LGBTQ Issues

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HAMILTON, Bermuda, May 23 2017 – A gay couple whose successful legal challenge opened the way for same-sex marriage in Bermuda have wed in Canada.

Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian partner Greg DeRoche said they decided to have the ceremony in DeRoche’s home city of Toronto after further delays publishing their marriage banns in Bermuda.

They told the Royal Gazette Newspaper that they wanted to be in control of their own marriage and conduct the service on their own terms after the legal ruling.

The short service held on Saturday, was attended by around 20 of the couple’s family and close friends.

“The court case was never really about us as individuals,” Godwin said. “It was more about getting something done in Bermuda that was overdue and needed to happen.

“To see the other same-sex couples using the ruling and getting their banns posted in the paper was the most rewarding thing for us.

“The outcome and its ramifications are what was really important. When it came to our marriage we wanted to keep it small, subdued and informal. And even more importantly, we wanted to feel like we had control of how it happened and who was there.”

The couple launched their fight for equal rights after the Registrar-General rejected their application to marry on the island in July 2016.

They took their case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Human Rights Act took primacy in Bermuda and protected their right to marry.

Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled in the couple’s favour at the beginning of the month.

The judge ruled that the common law discriminated against same-sex couples by excluding them from marriage.

Godwin added: “We do hope that people can understand why we made our choice. It would have been great to include many of the supporters that started this journey of the case with us but ultimately, due to a variety of factors, including time, we wanted to ensure that we did it our way and on our terms. We thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts that stuck by our side and supported us along the way.”

The Bermuda government has said it will not appeal against the court ruling.

In a referendum here last year, which attracted a less than a 50 percent turnout, voters overwhelmingly rejected same-sex marriage and same-sex civil unions in the island.

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BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, May 23 2017 — Two men in Indonesia’s Aceh province were publicly caned dozens of times Tuesday for consensual gay sex, a punishment that intensifies an anti-gay backlash in the world’s most populous Muslim country and which rights advocates denounced as “medieval torture.”

More than a thousand people packed the courtyard of a mosque to witness the caning, which was the first time that Aceh, the only province in Indonesia to practise sharia law, has caned people for homosexuality.

The crowd shouted insults and cheered as the men, aged 20 and 23, were whipped across the back and winced with pain. Many in the crush of spectators filmed the caning with cellphones as a team of five robed and hooded enforcers took turns to inflict the punishment, relieving one another after every 20 strokes for one of the men and 40 for the other.

Sarojini Mutia Irfan, a female university student who witnessed the caning, said it was a necessary deterrent.

“What they have done is like a virus that can harm people’s morale,” she said. “This kind of public punishment is an attempt to stop the spread of the virus to other communities in Aceh.”

The couple were arrested in March after neighbourhood vigilantes in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, suspected them of being gay and broke into their rented room to catch them having sex.

A sharia court last week sentenced each man to 85 strokes, but they were caned 83 times after a remission for time spent in prison. Four heterosexual couples also were caned Tuesday, receiving a far lesser number of strokes for affection outside marriage.

Banda Aceh resident Ibrahim Muhayat said far more people attended the publicly meted-out punishment than usual because like him, many wanted to witness Indonesia’s first-ever caning of gay men.

The Islamic Defenders Front, a hard-line group known for acts of vigilante violence throughout Indonesia, erected a banner at the mosque that declared the group was ready to defend sharia law whatever the cost.

With the exception of Aceh, homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, but the country’s low-profile LGBT community has been under siege in the past year.

Prejudice has been fanned by stridently anti-gay comments from politicians and Islamic hard-liners, and a case before the country’s top court is seeking to criminalize gay sex and sex outside marriage. On Monday, 141 men were detained in a police raid on a gay sauna in Jakarta, the capital.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the caning was torture under international law and had called on Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to intervene.

The maximum possible sentence was 100 strokes of the cane and prosecutors had asked for 80.

“The court’s less-than-maximum sentence of 85 lashes is no act of compassion. It does not change the reality that flogging is a grotesque display of medieval torture,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Caning is also a punishment in Aceh for gambling, drinking alcohol, women who wear tight clothes and men who skip Friday prayers. More than 300 people were caned for such offences in 2016.

Indonesia’s reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam has been battered in the past year due to attacks on religious minorities, a surge in persecution of gays and a polarizing election campaign for governor of Jakarta that highlighted the growing strength of hard-line Islamic groups.

