"The veil of social morality cannot be used to violate fundamental rights of even a single individual."
~ India's Supreme Court Justices striking down Section 377 of the Penal Code that criminalized being gay.
From the UN: The UN celebrated India’s historic Supreme Court ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex relations. Newly appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet reflected that laws that criminalize same-sex relations lead to a “litany of abuses” against LGBT people. She urged courts elsewhere in the world to “move in the same direction”:
“Such discriminatory laws have no place in the 21st century”
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé praised the hard work of activists and civil society. He noted that criminalization of sexuality has prevented people from accessing and using HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services. An estimated three out of ten gay men and four out of ten trans people in India who are living with HIV do not know their status. Changes to the penal code and addressing homophobia and transphobia will help ensure that crucial health services are available to all people.
The UNDP and the government of Thailand released a new internal review that found that transgender inmates experience unequal treatment, have difficulty accessing basic services, and suffer sexual harassment from other inmates. Thailand held a National Workshop with 150 participants, including government officials, civil society, transgender activists, and UN representatives to raise awareness on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression challenges faced by inmates.
The UNDP, in collaboration with APCOM and the ICRW, published a report on the links between violence, mental health, and HIV risk among transwomen and gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Midnight Poonkasetwattana, Executive Director of APCOM noted:
"Public health issues faced by vulnerable communities cannot be addressed without addressing the issues that impact on their rights.'
The WHO, the UNFPA, and Public Health Agency of Sweden co-organized a meeting of sexual and reproductive health experts from 21 countries to discuss how to improve sexual and reproductive health across Europe and central Asia. The meeting evaluated progress across countries and examined how policy reforms have impacted sexual and reproductive health rights including access to care, sexual and reproductive health, adolescent health services, and sexuality education.
HIV, Health, and Wellness: The New Zealand AIDS Foundation published a new study that found that although the country publically funds PrEP only a small proportion of eligible people take it. Researchers concluded that too few health practitioners have been approved to prescribe PrEP. They also noted that health clinics aren't prepared to handle an increase in patient volume.
Starting this fall, Alberta, Canada will begin covering the cost of PrEP for eligible patients. The government also announced that it will expand the number of doctors who are able to prescribe it. Alberta joins the provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec to include PrEP coverage in public health plans.
A new article in the International Journal of STD and AIDS suggested that programs to expand PrEP can learn from past efforts to expand voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC). The authors highlight ten points that must be considered including safety, community and government engagement, how to encourage demand, improving supply chains, cost-effectiveness, sustainability, new technologies, engagement in other care programs, and global advocacy.
From the UK, Public Health England published new figures that show HIV diagnoses have substantially decreased over the last two years. Between 2015-2017 diagnoses among gay and bisexual men have decreased by 31%. PHE suggest the decrease is due to a high uptake of HIV testing and repeat testing among this group.
In the US, the CDC continues to sound the alarm over rising numbers of diagnosed sexually transmitted infections across the country, especially gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis which in 2017 reached their highest rates ever. Health experts said that many providers are not taking detailed enough sexual histories or offering comprehensive screening to patients. Executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors blamed reductions in funding, and said that “our STD prevention engine is running on fumes.”
In the Philippines, the youth and LGBT group LoveYourself spoke to the Lancetabout their innovations to fight HIV and reduce stigma around safe sex. In addition to providing PrEP through a 2-year pilot project, the group has launched the smartphone app “Safe Spaces” that helps people find locations that have free, easy to access condoms.
At a public rally in Tanzania, President John Magufuli urged people to stop using contraception. Stating that “I do not see any need for birth control in Tanzania,” he suggested that family planning was bad advice from outsiders. Speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai responded that the president’s speech was “advice” but not representative of the government’s position.
In Israel, health officials say that use of crystal meth among the LGBT communityhas grown significantly. The director of the Gan Meir clinic, Dr. Gal Wagner, said the clinic has seen a corresponding rise in sexually transmitted diseases.
