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Harassment widespread in Europe

A European Union report released on March 31 showed that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals face widespread harassment, bullying and discrimination across Europe.

The harassment and discrimination occurs “in all areas of social life,” from schools to the workplace to healthcare centers, the report by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency said.

Agency director Morten Kjaerum said the investigation found gays and lesbians continue to face assault and other physical attacks due to their sexual orientation, despite EU rules meant to guarantee equality in the 27 member nations.

“These are alarming signals in an EU that prides itself on its principles of equal treatment and nondiscrimination,” he said.

The report said gay-pride events were being obstructed in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Romania. Meanwhile, politicians and religious leaders in Italy, Hungary, Malta, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have also rejected calls to improve the rights of gays and lesbians.

Kjaerum said, according to the scarce data available from national authorities, “very few incidents” of assault, hate speech by public figures or verbal attacks are reported to police. He also noted that current laws meant to protect against discrimination also do not cover areas such as housing, education or healthcare.

The report, which compiled studies and surveys from across Europe, said homophobic abuse is usually carried out by young men in groups, but is also persistent at work, in school or when trying to get medical care.

Lesbian mayor elected in Zurich

Switzerland has elected its first openly gay mayor.

Corine Mauch, a longtime political activist and environmentalist, scored a massive victory on March 29 when she was voted to become mayor of Zurich, Switzerland’s second-largest city.

Mauch was elected to city council only last month and was considered to be a long shot when she announced her candidacy to succeed outgoing mayor Elmer Ledergerber.

Both are members of the center-left Social Democrats.

The 49-year-old Mauch received nearly 42,000 votes, about 11,000 more than her only rival, Kathrin Martelli of the center-right Radicals.

Throughout the campaign, Martelli attempted to use Mauch’s sexuality against her.

The office of mayor in Zurich is largely ceremonial, but the fact that voters gave Mauch such an overwhelming victory is seen as a significant advancement.

The timing is also significant, as Mauch will take over at the end of April, just days before gays from throughout the continent arrive in Zurich for this year’s EuroPride.

Students banned for ‘lesbian’ acts

The girls’ school set up by Oprah Winfrey in South Africa has suspended seven pupils for violating the school’s code of conduct by allegedly touching each other sexually.

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy School For Girls, in Henley-on-Klip, near Johannesburg in South Africa, aims to educate 450 high-achieving female students a year by 2011.

Winfrey’s spokesperson, Lisa Halliday, confirmed on March 31 that seven pupils were found to have “touched each other intimately.”

It is also alleged that they were “intimidating others into partaking of inappropriate behaviors.”

A letter sent to one of the suspended girls’ parents apparently read: “You have been found guilty of physical contact of a sexual nature with another pupil on campus, harassment, bullying other girls on campus and of being dishonest by not telling investigators the whole truth.”

This is the second time Winfrey’s $46-million school has been at the center of an alleged sexual-misconduct case.

In 2007, former school matron Virginia Tiny Makgobo faced 13 charges including indecent assault, common assault, assaulting a minor to perform an indecent act and verbal abuse of pupils, all of which she has denied.

Winfrey herself is yet to comment on the recent allegations, but this will most likely be a blow to the TV host and philanthropist, who has previously said of her pupils: “These girls are like my children. That’s not just rhetoric for me. I take their futures and the possibility for what their futures hold very seriously.”

Ugandan gay-rights event draws few

Fewer than 20 openly gay Ugandans attended a public protest in Kampala calling for equal rights.

At the protest in the capital of the east African country, lesbian activist Jacqueline Masha said, “We are law-abiding citizens. We deserve equal rights and protection under the law and constitution.”

The protesters, all but one of whom were female, told of their experiences of homophobia at the hands of church officials and ordinary Ugandans.

Under Ugandan law, homosexuality is illegal and perpetrators of this “crime” can expect to face a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment.

Activists say Uganda, with a population of 31 million, has some 500,000 gays and lesbians.

Pro-gay law passes in Serbia

Lawmakers in Serbia approved a law banning discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, gender and several other factors on March 26.

The bill passed 127-59, only one vote over the minimum needed to pass.

The legislation was proposed to put Serbia, a conservative nation, more in line with European Union policies.

In addition to sexual orientation and gender, the law bans discrimination on the basis of race, religion, health condition, mental condition, financial status, language, age and disability.

Larry Nichols can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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