“It is high time that antiquated, unjust, colonial-era laws against homosexuality be erased from our statute books, just as our forebears abolished the laws that bound slavery to this island for the first 210 years of its existence.
There has been no evidence of fact or figure that has yet been presented to demonstrate that decriminalisation leads to any weakening of national moral fibre or indeed, demographic alteration. On the contrary, there is ample testimony to a people’s stunted growth in climates of authoritarianism and apartheid."
Editors, Barbados Today
From the UN: UNAIDS launched the new Global AIDS Update for 2019 with the title “Communities at the Centre”. The report notes that AIDS related deaths have fallen by 33% since 2010 despite varied progress has across regions. Key populations and their sexual partners accounted for 54% of all new infections. The report also acknowledges that stigma and discrimination remain high. However, years of campaigning and strategic litigation by LGBTI groups—supported by human rights organizations and legal and public health experts—have overturned laws that criminalize same-sex sexual relationships in at least nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa, six countries in Asia and the Pacific, and several in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years. Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Executive Director, a.i. emphasized:
"Ending AIDS is possible if we focus on people, not diseases, create road maps for the people and locations being left behind, and take a human rights-based approach to reach people most affected by HIV.”
At the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council, 27 member states voted to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on the Protection Against Violence and Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Although 12 member states voted against continuing the work (and another 7 abstained from voting), activists say the outcome reaffirms the commitment to tackling violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people. Sixty-two human rights groups released a joint press release celebrating the vote and praising activists for their hard work to keep the Independent Expert’s mandate active. They noted that a record 1,312 non-governmental groups from around the world had supported the campaign.
The UN Refugee Agency Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, and the Independent Expert on SOGI issues, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, issued a joint press release urging Member States to ensure that LGBTI people have access to asylum and refugee status. While 37 states do consider the “well-founded fear of persecution” due to a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics, the experts noted that the majority of States fail to grant asylum for these individuals. They described some of the specific challenges LGBTI refugees face and called for the creation of safe spaces and services designed in consultation with LGBTI people:
“It is time to recognise the specific needs of LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees and to give them the protection they need.”
HIV, Health, and Wellness: From Australia came figures that show that the number of new HIV diagnoses hit a new low. Diagnoses among gay and bisexual men have reduced by 30% over the last five years. The New York Times reviewed the comprehensive response Australia has taken towards curbing the HIV epidemic and noted that the current success is credited to the rapid adoption of affordable PrEP throughout the country. However, experts warn that HIV rates among Indigenous people and gay and bisexual men born overseas have not declined and that more needs to be done to reach these groups.
Namibia’s Planned Parenthood Association (NAPPA) and Out Right Namibia were featured by UNAIDS for their drop-in centers that provide sexual and reproductive health and HIV services to sex workers and gay men and other men who have sex with men. The center is known for its friendly and encouraging staff who are sensitized to the needs of key populations.
Warnings continued to sound on the rise of syphilis and gonorrhoea around the world. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported that syphilis cases have gone up by 70% since 2010. The ECDC noted that the problem varied across the 30 European countries. Among the highest: rates more than doubled in Britain, Germany, Ireland, Iceland and Malta. New Zealand’s Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) noted a “significant” spike in infections over 12 months especially among gay men and other men who have sex with men. And in the US, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch warned of a “dramatic rise” of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis among both male and female service members in a press release.
Experts do not all agree on why infection rates have gone up. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control experts made a common conclusion—they suggest that because many people have less fear about acquiring HIV, they are engaging in riskier sex, using fewer condoms, and increasing their number of sex partners. Some US military health providers reach similar conclusions, adding that dating apps also encourage risky sex. However, Jason Myers of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation said it’s “too simplistic to say gay people are too relaxed” with attitudes towards safe sex. Instead, he says, the heath system does not properly support the LGBT community and there are too few providers trained to deliver adequate sexual health care.
The BMJ published a new clinical update on diagnosing and treating syphilis. Sexually Transmitted Infections published a new study suggesting better methods for screening chlamydia and gonorrhea among transgender women in Thailand. And a study in Sexually Transmitted Diseases found that gay men and other men who have sex with men in Guangdong and Shandong Provinces of China are more likely to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea if they are engaged with the gay community.
Two recent studies published in Sexually Transmitted Infections looked at dating apps and STIs among gay men and other men who have sex with men. From Ireland, a study of the MSM Internet Survey Ireland found that using apps to meet new sex partners was associated with self-reported STI diagnosis. From Shenzhen, China, a study of 3613 men found that those who used dating apps had a lowerprevalence of HIV than gay men who do not use apps. Researchers noted app use in China has been associated with community building. They also suggested these men may be more aware of risk reduction behaviors through in-app education.
