Culture, tradition and religion can never justify the denial of basic rights...

I respect culture, tradition and religion, but they can never justify the denial of basic rights. My promise to the lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender members of the human family is this: I’m with you. I promise that as Secretary-General of the United Nations I will denounce attacks against you and I will keep pressing leaders for progress.
~ UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to the International Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

From the UN: May 17th marked the 11th annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), celebrating the World Health Organization's decision to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases. IDAHOT is now celebrated in more than 130 countries by over 1200 organizations.

Marking the occasion, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement that urged businesses to become allies to the community and praised the UN policy of employee benefits for LGBT people, including same-sex spouses. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said, "We cannot tolerate picking and choosing rights in modern society" as he urged for global solidarity in the fight for equality. He called on everyone "to join the movement for social justice, equality, and equity so that all people can live with dignity."

And in its statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, called for special attention to young LGBT and intersex people and warned that laws that criminalize people based on gender or sexual identity exacerbate violence and discrimination against young people.

HIV, Health, and Wellbeing: In Bangkok, UNAIDS hosted 50 civil society leaders from around the world to discuss 'Fast Tracking' the AIDS response. The two-day meeting noted that for the greatest impact, interventions must include attention to the most-affected populations including gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, and people who inject drugs.

As the UN General Assembly prepares to adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance launched a global campaign to ensure equal access to healthcare for LGBTI people. The campaign aims to pressure those responsible for drafting the Universal Health Coverage text to include the LGBTI community.

And in Australia, Equality Minister Martin Foley announced a funding program for LGBTI seniors to promote health and social inclusion, noting that seniors shouldn't be forced "back into the closet" to receive social services.

Standing Against Discrimination: In celebration of IDAHOT, leaders worldwide spoke in support of the LGBTI community. Among them was Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma who said the ongoing discrimination many LGBTI Commonwealth citizens face is "unacceptable" and "robs millions" of the right to live lives of dignity. And in her video, First Lady of Belize warned of the "harsh reality" of bullying and loss of basic human rights.

The Council of Europe used the occasion to release an issue paper on the human rights needs of intersex people, and presented potential ways to protect intersex people against discrimination and unnecessary medical treatment.

In Cuba, Parliament Member Mariela Castro Espín led over 1,000 participants in a march for equality that ended with a sponsored religious blessing ceremony for same-sex couples. In Lebanon, local celebrities joined the campaign to counter discrimination with the message, "Being different isn't shameful."

Russia held its "largest LGBT rally" in St. Petersburg with representatives from several LGBT and human rights groups. Participant leaders praised local police for supporting the peace and being "true allies" during the event. Meanwhile celebrations in Moscow were less successful, where police disrupted the rally and detained activists, according to participants.

In Albania, hundreds of activists marched to the Prime Minister's office anddemanded he "keep his promises" to the community. In South Korea, over 100 organizations including LGBTI, women, people with disabilities, labor, human rights, and civil society groups joined the IDAHOT festival. Organizers issued a list of demands to end discrimination, including the resignation of LGBTI-phobic commissioners.

In Turkey, activists used the occasion to bring attention to ongoing issues of discrimination, violence, and murder Turkish LGBTIs face. And in Uganda, hundreds celebrated the second annual local Pride event peacefully.

For a full roundup of IDAHOT events, check out

From the World of Politics: The big winner from the recent UK general election? It elected more openly LGBTQ representatives than any other nation in the world.

The deputy president of Kenya announced that there are "no room for gays" in Kenya while speaking to a local church congregation. Days later, the local Kenyan paper Citizen Weekly published a front page exposé identifying 12 prominent activists and leaders as gay and sending LGBT leaders scrambling for cover.

And in Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh threatened to slit the throats of gay people during a speech about fostering a healthy atmosphere for Gambian youth.

