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Belgian Parliament has passed legislation to grant adoption rights to same gender couples

for the week ending April 22, 2006
(As broadcast on This Way Out program #943, distributed 4-24-06)
[Written this week Greg Gordon, with thanks to Graham Underhill, Stephen Hunt, and Rex Wockner]

Reported this week by Rick Watts and Kathy Sanchez

 The Belgian Parliament has passed legislation to grant adoption rights to same gender couples equal to their heterosexual counterparts. The
lower house approved the measure in December, and with two abstentions, it narrowly passed by one vote this week in the Senate. Gay and lesbian couples won the right to legally marry in Belgium in 2003, but only heterosexual couples or single people had previously been allowed to adopt.

Mieke Stessens of the Belgian Federation of Gays called it "a memorable day for the children of gays. Finally they earn the right of a worthy
legal link with both their parents."

Elsewhere in Europe, same gender couples can adopt in the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and England and Wales. In Germany and Denmark adoption by lesbigay couples is limited to the partners' biological children.

 But in the U.S., Roman Catholic agencies in Massachusetts are being allowed to reject gay men and lesbians as adoptive parents, even though that's a clear violation of the state's anti-discrimination laws.

The Massachusetts Department of Early Education, which regulates adoption agencies, says it won't act on any charges of discrimination because Governor Mitt Romney has proposed legislation that would allow agencies to reject gay and lesbian applicants on religious grounds. "We're going to wait and see how the legislation plays out," the agency's general counsel told the Boston Globe.

Romney proposed the bill after Catholic Charities of Boston announced last month that it was ending its adoption services entirely because it
couldn't reconcile state law with Church teachings that consider adoption by gays and lesbians "gravely immoral."

 But the center-left coalition led by Romano Prodi has been officially declared the winner by Italy's Supreme Court in last week's national
elections, despite charges of voting irregularities by outgoing conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi had enjoyed strong support from the Vatican, so his defeat is seen by some as a sign of diminishing Papal influence in Italian politics.

During the campaign, Prodi promised to introduce civil partnership legislation if he became the new Prime Minister. There'll be at least a
few lawmakers pushing him to fulfill that campaign promise, as openly gay Gianpaolo Silvestri was elected to Parliament from the Green Party, as was bisexual Green Party Chair Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio. Gay activist Franco Grillini won election with the Democrats of the left, and "out" lesbian Titti De Simone was elected along with Europes first transgender M.P. Vladimir Luxuria for the Communist Refoundation Party.

 Nine men who've spent nearly a year in a Cameroon prison on suspicion of homosexuality have been released, the San Francisco-based
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission -- or IGLHRC -- reported late this week.

They say the verdict was announced during a quick trial in the capital city of YaoundE, where the defendants were cleared of all charges. They
were part of a group of men arrested last May at a nightclub thought to be frequented by gays and lesbians. Eleven men remained in detention, reportedly because they were too poor to hire lawyers. Two of them were released in February for lack of evidence.

"While nothing can return to these men the year of their lives spent locked in a cell," said IGLHRC senior coordinator for Africa Cary Alan
Johnson, "we are hopeful that rule of law and respect for human dignity are re-emerging as basic principles of human rights in Cameroon."
The African nation has been in the spotlight in recent months after 3 tabloid newspapers published sensationalized stories about homosexuality and lists of celebrities and government officials alleged to be gay.

Homosexual acts are punishable by up to five years in prison there.

 The Iranian government continues to sanction executions of gay and bisexual men on trumped up charges of rape and kidnapping, according to a new report issued this week by Simon Forbes of the U.K.-based queer human rights group OutRage!, which urges other countries not to deport queer Iranian refugees.

The 9-month investigation, OutRage! spokesperson Peter Tatchell said, is "based on information from credible, verified sources inside Iran. It
provides clear evidence of homophobic honor killings, arrests, torture and executions." The report documents lynching by Iran's security
forces, secret hangings in prison, and Internet entrapment through foreign-based online gay dating agencies.

