Of love letters and distant galaxies: Uplifting stories from 2023

It was a turbulent year from start to end, but 2023 was not just about devastating wars, natural disasters and the cost-of-living crisis. The past 12 months also saw the approval of a revolutionary new malaria vaccine, a sharp drop in the deforestation of the Amazon, and an historic victory for the LGBTQ+ community in Nepal. FRANCE 24 lists the top good news stories of the year.

  • Euclid telescope sheds light on distant galaxies

The Euclid blasted off into space in July on the world’s first ever mission to investigate dark matter and dark energy. Four months later, the European Space Agency released the first five images captured by the telescope – and they were as stunning as they were enlightening.

One of the telescope’s observations, for example, depicted the Perseus Cluster, a massive and distant collection of more than a thousand galaxies. In the background, more than 100,000 additional galaxies were visible. Some of them are estimated to be some 10 billion light years away and had never before been seen before. The images also included a nebula resembling a horse’s head, part of the Orion constellation.

ESA chief Josef Aschbacher described the pictures as “awe-inspiring” and a reminder of why it is so important for humans to explore space.

This undated handout obtained on November 2, 2023 from the European Space Agency shows an astronomical image of a Horsehead Nebula taken during ESA’s Euclid space mission. © ESA via AFP

  • Breakthroughs in treatment of Parkinson’s disease

The year was also marked by several breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In April, a team of researchers presented a new technique they said could identify the build-up of abnormal proteins associated with Parkinson’s. This build-up is the pathological hallmark of the illness, and its detection could help diagnose the condition long before symptoms appear. Up until now, there have been no specific tests to diagnose Parkinson’s.  

“Identifying an effective biomarker for Parkinson’s disease pathology could have profound implications for the way we treat the condition, potentially making it possible to diagnose people earlier, identify the best treatments for different subsets of patients and speed up clinical trials,” said Pennsylvania University’s Andrew Siderowf, who co-authored the study.

There was more good news in November, when a long-term Parkinson’s disease patient who had long been confined to his home was given a neuroprosthetic and regained his full ability to walk. The implant comprises an electrode field placed against the spinal cord as well as an electrical impulse generator under the skin of the abdomen, which stimulates the spinal cord to activate the leg muscles.

Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson's patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis.
Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson’s patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis. © Gabriel Monnet, AFP

  • WHO-backed vaccine raises hopes of ‘malaria-free future’

In October, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it had approved the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine –the second malaria vaccine to be cleared by the global health body and the first to meet its goal of a 75 percent efficacy.

“As a malaria researcher, I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria,” said Doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, for whom the vaccine will help “protect more children faster, and bring us closer to our vision of a malaria-free future”.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that claims around half a million lives around the world every year, mainly in Africa. The disease mostly affects children under the age of five, and pregnant women.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by doses, is already lined up to make more than 100 million doses a year and plans to scale up to 200 million a year. Available supplies of the other WHO-approved vaccine, RTS,S, are limited and more expensive.

A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya.
A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya. © Brian Ongoro, AFP

  • Endangered antelopes, seals and squirrels fare better

When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued its annual Red List of threatened species in mid-December, the typically alarming report also featured some surprisingly good news.

Prospects for the scimitar-horned oryx, for instance, improved over the year thanks to a reintroduction programme in Chad, and the antelope’s status was moved from “extinct in the wild” to “endangered”. Meanwhile, the previously “critically endangered” saiga antelope, found mainly in Kazakhstan, was reclassified as “near threatened” thanks to local anti-poaching measures.

Things also improved for the monk seal and the red-bellied squirrel, while the African rhinoceros population grew 5 percent to more than 23,000.

Une jeune antilope Saïga dans la steppe à la frontière des régions d'Akmola et de Kostanay au Kazakhstan, le 8 mai 2022.
A newborn Saiga calf lies in the steppe on the border of Akmola and Kostanay regions of Kazakhstan on May 8, 2022. © Abduaziz Madyarov, AFP

  • Dinosaur fossil rewrites bird evolution theory

A tiny half-bird, half-dinosaur fossil found in the Fujian province in southeast China was presented to the public in September in what scientists described as a small revolution for bird evolution theory.

The creature, named Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, is believed to have lived during the Late Jurassic Period, 148 million to 150 million years ago. Its discovery bridges a gap in fossil records pertaining to the origin of birds, which diverged from two-legged therapod dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period.

Bird evolution theories had previously been based largely on the “oldest known” bird, the larger Archaeopteryx, that was discovered in 1860. Discovery of the Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, which dates from the same period as the Archaeopteryx but has very different features, implies that there may have been not just one, but a variety of different dino-birds around the world at the same time.

