The week in LGBTI news
8 - 14 May 2020
Written by Kellyn Botha
Edited by Daniele Paletta
This week on 17 May, our communities across the globe mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Under the theme of “Breaking the silence”, our communities have been encouraged to find creative ways of making themselves visible during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. And many met this challenge successfully. In global news, we can see that despite the strains that this virus has placed on us, advocacy and human rights activism has not been diminished, and our friends and allies all around the world refuse to be silent.
In Uganda, 19 persons arrested more than six weeks ago and detained without trial have been granted access to human rights lawyers, while in Brazil the Supreme Court has lifted restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men, and the Aotearoa New Zealand government has set aside additional funding for vulnerable communities in need of mental health and wellness support.
Unfortunately, wherever we are visible and vocal, backlash may happen. In South Korea LGBT persons are increasingly being scapegoated for the spread of Covid-19, and in the United States activists fear the Supreme Court may soon speak against non-discrimination legislation. In Europe, too, organisations have released data ahead of IDAHOBIT, revealing the concerning trends of anti-LGBTI rhetoric in the region.
So, as we mark IDAHOBIT 2020, we at ILGA World would like to congratulate those human rights defenders making progress against LGBTI-phobia. Despite lockdown, the work continues!
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This is a brief selection of news showing how Covid-19 is affecting LGBTI communities worldwide. Share more stories at [email protected]
Uganda: 19 LGBTIQ prisoners granted bail-hearing and access to lawyers after one and a half months
19 persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities will finally be allowed to progress through Uganda’s judicial system after a magistrate ordered authorities to present the accused for a bail hearing, and allowed them access to human rights lawyers ahead of their trial. This comes more than six weeks after the group were arrested in a raid on an LGBT shelter, allegedly for violating the country’s pandemic lockdown regulations.
This means that representatives from the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), whose lawyers were temporarily detained when trying to assist the shelter residents during the raid, will now have direct access to them and will be allowed to prepare for the coming trial.
“We have scored [a] victory today after [the] High Court in Uganda has ordered reasonable access to the 19 LGBTIQ people who are on remand after their arrest at their shelter home in Kyengera,” said a social media statement from Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). “This now means they will have access to their lawyers and will be prepared for their bail hearing.”
Human rights organisations across the globe have called on the government of Uganda to drop the charges against the accused, though some lawyers at HRAPF have expressed hope at the news that court proceedings can at least now begin, rather than having their clients remain imprisoned without trial indefinitely.
More news from Africa
Organisations AMSHeR and Synergia have marked the 6th anniversary of the passing of Resolution 275 by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights – which calls for an end to violence against persons on the basis of their sexual orientations and gender identities. The groups commended the body for its work to protect human rights, but urged it to do more. AMSHeR and Synergia have announced that research into the impact of Resolution 275 will soon be published.
A coalition of seven LGBTI-led organisations from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Malawi have been hosting a series of webinars every Tuesday, 2pm CAT. The webinar series, Amplifying Trans and Gender Diverse Voices from Southern Africa, is also publicly available as a recorded podcast.
Europe and Central Asia
Multiple reports on LGBTI realities in the region demonstrate worrying trends
In advance of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), three European organisations – ILGA-Europe, Transgender Europe (TGEU) and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) – have released research reports into the rights and lived realities of persons in Europe with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics.
TGEU released its Trans Rights Europe & Central Asia Index, outlining the legal situation faced by trans persons in 52 countries. The Index covers the categories of legal gender recognition, asylum, bias-motivated speech and violence, non-discrimination, health, and family. The document accompanies an additional map which highlights territories where forced sterilisation or a mandatory mental health diagnosis is required for trans persons to legally amend their gender markers.
Also on 13 May, the FRA released the results of its 2019 survey on LGBTI people in the EU and North Macedonia and Serbia, entitled A long way to go for LGBTI equality. Utilising input from more than 140 000 participants across Europe, the survey is the largest of its kind and represents a follow-up to a similar study carried out in 2012. For the first time, the study also covers intersex people as well as minors aged 15 to 17.The study noted mixed trends, with many respondents noting increased harassment and discrimination despite an increase in those who are comfortable being “out” in their day to day lives.
“Discrimination in everyday life persists” states the FRA report. “Trans and intersex people especially face challenges, including when having to show identification documents. For LGBTI people aged 15 to 17, the situation is mixed. While the young encounter more harassment than their older peers, they also see more individuals standing up for LGBTI people at school.”
