Arab LGBTQ activists in U.S., Canada aim to rally diaspora

Logo for Arab LGBTQ Activists Retreat Summit

Logo for Arab LGBTQ Activists Retreat Summit

A group of Independent Arab LGBTQ activists need your support.

Located in the United States & Canada, the group of activists are working to mobilize the community in the diaspora to continue the fight against homophobia in the Arab world, and for a safer world for everyone.

Leaders from around the Arab World based in diaspora will meet in Delaware to share successful innovative ideas for moving equality forward in their countries. The summit will be organized under the Chatham House Rule [Information from the meeting can be used, but with no mention of who said it or their affiliations], to establish a trusted network of connections abroad to truly align the LGBTQ civil movement in the both the diaspora & Arab world. They will be tackling the Arab LGBTQ asylum & refugee crisis, methods of how to support activists & NGO’s in the region, and most importantly form a step for engaging the LGBTQ Diaspora & allies in the fight.

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Posted in International pressure for LGBT rights, Middle East / North Africa, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dad, Mom and their gay Jamaican activist son

The parents of Jamaican activist/attorney Maurice Tomlinson haven’t always known what to make of their gay son, but they have become some of his most important supporters.

George (“Tommy”) Tomlinson, father of activist Maurice Tomlinson, supported his son's work at Montego Bay Pride, Jamaica, on Oct. 25, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

George (“Tommy”) Tomlinson, father of activist Maurice Tomlinson, supporting his son’s work at Montego Bay Pride, Jamaica, on Oct. 25, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Road trip reasonings with Dad

Yesterday my dad and I took another road trip to share “The Abominable Crime” documentary with a group in Jamaica. These have been great bonding experiences and I am discovering quite a bit about my parents.

For example, I learned that dad wants to keep driving “the rainbow bus” for Montego Bay Pride because he does not want to expose me or my friends to any homophobia from his colleague tour bus drivers. He assured me that he doesn’t hate these other drivers as he was once like them, until he started to think for himself.

Now, he says that he is very aware of just how many anti-gay statements are casually thrown about in Jamaica on a daily basis that he previously missed/ignored.

Not anymore. While he has not yet started confronting the homophobic speakers, he no longer joins in. And that is a start.

My inspiring dad

Having my dad with me at screenings of “The Abominable Crime” in Jamaica is inspiring on many levels. Tonight a gay youngster came up to dad after the show and quietly said, “Thank you for accompanying your son.”

Dad was visibly moved, and he mumbled, “No problem.” He has come a long way, and he understands how some parents can struggle with their kids’ homosexuality.

I hope my dad shows these youngsters that it can get better. The young man was so inspired by my dad’s presence and support that he decided to confront his own fears and join us for a Stand in front of Emancipation Park. Though clearly very nervous, he stood with a rainbow flag for the 5 minutes we were there and when it was over he said that he felt a little braver after the experience.

Mom and ‘the talk’

Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson and his mother (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson and his mother (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Had “the talk” with mom today. She finally asked: “Are people born gay?”

After what I think was as comprehensive explanation where I reviewed the “nature/nurture” discourse, the existence of homosexuality in nature, the analogy with being left-handed, the fact that even if it is a choice then so is religion and we protect religious views, and the fallacy that homosexuality is harmful because it “leads” to HIV, I finally concluded with “it does not matter, as long as people are not hurting each other.”

In her typical self-deprecating manner mom said that she hopes she remembers half of what I said. I know she will. She has a mind like a steel trap. And I am glad she asked. Because now I know that she can respond appropriately when she is confronted by some religious homophobe.

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Marriage equality: Canadian church has it, will get more

Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson, whose same-sex marriage in Canada in 2011 forced him to flee Jamaica to become a Canadian resident, welcomes the acceptance of marriage equality by a large majority of members of the Anglican Church of Canada.

At first, it seemed as though yesterday’s vote to establish full marriage equality throughout the Canadian church had fallen short, but it turned out that the first tally was incorrect. The resolution passed.

