Pride Month 2024 | Queer artistes on the stories they want to see on-screen

For long, the plea from the LGBTQIA+ community to storytellers has been this: “Let us tell our stories since our lives are largely different from how cis-gender heterosexuals perceive us.” Over the years, queer narratives in Indian cinema have seen significant steps forward; yet, what is considered queer cinema remains limited, focusing only on a few queer identities, whereas the gender and sexuality spectrum has infinite shades of colour and innumerable complexities.

Even popular stories from queer filmmakers have only taken a crack at either gender or sexuality, but hardly the intersection between gender and sexuality, or the many different queer identities. The state is such that Delhi-based queer actor Vidur Sethi — who starred in Onir’s Pine Cone, which made a splash at the Kashish Pride Film Festival last year — believes that we are far from even reaching the term ‘queer cinema,’ though several encouraging attempts might end up creating a space.

Films like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga and Kaathal: The Core have been affirmative and in line with what the community is about, says Bangalore-based drag artist, Alex Mathew a.k.a Maya The Drag Queen, while agreeing that a lot needs to be done to break existing stereotypes and to normalise queerness.

Pointing out how the limited scale of good indie films from queer filmmakers restricts the themes from reaching larger audiences, Hyderabad-based drag queen and expressionist dancer Patruni Sastry adds that we need a voice like Ryan Murphy in India to take queer cinema beyond the festival circles.

Chennai-based actor-filmmaker and activist Malini Jeevarathinam, who had a commendable turn as a queer cop in Inspector Rishiearlier this year, believes that good queer stories are more of a necessity now. “Over the last six to seven months, queerphobia on social media has been at a peak. Someone recently posted a video saying they will never accept queer identities except transgenders. Good stories can educate and sensitise people to queerness,” they say.

Malini Jeevarathinam; in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

Malini Jeevarathinam; in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
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Special Arrangement

Along with Negha Shahin, a Chennai-based actor known for her performance in Antharam, the aforementioned artists tell us what they wish for the future of queer cinema.


ALSO READ: The truth about India’s LGBTQ+ voices on screen

Nuanced topics can be explored:

The art of drag

From stories that show the vibrant and empowering art form of drag to nuanced takes on the gender transition process that transpersons undergo, the possibilities of what can make for some compelling stories are diverse. Alex wants to see a good film made on drag queens that does justice to the idea behind the art form. Patruni points out that although there have been films that captured the concept of drag — like Rajendra Prasad-starrer Madam and the Marathi biopic Balagandharva — they aren’t explicitly called queer cinema for one reason or the other.

Patruni Sastry’s queer cinema recommendations 

John Waters’ films with drag queen Divine, especially Pink Flamingos (1972)

Geeli Pucchi, Neeraj Ghaywan’s segment in Ajeeb Daastaans (2021)

Paris Is Burning (1990), an American documentary by Jennie Livingston

Madam (1994) by Singeetam Srinivasa Rao

Chitrangada (2012) by Rituparno Ghosh

Arekti Premer Golpo (2010) by Kaushik Ganguly

A good film on drag could break a pivotal stereotype that perils drag queens, which Alex says is being passed on even within the community. “Some assert that drag queens need to undergo gender transitioning, which is not the case; I am completing a decade as a drag queen this year and I have never wanted to be a transwoman,” he says. This is similar to a misconception that according to Negha has misled even some members of the community. “There’s no awareness of gender dysphoria even within the community; some say that a transperson has to undergo transition or surgery, and there’s a lot of hatred against non-binary people,” she says.

For years, cinema has built a misconception on how feminine men are supposed to be and how their femininity has to be expressed; from the gross ‘Avana nee’ dialogues and insinuations in Tamil cinema to mocking effeminate men for comedy in Telugu cinema, misrepresentations have continued till Ramabanam and Mark Antony, both of which came out last year. Speaking out against this, Alex imagines a film in which a man can go to the gym but also express femininity: “Because such people exist in our reality.”

Alex Mathew a.k.a Maya The Drag Queen

Alex Mathew a.k.a Maya The Drag Queen
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Unexplored sexualities, and queer relationships

Both Alex and Patruni express an eagerness to know more about the lives of asexual and bisexual people, respectively. Malini resonates with them when they say that sexuality doesn’t get spotlighted as much as gender. “We have a film that features a transwoman as the main lead, and a film like Thittam Irandu about a transman, but hardly many films are made about sexuality with main-lead queer characters.” Malini, who dreams of making a rural-based period queer rom-com, believes there are political issues due to which production houses are reluctant to green-light such projects.

Malini Jeevarathinam’s queer cinema recommendations

“I have stopped suggesting movies because most of them might traumatise the viewers, but for now I’d suggest My Dad is Pretty (2017), by Park soo-min, and Pride (2014), by Matthew Warchus.”

Negha agrees that there haven’t been enough on-screen on the lives of transmen. “There haven’t been stories about transgender couples; say, a relationship between a transman and a transwoman, or a transwoman’s lesbian relationship with a cis woman and so on,” she says while mentioning Love Is Love, a Tamil short story collection she wrote along with her transman partner Rizwan that explores the many perspectives from which queer love can be viewed.

To write such nuanced stories, filmmakers primarily need to understand the difference between gender and sexuality. This year’s Om Bheem Bush — a film Patruni mentions for its inaccurate representation — seemed quite confused between a transperson and a gay man. “And people should also understand that queer identities do not surround just our sexuality,” adds Alex. “We are all the same; it just so happens that our partners and journeys are different and that’s what sets us apart,” he says.

Patruni Sastry

Patruni Sastry
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Special Arrangement

Vidur too wishes to see more nuanced takes on queer relationships. “Because you aren’t supported by your biological families, what are the struggles of queer couples concerning finances, finding a new house, pursuing dreams and so on?” They ponder how stories could explore the impact of queerness on various aspects of a person’s life. “And where are the nuanced stories about HIV or about transpersons experiencing their everyday lives?” asks Vidur.

The intersectionality between caste and queer identity is also something that interests Patruni and Vidur. “Because those are realities and their lives are very different from what we see on screen. It shouldn’t always be about two people who are living in Bombay,” says Patruni. Vidur wonders why since Margarita with a Straw, we haven’t seen stories on differently abled queer people.

Alex Mathew’s queer cinema recommendations

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995) by Beeban Kidron

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) by Stephan Elliott

Stories on the mental health of queers

Being a trained mental health professional, Negha says that stories can be told on the mental fabric of being queer in a cis-het society. “There’s so much that goes through the mind of a queer person. People ask so many intrusive or inappropriate questions. Even something as menial as going to the shop to buy groceries or getting a delivery from a delivery agent becomes a task because of the harmful lens we are looked through. All this definitely depresses us, and so queer people need extensive therapy.”

