In Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Wednesday banning the adoption of children by same sex couples, as part of an increasingly conservative agenda the Kremlin is pursuing since his return to power. Earlier this week Putin signed another law banning gay "propaganda", which human rights groups say has fuelled hate crimes against homosexuals. Putin, who has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church as a moral authority and harnessed its influence as a source of political support, has championed socially conservative values since starting a new, six-year term in May 2012. Reuters reports the latest law aims to protect children from "dictated non-traditional sexual behavior" and rid them of "distresses of soul and stresses, which according to psychologists' research, are often experienced by children raised by same-sex parents," according to a fact sheet on the Kremlin's website. The 60-year-old president denies there is discrimination against gays. Homosexuality was decriminalized after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but a recent poll by the independent Levada Centre found 38-percent of Russians believe gay people need treatment and 13-percent said they should face prosecution. Gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev said of the new law: "I think it will lead to an increase in corruption in the (adoption) process, but many foreigners, including homosexuals, will still be able to adopt Russian children in the future." Foreign adoptions in Russia are largely run by agencies which act as go-betweens for state institutions and adopting families.
In South Africa, the government has expressed outrage and sadness over the killing of Duduzile Zozo, which is believed to be the latest hate crime against lesbians. Twenty-six-year old Zozo was found dead with a toilet brush in her private parts in Thokoza, East Rand, last Sunday. Her mother believed her daughter was killed because of her sexual orientation. So far no arrests have been made on the case. Government spokesperson, Phumla Williams, said, "It is a matter that we requesting the law enforcement agencies to do whatever it takes to arrest the perpetrators, because in this day and age we cannot allow South Africans to still be discriminated in terms of their sexual orientation. It cannot be okay that we sit down as South Africans and not work with the law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators to book." Williams also called on communities to work with police and act against discrimination of any form using the Constitution for guidance. "The Bill of Rights of our Constitution recognises and guarantees equality, fundamental right enjoins South Africans not to discriminate against anyone on several grounds, including gender, sex and sexual orientation." Williams added: "Every South African has a duty to act against perpetrators of violence within the ambit of the law, violent acts such as this reinforces the existing social inequalities, based on gender and sexuality, and cannot go unchallenged."
In Israel, gay and lesbian prisoners will be allowed conjugal visits with their partners under the same circumstances they are granted to straight ones, the Israel Prison Service has said. In response to a query by Dan Yakir, the legal adviser for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the prison service said gays and lesbians would not be discriminated against with regard to conjugal visits. The Prisons Ordnance “outlines the rules with regard to exercising discretion in granting conjugal visits to prisoners, and determines, among other things, the rules regarding eligibility for conjugal visits,” wrote Aya Kaminetz, the head of the prisoner and appeals department of the prison service. “To avoid any doubt, the considerations are the same whether at issue are same-sex couples or heterosexual couples.” The Israel Prison Service has, in the past, stated explicitly that the ordnance does not allow conjugal visits for same-sex partners and the courts have accepted this. In 2006 the Tel Aviv District Court denied a petition by a prisoner for conjugal visits by his male partner. The prisoner appealed to the Supreme Court, but then was released and his appeal was never heard. In 2009 the Central District Court denied a similar petition by another prisoner. The last known case is that of a Sharon Prison inmate who asked late last year to commune with his partner. The IPS at first refused to allow the partner even non-conjugal visits, but allowed them when the prisoner filed a petition with the Central District Court. The prison service refused to allow conjugal visits, however. Moshe Shochetman, the lawyer for the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association, petitioned the court again on the prisoner’s behalf, and the prison service claimed that the prisoner did not meet the criteria for conjugal visits. This prisoner was also released a few months before a court decision and the petition was dropped. The prison service is now responding to a complaint filed with it by ACRI in 2009, when it demanded that the Prisons Commission Ordnance be amended to explicitly assure the right of homosexual prisoners to conjugal visits. “It’s too bad the revolution regarding the right of the LGBT community has reached the Prison Service only now,” Yakir said yesterday, in response to the prison service’s announcement. “Human rights, including the right to equality, do not stop at the prison gates. This is another important step in establishing that homosexual relationships are equivalent to heterosexual relationships.” The prison service said that “there was no change in policy or the ordnance that outlines the rules for approving conjugal visits. The existing ordnance states that the considerations are the same whether we’re talking about heterosexual couples or same-sex couples and therefore there is no need to change it.” The prison service spokesperson added that in recent years there were only two cases of requests for conjugal visits with a same sex partner and both were denied because the prisoner didn’t meet the criteria in the ordnance, not because they were homosexual couples. The ordnance states eligible inmates must be married or in a common-law relationship confirmed by a notarized affidavit, or have received continuous visits from partner over two years.