Even if it had fallen short, such a high level of acceptance of same-sex marriage is only a distant hope for people in Jamaica and dozens of other countries.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, celebrates the opening Eucharist at the church's recently concluded general meeting. (Photo courtesy of EpiscopalDigitalNetwork.com)

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, celebrates the opening Eucharist at the church’s recently concluded general meeting. (Photo courtesy of EpiscopalDigitalNetwork.com)

I am a PROUD CANADIAN ANGLICAN today. Over 70% of our church voted in favour of marriage-equality last night after a long and sometimes painful debate. Although our voting rules that require a 2/3 majority in each voting house (Bishops, Clergy and Laity) resulted in the motion to amend the marriage cannon [apparently being defeated by a single vote] in the clergy house(?!), the message was abundantly clear: the vast majority of Canadian Anglicans support full equality for LGBTI people.

AND even better, three dioceses (Niagara, Huron and Ottawa) have stated that they will immediately allow same-sex weddings while two others (Toronto and New Westminster – Vancouver) have committed to reviewing this local option. Together, these dioceses have the vast majority of Anglicans in Canada. And so this, to me, is a victory! Love WINS!

The General Synod Chancellor (chief legal officer) ruled some time ago that the existing marriage canon is not gender-specific, and does not prohibit same-sex marriages. The bishops are therefore able to authorise rites in their dioceses for pastoral need, and this is such a need.

The [corrected] vote last night means that the earliest marriage equality can come to the entire Anglican Church in Canada will be in 2019, after the required second vote on the issue at the next triennial General Synod. Now, we have marriage-equality in those dioceses that want to proceed (which was what the vote last night was about anyway)!

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Tunisia: What are you doing to your youth?

Shams logo

Logo of Shams

Dictatorial, homophobic leaders of Tunisia “systematically sacrifice” the country’s youths, forgetting that youths led Tunisia’s democratic revolution, says the group Shams, which seeks the repeal of Tunisia’s anti-gay law.

The statement by Shams (which means “Sun”) came in response to a suicide attempt by its vice president, Ahmed Ben Amor.

Shams said:

“How can such a wonderful young man be excluded from all aspects of his life? His family first. His college. His friends. Just because he has chosen to claim his homosexuality.”

The advocacy organization added:

“Shams-Tunisia is still shocked by the astounding double-dealing of the Tunisian authorities that brandish Tunisia’s beautiful nascent democracy to gain international support but continue to systematically clamp down on human rights at home.

“We are Tunisian and we deeply love our country, yet we ask ourselves: Why does our youth only dream of Eiffel Towers and Statues of Liberty?”

An English translation of the French-language Shams press release is below. It is a modestly edited version of an informal translation by human rights activist Fabrice Houdart.

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Ivory Coast as LGBT sanctuary? Except when it’s not

Le chef de l'Etat ivoirien, le Président Alassane Ouattara

Alassane Ouattara, president of Ivory Coast

By Jean Marc Yao

Ivory Coast has a reputation as a land where LGBT people can find safety. The main basis for this reputation is that Ivory Coast’s laws do not criminalize homosexuality.

Nothing in the country’s laws refers to homosexuality or same-sex relations except for Article 360 of the Penal Code, which considers same-sex relations to be an aggravating circumstance in cases of of indecent assault.

This means that LGBT people do not have any special legal status in Ivory Coast, which neither gives them any particular protections nor threatens them with NY particular types of prosecution.

The laws of Ivory Coast are clear, but the Ivory Coast’s government’s attitudes are not. It is difficult to discern the government’s actual position on LGBT issues.

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Jamaican Supreme Court stacks the deck against LGBT rights

The Jamaican Supreme Court dealt a setback last week to the lawsuit seeking to overturn Jamaica’s anti-LGBT sodomy law, blocking Jamaica’s LGBT-friendly Public Defender from participating in the suit, but opening it to nine conservative Christian groups.

This press release from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network makes the situation clear:

Jamaican Supreme Court admits religious groups as interested parties in challenge to Anti-Sodomy Law

‘Truly a David and Goliath situation’

Jamaica Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Gleaner)

Jamaica Supreme Court building. (Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Gleaner)

TORONTO, July 7, 2016 — Today the Jamaican Supreme Court handed down its ruling on applications by nine religious groups and the Public Defender to be interested parties in a challenge by Jamaican lawyer Maurice Tomlinson to the country’s anti-sodomy law. All the groups except the Public Defender were allowed in the case with full rights of participation.

