We need open mindedness about sexuality

photo via PinkDot


"We need open mindedness about sexuality, about sex and about sexual health. Only then we can empower young people and give them confidence." ~ Reina Buijs of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaking on sex rights and education at #AIDS2018. 

From the UN: UNAIDS published its latest comprehensive global AIDS update: “Miles to go—closing gaps, breaking barriers, righting injustices”.  The report is a “stark wake-up call” that warns that the rate of infection has risen in 50 countries and that key populations continue to be left behind. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men have 28 times higher risk of contracting HIV than heterosexual men. Transgender women and female sex workers both have 13 times higher risk of acquiring HIV than adults aged 15-49 years old. 

Another troubling statistic—gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men accounted for 57% of new infections in Europe and North America, 41% of new infections in Latin America, and 25% of new infections in Asia and the Pacific and Caribbean. In a special feature, UNAIDS explains how it triangulates data on infections and treatment.

The report emphasizes the essential role discrimination and discriminatory laws and policies has played, especially on trans people and gay men and other men who have sex with men. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe explained how “bad laws” hinder access to AIDS services and why they “must go, and go now”: 

“The very people who are meant to be protecting, supporting and healing people living with HIV often discriminate against the people who should be in their care, denying access to critical HIV services, resulting in more HIV infections and more deaths.”

Writing for the UNDP, Program Manager Deena Patel emphasized this point through the lense of Nigeria, whose government has developed a “National Plan of Action for the removal of legal and human rights barriers in the HIV/AIDS response”. The plan includes sensitization for law enforcement, healthcare workers, judges, and politicians. 

UNAIDS and ViiV Healthcare held a symposium to discuss engagement strategies to better respond to HIV and warn against the “echo chamber effect” in which people are surrounded only by like-minded ideas. They noted that “echo chambers can also enhance stigmatization, promote discriminatory behaviors or spread inaccurate or false information”. The groups announced a competition that will award $10,000 to three winners who use digital storytelling to engage “targeted, hard-to-reach groups” on HIV issues.

The UNESCO Beijing Office and the UNFPA China Office introduced the Chinese language edition of the Technical Guidance on Sexuality. Shen Haiping, of China’s National Health Commission, said that local sex education is still in the “exploratory stage” but recognized its importance. Nachaa Suren, of the UNFPA China Office, said that an additional national technical guide will be developed that specifically considers China’s situation.

More From the UN

HIV, Health, and Wellness: The 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018), themed Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges, was held in Amsterdam with over 15,000 attendees sharing the latest scientific findings, achievements in advocacy and activism, and national and community level gains and losses in the effort to achieve an AIDS free generation. Among the many topics covered included a warning cry against complacency as donor government funding slips with no significant new funding. Activist and blogger Mark King shared daily AIDS 2018 updates to give viewers an on-the-ground perspective of attending the conference.

Researchers released the results of PARTNER 2, the largest study to examine the risk of HIV transmission between sexual partners when one partner is HIV-positive and on anti-retroviral treatment (ART) and one partner is HIV-negative. For eight years, PARTNER 2 followed over 1,000 male couples in 14 European countries and determined that there were zero cases where condomless sex led to HIV transmission when the partner was virally suppressed. Sharing the results at AIDS 2018, some had questions about potential weaknesses with the study. However, remarking that the study supports the U=U Campaign (undetectable = untransmittable), Executive Director of UK AIDS group NAM, Matthew Hodson said:

“This is the moment when science trumps stigma. This is the moment when facts must conquer fear. The knowledge that when we are undetectable we can’t pass the virus on to our sexual partners has the power to encourage people to test and to remain adherent to their treatment.”

Sir Elton John and the UK’s Prince Harry announced a new global partnership called MenStar Coalition, a $1.2 billion-dollar venture to focus on “breaking the cycle” of male transmission of HIV. The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation said it would contribute $6 million to a MenStar Coalition Challenge Fund to develop and scale up new strategies to reach high-risk young men.

