Spain is the most LGBT friendly nation out of 40 surveyed

A global poll taken on morality by the Pew Research Center has found that among the 40 countries surveyed, Spain tops the list for being the most culturally accepting of homosexuality and other LGBT lifestyles. Surveyed individuals were questioned on whether they found homosexuality to be “morally acceptable”, “morally unacceptable” or “not moral issue”.

55% of surveyed Spanish participants declared homosexuality “morally acceptable”, while 38% stated it was “not a moral issue”. Only 8% found it to be “morally unacceptable”. 55% doesn’t sound like much, but it’s positively utopian compared to the United States where only 23% found it homosexuality to be acceptable. 35% declared moral neutrality and 37% found it to be immoral. It was declared the third most immoral act included in the survey under abortion and cheating, though cheating won by a huge margin. Though both legal and cultural conditions in the US continue to improve for LGBT individuals, we clearly have a long way to go in comparison to other countries.

But things could be worse. Ghana and Russia topped the list for LGBT hostility, where homosexuality was deemed immoral by 92% and 72% of survey participants respectively. The Pew Research Center is a well established institute for conducting global surveys, and you can see additional results of this particular study here.

LGBT groups pull events from Beverly Hills Hotel; cite homophobic owner

The well-known hotel chain Beverly Hills Hotel is coming under fire from LGBT activist groups due to recent international events. The OutGiving Conference, a social event for wealthy donors to LGBT causes run by The Gill Action Fund, was originally slated to take place at a Beverly Hills Hotel venue but was cancelled after news of the hotel chain’s owner came to light.

As it turns out, the Beverly Hills Hotel chain is owned by one Hassanal Bolkiah – also known as the Sultan of Brunei. The Southeast Asian nation of Brunei implemented revisions to their penal code on April 22nd that include “stoning to death” for various sexual acts, creating an openly hostile and potentially deadly legal environment for LGBT individuals. The executive director of the Gill Action Fund Kirk Fordham announced the cancellation on April 17th, stating “In light of the horrific anti-gay policy approved by the government of Brunei, Gill Action made the decision earlier today to relocate its conference from the Beverly Hills Hotel to another property,”

It is worth noting that as is often the case in ownership boycotts, Hassanal Bolkiah does not hold direct, one-to-one ownership here. Bolkiah controls the Brunei Investments Agency, which holds the Dorchester Group as a subsidiary. The Dorchester Group owns the Dorchester Collection, a group of hotels of which Beverly Hills is one brand. A statement issued by Beverly Hills Hotel claims that “We are also against any law in any other country around the world that punishes people for their religious beliefs, ethnicity, race or sexual orientation. The laws and policies that govern how we run our hotel have nothing to do with the laws that exist in any other country outside of the United States.”

How Ken Mehlman got Obama onboard with gay marriage

Jo Becker’s long awaited historical account on the legal gay marriage is out, and it has certainly proven controversial and splashy. An investigative journalist inserted in top level political sessions concerning the issue, her book “Forcing The Spring” covers the legal and political workings behind the curtain from Prop 8 onwards. A particularly interesting segment was published as an excerpt before release on the New York Times detailing the events running up to Obama becoming the first US president to endorse gay marriage.

Apparently the jump wasn’t as smooth as it initially appeared. On a Meet The Press interview in 2012, Vice President Joseph Biden started it all by given a stuttering but sincere endorsement of gay marriage. The result was a scramble in the White House to correct the fact that, as Biden’s communications director put it, he had “gotten in front of the President on gay marriage”. So now the White House needed a tactful way for the President to take his stance on the issue and they needed it immediately. But who to call?

According to Becker’s account, former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman was called in to offer his advice. Mehlman was also President Bush’s 2004 campaign manager and held several significant White House positions during Bush’s presidency, but he was also a classmate of Obama’s from Harvard and had recently come out as gay himself. Mehlman believed that Obama had a public image as an “idealist that would put politics aside and do what was right” and that endorsing same-sex marriage in the correct fashion would serve that image. I can’t say I’ve read Becker’s book yet (and given what I’m hearing I’m not sure I will) but the published excerpt was nonetheless an enlightening look at a historic turn in US presidency.

