“It is no longer enough to just advocate for our rights through education and traditional lobbying.
We must also be in the vanguard of promoting and sustaining the democratic institutions and open societies that have allowed us to thrive.”
~ Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out
From the UN: During the 2016 High-Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS, the UN Secretary-General drew attention to the negative health and human rights impact of laws that criminalize reproductive health rights, consensual sexual conduct, drug use, and HIV exposure. The Secretary-General's report called on states to remove punitive laws and policies that violate human rights. Last year, UNAIDS, OHCHR, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) convened a series of meetings with experts to discuss the issue. They hope to identify a broad human rights and criminal law framework and a set of key principles to help activists, legislatures, courts, and other authorities address the impact criminalization has on health and equality.
To kick off 2019, the ICJ and UNAIDS are calling on the public to be a part of creating these principles. To assist they have made available the reports from the 2018 expert meetings and are asking academics, law makers, human rights workers, and all people impacted by these criminalizing laws to submit feedback and reflections. The deadline for submissions is 16 February 2019.
UNESCO and the Council of Europe published a new report on violence in schools based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. Eleni Tsetsekou, the Head of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit of the Council of Europe, noted that “scale of the problem is much larger than official estimates suggest” and called for urgent action by education authorities across Europe.
HIV, Health, and Wellness: Venezuela’s economic crisis continues to impact the most vulnerable. For years, HIV-positive people have faced shortages of antiretrovirals that have forced many to flee the country. Now, Reuters reports that some doctors are recommending a drink made from guasimo tree leaves as a complimentary supplement to boost immunity support.
From Australia, researchers evaluated national, cross-sectional surveys of gay and bisexual men from 2011-2017 to assess attitudes and usage of PrEP. They documented a rapid increase in PrEP use and analyzed the demographics of those users. The study, published in AIDS and Behavior, is especially significant considering the country’s successful population-level roll out of PrEP which has been linked to a decline in new HIV infections.
The creators of HIVSmart!—a multilingual app to support gay men and other men who have sex with men who self-test for HIV—have published data from their Canadian study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The app developers partnered with the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC) and the digital health company Sympact-X to role it out across several UNAIDS identified “Fast-Track Cities”.
The Independent examined how social media is being used in India to reach gay men and other men who have sex with men to provide them with peer support, HIV education, and to link them to testing sites.
The China-based dating app Blued announced it would halt registration of new users for a week to conduct a “comprehensive content audit and regulation” to stop teenagers from using the app. The announcement came after the magazine Caixinreported that young people were using the app and suggested the app was encouraging teens to have unprotected sex and that teens had subsequently contracted HIV.
The Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) released a statement denouncing a program by the Malaysian Islamic Development Department to “rehabilitate” LGBT people. MAC helped to create the program in 2011 which, at the time, was to assist the community to improve their lives with job opportunities. However, program attendees have testified that the program now focuses on “converting” them to the “right path” through "dubious methods". MAC emphasized:
“Guided by scientific evidence and principles of human rights, MAC denounces any measures to intervene health behavior that lacks scientific credence and violates an individual’s rights to health, dignity, safety and protection.”
A new study published in AIDS and Behavior found that gay men and other men who have sex with men in Nigeria consider committing suicide much more than their peers and that those thoughts often prevent them from getting tested for HIV. Among their recommendations study authors emphasized the need for mental health support, better efforts to address stigma, and peer-driven HIV interventions.
A new study in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health followed over 4800 lesbian, gay, and bisexual people aged 10-21 years old in the UK to evaluate their mental health. The study found that LGB youth were significantly more likely to experience depression than their heterosexual peers. Those aged 16-21 were four times more likely to report self-harm and suicidal intent than heterosexuals.
The "Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide" (TvT) project published a new report on the negative impact stigma and discrimination has had on trans and gender-diverse people’s health and their general access health care across the Global South and East.
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of doctors explained how two-spirit, gender fluid, genderqueer, and other nonbinary people face discriminationin healthcare settings and receive inadequate medical care. According to their findings, one in five gender diverse people in the US are denied medical treatment due to their identity. They offer advice for health care teams and institutions to improve care.
