Queer Sporting Alliance boosting gender diversity in sport

In March this year, the Queer Sporting Alliance (QSA) took out the Outstanding Contribution to Sport Award at the Victorian Pride Awards.

The QSA is Australia and New Zealand’s largest LGBTIQA+ sporting club, and the award recognises its ongoing efforts to provide queer-friendly sporting environments and events.

They have included Australia’s first and largest queer basketball tournament, which featured more than 180 players from around Australia and took place on Wurundjeri Country in the northern suburbs of Naarm/Melbourne in January 2024.

The QSA’s focus is on participation and creating a space for those who have previously been excluded from sport.

The QSA focuses on creating safe spaces for those who have previously been excluded from sport. (Supplied: Kirsty Marshall)

Some participants had not played basketball in many years before the tournament, and for some it was their first time stepping onto a court.

The tournament, and all QSA programs, welcome queer folk as well as straight allies.

“It was like Mardi Gras but for gays who love sport,” participant Jethro Athlas said.

“It was my dream come true.”

QSA president Stella Lesic said the tournament was significant because it ensured players of any gender identity could participate.

Queer Sporting Alliance President Stella Lesic defends the basketball

Queer Sporting Alliance president Stella Lesic said the tournament did not require players to out themselves.(Supplied: Monique Clarke)

“The tournament didn’t require any player to out themselves [unless they wanted to] or have a referee assume their gender for the purpose of applying mixed/gendered basketball rules,” they said.

“Particularly for players taking steps to gender affirmation or who have experienced transphobia in sport, our tournament and the QLeague are game-changing.

“For the first time in basketball’s history, players could just play.”

Associate professor Ada Cheung is a clinician, scientist and endocrinologist specialising in the treatment of transgender individuals and sees the benefits the QSA brings to the community.

“What QSA does is beneficial, not just for queer people, but for everybody,” she says.

“[At] the grassroots level, there needs to be much more of a focus on participation [for gender diverse people].”

Woman with short hair wearing a red shirt and black jacket, sitting in an office.

Ada Cheung says there should be more focus on the participation of gender diverse people in sport. (ABC News)

Bringing queer people back to basketball

Athlas started basketball at 11 years old and played until they came out as non-binary at 23.

“I felt I couldn’t show up as me with the binary rules of a regular competition and I didn’t have many other queer friends at the time to make a team that felt safe,” they said.

Fellow tournament participant Leigh Seelie had a similar story of dropping out of sport after coming out as trans.

“I played on and off during my adulthood and stopped around four years ago as I started to transition,” she said.

“I did not feel that the captain of my team would accept me as they had made a number of transphobic posts on Facebook.

“I did not find a new team as I was concerned about how people would react to me playing and I did not want to be spotlighted.

“When the [QSA] tournament came up, I was very excited to play … It felt like a great opportunity to play a sport I loved again.”

The referee awards a four point shot in the QSA basketball tournament

Many QSA tournament participants have similar stories of dropping out of mainstream sport. (Supplied: Kirsty Marshall)

While at first Seelie felt “overwhelmed” about playing in the tournament after time away from the game, she said her team made her feel very welcome.

“I felt a huge amount of joy just being able to be me and play a game I loved,” she said.

With more than 1,000 members registered around Australia, the QSA has also seen an influx of straight, cisgender men and women joining the club.

“QLeague is a joy,” QSA regular and ally Greg Craske said.

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Could Poland’s controversial LGBT-Free Zones finally be scrapped`?

LGBT-Free Zones established years ago in Poland remain valid in a legal system controlled by right-wing conservatives. The country’s human rights representative is determined to fight them one by one.

In 2019, a wave of Polish towns and cities passed resolutions declaring themselves “LGBT-Free Zones” that at one point encompassed one-third of the country.

Since then, activists and legal experts have fought to revoke or nullify these declarations, chipping away at the bloc of LGBT-Free Zones largely found in the southeastern part of the country.

Significant progress has been difficult, since Poland has been facing a rule-of-law crisis going back to at least 2017, when the right-wing Law and Justice, or PiS party began spreading its influence on key bodies such as the Constitutional Court.

The crisis in the judiciary runs so deep that the EU initiated Article 7 proceedings against Poland, which suspend certain rights for member states if they are deemed to persistently be in breach of the EU’s fundamental values.

The European Commission launched legal proceedings against Poland at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), in a case known as Commission v Poland, and the ECJ ordered Poland to suspend the laws that interfere with the independence of the judiciary.

Poland ignored these rulings.

Now the country’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Marcin Wiącek, has decided to tackle both the homophobic resolutions and the faltering legal system at the same time.

The Office of the Ombudsman, while formally an institution financed by the government, exists in many countries as an independent one-man state body with the mandate to launch inquiries into violations of human rights perpetrated by any institution or body in the country.

Even his election was marred by difficulty, with PiS blocking the opposition-backed candidate for 10 months.

‘Fighting the rainbow plague’

This week, Wiącek launched a complaint against one of the municipalities that have held onto their LGBT-Free Zone designation since 2017.

Tuszów Narodowy is a small settlement in the municipality of Rzeszów known to those outside of Poland as one of the main stops along the Ukrainian refugee route from the border to Warsaw.

