‘I Have to Stay Alive’: Gay Brazilian Lawmaker Gives Up Seat Amid Threats

An openly gay federal Brazilian lawmaker who has frequently clashed with the country’s new far-right president said on Thursday that he was giving up his seat because of death threats.

The lawmaker, Jean Wyllys, a fierce advocate for gay rights who was due to be sworn in for a third term in February, said in an interview with the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that “this environment isn’t safe for me” after the assassination of a political ally last March and violence that followed the election of the president, Jair Bolsonaro, in October.

“For the future of this cause,” Mr. Wyllys said, “I have to stay alive. I don’t want to be a martyr.” He added that he was currently on vacation abroad and did not plan to return to Brazil.

Mr. Wyllys called Mr. Bolsonaro, a former colleague of his in the lower house of Congress, “a president who always vilified me, who always openly insulted me, who was always homophobic with me.”

In 2016, Mr. Wyllys responded by spitting at Mr. Bolsonaro during the hearing to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. Mr. Bolsonaro, before reinventing himself as a fighter of political corruption and rampant violence, was best known for delivering verbal attacks on women, black people and gay people from the congressional floor. 

Shortly after Mr. Wyllys’ interview was published, Mr. Bolsonaro, who was in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, tweeted “Great day!” and a thumbs-up emoticon. Supporters weighed in, many with homophobic comments.

Mr. Wyllys has been the target of death threats for years, but he said those threats had become more severe after Marielle Franco, a human rights advocate who was his friend and political ally, was assassinated.

NYTimes.com, January 25, 2019 by Shasta Darlington

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Supreme Court Revives Transgender Ban for Military Service

The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted the Trump administration’s request to allow it to bar most transgender people from serving in the military while cases challenging the policy make their way to the court.

Trump LGBT

The administration’s policy reversed a 2016 decision by the Obama administration to open the military to transgender service members. It generally prohibits transgender people from military service but makes exceptions for those already serving openly and those willing to serve “in their biological sex.”

The vote to lift two injunctions blocking the policy issued by lower courts was 5 to 4, with the Supreme Court’s five conservative members in the majority.

Lawyers questioning the new policy said there was no need to enforce it while the cases challenging it moved forward.

“Transgender people have been serving openly in all branches of the United States military since June 2016, including on active duty in combat zones,” their brief said. “Transgender individuals have been permitted to enlist in the military since January 2018.”

“The government has presented no evidence that their doing so harms military readiness, effectiveness or lethality,” the brief said.

In granting stays of injunctions issued by Federal District Court judges in California and Washington State, the justices in the majority may have been influenced by the complaint by the administration that lower courts have been able to frustrate its policies by the issuance of injunctions applying to the entire country.

“It is with great reluctance that we seek such emergency relief in this court,” Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco wrote. “Unfortunately, this case is part of a growing trend in which federal district courts, at the behest of particular plaintiffs, have issued nationwide injunctions, typically on a preliminary basis, against major policy initiatives.”

“Such injunctions previously were rare, but in recent years they have become routine,” he wrote. “In less than two years, federal courts have issued 25 of them, blocking a wide range of significant policies involving national security, national defense, immigration and domestic issues.”

New York Times, January 22, 2019 by Adam Liptak

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LGBT refugees more vulnerable in Trump’s America

Since Donald Trump became president, I have never seen so much hate being meted out against immigrants, let alone LGBT refugees and asylum seekers like me. 

lgbt refugees

I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo and fled my homeland to escape homophobia. I made my way to South Africa, but experienced additional mistreatment because of my race and gender identity. This mistreatment included a police officer who broke my wrist. I came to the U.S. on Nov. 20, 2014. I was working on fighting housing and employment discrimination. Some of the people who I met were very friendly and welcoming.

After Trump’s election in 2016, internalized hatred of LGBT immigrants and refugees became a reality. I lost my job simply because I am a gay immigrant. I could see the different treatment of LGBT Americans, I have been forced out of housing, harassed at school, treated like a social outcast everywhere I go. I filed a discrimination case pending with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing on the basis of immigration status that was ultimately dismissed because I believe the very people who were discriminating against me contacted the DFEH and probably told them that I am a black tranny immigrant who has no rights in Trump’s America. I have been a target of police surveillance for months. It has been a living hell in a safe haven. 

