From the UN: Zero Discrimination Day was celebrated on 1 March with a focus on discriminatory laws and practices that impact health, education, privacy, and all aspects of life. UNAIDS identified many of these laws around the world and urged people to take action to change them. It also called on countries to support the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate All Forms of HIV-related Stigma and Discrimination. Through a focus on health-care, the workplace, the education system, the justice system, households, and emergency settings the Partnership aims to accelerate change.
The UNDP’s Being LGBTI in Asia and the Pacific hosted a five-day forum with 46 advocates from 17 countries to discuss advancing legal and social equality for people across South Asia. Forum participants evaluated strategies such as collecting hard evidence for policy makers and sharing humanistic storytelling through multimedia. Fatema Bhaiji, founder of Pakistan’s Outcast Magazine, remarked:
“The more visible we become, the more we will just become part of our countries’ social fabrics… If people read stories that are placed in their own local context, they will be able to relate to them better, and maybe then we will have a better chance at being accepted and understood.”
UNAIDS hosted a live Facebook discussion on the impact of artificial intelligence and big data on the HIV response. Participants discussed how these digital technologies have emerged as a significant force—speeding up clinical research and improving access and delivery of HIV services. However, they warned that the technologies also increase the potential for human rights violations.
The world has responded to news that an HIV-positive man in London has been functionally cured of HIV through the use of stem cell transplants. He is the second person in just over a decade to appear to be cured through the process which involves a patient, who is undergoing treatment for cancer, receiving stem cells from a donor who has the genetic mutation that gives people resistance to HIV infection. While “greatly encouraged” by the news, UNAIDS noted that this treatment is complex, costly, and not a viable way for treating large numbers of people. Executive Director Michel Sidibé reflected:
“To find a cure for HIV is the ultimate dream. Although this breakthrough is complicated and much more work is needed, it gives us great hope for the future that we could potentially end AIDS with science, through a vaccine or a cure. However, it also shows how far away we are from that point and of the absolute importance of continuing to focus HIV prevention and treatment efforts.”
HIV, Health, and Wellness: The annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) was held in Seattle, Washington bringing nearly 4,000 scientists, researchers, epidemiologists, and public health officials from 74 countries together to discuss the latest developments in HIV/AIDS. During his opening address, Dr Anthony Fauci discussed the US government’s new plan to end the HIV epidemic across the country by focusing on “Undetectable = Untransmittable”—treatment as prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis. Additionally, the plan will focus on target populations and local “geographic hotspots” including 48 mostly rural counties and seven mostly southern states.
Although Dr Fauci addressed some of the scepticism around the plan, his assurances might not be enough for some rural and southern doctors. Kaiser Health News published the concerns some US doctors have that the plan does not fully appreciate the different challenges faced by patients in rural, underfunded areas.
In Dr Jeanne Marrazzo’s plenary session at CROI titled "Denial, Doom, or Destiny? Resurgent STIs in HIV Care & Prevention", Marrazzo discussed the “incredible” increase of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. She also discussed uncommon manifestations of the illnesses and drug-resistant infections.
Also presented at CROI were two new phase three trials evaluating the efficacy of using long-acting injectable drugs to treat HIV. These once-a-month injections could replace the daily pills people living with HIV must take to control the infection. Both studies were optimistic—only six people out of 1,172 participants across both studies experienced treatment failure. The injectables were well tolerated and participants were more satisfied with their treatment.
Another featured study examined a new alternative drug for PrEP to prevent HIV infection. Studying cisgender gay men and other men who have sex with men and transgender women, researchers found that the drug “Descovy” worked as well as the more commonly used drug Truvada. Additionally, they announced that Descovy might provide better bone and renal safety than Truvada. Researchers noted that this study is significant because it is the first “HIV prevention trial without a placebo arm”.
New research from Germany, published in Eurosurveillance, evaluated the cost-effectiveness of PrEP in the country over 40 years. The modelling study found that a 2-year scale-up could potentially avert 21,000 new HIV infections. Although researchers estimated the initial costs of a maximum $171 million, after 10 years they estimated a total savings of $5.8 billion by 2058.
Brazil’s Ministry of Health launched a campaign “Stop, think and use condoms” to protect the public from sexually transmitted infections throughout Carnival. Volunteers distributed millions of condoms and sachets of lubricants, offered HIV rapid testing throughout the night, and walked the streets handing out educational material.
In India, the organization Humsafar Trust opened the first community run HIV clinic for high-risk communities including gay men and other men who have sex with men, trans people, and sex workers.