Muslim couple booted from Empire State Building for praying

A Muslim family has filed a lawsuit after being kicked out of the Empire State Building…for praying. Last July, Fahad and Amina Tirmizi and their two young children were on the observation deck of the Empire State Building when the time came for a mandatory evening prayer. According to the court documents, the family found a secluded area with no traffic to kneel and begin their ceremonies when Fahad was interrupted by physical harassment from a security guard.

The guard reportedly prodded Fahad several times with his hands and feet before declaring that the family was not allowed to pray and forcing them into the elevator back to the ground floor. The suit demands an unspecified amount of monetary damages for being “shamed, humiliated and embarrassed in front of each other, their children and the general public.” A spokesperson for the Empire State Realty Trust believes that “the claims are totally without merit and we will respond to them in court.”

It’s important to remember that racism is no longer the loud, brash presence it once was. Real racism is quiet and takes place in private conversations beyond closed doors but can be felt all the same. The fact that the incident happened at one of America’s most iconic buildings only amplifies the message that as long as it’s not a public policy and everyone else is willing to look the other way, cultural discrimination is acceptable.

A new Arizona bill is on the horizon

As opponents of Arizona’s SB 1062 celebrate its downfall at the hands of Governor Jan Brewer, another bill is brewing that would allow for discrimination on the basis of religious freedom. Named House Bill 2481, it states that the state government cannot force religious authorities or judges to “solemnize a marriage that is inconsistent with the minister’s sincerely held religious beliefs.” It is currently making its way through state legislature and from there it will go to a floor debate in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Pastor and Arizona Rep. Steve Montenegro drafted the bill and said he was inspired by cases in New Jersey and England, where clergy were ordered to conduct religious ceremonies for same sex couples. “The intent of my bill is to directly protect clergy, churches, man or woman of the cloth, to protect them from doing marriage ceremonies that go against their faith,” Montenegro said to the Arizona Republic.

The bill is significantly narrower in scope than SB 1062, but it does put down a major roadblock for same-sex marriage when any official who can officially recognize the marriage has an unrestricted right to refuse to do so. Arizona’s history with gay marriage is mixed. Though they did turn down Proposition 107 (a ban on gay marriage) in 2006, the state still does not recognize same-sex marriage from within the state or from elsewhere.

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi: a leader in women’s education

Sakena Yacoobi is a humanitarian leader in women’s rights in one of the most difficult battlegrounds – Afghanistan. She is the leader of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), an Afghan women’s education NGO she founded in 1995 to support education for girls (and boys), provide education training to prospective Afghan teachers and to provide health education for girls. The organization is recognized worldwide for bringing education and health services to rural, poor or otherwise underprivileged Afghans in the face of severe cultural opposition.

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Image courtesy of flickrcc

After receiving her education in the United States in the 1970’s, Sakena left a promising life as a professor and consultant to go aid her people in Afghanistan at the height of Taliban rule. AIL has come a long way since 1995 and currently consists of 38 women’s learning centers and 5 health clinics. AIL has reported trained over 20,000 teachers and provides health education to over 2 million people.

Sakena has seen outstanding recognition from the global community for her work. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, and has been awarded in honorary doctorate in law from the University of the Pacific in California for her work with AIL. Marie-Josee Kravis (formerly Marie-Josee Drouin) presented her with the Henry R Kravis Prize in Leadership in 2009, a prestigious award catering to non-profits and humanitarian efforts. Just some of her many awards, she continues to be a thought leader in education and a strong advocate for women’s rights today.

Turn Away the Gay Laws

Originally posted on icanhasgrace:

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Any business who is turning anyone away from services based on religious belief is not Christian. I’ve said it before: if you disagree with another person’s beliefs or actions, your only option is to pray for that person. It’s right out of Jesus’ mouth, folks: “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

Now, if you’re praying for someone, really praying, 99% of the time God is going to change you. So just prepare yourself for that.

The real kicker is, as a Christian, what I just wrote applies to me as well. All these idiots who claim to need a law to defend their bigotry? Damn it! All I can do as a Christian is pray for them. And I have to be open to how God will change me when I do.

