and sexual identities defy Western categorisation.
For instance, in India there are at least three designations of MSM. Kothis are effeminate MSM who are often married to women and have families. Panthis are masculine men who have sex with kothis, and hijras, who are often castrated, are considered to be a third gender altogether. "The HIV epidemic in men who have sex with men in India is really bad. It has occurred for a simple reason. We have been totally neglected and invisible," said Ashok Row Kavi, the founder of the Humsafar Trust, a grassroots MSM group in India. The programmes that are working for MSM are those where community-based groups have been empowered to take control."
Despite various challenges, some progress is being made. Grassroots movements are forming in Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and other regions where discrimination is commonplace and the epidemic has reached crisis proportions. The MSM Initiative will provide seed grants to grassroots organisations doing innovative work with MSM groups in the developing world.
"A quarter century into the epidemic, MSM in many countries still do not have even the basic tools to protect themselves against HIV," said amfAR Acting CEO Kevin Frost. "We must have the courage to stand side by side with the grassroots organisations on the front lines of this epidemic delivering services and demanding greater action from governments. With funding and support, these organisations can transform attitudes, change policy, and mobilise funding to reverse the alarming spread of HIV among MSM." In addition to directly supporting grassroots organizations, the MSM Initiative will advocate for more research on MSM issues and fund global advocacy efforts aimed at mobilising funding from international donors, national governments, and others.
The advocacy programme will also focus on launching campaigns to end the stigma, discrimination, and violence that threaten the lives of MSM and fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS. The MSM Initiative has already enlisted partners from a number of leading organisations, including UNAIDS and the Global Forum on MSM and HIV. It has also received significant financial support from groups including the M.A.C AIDS Fund, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline’s Positive Action programme, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
"A coordinated global initiative is urgently needed to reverse the alarming rise in new infections among MSM," said George Ayala, director of education at the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA). Working together, we can more effectively fight the denial and discrimination that have made MSM so vulnerable to HIV. We look forward to working closely with amfAR and the MSM Initiative to demand that the world finally takes this issue seriously."
September 17, 2007
Gay Rights Gain Ground Around Globe, Now mature in the west, gay power is growing worldwide, even in the land of machismo
by Joseph Contreras, Newsweek International
After eight years together, Gilberto Aranda and Mauricio List walked into a wedding chapel in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán last April and tied the knot in front of 30 friends and relatives. Aranda’s disapproving father was not invited to the springtime nuptials. For the newlyweds, the ceremony marked the fruit of the gay-rights movement’s long struggle to gain recognition in Mexico. The capital city had legalized gay civil unions only the month before. "After all the years of marches and protests," says Aranda, 50, a state-government official, "a sea change was coming."
The sea change spreads beyond Mexico City, a cosmopolitan capital that is home to a thriving community of artists and intellectuals.The growing maturity of the gay-rights movement in the West is having a marked effect on the developing world. In the United States, the Republican Party is in trouble in part because it has made a fetish of its opposition to gay marriage. At least some gays in big cities like New York question why they are still holding "pride" parades, as if they were still a closeted minority and not part of the Manhattan mainstream. Since 2001, Western European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain have gone even farther than the United States, placing gay and lesbian partners on the same legal footing as their heterosexual counterparts. And now, the major developing powers of Asia, Latin America and Africa are following the liberal road—sometimes imitating Western models, sometimes not—but in all cases setting precedents that could spread to the remaining outposts of official homophobia.
In Mexico, the declining clout and prestige of the Roman Catholic Church have emboldened gay-rights activists and their allies in state legislatures and city councils to pass new laws legalizing same-sex civil unions, starting with Mexico City in November. The rising influence of tolerant Western pop culture has encouraged gay men and lesbians to proclaim their sexuality in gay-pride marches like the one in the Brazilian city of São Paulo in June, which drew 3 million participants, according the event’s organizers. It was the largest ever in Brazil. Western models also helped inspire South Africa to legalize civil unions in November 2006, thus becoming the first country in the developing world to do so. In China, the trend goes back to the climate of economic reform that took hold in the 1980s, ending the persecution of the era of Mao Zedong, who considered homosexuals products of the "moldering lifestyle of capitalism." Among left-wing movements in many developing countries, globalization is a favorite scapegoat for all of the planet’s assorted ills. But even those who resist the West’s basically conservative free-market economic orthodoxy are quick to acknowledge the social liberalism—including respect for the rights of women and minorities of all kinds—that is the West’s main cultural and legal export. "I think it helped that Spain and other parts of Europe had passed similar laws," says longtime Mexican gay-rights activist Alejandro Brito. "These types of laws are becoming more about human rights than gay issues."
Key people have hastened the trend in some countries. Some activists single out a few political celebrities for de-stigmatizing their cause, including Nelson Mandela, who readily embraced British actor Sir Ian McKellen’s suggestion that he support a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual preference in South Africa’s first post-apartheid constitution, and former prime minister Tony Blair, whose government was the first to recognize civil partnerships between same-sex couples. They also point to activist judges in Brazil, South Africa and the European Court of Human Rights, who have handed down landmark rulings that unilaterally granted gay, lesbian and transgender communities new rights. These include a judicial order that gays be admitted into the armed forces of European Union member states. The biggest and perhaps most surprising change is in Latin America, the original home of machismo. In 2002, the Buenos Aires City Council approved Latin America’s first-ever gay-civil-union ordinance, and same-gender unions are the law of the land in four Brazilian states today. Last year an openly homosexual fashion designer was elected to Brazil’s National Congress with nearly a half a million votes. In August a federal-court judge in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul broke new legal ground when he ordered the national-health-care system to subsidize the cost of sex-change operations in public hospitals, thereby putting sexual "reassignment" on par with heart surgery, organ transplants and AIDS treatment as medical procedures worthy of taxpayer support. By the year-end, Colombia could become the first country in Latin America to grant gay and lesbian couples full rights to health insurance, inheritance and social-security benefits. A bill containing those reforms is working its way through the National Congress at present. And even Cuba has turned a corner. In the 1960s and early 1970s homosexuals in Cuba were blacklisted or even banished to forced-labor camps along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic priests and other so-called social misfits. HIV patients were locked away in sanitariums as recently as 1993. Several Cuban cities now host gay and lesbian film festivals. The hit TV program on the island’s state-run airwaves last year was "The Hidden Side of the Moon," a soap opera about a married man who falls in love with a man and later tests positive for HIV.
The push for "more modern ways of thinking" about minorities, feminists and homosexuals has roots that go back to the political ferment that shook the region in the late 1960s and 1970s, says Braulio Peralta, author of a 2006 book on gay rights in Mexico, "The Names of Rainbow." But it has gained in recent years, due in part to troubles in the Roman Catholic Church, which includes eight out of 10 Mexicans and long stood opposed to any attempt to redefine marriage laws. Last November, the Mexico City Legislature took up the civil-union law just as the country’s top cardinal, Norberto Rivera Carrera, was facing charges that he had sheltered a Mexican priest accused of sexually abusing children in California. The prelate chose to stay under the radar as the vote loomed. "The Catholic Church was facing a credibility crisis," says longtime Mexico City-based gay-rights activist Brito. "So many of its leaders including Rivera knew that if they fiercely opposed the gay-union law, the news media would eat them alive." The change in attitudes is most vivid in the sparsely populated border state of Coahuila, an unlikely setting for blazing trails on gay rights. The left-wing political party that rules the national capital has made few inroads here. Yet soon after the state’s young governor, Humberto Moreira Valdés, was elected in 2006, he backed a civil-union bill modeled on France’s pacts of civil solidarity, and in the state capital of Saltillo the progressive Catholic bishop added his support. The 62-year-old prelate, Raul Vera, says he was comfortable doing so in part because the bill stopped short of calling for same-sex marriage. "As the church I said we could not assume the position of homophobes," he says. "We cannot marginalize gays and lesbians. We cannot leave them unprotected."