Birds survived the asteroid strike that doomed the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Un fossile d'Archaeopteryx, considéré comme
A 150-million-year-old fossil of an Archaeopteryx, considered the world’s oldest bird, pictured in 2010. © AFP

  • A much-needed respite for the Amazon

When Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva succeeded Jair Bolsonaro as the country’s president in January, he pledged to end the catastrophic deforestation of the Amazon – once known as “the world’s lungs” – by 2030. While that goal is still far off, the incoming government’s efforts have already started to pay off.

In July, the national space agency INPE’s annual deforestation tracking programme reported that deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil had dropped by as much as 22.3 percent year-on-year, reaching a five-year low.

According to the Brazilian government, the deforestation decrease prevented the emission of some 133 million tons of CO2, which accounts for around 7.5 percent of the country’s total emissions.

La déforestation de l'Amazonie a diminué de 22,3 % en un an en 2023 pour atteindre son niveau le plus bas depuis cinq ans.
Deforestation in the Amazon fell by 22.3% year-on-year in 2023 to its lowest level in five years. © Michael Dantas, AFP

  • COP28 launches ‘historic’ loss and damage fund

The COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates this year, started out with a historic announcement: the establishment of a loss and damage fund that will compensate vulnerable nations for disaster damage or irreversible losses linked to climate change.

The West and the United Arab Emirates immediately pledged money for the fund, racking up a total of $655 million. Although it is far from enough, it can at least be perceived as a good start.

“The launch will finally help populations affected by the worst impacts of climate change,” said Fanny Petitbon, spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Care France.

Le président de la COP28, Sultan al-Jaber annonce le vote de l'accord final mentionnant les énergies fossiles, le 13 décembre 2023, à Dubaï.
COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber applauds as delegates reach an agreement at the climate summit in Dubai on December 13, 2023. © Giuseppe Cacace, AFP

  • LGBT+ rights progress in Japan and Nepal

LGBT+ rights progressed in at least some parts of the world this year.

Japan’s supreme court issued a historic ruling in July condemning restrictions imposed by the finance ministry on a transgender female employee as to which toilet she could use. The ruling came on the heels of landmark legislation to promote understanding of LGBT+ minorities and protect them from discrimination.

In Nepal, the authorities recognised the country’s first ever same-sex marriage, uniting a transgender woman who is legally recognised as male and a cisgender man. The couple, who had married in 2017, were helped by a supreme court decision in June that allowed same-sex couples to register their marriages.

“The fight for rights is not easy. We have done it. And it will be easier for future generations,” said one of the grooms, Ram Bahadur Gurung. “The registration has opened doors to a lot of things for us.”

Ram Bahadur Gurung, femme transgenre et Surendra Pandey, lors d'une conférence de presse après avoir officialisé leur mariage, le 1er décembre 2023, à Kathmandou, au Népal.
Transgender woman Ram Bahadur Gurung and her partner Surendra Pandey hug each other after their wedding in Kathmandu, Nepal, on December 1, 2023. © Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters

  • Love letters to French sailors finally opened, 250 years on

“I could spend the night writing to you … I am your forever faithful wife.” These lines were written by Marie Dubosc to her husband Louis Chamberlain, the first lieutenant of the French warship the Galatee, in 1758. But Chamberlain never received them.

Dubosc’s letter, along with dozens of others, was confiscated when the British Royal Navy captured the ship and its crew en route from Bordeaux to Quebec during the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France. It remained unopened in British archives until history professor Renaud Morieux of the University of Cambridge finally unsealed the missives.

The historian said the letters provided a rare insight into the lives of sailors and their families in the 1700s.

Une lettre d'Anne Le Cerf à son mari, rédigée au 18e siècle, a finalement été ouverte et lue plus de 250 ans plus tard, en 2023.
A letter from Anne Le Cerf to her husband, written in the 18th century, was finally opened and read more than 250 years later, in 2023. © The National Archives via AFP

  • Ancient Egyptian mummies are exhumed

Two golden-laced mummies were found several metres underground in the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, south of Cairo, at the start of the year.

The mummies, estimated to have been buried some 4,300 years ago, are among the oldest in the world and were discovered approximately one month apart in the Saqqara necropolis.

Saqqara was used as a burial site for more than 3,000 years and is considered one of Egypt’s most important historical sites, serving as the burial grounds for Egyptian royalty. The vast burial site stretches over more than 20 kilometres and contains several hundred tombs. The latest finds underscored the many ancient Egyptian treasures that are yet to be discovered.

Deux momies ont été découvertes à un mois d'intervalle, plusieurs mètres sous terre, dans la nécropole de Saqqarah, dans la région de Memphis, en Égypte.
Two mummies were discovered a month apart, several metres underground, in the Saqqarah necropolis in the Memphis region of Egypt. © Khaled Desouki, AFP

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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French Senate debates compensation for gay men jailed under homophobic laws

An estimated 60,000 gay men were convicted by French courts between 1942 and 1982 under homophobic laws that were repealed just four decades ago. On Wednesday, French senators will discuss a bill acknowledging France’s role in the persecution of homosexuals and offering compensation to those still alive, mirroring steps taken elsewhere in Europe. 

