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‘The Grooming Agenda’: Social Media Companies Accused of Amplifying LGBTIQ Hate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/08/2022 - 6:00pm in

Facebook and Twitter are both failing to deal with hateful allegations that the LGBTIQ community is grooming children, as the far and mainstream right join forces

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Meta and Twitter are accused of failing to clamp down on anti-LGBTIQ hate on their platforms, with Facebook profiting from ads that spread homophobic and transphobic conspiracy theories.

A report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has revealed how 59 ads on Facebook that shared the narrative that LGBTIQ people ‘groom’ children were viewed 2.1 million times. Meta, the company which owns Facebook, accepted up to $24,987 for the ads.

Both Facebook and Twitter state that accusing the LGBTIQ community of grooming children is covered by its hate speech policies. However, CCDH researchers found that the 500 most-viewed tweets promoting the false ‘grooming’ narrative were viewed 72 million times and Twitter failed to act on 99% of the 100 most-viewed hateful tweets. 

While much of the research was focused on US right-wing and far-right influencers, the UK is not immune from promoting an anti-LGBTIQ ‘groomer’ narrative, with the Reclaim Party sharing conspiracist content that “groomers, trans activists and paedophile enablers been allowed into British classrooms”.

The tweet, written by Reclaim’s Deputy Leader and former Loaded magazine editor Martin Daubney was referring to a report about some admittedly concerning allegations about specific sex education materials, however the materials were not grooming children, enabling paedophilia or related to trans activists. 

Loaded was a ‘lads mag’ – a form of media that often featured scantily-clad young models on its covers and which was targeted at young men. It would publish an annual “hot 100” ranking mostly young and famous women by their “hotness”.

“Online hate and lies reflect and reinforce offline violence and hate,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of CCDH. “The normalisation of anti-LGBTIQ narratives in digital spaces puts LGBTIQ people in danger.

"Now bad actors in the UK are using copycat tactics to bring a US-style 'culture war' to the UK to damage British values and cross-party consensus. Their only goal is to gain a political advantage, relevance and greater visibility. Craven hate actors know they can exploit social media algorithms' hunger for lies, hate and contention.”

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Don’t Say Gay

When it comes to the US, the growth of online hate against LGBTIQ people is fuelled by offline hate, in the shape of homophobic legislation.

The researchers found that the volume of tweets engaging in ‘grooming’ discourse increased by 406% in the month following Florida’s so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans Bill’. The legislation bans discussion of sexuality and has been compared to the UK’s hated Section 28, which prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality and “fake family relationships” between 1988 and 2003. The bill was passed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. 

When DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted that the bill should be described as “anti-grooming” and that those against it are “probably” groomers or at least “don’t denounce the grooming of four-eight year old children”, the phrase “anti-grooming bill” had been tweeted 44,028 times.

This is perhaps one of the most concerning findings: anti-LGBTIQ online hate is no longer the preserve of anonymous trolls or fringe far-right figures. Instead, it is pushed by mainstream political staffers, leading far-right celebrities, and Republican law-makers. 

The report found that, on Twitter, the number one driver of ‘groomer’ content was Marjorie Taylor-Greene. The US Republican Congresswoman has been outspoken in her support for former President Donald Trump and once repeated the baseless QAnon conspiracy that claims liberal elites are trafficking children and engaging in Satanic abuse – although she has since distanced herself from the theory.

In March, Taylor-Greene tweeted that anyone who opposed Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill is “pro-child predator”. The tweet received an estimated three million views. She also accused the Democrats of being the “party of paedophiles” for their support of LGBTIQ rights and inclusive sex and relationships education. 

She’s joined by fellow Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who had a total reach of 7,000,000 in the top 50 most-viewed hateful tweets. Boebert accuses the “left” of “grooming our kids”. 

Meanwhile, far-right actors such as Turning Point USA’s Frank Drew Hernandez and Jack Posobiec have also gotten in on the act – sharing content about LGBTIQ people ‘grooming’ children. Hernandez described Pride month as “grooming month”, while Posobiec stated that anyone against the Don’t Say Gay bill was themselves a ‘groomer’. 

Former communications director at Turning Point USA, Candace Owens, has also pushed similar content, this time focusing on allegations that Disney is grooming children.

Owens is married to George Farmer, a prominent Conservative Party donor who has given significant amounts to both the party and the Tory MP Ben Bradley. His father, Sir Michael Farmer, has given more than £10 million to the Conservatives and the Conservative Christian Fellowship, and both father and son were members of the elite Conservative Leaders Group dining club. 

The UK Connection

The research published by CCDH and HRC has found that right-wing UK influencers linked to the Reclaim Party – spearheaded by former actor Laurence Fox – have also been spreading hateful disinformation linking the LGBTIQ community to grooming. 

Its Deputy Leader Martin Daubney stated that drag queens reading stories in school was a form of “child grooming” and that liberals were “sexualising children”. Daubney also tweeted in support of DeSantis’ Don’t Say Gay bill and promoted a film called ‘Groomed’, about how schools sexualise children. 

While Daubney and Fox represent the reactionary hard-right in the UK, more extremist far-right groups have amped up the grooming rhetoric in relation to anti-LGBTIQ hate. 

As reported by this newspaper, far-right group Patriotic Alternative has been targeting Drag Queen Storytime events across the country, which they view through the lens of  the 'White Genocide' conspiracy – the belief that Jewish people are promoting immigration and progressive causes, such as LGBTIQ rights, in the supposed hope of weakening white communities and lowering white birth rates. Its leaders have called Drag Queen Story Hour part of the “grooming agenda”.

The UK far-right has long used a grooming narrative to garner press attention and support. Until recently, this was almost solely focused on Muslim grooming gangs – the far-right response to the horrific crimes perpetrated by chiefly Pakistani men against girls in Rotherham and Rochdale, which often failed to acknowledge similar crimes by white males. The rhetoric here was the need to protect “our” children from a foreign and hostile force. 

Further, the QAnon conspiracy has long pushed the baseless notion that we must “Save the Children” from Satanic Ritual Abuse as a way to recruit new followers to its bizarre movement.

While these two issues remain prevalent on the far-right, the attacks on the LGBTIQ community as ‘groomers’ represents a new innovation in how it can whip up fear and hate. 

“The need to protect children is, in many ways, primal and it allows the far-right to amp up the moral rhetoric to the point where it can be used to justify any behaviour,” Callum Hood, head researcher at CCDH, told Byline Times.

“For the far-right, it is used to justify threats to violently repatriate the Muslim community or to justify harassing LGBTIQ people. For QAnon, it justifies the need to attack what it perceives to be Satanic influences. For anti-vaxxers, it justifies attacking vaccine centres and healthcare providers.

"That use of protecting children to justify any behaviour is what makes the grooming narrative so useful and so dangerous.”

Crucially, the accusations of grooming fits into a wider far-right ideology that claims the family and patriarchal authority within the family is under threat – and that there can and must be no external influence or interference with the patriarchal family unit. 

