"I simply want to do the work I'm passionate about, and be seen by the people around me the way I see myself."
~ Alex Hai, the first openly trans gondolier in Venice, Italy
From the UN: UNAIDS opened its 40th meeting of the Program Coordinating Board with a speech from Special Ambassador and First Lady of Panama, Lorena Castillo de Varela. Urging for zero discrimination in health and education, she noted, “Discrimination is a serious violation of human rights. It is illegal, immoral and inhumane. We all deserve to live with dignity.” Twelve UN agencies released a joint statement committing to work together to end discrimination in health care settings, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The UN Human Rights Committee declared that Australian legislation that prevents married trans people from changing their birth certificates to match their gender identity is in violation of international human rights law. Australian officials contend that gender changes could result in same-sex marriages, currently illegal in the country.
The 35th Session of the UN Human Rights Council included its first ever “Trans Advocacy Week” with activists and international LGBTI rights groups meeting for strategic planning with inputs from the UN Special Rapporteur on Health, the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions. Micah Grzywnowicz, from the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights (RFSL), noted:
“Trans activists and trans issues have never been so visible at the Human Rights Council and UN spaces at large. This has been truly historic week and a start of a larger and sustained engagement with the UN.”
HIV, Health, and Wellness: The South African National AIDS Council launched its first ever LGBTI national HIV plan. The plan targets health, empowerment, psychosocial support, human rights, and evaluation impacting the LGBTI community.
From the UK, a new report found that gay and bisexual black British men continue to be disproportionately more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than their white counterparts. The report follows US warnings that one in two African-American gay and bisexual men will be infected with HIV if current rates continue. Meanwhile, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned in protest because, they claim, the current administration “has no strategy”, “seeks zero input from experts”, and “pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV”.
Out of California, the Transgender Law Center launched Positively Trans (T+), a new US project led by community members to support trans people impacted by or living with HIV/AIDS. Meanwhile, in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, a new center dedicated to LGBT healthcare opened to provide HIV services and monitoring of health for trans individuals using hormones or recovering from surgeries performed abroad.
In Bangkok, over 150 HIV and community health workers participated in a 3-day consultation on how to use social media to reach gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men with HIV education and information on testing and treatment. In Australia, the Victorian AIDS Council and BeyondBlue launched ‘Digital Acceptance Learning and Empowerment’ (DALE), a new website to support men who are experiencing anxiety or depression while exploring their same-sex attraction.
From the World of Politics: For the first time, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights recognized the status of human rights defenders. The Commission published Resolution 376 from the 60th Ordinary Session that explicitly expresses concerns about “new challenges” and increased threats to those working on issues such as the right to health, the fight against HIV, reproductive health, and sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Organization of American States (OAS) adopted a resolution on human rights that included a condemnation of all forms of violence and discrimination against a person based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The OAS called on states to properly investigate hate crimes and to ensure the protection of LGBTI human rights defenders.
In another first, the Commonwealth Member States approved the accreditation of an LGBTI-focused organization—the Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN). Considering 36 of the 52 Commonwealth Member States continue to criminalize same-sex activity, activists hope that the accreditation will give LGBTI people a stronger role in civil society.
The Indonesian Embassy in Washington responded to international outcry over recent raids, mass arrests of suspected homosexuals, and an announced anti-LGBT “task force” stating that it safeguards the rights of all minority groups while considering “religious and cultural values that must be upheld”.
The Canadian government passed new protections for transgender and nonbinary individuals with legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression.
Addressing the UK Parliament, Queen Elizabeth issued a pledge to “further progress” tackling discrimination against people on “the basis of their race, faith, gender, disability, or sexual orientation”.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Timor Leste released a video statement declaring his support for LGBT Timorese in which he emphasized that: "Discrimination, disrespect and abuse towards people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity does not provide any benefit to our nation."
In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic made headlines when he nominated Ana Brnabić to be the country’s first female prime minister. Although many lawmakers opposed Brnabić, who is openly a lesbian, the nomination was confirmed in a vote.
Elected officials and advocates from around the world attended Spain's WorldPride International Human Rights Conference and hundreds of thousands marched in the concluding parade. Speaking at the event, former prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland’s first female PM and the world’s first openly lesbian head of government, noted that LGBT rights, gender, and intersex rights are connected:
“There will never be gender balance or any other balance without freedom or love; brotherly love, sisterly love, romantic love.”
The Politics of Union: The Lithuanian Parliament failed to pass a proposal that would have given legal status to same-gender couples. Although the motion was rejected, executive director of Lithuanian Gay League, Vladimir Simonko said support for same-sex families is “slowly gaining momentum”.