The Politics of Union: On Friday, the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage via popular vote with a commanding 62% majority. As correspondent Lester Feder noted, the pro marriage equality campaign won by asking Irish voters to to cast their ballot for “a fairer Ireland,” stating:
They succeeded in making it a referendum on what kind of country voters — the vast majority of whom are straight — wanted to live in, and they resoundingly chose one where gay and lesbian couples are part of Irish families just like straight couples are.
Kaohsiung has become the first Taiwan city to allow same-sex couples to register. Though the move does not provide the same legal protections as marriage, it will give couples some administrative benefits. In Cyprus, the Cabinet approved a civil partnerships bill that will provide same-sex couples all the benefits of marriage, with the exception of adoption.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel married his longtime partner Gauthier Destinay, becoming the first serving EU leader to wed their same-sex partner while in office.

France's United Protestant Church voted to allow the blessing of gay marriages and the Church of Scotland will permit the ordination of gay ministers who are in civil partnerships.

In Russia, lawmakers drafted legislation to ban trans people from marrying. The legislation is in response to a trans woman who was able to marry her female partner despite anti-gay laws because of a technicality: the woman's passport identifies her as a male.

Let the Courts Decide: In Zambia, the High Court upheld the acquittal of HIV activist Paul Kasonkomna who was arrested for "soliciting in public for immoral purposes" when he appeared on TV to speak about the rights of LGBT people and sex workers. Supporters celebrated the ruling saying that it will protect the right to lobby for marginalized groups.

The European Court of Human Rights condemned the country of Georgia for failing to protect activists from brutal assault during peaceful protests and additionally ruled that trans people should be protected from discrimination.

In Hong Kong, the High Court will hear a discrimination case between a lesbian couple and the Immigration Department. The couple, who entered into a civil partnership in the UK, have been refused benefits in Hong Kong because officials do not recognize same-sex couples.

Fear and Loathing: In Cuba, the recent murder of a young trans person has some questioning if ongoing violent crimes against LGBT people should be considered 'hate crimes.' Middle East journalist Bel Trew investigates how "distaste" of LGBT Egyptians has become "state-sponsored persecution." Although Egypt does not criminalise homosexuality, activists say at least 150 LGBT people have been arrested by 'morality police' since 2013.

A new report from France suggests that homophobic acts have increased by 78%, but journalist Marc Naimark explores whether homophobia in the country has risen or just the awareness of the problem.

A New Zealand father was arrested for beating his daughter because he suspects her of being a lesbian. In the US, New York police have charged a man in the brutal beating of a gay couple in the notoriously 'gay friendly' Chelsea neighborhood.

In Pakistan, four trans women were murdered in one week in two separate incidents. In the last week in Turkey, seven trans women have been attacked in three cities. And in the US, a trans woman in Philadelphia was the 10th trans person to be murdered and a Wisconsin teen was the 10th young trans person to commit suicide in 2015.

Also from the US, LGBT prisoners are 15 times more likely to be victims of rape than other prisoners, despite the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. And in Indonesia, a new survey found that nearly 90% of LGBTI people have experienced abuse, with over 45% victims of sexual assault.

School Days: Out of South Africa, the Higher Education and Training HIV Programme has found that gay and bisexual students suffer high rates of violence, with more than one in ten reported being raped. A new study in Latin America found that 40% of gay and lesbian students and 65% of transgender students have suffered bullying.

In the UK, during the National Association of Head Teachers' conference, some participants reported that they had received death threats for teaching students about homophobia.

The Global Alliance for LGBT Education has published country scores rating nations' implementation of the right to education for LGBTI students. Of all the states assessed, only 9.5% are supportive of LGBTI students, 24% deny LGBTI student rights, and 21.5% are considered ambiguous. The Alliance further noted that most LGBTI activists are more focused on survival than on education.

Winds of Change: In Nepal, a lesbian rights organization has set up a temporary outdoor space to supply meals and social services to earthquake victims after their own facility was damaged. The group stated: "This is about showing solidarity over the fear that the multiple quakes and aftershocks have engendered."

