“We have much to lose, so much to protect”
~ UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein at the Opening ceremony of the 34th session of the Human Rights Council
From the UN: UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the opening of the 34th Human Rights Council. In his first speech to the HRC, Guterres urged governments to speak up, saying "Disregard for human rights is a disease". He also called attention to the abuses faced by refugees, migrants, and LGBTI people.
On 1 March the UN kicked off celebrations for Zero Discrimination Day on this year's theme to 'make some noise' for zero discrimination in healthcare settings. Launched by UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé in 2014, the event is a call to people everywhere to promote and celebrate everyone’s right to live a full life with dignity—no matter what they look like, where they come from, or whom they love.
UN Free & Equal launched a new campaign to combat anti-LGBTIQ bullying with an animated short called "The Lesson", about a boy whose friendship with a girl becomes problematic after his mother sees her kiss another girl.
Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN Independent Expert (IE) will make his first country trip to Argentina to assess progress on eliminating violence against LGBTI people. During the visit, Muntarbhorn will meet with government representatives, civil society organizations, and individuals in three provinces to identify good practices and provide recommendations. His findings will be presented at the Buenos Aires UN Information Center and a future Human Rights Council.
HIV, Health, and Wellness: The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) reported that over the last ten years the demographics of HIV diagnosis among migrant groups has shifted. HIV has declined among migrants from sub-Saharan African countries, while HIV diagnoses have increased among migrants from Central Europe, especially among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.
Using genetic analysis of HIV samples, a UK study found that 18% of HIV-positive men who identify as “exclusively heterosexual” carry an HIV strain most likely acquired from another man.
The US CDC released a new report that found the rate of HIV infection in the country has declined over the last six years. However, among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men aged 25 to 34-years-old HIV infections rose 35% during the same period. Additionally, infections among Latino gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men increased by 20%.
A new US study using a serial cross-sectional survey of men attending Pride parades between 1995 and 2015 discovered that as faith in the effectiveness of HIV medications has increased, men perceive AIDS to be less dangerous and are more likely to engage in condomless sex.
The Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) published “PrEParing Asia: A Year After” that reviews the efforts of APCOM, UNAIDS, WHO, and other development agencies and civil society groups to roll out pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) across China, Hong Kong SAR, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
In Thailand, a video to promote zero discrimination produced by UNAIDS, the Ministry of Public Health, and the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/Aids (TNP+) will play in 1,000 public hospitals across the country.
In the journal Culture, Health & Sexuality, author Gary Dowsett explored how HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention has influenced the commodification of sex and impacted both culture and politics surrounding the gay community.
Taiwan’s CDC warned that an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant strain of Shigella infection has been identified in northern and central Taiwan among men who have sex with men. Meanwhile, Ireland’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre reported its second outbreak of Shigella within a year—the most recent outbreak is multi-drug resistant.
In a recent study, transgender children living openly in their identified gender had positive mental health indicators comparable with cisgender children. In comparison, previous studies have shown children who do not socially transition have substantially higher rates of depression and anxiety compared with other children.
From the World of Politics: The Islamic Development Department of Malaysia released a new video explaining how to approach the LGBT community. The video has garnered mixed reactions—although it emphasizes that sexual orientation can be changed and encourages individuals to subdue desires, some have praised the video for speaking without hatred.
Tanzania's Ministry of Health issued a statement declaring the government's intention to close drop in centers that provide HIV testing and counseling and other services, after a special governmental task force accused them of encouraging homosexuality. The Minister also announced that health workers are undergoing training to learn how to positively work with special communities, including men who have sex with men. Meanwhile, the Deputy Health Minister announced they no longer plan to “publish a list of gay people”.
Japan’s National Personnel Authority (NPA) issued new regulations stating that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected by sexual harassment guidelines. The NPA regulates all national public employees.
The local assembly of Budapest, Hungary adopted a new equality program that for the first time includes plans to work with sexual and gender minorities as a vulnerable group.
In the US, the Justice Department and the Education Department announced the new administration would no longer support transgender student protections on a federal level, stating that decisions should be made by each state. Due to this change, the US Supreme Court decided it will not hear a case which could have clarified if transgender students are protected by Title IX of the Education Amendments. Across Europe, transgender activists and students spoke out against the US policy and reflected how it could impact trans rights in their countries.
The US Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry will maintain his position under the new administration.
New Zealand Justice Minister Amy Adams announced the government will allow people convicted of homosexuality to apply for pardons.
In Ecuador, where voters must line up by sex, new legislation allowing people to change gender on their identity cards gave transgender citizens the ability to vote as the gender they identify for the first time.
