Frankly, I don’t even care about acceptance, but how dare you label me a criminal?
The truth is that I live in New Delhi, am financially independent and fairly well-known. All these help protect me but one only has to visit smaller cities, or go to villages to find out more about discrimination. I’ll also say that it’s not only about class and money; it is also about the environment. Imagine a mindset in which girls are raped in the belief that they’ll become straight.
~ Celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia on the Indian law, Section 377, that criminalizes her sexuality.
From the UN: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein concluded his official visit to Indonesia where he met with President Joko Widodo, top officials, local human rights institutions, and civil society representatives. Among the topics addressed, Al Hussein noted he was “greatly concerned about the discussions around revisions to the penal code”, including amendments that would criminalize LGBTI people who already face stigma and intimidation:
“The hateful rhetoric against this community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions.”
The African Commission launched a new report, “HIV, the law and human rights in the African human rights system: key challenges and opportunities for rights-based responses” with contributions from UNAIDS, civil society, and other partners. The report examines how rights-based approaches and community involvement have been instrumental in responding to the AIDS epidemic. It highlights the challenges and best practices, including law and policy reform, progressive court decisions and programmes to advance human rights protection and access to HIV and health services, in continuing to address the needs of populations left behind, including LGBTI people.
Speaking at the launch, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé praised the Commission, noting:
“This report makes the basic point that we must place people, rights and communities at the centre of the response to HIV. It is great to see the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights speak so boldly on zero discrimination and the right to health through this report.”
UNAIDS also collaborated on a special section to the Health and Human Rights Journal with eleven new papers focusing on the intersection of HIV and human rights. Covering a variety of insights into key populations and countries, the special section provides “critical observations on the past, present, and future of human rights in the response to HIV, and in efforts to realize better health for all within the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.”
HIV, Health, and Wellness: The Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz) released new figures suggesting that HIV infections are high among both women who have sex with women and men who have sex with men. Galz warned that criminalization of gay people contributes to HIV by reinforcing stigma and preventing the community from accessing health care. Meanwhile, in an interview, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa noted that it is up to people who want decriminalization to campaign for it.
Writing for Morocco World News, researcher Charifa Zemouri described how some Middle East and North African countries continue to lack data on sexually transmitted diseases due to criminalization of key populations.
New research from Canada has found that HIV, Zika, and Ebola are able to “hide” in the testicles, helping to explain how viruses can remain in semen. Dr. Jean-Pierre Routy made the discovery though studying samples collected from trans women who had undergone surgery to remove their testes.
Health clinics across the UK will now offer HPV vaccines to all gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men under the age of 45. In the UK, one in four sexual health clinics have signed up to participate in NHS England’s trial on PrEP which will recruit at least 10,000 participants to evaluate PrEP’s impact on HIV incidence in the country.
A new program in the Netherlands reduced the cost of generic PrEP to less than €50, even though the drug is not covered by insurance. In Australia, federal health minister Greg Hunt announced that PrEP will be added to the country's benefits scheme—a move that will cut the price from $10,000 a year to only $474. Beginning in March, New Zealand's government will subsidize PrEP—making the cost to individuals around $1.20 per month. And in Canada, where PrEP costs between $400 to $1000 a month, Alberta released a statement saying it is assessing how to add generic PrEP to the province’s public drug plan.
US grocery chain Publix came under fire for denying employees, over 188,000 people, health insurance that includes access to PrEP. Many activists feared the chain, which has a record of poor treatment of LGBTQ workers, was following in the steps of the Hobby Lobby company when it refused employees access to insurance covered birth control due to moral objections. Florida Representative Carlos Smith, who is openly gay, has led the effort to persuade Publix to reverse the PrEP ban.
A new report estimates that nearly 700,000 LGBT people in the US have been subjected to some form of “conversion therapy” to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. Although talk therapy is the most common technique, practitioners have also used “aversion treatments, such as inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis; providing electric shocks”. Conversion therapy is legal in 41 US states.
In the UK, Members of Parliament have agreed to meet with Church of England representatives to discuss conversion therapy. The Church’s General Synod voted overwhelmingly last summer to ban the practice. Many expert groups all over the world have disavowed so-called conversion or gay cure therapies as unethical and scientifically unfound.
From the World of Politics: The European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution that urges all EU Member States to allow free movement of LGBTI families, including non-EU spouses and their children. The Parliament also issued resolutions condemning Turkey's indefinite ban on LGBTI events and urging Russia to address the "campaign of persecution" against people perceived to be LGBTI in Chechnya.