That seems to be the prevailing consensus in South Africa’s ruling party. The constitution adopted by South Africa after the African National Congress (ANC) took power in 1994 was the world’s first political charter to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In November 2006, the national Parliament overwhelmingly approved a civil-union bill after the country’s constitutional court called for amendments to a 44-year-old marriage law that denied gay and lesbian couples the legal right to wed. In pushing for approval of the Civil Union Act, the ruling ANC shrugged off both conservative opposition parties and religious leaders, some of whom accused the government of imposing the morality of a "radical homosexual minority" on South Africans. President Thabo Mbeki had been blasted by gay rights activists in the past for trying to downplay his country’s raging HIV/AIDS epidemic, but on the issue of same-sex civil unions his government stood firm. The sweeping terms of the 2006 Civil Union Act placed South Africa in a select club of nations that have enacted similar laws and that, until last year, included only Canada, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. But there are glimmers of change in other nations. China decriminalized sodomy a decade ago and removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001. Police broke up a gay and lesbian festival in Beijing in 2005 but took no action last February against an unauthorized rally in support of legalizing gay marriage. The Chinese Communist Party has established gay task forces in all provincial capitals to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. And in April a Web site launched a weekly hour-long online program called Connecting Homosexuals with an openly gay host. It is the first show in China to focus entirely on gay issues.
Tolerance, however, by no means spans the globe. Homosexuality remains taboo throughout the greater Middle East. In most of the Far East, laws permitting gay and lesbian civil unions are many years if not decades away. In Latin America, universal acceptance of homosexuality is a long way off. Jamaica is a hotbed of homophobia. Even in Mexico, the first couple to take advantage of Coahuila’s new civil-union statute were fired from their jobs as sales clerks after their boss realized they were lesbians. The new Mexico City law grants same-gender civil unions property and inheritance rights, but not the right to adopt children. Even Mexican gays who still struggle against daily bias see signs of improvement, however. In 2003 José Luis Ramírez landed work as a buyer at the Mexico City headquarters of a leading department-store chain, and things were going swimmingly until he brought his boyfriend to a company-hosted dinner with clients. "My boss’s face just dropped," recalls Ramírez. Ramírez was subsequently denied promotions and left the company last year. But sexuality "isn’t an issue" with his current employer, a new household-furnishings retailer.
Tolerance is now the majority, at least among the young. A 2005 poll by the Mitofsky market-research firm found that 50 percent of all Mexicans between the ages of 18 and 29 supported proposals to allow gay marriage. Karla Lopez met Karina Almaguer on the assembly line of a Matamoros auto-stereo factory. The two became the first Mexican couple to marry under the civil-union bill; Lopez, now 30, is a mother of three. She urges more gays and lesbians to follow her example and come out publicly. "I felt strange at first because people would judge us and look at us from head to toe," she says. "But I now feel more secure and at ease." If more political leaders, clergymen and judges act to legitimize folks like Karla Lopez, the new mood of tolerance will surely proliferate across the planet in her lifetime.
With Monica Campbell in Mexico City, Mac Margolis in Porto Alegre, Karen MacGregor in Durban, Quindlen Krovatin in Beijing and Anna Nemtsova in Moscow
12th September 2007
Cashman nominated for MEP of the Year
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
European Parliament member Michael Cashman has been nominated for an award in recognition of his work for human rights. An MEP for the West Midlands, he has been a strong defender of the rights of LGBT across Europe. He is president of the European Parliament Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights. The Parliament Magazine, organisers of the awards, explained how the MEPs are chosen: "Nominations for each of the categories have been taken from non-government organisations and not-for-profit organisations working in sector-specific areas. These organisations were asked to nominate those who they felt had done exceptionally good work in their policy area. We all know that the areas of work which MEPs are involved with are much wider than these topic areas. However, in highlighting these areas we hope that a few can be rewarded for their extra special contribution."
Mr Cashman has been nominated in the Justice and Human Rights Category. The awards seek to improve understanding and appreciation of the work of MEPs. "I am amazed and proud to have been nominated for this award," he told PinkNews.co.uk When it comes to the defence of Human Rights and Civil Liberties, no-one acts alone. Therefore I want to pay tribute to all those people who work with me, both personally and politically. We share a common goal, which is to make the world a fairer and better place to live."
Earlier this year Mr Cashman was awarded an honorary degree by Staffordshire University.
Before he became an MEP in 1999, his ground-breaking portrayal of Colin Russell in EastEnders, between 1986 and 1989, saw the first gay kiss in a UK soap. Mr Cashman co-founded gay equality organisation Stonewall in 1989 and is also a key figure in the Labour party, a member of the ruling National Executive Committee and close to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. MEPs will make the final choice and decide who receives the awards. The results will be announced on October 9th.
11th October 2007
Michael Cashman wins European Parliament award
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
West Midlands MEP Michael Cashman has won for an award in recognition of his work for human rights. He has been a strong defender of the rights of LGBT across Europe. He is president of the European Parliament Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights. The Parliament Magazine launched the awards in 2005 to recognise the work of MEPs in nine areas. Mr Cashman won in the Justice and Human Rights Category. Nominations for each of the categories were collected from non-government organisations and not-for-profit organisations working in sector-specific areas. MEPs then choose the winner.
Michael Cashman said he was delighted to have been chosen by his colleagues. "I am proud that the European Parliament has shown itself to be an agent of change by standing up for basic human rights, not only in the EU, but across the world. The overwhelming majority of MEPs believe that supporting measures on human rights is the decent thing to do. I will continue to work with my colleagues who support this view and I will continue to name and shame those MEPs who oppose and fail to support such measures. When it comes to the defence of Human Rights and Civil Liberties, no one acts alone. Therefore I want to pay tribute to all those people who work with me over the years, both personally and politically."
Before he became an MEP in 1999, his ground-breaking portrayal of Colin Russell in EastEnders, between 1986 and 1989, saw the first gay kiss in a UK soap. Mr Cashman co-founded gay equality organisation Stonewall in 1989 and is also a key figure in the Labour party, a member of the ruling National Executive Committee and close to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Earlier this year Mr Cashman was awarded an honorary degree by Staffordshire University.
Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The Yogyakarta Principles address a broad range of human rights standards and their application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity
12th November 2007
UN Commissioner backs LGBT rights
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has spoken of her support for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. Louise Arbour made her comments after an historic meeting at the UN last week. The event, held in parallel with the session of the third committee of the UN General Assembly, discussed the Yogyakarta Principles. Named after the Indonesian city where they were adopted, the principles were introduced by 29 international human rights experts at a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva in March 2007. They refer to the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity and address issues such as rape and gender-based violence, extra-judicial executions, torture and medical abuses, repressions of free speech and discrimination in the public services.
Ms Arbour said in a statement: "Next year we will celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – an occasion that provides an ideal opportunity to recall the core human rights principles of equality, universality and non-discrimination. Human rights principles, by definition, apply to all of us, simply by virtue of having been born human. Just as it would be unthinkable to exclude some from their protection on the basis of race, religion, or social status, so too must we reject any attempt to do so on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Yogyakarta Principles are a timely reminder of these basic tenets. Excluding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons from equal protection violates international human rights law as well as the common standards of humanity that define us all "And, in my view, respect for cultural diversity is insufficient to justify the existence of laws that violate the fundamental right to life, security and privacy by criminalizing harmless private relations between consenting adults. As such, I wish to reiterate the firm commitment of my Office to promote and protect the human rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
Last week’s event brought together non-governmental organisations, UN representatives and state delegates, and was an initiative co-sponsored by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The Yogyakarta Principles call for action from the UN human rights system, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organisations, and others. Last year 54 states called for the UN Human Rights Council to act against egregious violations of the rights of LGBT people.
6th December 2007
Euro queer youth discuss gay-friendly schools
by Maryam Omidi
Today 100 young LGBT people from all over Europe are gathering in Málaga, Spain, for a three-day meeting of International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Queer Youth and Student Organisation. IGLYO member organisations will discuss the organisational priorities and strategies on advancing equality and human rights for LGBTQ young people. Euro MP Michael Cashman will be speaking at the event. He is President of the European Parliament Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights. At the meeting new Guidelines for the development of more friendly schools for LGBT people will be launched. These guidelines will help school boards in making their schools more welcoming for all young people.
"Whereas there is a good intention in many schools to help young marginalised people, there is often lacking awareness of the position of LGBT young people," said IGLYO board member Bruno Selun, responsible for the project. Because schools don’t see them, they think they don’t exist. The guidelines should help schools in both realising that LGBT pupils exist at each school, as well as taking measures that make these people feel at home and are protected."
