Gay UK News & Reports 2008 Jan-May

1 Gay holocaust victims to be remembered in Westminster 1/08

2 Gay Asians ‘marrying to conform’ 2/08

3 Some People Are Gay. Get Over It! 2/08

4 Abbey body identified as gay lover of Edward II 2/08

5 Imperial War Museum appeals for LGBT experiences 2/08

6 House of Homosexual Culture reveals queer schedule 2/08

7 Plight of Gays in Belarus, Iraq and Uganda to be Highlighted at IDAHO 2008 2/08

8 Complaints about gay billboard ads rejected 3/08

9 Death sentence: gay Syrian teenager facing deportation 3/08

10 UK asylum system "not fit for purpose" 3/08

11 2,630 gay men diagnosed with HIV in 2007 3/08

12 Comment: Straight male machismo underpins all tyranny 4/08

13 Ian McKellen met Gordon Brown at gay ‘wedding’ 4/08

14 Proud Heritage 4/08

14a New project for black gay men seeks volunteers 4/08

15 Gay bishop to attend Lambeth conference despite previous rejection 4/08

16 Online gay museum opens for business 4/08

17 New rights for lesbian parents in New South Wales 4/08

18 Britain Halts Deportation Move Against Gay Iranian,5/08

19 Conference will tackle LGBT mental health outcomes 5/08

20 On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) 5/08

21 British activist becomes President of Transgender Europe 5/08

22 Gay Iranian teen wins right to asylum in Britain 5/08

23 Met police raids target homophobic crime 5/08

24 Foreign Office instructs embassies to push LGBT rights 5/08

25 Homophobic abuse fails to disrupt gay football final 5/08

26 Ian McKellen and Gene Robinson to talk gays and religion at London festival 5/08

24th January 2008

Gay holocaust victims to be remembered in Westminster

by Tony Grew
Homosexuals murdered by the Nazis will be among those remembered at a solemn ceremony on Monday in Westminster to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
150 teenagers and young people from across the London borough will present a powerful and poignant mix of drama, video and singing through a series of digital media presentations as they take part in a solemn ceremony.

Westminster choir will perform several pieces including one in Hebrew. The theme of ‘Imagine, Remember, Reflect, React’ will run through the evening which will be held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in The Mall. Westminster youth theatre arts company DreamArts will provide theatrical performances based on moving testimonies from people such as World War Two resistance fighter Vera Laska and Anna Lasker-Wallfisch, who was found by British troops when they liberated Belsen concentration camp. The event will also include dramatised monologues based on the life of Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara, who helped save thousands of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, and Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary renowned for saving the lives of thousands of Chinese women during the Nanjing massacre in the Sino-Japanese War.

Groups such as the Roma, gay people and people with disabilities who also suffered under Nazi rule will be commemorated through song and imagery along with victims of other genocides. The event is part of a wider programme of education in Westminster’s youth centres to explore the issues of racism, homophobia and sexism. Between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men were held in concentration camps by the Nazis as members of an "anti-social group." Historians estimate that 60% of them died while incarcerated.

After the war gay men were not recognised as victims of the Holocaust and many were re-imprisoned by the authorities because of the sexuality. They were denied the reparations and state pensions available to other groups. Councillor Sarah Richardson, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: "In leading this event, the young people involved with Westminster’s Youth Service have shown great sensitivity in understanding the horrors of the Holocaust.

"We believe that education is the key to fostering greater understanding between people of different races, religions and backgrounds and we hope that events like this go some way in promoting values of tolerance, respect and goodwill."

The Lord Mayor of Westminster, Councillor Carolyn Keen, will lead the event, the audience for which will largely consist of young people from the 28 youth projects in Westminster. The event starts at 6pm and is due to end at 7.30pm.


8 February 2008

Gay Asians ‘marrying to conform’

by Naresh Puri, BBC News
Asian gays and lesbians in the UK have married people of the opposite sex in a bid to conform to traditional values and beliefs, it has been claimed. Gay activists said these marriages happened because some members of their community felt homosexuals brought shame on their people.
They said in some cases gay and lesbian people had been beaten and abused.

The BBC has seen hundreds of people advertising on the internet for so-called marriages of convenience. One of them is 19-year-old Rubina, from south-east England, who placed an advert on an Asian gay website. She said: "I just want to make life easier, I want to get my family off my back, because they’re pressurising me to get married. In my culture it’s not acceptable to be gay. If I have a marriage of convenience it will give them the illusion that I’m straight and I can carry on with who I want."

Arranged marriage

She said her family thought she was leading an independent lifestyle and would soon give in to their requests for an arranged marriage. "If you’d been raised by parents who love you, it’s difficult to let people down that you care for. You don’t want them to disown you, that’s why I need to fit in with Asian society and have a marriage of convenience," she said.

Fazal Mahmood is a gay rights campaigner and one of a handful of Asians prepared to speak out. He said he was pressured by his family to get married and from this relationship he had a son. He is now divorced. We’re living in a modern day society and it’s wrong that this persecution carries on Rubina "I’ve seen 16 year olds and even 40 year olds being forced into marriage just to make their family and community happy," he said. "The situation is so serious – we’ve heard about gays and lesbians being attacked because of their sexuality. We’ve even had cases where people have tried to commit suicide because Asian society will not accept or tolerate homosexuals."

Balbir Grewal, from the Guru Granth Sikh temple, in Southall, west London, said marriages of convenience were a sin.

"The whole family suffers. We are living in 2008 and it’s time they should come out to the parents. Asian weddings are so expensive and then the parents have to go through the heartache of finding out that their children have lied to them. I’ve even heard that parents have died because of the shock of finding out about these pretend marriages. But for Asian gays and lesbians, the situation is very difficult.

Rubina said: "I wish that people would understand sexuality is only one part of a person and my message to parents is that being gay or lesbian does not change your child. People must learn more about gays and lesbians. We’re living in a modern day society and it’s wrong that this persecution carries on. It’s unacceptable."

February 13, 2008

Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!

by News Editor
That is the tagline which is now appearing on 600 billboard panels across England, Scotland and Wales to educate the public against discrimination of gay men and lesbians. Developed in collaboration with 150 secondary school pupils and teachers for Stonewall, the posters feature the tagline in bold capital letters in white and black against a striking red background.
The posters are from a campaign which was originally launched in Nov 2007 as part of Stonewall’s Education for All campaign to tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools. Posters, stickers and postcards were distributed to all 5,000 secondary schools across England and Wales at the time.

For the first time, the posters will appear on billboards for two weeks, from Monday 11 February 2008.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive, says: “Homophobia is almost endemic in our schools and blights the lives of people throughout society. It makes sense that this zero-tolerance message should be extended to the wider public. Across urban and rural Britain, this plain-speaking slogan will remind people that discrimination against gay men and lesbians is no longer acceptable.” Stonewall, a gay lobbying group was founded in 1989 by a small group of women and men – including actor Sir Ian McKellen – who had been active in the struggle against Section 28 of the Local Government Act which was designed to prevent the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools.

18 February 2008

Abbey body identified as gay lover of Edward II

by Laura Clout
A mutilated body found in an abbey graveyard has been identified as that of a notorious medieval villain rumoured to have been the gay lover of Edward II. The remains, which bear the hallmarks of having been hanged, drawn and quartered, are thought to be those of Sir Hugh Despenser the Younger, who was executed as a traitor in 1326.
Sir Hugh had been favourite of Edward II – who was widely believed to have been homosexual – but was brutally executed before a mob after the king was ousted from the throne.

The decapitated remains, buried at Hulton Abbey, Staffs, have intrigued experts since they were uncovered during the 1970s and now Mary Lewis, an anthropologist, says she has uncovered compelling evidence of their true identity. The manner of execution, carbon-dating of the bones, and the absence of several parts of the body all point towards Sir Hugh being the victim, she said. "If the remains are those of Sir Hugh Despenser the Younger, then this is the first time such an execution victim has been identified," she added.

Sir Hugh insinuated himself into the king’s favour by backing him in his battles with the barons. Through a series of ruthless deals, he consolidated a huge fortune, winning himself a legion of enemies in the process, including Edward’s wife, Queen Isabella. His downfall came when the queen and her ally, Roger Mortimer, deposed the king in 1326. Sir Hugh was judged a traitor and a thief. He was hanged and, still conscious, castrated, disembowelled and then quartered before his head was displayed on London Bridge.

Miss Lewis, a biological anthropologist at the University of Reading, found that the Staffordshire skeleton had been beheaded and chopped into several pieces with a sharp blade, suggesting a ritual killing. There was also evidence of a stab wound to the stomach. She said: "This form of public execution was high theatre that aimed to demonstrate the power of government to the masses. High treason dictated that the perpetrator should suffer more than one death." Radiocarbon analysis dated the remains to between 1050 and 1385 and subsequent tests suggested that the male was over 34 years old. Sir Hugh was 40 when he was killed.

"Dating of the Hulton Abbey skeleton indicates that he died no later that 1385, when this brutal and very public form of execution was handed out only to the most notorious political prisoners. This suggests that the skeleton at Hulton Abbey was a well-known political figure," Miss Lewis added.

Sir Hugh’s wife asked for his bones to be buried on his family’s Gloucestershire estate but only the head, a thigh bone and a few vertebrae were returned to her. These are the bones that are missing from the Hulton Abbey skeleton. In addition, the abbey formed part of the estate of Sir Hugh’s brother-in-law, Hugh Audley, and it is thought the family may have chosen to bury what remained of their disgraced relative there.

