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Activist zaps Russian diplomat

by Heather Cassell

Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov chose San Francisco to make his first official public address since taking office September 1 and was met by a local gay activist calling for an end to violence against gays in Chechnya.

Antonov spoke November 29 before an audience of the World Affairs Council at the Fairmont Hotel. He wasted no time confronting U.S. investigations of his country over last year's presidential election.

"Russia is being groundlessly accused of meddling in the United States elections, as well as other domestic and external problems of the United States," he said.

Five minutes into Antonov's speech, global gay rights activist Michael Petrelis, 58, disrupted the ambassador for about 90 seconds shouting, "Stop killing gays in Chechnya!"

Holding up a rainbow flag and a sign that reiterated his demand, Petrelis was immediately removed from the room by several men.

The protest was captured on video by audience member Ricardo Jauregui and posted on Petrelis' Facebook page.

Some audience members applauded as Petrelis exited the room while many sat quietly waiting for the program to resume.

The council's video of the event originally edited out Petrelis' protest, but it was restored December 4, following the Bay Area Reporter's inquiry into the omission.

Antonov paused and waited until Petrelis' last chant as the doors closed, then he shrugged his shoulders. turned to the audience, and chuckled.

"You can see how our relations are complicated," said Antonov as audience members laughed, before continuing with his prepared remarks and moving into an interview with Stanford professor David Holloway.

For his part, Petrelis is glad he protested.

"I'm quite proud of what I did. I am convinced that my zap reverberated back into the Kremlin," said Petrelis, who has protested for the rights of LGBT Chechens since news broke earlier this year.

According to Novaya Gazeta, which reported the news in April, Chechen authorities have arrested more than 100 suspected LGBT individuals, mostly men, and sparked global outrage, including at the former Russian consulate in San Francisco.

In June more arrests of suspected LGBT individuals in Chechnya was reported.

Chechnya is a semi-autonomous state in the Northern Caucus of the Russian Federation.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and officials at the Kremlin denied there were any widespread detainments of LGBT people in Chechnya.

Kadyrov previously stated publicly that there were no gays in Chechnya and if there were they would be killed by their families if discovered and they should leave the republic.

In May, Putin publicly stated he would launch an investigation into Chechnya's anti-gay purge following international pressure, despite Kremlin officials stating it wasn't the government's role to investigate. Putin appointed Russian Human Rights ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova to investigate.

According to Tass, Russia's government-owned media outlet, Moskalkova in early November found evidence to initiate a criminal investigation and she received her first petition concerning the possible tortures of gay men and forwarded it to authorities.

She also told the media outlet that Maksim Lapunov, the first openly gay man who was detained and tortured in Chechnya who publicly spoke out about his experience, should be placed in the country's witness protection program.

Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev retaliated, claiming to Tass late last month that his office had not received any complaints about violations of LGBT rights in Chechnya.

Antonov replaced longtime ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Kislyak retired under tensions between the U.S. and Russia regarding the 2016 elections. Questions continue to swirl around key members of President Donald Trump's administration who were formerly members of his campaign team and their relationship with Kislyak during election season and the transition period.

UN appoints new LGBT expert
The United Nations Human Rights Council December 5 announced the appointment of Victor Madrigal-Borloz, a gay man, as the new independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

He replaces the former UN LGBT expert Vitit Muntarbhorn from Thailand, who served one year in the role and left office October 31 after resigning for personal reasons.

Madrigal-Borloz will assume his new office January 1.

The special procedure mandate for the controversial independent LGBT expert was adopted in a resolution in November 2016. The mandate is up for renewal in 2019, according the UNHRC news release.

If the mandate is renewed, Madrigal-Borloz will be able to serve an additional three years of the six-year term as the UN LGBT expert.

Madrigal-Borloz, a jurist who speaks English, French, and Spanish, has nearly 20 years' experience working for LGBT and human rights.

He currently serves as the secretary general of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims at the U.N. and is a member of the U.N. Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture. He has held a seat on the board of directors of the International Justice Resource Center since 2011.

As a member of the committee he drafted the policy that was adopted protecting LGBTI persons from torture. He is also a signatory to the newly revised "Additional Principles and State Obligations of the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10," which was adopted November 11.

