it’s just who I am


“We have to force ourselves to walk and talk and dress according to society just so we don’t get beaten by whoever was in a bad mood that day. We have to sacrifice our whole being. I’m not trying to provoke them, it’s just who I am.”

~ Maria, a Lebanese transgender woman

From the UN: The 74th session of the UN General Assembly concluded on 30 September following a week of high-level meetings, speeches, and debates. During the week world leaders attended the first ever summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since they were adopted in 2015. UN Deputy-Secretary Amina Mohammed emphasized that Member States must “pick up the pace”:

“The bottom line is that we are still not on track”.

UNAIDS applauded the adoption of a political declaration reaffirming the commitment to the SDGs and the promise to “leave no one behind”. As part of the that promise, all of the 17 interconnected goals to make a “healthier planet and a more just world” must be inclusive of people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The World Bank and the UNDP have been working with civil society and experts across 65 subject areas to develop an “LGBTI Inclusion Index” that will provide specific indicators that can be used to measure progress towards reaching the SDGs. For more information, check out the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights (RSFL) report “FOR ALL: The Sustainable Development Goals and LGBTI People”.

Member States also adopted a political declaration on Universal Health Coverage that reaffirms that every human being “without distinction of any kind” has the right to the highest attainable physical and mental health. Among the declaration promises are specific commitments to ending the AIDS epidemic, eliminating stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings, and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services. Many activists and civil society groups voiced concerns that the declaration does not clarify what “essential services” would be covered. They fear the needs of vulnerable populations could be overlooked. Echoing these concerns, Dr Jean Claude Mugunga explained why limiting healthcare services undermines the declaration that health is a human right.

UNAIDS welcomed the commitments and urged Member States to “reach groups particularly affected by HIV including sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs, prisoners and people in conflict settings, in order to ensure that even the most marginalized are reached with health services”.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres submitted to the General Assembly a report on the human rights situation in Iran. The report included a section specifically on LGBT persons’ rights, noting that same-sex relations are criminalized with the death penalty. It further states that broad and vague language in the Penal Code is used by authorities to punish with imprisonment, flogging, and fines arbitrary expressions of gender and sexuality.

More From the UN

HIV, Health, and Wellness: The Lancet HIV published a first of its kind review and meta-analysis that found that HIV continues to disproportionately affect gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men throughout Africa. The authors evaluated 75 independent studies conducted across 28 countries. They found that HIV awareness, ART coverage, and viral suppression remain too low to reach UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets by 2020. Additionally, levels of testing were significantly lower in countries with severe anti-LGBT legislation compared to other countries.

In the Philippines, the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry reported that there are over 1,000 newly confirmed HIV-positive people in the country. The data shows that 80% of new cases were among young people and that 95% of new cases were male. Almost all cases (98%) were sexually transmitted with 85% among gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men.

The Journal of the International AIDS Society published the first of its kind study investigating PrEP use and risk behaviors among transgender men who have sex with cisgender men. Authors noted that prior research has focused on trans women and that trans men are currently excluded from PrEP trials. Surveying 857 people assigned female sex at birth and currently identifying on the transmasculine spectrum (including male/trans male, non-binary, and gay), 55% reported high risk factors that indicated a greater need for PrEP use.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new drug for preventing HIV: “Descovy”. It has only been approved for cisgender men and trans women as it was not tested on cisgender women or trans men. The New York Times reported that the FDA is requiring manufacturer Gilead to study the drug among cisgender women. The lack of diversity among HIV drug trials was a topic of discussion this summer at the 10th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2019).

The list-price for both Truvada and Descovy has been set at $1,758 per month for people in the US, as reported by Reuters. The US based Prep4All Collaboration noted that Truvada costs $6 a month to make and that the price reflects over 25,000% inflation. Their “Break the Patent” campaign aimed at making PrEP affordable will expand their focus to end patents for both Truvada and Descovy as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the BBC reported that at least 15 people in England have tested positive for HIV while waiting to get into the Impact PrEP trial. People’s demand for PrEP has outnumbered trial participant spots. Those left out can purchase it privately at about £30 per month, as reported by the BBC. Yusef Azad of the National AIDS Trust has called the slow roll out of PrEP outside the trial a “breach of human rights”.

The European CDC reports that across 23 countries of Europe, PrEP costs range between €850 and €3.25 per month. In Poland, HIV experts, activists, pharmaceutical representatives, and clinicians met at the “PrEP in Europe” summit to discuss how to build “a more united and more equal approach to providing PrEP within the WHO European region”.