The proposal put forward by Socialist Senator Hussein Bourgi tackles a little-known subject in French history, shedding light on the judicial repression of homosexuals carried out by the French state both in wartime and after the country’s Liberation from Nazi rule. 

France became the first country to decriminalise homosexuality during the Revolution of 1789, only to resume the persecution of gay men under subsequent regimes, through both judicial and extrajudicial means. 

Bourgi’s text focuses on a 40-year period following the introduction of legislation that specifically targeted homosexuals under the Nazi-allied Vichy regime. The 1942 law, which was not repealed after the liberation of France, introduced a discriminatory distinction in the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual sex, setting the former at 13 (raised to 15 at the Liberation) and the latter at 21.

Some 10,000 people – almost exclusively men, most of them working-class – were convicted under the law until its repeal in 1982, according to research by sociologists Régis Schlagdenhauffen and Jérémie Gauthier. More than 90% were sentenced to jail. An estimated 50,000 more were convicted under a separate “public indecency” law that was amended in 1960 to introduce an aggravating factor for homosexuals and double the penalty. 

“People tend to think France was protective of gay people compared to, say, Germany or the UK. But when you look at the figures you get a very different picture,” said Schlagdenhaufen, who teaches at the EHESS institute in Paris. 

“France was not this cradle of human rights we like to think of,” he added. “The Revolution tried to decriminalise homosexuality, but subsequent regimes found other stratagems to repress gay people. This repression was enshrined in law in 1942 and even more so in 1960.” 

Spain leads the way 

The bill put before the Senate on Wednesday calls for a formal recognition of the French state’s responsibility in the criminalisation and persecution of homosexuals. Mirroring steps taken in other Western countries, it proposes the establishment of a mechanism to compensate the victims of the French state’s homophobic laws, offering them a lump sum of €10,000, coupled with an allowance of €150 for each day spent in jail, and the reimbursement of fines. 

Most of those victims are likely to have died already, giving Bourgi’s proposal a largely symbolic value. If it is approved, the bill would also create a specific offence for denying the deportation of homosexuals during World War II, as there is for Holocaust denial. 

Schlagdenhaufen said France has a poor record when it comes to acknowledging some of the darker chapters in its history. He pointed to the belated recognition, in 1995, of the Vichy regime’s active role in the deportation of tens of thousands of French Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II. 

“Recognition and reparation of historical wrongs are an important part of a country’s stance on the protection of LGBT rights,” he said. “If this law is approved, it will bring France more in line with European standards.” 

In 2007, Spain’s Socialist government passed pioneering legislation acknowledging the persecution of homosexuals under Franco’s regime and offering compensation to those who were jailed or tortured in “correction camps” because of their sexual orientation. The move was part of a raft of laws that have turned the country from one of Europe’s worst offenders to a world leader on sexual minority rights. 

A decade later, Germany’s parliament voted to quash the convictions of 50,000 gay men sentenced for homosexuality under a Nazi-era law that remained in force after the war – and offer compensation. Earlier this month, Austria’s government announced it had set aside millions of euros to compensate thousands of gay people who faced prosecution until the turn of the century. 

“This financial compensation can never, never make up for the suffering and injustice that happened,” Austria’s Justice Minister Alma Zadic told reporters as she detailed the plan, flanked by two LGBT flags. “But it is of immense importance that we (…) finally take responsibility for this part of our history.” 

Extrajudicial persecution 

Austria’s compensation fund will apply to people who suffered from the country’s discriminatory laws in terms of their health, their finances and their professional lives, whether or not they were eventually convicted. Its scope makes it significantly more ambitious than the proposal put before the French Senate on Wednesday. 

While welcoming Bourgi’s text, some experts have called for a more wide-ranging proposal, noting that the focus on Vichy-era legislation conceals a longer history of repression of homosexuality carried out by republican regimes as well. 

In an op-ed published by Le Monde last year, when Bourgi first presented his bill, sociologist Antoine Idier lamented the “timidity” of a proposal that falls significantly short of acknowledging the full scope of state-sponsored homophobia, which, he argued, extends well beyond the judicial sphere. 

“State homophobia (…) encompasses all the processes by which state policies have contributed (and contribute) to supporting the domination and inferiorisation of sexual minorities,” Idier wrote, adding that even a more restrictive view of state repression would find the Senate proposal deficient in its scope. 