19th February 2008

Imperial War Museum appeals for LGBT experiences

by staff writer
An exhibition focusing on how war and conflict have shaped people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities’ lives from 1945 to the present day will open later this year at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. The Imperial War Museum is the national museum of the experiences of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since 1914. Organisers want to hear from LGBT people who can share their experiences, which will form part of the final display.
They want to hear from people who have served or who are serving in the Armed Forces to contact them.

Military Pride, which will run from 12th July to 12th October, will be a small but powerful display which reveals via portrait photography and personal testimony LGBT experience within the context of conflict, war and military service. Military Pride will also detail historical context and a timeline of post 1945 legislature and policies within the Armed Forces and is timed to connect with the Manchester Pride Festival. As well as reflecting adversity the display will aim to celebrate the achievements and reflect the positive contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities to the Armed Forces and examine how experiences may have changed since 1945.

Catherine Roberts, Visitor Programmes Manager, Imperial War Museum North, told "The experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, within the context of conflict, war and military service, is arguably still a largely hidden history. With your help hopefully we can make a step towards helping to reveal and celebrate it. We look forward to hearing from people as soon as possible. We are hoping to finalise content by the end of March."

Imperial War Museum North has a 3-year history of delivering tours and events relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience in war and conflict from the First World War to the present day, reflecting the Museum’s focus on how war has shaped and continues to shape peoples lives. To find out how you can get involved or for more information please contact Catherine Roberts (0161 836 4062 or James McSharry (0161 836 4099 at Imperial War Museum North.

Hundreds of individual events are taking place throughout the UK this month to celebrate LGBT History Month. Founded and run by volunteers, it first took place in February 2005, in the wake of the abolition of Section 28 and has grown each year. It is intended to raise awareness of, and combat prejudice against, the LGBT community – check the LGBT History Month website for further details.

26th February 2008

House of Homosexual Culture reveals queer schedule

by staff writer
Following its successful series of events last year to mark the 40th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of gay sex, The House of Homosexual Culture has released details of upcoming events in London. First up is Between the Covers, a celebration of the past, present and future of lesbian and gay literature. This event includes the chance to see a home-grown MySpace star, Clayton Littlewood, reading from his soon-to-be-published Soho diary, Dirty White Boy, with character voices by David Benson.

The event will be hosted at the downstairs bar, 66 Wardour Street and starts at 7.30pm. On 30th March Bette and Tim Fountain will discuss The Making of Rock at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, ( followed by a screening of the Doris Day and Rock Hudson classic Pillow Talk. In May and June, the Oval House Theatre in association with The House of Homosexual Culture, will produce a couple of events complementing the new Bette Bourne show, ROCK, an exploration of the life and career of Rock Hudson, the popular gay American actor who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1985. On 30th May Bette Bourne will be inducted into the House of Homosexual Culture Hall of Fame with a red-carpet gala event celebrating this legendary drag performer, activist and actor.

Finally, on the 14th June film historian Richard Dyer presents Now We Know he was Gay, an illustrated lecture on Rock Hudson based on a queer back reading of his films. These events are free if you book, otherwise there is a small charge for tickets. See for more details.

February 27, 2008

Plight of Gays in Belarus, Iraq and Uganda to be Highlighted at IDAHO 2008 Launch

Government ministers will attend London College of Fashion launch
Minister for Skills David Lammy MP will be addressing the UK IDAHO launch.

London – Government ministers, mayoral candidates, students and academics, national and international LGBT campaigners, a lesbian singer/songwriter, who according to one reviewer performs like “Mary Poppins on acid” are all gearing up for the IDAHO-UK 2008 launch event at the London College of Fashion, which will take place, on the evening of March 13. Students on the Design for Graphic Communication course at the University of Arts, London have designed double sided broadsheet posters to encourage UK campaigners to arrange events for the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17, and the winning posters will be displayed at the event.

Derek Lennard, IDAHO-UK Coordinator, who has chosen the four winning posters, says that they are “very exciting and innovative”.

Appropriately enough, David Lammy, Minister for Skills, and MP for Tottenham, will be handing out the prizes to the students and making a speech at the event. He will be joined by Minister for Equality, Barbara Follett, and Linda Bellos, former leader of Lambeth Council, who works on mainstreaming equality and diversity in the British Army and Metropolitan Police. London Mayoral candidates are also well represented at the event. Neil Young will be reading a message of support for the IDAHO campaign and the event from Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London.

Richard Barnes the Conservative Leader on the London Assembly, Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor, and Sian Berry, the Green candidate will also be speaking. Louis-Georges Tin, the founder of IDAHO will explain the priorities of the 2008 campaign, Pastor Kiyimba Brown will describe how he set up an IDAHO Chapter in Uganda, Ali Hilli founder of Iraqi LGBT will highlight the gravity of the situation for LGBT activists in Iraq, and Bill Schiller of the International Lesbian and Gay Cultural Network will graphically describe the plight of the LGBT community in Belarus.

Amnesty International will also be represented. Niranjan Kamatlkar, Artistic Director of Wise Thoughts will look at creative ways to address homophobia and transphobia in the UK, and a representative from the East London Out Project will talk on the theme of the IDAHO campaign this year “Lesbian Rights and Sexism”. Finally, Sue Sanders will display the work undertaken by students for Schools Out and LGBT History Month.

There will also be plenty of time for relaxing, mingling and networking in the luxurious setting of the Rootstein Hopkins Space, and a chance to see the student’s work, enjoy the canapés and wine, and undergo the Lorraine Bowen experience. It is hoped that Ms Bowen will perform a song from her new CD, “Vital Organs”.

“We hope this event will be inspiring, thought provoking and enjoyable and inspire campaigners to plan events for IDAHO,” said Mr. Lennard

17th March 2008

Complaints about gay billboard ads rejected

by Tony Grew
The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that an ad campaign by gay equality organisation Stonewall did not breach their code. The "Some people are gay – get over it!" posters were displayed on 600 billboards across the Britain last month. Of the 54 complaints received by the ASA, seven claimed the ad was inappropriate for display where it could be seen by children and five objected that the ad was particularly offensive to Christian and other religious groups. Two others claimed the ad was offensive because it discriminated against heterosexual people and implied that all heterosexuals were homophobic.

"Although some people might disagree with the advertiser’s approach, the ad did not contain language or imagery that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, or particular offence to heterosexuals or religious groups," the ASA said. "The ad did not imply that heterosexual people were homophobic, and did not promote homosexuality as an attractive lifestyle choice or as taking advantage of issues arising from children’s sexuality for political gain."

Advertising space in England, Scotland and Wales was donated to gay equality organisation Stonewall by Titan Outdoor Advertising Ltd. The message – ‘Some people are gay. Get over it!’ – is displayed in giant, tabloid-style capital letters, on a bright red background. The campaign, originally designed for schools, was developed in collaboration with 150 secondary school pupils and teachers for Stonewall as part of the Education For All campaign.

"We’re delighted at the ASA’s decision," said Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill. "This was a carefully-designed campaign which has had a significant impact. We’ve received supportive messages from teachers and young people across the country saying it has helped them raise the issue of homophobic bullying in their schools for the first time. This sort of bullying, which blights the lives of young people, has festered in the past precisely because it has been invisible."

The posters were not universally well-received. One in the town of Blackburn, was covered in abusive graffiti. The outdoor ad campaign is expected to resume later this year.

Scotland On Sunday

16 March 2008

Death sentence: gay Syrian teenager facing deportation

by Kurt Bayer
His only crime was to be gay. For that he was half-drowned, brutally beaten and then fell into a coma. He survived, escaped from jail, fled his country and eventually arrived, exhausted and bedraggled, here in Scotland. And now the Government wants to send him back.
Syrian Jojo Jako Yakob last night pleaded with the Home Office to reverse a deportation order and spare him the certain death he believes he will face if he returns to his country. "I wish to claim asylum and I wish to stay here in Scotland," he said. Gay rights activists demanded that homosexuals, such as Yakob, who were facing clear persecution in their homeland, should be granted asylum. But a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy responded by describing homosexuality as a "disease", which the country sought to "treat". The 19-year-old is now to embark on a landmark legal challenge in order to reverse the deportation order so he can spend the rest of his life in Scotland.

Yakob fled his homeland two years ago after managing to survive a harrowing ordeal at the hands of Syrian police and prison guards, when he was arrested for distributing anti-government leaflets. Following his transfer from police interrogation, prison guards soon discovered that Yakob, a member of the repressed Kurdish minority in the Arab state, was homosexual. He then suffered horrific beatings and was assaulted so badly that he fell into a coma. After being transferred to hospital, he managed to flee to Lebanon making for London, holed up in a lorry. He applied for asylum and was granted extended leave by the Home Office, but was then arrested in Aberdeen last April after being found in possession of a fake Belgian passport. He was handed a 12-month sentence and sent to Polmont Young Offenders Unit in Falkirk. His lawyers say his asylum application was then mistakenly withdrawn and, as a result, he has been served with a deportation order, pending a final hearing this May.

If unsuccessful, he will be sent back to Syria. He has been kept at Polmont as a remand prisoner until that date. His case mirrors that of gay Iranian teenager Mehdi Kazemi, 19, who was this week allowed to stay in Britain after claims that he would be executed if returned to his homeland. Now, while detained at Polmont, Yakob has appealed against a Home Office deportation order and has instructed top Scottish QC, Mungo Bovey, to fight his case. Yakob is terrified of being returned to Syria, where homosexuality is illegal, and believes that if he returns, he faces certain death. Speaking from Polmont last night, Yakob explained why he fears a return to his homeland. "I wish to seek asylum in the UK for a number of reasons," he said.

