"You don’t have to approve of their lifestyle. There is no compulsion for this, but you cannot deny the fact that they are humans entitled to the same dignity stipulated in every religion, Islam included. They are human beings."
~ Malaysian AIDS and human rights activist, Marina Mahathir
From the UN: The UN General Assembly unanimously approved the appointment of Dr. Michelle Bachelet of Chile as the new Human Rights High Commissioner. Bachelet formerly served as the first Executive Director of UN Women. As a young adult, Bachelet was subjected to torture due to her father’s political connections and was forced into exile under the Pinochet regime. Returning to Chile, Bachelet served as both Minister of Health and Minister of National Defense before becoming the first woman elected as Chile’s president. During her tenure, she introduced a bill to legalize gay marriage and a bill to legalize abortion in certain circumstances.
The world mourned the passing of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan on August 18th. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé reflected on Annan’s leadership confronting the AIDS epidemic. Through his outspoken diplomacy, Annan moved leaders from denying AIDS to recognizing it as a threat to global security. Among his many accomplishments, Annan was known for his generosity and open-hearted embrace of diversity, including of sex workers, trans people, gay men and other men who have sex with men, and people who use drugs:
“We need to be able to protect the most vulnerable, and if we are here to try and end the epidemic and fight the epidemic, we will not succeed by putting our head in the sand and pretending that these people do not exist or that they do not need help.”
UNDP and the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) published a new report “Legal Gender Recognition in China: A Legal and Policy Review” that provides specific recommendations to facilitate policies that will improve access to education, employment, and health and other public services. The report is the latest in a series of reviews focusing on recognition across Asia.
HIV, Health, and Wellness: Thailand has begun scaling up PrEP programs and will include it as part of the country’s universal health coverage benefits. Meanwhile, researchers from Thailand announced study results that show that PrEP can safely be taken by trans women who are using estradiol as feminizing hormone therapy (FHT). The study is one of the first to address the needs of trans women who, because they often prioritize their gender affirmation over other medications, have been left out of research, public health guidelines, and promotional campaigns for PrEP.
At the International AIDS Conference last month, researchers presented results from studies evaluating PrEP use in African countries, including South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland). Across studies, participants felt pressured to abandon the treatment due to stigma and violence or fear of side effects. Despite resistance, PrEP continues to slowly roll out on the continent.
A new study from China found that among gay men and men who have sex with men, PrEP was most often discontinued due to “forgetting to take the medicine” or being “too busy”. Researchers conclude that simple reminder interventions could be sufficient to improve adherence in this community.
ViiV Healthcare announced the phase-3 results of a large-scale study of the efficacy of long-acting injectable medication to treat HIV compared to the standard of care daily drug pill regimen. Evaluating over 600 HIV-positive people in 13 countries, the study has found that a monthly injection successfully suppressed the virus. Although clinician Raphael Landovitz noted that many “nuanced questions” remain about how to take injectables, many believe these drugs will be a game-changer.
A new study from Indonesia examined the break down in the HIV care cascade among key populations. It found that testing sites that also offer treatment had the best chance of linking HIV-positive people to care, and that younger, less educated patients were less likely to seek treatment.
Writing from the Philippines, founder of Outrage Magazine argues that the U=U (undetectable = untransmittable) campaign will not work in the country because the care cascade is too flawed. He claims HIV testing providers don’t know what to do if a person tests positive, the country’s health insurance package does not cover baseline tests needed to begin receiving ARVs, and many health practitioners continue to stigmatize HIV-positive people.
In Ghana, a group called The National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values said that 400 people “voluntarily surrendered themselves” to undergo treatments to “cure” homosexuality.
An investigation by The Telegraph discovered that Facebook allowed advertisers to target young LGBTQ people with ads for so-called conversion therapy. Meanwhile, journalist Chitra Ramaswamy talked to people in the US and the UK who have survived therapies. Journalist Nico Lang reported on the confusing state of the legality of conversion therapy in the US, where only 14 states have outlawed the practice.
From the World of Politics: The intergovernmental Equal Rights Coalitionconvened in Canada for its Global Conference on LGBTI Human Rights and Inclusive Development. The ERC welcomed Cyprus as its 40th member. Over 300 delegates, including members of civil society, representatives of multilateral agencies, and community members from 80 countries, met to collaborate and continue to shape the ERC. The ERC shared a series of concrete amendments it has adopted to focus its action-oriented program of work. Among its commitments, the ERC affirmed that:
"We share the conviction that inclusive and human-rights-based policy and development approaches that respect diversity help to build more resilient, prosperous, and successful societies."
