Break this vicious circle

One form of fundamentalism or extremism is not a justification for another. Each is a reinforcing reminder of the global humanist crisis that lies before us. We must break out of this vicious circle that will leave youth globally facing a political landscape offering only a bleak choice of competing extremisms.

~ Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune in her report to  the Human Rights Council

From the UN:  SOGI Independent Expert Vitit Muntarbhorn completed his first country visit to Argentina where he met with federal and provincial officials, NGOs, civil society, and other stakeholders. Muntarbhorn applauded innovations in legislation, including the Gender Identity Law, marriage equality, and the Law on Comprehensive Sexual Education. He acknowledged that violence and discrimination continue to be “a major concern”, especially among “vulnerable and invisible” transgender women who are often forced into sex work. 

The 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with the theme “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work”, is drawing to a close in New York. Over 8,600 people participated, including Member States, civil society, and UN representatives. Several events were held throughout the week that highlighted lesbian, bisexual, trans, and intersex individuals. ARC International provided a breakdown of some of the important questions affecting LBTI persons.

The 34th session of the Human Rights Council will conclude in Geneva on 24 March. In her second report to the Council, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune evaluated the rise of diverse forms of fundamentalism and extremism across cultures and nations. Bennoune noted: “particular attention” must be paid to the impact extremism has on encouraging violence and discrimination against LGBTI individuals, women, and other minorities.

At a separate event, Ahmed Shaheed, the new Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, delivered his first report to the Council that emphasized the individual right to practice a religion of one’s choice or to practice no religion at all. The report went on to note: 

“It must be clear, however, that the right to freedom of religion or belief does not give the individual – as a right-holder – the power to marginalize, suppress, or carry out violent acts against other individuals and those in vulnerable situations, such as women or members of the LGBTI community, under the guise of manifesting their religion, or as constituting the “moral high-ground.”

Member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) issued a series of responses to the report that condemned the inclusion of LGBTI rights in the report. 

HIV, Health, and Wellness:  The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned that a Hepatitis A outbreak has spread across 13 EU countries. The majority of cases were reported among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. 

Australian Professor Martin Holt discussed how perceptions of ‘safe sex’ have shifted in the era of PrEP and what that means for HIV prevention. US group AIDS United urged health providers to better educate patients on the role of ‘undetectable sex’ and viral suppression. 

Buzzfeed profiled Greg Owen, a British man who, upon discovering he was HIV-positive, invested his energy into helping other gay and bisexual men understand and access PrEP. Epidemiologists suggest his efforts were a significant factor leading to a 40% drop in London’s new HIV infections in 2016.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has deleted questions on LGBT people from federal surveys meant to assess services for disabled people and programming for older Americans. It also canceled data collection on homeless LGBT youth. 

A new statistical analysis of 193 countries found that countries that criminalize homosexuality also report "implausibly low" size estimates of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men in the country. Because population size is used to assess HIV targets, the authors warn that these countries are exaggerating their success implementing HIV prevention and care.

Researchers in Vietnam performed in-depth interviews with HIV-positive gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men and found that many were not linked to care or not taking antiretroviral therapy.  

A new Peruvian study investigated the reluctance of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men and transgender women to obtain the HPV vaccine. An estimated 61% of HIV-negative MSM have HPV, while an estimated 93% of HIV-positive MSM have HPV coinfections. 

AIDS and Behavior published a systematic review examining strategies undertaken by gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who are identified as ‘high risk’ for HIV yet have remained HIV-negative. 

US journalist Michael Hobbes wrote about the "epidemic of gay loneliness", supported by research studies on gay men and their experiences with depression, substance abuse, and poor physical health. Although heralded by many, others reflected on what the essay overlooked, including research on the resilience of gay men and the complications of intersectionality on health outcomes.

UK charity Terrence Higgins Trust launched Friday/Monday, a new digital resource for gay and bisexual men that provides extensive information on drugs, alcohol, sex, and general wellness and offers free online counseling services. The launch comes as many traditional LGBTQ support groups have had funding slashed under the British government’s austerity program. 

