"We are all different, but we share the same human spirit."
~ World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking passed away at age 76.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres remembered him: "Stephen Hawking was a cosmic force and an inspiration. He taught us the mysteries of outer space and the potential of our inner selves. The United Nations has lost a friend and the world a strong advocate of science for the common good."
From the UN: The world celebrated the International Day of Zero Discrimination, first commemorated in 2014 to draw attention to the stigma faced by people living with HIV. UNAIDS has expanded the message, emphasizing that discrimination of any person is “is not only wrong, it is bad for communities, bad for the economy and bad for the future”.
After consulting with civil society organizations and other stakeholders, UNAIDS has expanded and relaunched the Key Populations Atlas, a visualization tool with the latest available data on HIV issues impacting gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, prisoners, and people living with HIV.
UNAIDS held a side event to the 37th session of the Human Rights Council to focus on HIV and human rights with representatives from Brazil, India, Malawi, and the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+). Panelists appealed for action and stressed the importance of legislation to prohibit discrimination against vulnerable communities.
Also at the 37th session, GATE and ILGA hosted the side event Gender, Depathologization & Human Rights to discuss how treating a person’s sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression as abnormal or as an illness has been a “root cause behind the human rights violations that they face”.
UNAIDS co-authored new research published in the European Journal of Public Health that provides a socioecological measurement of homophobia at country level. The “Homophobic Climate Index” incorporates institutional and social components of homophobia and was used to assess 158 countries. UNAIDS asserts that the index “shows the damaging effects that homophobia has on the lives and well-being of everyone in a county, not just gay men and other men who have sex with men”.
The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction launched a new tool, the Sendai Framework Monitor, to help countries report on the impact of disasters on people, economies, and infrastructure. The collected data will be used to improve national and local strategies to reduce risks during disasters. At the launch, UN Special Representative Mami Mizutori emphasized the importance of this data for vulnerable populations and the need to disaggregate data by sex, age, and disability: “Disasters do not affect people equally.”
HIV, Health, and Wellness: The International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) launched the “Key Population Activist Toolkit on PrEP” to provide communities all over the world the knowledge needed to demand affordable and appropriate access to PrEP.
During the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), participants lamented the relative low uptake of PrEP around the world, whether due to lack of affordable access, low awareness, or stigma. Presenters argued that only the US, Australia, and Kenya have “aggressively promoted” PrEP, yet even in those countries, they said, many who might benefit do not ask for it. Also at CROI, Gilead Sciences and researchers from Emory University showcased AIDSVu, a tool to track how many individuals have been prescribed PrEP brand Truvada, with the aim of evaluating how to reach more at need populations.
A randomized trial in Burma found that HIV self-testing kits can be successfully used and help link trans women, gay men, and other men who have sex with men to care. A study in South Africa of gay and bisexual men found that nearly all participants were willing and able to use self-testing kits.
LINKAGES released a resource to help programs address violence perpetrated on those at high risk for HIV, including gay and transgender people. A new study from China suggested that gay men and other men who have sex with men who are victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) have a higher risk of HIV infection than other men. Researchers conclude that HIV prevention programs should screen for IPV and provide people with PrEP to reduce infection.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDCP) released new data on HIV infections which show that half of new infections were among gay and bisexual people.
In Nigeria, NoStringsNG and the Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment (LIFFE) hosted a workshop for gay and bisexual men to discuss HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, human rights, religion, homophobia, and effeminophobia.
In an era of improved treatments for HIV/AIDS, UK activist Philip Baldwin discussed the challenges HIV-positive gay and bisexual men can face as they age, including depression, chronic conditions, and financial instability. Meanwhile, the UK’s York LGBT Forum developed a training program “Free to Be Me” that focuses on reducing stigma and discrimination against older LGBT living in care homes.
A UK study argued that drug treatment programs need to adapt to new trends in drug use, including a rise in injecting methamphetamine among gay men and other men who have sex with men. And in Canada, programs were launched to address substance abuse and trauma among Indigenous LGBTQ and two-spirit people.
Also in Canada, a program “Every Body” was launched to help queer men struggling with body image issues. And in the US, a first-of-its-kind national study found that 54% of surveyed LGBTQ youth had been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Of those diagnosed, 58% have also had considered or attempted suicide.
