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Gay London deputy mayor dies

Sir Simon Milton, who served as chief of staff to London Mayor Boris Johnson, died Monday. He was 49.

Milton, one of two openly gay deputy mayors in the Conservative administration, died in the hospital following a short illness.

“He was a wonderful colleague and friend, and will be much missed by everyone who was involved in public life in this city,” said Johnson in a statement.

European Parliament: Protect gay and trans asylum seekers

The European Parliament says that LGBT asylum seekers must be given protections.

MEPs voted recently to adopt a series of measures, such as ensuring that physical examinations are respectful and providing expert advice to asylum officials.

Other measures include ensuring that LGBT people are not automatically fast-tracked for removal to their home country.

The measures concern a provision that considers certain characteristics as “special needs” when they may impact on an asylum seeker’s rights under the law — for example, elderly or disabled asylum seekers may require special protection.

MEPs approved an amendment to add “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” and “physical or mental illnesses.”

Sirpa Pietikäinen, a member of the center-right European People’s Party and vice president of the LGBT Intergroup, said, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people fleeing countries such as Iraq, Uganda, Honduras or Indonesia must receive particular protection taking into account cultural sensitivity. This is a major step toward fully complying with our engagements under international asylum law.”

The new measures are the European Parliament’s formal position on asylum.

However, asylum rules will not be amended until European Union governments agree on the text.

Lesbian judge fights for antidiscrimination laws

A lesbian judge from Chile is calling for new antidiscrimination laws to be introduced across North and South America.

Karen Atala, 47, lost custody of her three daughters in 2004 because of her sexual orientation. She won custody of her children in two hearings, but they were overturned by the Supreme Court in 2006.

The Supreme Court ruled that the girls were in a “position of risk” and could become “objects of social discrimination.”

Atala is now taking her fight to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Washington.

Her lawyer, Jorge Contesse, said, “She’s not litigating this case to regain custody of her daughters. But she knows the message that could be sent here, to the Chilean government and other countries, is significant and would be worth the struggle.”

Europe addresses violence against women

The Council of Europe’s new convention on preventing and combating violence against women has inclusive language covering lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.

The document, approved April 6 by representatives of the foreign ministers of member states, obligates signatories to “take the necessary legislative and other measures to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly women, to live free from violence in both the public and the private sphere.” It is to be implemented without discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and numerous other characteristics.

The convention will be presented to the foreign ministers of the 47 member states — virtually all the nations in Europe — for ratification at a meeting May 11 in Istanbul. It “opens the path for creating a legal framework at pan-European level to protect women against all forms of violence,” noted a Council of Europe press release.

The International Gay and Lesbian Association’s European unit lobbied for the inclusive language. “ILGA-Europe warmly welcomes the adoption of the Convention and the recognition that lesbian, bisexual, and trans women are particularly vulnerable to violence and require a specific measure of protection,” said a statement issued by Linda Freimane, co-chair of ILGA-Europe’s executive board.

Australian pol denies homophobia toward gay MP

An Australian politician has denied that a “queen” joke he made about a gay MP was homophobic.

Rob Johnson, who is the West Australian police minister, had been asked by openly gay opposition MP John Hyde about spending on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Johnson said the question was irrelevant and added: “He is just really, really upset and jealous that we have got a true queen coming to W.A.”

Opposition MPs responded angrily and the policing minister reportedly withdrew his remark minutes later.

Johnson later said he had not been referring to Hyde’s sexuality and claimed the joke referred to Oprah Winfrey visiting Perth instead of Queen Elizabeth.

“The only reason I withdrew the remark is because some members obviously misconstrued my comments and confused my reference to the royal queen with another term,” he said.

Gay-rights advocate Kitty Hawkins said there would be “uproar” if a similar joke was made about a non-white MP.

“There was no cause for his comments, they were completely irrelevant and unrelated, it was just a spiteful pot-shot at John Hyde,” she said.

Hawkins claimed Johnson has made antigay remarks before: In 2001, he said that homosexuality was “not normal” and in the same year, he claimed that lesbians and gays were trying to “persuade young people to adopt their way of life.”

Antigay academic pressured to resign

A leading but controversial Italian academic is facing calls for his resignation as vice president of the country’s Center for National Research after he claimed that homosexuality caused the fall of the Roman Empire.

Professor Roberto De Mattei, vice president of Italy’s Center for National Research, a devout Catholic who previously claimed that the Japanese earthquake and tsunami were “divine punishment,” made his claims in an interview for a religious radio station.

During his interview with Radio Maria, De Mattei said: “The collapse of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the barbarians was due to the spread of homosexuality. The Roman colony of Carthage was a paradise for homosexuals ... the abnormal presence of a few deviants infected many others.”

He said his claims originate from the writings of fifth-century Christian author Salviano di Marsiglia.

“The invasion of the Barbarians [of Rome] was seen as punishment for this moral transgression,” De Mattei said. “It is well-known that effeminate men and homosexuals have no place in the Kingdom of God. Homosexuality was not rife among the barbarians, and this shows that God’s justice comes throughout history, not at the end of time.”

A left-wing MP, Paola Concia, has written to the country’s education minister, Maria Stella Gelmini, to intervene.

— compiled by Larry Nichols

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