Local authorities have refused to rescind the anti-LGBT legislation, with the mayor stating that this “would mean taking the side of the rainbow plague, which is the aforementioned diabolical ideology, and consenting to downgrading the morals of young generations, starting from kindergarten.”

So Wiącek decided to sue them in the administrative courts.

His complaint indicates that the anti-LGBT resolution “crosses the boundaries of public debate, violates the Constitution, international law and EU law” as well as creating “stigmatisation and an atmosphere of exclusion for the LGBT community.”

“Legal and ideological issues concerning LGBT people are the subject of public debate in Poland. Participants in this debate may be local communities, as well as bodies of local government units,” said Wiącek in a statement.

“However, this debate cannot be conducted in forms inconsistent with modern standards of human rights protection, in particular resulting in violation of human dignity and discrimination.”

Crucially, he is also getting the EU involved in what may seem like a very local fight.

In order for countries in the bloc to receive EU funds, they have to guarantee that these funds do not encourage or promote discrimination – as in, the EU needs to keep a check on whether those benefitting act in a discriminatory or exclusionary manner.

So while the country’s Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy have said that they are “taking actions to verify the compliance of the spending of EU funds by local government units with the horizontal principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination,” there has not been any move by the ministry to get these resolutions rescinded.

Wiącek insists that the issue of LGBT-Free Zones is not merely a matter of “public opinion,” but a mounting legal problem for Poland.

“The wording contained in these resolutions leads to stigmatisation and creates an atmosphere of exclusion of LGBT people from local communities … even humiliation … and also has real legal effects, especially in the area of the possibility of absorbing EU funds,” the statement continued.

‘The world is possessed by Satan’

Tuszów Narodowy is not backing down without a fight.

Last month the mayor, Andrzej Głaz, held an event for local governments who do not want to say goodbye to these resolutions.

He claims that “the current world, influenced by LGBT ideology, has been possessed by Satan, eroticism and sex.”

“We do not deserve to be deprived of any EU funds in any way, because we have done nothing wrong,” he said at the event, where representatives of 10 other localities participated.

“If we want to talk about discrimination, it would be more appropriate to talk about discrimination against us, local governments, and through local governments, our residents,” he said at a press conference after the meeting.

Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, the Deputy Minister of Funds and Regional Policy – the very ministry that is supposed to monitor if EU funds are going to those that violate its values – attended the meeting.

According to Głaz, she assured him that they will “look for a good solution that would satisfy local government officials who are not withdrawing.”

A court system fighting itself

Wiącek is not the first Ombudsman to become the public face of the fight against LGBT-Free Zones.

His predecessor, Adam Bodnar, also sued the local administrations of Serniki, Istebna, Osiek, and Klwów in the Supreme Administrative Court, which ruled that these resolutions needed to be repealed.

Judge Małgorzata Masternak-Kubiak stated in her justification for the decision that “the social effect of the resolutions is to violate the dignity, honour, good name and the private life of a specific group of residents,” and that the state needs to protect and not attack marginalised or vulnerable groups.

Poland has seen a strong wave of re-traditionalisation starting since the fall of communism, with the Catholic Church becoming a bedrock of the country’s identity and many political parties and individuals championing conservative values.

This approach became particularly prominent after Law and Justice came to power in 2015. Their anti-LGBT and anti-progressive rhetoric posits that these “ideas” are an unwanted import from the West that are not only unwelcome in Poland – but that also effectively weaken and undermine the country.

An ultra-conservative Catholic organisation, Ordo Iuris, which claims to promote a rethinking of Poland’s legal framework, has been at the forefront of promotion the LGBT-Free Zones and defending their legal basis, along with other policies banning abortion and divorce.

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Why is Russia attacking LGBT rights during the Ukraine invasion?

After passing a law last year banning all pro-LGBT narratives in the country, Russiais planning to launch an institute to administer “psychiatric terror” on trans individuals. How is it tied to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine?

Russian president Vladimir Putin has authorised the creation of an institute for the “study of LGBT people” within the country’s federal psychiatric unit.

At the same time, the State Duma – Russia’s lower house of parliament – unanimously approved a bill prohibiting the change of documents and sex-change surgery to be provided for transgender individuals.

Human rights activists in Russia have sounded the alarm over this, and they warn that it could lead to individuals resorting to black market surgeries and a spike in deaths, as well as penalties and imprisonment.

While Russia has had one of the worst records when it comes to protections for the LGBT community for years, the recent slew of legislation seems to be tied to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, according to lawmakers who backed the controversial bill.

“This is another step in protecting national interests,” Pyotr Tolstoy, the Deputy Speaker of the Duma, said in an address on 14 June.

“We are implementing this because Russia has changed since the beginning of the special military operation. And those guys who today defend our country with weapons in their hands, they must return to another country, not to the one that was before the start of the [invasion],” he continued.

‘Imported Western ideology’

A common talking point among leaders in countries reversing or curtailing LGBT rights is that policies favoring these individuals are a result of an imposed Western set of values that clash with what they deem to be traditional or historic beliefs in their countries.

Leaders in Poland and Hungary, among other places, have actively propagated the claim that those who promote pro-LGBT beliefs – such as NGOs, activists or journalists – are either working for or being paid by the West to undermine the country from the inside.

A similar sentiment was reiterated by Duma lawmakers when the recent set of bills was discussed, who claimed that “trans-friendly doctors and psychologists” do this because of the “active support of LGBT organisations” and intentionaly denigrate traditional values for “a very profitable area of medical services.”