“State repression of homosexuality dates back to long before 1942,” the sociologist explained, highlighting the extrajudicial persecution of gay people carried out by police throughout the 19th century – “a daily routine of mockery, humiliation, control and harassment”.  He pointed to the abusive use of “public indecency” charges, instituted under Napoleon in 1810 and instrumentalised to persecute homosexuals in the private sphere, long before the introduction of an aggravating factor in 1960. 

Failure to widen the scope of the bill, he added, “would mean turning a blind eye to a large part of the persecution of homosexuals and exonerating France of a large part of its responsibility”. 

Senate obstacle? 

Schlagdenhaufen said he hoped the senator’s text would set the foundation for further action. 

“We have to start somewhere,” he said. “And the legislation enacted in 1942 and 1960, with its direct focus on homosexuals, is a good place to start.” 

The bill’s passage into law is far from certain, Schlagdenhaufen cautioned, pointing to the composition of the Senate. France’s upper chamber of parliament is dominated by the conservative Les Républicains party, whose members overwhelmingly rejected same-sex marriage a decade ago, when the party was known as the UMP. 

“The Senate has a conservative, right-wing majority, which is traditionally reluctant to acknowledge the state’s responsibility in past repression,” he said, adding: “It is not particularly favourable to LGBT rights either.” 

Ahead of Wednesday’s debate, a Senate committee expressed a number of reservations about the proposed text. It called for a “clear, strong and unambiguous recognition of the discriminatory nature of laws” targeting homosexuals but cited “legal obstacles” to financial reparations. The committee also argued that denying the wartime deportation of homosexuals is already punishable under French law, making part of Bourgi’s text redundant. 

The latter assertion will soon be put to the test at the latest, high-profile trial involving far-right TV pundit and former presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, who faces a lawsuit from several gay rights groups for arguing that a fellow politician was right to brand the World War II roundup and deportation of French homosexuals a “myth”. 

“It will be interesting to see what laws are cited when the court hands down its ruling,” Schlagdenhaufen observed. “We will have first-hand evidence of whether the Senate proposal really is ‘redundant’.” 

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‘Ghost parents’: Same-sex couples in Italy are losing their rights

Italy’s right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has demanded local councils only list biological parents on birth certificates, flinging hundreds of same-sex couples into a legal morass.  

Last year, Denise Rinehart and Giulia Garofalo Geymonat’s six-year-old son was rushed from his school in Bologna, Italy to a nearby hospital with a life-threatening allergic reaction. In a panic, the two mothers scrambled to the emergency services to find their son. He had gone into anaphylactic shock. As healthcare personnel treated him, one nurse turned to Geymonat and asked: “Who are you?” The question fell on her like a tonne of bricks.  

Geymonat is not officially registered as her son’s parent on his birth certificate. In the eyes of the law, his only official parent is her wife, Rinehart. “[The nurse] had the power to kick me out,” Geymonat says. “It was up to her to decide whether I would be by my child’s side in a life-threatening situation. It’s all in the hands of other individuals.”  

Because Rinehart was the one to carry their eldest son to term, when he was born in Pisa in 2016, she was the only one registered on his birth certificate. Geymonat, despite being his mother from the moment he was born, is not officially recognised as such because she is not his biological mother.  

‘Ghost parent’ 

After same-sex civil unions were legalised in Italy in 2016, and in the absence of any clear legislation on parental rights for same-sex couples, a handful of city councils across the country started listing parents of the same gender on their children’s birth certificate. Unfortunately for Geymonat and Rinehart, the city of Pisa did not. 

For seven years now, the couple have been swallowed up in a legal morass to grant Geymonat parental recognition. After their first son was born, the council of Pisa only registered Rinehart as a parent on his birth certificate. For Geymonat to be recognised as his parent as well, the couple had two choices: appeal the council’s decision and try to get full parental recognition or attempt the adoption route. Knowing the adoption process would be intrusive and time-consuming, they went for the first option. They appealed Pisa’s decision and their case has been in and out of various courts ever since. It was most recently heard in Florence’s court of appeals, which ruled in favour of their argument that Geymonat be on her son’s birth certificate, and will now be dealt with in Italy’s highest court on October 6. 

Throughout that time and until today, Geymonat has been what she calls a “ghost parent” to their eldest son.  

But in recent months, Italy’s right-wing government has been cracking down on city councils to stop listing same-sex parents on birth certificates. Led by the hardline traditionalist Meloni, the ministry of interior issued a directive in January 2023 instructing Italian mayors to stop automatically registering the births of children conceived or born abroad through assisted reproductive methods. It cited a case from December 2022, in which Italy’s top court ruled that a child of a gay couple who was conceived through surrogacy abroad shouldn’t have their birth certificate automatically transcribed in Italy.  

Though the directive primarily concerned surrogacy, which is banned in Italy and now even a crime for those seeking surrogacy abroad, its interpretation by local councils has disproportionally affected LGBTQ families – including those who resort to other reproductive methods.  