From Australia, Matthew Wade wrote about the issue of “stealthing”—that is, when a person secretly removes a condom during sex without consent of their partner. A recent study in the city of Melbourne found that one in five gay and bisexual men had been a victim of stealthing and were subsequently twice as likely to report anxiety and depression. Wade argues it is time we call this practice what it is—sexual assault.
From the World of Politics: The EU-Arab League summit took place in Egypt. During the event, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xaxier Bettel spoke openly about his sexuality and told leaders that his marriage would condemn him to death in some countries. In a final press conference, the Guardian reported that Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi disregarded criticisms on human rights saying:
“We are two different cultures … Our priority is preserving our countries and stopping them from collapse, destruction and ruin, as you see in many surrounding states.”
Reuters reported that local activists were conflicted about whether European leaders should speak on behalf of Arab LGBT+ people.
Several countries are again tackling the issue of "conversion therapy". In the Australian state of Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews announced the state will move to criminalize conversion therapy this year. New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced the NSW government is “on the same page” as Victoria and would seek a national response at the Council of Australian Governments. Although Australia’s Labor Party (ALP) campaigned with a promise to ban conversion therapy nationwide, they recently removed from the platform a policy to criminalize the practice.
Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters that the Ministry is evaluating the legal process needed to ban conversion therapy and that he hopes legislation will be passed in 2019.
In Poland, liberal party Nowoczesna and local LGBT organization Kampanią Przeciw Homofobii (KPH) submitted to parliament a draft bill to ban conversion therapy. KPH launched a new website to educate people about these “pseudo-therapies” and help people to share their experiences.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the Equality Act—a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity on a federal level—will be introduced this week, as reported by the Washington Blade. Until the Act is passed, LGBTQ rights vary from state to state.
The Human Rights Campaign published its 2018 State Equality Index with analysis of US state legislation and policies that impact LGBTQ people and their families. During 2018, the report says that 110 so-called “bad bills” with anti-LGBTQ legislation or policies were proposed including restrictions on trans rights, undermining marriage equality, and granting businesses the right to discriminate. However only two of those passed—both restricting rights of gay couples to adopt in Kansas and Oklahoma. Meanwhile 21 “good bills” passed including legislation banning conversion therapies, expanding gender recognition, and amending non-discrimination laws. Looking forward, HRC believes that many “proactive, pro-equality efforts” will succeed, although it cautions that there is a trend in anti-LGBTQ legislation to push for bills that “allow narrower, more targeted types of discrimination”.
Also in the US, decorated trans troops were asked to testify before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. The Washington Post reported that Congress had called on the service members, who were from the Navy, the Army, and the Marines, to speak as they consider the administration’s efforts to ban trans people from the military. Current Undersecretary of Defense, Gen James Stewart, argued that the the administration was not "banning” trans people, but that “special accommodations” couldn’t be made for people diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Representative Veronica Escobar asked in response, “How is this not discrimination?”
In Spain, a declaration to support policies against homophobia in sports was blockedby Senator José Alcaraz of the far-right political party “Vox”. The official party Twitter account remarked that the declaration was an “ideological pamphlet” to “sneak gender ideology through the back door”.
In Poland, the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, signed an “LGBT+ Declaration”that sets a standard against homophobia and transphobia in the city. It also says that school sex education should be based on the WHO standards. Trzaskowski published a public statement condemning as "manipulation" speculation that sex education would be forced on kindergartens and nurseries.
Meanwhile, it appeared that Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) is denouncing gay rights as part of its election strategy. According to Emerging Europe, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński told party convention goers that the Mayor’s declaration was an “attack on the family” and “an attack on children”—promising that PiS would “defend the Polish family”.
ILGA-Europe and 21 civil society organizations launched a new campaign “#ElectNoHate”. The campaign calls upon candidates, politicians, the media, and all those in the public eye across Europe to avoid engaging in or amplifying rhetoric that can incite discrimination, prejudice, or hatred throughout campaigns and elections. The organizations point to evidence which shows that there has been a spike in hate crimes following periods of divisive rhetoric. After the Brexit referendum, for example, they state there was a 147% increase in hate crimes against LGBT people and a 41% increase in racially or religiously motivated crimes.
In Thailand, Pauline Ngarmpring, a CEO and former sports promoter, has been selected as one of three candidates from the Mahachon party for the office of Prime Minister. Ngarmpring is the country’s first openly trans candidate for Prime Minister.There are nearly 20 other openly LGBT candidates running for seats in the House of Representatives. The election will take place later this month.
