Showing posts with label LGBT Equality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LGBT Equality. Show all posts

April 15, 2020

New Dems in Legislature in Va. and A Reversal of The Past Anti LGBTQ Protections and Pot Laws

Credit...Carlos Bernate for The New York Times

The measures came about after Democrats took control of the Legislature for the first time in more than two decades last year. 

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia and his wife, Pamela, last month. The governor had been facing a deadline of midnight Saturday for signing bills into law.Credit...Carlos Bernate for The New York.

The leftward transformation of Virginia since President Trump was elected crescendoed over the weekend, with the governor signing into law protections for L.G.B.T. residents, gun background checks, no jail time for simple marijuana possession and early voting.

The flurry of new measures enacted by Gov. Ralph S. Northam, a Democrat, came five months after members of his party took control of the Legislature back from Republicans for the first time in more than 20 years. Mr. Northam had been facing a deadline of midnight Saturday for signing bills into law.

In Virginia, Democrats have developed a political advantage in the heavily populated northern suburbs of Washington, where Hispanic and Asian voters make up a growing part of the electorate, as well as in places with a significant African-American population like Norfolk.

Democrats have used that upper hand to remake a state that was once the seat of the Confederacy and known as a conservative bastion, one that the political scientist V.O. Key Jr. described as “political museum piece.” He wrote that, by comparison to Virginia, Mississippi was “a hotbed of democracy.”
“It’s a gigantic change,” Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said in an interview on Monday. “There really is no precedent. There is no period like this. Virginia has never had a liberal period.”

The chain of events began on Friday, when Mr. Northam said he had signed a series of gun control measures into law that includes a background check requirement for all firearm sales and a so-called red flag law that supporters said would give law enforcement officers a mechanism to confiscate the weapons of people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

The measures drew acclaim from groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety, the advocacy organization financed and created by the former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City. They go into effect on July 1. 

At the same time, the new restrictions were decried by Second Amendment advocates and conservatives, who said they trampled on the constitutional rights of gun owners and vowed to challenge them. Among the law’s critics was the conservative lawyer and Fox News commentator Gayle Trotter. 

“Hey Virginia, your governor characterized the day he signed away your rights as law abiding citizens as ‘This is an exciting day for me,’” Ms. Trotter wrote on Twitter. “It is hard to win back liberty once it is lost, but this is not over yet.”

The Republican Party of Virginia did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday night.

Barbara A. Perry, the presidential studies director at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, said in an interview on Monday that Mr. Trump’s election was a catalyst for change in the state.

“This is what people pointed to when Trump came into the office,” she said. “This is the progressive direction that the Commonwealth of Virginia is taking not only with this governor, but a solidly Democratic Legislature.” 

On Saturday, Mr. Northam announced that Virginia had become the first state in the South to include language in its anti-discrimination housing and employment laws that protects people on the basis of their sexual orientation. The law, known as a the Virginia Values Act, goes into effect on July 1.

“This legislation sends a strong, clear message — Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family,” Mr. Northam said in a statement. “We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly. No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are.” 

Also on Saturday, Mr. Northam signed a law that his office said repealed racist and discriminatory language from Virginia’s Acts of Assembly and gave cities and towns the ability to remove or alter Confederate monuments in their communities. The measure also set into motion the replacement of Virginia’s statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee in the U.S. Capitol.

Next, Mr. Northam announced on Easter that he had signed a series of changes to the state’s criminal justice laws that included decriminalizing the simple possession of marijuana, a measure that takes effect on July 1. Mr. Northam proposed a $25 civil penalty for simple marijuana possession, sealing conviction records and prohibiting employers from asking about a past conviction, which still require legislative approval.

Under current state law, a first-time offender faces up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana, which will no longer be a misdemeanor.

On Sunday, Mr. Northam announced that he had also signed a law allowing Virginia residents to vote up to 45 days before an election without a stated excuse. To get an absentee ballot under the current system, voters had to have a legitimate reason that included being out of state on business or at school or having an illness.

Mr. Northam also removed a requirement that Virginia residents must show identification to vote.

The local conservative talk radio host John Reid bemoaned the changes to Virginia’s voting laws on his program on Monday, saying it “seems to me to set us up for a lot of fraud.”

February 26, 2020

The President-Turkmenistan Discourages Computers on The Population,How Many Can U See?

 How many computers do you see on the President's desk?

 As you can see by the photo above, The President has...  
a large amount of computers on his desk, however, he is discouraging the use of computers but as you look at his desk I can see 6. The Presidents and Prime ministers of the largest world countries only have on their desks. This is the way his brain works. 'Let me have all the information and then I will spoon feed it to you'. He understands that computers open the eyes and brains of the population but it is not something you can shut down like a spigot. He seems to want to be the filter of the information but a President can not be both. Successful leaders from countries that were repressive in the past are able to have smart and active populations working for the good of the country.  They come up with inventions and make the computers download faster so that you only need one for all your work.