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‘I See a Lot of Hope’: How Kenya’s LGBTIQ Community Is Coming Out of the Shadows

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2022 - 9:04pm in

Reporting from the ground in Nairobi, Sian Norris speaks to LGBTIQ activists fighting for visibility in a country where homosexuality remains criminalised

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“It looks like we have repealed the homosexuality laws on Kenyan TikTok,” laughs Alvin Mwangi, sipping a ginger and lemon juice in a central Nairobi café staffed by deaf people. The 26-year-old writer and activist campaigns for sexual and reproductive rights in the east African country.

“The support that people who identify as queer are receiving on TikTok is mind-blowing, it’s unbelievable," Alvin says. “There used to be a lot of fear. Now the young people are out there, speaking out about their issues, showing off their skills and talent. When I think about the LGBTIQ community, I see a lot of hope.”

Same-sex activity between two men remains criminalised in Kenya, with a 2019 ruling upholding the laws that date back to British colonialism. Echoing that colonialist era, women are not specifically mentioned in the laws (sexual activity between women was never criminalised in the UK).

The law does refer to ‘persons’, however, which some argue could include women, and LGBTIQ people are not specifically protected in Kenya’s 2010 Constitution. The LGBTIQ community experiences stigma and discrimination and can struggle to access healthcare. 

But, despite the barriers, the LGBTIQ community in Kenya is, as Alvin describes, becoming increasingly visible and confident, using social media to build communities while tackling prejudice and hate. 

“The young people we have now are very progressive,” says Alvin. “In how we think about each other, how we work together, and how we relate to one another.”

In another branch of the same café, not far from the United Nations building in Nairobi, 41-year-old trans activist Arya Jeipea Karijo agrees. She has faced a long and hard road to transitioning and accepting her true self.

“When I started to realise I was trans, I didn’t even have a word to describe it,” she admits. “It took me 10 years to get to the world ‘transgender’. Now, young people have all this information online and on social media. They are challenging everything.

"They see this British law and they are saying 'this is wrong, why do we have it?' They are visible and saying that it’s not us who shouldn’t be here, it’s the laws that shouldn’t be here.” 

While both Arya and Alvin are optimistic about increasing visibility and open conversations about sexual rights, horror and tragedy haunts Kenya’s LGBTIQ community. In April, the non-binary lesbian Sheila Lumumba was raped and murdered, with a suspect finally charged in July. The violent death of this 25-year-old was a stark reminder that homophobia still poses a real danger. 

Their death followed the murder of Joash Mosoti, a gay man who was killed in Mombasa last year, and of an intersex woman, Rose Mbesa, in Trans Nzoia County, 380 kilometres northwest of Nairobi.

LGBTIQ organisations in Kenya have called on the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) Kenya to ensure there is progress in all of these murder cases. The community also faces the threat of conversion therapy and so-called corrective rape – when lesbians are raped by men to ‘turn’ them heterosexual.

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Wedding Bells

One of the boldest acts of queer visibility took place two days after Byline Times’ conversation with Alvin, in one of Kenya’s beautiful coastal resorts. 

Non-binary activist Marylize Biubwa tied the knot with Arya in a ‘lesbian wedding’ intended as a political message about LGBTIQ rights by queering social rituals and narratives. The ceremony has no legal status, same-sex marriage is not recognised in Kenya.

Dressed in a shimmering lehenga, with her rainbow braids piled on her head, Arya beamed at Marylize, who sported rainbow eye make-up and a white waistcoat over white trousers.

“We are all human,” the officiator said, as the pair held hands on the beach. “It is not your fault that religion has broken your perception of true love. That your cultural traditions have made you unkind, that you insist your way is the only correct way. You are envious of how people can love their same sex and gender.”

Marylize and Arya at their 'wedding'

Chatting in a Nairobi hotel bar over coffee the day before she travelled to the coast for the wedding, Marylize explained why it was an important act of protest and visibility. 

“When it comes to LGBTIQ rights, the Government and wider society invalidates our rights to things like weddings and marriages,” they said. “The reason we want to do this wedding is to challenge the perspectives of people and to challenge the notion of what marriage is all about.”

Part of this, they feel, is about the way society frames unconditional and romantic love. “We say love is unconditional and we live in a society that puts a lot of emphasis on unconditional love. But we are demanding that if you are a woman, you must feel romantic love towards men.”

Challenges Remain

Beyond the beach wedding, and the LGBTIQ community continues to face challenges in Kenya that go beyond criminalisation – with both Arya and Marylize experiencing direct discrimination from loved ones, as well as from healthcare professionals and other state institutions. 

Access to healthcare remains a key issue for the trans community in particular. Trans people often cannot easily access hormone treatments, leading to some taking risks with their health.

Lesbian women and non-binary people also face discrimination when it comes to accessing healthcare. Marylize described to Byline Times their frightening experience of being assaulted by a male doctor when they told him about their lesbian identity during a routine appointment.

“As someone who has survived rape, I felt so triggered,” Marylize explained. “I couldn’t shake the feeling I had been violated. Healthcare is not women-centred and it’s not queer-centred.”

One of the main battlegrounds now facing the LGBTIQ community in Kenya and the east Africa region is over comprehensive sex education, a cause which Alvin is passionate about. His work has taken him around Kenya, talking to young people about these issues. “The sessions explore everything from friendship and health, to sex and sexuality,” he said.

But doing so is controversial, as the recent row over a new bill being discussed by the East Africa Legislative Assembly has proven. 

The Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Bill, introduced by South Sudanese Assembly Member Ayason Mukulia Kennedy aims to “promote and provide for age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services of all persons, including adolescents and young people”. It also seeks to eliminate unsafe abortion and promote responsible sexual behaviour. 

The bill and Kennedy himself have faced attacks from CitizenGO – a Spanish-based organisation that has set up a regional branch in Kenya run by Ann Kioko. Launching petitions to block the bill and to recall Kennedy from the East Africa Legislative Assembly, it claims the proposals “promote anal and oral sex” and “promote sexual pleasure and promiscuity as a right for children”. 

“The information we offer young people is age appropriate,” Alvin said. “We teach about respect and when to recognise that something is a bad touch or causing harm. These organisations that oppose sex education take everything out of context.”

“One of the key things these anti-gender groups do is spread misinformation,” added Alvin, including in the petitions against the EAC SRH Bill. “This is a progressive bill but CitizenGO relabel it as the abortion and sexualisation bill."

This was not the first time CitizenGO had tried such tactics.

When the Kenyan politician Millie Odhiambo tried to introduce a bill that supported couples to access IVF, CitizenGO called it the “baby manufacturing bill”. A failed Reproductive Healthcare bill proposed by Senator Susan Kihika in 2019 was condemned as trying to “legalise abortion through the back door”. It in fact allowed for abortion in cases of emergency; if continuing the pregnancy would endanger the life or health of the mother; and in cases of severe or fatal foetal anomaly. 

Misinformation can lead to hate, Alvin suggests, pointing to the online abuse directed at the LGBTIQ community and its advocates in Kenya. He tries to be hopeful but he knows there’s a long way to go before equality is achieved.

“I want to be hopeful it won’t be that long,” he said. “But when you see the influence of the church, of the programmes they have, particularly around conversion therapy, and the work of opposition groups, they are trying to brainwash people.”

CitizenGO did not respond to a request for comment.

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What the Controversial Conservative American Conference in Hungary Tells Us About the New Far-Right

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2022 - 7:37pm in

Out of the shadows and into the mainstream, Sian Norris examines the line-up of right-wing politicians and far-right activists at a controversial conference in Hungary

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Babies, birth-rates and the Bible.