From China, a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that over 25% of HIV-negative or unknown status gay men and other men who have sex with men suffer from feelings of depression and loneliness. These men were 67 times more likely to not use condoms during sex than non-depressed men. Researchers warn that current HIV programming focuses on promoting condoms and HIV testing, but does not include evidence-based interventions to address mental health.
In Vietnam, LGBTQI community members shared stories of loneliness, discrimination, and suicidal thoughts at an event hosted by the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.
In the UK, the latest annual report from The Children’s Society surveyed 65,000 children aged 8 to 17-years-old. It found that youth attracted to the same gender or more than one gender have higher rates of depression than their peers and nearly half of them have self-harmed.
September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day and the American Academy of Pediatrics published a new study that found that, among surveyed adolescents, over 50% of transgender boys, over 40% of non-binary kids, and nearly 30% of trans girls have attempted suicide in their lifetimes.
In the US, Lambda Legal and interAct published the first ever hospital policy guide that advises on how to best serve intersex patients. The guide provides example language for a hospital non-discrimination policy inclusive of intersex individuals, a Patients' Bill of Rights, guidelines for medical treatment of intersex youth, and protocols for interacting with intersex patients and their families.
From the World of Politics: Guatemala’s Congress is debating the third and final approval of the “Life and Family Protection” bill. The bill criminalizes both abortion and some miscarriages. Currently the law allows abortion when a woman or girl’s life is in danger, however the bill would restrict this and require extra medical approvals. The bill further prohibits public and private education programs related to sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill redefines marriage as only between one man and one woman “by birth”, excluding both gay and trans people from marrying. The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urged legislators to reject the bill.
Chile's Congress officially passed the Gender Identity Law allowing people over the age of 14 to officially change their name and self-determined gender.
In Canada, the provinces of Alberta and Nova Scotia have introduced bills to ban conversion therapy. Manitoba and Ontario passed regulations against the practice in 2015.
Australia has a new Prime Minister after lawmakers selected Scott Morrison to lead the Liberal Party, replacing Malcolm Turnbull. Morrison, who voted against marriage equality, has already caused waves among the LGBTIQ community when he told a Melbourne radio station that conversion therapy is “just not an issue for me” and said he is “not planning to get engaged in the issue”. He also tweeted out a transphobic Daily Telegraph article about trans people in schools and posted: “We do not need ‘gender whisperers’ in our schools. Let kids be kids.”
Writing for the Guardian, Australian Simona Castricum described the hate she has faced and issued a plea that politicians watch their words:
“There’s often a spike in harassment towards the transgender community at the times when our leaders and media pundits single us out with hate speech. It gives permission for people to think their prejudiced ideas are justifiable beliefs that need to be shouted from cars or in playgrounds. “
Poland's first openly gay mayor Robert Biedron announced the formation of a new political party that will oppose right-wing populism with goals to reduce poverty, improve education, and strengthen health care. Biedron, who will run for president in 2020, said the full party platform will be presented in February.
Brazil’s general elections are quickly approaching and the National Association of Transvestites and Transexuals (Antra) has said at least 50 openly transgender candidates are registered to participate, running for seats at the national, state, and district level.
In Nigeria, presidential candidate Donald Duke made waves when he discussed various topics on gender and gay rights during a YouTube interview. Most prominently, Duke stated that although he doesn’t “understand the emotional feelings” of gay people, he would not criminalize them and “would ensure that they have the protection of the law”. Duke backtracked days later with an Instagram post that stated: “Homosexuality is a crime in Nigeria and ought to remain so.”
The Politics of Union: In Ecuador, an appeals court overturned a decision made earlier this summer that the Civil Registry must allow same-sex couples to marry. The appeals court ruled that marriage equality must be decided by the National Assembly or the Constitutional Court. In January the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that all member countries, including Ecuador, must recognize marriage quality.