But let me set aside the Christian aspect of what’s happening Tennessee, Georgia, Kansas…

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Benghazi “scandal”: Round 3

Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, Benghazi is once again rearing its ugly head in the wake of an Armed Services Committee investigation report last Tuesday. The investigation concluded that the military response to the attack was free of blame, and that US personnel in Benghazi were “woefully vulnerable” because “..White House officials failed to comprehend or ignored the deteriorating security situation in Libya and the growing threat to US interest in the region.” The report also found that Defense Department officials believed that it was a terrorist attack from its onset, rather than a protest gone awry has Clinton claimed following the attack.

The report is a bullet list of every accusation pointed at Clinton by the GOP since the attacks in 2012. The RNC continues to call Benghazi “..the defining moment of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state” and there is no end in sight to critical reports. OPSEC (short for “operational security”), a right-leaning group composed of former special forces and intelligence operatives, plans to release a report within days on their take of Benghazi. Given that OPSEC president Scott Taylor believes Clinton “did nothing to help prevent the death of four Americans in Benghazi”, a glowing review seems unlikely.

However Clinton is certainly not without allies of her own. Supporters are quick to point out the State Department review in 2012 that cited two leadership departments as to why security at Benghazi was so unprepared but did not blame Clinton herself. Support can also be found in unlikely places. The GOP’s favorite ex-general David Petraeus, who currently chairs the Global Institute at KKR, stated that Clinton would make a “tremendous President” and that ”In the wake of the Benghazi attacks, for example, she was extraordinarily resolute, determined, and controlled.” A surprising endorsement, given that Clinton publicly criticized Petraeus during his time as theater commander in Iraq.

Clinton’s response to the controversy so far has been largely evasive, but as we enter 2014 it is clear that Republicans consider Benghazi a weak point in her defenses and are unlikely to stop poking at it as long as she is expected to seek a presidential bid in 2016.

Saudi Arabia hamstrings women’s rights…again

A “fatwa” or edict issued by the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia declared that women are not allowed to visit a male doctor without a male guardian present. The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has confirmed the new ruling and will legally enforce it in the future. Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority believes that Islamic law cannot permit women to expose parts of their body to male doctors except in the case of medical emergencies. “Islamic jurisprudence does make exceptions” claimed a member of the Council of Senior Scholars.

Only next of kin qualify as male guardians in Islamic tradition, which includes fathers, brothers, sons, uncles and husbands but many Islamic women protest the rule on grounds that it is impractical. “This is going to be a huge burden for us. Many of us don’t have male guardians. Those of us who do, can’t depend on them, as they have work and travel commitments,” said Muneera Dawood, a stay-at-home mother.

The fatwa states that male doctors may examine female patients only if female doctors are unavailable and the patient has a male guardian. Doctor visits that violate these rules could have “negative implications” according to a member of the Council of Senior Scholars. This represents another major step backwards in women’s rights for Saudi Arabia, comparable to the ban on women driving though movements to repeal that ban are beginning to gain momentum.

Ronald Reagan is not a friend of the gays

Ever since President Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis released her letter arguing that her father would have been pro-LGBT, speculation on Reagan’s LGBT leanings have been rampant. Liberal blogs and websites immediately took the headline and ran with it, claiming that Reagan, the conservative icon, had seen the light and come to join the good guys.

There is some merit to the conclusion. Those close to Reagan claim that he didn’t subscribe to the homophobia that was the prevailing conservative attitude at the time, and his family was reportedly close friends with a lesbian couple that, according to Davis, babysat from time to time. Together it paints a rosy picture, and that’s all well and good until you remember his response to the HIV epidemic (lack thereof) that resulted in thousands infected in the LGBT community.

It’s also hard to imagine that as a devout Christian Reagan would have been able to cleanly break away from the narrative that homosexuality is a sin and to be condemned. Put that way, it’s hard to compare him to the gay-friendly Republicans of today like Ken Mehlman, Paul Singer and Ted Olson who actively campaign to bring about positive change.

Most importantly, there is no way to tell what Ronald Reagan would have said on any modern issue because he’s dead. I reject the idea that equality is relative to culture and time period, and more than that I reject the idea of someone posthumously propped up to support a cause we can’t guarantee they would have endorsed. His son and Patti Davis’ brother Michael Reagan may have said it best. “Back in the 1980s when he was president, no, he wouldn’t have [supported gay marriage] … It’s easy to say he would do or not do something when he’s not here to answer.”