The week in LGBTI news
27 March - 2 April 2020
Written by Kellyn Botha
Edited by Daniele Paletta
This week, some of the most chilling developments for our communities seemed almost timed for maximum impact. As our communities were getting ready to celebrate Trans Day of Visibility, the US state of Idaho adopted two new laws targeting trans and intersex persons, and the government of Hungary began moving swiftly to ban legal gender recognition.
Unfortunately, these were not the only disappointing developments that took place this week, as Singapore’s High Court upheld a colonial-era law criminalising consensual same-sex acts between men.
Even in these extraordinary times, where the world is coping with the effects of a pandemic, our communities are exposed to human rights violations: a group of LGBT people seeking shelter in a community centre have been arrested in Uganda; police in Australia are investigating an assault to a homeless trans woman, and a report from Chile has shown a dramatic increase in cases of anti-LGBTI incidents during 2019.
It is easy to become despondent in a week such as this, but it was not all doom and gloom: Pride organisations worldwide decided to come together for a (digital) Global Pride event amid coronavirus cancellations, and CEDAW has made history for its first decision in a case involving lesbian women. We must remember that the arc of history bends in our favour, and that we are a resilient community, #inthistogether!
Read this week's news from...
This is a brief selection of news showing how Covid-19 is affecting LGBTI communities worldwide. Share more stories at [email protected]
Singapore: Court upholds criminalisation of same-sex activity between men
Singapore's high court has dismissed three appeals arguing that the country’s criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity between men was unconstitutional.
As ILGA World’s State-Sponsored Homophobia report points out, Section 377A of the country’s Penal Code provides for jail terms of up to two years for a man found to have committed an act of "gross indecency" with another man. In October 2014, the Court of Appeal declined to remove the provision from the books, stating that reform would have needed to come through Parliament. Following the 2018 historic ruling from India that decriminalised consensual same-sex sexual activity, activists mounted new challenges to the law, but their appeals were dismissed.
"In declining to strike out this archaic and discriminatory law, the court has reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are effectively un-apprehended criminals," commented Téa Braun, director of the Human Dignity Trust.
"I am of course disappointed, but my eye is firmly on the road ahead," said Bryan Choong, one of three men who challenged the law. "I'll be studying this judgment closely with my lawyers."
More news from Asia
In Nepal, human rights groups are calling for broader legal recognition and protection of trans people, and for provisions to allow trans men and trans women to self-identify as their genders rather than as a “third gender”. This comes just weeks after a Nepali trans woman tried to apply for citizenship in her gender.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has released a briefing paper on Pakistan’s Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, which was passed in 2018. The paper praises the adoption of the law, but notes multiple areas should be amended to ensure more successful protections for the trans community.
Europe and Central Asia
Hungary: Government moves to ban legal gender recognition
On Trans Day of Visibility, Hungary’s Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén submitted a draft bill to make it impossible for citizens to change their legal name and gender marker.
This comes a day after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was granted far-reaching power to “rule by decree”, and just two weeks after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) communicated a case of 23 trans people who have been unable to update their documents since 2018.
Transvanilla, a local group representing the 23 applicants to the ECHR, said in a statement that it “condemns the bill, which denies trans people the right to gender recognition, violating their right to self-determination and countering national and international human rights standards.”
A statement from a coalition of Hungarian organisations has called on the government to remove “provisions on transgender people from the bill”. The group claims that no official name and gender amendment permits have been granted in three and a half years, apparently to give the government time to adopt a “single, more transparent regulation” in line with calls from Hungary’s Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and the Constitutional Court. Instead, it would seem that the government has used this period to ramp up its anti-trans rhetoric and legislation.
The new law would also replace “sex” on national identity documents with “sex at birth”, firmly stating that it cannot be changed later in life.
Reactions at the international level have started coming in. The LGBTI Intergroup at the European Parliament called the move by the Hungarian government “a deliberate attack against the trans community”; ILGA-Europe argued that “exploiting emergency measures should not be used to bypass court decisions”, and OII-Europe pointed out how “this hostile act targets trans, as well as many non-binary and intersex people and permanently undermines their human rights”. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights also weighed in, calling on the Hungarian parliament not to adopt the provision.
More news from Europe and Central Asia
The Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) delivered its first positive decision in favour of lesbian women, after a couple in Russia was attacked and no police investigation followed. CEDAW called on Russia to “comply with its due diligence obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women, including lesbians”, investigate allegations of gender-based violence and provide survivors with safe and prompt access to justice.
In Greece, a Colour Youth survey into the experiences of LGBTQI+ youth in schools has found that nearly three-quarters of pupils have faced homophobic and transphobic slurs at school, and almost two-thirds have never heard anything positive said about our communities.
United States: Idaho Governor signs legislation targeting trans and intersex persons
Just hours before the start of Trans Day of Visibility, Idaho Governor Brad Little signed into law two bills aimed at limiting the rights of trans and intersex people within the state, ignoring widespread calls to veto the legislation.
The “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act”, also known as House Bill 500, bars trans and intersex women and girls from participating in high school athletics divisions consistent with their gender, and puts any student whose sex is “disputed” at risk of invasive testing of “reproductive anatomy, [...] levels of testosterone, [...] or genetic makeup.”