IGLYO Chair Björn van Roozendaal added: "Europe can no longer wait with protecting young people in schools and universities from any form of discrimination. Young LGBT people continue to be victims of bullying and discrimination and continue being deterred from treatment on an equal basis. If we want to count them as full European citizens, then we need to actively start protecting them today."
13th December 2007
MEPs want to block state funding for hate groups
byPinkNews.co.uk staff writer
The European Parliament has called for public funding to be withdrawn from political parties, media organisations or businesses that incite to hate of a group of people on the basis of their race, religion, handicap, sexual orientation or nationality. Meeting in Strasbourg, the parliament today adopted a resolution to show its concern that several EU countries have experienced increased hate crimes against minority groups. The text of the resolution was adopted by 527 votes, with 15 against and 39 abstentions.
It calls for public funding to be withdrawn from "political parties that do not condemn violence and terrorism and don’t abide with human rights as set out in the Charter for Fundamental Rights." The charter was signed yesterday, with Poland and the United Kingdom choosing opt out. It lays out civil, political, economic and social rights of all EU residents and will be appended to the EU new reform treaty once it is ratified by all 27 countries. The ratification process should be complete by the end of 2008.
In today’s resolution MEPs said that people in the public eye should "refrain from statements that encourage or incite to hate or stigmatisation of groups of people on the basis of their race, ethnic origin, religion, handicap, sexual orientation or nationality." It also said that being a public personality should be considered as an aggravating circumstance in incitement to hatred. Another amendment adopted by 450 votes, with 93 against and 30 abstentions, said that in the 2009 European elections: "extremist parties may secure representation in the European Parliament and calls on the political groups to take the appropriate measures in order to ensure that a democratic institution is not used as a platform for financing and echoing anti-democratic messages."
The resolution calls on the EU institutions to give a clear mandate to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights to investigate the structures of extremist groups, and for governments to give appropriate preventive responses regarding young’s people education and public information, teaching against totalitarianism." MEPs also expressed their concern about how to counteract the existence of public and easily accessible websites which incite to hatred without violating freedom of expression. The resolution, which does not name concrete examples of extremist groups or associations in Europe, does include in such categories as neo-Nazis, neo-fascists and "movements, paramilitary groups and parties" which base their ideology on "racism, intolerance, incitement to religious hatred, exclusion, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsism, homophobia, misogyny and ultra-nationalism".
Among the most vulnerable groups mentioned are "migrants, Roma, homosexuals, anti-racist activists and the homeless."
December 21, 2007
Nepal’s Goddess Stumbles Into Modernity
By Tim Sullivan, Associated Press Writer
Katmandu, Nepal – The living goddess likes bubble gum. On a cold autumn evening, during a festival giving thanks for the monsoon rains, dozens of chanting worshippers pulled her enormous wooden chariot through the narrow streets of Katmandu’s old city. Thousands of cheering people pressed forward, hoping for a blessing. Drunken young men danced around her, pounding drums and shouting. But the goddess — a child wrapped in red silk, a third eye painted on her forehead as a sign of enlightenment — took little notice of the joyous riot. Instead, she stared ahead intently, her jaw pumping furiously. Then, finally, she blew a yellow bubble about the size of a plum.
And then the goddess smiled, just a little.
Priti Shakya is 10 years old, the daughter of a family of poor goldsmiths. At the age of 4, a panel of judges examined her in a series of ancient ceremonies — checking her horoscope, searching for physical imperfections and, as a final test, seeing if she would be frightened after a night spent in a room filled with 108 freshly decapitated animal heads. She was not. So Priti became a goddess, worshipped as the incarnation of the powerful Hindu deity Taleju, and going into near-complete isolation in an ancient Katmandu palace. She will return home only at the onset of menstruation, when a new goddess will be named. Then Priti will be left to adjust to a life that — suddenly and absolutely — is supposed to be completely normal. That is how it has been for nearly four centuries, in a tradition that held out against modernity even as Nepal, ever so slowly, began to change.
But modernity is coming, even to the goddess.
She has been dragged into Nepal’s political maelstrom, her influence argued over by everyone from Maoist militants to the prime minister. Her role, meanwhile, has become a topic of public debate, with human rights lawyers, politicians and academics wrangling about a child’s rights and an ancient form of worship.
Today, everything from television to insults reach into the goddess’ palace.
A communist politician called her an "evil symbol" and the Supreme Court launched an investigation after activists said the tradition violates Nepalese law. In a showdown that melded religion, politics and the monarchy, the nascent democratic government refused to allow King Gyanendra to receive the goddess’ annual blessing — thought to be an all-important protector of the king. When the king went without permission, the government slashed the number of royal bodyguards. Among the Shakyas, the goldsmith caste that chooses the goddess from its daughters, it has become increasingly difficult to find families willing to send their girls away.
For some people, all this is simply too much.
"We know there needs to be change," said Manju Shree Ratna Bajracharya, the eighth generation of priest from his family to oversee the temple of the royal kumari — or virgin — as the goddess is commonly called. "But this criticism of the tradition, this is pure ignorance." He is bitter about politicians who focus on the kumaris for political gain, and the way she has been pulled into their battles with the king. He distrusts the rights activists, wondering if they are using the practice for publicity. "The tradition can’t be treated like this," said Bajracharya, who spends most of his days working as a bureaucrat in the state electricity company. "It is too important to Nepal." But any criticism at all would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago, when Nepal was emerging from centuries of Himalayan isolation. It was a nation bound by feudal traditions, a country that handed out visitors’ visas very reluctantly, and where few people could imagine a king without absolute power.
While change did eventually come — foreigners began arriving regularly in the 1960s, when Katmandu became famous for its hippies and cheap drugs — it came slowly. It was only five years ago, for instance, when women earned equal inheritance rights under Nepalese law. Today, Nepal is a democracy — albeit a fragile one, with crushing poverty, a figurehead monarch and a powerful Maoist militant movement with tenuous ties to mainstream politics — and change is coming even to the kumari. Some of those changes are political, such as how the prime minister now seeks her official blessing, instead of the king. But some are more personal.
Teachers have been appointed, keeping the goddess on the same academic track as any other girl her age. There’s also television in the palace these days, giving the kumari access to everything from Bollywood to the news, and there’s talk that she may be allowed someday to live at home with her family. It is an attempt to give some normalcy to the goddesses, who can flail desperately when they return to the outside world.
Rashmila Shakya, one of eight ex-royal kumaris still alive, remembers the pain of her return. Now a 25-year-old computer technician, she left the kumari palace at age 12. She’d had no proper schooling, and her feet had not touched the outside ground for years. Her only playmates had been the children of the palace’s caretaker, and while her family could visit, even they saw her as a goddess. Her return home took a heavy toll. "I didn’t even know how to walk around like a regular person," said Shakya, a quiet, bookish young woman who dreams of becoming a software designer. "The crowds frightened me." Still, she said, she doesn’t regret her time in the palace. "Not everybody gets to be a goddess," she said, smiling. "In one life, I got to have two lives."
22nd January 2008
Euro Court rules gay couples eligible to adopt
by Gemma Pritchard
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled refusing gay couples the right to adopt a child because of their sexual orientation is discriminatory and in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights. Today the Grand Chamber delivered its judgement on gay adoption in the case of E.B. v France. The Court held by ten votes to seven that there had been a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court by eleven votes to six awarded the applicant 10,000 euros (£7,450) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 14,528 euros for costs and expenses.
Ms. E.B. is a lesbian nursery school teacher who has been living with another woman since 1990. She applied for approval as a possible adoptive parent in February 1998, but her application was rejected. In June 2002, the highest administrative court in France upheld the rejection of her application. ILGA-Europe (the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association), FIDH (Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme), APGL (Association des Parents et futurs Parents Gays et Lesbiens) and the BAAF (British Association for Adoption and Fostering) were granted permission to take part in the proceedings as third parties.
Patricia Prendiville, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, told PinkNews.co.uk: "We welcome today’s judgement of the European Court of Human Rights. This is a significant change in the Court’s approach towards and interpretation of the rights of LGBT people under the European Convention on Human Rights. Today the Court firmly established a principle that administrative officials cannot discriminate against an individual on the basis of her/his sexual orientation in the process of applying to adopt a child. This builds on the Court’s judgments in Smith & Grady v United Kingdom (1999), that LGBT people must be allowed to serve in the armed forces, and Mouta v Portugal (1999), that the sexual orientation of a parent is irrelevant when determining who should have custody of a child."
