"We’re not demanding anything special. We just want to have a chance to stand at the same starting line in our lives.”
~ Kenji Aiba and his partner Ken Kozumi speaking at a press conference in Tokyo where they, along with 12 other couples, announced they have filed suit against the Japanese government for the right to marry.
From the UN: At the request of the UN Human Rights Council, UNAIDS and OHCHR hosted a Consultation on Human Rights in the HIV response to share regional and subregional strategies and best practices. A key theme that emerged was the need to reform harmful and discriminatory laws. Among the concerns tackled: how to ensure that vulnerable people in middle income countries as well as key populations who are criminalized are covered under “universal health care”. As Rico Gustav, Executive Director of GNP+, remarked:
“[T]he virus is just a single dimension of our lives. Most of the time, we are also people who use drugs, sex workers, transgender people, gay men or men who sleep with men. We are also living in poverty, unemployed people, incarcerated people, homeless, people, or people who are politically oppressed. All of these dimensions influence the quality of our lives and how we are living with the virus.”
Seven UN human rights experts released a statement imploring Russia to “act urgently to protect the rights” of people perceived to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual in Chechnya. The experts said they were “alarmed” by new information and that “Abuse inflicted on victims has allegedly become more cruel and violent compared with reports from 2017”. The experts warned that:
“[Negating the existence of LGBT people] creates an environment conducive to violence and discrimination in which perpetrators feel motivated and enabled to attack diversity”
The Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, issued a call for contributions to his upcoming report to the Human Rights Council. This report will focus on gathering data in order to raise awareness about violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It will also discuss the types of data needed to assess violence and discrimination; map what is already being collected, by whom, and for what purpose; and highlight key human rights safeguards that must be taken into consideration when collecting and using data. The deadline for submissions is 15 March.
The Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Dr. Dubravka Šimonović, has noted that her position was created 25 years ago to investigate violence against women in all its forms. As many significant milestones have been achieved in the past 25 years, she is seeking to reassess the challenges women face in attaining their rights and addressing violence. Dr. Šimonović has issued a broad call for submissions that will contribute to the future of her mandate.
Zero Discrimination Day will be celebrated on 1 March. This year UNAIDS is bringing attention to discriminatory laws that impact health, education, privacy, and all aspects of life. These laws include—though aren't limited to—those that criminalize being gay or trans, punish people for carrying condoms, prevent girls from attending school, and prevent women from accessing health services without the consent of a spouse. Check out the UNAIDS website to learn more!
HIV, Health, and Wellness: The crisis in Venezuela continues to impact the most vulnerable people. The Venezuelan Network of Positive People estimated that 62,000 people living with HIV started ARV treatment but lack consistent access to it. UNAIDS has been working with strategic partners to help reduce the impact of the crisis. Meanwhile, the Washington Blade spoke to service providers and activists about how the lack of ARVs, condoms, and lubricants is exacerbating the HIV epidemic. And Reuters explored how the economic crisis has impacted LGBT+ people.
In South Africa, the NGO Right to Care said they have seen a dramatic increase in the number of gay men and other men who have sex with men who have taken HIV tests in both urban and “hard-to-reach” areas. Meanwhile, Sowetan Live reported that South Africa’s Gauteng province has seen a significant number of people “defaulting” on their ARV treatment—with the health department reporting 2,000 people had missed at least one appointment.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Health announced plans to scale up access to PrEP across 11 provinces by 2020. The Deputy Director General of the Viet Nam Authority of HIV/AIDS Control, Associate Professor Phan Thi Thu Huong, discussed with the WHO the importance of PrEP for countries with concentrated epidemics. She stated that officials shouldn’t wait to roll out PrEP and that “policy and technical documents can be developed, adapted, and revised simultaneously”.
US activists joined New York City Council Speaker, and openly HIV-positive, Corey Johnson to demand that the National Institute of Health end Gilead Science’s patent on PrEP, as reported by the New York Daily News. Activists launched a #BreakThePatent campaign last year arguing that the nearly $2000 cost for a monthly supply in the US is preventing those who need it most from accessing the drug.