Australia’s federal government cut funding to decades-long Indigenous sexual health programs due to “limited evidence” of impact found following a desktop review.  The organizations argue that the Indigenous community, especially marginalized LGBTQI, will be less likely to seek care from other sources. 

Lebanese medical professionals held their first “LGBT health week” with a focus on how marginalization impacts health. The event comes in the wake of Judge Rabih Maalouf’s January ruling that homosexuality should not be a punishable offense. The country’s LGBT community can still be targeted under Article 534 criminalizing acts that “contradict the laws of nature”. 

From the UK, new research found that a majority of lesbian, bisexual, and other women who have sex with women experience discrimination when accessing healthcare, are often provided with inaccurate sexual health advice, and are discouraged from cervical screenings.  

From the Netherlands, activist group Principle 17 published a report that found 43% of surveyed transgender individuals have had negative experiences when accessing basic healthcare.

From the World of Politics:   The European Parliament adopted a new gender equality report that includes calls to strengthen rights and protections for LGBTI people in the workplace, to support LGBTI refugees, and urges the Council to “as soon as possible” reach a common position on the equal treatment of persons “irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age, gender or sexual orientation”. 

With legislation introduced to the national parliament, Iceland will become the first country to require all public and private employers to provide equal pay to workers regardless of gender, sexuality, or ethnicity. 

The Prime Minister of Malta spoke at a celebration of the 40th annual Commonwealth Day held at Westminster Abbey during which he called attention to the 40 Commonwealth countries that continue to enforce anti-LGBT laws.

In Canada, Nunavut and New Brunswick passed trans rights bills that add gender expression and gender identity to each of their Human Rights Acts.  

The Parliament of Japan is reviewing an amendment to the sex crime law that includes an expanded definition of rape that will protect all genders from forced sexual intercourse. Japan also recently elected its second ever trans person to public office. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement expressing “deep concern” about the US Department of Education and Department of Justice actions rolling back protections for trans and gender-nonconforming students. 

In the US, South Dakota passed a bill allowing adoption agencies to use religious criteria to screen out potential parents, including LGBT, interracial couples, and people of other faiths. The bill is the first of several anti-LGBT state bills pending approval. Despite changes at state and federal level, many local municipalities, including small towns in conservative districts, have passed LGBT nondiscrimination measures. Local leaders believe LGBT-friendly policies will attract jobs and investment to smaller markets. 

In Hungary, mayor László Toroczkai wants his small town of Ásotthalom to be a refuge for Christians who don’t want to live in a “multicultural society” and has enacted local regulations banning “gay propaganda”.  

The Politics of Union:  Romania’s Parliament is considering a bill to legalize civil unions between same-sex couples as a compromise between religious groups who raised 2.7 million signatures opposing marriage equality and LGBT rights groups. 

In Germany, the Social Democratic Party announced a new push to legalize marriage equality in the country. 

In Taiwan, the Judicial Yuan Constitutional Court will convene on 24 March to consider if the prohibition against same-sex marriage violates constitutional rights. Religious organizations rallied outside the Yuan, urging justices not to accept marriage equality for political gain. 

Let the Courts Decide:  The UK Supreme Court heard a case to allow same-sex couples full rights to their partners’ pension benefits. The current law allows companies to withhold pensions earned prior to 2005 when UK civil partnerships were legalized.

In Tunisia, a trial court in Sousse sentenced two young men accused of homosexuality to 8 months in prison. The 20 and 21-year-old were arrested in December for "looking gay" and forced to undergo "anal examinations". 

The Lagos High Court of Nigeria issued an arrest warrant for a man accused of operating a members-only gay bar after another man filed a complaint about the establishment with officials.

In South Africa, the Seshego Equality Court found a school principal guilty of discriminating and harassing a transgender student because of her gender identity. 

