“The world cannot allow itself to be silenced by some members of Parliament who are driven by hatred, torture, discrimination and persecution of innocent LGBTI people.”
~ Edwin Sesange, African Equality Foundation
From the UN: The UNDP, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) organized a meeting of government officials, transgender groups, and other human rights and civil society partners to discuss how to advance laws and programs on legal gender recognition throughout South Asia. Among the challenges discussed, Sanji Monageng, the Commissioner for the ICJ, noted that “progressive, fearless and forward-looking judicial officers” were needed who “understand and appreciate the very concept of non-discrimination”.
UNAIDS and the Central African Republic have launched a new initiative to reduce new HIV infections within the military, reduce sexual violence and abuse by security and defense forces, and to increase the uptake of HIV treatment. Working with multiple government ministries, emphasis will be put on training people in reducing gender-based violence, improving mechanisms to report sexual violence, and creating social and psychosocial support programs for members of the military and security forces and their families.
HIV, Health and Wellness: Australia’s state of New South Wales reported its lowest rate of new HIV infections since 1985. Researchers believe the success is linked to a significant population-level roll-out of PrEP. The Lancet HIV published the results of the EPIC-NSW study which followed 3,700 men 18 years old or older from 21 clinics across the state. After the roll-out, researchers found there were 25% fewer HIV diagnoses in New South Wales compared to the 12 months before the roll-out. Compared to other PrEP implementation efforts around the world, the researchers believe this has been much more successful because it was more rapid and had higher coverage—over 9,700 people were enrolled by the study end.
Even with these successes some are debating the impact of PrEP on other STIs. PrEP only provides protection from HIV leaving those who engage in condom-less sex at risk for other infections. Although rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have risen in many parts of the world, early studies were unable to link PrEP to significant shifts in sexual behavior. The latest studies, however, have suggested a link to a modest rise in STIs. Despite this, experts warn against stigmatizing attitudes towards PrEP. As Jean-Michel Molina of Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris noted:
“STIs should not be an excuse to deny PrEP access or to be reluctant about PrEP. That would make no sense.”
In the UK, a spike in syphilis has prompted South West England public health officials to launch a new campaign targeting older men in long term heterosecual relationships who have recently started have sexual contact with other men.
APCOM published a new report documenting 16 different methods of communicating about HIV and promoting behavior changes among young gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men in Southeast Asia. The report was created based on lessons learned in APCOM’s “testXXX” campaign that uses media and technology and “harnessing the power of cutting-edge communications and creativity” to impact uptake of HIV services.
From South Africa, a man who has sex with men described his struggle to overcome his fear and get tested for HIV. The man had suspected he was infected for five years but was only driven to get tested when his symptoms flared up this summer.
A new paper published in the Lancet HIV explores the ethical and human rights issues that should be considered when using new technologies that employ biometric identification such as fingerprints to gather data on HIV. The authors look at how high risk populations—gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, prisoners, and people who inject drugs— who are also most likely to be stigmatized or criminalized could be negatively impacted by biometric surveillance.
In Liberia, the Liberia Anti-AIDS Media Network has launched a new campaign to reduce social stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, sexual minorities, and transgender people. Liberia criminalizes consensual sexual relations between same sex people with up to a year imprisonment. The new campaign hopes to improve public health interventions and will train 20 journalists and civil society members to promote sexual reproductive health rights.
At the opening of the Research for HIV Prevention (HIVR4P) conference being held Spain, activists and public health professionals took over the stage to demand support and funding for short-acting, user-controlled methods for HIV prevention. Jim Pickett, chair of International Rectal Microbicides Advocates (IRMA), read a statement urging NIAID and USAID to use the upcoming funding opportunity announcement to support more prevention methods:
"They have a chance to clarify that they respect what women, gay men and other men who have sex with men, researchers, and other stakeholders have been demanding: choices that aren't all long acting or systemic. We are here to ensure that research serves the people with products they want, not simply what those in power want to develop."
To recognize Intersex Awareness Day (26 October) IGLYO, OII Europe, and European Parents’ Association (EPA), have released "Supporting your intersex child", a toolkit for families that provides advice and resources including information on medical health issues. The toolkit is available in six languages.
From the World of Politics: The Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union has voted to ban all discussion of LGBT rights at future IPU Assemblies. The IPU is an institution of 178 national parliaments for political multilateral negotiations. During past assemblies, its Committee on Democracy and Human Rights decided a debate would be held on the role parliaments have in ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and protecting the human rights of LGBTI people. Vigorous opposition to the topic previously postponed the debate and the latest vote will prevent it from moving forward. Many objected to the vote including Edwin Sesange, Director of the African Equality Foundation:
“The world cannot allow itself to be silenced by some members of parliaments who are driven by hatred, torture, discrimination, and persecution of innocent LGBTI people.”