A new study published in BMC Public Health found that Canadian HIV-negative gay men and other men who have sex with men are changing their ideas of what “safety” and “risk” means when engaging in sexual activity. Authors suggest that health interventions will need to refocus on promoting a combination of strategies including—but not limited to—condom use to prevent HIV.
From the US, Dr Vincent Guilamo-Ramos warned that HIV has become an “invisible epidemic” among gay and bisexual Latino men. As the Guardian reported, data has shown that HIV diagnosis are up even though young Latinos are not showing any less safe sexual behaviors. However, they are disproportionately impacted by poverty, housing instability, community violence, and stigma.
The Russian organization Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice (ARF) launched a new chemsex harm reduction program that includes STI testing, safer sex supplies, and providing sexual health literature at gay techno events. ARF says the program is in response to a 2017 study of Ukrainian and Russian gay men and other men who have sex with men which found that 8% engage in chemsex.
From the World of Politics: The UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, announced a new commitment to eradicate HIV transmissionsthroughout the country by 2030. The plan includes refocusing on traditional tacticswith increased funding and attention to reduce stigma, and better prevention, detection, and treatment.
In the US, President Trump included a commitment to end HIV transmission by 2030in his annual State of the Union address. The Washington Post reported that his proposed strategy will include targeting 48 counties and specific US hotspots with a “substantial HIV burden”. Carl Schmid, co-chair of the White House’s HIV/AIDS advisory council, described the plan as “a bold initiative”, but conceded that:
“[T]here is a lot of distrust in the HIV community, and rightly so. In the next couple of days and weeks, the administration will have to prove themselves that they are serious about this.”
The New York Times reviewed some of the recent changes to US health policies that could prevent the country from reaching the 2030 AIDS goal.
UNAIDS released statements welcoming the commitments made by both countries and noted that it “looks forward to seeing the details” of the new strategies.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, spoke at the 20th anniversary of Auckland’s “Big Gay Out”. She announced a commitment to working with the LGBTI community to end HIV by 2025 and increased funding for mental health support.
The European Parliament adopted the “Resolution on the Rights of Intersex People”. Among its 17 points the resolution “strongly condemns sex normalizing treatments and surgeries”, calls for EU Member States to adopt policies that allow flexibility in gender recognition and self-determination, recognizes violation of intersex persons’ human rights, and urges Member States to improve legislation to protect individuals and to address stigma.
Canada’s International Development Minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTIQ2 Issues, Randy Boissonnault, announced that the government has committed $30 million over 5 years to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer, and two-spirited Canadian’s rights. An additional $10 million per year will be used to support LGBTIQ2 people in developing countries.
In Denmark, capital city Copenhagen announced a new policy specifically dedicated to support the LGBTI+ community. “En ligeværdig del af fællesskabet” (An equal part of the community) will include initiatives across seven different departments.
The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, spoke to NBC News about a new campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality around the world. NBC also reported that Grenell is under consideration to be the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
As Senegal prepares to hold presidential elections, Nellie Peyton reported for Reuters that candidates have emphasized anti-gay views to gain support from religious communities.
Writing for Reuters, Oscar Lopez spoke to openly LGBT+ Brazilian politicians in the shadow of President Jair Bolsonaro, a self-described “proud” homophobe. Erica Malunguinho, a transgender person elected as deputy to the state of Sao Paulo, remarked:
“We have a president who makes very violent statements about LGBT people, about black people, about women. It’s become even more important, even more necessary ... to be a guiding force in guaranteeing our rights.”
Serbia’s first female and first openly gay prime minister, Ana Brnabic, announced that her partner Milica Djurdjic has given birth to a baby. The country does not recognize same-sex marriages.
