Written by Kellyn Botha
Edited by Daniele Paletta
This week, on Sunday 3 May, communities around the world will celebrate International Family Equality Day. So often, rainbow families are not recognised and face outright hostility from governments and the public. But in unexpected ways, our very existence continues to force authorities to rethink what family really means. The custody proceedings of two lesbian women in China, for example, is likely to force courts to consider the difficulties and challenges faced by our families when clear legal protections are absent, while some Japanese companies will soon start accepting NGO-issued “partnership certificates” to extend family benefits to employees in same-sex relationships.
Such relationships remain criminalised in Nigeria, where new data has found a disproportionate number of petty offence charges are laid against people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, while several families have been left distraught in Puerto Rico as the number of trans persons murdered continues to rise. The targeting of trans persons continues in Europe as well, with the government of Hungary choosing to defend its proposed undoing of legal gender recognition - a move that would also affect intersex persons -n despite mounting protests. There is some progress however, as Australia’s Victoria state and Canada’s Manitoba province both adopt new policies allowing for non-binary gender-markers to be implemented on birth certificates.
For every attack and setback there is progress – for every piece of oppressive legislation or violent assault there are hundreds of passionate human rights defenders standing up for their communities. Despite our diversity, let us remember that we are indeed a family, united for the common good.
This is a brief selection of news showing how Covid-19 is affecting LGBTI communities worldwide. Share more stories at [email protected]
UNAIDS and MPact are extremely concerned about reports that LGBTI people are being blamed and abused during the COVID-19 outbreak
OAS calls on States to guarantee LGBTI people's rights in the COVID-19 response
LGBTI groups demand social care from the Government of Ecuador over COVID-19
ICE faces class action lawsuit for holding transgender migrants in COVID-19 “death traps”
Over 100 European NGOs call for emergency support to sex workers
"Emergency plan" against anti-LGBT violence in France during confinement
Lesbian custody case takes China into uncharted legal waters @ILoveGayParents - A Chinese lesbian couple's landmark custody fight over their two children has sparked debate over the lack of same-sex marriage.. via @Openly https://t.co/h8ftMR9AiL pic.twitter.com/WUOCLoknqn
— ILoveGay China (@ILoveGayChina) April 27, 2020
A divorced lesbian couple in China is at the forefront of a landmark case regarding the custody of their two children. It is not the first instance of a custody dispute between same-sex couples in China, but these had all been settled out of court in the past.
The pair were married in the United States, where they also underwent In-Vitro Fertilisation in order to each bare a child, though after getting divorced the defendant allegedly took both children and cut all contact with her former partner, Zhang Peiyi.
After local police failed to act, Zhang filed a case, calling for custody of the child to whom she gave birth and visitation rights to the other. Traditionally, custody disputes in China have awarded rights to the birth-parent, however the legal path for this case remains unclear because despite giving birth to one of her children, Zhang is not genetically related to either child.
With China not recognising same-sex marriage and no clear law around custody for children born of artificial insemination, the outcome of these proceedings could set a significant precedent for rainbow families across the entire region.
Regardless of whether “gene theory” or “delivery theory” is favoured by the courts - says Gao Mingyue, a lawyer at the firm representing both parents - the court should follow the principle of “the best interests of the child” established by the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In Japan a number of companies will start accepting "partnership certificates" in July for same-sex couples. The certificates, issued by the Famiee Project, are a way of providing employees access to spousal and familial benefits available to straight married couples as marriage equality is not recognised in Japan.
Transgender Rights Consultants Pakistan has launched a new shelter for trans persons in need, as many in the community struggle to find safe accommodation due to economic and social marginalisation.
Yesterday, in our continued call for the Hungarian government to stop the attack on legal gender recognition, we sent a joint letter with @OIIEurope & @TGEUorg with a list of the international calls to #Drop33, including from @CommissionerHR and an admonition from @UNHumanRights pic.twitter.com/777LkMdLFn
— ILGA-Europe (@ILGAEurope) April 28, 2020
Calls for the Hungarian government to rescind proposed legislation which would make legal gender recognition impossible for trans and intersex persons are increasing. In the past few weeks alone, human rights organisation, the Council of Europe (CoE) and Víctor Madrigal-Borloz - the Independent Expert on SOGI - have added their voices to those of countless human rights defenders around the globe condemning the proposed law.
The article 33 of the draft omnibus bill would replace “sex” designations on identity documents with “sex at birth”, making it impossible for trans, intersex or other gender-diverse persons to amend their gender markers.
The government of Hungary has denied that it is implementing a policy of “gender-based discrimination”, claiming that “the Hungarian legal framework is in line with the European standards and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights”.
This is, however, in direct contradiction to statements made by the Council of Europe, which noted “that Member states should take appropriate measures to guarantee the full legal recognition of a person’s gender reassignment in all areas of life, in particular by making possible the change of name and gender in official documents in a quick, transparent and accessible way”.