“The Western transgender industry is trying to infiltrate our country in this way, to break the window for its multi-billion-dollar business… a number of doctors defend this field so vehemently, hiding behind their academic knowledge, including that gained abroad during studies in the U.S. and other countries.”

According to a statement by Russian Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko, Putin instructed the ministry to “create an institute for the study of social behavior of homosexual people” at the The Serbsky State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, a psychiatry hospital and research center.

“There is a presidential directive to create an additional institution at our federal psychiatry center to study not only these, but also a number of other behavioral areas, including social behavior. Therefore, this direction will be further taken in a scientific study, in addition to what we are doing today,” Murashko said.

The institute will, according to reports, lead to these individuals and campaigners becoming “more in line with reality.”

In December of last year, President Vladimir Putin signed a law on the complete ban of so-called “LGBT propaganda, pedophilia and gender reassignment”.

Bookshops have since removed LGBT content from their shelves, and gaming and streaming platforms have also followed suit.

In several speeches Putin held since the launch of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the president lashed out at pro-LGBT values he perceived as being imported from Russia’s enemies in the West, and called them “pure Satanism”.

The new law introduced fines for the dissemination of what they call propaganda among citizens of any age. Previously, a law passed in 2013 placed a limit on LGBT-friendly content being disseminated among minors.

The penalty for breaking the law is 400 thousand rubles or around €4,500.

The Serbsky Institute, where the research is supposed to take place, became infamous in the mid-20th century Soviet period for its mental and physical torture of dissidents.

The political abused of psychiatry when so far as declaring dissidents to be mentally ill, and subjected to involuntary treatment or what has been referred to as “psychiatric terror”.

A specific diagnosis, called “sluggish schizophrenia”, was used to designate those burdened by “a struggle for justice and truth”. The employees of the institute were encouraged to collaborate with law enforcement, such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in order to “prevent revolution or bloodshed” and then mocked for eventually escaping to the West.

According to human rights activists transgenderism in particular will be deemed a “diagnosis” which means it will be treated akin to a medical condition that needs to be cured – not unlike so-called conversion centers that already operate in several countries, including some US states.

‘Doctors will act against their own profession’

In an interview with The Insider, a leading independent outlet in the country, activist Nef Cellarius, said that Russian psychiatrists will now be forced to act against their own expertise.

Cellarius is the head of Coming Out – a campaign group fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity – and lives outside of Russia himself, as do many others who are vocal on this issue.

Russia uses an outdated version of the International Classification of Disease, an international diagnostic tool for epidemiology, which lists identifying as transgender to be a diagnosis.

Transgender identification is often the result of gender dysphoria, or distress caused due to incongruence with your assigned gender at birth or socially acknowledged gender. In order to ease individuals into their preferred identification, they are given hormone replacement therapy, provided the opportunity to socialise in their desired identification and surgical interventions aimed at aligning your physical appearance with your preferred identification.

Russian doctors will, according to Cellarius, actively be acting against their own expertise in treating gender dysphoria.

Activists have also said that defining the scope of the new research center as being focused on “social behavior” is also wrong – gender and sexual identity are not social behaviors, they are a form of self-identification.

If LGBT communities are deemed to be exhibiting behaviors that do not fit into the social norms imposed by the government, institutes such as this one will serve the primary goal of “remolding” them into those deemed acceptable.

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Uzbekistan needs a new economic approach that includes LGBTQ+ people

By M V Lee Badgett, Professor of economics, UMASS Amherst

Countries that have decriminalised homosexuality have 4.5 times higher rates of foreign direct investment (FDI) than countries that criminalise consensual same-sex relationships, M V Lee Badgett writes.

Spring in Samarkand returns flowering trees and vivid colour to the ancient Silk Road trading post, along with some less traditional arrivals this year – officials from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). 

The theme of EBRD’s annual meeting in Samarkand is investing in resilience to promote economic stability and growth.

Modern bankers have new tools to use to encourage economic growth in Uzbekistan and other countries in Central Asia. 

One of the least known but potentially powerful tools is promoting the economic inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people (LGBTI) — a strategy increasingly embraced by global financial institutions, development banks, and multinational corporations.

Barriers remain high

LGBTI people face challenges to their full participation in economies everywhere, but the barriers are particularly high in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the last two countries in Central Asia that criminalise homosexuality. 

Others in the region dropped those legal penalties for LGBTI people after becoming independent from the Soviet Union.

In January, Singapore became the latest country to decriminalise, with the prime minister noting that gay people “contribute fully to Singapore” and acknowledging that their hopes of being respected and accepted are reasonable. 

This landmark legal change came after a 15-year compromise in which Singaporean legislators left the criminal law in place but agreed not to enforce it.

Unlike Singapore, though, Uzbekistan has been particularly aggressive in arresting, torturing, and incarcerating gay men. 

Police arrest and beat gay men because of the “sin” they are committing or for financial gain, demanding payments to hold back on releasing information to the men’s families or to the public. 

Gay men, their friends, and sometimes their families must pay bribes to be released from police custody. Social media vigilantes also target LGBTI people and allies for harassment and violence.

Violence and stigma endanger LGBTI people’s health

These examples of poor treatment help us see the connection between antigay laws and practices to the needs of Uzbekistan’s economy. 