In Guatemala, openly gay congressional candidates Aldo Dávila and Otto René Félix spoke to Washington Blade about their goals for the community if they win seats during June’s election.
The Politics of Union: The UK Foreign Affairs Committee released a 44-page report “Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the Relationship” which covers topics such as immigration, citizenship, and health care. It calls for all British Overseas Territories to legalize same-sex marriage and urges parliament to set a deadline for this legislation to be passed.
Meanwhile, UK Equalities Minister Baroness Williams announced that the government does not support an amendment to extend marriage equality to Northern Ireland. Instead, she said, the issue should be taken up by Northern Ireland’s own administration:
“Legislation should be developed having taken into account the wide range of views on this issue in Northern Ireland, as well as the various legal requirements.”
In the Czech Republic, the mayor of Prague, Zdeněk Hřib, joined the “We’re Fair” campaign and signed a statement in support of gay marriage. Although parliament considered an amendment last month to allow same-sex couples to marry, the country currently only allows couples to seek civil partnerships. With parliamentary support stalled, campaign advocacy director Adéla Horáková explained they are now seeking support from mayors and city leaders because although “they do not vote for the law, they are closer to the people”. Mayor Hřib called on others to join the campaign, noting:
"Marriage should be available without discrimination to all couples who want to express mutual respect, love and support. It is about equality, because registered partnerships today are certainly not the legal equivalent of marriage."
In the US, the first gay couple to receive a marriage license—albeit from a mistake made by the clerk issuing the document—has had their marriage officially recognized. The couple, Michael McConnell and Jack Baker, obtained a license in 1971 from the state of Minnesota, although the courts only recently ruled it was valid after a long legal fight. In February, the Social Security Administration granted them spousal benefits.
Let the Courts Decide: In Brazil, the Supreme Federal Court President, Dias Toffoli, discontinued a session evaluating if homophobia and transphobia should be considered criminal offences on par with racial discrimination. President Toffoli noted that the session was taking too long and had caused 32 other cases to be overlooked. Although the trial has no date to be resumed, four of the 11 Ministers voted in favor of making it a crime with seven left to vote.
Tunisian officials filed an appeal against a 2016 court ruling that allowed the LGBT group Shams to operate—according to Shams president Mounir Baatour. Human Rights Watch called on the government to halt the appeal.
In Japan, the Tokyo District Court ruled that Hitotsubashi University was not at fault for the death of a student who was outed to a group of peers. His parents had sued saying that the school failed to create a harassment free environment.
Botswana's High Court is preparing to hear arguments challenging sections of the Penal Code which are used to criminalize gay people and impose a sentence of up to seven years in prison. Lawyer Tashwill Esterhuizen noted that Botswana courts have "set an example" of how the courts can promote human rights, adding:
"We are confident and hopeful that the court will uphold human rights of the LGBTI community."
Regarding Religion: Over 800 United Methodist Church leaders from around the world met in Missouri for a special session to debate the ordination of gay clergy and the current ban on same-sex marriage. Delegates voted 53% to adopt the “traditional plan” which reinforces that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”. Under this plan clergy who perform weddings will be reprimanded and could lose their position in the church. Although many worry this will cause a schism, Bishop Karen Oliveto, the first openly gay bishop, said she does not plan to leave:
“I was raised in it. I was nurtured in the love of God through it. My discipleship was deepened through it and I have served it faithfully. Where would I go? This is my home.”
In the UK, activist Hafsa Qureshi spoke about how her sexuality has impacted her love of Islam. Remarking that her religion and bisexuality makes her a “quirky outlier” in both communities she added:
“I've decided to take that power and use it, weaponise it to raise the visibility of other people like me, though we've been around a long time.”
In Japan, some Buddhists are tackling how to better support LGBT people in life and death without discrimination. One particular concern priests have is in regards to the gender-specific titles individuals are given especially during the ceremony that marks when a deceased person has become a disciple of Buddha.
On the Indonesian island of Sulawesi the tradition of “bissu”, intersex priests revered for their combination of sexes among the Bugis people, has dramatically declined. Farid Ibrahim reported on the Bugis tradition and how their concept of five genders has been impacted by rising homophobia and transphobia in the region.