Check out activist Peter Tatchell’s roundup of LGBTI community gains across the globe in 2016—from the decriminalization of homosexuality in Nauru and Belize to improvements in gender identity laws in Lebanon, Vietnam, and Bolivia.
The Politics of Union: In Slovenia, the first same-sex marriage was celebrated as new legislation came into effect bringing marriage equality to the country.
The Finnish Parliament rejected a petition signed by over 100,000 citizens to stop the legalization of marriage equality. The law was passed in 2014 and will go into effect in March.
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen issued a 144-point platform for the government that includes revoking legalization of same-sex marriage and surrogacy.
The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, released a statement defending the need for legal recognition of same-sex marriages and emphasizing the difficulties faced by “rainbow” families.
US states Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas have put forward legislation to redefine marriage as a union between a man and a woman despite the 2015 Supreme Court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges. In a new study, researchers found that suicide attempts by US LGBTQ youth dropped by 14% following the legalization of marriage equality.
Let the Courts Decide: The Okayama Family Court in Japan upheld requirements that transgender people must undergo sterilization before being approved for legal gender change. Plaintiff Takakito Usui has filed an appeal with the Hiroshima High Court.
Although a Guyanese court ruled in 2013 that cross-dressing is legal when not done for "improper purposes", local activists say the phrase "improper purposes" has allowed police and other law enforcement to routinely discriminate against trans people. However, the Court of Appeal dismissed a case seeking clarification, stating that Parliament must define what is improper.
The International Commission of Jurists, an NGO comprised of senior judges, attorneys, and academics, published "Unnatural Offences": Obstacles to Justice in India Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The report examines how LGBTI Indians navigate the police, courts, and both local and international human rights law.
In the Name of Religion: The General Synod of the Church of England voted to reject Bishop recommendations that the Church continue to oppose marriage equality. The vote is not binding, but Bishops must consider it when creating future documents. UK Anglicans spoke out about the continued division within the church.
The UK-based Oasis Foundation published a report exploring how discrimination practiced by church leaders contributes to negativity in the community and poor mental health among LGBT people.
In Barbados, the Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies Dr. John Holder held a press conference during which he said that churches that speak against homosexuality “seem to be misreading and misinterpreting the Bible” and emphasized that all people should be supported and treated equally as children of God.
In the US, one North Carolinian Protestant minister has made waves—becoming her county's first openly LGBTQ commissioner, elected to office despite North Carolina's ongoing fight over House Bill 2 and local LGBT rights.
Also in the US, churches across 11 states participated in “Glitter+Ash Wednesday”. Taking place on Ash Wednesday (1 March) when many Christians mark the beginning of Lent with an ash cross on their foreheads as a visible sign of faith, participating churches offered ash mixed with glitter to support “progressive” and “queer-positive” Christianity.
Fear and Loathing: Seven trans women have been reported murdered in the US so far this year. In El Salvador, three trans women were reported murdered in less than two weeks. And in Pakistan, members of the trans community rallied to protest the murder of a 25-year-old in her own home—the second murder in 15 days.
Also in Pakistan, three trans women were gang raped by a group of 12 men. Trans Action Pakistan took to Facebook to object to the police’s “shameful” mishandling of the crime. Meanwhile, Malaysian police announced that the murder of trans woman Sameera Krishnan was not a hate crime. Local activists criticized the media for using degrading language about the victim.
The Guardian took a look back at Indonesia’s “national hysteria” against the LGBT community throughout 2016 despite a trend from regional neighbors the Philippines, Thailand, and China who released statements supporting non-discrimination.
US journalist Shannon Keating wrote about the complicated history of lesbian identity, its intersection with feminist movements, and the problematic relationship with racism and transphobia.
And UK author Shon Faye wrote about the growing trend of anti-immigrant racism and Islamophobia within the LGBT community from North America to Europe:
“The result harms all involved: those gay people who are co-opted by fascism without realising fascism is fundamentally homophobic at its core and will soon turn on them; the people of colour and refugees scapegoated and reviled as homophobes by heterosexual politicians; and, above all, those who are both queer and a refugee, fleeing persecution in their own country for their sexuality or gender...”
Winds of Change: In Madrid, Spain, authorities impounded a bus belonging to the group Hazte Oir (Make Yourself Heard). Mayor Manuela Carmena was concerned that anti-transgender phrases written on its sides could spark hate crimes.
The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network highlighted the work of nine "hero" LGBT rights activists who have made significant contributions to LGBT equality. The featured activists come from South Africa, Syria, Brazil, Pakistan, Turkey, the US, the UK, Jordan, and Canada.