Earlier this month, the outgoing Jakarta governor, a minority Christian, was sentenced to two years in prison for campaign comments deemed as blaspheming the Qur’an.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia, May 22 2017 — Indonesian police detained dozens of men including several foreigners in a weekend raid on a gay sauna in the capital, another sign of growing hostility to homosexuality in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Police spokesman Argo Yuwono said 141 men were detained for questioning in the raid Sunday evening on the gym and sauna in north Jakarta. Police say the sauna was the venue for a sex party promoted as “The Wild One.”

Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, but police said the country’s pornography laws had been violated. Ten people will be charged, police said, including the sauna’s owner, several staff including strippers, a gym trainer, receptionist and security guard, and two visitors to the club who allegedly performed oral sex. If found guilty, they face penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines.

As media waited for a police news conference on Monday afternoon, some of the arrested men were put on display, their faces covered by black ski masks. Last month, police in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, arrested 14 men at what they alleged was a sex party and forced them to have HIV tests.

A coalition of legal aid and criminal justice reform groups condemned the raid and “arbitrary” arrests. It said police further violated the rights of those arrested by photographing them naked and facilitating the spread of those images on social media.

The group, which is providing legal representation, said in a statement that some of the men were brought to a police station in north Jakarta naked, and that others were stripped at the station.

North Jakarta chief police detective Nasriadi, who goes by one name, said four foreigners were caught in the raid — two men from Malaysia, one Singaporean and one UK man. They are still being questioned as witnesses, he said.

Indonesia’s low-profile LGBT community has been increasingly under siege in the past year. Prejudice has been fanned by stridently anti-gay comments from Cabinet ministers and other high-profile Indonesians.

Last week, a Shariah court in the conservative province of Aceh sentenced two men to public caning for gay sex. Vigilantes broke into the couple’s rented accommodation to film them having sex and handed them over to Shariah police. The court sentenced the men, aged 20 and 23, to 85 lashes each, sparking condemnation from rights groups.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia to practice Shariah law, though some areas have adopted Shariah-style bylaws.

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, May 18 2017 – Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe remains in the line of fire for seemingly pouring scorn on Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and other childless women, whilst strongly denouncing same sex marriages.

In response to the comments made by Lowe at a Mother’s Day function at the weekend, President of the Barbados Gays and Lesbians Against Discrimination (BGLAD) Donnya Piggott has suggested that the minister has an obsession with homosexuals.

However, she has called on the Christ Church East representative to stop the gay bashing and to pay more attention to the pressing economic issues of today.

“I feel concerned about Denis Lowe because I feel that at this stage where the Barbados economy is not doing so well,  . . . his concern should really be about the unemployment rates amongst young people, LGBT young people and various vulnerable groups –  inclusive of single mothers and the elderly in his community of Christ Church East,” Piggott said.

“I don’t understand what he is trying to do when all of these different groups are being affected by the economy, so Barbadians deserve a lot better from Denis Lowe and he is not doing a good job at all,” she added.

Addressing a ceremony in honour of mothers within his Christ Church East constituency Lowe charged that there was an attempt in certain quarters to advance a legislative call for same-sex marriage, while making it clear that he did not have any intention whatsoever of supporting any such move.

“I still believe in the biblical way of life,” the minister of the environment said.

And in an apparent swipe at Mottley, he also publicly declared that he was “not about to support any idea that the greatness of the nation is bound up in any individual who does not regard the importance of motherhood, of family, and of marriage according to the biblical standard.

“We want our boys and our girls to grow up in a society where they are not embarrassed because they live in a house where mum is a woman and dad is a man,” Lowe added.

However, Piggott has hit back telling the Government minister that “if he is so obsessed with the biblical definitions of marriage then he should start at the top . . . because we still have a prime minister who is very much unmarried and has had kids out of wedlock. So if he wants to talk about biblical marriage and the definition of marriage we can start there”.

The BGLAD spokeswoman also accused Lowe of touting blatant discrimination against members of the LBGT community, who she warned were not only citizens of Barbados, but powerful members of the electorate.

“You cannot believe in it [homosexuality] and that is fine, but when you are in a position of power you have to cater to all, so you can’t discriminate against people,” Piggott cautioned the minister.

Human rights researcher Shari Inniss–Grant is equally taken aback by Lowe’s comments. In fact, she has openly challenged his notion of the ideal family structure, comprising of a man and a woman. On the contrary, she argued that Barbados has historically been linked to various family structures, including LGBT families.