Writing for the New Yorker, Rebecca Mead explored how trans women are using “facial feminization” surgery to escape gender and body dysphoria. And the podcast, The Pulse, talked to trans women who seek help from voice and speech therapists to “feminize” their voice.
From the World of Politics: Pakistan’s Senate unanimously passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, which allows trans people and hijras to self-identify their gender, obtain driver’s licenses and passports, and to change their gender in the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) records. The law includes a variety of protections, from non-discrimination in education, healthcare, and employment to the creation of safe houses, vocational programs, and separate prisons.
In the Philippines, Senator Risa Hontiveros resubmitted the Anti-discrimination Bill (ADB) in December—a bill intended to prevent discrimination against any person regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. However, supporters of ADB say that some representatives are purposefully blocking its passage and refusing to call a vote. Meanwhile, thousands of people led by the “Jesus Is Lord (JIL)” movement rallied in front of the Senate to oppose the bill.
In the US, Senators have reintroduced the The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) which prevents the government from penalizing any individual who "speaks, or acts, in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction" that marriage is between one man and one woman. Experts say the broadly worded bill could allow discrimination against same-sex couples, single mothers, unwed couples, interfaith couples, and interracial couples, among others.
Meanwhile, the US states of Alaska, New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York, Washington, North Carolina, and New Hampshire passed various local bills that expand transgender rights, prohibit gay and trans “panic defense”, and ban conversion therapies.
The European Parliament adopted its annual report on fundamental rights in the EU. The report had key provisions for LGBTI people, including, but not limited to, condemning conversion therapies, welcoming efforts to depathologize gender identity, encouraging legislation that addresses discrimination, and calling for more data on genital “normalization” and human rights violations faced by intersex people.
All of Australia now allows same-sex couples to adopt children after the Northern Territory amended its laws. Meanwhile, several US states are considering bills to allow faith-based groups the ability to refuse LGBT couples seeking to adopt.
In Lebanon, politicians of the Kataeb party promised to remove laws criminalizing homosexuality if they win the country's election in May.
Ireland’s openly gay Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has promised to raise LGBT issues when participating in bilateral talks with President Trump. Ahead of the meeting, Varadkar spoke at the South by South West festival in Texas:
“It is really tough to see a country that is built on freedom, and built on individual freedom somehow not being a world leader in that space anymore.”
In Colombia’s recent elections, 14 LGBT candidates ran for Congress. For the first time, the public elected openly bisexual Angélica Lozano to the Senate and openly gay Mauricio Toro Orjuela to the Congress. In the Philippines, the country’s first openly trans woman elected to Congress, Representative Geraldine Roman, has become the first openly trans military officer, joining the Reserves.
The Politics of Union: When the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that same-sex marriages should be recognized by all signatories of the American Convention of Human Rights in January, it forced many Latin American countries to address marriage equality.
In Germany, the Christian Social Union (CSU) political party has abandoned efforts to reverse same-sex marriage, which was legalized in the country last year, after a legal report concluded any challenge would have little chance of succeeding.
In the US, politicians in Kentucky and Tennessee came under fire for refusing to consider bills to ban child marriage. Reportedly, the Kentucky Family Foundation and the Family Action Council of Tennessee had lobbied politicians to delay the bills, arguing that child marriage decisions should be a parent’s choice; and in Tennessee, arguing that any bill on marriage would disrupt efforts to reverse gay marriage rights. National media coverage sparked public outrage, and both bills will now be brought back to a vote.
Let the Courts Decide: The Supreme Court of Brazil ruled that individuals of any age can change their name and gender in the civil registry without surgery or medical evaluation.
Thailand’s Central Administrative Court ruled that Thammasat University unfairly fired trans lecturer Kath Khangpiboon.
The US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer unlawfully fired a trans woman due to her gender identity, finding that discriminating against trans workers is a form of sex bias. The employer had claimed that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected his decision to fire the woman, but the judge stated:
“Tolerating Stephens’ understanding of her sex and gender identity is not tantamount to supporting it.”
The ruling comes on the heels of the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that found that sex bias includes protection for sexual orientation.
In the Name of Religion: The Catholic Church of Belize withdrew its opposition to the Court of Appeal ruling that decriminalized sexual relations between same-sex consenting adults.