In Japan, the city of Chiba is the latest to announce plans to offer non-binding certificates that recognize same-sex couples. Unlike other municipalities, Chiba will also offer certificates to common-law couples. Mayor Toshihito Kumagai said:
“I hope it can take everyone a step forward to question what a family and a partnership is about.”
China's parliament published a draft of the new civil code and is allowing two months of public comment. The civil code, which includes changes to sexual harassment and family planning, does not include LGBT rights. Activist Sun Wenlin has started a social media campaign to help people submit comments to add legalization of marriage equality. The campaign has already been viewed 50 million times though not everyone supports it.
Let the Courts Decide: India’s Supreme Court released its long-awaited judgment on Section 377, unanimously ruling that consensual gay sex should not be criminalized, sexual orientation is natural, and that:
“The LGBT community possess the same human, fundamental and constitutional rights as other citizens do since these rights inhere in individuals as natural and human rights.”
The judges went on to say that the “veil of social morality cannot be used to violate fundamental rights of even a single individual” and that the LGBT community and their families are “owed an apology from society” for being denied equal rights for so long.
Former Union Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, K. Sujatha Rao provided an in-depth review of how local, national, and international efforts to address the HIV epidemic led to the court’s eventual verdict to strike down Section 377. Rao notes that fighting the high prevalence of HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men created a path to champion both the “right to health” and the impetus to “deal with this ‘outlawed issue’”.
On the heels of India’s win, Singapore musician Johnson Ong Ming, known as DJ Big Kid, has filed a challenge to Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code. DJ Big Kid has been an ambassador for the country’s Pink Dot LGBT festival which drew an estimated 20,000 supporters this summer. Former Permanent Representative to the UN, Tommy Kor called upon the country’s gay community to challenge Section 377A’s constitutionality. The country is divided on the issue and a petition to keep criminalization in tact has already gathered over 90,000 signatures. It states:
“We do not think the vocal minority should impose their values and practice on the silent majority who are still largely conservative.”
In Kenya, where a court heard arguments against its colonial-era law criminalizing gay sex earlier this year, litigants are hopeful that the India ruling will help their case. Judge sare expected to release a verdict this fall.
The Journal of Human Rights Practice published an article that examines how international and foreign law can be used by human rights advocates to change laws in their own countries. The article follows the example of the 2006 Supreme Court of Belize decision that cited a range of international cases to rule that it is unconstitutional to criminalize consensual gay sex.
Regarding Religion: In the US, early gay rights and marriage equality activist Reverend Robert Wood passed away at the age of 95. In 1960 Wood published Christ and the Homosexual, a book urging Christian clergymen to accept gay people into the church.
As the Vatican and the Catholic Church struggle with its problematic history of clergy sexual abuse, some bishops have come forward to claim that gay priests and homosexuality are to blame. However, several leading Catholics quickly spoke out in different media outlets to reject these “disgusting” and “false” claims. Editors of the National Catholic Reporter called on church leaders to “refuse and refute” the argument. And Reverend James Martin wrote:
“There are many things that need to be addressed when it comes to clergy sex abuse… What is not needed is the demonization of gay priests. What is not needed is more hate.”
Fear and Loathing: Malaysian officials in the state of Terengganu carried out the delayed punishment of two women convicted of having sex. Around 100 people watched the caning which was performed in public to “serve as a lesson to society”, according to officials. The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), an organization of many different women’s groups including trans rights group Justice for Sisters, held a press conference and submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister condemning the punishment. However, the head of Terengganu government, Ahmad Shamsuri Mokhtar, said the backlash would be “temporary”:
“I believe that if the public can see the punishment objectively and not emotionally, they will be able to accept it.”
In Kyrgyzstan, activists say police have infiltrated LGBT dating apps and websitesand are using fake profiles to entrap and blackmail gay and bisexual men for large sums of money. Activists also say police do not respond when LGBT people are victims of violence.
