International News

Trans activists meet in S. Africa

South Africa recently hosted the first-ever African Strategy Workshop for transgender activists.

Fifteen trans activists from Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe took part in the event organized by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Gender DynamiX, the only transgender organization on the African continent.

“Transgender people throughout the world experience frequent and unacceptable discrimination, violence and abuse,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC executive director. “IGLHRC is proud to be part of this historic gathering of transgender people, taking the fight for human rights in Africa to a whole new level.”

The African Strategy Workshop was designed to help activists “document human-rights abuses against transgender people, derive best practices for human-rights advocacy and share information on gender identity, reassignment surgery and hormone treatment.”

“This long overdue meeting forms an integral part of trans history on our continent and a cornerstone for our future work,” said Liesl Theron, director of Gender DynamiX. “Participants at the workshop gave moving and painful testimony revealing the wide range of human-rights abuses — from arbitrary arrest and detention to rape and murder — that African transgender people regularly encounter.”

Activists focused on the case of South African Daisy Dube, who was murdered in Johannesburg after requesting that she not be called “istabane,” a derogatory Zulu slang word similar to “faggot.”

Drag Mary offends churches

Amsterdam hosted a Christmas celebration for its gay community on Dec. 21, featuring a nativity tableau with a male Mary in drag that church organizations denounced as an affront to traditional values.

Organizers said the event was meant to raise Amsterdam’s profile as a gay capital at a time when homosexuals feel threatened.

Christians for Truth, an independent religious group, had asked the city council to cancel the “Pink Christmas” event, saying it made a mockery of Christian tenets. The city did not comment.

A male entertainer known as Wendy Mills posed as Mary in a blonde wig and high-heeled black boots and holding a plastic doll. Another man played Joseph in black leather trunks and a silver shawl.

The five-person manger scene was staged off the street, in the courtyard of a nightclub. Visitors had the opportunity to be photographed with the group. The first was 3-month-old Lily Pink Albers, Mills’ niece.

“By portraying Joseph and Mary as homosexuals, a twisted human fantasy is being added to the history of the Bible,” Christians for Truth said in a statement before the event.

A few dozen visitors wandered through the 100-yard long Pink Market, past stalls selling leather goods and Christmas cards with gay themes on a downtown street known for its gay nightlife and popular restaurants.

Frank van Dalen, chairman of Pro Gay, which organized the event, said gays were not satisfied with being tolerated, but wanted to be “socially accepted as an indivisible part of society.”

He said the Amsterdam city council sponsored the event, which he hoped would become a regular event like the annual floating summertime gay pride parade through the city’s canals that attracts tens of thousands of visitors.

“Our objective is not to be offensive,” he said. “This is about visibility.”

Transsexual singer acquitted

A transsexual singer has been acquitted of charges of criticizing mandatory military service in Turkey.

The law firm of Muhittin Yuzuak said Dec. 19 that its client, singer Bulent Ersoy, was acquitted during a hearing Dec. 18 on grounds of freedom of speech. Ersoy is one of Turkey’s most popular singers.

Ersoy has acknowledged saying on television that if she had children, she would not want them to join the army to battle Kurdish rebels who are fighting for self-rule.

The European Union, which Turkey wants to join, is pressing the nation to do away with laws that stifle free expression.

Under E.U. pressure, Turkey amended a law in April that barred the denigration of Turkish identity and institutions. But human-rights groups claim the changes did not go far enough.

Jailed activist denied visitors

Chinese authorities have curbed visits to an imprisoned dissident who was awarded the European Parliament’s top human-rights award, his wife said.

Zeng Jinyan said she was told of the restriction during a telephone call Dec. 18 from the Beijing Municipal Prison, where her husband, Hu Jia, is being held on a sedition charge.

Initially an advocate for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, Hu expanded his focus to cover other human-rights issues, using the Internet and telephone to publicize the harassment and arrests of other dissidents.

Hu’s charge of sedition stems from police accusations that he had planned to work with foreigners to disturb the Olympic Games in August.

“State security police told the prison to cancel my visit that had been scheduled for next Monday,” Zeng said. “No one is allowed to see him.”

No reason was given for the change of plans, she said.

A man who answered the telephone at the prison said he was “unclear” about Hu’s case and his visiting hours. Like many Chinese officials, he refused to give his name.

The move comes a day after Hu was honored in Strasbourg, France, as the winner of this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Because Hu, 35, is in prison, his name was placed in front of an empty seat. He received a minute-long standing ovation from the parliament.

The award signals the E.U. assembly’s dismay with what it sees as the authoritarian and repressive nature of the Chinese government. Beijing, however, sees the prize as interference and support for someone it considers a criminal.

New treason law could target gays

A proposed treason law has Russian LGBT-rights groups concerned they could be arrested.

The new law drafted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s cabinet would allow authorities to label any government critic a traitor, a move that leading human-rights activists condemned on Dec. 17 as a chilling reminder of the times under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The draft extends the definition of treason from breaching Russia’s external security to damaging the nation’s constitutional order, sovereignty or territorial integrity. That would essentially let authorities interpret any act against the interests of the state as treason, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Prominent rights activists said passage of the bill would catapult Russia’s justice system back to the times of Stalin.

“It returns the Russian justice [system] to the times of 1920-1950s,” the activists said in a statement, urging lawmakers to oppose what they described as the “legislation in the spirit of Stalin and Hitler.”

The activists included the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, and the head of Civic Assistance, Svetlana Gannushkina.

Despite the criticism, the draft is likely to receive a quick approval by parliament.

LGBT groups fear the law could be used against them if they attempt to hold gay-rights marches or pride parades. Gays have been at constant odds with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov for years over his steadfast refusal to grant parade permits.

Despite Luzhkov’s refusal to grant a gay-parade permit earlier this year, the third Moscow Pride took place on June 1, when activists picketed the monument to the Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky and then hung a huge banner from an apartment in front of Moscow City Hall. The banner read: “Rights to gays and lesbians! Homophobia of Moscow Mayor should be prosecuted.”

Under the proposed new treason law, such protests could result in mass arrests and imprisonment.

Court rejects gay priests marriage

A homosexual couple has lost their case in Sweden’s Supreme Administrative Court against the country’s tax authority for registering their marriage in Canada as a partnership.

Lars Gårdfeldt and Lars Arnell, who are both priests in the Church of Sweden, alleged discrimination when their marriage was classified as a civil partnership.

The couple lost their cases in the district court, the court of appeal and now in the Supreme Administrative Court, Sweden’s highest court.

The couple argued that a same-sex marriage entered in accordance with Canadian law should be recognized in Sweden, despite the fact that there is no legal basis for it under current Swedish law.

In their application to the court, the couple argued that the “tax authorities can make an exception for a marriage where one party is under-age but not for homosexuals.”

The authority confirmed that it does make exceptions to Swedish law with regard to underage couples legally married overseas, but only for marriages involving a man and a woman.

Gårdfeldt, a prominent commentator on homosexual issues both within and outside of the church, reacted to the ruling, calling it discriminatory.

The court referred to the definition contained within Swedish legislation covering marriage, concluding that the term applies only to a union between a man and a woman, while a union between two people of the same sex is designated as a partnership.

The court concluded in its judgment that even if this union in a foreign state is classified as marriage, it is, according to current Swedish law, classified as a partnership.

Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].

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