The population of Turkmenistan which I have very much respect for has become one of my main readers. This since a young Doctor had to disappear after he came out. I covered this story which was followed by many people around the world particularly the United States. And in return, this smart population is been following my media blog. The Doctor is back and so is family is back but the whole incident shows the unacceptance of Turkistan's own citizens for the people they are.

There will be awful prospects in the future for the general population, not finding jobs in a sector like agriculture which is no longer something that can sustain people's life. On the other hand, technology can. Being Gay or LGBT is not something you can tell unless they tell you, sometimes people are shocked that the Doctors and professional that the care of them are indeed gay.  And so what? People are people and you can not take away what makes up in their genes who they are. What is the government afraid of? Whatever gays they have they already have them! And more will keep on being born. This is nature and it happens in every nation.

Still, LGBT people are a minority and are impossible to be more than that because nature decided that millions of years ago. Check with any international zoo and they will tell you they have animals of the same sex bedding together. To be inhuman to people because of who they are and who they love is a sin in every religion. I studied the religions of the world in my years in the seminary and one thing is obvious in every category of people and is they followed certain commandments and ignore others. Not abusing mentally or bodily of any human being overpasses any other rule which might have been imposed at the time, hundreds of years ago. This is the 20th Millenium and people do not like to be treated like ignorant sheep directed by a Sheppard. God is given us a brain and independence as humans to make our own decisions live our lives which are very short in this world.

What government or people have the right to shorten our lives by imposing morals they themselves don't follow or morals that go against a human being? Being happy has nothing to do with being rich or poor but being ourselves, not the people someone else wants us to be.
"To err is human to avoid it is foolishness"
Adam Gonzalez

Controlling what the population can be as a human being and what they can eat is a road to the precipice

Often seen with several laptops on his big office desk, it was a bit peculiar when the mercurial president of Turkmenistan called for his citizens to beware of the health hazards of spending too much time using modern gadgets.

"Because of the development of modern technology and information systems, many children and adolescents, as well as people of all ages, spend too much time on their computers, mobile phones, and tablets," Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov told parliament on February 11 in a speech shown on nationwide state news programs. 

"This leads to people being less physically active... Such a lifestyle negatively impacts the eyesight and causes people to gain weight and other health problems," the president warned.

The government and society as a whole have an urgent duty to address the problem, he added.

While Berdymukhammedov did make valid points about the health hazards associated with spending an excessive amount of time on modern technology, it's unclear if the president is actually concerned about his people's well-being or whether he intends to perhaps further restrict their access to the Internet.

Many Turkmen connect to the Internet using their mobile phones, but the government strictly controls access and blocks viewers from going to independent news sites and all the major social media sites, such as Facebook and VKontakte.

Berdymukhammedov said the government and society, in general, should encourage the country's young people to learn national sports and games as well as Turkmen traditions.

He urged lawmakers and government officials to "further expand" awareness campaigns among the youth about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition, and engaging in physical fitness and sports.

In power since 2006, Berdymukhammedov also emphasized the importance of educating children about Turkmen culture, art, language, and history.

A trained dentist, the authoritarian president often speaks about engaging in a healthy lifestyle and is frequently shown on state television lifting weights in a gym, cycling, or horse riding -- a luxury that most Turkmen cannot afford. Turkmenistan holds an annual special week of "health and happiness," with government officials ordering people to take part in compulsory exercise sessions and long walks.

The government has also taken measures to restrict smoking and the consumption of alcohol.

Turkmenistan has recently prohibited the use of mobile phones in schools and several parents have been fined after their children were found to be violating the ban.
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

February 22, 2020

In Ukraine is Legal to be Gay But Unfortunately Homophobia is Also Legal

Image result for Ukraine lgbt
 Being gay in Kiev means using your talents as a human being where ever you can

 by Natalie Vikhrov 
 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - 

Ukraine army veteran Viktor Pylypenko kept his sexuality a secret for years, worried that the men he had fought alongside would turn against him if they knew he was gay.

When he finally came out publicly in 2018, two years after leaving the volunteer Donbas Battalion he had served with, Pylypenko realized his fears were unfounded.

"When you take part in combat and then people find out that you're gay, in principle, the majority of your fellow service members don't have any problems because they saw you were effective in combat," said Pylypenko.

The 33-year-old was one of the first military veterans to come out in Ukraine, where a separatist conflict has raged since 2014 in the mainly Russian-speaking Donbas region.

In doing so, he inspired a movement of LGBT+ veterans who want to use their public profile to change attitudes in Ukraine, where discrimination against gay people in the workplace was only banned in 2015.

Ukraine decriminalized same-sex relations in 1991, but homophobia remains widespread.

In a recent survey by the Pew Research Centre, a Washington-based think-tank, 69% of Ukrainians said homosexuality should not be accepted by society.

Human rights organizations say violence against LGBT+ people, often carried out by far-right groups, remains an issue and largely goes unpunished.

There is no bar on gay people serving in Ukraine's military, yet many are still afraid to do so openly.

But when they returned to civilian life, few LGBT+ servicemen and women spoke out publicly about their sexuality and gender identity.


In 2018, Pylypenko set up a Facebook group for LGBT+ soldiers and their allies that has attracted dozens of service members and veterans.

