"I felt helpless, I felt hopeless, and I asked myself some really hard questions: am I doing enough work as an advocate? Is the work that I have been doing really making an impact and is it really worth it?"
~ Maureen Luba, African Regional Advocacy Advisor for AVAC speaking at the HIV Research for Prevention 2018 conference
From the UN: The WHO hosted the Global Conference on Primary Health Care at which countries unanimously endorsed a new declaration to emphasize the critical role of primary health care (PHC). The Declaration of Astana focuses on four key areas to improve PHC across the world. In support of the declaration UNAIDS published a new technical report on the linkages of the AIDS response to primary health. The report underscores how marginalized, stigmatized, and criminalized people have disproportionately worse access to primary health. It suggests that global health movements such as AIDS and PHC should “join forces” to address the structural and root causes of ill-health of all people.
The World Bank released a new report drawn from the experiences of over 2,200 LGBTI people from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. The report “Life on the Margins: Survey Results of the Experiences of LGBTI People in Southeastern Europe” paints a “distressing picture” of the effects violence, discrimination, and intolerance have had on individuals’ through work life, home, and education. The report provides evidence that policymakers and others can use to take action to promote inclusion and support.
The UNDP and the Asia Pacific Transgender network launched a new study on employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Working with transgender people in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, the report provides evidence of discrimination in job hiring practices. This discrimination directly impacts individual’s socio-economic status and political and civic participation.
The UN independent expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, sat down with the Washington Blade to discuss his concerns about the backlash against human rights defenders and the global challenges LGBTI communities face today.
HIV, Health, and Wellness: The HIV Research for Prevention conference (HIVR4P 2018) concluded in Spain. Kicked off with a protest, the conference provided insight on the some distinct challenges of access to PrEP as well as the need for more research on drug interactions affecting cisgender women and transgender men and women. Global advocacy group AVAC provided in depth coverage of the event and noted their main takeaways: that HIV work must be “Bold” and include activists; it must be inclusive of gender, nationality, and sexual identity; that it should have “honest” communication even of risks; that it should be imaginative and embrace innovation; and that it should strive for clarity so that all stakeholders and researchers from different disciplines understand each other’s work.
Writing for the Gay Men's Health Project (GMFA), activist Philip Samba explored the distinct problem of HIV among black men around the world. He explained the challenges black men, and particularly black British men, have faced seeking access to PrEP.
From Kenya, Jeanne Baron spoke to former chaplain Joel Obdondi who uses radio talk shows to engage the community and educate them on HIV, PrEP, and condoms. Obdondi has 18 shows a month that are heard across Kenya in English, Swahili, and Luo. He has released a guide to help others use radio for HIV prevention.
The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise announced a new comprehensive five year strategy to accelerate development of an effective vaccine to prevent HIV. The strategy focuses on research and development, sharing information between researchers, and preparing pathways and clearing regulations to get any vaccine to the public as fast as possible.
Heartland Alliance International (HAI) released a new policy brief on strategies for integrating gender, mental health, and human rights services with HIV programming for female sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, trans men and women, and people who inject drugs. The brief is based on a nine year program HAI undertook in Nigeria integrating services for these at risk populations.
From the UK, a new report by Stonewall found that LGBT face "shockingly high level of hostility and unfair treatment" when seeking healthcare. More than half of those surveyed experienced depression and 60% experience anxiety. Among trans respondents, 46% had suicidal thoughts and 12% have attempted suicide. Unfortunately, many are afraid to seek healthcare, and those that do seek healthcare have experienced discrimination and/or been outed without their consent. Also 25% say providers have a lack of understanding on LGBT specific needs.
In Malta, Health Minister Chris Fearne announced the opening of a new gender clinicto provide trans people multi-disciplinary services “to ensure competent and specialised assessment and support throughout the gender affirming transition and beyond”.
A new paper published in The Journal Of Sexual Medicine that examines the number of youth referred to the Gender Identity Development Service in the UK faced backlash on social media. Parents and others are most concerned by the authors’ call for the creation of an international registry of children who have sought services from gender identity clinics. The authors suggest a registry will improve knowledge on gender dysphoria. However, activists fear such a list could be dangerous for those included. Although the National Health Service, who participated in the study, assured that any data would be kept private, parents remain unconvinced by study authors’ intentions.
From the World of Politics: Tanzania’s Regional Commissioner for Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda, sent shockwaves around the world when he publicly called for a crackdown on LGBT people, asked for “every citizen” to report suspected gay people, and promised mass arrests. Makonda claimed hundreds of people have already been reported. In a possibly unrelated incident, 10 men suspected of being gay were arrested in Zanzibar. Many organizations have responded to condemn the crackdown. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a statement and noted that LGBT people and those supporting them increasingly have been targeted. She noted:
“This could turn into a witch-hunt and could be interpreted as a licence to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT.”