The US CDC reported that cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis have reached a record high with nearly 2.46 million new infections in 2018. The CDC warned that the actual number of new cases is likely far higher because many STIs go undiagnosed and unreported to health authorities.

A study from Australia, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that gay and bisexual men of color who use the dating app Grindr often experience “sexual racism”—when potential partners are rejected due to their race. Those men also experience significantly lower self-esteem and life satisfaction. A study from Canada, published in Body Image, found that Grindr negatively impacts gay and bisexual users’ perception of their bodies. The authors identified three themes through which the dating app has impacted body image: weight stigma, sexual objectification, and social comparison.

More HIV, Health, and Wellness

From the World of Politics: The Global Equality Caucus—an international network of parliamentarians and elected representatives aiming to tackle discrimination against LGBT+ people—held a series of meetings in Tokyo to facilitate conversation between regional leaders and politicians to focus on the needs of LGBT+ people across Asia-Pacific. Chair of the Caucus, UK Member of Parliament Nick Herbert, also met with Japanese legislators Masako Mori and Keiji Furuya to share strategies on legalizing marriage equality while being sensitive to conservative values and religious freedom.

In Uganda, Reuters quoted the Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo who said that some MPs are prepared to reintroduce the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA). However, government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo has responded to the reports saying that the government "does not intend to introduce any new law with regards to regulation of LGBT activities". Also in Uganda, the recent murder of a young paralegal prompted the group Sexual Minorities Uganda to release a statement urging the government to condemn violence against LGBTI people.

In France, the Lower House of Parliament voted to approve a draft bioethics law that would allow lesbian and single women to undergo medically assisted reproduction. The law now moves to the Upper House for approval. An estimated 42,000 people marched against the law which has sparked controversy among conservative and Catholic groups for months. The law would not change the ban on surrogacy—leaving gay male couples, and other couples unable to carry a child, behind. Writing for the Atlantic, Rachel Donadio explains the cultural and historical ties that drive parentage, patrimony, reproduction, and inheritance to divide the country.

Poland’s Sejm (the lower house of parliament) is preparing to vote on an amendment to the penal code brought forward by a civil initiative that would effectively criminalize sex education. Oko Press reported that the bill could punish anyone who “promotes sexual behavior among minors” including doctors who prescribe contraceptives, teachers who explain how to protect against pregnancy, HIV, and other STIs, and any media that appears targeted to young people and relates to sex or sexuality. Oko Press noted that the Stop Pedophilia bill is unlikely to pass in its current extreme form. They posit that bringing the vote forward was part of the Law and Justice Party’s (PiS) election strategy to reach out to ultra-conservative Catholics.

The Guardian reported that the Australian Bureau of Statistics has rejected questions on gender identity and sexual orientation for the 2021 census. Following a consultation with the public and experts, last year the Bureau identified eight new topics including these for the census. A spokesperson said the decision was made to keep “the burden” on respondents to a minimum. Activists are disappointed, saying that data collection is critical for providing sufficient government resources and health services for the LGBTIQ community.

More from the World of Politics

The Politics of Union: In Japan, Member of Parliament Hakubun Shimomura caused a stir among his conservative Liberal Democratic Party when he suggested that the constitution could be revised to legalize marriage equality. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged lawmakers to move forward with “serious debate” on constitutional reform, although marriage is unlikely to be a part of it.

Earlier this year the Constitutional Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party submitted a bill to introduce marriage equality through adopting gender neutral language. Currently, same-sex couples in select municipalities can apply for partnership certificates that are symbolic but carry no rights.

More from the Politics of Union

Let the Courts Decide: In Russia, the Oktyabrsky District Court ruled that VKontakte, the country’s largest social network, must shut down two online LGBT support groups. The court said that the groups were posting information that “negates family values, propagates non-traditional sexual relations, and promotes disrespectful attitudes towards parents”. The AFP reported that the groups had over 187,000 members. Russia’s “gay propaganda” law enacted in 2013 bans sharing information on “non-traditional relationships”.

Singaporean activist Dr Tan Seng Kee filed a new case with the High Court challenging Section 377A of the Penal Code—the law that criminalizes same-sex relations. The Court of Appeal ruled in 2014 that the law is constitutional, reasoning that the constitution does not mention “gender” “sex” or “sexual orientation” in the non-discrimination protections. Two other cases challenging the law are currently pending.