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) approved a resolution stating that private life and family life is a fundamental right. As such, it calls on states to align their laws with the European Court of Human Rights to protect same-sex couples and rainbow families. This includes recognition of unions, access to medical care, property rights, adoption, gender recognition, and more.
In Australia, a report from the Religious Freedom Review, commissioned by members of Parliament, was leaked to the public. While the review calls for protection of intersex people, it also says that schools should be allowed to discriminate against students, staff, and contractors on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or relationship status when those things contradict a school’s religion or publicly available policy. Many have spoken out against the report leading Prime Minister Morrison to announce that “as soon as practicable” an amendment would be introduced to protect students from being expelled due to their sexuality. Meanwhile, the Senate is divided on whether protections should be in place for LGBT teachers and other school staff. Over 50 organizations released a joint statement calling on the government to amend outdated laws and protect not only gay students but also trans and gender diverse children and all LGBTQ staff.
Uruguay’s Congress passed the Comprehensive Law For Trans People. The law enables people to self-identify their gender, provides support for trans people in education, and ensures access to the national health system. The law will also provide reparations for trans people targeted by the Uruguayan Dictatorship in the form of a monthly pension for those born before 1975.
In the US, the New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services is circulating a memo arguing that government agencies need an explicit definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable”. According to the Times, the memo defines “sex” as male or female, unchangeable, and determined by genitals at birth. This definition could prevent laws that protect against "sex discrimination" from including gender identity or sexual orientation.
The Washington Post reported that when asked about the memo, President Trump said that “a lot of different concepts” are being “very seriously” considered. However, he assured: “I’m protecting everybody”. Days later the Justice Department submitted a brief to the Supreme Court saying that businesses can discriminate against workers based on their gender identity without violating federal law.
The UK ended the period of open consultation on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act of 2004. The GRA establishes the process of changing one’s gender; however, the government hopes to improve the process after a nationwide LGBT survey found that it is currently too intrusive, expensive, and bureaucratic. Although the reform will in no way impact the Equality Act of 2010, which allows trans people to use facilities that correspond to their gender, the consultation has spurred debate across media and parliament on the rights of trans people. In particular, the “poisonous” and “toxic” fight has focused on the suggestion that transgender women somehow compromise other women’s rights and safety. The conversation has become so extreme that the Government Equalities Office published an update to combat “inaccurate speculation” about the reform.
In Uganda, Simon Lokodo, the Minister of State for Ethics & Integrity, promised to block fundraising efforts of activists who are raising money to open a community center for LGBT people. Lokodo accused activists of committing a crime by “popularising” LGBT activities.
Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, is again in the news with a new video reaffirming that the “Religious Affairs Ministry Rejects LGBT” even as he adds that people should be treated with empathy so that “they will change their deviant ways”.
The Politics of Union: The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced it will move forward with legalizing same-sex unions in some way. A working group will analyze what regulations need to be amended or created to give same-sex couples equal rights as promised in the European Human Rights Convention.
The National Assembly in Cuba has been debating a new version of the constitutionthat is to be voted on in February 2019. One of the most controversial changes is Article 68 which will define marriage as the union of two people regardless of gender. Several churches have spoken against Article 28 and twenty-one evangelical denominations are gathering signatures to oppose it.
Last May Taiwan’s Judicial Yuan ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and gave the government two years to enact new laws supporting marriage equality. However, authorities have yet to come up with appropriate lawsand President Tsai Ing-wen has become non-committal on the issue. Now Taiwan’s Central Election Commission (CEC) has approved five referendums on marriage equality and sexuality education to appear on the ballot in late November. Three of the questions come from conservative groups that oppose marriage equality and comprehensive education and two questions come from pro-equality groups.
Let the Courts Decide: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced it will review Jamaica’s laws that criminalize same-sex sexual activitywith up to life imprisonment. The plaintiffs, Gareth Henry and Simone Edwards, a gay man and lesbian woman, submitted the case six years ago after fleeing the country. Henry has since been granted asylum in Canada and Edwards found asylum in the Netherlands.
The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court in China has ruled that the government ban on online LGBTI content was lawful, according to Gay Star News. In January, the court accepted a civil challenge by Fan Chunlin against the ban of content that “present abnormal sexual relations or behavior” such as incest, homosexual relations, sexual harassment and sexual violence. Fan said he would appeal the ruling:
"Even if I lose in the end, I want to send a message to LGBT people that we can do something make our situation better. I want to give them hope."