Most of my harassers happen to be mostly gay men or transgender women. I think it is because my gender transcends the male and female gender binary. Homonationalism — the abandonment of intersectional activism that leaves the door open to racism, xenophobia, capitalism and the promotion of one’s own interests — is real and I see it everyday. The last time that I went to socialize in a gay-friendly environment I was verbally attacked at a bar in the Castro simply because I was talking to a handsome gay American man. I tried to defend myself and then those gay men threatened to call the police on me and then took me by the throat and escorted me outside. I was walking past the same area the next day and I saw them laughing at me and saying that I am not allowed to socialize in that area again. 

The reason why I am writing this is because we as LGBT people shouldn’t be fighting against each other or hating each other because that is what our homophobic enemies want from us. They want to divide us in order to conquer us. 

In my experience, most LGBT Americans who I have met treated me like an outsider, an outcast, an enemy, an alien who must go back to where I came from. I don’t know where this intense hatred is coming from. We say we support human rights and equality, and those rights are not only American. They are universal and of course LGBT people are universal. Some are tolerated in their countries but some are persecuted. This is why we are seeking asylum because simply living openly in our countries means death and the communities of our countries in Canada, America or Western Europe come with their homophobia attached to them, so there is no place for us among them. 

WashingtonBlade.com, by Junior Nsamia Mayema – January 11, 2019

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The Justice Department OK’d My Firing in the Name of Religious Liberty


Michael J. Stern, who nearly lost his job as a federal prosecutor due to antigay bias, wonders what additional damage Trump’s “religious liberty” moves will bring.

During his tenure as Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions announced the formation of a Religious Liberty Task Force. This task force, powered by the federal government’s Department of Justice, is supposed to ensure religious liberty for all. But I know the real intent behind its creation. You see, I have been on the receiving end of DOJ’s efforts to spread religious liberty. It nearly cost me my career and pulled me into a rabbit hole of depression from which I was unsure I’d escape.   

After finishing law school in the mid-1980s, I moved back to my hometown in Michigan and was hired by a state prosecutor’s office just outside of Detroit.  I loved the work. I was prosecuting murder, rape, and child abuse cases, and I felt a sense of accomplishment in making my community safer. I was working 70-hour weeks, and I quickly rose through the ranks to the elite handful of attorneys who handled only felony trials. I had a track record of success with difficult cases, and the elected prosecutor had confidence in my work, so he often assigned me to high-profile cases that got a lot of media attention. Soon I was recruited by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit. 

I felt a beaming sense of pride when the Department of Justice offered me a job as a federal prosecutor. When I joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a month before the decade rolled into 1990, I was 29, the youngest federal prosecutor in an office of more than 100 attorneys. Even in gray Detroit, I saw only blue skies ahead of me. 

Like all other newly hired federal prosecutors, until my security clearance was completed, I was allowed to work but not access classified information. A few months into the job, two FBI agents walked into my office unannounced. After introducing themselves, they informed me that they had been assigned to investigate my application for a security clearance. I could tell from the looks on their faces that something was wrong. 

One of the agents asked me if I led an “alternative lifestyle.” I knew what he meant. In that moment of panic, I weighed my options. I responded with my default setting: I told the truth. “I do not lead an ‘alternative lifestyle,’ but if you’re asking me if I’m gay, the answer to that question is yes.” 

The brief discussion that ensued was not pretty. What I remember most from the discussion were the phrases “moral standards,” “subject to blackmail,” and “possible discharge.” I assured the FBI agents that I was not subject to blackmail.  My close family and friends knew that I was gay, and if I had to, I would be willing to come out more publicly to foreclose any possibility that being gay would subject me to blackmail. But that did not work. Although the agents were polite and professional, they made clear that a gay man did not meet the DOJ’s moral standards. When I asked if my job was in jeopardy, they answered yes. 

By Michael Stern, Advocate.com, January 7, 2019

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Gay parents challenge stereotypes in China

An Hui, a gay parent and member of the ruling Communist Party, said it’s time for China to rethink traditional views of family and marriage.

gay parent china

Heads turn when An Hui and Ye Jianbin walk down a street in the Chinese city of Shenzhen with their triplets, who were conceived with help from a human egg donor and a surrogate mother.