Senior Lecturer in Cyber Law Guido Noto La Diega questioned the safety of using global dating app Grindr. The app, which was taken over by a Chinese gaming corporation in January, came under fire from the Norwegian Consumer Council for sharing users’ personal dating, including HIV status and sexuality, with third parties. La Diega discussed what it will mean if user data is transferred to China and subject to that country’s regulations.
In China, fans of singer Dua Lipa were forcefully dragged out of a concert arena after allegedly dancing and waving rainbow flags. Dua Lipa was visibly upset. Afterwards on social media she said she was "horrified" and praised fans:
"I'm proud and grateful that you felt safe enough to show your pride at my show"
Although authorities have not clarified why the fans were removed, the incident echoes the arrest of Egyptians waving flags at a Mashrou' Leila concert that kicked off a crackdown against LGBT in Egypt.
In the UK, people who oppose trans rights have been waging a sticker protest, pasting “puerile and disgusting” phallus-shaped stickers with transphobic comments across London, Liverpool, Bristol, and Cardiff. A coalition of women and non-binary person’s groups condemned the stickers and promised to keep feminist spaces trans-inclusive. Meanwhile, an anti-transgender rights group with the confusing name “Transgender Trend” spread online a set of “print-at-home” stickers with transphobic messages, including messages that target trans youth. The group claims the messages are “factual”, but Stonewall warned:
“As the toxic debate over trans people’s rights intensifies, this contributes to an environment where the bullying of trans students can flourish.”
An Australian group has started their own sticker campaign, posting transphobic messages across Melbourne. Karima Baadilla, director of the local group Artists Guild that works for gender equality in the arts, stated:
“It’s definitely not what we stand for, because our biggest mission is inclusion. If your feminism is not inclusive and it’s not intersectional, then it’s not feminism. It’s something else.”
In Lithuania, after arsonists attacked openly gay filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas’s home, police warned the filmmaker to get rid of his rainbow flags. Activists and community members launched a “rainbow flashmob”, raising money to distribute rainbow flags across the capital city of Vilnius. Last month the Lithuania Gay Leaguewas also attacked by arsonists.
Winds of Change: From the US, a new study published in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law debunked claims that sexual predators have taken advantage of transgender equality laws to harm vulnerable women and children. The study took a scientific and evidence-based examination of so-called “bathroom laws” and other laws that restrict transgender access to public spaces and found no evidence of an increase in sexual offenses. Lead researcher Brian Barnett noted:
“Fear is an extremely powerful force, but so is truth. As evidence continues to demonstrate that protecting the rights of transgender people poses no threat to our society, hopefully we can move closer to doing what’s right.”
In Colombia, Caribe Afirmativo hosted the first Meeting of Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous LGBTI leaders. During the event, activists from Bolivia, Colombia, and Costa Rica discussed the challenges the community faces, especially invisibility, racism, and low education. Indigenous Colombian David Rodríguez explained the difficulties he has faced when he is considered an “aberration” or a “curse”.
In the US, the Montana Two Spirit Society, a Native American LGBTQ organization welcomed Indigenous people from the US, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, and Laos to its 23rd annual gathering. And in Canada, the 31st Annual International Two Spirit Gathering was celebrated in Manitoba. Marlon Fixico of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe talked about Two Spirit people and the history of Native and Indigenous people honoring the LGBTQ community.
Writing for them, author Thomas Page McBee explored who gets to call themselves “non-binary” and the ongoing struggle of evolving concepts of gender and sexuality:
“These questions about defining the borders of who we are — and aren’t — have long-plagued the LGBTQ+ community.”
From Sri Lanka, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Executive Director of Equal Ground, wrote about the struggle to fight discriminatory laws and decriminalize being LGBT in her country. Being LGBTI Asia interviewed Thanayuth Saosoong, an openly gay man who became well-known when a positive video of him doing his job as a police officer went viral on social media.