The US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that current workplace discrimination laws do not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

In the Name of Religion:  The US-based Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), a mosque of over 5,000 families, banned the group “Just Want Privacy” from collecting signatures for a campaign opposing transgender rights. The group confirmed that they are targeting mosques for their campaign, believing Muslims share their ideas about gender.

In Australia, Somali-born Nur Warsame is the country’s first openly gay Imam. He spoke out about intolerance and sexual identity within the Muslim and greater Australian community. 

Jamaican attorney and activist Maurice Tomlinson wrote of the Church of England’s role in the decriminalization of private same-sex acts between men in England and Wales. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, Tomlinson discussed how the Global Anglican Communion can continue to impact the decriminalization of LGBTI people worldwide

Fear and Loathing:  In Brazil, a gang was caught on video verbally and physically assaulting a trans woman in the street. In the video, Dandara dos Santos can be heard begging for her life before she is beaten to death. Following the public release of the footage, eight men have been arrested. 

In Saudi Arabia, the Pakistani embassy is investigating claims that two Pakistani trans activists were tortured and died while in Saudi police custody.

From South Africa, Professor Frans Viljoen and Raymond Leteswalo wrote about the lack of police investigation into the murder of gay university student Bobby Motlanta. They note that despite creating a National Task Team to address hate crimes, the Department of Justice has “largely failed in effectively investigating these crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice”.

Across the US, LGBTQ support centers, nonprofit offices, bars, and schools have seen a surge in vandalism, including drive-by shootings and staff harassment. The Anti-Violence Project launched a new initiative called Communities Against Hate to improve reporting and tracking of LGBTQ violence.

In Fiji, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission urged the community to report hate crimes after a couple of gay men were attacked. The men declined to report the incident out of fear of reprisals. 

Since challenging his country’s laws criminalizing homosexuality in court, Trinidad and Tobago activist Jason Jones has received nearly 50 death threats. Due to his work with the LGBT community, Cameroonian lawyer Michel Togué has been subject to escalating death threats that earned he and his family US asylum status. Togué stayed behind to continue his work with LGBT Cameroons who, he says, “are entitled to be represented in court”.  Human Rights Watch published a video calling for an end to threats against lawyers

Winds of Change:  Ugandan activist Kasha Nabagesera spoke with CNN about how she came to found Uganda’s LGBT movement at only 19-years-old. Eric Gitari, the Executive Director of Kenya's National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), spoke with IFEX about the evolution of LGBTQI+ activism in Kenya.

Following a joint meeting, Australian and New Zealand intersex activists issued the Darlington Statement to galvanize the intersex movement and to call on governments to criminalize "deferrable medical interventions" on children who cannot give personal consent. 

From Hong Kong, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), Chinese University, and 75 major organizations issued a statement urging the government to create LGBT nondiscrimination legislation to allow the region to recruit and retain local and foreign talent.

Wilson Castañeda, the director of Colombian LGBT advocacy group Caribe Afirmativo, discussed opening four "House of Peace" spaces to provide resources to LGBT and other victims of armed conflict. 

A new US poll found that 53% of those surveyed oppose laws that prevent trans people from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. 

Echoing previous studies, support group Ditch the Label published a survey of UK and US 13 to 26-year-olds that found a majority of young people do not identify as exclusively heterosexual. Additionally, 34% do not identify with any of the traditional labels of straight, bisexual, lesbian, or gay.

For the BBC, journalist Brandon Ambrosino explored the evolution of the language of sexuality, noting that “heterosexuality” was invented in the late 1800s and is becoming an outdated concept: 

"Though the hetero/homo divide seems like an eternal, indestructible fact of nature, it simply isn’t. It’s merely one recent grammar humans have invented to talk about what sex means to us..."

On the March:  The Washington Blade spoke to advocacy groups in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala about the challenges LGBT migrants face in the region as they flee from violence

Australian activist Dennis Altman urged those who support LGBTQ+ rights to look beyond the country's debate on marriage equality, warning that LGBTQ+ asylum seekers continue to face violence in detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru. 