A week after a killer targeting black Americans in Buffalo cited the 'Great Replacement' conspiracy theory in his manifesto, that same conspiracy was going mainstream in Budapest – as the conservative, religious and far-right gathered in Hungary’s capital to strategise, network and celebrate.

Top-billing at the US-based Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself, but eclipsing even the host was a video link talk from former US President Donald Trump – the leader most responsible for normalising white supremacy in American politics over the past decade. 

The line-up was a who’s who of the modern far-right in politics and in media.

Turning Point USA’s Jack Posobiec, the far-right US blogger who has used antisemitic symbols and promoted the fabricated 'Pizzagate' conspiracy theory which smeared prominent Democrats as child abusers, closed the conference.

There was Matthew Tyrmand, board member of Project Veritas – the far-right group funded by US dark money and known for its entrapment techniques of progressive organisations.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was on the list – recently accused of normalising the Great Replacement conspiracy. 

British readers may not recognise the name, but Zsolt Bayer was also in the line-up – the TV talk show host who has referred to Jewish people as “excrement” and to Roma people as “animals” and used racist epithets to describe black people. 

Alongside the provocateurs were far-right politicians from parties such as the Brotherhood of Italy, as well as Italy’s Lega, Spain’s Vox, France’s Rassemblement Nationale and, of course, Fidesz – Hungary’s leading party known for its attacks on Muslims, people seeking asylum, the LGBTIQ community and the free press. 

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Making an appearance from the UK was ‘Mr Brexit’ Nigel Farage, who joined via video link. Conservative and Reform UK party donor George Farmer was a confirmed speaker, alongside his wife, Candace Owens. The latter was formerly in charge of communications at Turning Point USA and dubbed in the programme as “the favourite influencer of Donald Trump”. 

Farmer donated £45,000 to the Conservative Party and an additional £5,000 to Conservative MP Ben Bradley before switching allegiance to Reform UK – donating £200,000 to the artist formerly known as the Brexit Party. His father, Sir Michael Farmer, is the Conservative Party’s biggest donor, having given more than £6 million since 2010. 

Sir Michael Farmer now sits in the House of Lords alongside chair of the Office for Students, Lord James Wharton – who also spoke at CPAC Hungary. His presence on the same day as Bayer has raised questions about the Conservatives' commitment to antisemitism and anti-racism – but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This is a party which chairs a Council of Europe group packed with political representatives of the far-right parties present at CPAC. 

An Agenda for Europe

That CPAC has become a gathering for antisemites, racists and conspiracists was clear from the inclusion of men like Trump, Bayer and Posobiec. 

But alongside them was the growing influence of white Christian nationalism – with representatives from the anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ and anti-divorce organisations that once made up 'Agenda Europe' – the shadowy network that linked anti-rights actors across the region. 

There was Grégor Puppinck from the European Centre for Law and Justice – the European arm of the American Centre for Law and Justice which has campaigned against abortion and equal marriage. Puppinck told the conference: "Without fatherhood there cannot be any lasting fatherland." 

Puppinck was a prominent member of the Agenda Europe network, as was Poland’s ultra-Catholic legal charity Ordo Iuris. Its President Jerzcy Kwaśniewski spoke at CPAC. 

In 2016, Ordo Iuris drafted a total ban of abortion in Poland and supported moves to increase abortion restrictions in 2020. It is currently running a campaign to monitor compliance with the abortion laws in Poland’s hospitals. At least three women have died since January 2021, when the law was tightened, after being refused life-saving reproductive healthcare.

Patryk Jaki, a Polish MEP who hosted a screening of an anti-abortion film and who has spoken of the importance of the family to build a “strong Poland”, was another speaker. 

Opening the programme was Miklós Szánthó, of the Centre for Fundamental Rights – a Hungarian organisation that serves as a Government mouthpiece for its anti-LGBTIQ agenda. Little surprise that Szánthó was on a bill with Ordo Iuris – the two organisations signed a cooperation agreement in February 2021. The Centre had four speakers on the line-up.

The prominence of speakers at CPAC who push an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ and white Christian nationalist agenda tells us something interesting and disturbing about the 'culture war' issues being waged by the modern far-right. 

It is a movement that has folded white supremacy with male supremacy – that pits as its enemies black people and migrant people, alongside feminists, anti-racist campaigners and LGBTIQ people.

It wants to ban abortion, remove civil rights from black and ethnic minority people, and roll-back progress to a time when LGBTIQ people simply weren’t supposed to exist.

It believes that women should be submissive to men, and that men should have supremacy in the household and the state. Its members want to end protections against gender-based violence. 

We have known this for years. Throughout the 2010s, Agenda Europe and its members strategised on how to roll-back women’s rights – from abortion and domestic abuse protections, to political participation and access to public space. They campaigned against equal marriage and dreamed of an end to legal divorce. Its members lobbied their national governments and the European Union to stymie progress on LGBTIQ rights, although not always successfully. Conservative strategists and donors played their part. 

But what makes CPAC interesting – and disturbing – is how what once happened in the shadows is now happening in the mainstream.

Conservative peers are no longer embarrassed to share a stage with racists and antisemites. US and European anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ politicians and actors are coming together to pat each other on the back and share tips on how to reverse human rights.

The fascistic natural order strategised by Agenda Europe in the 2010s came to a conference centre in Budapest – and world leaders were there to wave it in. 

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Jake Daniels’ 21 Words Were Momentous for Football

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 9:29pm in

Tags 

lgbt, Sport

Nathan O'Hagan explores what the 17-year-old Blackpool player's bravery in coming out publicly as gay will mean for other footballers and the game itself

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“I’ve known my whole life that I’m gay, and I now feel that I’m ready to come out and be myself.”

Twenty one simple words. The kind of words that are heard privately every day among friends and families, as a loved one chooses to reveal their truth to the most important people in their lives.

What is significant about these 21 words this week is that they were part of a public statement issued by Jake Daniels via his employer, Blackpool Football Club. By issuing this statement, Daniels became the first British professional footballer to publicly come out as gay in nearly four decades. 

Given the number of people who have played the game professionally in this country in that time, it is inconceivable that there have not been other gay or bisexual players. The explanation is, of course, that while the law of averages clearly tells us that there have been many, the fact is that not one has felt empowered to state their sexuality publicly. 

This is perhaps not surprising when you look at the first and – until this week – last player to do so. 

Justin Fashanu was a prodigiously talented young player who began his career in 1978 with Norwich City. While at Norwich, he scored one of the most famous goals the English game has ever seen – a sumptuous turn and volley against Liverpool which was so good it graced the opening credits of Match of the Day for years afterwards.

In 1980, Fashanu became the first black player to be sold for £1 million when he moved from Norwich to Nottingham Forest. It was at Forest that perceptions of his sexuality first began to negatively impact his career.

Although not publicly out, many of his teammates were aware he was gay. His visiting of Nottingham’s gay clubs came to the attention of manager Brian Clough, who labelled him a "bloody poof" and banned him from training with the first team squad.