In response, Hungarian representatives in a recent letter have seemingly doubled down on their denial of gender-based discrimination, saying the new law simply corrects an “unclear category”. They add that the law does not prevent anyone from “living according their identity”, despite preventing them from having their gender identity legally recognised. ILGA-Europe has decried the response as being in bad faith, and reaffirmed its commitment to fighting the law alongside other groups.
“Everyone has the right to recognition as a person before the law, including persons of diverse gender identities,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz in a statement issued by the UN. “The bill would negate the existence of trans and gender diverse people in Hungary and adversely impact them in almost every aspect of their daily life. Hungary must not target trans and gender diverse people under the guise of protecting health and should strictly limit the use of emergency power to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Ankara Prosecutor’s office in Turkey has opened a criminal investigation into the Ankara Bar Association after it filed a complaint against the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate for a homophobic speech
In the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has reduced the blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men (MSM) from one year to three months, bringing it in line with blood donation guidelines across the rest of the country.
The United Kingdom’s Minister for Women and Equalities has come under fire for proposing amendments to the Gender Recognition Act which would make access to gender affirming care more difficult for minors – and put in place “checks and balances” on the gender recognition system for trans adults.
Meanwhile, this week, a trans man in the United Kingdom has lost his appeal to be recognised as his child’s ‘father’ or ‘parent’.
We're so excited to announce that Birth Certificate Reform has passed in Victoria! This is a huge step forward in fairer access to accurate documentation, equality, and recognition for trans and gender diverse people in our state! #myidmyidentity #transrights pic.twitter.com/fEhSLDXjWR
— Transgender Victoria | TGV (@transgendervic) August 27, 2019
A new law in the Australian state of Victoria has just come into effect after being passed in August 2019, making it easier for people to amend their gender markers on their birth certificates.
The amended “Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2019 (VIC)”, implemented from 1 May, means that trans and gender-diverse persons will no longer be required to undergo any form of surgery to be eligible for gender-marker change, providing greater freedom for self-identification as long as a statutory declaration from a witness can be provided.
Provisions now also exist for applicants to nominate a gender marker of their choice - including male, female, or any other non-binary descriptor - as long as the chosen descriptor is not “obscene or offensive, including terms that are abusive or intended to vilify or mock marginalised groups.”
Minors will also be allowed to have their documentation amended, providing they have parental consent and documents of support from a doctor, registered psychologist or another approved person. Limitations also exist for those not born in Victoria, who would need to amend their birth certificates according to laws in their region of birth. However, permanent residents of Victoria may apply for a “Recognised Details Certificate” to record a gender-marker change.
“We’re proud to have been part of achieving this change and thank the many across our community who fought hard for change and progress,” Transgender Victoria said in a statement when the law was passed last year. The group will further be hosting an online event on 18 May to assist community members in understanding the new gender marker amendment process.
The Chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union has stepped down from the World Rugby Council and withdrawn his nomination for the organisation’s Executive Committee after recordings leaked of him allegedly using “violent and homophobic language” while in charge of prisons in 2016.
In Australia, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal upheld a 2019 decision to suspend Melbourne-based doctor’s registration because of social media posts which allegedly “denigrate, demean and slur” LGBTQI persons, as well as medical practitioners who provide abortions and gender-affirming care.
Manitoba to allow non-binary designation on birth certificates - https://t.co/GqS1Iz7mLI pic.twitter.com/zDTnywyITw
— News4Winnipeg (@News4Winnipeg) April 27, 2020
New policies have been introduced in the province of Manitoba to make changes of gender markers on birth certificates more inclusive of persons with non-binary or gender-diverse identities. Where Manitobans would previously only be able to select “male” or “female” options when applying to have their documents changed, provision now exists for a third option: “X”.
This comes after a human rights ruling in November 2019 that found that the existing system was discriminatory, with adjudicator Dan Manning giving the provincial government 180 days to “revise the criteria for changing sex designation to include recognition of nonbinary sex designations”, and ordering that damages of CAD50,000 be paid to the non-binary individual who first filed a complaint on the matter.
"I'm super excited to have I.D. for the first time in my life that will accurately reflect my identity to anyone who sees it," said Charlie Eau, a Winnipeg-based trans advocate who had been involved in the case. "This opens the door to conversations for us to have drivers' licences and other provincial I.D. [such as] medical cards that have our correct names and gender markers. It's a big deal to have this institutionally recognised".
