“There’s only one race in the world and that’s the human race. And if there’s only one race, the human race, all humans are entitled to the same rights. It is a fundamental, easy, easy thing to accept if one is a thinking human being, but of course common sense is not so common.”
Margarette May Macaulay, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights President
From the UN: To mark Human Rights Day (10 December) UNAIDS, UNDP, UN Women, and the Global Network of People Living with HIV launched the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate All Forms of HIV-related Stigma and Discrimination. The partnership aims to accelerate implementation of commitments made by Member States, UN agencies, international donors, and NGOs to end HIV-related stigma and discrimination. It promises to build on those commitments, to strengthen partnerships, and to collect and disseminate data to inform programs and policy changes.
The UN Free and Equal Campaign celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a new digital short to honor the first amendment:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Around the world people honored the 30th annual World AIDS Day on the 1st of December with this year’s theme “Know Your Status”. Secretary General António Guterres remarked that “there is still time” to address HIV by scaling up testing, improving access to treatment, increasing resources, and by ending stigma.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé reflected on the past 30 years of activismand urged people to “Live life positively and know your HIV status”. UNAIDS launched a new report “Knowledge is power” that examines the current state of HIV testing services, innovations in testing technology, and efforts to overcome barriers to testing. The report emphasizes how testing and knowing your status can empower a person to make the choices needed to live a long and healthy life—whether by beginning treatment to suppress a newly discovered infection or by taking deliberate steps to prevent future exposure to HIV.
The WHO released a new analysis of the inclusion of key populations in the national HIV strategies of 47 countries in the WHO African Region. It finds that although the majority of strategies include interventions for some key populations, there are significant gaps especially for transgender people, people who inject drugs, and prisoners.
The UNDP partnered with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and APCOM to study the links between violence, mental health, and HIV risk among transgender women and gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men living in South Asia. The study, presented in the report “Know Violence”, provides evidence-based policy and program recommendations for policy makers, healthcare professionals, the education system, workplace managers, public health practitioners, and researchers.
HIV, Health, and Wellness: A new article published in AIDS and Behavior shared a qualitative analysis of the 2015 PROUD trial. The trial had found that PrEP reduced HIV acquisition by 86% among men in the UK. The new article uses in-depth interviews to explore the perceptions, experiences, and usage of PrEP among trial participants.
Two new studies in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and Culture, Health and Sexuality shed light on the usage of PrEP among trans women in Brazil. The studies indicate that although trans women have the desire to use PrEP after receiving education about it, transphobia encountered in health settings significantly limits their ability to obtain it.
A new study published in Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases found that substance use was not associated with decreased adherence to PrEP among gay men and other men who have sex with men. Researchers suggest that substance use should not be used as a reason to withhold PrEP.
The journal AIDS and Behavior published a study that found a correlation between poor sleep habits and risky sexual behavior among gay and bisexual men in France. Study participants with poor sleep were also more likely to report substance use before and during sex.
The AIDS/STD Program in Bangladesh announced that HIV prevalence has risen significantly among female sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users over the last seven years. Program director Dr. Shamiul Islam said the increase is mostly due to injecting drug users and called for improved programs to prevent sharing of needles.
Researchers presented an initial analysis from a study of gay men and other men who have sex with men and transgender women in Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa. They found that HIV incidence among the study participants was “alarmingly high” and called for interventions tailored for the community. The study aims to assess the feasibility of recruiting and retaining these individuals in HIV prevention research.
In Romania, academic Rémy Bonny spoke to activists about the growing rates of HIV infection especially among gay men and other men who have sex with men. Activists also warned that hospitals routinely run out of HIV medicine.
In Malaysia, the group Queer Lapis warned that they routinely receive reports from LGBT patients that they experience discrimination when seeking heathcare. Their reports align with findings from a survey of over 400 Malaysian physicians that showed many physicians were prejudiced against transgender patients.
To support the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate All Forms of HIV-related Stigma and Discrimination the journal Reproductive Health Matters (RHM) will publish a themed journal issue on stigma and discrimination in sexual reproductive health care. It issued a call for for research articles, perspectives, policy analysis, book reviews, and commentaries that investigate and reflect upon the topic and how it can best be "challenged, disrupted, and resolved". Deadline for submission is March 2019.
From the World of Politics: Several EU member states published a paper calling for the European Union to adopt a coherent strategy to ensure full protection of LGBTI rights. The statement was signed by Malta, Czech Republic, Italy, France, Slovenia, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Greece, UK, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, and Cyprus.
Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera signed into law the Gender Identity Bill giving trans people over the age of 14 the ability to change their name and gender marker on official documents. The bill, which has been in the works for nearly five years, will go into effect in 2019.
Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation, Ulla Tornaes, announced the government will withhold 65 million Danish krone ($9.88 million USD) from aid to Tanzania due to “negative developments” and “unacceptable homophobic statements”. Tornaes has suggested that some of these funds could be diverted to NGOs instead of going to the government. After suspending visiting missions to Tanzania because of threats to LGBT community, the World Bank also announced it had withdrawn a $300 million loan intended for the education ministry. It cited concerns over the country’s policy of expelling pregnant students. Meanwhile, President Magufuli posted a statement saying he prefers financial assistance from China because their aid "is not tied to any conditions”.
The US, Mexico, and Canada have negotiated an updated trade agreement called USMCA which could replace NAFTA in the US if approved by Congress. Politico reported that the draft agreement contained requirements that workers be protected against discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Forty US conservatives objected to the language in an open letter, calling it “inappropriate and insulting to our sovereignty to needlessly submit to social policies”. Although initial reports confirmed the discrimination clause had been maintained when signed by the three leaders, The Canada Press reported that the language was “watered down” and a footnote was added stating the US federal hiring policies “are sufficient to fulfil the obligations”.
Although both Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten made promises to protect LGBTI students, Parliament remains divided. Competing bills were introduced with different language on the ability for religious schools to discriminate against LGBTI students. PM Morrison attempted to force a vote on the government's bill, however the Labor party argued that the bill was “deeply flawed” and could make things worse. The debate will continue next year.
In Ontario, Canada, the Progressive Conservative (PC) party passed a resolution to debate removing “gender identity theory” from school curriculums because they describe it as a “highly controversial, unscientific liberal ideology”. Despite the resolution, party leader and Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters “I’m not moving forward with that”.
The UK announced it will launch a consultation in 2019 to investigate the treatment, rights, and experiences of intersex people. Of primary concern, is the practice of performing unnecessary surgeries on infants. Medical experts from across Europe recently published a consensus statement in Nature Reviews Endocrinology urging the deferral of medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children until they are old enough to consent.
The New York Times and others reported on a proposal by the US government to redefine gender as only male or female and “unchangeable”. Over 2,600 scientists, including Nobel laureates, biologists, and geneticists, published an open letter online urging the government to abandon the proposal. The scientists warned that the proposal would "erase" transgender and intersex persons and could subject intersex persons to “more medically unnecessary and risky surgeries at birth”. The Journal of Health Affairs published an article stating that if the Department of Health and Human Services changes the legal definition of gender, it would have serious consequences to the physical and mental health of 1.4 million trans and gender diverse people in the country.
The Politics of Union: In Taiwan, the public voted on a series of referendums including five pertaining to marriage equality and sex education. The majority of voters voted against the referendums with pro-gay marriage language and the call for LGBTQ-friendly education. The Secretary-General of the Judicial Yuan (Taiwan’s Constitutional Court) clarified that the referendum results cannot supercede the Yuan’s 2017 ruling that a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. Instead of amending the Civil Code, lawmakers announced that they will consider creating a special law to meet the needs of same-sex partners.
In Hong Kong, the Legislative Council voted against granting “equal rights” to same-sex couples. Activists had hoped the Court’s ruling this summer to recognize the partnerships of foreign gay couples when granting visas could improve rights for local couples.
The government of the Republic of San Marino voted to legalize Civil Unions for both gay and straight couples. The law will bring new rights to couples including issues of residency, citizenship, healthcare, retirement, and pensions.
South Africa’s National Assembly passed the Civil Union Amendment Bill updating the Civil Union Act to remove a loophole that allowed Department of Home Affairs officers to refuse to perform gay marriages. Member of Parliament Deidre Carter introduced the amendment last January when she became aware that many same-sex couples had been unable to marry because no officials had been willing to marry them. The Act legalized same-sex marriage in 2006.
Thailand ended public hearings and an online survey regarding the Life Partnership Bill which proposes to give same-sex couples registered partnerships. According to the Justice Ministry most responses were in favor of the bill, although some activists say the bill lacks key items including parental rights and the right to marriage.
Let the Courts Decide: The High Court of Botswana announced it will hear a case challenging the constitutionality of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activities next March.
Bermuda judges have once again affirmed marriage equality. The Supreme Court first granted marriage equality in 2017; however, government officials objected to the ruling and by the end of the year had created the Domestic Partnership Act to prohibit future gay marriages, creating a “domestic partnership” label instead. This summer, the Supreme Court struck down that Act and reiterated its support for same-sex marriage. The government quickly appealed, and now The Court of Appeal has agreed that the Act is unconstitutional and ruled that same-sex marriages must proceed.