Tymur Levchuk, executive director of LGBT+ rights group Tochka Opory, believes veterans' groups can be powerful allies for the movement.

"People have respect for the military, they're grateful for what they're doing," he said.

"Even when we speak to government institutions, they (veterans) are received more positively (than LGBT+ activists)."

Nick Buderatsky, a volunteer military paramedic and one of the Facebook group's administrators, said about 10 people had written to him so far, some on the verge of suicide.

"They're scared their comrades will find out (about their sexual orientation) and treat them badly, they're scared their parents will find out and reject them," said Buderatsky, who came out in 2015.

"They're scared of society, which is still very homophobic today."

In war though, veterans and volunteers say attitudes to sexuality often took a back seat as they faced life or death situations.

"There is constant shooting, constant battle," said Nastya, a former volunteer military cartographer and drone operator who came out publicly after Pylypenko.

"Who's sleeping with who is the last thing people are interested in," said Nastya, who asked to be identified only by her first name out of fear of reprisals.

Vasyl Davydenko joined a volunteer battalion after his partner was deployed to the front line when war broke out in 2014.

"I was ready to sacrifice everything just to be near him," the 41-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

They kept their relationship a secret, but when his partner was killed months later Davydenko, who found out on social media, broke down and opened up to a small group of close comrades, and found they were accepting.

"They treated me like a brother," he said.


No one knows how many of the tens of thousands who volunteered to fight for their country when the conflict broke out were gay.

According to Pylypenko, the army needed people to fight, and it did not much matter who they were.

There are positive coming out stories, but veterans have said homophobic attitudes also persist – including among some holding senior positions.

Yuzef Venskovich, spokesman for Ukraine's armed forces, said military officials had not received any complaints about limiting service opportunities for LGBT+ people.

The National Guard, into which a number of volunteer battalions including the volunteer Donbas battalion were integrated, did not respond to a request for comment by publication.

Last June, Pylypenko organized the first military column at Kyiv Pride, with about 30 veterans, volunteers, and allies taking part.

Months later, he was attacked by another veteran during a military commemoration event in Kiev. He said the man struck him from behind and then beat him repeatedly, yelling homophobic slurs.

The following month Davydenko was assaulted outside of his apartment by a group of five people.

The men reported the two separate incidents to police, who said criminal proceedings had been started in both their cases.

Oleksandr Zinchenkov, an expert at the LGBT Human Rights Nash Mir Center, said that in recent years there has been an increase in the number of crimes committed against gay, bi or trans people.

Yet activists such as Nastya believe moves by LGBT+ veterans to come out are helping to change attitudes.

"When you speak about these things society changes," she said. "We exist, and we're going to show our faces more and more."

(Reporting by Natalie Vikhrov @natalievikhrov; Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

August 29, 2019

The LGBT Asylum Seekers in Ireland Face Surmountable Obstacles In Getting To Dream Land

By Cormac O'Brien
DUBLIN, Ireland, June 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Afef arrived in Ireland from Tunisia in early 2015 she could not believe her luck at being able to go safely to gay bars and be open about her sexuality.
In her home country she had been forced to hide the fact that she was a lesbian from her family, her friends and, most importantly, from the authorities as same-sex relationships are illegal in Tunisia and punishable by three years imprisonment.
When her disapproving brother found out she was gay she was forced to flee.
"It's something prohibited, forbidden and unforgivable, and going back I can get attacked by my brother," Afef told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at a meeting for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) asylum seekers in Dublin.
"That's my past and it's not a good past. Here you have total freedom."
Afef, a slight woman aged in her mid-20s, is one of a rising number of LGBT people in Ireland seeking asylum due to fears of being persecuted for their sexuality in their home countries.
Ireland made history in 2015 as the first country to legalize gay marriage by a popular vote, with 62 percent voting in a referendum in favor of gay marriage in the Irish Republic that was once dominated by the Catholic Church.
Ireland this month formally elected its first openly gay prime minister, Leo Varadkar.
But the asylum seekers find their bids to build new lives in Ireland keep hitting obstacles, getting bogged down in a slow, laborious system that has been criticized both domestically and internationally with proposed changes slow to take effect. 
Asylum seekers applying for refugee status in Ireland are provided with accommodation and food at hostels known as direct provision centers and given a weekly stipend of about 20 Euros ($22) but they are cannot work or access further education.
Afef, who did not want to use her full name for fear of reprisals, said this made it difficult to settle and become financially stable as the process could take years and the lack of transparency in the system was a massive frustration.
"If they say within two years, you get your answer and finish the whole process it's fine. But some people can spend 10 years and some people can spend one. Basically, you know nothing," she said at a meeting of the Identity LGBT Refugee Support group at the Irish Refugee Council.
Hailing from Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Gambia and Tunisia, all of the 35 regular members of the group are claiming asylum in Ireland based on their LGBT status.
They only get together about once a month as many live outside Dublin and struggle with the cost to travel to meetings but they do stay in touch on social networks and WhatsApp.
For while many of the group viewed Ireland as a safe haven, being LGBT in the asylum system has its own difficulties as many face threats and intimidation from other asylum seekers in the centers, said Brian Collins from the Irish Refugee Council.
Afef said one man in her center harassed her constantly.
"That's why we created the group. Some of us know about lawyer stuff. Some of us know about housing. Some of us know about the communities around," said another group member who requested anonymity.
"We need that so we can support each other."

