5 Things That Pissed Us Off This Week: Criminally Gay in Nigeria, Injustice for Trans Folks, and More Utah Shenanigans.
Welcome back to our weekly round-up of the most infuriating bits of news from the past seven days. While sometimes it's slim-pickings in terms of outrageous stories, this week was a veritable cornucopia of anti-LGBT bullshit. Read on, but expect a healthy dose of snark in the following paragraphs — sometimes it's the only way we can get through the day.
5. Chris Christie Vetoes Bill Making Birth Certificate Changes Easier for Trans Folks
…And the Governor cited basically all the reasons advocates supported the bill in the first place as his reasoning to reject the legislation.
"In many instances, the production of a birth certificate is a prerequisite to obtaining other critical identification documents that factor into decisions concerning employment, financial services, education, and travel," Christie's written decision stated Monday. "Birth certificates are often required to complete myriad security-related tasks…"
Mr. Governor, did you stop to think that perhaps that's exactly why trans activists and their allies were pushing for this bill? Since a birth certificate is, as you noted, a precursor to obtaining accurate state, federal, and sometimes even professional identification, perhaps it would make sense to not have that foundational document inadvertently out transgender people, who already face astronomically high rates of unemployment, homelessness, and hate crime violence?
Despite the fact that the bill passed both chambers of New Jersey's legislature, and the fact that similar legislation has passed in California without any noted uptick in supposed birth certificate fraud, Christie couldn't find it in his heart to make it a little easier for trans people in his state.
While it seems easy enough to just write this veto off to standard Republican douchebaggery, I can't shake a sneaking suspicion that Christie issued this veto, in part, as a distraction from the ever-unfolding "Bridgegate" scandal. Maybe he was hoping that by harkening back to the tried-and-true GOP standard of being anti-LGBT, his fellow partisans would emerge from the shadows, where they've been notably silent of late, letting Christie twist in the wind in light of the George Washington Bridge scandal.
4. Orthodox Leader Wants Russians to Vote to Outlaw Homosexuality
Because apparently a nationwide ban on so-called "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" in areas visible to minors isn't repressive enough, a leader in the Russian Orthodox church called for a public referendum on outlawing homosexuality.
"There is no question that society should discuss this issue since we live in a democracy,” church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin told Russian-language newspaper Izvestia, reports our sibling publication The Advocate. "For this reason, it is precisely the majority of our people and not some outside powers that should decide what should be a criminal offense and what should not."
Polls indicate that a majority of Russians think homosexuality is either an illness or a crime, Chaplin said, as if that justified his unfettered bigotry. “I am convinced that such sexual contacts should be completely excluded from the life of our society,” he said. If “moral pressure” is not sufficient to discourage homosexuality, enacting a law against it will be necessary, he said.
But the Russian Orthodox Church isn't the only entity calling for the reenactment of the Soviet-era ban on homosexuality. Ivan Okhlobystin, the star of a Russian sitcom loosely based on the American medical comedy Scrubs, wrote an open letter to President Vladimir Putin last this week begging the president to reinstate the criminalization of homosexuality. Okhlobystin, who served as a Russian Orthodox priest until his priesthood was suspended in 2010, said that the mere existence of “societies of homosexuals is by itself a direct advertisement of homosexuality.” Last year, the actor said he wanted gay people to be burned alive in ovens — earning applause from the religious crowd gathered to hear him speak.
This sets a perfect tone for the acceptance and sportsmanship that's supposed to be hallmark of the Olympic Games, right?
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3. Trans Teen Facing Assault Charges for Defending Herself Against Bullies
A transgender 16-year-old in northern California is facing misdemeanor assault charges after she allegedly fought back against a group of girls who'd been bullying her for months.
Jewelyes Gutierrez, a sophomore at Hercules High School in Hercules, Calif., made national news after video of her and three female classmates surfaced following a fight at school November 15.
