Huffington Post Gay Voices – Puerto Rico’s Gay Rights Battle Slowly Heats Up

Puerto Rico’s Gay Rights Battle Slowly Heats UpLOVE is LOVE Orange

By DANICA COTO 03/02/13 01:37 PM ET EST109

 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The advance of gay rights across the United States is spreading into Puerto Rico, making the island a relatively gay-friendly outpost in a Caribbean region where sodomy laws and harassment of gays are still common.

The governing Popular Democratic Party is pushing a bill through the legislature that would outlaw discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, a step taken by about half of U.S. states. Another bill would extend a domestic violence law to gay couples.

Soon after taking office in January, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an order extending health insurance coverage to the live-in partners of workers in his executive branch of government, regardless of gender.

And a popular former conservative governor, Pedro Rossello, surprised supporters and foes when he stated last month that he unequivocally supports gay marriage.

“We’re in a period where it’s important to talk about human rights,” said Rossello, who 14 years ago signed a law as governor to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages held abroad.

“This is extraordinary,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, a Puerto Rican gay activist. “We’ve reached a point of no return in Puerto Rico … Equality is inevitable.”

“The issues that we’re discussing publicly now would have been unthinkable a couple decades ago,” said Osvaldo Burgos, spokesman for the Broad Committee for the Search for Equality, which represents more than a dozen local human rights organizations.

Gay rights activists also say they are encouraged that the island’s Justice Department is prosecuting its first hate crime case for the killing of a hairstylist who was set on fire.

The momentum has not all been one way, however. The island’s Supreme Court last week narrowly upheld a law that bars same-sex couples from adopting children. Despite a string of legalizations in the U.S. over the past decade, adoptions by same-sex couples remain banned in many U.S. states as well.

And many Puerto Ricans remain uncomfortable with the changes. Church groups in February rallied an estimated 200,000 people against a move to include gay couples under domestic violence laws.

The spokesman for that march, Cesar Vazquez, said the state should not meddle with marriage and the family, and a prominent Puerto Rican pastor, Wanda Rolon, said children should not be taught at a young age that different types of families can exist, a proposal that Garcia’s administration is considering.

“That is very dangerous,” she said. “It’s going to raise some doubts that can bring about confusion.”

“What we need to protect in these times is the strengthening of marriage, the strengthening of families,” Rolon said. “We will be a healthier society.”

Resistance to rights for gays was even stronger in the 1970s, when gay activists protested the island’s sodomy law, only to see legislators increase the penalty to 10 years in prison from three.

Many gays and lesbians lived in fear. A serial killer in the 1980s, nicknamed “The Angel of Bachelors,” was linked to the killings of 27 gay men.

Public opinion remained largely unchanged until the early 2000s, when legislators passed a hate crime law and abolished the sodomy law. Another watershed moment occurred in November 2009, when police found the decapitated and partially burned body of 19-year-old college student Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, known for his work with organizations advocating HIV prevention and gay rights.

Soon after, popular Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin announced he was gay, saying he couldn’t remain silent amid such hate, and legislators began considering gay rights bills. Last year, Puerto Rican featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz apparently became the first professional boxer to come out as openly homosexual while still competing.

“Puerto Rico at last recognized that homophobia was a social evil that had to be fought,” said Serrano, spokesman for the U.S.-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “After that, things began to change quickly.”

Many other islands in the Caribbean remain deeply hostile to homosexuality.

Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Grenada still uphold sodomy laws, and many gay people live in fear of exposure and violence. Those fears are not unjustified: Masked gunmen broke into a vacation cottage in St. Lucia in March 2011 and beat three gay U.S. tourists. Two of five suspects were arrested. A year earlier in Jamaica, police found the body of a 26-year-old gay rights activist who had been stabbed to death.

Last year, authorities in Dominica hauled a gay couple off a cruise ship and charged them with indecent exposure. Angry protesters have met gay cruise ships in Jamaica.

Meanwhile, a large gay cruise arrived in Puerto Rico recently and caused not even a ripple in the media.

“(Puerto Rico) has long had a reputation for being one of the friendliest places in the Caribbean,” said LoAnn Halden, spokeswoman of the Florida-based International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.

The court ruling on gay marriage already has caused some backlash in favor of further gay rights.

“What they did was barbaric,” said Eduardo Bhatia, president of the island’s Senate and member of the governor’s party, saying that children of gay couples should have equal rights.

Carmen Milagros Velez, a medical sciences professor at the University of Puerto Rico and the mother of the 12-year-old girl at the center of the adoption case, said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision.

“We are a family like any other, with the same challenges, probably even more challenges because we have fewer rights,” she said.