"My father is a politician with the Yakiti Party – pro-Kurdish and anti-government. I was arrested when I was 15 years of age for possession of anti-government material. These were basic leaflets for my father’s political party. My father was imprisoned before I left Syria for 13 years for anti-government activity." Of his arrest, he added: "I was then tortured. I was beaten. At one point I was put up against a wall and a handgun pointed at me. I was told that if I did not tell the authorities what they wanted to know they would shoot me dead. I did not tell them anything, I did not think they would shoot me. The police officer then shot me in my upper left arm. At that point, I told them what they wanted to know as I believed that they would shoot me dead."

Yakob says he was held in police cells for 20 days without charge and subjected to daily electric shock torture and beatings before being transferred to Ahdas Prison, by the Turkish border. In prison, he formed a relationship with a gay prisoner named Hassain. Yakob explained: "Hassain was serving a sentence, he told me, for 25 years. He told me that the sentence was only because he was gay. "The Syrian government claim that they do not imprison people any longer for being gay and that in any event the maximum sentence is three years. This is not true. The Syrian authorities will always find other charges to bring against a person." After the pair were seen sleeping together in jail, Yakob said he was subjected to systematic beatings, which "went on for days into weeks".

He added: "This was all because I was gay. No questions were asked of me about my father’s political party or any other political activity. All the questions related to me being gay. I was also subjected to cold-water torture, where I was put in a room and buckets of cold water were constantly thrown over me. I could not remember what day it was or how long I had been in prison. One day I woke up in hospital in a nearby town of Kamishli. The doctor who was treating me told me that I had been in a coma for 20 days. He said to the authorities that I could not return to prison as I was not fit and I could not stand trial until I had had a rest. He suggested that I be sent home for recuperation. "

Yakob then decided to flee to the UK. "I went home and after two weeks or so I was feeling better. By that time I had decided that the only option I had was to leave Syria. I left Syria and in 20 days or so arrived in the UK by lorry at Dover. I wish to claim asylum and I wish to stay here in Scotland."

News of Yakob’s case last night sparked outrage among Scotland’s gay rights and equality groups. Stonewall director Calum Irving said: "We have serious concerns about the UK’s immigration policy, especially since it appears that people are being sent back to countries where their safety is not guaranteed and where they could be persecuted just for being gay." A spokeswoman for Edinburgh-based Equality Network added: "I feel that we shouldn’t be sending people back to countries where they will be persecuted, even if they entered the country illegally." But a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in London denied last night that torture of gay people took place. He said: "Homosexuality is illegal in Syria, but there are no special units to deal with this problem. People are not prosecuted – society looks at this as a disease for which they can be treated – it is a similar position to that taken by the Vatican. I cannot give a clearer answer."

Yakob will appear before a full immigration hearing in Glasgow on May 7 to determine his fate. Yakob claims that he wants to start a new life in Scotland. He said: "If I was to return to Syria, I would either be returned to jail for my political activities, for having left the country and being gay, or alternatively I would be put into the army for the three-year period. It is likely that they would put me into the army on the basis that the army would kill me one way or the other.

27th March 2008

UK asylum system "not fit for purpose"

by Tony Grew
A commission established to examine asylum policy and practice in the UK has concluded that it falls below the standards of a civilised nation. The 12-member Independent Asylum Commission’s findings have been rejected by the Border and Immigration Agency, who claim they treat people with "care and compassion." The volume of people seeking asylum in the UK has fallen sharply and last year there were just over 23,000. The commission, whose members included a former chief inspector of prisons, two members of the House of Lords, a Roman Catholic bishop, a former High Court judge and the president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, spent a year researching their report. It concluded that the UK asylum system is improved and improving, but is not yet fit for purpose; the system still denies sanctuary to some who genuinely need it and ought to be entitled to it and is not firm enough in returning those whose claims are refused; and is marred by inhumanity in its treatment of the vulnerable.

Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons, told the BBC:"We are concerned at the level of the treatment of children, the treatment of women, the treatment of those with health needs, particularly mental health needs, torture survivors. The system is improving all the time, and we commend the strenuous efforts by Border and Immigration Agency to deal with these claims more effectively."

The Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis called the report a "shocking indictment of the asylum system under Labour." Lib Dem spokesman on Home Affairs Chris Huhne said: "The asylum process combines incredible complexity with systemic incompetence and is not fit for purpose." The head of the Border and Immigration Agency, Lin Homer, told the BBC: "I totally refute any suggestion that we treat asylum applicants without care and compassion. "We operate a firm but humane system, supporting those who are vulnerable with accommodation and assistance. But we expect those that a court says have no genuine need for asylum to return home voluntarily, saving taxpayers the expense of enforcing their return."

The plight of LGBT asylum seekers has become a political issue after press reports about the plight of Mehdi Kazemi, a gay teenager from Iran claiming asylum in the UK. Last week more than 60 peers successfully petitioned the Home Secretary to reconsider his case. Mr Kazemi, 19, was studying in England and applied for asylum after his boyfriend was arrested and reportedly executed in Tehran. The boyfriend named Mehdi as a homosexual, and police turned up at his father’s house with a warrant to arrest him. His asylum application was unsuccessful in the UK, so Mehdi fled to Holland. The Dutch authorities ruled he should be returned to the UK.

Although the decision to review his case has been met with support, gay activists have warned that there are many similar cases which are being overlooked by the government. The Home Office says it is not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran. Human rights groups claim that as many as 4,000 gay men and lesbians have been executed by the regime in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The commission concluded that: "Objective country evidence plays an important role in the determination of asylum claims and particularly in the assessment of credibility as it can provide context and understanding to a claim.

"However, a number of concerns have been raised in recent years over the quality and bias of country information. As a result of debates during the progression of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 the Advisory Panel on Country Information (APCI) was established to revise and make recommendations to the Home Secretary on the content of Home Office produced country of origin information. The Advisory Panel prepares detailed comments on the content of country information reports. Particular attention is paid to how accurate, balanced, impartial and up-to-date the reports are. There is an ongoing debate about the establishment of an independent documentation centre for the provision of country of origin information. Many NGO observers feel that such a centre would increase the actual (and perceived) objectivity of the country information made available to decision makers. They have also argued that there would be fewer disputes at the appeal stage about the reliability and accuracy of information between the appellant and the respondent."

Read the full report click here.

28th March 2008

2,630 gay men diagnosed with HIV in 2007

by Tony Grew
The Health Protection Agency has revealed that there were an estimated 6,840 new HIV diagnoses in the UK last year, more than a third of them gay men. It is the third successive year that new diagnoses among gay men have risen above 2,600, the highest levels since records began. Increased testing is likely to have contributed in part to these recent high numbers of HIV diagnoses. 2,630 gay men were diagnosed as HIV positive last year.

Genevieve Clark, Director of Communications at Terrence Higgins Trust said: "There’s clearly some good news here. More gay men are coming forward for testing and new diagnoses among gay men seem to be levelling off. But the fact remains that gay men are still at highest risk of HIV infection in the UK. For those numbers to come down, we need to step up resources for targeted HIV prevention programmes. More broadly, the numbers of people with undiagnosed HIV are still far too high. HIV testing must be made easier, quicker and more accessible for anyone who has been at risk of infection."

Dr Valerie Delpech, HPA Head of HIV surveillance, said: "Gay men continue to be the group most at risk of acquiring HIV within the UK. We need to reinforce the safe sex message for gay men that the best way to protect yourself from contracting HIV is practising safer sex by using a condom with all new and casual partners. We must also shift the testing culture among gay men, encouraging more frequent testing particularly among individuals at greatest risk, such as those with a high number of sexual partners and men who attend GUM services."

The overall estimate for new diagnoses of HIV in 2007 is slightly less than that for 2006 (7,430), due mostly to the decline in cases diagnosed among those infected heterosexually in Africa (from 3,250 to 2,690).

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, said: "It is a concern that HIV diagnoses are still increasing among gay men and heterosexuals infected in the UK, and we welcome the Department of Health review of national HIV prevention programmes. Alongside improved prevention we urgently need better HIV testing strategies. HIV is often not picked up early enough by health professionals and late diagnoses increase the likelihood of HIV being passed on, as well as greatly reducing the health prospects of people living with HIV."

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.

Peter Tatchell is the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East. and

3rd April 2008

Ian McKellen met Gordon Brown at gay ‘wedding’

by Tony Grew
Veteran gay rights advocate and award-winning actor Sir Ian McKellen has revealed that he has only met the Prime Minister once. Speaking at Stonewall’s annual fundraising dinner at the Dorchester hotel in London, Sir Ian said the occasion was the celebration of the civil partnership ceremony of gay MEP Michael Cashman and his partner Paul Cottingham. He told the 540 guests that he had worked with Mr Brown, Tony Blair and John Major on gay rights, but the most impressive was Mr Blair, who, three months before he took office, met with him and pledged to bring in a range of measures.
He recalled how many of John Major’s Tory colleagues were appalled that he had met with Sir Ian, who was a founder member of Stonewall.

The Lord of the Rings star spoke about the need to change society and not just the law, and lamented that many who are brave enough to be out on the gay scene still live closeted lives and careers. Sir Ian criticised religious intolerance and said he had wanted Mehdi Kazemi to be his date for the Equality dinner, but he is still in custody in Holland.