Despite his talent, Fashanu’s career quickly went off the rails and he spent most of the next decade on short-term contracts and loans in the lower leagues and in America and Canada. He officially came out in 1990 when a British newspaper threatened to out him. Fashanu eventually took his own life in a lock-up in Shoreditch in 1998 after being accused of sexual assault in the US.

It's more than 30 years since Fashanu came out and, given the hostility he suffered – with even his brother, fellow-pro John Fashanu, describing him as "an outcast" in The Voice newspaper – it is perhaps unsurprising that since then the only other high-profile case is that of Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former West Ham, Aston Villa and Everton midfielder who came out in 2014. 

The significant difference between these two examples and Daniels, however, is that Fashanu’s career was well into its third act. He came out in 1990, a year in which he spent time playing at Leyton Orient in the old third division and in Canada with Hamilton Steelers. Germany international Hitzlsperger was the most high-profile player to come out, but even he did so a year after he retired from the game.

The only other modern comparison is Josh Carvalho, a midfielder with Adelaide United in Australia’s A League, who came out last year at the age of 21. Carvalho remains the only out footballer playing in the top division of his country.

Jake Daniels, meanwhile, is just 17 years old – barely taking the first kicks of his footballing journey. He will have to deal with any potential negative response, as well as the weight of responsibility that comes with being a trailblazer, at an age when most of us are still figuring out a way to not be late for school or work.

It takes a special kind of strength and resolve to succeed in professional football at any level – to attempt to do so with the added weight and scrutiny that Daniels will now be subject to marks him out as an especially courageous individual. 

The timing of his statement is also significant for the game itself. 

Undeniable progress has been made in attitudes and behaviours on the terraces in recent times. The Rainbow Laces campaign has been active for several years, for instance, and clubs have made efforts to give a voice to LGBTQ fan groups. But, despite these small but significant steps, there was one glaring omission – the lack of a professional player willing to come out publicly.

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This is in contrast to the women’s professional game, where representation is far better. At the 2019 Women’s World Cup, for example, there were more than 40 gay or bisexual players and coaches, compared with a grand total of zero at the men’s equivalent the year before. 

FIFA must take some responsibility for this. While it has publicly made the right noises in support of LGBTQ fans and of Jake Daniels' statement, it chose Russia – a country with many anti-gay laws – as the host for the 2018 World Cup. Meanwhile, this year’s tournament in December will be held in Qatar, a country where male homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison.

As with its past ineptitude when dealing with racist incidents, so far the game’s governing body has yet to prove with actions that it can be counted on as an ally for gay players.

For all these reasons, how momentous Daniels' statement was this week cannot be overstated. There will be numerous other gay footballers quietly watching from the touchline to see how this plays out – many of them will have been in the game for years and may now have been shown the way by a teenager in the nascent stages of his career.

Quite where that career will take Daniels at this point remains to be seen. But, if he approaches the rest of it with the bravery he has shown this week, then he could well go on to achieve great things. Whatever he does on the pitch, Jake Daniels’ place in footballing history is already assured.

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Risk to LGBTIQ Asylum Seekers Ignored in Home Office Rwanda Plan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/05/2022 - 1:25am in

The Home Office has published its equality impact assessment into plan to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda – but campaigners are concerned that it fails to account for the risks to LGBTIQ people, reports Sian Norris

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Gay and lesbian people seeking asylum via irregular routes and relocated to Rwanda will not experience indirect discrimination, the Home Office claims, despite evidence of ill-treatment of the LGBTIQ community by Rwandan police and wider society.

The Home Office’s Equality Impact Assessment into its Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda acknowledges that ill-treatment of gay and lesbian people is “more than one-off” but argues that the equality impact is "neutral" rather than "negative". Homosexuality is legal in Rwanda, but remains taboo and there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships. 

"The Government should clarify, as a matter of urgency, the precise level of mistreatment of LGBTIQ people it finds acceptable," Sonia Lenegan, Legal and Policy Director at Rainbow Migration, told Byline Times.

The controversial proposal, announced last month by Home Secretary Priti Patel, would send people seeking asylum who arrive via irregular routes such as small boats across the Channel to Rwanda, rather than granting them asylum in the UK. Once they are deported from the UK, the individual would have to claim asylum in Rwanda where they would be expected to remain.

It has been much-criticised by migrant rights groups and is already facing a legal challenge. The assessment was published as the Government announced its intention to tell the “First Illegal migrants … of impending removal to Rwanda”.

Human rights organisations have identified numerous incidents of the LGBTIQ community facing violence and discrimination. Such violence comes from the state itself, with police using laws designed to protect public morality to target LGBTIQ people. 

In September last year, Rwandan authorities rounded up and arbitrarily detained more than a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children in the months before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. They were accused of “not representing Rwandan values”. 

Activists have also noted increasing acts of violence against the LGBTIQ community in Rwanda, along with calls to incite violence, and a growing interest in excluding the community from constitutionally guaranteed rights.

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The equality impact assessment recognises that transgender women seeking asylum are at risk of indirect discrimination should they be relocated to Rwanda. The report states that trans people, particularly trans women, experience ill treatment such as arbitrary arrests and detention as well as degrading treatment. It therefore recommends that these factors should be “carefully considered” when assessing whether a person seeking asylum should be resettled. 

The assessment also examines whether people who are married or in a civil partnership will face direct or indirect discrimination as a result of the policy, and found no evidence to suggest they would. There is no legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Rwanda.

"The equality impact assessment accepts that LGBTIQ people in Rwanda are subject to abuse, yet the Government intends to send them there regardless," said Lenegan.

The equality impact assessment looks at a range of protected characteristics, including sex, race and age.

In terms of sex, the majority of people who make irregular journeys into the UK are men, meaning they will be most impacted by the policy. The assessment notes that women are at risk of gender-based violence in Rwanda, but that this is not systematic and the Rwandan Government is encouraging women to report incidents of domestic and sexual abuse. As such, the assessment believes the impact on women’s equality is “neutral”. In contrast, the United Nations sees gender-based violence seen as prevalent and serious. 

Further, the US State Department has identified that Rwanda’s Government has not met the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking in the country, although notes that it is making efforts to do so. The Home Office states that the risk of trafficking is “lower” for urban refugees and that women and girls are not at “real risk” of it. The UK’s ambassador for human rights, Rita French, thinks differently: last year she expressed her disappointment that Rwanda “did not support the UK recommendation to screen, identify and provide support for trafficking victims”. 

Paola Uccellari, Interim Chief Executive at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: "As we said in April, the Government's Rwanda scheme should have no place in our asylum system. No-one seeking safety in the UK should face deportation to a country half way around the world, but the fact we now know Priti Patel plans to ship LGBTIQ people, trafficking and torture survivors to Rwanda, shows us just how depraved these plans are".

A Deterrent?

The Home Secretary has claimed the proposal to resettle people seeking asylum in Rwanda will deter people from making dangerous journeys across the Channel into the UK.

This notion of the policy as a deterrent is repeatedly mentioned in the equality impact assessment. When it comes to impact on young men, who are more likely to be affected by the policy, the assessment notes that “as one of the policy’s key aims would be to deter individuals from undertaking dangerous small boat journeys, and younger adult individuals are more likely to have used this method of entry, we consider any disadvantage to the 18-39 cohort to be justified as a proportionate means of achieving the policy’s aim, which is to discourage dangerous journeys to reach the UK”.