In Costa Rica, the Legislative Assembly on Monday passed a measure – by accident – that could legalize same sex civil unions as part of a larger bill, lawmakers noted on Tuesday. Conservative lawmakers voted for the bill’s passage without recognizing the included language that could be interpreted to change the definition of marriage, according to the daily La Nación. Lawmakers immediately called for President Laura Chinchilla to veto the bill. José María Villalta, a lawmaker from San José, inserted the language into the bill. Villalta is a member of the leftist Broad Front Party. The language confers social rights and benefits of a civil union, free from discrimination, according to La Nación. Villalta attached the measure to a reform of the Law of Young People, which covers various social services for young people and laws governing marriage. “During the discussion in the first debate, we explained that the Law of Young People should be interpreted with this sense of opening to gays and no one objected,” Villalta said, according to La Republica. Conservative politicians such as Justo Orozco, a member of the evangelical National Renovation Party, slammed the measure. “That preference is not a right,” Orozco said, according to La Nación. “It’s a stunted development of sexual identity. It can change like alcoholism, tobacco addiction.” Carlos Avendaño, a lawmaker from another evangelical party, the National Restoration Party, threw cold water on the measure. According to La Prensa Libre, Avendaño said the measure is a mirage because the law already established that marriage unions are between a man and a woman. “The reference that is here is for heterosexual partners,” Avendaño said. Marco Castillo, president of the Diversity Movement, said he was optimistic about the bill’s passage. However, for civil unions to survive, it would have to survive a constitutional challenge in the court. “It is a big step forward for gay rights in Costa Rica,” Castillo said in a phone interview. The legislation comes one day after thousands marched for gay marriage in San José. In 2011, Chinchilla said she would not oppose gay marriage if the courts allowed, but she has not campaigned on the issue. A poll taken at that time said 73-percent of Costa Ricans opposed same sex marriage.
In Oregon, each middle and high school in the Tigard-Tualatin School District will have one unisex bathroom this fall, in response to concerns from transgender students. The move, the first of its kind in Washington County, involves few changes. An existing single-stall restroom, likely a staff one, will be designated as gender neutral and made available to all students at each school. The move was prompted by Portland Public Schools, where Grant High School made national headlines earlier this year after designating six bathrooms as gender neutral. Transgender students already are permitted to use whichever restroom they prefer or staff restrooms, said Tigard-Tualatin spokeswoman Susan Stark Haydon. Following a complaint at both Tigard and Tualatin high schools, the district decided to open gender-neutral bathrooms to provide another option for students who may not feel comfortable using shared bathrooms. Other students who might use gender neutral bathrooms include shy students or students with medical conditions, such as colostomy bags, that may embarrass them. Beginning this fall, locker rooms also will include private and curtained areas at the five schools, which include Fowler, Hazelbrook and Twality middle schools. Nationally, nearly nine in 10 transgender students reported verbal harassment because of their gender expression, according to a 2009 Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network report. "A unisex bathroom allows transgender students a place to use without their gender identity becoming an issue, or being scrutinized by peers," Nancy Hungerford, an attorney for the district, wrote in a memo. "Additionally, it minimizes the potential for complaints or lawsuits from non-transgender students." Transgender students will not be required to use unisex bathrooms. Students elsewhere in the United States have pushed to use the same bathrooms as their peers. Tigard-Tualatin's policy gives options for privacy and inclusion. But one local transgender group says the district doesn't go far enough by focusing on secondary schools. "Gender nonconformity isn't just something that happens to students when they get to late middle school or high school," said Jenn Burleton, executive director of TransActive, an organization that works with more than 70 Portland-area children below the age of 10. Last month, Colorado officials ruled a school district discriminated against a six-year-old transgender girl by prohibiting her from using the girl's restroom. Stark Haydon said bathroom issues have not arisen in the district's 10 elementary schools, but the district may eventually designate unisex bathrooms there, too. While many schools in the Portland area grapple with bathroom issues for transgender students, it's unusual for the issue to reach the district level. Tigard-Tualatin updated its student rights policy to commit to providing facilities based on equality for all students. Elsewhere in Washington County, Forest Grove, Sherwood, Beaverton and Hillsboro schools make accommodations for students without specific gender-neutral bathrooms. The restroom question goes beyond schools. Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen signed an order last month requiring new buildings to have gender-neutral, single-occupancy bathrooms.