For the first time the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest organization of psychologists in the US, has published guidelines for working with men and boys. The guidelines are based on “more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly”. The APA released guidelines for women and girls in 2006 and for LGB people in 2011. Writing for The Atlantic, Amanda Mull explored some of the conflicting responses people have had to the new document.
From the World of Politics: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) completed its investigation into human rights violations in Chechnya. In November, 16 OSCE members invoked the “Moscow Mechanism” which allows member states to send experts to investigate serious threats to human rights. Experts have concluded that authorities committed torture, unlawful arrests, extrajudicial executions, and other violations against LGBT people, human rights defenders, lawyers, civil society organizations, and independent media. The Russian Mission to OSCE responded to the findings, saying there is a “double standard” and that “the Russian side is convinced that the concerns and accusations with regard to the mentioned situation are biased and groundless”. Meanwhile, the LGBT Network say they have credible information that a new crackdown on suspected gays and lesbians has begun with reports of 40 people detained and at least two killed.
Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro took office on 1 January. According to the AP, hours within taking office Bolsonaro issued a series of orders targeting minority groups including the LGBTI community. The order removes LGBT issues from Brazil’s human rights ministry. O Globo and others report that the rights of LGBTI people will now fall under the National Secretariat of Global Protection. Leonardo Pinho, president of the National Human Rights Council, warned this is a “loss of status” for the community in human rights protections.
Newly appointed Minister of Human Rights, Family and Women Damares Alves addressed the controversy, saying no LGBTI rights would be violated. However, she also remarked: “In this government, girls will be princesses and boys will be princes”. And that “There will be no more ideological indoctrination of children and adolescents in Brazil”.
Germany’s parliament approved the new law to legally recognize a third gender category “divers” on official documents. People will need a medical certificate to be recognized as neither male nor female, a requirement activists say excludes non-binary, trans, and other people who are unable to present a certificate. The law follows a ruling from the Constitutional Court in 2017 supporting intersex persons.
India’s Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill and it is now being considered by the Rajya Subha (upper house). Many transgender people and organizations oppose the bill which ignores feedback from trans and intersex communities. Among the many problems, the current bill makes it difficult for people to self determine their gender—a right recognized by the Supreme Court in 2014—presents a confusing definition of who qualifies as trans, and contains no actions to improve trans people’s access to education, employment, and health.
In Nepal, the joint-secretary of state management committee Surdarshan Khadka told activists that LGBTI rights are not on the government’s priority list after he was asked about possible provisions for citizenship for sexual and gender minorities.
Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi gave a speech in which he acknowledged violence against people in same-sex relationships and declared they should have their rights protected. The High Court will consider a case to decriminalize same-sex sexual activities in March.
In Trinidad and Tobago, member of parliament Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie encouraged religious leaders to “acknowledge that the world is as it is”. He was meeting with religious leaders when one participant said that the LGBTQI community is damaging society and the family. Tewarie responded saying:
“You cannot deny the existence of people because you do not agree with their lifestyle and the way they conduct themselves. So the question is how can you strengthen families, because I think families are the basis of community, that communities are the basis of society, and you have a healthy and stronger society by doing that.”
In the US, new lawmakers were sworn into office across the country. The Victory Fund reported that a record 244 LGBTQ candidates won seats this year, including 147 at state-level positions and 10 in Congress. The Los Angeles Blade spoke with some of the many new and veteren LGBTQ staffers supporting lawmakers. There are many new allies, including Representative Jennifer Wexton who hung the transgender pride flag alongside the Virginia state flag outside her Capitol Hill office—possibly a first. The House of Representatives passed a package of rules that included a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And, in her inaugural speech as House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi called out passing the long-stalled Equality Act as one of her first priorities for Congress.
The Politics of Union: In Japan, a group of 10 same-sex couples announced they will file suit against the government in district courts across the country for denying them marriage equality. Over recent years, some municipalities have granted partnership certificates with no rights associated or guaranteed, including Osaka, Chiba, and Fukuoka. The Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) announced plans to submit to the National Diet (the parliament) revisions to the Civil Code to give same-sex couples marriage rights.
The High Court of Hong Kong has accepted two separate legal challenges seeking marriage equality. Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming said the cases will not be heard until after the case filed this summer from a woman seeking a civil partnership with her female partner has been completed as he expects some elements of the case will overlap.
