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Bhutan and San Marino advance LGBTQ rights, a gay Hong Kong government worker wins court-ordered spousal benefits, death threats greet a U.S. gay tour’s Ethiopian adventure, Texas sues San Antonio over its Chick-fil-A nix, and more international LGBTQ news!
Complete Program Summary and NewsWrap Transcript for the week of June 10, 2019
LGBTQ History Beat!
Program #1,628 distributed 06/10/19
Hosted this week by Greg Gordon and produced with Lucia Chappelle
NewsWrap (full transcript below): Bhutan lawmakers take a big step toward
A summary of some of the news in or affecting global LGBTQ communities for the week ending June 8, 2019 Written by Greg Gordon, edited by Lucia Chappelle, reported this week by Michael LeBeau and Tanya Kane-Parry, produced by Brian DeShazor
Bhutan’s 44-member National Assembly voted on June 7th to remove Sections 213 and 214 of the nation’s penal code that outlaw “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.” Reuters reported that there was only one dissenting vote. The bill now needs the approval of the tiny South Asian Buddhist kingdom’s upper house, the National Council. Rights activists are expressing confidence that it will pass there, too.
Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Tshering suggested repeal of the colonial-era statutes in late May. He called them “an eyesore for international human rights bodies.”
The eastern Himalayan country’s claim to fame is probably its Gross National Happiness Index that promotes the wellbeing of Bhutan’s population. The goal of creating government policy based on the perceived happiness of citizens rather than economic considerations became a guiding principle when democratic elections were first held in 2008. Before then, Bhutan had been an absolute monarchy.
Activists say that cultural taboos have made queer people virtually invisible. Rainbow Bhutan spokesperson Tashi Tsheten told Gay Star News that, “We believe that [most Bhutanese] never had the proper access to information and have never seen an LGBTQ personally.” Karma Dupchen is one of its few publically “out” people. Dupchen told The Daily Beast that “growing up gay in Bhutan was a very alienating experience” because being LGBTQ there is “pretty much unheard of.”
In one of Europe’s smallest countries, voters in San Marino banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in its constitution by a more than 70 percent margin. The referendum was held on June 2nd. According to Euronews, no public stand was taken on the issue by the country’s main conservative party, the Christian Democrats.
San Marino becomes the eleventh country in the world to specifically include LGBTQ rights in its constitution. That document already states that, “All are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, personal, economic, social, political and religious conditions.”
The latest action continues the evolving attitudes toward LGBTQ people in the country that about 33,500 people call home. Until 2004, a conviction for consensual adult gay sex could bring from 3 to 12 months in jail. Fourteen years later, lawmakers established civil unions for same-gender couples.
Italian queer activist Marco Tonti has been working on the referendum with San Marino rights groups since civil unions were established. Tonti applauded the vote, saying “I hope this exceptional success acts as a sign and a warning outside of the borders of San Marino, especially for [surrounding] Italy.”
A bill to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has languished in the Italian legislature for a number of years.
Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal has ruled in favor of a gay government worker who was denied spousal benefits for his husband. Immigration officer Angus Leung legally married British citizen Scott Adams in New Zealand in 2014. But the following year, the Civil Service Bureau refused to change Leung’s marital status and extend spousal benefits, including medical coverage, to his husband. Leung then filed suit.
Hong Kong’s top appeals court also ruled that the couple could be taxed jointly, just like heterosexual couples.
The June 6th ruling of the 5-judge panel was unanimous. The government argued that the protection of “traditional” marriage as a heterosexual-only institution was paramount. But Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma disagreed in the 32-page opinion. Ma wrote, “How is it said that allowing Mr. Adams medical and dental benefits weakens the institution of marriage in Hong Kong? Similarly, how does permitting the appellant to elect for joint assessment of his income tax liability … impinge on the institution of marriage in Hong Kong?”
Anti-queer statutes continue to tumble there. This ruling follows the High Court striking down laws against consensual gay sex in late May. The government indicated that it would not appeal that ruling.
And a British lesbian won the right for her partner to be given a spousal visa in Hong Kong last year.