According to Gutierrez's testimony before the school board last week, she informed administrators about the bullying she was facing on a regular basis, but says they took no direct action prior to the physical altercation. After bullying continued, Gutierrez contends she fought back against her aggressors.
"I was just sticking up for myself," she told NBC Bay Area. "Because you're different, you'll get picked on, you'll get name calling, bullied, taunted, harassed — all those."
While none of the individuals involved in the fight came away with serious injuries, all the girls involved were temporarily suspended from school. But the district attorney filed misdemeanor battery charges against Gutierrez — and only her.
The district attorney contends he must press charges because Gutierrez's behavior was criminal, citing various reports that she's the one who threw the first punch.
Even the president of West Contra Costa School Board, Charles Ramsey, said he disagrees with the district attorney's charges against Gutierrez, and believes Gutierrez was the victim in the incident. In Ramsey's opinion, the incident should have been a "teachable moment," not "something that should rise the level of where it has to go to the district attorney's office for prosecution."
Gutierrez's public defender said she was surprised to see her client charged, as well. "I think by charging her, it sends a message to bullies that you can bully individuals, and that adults will then further victimize the person that you’ve been tormenting," Kaylie Simon told KTVU.
Clearly, we're not the only ones who think these charges are bogus — more than 30,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking the district attorney to drop the charges against Gutierrez.
2. Utah's Top Lawmakers Say These Women (and More Than 1,000 Other Same-Sex Couples) Aren't Really Married
In case you thought last week's outrage about the "I do — No wait, I don't," flip-flopping of legal marriage equality in Utah wasn't infuriating enough, on Wednesday the state's governor and attorney general took their homophobia a step father, announcing that the state would not be recognizing any of the 1,360 same-sex marriages that took place in the 17 days when they were legal.
A statement from Gov. Gary Herbert's office announced Wednesday that the same-sex marriages that occurred between December 20, when a federal judge ruled the state's voter-approved ban on marriage equality unconstitutional, and January 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay on that ruling, will not be considered valid for state tax and benefit purposes. Because Utah's constitution prohibits the state from recognizing as a valid marriage any union other than that of one man and one woman, state agencies are not required to recognize same-sex marriages as valid, an aide to the governor announced Wednesday.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, knowing that Gov. Herbert and his fellow Republican, attorney general Sean Reyes, have pledged to spend upwards of $2 million in taxpayer dollars to fight the "dangers" of marriage equality… But it certainly comes across as a shockingly callous — not to mention legally unprecedented — move.
"Utah’s rush to ignore the marriages of more than one thousand loving gay and lesbian couples is cruel, demeaning and, as Governor Herbert himself acknowledges, causes real harm to their families and children," said Adam Umhoefer, the executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, in a statement. "These families should not be stuck in legal limbo while the State’s appeal plays out. We call on the federal government to give them some measure of human dignity to which they are constitutionally entitled by recognizing their marriages under federal law."
In one step forward following Utah's ten steps back, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder did confirm Friday that the same-sex couples who married during Utah's equality window will be considered legally wed by the federal government, granting them access to more than 1,100 federal benefits and privileges that come from being married.
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1. Nigeria Not Only Outlaws Same-Sex Marriage, But Imprisons Gays Who Wed… Or Gather With Their LGBT Friends
Apparently in a morbid competition with a few of its continental neighbors to secure the title of "Most Homophobic County on Earth," Nigerian president Jonathan Goodluck signed into law a bill on Monday declaring that any citizen who marries a person of the same gender can be imprisoned — for up to 14 years.
The only way a gay, married Nigerian can avoid jail time is if they renounce their sexual orientation. So, you know, just get unmarried and pretend you've been converted by that super-effective ex-gay therapy.
And lest the country be considered too tolerant of those evil homosexuals, the law also forbids LGBT people from assembling in groups or making public declarations of their same-sex relationships, in public, or even in private clubs.
The situation is so serious that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement Monday, calling the law a dangerous restriction on "freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians. Moreover, it is inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in its 1999 Constitution," Kerry continued. "People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality. No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love."