Costa Rica’s Supreme Court ruled that the country’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional and directed lawmakers to legalize marriage equality by May 2020.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia is violating human rights with its policy of banning LGBT rallies and public events. The court reviewed 51 applications to hold events filed between 2009 and 2014 and concluded that authorities’ refusal to grant permission could not be justified by concerns of disruption of public order.
In Nigeria, a High Court has dismissed a suit from a group seeking to formally register under the name “Lesbian Equality and Empowerment Initiatives”. The court said the group was not in compliance with the law which says no company can be registered by a name that is “misleading” or is “undesirable, offensive or otherwise contrary to public policy”.
Mexico’s Supreme Court granted a gay couple the right to register their child conceived via surrogacy with their own last names. The judge cited the constitution which guarantees the right of all persons to have children without any regard to sexual preference.
In Canada, 24 faith-based schools have asked a three-judge panel to strike down Bill 24—a rule that protects the privacy of students. Bill 24 says that schools cannot disclose to parents a student's participation in gay-straight alliances.
The Judicial Education Institute of Trinidad and Tobago launched a new protocol that includes guidance to ensure the LGBTQ community can access a fair, unbiased court system.
Regarding Religion: The Global Philanthropy Project (GPP) released a new report “Religious Conservatism on the Global Stage: Threats and Challenges for LGBTI”. GPP describes the report as "largest and most comprehensive study to date of the way that religious conservativism is currently operating around the world". The report provides an examination of the tactics, discourse, and funding patterns of conservative religious bodies that impact sexual and reproductive rights and sexual orientation and gender identity rights.
Writing for NBC, Corky Siemaszko investigated the growth of conservative political ideology among Catholics in the US. He reported that extreme homophobic rhetoric embraced by websites such as “Church Militant” has manifested into physical harassment and abuse of LGBTQ Catholics and their allies.
From Italy, leaders of an informal group of LGBT Catholics spoke to the BBC about reaching out to the community especially young people who think there is no way to be Catholic and gay or transgender:
“You can be Christian. You can love God and yourself as well”
New Ways Ministry, a coalition of faithful Catholics who support equality for LGBT people in the Church, began a reflection series for the liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany that provides questions, prayers, songs, and scripture. The ongoing series can be followed online.
From the UK, Harriet Sherwood spoke to Jewish people about the “impossible choice” those in the Orthodox community are forced to make between their sexual or gender identity and their religion.
Fear and Loathing: The Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Tunisian LGBT groups Shams and Damj, published the personal accounts of men abused by police and forced to undergo anal tests. HRW called on the government to abolish laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct and to respect people’s right to privacy.
The Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) published a new guide “Towards the effective protection of LGBTI persons deprived of liberty” that details specific practices that increase the risk of ill-treatment and torture of LGBTI people held in prisons, police stations, and immigration facilities.
The Global Network of Sex Work Projects and M-Pact published a briefing paper on the intersection between homophobia, transphobia, and sex work. The paper explores how LGBT sex workers face unique experiences of discrimination, especially in countries that criminalize both sex work and same-sex relationships.
From the US, reporter Samantha Allen spoke to LGBT advocates in Jacksonville, Florida about the tension between the black trans community and police where three black trans women were murdered in separate incidents. Activists say the police remain unapologetic for “deadnaming”—using a name the person no longer recognizes—and misgendering victims, policies that impede investigations.
In Kenya, after neighbors complained that a local HIV/AIDS non-governmental organization was “recruiting” youth to “join the gay community”, the police raided and arrested staff members. The staff members were later released with no charges filed.
Writing for South Africa’s News24, analyst Gerbrandt van Heerden of the South African Institute of Race Relations argued that historical evidence shows the homosexuality and alternative gender identities were common across the continent long before European colonists arrived. This evidence, he says, contradicts the claim by some politicians and religious figures that homosexuality has been “imported” from the West.
Winds of Change: In South Africa, Jessie Duarte, the African National Congress Deputy Secretary General, compared the inequalities faced by LGBTIQ people with apartheid. Duarte urged leaders to go beyond legislation and address deep rooted homophobic and transphobic ideas. Meanwhile, a group has opened a series of “Safe Spaces” across the city of Durban to support the LGBT+ community. The project will be spread throughout KwaZulu-Natal next year.
From Uganda, reporter Jacob Kushner examined how LGBT people living in rural areas have found ways to live openly within their communities despite harsh laws that criminalize them:
“By adapting to, rather than rebuking, traditions and societal norms, some rural LGBT Africans are achieving a level of tolerance that just a few years ago seemed unthinkable.”