HuffPost Gay Voices – Florida Family Association Flies Anti-Gay Ad Over Lady Gaga Concert In Washington State

Florida Family Association Flies Anti-Gay Ad Over Lady Gaga Concert In Washington State
The Huffington Post | By Meredith Bennett-Smith
Posted: 01/16/2013 12:30 pm EST | Updated: 01/16/2013 3:54 pm EST

Lady Gaga kicked off the much anticipated North American leg of her Born This Way Ball tour last week, but the Florida Family Association welcomed the superstar by paying a small airplane to fly an anti-gay ad above her Tacoma, Wash., stop on Monday.

The banner, which read “Not Born This Way,” was flown over thousands of fans attending a pre-concert tailgate hosted by the pop superstar and LGBT advocate outside the Tacoma Dome, The News Tribune reports.

“It’s disheartening, but it’s their right,” said Brittney Blankenship, who had traveled from Idaho for the concert. “As much as we want to have this pride, they have the right to feel how they do too.”

The Florida Family Association is a largely anti-gay organization that has protested many events and programs they say promote a homosexual lifestyle, Think Progress notes.

Warning visitors that Lady Gaga was part of a “campaign to persuade kids to accept the homosexual lifestyle,” the FFA said it cost $1,900 to fly the banner for four hours.

From the group’s website:
Florida Family Association would like to fly more banners to counter Gaga’s hedonistic, Godless message at more concerts. You can click here to see the schedule Ladygaga.com… The goal is not to fly banners at every concert but at enough concerts to make a difference.
The overseas portion of Lady Gaga’s tour this spring was protested by several religious groups, especially during stops in Asia, but the small group of physical protesters picketing at the Tacoma Dome on Monday were largely ignored, according to Seattle Weekly.

“Incredibly, instead of discomfort, there was utter refusal to listen at all,” the paper’s Jeva Lange reported. “Consensus was, if Lady Gaga was the path to purgatory, then we were all going to have a hell of a time.”

The FFA seems to have a soft spot for airplane flyovers. In June, the group secured two planes in order to fly banners “warning” Disney World visitors of the amusement park’s annual gay pride day.

Huffington Post Gay Voices – Obama Boy Scouts Statement: President Opposes Group’s Gay Ban

Obama Boy Scouts Statement: President Opposes Group’s Gay Ban
The Huffington Post | By Paige Lavender
Posted: 08/08/2012 4:55 pm Updated: 08/08/2012 5:07 pm

President Barack Obama shakes hands with supporters as he arrives at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo, Wednesday, Aug, 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

President Barack Obama expressed his opposition to the Boy Scouts of America’s reaffirmation of its policy of excluding gays on Wednesday.

The president called the rule, which was renewed in July after a two-year review, “discrimination” in a statement to the Washington Blade.

“The President believes the Boy Scouts is a valuable organization that has helped educate and build character in American boys for more than a century,” White House spokesperson Shin Inouye said. “He also opposes discrimination in all forms, and as such opposes this policy that discriminates on basis of sexual orientation.”

The ban has been faced with opposition by some former scouts, several of whom returned their badges in protest of the rule. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney also expressed opposition to the ban, saying “all people should be able to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Despite the opposition, the Boy Scouts’ chief executive, Bob Mazzuca, said most Scout families support the policy, which applies to both adult leaders and Scouts.

The AP reported earlier:

The Scouts cited support from parents as a key reason for keeping the policy and expressed hope that the prolonged debate over it might now subside. Bitter reactions from gay-rights activists suggested that result was unlikely.
The Scouts’ national spokesman, Deron Smith, told The Associated Press that an 11-member special committee, formed discreetly by top Scout leaders in 2010, came to the conclusion that the exclusion policy “is absolutely the best policy” for the 102-year-old organization.

Smith said the committee, comprised of professional scout executives and adult volunteers, was unanimous in its conclusion – preserving a long-standing policy that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 and has remained controversial ever since.

This isn’t the first time Obama has expressed his support for the LGBT community. In May 2012, he became the first sitting president to announce his support for same-sex marriage, and in June he held a Gay Pride Month reception at the White House.

UPDATE: The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) decried the Boy Scouts’ “outdated policy” in a press release:

“Our nation’s leaders from across religions and political persuasions have joined hundreds of thousands of Americans in speaking out against the blatant discrimination that the Boy Scouts of America teaches young adults today,” said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. “It’s clear that this outdated policy will be changing in the future. How long will the Boy Scouts continue to bully young gay Americans into hiding who they are and hurt children of gay parents by denying their parents an opportunity to participate in their children’s lives?”

HuffingtonPost -Vietnam Considers Same-Sex Marriage

Vietnam Considers Same-Sex Marriage

By MARGIE MASON 07/29/12 05:23 AM ET

HANOI, Vietnam — Dinh Thi Hong Loan grasps her girlfriend’s hand, and the two gaze into each other’s love-struck eyes. Smiling, they talk about their upcoming wedding – how they’ll exchange rings and toast the beginning of their lives together.

