“I am living with HIV. Now you have that information, that makes me extremely vulnerable, but it does not make me weak. I choose to fight, to educate and break the stigma around this subject."
~ Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas
From the UN: During the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, the UN LGBTI Core Group hosted a panel on hate speech against LGBTIQ people on social media and traditional media. In what advocates say is the first speech at the UN by an openly gay world leader on LGBTIQ rights, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel noted that “we all have a responsibility” to end hate speech:
“This starts from... your politicians but it goes also to a family evening, to dinner with friends, with family. If they have hate speech you can never accept it.”
The Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, has released his latest report with a focus on socio-cultural and economic inclusion. The report identifies some ways LGBT persons and their children are treated unfairly, discriminated against, abused, and otherwise excluded from participating in education, employment, religion, politics, housing, and healthcare. The report also highlights intersectionality—meaning that it considers how different characteristics of a person’s lived experience, including though not limited to age, gender, physical health, race, and citizenship status, cause people to experience discrimination in different ways. The report makes a series of recommendations to help guide States to overcome these challenges. It will be presented to the General Assembly in October.
In a letter to community organizers, Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Executive Director, a.i. confirmed UNAIDS support for the HIV2020: Community Reclaiming the Global Response conference to be held in Mexico City 5-7 July. UNAIDS is also a partner in the 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020) that takes place in San Francisco 6-10 July. The Mexico event is organized by an alliance of key population-led networks who are concerned that travel restrictions to the US will prevent many from participating in AIDS2020. Some activists are concerned it will especially impact people from Muslim-majority countries, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and people who have been incarcerated.
The Human Rights Council Working Group on discrimination against women and girls is currently preparing a thematic report on ‘women’s human rights in the changing world of work’ to be presented to the 44th session of the Council. From the US, 50 leading LGBTQ advocacy organizations published their joint submission on obstacles faced by people in employment due to their sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. It further urges the UN to recognize that the US government is “increasingly hostile to the rights of LGBTQ people”.
To celebrate Bisexual Visibility Day (23 September), check out the UN Free & Equal Campaign video "Bisexuality: Busting the Myths"!
HIV, Health, and Wellness: UNAIDS and the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC) co-hosted a conference in London on “Fast-Track Cities” with delegates from over 300 municipalities who are prioritizing their responses to HIV. Among the many topics discussed was “chemsex parties”—where people take drugs to reduce inhibitions before having sex. Health experts called it a “growing phenomenon” across European cities and some say it is “re-fuelling” the HIV epidemic, as reported by Reuters.
Meanwhile, Buzzfeed News, in association with the UK’s Channel 4, published a major investigation into abuse of the drug “G” (also known as GHB or GBL) which is often used alongside crystal meth and other drugs to enhance sexual experiences. Their investigation included over 140 interviews and a survey of over 2,700 gay and bisexual men who intentionally or unintentionally have used the drug. Over 62% of those surveyed suffered serious problems including addiction, hospitalization, sexual assault, and rape while using G. Reflecting on the investigation, Buzzfeed UK editor Patrick Strudwick noted that:
“The picture that emerged was almost unfathomable in its darkness. The volume of those being victimized is beyond what police and the medical profession could contain.”
New articles in both The Lancet HIV and Current Opinion in HIV and AIDS suggest that programs aiming to scale-up HIV testing and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa have been less successful than hoped because they haven't reached key populations. Looking at large HIV trials in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, and eSwatini (Swaziland), authors suggest programs have not adequately reached young men, people travelling for work, sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, and other key populations.
A new study found that some gay and bisexual men in the UK like getting information about HIV and other sexual health information through social media and dating apps. However, many remain uncomfortable sharing or commenting on information for fear of being stigmatized. Researchers suggest messages should be specifically tailored for social media to encourage engagement, as published in BMC Public Health.
A new paper in Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism provides up-to-date information on some important health considerations for trans women who use gender affirming hormone therapy including impacts on HIV, breast cancer, and mental health.
