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Top 12 2016 World Politics and Religion Stories

Thu 22 Dec 2016 In: Features View at Wayback View at NDHA

Top 12 2016 World Politics and Religion Stories As the year draws inexorably to a close, it's time to present the top twelve politics and religion stories from around the world or 2016. It's been an eventful year- and the outcome of those events has been mixed. So, for a change, here's the top twelve LGBTI politics and religion news stories for this year. 1. Australian elections After disappointing LGBT Australians with his refusal to relent over predecessor Tony Abbott's opposition to a federal parliamentary vote on marriage equality, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a snap election across the Tasman in the hope that he would be able to salvage a more balanced Australian Senate (upper house) out of the event. As was the case with Bob Hawke and Julia Gillard when they tried the same thing, the result seriously boomeranged against the Liberal-National Coalition and many Liberal Party religious social conservative opponents of marriage equality lost their seats. At the moment, the Turnbull administration has a majority of seven seats in the lower House of Representatives, and none at all in the Senate, which is elected by the proportional Single Transferable Vote electoral system compared to the House of Representatives unproportional preferential voting system. The Turnbull administration has been seriously weakened by the reversal in its fortunes and could not carry out one of its sops to religious social conservatives- an Australian federal marriage equality plebiscite/referendum. Disappointingly, Turnbull still isn't allowing the Liberal parliamentary caucus a free parliamentary vote on marriage equality, as occurred in New Zealand. 2. Australian marriage equality plebiscite Hardly was the federal election over when the Liberal/National Coalition then decided that they wanted to hold a multimillion dollar plebiscite/referendum on the subject. The Australian Christian Lobby, its Australian Marriage Forum front group, and other Australian Christian Right groups greedily held out their hands for money to finance their campaigns, but Australians for Marriage Equality, other LGBT organisations and straight liberal allies then decided that they would not do so. As Australia has its own housing crisis,just like here, the cost of the plebiscite was a major sticking point for the Australian Christian Right and the Australian Labor and Green Opposition parties made much of it, turning public opinion against it. While it passed within the House of Representatives, the plebiscite died when the anti-Coalition Senate majority voted against it. The Turnbull administration responded that the end of the plebiscite meant that there would be no marriage equality during this parliamentary session. Meanwhile, in Queensland, the once-conservative state liberalised adoption legislation, meaning that South Australia and the Northern Territory are now the only two jurisdictions without inclusive adoption laws- and South Australia has stated that it will shortly do so. Whether Turnbull will relent is a moot point, and the ultimate stability of the Coalition majority is vulnerable to erosion through political scandals, resignations and by-elections. 3. Brexit On the face of it, the British vote on European Union membership might seem to be predominantly about economic issues such political sovereignty, accountability, financial regulation and free trade. However, there is a social dimension to the European Union as well, given the existence of the European Court of Human Rights. On the issue of decriminalisation, European Union membership enabled British and Irish gay rights campaigners to use the related European Convention on Human Rights to lobby for decriminalisation of homosexuality in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Conservative Party had won a majority in the 2015 British General Election and used it to arrange funding for a European Union membership referendum, placating its Eurosceptic wing. It backfired badly on British Prime Minister David Cameron, an LGBT ally, who presided over a narrow victory for the British exit ("Brexit") campaign against continued European Union membership. However, the populist right wing United Kingdom Independence Party couldn't exploit the situation due to leadership instability and much of the political initiative then passed to the revitalised Conservative Party. Cameron resigned after losing the Brexit vote, to be replaced by Theresa May as prime minister. Meanwhile, the Labour Opposition floundered after Blairite rightist party members accused Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn of not taking an active role in the "Bremain" campaign and an abortive leadership coup was launched against him. However, it failed. Meanwhile, the May administration has announced its attention to introduce a historical homosexual 'offences' deletion bill, although there was a hiccup over a rival independents bill which was scuttled to allow time for the government bill. At present, the May administration enjoys a comfortable lead over Labour and other UK Opposition parties. As for Brexit, British LGBT organisations are nervous about the Brexit victory, a resultant anti-LGBT, racist and sectarian hate crime upsurge and the loss of access to the European Court of Human Rights, although a UK Bill of Rights is to replace it within post-Brexit British law. Furthermore, only England and Wales had a decisive majority for Brexit- Scotland voted to stay within the European Union, which means that there may well