Until today France permitted administrative officials to exclude openly lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals from applying to adopt children. The European Court of Human Rights has decided that such a practice is discriminatory and violates the European Convention on Human Rights.
An ILGA-Europe spokesperson added: "No one has an automatic right to adopt a child. But what the European Court of Human Rights said today is that European countries can no longer justify exclusion of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals from applying for a child adoption. The Court has established the principle that ILGA-Europe has long fought for– each individual should be treated equally on the basis of their individual merits as a potential parent when applying to adopt a child. The sexual orientation of the applicant is irrelevant and cannot be used to exclude them from the possibility of adopting a child. It is in the best interest of children in Europe and outside Europe that no potential adoptive parent be excluded from consideration for an irrelevant and discriminatory reason."
The press statement released by the registrar of the European Court of Human Rights states: "The Court held by ten votes to seven that there had been a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court by eleven votes to six awarded the applicant 10,000 euros (£7,553) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 14,528 (£10,973) for costs and expenses."
In the UK gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals and couples are legally entitled to be considered as adoptive parents under the Sexual Orientation Regulations which came into force last year. Roman Catholic-run adoption agencies have until the end of this year to comply with the new rules or shut down.
Press release issued by the Registrar
Grand Chamber Judgement
E.B. v. FRANCE
The European Court of Human Rights has today delivered at a public hearing its Grand Chamber judgment1 in the case of E.B. v. France (application no. 43546/02).
The Court held by ten votes to seven that there had been a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court by eleven votes to six awarded the applicant 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 14,528 for costs and expenses. (The judgment is available in English and French.)
1. Principal facts
E.B. is a French national aged 45. She is a nursery school teacher and has been living with another woman, R., who is a psychologist, since 1990.
The application concerns the refusal by the French authorities to grant the applicant’s request to adopt a child, allegedly on account of her sexual orientation.
In February 1998 the applicant applied to the Jura Social Services Department for authorisation to adopt a child. During the adoption procedure she mentioned her homosexuality and her stable relationship with R.
On the basis of the reports drawn up by a social worker and a psychologist, the adoption board made a recommendation in November 1998 that the application be rejected.
Shortly afterwards the president of the council for the département of the Jura gave a decision refusing authorisation. Following an appeal by the applicant, the president of the council for the département confirmed his refusal in March 1999. The reasons given for both decisions were the lack of “identificational points of reference” due to the absence of a paternal image or reference and the ambiguous nature of the applicant’s partner’s commitment to the adoption plan.
The applicant lodged an application with Besançon Administrative Court, which set both decisions of the president of the council for the département aside on 24 February 2000.
The département of the Jura appealed against the judgment. Nancy Administrative Court of Appeal set aside the Administrative Court’s judgment on 21 December 2000. It held that the refusal to grant the applicant authorisation had not been based on her choice of lifestyle and had not therefore given rise to a breach of Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The applicant appealed on points of law, arguing in particular that her application to adopt had been rejected on account of her sexual orientation. In a judgment of 5 June 2002, the Conseil d’Etat dismissed E.B.’s appeal on the ground, among other things, that the Administrative Court of Appeal had not based its decision on a position of principle regarding the applicant’s sexual orientation, but had had regard to the needs and interests of an adopted child.
2. Procedure and composition of the Court
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 2 December 2002.
The FIDH (Fédération Internationale des ligues des Droits de l’Homme), the ILGA-Europe (the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association), the APGL (Association des Parents et futurs Parents Gays et Lesbiens) and the BAAF (British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering) were given leave to take part in the proceedings before the Chamber as third party interveners under Article 36 § 2 of the Convention (third party intervention) and Rule 44 § 2 of the Rules of Court.
On 19 September 2006, under Article 30 of the Convention2, the Chamber relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber.
A public hearing took place in the Human Rights building, Strasbourg, on 14 March 2007.
Judgment was given by the Grand Chamber of 17 judges, composed as follows:
Christos Rozakis (Greek), President,
Jean-Paul Costa (French),
Nicolas Bratza (British),
Boštjan M. Zupancic (Slovenian),
Peer Lorenzen (Danish),
Françoise Tulkens (Belgian),
Loukis Loucaides (Cypriot)
Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portuguese),
Riza Türmen (Turkish),
Mindia Ugrekhelidze (Georgian),
Antonella Mularoni (San Marinese),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austrian),
Elisabet Fura-Sandström (Swedish),
Egbert Myjer (Dutch),
Danute Jociene (Lithuanian),
Dragoljub Popovic (Serbian),
Sverre Erik Jebens (Norwegian) judges,
and also Michael O’Boyle, Deputy Registrar.
3. Summary of the judgment3
Relying on Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 8, the applicant alleged that at every stage of her application for authorisation to adopt she had suffered discriminatory treatment that had been based on her sexual orientation and had interfered with her right to respect for her private life.
Decision of the Court
The Court reiterated at the outset that whilst French law and Article 8 did not guarantee either the right to found a family or the right to adopt (which neither party contested), the concept of "private life" within the meaning of Article 8 was a broad one which encompassed a certain number of rights.
With regard to an allegation of discrimination on grounds of the applicant’s homosexuality, the Court also reiterated that Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) had no independent existence.
The application of Article 14 did not necessarily presuppose the violation of Article 8. It was sufficient for the facts of the case to fall "within the ambit" of that Article.
This was the case here since French legislation expressly granted single persons the right to apply for authorisation to adopt and established a procedure to that end.
Consequently, the Court considered that the State, which had gone beyond its obligations under Article 8 in creating such a right, could not then take discriminatory measures when it came to applying it.
The applicant alleged that, in the exercise of her right under the domestic law, she had been discriminated against on the ground of her sexual orientation, which was a concept covered by Article 14.
Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 8, was therefore applicable in the present case.
Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8
After drawing a parallel with a previous case, the Court pointed out that the domestic administrative authorities, and then the courts that heard the applicant’s appeal, had based their decision to reject her application for authorisation to adopt on two main grounds: the lack of a paternal referent in the applicant’s household, and the attitude of the applicant’s declared partner.
The Court found that the attitude of the applicant’s partner was not without interest or relevance in assessing the application.
In the Court’s view, it was legitimate for the authorities to ensure that all safeguards were in place before a child was taken into a family, particularly where not one but two adults were found to be living in the household.
In the Court’s opinion, that ground had nothing to do with any consideration relating to the applicant’s sexual orientation.
With regard to the ground relied on by the domestic authorities relating to the lack of a paternal referent in the household, the Court considered that this did not necessarily raise a problem in itself. However, in the present case it was permissible to question the merits of such a ground as the application had been made by a single person and not a couple.
In the Court’s view, that ground might therefore have led to an arbitrary refusal and have served as a pretext for rejecting the applicant’s application on grounds of her homosexuality, and the Government had been unable to prove that use of that ground at domestic level had not been leading to discrimination.
Regarding the systematic reference to the lack of a "paternal referent," the Court disputed not the desirability of addressing the issue, but the importance attached to it by the domestic authorities in the context of adoption by a single person.
The fact that the applicant’s homosexuality had featured to such an extent in the reasoning of the domestic authorities was significant despite the fact that the courts had considered that the refusal to grant her authorisation had not been based on that.
Besides their considerations regarding the applicant’s "lifestyle," they had above all confirmed the decision of the president of the council for the département recommending that the application for authorisation be refused and giving as reasons the two impugned grounds: the wording of certain opinions revealed that the applicant’s homosexuality or, at other times, her status as a single person had been a determining factor in refusing her authorisation whereas the law made express provision for the right of single persons to apply for authorisation to adopt.
The Court considered that the reference to the applicant’s homosexuality had been, if not explicit, at least implicit; the influence of her homosexuality on the assessment of her application had not only been established but had also been a decisive factor leading to the decision to refuse her authorisation to adopt.
Accordingly, it considered that the applicant had suffered a difference in treatment.
If the reasons advanced for such a difference in treatment were based solely on considerations regarding the applicant’s sexual orientation this amounted to discrimination under the Convention.
In any event, particularly convincing and weighty reasons had to be made out in order to justify such a difference in treatment regarding rights falling within the ambit of Article 8.
There were no such reasons in the present case because French law allowed single persons to adopt a child, thereby opening up the possibility of adoption by a single homosexual.