From Taiwan, China, a new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that the rate of suicidal thoughts significantly increased among non-heterosexuals during the referendums on same-sex marriage that took place in 2018. These results echo research published earlier this year on Australia’s Marriage Law Postal Survey of 2017. It found that during the survey period LGBTI people were frequently subjected to negative messages and experienced great psychological distress.
The Williams Institute published an alarming report on transgender adults in the US and suicide. Among 27,715 survey respondents 81.7% had seriously considered suicide in their lifetimes. Among respondents who had experienced just four instances of transphobia, discrimination, or violence in the past year, 97.7% considered suicide and over half (51.2%) attempted suicide. The report also identified some factors that were associated with lower risk of suicide including having a supportive family, wanting and subsequently receiving hormone therapy or surgical care, and living in a state with nondiscrimination laws that specifically protect gender identity.
From the World of Politics: The Finnish presidency of the Council of the European Union held a high-level conference on advancing LGBTI rights within the EU. Representatives from Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Poland, Romania, Austria, and North Macedonia discussed the current challenges people face and the steps that must be taken to improve equality. Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, noted:
“The rights and freedom of the LGBTI community are not separate from the rights and freedom of all who live in Europe, and the erosion of those rights is a marker for the erosion of all fundamental human rights. That is why now, more than ever, we need the next European Commission to adopt an EU-level LGBTI strategy.”
In Indonesia, the House of Representatives is finalizing revisions to the Indonesian Criminal Code. Many activists have voiced concerns that several of the new articles will significantly inhibit human rights. Among the many controversial laws are provisions to criminalize criticism of the president, religious blasphemy, unmarried men and women cohabitating, sex outside of marriage, promoting contraception, and criminalizing “obscene acts” (used to outlaw homosexuality). Reuters reported that the Criminal Code will apply to both citizens and foreigners. Twenty-two local, regional, and international rights groups released a joint-statement condemning the law and thousands protested. President Joko Widodo has asked parliament to delayconfirming the bill while it is reviewed.
The Guatemalan Congress plans to vote on the third and final reading of “Law 5272” for “the protection of life and family”. The law increases penalties for abortion, bans sex education in schools, censors discussion of non-heterosexual relationships, and prohibits same-sex marriage—as reported by Sputnik News and the AFP. Many people protested outside the Congress and thousands have signed a petition calling the law unconstitutional and a violation of human rights.
Nepal celebrated Samvidhan Diwas (Constitution Day) recognizing the fourth anniversary of Nepal’s constitution. The constitution was hailed as a progressive step forward and included a provision preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Over 10 years ago, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that LGBTI people should have full rights including the right to marry and ordered the government to enact laws to protect these rights. Despite these promises, last year the Civil Code defined marriage as between a man and a woman only. And this week the Parliament again declined to pass a Citizenship Act which would address a person's gender identity.
In Tunisia, where same-sex sexual activity remains criminalized, LGBT rights took the spotlight as the first openly gay man to run for office, Mounir Baatour, announced his run for the presidency. Despite garnering international media coverage, some local LGBTIQ+ activists objected to his candidacy and were not disappointed when the Electoral Commission rejected him. Tunisia’s first round of voting has narrowed the field to the currently imprisoned media mogul Nabil Karoui and the social conservative law professor Kais Saied.
In the US, the first major Presidential forum on LGBTQ rights since 2007 was held in Iowa including nearly all of the top candidates for the Democratic party nomination. Among the topics discussed: ending the HIV epidemic, affordable and accessible PrEP, ending conversion therapy, transgender people in the military, and the murder of transgender women—19 known trans women, including 18 black trans women, have been killed in the US in 2019 alone.
The Politics of Union: Northern Ireland will begin holding same-sex weddings on Valentine’s Day next year. The Irish News reported that same-sex couples will be able to register their intent to marry in January. The UK House of Commons voted this summer to extend marriage equality and abortion rights to Northern Ireland if the region’s own government did not reform by October. The local Northern Ireland government collapsed in 2017 preventing either issue from being addressed.