In the Ukraine, a new campaign is using billboards to fight intolerance faced by vulnerable groups. The billboards urge people to "speak properly" to LGBT people, Jews, Roma, women, people with disabilities, and people living with HIV. In Canada, a new LGBT human rights group has been launched to advance Canadian involvement in global LGBT human rights issues.

Despite concerns of growing conservatism in Turkey, a new poll across 26 Turkish cities found a positive shift in perception on women's rights and LGBTI acceptance.

ILGA - the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association - has launched the 10th edition of its annual report on state-sponsored homophobia. The findings include a drop in criminalizing countries from 92 countries to 76 countries.

Transgender Europe has released a new report with detailed findings on the rights of trans people across the continent. The report includes a comparison of laws and protections of where it is safe to be transgender. And in show of growing acceptance of gender diversity, the Oxford English dictionary is adding a new gender neutral honorific: 'Mx' alongside Mr, Ms, and Mrs.

In the Name of Religion: The National Council of Churches in the Philippines has said their approach to gender, sex, and sexuality has contributed to the spread of HIV and AIDS by marginalizing LGBT people.

The German Catholic Church voted to adjust labor laws and allow lay employees to keep their jobs even if they divorce or enter into same-sex civil unions. In the US, an initiative by the Human Rights Campaign aims to bring discussion on religion, faith, and sexuality to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

And leaders of the International North Point Ministries organization are clashing over LGBT rights. While the evangelical group leader Charles Stanley has regularly made strong anti-LGBT statements, now his son, Pastor Andy Stanley, says church should be the 'safest place on the planet' for all, including gay students.

The World of Business: A Russian politician plans to sue Apple for violating the anti-gay propaganda bill when it automatically sent iPhone users the new U2 album because the album cover features two shirtless men: drummer Larry Mullen Jr. shielding his 18-year-old son in a protective embrace.

In the US state of Texas, lawmakers are considering anti-gay legislation. Although the business community was integral in stopping discriminatory bills when similar legislation was considered by Indiana, Arkansas, and Arizona, Texas leaders have yet to offer public support of the LGBT community.

In Hong Kong, Community Business has released its inaugural LGBT Workplace Inclusion Index to encourage diversity and inclusion in the corporate world.

Sports and Culture: As Kazakhstan competes to host the 2022 Winter Games, 27 Olympic and Paralympic athletes have called on the International Olympic committee to take a stand on Kazakhstan's anti-gay legislation which, they say, is"incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement."

This summer Latvia will be the first Eastern bloc country to host the annual Europride festival. Austria is celebrating international Eurovision Song Contest with new permanent traffic lights that display gay couples crossing the road. And in the UK, Transport for London is 'celebrating diversity' with a rainbow taxi, bus, and rainbow pedestrian stripes.

After a Russian sub was spotted lurking around the Swedish border, The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society placed a glowing, animated sign in the water that reads “Welcome to Sweden – Gay since 1944.”

On a TV game show in the US, a Jeopardy contestant shut down his homophobic haters. In Italy, a dancer proposed to his boyfriend on national television. And in a moving article, Irish TV journalist Ursula Halligan explains how the Irish marriage referendum led her to come out of the closet.

Fulfilling his mother's wishes, an Indian gay activist contacted all the local papers until he found one willing to publish his "Groom Wanted" ad. After other papers rejected the ad on legal grounds, Mid-Day accepted the ad saying:
"A marriage is a meeting of minds, of souls. At Mid-day, we believe that human rights should be applicable to all, regardless of religion, caste, colour, sexual orientation, etc. Therefore, a mother seeking a union for her gay son is perfectly normal."
A group of straight bodybuilders have joined LGBT YouTube activists to create a video to combat bullying. And finally, check out this series of videos about growing up gay in Kenyan from activists, lawyers, chefs, and scientists. The interviews all include advice and messages of hope to the next generation.

photo credit: Sam Boal