The Russian Ministry of Health approved a new procedure to allow trans people to change their gender marker on legal documents without undergoing medical procedures. Chile’s House of Deputies approved a new transgender rights bill to allow adults to change their name and gender. The bill will now be reviewed by the Senate.
Following requests from Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications that Google remove access to over 70 LGBT apps, Google has blocked downloads of up to 14 different apps, including Blued—the largest gay dating app, accused of containing LGBT-related pornography.
The Parliament of Jersey, a Channel Island near the coast of France, voted to reject an amendment that would allow businesses to refuse goods and services to gay couples.
Canada's Heritage Minister Melanie Joly announced that the anthem's new gender inclusive lyrics have been approved by royal assent—changing “in all thy sons command,” to “in all of us command.”
The Politics of Union: Bermuda's governor signed into legislation the Domestic Partnership Act which rolls back marriage equality and replaces same-sex marriages with domestic partnerships. The law revokes rights awarded by Bermuda's Supreme Court last May.
A gay Russian couple was forced to flee the country after they were charged with "intentionally defacing an official document" and their passports declared invalid. The couple was married in Denmark and their marriage was “accidentally” recognized by a Russian official. Local media spread the story and authorities responded swiftly, firing the official that stamped their passports and, reportedly, threatening the couple.
The UK Parliament announced it is reviewing “the difference in treatment” between gay and straight couples seeking civil partnerships. Some heterosexual couples spoke to the BBC to explain why they feel the law, which only allows same-sex couples the option, should be changed.
Let the Courts Decide: The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that officials cannot require asylum seekers to undergo “sexual orientation tests”. The case stems from a gay Nigerian man seeking asylum in Hungary where authorities required the man take psychological tests to prove he was gay. The ECJ said that, while expert opinions are allowed, sexual orientation tests are “a disproportionate interference in the private life of the asylum-seeker”.
The German Federal Fiscal Court reversed a lower court ruling and allowed a lesbian to deduct costs of in-vitro fertilization from her taxes because she is infertile. Although Germany routinely allows IVF deductions, the lower court stated she was ineligible because in her same-sex relationship “natural procreation is not possible” regardless of her fertility.
In the US, the group Immigration Equality filed two lawsuits on behalf of married binational same-sex couples whose children born via IVF have been denied US citizenship. Immigration Equality notes that the State Department is applying laws for children born out of wedlock to same-sex married couples, instead of upholding the law that says children born to US citizens who marry abroad are entitled to US citizenship.
In the Name of Religion: Jamaican activists successfully petitioned the Chief Immigration Officer to ban US Baptist preacher Steve Anderson, well known for spreading hate speech against LGBT people and other vulnerable groups, from entering Jamaica.
In Romania, protesters disrupted a screening of 120 Beats Per Minute, the French film on the early days of the AIDS movement and ACT UP Paris. The demonstrators, calling themselves “Christian Orthodox”, burst into the cinema holding religious icons, banners, and singing hymns.
Vaishnav Hindu teacher and theologian Akhandadhi Das discussed Ayurvedic texts and Hinduism’s “long and surprising approach to gender identity” that speaks to acceptance and love of trans and non-binary people.
And from the US, Christian queer activist Eliel Cruz wrote about how the merging of conservative policies with Christian theology damages LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized groups and undermines the US cornerstone of religious freedom and religious plurality.
Fear and Loathing: Indonesian police raided beauty salons and detained 12 trans women employees. After media circulated photos showing the women were stripped, beaten, and their heads shaved, Indonesia’s National Commissioner of Human Rights, Beka Ulung Hapsara, condemned the police actions. National police chief, Tito Karnavian, has ordered an investigation to determine if there was any “procedural or ethical violation”.
In South Africa, protests and threats of violence forced cinemas to cancel screenings of The Wound (Inexba), an award-winning film about a young gay member of the Xhosa tribe. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) urged people to keep protests peaceful and “to engage more constructively” about their concerns.
In Myanmar, NGO Colors Rainbow reported that trans women face more discrimination from police and community than other LGBT community members. From Malawi, the International AIDS Alliance spoke with HIV+ and trans woman Amanda about facing transphobia and working with community group CHeRA to sensitize health workers.
From the US, GLAAD released findings from its fourth annual Accelerating Acceptance report which shows that, for the first time, public opinion among adults has grown less accepting of LGBTQ people. GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis wrote the change signals “a dangerous repercussion”: “2017 brought heightened rhetoric toward marginalized communities to the forefront of American culture.” Writer Colleen Curry comments the backlash in public opinion against LGBT rights.