Unfortunately, as Negha says, therapy is expensive when people are fighting for survival, and society only adds to all the weight that queers are forced to carry in their hearts. “When films show a queer person as the villain, they don’t understand what they would have gone through in their past. Cis-hets don’t realise that in reality there are so many transgenders who would have gone through all that but still have the wisdom to be themselves and to heal themselves.”

Negha Shahin; while receiving the Special Award in Any Category for Women/Transgender for her performance in ‘Antharam’ at the 52nd Kerala State Film Awards in 2022

Negha Shahin; while receiving the Special Award in Any Category for Women/Transgender for her performance in ‘Antharam’ at the 52nd Kerala State Film Awards in 2022
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Special Arrangement

Making matters worse is how, as Negha adds, when representation gets skewed on screen it adds to a toxic notion prevalent in society. “Quite often cis-hets say ‘Hey, this transwoman harassed me for money’ or ‘This gay man touched me inappropriately’. Abuse is abuse and everybody needs to stand up against it but what does that have to do with queer rights and queer representation? They say we can’t blame all men for the crimes of few, and if that’s the case, the same can be told for queers as well,” questions Negha.

Negha Shahin’s queer cinema suggestions

Pose (2018-2021) by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals

Disclosure (2020) by Sam Feder

No more pity party stories; queer cinema is not ‘issue’ cinema:

All the artistes unanimously agree that cinema should go beyond the notion that queer stories are glum tellings on the sufferings of being queer in a heteronormative society. They resonate with what filmmaker Onir had earlier told us about queer cinema often being reduced to ‘issue’ cinema. The ideal scenario is a balance between stories that can educate audiences and some good slice-of-life. “Stories should show us happily going about our day-to-day lives. But cinema often portrays as if we are always crying and our tear ducts have dried up; we are much more than that,” says Alex, citing how the character played by Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju in Made In Heaven Season 2 refused to be reduced to this stereotype, while also educating people about what’s happening to the trans community on an everyday basis.

Malini says that films should now start focussing on finding solutions to issues. But firstly, are filmmakers in general looking at queer cinema as just issue cinema? Vidur points out how issues surround queers but that the storytelling approach changes from director to director. “I have been fortunate enough to have been a part of a film like Pine Cone, which is essentially about love and heartbreak; about interpersonal relationships and a gay boy’s dream to become a filmmaker.”

Vidur Sethi

Vidur Sethi
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Special Arrangement

As it is apparent from these discussions, an obvious solution to alleviating misconceptions is to include queer folk and their lived experiences in storytelling. It helps to normalise queerness and break misconceptions when more queer characters are written, say Malini and Negha. “It need not be the lead character; any character can talk about queer sensitivity or ally-ship,” says Malini.

Negha questions a flaw in how filmmakers represent society in general as a homogenous mixture of cis-hets. “If you show a house, that family can have a gay child or a gender non-conforming teen or someone who is undergoing transition. If you can’t show it in the family, then someone in that street or neighbourhood can be queer; if not, then perhaps a colleague in the office they work at. That’s how society is in reality… but on films, it’s always just cis-hets.”

Vidur Sethi’s queer cinema recommendations

In a Year of 13 Moons (1978), by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Blue Period (2021-), an anime series available on Netflix

Aligarh (2015), by Hansal Mehta

The future that these queer artists see for their stories to reflect on the silver screen might seem grim when compared with the realities of what gets to be made in cinema in India. This is how Vidur puts it into perspective, “One cannot deny the reality that for 24 years of my life, I was a criminal in this country, and so, of course, it’ll take a long time for us to reach a space where we can get into nuances.” But as they end their statements, there is also hope that we will eventually get there.

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BBC urged to drop Olly Alexander from Eurovision after Israel comments

The UK entrant for next year’s Eurovision endorsed a statement by an LGBTQ+ “direct action” pressure group accusing Israel of genocide. Now, several groups are demanding the BBC drop Olly Alexander.

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The BBC has been urged to drop Britain’s entrant at next year’s Eurovision Song Contest after it emerged he had signed a letter calling Israel an “apartheid regime”.

Olly Alexander, the singer of pop band Years and Years and star of Russell T Davies’ TV series It’s A Sin, was announced as the UK entrant by the national broadcaster last week. He endorsed a statement by an LGBTQ+ “direct action” pressure group Voices4London, which called for a ceasefire in Gaza and accused Israel of genocide.

The letter was published on 20 October amid the ongoing Israeli military response to the 7 October attacks carried out by Hamas.

It read: “We are watching a genocide take place in real time. Death overflows from our phone screens and into our hearts. And, as a queer community, we cannot sit idly by while the Israeli government continues to wipe out entire lineages of Palestinian families. We cannot untangle these recent tragedies from a violent history of occupation. Current events simply are an escalation of the state of Israel’s apartheid regime, which acts to ethnically cleanse the land. Since the violent creation of the state 75 years ago, the Israeli military and Israeli settlers have continued to terrorise Palestinian people.”

The letter continued: “Queer and trans Palestinians have long highlighted that pinkwashing plays a significant role in Zionist propaganda… We stand against any and all harassment and discrimination against Jewish communities. For the many queer and anti-Zionist Jewish individuals invested in liberation, this unthinking philosemitism, which hesitates to criticise an ongoing genocide out of fear of being seen to criticise Jewish people, is simply the other face of anti-Semitism”.

Anti-Zionism is the denial of the state of Israel. Philosemitism, a controversial term, refers to an interest in and admiration of Jews, their history and their influence – but was used as a pejorative term in Nazi Germany.

Following the reports of the Voices4London letter signed by Alexander, who is gay and vowed to fly the flag for the UK “in the gayest way possible” after his selection was confirmed last week, a Jewish charity – Campaign Against Antisemitism – has called for the 33-year-old singer to be replaced. They have also demanded that the BBC cut ties with him altogether.

Elsewhere, a source inside the Conservative Party has accused the BBC of “either a massive oversight or sheer brass neck” by selecting Alexander. “After they refused to call Hamas a terrorist organisation, you would think BBC bosses would try to steer clear of causing any more diplomatic blunders. Maybe it’s time to stop letting the BBC decide who represents the UK at Eurovision.”

However, according to reports by British broadsheet newspaper The Telegraph, the BBC apparently does not plan to take any action because Alexander signed the letter before he was unveiled as the UK’s act.

Sharing a link to the Telegraph’s report on X, the Embassy of Israel in London said:

“Clearly, Olly Alexander graduated from the Middle Eastern School of TikTok. We would be happy to arrange a trip for you to visit the Oct 7 massacre sites in Israel, where the rights of LGBTQ+ [people] are celebrated, protected and cherished. Unfortunately, our neighbours can’t guarantee the same.”

Indeed, same-sex activity between men is illegal in Palestine and carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Conversely, Israel is seen as the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East, hosting annual pride parades in big cities.

Boycott Eurovision?