The Politics of Union: In Japan, 13 same-sex couples have filed lawsuits against the government in district courts across the country for denying them marriage equality. Although some municipalities have previously granted partnership certificates for same-sex couples no rights are associated or guaranteed. During four press conferences held on Valentine’s Day in Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, some of the plaintiffs spoke passionately on their experiences. As Kenji Aiba explained:
“I sometimes felt like my heart was being gouged out. I want this lawsuit to show people the hardships and ordeals that same-sex couples across the country have suffered.”
Chile’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Court of Appeals must consider the case of a gay couple who are suing the Civil Registry to be allowed to marry. Ramón Gómez and Gonzalo Velásquez have been together for 19 years and want marriage rights in order to give their future adopted children the same family rights and protections as all other children.
Taiwan’s Executive Yuan released a draft bill titled “The Enforcement Act of Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748” to legislate same-sex marriages or civil unions. (Although some politicians are calling it "marriage", activists pointed out this creates an alternate law and, as such, is closer to "civil unions".) The bill includes inheritance rights, medical rights, limited adoption rights, and the requirement of monogamy. When the Judicial Yuan ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2017 it stipulated that legislation must be enacted within two years.
Taiwan Insight explored the changing public opinion on the issue. In the last 18 months, it appeared that the public went from overwhelming support to a majority opposing it in last fall’s public referendum. The research suggests that many people had mostly indifferent views on same-sex marriage and are swayed by how legalization is framed—as a negative or positive for family, community, and public health.
In Switzerland, a parliamentary committee voted to create a draft law that will legalize same-sex marriage and allow couples to adopt children. Switzerland currently permits civil unions for gay couples that provides inheritance and tax rights but does not allow adoption or access to fertility treatments.
In the US, at least three states have introduced bills to make same-sex marriages illegal within state borders despite the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage nationwide. Bills introduced in North Carolina and Tennessee, where both state constitutions had previously defined marriage as between one man and one woman, suggest that the state constitution supersedes a Supreme Court ruling—as reported by NC Policy Watch and NBC. Kansas lawmakers have a more complicated argument against marriage. As NBC reported, the lawmakers claim that the LGBTQ community is a type of “religion of secular humanism”. As such they suggest that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause, which says the government cannot create a religion. A second Kansas bill claims that marriage equality “erode[s] community standards of decency”.
Let the Courts Decide: Kenya’s High Court finished hearing arguments on whether to repeal Section 162 of the Penal Code which criminalizes consensual adult same-sex sexual activity. Currently, the penalty for violating Section 162 is up to 14 years in prison. Last fall the court agreed to allow arguments based on India's Supreme Court decision decriminalizing gay people. Activists are hopeful as last year Kenya's court ruled that subjecting suspected gay men to anal “testing” is illegal, agreeing with the UN and other bodies that the practice is a form of torture. Although a decision was expected today (22 February), Judge Chacha Mwita announced it will be delayed until 24 May.
Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal heard arguments from the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transsexuals and the Socialist People’s Party that violence anddiscrimination against people due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity should be a crime. They suggested it should be considered a type of racism and have asked the court to establish temporary laws to protect LGBT+ people until Brazil’s Congress passes appropriate legislation.
In the US, NPR reported that cases are again making their way through the courtsasking if a business can refuse to provide services to people if providing that service goes against a business owner’s religious beliefs and how this relates to anti-discrimination protection. Last year the Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of a baker who did not want to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not treated the baker fairly—as reported by the New York Times. However, it did not answer whether religious freedom rights supersede anti-discrimination laws.
The AP reported that same baker is again in Colorado court for refusing to bake a cake for a trans person. And in the Arizona state Supreme Court, the Arizona Capitol Times reported that a shop that does not want to print weddings invitations is fighting the Phoenix discrimination ordinance. The issue is far from settled—in the latest example, the Indianapolis Star reported a local tax company refused to file a gay couple's taxes, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Also in the US, new challenges have been submitted against conversion therapy bans. Although the Supreme Court declined to hear objections to conversion therapy bans in 2015, as the Washington Post explained, a ruling this summer opened the door to objections. The Court ruled that “crisis pregnancy centers” (groups that urge pregnant women against abortions, often through providing inaccurate information) cannot be compelled to tell women about the availability of government resources because this violates their free speech rights. Now new plaintiffs are arguing that bans on conversion therapy similarly violate therapists’ free speech. Washington Post reported that a federal judge in Florida agreed with plaintiffs and recommended that conversion talk therapy should not be banned. And Liberty Counsel, a Christian advocacy group, announced it has appealed to the Supreme Court to reconsider the 2015 case.
