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Pushing for equality in Commonwealth countries

The Commonwealth Secretariat has been presented with proposals to put LGBT+ equality on the agenda of the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which will take place in the UK in April, according to human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Photo: Peter Tatchell Foundation

CHOGM leaders have previously always refused to discuss or support LGBT+ issues and concerns.

The proposals were published last year by Tatchell in a bid to challenge the criminalisation of same-sex relations in 36 out of the 52 Commonwealth member states and to ensure legal protection against discrimination and hate crime for the Commonwealth’s estimated 100–200 million LGBT+ citizens.

“LGBT+ issues have never been discussed, not even once, in any of the CHOGM leaders sessions over the last six decades. I have personally tried to get them on the agenda at CHOGM for 30 years and been rebuffed every time. Surely in 2018 we can at least have a discussion with the Commonwealth leaders? This discussion must be in the main summit and not side-lined to the NGO Commonwealth People’s Forum, as has happened in the past,” said Tatchell.

“Drawing on suggestions from diverse Commonwealth LGBT+ activists, the Peter Tatchell Foundation has proposed to the Commonwealth Secretariat a four-point strategy for advancing LGBT+ rights at CHOGM:

“First, criticism and condemnation of anti-gay countries won’t work and will be counter-productive, especially if it comes from Western nations like Britain, Canada and Australia. This would be construed as Western diktat and neo-colonialism. Instead, the Commonwealth needs to give a platform to pro-LGBT+ advocates from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean and Pacific. Their voices will carry much more weight and influence.

“Second, the Commonwealth Secretariat should facilitate an event at CHOGM where pro-LGBT+ Commonwealth leaders and church people, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda, and the former Presidents and Botswana and Mozambique, Festus Mogae and Joaquim Chissano, address the assembled Commonwealth heads of government on why they support LGBT+ rights as human rights. Voices from African ex-leaders and from respected African Christians will be the most impactful and effective.

“Third, it would be helpful if the Commonwealth Secretariat or a sympathetic non-Western state hosted a meeting during CHOGM with LGBT+ representatives from across the Commonwealth, where they can speak to the gathered Commonwealth leaders.

“These grassroots LGBT+ voices, telling their stories of personal discrimination and violence, are likely to have the greatest resonance and impact; especially because many Commonwealth leaders may not have met a LGBT+ person and never dialogued with their national LGBT+ organisations.

“Fourth, after these speeches, Commonwealth leaders could be invited to sign a statement along these lines: ‘Commonwealth member states, inspired by the human rights principles of the Commonwealth Charter, commit to ending the persecution of LGBT+ citizens and agree to work towards the following goals:

• Decriminalise same-sex relations
• Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
• Enforce laws against threats and violence, to protect LGBT+ people from hate crimes
• Consult and dialogue with national LGBT+ organisations’

“Securing unanimity and consensus on this state ment is unlikely to be possible but all nations willing to do so should be asked to sign. Even if only twenty countries signed that would be a positive move forward from zero. It would set a benchmark that could be built upon in years to come.

“This strategic approach is designed to defuse opposition and empower support for LGBT+ equality and non-discrimination in ways that are likely to win over the maximum possible number of Commonwealth nations.

“Two thousand and eighteen must be the year of change. Commonwealth countries account for half of the world’s 72 nations where same-sex relations are illegal, mostly under laws imposed by Britain when it was the colonial power. Seven Commonwealth member states stipulate life imprisonment. In parts of Pakistan and Nigeria, there is the death penalty for men who have sex with men. Hate crimes against LGBT+ people are widespread and unchecked in most Commonwealth countries. The vast majority of LGBT+ people living in the Commonwealth have no legal protection against discrimination in employment, housing and the provision of goods and services. This makes a mockery of Commonwealth values and the human rights principles of the Commonwealth Charter. CHOGM 2018 must remedy these failings by hearing the voices of LGBT+ Commonwealth citizens and their allies – and then acting to support their human rights,” said Tatchell.

Writing for the Guardian in April 2016, Lewis Brooks and Felicity Daly pointed out that the modern Commonwealth is a paradox. On the one hand, it is a reminder of the British empire; on the other, a network seeking contemporary relevance to uphold universal values of human rights, democracy and equal opportunities for prosperity.

