"Earlier this year, my colleagues and I visited a health facility to conduct a sensitization forum. I personally faced incredible stigma from the health workers there. They referred to me as a “mental case”. I am not a mental case. I am unapologetically me. These laws have taken space away from me. Space to exist as a Kenyan, space to exist as a transgender woman, space to exist as a woman...
I did not choose my gender identity. I did not wake up one morning and decide to be who I am. Who I am, has been a long and treacherous journey. A journey with moments of joy, but many more moments of hurt and pain."
~ Emanuela, participating in the Voices of Kenya campaign to bring awareness despite the High Court's ruling to keep criminalizing same-sex intimacy.
From the UN: During the 72nd 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. Trans and gender diverse leadership have advocated for this change for over ten years. However, activists say there is more work to be done to achieve full depathologization.
The 15th annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia(IDAHOTB) was celebrated on 17 May marking the day in 1990 that the WHO removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. Over 130 countries recognize the day with a range of activities including marches, public displays, and discussions. Check out the UN Free & Equal campaign’s new video short demanding “protection in our homes, at school, at work, on the street”:
“This is the time to keep
fighting, shouting, showing
we won’t stand for discrimination.”
In recognition of this year's theme, “Justice and Protection for All”, UNAIDS called on countries to end discriminatory laws including those that criminalize same-sex sexual relations. It launched a new interactive map that links HIV data, criminalization laws, and recent news and events that impact LGBTI people. UNAIDS also announced a partnership with Pride House Tokyo to support LGBT athletes, their families, and the public during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.
The UN Office of Human Rights and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urged governments and civil society to promote tolerance and diversity, and to “take all necessary measures to prevent and counteract” hate and bigotry. They emphasized that offensive discourse, whether in politics, media, or culture, leads to prejudice, suppression, and violence.
The UN celebrated the International Day of Families on 15 May. This year the theme was “Families and Climate Action” with a focus on the role families play in development. A separate “high-level event” was held at the UN called “It Takes a Family” with representatives from civil society, the Vatican, and 25 member states including Russia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and Uganda. The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam). A recent Guardian report described how C-Fam has “emerged from the extreme right fringe on abortion, sexual orientation, and gender identity to become a powerful player behind the scenes at the UN”. C-Fam’s press release reported that participants called on the UN to protect the “traditional family” and warned against “hedonistic ideologies”.
Thirty-eight civil society and human rights organizations, including the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), International Commission of Jurists, AfricanDefenders, and Human Rights Watch, sent an open letter to the UN Human Rights Council asking representatives to address the “deterioration of the human rights situation” in Tanzania. In particular they noted the growing violence and discrimination LGBT people have faced:
“While we do not believe that, at this point, the situation calls for a resolution—warning signs of a mounting human rights crisis exist.”
UNAIDS welcomed Gunilla Carlsson as Executive Director, a.i.. She replaces Michel Sidibé who accepted the position of Mali’s Minister of Health and Social Affairs. Carlsson is a former member of the Swedish Parliament.
HIV, Health, and Wellness: Gilead Sciences announced it will allow a generic version of the PrEP drug Truvada to be sold in the US in 2020. In the US, NBC reported that a one month supply of Truvada costs between $1,600-2,000. In other countries, Truvada and generics costs between $10-$80 a month. Activists have long campaigned for an end to Truvada patents. The “PrEP4All Collaboration” praised the generic announcement, but warned that because Gilead will only allow a single company—Teva Pharmaceuticals—to make the generic, the costs will remain high.
The Washington Post reported that the US government has launched an investigation into Gilead’s patent and a competing patent held by the Centers for Disease Control. Gilead does not consider the CDC patent to be valid, however activists have urged the government to collect fees from Truvada sales and use the money to support efforts to end the HIV epidemic.
Meanwhile, also in the US, several HIV-positive activists have filed suit against Gilead and two other pharmaceuticals for violating antitrust laws and maintaining a monopoly artificially driving up the costs of drugs that makeup the combination ‘cocktail’ to treat HIV.
Pakistan’s Health Minister, Dr Hisham Inamullah Khan, announced that the government will distribute free HIV self-testing kits among the transgender community. During a ceremony marking the occasion, Khan also said the government is working on legislation to set aside a quota of public jobs for trans people that will provide them with a “safe working environment” and respectable livelihood.
Writing for Rolling Stone, Allie Volpe looked at the history of the condom and the multi-million dollar search, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop a better one.
From China, Amnesty International reported that highly restrictive requirements for gender-affirming health care has led some trans people to attempt to self-medicate through black market hormones. Some trans people even admitted to attempting “self-surgery” to remove their genitals.
In the UK, the International Longevity Centre released a report examining the health inequalities of LGBT people aged 50 and older. Through a meta-analysis the report determined that older LGBT people were more likely to have poorer mental and physical health, engage in harmful health behaviors, and experience difficulties accessing healthcare than their straight peers.