Several political and business leaders, human rights defenders, and athletes have spoken out against the bill. The bill was also criticised for being based on “flawed assumptions” and stereotypes to justify the exclusion of trans and intersex athletes, and for adopting “sex verification” techniques.
The second bill adopted by Little, House Bill 509, bars persons from amending the gender marker on their birth certificates one year after birth. Idaho legislators passed a similar bill in 2018 but it was then struck down by a US District Court.
“Although medical experts, sport governing bodies, and Idaho’s major employers have spoken out against these two bills, Governor Little has instead sided with discrimination,” said Alex Schmider, Associate Director of transgender representation at GLAAD. “Both laws are unconstitutional”, added Human Rights Campaign, “and will result in litigation at the cost of the Idaho taxpayer, which is particularly appalling during these uncertain times.”
More news from North America
A lesbian couple in Tennessee, USA, is suing a gym teacher for forcing their son and other students to listen to homophobic sermons before allowing them to play basketball.
In Canada, Congrès du Travail has marked Trans Day of Visibility by launching an updated version of Workers in Transition, a guide designed for union leaders and representatives on how to better protect the rights of trans members in workplaces, unions and communities.
Uganda: police arrest 20 LGBT people living in a Kampala shelter
Ugandan police have charged 20 LGBT persons with disobeying social distancing regulations to curb the spread of Covid-19. Those arrested were living at a shelter assisting LGBT youth with skills development, healthcare and legal assistance, and human rights defenders in the region maintain that the public health regulations have been used as a pretence for targeting members of our communities.
Among those arrested, 14 gay men, two bisexual men and four trans women have already appeared before a court, and were taken to prison. They are set to appear in court again at the end of April. Lawyers are currently trying to secure their release on bail, but the current lockdown is likely to make the procedures more complicated. The charges they face carry a sentence of between two and seven years.
“They are always using alternative charges to arrest people for unnatural offences so it [coronavirus] just worked perfectly for them,” said Patricia Kimera, a lawyer with Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), defending the group. Representatives of HRAPF were also temporarily detained upon arriving at the shelter to investigate the matter.
Frank Mugisha, the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said the arrests were “initially around homophobia and transphobia because neighbours reported them and so the security forces came and raided them. Now they are putting them in prison where they will be more at risk.”
More news from Africa
In South Africa, communities are mourning trans activist Lee Siba, best known for her work in promoting and supporting LGBT pageant contestants through the grassroots organisation, Uthingo.
In Malawi, an unconfirmed report has highlighted how LGBTI persons still face barriers in accessing healthcare, and often experience negative attitudes from young medical practitioners.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Chile: 2019 most violent year on record for LGBTI communities
2019 was the most dangerous on record for people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in Chile, according to the annual report on hate crime and discrimination statistics released by LGBTI advocacy organisation Movilh.
Figures have risen for six years in a row, according to the human rights group. In 2019, 1103 incidents were documented across every region of the country, in a 58% rise from 2018. Most of the cases consist of various “acts of institutional exclusion”, though 5 murders, 73 attacks and 69 instances of hate speech were also recorded.
In the last three months of 2019 alone, 32 cases of violence perpetrated by police against our communities were also reported, ostensibly in response to the civil unrest across the country. These figures update those that were presented to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights earlier this year and, according to Movilh, show “an unprecedented breakdown since democracy was reinstated”.
Despite the harrowing statistics, however, the report also contains positive news: “Unlike in 2018, “said Movilh spokesman Oscar Rementería, “the Government reacted to the abuses suffered by LGBTI people at the hands of civilians to publicly condemn them, while it helped the community support more than 90% of the victims”. A significant drop was also noted in the number of physical assaults, negative media campaigns and hate speech incidents.
More news from Latin America and the Caribbean
According to reports, at least 15 young people in Mexico have been expelled from their homes on the grounds of their sexual orientations and gender identities since the start of the country’s quarantine measures to counter the Covid-19 pandemic.
An alternate councillor in Costa Rica has been lambasted on social media after he insulted the LGBTI community and added that he hoped Covid-19 would “take them”.
Australia: homeless trans woman assaulted by group of young men
Sydney police are searching for a group of teenagers who assaulted a 31-old trans woman who had been living in her vehicle by a car park in one of Sydney’s northern beaches.
According to reports, the woman was attacked near the Dee Why Surf and Lifesaving Club by “around 15 young men” who punched and kicked her until she was unconscious. She suffered numerous cuts, bruises and a concussion, but survived the ordeal.
Police have called this a “targeted and brutal attack” and are calling on anyone with information about the group to come forward as the investigation into the incident continues.
“Police are keen to speak with any person who witnessed the incident, or were involved,” said Northern Beaches crime manager Michael Boutouridis.
More news from Oceania
In Australia, LGBTIQ health organisation ACON marked Trans Day of Visibility with the launch of TransHub, a digital platform offering trans people resources on social, medical and legal gender affirmation.
Photo of the week
Our communities across the world have come together - physically isolated, but not socially distant!
- to celebrate Trans Day of Visibility. Read more from ILGA World
(photo: march for trans rights in Washington DC, USA, November 2018)
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