Germany’s Cabinet approved a draft bill to add a third gender option to identity records. The bill, which will now be voted on by Parliament, adds the term “divers” (diverse) to gender options. Activists have called the law a “missed opportunity”especially because it requires a person to have a medical diagnosis. In 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled that gender identity is protected by the German Constitution; however, the new bill ignores the court’s recommendation that gender registration be removed completely.
Chile’s Parliament approved the Gender Identity Law to allow people to officially change their name and self-determined gender. Congress spent five years drafting the current law and President Sebastián Piñera has 30 days to veto it. Earlier this year Chile’s Supreme Court ruled that trans people should be allowed to change their name and gender without undergoing medical procedures.
The Congress of Honduras approved modifications to the Adoption Law that specifically ban same-sex couples from adopting. Activists protested the unnecessary changes, noting that only married couples can adopt in the country and same-sex marriage remains illegal.
In Israel, President Netanyahu released a letter in response to the massive protests the LGBT+ community initiated across the country. The protests were sparked by a new surrogacy law that excludes rights for gay couples. Netanyahu, who previously spoke in favor of LGBT surrogacy, has been accused of flip-flopping on LGBT+ issues. Imri Kalmann, a former chairman of the Israeli LGBT Task Force, announced he is founding a new political party dedicated to serving LGBT Israelis.
In Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo spoke to the Synod of the Global Evangelical Church and promised he has no plans to “bow to international pressure” and decriminalize homosexuality. The comments seemed to reflect a shift as this past winter the president’s said that decriminalization was “bound to happen”.
In Zimbabwe, LGBTI group GALZ is celebrating the country’s recent elections even as results were contested. GALZ director Chesterfield Samba noted that there was a significant reduction in hate speech and in using LGBTI people as “campaign tools” and “ammunition to fuel” rallies. Because the campaign was less toxic, more LGBTI people felt encouraged to participate and vote.
During a seminar in Brazil, activists, HIV specialists, lawyers and LGBTI+ representatives of 14 political parties developed a LGBTI+ 2018 Elections Platformand made a commitment to monitor media and social networks to stop the spread of LGBTIphobic fake news.
In the US, the New York Times reports that over 400 openly LGBT candidates, a record number, are running for office. The recent primaries have already brought historic milestones: Christine Hallquist of Vermont is the first openly trans person to win a major party nomination for governor. Sharice Davids won the Kansas primary and, if elected, will become the first Native American woman in Congress and the first lesbian to represent Kansas. Jared Polis’s primary win in Colorado could make him the first openly gay man elected as governor.
The US Department of Labor is the latest federal agency to issue a directive to expand religious liberty. The new directive says the government must permit individuals and organizations to participate in government programs “without having to disavow [their] religious character” and specifically cites the Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling concerning a baker who refused to serve a gay couple. Bloomberg reported that it is unclear exactly how the new directive will go into effect. However, Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called it “confusing at best and at worst sends a dangerous and false message that such discrimination is now permitted”.
The US Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year announced the creation of a “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” to protect health care workers and institutions from delivering medical services they object to. The New York Times reported on the increasingly common experience of patients who are denied specific medical procedures at Catholic medical facilities. Only Washington State requires that hospitals publish a list of services not offered for religious reasons.
Also in the US, the California Assembly advanced a bill that acknowledges the rights of intersex persons and calls for policies that defer medically unnecessary procedures on children until “the child is able to participate in decision making”. If passed by the Senate, it will be the first legislation of its kind after similar bills failed to pass in Nevada, Texas, and Indiana. Writing for Rewire, Amy Littlefield thoroughly explored the issues at stake for intersex people.
The Politics of Union: Costa Rica’s Supreme Court ruled that laws banning same-sex marriage in the country are unconstitutional and must be changed within 18 months. Magistrate Fernando Castillo noted the current ban is inconsistent with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that same-sex couples must have the same rights as heterosexual couples.
Although Taiwan’s Judicial Yuan ruled last summer that the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional and gave lawmakers two years to amend legislation, the Central Election Commission has approved three referendum proposals from anti-LGBTQ groups that could deny people equal marriage rights. The groups say they have collected enough signatures to put the referendums on the November elections. Activists warn that the community is unaware that marriage rights are still at stake.
Let the Courts Decide: In the US, a group of 16 states have submitted a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule that businesses should be able to fire employeesbased upon their sexual orientation or gender identity without violating the federal workplace discrimination law. The court is currently considering the case of a Michigan funeral home that fired an employee because she is transgender. The US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled against the funeral home for violating the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that covers “sex discrimination”.