But the idea that the Rwanda policy could work as a deterrent is undermined by a previously published equality impact assessment into the UK Government’s New Plan for Immigration. That assessment, reported on by this paper, admitted that measures to “increase security and deterrence” could encourage people to “attempt riskier means of entering the UK”. It also stated that “evidence supporting the effectiveness of this [security and deterrence] approach is limited”. 

There is also limited evidence that people seek asylum in the UK based on Government asylum policy – instead people migrate to countries where they speak the language or where there are existing family or community links. 

Since the start of the year, more than 8,000 people have attempted to arrive in the UK via small boats across the Channel, despite numerous policy announcements intended to deter people from taking irregular routes. That this number is three times more than in the same period last year, it would seem the deterrent approach is not working.

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25 Afghan Men Claiming Asylum in UK on Sexuality Grounds Refused Since 2017

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

An investigation by Sian Norris with the Byline Intelligence Team explores the vulnerability of LGBTIQ people looking for a safe home in Britain

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A total of 25 men seeking asylum in the UK from Afghanistan on the grounds of sexuality had their claims refused after the Home Office updated its guidance in 2017 to say it was safe for LGBTIQ people to live in the country if they did not “seek to cause public outrage”.

A Freedom of Information request by the Byline Intelligence Team found that, while 25 people were refused asylum, none had been subsequently deported. 

The data provided covered refusals between 1 February 2017 and 31 December 2020, and returns between 1 February 2017 and 30 June 2021. 

The revelation comes as LGBTIQ and migrant rights activists have expressed concerns about the Government’s plan to send people seeking asylum in the UK who travel via 'irregular' routes to Rwanda, where they will be able to claim asylum.

Rwanda’s record on LGBTIQ rights has been criticised. The Government’s own record on LGBTIQ rights has also been under fire in recent months, with it having to cancel the first ever global Safe To Be Me conference after 100 rights organisations announced that they would boycott the event. 

In 2017, then Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that gay Afghans could be returned to their home country, despite the LGBTIQ community facing legal and social discrimination. 

Even after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, Home Office guidance from October 2021 said that deporting LGBTIQ Afghans presents “no real risk of harm”, although the Government stopped enforcing returns to the country following the UK’s withdrawal. 

Previous Home Office guidance recognised that while LGBTIQ Afghan people were at risk from their families, the country’s laws and insurgent Taliban forces, “a practising gay man who, on return to Kabul, would not attract or seek to cause public outrage, would not face a real risk of persecution”.

This suggested an expectation that gay people should hide their sexuality in order to survive in Afghanistan – and appeared to contradict a 2010 Supreme Court ruling which stated that "to compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is”.

Sarah Cope, who runs a support group for LGBTIQ women seeking asylum called Rainbow Sisters, told Byline Times that refusals for people claiming asylum on the basis of sexuality are often linked to a lack of understanding of LGBTIQ people’s experiences.  

“Many of the women we work with are from countries where being gay or transgender is criminalised, and so they have not had a chance to live openly, to have a relationship and so on,” Cope said. “They might not even have told anyone about their sexuality. But the Home Office expects everyone to be out and proud and going to gay bars and on dating apps, and that people will come to court to testify they have been in a relationship with the claimant.”

Cope also said that sexuality is not dependent on being in a relationship, and yet LGBTIQ people seeking asylum are often disbelieved because they are single or have had a partner.

“It seems like if you’re not in a relationship with a person of the same sex, then your identity isn’t really valid, you’re not really gay,” she told Byline Times. “If someone was straight, you wouldn’t say they don’t have a sexuality because they aren’t in a relationship.”

Last October, 29 LGBTIQ Afghans arrived in the UK. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office stated: “The UK is playing a world-leading role in supporting the departure of persecuted Afghans from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”

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The Global Picture

Between 2015 and 2020, a total of 10,230 people claimed asylum in the UK on the basis of sexuality. Of these, more than half (6,078) were refused. 

Appeals were lodged in 5,379 of the decisions, and 3,045 appeals were dismissed. 

“People are told they can relocate, go and live in a different part of the country from where they came from to avoid discrimination,” said Sarah Cope, explaining what happens when a claim is refused. “But first of all, if there are no safe places in your home country, the same issues are going to rise up again and again.”

LGBTIQ women experience specific barriers, Cope added.

“They may be from countries where women don’t have a lot of power," she said. "A female stranger who arrives in a new part of a country may face questions about why she is there and where she came from before. She may be questioned about being single. There’s a real cultural blindness about the issues LGBTIQ women may experience when forcibly returned.”

She also warned how a lack of understanding of trauma from the Home Office can lead to people having their claim refused. 

“If a claimant’s story has any inconsistencies then that becomes a reason to reject them,” she told this newspaper. “If you’re recovering from trauma, which many of these women are, then you might struggle to recall or express certain things that have happened.

"A lot of people claiming asylum on the basis of their sexuality may also have had bad experiences with state forces and the police in the home country, meaning they find the Home Office interviews very difficult.”

The majority of people claiming asylum on the basis of sexuality were from Pakistan (2,450) and Nigeria (898). A total of 624 people claimed asylum on the basis of sexuality from Uganda, along with 1,084 people from Bangladesh, and 511 from Iran. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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‘This War Shows It’s Very Fragile to Rely On Force’: Meet Ukraine’s Human Rights Activists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Sian Norris speaks to three campaigners fighting for a fairer, more equal Ukraine when the war ends

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Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, people around the world have become spectators to the horrors of alleged war crimes and human rights abuses – including mass rapes and massacres in the city of Bucha.

As we watch events unfold, Ukraine’s human rights activists have been actively responding to the devastation in their country – painstakingly collecting evidence of the crimes in order to one day hold Russian forces accountable. 

Byline Times spoke to human rights activists in Ukraine to find out what kind of future they hope to build for their country when the war ends, and how out of the ashes of conflict, a fairer and more democratic society can flourish. 

The LGBTIQ Activist

Since the first small and threatened Kyiv Pride March in 2012, the movement for LGBTIQ equality in Ukraine has grown and grown, explains Edward Reese. The activist fled Ukraine when war broke out.

“Last year, we had Pride marches in Kyiv, as well as in Odessa and even in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” Reese said. “We try to involve the whole country and work with a range of LGBTIQ and feminist groups.”

Before the Russian invasion, the LGBTIQ movement in Ukraine was focused on introducing a hate crime law that would provide better legal protections for the community.

“There are several transphobic and homophobic groups which are connected to Russia, the church and the far-right,” he said. “And, from time to time, particularly around elections, they become quite active. I hope we can start work on this law again after the victory.”

The war has caused specific issues for the LGBTIQ community in Ukraine. Trans women who do not have legal recognition of their gender have struggled to leave a country where all young men are facing conscription. Reese is also concerned about the welfare of LGBTIQ people who may face discrimination and prejudice at home, but are now obliged to live with their families.

“Pride organises activities to support them,” he said. “We offer psychological support to those forced to stay in difficult situations who are separated from the ones they love.”

Some LGBTIQ people have experienced violence since the war began.

“A lesbian activist named Olena Shevchenko was attacked when she was offering humanitarian aid,” he told Byline Times. “It was celebrated on far-right social media channels. But people who were not connected to the far-right did not support it as they saw her as helping those in need. They see that doing an attack like that before the war was crazy. Doing it during a war is even crazier.”

