International News: December 11, 2019

Photo: Facebook, Swe Zin Htet. Photo by Aung Kyaw Tun (Visual Design)

US ambassador ‘horrified’ by Zambia sentence for gay couple

The United States ambassador to Zambia said local government officials have condemned him for saying he was “horrified” by the sentencing of a local gay couple to 15 years in prison.

Ambassador Daniel Foote told reporters Dec. 2 that he would not be intimidated by officials in the southern African nation, where same-sex relationships are criminalized. It is a legacy of British colonial-era laws, as with several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The ambassador’s statement said the men’s consensual relationship hurt no one “meanwhile, government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution.”

Zambia’s foreign affairs minister, Joseph Malanji, said the government is sending a protest letter to Washington over the remarks. In it, the U.S. ambassador is accused of meddling in Zambia’s internal affairs.

Berlin is experiencing a surge in homophobic and transphobic attacks

There has been a notable rise in homophobic and transphobic attacks in Berlin this year so far.

The German capital city has a reputation for being socially liberal, but attacks against LGBT+ people are on the rise, police said.

Between Jan. 1 and the end of September this year, there were 261 recorded anti-LGBT+ incidents, including threats, insults and attacks. In the same period last year, there were 184 reported incidents.

The city’s police chief Barbara Slowik revealed the statistics at an event organized by the Alliance Against Homophobia.

She said that the bulk of the anti-LGBT+ attacks took place in the areas of Mitte, Schöneberg, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Neukölln.

Slowik also noted that there has been “increasing polarization in society,” and an “increase in hate crimes” has come about as a result.

She also noted that many hate incidents likely go unreported, which is a cause for concern for the city’s police force.

Anti-LGBT+ hate crimes have been on the rise in Germany now for several years. In 2013, police recorded 50 violent attacks against LGBT+ people.

Philippines president appoints transgender woman to government

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appointed a transgender woman to his government.

Dindi Tan, a long-time LGBTQ activist in the Philippines, is director of the country’s Department of Agrarian Reform. Tan was previously the department’s assistant program manager.

On Dec. 4, Tan said she is the first trans woman named to a position within the Philippine government.

“This is very big for our community here in the Philippines,” said Tan. “It sends a powerful message that the LGBT community is part of the government agenda and that the present administration remains committed to furthering equal rights for everyone.”

Duterte, who is the former mayor of Davao City, has been president of the Philippines since 2016.

Duterte, among other things, has publicly spoken in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. Tan noted Duterte previously appointed CY Seguerra, a trans man, as chair of the country’s National Youth Commission.

In 2016, the State Department criticized Duterte for using an anti-gay slur to insult then-U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. Human rights activists have also sharply criticized Duterte over his government’s anti-drug crackdown that has lead to the deaths of more than 5,000 people.

Miss Myanmar is the first openly gay contestant at Miss Universe

Only days before the Miss Universe preliminary competition on Dec. 7, Miss Myanmar, Swe Zin Htet, came out as a lesbian.

The pageant queen said she timed her coming out to coincide with the pageant to help bring a spotlight to LGBTQ rights in her home country, a place where homosexuality is still a crime.

“I have that platform that, if I say that I’m a lesbian, it will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community back in Burma,” she said.

This also makes Htet the first openly gay competitor at the Miss Universe competition.

“The difficult thing is that in Burma, LGBTQ people are not accepted,” Htet said, “they are looked down on by other people and are being discriminated against.”

Htet came out in an interview on Nov. 29 with the popular pageant blog Missosology.

“It’s like I just started a new chapter in life,” she said.

She does admit that some of her fans and family knew already.

“At first, they were mad. They didn’t accept me,” Htet recalled about telling her parents. “But later, when they found out more about the LGBTQ community, they started to accept me.”

Htet has been in a relationship with Burmese singer Gae Gae for three years.

Myanmar does have a law preventing same-sex relationships that has a sentence of 10 years to life, but the Myanmar Times has claimed the “law is not used in practice.”

Reporting via Associated Press