A new paper “Artificial intelligence and big data: Risks and benefits to the HIV/AIDS response” examined how technologies and digital tools can challenge human rights. It used case studies to evaluate examples of new technology in the context of the HIV/AIDS response. Among the recommendations, it urges stakeholders to actively engage in dialogue with the creators of new tech to ensure that the rights of key populations are considered as policies and regulatory measures are developed.
A new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that, in China, gay men 25 - 29 years old are eight times more likely to feel criticized, rejected, and lonely than younger men. The study found that men who were open about their sexual orientation and had partners were at less risk for these negative feelings than other men. Researchers suggested that the government should encourage an open and inclusive social environment with counseling centers for mental health care for gay men.
For the first time in the US, the American College of Physicians issued a set of guidelines for general medicine, primary care, and family medicine doctors on caring for trans patients. Previous guidelines have been aimed at endocrinologists, but the authors note that the greatest barrier to care for trans people is lack of knowledgeable providers who can provide appropriate and culturally competent care.
From the World of Politics: In the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of “the Commission on Unalienable Rights”. NBC reported that this group will review “the role of human rights” in US foreign policy. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Pompeo argued that the commission is needed because “Human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass”. The Commission will be chaired by former US ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon—a vocal opponent of abortion and marriage equality, as reported by NBC and others. The New Yorker reported that several Commision members are also conservative religious scholars.
Many LGBT activists and sexual health and reproductive rights activists say they are alarmed by the news. Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, called it a “deeply intellectual attempt by some very smart people to redirect the modern human-rights movement”. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, said that although there is “reason to fear” that the Commision will be a “unilateral attempt to rewrite international law”:
“[H]uman rights do not exist in the eye of the beholder.”
Meanwhile, also in the US, the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with an amendment to allow any person meeting gender-neutral occupational standards to serve in the military regardless of race, color, national origin, religion or sex, including gender identity or sexual orientation—as reported by The Hill. Before it can become law, a compromise must be created between the House bill and a version passed by the Senate last month (which does not include these non-discrimination protections).
Australia’s government released some details on the proposed “Religious Discrimination Bill”. Many activists fear the bill will be used to reduce protections for LGBTQI+ people and limit sexual health and reproductive rights. Consultations are being held with churches and activists are urging LGBTQI+ groups to contact the Attorney General to add their views.
Following Australia’s legalization of marriage equality in 2017, religious conservatives pushed the government to conduct a “religious freedom review” to examine exemptions for religious freedom in the country’s law, work, education, and more. The results of the review were published in 2018 with recommendations for a new law to codify religious protections—the contents of the proposed law have been debated for the past year. Australian states have different non-discrimination laws which protect LGBTQI people, however advocates warn there is a “high risk” of local laws being overridden by a new federal law.
In Costa Rica, Education Minister Edgar Mora resigned following protests from evangelical groups and members of the Pentecostal Christian-aligned opposition party. Mora had supported “progressive” ideas such as the Protocol for the Attention of Bullying against the LGTBI Population which includes gender neutral bathrooms.
In Malaysia, the Ministry of Health (KKM) appointed transgender activist and beauty queen Rania Zara Medina to represent the trans community on the Country Coordinating Mechanism for the Global Fund. Backlash was swift causing the Minister of Health, Datuk Seri Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad, to release a statement assuring the public that the appointment of trans people, gay men, sex workers, drug users, and people living with HIV as community representatives for health matters “does not mean the government or the ministry recognises their culture or lifestyle”. However, Dr. Dzulkefly, noted that the objective “must be to make such health efforts inclusive and accessible to those in need”, as reported by Malay Mail.
In Cambodia, government leaders, local authorities, and LGBTIQ community members participated in a “Dialogue on Legal and Public Policies to Protect LGBTIQ People in Cambodia” which discussed proposals on marriage equality, adoption, gender identity, and discrimination. Keo Remy, of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, told participants that Prime Minister Hun Sen asked him to deliver a message that “the government stands against all discrimination against LGBTIQ people”. He further emphasized that LGBTIQ people must “create a platform” to express themselves to the general public.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the Smart Nation Summit—an event bringing together business and government leaders to discuss the digital economy. During a Q&A, the Prime Minister assured the audience that “whatever your sexual orientation is, you’re welcome to come and work” despite Section 377A of the legal code that criminalizes homosexuality.
The Politics of Union: Ecuador published the final decision of the Constitutional Court’s ruling on marriage equality. The Court had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in June, however religious groups attempted to prevent marriages from going forward with a series of appeals and requests for clarification. The Court has denied all efforts to delay, calling the judgement “final and unappealable”. Couples can now apply for marriage through the Civil Registry as reported by Voice of America and others.