Furthermore, the Civil Code remained silent as to the necessity of a referent of the other sex and, moreover, the applicant presented – in the terms of the judgment of the Conseil d’Etat – "undoubted personal qualities and an aptitude for bringing up children."
The Court noted that the applicant’s situation had been assessed overall by the domestic authorities, who had not based their decision on one ground alone but on "all" the factors, and considered that the two main grounds had to be examined concurrently.
Consequently, the illegitimacy of one of the grounds (lack of a paternal referent) had the effect of contaminating the entire decision.
The Court concluded that the decision refusing the applicant authorisation was incompatible with the Convention and that there had been a violation of Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 8.
Judges Lorenzen and Jebens expressed a concurring opinion, and Judges Costa, Türmen, Ugrekhelidze, Jociene, as well as Judges Zupancic, Loucaides and Mularoni, expressed dissenting opinions. These are annexed to the judgment.
7th March 2008
Lesbian and gay hotel brand launched
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
A new concept in travel for lesbian, gay and bisexual people has been launched at the International Tourism Fair in Berlin. Attitude Hotels claims to be a unique selection of hotels, Inns and B&Bs "created, designed and developed to satisfy, in particular, gay and lesbian travellers." Community Marketing, a company that specialises in gay and lesbian marketing, estimates the value of American market alone was $65 billion (£32.4bn) in 2007.
Pedro Castro, the founder, of Attitude Hotels, said: "At present we know that lesbian, gay and straight- friendly hotels are in the hands of independent owners and small hotel chains. This area of the market is suffering from a lack of recognition, promotion and certification at international level. The fragmentation of the market means that its main players do not have the necessary means to grow commercially. From now on, the Attitude Hotels brand provides these owners with the technological, marketing and commercial opportunity to promote their hotels and their specific approach."
Attitude Hotels is launching with more than twenty-five hotels in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the USA. By next year, they hope to offer a selection of more than 100 hotels worldwide.
John Tanzella, Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, said: "I am aware of strong demand from gays and lesbians for quality hotels which are closer to their lifestyles. As it stands today, gay and lesbian customers have difficulty finding the hotel product that suits them. I think that Attitude Hotels provides the answer to this problem."
14th March 2008
Gay group shocked at ignorance among Euro politicians
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
Last week’s meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe exposed some members’ ignorance about gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people, according to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). The committee was holding its first hearing on a report on LGBT rights in the member states. A panel of four experts addressed the committee, including an ILGA-Europe representative. The 47-member Council of Europe promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights. Founded in 1949, it predates the European Union.
Last week’s hearing also focused on freedom of assembly and expression for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in the Council member states. "I think it would be fair to say that all panel members were shocked by the level of understanding of issues related to LGBT rights by some members of the committee," said Maxim Anmeghichean, programmes director for ILGA-Europe. "Arguments of homosexuals being on the sideline of evolution because we cannot reproduce, that marriage should be protected under constitution, that children in homosexual families will also grow up homosexual, and even that biologically homosexuals can’t have children (all of the speakers started such statements by saying "of course, I am against discrimination of homosexuals, but") are just few examples."
However, the committee did decide to merge three motions, on legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, on freedom of assembly and expression for LGBT in member states and on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, into one report. Mr Anmeghichean said ILGA-Europe will continue its advocacy efforts to ensure the report reflects needs and aspirations of LGBT people throughout Europe. The legal situation on same-sex partnerships varies across the Council of Europe area: around 20 countries enable registration of a partnership, while a similar number have no legal recognition at all. A few countries expressly prohibit same-sex marriage in their constitutions, while three member states currently allow civil marriage of same-sex partners.
Andreas Gross, a Swiss Socialist who is preparing the report, said before last week’s meeting: "Intolerance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people is still clearly present in our societies. Lesbian and gay people have the same fundamental rights as anyone else."
14th March 2008
Trans meeting will attract activists from across Europe
by Lucy Durnin
The second meeting of the European Transgender Council is to be held this year in Germany, it was announced today. The council, comprised of Transgender Europe (TGEU), the Transgender Network Berlin (TGNB) and TransInterQueer Berlin (TrIQ) will be meeting in Berlinfrom 2nd to 4th May, following their last successful event held in Vienna in 2005. The programme will feature representatives from international activists and experts such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who will share their experiences in the field of human rights and transgender related work. As well as work shops and training sessions, the results of the Study of the Lives of Transgender people In Europe conducted by Press for Change (UK) will be revealed, in which more than 2,000 transgender people participated.
There will also be opportunities to discuss and formulate the future goals of Transgender Europe, including work on TGEU Policy and Vision Papers and a petition to the European Parliament. Berlin has a diverse transgender scene and the city council’s official show and party will be organised by Wigstoeckel- Transgender United. As part of the General Assembly of Transgender Europe, to be held at the meeting, there will be voting for the Board of Directors and the Steering Committee, with potential candidates being asked to apply via email before the 2nd May.
For more information click here.
3rd April 2008
Comment: Straight male machismo underpins all tyranny
In a speech to the European Feminist Summit in London last month, activist and human rights advocate Peter Tatchell argued that by challenging traditional heterosexual masculinity, the queer emancipation movement can contribute to the liberation of all of humanity. Queer liberation is not a mere minority issue, nor purely a question of personal lifestyle, civil rights or sexual freedom. It is, or can be, socially transformative, with the potential to aid all emancipation struggles everywhere. Queers deviate from traditional masculinity. We reject the orthodox model of what it is to be a man. By so doing, we are sexual subversives who unravel the straight machismo that underpins all relations of oppression and exploitation.
Traditional hetero masculinity oppresses women and gay people, with sexist jibes, domestic violence, rape, homophobic taunts and queer-bashing assaults. It is also a source of the toughness and aggression that makes possible the social violence of racist attacks, police brutality, war and torture. Not all straight men embrace this macho mindset. Some rebel and dissent. Conversely, a few women and gay men also adopt their oppressor’s machismo. But on a global scale it is predominantly heterosexual males who express violent masculinity and perpetrate such crimes.
Macho ways of thinking and acting are not, of course, biologically ordained and immutable. They are primarily the socially-determined product of a specific set of culturally-constructed institutions and ideologies. In societies the world over, these institutions and ideologies continue to result in male children being reared and socialised quite differently from female ones. They tend to be conditioned to see rivalry, toughness, domination and even violence as acceptable and normal attributes for young boys and real men. During boyhood these harsh masculine values often become internalised and machismo ends up being seen as a routine, legitimate and even desirable mode of male behaviour.
In contrast, emotion, sensitivity, gentleness, persuasion and conciliation tend to be looked upon with relative disfavour amongst men. They are frequently depicted within our culture as signs of weakness, typically associated with women and with gay men. We queers risk disparagement for failing to conform to a rugged masculine ideal. In this cultural context, from a very early age many (not all) male children learn to be competitive, strong, aggressive and unyielding.
The idea that problems can be ultimately resolved – and often validly resolved – by threats and violence becomes deeply etched into their inner psyche. Echoing the women’s liberation movement, the lesbian and gay liberation movement that emerged four decades ago, following the Stonewall Riots in New York in June 1969, identified straight machismo as a source of queer oppression and set out to challenge it. In contrast to earlier, more liberal-oriented movements for homosexual law reform and equality, the 1970s Gay Liberation Fronts in New York and London did not seek to ape heterosexual values or secure the acceptance of queers within the existing sexual conventions.
Indeed, they repudiated the prevailing sexual morality and institutions – rejecting not only heterosexism but also orthodox heterosexual masculinity. Straight maleness was seen as the oppressor of queers, as well as women; with its predisposition to male rivalry, toughness and aggression symbolised most potently by the rapist and the queer-basher. The "radical drag" and "gender-bender" politics of Gay Liberation Front politics glorified male gentleness. It was a conscious, if sometimes exaggerated, attempt to renounce the oppressiveness of masculinity and subvert the way traditional masculinity functions to buttress the subordination of women and gay men.
Four decades on, we also need to question male/female gender roles and straight patriarchy, and the consequent macho cult of competitiveness, domination and violence – including its gay and female imitators. Let’s reaffirm the worthwhileness of male sensitivity and affection between men and, in the case of lesbians, the intrinsic value of an eroticism and love independent of heterosexual men. The social implications of this new queer thinking are enormous.