This recent criticism comes amid calls for Israel to be dropped from Eurovision 2024 altogether, due to the ongoing Israel Hamas war. Some have even called for a general boycott of next year’s Eurovision

Following online criticism, the European Broadcasting Union released a statement regarding Israel’s participation in Eurovision, saying that it currently has no plans to ban Israel from the Eurovision Song Contest.

“The Eurovision Song Contest is a competition for public broadcasters from all over Europe and the Middle East. It is a contest for broadcasters – not for governments – and the Israeli public broadcaster has been participating in the contest for 50 years. The EBU is a member-led organisation. The EBU’s governing bodies – led by the Board of Directors – represent the members. These bodies assessed the list of participants and decided that the Israeli public broadcaster complies with all competition rules. Together with 36 other broadcasters, it will be able to participate in the competition next year.”

The EBU based its decision on the current attitude of other international organisations towards Israel: “At the moment, there is an inclusive attitude towards Israeli participants in major competitions. The Eurovision Song Contest remains a non-political event, uniting audiences worldwide through music.”

Facing comparisons between Israel being allowed in the contest and Russia being banned (Russia were excluded from Eurovision in 2022 due to the country’s invasion of Ukraine), the EBU explained: “In 2022, following the invasion of Ukraine, the EBU’s governing bodies decided to exclude Russia from the Eurovision Song Contest, where they were to compete alongside Ukraine. As said before, the Eurovision Song Contest is a competition for broadcasters. After repeated violations of membership obligations and violation of the values of the public media, Russia was suspended.”

Sweden will host the 68th Eurovision Song Contest next May. The world’s biggest live music event is being staged in Malmö, marking the third time that city has hosted the contest.

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Israel has won the contest for times – in 1978, 1979, 1998, and most recently in 2018, when Netta Barzilai won with ‘Toy’ in Lisbon.

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Trans rights in Europe: Where does your country stand?

While a number of European nations have been praised by leading trans organisations for their commitment to improving rights for the marginalised group, others – including Slovakia and the UK – have been told they still have a long way to go.

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Rights for transgender people are always a hot topic of discussion – dividing friends, colleagues and ruining the legacies of the rich and famous.

This week in Japan, the Asian nation’s Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring transgender people to have their reproductive organs removed in order to officially change their gender was unconstitutional.

The decision, made by the top court’s 15-judge Grand Bench, was its first on the constitutionality of Japan’s 2003 law requiring the removal of reproductive organs for a state-recognised gender change – a practice long criticised by international rights and medical groups.

Closer to home, the picture is not much clearer – and equally as divisive.

While a recent report from Transgender Europe (TGEU) showed the European approach to transgender rights has made positive progress, there is also a notable increase concerning anti-trans backlash from some governments and a number of media outlets.

While there has been progress in implementing more rights for trans people in Europe during 2022 and 2023, that only builds on 2022’s return to progress which followed years of decreasing levels of rights.

It’s not an entirely positive picture, though.

TGEU say the risk of regression and anti-trans backlash across swathes of the continent remains a pressing issue for the community.

Slovakia is, they say, in particular danger of further regression.

Debates there have been raging over the possibility of banning legal gender recognition.

Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Belarus and Bulgaria are also widely considered to be weak when it comes to the protection of trans people.

At the other end of the scale, countries praised for their development of trans rights were Spain, Moldova, Andorra, Finland and Iceland.

This year, Iceland managed to overtake Malta to be listed at the top of the ranking.

Spain has made huge changes too, with its far-reaching law covering employment, protections for trans migrants and discrimination based on gender expression.

That law means that the southern European nation has adopted legal gender recognition based on self-determination.

While there has been some criticism that nonbinary people were left out of the legal gender recognition change, Spain’s move means that 11 countries across Europe now have a form of ‘Self-ID’ – or, in layman’s terms, a self-determination-based legal gender recognition model.

The UK is very much seen as lagging behind more progressive countries in Europe.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of mocking trans people and his government is set to push ahead with plans to ban gay and trans conversion practices.

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Senior Conservatives have spoken about their concern that the issue might split the party on the issue. Some MPs have expressed worry that an outright ban on trans conversion practices specifically could unintentionally criminalise parents or teachers who give advice to children struggling with their gender identities.

Earlier this year, Westminster blocked a bill supporting Self-ID passed by the devolved Scottish government. There have been cries of discrimination over that decision and it is currently going through the courts.

Interestingly, less secular countries including Spain and Greece have also made strides on banning so-called ‘conversion therapy’ on grounds of gender identity and Moldova has moved to protect trans people from discrimination as well as hate crimes and speech.

On the whole, it seems as if the move toward trans acceptance is going in the right direction, but as Nadya Yurinova from TGEU tells Euronews, there is still more to be done.

“Ideally, all countries should start with legal gender recognition and access to trans-specific healthcare for all, especially for further marginalised groups at the intersections with refugees, BIPOC, asylum seekers and disabled people communities. We also call for trans-informed journalism and public awareness about trans lives; the discrimination and violence trans people face on a daily basis,” Yurinova explains.

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In a report seen by Euronews, TGEU criticises many EU member states as “failing to meet their obligations to trans people”.

They say nine countries – Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Romania – fail to provide asylum protection and that this is in violation of EU law. TGEU believes that by upholding rigid rules for asylum seekers from diverse – particularly trans – backgrounds, the individuals in question are immediately at a disadvantage when it comes to being accepted into a new country.

That seems to be only one issue concerning those who speak out on behalf of the trans community.

Pekka Rantala, who is the chairperson of SETA – Finland’s oldest and most prominent LGBTI rights organisation – tells Euronews the situation is bleak, even in the progressive Nordic nation.

“Based on my experience in Finland and discussing with LGBTIQA+ activists around the world the situation around hate-speech continues to be bad. Based on that, I would say the situation continues as it was in 2022,” he says.

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Rantala explains that conservatism in politics and “aggressive social media approaches taken by anti-trans groups” are to blame, but believes there is hope for the future for the trans community.

“General awareness raising campaigns for the public, training for officials and media, prevention and combating hate speech and making sure proper safeguards are in place to prevent discrimination in the society are key actions to take,” he says.

“These actions would both make society more aware and understanding of the trans community but would also allow an often strained – if not severed – bond between the trans community and wider society to begin healing,” Rantala adds.



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Russia’s LGBTQ+ community unites amid Kremlin crackdown

Surveillance and the threat of imprisonment: Euronews spoke to Russian queer activists who have chosen to stay in the country, despite increasing hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community

In the heart of St. Petersburg, Sof, a volunteer at Centre-T,  helps Russia’s trans community get care. He is currently inundated with a stream of desperate pleas for aid.

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“I had to learn how to help people in completely different states of despair”, he told Euronews. “Many didn’t know what to do next, many were afraid or in critical psychological conditions.”