Regarding Religion: In Germany, a group of prominent Catholics released an open letter calling on Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich to reassess the Church’s teaching on sexual morality including a "reasonable and just evaluation of homosexuality". In the theological monthly Herder Korrespondenz, German Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck also called for reform. Overbeck, who previously stated that expressing homosexuality was a “mortal sin”, said his views have changed through reflection and conversations with the community. He noted that some Catholic teachings “have possibly led to a disastrous tabooing of the phenomenon of human sexuality”. He further emphasized that sexual orientation cannot be linked with perpetrating sexual abuse.
From the Netherlands the Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors released a letter they sent to the Pope urging him to make clear that there is no connection between a priest’s sexual orientation and clerical sex abuse of children. They state:
“Heterosexual and homosexual seminarians and priests who are aware of the nature of their sexuality, who accept it as given by God, who are not ashamed about it, who can (learn to) speak about it in an appropriate and meaningful way, and who (learn to) deal with it properly in their role as a priest (or seminarian), are not the problem in our opinion. On the contrary, they can and do function well and have a valuable role to play within our Faith and Church.”
Elizabeth Dias and photographer Gabriella Demczuk spoke to 24 Catholic priests from across the US about hiding their sexuality. Among their fears, many spoke about becoming scapegoats in the sex abuse scandal. Father Greiten, a priest from Milwaukee, reflected on trauma he has suffered for being a gay man in the church and noted:
“It’s not just about the sexual abuse crisis. They are sexually traumatizing and wounding yet another generation. We have to stand up and say no more sexual abuse, no more sexual traumatizing, no more sexual wounding. We have to get it right when it comes to sexuality.”
Meanwhile, two cardinals published an open letter saying "the plague of the homosexual agenda" has spread through the church. They argue that "the first and primary fault of the clergy does not rest in the abuse of power but in having gone away from the truth of the Gospel". In the wake of ongoing cases of sexual abuse involving clergy, Pope Francis invited 190 bishops from around the world to discuss the protection of minors in the church.
Writing for the New York Times, Richard Schiffman spoke to US congregations that are addressing, what they call, “religious trauma syndrome” or the harmful effects of religious indoctrination. Those working with trauma survivors hope to release feelings of shame, unworthiness, and depression through positive use of scripture.
Writing for the National Catholic Reporter, social worker Meli Barber shared her experiences attending the World Youth Day celebrations of the Catholic community held this year in Panama. Barber was part of a group of LGBTQI Catholics acting as visible “witnesses” and calling for full equality for LGBTQI people in the church. She reflected on the significance of that visibility for others who could not be so open:
“He hugged me tightly and whispered in my ear that he was gay, too. "You're not alone," I whispered back and offered him one of our buttons. He took it from me and pinned it to the inside of his clothes, where it could not be seen.”
The United Methodist Church is meeting to vote on the official stance on same-sex marriages and whether to ordain gay men and women as clergy. Although Methodists are the largest Protestant denomination in the US, a third of the Church congregations are spread throughout Africa and Asia. Leaders hope a compromise can be reached however many expect this will cause a schism as the different views split.
In India, LGBT activists spoke at the Awadh Queer Lit Fest promoting the idea that being gay and being religious can coexist. As activist Zainab Patel remarked:
“Be it Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or Sikhism, foundations of all religions are based on peace, befriending and supporting each other.”
Fear and Loathing: Cameroon human rights organizations Humanity First Cameroon and Alternative-Cameroun released their 2018 annual report on violence and abuse against LGBTI people. The crimes they document include arbitrary arrests, physical and sexual violence, extortion, blackmail, and hate speech. In 2018, incidences of violence and abuse doubled to 1134 cases including three murders.