The problem is that this is a voluntary association of sovereign states, and while some support its consensus-based decision-making, others are deeply critical of its reluctance to sanction serious human rights violators. And so the Commonwealth is caught between the human rights agenda being advanced by some member states, and allegations of neocolonialism and an imposition of Western values from others.

No issue exemplifies these tensions better than the struggle to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Sexual activity between consenting same-sex adults is criminalised in 40 of the 53 Commonwealth member states, and many of these fail to recognise or uphold the rights of trans citizens. The background to this is the legacy of imperialism. Laws used to persecute LGBT people today are often remnants of those imposed by the British colonialists. While same sex relationships between men were the original target for criminalisation, many laws have since evolved to criminalise same sex relationships between women and/or increase penalties for offenders.

Can the modern Commonwealth, once described by Nelson Mandela as making “the world safe for diversity”, help improve the rights of LGBT people by fostering opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue and mutual support for policy progress? It would be vital for those activists on the frontlines of the struggle for equality around the world. Facing discrimination, persecution and in some cases violence, many LGBT activists from the Commonwealth have built strong bonds of solidarity and are working collectively to convince governments to do the same.

Last year in Malta, at the Commonwealth heads-of-government meeting, Barbadian lesbian activist Donnya Piggott, above, representing The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN), became the first person to address Commonwealth foreign ministers on the lived reality of LGBT citizens of the Commonwealth. Piggott’s address, and the interventions of other TCEN members, were brilliant examples of the persuasive power of southern LGBT activists leading the conversation.

Such activism is resulting in the emergence of progressive policy. New research on those rights in the Commonwealth aims to show how Commonwealth governments have made progress on LGBT rights and present best practice that other governments can learn from. In 2015, Mozambique repealed the Portuguese colonial-era ban on consensual same sex activity between adults. In the same year, Kenyan judges asserted that the Kenyan constitution “includes all persons living within the republic of Kenya despite their sexual orientation” and conferred the right to freedom of association, ordered the government to register the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Countries as diverse as Botswana, Seychelles and St Lucia have included anti-discrimination clauses in employment laws which protect LGBT people and Malta recently joined Fiji in specifically addressing sexual orientation and gender identity in its constitution, echoing South Africa – the first country in the world to constitutionally protect gay and lesbian citizens.

From caring citizen to ‘a fool for Christ’: the sad case of Matthew Carapella

MARCUS ROBINSON examines the transformation of a likeable, compassionate young Canadian into an abusive Christian zealot.

THE first I’d heard of street preacher Matthew Carapella was when I read a September 2017 report that the people of London in Ontario were being subjected to homophobic and other forms of abuse by Carapella and another preacher named Steven Ravbar.

Things had become so bad that Cory McKenna, a pastor at the Harvest Bible Chapel on Commissioners Road, had to get a trespass order issued against both Carapella and Ravbar after the pair refused his repeated requests to stop confronting his parishioners.

McKenna said the men regularly showed up during service and challenged people in the congregation about their beliefs. They even confronted women about what they were wearing. Soon after an online petition was launched asking that Ravbar and Carapella be barred from verbally assailing passersby in London’s centre, the pair moved their message to Kincardine, around 100 miles away, and beyond.

During a short stop in Kincardine, for example, they railed against the LGBT community, short shorts on women and “the atheists, God-haters and make-believe Christians”.mathew carapella

Normally I disregard the antics of street preachers but what made me dig deeper Carapella’s behaviour in particular was the speed of his transformation from being a well-balanced athletic philanthropist into a raving misanthrope.

I wasn’t the only one puzzled by his transformation. Sheryl Rooth, writing for The Londoner, said: “There is a difference between sharing the word of God and screaming into a microphone at a woman wearing a skirt and telling her she is a whore. A difference so gaping it creates a chasm to be filled with anger, fear, and the potential for violence. Let’s not confuse being a God-fearing Christian with fearing a hate-spewing misogynist with a microphone . . .

“I could stand in front of him all day and argue that women are not responsible for the world’s problems. Nor are we harlots because we wear pants or high heels. Our children are not suffering because we have our own identities. Husbands do not cheat on their wives because women have careers . . .