The South China Morning Post reported that many same-sex couples trying to take advantage of the law allowing them to become each other’s legal guardians are facing significant challenges. The law recently made national headlines for its ability to give same-sex couples some limited legal rights—such as the ability to handle medical decisions for a partner.
In the Czech Republic, hundreds demonstrated in Prague’s main square in support of marriage equality. Two draft bills on marriage have been debated over the past year—one would allow same-sex marriages while the other would redefine marriage as between one man and one woman. The “We Are Fair” (Jsme fér) initiative organized the event, which included celebrities and lawmakers, to encourage the government to move forward with a vote.
Let the Courts Decide: In Mauritius, four members of the youth-led NGO Young Queer Alliance have petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down Section 250 of the Mauritian Criminal Code Act of 1838 which is used to criminalize same-sex sexual activity.
In Kazakhstan, the Supreme Court settled a remarkable case involving a viral video that encouraged homophobia. The case involved a man who posted on Facebook a video he secretly filmed of a lesbian couple kissing. The video went viral, with many calling for violence against the women. They were recognized and verbally harassed in public. An earlier court said that the man was acting as a “defender of the morals of the population” by spreading the video. However, the Supreme Court called this a “substantial and gross violation of the [women’s] right to self-portrayal” and ruled that distributing the video violated their constitutional right to privacy, honor, and dignity. Björn Van Roozendaal, of ILGA-Europe noted:
“A judicial precedent has been set and we sincerely commend the persistence, patience, and courage of the couple who stood up for their rights.”
Meanwhile, also in Kazakhstan, an Appeals Court upheld a decision preventing the group Feminita from registering as an NGO. Feminita supports marginalized women including lesbian, bisexual, and trans women, sex workers, and women with disabilities. The upheld ruling noted that the groups goals do not “provide for the strengthening of existing spiritual-moral values … [and] the prestige and role of family in society”—as reported by Human Rights Watch.
In Japan, the Sapporo District Court ruled a hospital was wrong to deny employment to an HIV-positive man. The judge awarded him ¥1.65 million (about $15,600) in damages and noted that he did not need to report his infection because “the risk of infection (to others) is marginal to the point it can be ignored”.
In the US, city-wide efforts to curb discrimination against LGBT people continue to be challenged in the courts. In Arizona, the state Supreme Court over road the Phoenix city anti-discrimination ordinance and ruled that a wedding print shop can refuse to make materials for same-sex weddings. In 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had been hostile to religion when it fined a baker for refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
Meanwhile, in New York City, the City Council repealed a ban on conversion therapyafter a conservative legal group filed a federal lawsuit against it. Council speaker Corey Johnson explained that they were afraid that if the lawsuit went forward, the Supreme Court would rule against the ban and set back progress for the whole country. Eighteen states, D.C. and over 50 municipalities have bans on conversion therapy for minors in the US. OutRight Action International recently released a first of its kind report on conversion therapy practices all over the world which found that:
“Consistent with all scientific literature to date, our data suggest that, regardless of religious, cultural, or traditional norms and contexts, these harmful practices never work; instead, they often cause deep, lasting trauma that affects every realm of life for decades”.
Despite these setbacks in the US, the ACLU announced a positive outcome for transgender people’s health. The District Court of Appeals in California ruled that denying healthcare because a person is transgender violates the state’s Civil Rights Act. Plaintiff Evan Minton’s lawsuit can now move forward against Dignity Health and its hospitals for cancelling his hysterectomy after discovering he is transgender. Dignity Health argues that their facilities have the right to refuse care based on Catholic religious principles.