Afef, an asylum seeker from Tunisia who wished to maintain anonymity,
during an interview with
the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Dublin, Ireland on April 28, 2017. 
Thomson Reuters Foundation/Cormac O'Brien
There are no statistics on the number of LGBT people seeking asylum in Ireland but there are almost 5,000 in the system overall, housed in about 32 centers around Ireland, according to recent figures from the Reception and Integration Agency set up in 2001 to coordinate services to asylum seekers and refugees.
It's a system that has come under fire from human rights watchdogs in Ireland as well as internationally with reports of people languishing in a system for up to 15 years.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission described the system as a "severe violation of human rights" in 2015 because of the time it took to process applications.
While Amnesty International has urged Ireland to expedite reforms of its direct provision accommodation, a system set up as a temporary emergency measure in 2000, as this was regarded as unsuitable for long-stay residence, especially for families children and victims of torture.
With calls for change mounting, Ireland's International Protections Office has committed to speeding up decisions for asylum seekers while the Irish Supreme Court in May 2017 ruled denying asylum seekers the right to work was unconstitutional.
Activists welcomed the proposed changes around employment.
But Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director for the European unit of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), cautioned fast-tracking applications could end up hurting the most vulnerable groups of asylum seekers – including LGBT individuals.
"If you look at the accelerated procedures, that leaves people with very little time to prove their sexual orientation," she said because LGBT asylum seekers need to provide evidence to back up their claim of LGBT persecution to get asylum. 
The Identity group, set up in 2016, is supported by an asylum seekers' theatre group, Change of Address, and the Irish Refugee Council. Theatre director and co-founder of Identity, Oonagh Murphy, said they used crowdfunding to bring a group of LGBT asylum seekers in Ireland to attend the Dublin Gay Pride March in 2015 and it grew from there into a support group.
"You come to Ireland, a tiny island at the edge of Europe, the last thing you expect is to be put back into close living arrangements from that culture," Murphy said.
Maverick from Zimbabwe arrived in Ireland in May 2015 and is awaiting a decision on his asylum application.
"I was a bit nervous before I met the LGBT group, but it's getting a little bit better now," said the 27-year-old motor mechanic who faced jail if found to be gay in Zimbabwe.
"Last year I really had fun. We danced on the street," he said. "Of course back home, you get killed for that."
($1 = 0.8951 euros)
(Reporting by Cormac O'Brien, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change, and resilience. Visit

August 28, 2019

Hey! Do You Know The Supreme Court is About to Hear An Important LGBT Issue/Trump Asked to rule Against Gays