The TGEU and FRA reports were joined by the widely anticipated Rainbow Europe Map and Index from ILGA-Europe. Updated annually, the map’s findings have highlighted that advances continue to be made on trans and intersex rights in a number of countries across Europe, though 49% of countries have made no positive progress in terms of expanding LGBTI rights, while several states continue to backslide.
“This is a critical time for LGBTI equality in Europe,” said Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, Evelyne Paradis, adding that “history shows that those who are vulnerable before a crisis only become more vulnerable after a crisis, so we have every reason to worry that political complacency, increased repression and socio-economic hardship will create a perfect storm for many LGBTI people in Europe in the next few years.”
More news from Europe and Central Asia
Germany has formally banned “conversion therapy” for minors. According to one of Germany’s largest LGBTI advocacy groups, LSVB, however, the ban does not go far enough in criminalising practitioners of “conversion therapies” and still allows adults to be pressured into seeking such “treatment”.
French lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at curtailing offensive content online, forcing digital platforms to take down content within 24 hours of being notified. While meant to combat illicit pornography, “terrorist content” and hate speech, some NGOs - including advocacy group Inter-LGBT - have raised concerns that the law could target LGBTI persons and sex workers.
A gay man in Ireland has been awarded damages after years of homophobic verbal abuse by one of his Christian co-workers.
United States: Four Supreme Court cases could determine the future of LGBT workplace protections
The United States Supreme Court is currently considering several cases which could set a national precedent as to whether persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are protected under the country’s Title VII non-discrimination laws, though one of the complainants will not see the results of either lawsuit.
On 12 May it was confirmed that Aimee Stephens had passed away due to renal failure before the court could reach a decision on her case. Fired in 2013 after coming out as transgender at the funeral home at which she worked, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favour of Stephens, though the company escalated the case to the Supreme Court level.
"Aimee didn't set out to be a hero and a trailblazer, but she is one," said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which represented her. "We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her commitment to justice for all people, and her dedication to the trans community." The Supreme Court is still set to rule on her case, and a verdict is expected in July.
Concurrently, another case dealing with whether LGBT persons are protected from workplace discrimination under title VII has also been on the Supreme Court’s agenda in recent weeks. The case of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, Agnes and St. James School v. Darryl Biel, has seen a coalition of religious schools seeking the freedom to hire and fire staff based on their religious beliefs and practices, which would see thousands of LGBT teachers and workers in danger of losing employment should it pass. The pronouncement, initially expected to come out on Monday 11 May, will now be handed down next month.
Judgements are expected in the coming weeks on two other cases of alleged workplace discrimination against LGBT persons, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and Altitude Express v. Zarda. Together, the four cases will either reinforce existing federal non-discrimination laws, or upend protections for LGBT persons in the workplace.
More news from North America
The United States government has cut one third of the data points it collects in its Foster Care Analysis Reporting System – meaning that all questions relating to the sexual orientations of foster children will be removed. Activist have criticised the move, saying will only serve to undermine and harm LGBT youth.
A New Jersey Appeals Court in the United States has overturned a prior ruling requiring local police to undergo annual bias training after a trans man was forced into a women’s’ holding cell, as limited forms of sensitivity training already exist for New Jersey police departments.
A United States Federal Judge has dismissed a government request to throw out the case of a North Carolina lesbian couple seeking to challenge regulations in the Department of Health and Human Services which allow religious bodies to deny foster care and adoption services to same-sex couples.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Brazil: Supreme Court votes to remove limitations on MSM wishing to donate blood
Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court (STF) voted on 8 May to suspend the 12-month deferral period for men who have sex with men (MSM) wishing to donate blood. With the case initially introduced to the STF in 2016, the court did not have a majority to pass the motion until now, where the amendment was adopted seven votes to four.
Before this ruling, MSM in the country were required to abstain from sex for a period of one year before being eligible to donate blood as a holdover from the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and 1990s. Technology at the time did not allow for effective screening of blood, though as techniques became more advanced discrimination against MSM and trans women as potential carriers of the virus remained widespread.
“We welcome the Supreme Court for once again [playing a] guardian role that enforces the Federal Constitution of Brazil,” said Toni Reis, President of Brazil’s LGBTI+ National Alliance in a statement. Reis added that the alliance would make itself available to the Ministry of Health “to collaborate [on] the creation of new standards for donation”.