The bottom line is this: The construction of a cult of machismo and a mass of aggressive male egos is a precondition for sexual, gender, class, species, ethnic and imperial oppression. All forms of oppression depend on two factors for their continued maintenance. First, on specific economic, political and ideological structures. Second, on a significant proportion of the population being socialised into the acceptance of harsh masculine values which involve the legitimisation of aggression and the suppression of gentleness and emotion.
The embracing of these culturally-conditioned macho values is what makes millions of people – mostly straight men, but some women and gay men too – able to participate in repressive regimes. This interaction between social structures, ideology and individual psychology was a thesis which the communist psychologist, Wilhelm Reich, was attempting to articulate six decades ago in his book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism. In the case of German fascism, what Nazism did was merely awake and excite the latent brutality that is intrinsic to the forms of heterosexual masculinity that are usually characteristic of patriarchal class societies.
It then systematically manipulated and organised this machismo into a fascist regime of terror and torture which culminated in the holocaust. Since it is the internalisation of the masculine cult of toughness and domination which makes people psychologically suited and willing to be part of oppressive relations of exploitation and subjection, repressive states invariably glorify masculine "warrior" ideals, and persecute those men – mainly queers – who fail to conform to them. The embrace of masculine aggression by sizable chunks of the male population is a prerequisite for injustice and tyranny.
Love and tenderness between men therefore ceases to be a purely private matter or simply a question of personal lifestyle. Instead, it objectively becomes an act of sexual and cultural subversion that undermines the psychological foundations of oppression. Hence the Nazi vilification of gay men as "sexual subversives" and "sexual saboteurs" who, in the words of Heinrich Himmler, had to be "exterminated root and branch." The ending of tyranny, injustice and exploitation therefore requires us to change both the social structures and the individual personality.
To create people who, liberated from orthodox masculinity, no longer psychologically crave the power to dominate and exploit others and who are therefore unwilling to be the agents of oppressive regimes. Whether as soldiers, police, gaolers and censors or as routine civil servants and state administrators who act as the passive agents of repression by keeping the day-to-day machinery of unjust government ticking over. By challenging the cult of heterosexual masculinity, queer liberation is about much more than the limited agenda of equal rights. It offers a unique, revolutionary contribution to the emancipation of the whole of humanity from all forms of subjugation.
April 9, 2008
Recognising Same-sex Relationships
by Douglas Sanders
The European Court of Justice has just recognised equal pension rights for same-sex partners. Can we expect such rulings to spread to Asia? Prof Douglas Sanders outlines same-sex partnership rights worldwide. Lesbian and gay equality rights continue to make progress in various national and international systems. The first big issue was decriminalisation. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was enacted 60 years ago, half of the world had laws making gay sex a crime. Those laws survive in all former British colonies in Asia except Hong Kong although they are almost completely gone in the West. The second big issue was ending discrimination against individuals. People shouldn’t get fired just because they are gay. The third big issue was the recognition of relationships. If there were rights and obligations attached to heterosexual marriage, those should be applied as well to stable homosexual relationships. The fourth big issue was the recognition of rights in relation to children – access, custody, adoption, reproductive services.
Three ways to recognise relationships developed.
First "ascription. " If it looks like a marriage, treat it like a marriage. Some countries already had rules for unmarried heterosexual couples who were described as living in ‘common law’ or ‘de facto’ relationships. Those rules could be applied by judges or legislators to same-sex couples in the name of equality. Sometimes it was the rules that applied to married couples that got applied to same-sex couples. The logic was that heterosexuals could marry and get the benefits. If homosexuals could not marry, they should still have some way to get the benefits, in the name of equality. Second "registered partnerships" or "civil unions." Create by legislation a system under which same-sex couples can "register" their relationship and get some – or most – or all of the rights and obligations of marriage. This started in Denmark in 1989. Third extend "marriage." The Netherlands did it in 2001, followed by Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa and Massachusetts.
Lots is happening.
Courts in Israel and New York have started recognising Canadian same-sex marriages, though such marriages are not possible locally. The President of Ecuador announced in March that the government would recognise homosexual unions – "without ever arriving at the point of marriage" he added. Ireland is just completing a ‘civil partnership’ bill for same-sex couples. It also defines the rights and obligations of ‘common law’ couples (straight or gay) who live together without marriage or registration. A recent poll said that 58 percent of the Irish think gay couples should have access to "marriage." In advance of the Olympics, activists in Beijing have set up an exhibit displaying 10,000 signatures from Chinese citizens supporting same-sex marriage. A bill has been introduced at least twice in the National Peoples’ Congress supporting same-sex marriage (with no hope, so far, of passage).
In the UN human rights system we have two decisions under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that hold that same-sex couples should have equal pension rights – Young v Australia in 2003 – and X v Colombia in 2007. We have one decisions saying they cannot claim "marriage" – Joslin v New Zealand. In the European human rights system we have a decision of the European Court of Human Rights upholding equal tenancy rights for same-sex couples – Karner v Austria in 2003. On April Fools Day, 2008, the European Court of Justice handed down a decision in the Tadao Maruko case. The ECJ enforces the treaty establishing the European Union. It has nothing to do with the European Convention on Human Rights. The issue was whether a survivors’ pension that would be granted to a married partner could be denied to a registered partner. This was an obvious case of discrimination. In Germany only heterosexuals get married and only homosexuals get registered. The government pension scheme recognised both survivor spouse and survivor partner pension rights. But the pension in question was separate. It was set up under a collective agreement to provide a supplementary benefit solely for employees of German theatres.
The European Union non-discrimination law on sexual orientation (a) only applies to employment and (b) was not to affect "national laws on marital status and the benefits dependent thereon." Discrimination in pay is discrimination in employment. The Court held that the survivor pension was part of the "pay" granted to the deceased partner. So the matter came within the non-discrimination law. The first problem was
solved. On the second issue, the Court never said what the ‘marital status’ exemption was about, but held that it does not override the basic non-discrimination rule in the directive. The judges were on our side. So the rule in the pension scheme restricting survivors’ benefits to married partners was struck down.
The German registered partnership law is one of the best in Europe. It treats registered partners as the same as married spouses. But the reasoning of the European Court of Justice does not focus on the fact that the German law delivers the same rights and responsibilities as marriage. As a result, the decision logically applies to all systems of recognition of relationships. Does it apply where a government – as in Poland – has no registered partnership law? The decision does not tell us the answer. But the logic of the decision is that equal benefits should apply.
And what of Asia? Any recognition of same-sex relationships?
The first cases to be fought over in the West related to health insurance, survivor tenancy rights and pension rights. Generally speaking, governments in Asia do not provide such rights for anybody, straight or gay. Half of Asia is still burdened by criminal law prohibitions. No country has a national anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation. Taiwan is the exception. There are two non-discrimination laws. The Gender Equity Education Act, 2004, protects both the sexual orientation and gender identity of students in schools. This was the first legislation in Taiwan referring to sexual orientation and different gender temperament or quality. The Employment Services Act, 2007, forbids discrimination against homosexuals.
The Domestic Violence Prevention Act includes same-sex couples. This is made clear in an ‘explanation’ under the key section of the legislation. Same-sex marriage was hinted at in Taiwan a number of years ago, but disappeared from the governments’ agenda. More recently a Same-Sex Marriage Act was proposed by DPP legislator Bi-Khim Hsiao.
The legislation in South Korea establishing a National Human Rights Commission specifically instructed the body to address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Commission held public hearings on the possibility of a national anti-discrimination law and proposed such a law to the government last year. "Sexual orientation" was included in draft legislation, then dropped after public controversy with the explanation that it was included by implication. The legislation was not reintroduced, and now there is a new government. So some things are happening close to home. Expect fights and lobbying ahead.
Douglas Sanders is a retired Canadian law professor now living in Bangkok. He can be contacted at sanders_gwb @ yahoo.ca. between 0000-00-00 and 9999-99-99
April 17, 2008
Commissioner’s horror at extent of homophobia in Europe
by Tony Grew
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has called for more protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people. Thomas Hammarberg was elected to the post in 2005 by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. He was speaking today at a conference on LGBT rights. Commissioner Hammarberg called for more protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at the European Parliament in Brussels. “Since I took up the office, I have been quite horrified by the extent of homophobia in a number of countries in Europe," he said.