In the UK, the British Parliament voted to extend marriage equality and abortion rights to Northern Ireland if the local Parliament does not reform by October. The local Northern Ireland government collapsed in 2017 preventing either issue from being addressed. England and Wales passed marriage equality in 2013, Scotland in 2014, and the people of the Republic of Ireland voted for same-sex marriage in 2015.
Let the Courts Decide: Botswana’s Attorney General Abraham Keetshabe announced the government will seek to reverse the High Court’s unanimous decision that being gay is not a crime. In June, the High Court struck down Sections 164 and 167 of the Penal Code with Judge Michael Leburu adding:
“Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized... Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement. It is an important attribute of one’s personality.”
However, Keetshabe said he had “thoroughly read” the judgement and believed the Court “erred in arriving at this conclusion”.
Regarding Religion: The Third Assembly of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) was held in Chicago, Illinois with representatives from all over the world. Participants discussed the issues impacting their regions such as criminalization, gender identity, sexuality, pastoral care, marriage equality, refugees, and more. Reporting for La Croix, Peter Maher noted that the recent document “Male and Female He created them” was a “deeply painful backdrop” throughout the conference that reflected the Church’s failure to “meet the reality of the LGBTIQ experience and story”.
The Global Network also shared the testimonies of nine LGBTI Christians from Uganda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, India, Tanzania, Kenya, Brazil, and Russia.
Germany’s Association of Catholic Religious Education Teachers (Bundesverband der katholischen Religionslehrer), representing over 70,000 educators, published an open letter calling on the Church to reconsider its teaching on sexual morality and homosexuality. They suggest that the Church is pushing young people away because they see it as resistant to change or “simply not credible”. Speaking to La Croix earlier this year, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich echoed the need for “tackling” the issue of sexuality. Reflecting on people leaving the Church, he said:
“We need to convince ourselves once again that the Church is a force for progress, a response for today and for tomorrow... For us Christians, every man and woman, whatever his or her color, religion or sexual orientation, is made in the image of God.”
In the US, hundreds protested outside of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to challenge policies that have forced Catholic affiliated schools to fire gay employeesor risk losing their “Catholic” designation. The Indy Star reported that Indianapolis Catholic schools have fired at least five people due to LGBT issues in the last year.
From Zambia, Reverend Kapya Kaoma published an op-ed in Lusaka Times in which he objected to the government’s refusal to allow openly gay South African artistSomizi Buyani Mhlongo to perform in the country. The Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, Reverend Godfridah Sumaili, said the government could not condone inviting “questionable characters that might compromise the morals of the land”. In his op-ed, Rev. Kaoma questioned why this artist is banned when “corrupt politicians” are allowed. He argued that the country is a “secular state guided by a secular Constitution”:
“It is time we accepted that politicians have used the myth of “Christian nation” and homosexuality to distract us from confronting corruption and lack of rule of law.”
Fear and Loathing: In Guyana, the Ministry of Social Protection condemned the violent attack on Joel Simpson, head of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD). In a press release, the Ministry said that the attack was “completely unwarranted” and a “veiled threat to silencing critical civic voices”.
In Belize, the Special Envoy for Women and Children issued a statement condemning violence against LGBT people and questioning the use of police force after a video went viral showing a brawl aboard a water taxi. In the video, an officer is seen placing a gay man (who was an off-duty officer) in a choke hold till unconscious as other people yell homophobic slurs. Activist Caleb Orosco remarked:
“The behaviour of the police department showed their willingness to amplify violence in the name of serving the individual morality, instead of showing the value of respect for rule of law.”
Amnesty International released a new report examining the violence gay and trans soldiers in South Korea experience. Although same-sex acts are legal in the country, consensual gay sex is a crime in the military. Soldiers described being subjected to extreme intimidation, physical violence, humiliation, and rape due to their actual or perceived sexuality or gender identity. In 2017 the government told the UN it would review laws impacting gay soldiers after dozens of suspected gay men were arrested during a crackdown.
In Myanmar, the Myanmar Imperial University announced it has suspended three employees while investigating the suicide of a gay librarian who was bullied at work. The school said it has a zero tolerance policy towards discrimination in the workplace.
After a South African teen committed suicide while on a trip to Israel, youth leaders in Israel urged LGBT+ youth to reach out for help. In India, 20-year-old Avinashu Patel committed suicide after posting his struggles on line. From Spain, a new documentary 'Me llamo Violeta' (My Name is Violeta) was released that tells the story of two trans children—one whose family stood by her despite challenges, the other who commited suicide after many years of bullying.