Writing for the New York Times, sociology professor Afshan Jafar questioned why governments have resisted bans on non-medically necessary genital surgeries on intersex children who are unable to give consent. Jafar drew comparisons between these surgeries and female genital mutilation. She asked why one is labeled “abuse” and a “barbaric” practice while the other is often called “corrective” or “normalizing”.
India’s Madras High Court recently banned sex reassignment or change surgery (SRS) for intersex children stating that a parent’s consent cannot be considered consent of the child. Meanwhile, in Austria, the government issued the first passport and birth certificate designating an intersex person as a third gender. Reutersreported that Germany, Pakistan, Nepal, and some US states also allow a third sex option for individuals on official documents.
From the World of Politics: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic organisation with 36 member countries, published the ninth edition of “Society at a Glance”. The latest edition features a special chapter on LGBT people, their demographics, their economic situation and well-being, and what policies can improve LGBT inclusivity.
In Canada, Québec’s Minister of International Relations and La Francophonie, Mme Nadine Girault, launched “Égides” – the Francophone International Alliance for Equality and Diversity.
In the US, for the first time, the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights act. The Equality Act amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the public and private sector—as reported by Newsweek. While activists have hailed the achievement, it must be passed by the Senate to take effect. CNN and others report that it is unlikely to pass because opponents have argued that the bill threatens freedom of speech, religion, and women’s rights.
Meanwhile, also in the US, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a rule to rollback protections for trans people in health care. The rule revises a policy created in 2016 which defined discrimination "on the basis of sex" to include gender identity—as reported by NPR. Activists urged the government to reject the change.
The Guatemalan Congress began reconsidering the Law for the Protection of Life and the Family which would modify the Penal Code to create harsher penalties for women who undergo abortions, eliminate comprehensive sexuality education, and specifically prohibit same-sex marriage—as reported by Nomada.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced a new policy to support survivors of domestic abuse. The policy not only covers victims of violence but also supports victims of economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse. Additionally, the policy will include “specialist support” for LGBT people and other minority groups.
From Thailand, Reuters reported that the four newly elected openly LGBT+ members of the Future Forward Party caused a stir their first day in office by arriving to Parliament in brightly colored outfits. The first non-binary member of parliament, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, explained:
"I wanted to make a statement: 'I am here. This is who I am, and we need to address these issues'.”
In Malaysia, Member of Parliament and leader of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim spoke out against international pressures on LGBT issues. Ibrahim was responding to comments made by celebrity George Clooney who suggested that the boycott of Brunei (due to Brunei's anti-gay laws) could be extended to Malaysia and Indonesia.
In Colombia, openly gay and trans politicians from across the region discussed how to counter backlash against LGBT people especially when other politicians are responsible for spreading anti-LGBT messages. They emphasized creating new alliances with other social movements and encouraged looking for common ground with evangelicals. Brazilian politician Fabio Felix noted :
“We are trying to talk to all the people we can, even with people (with whom) we have no ideological alliance. And we are trying to isolate the radical right in Brazil ... that's our strategy right now.”
The Politics of Union: In Taiwan, China, the Legislative Yuan passed a marriage equality bill, making it the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. As the legislature debated three different versions of a bill, over 40,000 people gathered outside the Yuan. Activists and celebrities spoke to the crowd while a livestream of the debate was broadcast. Not everyone was happy with the final bill which does not provide full adoption rights. Taiwan News reported that 526 couples registered for marriage the first day the law went into effect.
Although Japan does not have a national policy that legalizes marriage equality, the Tokyo Review reported that the number of municipalities with a “partnership system” recognizing gay couples has doubled. While the progress is being applauded, the systems provide only limited rights.
In Hong Kong, the High Court is reviewing a case filed by a pastor who is seeking the ability to officiate LGBT marriages under the right of freedom of worship. Pastor Marrz Balaoro, who is openly trans, was previously arrested for conducting same-sex marriages and hopes to prevent future problems with police. Even if the court rules in Balaoro’s favor Reuters reported that the unions would carry no legal weight.
Meanwhile, activists launched Hong Kong Marriage Equality (HKME) to campaign for gay marriage. The group includes tycoon Gigi Chao, who was the first Asian and the first lesbian to be named the most influential LGBT+ business person in the world, topping the Financial Times’ annual OutStanding ranking in 2016. HKME co-founder Jerome Yau reflected:
“Taiwan’s experience exposes the common fallacy that same-sex marriage is a Western product for Western societies, the key message today is – love is universal.”
In Northern Ireland, Sara Canning, the partner of Lyra McKee, the LGBT activist and journalist murdered in April, led a march of several thousand people demanding marriage equality in Belfast. Marriage rights have been stalled in the area because Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government has been locked in a disagreement for two years. As Canning said:
“We pay our taxes, we are governed by the same laws, why should we not be afforded the same rights in marriage.”
