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Grenell wants to 'empower' European conservatives

by Heather Cassell

U.S. German Ambassador Richard Grenell. Photo: AP
U.S. German Ambassador Richard Grenell. Photo: AP  

Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany, raised alarms and elicited harsh responses from German and U.S. politicians for comments about empowering European conservatives.
The gay Republican ambassador's comments were published in two different articles by right-wing news site Breitbart over the weekend.

"I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left," Breitbart quoted Grenell as saying.

He talked about his thoughts about what makes a good conservative candidate: "consistent conservative policies on migration, tax cuts, and cutting red tape and bureaucracy," in Breitbart's summary of Grenell's statements.

In the past, Grenell praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying he was a "big Merkel fan." Now he seems to like Austria's far-right chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, a hardline conservative, unlike Merkel, who blurs lines between conservatives and liberals.

"Look, I think Sebastian Kurz is a rock star. I'm a big fan," Breitbart quoted Grenell as saying.

The Washington Post noted the article didn't include any critical remarks from Grenell about the resurgent far-right in Europe.

Some commentators noted that Grenell's comments broke tradition where ambassadors play a diplomatic role in the political process.

The German foreign ministry said on Monday it was seeking "clarification" on the authenticity of Grenell's interview with Breitbart and will ask Grenell whether he made the statements in Breitbart in the "form they were given," reported the Post.

Metin Hakverdi, a German Social Democrat delegate and member of the German-U.S. parliamentary friendship group, told the Guardian that, in the past, Germany was "fortunate to have had great U.S. ambassadors who built bridges and did not do party politics."

"As a member of the SPD, a left party with a long, proud legacy of fighting, together with the United States, both Nazis and communists, I am irritated to hear from Ambassador Grenell about our allegedly failed policies," Hakverdi told the paper.

Grenell's comments also drew criticism from U.S. officials.

"When I raised concerns to Grenell about politicizing this post, he personally assured me that once he became ambassador he would stay out of politics," Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) tweeted. "This interview is awful - ambassadors aren't supposed to 'empower' any political party overseas."

Grenell tweeted his rejection of the criticism June 4.

"Absurd. I condemn those comments completely. Don't put words in my mouth. The idea that I'd endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous. I stand by my comments that we are experiencing an awakening from the silent majority - those who reject the elites & their bubble. Led by Trump," he wrote.

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told the Guardian the chancellor had registered the comments made by the U.S. ambassador but would not comment on the matter.

At the White House, press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to address Grenell's comments, saying she did not have "any updates on that front at this point," reported the newspaper.

Trans people can self-identify, Chilean court rules
The Chilean Supreme Court's IV Chamber ruled 4-1 May 30 that transgender individuals can self-identify on all government-issued identification.

The court's decision overturned a previous ruling by the Court of Appeals of Santiago. The court rejected an appeal filed by an unidentified transgender person, reported the Santiago Times.

Transgender Chileans will soon be able to legally change their names and gender on all government documents without obtaining a medical professional's recommendation or undergoing gender-reassignment surgery.

In the court's ruling, the judges stated that all branches of the government should recognize the rights of, and respect for, the "essential rights emanating from human nature" and "any name change must respect the reality that serves the (person's) parameters."

The judges also cited Chile's obligations to international human rights accords, such as the American Convention of Human Rights and the International Pact of Civil and Political Rights. The judges said the accords were precedents in deciding the case brought before them by an unidentified plaintiff.

The court's ruling is historic because it used international human rights principles that allow judges to make the change, Lorena Lorca, a law professor who led the case, told the National Post.

Rolando Jiménez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, agreed.

He noted other court rulings that paved the way to amend a birth certificate without requiring surgery. However, this is the "first ruling where the Supreme Court upholds this principle," he said in a news release following the court's ruling, reported the Washington Blade.

"This means, in practice, that from now on all courts must authorize the change of name and legal sex without surgery," he said.

The court's ruling follows the lead of Colombia (2015), Ireland (2015), Malta (2015), India (2014), Argentina (2012), Uruguay (2009), and Iran (1987) that allow transgender individuals to change their names and genders on legal documents without medical procedures, according to media reports.

Currently, a bill that would give transgender individuals over the age of 18 the right to legally register their name and gender changes on their government identification documents has stalled in the Chilean Parliament.

President Sebastián Piñera supports the bill, along with transgender actress Daniela Vega.

Vega, who stars in the Chilean film, "A Fantastic Woman," which won this year's Oscar for best foreign language film, was the first transgender individual to present at the Academy Awards. She urged lawmakers to pass the law.

The Roman Catholic Church is challenging the legislation.

Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the head of Chile's Catholic Church, argued that children should not be able to legally change their name and gender on their government documents.

"A cat will not become a dog just because I give it a dog's name," Ezzati said, reported the BBC.

Despite the public outrage his comment caused, a segment of Chilean society still exists that supports the cardinal.

Hong Kong landmark LGBT spousal benefits case overturned
Hong Kong's Court of Appeal June 1 overturned a landmark spousal benefits case, instead supporting marriage only between a man and a woman.

The court also ruled against the gay couple in a separate challenge against the Inland Revenue Department.

Angus Leung Chun-kwong initiated a judicial review of the Civil Service Bureau and challenged the Inland Revenue Department in 2015 after he was denied an extension of spousal benefits to his husband, Scott Adams.

Chun-kwong is a gay native of Hong Kong who is a senior immigration officer at the Immigration Department. He sued his employer where he's worked since 2002. Adams is British and is living and working in Hong Kong. The couple has been together for 13 years; they married in 2014.

Last year, a high court ruled in the couple's favor for spousal benefits. This year, the appeals court overturned that ruling.

The couple and government both appealed the decision.

The three-judge panel - Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon, and Appeal Justice Jeremy Poon - explained its position rejecting the lower court's ruling in a 69-page decision.

The judges cited the city's role as an enforcer of "prevailing socio-moral values" and therefore had a "legitimate aim" to protect traditional marriage: marriage between a man and a woman.

Kui-nung wrote in his argument that granting "certain benefits" to same-sex couples would "offend, challenge, question, confuse, or subtly change society's established understanding and concept of marriage," reported the South China Morning Post.

Marriage was "rooted" in traditional, historical, social, moral or religious background and values that were embedded in Article 37 of Hong Kong's Basic Law, he wrote.

The gay couple was disappointed in the decision.

"It is a huge back step for equality in Hong Kong," Chun-kwong said in a statement to reporters. "We are not asking for special treatment, we just want to live our life fairly and with dignity."

Chun-kwong's attorney, Mark Daly, was concerned that the court's rulings would "likely embolden anti-LGBT paranoia," he told reporters.

"If this type of judicial analysis prevails, it does not bode well for minority rights and Hong Kong as an international city," he told the Post.

He noted that the judgment deviated from international human rights law and common law.

Hong Kong's only gay lawmaker, Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, told reporters he was "deeply disappointed" with the court's "conservative judgment," reported the Post.

Chi-chuen said the couple was being penalized for no other reason than being gay.

He pointed out Hongkongers' and transnational corporations' growing support for LGBT rights and the city hosting the Gay Games in 2020.

"Society is changing, and the world is changing. Hong Kong is an international city. For this reason, the court's opinion today does not seem to be in line with the recent progressive developments on LGBT rights around the world, including here in Asia," he told Gay Star News.

The court's decision comes within days of another high-profile case of a lesbian couple, a Hongkonger and her British wife, to be granted a dependent visa challenging Hong Kong's Immigration Department in the Final Court of Appeal. If the court rules in their favor it will recognize their British marriage.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or oitwnews@gmail.com.

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