The 47-member Council of Europe predates the European Union. It promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights. Mr Hammarberg, who is Swedish, said that gay Pride marches should not be banned or obstructed by national or local authorities, a reference to Lithuania. Vilnius city council has effectively banned any Pride events on the grounds of "security."
In November amendments to the public order and cleanliness regulations were passed, meaning the police or a special commission will be able to ban any event where they think a riot might occur. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe expressed concern about the situation in Lithuania earlier this month. "Regulations and laws should list all grounds for discrimination including sexual orientation which is not always the case," Mr Hammarberg said. He stressed the importance of the Yogyakarta Principles.
Launched in March 2007, they are a set of principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. There have been strong indications from EU Commission President Jose Manual Barroso and employment, social affairs and equal opportunities commissioner Vladimir Spidla that a new directive on discrimination to be introduced this year may focus on disability only. Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty, covering race and employment directives, requires EU member states to introduce legislation to outlaw unfair discrimination on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability and age in the fields of employment and training. A directive to combat discrimination on the remaining grounds of Article 13 was announced in the Commission’s work programme for 2008.
EU directives are legislation that requires member states to, for example, deal with discrimination, but leaves it up to the states to decide on the best course of action to take. Last week the European Parliament’s all-party social affairs committee voted for a framework directive against all forms of discrimination, despite firm opposition by right-wing MEPs.
18 April 2008
MEPs call for ‘quality’ EU commissioner from Italy
by Honor Mahony
Euobserver / Brussels – Members of the European parliament’s civil liberties committee have indicated they are preparing a tough hearing for the new Italian EU commissioner, and have so far offered only a lukewarm reaction to the names currently being touted for the heavy-weight justice and home affairs post. Liberal Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld said the committee is looking for someone to "seriously drive forward the human rights agenda."
In a critique of Franco Frattini – the out-going commissioner now expected to become Italy’s new foreign minister following the recent elections – she said the new appointee should be "much more sensitive to issues of civil liberties and privacy." UK Liberal MEP Sarah Ludford said the issue was not a question of "political complexion … It is about qualities and suitability." She described the portfolio, which has seen Mr Frattini deal with a wide range of anti-terror legislation – often putting him in direct conflict with MEPs, as a "very, very challenging area."
Her committee faces a "constant stream of legislation that challenges civil rights," she noted. The civil liberties committee is the same committee that in 2004 caused the upset in the power balance between member states and MEPs after its hearing exposed the discriminatory views of Rocco Buttiglione, Italy’s original nominee, towards gays and women. Italy eventually substituted Mr Buttiglione with Mr Frattini. Ms in ‘t Veld noted that the same issues over which Mr Buttiglione "stumbled" will make an appearance this time round.
MEPs do not have the power to veto a single commissioner, but a negative vote from the EU assembly would be very difficult for EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso to dismiss. He initially ignored the rumblings of the parliament in 2004, hoping to hustle through the process with Mr Buttiglione on board the team, but was eventually forced into a humiliating retreat. However, the names currently having been floated as possible contenders – the centre-right MEPs Mario Mauro and Antonio Tajani, both from the newly re-elected Silvio Berlusconi’s former party, Forza Italia – did not gather much enthusiasm from the two Liberal politicians.
Ms Ludford took the trouble to point out that Mr Tajani has not been in charge of a particular dossier (report) at the parliament for "the 14 years he’s been here" but both she and Ms int ‘Veld stressed they did not know either politician very well. The civil liberties committee will hold a hearing for the new commissioner before the plenary as a whole takes a vote on the nomination. Among the questions likely to come up are the commissioner’s views on the rights of homosexuals, the role of women in society, the protection of civil rights in the era of the "War on Terror". There could also be queries arising from Mr Berlusconi’s regular controversial off-the-cuff statements, such as his recent comment suggesting camps for jobless foreigners be set up.
April 21, 2008
European Commission abandons gay discrimination directive
by Tony Grew
Opposition from Germany and other member states means that European Union citizens will not be protected by an EU directive from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The BBC has learned that only disability will be covered by the new directive. The European Commission has decided not to propose a more wide-ranging measure. "The Commission would still prefer to have a ‘horizontal’ directive that covers all the discrimination grounds in all the areas that are not covered yet," Jan Jarab of the Employment Department of the Commission told the BBC’s The Record: Europe. "Having said that, we need to be realistic, and we have signals from some member states that they would not support such a horizontal directive and this, of course, is a problem because we need unanimity in council to get the proposal through. So at present we are envisaging a bit of a compromise which means a directive that will be specific to disability, which of course is a discrimination ground that we can justify, referring to the new international convention on disabilities."
Asked why the Commission is not challenging member states to come out and say they oppose protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, he said that even the disability directive will be "quite challenging." "On the other remaining grounds, age, sexual orientation and religion, we will issue recommendations, as opposed to a directive," he said. There is at present no EU law protecting LGB people from discrimination in areas such as goods and services which exist for race and gender.
All forms of discrimination at work are already covered by directives.
Evelyne Paradis of ILGA-Europe said: "We keep on repeating the hierarchy of rights and giving out the message that some grounds of discrimination are more important than others. All the EU is entitled to equality." Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty, covering race and employment directives, requires EU member states to introduce legislation to outlaw unfair discrimination on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability and age in the fields of employment and training. The directive also applies to areas such as education and goods and services.
A directive to combat discrimination on the remaining grounds of Article 13 was announced in the Commission’s work programme for 2008. EU directives are legislation that requires member states to, for example, deal with discrimination, but leaves it up to the states to decide on the best course of action to take. Earlier this month the European Parliament’s all-party social affairs committee voted for a framework directive against all forms of discrimination, despite firm opposition by right-wing MEPs. In 2004 Mr Barroso made a statement before the Parliament promising to personally ensure that the legal protections would be enlarged to all forms of discrimination. The European Parliament has called for such a directive at least on seven occasions in the past eight years.
June 30, 2008
Inequality for same-sex couples in different EU nations is "cause for concern"
by Tony Grew
The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency has said that greater legislative protection and wider support within the EU is required for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans citizens. A legal analysis of the situation in all 27 member states was released by the FRA today. The report concluded that the rights and advantages of married couples should be extended to same-sex partnerships, including those benefits for spouses and partners related to free movement and family reunification. It is the first of two reports related to homophobia and discrimination experienced by members of the LGBT community. A second, detailing the social aspects, will be released later in the autumn. The FRA report "identifies differences in treatment and protection by the law and a lack of full and equal enjoyment of rights in areas of EU competence, particularly with regard to same sex partnerships." It also called for EU-wide criminal legislation on homophobic hate speech and hate crime.
The publication of a new Communication by the European Commission later this week will open a wider debate in the EU about discrimination. The Commission has said it now backs a "horizontal," or cross-cutting directive aimed at combating discrimination on grounds of age, disability, religion and belief and sexual orientation in areas outside the field of employment, such as goods and services. "Equal treatment is a fundamental right that all members of our society should enjoy," said FRA director Morten Kjaerum. He took up the role at the start of this month. The 50-year-old was previously director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights.
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is an independent body of the European Union that provides member states and EU institutions with assistance and expertise and supports them when they take measures or formulate courses of action on fundamental rights. "The fact that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals are not treated equally in some aspects of EU legislation, particularly concerning same-sex couples should be a cause of concern for us all," said Mr Kjaerum. "More comprehensive legal protection, as well as wider powers and resources for equality bodies are required, and I urge that the new measures on non-discrimination discussed by the EU will ensure this."
The report found that in 18 out of the 27 EU member states the LGBT community enjoy legal protection and rights in the areas of employment, access to public goods and services, housing and social benefits. "The new measures on non-discrimination discussed by the EU should therefore, commensurate to the EU Fundamental Rights Charter, extend legal protection to all the areas covered by the EU’s racial equality legislation and in all member states," the report stated.
A summary of FRA’s report entitled Homophobia and Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation in the EU Member States Part I – Legal Analysis is available at http://fra.europa.eu The act was going to only cover discrimination against the disabled at one point. The European Commission announced in April that opposition from Germany and other member states meant that European Union citizens would not be protected from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the new directive. However earlier this month, the Commission had a change of heart and widened the scope, adding age, religion and sexual orientation to the list.
EU directives are legislation that requires member states to, for example, deal with discrimination, but leaves it up to the states to decide on the best course of action to take. Earlier this month the European Parliament’s all-party social affairs committee voted for a framework directive against all forms of discrimination, despite firm opposition by right-wing MEPs.