The most immediate effect is on health, a vital aspect of what economists call human capital—the energy, skills, knowledge, and creativity that people can deploy in the economy. 

Beatings and other forms of violence can generate physical injuries as well as psychological damage, diminishing the human capital available to the economy.

In addition, human rights agencies report that Uzbek gay men have experienced forced anal examinations (considered by many to be a form of torture) and sometimes resort to suicide attempts.

HIV clinics have even reported gay men to the government and police, discouraging people from getting the testing and treatment that will prolong their lives and prevent transmission of HIV.

Even those LGBTI people who haven’t yet had such experiences would logically fear such treatment if they were more open. 

Hiding one’s sexuality or gender identity might help avoid some harms of homophobia or transphobia, but global evidence shows that staying in the closet also contributes to psychological and physical health conditions. 

Overall, the research shows that violence, stigma, and discrimination make LGBTI people sick.

Exclusion also drains the economy

These are also conditions that make it hard to conduct surveys on what happens to LGBTI people in other parts of the economy. 

As a result, we have little research on how young LGBTI people survive their schooling in Uzbekistan or on how much discrimination LGBTI people face in the workplace or other marketplaces. 

However, it is reasonable to think that LGBTI people are also vulnerable to maltreatment in those settings in Uzbekistan. 

Bullying, harassment, and discrimination also reduce the educational achievements and work productivity of LGBTI people, holding back Uzbekistan’s businesses and overall economy even more.

These forms of exclusion in education, health, and the workplace add up to a big drain on a country’s economy. 

Countries that have exclusionary LGBTI-related laws and public opinion have lower GDP per capita. Studies from other countries put the cost of anti-LGBTI treatment at 1% or more of a country’s GDP.

Meanwhile, there is a strong correlation between inclusion and growth

A recent study focusing on Uzbekistan points out that countries that have decriminalised homosexuality have 4.5 times higher rates of foreign direct investment (FDI) than countries that criminalise consensual same-sex relationships. 

That might be one reason why Uzbekistan has the lowest rate of FDI as a percentage of GDP in the Central Asia region. 

There is a strong correlation between LGBTI inclusion and both the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index and the World Bank’s Human Capital Index. 

Attracting foreign investment is one of Uzbekistan’s economic priorities, along with expanding the market for its goods and services in other countries as well as local tourism.

One way the EBRD can help Uzbekistan achieve those goals is to help bring Uzbekistan’s law and practice into alignment with human rights and with smart economic policy. 

Inclusion of LGBTI people — starting with eliminating the harmful abuse of gay men — and of other vulnerable groups is an important strategy for a resilient, thriving economy.

M V Lee Badgett, PhD is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the author of The Economic Case for LGBT Equality: Why Fair and Equal Treatment Benefits Us All.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Fintan O’Toole on his bestselling book and the transformation of Ireland

It’s possible over the course of just one lifetime to see the world you’ve grown up in and all of its certainties stood on their head. That happened to the generation that grew up in the 1960s in Ireland in a social climate that’s now as lost as Atlantis. 

In “We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland,” journalist Fintan O’Toole has taken a flinty-eyed and often funny look at the transformation of our nation from one time conservative theocracy to its first in the world vote for equal marriage.

Last week, he spoke to journalists in New York City about its unexpected bestseller success in America and the lessons it carries.

“We Don’t Know Ourselves” by Fintan O’Toole. (Liveright Publishers)

In his look at the changes that have marked our transformation from paranoid post-colonial theocracy to progressive European trailblazer, O’Toole has lived the changes he writes about.

Beginning his talk to a gathering of invited New York Irish journalists on April 24, O’Toole spoke the two words that haunted his childhood and the childhoods of many around him: Letterfrack and Daingean.

These were the names of the two most feared Industrial Schools in Ireland, the ones that “bad boys” were sent to for terrible crimes like stealing a loaf of bread.

Between the years 1940 to 1970, 147 children reportedly died in Letterfrack in Connemara while in the “care” of the Christian Brothers. There was evidence of acute physical and sexual abuse there going back to the 1930s. 

In Daingean, a similar reign of terror prevailed, with flogging and other physical abuse creating an atmosphere of horror that has haunted many who passed through it for life. 

“I wondered how did I know those two words?” he told the journalists. “I don’t remember anyone saying Letterfrack or Daingean to me very often but they were everywhere – and yet nowhere.

“When Mary Raftery – who is probably the greatest journalist of our times – did three documentary films about the industrial schools in 1999 called ‘States Of Fear,’ I remember everyone was shocked and appalled. Yet everyone knew.”

That weird cognitive dissonance, that ability to hold two conflicting pieces of information at once, to know and not know, was the origin of his best-selling book. And the study was not simply academic, it was part of his own family life, he says.

“My father had a broken skull and we have different stories about how he got it.

“It was only quite late on that I got the real story, which was that his stepfather had thrown him down the stairs. He was a brute and so the question was, why did his mother – my grandmother – stay with him?

“And the answer was she married him because it was the only way to keep the kids out of the industrial schools. And she knew it was worse, you know, that the worst thing was having your kids being taken into these institutions.

“That’s a very dark way of talking about this sort of doubleness, where lots of people were highly aware of the way that parts of Irish society worked. But we had this extraordinary capacity not to recognize it.”