Following Bachelet’s statement, Tanzania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement distancing itself from Makonda’s actions. However, many in the country remain afraid. The EU has recalled its envoy and released a statement announcing it will conduct a broad review of its relations with Tanzania. The Globe and Mail reported that the World Bank has suspended visiting missions to the country until it can be "assured of the safety and security" of all employees.
Sixteen members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have invoked the “Moscow Mechanism” to establish a mission of experts to investigate the reports of human rights abuses in Chechnya against perceived LGBT people, human rights defenders, the media, civil society, and others. Delegations from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the US had previously requested the Russian delegation explain reports of abuses—including persecution, arbitrary arrests, torture, disappearances, and executions—but Russia “did not provide a substantive response to our questions”.
In France, efforts to curb months of violence against LGBT people have escalated. Following rallies in Paris and calls from the mayor for change, the Minister of the Interior, Minister of Justice, and the Secretary of Equality met with members of SOS Homophobie, l'Inter-LGBT, FLAG!, and others to discuss actions to counter hate. Meanwhile, politician and activist Jean-Luc Romero has launched a petition calling on the Prime Minister to label LGBTQI-phobias the “Great National Cause” for 2019.
Ukrainian Member of Parliament Oleksandr Vilkul has introduced a bill on “the protection of public morals and traditional values”. The bill would remove the terms “sexual orientation”, “gender identity”, and “gender-based legal assessment” from legislation, would label equality and Pride events as “deviant behavior”, and would criminalize same-sex relationships. Open Democracy reports that the bill also supports social welfare initiatives including financial support for pregnancy, maternity leave, free school meals, and more. Open Democracy notes that while the bill may not pass, it is being released as the country prepares for the next presidential election and could polarise the community.
In Brazil, far-right politician and former military officer Jair Bolsonaro was elected president. Throughout his campaign he openly expressed anti-gay views and was widely reported as pronouncing: “Yes, I'm homophobic – and very proud of it.” Although many from the LGBTI community say the rhetoric led to an increase in violence and threats during the election, activists say they will continue to fight for rights. The LGBTI National Alliance said it will maintain a platform started during the election for reporting violence. Alliance president Toni Reis promised:
“To the extent possible, we will try to have a dialogue with this government.”
In the US, the final votes for the midterm elections are still being counted. At least244 openly LGBTIQ candidates ran and a record 160 have been elected to office, in what the New York Times called a "Rainbow Wave". There are many “firsts” to celebrate, including the first Muslim women and first Native American women to congress, and the first openly gay man elected as governor.
In Mexico, newly sworn in members of the Chamber of Deputies passed a law granting same-sex couples social security benefits. Senator Martha Lucia Micher Camarena said the bill was the first of many planned to support LGBT+ rights.
The Politics of Union: In Taiwan the public will go to the polls on November 24th and will be asked to vote on five different referendum questions pertaining to sexual education and marriage equality or civil unions. Ahead of the vote, the Referendum Act requires public televised debates must be held on every question. However, many were concerned by reports that the debates were “rigged” in favor of anti-LGBTQ groups. Local fact checking groups report that there are widespread misconceptions about the referendums that could prevent progress. Meanwhile, over 130,000 marched at Taipei Pride calling for the government to keep the promisemade by the Judicial Yuan’s 2017 pro-marriage equality ruling. Gay Star News spoke to politician Yu Mei-Nu about where marriage stands today.
Thailand’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) announced that there will be public hearings on legislation for same-sex unions. The RLPD will present to the cabinet revisions to the “Life Partnership Bill” by the end of the month. It proposed changes include offering registered same-sex “partnerships” giving couples most of the rights of heterosexual couples, include inheritance and welfare benefits. If it proceeds as the RLPD plans, Thailand will beat Taiwan to become the first Asian country to recognize same-sex couples nationwide.
The Parliament of the Czech Republic has delayed debate on the legalization of marriage equality. Since 2006, the Republic has recognized registered partnerships giving couples inheritance and health care rights. However a group of Members of Parliament from across party lines want to extend full marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples.
Bermuda’s path to marriage equality has been turbulent for nearly two years. Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2017, the government quickly passed the Domestic Partnerships Act which revoked same-sex marriage and replaced it with domestic partnerships. In February lawsuits were filed and in June the Supreme Court declared that the marriage ban was invalid because the constitution guarantees “freedom of conscience”. This summer the government filed an appeal which began hearings at the Court of Appeal this month. The government has argued that the constitution does not protect marriage under freedom of conscience and that “social policy” should be decided by Parliament and not the court.
Let the Courts Decide: The Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that Guyana's law criminalizing any person wearing clothing of the opposite sex for an "improper purpose" in public is unconstitutional. The case was brought forward by four transgender women who were arrested for wearing female attire.