Single women and same-sex couples do not have access to assisted reproduction treatments in Italy. 

Read more‘Mother, Italian, Christian’: Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s far-right leader on the cusp of power

By April, the Milan prefecture broadened its interpretation of the directive to include same-sex couples who had children abroad through IVF or artificial insemination. Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala, who had previously allowed the automatic transcription of birth certificates, would no longer be able to do so. He confirmed he would stop the practice moving forward, but chose not to amend the birth certificates he had previously approved.  

In the northeastern city of Padua in June, the state prosecutor took things even further and opened a legal case demanding that the 33 birth certificates issued to the children of lesbian couples since 2017 be changed to remove the name of the non-biological mother. A court will rule on the request later this year.  

The decision caused outrage. Centre-left MP Alessandro Zan, who has pushed for LGBTQ rights in Italy for years, called it a “cruel, inhumane decision”. 

“These children are being orphaned by decree,” he said.  

A close call 

Alice Bruni, Bróna Kelly and their son Zeno are one of the 33 families involved in the Padua case. In July, just four months after the birth of their son, Bruni and Kelly received a letter from the state prosecutor summoning them to a court appearance in November. Bruni was fuming with anger. “It makes you wonder what this is all about. We are citizens, we pay our taxes like everyone else … we should have the same rights as everyone else,” she says. “It’s pure discrimination.”  

After Zeno was conceived through IVF at a clinic in Greece and Bruni became pregnant, she contacted the Padua municipality to ensure they could register both names on their son’s birth certificate. She was reassured by the administrative office that this would be no problem, but that she should “call back when the baby is almost there” to make sure nothing had changed. 

When news of the directive sent out by Meloni’s government came out, Bruni began to panic. But they were lucky. Zeno was born in March, three months before Padua’s state prosecutor opened the case against lesbian parents.  

“I think we were the last couple to be registered before the case opened,” says Bruni.   

While the case is ongoing, the couple have been told their son’s birth certificate is valid. To limit any risk of Kelly losing her parental rights as Zeno’s non-biological mother, they have started the process of getting him an Irish passport, since Kelly is from Ireland. Their lawyer has assured them that, if both parents are registered on an official document from another European state, the Italian government must accept the same.  

“That’s made us feel a little better,” says Bruni. “But it doesn’t solve the problem. We care a lot about all the other families, and it’s a matter of principle.”    

‘It’s never done until it’s done’ 

The consequences of restricting the parental rights of same-sex couples are dire, something Geymonat and Rinehart know all too well. Stripped of her parenting rights, Geymonat avoids taking her eldest son to doctor’s appointments and never crosses borders without her wife. She cannot even pick him up from school without a written permission from Rinehart. “Even within the country, we avoid being on our own,” the couple says.   

Behind the bureaucratic difficulties families face are also emotional strains. The years the couple have spent fighting to get Geymonat parental recognition put a financial burden on the household. “We just get the feeling we have to pay for our rights. And putting down the money is not a guarantee that we will,” says Rinehart. To cover legal fees like paying a lawyer and getting documents notarised, the couple created two crowdfunding campaigns and are now opening a third for what they hope will be the last step towards parental recognition.

When the couple have tried explaining the situation to their eldest, they are faced with utter incomprehension. “His reaction was, ‘To say that you are not my mum is like saying a light isn’t a light, or that this chair isn’t a chair!’,” Rinehart says, laughing with Geymonat at their son’s poeticism.

In 2021, five years after the birth of their first son, the couple moved to Bologna where Geymonat gave birth to their second child. “We knew that in Bologna, we would both be registered as his parents on his birth certificate,” says Rinehart. “But it’s never done until it’s done … You just never know if things can change.”   

For now, the mayor of Bologna has interpreted the government notice more loosely. But at any moment, the Italian state can take the mayor to court and override his decision. “Municipalities act as organs of the ministry of the interior, so everything will boil down to the will of the government,” explains Vincenzo Miri, president of Rete Lenford, an association that provides legal help for LGBTQ people.  

A family policy … for heterosexual families? 

Tracing its roots to political factions steeped in post-war neofascism and Catholic conservatism, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party has long been hostile to LGBTQ equality, especially in the realm of domestic life. Although Meloni has tried to package some extremist views into progressive trappings, like arguing that surrogacy is anti-feminist as it exploits women’s bodies, her brand of conservatism under the slogan “God, homeland and family” clearly excludes same-sex families.  

Since taking power in October 2022, Meloni has vowed to rail against what she calls the “LGBT lobby” and has repeatedly reiterated her view that children should only be raised by heterosexual parents.  

“Under [former PM] Draghi, the government had stopped opposing automatic transcription of birth certificates,” says Miri. “But now Meloni has decided to resume challenging these registrations.”  