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In the decade of his birth, the country was floundering. “There were only two countries in Europe that lost population in the 1950s,” O’Toole said. “One was East Germany and the other one was Ireland. The population was just leaving, young people were leaving in droves.

“And they were leaving to go back to the old colonial oppressor. They were choosing to live in England. All my father’s family, his siblings were in England, all my cousins were living in Birmingham and London.”

‘Island for lease, current owners leaving,’ ran a poignant cartoon that caught the eye of T.K. Whitaker, the gifted Irish economist and Secretary of the Department of Finance.

“He was in his late 30s from Rostrevor in the north,” said O’Toole. “He was an Irish speaker and devout Catholic, and he had come to live and work in the Republic because he believed in Irish nationalism, he wasn’t a rebel.

“But he realized that in order for things to stay the same, things would have to change. That really was the ironic T.K. Whitaker idea, that in order to keep Catholic nationalist Ireland, we’ve had to change how our society operated radically.” 

Ireland would have to open up to foreign capital and it would have to attract private capital, Whitaker wrote.

“I think Whitaker thought, you could do it and it wouldn’t really change Catholicism, it wouldn’t really change the structure of governing and theology the way it was.

“And in fact, Catholicism still did pretty well in terms of its control of the society, right up to the end of the 20th century.

“And then it collapses with extraordinary intensity. I’m not talking about Catholicism as a faith, I’m talking about this peculiar fusion of Catholicism and nationalism as a governing ideology. But when it went it went with astonishing rapidity.”

Albania got state television before Ireland did, O’Toole notes. “The Irish government didn’t want to do television, but they had to because more and more people would be putting up huge ariels and getting the BBC. So London finally forced them into having a TV station to stop people being influenced by BBC.

“And of course, it was opened by the Archbishop of Dublin and it was headed by [Edward Roth] an Irish American, some good Catholic boy from Boston, who was the first director of programs and all he could do was buy programs from ABC and the entire back catalog of NBC and ABC.

“So we started watching American kids college programs and this huge American cultural influence started coming in.”

The great challenge before us in 2023 is how to deal with the unexpectedly promising path ahead that nothing in our past has prepared us for.

“There is always an urge to fill it with stupid slogans or populism,” O’Toole said. “But if instead you can live with uncertainty, and you’re not susceptible to every demographic who wants to tell you they know the future, and can control the future, we will be okay.

“I think, by and large, Ireland has gotten to a point where actually there is more comfort with that uncertainty.”

O’Toole concluded: “There was a big international survey a couple of years ago that asked people would you like your country to be the way it used to be? And the two countries who said no were China and Ireland.

“We may be very sentimental but we’re not nostalgic. That will save us from the kind of populism we have seen elsewhere.”

“We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland” is published by Liveright, $32.00.

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Uganda activists call on EU to cut off aid after anti-LGBT+ law

Uganda’s LGBT community are living “in total fear” after a new bill was passed last month making it illegal to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. 

Penalties include life in prison or even a death sentence in come cases. 

Now activists are calling on the European Union to stop sending aid to the African nation, and use it instead as leverage for greater human rights protections. 

Edward Mutebi, a Ugandan citizen residing in Germany, told Euronews that the bill was passed in the Ugandan parliament “in a spirit of hypocrisy […] with hatred, anger and misinformation,” and that persecution of the LGBT community was already increasing ahead of the vote. 

Ugandan religious leaders have ratcheted up the rhetoric, calling for for LGBT individuals to be killed, Mutebi said, “and the effect on the community has been really, really bad.”

“Imagine we’ve been suffering from persecution before, but now it’s on another level,” he told Euronews. 

“They’re calling for our extinction, they want to round up everyone who identifies as gay and put them in prison for life. Some people are even calling for the castration of homosexuals,” he continued. “We’re worried about what’s coming next.”

Cries for help from the community

The NGO which Mutebi founded,  ‘Let’s Walk Uganda‘, has been flooded with calls for help from the LGBT community for months, with people seeking advice on how to leave the country and go to Kenya — although issues related to LGBT rights have also been at the centre of a recent debate in the neighbouring country.

“There’s one phone call I received which drew me to tears,” Mutebi said. 

“A boy of 17 who told his family he was gay and was thrown out of his home. He’s now living in the street. But you can’t even engage as an organisation, this is a minor, and you’d be arrested.”

Mutebi fears that an already terrible situation might soon get even worse. “ We’ve received stories of people being attacked, undressed, beaten up, and even castrated,” he said. “And that was before the bill was even passed. […] We can’t see this happening in the modern era, that people can be put in prison for life just because they love each other.” 

Calls to withdraw EU aid

One tactict that Mutebi thinks would make Uganda’s government reconsider the laws is if the EU withdrew aid. 

Stopping funds would “definitely be very helpful” in challenging the anti-gay policies, he said. 

Uganda, traditionally one of the largest recipients of international aid, has already seen its generous aid budget being significantly cut in 2014 after President Yoweri Museveni — who was once seen as an example of enlightened African leadership — signed a law which made homosexuality a crime punishable with life imprisonment in the East African country. 

Initially, the bill — known as the ‘kill-the-gays’ bill — wanted homosexuality to be considered a crime punishable by death. It was later amended after receiving widespread condemnation.