The UK’s Supreme Court ruled that a bakery in Belfast did not discriminate against a gay man when it refused to make a cake with the message “Support Gay Marriage” on it. The court cited freedom of expression, guaranteed by the European convention on human rights, as the right to not express an opinion. In a postscript to the decision, the Court cited the US Supreme Court judgment in Masterpiece Cakeshopand noted that, although both courts rules in favor of the bakers, “the facts are not the same”. The US baker refused to create any wedding cake for a gay couple due to his opposition to marriage equality, while the Belfast bakers refused to write the message on the cake.
From the US, Chief Counsel for Freedom for All Americans Jon Davidson reviewed the Supreme Court’s upcoming cases that will impact LGBT people including issues of sex discrimination, trans people in the military, adoption and foster care, rights of businesses to deny customers, and cases on trans students in schools. Newly confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh does not have a record of LGBTQ rulings. Despite a record of ruling conservatively on many issues, Davidson suggests that Chief Justice Roberts could be moved to support LGBTQ rulings.
Regarding Religion: Global public opinion company YouGov conducted a survey of over 9,600 Catholics from Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Philippines, US, France, Spain, and Italy. The results showed that a majority of people think the Church should “reconsider” how it approaches LGBT issues to help support mental health and well-being of children.
At the Vatican, the Catholic Church is currently holding the 2018 Synod, a month-long meeting of several hundred bishops and carefully selected young adult Catholics with the focus "Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment". Many anticipated youth sexuality and gender to be a key issue and, according to participants, the topics of sexuality and LGBT Catholics have been briefly touched on throughout the 14 working groups. However, the final reports have only spoke in vague generalities on the issue.
Writing for New Ways Ministry, Francis DeBernardo called attention to the remarks by Archbishop Charles Chaput who argued that “‘LGBTQ’ and similar language should not be used in Church documents” because “there is no such thing as an LGBTQ Catholic or a transgender Catholic or a heterosexual Catholic”. DeBernardo explored why this sentiment is “dangerous”. Several Catholic leaders and theologians took to Twitter to defend the use of LGBT and similar terms in the church.
Fear and Loathing: In Brazil, Aliança Nacional LGBTI+ documented an escalation of violence and hate speech in the weeks leading up to Brazil's October 7th presidential election. Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who has made waves with his extreme public speech that has included misogynistic, racist, and anti-LGBT views, scored 46% of the vote. Bolsonaro and candidate Fernando Haddad will compete in a run-off election on October 28th. Seeing an association between the uptick in violence and Bolsonaro's rhetoric, Aliança launched a new National Platform for reporting violence against LGBTI+ people ahead of the next vote.
In France, Guillaume Mélanie, the president of Urgence Homophobie, an organization that works with Chechen refugees, was attacked while leaving a restaurant with friends. Mélanie is one of several LGBT people to be violently assaulted in Paris over recent weeks. Although officials have expressed dismay for the repeated attacks, Mélanie called them out for inaction that creates an environment of impunity:
“On ne peut pas tolérer de se faire fracasser tous les jours à petit feu et n’avoir que des tweets en réponse de la part du gouvernement.”
We cannot tolerate getting shattered every day and having only tweets in response from the government.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo responded by calling for a meeting of police and other law enforcement to establish a system for quickly responding to and preventing homophobic violence. Around 3,000 people rallied in Paris’s Place de la République to protest homophobic and transphobic violence. At the rally many, including president of SOS Homophobie, Joel Deumier challenged authorities:
“Toute absence de condamnation des pouvoirs publics est une complicité avec ces actes homophobes.”
Any absence of condemnation from the public authorities is a complicity with these homophobic acts.
The UK’s new Hate Crime Annual Report showed that reported crimes against LGBT people had risen 28% compared to last year. Advocacy group Stonewall said this figure underestimates the abuse faced by LGBT people as their research finds four out of five incidents go unreported. During Hate Crimes Awareness Week, police visited LGBT+ venues to encourage victims to come forward. The Home Office also released a revision to the Hate Crime Action Plan to address specific concerns on race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and disability.
Journalist Carl Schreck investigated the progress made in holding Chechnya accountable for the purge perpetrated on suspected gay men last year. The LGBT-Network says 130 sexual minorities have been evacuated from Chechnya. And Maksim Lapunov, the only victim to come forward on the record, filed a detailed formal complaint. However, investigators have declined to open a criminal case.
Canadian writer Quinn Lazenby explored how current politics have embraced “homonationalism” — a term coined by queer theorist Jasbir Puar in 2007 to describe “how acceptance and tolerance for gay and lesbian people have become a barometer by which the right to and capacity for national sovereignty is evaluated”. Meanwhile, South African activist and researcher James Lotter suggests a better description of the current state of fear and intolerance would be “homopopulism”.