Stories about such murders in the Islamic Republic of Iran are not new, but this may be the first comprehensive report about them. As we told
you last week, the Dutch Immigration Minister established a moratorium on her threatened deportation of lesbigay Iranians pending a government investigation of conditions for gay and lesbian people in Iran.

The U.K., E.U. and U.S. should permanently halt the deportation of lesbian and gay Iranians," Tatchell urged. "So long as Iran criminalizes
same-sex relations, it will not be safe for gay people to return to Iran."

 As we've also reported, lesbians and gay men in Iraq are increasingly being targeted with violent attacks, kidnappings and murder by religious fundamentalists in that war-torn country, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission this week called on the United States government to do something about it.

Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick, who's written to the U.S. State Department about the situation, issued a statement saying, "We believe it
is the responsibility and obligation of the United States, considering its present involvement in Iraq, to protect and support the most vulnerable and marginalized populations being targeted for this violence... We expect that the U.S. State Department will condemn these acts as it recently has condemned homophobic acts in Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates," she says, because "... leaders who condemn such
brutality have the power to stop it."

 South Africa's Cape Argus newspaper reported this week on the execution-style murders of two well-known gay men -- 28-year old Brett
Goldin, who starred in the MTV comedy Crazy Monkey, and 27-year-old Richard Bloom, a designer for the Cape Town-based men's label Maze Clothing.

The 2 men were reportedly found naked except for their socks with single gunshots to the head.

While it's not yet clear if homophobia played a role in their killings, Glen de Swardt of the Triangle Project said the Cape Town queer community has been traumatized by the brutal murders, which for some have evoked memories of the similar execution-style Sizzlers massacre of 9 gay men in 2003.

 Police probing the vicious assault on two CBS-TV network news producers visiting the Caribbean island of St. Maarten earlier this month have taken a suspect into custody. Americans Dick Jefferson and Ryan Smith were attacked outside a bar by several men shouting anti-gay slurs who viciously beat them with tire irons. Jefferson was hospitalized with head and back injuries but has since returned to work, while Smith is still hospitalized with possible brain trauma and is being treated for aphasia, a disorder which makes speaking difficult.

St. Maarten Chief Prosecutor Taco Stein told reporters this week that 2 men had been picked up by police - one who has since been released, and another who is still in custody. "This guy is talking," Stein told reporters, "and according to the information he's giving us, we expect to arrest at least 3 other men." He has thus far refused to say anything more about the suspect, however, or to provide further details of the investigation.

"One witness does not make a case," Jefferson told this week.

"There are many people who saw this happen," he said, adding that at least 25 people watched the attack but did nothing to intervene.

It began in the early morning hours of April 6th when Jefferson and Smith were standing outside a bar with several friends. Shortly after Smith
got a hug from a friend while comforting him over the recent death of a relative, Jefferson said, "A white car came screaming out of nowhere and attempted to run us down. One came towards me with a tire wrench [and] the next thing I know, I'm waiting for the ambulance."

 And finally, also expressing concern about ongoing violence against LGBT people in the Caribbean -- and in Latin America -- is Dr. Mirta
Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization. Recounting last year's anti-gay murders in Jamaica of that nation's leading AIDS activist Steve Harvey and of Octavio AcuOa Rubio, a psychologist and well-known human rights and gay activist in Queretaro, Mexico, Dr. Roses also cited a recent NGO report issued by the government of Brazil documenting the murders of 2,092 gay men and lesbians in that country between 1963 and 2001.

"Why should the Pan American Health Organization care about these crimes?" she rhetorically asked in a statement released this week.

Because "hatred against homosexual men is not only a threat to human rights (the right to the sexual orientation of ones choice), but to life
itself," she wrote. "We know that homophobia contributes to the spread of HIV. Fear of being stigmatized often prevents homosexual men from
seeking HIV testing, counseling, and treatment... This situation was precisely what [those] murdered activists were trying to change."

"There is, however, some good news," she continued. "The governments of Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia recently launched mass media campaigns against homophobia. In Argentina and ChilE, this theme has been featured in poster campaigns and on television. The messages were well received," Dr. Roses concluded, "suggesting that Latin machismo may now be more a stereotype than an irreversible mindset."




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