Let the Courts Decide: In an unanimous decision Kenya's High Court ruled that the laws criminalizing gay sex should continue. Activists had argued that the laws violate the constitutional right to privacy and dignity. They further argued that the laws increase prejudice, discrimination, and violence against all LGBT people. However, the judges rejected all arguments.
Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Executive Director, a.i. remarked that the decision will impede Kenya's efforts to reach universal health coverage. She promised that UNAIDS will continue to support efforts to bring justice and equality for all. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed dismay and stated that the UN "stands with you and joins you in your demands for dignity, equal rights and fair treatment":
“Criminalizing acts targeting certain individuals based on who they are and whom they love is inherently discriminatory. It also sends a dangerous signal to broader society and encourages hostility and even violence against LGBT individuals.”
Brazil’s Supreme Court continued a session evaluating if homophobia and transphobia should be considered criminal offenses on par with racial discrimination. Six of eleven judges have now voted to expand anti-discrimination laws to include LGBT+ people. Reuters reported that after the remaining judges vote, the ruling will go into effect.
UK navy veteran Joe Ousalice filed suit against the Ministry of Defense. He is asking for the return of five awards and medals that were stripped from him after he was convicted of being bisexual in 1993. The UK changed its policy to allow LGB people in the military in 2000.
In Indonesia, a police officer is suing after he was questioned about his sexuality and subsequently dishonorably discharged. A police spokesman defended the man’s dismissal saying police must act “accordingly to legal norms” and must “observe religious norms, polite behavior, moral standards, as well as uphold human rights”.
In South Korea the Seoul Eastern District Court has decided that five Presbyterian University students will not—at this time—be subject to "disciplinary action" for wearing gay Pride themed clothes at church. The students were charged with interfering with religious worship through their outfits. However, the judge said it was "difficult" to see how Pride attire interferes. He delayed any punishment till after the court rules on the students’ guilt.
Italy’s Court of Cassation ruled that parents who use surrogacy abroad to have children will only be listed as parents if they are biologically related to the child. The court ruled that a gay couple could not be co-parents despite both their names being listed on their child’s Canadian birth certificate.
In the US, CNN and others reported that same-sex couples are turning to the courts after the State Department denied citizenship to their children born overseas. In one case, the government argued that because the gay couple (both of whom are US citizens) used a surrogate their child had been born “out of wedlock”. In another, the child of a married lesbian couple (one of whom is a US citizen, the other an Italian citizen) was considered ineligible because the Italian mother gave birth. In both cases, lawyers argue that the government policy is de-recognizing their marriage rights. Roee Kiviti, one of the fathers whose child has been denied said:
“This is a very clear attack on families, on American families. Denying American married couples their rights to pass their citizenship, that is flat-out discrimination, and everyone should be concerned about this.”
Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that a trans person must be issued a new birth certificate that reflects their chosen gender marker and name.
Tunisia’s Court of Appeal upheld a ruling from 2016 saying that the LGBT organization Shams can operate legally. The government had appealed the previous ruling stating that Shams should not be able to operate because homosexuality is forbidden in the Penal Code.
From Russia, Maxim Lapunov filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights said Russia had failed to protect him as he was arrested and beaten up by police in Chechnya.
Regarding Religion: In Poland, well-known local human rights activist Elzbieta Podlesna was arrested for hanging posters depicting a famous painting altered so that the Madonna and the baby Jesus had rainbow halos. She is accused of offending religious beliefs and desecration of the icon and, if convicted, could face up to two years in prison, as reported by Time.
In Indonesia, the Pesantren Waria al-Fatah school is again offering a special haven for trans people to pray during the period of Ramadan:
“What we want to show is that we have the right to worship and we are accepted in Islam. We are transgender people but we do not forget our obligations as Muslims.”
In the US, a 220-year-old Catholic girls academy said it will publish announcements of same-sex unions in its alumnae magazine. Some parents and the Archdiocese of Washington expressed disapproval with the decision. Sister Mary Berchmans, the school’s president emerita, acknowledged that the Catholic Church doesn’t accept same-sex marriages, however she said:
“As I have prayed over this contradiction, I keep returning to this choice: we can focus on Church teaching on gay marriage or we can focus on Church teaching on the Gospel commandment of love. We know from history — including very recent history — that the Church, in its humanity, makes mistakes. Yet, through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it learns and grows. And so, we choose the Gospel commandment of love.”
