From the UN: The Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, presented to the General Assembly his report on how discriminatory laws and sociocultural norms marginalize and exclude LGBT and gender-diverse persons from society. Madrigal-Borloz emphasized that stigmatizing public discourse fuels a “vicious cycle of hatred against LGBT people”. He warned that some political and religious leaders, as well as ultra-nationalist and ultra-conservative groups, are deliberately portraying LGBT people as a threat to advance their own causes. Check out his interview with the Harvard Gazette.
Commemorating Intersex Awareness Day on 26 October, the UN Human Rights Office released a new “Background Note on Human Rights Violations against Intersex People”. The report builds on UN initiatives, public awareness campaigns, and Expert Meetings. It documents the specific human rights abuses intersex people face and charts a path forward “to ensure that the human rights of intersex people are respected, protected, and fulfilled”.
The World Bank published a new report on the socioeconomic status of LGBTI people in Serbia. The research provides Serbian policy makers and civil society a tool for addressing the needs of the local LGBTI community. Additionally, the authors note that the methodology and statistical analysis used in the report can be replicated in other locations to understand the experience of LGBTI people compared to the population at large.
This past spring World Health Assembly Member States adopted the eleventh revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11). The ICD-11 makes the significant change of removing trans related categories from the list of Mental and Behavioral Disorders. The ICD-11 will come into effect on 1 January 2022—giving Member States only a few years to train health professionals and implement it within their health systems. The international advocacy group GATE has issued a call for individuals and organizations to join a “Working Group on Trans Depath”. The Working Group will address how the ICD-11 change will impact trans and gender diverse people including legal implications, health care coverage, and advancing “depathologization”. (The depathologization of gender identities is the effort to stop associating trans and other gender identities as a sickness or “pathology”.)
HIV, Health, and Wellness: A new study presented at IDWeek 2019 evaluated US-based clinics that provide HIV care to trans women and gay and bisexual men. Comparing how often the patients in different clinics had virological failure (when a person’s viral load goes goes too high), the study found that community clinics were just as effective as the hospital clinics. It suggested that success was linked to the ability to outreach and provide targeted case management.
In India, HIV-positive transgender outreach workers are using an app called “eMpower” to help them counsel their HIV-positive peers. With the app installed on a tablet, outreach workers can visit other HIV-positive trans people, track their health progress, and give out advice on healthy behaviors.
From Uganda, lesbian activist and director of the Eastern Region Women’s Empowerment Organization, Maria Nantale talked to the Guardian about how she reaches out to the community to educate and test for HIV. Nantale travels to bars and other public spaces with a trio of nurses, a lab technician, and a counsellor to reach sex workers and gay and trans people who are too afraid to visit a health clinic.
In Taiwan, China, Taoyuan City hosted the first Asia-Pacific Chemsex Symposium (APCS) bringing together 200 public health advocates, NGO workers, policymakers, healthcare providers, and community members from seven countries to discuss their experiences. Dr Stephane Wen-Wei Ku of the Taipei City Hospital spoke with APCOM about the prevalence of chemsex across the Asia-Pacific.
In New Zealand, a Parliamentary committee has acknowledged that conversion therapy could be harmful, however it recommended that the government delay making a decision about banning it. Research from University of Waikato found that one in six trans or non-binary people in New Zealand had been pressured by a health professional to change their gender identity.
From China, Darius Longarino described how local LGBT advocates are trying to end conversion therapy through encouraging mental health professionals to give LGBT-affirming care. The Beijing LGBT Center, Gay and Lesbian Campus Association of China, Wuhan Tongxing, and the Zhuangni LGBT Mental Health Center are just some of the groups training mental health workers to work with LGBT clients. As one educator explained:
“The voice of a psychological counselor is very authoritative. If you say being gay is a sickness, it’s a sickness. If you say it’s not a sickness, it’s not a sickness.”
From the World of Politics: In Uganda, the Minister for Health, Dr Ruth Aceng, and the Minister of the Presidency, Esther Mbayo, made statements condemning human rights violations against any people in Uganda. Dr Aceng added that all people should be able to seek medical treatment without fear of violence or discrimination. The statements came following demands from civil society groups that the government condemn the recent arrest of 16 men from the offices of LGBT support group Let’s Walk Uganda. A police spokesman said that the presence of lubricants, condoms, and PrEP drugs was evidence of “sexual acts punishable under the penal code”. Before they were released on bond, the men spent four days in custody and were forced to undergo anal exams—a medically worthless practice condemned by the UN as torture.