Centre-T is one of the largest organisations connecting Russia’s transgender community with medical care, hormones and even support for those seeking to flee the country.

In July, Moscow approved a law that prohibits gender-affirming care, nullifies marriages where at least one member has transitioned and bars transgender people from adopting or fostering children.

This comes on the heels of another bill from December 2022 that outlawed any positive or neutral representation of LGBTQ+ culture in public spaces, popular culture and even cinema.

This law is an extension of previous legislation aimed at minors. 

Since these laws were passed, Centre-T enlisted three additional volunteers to help with the mounting workload, including Sof.

“We answer emails every day, every week, without holidays,” he explained.

“It’s clear that it will be harder for everyone to live a life that would be comfortable, but I see one important thing. We have become more active in the entire community, sharing knowledge and supporting each other.”  

‘I’m terrified, but it’s the life I am living’

Sof told Euronews that Centre-T has received several hundred requests in recent months, some originating from profiles with suspicious-seeming names. These requests often demanded assistance in changing gender markers “right here, right now” and sought information about the centre’s staff.

“They were not aware of transgender people at all and they were just trying to identify where a centre is located,” they said. 

In July, Centre-T was designated a foreign agent, a status typically assigned to critics of the Kremlin. This designation requires organisers to handle burdensome paperwork, have limited access to funding, and face potential fines for non-compliance.

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That same month, a court case was filed to block access to Centre-T’s website.

Sof said he will continue working at Centre-T, despite the risks associated with volunteering for an LGBTQ+ organisation in Russia. “I’m terrified, of course, but I’ve been an activist since 2016 and this is the life I’m living.”

“I just know that someday it will be a question if I want to go to jail or if I want to leave. And surely, I don’t want to go to jail.”  

Sof is not the only person facing this conundrum. 

Aleksei, who is also based in St. Petersburg, has been an LGBTQ+ activist for over a decade. But since the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, protests have become almost impossible. Aleksei has been detained nine times for attending rallies.

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His organisation, the Alliance of Straights and LGBT for Equality, was labelled a foreign agent in March.

“We had to freeze many of our plans and projects related specifically to regional development, because we now have an ethical obligation,” Aleksei said. “A person who speaks openly under the brand of the alliance can be recognised as a foreign agent, and this has serious consequences.” 

This has also hampered how the Alliance organises itself.

“The people who come to us are at risk,” Aleksei added. “Because, supposedly, according to this law on agents, we must write reports on all the people who come to our events, including [details about] their names and passports.”

The activists must register their events with authorities two months in advance, even if they are simply showing a film.

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Despite the challenges, Aleksei is determined to stay in Russia and continue his activism for as long as possible.

“If it’s a question between prison and leaving, of course, you choose to leave, but I try to stay as long as possible because I see that many people can’t leave and the LGBTQ+ community needs support,” he said.

In the current climate, experts are observing a surge in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment.

Over the past couple of months, a university student was expelled after posting online videos of himself with makeup; a queer YouTuber was arrested after posting videos with his boyfriend; and a German teacher was deported for promoting “non-traditional sexual relations.”

“The trouble is that anyone can be targeted,” said Aleksei.

According to Maria Arkhipova, a Russian trans activist and human rights lawyer currently based in Georgia, these laws can even have a deadly impact on the country’s LGBTQ+ community.

“People will find themselves in a situation where they will be forced to end their lives by suicide. Some will be forced to flee abroad and so on,” she told Euronews. 

Outside Russia

Other countries have also imposed laws restricting people’s ability to express their identities publicly.

In 2021, Hungary passed a law banning the display of homosexual content to minors. Some regions in Poland have also attempted to impose so-called ‘LGBT-Free Zones’.

In Uganda, a law passed in May prescribes the death penalty in some cases for “aggravated homosexuality,” or cases of sexual relations involving people infected with HIV.

According to Graeme Reid, the Director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights at Human Rights Watch, there is a “common thread” between Russia and these other countries.

“I think that the way to understand the laws is, on the one hand, this is a minority rights issue because it has a disproportionate effect on LGBTQ+ people,” Reid told Euronews

“But what is at stake is something much broader than that […] This is a political tool towards a greater end and that end is fundamentally anti-democratic.

“Because, while it’s targeting a specific minority group, the implications of it for human rights are so much broader than that and will affect the rights of everybody.”

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Italian general fired for homophobic remarks is sign Italy is changing

A general at the top of Italy’s armed forces bashed gay people in a recent publication. But LGBTQ+ activists and officers tell Euronews that, despite ongoing challenges, the situation is getting better for queer people in the army and the police.

In a controversial self-published book that has become an object of heated debate, Italy’s General Roberto Vannacci – one of the people at the very top of the country’s armed forces – bashed gay people, saying they were “not normal.”

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Vannacci was the head of the Italian paratroopers’ brigade and the Military Geographical Institute in Florence before being officially removed on Friday as the result of the homophobic, misogynistic, and racist statements contained in ‘The World Upside Down’, published some two weeks ago.

In the self-published book the general bashed environmentalists, feminists, Jewish people, Black Italians, and the LGBTQ+ community as the causes – according to him – of the problems afflicting the Italian society.

“Dear homosexuals, you’re not normal, get over it!,” he wrote. “Normality is heterosexuality. If everything seems normal to you, however, it is the fault of the plots of the international gay lobby which banned terms that until a few years ago were in our dictionaries.”

The fiery statements were immediately condemned by politicians and LGBTQ+ activists across the country, with Italy’s defence minister Guido Crosetto saying that the general discredited the army, the defence ministry, and the constitution.

“It’s disturbing that an army general, and so a person at the highest level of the army, can express a thought that’s so openly homophobic, racist, and mysoginistic,” Gabriele Piazzoni, Secretary General of the national LGBTQ+ nonprofit Arcigay, told Euronews.

“The armed forces must be inspired by the values of the Constitution,” he added. “This a democratic country, not a military dictatorship, and these statements cannot be tolerated.”

Vannacci’s punishment – with his removal from the two top positions he covered in the army – was what Piazzoni and Arcigay were calling for. 

It wasn’t an obvious outcome considering that the government currently ruling the country has been pushing forward policies reducing LGBTQ+ rights in the country, including limiting the parental rights of same-sex parents.

For Alessio Avellino, a trans police officer and the president of Polis Aperta, Italy’s first association for LGBTQ+ members of the armed forces and the police, Vannacci’s removal is a sign that Italy is making steps forward to make its armed forces more inclusive.

“Talking about this issue, we managed to get Vannacci removed from his post, a result that makes us happy,” Avellino told Euronews.

“In Italy, there’s a lot to do, really, really a lot. But we’re doing it.”

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‘There’s a lot of people who don’t think like Vannacci’

Avellino, one of the first trans police officers in Italy, doesn’t like focusing on the negatives when talking about the situation facing LGBTQ+ people in the armed forces and the police in the country.