July 15, 2008
Foreign Office issues advice to Pride travellers
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued advice for LGBT people travelling to gay Pride events. Holland, Denmark, and South Africa are holding major gay Pride marches later this summer, and Stockholm is hosting EuroPride. The FCO is urging potential travellers to look at their website for safety advice.
"You can cut down on avoidable problems if you prepare well and research your destination before you leave the UK," spokesman Steve Jewitt Fleet said. "This year, hundreds of Brits will be travelling to global gay Pride events. Attitudes towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender travellers can differ widely around the world and from those in the UK. If you’re planning to join the party at one of the upcoming Pride events, check out the FCO’s dedicated advice for LBGT travellers, which can be found on our website. You should also visit the FCO’s country-specific travel advice pages before you leave, so that you can familiarise yourself with local laws and customs of your destination.!
Among the gay-specific advice from the FCO:
a) Be aware of the possibility of crime – criminals have been known to exploit the generally open and relaxed nature of gay ‘neighbourhoods’ and beaches.
b) Check out your accommodation – many hotels now actively welcome same-sex couples, but check before you go and make reservations in advance to avoid difficulties when you arrive.
c) The legal age of consent varies from country to country. You should check individual ages of consent with the embassy of your destination country before you leave the UK.
d) Be aware that in some areas within the country you are visiting, open expressions of sexuality might be frowned upon.
e) Think about sexual health before you go – many sexual health products are not as readily available or of the same quality abroad as they are in the UK.
The Minister for Europe, Jim Murphy, has condemned the violence at Gay Pride events on his blog. "I was very upset to hear the reports of violence at the Pride parades in Prague, Riga and Sofia in the last few weeks, and also very disappointed that pressure from various sources meant the Pride parade in Moldova scheduled for May did not take place," he wrote. This was in marked contrast to the peaceful Pride held for the first time ever in Delhi on Sunday 29 June."
Despite the 150 strong police presence at Pride in Sofia, Bulgaria, more than 60 skinheads and rightwing nationalists were arrested and a homophobic mob threw stones and petrol bombs. "The FCO is committed to promoting equality and ending the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world and we’ve developed a programme of skills and information for embassies and diplomats to help achieve this," wrote Mr Murphy.
In May the FCO issued an ‘LGBT Toolkit’ to its 261 embassies, high commissions and other diplomatic posts. The kit contains information for other countries on the official British policy on gay rights and instructions on how to "provide added value to equality and non discrimination work." The violence and discrimination shown towards LGBT people abroad is one of the reasons why the government is under pressure over gay asylum. There are several recent examples of the Home Office refusing asylum to gay people whose home countries criminalise or repress homosexuality
21 November 2008
Transgender people face fear and hate across Europe
by Leigh Phillips
Euobserver / Brussels – Attitudes towards gays and lesbians in much of Europe and around the world may have made remarkable advances over the last 20 years, even if some regions of the EU are more hospitable than others. But for transgender people, discrimination, marginalisation and outright hostility remain part of daily experience. Transsexual people are often fired from their jobs when undergoing gender reassignment procedures. They are turfed out of their apartments, refused insurance and confronted with bigotry within the health community. Gender non-conformity is still used as an excuse for harassment, violence and even murder
A report on homophobia and sexual orientation discrimination in the 27-country bloc by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency published in June 2008 identified serious gaps in national legislation in regards to transgender people’s rights On Thursday (20 November), transgender people around the world observed the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, held to remember the murder of Rita Hester, a transgender woman from Boston, and all other transgender people who have been killed because they do not fit into the traditional mould. Ms Hester’s murder – like most anti-transgender murder cases – has yet to be solved.
The Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based European integration organisation – not to be confused with the Council of the European Union – has recently taken up the cause of promoting transgender rights across Europe. On the day of remembrance, the EUobserver spoke to Thomas Hammarberg, the council’s human rights commissioner. A lack of awareness on the subject together with old ideas about gender provide the breeding ground for hate, he believes, and is working hard to enlighten people about the issue. Earlier this week, Mr Hammarberg held a meeting bringing together experts on the subject from Portugal, Serbia, Turkey, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Sweden, and France to help devise a work programme for his organisation to tackle discrimination against transgender people.
"Ignorance seems to be the main reason [behind the discrimination] and this lack of knowledge has led to prejudices which in turn have opened for discrimination and even hate crimes," he said. "But it also stems from traditional concepts of what it means to be masculine or feminine in our society. We tend to shy away from discussions about sexuality and gender identity, but we need to deal with these issues head on."
Refused state funding
There is hardly any area where discrimination does not take place, he believes. "It starts with the social and legal conditions imposed on acquiring a different gender. In many countries, there is a requirement to undergo hormonal treatment therapy or surgery in order to obtain an official recognition of gender reassignment. Only in a few states, such as Spain, Hungary and the United Kingdom, does no such requirement exist."
"In many European States, gender reassignment requires obligatory sterilisation or that the person has to prove that he or she is not married, which could end in a forced divorce." Another major area where transgender people face discrimination comes in the realm of health-care. A recent Europe-wide study from the International Gay and Lesbian Association – Europe and Transgender Europe showed that more than 80 percent of the respondents were refused state-funding for gender transforming hormone treatments.
"This is a shocking statistic," said Mr Hammarberg, who explained that beyond health-care issues, unemployment is rampant amongst transgender people. "It’s extremely high – sometimes reaching up to 50 percent," he said. "This leads to social exclusion, isolation and sometimes worse. The suicide rate among transgender persons is significantly higher than other groups in society, at 30 percent.
Dealing with housing, insurance, public or private service providers are regularly occasions for discrimination: "I receive information on transgender people losing their jobs or being excluded from health care and health insurance. The problems are far-reaching."
He says they can be harassed when just walking down the street, occurrences that "sometimes leading to hate motivated incidents," he said. "I receive regular reports of harassment, hate crimes and sometimes killings of transgender persons. Only last week a transgender person was killed in Turkey and this has caused shock and outrage among the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] community, as this was not the first such crime."
The commissioner says that there are serious human rights problems affecting transgender people right across Europe, "especially in relation to access to health care, employment, education and the general lack of legal protection. However, there are some positive developments in the UK and Spain where relevant laws – Gender Reassignment Acts – have changed for the better."
He described a Dutch organisation which works closely with transgender children and youth and their families and another based in Serbia that offers self-help groups and counselling services.
Gaps at the European Union level
He argued that European Union legislation still has some way to go to ensuring transgender protections. "There is definitely a need to clarify the anti-discrimination framework for transgender people. The study from the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency showed that discrimination based on gender identity is regarded in many different ways by different member states. Some EU member states consider it as sex discrimination, others, wrongly, as discrimination based on sexual orientation."
"There are a third group of countries which simply do not know how to consider it. This leads to legal uncertainty and is not helped by the current EU directives, which are also not fully clear on these definitions. Gender identity – and gender," he pointed out, "are not part of the new foreseen anti-discrimination directive." But he also called on NGOs to start to work on transgender issues. "Civil society, as well as governments, need to include transgender human rights issue in their work," he said. "Transgender people have a right to human rights protection like everyone else," he added. "The time has now come for the human rights movement to start taking the concerns of transgender persons seriously."
February 22, 2009
Council of Europe Propogates Anti-Family Yogyakarta Principles (Jail the Preachers Alert)
by Piero Tozzi & Katharina Rothweiler | LifeSiteNews.com | Free Republic
New York, NY, February 20, 2009 (C-FAM) – A special committee of the Council of Europe (CoE) is meeting this week in Strasbourg, France, to promote the implementation of the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity among the CoE’s 47 member states.
One controversial item on the agenda for the Committee of Experts on Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity calls for a “hate speech” ban, focusing “special attention” on “politicians, opinion leaders, religious dignitaries and the media.” This is interpreted by some as an attempt to chill criticism of homosexual behavior and the “gay lifestyle.”
Critics note that Sweden has prosecuted Pastor Åke Green, a Pentecostal minister, for a sermon he gave on the sinfulness of homosexual conduct. In overturning his criminal conviction, the Swedish Supreme Court noted that his conduct was illegal under Swedish law, but in this case European Convention on Human Rights free speech protections overrode Swedish law.