“How does someone go from one extreme to another in such a short amount of time? Maybe he did receive a message from Jesus to change his life. Perhaps there are mental health issues or this is a side effect of having the most career interceptions in football. The brain can only take so much before it starts to give in to the pressure. Regardless of the reason, when I see Carapella on the corner, I almost always think of his family and how they are coping. It can’t be easy watching this unfold knowing there is little they can do.

“Religion should bring comfort, structure, guidance and commitment to a person. Conversations should be full of grace, not apprehension and admonishment. What is happening on our street corners is not preaching of the gospel.”

On investigating further, I learned from a website called “Seek the Truth” that in 2013, Carapella, then aged 26 and a successful football player was publicly recognised for being a role model for youngsters. He worked for one of the most successful construction firms in Canada, and lived life to the fullest, engaging well with his community.

He did his best to help others and make a positive impact and his passion was to help underprivileged children. Working with the London Community Foundation, he started the All for the Kids Fund to help provide needy youth with funding for activities such as sports, music, art, dance, drama, as well as the basic needs such as food and clothing.

He wanted to ensure than no child in his community went without.

Soon after, Matthew came in contact with Steven and Rudy Ravbar. Like Matthew, they placed great value in their faith, but did not feel the Christian churches in London, Ontario were the answer.

Instead they chose to follow a form of fire and brimstone Christianity popularised William Branham, and got their ideas from some 1,100 recorded sermons of the Pentecostal evangelist which were preached during the 1940s through the 1960s.

These sermons, according to the Ravbars, held the key to unlocking “true salvation” while the rest of the Christians in the city had placed their faith in a “cheap imitation”.

Said the author of the “Seek the Truth” piece: “Unaware that Steven and Rudy were recruiting him into a destructive religious cult, Matthew began spending time with the Ravbars to learn more about the esoteric teachings of William Branham.

“The cult identity that had formed in Matthew continued to change his personality to match William Branham’s pattern of verbal abuse, while Matthew’s aggression towards the city of London continued to worsen. He began verbally attacking any passerby who gave the slightest impression of similarity towards the opposite gender, calling them an ‘abomination’.

“He began targeting specific churches in the community, harassing parishioners and religious leaders about their beliefs. He began visiting other churches during services and harassing church members for their apparel or their beliefs.

“Church leaders have been forced to ask for police intervention. Cult leaders have manipulated his emotions, placing him in a state of fear. That fear has now created a barrier between him and the outside world, enslaving him to the clutches of a destructive cult. The real Matthew is now buried deep inside, longing to be set free.”


Judge accused of a ‘shameful diatribe’ against US hate preacher Scott Lively

SCOTT Lively – a preacher who probably did more to stoke up hatred against gays in Uganda than any other foreign evangelist – is demanding that remarks made about him by a Federal judge be expunged from official records.

Lively wants the Boston-based First Circuit Court of Appeals to remove language used by Judge Michael Ponsor when he dismissing a suit brought against the pastor by the group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).

The group had tried to sue Lively – co-author of the infamous The Pink Swastika – under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign nationals to sue US citizens in American courts. Ponsor threw out the suit, saying that the law does not cover alleged injuries committed outside the United States.

The group had accused Lively of waging a campaign to persecute LGBT people in their country. The pastor, who runs Springfield-based Abiding Truth Ministries, had frequently visited Uganda and had urged politicians to take the strongest possible measures against gays and lesbians. As a consequence the country passed a a draconian anti-LGBT law in 2014, an early draft of which called for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”.

Reports at the time directly linked Lively with Uganda’s proposed “Kill the Gays Bill”.

In his memorandum, Ponsor remained highly critical of Lively, even while agreeing with his argument that the suit should be thrown out. The judge said the pastor’s views on gay people ranged from “the ludicrous to the abhorrent”, and said that Lively was advancing “crackpot bigotry”.

Ponsor also wrote that Lively’s “actions in aiding and abetting efforts to demonise, intimidate, and injure LGBTI people in Uganda” constituted violations of international law.