While initially concerned that Vannacci’s statements might find support within the broader public, the 28-year-old officer said that he’s living proof that the armed forces and the police have gotten more inclusive in recent years.

“I’m a trans person, I’ve declared it, I’ve done my gender affirmation journey within the police and the community and I live a normal life within the department,” he said. “Like me, there’s another colleague within the prison police who’s decided to come out and has started his transition journey,” he continued.

“In the armed forces, there’s a guy who has never declared himself to be trans not to compromise his work, but everyone knows he’s a trans man and has kept his job.”

By law, new police officers in Italy must follow strict regulations when being sworn in, with men wearing trousers and women wearing a skirt. Avellino was allowed to wear trousers when sworn in in 2020, despite the fact that his official documents didn’t reflect his transition journey at the time and would have forced him to wear a skirt.

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“Many officers above me were understanding and let me wear trousers,” he said. “At the top, there are many people who have different opinions than Vannucci,” he added. “As always, people get to making progress before legislation catches up.”

Talking to La Repubblica, a gay officer who’s been serving in the army for 30 years confirmed that coming out at work, at the age of 50, had been hard for him – but added that the army has since then changed, as Avellino said about the police.

‘Still behind’

Piazzoni is less optimistic about the situation in the country.

“In the last decades Italy surely made some steps forward, but we’re still behind compared to other countries in Western Europe in recognising LGBTQ+ rights,” Piazzoni said.

“The fact that last year the country couldn’t approve the law on homotransphobia means that we still don’t have a law that specifically condemns discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation,” he added. 

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The sweeping legislation – called Ddl Zan – was passed by the lower chamber of Parliament in 2021, but was sunk by the Senate, with lawmakers defending the right to freedom of speech over the need to exacerbate punishments for discriminating against women, gays and lesbians, and trans people.

“This is a clear sign that the Italian institutions struggle to understand how to oppose this phenomenon, which in turn allows parts of the public opinion that discrimination can be legitimate,” Piazzoni added. 

Vannacci defended what he discussed in his book saying that it falls under his constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech. 

On Monday, after being removed from office, he still defended his statements, saying that gay people are “statistically abnormal.”

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right party League – part of the rightwing coalition government – sided with Vannacci, saying on Monday that he refuses to have a “Big Brother telling people what to think” in Italy.

In a list of 49 European countries ranked by their efforts to protect and recognise LGBTQ+ rights compiled by international organisation ILGA-Europe earlier this year, Italy was 34.



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In Its Zeal To Bash Trans Kids, Sixth Circuit Shrugs Off Constitution, Supreme Court Precedent, Dignity

On Saturday, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit broke cursed ground when it became the only court in the country to uphold a ban on gender-affirming treatment for minors. Because gay panic is how Republicans think they’re going to maintain their hold on power as a minority party, and if they can combine it with a bunch of bullshit handwringing about kids’ safety, so much the better!

Tennessee’s ban on puberty blockers for trans kids was set to go into effect July 1, with a 10-month grace period for children already reliant on medication to be forcibly de-transitioned or leave the state. Ignoring all evidence that forcing transgender children to live with their sex assigned at birth is associated with high risk of depression and suicidal ideation, the legislators declared that they “must take action” to deny them access to avoid children becoming “irreversibly sterile, having increased risk of disease and illness, or suffering from adverse and sometimes fatal psychological consequences.”

The “findings” in support of the law are extremely gross, accusing healthcare providers of preying on kids, posting nude photos of trans youth online to advertise their products, and likening them to purveyors of opioids. They even exploited the 2004 suicide of a Canadian man born in 1967 and raised as a girl after a botched circumcision to claim that allowing children to transition 56 years later is somehow experimental.


The statute bars healthcare providers from providing medical care “[e]nabling a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex; or treating purported discomfort or distress from a discordance between the minor’s sex and asserted identity.” It allows for prosecution and lawsuits against healthcare providers, with no defense that they were providing medical care in cooperation with parents and their kids, and in accordance with accepted medical protocols.

Families of minor children requiring care sued to enjoin enforcement, and on June 28th, US District Judge Eli Richardson, a Trump appointee, issued an injunction, finding the law unconstitutional. The law clearly discriminates on the basis of sex, denying puberty blockers based on the chromosomal gender of the child, while allowing the same supposedly dangerous and untested treatments to be dispensed widely for other reasons:

Yet, the medical procedures banned by SB1 because they are purportedly unsafe to treat gender dysphoria in minors (which, as discussed above, necessarily means treatment for transgender minors) are not banned when provided to treat other conditions. Indeed, SB1 explicitly permits the very medical procedures that it bans for treatment of gender dysphoria, if those procedures are being used to “treat a minor’s congenital defect, precocious puberty, disease [excluding gender dysphoria], or physical injury.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-33-103(b)(1)(A). The record reflects that the same treatments received by minors for gender dysphoria are received by minors also for different conditions. (Adkins Decl. at 17–18) (explaining that cisgender girls with delayed puberty are treated with estrogen, and cisgender girls with polycystic ovarian syndrome (“PCOS”) are treated with testosterone suppression).

This trial court’s carefully reasoned 69-page opinion, allowed the ban on surgical transitions to go into effect, found that the statute violated the due process rights of parents to control their children’s medical care, and unconstitutionally discriminated on the basis of sex. The Sixth Circuit simply made shit up to reach the conclusion that it wanted in a 15-page order in which in managed to pack in several egregious lies about both facts and law.

“Parents, it is true, have a substantive due process right ‘to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children,’” they wrote, waving aside the trial court’s due process findings. “But the Supreme Court cases recognizing this right confine it to narrow fields, such as education. No Supreme Court case extends it to a general right to receive new medical or experimental drug treatments.”

In fact, parents have the right to manage their children’s medical care, with courts only interceding to force treatment in cases of life and death. Children can’t even get their ears pierced at the mall without parental sign-off, and it seems pretty doubtful that the court would have reached the same conclusion about parental rights if the state had instead mandated that all children received a covid vaccine before registering for public school.

And while the court may be technically correct with regard to “experimental treatments,” it’s simply a lie with regard to medical protocols endorsed by every major medical body in the country. Children have been taking puberty blockers for years without complication, and they certainly don’t cause irreversible sterility. That’s nonsense, although perhaps these dinguses really do believe it, since they seem to be under the impression that girls’ bodies don’t naturally produce testosterone, and boys’ bodies are estrogen-free zones.