New research presented at AIDS 2018 found that mutated strains of HIV circulating in Canada are making people sicker faster. Researchers investigated strains of HIV in the province of Saskatchewan where nearly 80% of HIV-positive people are Indigenous peoples.  They found that over 98% of the HIV sequences collected in the province had at least one mutation conferring drug resistance.  

The latest edition of the Journal of the International AIDS Society featured a series of studies on optimizing HIV programming for key populations—gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and prisoners. Some studies look at measuring and evaluating key populations, while others evaluate the HIV programs and innovations that target these groups. Several studies look at new efforts to encourage self-testing, especially among gay men and other men who have sex with men in VietnamNigeriaThailand, and Brazil

Amsterdam researchers announced that the project to bring PrEP to gay and bisexual men (AmPrEP) has seen “unprecedented” rates of hepatitis-C among HIV-negative men. Their genetic analysis of the infections showed that HIV-negative men were likely contracting hep-C from unprotected sex with HIV-positive men. 

From the US, a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases found that nearly a third of HIV-positive men had not been tested for syphilis in the last year and only 40% were tested in the last 6 months. With rising rates of syphilis in the US, health care providers are urged to to make screening a part of routine visits. 

More HIV, Health, and Wellness

From the World of Politics: The Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies approved a gender recognition law that allows people to officially change their name and gender marker without medical intervention. The law will apply to minors with parental approval and to foreign residents who have lived in the country for at least a year. The government also endorsed a National Action Plan for the Promotion of LGBTI Rights. The plan focuses on providing inclusive and equitable treatment in education, employment, and healthcare. It supports protections for diverse families and freedom from discrimination and violence, with special attention to the needs of transgender and intersex persons. 

This summer Denmark and the UK also unveiled “LGBT action plans” that make broad promises across key areas of government to support LGBT people’s lives. In March Denmark and Luxembourg joined the UK to become members of the Equal Rights Coalition.  

In Pakistan, the transgender community faced disappointing setbacks during the general election. Although transgender people had been hired by the Election Commission to observe polling stations and make sure women and disabled people were treated fairly, the trans observers were not allowed inside. At several stations trans people were not allowed to vote because of their identity card’s gender marker. A record 13 transgender candidates filed paperwork to run for election, five of whom made it on the final ballot. In May Pakistan’s National Assembly passed the Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill promising basic rights, including the right to vote. 

In Japan, Liberal Democratic Party and member of the House of Representatives, Mio Sugita went viral on social media for a magazine article in which she made many disparaging comments against LGBT people. One of Japan’s first openly gay politicians, Taiga Ishikawa condemned her statements saying:

“Homosexuality is not the definition of unhappiness. It’s discriminatory remarks like Sugita’s that make us unhappy.”

Japan Times reported that thousands of protesters rallied outside of the LDP headquarters calling for her resignation.

In Malaysia, the Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dr. Mujahid Yusof Rawa told the Dewan Rakyat (lower house of parliament) that the government is “not friendly to LGBT” and that people must follow laws that prohibit LGBT “lifestyle”.  However, he urged people not to discriminate against people in the workplace which he said would force people into sex work. Last month, many expressed outrage on social media when a young gay man working in the Ministry of Youth and Sport was cyber-bullied into resigning from his position. 

In the US, the Justice Department hosted its first Religious Freedom Summit at which Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “task force” to implement “religious freedom”.  During his speech he praised the Colorado baker who refused to serve a gay couple. He stated that a “dangerous movement” is “eroding our great tradition of religious freedom” and called past and future elections a “rare opportunity to arrest these trends”. LGBT activists quickly warned of the implications, as Louise Melling of the American Civil Liberties Union emphasized:

“Religious freedom protects our right to our beliefs, not a right to discriminate or harm others. Jeff Session’s Department of Justice is again turning that understanding of religious freedom on its head.”

Also in the US, Congress advanced an amendment to allow child welfare agenciesto discriminate on the basis of religious or moral convictions, despite receiving federal funding. Child welfare includes, though is not limited to, foster and adoption agencies, therapy, parenting assistance programs, and residential services. The amendment could impact LGBTQ families, divorced and single parents, and interfaith couples. Senate Democrats have sent a letter demanding the amendment be removed. Similar bills protecting discrimination in foster care and adoption have already been enacted in ten states.