be another Scottish independence referendum during the current parliamentary term. 4. United States elections In October and November 2016, the world held its collective breath as the former Obama administration Secretary of State for Defence, Hillary Clinton, battled the billionaire Republican candidate Donald Trump for the US presidency. Although polls almost consistently showed that Hillary Clinton had the most demographic support, Donald Trump ran a highly negative, racist and sectarian campaign, also attacking marriage equality, transgender rights and antidiscrimination law inclusion. Although the Republican Party initially seemed divided, it unexpectedly united behind Trump on election day and insured that he had enough electoral college votes to win. However, that may not be the end of the story, as the Clinton campaign has now launched calls for recounts in three knife-edge states- Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania- that she narrowly lost to Trump. If all three of them turn out to have Clinton majorities, Trump's current electoral college majority would collapse and she would instead become the 45th United States President. If that does happen, however, it would be an unprecedented upset within the US federal electoral system. Trump has since reneged on overturning marriage equality, although his deputy, Vice President Michael Pence, former Republican Indiana Governor, supports 'religious liberty' anti-LGBT service provider discrimination reforms that would impair the ability of LGBT Americans to combat employment, accommodation and service provision equality. Unlike the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the United States has no federal LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination law. 5. Canada- Transgender Rights While events in Australia and the United States disappointed their national LGBT communities, Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proven a welcome relief after a decade of the centre-right Conservative regime of vanquished former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Trudeau has promised Canada's own version of an historic homosexual offences deletion bill, the Canadian healthcare system enables subsidised access to Truvada/Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV/AIDS... and at long last, there are moves afoot to directly include transgender Canadians within the Canada Human Rights Act, its national antidiscrimination statute- although all Canadian provinces except New Brunswick now also directly include gender identity within their provincial antidiscrimination laws. Bill C-16 has passed all three readings within the House of Commons (lower federal parliamentary chamber) and is now headed to the Canadian Senate. The Canadian Christian Right are stewing over this, but then they shouldn't have resorted to rote repetition of US Christian Right anti-transgender propaganda, tactics and strategies. If Bill C-16 becomes law, New Zealand will become the only senior British Commonwealth nation not to directly include gender identity within its antidiscrimination laws. Will we have to await a change of government as well to remedy this? 6.Dakota Hemmingson Even though a decade-old Crown Law Office opinion stated that gender identity was a subordinate category within 'sex' and which meant that gender identity was 'already' covered by the Human Rights Act 1993, transgender New Zealanders were understandably nervous about testing it. What if testing it backfired and turned out not to have the force of statute law? What if it only protected post-operative transpeople and not those who were transitioning? When Barkers Mens Grooming subjected Dakota Hemmingson to unfair dismissal and anti-transgender employment discrimination after she came out as transgender, Dakota refused to accept the situation and took the case to the Employment Relations Authority. She won, which means that the Crown Law Office opinion does have the force of statute law, and that transitioning transpeople are protected from employment discrimination. Accomodation and service provider discrimination remain to be tested, however. Meanwhile, without litigation on their behalf, several transgender children and adolescents and their families convinced their schools to install gender-neutral toilets, completely ignoring cheap, derivative attention grabbing stunts by the anti-transgender New Zealand Christian Right pressure group Family First. Unfortunately, BMG has pleaded bankruptcy and refused to pay Dakota her damage cost entitlement- several months on from the Employment Relations Authority. Nevertheless, Dakota's courage and determination have won her considerable respect within the New Zealand transgender/LGBT communities. 7. Taiwan- Marriage Equality The Chinese non-communist island nation of Taiwan seems to be about to make history and become the first Asian nation-state to recognise marriage equality. In Taiwan, homosexuality has been decriminalised and antidiscrimination laws protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination when it comes to employment and service provision discrimination, but not accomodation. Nevertheless, newly elected Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen and her Democratic Peoples Party colleagues seem determined to change Taiwan's marriage legislation. At a time when the Australian marriage equality cause faces parliamentary obstruction, it is refreshing to witness such ardent embrace of LGBT equality from such a wholly new quarter. 