Meanwhile, the Masterpiece Cakeshop baker who told the Supreme Court that baking wedding cakes for gay people was against his religion has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that he should be allowed to refuse to bake a cake for a trans woman celebrating her birthday and anniversary of coming out. In his complaint, he states that the cake would have “celebrated messages contrary to his religious belief that sex — the status of being male or female — is given by God”.
In Russia, 16-year-old Maxim Neverov was found guilty of violating the Anti-Gay Propaganda law after police claimed he had published pictures on his social network page of young men whose appearance “had the characteristics” of homosexual relations. The Russian LGBT Network suggested that Neverovh was targeted by officials because he had previously filed applications to organize a public pro-LGBT event, though the applications were denied. Neverov, the first minor to be tried under this law, has filed an appeal.
In Canada, an HIV-positive man has been charged under the Public Health Act for allegedly failing to attend his clinic appointments and failing to pick up medication during a nine-month period. Dr. Reka Gustafson, medical officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, said that it is extremely rare to charge an individual under the Public Health Act and it is only done as "the absolute last resort". The man was released on bail on condition that he comply with Dr. Gustafson's orders.
Regarding Religion: An estimated 750,000 Catholics from around the world gathered at the World Meeting of Families week-long event held this year in Ireland. Although no pro-LGBTQ groups were granted booths at WMF exhibit hall, many LGBTQ Catholic activists and allies held events and protested outside. Over 1,000 people attended a WMF talk by Jesuit Father James Martin called "Showing Welcome and Respect in our Parishes for 'LGBT' People and their Families".
Former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese made several public statements ahead of the event criticizing the Church’s “skewed ideology” on human sexuality. McAleese called on the Church to accept responsibility for “the damage it causes our young LGBTI people and to our children”.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s current prime minister Leo Varadkar, who is openly gay, welcomed and met with the Pope. At the welcoming ceremony, Varadkar speech reflected on changing laws on marriage and family, including same-sex parents. Earlier Varadkar promised that he would speak on clerical sex abuse and LGBT exclusion during his private meeting with the Pope.
Fear and Loathing: OutRight Action International published a new report on the ability of LGBTIQ groups to register and operate openly. Surveying 194 countries and thousands of organizations, they found that only 56% allow LGBTIQ group to legally register. Among the implications, groups have difficulty acquiring funding and are limited in how they can help the community. Even when groups are allowed to register, workers can be intimidated and threatened with arrest.
Reporters Kensaku Ihara and Justina Lee round up the recent “culture war” and backlash against LGBT rights encouraged by officials across the Asia-Pacific region.
Activists in Malaysia described how politicians have “amped up” anti-LGBT rhetoric, leading to violent hate crimes and state-sponsored transphobia and homophobia. Thilaga Sulathireh, of Justice For Sisters, noted: “We are under attack in an unprecedented way.” One of many recent incidents involves two women convicted of having sex and sentenced to caning and a fine. Amid international outcry, officials have "postponed" the caning for a week due to "technical reasons".
Prominent Malaysian author and activist Marina Mahathir urged for more public policies and education to destigmatize LGBT people. She noted that the government has claimed to be committed to human rights:
"You can’t just divide human rights for some humans and take it away for others. LGBTs are citizens and voters."
Nigerian police raided the Kelly Ann Hotel/Event Centre and arrested 57 menaccused of "homosexual activity". Arrested suspects deny the charge and say they were attending a birthday party.
In Brazil, Marcos Cruz Santana, president of Association of Partner Movements and Friends of Health and Human Rights of Gender Minorities, was tortured and murdered. Fellow activist and president of Gay Group of Bahia, Marcelo Cerqueira, explained the increase in anti-LGBT crimes:
“These crimes take place due to impunity. Once the assailants are detained they don't remain in jail for long.”
In the Pakistan region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), trans people held a demonstration protesting violence against trans women and the lack of police protection following the murder of Sajid urf Nazo. TransAction, who have recorded 479 cases of violence and 8 murders of trans people in the region this year, said: “The silence of the KP government is criminal and shameful." In response, police promised to form a committee to look into their concerns.
In Armenia, nine teenagers, including the founder of Rainbow Armenia Initiative and members of Pink Armenia, were violently attacked by a crowd of villagers shouting “gays don’t belong here”. Although police arrived at the scene, Mamikon Hovsepyan, the executive director of Pink Armenia said: "We expected some kind of statement or condemnation from the government but there has been nothing so far."
In Lithuania, the office of rights group Lithuanian Gay League was attacked by an arsonist. Speaking to lrytas media, program manager Eduardas Platov said that police have failed to recognize that attack as a hate crime. LGL has announced a seminar "Hate Crime Prevention in Lithuania" for NGOs to share their experiences and to promote inter-institutional cooperation on preventing hate crimes.