19-year-old Kazemi, a gay Iranian who faces deportation to his homeland and possible execution because of his sexuality, is claiming asylum in the UK. Sir Ian urged those present to help Stonewall’s work on homophobic bullying by returning to their past and contacting their old school to ask what they are doing to protect gay kids. He finished by urging everyone to come out of the closet, particularly sportspeople.

The Stonewall Equality dinner was attended by politicians from all the major parties, among them Tory MPs John Bercow and Eleanor Laing, Treasury minister Angela Eagle, former Labour cabinet minister Lord Smith of Finsbury, Labour peer Lord Alli, Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams and that party’s candidate for Mayor of London, Brian Paddick.

April, 2008

Proud Heritage

Welcome to the Proud Heritage online museum. It is the first public step in a three year journey to create a national museum reflecting British lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans history and cultural ancestry in all its rich diversity. This is more than just a staging post to creating a physical presence, though that is our goal. The internet creates new ways to collect, share and exhibit our own life experiences, local history and collective memory. Together. It will help develop professional and community networks, disseminate ideas and good practices, and help build regional collections. But most of all it makes collecting and exhibiting a shared, interactive experience combining documents, objects and user-generated content, like images and video.

The museum is organised very simply into four wings, each containing sections or galleries to explore. You can reach each wing hub at any time by selecting the tab in the navigation bar above. Here, we launch the first of our initiatives and chart the way forward. As part of our phased site management programme, we are pleased to welcome you to three of the four wings. Proud Nation, and other additional features and galleries, open in May. Week by week, month by month, watch Proud Heritage grow with the help of LGBT people and organisations, the heritage sector and the general public.

April 10, 2008

New project for black gay men seeks volunteers

by Staff Writer,
A grant from the Big Lottery Fun has allowed sexual health charity GMFA to launch a new three-year project targeting group that are disproportionately affected by HIV.
Big Up, the black gay men’s volunteer group at GMFA, will be carrying out research to investigate the sexual health needs of black gay men, and in turn provide them with better services.

New volunteers are needed to become involved in peer education projects, developing culturally appropriate HIV awareness interventions and outreach programmes, aimed at other black gay men, including those men who have sex with men but don’t identify as gay. Black gay men are almost twice as likely as white British gay men to be living with HIV.

"The HIV prevention needs of gay men and of African communities are acknowledged, but black gay men are disproportionately affected by HIV and there is little work that acknowledges both their ethnicity and sexuality," said Matthew Hodson, Head of Programmes for GMFA.

"We are delighted that with the generosity of the Big Lottery Fund the Big Up group are able to continue their work in addressing the inequalities black and ethnic minority gay men experience in regards to their sexual health needs. This project will not only provide new services, but ensure that we are able to deliver targeted health work that black gay communities identify as needed."

The project aims to reduce the transmission of HIV among the black gay community. GMFA said all people, irrespective of ethnicity, sexuality or HIV status, are invited to get involved as volunteers. If you are interested in getting involved in Big Up, or volunteering for GMFA, contact:

April 20, 2008

Gay bishop to attend Lambeth conference despite previous rejection

by Staff Writer,
The most senior openly gay cleric in the Anglican Communion, Gene Robinson is due to enter into a partnership with his long term boyfriend, Mark Andrew, in June and intends to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference to be held in Caterbury despite previously refusing to attend.
The once a decade Lambeth conference of the 800 leaders of the Anglican Communion will be held this July and the Archbishop of Canetrbury, Dr Williams is keen to ensure that he can avoid further splits before the gathering. In March, it was reported that Bishop Robinson would not appear due to restrictions that he feared wouild be placed on him.

Bishop Robinson will be in London next week in order to promote his new book In the Eye of the Storm and is due to speak to Bishop Robinson caused a storm of controversy when he was elected Bishop by the American Episcopal Church in 2003. Bishop Robinson caused a storm of controversy when he was elected Bishop by the American Episcopal Church in 2003. Evangelical churches, particularly those from the developing world are threatening to split with the Church of England if their stance towards homosexuality is adopted more widely.

Rt Rev Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells said: "Once we get into the need for legislation, or tribunals, monitoring or punishments, we lose the meaning of communion." Some bishops have reportedly threatened to boycott the conference due to the way Robinson has been treated. However, he asked fellow bishops not to keep themselves from the event for his sake, saying someone has to represent the LGBT population in their communities."You must go. You must find your voice," he said.

April 21, 2008

Online gay museum opens for business

by Tony Grew
Museum professionals have feted the launch of the online national LGBT museum Proud Heritage. The website has its first working day open to the public today. Nick Poole, Director of the Collections Trust, which is responsible for setting the standards in British museums, welcomed the online museum.
"We applaud Proud Heritage on the work achieved already, and we look forward to a successful first few years," he said. "Proud Heritage is not only an important step forward for the UK’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It is also leading the way in showing the cultural heritage sector how we can work more openly with all communities. The Collections Trust believes that everyone everywhere should have the right to access and benefit from cultural heritage. Proud Heritage is an outstanding example of how culture can help people connect."

Sharon Ament, Director of Public Engagement at The Natural History Museum, added: "The Natural History Museum really values diversity, both natural diversity and cultural diversity. We are supportive of initiatives such as Proud Heritage and recognise the value that gay and lesbian people make to culture and scientific endeavour, this contribution merits wider recognition and deeper exploration."

Plans for a physical museum were discussed at the Stonewall hustings for the candidates for Mayor of London on Saturday and received the backing of all candidates taking part. Incumbent Mayor Ken Livingstone, who is seeking a third term in office as the Labour candidate, said that it would cost "tens of millions" of pounds. Tory challenger Boris Johnson said his proposed new Mayor’s Fund For London, which will encourage City institutions and rich individuals to help community projects, may be a good way of funding the project.

Welcoming their support for the project, Proud Heritage’s executive director Jack Gilbert told that there would need to be a commitment from the Mayor to pay for feasibility studies and research required to put the bid together. Impact business plans need to be produced showing the benefits to London in terms of community cohesion and tourism. He added that it is vital the London Development Agency, which is under the control of the Mayor, show real commitment to the project.

In past meetings the LDA has said there are "no clear avenues" to support the project, said Mr Gilbert. "The LDA should be prepared to put their cash in alongside the Heritage Lottery money. The museum will be a major benefit to London," he told However, he is excited about that the online museum is up and running. "This is more than just a staging post to creating a physical presence, which our clear goal," he said. "Proud Heritage is seeking to reformulate how a museum can be in the 21st Century. The launch of the online museum is the first public step in what has already been a three-year journey to create a national museum reflecting British lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans history and cultural ancestry in all its rich diversity. It’s cutting edge, and not just for being queer! The internet creates new ways to collect, share and exhibit our own life experiences, local history and collective memory. Together. It will help develop professional and community networks, disseminate ideas and good practices, and help build regional collections. But most of all it makes collecting, interpreting and exhibiting a shared, interactive experience combining documents, objects and user generated content, including images and video."

Among the innovative features of the Proud Heritage website is a unique project, Walking Proud in London, the world’s first queer Googlemap for the capital. The online museum has been developed with leading international agency, Thoughtworks.

Allen Gahn, Client Principal from ThoughtWorks, said: "Being involved in and enabling the daily evolution of an organisation’s vision is exciting and challenging, and in Proud Heritage, that is combined with a cause we are delighted to support. A genuinely entrepreneurial endeavour, there is potential for Proud Heritage to pave the way for a new generation of museums."

April 22, 2008

New rights for lesbian parents in New South Wales

by Adam Lake
The government of New South Wales (NSW) has announced that children born through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to lesbian mothers will have the same rights as those of heterosexual couples. A total of 50 laws across NSW covering the Local Government Act, Industrial Relations Act and the Constitution regulation, will be amended to include new parental presumption protection for female same-sex couples. Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said he had accepted NSW Law Reform recommendations extending "parental presumption" provisions to cover gay mums.

It was estimated 20 per cent of the state’s female same-sex couples had children, Mr Hatzistergos said. "The current law discriminates against these children who, at the moment, have a relationship with the birth mother’s partner that is not recognised by law," he told reporters on Tuesday. "They are unable to take on inheritance, or the benefits of compensation which may be due following a death or injury."

School administration staff will also be forced to recognise both partners in a gay couple as "parents". Mr Hatzistergos has consistently opposed any further same-sex relationship recognition in NSW. Mr Hatzistergos later said that said the changes would not go as far as moves in Tasmania, and soon-to-be implemented changes in Victoria, where same-sex couples could add their name to a register. "We want to see how this pans out nationally," he told reporter.

The changes in the law will be put through by the NSW parliament later this year.

The Washington Post

March 14, 2008

Britain Halts Deportation Move Against Gay Iranian, 19-Year-Old Fears Execution at Home

by Mary Jordan, Washington Post Foreign Service
London, March 13 – Britain halted deportation proceedings Thursday against a gay Iranian teenager who has said he would probably be hanged because of his sexual orientation if he is returned to Iran. Mehdi Kazemi, 19, moved to Britain in 2005 to study and has said he then learned that his boyfriend in Iran had been hanged after being convicted of sodomy. Homosexuality is a severe crime under Iranian law, and Kazemi’s case has drawn concern from gay rights groups around the world.
An initial appeal for asylum was turned down here. But Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Britain’s top law enforcement figure, said Thursday that "in light of new circumstances" Kazemi’s appeal would be reconsidered, handing him a temporary reprieve that his supporters hope will ultimately lead to his being granted the right to stay in Britain.