The lesbians’ marriage ceremony in the Vietnamese capital won’t be officially recognized, but that could soon change. Vietnam’s Communist government is now considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry or legally register and receive rights – positioning the country to be the first in Asia to do so.

“Our love for each other is real and nothing changes regardless of whether the law is passed or not,” said Loan, 31. “But when it is passed, we will definitely go get registered. I can’t wait!”

Even longtime gay-rights activists are stunned by the Justice Ministry’s proposal to include same-sex couples in its overhaul of the country’s marriage law. No one knows what form it will take or whether it will survive long enough to be debated before the National Assembly next year, but supporters say the fact that it’s even being considered is a victory in a region where simply being gay can result in jail sentences or whippings with a rattan cane.

“I think everyone is surprised,” said Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay-rights activist. “Even if it’s not successful it’s already making history. For me, personally, I think it’s going to go through.”

Vietnam seems an unlikely champion of gay-rights issues. It is routinely lambasted by the international community over its dismal human rights record, often locking up political dissidents who call for democracy or religious freedom. Up until just a few years ago, homosexuality was labeled as a “social evil” alongside drug addiction and prostitution.

And Vietnam’s gay community itself was once so underground that few groups or meeting places existed. It was taboo to even talk about the issue.

But over the past five years, that’s slowly started to change. Vietnam’s state-run media, unable to write about politically sensitive topics or openly criticize the one-party government, have embraced the chance to explore gay issues. They have run lengthy newspaper stories and television broadcasts, including one live special that won a top award.

Video of Vietnam’s first publicized gay wedding went viral online in 2010, and a few other ceremonies followed, capturing widespread public attention. The Justice Ministry now says a legal framework is necessary because the courts do not know how to handle disputes between same-sex couples living together. The new law could provide rights such as owning property, inheriting and adopting children.

“I think, as far as human rights are concerned, it’s time for us to look at the reality,” Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong said Tuesday in an online chat broadcast on national TV and radio. “The number of homosexuals has mounted to hundreds of thousands. It’s not a small figure. They live together without registering marriage. They may own property. We, of course, have to handle these issues legally.”

Globally, 11 countries have legalized same-sex marriage since the Netherlands became the first to do so in 2001. Only a few U.S. states allow it, but President Barack Obama provided hope for many couples worldwide after announcing his support earlier this year.

The issue has remained largely off the table across Asia. In Thailand, many tourists see a vibrant gay, lesbian and transgender community, but it exists largely as part of the country’s lucrative entertainment industry, separated from politics and conservative Thai society.

Muslim-dominated nations such as Indonesia have strict laws against homosexuality. Sodomy can result in up to 20 years in jail and caning in Malaysia. But that hasn’t stopped some from continuing to fight for more rights and visibility.

In Singapore, more than 15,000 people – double last year’s turnout – recently held up pink lights in a park at night to support acceptance of the community in a modern city-state where gay sex remains illegal, even though the law is not enforced.

In Taiwan, a 2003 bill to recognize same-sex marriage failed to receive enough support to make it law, though a lesbian couple is expected to tie the knot in August at a Buddhist monastery.

Vietnam will also hold its first public gay pride parade Aug. 5 in Hanoi. The country is socially conservative, but the government restricts the kind of politicized religious movements that typically push back against same-sex marriage in other countries. Gay pride events also seem to pose little threat to Communist Party’s dominance.

The same-sex marriage proposal still has several hurdles before it could become law. The Justice Ministry will consider opinions from the public along with government agencies before submitting its draft proposal to the National Assembly next May on whether to recommend same-sex marriage or some other type of legal recognition with rights. Then, it must be approved by a majority of parliament.

“Some people told me if Vietnam could legalize it, it would be very good example for other counties to follow,” said Le Quang Binh, head of the nonprofit Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, which is consulting on the marriage law. “People think that talking about it is a big step forward already. … I hope it will lead to more openness or tolerance for gays and lesbians in Vietnam.”

As for Vietnamese partners Loan and Nguyen Thi Chi, who share a one-room apartment down a narrow alley in Hanoi, they say their love and commitment is real, regardless of whether a law exists to recognize them when they marry next month. But they hope the new proposal will ease stigma that lingers around same-sex couples.

Chi, 20, knows the pain of discrimination all too well. She recently dropped out of college after being publicly outed by a note taped to one of her classroom doors saying she was “diseased.” She was harassed and bullied for a year and a half on campus until finally deciding she’d had enough.

“Things must change,” she said. “Even though it was not a nice experience, more and more people are interested in knowing about the community. And the more people that know about it, the more people will have a different view on it.”

Associated Press writer Sean Yoong contributed to this report from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.