In Paraguay, a court sentenced a man who murdered a trans woman to the maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, reported Reuters. Activist Mariana Sepúlveda, General Secretary of the trans support organization Panambi, said this was the first conviction from over 60 cases involving the murder of a trans person:

“Today is a historic day, which marks a great precedent... Now we hope for some change.”

South Africa’s Equality Court ruled against the Department of Correctional Services for refusing to allow a transgender inmate from expressing her gender identity. Jade September was held in a men’s facility where she was subject to harassment and forced to portray herself as a man. The judge ruled she must be allowed to express her gender, she may be transferred to a female facility, and that prison employees must undergo mandatory transgender sensitivity training.

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments of three cases that could impact the employment rights of LGBTQ+ people. Essential to all three cases is the question: does the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which bans “sex discrimination” in employment include protection of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Activists, including actress Laverne Cox and attorney Chase Strangio of the ACLU, have been on a media tour urging broad public awareness with the hashtags #yesimLGBTQ and #RiseUpOct8.

The US Supreme Court is about to hear an important case on reproductive rights. The case involves a Louisiana state law that significantly restricts access to abortions. Although this is the first Supreme Court case since Roe v. Wade legalized abortions in 1973, it is unlikely to be that last as experts say that several new state laws seem “calculated” to force the Court to reconsider that right.

More from the Courts

Regarding Religion: At the Vatican Pope Francis met privately with Rev. James Martin, author of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. Martin said Pope Francis was “happy” to talk about Martin’s ministry to the LGBT community. Describing the meeting as “consoling, inspiring, and encouraging”, he said:

“I brought into that room the joys and the hopes and the struggles and the challenges of LGBT Catholics and LGBT people worldwide.”

UNAIDS invited over 150 faith leaders to the Communities of Faith Breakfast, an event held alongside the UN General Assembly meeting, to discuss their experiences working with communities on HIV prevention. Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Executive Director, a.i. called engagement of faith-based health partners “critical” to helping governments transform HIV commitments to “real action on the ground”.

In South Korea, the Protestant Christian Community group has led several major protests and counter-rallys with thousands of participants against the LGBT community. Reporter Laura Bicker spoke to participants who said they must stop homosexuality and that “true love is stopping [gay people] from going to hell”. The Catholic Press of Korea reported that Protestant, Buddhist, Won-Buddhist, and Catholic priests gathered with the public to discuss discrimination and equality within their faiths.

More Regarding Religion

Fear and Loathing: Activists in Uzbekistan say that gangs are responsible for beating and humiliating men perceived to be gay, forcing the LGBT community to live in fear of disclosure. Reuters reported that although the government promised to implement human rights recommendations from the UN, it refused to decriminalize same-sex sexual relations. Steve Swerdlow, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, remarked:

“Right now it is open season on LGBT people in Uzbekistan and it is of paramount importance that the government sends out a message of tolerance.”

Activists in Russia say an online hate group called “Pila” (Russian for “Saw” in reference to the horror movies of the same name) have been using social media and the internet to encourage violence against LGBT+ people. Among their threats, they posted a list of LGBT+ activists' names with calls to assassinate them. One of the listed people, Yelena Grigoryeva was fatally stabbed eight times in July. Although opinion is divided on how dangerous Pila is, sociologist Alexander Kondakov noted that the lack of action by law enforcement is dangerous:

“This terrible situation encourages not just Pila itself, but others like them, too - people see that these actions go unpunished.”

Rasha Younes interviewed 50 Lebanese transgender women about living and surviving in the country despite the violence and discrimination they face in every aspect of the lives. One woman she spoke with, Maria described abuse from family, employers, and police:

“We have to force ourselves to walk and talk and dress according to society just so we don’t get beaten by whoever was in a bad mood that day. We have to sacrifice our whole being. I’m not trying to provoke them, it’s just who I am.”

More from Fear and Loathing

Winds of Change: Climate change took center stage at the UN General Assembly and protests have continued around the world led, in part, by youth activists. UNAIDS reflected on how climate emergencies severely impact people living with HIV. Writing for the Advocate, John Casey explored the interconnected relationship between the HIV and climate/environmental movements since the 1980s. In their global report, the Women and Gender Constituency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called attention to the challenges faced by LGBTQI women, girls, and non-binary people because of environmental change and climate disasters. GLAAD featured the essay by Campus Ambassador Noah Goodwin “There is no planet b: Why climate change is an LGBTQ issue”.