In Turkey, the Human Rights Watch has called on the governor of Ankara to lift a ban on activities organized by LGBTI groups including films, theatre, exhibitions, panels, talks, and other activities that “touch on certain social sensibilities and sensitivities”. The governor has said that these events could incite “hatred and enmity” and are “clear and imminent risk to public security”. According to HRW, the ban is the only one of its kind in the country.
Indonesia’s chairman of Komnas HAM (the National Commission on Human Rights), Ahmad Taufan, announced that West Sumatra’s plan to ban “LGBT behavior” is not a human rights violation. He stated that “If the people and government here create a regulation that bans LGBT behavior because it’s not in line with tradition, then it’s not wrong nor is it a violation of human rights”. He further explained that banning certain behaviors is fine because they are not “basic rights” such as education and healthcare.
From Ukraine, Amnesty International released a statement claiming that authorities have “failed to prevent or investigate numerous human rights violations committed by violent groups in 2018, perpetuating a feeling of impunity among their members which risks encouraging further attacks against human rights activists, political opponents and ethnic minorities.” The statement documents many attacks against LGBTQ people and others and lists events during which authorities failed to protect the community.
In Mexico, prominent HIV and gender rights activist, Óscar Cazorla was found murdered at home. Over 40 years ago Cazorla founded the Las Intrépidas Auténticas Buscadoras del Peligro (Authentic Intrepid Seekers of Danger), an annual festival that celebrates sexual diversity and Muxes—Mexico’s third gender people. Members of the muxe community pleaded with authorities for more protection:
“This situation that happened to Óscar scares us and puts us on alert. We no longer trust people. Our businesses and homes receive people daily and we no longer know what their intentions are—if they are good, or if they come to commit a crime, or to kill us.”
In Armenia, activist and staff member of trans rights organization Right Side NGO, was publicly beaten by three men. Haig Boyadjian, president of the Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS), warned of escalating violence against LGBT people with little or no investigation by police: “The lack of action essentially condones and justifies future hate crimes against Armenia’s LGBTQ community.” Last November, the 11th annual LGBT Christian Forum of Eastern Europe and Central Asia was canceled by organizers when police failed to offer security after a series of death threats and other violence.
In Israel the Nir Katz Center released a report which found that harassment or abuse against LGBTQ people increased 54% in 2018. The report further noted that the data shows LGBTQ people face harassment in both public and private parts of life.
Writing for the New York Times, author Sophie Lewis explained for non-British readers the history and rise of a form of feminism in the UK that rejects the inclusion of trans women.
From the UK, the dating app Chappy and the BAME LGBT Charity released results from a new study found that over a third of black, Asian, and other ethnic minority gay men have faced discrimination within the LGBTQ community because of their race. BAME LGBT Charity founder Ozzy Amir noted that these experiences aren’t only online:
“That’s why it is encouraging to see the proactive and data driven approach Chappy is undertaking to tackle racism in the gay community.”
Winds of Change: ILGA and the Global Philanthropy Project released their latest report on philanthropy and LGBTI activism titled “Comparing the Priorities of LGBTI Organisations and Funders”. The report takes a deeper look at previous research on funding activism and government support. It is intended as a resource for existing funders to set priorities, for European governments to assess resources needed, and to support the advocacy efforts of LGBTI organizations.
In Spain, LGBT+ people who survived imprisonment and torture under the regime of dictator Francisco Franco are fighting to receive the full €2 million promised as compensation by the government in 2008. Historian Arturo Arnalte estimates about 5,000 mostly gay and bisexual men and trans women were victims of homophobic laws in the 1970s.
Writing for Khmer Times, Tabitha Payne explored the Cambodian village where many transgender people and their cisgender partners have created families, raised children, and been active members of the community for many years.
Gay Star News reported that activists in Japan have opened a safe house for LGBT people who have lost their homes due to discrimination. Nijiro House was created through the support of crowdfunding and private investments.
