“A democratic society is one that embraces tolerance, diversity, and open-mindedness."
~ Justice Michael Leburu, striking down the laws that criminalize being gay in Botswana
From the UN: The UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, released three new reports ahead of the upcoming 41st session of the Human Rights Council. At the Council Madrigal-Borloz will present his final reports of his recent visits to Georgia and Mozambique.
Madrigal-Borloz will also present his report on the data collection in the context of LGBT issues. Among his conclusions, he says that information about LGBT and gender-diverse persons is “at best, incomplete and fragmented; in some areas it is non-existent”. He urges the Council to recognize the “seriousness of this finding” and warns that without data countries will be unable to meet major development objectives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals:
“It means that in most contexts policymakers are taking decisions in the dark, left only with personal preconceptions and prejudices or the prejudices of the people around them.”
The International Labour Organization (ILO) director-general Guy Ryder announced that Member States, employer groups and workers' representatives are involved in negotiations ahead of the ILO Conventions to create a global treaty that aims to protect workers from violence and harassment. Although many involved want to see better protections for LGBTI workers, Ryder acknowledged that debate remains around how explicitly they will be included in the treaty.
UNAIDS highlighted some of the organizations it has supported that work on LGBTI rights at the country level. From Malawi, Lawrence Phiri Chipili, executive director of the Lesbian, Intersex, Transgender, and other Extensions (LITE) group discussed how, with UNAIDS support, local LGBTI groups have pursued an evidence-based approach to advocacy. In particular, they have conducted needs assessments of the overlapping challenges LGBTI people face and used those results to effect policy. And in India, UNAIDS hosted a meeting of local stakeholders to discuss the progress towards equal rights. Meeting participants established a task force to provide strategic advice to UNAIDS on emerging LGBTI issues.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) launched a new Fellowship Program to focus on the human rights of LGBTI people. Recognizing that trans people often have fewer opportunities than others, the OHCHR is currently seeking transgender applicants with experience working on issues of gender identity, gender expression, and human rights.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, issued an open call for submissions by all those for and against the practice of surrogacy. As Heather Barr, of the Human Rights Watch, explained, assisted reproduction can raise complex legal and ethical issues. It also can provide hope to LGBTQ people and those experiencing infertility. LGBTQ people and organizations are encouraged to add their voices to the discussion.
Speaking with the Guardian, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, took a strong stance on reproductive health and the need for abortion rights. Gilmore called the move by US states to ban abortion and US attempts to remove sexual and reproductive health rights from key international documents “deeply distressing” and a “crisis directed at women”:
“We have not called it out in the same way we have other forms of extremist hate, but this is gender-based violence against women, no question.”
HIV, Health, and Wellness: The WHO published a new study on the global prevalence of sexually transmitted infections among people 15 to 49 years old including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis. Estimating a global total of 376.4 million new infections annually, the authors said that their findings demonstrate an “incredibly high global burden”. Dr. Teodora Wi noted that open and honest discussion is essential in combating STIs:
“We cannot sweep them under the carpet and pretend that they don’t exist.”
Self magazine took a deep look into the rise of syphilis—why you should care, how it is spread, symptoms, and what you can do to prevent it.
Singapore’s Health Promotion Board funded the first empirical study evaluating the population size of “hidden” population groups at risk for HIV including gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers and their clients, and intravenous drug users.
From Malawi, Aniz Mitha, Executive Director of Community Health Rights Advocacy (CHeRA) talked with UNAIDS about targeting HIV prevention programs to male sex workers.
In Bulgaria, the LGBT+ youth charity Single Step worked with the dating app Grindr to send free HIV self-testing kits to local app users. The test came with information on HIV and the number for a 24-hour hotline run by Single Step to support test takers. The success of the program has led to a similar project which is being tested in the Czech Republic.
The US Food and Drug Administration campaign “This Free Life” announced a range of new events to celebrate Pride. Noting that US LGBT people are twice as likely to use tobacco than others, the award winning digital campaign targets LGBT young adults with “authentic and credible messages” from their peers to encourage them to live tobacco-free.
From the World of Politics: Bhutan’s National Assembly voted in favor of the Penal Code Amendment Bill 2019. Among the changes made to the code, the two sections that criminalize same-sex sexual relations have been removed. The bill now moves to the Upper House for review and to the king. If passed, it will decriminalize being gay in the country.