Back in 2014, the EU decided against cutting aid to Uganda or imposing sanctions on the country in response to the violations of LGBTQ+ rights in Uganda, preferring to exert social public pressure on the country through political dialogue rather than material pressure.

The lack of material pressure was contested by some members of the European Parliament, but others feared that cutting funding to the Ugandan government might make the situation for LGBT people in the country even more difficult; while still other MEPs were concerned that any sanctions imposed on the East African country might appear like a neo-colonial practice.

But the Ugandan government’s attacks on LGBT people have only gotten worse in the last ten years. 

Homosexuality is currently banned in more than 30 African countries, including Uganda, but the bill approved by the country’s parliament — and which is now awaiting Museveni’s signature to become effective — is the first to make it a crime to simply identify as a member of the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, Uganda — one of the EU’s most important development partners in the region — is still cashing in millions in aid from the EU. In 2022, the East African country received over €40 million in humanitarian funding alone for the more than 1.4 million refugees staying in Uganda. The EUs Multiannual Indicative Programme (MIP) for Uganda for 2021-2024 — which includes funds that should help the country transition towards a greener and more sustainable economy and strengthen democracy and human rights — amounts to €375 million.

“Uganda is one country which survives on donor funding, and our economy and budget are fueled by Western funds and support, from the health sector to the military,” explained Edward Mutebi. 

The pressure of the EU withdrawing funds from Uganda would “definitely work” in forcing the Ugandan government to withdraw its anti-LGBT legislation “because the government cannot operate without funding.”

In 2014, three European countries – Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands – decided to cut aid to Uganda in response to the Ugandan government’s anti-LGBT law, which they strongly condemned. Norway said it would have withheld $8 million (€7.3 million) in development aid, while Denmark said it would have diverted $9 million (€8.2 million) from the government. The Netherlands declared it would have suspended aid to the government but continued funding non-profit groups in the country.

“If any country really stands up and says we’re not going to give you funding because of this and that, the government will definitely listen,” Mutebi added. “I want to invite all countries, European countries and all Western countries to stand up against this bill which is in violation of human rights. Every country in Europe which believes in human rights […] should withdraw funding until the government of Uganda drops this bill.”

Commenting on the possibility of the EU cutting development funds to Uganda, an EU spokesperson told Euronews: “It is too early to say. We will follow the developments regarding the promulgation of the law carefully and assess the situation as it develops.”

In a statement, the EU said it was “deeply concerned by the passing of an anti-homosexuality bill by the Ugandan Parliament, which introduces severe punishments, including the death penalty. The EU is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances.

“According to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, ‘every individual shall have the duty to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance'”.

Who is driving Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ+ push?

The anti-LGBTQ+ push in the East African country is coming from both Ugandan political leaders and religious leaders.

On the religious side, this wave of hate is being fueled by the American culture wars and the West, Mutebi said. 

“Anti-LGBT pastors are being funded by anti-gender movements from the West and America, they’re giving them funds to spread hatred in the country,” he said.

On the political side, Mutebi thinks that the persecution and discrimination of the LGBT community is a “diversion” from Uganda’s economic problems and the government’s failures. 

“We’re scapegoats. How can we divert people’s minds from our problems? The diversion they’ve always pushed forward is that of homosexuality.”

Uganda’s first anti-gay bill was introduced by the country’s parliament in 2009 and came into force in 2014.

“Ten years down the road, they’re coming back with the same thing, the same threat,” Mutebi said. 

“Every time the country is approaching an election they’ll bring out the topic of homosexuality to divert people’s attention from discussing very serious issues like inflation and the cost of living.”

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‘Safe sports officers’ could stop homophobia on the field, researcher says

Erik Denison knows firsthand how damaging homophobic language in sport can be. 

As a kid in Canada, Dr Denison played many different sports, including rugby, soccer, and hockey.

Then in year 9 he was outed as gay.

A few of the dominant players on his school soccer team started making jokes at his expense, and others on the team didn’t defend him.

He was ostracised and left the team, but the verbal and physical abuse followed him to PE class.

“It was relentless,” he says.

He stopped playing sport altogether and his mental health plummeted to the point where he was suicidal.

Now Dr Denison works as a research fellow at Monash University’s BehaviourWorks, looking into stopping these harmful behaviours.

He has found what happened to him as a kid is still happening to children today.

Dr Denison says abusive language in sport is dangerous for young athletes.

“There is no question it’s prevalent at all levels of sport, and there is no question it is harmful,” he says.

“The sport industry itself has issued a statement confirming that homophobic, sexist, and racist language increases the risk that young people will experience poor mental health, including self-harm and suicide.”

The 2016 consensus statement from the International Olympic Committee also found the presence of psychological abuse can be a “gateway” to physical and sexual abuse.

While it is clear abusive language is used at sporting clubs and that it is incredibly harmful, what has been harder to establish is how to stop it.

Education not enough

Dr Denison recently worked with every rugby union team in Victoria to find out if hearing from a professional athlete about the harm caused by homophobic language would change the behaviour of 16–20-year-old players.

Before the education session, almost half of the participants self-reported using homophobic slurs and 73 per cent said they had heard them from a teammate.

“Unfortunately, we found no changes to the frequent use of homophobic language by the teenage athletes in our study after the education session,” Dr Denison says.

“It actually went up in both groups.”