The Parliament of Malta is set to debate its Marriage Equality Bill during its current session. The bill will also allow husbands to adopt their wives’ surnames.
In Germany, party leaders from the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the Free Democrats (FDP) each announced they would refuse to join any government coalition that did not introduce marriage equality to the country. In response, Chancellor Angela Merkel lent support to a snap parliamentary vote. On Friday, the Bundestag, the German parliament, voted to legalize same-sex marriage and to allow same-sex couples to jointly adopt children.
The Faroe Islands finally achieved marriage equality a year after the parliament voted in favor of the change. As part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the new legislation had to be approved by the Danish government before being put into practice.
Let the Courts Decide: The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia’s law “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values”—otherwise known as the Gay Propaganda law—is discriminatory and violates freedom of expression. The seven-judge panel noted that through the law the government “reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia, which was incompatible with the values of a democratic society”.
In the US, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed the enforcement of Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 “religious freedom” law. The bill permits individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on issues of employment, housing, adoption, and medical services when it contradicts their religious beliefs. Despite the ruling, a majority of Mississippi residents oppose using religious beliefs as a basis to discriminate. An in-depth survey on discrimination found that 61% of all Americans oppose allowing business owners to refuse LGBT people services due to their religious beliefs.
Also in the US, 50 companies, including Google, CBS, and Microsoft, submitted a brief to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to urge the court to rule that LGBT employees should be protected by laws banning sex discrimination in the workplace. They argue that discrimination against LGBT employees is a barrier to recruitment and retention of talent.
Fear and Loathing: The only LGBT club in Kyrgyzstan was evicted. The lesbian couple who owned and managed the space say this is the third time the club has been forced to move in just two years without reasonable cause.
From China, PFLAG volunteer Jiancheng discussed coming to terms with his own sexuality and supporting his transgender son. Jiancheng’s explained why so many LGBT Chinese feel they must remain hidden or face fear and rejection.
From Odisha, India, a new study found that most trans people do not wish to be officially identified and registered for fear of discrimination. Study lead, Professor Niraj Kumar explained that without reliable data, it is difficult to implement effective welfare programs.
A new UK report found there has been a 35% increase in reported hate crimes against LGBT+ since marriage equality was introduced in 2014. As the UK’s Conservative party joins with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)—known for its “appalling view on gay rights”, some worry the environment will only get worse for LGBT and other marginalized groups.
Activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo warn that human rights violations against LGBTI Congolese are routinely ignored by police and other officials.
Winds of Change: On the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (26 June), international activist group GATE pledged support to eradicate of “all forms of ill-treatment and torture taking place in healthcare settings, including those affecting intersex, and gender diverse and trans people”. Elsewhere, young intersex activists spoke to Teen Vogue to discuss what intersex means, how they personally have been impacted by unnecessary surgeries, and the human rights of intersex children.
Although India’s penal code was adjusted in 2009 to decriminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, in 2013 Section 377 was reinstated in full, recriminalizing homosexuality. Some members of the LGBTQ community that came out of the closet in 2009 have found solace through opportunities brought by increasing globalization.
Meanwhile, globalization has left the Iraqi LGBT community caught between cultures, as exemplified when the US Consulate General in Erbil hoisted a rainbow flag despite the criminalization of gay relations in Iraqi and Kurdish law.
From Malta, Boris Dittrich of Human Rights Watch investigated how the country has made seemingly rapid advancements in LGBTI rights since its integration with the European Union.
Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, issued a directive calling for more diversity in the military, including a comprehensive effort to recruit women, “new citizens”, and LGBT Canadians. Dr Alan C. Okros, professor at Canadian Forces College, noted that to make a stronger military they need people with different views and skill sets:
“This isn't a luxury; this isn't social engineering, this isn't political maneuvering or political correctness. This is now an operational requirement.”
In the Name of Religion: During its next General Synod, the Church of England will debate how to welcome transgender people into the church with possible liturgies to address gender transition.
Last year’s attack on US gay club Pulse has inspired communities across the world to find ways to celebrate together. In the US, LGBT Muslims and allies in Minnesota passed out invitations at clubs and cafés for an Iftar gathering, despite resistance from both Muslim and LGBT communities. In the UK, London held its second ever “Big Gay Iftar” in a packed room with a lengthy waiting list. And in Malaysia, the Pelangi Campaign held “Remembering Orlando: Courage in the Face of Adversity”during an Iftar that brought supporters and activists from around the region.
After eight years of obstacles, a female imam named Ani Zonneveld has opened Germany’s first “liberal” mosque that allows all Muslims, regardless of gender, sexuality, or denomination.