Canada held a ceremony to announce the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The Inquiry also released its final report—over 1,000 pages on the “staggering rates” of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA (LGBT, Two-Spirit, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual) people. Over 2,380 people participated in the Inquiry through community hearings, Institutional and Expert and Knowledge Keeper Hearings, private sessions, and on-camera recordings. The Inquiry was unable to determine the exact number of missing and murdered people.
The European Union held elections with voters from the 28 member nations choosing 751 people to serve in the European Parliament. In the lead up to the vote, activists said that LGBT rights were used as a wedge issue to drive up participation. Politicians in Poland, for instance, ran a “bitter campaign”—as Reuters described—targeting LGBT rights and sex education. The ramped up rhetoric led some Polish town councils to pass motions declaring their municipalities to be “LGBT Free”—as reported by the New York Times.
Despite activists fears, the Guardian reported that far-right and populist parties made only moderate gains. Though, as the Atlantic summarized, “the real story is that right-wing populists are still growing” and are a “fixture on the political stage”. Populism does not automatically equal a loss of rights for LGBT+ people, however, as Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA-Europe, noted:
“The wave of populism... even when it’s not targeting the LGBTI community specifically, contributes to and fuels a toxic, divisive social climate.”
Lebanon's Telecommunications Ministry banned the dating app Grindr. Lebanon criminalizes same-sex sexual activity, though the law is inconsistently enforced. Local digital rights group Smex director Mohamad Najem remarked:
"We see this as a limitation of freedom of speech and association.... This is not what a state that claims they are democratic does.”
In India, Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot announced that the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry will reintroduce the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill. Although the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) in December, it lapsed before being considered by the upper house. It must now be reconsidered by both houses. Many oppose the bill which activists say undermines trans and intersex people’s needs and takes no actions to improve trans people’s access to education, employment, and health.
In Chile, organizations sent an open letter to President Sebastián Piñera urging the government to take a more active role to protect the life and mental health of young trans people. The groups said that bullying led 16-year-old trans boy Matías Guevara to commit suicide and that it could have been prevented with better policies in place. The Minister of Education, Marcela Cubillos, met with trans organizations and Guevara’s mother to discuss improving inclusive education policies.
The US State Department published a notice stating the creation of a new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” which will provide “advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters”. The notice further describes that discourse on human rights has “departed from our nation's founding principles of natural law and natural rights”. Although few details have been added, some activists worry that the language of “natural law and natural rights” sends coded signals meant to undermine LGBT rights. Former top US officials spoke to Politico about the announcement and expressed puzzlement over the new commission’s purpose and how it will fit alongside the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs.
Also in the US, NBC reported that the State Department is no longer allowing US Embassies to fly rainbow Pride flags on official flagpoles. The Washington Postreported that the policy shift has “sparked something of a revolt” among some diplomats who are finding ways to fly the flag anyway. However, other gay ambassadors told the Post that they prefer not to discuss LGBT issues publicly and risk drawing attention.
Let the Courts Decide: In an unanimous decision, Botswana’s High Court decriminalized being gay by striking down Sections 164 and 167 of the Penal Code. The case was brought forward in March by Letsweletse Motshidiemang, a 21-year-old university student. Announcing the ruling, Justice Michael Leburu said:
“It is not the business of the law to regulate the private behavior of two consenting adults.”
UNAIDS and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, both praised the decision. UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz said he was "profoundly encouraged" and called criminalization "one of the root causes of grave and pervasive human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity".
Hong Kong’s High Court repealed or revised seven offenses that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. Although Hong Kong decriminalized homosexuality in 1991, these colonial era laws had remained. Lawyers fighting the laws said that they had been used to prosecute gay men as recently as 2018—as reported by the South China Morning Post.
In May, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) can require Olympic champion Caster Semenya to take medication to lower her natural testosterone. Semenya appealed the decision and Switzerland’s Federal Court announced that she must be allowed to compete without forced medication until the appeal has been decided. In response, the IAAF declared that temporarily allowing Semenya to compete unmedicated would create “serious confusion”.