Poland’s lower house of Parliament voted in favor of moving forward with a draft law that criminalizes sex education by aligning education with pedophile behavior. The bill would impose a prison sentence of 3 to 5 years for those convicted of “promoting or approving the undertaking of sexual activities by minors” including classes on contraception, pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, and gender identity—as reported by Oko Press. Although many experts appealed to Parliament to reject the bill, the vote insures that the bill will be further worked on in committee.
As India’s Parliament is set to begin the winter session, the Rajya Sabha (upper house) is expected to vote on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019. The lower house passed a version of the bill this summer despite objections from the community. Abhina Aher, associate director at the India HIV/AIDS Alliance, said the bill was flawed from the start as the language was based on the Australian Intersex Bill—leading to confusion over who qualified as a trans person. Many object to the current draft because it creates a complicated and medicalized gender recognition process, has minimal penalties for violence against trans people, and does not provide any affirmative action for housing, employment, and education.
Scotland’s Historical Sexual Offenses (Pardons and Disregards) Act to automatically pardon men convicted over the past 150 years for same-sex activity—including kissing and flirting—came into effect.
The UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee released a new report which found that LGBT people face “unacceptable” inequalities in health and social care services. The report made several concrete recommendations for improving the National Health Service (NHS) to better support the LGBT community. The chair of the committee, MP Maria Miller, noted that there is “a lot of good will” to make services inclusive, however:
“Unfortunately, the best will in the world won’t change the systemic failings in areas such as data-collection and training that are leading to poorer experience when accessing services, and to poorer health outcomes for LGBT people.”
In Colombia, the city of Bogota elected former senator Claudia López for mayor—the first woman and first openly gay person to hold the position. Many consider the position to be the most influential political position in the country after the presidency. During her acceptance speech, López remarked:
“Bogotá will not change because today the Mayor's Office changes. Bogotá will really change if each of us, starting with me, decides to be a better citizen every day.”
The Politics of Union: In Hong Kong, the Court of First Instance ruled against a woman seeking either a same-sex marriage or civil union with her female partner. The woman had argued that the government was violating her right to marry as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights by forbidding legal recognition of her relationship. The judge said that the Bill of Rights only refers to heterosexual marriages. He further concluded that the government has no obligation to provide substitute arrangements for same-sex couples. However, he acknowledged that the government’s lack of action on the issue would lead to more court cases from LGBTQ+ people challenging discrimination on a case-by-case basis, as reported by the Hong Kong Free Press.
In Japan, members of the activist group Marriage for All Japan discussed how the movement is following the playbook laid out by activists in Taiwan who won the right to marry first through the courts then in the legislature. On Valentine’s Day this year thirteen Japanese couples simultaneously filed lawsuits arguing their right to marry. In addition to supporting the lawsuits, Marriage for All Japan has been sponsoring discussion groups across the country to engage the public and combat misinformation.
For the first time in South Korea, President Moon Jae-in welcomed the same-sex spouse of a foreign diplomat. New Zealand ambassador Philip Turner and his husband Hiroshi Ikeda met with the president and First Lady Kim Jung-sook. Although activists hope that this diplomacy will lead to acceptance of citizens in same-sex relationships, President Moon stated “a national consensus must come first when it comes to same-sex marriage”.
In Northern Ireland, the deadline for government to oppose marriage equality and abortion ran out. This summer the UK House of Commons voted to extend those rights to Northern Ireland if the region’s own government did not reform by October. (The local Northern Ireland government collapsed in 2017 preventing either issue from being addressed.) With marriage equality now legalized, ceremonies are scheduled to begin February 2020.
The National Assembly of Panama altered a package of reforms to the constitution to include language that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. This language would clash with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights statement that member states must recognize marriage equality. Sputnik reported that public protests against the reform package became heated after Deputy Jairo Salazar Ramirez made homophobic comments about the protesters. The legislature will adopt the new constitution in 2020.
Let the Courts Decide: In Singapore, former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong published a paper calling for a constitutional review of Section 377A of the Penal Code that criminalizes consensual sexual activity between males. Among his arguments, Mr Chan suggested that because Section 377A only addresses activity between males it violates equality under the law. Inspired by India's ruling striking down a similar law last year, many in Singapore have spoken out against criminalization. Three separate cases challenging Section 377A are currently pending in the Supreme Court.
