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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

International News: German Church Officials; Guatemalan Legislation; Netflix’s First Arabic Original

January 26, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News

Cologne Cathedral.

German church officials comes out as LGBTQ

More than 100 Catholic Church officials in Germany came out as LGBT, queer or non-binary on January 24, calling for change within the nation’s Catholic church. Their demands included a liberalization of attitudes toward homosexuality as well as reforms in the church’s treatment of LGBT+ people.

The 125 member group includes priests as well as lay persons. The group published a statement demanding an end to the “discrimination and exclusion” they had experienced.

“I don’t want to hide my sexual identity any more,” Uwe Grau, a priest in the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, was quoted on the group’s website as saying.

“We are part of the Church,” added Raphaela Soden, who works in pastoral care for young adults and identifies as queer and non-binary. “We always have been.”

The statement called for “free access to all pastoral vocations,” and an end to a “system of concealment, double standards, and dishonesty” with regard to LGBT+ issues.

“Entering into a non-heterosexual relationship or marriage must never be considered a breach of loyalty and, consequently, an obstacle to employment or a reason for dismissal,” the statement said.

With 2.2 million members, Catholics are the largest religious denomination in Germany, but numerous report of widespread child sex abuse has created a crisis in the church.

A new report on the archdiocese of Munich and Freising found that former pope Benedict XVI knowingly failed to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse in the 1980s. The Vatican repeated its “shame and remorse” for child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy after the report came out.

Guatemalan lawmakers propose anti-LGBTQ legislation

On January 24,. Guatemalan lawmakers proposed legislation that would stigmatize trans persons and curtail children’s and adolescents’ rights to education, information, and health.

Like similar bills in the U.S., Bill 5940 claims to protect children and adolescents from “gender identity disorders” by banning dissemination of information about gender identity in school sex-education curricula. The bill would also require media outlets to label programs that have trans content as “not recommended” for children under 18. The bill compares information on gender identity to pornography.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Guatemalan Congress “should reject the bill and instead address the violence and discrimination that LGBT people face in the country.” HRW asserts that “Bill 5940’s requirement that media outlets label all material related to gender identity unsuitable for minors not only denigrates transgender people but may result in violations of the right to freedom of expression.”

Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher at HRW, said, “Bill 5940 is unscientific and stigmatizes transgender people as a corrupting influence, harmful to children. Lawmakers should aim to promote tolerance, not demean a vulnerable minority, especially given the high levels of anti-trans violence in Guatemala.”

Unanimously approved by the Congress’ Commission on Education, Science, and Technology unanimously last month, the bill is now poised to go before the full Congress.

HRW said, “The bill flies in the face of international human rights standards and science. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, an international multidisciplinary professional association aimed at promoting evidence-based care, education, and research in transgender health, has stated that diversity in gender identity ‘is a common and culturally diverse human phenomenon [that] should not be judged as inherently pathological or negative.’”

The UN special rapporteur on the right to education states “sexuality education must be free of prejudices and stereotypes that could be used to justify discrimination and violence against any group,” and “must pay special attention to diversity, since everyone has the right to deal with his or her own sexuality without being discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In 2021, HRW published a report on violence and discrimination against LGBT people in Guatemala. HRW interviewed survivors of anti-LGBT abuses and found that the attackers included public security agents, gangs and members of the public. It also found that the government had failed to adequately protect LGBT people against such illegal acts.

Violence against LGBT+ people is rampant in Guatemala. Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office reported that between December 30 and January 2, two trans women and one gay man were murdered in separate attacks. HRW voiced concerns that the new bill could cause an uptick in violence against already vulnerable LGBT+ people.

Namibian court rules against same-sex marriage

Namibia’s High Court has ruled against a gay male and a lesbian couple who want their marriages legally sanctioned. Daniel Digashu and Johan Potgieter had married in South Africa, and Anette Seiler-Lilles and Anita Seiler-Lilles in Germany. Both couples now live in Namibia. Namibia, like most African countries, bans all same-sex unions. Male homosexuality is illegal, and can result in imprisonment; lesbianism is a legal gray area.

Digashu, a South African, and German-born Anita Seiler-Lilles had applications for a work permit and residency denied respectively based of their same-sex marital status.

The couples’ legal argument was that “spouse” in Namibian immigration law should include same-sex couples or the clause should be declared unconstitutional.

Judge Hannelie Prinsloo said in her decision that she agreed with the argument, but was legally bound by a Supreme Court ruling saying Namibia does not recognise same-sex unions. “Only the Supreme Court can correct itself,” she said, adding that there should indeed be a change to the constitution to reflect changing norms.

Reuters reported that Namibian-born Anette Seiler-Lilles said, “It impacted us emotionally.” She and Anita, partners for over 20 years and married for 18, said they felt discriminated against.

Ian Southey-Swartz, a Namibian citizen and program manager at the Open Society Foundations-Africa, an advocacy group that supported the couples’ lawsuit, said in a statement, “The current legal position has turned me, and many others in my position, into second-class citizens, forced to choose between our country and our family.”

The case marked the latest legal challenge aimed at improving LGBTQ+ rights in Namibia.

Netflix film faces backlash in Egypt and Lebanon

“Perfect Strangers,” Netflix’s first Arabic original feature, dropped January 20 and immediately spawned widespread controversy due to gay characterizations and positive LGBT+ content. The critically acclaimed film is the latest remake of the Italian original and “tells the story of a group of friends in Lebanon who one night play a game where they make all the calls and text messages on their phones available to one another, unveiling various secrets and scandals.”

“Perfect Strangers” comes from the Netflix streaming service so it was able to bypass the rigorous laws that have caused censorship of films with even vaguely queer content like the remake of “West Side Story” or “Eternals” in Egypt and the Middle East. But the stars of “Perfect Strangers” have faced backlash and threats in Egypt and Lebanon.

An Egyptian politician was among many who have spoken out against “Perfect Strangers,” calling for a session of Parliament to debate the banning of the film which has been accused of “perversion,” “promoting homosexuality and infidelity” and “being part of a plot to disrupt Arab society.” Lawmaker Mostafa Bakri accused the film of “targeting” family values in Egypt, which has taken an increasingly hard line against LGBT+ people. In an exclusive to Variety, Netflix said Jan. 25 that it stands by the film. The Washington Post reported Jan. 25 that the film — the most watched in Egypt and Lebanon — has incited such intense controversy due to its content it has already spawned lawsuits. The film is currently unavailable to stream in the U.S.

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