Anti-discrimination laws essential for Serbian democracy
BRUSSELS — Members of the European Parliament made calls in early March for the Serbian government to put back on its agenda proposed anti-discrimination legislation that would protect LGBT citizens. The draft legislation is said to have been withdrawn before the vote in the Serbian Parliament following pressure from the Serbian Orthodox Church.

“In a country which aims to be a member of the European Union it is unacceptable to let minorities suffer discrimination including the discrimination based on sexual orientation,” said Michael Cashman, president of the all-party intergroup on gay and lesbian rights.

“If the Serbian government is serious about its EU membership aspirations, they will put the law back for the vote in the Parliament,” he said.

“This is also a question about the democracy and rule of law,” Cashman continued. “A country can not be considered democratic if the government does not follow the constitution which clearly states the separation of church and state.

“This Anti-discrimination law has been drafted in an open and fair process where all parties have been involved equally. To stop the law because of the inconsequent last minute intervention by the church is not democratic in any way,” he concluded.

Also urging the Serbian Government to reintroduce the anti-discrimination legislation is the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC).

Preventing and sanctioning discrimination is an obligation of any democratic European state, the UFMCC said in a statement on March 9.

“It is the top priority of the Serbian Government to respect its international obligations, to show determination and a duty of loyalty to all its citizens, not only to some of them, and to resist the public pressure of the Serbian Orthodox Church which is not serving the national interest in this case,” the UFMCC said.

“By delaying the adoption of the anti-discrimination provisions, non-profit organizations dealing with minority rights, women’s rights, HIV/AIDS and mental disability rights are basically dismissed in their courageous efforts to tackle discrimination,” the UFMCC Bishop for Eastern Europe, Rev. Elder Diane Fisher, said.

The UFMCC is calling on the Serbian authorities to remain active in the creation and building of a human rights culture in which the anti-discrimination provisions are an inseparable part.

“Intensifying the contacts between the Serbian Government, the European Commission and the European Parliament’s intergroup on gay and lesbian rights will create a new, collaborative strategy to fight discrimination. The voice of the Serbian civil society should be included and taken seriously in this dialogue, and not silenced,” the Bishop concluded.

Pols condemned for anti-gay meeting
BRUSSELS — The attendance of several Ugandan parliamentarians at an anti-gay conference in Kampala during the first weekend in March has been condemned by the European Parliament’s all-party “intergroup” for gay and lesbian rights.

The conference featured keynote American speakers Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Stephen Langa. Also attending were Uganda-based groups working to diminish human rights of gay and transgender men and women.

“It is very sad that representatives of Ugandan parliament who should work for the rights of every Ugandan citizen, gravely discredit themselves by meeting people who work to spread hate and diminish rights of other human beings,” said Michael Cashman, president of the intergroup. “It would never be acceptable for any member of the European Parliament to meet, for example, representatives of Ku Klux Klan; thus I do not understand the rational of those Ugandan parliamentarians who agreed to the meeting with anti-gay militants.”

Raúl Romeva, vice president of the intergroup for the GREENS/EFA party added: “If these Ugandan parliamentarians are serious about respecting the constitution of their country and in particular Chapter 4 on Protection and promotion of fundamental and other human rights and freedoms, they should instead be working towards abolishing those discriminatory laws of Uganda which still deny full human rights to gay and lesbian citizens.”

Officials urge religious leaders to ignore Pride events
RIGA, Latvia — Elected officials in Riga have urged religious groups to ignore the gay Pride march to take place in the capital city in May.

Andris Grinbergs, the executive director of Riga, told a meeting of a working group of the assembly of Christian congregations in the city not to focus attention on the event, adding that with little attention organizers might not be so interested in pursuing similar events in the future.

But the president of Latvian Christian Radio said that Christians should not be silent.

“We must take a categorical stand against such marches or other types of activities,” he said, according to Latvian news agency LETA.

This year’s event in Riga will be the first Baltic Gay Pride — officially Baltic Friendship Days — which joins the LGBT communities of the three Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Latvian LGBT advocacy group Mozaika applied for the parade to the Riga City Council last October. Two routes were suggested, both starting and finishing at Vermandarzs Park.

But an anti-gay Pride group, “Fund for the Family,” has, in a counter move, applied for permission to stage a Family Celebration 2009 in Vermandarzs Park on the same day — May 16.

A final decision will be made by the Commission on Meetings, Marches and Demonstrations at Riga City Council.

Janis Sicevskis, a representative of the Latvian Orthodox Church, said that the church “categorically objects” to the parade, particularly if it passes a church. He said that the church is planning a special prayer service to pray that people do not take part in the event.

“We have asked the Riga City Council to do everything possible to ensure that the march does not take place after all,” he told LETA.

Representatives of the religious denominations have agreed to write to Riga Mayor, Janis Birks, and to Mr. Grinbergs asking them not to support the gay march, and to support the rival “Fund for the Family” event.

This year’s gay Pride in Riga gets underway on May 15 and concludes on May 17 — coinciding with the International Day Against Homophobia.

Next year, the event will be staged in Vilnius, Lithuania.

— Andy Harley is the editor of UK Gay News.
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