When the government first rejected his appeal, Kazemi fled to the Netherlands, where lawmakers took up his cause. He remains there but is expected to return to Britain within days. A Dutch court this week refused to grant Kazemi asylum on the grounds that he had initiated proceedings in Britain and needed to return there to continue them. In recent years, the British government has been under enormous public pressure to reduce the number of refugees and asylum seekers it admits. Critics say too many foreigners abuse the system. Kazemi has said he did not arrive in Britain with the intention of staying, but then found out that Iranian officials would be looking for him if he returned.

Gay rights leaders in Britain said that Kazemi’s partner was tortured into naming Kazemi before he was killed and that Kazemi has been suicidal over the whole ordeal. An uncle who lives in Britain was also quoted in a British newspaper as saying that if authorities didn’t kill Kazemi, his father in Iran would. Eighty members of Britain’s upper house of Parliament signed a letter sent to Smith urging the government to "show compassion and allow Mr. Kazemi to have a safe haven in the United Kingdom."

"There is no doubt that he will be persecuted and possibly face state-sanctioned murder if he is forced to return," said Roger Roberts, a member of the House of Lords from the Liberal Democratic Party, who initiated the petition.

"It’s cruel to even suggest sending him back," said David Allison, a spokesman for Outrage!, a gay rights group in Britain. "The history of gays in Iran has been horrific."

Human rights advocates have long deplored the treatment, including executions, of gay men in Iran. Last year while in New York City, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked about executions of homosexuals in his country, and he replied: "We don’t have homosexuals like in your country. I don’t know who told you that."

May 12, 2008

Conference will tackle LGBT mental health outcomes

by Staff Writer,
A national conference on mental health and well-being for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will be held in Nottingham later this month. It follows a report published by the Department of Health that found LGBT people suffer more mental illness and worse mental health outcomes than the general population. Over the next few years the Department’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advisory Group (SOGIAG) is running a programme to improve health and social care provision for LGBT people working in or accessing services.
The report found that LGB people are at significantly higher risk of mental disorder, suicide, substance misuse, and deliberate self-harm than heterosexual people.

It is hoped that the conference and the report will serve to highlight the links between discrimination, and in particular homophobic bullying and parental rejection and self-harm and suicide. As a result awareness of the mental health needs of LGB people should become a standard part of training for health and social work professionals. The conference is open to LGBT people in leadership roles in health and social care, people working with LGBT people, addressing health and social care needs and people using services. It will take place on Wednesday 28th May at the Britannia Hotel, Nottingham, commencing at 10.00 am and finishing at 4.30 pm.

From the South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality

17 May 2008

On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO)
, 17 May 2008, we are pleased to announce our working paper:

Human Rights and the Criminalisation of Consensual Same-Sex Sexual Acts in the Commonwealth, South and Southeast Asia

No less than 86 member states of the United Nations still criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts among adults (ILGA, 2008). Of these, nearly 50% (as many as 41) are in the Commonwealth.

Last year, IDAHO 2007, in an unprecedented statement the British Foreign Office Minister Ian McCartney affirmed "Britain’s commitment to the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality" .

This working paper draws attention to the possible role the Commonwealth and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the United Kingdom can play in undoing the criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual acts the world over.

A summary follows.
The full working paper can be download from www.asiaSRC. org/
Printed copies of the paper will be available soon. Please circulate this announcement to your respective networks. Thanks.

The criminalisation of consensual same sex sexual acts has been a subject of judicial review in different fora in different countries. In different cases, the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee have held that these laws violate the right to privacy. The US Supreme Court has held that such a law violates the right to liberty. The Constitutional Court of South Africa has held that such a law violates the rights to privacy, equality, and human dignity.

The Yogyakarta Principles (relating to sexual orientation and gender identity) call upon all states to repeal all laws that criminalise consensual sexual activity among persons of the same sex who are over the age of consent.

In light of pressing human rights concerns, a global review of these laws is entirely worthy. In this paper however, a selective focus is invited to South and Southeast Asia. In this region, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, and Sri Lanka (a total of 11 countries) have such laws. Eight of these are Commonwealth countries. They share a common forum – the Commonwealth – for mobilising dialogue and action on the subject.

These countries have a shared history of British colonisation. The criminalisation is a direct reflection of Victorian period law-making in what was then the British Empire. In 2007, in an unprecedented statement the British Foreign Office Minister Ian McCartney affirmed "Britain’s commitment to the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality" .

The Commonwealth and the United Kingdom – together and separately – offer promising potential for undoing the criminalisation, not just in the region but also across the world. There needs to be greater demand and targeted lobbying to turn this potential into action.

The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality is hosted by TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues) in New Delhi, India. TARSHI is an NGO that believes that all people have a right to sexual wellbeing and a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality. The Resource Centre aims to increase knowledge and scholarship on issues of sexuality, sexual health and sexual well being in this region. It specifically focuses on sexuality related work in China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Philippines, and Vietnam. The Resource Centre is part of the Ford Foundation’s Global Dialogue on Sexual Health and Wellbeing. Similar centres are based in Africa, Latin America and North America. Please visit www.asiaSRC. org for more information.

May 15, 2008

British activist becomes President of Transgender Europe

by Staff Writer,
Dr Stephen Whittle, one of the UK’s leading trans activists, has become President of Transgender Europe (TGEU) at an international conference in Berlin. More than 200 activists from across the world attended the event at the start of May. There were representatives from 83 groups and 38 countries, among them Peru, Namibia, Japan, Armenia, the USA, Turkey, Israel, Kyrgyzstan and Iceland. Dr Whittle is Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Metropolitan University, President of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and Vice-President of UK trans organisation Press for Change. In December 2005 he was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.

At the plenary meeting of Transgender Europe (TGEU) on May 4th a new Executive Board and Steering Committee were elected. "Despite much scientific controversy, forms of transgender continue to be listed as illnesses by the American Psychological Association (APA), just as homosexuality once was, and on the World Health Organization (WHO) list of psychological disorders," the conference organisers said. "The guideline manuals used in healthcare to standardise the definitions of what constitutes mental illness. Transgender Europe (TGEU) emphatically refuses this pathologisation and will assist the next reformulation of the APA list in a critical manner, when this is carried out in 2011."

The first comprehensive study of the legal rights situation and experience of health care of transgender people in Europe, compiled last year by Press for Change, TGEU, ILGA Europe) was presented for the first time at the Council. The study, which had more than 2,000 participants, found that transgender people continue to face massive violations of their human rights in most European states. These include the legal requirement that surgery to alter primary and secondary sexual characteristics, which of necessity also includes compulsory sterilisation, must be carried out before a person has the legal right to change the forename in five EU member states. In nine EU etates these surgeries are preconditions for changing a person’s legal sex.

"In the coming years, activists working under the flag of the international NGO Transgender Europe (TGEU) will intensify their existing campaign against the violation of human rights of transgender people," said the conference organisers. "To do so, TGEU will strengthen its cooperation with ILGA Europe, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, ILGA World (Trans Secretariat) and Amnesty International. The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, ratified in 2006, are important instruments for this political work. Global networks are being planned as new tools to achieve these political aims. The Transgender Europe Research Network is to serve the purpose of bringing together scientists and scholars whether transgender or not, who are working on the subject of transgender into an international network, and to continue to research the living conditions of transgender people worldwide."

A Transgender Europe International Media Network is also planned. It will link journalists internationally and perform public relations work.

May 21, 2008

Gay Iranian teen wins right to asylum in Britain

London (AP) — Britain said Tuesday that it is granting asylum to a gay Iranian teenager who fears that he could face execution if forced to return to his homeland. Britain’s Border Agency said it would allow asylum for Mehdi Kazemi, who traveled in 2005 to London to study English and while there learned that his lover in Iran had been charged with sodomy and hanged. Kazemi, 19, then sought asylum in Britain, but it was rejected, then in the Netherlands. The Netherlands’ highest court rejected his claim in March, ruling that Britain was responsible for the case under European Union law because it was there that Kazemi first applied for asylum.

Britain’s Home Secretary Jacqui Smith decided after that to reconsider the case, and there were appeals in the House of Lords that he be allowed to remain due to fears his life could be at risk in Iran. Some human rights groups claim gay people are executed in Iran because of their sexuality. The case has drawn attention in both countries to the plight of homosexuals in Iran, and the differences in the way various EU countries deal with asylum-seekers.

May 21, 2008

Met police raids target homophobic crime

by Tony Grew
Metropolitan police officers carried out a series of raids across London this morning targeting dangerous and prolific offenders suspected of domestic, homophobic and race hate crimes. Operation Athena coincided with Saturday’s International Day Against Homophobia, and was designed "to put the focus on the offender, and bring them to justice." This is the eighth year that the Met have carried out the operation.
They said they would also carry out high visibility patrols, and work with Safer Neighbourhoods Teams to encourage victims to come forward and report hate crimes to officers or a third party.

Community Safety Units investigate complaints of domestic violence, hate crime and vulnerable adult abuse. Today hate and faith crime, racist, homophobic and disability motivated crime, as well as crimes against the vulnerable or elderly by members of their own family or carers were targeted.