Fear and Loathing: ILGA-Europe released the 10th annual “Rainbow Europe” index that ranks European countries on their laws and policies for LGBTI people. ILGA noted that there had been a “visible backslide” in rights and protections. As Radio Free Europe reported, a direct comparison to previous years is not possible because the new edition changed the overall number of categories countries are evaluated on. It also has given greater weight to policies involving migrants and asylum seekers. Acknowledging the changes ILGA noted:
“The message is clear: for our movement in Europe, equality and non-discrimination laws, legal gender recognition, bodily integrity, protection from hatred and violence, and family rights are all interconnected and equally essential for the full enjoyment of human rights for LGBTI people.”
Malta, Belgium, and Luxembourg top the list—with Luxembourg jumping up 17 places due to modified gender recognition laws. Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Armenia scores worst among the 49 countries.
In the country of Georgia, the Women's Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG) posted thousands of stickers around the capital of Tbilisi that said “I am your child" or "I am your friend" with a QR code that would send mobile devices to a website with information on the challenges faced by LGBT+ people.
From France, the group SOS Homophobie said that last year its hotline had a 66% increase in calls reporting assault compared to the previous year. This was the third consecutive year that complaints of all kinds rose. This past winter a sudden increase in hate crimes led many to protest and garnered the Equality Minister to release a 10 point plan to combat violence. However SOS Homophobie said only 2 of those actions have been carried out thus far.
From Ireland, “Call it Out”, a new joint initiative of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) and the Hate and Hostility Research Group at the University of Limerick released data showing that while only about 36% of people believe LGBT people experience violence, one third of Irish LGBT have been threatened with physical violence. Openly gay TV presenter Brendan Courtney explained:
“Because of the Yes marriage equality success that we had there’s a general consensus [homophobia] doesn’t exist in Ireland any more but it very much does.”
From the US, Southerners on New Ground (SONG) and the Transgender Law Center released a new study called Grapevine: A Southern Trans Report. It found that nearly 50% of trans people living in the 13 Southern states experience “high levels of violence by strangers” on a day to day basis. Another 41% reported being targeted, harassed, or physically assaulted by law enforcement.
In New Zealand, the Auckland Council and Housing First Auckland Collective released figures showing that a disproportionate number of indigenous, LGBT, and disabled people make up the homeless population in the city.
Winds of Change: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)released a report examining the progress, policies, judicial decisions, and draft laws made towards guaranteeing and protecting the rights of LGBTI people across the hemisphere.
Asia Times looked at the situation facing LGBT civil society organizations in the region— nearly 74% of which operate without legal status. It examined how lack of official recognition prevent groups’ from accessing funding, impede their ability to provide resources, and hamper their ability to collaborate with others on community issues.
From China, journalist Anh Nguyen explored the regulatory guidelines internet and social media companies must follow in the country—known as the ‘Great Firewall’. Nguyen explained that the government has been able to eliminate any content they consider undesirable by keeping guidelines opaque. Although these restrictions have increasingly targeted issues of gender and identity:
“The cyberspace serves as a particularly vital aspect of queer expression in China, a country where open discussions of sexuality are rarely tolerated in everyday life.”
From the US, the group StoryCorps launched a campaign to encourage people to document the lives and experiences of LGBT people born before the historic Stonewall riots. In celebration of the riots 50th anniversary the collected stories will be archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
From Brazil, Fabio Teixeira investigated a new strategy prosecutors are employing of sending trans workers along with police on raids of suspected sex trafficking operations. As one of the first women to join the team, activist Valeria Rodrigues uses her experience as a former sex worker to support victims and give them confidence around police.
On the March: The situation between officials in Kenya and LGBT asylum seekers continued to strain as more than 23 people were arrested while protesting outside the UN refugee agency offices. The UNHCR said that the demonstrations turned violent. Refugees claimed they were only protecting themselves from police who, they say, were physically assaulting them. Although it doesn’t condone violence, the Refugee Coalition of East Africa (RefCEA) said:
"The truth of our situation is that remaining quiet and complacent often means remaining unnoticed, poor, unable to work, and homeless.”
Cuba's state-run National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) cancelled the 12th annual Pride “conga” citing international and regional tension. In response activists held an unauthorized independent parade in Havana. Police arrested at least three participants and ordered the rest to disperse for gathering without a permit.
Sports and Culture: Leading Kenyan literary figure Binyavanga Wainaina passed away at the age of 48 after an illness. Wainaina was named one Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in 2014 for his gay rights activism. Watch his recent TED talk. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie remarked:
“By publicly and courageously declaring that he is a gay African, Binyavanga has demystified and humanized homosexuality and begun a necessary conversation that can no longer be about the ‘faceless other."
Writing for them Michael Cuby looked at the new independent films "taking a more clued-in approach to what queer sexuality actually looks and feels like in 2019". Writing for Hornet, Daniel Villarreal reviewed the documentary Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution about a splinter of the queer community in the 1980s.
Musician and activist Elton John reflected on his life and agreeing to let his story be told for the film Rocketman—the first major studio release to frankly display gay sex on screen. Check out the trailer!
Banner Photo by Jon Tyson