Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Brazil Congressional Human Rights Committee Approves Legislation Allowing Psychologists To Treat Homosexuality As Disorder, Russian Gays Living Abroad Launch Campaign Calling For Boycott Of 2014 Winter Sochi Games, Indiana Bureau Of Motor Vehicles Inexplicably Extends Battle Denying State LGBT Youth Group Over License Plates, After Three Days Gay Pride Flag Removed From Calistoga California City Hall Following Complaints, Michelle Shocked Intends To Play San Francisco Pride

In Brazil, a congressional human rights committee approved legislation that would allow psychologists to treat homosexuality as a disorder or pathology. According to the Associated Press, the commission is led by evangelical pastor Marco Feliciano of the Social Christian Party, who has been accused of homophobia and enraged activists by calling AIDS a "gay cancer" in a tweet. His appointment as head the Commission for Human Rights and Minorities in the lower house of Brazil's Congress was fiercely opposed by gay and human rights groups. The measure approved Tuesday seeks to lift a prohibition on psychologists treating homosexuality that was established by the Federal Psychology Council. The ban has been in effect since 1999. "In practice, (the initiative's) result would be that a person over 18 years of age, responsible for his actions, who is homosexual and wants to reorient his sexuality, can be attended by a psychologist," said lawmaker Joao Campos, a member of the evangelical bloc of Brazil's lower house. Feliciano had tried for weeks to put the "gay cure" initiative before the commission but had failed as opponents maneuvered to block a vote. The initiative was passed Tuesday amid a low turnout by commission members. The psychologists' council had called on commission members to vote against it. "Today psychology, as wells as other scientific disciplines, recognize that sexual orientation is not a pathology that should be treated, it is not a perversion nor a disorder nor a behavioral disturbance. Since this is the case, we cannot offer a cure, and that is an ethical principle," said council member Huberto Verona. The initiative still must be debated by other committees before going to the full Chamber of Deputies and the Senate for votes. Jean Wyllys, Brazil's first openly gay lawmaker, expressed confidence the initiative would not make it through the legislative process.

A group of gays from Russia and the former Soviet republics living in the United States has a message for gay athletes and others planning to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi: Don’t go. The group is calling for a boycott of the games, saying the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is not safe in Russia – and they hope even those who are not gay will support the ban. “LGBT people in Russia are scared, they live in fear, and we want people to be aware of the issue. If they feel strongly about human rights they should boycott the Olympics in Sochi,” said Nina Long, co-president of RUSA LGBT, a Russian-speaking LGBT organization based in New York. “We really want the LGBT community to know it’s unsafe to travel there,” she said in an interview with RIA Novosti. A statement from the International Olympic Committee did little to ease her concerns, Long said. The committee told RIA Novosti in a statement that the IOC has a long commitment to non-discrimination against Olympic athletes, adding that “athletes of all orientations will be welcome at the Games,” Long countering that, “They have to put up the statement like that, otherwise it’s an international scandal, but it’s a lie… it’s just to make it hush-hush and nice on some international level.” RUSA LGBT has several hundred gay members from Russia and surrounding countries of the former Soviet Union who live now in the New York area, Long said. The group is planning to march and hand out flyers with information about the Olympic boycott in New York’s upcoming annual Gay-Pride Parade, scheduled for June 30, which will feature a Russian float for the first time. Long and others say the issue of gay rights in Russia and FSU countries is more urgent now than ever before, with a growing conservative movement across the region that has led to new anti-gay laws and a growing homophobic environment. Laws that forbid the spreading of propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations to minors started in local communities but grew to larger cities like St. Petersburg in 2012, and passed Russia’s lower house just last week. Such laws “sound fine,” but in reality give “government-issued license to anyone who wants to persecute gays,” said Ivan Savvine, an art curator and gay man from St. Petersburg who sought asylum because of his sexual orientation shortly after he came to the United States in 2004. “It became really dangerous for me to live there. There was quite a bit of violence that I was faced with, and unfortunately there are no longer isolated instances of persecution. It’s definitely escalated,” Savvine said in an interview with RIA Novosti. He was granted asylum in 2006 and became a US citizen earlier this year. “It’s getting worse and worse,” said Alexander Kargaltsev, a gay man and political activist from Moscow who said he was persecuted for his sexual orientation several times and was beaten by police in Moscow in 2009. He came to the United States in 2010, when he won a scholarship to the New York Film Academy, and immediately applied for asylum. His fully nude photography exhibition entitled “Asylum” opened at Savvine’s 287 Spring Gallery in New York in October 2012 and featured Russian gay men who fled persecution in their homeland and came to the United States. The models were shot in the nude in iconic places in New York City, an effort to visually reproduce the immigrant experience of “starting from scratch with no family or friends and often without the language they can speak or understand," said Savvine in an introduction to the exhibit. Today, Kargaltsev said, he gets a growing number of requests from Russian gays seeking guidance in the asylum process. “They contact me on Skype and on Facebook all the time now. It used to be one every two months and now it’s one every week,” he said. “We’ve had clients in Russia who’ve been beaten by police, but more often it’s vigilante groups and thugs engaging in social cleansing and unfortunately the police don’t do anything to offer protection,” said Aaron Morris, senior staff attorney for Immigration Equality, a national organization that advocates for LGBT equality under US immigration law and offers legal counsel to those seeking asylum. Immigration Equality has seen a sharp increase in the number of requests for asylum assistance on the basis of sexual orientation from Russia. There were 18 such requests in 2009 and more than triple that number – 63 such requests – in 2012, according to figures supplied by the organization. “We’ve had clients who have been persecuted and attacked, sometimes very graphically,” Morris said. Kargaltsev, Savvine, and Long all plan to march in the New York Gay Pride parade, handing out flyers and banners calling for the Olympic boycott, as well as working to marshal support for gay rights in Russia. “We can’t do much from here but we want people to know what’s happening and to let the LGBT community in Russia know that we are with them and we are marching for them,” said Long. “I don’t think it will matter to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin because the boycott will just mean there won’t be any gays at the Olympics and that makes them happy, but the international noise will matter,” said Kargaltsev.