Winds of Change: Research company Ipsos published results from a survey of 27 countries and public opinion on transgender people. Among the findings, the survey saw that a majority of people believe their that governments should do more to protect trans people from discrimination. Although in some areas people still believe that gender identity questions stem from mental illness, 52% believe being trans is a natural occurrence.
Transgender Europe released a new report “Oppression Squared: D/deaf and disabled trans experiences in Europe” to highlight the voices “largely missing” from LGBTI advocacy.
The Russian LGBT Network released an accounting of the work they have undertaken to rescue and resettle victims of the Chechen police detainment and abuse of suspected gay people. The Network noted that they raised over €479,000 and spent an average of €4,500 per evacuated person. The group is fundraising to continue work into 2018.
Brazil celebrated its National Day of Trans Visibility on January 29th with programs, performances, and panels. During the event, Alessandra Nilo, general coordinator of the HIV organization Gestos, was awarded the Monique Rodrigues Grand Prize for Nilo’s national and international human rights work in support of the trans community for over 25 years.
Hindustan Times kicked off a five-part series "Let's Talk About 377" with an op-ed from celebrity chef and out lesbian Ritu Dalmia about being labeled a criminal for her sexuality.
From Nepal, Pachichan profiled Apeksha Dahal, a young lesbian who has provided peer education to over 90 children affected by HIV and LGBTI adolescents. From India, author and activist Harish Iyer spoke to mother and ally Aruna Desai about supporting young LGBTQ people, especially when their own families reject them. From Bulgaria, Ivan Dimov discussed creating Single Step, an organization and online chat room for young LGBTI people who feel alone.
And from the US, the Washington Blade interviewed LGBT activists and organizations who have stepped up to help vulnerable Puerto Ricans devastated by Hurricane Maria.
On the March: Tunisian police detained LGBT activists demonstrating for an end to “the criminalization of sexual freedom and discrimination against women”. Authorities said the rally was banned for "their safety and to preserve public order".
Russian authorities cancelled a Pride parade schedule for Teriberka, a rural locality in the Kolsky District, citing concerns that bad weather “could endanger the health of the citizens that participate". Organizer Nikolai Alexeyev told The Moscow Times that usually LGBT events are cancelled due to Russia's Anti-gay Propaganda law. He plans to appeal the decision in court.
School Days: The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) Youth & Student Organisation (IGLYO) launched the LGBTQI Inclusive Education Index and Report to assess the experiences of students across Europe. The report measures the policies, curriculum, teacher training, and harassment that impact LGBTI students.
UK group Stonewall published a new guide for secondary schools on how to build an LGBT inclusive and integrated curriculum in a safe learning environment.
US group GLSEN released new research that examines how US state laws that prohibit positive portrayal of homosexuality—also known as “no promo homo” laws—have negatively impacted LGBTQ students’ health, education, and safety.
A new US study found that young gay and bisexual males were less likely to receive school-based education on HIV than heterosexual male adolescents. Meanwhile, The Seattle Lesbian responded to news that lesbian and bisexual women receive nearly zero education on risky sex that doesn’t involve male genitalia by publishing a guide on sexually transmitted diseases most common among women who have sex with women.
Business and Technology: In Kenya, international groups Hivos, Workplace Pride, and Sullivan Marketing co-sponsored Colourful Workplaces, a conference of over 150 business leaders and civil society members discussing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Attending the event, the UN Human Rights Office announced nine new companies that are now supporting the UN Standards of Conduct for Business.
Sports and Culture: The Japan Times looked at new media and TV shows in Japan that are working to show more diversity in LGBT characters.
India's CBFC film board has labeled the coming out drama Evening Shadows family friendly. Director Sridhar Rangayan said he was thrilled a larger mainstream audience will have the opportunity to see it in theatrical and satellite release. Independent film The Miseducation of Cameron Post won the Sundance film festival’s Dramatic Grand Jury Prize for its adaptation of Emily Danforth’s novel on Christian teens struggling at a gay conversion therapy center.
Writing for Queer Asia, Camille Sung examined what it means to be ‘Queer’ in South Korea and how that identity is expressed through visual art. VICE spoke to curator Yas Ahmed and artist and drag queen Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, about creating The Third Muslim, an exhibit on Queerness and Islam for San Francisco’s SOMArts.
Check out the podcast series “#QueerAF” from UK’s National Student Pride, sharing queer, intersectional stories that are “beyond the binary, sex-positive and with unicorns spewing rainbows everywhere”.