Courage and Determination

“Strong efforts must be made to increase LGBT visibility amongst ordinary Nigerians as well as [showing] the average Nigerian the great strides that are being achieved with regards to LGBT rights in other parts of the world. It is a long and arduous journey ahead and the challenge must be met firmly and with courage and determination.”

~ 25-year-old gay man living in Nigeria to the Bisi Alimi Foundation in their report  Not Dancing to Their Own Music 

From the UN: The UN Security Council paid tribute to outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon celebrating his achievements in office and noting that “the most vulnerable or marginalized have been increasingly heard and assisted by the United Nations". 

During the Secretary General’s term, the UN has taken several steps towards recognizing LGBTI equality, including the first UN Security Council meeting on LGBT issues, high-level meetings of the UN LGBT Core Group, resolutions in the Human Rights Council, and the launch of the Free & Equal campaign.  And in 2015, Ban Ki-moon announced the UN would recognize same-sex marriages and provide spousal benefits to UN staff. 

The UN's first Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity survived another attempt to undercut the position. During a vote on the 2016-2017 program budget, representatives objecting to the Expert proposed an oral amendment suggesting that matters around gender orientation did not have a basis in international law. However, representatives of Argentina and other like-minded states argued that the proposed amendment would reopen a decided issue and would threaten the Human Rights Council’s independence. In a vote the majority opposed the amendment, thereby allowing the Independent Expert to continue unchallenged. 

The Human Rights Council mandate to create the Independent Expert has been challenged several times since the historic vote last summer. ARC International provided a look at the background of each of these challenges

HIV, Health, and Wellness:  This year Russia surpassed 1 million HIV infections and had an estimated 275 new infections per day. Journalist Neil MacFarquhar examined how the continued rise in HIV reflects the tension between civil society and the Kremlin—who earlier this year labeled many AIDS supporting NGOs ‘foreign agents’, banned imported condom sales, and has supported ‘moral education’ for the public while opposing youth sex education.

In China, the rate of HIV among gay men has increased to 27% of new infections—one in 12.5 gay or bisexual men are HIV-positive. Although the government provides HIV drugs free to the public, activists say long-held taboos against discussing sexuality contributes to the continuing rise of HIV within the community.

The US National Institute of Health launched the first large-scale clinical trial of a long-acting injectable drug to prevent HIV, enrolling gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, and transgender women across eight countries. The injection lasts 8 weeks and is expected to safely protect men and transgender women from HIV as well as daily oral PrEP drugs.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic examined the case for PEPFAR—the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—after news emerged that President-elect Trump's transition team sent the State Department a questionnaire measuring the value of foreign aid that specifically called out the AIDS program, asking: “Is PEPFAR becoming a massive, international entitlement program?”

The Philippines Department of Health announced an effort to curb the HIV epidemic that will include distributing condoms at schools for 15 to 24-year-olds and a sex education program with parental involvement. 

Ireland’s Health Service (HSE) announced it is expanding the HPV vaccination program to include gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men under the age of 26. 

LGBT health organization London Friend announced a meeting with drug agencies and related charities to discuss how to reduce sexual violence and overdoses related to chemsex. The Metropolitan police are reviewing 50 deaths believed to be related to chemsex drug GHB.
A new article in International Journal of Drug Policy argues that the perception that drug use is a common behavior among British gay and bisexual men is not supported by data. The authors warn that promoting this perception normalizes the behavior within the community and may influence more people to participate. 

In Australia, activists for intersex people’s rights warn that the government has failed to implement recommendations made in 2013 by a Senate Inquiry to reduce unnecessary “normalizing” surgeries and medical interventions.

From the World of Politics: In a nearly unanimous vote, the Parliament of Chad updated the penal code to make homosexuality a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and suspended prison sentence.

This month, the government of Vietnam enacted an amended Civil Code allowing people who have had sex reassignment surgery the ability to change gender in legal documentation.  

The Philippine House of Representatives approved a bill to establish designated LGBT protection positions at all police stations that will respond to criminal and emergency incidents, including violence and sexual harassment. 

The European Parliament adopted a new report on fundamental rights in the EU that condemns discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The report also notes that “fundamental rights of LGBTI persons are more likely to be safeguarded” when people have access to legal institutions including marriage, cohabitation, legal sex changes, and adoptions.

From the US, the Human Rights Campaign released the State Equality Index, a comprehensive review of legislation affecting LGBT rights and documenting more than 200 anti-LGBT bills filed in state legislatures this past year. Most recently, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington State, Texas, and Kentucky have introduced legislation preventing trans people from using restrooms matching their gender identity—in several cities the legislation will negate local LGBT non-discrimination ordinances.

Following in the steps of leaders around the world, US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a formal apology to hundreds of people who were fired from the State Department due to their suspected sexuality during the 1950s and 60s—the so-called “Lavender Scare”. 

In the UK, the Ministry of Justice accepted an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill that will allow men who were convicted for consensual same-sex relations to apply for pardons. Posthumous pardons will be issued to men who have passed. Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said: “I am deeply sorry that so many men died without being pardoned in this way. I am sorry too that our country was blind to a simple fact – that love is love.