The Act bans gender-affirming care for minors of both sexes. The ban thus applies to all minors, regardless of their biological birth with male or female sex organs. That prohibition does not prefer one sex to the detriment of the other. See Reed, 404 U.S. at 76. The Act mentions the word “sex,” true. But how could it not? That is the point of the existing hormone treatments—to help a minor transition from one gender to another. That also explains why it bans procedures that administer cross-sex hormones but not those that administer naturally occurring hormones. Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-33-103(b)(1)(A). A cisgender girl cannot transition through use of estrogen; only testosterone will do that. A cisgender boy cannot transition through use of testosterone; only estrogen will do that. The reality that the drugs’ effects correspond to sex in these understandable ways and that Tennessee regulates them does not require skeptical scrutiny.

That is not legal analysis. It’s gobbledygook, and it runs completely counter to the findings of Justice Neil Freakin’ Gorsuch in Bostock v. Clayton County, the case which held that discrimination against gay and trans people constituted discrimination on the basis of sex.

This passage as well is particularly offensive in its wholesale mischaracterization of the drug approval process:

That many members of the medical community support the plaintiffs is surely relevant. But it is not dispositive for the same reason we would not defer to a consensus among economists about the proper incentives for interpreting the impairment-of-contracts or takings clauses of the U.S. Constitution. At all events, the medical and regulatory authorities are not of one mind about using hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria. Else, the FDA would by now have approved the use of these drugs for these purposes. That has not happened, however, giving us considerable pause about constitutionalizing an answer they have not given or, best we can tell, even finally studied.

That’s simply not how drugs are tested, as US District Judge Robert Hinkle wrote in his order that blocked a similar statute in Florida:

Obtaining FDA approval of a drug is a burdensome, expensive process. A pharmaceutical provider who wishes to market a new drug must incur the burden and expense because the drug cannot be distributed without FDA approval. Once a drug has been approved, however, the drug can be distributed not just for the approved use but for any other use as well. There ordinarily is little reason to incur the burden and expense of seeking additional FDA approval.

From a legal perspective, this order is a hot mess as well, finding that the trial judge abused his discretion when issuing a statewide injunction when only a handful of plaintiffs sued here.

“Absent a properly certified class action, why would nine residents represent seven million?” they ask, gormlessly affecting the posture of federal judges who believe that a class action is required to ban a law that is UNCONSTITUTIONAL ON ITS FACE.

Adding insult to injury, they go on to tut-tut about a rising tide of sweeping injunctions, citing to a bunch of nationwide injunctions issued by US District judges — and these two things are not the same.

In short, the whole thing is a lazy, hacky mess. Which is par for the course when it comes to Judge Amul Thapar, who signed onto the order written by Judge Jeffrey Sutton. Thapar was reportedly on the short list for Trump’s Supreme Court. (Cue the Psycho theme!)

It’s not clear whether the defendants will seek en banc review from the Sixth Circuit, or move for a stay from the Supreme Court. But this order is truly terrible and will certainly be appealed within the next 48 hours.

[L.W. v. Skrmetti, trial docket via Court Listener / L. W. v. Skrmetti, appellate docket via Court Listener]

Catch Liz Dye on Opening Arguments podcast.

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Europe’s new LGBQT+ retirement communities are planning for the future

Studies show that older members of the LGBTQ+ community are less likely to have children or families. Communities for senior LGBTQ+ people are cropping up across Europe to tackle loneliness.

For many older LGBTQ+ the prospect of moving into a retirement home is a worrying thought. But in Sweden, Spain and France new retirement communities for LGBTQ+ seniors are proving a hit.

“Care home staff don’t realise that they have LGBTQ+ residents – but based on population estimates we know they do. It’s just that residents don’t feel comfortable or safe being identified as LGBTQ+”, explains Professor Paul Willis, an expert in social care.

Older members of the LGBTQ+ community can “be at higher risk of loneliness, they are more likely to be single and live alone. They are also less likely to have children”, he tells Euronews.

However, new LGBTQ+ senior communities – which aim to tackle this isolation and social exclusion – are cropping up across Europe. 

Sweden

In 2013, Regnbågen – which means rainbow in Swedish – became Europe’s first LGBT retirement community. A decade later, more than 30 thirty residents call it home.

Located in a leafy suburb of Stockholm, residents aged over 55-years-old occupy the upper three floors of an eight-storey retirement complex. 

Christer Fällman is the founder, he came up with the idea for the community when he attended Stockholm’s 2009 Pride. 

“I was at a debate hosted by older LGBT people – they were worrying about their futures and where they would live”, he told Euronews. Christer was only 51 at the time, but a realisation dawned on him. “I thought to myself, good point – where will I grow old?”

Christer rushed to action and began to submit funding applications to the Stockholm City Council. Four years on the first residents arrived – and to his surprise Christer was one of them. “I had not planned on moving in but then a room came free and I became the block’s youngest resident!”

Same-sex relations were legalised by Sweden in 1944 – and they became equal to heterosexual relationships in 1972. In 2009, Sweden would become the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

Though five couples live in Regnbågen, most of the residents live alone.

72-year old Pia Faxén moved in last year, after her long-term partner, Monica, became terminally ill.

“We were living in an apartment in the city centre but it was too big for me to live in alone”, she told Euronews. “I wanted to be in a place with a sense of community, where people would take care of one another.”

Pia’s partner has since passed away, but she has managed to find comfort in her newfound “family.” 

“I don’t need to explain myself here. I wanted to live with other gay people because they have the same background, we understand each other.”

Residents have access to a rooftop terrace, as well as a hairdresser and health clinic. But Regnbågen has a waiting list of close to 300 people – for only 28 flats. Founder Christer Fällman believes there is still a long way to go. 

“I feel like the government and politicians think it is enough that we were the first in Europe to open this kind of LGBT living space. But we need more spaces like this across Sweden so that everyone can find their place.”

France

La Maison de la Diversité is a new residential block for LGBTQ+ seniors which plans to open in Lyon by the end of 2024.

François Daudin, 65, is a future resident, and excited to move in.  

François spent years searching for senior LGBTQ+ housing before finding the project. “Many of us don’t have children or family but also don’t want to live alone. There is a real lack of housing options for us.”

He currently lives in the outskirts of Lyon – in an area where he doesn’t feel safe enough to show any public affection to his boyfriend when they are out.

“We would never dare kiss, or hold hands, for fear of being attacked. For me, living in the community would also give me a sense of security.” France decriminalised homosexuality in 1982 – but same sex marriage was not legalised until 2013.

At Maison de la Diversité, each resident will have their own apartment – some of which will have a subsidised rent – as well as access to shared communal spaces. 

Like François, seven other prospective residents have already signed up for flats. They keep in touch via WhatsApp and are currently figuring out how they will manage the place. 

“All sorts of questions are arising – what happens if a resident falls sick? What types of people will be accepted into the residence? It is for the residents to decide and draft up the rules. But of course there will be a manager and volunteers on site to accompany them”, explains Stephane Sauvé. He is the man behind the project and also runs Les Audacieux & Audacieuses, an outreach charity for LGBTQ+ seniors.