Inniss-Grant, who is a founding member of the LGBT support group called Join the Conversation, also denounced Lowe’s claims that same–sex unions would adversely affect children.

“What would make children feel a degree of shame is if you have that in your household and you are happy in your household and when you leave, you have teachers talking about the fact that your family isn’t right, or you have governmental officials, who are supposed to be representing everyone’s needs, who are attacking your family or attacking your parents.

“That is the thing that really makes children question, ‘if I am okay, is my family okay’.”

She accused Lowe of imposing his personal bias on the country, while suggesting that as a minister of Government, he had a responsibility to be all-embracing and not segregatory.

“If they [Government officials] are supposed to represent all of us then they shouldn’t be making comments that undermine the lives lived by persons who are already being marginalized and who are already being attacked, those should be the persons they are reaching out to and the persons they are offering protection to,” Inniss-Grant stressed.

The chairperson of the Gender Affairs Committee of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Makala Beckles–Jordan, has also come down harshly on Lowe, accusing him of grossly disrespecting the many childless women who hold leadership positions in Barbados and across the world.

“It is very sad that in this country because you do not have a child you have to be the victim of discrimination and ridicule coming from some person in the House of Parliament who is supposed to be representing you a citizen of this country,” Beckles–Jordan said, adding that Lowe’s comments brought back memories of equally distasteful remarks made recently by another Government legislator, Member of Parliament for St John Mara Thompson.

“To hear a minister saying that because a child has not sucked on your breasts or your womb has not been opened up that you should be disregarded as less of a woman is very distasteful.

“We are trying to understand why this childless mother talk is coming up in this country at a time like this when women are in the forefront of leadership in this country. If you look across the sectors of this country women are making strides in the leadership positions – children or not,” Beckles-Jordan added.

She also suggested that Lowe should stick to issues such as long overdue salary increases for public servants and the worrying state of the country’s economy rather than the inability of women to bear children.

“Right now, the minister should be speaking about getting some salary increases, sitting down and talking with the NUPW about getting a salary increase instead of looking at who has a child and who does not have one,” she said, while further complaining that instead, “what you have is one minister vex because you are childless and you have another minister telling you get children. Yet still they aren’t giving you no more money.

“What are you really doing in this country?” she asked.

Just yesterday, Lowe’s colleague Donville Inniss also took him to task for his remarks, while warning that the ruling Democratic Labour Party has gays and lesbians too. (Barbados TODAY)

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, May 17 2017 – A stinging rebuke has come for Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe from one of his own Cabinet colleagues.

Outspoken Government minister Donville Inniss Tuesday sought to deal frontally with the whole question of morality and need for greater societal tolerance, as he joined with critics in outrightly rejecting Lowe’s latest remarks on same-sex union.

In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Inniss also warned his ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) colleague to stop playing the homosexual card against the Mia Mottley-led Barbados Labour Party (BLP), since the Freundel Stuart-led ruling DLP was made up of gays and lesbians too.

It was while addressing a ceremony in honour of mothers within his Christ Church East constituency over the weekend that Lowe publicly denounced what he saw as advocacy to legally wed persons of the same gender.

“There is an attempt in certain quarters to advance a legislative call for same-sex marriage, and I do not have any intention, within or without the legislator to support any such notion because I still believe in the biblical way of life,” the minister of the environment said.

Also seemingly taking a swipe at Mottley, Lowe added, “I am not about to support any idea that the greatness of the nation is bound up in any individual who does not regard the importance of motherhood, of family, and of marriage according to the biblical standard.

“We want our boys and our girls to grow up in a society where they are not embarrassed because they live in a house where mum is a woman and dad is a man,” he added.

However, Inniss clearly distanced himself from those remarks telling Barbados TODAY, “My position is that we must not judge individuals according to their perceived or imagined sexual orientation”.

“We need to discuss these matters in a very rational manner and with an open mind,” he also suggested, adding, “I am not going to pursue any political opponent based on perceived sexual characteristics, because in my own party there have been gays and lesbians.”

As for the matter of same sex unions, Inniss, who is the Minister of International Business, Industry, Commerce and Small Business Development, argued that the matter was a “non-issue”, while suggesting that Lowe should instead focus on helping to address more pertinent issues affecting the country, including unemployment, the low foreign exchange reserves and rising health care costs.

“There are far more important issues in Barbados today to address – the economy and challenges with our young people – I am not focused on people’s preferences. And as politicians we must show a higher level of tolerance,” said Inniss in dismissing Lowe’s remarks.