Earlier this year, Russian teen Maxim Neverov was found guilty of violating the Anti-Gay Propaganda law and fined 50,000 rubles. Neverov appealed the ruling and, in an surprising verdict, the Court of Biysk found that there was not enough evidence to convict him and overturned the fine. Although Neverov was the first minor charged under the law, young adult journalist Lena Kilmova has been fined multiple times for running the website “Deti-404” (“Children not found”), an online community for LGBT youths.
In South Africa, transgender prisoner Jade September has filed a complaint with the Cape High Court against the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services for refusing to allow her to express her gender identity while incarcerated and subsequently traumatizing her mental health. September isn’t seeking to be moved into a women’s facility, only to be allowed to live with dignity. Sanja Bornman of Lawyers for Human Rights explained that the state must accommodate her where she is:
“There are no separate prisons for transgender or gender non-conforming people. In fact, as far as prison laws and policies are concerned, transgender people simply do not exist. This is unacceptable.”
The UK Court of Appeal will hear a case challenging the government’s refusal to issue gender neutral passports. Since 2015 many UK government departments, including Parliament and driving license agency have permitted the use of the gender neutral honorific "Mx" in documentation.
In 2014, a court in Kenya ruled in the “isolated case” of a five-year-old intersex child stating the child must be granted a birth certificate despite hospital staff having put a question mark on the record marking gender. In 2017, representatives from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and elsewhere met to create a Draft Model Law on the rights of intersex persons in Africa. The task force to explore issues facing intersex people in Kenya, created by the Attorney General, concluded its investigation last month and is expected to make recommendations soon.
Bangladesh acknowledged hijras as a third gender in 2013 and this year added it as a third gender category to voter forms. Earlier this year Taiwan announced it has considered adding a third gender option to identification documents and the Bureau of Consular Affairs confirmed there would be “no technical difficulties” in adding the option to passports.
Third gender or gender neutral IDs are currently issued in different ways by Australia, Canada, Denmark, India, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, and Pakistan. Twelve US states have issued non-binary state identification and this September a federal court ruled the State Department must provide a nonbinary passport to intersex navy veteran Dana Zzyym. According to the Buenos Aires Times, Argentina just issued its first gender-neutral birth certificate—amending the certificate of 32 year old González Davesa—despite the government approving the Gender Identity Law six years ago.
This summer brought changes in third gender IDs across Europe— Germany drafted a law for third gender birth certificates, Austria’s Court ruled intersex people need nonbinary IDs, and the Netherlands issued its first gender-neutral passport. This summer Ireland also completed a review of the Gender Recognition Act of 2015 in which it recommended creating a third gender marker when necessary and removing all gender markers on documents where it is unnecessary.
Although Australia has offered gender X passports since 2013, some hope to go further by removing the gender marker entirely. Prime Minister Scott Morrison came under fire for calling the request "nonsense".
Fear and Loathing: According to reports, Indonesian police are again targeting suspected LGBT people for arrest and “rehabilitation”. In one instance, police in West Sumatra used Facebook posts to track down and arrest ten women suspected of being lesbians. Last month police in West Java arrested two men suspected of running a Facebook page for gay people. Police in the Lampung province were videotaped arresting and hosing down three transgender women in a public street. Naila Rizki of LBH Masyarakat (Legal Aid Institute) condemned the behavior:
“[The officers’] intention was to torture people, demean them. So [the officers’] goal is not to enforce the law but to uphold their own version of morality.”
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on the government to end the campaign of violence. Meanwhile, several regional authorities have said they intend to revise local bylaws to further restrict LGBT rights. Local advocacy group GAYa Nusantara said the rise in violence and anti-LGBT rhetoric is common during election seasons. Indonesian law expert Feri Amsar said officials have the authority to enact bylaws, but that is not a license to discriminate against minority groups.
Human Rights Watch released “Let Posterity Judge: Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in Malawi”, a report that explores the lack of clarity around laws criminalizing same-sex relationships. Although the Criminal Code bans "unnatural offenses" and "indecent practices between males”, the Ministry of Justice at one time suspended arrests for consensual homosexual acts. In 2016, a high court ruled arrests could continue until the Constitutional Court reviews the issue. Through primary interviews with LGBT people and local activists, the HRW found that this confusion “seemed to have encouraged private individuals to attack LGBT people with impunity, while health providers frequently discriminate against them on the grounds of sexual orientation”.
In Armenia, the 11th annual LGBT Christian Forum of Eastern Europe and Central Asia was canceled by organizers after a series of death threats, vandalism, and violence. The conference has previously been held in Ukraine, Russia, Estonia, Moldova, and Romania. Armenia was selected as the 2018 site in August with the theme “Take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, New International Version). However, over recent months heated discussion against the event turned to violence. ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis condemned the violence and called for a “swift response”:
“Attacks of this nature cannot be dismissed or ignored.”