In both Canada and the UK, LGBT groups renewed protests against police participation in upcoming pride parades. In both countries, groups called attention to the police's role targeting transgender and racial minorities. 

In Trinidad and Tobago, people carrying pro-LGBT signs participated in a march for women's rights. Youth-led NGO the Silver Lining Foundation said support for the LGBT community was “overwhelming” and signaled that LGBT “stand in solidarity with women” who suffer from “common themes of discrimination, exclusion, and inequality”.

Organizers of the US Los Angeles Pride announced that this year the parade will be replaced with an “LGBTQ Resist March”. Founder Brian Pendleton said he was inspired by the Women’s Marches across the country to unite “unique, diverse, intersectional voices” and support immigrants, people of color, and people of different faiths.

School Days:  hina introduced a new curriculum for primary school students that includes age-appropriate sex education, positive representation of same-sex relationships, and progressive descriptions of gender equality. Although some objected to the content, others applauded, including China’s state media which wrote: “The children of China now have a sexuality education curriculum that we can be proud of, and yet everyone is giving it a thumbs down."

Although Canada’s BC Ministry of Education passed a province-wide requirement that all schools must add explicit policies to protect LGBT students, private schools have been allowed to circumvent the mandate. 

In India, officials of the first school for transgender students announced that the school will accept cisgender students of marginalized castes and religions. School head Vijayraja Mallika said that to obtain societal acceptance transgender students cannot work in isolation.

Business and Technology:  The Economist will host its second annual Pride and Prejudice, a 24-hour event in Hong Kong, London, and New York focusing on LGBT diversity and inclusion in business. 

In response to so-called "bathroom laws", US review website and app Yelp has added a feature to search for businesses with gender-neutral bathrooms. 

British Condoms is taking preorders for i.Con, the “world’s first smart condom” that will enable users to measure their sexual activity on a variety of scales. Meanwhile, a Canadian company was sued for selling Bluetooth-enabled vibrators that secretly tracked consumers usage. Standard Innovation Corp. settled out of court for $3.7 million USD.  

Germany’s Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, Heiko Maas, proposed legislation that will impose fines of up to €50 million on tech companies that do not properly respond to hate speech on their platforms. 

From the US, the Hawaii Tourism Authority commissioned studies to determine how best to attract LGBT tourists from mainland US, Canada, China, and Australia. ITB Berlin 2017, the world’s largest tourism fair, announced it will host a series of exhibitors focusing on LGBT services and information on how to expand the LGBT market. For more LGBT tourism information and news, check out gAytlas.

Sports and Culture:   UK's Manchester United football team announced a formal partnership with LGBT charity Stonewall—the first British club partnership of its kind. 

Award-winning Archer Magazine published a four-part series on queer young adult fiction that examines the lack of diversity in the Australian publishing industry.

Photographer Mikael Owunna’s project Limit(less) documents LGBT African immigrants living in the US, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, and Sweden. In Canada, the Men's Health Initiative expanded their "Man-Up Against Suicide" program to include queer men with a new photo exhibit aimed to generate conversation about the need for LGBT–specific suicide prevention.

A new BBC documentary "Gay, trans and illegal in Lebanon" showcases the community as people wonder if the country may soon decriminalize homosexuality. The documentary is available online.

The South African film The Wound is making headlines for its story of gay Xhosa men and the exploration of how Xhosa culture tolerates homosexual ‘behavior’ among adolescents, but following initiation ceremonies, expects men “to leave those sort of childish proclivities behind”. 

Beauty and the Beast had a record-breaking opening weekend despite protests over a gay character.  After Disney refused to release a version of the film cutting the character, Russia gave the film a 16+ rating, Malaysia has indefinitely withheld the film’s release, and some US cinemas canceled screenings. 

Finally, check out the video campaign TRANSparent that lets transgender Serbians explain why the country should pass a Gender Identity Law.