Indonesian journalist Febriana Firdaus was awarded the inaugural Oktovianus Pogau Award for her reporting on human rights, including anti-LGBT sentiment in Indonesia. The award is presented in honor of human rights journalist Oktovianus Pogau who passed away at the age of 23.
The Peruvian activist, artist, and research collective No Tengo Miedo published Nuestra Voz Persiste, a report that features nearly 800 personal stories of LGBTIQ people.
From the US, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney and trans activist Chase Strangio spoke about fighting within the legal system for LGBTQ rights. From China, attorney and LGBTQ activist Hou Ping discussed how new legislation will force Chinese LGBTQ civil society organizations to look for new avenues of funding support outside of foreign entities.
On the March: China’s Beijing LGBT Centre ran a campaign on Valentine’s Day encouraging LGBT couples to dress in wedding attire and post pictures of themselves at famous landmarks to support marriage equality. Meanwhile, Belgium LGBT activists used Valentine’s day to promote bisexual visibility.
In Croatia, around 1,000 people protested violence and intolerance against the LGBT community after a local nightclub hosting a gay party was attacked with teargas, sparking panic among 300 escaping guests.
In New Zealand, over 3,000 participants and 50 organizations marched in the fifth annual Auckland Pride Festival as several thousand spectators celebrated along the route to support gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, takatapui (Māori word for non-heterosexual), fa'afafine (Samoan third-gender), intersex, and queer communities.
School Days: he Indian Health Ministry launched a new program that will train 165,000 adolescent peer educators called “Saathiya”. The peer educators are being trained in various health issues including sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, and safe sex. Additionally, the training dispels gender stereotypes and calls same-sex attraction natural.
South Korean civic groups spoke out against the Education Ministry’s decision to exclude LGBT topics in new school guidelines. The guidelines have also drawn criticism for stressing abstinence over providing comprehensive sex education.
UK Education Secretary Justine Greening announced plans to make sex and relationships education (SRE) mandatory in all local authority-run schools. Activists have spoken out urging the Secretary to make the SRE inclusive of LGBT issues. Meanwhile, a majority of Scottish Members of Parliament signed a pledge to include sexual and gender identity issues in school curriculum—if the proposal moves forward, Scotland will be the first European parliament to support inclusive education.
Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) is amending the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to specifically include protections on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Ministry invited Human Rights Watch to review the policy which is expected to be finalized in March.
Australian group Rainbow Families launched “School Support Guide” to provide LGBTIQ-parented families and their children with basic tools to answer questions and find ways to engage with their school communities.
Sports and Culture: Zambian church leaders are opposing a proposed change to the Football Association of Zambia constitution which will include a clause that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Last month the National Geographic was lauded for its special issue on the “Gender Revolution” featuring a transgender girl on the US cover for the first time. However, not all the global editions of the magazine were as progressive. Transgender Europe, Czech organization Trans*parent, Hungarian NGO Transvanilla, German group Bundesverband Trans*, among others spoke out on the problematic and misleading information contained in several of the international editions.
The Economist profiled Jin Xing, a superstar on Chinese television for her variety program The Jin Xing Show, who happens to be transgender and was previously a soldier in the People’s Army. Meanwhile, a Beijing-based online video provider banned videos with content that include the "wrong concept of love, such as homosexuality and extramarital affairs". Chinese LGBT groups are demanding an apology.
Following in Belgium fashion model Hanne Gaby Odiele’s footsteps, Miss South African finalist Sharon Rose Khumalo revealed she is intersex. Meanwhile, Vogue Paris is the first French magazine to feature a trans cover model—Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio.
South African artist Clive van den Berg’s latest exhibit A Pile of Stones is a tribute to the Syrian and Iraqi men and boys accused of homosexuality and brutally executed by ISIS.
Disney's new Beauty and the Beast will feature its first openly gay character. While Disney has often played with ambiguity, the explicit subplot may be a tribute to the original film's lyricist Howard Ashman, who wrote the Beast's story as a metaphor for HIV. Ashman passed away from the disease before the film's 1991 release.
Botswana hosted the fifth annual Batho Ba Lorato Film Festival celebrating LGBTIQ films with this year’s theme ‘Breaking Down the Walls’. Among the highlights was American film Moonlight about an African American gay man growing up in Miami. Moonlight won three Oscars—Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali (the first Muslim-American actor to win an award), and the top prize of Best Picture.
Check out the moving Oscar acceptance speech from playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney: “This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves. We’re trying show you, you and us. This is for you.”