Israel's Knesset passed a new surrogacy law that grants state supported surrogacy for heterosexual couple and single women, but excludes rights for single men and gay couples. LGBT people and allies protested with a nationwide "strike", including an estimated 100,000 person rally in Tel Aviv. LGBT leaders presented a list of demands to end discrimination including preventing violence, full recognition of gay families, equality in surrogacy and healthcare, appropriate social welfare programs, and education programs to increase acceptance of the community.  The LGBT protest has come at a time of cultural upheaval for Israel. Most prominently, the parliament passed a new “nation-state” law that critics call an act of apartheid that openly discriminates against people who are not Jewish. 
In France, couples must go before a “family council” to assess suitability for adoptingand many gay couples feel shut out of the system. The head of adoption services in Seine-Maritime region of Normandy, Pascale Lemare, caused controversy when she suggested that gay couples should only adopt children that “no one wants”. The Same-Sex Parents' Association (ADFH) quickly filed a complaint. 

In Italy, the mayor of the city of Turin allowed three gay couples to officially register their children, conceived through IVF. However, Italy’s Minister for Family Lorenzo Fontana condemned couples who conceive via surrogacy and has refused to recognize the families, stating that LGBT families “do not exist” under the law. Meanwhile, in Sweden, the leader of the largest right-wing party—Sweden Democrats—caused controversy among supporters when he stated that the party would soon rewrite its program in favor of adoption by same-sex couples.  

Despite headlines, the Pew Research Center has found that most people in Western Europe across political parties support allowing adoption by gay and lesbian couples. 

More from the World of Politics

The Politics of Union: Cuba’s National Assembly approved a draft constitutional reform that includes a new definition of marriage as the union of two people regardless of gender. The changes will be put to a popular vote this year. 

Switzerland moved forward with the possibility of approving marriage equality. The National Legal Affairs Committee voted to create legislation that allows same-sex marriage. The legislation will not include rights for LGBT adoption, medically assisted procreation, or rights to a same-sex partner’s pension. The Committee said that those issues may need a public vote to progress. 

Thailand’s Justice Ministry announced that a draft of the Civil Partnership Bill allowing same-sex couples to register as life partners will be completed in September. If approved by the Cabinet, the bill will be reviewed by the National Legislative Assembly. 

Romania’s Constitutional Court followed the European Court of Justice ruling and has said that the country must give residency rights to the same-sex spouses of European Union citizens. Romania does not recognize gay marriage, however the ECJ ruled that all EU states must provide equal residency rights to any couple married in the EU.

After the Hong Kong Court of Appeal ruled in favor of a married lesbian couple seeking a spousal visa, Angus Leung announced he will appeal to the High Court a ruling that his husband is not entitled to the same spousal benefits as heterosexual couples. Although the couple initially won, the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling, stating that government has a "legitimate aim" to protect traditional marriage and that granting spousal benefits would open the door to other benefits.

In the Cayman Islands, a court has accepted a case to review whether denying two women the right to a marriage license is against their human rights. 

More from the Politics of Union

Let the Courts Decide: A Lebanese appeals court upheld a ruling that acquitted nine people accused of “unnatural offenses” and homosexuality. Lawyer Karim Nammour stated that the latest ruling means that "homosexual relations are not a crime, as long as they are between two adults and do not occur in a public space".

India’s Supreme Court concluded oral arguments on the constitutionality of Section 377 criminalizing gay sex. As the country waits for a decision, many have spoken outabout the fear and discrimination they’ve faced growing up, living, and working under the stigma of criminalization. The Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy released “The Law isn’t Straight: A Queer Person’s Guide to Accessing Rights” to help people navigate the changing laws. 

In Belarus, the Central District Court of Minsk found Viktoria Biran guilty of breaching the “procedure for the organization and holding of mass events” when she took pictures in front of government buildings while holding a piece of paper that said “YOU are fake”. Biran said she was protesting an article posted on the Interior Ministry website that stated the LGBTI community “are just fakes”.