Stephane spent many years managing care homes across France before dedicating himself to charity work. Stephane’s charity also delivers workshops in care homes to tackle stigmas around sexuality and homosexuality for the older population.

“One man was asked by a carer who the man in the framed picture on his bedside table was. He scrambled for words and then said it was his cousin. The next day he had hidden the picture in his wardrobe”, he told Euronews.

Though Stephane stresses the carer was well-meaning in this instance, he also points to other cases of explicit homophobia.

“There was a lesbian woman in one of the homes I ran. She was the only woman who was never asked to dance by the other women during the weekly tea dances. There was chatter about women being attracted to her if they asked her to dance.”

Despite this, Stephane remains positive and ambitious. 

“We aim to open ten of these LGBTQ+ senior living blocks in the next ten years across France! Watch this space!”

Spain

In Madrid, Spain’s first-ever council-funded LGBTQ+ retirement home will open by the end of 2024. 

It will include 62 rooms spread across four floors in a building spanning more 3000 square metres. 

Federico Armentero has spent the last 13 years campaigning to open the home. He named his charity Fundación 26 de Diciembre after the date in 1978 when Spain decriminalised Spain.

Federico explains that he came out to his family and friends in his mid-thirties. 

“My generation was born at a moment in history when homophobia was rife and internalised by much of the population. Many older LGBTQ+ people have lived on the fringes of society. They don’t feel they deserve a place where will be supported, cared for and welcomed.”

When he began speaking to the LGTBQ+ community about retirement prospects, Federico realised that many older people “were terrified at the thought of going back into the closet. I don’t want to be in a Catholic retirement home with paintings of the Virgin Mary – I want a place where there can be paintings of two women kissing on the walls!”

The project is a costly endeavour – and they have already spent €2.1 million euros on renovating the site of the future home. But the goal of providing affordable care for the LGBTQ+ community is central to Federico’s mission. 

“Many pensioners from the LGBTQ+ community are living on a pension of €400 per month. It is essential to provide decent housing for all people – even those with financial difficulties.”

Ten of the rooms on site will be reserved for palliative care. There will also be the possibility for residents to have euthanasia on site (which was legalised under specific conditions in 2021 in Spain).

For Federico, retirement homes should be viewed as a positive thing “we are going to hire almost 60 people at the home! The elderly are not the country’s ruin, on the contrary, we generate jobs, wealth!”

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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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The UK moves to ban conversion therapy. Which EU countries lag behind?

Only seven countries in Europe have imposed bans on conversion therapy, the controversial practice trying to “cure” LGBTQ+ people from their sexual orientation and gender identity.

After years of failed attempts and unkept promises, the UK is getting closer to finally banning conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy, the practice of forcing gay, lesbians, queer, and trans people into emotionally and physically harmful practices to “cure” their attraction to the same sex or “fix” their gender identity, is fully banned in only seven countries in Europe.

Across the majority of the continent the practice is generally condemned, but technically still legal.

Even as the European Parliament voted 435-109 to adopt a text condemning practices trying to “cure” queer people from their sexual orientation and gender expression, attempts to ban conversion therapy in countries like Austria, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands have repeatedly failed.

But in the UK, a bill to ban the controversial practice has finally landed on the prime minister’s desk, according to Paul Brand, an ITV reporter who’s been tracking the issue for the past five years.

“It’s been a long journey to get to this point,” Robbie de Santos, Director of External Affairs at LGBTQ+ rights group Stonewall in the UK, told Euronews. “It’s almost exactly five years since the ban was first promised. It’s very much a wait-and-see moment now.”

Does conversion therapy still exist?

When people think of conversion therapy, they think of the 1950s, de Santos said, when people were kept against their will in institutions where they received electroshock therapy.

“There are many people still alive today in our community who’ve been through that, but it’s really important to understand that conversion therapies are a broader concept, which includes practices hiding almost in plain sight in society,” de Santos explained.

Conversion therapy today takes place in family, religious, and psychiatric settings – and it’s much more common than the stigma around it would suggest.

“We know that 7% of the LGBTQ+ population in the UK has been offered or has undergone conversion therapy, and that goes up to 13% of trans people,” he said, adding that trans people are almost twice as likely to have been offered or have experienced conversion therapy.

De Santos knows many people who have experienced conversion therapy in the UK and abroad. He says the practice has caused significant harm to these people, often breaking the trust they had in their families, traumatising them, forcing them to repress their identity and suppress joy.

“In so many cases, it has a long-term impact on people,” he said. “It leads into a suicidal space. And some people do end up taking their lives.”

Where has a ban already been implemented?

The first European country to ban conversion therapy was Malta, which did so in 2016 — four years before two other countries, Germany and Albania, dared to follow in the same direction.

Malta, which was named the best European country for LGBTQ+ rights by advocacy group ILGA-Europe in both 2015 and 2023, voted in 2016 to pass a law dictating that anyone who tries to “change, repress or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression” will be fined or even jailed. Fines can reach up to €10,000 and possible jail time up to one year.

Germany banned conversion therapy for minors in 2020 and for non-consenting adults in 2021. Since then, “medical interventions aimed at deliberately changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or self-perceived gender identity of a person, and the advertisement of such therapies” have been forbidden in the country.

Under German law, the practice can be punished with a prison sentence of up to a year in case a minor is involved, or a fine up to €30,000. Adults who willingly decide to subject themselves to conversion therapy can still legally do so.

Albania also banned conversion therapy in 2020, but only for minors.

In France, conversion therapy was banned in January 2022, when the National Assembly voted unanimously to approve the new law, with a 142-0 vote. Anyone found to practice conversion therapy can be sentenced to up to two years in jail or face a fine of €30,000, which can be increased to €45,000 in case a minor is involved.

In the same year Greece also banned conversion therapy. In May, the country passed an amendment to an already existing law making “treatments or conversion practices” aimed at suppressing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity was passed for minors only. Consenting adults can legally subject themselves to such a practice.

Spain banned conversion therapy in any form in February this year, as part of a new legislation package allowing gender self-determination, introducing menstrual leave, and making access to abortion easier.

In May, Cyprus joined the short list of European countries which have already banned conversion therapy, after 36 members of parliament out of a total of 50 voted to pass the new bill into law.

Why are other countries lagging behind?

Several countries are considering banning conversion therapy, including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the UK. But previous attempts have failed for a number of reasons, often political.

Last week, Austria’s conservative-Green government was meant to push forward a new bill in the country’s parliament, but the law was blocked due to disagreements around whether trans people should also be protected by a ban on conversion therapy.

Austrian Justice Minister Alma Zadić of the Greens rejected a proposal from conservatives to pass the ban for sexual orientation only, calling it “a sham solution which does not protect all people of the LGBTQ+ community from these ‘pseudo-therapies’.”

Belgium’s State Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunity and Diversity announced a conversion therapy ban in late 2022, but the ban is yet to formally be introduced.