Detective Superintendent Gerry Campbell, heading Operation Athena, said; "We remain committed to improving our service to victims of domestic violence, homophobic and race hate crime, and identifying, taking on, arresting and prosecuting perpetrators of this violence. We have community safety units in every London borough who are dedicated to the investigation of these crimes, and 213 LGBT liaison officers. Today’s operation sends out a clear message: violence in any form is unacceptable. We do not require a statement from a victim in order to arrest and charge a perpetrator. Through engaging and understanding the needs of all London’s many diverse communities, we remain committed to being an employer of choice and an organisation for everyone."

May 22, 2008

Foreign Office instructs embassies to push LGBT rights

by Tony Grew
The British government has adopted an official programme to support the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people in other countries. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued an ‘LGBT Toolkit’ to its 261 embassies, high commissions and other diplomatic posts. The document lists as an online information resource about gay rights, the only news organisation on the list.
"The FCO fully supports equality in the enjoyment of human rights and the inadmissibility of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation," the document states. "This provides the focus of FCO work on this issue."

The kit contains information on the official British policy on gay rights and instructions in how to "provide added value to equality and non-discrimination work." "Governments have an obligation to promote equality in the enjoyment of human rights, as well as not to discriminate in their application," the document states. "Frequently there is discrimination in the enjoyment of key rights, even in countries where the criminal laws are neutral. Tackling this would require the building up of local coalitions of non-state actors to elaborate action plans for each country, as well as working locally with like-minded states. This would not just apply to issues like the state of the criminal law, but also to freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression and privacy. The FCO should identify, with the support of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and international LGBT groups like the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), countries where support from Posts and The British Council would provide added value to equality and non-discrimination work."

The British Council is a government department, independent of the FCO, that promotes British culture and educational relationships worldwide. The ‘toolkit’ covers a wide range of issues, from decriminalisation, sexual health, reproductive rights and health education to bilateral work with other countries. The document states that LGBT activists are often targets for persecution and that the FCO should ensure these people are "included among human rights defenders concerning whom the UK will lobby and will engage the support of other governments, especially EU members." It says that initial discussions with the TUC suggest that countries of particular concern include Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and some of the new democracies of Eastern Europe.

Of particular interest to gay rights activists is this statement from the FCO: "The nine countries that have a maximum penalty of death for consensual same sex relations are Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, UAE and Yemen. The ten countries that have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for consensual same sex relations are Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Burma, Guyana, India, Maldives, Nepal, Singapore, and Uganda. Other countries criminalise consensual same-sex relations, but with lesser penalties. The laws and penalties of many of these countries derive from unreformed penal codes introduced in colonial times. In others, they reflect a harsh interpretation of Shari’ah law "In some countries (e.g. Rwanda & Nigeria) the increased visibility of LGBT activists and their supporters has lead to moves by governments to introduce criminal sanctions on consenting same sex relations, or on those who advocate LGBT rights."

See full text of the LGBT Toolkit below:

An FCO programme for promoting the human rights of LGBT people

Human rights treaties do not specifically mention sexual orientation. However, the adjudicator bodies for the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights have both determined that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is contrary to their respective treaties. EU laws and policies include equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This involves working for this objective as part of the common foreign and security policy. The FCO fully supports equality in the enjoyment of human rights and the inadmissibility of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. This provides the focus of FCO work on this issue. Resources are finite, so the FCO will focus on those aspects of equality and non-discrimination that have a major impact on the enjoyment of other rights, and/or where FCO intervention might have a positive impact. These include:

1. Decriminalisation
We understand the illegality of consenting same-sex relations to be incompatible with international human rights law. Such illegality also has a severely adverse impact on other human rights, such as privacy, association, assembly and expression. It acts as a barrier to work on the right to health, especially prevention of HIV/AIDS. It frequently involves the violation of rights against torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, and occasionally the right to life itself. The nine countries that have a maximum penalty of death for consensual same sex relations are Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, UAE and Yemen.
The ten countries that have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for consensual same sex relations are Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Burma, Guyana, India, Maldives, Nepal, Singapore, and Uganda.

Other countries criminalise consensual same-sex relations, but with lesser penalties. The laws and penalties of many of these countries derive from unreformed penal codes introduced in colonial times. In others, they reflect a harsh interpretation of Shari’ah law. In some countries (e.g. Rwanda & Nigeria) the increased visibility of LGBT activists and their supporters has lead to moves by governments to introduce criminal sanctions on consenting same sex relations, or on those who advocate LGBT rights.

The FCO should prioritise work in those countries where there is complete illegality, or there are moves to introduce decriminalisation, and seek ways to raise the issue and lobby for decriminalisation.

2. Equality and non-discrimination in the application of human rights
Governments have an obligation to promote equality in the enjoyment of human rights, as well as not to discriminate in their application. Frequently there is discrimination in the enjoyment of key rights, even in countries where the criminal laws are neutral.
Tackling this would require the building up of local coalitions of non-state actors to elaborate action plans for each country, as well as working locally with like-minded states. This would not just apply to issues like the state of the criminal law, but also to freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression and privacy.

The FCO should identify, with the support of the TUC and international LGBT groups like ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) countries where support from Posts and The British Council would provide added value to equality and non-discrimination work.

3. Human Rights Defenders
LGBT activists are often targets for persecution. But others (activists, politicians, lawyers, trades unionists etc) are sometimes targeted if they help promote or defend LGBT rights or are themselves "accused" of being gay in order to discredit them.
This is particularly true where the issues involve freedom of expression, association and assembly, with governments banning public and media discussion of homosexuality, as well as LGBT Pride marches and events.

The FCO should ensure that such persons are included among human rights defenders concerning whom the UK will lobby and will engage the support of other governments, especially EU members.
Initial discussion with the TUC suggest that countries of particular concern include Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and some of the new democracies of Eastern Europe.

4. Sexual health, reproductive rights and health education
A number of discrete issues are covered in this theme. One is HIV/AIDS and the need to ensure that all sectors of society are included in education and treatment programmes. It is one of the more effective ways to address the issue of illegality and discrimination. It is easier for some countries to address LGBT issues as a matter of public health rather than of human rights.
This is more a DfID than FCO lead, and DfID has a good track record. However, the EU Development Policy does not give this issue anything like the same prominence, and there is room for considerable improvement. Decriminalisation is also an issue here, as adverse criminal laws make prevention and treatment much more difficult among people who have same-sex relations.

Another issue concerns reproductive health and the possibility for lesbians to become mothers through IVF or other means. This not only concerns health, but also family life, as lesbian mothers frequently suffer discrimination if they try to bring up a child outside of traditional family structures. A further issue concerns transsexuals and their right to a private life. Within the countries where the European Convention on Human Rights operates, this has been held to include not just the right to appropriate medical and psychological treatment, but also the right to obtain legal recognition, post surgery, of the gender change.

The FCO & TUC will approach DfID to discuss how the UK might influence the EU into giving greater support for HIV/AIDS programmes that include non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The UK should participate in international discussions on gender equality to advocate for the specific situation of lesbians being addressed in terms of their human rights.
On transsexuals, the UK should use its influence to urge countries to adopt the ECHR interpretation of "private life" in so far as it concerns transsexuals.

Where we should work:
5. International Institutions
There are a number of bodies where the FCO can help to set the agenda and influence the content of work. These include the UN, EU, OSCE, Council of Europe and Commonwealth. In some of these, civil society can be very influential. For each of these it would be necessary to undertake an audit of what they currently do and what they could do more.

The FCO will invite the TUC/LGBT groups to help undertake this audit, with input from Posts, with a view to identifying opportunities to influence their agendas.
Immediate priorities would be the Commonwealth (the TUC is a very active member of the Commonwealth Trades Union Federation), the OSCE (trying to persuade Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to decriminalise; looking to include LGBT issues in the tolerance/hate crimes policy debate – we will need to work hard to bring a number of partners on board with this proposal, not least the US). As regards the EU, the UK should work to ensure that LGBT rights are fully covered in the HOMs Human Rights Fact Sheets, and should encourage the relevant Council Working Groups to address LGBT rights, either in their themes (e.g. in COHOM) or in their regional responsibilities (e.g. COEST, COLAT and so on).

6. Bilateral engagement with key countries
The UK has strong links and considerable influence in a number of countries. In some of these the issue of human rights and LGBT people is currently under discussion. For example, in India (decriminalisation), Nigeria (bill to outlaw advocacy of gay marriage and gay rights), Uganda and Ghana (through the approach to HIV/AIDS prevention). Public diplomacy work by Posts has had a positive impact on public debate about changing laws and attitudes (e.g. in Peru on the inclusion of sexual orientation in the anti-discrimination law; in Rwanda in dissuading the Government from criminalising consenting same sex relations in the revised penal code). The use of public diplomacy tools lends credibility to local civil society advocating non-discrimination. However, many Posts are ignorant of FCO policy on this issue and/or regard it as a difficult issue that is better left alone.

Posts should be pro-active in supporting non-discrimination, including the use of GOF and departmental budgets where these might have a significant impact. HRDGG should distribute a telegram explaining the UK’s policy on non-discrimination and why Posts should be pro-active in this matter. HRDGG should produce guidance for Posts in the form of a toolkit on LGBT rights, similar to those on democratic values and on the rule of law.

7. Work with Other Government Departments
The FCO should liaise closely with DCLG and the new Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that UK best practice is made known abroad, and that the same message is being used across Whitehall.

