In France, a leftwing activist and ally against homophobia has been left brain-dead after he was attacked by a group of skinheads, in an attack that has raised fears of increased far-right violence. The interior minister, Manuel Valls, said a fight broke out on Wednesday evening between two groups of young people in a street steps away from the famous Printemps department store in Paris. Clement Meric, a 19-year-old student at Sciences Po, one of France's most prestigious universities, was beaten by several skinheads, according to Valls. The Guardian reports that no suspects have been arrested, and Valls told reporters at the scene of the attack – a crowded, pedestrian-area with cafes and chain stores – that finding them is the top priority. It was unclear how the fight developed and how many people were involved. Political tensions are high in France after months of protests against legalizing same sex marriage; protest that often ended with troublemakers from the extreme right clashing with police. Gay rights organisations have also warned that gay people were being targeted before the Socialist government's "marriage for all" bill was passed. Politicians from left and right lashed out at the violence, as did Valls, who focused his anger at the skinheads. "There is no place for small neo-Nazi groups whose enemy is the nation. A group of the extreme right is at the heart of this assassination. "There is a discourse of hate and a climate that favours this discourse. We need to pay attention to this because they threaten our values." The Party of the Left said Meric, one of its activists, was declared brain-dead. The party, one of several small political movements on France's vocal and active far-left, called for demonstrations in Paris against violence by groups on the extreme right.
In Southern Russia, a Communist group wants openly gay British pop star Elton John to wear a traditional Cossack uniform at an upcoming concert because his usual flamboyant clothing is “homosexual propaganda,” the group’s leader told RIA Novosti on Thursday. The singer, who is scheduled to play the city of Krasnodar on July 14, should wear “more respectable” attire when he performs, like a knee-length caftan, a fur hat and leather boots, said Mikhail Abramyan, head of the local branch of the Communists of Russia, not to be confused with the much larger Communist Party of the Russian Federation. “We hope he’ll wear it,” Abramyan said, adding that the show’s promoters had rejected the idea. Abramyan said his group, which numbers 350, was ready to take to the streets in protest. The Cossacks are predominantly Eastern Slavs, known for their social conservatism and tsarist-era military exploits, based mainly in southern Russia and Ukraine. Many were suppressed under the Soviets for having supported the tsar during the 1917 Revolution, but today the group is showing a revival, regaining prominence in Russian public life and sometimes performing vigilante police duties. “Promoting homosexuality” is a criminal offense in many Russian regions, including Krasnodar, and comparable federal legislation is expected to receive final approval by the lower house of parliament next week, a lawmaker told RIA Novosti on Thursday. That same day, parliament members submitted legislation for news outlets to be fined up to 1 million rubles (about $30,000) for instances of promoting homosexuality, which has remained vaguely defined thus far. American pop icon Madonna was sued for over $10 million in a lawsuit backed by a St. Petersburg lawmaker last year after she asked fans at a concert there to raise their hands in support of gay pride. The suit was later thrown out of court. Asked whether he likes John’s music, Abramyan said he preferred songs in Russian.
In Colorado, a gay couple is pursuing a discrimination complaint against a Lakewood bakery, saying the business refused them a wedding cake to honor their Massachusetts ceremony. It's a case that highlights a growing tension between gay rights advocates and supporters of religious freedom as more states move to legalize same sex marriage and civil unions. The Colorado Attorney General's office filed a formal complaint last week after the ACLU initiated the process last year on behalf of David Mullins and Charlie Craig. They say Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood refused to make a cake for them when they told the owner it was to celebrate their Massachusetts wedding in a reception in Colorado. The shop's owner, Jack Phillips, told 9NEWS back in August of 2012, that he has a strong stance toward the biblical view of marriage between one man and one woman. "I said, 'I'm sorry, I don't do cakes for same sex weddings,'" Phillips said in August. Phillips said the two were welcome to buy any other cake in the store, but he would not participate in making a custom creation for their wedding. "We're not trying to shut down Masterpiece Cake Shop," Charlie Craig told 9NEWS in August. "We want Masterpiece Cake Shop's policy toward, gays and weddings, gay weddings to change."