Regarding Religion: From Slovakia, Dariusz Kalan spoke with LGBT people trying to reconcile their sexuality with their Catholic faith despite increasingly conservative rhetoric in the country. Priest Martin Kovac of the Old Catholic Church in western Slovakia supports LGBT parishioners:
“The fight against LGBT [people] has become the main agenda of most Christian churches in Slovakia. We want to show that Christianity can look different. [Hostility to homosexuality] is not a theme of the Gospel, but an element of politicisation of Christianity and creation of imaginary enemies.”
Dr. Aaron Koller, Chair of the Department of Jewish Studies at the Orthodox Jewish and Rabbinical seminary Yeshiva University of New York, published an essay arguing that traditional Judaism should be accepting of LGBT rights. Students at his school also protested for acceptance of LGBTQ people. Among their demands, students called for an end to homophobic rhetoric in the classroom, the ability to organize LGBTQ themed events, and the registration of a Gay-Straight alliance on campus.
In the UK, a new report on LGBT asylum seekers coming from Africa discovered that many faced challenges from government officials who did not believe they could be both LGBT and Christian. The report found that joining an LGBT-inclusive faith community in the UK was particularly helpful for African LGBT asylum seekers who often come from a religious background.
The Center for American Progress released a list of nine “extrodinary” LGBTQ faith leaders from around the US who are “working toward true freedom and equality for all people”. The list includes people from Christian, Islamic, Judaic, and Buddhist faiths.
The Arcus Foundation showcased the efforts of LGBTQ activists in Kenya and South Africa to build connections with faith leaders. Brian Pellot, director of Taboom Media who arrange trainings for media and faith leaders on LGBTQ issues, noted:
“Shifting from hatred to tolerance to acceptance can take decades, but we are seeing some positive changes across the continent, and we’re working for more.”
Fear and Loathing: The Brazilian Public Security Forum released new data showing an alarming rise in racial abuse, sexual assault, femicide, and violence against LGBT people in 2018, as reported by the Guardian. Samira Bueno, executive director of the Forum, cited inflammatory language from President Jair Bolsonaro as a contributing factor to the increase in violence:
“People are more prejudiced because we have political leaders who articulate this.”
The Caribbean Civil Society Shared Incident Database released figures from 2013 to 2018 which show that Jamaica had the highest recorded incidents of human rights violations compared to others in the region. Violent attacks were most frequently reported by LGBT people, sex workers, and other women. The database was established by civil society organizations that work with LGBT people, sex workers, and people living with HIV in 2016 as the region’s first human rights monitoring platform.
From the UK, the BBC found that reports of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes more than doubled over the last five years in the country. And yet, in the same time period, prosecutions of hate crimes have fallen significantly. The BBC filed Freedom of Information requests to 46 police forces across the country for their investigation. The Home Office has said it will recruit 20,000 additional police officers to “ensure it can deal with the cases brought by the police”. Member of Parliament Baroness Williams stated:
"Victims should not have to put up with this venomous abuse and we will do all we can to support them.”
In Poland, LGBT issues have been in the spotlight all year encouraged by extreme negative rhetoric from officials including the Archbishop of Krakow and ruling political party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Marches for and against LGBT rights have exposed stark divisions across the country. Watch a video report by France24 which summarizes the latest. As one woman described:
“All those who attack LGBT people swear that they are fighting an ideology, not people. But the ideology does not exist. Only we exist.”
Winds of Change: On her last day in office, Brazil’s prosecutor general, Raquel Dodge, announced she was charging two court officials, two police officers, and a lawyer with sabotaging efforts to investigate the 2018 murder of bisexual council women and human rights activist Marielle Franco. The investigation will be taken over by federal authorities if approved by the Superior Court of Justice.
The UN Refugee Agency has selected Bianka Rodríguez to receive the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for her work on behalf of El Salvador’s LGBTI communities. Rodríguez became executive director of Comcavis Trans, an NGO working to bring visibility and dignity to the trans community, after Comcavis’ founder was forced to flee the country. A trans woman who has faced violence herself, Rodríguez said she “agonized” over the decision to take the position:
“I wanted to throw in the towel, but I know that those who seek us out desperately need our help.”