On the March: Following several reports of authorities acting inappropriately with LGBT refugees, the Human Rights Watch called on all members of the European Union to follow the UN Refugee Agency guidelines and rulings of the European Union’s Court of Justice (CJEU) when handling asylum claims of LGBT people.
Writing for Radio Free Europe, Carl Schreck reported that Russia is seeing a small, but growing number of gay asylum seekers seeking refuge from areas where being gay is criminalized. Although Russia does not criminalize homosexuality, LGBT people face homophobia and restrictive laws, such as the Anti-Gay propaganda law.
In Uganda, politicians fought over the 4th annual Nyege Nyege festival—a 4-day international music and Ugandan culture festival expected to bring 10,000 people to the country. Days before it was to begin, the festival was canceled by Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, who called it an “ugly thing” that promotes nudity, sex, and homosexuality. However, social media outcry led to meetings between organizers and Interior Minister Jeje Odongo who reinstated the event. The group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) published a statement denouncing Lokodo’s allegations and politicians’ “continued slander” against the LGBTI community.
In South Korea, the first ever Incheon Queer Culture Festival was severely impeded by nearly 1,000 anti-gay religious protesters who physically blocked and violently clashed with festival participants and police. The Pride march was trapped for five hours, according to witnesses, and organizers had to cancel vendors and planned stage performances.
School Days: In Brazil, the Supreme Federal Court has temporarily suspended a municipal law that banned gender and sexuality classes at public schools. The judge noted that the ban conflicts with the country’s law that “stipulates the respect of liberty, the appreciation for tolerance and the link between education and social practices”.
In India, Crown Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil introduced the course “Proclivity of Gender: Socio-legal approach to LGBTQ Community” to Karnavati University, the first academic LGBTQ module in the country. The course will be mandatory for undergraduate students studying law, and it will be offered to secondary school and PhD participants across the country.
In Canada, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario is suing the government over its removal of the modern sex-ed curriculum that was introduced in 2015. Union president Sam Hammond also called the change in curriculum homophobic and transphobic for eliminating information on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the US, FiveThirtyEight, a popular site that analyzes economics, politics, and opinion polls, attempted to break down the arguments over how sex educationshould be taught in US schools. Part of what it reported was that research behind the effectiveness of types of sex education is very limited.
Sports and Culture: Swiss actor, activist, and performer Röbi Rapp passed away at the age of 88. In 2003, Rapp and his partner Ernst Ostertag became the first same-sex couple to register their partnership in Switzerland. Their relationship and work with 1950s gay group “Der Kreis” (the Circle) was dramatized in an award-winning and Oscar-nominated film of the same name.
From Kenya, filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu and other artists are suing the Kenya Film Classification Board, claiming that sections of the KFCB guidelines are unconstitutional and limit free expression. Kahiu's film Rafiki, the first Kenyan feature film to screen at the Cannes Film festival, was banned in Kenya on grounds that it promotes homosexuality through its positive portrayal of a lesbian couple. Although Rafiki has earned rave reviews, it cannot be eligible for an Oscar without having been released in its home country.
Writing for openDemocracy, Evgeny Shtorn talked to Gulya Sultanova, one of the founders of Russia’s Side by Side LGBT and human rights film festival, about how new legislation targeting film festivals will effectively censor independent films in the country.
Nike released a new ad featuring South African runner and Olympian Caster Semenya. Semenya, who is openly gay, has been at the center of controversy in the athletic world due to her naturally high testosterone levels. She is currently engaged in a case against the International Association of Athletics Federations which has imposed regulations forcing women to undergo hormone therapy to reduce testosterone if they want to compete. Check out the short video where she asks:
“Will it be simpler if I stop winning? Would you be more comfortable if I was less proud? Will you prefer that I hadn’t worked so hard, or just didn’t run, or chose a different sport, or stopped at my first steps. That’s too bad – because I was born to do this.”