Indiana’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles extended its battle this week over specialty auto license plates for a group that counsels gay and lesbian youth, ordering an administrative law judge to review her findings that the agency improperly revoked the group’s specialty license plate last year. BMV Commissioner Scott Waddell late Monday ordered Administrative Law Judge Melissa Reynolds to re-open the case and assess whether the Indiana Youth Group had been “selling” or “auctioning” low-number license plates. Reynolds ruled last month that the group had violated Indiana law and its state contract by receiving payments in exchange for low-numbered license plates, but found the actions didn’t constitute an auction or warrant the revocation of the plate. She also said the BMV failed to give 30 days’ notice before suspending the plates as required. She recommended the group’s plates be reinstated, a move the youth group had hoped would occur by late this month. Reynolds’ findings weren’t binding, however; the administrative law judge for the BMV reports to the commissioner, reports the Courier-Journal. Waddell noted in his order seeking the review that he is the “ultimate authority” by law. He said the plates will remain suspended until he makes a final determination. “Until a final order is issued by me, as the ultimate authority for the BMV, (IYG’s) participation in the specialty group recognition program shall remain suspended,” Waddell wrote. The state and the IYG have battled over the plate since it was approved in 2011. Some conservative lawmakers have argued the youth group was promoting underage sex. The group serves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youths. The BMV suspended the plates at the request of 20 Republican state senators last year, saying the group was selling its allotment of low-numbered plates for more than the amount allowed under their contracts. The Greenways Foundation and The 4-H Foundation, both accused of the same action, also lost their plates. Mary Byrne, executive director of the Indiana Youth Group, said Tuesday she thought the battle was over when Reynolds issued her ruling last month. “It just feels vindictive,” Byrne said. “They made their point to everybody who’s got a specialty license plate: ‘You cannot use these low-number license plates as thank-you gifts.’” BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie said the “order of remand” was not an appeal of the judge’s ruling, but instead a request for clarification from Reynolds. “The remand is so we can make the answer we have is complete, we felt like there was some ambiguity,” he said.