8. Indonesia But while the situations in Taiwan and Canada indicate forward momentum, there have been setbacks in Muslim majority Indonesia, traditionally a more inclusive society than its northern South East Asian neighbour Malaysia. Unfortunately, that came to an abrupt end this year, with attacks on LGBT institutions, freedom of expression, educational access and threats to criminalise male homosexuality, masterminded by populist Muslim social conservative politicians and pressure groups. Some LGBT Indonesians suspect this has originated within overseas Saudi Arabian Wahhabi Islam, whose interpretation of the faith is strongly conservative and which evangelises for that interpretation across the Muslim majority world, backed by its petrochemical billions in foreign currency reserves. At last report, many LGBT Indonesians were engaged in mass evacuation from their besieged situation. 9. Historic homosexual offences: If you're older than thirty years of age and a gay man, it is possible that you might have experienced criminal prosecution under Sections 140-142 of the Crimes Act 1961, which were repealed in 1986 after the passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Act. Unfortunately, there is no specific remedy for gay men other than the Clean Slate Act, which involves a lengthy process of document verification, application and possible refusal. However, in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom, centre-left and centre-right federal and state governments alike have passed enabling statutes that erase such consensual 'offences' from criminal records, which permit older gay men to serve on community welfare group management boards or as other officeholders without fear. At present, Justice Minister Amy Adams is stonewalling any such legislative proposals here, arguing that the Clean Slate Act already covers gay men wishing to do this and that there are only four hundred such cases, although undifferentiated between consensual adult gay sex and same-sex sexual violence or pedophilia. It is to be hoped that this situation resolves itself. 10. Subsidising reassignment surgery The other major New Zealand transgender story in 2016 was this one. While transwomen and transmen may recognise their gender dysphoria early in life, there are obstacles to the completion of bodily reassignment through surgical access. At present, there is negligible funding for reassignment surgery within New Zealand and no currently trained surgical personnel to carry out this option. While not all transwomen and transmen utilise reassignment surgery, at present it needs to be performed privately, either in Australia or (more commonly) Thailand. The obstacle here is the Special High-Cost Treatment Pool, which isn't working and which has resulted in a substantial waiting list for access to reassignment surgery here in New Zealand. It has been pointed out to the Minister of Health, Jonathon Coleman, and his officials, that denial of access may result in negative multiplied health costs from self-harm, suicide attempts or completion, consumption of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment deterioration, hospital bed occupancy and medical staff wages, ambulance fuel costs and other costs, compared to the benefits of facilitating transitioning. Faced with this, how can Coleman state that the situation insofar as subsidised reassignment surgery funding is concerned is anywhere near 'satisfactory'? Evidently, it is not. 11. Orlando On June 12 2016, Omar Mateen (29), a mentally-ill security person, shot and killed forty nine people and injured fifty three others in Pulse, a Florida gay night club. There is no FBI evidence to substantiate claims that Mateen was a patron of Pulse or that he used gay male websites for hookups. The tragedy is the worst firearms violence incident in US history and led to considerable debate over US gun control policy, between gun owners lobby groups such as the powerful rightist National Rifle Association and gun control opponents, leading to the formation of an LGBT gun control lobby group as a consequence. Until the Orlando tragedy, pro-gun Pink Pistols dominated the US LGBTI community debate over the issue. The Obama administration, United Nations Security Council and US Muslim organisations condemned the shooting. The latter volunteered assistance with blood transfusions. 12. Australia-Safe Schools Coalition The Safe Schools Coalition was an LGBTI youth network designed to insure peer support and prevent bullying and LGBT youth suicide. Due to an intensive distorted campaign by right wing Liberal and National Coalition Members of the federal House of Representatives, the Turnbull administration decided to truncate access to the support service, centralise its administration and discontinue it in 2017. The Australian LGBT community response was disjointed, should have been foreseen, did not seem to rely on evidence-based rebuttals of Christian Right propaganda, and lacked a centralised focal point to co-ordinate its response. In New Zealand, the prohibitionist anti-abortion pressure group Right to Life has launched a similar campaign against Rainbow Youth and Inside Out. Honorable mentions Honorable mentions go to the No Pride in Prisons group for continuing to lobby fiercely for transgender prisoners rights, as well as unwelcome anti-LGBT developments in Uganda, Tanzania, Brazil, Turkey and Gambia. Meanwhile, several anti-LGBT bigots such as US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, US antifeminist activist Phyllis Schlafly and former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford all passed away this year. Craig Young - 22nd December 2016    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Thursday, 22nd December 2016 - 11:41am

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