The Justice Department has submitted a brief to the Supreme Court arguing that federal civil rights laws do not protect workers against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is not a surprise. The Department of Justice has taken this stance since 2017, when it formally ended its Obama-era position that federal law does, in fact, prohibit such discrimination. But the department's amicus brief, submitted on Friday, has produced a burst of news coverage for the issue.
The Supreme Court agreed in April to take up a trio of cases about workplace discrimination against gay and transgender employees. This flew under a lot of people's radar at the time, thanks perhaps to the complicated nature of the arguments. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of "sex." At the time of the law's passage, this was understood to mean discrimination on the basis of whether a person was a man or a woman. A subsequent Supreme Court ruling, 1989's Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, held that the law prohibited discrimination on the basis of whether a person stereotypically looks or behaves certain sex—in that case, a woman who was seen as not "feminine" enough.
In the years following that precedent, we've seen further legal analysis of what it means to discriminate on the basis of sex "stereotypes," and that has led to some conflicts of opinion on the federal level. Some courts have held that discriminating against a person for being transgender is the same as discriminating on the basis of stereotypes of how men and women are supposed to look and dress. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department agreed with this interpretation, leading to a guidance from his administration that public schools could not force transgender students to use the facilities that matched their birth sex.
Under President Donald Trump, this Justice Department quickly reversed this position, determining that the Civil Rights Act's definition of "sex" did not include sexual orientation or gender identity. Meanwhile, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission still supports the Obama administration's reading. The nation's top court has resisted weighing in until this year, leaving conflicting rulings and positions in place.
The Department of Justice's argument is pretty easy to summarize: Sexual orientation and gender identity is not included in the Civil Rights Act; Congress has the power to add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal laws and has done so in the past; Congress has not added sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act despite political pushes to do so; therefore, these characteristics are not protected under federal law.
There's been some misleading coverage of what's happening here. One Buzzfeedheadline—"The Trump Administration Asked The Supreme Court To Legalize Firing Workers Simply Being Gay"—is particularly egregious. The Justice Department is not asking the Supreme Court for permission to fire people for being gay. It's arguing that the current federal law doesn't protect against anti-LGBT discrimination and that these firing decisions are already currently legal.
The article also suggests that a ruling in the Justice Department's favor would affect both federal and state-level discrimination laws against sex-based discrimination. This is simply not accurate. Many states have their own statutory or constitutional bans on gay and/or transgender discrimination. This ruling would not affect those. It only addresses the federal Civil Rights Act. Now, this could certainly have an impact in states that do not have their own anti-discrimination rules. The three lawsuits central to this case are from states that don't, on their own, protect against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. But even if the Supreme Court sides with the Justice Department's interpretation, it won't affect LGBT workers in the 21 states that already prohibit this discrimination.
The case is fundamentally not about whether it should be legal to fire people for being gay or transgender; it's about how far a law's meaning can be stretched before it no longer represents what those who passed it intended. It's very clear that Congress did not intend to include gay and transgender people at the time. This was five years before the Stonewall Riots, at a time when the federal government was purging gay employeesand when most politicians believed that gays were mentally ill sexual predators.
Furthermore, as the Justice Department notes in its brief, lawmakers have been trying for years—all the way back to 1974—to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act. Congress started getting closer in 2013, when the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) made it through the Senate and died in the House. But then that morphed into a new bill called the Equality Act, which includes ENDA but also dramatically increases the definition of "public accommodation" in its regulations against customer discrimination to include just about every single consumer business.
That means the federal government would be able to take action against just about any business in the country accused of discrimination against customers, not just certain types of venues, such as hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and clubs. The expansion of ENDA into the Equality Act probably makes it radioactive for any number of conservatives who might have otherwise have come to support ENDA. (A cynic might wonder if that is the point.)
Some of the same folks who support the Equality Act also want the Supreme Court to find that the Civil Rights Act already protects against LGBT discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union is assisting the plaintiff in one of the cases that the Court is considering, while at the same time lobbying for the passage of the Equality Act.
It's easy to understand the political logic here—you want to cover all your bases and not just pin your hopes on one path or the other. But it's still contradictory. If an ALCU lawyer is arguing before the court, you should expect justice to ask why the organization is arguing that the Civil Rights Act already protects against anti-LGBT discrimination while at the same time lobbying for reforms to the law so that it will protect against anti-LGBT discrimination.
Given the current makeup of the Supreme Court, I predict a ruling that sides with the Justice Department. Again, a cynic might wonder if that's partly the point. An adverse ruling here could serve as a helpful election-year rallying point, with the Democratic base coming out to push for a Democratic president and Senate able to pass the Equality Act and change the balance of the Court.
I've said my own piece about the Equality Act: I think the cultural shift toward LGBT acceptance makes additional federal regulations unnecessary because while discrimination still exists, it's not as widespread or as oppressive as it once was.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on October 8.

May 6, 2019

Despite Trump’s Hatred The US Can Still Become The Beacon of Light to The World on LGBTQ Protections

 Many Americans were outraged by the recent headlines about a new law in Brunei that will allow for death by stoning for the crime of homosexual sex. Yet the criminalization of same-sex relations is still happening in more than 70 countries. At least six additional (countries) implement the death penalty for gay sex: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia. Only five countries in the world – Bolivia, Ecuador, Fiji, Malta and the United Kingdom – have constitutions that explicitly guarantee equality for citizens on the basis of sexual orientation as well as gender identity.
As hard-liner authoritarian political parties continue to gain popularity in Europe and around the world, we again see LGBTQ people being used as political pawns. Recently, Poland’s ruling political party brought LGBTQ discrimination to the forefront of the election there, claiming that the opposition’s support for new LGBTQ-aware education is a threat to traditional Catholic values and Polish culture.
Despite these steps backward, there is an opportunity here for the international community, and not just LGBTQ people, to play a role in securing basic human rights for LGBTQ people across the globe, and for the U.S. to take the lead. The Catholic Church and the United Nations can also play vital roles. I’m sure many will scoff that I suggest the United States take the lead in advocating for gay rights across the globe. President (Donald) Trump banned transgender people from the military, stacked the courts with judges who have terrible records on LGBTQ issues and even refused to recognize Pride Month. But internationally, the issue of LGBTQ rights has been gaining steam, with notable support by the highest openly gay official in the Trump administration. U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell launched an international campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality as part of a response to the hanging of a young gay man in Iran.
The U.S. could make this campaign much more effective by tying it to foreign assistance it gives to other nations. The U.S. government could deny some loans and credits and foreign assistance to any and all countries that criminalize homosexuality.
This is not a new strategy for American foreign policy. In 2017, for example, we denied nearly $96 million in aid to Egypt due to severe human rights violations there. The Leahy Amendments, named after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., prohibit the U.S. government from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that violate human rights. In many instances, the cut-off of aid worked.
The U.S. government could specifically withhold security assistance to police or law enforcement entities that violate the rights of LGBTQ citizens, or even incentivize law enforcement and security forces to implement nondiscrimination training by tying aid to those programs. And we must continue to make sure that human rights violators, whether they be individuals or institutions, face severe consequences and justice in international courts.
This policy would have widespread effects on countries in the Americas, Africa and the Middle East that rely heavily upon U.S. foreign aid each year. Top recipient countries where LGBTQ rights are often violated include Egypt – $1.39 billion, and Afghanistan – $782.8 million. If the U.S. takes the lead, we might see more action from the Catholic Church and the international community as well, particularly the European Union.
Because so many of the world’s anti-sodomy laws began during colonization, the Church must remove its tacit approval of anti-gay teachings. There have been small steps made in this realm. Recently, a group of 50 international representatives traveled to the Vatican to urge the Church to declare itself in support of the decriminalization of homosexuality. I was among them.
Religious leaders of all denominations should weigh in with policies that firmly and clearly urge all nations and peoples to repeal any and all laws criminalizing same-sex relations. Pope Francis, thankfully, has a very strong record of human rights and social justice. 
In 2014, the United Nations passed a resolution condemning violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s time for the U.N. to go further and pass a resolution advocating for homosexuality to be decriminalized worldwide.
When I was governor of New Mexico, I pushed for laws to make sure domestic partners were covered by health insurance and to expand our discrimination and hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In America, some states are expanding LGBTQ rights despite federal inaction. Despite the Trump administration’s lack of progress, there are a few issues where the U.S. can take a bold stance for human rights and fairness. I hope this administration can see that LGBTQ rights is one of them.
Bill Richardson – a former congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. Energy secretary – founded the Richardson Center for Global Engagement in 2011 to promote global peace and dialogue by identifying and working on areas of opportunity for engagement and citizen diplomacy with countries and communities not usually open to more formal diplomatic channels.