Fear and Loathing: Human Rights Watch has updated its 2019 World Report and the reviews of the rights of LGBT people in 112 countries. Additionally, HRW has a new resource titled “#Outlawed The Love that Dare Not Speak its Name” which provides easily accessible maps on the laws impacting gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. The first map shows the 6 countries with laws that target trans and gender nonconforming people and the 69 countries with national laws criminalizing consensual adult same-sex relations. It provides special reference to other countries that have vague bans or conflicting laws. There are new maps examining the language of laws and the different criminal sentences people face around the world. Finally, a map specifically looks at the 37 countries that criminalize sexual relations between women.
In Turkey, the television news show hosted by Çağlar Cilara was canceled by Channel TV5 after he interviewed Alper Taş—the candidate for mayor of the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. During the interview Taş said the country should protect LGBT people. Viewers complained and Cilara was accused of spreading LGBT propaganda. In January, Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation suspended channel LTC TV for two weeks and a court fined TV host Mohamed al-Gheiti 1000 EGP for airing his interview of a gay man on TV.
The BBC’s first ever correspondent to focus on LGBTQ issues, Ben Hunte, spoke openly about the significant racial and homophobic abuse he has received over social media and email for filing news stories with an LGBTQ focus. Hunte was appearing at a panel chaired by Attitude Editor-in-Chief Cliff Joannou when he recalled:
“I had internal conversations with the BBC because that story was just a fun and friendly piece about LGBT history. When I’m digging deeper and I’m putting vulnerable people on the news, what are those comment sections going to look like?"
Malaysia’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, condemned the local International Women’s Day rally for including LGBT groups. Rawa claimed the event was a “misuse of democratic space” because it defended “things that are wrong from the point of Islam”. In response, organizers of the event published a statement calling the controversy a distraction from the march goals. Their demands included an end to violence based on gender and sexual orientation, a ban on child marriages, ensuring women's rights over their own bodies and lives, a higher minimum wage, and a demand to build a genuine democracy. Organizers called the attack on LGBT people “political opportunism” and “moral panic instigated by the media”, saying:
“Disproportionate attention was made to single out and target the presence of LGBT participants. This borders on incitement to hatred and violence towards a section of Malaysian society who are already at risk and facing multiple forms of discrimination.”
The controversy made headlines around the world and led others to speak up. Member of Parliament Charles Santiago urged an end to “demonising of the LGBT community” and called for a focus on rally demands. Activist Marina Mahathir accused Rawa of “trying to distract from addressing very real women’s issues”. Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said the story was being reported in a “sensational manner” and that newspapers were “neglecting their duty of fair reporting”.
Winds of Change: On 8 March the world celebrated International Women’s Day. Writing for Reuters, OutRight Action International executive director Jessica Stern talked about the importance of inclusivity and the diversity of women. Managing director of “ShoutOut”, Bella FitzPatrick, profiled eight bisexual, lesbian, trans, intersex, hijra, and queer feminist activists from around the world.
Ella Tennant, teaching fellow at Keele University, explored how the English language has been used to marginalize and reinforce cultural and social stereotypes of trans, non-binary, and cisgender women. The creators of the Nonbinary Hebrew Project spoke to them about their work to make Judaism more welcoming for queer people. The project provides a comprehensive guide on gender-neutral Hebraic pronouns and explores the biblical precedent for trans and non-binary identities. And in Japan, the LGBT Federation published new guidelines to help the media report on LGBT issues. The guidelines provide basic knowledge on LGBT issues, a glossary with explanation of how to use different words, and a checklist to prevent "outing" individuals who do not want to share their sexual orientation or gender identity.
From Australia, Bridget Clinch talked to the media about the challenges trans people face in the military. Clinch, the first soldier to transition to her authentic gender while serving in the Australian Defence Force, was initially terminated from her post when she came out. Since she challenged and won against the ADF transgender policy, at least 44 trans personnel have received treatment for gender dysphoria. Clinch remarked:
“Everyone thinks that you have some Disney princess thing that happens to you when you transition but it’s really more that you get to start your life.”
Serbian feminist and lesbian activist Lepa Mladjenovic wrote about the “extraordinary news” that the partner of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, who is openly gay, gave birth to a baby boy—despite Serbia’s laws that prevent same-sex couples from marrying or adopting children. Mladjenovic explained the anger many LGBT people have because the Prime Minister has not used her position to promote basic legal rights for the community even as she has created her own family:
“[I]n this particular situation the fact that Prime Minister is a lesbian and a lesbian mother is fused with the fact that she represents nationalist, corrupted, authoritarian politics.”