In the US, Sergeant Nick Harrison, an HIV-positive National Guard soldier, filed suit against the government for a policy that he says “makes it effectively impossible for people living with HIV to serve” in the military. The policy announced in February, directs the Pentagon to remove military personnel who are “undeployable” to serve outside the US for 12 consecutive months. Currently, people who are diagnosed with HIV after enlisting can remain in the armed forces although they are barred from deploying overseas. 

More from the Courts

Regarding Religion:  In April Trinidad and Tobago’s High Court ruled that criminalization of sex between adults of the same gender was unconstitutional. The ruling spurred religious leaders representing Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, and evangelicals to hold a press conference to call upon the government to amend the Marriage Act to specify that marriage is only between a “biological man and a biological woman”. Additionally, they urged the government not to update the Equality Opportunity Act to include protections for LGBT people. This did not deter the community from holding their first ever Pride Parade.

In Barbados, church leaders held a press conference ahead of the local Gay Pride March to oppose the the gay “agenda” which they say includes “imposing” a homosexual lifestyle, efforts to “deconstruct” marriage and the nuclear family, and “an attempt to make the personal sexual preference of a very small group a human right”. Despite the negative rhetoric, Barbados held its first major Pride March.

In Israel, over 200 leading rabbis signed a letter supporting the chief Rabbi of Jerusalem who spoke against gay parents’ surrogacy rights. The letter stated that businesses and politicians who have supported the LGBTI community have been subject to “brainwashing designed to destroy the concept of family and turn perverts into heroes”.

In Malaysia, around 2,000 people attended the “Gathering for Muslim Revival” rally in Kuala Lumpur to protest the “erosion” of the interests of the Malay Muslim majority. During the rally, Malaysian Insights spoke to many protestors who condemned Minister of Religious Affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa for stating that the LGBT community has the same rights as other citizens. 

At least two Catholic groups that support LGBT people say they have been “ignored” and excluded from the upcoming World Meeting of Families event with Pope Francis. Speaking from Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin promised that an upcoming Pastoral Congress would “discuss issues” around allegations that same-sex couples have also been excluded from the event. 

More Regarding Religion

Fear and Loathing: At AIDS2018, Mauro Cabral Grinspan, executive director of global trans advocacy organization GATE, described the desperate situation of trans-specific organizations around the world. According to GATE data, trans groups suffer significant funding shortages—more than half operate with less than $10,000 a year and many work with zero dollar budgets—despite shouldering a disproportionate HIV burden. 

Media Matters released a new in-depth report outlining the anti-LGBTQ postions, actions, and extreme rhetoric of Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group that takes credit for its role in 54 US Supreme Court decisions and made over $50 million in revenue in 2016. 

In the US, since January at least 15 trans people have been murdered, the majority of whom have been trans women of color. Four of the victims (plus a fourth woman who survived her attack) were black trans women living in Florida and locals fear a serial killer is targeting the community. Activists warn that routine misgendering by police and media is likely hiding the true number of trans victims across the country. 

From India, Mohini Mahant, the first transgender woman in the country to be selected to sit as jurist for a court, spoke out about the lack of employment for hijras and trans people. Mahant, who holds a masters degree in public policy and social work, says that despite promises by authorities to bring meaningful job opportunities to trans people, no one will hire them. Officials in Bihar, India have hired transgender people to act as security guards at girls’ and women’s safe houses to protect them from sexual assault.  

In the UK, a Newcastle police superintendent warned that hate crimes have risen in the city and that criminals feel “empowered” to commit homophobic violence. Meanwhile, the UK National LGBT Survey showed that even seemingly mundane things, such as being too afraid to hold hands in public, negatively impact a majority of LGBT people in the country. 