The Constitutional Court of Lithuania ruled that the government's denial of residency permits to the foreign spouses of gay citizens is discriminatory. The case was brought by a man and his Belarusian husband who were married in Denmark in 2015. The couple wished to return to Lithuania but migration authorities refused to issue a residency permit to the husband. Same-sex marriages and civil partnerships are not permitted in the country. This summer the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that EU countries must allow freedom of residence to same-sex spouses even if they have not legalized marriage equality.
Thailand’s Cabinet approved the Life Partnership Bill, which would give same-sex couples rights similar to heterosexual married couples if passed by the National Legislative Assembly. An advisor to the Prime Minister said the current version includes the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. However some activists are frustrated by the differences between this and traditional marriage rights. The bill excludes LGB couples from receiving a spouse’s medical welfare or pension and does not permit the same tax deductions as heterosexual couples receive.
Cuba’s National Assembly announced Article 68 which redefined marriage as between “two people” has been removed from the draft of the new constitution. Instead, the new constitution will have no comment on marriage at all. Writing for Reuters, Sarah Marsh noted that evangelical churches had threatened to block the new constitution if Article 68 was included. Blogger Francisco Rodriguez called the change a “side step” and urged for continued activism.
Let the Courts Decide: In the US, the Washington Post reported that Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled in favor of the transgender military ban. The court determined that the ban is not a “total ban” because trans people can serve in the military as long as they present as the sex they were identified as at birth—that is, as long as they do not live openly in their gender. Despite this ruling no changes will take place at this time because three other courts have ruled against the ban. CNN reported that the government has asked the Supreme Court to consider the issue.
In India, the High Court of Delhi ruled that an adult woman may live with whomever she wishes, unless it somehow breaks the law. The case involved two lesbian women, one of whom was allegedly being held against her will by her family after the family discovered she was living with another woman. As the Supreme Court struck down the law criminalizing being gay, the women are not breaking the law.
In Israel, the High Court of Justice ruled that the government cannot refuse to put both adoptive parents’ names on a child’s birth certificate just because the parents are gay. The judges noted that recording the entire family unit is in the best interestof the child. Two other similar cases are pending including a lesbian couple where one parent is the birth mom and the case of a trans man seeking to change his designation on his child’s certificate from “mother” to “father”.
The High Court of Singapore ruled that a gay man may adopt his child conceived via surrogacy in the US. His lawyer, Koh Tien Hua, noted that this is the first case to review either surrogacy or gay adoption in the court. His male partner was given no rights to the child. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon wrote that the decision was about “what is in the child’s best interests” including the child’s ability to obtain residential status in the country. Singapore currently criminalizes homsexuality and does not allow same-sex marriages.
France prohibits surrogacy, and the courts have thus far refused to transcribe birth certificates of children born overseas to indicate their non-biological parents. That is, only the parent who provided the sperm or egg is recognized in France regardless of what a foreign birth certificate says. Although Emmanuel Macron campaigned with a promise to amend the law to recognize these children, the Minister of Justice Nicole Belloutbet released a statement saying the ministry supports the opinion of the Court of Cassation which has acknowledged biological parents, but not parents “of intention”. The Court has asked the European Court of Human Rights for an advisory opinion on surrogacy.
The Turkish LGBTQ group KAOS GL has filed a suit against the local newspaper Yeni Akit for regularly using phrases it calls hate speech in its articles.
The New York Times reported that, for the first time in Colombia, a court has ruled that the murder of a trans woman is a gender-based hate crime. Her killer was sentenced to 20 years for “aggravated feminicide” (also called femicide). LGBT rights group Colombia Diversa applauded the court for recognizing Anyela Ramos Claros as a woman.
Regarding Religion: In the Netherlands, 250 Christian leaders signed a translatedinto Dutch version of the Nashville Statement, an English anti-LGBTI manifesto created in 2017 by evangelical theologians, pastors, and other leaders. Responding to the news, Reverend René de Reuver, secretary general of the Netherlands Protestant Church (PKN) called the Nashville statement “pastorally irresponsible”. Gert-Jan Segers, group chairman of the Christian Union political party also objected to the statement, saying:
“Jesus' first message for this world is not a list of do's and don'ts, but a cordial invitation that makes it clear that everyone is welcome to Him.”