In the US, the District Court of Northern Texas struck down the section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that protected LGBTIQ patients and prohibited healthcare professionals, health facilities, and insurance providers from discriminating on the bases of sex, gender identity, or pregnancy termination. A group of providers and religious organizations had argued that the section forced them to provide care that went against their beliefs. The judge ruled that the protections did violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as reported by Medscape and others. The Department of Health and Human Services has already proposed revisions to this section that would reverse protections specifically on the basis of gender identity, as reported by NPR. Because previous court cases have ruled that gender identity and sexual orientation should be protected in the ACA, many expect litigation will continue.
In Hungary, the Consumer Protection Department fined Coca-Cola Hungary Ltd for advertisements with “#LoveisLove” showcasing same-sex couples enjoying Coke. The company was found to be violating the Advertising Act which prohibits advertisements that may “damage the physical, mental, emotional, or moral development of children and adolescents”.
In Jamaica, a legal battle played out between the LGBT-rights group Montego Bay Pride and the St James Municipal Corporation led by Mayor Homer Davis. It began when the mayor announced he had revoked permission for the group to rent facilities at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre. Noting that they’ve used the facilities for the last three years, Pride founder Maurice Tomlinson sued and the Supreme Court ruled that the group could continue. The mayor, who stated that he wanted to preserve the “sacredness” of the Centre, appealed. The Court of Appeal ruled that the group had not filled out appropriate paperwork and cannot use the space pending judicial review.
Regarding Religion: In the US, a heterosexual teacher in Indiana was fired for posting on Facebook her support for colleagues who were fired for being gay. She was told her posts displayed “conduct that is adversarial to the school” and that her advocacy was “disruptive” to the classroom. The school is a member of the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis. This summer the Archdiocese forced Catholic affiliated schools to remove openly gay teachers or risk losing their designation as “Catholic” schools. Hundreds of students and alumni staged a peaceful protest, however no changes to policy were made.
Speaking to IndyStar, several other employees revealed they fear repercussions for their social media posts. Additionally, some have adjusted their teaching to protect their jobs:
“I curtailed my curriculum to avoid anything that might be considered a politically controversial topic.”
In South Africa, pastor Teboho Klaas, who was fired from the African Methodist Episcopal Church for his support of LGBTI people in the church, has got his job back. Klaas had been fired by Bishop Paul Mulenga Kawimbe. However, the bishop was recently removed from office on charges of financial impropriety. The church reinstated Klaas and he subsequently dropped a lawsuit against them, noting:
“This doesn’t mean that there are no challenges but there is at least space for engagement and for people to stop making LGBTI people unwelcome in the church.”
Fear and Loathing: The Guardian explored the rise of anti-LGBT rhetoric across Eastern Europe and its impact on the broader public perception of LGBT people. In Poland, for instance, a survey found that many men under 40 believe “the LGBT movement and gender ideology” are the biggest threat facing them in the 21st century. While some of the public have spoken in support of LGBT people, Hungarian journalist and LGBT activist Ádám András Kanicsár noted that:
“The horrible homophobic communication somehow has woken up the community and made them realise that now they now have to fight for their rights.”
Speaking with RadioFreeEurope, a gay Turkmenistan man described the violence he has faced from both his family and the police. In the country, consensual same-sex activity between men is punishable with up to two years in prison. The man has survived physical violence, conversion therapy, and was nearly forcibly married, however he shared his story because:
"I hope I would feel free [openly admitting I'm gay] or, at least, that my story becomes the first step in achieving freedom for other people like me."
In the UK, government figures show that hate crimes reported to police in England and Wales have doubled since 2013. Additionally, in 2018, hate crimes against trans people increased by 37% and hate crimes linked to sexual orientation increased by 25% compared to the previous year.
From Jamaica, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) reported that anti-gay laws and discrimination cost the country around $11 billion annually. They say that hostility impacts tourism and puts a financial burden on the country's mental health services. Additionally, stigma leads to untreated and undiagnosed cases of HIV which puts more pressure on public health.
From the US, a new report published by the Williams Institute found that LGBT people in the country experience poverty at higher rates than cisgender heterosexual people. Among the LGBT community, nearly one in three transgender people and one in three cisgender bisexual women fall below the poverty threshold.