Reese believes that there is hope for the future of the community, however, not least because homophobia and transphobia are now so closely associated with Russia and Vladimir Putin’s regime. 

“I know a lot of the hate will be gone because it’s Russian, it’s Russian Nazi politics, and people will turn their backs on it,” he said. “LGBTIQ people are soldiers, we are fighting for our country and when the victory comes we will march together on Pride again.”

The Workers Rights Activist

Vitaly Dudin is a left-wing trade unionist activist who leads the Sotsialny Rukh – a socialist movement advocating for workers’ rights.

“Before the war we helped people to defend their rights in work and to demand better conditions from employers and the Government,” he said.

In recent years, Dudin has campaigned against growing neoliberalism in Ukraine and the introduction of laws which benefit employers and investors over workers. He is concerned that the war has created conditions for labour rights to be suspended or challenged – and he and his movement are determined to keep advocating for workers’ rights. 

Ukraine’s economy is set to shrink by 46% this year. Dudin has spoken to various workers who have had their wages reduced or suspended – but when the time comes to rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure, those workers will be needed more than ever. 

“It is a way of deepening the social crisis in Ukraine,” Dudin warned. “I think it could make matters worse if people have their work suspended, their wages suspended, and can’t afford to buy food or essentials. People are not receiving their pay, they are reliant on state aid.”

Many of the people Dudin works with are experiencing intense suffering as a result of Russia’s invasion.

“A lot of people are being killed by Russian tank bomb and shells. People are suffering because of lack of food, water and so on," he said. "Homes are being destroyed.”

For this reason, he is clear that, when the war is over, the emergency labour laws must be lifted. But he also argues that Ukraine’s international debt should be cancelled in order to help the country rebuild. 

Dudin draws strength and solidarity from the energy and determination of Ukraine’s left-wing workers’ movement, even as war rages.

“We the people will not be defeated,” he told Byline Times. “We shall overcome. But we need to connect as a movement and recognise shared and common interests. We can show that capitalism and neoliberalism doesn’t work and that we don’t want to bear additional costs that risk making our lives more terrible.”

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The Human Rights Activist

Oleksandra Matvichuk has worked in human rights for two decades. She supported protestors who were prosecuted and mistreated during Ukraine's Euromaidan Revolution of Dignity and documented alleged war crimes in the Donbas region following Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

Now, she told Byline Times, “we are working in several directions, including recording war crimes".

“My major concern is how we can stop this war,” she said. “The question we face right now is not only how can we record evidence of war crimes, but how we can stop the war crimes before new victims emerge. Because we see Russia using war crimes as a message. Russia deliberately ruins critical civilian infrastructure, deliberately attacks the civilian population, in order to provide enormous loss and pain and to stop resistance of the nation.”

Matvichuk is very clear about what is needed to support human rights in Ukraine and calls for international solidarity, including “weaponry from Western democracies and real, tough sanctions that can freeze the Russian economy on the spot”.

Doing so, she argues, will stop war being profitable to Russia. “The main challenge for me is not only how to document war crimes for future justice,” she said. “But how we can help much more people to survive, and to be alive ready for the moment when this future justice will appear.”

Matvichuk recognises that many people will be struggling with trauma from seeing loved ones killed, surviving sexual violence, being separated from their families, and witnessing deadly violence.

“We will need efforts to restore the ruin to civilian infrastructure, to return people to real life and to provide adaptation for soldiers and for people who go through rape, tortures, and who suffers from post trauma syndrome. We will need to restore the belief that the law exists.”

Despite the horrors the country now faces, Matvichuk remains hopeful. “I look with optimism in the future. This war shows that it's very fragile to rely upon force.”

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Tolerating Intolerance: UK Military Failing its LGBTQ Personnel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Murray Jones reports on the Government’s failure to offer information on its acquiescence to the repressive rules of foreign militaries

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The Ministry of Defence (MoD) allows gay and unmarried personnel to be barred from serving in foreign militaries, but refuses to reveal which ones, an investigation by the charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) for the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

Every year some 200 British troops serve abroad as ‘loan service personnel’ (LSP), often under the command of a foreign military. Around a-third of these are stationed in Oman, even wearing the Gulf nation’s uniform.

The Government claims that they are used for training other nations’ forces, but very little is known about their role. Host nations for British military personnel in the past 10 years include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brunei, Nigeria and Kenya. 

However, a recent series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests has found that British military personnel who are considering to apply for Loan Service are told: 

“Applicants are to note that due to cultural and religious differences, a number of host nations will not accept single personnel, married unaccompanied personnel, personnel with same-sex partners or personnel with children from previous marriages with surnames that are different to that of the head of the family.”

A further FOI request asking for the names of these host nations was refused, as were other requests regarding the role, conduct, disciplinary action and uniform protocol of Loan Service personnel. They were rejected on the grounds that it would “adversely affect relations with our allies”.

An MoD spokesperson said: “The MoD is committed to being an inclusive employer and is proud to encourage diversity in the Armed Forces. However, where MoD personnel are deployed on Loan Service to support the UK’s operational objectives, they must adhere to the entry requirements and laws of the host nation. 

“Personnel who volunteer for a Loan Service tour may be subject to the laws of the host nation when not on duty and are required to consider the implications on them and their families.”

A Shortlist of Repression

Despite the MoD’s refusal to declare the names of host nations that restrict the backgrounds of foreign military personnel, likely candidates emerge when the strict anti-LGBT laws in a number of the applicable countries are considered.

In Oman – the largest destination for Loan Service personnel, with 65 personnel stationed there in July 2021 – consensual sex between two men is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, although it is thought that prosecutions will only come from incidents that create a ‘public scandal’. 

In 2018, four men were arrested for posting a video of two of them cross-dressing. The two men in the video were sentenced to four years in prison, while the pair that had filmed and posted it online received a three-year sentence. 

Some consider Oman to be one of the more LGBT-friendly Gulf states, but when an Omani newspaper made this suggestion it was censored, forced to apologise and the editor was barred from leaving the country.

The UK has close ties to Oman. There is a permanent British naval base in Duqm, which is currently being tripled in size, as well as nearly 100 British military personnel typically loaned to the small Gulf state. 

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Oman’s police are trained and armed by the UK; exports of £17.9 million worth of tear and pyrotechnic ammunition were received by the autocratic state in the past five years. In May last year, Omani police used British-made tear gas to repress peaceful protests. 

The UK’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia also has long been questioned due to the Kingdom’s appalling human rights record, particularly its bombing of Yemen. When it comes to LGBT rights, this is no different. Same-sex sexual activity, as with all sex outside marriage, is outlawed with a maximum sentence of death. Last year, 35 British loan service personnel were based in Saudi Arabia. 

Kenya similarly has very close ties with the UK military.

The British Army Training Unit Kenya hosts thousands of UK troops every year for large exercises in extreme weather conditions. Last year, it received a £70 million refurbishment. 

According to the Human Dignity Trust, same-sex sexual activity in Kenya is prohibited under the Penal Code 1930, which criminalises acts of ‘gross indecency’ and ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. Only men are criminalised under this law.