In Georgia, a gay man will be allowed to order a vanity license plate that describes his sexual orientation, but Georgians' car tags must not refer to sex acts, weapons, drugs and much else under new rules issued by the state. The regulations are part of a settlement on Wednesday between the state and Atlanta resident James Cyrus Gilbert, who sued Georgia after officials denied his request for a personalized plate that would read GAYGUY, 4GAYLIB or GAYPWR. All three phrases sought by Gilbert were on the state's "bad tag" list, said the lawsuit, which claimed Georgia had violated his First Amendment right to free speech. In settling the suit, the state allowed Gilbert to pick any of the three choices that were refused in January, said his attorney, Cynthia Counts. He has chosen GAYPWR, she said. "He got the regulation changed, at least on the use of the word 'gay,'" Counts said on Thursday. "That to him is a victory. It was a good decision by the state to resolve that lawsuit." The state agreed to pay $24,000 for Gilbert's legal fees. The emergency regulation clarifies the standards for vanity tags in Georgia. It will expire in 120 days, and the state will hold public hearings on making the changes permanent, said Rick Gardner, supervisor of the Georgia Department of Revenue's tax policy office. License plates can mention a sexual orientation but cannot disparage it or any religious beliefs, ethnicity, race or gender, according to the rules. "Special prestige license plates will not be issued for letter/number combinations" that refer to sexual acts or body parts, bodily fluids, profanity, weapons, drugs, criminal activity and alcohol. The words "hate" and "suck" are also banned.
In Arizona, the fight over state’s so-called “bathroom bill” has been dropped, at least for the time being. Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) announced Wednesday that he will drop the bill aimed at transgender people who use public restrooms, showers and locker rooms. Kavanagh, who sponsored the bill, said he would introduce it again next year. His proposal drew national media attention and outraged gay-rights activists. Senate Bill 1045 would have prohibited local governments from passing ordinances that could subject businesses to lawsuits or criminal penalties if they forbid a transgender person from using a restroom. The bill was a response to an ordinance Phoenix leaders adopted in February, banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender residents. Phoenix’s law applies to public accommodations such as stores, restaurants and hotels, and could affect public bathroom use in some cases. Kavanagh said he decided to drop the proposal mainly because there’s little time left to address it given that Gov. Jan Brewer has said she will not sign any bills until there is progress on the budget. However, it’s unclear if the bill would have gotten far anyway. Aside from the criticism of Democrats and gay-rights activists, some moderate Republicans were apprehensive. And, Kavanagh said, conservative lawmakers were concerned it did not go far enough to protect businesses from penalties under Phoenix’s law, or might unintentionally endorse a definition of transgender. “It needs a little more work,” Kavanagh said, adding that he plans to tweak his proposal next year. “The major factor is a time issue.” Gay-rights advocates and transgender residents said the bill would have given business owners the right to discriminate against those who appear too masculine or feminine. They said it could create unintended consequences by broadly defining “gender identity or expression.” Rebecca Wininger, president of the gay-rights watchdog group Equality Arizona, said Kavanagh’s announcement gives the community time to help educate lawmakers about transgender people. She said the bill singled out a group of people for discrimination. “It makes me rest easier in that we’ve got another six to seven months to educate people,” Wininger said. “I don’t think anybody but Kavanagh had a belief that it was a truly needed bill.” Kavanagh said the bill was a matter of “civility,” not civil rights. Opponents of Phoenix’s law, which is similar to ordinances in Tucson and Flagstaff, said it could allow a person with male genitalia but who identifies as a woman to change clothes in the female locker room, potentially exposing himself Originally, Kavanagh’s proposal would have made it a crime for a person to use a bathroom, locker room or dressing room that’s not designated for the sex listed on his or her birth certificate. He revamped the bill after critics felt it extended the reach of state government into bathroom stalls.