The Politics of Union: The Cherokee Nation, the largest federally recognized Native American tribe in the US, announced it will recognize same-sex marriages. In a statement, the tribe’s Attorney General Todd Hembree said that oral histories “suggest a tradition of homosexuality or alternative sexuality among a minority of Cherokees”.

Across Taiwan, protesters continued to rally for and against marriage equality as the Legislature passed the first draft of a bill to amend the Civil Code to include same-sex couples. The bill will be considered in cross-party consultations this spring. 

Guatemalan congress member Sandra Morán introduced an initiative to amend the Civil Code and legalize same-sex marriage.

Although Mexican courts have ruled in favor of individual petitions for marriage from same-sex couples, an organized backlash against national marriage equality has left many in the LGBT community fearful of losing their rights. 

Let the Courts Decide: The Constitutional Court of Indonesia held another hearing to consider whether extramarital sex between unmarried couples and sexual relations between same-sex people should be criminalized in the Criminal Code. The case, filed last May by Islamic activist group Family Love Alliance, was meant to conclude with the latest hearing but the presiding Justice has extended to allow more witnesses on opposing sides to speak. 

Although the Congress of Peru has yet to legalize same-sex civil unions—a bill on the issue has been considered numerous times since 2010 and rejected or shelved for later discussion—the Constitutional Court ruled that the National Registry of Identification and Civil Status must recognize the marriage of a gay couple performed in Mexico. The National Registry has indicated they will appeal the decision. 

The Lahore High Court of Pakistan ruled that it is a violation of human rights to exclude khawaja sira or hijra people from the National Census. Khawaja sira or hijra is an officially recognized third gender in Pakistan generally referring to people identified male at birth, but who self-identify as female or neither male nor female. 

US District Court Judge Reed O’Connor issued a ruling that allows healthcare service providers to discriminate against transgender people and people seeking abortions if the care violates "their religious beliefs”.

For the first time, a US District Court found a man guilty of violating the Hate Crimes Prevention Act when he violently murdered trans person Mercedes Williamson. Though some praised the ruling, saying it shows that the federal government is willing to take a stand against violence based on gender identity, others pointed out the ruling does little to address the main problem: the rise of violence against transgender women of color. 
In a first of its kind case, a Chinese court in the Guizhou province ruled in favor of a trans man suing his employer for unlawful dismissal. While the court specified the termination was unlawful, the court did not find that the discrimination was based on his gender identity.

An Italian Court of Appeal ruled in favor of a gay couple seeking citizenship for their sons born using a US surrogate. Although the boys were conceived via the same egg donor and shared the same womb, the court declined to recognize them as brothers and only granted parental rights to each child’s genetic father. 

Fear and Loathing:  Zambian LGBT activists and health professionals warned that laws criminalizing homosexuality have created a “toxic” environment where imprisonment, emotional trauma, and violence is common and often leads to drug abuse and suicide.  

The Bisi Alimi Foundation released a new report on LGBTQ Nigerians and the violence and discrimination the community has experienced since the adoption of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2014.

Kenyan LGBT activists spoke to local newspaper The Star about how anti-gay laws that criminalize “indecent” acts have led to ongoing harassment, violence, and extortion against those accused of homosexuality.  

Bangladeshi newspaper The Dhaka Tribune spoke to transgender girls who have been abandoned by their families, yet managed to find hope in the local trans community. 

Somali group al-Shabaab executed a teenager and young man accused of homosexuality. Sheikh Mohamed Abu Abdalla, a regional governor for al Shabaab, told Reuters news agency that a judge read their charges publically and they were found guilty

Out of India, a story of a young man’s rape went viral after he reached out to a friend in the US. The US friend urged him to report the assault to police, but with local laws criminalizing homosexuality, the man is afraid of being arrested. With the man’s permission, the friend posted their conversation to Facebook to bring attention to the dangers and lack of support the gay community has in India. 

On International Human Rights Day opponents of marriage equality from 20 countries met in South Africa to launch a new group called “International Organization for the Family” with their manifesto pledging to defend their definition of marriage. The declaration stated: “We pledge to resist the rising cultural imperialism of Western powers whose governments seek nothing less than the ideological colonization of the family.”

UK advocate Kevin Maxwell reflected on the experience of racism within the LGBT community, noting: “LGBT people cannot ask for equality on one hand and discriminate on the other. It undermines our cause and our integrity.”

US journalist Shannon Keating reflected on growing national hate crimes statistics 19 years after the brutal murder of young gay man led to the creation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Keating questions how backlash against calling out racism, homophobia, & transphobia could be impacting the LGBT movement.

Winds of Change:  The International HIV/AIDS Alliance published a new policy brief examining the impact of ‘hostile human rights environment’ on LGBT communities and HIV and health programs. 

In Cameroon, LGBT rights group Alcondoms provides support groups and HIV education to gay men and other men who have sex with men despite laws that criminalize homosexuality. 