In California, the rainbow gay pride flag that flew over Calistoga’s City Hall for just three days is back in storage after some residents complained about advocacy banners appearing next to the state and national flags. “We realized there was a potential legal issue in allowing this group to fly their flag on our pole, then we turn around and some other group would be saying, ‘We want to fly our flag, too,’” City Manager Richard Spitler said. The flag went up Friday to honor Napa County’s extended Gay Pride Week, a 10-day festival from June 14 to 23. Resident Scott Klinepier asked the City Council in May to raise the banner and Mayor Chris Canning asked Spitler to see that it happened, provided there was no regulation prohibiting it. Spitler said his research suggested there was no local, state or federal law prohibiting the display, although it had never been done in Calistoga before, so he authorized raising the banner. The Press Democrat reports that, however, did not sit well with former Mayor Jack Gingles, who has been involved in city politics for more than three decades. He complained last week, shortly after the flag went up. “To me, the flag is a statement; it’s a form of promotion” that should not be flying in proximity to official government flags, he said. “To me, it’s offensive.” Gingles said he has no objection to the city celebrating gay pride, or any other cause, just as long as it is not using the official flagpole to do so. “If you want to hold a parade, hold a parade,” he said. “I’m supportive of a parade.” It was not, however, Gingles' objection alone that brought down the flag midday Monday. Instead it was a question by two-time mayoral candidate, and longtime Gingles nemesis, Kurt Larrecou that finally did the trick. Larrecou made a request Monday for documents related to how the flag was approved. City officials were forced to admit the council never formally considered the matter and that the city has no policy for how to handle such flag requests. Like Gingles, Larrecou insists he has no objection to the message of the rainbow flag; he was merely concerned about the policy implications. He said he would support having a separate pole, possibly on the City Hall bell tower, to fly cause-related flags of all sorts all the time. “Everybody should have a flag up there for a week,” Larrecou said. “There could be a signup sheet ... You can't have one organization have a week without everyone having a week.” Calistoga has positioned itself in recent years as a gay-friendly destination, and its inns and spas are regularly touted in publications oriented toward gay travelers. Canning, who also leads the city's chamber of commerce, said he does not fear a tourist backlash, particularly since the removal was not motivated by any bias against Gay Pride Week. “I am more concerned about the message it sends to residents, who might not be as aware” of Gay Pride Week without the banner flying at City Hall, Canning said. Supporters of Napa County's gay pride event expressed disappointment at the flag's removal, though they said they understood the legal objections. “The rainbow flag's bright colors stand as a needed beacon of hope for many residents in our county who feel disconnected, isolated, and — some, even — unsafe,” said Ian Stanley, program director for Napa's LGBTQ Connection. “I understand the need to follow proper procedures so that all who see the flag know that it solidly stands for their elected officials' support of safety, welcome, and inclusion for all residents,” said Ian Stanley, program director for Napa's LGBTQ Connection. “It was beautiful while it lasted." Stanley had pressed the city of Napa to fly the rainbow flag at city hall as well, but the City Council decided earlier this month to allow businesses and residents to decorate downtown light posts with Gay Pride Week signs rather than to fly the flag alongside the state and national ones. The City of Sonoma recently voted to fly a gay pride flag for five days. The city, which raises U.S. and state flags on the roof of city hall, flew the banner in front of city hall, near the Sonoma and sister city flags, Mayor Ken Brown said. The decision to fly Sonoma's rainbow flag was based on a unanimous City Council vote recognizing Gay Wine Weekend. “I got absolutely no negative feedback from citizens, visitors or anyone,” Brown said. Klinepier, who donated the flag that flew in Calistoga briefly, said he hopes the City Council can craft an ordinance that will allow the banner to return next year. “I love Calistoga; I've lived here most of my life,” he said Tuesday, explaining why he'd asked the council to raise the flag. “I've had great experiences, had the support of the community; the fact that I am gay has never been an issue.”

In San Francisco, Michelle Shocked, whose seemingly anti-gay tirade caused Yoshi's to cut short a recent show, has announced she'll do a free show on June 30, during Pride weekend. The performance has nothing to do with official Pride entertainment, and sounds like part of a carefully orchestrated PR plan: The San Francisco Examiner is presenting the show and allowing her to write an OpEd piece, and she'll be interviewed in the S.F. Weekly, which is a sister publication to the Ex. She tweeted on Tuesday that she is seeking submissions from her fans for the OpEd piece, which could be a collection of tweets she's received.

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