Opera singer Francis van Broekhuizen filed a formal complaint against one of the leading signatories. The Public Prosecutor is examining if the Statement breaks the law, defying Article 1 of the constitution which prohibits discrimination.
In Uganda, the Affirming Ministries Uganda Chapter (T-FAM) launched its first church to provide services for the LGBTQ community in a safe place without fear of prejudice or segregation. One participant reflected:
“This is a miracle, I will be able to pray and worship with people who are like me.”
The Church of England released a new pastoral guidance that encourages clergy to invite trans people into the faith. In 2017 the Anglican General Synod voted to create a special service to welcome trans people and a service to mark their gender transition. However, the Guardian reported that traditionalists blocked these plans and that the new guidance does not provide these new services.
Writing for Open Democracy, Tetiana Kozak reported on the Novomedia forum for Christian media workers in Ukraine which was sponsored by the US-based Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Kozak drew connections between the event organizers and anti-LGBT rhetoric and policies in the country.
Writing for Out Sports, Emma Nye examined the “Statement of Faith” that members and leaders of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes must sign. The FCA has outreach and coaches in 62 countries and has hosted events for hundreds of thousands of student athletes. In her article, Nye draws attention to anti-LGBTQ language in the Statement of Faith and urges athletes and coaches to rethink participation.
Writing for Commonweal magazine, Dr. Craig Ford reviewed the debates on LGBTQ issues in the Catholic Church this year. Going forward, Ford argued that the church needs to “bring our theology about gender and sexual identity into alignment with reality—that is, into alignment with what we know about human embodiment and sexual experience”.
Fear and Loathing: In Jamaica, the headquarters of local rights group J-FLAG was destroyed in a fire of unknown origin. J-FLAG thanked the fire department and police for their quick response.
In Cameroon, the office and temporary home for HIV-positive peer educators at the Cameroonian Association for the Defense of Vulnerable People (Acodevo) were attacked by a group of men. Eye-witnesses said the men injured an Acodevo member and shouted insults. Acodevo’s landlord has since said they will not renew Acodevo’s lease.
In Puerto Rico, singer and social media star Kevin Fret was shot multiple times and killed while riding his motorcycle. Fret, one of the few openly gay Latin trap artists, was known for his style and gender nonconforming expression. Police say his is the 22nd murder in 10 days.
In Malaysia, a video clip went viral showing a pair of assumed-gay men being violently assaulted by a group of people. This was only one of several recent violent incidents against the local LGBTQ community. Responding to multiple murders of trans woman, seventeen organizations representing women, youth, refugees, LGBTQ and more, have joined together to publish a statement calling on the police to take swift action and to conduct a “thorough, unbiased, and objective investigation”.
Writing for the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson examined how the rise of right-wing populism has encouraged a “us-versus-them” environment which “demonizes” racial, religious, and sexual minorities. Jessica Stern of OutRight Action International explained that when people hear “people in positions of power criminalize, demonize, dehumanize the LGBTIQ population, they start to think that we’re less than human. And so of course there is a rise of violence at the community level.”
Writing for the Advocate, Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, also reflected on the popularity of authoritarian “strongmen”. He argues that the traditional methods of advocacy are “insufficient in meeting the challenges and demands of today’s Orwellian political reality”:
“It is no longer enough to just advocate for our rights through education and traditional lobbying. We must also be in the vanguard of promoting and sustaining the democratic institutions and open societies that have allowed us to thrive.”
Meanwhile, in the UK, several journalists have questioned a pattern of anti-trans language in mainstream media. Pink News listed some of the recent headlines from The Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian, Metro, the Sun (among others) with anti-trans language—calling trans people “extremists” and “bullies” and perpetuating the idea that trans rights come at the cost of women and children’s rights. Some of those papers have also published articles supportive of trans people, and a group of global top publications for lesbian, bi, and queer women released a statement with an "unapologetic message of support” for the trans community. However, some fear the damage has already been done. One Time’s article called trans youth support group Mermaids an “aggressive” “child sex-change charity”. Soon after the fund that manages the UK’s contributions to charitable causes issued a press release saying it was reconsidering a £500,000 grant to Mermaids due to a “range of correspondence” they received from the public.