People are mostly curious about their unconventional family, said An, adding that it was not always the case in China where gay couples have long battled conservative Confucian values.

“I’m lucky because I was born in China during a period of rapid change. Today’s society is far more tolerant,” the investment manager told Reuters at his office in Shenzhen’s financial district.

“If I had been born during the Cultural Revolution, I would be dead,” said An, 33, who met his partner Ye in 2008.

The two men wanted a family and began exploring the option of in vitro fertilization (IVF), with help from a human egg donor and a surrogate mother.

In 2014, a Thai woman gave birth in Hong Kong to three boys — An Zhizhong, An Zhiya and An Zhifei — who were conceived using human eggs provided by a German fashion model, according to An.

He declined to identify the women or the surrogacy company that organized the procedures.

The issue of lesbian and gay couples having access to medically assisted reproductive treatments such as IVF has stirred political debate in several countries, including more recently in France and Israel.

China’s government has not stated a clear position on the country’s LGBTQ community, said Yanzi Peng, director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China, a group based in Guangzhou.

“The best word to describe the attitude of the Chinese government is ‘ignore,’” said Peng.

“It’s hard to gauge their exact attitude. They don’t outright object to the LGBT community because that would really go against international attitudes on this issue,” Peng added.

by Reuters, December 21, 2018

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U.S. appeals court hands win to Trump on transgender military ban


In a legal victory for U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, a federal appeals court on Friday threw out a lower court ruling that blocked a policy barring certain transgender people from serving in the U.S. armed forces, which the government said is important for military readiness.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a decision by a federal judge in Washington, D.C. to block the Trump policy because it likely violates the constitutional rights of transgender recruits and service members.

AOL.com, January 4, 2019 – by Lawrence Hurley

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Gay Couples Rush to Wed Before Brazil’s New President Takes Office

Just hours after Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil’s presidential election in a landslide victory for conservatives, Carolina Zannata and her girlfriend called the closest public notary and set a date for their wedding.

Gay marriage has been legal in Brazil since 2013, and Ms. Zannata said she and Aline Foguel had not been in a hurry to wed. But the triumph of Mr. Bolsonaro — a far-right politician who once declared “I’m homophobic, with pride” — changed their calculations.

Brazil Gay

“We got scared,” said Ms. Zannata. “We need to take advantage of our hard-won rights because we might not have them afterward.”

On Jan. 1, Mr. Bolsonaro will be sworn into office, and high on his agenda is making good on his campaign pledge to defend “the true meaning of matrimony as a union between man and woman.”

Once president, he will have the power to act on his promise. His party will also become the second-largest force in the lower house, thanks to an outpouring of support at the ballot box in October.

Legal experts say that the Supreme Court would almost certainly strike down legislation that reversed the legalization of same-sex marriage, but it is not clear how long the process could take.

“There could be attempts to make same-sex marriage illegal, but the Constitution will prevail,” said José Fernando Simão, a professor of civil rights and family law at the University of São Paulo. “It’s natural for there to be concern. This is a community that has been ultra-marginalized in the past.”

And so, in early December, Ms. Zannata and Ms. Foguel gathered friends and family for a simple wedding ceremony at the notary’s office, followed by a festive lunch. They joined a wave of same-sex couples rushing to the altar out of love, but also fear or in defiance of what the incoming government might do.

Four of the five ceremonies at the notary’s office that Saturday morning were same-sex marriages.

According to the notary association Arpen, the number of same-sex marriages across Brazil surged 66 percent in November. In São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, there were 57 same-sex weddings in just the first 10 days of December, compared with 113 for whole month of December 2017.

By Shasta Darlington, New York Times, December 29, 2018

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DOJ Hires Kerri Kupac, Anti-LGBTQ Spokesperson

Alliance Defending Freedom’s Kerri Kupec reported to be new Public Affairs chief

LGBTQ

The Justice Department has hired Kerri Kupac,  a new spokesperson drawn from a leading anti-LGBTQ litigation group, according to The Daily Beast.