The FCO will meet with relevant Departments to establish an informal e-network so that opportunities for advancing this Programme can be identified and taken. How to Promote and Protect the Human Rights of LGBT People – a toolkit for the FCO
"Nothing justifies the abuse of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms – neither culture, nor religion, nor tradition. The Government is committed to promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms in all its foreign policies as much as its domestic ones. We include the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in these efforts." Joint statement issued by Meg Munn MP (then DCLG Minister) and Ian McCartney MP (then FCO Minister) marking the international day against homophobia on 17 May 2007. In December 2007, the FCO agreed a programme for promoting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. That includes providing this guidance note to Posts on how they can implement the Programme in their work with host governments.

Who are LGBT people?
Lesbians and gay men are homosexuals, people whose sexual orientation is towards the same gender. Bisexuals are people whose sexual orientation is towards both genders. Transgender is the state of one’s "gender identity" (self-identification as male, female, both or neither) not matching one’s "assigned gender" (identification by others as male or female based on physical gender). "Transgender" does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation. 1

Sexual orientation is distinct from sexual activity. Sexual orientation is a sexual attraction towards others that may or may not involve sexual activity. Some people engage in sexual activity with others of the same gender without identifying themselves as being homosexual or bisexual. LGBT people are found among all peoples. But among many peoples there are social, cultural, religious, legal or traditional restrictions on people being able to realise their sexual orientation or gender identity where this differs from the majority. This prevents LGBT people from living their lives openly and without discrimination, and from enjoying their human rights.

What are the human rights that concern LGBT people?
All human rights treaties (and many national constitutions) contain lists of protected rights. States are prohibited from violating these rights, as well as required to ensure that rights are given real effect, e.g. through national laws and administrative practices. All human rights treaties include a general prohibition on discrimination in their enjoyment, similar to that mentioned in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This states that:

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." The UK position is that, just like all other human beings, LGBT people are entitled to enjoy the full range of human rights, without discrimination. But this attitude is not universally shared.

What specific human rights involving LGBT people are at stake?
While all human rights apply to LGBT people, some are of particular importance. The right to life is violated when LGBT people are murdered with impunity either by or with the connivance of the police or other security officials, as happens in a number of countries. LGBT people who are detained are sometimes subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Freedom of expression is essential for LGBT people to argue in favour of ending discrimination in the content and application of the law. Freedom of information is necessary both to obtain information from others about how to organise and campaign for equality, as well as medical and sociological information to enable people to protect themselves. Freedom of Association and Assembly are necessary for LGBT people to form organisations that work for self-help and equality, including through public manifestations, such as gay pride marches. The right to privacy is necessary to enable transsexuals to have their new gender recognised by law. Religious belief is often used by some to justify discrimination, but freedom of religion guarantees to individuals the right to manifest their beliefs only to the extent that this does not violate the rights of others. Nothing in human rights treaties can be relied upon to deny others the equal enjoyment of their human rights.

Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires States to ensure that children do not suffer discrimination because of the status of their parents. The right to work is essential to enable people to meet their basic needs and to lead a fulfilling life. In 2006, a meeting of 29 human rights experts from 25 countries developed a set of international legal principles on the application of international law to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity to bring greater clarity and coherence to States’ human rights obligations. These are known as The Yogyakarta Principles2. The UK welcomed these as an important contribution to increasing understanding of these issues, but some of the Principles exceed current UK positions on human rights.

Why does the FCO work for the human rights of LGBT people?
The UK record on promoting equality and non-discrimination for LGBT people domestically over the previous decade has brought an end to most discrimination in the content and the application of the law inside the UK. The Government has done this as part of its commitment to human rights, and particularly their enjoyment on the basis of equality and non-discrimination. The UK has also supported the efforts at EU level to ensure that all citizens of the EU enjoy equal rights.

The UK’s commitment to promoting human rights as part of its foreign policy is an inclusive one. As we do not accept that there should be distinctions in the enjoyment of human rights at home, so we do not accept this elsewhere. We do not think that democratic governance and sustainable development can take place where groups of people are excluded from enjoying their human rights. In many countries, the laws regulating same sex relations remain unchanged from the British colonial period. The UK may be in a better position to influence change there than some other countries.

Do other countries also work for LGBT rights as part of their foreign policy?
Within Europe, Sweden and the Netherlands have specific foreign policies to promote the human rights of LGBT people. Other member states of the EU may not have specific foreign policies but they provide support through the EU common foreign and security policy, and in other international organisations. The EU obtained competence to tackle discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty came into force on 1 May 1999. Since then, the EU has addressed the issue in international fora such as the UN, and in regard to individual country situations through démarches co-ordinated by the Council Working Group on Human Rights, COHOM. Outside Europe, Australia, Brazil and Canada have played a leading role in raising equality and sexual orientation at the UN. Brazil has also played a leading role in persuading Mercosur states (Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela) to consider sexual orientation discrimination as a human rights issue. Argentina and Uruguay (along with Brazil) sponsored the launch of the Yogyakarta Principles. Altogether, some 60 countries have publicly supported positive statements concerning sexual orientation at the UN Commission on Human Rights/Human Rights Council between 2003 and 20083. Of these, all except Turkey have also supported positive statements about gender identity.

What practical steps can a Post take?
Support efforts of civil society to change laws and social attitudes by –
Providing messages of support when requested;
Providing public information on the situation of laws and practices regarding LGBT people in the UK;
Encouraging The British Council to include LGBT information in its public information centres;
Hosting occasional debates and seminars on relevant issues and including LGBT aspects and speakers;
Ensuring that the LGBT aspects are included in local activities promoting British cultural life;
Using Post funds to support civil society work for LGBT rights

Use international mechanisms
Suggest that visiting UN special rapporteurs, EU Special Representatives and equivalent figures from the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other regional human rights bodies, meet local NGOs that support LGBT equality and non-discrimination. Encourage local groups to include information on the situation of LGBT people in their alternative reports to regional human rights mechanisms as well as the UN bodies. Include such information in material for use in the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council.

Briefing to visiting UK dignitaries
Include information on the situation of LGBT people in briefing materials for visiting dignitaries and encourage them to raise the issue with local counterparts.

Charting LGBT rights
Use the analysis in Annex 3 to track the situation of LGBT people so as to identify progress and setbacks.

Champion for LGBT rights within EU CFSP
Posts should work alone and/or with other sympathetic EU member states (especially Sweden and the Netherlands) to ensure that the issues relevant to LGBT rights are adequately addressed through CFSP. Such action could include suggesting démarches on egregious human rights abuses. Some member states may actively resist this for their own ideological reasons.

Correct information in EU HOMs Report
Ensure that the EU heads of mission report on human rights in your country is an accurate reflection of the legal and social situation, and that, when updated, it identifies any trends towards equality.

Use political dialogue to raise LGBT rights
Raise more general issues of equality and non-discrimination in the domestic implementation of human rights standards during regular political dialogue, including under the EU’s Partnership and Co-operation Agreements, and the Cotonou Agreement.

Co-operation with DFID
In some countries DFID has programmes that include LGBT people, whether as part of HIV/AIDS prevention or the socially excluded. Posts could work with DFID to help address the underlying causes and support their efforts.

Co-operation in multilateral fora
Posts working with multilateral fora should join with like-minded States to identify opportunities to advance LGBT equality in the enjoyment of human rights.

How are the rights of LGBT people interpreted under international human rights law?
In recent years, several of the international bodies responsible for monitoring and adjudicating international human rights treaties have interpreted the non-discrimination clause in these treaties to include sexual orientation.
In 1994, the UN Human Rights Committee (established under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights) examined the law of Tasmania forbidding male homosexual acts for its compatibility with Article 17 of the ICCPR. This forbids "arbitrary or unlawful interference" with privacy. The Committee decided that this law was "arbitrary", as it did not meet the test of reasonableness. More importantly, it held that the term "sex" in Article 26 ICCPR, which requires equality and non-discrimination in the law, "is to be taken as including sexual orientation."4

The Committee now regularly scrutinises States Parties compliance reports in the light of this interpretation, which has also been increasingly followed by other UN bodies such as the UN Committee on Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. In taking this decision, the Committee followed the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. In 1981, the Court ruled that the law in Northern Ireland criminalising male homosexual acts was an unreasonable interference in private life. It stated that hostility on moral grounds towards male homosexuality was not a sufficient ground to justify prohibition, as tolerance and broadmindedness are characteristics of a democratic society to which it had to have regard. 5 In subsequent years, it has ruled against discrimination in the age of consent to sexual activity, discharging people from the armed forces because of their sexual orientation, refusing child custody to a father because of his sexual orientation, and refusing to allow a same sex partner to inherent a tenancy in circumstances where an opposite sex partner could do so.

In 2002, the Court ruled that a transgender person who had undergone gender reassignment was entitled to have this change recorded in her birth certificate, and was entitled to marry in her new gender.6 There are no decided cases under the American Convention on Human Rights or African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights relating to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation at present. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1998 agreed a Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Principle four requires ILO members to promote and realise the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The ILO includes discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation in this principle.

Can discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation ever be justified under international human rights law?
For discrimination (i.e. a difference in treatment) to be permitted by law, it has to be based on "reasonable and objective criteria". What such criteria might cover is still evolving under international human rights law, which is a living instrument that is constantly being developed by judicial bodies. Courts have repeatedly stated that where sexual orientation is in issue, there is a need for particularly convincing and weighty reasons to justify a difference in treatment. In 2003, the UN Human Rights Committee decided7 that the law restricting an army pension to a heterosexual spouse or a heterosexual couple living as partners, and which excluded homosexual couples, violated Article 26 ICCPR as it had no objective and reasonable justification. The State did not attempt to justify the difference in treatment. In 2007, the Committee followed this decision in another case8 by deciding that a provision in Colombian law that did not permit the transfer of pension benefits between homosexual partners (unlike heterosexual partners) also violated Article 26. The Committee rejected the State’s argument that it was trying to protect heterosexual unions rather than to discriminate against other types of union.

