International News: Latvia, Nepal, Georgia, Cameroon 

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Latvia welcomes EU’s first openly gay head of state

Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs has become the first openly gay head of state of a European Union nation. Rinkēvičs has served as foreign minister since 2011. He was sworn in as Latvia’s president on July 8 in Riga.

The EU has had openly gay heads of governments before, but never a gay head of state. In May, Rinkēvičs was elected by Latvia’s parliament to be the country’s next president at the third round of voting.

Rinkēvičs, 49, first came out in 2014 and has been a vocal champion of LGBTQ+ rights. In his inaugural speech, Rinkēvičs said he would stand up “for an inclusive and respectful society…Latvia is a sovereign, free and democratic country. But it must be legal and just to all. Every person and citizen in Latvia must feel that they belong, legally protected and safe.”

Rinkēvičs also vowed to continue supporting Ukraine’s ongoing war effort against Russia. He said, “Freedom of expression and media are the backbone of democracy. It is particularly important to emphasize this now, when we are fighting Russian propaganda and hate speech. It is in the interests of our unity to combat disinformation and fake news.” 

Latvia, along with Lithuania and Estonia, joined the EU in 2004 after breaking away from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. It is a NATO member.

Nepal opens door for marriage equality

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that same-sex couples in Nepal will soon be able to legally register their marriages following a landmark Supreme Court ruling on June 28 which opened the door for marriage equality in Nepal.

Justice Til Prasad Shrestha ordered the government to immediately begin registering same-sex marriages while it prepares legislation to amend the current civil code, which states that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Sunil Pant, who was previously Nepal’s first openly gay member of parliament and is a leading campaigner on the issue said, “People are already celebrating. They are rushing back to their villages to collect documents for their marriages.” He estimated that around 200 same-sex couples may register their marriages in the coming months.

Nepal’s Supreme Court has a record of rulings upholding LGBTQ+ rights, but action has been slow. In 2007, the court ordered the government to form a committee to prepare a law legalizing same-sex marriage. In 2015, that committee recommended the government “grant legal recognition to same-sex marriage on the basis of the principle of equality.” However, successive governments failed to bring legislation, leading to further court rulings. In March 2023, the court ordered the government to recognize the marriage of a same-sex couple who had married in Germany.

Nepal’s 2015 constitution prohibits gender discrimination and upholds the rights of sexual minorities. HRW said, “The ruling is a historic moment for equal rights in Nepal. The cabinet and parliament should now move quickly to amend the law.”

Right-wing protesters storm Georgia Pride festival

Several thousand anti-LGBTQ+ protesters attacked a gay pride festival in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on July 8, which forced the festival to shut down.

The right-wing protesters, including Orthodox Christian clergy, fought with police and participants. They rushed the stage at the festival and burned rainbow flags. 

Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili blamed anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech leading up to the event. She also said police failed to protect festival-goers.

Far-right protesters also disrupted a Pride festival in Tbilisi in 2021, violently attacking journalists and LGBTQ+ activists. As PGN reported at the time, one of the journalists, a cameraman, Alexander Lashkarava, was later found dead at his home. His death sparked protests in the Georgian capital. The U.S. State Department spoke out on the incident. 

The 2023 Pride organizer, Mariam Kvaratskhelia, told Reuters that a “mass mobilization” of far-right groups had organized in advance of the festival and that these groups had been “openly inciting violence.”

She said, “We’ve been telling the ministry of interior and the police to start investigation immediately, but they did not do it.”

President Zourabichvili also blamed the ministry of interior and the ruling right Georgian Dream party government.

Interior Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze countered that “This was an open area, participants of the protest managed to bypass the security and find other ways to enter the event area.” 

“We managed to evacuate the participants of the Pride festival and organizers from the area,” he said. “Nobody was harmed during the incident.”

But Kvaratskhelia said the attack on the festival was a “coordinated action between the government and the radical groups…in order to sabotage the EU candidacy of Georgia.” 

The EU supports LGBTQ+ rights. No one was reportedly hurt in the melee, according to BBC World News, which reports that “homophobia remains rife in Georgia.”

Cameroonian foreign minister sparks anti-LGBTQ+ backlash

Human Right Watch (HRW) reports a scheduled visit by Jean-Marc Berthon, the French ambassador for the Rights of LGBT+ Persons, to Cameroon later this month has ignited reprisals against LGBTQ+ people in Cameroon. 

The Cameroonian foreign minister claimed that there are no LGBTQ+ people in Cameroon, a claim HRW calls “patently false” noting “LGBT groups exist in Cameroon and several even manage to work with the government on initiatives to combat HIV/AIDS. But Cameroon has a dismal track record on upholding the rights of LGBT people.” 

“Security forces have failed to protect LGBT people from violence and in some instances have been responsible for acts of violence, or complicit in them,” HRW reports. “The Cameroonian government should unequivocally condemn violence and incitement to violence against LGBT people, investigate such crimes against LGBT persons, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Berthon was due to visit Cameroon for an event on gender and sexuality hosted by the French Institute in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. The Cameroon government made an official objection to the visit. Foreign Minister Lejeune Mbella Mbella told media that the visit would contravene Cameroonian law, which forbids consensual same-sex relations. The visit was canceled.

But since Mbella’s statement, attacks against LGBTQ+ people have intensified, both online and in the streets. HRW reports that “government and political officials, as well as public figures, referred to LGBT people as ‘against nature,’ ‘an anomaly,’ ‘vampire citizens,’ ‘destructive of the family,’ ‘destructive of the state,’ or as using ‘satanic and demonic practices.’” 

HRW says Cameroonians who are “perceived as LGBT” live with “constant threats of harassment and physical violence every day.”

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.