Kerri Kupec, who has worked with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), will serve as the DOJ’s director of the Office of Public Affairs. She recently worked in the campaign to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who faced serious allegations of sexual assault dating back to his time in high school.

Kupec played a visible and vocal role at ADF, which represented bakery owner Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case. In that case, the court ruled in favor of Phillips, who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. The decision, however, was decided on narrow grounds that did not settle the underlying question of a business’ right to claim a religious exemption from nondiscrimination laws.

December 7, 2018, by Matt Tracy, GayCityNews.nyc

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His husband died months after they were able to marry. He’s still fighting for Social Security benefits.

Before their wedding day, Michael Ely and James Taylor hardly ever held hands in public.

When they first started living together, more than four decades earlier and only two years after the Stonewall uprising, it was dangerous to be an openly gay couple. Homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association.Social Security Benefits

But surrounded by close friends on that day in November 2014, two weeks after Arizona began legally recognizing same-sex marriages, Ely and Taylor walked out of the Pima County courthouse holding hands as a married couple.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how that felt,” Ely said. “After that we started holding hands everywhere we went.”

Seven months later, Taylor died of liver cancer, and Ely was left mourning the loss of his partner of 43 years, a skilled guitarist who he always called “Spider.” Because Taylor, a structural mechanic for aerospace company Bombardier, was the main breadwinner for the couple, Ely was also left without an income.

And now, more than three years after his partner’s death, Ely still has not qualified for Social Security survivor’s benefits. The Social Security Administration requires that a couple be married for at least nine months before a spouse’s death for a widow to collect survivor’s benefits. Because Ely was only married to Taylor for seven months before he died, he is not eligible.

Last week, Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ legal advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration on behalf of Ely, arguing that excluding surviving same-sex spouses from Social Security benefits based on the nine-month requirement violates their equal protection and due process rights under the Constitution.

“By denying same-sex couples an important benefit associated with marriage, that they paid for with their own taxes, the federal government is replicating the same harms of marriage inequality,” said Peter Renn, a lawyer with Lambda Legal. “They’re basically putting same-sex surviving spouses to an impossible test that they can’t meet.”

A spokesman with the Social Security Administration said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Ely is one of several same-sex surviving spouses across the country who have been denied social security benefits based on the nine-month requirement, Renn said. He could not estimate how many such cases exist, but said his office has received numerous calls from people in similar situations. He also anticipates more cases could emerge soon, now that spouses like Ely have exhausted all of their administrative options, appealing their cases through the Social Security Administration.

“People like Michael have been basically in administrative purgatory for a number of years,” Renn said.

Lambda Legal has also joined a lawsuit in New Mexico on behalf of Anthony Gonzales, whose husband Mark Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher, died of cancer in February 2014. Gonzales and Johnson were in a relationship for almost 16 years, and they got married on the first day they were legally allowed to do so in New Mexico — Aug. 27, 2013. But because their marriage lasted less than nine months, Gonzales has not been able to qualify for Social Security survivor’s benefits.

by Samantha Schmidt, Washingtonpost.com, November 28, 2018

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Taiwan voters reject same-sex marriage

Taiwan voters rejected same-sex marriage in a referendum Saturday, dealing a blow to the LGBT community and allies who hoped the island would become the first place in Asia to allow same-sex unions.

In Taiwan, three referendum questions initiated by groups that opposed marriage equality passed, while those put forth by same-sex marriage advocates did not.Taiwan
 
For instance, the majority vote was yes on a question that asked, “Do you agree that Civil Code regulations should restrict marriage to being between a man and a woman?”
Voters, meanwhile, rejected a question put forth by LGBT activists that asked if civil code marriage regulations “should be used to guarantee the rights of same-sex couples to get married.”
Amnesty International Taiwan’s Acting Director Annie Huang called the result “a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights” on the island.
 
“However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail,”Huang said in a statement. “The result must not be used as an excuse to further undermine the rights of LGBTI people. The Taiwanese government needs to step up and take all necessary measures to deliver equality and dignity for all, regardless of who people love.”
 
By Hira Humayun and Susannah Cullinane, CNN.com, November 25. 2018
 
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