April 28, 2019

Some Gay Friendly Towns in The South Draw LGBT Tourists~Is It For Weekends or For Real?

By Ben Kesslen

EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. — On the count of three, about 50 gay couples kissed their partners in the public square of a small town in the Ozark Mountains.
Jay Wilks, the event’s organizer, told the crowd to do it over.
“With more passion this time!” he shouted into the microphone.
Wilks counted down again, and queer and trans people embraced their partners, now with the gusto he demanded. The couples, decked out in so much pride gear that despite the day’s clear weather rainbows abounded, held each other, laughed and, most important, kissed.
It was PDA in the Park, the signature event of early April’s Spring Diversity Weekend in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Eureka is a rural, hilly town of about 2,000 people where locals say over 30 percent of residents are LGBTQ and playfully remark their town has “no straight streets.” Amber Clark, 36, who has rainbow-dyed hair, drove in for the weekend from Carthage, Missouri, a city of less than 15,000 where you’d be hard-pressed to find 100 queer people making out in the small downtown. She came with what she characterized as “a group of loud, out, queer women.”
“We’re here to be normal for a weekend,” she said, “and to kiss in the park.”
About 2.9 to 3.8 million LGBTQ people live in rural America, and they are increasingly finding that they don’t need to travel to a big city or the coasts to find a place to be themselves and unwind on vacation.
Public imagination renders LGBTQ people as city dwellers, and the dominant narrative says anyone queer or trans living in rural America yearns for escape. There is some truth in that, and for good reason — a recent survey found that Arkansas residents were the least supportive of measures to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, compared to residents of other states. But in Eureka Springs, Wilks, who runs Out in Eureka, an LGBTQ event and information organization, is working to create what he sees as an oasis: a space for LGBTQ people to explore a quaint Southern town while being welcomed exactly as they are.
Other cities and towns in red states have also begun courting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer tourists, as a way of showing their openness and because there’s money to be made. (It’s difficult to determine the economic impact of LGBTQ travelers, but by using population data, the United Nations World Tourism Association estimates they generate more than $50 billion in annual revenue in the U.S.)

Performers at Diversity Weekend in Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Performers and attendees at Diversity Weekend in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.Ludwig Hurtado / NBC News

Salt Lake City is so dedicated to making sure people know it’s LGBTQ-friendly that it has an explainer on its tourism website that begins, “Yes, Salt Lake IS a great place for the LGBTQ Community.”
Oklahoma City tries to entice LGBTQ tourists with its annual Memorial Day gay rodeo and its small but thriving gayborhood.
Forty miles southwest of Eureka Springs, Fayetteville is on a similar mission, trying to appeal to LGBTQ people in Arkansas and neighboring states, for whom going on vacation to a major city is cost prohibitive — or not at all desirable. People who are rural and queer, or Southern and queer, often feel like they need to give up one of those identities, but city leaders in Fayetteville and Eureka Springs are marketing their towns as a place where visitors and residents alike can have it all, even if the state’s politics are not as progressive.
“Our focus is not to become a San Francisco or a Fort Lauderdale,” Wilks, 51, a former flight attendant, said. “Fire Island is fun,” he added of the gay destination east of New York City, but Wilks wants to remain “true to who Eureka is” — a small town that’s wooded, Southern and super gay.