The UN Special Rapporteurs have increasingly included specific reference to the human rights of LGBT people in their reports. In 1999, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Asma Jahangir, was the first to include individual cases of severe persecution of sexual minorities in her reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights. In consequence, some members of the Commission accused her of going beyond her mandate. She has continued to investigate violations of the right to life of sexual minorities in her reports and missions to various countries. Ms Jahangir has studied issues such as the climate of impunity surrounding crimes against LGBT people, laws prescribing capital punishment for homosexual relationships, and the link between violence and the criminalisation of matters involving sexual orientation. In 2001, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Abid Hussain, held a groundbreaking meeting with transgender activists while on an official mission to Argentina. In November, 2001, the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, met with Colombian LGBT organisations working with members of sexual minorities, people living with HIV/AIDS and sex workers during her stay in the country. Also in November 2001, the then Special Rapporteur on Torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, raised the issue of torture and discrimination against sexual minorities for the first time before the UN General Assembly in New York. The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Paul Hunt has also explored the issue of sexual orientation discrimination in some of his annual reports (notably the 2004 Report to the UN Commission on Human Rights 9). Although the reports of UN Special Rapporteurs do not carry the same weight as decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee or Courts, they are nonetheless useful as tools to interpret human rights standards.

Approaches to "discrimination" within regional human rights bodies
In Europe, in applying the reasonable and objective test, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation usually when considering the right to respect for private life10, but not when considering the right to respect for family life11. Within the European Union, there is a general prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment12. Article 21 of the 2000 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union calls for the prohibition of any discrimination, including on the ground of sexual orientation. But this Charter is not yet binding on member states. As regards the legal recognition of same sex partnerships, the situation within the EU is still evolving. Three member states have the right to marry (Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain). Nine member states have legal partnerships that mirror marriage (Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, UK). Two member states have civil contracts (France, Luxembourg). The remaining thirteen member states have no legal provisions. Under the American Convention of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights declared admissible a complaint against Colombia about prison rules that allowed conjugal visits for unmarried heterosexual couples but not homosexual ones.13 But the case did not go on to a full hearing as the Supreme Court of Colombia overturned the prohibition on homosexual conjugal visits in October 2001 on the ground that it was unlawful discrimination.

This brief survey demonstrates that laws that impose a blanket prohibition on consensual homosexual activity are not compatible with international human rights law. Where legal discrimination exists, the onus is on the State to prove that it is reasonable and objective. This is an evolving area of law but the trend is to limit the scope of discrimination.

Some common questions you may meet and suggested lines for answers

Q. Why should we allow homosexuality here, as it is a Western practice?
A. Homosexuality exists among all people and has done so since the start of recorded history. It was not something invented, or is only practised, in Western countries.

Q. Our culture and traditions do not accept homosexuality.
A. Customs and traditions are constantly changing with time, in the light of new knowledge and understanding. This happens everywhere. Once women were treated as inferior to men in every culture and tradition, but very few have that attitude nowadays. Culture and tradition cannot justify denying people their human rights.

Q. Our laws are based on traditional beliefs and should continue to reflect these.
A. Governments should lead their people and not simply follow public opinion. For example, many countries once tolerated female circumcision, but nowadays all governments are leading their people to reject this – by making it illegal, by educating them and by publicity. International human rights treaties provide for the equal treatment under the law of people who have different characteristics – such as race, gender, ethnic origin, and so on. This includes sexual orientation. So human rights provisions require that States work to end legal discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Q. If we accept these changes, we will open the door to immorality.
A. Human rights do not depend on – and are not subject to – different interpretations of morality. In any event, immorality is a changing concept. For example, slavery was once considered to be morally acceptable and was lawful in most countries, including the UK. But nowadays all countries regard slavery as totally immoral and have outlawed it.

Q. If we allow homosexuality, we will be encouraging the spread of HIV/AIDS.
A. HIV is transmitted in several different ways. In many parts of the world, for example, transmission of the virus is overwhelmingly through heterosexual sex. The evidence from medical experts, accepted by the UN WHO, is that it is more difficult to prevent the spread of HIV if people who are at risk – including gay and bisexual men who do not practise "safe sex" – are deterred from getting tested if their relationships are outlawed. Legally banning gay sex won’t stop it happening, but it will increase the risk of people not hearing the message about safe sex.

Q. Our religion forbids homosexuality/bisexuality/ transgenderism, and our laws reflect our religion.
A. Religions require their own adherents to do or refrain from specific things, but these requirements do not apply to people of other faiths or of no faith. The law should guarantee the same rights to everyone in the territory. Your State has committed itself to guarantee human rights to everyone. If people of any religion choose not to exercise their rights, that is their business. But if LGBT people– including those of your religion – wish to exercise their rights they should be able to do so.

Q. Accepting this will undermine marriage, which is the cornerstone of our society.
A. Recognising the human rights of one group of people does nothing to undermine the human rights of others. The right of people to marry will not be affected in any way, so it is difficult to see how marriage can be undermined in such circumstances. No one should be pressurised into unwanted marriage; that is not likely to lead to a successful marriage.

Information resources on the Web
Website of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, a network of LGBT groups around the world. ILGA also has regional organisations with their own websites:

Website of Amnesty International LGBT network

Website of Human Rights Watch LGBT issues

Website with focus on LGBT issues in Africa<=en

Website of the International Commission of Jurists, with many documents relating to LGBT and human rights.

Website of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Website of the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, who has an adviser sexual orientation issues in his office.
Website of English-language e-news that has both international and national news about LGBT issues

Other websites of international organisations that are also working on issues concerning LGBT equality are:
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

May 22, 2008

Homophobic abuse fails to disrupt gay football final

by Staff Writer,
Manchester United may be celebrating their win on penalties at last night’s Champion’s League Final, but another team from the city also went home with silverwear earlier this month. The Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) National League Cup final ended in victory for Village Manchester FC over Leicester Widecats, in what was described as another nail-biting game. The final was staged in Mansfield on Sunday 11th May. Village Manchester scored late goals to seal a 3-2 victory and win the Cup for the first time. The Wildecats took an early 2-0 but Manchester rallied with two late goals, the equaliser coming in the dying minutes and the winner with virtually the last kick of the game.

Homophobic abuse was shouted by some local people who had gained entrance to the ground. Taunts were directed at players, management and supporters of both clubs – although with help from ground-staff the perpetrators were soon asked to leave the ground. "Such attitudes are the very reason why sport can be a barrier for LGBT people and why the GFSN and its members will continue its hugely successful campaign to rid homophobia from the terraces, working with professional football clubs and The Football Association," said GFSN campaigns manager Chris Basiurski. "It is important to us that professional clubs and bodies recognise that if homophobia can be eradicated at the top levels, this will filter down towards grass-roots level. Despite the abuse, both clubs continued the match in great spirits and credit goes to both teams for taking part in such an entertaining match and providing the best possible response to those who attempted to detract from the occasion."

Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) national league is the world’s only gay and gay friendly national league. One of the league’s clubs, Leftfooters FC, is hosting the International Gay Lesbian Football Association World Championship in London between 24th and 30th August 2008. Teams from all over the world will take part in the event, to be held in Regents Park, with the finals to be played at Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium. The organisers behind London 2008 believe that football should be enjoyable for all, free from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and accessible to people of all backgrounds and all sporting abilities.

Leftfooters FC have been working with the Football Association for the past two years. 31 teams from around the world have signed up for the tournament so far. The FA will provide technical support for the tournament, and will help to recruit match officials and volunteers for the biggest gay sporting event ever hosted in the UK. For more information on the Gay Lesbian Football Association World Championship click here.

May 27, 2008

Ian McKellen and Gene Robinson to talk gays and religion at London festival

by Staff Writer,
London’s Literature Festival will feature an appearance by the only openly gay bishop in the Anglican communion, it has been revealed. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, will be at the festival in July to promote his new book, a spiritual memoir entitled In The Eye of the Storm. The UK premiere of acclaimed documentary about religion and homosexuality, For the Bible Tells Me So, which features Bishop Robinson, will be shown.
After the screening he will discuss the issues with actor Sir Ian McKellen.

The London Literature Festival will be held from Saturday 5th to Saturday 19th July 2008 at the Southbank Centre, following the success of last year’s inaugural event. The eclectic and urban character of the festival is reflected in the 2008 programme. Julian Clary, Stella Duffy and Andy Bell are just some of the lesbian and gay performers and writers appearing in The House Of Homosexual Culture, as it takes up residence at Southbank Centre for the duration of the festival. Specially commissioned performances, readings from prize-winning authors and poets, interactive and improvised writing events, debates, and three major book prizes, will all take place during an exciting two-week period across the 21-acre site, including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, Spirit Level and foyer spaces including The Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

With literary themed cocktails and food on offer, a samba band on the festival terrace and the return of the popular festival deckchairs, organisers said the festival "will be the ultimate summer destination for lovers of books, writing and relaxation."

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, said: "The London Literature Festival is the flagship of a thriving programme of spoken and written word that runs throughout the year, weaving in and around all art forms, explaining and linking a diverse programme, providing a platform for debate. It is central to what we do here."

Tickets for the festival are on sale now at or on telephone 0870 160 2522.