Currently, Canadian citizens can opt for a third-gender option on some federal documents, though Manitoba joins four other Canadian provinces - Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador – in allowing third-gender options locally. It remains unclear, however, when exactly the new policy will be put into practice, though Manning’s 180 day deadline expires on 2 May.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services stated its intention to proceed with the removal of discrimination protections for LGBTQ persons needing medical care. This would mean that healthcare workers would legally be able to refuse treatment to those with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
San Francisco International Airport in the United States has unveiled a photographic installation dedicated to gay rights activist Harvey Milk. The installation features images from throughout Milk’s life and is located in the airport terminal also named in his memory.
Data on human rights abuse associated with petty offences in #Nigeria covering the period October 2019 and March 2020 have been released by @lawyersalertng with a view to serving as useful tool for advocacy towards decriminalization of #pettyoffences. https://t.co/8UyZQbwWkx
— OSIWA (@OSIWA1) April 28, 2020
Two human rights organisations, Lawyers Alert and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), have released data on the human rights abuses associated with Nigeria’s various petty offences laws, dating from October 2019 to March 2020.
According to the report, 10% of petty offenses considered to be human rights abuses were laid against sex workers, while a further 26% of charges were aimed at persons suspected of being gay.
“Often, young males are arrested, and the contents of their phone demanded,” states the report. “Where phone contents exhibit pictures of videos of, for example gay sex, or complicated apps exist, they are arrested as being gay or ‘yahoo boys’ - a term for internet fraud.”
Same-sex sexual activity remains criminalised in the Nigeria under a colonial-era penal code, and communities around the country will often enforce punitive measures against people perceived as being of diverse sexual orientations or gender identities. A recent incident saw one Nigerian police constable beaten and stripped naked by a group of young men, allegedly for being found having sex with another man, while last year there was international outcry at a case of 47 men who were to be tried under the country’s “anti-homosexuality laws”.
Dr Magdalene Dura, Chairperson of the Lawyers Alert Governing Board, expressed hope that increased data on rights violations would lead to the decriminalisation of many of Nigeria’s petty offences, saying that “often, Parliamentarians in efforts at decriminalising offenses demand evidence of data to validate positions they take. This is where the gap exists”.
In Namibia, former presidential candidate Frans Migub |Goagoseb and two other men were arrested for assaulting a trans woman. A video of the incident has gone viral, and local activists have urged the public to desist from sharing it.
Kenyan courts have upheld the country’s ban on the film Rafiki, the internationally acclaimed love story of two women living in Nairobi, as same-sex sexual activity remains criminalised across the country.
"Puerto Rico has been hit by an 'epidemic of violence' with five transgender murders in two months, LGBT+ activists said on Wednesday, adding that homophobic rhetoric from politicians and religious leaders may have fueled the bloodshed." #LGBTQLoyaltyhttps://t.co/jVWFnMJlix
— LGBTQ Loyalty (@LgbtqLoyalty) April 30, 2020
Three trans women have been murdered in Puerto Rico in less than two weeks, bringing the total number of trans persons killed on the island in recent months to five.
Layla Peláez and Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, who lived in New York but were visiting family in Puerto Rico, were killed when their car was set alight, while a third woman, Penélope Díaz Ramírez, had been killed previously in an unrelated incident: her death went unreported for two weeks.
A month prior to the deaths of the three women, a trans man was fatally shot, as was another trans woman the month before, allegedly as “punishment” for using a women’s public bathroom.
“There is no longer any doubt, this is an epidemic of anti-LGBT+ violence,” activist Pedro Julio Serrano said. “The police have the obligation to disclose the status of the investigations of at least eight murders, one death without a determined cause, and several attacks in which LGBTQ people have been injured since January 2019.” In an interview with Time Magazine, Serrano further expressed fears of a concerted effort to target trans people in Puerto Rico, saying: “They are hunting us”.
Violence across Latin America and the Caribbean remains widespread, as last week saw the murder of a trans woman in Colombia, and the death of a gay man in Belize who was previously subjected to degrading treatment to police. Nevertheless, the spike in cases from Puerto Rico has alarmed human rights defenders.
“Never in my career have I seen so many reports of deaths of our transgender and gender non-conforming community in such a short time in one location,” said Tori Cooper, director of the Human Rights Campaign‘s Transgender Justice Initiative.
Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court (STF) has voted unanimously to overturn a Nova Gama Municipality ban on "material with information of gender ideology" in schools. The ban had aimed to prevent teachers from engaging pupils on issues of pregnancy, gender-based violence, transphobia and homophobia.
The 2020 Generation Equality Forum, which was due to kick off in Mexico next week, has been postponed until 2021 due to concerns around public health and travel restrictions. The LBTI Caucus, a coalition of more than 300 organisations, has released a manifesto on some of the issues that the forum should tackle.
Sunday 3 May is International Family Equality Day. All around the world, rainbow families are stuck indoors, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still many ways to celebrate family and diversity. You can learn more about what this day is all about here.
(image source: International Family Equality Day - April 2020)
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