The Netherlands introduced a bill to ban the practice in February 2022, but it failed to pass, with the Council of State saying it breached the constitutional right to religious freedom and did not consider adults who might voluntarily choose to be subjected to the practice.

The issue of consenting adults is a sticking point for the UK too, de Santos said. “It would be a waste of parliamentary time to pass a law that includes such a gaping loophole as allowing adults to consent to conversion practices,” he argued.

“What is consent when a practice is abusive? Can you consent to rape, for example? It’s a huge legal grey area,” he added. “We’ve got to make sure that it’s absolutely crystal clear that conversion therapy is simply abusive and has no place at all in society.”



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Trans Rights to ‘Copaganda’: The Web Of Controversies ‘Across the Spider-Verse’

Since it hit the theatres on 1 June, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has been a massive success, amassing nearly $400 million globally in box-office earnings. The film, starring Shameik Moore as Miles Morales and Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacey, drew praise for dazzling animations, action-packed scenes, and attempting to redefine what it means to be a hero.

However, it wasn’t without backlash.

While some believe that the film represents ‘troubling ideals’, due to its apparent glamourisation of police – commonly referred to as ‘copaganda’, others have concerns about representation of transgender youth.

What exactly are these messages? How did these controversies stem? What do people have to say? The Quint explains.

Trans Rights to ‘Copaganda’: The Web Of Controversies ‘Across the Spider-Verse’

  1. 1. Calls For Boycott Over Trans Representation

    Eagle-eyed viewers spotted a poster in the character Gwen Stacey’s room that appeared briefly in an opening shot. The poster was a representation of flag for transgender people with the words “Protect Trans Kids.”

    While this may seem like a rather insignificant detail, it sparked a ton of conversation online. 

    Many handles on Twitter said how they were ecstatic and proclaimed Stacey to be a ‘trans icon’ even. People spoke about how they finally got the representation in a superhero movie – even if it was a stepping stone.

    The theory makes more sense when Gwen’s story is examined further, others pointed.

    In one sequence where she discusses her secret identity with her father, she says, “They can only know half of who I am.” This, people pointed, can be read as an allegory for coming out as trans.

    Her struggle to fit in and her fear of ‘outing’ herself to her father resembles the hardships that many trans children have to go through.

    A still from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

    (Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

    Many, however, felt that the movie excessively ‘pushed an agenda’, commenting that the poster was encouraging gender affirmation surgery for adolescents, and called for a ‘boycott’ of the film.

    Expand

  2. 2. ‘Copaganda’ in Across the Spider-Verse

    In the backdrop of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests over the last few years, people not only in the United States, but also globally, have been more sensitive calling out and condemning police brutality.

    In the Spider-Verse film, people have pointed how portrayal of cops adjacent to superheroes is troublesome. For example, in the scene where Miles Morales battles the supervillain Spot alongside the New York Police Department.

    People have pointed how this sends a message that police are the superheroes of the real world, poised to provide justice and protect the community from threats.

    They have pointed how this is a ‘whitewashed’ and ‘romanticised’ depiction that no longer holds true.

    The MCU isn’t foreign to receiving backlash on their depictions of police in their shows and movies. Less than a year after the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the MCU comics rebooted one of their classic black characters, Luke Cage, as a police commissioner.

    Their decision sparked much criticism, being called an unsuccessful and particularly tone-deaf attempt to engage with black audiences. 

    The film does make some subtle attempts to paint a more realistic image of the police force. For example, Miles wears a BLM badge on his backpack, which acknowledges the existence of such a movement against police brutality in this fantasy universe.

    According to some, however, this is far outweighed by the largely positive and ‘friendly’ depiction of law enforcement throughout the film.

    Expand

  3. 3. Did the Controversies Impact the Film?

    Although neither the directors nor the actors have chosen to speak up about any of the backlash or the theories surrounding Gwen’s identity or ‘copaganda’, the film continues to do extraordinarily well as fans run rampant with speculation.

    Despite its messy politics, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse shone through and left viewers anticipating its sequel.

    Miles Morales as Spider-Man in a still from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

    (Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

    Among all Spider-Man movies, it has the third highest-grossing opening, garnering over $120 million.

    Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is running in cinemas now.

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Calls For Boycott Over Trans Representation

Eagle-eyed viewers spotted a poster in the character Gwen Stacey’s room that appeared briefly in an opening shot. The poster was a representation of flag for transgender people with the words “Protect Trans Kids.”

While this may seem like a rather insignificant detail, it sparked a ton of conversation online. 

Many handles on Twitter said how they were ecstatic and proclaimed Stacey to be a ‘trans icon’ even. People spoke about how they finally got the representation in a superhero movie – even if it was a stepping stone.

The theory makes more sense when Gwen’s story is examined further, others pointed.

In one sequence where she discusses her secret identity with her father, she says, “They can only know half of who I am.” This, people pointed, can be read as an allegory for coming out as trans.

Her struggle to fit in and her fear of ‘outing’ herself to her father resembles the hardships that many trans children have to go through.

A still from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Many, however, felt that the movie excessively ‘pushed an agenda’, commenting that the poster was encouraging gender affirmation surgery for adolescents, and called for a ‘boycott’ of the film.

‘Copaganda’ in Across the Spider-Verse

In the backdrop of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests over the last few years, people not only in the United States, but also globally, have been more sensitive calling out and condemning police brutality.

In the Spider-Verse film, people have pointed how portrayal of cops adjacent to superheroes is troublesome. For example, in the scene where Miles Morales battles the supervillain Spot alongside the New York Police Department.

People have pointed how this sends a message that police are the superheroes of the real world, poised to provide justice and protect the community from threats.

They have pointed how this is a ‘whitewashed’ and ‘romanticised’ depiction that no longer holds true.

The MCU isn’t foreign to receiving backlash on their depictions of police in their shows and movies. Less than a year after the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the MCU comics rebooted one of their classic black characters, Luke Cage, as a police commissioner.

Their decision sparked much criticism, being called an unsuccessful and particularly tone-deaf attempt to engage with black audiences. 

The film does make some subtle attempts to paint a more realistic image of the police force. For example, Miles wears a BLM badge on his backpack, which acknowledges the existence of such a movement against police brutality in this fantasy universe.

According to some, however, this is far outweighed by the largely positive and ‘friendly’ depiction of law enforcement throughout the film.

Did the Controversies Impact the Film?

Although neither the directors nor the actors have chosen to speak up about any of the backlash or the theories surrounding Gwen’s identity or ‘copaganda’, the film continues to do extraordinarily well as fans run rampant with speculation.

Despite its messy politics, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse shone through and left viewers anticipating its sequel.

Miles Morales as Spider-Man in a still from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Among all Spider-Man movies, it has the third highest-grossing opening, garnering over $120 million.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is running in cinemas now.

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