Leung and Adams celebrated this week’s ruling, noting that it had been “a long and stressful journey to get the results today.”
Their statement went on to say that, “It is not right for any individual to go through such a process to get equality rights. We urge the government to review and amend all the discriminatory legislation and policies to prevent further legal battles, which are costly, time-consuming and unnecessary.”
A U.S. gay tour operator is being threatened with death by members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church for his plans to bring a queer group to visit the country’s religious sites.
Chicago-based Toto Tours President Dan Ware said that, “We come with only the greatest respect and humility.” Ware said that the visit was “not aimed at spreading values contrary to local cultures … We are simply an organization where like-minded people can travel comfortably together to experience the world’s most precious wonders.” One of the destinations during the planned 16-day trip is the ancient pilgrimage site at Lalibela, known for its distinctive rock-cut churches. The BBC reports that the planned October tour also includes visits to religious sites in Bahir Dar, a center of Christian mysticism.
But homosexual acts are punished by up to 15 years in prison in the northeastern African nation, and there is widespread hostility towards same-gender sex. An Ethiopian Orthodox Church spokesman told a June 3rd press conference that gay visitors “will be damaged, they could even die.”
Ware responded to the threats by calling for U.S. State Department protection and support from Ethiopia’s Tourism Ministry. He said, “This is terrible discrimination, and when word of this spreads internationally, as it is most likely to do, it will have a negative impact on the important tourism industry in Ethiopia.”
Toto Tours has been organizing sight-seeing tours around the world for its mainly LGBTQ clientele since 1990. Ware says that he’s waiting to hear from the Ethiopian government to find out whether or not they’ll be allowed into the country.
In other news, the state of Texas is suing the city of San Antonio because of its refusal to include a Chick-fil-A franchise in its airport food court.
San Antonio city officials made their decision after the progressive group Think Progress documented millions of dollars in donations by the fast food chicken chain to blatantly anti-LGBTQ groups in recent years.
Notoriously homophobic Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton then launched what he called an “investigation” into whether the exclusion violates state and federal laws. Paxton claimed in a press release on June 3rd that city officials engaged in “religious bigotry,” noting that Chick-fil-A leaders are “well-known for their personal belief in the Christian faith and traditional understanding of marriage.”
San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia expressed doubts about Paxton’s ability to conduct a truly objective probe. Segovia said, “It is clear from the strident comments in his press release that any ‘investigation’ would be a pretense to justify his own conclusions.”
The Republican-controlled Texas legislature has also passed a bill that bans local governments from taking “any adverse action” against people or businesses based on expression of a religious belief. Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign it.
And the Trump administration is also examining the propriety of denying airport space to Chick-fil-A. The Federal Aviation Administration says it’s launched an investigation into alleged discrimination against Chick-fil-A by both the San Antonio International Airport and the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Northern New York state’s Buffalo Niagara denied food court space to the homophobic eatery earlier this year.
And finally, Alabama has been among the Republican-governed states making news recently for passing draconian bills to make the vast majority of abortions illegal — in some cases jailing doctors who perform them or women who undergo them.
Flying under the radar was Carbon Hill, Alabama Mayor Mark Chambers. Chambers has now taken down a Facebook diatribe against LGBTQ people around the world that concluded with, “The only way to change it would be to kill them out.” He initially denied the post when a reporter from a local TV station asked him about it. Chambers has been the mayor of 2,000-citizen Carbon Hill since 2014. He is resisting calls to step down.
[first few seconds of Arthur & Friends theme, down quickly under:]
And in another less heralded news story this week, the First United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama is hosting a wedding party to screen a censored episode of the animated Public Broadcasting Service children’s series Arthur and Friends. In the episode, Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone, Arthur and some of his friends attend the wedding of their teacher Mr. Ratburn to his partner Patrick, an aardvark chocolatier. The local PBS affiliate refused to air it because to do so would be “a violation of the public trust.”
The church describes itself as “an open place for all,” and is inviting everyone to the public event to watch the episode. Guests will also be treated to wedding cake … and sparkling apple juice.
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