In Belize the advocacy group Our Circle has launched a new project “Activists, Advocates, & Allies” to strengthen ties between the local LGBT community and allies and role models.
School Days: From Canada, a new study published in Social Science & Medicine-Population Health found that students in schools with gay-straight alliances help make all students feel safer. The study used data from over 38,000 students going back to 2003. A study in LGBT Health found that US students of all genders and sexualities in schools with explicit rules protecting LGBT kids from bullying had fewer suicide attempts than students in schools without these anti-bullying measures.
In Brazil, officials announced that textbooks will be revised to remove references to feminism, homosexuality, and violence against women. The AP reports that President Jair Bolsonaro has said he wanted to remove the ideas of Paulo Freire, one of Brazil’s most famous educators who encouraged students to challenge traditional values.
Following a conservative political rally in the US, the Washington Post spoke to teachers from the US, the Netherlands, and Canada about hostility towards teachers in politics. The teachers give examples from the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Hungary, Brazil, Turkey, and the Philippines where they have been targeted or denounced for providing education. They remark:
“As teachers, we come from varied backgrounds and political leanings, but there is an undeniable core to who we are and what we stand for. Teachers nurture, care and protect students. Teachers champion the pursuit of knowledge...Independent thinking, creativity, compassion, and curiosity are threats to dogmatic beliefs and rule.”
From the UK, 54 leaders in education, activism, and faith published an open letter urging the Department of Education to reject plans to “dilute” standards including that they “no longer stipulate that all independent schools must teach respect for LGBT people”. They emphasize that being LGBT and being people of faith are not mutually exclusive possibilities. They note that although school should consider issues from a “range of religion or belief perspectives”, schools “must provide lessons that inform young people of their rights, and promote a culture of inclusion and acceptance of diversity”.
Australian youth group Minus18 delivered a petition signed by over 52,000 people to senators urging them to protect students and teachers regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Meanwhile, the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee released its report on legislation exemptions that allow faith-based schools to discriminate against LGBTI students. The committee recommended that the exemptions should not be removed at this time. Although it “considers it necessary and appropriate to prohibit discrimination against LGBTIQ+ school students”, these protections should “not occur at the expense” of religious educational institutions to teach according to their beliefs.
New research from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium found that students raised by same-sex couples in the Netherlands had higher test scores and were more likely to graduate from high school than students raised by heterosexual couples. The study tracked over 1 million children including 1,200 raised by same-sex couples.
From the US, a new survey found that 63% of LGBTQ people aged 18 to 35 are considering having or adopting children. However, NBC reports that 10 states have laws that make it difficult to foster or adopt as a same-sex couple.
Sports and Culture: US support group Athlete Ally announced they have removed lesbian tennis star Martina Navratilova from their advisory board due to a column she wrote for the UK’s Sunday Times about trans people in sports. In their statement, the group called her comments “transphobic” and “based on a false understanding of science and data” that “perpetuate dangerous myths”.
The West Indies cricket player Shannon Gabriel was banned from playing four games for making homophobic comments during a game. Captain of the England team Joe Root was praised for “calmly” telling Gabriel: "Don't use it as an insult. There is nothing wrong with being gay." Gabriel later released an apology.
Japanese news producer and correspondent Tanio Toshimi spoke to Nippon about her experience in the business and how her NTV colleagues supported her during her gender transition. Toshimi is Japan’s first openly trans TV correspondent.
From South Korea, Tae Yoon spoke to Mini Han, co-owner of Trunk “one of the hottest gay clubs”. Han, who is openly trans, has become the glamorous face of the club and an outspoken advocate for trans rights.
In the US, San Francisco’s The Contemporary Jewish Museum launched a new exhibit featuring the work of artists exploring gender fluidity. “Show Me as I Want to Be Seen” centers around surrealist artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore who “shattered the notion of stable gender roles” then branches off to the contemporary artists they continue to influence today. Check out the amazing collection.