A US-based non-profit “Men Having Babies” is holding its first event in Asia to provide advice to LGBT+ people who want to become parents. The two-day event will focus on information on surrogacy, doctors, lawyers, and regional clinics.
The Williams Institute released their latest demographic and socioeconomic data of the LGBT population in the US. The comprehensive analysis estimates that there are roughly 11,343,000 LGBT adults with the largest number residing in southern states. Along with the data, the Institute published an interactive website that enables you to filter results by state, race, gender, and relationship status.
Writer Amelia Hess profiled four organizations in US southern states that are working to help LGBTQ youth find “families of choice”. She noted these and other local groups “have been pivotal in leading conversations” about LGBTQ rights through an understanding of local culture.
School Days: In New Zealand, nearly 40,000 people have signed a petition to Parliament requesting that the Ministry of Education remove references to gender diversity from the sexuality education guide and delete gender diversity teaching resources from the country’s bilingual education portal. The petition argues that “endorsing gender discordance as normal via public education and legal policies will confuse children and parents”. The national coordinator for Gender Minorities Aotearoa, Ahi Wi-Hongi, remarked that the number of votes was “suspiciously high” for such a small country, and Wi-Hongi wondered how many votes came from those outside of New Zealand.
The UK Department for Education published new guidelines on “Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education”. This material will be considered compulsory in primary and secondary schools starting in September although parents will be able to withdraw students under 16-years-old. Among the new topics taught the guidance says that LGBT specific content is “integral” but that schools are “free to determine how they address” it. It further states that sexual orientation and gender identity should be integrated appropriately throughout a RSE program.
Stonewall praised the guidance and urged the government to “sufficiently invest in training and resources”. Over 111,000 people have signed a petition arguing parents should be allowed to opt their children out of this relationship and sex education.
Argentina passed a law in 2006 to provide all students in public and private school comprehensive sexual education curriculum (ESI) including discussions on contraception and non-discrimination against LGBT people. Writing for Latin America Reports, Frances Jenner found that it is only sporadically being implemented in schools today. Jenner explored the groups opposing ESI and their arguments against “gender ideology” and the “promotion of homosexuality”.
From Australia, reporter Rachel Rasker spoke to international LGBT students studying in the country about the challenges they have faced incorporating into school life where “everyone's been out for years”:
“They know what they want to do, they know what they like and you're just sitting here [thinking I] can't even say 'I'm gay' without being terrified.”
In the US, 18-year-old swimmer and valedictorian Seth Owens made headlines for raising money online to attend Georgetown University after his parents kicked him out for being gay. Owens raised over $141,000 from the public plus an additional $25,000 from Ellen DeGeneres and corporate partner Cheerios. Now Owen has used the money he has raised to establish the Unbroken Horizons Scholarship Foundation which will provide scholarships to LGBTQ+ people of color. He remarked:
“I was told by a mentor of mine I would not have received the same support if I were a student of color... I can't just say that I'm not racist because I don't act that way. I have to actively do something about it. That's my own conviction, my own obligation, that I feel is my personal responsibility.”
Also in the US, a Kansas politician withdrew his support for an anti-LGBTQ bill after his daughter publicly shamed him. In her letter, Christel Highland pleaded with Representative Ron Highland to explain why he would support a bill that “elevates hate and hurts my family or friends”:
“Legislation which reeks of utter disrespect toward anyone, actively striving to make the lives of others more difficult is beneath you. I love you, I always will, in spite of your flaws. I cannot, however, condone your cruel actions.”
Sports and Culture: Kenyan actress Samantha Mugatisia won the best actress award at the Fespaco Film Festival in Burkina Faso for her role in the lesbian film Rafiki.
Reporter Sonia Elks spoke to drag kings, mostly female or trans performers who perform as male characters. Nigel Edley of Nottingham Trent University explained that drag enables people to "knowingly examine and question gender roles" while challenging masculine stereotypes.
Nigerian designer Raldie Young spoke to NoStringsNG about creating his own clothing brand to promote equality and social acceptance of LGBT people and other marginalized groups,
Author Sandy Allen shared the deeply personal experience of discovering their gender while "tidying up" her apartment:
"It didn’t take me long to see it, what the discard pile was. It was only the skirts, only the dresses, only the flowers and lace and sparkles. It was everything I’d bought hoping that some colleague might say: Isn’t that cute? I burst into tears, shame filling me entirely, and then I laughed about the fact that this book had made me cry, this silly, stupid cleaning book."