Rights group ILGA World launched a “Treaty Bodies Strategic Litigation Toolkit” to guide LGBTI advocates and other human rights defenders in using the UN system to obtain justice on issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) and to advance the rights of LGBTI people. The toolkit includes a digest of cases related to SOGIE issues that UN expert committees (known as “Treaty Bodies” for how they relate to international human rights treaties) have previously considered and ruled on. The toolkit explains how advocates can bring their cases to these Treaty Bodies. Kseniya Kirichenko, Senior Officer on Women and UN Advocacy at ILGA World, explained that although LGBTI advocates have rarely used this method to advance rights in the past:

“I truly believe that UN Treaty Bodies strategic litigation may become a space for the global LGBTI movement to claim our voice, exercise our creativity and ultimately bring justice back to our communities.”

The European Parliament announced that Marielle Franco is a finalist for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. An openly bisexual Brazilian politician and human rights defender, Franco was assassinated in March 2018 and an investigation continues.

More from Winds of Change

School Days: The Ghana Ministry of Education defended a proposed school sex education curriculum based on the UNESCO Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) program. Many Christian groups have objected to the curriculum and have accused it of being part of an “active strategy” to spread LGBT+ acceptance in Africa, as reported by Reuters. The Ministry denied the accusations, adding that people are deliberately spreading misinformation using explicit adult materials that have nothing to do with the curriculum:

“Although many are genuinely concerned and justifiably so, a lot more are being mischievous and intellectually dishonest in an attempt to deliberately (or maybe ignorantly) distort the hard work of the distinguished Ghanaian men and women who designed the curriculum.”

Writing for Morocco World News, Youness Bermime argues that the country needs an alternative to “Halal Sex Education”—curriculum based on what Islam says is permissible, which equates to abstinence-only sex education that only acknowledges heterosexual sex after marriage. In 2015, he reports, the Ministry of Health recorded 440,000 cases of sexually transmitted infections and the Moroccan Insaf Association estimated 30,000 new single mothers per year. Bermime warns:

“Morocco’s only chance at getting ahead of the sex-related social problems that are growing every year is to implement a comprehensive sexuality education program. Neither the threat of prison nor society’s shame is keeping young people from experimenting with their sexuality.

Activist Vithika Yadav spoke to India Today about leading Love Matters India, a global website and social media group to talk about sex “with an open, honest, and non-judgmental attitude”. Love Matters was created with partners in the Netherlands and has expanded into South America, Kenya, China, and the Middle East.

Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark explained why its important for all children and adults to have comprehensive knowledge about safe sexual behavior. She says opposition to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is so often “loud, persistent, and widespread” because critics don’t understand what CSE really is.

More from School Days

Sports and Culture: In Japan, the Prime Minister’s wife Mrs Akie Abe attended a ceremony as the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Gay Rugby (IGR). IGR held its first tournament in Asia with teams from over a dozen countries participating in the Tokyo event.

US Olympic gold medalist in track and field Kerron Clement came out as gay on National Coming Out Day. In Denmark, professional ice hockey goalie Jon Lee-Olsen came out as gay—one of the few openly gay pro ice hockey players in the world. Lee-Olsen remarked that being open with his teammates has improved how he plays on the ice:

“It took longer than I expected, but now I’m ready to stand up for myself and others.”

Mattel introduced a new “Creatable World” gender-neutral doll which is designed to suggest no obvious gender stereotype. Each doll also comes with changeable wigs and a variety of clothing options. Writing for Time, Eliana Dockterman took a look at the changing ideas US youth have about gender (a 2018 Pew study found 35% of those born after 1996 know peers who use gender-neutral pronouns) and how companies are looking to respond.

The new book “We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan 1961-1991” illuminates Sullivan’s life as an author, activist, and historian who was also possibly the first known gay trans man to be diagnosed with AIDS—at a time when few recognized that gay trans men existed. Writing for the New Yorker, Jeremy Lybarger profiled the “chatty and tender, casually poetic, and voraciously sexual” Sullivan whose diaries capture “emotional paradoxes”:

“A big fear of mine is that I will die before the gender professionals acknowledge that someone like me exists, and then I really won’t exist to prove them wrong.”

More from Sports and Culture


Banner photo by Krists Šidlovskis