Winds of Change: The American Bar Association published a “Resource Guide for Addressing Bias-Motivated Violence Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity” that indexes reports, toolkits, training materials, and other documents available across the internet for effectively responding to violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In Lebanon, activists are looking to capitalize on an appeals court ruling that same-sex relationships should not be criminalized. While some are drafting a parliamentary proposal to remove criminalization laws, others hope to address the “vague morality laws” that can be used to discriminate and deny services to LGBT people.
Though started in Germany, the hashtag #MeQueer has gone viral across continents as LGBTQ+ people share their experiences facing abuse and violence. Meanwhile, the India-based website “How Revealing” urges the LGBTQ community to #BreakTheSilence and share their experiences with sexual violence.
In Japan, a group of people with disabilities or illness that prevent them from having children held a press conference in support of the LGBT community and condemning House of Representative member Mio Sugita. Sugita said that government money should not support same-sex couples because “these men and women don’t bear children — in other words, they are ‘unproductive’”.
Writing for the Conversation, British researcher Dr Alex Toft explored the challenges faced by young disabled people who identify as LGBT+ including societal attitudes and misconceptions that trivialize their experiences.
From South Africa, journalist Carl Collison explored how non-binary, queer, and trans families navigate the shifting lexicon of “non derogatory terms for queer people in African languages”. Khanyi Mpumlwana, founder of the organization Find New Words, notes that people often say if something can’t be named in their language then it is not African. And the Moscow Times examined how non-binary and trans Russians are “inventing their own language forms” to express gender fluidity.
School Days: In the US, a 9-year-old Colorado boy committed suicide after he was allegedly bullied by classmates for being gay. Jamel Myles had been back in school from summer holidays only four days.
Also in the US, two Oklahoma schools were closed for two days after several parents posted detailed violent threats against a 12-year-old trans girl. The threats, posted on the school district’s official Facebook page, led to local demonstrations for and against trans rights. Supporters set up a fundraiser to help the family who have chosen to leave the state.
US Politco reporter Cailin Emma spoke to trans students who have filed complaints with civil rights officials at the Department of Education due to the abuse they have suffered at school. Although the Department of Education has dismissed many investigations into trans students’ claims, some students have found support in the courts.
UK organization Mermaids shared tips and resources for families and trans studentsstarting new schools and returning to school after the summer break.
In the Philippines, student government leaders from seven Catholic universities are the latest to urge the government to pass the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill. Although the House approved its SOGIE bill in 2017, the Senate has delayed its version for several years.
On the March: Austria has rejected the asylum claims of a gay Afghani teenager because authorities said he did not act like a "stereotypical gay man". The New York Times quotes from the 100-page decision:
“Neither your walk, nor your behavior, nor your clothing give the slightest indication that you could be gay [...] You clearly have the potential to be aggressive, which would not be expected in a homosexual.”
Austria also rejected the claims of a gay 27-year-old Iraqi man. Speaking to The Independent, the man said authorities believed he was only "acting" gay and that he was trying to "look like a girl".
Canadian organization Rainbow Railroad is opening a new center in Alberta called the Rainbow Railroad Station to help settle more LGBT refugees in the province. Many LGBTQ refugees are subjected to discrimnation in the traditional asylum system.
Sports and Culture: Egyptian star and former UNICEF goodwill ambassador Khaled Abol Naga took to Twitter to restate his support for the rights of gay people, noting:
“Gay people are born with romantic tendencies toward the same sex and this is scientifically documented now, just like the roundness of the Earth. Ignorance of these facts is what society lacks to understand what homosexuals are suffering."
Reporter Shannon Keating examined the “meteoric” rise of young “unapologetically queer artists” that weren’t around for her growing up:
“The fact that a 19-year-old could confidently, casually call herself a “great” example of something I’ve struggled to proudly claim left me breathless, and a little infuriated.”
Singer Shea Diamond spoke to Buzzfeed about how being a black trans woman has influenced the music she makes.
Activists and fans of Chechen pop star Zelim Bakaev commemorated the one year anniversary since the singer disappeared. Sources say he was killed by authorities during Chechnya’s mass roundup of men suspected of being gay, though officials deny the reports.
Hong Kong pop star Ellen Joyce Loo fell to her death in an apparent suicide. Survived by her wife, Loo was an advocate for the LGBT+ community and mental health awareness to which she once said:
“Some people think I’m really brave for coming out; I think the bravest thing I did was to overcome being bipolar.”
Check out her music video "Darling" (還不夠遠), for which she won a Taiwan Golden Melody Award.