In Iraq, the Kurdish human rights group Rasan Organization and volunteers painted murals at local high schools to bring visibility to LGBTQI+ rights, gender equality, and domestic violence. Although some volunteers were harassed, deputy director Ayaz Shalal reported that due to positive response they hope to spread the campaign to new cities.

And in Costa Rica, the Rahab Foundation works to help transgender youth who have been forced into sex work.

The Williams Institute, global research firm Ipsos, and Buzzfeed collaborated on a comprehensive survey of 23 countries and the public opinion of transgender people and transgender rights. 

ILGA published the first Trans Legal Mapping Report that reviews the laws and legal procedures affecting trans and gender-diverse people around the world. 

Ten Bangladeshi journalists were awarded by the Bandhu Social Welfare Society for reporting on issues affecting transgender people and sexual minorities. 

The National Geographic special edition on the “Gender Revolution” showcased a 9-year-old transgender girl on the cover and explored topics such as expectations of gender, gender diversity, and the challenges faced by children. And the Economist reviewed the way gender identities have been fluid across cultures and nationalities. 

Research and polling firm Gallup released data showing that more people in the US are openly identifying as LGBT than any previous year. Gallup’s 2016 poll found 4.1% of adults—approximately 10 million people identify as LGBT.

Denmark’s Sexology Clinic in Copenhagen revealed that they had vastly underestimated the number of individuals who would seek hormone therapy when they began offering services to children under 18-years-old last January. In May, Denmark officially declared that being transgender is not a mental illness—the first country to make this distinction. 

In the US, New Yorker Sara Kelly Keenan was re-issued a birth certificate designating her gender as “intersex”—the first US birth certificate to recognize the gender category.

On the March:  Montenegro LGBTIQ  activists and allies marched through the capital city to demand anti-discrimination legislation and marriage equality rights. The march, called “Family Values” to urge families to support relatives, was held peacefully under the watchful eye of hundreds of riot police. 

City officials of Bologna, Italy, worked with local LGBTI groups and pro-refugee groups to create housing, counseling, and outreach services specifically for LGBTI refugees. The new accommodations will be adjacent to existing refugee resources.

In the Name of Religion: When Indian trans activist Vijaya Raja Mallika could not find anyone willing to rent facilities for a proposed residential school for transgender people, the Sisters of the Congregation of Mother Carmel opened their buildings to help establish Sahaj International school.  

In Scotland, Reverend John Nugent joined a growing list of religious leaders to support the country’s Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign that seeks new legislation to include LGBTI issues in comprehensive sexuality and relationship education. Noting that traditionally faith was inclusive to all people, Rev. Nugent declared that the “faith agenda” must be “seized back from the bigots and the haters”. 

School Days: Nine UK Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) schools that follow fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity—including that homosexuality is unnatural, evolution is fabricated, and women should be subservient—were downgraded by government inspectors to “inadequate” or “requires improvement” and at one school concluded that “children are at risk”. The ACE curriculum is taught at 26 schools in the UK. 

The UK Parliament rejected an amendment to make sex and relationship education (SRE) mandatory in all UK schools. Speaking against the bill, MP Simon Hoare said the amendment did not allow for faith schools that oppose homosexuality. The Justice Education Minister announced the government plans to bring forward a separate plan to reform SRE. 

After appearing at an event at the US University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee during which he verbally attacked a transgender student, Breitbart editor and alt-right celebrity Milo Yiannopoulos was blocked from appearing at the University of California-Davis by protestors carrying signs that read "Fascism, Hate & Bigotry Will Not Be Tolerated".

The US University of Kansas introduced gender pronoun buttons to students and staff as part of their “You Belong Here” campaign to improve diversity. The buttons were proposed by the library circulation and information desk employees. 

In Australia, members of the group Marriage Alliance used the Christmas holidays to hand out “presents” to school children boarding buses. When unwrapped, the package contained Marriage Alliance pamphlets condemning marriage equality and the anti-LGBT bullying program Safe Schools Coalition.

Sports and Culture:  Israel’s Second Authority for Television and Radio that monitors commercial TV and radio banned a PSA called “Human Rights: Because without I’m not Equal” because it includes statements supporting gay marriage and a statement supporting speaking Arabic. The Authority said advertising must not have "political, social, public or economic matter" that is in "public dispute". 

Pop star George Michael passed away on Christmas. The British singer became an outspoken advocate for HIV and gay rights in the late 90s, unapologetically encouraging sex-positivity.

The Daily Beast presented and in-depth profile of actor Ryan Haddad, whose one-man show Hi, Are You Single? explores being gay and dating while having cerebral palsy.

The New Year brought many reflections on 2016—one standout came from the Advocate that highlighted 21 LGBT Muslims from around the world who have been leaders in fighting Islamophobia and homophobia. 

The first web-series from Nicaragua—MF, La Serie—plans to explore issues of violence, sexuality, and queerness with over 30 film professionals and 300 non-professionals from the community. 

Indian television channel NDTV Prime will broadcast the nation’s first series to include openly gay characters. The show All About Section 377 began as a web-series on YouTube last year.

Finally check out the trailer for biopic Tom Of Finland, the story of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen known for his highly stylized homoerotic art.