The small Gulf state of Kuwait also hosts a deployment of 35 Loan Service personnel.

Homosexual activity is punishable in the state by up to seven years in prison. A court ruling in February overturned a law against ‘imitation of the opposite sex’ that was being used to prosecute transgender people. The appeal was sparked after Maha al-Mutairi, a transgender woman, was arrested after she posted videos online accusing police officers of raping and beating her during a seven-month period of detention in a men’s prison in 2019, after she was convicted under the discriminatory law. 

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people can seek asylum in the UK if they face persecution in their home country due to their sexual orientation. Between 2015 and 2020, there were more than 10,000 such applications. 2,956 were initially granted, with a further 1,875 allowed after appeal. In other words, there was a 47% success rate for these applications. 

After Pakistan and Bangladesh, Nigeria was the most common nationality of lesbian, gay and bisexual people seeking asylum during this period, with 898 applicants from the west African nation. Some 189 lesbian, gay and bisexual people also sought asylum from Kenya. 

In Nigeria, the maximum penalty for same sex sexual activity is 14 years’ imprisonment. The country’s laws criminalising ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ and ‘gross indecency’ were inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon Nigeria.

Nigeria retained these provisions after independence, and further criminalised LGBT people through additional legislation.

British loan service personnel have maintained a consistent presence in Nigeria for more than a decade. 

The UK has been criticised for its stance towards repressive regimes – with Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently travelling to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to boost energy exports amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Responding to a question about the execution of three people by the Saudi state as he arrived in the Kingdom, Johnson said: “In spite of that news you’ve referred to today, things are changing in Saudi Arabia. We want to see them continue to change and that’s why we see value in engaging with Saudi Arabia and why we see value in the partnership.”

Despite the Prime Minister's rhetoric, circumstances do not seem to be changing quickly in the Kingdom, with its rulers continuing the brutality that led to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, also leads the Byline Intelligence Team

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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The Red States’ War on Human Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/04/2022 - 6:45pm in

From abortion bans to 'Don't Say Gay' bills and attacks on critical race theory, the Republicans are waging a war against human rights, reports Heidi Siegmund Cuda

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When an anti-abortion activist crowed that “five years from now, we’ll realise that Roe versus Wade was slowly overturned without it ever making a big headline”, it turned out that time-frame was overly generous.

The right to abortion in America has never been under greater threat. In December, Texas passed a law banning abortion after six weeks, along with a vigilante-style ruling that would penalise anyone accused of assisting women to access reproductive healthcare. 

The Supreme Court failed to act, allowing the law to go through. The decision was a firing shot for other Republican, anti-abortion law-makers. Since then, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma have all introduced draconian bans. Idaho attempted to follow suit but its Supreme Court blocked the law. For now. 

Later this summer, the Supreme Court will hear a case from Mississippi which, if successful, will overturn Roe versus Wade – the court decision that legalised safe abortion nationwide on the basis of the constitutional right to privacy. When that happens, abortion laws will be decided on a state-by-state basis. Already, 86 bills to restrict or ban abortion are ready to launch in 31 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute

The attack on abortion is just one front of a war against human rights and progressive politics being waged by the Republican Party. Despite having lost the 2020 Presidential Election, the GOP is enacting its regressive agenda through the courts, the schools and the state legislatures – rolling-back women’s, LGBTIQ and people of colour’s rights.

Don’t Say Gay

The decision by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to implement the 'Don’t Say Gay' law – which effectively bans the representation of LGBTIQ people in the State’s schools – is familiar to anyone who went to school in the UK in the 1990s.

During that period, the hated Section 28 law banned the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality and “fake family relationships”.

It’s also straight out of the Russian playbook – mimicking the gay propaganda rules, and Hungary’s ban on depictions of LGBTIQ people in media aimed at children. 

“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is checking the boxes for his presidential run in 2024,” Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, told Byline Times. “He wants to outflank Trump to the right, and part of that is going after critical race theory, corporations, their ‘stop woke’ agenda. It’s a checklist. They passed an abortion ban, they passed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. This is about book banning, censorship, and surveillance.”

But it’s not just LGBTIQ people under fire in the state’s education system. Florida just announced it rejected dozens of mathematics books, claiming that they referred to critical race theory. Otherwise known as CRT, critical race theory has become a flashpoint in the 'culture wars' on both sides of the Atlantic.

Despite the fact that CRT in the US is something students can choose to study in higher education – and does not form part of the school curriculum – right-wing ideologues have seized upon the issue to claim white children are being indoctrinated to feel guilty for being white. 

Florida Representative Carlos Smith recently tweeted that DeSantis was "hysterically pulling math books outta FL schools claiming they 'indoctrinate' kids with CRT. This isn’t just crazy right-wing pandering – next they’ll spend MILLIONS of tax dollars forcing schools to buy math books from GOP campaign donors”.

During his recent speech to the US right-wing think-tank, The Heritage Foundation, the UK Conservative Party's Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden condemned CRT and explained how its teaching had been banned in UK schools. He did not appear to see the contradiction in talking about promoting freedom of speech and banning discussions about race.  

Smith said that these pre-scripted bills are multiplying throughout America.

“These bills are cut-and-paste from right-wing think tanks, so it’s not just Florida,” she said. “These bills are being introduced all across the country. The content of these laws are completely fabricated, and they’re designed to create this sense of outrage, this moral panic.”

Race is repeatedly weaponised in the culture wars waged by the Republican right.

“The Koch cadre was happy to weaponise the racist response to America’s first black president... to move their political agenda,” said Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains.

Her book documents the massive right-wing machine financed by the businessmen, Charles and David Koch, the latter of whom died in 2019.

“It’s about the cultivation of white Christian tribal identity and the daily provoking of that," she told Byline Times. "They succeed by cultivating non-stop culture war. It’s clearly their strategy for the 2022 mid-terms. Attacks on trans people, Don’t Say Gay, really ugly attacks on any attempt to teach the truth about American history, and the role of race in our society.”

For Nancy MacLean, if the progressive wing of US and UK politics wants to defeat this attack, it is time to “learn how to walk and chew gum” – with specific emphasis on the need for a Democrat success in this year’s mid-term elections.  

“If Democrats have any chance of holding power, we have to have deep structural reform," she added. "If we do row together, this could be a time of transformation.”

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Red Versus Blue

With red states hurriedly writing anti-abortion laws to enact, should Roe versus Wade be overturned this summer, 15 blue states along with Washington D.C. are introducing and passing legislation to enshrine abortion care s a state-wide right. In fact, California law-makers are creating a series of bills that would make it a sanctuary state for abortions. 

The response to the abortion threat demonstrates how the dichotomy between red and blue is increasingly stark – with those on the right increasingly relying on conspiracist language to push their agenda.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ spokesperson Christina Pushaw tweeted last month that Florida’s anti-gay bill could be “more accurately described as an anti-grooming bill”. This deliberate choice of words harks back to ugly stereotypes that gay people are predatory against children, and plays to the QAnon ‘Save the Children’ crowd which believes that the Republicans – and, increasingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin – will protect children from left-wing elites seeking to groom and abuse them.

The language was instantly repeated by far-right politicians such as Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and showed up on posters at a Disneyland Orlando protest when the company came out against the bill. Pushaw worked for a Koch Brother-backed foundation, as well as for the former president of the country of Georgia.