“For me this is really a non-issue. I think those of us in public life should focus on more relevant matters . . . . I am far more concerned about our challenges in the economy and how we can get a better Barbados for all, not whether you are a heterosexual or homosexual,” he insisted.

However, Inniss made it clear he was “not necessarily” supporting same-sex marriages nor was he prepared to support any legislative reform to allow for such in Barbados.

Nonetheless, he pointed out that society was already “tolerant” of gays and lesbians and suggested it should remain that way.

“I don’t think this is even a matter that has to step into the realm of legislation. There is no need for any legislative reform. Barbados has always been a very tolerant society. The folks who drink rum excessively and get behind a steering wheel pose a greater danger to society than gays and lesbians. The folks who abuse marijuana or cocaine and hard drugs are bigger threats to society. When we don’t teach our young people to have respect for others including their property, that is a bigger threat to society,” said Inniss.

“It is not even an issue that one can say Government is divided on or it is Inniss versus Lowe,” he added.

Inniss also argued that while there was no harm in the country having a discussion on the matter, he believed any move to legalize same-sex unions in Barbados would be met with “great resistance” from the population.

“I don’t think any politician in their right frame of mind would even put that on the agenda. I don’t have that fear, but my fear is that the constant commentary that condemns those who are gay or lesbian does not add value to our national development because gays and lesbians were here when the economy was strong and robust and they are here now when we are having our challenges and they will be here long after the Democratic Labour Party has gotten the economy fully on track,” he said.

“I think marriage in a Christian setting is between a man and a woman but that does not conflict with a view that a man or woman has a right to choose their partner. It may not be blessed in the eyes of the Church, but it does not mean they don’t have a right to choose their partner, and we must be careful that we don’t foster a level of animosity and anger towards individuals who are gay or lesbian in a modern Barbados,” he warned.

Saying all he was “preaching” was tolerance and respect for all individuals, Inniss called on Lowe not to be so judgmental.

Speaking further on the point of tolerance, Inniss also took a swipe at the Barbados Gays & Lesbians Against Discrimination (BGLAD), suggesting that “rhetoric” about members of that community being discriminated against was fallacy.

“I do not believe Barbados is a homophobic society. That is why I do not agree with the gay and lesbian society and their rhetoric. I think they are just grandstanding and they do not have any evidence for the claims they make in this society. Quite frankly, I think they should just keep quiet and get on with their own business,” said Inniss.

“In my 30 years as an employee and employer in Barbados I have never seen discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. I think a lot of it is over exaggerated,” said the father of two sons. (Barbados TODAY)

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NASSAU, Bahamas, May 09 2017 – Aman who was allegedly attacked by a group of people during a concert at Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival early Saturday morning is alleging that he was “targeted and beat up” because he is gay.

After leaving Doctors Hospital where he was treated for a laceration to his head, 24-year-old Adrian Brown, who was born in Jamaica but lives in the United States, said he wants the persons who were involved in the fight to be charged with a hate crime. He said he will be pursuing the case when he returns to the U.S. and he also plans on suing for medical bills and pain and suffering.

Brown, a Navy officer who came to the Bahamas to participate in Junkanoo Carnival, said he was dancing at the concert late Friday into early Saturday when he felt someone throw water on him.

“So I was at the concert and there was a stoop and I stepped up on the stoop and I was dancing. This was about 3 am in the morning. So, I am dancing and having a good time. I had on a cut out shirt and fitted pants and I felt when some water hit me. So, I looked back and I got up off the stoop and I said to the guy, ‘Why did you hit me with the water,” and he said, ‘Because you a batty man,’” Brown claimed.

“Now I don’t think he knew that I am originally from Jamaica,” Brown continued. “So, before anything could happen his girlfriend came up in my face and slapped me and then four people just jumped me,” he claimed. “Two girls and two guys. Then two Bahamian men jumped in and started helping me. There was no conversation, they just started fighting me. I am not a fighter, I came here to the Bahamas to have fun, party and go back home. I don’t know these people from Adam and they do not know me and they were hitting me and beating me in my head with a rock. He just said ‘you are a batty man’ and they all jumped me. After the incident, the other two guys that helped me held one of the guys until the police came.”

Brown said he went to the police station and was taken to Princess Margaret Hospital a short time later but because of the long wait he went to Doctors Hospital where he was treated and discharged.

Despite the ordeal, he said he would come back to the Bahamas and will not let this one incident change his opinion of Bahamians.