Ponsor, according to this report, wrote: “Defendant Scott Lively is an American citizen who has aided and abetted a vicious and frightening campaign of repression against LGBTI persons in Uganda. Lively’s crackpot bigotry could be brushed aside as pathetic, except for the terrible harm it can cause. The record in this case demonstrates that Defendant has worked with elements in Uganda who share some of his views to try to repress freedom of expression by LGBTI people in Uganda, deprive them of the protection of the law, and render their very existence illegal.”

The evidence, said Judge Ponsor. “confirmed the nature of defendant’s, on the one hand, vicious and, on the other hand, ludicrously extreme animus against LGBTI people and his determination to assist in persecuting them wherever they are, including Uganda. The evidence of record demonstrates that Defendant aided and abetted efforts (1) to restrict freedom of expression by members of the LBGTI community in Uganda, (2) to suppress their civil rights, and (3) to make the very existence of LGBTI people in Uganda a crime.”

The Liberty Counsel – the right-wing Christian hate group responsible for sending Kim Davis to Romania to stoke up opposition to gay marriage – filed a brief in October asking the appeals court to toss out Ponsor’s “unnecessary and prejudicial language.”

Liberty Counsel Vice President Horatio Mihet said in a news release: “Today, we defend Pastor Scott Lively’s name in the Court of Appeals and work to remedy Judge Ponsor’s shameful diatribe against Lively’s Christian values and beliefs. Once Judge Ponsor concluded that he lacked jurisdiction over SMUG’s preposterous lawsuit, the only thing left to do was dismiss it. However, instead he chose to include an unnecessary tirade of words against the pastor.”

According to Charisma News ,”due to the judge’s known support for the LGBT agenda he improperly littered his order with a prolonged tirade against Lively, badly distorting Lively’s Christian views and ministry and insulting him with such unbecoming epithets as ‘crackpot bigot’, ‘pathetic’, ‘ludicrous’, ‘abhorrent; and numerous others. Judge Ponsor also purported to conclude, without even a pretense of legal or factual analysis, that Lively’s Christian beliefs and pro-family ministry violated ‘international law’ and that Lively’s peaceful speaking on homosexuality in Uganda somehow ‘aided and abetted’ crimes supposedly committed by people Lively has never even spoken to or met.”

Charisma News added: “Judge Ponsor should have dismissed the case in 2013, when asked to do so following the Supreme Court opinion. Instead, he forced Lively to needlessly endure four more years of intense litigation and discovery by the army of lawyers working for the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organisation that has received funding from George Soros.”

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said: “Judge Ponsor allowed his support for the LGBT agenda to enter an opinion and make prejudicial findings laced with defamatory statements that are both illegal and unbecoming.”

St Sukie de la Croix is alive and well and as entertaining as ever

ST Sukie de la Croix, who wrote for the Gay and Lesbian Humanist, among many other publications, has just published a new book, The Blue Spong and the Flight from Mediocrity.

He is most widely known for his 2012 book Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall. His works have explored the underground cultures and aspects of Chicago’s LGBT community dating back to decades.

He has had several columns in Chicago publications, both in print and online: Outlines (now Windy City Times), Nightspots, Chicago Now, and Chicago Free Press.

St Sukie De la Croix was approached by Chicago’s municipal tourism authority to script and conduct the first “LGBT History of Chicago” bus tour. He had two plays, A White Light in God’s Choir (2005), and Two Weeks in a Bus Shelter with an Iguana (2006), performed by Chicago’s Irreverence Dance & Theater company.

In 2008, he participated as a historian in a PBS television documentary, Out and Proud in Chicago.

In 2011, he was honoured with an Esteem Award for Outstanding Magazine Reporter or Columnist. In November 2012, he was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.

The writer and photographer was born in Bath, Somerset, as Darryl Michael Vincent, to a poor family. His father Stanley Reginald was a truck driver while his gypsy mother Doreen Mary worked in an engineering factory.

He was an only child and grew up an hour away from Stonehenge in a community populated by many pagans and gypsies. Due to his community and socialist parents, he was not raised to follow a specific religion. After changing his name to Sukie de la Croix, six years later he added “Saint”. When asked what he is the saint of, he replied that he’s the patron saint of homosexuals.

• The Blue Spong and the Flight from Mediocrity – a humorous fantasy that is receiving rave reviews – is available from Amazon.