In the Philippines, the Quezon City Council announced it will support the creation of protections desks in police stations specifically to address rising trend of LGBT hate crimes. Last year the Philippines House of Representatives approved House Bill 2952 to establish LGBT desks nationwide

More from Fear and Loathing

On the March:  Participation to Timor-Leste’s second annual Pride tripled with 1,500 people joining the fledgling movement. The city of Norwich, UK celebrated their 10th annual Pride with nearly 10,000 people—up from 3,000 on their first year. And in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon became the first ever serving prime minister or first minister in the UK to lead a Pride event. Organizers were surprised by the estimated 12,000 that came out and several hundred had to be turned away

In Singapore, a coalition of LGBTI rights groups posted an open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that builds upon the explicit demands made during the Pink Dot festival. Now in its 10th year, the event drew many thousands of participants and support from 113 local sponsors. 

Seventeen Magazine asked teens across the US about their experiences at their first Pride parades

Meanwhile, in Germany, the youth chapter of the far-right Alternative for Germanyparty complained that they were banned from participating in the Berlin Pride event. AfD youth leader, David Ekert, accused organizers of intolerance and shared a statement he said they sent that read “people and organizations who try to create a climate of fear and exclusion such as the AfD... are not welcome”. Organizers also pointed out that Ekert had missed the deadline for applications.

More from On the March 

School Days: From the UK came a new study that found that 30% of young LGBT people avoid STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects and careers because they fear discrimination. The Institution of Engineering and Technology launched the campaign #SmashStereotypesToBits to try and combat the gender stereotyping that is associated with STEM careers. 

In India, the state of Kerala announced a new program to help transgender peoplebecome students at higher education institutions. 

In the US, only 85 of 4,700 colleges and universities report that they support hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and gender-affirming surgery through their student health insurance programs. Now trans and gender-nonconforming students are speaking out about the impact that denying them appropriate healthcare has on an already stressful period of life.  Meanwhile a study of 500 trans and non-binary undergrad and graduate students evaluated students' on-campus priorities. The study found that gender-neutral bathrooms and housing, inclusive non-discrimination policies, and correct use of pronouns and names were some of the top priorities to help students feel safe. 

In South Africa, the University of the Witwatersrand announced students will be allowed to choose their gender prefix, including a gender neutral option, used in all official correspondence. The university hopes that the change will help students feel affirmed and validated. 

In Singapore, Rachel Yeo, the Research and Advocacy Director of the Inter-University LGBT Network, was removed from a prestigious TEDx event being held at St Joseph's Institution only a day before it began. The Institution said that Ministry of Education “regulations” and Yeo’s role as an activist prevented her from speaking. Student group Community for Advocacy and Political Education (CAPE) responded that there is a “misinformed perception” that activists are “trouble makers”, but that: 

“On the contrary, activists have helped society think about so many important issues and channeled the voices of the marginalized.”

More from School Days 

Sports and Culture: Reports surfaced that Qatar, the nation selected to host the 2022 World Cup, has been censoring the New York Times International Edition to delete coverage of LGBT rights. The Human Rights Watch warned that censorship could be a violation of Qatar’s agreement with FIFA. 

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) issued new regulations that activists say discriminate against some women athletes with intersex variations. The new regulations deny women with naturally higher than typical testosterone levels from participating in running events unless they submit to invasive testing.

Through a series of in-depth pieces Buzzfeed News is exploring "How do we have sex now?". The series includes looks at bisexuality, gender, consent and assault survival, fetishes and more. 

Russian filmmaker Ksenia Ratushnaya has begun shooting Outlaw,  a “poetically surreal” story featuring a transgender high school student. Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law prohibits films that portray gay people in a positive light—distribution of which can result in heavy fines. 

The Hollywood Reporter held a roundtable of 21 transgender actors and creatorsabout the opportunities and challenges of working in the film and television industry. The event was sparked by news—and subsequent backlash—that Scarlett Johansson had been cast to portray Dante Tex Gill, a trans man who ran massage parlors in the 1970s and ‘80s. 

FIlmmaker Matt Tyrnauer talked about his new documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood that explores the life of Scotty Bowers, a man who claims to have set up hundreds of secret same-sex casual liaisons for stars in the 1940s. 

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