“I am going back home tomorrow (Monday) but I am going to pursue this case. I am going to make sure as soon as I get off that plane in the morning I am going to call the Department of State and make sure that it is reported,” he said.

“I think they assumed because the way I was dressed that I was gay and I am gay, but I don’t know anyone here so they would not have known that. This was a hate crime. The police were very good, I went to the police station and they called the ambulance for me. I was still able to participate in carnival. I went on the truck but I couldn’t do what I wanted, I wanted to be on the road but I was hurt and slept most of the time.”

This is not the first time a gay man claimed to have been attacked during a Bahamas Carnival event.

Last year, police were investigating allegations that a Nassau Street brawl captured on video was the result of a homophobic attack.

The brawl took place on the sidelines of the Road Fever street parade.

A video recording of the fight went viral alongside a voice recording of a distraught woman, who claimed that two of her gay friends were beat up because of their appearance.

In the video, a group of men and women can be seen swinging metal chairs and fighting. Although several police officers were standing by, only a male inspector is seen making an attempt to break up the fight as three women officers watched the scene.

“My two gay friends just get beat like a dog,” the unidentified woman sobs in the 2016 voice recording.

“He was on Nassau Street and they beat them just for having on tight shirt, they beat them bad. My friend teeth out his mouth and everything, they ain’t do nothing they just was walking over to Super Value. They just was walking, they get beat for nothing,” the woman claimed.

At the time, then Assistant Commissioner Stephen Dean said that no complaint had been filed in connection with the matter. He said he had not received any report that the matter involved members of the LGBT community.

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HAMILTON, Bermuda, May 06 2017 – Two gay men have been celebrating following a landmark ruling handed down on Friday that paves the way for same-sex marriage here – less than a year after voters in this British Overseas Territory overwhelmingly rejected such unions in a referendum.

Winston Godwin, a Bermudian, and his Canadian partner, Greg DeRoche, took their fight for equal rights to the Supreme Court after the Registrar-General rejected their application to marry on the island, arguing that the Human Rights Act took primacy in Bermuda and protected their right to wed.

“On the facts, the applicants were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation when the Registrar refused to process their notice of intended marriage, said Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons.

“The applicants are entitled to an order of mandamus compelling the Registrar to act in accordance with the requirements of the Marriage Act and a declaration that same-sex couples are entitled to be married under the Marriage Act,” the judgment stated.

Reacting to Friday’s ruling, Godwin described the ruling as a big step in the right direction and told reporters that he and DeRoche would be resubmitting their application to marry to the Registrar-General “within days”.

“It has been a long time coming,” he said. “This ruling, although it was in our favour … there is still so much more to do in Bermuda.The ruling today is more than me and pieces of paper; it’s more than any of that, it is what it means for Bermuda moving forward,” he said

“Now we can begin to fix some of these issues. People are going to have their opinions about this and that is okay. I am not here to change people’s opinions or how they think.I just want them to respect me and my relationship and my marriage that will happen here. This is a big step in the right direction and I cannot thank my legal team and my supporters enough.

“Hopefully, this brings forward hope and courage for those who were or are afraid to speak up or come out. This is a moment we are proud of and will never forget,” he added.

But the news was greeted with dismay by Preserve Marriage, a group favouring traditional marriage between a man and woman, saying the ruling had worsened the divide in Bermuda.

“Today, a single judge, Justice Charles-Etta Simmons, of the Supreme Court of Bermuda, has decided to redefine the institution of marriage.By imposing this judgment, the court has ruled against many in the community of Bermuda.”

But the Rainbow Alliance (RA) declared Friday’s landmark gay marriage ruling a victory for all same-gender-loving people in Bermuda.

Saluting Godwin and DeRoche for their courage in taking on the Bermuda government at the risk of being ostracised by the community, the RA issued a statement saying “love always wins”.

Godwin and DeRoche, represented by lawyer Mark Pettingill, had sought an order from the Supreme Court to compel the Registrar to post their marriage banns in accordance with the Marriage Act. They also want a declaration that same-sex couples are entitled to be married under that law.

When the civil case was heard over three days in January and February, Pettingill, now an independent MP, after resigning from the ruling One Bermuda Alliance, urged the court to write the final chapter in the protection of gay rights in Bermuda.

He said the couple’s case encapsulated “the right to happiness, the right of all people to seek love and happiness”.

“The applicants say that religious arguments bear no relevance on civil contractual marriage. This is a matter of statutory interpretation.It is time for the courts fully armed with the legal protection of the Human Rights Act to write the final chapter in the protection of the rights of gay people of secular orientation and all the rights that everyone enjoys to be the same,” the group said.