“This is truly a David and Goliath situation, requiring me to respond to not only the government’s, but also the religious groups’ arguments,” says Mr. Tomlinson. The legal challenge, which is supported by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and AIDS-Free World, argues that Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law violates the constitutional rights of its people.

The religious groups allege that they must participate in the case to defend the 1864 British colonially imposed anti-sodomy law that criminalizes all forms of intimacy between consenting adult males, even in private, because the statute protects their rights under the 2011 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. These rights they claim include freedom of religion, equality before the law, the right to a healthy environment, and the right to privacy. They also claim that gay men must be banned from having sex because that will inevitably lead to the exploitation of children.

Arlene Harrison-Henry, Jamaica’s official Public Defender, has said that  LGBT Jamaicans “are entitled to equality, representation, and equal protection of laws.” (Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Gleaner)

Arlene Harrison-Henry, Jamaica’s official Public Defender, has said that LGBT Jamaicans “are entitled to equality, representation, and equal protection of laws.” (Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Gleaner)

“During the hearing of the applications, the court stated that some of the churches’ allegations seem far-fetched. Nevertheless, the court found that the opinion of the majority of Jamaicans — as reflected by the religious groups — was important in deciding what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms,” says Mr. Tomlinson, asserting that the law violates his rights to privacy and non-discrimination.

There are other serious concerns with the anti-sodomy law. UNAIDS and other groups involved in the national HIV response have identified the law as contributing to the reason Jamaica has the highest HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men (MSM) in the western hemisphere, if not the world (33%). MSM are driven underground and away from effective HIV prevention, treatment, care and support interventions.

The Public Defender has indicated that she will seek leave to appeal the court’s ruling and the matter will likely be suspended until that appeal is heard. The full hearing is not expected to take place before 2017.

For more information on Mr. Tomlinson’s constitutional challenge, see our Q&A at www.aidslaw.ca/JamaicaQA.

Tomlinson also commented on the decision, pointing out the judge’s bias:

Jamaican court admits to cultural relativism in anti-sodomy challenge

Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Today, the J’can Supreme Court handed down its decision in the applications by 9 religious groups and the public defender to be interested parties in my constitutional challenge to the Jamaican anti-sodomy law.

The court rejected the application of the public defender and accepted all the religious groups.

That would be alarming enough, because these fundamentalists made unfounded arguments to the effect that the law is necessary to preserve their religious freedoms, privacy, a healthy environment, etc.

But the most problematic passage was paragraph 85 of the judgement where the judge said:

“…the court will have to consider whether the majority of Jamaicans consider homosexuality and more specifically buggery to be repugnant. I agree with these submissions entirely…”

At best, this reasoning is at odds with the constitutional principle of protecting minority rights from being trampled on by the will of the majority.

Meanwhile, the Public Defender sought leave to appeal and was denied by the judge and is now proceeding directly to the court of appeal to seek permission to bring the appeal. This may delay the hearing of the matter.

We don’t expect a full hearing until at least 2017.

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Posted in Americas, Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, HIV / AIDS, Trials / punishments | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tunisian LGBT leader attempts suicide

The Tunisian LGBT activist group Shams announced yesterday on Facebook:

Ahmed Ben Amor, vice-président de l'Association Shams

Ahmed Ben Amor, vice-president of Shams

Shams – Tunisia announces with regret that its vice-president, Ahmed Ben Amor, attempted suicide at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 9, by consuming a huge amount of drugs. He was hospitalized in a coma.

Shams believes this happened because of the homophobia of his family and the society and because of death threats that Ahmed has regularly received.

Today Shams published an update:

Ahmed Ben Amor, Vice President of Shams-Tunisia is better. He finally woke up and he was able to eat.

We wish him a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him again very soon.

Posted in Africa, Harassment / murders, Middle East / North Africa | Tagged , | 7 Comments