In defence of the decisions taken by Meloni’s government in the past months, Minister for the Family Eugenia Roccella told Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra: “In Italy, one becomes a parent in only two ways – either by biological relationship or by adoption,” and urged same-sex parents to follow the adoption procedure.  

But in Italy, adopting the child of a same-sex partner is extremely difficult. Non-biological parents can obtain parenting rights through the special stepchild adoption procedure, but it takes years, can cost thousands of euros, involves countless court hearings and involves invasive interviews by social services.  

“Couples are told [by lawyers] not to start the adoption procedure until the child is older, since social workers have to verify the emotional relationship between the child and non-biological parent,” Miri says, to ensure there is no abuse or mistreatment and that the person is fit to be a parent. “In those years, anything can happen. Either parent could die, they could split up, many situations could put the child in an extremely vulnerable position,” he says.  

That’s why for Rinehart and Geymonat, adoption was never on the table. They preferred trying to get Geymonat recognised as a legal parent.  

Rete Lenford and another LGBTQ organisation, Famiglie Arcobaleno, are representing hundreds of cases like Rinehart and Geymonat’s in court. 

“I don’t understand why the government has to impose a whole judicial rigmarole on a family just because a mother or father wants to assume their duties as a parent,” Miri says. “It’s not like they are appealing to claim their rights as activists. They are saying they want to protect their child and take on parental obligations. They just want their child to be part of their family.”  

For now, the hundreds of families who have been plunged into a legal limbo have no choice but to go to court, or risk becoming “ghost parents” like Geymonat.

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Trump challenger DeSantis to enter 2024 race in Twitter event with Musk

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose impassioned battles over pandemic lockdowns and divisive cultural issues have endeared him to conservatives, will announce on Wednesday he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, placing him on a collision course with former President Donald Trump.

DeSantis will make the announcement on Twitter during a discussion with Twitter CEO Elon Musk, DeSantis’ political team confirmed. At the same time, he will file a document with the Federal Election Commission declaring his candidacy.

NBC first reported the planned announcement.

Musk confirmed his appearance on a webcast during a conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal, saying he was not endorsing DeSantis.

“I’m not at this time planning to endorse any particular candidate, but I am interested in Twitter being somewhat of a town square,” Musk said.

DeSantis was re-elected handily to a second term in November. His rising profile among Republicans and fundraising prowess likely make him the biggest threat to Trump’s hopes of becoming the Republican nominee for the White House again.

The two men were close allies during Trump’s four years in the White House – Trump endorsed him during his first campaign for governor – but DeSantis has since forged his own political identity. At 44 he may represent the future of the party more than does the 76-year-old Trump.

“Announcing on Twitter is perfect for Ron DeSantis. This way he doesn’t have to interact with people and the media can’t ask him any questions,” said a Trump adviser who asked not to be identified.

DeSantis will convene a meeting in Miami of his top donors, who will immediately launch his presidential fundraising efforts.

During the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis became the national face of resistance to mask and vaccine mandates and has been a virulent critic of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who headed the government’s COVID-19 response in both the Trump and Biden administrations.

In stump speeches, he has argued his policies made possible Florida’s economic recovery from the pandemic, turning the state into a magnet for hundreds of thousands of new residents. Florida has consistently outpaced the country in job growth over the last two years.

“His pandemic response effectively made him the governor of Red State America,” said Justin Sayfie, a Florida lobbyist and a former aide to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

In the months leading up to his presidential bid, DeSantis has toured the country, visiting states like Iowa and New Hampshire that will hold early presidential nominating contests next year and talking up his accomplishments in Florida.

But his decision to wait until now to join the fray has allowed Trump to batter DeSantis with a fusillade of attacks, costing him standing in national polls.

Aggressive agenda 

DeSantis has rebuffed critics, pushed his priorities through the legislature and punished his enemies. His Democratic opponent in his 2022 re-election campaign, Charlie Crist, called DeSantis a “wannabe dictator.”

When Walt Disney Co DIS.N, one of Florida’s biggest employers, opposed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that limited discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools, DeSantis moved to strip the company of its self-governing status.

Disney has since filed a federal lawsuit against the governor, accusing him of weaponizing state government to retaliate against the company.

When an elected Democratic state attorney said he would not prosecute anyone for defying DeSantis-backed limits on abortion, DeSantis removed him from his position.

He has made crusading against what Republicans call “woke” education policies a centerpiece of his politics while supporting conservative candidates for local school boards.

He backed a legislative measure that prohibits the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” – an academic doctrine that views US history through the lens of oppression – in state public schools despite little evidence it was being taught.

Republican lawmakers in Florida handed DeSantis a bevy of conservative victories in its recent session: They expanded the state’s school voucher program, prohibited the use of public money in sustainable investing, scrapped diversity programs at public universities, allowed for permitless carry of concealed weapons and, perhaps most notably, banned almost all abortions in the state.

