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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

International News: United Kingdom, San Marino, Sri Lanka

April 13, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News

UK-hosted equality conference cancelled over conversion therapy row

The conservative Tory-led U.K. government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has created a human rights and public relations scandal for itself by backing down on a full-fledged ban of conversion therapy, dropping trans people from the protection. In protest, more than 100 LGBT+ and HIV advocacy organizations withdrew from the U.K.’s first global LGBT+ equality conference, resulting in its cancellation.

On April 10 there were protests in front of No. 10 Downing St., the Prime Minister’s residence. Among the hundreds of protesters were many waving trans pride flags or carrying signs that read “keep trans in the ban” and “LGB with the T.”

Conversion therapy is the widely discredited practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity through psychological or religious treatments. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) says Conversion therapy “can amount to torture and should be banned.”

The U.K. government’s three-day Safe To Be Me LGBT+ equality conference was scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first London Pride marches this summer, and it would have been the largest such event ever held in the U.K. The conference was supposed to highlight the Government Equalities Office, which oversees LGBT equality, and its commitment to LGBT rights.

The LGBT+ Consortium, which represents LGBT+ community organizations in the U.K., called the exclusion of protection for trans people from conversion therapy “abhorrent.”

Eighty-two member organizations of the consortium signed an open letter, written by the LGBT+ adovcacy group Stonewall, withdrawing from the conference unless Johnson includes trans people in any legislation against conversion therapy.

The letter reads, “This is a decision we take with a heavy heart. As the UK’s first global LGBT+ conference, Safe To Be Me should be a moment for redoubling efforts globally to improve LGBTQ+ people’s rights and experiences.”

The letter also says, “This is why we have worked hard with government and civil society organizations over the last few months to try to make the conference work.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust and 22 other HIV charities and organizations also joined the boycott. A Terrence Higgins Trust spokesperson said: “Trans rights are human rights — progress without or at the expense of trans people is not progress. We stand together and will not be divided.”

Johnson has repeatedly deemed conversion therapy “repugnant” and “abhorrent” and made consistent commitments to a ban. But BBC and Reuters both report that gender critical feminist groups protested the addition of trans people, particularly trans minors, to the ban, saying that it would disallow parents from seeking mental health intervention for trans youth to discuss gender dysphoria.

Johnson subsequently decided that banning conversion therapy for those under 18 could have “unintended consequences,” a move applauded by J.K. Rowling, who has become stridently transphobic in recent years. Rowling posted photos of herself and lesbian feminist groups, some of whom assert that “trans ideology” is erasing lesbian youth by forcing young lesbians into being trans.

Nick Herbert, Johnson’s openly gay LGBT adviser said he was “dismayed” by Johnson’s decision but also criticized “shouty protests.”

Herbert wrote on his website: “The conference’s cancellation is damaging to the government and to the UK’s global reputation. But it is also an act of self-harm by the LGBT lobby.”

Herbert argued that excluding trans people from the conversion therapy ban indicated “concern that more time is needed to ensure that legitimate therapies to help young people with gender dysphoria are not inadvertently criminalized.”

On March 30, conservative politician Jamie Wallis came out as trans, becoming Britain’s first openly trans member of Parliament. Wallis, who also revealed they had been raped and blackmailed, expressed their upset over the decision.

Dehenna Davison, another conservative member of Parliament who came out as bisexual last year tweeted: “We had such a huge opportunity to prove the UK (and the Conservative Party) is a defender of freedom. As a Conservative member of the LGBT+ community, it is so wrong it has come to this.”

San Marino names first openly gay head of state

San Marino, the world’s oldest republic, was founded in the year 301 and is one of only four medieval European city states to have survived to the present day. The others are Andorra, Liechtenstein and Monaco.

San Marino made history April 4 when it named the world’s first openly gay head of state, appointing Paolo Rondelli, 58, as one of two captains regent, its heads of state.

Rondelli is a deputy in the Great and General Council, San Marino’s parliament. Rondelli was also San Marino’s ambassador to the U.S. for nine years, from 2007 through 2016. He has also been a representative of San Marino at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Though the captains regent are San Marino’s highest elected officials, they do not hold executive power. The other captain regent, Oscar Mina, previously held the role in 2009.

Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel and Serbian prime minister, Ana Brnabic, are both gay heads of government, but Rondelli is the first openly gay head of state. He is an outspoken LGBT+ activist.

U.N. committee condemns Sri Lankan penal code

A major U.N. body has condemned Sri Lanka’s criminalization of same-sex acts between women. According to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Sri Lanka’s law prohibiting same-sex sexual activity between women is a violation of human rights.

The case was brought under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, an LGBT rights activist. According to the case, she faced harassment and discrimination for her sexual orientation as well as for her activism on behalf of LGBT+ people.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the judgment by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concerned Sri Lanka’s penal code and an antiquated 19th century law dating to British colonization. Section 365 punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with up to 10 years in prison and a fine. Section 365A punishes “any act of gross indecency” with up to two years in prison and a fine.

Both 365 and 365A, like sodomy laws in the U.S. prior to Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, criminalize consensual sex between same-sex partners.

In a 2016 report, HRW documented that “Sri Lanka’s penal code casts a shadow over LGBT people’s lives, impacting their ability to access health care and housing, and creates pressure to conceal and conform their identities.”

The CEDAW committee judgment noted that “the criminalization of same-sex sexual activity between women in Sri Lanka has meant that [Flamer-Caldera] has had difficulties with finding a partner, has to hide her relations and runs the risk of being investigated and prosecuted in this context.”

HRW said, “With this call for change from the CEDAW committee, Sri Lanka should urgently repeal its outdated and discriminatory law.”

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