In the US, several lawsuits have been filed against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to block the new “Conscience Rule” which allows individuals and health care entities to opt-out of caring for patients when that care violates the provider’s beliefs—as reported by Reuters, Bloomberg, and others. Genevieve Scott, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights noted that the rule is “intentionally confusing and unworkable for healthcare facilities to implement”:
“To avoid potentially violating the rule and losing their funding, many facilities may end up doing away with services that staff might object to, including reproductive health services, like abortion and contraception, and LGBT services.”
The Politics of Union: In Germany, lesbian couples are fighting for the right to be recognized as co-parents. Although the law allows gay marriage, establishing a family is very difficult—especially for two women. Married men are automatically recognized as parents of a child under a paternity law, however, Reuters reported that women must apply for adoption. Both men and women say conservative attitudes continue to discriminate against rainbow families. The parliament is expected to examine the issue in the civil code this year.
In Poland, the Provincial Court of Krakow found that the birth certificate marking a child as having two mothers can be registered in Poland’s civil registry. The parents, a lesbian couple who conceived via in vitro fertilization in the UK, were given a UK birth certificate where it is legal to have same-sex parents. When the parents registered the birth certificate in Poland (one parent is Polish), officials refused to mark both mothers. Poland does not allow gay marriage or adoption, however the court found that the child must be allowed a Polish birth certificate that matched the British one—as reported by TVN24.
After US media reported on some LGBTQ couples struggle to gain citizenship for their children, many members of Congress signed letters calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to stop discriminating against LGBTQ families—as reported by the Daily Beast. Recently the State Department began interpreting the birthright citizenship law to consider children born abroad via assisted reproductive technology to be born “out of wedlock” even if their parents are married US citizens. Parents say this unfairly targets married LGBTQ couples.
The Constitutional Court of Ecuador announced it was not ready to make a ruling on marriage equality. Part of the decision rests on whether it will accept the Inter-American Court of Human Rights 2017 opinion that member states must recognize marriage equality.
In Japan, the Constitutional Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party submitted a bill to introduce marriage equality through adopting gender neutral language. Analysts expect the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to prevent the bill from moving forward in the Diet.
Regarding Religion: To celebrate Eid al-Fitr and the end of Ramadan the UK-based Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants group hosted a fundraiser to support the LGBTQIA+ Muslim group Imaan.
Also in the UK, the group Rainbow Films released a short film documenting the clash between queer Muslim activist Ferhan Khan and some Muslim community members protesting outside of a primary school. For months protestors have demonstrated outside of Birmingham’s Anderton Park Primary School to object to LGBT+ inclusive education. A High Court injunction banning the protests from continuing was put in place after the school was forced to end the term early. However, protests have continued.
The Anglican Church in the Province of the West Indies (CPWI) elected the Rt. Reverend Dr. Howard Gregory as Archbishop, the first Jamaica-born diocesan bishop to serve in the post. Writing for 76 Crimes, Maurice Tomlinson reviewed Gregory’s past support for the decriminalization of being gay.
The Vatican department overseeing Catholic education released a new 30-page document "Male and Female He Created Them” to combat an “educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality”.
Despite views by some that the Church was becoming more accepting of LGBT people, the document denounces what it calls “gender theory”, sexual identity, and same-sex unions—as reported by New York Times, Reuters, and others. It claims “sexuality identity and the family” are “often founded on nothing more than a confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants, or momentary desires provoked by emotional impulses and the will of the individual, as opposed to anything based on the truths of existence". (The full document can be read here in English.)
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, called the document a “harmful tool” and a “gross misrepresentation of the lives of LGBT people which perpetuates and encourages hatred, bigotry, and violence against them”.
Meanwhile, New Ways Ministry updated “Journeys”, its scripture reflection series for LGBTQ people and allies with resources for the festival of Pentecost. The installment provides scripture with reflection questions, prayer, and a video meditation that may resonate with those celebrating Pride:
“Pentecost is the day when the animated, extravagant and flamboyant Spirit of God explodes out into the streets with violent winds and a blazing fire that descends and rests on each and every person regardless of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, sex, gender, expression, gender-identity or sexual orientation.”