From Croatia, reporter Anja Vladisavljevic reflected on the change of priorities among gay activists in the five years since the country passed a constitutional referendum banning gay marriage. Vladisavljevic noted that while those behind the referendum celebrated the anniversary of its approval, activists are working to gain foster care rights for same-sex couples.
The Africa Queer Youth Initiative shared the coming out stories of young people in their own words from Mauritius, Kenya, and Nigeria. Hong Kong sex educator and social worker Bau Chung Sze-wan gave tips to young people for coming out to traditional parents in Chinese society. She urged parents to be open to their children to give children the strength to fight stigma and criticism they will face from others.
Kenyan activist Denis Nzioka talked to local newspaper The Star about the meanings behind the acronym LGBTQ. The South China Morning Post published support for the LGBT community that urged an understanding that “homosexuality is more than sex”.
In the US, gender fluid fashion model Rain Dove—who uses they/them pronouns—posted online about their experience being pepper sprayed in a high school bathroom after attending a meeting. The woman who attacked Dove later sought them out on social media to send threatening messages, but after Dove engaged her in conversation she apologized for the attack. Dove shared the conversation stating that although anger is a “necessary part of activism” that “we also need people who are willing to sit down and talk with [people] that [are] our oppressors, the people that are attacking us”.
On the March: In Mexico, the San Diego LGBT Community Center and organization RAICES reported over 120 LGBTQ asylum seekers have arrvied at the US border. The group have faced discrimination from other travelers in the Central American migrant caravan and continue to experience harassment from residents at the border city of Tijuana. Researcher Stefan Vogler explained how LGBTQ asylum seekers are forced to “prove” their sexuality or gender identity to immigration judges.
In the US, the New York Times reported that the autopsy of an HIV+ trans womanwho was possibly beaten and died while she was held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody was made public. The report says that Roxsana Rodriguez fell ill and was not given medical treatment for several days and had evidence of suffering blunt-force trauma. The Transgender Law Center has filed a wrongful death claim on her behalf.
Reporter Alex Cooper reviewed the issue of LGBTQ asylum seekers looking for refuge in Europe where activists say asylum decisions are often based on discriminatory or ignorant attitudes. Among the challenges is a lack of uniform standards across Europe. Meanwhile Reuters reported that only 22% of asylum seekers have been granted asylum in the UK based on their sexual orientation.
Business and Technology: In Brazil, the Dutch retailer C&A announced a campaign to hire 5,000 new temporary employees across Brazil with a focus on hiring trans people and refugees. In Australia, the group Pride in Diversity has piloted regional programs to support workplace inclusion initiatives by regional businesses of all sizes.
In the US, the Anti-Defamation League awarded Tim Cook the first ever “Courage Against Hate” award. Accepting it, Cook urged tech companies to be clear on moral questions and to take a stand against hate speech:
“At Apple, we are not afraid to say that our values drive our curation decisions.”
Twitter released a new version of its Terms of Service that prohibits misgendering and deadnaming trans users—a move trans activists have lobbied for for many years. Facebook announced a new content policy that includes a ban on content that suggest the solicitation of sex. Included in this content, Facebook lists “sex positions”, “sexual slang”, and discussions of “sexual preference/sexual partner preference”. Meanwhile, the blogging site Tumblr announced a new ban on adult content including photos, videos, and gifs. The site has been popular among the LGBTQ community for providing an “escape” from the “sexist, homophobic, and racist standards” of other social media platforms. Artists fear the ban will disproportionately impact the community.
Sports and Culture: In China, “Lady Tianyi”, an author of gay erotic fiction, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "producing and selling pornography". Tianyi came to police attention after one of her novels became a viral sensation last year.
During Hong Kong Pride, activists protested outside of libraries to fight the removal of LGBTQ themed children's books from public access. Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) confirmed that the books had been moved to "closed stacks" this summer.
In the US, some libraries are facing backlash for hosting LGBT-inclusive programing. Reporter Mitchell Kuga examined how "Drag Queen Story Hour" children's events have become central to the debate about who should be allowed to use the library.
The Academy of Motion Pictures selected comedian Kevin Hart to host the next Oscars; however, after the announcement people began re-circulating homophobic tweets Hart has posted over the years. In a video, Hart revealed that the Academy asked him to apologize, but he said he would rather not host the event than apologize for things in the past. Hart has since apologized though he will not return as host.
A trailer for the new French documentary "Cassandro, the Exotico!" which tells the story of Saúl Armendáriz, an American-born Mexican wrestler who became famous for his "exótico"—wrestling performances/fights in drag. The new documentary "Man Made" explores the world of transgender bodybuilders. Reviewer Rachel Lipstein writes: "The film shows how exhibiting one’s strength, after years of privately embodied pain, can be freeing—even euphoric." Check out the trailer.