Thursday, September 9, 2010

As if they did not happen, then

A Malawian transgender woman and her partner, who were arrested in December after holding an engagement party at a hotel, were sentenced to 14 years in prison May 20 after being convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts.

The couple has been identified as a gay couple in numerous media outlets but several reports now suggest the two identify as a man and transgender woman.

Blantyre Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa told Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga: "That's the maximum [sentence] under the penal code. I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example."

Chimbalanga, 33, identifies as a woman.

The stiff sentences, which include hard labor, generated blistering criticism from around the world.

"The United States strongly condemns the conviction and harsh sentencing of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in Malawi," said a statement from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "The criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity is unconscionable, and this case mars the human rights record of Malawi. We urge Malawi and all countries to stop using sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for arrest, detention, or execution."

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission called the convictions and sentences "part of a broader pattern of mounting pressure and persecution on LGBT people by authorities in Malawi."

"This persecution has come from the highest levels of government," the group said. "On April 23, President Bingu wa Mutharika reportedly denounced homosexuality as 'un-Malawian,' 'evil,' and 'disgusting' and linked it to corruption, violence, theft, and prostitution."

Malawi's Center for the Development of People said the couple's imprisonment will "drive the gay community further into hiding."

"It is not only a ruling against Steven and Tiwonge but the whole LGBT community in Malawi and Africa," said spokesperson Dunker Kamba.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Malawi should decriminalize gay sex.

"The United States is deeply disappointed in today's conviction of same-sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in Malawi," Crowley said. "We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi. ... The United States views the decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to the protection of human rights in Malawi and elsewhere in the world."

Malawi is heavily dependent on foreign aid, which makes up some 40 percent of its budget, according to the New York Times .

Portugal legalizes same-sex marriage

Portugal became the 10th country in the world where same-sex couples can marry on May 17 when President An'bal Cavaco Silva grudgingly signed a bill that was passed by Parliament and vetted by the Constitutional Court.

Cavaco Silva, who does not support the law, had little choice in the matter. Had he vetoed it, Parliament would have passed it again, which would have forced him to ratify it eight days later.

"I understand that I should not contribute to uselessly extending this debate," the president said in a televised statement, explaining that he would have preferred to enact a civil union law in order to "respect the institution of marriage as a union between a man and woman."

"I do not think anyone honestly can consider the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland or Denmark as backward countries," Cavaco Silva said in reference to European nations that do not let same-sex couples marry but give them the same rights under registered-partnership laws.

"The partisan forces that approved the law would not consider an elementary principle of political action in a plural society: to choose from among the various legal solutions one that was likely to create less social conflict or one that could be acceptable to the largest number of citizens, whatever their worldview," the president complained.

Correspondent Jo?o Paulo from said, however, that the bill had not been particularly controversial.

"It was not a 'fracture' subject in our society," Paulo said. "People don't care that much about civil marriage being open to same-sex couples – just a small group of extremist Catholics have tried to put a stop to it. There were even some opinion polls with the majority in favor of the move."

"I must say that I was surprised with the president's message," Paulo added. "I was expecting some personal opinion against it, but not anything like this."

The law excludes access to adoption for same-sex couples. Activists said they plan to tackle that deficiency quickly.

The first same-sex weddings are expected to take place around May 29, once the law has been officially published and then five more calendar days have passed.

Same-sex marriage also is legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Mexico City, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.

The next addition to the list likely will be Iceland.

LGBTs stage IDAHO flashmob in St. Petersburg

More than 150 people from the LGBT group Coming Out staged a "Rainbow Flashmob" in St. Petersburg, Russia, on May 16 in conjunction with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

They distributed pamphlets and released multicolored balloons "symbolizing their dream of a world free of hate and homophobia," organizers said.

Far-right groups had threatened to attack the event, but the confrontation did not materialize.

"By coming to the event, people demonstrate that they will not be bullied," said Coming Out spokesman Igor Kochetkov. "Each time, the LGBT community of St. Petersburg becomes more and more self-confident in showing itself."

IDAHO flashmobs took place in dozens of other cities in Russia and elsewhere.

Gays march in Brussels and Havana

More than 30,000 people marched in Brussels May 15 for gay pride. They demanded equality for LGBT people throughout Europe. Belgium takes over the rotating European Union presidency in July.

Meanwhile, in Havana, hundreds of LGBT people marched in the Vedado nightlife district May 15 in advance of the May 17 observance of IDAHO. They were led by President Ra?l Castro's daughter Mariela, who heads Cenesex, the National Sex Education Center.

Other Cuban IDAHO events included workshops on LGBT issues and a huge, officially sanctioned outdoor drag show May 17 in the city of Santa Clara, 160 miles (258 km) east of Havana.

Aussies rally for marriage equality

Gays and lesbians staged large rallies in Australia's cities May 15 demanding federal legalization of same-sex marriage.

The rallies coincided with IDAHO.

British gay actor Sir Ian McKellen addressed more than 1,000 people in Melbourne.

"A non-discrimination law establishing the right for gay people to be married would cost the Australian government nothing financially and would gain for you worldwide respect [and] would change lives enormously," McKellen said.

Marchers arrested at Minsk pride fined $6 each

Seven people who were arrested when police violently broke up the first gay pride parade in Minsk, Belarus, on May 15 were released two days later after paying a fine of 17,500 rubles ($5.83) each for taking part in an unsanctioned public action.

The detained activists included St. Petersburg Pride organizers Aleksandr Sheremetyev and Dmitri Milkov.

City authorities had banned the parade, citing a national law that prohibits public events within 200 meters of subway stations and pedestrian tunnels.

When 40 people marched anyway, police attacked them and beat them.

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