As a young child, Dr Denison loved playing all kinds of sport, including baseball.(Supplied)

Dr Denison believes the education wasn’t effective because it wasn’t being backed up by club leaders on a day-to-day basis.

“The coaches, who are volunteers, were not enforcing policies that ban this very harmful language,” Dr Denison says.

“Studies consistently find sport leaders view ending discriminatory behaviours as optional, and a distraction from delivering their sport and winning games.”

To stop homophobic language and make clubs safe, Dr Denison says change needs to come from the top — from the (mostly) men who are running the clubs, and volunteering as coaches.

Call for men to embrace message too

Research has shown pride rounds help reduce homophobic language at sporting clubs.

Last year, Ocean Grove cricketer Jen Walsh OAM helped put together a pride cup for all six women’s teams in her league.

A woman in a black t-shirt that says 'queer' squatting on a sporting ground with a rainbow P.
Jen Walsh beaming after the 2022 Pride Cup.(Supplied: Pride Cup)

“Coming from Chicago, a major metro area with a pretty thriving queer scene, I found regional Victoria a hard place to be out,” she says.

“We definitely faced homophobia when we moved here in 2007, with people yelling stuff at us on the street.”

When the day of the cup came on February 20 last year, it was a great success.

Her women’s team at the Collendina Cricket Club wore specially made pride jerseys for the cup, and has continued wearing them this season.

She hoped the rest of the club would pick up her initiative and run with it. However, there were no moves for the men’s team to also be involved in a pride cup or even a pride game.

While a rainbow flag is flown when the women play on Sundays, the flag is not flown when the men play on Saturdays.

A team of female cricketers and their coaches in blue and rainbow jerseys.
The Collendina Cobras women’s side at the 2022 Pride Cup, including Jen Walsh (wearing white).(Supplied: Pride Cup)

After being one of the primary organisers of the pride cup, Ms Walsh says she didn’t have the time or energy to organise it again in 2023.

No-one else planned the event, so there will be no pride cup in the Barwon Women’s Cricket Competition this year.

There was a pride round, but Ms Walsh says it didn’t seem to get as much engagement.

“We need more support from allies, and from the men’s club around queer inclusion,” Ms Walsh says.

“To see the men’s team in rainbow jerseys would have sent a really strong message that we don’t tolerate homophobia at our club.”

Passionate volunteers needed

The founder of the Collendina Cobras, Leigh Norquay, had hoped the women’s team would keep carrying the pride baton.

Mr Norquay, who is also on the club’s committee, says the response to the pride cup was “fantastic” and he is “happy for it to go on”.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
What reduces homophobic attitudes in sport?

When asked why the entire club hadn’t embraced the idea of a pride game or a pride cup, Mr Norquay says it hadn’t been suggested or really considered.

“Unless you are gay or mix with those circles, we are not faced with it every day,” he says.

“You’d need a really passionate volunteer to organise it.”

The club is 35 years old and has more than 200 players — most of them juniors.

Mr Norquay says he does not know of any openly gay male players in the club’s history.

With generational change and the inclusion of more women in the club, Mr Norquay says he believes homophobic language was not used as much, but there is still stigma.

Being a pride ally in sport

Dr Denison says Ms Walsh’s experience highlights the challenge of getting those who do not personally experience discrimination involved in pride initiatives.

Where there is progress, Dr Denison says it is usually left up to a few “champions of change”.

“For it to be effective it needs to be coming from all the leaders of the club,” he says.

He wants councils, which often run sporting facilities and fund local clubs, to step in and help clubs comply with child safety standards.

Dr Denison says they can do this by introducing “safe sports officers” to attend training and matches, and help drive positive change — as recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

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Here’s why a gay couple doesn’t feel welcome in the Church of England

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Back in 1993, Conservative Prime Minister John Major conjured an image of an England of the past characterised by “old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist,” quoting George Orwell.

In that vision, the Church of England (CofE), to which the maids were cycling, is of interest primarily to the elderly and the unwed, travelling a lonely road half-hidden from view. 

For an increasing majority of the population, it’s a view of the CofE that may seem to match reality, the average age of worshippers has topped 51 for the first time, while less than 15% of the population identifies with the state Church — falling to under 3% in those under 24

Given these statistics, some might have been left wondering about the amount of press coverage of the recent meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England — the Church’s governing body — that filled all the major newspapers in the UK this past week.

But sex sells, and the CofE has been embroiled in a very public and sometimes rather nasty debate about sex, who can have it and with whom.

What the Church says about sex matters

In England, the CofE is the Established Church — meaning it’s recognised by the law as its official church.

It has 26 bishops sitting in the Upper House of Parliament, conducts over 40,000 weddings a year, and runs a quarter of all primary schools and over 200 secondary schools attended by a million children. 

What it says about sex and relationships is important and impacts many lives.

Inevitably, the sort of sex and relationships being discussed are those of gay and lesbian people.

Marriage has been open to gay couples in the UK since 2014. The CofE has officially refused to acknowledge such relationships, maintaining that marriage is for one man and one woman for life.

This, while of course also permitting its clergy to remarry divorced (straight) people in the church — although that wasn’t as obvious a step as might be assumed either.

Moreover, the bishops have made it clear since 2014 that they will not employ (meaning, license) any priests who do marry a same-sex spouse, requiring all prospective clergy to agree to this refusal. 