Governor Ron DeSantis was approached for comment.

Author David Pepper cautions that the Republican-led states are operating as autocratic fiefdoms. His book, Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call From Behind the Lines, describes the corrosive chipping away of democracy by states and how it paves the way for authoritarianism.

“Authoritarianism is about control of bodies and policing sexuality,” Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strongmen, told Byline Times. “That’s why strongmen and their followers have taken away reproductive rights and have also persecuted LGBTQ+ people for a century.”

These threats often start against the weakest members of society, said Nadine Smith.

“What they sharpen their knives on is who they perceive to be politically the weakest, it's why they went after trans kids,” she said. “Raise your hand if you know a trans kid. Not many hands will go up. With that victory, it emboldened them to come after a larger swath of the population. They’re coming for you right now, too."

A spokesperson for Ron DeSantis told Byline Times: "we aren't in the business of responding to partisan critics. The Governor will do what is right and in the best interest of Floridians."

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The Rwanda Scheme: The Human Rights Concerns Around Government’s Transportation Deal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/04/2022 - 7:21pm in

The plan to send people seeking asylum who arrive via 'irregular' routes in the UK to Rwanda has raised numerous human rights concerns – not least for LGBTIQ people and pregnant women

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When Boris Johnson announced that the Government had struck a deal with Rwanda on offshoring people seeking asylum, it was initially understood by most media outlets that the plan would be to process applications offshore, before returning successful asylum seekers to the UK.

It quickly became clear, however, that this was not the case.

A close reading of the memorandum of understanding between the UK and Rwanda revealed how the proposal was designed not to hold people offshore for processing, but to transport people to central Africa where they will be able to then apply for asylum in Rwanda.

If the asylum claim is accepted, an individual will become a refugee in Rwanda. If refused, the person can apply for leave to remain in Rwanda or face deportation to their home country. Under the scheme, they will not be returned to the UK as a refugee.

This is a step away from the traditional understanding of offshoring, whereby a country holds people seeking asylum abroad while assessing their application, before welcoming them as refugees once their claim is successful. Instead, this is deporting people the UK does not want to welcome, to a country 4,000 miles away, where they will be 'encouraged' to start a new life.

The Prime Minister has anticipated that such a move will be met with legal challenges.

The Home Office’s Permanent Secretary reportedly refused to sign the policy off due to value for money concerns; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed its legal team are poring over the documents to see if it means that the UK no longer meets its international obligations; and every single human rights and refugee rights charity – as well as a good few politicians on all sides – has called out the inhumanity of the policy. 

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Channel Crossings

Who will be facing transportation to Rwanda if the policy is adopted? And what human rights challenges will they face when arriving in the country?

The policy is explicitly focused on people who arrive in the UK via so-called 'irregular' routes – such as small boats across the Channel or lorries. Those making this dangerous journey are often dismissed as 'economic migrants' or 'illegal immigrants' – but the data does not bear this out. 

Nearly all (98%) of the 28,526 people who attempted to cross the Channel in small boats in 2021 claimed asylum on arrival in the UK, with 79% granted it. This number may increase – the asylum system is experiencing notoriously long delays. This claim rate undermines the accusation from some in Government that those arriving in the UK via this route are economic migrants and not those fleeing persecution.

Under the new plan, these people would undergo screening in the UK and then be transported to Rwanda where they would be made to claim asylum in that country, not the UK.

Of those attempting the crossing between 2018 and 2020, just over half (51%) were from Iran, a quarter were from Iraq, and 6% were from Syria. A further 4% were from Afghanistan, and 2% were from Yemen and Pakistan respectively. Of the top eight nationalities, only two were from the African continent – Sudan (2%) and Eritrea (1%). ‘Other’ made up 7% of arrivals. 

Currently, regular routes into the UK include the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, the BNO scheme for Hong Kong refugees, and the various visa schemes for Ukrainian refugees.

It is very difficult for people fleeing persecution from other nations to find a safe and regular route into the UK.

Because of delays in the Afghan and Ukrainian schemes, there have been reports of people from these countries arriving in Calais where they attempt to cross the Channel.

A Government spokesperson could not confirm to Byline Times that people seeking asylum from Ukraine who had entered the UK via the Channel would not be sent to Rwanda.

Human Rights in Rwanda

Since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, there is no doubt that the country has changed and rebuilt to become a growing economy and an emerging power in the region. It has high levels (98%) of children participating in education and has invested in housing – including eco-housing. Strides have been made towards gender equality too, including when it comes to political representation. 

But the country is not without its human rights issues – to the point where even the UK Government has called out allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, deaths in custody and enforced disappearances.

Paul Kagame has been its de facto leader since 1995 and his Government has been accused of repressing freedom of speech and violating people’s privacy. Amnesty International has pointed to violations of the right to fair trials in the country. 

Life expectancy is 69 years – higher than some neighbouring African countries although lower than in the UK. Just over half (55%) of the country live in poverty and only 57% of the population has access to safe drinking water within 30 minutes of their home. 

Campaigners in the UK have also raised the alarm over the safety of LGBTIQ people seeking asylum in the UK who are then 'relocated' to Rwanda. 

While homosexuality is legal in Rwanda, it remains taboo. Last year, Human Rights Watch reported that Rwandan authorities rounded up and arbitrarily detained more than a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children, and others in the months before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. They were accused of “not representing Rwandan values”. 

While the numbers of people from Rwanda seeking asylum in the UK are relatively low, the rights organisation Rainbow Migration has confirmed that it is a source country to people seeking asylum in the UK based on their sexual orientation, and it has provided support to LGBTQI+ people from Rwanda.

Another area of concern is women’s rights. While Rwanda has made strides towards gender equality, abortion remains illegal in the country except in cases of rape, incest and forced marriage. 

Although the Home Office has said that it would only transport men to Rwanda, this is not borne out in an article published on its website which states: “Every person who comes to the UK illegally, or by dangerous or unnecessary methods from safe countries – including those arriving by small boats, hidden in the back of lorries and found in the UK without leave – will be considered for relocation to Rwanda.”

This gender-neutral phrasing suggests that women and children could be included for relocation. 

While the majority of people arriving via the Channel are young men, they are often later joined by female family members once their asylum claim is successful under family reunification rules. Should this pattern continue in Rwanda, women will be expected to live in a country where they are denied the right to safe and legal abortion. 

A Deterrent

The Home Office has justified its policy as a deterrent to people considering making dangerous journeys across the Channel and from paying people smugglers who, it argues, endanger people’s lives. 

But this is to ignore the reasons why people attempt the journey in the first place. 

This includes the paucity of safe and legal routes into the UK which forces desperate people to make desperate journeys. 

It also ignores how people who choose to come to the UK do not tend to base their decision on an in-depth reading and understanding of Britain’s asylum policy. They do so because they may speak English, have family ties here, are joining an established community – even because they believe that the UK is open and welcoming to people seeking asylum. 

The same, needless to say, is not true for Rwanda. While there is of course a small chance that a person from Iran transported to Rwanda might have family or community ties there, the cultural connections are not as strong.

The Home Office’s own equality impact assessment into the Nationality and Borders Bill found that there was little evidence that more draconian policies would act as a deterrent.

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