In South Africa, leaders of Indian descent discussed whether their religions condone same-sex marriage, which has been legal in the country since 2006. Acceptance varied greatly, from Hindu leader Ashwin Trikamjee who emphasized that the importance of marriage is between two individuals regardless of sexuality or gender identity, to Muslim leader Mufti Moosa who emphasized that it is prohibited by Islamic law. However, Imam Muhsun Hendricks, who runs a “gay-friendly mosque”, has argued that “Quran doesn’t prohibit same-sex marriages. Islamic law is man-made and has to evolve with the needs of the humanity it serves”.
The Roman Catholic Church’s triennial World Meeting of Families Congress will be held this summer in Ireland. This year’s meeting was originally promoted with a video from Bishop David O’Connell in which he welcomed “all sorts of configurations of families” including single parents, second marriages, and gay couples raising children. However, after pressure from conservative groups, the welcome message had been edited to delete comments in support of rainbow families.
Winds of Change: The new initiative Global Health 50/50 launched its inaugural report on gender responsiveness in 140 leading global health organizations. The report examined gender-related policies and practices, scoring organizations based on several key areas, including how they use gender in data collection and programming and how gender equality is promoted and realized within the workplace. Among the findings, researchers noted that many organizations fail to clearly define gender and only 4 of the 140 specifically mention non-binary and trans people as a program focus. The report states that a well-defined gender approachhelps focus “not on individual women and men but on the social, cultural and political systems that determine gender roles and responsibilities, access to and control over resources, and decision-making power”.
UNAIDS profiled Côte d’Ivoire activist Ezechiel Koffi and his “tireless energy” working for Alternative, a local LGBTI organization. From Barbados, Zing, the inflight magazine for Caribbean Airline LAIT, profiled trans activist Alexa Hoffman as one of the country’s women “who run the world” for her efforts for local LGBTI issues.
From Georgia, Radio Free Europe filmed transgender women talking about their dreams of family and acceptance. Times of India spoke to English teacher Atri Kar about becoming the first trans person allowed to sit for the West Bengal Civil Service Exams. And Pink News selected nine British, Irish, Australian, and American women whose work has been instrumental in improving LGBT equality.
Fear and Loathing: Writing for Open Democracy, Ismail Djalilov and Tamara Grigoryeva looked at the ongoing crimes against LGBT in the Caucasus region, especially Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Tajikistan, and Russia. They noted that a lack of communication and collaboration between LGBT rights group and civil society at large keeps LGBT vulnerable.
The Helsinki Committee of Armenia published a new report on the state of Human Rights in the country. The report includes information on sexual violence and documents specific cases where the rights of LGBT individuals were violated.
Writing for the Guardian, Natalia Antonova asserted that current far-right ideology “tends to transcend borders” and that hate and bigotry should not be thought of as a “localized phenomenon”. Instead, she argues:
“Shared humanity, the idea of belonging to a common cause – these are the tools we have at our disposal if we wish to adequately address the rising tide of hate.”
From Indonesia came reports that a mob raided the home of two men accused of being gay after the men were seen hugging. The mob took the men to the police where they were subsequently sent to “prayer rehab” at Jakarta’s Social Agency. In a separate report, the Agency’s head of rehabilitation said that trans women are classified as “people with social dysfunctional traits” and, as such, they are also being rounded up and sent to rehabilitation centers. He declared that any person sent to rehabilitation must promise not to “repeat the violation”:
“Once or twice is still OK, but if we catch them a third time, they can be sent to jail for committing the same violation over and over”.
In the US, a man was arrested for stating on the dating app Grindr that he would kill 85 people at a gay club. The person he messaged showed the threats to the police who identified the suspect.
In Tajikistan, three police officers were charged with extortion and abuse of office for blackmailing a gay man to keep his sexual orientation secret. Last fall, Tajikistan authorities created a registry of “proven” gays and lesbians.
In the Netherlands, posters for clothing brand Suitsupply that feature gay men were vandalized all over the country. Suitsupply said they’ve also lost over 10,000 followers on social media, though many have also spoken out in support.