The US-based crisis intervention group The Trevor Project released results from its first National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health with data from 35,000 LGBTQ youth between 13 and 24 years old. Among their findings: 71% of youth have experienced discrimination, 39% have seriously considered suicide in the last year; and 29% of trans and non-binary youth attempted suicide in the last year. They further found that youth who had at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year.
Winds of Change: In France, the Jasmin Roy Sophie Desmarais Foundation and Ifop released results of the second survey of attitudes towards LGBT people. Most promising, they found that acceptance has increased across the country among all age groups. However, they noted that homophobic and transphobic “clichés” remain. And while there has been progress in making people aware of the violence LGBT people experience, 41% of people admit to still using homophobic language. Only 29% said they would ask a friend to stop using homophobic insults.
In the US, GLAAD and The Harris Poll released the fifth annual Accelerating Acceptance Index measuring attitudes towards LGBTQ people in the country. The report shows that support for equal rights among non-LGBTQ people grew slightly to 80%. However, they noted an “alarming” drop among 18-34 year olds of those who would be comfortable around LGBTQ people. Speaking to USA Today, John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll, remarked that divisive rhetoric can sway “impressionable” minds about what is acceptable:
“Our toxic culture is enveloping young people. It instills fear, alienation, but also permissibility.”
Meanwhile, in the UK, acceptance of gay people also seems to have stalled. The National Centre for Social Research released the latest annual British Social Attitudes Survey—an in-depth survey of nearly 3,000 randomly sampled people on a wide variety of topics. For the first time since 1987, the number of people who accept same-sex relationships went down. Acceptance of trans people remained mixed, with only 34% of people stating prejudice against trans people is “mostly” or “sometimes” wrong. Researchers noted that the data suggests that the “process of liberalization is slowing down”. They warn that although social norms in sexual relations and gender continue to transform:
“[W]e also have a significant minority who feel differently about these issues, and that minority may become increasingly focused on ensuring that socially conservative views and voices are reflected in public discussion of gender and relationships.”
Reflecting on a recent Guardian report that found that homophobic and transphobic hate crimes had more than doubled in the country, UK journalist Christobel Hastings questioned the idea that a small minority can be blamed for “the erosion of tolerance”. Instead, she suggests the “increasingly divisive political climate has impacted upon positive momentum”:
“The outcome of divisive rhetoric from conservative political regimes creates a familiar pattern: social tensions bubble, levels of everyday racism and homophobia rise, and then minority communities suffer.”
On the March: The Japan Times reported that, for the first time, the government accepted a refugee on the basis of their sexual orientation. In Sweden, the Migration Court rejected the asylum claim of a young gay Iranian because of a “lack of evidence” for his sexuality despite support for the boy from the Swedish Federation for LGBT rights.
In the UK, a high court ruled that the government must return to the UK a Ugandan lesbian who was deported six years ago. The government had rejected her asylum claims because there was insufficient evidence to show her sexuality; however, the court found her case has been improperly handled and was “procedurally unfair”.
Around the world communities continue to celebrate and protest with Pride parades and other events. An estimated 5 million people attended “WorldPride” in New York City coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Over a million people were estimated at Pride in Cologne, Germany.
From Madrid, Spain, El País reported that Pride was “one of its most politically charged” parades as people marched under the message “not one step back” to protest the rise of the far-right group Vox. In Georgia, despite threats of violence and weeks of delay, participants in Tbilisi were finally able to march in their first Pride. Meanwhile, in Turkey, supporters came out despite an official ban to celebrations. Police dispersed the crowds with tear gas.
Check out the short film When Pride Came to Town that documents the first ever Pride parade in the rural town of Volda, Norway. Co-director Julia Dahr reflected:
“It would have been easy to just tell the story of the clear-cut conflict between the rural Pride organizers and the religious anti-Pride protesters. But it was crucial for us to tell the more complex story and show, for instance, that many Christians in the town supported rural Pride and took part in the parade.”
Sports and Culture: The London Zoo celebrated Pride with a penguin-sized parade. Zookeepers set up a tiny banner in the penguin pen that said: "Some Penguins Are Gay. Get Over It" (playing off of a Stonewall UK campaign). Penguins, like many animals, are known to take same-sex mates—some raising adopted children. In Germany, the Munich Zoo joined in with Pride themed tours, noting:
"Unlike most humans, the sexual preference of our four-legged or feathered friends is often quite fluid."
Nigerian writer Richard Akuson reflected on how social media has “become a space where my own family and friends have turned into censors, distorting my life, denigrating my being gay from thousands of miles away”.
In India, the app Blued launched a new campaign #BluedAgainstCyberBully that brings attention to the violence gay Indians face on and offline. Check out the video that highlights local voices.