I married my husband in 2014, and was disciplined, leaving the ministry of the CofE in 2017 and cannot lead worship or take prayers in any CofE Church. My current role as a Chaplain in an Oxford college is outside the control of the local bishop. 

Clergy may be in a civil partnership — possible since 2005 — but they must give assurances to their bishop that they are sexless, and that the priest and their partner do not touch each other in any way “unbecoming of a member of the clergy”.

Quite what that means has never been spelt out by the bishops in sufficient detail for gay and lesbian clergy to be entirely clear on what might be off-limits.

‘Radical, new, Christian inclusion’

However, despite episcopal disapproval, a steady tide of support for gay and lesbian relationships has been growing in the CofE for many years, and other members of the Anglican worldwide family of Churches now fully accept and celebrate same-sex marriages.

The Scottish Episcopal Church celebrated its first gay marriage in 2017, and the Church in Wales will soon follow suit. 

Other denominations have also welcomed us. The Methodist Church in Britain embraced same-sex marriage in 2021, and the National Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) did so in 2022. All this resulted in a much-sharpened debate in the CofE.

Over several decades there have been any number of reports and discussion papers about same-sex relationships, many of which advocated a softening of the official stance. 

But the current journey to the recent debate began only in 2017 when the then General Synod rejected a report from the bishops that sought to conclude almost three years of intense internal discussion and divisions with a conservative restatement of the traditional position.

The defeat was unexpected, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, acknowledged the need for a “radical, new Christian inclusion”. 

What followed was a five-year process called Living in Love and Faith which was intended to provide resources for Christian teaching and learning about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. 

The bishops reported back, again to General Synod, on that process last Wednesday. 

This time, they recommended that prayers — which may or may not be blessings but certainly don’t imply approval — should be offered to gay and lesbian relationships in Church, scrapped a much-hated document from 1991 called “Issues in Human Sexuality”.

They also apologised for the “shameful” times LGBTQ+ people have been “rejected or excluded”. 

The bishops again restated the traditional position of the church on marriage and claimed that in offering prayers of blessing, they were not changing that policy. 

They have, however, promised to bring in new Pastoral Guidelines governing the freedom of conscience of clergy to marry, which seems to pledge that priests such as myself will be able to serve again in the CofE, should we wish to do so.

Outcry in both camps

Needless to say, the proposals have caused a furore. 

To progressives, they seem like crumbs from the table, doled out while seeking to cement the position of gay and lesbian people and our relationships as second-class in our own church. 

Our marriages are defined as “civil marriage” as opposed to the gold standard of “Holy Matrimony,” which can only be formed between a man and a woman in church with a priest offering a blessing, whilst the prayers offered to us do not mention the form of relationship that a same-sex couple has entered.

Instead, they refer to “covenanted friendships,” omitting any reference to the exchange of vows and rings that form a central part of any marriage ceremony. 

Many of us have questioned how the bishops can apologise for “exclusion, rejection and hostility” whilst at the same time continuing to exclude our marriages from church, rejecting their legal status and seeming to continue to be hostile to the reality of our lives.

For conservatives, of course, any whiff of prayer over what they believe to be sinful by its very nature has to be rejected. 

The debate in Synod this past week included many dire warnings of the consequences of departing from the tradition of telling gay people that they are sinners and need to stop whatever it is that we get up to with each other.

After nearly 10 hours of debate and procedural manoeuvring, which included a bishop suggesting gay marriages would lead to polyamory and another member of the Synod likening Pride celebrations to paedophilia, the Synod approved the bishops’ proposals by a good majority.

The Church of England admitted there is good in gay relationships

I welcome the result. It isn’t enough, and it officially introduces a confusing and incoherent distinction between Holy Matrimony (church, straight, good) and civil marriage (town hall/stately home, gay, less than ideal).

There will be problems down the line, not least for one conservative bishop who is himself a remarried divorcee in a civil marriage and therefore not “officially” in Holy Matrimony as his fellow bishops have now defined his relationship. 

But for the first time, the CofE has admitted that there is good in gay relationships — in my marriage — and said that we could come to a CofE church and have that acknowledged in prayer and celebration.

Optics matter, and there will now be services in churches that, for all intents and purposes, look like weddings of two men or two women, and some of those will be of clergy who can go on to serve as priests in the CofE.  

The apology stands, and with it comes a commitment to ensure that gay families are part of their local church community and not excluded or harmed.

Some prayers and an apology are not enough

This matters, not least because “local churches are … the biggest contributor of negative views to debates about same-sex relationships in society and the media,” as a 2020 report concluded. 

However, these kinds of decisions will start to change that and make it harder for conservative voices to condemn and claim to be the only voice that matters. We don’t have marriage equality yet — but we have moved, and we cannot go back.

I am a member of the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England. Our aims are clear: we want gay and lesbian couples to be able to marry in church — in marriages accepted as equal to those of their straight friends and family — and clergy to be free to do so as well. 

We will not stop campaigning simply because the bishops have offered some prayers and an apology, and it is clear from the debate and the voting on it that the mood is for greater change. 

It will take time, but we will get there, and one day, God willing, the statement about the Church as a source of discrimination and harm will seem as old-fashioned and irrelevant as those aged maids and their misty bikes.

Reverend Andrew Foreshew-Cain is the Chaplain of Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford and the co-founder and member of the Campaign For Equal Marriage in the Church of England.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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