On the March: The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights released a comprehensive statement identifying the challenges LGBTI people face when seeking asylum. Among the recommendations for moving forward, it calls on member states to amend laws to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for asylum. It also urges them to make full use of available resources to provide practical guidance and training to all those involved in the process.
In South Africa, the Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba met with LGBTI rights activists on the experiences faced by LGBTI asylum seekers. It was decided that refugee reception officers and adjudicating officers will undergo sensitization training to help end discrimination. Furthermore, the Minister promised that all pending cases of LGBTI asylum seekers would be reviewed in the next eight weeks.
In Norway, around 300 people gathered for the second ever Barents Pride held in a small town near the Russian-Norwegian border. Unlike most Pride events around the world, many participants of Barents Pride wear “No Photo” stickers because they have travelled from Russia and fear being “lit up”, meaning they are identified at home. Journalist Richard Bakker talked to participants, including those who’ve been granted asylum in Norway, about why they come despite their fears.
In Poland’s city of Lublin, around 1,500 people attended the city’s first ever Pride parade. The parade was nearly cancelled after the regional governor objected to the “perversion”; however, Poland’s Court of Appeal overruled the ban and the parade went forward the next day. According to reports, the police had to use tear-gas and water cannons to protect participants from nearly 200 counter-protesters who had become violent.
School Days: From Canada, Abby Yaeger writes about the consequences of leaving LGBT topics out of sex education and how comprehensive sex ed equips all young people with the tools to stay safe and healthy. After intense debate, this summer Ontario rolled back policies to improve comprehensive sex education and reinstated a curriculum that excludes sexual orientation and gender identity. The government is holding an open consultation through December to encourage parents to continue to give feedback to shape many areas of education including sexual health.
From India, Edwin Thomas of Population Foundation of India (PFI) discussed how comprehensive sexuality education impacts gender-based violence, mental health, consent, child abuse, body positivity, and early parenthood.
In the US, earlier this year the Department of Health and Human Services announced cutbacks to sex education programs and a shift towards supporting abstinence-based programs instead of comprehensive sexuality education. A recent study from the Center for American Progress found that only 24 states require sex education in public schools at all. The Center noted that many states lack clarity on what should be included in a sexual health curriculum. And, even as the #MeToo movement and sexual assault issues are at the forefront of the news, only eight states have curriculums that discuss issues of consent.
The topic is even more complex for LGBTQ youth who are too often excluded from sex education topics. Although some states are trying to improve, as in Canada, parents are divided between those that support the updates and those who feel it’s inappropriate or even “perverse”.
A new study from Brigham Young University followed 468 adolescents and their parents for four years to evaluate effectiveness of parents for giving the “sex talk”. Although parents are considered important sources of sex education, researchers found that parents were most effective when they routinely discussed sex with their children.
Business and Technology: In Indonesia, two men were arrested and charged with creating and transmitting pornographic content for allegedly running the Facebook group “Gay Bandung Indonesia” with over 4,000 members. The men could face up to six years in prison.
A new comprehensive investigation by Israeli paper Haaretz examined the country’s “cyber-spy industry”. Reporters Hagar Shezaf and Jonathan Jacobson found that digital tools developed in Herzliya Pituah—Tel Aviv’s hub of high-tech industry—are used around the world to spy on civilians. Testimonies from sources across 15 countries show the technology has been used to locate and detain human rights activists, persecute members of the LGBT community, and silence those critical of their government.
Daily Beast reporter Samantha Allen explored the recent run of problems the major social media players, including YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook, have had with LGBTQ users. In many of the cases algorithms intended to run the platforms have censored LGBTQ content. While in others algorithms caused LGBTQ-positive content to be linked with conversion therapy ads and other hurtful anti-LGBT advertising.
Sports and Culture: In the US, the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health hosted an event to honor the 30th anniversary the “Seize Control of the FDA”protest—the moment activists took over the US Food and Drug Administration Headquarters to demand access to new therapies to treat AIDS and to declare that everyone has a right to health care.
The new TV drama Butterfly produced by England’s ITV is making waves for its positive portrayal of a young trans girl and her family as they struggle with her desire to live openly as a girl. The creators were advised by Mermaids, a UK charity for gender-diverse youth, and spoke to many trans kids and their families who shared the abuse they’ve faced with the cast and crew.
The ashes of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student who was brutally murdered in the US in 1998, will be interred in the Washington National Cathedral crypt alongside other notable Americans including Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson. Shepard's murder was intensely covered by the media and is credited with encouraging laws to protect LGBTQ Americans. In 2009 the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed. Check out the Service of Remembrance live via YouTube.