Fear and Loathing: The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) announced it had cancelled plans to attend the 8-day Almedalen political festival due to fear of the neo-Nazi group Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR). RFSL spokesperson Sandra Ehne said that the NMR had been given space near RFSL’s festival base and RFSL members felt threatened by past experiences with the group.
From Brazil, Scott Salmon examined the tension between LGBTQ community and conservative groups that continue to propagate open hostility and discrimination towards sexual minorities.
In the UK, two lesbian couples were attacked only a few days apart. While five teenagers were arrested in connection with the violent attack on one couple assaulted on a bus, the two incidents have brought attention to the rise of hate crimes recorded by British police.
Israeli police with a canine unit raided a Tel Aviv gay club and searched personal belongings looking for illegal paraphernalia. Tel Aviv council member and LGBT leader Etai Pinkas-Arad criticized the police for the “categorically wrong decision” of conducting the raid a week before the country’s largest Pride parade.
Winds of Change: From China, Beijing Gender released a new report on the right to education for trans people. The report includes specific recommendations for all stakeholders including the education department and school authorities. As the government is currently revising the Law on Protection of Minors, the authors recommend that this analysis be used to explicitly incorporate the right to education of trans minors into the law.
Hong Kong based Planet Ally shared a dynamic video recap of their flagship event the Asia-Pacific Rainbow Families Forum. Participants from 26 countries shared their experiences in a “deliberate attempt to disrupt mainstream perceptions of rainbow families”.
With Africans taking the lead, Accountability International launched a new online media campaign “WHOSMYTRIBE”. The campaign aims to show that sexually diverse and gender diverse communities are a normal and natural part of African society. It encourages the public to see that LGBTQ people can be part of many community "tribes" including leadership, education, healing, performing, intellectual, and activism tribes.
After a restaurant in India refused to let Indrajeet Ghorpade and his boyfriend enter for a date, Ghorpade took action. He gathered over 10,000 signatures asking the international food guide and app Zomato to hold restaurants accountable for LGBTQ discrimination. Zomato and other apps have now introduced special ways of designating LGBTQ safe locations and businesses.
Business and Technology: In many parts of the world June is considered “Pride Month”, with some of the largest parades and events of the year drawing hundreds of thousands to the celebrations. Commercial companies have taken note—from sandwiches to beer, mouthwash and cannabis, sneakers and any kind of apparel—brands are cashing in with rainbows and statements of love. The “pink dollar”—spending by LGBTQ consumers has been estimated at $5 trillion globally. Does the community benefit from this attention?
Some say no and have pointed to the hypocrisy of celebrating Pride when corporate actions ignore or even harm the community. Victoria’s Secret faced backlash for Pride marketing after Twitter users recalled its position to exclude transgender and plus size models. Activist Carlos Maza called out YouTube for profiting from videos with bullying and hate speech even while claiming support for LGBT content creators. Even when companies make donations, some question the commercialization of community symbols.
Still other companies have taken pro-LGBTQ political action—for example, businesses supported a lesbian couple’s court case for rights in Hong Kong, in Singapore local sponsors signed the Inclusive Business Pledge to support Pink Dot after foreign businesses were banned, and in the US over 200 businesses joined a coalition in support of the LGBTQ Equality Act.
Writing for Quartz, Ephrat Livni looked at the trend of companies filing “amicus curiae”—briefs to court cases from interested outside parties—both to show support and to influence public perception. Writing for the Guardian, Owen Jones examined the politics of “woke-washing” and the ethical implications of advertising.
Sports and Culture: In Japan, actress Yumi Ishikawa submitted a petition with 18,856 signatures to the Labor Ministry to ban dress codes that require women to wear high heels at work. Ishikawa is the leader of the #KuToo movement, a phrase blending the Japanese words for shoes (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu), and inspired by #MeToo.
Writing for Xtra, Erica Lenti introduced a new series "Still Fighting" that will investigate 50 years of LGBTQ2 activism in Canada.
In his award winning reflection, Connor Gates wrote about living with his grandmother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. One of his biggest hurdles—having to discuss his sexuality every time she forgot:
“It’s difficult coming out to your family, over and over again. Though the moment, in its infinite repetition, has lost its gravity, the experience remains both daunting and interminably pristine”
Top Image by Dimitar Belchev