In Washington D.C., US, sex worker and trans rights activists are supporting trans sex workers by organizing rallies, crowdsourcing funds, and providing emergency housing and services for the community. New national laws which ban sex workers from posting ads online—a practice that enabled people to better vet clients and set up safety networks—has made the work significantly more dangerous according to people in the community. Washington D.C. is considering legislation to decriminalize sex work, however, activists say the ongoing murders of black trans women show politicians are moving too slow.
Writing for Nikkei Asian Review, Emily Fishbein spoke to Myanmar “tomboys”—identified female at birth, tomboys dress in a masculine style, most go by masculine pronouns, and some identify as trans men or lesbians. Although the government does not permit gender change and same-sex sexual activity is criminalized, a group of tomboys founded Rainbow Six to raise awarenesses about the challenges they face.
Writing for the Guardian, activist Owl Fisher discussed how the feminist movement of Iceland has been a significant driver of improving rights for transgender people. While many in feminist movements elsewhere have suggested trans rights are contrary to feminism, Icelandic activists fully supported the progressive gender recognition law passed this summer. As Fisher describes:
“The idea of a “correct gender role” in the old law was highly controversial within both trans’ and women’s rights organisations. Legally encoding gender roles in a modern society seemed wildly out of touch with the direction of travel in society. Erasing that concept was one of the great achievements of the new law.”
Sports and Culture: From the US, celebrity Jonathan Van Ness has come out as living with HIV. Van Ness, who identifies as nonbinary and uses he/him pronouns, became an international figure through the reboot of the TV show Queer Eye. In his new memoir, he speaks candidly about his experiences with drug addiction, sex work, and surviving sexual abuse.
From the UK, openly gay rugby star Gareth Thomas revealed he is living with HIV in an emotional video days before finishing an Ironman triathlon. Thomas said he came forward because a reporter told his parents, and blackmailers threatened to reveal his diagnosis to the public. The BBC simultaneously released a documentary called “Gareth Thomas: HIV and Me”. Campaigners say they have seen a “sharp increase” in people seeking information about HIV since he went public.
In Japan, the 2019 Rugby World Cup kicked off in Tokyo. Alongside it, the Pride House Tokyo Consortium launched a temporary venue to disseminate information and to serve as a safe space for LGBT fans and athletes. Made up of individuals, corporations, and nonprofits, the Consortium plans to host another venue during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
In Chengdu, China, members of the “Trans Chorus” hope that by performing they can bring awareness to transgender issues. A recent study conducted by the Beijing LGBT Center found that almost 1 in 5 trans teenagers are subjected to conversion therapy in China. Watch their interview with the AFP.
Rock band Mashrou’ Leila have spoken out about being cut from Lebanon’s Byblos International Festival this summer despite playing sold out shows around the world. The band, whose songs sometimes reflect on sectarianism, gender equality, and homophobia, were faced with death threats and threats to shoot concert goers. This is not the band’s first brush with violence and censorship. They’ve been blocked in Jordan and in 2017 Egyptian fans were arrested for raising a Pride flag during a concert. Saying it “broke his heart”, openly gay frontman Hamed Sinno reflected:
"It's crazy to see that much hate. It really was overwhelming to get that constant deluge of death threats."
Although they were not able to perform, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma closed his set at the festival by performing their song “Tayf”. Watch the moving tribute.
In Rwanda, gospel singer Albert Nabonibo came out as gay in an interview with a Christian YouTube channel. Nabonibo has faced public backlash, has lost his job, and his friends have isolated him. However, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, posted a message of support:
"All Rwandans are born and remain equal in rights and freedoms. Discrimination of any kind or its propaganda [...] are prohibited and punished by law". (Art 16 of the Constitution). Please continue singing and praising the Lord, Albert Nabonibo! This nation will protect you.”