The widespread abortion ban may help DeSantis appeal to the party’s evangelicals, but may damage him significantly in the November 2024 general election should he make it that far. Pro-business Republicans have also been critical of his feud with Disney, arguing that it is at odds with the party’s traditional hands-off approach to regulation.

Republicans nationwide have taken notice of his aggressive approach to governing. DeSantis and his affiliated political action committee raised more than $200 million in support of his gubernatorial re-election bid.

Also watching has been Trump, who has taken to deriding his one-time protégé at rallies, nicknaming him “DeSanctimonious” and claiming credit for making DeSantis the political rising star he is today.

On the stump, DeSantis has a wholly different style than the bombastic Trump: low-key, buttoned-down and prone to favoring policy over personal attacks. His campaign speeches can sometimes feel like PowerPoint presentations.

A key question going forward will be how DeSantis responds to what will certainly be a nearly endless stream of insults and insinuations from Trump. So far, he has attempted to dismiss them as “noise” and said he is focused on “delivering results.”

It may not be in DeSantis’ interest to fire back. He needs to win over some portion of Trump’s supporters. Instead, he likely will try to walk a careful line between not denigrating Trump while making clear he favours many of the same policies with perhaps a steadier hand on the tiller.

Prior to his election as governor in 2018, DeSantis served as a US congressman for three terms. His wife, Casey DeSantis, is considered his closest political adviser. The couple has three children.


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Mob attacks two Tunis shelters for LGBTQ people from sub-Saharan Africa

A mob of men wielding sticks and knives attacked a shelter for LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa on February 23. Police called to the site arrested at least eight people from sub-Saharan Africa, even though they have refugee status and are therefore legal residents in Tunisia. This is the latest violence to occur in a climate of growing hostility towards Black Africans, spurred by a campaign of repression by the authorities and xenophobic comments made by the Tunisian president.

A group of men attacked a shelter for LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa in Ariana, a northern suburb of Tunis during the night of Thursday, February 23. For residents at the shelter, it was a night of pure terror. Many were beaten while others sustained knife wounds. About thirty people, including at least six people in possession of refugee cards from the United Nations, were arrested that night.

This wasn’t the first attack of its kind. A few days earlier, on Monday, February 20, another mob attacked another shelter for LGBTQ refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, this one located in Bab el Khadhra, in the centre of Tunis. 

The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to two refugees who were there during the attack in Ariana on February 23.

‘The son of the landlord threatened to evict us. The next day, he returned with an armed mob’

Chiraz (not her real name) is a transgender refugee from a sub-Saharan Africa country. We are not using her real name to protect her safety. She was at the shelter in Ariana on February 23 when the mob attacked. 

On the evening of February 23, the son of the landlord came, wanting to evict everyone living in the shelter. The night before, he had stood in front of the building and threatened us.

This young man, who our Observers say is the son of their landlord, throws a stone at the person filming from the balcony. The young man shouts an obscene insult, telling the person to “go home”, an added insult to a refugee community. “I will f*ck you in the a**hole. Not tonight, but what until I catch you tomorrow, dirty f**,” he adds.

I don’t live in this shelter but we decided to gather together in one apartment for safety after the attack on another shelter for LGBTQ people from sub-Saharan Africa on February 20. 

There were about 35 or 36 of us in the apartment that night, all of us Black people from sub-Saharan Africa. The son of the landlord, who often says racist and homophobic things to us refugees, came the night of February 23 along with several other Tunisian men. They tried to open the door with a copy of our keys but then ended up breaking it down.

They grabbed my hair, hard enough to pull out some of my locks and they stabbed several people. Other people were beaten, punched in the face.

These photos show where Chiraz’s hair was pulled out. She also sustained injuries to her foot and leg. Her injuries were caused by Tunisian men who attacked the shelter on the night of February 23. © Photos sent by our Observer

‘Instead of arresting the men who attacked us, the police took us away’

The police came later but instead of arresting the men who were attacking us, they brought us to the Borj Louzir police station [Ariana, a suburb of Tunis, NDLR]!

At the police station, we showed them our refugee cards from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. However, the police told us they thought our papers had been forged.

This video, filmed the night of February 23, shows a mob of Tunisian men gathered in front of a building where refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa were living. You can also see two police cars as well as uniformed agents.

In order to get through the situation, I told the police that I was an artist from sub-Saharan Africa and claimed that my current appearance was an “artistic” look I was cultivating. I had to lie about my gender because I was worried about a transphobic attack from the police. Finally, they let seven of the eight of us who had refugee cards go. 

However, the people who didn’t have refugee cards remain in detention. 