From Botswana, LGBTI activist group LEGABIBO condemned the brutal public beating of a trans woman while onlookers laughed and made derogatory comments. A video of the attack outside a nightclub has been shared widely online. LEGABIBO said the violence was an example of the “wrong perception” that violating an individual is equivalent to “defending social norms”:
“We wish to emphasize that humiliating a human being whether in public or private is not good behavior, it’s not BOTHO, it’s not GODLY, it’s not CULTURAL and it’s definitely ILLEGAL!”
Ahead of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (20 November) Transgender Europe published the latest figures from the Trans Murder Monitoring project. Between October 2017 and September 2018, they found a total of 369 reported killings of trans and gender-diverse people—the majority were in Brazil (167), Mexico (71), the United States (28), and Colombia (21). This is 44 more deaths than the previous year.
School Days: In the US, Washington D.C. public schools announced families and students will be allowed to identify as non-binary gender on enrollment forms next year. Oregon's Department of Education introduced a third gender option this September. It enables non-binary and gender fluid students to mark "X" on all school forms. Both D.C. and Oregon have gender "X" designation on driver licenses.
After Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten both promised to reject the Religious Freedom Review recommendations to allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, principals from 34 Anglican schools published an open letter to Parliament. The letter states that faith-based schools should be exempted from discrimination laws because “some schools require evidence of an active faith that is consistent with the philosophy and ethos of the school”. Education minister Dan Tehan said the letter is part of a “very important discussion” about competing rights. However, many former and current students were angry and shocked by the request. Over 2,500 have signed a letter calling on the schools to reverse their stance.
Several principals have since backed away from the letter and Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies joined them in apologizing for the “unintended harm”. Peter Berkley of Barker College noted: “Some of our students thought we might actually want to expel them for being gay. We did not foresee this and are sorry.” As Maddy, a queer student from Abbotsleigh pointed out:
“It doesn’t matter even if they never use it. It’s about the queer kids in the school knowing they could use it, and then never coming out and never feeling secure in their identities.”
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, announced that all recommendations by the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group were approved. He stated the country will be “the first in the world to have LGBTI inclusive education embedded in the curriculum”. Schools will offer age-appropriate information on a variety of themes including terminology and identities, tackling prejudice, and promoting LGBTI history.
The UK Department of Education closed its consultation on proposed changes to the sex education curriculum–the first major reform on the guidance in 18 years. However, many have said the changes are “squeamish”, too conservative, and lack appropriate inclusion of LGBT people.
Poland's Ministry of Education prohibited schools from participating in “Rainbow Friday”, an anti-discrimination event over 200 schools had planned on. After some students posted pictures of themselves defying the ban the Ministry tweeted that it will investigate schools. Meanwhile, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda told local news group Nasz Dziennik that “homosexual propaganda” and “gender ideology” should be forbidden in schools. Duda said would consider a “well written” ban. Former head of the Constitutional Tribunal, Jerzy Stępień called the statements “embarrassing” and said there’s no such propaganda:
“Talking about something, educating, is not propaganda.”
Sports and Culture: The organization Athlete Ally launched “Champions of Inclusion” a free, comprehensive online curriculum to help coaches, athletic directors, and captains at all school levels learn about sexuality, gender, and obstacles faced by LGBTQ athletes.
During Game 5 of the World Series held in Los Angeles, members of the TransLatina Coalition spread a giant transgender pride flag from the stands with the message “Trans people deserve to live”. The group claims its inspiration was drawn from the New York Times article stating that the government plans to rollback protections of trans people.
From South Korea, 91-year-old TV presenter Song Hae, famous for his popular show “National Singing Contest”, talked about embracing the LGBT community:
“In the past, older people would have been angry, but they are now clapping. There is a lot to learn … about the young people’s world.”
The biopic Bohemian Rhapsody soared past box office expectations with its jubilant portrayal of Freddie Mercury and fellow Queen bandmates’ desire to create art and rock and roll. The film has garnered mixed reactions from LGBTQ fans who feel the film “straight washes” Mercury and vilified the central openly gay character, Mercury’s assistant Paul Prenter.
Author David Ebershoff explored the evolving gender norms in contemporary ballet and a “new generation of dancers who are collapsing the boundaries between queerness and maleness in ballet by challenging its, and the culture’s, preconceived ideas of masculinity”. Ebershoff further argues that by exposing their authentic, queer selves, dancers are connecting a new generation to classical ballet.
From Mexico, Jude Webber spoke to several muxe (or muxhe)—a term from the indigenous Zapotec culture describing a person assigned male at birth who identifies outside the gender binary. Check out the short film Muxes from director Shaul Schwarz.