Brazil now joins the United States, Australia, Denmark and Northern Ireland in loosening restrictions on blood donations by MSM in 2020, as hospital blood banks are increasingly coming under pressure from increased patient-demand amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
More news from Latin America and the Caribbean
Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice (STJ) has ruled in favour of a trans applicant seeking to amend their name and gender marker without undergoing any form of surgery.
Lawmakers and government officials in Costa Rica criticised 20 fellow politicians who introduced a motion trying to delay a landmark marriage equality ruling from taking effect at the end of May.
South Korea: LGBT people harassed and outed as new Covid-19 cases linked to gay nightclubs
LGBT people and activists in South Korea have expressed concern at a reported rise in homophobic harassment and online hate speech in response to a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases.
The capital of Seoul has recorded 35 new incidences of the virus in recent weeks, with 29 of those linked to Itaewon – Seoul’s so-called “gay district”. Despite almost 90 recorded cases being linked to various nightclubs around the country, several conservative Korean news outlets have highlighted the fact that one patient who tested positive visited numerous gay nightclubs, revealing the names, ages and workplaces of other club-goers in the process. This has resulted in a wave of homophobic backlash, according to organisations like Human Rights Watch, leaving some members of the community suicidal or afraid to be tested. Korean health officials have said that more than 3000 individuals who visited affected nightclubs have not been contactable as a result.
In a bid to encourage the LGBT community to get tested, Korea’s Prime Minister urged the public to “refrain from criticising a certain community as it will not help efforts to contain the coronavirus spread”, though many fear that government tracking – which has raised serious privacy concerns - may be as harmful as public hate speech. According to reports, authorities have disclosed personal information about people who have tested positive for Covid-19, including specific details like age, gender, and workplace. Others have tried to use those details to identify infected individuals, putting them at risk of discrimination and harassment.
“I feel so trapped and hunted down. If I get tested, my company will most likely find out I’m gay,” a man told The Guardian. “I’ll lose my job and face public humiliation. I feel as if my whole life is about to collapse.”
More news from Asia
An Indonesian YouTuber and two accomplices have been arrested by police following widespread outcry over a “prank” in which the trio offered fake care packages to homeless trans women last week.
Activists across Taiwan have launched a petition for the territory’s marriage equality law to be amended to allow for broader freedoms for cross-national couples to get married.
Aotearoa New Zealand: Government provides mental health and wellness funding to community support organisations
In an effort to better support vulnerable groups during the country’s lockdown, the government of Aotearoa New Zealand has announced NZD 3,500,000 in funding for organisations working to promote mental health and wellbeing.
The project represents an expansion of existing mental health support mechanisms to better support organisations working with LGBTI communities, the elderly, drug users, people with disabilities, Māori and Pasifika peoples, given the additional social and economic strain that many in these groups already deal with. One beneficiary organisation, OUTLine, already focuses on providing support to persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
“The funding for the rainbow support service, OUTLine, has meant they were able to transform their peer support phone service to a remote operation and promote it more widely,” said Health Minister David Clark. “I understand the service has seen an increase in first-time and younger callers under 25 during this time. The funding has also meant that the specialist counselling service has been more accessible to people who have felt the pressure of the lockdown restrictions through social isolation and unemployment.”
In a social media statement, OUTLine said that “rainbow communities have been affected by this pandemic in unique ways and we applaud the government for recognising this and providing additional funding to mental health organisations supporting vulnerable groups”. The group has also set up a helpline for those seeking assistance and support: LGBTI New Zealanders in need are encouraged to call 0800 OUTLINE between 6pm and 9pm daily.
More news from Oceania
Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) recently celebrated 10 years since its foundation. The organisation, formerly known as OII, has worked both nationally and at the international level in advocating for the rights of intersex persons. “I call on our allies in other areas of human rights to join us to support and amplify our work”, said Tony Briffa, co-executive director of the organisation and Chair of the Intersex Committee at ILGA World.
The Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) has made a submission to Australia’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, calling for laws to be amended to allow for strategic sanctions against countries known to violate LGBTI human rights.
In Australia a suspect has been arrested for the 1988 murder of a gay man, Scott Johnson, in what some suspect to have been a long-unsolved homophobic hate crime.
Photo of the week
Ahead of IDAHOBIT on 17 May, ILGA-Europe released its annual Rainbow Europe Map and Index update. The map, which measures the social and legal status of persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, has found several European countries to be backsliding on their human rights obligations.
(Photo source: ILGA-Europe, 2020)
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