From Nepal, Sunil Babu Pant, founder of LGBTIQ organization the Blue Diamond Society, discussed how Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism practice marginalization and impact inequality and human rights.
On the March: In Turkey, supporters of the Pride parade attempted to march despite a ban issued by the Istanbul Governor’s Office. A heavy police presence sealed off the planned route and forced gatherers to disperse, witnesses said, by firing rubber bullets, releasing police dogs, and detaining several activists.
In Ireland, thousands marched to support marriage equality. In the Ukraine, over 2,000 people participated in a Pride march through central Kiev as police contained counter-protesters. In Singapore, over 20,000 attended Pink Dot festival, despite new government regulations that banned participation from foreigners and international companies.
Check out this interactive video from the New York Times that lets you experience Pride events in Israel, China, Ireland, Brazil, and the Ukraine.
Some question the purpose of Pride in an ever changing society. Some US Prides were renamed “Resist” or “Equality” marches. Reporter Shannon Keating wondered how to balance the party and the protest. Meanwhile in Canada and elsewhere, Black Lives Matter members have clashed with organizers, demanding a safe space for transgender and people of color who are disproportionately targeted by police.
From the UK, journalist Justin Myers wonders if the message #LoveisLove has diluted the meaning of Pride. From the US, author Krista Burton wonders if the commercialization of Pride has excluded queers like herself from participating. And from the Philippines, Patrick Pascual spoke with people “at the fringes not just of society, but even of the LGBT community” and wondered if Pride truly celebrates the “rainbow diversity” if only some people can afford to access it.
School Days: uman Rights Watch published a new report on discrimination against LGBT students in the Philippines that details the bullying and harassment students face, compounded by discriminatory policies and a lack of support services.
From Hong Kong, a new comprehensive survey found that secondary students’ knowledge of sex has decreased even as more students are watching explicit material online. Describing the situation as “absolutely outrageous”, activist Tommy Chen said that the lack of sex education, especially for LGBT youth, will contribute to a predicted rise in HIV infections.
In the UK, seven private religious schools have failed inspections by the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services, and Skills for refusing to teach about LGBT topics. Meanwhile, an extensive report by the UK group Stonewall found that 45% of lesbian, gay, and bi students and 64% of trans students have been bullied at school. Additionally, 40% reported they have never been taught any LGBT issues at school.
Business and Technology: From Japan, Goldman Sachs General Counsel, Naosuke Fujita and his colleague Hiroki Inaba were awarded the “Outstanding International Corporate Counsel Award” by the American Bar Association for their organization Lawyers for LGBT & Allies Network, which works to eliminate discrimination and promote marriage equality.
Although only 5% of LGBT Chinese are said to live “openly”, the country’s LGBT market is now the third largest in the world, behind Europe and the US. Meanwhile, the China Netcasting Services Association released new strict regulations to censor online content, including "obscene" or “abnormal sexual behaviors" such as homosexuality.
In India, international companies including IBM, Shell, Barclays, and ING, joined the symposium “LGBT Workplace — Expanding the Dialogue in India” to address the challenges faced by LGBT employees and to discuss how to balance inclusion and diversity when a company has offices in different countries with a wide range of values.
Celebrating Pride, Irish tech group Connector released a new Chrome extension that filters online content, replacing LGBT+ slurs with positive adjectives. While many used Twitter to send Pride tweets, one of the most retweeted was a message from iconic children’s show Sesame Street showcasing Muppets of rainbow colors and the message: “Sesame Street is proud to support families of all shapes, sizes, and colors.”
Sports and Culture: It was announced that international model, actor, and drag queen RuPaul is set to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Meanwhile, writer Caroline Framke reflected on how drag culture has become embraced by a new generation, especially cis-gender teen girls.
In Venice, Italy, the first person to become a female gondolier after fighting against the gondolier guild’s male-only tradition has now come out as trans. Having once worked for equal rights for women, Alex Hai said he came out because “I simply want to do the work I'm passionate about, and be seen by the people around me the way I see myself.”
For the first time, a town in Iceland nominated a trans woman to represent the Fjallkona or Lady of the Mountain, considered to be the national personification of Iceland during Iceland’s National Day.
The Australian Broadcasting Company and Screen Australia announced a new initiative to support LGBTQI filmmakers that will provide ten filmmakers $10,000 and a broadcast slot on the ABC Arts channel. The Initiative for Equal Rights has produced a new Nigerian drama Everything In Between, a film that "humanizes" LGBT issues—check out the trailer.
Finally, watch this charming short from StoryCorps that animates a man’s story of coming to terms with his sexuality in the 1950s with the help of his dairy farmer father.
photo via South African National AIDS Council