Winds of Change: The group Stop Intersex Genital Mutilations led demonstrations in Geneva to draw attention to the practice of unnecessary surgeries on children in Switzerland. Writing for PRI Katie Nelson spoke to activists for intersex persons rights in Kenya—where the government recently announced intersex people will be added to the national census. TeenVogue spoke to young people about when they first discovered that they are intersex and what it has meant for them.
Hans Lindahl of US-based interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth broke down eight myths about being intersex. Clara Berry of Irish LGBTQ+ group “ShoutOut” shared tips for becoming a better ally to the intersex community. And check out advocate Maria Tridas’s video tracing the history of the word “intersex” to how it is embraced today.
In Taiwan, China, the 2019 EU-Taiwan LGBTI Human Rights Conference was held with over 250 scholars, activists, civil society representatives, and government officials from both Taiwan and the EU. Taiwan's Vice President Chen Chien-jen opened the event calling for more dialogue on the challenges different regions face in relation to gender equality and human rights protection. Local activists said they fear a backlash against the community following the historic win for marriage equality. Some say that conservative groups are now targeting objections to anti-discrimination and sex education courses. Meanwhile, Focus Taiwan estimated that the Pride Parade (the first since the marriage ruling) brought around 200,000 participants.
The One Young World’s 10th annual summit was held in the UK bringing together world leaders with over 2,000 young people from 190 countries. Participating in panels, networking events, and workshops, the summit aims to help young people “accelerate positive change”. Among the topics was a panel on The Future of LGBT+ Pride, featuring the CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, Antonio Zappulla, Olympian Mark Tewksbury from Canada, UK CEO Angela Darlington, and eSwatini activist Melusi Simelane. Simelane later spoke to Reuters about his work with eSwatini Sexual & Gender Minorities and what has changed since the country held its first ever Pride event last year.
ILGA-Europe held the 23rd annual conference in the Czech Republic with the theme Stronger Together. The conference brought together 600 activists from across Europe and Central Asia for workshops, discussions, and counseling sessions. Opening the conference, co-secretaries Tuisina Ymania Brown and Luz Elena Aranda remarked:
“We must continue to remind ourselves that we as a movement have never asked for anything more, we have never asked for any new rights, we have never tried put our needs and rights above other citizens. All we are fighting for is the human right to be accepted and treated equally, to exist in peace and harmony within our communities. To be who we are, to love who we want. To have exactly the same rights as other citizens. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
School Days: Writing for SwissInfo, a journalist from Taiwan, China Jason Liu compared how Swiss schools and schools in Taipei educate students on gender and sexuality. Liu commended secondary and primary schools in the city of Bern for routinely bringing in gay, bisexual, and transgender volunteers to speak about their experiences directly to students.
From China, Cui Le spoke to gay university teachers about how they approach issues related to homosexuality in academia. He found that even as some public perceptions have become more tolerant, gay teachers feel that there remains great risks towards being open about themselves. Some say they introduce LGBT issues in an indirect way in order to breakdown negative stereotypes. But as one remarked, it can be tough to keep up the facade when speaking to LGBT students or research subjects:
“How can I hide behind a mask when others bear their soul to me?”
From the US, Andrew Spieldenner, chair of the U.S. People Living With HIV Caucus and Assistant Professor at California State University San Marcos, talked about the importance of being transparent with his students. As an openly gay, HIV-positive, son of immigrant parents, and former drug user, Spieldenner said that keeping things hidden develops shame around “perfectly normal things”:
“I think it’s important to be transparent about identities, particularly stigmatized ones, particularly if we have the privilege and position to be able to speak openly.”
Sports and Culture: From Brazil, pop star and drag queen Pabllo Vittar is using her platform to demand equality for LGBT Brazilians and to speak out against violence while performing at the World Pride parade, the UN headquarters in New York, and Rio’s Carnival.
Although gay sex remains illegal in Singapore, drag performers and other LGBT+ artists are pushing boundaries and working around censorship restrictions to create art.
Reviewing several new books that examine the history of drag, journalist Hugh Montgomery wonders how the cultural phenomenon of RuPaul’s Drag Race fits into drag’s evolution. RuPaul’s Drag Race is now available in the US, UK, and Thailand, with Canadian and Australian versions to come. UK drag performer Amrou Al-Kadhi wonders if the franchise is doing more harm than good:
“Especially in this toxic time, I think we need community and safety between queer people, not competition..."