Fayetteville recently became the first city in Arkansas to join the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, which provides free resources, travel suggestions and safety tips to LGBTQ travelers. The city of about 85,000 has always had a reputation for being progressive, especially within its own state, partly because it’s a college town that votes blue. Since 2014, Fayetteville fought to get an LGBTQ nondiscrimination law on its books, but the state supreme court struck it down in January.
That put Molly Rawn, executive director of Experience Fayetteville, the city’s tourism office, in a bit of a bind. How do you convince LGBTQ people to come to your city, which prides itself on inclusivity, when the state sends a different message?
One way Rawn does it is by being clear in her message to LGBTQ folks: “We want you here,” she said.

A participant waves from a car during Pride in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2018
A Pride participant in Fayetteville in 2018.Courtesy Vincent Griffin

Experience Fayetteville takes out ads in gay newspapers in nearby cities and neighboring states touting its attractions and making sure queer and trans folks know they can visit without worry.
“In my experience, you only have to get them here once, and then they come back,” Rawn said. A lifelong Arkansan, she knows she’s fighting an uphill battle — while she loves the state, she acknowledges that it isn’t always a great place to be LGBTQ, with a lack of workplace discrimination protections and scant health care for trans people.
Still, Fayetteville Pride, the biggest gay event of the year, has flourished, drawing visitors from all over the region. The first parade in 2005 drew about 200 attendees; last year, it had over 15,000. John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, was thrilled when Fayetteville wanted to be promoted by his organization. But some travel writers and tourists wrote to his organization and asked: “Is it really somewhere welcoming?” and “Do they really want us there?”
His answer: “Yes.”
Tanzella said that in recent years, gay tourism has “evolved from a one-size-fits model to all these different niches.” No longer just cruises and bed-and-breakfasts in Provincetown, Massachusetts, LGBTQ tourism has grown as diverse as the community itself. One of those niches is LGBTQ people who live in the South or the Midwest, and aren’t itching for big city life — they just want a place to be themselves.
Still, the impulse to court LGBTQ tourists doesn’t sit well with everyone.
Brody Parrish, a queer, trans and nonbinary Fayetteville resident, said the effort to draw LGBTQ visitors feels like a “misappropriation of resources.”
Parrish believes Northwest Arkansas should focus on allocating resources to its LGBTQ residents by increasing health care access and opening spaces like community drop-in centers were queer and trans people can congregate. Progressive cities like Fayetteville should “really be putting in the work to make it a safe space for everyone to exist here.”
“I would love to meet random LGBT people that come to this area to visit,” Parrish added, but at the same time, “What are you doing to support those people that are in your town, versus trying to bring people from other areas?”


Melodye Purdy moved to Eureka Springs about 15 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee. She and her partner chose Eureka mostly because “there is no other place on Earth like it.”
“Being a woman and being a lesbian, it was very important to find a sense of security and safety,” Purdy, 53, said. Some “gay-friendly” places she and her partner considered seemed to cater only to men, while others, like Key West and Provincetown, felt too far from her home in the South. “I did think that I had to leave the South to be a lesbian,” she said. But in Eureka, among the curvy streets, she found home. “I was wrong.”
Melodye Purdy

Melodye PurdyLudwig Hurtado / NBC News

Eureka’s reputation as an LGBTQ haven isn’t new — at least for Northwest Arkansas residents. It started as a hippie town in the ’70s, and slowly, queer and trans people began moving there. The picturesque town features old saloons with rainbow flags, a haunted hotel, and dozens of other gay-owned shops, restaurants and businesses. Every bar in Eureka, residents like to say, is a gay bar.
Ashley Buckmaster, 36, makes the two-hour drive from her home in Carthage, Missouri, to Eureka Springs a couple times a year. “It’s not scary to go places here,” Buckmaster, who is queer, said at Diversity Weekend. On her visits, she’s met and made lifelong friends. “It feels like home.”
That is exactly why Wilks organizes Diversity Weekend.
“With the cost of travelling to some of the major cities, it’s not something that everyone can just up and do,” he said. “Gay affluence” is a largely a myth, and transgender people often face structural hurdles to finding work and housing. Eureka, Wilks and others hope, can provide an affordable and safe refuge.


Preparing for his first trip to Eureka Springs a year ago, Ethan Avanzino, 30, said he took out a lot of cash.
“My initial thought of Arkansas was like: ‘Do they take credit cards? Can we barter?'” Avanzino, a gay trans man who grew up on the West Coast and currently lives in Dallas, said. He’s been back four times since then, making the six-to-seven-hour drive with his husband.
On Diversity Weekend this April, he returned to enjoy the festivities and to lead a “Transgender 101” workshop for visitors and community members.

Ethan Avanzino
Ethan Avanz

In the town’s public library, people asked Avanzino about they/them pronouns, what it means to be intersex and how best to support the trans people in their lives. Outside the library window, if you looked east, you could see a 66-foot white statue of Jesus called “Christ of the Ozarks” towering over the hills.
In Dallas, Avanzino is out and does media production for a Fortune 500 company; things are pretty good. But there’s something about Eureka that he feels like he can’t get elsewhere. “The inclusivity in the South is what captured me,” he said. “I like to disconnect and be out in the middle of the wilderness and not have cell reception.”
“Our first weekend in Eureka, I was like, ‘This is the place,’” Avanzino added. It will take him and his husband a few years to uproot their lives, but there’s one thing the two know for sure: “We’re moving.”   