Surveys from the UK and the US have found that gay and bisexual men have experienced sexual assault, touching without consent, sexual violence, and rape at much higher rates than heterosexual men. Journalist Michael Segalov explored why the conversation around consent has been stifled. Meanwhile, producers of the UK’s longest-running soap opera, Coronation Street, announced it will feature a storyline in which a male character is drugged and raped to highlight the “culture of silence” around male sexual assault.
On the March: Israel has begun detaining and deporting asylum seekers, who are mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, to “third countries”—Rwanda and Uganda. Although women and children have been excluded from deportation, Border Authorities confirmed that gay and bisexual asylum seekers are not excluded, despite laws in Uganda that criminalize homosexuality.
In the UK, private companies managing housing for asylum seekers have come under fire for putting LGBTI people in homes where they have been physically, verbally, and sexually assaulted.
In South Africa, some protesters accused Cape Town Pride of insensitivity and exclusion. Pride organizers met with the group Free Gender to discuss the murders of local black lesbians, how to do a better job addressing hate crimes, and how to improve representation of people of color.
In Uganda, organizers are working with authorities and “straight allies” to gain permission to host Pride Uganda in Kampala. If successful, it will be the first Pride event in the country since police beat and arrested participants in 2016.
In Australia, over 300,000 spectators and 12,300 participants from 200 groups attended the 40th annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Themed “40 years of Evolution”, the event honored the first parade in 1978 that was violently broken up by police. Current Mardi Gras CEO Terese Casu remarked on the diversity of this year’s parade:
“Beyond the glitter, flamboyance and satire, there were so many floats reminding us of the serious issues. Acceptance, inclusivity, diversity, respect.”
School Days: The US Department of Health and Human Services has put a new emphasis on abstinence-only education, newly renamed “sexual risk avoidance education” (SRAE), with funding requirements that prevent programs from distributing or demonstrating how to use contraception.
South Africa’s Department of Basic Education has moved forward with Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to help youth make informed decisions about sexuality and lifestyles, with Minister Angie Motshekga calling it a “game changer to accelerating HIV prevention”.
While governments debate the need for CSE programs, YouTube sex educators —known as “sex vloggers”—are gaining popularity in the US, UK, and Poland.
During the UK’s National Union of Students LGBT+ conference, participants reshaped campaign priorities, which include a call for the government to ban “gay cure” therapies, improve sex education, decriminalize sex work, and address homelessness among LGBTQ youth.
Business and Technology: Writing for Slate, activist Norman Shamas argues the queer dating and community apps need to be designed to better protect users from authorities and others who seek to persecute LGBTQ individuals.
Transgender Networks Switzerland (TGNS) launched a new campaign to encourage Swiss employers to create an “inclusive work culture” and to combat discrimination against trans people at work.
The fifth annual “Lesbians Who Tech” summit was held in California, bringing together over 5,000 lesbian, bisexual, trans, and queer people and allies to talk about advances in technology, gender equality, net neutrality and gun control.
Germany held the annual International Tourism Trade Fair (ITB) where over 10,000 companies gather to discuss the latest developments in tourism. Among the participants were many groups catering to LGBT travelers who are focusing on how to “avoid cliches” while becoming more inclusive.
Sports and Culture: In the UK, a group announced plans to build the largest LGBT museum in the world. “Queer Britain: The National LGBTQ+ Museum” will seek to capture the complex history of LGBTQ+ lives which have been historically “led in private”. Co-Founder Joseph Galliano remarked:
“People came out of their closets, now it's time to come out of the margins.”
In Brazil, drag queens and other gender-bending performers are using music, live performance, and YouTube videos to promote acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
Drag superstar RuPaul ignited controversy stating that trans women wouldn’t be allowed on his hit TV show. In a Twitter post, RuPaul said he “regrets the hurt” he caused. However, many believe his viewpoint is misinformed and erases the history of trans and gender nonconforming performers. As his show becomes more mainstream, with international spinoffs, other drag leaders hope to expand the conversation to include non-binary and both trans and cisgender women.
Finally, check out TV critic Kevin Fallon's review of animated series Family Guy and it’s “shockingly nuanced and progressive” take on character Stewie’s “coming out”:
“There’s a dance between child angst and the torture that comes from being afraid, not only of others knowing the real you, but of knowing yourself.”