But the Government’s lawyer, Deputy Solicitor-General Shakira Dill-Francois, told the court that the Registrar-General could not post marriage banns for gay couples because such unions are null and void under Bermuda’s existing laws

In last June’s referendum, which drew a less than 50 percent turnout, 14,192 people opposed same-sex marriage and 13,003 voted against same-sex civil unions.

A total of 6,514 said yes to same-sex marriage and 7,626 backed same-sex civil unions.

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BRIDGETOWN Barbados, Apr 13 2017 – Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite says people who identify as gay are not persecuted in Barbados, based on their sexual orientation.

Brathwaite, on Wednesday, sought to dispel the notion that homosexuals and lesbians were being targeted.

He made the statement during a courtesy call with Canadian High Commissioner, Marie Legault.

Brathwaite maintained that although buggery was still illegal in Barbados, this did not impact two consenting adults.

Adding that Barbados remained one of the Caribbean islands where gay persons could exist without fearing for their lives, the Attorney General stressed that citizens have always been aware and very “tolerant” of same-sex relations within the society.

However, the Attorney General noted that he did not expect to see a “Caribbean consensus” on same-sex relations any time soon, given the wide-ranging viewpoints of each island nation.

While acknowledging that Canada “thrives on diversity”, Legault stated that she hoped Barbados would eventually come to a place where it was “different from the rest of the Caribbean”.

The two officials also discussed the introduction of plea bargaining to reduce the backlog of cases in Barbados’ judicial system; measures to lessen gun-related crimes; finding innovative ways to reduce the resurgence of property crime; and retrofitting the island’s schools to become multipurpose facilities.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Apr 07 2017 – An LGBT rights group has filed a federal lawsuit demanding that Puerto Rico let transgender people correct the gender listed on their birth certificates.

Lambda Legal says the territory’s birth certificate policy is at odds with a law that allows people to change the gender indicated on drivers’ licenses. It also says that violates the right to free speech under the First Amendment.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday, the same day that a group of transgender people interrupted a legislative hearing in Puerto Rico to protest a bill that would eliminate the rights of transgender employees of Puerto Rico’s Senate to choose the bathrooms and clothes according to the gender with which they identify.

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SAN FRANCISCO, Apr 01 2017 – Gilbert Baker, an artist based in San Francisco who created the rainbow flag as a symbol for the gay community, has died aged 65.

The San Francisco Chronicle said Baker died in his sleep at his home in New York on Thursday night.

He initially designed an eight-colour flag in 1978 for the city’s gay freedom day, the precursor to the modern pride parade.

The rainbow flag has been raised in central San Francisco to honour him.

It is flying near Harvey Milk Plaza, named after America’s first openly gay politician, a close friend of Baker before his assassination in 1978.

Baker’s close friend Cleve Jones said on Twitter: “My dearest friend in the world is gone. Gilbert Baker gave the world the Rainbow Flag; he gave me forty years of love and friendship.”

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who wrote the screenplay for Milk, the biopic of the politician, tweeted: “Rainbows weep. Our world is far less colourful without you, my love. Gilbert Baker gave us the rainbow flag to unite us. Unite again.”

California State Senator Scott Weiner said Baker’s work had “helped define the modern LGBT movement”.

“Rest in power, Gilbert,” he said.

According to his website, Baker was born in Kansas in 1951 and served in the US army from 1970 to 1972, which stationed him in San Francisco in the early days of the gay liberation movement.

He was honourably discharged, taught himself to sew and began a flag-making career which would include creating designs and displays for several world leaders including the presidents of France, Venezuela and the Philippines.

Baker’s original flag had eight colours, each representing a different aspect of humanity:

  • Pink – sexuality
  • Red – life
  • Orange – healing
  • Yellow- sunlight
  • Green – nature
  • Turquoise – art
  • Indigo – harmony
  • Violet – human spirit
  • It would later be reduced to six stripes, removing pink and indigo, and swapping blue for turquoise.
  • Baker said he wanted to convey the idea of diversity and inclusion, using “something from nature to represent that our sexuality is a human right”.
  • In 2015, New York’s Museum of Modern Art acquired the flag for its design collection, calling it a “powerful design milestone”.
  • “I decided that we should have a flag, that a flag fit us as a symbol, that we are a people, a tribe if you will,” Baker told the Museum in an interview.
  • “And flags are about proclaiming power, so it’s very appropriate.”

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