Winds of Change: Patrick Strudwick spoke to a group of leading feminist academics who believe feminism should include trans rights. In the comprehensive piece, they examined the trend of transphobic sentiment, especially in the UK, and the contradictory ideas anti-trans feminists embrace. In one example professor Akwugo Emejulu, of the University of Warwick, described:
“One of the foundational parts of feminism is the idea of bodily autonomy, that you don’t have outsiders telling you what you can cannot do with your body, so I’m not sure why that principle is not extended to trans folks.”
From Japan, advertising group Dentsu Inc conducted a survey of 60,000 people which found 72% thought there should be stronger protections for the LGBT community and 80% wanted to understand the community better. The survey found that 8.9% identified as LGBT.
From China, Sue-Lin Wong and photographer Jason Lee documented the lesbian and gay couples using reproductive technology to start families and have children.
James Kirchiack detailed the origins of conversion therapy in the US and the efforts to stop treating same-sex attraction as an illness. Kirchiack reached back to the 1950s and the writings of astronomer Frank Kameny, who at one point declared:
“Yes, we are sick—we are sick of your manipulation and exploitation of us.”
Writing for Bustle, Mika Doyle explored how employers and staff can support trans coworkers by being aware of the language you use, refusing to tolerate casual transphobia, and offering inclusive facilities.
On the March: In Kenya this December, LGBTQI refugees were attacked outside UN offices while trying to hand a petition to the UNHCR. For several years the mostly Ugandan refugees have protested their treatment in Kenya, where being gay is also a crime. This summer around 600 people participated in the Kakuma Refugee Camp’s first Pride event to raise awareness of their situation. However their efforts resulted in death threats posted publicly around the camp. The UN has now movedaround 200 of the over 750 LGBTQI refugees registered in Kenya. However, Reutersreports that the new safehouse has been described as overcrowded and unsafe.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation published a personal account from Geoffrey Kasenene, a refugee living in the Kakuma camp.
The Refugee Coalition of East Africa has partnered with All Out to provide LGBTQI refugee entrepreneurs mentorship and financial support to launch small businesses. Thus far, they have supported four recipients to provide a sustainable and safe means of living.
In the UK, the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants)replaced hundreds of ads throughout the London Underground with signs calling on the public to take action if they see migrants being forcibly removed from the country. The campaign “See It, Say It, Stop It” encourages passengers on commercial flights to stand and refuse to sit down if they see a deportation taking place.
Writing for Reuters, Oscar Lopez spoke to LGBT+ people seeking asylum in Argentina and Brazil about the challenges they face in South America.
Sports and Culture: Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon have removed from their stores an app that calls same-sex attraction a harmful addiction and offers a self-administered conversion therapy to “cure” people of the “sinful” disease. As of early January, the app is still available on Google Play.
The BBC announced they had hired journalist Ben Hunte to be their first "LGBT Correspondent" to focus on analysis of LGBT stories. And in December, Patrick Strudwick, LGBT Editor for Buzzfeed, won the British Journalism Award for "Specialist Journalism" for his article on conversion therapy. Accepting the award, Strudwick reflected:
“I never realised that I could become a journalist, because when I was growing up I used to read the newspapers and they would say about people like me that we were poofters and that we were a danger to children and that we deserve to die of AIDS. And so to have a job where I can expose what bigotry and hatred does to my community is extraordinary.”
The Paris Ballet announced they will replace dancer Sergei Polunin from the lead in "Swan Lake" after he made homophobic remarks on social media.
Writing for them, Jon Shadel offered a top ten list of the best queer books of 2018 including awarding winning pieces of fiction, non-fiction, essays, and poems. Sabina Khan talked to NBC about her widely praised debut novel The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali about a Muslim lesbian sent to Bangladesh to get away from Western influences.
Netflix announced it was moving production of the TV-series "OBX" about a coastal community in the iconic Outer Banks of North Carolina to South Carolina instead. The $60 million production is moving out of state due to the state's anti-LGBTQ lawHouse Bill 2. Although parts of the bill were repealed, problematic pieces remain.
In France, nearly 70 celebrities joined together to record the song “De l'Amour” (Of Love) to protest the resurgence of homophobic attacks in the country. Proceeds of the song will support Urgence Homophobie and their work with LGBTQI+ refugees. Check out the music video.
top photo by Linh Nguyen