A friend of mine who is transgender is still in detention, even though she has refugee status. According to my information, she’s been transferred to the El Ouardia migrant detention centre [Editor’s note: Formally, this Tunis establishment is known as a reception and orientation centre for migrants, however rampant human rights abuses there have been reported by both the media and NGOs].

I haven’t had any news from her since.

We are living in fear that we’ll be arrested or beaten in the street and, so, I don’t go out any more. As a Black trans woman, it is really hard for me to get housing in Tunisia. You come across landlords who want sexual favors or sometimes people will evict us when they realise that we are trans. Even with assistance from the HCR, it can take time to find housing. 

“Chiraz” was given a place in a shelter run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on February 28. The Tunisian office of the HCR also paid for the medical care of those injured in the attack. 

“Brian” (not real name) is another LGBTQ refugee from sub-Saharan Africa. He was injured during the attack on February 20 and is now homeless.


‘The police ripped up our refugee cards and called us ‘f**s’’

The day after the attack, I was at the police station all day. We were mistreated— they insulted us and made us sit on the floor. Officers ripped up the refugee cards belonging to some of the people who had been arrested. Luckily, I didn’t end up in prison, unlike some of my friends.  

Considering the situation right now, it’s already dangerous enough to just be walking on the street as a Black person. But now, when they see our refugee cards, then they know that we are homosexual or trans and they insult us, call us names.

Today, most of the people who were living in these shelters are on the street. About 15 of them are packed into an apartment that is still under construction. We are afraid and we don’t go out anymore.

We have been reaching out to our respective consulates and embassies for help but they told us that they can’t help us because we have refugee status from the UNHCR.

‘An Algerian LGBTQ refugee in Tunisia won’t feel targeted, but Black people are often the targets of attacks’

Alexandre Marcel is the president of the IDAHO committee (International Day Against Homophobia), an NGO that fights against homophobia in French-speaking Africa. The organisation is trying to provide legal help to the victims of this wave of repression in Tunisia.

When there are arrests of this type, IDAHO tries to figure out if it is linked to someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Many people have been arrested even though they are refugees. And sometimes the police confiscate their papers and their passports and rip them up.

The [xenophobic] statements made by the president have made things completely different and dangerous. It’s gotten so bad that some taxi drivers will take a Black man directly to the police station if he gets into his vehicle.  We’ve reached that point. 

A LGBTQ refugee from Algeria who is living in Tunisia won’t feel targeted, but Black people are often the targets of attacks and threats. The shelters where these people stay are discrete and not official. However, when the police stumble across them, they tend to blow it all up— destroying people’s homes and personal belongings.

This refugee sustained injuries to his face and hands during the attack on a shelter in Bab el Khadhra on February 20.
This refugee sustained injuries to his face and hands during the attack on a shelter in Bab el Khadhra on February 20. © Photos sent to us by our Observer

The HCR needs to open corridors for these people to travel to the west. These people have already experienced persecution at the hands of the state or the public. But the procedures to get to Europe or North America are difficult. You have to provide a lot of proof [of persecution] and that takes time.

The UNHCR should really enable people to apply for asylum in other countries from where they are being persecuted. Because, right now, if you want to request asylum, you actually have to get to the country where you want to be yourself and apply once there.

This post in French by Amal Bintnadia roughly translates as: “In front of IOM Tunisia – المنظمة الدولية للهجرة بتونس, hundreds of migrants, women and children, among them people with injuries, who were attacked, who saw their homes looted… they are asking to be repatriated and have been waiting weeks for authorisation from the IOM.”

‘We are calling on people to share any useful information with us’

Our team contacted several organisations dedicated to LGBTQ rights in Tunisia, but none of them had information about the fate of the undocumented LGBTQ people arrested on February 23.

Many migrants don’t know anything about their rights. Moreover, people within the LGBTQ sub-Saharan community are even more scared. As a result, the Tunisian NGO Damj, which is dedicated to fighting for minority rights, has been asking the public for help identifying people who need legal and social assistance. Najia Mansour, who runs the branch in Tunis and its environs, explains:

Even the president of Damj, who is Black, was attacked in the street. 

We’ve set up three emergency phone lines depending on the region of the country where people are located – one in Tunis, for people in the north, one in Sfax, for people in the south, and one in Kef, in the centre of the country. We are calling on people to share any information they might have about migrants in difficulty.

Often, we need to wait for a victim to be released from custody in order to provide them with legal support. For the time being, it is an imperfect system, but working – we will wait for the person to be released and then file an administrative complaint over the mistreatment and torture they may have experienced at the hands of the authorities. 

The FRANCE 24 Observers team tried to contact the police in Soukra and Borj Louzir, but they told us to contact the Interior Ministry. 

We tried several times to contact the Interior Ministry, but with no success. We will publish their response if they do get back to us.

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