Decades before the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, lesbians and gay men were living freely and openly in a place called Cherry Grove. The seaside resort on Fire Island, about 60 miles east of Manhattan, was known as far back as the late 1940s as a sanctuary where gay writers, actors and businesspeople from the city and beyond escaped to relax, hold hands and show affection in public. "It's probably one of the earliest examples of don't ask, don't tell," Carl Luss said after learning in June that the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater, opened in 1948, added to the National Register of Historic Places. The theater was cited for being the oldest continuously operating gay and lesbian theater in the United States. "The message is, we have arrived, finally," said Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association. "We remember when we could be arrested just for being gay," Romano said. "To now be applauded and to be allowed to marry and to be recognized by the government for being a gay theater for so many years is just thrilling. It's thrilling." Cherry Grove is one of about 17 hamlets and villages on the 30-mile long barrier island five miles off the southern shore of Long Island. Virtually obliterated in a 1938 hurricane, the community now has about 250 houses that can sell for $400,000 or more. Two miles of white, sandy beaches facing the Atlantic are accessible via a network of narrow boardwalks. Denizens either walk or get around on golf carts; no cars are permitted in most Fire Island communities. Cherry Grove and the nearby Pines neighborhood are the predominantly gay communities on Fire Island, although the Pines developed its reputation as a haven decades after Cherry Grove. "By the nature of its isolation and beauty, it became a safe haven for gay people, where they could not be afraid of repercussions from work, or anger from their families about being gay," said Thom "Panzi" Hansen, president of the Cherry Grove Arts Project. He and others noted there were occasional raids in which police would enforce laws prohibiting same-sex dancing or ticket people for lewd behavior, but largely because the island was so isolated from the mainland, they were generally left alone. Landlords and businesses desperate for cash after the Depression, the 1938 hurricane and World War II generally overlooked their tenants' sexual orientation in order to fill what were then largely rental properties, locals said. Every July Fourth, a ferry filled with men in drag travels from Cherry Grove to the Pines in a fun-loving commemoration of a man in drag being refused service at a bar in the Pines in 1976. The event commemorates the advances of gays, lesbians and transgender people in the ensuing decades. Notable Cherry Grove visitors and residents have included poet W.H. Auden; playwright Tennessee Williams; author Truman Capote; actresses Nancy Walker, Tallulah Bankhead and Hermione Gingold; comedian Kaye Ballard; and New Yorker journalist Janet Flanner. Residents sought landmark status for the Community House and Theater to jump-start interest in funding a renovation of the 151-seat barn-like structure. It is only the third gay-rights landmark to get the federal designation, joining the Stonewall, where gays clashed with the New York Police Department for three days in 1969 over harassment, leading to the modern gay rights movement, and the Washington, D.C., home of Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, who became a gay rights activist after he was fired from his job with the Army Map Service in 1957 for refusing to answer questions about his sexual orientation. The walls of the theater's basement dressing room feature autographs of many of the performers who called the stage their temporary home. While some were willing to sign their real names, Luss said, others left only initials or aliases, still reticent to out themselves publicly even in a relatively safe atmosphere. "It was a secret hidden in the open," said Luss, who wrote the application for landmark status. "Everybody sort of knew they were all on the same page and as long as there wasn't you know, ultra behavior, people were satisfied." Gay visitors would - and still do - catch a Long Island Rail Road train in Manhattan for the 75-minute trip to Sayville and slowly begin to relax. Once they got on a ferry for a 20-minute ride across Great South Bay to Cherry Grove, "personalities changed. The uptightness just began to fall off. You would see men start to chat with each other and laugh and smile," said Jack Dowling, who began visiting Cherry Grove as a teenager in the 1950s and now, at age 80, lives there. Once on Fire Island, they would hold hands and kiss as they walked through town, Dowling said. Others dressed in drag for celebrations such as an annual baseball game on the beach. "It was a safety zone," said Dowling, a painter and writer. Other gay enclaves were beginning to gain popularity in such places as Provincetown, Massachusetts, San Francisco and Key West, Florida, but Cherry Grove "was without question the leading place that was predominantly gay," he said. With acceptance of gays and lesbians evolving to the point where the Supreme Court has granted federal benefits to gay couples who are legally married, Romano and others say Cherry Grove - where visitors are greeted by oversize American and gay liberation flags fluttering in the wind - is more than ever seen as a comfortable place for gays and straights to visit for the day, a weekend or all summer long. "I don't think we're getting as many young people as we used to," Romano said. "Now you can be gay almost anywhere." Troy Files, who has been coming to Cherry Grove for about seven years, said people will always be attracted to what he called "a gay and lesbian Mayberry RFD,” adding, "You can be gay in the middle of Pennsylvania and be safe now, but for us, it's a hidden jewel. We're all here to have fun. The theme of Cherry Grove is `unity in the community,' and it truly shows." Esther Newton, a University of Michigan women's studies professor who wrote "Cherry Grove, Fire Island," predicted that despite social changes, the Fire Island community will remain a gay enclave long into the future. "In the next 50, 75, 100 years, there will be gay people and lesbians who will want to go to a place like the Grove," she said. "There's nothing else like it."