The principles are a statement protecting the human rights of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Representatives of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and OutRight Action International applauded Madrigal-Borloz's selection, but expressed disappointment in the lack of diversity among the candidates.

"While excited about the appointment, there is also disappointment and concern amongst groups regarding the lack of gender diversity amongst the candidates who applied for this position: only one woman out of 11 candidates, with no trans or gender nonbinary persons," representatives stated in the release.

They also noted that Joaquin Alexander Maza Martelli, president of the UNHRC, pointed out the lack of women candidates in his letter proposing Madrigal-Borloz last week.

However, global LGBT advocates were pleased.

Luz Aranda and Dario Arias, co-secretaries general of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in the IGLA release that they were celebrating Madrigal-Borloz's appointment.

"It's a highly relevant moment in the rights of our community," they said, adding that they were very familiar with his work because he comes from the Caribbean and Central America. "We believe he will do a great job and that the voice of civil society will play an important role in his mandate."

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight, also praised Madrigal-Borloz's appointment and experience "working to protect the most marginalized communities."

"OutRight looks forward to continuing to engage with this mandate and to the momentum that Madrigal-Borloz will bring to this position," said Stern in a December 4 statement following his appointment.

US is without LGBT special envoy
The United State's first-ever special envoy for international LGBT rights, Randy Berry, has moved to another position in the State Department.

The Washington Blade confirmed November 30 from an unidentified State Department spokesperson that Berry was currently serving as a deputy assistant secretary in the department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Berry, a gay career senior Foreign Service officer, served in the envoy position for more than two years.

Scott Busby, who is deputy assistant secretary of the same bureau, has temporarily been carrying out the duties of the LGBT special envoy, according to the U.S. State Department spokesperson who informed the Blade.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson retained the special LGBT envoy after a department overhaul. The spokesperson reiterated Tillerson's support of the LGBT special envoy and a search is underway to fill the position, reported the paper.

Gay Australian lawmaker proposes during speech
A gay Australian lawmaker in the House of Representatives popped the question to his boyfriend who was sitting in the public gallery December 4 during his speech in support of the same-sex marriage bill.

Tim Wilson, a 37-year-old lawmaker in the conservative coalition government, was one of the first to speak during the debate.

Toward the end of his speech he looked up at his boyfriend, Ryan Bolger, 33, a primary school teacher, and said, "In my first speech I defined our bond by the ring[s] that sit on both of our left hands, and they are the answer to a question we cannot ask," referring to his first address in Parliament last year.

"There's only one thing left to do: Ryan Patrick Bolger, will you marry me?" Wilson asked to applause.

Bolger responded, "Yes," which was recorded on public record.

The proposal went viral and was picked up by media outlets.

The House of Representatives prioritized lifting the ban on same-sex marriage during its final two-week session of the year. The push is in line with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's desire to have the law passed before the end of the year.

Last week, the Senate approved the bill and rejected all proposed amendments based on increasing legal protections that would have allowed discrimination based on religious grounds.

Last month, Australians overwhelmingly voted yes for same-sex marriage in a nonbinding mail survey.

Austria's high court rules in favor of same-sex marriage
Austria's Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday that the country will fully legalize marriage equality by 2019.

The court declared the laws restricting same-sex partnerships to civil unions was discriminatory.

Current laws will remove "two people of a different sex" from marriage laws by December 31, reported ABC News. LGBT Austrians will be able to marry starting January 1, 2019, though some observers said that could start sooner.

The decision makes Austria the 27th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

The court took the case of two unidentified Vienna women who were denied their request to marry by authorities.

Civil partnerships will remain an option to both same-sex and straight couples after the laws are amended, reported ABC News.

Civil partnerships have increasingly offered similar legal protections to marriage in recent years, including adoption.

"The distinction between marriage and civil partnership can no longer be maintained today without discriminating against same-sex couples," the court said in a statement.
Congratulations began to pour in Tuesday afternoon.

"Everyone deserves the full right to marry the person they love and build lasting relationships and families in their communities, and today Austria's highest court ruled in favor of equality with this historic victory," said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. "It is inspiring to see love prevail as the world faces a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ activism that reminds us of the work that must still be done to accelerate acceptance."

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


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