February 26, 2019

Friendly Homes At Dumfries Church For LGBT Will Bring Gay People To Live At The Town Centre

 It is one of Dumfries' most prominent buildings.
Greyfriars Church - now St Bride's - has stood proudly at one end of the High Street for more than 150 years.
It could now be set to find a role few would have imagined when it was completed back in the 1860s.
A funding package has been put in place to explore the creation of LGBT-friendly housing on the site - particularly aimed at older members of the community.
Presentational white space
Church doors
Image captionThe church hopes the plan could help the building "pay for itself"
Presentational white space
The rationale? It might tackle three key issues in one.
Dumfries and Galloway Council is keen to encourage town centre living, the church is struggling to meet its running costs and it could help what is seen as a vulnerable group.
Leading the project team is Dr Belle Doyle who said the scheme was at a very early stage.
"It is more or less an investigation of whether we can do it," she said.
"The St Bride's Anglican Church - who I have been working for - have been looking at the future of the church.
"One of the problems is it is a massive church and there are not many people using it now." The trustees have been looking at ways to make the "really iconic" building pay for itself.
The church would continue to operate, possibly with a smaller footprint, with the property to rent built at the back.
"The idea was to build something at the back that would pay a bit of ground rent or something to keep the church going," explained Dr Doyle.
However, as a category A listed building, there are quite a few hurdles to be cleared.
"From the front of the building, if you were standing at Burns Statue, you shouldn't be able to see any development that was happening at the back of the building," she said.
"That vista would not be disturbed at all."
Side of church
Image captionDumfries and Galloway Council has provided financial support to exploring the plans
Dr Doyle said that they wanted the housing project to be something a little bit different.
"We wanted to make it kind of special, in a way, that we could invite a group to think about how they could live in the town centre and what would be a vulnerable group we could approach that would actually find that useful," she explained.
"I've been involved with the LGBT group in Dumfries and Galloway even before it was called LGBT.
"I know a lot of people who, even though they love living in the area, people are getting older, they are getting slightly more isolated."
She said she believed the attractions of town centre living might appeal to them.
"Here is a vulnerable group that would definitely seize the chance of living a more urban lifestyle," she said.
Dyfrig HywelImage copyrightDYFRIG HYWEL
Image captionDyfrig Hywel said the homes might allow people to "finally be themselves"
They are working with a housing association on the plans which they believe could become a template for developing redundant churches or ones struggling with their upkeep.
The idea would be to create something "cutting edge" at the back of a historic sandstone structure.
"The most important thing for us is people are very positive about the housing and the fact they are in the middle of Dumfries," said Dr Doyle.
"Obviously you would want people to be open and friendly to their neighbours regardless of who their neighbours were.
"There is not much of a social life which is why LGBT people have always gravitated to cities because there is a kind of 'critical mass' almost.
"If there is a large enough group you become the majority, you are taken seriously at that point.
"It is not just one or two people and they are isolated and you can bully or intimidate them."

'Really vulnerable'

Ian Barber and Dyfrig Hywel, who are members of the project board, said they believed there was a need for the housing.
"One type of people that might be living there is the elderly - people having to go back into the closet when they go into care," said Mr Hywel.
"We have got other people who come out of the closet in their 60s when their parents die.
"Despite the huge progress in society they are still really, really vulnerable people."
"There is also a huge issue with older LGBT people and care," added Mr Barber.
"People coming into their homes to deliver personal care not realising they are LGBT, not realising the other person there is actually their partner.
"Having to move into a care home or nursing home - there are still all sorts of issues. The development at the church is trying to, in some way, answer those needs."
Dumfries town centreImage copyrightBILLY MCCRORIE
Image captionDumfries and Galloway Council is keen to see people live in the town centre
Mr Hywel said peer support was becoming "more and more important" although he accepted the project might not appeal to everyone.
"It is a bit of a Marmite one - some people will like it, some people won't," he said.
"There is no doubt there is a need, however the people that need it are not going to be public about it necessarily because some of them will be vulnerable and isolated."
"It is good for the town because it is bringing more people to live in the town," said Mr Barber.
"There is all this discussion about the future of Dumfries now and we need to bring more people to live in the town centre."

'Long-term future'

"Inter-generational projects are very important - older people have a lot to give to younger ones and vice-versa," added Mr Hywel. "This could be life-changing for some individuals - they could finally be themselves."
The local authority, for its part, said it took great pride in being an "inclusive council".
"We are also keen to get people back living in Dumfries town centre," a spokesman said.
"Rethinking how the church is used may provide it with a long-term sustainable future.
"The trustees are fully aware of the iconic status this listed building has within the town and would like to see a future use that benefits the local LGBT community and supports the regeneration of Dumfries town centre."
The council recently committed a little more than £45,000 to help take the project forward.
If it is delivered, the people behind it hope it might become a template used in other parts of the country.

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